Friday, 13 August 2010

Swine flu pandemic officially over

The influenza A H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic has been declared officially over by the World Health Organization. On 10th August the WHO announced that the world had moved out of phase 6 of the influenza pandemic alert. Entering into the post-pandemic phase does not mean that the virus has gone away, however. There are still localised outbreaks plus the usual mix of seasonal viruses.
As the WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan stated, "Pandemics, like the viruses that cause them, are unpredictable. So is the immediate post-pandemic period. There will be many questions, and we will have clear answers for only some. Continued vigilance is extremely important."
So the days of seeing some people in masks are over. For now....

(photo credit (swine flu in Japan): New Scientist)

Monday, 9 August 2010

"The three books of the potter's art"

This 1934 Official Publication, published by the Victoria and Albert Museum under the authority of the Board of Education, relates to a treatise written in 1548 by the Italian expert Cipriano Piccolpasso. It offers the transcription of the original text in Italian and the English translation on the same page, making it particularly easy to explore the 16th century Italian text, for those who are keen to do so. Despite being a modern edition, it still keeps the feeling of a manuscript, thanks to the reproduction in facsimiles of the pages containing illustrations. The reader will be able to easily understand the content because of the modern printing, but also to enjoy the layout of an ancient book, the handwriting of the author, the amended errors and the side notes, as well as the amusing illustrations, that make up the first monograph in an European language on the subject of the art of pottery.
The manuscript remained on Italian soil until 1861, when it was sold to Sir Charles Robinson, an antiquarian. He was made superintendent of the art collections when the South Kensington Museum (now V&A) was founded in 1852. In 1863 the manuscript was added to the collection of the National Art Library at the V&A.
Given the strong tradition of pottery in Scotland, this item may be of interest to artists, art historians but also amateurs and general public. It was also the author’s belief that spreading the knowledge of the art of pottery, until then considered “secret”, would have resulted in improved interest and skills: “To those who deem me presumptuous in publishing this secret I answer that it is better many should know a good thing than few should keep it hidden”. Isn’t this the ultimate reason for every book to be collected, promoted and cared for?

Alas, poor E.T.?

The new exhibition at the Royal College of Surgeons is on now until April 2011. It explores the development of plastic surgery from around 800 BC, including the consequences of warfare and today's growing obsession with enhancing the human body.
I'll be going as there are never before seen pathology specimens on show, including a bound South American skull. Some ancient communities practised skull binding, which is a tantalising anthropological puzzle. While it is most likely that rope, cloth and boards were used to elongate the skull at a young age, there are debates why this was done. Perhaps it was to enhance mental abilities or it was part of a social hierarchy. Or perhaps these conical-headed people were aliens?

(photo credit: Robert Connolly, from