Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The borrowers: Why Finland's cities are havens for library lovers

Helsinki’s state-of-the-art Oodi library will stand opposite parliament and boast a cinema, recording studio and makerspace. It’s a perfect fit for a literate nation taking public learning to the next level, writes Tash Reith-Banks in the Guardian. Read on: 

“A library card was the first thing that was mine, that I had ever owned,” says Nasima Razmyar. The daughter of a former Afghan diplomat, Razmyar arrived in Finland with her family in 1992 as a refugee fleeing political unrest. Unable to speak the language, with scant resources, and trying to make sense of the strange new city she found herself in, she was stunned to discover she was entitled to a library card that would grant her books – for free. Her appreciation of the privilege has not faded: “I still have that library card in my wallet today,” she says proudly.

Today, Razmyar is deputy mayor of Helsinki, and ready to champion the institution that has given her so much – starting with the construction of Oodi, the city’s new central library, due to open in December. She is not alone in her passion for libraries. “Finland is a country of readers,” declared the country’s UK ambassador Päivi Luostarinen recently, and it’s hard to argue with her. In 2016 the UN named Finland the world’s most literate nation, and Finns are among the world’s most enthusiastic users of public libraries – the country’s 5.5m million people borrow close to 68m books a year.

Revolutionising the library … artist’s impressions of the design for Oodi
In recognition of that fact, at a time when libraries worldwide are facing budget cuts, a decline in users and closure, Finland is bucking the trend. According to local authority figures from 2016, the UK spends just £14.40 per head on libraries. By contrast, Finland spends £50.50 per inhabitant. While more than 478 libraries have closed in cities and towns across England, Wales and Scotland since 2010, Helsinki is spending €98m creating an enormous new one. Not content with merely building a library, the Finns have gone public with their passion: Mind-building, the Finnish pavilion at this year’s Venice architecture biennale, is a love letter to the nation’s literary landmarks.

Helsinki’s Rikhardinkatu Library opened in 1882 and was the first building in the Nordic countries to be built as a library. This picture shows the reading room in 1924. Photograph: Eric Sundström © Helsinki City Museum
It’s also not hard to see why Finland’s city libraries are so heavily used: 84% of the country’s population is urban, and given the often harsh climate, libraries are not simply places to study, read or borrow books – they are vital places for socialising. In fact, Antti Nousjoki, one of Oodi’s architects, has described the new library as “an indoor town square” – a far cry from the stereotypical view of libraries as stale and silent spaces. “[Oodi] has been designed to give citizens and visitors a free space to actively do what they want to do – not just be a consumer or a flâneur,” explains Nousjoki.

 Lohja main library, which was completed in 2005
Oodi – Ode in English – is more than a sober monument to civic pride. Commissioned as part of Finland’s celebration of a century of independence, the library is no mere book repository. “I think Finland could not have given a better gift to the people. It symbolises the significance of learning and education, which have been fundamental factors for Finland’s development and success,” says Razmyar.

Finnish architect Alvar Aalto designed the Viipuri Library in 1927; this picture is from 1935. Border changes during the second world war mean it is now located in Vyborg, Russia.
Libraries are seen as the visible face of the Finnish belief in education, equality and good citizenship. “There’s strong belief in education for all,” says Hanna Harris, director of Archinfo Finland and Mind-building’s commissioner. “There is an appreciation of active citizenship – the idea that it is something that everyone is entitled to. Libraries embody that strongly,” she adds.

Kallio Library was opened in 1912 in the rapidly growing working-class district of Helsinki.
Preliminary floor plan by Karl Hård af Segerstad, Helsinki City Architect, in 1909.
Those feelings of pride in the equality of opportunity offered by the city’s new library are echoed by the site chosen for Oodi: directly opposite parliament. “I think there is no other actor that could stand in front of the grounds of democracy like the public library does,” says Razmyar. “It’s remarkable that when standing on the open balcony of the library people are looking straight into the parliament and standing on the same level.”

But Oodi isn’t the only Helsinki library to cause excitement. “Töölö library is one of my favourites,” says Harris. “It’s set in a park and has a rooftop balcony. Recently my colleagues and I went down there and there was a queue outside the doors – on a regular weekday morning, there was a queue at 9am to get in.”

Maunula House, which contains the local library, adult education centre and youth centre – and a door to the supermarket next door
Perhaps a clue to the Finnish enthusiasm for libraries comes from the fact that they offer far more than books. While many libraries worldwide provide internet access and other services, libraries in cities and towns across Finland have expanded their brief to include lending e-publications, sports equipment, power tools and other “items of occasional use”. One library in Vantaa even offers karaoke.

These spaces are not designed to be dusty temples to literacy. They are vibrant, well-thought-out spaces actively trying to engage the urban communities who use them. The library in Maunula, a northern Helsinki suburb, has a doorway that leads directly to a supermarket – a striking and functional decision which, along with its adult education centre and youth services section, was partly down to the fact that it was designed with input from locals.

Local favourite … Töölö library, Helsinki, in 1970
Oodi, however, will go even further: in addition to its core function as a library, it will boast a cafe, restaurant, public balcony, cinema, audiovisual recording studios and a makerspace with 3D printers. A sauna was apparently considered but seems not to have made the final cut.

This diversity is key, argues Razmyar. “Libraries must reach out to the new generations. The world is changing – so libraries are changing too. People need places to meet, to work, to develop their digital skills.”

Tampere’s Main Library, Metso, opened in 1986. Its shape was influenced by Celtic ornaments, sheep horns and glacial spin formations.
Moreover, as key urban buildings, libraries are designed to inspire ownership. “We want people to find and use the spaces and start to change them,” says Nousjoki. “Our aim was to make [Oodi] attractive so that everybody will use it – and play a role in making sure it is maintained.”

The site and design of Helsinki’s new library are certainly striking, but perhaps the most impressive thing about it is the lack of public opposition to such a costly project. “People are looking forward to Oodi. It’s not been contentious: people are excited about it across the board,” says Archinfo director Harris. “It will be important to daily life here in Helsinki.”

Nipah just another viral infection & there is nothing to panic, say doctors as three dead in Kerala

After three lives lost to Nipah virus (NiV) and eight battling the disease in Kerala's Kozhikode district, both the state and the Central governments on Monday took comprehensive measures to contain the outbreak of the rare virus. Doctors say it is just another viral infection and there is nothing to panic.

"All the periphery hospitals of the Kozhikode Medical College Hospital are fully equipped to tackle the fever. All those who have fever need not rush to the medical college. At the moment, eight patients are undergoing treatment. Their samples have been sent to Pune and results are awaited," said Kerala Health Minister K.K. Shailaja.

Animal Husbandry department and Forest officials deposit a bat into a container after catching it inside a well at Changaroth in Kozhikode in the Indian state of Kerala on May 21, 2018. A deadly virus carried mainly by fruit bats has killed at least three people in southern India, sparking a statewide health alert May 21. Eight other deaths in the state of Kerala are being investigated for possible links to the Nipah virus, which has a 70 percent mortality rate. AFP
Shailaja said all arrangements are in place, things are under control and there is no need to panic. The state government has sanctioned an emergency fund of Rs 20 lakh to the Kozhikode Medical College to tackle the present fever outbreak.

Nipah virus, spread by fruit bats that infects both animals and humans, has claimed the lives of two brothers and their aunt in Perambara of Kozhikode district within a few weeks, and now eight more people are under close observation.

State health officials visited the victims' house and sealed the unused well that had lots of bats, said Shailaja and added that people are being educated to ensure that they do not eat any fruits that fall down from trees.

To strengthen Kerala government's fight against the virus, the Central government on Monday assured the state of all support and sent a multi-disciplinary Central team from the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to the district.

"We are closely monitoring the situation. I have also dispatched a Central team to assist the state government and initiate required steps," Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare J.P. Nadda said in a statement from Geneva.

Nadda said he had a talk with Union Minister of State for Tourism Alphons Kannathanam and Kerala Health Minister Shailaja. Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan also spoke to the Kerala Principal Health Secretary and reviewed the situation.

In a tweet late on Sunday, Nadda said: "Reviewed the situation of deaths related to Nipah virus in Kerala with Secretary Health. I have directed Director NCDC to visit the district and initiate required steps as warranted by the protocol for the disease in consultation with state government."

Animal Husbandry department and Forest officials inspect a well to catch bats at Changaroth in Kozhikode in the Indian state of Kerala on May 21, 2018.  AFP
The Central team includes Sujeet K. Singh, Director, National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC); S.K. Jain, Head Epidemiology, NCDC; P. Ravindran, Director, Emergency Medical Relief (EMR); and Naveen Gupta, Head Zoonosis, NCDC, along with two clinicians and one expert from the Ministry of Animal Husbandry.

Atul Gogia, Senior Consultant, Department of Medicine, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, said: "Nipah virus is just another viral infection which affects the respiratory and central nervous systems with symptoms like drowsiness. Like most other viral infections, Nipah, too, has no treatment and can only be managed through intensive supportive care."

Gogia said the virus is spread by fruit bats, which are usually found in forests, but due to urbanisation, sometimes it is found even in cities.

While he did not rule out the possibility of an infected person travelling to other parts of the country and spreading the disease, he said there is no threat to other parts of the country including north India and Delhi and there is no need to panic.

The senior doctor, however, said people living in areas inhabited by bats or wildlife animals should be alert as there can be other infections that can afflict them.

Transmission of NiV takes place through direct contact with infected bats, pigs or from other NiV-infected persons.

The three fatalities from the Nipah virus were all from the same family, said Kerala state health minister K.K. Shailaja.

There is no vaccine for Nipah, which can cause raging fevers, convulsions and vomiting. The only treatment is supportive care to control complications and keep patients comfortable.

Media reports say five more people have died from high fevers in recent days, as well as a nurse who had treated people infected with the virus. But medical workers have not yet confirmed what killed those people. At least eight others sick with Nipah symptoms are being monitored.

People who had been in contact with Nipah victims have been put into isolation, Shailaja said.

Nipah, which was first identified during a late 1990s outbreak in Malaysia, can be spread by fruit bats, pigs and through human-to-human contact.

"We are closely monitoring the situation," India's health minister, J.P. Nadda, said in a statement.

Eight other deaths in the state of Kerala are being investigated for possible links to the Nipah virus, which has a 70 percent mortality rate.

"The government received four samples, out of which three deaths were because of Nipah," Kerala health secretary Rajeev Sadanandan told AFP. The victims died in Calicut district.

Sadanandan said the cause of other suspicious deaths could only be confirmed through tests.

"We have sent blood and body fluid samples of all suspected cases for confirmation. It will take 24-48 hours for the results to come."

India's health minister rushed medical experts to the state after a local politician reported that residents were panicking in Calicut district.

The team would "initiate required steps as warranted by the protocol for the disease", J.P. Nadda said on Twitter.

Indian bats cling onto the branches of a banyan tree on the campus of Gujarat College in Ahmedabad on April 29, 2018. AFP / Sam Panthaky
In Kerala, neighbours told local media that family members who died had eaten fruit picked from a compound where they were building a home.

Nipah induces flu-like symptoms that often lead to encephalitis and coma. Fruit bats are considered the main carrier of the virus for which there is no vaccination, according to the World Health Organization.

Nipah was first identified in Malaysia in 1998. It spread to Singapore and more than 100 people were killed in both places. On that occasion, pigs were the virus hosts but they are believed to have caught it from bats.
Medical personnel wearing protective suits check patients at the Medical College hospital in Kozhikode on May 21, 2018. AFP
In India the disease was first reported in 2001 and again six years later, with the two outbreaks claiming 50 lives.

Both times the disease was reported in areas of the eastern state of West Bengal bordering Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has borne the brunt of the disease, with more than 100 people dying of Nipah since the first outbreak was reported there in 2001.

In Bangladesh in 2004, humans became infected with Nipah as a result of consuming date palm sap that had been contaminated by infected fruit bats.

(Source: The Peninsula)

Love letter from 1950s returned to Cornwall couple

A 1950s love letter has been returned to the woman who wrote it to her future husband more than 60 years ago.

Louie Edyvean, 79, put it in a sugar jar with her marriage certificate but gave it to a charity shop by mistake after downsizing five years ago.

The china pot was bought by Cornwall resident, Cathy Davies, who gave it to her friend Lizzie Dixon.
Louie and Derek Edyvean celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary in January
She found the love letter after accidentally smashing the jar on the ground at her home in Roche.

Ms Davies put photos of the love letter and marriage certificate on a local Facebook group page, and says hundreds of people replied offering to help track the couple down.

A member of their family spotted the post within five hours of it being posted and got in touch.

The letter was put in a jar and accidentally given to a charity shop
"I never thought we'd find them," she said.

"To actually find the couple was amazing.

"A friend of mine rang me and said, 'I think I know the daughter-in-law'. She was called Michelle Edyvean, which was the same surname as the elderly couple."

Ms Davies says she was then invited around to their house and personally delivered the love letter back to Derek and Louie.

'Cutest couple'
"I went up the road, found their little bungalow, knocked on their door, and they invited me in," she said.

"They were the cutest couple.

Derek and Louie Edyvean married at Roche Parish Church on 8 January 1958
"Louie hugged me and said, 'You're the lady who's been looking for us'.

"I gave it to them and they couldn't thank me enough. I left in tears and cried all the way home."

Louie says she made a copy of their wedding certificate in 1961 after misplacing the original, which was in their antique sugar shaker all along.

She celebrates her 80th birthday next week after writing the love letter when she was a teenager.

(Source: BBC)

MBAs, lawyers, M Techs join Haryana Police as constables

As a result of the transparent recruitment process in the Haryana Police, highly qualified youth have been recruited in police, including 3,827 from rural areas and 398 from the urban background, the release stated. 

The current batch of the Haryana Police includes professional degree holders which include MBAs, law graduates, M Techs and other post-graduates, a senior police official said on Thursday. The Haryana Staff Selection Commission had earlier released a notification to fill 4,225 constables posts. At present, these constables are taking training, Director General of Police, BS Sandhu, said here in a release.

On May 20, the Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar will be the chief guest at the passing out parade of the 84th batch of Recruit Basic Course (RBC) to be organised at the Haryana Police Academy, Madhuban. The chief minister would also honour those recruits who would secure first, second and third place in the training programme.

After the passing out of this batch, the state police force would be further strengthened. (Representational image)
As a result of the transparent recruitment process in the Haryana Police, highly qualified youth have been recruited in police, including 3,827 from rural areas and 398 from the urban background, the release stated. “Out of these, 2 are M.Phil, 15 M.Tech, 16 MCA, 36 MBA, 33 M.Sc., 38 M.Com, 103 MA, 273 B.Tech., 51 BCA, 3 LLB, 434 B.Sc., 215 B.Com, 844 BA, 23 Diploma holders, 65 are having 10+2 with JBT qualification, two each ITI fitter and polytechnic and 2028 are 10+2 pass,” he said.

The DGP said that training on the topics of police administration, radio telecom, traffic management, maintenance of law and order, security, Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, human behaviour, community policing and computer learning have been imparted to these recruits. After the passing out of this batch, the state police force would be further strengthened, he added.

(Source: The Indian Express)

Are octopuses aliens from outer space that were brought to Earth by meteors?

Octopuses are aliens. That’s the claim being made by a team of 33 researchers published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

They are not referring to aliens in a metaphorical sense, but literal aliens from outer space.

Since the paper was released on Sunday, a trickle of news coverage has turned into a torrent, with increasingly alarming headlines about octopuses and their extra-terrestrial origins.

It will not come as a surprise to many to learn that these claims have been roundly mocked by the scientific community, who have branded the paper – published in Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology – as ridiculous and unscientific.


What are the claims being made?
They suggest the Cambrian explosion, a sudden burst of life that occurred around 540 million years ago, was the result of extra-terrestrial intervention.

The paper asks whether this event, which saw the rapid emergence of most of the main animal groups that still exist on Earth today, was “terrestrial or cosmic”. Their conclusion is the latter.

How do the scientists suggest this would work?
Specifically, the researchers propose the idea that alien viruses crashed to Earth in a meteor, infected a population of primitive squid and caused them to evolve into octopuses.

Another theory they suggest is that fertilised squid or octopus eggs were delivered to Earth by a meteor.
The idea is essentially a reimagining of the “panspermia” hypothesis, which suggests that life on Earth was “seeded” by space dust or asteroids crashing into Earth. One of its first proponents, Chandra Wickramasinghe, is one of the authors of the new paper.

Why do the researchers look at the octopus in particular?
Octopuses are weird. They are molluscs, meaning they are closely related to snails, and yet they are incredibly intelligent.

On top of their large brains and sophisticated nervous systems, the authors of the new paper list camera-like eyes, flexible bodies and ability to camouflage themselves by changing colour and shape as evidence of their extra-terrestrial origins.

So suddenly did these features appear in the octopus family tree that “it is plausible then to suggest they seem to be borrowed from a far distant ‘future’ in terms of terrestrial evolution, or more realistically from the cosmos at large,” the authors write.

“Such an extraterrestrial origin as an explanation of emergence of course runs counter to the prevailing dominant paradigm,” they continue. This is a strong contender for understatement of the century.

What reason is there to doubt the claims being made in the paper?
There are plenty of reasons. First off, as Mark Carnall from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History pointed out in a series of tweets, not one of the paper’s authors is a zoologist.

Much of the authors’ speculation rests on the idea that the genetics of octopuses and their relatives are mysterious – yet a 2015 paper published in Nature revealed the octopus genome, so this is rather disingenuous.
In fact, octopus genes suggest they fit into the generally understood theory of the evolution of life on Earth, and require no alien invasion. They are thought to have split from the squid lineage around 135 million years ago.

Molecular geneticist Professor Karin Moelling of the Max Planck Institute Molecular Genetics, who was asked to review the report, concluded that it "cannot be taken seriously”.

The primary reason for doubt given by Professor Moelling is that there is “no evidence at all”.

Haven’t I heard something about octopuses being aliens before?
Writers are fond of comparing octopuses to aliens due to their unusual appearance and great intelligence. Philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith, who has written a book about octopus intelligence titled Other Minds, has described them as “the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien”.

On top of that, this is not the first time octopuses have been mistakenly labelled aliens by the press.

An unfortunately worded press release concerning the Nature paper describing the octopus genome led to a slew of online news pieces in 2015 about researchers finding “alien DNA” in these creatures.

(Source: Independent)