Best of CH 2018: Link About It

Our take on the best thoughtful, eccentric and inspiring stories from the internet this year

Beyond what we create ourselves at CH, we’re always reading, watching and viewing content from publishers we admire. Each day we share some of the internet’s best in our Link section. This year, we were enthralled by stories about space, climate change, cultural phenomenons, empowering displays of art, ghost stories and much more. Here are some of the best reads from this year’s Link About It—get ready to go down the rabbit hole.

NASA Technology Could End Food Waste

“Hyperspectral imaging”—technology that allows someone to scan foods for imperfections, ripeness and contamination—will drastically cut the amount of waste in the food industry. Because photographs of produce can be used to determine problems, physical probing or complete destruction won’t be necessary. Thus, contaminated, unripe or imperfect foods can be spotted without ruining consumable ones—hopefully cutting back on our waste rate, which is at about 33% of all food. This technology has long been used by NASA and other big-budget agencies, but it’s becoming more affordable and widespread. Read more about the technology on CNBC.

The Phenomenon of Coming-Out Videos

Whether funny or solemn, earnest or playful, heartbreaking or heartwarming, the coming-out video has become a significant cultural phenomenon. They are also ever-evolving, as Justice Namaste for Wired writes. As social media changes the conversation, coming-out videos are shifting from diary-like stories to carefully crafted content—many including interviews, personal reflection, reactions, and advice for others in the very same situation. Namaste says, “By focusing so much on ‘coming out’ as a single moment, most cultural conversations misrepresent the reality of being LGBTQ. For many LGBTQ people, coming out is a never-ending experience.” Ultimately though, openness, conversation and visibility are still crucial, “They’re coming out for themselves, but they’re also coming out for the countless others who can’t, who don’t want to, who haven’t figured out how to… perhaps, for some terrified kid out there, watching coming out videos like these can make it even the tiniest bit easier.” Read more at Wired.

Bringing Extinct Species Back From the Dead with Gene-Editing

American scientist Ben Novak has spent the past six years working on a process referred to as de-extinction—with the goal of bringing back the passenger pigeon species that died off in 1914. In Melbourne, Australia Novak has used gene-editing to weave the Cas9 gene into the reproductive organs of common pigeons. Cas9 enables the use of CRISPR, a tool that acts as molecular scissors and enables a cut-paste of DNA. Soon, perhaps, Novak will see to the passenger pigeon’s return. This could lead to the reemergence of the dodo or even the woolly mammoth—and that will bring up greater questions over what it means to bring an extinct species back, whether we should, and what happens if re-extinction occurs. Read more about the process at the Wall Street Journal.

Winning Proposals For Plastic Replacement

With ideas varying from renewable materials composed of agricultural by-products and food waste to magnetic additives and compostable organic layering, five concepts were each awarded $200,000 to enable them to enter a 12-month accelerator program. The goal: develop plastic alternatives. The winners of this Circular Materials Challenge were announced at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. It’s one portion of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Plastics Economy Innovation Prize, which aims to discover ways for reducing the number of plastics that enter the ocean annually. Read more about all five winners at Dezeen.

AR Puts Notable Women on US Bills

Notable Women—a project from former Treasurer of the USA, Rosie Rios, along with Google Creative Lab and Nexus Studios—lets anyone with a smartphone camera and the power of augmented reality put one of history’s most important women on the front of a bill. Once AR identifies the bill, it’ll place a portrait there and, by tapping said portrait, you’ll be able learn about that woman’s contributions to US history. The portraits fit seamlessly, thanks to  acute attention to detail that makes these woman-adorned banknotes feel authentic. Read more about the project on It’s Nice That.

A Guide to The Monumental-Horror Image

Oftentimes subtle and not necessarily depicting a violent nor gory moment in time, the monumental-horror image still strikes terror into viewers and is a picture that will remain etched inside their brains. Sean T Collins has written an essay about the phenomenon for the Outline—breaking down the different kinds and offering plenty of visual guides. Whether it’s Pennywise standing alone, holding balloons on a deserted street; or the deer head mounted on the wall in Get Out, these images are distressing because they are so ominous. As Collins says, “The monumental-horror image does what ‘here be monsters’ did in maps centuries ago—they mark the border where life as we know it gives way to the terrifying unknown.” Read more at the Outline—and try not to freak out.

 

Researchers Pen Severe Report About AI’s Threat to Humanity

Assembling in Oxford, 26 researchers from 14 organizations have drafted a 100-page report on the dangers artificial intelligence poses the future of humanity. As VICE notes, AI is already all around us, operating background processes in everything from medicine to finance. The two-day conference declared that superhuman artificial intelligence can be turned on humanity and those working in the field must take the potential misuse into consideration now during their work. Of their concerns, digital and physical security made the list, as well as “deepfakes,” where famous actors faces are seamlessly applied to porn stars in action—damaging, of course, to particular humans.

Retail’s Brick-and-Mortar Reasoning in the Age of Amazon

At Shoptalk retail conference, brands found themselves doing more than outlining next moves. Much attention has been given to redefining purpose and even defending their right to continue, in essence proving that Amazon doesn’t have the might to close their doors. As Hilary Milnes outlines for digiday, the strategy here includes investing in private-label products and inventory exclusives while turning physical stores into fulfillment centers. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Head over to digiday to learn more about what Target, Macy’s and others have in store.

The Secret Behind Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” Move

For decades viewers have watched Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” leaning dance move in awe. The “biomechanically impossible” act (which Jackson debuted in 1987) has the dancer leaning at a remarkable 45-degree angle—from the ankle—all the while keeping his body straight. No bending at the knees, nor the hips, it was (and remains) a beguiling sight. Unveiling the magic, however, neurosurgeons at Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh say Jackson made it possible thanks to his immense core strength and some fancy shoes. “A v-shaped slit in the bottom of each heel of his spats slotted onto a strong nail or ‘hitch member’ driven into the ground, allowing the dancer to pivot and lean further forward, for the gravity-defying move.” Read more at the BBC.

National Geographic’s Iceberg of Plastic

“16 billion pounds of plastic ends up in the ocean each year. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” reads the June 2018 cover of National Geographic. The text is set upon Mexican artist Jorge Gamboa’s clever, captivating image (titled “Iceberg Plástico,” and winner of Bolivia’s Biennial of Poster in 2017) of an iceberg-resembling plastic bag. Aside from the fact that it’s a magazine cover worth discussing—in an age when print’s place is ever under question—the cover draws further attention to the dangers of plastic and the damage upon our oceans. Radical action is required—and National Geographic’s “Planet or Plastic?” initiative is just the tip of an iceberg of activity necessary for change.

Archaeologists Dig at Woodstock ’69 Festival Field

When digging at the famed Woodstock ’69 festival field (located in Bethel, New York—actually about 50 miles from Woodstock itself) archaeologists weren’t looking for love beads, a tassel from Jimi Hendrix’s jacket, or some of the Grateful Dead’s left-over acid tabs. Project director Josh Anderson says, “The overall point of this investigation is to kind of define the stage space… We can use this as a reference point” in order to figure out the lay of the land during the festival. Their work will help with The Museum at Bethel Woods, which is planning walking routes for the concert’s 50th anniversary next year. Find out more at Spin.

How Lava Lamps Are Helping in the Fight Against Hackers

One timestamped relic is now helping a web security firm fend off the most skilled hackers: lava lamps. Believe it or not, the shapeshifting novelty invented in 1963 is experiencing another renaissance. Cloudflare is filming a lava lamp—along with a pendulum in London and a Geiger counter in Singapore—and then using the shots to randomly generate pixels for a “super-powered cryptographic key.” The reason for this is that lava lamps cannot be “cracked” because they follow no loop–nor are they susceptible to human pattern. Read more about the system at Wired.

Scientists May Have Found Water on Mars

The search for liquid-state water on Mars, since the quest began, has been largely unsuccessful. Gaseous and solid states of it teased rovers and crews alike. Condensation would consume glass windows upon landing; ice deposits spread across the planet’s surface. But, just days ago the Italian Space Agency announced the possibility of a 12-mile-wide, several-feet-deep pool of water a mile under the surface of one of the planet’s southernmost polar caps. Read more at Wired.

Evidence of Interbreeding Between Early Human Species

According to National Geographic, for some time researchers have suspected that two ancient human species, Neanderthals and Denisovans, interbred. It wasn’t until paleogeneticist Viviane Slon, of the Max Planck Institute, received the results from a 90,000-year-old flake of bone she had tested (and five other sample tests from the same “child”) that this was confirmed. Slon has published her findings in the scientific journal Nature and it’s groundbreaking as nobody has ever before identified a first-generation hybrid. Denisovas were a “sister group of the Neanderthals, splitting from a common ancestor some 390,000 years ago” and so far pinned only to one area of Siberia. Read more about them—and Slon’s discoveries—at National Geographic.

The “Sextech” Patent Has Finally Expired

Since 1998, a patent on “teledildonics”—the connection of sexual-stimulant devices to computers, phones, or tablets has stunted innovation in the sector. The patent strictly protected the—arguably overly broad—idea behind the “method and device for interactive virtual control of sexual aids using digital computer networks.” The owners of the patent, in the eyes of analysts and competitors, seemed to own it solely to troll smaller companies that infringed on the idea. But now that the patent has expired (these sorts of utility patents have a 20-year lifespan) the industry could experience an unmanageable boom—quicker innovation and production will hopefully precede privacy invasions or clunky interfaces. Read more about the sudden switch on Motherboard.

Summer Songs Find Popularity in Diversity

There are endless “Summer Hits” playlists and oftentimes their decade—or specific year—of release can be pinned down without even checking the title. As with the Backstreet Boys and Britney—there is a similar, or familiar, sound. But, in a new interactive guide from the New York Times, hope for diversity in popular hits returns. Songs like Drake’s “Nice For What” or Cardi B’s “I Like It,” are summer hits of today and they couldn’t, in theory, sound more different. In the guide, technical aspects like loudness, valence, energy, “acoustic-ness,” and danceability map out charts for popular songs. See how each year’s array of charts differ at the New York Times.

Puerto Rico’s Rebuild Starts With Designers and Architects

Since last September—immediately after Hurricane Maria—designers and architects have been working to not only rebuild Puerto Rico, but also to rethink its infrastructure. Many of the some 1,200 homes that lost roofing in the Caño Martin Pena area of Puerto Rico had “informal infrastructure”—in this instance meaning they were built with galvanized metal sheet roofs. Sadly, this is the case in large regions of Puerto Rico, and the devastating winds and flooding ruined much of what was just strong enough to fend off weaker rains. The efforts of the designers and architects have been concentrated on resiliency planning, implementing faster construction techniques, providing the island with renewable energy systems, developing housing types designed specifically for the island, assisting in the launching of new businesses and getting in the ear of policy-makers to provoke change. Read more about these efforts on Curbed.

The Only American Company Making Paper Straws

Paper straws got a bad reputation as flimsy and funky-tasting, thanks in part to versions produced in China. But Fort Wayne, Indiana-based Aardvark returned to paper straw production in 2007, when demand required that they start up again (they invented the paper straw back in 1888). Not only are the products “green,” they’re also ideal to use. Much of the process behind them is secret, and the plant is close-doored, but a few things are known. First, the straws are sustainable—produced with paper sourced from trees Aardvark grows themselves. Second, demand is skyrocketing right now, according to David Rhodes, the company’s global business director. For those looking for plastic alternatives, this is one worth trying for yourself. Read more at Bloomberg.

Judy Chicago’s Portrayal of Toxic Masculinity Appears in Real Life

Judy Chicago‘s 1985 series Three Faces of Man occurred in real-life this past week—seen in the outrage of three powerful, petulant men unaccustomed to answering for their behavior. Chicago’s painting was unveiled in 1985, but it’s clearly as relevant as ever. As Jonathan D Katz writes for Artsy, “What was once allegory is now reportage, and Chicago’s art from decades past has never looked so current.” While exploring the concept of men’s behavior and actions, Chicago says she found, “The prohibitions around openly expressing feelings—particularly of vulnerability as expressed in tears—caused innumerable personality distortions.” Read more at Artsy.

The Badass Costumed Taxi Drivers of Nairobi

In Nairobi, motorbike taxis—known as “boda-bodas”—are oftentimes the best option for avoiding traffic. During a recent visit, photographer Jan Hoek noticed that noticed a well-designed, almost costumed boda-boda—it looked a lot like Nicholas Cage’s motorcycle in Ghost Rider. Inspired to create a photo series, Hoek teamed up with Ugandan fashion designer Bobbin Case, and seven drivers in the Kenyan capital got costumed to match their bike. The result is badass—and best of all, many of the riders have continued to wear elements of their costumes while driving around Nairobi. See the series at Wired.

Over 400,000 Registered to Vote Through Snapchat

Snapchat revealed to the New York Times that during a two-week period the application encouraged (and succeeded) 418,000 users register to vote. With a new button on each user’s page, the application directed them to site called TurboVote—where a survey gauged their views, determined their location and then directed them to the local outlets where they could register. “There is no more powerful form of self-expression than the ability to vote,” Jennifer Stout, Snap’s global head of public policy, says. Read more about the initiative Snap—and other platforms—are running at the New York Times.

The Man Behind Modern Ghost Stories

Born in 1862, Montague Rhodes James was an acclaimed intellectual who published a handful of stories (from short quips to long, academic papers) that are widely regarded as the basis upon which modern ghost stories are built. Not entirely for the narratives, but rather the topics: his stories are unpredictable and based on haunted objects, unfamiliar beings and odd circumstances. Cynthia Zarin, of The New Yorker, writes “Scholarly efforts have been made to unearth the early trauma that would account for James’ succession of wraiths, screeches, hairy faces, and skeletal hands creeping out from under the pillow. He reported his own childhood as happy.” Read more about the author at The New Yorker.

Atlas Obscura’s Thoughtful “Bugsgiving” Takeaways

One may not be aware that the Thursday before Thanksgiving happens to be “Bugsgiving.” Writer Ella Morton dove into the holiday, at a 10-course banquet in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, spearheaded by chefs Joseph Yoon and David George Gordon and part of the Brooklyn Bugs Festival. The edible insects were aplenty—as are her insights. From lotus chips with scorpions to pear salad with Changbai ants and so much more, Morton explored a menu that’s what she describes as an “homage to the estimated two billion people around the world who eat insects as part of their traditional diet.” Read more at Atlas Obscura—or go try for yourself.

How and Why the Kilogram Changed

At this year’s General Conference of Weights and Measures, a collective of 60 countries voted to change the kilogram’s value. Up until this vote, the kilogram was based on a platinum and iridium fragment, called the “Le Grande K,” which is stored in a chamber in the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Sèvres, France. Over time, Big K seemed to be losing weight—or its replicas around the world (which researchers elsewhere used) were somehow heavier. This meant that a decision was made: “rather than basing the unit on this physical object, henceforth, the measure will be based on a fundamental factor in physics known as Planck’s constant.” Read more about the change at National Geographic.

Gravity Images Reveal Lost Continents Under Antarctica

For four years, the European Space Agency’s Gravity field and Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) satellite accumulated data on Earth’s gravitational field. Now, scientists are using that information to best understand what lies beneath Antarctica’s ice sheets. Here, they’re learning that East and West Antarctica bear fundamental differences, including lithosphere thickness. Underneath the former, there are actually several similarities to the continent’s closest neighbors. Read more at VICE.

Tracing the Influence of Early Black Designers

In a new exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center, titled African American Designers in Chicago: Art, Commerce and the Politics of Race, the influence of black designers is traced, from 1900 to 1980. Jackie Ormes’ highly sought-after Patty-Jo Doll, based on her cartoon character, is on display. As is work—for Coca Cola and more—from the country’s first African American-owned advertising agency, helmed by Emmett McBain and Thomas J Burrell. “It’s not an encyclopedia, it’s an introduction,” says curator Daniel Schulman. “What we’re trying to demonstrate here is the lasting influence and effectiveness of the visual arts and design throughout the 20th century in Chicago.” The show is open now through 3 March, 2019. Read more about the exhibition at The Guardian.

Banksy Offers Sculpture for £2

Ever the troublemaker, Banksy is offering up his remote-controlled boat from Dismaland for just £2, but the artist has added a delightful catch—as he is wont to do. To win the piece, the buyer/winner must correctly guess its weight. In order to enter the raffle, a donation (at a minimum of £2) has to be made to the Choose Love store—where shoppers can buy real gifts for refugees. With all proceeds going to Choose Love, and a Banksy sculpture going to somebody who might not ever be able to afford it otherwise, this competition truly is in the spirit of the season. Read more about the offer at Choose Love.