Xiaomi Mi Mix 3’s slider is almost-perfect

Xiaomi Mi Mix 3’s slider is almost-perfect

I’ve yet to find the perfect phone , but Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 3 comes closer than any phone I’ve used in years.

The Mi Mix 3 is a full-screen display phone without a notch, and relies on hiding its front camera under the display that’s revealed when you slide it down –via a unique slider mechanism powered by magnets– with a satisfying click as it locks into place.

Using the sliding feature is almost an addictive experience, and I kind of can’t stop doing it. The screen even lights up and a buzz-like chime plays every time you slide it open, like a little mini reward. If you’re worried that you’ll break it, Xiaomi says the slider is rated for 300,000 cycles (opening and closing it counts as one cycle), and on average, I found myself sliding less than 50 times a day.

xiaomimimix3-4

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The front cameras uses a 24-megapixel and 2-megapixel setup.


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Beyond the slider, the Mi Mix 3 is a fantastic device that packs the current best in hardware, such as Qualcomm’s current Snapdragon 845 chip (though the Snapdragon 855 is due to arrive soon), a 6.4-inch Super AMOLED Full-HD+ display, dual 12-megapixel rear cameras with 2x optical zoom and wireless charging. Best yet, it even comes with a wireless charging pad in the box.

As for price, the cheapest Mi Mix 3, with 6GB RAM and 128GB onboard storage, sells for around $490, £375 and AU$680 converted from its 3,299 Chinese yuan price. The version with 10GB RAM and 256GB of onboard storage costs 4,999 Chinese yuan, or about $845.

While the cheapest version is a steal, the highest end model is still cheaper than the cheapest iPhone XS Max, by about $250. The only problem though, is where to get one. You can buy the Mi Mix 3 in most parts of Asia, as well Spain and Italy, but since Xiaomi currently doesn’t sell phones in the US there aren’t any official options for US phone enthusiasts. 

Almost perfect

I told you earlier that the Mi Mix 3 is almost perfect, and I wasn’t kidding. Sure, it’s missing a few things, such as waterproofing — which I’m guessing is almost impossible with the sliding mechanism — and secure 3D face unlocking, but I can live without these. Here’s why:

The Mix 3 looks amazing

The shiny signature ceramic rear shimmers in the light, and while the backing is acclaimed for resisting fingerprint grease, you’ll still see plenty. The darker color of the phone does hide the ugly marks somewhat. The phone is comfortable to hold, and while it’s slightly heavier than the iPhone XS Max on paper, I didn’t really notice it.

xiaomimimix3-2

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The rear is made of ceramic and is supposedly fingerprint and scratch resistant (but you’ll still see prints, in case you’re wondering).


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The 6.4-inch display is bright, and colors pop out, even outdoors in sunlight. The Mix 3 also supports wireless charging, which is nice to have, and as mentioned earlier, you don’t have to buy a charging pad since it comes in the box.

The MIUI 10 software ties it all together

You get an Android experience that feels somewhat like iOS, but it’s definitely Android. By default, the Mix 3 uses onscreen buttons, but you can switch it to a gesture based control that’s similar to iOS — swipe up to exit an app, swipe the sides to go back or forth, and swipe and hold to bring up all the currently open apps on the phone.

One of new features that takes advantage of the slider mechanism is to bring up a customizable quick menu that lets you quickly access apps such as a recorder, stopwatch or take notes. You can also set it to just take a picture with the front selfie camera.

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High-tech Pictionary is more challenging than using a pen

High-tech Pictionary is more challenging than using a pen

Pictionary seems like one of those perfect games that doesn’t really need an upgrade. You draw on a piece of paper, and people guess what you’re trying to show them. Sure, you can put the game on a phone or tablet, but the basic concept remains the same no matter where you play. However, this weekend at Toy Fair Mattel is unveiling Pictionary Air, which takes away the paper — or any other drawing surface, really — and asks to you draw in the empty space in front of you.

Gallery: Pictionary Air | 8 Photos

I tried it out at the show, and it turns out a lot of the game is still the Pictionary we all know and love: You take a paper card with a list of things on it, and once the timer is started you draw those items, one at a time, moving on to the next as the other players successfully guess each one. But the timer has been moved to the app and the drawings will only appear on its screen. The game can be broadcasted to a nearby TV via Chromecast or Airplay, so the entire room can join in on the fun from the couch, rather than everyone crowding around a small tablet or phone display. One person will still need to hold the device to manage the timer and point the camera at the current artist.

Instead of a pencil, the artist has a wand they wave in the air, sketching out the card prompts as best they can without the ability to see what they’re drawing. It’s tough, but it turns out I’m pretty good at it — I managed to successfully sketch out a camel, a baseball and eyelashes, though I was a bit less successful with more complex ideas like “Beauty and the Beast.” It’s sort of weird to see the finished drawings at the end though: turns out I didn’t really attach a pair of wings too well on my fairy, and her wand looked more like a sparkler. You’re gonna need good spatial recognition for this, and people who are usually excellent at drawing may find it a real challenge.

It was a lot of fun to play, and will probably be a crowd pleaser at my next family gathering. Fortunately, it won’t be too long a wait — the $20 Pictionary Air set, which includes the wand and cards, will hit Target stores June 1 and other retailers a month later.

Check out the rest of our coverage from Toy Fair 2019 here.

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Cryptocurrency influencers are even worse than normal influencers

Cryptocurrency influencers are even worse than normal influencers

Tech marketers have been using celebrity endorsements for decades – Microsoft and Apple have relied on this method to flock their goods to the masses since the ’80s – and the cryptocurrency industry, although nascent, is no different.

In the beginning, one could argue the objective was to put a friendly, familiar face on a product to make it more relatable to the average consumer. Today, it’s much more about the cool factor and reinforcing the link created between the endorser, the product, and the consumer.

We live in a world where celebrities, or the new generation of influencers, are paid to sell us anything from miracle diet products, all the way through to makeup, and even cryptocurrencies.

Cryptocurrency, which has long suffered from a branding problem, can certainly benefit from the seeming legitimacy celebrities bring, but it goes without saying that a dodgy partnership can directly impact the market and in turn, peoples’ virtual wallets.

Enticed by generous paychecks, celebrities may enter into an endorsement deal for reasons other than money. They may genuinely love and believe in the product, it may align with their own personal brand, but unfortunately, they repeatedly fail to understand what they’re endorsing.

As a result, the due diligence supposedly carried out by them – or their teams – typically falls short, particularly when it comes to peoples’ health, and in this case, virtual money.

With this in mind, Hard Fork has taken a look at some of the most unexpected celebrity endorsement deals to have taken place in the often unpredictable world of cryptocurrencies.

Mike Tyson

Legendary boxer and convicted felon, Mike Tyson is arguably not the best candidate to rid Bitcoin of its association with the crime underworld, but that didn’t stop him from promoting the cryptocurrency in 2015.

Speaking to CoinDesk prior to the launch of his first branded Bitcoin ATM in Las Vegas, Tyson said he was grateful to be part of the “Bitcoin revolution,” although at the time he admitted he’s “no guru” yet.

Profits deriving from the deal would be split evenly between Tyson and Bitcoin Direct, according to Peter Klamka, the company’s CEO.

Bitcoin Direct first came under fire when the partnership surfaced in the Summer of 2015. At the time, pundits speculated the announcement could be a scam at Tyson’s expense, noting the patchy internet trail of Klamka’s other firm, OTC stock Bitcoin Brands Inc.

This, however, didn’t swerve Tyson’s opinion. The boxer stated he already knew about the cryptocurrency before meeting Klamka, and said he was drawn in by the idea of having options beyond the traditional banking system.

Paris Hilton

Paris Hilton, heiress and ultimate it-girl, took to Twitter in September 2017, to discuss a newly emerging coin called Lydian.

The Tweet said: “Looking forward to participating in the new @LydianCoinLtd Token! #ThisIsNotAnAd #CryptoCurrency #BitCoin #ETH #BlockChain.”

The tweet was deleted but not before reports surfaced suggesting that LydianCoin’s chief exec had previously pleaded guilty to domestic abuse.

Weeks later, the SEC issued a statement, urging caution around celebrity-backed Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), with many assuming the warning was directed at Hilton.

Hilton remained tight-lipped about the cryptocurrency until the following June when her father Richard Hilton auctioned a $38 million mansion and allowed people to bid with Bitcoin.

Steven Seagal

More recently, actor Steven Seagal (who by the way has endured his fair share of lawsuits) was brought on by Bitcoiin2gen (B2G) as a worldwide brand ambassador.

Eventually, regulators in New Jersey and Tennessee issued warnings that investors should steer clear of the cryptocurrency endorsed by the faded film star.

An investigation by CoinDesk also revealed ‘Bitcoiin’ resembled a pyramid scheme. Following that, New Jersey’s Bureau for Securities issued a cease-and-desist order describing “Bitcoiin” as an unregistered security, and highlighted the unclear nature of Seagal’s relationship with the project.

Additionally, Tennessee’s Department of Commerce and Insurance issued an alert stating that “Bitcoiin” was not registered as a security issuer with the state, and re-emphasized the fact that investors should “be cautious when investing in cryptocurrencies.”

Seagal tweeted about the project on various occasions using the hashtag #ad, as the project sought to gain traction in the wake of its ICO. But, not long after, Seagal and the company’s founders parted ways with the coin.

It’s not clear why Seagal became involved with the company, but it’s worth noting that his interest in cryptocurrency may have a geopolitical angle. Seagal is a fervent supporter of Russian President – and autocrat – Vladimir Putin, and received Russian citizenship in 2014.

Gwyneth Paltrow

Hollywood royalty Gwyneth Paltrow founded lifestyle brand Goop in September 2008. It started off offering new age wellbeing and lifestyle advice.

The company has been criticized over the years for promoting and selling products and treatments that lack scientific basis, efficacy, and in some instances are recognized by medical professionals as either harmful or misleading.

As previously reported by Hard Fork, Paltrow’s brand published a piece encouraging readers to find out more about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies last year. The actress shared the article, which featured an interview with Abra’s CEO Bill Barhydt, with her Twitter followers.

Masked as an explainer on digital currencies and their underlying blockchain technology, the article read like a shameless advertorial for the company, going on to promote the benefits of using Abra over other companies in the space.

This approach is dangerous on several fronts, but I mostly take issue with the fact that it violates the notion of transparency – a rife problem in the wider influencer marketing industry – as it failed to tell readers of Paltrow‘s involvement in the business as an advisor.

Can we learn from their mistakes?

Ultimately, these are just some examples of how companies have leveraged the power of celebrity to make their products more appealing to a mainstream audience, but they help to highlight how some partnerships are beyond questionable.

Investing in a cryptocurrency comes down to choice, and while it’s up to the individual to carry out their own due diligence, seeing a celebrity endorse a product can be misleading at the best of times.

We live in an age where everybody (and their dog) can become a social media influencer, but there’s something to be said about the difference in reach of a blogger, or content creator, and that of a Hollywood A-lister.

Research suggests that, on average, a celebrity endorsement increases a company’s sales by just 4 percent relative to its competitors. One questions whether or not this is all worth it – and the sad fact is that it may very well be for some to look too closely at what they’re peddling.

Celebrities may not understand the technology behind cryptocurrencies but yet, bearing in mind their reach and influence, seemingly have no qualms in telling people to use their hard-earned cash to invest in them. It’s for this reason alone that celebrity cryptocurrency endorsements are capable of being the worst kind of all.

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Tesla pushes Sentry Mode, Dog Mode updates to its EVs

Tesla pushes Sentry Mode, Dog Mode updates to its EVs


Tesla

Less than a month after Elon Musk said Sentry Mode for Teslas would be “coming soon” the update has started to roll out, along with a couple of other tweaks. In a blog post detailing Sentry Mode, Tesla explained it uses the car’s external cameras to watch for potential threats. If it’s in standby, the cameras are watching, ready to go into an “Alert” state if someone does something like leaning against the car that pops up a message on its touchscreen saying that the cameras are recording.

If someone breaks a window or something then it goes directly into Alert, which activates the alarm, plays music at loud volume and turns up the brightness on the interior screen. It also sends an alert to the owner via their Tesla app and if they’ve plugged in a formatted USB drive prior to enabling Sentry Mode, then it will save a recording of everything starting ten minutes before the Alert was triggered. You’ll have to turn on Sentry Mode each time you want to use it — with its recordings that’s probably for the best — by going into the Safety & Security menu.

Sentry Mode
Sentry Mode continuously monitors your car’s surroundings while it’s locked and parked. When a potential threat is detected, the cameras on your car will begin recording, and the alarm system will activate. You will receive an alert from your Tesla app notifying you that an incident has occurred.

To enable Sentry Mode, go to Controls > Safety & Security > Sentry Mode. You must re-enable this feature with every use.

Sentry Mode is designed to add another layer of protection to your car, but it will not prevent against all possible threats.

For pet owners, there’s now Dog Mode, for times when you have to leave a four-legged friend in the car alone (providing that is allowed by local laws). Not only does it keep the cabin at a comfortable temperature (just tap the fan icon while parked and set the climate to “Dog”), it also displays that temperature on the car’s internal screen, hopefully preventing any well-meaning Good Samaritans from breaking your windows unnecessarily. If the car’s battery drops below 20 percent while in Dog Mode then it will send a notification to your phone.

Finally, the Dashcam recording feature that arrived last fall is also getting an upgrade that allows it to record feeds from the side cameras in addition to the narrow one mounted up front. It could take a little while for the upgrades to arrive, as Musk said they will go out slowly to watch for any issues and then ramp up in distribution next week. For Sentry Mode and the dashcam, the features are coming to “U.S. Model 3 vehicles, followed by Model S and Model X vehicles that were built after August 2017” since those have the required AutoPilot 2+ hardware installed.

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Finally Over For Mars Rover

Finally Over For Mars Rover

The rover Opportunity has called it quits after working for more than 14 years on Mars.

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Future of US citrus may hinge on consumer acceptance of genetically modified food

Future of US citrus may hinge on consumer acceptance of genetically modified food

A tiny insect, no bigger than the head of a pin, is threatening to topple the multibillion-dollar citrus industry in the U.S. by infecting millions of acres of orchards with an incurable bacterium called citrus greening disease.

The battle to save the citrus industry is pitting crop producers and a team of agriculture researchers — including agricultural communications professor Taylor K. Ruth of the University of Illinois — against a formidable brown bug, the Asian citrus psyllid, which spreads the disease.

Trees infected with the disease, also called Huanglongbing or HB, bear small, misshapen, bitter-tasting green fruit and often die within five years. Currently, there’s no known cure for the disease, which has cost the U.S. citrus industry billions of dollars in crop production and thousands of jobs since it was first identified in Florida in 2005, according to agriculture experts.

Among other solutions, scientists are exploring the possibility of breeding genetically modified trees that are resistant to the disease.

But given the controversy over the safety of genetically modified food, scientists need to know whether producers will adopt this technology and whether shoppers will buy and consume GM citrus fruit.

A recent study, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides some encouraging answers.

Ruth was on a team of scientists from several universities that surveyed a representative sample of U.S. consumers and conducted focus groups to better understand American consumers’ attitudes about GM food and agriculture.

About half of the 1,050 people who responded to the survey had positive attitudes toward GM science, the researchers found. Nearly 37 percent of the consumers surveyed felt neutral about GM science and 14 percent had negative perceptions of it.

Most of the people who were receptive to GM science were white males who were millennials or younger, the data indicated. They were highly educated — most held a bachelor’s degree or higher — and affluent, with annual incomes of $75,000 or greater.

Women, on the other hand, constituted 64 percent of the group with negative feelings about GM science. Baby boomers and older adults were nearly twice as likely to fall into this group. People in this group also were less educated — about half reported some college but no degree.

The findings were published recently in the journal Science Communication. Co-authors of the paper were Joy N. Rumble, of Ohio State University; Alexa J. Lamm, of the University of Georgia; Traci Irani, of the University of Florida; and Jason D. Ellis, of Kansas State University.

Since social contexts influence public opinion on contentious issues, the survey also assessed respondents’ willingness to share their opinions about GM science, their current perceptions of others’ views on the topic and what they expected public opinion about it to be in the future.

The research team was particularly interested in exploring the potential impact of the “spiral of silence” theory, a hypothesis on public opinion formation that states in part that people who are highly vocal about their opinions in public encourage others with similar views to speak out while effectively silencing those who hold opposite views.

“If people believe the majority of others disagree with them on a topic, they will feel pressure to conform to the majority opinion,” Ruth said.

“People aren’t going to be supportive of something if nobody else is supportive of it — no one wants to feel like they are different from the group. That’s the reality of the world that we live in today.”

By contrast, people surveyed who rejected GM science were more likely to express their opinion when they believed others held the opposite view. But people with positive feelings about GM technology were less likely to speak out when they believed others supported it too.

“The way others express their attitude has an indirect effect on what our attitude ends up being,” Ruth said. “We might fall in the actual majority opinion about some of these complex topics, but if other people aren’t vocalizing their opinions, we don’t know that others out there are like-minded.

“Then we start to think ‘Well, maybe I should realign my attitude to what I’m seeing in the media.’ What we see in the media is just reflective of the most dominant voice in the conversation, not necessarily the majority opinion. And I think sometimes people don’t quite understand that.”

Like climate change, GM science is among the complex challenges that some researchers call “wicked issues” — societal problems that are often poorly understood and fraught with conflict, even when the public is provided with relevant science and facts, Ruth, Rumble, Lamm and Ellis wrote in a related study.

That paper was published recently in the Journal of Agricultural Education.

“We must have these conversations about these wicked issues,” Ruth said. “If scientists let other people who don’t have a scientific background fill the void, we’re not going to be a part of that conversation and help people make decisions based upon all of the facts.”

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More data, more land reclamation success: Soil assessments pay off in faster regeneration, lower costs

More data, more land reclamation success: Soil assessments pay off in faster regeneration, lower costs

More than 2.4 million miles of energy pipelines crisscross the United States. If assembled end-to-end, they would circle the Earth almost 100 times!

Energy pipelines transport products such as crude oil or natural gas. Some of the pipelines are above ground, but most of them are buried. Often, energy pipelines pass through previously undisturbed areas. These areas need to be managed carefully to re-establish ecologically functioning systems. This complex process is called land reclamation.

A new study shows teams can increase the chance of successful land reclamation by first collecting soil data at short intervals. More collections can also lead to significant cost savings.

The study focused on a 170-mile length of natural gas pipeline in West Virginia. The land reclamation plan was to re-establish previously forested areas as a grassy, low-growth system.

Initially, all 170 miles had the same, standard reclamation plan based on more generic soil information. “But we know that soils can vary on a mile-to-mile basis,” says James Hartsig, a scientist at Duraroot, LLC in Keenesburg, CO.

The team of scientists gathered more soil data. They collected approximately 350 soil samples along the pipeline. Samples were collected every half-mile.

These samples were sent to accredited laboratories. There, technicians identified critical chemical and physical soil characteristics. “There were initially no sampling efforts involved in the project. We brought sampling efforts to the project for increased and accelerated vegetation. These soil fertility assessments helped us make more nuanced recommendations,” says Hartsig.

One area of focus was soil pH levels-a measure of soil acidity.

“Soil pH values are critical for several reasons,” says Hartsig. For example, soil pH helps determine nutrient availability for plants. Most plants prefer pH values between 5.5 and 7.

But getting a handle on soil pH values can be challenging, says Hartsig. Soils often have different pH values even within a mile. With data points every half-mile, the scientists could overcome these challenges. Throughout the site, pH values ranged from 4.5 to 8.5.

Typically, lime is added to soils to bring the pH within the desired range. Along the West Virginia pipeline, the standard recommendation was to add two tons of lime per acre of soil. But, based on the soil fertility assessments, Hartsig and colleagues had a more specific plan. They recommended no lime for almost half the pipeline. They also recommended three tons per acre for another quarter of the pipeline.

The team also fine-tuned how much fertilizer to add.

“We found that applying the appropriate amount of lime and fertilizer leads to faster revegetation efforts,” says Hartsig. “Plus, there’s no need to go back to certain areas for re-application.”

Not having to reapply lime or fertilizer can be a big cost saver. That’s especially true in the mountainous areas of West Virginia where application processes can be very expensive.

These findings can improve land reclamation success in states other than West Virginia as well. “Regardless of geographical setting, these types of assessments can provide much better insight into soil properties,” says Hartsig. That’s key, especially for longer pipelines. In fact, “the longer the pipeline alignment, the better the chances that the standard specification will be refined.”

Hartsig and colleagues are continuing to research ways to enhance land reclamation. “We are currently testing different types of lime and fertilizers,” he says. “We are also exploring different application methods.” This could include drill seeding with fertilizer injections, broadcast seeding with fertilizer and lime, or aerially applying seed or fertilizers.

Ultimately, says Hartsig, the goal is to accelerate land reclamation success.

Hartsig presented these findings during the International Meeting of the Soil Science Society of America in San Diego, Jan. 4-7.

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Giant ‘megalodon’ shark extinct earlier than previously thought: Prehistoric beast not killed off by a supernova

Giant ‘megalodon’ shark extinct earlier than previously thought: Prehistoric beast not killed off by a supernova

Megalodon — a giant predatory shark that has inspired numerous documentaries, books and blockbuster movies — likely went extinct at least one million years earlier than previously thought, according to new research published Feb. 13 in PeerJ — the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences.

Earlier research, which used a worldwide sample of fossils, suggested that the 50-foot-long, giant shark Otodus megalodon went extinct 2.6 million years ago. Another recent study attempted to link this extinction (and that of other marine species) with a supernova known to have occurred at about this time.

However, a team of researchers led by vertebrate paleontologist Robert Boessenecker with the College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina, noted that in many places there were problems with the data regarding individual fossils in the study estimating the extinction date.

In the new study, the researchers reported every fossil occurrence of O. megalodon from the densely sampled rock record of California and Baja California (Mexico) in order to estimate the extinction.

Besides Boessenecker, the research team included Dana Ehret, of New Jersey State Museum; Douglas Long, of the California Academy of Sciences; Morgan Churchill, of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh; Evan Martin, of the San Diego Natural History Museum; and Sarah Boessenecker, of the University of Leicester, United Kingdom.

They found that genuine fossil occurrences were present until the end of the early Pliocene epoch, 3.6 million years ago. All later fossils either had poor data provenance and likely came from other fossil sites or showed evidence of being eroded from older deposits. Until 3.6 million years ago, O. megalodon had a continuous fossil record on the West Coast.

“We used the same worldwide dataset as earlier researchers but thoroughly vetted every fossil occurrence, and found that most of the dates had several problems-fossils with dates too young or imprecise, fossils that have been misidentified, or old dates that have since been refined by improvements in geology; and we now know the specimens are much younger,” Boessenecker said.

“After making extensive adjustments to this worldwide sample and statistically re-analyzing the data, we found that the extinction of O. megalodon must have happened at least one million years earlier than previously determined.”

This is a substantial adjustment as it means that O. megalodon likely went extinct long before a suite of strange seals, walruses, sea cows, porpoises, dolphins and whales all disappeared sometime about 1-2.5 million years ago.

“The extinction of O. megalodon was previously thought to be related to this marine mass extinction-but in reality, we now know the two are not immediately related,” Boessenecker said.

It also is further unclear if this proposed mass extinction is actually an extinction, as marine mammal fossils between 1 and 2 million years old are extraordinarily rare-giving a two-million- year-long period of “wiggle room.”

“Rather, it is possible that there was a period of faunal turnover (many species becoming extinct and many new species appearing) rather than a true immediate and catastrophic extinction caused by an astronomical cataclysm like a supernova,” Boessenecker said.

The researchers speculate that competition with the newly evolved modern great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) is a more likely reason for megalodon’s extinction.

Great whites first show up with serrated teeth about 6 million years ago and only in the Pacific; by 4 million years ago, they are finally found worldwide.

“We propose that this short overlap (3.6-4 million years ago) was sufficient time for great white sharks to spread worldwide and outcompete O. megalodon throughout its range, driving it to extinction-rather than radiation from outer space,” Boessenecker said.

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Mom’s reward: Female Galápagos seabird has a shorter lifespan than males

Mom’s reward: Female Galápagos seabird has a shorter lifespan than males

The male Nazca booby, a large seabird of the Galápagos Islands, often outlives the domineering female of the species, according to new research from Wake Forest University published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology. Why? It’s a story of rotating sex partners, the cost of being a parent and how the body falls apart in old age.

In the annual quest for the best breeding mate, the older female Nazca booby’s choice to pair with a younger mate may contribute to lifespan differences within the species, said Emily Tompkins, the lead researcher who co-authored “Sex-specific patterns of senescence in Nazca boobies linked to mating system” with biology professor David J. Anderson.

The study is the latest in decades-long research by Anderson, who studies several seabird species. He and his students have been banding Nazca boobies born on Española Island, a roughly 37-square-mile Galápagos Island outpost, for more than 30 years.

The females, which are about 16 percent larger than the males, control mating and decide when it’s time to “divorce” a current partner for one with a better chance at successful breeding. An excess of adult males in the Nazca booby population has led to this practice of “serial monogamy.” When the males enter their late teens, their chance of breeding plummets, while females continue to breed nearly every year. So, the older females of the species often choose a younger mate each breeding season. And that seems to have led to a shorter lifespan for females, Tompkins said.

“Reproducing can reduce adult survival in the following year, so the higher breeding participation by females across the lifespan, and especially in old age, probably contributes to shorter lives,” she said.

Nazca boobies can live into their late 20s, making them an excellent species for studying decline in old age.

“If you’re interested in aging patterns in human systems, we have few opportunities to collect comparative data from other species,” Anderson said. “This banded, known-age, population followed since infancy can help us understand what factors lead some individuals to age well and others to age poorly.”

Only the long-term nature of the Galápagos study has allowed the Nazca booby to fulfill that comparative role. The potentially long lifespan of Nazca boobies means that Anderson has waited decades to observe breeding behavior and reproductive success in old birds.

Several other factors might contribute to the female Nazca booby’s short lifespan, the researchers found:

  • Females receive poorer quality of care as fledglings, because parents don’t always account for how much more food the larger daughters need.
  • Females play a greater role in feeding the chick each breeding season, and that effort might take a toll over the greater number of breeding episodes.

But, Tompkins explained, we’re just beginning to understand the differences in aging among Nazca boobies.

“Some of this variation is explained by sex, environment, and other properties of individuals,” she said. “We’re so fortunate to have decades of data on hand to address this topic.”

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Mom’s reward: Female Galápagos seabird has a shorter lifespan than males

Mom’s reward: Female Galápagos seabird has a shorter lifespan than males

The male Nazca booby, a large seabird of the Galápagos Islands, often outlives the domineering female of the species, according to new research from Wake Forest University published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology. Why? It’s a story of rotating sex partners, the cost of being a parent and how the body falls apart in old age.

In the annual quest for the best breeding mate, the older female Nazca booby’s choice to pair with a younger mate may contribute to lifespan differences within the species, said Emily Tompkins, the lead researcher who co-authored “Sex-specific patterns of senescence in Nazca boobies linked to mating system” with biology professor David J. Anderson.

The study is the latest in decades-long research by Anderson, who studies several seabird species. He and his students have been banding Nazca boobies born on Española Island, a roughly 37-square-mile Galápagos Island outpost, for more than 30 years.

The females, which are about 16 percent larger than the males, control mating and decide when it’s time to “divorce” a current partner for one with a better chance at successful breeding. An excess of adult males in the Nazca booby population has led to this practice of “serial monogamy.” When the males enter their late teens, their chance of breeding plummets, while females continue to breed nearly every year. So, the older females of the species often choose a younger mate each breeding season. And that seems to have led to a shorter lifespan for females, Tompkins said.

“Reproducing can reduce adult survival in the following year, so the higher breeding participation by females across the lifespan, and especially in old age, probably contributes to shorter lives,” she said.

Nazca boobies can live into their late 20s, making them an excellent species for studying decline in old age.

“If you’re interested in aging patterns in human systems, we have few opportunities to collect comparative data from other species,” Anderson said. “This banded, known-age, population followed since infancy can help us understand what factors lead some individuals to age well and others to age poorly.”

Only the long-term nature of the Galápagos study has allowed the Nazca booby to fulfill that comparative role. The potentially long lifespan of Nazca boobies means that Anderson has waited decades to observe breeding behavior and reproductive success in old birds.

Several other factors might contribute to the female Nazca booby’s short lifespan, the researchers found:

  • Females receive poorer quality of care as fledglings, because parents don’t always account for how much more food the larger daughters need.
  • Females play a greater role in feeding the chick each breeding season, and that effort might take a toll over the greater number of breeding episodes.

But, Tompkins explained, we’re just beginning to understand the differences in aging among Nazca boobies.

“Some of this variation is explained by sex, environment, and other properties of individuals,” she said. “We’re so fortunate to have decades of data on hand to address this topic.”

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New tuberculosis drug may shorten treatment time for patients

New tuberculosis drug may shorten treatment time for patients

A new experimental antibiotic for tuberculosis has been shown to be more effective against TB than isoniazid, a decades-old drug which is currently one of the standard treatments. In mouse studies, the new drug showed a much lower tendency to develop resistance, and it remains in the tissues where the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria reside for longer, killing them more effectively. The research is published February 11 in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

The goal of TB drug development programs is to develop universal treatment regimens that will shorten and simplify TB treatment in patients, which typically takes at least six months, and sometimes more than a year, said lead author Gregory T. Robertson, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins.

The new drug, called AN12855, has several advantages over isoniazid. Isoniazid, requires conversion to its active form by a Mycobacterial enzyme, KatG, in order to kill the pathogen, which creates a couple of problems. First, in some M. tuberculosis, KatG is nonfunctional. That doesn’t make M. tuberculosis any less pathogenic, but it prevents the drug from working.

That creates an easy avenue for the development of drug resistance. Under selection pressure from isoniazid, the tuberculosis bacteria with nonfunctional KatG — those that don’t activate the drug — are the ones that reproduce. Under these circumstances, drug resistance may develop.

A hallmark of human tuberculosis is the presence of “heterogeneous pulmonary disease.” This includes a host defense involving confinement of invading bacteria within small cyst-like bodies called granulomas, that lack vasculature and often prevent the drug from reaching the pathogen. Most mouse TB models used for clinical evaluation of new drugs fail to produce this advanced lung pathology. Thus, they give little insight into how drugs might behave in the presence of advanced lung disease that is typical of human tuberculosis.

In the study, the investigators used a new TB mouse model that develops these M. tuberculosis-containing granulomas to compare isoniazid and AN12855. “We discovered that the drugs differed dramatically with respect to their abilities to kill the pathogen in highly diseased tissues,” said Dr. Robertson. AN12855 proved more effective, “without selecting for appreciable drug resistance,” said Dr. Robertson

The superior efficacy is not surprising: AN12855 was superior in gaining entry and being retained in the granulomas, “where M. tuberculosis is found in highest numbers,” said Dr. Robertson. “Whether this translates into improvements in treatment of human disease will be the subject of future studies.”

“Our studies also further validate the use of a new TB mouse efficacy model (dubbed C3HeB/FeJ) as a research tool to study the impact of heightened human-like disease states on the activity and distribution of TB antibiotics that are in various stages of development,” said Dr. Robertson. That could accelerate development of better TB treatments.

“Despite significant progress in combatting tuberculosis, TB remains the leading infectious cause of death worldwide,” said Dr. Robertson. According to WHO, 10 million people fell ill with TB in 2017 and 1.6 million died from the disease.” Multidrug resistance is a further challenge to the mission to control TB globally, he said. “Collectively, our group has pioneered the use of new TB mouse efficacy models to help advance innovative new therapies designed to shorten the length of TB treatment.”

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Grocery-store based nutrition education improves eating habits

Grocery-store based nutrition education improves eating habits

Hypertension affects over 60 million adults in the United States and less than half have their condition under control. A new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that grocery store?based nutrition counseling was effective in changing dietary habits of patients being treated for hypertension.

“Primary care providers face multiple barriers when delivering nutrition information to patients, including lack of training on how to provide lifestyle behavior counseling combined with lack of time to interact with the patient,” said lead author Rosanna P. Watowicz, PhD, RDN, LD, Department of Nutrition, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, USA. “This study’s aim was to evaluate the effectiveness of a nutrition counseling program provided by a registered dietitian in the familiar setting of a grocery store.”

This study recruited patients from three primary care offices that were part of an urban academic medical center. Thirty adults aged 18-60 years diagnosed with hypertension participated. Study participants represented a diverse demographic in regard to sex, race, education, and employment.

Participants received individual counseling at one of three local grocery stores from two registered dietitians trained to provide lifestyle modification information based on the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Three counseling sessions, provided free to the patients, occurred over 12 weeks. The first visit was 60 minutes long followed by two 30-45-minute sessions. Following each session, a recap of the visit and patient’s progress towards goals were provided to the primary care provider to be included in the patient’s records.

Diet quality was assessed using the Healthy Eating Index-2010, a measure of overall diet quality compared to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Patients completed a food frequency questionnaire, documenting food and beverages consumed at least once during the previous three months, prior to beginning the study and at the end of the study. Blood pressure measurements were also taken.

Following the education, patients’ eating habits significantly improved in regard to total fruit, whole fruit, greens and beans, whole grains, fatty acids, refined grains, and empty calories. Sodium, saturated fat, discretionary solid fat, and total fat intake decreased significantly as well. Intake of added sugar also decreased although not to the same extent as the other categories.

Blood pressure measurements also decreased during the study, but due to the small number of participants the differences were not statistically significant. Additionally, patients reported a high level of compliance in taking their hypertension medication as prescribed during the study.

“Providing education at the grocery store offers a convenient location on a schedule with more flexibility than a primary care office and reinforces dietary changes in the environment where food decisions are made,” said Dr. Watowicz. “This strategy should be researched with other health conditions.”

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Many Arctic lakes give off less carbon than expected

Many Arctic lakes give off less carbon than expected

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. One consequence of that trend is the thawing of permafrost, a layer of earth that has remained frozen for thousands of years in some areas. This frozen soil and vegetation currently holds more than twice the carbon found in the atmosphere.

As permafrost across northern Alaska, Canada, Siberia and other high-latitude regions thaws, microbes in the soil consume organic materials, releasing carbon dioxide or methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas, into lakes and the atmosphere.

But a warmer, wetter climate may also cause more carbon from plants on land to move into lakes. Greater flow of carbon from plants and soils into Arctic lakes stimulates greater greenhouse gas emissions from bodies of water. And in a largely unstudied region with millions of lakes, it’s still a mystery as to how much carbon moves from the land into lakes, and ultimately into the atmosphere.

New research by the University of Washington and U.S. Geological Survey suggests many lakes pose little threat to global carbon levels, at least for now. In the Arctic’s flat, arid regions dotted with thousands of lakes — a landscape that makes up about a quarter of the entire Arctic region — many lakes are functioning like self-contained units, not releasing much carbon dioxide.

“We found that not all high-latitude lakes are big chimneys of carbon to the atmosphere, and that lakes in the region are not actively processing much permafrost or plant carbon from land,” said lead author Matthew Bogard, a postdoctoral researcher in the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. “Documenting the heterogeneous nature of northern lakes, as we have done here, will better define the role of Arctic lakes in the global carbon cycle.”

The research will publish online Feb. 11 in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The researchers visited 20 lakes several times over the course of a year in the Yukon Flats region of northeast Alaska: a vast, dry landscape speckled with thousands of lakes and home to the Yukon River, North America’s last largest undammed river. Their goal was to track the flow of carbon through the food web and test the water chemistry in each lake for signs of carbon from permafrost across a region that hasn’t been studied before in this way. Nearly all of the related research has taken place in a handful of isolated areas in the Arctic that don’t necessarily represent the characteristics of lakes in the region, the researchers said.

“The problem that we overcame in this study is getting to some logistically very difficult places in order to get a better picture of what’s happening across the Arctic, which literally has millions of lakes,” said senior author David Butman, assistant professor in the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. “These findings show the need to better understand the diversity of the ecosystems in this region.”

During each of the fieldwork trips, the research team flew by floatplane from Fairbanks, Alaska, to a remote location in the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, an area teeming each summer with migratory ducks and other waterfowl. Their accommodations were modest: an old hunting cabin now maintained by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for field research provided a safe place to sleep, cook, charge equipment and filter water after long days in the field. Black bears and moose are common in this area, evidenced by large spikes on the cabin’s doors and windows to keep animals out.

Each day the researchers flew from lake to lake, collecting water samples while kneeling on the plane’s pontoons and dropping probes into the water to measure temperature, dissolved oxygen and other lake characteristics. On a good day, two researchers and a pilot could hit eight different lakes, sometimes having to leave one person behind for part of the day if the lakes were too shallow to take off with a fully weighted plane.

In their analyses, the researchers found that nearly every lake they tested showed no sign of ancient carbon from permafrost, and much less production of carbon dioxide than expected.

Lakes emit carbon dioxide when it enters from outside sources in the landscape, such as rivers and groundwater. Also, bacteria and animals produce it while digesting their food, and carbon dioxide can build up if they generate it faster than plants and algae can suck it up during photosynthesis.

But here, the research team saw evidence that many of the lakes were more balanced in production and uptake of carbon dioxide than lakes in other regions. Consequently, the lakes were a smaller source of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than is observed in other parts of the world.

“The implications are that not all lakes are hot spots for releasing carbon from land,” Butman said. “But we don’t yet know how these particular landscapes will change in a warmer climate, since this is the first time they’ve been studied.”

As the climate warms, large wildfires are expected to sweep across the Yukon Flats, potentially delivering an enormous load of land carbon to the lakes in this landscape that could stimulate more carbon dioxide emissions. The research team’s current and future work will help benchmark what’s happening now to better understand future changes.

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Bringing the wonder of old-school survey maps into three dimensions

Bringing the wonder of old-school survey maps into three dimensions

Mapping technology is infinitely better than it used to be, but satellites and LiDAR can never recapture the craft that went into making old-school US Geological Survey Maps. Instead, graphic designer Scott Reinhard is trying to bring a modern touch to the old designs using 3D technology. He used elevation data from the United States Geological Survey to create 3D elevations of the topography, then merged the data with the vintage designs of the old maps.

Reinhard produced the maps as a way to better grasp a region’s geography himself while also telling a story about what forces created it. He tended to choose regions with a personal connection or those that piqued his curiosity. “I am from Indiana, which always felt so flat and boring,” he told Colossal. “When I began rendering the elevation data for the state, the story of the land emerged. The glaciers that receded across the northern half of the state after the last ice age scraped and gouged and shaped the land in a way that is spectacularly clear.”

Many students struggle to decipher geology and geography maps, so for Reinhard, the project was a way to gain a better understanding of the forces that shaped American landscapes. “As a visual person, I was most intrigued by the ability to visually harness data and create images that helped me gain insight into locations,” he said. “I felt empowered by the ability to collect and process the vast amounts of information freely available, and create beautiful images.”

The US Geological Survey created maps starting in the 1800s not only to aid industry, but as educational tools for tourists and students. As such, it tried to make them as accessible as possible through the use of color and other touches.

Reinhard has taken that idea to its logical next step by incorporating true 3D that lets mountains and other objects cast shadows, adding to the realism and making them more engaging. His 3D map of Yellowstone Park, based on a preliminary 1878 geological survey, is particularly engaging (above, left). You can buy high-quality prints of his Chromogenic prints that use traditional color photography development, on his website.

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Cryptocurrency is ‘Honestly Useless’: Harvard Cryptographer

Cryptocurrency is ‘Honestly Useless’: Harvard Cryptographer

Cryptocurrency is useless to anyone other than nefarious groups or individuals trying to move money without being noticed by the government. This is apparently the cutting-edge opinion of Harvard University cryptographer and technology researcher Bruce Schneier.

Citing a series of regularly discredited and debunked talking points, Schneier believes that the aims of Bitcoin according to its original whitepaper have been defeated by the reality of its deployment, which means that in addition to being operationally difficult and risky, it also fails to deliver on its basic premise, which essentially renders it useless.

Cryptocurrency: Can You Trust a Trustless System?

Writing in Wired, Schneier cites the trust issue as the biggest example of cryptocurrency’s basic failure. According to him, while it was created to provide a basis for electronic transactions without relying on trust, a critical look at the architecture of blockchain technology will show that it cannot function without trust — which defeats the whole purpose of having an uncontrolled system in the first place.

Crypto users have to trust that miners are following the right sequences to mine bitcoins then trust that the system won’t crash resulting in monetary loss. In actual fact, he says, all bitcoin has done is take trust away from humans and place it in technology whose security is also not guaranteed.

Expanding further on this point he says:

“If your bitcoin exchange gets hacked, you lose all of your money. If your bitcoin wallet gets hacked, you lose all of your money. If you forget your login credentials, you lose all of your money. If there’s a bug in the code of your smart contract, you lose all of your money. If someone successfully hacks the blockchain security, you lose all of your money. In many ways, trusting technology is harder than trusting people. Would you rather trust a human legal system or the details of some computer code you don’t have the expertise to audit?”

Environmental Concerns and Assorted Red Herrings

bitcoin cryptocurrency mining

Schneier raises concerns regarding bitcoin mining’s energy footprint. | Source: Shutterstock

While the other criticisms may have had some measure of technical accuracy, Schneier also cites the hackneyed “crypto-mining-uses-vast-amount-of-energy” argument to back up his belief that cryptocurrency is pointless. According to him – you’ve certainly never heard this before – it constitutes a large environmental hazard due to the amount of energy it consumes.

Schneier argues that bitcoin transaction charges such as processing fees are hidden, unlike bank charges which can be easily calculated. Where he gets the impression that crypto transaction fees are hidden is anyone’s guess at this point, but it certainly makes a good – if inaccurate – talking point.

He also says that automated systems cannot be fully trusted and human input will always be better, adding that blockchain technology is only theoretically trustless. Practically, he says, crypto users still have to trust cryptocurrency exchanges and wallets when they trade or otherwise make transactions. Unsurprisingly, no mention is made of decentralised exchanges, which apparently are not good talking points for the purpose of Schneier’s polemic.

Rounding up his attack on cryptocurrencies, Schneier states that blockchain immutability is a problem because in the event of a mistake, “all of your life savings could be gone.” In his view, cryptocurrency is inherently useless and not needed.

In short, here’s another one for the Bitcoin Obituaries pile.

Featured Image from Rama Wikimedia Commons

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