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Why sounds and smells are just as important to cities as the sights

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Why sounds and smells are just as important to cities as the sights

When David Howes thinks about Montreal, he remembers the soothing tones of carillon bells as well as 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, the author of the forthcoming book The Sensory Studies Manifesto and director of Concordia University’s Centre 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.

“Just being able to close your eyes for 10 minutes gives you a totally different feeling about a place,” says Oguz Oner, an academic and musician.

Oner spent many years organizing sound walks in Istanbul, where blind participants describe the sounds they hear at various locations. His research revealed locations where vegetation could have been planted to reduce traffic noise and where a wave organ could have been built to amplify the soothing sounds from the sea. He was shocked to discover that people couldn’t hear the waves even at the waterfront.

Oner states that although local officials expressed interest in his findings they have not yet implemented them into their urban plans. This type of individual feedback on the sensory environment is being used in Berlin where quiet areas were identified using a mobile app. These spaces are now protected against noise increase under EU law.

” The way quiet areas are identified can be very top-down. This could be based on high-level parameters such as distance from highways or land use. Francesco Aletta is a research associate at University College London. “This is the first time I know of perception-driven policy .”

Aletta, a research associate at University College London, is helping to create prediction models of how people will react to different acoustic environments. She compiles recorded soundscapes that are both lively and tranquil into a database, and then tests the neural and physiological reactions. Experts believe these tools are necessary to establish a framework that allows multisensory elements to be included in city planning and design criteria.

The best way to understand how people respond to different sensory environments is still a matter of debate in the field. Howes and his collaborators are using an ethnographic approach to observe and interview people in order to create a list of best practices for sensory design in public spaces. Others are more technological and use wearables to monitor biometric data such as heart rate variability to determine emotional reactions to sensory experiences. This approach is being explored by the EU-funded GoGreen Routes project, which studies how nature can integrate into urban spaces to improve both human health and environmental health.

“We’re creating a lexicon of elements and how they work in combination to create a complete experience of a space,” says Daniele Quercia of Nokia Bell Labs Cambridge, one of the researchers working on the project. Quercia was previously involved in the development of “Chatty Maps”

. “We’re creating a lexicon of elements and how they work together to create a complete experience of a space,” says Daniele Quercia, a researcher at Nokia Bell Labs Cambridge. Quercia also helped to develop “Smelly maps” (maps that display city sounds and smells using data from social media). This project showed strong correlations between peoples’ olfactory perceptions of air quality and other more traditional indicators. With GoGreenRoutes, he’ll be using wearable technologies to assess whether design improvements to new and existing green spaces have the predicted (and desired) impact on people’s well-being.

At Deakin University in Australia, architecture professor Beau Beza is aiming for full immersion. His team is creating sounds and, eventually, scents and textures to create virtual-reality environments for city officials to use to present their planning projects to stakeholders. Beza says that static depictions of streets, parks, and squares on paper are hard for many people to see. Beza says that being able to “walk” through a place and hear its sounds improves understanding

. As data collection about individuals’ sensory experiences increases, experts warn that privacy and surveillance concerns must be considered. When planning who gets what sensory experience, equity and inclusion are also important. While underprivileged urban communities are often the ones that suffer from noise and odor pollution from factories and highways, they are also frequently subject to noise complaints when their neighborhoods become more gentrified.

“Sensory perceptions do not exist in a neutral or biological way. Whether we find something pleasant has been shaped culturally or socially,” Monica Montserrat Degen is an urban cultural socioologist at Brunel University. Her research on perceptions of public space and how they affect different groups of people is being used by civic planners in Barcelona and London.

Degen gives the example of a London neighbourhood where cheap eateries were replaced by hip cafes that served as a hangout for young people. She says that it used to smell like fried poultry, but the new residents find the aroma less welcoming than inviting. “Now it smells like cappuccinos.”

Jennifer Hattam is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul, Turkey.

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Nothing announces official launch date for new Ear (stick) AirPods alternatives

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Nothing announces official launch date for new Ear (stick) AirPods alternatives
Nothing Ear (stick) held by a model on white background



(Image credit: Nothing )

True to form, Nothing has just announced the full reveal date for its upcoming audio product, Ear (stick). 

So, an announcement about an announcement. You’ve got to hand it to Carl Pei’s marketing department, they never miss a trick.

What we’re saying is that although we still have ‘nothing’ conclusive about the features, pricing or release date for the Ear (stick) except an image of another model holding them (and we’ve seen plenty of those traipsing down the catwalk recently), we do have a date – the day when we’ll be granted official access to this information. 

That day is October 26. Nothing assures us that on this day we’ll be able to find out everything, including pricing and product specifications, during the online Ear (stick) Reveal, at 3PM BST (which is 10AM ET, or 1AM on Wednesday if you’re in Sydney, Australia) on nothing.tech (opens in new tab)

Any further information? A little. Nothing calls the Ear (stick), which is now the product’s official name, “the next generation of Nothing sound technology”, and its “most advanced audio product yet”. 

But that’s not all! Apparently, Ear (stick) are “half in-ear true wireless earbuds that balance supreme comfort with exceptional sound, made not to be felt when in use. They’re feather-light with an ergonomic design that’s moulded to your ears. Delivered in a unique charging case, inspired by classic cosmetic silhouettes, and compactly formed to simply glide into pockets.” 

Opinion: I need more than a lipstick-style case

Nothing Ear (stick) – official leaked renders pic.twitter.com/FrhKmRttmiOctober 1, 2022

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It’s no secret that I want Nothing’s earbuds to succeed in world dominated by AirPods; who doesn’t love a plucky, eccentric underdog? 

But in order to become some of the best true wireless earbuds on the market, there is room for improvement over the Nothing Ear 1, the company’s inaugural earbuds. 

Aside from this official ‘news’ from Nothing, leaked images and videos of the Ear (stick) have been springing up all over the internet (thank you, developer Kuba Wojciechowski) and they depict earbuds that look largely unchanged, which is a shame. 

For me, the focus needs to shift from gimmicks such as a cylindrical case with a red section at the end which twists up like a lipstick. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of theater, but only if the sound coming from the earbuds themselves is top dog. 

As the natural companions for the Nothing Phone 1, it makes sense for the Ear (stick) to take a place similar to that of Apple’s AirPods 3, where the flagship Ear (1) sit alongside the AirPods Pro 2 as a flagship offering. 

See, that lipstick case shape likely will not support wireless charging. That and the rumored lack of ANC means the Ear (stick) is probably arriving as the more affordable option in Nothing’s ouevre. 

For now, we sit tight until October 26. 

Becky is a senior staff writer at TechRadar (which she has been assured refers to expertise rather than age) focusing on all things audio. Before joining the team, she spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing and reviewing everything from wallet-friendly wireless earbuds to huge high-end sound systems. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, Becky freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 22-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance starts with a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo and The Stage. When not writing, she can still be found throwing shapes in a dance studio, these days with varying degrees of success.  

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YouTube could make 4K videos exclusive to Premium subscribers

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YouTube could make 4K videos exclusive to Premium subscribers
Woman watching YouTube on mobile phone screen



(Image credit: Shutterstock / Kicking Studio)

You might soon have to buy YouTube Premium to watch 4K YouTube videos, a new user test suggests.

According to a Reddit thread (opens in new tab) highlighted on Twitter by leaker Alvin (opens in new tab), several non-Premium YouTube users have reported seeing 4K resolution (and higher) video options limited to YouTube Premium subscribers on their iOS devices. For these individuals, videos are currently only available to stream in up to 1440p (QHD) resolution.

The apparent experiment only seems to be affecting a handful of YouTube users for now, but it suggests owner Google is toying with the idea of implementing a site-wide paywall for access to high-quality video in the future.

So, after testing up to 12 ads on YouTube for non-Premium users, now some users reported that they also have to get a Premium account just to watch videos in 4K. pic.twitter.com/jJodoAxeDpOctober 1, 2022

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It’s no secret that Google has been searching for new ways to monetize its YouTube platform in recent months. In September, the company introduced five unskippable ads for some YouTube users as part of a separate test – an unexpected development that, naturally, didn’t go down well with much of the YouTube community. 

A resolution paywall seems a more palatable approach from Google. While annoying, the change isn’t likely to provoke the same level of ire from non-paying YouTube users as excessive ads, given that many smartphones still max out at QHD resolution anyway. 

Of course, if it encourages those who do care about high-resolution viewing to invest in the platform’s Premium subscription package, it may also be more lucrative for Google. After all, YouTube Premium, which offers ad-free viewing, background playback and the ability to download videos for offline use, currently costs $11.99 / £11.99 / AU$14.99 per month.

Suffice to say, the subscription service hasn’t taken off in quite the way Google would’ve hoped since its launch in 2014. Only around 50 million users are currently signed up to YouTube Premium, while something close to 2 billion people actively use YouTube on a monthly basis. 

Might the addition of 4K video into Premium’s perk package bump up that number? Only time will tell. We’ll be keeping an eye on our own YouTube account to see whether this resolution paywall becomes permanent in the coming months.

Axel is a London-based staff writer at TechRadar, reporting on everything from the newest movies to latest Apple developments as part of the site’s daily news output. Having previously written for publications including Esquire and FourFourTwo, Axel is well-versed in the applications of technology beyond the desktop, and his coverage extends from general reporting and analysis to in-depth interviews and opinion. 

Axel studied for a degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick before joining TechRadar in 2020, where he then earned a gold standard NCTJ qualification as part of the company’s inaugural digital training scheme. 

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Europe sets deadline for USB-C charging for (almost) all laptops

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Europe sets deadline for USB-C charging for (almost) all laptops

USB-C als Ladestandard in der EU

Mundissima / Shutterstock


Author: Michael Crider
, Staff Writer

Michael is a former graphic designer who’s been building and tweaking desktop computers for longer than he cares to admit. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.

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