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This is today’s edition of The Download our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

Why sounds and smells are as vital to cities as the sights

When David Howes thinks of his home city of Montreal, he thinks of the harmonious tones of carillon bells and the smell of bagels being cooked over wood fires. But when he stopped in at his local tourism office to ask where they recommend that visitors go to smell, taste, and listen to the city, he just received blank stares.

“They only know about things to see, not about the city’s other sensory attractions, its soundmarks and smellmarks,” says Howes, director of Concordia University’s Center for Sensory Studies, a hub for the growing field often referred to as “sensory urbanism.”

Around the world, researchers like Howes are investigating how nonvisual information defines the character of a city and affects its livability. Using methods ranging from low-tech sound walks and smell maps to data scraping, wearables, and virtual reality, they’re fighting what they see as a limiting visual bias in urban planning. Read the full story.

—Jennifer Hattam

These scientists want to capture more carbon with CRISPR crops

The news: Plants are the original carbon capture factories—and a new research program aims to make them more effective by using gene editing. The Innovative Genomics Institute, a research group founded by CRISPR co-inventor Jennifer Doudna, has announced a new program to use the revolutionary gene-editing tool on agricultural crops to boost their aptitude for carbon storage. 

How it’d work: One of the primary goals will be to tweak photosynthesis so plants can grow more quickly. By altering the enzymes involved, researchers could cut out energy-sapping side reactions, including some that release carbon dioxide. The researchers also hope they can find ways to store more carbon in the soil, for example by encouraging larger, deeper root systems. 

Bigger picture: It’ll be a significant challenge to make these techniques work, but the research is part of a growing effort by scientists to find ways to vacuum up the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere in order to slow climate change. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 The crypto market is in freefall 
With colossal amounts of money at stake, crypto’s volatility now looks less thrilling and more worrying. (New York Mag)
The price of Bitcoin has plunged to its lowest in 18 months. (Bloomberg $)
Even the most bullish investors are freaking out. (Motherboard)
Crypto companies are making major layoffs, too. (The Verge)
El Salvador has lost around half its Bitcoin investment. (Mashable)
It’s okay to opt out of the crypto revolution. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Big Tech has agreed to disclose more about disinformation
On a country-by-country basis, something tech companies have previously resisted. (FT $)
The EU is threatening to fine them for failing to deal with deepfakes. (Reuters)

3 What studying strokes teaches us about addiction

A particular neural network in the brain could hold the key to quitting smoking. (NYT $)

4 The long fight to get illegal, nonconsensual videos taken offline  
Survivors have struggled to get footage removed from Pornhub. (New Yorker $)
Deepfake porn is ruining women’s lives. (MIT Technology Review)

5 SpaceX has gained approval to launch its Starship rocket from Texas

But it has to meet stringent measures to protect the environment. (WP $)
This newborn star has a sibling. (Phys)
Our maps of the Milky Way have just received a major upgrade. (Nature)

6 India’s officials are big fans of facial recognition
Privacy advocates disagree with police claims it’s only being used to surveil criminals. (Motherboard)
Here’s how to stop AI from recognizing your face in selfies. (MIT Technology Review)

7 We need to change how we warn beachgoers about deadly currents 
Static warning signs aren’t working. Systems that warn of changing conditions might. (Hakai Magazine)
There’s a global movement dedicated to raising awareness of rip currents. (The Guardian)

8 People are increasingly terrified of being canceled
Psychiatrists wonder if it’s a new manifestation of OCD centered around fear of social ruin. (Slate)

9 Electric car designs are getting more creative
While some are becoming more luxurious, others seat only two passengers. (The Guardian)
This startup wants to pack more energy into electric vehicle

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: Sensory cities and carbon trapping-crops
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2022/06/14/1053854/download-sensory-cities-urban-planning-carbon-trapping-crops-crispr/
Published Date: Tue, 14 Jun 2022 12:01:00 +0000

Tech

Meet the divers trying to figure out how deep humans can go

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Two hundred thirty meters into one of the deepest underwater caves on Earth, Richard “Harry” Harris knew that not far ahead of him was a 15-meter drop leading to a place no human being had seen before. 

Getting there had taken two helicopters, three weeks of test dives, two tons of equipment, and hard work to overcome an unexpected number of technical problems. But in the moment, Harris was hypnotized by what was before him: the vast, black, gaping unknown.

Staring into it, he felt the familiar pull—maybe he could go just a little farther. Instead, he looked to his diving partner, Craig Challen, floating a few feet to his right. They had both been diving increasingly dangerous and unplumbed caves for years, making them two of only a handful of people with the skills to assist in the rescue of the Thai soccer team that got trapped in one in 2018. They knew extreme risk, and each other, well. Even through the goggles and the mouthpiece of the breathing apparatus, its four thick hoses curling around his face like mammoth tusks, Harris could see that Challen felt the same way. They both wanted very badly to push forward into the dark expanse.

Instead, on Harris’s cue, they turned back. They weren’t there to exceed 245 meters—a depth they’d reached three years earlier. Nor were they there to set a depth record—that would mean going past 308 meters. They were there to test what they saw as a possible key to unlocking depths beyond even 310 meters: breathing hydrogen.

The problem has existed for more than a century: How can a human body withstand underwater pressure significantly past its natural threshold? Naval units and offshore oil companies around the world have long been invested in figuring it out for power and profit, and in the 1970s and ’80s their research began filtering into the civilian world, where people were testing the limits of their own curiosity.

Dr. Richard
In 2023, Richard Harris made an experimental dive to determine
whether hydrogen could enable exploration at greater depths.COURTESY OF RICHARD HARRIS

This included people like Sheck Exley, a high school math teacher in Live Oak, Florida. Exley became an international icon in the diving community for his record-breaking dives—exceeding, in some cases, the limits of the military and commercial professionals. He had been diving the underwater caves of North Florida since he was a teen—by 1972, at age 23, he was the first person in the world to log 1,000 cave dives—and exploring them is what pushed him to go deeper. He’d been hooked since his first cave dive in Crystal River, Florida, in 1966. “I kind of wandered off into the cavern there, my eyes adjusted, and I swam a little bit further, peering off into the darkness,” he told AquaCorps, a magazine for divers, in 1992. “I guess I’ve been peering off into that darkness ever since.”

At around 40 meters, breathing the gas mixture we call air—78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% trace gases—causes inert gas narcosis, or the “martini effect,” named for the incapacitating state it induces. A little deeper and oxygen becomes toxic. For years, the US and British navies had been using helium to dilute the oxygen and nitrogen in a diver’s tank as a means of counteracting both these problems, but few outsiders knew about it. In 1981, after the German cave diver Jochen Hasenmayer reached 143 meters using a helium mixture, Exley started using it as well—despite the knowledge that only a few years earlier, two divers in Florida had experimented with the mixture and died.

Divers who go past 40 meters typically don’t use a constant gas ratio—they cycle through mixes of nitrogen, oxygen, and helium as they descend and ascend, modifying them according to location, water temperature, neurological tolerance to narcosis, and many other variables. Decompression tables, which lay out different gas mixtures and the amount of time to be spent breathing them, provide a precise road map for this process—very necessary, as ascending too quickly releases the accumulated gases in a diver’s blood and tissue the way unscrewing the cap

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By: Samantha Schuyler
Title: Meet the divers trying to figure out how deep humans can go
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/21/1088013/divers-hydrogen-deep-water-diving-underwater-pressure/
Published Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://mansbrand.com/how-tracking-animal-movement-may-save-the-planet/

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How tracking animal movement may save the planet

Tiger Shark with biolog package M Y Sharkwater 2019 scaled

There was something strange about the way the sharks were moving between the islands of the Bahamas.

Tiger sharks tend to hug the shoreline, explains marine biologist Austin Gallagher, but when he began tagging the 1,000-pound animals with satellite transmitters in 2016, he discovered that these predators turned away from it, toward two ancient underwater hills made of sand and coral fragments that stretch out 300 miles toward Cuba. They were spending a lot of time “crisscrossing, making highly tortuous, convoluted movements” to be near them, Gallagher says.

It wasn’t immediately clear what attracted sharks to the area: while satellite images clearly showed the subsea terrain, they didn’t pick up anything out of the ordinary. It was only when Gallagher and his colleagues attached 360-degree cameras to the animals that they were able to confirm what they were so drawn to: vast, previously unseen seagrass meadows—a biodiverse habitat that offered a smorgasbord of prey.

The discovery did more than solve a minor mystery of animal behavior. Using the data they gathered from the sharks, the researchers were able to map an expanse of seagrass stretching across 93,000 square kilometers of Caribbean seabed—extending the total known global seagrass coverage by more than 40%, according to a study Gallagher’s team published in 2022. This revelation could have huge implications for efforts to protect threatened marine ecosystems—seagrass meadows are a nursery for one-fifth of key fish stocks and habitats for endangered marine species—and also for all of us above the waves, as seagrasses can capture carbon up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests.

Animals have long been able to offer unique insights about the natural world around us, acting as organic sensors picking up phenomena that remain invisible to humans. More than 100 years ago, leeches signaled storms ahead by slithering out of the water; canaries warned of looming catastrophe in coal mines until the 1980s; and mollusks that close when exposed to toxic substances are still used to trigger alarms in municipal water systems in Minneapolis and Poland.

a tiger shark seen underwater with a camera on its flank
Attaching 360-degree cameras to tiger sharks helped demystify the
animals’ strange movements around the Bahamas.COURTESY OF BENEATH THE WAVES

These days, we have more insight into animal behavior than ever before thanks to sensor tags, which have helped researchers answer key questions about globe-spanning migrations and the sometimes hard-to-reach places animals visit along the way. In turn, tagged animals have increasingly become partners in scientific discovery and planetary monitoring.

But the data we gather from these animals still adds up to only a relatively narrow slice of the whole picture. Results are often confined to silos, and for many years tags were big and expensive, suitable only for a handful of animal species—like tiger sharks—that are powerful (or large) enough to transport them.

This is beginning to change. Researchers are asking: What will we find if we follow even the smallest animals? What if we could monitor a sample of all the world’s wildlife to see how different species’ lives intersect? What could we learn from a big-data system of animal movement, continuously monitoring how creatures big and small adapt to the world around us? It may be, some researchers believe, a vital tool in the effort to save our increasingly crisis-plagued planet.

Wearables for the wild

Just a few years ago, a project called ICARUS seemed ready to start answering the big questions about animal movement.

A team led by Martin Wikelski, a director at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in southern Germany and a pioneer in the field, launched a new generation of affordable and lightweight GPS sensors that could be worn by animals as small as songbirds, fish, and rodents.

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By: Matthew Ponsford
Title: How tracking animal movement may save the planet
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/22/1088116/internet-of-animals-movement-research-earth/
Published Date: Thu, 22 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://mansbrand.com/yes-remote-learning-can-work-for-preschoolers/

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Yes, remote learning can work for preschoolers

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The other day some preschoolers were pretending to be one of their favorite Sesame Street characters, a baby goat named Ma’zooza who likes round things. They played with tomatoes—counting up to five, hiding one, and putting it back.

A totally ordinary moment exploring shapes, numbers, and imagination. Except this version of Sesame Street—called Ahlan SimsimWelcome Sesame)—was custom made for children like these: Syrian refugees living in camps in Lebanon who otherwise don’t have access to preschool or, often, enough to eat.

Educational interruptions due to the pandemic, climate disasters, and war have affected nearly every child on Earth since 2020. A record 43.3 million children have been driven from their homes by conflict and disasters, according to UNICEF—a number that doubled over the past decade.

And yet, points out Sherrie Westin, the head of the nonprofit that produces Sesame Street, “less than 2% of humanitarian aid worldwide goes to the early years”—that is, specifically supporting care and education, not just food and medicine.

two children sitting close together holding a tablet
Sesame Workshop created the TV show Ahlan Simsim (seen on screen) for children who have been displaced from their homes or experienced conflict.RYAN HEFFERNAN/SESAME WORKSHOP

That may be about to change. The Ahlan Simsim program is the largest-ever humanitarian intervention specifically intended for small children’s development. The Sesame Workshop partnered with the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian-aid nonprofit, to win a $100 million grant competition administered by the MacArthur Foundation. The results, released in May 2023 but not yet peer reviewed, have been startling: they have provided the first evidence that 100% remote learning can help young children in crisis situations. And the format has already been successfully copied and used in other crises.

The program combines video content produced by Sesame with services from the IRC, which employs a combination of volunteers from the affected community and professional teachers and parent educators to work locally with families. Over the past few years, 2 million children and their caregivers watched Ahlan Simsim and received coordinated services, some of which were provided entirely over mobile phones. Another 25 million simply watched the show.

In 2023, Hiro Yoshikawa and his team of researchers at New York University showed in a randomized controlled trial that Syrian refugee children taking part in an 11-week, fully remote learning program, combining Ahlan Simsim videos with live support from local preschool teachers over cell phones, showed progress in learning that was comparable to the results from a year of standard in-person preschool.

And the learning they measured wasn’t just academic. Children made progress in overall development, emerging literacy, emerging numeracy, motor skills, social-emotional skills, and even the quality of play—like pretending to be Ma’zooza the goat.

“I’m pretty impressed,” says Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, an expert in early child development at Temple University, who was not involved with the research. Compared with in-person preschool, “this is probably not the full nutritional value,” she cautions. “But nicely done—to even bring them anything in this setting is kind of amazing.”

Sesame and IRC hope that holistic intervention can help the world’s most vulnerable kids cope with toxic stress—the kind that can, if unchecked, change the architecture of a developing brain. “We see so many children that just because of the circumstances of their birth—born into crisis, into conflict—the odds of them achieving their full potential are reduced,” says Katie Murphy, the director of early-­childhood development and strategic initiatives at the IRC, who was closely involved with the project. “Our work tries to reduce that gap.”

With the right support from caregivers and communities, Murphy and her colleagues believe, more children around the world can grow up resilient amid crisis, displacement, and war.

Coping with discrimination, conflict, and hunger

At a refugee camp in the agricultural Beqaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, Amal, Hana, and Mariam, three Syrian refugee mothers who participated in the

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By: Anya Kamenetz
Title: Yes, remote learning can work for preschoolers
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/23/1088127/remote-learning-preschoolers-early-childhood-education-teaching/
Published Date: Fri, 23 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

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