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Audio quality from the built-in speakers in a MacBook Pro have never been the best out there, and at least one legendary musician is definitely not a fan of the portable Mac’s audio quality.

The Verge has an interview with musician Neil Young that is definitely wroth a read and/or listen when you’ve got the time. Young wants to make it easier for the general consumer to listen to high-quality audio whenever they want, which is realized, at least in part, with a hi-res music player called Pono. But it’s been five years since that device launched and Young still isn’t satisfied with what the tech industry is releasing these days.

The interview touches on plenty of talking points, but the main gist is quality. Simply put, Young doesn’t believe that devices like Apple’s MacBook Pro are giving owners anywhere near the best audio quality they should be. And, worse, companies like Apple know they’re doing it, too.

Take, for example, the new 16-inch MacBook Pro that Apple released in late 2023. It’s the first of its lineup to support Dolby Atmos, a significant upgrade to audio quality versus the standard output. But even that’s not good enough for Young, especially when it comes to creating music. Young does not mince words, saying that the MacBook Pro is “Fisher-Price quality”.

It’s a piece of crap. Are you kidding? That’s Fisher-Price quality. That’s like Captain Kangaroo, your new engineer. A MacBook Pro? What are you talking about? You can’t get anything out of that thing. The only way you can get it out is if you put it in. And if you put it in, you can’t get it out because the DAC is no good in the MacBook Pro. So you have to use an external DAC and do a bunch of stuff to make up for the problems that the MacBook Pro has because they’re not aimed at quality. They’re aimed at consumerism.

He’s not done there, though. Young goes on to bring up Apple’s co-founder, Steve Jobs. According to the musician, Jobs told him that Apple is “making products for consumers, not quality”. He adds that Apple doesn’t want audio quality and that the company is not focused on that.

Now, when you talk about doing that on a MacBook Pro, it makes me barf. This is where we are.

Young has been beating the same drum for years now, so to speak, and it makes sense. Especially for a musician of his caliber. He believes that new technology, while making the changes it does, sacrifices the quality we should all be experiencing on a regular basis.

The older technology used to give you a reflection of it so that you could still feel it. Today, it’s reconstituted. It’s poorly sampled. It’s garbage that has less bits to save people memory, which is not even relevant anymore. We have so much memory we’ve got it coming out of our ears. Yet we’re still saving memory, saving quality, so we can store more crap. It’s just we’ve gone down this bad street, and we’re way down. So if you talk to somebody about quality and they’re using anything from that, they’re not going to hear it. They’re going to hear today’s quality. And they may be great as far as today’s quality goes, but to me, it’s just like it doesn’t matter.

The full interview is just under an hour long, so if you want to hear Young talk about quality, go have a listen.

Of course, building machines for consumers — or even professionals in other industries — might mean sacrificing something like audio quality isn’t the biggest deal. And it’s not like Young is wrong here, the overall audio quality is not superb, but it also feels like Young might be asking too much from a general consumer product.

But what do you think?

You're reading Musician Neil Young Calls The Macbook Pro’s Audio ‘Fisher

Neil Ganem: Understanding Cancer Through Cell Division

Every Cell Has a Story Neil Ganem’s quest to understand cancer, by unraveling the mysteries of cell division

Every Cell Has a Story Neil Ganem’s quest to understand cancer, by unraveling the mysteries of cell division

There comes a defining moment for many scientists that divides their lives into before, and after. Neil Ganem remembers that moment. He was a PhD candidate at Dartmouth Medical School, with vague ideas of studying “some sort of neuroscience.” He thought he might pursue Parkinson’s disease, which had killed his father. But then came Duane Compton’s black and white movie.

Compton, a professor of biochemistry at Dartmouth and interim dean of the college’s medical school, has studied cell division for more than 20 years. In particular, he studies something called chromosome segregation—how cells separate their DNA into two equal heaps before dividing into two daughter cells. “We want to know how this works so well in normal cells, how they segregate so perfectly every time they divide,” Compton says. Each fall, he presents his research to aspiring Dartmouth PhDs, starting with a simple movie of cell division. “It was just one cell,” recalls Ganem. “You could see the nucleus and then you could see all the chromosomes. You could see them all move around, line up perfectly, and then suddenly that one cell pinched into two.”

The gritty, grainy movie mesmerized Ganem. Then Compton spoke. “Why do we study this?” he asked the assembled students. “Cancer. Cancer is just a disease of cell division gone wrong.”

“And that’s all he said,” recalls Ganem. “And that’s all I needed. I was hooked.”

Since that day at Dartmouth in 2000, Ganem, a Boston University School of Medicine (MED) assistant professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics, has tackled cancer in his own unique way: by capturing stunning images of cell division, examining them with a critical eye, and asking questions that nobody thought to ask before. His work has upended our understanding of how cells become cancerous, earning the 37-year-old scientist influential articles in Cell and Nature, as well as a cascade of grants, awards, and accolades. These include the Smith Family Foundation Award for Excellence in Biomedical Research, the Melanoma Research Alliance’s Jackie King Young Investigator Award, and the prestigious Searle Scholar Award, given to the country’s most promising young chemistry and biology researchers.

“He has the ability to identify big, broad questions, express them in a simple way, then proceed logically with testing his hypotheses. That’s a rare talent,” says David Farb, a MED professor and chair of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics. “His research opens up new avenues for treating cancer, and he does it in a beautiful and rigorous way.”

Cell Division Gone Bad

FIG 01: Rogue Cells

When a cell splits in two, each daughter should receive an equal complement of chromosomes. But sometimes things go wrong. On the left, a cell divides into two daughters with different chromosomes. You can see the misplaced chromosome, in orange, in the upper left. On the right, a cell divides into three daughters.

Cell images

and video

courtesy of Neil Ganem

Cell division, when all goes well, is breathtakingly beautiful. It starts when the DNA in the cell’s nucleus, usually a scramble of stretched-out spaghetti, duplicates itself, then coils into tightly packed structures shaped more like stubby macaroni. Matching pairs of macaroni join at the middle with a little nub of protein, forming the familiar X-shaped chromosomes.

Video: Too Many Spindles

During cell division, centrosomes, seen here in green, attach spindles to chromosomes and pull them apart. Normal cells have two centrosomes—cancer cells often have three or four. The extra spindles can catch the chromosomes incorrectly, a process called merotelic attachment. A chromosome, stuck in a tug-of-war, can be pulled into the wrong daughter cell.

Meanwhile, two tiny structures called centrosomes migrate to the poles of the cell. Then the amazing part happens: the centrosomes at either pole grow tiny tubes called microtubules that reach toward the center of the cell, building long spidery spindles that attach to the center of each chromosome. It’s sort of like spearfishing, with the centrosomes as fishermen casting multiple lines that hook the waiting chromosomes. When all the chromosomes are hooked, they line up in the middle of the cell. Then—one, two, three, presto!—the centrosomes pull them apart, the cell pinches down the middle, and you now have two identical daughter cells.

The whole process, start to finish, takes about 20 minutes, and is so complicated and choreographed that most people—even seasoned cell biologists—are amazed it all works. But it does work, most of the time, because the cell has built-in checkpoints along the way. If the cell senses something amiss—like too many chromosomes in a cell or not enough—it self-destructs. Cancer happens when the self-destruct mechanisms stop working and mutant cells that should die do not. Instead, they keep dividing, out of control. Most anti-cancer drugs target this characteristic, attacking all the rapidly dividing cells in the body. This kills cancer cells but also destroys healthy hair follicles, skin cells, and the lining of the mouth and gut, leading to painful and dangerous side effects.

“The cancer problem is so hard to crack, because it’s not like a foreign bacteria invading our cells. It’s a deregulation of the cell’s normal machinery,” says Compton. “It’s not easy to figure out how to stop cancer without stopping everything else. It’s hard to find its Achilles’ heel.”

Almost all tumors have an incorrect number of chromosomes, a condition called aneuploidy—“that’s one of the hallmarks of cancer,” says Ganem. Understanding aneuploidy is a leading area for cancer research; the oddly numbered chromosomes make cancer cells stand out, offering possible ways to attack them selectively. The idea appealed to Ganem, who joined Compton’s lab and began to study the nitty-gritty details of how chromosomes move into daughter cells. He focused on proteins called kinesins, which help build and dismantle the spindles. Sometimes kinesins go wild, building abnormal spindles, which can connect to chromosomes incorrectly and pull too many into a daughter cell. Ganem studied the process through high-resolution imaging, taking pictures of spindles attaching to individual chromosomes.

Ganem calls himself a “visual person,” who prefers books to podcasts and microscopy to mental math. His mother, a grade school science teacher, bought him a microscope when he was a young boy, “one of the best gifts I ever got,” he remembers happily. “It came with a bunch of cover slips and empty slides, so I spent a ton of time out in the backyard just finding stuff, putting it on there and looking at it.” Squashed bugs, spit, money—Ganem grabbed everything in reach and studied it under the scope, marveling at the fine details of everyday objects, like the tiny creatures swimming in a drop of pond water. “It’s just amazing what’s there to be seen,” he says. And he never stopped looking.

“When I put a cell on a microscope and watch it move with my own two eyes, I understand it better,” says Ganem. “Now that I can see how it’s moving, jeez, now I have an idea about why it’s moving incorrectly. As you watch it, the ideas just come—at least come to me—a lot easier.”

In Compton’s lab he met his future wife, Amity Manning, now an assistant professor of biology and biotechnology at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. “The imaging was a big draw for both of us. You can interpret numbers, but when you can also see the results, it has that much more power,” she says. “Plus you’re looking at things nobody has seen before. It’s like being a space explorer but the other way around.”

Unhappy Families

FIG 02: Switching Off the Hippo

Some cells have four sets of chromosomes instead of two, a condition called tetraploidy. Usually cells like this never divide, but when they do, they can lead to cancer. This happens, Ganem found, when they turn off a tumor-suppression pathway called Hippo. In this video, all the cells are tetraploid, but only the green ones have found a way to switch off Hippo and divide.

The live-cell images Ganem produced at Dartmouth allowed him to explain how two novel kinesins help assemble spindles and move chromosomes, and he made several important discoveries detailing how deregulation of these kinesins contributes to aneuploidy and cancer. Ganem carried this background with him to Harvard in 2006, for his postdoctoral fellowship under David Pellman, a professor of pediatric oncology and cell biology at Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “Neil had been studying the basic mechanics of cell division and was starting to think more about cancer,” recalls Pellman, who appreciated the “sparkle of intellect” he saw in the young scientist. “He came to my lab to make the connection between basic cell biology and cancer biology.”

Most cancer cells, in addition to their myriad other problems, have extra centrosomes—those spearfishermen at the poles that cast out the microtubules and pull chromosomes apart. Most scientists assumed that the extra centrosomes formed three or four poles in a dividing cell, leading to three or four abnormal daughter cells, instead of two healthy ones. Those abnormal daughter cells then gave rise to tumors. Or so everyone thought. The idea seemed plausible, but Pellman and Ganem weren’t so sure it was true.

“We wanted to pick apart what was going on,” says Pellman. “We thought that centrosomes played a role, but every cancer cell—like every unhappy family from Tolstoy—has its own unique story. Lots of strange things go on in a cancer cell, and it’s hard to tease apart the centrosomes’ role.”

At night, visions of dividing cells swam through his mind’s eye, keeping him awake.

So Ganem got on the microscope and got to work, watching thousands of cancer cells with extra poles divide, and then tracking their daughter cells to see if they survived. Nobody had ever done this before, partly because the technology hadn’t existed. The work relied on a new microscope with a cell incubator attached, which allowed Ganem to follow the fates of dividing cells over several days. It also required grit. “This was really tedious, boring work,” says Ganem. “It gave me motion sickness.” At night, visions of dividing cells swam through his mind’s eye, keeping him awake.

Ganem’s work led to a discovery that turned the conventional wisdom on its head. He found that the multipolar divisions did sometimes lead to three or four daughter cells with abnormal numbers of chromosomes. But those mutant daughter cells always died, never becoming tumors as everyone expected. “So basically that idea was just wrong,” says Ganem.

Peering at the cells, Ganem saw something else instead. Many of the cancer cells had four centrosomes, appearing as if they would divide into four abnormal daughter cells. But the ones that became cancer didn’t do this. Instead, they clustered the extra centrosomes at two poles and divided into two daughters. Scientists had seen this before, but Ganem discovered that cancer cells did this most of the time. He discovered something else, as well: exactly what those clustered centrosomes were doing, and how it led to cancer. Because the extra centrosomes sent out extra microtubules, they hooked chromosomes every which way and reeled them in willy-nilly—a process called merotelic attachment. The daughters survived, but their rate of chromosome missegregation skyrocketed. This mechanism is now widely accepted as the major underlying cause of chromosome missegregation in human cancer cells.

“Neil made the connection between the centrosomes and merotelic attachment,” says Pellman. “He had the insight. He realized the significance and made it work.” Ganem published the results in a 2009 cover story in Nature. The article is the most cited paper on centrosomes in the last ten years—an indication of its significance in the field—and the most cited paper to ever come out of Pellman’s lab. “I’ll probably be doing science for the next 40 years, and I’ll likely never make a discovery as important as this one,” says Ganem. Pellman disagrees.

“I know Neil very well. He’s creative, he has interesting ideas and insight. He’s a rigorous scientist and his own strongest critic,” says Pellman. “He’s the guy who’s going to get the right answer.”

Building Blocks

FIG 03: LEGOs and Lab work

One of Ganem’s greatest gifts, say colleagues, is his ability to use his visual sensibilities to assemble disparate information into a coherent whole. His wife likens the process to building LEGO. “It’s very visual,” she says. “You have these little building blocks and you put one section together, then you put the bigger sections together, and then you get to see the final product. It’s like that in the lab.”

Ganem looks young for his age, with a round boyish face and a wide smile. He’s enthusiastic and cheerful, with an “aw, shucks” demeanor and office décor based mostly on photos of his three young sons, and their artwork, like the brightly painted rocks propping open his door. So it’s surprising to hear his colleagues and mentors list his defining qualities as intensity, intellectual ferocity, and scientific rigor.

“He’s naturally very optimistic, but when it comes to science there’s something intrinsically skeptical about him,” says Manning. “That’s what makes him check all the data and make sure all the controls are in place before moving forward.”

Ganem and Manning juggle dual science careers in addition to raising their children. Ganem spends much of his free time trying to recreate the best parts of his New Hampshire boyhood for his kids—tromping around the woods, reading Dr. Seuss, and playing basketball. Manning says her husband also builds lots of LEGO cars and trucks with the boys, an especially appealing pastime for Ganem. “It’s very visual,” says Manning. “You have these little building blocks and you put one section together, then you put the bigger sections together, and then you get to see the final product. It’s like that in the lab. You build your understanding little by little until you see the final picture.”

Cell Division: What Not to Do

Left: When cells divide incorrectly, it can lead to cell death or cancer. During cell division, centrosomes—seen here as yellow-green dots—attach to chromosomes—the white blobs—and pull them apart. Normal cells have two centrosomes, cancer cells often have four.

Right: Scientists assumed that the extra centrosomes led to four abnormal daughter cells, which then gave rise to tumors. Ganem found this wasn’t true; the four daughter cells all self-destructed before becoming cancerous. Instead, he discovered another mechanism that led to cancer, turning the conventional wisdom on its head.

That is one of Ganem’s greatest gifts as a scientist, says Dartmouth’s Compton: puzzling together disparate pieces of information into a coherent whole. “When I saw what Neil did with that 2009 Nature paper, I said ‘aha!’” recalls Compton. “It was his insight that put together all the different pieces and related them in a way nobody else had done before.”

At BU, Ganem continues to build on the work he began at Dartmouth and Harvard, now focusing on tetraploid cancer cells—those with four sets of chromosomes instead of two. When tetraploid cells divide, they can lead to cancer. “If you look at any solid tumor—doesn’t matter if it’s from the brain, from the lung, from the breast, from the pancreas—and you count the number of chromosomes in each cell, the numbers will vary, depending on the cancer,” says Ganem. “But at least half, if not more, will have a near tetraploid number.”

Usually when a tetraploid cell forms, it never divides again. Ganem wondered why. “Some tumor suppression mechanism kicks in and just shuts down the whole thing,” he says. “I was really curious about this. I wanted to know: What is stopping tetraploid cells from proliferating?”

After several years of examining, purifying, and screening tetraploid cells, Ganem found an answer: the Hippo pathway, a cascade of cell signals that controls the size of organs in animals. First discovered in fruit flies, the name comes from a gene called Hippo—yes, as in hippopotamus. When mutated, it causes the unfortunate flies to grow monstrous eyes or wings.

Ganem and his colleagues discovered that the Hippo pathway regulates not only organ size, but also the growth of individual cells. Most tetraploid cells, because they are simply too big, turn on the Hippo pathway and self-destruct. Cancer cells, Ganem found, turn the pathway off, and keep growing and dividing despite their already enormous size.

Ganem hopes that this line of research, published in 2014 in the journal Cell, may point the way to new cancer therapies that target abnormal tetraploid cells while leaving healthy cells alone. This remains the holy grail of cancer therapy. Though President Richard Nixon memorably declared a war on cancer in 1971, the disease has proven an intractable enemy, killing over 1,500 people in the United States every day. Ganem’s research may someday put a dent in that staggering statistic.

“Our long-term goal is to identify new ways to specifically kill cells with an abnormal number of chromosomes, while sparing the normal cells from which they originated,” he says. “To do that, we first need to identify what makes cells with too many or too few chromosomes unique. And taking a good, hard look at them under the microscope is a good place to start.”

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These Young Cities Are Solving Age

HUMANITY HAS BEEN kicking around for a long time, so it’s hard to find cities that are distinctly “new.” But the rare newcomers, together with reinventions of aging metropolises, are tackling age-old problems in novel ways. We suggest the rest of the world take notes.

From Rome’s vast Trajan’s Forum to Angkor Wat’s stone temples, cities have been magnets for trade, art, and culture since ancient times. Urban living as we know it first emerged around 3500 B.C.E. along the Nile Valley and Sumerian coast. Unlike the semipermanent villages that came before them, these social and political hubs were built around sophisticated systems of agriculture and transportation. Today, around 56 percent of the world’s population is urban, and by 2050 that number could jump to around 70 percent, by some estimates.

While metropolises continue to serve as centers for economic growth, they’re also facing unprecedented challenges: affordable housing crises, unemployment, healthcare shortages, food and water scarcity, and social inequity. They’re also on the front lines of climate change. With 90 percent of all urban areas located on coasts, they’re vulnerable to rising seas, in addition to heavy rainfall and extreme heat.

But with these obstacles come opportunities to reimagine our densest spaces. In the past two decades alone, more than 150 new cities have sprung up from scratch in more than 40 countries, and centuries-old settlements have begun to replace their crumbling infrastructures and establish radical new ways of living. Here are seven centers of innovation tackling the most daunting issues of our time—from climate change and overcrowding to biodiversity loss and poverty—that can serve as blueprints for communities around the globe.

Medellín, Colombia. Photo: Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images

The Aerial City

In the 1980s and ’90s, Medellín became infamous as the center of Colombia’s drug trade. At the same time, growing political violence in rural areas meant hundreds of thousands of people fled to urban centers in search of safety and economic opportunity. Informal settlements cropped up along the slopes of the Aburrá Valley, where low-income housing crowded on the fringes of the city at an average of around 160 dwellings per acre (about as dense as downtown Chicago or Portland). Public transit couldn’t navigate the steep terrain, narrow streets, and numerous streams. The city’s most disenfranchised faced hours-long commutes to jobs and basic services, and became increasingly isolated—geographically, socially, and economically. Years of research suggest areas of concentrated poverty experience higher crime rates, poor health outcomes, and low school attendance—but more robust public transit can help create more equitable cities. In 2004, Metro de Medellín introduced a creative, low-cost solution: the first aerial cable car system fully integrated into public transport. Average trip times dropped from 120 minutes to 65. Some planners think it could be a useful model for other cities—from Seattle to Mumbai—where low-wage workers are pushed to the periphery. Medellín’s success has inspired similar projects throughout Latin America, including in Caracas, Mexico City, and La Paz.

Tempe, Arizona. Photo: Optico Design Inc.

The Carless City

The desert city of Phoenix is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States, having added more than 750,000 residents in just the past decade. It’s also known for being one of the worst culprits when it comes to urban sprawl, meaning residents rely heavily on cars. Just outside Arizona’s unsustainable capital, a new apartment development called Culdesac Tempe has set out to be the first automobile-free community created from scratch in the US. Conveniently located along the light-rail line to downtown Phoenix, this neighborhood sits on a 17-acre lot and will feature a restaurant, a coffee shop, an urban market, e-bikes, scooter shares, and 761 apartments. The first residents—who are strictly forbidden to bring in cars or park in surrounding neighborhoods—are expected to arrive in 2023. While Culdesac Tempe’s no-car rules may seem extreme, it’s the kind of radical action cities are embracing to cut down on parked cars, combat greenhouse gas emissions, and boost health among city dwellers. In fact, the “15-minute city”—a bold urban planning concept based on the idea that everyone should be able to access all their basic needs with a short walk or bike ride—is gaining traction around the world. Paris, for example, has added bike routes and created mini green spaces to increase connectivity and reestablish social connections.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Photo: Margriet Faber/AP

The Floating City

Amsterdam was originally founded as a small fishing village in the 13th century, but today it’s home to around a million people who live 6.5 feet below sea level. To accommodate the still-expanding population, the locals have had to get creative: They’re making more land. In 1996, the construction of IJburg, an archipelago made up of 10 artificial islands, began. The Dutch used a technique called the “pancake method” to form a solid, compacted base. Builders create mesh screens in the size and shape of the future island and secure them underwater without harming wildlife. Then they spray the screens with a layer of sand, which slips through the porous mesh and eventually settles and becomes compacted on the lake bed. Another coating is then sprayed on top, and then another—like pancakes in a stack. When the sand rises around six feet above the water, an island is born. Thus far, four of the seven islands are complete, with networks of buildings, businesses, and walking and biking bridges, all within a 15-minute tram ride of Amsterdam’s Central Station. The idea is to moor floating homes to the new land so they can rise with the sea. IJburg is intended to house up to 45,000 people in 18,000 homes, and it could serve as a model of resilience for the 570-plus other cities that are currently at risk from sea-level rise and storm surges by 2050.

Kiberia, Kenya. Photo: Herrera Inc.

The Communal City

Located on the outskirts of Nairobi along the Ngong River, the informal settlement of Kibera is home to about a quarter of a million people living on less than 1 square mile. A typical dwelling is about 12 feet by 12 feet and houses eight or more. Poor drainage, sanitation, and housing infrastructure combined with increasing rainfall mean the largely makeshift structures are especially vulnerable to severe flooding. So in 2006, the nonprofit Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) established the Kibera Public Space Project, a network of community-run gathering spots that build flood resilience while creating room for recreation and small businesses. One site serves as a gathering area, school, and place of worship, while its rooftop is used for rainwater harvesting, a technique used to collect and store droplets. When the precious stuff hits the roof, instead of letting it pour freely onto the ground, where it would contribute to flooding, a system of gutters and downspouts channels the liquid into storage tanks, where it can then be used to irrigate a connected greenhouse. KDI has also designed zones that focus on the needs of women and children—like community laundry facilities that sit next to play areas—so women can balance household work and childcare. To date, more than 5,000 residents have been involved in KDI design projects, including the installation of 2,755 feet of new drainage infrastructure, the planting of vegetation to help absorb precipitation, and the construction of these 11 climate-resilient public spaces. These efforts have directly reduced the flood risk for an estimated 8,000 households.

Putrajaya, Malaysia. Photo: Tourism Malaysia

The Garden City

In the 1980s and ’90s, the Malaysian government sought to consolidate its offices and alleviate traffic in the increasingly congested capital. Putrajaya is the country’s urban solution to both overpopulation and pollution. In addition to new infrastructure, it built something more innovative: artificial wetlands. Construction began in 1997 and took 17.5 months to complete. Because wetlands double as natural water-filtration systems, they were created in the valley of the Chua and Bisa rivers, which had been polluted by oil palm and rubber plantations. Builders dug a network of 24 wetland cells, or earthen depressions, and divided them with low dams to create steplike levels. (This design allows water to flow through the cells and empty into Putrajaya Lake.) Each cell was then filled with topsoil, planted, and fully inundated; along with other open spaces like parks and botanical gardens, they now make up more than one-third of the urban area. The wetlands also host more than 25 species of plants and provide habitat for fish and waterbirds. And the government isn’t stopping there. By 2025, Putrajaya aims to become a “green city,” and it has already increased bike paths and walkways and planted hundreds of thousands of trees to sequester carbon.

Curridabat, Costa Rica. Photo: Municipalidad de Curridabat

The Biodiverse City

Costa Rica covers about 0.03 percent of Earth’s surface but is home to about 6 percent of the world’s biodiversity, and it is a leader in conservation. But San José and the surrounding metropolitan areas aren’t immune to the ways modern urbanization impedes those efforts. Just outside the capital, though, Curridabat is doing things differently. Known as Ciudad Dulce (or Sweet City), the district is promoting the idea that healthy urban development should accommodate nature, not the other way around. To put this idea into practice, Curridabat launched reforestation projects, converted natural ravines into public parks, and created tree-covered walking and biking paths. These so-called biocorridors provide habitats for animals, plants, insects, and birds, all while controlling air pollution, keeping the area cooler, and offering shade to residents on hot days. In February 2023, on the second anniversary of Costa Rica’s commitment to a national plan to reach zero net emissions by 2050, the government announced a new conservation category to protect at-risk ecosystems in cities across the country: Urban Natural Parks. La Colina de Curridabat Ecological Park is among the first to be granted the designation. Cities around the world should pay attention: Urban parks and green spaces have been shown to promote better mental health, boost social cohesion, encourage physical activity, reduce noise and air pollution, and protect from extreme heat.

Zhenjiang, China. Photo: Konkuey Design Initiative

The Sponge City

Between 1950 and 2023, flooding in China killed an estimated 280,000-plus people and damaged nearly 15 billion acres of land. The nation isn’t alone. According to climate change projections, extreme precipitation and flooding are going to increase worldwide, and cities are especially vulnerable. That’s because vegetation, soil, and trees—which naturally absorb and store groundwater—are scarce compared to highways and buildings. Nestled on the banks of the Yangtze River in eastern China, Zhenjiang is just one of the country’s zones at high risk for inundation. In response to this growing threat, it was one of 16 pilot locations for the “sponge city” project in 2023. The goal is to transform at least 20 percent of the land into permeable surfaces—including parks, rain gardens, green roofs, and pervious pavement—so that neighborhoods can absorb heavy rains. Since the effort launched, Zhenjiang has implemented a rain garden, expanded green spaces, and built storage systems to purify and reuse a deluge. Some 658 Chinese locales have also enacted government-mandated sponge city designs, adapted to their unique geographical needs. Meanwhile, other areas at risk of urban flooding across the globe are deploying their own greening projects to help absorb heavy precipitation, from Philadelphia’s Green Acres program to Cairo’s rooftop garden initiative.

This story originally ran in the Fall 2023 Youth issue of PopSci. Read more PopSci+ stories.

10 Reasons To Seriously Consider The 2023 Retina Macbook

Yesterday, I bought a 12″ MacBook, and after playing with it for 10 minutes, I immediately knew that I made the right decision. 24 hours later, I’m convinced that this is the best laptop for me, and a much better portable workhorse than something like a 12.9″ iPad Pro. Here are 10 reasons why you should consider going with a MacBook if you’re in the market for something powerful, yet portable.

No fan noise

As someone who records voiceovers and podcasts, having a quiet recording environment can be crucial. Sadly, my MacBook Pro with Retina display rarely afforded me such an environment. Its fans often sounded like a jet engine, eagerly firing up at the slightest hint of stress.

With the 12″ MacBook, there are no fans, so you don’t have to worry about this machine making noise. Ever. Even under a heavy workload.

A single cable solution

While it’s true that the MacBook can only do 4K resolution at 30Hz, having the ability to connect it to a USB-C-enabled display like LG’s 27UD88-W 4K monitor is a nice option.

Apple’s vision for a one-cable-solution is not yet perfected — the company’s own displays lack the necessary USB-C ports — but you can definitely see where Apple is aiming. Once all of the pieces fall into place, the single cable strategy will work a lot better than it does now.

Video walkthrough

Easy charging with external batteries

My MacBook Pro always seemed to be low on power at the most inopportune times, and charging a MacBook Pro requires you to connect it to a power outlet, unless you have something like a BatteryBox. As nice as the idea of a BatteryBox-like device is, it’s still a bit cumbersome to use in practice.

Export 4K videos like a champ

With Final Cut Pro X, it’s easy to export videos, even Ultra High Definition 4K videos, without breaking much of a sweat. I’ve long known that the MacBook was capable of doing this, thanks to Final Cut Pro’s use of Intel’s QuickSync Video hardware encoding, but seeing it in action personally on such an “underpowered” machine is truly something to be seen.

QuickSync Video makes exporting projects using Final Cut Pro’s Faster Encode option a breeze. If you edit videos on your Mac, and you’re a Final Cut Pro X user, you’ll be amazed at how fast you can export 4K projects.

That being said, exporting and editing 4K video are two separate tasks. You may find that scrubbing through a timeline filled with 4K video is a bit taxing on the little m5 processor. Many factors come into play here, but it’s nice to know that you can always fall back on using Proxy media, which downsamples video content so that it can be easily edited, and then you can switch back to the high quality versions when you’re ready to export.

Low profile, lightweight and portable

It’s still hard to believe that such a capable machine exists in such a form-factor, but it does, and it’s called the MacBook. This machine is so light and portable, that it feels futuristic. It’s so light and thin that I can actually hold the machine in one hand while typing with my other hand. Not that I would make a habit out of doing such a thing, but the fact that that’s even feasible is impressive.

Superb build quality

One would think that with a form-factor this light and thin, that build quality might suffer, but it’s the total opposite. The MacBook arguably has the best build quality of any of Apple’s laptops.

The hinge, for instance, eschews the black plastic found on other MacBook models. The aluminum feels dense, strong, and ready to stand up to everyday usage. The MacBook might be small, but no compromises were made concerning build quality.

Yet, even with such stellar build quality, I must admit that I was quick to slap a case on my MacBook as soon as I finished with this post. My main concern was with the nicks and dings that aluminum laptops inevitably suffer from when left to the elements.

I opted for a cheap clear matte MacBook hardshell case from a company called Mosiso. The case seems to be getting decent enough reviews on Amazon, but I’ll be sure to follow up with my thoughts on it after I use it for a while.

Surprisingly loud speakers

The MacBook features one long speaker grill that spans nearly the entire length of the area that rests right above the keyboard. The speakers are loud and clear, and deliver sound quality that might cause you to do a double-take upon first listen.

Even though the MacBook does include a 3.5mm headphone jack, I found myself satisfied with listening to music through its speakers instead of always plugging in my headphones like I’d tend to do with my older MacBooks.

Peppy Core m5 processor

I never used the original 2023 MacBook for long enough to be able to judge its performance, but the consensus seems to be that it was largely underpowered. I opted for the mid-tier Intel Core m5-equipped model of the 2023 refresh, and have been pleasantly surprised by how snappy the machine is.

Although it’s still early in the game, there’s nothing that I threw at this machine that it wasn’t capable of handling, and not just barely, but it did so admirably. If you’re going to buy a MacBook, and you can afford to splurge for the m5-equipped model, then I highly recommend that you do so.

Beautiful screen

The screen color, brightness, and accuracy is arguably one of the best things about the 12″ MacBook. We’ve had Retina displays on laptops and desktops for some time now, but Apple’s smallest laptop up until the MacBook, the MacBook Air, hasn’t been updated with a Retina display.

Editing videos and photos on the MacBook is no problem when it comes to color accuracy and uniformity across the entire screen. And since the display is a high quality IPS panel, you get to enjoy those extra wide viewing angles.

Not only does the MacBook feature a beautiful screen from a technical perspective, it also gives users the needed screen real estate to be productive. Without any additional software, the MacBook’s screen can scale to 1440-by-900 (Hi-DPI). That gives users who edit videos, audio or photos, plenty of room to work with without feeling cramped.

Long battery life

While it’s possible to charge a MacBook with an external battery, that may not be necessary depending on how you use your Mac. Thanks to Skylake processors and better battery chemical composition, users benefit from an extra hour of battery life o the 2023 version of the MacBook.

Apple says that the machine will now last for 10 hours browsing the web, and while I haven’t performed any in-depth battery benchmarks, I can vouch that the battery life seems on par with my previous MacBook Pro, which contained a much lager battery.


I don’t want to make it seem like the MacBook is perfect, because it does have flaws. The 480p FaceTime Camera, for instance, is downright laughable in 2023. Also, not everyone is going to be a fan of the keyboard with its extra-low key travel distance, although I happen to really enjoy typing on it.

If you use a lot of USB peripherals on a regular basis, then the one USB-C port is going to take a change in mindset. It helps if you have a USB-C equipped monitor like the LGn27UD88-W, which can serve as a one cable docking solution, but it’s understandable that not everyone would be up to drop that sort of dough on a monitor when they just spent this much on a MacBook. Instead, it might be more cost effective to invest in a USB-C hub for your MacBook. If you need something more robust, then OWC’s USB-C Dock may be a better option.

With its integrated Intel 515 graphics, the MacBook isn’t a good choice if you’re looking for a gaming machine, but for virtually everything else, it can be a solid pick. If you’re laser-focused on getting work done on the go with a small form-factor machine, then I think that you should consider the MacBook before you consider a MacBook Air, or even an iPad Pro.

You can purchase this year’s MacBook refresh from Apple, or BestBuy, but I suggest looking at B&H as well. In most cases, unless you happen to live in New York, you can get a 2023 MacBook shipped for free and without sales tax.

What are your thoughts on this year’s MacBook refresh and the MacBook in general?

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How Does Audio Compression Work, And What Is “Lossless” Audio?

Just this week, Spotify began testing “lossless” audio files. But what is “lossless” audio, exactly, and how does digital audio compression work?

How Does Audio Compression Work?

The goal in audio compression is to reduce the number of bits required to accurately reproduce an analog sound. The first process we’ll look at is called “lossy.” Lossy compression is a one-way technique that throws away non-critical data to save space. These techniques are the most common methods used to compress audio files, showing up in MP3, AAC and WMA files alike. There are two places that lossy codecs look to save bits: bit rate and psychoacoustics.

Bit Rate

Bit rate measures the amount of bits used to encode a single second of audio. For example, if we use low-quality, 8 kilobit-per-second (kbps) encoding, our algorithm is limited to using only 8 kilobits of data to describe each second of audio. That’s like trying to describe a full-color photograph with only a few hundred pixels. You might get the broad strokes right, but overall you’ll be looking at a severely degraded image. If we use a higher-quality bit rate like 192 kbps, we have plenty of room to cover nuanced details. To return to our photographic example, we now have enough pixels to describe the various lights, darks and colors in an image. A high bit rate doesn’t determine the quality of a recording on its own, but a low bit rate can severely limit output quality.


Psychoacoustics is the science of how the brain understands sounds. By manipulating known quirks in the way humans perceive sound, compression algorithms can cleverly remove details that most human ears won’t miss. The goal is to “round off” information that won’t change the perceived audio quality of a track, judiciously removing only unimportant information.

Frequency can also impact how well we perceive sounds. For example, a persistent, low-frequency drum beat tends to drown out the more delicate, higher-frequency harmonics of melodic instruments. And sound masking is especially effective above 15kHz, where human hearing is typically less sensitive to begin with.

What Is “Lossless” Audio?

Lossless audio compression’s goal is to reduce file size while leaving the original audio untouched. These codecs don’t use any of the permanent compression techniques above, focusing instead on fully-reversible data compression methods. They use lossless compression techniques borrowed from file-compression algorithms like ZIP to remove redundant data while preserving the integrity of the underlying information. Two popular lossless audio codecs – FLAC and Apple Lossless (ALAC) – both use schemes based on ZIP compression.

Focusing on data compression only means preserving many of the details that MP3 and other lossy standards would obliterate. If you have sharp ears and a high-quality listening setup, the difference can be palpable.

Lossless compression isn’t only good for listening, though: it’s also a great storage tool. Just like you wouldn’t want a 72dpi JPG to be the sole digital copy of Ansel Adam’s photographs, we don’t want only 128kbps MP3s of “Kind of Blue.” Lossless standards like FLAC allow us to store audio efficiently without throwing away potentially valuable data. They also make remastering and redistributing that audio easier, since starting with uncompromised masters means a higher quality finished product.

Conclusion: Can You Tell the Difference?

Lossless audio formats allow for better sounding recordings. But sometimes the differences between a high-quality MP3 and a lossless file are nearly imperceptible, especially to the untrained ear. If you want to see if your headphones (and ears) are keen enough to tell the difference, NPR has a fun test; just keep in mind that cheap headphones and laptop speakers won’t be able to reproduce the subtle differences between lossless audio and MP3s. For a more serious analysis of codecs, check out SoundExpert’s encoder ratings.

Alexander Fox

Alexander Fox is a tech and science writer based in Philadelphia, PA with one cat, three Macs and more USB cables than he could ever use.

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Vsdc Free Audio Cd Grabber Lets You Rip Audio Files

Gone are the times when we used to listen to music on CD players. While everything around us is getting digital, we want our music to be digital too. Keeping a pile of CDs is too old-fashioned, and we all prefer having our favorite music on our PCs. This is where Audio CD rippers come to use. An Audio Ripper is a software that lets you copy the audio content from a CD to your PC where media is not at all damaged after extraction. Audio file ripping is a process where the audio file is copied and reformatted, and compressed in a format compatible with the media player on your PC.

There are many different software available over the web that let you copy the audio files from CD to your PC and VSDC Free Audio CD Grabber for Windows PC is one of them. VSDC Free Audio CD Grabber lets you rip audio files from a CD or DVD and save them to your Windows PC in any file format of your choice.

VSDC Free Audio CD Grabber for Windows PC

This freeware comes with a simple and user-friendly interface. It is a tool designed for users to convert the contents of their CDs to one of the audio file formats supported. The main overview has a ribbon with all menu options and a pane displaying the entire content of your audio CD with details like the duration, size, and state of the audio files.

Features of VSDC Audio CD Grabber

Supports major audio formats– The program copies/extracts the audio files from a compact disk and save it in your PC in a compressed format like WMA, MP3, M4A, AMR, OGG, AU, AIFF, WAV, and more. It supports CDs, DVDs as well as Blu-ray discs.

Preset settings- The program comes with preset adjustments which include the output directory, the quality of the audio file and the required output. Edit them on your own preferences and hit Grab.

Speed and Quality- The program works on high-quality audio ripping algorithms, and thus you get a good-quality ripped audio file on your PC. However, your preset options may affect the quality of output. The VSDC Audio CD Grabber uses multiple processors and supports the technologies like Core Duo, Dual Core, and Hyper-Threading, and thus it can copy and convert the audio file in real-time and that too without compromising with quality.

Download it here and get all your audio files from CD to your PC. It does not bring any crapware along with it.

What is VSDC Audio CD Grabber?

VSDC Audio CD Grabber is a software, which helps you create CDs or DVDs of your favorite music. You can rip a CD of audio files with the help of VSDC Audio CD Grabber. For your information, this software is fully compatible with Windows 11, Windows 10, and some other older versions.

What is the best free software for ripping CDs?

There are many tools for ripping CDs on Windows PC. For example, you can use VSDC Audio CD Grabber. It is available for Windows 11, 10, etc. Whether you want to rip one or ten audio files, you can do that with the help of VSDC Audio CD Grabber. The user interface is uncluttered but full of options so that you do not find any problems using it.

Now take a look at VSDC Free Audio Converter too.

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