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A fortnightly assortment of science, technology, polite words and good news. Not necessarily in that order.

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The Crunch # 54


The language in this newsletter is truly appalling. Plus, ancient African civilisations, The Countess of Psychedelic Science, and good news on malaria, landmines and air pollution. 

In the two years that we've been writing these emails, we've managed to offend quite a few people with our use of language. Every few issues, someone will write in and tell us how horrified they are to see such terrible words on their screen. They're disgusted by our approach, and cannot understand how we could bring ourselves to say such things in public. 

For others, the swearing is tolerable, albeit not welcome. Gus's mum, Chris, for example, often says, "we worked hard to get you a good education - surely you can find better, more creative ways to deliver your message?" For her, and many others, the crudeness is cheap and lazy, and takes away from the overall message. 

In the last edition we really managed to push some buttons. Instead of limiting the bad language to the text, this time we put it right in the subject line. For a few people, it was the final straw:
 
Your opening comment is disgusting. I am unsubscribing immediately.
(DH, United Kingdom)

I DON'T LIKE THE CRUDE LANGUAGE GOOD SCIENCE AND POLITICAL DEBATE DO NOT NEED UGLY LANGUAGE I FIND IT EXCESSIVELY POLITICALLY INCORRECT
(HR, New Zealand)

I don't trust you
(ML, United Kingdom)


I really think I can find out about science and democracy and a positive future without encouraging providers who casually use rather downmarket and potentially offensive language, which I personally happen to find lazy and unpleasant. 
(GL, United Kingdom)

Your language is atrocious and inappropriate.  I was misled to think there was anything in this junk.
(DS, Australia)

You seem to be atheists.
(DS, United States)

We've always stood firm.
 
We think swear words are fun! We love their utility, their adaptability, and the way they sound. They're the most versatile part of any language. The same word can be used to show love and affection one minute, and the very next turn the air blue. We use them a lot in our day to day lives, when speaking to friends and family, and of course Tane can't help himself anyway - he's a sailor. We've always tried to bring the same conversational tone to these newsletters. In our writing, we use them like exclamation marks. Too many in a row, and you end up sounding silly. However, if you use one or two in the right place, they're the perfect literary spice.

Perhaps more importantly, we think that if you're going to have a list of things you're going to get upset about, then bad language should come in near the bottom. For our part, we're not offended by words. We're offended by the intent behind them. We're offended by hypocritical politicians who spend years promoting family values while using taxpayers' money to carry out double lives. We're appalled that glaring gender pay gaps still exist in the 21st century, and we're disgusted by humans who discriminate against other humans on the basis of sexuality, race or nationality. We're outraged by the actions of anti-vaccine campaigners and climate deniers whose unwillingness to critically examine their personal biases ruins the lives of current and future generations. 

We've spent years insisting that there are far more important things for people to worry about than bad language, and were all set to dig in harder after our most recent round of criticism.

And then we got this email, from a high school teacher in New Jersey...
 
Good morning FC, 

Love the newsletter and love the way in which you present your information, news, and thoughts. It comes across very easily and I look forward to every issue of FC. One thought that I had this morning is that I'd love to share your work with my students but, and this is your editorial choice (and I don't hold it against you at all), when you dip into language that is more adult in nature it prevents me from passing it along. 

I would happily pass along the entire newsletter but your language choices make it problematic for me. 

Keep up the great work. 

That's all from New Jersey this morning. 

Have a wonderful day,

B.

...you know what? He's got a pretty good point. And it was made so gently, without criticism, and without getting combative or upset. There's something in that for everyone. 

So. We're doing it for the kids. As of this edition, The Crunch is rated PG-13. The forces of moral rectitude have prevailed. Gus's mum will be very happy.

That doesn't stop us from putting swear words on our swag though :) 
 

Good news you probably didn't hear about


Under the current US administration, more 'beautiful' coal plants have been closed in the first two months of 2018, than during Obama's entire first term. MAGA. Greentech Media

After a decade long effort, Herat, Afghanistan’s deadliest province for landmines, has been declared free of explosive devices. Nearly 80% of the country is now mine free. Reuters

Thanks to growing awareness from #metoo, the biggest anti-sexual violence organization in the US has reported the highest ever number of calls to its crisis hotlines. Vice

Rwanda has become the first low income country to provide universal eye care to all 12 million of its citizens, with 3,000 nurses trained in over 500 health clinics. Telesur

In the last ten years Tanzania (a country where nine in ten people live in a malaria zone) has reduced the malaria death rate by 50% in adults and 53% in children. Borgen

Germany is about to start a radical plan to reduce road traffic by making public transport free in five cities, in an effort to meet EU air pollution targets and avoid big fines. Guardian

Thanks to tightening restrictions, the United Kingdom has reported a 12% drop in vehicle emissions since 2012, as well as significant overall drop in air pollutants. BBC

Indistinguishable from magic


Laser scanning has revealed that the lost city of Angamuco in Mexico had as many buildings as Manhattan, and in the deserts of Africa, archaeologists are rediscovering one of the greatest, most ancient, and most mysterious civilisations on Earth, the Nubians.

Seismologists at Harvard have adapted AI voice recognition tools to build a neural network that is 17 times more effective than human beings at detecting earthquakes. The Verge

A major South Korean car company has just completed a 190km test run of a fleet of five Level 4 autonomous vehicles powered entirely by hydrogen fuel cells. New Atlas

Japanese researchers have built a new ultra-thin elastic skin display that shows a real time waveform of your heartbeat, recorded by a breathable electrode sensor. TechXplore

An Israeli biotech company has successfully grown bones in a bioreactor, and is entering a second phase of trials, aiming to create 'spare parts' for human beings. Times of Israel

Researchers in Edinburgh have grown human eggs in a laboratory for the first time, opening up new ways of preserving fertility for children having cancer treatment. BBC

Using a simple digital camera, an Oxford scientist has won a prestigious photography contest by capturing a single glowing atom of strontium suspended in electric fields. Techly

The information superhighway is still awesome


Google ranked the eight most important qualities of their top employees, and technical expertise came dead last. Soft skills occupied the top seven spaces. Washington Post

Best thing we've done to make our phones distraction free in 2018 is changing the display to grayscale. You know you're onto something when it's 5 layers deep in settings. DailyMail

China is hellbent on becoming a scientific and technological superpower, and the results are starting to show. Expect to see a lot more reporting on this phenomenon in 2018. 

LSD is having a renaissance. If you'd like to know why, then you should meet 75-year-old English noblewoman, Amanda Feilding, "The Countess of Psychedelic Science." Wired

What is the longest straight line on the planet that you can walk without getting your feet wet in a lake, sea or ocean? Someone has finally produced an answer. BigThink

Branko Milanovic, the godfather of economic inequality research, says the hysteria around fake news is simply a reaction by the Anglo American media to losing its global influence. 

Are your kids distracting you from work? Well so did Charles Darwin's... they doodled all over his manuscript for The Origin of the Species. BrainPickings

Meanwhile, back at Future Crunch HQ


Gus is teaming up with new FC friend Phill Nosworthy, one of the smartest, most effective and most thoughtful Australian business communicators we know. They're running an event called the Art of Focus at Work Club, Melbourne, on the 27th February, and you can find all the details over here. 

Also, the Transitions Film Festival is coming up in Melbourne and we are giving away two tickets to the film Super Sapiens (here's the trailer). It's screening on Wednesday, 7th March at 6:15pm, and if you're interested all you have to do is hit REPLY, and complete the following sentence:

Intelligence is ............................

That's it for this fortnight. Short, sweet and for the first time ever, polite. Thanks for reading.

If you like what we're doing here, and you think this newsletter is worth at least the price of half a cup of coffee, then we'd be very grateful for your support over on Patreon. 

Or perhaps you've got a friend that's easily offended, or know some kids that could do with a little good news? It's safe to come into the water now, they can subscribe right here. 

Much love,

Gus and Tane
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