Monday, September 21, 2020

Florida to release 750 million genetically altered mosquitoes

Fast Company reports: [edited]

In the Florida Keys, the local mosquito control agency has just approved the release of 750 million genetically engineered mosquitoes. The test, which is likely to begin in 2021, will be the first time that mosquitoes—designed to be “self-limiting,” meaning that they’ll breed offspring that can’t survive—will be used in the United States.

Oxitec, the U.K.-based company that engineered the mosquitoes, plans to place boxes filled with mosquito eggs in the area, releasing male mosquitoes bred with the self-limiting gene. When they breed with female mosquitoes, female offspring won’t survive. Because only female mosquitoes bite humans, this can help stop the spread of disease. The species they’re targeting is the Aedes aegypti or “yellow fever” mosquito, an invasive species that transmits diseases such as dengue, chikungunya, and Zika.

In previous tests in other countries including Brazil, the company says that the process has worked to dramatically shrink populations. “We’ve had multiyear programs giving over 80% control in every single year,” he says. “And that far exceeds typically what people get trying to control Aedes aegypti with chemicals, because aegypti is very resistant. It’s not usually present in super-high numbers. So it can be difficult to actually reach.”

The startup also claims that it’s a more environmentally friendly way to control mosquitoes, because it’s possible to target only a particular species, and after around 5 to 10 generations, the modified gene will be removed from the population (since the females with the gene die, halving the number of modified bugs each generation), leaving no ecological footprint. Advocacy groups, however, argue that the technology hasn’t been tested enough, and it could potentially have unintended effects.

“If they do work to reduce the number of Aedes aegypti, other mosquitoes might move into their niche,” says Jaydee Hanson, policy director for the International Center for Technology Assessment and Center for Food Safety. “The most likely one is the Asian Tiger mosquito, which is better at carrying some illnesses like West Nile.” (Oxitec says that as it has tested its mosquitoes in other areas, it hasn’t seen significant increases of the Asian Tiger mosquito.)

Image courtesy of: Jimmy Chan ------------

Thursday, September 17, 2020

iOS 14 Home Screen

Is it just me, or does the iOS 14 home screen look like it is just begging for another line of icons?


London Greenground Map

Time Out reports: [edited]

If 2020 has reignited anything in Londoners, it’s the love of putting one foot in front of the other. In lockdown it became about so much more than getting from A to B – walking is now a way of London life.

Its creator, Helen Ilus, first pitched the idea on Twitter as part of the National Park City campaign. When people responded to the concept, Ilus developed it. It’s now a London-wide map marking 380 parks and open spaces and suggesting green routes to walk or cycle between them all. While it doesn’t detail the exact routes between each park, it helps you plot your way between green spaces, with walking distances between each park also on display so you can calculate your step count.

It includes London’s major parks and well-known nature spots – from Hyde Park to Primrose Hill – but it also maps lesser-known wetlands, commons, moors, woods and reserves all across Greater London.

You can order a fold-out pocket map for £10, here.

Read more about the project and how you can support the map’s development here.

View/download a PDF version of the London Greenground map here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

How Chuck Feeney gave away 8 billion dollars

Forbes has published an excellent article on Chuck Feeney's philanthropy.

Snippets follow:

Charles “Chuck” Feeney, 89, who cofounded airport retailer Duty Free Shoppers in 1960, amassed billions while living a life of monklike frugality. As a philanthropist, he pioneered the idea of Giving While Living—spending most of your fortune on big, hands-on charity bets instead of funding a foundation upon death. Since you can't take it with you – why not give it all away, have control of where it goes and see the results with your own eyes?

Over the last four decades, Feeney has donated more than $8 billion to charities, universities and foundations worldwide through his foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies. When I first met him in 2012, he estimated he had set aside about $2 million for his and his wife's retirement. In other words, he's given away 375,000% more money than his current net worth. And he gave it away anonymously.

His extreme charity and big-bet grants have won over the most influential entrepreneurs and philanthropists. His stark generosity and gutsy investments influenced Bill Gates and Warren Buffett when they launched the Giving Pledge in 2010– an aggressive campaign to convince the world’s wealthiest to give away at least half their fortunes before their deaths. “Chuck was a cornerstone in terms of inspiration for the Giving Pledge,” says Warren Buffett. “He’s a model for us all. It’s going to take me 12 years after my death to get done what he’s doing within his lifetime.” 

At its height, the Atlantic Philanthropies had 300-plus employees and ten global offices across seven time zones. The specific closure date was set years ago as part of his long-term plan to make high-risk, high-impact donations by setting a hard deadline to give away all his money and close shop. The 2020 expiration date added urgency and discipline. It gave the Atlantic Philanthropies the time to document its history, reflect on wins and losses and create a strategy for other institutions to follow. As Feeney told me in 2019: “Our giving is based on the opportunities, not a plan to stay in business for a long time.” 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

London - Somerset - London, 12 & 13-09-20

London to Somerset, 12-09-20
Can't Stop Movin' (Radio Edit) - Sonny J
Cotton Eye Joe (remix) - Rednex
My Perfect Cousin - The Undertones
Who Were You With In The Moonlight - Dollar
Celebration - Kool & The Gang
Rock The Boat - The Hues Corporation
Icarus (Radio Edit) - Madeon
Circles - Kate Tempest
Robert De Niro's Waiting - Bananarama
The Lion & Albert - Jarvis Cocker
Dancing Queen - ABBA
Rock With You - Michael Jackson
Do Re Mi - The Mighty Vikings
Batches & Cookies (feat. Sophia Eris) - Lizzo
You can do magic - America
Futurama Theme - Danny Elfman
Start Wearing Purple - Gogol Bordello
Crying at the discotheque (ext) - Alcazar
I Wanna be a Hippy - Technohead
Sherry - Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
Happy Days - Pratt & McClain with Brother Love
I Only Wanna Be With You (Alternative Vocal & Mix) - Dusty Springfield
Love Cliché - Bran Van 3000
Dance With Me - Orleans
London Is The Place For Me - Lord Kitchener
Brother Louie - Modern Talking
Jolene - Mindy Smith Feat. Dolly Parton
Shooting Star - Dollar
Moving On Up - M People
High Hopes - Doris Day
Uncle Sam - Madness
Ain't No Other Man Til You Get Enough - Christina Aguilera v. Michael Jackson
Shame (single) - Evelyn "Champagne" King
The Impression That I Get - The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
Baby (feat. Ludacris) - Justin Bieber
Lost Weekend - Lloyd Cole & The Commotions
Mah Na Mah Na - Mahna Mahna and The Two Snowths
Just What I Needed - The Cars
Somebody Else's Guy - Jocelyn Brown
Tonight I Fell In Love - The Tokens
Don't Get Me Wrong - Pretenders
Dance! - The Lambrettas
Le Freak - Chic
Every Other Time (Radio Edit) - LFO
What Is Love - Haddaway
Let your love flow - Bellamy Brothers
It's Getting Better (Single Version) - Mama Cass
Knock On Wood - Amii Stewart
You're Gorgeous - Babybird
It Takes A Muscle - M.I.A.
Hungry Like The Wolf - Reel Big Fish
Mr. Sandman - The Chordettes
I Really Like You (Bleachers Remix) - Carly Rae Jepsen
Bend Me, Shape Me - Amen Corner

Somerset to London, 13-09-20
Dum Diddly - The Black Eyed Peas
Just A Little Bit (Motiv8-Radio Edit) - Gina G
Lovin' Each Day - Ronan Keating
Little Willy - Sweet
National Express - The Divine Comedy
Our House - Madness
Never Ending Story - Limahl
Best Of My Love - The Emotions
Shoulda Woulda Coulda - Beverley Knight
Delilah - Tom Jones
Little White Bull - Tommy Steele
Hocus Pocus - Focus
Summer Girls - LFO
Sandstorm (remix, blade techno opener) - Darude (Blow Your Mind vs Zombie Nation vs Blade)
Down Came The Rain - Mister Murray
Fill My Little World - The Feeling
She's Fresh - Kool & The Gang
Go - The Apples In Stereo
Private Number - Judy Clay & William Bell
The Streak - Ray Stevens
Wipe Out - The Surfaris
January - Pilot
You Get What You Give - New Radicals
Twist - Goldfrapp
Brimful Of Asha (The Norman Cook Remix Single Version) - Cornershop
Ooh Stick You - Daphne & Celeste
(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher - Jackie Wilson
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! - Erasure
Rock this town - Stray Cats
Stronger than me - Amy Winehouse
Basket Case - Green Day
To Earth With Love - Gay Dad
West Side Story - LFO
Y.M.C.A. - Village People
Disco Inferno - The Trammps
Young Girl - Gary Puckett & The Union Gap
Dance Floor - The Apples In Stereo
Can You Dig It - The Mock Turtles
Centerfold - J. Geils Band
Sad Eyes - Robert John
Along Came Jones - Ray Stevens
I Can't Give You Anything But My Love - Stylistics
Birthday - Katy Perry
Me & You & A Dog Named Boo - Lobo
Tank! (Cowboy Bebop) - Yoko Ishida
I'm Blue - 5,6,7,8s
Whip It - Devo
Shang-A-Lang - Bay City Rollers
Red Dragon Tattoo - Fountains Of Wayne
California Love - 2Pac (feat. Dr. Dre)
Out Of My Heart - BBmak
Video Killed The Radio Star - Erasure
All Over The World - Electric Light Orchestra
Love Is in the Air - John Paul Young

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Google Pixel 4A Review

The Verge has published an excellent review of Google's latest budget smartphone. For the ultra-impatient, a one line summary would read 'good stills camera, average screen and processor'.

Excerpts below:

"As you read this review know that as I wrote it, I wanted to put the following line after nearly every sentence: 'I should remind you that the Pixel 4A costs $349.'”

"The Pixel 4A and Pixel 4’s photos are virtually impossible to distinguish. They both have the signature Pixel look: almost dramatically high contrast, sharp detail, and cool color tones."

"I also got a chance to use the 4A’s astrophotography mode, getting the below shots of the Milky Way and even (just barely) the Neowise comet. Using the Pixel 4A reminded me how much I love Google’s Pixel cameras."

"There are sacrifices, though. Because the Pixel 4A lacks the extra image processor you get on the Pixel 4, images take noticeably longer to process before you can view them. Google also tells me that sometimes its HDR Plus algorithm will utilize fewer shots than the Pixel 4, but I couldn’t tell any difference in practice."

"The biggest sacrifice isn’t specific to the 4A but to all Pixel phones: video isn’t great. It’s not just that, on a technical level, Pixel phones can’t shoot in all of the frame rates common to modern phones, either. The iPhone SE and even the average Samsung phone do a better job with dynamic range and overall quality."

"As OLED screens go, it’s not able to stand up to the screens on phones that cost more. There’s some red shift in the dark, significant drop-off when viewed at an angle, and it barely manages to get bright enough to stand up to direct sunlight. It’s also covered by Gorilla Glass 3, which is four generations old at this point."

"The body itself is plastic with the fingerprint sensor on the back. It feels sturdy enough, but the lack of wireless charging frustrating. However, Google kept the 3.5mm headphone jack. I’m also glad to see stereo speakers, something that’s often cut at this price point. You can’t squeeze the phone for Google Assistant, but you can swipe in from the bottom corners or say “Hey Google.”

"Google’s version of Android is as unassuming as the Pixel’s hardware. It lacks a lot of fancy features, but it makes up for that by being simple and easy to understand."

"There are a few “Pixel-first” features, the kind of things that should make their way to other Android phones eventually. The best among those is probably the safety features like car crash detection, but the most useful day-to-day is the ability to get speech-to-text in phone calls."

"Google has put in enough RAM (6GB) to run Android well and put in enough storage (128GB) to accommodate most users without hassle or annoyance. It is fast enough for day-to-day use. Out of the box it’s the kind of phone I would be happy to use every day. It takes longer to open apps, and there’s some wonky scrolling in Chrome and Twitter, but it’s not slow.

"The 4A has a 3,140mAh battery, which is larger than the one on the smaller Pixel 4. Combine that larger battery with that more power-efficient Snapdragon 730G processor, and you end up with acceptable battery life."

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Proteus - Super Tough Material

Interesting Engineering reports: [edited]

Researchers claim they've manufactured the world's first non-cuttable material – and at only 15% of the density of steel they say it could be used to construct lightweight armour or bike locks.

The material consists of ceramic spheres arranged in a cellular aluminum structure to resist angle grinders, drills, or similar brute-force cutting tools. Stemming from the UK's Durham University and Germany's Fraunhofer Institute, the novel material takes inspiration from the durable, cellular skin of grapefruit and the rock-hard, fracture-resistant aragonite shells of mollusks.

Proteus initially gives way to drill bits or angle grinders, but when either reaches the embedded ceramic spheres the material begins to vibrate in a way that blunts the tool as fine particles of ceramic dust fill in the gaps of the matrix-like structure of the metal.

These, in turn, make it even more difficult to cut — since the faster one grinds or drills the harder cutting gets. Due to interatomic forces between the ceramic grains the force and energy of the drill is turned back on itself, and it is weakened and destroyed by its own attack.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

CityQ Car-eBike

electrek reports: [edited]

[There is] a significant downside to bikes, which is that riders aren’t protected from the weather. That’s a problem that CityQ is hoping to solve with the CityQ Car-eBike.

The CityQ Car-eBike features doors and a cargo space for carrying luggage, groceries, and other necessities. The doors and windows can be set up for either fully enclosed or semi-enclosed riding. The micro EV has seating for either two adults or one adult and two children.

The CityQ Car-eBike’s pedals aren’t connected to any gears or chains. There’s no direct drive — only software to enable a drive-by-wire system that powers the vehicle’s 250W electric motor up to its Euro-spec top speed of 25 km/h (15.5 mph).

The bike is designed to fit into the EU’s cargo and four-wheeled e-bike laws, meaning it could theoretically share the bike lane, at least legally speaking.

The CityQ Car-eBike measures 87 cm (34 inches) wide, which isn’t that much wider than a mountain bike. Though at 70 kg, it weighs more than even the heaviest of electric mountain bikes.

With a pair of batteries, the Car-eBike can travel around 70-100 km (43-62 miles) per charge.

After three years of development, the CityQ Car-eBike is now available for pre-order. The purchase price is expected to be north of €6,000.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

VanMoof S3 Lecky Bicycle

The Verge reports: [edited]

Electric bikes, like cars, come in tiers of quality and prestige. Dependable commuter bikes start at around €1,000. At $1,500, they start to look nice, with batteries and motors integrated into the overall aesthetic. Above €2,000 you start seeing sleek designs, advanced electronics, and a preponderance of high-end or original components. On that scale, VanMoof’s premium prices have made it the Tesla of e-bikes.

VanMoof is now taking preorders for its newest pedal-assisted electric bikes: the S3 and X3. They’re follow-ups to the full-sized S2 and compact X2 theft-defying e-bikes released in 2018 and two of the highest-rated e-bikes we’ve ever tested.

Despite a similar appearance, VanMoof says the S3 and X3 are “an upgrade to the S2 and X2 in every way,” yet they cost €400 to €1,400 less than VanMoof’s previous generations of electrics. Priced at €1,998, VanMoof is aggressively setting a new entry point for premium e-bikes that can cost well over €3,000.

Good Stuff
Smooth automatic shifting
Near-silent operation
Improved value for money
Built-in anti-theft with extended recovery service

Bad Stuff
Battery can’t be removed for charging
Some features can feel gimmicky
Kick Lock finicky to engage
More complexity, more problems?

The S3 is designed for riders ranging in size from 170 to 210 cm (5 feet, 7 inches to 6 feet, 11 inches), while the compact X3 fits riders from 155 to 200 cm (5 feet, 1 inch to 6 feet, 7 inches). Both are available in “light” (white with a bluish tint) or “dark” (dark gray) models.

The S3 and X3 feature a number of improvements:

— New four-speed electronic gear shifter
— More powerful and immediate Turbo Boost
— Smaller, nearly silent 250W/500W front-hub motor
— Front and rear hydraulic disc brake

The S3 is the most sophisticated ride I’ve ever experienced on an e-bike. Shifting is incredibly smooth the vast majority of the time, without requiring a pause between downstrokes. Occasionally, maybe one of out every 50 shifts, I felt my feet chase the new gear for about a third of a revolution, or I heard a mechanical 'clink' as the gears advanced. Otherwise, it was silent and glorious, allowing me to pedal along with constant pressure as the gears shifted beneath me, always returning to first when I stopped.

The bike’s smaller, more refined front-hub motor, like the gears, is quiet. I had to strain to hear it above the wind, making it one of the quietest motors around. And the bike is so balanced that I often found myself sitting upright, hands off the grips, riding with 'no hands' on long, lonely stretches of asphalt during my range test.

Every e-bike should have VanMoof’s Turbo Boost feature. The button, accessible from the right grip, is now even more powerful and torquey, giving a near-instantaneous boost without feeling jerky. Push it when you want to make a fast start, climb a hill, or overtake someone quickly.

Friday, April 10, 2020

When Christ Conquered Caesar

Unherd has published an excellent piece by Tom Holland on the radical message of Easter. If you have time, read the whole article, but excerpts follow...

The women who came to tend the tomb in the garden had no doubt that their Lord was dead. Rejected as he had been by his own people, legally condemned as an enemy of Rome, brought to a squalid and ignominious end, his defeat had seemed total. What victory could there possibly be in the wake of such a death?

Yet then something miraculous happened. Spreading from east to west across the Mediterranean, travelling along the great network of roads and shipping lanes that constituted the arteries of the Roman Empire, news began to spread that this man whose mortal remains supposedly lay entombed in the grave had been seen alive.

‘Christians’, these deviants were called, after their founder, ‘Christus’, a criminal who had been crucified in Judaea some decades before, under a previous Caesar. Nero, ever fond of a spectacle, had some of the condemned, dressed in animal skin and torn to pieces by dogs. Others, lashed to crosses, had been smeared in pitch and used as torches to illumine the night. Nero, riding in his chariot, had mingled with the gawping crowds. Suetonius would include his persecution of the Christians in the list — a very short one — of the positives of his reign.

[Nero's followers believed he would rise from the dead, and yet] despite the various imposters who appeared, his fate was to be commemorated, not as a saviour, but as a monster.

Among those put to death was a man who in time would come to be viewed [by some] as the very keeper of the doors of heaven. In 1601, in a church that had originally been built on the site of the tomb where Nero’s two nurses and his first great love had buried him, a painting was installed that paid homage, not to the notorious Caesar, but to the outcast origins of the city’s Christian order.

Peter, the story went, had demanded to be crucified upside down... Caravaggio, choosing as his theme the very moment when the heavy cross was levered upwards, portrayed the first pope as he had authentically been — as a peasant. No ancient artist would have thought to honour a Caesar by representing him as Caravaggio portrayed Peter: tortured, humiliated, stripped almost bare. And yet, in the city of Nero, it was a man broken to such a fate who was honoured as the keeper of 'the keys of the kingdom of heaven'.

That a man who had himself been crucified might be hailed as a god could not help but be seen by people everywhere across the Roman world as scandalous, obscene, grotesque. Nero, charging the Christians with arson and hatred of humanity, seems not to have undertaken any detailed interrogation of their beliefs — but doubtless, had he done so, he would have been revolted and bewildered.

Radically though Nero had sought to demonstrate to the world that the divine might be interfused with the human, the Christians he had tortured to death believed in something infinitely more radical. There was but the one God, and His Son, by becoming mortal and dying the death of a slave, had redeemed all of humanity. Not as an emperor but as a victim. The message was novel beyond the wildest dreams even of a Nero; and was destined to endure long after all his works, and the works of the Caesars, had crumbled into dust.

This Sunday, when billons of people around the globe celebrate the triumph over death of a man laid in a tomb in a garden, the triumph they celebrate will not be that of an emperor. “For God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:27)

Friday, March 20, 2020

Free Font - Cheddar Gothic Stencil

Font Squirrel reports: [edited]

Cheddar Gothic is a hand drawn, 8 style family, including Sans, Serif, Slab, and Stencil (FREE) styles — each with Italics (except the free version of Stencil) and includes 92 matching catchwords and icons.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Slow Death of French Cheese has published an excellent article on how modern industry, marketing and politics are 'beigeing' France's massive range of cheese.

A precis follows:

In his small fromagerie at Saint Point Lac in the Jura, Fabrice Michelin produces hand-made, raw-milk Mont d’Or cheeses. He is the last person in France to do so.

“I get up at 5am. I collect the milk from the farms in the village. I warm the milk,” Mr Michelin told me. “I scoop it into cylinders. I pay attention to the varying consistency and taste of the curd. It alters subtly with the seasons, depending on the qualities of the grass. I mould the cheeses by hand. Every cheese is a little different.”

“That’s what gets me into trouble,” M. Michelin said. “Brussels and Paris say that the cheeses must all be the same. There seem to be new rules every month. How can I carry on if all my cheeses have to be identical?”

The infinite variety of French cheeses — one of the finest achievements of French culture — is gradually being eroded. Only one in ten of the cheeses now consumed in France is made with raw-milk.

Search where you like in the finest cheese shops in France, you will no longer find a Bleu de Termignon or a Galette des Monts-d’Or. They are among 50 species of French cheese that have vanished, like rare flowers or butterflies, in the last 40 years. Other varieties, like Vacherin d’Abondance and M. Michelin’s hand-made Mont d’Or have been reduced to a single producer.

Many of the best-known French cheeses — Brie or Pont L’Evêque or Camembert are overwhelmingly made in large factories with pasteurised or sterilised milk.

The traditional French soft, runny cheese is made with untreated milk, maintained at the temperature at which it leaves the cow’s udder (37C). There is no attempt made to kill off all bacteria, since that is what makes the cheese, including the chalky white flore — a form of fungus — which appears naturally on the rind.

There will be listeria germs in the cheese at some stage — since listeria is everywhere — but they will be fought and defeated by other naturally occurring bacteria. If this were not so, soft cheese would have been poisoning people for centuries.

Campaigning by Mme Richez-Lerouge and others has slowed the march of industrial cheese with traditional French names in the last decade. In some years, the market share for lait cru cheeses has edged up — only to edge down again. The avalanche of regulation continues.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Citroën Ami

Aol reports: [edited]

This 2-seater electric vehicle can be leased for as little as £17 per month (with a £2,300 deposit). It can also be rented for 23p per minute or purchased outright for £5,140.

Its battery has a range of 43 miles, and its top speed is 28mph. Citroën sees it as 'a real alternative to scooters, bicycles, mopeds, or even public transport'.

It hasn't been confirmed for the UK market, but Citroen hopes it will appeal to a new generation of car buyers in Europe.

- - - - -

CNN reports: [edited]

The Ami can be driven by people as young as 14 in France, or 16 in many other European countries, without a license.

It is built using as few unique parts as possible. For instance, the body parts used for the front end are identical to those used for the back. The right door is identical to the the left door. That means the driver's side door hinge is at the front while the passenger side door hinge is at the back.

There's a minimal gauge cluster. An app in the driver's smart phone, placed in a holder high in the center of the dashboard acts like the central display screen in other cars showing things like driving range and navigation. There's also a cupholder behind the steering wheel.

It can be fully charged in three hours using a household electrical outlet.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Smithsonian Open Access

Smithsonian reports: [edited]

Welcome to Smithsonian Open Access, where you can download, share, and reuse millions of the Smithsonian’s images without asking. With new platforms and tools, you have easier access to nearly 3 million 2D and 3D digital items from our collections — with many more to come. This includes images and data from across the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives, and the National Zoo.

Monday, February 17, 2020

TaoTronics SoundLiberty 53 Earbuds

My current favourite earbuds, the Pamu Slides, suffered a pairing failure recently. While waiting for a replacement, I came across these budget earbuds on Amazon, and decided to give them a try. At the time they were selling for £25, they have since risen to £33, although you can get 'Amazon Returns' for less.

They are Bluetooth 5, rated IPX7 waterproof, and come with a compact charging case and the usual complement of cables and operating instructions.

Everything feels cheaper than the Pamu Slides, the earbuds are bulkier, and all the plastics are glossy black rather than matt.

However, they connected fine and stayed connected. The sound quality is perfectly acceptable (the volume can go louder than the Pamus), and they stayed in place during a 25 minute running session and after an hour's use were still very comfortable.

All for a tenth of the price of a set of Apple Airpod Pros!