BBC - Future - The tricks of airport design
How they keep travelers calm, quiet and... ready to shop !
From a terminal’s colours to the security queue, here’s how airports are designed to keep travellers calm, quiet – and ready to shop.
By Addison Nugent
1 May 2019
In 1995, French anthropologist Marc Auge categorised the airport as a “non-place”. Found the world over, non-places are devoid of identity – uniform structures (think Starbucks or McDonalds) that remain the same no matter where they are. By his definition airports are architectural machines, designed with the express purpose of moving people efficiently from one place to another.
BBC - Future - How air pollution is doing more than killing us
In the future, police and crime prevention units may begin to monitor the levels of pollution in their cities, and deploy resources to the areas where pollution is heaviest on a given day.
This may sound like the plot of a science fiction movie, but recent findings suggest that this may well be a worthwhile practice.
Why? Emerging studies show that air pollution is linked to impaired judgement, mental health problems, poorer performance in school and most worryingly perhaps, higher levels of crime.
Respirez. (Vous êtes filmé·e·s)
BBC - Future - How air pollution is doing more than killing us | Melissa Hogenboom
The air we breathe could be changing our behaviour in ways we are only just beginning to understand. Source: BBC News
BBC - Future - Why there’s so little left of the early internet
Tew, who now runs the meditation and mindfulness app Calm, indeed became a millionaire. But the homepage he created has also become something else: a living museum to an earlier internet era. Fifteen years may not seem a long time, but in terms of the internet it is like a geological age. Some 40% of the links on the Million Pixel Homepage now link to dead sites. Many of the others now point to entirely new domains, their original URL sold to new owners.
The Million Dollar Homepage shows that the decay of this early period of the internet is almost invisible. In the offline world, the closing of, say, a local newspaper is often widely reported. But online sites die, often without fanfare, and the first inkling you may have that they are no longer there is when you click on a link to be met with a blank page.
You could, quite reasonably, assume that if I ever needed to show proof of my time there it would only be a Google search away. But you’d be wrong. In April 2013, AOL abruptly closed down all its music sites – and the collective work of dozens of editors and hundreds of contributors over many years. Little of it remains, aside from a handful of articles saved by the Internet Archive, a San Francisco-based non-profit foundation set up in the late 1990s by computer engineer Brewster Kahle.
It is the most prominent of a clutch of organisations around the world trying to rescue some of the last vestiges of the first decade of humanity’s internet presence before it disappears completely.
Dame Wendy Hall, the executive director of the Web Science Institute at the University of Southampton, is unequivocal about the archive’s work: “If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have any” of the early material, she says. “If Brewster Kahle hadn’t set up the Internet Archive and started saving things – without waiting for anyone’s permission – we’d have lost everything.”
One major problem with trying to archive the internet is that it never sits still. Every minute – every second – more photos, blog posts, videos, news stories and comments are added to the pile. While digital storage has fallen drastically in price, archiving all this material still costs money. “Who’s going to pay for it?” asks Dame Wendy. “We produce so much more material than we used to.”
“The Internet Archive first started archives pages in 1996. That’s five years after the first webpages were set up. There’s nothing from that era that was ever copied from the live web.” Even the first web page set up in 1991 no longer exists; the page you can view on the World Wide Web Consortium is a copy made a year later.
“I think there’s been very low level of awareness that anything is missing,” Webber says. “The digital world is very ephemeral, we look at our phones, the stuff on it changes and we don’t really think about it. But now people are becoming more aware of how much we might be losing.”
We consider the material we post onto social networks as something that will always be there, just a click of a keyboard away. But the recent loss of some 12 years of music and photos on the pioneering social site MySpace – once the most popular website in the US – shows that even material stored on the biggest of sites may not be safe.
BBC - Future - Are we on the road to civilisation collapse?
Collapse can be defined as a rapid and enduring loss of population, identity and socio-economic complexity. Public services crumble and disorder ensues as government loses control of its monopoly on violence.
We may be more technologically advanced now. But this gives little ground to believe that we are immune to the threats that undid our ancestors. Our newfound technological abilities even bring new, unprecedented challenges to the mix.
And while our scale may now be global, collapse appears to happen to both sprawling empires and fledgling kingdoms alike. There is no reason to believe that greater size is armour against societal dissolution. Our tightly-coupled, globalised economic system is, if anything, more likely to make crisis spread
If the fate of previous civilisations can be a roadmap to our future, what does it say? One method is to examine the trends that preceded historic collapses and see how they are unfolding today.
While there is no single accepted theory for why collapses happen, historians, anthropologists and others have proposed various explanations, including:
CLIMATIC CHANGE: When climatic stability changes, the results can be disastrous, resulting in crop failure, starvation and desertification. The collapse of the Anasazi, the Tiwanaku civilisation, the Akkadians, the Mayan, the Roman Empire, and many others have all coincided with abrupt climatic changes, usually droughts.
ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION: Collapse can occur when societies overshoot the carrying capacity of their environment. This ecological collapse theory, which has been the subject of bestselling books, points to excessive deforestation, water pollution, soil degradation and the loss of biodiversity as precipitating causes.
INEQUALITY AND OLIGARCHY: Wealth and political inequality can be central drivers of social disintegration, as can oligarchy and centralisation of power among leaders. This not only causes social distress, but handicaps a society’s ability to respond to ecological, social and economic problems.
The field of cliodynamics models how factors such as equality and demography correlate with political violence. Statistical analysis of previous societies suggests that this happens in cycles. As population increases, the supply of labour outstrips demand, workers become cheap and society becomes top-heavy. This inequality undermines collective solidarity and political turbulence follows.
COMPLEXITY: Collapse expert and historian Joseph Tainter has proposed that societies eventually collapse under the weight of their own accumulated complexity and bureaucracy. Societies are problem-solving collectives that grow in complexity in order to overcome new issues. However, the returns from complexity eventually reach a point of diminishing returns. After this point, collapse will eventually ensue.
Another measure of increasing complexity is called Energy Return on Investment (EROI). This refers to the ratio between the amount of energy produced by a resource relative to the energy needed to obtain it. Like complexity, EROI appears to have a point of diminishing returns. In his book The Upside of Down, the political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon observed that environmental degradation throughout the Roman Empire led to falling EROI from their staple energy source: crops of wheat and alfalfa. The empire fell alongside their EROI. Tainter also blames it as a chief culprit of collapse, including for the Mayan.
EXTERNAL SHOCKS: In other words, the “four horsemen”: war, natural disasters, famine and plagues. The Aztec Empire, for example, was brought to an end by Spanish invaders. Most early agrarian states were fleeting due to deadly epidemics. The concentration of humans and cattle in walled settlements with poor hygiene made disease outbreaks unavoidable and catastrophic. Sometimes disasters combined, as was the case with the Spanish introducing salmonella to the Americas.
RANDOMNESS/BAD LUCK: Statistical analysis on empires suggests that collapse is random and independent of age. Evolutionary biologist and data scientist Indre Zliobaite and her colleagues have observed a similar pattern in the evolutionary record of species. A common explanation of this apparent randomness is the “Red Queen Effect”: if species are constantly fighting for survival in a changing environment with numerous competitors, extinction is a consistent possibility.
Oui mais c’est le même empire. D’ailleurs les arabes au sud-est (et peut-être même les ottomans plus tard) les ont toujours appelés romain. Justinien a fait regrouper toutes leurs lois et décisions de justice en un livre (le Digeste). C’était les lois de ses prédécesseurs i.e. les empereurs romains.
BBC - Future - The mystery viruses far worse than flu
However, perhaps the most enigmatic viruses of all are those which infect other animals. The ‘zoonotic’ pathogens include all the big names, from HIV to Nipah, having caused nearly every pandemic in human history. Just like the recent avian flu outbreak, the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed between 50 and 100 million people worldwide, began in birds.
Enter the virus hunters – scientists like Olival who travel the globe, looking for the source of the next pandemic. During the first phase of the US government’s disease surveillance program, from 2009-2014, “we found about a thousand new viruses”, he says. What is the undiscovered pool of viruses? “Oh, we estimate that it could be in the millions. There are probably millions of viruses out there that infect other mammals and could potentially infect people.”
BBC - Future - The remote Arctic town that is melting away
As the Arctic loses ice at dramatic rates, people in Qaanaaq, the northernmost town in Greenland, are finding their homes, livelihoods, customs and very survival at risk.
BBC - Future - The places that escaped the Spanish flu
It’s not clear why those attempts to delay the arrival of the disease reduced the mortality rates in these places. But research has suggested that over time, as the virus burned its way through populations, it accumulated mutations that naturally reduced its capacity to cause disease.
Another possibility could be that some populations may have acquired a degree of immunity against the pandemic strain from comparatively harmless seasonal flu strains that were circulating in the years running up to 1918.
While the idea is still debated, it has provided some clues that could help health officials in the fight against future pandemics. Today some countries offer annual vaccinations against seasonal flu strains that can help their populations build up temporary immunity. According to research by Jodie McVernon, an immunologist at the University of Melbourne, this could “provide important protection in the early stages of a new pandemic”.
“The more times you get vaccinated, the more you are exposed to different versions of the flu virus,” adds Markel.
BBC - Future - The giant coal plant converting to green energy
On the train to visit one of the last places in Britain that burns coal for electricity, I pass three solar farms soaking up sunshine. I also pass a coal plant called Eggborough that has all but ceased operations. No steam rises from its giant cooling towers. It will shut in September.
But the coal plant I’m visiting is different. It’s named Drax, after a local village, and is the largest power plant in Western Europe. By 2023, its owners plan to stop burning coal entirely. They hope that instead their plant will consume only natural gas and biomass – wood pellets crushed into powder.
BBC - Future - Are forgotten crops the future of food?
Just four crops - wheat, maize, rice and soybean - provide two-thirds of the world’s food supply. But scientists in Malaysia are trying to change that by reviving crops that have been relegated to the sidelines.
By Preeti Jha
22 August 2018
On a small fruit farm near the Straits of Malacca Lim Kok Ann is down to just one tree growing kedondong, a crunchy, tart berry that Malaysians mostly use in pickles and salads. “It’s not very well-known,” says the 45-year-old, who is instead focusing on longan berries and pineapples, which have bigger markets. For a smallholder like Lim, demand for kedondong would have to grow rapidly to justify scaling up his business. “We have to grow what is profitable,” he says.
BBC - Future - How a city that floods is running out of water
One of the world’s largest cities, Mexico City is home to about 21 million people – rising to 27 million if you include the surrounding areas. About 20% of Mexico’s population lives there. By the year 2030, the authorities estimate that the population will grow to 30 million people.
Among other challenges, such a large population puts a costly strain on Mexico City’s water supplies. In fact, the parts of Mexico City’s infrastructure that supply water are crumbling. Its natural water reserves are also at risk; if trends continue, they are expected to dry out as soon as in 30 years. With so many people affected, this means one of the world’s largest water crises is in the making on the doorstep of the US.
BBC - Future - Inside the world of #instruction_manuals
Maybe you diligently read an instruction manual from cover to cover before you even turn on a new product. Or perhaps you ‘file’ the information in the kitchen drawer never to be found again – preferring to rely on instinct (and perhaps a degree of stubbornness) in assembling a new piece of furniture. Either way, and even if it’s only months after your purchase, there is almost always a time and a place when instruction manuals come in handy.
While we may think of them as the dense paper booklets that fall out in a tumble of bubblewrap and polystyrene when we are unpacking our new bedside cabinet, instruction manuals are much more. They exist for a multitude of purposes and take many different forms. What’s more, they are not an especially modern invention: they have, in fact, been around for at least two centuries.
BBC - Future - The hidden healing power of sugar
Doctors are finding one way that sugar can benefit your health: it may help heal wounds resistant to antibiotics.
By Clara Wiggins
30 March 2018
As a child growing up in poverty in the rural Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, Moses Murandu was used to having salt literally rubbed in his wounds when he fell and cut himself. On lucky days, though, his father had enough money to buy something which stung the boy much less than salt: sugar.
How to clean up space’s rubbish dump
Tomorrow’s spacecraft will face a huge challenge
BBC - Future - The nation that thrived by ‘nudging’ its population
“Kopi lah,” says the elderly Singaporean man, leaning against the counter of the café. The stall holder hands him a bag filled with thick, creamy coffee sweetened with condensed milk. “Do people ever ask for healthier options?” I ask the woman behind the counter. She laughs. “Getting better,” she says, suggesting that people are creatures of habit.
As I wander through the market, the air dense with the smells of noodle soup, barbequed pork and sweet satay, I notice red stickers dotted on various stalls. “Healthier options available here”, reads one. “We use healthier oil”, reads another. It’s part of the Health Promotion Board’s Healthy Dining Programme where food and beverage providers get a grant if they provide healthier options for diners. It’s an indication of the small but not insignificant ways the government ‘nudges’ the population to make better choices.
The uncertain future of handwriting
Will the ability to wield a pen die out altogether?
How flying messes with your mind
There’s a reason you sniffle at the inflight movie
What if dinosaurs hadn’t died out?
What would have happened to them – and us
BBC - Future - The ghostly radio station that no one claims to run
By Zaria Gorvett
2 August 2017
In the middle of a Russian swampland, not far from the city of St Petersburg, is a rectangular iron gate. Beyond its rusted bars is a collection of radio towers, abandoned buildings and power lines bordered by a dry-stone wall. This sinister location is the focus of a mystery which stretches back to the height of the Cold War.
It is thought to be the headquarters of a radio station, “MDZhB”, that no-one has ever claimed to run. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the last three-and-a-half decades, it’s been broadcasting a dull, monotonous tone. Every few seconds it’s joined by a second sound, like some ghostly ship sounding its foghorn. Then the drone continues.