Blog Archive for the ‘Long News’ Category

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Mapping the Long Walk – An Out of Eden Update

Posted on Friday, June 20th, 02014 by Chia Evers
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In January 02013, we introduced you to slow journalist Paul Salopek, who is retracing the steps of our earliest human ancestors in a seven-year journey Out of Eden. Since then, Salopek has covered more than 4,000 kilometers (nearly 2,500 miles), from in Eastern Ethiopia to East Jerusalem. His route was, intentionally, sketched in broad strokes, but each of his Milestones and Dispatches have been pinned to a digital map that captures the sights, sounds, and stories of his long road from Africa to Patagonia.

The first map pin, at Herto Bouri, marks a dense archaeological site, where Australopithecus garhi, Homo erectus, and Homo sapiens idaltu made their homes 2.5 million to 160,000 years ago. Several of the Homo sapiens idaltu fossils bear the marks of (possibly cannibalistic) mortuary practices that included scraping the flesh from the skulls of the dead.

A map-within-the map in Djibouti, on the edge of the Red Sea, illustrates the ancient land bridges that carried our ancestors across the Red Sea into the Levant, and eventually into Southeast Asia and the Americas.

At Petra, the ancient stone city that is now Jordan’s most popular tourist attraction, Salopek recorded a timeless dirge about the the ingratitude of children and the pain of old age. The singer, Qasim Ali, accompanied himself on the rababa, a 1200-year-old ancestor of the violin.

Four thousand kilometers from the ambiguously marked remains at Herto Bouri, Salopek reached Qafzeh Cave, on the slopes of Mount Carmel. This is the site of the first ceremonial human burial in the archaeological record—a teenaged boy with a red deer’s antlers held fast against his chest.

As of June 02014, Salopek is in Jerusalem, the subject of another thematic map—one which covers a two-day, 23-mile trek around the ancient city. His most recent Dispatch, from the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina, tells the story of a traditional judge who negotiates settlements between families when a wrong has been done.

From Israel, Salopek will continue on to the Silk Road. We will continue to post updates on his progress, and have asked him to speak with us when his route brings him through the Bay Area in a few years. In the meantime, you can follow Salopek and the Out of Eden Walk on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, Vimeo, and Google+—or visit OutOfEden.com and the Out of Eden Walk site at NationalGeographic.com.

Lost century-old Antarctic images found and conserved

Posted on Friday, January 10th, 02014 by Catherine Borgeson
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Photo: Antarctic Heritage Trust (NZ)

A small box of 22 exposed but unprocessed photographic negatives left nearly a century  ago in an Antarctic exploration hut has been discovered and conserved by New Zealand’s Antarctic Heritage Trust.

“It’s the first example that I’m aware of, of undeveloped negatives from a century ago from the Antarctic heroic era,” Antarctic Heritage Trust Executive Director Nigel Watson said in a press release. “There’s a paucity of images from that expedition.”

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Photo: Antarctic Heritage Trust (NZ)

The team of conservationists discovered the clumped together negatives preserved in a solid block of ice in Robert Falcon Scott’s hut at Cape Evans on Ross Island. The hut served as one of the many supply depots of Captain Scott’s doomed Terre Nova Expedition to the South Pole (01910-01913). While the expedition made it to the Pole, they died during the return trip from starvation and extreme conditions. Today, preserved jars of Heinz Tomato Ketchup, John Burgess & Sons French olives and blocks of New Zealand butter can still be found in the hut, as well as a darkroom intact with chemicals and plates.

Two years after Scott’s expedition, the hut was inhabited by the Ross Sea Party of Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (01914-01917). Ten marooned men lived there after being stranded on the ice for nearly two years when their ship, the SY Aurora, broke free from her moorings during a blizzard and drifted out to sea.  By the time of their rescue, three men had died, including the team’s photographer Arnold Patrick Spencer-Smith. While the photographer of the negatives cannot be proven, someone in the Ross Sea Party did leave behind the undeveloped images.

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Chief Scientist Alexander Stevens looking south on the deck of Aurora. Hut Point Peninsula in the background. Photo: Antarctic Heritage Trust (NZ)

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Photo: Antarctic Heritage Trust (NZ)

These never-before-seen images give testament to the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. And only in places like Antarctica could such a situation exist. The photographer used cellulose nitrate film, which according to Kodak, is a relatively unstable base. The film breaks down in humidity and higher temperatures, giving off powerful oxidizing agents. However, if the conditions are right, the film may last for decades, or as the Antarctic Heritage Trust discovered, a century.

The photographs found in Captain Scott’s expedition base at Cape Evans, Antarctica required specialist conservation treatment. The Antarctic Heritage Trust (NZ) engaged Photographic Conservator Mark Strange to undertake the painstaking task of separating, cleaning (including removing mould) and consolidating the cellulose nitrate image layers. Twenty-two separate sheets were revealed and sent to New Zealand Micrographic Services for scanning using a Lanovia pre-press scanner. The digital scans were converted to digital positives.

via i09

Retro Report Revisits News of the Not-Too-Distant-Past

Posted on Monday, September 16th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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retroreport

At what point does news become history? With the pace of modern journalism, one could argue it happens pretty quickly, but reality doesn’t always move as fast as the media. Many of the stories we actually need to hear simply don’t fit inside a hype cycle and thus aren’t fully told. One organization grappling with this problem is Retro Report:

Retro Report is there to pick up the story after everyone has moved on, connecting the dots from yesterday to today, correcting the record and providing a permanent living library where viewers can gain new insight into the events that shaped their lives.

Providing what they call “a timely online counterweight to today’s 24/7 news cycle,” Retro Report revisits the big stories of the not-too-distant-past and produces videos that explore what the media initially got right or wrong and how things unfolded after the cameras left.

As Carl Zimmer points out, one great application for this type of reporting is on the sciences. Science is inherently a slow, accumulative process and initial findings are often wrong:

In reality, a lot of science-related conclusions fall apart or have to be revised in later years. Science itself is starting to grapple with its flaws, with papers like “Most Published Research Findings Are False.” On the other hand, some findings gain strength over the years, as more and more evidence supports them. But those studies pile up like sand grains, and so it’s easy for journalists to overlook them, even after they’ve grown into a mountain.

Here, they tell the story of the Flavr Savr Tomato – the first transgenic crop to be sold in American grocery stores:

Even beyond science, Retro Report makes use of the advantages of hindsight to explore how the big stories of the past are still unfolding today.

Almost everything is getting better

Posted on Wednesday, August 10th, 02011 by Kirk Citron
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The Long News: stories that might still matter fifty, or a hundred, or ten thousand years from now.

Last week The Millennium Project released its 02011 State Of The Future report, looking at trends for the past twenty years and projecting ahead for the next decade. (Not the 10,000 year future, but still of interest.) You can read an executive summary of the report here.

While the report finds many things to worry about – global warming, terrorism, corruption – overall the trends are surprisingly hopeful, as shown in their chart called “Where we are winning”:

Anthropocene arrives

Posted on Wednesday, March 16th, 02011 by Alex Mensing
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Since the end of the last ice age a little over 10,000 years or so ago, human civilization has blossomed in a climatically friendly epoch known as the Holocene. The flowers are still blooming, but as climate change begins to mix things up some have been predicting that the story of recent and pending human history will prove quite dramatic…and it will be written in stone. National Geographic reports:

Stratigraphers like Zalasiewicz are, as a rule, hard to impress. Their job is to piece together Earth’s history from clues that can be coaxed out of layers of rock millions of years after the fact. They take the long view—the extremely long view—of events, only the most violent of which are likely to leave behind clear, lasting signals. It’s those events that mark the crucial episodes in the planet’s 4.5-billion-year story, the turning points that divide it into comprehensible chapters.

So it’s disconcerting to learn that many stratigraphers have come to believe that we are such an event—that human beings have so altered the planet in just the past century or two that we’ve ushered in a new epoch: the Anthropocene. Standing in the smirr, I ask Zalasiewicz what he thinks this epoch will look like to the geologists of the distant future, whoever or whatever they may be. Will the transition be a moderate one, like dozens of others that appear in the record, or will it show up as a sharp band in which very bad things happened—like the mass extinction at the end of the Ordovician?

That, Zalasiewicz says, is what we are in the process of determining.

Whether or not humans are ushering in such a singular moment in recent geologic history, there seems to be increasing support for the notion that we are leaving the Holocene behind, and that ‘we’ have enough to do with that transition to merit naming the new epoch after ourselves. The term ‘Anthropocene’ was first used by Paul Crutzen, a Dutch chemist, at a conference about ten years ago. It’s come a long way: today it is featured in the March issue of the National Geographic.

Crutzen…thinks its real value won’t lie in revisions to geology textbooks. His purpose is broader: He wants to focus our attention on the consequences of our collective action—and on how we might still avert the worst. “What I hope,” he says, “is that the term ‘Anthropocene’ will be a warning to the world.”

The photograph of the oil field above was taken by Edward Burtynsky, who spoke at our seminar series in 2008 on “The 10,000-year Gallery.”

The global brain

Posted on Monday, February 21st, 02011 by Kirk Citron
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The Long News: stories that might still matter fifty, or a hundred, or ten thousand years from now.

Internet map of the Middle East

A computer defeats humans on a television game show. An information network brings down a series of dictatorships. We are witnessing a massive explosion in data, and an equally massive explosion in our ability to process and distribute it. The fall of the Soviet Union may have been driven, in part, by the fax machine; today, revolutions are driven by Wikileaks, Facebook, and Twitter. (You say you want a revolution? Google it.) Or, as Ken Jennings wrote on his monitor when he lost at Jeopardy to IBM’s Watson: “I for one welcome our new computer overlords.”

Some recent news articles about information overload — as well as some additional stories:

1. “A whopping 94% of global data is now stored digitally, up from 0.8% 25 years ago”: As computer capacity soars, users drowning in data

2. It tripled in 2010: Worldwide mobile data traffic exploding

3. The Internet = us: World’s total CPU power: one human brain

4. Or maybe, surpasses us: Robots replace teachers at 21 schools in South Korea

5. Meanwhile: maybe our energy problems are solvable: Today’s clean tech could power the world by 2050

6. Unsettling news for climate change deniers and creationists: Global warming may reroute evolution

7. Shocking how many Americans don’t believe in evolution (this time, it’s the science teachers): Evolution still struggling in public schools

8. That’s okay, we can rewrite evolution anyway: Mammoth ‘could be reborn in four years’

We invite you to submit Long News story suggestions here.

How Much Does a Kilogram Weigh?

Posted on Wednesday, February 16th, 02011 by Alex Mensing
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As a recent New York Times article observes, the kilogram is officially defined as “a unit of mass equal to the mass of the international prototype of the kilogram.” Well, it turns out that the prototype, a chunk of platinum and iridium housed at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in France, has lost a bit of weight since it was made in the 1880s. The builders of the prototype did their best to design for the long-term, choosing a 90% platinum / 10% iridium alloy for its corrosion resistance and good thermal properties, sheltering it with bell jars and a vault, and minimizing its surface area. Time, however, has proven their efforts insufficient. The New York Times points out that the method for standardizing the kilogram has been going out of style:

The kilogram is the last base unit of measurement to be expressed in terms of a manufactured artifact. (Its cousin, the international prototype of the meter, was retired from active duty in 1960, when scientists redefined the meter. They redefined it again in 1983; a meter is now officially “the length of the path traveled by light in a vacuum during a time interval of 1/299,792,458 of a second,” for those who would like to try it at home.)

Scientists now have similarly bold plans for the kilogram, and indeed for several other base units of measure. A draft resolution to be considered at the General Conference of Weights and Measures in October includes new and improved definitions for the ampere, the mole and the candela.

“This would be the biggest change in metrology since the metric system was introduced during the French Revolution,” Dr. Quinn said.

Which is all very exciting and very revolutionary. But it is easier said than done.

Indeed, we all take these standards for granted, but they are one of the things that allow us to build on the past and conceive into the future.  Their definition may seem esoteric, but one only has to go to a gas station in a country without standards enforcement to see the potential pit falls of a lack of them.  Moving into the future with standards not defined by physical items, the Bureau of Weights and Measures discusses some of the difficulties they face, such as the degree of uncertainty in Planck’s constant, here on its website.

Water Becomes a Global Commodity

Posted on Friday, January 14th, 02011 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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Blue Lake in Sitka, Alaska

Newsweek reports that Sitka, Alaska is looking at selling 3 billion of gallons of water for bottling in Mumbai India shipped via tanker.  This will mark one of the first major water transfers of this sort, making water a globally traded commodity.  It also brings up some interesting questions around climate change and how it will affect population centers.  It is said that water always travels uphill towards money, if this deal goes through we will determine if it will also cross oceans.

Mumbai, India

Woman power

Posted on Monday, September 13th, 02010 by Kirk Citron
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The Long News: stories that might still matter fifty, or a hundred, or ten thousand years from now.

Burr Heneman suggests that the increasing empowerment of women around the world will have impact for generations to come.

Just a few weeks ago the U.S. marked the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote; yet few would argue that the genders have achieved equality. Still, there are signs of economic and political progress.

From The Atlantic Monthly: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women now hold 51.4 percent of managerial and professional jobs—up from 26.1 percent in 1980… Earlier this year, for the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce tipped toward women, who now hold a majority of the nation’s jobs.” Forty years ago, just 4% of the nation’s lawyers were women; now the figure is 32%. (They also note that among Americans who choose the sex of their children, most now choose girls.)

There’s more. According to the Small Business Administration, more than 40% of all U.S. businesses are women-owned, and in the past decade, nearly two out of every three businesses were started by women. Women also own more than 40% of private businesses in China. And in Europe, women already make up the majority of university graduates.

On the other hand, the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Dept of Labor reports that pay for men and women is still unequal, and many women still remain concentrated in traditionally lower-paying jobs despite the fact that women hold the majority of post-secondary degrees in this country.

And social progress seems to be coming more slowly. Poverty is becoming feminized (around the world, two out of three poor adults are women). Finally: although statistics are hard to come by, sexual assault and sexual slavery may actually be on the rise — and there are 20,000 “honor killings” of women each year.

Some recent news stories about the role of women in the world:

1. In the U.S., the salary gap may be shrinking: Workplace salaries: at last, women on top and also Young U.S. women learn, earn more than men

2. And yet: 90 years after the 19th Amendment, equality remains elusive

3. Mobile phones and micro-credit are leveling the playing field in Africa: Africa: women’s rights

4. 100 million girls have gone missing in Asia: Gendercide: The war on baby girls

5. About those “honor killings”: The crimewave that shames the world

6. Stafford Matthews sends news of another disturbing and unexplained development: More and more girls hitting puberty by age 7

7. Finally: women are better drivers than men, but do they get credit for it? For women who drive, the stereotypes die hard

We invite you to submit Long News story suggestions here.

(Thanks to Heather Kinlaw for background research.)

The future of war

Posted on Tuesday, July 27th, 02010 by Kirk Citron
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The Long News: stories that might still matter fifty, or a hundred, or ten thousand years from now.

At a recent Long Now seminar, Ed Moses mentioned in passing that we now produce enough bullets each year to kill every person on the planet — twice. We are a violent species; we hunt, we organize in gangs, we go to war. Today the U.S. is prosecuting two wars, and there are hotspots around the world from Darfur to Mexico.

At the same time, global defense spending is rising by 8% a year. We face unquantifiable threats from nuclear, biological, and robot weapons. And, of course, there will almost certainly be new conflicts over food, water, and other resources.

And yet –

Over the long term, it’s possible that war may actually be on the decline. The UN defines a “major war” as an armed conflict which causes more than 1,000 violent deaths a year. Just ten years ago, the world had fifteen major ongoing wars. Today there are seven.

In fact, Steven Pinker has argued that if you’re a young man (the group most likely to bear the burden of soldiering), your chances of dying in an armed conflict are lower than at any time in history: “If the wars of the twentieth century had killed the same proportion of the population that die in the wars of a typical tribal society, there would have been two billion deaths, not 100 million.” His essay is a few years old, but it’s worth reading if you haven’t seen it before: A history of violence.

Here are some other recent news stories and opinion pieces about the future of war (somewhat U.S.-centric, as the U.S. accounts for nearly half of global military spending, and most “advances” are taking place here):

1. Money and the military:

2. Ironically, even as we eliminate nuclear warheads:

3. High-tech combat:

4. War, what is it good for:

We invite you to submit Long News story suggestions here.