“House building is at its highest since 2007” – Conservative manifesto “We will make sure that at least 200,000 homes a year get built by 2020—almost double the current level” – Labour manifesto “[We] restored house building from record lows to nearly 150,000 a year” – Liberal Democrat manifesto These claims about the numbers of homes being […]
Toblerone chocolate is a brand instantly recognisable for its bars studded with pyramid-shaped mountains of chocolate. So the announcement from Mondelez International, the brand’s Swiss owner, of a redesign that will mess with its iconic shape seems an odd and ill-conceived decision. In reducing the number of pyramids by increasing the gaps between them, the firm risks permanently reminding its customers that they have bought a product that is no longer complete: the lingering impression is that they have bought a hole, not a whole, and that the product is less than it was.
If the motivation behind the decision is to tackle increased costs and reduced profit margins by shrinking the bar from 170g to 150g, surely it would have made more sense to make the bar smaller, rather than change the brand’s instantly recognisable shape. Among confectioners this approach has been used before in response to increased costs. As long ago as the 1930s, the KitKat has sold its two-finger bar alongside the four-finger version, and the smaller product remains the bestseller.
KitKat producers Nestle also devised a three-finger version for the Middle East market, and also introduced the enlarged KitKat Chunky. But these variations are a positive enhancement to the product’s iconic finger biscuit shape, and are imaginative and logical extensions of the brand’s image. On the other hand, it’s difficult to see how the Toblerone decision can be seen any way but negatively.
It’s well known in design that the spaces in between – what is referred to as “negative space” – when used carefully can become as important and effective as the positive forms that appear inside it. For example, look at the FedEx logo with its cunningly hidden arrow, or US broadcaster NBC and its peacock logo. These two brands have developed logos which make a virtue of how negative space can become a positive element in their communications.
But with Toblerone, the negative space is just that. Artists and designers employ white space as an important element in composition to create harmony and balance. The Toblerone design is the opposite: an extended space that appears out of place – like missing teeth, it generates a sense of a gap that needs to be filled. There is a strong symbolic suggestion of disharmony and loss.
Over the years, there have been many examples of brands that lost their way, making decisions they later regretted due to poor consumer response or adverse political or cultural reactions. For example, re-branding the Post Office Group as Consignia was a hugely expensive decision, costing £1.5m to launch and a further £1m when the group reverted back to Royal Mail in 2002. The perceived wisdom was that the name caused confusion in the eyes of the public and failed to clearly communicate the services on offer.
Newspapers leapt on what looked like an abandoning of the national flag, and former prime Minister Margaret Thatcher draped a handkerchief over a model bearing a newly branded tailfin design in a thinly veiled message of disapproval at what she saw as a betrayal of a proud national identity.
Replacing a cherished national symbol or name is controversial enough, but increasing the gap as a means of maintaining margins at the expense of the brand seems a foolhardy, potentially disastrous move. The problem with gaps is that you don’t always see them until it’s too late – and Toblerone’s manufacturers don’t seem to have heeded the warning.
Mike Sheedy does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
He never seems to learn. After the scandal of his grandiose home improvements, his unsavoury association with the supremely wealthy Gupta family, and after his failed first effort to tar his finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, with dubious corruption charges, Zuma might be expected to be wary, to attempt circumspection – but he’s clearly determined not to back down, even as the political tide and South African civil society alike turn against him and his party.
To add to the tawdriness, Zuma has now failed for a second time to get rid of Gordhan, whom he almost certainly regards as an obstacle to unfettered corruption. Gordhan is standing firm, which makes him a problem – although there are indications he could be hit with more corruption charges again soon.
Nevertheless, as far as Zuma’s concerned, it’s business as usual. He has come up with no solution or compromise for the increasingly furious student protests roiling the country’s campuses, no plans for expanding and improving healthcare, improving the delivery of public services, and no plan for ensuring electricity. He doesn’t seem to care if the value of the rand falls because of his machinations, which serve himself and his cronies above even the ANC, much less the nation.
And that’s precisely the point. Zuma goes on, and knows he can go on, because the ANC itself – no matter what people say about an internal struggle – has been captured by an elite cabal of corrupt people. They have firmly ensconced themselves at the top of a trickle-down structure of corruption and patronage, one that extends to the most remote parts of the ANC apparatus in South Africa’s outlying provinces. If you want a contract for public services or delivering public goods, you have to have it sanctioned by the ANC.
All this could certainly work without Zuma, but he is simply too useful for his cronies to depose him. The corrupt elite he enables are anxious to safeguard their personal revenue-raising schemes. The president is a lightning rod: as long as he’s the focus of public attention, most of his dubious associates are not.
And so they prop up an unpopular president, one who looks increasingly silly, so they can continue go about their business – which amounts to nothing less than the slow ransacking of the nation.
Gordhan might be able to keep making a stand, and he’s no doubt trying his best. But a pebble in a river is not a dam. South Africa’s corrupt elite are too lazy for their pillage to be especially sophisticated or elusive, and in one sense, that’s just as well. But in another, it simply adds to the disaster engulfing the South African body politic and body economic.
Nobody thinks any more about modernity, internationalism, South Africa’s disappearing place in the sun. Nobody thinks of complex engagement with the rest of the world. The theme of the moment is plain and simple theft on a national scale by those who control the party and the state alike.
Stephen Chan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
Defence—specifically, the future of the UK’s nuclear weapons—dominates the front pages this morning. The Conservatives are making a commitment to the Trident submarine programme, while claiming that Labour are prepared to abandon it in return for Scottish National Party support. Various angles of this story are pursued in the Guardian, Mail, Sun, Times and Telegraph. The Guardian also […]
"Scientists claim they've worked out what makes the perfect penis," The Independent reports.
According to Swiss researchers, women value overall cosmetic appearance of a penis over length.
The actual point of the study was to assess women’s perception of the penises of men who have had surgery for hypospadias, a condition where the hole through which urine passes (meatus) is not at the tip of the penis. The condition is typically corrected in childhood by surgery.
Researchers asked women to compare pictures of men who have been treated for hypospadias with men who had been circumcised.
Overall general penile appearance was found to be the most important aspect of a penis for women and the position and shape of the meatus to be the least important.
Out of a list of eight aspects, the length of a penis was actually rated as coming sixth out of eight. Research suggests a massive disconnect between what men think is important about their penis and what women actually think. One study found that 85% of women were satisfied with their partner’s penis size while only 55% of their corresponding partners felt the same.
Where did the story come from?
The study was carried out by researchers from University Children’s Hospital Zurich and the University of Zurich. The source of funding was not reported.
This story has been reported accurately in the media with quotes from authors and a detailed report of study findings.
Much of the reporting on the study takes a light-hearted tone, but it is important not to discount the anxieties that many men, usually without justification, experience about penis size. Read more advice about penis size
“Eating brains helped Papua New Guinea tribe become disease resistant,” The Daily Telegraph reports.
Some of the Fore people, who used to eat the brains of dead relatives as a mark of respect, may have developed resistance to prion diseases such as Creutzfeldt Jacob disease (CJD).
Prion diseases occur in humans and animals, and are caused by a build-up of abnormally folded proteins in the brain. Prion diseases can be passed on by eating infected tissue, such as beef that has been exposed to prions. This is known as bovine spongeform encephalopathy (BSE, or “mad cows disease”). There is currently no cure for prion diseases.
A tribe in Papua New Guinea were nearly wiped out by a prion disease called Kuru. The infection was spread as a result of their tradition of eating the brains of deceased relatives at their mortuary feasts. Some people were resistant to the infection, and this was thought to be due to a mutation called V127 in the gene encoding the prion protein.
This study used genetically modified mice to test whether this genetic mutation was protective against Kuru and CJD. The tests showed that mice with this genetic mutation were indeed resistant to these prion diseases.
The results suggest that this mutation could be responsible for the Kuru resistance seen in the survivors. It is hoped this finding may eventually help to develop effective treatments for prion diseases, but much more research will be needed to get to that point.
“Immigration is three times higher than the Tories promised”—Nigel Farage, 31/03/2015 The government set an objective of reducing net migration into Britain from the tens of thousands to the hundreds of thousands. This has generally been taken to mean that the upper limit on the net migration would be set at around 100,000. This hasn’t been...
The hissing sound you hear in the background when you turn up the volume of your music player is called “noise”. Most of this hiss is due to the thermal motion of electrons in the music-player circuitry. Just like molecules in a hot gas, electrons in the circuitry are constantly jiggling about in a random fashion, and this motion this gives rise to an unwanted noise signal.
But there is another type of noise that only comes into play when we have an electrical current flowing. This noise is known as shot noise. Obstacles that generate shot noise in this way are found in many electronic components, such as diodes and some transistors, and electronic engineers take great efforts to try to get rid of the effects of all sources of noise, including shot noise, in their designs.
Now a new study has shown that shot noise can be eliminated at its microscopic origin. And to do so, they have borrowed an idea from an unlikely source – the early days of the steam engine.
Shot noise has its origins in the fact that electrical current is composed of a stream of individual particles – electrons – and that the behaviour of these particles is governed by the strange laws of quantum mechanics.
When an electron encounters an obstacle that you’d think would block its path, quantum mechanics offers the possibility that it can pass through it unhindered. This is called quantum tunnelling, and it makes the seemingly impossible possible. The important thing about quantum tunnelling is that it is a random process — quantum mechanics can tell us with what probability an electron might tunnel, but it can’t tell us whether any particular electron will tunnel or not.
Thus, if a stream of electrons hits an obstacle, some will tunnel and some will not, and this happens in a completely random fashion. If we could listen to the arrival of a stream of electrons tunnelling in this way, it would sound something like the random pitter-patter of raindrops on a flat roof. It is this randomness, as compared with the regimented drip-drip-drip of a tap, that makes up shot noise.
In the 18th century, James Watt was struggling to get his steam engine to run at a constant speed. To solve this problem, he came up with the “centrifugal governor” in 1788, a contraption that consisted of two metal balls rotating on a vertical spindle driven by the steam engine. If the engine ran too fast, the balls would move upwards under the centrifugal force (a force acting on a body moving in a circular path is directed away from the centre around which the body is moving).
This motion was coupled into a valve which then reduced the flow of steam through the engine, slowing it down. Conversely, if the engine was running too slowly, the balls would drop, the valves would open and the engine would speed up. In this way, Watt was able to stabilise the output of his engine around a constant speed. In doing so he had had come up with an early example of what we would now call feedback control.
James Watt to the rescue
The new experiment focuses on an ultra-small electronics device known as the single-electron transistor, which may one day form the basis of extremely efficient, miniature electronics. These single-electron transistors are somewhat like ordinary transistors, which switch electronic signals, but taken to the extreme limit of miniaturisation such that electrons move through them one at a time. This happens via quantum tunneling, which means the current through a single-electron transistor suffers from the randomness of shot noise.
Using sensitive charge measurements, the researchers were able to detect exactly when an electron had tunnelled through the transistor. Based on this electron counting, they then adjusted the voltages of the transistor, following Watt’s recipe for the centrifugal governor: if more electrons than normal had tunnelled, they changed the voltages to reduce the flow; if fewer had tunnelled, the voltages were changed to increase the flow.
In this way, they were able to show that, after a certain time had elapsed, the total number of electrons to have tunnelled through the device could be controlled precisely, with the results being almost entirely free of the randomness of the noisy tunnelling process.
The technique may not make it into your consumer electronics any time soon. The research was carried out at low temperature on a single device so we’d first need to make it work at room temperature and scale up the function. Nevertheless, it does represent an important breakthrough, as it reports the first application of feedback control in electronics that acts at the level of the individual electron.
The results are especially important for the development of future quantum technologies, which look to harness the peculiarities of quantum physics to make devices that vastly outperform our current best. Such machines could be a huge boost in areas including secure communication, code-breaking, precision measurement and quantitative analysis of “big data”. Quantum technologies however require an exquisite degree of control and, as this research shows, tried-and-true feedback techniques with their roots in the steam age may still have an important role to play.
Clive Emary does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.