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A fortnightly cluster**** of science, technology, Berlin DJs and good news. Not necessarily in that order.
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The Crunch # 60

Why Future Crunch would be the worst fashion brand ever. Plus, saltwater resistant rice, Jordan Peterson is a douchebag, and good news on smoking, abortion & mountain gorillas.

In December last year, we decided to run an experiment. We wanted to see whether we could evolve from a fortnightly email that reported on human progress, into a community of people that actively contributed to it.

Our cunning plan? To get some you, our 11,775 subscribers, to voluntarily pay a small subscription fee for each edition. We would then scrape together all the money and give it away to small charities and people around the world using science and technology to do good things. Projects and initiatives that don't make it onto the radar, but which have genuine impact.

Kinda like the Robin Hood of science newsletters.

Except without tights, Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, or 13th century dreamboat, Christian Slater.
We're now ten editions and six month into this ridiculous idea, so we figured it's probably time to give you an update.

The good news first.

So far, 282 of you have signed up

Sure, that's only 2.3% of our subscriber base, but it's already brought in a grand total of $10,460 (all figures are US dollars). Of that, $523 has gone to Patreon, who provide us with the platform to run the subscriptions, and another $551 has gone to the banks, who've taken their pound of flesh on transaction fees. The remaining $9,386 has all been given away.


Think about it for a second. Those subscribers could have spent their money at Starbucks, or bought someone a beer at the pub. They could have purchased an artisinal, flaxseed loaf from their local farmer's market, handmade by a well fed guy in his mid 30s wearing a leather apron and sporting a glistening black lip sweater. But instead, they decided to spend it on this, our humble little newsletter. Instead of that money lining the pockets of a dirty hipster, it's in the hands of people that are doing things that really matter. 

Scientists like Chu Owen and Suzi Murabanathe from the Travelling Telescope, who used our $1,421 donation to give hundreds of schoolkids in rural Kenya their first glimpse of the moon and the planets. Activists like Soudeh Rad and her crew from Hamdam, who used $2,500 of our subscriber's fees to create new content about sexual health for 219,000 Iranian women (translated and original) and to run a live Instagram for their community with an expert gynecologist on International Menstruation Health Day. Technologists like Rishi Shrestha and Peter Byron from E-NABLE Canada, who are spending the $2,404 we sent them on three high quality 3D printers to take to Nepal, where they're going to make cheap prosthetic limbs for people who can't afford traditional ones. 

And now... our latest recipients, the Alice Springs Women's Shelter. They're the only specialist domestic violence support service in central Australia, and despite being underfunded and overworked, do an incredible job supporting some of the most vulnerable people in the country. They're spending $3,061 on new desktop PCs so women and their families can get online. They're also buying a ton of cheap cellphones that staff can give to clients to store their case plans, and to stay in touch in case they're in danger. 

For all these organisations, a little goes a long way. A massive, massive thank you to all our subscribers. Nice work. 

The bad news.

As part of the Patreon campaign, we set up some rewards. The idea was that the more people paid for their subscription, the more cool stuff we would give them. Swag, postcards, mugs, hoodies. We had dreams of creating a Future Crunch merchandise empire. Visions of svelte babes cruising the streets in our science hoodies, or CEOs taking purposeful, powerful sips from our mugs. 

Alas, creating an empire is harder than we thought. Turns out it's easier to move around bits and bytes than it is to move around atoms. Our subscribers are still waiting for their stuff #worstfashionbrandever. 

HOWEVER. Do not despair. There is movement! We've finally settled on an artist to illustrate some quotes from our heroines and heroes, and the quote for the hoodies is on our desk as we speak. Most importantly, we've roped in our friend,  Uncle Jim Bob, to help. He's going to handle all the logistics and mailing and organising from here on out. Whew. Here's a little taste of one of the art pieces he helped us commission, a portrait of Bucky Fuller (we're also doing Grace Hopper, Richard Feynman and Arundhati Roy). These will be on the postcards, and will also feature somewhere on the hoodies. 
A final thought.

We're going to continue trying to find clever ways to convince you to subscribe, but we also promise not to beg. There's a reason we always advertise the Patreon at the end of each edition - we know the bleeding heart stuff is boring. But it does make a difference. These aren't big charities, or well known non-profits. They're scrappy, often unofficial and they don't have money for fundraising. They don't have sophisticated social media campaigns and PR people. They're run by people who do it out of goodness, love and a deep passion for making the world a better place.

That's our beat.

It's not to say that large scale philanthropy or multi million dollar NGOs aren't important. Of course they are. It's just that here at Future Crunch, we're naturally attracted to the underdogs, the hackers, the makers and the rebels who, like us, are terrible at following rules. We're going to keep on looking for them, all over the world, and we'd love to send them as much money as possible.

If you think this newsletter is worth something, if you think the information that you receive from us has value, then we'd love you to join us.

If you're lucky, we might even send you the swag this time. 



Good news you probably didn't hear about


India's environment minister has announced the country will eliminate all single-use plastic by 2022, the largest, most ambitious anti-plastic pledge of all time. Economic Times

Hawaii has passed a law to become fully carbon neutral by 2045, the most ambitious emissions reduction and renewable energy plan of any state in the United States. FastCo

Norway has become the first country where electric vehicle adoption has started to affect the oil industry, with consumption of gasoline and diesel falling in 2017. Elektrek

Ireland has overwhelmingly voted to liberalise abortion. More than two-thirds of voters said yes to overturning a 35 year old law that restricted women's rights. Irish Times

France has seen a sharp fall in daily smokers, with one million fewer lighting up between 2016 and 2017. There has also been a decline in low income and teenage smokers. BBC

After five successful, annual rounds of large-scale, school-based deworming across Kenya, worm-related diseases have fallen from 33.4% in 2012 to 3% in 2017. KEMRI

High school dropout rates among Hispanic students in the United States is at record lows, extending a decades-long decline. College enrollment is also at a record high. Pew

Beijing continues its successful fight on pollution. Levels of particulate have dropped by 20.5% compared to the average level in 2016, and by 35% since 2013. Xinhua

In the forests of central Africa, the population of mountain gorillas, one of the world’s most endangered species, has increased by 25% since 2010, to over 1,000 individuals. Reuters

Indistinguishable from magic

Palaeontologists have discovered the 99 million year old tail of a feathered dinosaur, perfectly preserved in amber jewellery, in a market in the far north of Myanmar. BBC 

Astronomers from the Australian National University have discovered the fastest-growing black hole in the known universe, as big as 20 billion of our suns. SBS

Chinese scientists have grown and harvested a new strain of saltwater resistant rice in the deserts of Dubai, with double the yield of the worldwide average. China Daily

A convolutional neural network has outperformed the world's best dermatologists at distinguishing dangerous skin cancer lesions from benign ones. The Outline

A student from the UK has made a movie controlled by the viewer's mind. "The film changes because of how you feel, and the way you feel changes because of the film." PM

Tissue engineers in Newcastle have 3D printed a cornea (the thin protective film over the eye) using human cells, successfully emulating its distinctive, curved shape. The Verge

Researchers in Tokyo have used living rat muscle tissue in a mechanical skeleton to successfully simulate the look and movement of a human finger.  National Geographic

The information superhighway is still awesome

"When fame came knocking, he couldn’t get to the door fast enough." Ouch. The FT had lunch with Jordan Peterson, and sure enough, he's a monumental dickhead (PDF here).

What's happening with crypto? People are hard at work, that's what. Here's the latest snapshot of the Ethereum network, and a roadmap for what's next. Consensys

After our last newsletter about creating better code, FC reader Sam Schlinkert sent us this 1996(!) article about how NASA’s shuttle group used to approach programming. FastCo

Massive news in the world of psychology. The marshmallow test was tried again - and this time affluence, not willpower, was behind kids' capacity to delay gratification. Atlantic

In Rwanda, geekery trumps glamour. Meet this year’s Miss Geek Africa, Salissou Hassane Latifa, from Niger. Her winning design is an app that connects people caring for accident victims, with emergency services and medical staff before they arrive at the scene.

Do you feel sort-of-but-not-quite like a millennial, and sort-of-but-not-quite like a Gen X-er? You might just be a Xennial, the 'micro-generation' born between 1977 and 1985. BI

Been a while since we shared any good music. This 3 hour set from space child Britta Arnold and mad scientist Unders is incredible and has kept us going all year. Soundcloud

We are out! Join our Patreon. That is all. 

Much love,

Gus and Tane
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