News 05.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 05.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 05.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 05.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

This is hardly the time to talk about plastics is what I think when Dad, hovering over the waste bin at a post-funeral potluck, waves me over, his gesture discrete but emphatic. He has retrieved from the trash a crystalline plastic cup, with fluted, rigid sides. “Polystyrene,” he grins, inverting the cup to reveal its resin code (a 6 stamped inside the recycling symbol). “But not my kind.”

Dad, back in the 1960s, had manufactured a more resilient variety of polystyrene for Union Carbide, one of the 20th century’s major plastics manufacturers, since acquired by Dow Chemical Company. Now, in the parish hall, I recognize he is seconds from crushing the cup. As if on cue, he closes his grip. Being a certain type of polystyrene—and this is his point—the cup splinters into a strange bloom of shards arrayed about the cup’s circular bottom.

No butadiene, I think. “No butadiene,” he says, which, on the production lines he ran, had been added to rubberize the resin, one among 10,000 helpmates that make plastics as we know them possible. Dad shuffles off to find the recycling bin, though he knows the cup has little chance for recovery and likely a long afterlife ahead. This is especially true for polystyrenes, of which there are multiple varieties; plastics, as the anthropologist Tridibesh Dey notes, are a chemically complex lot, designed for performance rather than reclamation.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

News 05.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 05.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

IN THE MID-2000S, Matt Earle was an internet marketer for an offshore bank in Bermuda, helping draw in new customers. Impressed with his skills, corporate clients hired him to boost their profiles online. But Earle soon realized that they would also pay to bury bad news—scandals, lawsuits, or run-ins with financial regulators. He returned to Toronto in 2010 and, the next year, launched, a company that provides digital makeovers, helping people regain control over how they appear on the internet.

Earle became what is called a reputation fixer, joining an industry today worth, according to one estimate, $240 million (US) annually. Reputation fixers run the spectrum from high-profile PR firms—such as Toronto-based Navigator, which former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi first turned to in 2014, when he was embroiled in assault accusations—to smaller, scrappier services like Earle’s. Many clients are businesses worried about the effect of scathing customer reviews or social media rants from disgruntled ex-employees. (One 2020 survey found that negative feedback on public forums like Yelp or Facebook can drive away 92 percent of consumers.) But Earle and his competitors also hear from individuals: students humiliated by an explicit photo on a revenge-porn website, professionals desperate to expunge trash talk from a former client’s blog, or CEOs who can’t shake outdated news stories that keep popping up on Google. The internet has a long memory.

Cleaning up your image, however, is not cheap. A serious campaign can cost between $10,000 and $20,000 or more and will usually run for at least four to eight months. Earle’s twenty-four staff members deploy a suite of tactics to dilute or outright remove unwanted content. They have methods for contacting satisfied customers and encouraging them to leave positive reviews to bump up star-rated averages. They are also able to tweak Wikipedia entries in ways that pass muster with the website’s volunteer editors, who can be relentless about deleting puffery. Appeals can be filed to major internet players like Facebook, Google, and Twitter in order to hide a damaging link or critical comments. If it’s an unflattering story in the mainstream press, staff might provide the publication with research that prompts a correction or clarification. If that’s not enough, there’s the nuclear option: disappearing the content entirely.

“Almost all credible newspapers have a no-removal policy,” says Earle. It’s sometimes different with blogs, independent news, or review websites. Since they don’t necessarily follow journalistic codes of conduct, they can be nagged, paid off, coerced, or threatened with lawyers’ letters into deleting material. “We do whatever we can to get content removed,” says Earle.

Read the rest of this article at: The Walrus

Each year, I look ahead at what’s new in consumer technology to guide you through what you might expect to buy — and what will most likely be a fad.

Many of the same “trends” appear again and again because, to put it simply, technology takes a long time to mature before most of us actually want to buy it. That applies this year as well. Some trends for 2022 that tech companies are pushing are things you will have heard of before.

A chief example is virtual reality, the technology that involves wearing goofy-looking headgear and swinging around controllers to play 3-D games. That is expected to be front and center again this year, remarketed by the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and other techies as “the metaverse.”

Another buzzy category will be the so-called smart home, the technology to control home appliances by shouting voice commands at a speaker or tapping a button on a smartphone. The truth is, the tech industry has tried to push this kind of technology into our homes for more than a decade. This year, these products may finally begin to feel practical to own.

Another recurring technology on this list is digital health gear that tracks our fitness and helps us diagnose possible ailments. And automakers, which have long talked about electric cars, are beginning to accelerate their plans to meet a nationwide goal to phase out production of gas-powered cars by 2030.

Here are four tech trends that will invade our lives this year.

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

News 05.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 05.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

There had been no confirmed sightings of a live night parrot for nearly 140 years.

So when the naturalist John Young produced evidence of the near-mythic bird in a remote corner of Australia’s outback in 2013, it was one of the greatest stories of species rediscovery in recent times.

It was “the bird-watching equivalent of finding Elvis flipping burgers in an outback roadhouse,” Sean Dooley of BirdLife Australia, told the country’s national broadcaster at the time.

It got stranger from there, when the discovery became tainted.

Over the next eight years, the find set off a series of breakthroughs in tracking the “ghost bird,” as it is described in some Aboriginal storytelling. But it would take teams of Indigenous rangers, working with scientists in Australia’s most unforgiving and remote landscapes, to accelerate the discovery of more night parrot populations in recent months — a feat that may ultimately help to save the species.

The night parrot was long considered the holy grail of Australian birding. Mr. Young captured photographic proof at a cattle station in the Australian state of Queensland that the parrot still lived. When he presented his pictures at the Queensland Museum, his discovery elicited “collective gasps and murmurs,” according to Australian Geographic magazine.

Mr. Young had a history of making questionable claims. In 1980, he claimed to have rediscovered the extinct paradise parrot, but could not produce evidence. In 2006, he announced the discovery of a new species, the blue-fronted fig parrot; but the authenticity of his photographs was questioned. When asked later about his history of making unproven claims, Mr. Young once said, “I didn’t know it was a crime to get excited about a find and slightly exaggerate.” (He declined to be interviewed for this article.)

His night parrot triumph brought a measure of redemption — for a while. News reports heralded Mr. Young’s find. In 2016, he became a senior field ecologist at the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

But scandal was never far away. In 2018, Mr. Young supplied his night parrot photograph to Audubon Magazine, which was profiling him; the photo had been published before but this version was uncropped. The magazine’s readers noticed aviary mesh in the corner of the photo, and accusations followed that he had illegally and excessively detained the bird, and possibly even injured it. He denied the accusations.

Mr. Young had truly found the night parrot. But an independent review found that he had faked audio recordings of the birds, and that one of his photographs of a possible night parrot nest contained fake eggs. Mr. Young resigned from his post.

While the disputes of Mr. Young’s methods played out, other investigators were conducting their own search for the night parrot.

It’s hard to imagine a more elusive bird to track than the night parrot. The nocturnal, ground-dwelling birds shelter amid thick clumps of dry, spiky grass in Australia’s most isolated and harshest regions — some more than 1,000 miles from the closest city.

Until Mr. Young’s discovery, almost everything scientists knew about the night parrot came from amateur ornithologists’ 19th-century diary entries and a small number of museum specimens.

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

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News 05.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

No one in the Rapu household could sleep. It was early March 1955, and in the family’s three-room home in the hills above the village of Hanga Roa, Reina Haoa busied herself sewing clothes. Her husband, Elías, paced. The couple’s four eldest boys—Alfonso, Carlos, Sergio, and Rafael—huddled together in the living room watching their parents worry. There was not much to say. In the morning, 12-year-old Alfonso would leave Easter Island on a cargo ship called the Pinto. He would travel to the port city of Valparaíso, Chile. His parents could not tell him when he’d return home or when he might see them again, because they did not know. They also could not tell him much about where he was going. Neither of them had seen land beyond Easter Island’s shores.

The Pinto came once a year to deliver basic supplies: soap, flour, sugar, fabric. For the Rapanui, the annual arrival was bittersweet. Though other ships occasionally visited the island, they brought few if any of the necessities needed to sustain life. By the time the Pinto came in late summer, the pantries of Rapanui families were bare. Construction projects had stalled for lack of materials. The Pinto, the Rapanui’s only regular physical contact with the outside world, brought relief.

But for many, the ship’s arrival also provoked a simmering sense of dread. Along with supplies, the Pinto brought disease. Each year, in the weeks after the ship unloaded, kokongo—a catchall term for whatever germs the Chilean sailors were carrying—swept through Hanga Roa. It was common for kokongo to infect as much as half the population. By the time it abated, it usually had left several families grieving.

There was no one to complain to about these epidemics, at least no one who would listen. For several decades, the authorities on Easter Island had been foreigners who represented their own interests by keeping the Rapanui under their thumb. In 1898, a decade after Chile annexed the island, the Rapanui were rounded up and resettled on a few square miles of the western coast, centered on Hanga Roa. A network of fences known as the Wall, built by Rapanui men for menial wages, kept them there. Passage beyond the Wall—to visit ancestral lands, to explore or cultivate the countryside, or to leave the island entirely—was only possible with written permission from the island’s governor.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atavist Magazine

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