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31 October 2014 Last updated at 19:59 ET

Love to Patrick

Man with typewriter

Office etiquette is such a minefield. Is it better to stick to the rules, or bend them? How chatty should emails to your boss be? Back in 1929, writes Matthew Teller, one British Indian diplomat took his breezily informal approach a bit too far.

On Christmas Day 1928, Mohamed Waris Ali arrived in Gwadar, a fishing port on the Arabian Sea, to represent the interests of His Majesty King George V, Emperor of India.

Map showing Gwadar Gwadar (Gwadur) is a port on the coast of Baluchistan, west of Karachi (Kurrachee)

It is not known whether he was looking forward to the job, though he did note in one early report that his predecessor had gone mad and killed himself - due partly to "passport drudgery and other overwork".

Obituary

This can't have endeared Waris Ali to his superiors, and before long one of them - the political agent in Muscat, Maj George Murphy - was writing bitter letters of complaint to the British resident in Bushehr, Lt Col Cyril Barrett.

"I think the gentleman needs… to be placed under observation as a mental case," he wrote in one letter dated 8 June 1929. He went on to relate how Waris Ali had handed a bottle of urine to a British official passing through Gwadar "to have it examined in Karachi, as he thought he was suffering from hereditary gonorrhoea".

But what particularly seems to have infuriated the Major was Waris Ali's habit of writing as if they were equals. Waris Ali was addressing him as "Dear Murphy" - "with the 'Major' put in afterwards," Murphy spluttered - and signing off with the outlandish line: "Love to Patrick".

Letter from Murphy to Barrett

Tantalisingly, Murphy doesn't say who Patrick was. Martin Woodward, a British Library specialist who has studied the file, is stumped.

"Perhaps he was a British member of staff with the first name or surname 'Patrick'," Woodward says. "Some of the British political agents were married and had families, so I suppose Waris Ali's greeting could have been intended for a young son of Maj Murphy, if he had one. Or it could have been his dog. It's just not clear."

Round the Bend

A series of tales from the days when Britain ruled India and the Gulf, told with documents newly digitised by the British Library

Whatever the circumstances, "Love to Patrick" was bizarrely over-familiar - a protocol-busting line for a junior diplomat to write to a military officer.

On 6 July Barrett consulted Waris Ali's other boss, the Director of Telegraphs in Karachi, Lt Col G De Smidt. He noted how much Murphy resented the "Love to Patrick" line, and asked De Smidt if he was satisfied with the agent's work.

De Smidt's reply came almost immediately. Waris Ali was, on the one hand, "a dreadful fellow" with "verbal diarrhoea" - but on the other, his work was "distinctly good".

Letter from Barrett to De Smidt

De Smidt even joked with Barrett. "Murphy is behind the times I fear. Waris Ali is… an Indian gentleman, and there is nothing for it but to thank him for his kind message to Patrick!"

Barrett evidently agreed. In a personal letter to Murphy on 22 August he pointedly described him as a "conscientious worker" - and the personality clash disappears from the record soon afterwards.

Barrett writes to Murphy

Did Waris Ali know of Murphy's fury? Was he, perhaps, even baiting Murphy deliberately - or making a poorly judged reference to the major's Irish surname? We simply don't know.

The following April, Waris Ali was transferred from Gwadar. Murphy left Muscat six weeks later, on 15 June 1930.

We can only wonder if they happened to be posted to the same place.

Have you ever got the tone wrong in a workplace email, or received one that was strangely over-familiar? If so send us an email to: the.magazine@bbc.co.uk using the subject line Patrick. A selection of your comments will be published.

If you have any information about who "Patrick" was or might have been, please contact Martin Woodward on Twitter via @BLQatar.

Round the Bend is a series of tales from the days when Britain ruled India and the Gulf, told with documents newly digitised by the British Library. You can explore the archive yourself.

Click here to see the originals of the letters excerpted above: Waris Ali's obituary of his predecessor; Maj Murphy's complaint about 'Love to Patrick'; De Smidt's letter in support of Waris Ali; Barrett's letter ending the row.

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Weekendish: The best of the week's reads

Girl who was a contract labourer

A collection of some of the best reads from the BBC News website this week, with an injection of your comments.

Forced to work on a farm at the age of eight, David Gogniat is now trying to find out, more than six decades later, why he was kidnapped. Hundreds of thousands of Swiss children - from the middle of the 19th Century until as recently as the 1970s - were taken from their families and exploited as cheap labour. Social workers came and went, but the children were too scared to speak out. Kavita Puri hears the stories of three children who were beaten and put to work, and are now seeking answers. A campaign to compensate them is gaining momentum. But Gogniat wants to know who is responsible and, like many other "contract children", has been examining his childhood files.

On Facebook David Furman says this is another example of the "exploitation of the weak by the strong, regardless of common or different gender, ethnicity, race, nationality, society, religion, or any other factors".

Switzerland's shame: The children used as cheap child labour

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Afghan Odyssey

Conrad on patrol with Peg

Tony Lewis is not necessarily after answers. He wants to understand. In a feature by Fergal Keane, he travels to Afghanistan to see the country where his son Conrad was killed by a Taliban sniper in 2011. Lewis meets schoolgirls hoping to be doctors, other parents bereaved by war, and members of a charity which helped send the stray dog that Conrad had adopted, to the UK. Lewis goes there to experience the place "the athlete and the would-be rock drummer, the boy who couldn't wait to quit school and be a man" served and died. It is his tribute to his fallen son. On Twitter Mark Worsnop calls it a "very moving report that offers some glimmers of hope in a very complex situation".

Afghanistan: A father's journey in the footsteps of his fallen son

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Feeling the force

Man dressed as Jedi outside Somerset House in London

In the 2001 census just under 400,000 people put "Jedi" down as their religion. It was a joke at the expense of statisticians, but one which has now sparked a genuine desire by some to try to build a new religion. It is estimated that around 2,000 people in the UK are active followers of Jediism. But it isn't just lightsaber fun and mind tricks. Focus, knowledge and wisdom are what it preaches and new members are given five key tenets to learn. But how has this intergalactic faith attracted followers worldwide and what are they getting from it? Tom de Castella follows the force and finds out.

Have Jedi created a new 'religion'?

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Magical masterpiece

Leonardo da Vinci Self-Portrait

Can you feel the force in Leonardo's eyes? Look closely. Anything? Because according to a myth in Turin, it was feared that had Hitler ever got his hands on it, the artist's intense stare would give him great strength. Out of the entire collection of drawings and manuscripts at the Royal Library, this piece was the only one sneaked away to Rome. It didn't survive the journey unscathed. Now it is kept in climate-controlled luxury and can only be moved with ministerial approval.

On Twitter Alessandro Gallo helpfully points out that this drawing comes from a "golden age during which there were not selfies, but self-portraits".

The Leonardo hidden from Hitler in case it gave him magic powers

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Armageddon file

Karen Meagher as Ruth Beckett in the 1984 drama Threads

It is always a good idea to prepare for the worst, but in 1982 that planning went further than you may have thought. Declassified Home Office files have revealed details of a secret exercise to test the UK's capacity to rebuild after a massive nuclear attack. One short-lived proposal considered recruiting psychopaths to help keep order because their dispassionate, yet logical, minds might lend themselves well to local post-Armageddon leadership. Much like the 1984 BBC drama Threads, this war game tried to predict how disorder might break out, how the authorities should interact with vigilante groups and where the thousands of survivors should go. Thankfully the plan - called Regenerate - was never needed.

The nuclear attack on the UK that never happened

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Drawing of a canal in the Back Bay

Embracing a problem and planning for it is something Boston is also considering, albeit on a less apocalyptic scale. Sea level is rising - it could rise by about six feet by the end of the century, scientists say - while the entire East Coast is sinking. If a hurricane were to coincide with a high tide, parts of Boston would find themselves under several feet of water even today. But instead of keeping the waters out, a new idea has been floated. Why not let the water in? One vision sees the historic Back Bay district becoming something a little like Venice. Joanna Jolly finds out more.

How Boston is rethinking its relationship with the sea

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And if all of that wasn't enough, here are some smaller bites for you to enjoy...

If your Afghan battlefield slang needs brushing up, you can check out what crap-hats and jinglytrucks are. We also look at London's first lion shortage since the 13th Century, what it means to be de-arrested and what modern technology means for good manners.

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Here are some things we've enjoyed this week from elsewhere around the web:

The extraordinary story of an epic art fraud - The Guardian

A gang's selfies are sending them to prison - Vice

The cheapest generation - The Atlantic

Making sense of "yes means yes" - Verdict

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Go Figure: The week in numbers

Look back at the week in numbers with our Go Figure images, which are posted daily on social media.

GoFigpigs

Monday: Millions of pigs are running wild across large parts of the US

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GoFigRwanda

Tuesday: Global gender gap narrows, survey suggests. How equal is your nation?

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GoFig india violence

Wednesday: 'He started choking me': The epidemic of domestic violence that blights India

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GoFig Autism

Thursday: New study points to new genetic risks for autism

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GoFigChinacorruption

Friday: Chinese anti-corruption investigators seize record haul at official's home

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook


10 things we didn't know last week

Person scratching their arm

1. America used at least 1,000 ex-Nazis as spies in the Cold War.

Find out more

2. Scratching an itch really does make it itch more.

Find out more (Daily Mail)

3. Two per cent of Anglican clergy are not sure whether God is "more than a human construct".

Find out more (The Times)

4. New York has its own species of frog that has gone undiscovered for decades.

Find out more (National Geographic)

5. There have been lions in London since the 13th Century - arriving either in 1210 or 1235 - although they may have died out briefly under Henry VI in 1436.

Find out more

6. Sage enhances your brain's performance.

Find out more

7. The consumption of French fries and pizzas on the world's second largest cruise ship rises if there are more Americans and children on board.

Find out more (New Yorker)

8. The Ritz in London still uses traditional keys rather than key cards.

Find out more

9. Danish people enjoy a long-form version of the happiness gene serotonin, while people from Britain and the US have shorter forms.

Find out more (The Independent)

10. Musicians have the same life expectancy as Zimbabweans.

Find out more (The Times)

Seen a thing? Tell the Magazine on Twitter using the hashtag #thingIdidntknowlastweek

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How often is 'antifreeze' added to food and drink?

Bottles of Fireball in a line

Bottles of a flavoured whisky brand have been removed from shops for containing high levels of an antifreeze ingredient. How often is propylene glycol used in food and drink, asks Chris Stokel-Walker.

Fireball Cinnamon Whisky "tastes like heaven… burns like hell", its manufacturer, Sazerac Company, claims in marketing materials. According to market research firm Nielsen, the whisky is one of the top 10 bestselling drinks in the US, beating popular brands such as Jose Cuervo tequila.

The drink has been removed from shelves in Norway, Sweden and Finland after batches of the whisky made to a recipe acceptable in North America - where 50g of propylene glycol per kilogram of food or drink is acceptable - made their way to Europe, where the limit on the substance is lower, at 3g per kilogram. The manufacturer says a mix-up caused US recipe whisky to be sent to Europe.

Food or drink ingredients being acceptable in the US but not in the EU is not uncommon, says Peter Ho, a food processing lecturer at the University of Leeds. "In general, there are different standards set. It could be for a variety of different reasons, including where research expertise lies."

The headlines have all made reference to antifreeze, but the Fireball situation is completely different to the Austrian wine scandal of 1985. Then diethylene glycol - which can easily kill - was used to improve the flavour of sweet wine.

In this instance the substance propylene glycol, while not without controversy, is a common food additive used for a variety of purposes. According to propylene glycol producers in Europe, 730 kilotonnes of the chemical were produced across the continent last year, one third of which was for food manufacture.

Propylene glycol is also used in e-cigarette manufacturing, says Chris Kinnserley, a food safety expert, though some users have raised concerns that it can cause an allergic reaction, causing throat irritation. As a result some e-cigarette manufacturers have swapped out propylene glycol for vegetable glycerine, a plant-based alternative also used in the food and drink industry.

The Sazerac Company has said in a statement that the recall is a "technical compliance issue". It added that propylene glycol is "a common, perfectly safe, FDA and EU approved flavouring agent used in more than 4,000 products", including alcohol, soft drinks, and biscuits and cakes.

They've also reassured customers that the drink, made to a recipe compliant with EU regulations, will be back on shelves within three weeks.

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Quiz of the week's news

7 days 7 questions

It's the Magazine's weekly news quiz - an opportunity to prove to yourself and others that you are a news oracle. Failing that, you can always claim you had better things to do than swot up on current affairs.

For past quizzes including our weekly news quiz, 7 days 7 questions, expand the grey drop-down below - also available on the Magazine page (and scroll down).

You can follow the Magazine on Twitter and on Facebook


Caption Challenge: Crane-osaurus

workers in Germany transport a model of a dinosaur at the exhibition "World of Dinosaurs" near Leipzig

Winning entries in the Caption Challenge.

The competition is now closed.

This week workers in Germany transport a model of a dinosaur at the exhibition "World of Dinosaurs" near Leipzig.

Thanks to all who entered. The prize of a small amount of kudos to the following:

6. Rodcar:

"They suffered from very sore throats you know."

5. Mark:

"Pleistocene?" "No, mainly fibreglass, apparently."

4. Steve Pettit:

The real reason the dinosaurs died out - erectile dysfunction.

3. Nigel Bryan:

"When you said you wanted me to work on the prequel to War Horse..."

2. Helene Parry:

House of Commons acquires new statue: "This is what an anti-feminist looks like."

1. Sue Scott:

Neville heard the sad news about Lord Attenborough and insisted on travelling to the memorial service.

PDF download Full rules can be seen here[16KB]

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What is the parliamentary dress code?

Harriet Harman in her slogan T-shirt

MP Harriet Harman has worn a T-shirt with a feminist slogan to Prime Minister's questions. But what is the parliamentary dress code, asks Lucy Townsend.

Men should wear a shirt and tie. Women are expected to dress in smart businesslike attire. Slogan T-shirts are not allowed.

But Harriet Harman's T-shirt, with the words "this is what a feminist looks like", is the latest in a string of sartorial statements made by MPs.

In 2013 Green Party MP Caroline Lucas was asked to cover up her T-shirt emblazoned with the words "No more page three", which she wore to a debate on media sexism. Chairman of the session, Labour's Jimmy Hood, told her to "put her jacket back on" and comply with the dress code.

Labour's Kevin Brennan called for dress-down Thursdays in the House of Commons in 2002, but was rebuffed as he stood up to speak without wearing a tie. Speaker Michael Martin said in response, "What my feeling would be is - jackets and tie for honourable gentlemen."

Caroline Lucas in her 'no more page three T-shirt'

Breaking with convention has always been a way of making a political point. Oliver Cromwell wore plain, and not very clean, linen made by a country tailor, and a hat without a hat band, according to a House of Commons factsheet. His fellow Puritans dressed similarly.

But for others it is just about style.

In 1900, a new set of rules had to be written to clarify the etiquette regarding tall hats, which had become fashionable.

The answer

  • MPs should wear smart businesslike clothes
  • Men should wear jackets and ties
  • Slogan T-shirts are frowned upon

The author Alfred Kinnear MP, wrote: "At all times remove your hat on entering the House, and put it on upon taking your seat and remove it again on rising for whatever purpose. If the MP asks a question he will stand, and with his hat off and he may receive the answer of the Minister seated and with his hat on."

Until 1998, MPs were able to wear an "opera hat" to draw attention to themselves to raise a point of order. Two of the black top hats were kept in the Commons, but they were scrapped by the Select Committee on Commons Modernisation because they made the House "look ridiculous".

"There are still tags in the cloakroom for MPs to hang their swords on," says journalist Quentin Letts. "It's a little red ribbon next to their coat hooks.

"I did see a male MP come in once with no tie and an anorak. Nothing was said but he didn't catch the speaker's eye. That tends to be how it works."

The deputy Labour leader's T-shirt is part of a campaign by The Fawcett Society and Elle magazine. It is not known whether the Speaker had noticed it.

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The way drugs and prostitution boost the economy

Red light district

Later this year, the UK economy will get a £10bn boost from illegal drugs and prostitution, writes Anthony Reuben.

The Office for National Statistics, which has to calculate the figure, confirmed it at an economic forum last week and will publish more details next month. It will be £3bn from prostitution and £7bn from illegal drugs.

Small Data

  • A series on curious numbers cropping up in the news, by stats watcher Anthony Reuben

The European Union has declared that illegal activities need to be included in national accounts so that comparisons can be made between countries. In the Netherlands, for example, some drugs are permitted that are illegal elsewhere in Europe, and there is legal prostitution. Given that the allocation of the EU budget is based on the size of a country's economy measured by gross national income (GNI), the EU wants to be sure that all countries are measuring it in the same way.

The inclusion of illegal activities is one of a range of changes to the national accounts, which will be introduced across Europe from September. The activities involved are only supposed to be those in which both parties are, at least nominally, voluntary participants.

At first that will only include UK production of cannabis, drug smuggling and prostitution, but it is expected that illegal employment, gambling, pirating of software and fencing of stolen goods will also eventually be included. The European statistics authority Eurostat has brought out extensive guidelines on measuring illegal activities. It says we must assume that all illegal drugs and prostitution services are consumed by households and not businesses.

Statisticians need only be concerned with the takings of prostitutes who have been resident in the country for more than a year and research is recommended on the supply-side (prostitutes) rather than the demand side (their clients) as it is more reliable.

Look out for full details of how the ONS reached its estimates in May.

Knowing how much has been spent on illegal activities is important because otherwise there is a great deal of money that has been legally earned, but you don't know how it has been spent - creating a mismatch between figures for earnings and spending or saving.

Similarly, it would mean there was a lot of money being spent on legal products and services, of which you did not know the origin.

In other words, money from illegal activities, if its origin can be hidden, circulates round the economy just like any other money, and EU statisticians have decided it's important to be able to account for it.

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UPDATE 30 October: The article was changed to correct the fact that the EU budget calculations are based on gross national income (GNI) and not gross domestic product (GDP).


Have there been lions in London since 1210?

C. 1900: A captive lion in Regents Park Zoo, London

The decision by London Zoo to build a new lion exhibit means its three remaining lionesses will be temporarily relocated to Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire. Can this, as reports suggest, be the first time since 1210 that the UK capital will be without lions, asks Harry Low.

Ruby, Heidi and Indi will in November leave London until 2016, while a new home is built for them. It may mark the first time the capital has been without lions since the 13th Century, says Sally Dixon-Smith, curator of collections at the Tower of London.

"You can't prove there's always been a lion at the Tower of London but the aim was always to have a lion," says Dixon-Smith.

The earliest sign that there were lions in London are records of payments being made to lion-keepers in 1210 when King John began the Royal Menagerie. But the first definitive record of lions arriving is in 1235, says Dixon-Smith. This was when Roman Emperor Frederick II gave three lions to England's King Henry III on marrying Henry's sister Isabella.

The animal had an important cultural significance as a symbol of the King. Lions, sourced from North Africa, were often received as diplomatic gifts and the Tower's lion population grew because lions are able to breed in captivity.

But it isn't clear that there is an unbroken period of lions in the Tower. It is thought that during Henry VI's reign, in 1436, all of the lions died, although this is hard to verify.

Conditions were "pretty grim" at the Royal Menagerie, which existed from the 13th Century to the 19th Century, and certainly not like a modern zoo, says Dixon-Smith. There was one notorious incident in 1830. A member of staff mistakenly raised the wrong door, allowing a lion and a Bengal tiger and tigress to meet. They were separated after half an hour by using heated rods to poke the mouth and nostrils of the tigers but the lion later died.

By the time of World War Two, the lions had moved to London Zoo. There is nothing to suggest they were moved out of the capital during the Blitz, a zoo spokesman says.

"The fact that lions are going to become locally extinct in London is really ironic because lions in both Asia and Africa are almost on the precipice" said David Field, zoological director at London Zoo.

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What does it mean to be de-arrested?

Dean Balboa Perry being taken away by police after the incident

A jogger who bumped into David Cameron in Leeds was arrested and then de-arrested. But what does it mean to be "de-arrested", asks Tom Heyden.

Dean Farley was running to the gym when he accidentally knocked into the PM. He was immediately seized by security staff and whisked away in a police van. He was arrested but after being questioned he was then "de-arrested". But although in literal terms he was released without charge, "de-arrested" is not technically the same as "released without charge". The key difference in terminology is whether the person is taken into custody and processed, says a spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo).

Normal procedure is that an arrested person is taken into the police station to a custody sergeant, to whom the arresting officer explains the case details, he says. If the arrest is valid then that person's belongings are taken and filed away. The person is put into a cell, interviewed and then potentially released within 24 hours (unless a 12-hour extension is sought), says the spokesman. But if at any point before that processing stage it becomes apparent there's no case to answer then it will be a "de-arrest" rather than a "release without charge", he says.

The answer

  • An arrested person is released before being processed at a police station
  • Reasons may include mistaken identity or other exonerating evidence coming to light
  • If a case is dropped after the suspect is processed, the terminology would be "released without charge"

But that doesn't necessarily mean you can't be immediately re-arrested on different charges, as George Michael discovered in 2006. He'd been found slumped in his car and was arrested on suspicion of being unfit to drive. The singer was then de-arrested after a doctor's examination at a London police station - only to be arrested on charges of possessing Class C drugs.

For an arrest to be lawful it must adhere to the conditions laid out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. An arresting officer must hold an "honest and reasonable" suspicion that a criminal act has been carried out by the detainee, explains Kevin Donoghue, solicitor-director of Donoghue Solicitors. If at any point the facts of the original arrest change, he says, then an officer has to question whether he or she still maintains that honest suspicion. "And the key issue is that every detention of any individual must be justified on a minute-by-minute basis," Donoghue says.

Who, what, why?

Question mark from original drawing for Television Centre

A part of BBC News Magazine, Who, What, Why? aims to answer questions behind the headlines

In Farley's case, the arresting officers were able to verify his story that he was on his way to meet his trainer at the gym. But in other cases it may be a case of mistaken identity, for instance. It may be that what is at one point a legitimate arrest is later nullified by evidence that comes to light soon afterwards - such as exonerating footage from CCTV - and the person will be "de-arrested", says Donoghue. Often during a bar brawl, he adds, police may grab as many people as they can before identifying the criminal culprits.

But a de-arrest is not necessarily an admission of a mistake on behalf of the officer, says Acpo. And a de-arrest doesn't overturn the fact of the arrest, Donoghue says. "As a general rule of thumb, if somebody is nicked and within five seconds is let go on the scene, there's unlikely to be any formal record created." But if 10 minutes later the police catch the right person, the initial erroneous arrest may well be included in the police report, he says. Once it's in the system then it may come up in an enhanced DBS (formerly CRB) check, used to determine whether individuals should be barred from certain types of work, Donoghue explains.

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Modern Manners: We still like to be told

E-cigarette

Debrett's, an authority on British manners, has published for the first time the questions they are most frequently asked by the public. But are manners something people still take seriously and how have they changed, asks Luke Jones.

Far from which fork to use for asparagus or how to address an Earl, the most popular questions asked of Debrett's have a modern flavour. E-cigarettes, mobile phones and aeroplane seats are troubling the polite most of all.

A lot of technology is still relatively new, says Jo Bryant, an etiquette tutor at Debrett's. "We've learned how to use them from the mistakes we've made, from when we have been rude or upset people."

The polite use of mobile phones was the most queried. But new developments in communication technology have always thrown up questions of manners. An article in the Surrey Mirror in 1932 called for a phone code of conduct to be introduced, to stop the wasting of "valuable minutes".

"Don't mumble. Don't shout. Speak slowly and naturally. Don't exasperate your friends by leaving a maid who behaves like a nervous ninny to take phone messages. Teach the girl to answer properly." The article even suggested regularly ringing your own number to check whether those in your own home "answer calls in the right way".

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Woman applying make-up on train
Top questions on manners
  • When is it rude to use your mobile phone?
  • Can you smoke e-cigarettes at work?
  • How do you kiss someone socially?
  • Can you eat and do your make-up on public transport?
  • Can you recline your seat on aeroplanes?
  • When should you give your seat up on public transport?
  • Is it okay to blind copy (bcc) someone into an email?
  • Can you eat before everyone has been served?

Source: Debrett's

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E-cigarettes also feature highly on Debrett's list. When and where to "vape" was the second most asked question asked. The advice given is to never use e-cigarettes in the workplace, as it shows you are not "focused".

Although smoking socially is generally accepted, in a book of manners and conduct from 1881, John H Young advised that a "well bred man never smokes in the street" and certainly not in a "room which ladies are in the habit of frequenting".

Written advice on manners seems archaic, but guidance is still in high demand. Jo Bryant suggests this is because of the far more relaxed age we live in. "Not having that set framework makes it difficult to navigate many areas of society."

It is about giving people "confidence and minimising awkwardness and anxiety", she says.

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The battle against confusing parking signs

New York street sign (left) improved by Nikki Sylianteng (right)

American drivers are frequently baffled by complicated parking signage. Now a campaign by a frustrated guerrilla designer could help make the system less absurd, says Jon Kelly.

For a nation so famously in thrall to the internal combustion engine, the United States can be a deeply perplexing place in which to park.

By the time you've read and processed the byzantine instructions gazing down from an array of multi-coloured signs above the typical sidewalk in New York or Los Angeles, you might have loitered long enough to have earned a ticket.

Get it wrong - and if you aren't used to the city's rules, there's every chance you will - and you face a fine or having your vehicle towed away.

Parking sign in Washington DC Information overload in Washington DC

In one extreme example, a pole displaying parking regulation signs outside an elementary school in Culver City, California, loomed 15 feet in the air.

Street sign in Culver City, California The 15ft sign was eventually pared back, although it still loomed large over Culver City

One sign might tell you that at, at certain times of the day, this stretch of kerb is a no-parking zone. Another sign might tell you that, at other times, it is a no-stopping zone. And yet another will declare this is a permit parking district, or that you have to move your car at particular times to allow street cleaning. Just to confuse matters, each sign will have an arrow pointing one or both ways to indicate in which direction this sign (but not the others) applies.

"There's a lot of information on these signs that isn't relevant," says Nikki Sylianteng, a freelance designer who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They very often fail to provide a simple answer to the question: When can I leave my car here, and for how long?

Frustrated by all this, and having been handed one parking ticket too many, Sylianteng mocked up an alternative - a sign made up of simple blocks of green and red setting out at what hours and on which days it was permitted to park.

Parking sign design by Nikki Sylianteng

She posted it in the street outside her apartment, with a marker pen for passers by to add comments.

Parking sign designed by Nikki Sylianteng on New York's Lower East Side

The response was positive, so Sylianteng set up a blog titled To Park Or Not To Park showcasing particularly egregious examples of jumbled signs as well as her alternatives.

Now councillors in Los Angeles have voted to run a pilot scheme to test Sylianteng's designs. But officials in Malibu, California will still have to find an answer to the problem of residents allegedly erecting fake no-parking signs outside their properties.

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The hardship posting to end all hardship postings

Fjords

It was the hardship posting to end all hardship postings. British officers went quite literally round the bend to get there, writes Matthew Teller, and perhaps sometimes metaphorically too.

In 1863 Britain was looking to strengthen its control over the Gulf. The eager new ambassador to the region, Political Resident Lewis Pelly, drafted a letter to the government in Bombay.

He proposed moving the Residency from Bushehr to the Musandam peninsula - a fingertip of land pointing north from Arabia into the narrow Strait of Hormuz. The small fishing village of Khasab would become a sort of Fortress Britain, helping to expand trade and consolidate control over nearby sheikhdoms - and the peninsula would be an ideal way-station on the proposed new telegraph route between London and India.

Bombay ignored the idea, except in one respect.

The Musandam peninsula and Strait of Hormuz Cape Musandam (Musseldom) and Hormuz (Ormuz)

In April 1864, the London Globe reported excitedly on "the near-completion of the great chain of electric communication between England and India". There was only one gap to be plugged - along the Gulf - and Musandam was selected as the site of a crucial repeater station.

It is hard to reach even today. Khasab hides between immense cliffs that plunge directly into the sea, forming narrow, high-sided fjords. The heat and humidity can be intense. Most of the peninsula's scattered coastal villages are still only accessible from the water, backed by impenetrable walls of rock.

The Brits chose to build their station several hundred yards offshore, on Jazirat Al-Maqlab (Maqlab Island), a bare, rocky islet within one of the fjords.

Map of the Musandam peninsula An 1862 map showing the proposed line of the cable over the peninsula - with Maqlab Island circled in red

The telegraph line opened in March 1865, but there were misgivings from the outset. In a letter to the governor of Bombay, Col Patrick Stewart, director-general of the Indo-European Telegraph, wrote that the local people "are strangely ignorant of English power. I am most strongly of opinion that it would be most imprudent to leave our station without the protection of an armed vessel."

For the men garrisoned there to keep a vital line of international communication open, life must have been extraordinarily taxing. Marooned for months at a time, they had little to do and nowhere to go, whiling away their time in what even to India-toughened Europeans must have felt like a furnace.

Telegraph Island

Apocryphal accounts speak of the monotony driving men insane. There were deaths on the island, though it's unclear whether they were from illness, suicide, murder, or some other cause.

Round the Bend

A series of tales from the days when Britain ruled India and the Gulf, told with documents newly digitised by the British Library

Either way, the station didn't last long. By June 1867, Col Stewart was writing: "In a purely sanitary point of view, it would be desirable to move the establishment to a less confined locality. The heat… the high encircling rocks and limited view to seaward must have a depressing effect upon Europeans, especially during the hot season."

Britain abandoned the island the following year, and laid a new telegraph line along the northern shore of the Gulf.

Today, we talk of going "round the bend" to mean going mad. The phrase is of 19th Century naval origin, and one theory says that it refers to the journey to, or from, the island now known as Telegraph Island - reached from India by means of a looping, bending route through the Strait of Hormuz and along a mountain-flanked inlet.

Those posted "round the bend" perhaps feared losing their sanity. And once on the island, they doubtless spent their time longing to go "round the bend" in reverse - through the barren fjords and back to the home comforts of India.

Letter from Acting Political Resident Lewis Pelly to the Hon Henry Lacon Anderson (1863) Lewis Pelly's 1863 letter, in which he suggested moving the residency to "Cassab on the Mussundoom Promontory"
Articles of agreement in English & Arabic between the Sultan of Muscat and representatives of the British government on the proposed extension of the telegraph line from Persia - signed 17 November 1864 by the Sultan of Muscat in the presence of Lieut-Col Lewis Pelly. Articles of agreement between the Sultan of Muscat and the British government on the proposed extension of the telegraph line from Persia - signed 17 November 1864. Article 1 begins: “My ancient and faithful ally, the British Government, is at liberty to construct one or more lines of telegraphic communication...”

Round the Bend is a series of tales from the days when Britain ruled India and the Gulf, told with documents newly digitised by the British Library. You can explore the archive yourself.

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10 things we didn't know last week

Lou Reed

1. Gladiators were mostly vegetarian.

Find out more

2. The bass line of Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side cost £17.

Find out more (Guardian)

3. Human sexual intercourse evolved from the activities of a bony fish - Microbrachius dicki - in Scottish lakes 385 million years ago.

Find out more

4. In 1964, the most common age of death in England and Wales was zero.

Find out more

5. The Swiss Guard's Vatican cookbook called "Buon Appetito" is available in German but not Italian.

Find out more (Religion News Service)

6. Overfed mice that are exposed to UV light stop putting on weight.

Find out more (The Express)

7. Quality champagne tastes better out of a wine glass than a flute.

Find out more (The Times)

8. Posties feel they are not allowed to use the term "junk mail".

Find out more (Financial Times)

9. Bread with white and blue mould on it is fine to cut around and eat but black mould is dangerous.

Find out more

10. Only 5% of adults had gum disease in Roman Briton, compared to nearly one in three adults today.

Find out more

Seen a thing? Tell the Magazine on Twitter using the hashtag #thingIdidntknowlastweek

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Go Figure: The week in numbers

Look back at the week in numbers with our Go Figure images, which are posted daily on social media.

GoFigure Fish Sex

Monday: How can the origins of sex be traced back to a Scottish lake?

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GoFigure India offline

Tuesday: Global consortium seeks to connect India's offline millions

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GoFigure US student debt

Wednesday: The activist group in the US that is buying and cancelling other people's student debts

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GoFIgure dinosaur arms

Thursday: Mystery of the dinosaur with giant arms solved after 50 years

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GoFigure ocean acidity

Friday: Our oceans are getting more acidic, what does this mean for marine wildlife?

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook


Weekendish: The best of the week's reads

Kids smiling on bus

A collection of some of the best reads from the BBC News website this week, with an injection of your comments.

A life free of rules (or at least one freer of rules) seems desirable to many, especially if everyone else remained subject to the same (or indeed more) rules than before. But would a school without rules - no timetable, no compulsory lessons, uniform or hierarchy - necessarily become a Lord of the Flies disaster? Experiments of this idea were run in the 1970s in several UK cities, and the Magazine tracked down some of the children who lived through the experience. Mary McKenna tweeted that she herself had been desperate to go to one of the schools. But for Lilliana ML, the most telling part of the story was that when one of the former pupils left school "she was in for a shock... she had no qualifications, no exam results".

The anarchic experimental schools of the 1970s

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Going cheap

Chicken farm

As trivia questions go, it's a surefire winner - how many days does it take for a chicken to grow from hatching until it's killed ready for the supermarket? The answer was one of the things Tom De Castella discovered during a visit to a chicken farm which he wrote about on Thursday. And for those who think that the lifespan - on average, about 35 days - is too short, a poultry farmer asks, "Would you be happy to pay double the amount so the chicken can live twice as long?" Reader John Dogherty tweeted: "Do people know where their chicken comes from? How could they? And why would they?"

Do people know where their chicken comes from?

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The joy of puzzles

Martin Gardner

Making learning fun was one of the things that ace puzzlemaster Martin Gardner, who would have been 100 this week, very much approved of. "The best way, it has always seemed to me, to make mathematics interesting to students and laymen is to approach it in a spirit of play," he wrote. He left behind a bit of a puzzle though, as Colm Mulcahy wrote. Gardner was a noted sceptic who nevertheless believed in a personal God and the value of prayer, and some months before his death he had received a brief surprise visit from Richard Dawkins. Mulcahy wrote: "Pleasant small talk followed, Martin told me, before Dawkins stood up to leave, but Martin said that he insisted his visitor sit down again, and for about 15 minutes, they had an 'intense conversation'. As Martin was telling me this, I had to cut him off, as the final boarding call for own my flight had just been announced." Gardner died shortly afterwards and so the contents of the conversation remains a mystery. That is, unless Richard Dawkins is reading this and cares to solve it.

Martin Gardner, puzzle master extraordinaire

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Longings

England fan looking disappointed

Gardner's passion coincided with - or perhaps was the cause of - his skill in making puzzles. Adam Gopnik, the current incumbent of the Point of View hotseat, wrote last weekend of the times when people or cultures are not good at the things they love such as football (England), literature (France) or democracy (the US). Maybe, he wrote, that the secret should be "to find the thing you like most but do least well, and then do something that is almost like it". From this secondary activity you may still make a living, he says. "Like the Hobbit Bilbo accompanying the dwarves, knowing full well in his heart that he is no burglar, but going on into the dark mountain as if he were, we all make our lives from our longings more often than from our natural talents. But then the longing becomes another kind of talent, and suddenly, there! The dragon is dead." For reader Philip Duff, this was "an eloquent explanation of why - for example - Facebook is clogged with motivational quotes from underachieving fools". (He wrote that on Twitter.) But for the Magazine, it was a demonstration that Adam Gopnik is very good at writing articles, and appears to love it. That's the kind of paradox Martin Gardner might have enjoyed.

Why are our obsessions never the things we're best at?

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Feeling art

Sargy Mann

A #BBCTrending video report this week of people around the world racing against underground trains was very diverting. But while waiting for a train, there will be few better ways of spending four minutes than watching painter Sargy Mann at work. He has been blind for 25 years and paints on big canvases dotted with bits of Blu-Tak which act as co-ordinates for him.

He told us about his return from hospital for the first time after he had lost his sight. He stood there wondering "What now?", but then decided to give his brushes a go. "So I brushed ultramarine up there where the sky was, and I had the most extraordinary sensation... I saw the canvas go blue." Later, when the results were admired, he thought: "Well, there you go. There is painting after blindness."

"It seems more or less impossible but if you're just determined to keep going, you don't need to give up. Because if your subject is your own experience, then as long as you're having an experience you've got a subject," he says.

Artist Sargy Mann has been blind for the past 25 years

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Here are some things we've enjoyed this week from elsewhere around the web:

Richard Ayoade politely destroyed the media interview process on "Channel 4 News" Last Night - Buzzfeed

When women stopped coding - NPR

Farm crime: To catch a bee rustler - Modern Farmer

The best film about Islamic terrorists is a comedy - The Atlantic

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Why do professional sportsmen try trick shots?

Erik Lamela

Tottenham attacker Erik Lamela scored a spectacular goal from outside the area by using a "trick shot" on Thursday night. What drives professional sports people to attempt high-risk moves, asks Tom Heyden.

Lamela wrapped his left foot around his standing leg - known as a "rabona" - and managed to generate enough power to score from 20 yards. It's already being hailed as goal of the season. Other players are in awe. That's because it's no easy trick. Former player David Dunn might relate. His attempt still makes highly recommended viewing many years after it happened. And that risk of falling flat on your face - literally in Dunn's case - attempting a trick shot in any sport means that only a select few will even try it.

Of those that do it in the spotlight, it's unlikely to be their first attempt. "Anyone who has ability will try things in training or practice," says ex-snooker player John Virgo, famous for his trick shots. Professionals always look to extend the boundaries of their abilities, he says. "Then imagination takes over." Truly outrageous tricks are not even ones you necessarily plan to use in a professional game, he says. "But then the situation arises and something else takes over." It's a blend of instinct and imagination, says ex-footballer Steve Claridge. It's not like Lamela drew up a list of pros and cons as the ball rolled towards him. But if he'd never contemplated it beforehand then he wouldn't have even thought of reproducing it in the match, says Claridge.

There's a fine line between arrogance and confidence, but it's ultimately backed up by ability, Claridge says. Cricketer Kevin Pietersen pioneered the high-risk "switch hit", which involved him quickly switching his hands to adopt a left-hander's grip on the bat as the bowler ran in. Similarly snooker player Ronnie O'Sullivan has regularly played with his left hand despite being right handed.

Different sports carry different risks. The high-scoring nature of basketball or tennis often means there's less penalty for failed attempts. But sometimes a trick shot is the only option available. The through-your-legs shot in tennis is attempted relatively frequently. But it usually comes when the player is scurrying back and has almost lost the point. In that situation it's pretty low risk - catch it right and it looks great (a la Roger Federer on many occasions), but fail and it rarely matters. Flashy showboating-style shots are rare in tennis. Iranian Mansour Bahrami has made an entertaining career out of it - but then his autobiography is called The Court Jester and he never made it far in a major single event.

Timing is key, Claridge says. It matters when you try it - to fans, to teammates, to opponents, and for yourself, he says. "You've got to be comfortable in the game and playing reasonably well to even think 'I can do this'," he says. But at the wrong time, like when your team is coasting to victory, you could be accused of being disrespectful, says Claridge. And you risk riling your fans and fellow players and if you fail, he says. If Federer flops a trick shot, at least he doesn't have to plead forgiveness from exasperated teammates.

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Caption Challenge: You crazy arms

A police officer near activists wearing masks depicting deputies linked to ousted president Viktor Yanukovich, in front of the parliament building in Kiev

Winning entries in the Caption Challenge.

The competition is now closed.

This week a police officer outside Ukraine's parliament building in Kiev gestures to a demonstrator wearing a mask.

Thanks to all who entered. The prize of a small amount of kudos to the following:

6. JAMgirl_Iva:

Hands off.

5. Catherine del Campo:

Whose army?

4. Michael Newbold:

I like to keep people at arms' length.

3. Helene Parry:

Security guard finally gives in and admits Renee despite the subtle differences from her passport photo.

2. James Challinor:

I really don't need a hug. Honestly.

1. Keith McCallion:

The long arm of the law meets its match.

PDF download Full rules can be seen here[16KB]

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How to solve brain-teasers set by a top puzzle master

On Tuesday the Magazine published a story by maths writer Colm Mulcahy about the late puzzle master extraordinaire, Martin Gardner.

Prof Mulcahy took the opportunity to set readers 10 questions drawn from the vast number of puzzles Gardner wrote about in his 80-year career. We answered the first three questions straight away, and promised to provide answers to the others on Friday. So here they are.

For those who missed the questions first time round, we will repeat them here, along with the hints kindly provided by the professor, and - right at the bottom - the answers. (In the original story the questions were numbered 4-10, but here we will number them 1-7.)

THE QUESTIONS

1. An Englishman (Mr Salmon), a Welshman (Mr Green), and a Scotsman (Mr Brown) met for lunch one day. One man was wearing a salmon tie, another was wearing a green tie and the third was wearing a brown tie. "Isn't it funny," said Mr Brown to the others, "that not one of us is wearing a tie which matches our name?" "That's true," agreed the man wearing the green tie. Can you now say what colour tie each man was wearing?

2. Can you fold up a one-by-seven strip like this to form a cube with sides one unit long?

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3. Can you think of two common words that begin and end with "he"? (No four-letter words please.)

4. We discussed on Tuesday how, when two squares of the same colour are removed from a chessboard, it is impossible to cover the remaining 62 squares with 31 dominoes each the size of two squares. But then we posed this question: suppose two squares of different colours are removed from such a board, for instance two adjacent corner squares. Show that the remaining 62 squares definitely can be covered with 31 dominoes each the size of two squares. This actually works no matter where the two squares are removed from. Can you construct a valid argument that works in all cases?

Chess board with one white and one black square obscured

5. What is the significance of the repeated "little" in Lewis Carroll's All in a Golden Afternoon from Alice In Wonderland?

All in the golden afternoon / Full leisurely we glide; / For both our oars, with little skill, / By little arms are plied, / While little hands make vain pretence / Our wanderings to guide.

6. Can you fill in the blank space below to yield a true sentence?

In this sentence there are neither more nor less than ................... three-letter words.

7. Consider the magic square below. Note that its rows, columns and diagonals each add up to the magic constant 45. What else about it is interesting?

magic numbers

THE HINTS

1. Who must have been wearing the green tie?

2. You're allowed to fold diagonally.

3. We know, it's painful until you get it.

4. No hint, sorry.

5. Who in real life inspired Alice In Wonderland?

6. Use your words. (Those of a mathematical bent should be able to suggest many solutions.)

7. When spelled out, 5 has four letters.

THE ANSWERS

1. The green tie wasn't worn by Mr Green, we were told, nor by Mr Brown - since he just spoke to the man wearing it - and so, it must be worn by Mr Salmon. Then the brown tie must be worn by Mr Green, since neither of the other men could be wearing it, leaving Mr Brown sporting the salmon tie.

2.

Instructions showing how to fold the strip of seven squares into a cube
Instructions showing how to fold the strip of seven squares into a cube
Instructions showing how to fold the strip of seven squares into a cube

3. Headache and heartache (or a painfully easy solution could be "he").

4. In 1973, Ralph Gomory came up with the following ingenious argument. Consider a network of walls installed on the 8x8 board as shown, formed by two interlocked combs, one with three teeth, the other with four. In essence, this reconfigures the entire board as a 64-square maze: start on any square and move through the maze in either direction and you will eventually return to where you started, having visited every square exactly once.

Chessboard with one white and one black square removed - red lines divide up the board into two interlocking comb shapes

Now imagine deleting any one white and any one black square from this path, as suggested in the image. This breaks the looped maze up into two snakes. Since the removed squares have opposite colours, each snake is composed of an even number of squares. A snake of even length can obviously be covered by dominoes, so it's now clear how to lay out 31 dominoes to cover the 62 remaining squares.

(This prompts even more questions, such as: "Can we still cover the remaining board with dominoes if we remove four squares, two of each colour?")

5. The word "little" in the Alice quote is Carroll's nod to Alice Liddell, the child who inspired him to write the tale. Jaap Engelsman in Amsterdam got in touch to tell us that Carroll used the word three times to reflect the fact that, as Gardner observed in his Annotated Alice book, on the Victorian day of the inspirational real life boat trip Carroll had with Alice Liddell, she was joined by her big sister Lorina and younger sister Edith.

6. "2" technically works, but bearing in mind the hint, "a pair of" is perhaps better. Other options could include "five minus three" or "nine minus seven" and so on.

7. When each number in the original square is replaced by the number of letters in its name - known as its logorhythm - we get a new square. There are four letters in "five", nine letters in "twenty-two", eight letters in "eighteen" and so on.

Magic square

Amazingly, this too is magic, with magic constant 21. Even better, its entries are consecutive numbers. Subtracting 2 all around yields the classic lu shi magic square, with constant 15, known to the ancient Chinese.

Magic square

British engineer Lee Sallows, who once wrote a research paper with Martin Gardner on another topic, discovered this magic linguistic/numeric tie-in, and wittily named the square starting with 5, 22 and 18 the li shu magic square.

But wait, there's more. Alert reader Tim from London quickly observed that the li shu magic square has another interesting property. Mulcahy checked, and its creator Lee Sallows doesn't recall noting this before.

"If you replace the contents of each cell with the sum of the digits in that cell, the square is still magic," Tim writes.

Vicki Powers of Arlington, Virginia, US, points out a simple explanation. In the case of the rows and columns, the same five digits are used each time, namely a 1, two 2s, one 5 and an 8, summing to 18 without fail. Admittedly, the digits on each diagonal sum to 18 for different reasons.

"Martin would have loved this, and I wish I could pick up the phone now and tell him," says Mulcahy. "His column thrived on reader response, and while the magic square puzzle here may be 'merely' entertaining, some of Martin's readers did discover new mathematics of real significance, such as the famous case of amateur mathematician Marjorie Rice."

Martin Gardner Martin Gardner, 1914-2010

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Why do people overshare online?

Girl on a laptop

"Overshare" has been chosen as Chambers Dictionary's word of the year beating "bashtag" and "photobomb". But what is oversharing and why do people do it, asks Luke Jones.

Chambers define overshare as being "unacceptably forthcoming with information about one's personal life" and say the word was chosen because of its ability to be a "subtle, yet devastating; a put-down few would want laid at their door".

Social media is where a lot of oversharing occurs. "Research examining interactions between people who have just met has shown that self-disclosure is often greater online than face-to-face," says Gwendolyn Seidman, a professor of psychology. She argues that those who share more are seeking validation from others.

In 2012, the television personality Chantelle Houghton tweeted details of her break up from the boxer Alex Reid. "Oh and yes when I was 8 months pregnant Alex turned my house into a sex dungeon and I slept on my flat floor for days," she tweeted.

In July, a spreadsheet compiled by a frustrated husband of all his wife's excuses for refusing to have sex with him was leaked by his wife after he emailed it to her. "My husband has sent me an immature, inflammatory email as I was driving to the airport for a 10-day work trip," she shared with users of the social network Reddit.

But Sunday Times columnist Katie Glass says there is no such thing as oversharing. "We have an obligation to share the rubbish stuff otherwise it looks like we're all just having a good time watching sunsets and sipping champagne," she says.

Depictions of perfect lives online, for example, can be disingenuous, she says, such as "Elle McPherson, with her perfect instagram account, saying she lost her baby weight running around after her children."

Glass cites Angie Jackson, who live tweeted an abortion she had, as a form of oversharing which helps others. "These things are seen as shaming. The more we say these things happen to people, the easier it will be for others." Jackson live tweeted and recorded a video of her abortion in an attempt to "demystify abortions for other women".

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How do you adjust after nearly half a century in prison?

Harry Roberts Harry Roberts was given three life sentences for the killings

Notorious police killer Harry Roberts is to be released from prison after 48 years inside. How do you adjust after being locked up for so long, asks Tom Heyden.

Roberts, now 78, was jailed for life for murdering three unarmed officers in Shepherd's Bush, west London. When the doors swing open for him in a few days or weeks, he will be walking out of Littlehey Prison in Cambridgeshire into a very different world to the one he left in 1966. The decision to release Roberts was criticised by The Metropolitan Police Federation, which described it as a "betrayal of policing" by the judicial system.

But where will Roberts go when he is freed?

Spending decades inside often degrades your outside relationships so you may not have family or friends to stay with, says prison campaigner Ben Gunn, who was released after 32 years in 2012. Traditionally "lifers" go to a probation hostel for at least three months, he says, with each prisoner given specific conditions or curfews. From there you apply for jobs or benefits and, if successful, then you start paying rent, he says.

Many of the logistics are worked out in advance of release, explains Savas Hadjipavlou of the Probation Institute. A resettlement plan typically includes the residence location and ideally there'll be help accessing relevant social services such as health - especially for someone of Roberts' age, he says. At 78, he's likely to already be connected to certain benefits, says Hadjipavlou.

But upon release itself a former inmate is given £46 and sent on their way, says Gunn. That can be quite a shock when you actually try to buy anything, he says. Gunn still hasn't bought any jeans yet because he's "affronted" by the price. Hearing about price inflation on a prison TV is nothing like seeing the actual the price tag in your hands, he says. But TVs and incoming convicts do ensure that prison isn't a cultural vacuum. Instead it's the daily minutiae that provide the major shocks, says Gunn, who remembers waving a ticket at a barrier in London before someone enlightened him about Oyster cards. A friend of his who'd been locked up for 30 years found the internet "mind-boggling - he was just gobsmacked".

But having spent time in an open prison, Roberts will have almost certainly experienced technologies like mobile phones, says Gunn. A good probation service will have used day outings to teach prisoners about modern developments like supermarkets, says Hadjipavlou.

There are still odd quirks to the system. "Weirdly, the prison system gives you ID cards and they insist you carry them - but they take them off you on release," says Gunn. "You walk out the gate and you cannot prove who you are." Gunn had no national insurance number, no passport, no driving licence. He couldn't open a bank account for six months. Prisoners rarely receive any financial counselling before being expected to resettle into society, says Gunn, and accordingly don't know how to budget. "I ended up in a world of difficulty because I had all my debts, utilities, council tax, rent [and] tax and didn't know which to do first."

But psychological adjustment can run deepest. Someone like Roberts may struggle with the loss of status he had in prison, says Gunn. "Now he's just another ex-con. Emotionally and psychologically that's a big blow - from being somebody to being a nobody." Handling freedom itself is one of the toughest elements, especially having lost control of virtually everything for so long, Hadjipavlou says. "[Roberts has] got to find meaning in his life," says Gunn, otherwise release could even be a bad thing for him. "In prison he didn't have all these million and one hassles. Now outside he's going to be a nobody, stuck in a hostel, twiddling his thumbs on benefits - that's not a great life."

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Freezer is not easier, say younger cooks

A freezer

Young shoppers do not like eating food that is stored in the freezer, a survey has found. Why is it so unpopular, asks Luke Jones.

Those younger than 34 were twice as likely to say they did not like eating food from the freezer as those over 35, according to the survey.

Freezer cookbooks were once a must-have kitchen item, but for younger cooks the freezer is a "graveyard" where bad and forgotten meals sit and frost over. Meat that is about to go off, unwanted food from relatives and emergency last resort meals are its only stock.

"When you're young you keep vodka and ice cubes in your freezer," says Esther Walker, a food blogger. "Maybe fish fingers for an absolute emergency. Cooking and saving it is something you do when you have a surplus. Young people just don't have that issue."

Cassie Best, from BBC Good Food Magazine, suggests the wide availability of ready meals means the young and busy do not bother with planning ahead or cooking a big batch to freeze.

Freezing tips

  • Freeze food before the use-by date.
  • Wrap foods properly to avoid freezer-burn.
  • Eat meat within 24 hours of defrosting.
  • Never refreeze anything that has been frozen.
  • Cool food before freezing it.

Source: BBC Good Food

"My grandparents are so savvy with their food," she says. "They would value every last bit. But now you can get a pizza for a couple of quid."

The survey found that both young and old are still buying frozen food which, despite the horsemeat scandal with frozen lasagnes, has seen a resurgence. But younger shoppers are far less likely to freeze their own cooking.

Is this because of a fear of the freezer? "The whole defrosting issue puts people off," says Best. "They are worried they might poison themselves if it is not cooked through."

But guides and rules on freezing food can easily be found online. Walker suggests "any reasonably intelligent person knows you will be fine as long as you defrost things properly and cook it through".

Younger people just have no need, she says. When you have a family to feed, then the "freezer is your friend".

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What laws currently cover trolling?

Woman checking phone

Internet trolls could face two years in jail under new laws. But how does the British legal system currently police online abuse, asks Tom de Castella.

The sending of rape threats to Chloe Madeley is the latest disturbing case of trolling. Now the government says it will act to put trolls in jail for two years.

Nick McAleenan, a media lawyer at JMW Solicitors, says there are three main ways that trolls are prosecuted at the moment.

In England and Wales, the Malicious Communications Act 1988 covers comments that cause "distress or anxiety". Similar legislation applies in Northern Ireland. Sean Duffy was jailed under the act for 18 weeks in 2011 after he made "grossly offensive" comments about children who had killed themselves. Then there's the Communications Act 2003 which applies across the United Kingdom. It covers threats but often overlaps with the 1988 act, McAleenan says. It was used to jail a man who posted offensive messages aimed at the families of Jade Goody and John Paul Massey, a Liverpool boy mauled to death by a dog.

The third Act is the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which deals with stalking both on and offline. It applies in England and Wales, while Scotland and Northern Ireland have similar legislation. It can be pursued in both civil and criminal courts. It might have been used to prosecute Brenda Leyland, who killed herself after she was revealed to have sent up to 50 tweets a day about the parents of Madeleine McCann. It might be argued that what she did could also have been prosecuted under libel law.

The police are often reluctant to get directly involved in online stalking, McAleenan says. But recently there has been a rise in the police issuing warnings - known as a Police Information Notice - to suspected trolls.

The answer

  • Malicious Communications Act 1988 - messages causing distress
  • Communications Act 2003 - threats
  • Protection from Harassment Act 1997 - stalking
  • But no clear definition of trolling

Critics sometimes question the balance between enforcement and the right to free speech. It can be a fine line. When someone on Twitter accused Tom Daley of letting down his dead father by not winning gold at the London Olympics, the police made an arrest, apparently under the 1988 act. And the 2003 act was used to convict a man who made a joke about blowing up Robin Hood airport in 2010. It was later quashed after a campaign backed by comedians. McAleenan believes the current laws are sufficient. The problem is a lack of resources, and the need for further education of the public and police about what constitutes an offence.

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When the average age of death was zero

A baby holds an adult's finger

In 1964, the "mode age" of death in England and Wales was zero, writes Anthony Reuben.

I don't often use the "mode" as a measure of the average - it's the number that appears the most often, so in this case what it means is that more people died at the age of zero than at any other age.

The measure of the average that is used most often is the "mean", and in 1964 the mean age of death was 65.

But in this case the mode tells us a lot about infant mortality. It would have been no great surprise that the mode was zero - it had been the same for most years before then since records began.

But it has not been the case in the 50 years since, which is a tribute to the extraordinary advances that have been made in healthcare, midwifery and neonatal intensive care, according to last week's publication from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS also says that in 1900, slightly fewer than one in six babies died in their first year of life. Last year, that number was one in 252. And the mode age of death was not zero, it was 87.

Such advances have not been confined to England and Wales, indeed, some recent research suggested that the UK is now lagging behind the rest of Western Europe. That report cited poverty and smoking in pregnancy as possible reasons why the infant mortality rate has not fallen even further.

According to a report from Unicef, even in the least developed countries, the number of deaths in the first year has gone down from one in nine in 1990 to one in 17 in 2012.

It's still disturbingly high, but the improvement has been startling.

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The 'handsome minister' who's set hearts aflutter

Gabriel Wikstrom's Twitter photo

Sweden's new health minister has set pulses racing - but not at home. Bizarrely, it's in Turkey that he has caused a stir. And the cause of it all is his dashing photo on Twitter.

Last week 29-year-old Gabriel Wikstrom had a couple of thousand followers on Twitter - by Friday he had more than 22,800 and the figure keeps on rising. His fans are calling him the "Handsome Minister".

He says he's not quite sure how it all began, but the key lies in Turkey.

"Someone with a lot of followers over there tweeted about me. Monday, I got a lot of new followers from Turkey, so on Tuesday I wanted to say welcome to them.

"Over lunch another minister in the government, Mehmet Kaplan, helped me write a short message in Turkish. And that was when it really accelerated."

It simply read: "Welcome and thank you to my followers in Turkey."

Tweet in Turkish by Gabriel Wikstrom

He was rather surprised by the response - the message was retweeted 8,500 times.

"I must admit that I am flattered. But I don't think it's just about my appearance, it also seems to be about my age and that I'm a minister with a heavyweight portfolio, including healthcare and sports. As I understand it, that is quite uncommon in Turkey," he says.

"If I can be a role model and inspire young people to get involved in politics, that is something really good I believe."

Wikstrom doesn't mind people paying attention to his appearance and just takes it as a compliment - and he admits the Turks have been a bit more appreciative than his fellow Swedes.

Tweet reading "You shine like a diamond Gabriel"

Another tweet reads, "Are you short of doctors? If so, my bags are packed."

Tweet reading, " Are you short of doctors? If so my bags are packed."

As for his personal life, he's not revealed whether he's single, only that he has one child. And is he tempted to visit the home of his new-found fans? He has been to Turkey before "but very briefly, and I hope to go there again," he says.

He might want to bear this tweet in mind though. It warns: "I don't think you should ever come to Turkey bro - our girls will eat you alive."

Tweet reading "I don't think you should ever come to Turkey bro - our girls will eat you alive."

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Do US presidents carry cash?

Barack Obama in a Chicago diner with Illinois Governor Pat Quinn

President Barack Obama's credit card was rejected in a restaurant. How often do US heads of state spend their own money, asks Jon Kelly.

It's commonly said the Queen doesn't carry cash. It seems her American counterpart doesn't get his wallet out too much either. Barack Obama told an audience that his credit card was rejected in a New York restaurant last month: "It turned out, I guess, I don't use it enough." During his term in office, Bill Clinton once had his credit card rejected too.

In the 1995 film The American President, Michael Douglas's commander-in-chief attempts to buy flowers but is told his cards are "in storage with the rest of your private things". It's a similar situation for real-life White House occupants, says presidential historian Thomas Whalen of Boston University: "Everything's provided for them - they really don't need money." The Secret Service agents who are on hand at all times can provide a loan if necessary. John F Kennedy "didn't carry any cash at all, even before he was president. His friends would have to foot the bill for the privilege of hanging out with him", says Whalen.

Others have been less parsimonious. A wallet belonging to George Washington contained a 1776 two-thirds dollar bill and a 1779 one-dollar bill until it was stolen from a museum in 1992. Abraham Lincoln was carrying a $5 Confederate bill on the night he was assassinated. In 1984 Ronald Reagan was once photographed paying for a $2.46 Big Mac meal with a $20 note, and his successor George HW Bush once showed his American Express card (plain green, not gold) to an eight-year-old who had reacted sceptically when informed that she was talking to the president. Some 14 years later, however, his son George W Bush told a Spanish-speaking journalist that all he had in his pockets was a handkerchief. "No dinero," Bush added. "No wallet."

The current incumbent - who earns $400,000 (£248,000) each year and has an annual expense allowance of $50,000 - has been filmed and photographed on numerous occasions paying for food with cash. In July he paid for a $300-plus bill at a takeaway barbecue restaurant in Austin, Texas, with a JP Morgan credit card (he was allowed to jump the queue). But now it appears that in New York last month the transaction wasn't so successful. Thankfully for the president, his wife Michelle was present on that occasion to pick up the tab.

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Weekendish: The best of the week's reads

Artwork by Alexei Leonov of his first spacewalk in 1965

A collection of some of the best reads from the BBC News website this week, with an injection of your comments.

If you are scared of flying, look away now. This week we enjoyed the almost unbelievable story of the first spacewalk. Alexei Leonov was rigorously trained before being fired into space. But not everything went to plan. Once drifting in outer space his suit inflated, hampering efforts to get back inside the craft. There could easily have been an explosion on board and when they finally managed to return to Earth the cosmonauts landed hundreds of kilometres off target in Siberia. This immersive read has brilliant pictures and perilous details from an historical trip. On Facebook David Jones says he has "a lot of respect for Nasa, but the Russian program definitely adds a powerful WOW factor". Dan Buckheit says "It was space exploration… it was supposed to be dangerous".

The First Spacewalk: Moments from disaster

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Boxful of memories

Children paddling

Joseph Hardman was a photographer whose pictures capture everyday life in the Lake District between the 1930s and 1960s. Now his work is being used to help people from the area with dementia. It's thought the familiar scenes depicted may unearth memories, old songs and even the ability to write shorthand. Tom Heyden's piece describes how reminiscence therapy plays an increasing role in care for dementia sufferers.

On Twitter Dylan Murray recalls how his grandfather, who had Alzheimer's, "couldn't speak but would touch a photo of his beloved cat & Golden Retriever". Sue Stradling says "old photos are our family gold".

The old photos helping trigger memories in people with dementia

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Loving the leftovers

Left-over spaghetti

Following his experiments with fasting and tapeworms, Dr Michael Mosley's latest investigation for the Magazine relates to pasta. He discovers that by letting it cool then reheating it you get a smaller blood sugar spike when you eat it.

On Twitter Katharine Poulter seemed less than impressed. She says "reheated pasta is just nasty. Boak! I don't care if it turns me into a supermodel o/night, that's 1 thing I won't do!"

Should people be eating more fat?

Is reheated pasta less fattening?

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Two wheels good?

Copenhagen station

More than half the people living in Copenhagen commute on a bike. With more bikes than people, 400km of cycle lanes and specially-built bridges, it is described as one of the best place in the world to be a cyclist. But outside train stations and shops you may be confronted with a pile of parked bicycles. Is this a two-wheeled paradise or just "really infuriating"? Cycling makes many Copenhageners fit, but leaves plenty of others fuming.

Copenhagen's piles of bicycles

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Where has Europe's rarest bird gone?

Slender-billed curlew

No-one knows where the slender-billed curlew has gone. The white and gold bird is the rarest in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. A creature at home in bulrushes and reeds, it is feared there are as few as 50 left, or maybe even fewer. Between its Siberian breeding grounds and its wintering areas in the Mediterranean, Dr Jano Botond Kiss would sometimes see it in the Danube delta, in years gone by. But now the legendary Romanian conservationist fears he may never see it again.

Slender-billed curlew: Where has Europe's rarest bird gone?

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Here are some things we've enjoyed this week from elsewhere around the web:

Why public Wi-Fi is a health hazard - Medium

Nightmare at the Picasso Museum - The Guardian

The Stradivarius Affair - Vanity Fair

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10 things we didn't know last week

Bono

1. Bono wears sunglasses because he suffers from the eye condition glaucoma.

Find out more (Daily Telegraph)

2. Simon Cowell has a saying for people editing shots of him on X factor: two words - happy and handsome.

Find out more (Financial Times)

3. America employs more private security guards than high-school teachers.

Find out more (Guardian)

4. In the late 1960s Spanish brewer Damm marketed its beer at all the family - including children.

Find out more (El Pais)

5. There are more bicycles in Copenhagen than people.

Find out more

6. Once a turtle starts eating a plastic bag, it is physically impossible for it to spit it out.

Find out more

7. Until this century,Spanish grape Airen was the world's most planted (by acre).

Find out more (Financial Times)

8. It used to take invasive species 30 years to move from the Netherlands to the UK but now takes five.

Find out more

9. The most expensive pies of any English league football club are to be found at Brighton & Hove Albion - Rochdale's are the cheapest.

Find out more

10. Cooling pasta down then reheating it means you get a smaller blood sugar spike when you eat it.

Find out more

Seen a thing? Tell the Magazine on Twitter using the hashtag #thingIdidntknowlastweek

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Go Figure: The week in numbers

Look back at the week in numbers with our Go Figure images, which are posted daily on social media.

India Go Figure

Monday: India hopes new Super League will propel country to the 2026 Football World Cup

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Copenhagen bikes Go Figure

Tuesday: Copenhagen may be bicycle heaven, but what about the parking?

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Price of Football Go Figure

Wednesday: Find out how much supporting your team will cost with the BBC's interactive Price of Football Calculator.

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Welsh speakers Go Figure

Thursday: Viewpoint: The Argentines who speak Welsh

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Plastic Go Figure

Friday: How a 20-year-old plans to clear the ocean of litter

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook


Are Native American headdresses offensive?

Two festival goers wearing headdresses

After an online petition gained 65 signatures, Glastonbury has added Native American headdresses to the list of items traders cannot sell at the festival without "prior authorisation". Has the UK woken up to an issue that is controversial in the US, asks Luke Jones.

Glastonbury organisers say that this instruction to their market traders is to ensure that sellers "reflect the values of the festival". It follows an online petition that called for the headdresses to be banned, saying the wearing of them by non-Native Americans is "disrespectful".

They have become a regular feature at festivals. But some see them as offensive - using an ethnic minority's traditional culture as novelty clothing. For Native Americans headdresses can be seen as a sacred item. Dr David Stirrup of the University of Kent says they are "something you have to earn. It is normally earned through exploit." The eagle feathers in the headdress are revered and worn for specific ceremonial occasions. "They are not everyday wear," he says.

In the US, the wearing of headdresses for fashion reasons has become controversial. Celebrities such as Pharrell Williams and Harry Styles caused controversy by wearing the headgear in photographs. Meanwhile football team the Washington Redskins are under pressure to change their name and logo, which many see as a racial slur. In the US it is illegal to misrepresent products as Native American and the name "Navajo" is a registered trademark. Discussion on social media and the popularity of blogs such as Native Appropriations have amplified the debate. But until now it has barely registered in the UK.

Kirk Cousins of the Washington Redskins Washingon Redskins - an inappropriate name?

In the UK there is no significant Native American population. And what happens at a festival in Somerset is unlikely to matter much to Native Americans in the US, says Dr. Tim Lockley of the American Studies department at Warwick University. "I think they are more worried about jobs."

The headdress joins cigarettes, candle flares and flags on the list of items traders are not allowed to sell at the Glastonbury festival without prior authorisation. However the restriction does not stop visitors bringing their own.

Not everyone appears to be taking the headdress restriction seriously. A new petition has been launched calling on Glastonbury to ban tipis.

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What was on TV on the day you were born?

Radio Times cover from 1976

A new digital archive of Radio Times listings has opened up a treasure chest of TV nostalgia. So what BBC shows are people celebrating from the day they were born, asks Tom de Castella.

It is a gold mine for nostalgia buffs. The BBC's new digital archive, called Genome, lets users look at the Radio Times TV listings from any given day between 1923 and 2009. It covers just BBC output until 1991 when TV listings were deregulated and Radio Times could include ITV and Channel Four.

Many Twitter users seized on television or radio that went out on the day they were born.

@jon_melville: Thanks to #Genome I know that Seaside Special with Sacha Distel, The Grumbleweeds and Keith Harris aired on the day I was born

@flyfour: Angela Rippon read the News on the day I was born, and June Whitfield read "The House That Sailed Away" on Jackanory #genome

TV reviewer Julia Raeside tweeted: An hour after I was born there was an Open University programme on BBC2 about HAMLET. I knew it

@AliceBG_: BBC #Genome project shows I'm so old that, whilst I was being born (11:22am, so not middle of night), what was on TV was 'Pages from Ceefax'

@drl: By my calculations, The BBC News at One o'clock with Martyn Lewis was on BBC One when I was born

@awgossip: thank god I wasn't born 15 minutes earlier: "6.45 Social Science: Abortion", sends the wrong message

Simon Blackwell, comedy writer on Veep and the Thick of It, tweeted: On the day I was born, Music While You Work was on the Light Programme. God I'm old

Two Radio Times covers

@RyanJL: Newsround was on when I was born.

@HeathyChanDesu: According to #Genome, Chucklevision was on BBC One 3 minutes after I was born. I couldn't ask for better! :)

@jasew: On BBC1 the day I was born: Watch with Mother, Play School, Jackanory, Wacky Races, Babar, Z Cars, Tomorrow's World, and Boxing. #genome

@baroness_sheene: 45yrs & I have been lied to my whole life. Told I was born upstairs whilst dad watched match of the day downstairs

@LisaMarieArt: Just found out that Jackanory, Take Hart, Star Trek, The Wombles and Miss UK 1979 were on BBC One the day I was born. Thanks #Genome

@rupinjapan: Captain Pugwash and Kojack were on BBC One the afternoon I was born… my dad was in the pub #genome

@Ravenser: #Genome Jackanory, Champion, The Wonder Horse, Animal Magic, Tin Tin and Softly, Softly were on TV the day I was born

Radio Times covers showing the Two Ronnies and the Beatles

@mandymachado: Found out from #genome that the Cricket was on all day on BBC 2 on the day of my birth - impressed my Dad made it to the labor ward

@TheDashingChap: BBC1 schedule on my birthday: Dad's Army, Are You Being Served?, World Cup Grandstand, Kojak, Sailor, Sinatra & Friends - not bad! #genome

@Mr_Lingo: mine was Wildlife on One; Gannets Galore Narrated by David Attenborough

@RosieB_London: I had a brilliant TV listings the day I was born (29/12/1978): Buck Rogers, Playschool and The Ashes! #Genome

@AlanJSlater: No idea... we didn't have a television set back then. @bbcnewsmagazine #genome

Not everyone was talking about their birthday. @alanconnor tweeted: Things you find on Genome: '5 television quizzes about practical electricity with BOB HOLNESS as the Question-Master'

Radio Times writer Andrew Collins calls the Genome project "a brilliant time capsule". Most of the period covered is pre-video, iPlayer or Catch Up. You get a snapshot of what Britain was sitting down to watch at any given time, he says.

Sometimes it makes for awkward reading - The Black and White Minstrel show was still on in 1973. It was a different age. As @FrankieForber tweeted: "Goodness! BBC TV stopped at 22:40 for News (sound only)!"

Collins, who was born in 1965, recalls how for long swaths of the day there were no children's programmes - no bad thing, he says, with a faint echo of Why Don't You.

The 1970s, he believes, was a "Golden Age" for television, especially sit-coms. "Man About the House looks a bit shaky, the sexual politics are dated but it's still funny," he says. There would be two good sit-coms a night - Dad's Army and On The Buses are other favourites that still work, he says. It was part of the national conversation. "There was nothing else to watch and everyone was watching the same thing. Look at the Radio Times now and there's so many channels and so much choice."

Today the communal experience - barring exceptions like Bake-Off - is nostalgia. Share your birthday TV and radio highlights by tweeting @BBCNewsMagazine and include #genome - we'll update the story throughout the day.

Radio Times cover showing image from Dad's Army

Images courtesy of Radio Times

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Caption Challenge: Looking good

Models on the catwalk at the New Gen II show during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Istanbul

Winning entries in the Caption Competition.

The competition is now closed.

This week it's models on the catwalk at the New Gen II show during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Istanbul.

Thanks to all who entered. The prize of a small amount of kudos to the following:

6. John Orak:

That awkward moment when you realise someone else went as sweetcorn.

5. Tony Auffret:

I can't believe we both came to the fancy dress party dressed as the Venerable Bede.

4. Phil White:

Pablo Picasso's long lost Super Hero film finally sees the light of day.

3. Rodcar:

I told you we should not have eaten the full box of M&Ms.

2. Lee Brown:

"Be a model," you said. "You get to travel the world and look fabulous." Well look at me now. Just look at me. I hate you.

1. Samuel Richardson:

Mr & Mrs Gaga were always animated at parents evening...

PDF download Full rules can be seen here[16KB]

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Nostalgia for a Young Persons' Railcard

Jason Rogers holding his Young Person's Railcard

The Young Persons' Railcard - originally the Student Railcard but today known as the 16-25 Railcard - is 40 years old. Is it a rite of passage, asks Tom de Castella.

You got good at dividing by three. And radiating ennui while dressed in a trenchcoat waiting for the delayed service to Bristol Temple Meads.

The Student Railcard was launched some time in 1974. No-one knows exactly when but it seems to have been rolled out widely in October of that year. For the last 25 years, the selling point has been the same - a third off your ticket. Before that it was up to 50%. Eligibility waxed and waned. At the start it was available only to people in full time education. This was expanded to nurses, part-time students and young people down to age 14. In October 1982 it was renamed the Young Persons Railcard. The age range rose to 16-23 and full-time mature students were included. In 1994 it was blandly christened the 16-25 Railcard.

The Student Railcard supposedly came into being after meetings between the National Union of Students and British Rail. The fact that the NUS today seems barely cognisant of its role, and BR no longer exists, is somehow fitting. The card has little of the Proustian pull of other student staples. It was a useful money off tool at a time when few students owned cars and train was considerably more expensive than coach. Andrew Martin, author of Belles and Whistles: Five journeys through time on Britain's trains, says it has never become a rail rite of passage. That honour goes to InterRail - "the grand tour of the 18th Century aristocracy for the modern age".

Rural train

And yet, for a teenager growing up in the 1980s it had a certain charm. You weren't a child but a young person. Getting your hands on that pitted blue wallet containing a "YP card" and mugshot photo - long greasy hair, rabbit in headlights expression, Nirvana T-shirt all standard issue (apologies to reminiscers of other eras) - was a passport to anywhere. Well Lincoln Central.

It's unlikely today's 16-25 Railcard causes much excitement for young people. Travel horizons no longer end at Dover Priory. And trains have changed. When the Student Railcard arrived they had a seedy romance but the network was still in shock from Dr Beeching's axe. In 2014 trains are "purely utilitarian" and carry more people than at any time since the 1920s, Martin says. Perhaps the card is like good eyesight - you only truly appreciate it when it's gone. There's that moment of indignation at 26 when you have to pay full fare. And the implication that, although not exactly past it, you are too old to hang around waiting rooms pretending to read L'Etranger.

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How much do by-elections cost?

Temporary polling station at the South Shields by-election

The average cost of Westminster by-elections since 2010 has been £239,529, writes Anthony Reuben.

Many thanks to David Cowling, head of BBC political research for pointing me towards this figure, which appears in a publication snappily called: Returning Officers' Expenses, England & Wales Statement of Accounts 2013-14.

This figure clearly does not include the costs of last Thursday's Clacton and Heywood and Middleton by-elections or next month's Rochester and Strood by-election.

The average expenditure is divided into two parts - the conduct of the poll and Royal Mail.

Conduct of the poll, which accounts for £135,666 of the average cost, pays for polling stations, postal voting and counting the votes.

The other £103,863 covers the postage costs for each candidate (if he or she wants) to send a letter to the household of everyone who is entitled to vote.

By-elections often have more candidates than there would be for the same constituency at a general election, which makes postage costs expensive. On the other hand, if a candidate doesn't get at least 5% of the votes cast, they lose their £500 deposit, which goes into the same pot of money from which the postage was paid, returning a small proportion of those costs.

By-elections generally have lower turnouts than general elections, which means the cost per vote cast can look expensive.

The highest cost on this measure was the Manchester Central by-election in November 2012, when only 18% of the electorate voted, meaning the election cost £15.90 per vote.

The average cost per vote for by-elections since 2010 has been £8.75.

The Cabinet Office points out that by-elections tend to be more expensive to administer because they are unexpected, so the returning officer has less time to plan.

That is reflected in the comparison with the General Election in 2010, when the average cost per constituency was £173,846 while the average cost per vote cast was £3.81.

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Weekendish: The best of the week's reads

Gunther and Christine sat on Otto the car.

A collection of some of the best reads from the BBC News website this week, with an injection of your comments.

Gunther Holtorf travelled across 179 countries with his car Otto in the mother of all road trips. It took 26 years. In this epic piece, he describes the emptiness of deserts, the smell of tension in Kabul, entering Cuba with the help of a Castro, and the loss of his wife. He has had malaria eight times but prefers to focus on the positive. Fourth wife Christine was his travelling partner and urged him to continue after she had gone. They covered just under 700,000km (430,000 miles) together and he clocked up another 200,000km (125,000 miles) with her son. In China, Mercedes helped with the "ridiculous cost" of the paperwork, and in North Korea, roads were cleared, escorts were organised and every police officer was provided with a picture of their vehicle. Gunther eventually made it home to Germany and Otto is now a museum piece in Stuttgart. This is the romantic tale of one car's outrageous travels.

Gunther, Christine and Otto: A love story

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Perfect light

Photograph by Edwin Smith

The grain of everyday life is captured in the photographs of Edwin Smith. The celebrated photographer, who died in 1971, enjoyed a cloudy day's subtle quality of light and turned his camera backwards whilst all around him were concerned with rapid change. He spotted the texture in a nettle-ravaged bench, the beauty in a smog-drenched landscape, and the glow of white shirts drying. In this film, the co-curator of "Ordinary Beauty", an exhibition of Smith's work at the Royal Institute of British Architects, takes a look through some of the pictures on display.

Ordinary beauty - Edwin Smith's striking photographs

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The obsessive sneezer

Sneeze log

After idly thinking how many times one might sneeze in a lifetime, Peter Fletcher decided to start counting. That was 2007 and now he has a diary filled with the details of more than 4,000 sneezes. "Sneeze number 4,014. Kitchen. Moderate. Looking at broccoli." It has provided him with a series of mundane snapshots of his life; details usually left out of diaries. He initially did not include comments about what he was doing, just the location and the intensity of the sneeze. But an encounter with a quiche during sneeze number 42 made him realise that maybe those descriptions were the point of the exercise. He has a good online following, eager to hear about his latest sternutation, and says he will continue for the rest of his life. Edwin Anthony on Facebook says "Sneezespotting. How interesting". Marc McAdam says "I bet his Mrs is ecstatic".

The man who records all his sneezes

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Moments of truth

Soldier with ammunition over his shoulder

A makeshift church, the junk of war and the faces of those deployed to fight are all featured in a series of photographs by Robert Wilson. In Afghanistan as an artist, not a journalist, he used the kind of camera he would normally use for celebrities in a studio. He brought his skills as a commercial photographer, using similar production processes to get especially sharp, high contrast and harsh images of life in Helmand. He tried to photograph recognisable things, to humanise the scenes and to make them look less remote. Some of these images will be displayed on huge billboards across Britain with no captions or information, only a single QR code (like a barcode) if people want to find out more.

Bringing the front line to UK streets

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Magazine monitor

Man on a giant Ordnance map

In the Magazine Monitor our love of OS maps is explored after a Nobel Prize-winner said it was one of three things which attracted him to the UK. On Facebook Tim Lamb said his three would be Yorkshire, tea and crumpets, and Alison Marrs suggested manners, London and the National Trust.

There is also the story of an alleged rogue priest in Myanmar, Small Data looks into the loss of half the world's animals and Operation How Is A Military Code Name Chosen is go.

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Here are some things we've enjoyed this week from elsewhere around the web:

Lauren Child: how we made Charlie and Lola - The Guardian

Nobody knows what running looks like - The Atlantic

First Ebola, now Marburg. Here's why deadly viruses are on the rise in Africa - Quartz

The forgotten female programmers who created modern tech - NPR

The evolution of movie chase scenes - Slate

Is it possible to be both nice and anonymous online? - New York Magazine

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Go Figure: The week in numbers

Look back at the week in numbers with our Go Figure images, which are posted daily on social media.

Largest ever study into why some people are short and others tall

Monday: Largest ever study into why some people are short and others tall

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US Supreme Court opens the way to gay marriage in 30 states

Tuesday: US Supreme Court opens the way to gay marriage in 30 states

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Met Office to open a new space weather warning centre in the UK

Wednesday: Met Office to open a new space weather warning centre in the UK

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China cuts government spending on overseas trips and lavish receptions

Thursday: China cuts government spending on overseas trips and lavish receptions

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Malala's story - Taliban victim to youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate

Friday: Malala's story - Taliban victim to youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook


10 things we didn't know last week

Mouse

1. It is almost impossible to take a German-registered car into Japan.

Find out more

2. Popping a criminal's phone in a microwave and closing the door (but not switching it on) stops said criminal wiping it remotely.

Find out more

3. When manager of Sunderland, Roy Keane opted not to sign Robbie Savage because of his voicemail greeting which went went "Hi, it's Robbie - whazzup!"

Find out more (The Guardian)

4. Being obese has the same effect on Swedish men's earnings as having no undergraduate degree.

Find out more (The Economist)

5. The sexual behaviour of mice is determined by a small number of neurons that respond to the hormone oxytocin.

Find out more

6. President Obama asked the makers of Homeland to "be gentle on Carrie" in the show's fourth series.

Find out more (the Times)

7. Norwich is the Y-fronts capital of Britain.

Find out more (Daily Telegraph)

8. In China goat hair is sneaked into hair extensions.

Find out more

9. More Americans speak Arabic at home than Italian or Polish.

Find out more (Smithsonian)

10. When climbing steep dunes, sidewinder rattlesnakes flatten themselves to increase contact with the sand.

Find out more

Seen a thing? Tell the Magazine on Twitter using the hashtag #thingIdidntknowlastweek

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Quiz of the week's news

Info

It's the Magazine's 7 days, 7 questions quiz - an opportunity to prove to yourself and others that you are a news oracle. Failing that, you can always claim to have had better things to do during the past week than swot up on current affairs.

Number seven

1.) Multiple Choice Question

What have a group of Swedish scientists been sneaking into their academic papers as a bet?

  1. Bob Dylan quotes
    bob dylan
  2. Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes
    Arnold Schwarzenegger
  3. Kim Kardashian pictures
    Kim Kardashian

2.) Multiple Choice Question

Tetris is going to be made into an "epic sci-fi" blockbuster. Which of these video games has NOT been made into a feature movie?

tetris
  1. Super Mario Bros
  2. Mortal Kombat
  3. Street Fighter
  4. Pac-Man

3.) Multiple Choice Question

Leonardo da Vinci's The Lady with an Ermine was originally painted without the stoat-like creature, a scientist discovered. It's thought to refer to her lover. Who?

lady and the ermine
  1. Leonardo da Vinci
  2. The Duke of Milan
  3. Michelangelo
  4. Lorenzo de' Medici

4.) Multiple Choice Question

Prince gave only one response in a three-hour Q&A with fans on Facebook. What was the topic?

prince
  1. Disposable cameras
  2. 432hz sound frequencies
  3. A faulty car

5.) Multiple Choice Question

Former Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin got the address wrong of which famous landmark?

Sarah Palin
  1. The New York Stock Exchange
  2. UK prime minister's house
  3. The White House

6.) Multiple Choice Question

With a time of four hours and 26 minutes, a Chinese police officer broke the world record for which gym-based activity?

  1. Balancing on a stability ball
    balancing on ball
  2. Rowing machine marathon
    rowing machine
  3. Planking
    planking

7.) Multiple Choice Question

Fans have been warned of an impostor posing for photos as a famous rock star in New York. Which musician was he impersonating?

keith richards, Iggy Pop, Rod Stewart, Bono
  1. Keith Richards
  2. Iggy Pop
  3. Rod Stewart
  4. Bono

Answers

  1. It's Bob Dylan. The five scientists have published papers including Nitric Oxide and Inflammation: The Answer is Blowing in the Wind, Tangled Up in Blue: Molecular Cardiology in the Postmolecular Era, and The Biological Role of Nitrate and Nitrite: The Times They Are a-Changin'.
  2. It's Pac-Man. Super Mario Bros was made in 1993, Mortal Kombat in 1995 and Street Fighter - featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme in the lead role - in 1994.
  3. It's the Duke of Milan. One theory is that the woman in the portrait, Cecilia Gallerani, asked Leonardo to add the animal in order to publicise her relationship with the duke, who was nicknamed "the white ermine".
  4. It's the second one. The full comment was: "Please address the importance of ALL music being tuned to 432hz sound frequencies???" Prince simply replied "The Gold Standard", with a link. The other two options were among the many topics he ignored.
  5. It's the White House, which resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Speaking in the US capital, she said truth is "an endangered species at 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue". That address is closest to the five-star Willard Hotel.
  6. It's planking. Mao Weidong smashed the previous record of three hours and seven minutes. The world record for standing on a stability - or Swiss - ball is five hours and seven minutes.
  7. It's Rod Stewart. The lookalike also apparently gained access to an exclusive Manhattan party where he shared in the free drinks with model Kate Upton and former mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Your Score

0 - 3 : Cheap knock-off

4 - 6 : Passable lookalike

7 - 7 : Doppelganger

For past quizzes including our weekly news quiz, 7 days 7 questions, expand the grey drop-down below - also available on the Magazine page (and scroll down).

You can follow the Magazine on Twitter and on Facebook


Quiz of the week's news

7 days 7 questions

It's the Magazine's weekly news quiz - an opportunity to prove to yourself and others that you are a news oracle. Failing that, you can always claim you had better things to do than swot up on current affairs.

For past quizzes including our weekly news quiz, 7 days 7 questions, expand the grey drop-down below - also available on the Magazine page (and scroll down).

You can follow the Magazine on Twitter and on Facebook


Caption Challenge: Feel hungry punk?

Punk band The Demonstrators make phone calls while having dinner before their performance at the Beijing Punk Festival

Winning entries in the Caption Challenge.

The competition is now closed.

This week punk band The Demonstrators make phone calls while having dinner before their performance at the Beijing Punk Festival.

Thanks to all who entered. The prize of a small amount of kudos to the following:

6. Dom:

"No, my mohican is not getting any signal - how are your spikes?"

5. Bramer:

"I'd like to order an English takeaway."

4. Bailey:

"Never mind the bollocks - I ordered the tofu."

3. Peter Brown:

"They might be on to us... try to act inconspicuous."

2. Robert Barker:

"Look I'm sorry but this idea of sharing the wig just isn't working."

1. Robin Farmer:

"Hello? Hello? Is that the 1970's?"

PDF download Full rules can be seen here[16KB]

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Smashed Hits: God Only Knows

Brian Wilson

God Only Knows was written in half an hour, including two arguments between its co-creators. It's fair to say that assembling the cast of the BBC's new version of the song, all of whom reportedly gave their time for free, took a little longer, writes Alan Connor.

That half-hour, in autumn 1965, was a long time coming. Following a breakdown, Brian Wilson, chief songwriter for the Beach Boys, had paused to take stock for the first time.

First had been his childhood, in a musical band of brothers (and one cousin) superintended by his frustrated-musician father Murry, to whom the pushiest of parents can compare themselves favourably.

Wilson Sr preferred the stick, or rather the belt, to the carrot. One of his punishments involved removing his glass eye and making the young Brian stare into the socket. "When I was playing music," Wilson later recalled, "he couldn't hurt me."

Then, the success. Four unstinting years of effective isolation for Wilson, composing, recording and performing broadly similar faddish songs of surfboards and hot rods, with the odd moment of inspiration.

In 1965, the other Beach Boys toured Japan. Wilson chose to stay at home and ponder songs which would speak to geeks like himself in the same way that Barbara Ann had pleased the jocks.

Changing the sound was the easy part. Unlike most songwriters, Brian Wilson didn't need a producer to add sonic nuance. He was hearing "teenage symphonies to God" in his head and could instruct a studio full of hired hands how to play them.

It was lyrics that Wilson wanted help with. He'd recently tried out less on-the-nose lines like "sometimes I have a weird way of showing my love", but decided to work with someone new - outside the group.

At a Hollywood party, he'd met a friend of a friend - Tony Asher, a handsome advertising executive who wrote jingles for Mattel toys and Gallo wines. A collaboration with the man who defined the Californian good life was an offer Asher couldn't refuse. He booked some vacation, daily visiting Wilson's Bellagio house to discuss the musician's preoccupations of music, "spiritual" literature and the nature of love.

Beach Boys The Beach Boys 1964: (left-right) Mike Love, Al Jardine, Brian Wilson, Dennis Wilson and Carl Wilson

These conversations were fractured. Wilson, who had been denied a childhood, would break off to show Asher his mechanical parrots or to watch episodes of Flipper, an "aquatic Lassie" series about a dolphin, which invariably reduced him to tears.

In time, Wilson played Asher the pieces of music he had in mind for an album called Pet Sounds and Asher essayed some lyrics to fit the themes Wilson had in mind. When they got to God Only Knows, things didn't start well. Wilson felt that "I may not always love you" was absolutely the wrong way to kick off a love song. Too negative, he insisted.

Asher, equally insistent, said: "Consider the next line." In Wilson's autobiography, he remembers this as: "But long as the stars are above you, you'll never need to doubt me."

This is understatement of something enormous - I'll only love you until the end of time. If you were feeling technical, you might call it "litotes" and Milton pulls a similar trick in his line: "Love, not the lowest end of human life". So does Raymond Chandler: "He was a big man but not more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck."

(Not everyone is so confident - at Wilson's second wedding in 1995, his daughters sang a version which began, "I know I'll always love you, as long as there are stars above you," though a second marriage ceremony is arguably no place for ambiguity.)

Start Quote

After the music had been dumb and goofy, and before it got too weird and spooky, there was Pet Sounds. So I guess that's why everyone loves it, because that's where everything was right”

End Quote Elvis Costello

Wilson was also worried about the G-word. In their second argument, Wilson wasn't sure he wanted to be the first to put "God" in the title of a pop song, but Asher convinced him that it was (a) spiritual and (b) ground-breaking, two of the qualities they were striving for.

(Wilson was right. In the US, God Only Knows found itself flipped with its B-side when the owners of radio stations and record stores announced they were unwilling to risk offending sensibilities).

So the lyric was added to Wilson's arrangement - a baroque affair which was to include accordions, French horn and, played by Asher, sleigh bells.

While lush, it actually has fewer vocals than your average Beach Boys track. Eight people's voices were recorded, including the subject of the song, Wilson's wife Marilyn, but the song we know has just three. Brian gave the lead to his brother Carl with the advice: "Just take it real easy."

At the end of the a cappella version on the Pet Sounds Sessions box set, someone is heard wondering, "How was that? Was that cool?" - Carl or possibly Bruce Johnson, the other vocalist?

At the end of the a cappella version on the Pet Sounds Sessions box set, Carl (or possibly Bruce Johnson, the other vocalist) can be heard wondering: "How was that? Was that cool?"

It's not understatement. The other Beach Boys were not a little surprised by what they found when they returned from Japan. Wilson's cousin Mike Love in particular wondered about the value of artistic and commercial risks.

When the recording was finished, Wilson told the band that he had found the music by praying to God. Love, ever the antagonist-pragmatist, muttered, "Pray to God it sells."

The record company, too, questioned whether Pet Sounds was really a Beach Boys album. They called time on the sessions, leaving one track without its vocals, and then considered shelving the whole project. At the last fraught meeting with the Capitol executives, Wilson answered their questions using a tape recorder on which he had recorded himself saying "yes", "no", "no comment" and "can you repeat the question?"

Full cast of BBC's Impossible Orchestra

Sometimes the nay-sayers are right, and a musician's "personal project" is disastrous folly. Few would charge Pet Sounds with that.

God Only Knows gets a special kind of praise, such as becoming the favourite song of a Beatle - Paul McCartney, the one to whom Wilson perpetually and disparagingly compared himself.

Wilson, indomitably fretful, responded to McCartney's praise by locking himself in the changing hut next to his swimming pool, on the basis that if God Only Knows were worthy of such praise, it must all be downhill from there. "I'm a has-been," he concluded as McCartney stood outside, "and a wash-up."

Regarding the BBC version, Wilson is more sanguine, pronouncing himself "honoured" and carefully describing God Only Knows as "one of the best I've ever written".

The song is a good fit - a pop piece with a polyphonic complexity which gives the BBC Concert Orchestra something to get its teeth into. More than that, it's fitting that a lyric written by an ad exec should be re-purposed as a commercial of sorts, albeit one for ad-free broadcasting.

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Why do people love Ordnance Survey maps?

Man on a giant Ordnance map A man looks at a giant Ordnance Survey map of Wales

US-born neuroscientist John O'Keefe has jointly won the 2014 Nobel Prize for medicine for discovering the brain's navigation system. Is it any surprise then that he loves Ordnance Survey maps, writes Luke Jones.

O'Keefe came to the UK from the US in the late 1960s. He was supposed to stay for only two years as part of post-doctoral study. He decided to relocate for good.

The 74-year-old told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he was "very attracted to many aspects of British culture".

Two aspects that he named were the NHS and the Ordnance Survey map. "I like walking on the weekends and finding my way around," said the professor who found that the brain has an "inner GPS system" in 1971 by discovering nerve cells that help create maps.

Key research that he co-authored in 1971, The Hippocampus As A Cognitive Map, references an OS map as a way of explaining spatial behaviour and the brain's internal positioning system.

Most countries have a national mapping agency. But Rob Andrews, from Ordnance Survey, says it is the level of detail which makes them unique. Some 250 surveyors and two planes contribute to the "10,000 changes" made to the database every day. More detail is added and changes in the landscape are accounted for. We constantly have "roads changing, houses popping up and petrol stations being demolished", he says.

Detailed map Detail of the London Bridge area
Minecraft Minecraft map
Woman looking at map 1937 Ordnance Survey map from 1937

Simon Garfield, author of On the Map, agrees with O'Keefe that OS maps are an integral part of British culture.

"Ordnance Survey maps were originally inspired by 18th Century cartography in France," he says. "But they've been associated with sodden walks in the Cairngorms and the Lakeland Fells for so long that they'll always be thought of as British as roast beef and Big Daddy. What else makes them so? Their indefatigable finicky detail and their historic quirkiness. The maps show bracken and drinking fountains, not something you see much of on satnav."

The maps were originally military surveys. Official Superintendent William Mudge expected them to be the "honour of the nation". The first Ordnance Survey map produced was of Kent. They started mapping the South East to help with the defence plans against Napoleonic France. It was quickly picked up as a tool for tourists. A director of the Ordnance Survey complained of the "swarms of idle holiday visitors" who were pestering surveyors for the locations of the most picturesque parts to visit.

Print sales now account for just 7% of revenue. Last year, sales dropped below two million for the first time.

OS maps became available online in 2009, and in September 2013, OS terrain data was made available for users of the online game Minecraft.

Evolution of map Evolution of the Ordnance Survey map for the Derwent Valley, Lake District

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The preacher refusing to give up keys to a Yangon church

Service in the Armenian church in Yangon

A recent Magazine article reported on the dwindling number of Armenians in Myanmar, also known as Burma. As Jonah Fisher reports from Yangon, the head of the Armenian Church has been to meet the local congregation and has made some changes.

To mark the visit of the head of the Armenian Church the garden was tidied, the fence re-painted, and one of Yangon's new heritage plaques erected outside.

It proudly states that at the age of 152, St John the Baptist's is "Yangon's oldest surviving church".

For most of those years Yerevan has had very little to do with this small remote outpost.

Now that's changing and Catholicos Karekin II came to Yangon to try to resolve a dispute over the management of the church and its property.

Jonah Fisher visits the church in Yangon and meets John Felix

When the last full Armenian (both parents) in Myanmar died six years ago, effective control had passed into the hands of a man who had no connection with either Armenia or the Orthodox tradition.

"Father" John Felix, as the sign in the street outside calls him, had taken over the running of the church. A Burmese man of Indian extraction, he claimed to be an ordained Anglican priest which would, with the Armenians' permission, give him the right to perform religious services.

Felix comes across as a very pleasant, humble man, but unfortunately the Anglican church says he has never been a priest.

"He's not recognised by our Church any more, once he was a deacon," the Archbishop of Myanmar Stephen Than Myint Oo told me.

The archbishop makes a veiled reference to inappropriate behaviour and says "Felix does not have the authority to perform religious services."

Felix says the allegations are just "rumours", that he has the correct documentation and that efforts are being made to undermine him.

Shortly after we met, he was called to a meeting with the Catholicos Karekin II, told that he could no longer work in the church and asked to return the keys.

Felix refused, and according to the Armenian Church is now effectively a squatter on the historic site. A legal battle looks likely.

Nevertheless, the church doors opened on Saturday for the biggest Armenian mass in Myanmar in decades. The altar was re-consecrated and it was announced that an Armenian priest based in Calcutta would be flying in every weekend to conduct services.

The Armenians are hoping that this rather painful trip will prove to be a badly needed turning point for the community.

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More from the Magazine
The gates of St John the Baptist Church, Yangon

In the early 17th Century, large numbers of Armenians fled the Ottoman Empire and settled in Isfahan in what's now Iran. From there, many travelled on in later years to form a commercial network which stretched from Amsterdam to Manila.

Census records from the late 19th Century suggest that about 1,300 Armenians were living principally in Calcutta, Dhaka and Rangoon.

The last Armenians of Myanmar

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Have we lost half the world's animals?

Fish in a coral reef

The most eye-catching statistic in the news last week was that the global animal populations have declined by 52% in the last 40 years, writes Anthony Reuben.

The figure comes from the Living Planet Report from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and WWF.

So there were half as many mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish (they only measure vertebrates) in 2010 as there were in 1970, according to the report.

This is one of those figures that makes you wonder how on earth they found out and indeed has sparked questions about both the statistical robustness of the figure and indeed whether having a single figure is relevant.

This is particularly the case because two years ago the same report said that the numbers had fallen by about 30%.

So what has changed since then? It's all in the weighting.

Saying things about a big group by finding out about a smaller group and extrapolating is never a perfect approach.

In the past, this report has looked at all the data available from species around the world and assumed that the trend seen in those species reflected the trend for all vertebrates worldwide.

Is that fair? This year's report followed data from about 3,038 of the estimated 62,839 vertebrate species, which is a pretty big sample.

But the sample is not random. There is much more research done into populations of birds and mammals than into reptiles, amphibians or fish.

The researchers have weighted the data to reflect what species actually exist and not just the ones that governments, academics or enthusiasts want to investigate.

This seems like a basically sensible approach, but there are still questions. For example, species that are in decline and a matter of concern may be more likely to be tracked than those that are not.

Also, species from less developed countries are more important to these figures than those in rich countries, because rich countries have often already lost areas such as forests and jungles where there is the greatest biodiversity.

So wildlife from the poorest countries get the greatest weighting in this research, but they are the ones for which by far the smallest amount of data is available.

Only 181 of the 3,038 species investigated came from low-income countries.

The researchers say that this is the first year they have had enough data to apply this weighting and that they will seek more figures for areas and species that are less represented to make future reports better than this one.

But while there are those who argue about whether the precise figure is accurate, there seem to be few who doubt the general trend.

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What makes a suitable military code name?

RAF airmen in 1939

The US mission in the Middle East is without a code name. How do you choose a title for a military campaign, asks Jon Kelly.

There is no "Operation Inherent Resolve". The code name was suggested for the latest US mission in the Middle East by US military strategists, according to reports. But it was rejected, apparently because it was judged to be "kind of bleh".

Coming up with a title for a military mission is a delicate task. There have been many memorable ones - Desert Storm, Overlord, Rolling Thunder. Others have attracted attention for the wrong reasons. Operation Killer, a US Korean war counter-offensive, was widely criticised for being distasteful. Operation Masher, an American campaign in Vietnam, was considered so ill-judged it was re-named. The US build-up in Afghanistan after 2001 was initially code-named Infinite Justice. But after it was pointed out that the name was considered offensive to the Islamic faith, it was changed to Enduring Freedom.

The practice appears to have begun with the German high command during World War One, according to Gregory C Sieminisky's seminal article on The Art of Naming Operations. The Kaiser's forces borrowed religious and mythical titles - Archangel, Mars, Achilles. During World War Two, Winston Churchill was aghast to learn an attack on Romanian oil fields was to be code-named Soapsuds. Names of missions should never be frivolous, he said - he did not want "some widow or mother to say that her son was killed in an operation called 'Bunnyhug' or 'Ballyhoo'". But he also believed they should not be "boastful or overconfident". He recommended references to Greek and Roman mythology, the stars and constellations, famous racehorses and British and US war heroes. Operations Market Garden, Mincemeat and Bodyguard are all names from WWII that have lived on in the popular imagination. Churchill came up with Overlord himself.

Today the US military, like other forces around the world, has protocols for naming operations. The tone for modern titles was set by the 1989 American invasion of Panama - initially titled Blue Spoon, but eventually christened Just Cause because, according to Gen Colin Powell at the time, "even our severest critics, when attacking us, will have to say 'just cause'." In its wake there was Allied Force (Nato's bombing campaign in the former Yugoslavia) and Neptune Spear (the killing of Osama Bin Laden). Desert Storm is the apotheosis of this kind of operation name, says James Dawes, professor of American literature at Macalester College and author of The Language of War. It is "grandiloquent without sounding too grandiloquent". It references the theatre of action and implies a sense of inevitability. By contrast, not having a name at all conveys a "sense of indecision". But for the Pentagon it's an improvement on Operation Bleh.

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Go Figure: The week in numbers

Look back at the week in numbers with our Go Figure images, which are posted daily on social media.

Japan has about 7% of the planet's active volcanoes

Monday: Japan volcano: Search suspended as toll rises

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Earth has lost 97% of its tigers in a century, zoologists say

Tuesday: World wildlife populations halved in 40 years - report

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Hong Kong protesters use "off-grid" social networks to avoid censors http://

Wednesday: #BBCtrending: Hong Kong's 'off-grid' protesters

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Ebola vaccines fast-tracked as report predicts 'worst case scenario'

Thursday: Ebola vaccines 'being fast-tracked'

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Aids traced to 1920s. Today, millions with HIV are not getting drug therapy

Friday: Aids: Origin of pandemic 'was 1920s Kinshasa'

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10 things we didn't know last week

Woman eating bar of chocolate

1. At the Starbucks outlet in the CIA's Langley headquarters, baristas aren't allowed to write customers' names on their cups.

Find out more (Independent)

2. Come September 1 and the Japanese stop swimming outdoors, regardless of the temperature.

Find out more

3. There is a "right" way to eat chocolate: you pop a piece in your mouth, let it melt between the tongue and the palate, and then breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose.

Find out more (Financial Times)

4. "Cheryl Cole" is the UK celebrity search term that leads to the most malware links.

Find out more

5. Chimps use a leaf sponge as a tool to help them drink.

Find out more

6. When the RMS Queen Mary was launched in 1932, the bottle smashed against its hull contained Australian wine.

Find out more

7. Alcohol makes smiles more contagious for men but not for women.

Find out more (Association for Psychological Science)

8. Early cancer hospitals in the US were modelled on French castles and served champagne.

Find out more (Slate)

9. Sharks can be introverts or extroverts.

Find out more

10. Restaurant diners who sit by the window or at well-lit tables order more salad, while those in dark corners have more pudding.

Find out more (the Times)

Seen a thing? Tell the Magazine on Twitter using the hashtag #thingIdidntknowlastweek

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Weekendish: The best of the week's reads

The Queen Mary liner

A collection of some of the best reads from the BBC News website this week, with an injection of your comments.

It looked like a "great white cliff", but one with a fashionable nod to Art Deco. Eighty years ago the Queen Mary was launched, but what was its lure? Why does it give off such a whiff of nostalgia? Its four-day Atlantic crossings were the height of style, with black-tie dinners, tennis courts and even telephones. It was glamorous, entertaining the likes of Winston Churchill, Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor and more. But despite being a titan of its time, the Queen Mary eventually lost out to the transatlantic flight and now pales in comparison to modern cruise liners. Taller and almost three-times the tonnage, today's cruise liners may be monsters, but they lack the luxury of 1934.

Queen Mary: Liner that helped launch monster cruise ships

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Almaz's story

Cartoon frames of Almaz cleaning and cooking

Last year writer Benjamin Dix and cartoonist Lindsay Pollock introduced Magazine readers to Amiir and Family via this cartoon: Somali family living in Norway. This week, they were back with another. It tells the disturbing story of Almaz - a young Ethiopian girl living in poverty who travels to Saudi Arabia to work as a maid. She is tricked and her employers abuse her. As they complain about her cooking, speak condescendingly to her and talk of luxuries with wealthy friends, she is raped and refused her salary. Her passport has been taken and she is trapped. She is also cut off from her mother - unable to write or send money to her.

Abused and unpaid - the story of an African servant in Saudi Arabia

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The first trainspotter

Train drawn by Jonathan Backhouse, 1825

He may not have been the first trainspotter, as we know them now. But Jonathan Blackhouse certainly has a good claim for being the first train enthusiast. In September 1825 he watched the inaugural journey of the Stockton to Darlington railway. The drawing he made, and his enthusiastic letter to his sisters are now on display at the National Railway Museum York until 1 March 2015 as part of their trainspotting season. Amy Banks, the exhibition manager, describes the drama of a steam train going past, its 1960s heyday and the controversial steam or diesel question. Locospotters are an enthusiastic bunch who yearn to tick train numbers off their list and will climb up signal lights to do it. The craze started with Blackhouse and continues with Nick Beeson on Facebook, who calls it the "best hobby ever!"

Who was the world's first trainspotter?

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A Taste of history

Woman in silhouette drinking from litre jug of beer at Oktoberfest

Beer and sausages? It's got to be Germany. Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, tells BBC News Magazine readers about the importance beer and sausages have in German culture and identity. The ornate tankards they drank from were statements of pride and the act of drinking itself was used as a pledge of good faith or an oath of allegiance. As well as beer, the great emblem of Germany's national diet is the sausage. From coronation specials to plain ones in a bun, sausages are Germany's history on a plate. With Oktoberfest being the largest popular festival in the world, German culture has a long future.

The country with one people and 1,200 sausages

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Japan's deserted beaches

Children playing in the sea in Japan Japan has nearly 30,000km of coastline but people only visit the beach in the summer

Japanese children have it drilled into them at school: "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down." They follow this so closely that on 1 September Japanese beaches are deserted, outdoor pools are locked up and swimwear put away for another year. A beach that had thousands basking in the sun will overnight be emptied despite no change in weather the next day. Michael Fitzpatrick explains the strong and strict social norms which cause this. Not going to the beach might be a form of "kata", which governs the behaviour in many situations from making tea to whether to wear short-sleeve shirts. It is a strong sense of what should be done and is diligently followed. Andrew Gould tweets: "I used to see the short sleeve to long sleeve seasonal change (and vice versa) on the train in Japan. It's so striking!"

Why Japan's beaches are deserted - despite the sunshine

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Magazine monitor

Lee Ben David's cutlery

Magazine monitor, a collection of cultural artefacts, had some treats this week. There was the origin of the recently much-used phrase "boots on the ground", the reasons why so many drivers are still shunning seatbelts, whether yoga is actually about exercise and the strange world of super-specialist cutlery.

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Here are some things we've enjoyed this week from elsewhere around the web:

The Gender Politics of Pockets - The Atlantic

To understand life in East Germany, all you need is this board game - PRI

Parenting as a Gen Xer: We're the first generation of parents in the age of iEverything - Washington Post

The Self-Made Man: The story of America's most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth - Slate

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Caption Challenge: Surfer dog

A surfing dog approaches a man

Winning entries in the Caption Challenge.

The competition is now closed.

This week, a dog rides a wave during the 6th Annual Surf Dog competition at Huntingdon Beach, California.

Thanks to all who entered. The prize of a small amount of kudos to the following:

6. Jonathan B:

After hours of desperate searching it now seemed clear that floating lamp posts did not in fact exist.

5. Megan-Zo:

Surf board thief collared.

4. Robert Barker:

"If you fall off, try doggie paddle."

3. Gareth:

Oh I do hope he doesn't get into kite surfing.

2. Graz Valentine:

Hawaii Fido.

1. Scott:

He's a boarder collie.

PDF download Full rules can be seen here[16KB]

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The strange world of super-specialist cutlery

Lee Ben David's cutlery

A designer has produced a set of very specific cutlery in an attempt to highlight the number of "absurd" utensils now on offer, writes Luke Jones.

Lee Ben David's cherry tomato picker, pitta bread opener, artichoke scraper and edamame extractor fill very narrow roles. Each only deals with one foodstuff.

Her knife and fork combination was designed for cocktail parties. It allows diners to have a plate in one hand and effectively have both knife and fork in the other. "I came to realise the absurd amount and variation of available cutlery - whether if it's a knife designated only for fish, or a fork originated only for salads," she says.

Ben David's cutlery will never be mass-produced, but there's a long history of specialised cutlery. Steak knives are perhaps the most common. An advert in the Times in 1914 for Mappin and Webb, offered a gift set of "trustworthy cutlery" that included six egg spoons, a pickle fork and a chutney spoon.

A single knife and fork device A single knife and fork device
A device for eating cherry tomatoes An easier way to eat cherry tomatoes?
A device for getting edamame beans from the pod A device for getting edamame beans from the pod

On the Titanic there were a hundred pairs of grape scissors, 400 Asparagus tongs and a thousand oyster forks.

Writing in the letter pages of the Times in 1960, WC Levesley of Bakewell bemoaned how hopeless stainless steel knives were - something many have now accepted as standard. "How much longer is the British public to put up with the blunt, almost useless cutlery which one finds on the dining tables of practically all restaurants in the country?" he complained.

Some modern cutlery is designed to stop you eating. Hapifork, an "intelligent" electronic fork, tracks how much you are eating and how quickly. It alerts you if you are eating too much too fast.

A man eating soup with a spoon with a fan on it An inventive and sensitive way to avoid eating inedible soup in 1948

However, a device from 1948 also aimed at avoiding food never did catch on. The mechanical soup spoon was intended for dinner parties where the host has served inedible soup. The spoon allows the user to drain the unpleasant soup through a tube through a jacket sleeve to a hot water bottle and the offensive smell is blown away by a small fan.

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