Smog over New York City in 1973

Our picks of the best of the internet, for every week we’re in lockdown.

Are you sure you know how wide two metres is? The variable ability of people to estimate a safe social-distancing gap has presented a challenge for businesses, architects and urban planners. This story shows some of the unique ways cities around the world are helping their citizens maintain safe spacing as they move around – some clever, some artful, and some flat-out funny.


If you’re bored of the limited virtual backgrounds on Zoom, this is an ever-growing compilation of free backdrops from artists, architects, designers, photographers, filmmakers, illlustrators and animators from around the world. Some are static, some animated, some are minimalist, others a riot of detail, some are calming, some are creepy and some will definitely puzzle your workmates. Instructions for uploading them are on the site, and they’re making grand promises of adding instructions for Teams as well.


With the reduced light pollution, now’s a great time to check out the night sky. Time it right this week, and you may be able to spot the International Space Station as it passes over New Zealand. The ISS has been in orbit since 1998, with its first residents settling into the Ultimate Bubble in late 2000. Right now, there are three astronauts up there – US captain Chris Cassidy and Russians Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. They took over from Russia’s Oleg Skripochka and NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan, who touched back down on earth last Friday in what must have been one of the weirdest homecomings in history. Click through for the best times to spot the ISS this week.


The 50th anniversary of Earth Day was yesterday (but it’s still Earth Day somewhere, and time is kind of irrelevant now anyway). The first Earth Day was held on 22 April 1970 across the United States, and more than 20 million people took part – that’s an astounding one-tenth of the population at that time. Imagine if that kind of turnout could show up to demand world-wide action on climate change, factory farming, biodiversity destruction and waste pollution today. 

The first Earth Day ultimately led to the passing of the US’s Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. (All of which have been softened and deregulated by the tangerine clown who’s currently in charge.) This informative interactive feature on the NY Times shows how things have gotten better – and worse – for the earth in the last 50 years.


Let’s finish on a lighter note. One of the best subreddits for these dark times is the legendary r/AnimalsBeingDerps. The name says it all really, so start with this marvellous owl face planting into the snow and set aside an hour or two to work your way through kitten fights, silly dog tongues, uncoordinated baby animals and other joyfully idiotic beasts.