The Download: Sensory cities and carbon trapping-crops

When David Howes thinks about Montreal, he remembers the soothing tones of the carillon bells and the aroma of bagels cooked over wood fires. He was met with blank stares when he asked his local tourism office where visitors should go to taste, smell, and hear the city.

“They only know about things to see, not about the city’s other sensory attractions, its soundmarks and smellmarks,” says Howes, director of Concordia University’s Center for Sensory Studies, a hub for the growing field often referred to as “sensory urbanism.”

Around the world, researchers like Howes are investigating how nonvisual information defines the character of a city and affects its livability. They use a variety of methods, including low-tech sound walks, smell maps, data scraping, wearables and virtual reality to combat what they consider a visual bias in urban planning. Read full story .

–Jennifer Hattam

These scientists want to capture more carbon with CRISPR crops

The news: Plants are the original carbon capture factories–and a new research program aims to make them more effective by using gene editing. CRISPR co-inventor Jennifer Doudna founded the Innovative Genomics Institute. It is a research group that uses gene editing to enhance their ability to store carbon.

How it would work: One primary goal will be to improve photosynthesis so that plants grow faster. Researchers could reduce energy-sapping side reactions such as those that release carbon dioxide by altering enzymes. Researchers also hope to find ways to store more carbon in soil by encouraging deeper root systems and larger roots.

Bigger picture: It’ll be a significant challenge to make these techniques work, but the research is part of a growing effort by scientists to find ways to vacuum up the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere in order to slow climate change. Read the complete story .

–Casey Crownhart

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 The crypto market is in freefall
With colossal amounts of money at stake, crypto’s volatility now looks less thrilling and more worrying. (New York Mag)
The price of Bitcoin has plunged to its lowest in 18 months. (Bloomberg $)
Even the most bullish investors are freaking out. (Motherboard)
Crypto companies are making major layoffs, too. (The Verge)
El Salvador has lost around half its Bitcoin investment. (Mashable)
It’s okay to opt out of the crypto revolution. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Big Tech has agreed to disclose more about disinformation
On a country-by-country basis, something tech companies have previously resisted. (FT $)
The EU is threatening to fine them for failing to deal with deepfakes. (Reuters)

3 What studying strokes teaches us about addiction
A particular neural network in the brain could hold the key to quitting smoking. (NYT $)

4 The long fight to get illegal, nonconsensual videos taken offline
Survivors have struggled to get footage removed from Pornhub. (New Yorker $)
Deepfake porn is ruining women’s lives. (MIT Technology Review)

5 SpaceX has gained approval to launch its Starship rocket from Texas
But it has to meet stringent measures to protect the environment. (WP $)
This newborn star has a sibling. (Phys)
Our maps of the Milky Way have just received a major upgrade. (Nature)

6 India’s officials are big fans of facial recognition
Privacy advocates disagree with police claims it’s only being used to surveil criminals. (Motherboard)
Here’s how to stop AI from recognizing your face in selfies. (MIT Technology Review)

7 We need to change how we warn beachgoers about deadly currents
Static warning signs aren’t working. Systems that warn of changing conditions may work. (Hakai Magazine)
There’s a global movement dedicated to raising awareness of rip currents. (The Guardian)

8 People are increasingly terrified of being canceled
Psychiatrists wonder if it’s a new manifestation of OCD centered around fear of social ruin. (Slate)

9 Electric car designs are getting more creative
While some are becoming more luxurious, others seat only two passengers. (The Guardian)
This startup wants to pack more energy into electric vehicle batteries. (MIT Technology Review)

10 What’s the point of drinking alcohol in the metaverse?
Drinks brands are building virtual bars–but there’s not a drop to drink. (WSJ $)

Quote of the day

“Older people go on the internet for a couple of things. For the younger generation the internet is ‘the things.'”

— Payton Iheme, head of public policy for dating app Bumble, explains to the New York Times how different generations use technology, and what that means for potential risks.

The big story

Lunik: Inside the CIA’s audacious plot to steal a Soviet satellite

January 2021

In late October 1959, a Mexican spy named Eduardo Diaz Silveti slipped into the US Embassy in Mexico City. Tall and well-spoken with slicked-back hair, Silveti, 30, had learned spycraft in Mexico’s secret police. During the Cold War, the capital was so overrun with Communist spies that CIA had enlisted help from the Mexican secret services to fight the Soviet Union.

Winston Scott, 49, was the first secretary of the US Embassy. This was his cover. He was also the CIA’s most respected spymaster in Latin America. Secrets were a stock-in-trade for the silver-haired Alabaman: he had arrived in Mexico City in 1956 and turned the CIA station into one of the most successful counterespionage operations in the world.

He called Silveti to offer him a top secret mission that was “tremendously important for the United States.” He wanted to steal a Soviet satellite so that American experts could study it. Read the full story.

–Jeff Maysh

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. Have any other ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me. )

This rumination on 40 years of ET is thought-provoking.
Love it or hate it, the texture of bouncy foods is a whole lotta fun (thanks Charlotte! )
An excellent joke for all the feline feeders out there.
A heartening tale of how beekeeping is helping psychiatric patients in Greece.
This photo of Mars’ landscape taken by Perseverance is amazing.

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