Origins of Us – nature’s story with Dr Alice Roberts

Origins of Us LogoOrigins of Us, the new Natural History three-part series from BBC Productions currently airing on BBC 2 (and on BBC HD and iPlayer, the latter subject to usual time constraints), explores human evolution.

It aired after Channel 4’s new series Brave New World with Stephen Hawking  it exploring how science is striving for humankind’s next leap forward. A welcome two-hour celluloid science session of a Monday evening. I am hoping the BBC and Channel 4 get embroiled in an escalating TV science war vying to produce and schedule ever higher quality and ever greater quantity of science programming, an antidote to the endless cookery and home improvements shows that saturate our schedules. And I am not averse to a Sophie Dahl or Kevin McLoud but all things in moderation – even Crime drama’s have their limits, just about!

The opening one-hour episode of Origins of Us is called Bones, the next episode is Guts and third and final episode is Brains.

The aim of the series then is to explore the evolutionary development of humans focusing on our bones, guts and brains.

Origins of Us Episode One BonesThe programmes are presented by Dr Alice Roberts. Viewers may be familiar with her from archaeological programmes such as Time Team and Extreme Archaeology – proving that presenters of archaeology programs don’t have to be living fossils themselves.

Archaeology and Natural History are a natural enough step (sorry!) though Origins of Us is not Dr Alice Robert’s first foray into Natural History programming or indeed those specifically about Natural Selection having presented the BBC series The Incredible Human Journey and an episode of Horizon earlier this year titled ‘Are we still evolving?’.

Origins of Us Sahelanthropus

Skulls of Sahelanthropus or Toumai – and Chimpanzee – which is which?!

Are indeed Natural History TV Presenters still evolving? Some may have argued that David Attenborough is that roles natural full-stop but Dr Alice Roberts does prove otherwise!

Dr Alice Roberts herself is not just a TV presenter but author, Anatomist and Physical Anthropologist.

She is an engaging, impassioned and informed presenter. The content of Origins of Us is presented in an accessible way so as not to be so dry as to verge on an Open University Documentary Tutorial, but not dumbed down to insult our intelligence either.

The first episode ‘Bones’ looked at how our skeleton reveals the evolutionary journey of our ancestors. The BBC webpage for this program explains more about the purpose of the series and the background of Alice Roberts.

In their words this program is ‘a journey through your own body, 6 million years and 300 000 generations of our family, from a tree dwelling ape in the forests of Africa, to you and the six billion other humans on Earth today.’ The BBC’s Family Research series Who Do You Think You Are? for the whole of humankind.

The web-page also provides some great art visualising our ancient ancestors from Propliopithecus right up to we modern Homo Sapiens.

There is also a link to Dr Alice Robert’s blog on the series. She also has her own website. Or if you prefer to digest her thoughts in bite-size she tweetstoo.

Homo heidelbergensis

Homo heidelbergensis

The nub of the first episode was exploring what it was about we humans that caused us to diverge from our nearest animal relatives chimpanzees and to look at the first forest dwelling ape to stand up on their own two feet and walk, six million years ago in Africa.

The program commenced in the jungles of Uganda observing chimpanzees in their natural forest habitat and examining how their anatomy allowed them to climb and then jump from tree to tree as oppose to how ours is built to allow us to be upright, to walk and to run.

The show goes on to explore variations in our skeleton to that of a chimpanzee such as how our spine joins to our skull, the shape of our hands and feet (did you know that 25% of your bones are in your two hands?!) and of surprising significance to me at least the role of our posterior in our human motion.

Origins of Us Babies in motion

Early Ascent

One charming section of the program exploring human motion saw Dr Alice Roberts among a group of babies and toddlers – some of them walking, some of them not quite there.

A later section has Dr Alice Roberts wired up as she is monitored on a running machine exploring the surprising muscle combinations required for this such as a ligament in our neck essential for keeping us balanced when we are running.

Origins of Us - Running Machine Alice Roberts

Dr Alice Roberts on Running Machine

As I share this with you I am sitting down in front of my iMac – typical of my sedentary lifestyle – and typical I suspect of the majority of you reading this. But as Alice Roberts points out even the most active of us today is sedentary compared with our first human ancestors who spent most of their time not even walking but running – for prey, for safety, the proverbial fight or flight.

Finally the first episode explored our tool-making abilities with the perhaps surprising revelation that it was not the making of tools that defined us from the other apes but how we made use of those tools.

Also a quick mention to the musical soundtrack by English composer Niraj Chag though it should be added that the sounds of the African jungle were captivating enough.

Origins of Us

Chimpanzee and Human skeletal hands – we are the big thumbed humans…

I am greatly looking forward to the next ‘Guts’ episode.

Education, education, education and the Hillsborough Disaster

HansardMonday October 17th in the House of Commons was Education, Education, Education before the finale of the Hillsborough Disaster and whether there should be full disclosure of government documents relating to it.

The education debates were certainly varied and detailed – Maths GCSE Results were debated as were the GCSE results of the new Academies. Additionally the new English Baccalaureate and University Technical Colleges were tabled along with Faith Schools, Music, British Sign Language and Sure Start.

Strood Academy

Strood Academy, Kent

Academies are a current favourite of the Conservatives, primarily it seems because they can perform beyond the control of their Local Authority – a politically motivated and ideologically driven change does not inspire me with confidence in them. The Conservative Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton explaining ‘that all the evidence from around the world…’, a statement itself so ludicrously sweeping as to confirm that there is no such universal evidence, ‘…is that three factors give rise to improved performance – autonomy, high-quality teaching and external accountabilities’.

I am not going to spend much time on external accountability – who could argue with it? – other than to merely note that it is not clear how a school outside the control of a Local Authority is any more accountable than what that is not?

Autonomy though concerns me as it suggests that schools are better off running themselves without any over-riding national body or external audit, indeed to borrow that ugly phrase, without any external accountabilities.

I strongly question the idea that parents should decide a school curriculum – what do most of us know about most secondary school subjects? How well educated are most of us that we could better decide syllabus than Education Professionals with University Degrees?

And why stop at the parents, why not let the pupils decide? If that idea was proposed the conservative commentariat would cry ‘Lord of the Flies’ and pooh-pooh the woolly-headed liberalism of it all – but parents deciding is not much of a further fetch from that?

I want my teachers to educate not manage school budgets. The same as I want my GP to treat not  manage health budgets.

As for the phrase ‘high-quality teaching’ that is a facile circular remark – like saying high-quality care leads to the best outcomes – you don’t say! Such a statement completely absents itself of how an academy education provides high-quality teaching in a way that other private and public education does not.

University Technical Colleges

University Technical Colleges

Also discussed were the new University Technical Colleges – Comprehensive Schools with a greater vocational emphasis and sponsored by business such as Rolls Royce, Blackberry makers, Research in Motion, and Boeing. This is an England wide initiative and one that I believe has promise. The last Labour government rightly focused on increasing participation in education but I thought over-focused on academic skills at the expense of vocational ones. There is also I think good reason to re-introduce Apprentices which surely ally to these University Technical Colleges.

They also provide another source of education funding from the private sector – but one that will need to be monitored – no strings attached as it were. The Member of Surrey Heath also used perhaps the most purplest prose of the day in answer to a question about government bureaucracy not hampering their implementation “…the officials in my Department are allies. They are terrible, swift swords cutting through the bureaucracy that has so far held this country back” – recent examples have suggested this swiftness can often come at the expense of cool consideration and I do not buy this idea of unpatriotic public servants bent on stalling all private-led initiatives.

I love the language politicians employ – a balancing act between masters of spin and masters of the meaningless! Are our primary schools to be next renamed as University Technical Schools, and Kindergarten as University Technical Pre-Schools?!

English Baccalaureate

Already abbreviated to EBacc – because it cannot otherwise be reliably spelled correctly!?

Michael Gove Secretary for Education

Ed Sec

The new English Baccalaureate was later debated, introduced by the Conservative Member for Surrey Heath, I will refer to it hereafter as that member does by the short-hand ‘E-bac’. The Conservative Member for Banbury expressed concern on the negative effect of the ‘E-bac’ on Religious Education. The Member for Surrey Heath first thanked him for ‘being an effective spokesman for the place of faith in the nation’s life’ but then countered that the number of pupils studying RE was on the increase. One wonders whether there is any place for faith in education, that faith by its nature is anti-education? And was saddened too that the teaching of RE (or RI – you work it out!) is on the increase and that the Education Secretary thought this was something to be applauded. With apologies to Pink Floyd but ‘we don’t need no Faith education’.

Next up for debate was the reduction of funding to the Labour initiative Sure Start. It does appear this excellent program of theirs is only being cut due to party-political spite from the Conservatives and it is a notable shame that the Lib Dems led by their Member for Brent Central have not broken coalition rank on a social democratic issue such as this. The Labour Member for Washington and Sunderland West successfully summarised that the Brent Central Member did not have very much of a clue, beyond the usually woolly rhetoric, of the actual impact on the ground of their revised measures.

British Sign Language was raised by the Liberal Democrat member for Wells in respect of its possible pilot as a GCSE Foreign Language.

Hillsboroguh Stadium by Jam Sandwich

Theatre of Dreams, as the fans have it!

The final item of the day was the Hillsborough Disaster recorded as ‘Backbench business’ and a debate commenced by the Labour Member for Liverpool, Walton in respect that the “House calls for the full disclosure of all Government-related documents, including Cabinet minutes, relating to the 1989 Hillsborough disaster; requires that such documentation be uncensored and without redaction; and further calls for the families of the 96 and the Hillsborough Independent Panel to have unrestricted access to that information.”

He then proceeded with a very long speech in favour of such actions.

The Home Secretary then gave a long speech in response. Reading the minutes of Hansard may give a dry feel to this debate but which, as reported on Twitter and other media outlets, was a very emotionally cathartic process difficult to convey by the written word alone. Better instead to watch the televised recordings of the debate.

Many further contributions were made of similarly substantial length by members from both sides of the House with notable contributions from those members of the constituencies most effected in Liverpool, Sheffield and other neighbouring areas of the North West of England.

The debate commenced at 5.42pm and went on to 10pm and I could not possibly do it justice by commenting on it, save but to urge you that rather than reading about it in the particular prism of a party-political media outlet, you should consider reading the minutes of it verbatim here on Hansard.

A batty Thursday in the House of Commons…

Oliver Letwin

Carry On, Minister!

Foremost political news story in the British media last week was regarding the increasingly incredulous revelations about the foreign and security affairs of the Conservative Member for North Somerset and the cherry on the ice-bun the Conservative Member for West Dorset with his disposing of Government papers in the bins of his local park. Both were members of the Coalition Cabinet at the time – the Doctored one no longer is, the unDoctored one still remains – for now?

While these scenes, that would be barely plausible in a Spooks episode, continued to struggle to resolve themselves, in the House of Commons on Thursday October 13 more prosaic affairs were being debated.

The affairs of the House of Commons (and Lords) are ever available for scrutiny even before cameras were allowed into the Houses thanks to Hansard and now more current and accessible thanks to their online publication.

The days affairs are started rather like a school day and its assembly with prayers. And rather like a school I wonder whether this is the secular place for such a practice? Certainly I have never been at a workplace where we all first gathered to say a prayer.

Much of Thursday’s business was broadly regarding matters of faith too.

Bats in the Belfry by Bennie B Off

From Flickr, by Bennie B Off

And to paraphrase the Conservative Member for Maidenhead ‘…I am not making this up’ one of the first items up for debate was Bats in Churches – these purblind creatures cause damage to Churches internal fabrics through their urination and defecation – but this item was not the day’s final item on churches or indeed bats.

Later debated were Church Commissioners then The Theft of Metal in Churches and then again Bats this time sans Churches! Then time was given to the inhabitants of those buildings practised beliefs, first on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit to Africa then the fate of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Fiona Bruce – no not the Scots newsreader and current presenter of The Queens Palaces – but the Conservative Member for Congleton – wanting to know what support the Church Commissioners were giving to them. Pardon me but this feels very much like the business of a village hall and raffle raising for those deemed less fortunate and deserving of charity. Whilst accepting there is a very serious and difficult issue about respecting the sovereignty of a country whilst having concerns of the (often deadly) treatment by governments of those sovereign nations towards groups of peoples it is supposed to be representing (and protecting) – if that is they have any sort of democracy in the first place.

Threading through the odd-couple chiroptological and Southern Kirks affairs were a number of constitutional issues.

United Kingdom Elections were considered toward increasing their participation – notable with voter turnout at historic lows – since 2001 less than two-thirds has become the new-norm. Though also notable in the context of other plans by The Electoral Commission to move toward Individual Voter Registration from the current system of Household Voter Registration which if not implemented carefully could lead to voter-registration falling not rising – some estimates such as from Unlock Democracy – by over one million.

MP Edinburgh North and Leith

Member for Edinburgh North and Leith

In passing the Labour Co-op Member for Edinburgh North and Leith challenged the very integrity of our UK elections due to a section (of about one-and-a-half-million) who can work, join the armed-services, give their sexual consent (and there are further anomalous examples) yet are legally disenfranchised – namely those 16/17 – no taxation without representation! An organisation Vote at 16 are currently campaigning this issue. The Member raising the issue noted that in Scotland the SNP as part of their proposed Scottish Referendum to separate Scotland from the rest of the UK are now considering adding another motion to it, that the voting age should begin aged sixteen.

Vote at 16 LogoFurther constitutional business concerned the proposed election of Police Commissioners. The Labour Member for York Central was more concerned about the cost of such elections making an obvious political if not unfair cost comparison to the cutting of police numbers and budgets as part of the Coalition Government’s ideological – sorry necessary – shrinking of Big Bad Government. And if Small Government is Good Government then presumably the apotheosis of Good Government is No Government – Anarchy for the UK – is that the Conservative Member for Whitney’s real unsaid agenda?! A Big Society, just not one that involves very much governance or regulation.

Next up was Local Referendums, specifically proposals to give powers to communities to hold local ones. This issue was raised by the Conservative Member for Harlow. Though it was not quite clear how a community was being defined here – I presume at the very least an electoral ward. I support referenda and do feel our democracy would benefit from greater use of them – whether at national or local level – though can see a danger too that if used too liberally they will decrease rather than increase electoral participation. And rather like online petitioning which I also approve the sheer number of them is making them unmanageable and thus unworkable?

On the other hand we already have a worrying Democratic Deficit where the two main political parties (leaving aside the SNP in Scotland) Conservative and Labour struggle now to get a third of the voters behind them – a feeling of Crony Capitalism and Government by the Few for the Few?

Superior Interiors with Kelly Hoppen, Superior Opening Credits with Michael Pipkin

Superior Interiors with Kelly Hoppen

Superior Interiors with Kelly Hoppen - Host

Kelly Hoppen

Kelly Hoppen is on a mission. To tackle bad taste, and improve interiors all over the world.

So goes the opening monologue of her new home improvement TV show (it seems a daily expanding genre), currently airing on Channel 5, Superior Interiors with Kelly Hoppen, from Anglo-American production company Optomen, providing a window into the interior décor of some of her clientèle.

I may yet post about her first venture into TV – there must after-all be a TV sweet-spot for interior designers somewhere between Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen and Ann Maurice?! – and may be she will be it.

This post though is about the opening credits. As with my post about Jeeves and Wooster, it is only to focus on them and to discover more about those responsible.

The closing credits list ‘Titles and Graphics’ to Michael Pipkin and Additional Graphics to Satsuma Designs.

Michael Pipkin works for the show’s production company the aforementioned Optomen as their Post Production Manager. A brief bio on their website does state that he ‘creates graphics and title sequences for various programmes’ but does not detail any program in particular. He has a Twitter account and his own website Pipkino but neither refers to this show that I could discover – he is either modest or perhaps it was a collective effort and it is not done practice to name the individuals involved. Or he is not in anyway responsible for them!

Additional credits were given as Satsuma Designs but I cannot believe the opening credits would be described as ‘additional’.

Therefore I am going to credit Michael Pipkin as the man mainly responsible for them, until I hear otherwise!

They have a collage mixture of graphic design and still photographs. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.Superior Interiors with Kelly Hoppen

Superior Interiors with Kelly Hoppen

Superior Interiors with Kelly Hoppen

Superior Interiors with Kelly Hoppen

Gordon Young – Nice to See You

Gordon Young - Comedy Carpet

Gordon Young Typographic Trees

Typographic Trees, Crawley Library

British artist Gordon Young’s latest work The Comedy Carpet, Blackpool is currently featured on My Modern Met.

On his website Gordon Young describes himself as ‘a visual artist who focuses on creating art for the public domain’.

He styles his work as projects with his first such project dating back to 1992, ‘The Fish Pavement, Hull’. His works cover public spaces the length and breadth of Great Britain.

Most of his work is sculpture along with rather singularly typographic pavements.

Another Lancashire town, Morecambe, is especially favoured, including one project on their most famous son who made the town his stage-name, Eric Morecambe, with the Eric Morecambe Memorial Area, a work which included a statue of him by Graham Ibbeson along with steps in homage to those on the Morecambe and Wise show, where their jokes and catch-phrases are written into the steps. A public space that allows a much-loved comedian’s work to live on and perhaps inspire some of its younger visitors to go and look them up on YouTube…

Gordon Young has won numerous awards for his work and appeared in many publications.

What then is the Comedy Carpet? It is made up of three-hundred granite slabs towards constructing a giant board-walk on the Blackpool water-front – like the Eric Morecambe memorial this includes jokes, catchphrases and punchlines etched in to it, but this time from a thousand British comedians – I have visions of pub-teams making vigils to see how many of the thousand they can name!

One of the most visible quotes ‘Nice to See You’ is very apt and was first used in the 1970’s by the recently knighted Bruce Forsyth on the BBC game-show The Generation Game.

Gordon Young The Comedy Carpet

The Comedy Carpet

The Generation Game is now long gone but Bruce Forsyth is still very much with us – he now compères Strictly Come Dancing – as is the catch-phrase.

Gordon Young’s website is yet to provide full details of his Comedy Carpet Project but the aforementioned My Modern Met article provides more information. Even better if you live within travelling distance of Blackpool then pop along and experience in person. I am certain it will be much-photographed though the best shots perhaps will be aerial, such as from a nearby fairground attraction – not a roller-coaster but maybe a more sedentary Ferris-wheel!

His website does though provide fuller details of all his previous projects.

I end this post with photographs of some of them.

Gordon Watson Wall of Wishes

Wall of Wishes, 2007, Bristol Brunel Academy

Gordon Young Climbing Towers and Boulder Wall

Climbing Towers and Boulder Wall, Blackpool, 2006

Gordon Young Burns Steps

Burns Steps, Ayr, 1998

Alexander Kitsenko – Magic Landscapes

Alexander Kitsenko Ukrainian Autumn

Ukrainian Autumn

Alexander Kitsenko

From 1X site

Here then it is.

Perhaps the best way to post about a photographer is simply to display some of their work with a few of my own personal responses – a picture speaks a thousand words – like many a cliché it is a truism too – and let the viewer make up their own mind.

Some background may be of interest though.

Alexander Kitsenko describes himself as a Landscape Photographer on the 500px site and states that he is from Kharkov in Ukraine. That is the extent of the biography he gives – suggesting perhaps that he too thinks his work should speak for itself.

The subjects of his photographs are certainly landscapes – and all Ukrainian landscapes it seems – for me to they have a dream-like quality – something about how he captures natural light – whether at dawn or dusk, direct sunlight or the watery filtering of cloud or mist.

When I googled him, my passing reference to him in my last post on this blog was page-ranked third, and with all due respect to my, it is sadly fair to say, little-viewed-blog this would suggest that he is not widely published on the web.

However he is signed up to other community-based photography websites where more of his work is on show – some of it indeed, such as 1X, the same as available on 500px – understandably as a photographer work is shared across multiple sites for maximum exposure as also you never know which of these sites will stand out from the crowd and which will get lost in the sound of them.

He does on the 1X site provide further information about himself – that he is an amateur photographer and that he is trying to ‘make life a fairy tale’ which is certainly the aura I get from much of his work.

More prosaically he states that he is in his early thirties and shoots his landscapes on a Canon EOS 35D – a camera from about 2005 now superseded by updated models – a modest mid-range camera in terms of performance if more fire-power and cost than most friends-and-family photo-taking cameras. And it demonstrates that though your choice of camera is clearly a central choice the most important factor is the photographer’s inner-eye, their sense of subject and art.

I also came upon the above photo from a site called Weather Forecast which I found arresting. Like a lot of his woodland photographs the forest is magical looking if in a Grimm way, beautiful yet forbidding.

He is also featured on Art Limited where both the same bio and photographs are on show.

As then details of him are not forthcoming on the web I will, as I suspect he wants it, let his work do the talking.

Alexander Kitsenko The Kingdom of Fog

The Kingdom of Fog

Alexander Kitsenko Mystik Forest

Mystik Forest

Alexander Kitsenko Evening Silence...

Evening Silence…

Evening Silence…
Alexander Kitsenko - Ukrainian Landscape

Ukrainian Landscape