I've started up a newsletter. It's a blend of good links, interesting maps, cute dogs and fluffy clouds. You can sign up with Duncan-bot over at Tinyletter.
I loved curating our month focusing on space over at How We Get To Next. We were able to publish so many fantastic stories about how humans can become a multi-planetary species, what life will be like for the first brave colonists and how it'll affect those left behind.
Find the full list of stories we published in the month right here. Next up for me will be curating our month of stories about how play is changing the world. Look out for that in November.
The world's biggest problem right now is air pollution. It's the leading cause of death worldwide, way ahead of things like obesity, HIV and terrorism. For our Vital Signs month on How We Get To Next, I wrote a piece arguing that we need to take action now.
As part of it, I put together this graphic, showing which cities in the world have air that's unsafe for humans to breathe.
It's worth noting, in the wake of Britain's regrettable vote to exit the European Union, that the EU has been one of the strongest voices in getting cities to clean up their air (and their living environment in general). I hope that the UK will continue to maintain high environmental standards in the coming decades.
For How We Get To Next's health month, I put together some visualisations of life expectancy around the world. The pictures are more interesting than the words, but here's an excerpt:
Human lifespan has skyrocketed since we emerged as a species. In the Bronze and Iron Ages, life expectancy at birth is thought to have been about 26 years. In 1900, it had only risen to 31 years. But the spread of public health measures changed things, fast. By 1950, average life expectancy at birth had increased to 48 years. In 2010 it was 67.2 years. Who knows what it may reach in the future, and what the effects might be.
For the rest, you should click through and read the full article.
For the last month on How We Get To Next, I've put together and edited a collection of articles on our relationship with chatbots. It's been a fascinating journey, resulting in the eventual conclusion that bots aren't ready for us and we're not ready for them.
As our writers began exploring the topic, it swiftly became clear that the current generation of bots isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Over and over again, we learned that the technology just isn’t there for bots to forge meaningful relationships with humans. We’re still deep in uncanny-valley territory, where the harder bots try to be human-like, the worse their inevitable mistakes appear.
Among my favourite articles we posted:
- How Bots Were Born From Spam
- I Tried Dieting With a Chatbot. I Hated It.
- Falling in Love With a Bot Is Inevitable*
- Does Siri Believe in God?*
- If You Talk to Bots, You’re Talking to Their Bosses
- The Bot Power List 2016*
It's a classic blog thing, isn't it? The last post you ever see before a blog dies is a post apologising for being lax about updating recently. So let's bring things back to life.
I'm not going to try and summarise everything I posted in the interim. There's loads of it. Instead, I'll just highlight the story I wrote most recently - a description of a quest I've been undertaking over the past month to find my childhood home.
Along the way, I profile a startup called what3words that's aiming to give an address to everyone on Earth, and the reasons why that's so necessary. Here's a quote:
No address means you’re essentially invisible to the state. Aid, legal rights, voting, and bank accounts are all outside of your grasp. It’s nearly impossible to start a business legally, let alone get anything delivered to that business. In an emergency, where do you direct the ambulance?
You'll find the whole rest of the piece here. And I'll try and be better with the updates.
Vancouver's in a tough spot. Its citizens support strong environmental legislation, but the national government of Canada is moving backwards on climate change and other sustainability initiatives. So the city is going it alone.
For the 1010 climate campaign, I wrote about Vancouver's plan to become the greenest city in the world by 2020. Here's an excerpt:
Many of the pledges are openly ambitious, wilfully audacious even. The city wants to reduce its carbon emissions by a third over 2007 levels, and halve the amount of waste going into landfill. It wants to ensure everyone lives within five minutes of a park or other green space, plant 150,000 trees and ensure that all new buildings constructed from 2020 onward are completely carbon neutral.
You can read more here.
I've been a little bit lax about updating this lately, so let's bring things up to speed. After several months of freelance work for How We Get To Next, I've accepted a job as the site's deputy editor working alongside my old Wired colleague Ian Steadman.
I think we're doing some pretty fun stuff on HWGTN, but my favourite thing at the moment is Outside The Bubble - a weekly bulletin of innovation news that isn't being reported in the western press. I also write the site's weekly newsletter - as well as letting you know what's been happening on the site, I also round up some interesting longer or weirder pieces from the rest of the web. You can (and should) sign up for it here.
I'm also writing regular science content for Techradar. If you like short, to-the-point news about the latest discoveries in the world of sci-tech, then you can keep up with what I'm writing here. Some favourites recently include how China is using drones to catch exam cheats, how robotic cowboys are lassoing ants, and how a computer is trawling through mankind's archive of artworks and going "that's rubbish".
Which just leaves one more thing to highlight - a piece I did recently for Rock Paper Shotgun on Anno 2205. While they're trying to create a utopia, it seems to me like their vision of the future is more dystopic than ever. Here's an excerpt:
I find it kinda sad that Blue Byte’s ‘world that people want to live in’ is as relentlessly focused on consumption and growth as our world today. Maybe you feel differently, but with the limits to growth and conflicts between exponential economics and finite physics long-established, surely anything even close to a utopia along those lines is a near impossibility?
I've just finished an exclusive piece for How We Get To Next about an Israeli inventor who's installing gills in a submarine. I've been chasing the story for almost six months, so it's great to see it finally go live. It's a fascinating topic, too - here's an excerpt:
In May 2012, in a pool at the London School of Diving, Danish freediver Stig Severinsen set a world record for the longest breath held voluntarily underwater — a startling 22 minutes. Two years before, he’d managed 20 minutes in a tank full of sharks. But most people don’t have Severinsen’s fortitude and can only survive a minute or two underwater without assistance.
That’s where Alan Bodner comes in, an Israeli inventor who’s building artificial gills for a submarine that will be able to ferry four people to a depth of near 650 feet without cannisters of air brought from the surface. Instead, it draws oxygen from the water around it, just like fish do.
You can read the rest of the article right here.
I'm not much of an audiophile. I think it's worth spending a bit more than average on headphones, but my limit caps out at about £80 or so. Beyond that, I don't believe the vast majority of people can hear the difference. Which is why I wrote this piece, looking at recent developments in the space for Techradar. Here's an excerpt:
How high are your standards when it comes to audio? If you're an average person, the answer is not very. You probably listen to compressed music using cheap headphones in noisy environments like public transport – and think it sounds pretty great.
But some people demand more. Audiophiles spend thousands every year on high-end equipment that delivers an experience as close as possible to having Beyoncé there in person belting out "ALL THE SINGLE LADIES." These people tend to be choosy about their formats – vinyl is the best, of course. CDs aren't bad either if you're playing them through a decent system.
Subsequently, TechRadar also asked me to write this opinion piece on Jay-Z's relaunch of Tidal, which went down very well on the web. I was quite amazed no-one had made that Dr Dre joke already. Here's an excerpt:
Tidal's key differentiator is that it offers high-definition lossless audio quality, as well as a few extras like editorial and music videos. According to some, that makes it a "Spotify killer", or "big trouble for Spotify". But Spotify CEO Daniel Ek doesn't seem too worried. He spent last night mocking the turn-everything-blue press campaign that Jay Z cooked up. Why not? Well, Tidal almost certainly isn't the revolution it's claimed to be.
I love writing about digital music, so if you'd like me to do that for you then don't hesitate to drop me an email.