The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has a new exhibit on cellphones, from the complicated supply chain that gets one to you to how they work to how they are changing human lives around the globe. naturalhistory.si.edu/exhibits/cellphone-unseen-connections
The Bahamas was the first country to roll out a digital currency, the Sand Dollar, in 2020. This map from Statista shows where digital currencies are currently being used, piloted, under development, or considered: www.statista.com/chart/24571/central-bank-digital-currencies-around-the-world
Not only are drones are dramatically changing warfare, the scope of their deployment has grown exponentially. The Royal United Services Institute, a UK think tank specializing in military issues, recently released a report estimating that Ukraine is losing 10,000 drones each month! "The counter-offensive launched by Kyiv's troops on June 4 confirms this, with countless UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] used by both sides to carry out reconnaissance operations, but also to support ground troops or strike at enemy devices. 'Within a 10-kilometer zone, it's common for there to be between 25 and 50 UAVs on both sides of the front line,' said the RUSI researchers. 'Today, there's a whole pile of metal above the Ukrainian battlefield,' said a senior French officer. 'This is a major development, which will force all armies to adapt: There's no going back.'" www.lemonde.fr/en/international/article/2023/06/18/russia-and-ukraine-take-drone-warfare-to-unprecedented-scale_6033281_4.html#
Have peach prices been higher in your grocery store this spring? Even though California and South Carolina grow most of the country's peaches, this year's supply has been dented by the failure of Georgia's peach crop: at least 90% of the Peach State's crop was done in by early blooming followed by a cold snap, resulting in the first loss of Georgia's peach crop since 1955. A handful of orchards in the center of the state account for 95% of Georgia's peaches and usually send about 150 million peaches to grocery stores. www.economist.com/united-states/2023/06/08/georgia-the-peach-state-has-no-peach-crop-this-year
According to the latest Census data released last week, Black Americans are continuing to move out of urban areas in the North, Midwest, and West, some departing for nearby suburbs and some for urban areas in the South. (Map from www.wsj.com/articles/black-americans-are-leaving-cities-in-the-north-and-west-c05bb118.)
In 1995, David Chalmers, then a newly minted philosophy PhD in his late 20s, published an influential article laying out what he termed the "hard problem" of consciousness: what, exactly, is consciousness and from where does the sensation of consciousness arise? A few years later, in 1998, neuroscientist Christof Koch, today chief scientist of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, bet Chalmers that in 25 years the "hard problem" would be solved, that scientists would understand the underpinnings of consciousness. On Friday, at the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness meeting in New York City, Koch and Chalmers both declared Chalmers the winner of the bet. www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-02120-8
This BBC article shares maps about areas of control in Ukraine as well as the complex dam system affected by the destruction of the Kakhovka dam and reservoir: www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60506682 (Note: maps about current fighting in Ukraine are regularly updated at the Institute for the Study of War.)
Now that the 2023 National History Day contest is over, students (6th-12th grade) are welcome to start work on projects for 2024. The theme for 2024 is "Turning Points in History." For history-loving students, NHD is one of the few competitions that encourage students to dig deep in an area of personal interest. Participants can compete in five different categories: research papers (individual only), websites (individual or group), documentaries (individual or group), performances (individual or group), or exhibits (individual or group). Be sure to check with your state history day organization about local qualifying events. https://nhd.org/en/contest/theme/
What makes for a competitive business climate? According to the International Institute for Management Development, it's a mix of 336 variables in four broad categories measuring a country's economic performance, government efficiency, business efficiency, and infrastructure. This year's analysis of 64 country's has just been released, with Denmark on top for the 2nd year in a row and a Middle East country, the UAE, breaking the top 10 for the first time. For more about the rankings and the methodology, see www.imd.org/centers/wcc/world-competitiveness-center/rankings/world-competitiveness-ranking/2023/
Because they often rely on evaporative cooling to keep equipment from overheating, data centers rank among the top 10 most water-consuming industries in the U.S. This article explores the clash between Big Tech and local communities in water-stressed areas of the U.S. www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2023/04/25/data-centers-drought-water-use/
The U.S. "electricity grid" is not a single entity: as this map shows, the bulk of the national grid is actually three almost entirely unconnected regional grids operated by a patchwork of different operators. The maps in this article from the New York Times illustrate the fragmentation of the U.S. electricity grid. (Map from www.nytimes.com/interactive/2023/06/12/climate/us-electric-grid-energy-transition.html)
Morality is in decline. Everyone says so. But is it really? According to a paper published in Nature recently, survey results done in the U.S. and 59 other countries show that respondents have been reporting a decline in morality for at least 70 years. Survey data shows this perception has been shared by people of various political ideologies, races, ages, genders, and educational levels. But when researchers also analyzed decades of surveys asking people to assess their contemporaries' morality, there was no difference across time, suggesting that the perception of moral decline is a persistent illusion and, researchers found, one that can be manipulated. www.nature.com/articles/s41586-023-06137-x
Looking for an outside-the-box geography enrichment resource this summer? The Atlas of Geographical Curiosities might be just the ticket: https://www.amazon.com/Atlas-Territorial-Curiosities-Jonglez-photo/dp/236195530X/
The hot new idea in hydropower is not damming rivers to turn turbines; it is pumped storage or closed-loop hydropower: moving the same water repeatedly between an upper and lower reservoir, depending on electricity demand. Pumped storage does not depend on access to a major river. This website from the International Hydropower Association explains the process and includes an interactive map showing the status of hydropower projects around the world: www.hydropower.org/hydropower-pumped-storage-tool
North Korea has been cut off from the global banking system since 2017. But its use of hacking, ransomware, and stolen cryptocurrency has accelerated and is believed to provide half the funding for North Korea's ballistic missile program.
"North Korea’s digital thieves began hitting their first big crypto attacks around 2018. Since then, North Korea’s missile launch attempts and successes have mushroomed, with more than 42 successes observed in 2022, according to data tracked by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. ... Roughly 50 percent of North Korea’s foreign currency funding for purchasing foreign components for its ballistic missile program is now supplied by the regime’s cyber operations, [Anne] Neuberger [Biden administration deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology] said. That is a sharp increase from earlier estimates, which had put the figure at a third of overall funding for the programs. U.S. officials say North Korea has built what is essentially a shadow workforce of thousands of IT workers operating out of countries around the world, including Russia and China, who make money—sometimes more than $300,000 a year—doing mundane technology work. But this workforce is often linked up with the regime’s cybercrime operations, investigators say. They have pretended to be Canadian IT workers, government officials and freelance Japanese blockchain developers. They will conduct video interviews to get a job, or... masquerade as potential employers. To get hired by crypto companies, they will hire Western 'front people'—essentially actors who sit through job interviews to obscure the fact that North Koreans are the ones actually being hired. Once hired, they will sometimes make small changes to products that allow them to be hacked, former victims and investigators say. Starting two years ago, hackers linked to North Korea began infecting U.S. hospitals with ransomware—a kind of cyberattack where hackers lock up a victim company’s files and demand payment for their release—to raise money, U.S. officials say. 'It seems like a modern-day pirate state,' said Nick Carlsen, a former FBI analyst who works for the blockchain tracing firm TRM Labs. ... The skill of North Korea’s cybercrime over the past year has impressed U.S. officials and researchers, and some said they have seen the country’s hackers pull off elaborate maneuvers that haven’t been observed anywhere else."
What's beneath an ice sheet? Using ice-penetrating radar and a hot drill, scientists studying the ice sheets in West Antarctica have discovered an enormous mostly-freshwater cavern with a muddy river bed at the bottom and amphipods swimming by the camera. Research continues into the foundation and scope of life in this extreme ecosystem. www.sciencenews.org/article/cavern-west-antarctic-glacier-life
Last week's smoky air has dissipated on the East Coast, but this is almost certainly not the last time you will find yourself wondering about air quality. The Environmental Protection Agency's AirNow map shows air-quality data, updated hourly: gispub.epa.gov/airnow/?monitors=pm (You can select for ozone, particulate matter, or both.)
Are the humanities being cast aside just when we need them most? New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd makes this argument:
"Trustees at Marymount University in Virginia voted unanimously in February to phase out majors such as English, history, art, philosophy and sociology. How can students focus on slowly unspooling novels when they have disappeared inside the kinetic world of their phones, lured by wacky videos and filtered FOMO photos? Why should they delve into hermeneutics and epistemology when they can simply exchange flippant, shorthand tweets and texts? In a world where brevity is the soul of social media, what practical use can come from all that voluminous, ponderous reading? ... Strangely enough, the humanities are faltering just at the moment when we’ve never needed them more. Americans are starting to wrestle with colossal and dangerous issues about technology, as A.I. begins to take over the world. ... 'There is no time in our history in which the humanities, philosophy, ethics and art are more urgently necessary than in this time of technology’s triumph,' said Leon Wieseltier, the editor of Liberties, a humanistic journal. 'Because we need to be able to think in nontechnological terms if we’re going to figure out the good and the evil in all the technological innovations. Given society’s craven worship of technology, are we going to trust the engineers and the capitalists to tell us what is right and wrong?'"
Iran has executed at least 307 people so far this year, including 142 in May alone, a 76% increase over last year. According to Amnesty International, only China executes more prisoners than Iran. This map from Statista looks at the status of the death penalty globally: www.statista.com/chart/25211/death-penalty-world-map/
Any rock collection can be a great start to a study of geology but a RADIOACTIVE rock collection?! Even cooler. The free PDF cited in this article from Atlas Obscura guides readers in (safely) collecting radioactive rocks. www.atlasobscura.com/articles/radioactive-mineral-rock-collectors-guide
This map, from data provided by the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, shows where wildfires are burning, uncharacteristically early, in Canada. Many of these fires are contributing to poor air quality in Canada and the U.S. (Map appeared in www.wsj.com/articles/air-quality-levels-drop-in-u-s-as-smoke-billows-from-canadian-wildfires-c87c53db.)
A New York Times investigation finds a fleet of rogue oil tankers are using fake transponder signals to move sanctioned Russian oil, primarily to ports in China. The elaborate ruse seems to be undertaken primarily to maintain the tankers' insurance coverage. www.nytimes.com/interactive/2023/05/30/world/asia/russia-oil-ships-sanctions.html
This article from Fortune introduces readers to Gatun Lake, a body of water you may have never heard of or thought about that is poised to play a huge role in global trade, supply chain management, and inflation because of a severe, ongoing drought in Panama:
"Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell keeps careful track of employment levels, wages, consumer prices and numerous other metrics to see where the US inflation rate may be headed in the next year. He might also want to keep an eye on water levels at Gatun Lake. That’s the lake that feeds the locks in the Panama Canal with the fresh water needed to raise vessels as they pass from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. But a severe drought has caused water levels in the lake to drop far below normal, resulting in weight limits and rising surcharges for vessels traversing the canal. It’s also unnerving economists and supply-chain experts. Just as the world’s delivery bottlenecks are easing, Panama’s drought and worrisome weather patterns elsewhere threaten to revive some of the chaos of 2021, when a surge in shipping costs and consumer demand resulted in shortages of goods, helping to drive US inflation to a four-decade high. If Gatun Lake levels keep falling as forecast, the market reaction will be higher shipping rates and a scramble to find alternative routes from Asia to the US, logistics experts said. ... Making matters worse, an El Niño system is building in the western Pacific Ocean and is expected to upset normal weather patterns by the end of this year. While this can cause heavy rainfall in some regions, in Panama it typically means severe drought and higher than normal temperatures."
The headlines associated with the first geo-graphic in this article tend to focus on hot job creation rates in politically "red" vs. "blue" states. This analysis, though, goes deeper into the hiring numbers to discuss connections with job churn, wages, education, and housing: www.washingtonpost.com/business/2023/05/26/hiring-red-blue-states/
Until the 1840s, vegetarians were referred to as "Pythagoreans" because, in addition to thinking about right angles, the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Pythagoras was associated with a school of Greek philosophers that shunned meat eating, in part because Pythagoras believed in the transmigration of the soul, including the migration of the soul between people and animals. www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/202305/how-vegetarianism-was-born-out-of-philosophy-and-mysticism
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