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News 17.12.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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Long is particularly keen on getting photosynthetically souped-up seed to farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, a region that didn’t much benefit from the yield gains of the original Green Revolution. Today, more than two hundred million people there are chronically undernourished.

“If we can provide smallholder farmers in Africa with technologies that will produce more food and give them a better livelihood, that’s what really motivates the team,” Long told me. One of the Gates Foundation’s stipulations is that any breakthroughs that result from RIPE’s work be made available “at an affordable price” to companies or government agencies that supply seed to farmers in the world’s poorest countries.

Before any of RIPE’s creations could be planted in sub-Saharan Africa, though, or anywhere else, for that matter, all sorts of licenses would have to be obtained. (The gene-editing techniques that Long and his colleagues are using are themselves often patented.) Then the altered genes would have to be approved by the relevant agency in the nation in question, and the alterations would have to be bred into local varieties. So far, only a handful of African countries have O.K.’d genetically modified crops, and most of the approvals have been for G.M. cotton. A recent study noted that at least two dozen G.M. food crops—some modified for insect resistance, others for salt tolerance—have been submitted to regulatory agencies in the region but remain in limbo.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 17.12.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 17.12.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In 1995, environmental historian William Cronon published “The Trouble With Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.” In it, he critiques the Western concept of “wilderness” as nothing but a fantasy that prevents us from meaningfully engaging with ecological systems. He argues that the idea of wilderness is beset by a central paradox: It supplies the “ultimate landscape of authenticity,” allowing for the purest expression of a human self, and yet it excludes human presence by definition (wilderness is wherever other humans are not). Wilderness thus remains a “profoundly human creation” — charged with individualism — in which we perceive not “nature,” but “the reflection of our own unexamined longings and desires.”

The idea of wilderness as we think of it today is a fairly modern invention. Up until the 18th century in the West, wilderness still carried overwhelmingly negative connotations, reflecting the biblical story of the Fall, in which it first signified the barren, empty, desolate lands to which Adam and Eve were banished after their expulsion from Eden. Throughout the colonial era, settlers narrated their mission in terms of the restoration of Eden: By turning worthless “wilderness” into something commodifiable and profitable, they were doing “God’s work.”

Over time, as uncolonized tracts of land in North America grew scarcer, nature writers such as Henry David Thoreau began to lament the landscapes that were being lost to the plough. Gradually, wilderness came to signify Eden itself, specifically an Eden that predated the appearance of Adam and Eve. In these romanticized accounts of “nature,” Indigenous peoples were neatly figured as part of the fauna; which meant that the lands on which they lived could conveniently be called “uninhabited.” (Ana Cecilia Alvarez writes for Real Life: “It never occurred to the first white settlers who came to Yosemite and exclaimed that it had the pristine beauty of a European garden that it in fact was a garden.”) In 1964, as the U.S. Congress passed the Wilderness Act, it also enshrined into law a definition of wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammelled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” This definition of wilderness, underpinned by processes of racial dehumanization, persists today.

The concept of wilderness has surprisingly close ties to another modern invention: the idea of technological “disconnection,” and the accompanying idea of “digital detox.” These constructs share not only a repertoire of motifs, but also a conceptual underpinning. Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together, characterizes the offline world as a physical place, a kind of Edenic paradise. “Not too long ago,” she writes, “people walked with their heads up, looking at the water, the sky, the sand” —  now, “they often walk with their heads down, typing.” Real Life editor Nathan Jurgenson coined the term “digital dualism” to describe the false presumption of a clean line between the online and the offline. Like the nature/culture binary, the online/offline distinction stems from a misguided preoccupation with authenticity. It frames our relationship with technology in terms of either connection of disconnection, wrongly implying that the “connected” are alienated from their true selves.

Read the rest of this article at: Real Life

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What, if anything, could convince you the image above is worth $9 million?

What you’re looking at is an NFT, one of the first ever created. It’s part of the CryptoPunks collection, a set of 10,000 NFTs released in 2017, a time when much of the world was still finding out what bitcoin is.

Most likely you’ve already rolled your eyes, either at the $9 million figure or at the very idea of NFTs themselves. The response to nonfungible tokens hasn’t changed much since March when they first started exploding. The public at large has reflexively dismissed them as environmentally harmful scams. The bigger the sale, the more brazen the injustice.

Which brings us back to the above pixelated chap. Its owner is Richerd, an affable Canadian software developer. He started building cryptocurrency software around 2013, but eventually tired of it. After discovering NFTs earlier this year, Richerd bought CryptoPunk #6046 on March 31 for $86,000 in what he said was the biggest purchase he’d ever made in his life.

Richerd, who has over 80,000 followers on Twitter, last month claimed that his CryptoPunk was priceless to him and wasn’t for sale no matter the price. The very next day his determination was tested when an offer came through for 2,500 ether, or $9.5 million. It was made not because Richerd’s CryptoPunk is worth that amount — similar NFTs now go for about $400,000 — but rather because his bluff was very publicly being called. It was a challenge, but it was still a legitimate offer. If Richerd clicked “accept”, 2,500 ether would have flowed into his wallet.

Richerd rejected the offer.

Read the rest of this article at: CNET

News 17.12.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 17.12.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Last year, Julia King, a 20-year-old art student and influencer from Texas, noticed that a particular kind of sweater vest was taking over the internet. Celebrities like Bella Hadid had been photographed wearing shrunken argyle-patterned styles, channeling classic ’90s movies like Clueless during a wave of millennium-era nostalgia. Soon, King found the perfect example in a thrift store: a child-sized pink and red knit vest that fit tight and cropped on an adult. Using herself as a model, King paired it with jeans and a Dior bag, snapped a picture, and listed it for $22 on Depop, an eBay-like resellers’ app favored by Gen Z.

The vest sold instantly, and she quickly forgot about it. But a month or so later, King received a message from one of her Instagram followers. They alerted her that an obscure, now-defunct Chinese shopping site called Preguy was using her photo to sell its own cheap reproduction of the thrifted vest. “Seeing the pictures of me up on some random fast-fashion website I’d never heard of before made me really upset,” King said.

Replicas of the vest soon began popping up on countless other clothing sites and e-commerce marketplaces, including Amazon, AliExpress, Walmart, and Shein. Over time, the image of King’s torso would be altered, warping her body shape; at one point, another person’s manicured hand was awkwardly photoshopped onto it.

Eventually, retailers began using their own product photos, but that didn’t make the experience any less surreal. Unknown brands with names like GadgetVLot and WEANIA marketed their versions of the vest with jumbled strings of keywords: “Autumn Preppy Style Streetwear Clothes,” “Plaid Cotton Knitted Vest Elastic V-neck Sweater Crop.”

A vest that had started as a one-off thrift find was now available for anyone to purchase, and often for an even lower price. As with many fashion trends, it had been plucked from social media and dropped into the frenzied machine of the global e-commerce market. It was multiplying, almost of its own accord, in the factories of China’s swelling ultra-fast-fashion industry.

Over the past decade, thousands of Chinese clothing manufacturers have begun selling directly to international consumers online, bypassing retailers that traditionally sourced their products from the country. Equipped with English-language social media profiles, Amazon seller accounts, and access to nimble garment supply chains, they’ve fueled the acceleration of trends and flooded closets everywhere with a wave of impossibly cheap clothes.

Rest of World spent the last six months investigating this new ecosystem, speaking with manufacturers, collecting social media and product data, making test buys, and interviewing shoppers and industry experts in both China and the U.S. Our reporting reveals how Chinese apparel makers have evolved to cater to the desires of internet-native consumers — and transformed their consumption habits in the process. Capitalizing on this shift are companies like Shein: the most successful, well-known, and well-funded online retailer of its kind.

Read the rest of this article at: Rest Of The World

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News 17.12.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

DEEP WITHIN THE grasslands of southwestern Tanzania, seven men were gathered on a gravel patch the size of a tennis court. They wore white helmets and yellow, oil-smudged overalls, giving the impression of melting popsicles in the night’s dry heat. Next to them was the reason they’d flown in from around the world: their drill rig, a 35-ton, 50-foot-high mast that pierced the sky. For three weeks, the drill had been drudging through layers of thick, gloopy clay, but now, at a depth of 1,800 feet, it had found an expanse of porous red sandstone and was picking up speed. While two men scrutinized the rig’s progress on a set of dials, the others gathered lengths of stainless steel pipe from a nearby storage trailer. Hazem Trigui, a scientist who worked the night shift, watched from the smoking area, puffing on a cigarette.

It was July 2021, the beginning of the drill team’s second month in the Rukwa Basin, a sparsely populated agricultural plain nearly the size of Fiji. The team wasn’t after gold or crude oil or natural gas; they were looking for helium, a noble gas being released in huge quantities by the ancient granitic rock beneath them. Helium is abundant—the second-most-abundant element in the universe—but on Earth it is rare. Because it is the smallest and the second-lightest element, it’s a master escape artist, slipping out of whatever container it’s in, even our atmosphere. Helium is also very useful. It has the lowest boiling point and freezing point of any other known substance. And unlike hydrogen, its lighter and more abundant neighbor on the periodic table, it doesn’t go boom at the slightest provocation. All these characteristics have made it a critical resource in much of the technology that modern society relies on, from the semiconductor chips in computers and mobile phones to fiber-optic cables, MRI scanners, and rockets. There is no space race or high-speed internet without it.

Helium forms within Earth’s crust through radioactive decay, a process so slow that on a human timescale it’s considered a finite resource. (A block of uranium the size of a candy bar would take roughly 500 million years to produce enough helium to fill a party balloon.) For more than a century, it has been mined as a minor byproduct of natural gas extraction. But in the decades to come, as the world moves away from hydrocarbons and demand for helium grows in step with the aerospace, computing, and medical industries, there’s a looming possibility of a major shortage.

The Rukwa Basin is one potentially significant new source of helium. Here, the helium is “green”—naturally mixed with nitrogen, which can be safely vented into the atmosphere. The future of a stable helium supply is likely to depend on non-hydrocarbon sources like this, and now there’s a race to find them.

Read the rest of this article at: Wired

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.