In my early 20s I spent some time living in Paris and was no stranger to Nova Radio as a way to improve my French. The counter culture station was like an untapped vein of exciting and off-beat music, Jesse McCarthy brilliant captures growing up in Paris through the lens of hip-hop as it grew from emulating East Coast West Coast styles to a genre in its own right from RER to banlieue. Read on The Guardian.
I’m back, after a brief reprieve from a couple of busy weeks we’re back with another long-reads round-up. I have a few long term Data Viz projects, I’ll hopefully be able to share with you in the next month or so, subscribe to be the first to hear about them.
In the insane world of Space exploration, the most exciting advances are usually the big technological leaps, the distance travelled, crewed missions etc but for me the most interesting stories are the mundane problems and solutions that become make-or-break when trying to accomplish across planets. This week the Ingenuity will make it’s first powered flight on Mars – but first it needs a software update… from Earth… Read on Vice how NASA are planning to achieve that.
On ESPN last week I read this fun story about the self proclaimed Master Thief Sean Murphy, one of the most meticulous and prolific grifters in Massachusetts. A team of thieves reminiscent of the cast from an Ocean’s Eleven film conspire to rob the newly crowned New York Giant’s Super Bowl Rings. Find out how he was caught on ESPN.
The Florida Horse-Meat Vigilantes
It wasn’t so long ago that the UK had its own Horse-meat scandal and it seems Florida has a growing underground market of criminal butchers doing the same, a shady world of stealing horses, buying them under the table from race stables and hacking them up for sale. Meet the small time militia breaking the rules, and the law, to bring down illegal horse butchers in Florida on Bloomberg Businessweek.
What would our air pollution look like if you could see it with the naked eye?
Looking back, I consider myself lucky not to have been brought up in London for very long, I yearn for the open fields, creeks and fresh air that I spent my time around as a kid. I was born in London and spent 7 years there before leaving, enough time to have felt the effects of stunted lung growth according to a six year study on air pollution.
In December 2020, a landmark ruling was made that admitted “exposure to excessive air pollution” had contributed to the death of 9 year old Ella Kissi-Debrah in Lewisham.
The city’s level of NO2, PM 10 and PM 2.5 had been consistently above the legal limits for toxic particles suggested by the World Health Organisation. The ruling was important as it directly attributed the city’s failure on air pollution as a possible cause of death.
Six years on from Ella’s death and I found myself back in London making the commute across trains, buses and traffic jams that thousands of others make every day - breathing in the city.
I’ve been working on this idea for some time now, a simple way to visualise some of the pollutants we breathe in daily but first needed to get my head around the science.
Particulate Matter (or PM) is a term to describe a collection of microscopic clumps of varying size and shape which have combined together to form dangerous particles that can be inhaled. There is no fixed term for what constitutes Particulate Matter as its breakdown is dependent on when and where it is found; but it can be roughly split into a few categories - dust, dirt, soot, smoke and droplets of liquid.
PM 2.5 and 10 refer to, in microns (μm), the diameter of the particle. With PM 10μm being roughly 5-7 times smaller than an average human hair in diameter and PM 2.5μm being about 4 times smaller than that.
Whilst PM 10 often deposits in the nose or throat as we inhale, PM 2.5 is so small that it can make its way into the lungs and blood cells once inside the body.
Breath in, breath out
Returning to London for the first time in decades, the change in air was intangible. I knew it was worse but didn’t feel it was worse, like being forced to unknowingly smoke without seeing the exhale.
Long term exposure to Particulate Matter increases the risk of lung and heart complications, with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifying it as carcinogenic and contributing to lung cancer.
It has long been known that such pollution can exacerbate existing health conditions such as asthma but according to the UK government there is emerging research showing associations with dementia, low birth-weight, stunted lung growth in children and Type 2 diabetes.
In 2013, Ella Kissi-Debrah suffered her last asthma attack after 27 hospital admissions and 6 different consultants, her parents unaware of the things that floated in the air they lived in.
In 2019, on its worst day London air was actually almost 50% more polluted with PM 2.5 than Manhattan was on its worst day of the year.
Delhi reigns top of the scale with 988µg/m3 of fine particulate matter recorded in a single day putting it in the “extreme” category as classified by the United State Environmental Protection Agency. Currently the UK government has no clear guidelines on safe levels of PM 2.5.
Here’s an issue I had never considered, when completing NASA’s long awaited James Webb Space Telescope (started in 2007!) there were, and still are, serious discussions about it being stolen by pirates on its trip to French Guiana where it is to be launched. So much so that the exact date of departure is being kept a closely guarded secret. Turns out, as proved by previous “lens-nappings”, this isn’t that far out of the realms of possibility. Continue reading about the threat of NASA pirates on The Atlantic.
Another Data Viz themed piece, this time from my old haunt The Economist’s new Data newsletter “Off The Charts” where they’ve taken a look at the different hoops they have to jump through when creating maps - including having someone paste black labels over selected maps in every issue. Even though I worked with them fairly frequently last year I didn’t quite realise the lengths they sometimes need to go to, to avoid getting entire shipments of an issue seized by a country that has disputed borders. Read more on the Off The Charts (and subscribe to it too, while you’re at it, come on guys get it together).