Liam Shaw

11 January 2021

Platypuses do it differently

Of all the mammals, the naturalist George Shaw (no relation) wrote when he first described it in 1799, the platypus ‘seems the most extraordinary in its conformation’, exhibiting ‘the perfect resemblance of the beak of a duck engrafted on the head of a quadruped’. Last week, the first near-complete platypus genome was published.

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8 December 2020

‘They spend it all on clipboards’

A stretch of the River Lugg was destroyed last week. ‘The river and its banks have been bulldozed, straightened and reprofiled into a sterile canal,’ Hereford Wildlife Trust reported, ‘with all bankside and riverside habitats completely obliterated.’ What used to be a gentle brook flowing between picturesque, entangled banks now looks like a storm drain: barren mud criss-crossed with the imprints of bulldozer tracks.

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13 September 2019

A sharp crack and a heavy explosion

The first V2 to hit London fell on Staveley Road, Chiswick, on the evening of Friday, 8 September 1944. There was a small gathering to commemorate the 75th anniversary at the site last Sunday. Unlike the V1s, which you could hear coming with the buzzing of their pulsejet engine – Iris Murdoch described watching them ‘tottering past the window’ – V2s gave no warning at all. Fired from continental Europe and tracing out a parabola into space, they fell at supersonic speed from at least fifty miles up.

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13 June 2019

A Sort of Inverse Square Law

Seventy-five years ago, on 13 June 1944, a pilotless aircraft flew over the south of England in the early hours of the morning. Its engine buzzed loudly, giving off flames in the moonless night, until it cut out somewhere over the East End of London at 4.25 a.m., and crashed in Mile End along with nearly a tonne of explosive. The blast destroyed a railway bridge, killed six people, injured 42 and made two hundred homeless.

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1 November 2018

Fool the Discriminator

Last week Christie’s sold at auction a portrait ‘created by an artificial intelligence’ for $432,500. The canvas from the art collective Obvious was described as a portrait of the fictional ‘Edmond Belamy’, and signed with an equation: It expresses the concept underlying the class of machine-learning algorithms known as Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs), which were used to produce the portrait.

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