Rare African plant points the way to diamonds

Pandanus candelabrum’s role as a diamond spotter may sound unlikely, but this sort of indicator species has been known about for centuries. For example, the small Alpine plant Lychnis alpina has distinctive pink flowers and has been used since medieval times to find sources of copper. Modern analysis has since discovered that the species is genetically resistant to the metal, allowing it to thrive in soil where the presence of copper ore keeps other plants away.

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The seats where Tories weren’t blue and Labour wasn’t red

The UK’s political parties are closely identified with particular colours – but in some parts of the country they traditionally fought under quite different shades. Three candidates gather on a podium. Each wears a coloured rosette. So far, so humdrum. Except that here it’s the Conservative wearing red, Labour’s candidate in green and the victorious Liberal in blue and orange. This is the general election of February 1974 and the constituency is Berwick-upon-Tweed – one of a number of UK seats where candidates traditionally fought elections in colours other than those typically linked with their parties today.

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In the chaos of coalition, the best storyteller will win

People died – 19 Labour MPs in total, many of them from sheer exhaustion at the stress, the all-night sittings, and the fact that every single day the government might fall. I found their stories often very moving. Joe Harper, one of the whips, died after delaying an operation so he could be around to vote. The gravely ill Alfred “Doc” Broughton, a staunch Labour man all his life, was the one vote missing from the confidence motion that saw the government finally fall after five years. One single vote. His heart stopped beating five days later, and he died a broken man.

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Gently does it: from canal trips to birdsong, BBC4 to introduce ‘slow TV’

BBC4 will also show a three-hour trip around the National Gallery in London, by film-maker Frederick Wiseman, accompanied only by the sound of the polishing machines readying its corridors at dawn, while a “handmade” season will feature the making of a glass jug, a knife and a classic Windsor chair, all without music or commentary.

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France’s libraries discovering a new lease of life beyond just books

Workshops, events, exhibitions, training courses and encouraging public participation in their management have become part of libraries’ roles. In some you may talk without whispering, use a phone, eat and even play computer games. Reading has become a source of sociability and the books on offer are supposed to encourage “social cohesion”. This trend towards greater openness, which started a few years ago, has only taken hold in a few of France’s 3,000 public libraries. But, it seems, it’s spreading.

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Rand Paul is erasing Paul Rand

Paul Rand is one of the most influential graphic designers of the 20th century, creator of iconic logos for IBM and UPS, among others. He pioneered the logo as corporate identity, defined by simple shapes and primary colors. He has been dead for 18 years. Rand Paul is the junior senator from Kentucky, elected in 2010 and currently in the running for the Republican candidacy for president. He has taken outspoken positions against the War on Terror and the criminalization of drugs, and is one of the leading proponents of libertarianism within the US government. Rand Paul is erasing Paul Rand.

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A look back at 25 years of the Hubble Space Telescope

The space telescope created by NASA and ESA has taught us countless things about the universe that surrounds us, and its breathtaking images have inspired a whole new generation of scientists. (And yes, they also make great computer wallpapers.) For much of Hubble’s early life in space, however, it was easy to look at the project as a failure. Outlets at the time called it “a national joke.” A tiny imperfection in the mirror meant that all of the images it took were fuzzy and out of focus, and it took five separate repair missions to get it to the excellent shape it’s in today.

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Girl, 8, strikes blow for equality over ‘boys only’ books

An eight-year-old who asked, “What if a girl wanted a pirate book?” has won a victory for equality, after children’s publisher Scholastic stopped labelling books as “for girls” or “for boys”. Els, from Bounds Green school in London, decided to get in touch with the publisher after spotting the title, Amazing Things for Boys to Make and Do – the “Cap’n of pirate fun books. Pure gold” – in a catalogue for the Scholastic book fair coming to her school. She wrote a petition, arguing that no books should be “for girls” or “for boys”.

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