50 Things We Know Now (We Didn’t Know This Time Last Year)

Jeff Houck in the Tampa Tribune:

ScreenHunter_09 Dec. 26 10.48 Believe it or not, stuff happened that had nothing to do with the presidential election, gas prices or Michael Phelps. Not that you'd have an easy time sifting through all the media debris to find the information that actually meant something.

With so many distractions, you probably didn't hear that using Facebook makes you a better employee, or that drinking wine can help you avoid lung cancer, or that doing tai chi makes life easier for asthmatics. (Unless you do it in a public park wearing something approximating pajamas, of course. Then you just look silly.)

For those and other warm, delicious infomuffins, we humbly present our list of stuff you know this year that you didn't know this time last year. Feel free to unleash these at your New Year's Eve party:

1. Dogs appear to experience jealousy and pride. Previously, only humans and chimpanzees were thought to suffer those emotions.

Read About It

* * * * *

2. Two pounds of a dried plant that turned out to be the oldest marijuana in the world was discovered in a 2,700-year-old grave in the excavated Yanghai Tombs in the Gobi Desert. The cannabis was found near the head of a blue-eyed, 45-year-old shaman among other objects intended for use in the afterlife.

Read About It

* * * * *

3. Starch grains embedded in plaque on the teeth of early Peruvians show they had a more varied diet than previously believed, including beans and a local fruit known as pacay that indicate they had settled into farming long before we thought they had.

Read About It

* * * * *

4. Scientists discovered a more efficient way to build synthetic genomes, which could lead to one day creating artificial life.

Read About It

* * * * *

5. Puerto Rican anole lizards perform push-ups and unfurl their dewlaps, the flaps of skin beneath their chins, to grab the attention of others when the forest is noisy.

Read About It

* * * * *

More here.

Harold Pinter, Playwright of the Pause, Dies at 78

Mel Gussow and Ben Brantley in the New York Times:

Pinter Harold Pinter, the British playwright whose gifts for finding the ominous in the everyday and the noise within silence made him the most influential and imitated dramatist of his generation, died on Wednesday. He was 78 and lived in London.

The cause was cancer, his wife, Lady Antonia Fraser, said Thursday.

Mr. Pinter learned he had cancer of the esophagus in late 2001. In 2005, when he received the Nobel Prize in Literature, he was unable to attend the awards ceremony at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm but delivered an acceptance speech from a wheelchair in a recorded video.

In more than 30 plays — written between 1957 and 2000 and including masterworks like “The Birthday Party,” “The Caretaker,” “The Homecoming” and “Betrayal” — Mr. Pinter captured the anxiety and ambiguity of life in the second half of the 20th century with terse, hypnotic dialogue filled with gaping pauses and the prospect of imminent violence.

Along with another Nobel winner, Samuel Beckett, his friend and mentor, Mr. Pinter became one of the few modern playwrights whose names instantly evoke a sensibility. The adjective Pinteresque has become part of the cultural vocabulary as a byword for strong and unspecified menace.

More here.

The world’s most famous atheist celebrates Christmas

Liz Todd in the Daily Mail:

ScreenHunter_07 Dec. 26 08.19 Scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins has admitted he does celebrate Christmas – and enjoys singing traditional Christmas carols each festive season.

The writer and evolutionary biologist told singer Jarvis Cocker that he happily wishes everyone a Merry Christmas – and used to have a tree when his daughter was younger.

Dawkins, one of the most famous atheists in the world, was interviewed by Sheffield born Cocker when he stepped in as a Christmas guest editor on Radio Four's Today programme.

'I am perfectly happy on Christmas day to say Merry Christmas to everybody,' Dawkins said. 'I might sing Christmas carols – once I was privileged to be invited to Kings College, Cambridge, for their Christmas carols and loved it.

'I actually love most of the genuine Christmas carols. I can't bear Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and you might think from that that I was religious, that I can't bear the ones that make no mention of religion. But I just think they are dreadful tunes and even more dreadful words. I like the traditional Christmas carols.'

More here.

Climate Revelations

From Orion Magazine:

Birds ONE DAY, a man named Walter Bennett walked into my Aspen, Colorado, office holding a laptop. He was in his mid- to late fifties, with a graying crew cut, wearing khakis and a button-up shirt. He looked like, and described himself as, a west-Texas redneck. His younger (second) wife accompanied him, saying little. As we chatted, Walter mentioned that his daughter had just given birth to a baby boy—a grandson. Walter reminded me of the aging, Cheney-esque board members I’d been hoping would die off so we could actually start doing something on climate change. But that was exactly what he wanted to talk about. He set down his laptop and hooked it up to a projector.

“Do you mind if I show you this presentation I’ve prepared for my senior management?”

“No problem,” I said, thinking, Get me out of here. This is going to hurt.

I’m a climate guy. I work for a ski resort, Aspen Skiing Company, where my title is “sustainability director.” In theory, I work to address all aspects of the resort’s environmental impact, from weed control to cage-free eggs, from taking calls about new technologies to handling attacks about what a bunch of hypocrites we are. It’s fun. I enjoy it.

More here.

Alpine Christmas

My wife Margit and I spent the day trekking up to the Rodenecker Alm near Lüsen in snowshoes with our friends Ram Manikkalingam and Ramani Muttettuwegama who are visiting from Amsterdam. We were heading for a hut which is supposed to serve food and drink, but never found it. Luckily, Ram produced various refreshments from his backpack, which we badly needed after a few hours of climbing. It was quite a hike, and my legs are killing me, but in the interest of making 3QD readers jealous, I am posting some photographs here. 🙂

All pictures were taken by me, except the one of me with Margit in the backround, which was taken by Ramani.

These are from along the way:

Lüsen Snowsoeing 016

Lüsen Snowshoeing 017

Lüsen Snowshoeing 015

Lüsen Snowshoeing 025

Lüsen Snowshoeing 029

Lüsen Snowshoeingi 032

Lüsen Snowshoeing 023

Lüsen Snowshoeing 028

Lüsen Snowshoeing 018

Lüsen Snowshoeing 034

Lüsen Snowshoeing 040

Lüsen Snowshoeing 038

Lüsen Snowshoeing 042

Lüsen Snowshoeing 009

Go ahead, make fun of the way I dress. See if I care. 🙂 Stuffed into my coat pocket are the very nice goat-leather gloves I got from Margit as a Christmas present.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

An Intellectual surge

From Prospect Magazine:

Earlier this year Prospect teamed up with Foreign Policy to list the world’s 100 greatest living public intellectuals, a contest won (after some sharp-elbowed campaigning) by the Turkish cleric Fetullah Gülen. But who has had the most impact in 2008? We gathered an all-star judging panel (see opposite) from the worlds of policy, media and ideas to find out.
The concept of “public intellectual” remains satisfyingly vague. Nonetheless, we instructed our panel to weigh up the field on three criteria: novelty, real-world impact, and intellectual pizzazz. Internal debate, along with soundings on our blog, First Drafts, created a shortlist of ten—the names you see on these pages. From there it was down to one judge, one vote. A three-way contest for the crown quickly emerged, with Roubini, “Thalerstein” and Petraeus all popular. Generally the panel voted according to type: the wonks liked Nudge, number crunchers wanted an economist, while foreign policy watchers thought the scholarly general deserving of the nod. On our website we provide details of all our judges’ votes, and their reasons. Ultimately, though, there could only be one winner. As in Iraq, so in Prospect: Petraeus surged to victory.

1. David Petraeus
American general and current commander of United States Central Command

Intellectuals_Petraeus This was the year in which General David Petraeus, who holds a PhD from Princeton, demonstrated the battlefield success of his marine field manual—itself a solid intellectual piece of work produced after 16 months of study and consultation. Arguably, the so-called “Petraeus doctrine” is the only written piece of intellectual output in the last two years that has made a direct difference to the lives of millions. It’s radical among other things for being the first actively humane warfighting doctrine to ever come out of the Pentagon, enshrining the ideas that winning a modern war requires ensuring the security and wellbeing of the civilian population, that humanitarian assistance and construction projects are critical to any fight, and that 80 per cent of the battle is a political one. Petraeus has also waged a war of ideas against many in Washington who have argued that fewer constraints and more ruthless tactics were required in Iraq. This year, he won. And so he is a worthy winner of our award. Prospect was against the war in Iraq. But we know an original thinker when we see one, especially one who uses brainpower to achieve change in the most difficult of circumstances. He is a worthy winner.

More here.

Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis”

Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:

ScreenHunter_01 Dec. 25 09.21 Christmas music has never ranked highly among music aficionados. It exists, but no one likes to think about it much. Still, to create Christmas music is to belong in America. I don’t think this is a religious phenomenon. It is about homely feelings, about playing at tradition in a land that hasn’t any real ones. Americans imported their traditions from other lands and then went on to neglect them generally. Christmas is our pathetic, if charming, attempt at compensation.

The big question no one was asking in the 1980s was whether rap music could ever go that far. Was rap American enough to accomplish the Christmas song? When you do the Christmas song you are solid, you are in the club. Moreover, you are in the club to stay. A successful Christmas song will make it into a radio-cum-internet rotation that is beyond the vicissitudes of time. Think of “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses. No one has heard of the band, every person in the world hears that song dozens of times every December. When the season rolls around, the songs do, too.

It fell, thus, on the broad shoulders of Run-DMC to accomplish this singular and difficult task. Such tasks were always confronting the hip-hop boys from Queens. They had to get white college kids to listen to rap music. Mission accomplished with Raising Hell. They had to make rap seem like the heir to rock and roll. Witness the collaboration with Aerosmith in “Walk This Way.”

It is no wonder, then, that one of their musical acts as good Americans was to produce a Christmas song. They called it “Christmas in Hollis.”

More here. Bonus Video:


A short story by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio in Archipelago:

Jmg_le_clezio1 The Frenchmen’s Pier was not really a town because there were no houses or streets, only shacks made of plywood, tarpaper or dirt. Perhaps it got its name from the fact that it was inhabited by Italians, Slavs, Turks, Portuguese, Algerians, Africans, stone masons, laborers and peasants who weren’t sure of finding work and who never knew if they would be staying for one year or just two days. They arrived at the Pier, near the swamps that bordered the estuary, found shelter wherever they could, and built their huts in just a few hours. The ones who were leaving sold them wood planks so old and with so many holes in them you could see right through them. They used plywood for the roof too, and large sheets of tarpaper or if they were lucky enough to find it, pieces of corrugated iron held together with wire or stones. They used old rags to fill in the holes.

This is where Alia lived, west of the Pier, near Martin’s house. She arrived there at the same time he did, early on when there were only about ten shacks, and the still soft ground was covered with large grassy fields and reeds near the edge of the swamp. Her father and brother had died in an accident when she was still too young to do much else but play with other children. Her aunt had taken her in. Now, four years later, the Pier had gotten larger. The estuary’s left bank was covered with hundreds of dirt paths and so many shacks that it was impossible to count them. Every week, truckloads of new families arrived at the Pier and others left. When going to the pump for water or buying rice or sardines at the co-op, Alia would stop to look at the new arrivals searching for any place left to set up camp. Sometimes the police would come to the Pier to keep an eye on things or keep track of who was coming and going.

More here.

Happy Newton’s Day, 2008!

IsaacNewton So here we are, celebrating our 5th Newton's Day at 3QD. Along with Richard Dawkins, we independently and simultaneously came upon the idea of celebrating Newton's Day on December 25th in 2004, and each year since then I have written a little something about Sir Isaac. Here are my posts from 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. Today, I'll explain a simple but very useful mathematical technique called Newton's Method, discovered by Newton in 1669, though he published it later.

Newton's Method is a way of iteratively finding closer and closer solutions to a certain kind of mathematical equation (a real-valued function f(x), to be technical). We do this in the following way (it may help to look at the concrete example from Wikipedia in the graphic following my description of the general method, to better understand what I mean):

  1. Take a guess at the solution (a value for x).
  2. Plug in this value for x and see what f(x) is.
  3. Draw a line tangent to the function at this point.
  4. The point where this line intersects the x-axis is your new and improved value for x.
  5. Take this new value for x and go back to step 2. (This repeating is called iteration.)

ScreenHunter_14 Dec. 21 12.18 Have a look at the graph (from Wikipedia) on the right. The function f(x) is the curved line shown in blue. In other words, for any point x on the horizontal axis, the blue line shows the value of f(x) on the vertical axis. The root (or solution) of the function is where the function crosses the horizontal axis; in other words, where the value of f(x) is zero. In the graph here, this is the value marked X. So we take a guess, Xn, go up the dotted blue line to the function, and then calculate the tangent line to the function at that point. This is shown in red. We see where that line crosses the x-axis, and take that point, Xn+1, as our value for x in the next iteration. As you can see, Xn+1 is a better approximation of the actual root, X. When we repeat the process over and over, one can very quickly converge on the correct solution.

How exactly do we do this? Let me show you. We know from calculus (as did Newton, since he invented it) that the derivative of a function f(x) at given point, written f'(xn), is just the slope of the tangent line at that point. But we also know that the slope of a line is just the “rise”, in this case, the value of f(xn) (on the vertical axis), divided by the “run,” the amount we move from Xn+1 to Xn on the horizontal axis. Setting these two quantities as equal, we get this equation: the derivative of the function at Xn is equal to the value of the function at Xn divided by the distance between Xn and Xn+1. In proper algebraic notation:

f'(xn) = f(xn) / (Xn – Xn+1)

Mutiplying both sides by (Xn – Xn+1), we get:

(Xn – Xn+1) * f'(xn) = f(xn)

Dividing both sides by f'(xn), we get:

(Xn – Xn+1) = f(xn) / f'(xn)

Subtracting Xn from both sides, we get:

– Xn+1 = f(xn) / f'(xn) – Xn

And finally, multiplying both sides by -1, we get:

Xn+1 = Xn – f(xn) / f'(xn)

So that's how once we make an initial guess Xn, we get our next value Xn+1. And then repeat the process.

Look at this nice example from Wikipedia, where one wants to find the square root of 612:

ScreenHunter_05 Dec. 25 10.49

In each successive result on the right hand side above, the correct digits are underlined. As you can see, one converges to a very accurate (to nine significant digits) approximation rather quickly. Well, there you go. That's Newton's Method. Interestingly, since computers are very fast at doing this sort of iteration, Newton's Method has become even much more useful now than when he invented it.

Oh, and if you don't understand “derivatives”, just take my word for it: the derivative of the function “x2 – 612” is “2x” and don't worry about the details… 🙂

I wish all of you a very happy holiday season, and also best wishes for a wonderful new year!

The Economic Crisis and Economic Power

EconomicPower Joseph Stiglitz, Naomi Klein, and Hernando de Soto in a discussion moderated by David Harvey:

City University of New York (CUNY)
New York, NY
Oct 20th, 2008

What is the role of the U.S. in the disposition of the world's economic and environmental resources? How are financial markets best defended from economic shock? Does liberalization ensure prosperity?

Journalist Naomi Klein speaks with economists Joseph Stiglitz and Hernando de Soto in a conversation moderated by David Harvey, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center – City University of New York (CUNY)

The Recession and the Markets for Alcohol, Drugs, Hookers, Gambling and Other Vices

Recession_lead Neel Shah in Radar:

[E]xperts say that the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression is only going to get worse.

So how's a man to cope? Through the usual litany of vices: booze, cigarettes, cards, sex, and drugs, of course!

Conventional wisdom has long held that the “vice” industries are generally repression-proof. (Gambling revenue and booze consumption rose sharply after the stock market collapse of 1929, for example.) People may be broke and depressed, but they'll still smoke, drink, gamble, and screw—perhaps with even more vigor than when they could afford to put their kids through college.

So, is America on the verge of turning into a nation of alcoholic, coke-sniffing, Marlboro-smoking blackjack players with a penchant for fake breasts and a willingness to pay for sex? If so, is it time to pad your portfolio with stock in Philip Morris and Vegas casinos?

We talked with experts from all of the major vice industries, from strip club owners to Wall Street drug dealers, to find out if it's possible to parlay one man's personal tragedy into another man's financial gain. After some data crunching, we slapped a “buy” or “sell” label on each industry. Our careful analysis follows.

On the Even of the 20th Anniversary of the Revolutions of 1989

Karl Schlögel in Eurozine:

It is almost unbelievable that it is already twenty years since 1989 – that is the span of a generation. There are secondary schoolchildren and students for whom it is all literally prehistory. To us – in whatever way we may have been there – it seems like yesterday. Who still remembers that when we were students in West Berlin the underground trains passed through stations that were walled up and patrolled by border guards? Who even knows now exactly where the wall ran? And who remembers a Polish market in the place where the new Potsdamer Platz now stands – a sandy expanse with parked trailers and a magnetic railway that led nowhere, the Philharmonic Hall and the State Library at its edge like space ships in a border landscape? Everyone can add examples of their own: at the Viadrina University in Frankfurt-on-the-Oder there are now Polish students who were born after Solidarity and not particularly interested in it, but who are also older than the glittering skyline of downtown Warsaw. Another example: once all roads passed through Moscow, but now one flies from Rostov-on-Don direct to Dubai or the Canary Islands. It is just twenty years ago that, in order to make a phone call abroad in the Central'nyj Telegraf, the Central Telegraph Office in Moscow, one still had to fill out forms and queue for hours. That was in the pre-mobile phone age. Shortly after that, at the end of the eighties, there public debates in which, for the first time, something was really at issue; unforgettably, meetings of citizens took place on a semi-sacred square on which previously only military parades had taken place. Or the moment a mayor – Anatoly Sobchak in Leningrad/St. Petersburg – addressed the citizens of his city as “Ladies and Gentlemen”. The spirit of a citizens' revolution was blowing through eastern Europe. Since then much has changed once again. We have already got so used to the new state of affairs that we have forgotten the long agony and the short summer of anarchy. Forgotten, too, that war returned to Europe for the first time.

Before the Cocktail Napkin

From Harvard Magazine:

Michaelangelo “The sketch on a cocktail napkin has become a modern-day shorthand for architectural epiphany,” writes Cammy Brothers ’91, Ph.D. ’99, an associate professor of architecture at the University of Virginia. The architect who interests her is best known as a painter and sculptor. In Michelangelo, Drawing, and the Invention of Architecture, rather than examining his drawings for insight into his buildings, Brothers interprets his buildings (the Medici Chapel and Laurentian Library) as the product of his imagination worked out on paper. She dedicates the book to Howard Burns, an expert on Palladio who taught at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, and to the late Adams University Professor John Shearman, a leading Michelangelo scholar. Brothers also benefited from time spent at the Villa I Tatti and Dumbarton Oaks.

Michelangelo transformed the purpose and appearance of architectural drawings, and in so doing changed architecture itself. He demonstrated the possibility for architecture to be a vehicle for the imagination equal to painting or sculpture. The distinct character of his drawings… show[s] the way in which he would start with a remembered form, and how, in drawing and redrawing it, it would take on an entirely different aspect.…Michelangelo’s unusual approach to architectural drawing emerged from his figurative drawing practice.

More here. (For my nephew Jaffer Kolb who is also an artist posing as a wanna-be architect).

The little cigarette girl

From The Telegraph:

A heartwarming short story set in London the night before Christmas, by Justine Picardie.

Picardie_1211204c It was Christmas Eve in Mayfair, and fairy lights and diamonds sparkled in the shop windows, though night had now fallen, and the last of the shoppers gone home. But the grand hotels and restaurants were still open for business, filled with revellers, who laughed and clinked champagne glasses as if they had no fear of the darkness or doubts about the coming year. Outside the grandest of the restaurants – a place beloved by Hollywood princesses and European countesses and men who were rich beyond the dreams of avarice – stood a little cigarette girl. She was shivering alone in the cold, but the only way for her to earn a few pounds was to wait for the diners who sometimes sauntered onto the pavement to smoke. If they ran out of cigarettes, she stepped forward to sell them a packet, along with a box of matches, and every so often, someone would give her a tip.

The little cigarette girl was from a place even colder than London, and spoke the same language as several of the wealthiest people in the restaurant, though unlike them, she was not cocooned against the winter in glossy mink furs.

More here.

NY Sun 1897 santa editorial


“DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old. “Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. “Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.' “Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus.

more from Newseum here.

Caravaggio’s nativity


The paintings that Caravaggio left on the island of Sicily at the start of the 17th century are stupendous masterpieces of popular art from which the power of his lost nativity can be judged: cavernous, eerie visions in the colours of fire and night. He came to the island in 1608, a fugitive who had been the most famous painter in Rome before he killed a man in a street fight and fled. In Sicily – then ruled by Spain – he moved about constantly, fearfully. In Palermo, the island’s capital, the wanderer discovered a meeting place of Mediterranean styles and faiths, where Byzantine, Gothic and Muslim artists had worked together in the middle ages. Caravaggio arrived during the birth of the Baroque revival that would ornament the streets with churches dripping with carved angels and saints. Among them is the Oratory of San Lorenzo, actually not a church at all but the meeting place of a pious lay brotherhood.

more from The Guardian here.

the dismal science


THE DEEPENING ECONOMIC downturn has been hard on a lot of people, but it has been hard in a particular way for economists. For most of us, pain and apprehension have been mixed with a sense of grim amazement at the complexity of what has unfolded: the dense, invisible lattice connecting house prices to insurance companies to job losses to car sales, the inscrutability of the financial instruments that helped to spread the poison, the sense that the ratings agencies and regulatory bodies were overmatched by events, the wild gyrations of the stock market in the past few months. It’s hard enough to understand what’s happening, and it seems absurd to think we could have seen it coming beforehand. The vast majority of us, after all, are not experts. But academic economists are. And with very few exceptions, they did not predict the crisis, either. Some warned of a housing bubble, but almost none foresaw the resulting cataclysm. An entire field of experts dedicated to studying the behavior of markets failed to anticipate what may prove to be the biggest economic collapse of our lifetime. And, now that we’re in the middle of it, many frankly admit that they’re not sure how to prevent things from getting worse.

more from Boston Globe Ideas here.

God: Philosophers weigh in

Alex Byrne in the Boston Review:

God The question of God’s existence is one of those few matters of general interest on which philosophers might pretend to expertise—Dennett is a professional philosopher, and Harris has a B.A. in the subject. Still, of the four, it is Dawkins who wades the furthest into philosophy. So what can philosophy contribute? In particular, have philosophers come to a verdict on the traditional arguments for God’s existence?

Although it would be too much to expect complete consensus, it is fair to say that the arguments have left the philosophical community underwhelmed. The classic contemporary work is J. L. Mackie’s The Miracle of Theism, whose ironic title summarizes Mackie’s conclusion: the persistence of belief in God is a kind of miracle because it is so unsupported by reason and evidence. The failure of arguments for God’s existence need not lead straight to atheism, but philosophers often seem to find this route tempting. In his contribution to Philosophers Without Gods, a collection of atheistic essays by twenty prominent philosophers, Stewart Shapiro observes that “among contemporary philosophers, the seriously religious are a small minority.” Dean Zimmerman, a notable member of the minority, has ruefully remarked that “although numerous outspoken Christians are highly respected in analytic circles, many of our colleagues still regard the persistence of religious belief among otherwise intelligent philosophers as a strange aberration, a pocket of irrationality.”

More here.

Inventor’s 2020 vision: to help 1bn of the world’s poorest see better

Esther Addley in The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_02 Dec. 24 10.33 It was a chance conversation on March 23 1985 (“in the afternoon, as I recall”) that first started Josh Silver on his quest to make the world's poor see. A professor of physics at Oxford University, Silver was idly discussing optical lenses with a colleague, wondering whether they might be adjusted without the need for expensive specialist equipment, when the lightbulb of inspiration first flickered above his head.

What if it were possible, he thought, to make a pair of glasses which, instead of requiring an optician, could be “tuned” by the wearer to correct his or her own vision? Might it be possible to bring affordable spectacles to millions who would never otherwise have them?

More than two decades after posing that question, Silver now feels he has the answer. The British inventor has embarked on a quest that is breathtakingly ambitious, but which he insists is achievable – to offer glasses to a billion of the world's poorest people by 2020.

Some 30,000 pairs of his spectacles have already been distributed in 15 countries, but to Silver that is very small beer. Within the next year the now-retired professor and his team plan to launch a trial in India which will, they hope, distribute 1 million pairs of glasses.

More here.