Nerf’s ‘Fortnite’ guns will be here March 22nd

Nerf’s ‘Fortnite’ guns will be here March 22nd


Hasbro

If you thought Hasbro was already milking the Fortnite trend for all it’s worth with an official Nerf gun, you haven’t seen anything yet. The toy maker has unveiled its full line of Fortnite-themed Nerf guns (including Super Soakers), and while it’s not a complete reflection of the battle royale shooter’s arsenal, it’s likely you’ll find something that suits your tastes. People who prefer dart-based havoc can pick up the AR-L assault rifle ($50) or SP-L pistol ($20) for conventional weaponry, but they can also wield $10 MicroShot dart blasters for surprise attacks. If you’ve ever wanted to shoot foam projectiles from a llama’s mouth, now’s your chance.

The Super Soaker crowd has multiple tools at its disposal as well. Fortnite‘s tactical shotgun is available as a pump-action water blaster for $20, while the rocket launcher shows up as the $20 RL (thankfully, you aren’t actually firing water-filled projectiles). And if you’re just looking for a Fortnite take on the classic squirt gun, the HC-E hand cannon will be available for $10.

The lineup officially reaches shelves on March 22nd, with pre-orders available both through Hasbro as well as Amazon and Walmart.

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

Nerf llama MicroShot dart gun

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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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Burn FilmStruck, spoil UltraViolet, but you can’t take my DVDs

Burn FilmStruck, spoil UltraViolet, but you can’t take my DVDs

I haven’t watched a DVD in a while. Long enough that I’ve thought about donating all of my discs to goodwill. But when I Kondo’d my possessions, the bulk of my media remained in place as they kinda/sorta sparked joy. (That’s a lie, I was deep into the sunk cost fallacy to just toss a small fortune’s worth of DVDs, which is a bit like joy, right?) Now, however, the recent news in the digital media makes me want to hold my discs and never ever let them go.

And if the demise of FilmStruck was a warning, then the forthcoming closure of UltraViolet should serve as a clarion call. The former was a streaming service that represented TCM and the Criterion Collection, a Netflix for movie nerds. The latter is, for now, a studio-approved digital locker service that holds the films you purchase from various services. And for its 30 million users, it’ll be gone by July 31st.

Putting your faith, and your money, into online streaming services might be foolish when it’s so easy for them to be snatched away. According to Variety, UltraViolet died because its owners felt the market was leaning further towards streaming. Not to mention that UltraViolet’s rival, Disney’s Movies Anywhere, was drawing other studios away from the service.

UltraViolet’s 30 million users will now have to connect their UltraViolet accounts to an additional storefront, like Flixster, Sony or Vudu. And the company has said that the “majority” of the content will still be available once they’re pushed over. But there’s always the risk that one little curio you treasure won’t be kept in the great purge of 2019.

There’s no such risk of my content — how I hate that word — disappearing if it’s sat on shelves lining the wall of my spare bedroom. Yes, their existence is a blight on my interior decor, but they can’t be whisked away in the same way that, say, Taylor Swift’s catalog was pulled from Spotify. It also helps that my tastes, which aren’t too esoteric, are for the sort of shows and films that rarely pop up on Netflix.

DVD Shelf

And the ones that are easily available might not be in the best quality, like the version of Star Trek II that’s available on demand. Because it’s provided by the SyFy channel here in the UK, it’s a butchered, daytime-TV friendly edit of the film with plenty of silly cuts. On the Trek theme, I’m glad I kept hold of the Director’s Edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, since it can’t be re-released.

In the event that my internet connection stops, or that the servers have their own problem, then I’m pretty safe, too. Physical media is unaffected by the vagaries of the internet, and I can watch it whenever I damn well wish. Not to mention that you can treasure and appreciate the love and care that has gone into the artwork and packaging.

Obviously, DVDs (and everything else) has the same downsides that made us embrace Netflix so hard in the first place. They’re pretty expensive, and they, collectively, take up way too much space in your home. There’s also the perpetual horror of the unskippable copyright warning, as studios look to punish you for spending $20 legally buying their content. And, when you’re binging, you still gotta get up and swap discs instead of letting the stream just switch over.

At some mythical point in my future, I’ll try and rip all of my DVDs to local storage and build my own Plex or Kodi server. Then I’ll have my own Netflix, one that can cater to my tastes without some of the burdens that come with physical media. It’s a shame, really, that Netflix could never become a central repository for all of the world’s content, paid for with subscriptions. In an ideal world, that’s what we’d have, but the economics — like spending $100 million to have Friends through 2019 — make it unrealistic.

The lesson to take away from UltraViolet’s demise is that we can’t rely on digital platforms, because the landlord always has final say. There seems to be no (legal) digital locker that can’t be pulled in an instant if an executive demands it. So, if you care about something, the smart thing to do is to keep it alive in your own home.

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ISS toilet leak dumps two gallons of ‘water’ on crew

ISS toilet leak dumps two gallons of ‘water’ on crew


ALJ1 via Getty Images

If you think a burst toilet is bad news on Earth, spare a thought for the astronauts who have to deal with it in zero gravity. That’s what the poor American souls on the ISS were left grappling with last week when their $19 million commode leaked, according to a NASA status report. Around 9.5 litres of water spilled out as a result of the, um, accident. The crew had to clean it up using towels while working to fix the leak, claimed the space agency.

The current toilet was delivered to the craft aboard space shuttle Endeavour in 2008, after the previous one malfunctioned. At that price, you’d expect something fancy but astronaut Peggy Whitson previously described it as a “camping trip.” It basically involves sitting on a small plate-sized hole on top of a silver can or peeing into a yellow cone. The accumulated waste is then sealed and blasted back to Earth on a cargo ship that burns up before impact. Around 80 to 85 percent of urine, meanwhile, is turned into drinking water.

Fortunately for the ISS’ inhabitants, the experience will be a tad more pleasant from now on. The crew have installed a new double stall enclosure into Node 3: a module of the ISS that also contains exercise equipment. It will afford them some much-needed “privacy for both the Toilet System and the Hygiene Compartment,” according to NASA. They also have a brand-spanking new can to look forward to in 2020.

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Even the YouTube CEO’s kids thought that Rewind video was ‘cringey’

Even the YouTube CEO’s kids thought that Rewind video was ‘cringey’


Noam Galai via Getty Images

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has published some thoughts about the year ahead for the platform. But as well as looking forward, she took a little time to reflect on recent events, including the Rewind 2018 debacle. The widely derided recap of YouTube’s year is the site’s most-disliked video with almost 16 million thumbs down ratings, and even Wojcicki’s own kids thought it stunk.

“[One] record we definitely didn’t set out to break was the most disliked video on the Internet,” she wrote in her latest letter to creators, “Even at home, my kids told me our 2018 Rewind was ‘cringey.’ We hear you that it didn’t accurately show the year’s key moments, nor did it reflect the YouTube you know. We’ll do better to tell our story in 2019.”

Wojcicki said she has three priorities for this year: “supporting creator and artist success; improving communication and engagement; and living up to our responsibility.” To that end, one of YouTube’s goals for this year is improving monetization for both advertisers and creators. Meanwhile, Wojcicki revealed that YouTube Studio will be available to all creators this year, and noted YouTube Music and YouTube Premium are both now available in 29 countries.

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Protecting those on the frontline from Ebola

Protecting those on the frontline from Ebola

In a world where we can travel the globe by jet, diseases that were once thought to plague faraway places can now strike close to home.

The U.S. had to learn this the hard way. In 2014, a patient harboring Ebola returned home to Dallas, Texas from Liberia. Within 15 days of this person’s arrival, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had confirmed two secondary cases in nurses who were treating the infected patient.

Ebola virus is very easily contracted from body fluids — a mere ten viral particles will do it — and people who get it have up to a 78 percent chance of dying. Health care workers are among the most vulnerable.

According to a 2015 report by the World Health Organization, health care workers can have an infection rate up to 32 times higher than the general population in certain parts of the world. Infected health care workers can unknowingly spread the disease, and once sick, are unable to care for patients.

In addition to a human toll, Ebola also exacts an economic one. Treatment of an Ebola patient in the U.S. can range from $30,000-$50,000 per day, limiting the number of hospitals who can treat it, and making its spread a very costly problem

The best hope for controlling this lethal foe is to prevent it. Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) have created an online software package via the SmartState spin-off company, SimTunes, LLC, to train health care workers using simulation in safe Ebola disease response. They report promising findings in a small cohort of MUSC health care workers in an article published in the December 2018 issue of Health Security.

“This training program takes information from multiple resources, including the CDC, the National Ebola Training and Education Center and the European Network for Infectious Diseases,” says Lacey MenkinSmith, M.D., assistant professor of Emergency Medicine at MUSC and first author of this article.

“What makes the program unique is that it combines all that information into one training program that is widely distributable.”

“The entire course, including background material and hands-on simulation practice, is delivered over the Internet, so people can be trained immediately,” adds Jerry G. Reves, M.D., distinguished professor and emeritus dean of the College of Medicine at MUSC and principal investigator of the CDC-funded study.

The software package includes a self-study component, a “hands-on” simulation workshop and a data-driven performance assessment toolset. A post-test evaluates trainees’ knowledge of Ebola treatment, and software tracks and scores individual and team performance in Ebola treatment scenarios.

This training package aims to reduce the number of critical errors and risky actions committed when treating an Ebola patient. Critical errors put an individual at risk of infection or contaminate the clean zone. Risky actions increase the chance of committing a critical error.

The researchers tested the usefulness of their software package in 18 health care workers at MUSC, a state treatment center for Ebola. The health care workers were divided into two groups based on their experience level with treating high-risk infectious disease. The software package increased the knowledge of both groups about effective prevention by up to 19 percent.

Both groups also performed extremely well in simulation scenarios, with only 2.3 percent of 341 total steps flagged for critical errors in both groups. These scenarios included cleaning up spills, putting on a biosuit correctly and properly responding to a needle stick. Practicing all of these scenarios helps to reduce the risk of infection of the health care workers treating the Ebola patient.

These results validate this software package as a way to streamline and adequately educate health care workers on proper techniques to reduce infection when treating an Ebola patient.

The MUSC team plans next to test their training program in other health care settings relevant to Ebola. These include community hospitals, where Ebola patients might first be seen, or intermediary hospitals, which would care for them until they could be sent to a treatment center like MUSC.

MenkinSmith, who specializes in global emergency medicine, would also like to test the program in developing countries, and is planning to use the course in Uganda.

“I want to see how we can adapt what we have to a place that is a low-resource health care setting, such as a site like Uganda that I am set to visit,” says MenkinSmith. Uganda’s neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo, is currently experiencing an Ebola outbreak.

“Instituting this training at various universities and hospitals across the world will take time and adjustments” says Reves. “However, this represents the beginning of a concrete way to ensure that health care workers are protected from Ebola with just-in-time training anywhere in the world.”

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How sex censorship killed the internet we love

How sex censorship killed the internet we love

When was the last time you thought of the internet as a weird and wonderful place?

I can feel my anxiety climbing as I try to find current news stories about sex. Google News shows one lonely result for “porn,” an article that is 26 days old. I log out of everything and try different browsers because this can’t be right.

I pop over to Yahoo News and try the same searches, exhaling relief to see 892 news articles for “porn” from outlets ranging from Associated Press to Rolling Stone. They’re there. It’s just that Google’s 2018 algorithm upgrade filters out news with the word “porn” in it. Like articles about porn performer suicide, tips for revenge porn victims, parents who oppose porn website age-verification (turns out, today’s parents are more afraid of data collection than their kids watching porn).

Stories with the word “porn” in them are important because they’re about censorship, sexual health, business trends, sex work, politics, gender and women. They’re about people.

But not for the world’s most popular search engine. Google’s war on sex took root in 2011 when Google Plus launched with a strict no-sex policy. In 2013, the company enacted a porn purge across Blogger and Android’s Google Keyboard was updated to exclude over 1,400 “inappropriate” words, like “lovemaking,” “condom,” and “STI.” In 2014 Google Play banned sex-themed apps, and an algorithm change in Search destroyed organic results for sex websites. 2014 was the same year Google made changes to its AdWords policies to prohibit sex-related advertising.

When Google first launched in 1998, Nerve was one of the internet’s leading websites. It was an online magazine about sex with articles and featured erotic artists, busy personals, packed forums, publishing terrific sex books by writers and photographers, and had a wildly popular free blogging service (one of the first). From 1997 through the early ’00s, Nerve was the fun, exciting, sex-positive place to be and hang out, bursting with creative communities, optimism, and hope that a vital future was being explored.

For many, Nerve represented a new era in which we could finally, freely talk about sex, gender, orientation, sex culture — and exchange ideas. Thanks to Nerve’s “literate smut” tagline and ethos, private acts of creation could make tortured people feel valid and whole. People don’t make sites like Nerve anymore. No one can.

When was the last time the internet made you feel good?

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I can feel my anxiety climbing as I search for art and photography. I am looking for Black erotic art, because this kind of visibility matters to me. Like the millions of people who enjoyed Tumblr, I do not want the stereotypes and advertising assault of commercial porn ‘tube’ sites, which performers say profit unfairly off their hard work.

We used to have a living, breathing museum of sex culture online. But in December 2018, Tumblr banned and removed adult content from its service. Estimated loss: at least 12.5 million blogs.

When Tumblr started in 2007, it made people feel like the battle to defend erotic art as socially and sexually valid was won, and the necessity of sexual communities was cemented. We found out so much, like that transgender people had hot sex and great erotic art too, and this was … just incredibly cool.

When Tumblr erased millions of sex blogs and communities overnight, many lamented that without the website they would’ve been lost and suicidal trying to figure out their sexuality. When I worked the sex crisis call lines in 2005, before Tumblr, our most common call was from teens in abstinence-only education states who did not know how to prevent sexual disease, infections, injuries, or pregnancy — and youth who were terrified they weren’t “normal.”

The kids we spoke to were afraid and alone. At the call center we sometimes doubled as a suicide crisis line (the office next to ours was, in fact, the suicide hotline). I can tell you for a fact that Tumblr helped a generation of frightened, isolated kids trying to figure out sexual identity. Now Tumblr is a sex-free haven for white nationalists and Nazis.

In 1997, Ann Powers wrote an essay called “In Defense of Nasty Art.” It took progressives to task for not defending rap music because it was “obscene” and sexually graphic. Powers puts it mildly when she states, “their apprehension makes the fight to preserve freedom of expression seem hollow.” This is an old problem. So it’s no surprise that the same websites forbidding, banning, and blocking “sexually suggestive” art content also claim to care about free speech.

Like Facebook. Artnet wrote last March that Facebook’s brutal art censorship includes the Venus of Willendorf, Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World, “the banning of Gerhard Richter’s blurred rendering of a nude descending a staircase, Evelyne Axell’s Pop art painting of a woman licking an ice cream cone, and Danish Modernist Edvard Eriksen’s beloved, more than 100-year-old public sculpture The Little Mermaid.”

The erasure of erotic art, to me, represents a crisis point of culture, of democracy. Art effects the greatest change and empowerment when it’s transgressive, scandalous, nude, erotic. Visibility matters. Art is where minds are opened, ideas challenged, viewpoints explored, where people who hate have a chance to be changed, even if for a minute.

When was the last time the internet gave you hope?

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I can feel my anxiety climbing as I look for the voices of adult performers and sex workers online. The silence is so overwhelming it’s suffocating. In 2018, an estimated 42 million sex workers worldwide were evicted from the open internet and essentially went into hiding with the passage of FOSTA-SESTA.

The censorship wave was unprecedented in internet history. Twitter, Facebook, and all major web service providers immediately changed their rules to tightly police what was posted and messaged about sexual content, by anyone. Entire online communities were kicked off services like Cloudflare (55,000 users of Switter), and hundreds of thousands were disappeared by the shuttering of safety forums and advertising-screening services. Reddit removed entire communities overnight. Recently, YouTube banned videos where people simply talk to sex workers.

The voices erased are the voices of women. Of gay and straight men, transgender people, the voices of people of color. These populations make up the majority of sex workers. So in America, FOSTA is analogous to how the World Health Organization is categorized as “pornography” in web filters used in Kuwait and the UAE.

The law legalized sex censorship online. FOSTA was pushed by Sheryl Sandberg and Facebook — who used their support of FOSTA to appease Sen. John Thune (R-SD). Thune pushes the false narrative that Facebook censors conservatives and previously said he wanted to regulate the company. FOSTA falsely states that consensual adult sex work is the same as sex trafficking, and was opposed by the Department of Justice, the ACLU, the EFF, numerous online free speech organizations, and actual sex trafficking organizations.

FOSTA claimed to stop sex trafficking and has utterly backfired. San Francisco just released its 2018 crime statistics. The only violent crime that increased in San Francisco in 2018 was “human trafficking” — up by an astonishing 170%. These are not sex worker arrests, which fall under a “vice” subcategory.

Before FOSTA, the voices of sex workers were readily available. Anyone could ask sex workers who they are, why they make the choices they do, and what actual sex workers think about doing sex work.

It was an incredible moment because before free blogging and social media sites, the only way we heard the voices of sex workers and porn performers was through media outlets that portrayed them as broken rape victims — or sex trafficked children. Adults having consensual sex for entertainment were not given a voice unless it validated a narrative of sin, of pain, of regret.

Now all the women (and LGBTQ, PoC) who could speak truth to any of this have been driven underground, silenced by algorithms, bans, and FOSTA-empowered 4chan troll brigades.

When was the last time you felt free on the internet?

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I can feel my anxiety climbing as I type. Starbucks is filtering its WiFi with a secret porn blacklist. Patreon, Cloudflare, PayPal, Facebook, Instagram, and Square will eject you for getting near a sex business, linking to perceived sex sites, letting the wrong people use your online business.

Facebook recently banned sexual slang; YouTube bans users for sex ed or LGBTQ content because it might be about sex; Twitter has a mysterious sex-shadowban that no one can get a straight answer on. Tumblr can’t tell a potato from a boob. Guides on sexual self-censoring are popular — and necessary. Google Drive scans your files and deletes what it believes to be explicit content. Apple just straight-up hates sex.

It’s critical at this harrowing juncture to understand that apps won, and the open internet lost. In 2013, the lion’s share of users accessing the internet went to mobile, and stayed that way. People don’t actually browse on the internet anymore, and we are in a free speech nightmare.

Because of Steve Jobs, adult and sex apps are super-banned from Apple’s conservative walled garden. This combined with Google’s censorious push to purge its Play Store of sex has quietly, insidiously formed a censored duopoly controlled by two companies that make Morality In Media very, very happy. Facebook, even though technically a darknet, rounded it out.

In fact, Facebook’s FOSTA-SESTA law should share credit for its success with Morality in Media (rebranded as “National Center on Sexual Exploitation”), who claimed the victory as well. Morality in Media was also behind Apple’s massive “sexy apps” purge in 2010. And Google’s 2014 AdWords sex-ban was claimed by Morality In Media as a victorious outcome from their pressure and meetings with Google to crack down on porn.

When was the last time you thought of the internet as a weird and wonderful place?

woman

We are on the other side now. Like everyone I know, my anxiety climbs as I open any new browser window, check any app or news site. As corporations have scuttled the weird and the wonderful, the taboo voices and forbidden artwork, we wonder only … what hate will we see today? What attacks await, now that the common rooms and public squares are the playgrounds of racist and anti-sex algorithms, of incels and Nazis, of advertisers and corporations ruling platforms with the iron fist of dated conservative values.

Because it is women, people of color, LGBTQ communities, writers, and artists who comprise the majority population of sex communities, it is everyone who pays the price. It is a curtailing of our freedoms, period.

The people who excised the erotic artists and photographers from Tumblr, who decided that sex talk on iTunes podcasts must not titillate, those who implement anti-sex language filters in anything … they will pay for it, too. Just not in the ways we’d like (their pocketbooks, their conscience).

The fear is, they’ll pay with a little piece of their soul when a young intersex girl can’t find a healthy representation of pleasurable sexuality for her own body, and decides that suicide is better than her oppressor’s moralistic illusion of isolation. The ignorance behind the war on sex raged by the Facebooks, the Apples, the Googles, the advertisers, the algorithms, is not only dated, but dangerous. As women fight for control of our reproductive organs, as trans people fight for the right to use a bathroom, the trolls have convinced the gatekeepers that sex must be silent, and 4chan — acting on the urges of right-wing populists — deserves a voice.

I don’t know what would’ve happened if the internet could’ve been allowed to continue without the war on sex. But I know it’s not the terrible place of anxiety and fear we’re in now.

Images: BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images (Picasso painting study for ‘Les demoiselles d’Avignon’ nude – Picasso Museum 2014); JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GettyImages (Starbucks); Joachim Beuckelaer / Jon Turi (Digital brothel painting modified); PORNCHAI SODA via Getty Images (Woman, hand)

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Uber adds public transportation options to its app

Uber adds public transportation options to its app


Uber

Uber is primarily thought of as a ridesharing service, but today the company is adding new transportation options to its app — even though they don’t involve the users actually taking an Uber ride. Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTA) has been added to the Uber app, which means that people searching for a ride will also see what public transportation options are nearby that can get them where they’re going.

In a lot of ways, it looks similar to the public transit info you can already find in Google Maps and Apple’s Maps app — after putting in a starting point and destination, the Uber app shows what transit lines are nearby, when the next bus or train arrives, and how far you’ll have to walk at the beginning or end of the trip. Estimate for when buses and trains are arriving will be provided by Moovit, a service that does real-time tracking and route planning for public transportation. To differentiate itself from what you can already do in Google Maps, Uber will also soon let customers buy digital RTD tickets right in the app. That’s something that would certainly make getting around via public transit easier, particularly for people who aren’t familiar with the city they’re trying to traverse.

This is just Uber’s initial public transit offering; the company says it is actively making it easier for other transit agencies to partner with the app and see what kinds of services it offers. Uber’s already made partnerships with a number of other agencies, but this marks the first time it is integrating a city’s public transportation options right into the app. Given today’s announcement, though, it seems likely this service will show up in other cities before too long.

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Seas may be rising faster than thought: Current method of measuring sea-level rise may not be reliable

Seas may be rising faster than thought: Current method of measuring sea-level rise may not be reliable

A new Tulane University study questions the reliability of how sea-level rise in low-lying coastal areas such as southern Louisiana is measured and suggests that the current method underestimates the severity of the problem.

Relative sea-level rise, which is a combination of rising water level and subsiding land, is traditionally measured using tide gauges. But researchers Molly Keogh and Torbjörn Törnqvist argue that in coastal Louisiana, tide gauges tell only a part of the story.

Tide gauges in such areas are anchored an average of 20 meters into the earth rather than at the ground surface. “As a result, tide gauges do not record subsidence occurring in the shallow subsurface and thus underestimate rates of relative sea-level rise,” said Keogh, a fifth year PhD student and lead author of the study.

“This study shows that we need to completely rethink how we measure sea-level rise in rapidly subsiding coastal lowlands” said Törnqvist, Vokes Geology Professor in the Tulane School of Science and Engineering.

The study, published in the open-access journal Ocean Science, says that while tide gauges can accurately measure subsidence that occurs below their foundations, they miss out on the shallow subsidence component. With at least 60 percent of subsidence occurring in the top 5 meters of the sediment column, tide gauges are not capturing the primary contributor to relative sea-level rise.

An alternative approach is to measure shallow subsidence using surface-elevation tables, inexpensive mechanical instruments that record surface elevation change in wetlands. Coastal Louisiana already has a network of more than 300 of these instruments in place. The data can then be combined with measurements of deep subsidence from GPS data and satellite measurements of sea-level rise, Keogh said.

Rates of relative sea-level rise obtained from this approach are substantially higher than rates as inferred from tide-gauge data. “We therefore conclude that low-elevation coastal zones may be at higher risk of flooding, and within a shorter time horizon, than previously assumed,” Keogh said.

She said the research has implications for coastal communities across the globe.

“Around the world, communities in low-lying coastal areas may be more vulnerable to flooding than we realized. This has implications for coastal management, city planners and emergency planners. They are planning based on a certain timeline, and if sea level is rising faster than what they are planning on, that’s going to be a problem.”

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

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Fender’s acoustic-electric hybrid is a technological wonder

Fender’s acoustic-electric hybrid is a technological wonder

I’ll admit that when I opened the guitar case of the Acoustasonic Telecaster I immediately thought of the toy guitar my parents gave me when I was four years old. With a small hole in the center of the body, it looks unlike anything out there. Well, except that plastic toy that somehow snuck its way into the recesses of my memory. Then I picked it up and strummed and… no this is not a plaything. This is a seriously impressive instrument that will more than likely win over skeptics once they start playing.

Gallery: Fender American Acoustasonic Series Telecaster | 10 Photos

The $2,000 Acoustasonic Telecaster is the first in a series of American Acoustasonic guitars that put the sounds of an acoustic guitar into the body of an electric guitar. It sounds simple enough, but in reality, there’s a very specific sound that needs to be produced by an acoustic guitar and recreating that in the smaller body with far less volume than a traditional acoustic took time and lot of research.

It’s something Fender’s VP of acoustic and Squier divisions Billy Martinez has been thinking about for 15 years. But it wasn’t until recently that its development got fully underway. “The journey started literally three years ago, it started two weeks after I started here at Fender. it was basically, how are we going to take the technology of an acoustic guitar forward into the future without losing the organic traditional vibe and feel to it,” Martinez said.

One of the issues with acoustic guitars is amplification. Guitarists can either get a guitar with a plug and connect directly into the PA (or acoustic amp) or place a microphone in front of the instrument. Both have worked for decades, but if you have a certain sound you want that involves a pedal or overdrive, it’s tough to get it right on stage and you always run the risk of feedback.

American Acoustasonic Series Telecaster

The Acoustasonic Telecaster eliminates those issues and I plugged into multiple amps (solid state and tube) and ran it through a series of random pedals without worrying about my band’s practice space becoming a den of low-end humming feedback.

It sounds like someone has placed a mic up to a traditional acoustic guitar but you have the option to switch to electric whenever you want to kick out the jams.

Fender went through four different proof of concepts to get to where the guitar sounds like it should when not plugged in. They needed to work on bracing and adjust the depth of the sound port so that it projected the noise coming from the instrument. It sounds like you’re playing an acoustic. That’s not a small feat. But there was more work to be done.

The guitar as is does 55-65 percent of the work according to Martinez. To make it play well with all your amps, it needed some DSP (digital sound processor) help for the “Acoustic Engine.” “First and foremost, we use the analog side of things first, which actually helps with not only the way the electronics work but also allows us to not have latency as you’re switching between positions,” Martinez said.

The result is a guitar that sounds like a traditional acoustic guitar with a variety of different mic and amp setups all available via the five-way switch. All that processing takes a lot of juice and the soundboard uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery (like the one found in your smartphone) for power. It recharges via a USB port, which at first seems odd, but then makes sense because we all have that cable and most of us have a battery pack. A four-hour charge will give you about 20 hours of play time. But even if you forget to power it up, the Acoustasonic Telecaster quickly found its way into my rotation.

American Acoustasonic Series Telecaster

I also ended up using the guitar to practice on the couch. I live in an apartment building and plugging in an electric guitar is a one-way ticket to getting the stink eye from my neighbors and a call from the landlords. Typically I use an acoustic guitar, it’s big and bulky and it works, but I don’t use one on stage. The Acoustasonic Telecaster, on the other hand, was more comfortable to sit back, relax and practice with.

It’s light, has the action you would expect from a Tele, sounds great and probably couldn’t have been made 15 years ago when Martinez first started thinking about it. Manufacturing something like this requires a lot of technology and know how. “It took us minimally two years just to even get the cavity right. That speaks to the innovation that was needed in order to get this to the next level,” Martinez said.

If I remember right I had a lot of fun with that toy guitar when I was four. Neither of my parents are musicians so there’s a good chance it’s what sparked my love of being on stage and playing music that I adore. Sure the Acoustasonic Telecaster resembles that childhood memory, but it’s an impressive feat of technology that’ll impress any guitarist that picks it up. It’s the versatile guitar that you can play during the entire gig and sound great doing it. It’s two (maybe three) guitars in one. More importantly, it’s the guitar you’ll want to play.

Image: Fender (Five standing guitars)

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UPS will expand its in-building delivery service to 10 more cities

UPS will expand its in-building delivery service to 10 more cities


UPS

Do you like the thought of UPS delivering packages to your apartment building when you’re not home? UPS certainly does. The courier plans to bring its in-building delivery option to 10 more cities starting in mid-2019, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, Seattle and Washington, DC. The concept remains the same as in the existing New York City and San Francisco. If you opt for it, a smart access device from Latch will let the courier enter the building and drop off your goods at a common space like the lobby or mail room — you shouldn’t get that dreaded “failed delivery attempt” notice just because you couldn’t take a few hours off work.

The Latch system uses a camera to record every interaction you allow, and it doesn’t permit access to your individual apartment.

There’s no guarantee you’ll have this option even if you do live in one of UPS’ target cities. Latch is only available for buildings that qualify based on “several” factors like location and size. You can visit Latch.com to register a building, but you’ll only be directed to an installer if you meet the right criteria. Still, it’s good news. Between this and initiatives like Key by Amazon, you’re one step closer to getting packages on your own terms.

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Oceans are warming even faster than previously thought: Recent observations show ocean heating in line with climate change models

Oceans are warming even faster than previously thought: Recent observations show ocean heating in line with climate change models

Berkeley — Heat trapped by greenhouse gases is raising ocean temperatures faster than previously thought, concludes an analysis of four recent ocean heating observations. The results provide further evidence that earlier claims of a slowdown or “hiatus” in global warming over the past 15 years were unfounded.

“If you want to see where global warming is happening, look in our oceans,” said Zeke Hausfather, a graduate student in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-author of the paper. “Ocean heating is a very important indicator of climate change, and we have robust evidence that it is warming more rapidly than we thought.”

Ocean heating is critical marker of climate change because an estimated 93 percent of the excess solar energy trapped by greenhouse gases accumulates in the world’s oceans. And, unlike surface temperatures, ocean temperatures are not affected by year-to-year variations caused by climate events like El Nino or volcanic eruptions.

The new analysis, published Jan. 11 in Science, shows that trends in ocean heat content match those predicted by leading climate change models, and that overall ocean warming is accelerating.

Assuming a “business-as-usual” scenario in which no effort has been made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 (CMIP5) models predict that the temperature of the top 2,000 meters of the world’s oceans will rise 0.78 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. The thermal expansion caused by this bump in temperature would raise sea levels 30 centimeters, or around 12 inches, on top of the already significant sea level rise caused by melting glaciers and ice sheets. Warmer oceans also contribute to stronger storms, hurricanes and extreme precipitation.

“While 2018 will be the fourth warmest year on record on the surface, it will most certainly be the warmest year on record in the oceans, as was 2017 and 2016 before that,” Hausfather said. “The global warming signal is a lot easier to detect if it is changing in the oceans than on the surface.”

The four studies, published between 2014 and 2017, provide better estimates of past trends in ocean heat content by correcting for discrepancies between different types of ocean temperature measurements and by better accounting for gaps in measurements over time or location.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, published in 2013, showed that leading climate change models seemed to predict a much faster increase in ocean heat content over the last 30 years than was seen in observations,” Hausfather said. “That was a problem, because of all things, that is one thing we really hope the models will get right.”

“The fact that these corrected records now do agree with climate models is encouraging in that is removes an area of big uncertainty that we previously had,” he said.

Deep Divers

A fleet of nearly 4,000 floating robots drift throughout the world’s oceans, every few days diving to a depth of 2000 meters and measuring the ocean’s temperature, pH, salinity and other bits of information as they rise back up. This ocean-monitoring battalion, called Argo, has provided consistent and widespread data on ocean heat content since the mid-2000s.

Prior to Argo, ocean temperature data was sparse at best, relying on devices called expendable bathythermographs that sank to the depths only once, transmitting data on ocean temperature until settling into watery graves.

Three of the new studies included in the Science analysis calculated ocean heat content back to 1970 and before using new methods to correct for calibration errors and biases in the both the Argo and bathythermograph data. The fourth takes a completely different approach, using the fact that a warming ocean releases oxygen to the atmosphere to calculate ocean warming from changes in atmospheric oxygen concentrations, while accounting for other factors, like burning fossil fuels, that also change atmospheric oxygen levels.

“Scientists are continually working to improve how to interpret and analyze what was a fairly imperfect and limited set of data prior to the early 2000s,” Hausfather said. “These four new records that have been published in recent years seem to fix a lot of problems that were plaguing the old records, and now they seem to agree quite well with what the climate models have produced.”

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Ressence’s $48,800 connected mechanical watch arrives in April

Ressence’s $48,800 connected mechanical watch arrives in April


Ressence

If you like the thought of wearing a classic mechanical watch but wish it had some of the conveniences of the connected age, your dream wristwear is here… so long as you’re willing to pay dearly for it. A year after unveiling a concept, Ressence has unveiled the finished version of its Type 2 watch. Like before, the timepiece (co-designed by Tony Fadell) uses an “e-Crown” that can set the watch to different time zones or check its 36-hour power reserve by either tapping the face or using a mobile app. You only have to set the watch the conventional way when you first take it out of the box. Solar cells hidden under the dial keep the e-Crown powered, and it relies on a true automatic movement that will keep ticking even if the digital side runs out of power.

The production model is largely similar to the prototype from 2018, with a 45mm titanium case, a choice of fabric or leather for the strap and dials in either anthracite (read: black) or gray. Don’t take it swimming — it’s only splash-resistant.

There’s only one major concern. As you might have surmised from the case materials and movement, this is very much a luxury watch that just happens to employ a few digital features. You’ll have to spend $48,800 to put a Type 2 on your wrist when it launches in April, which makes the Apple Watch Hermès and Montblanc Summit 2 seem like absolute bargains. Consider this, though: Ressence might be paving the way for other, more affordable mechanical watches that use modern tech to eliminate ages-old hassles.

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Even bicycles have Alexa now

Even bicycles have Alexa now

When I first clapped eyes on the Cybic E-Legend, I thought: “A bicycle with Alexa? What’s the point?” It felt like an utterly pointless addition to a pedal-powered two-wheeler, electric or otherwise. But as I waddled around the bike at CES, I started to appreciate the concept. It can offer directions in a pinch, turn the heating on before you get home, or send a message to your family when you get stuck in traffic. Heck, you could even use it to order UberEats while you’re wrapping up a weekend ride.

According to Amazon, Cybic is the first company to offer an Alexa-enabled bike. The complete range, which includes a hybrid and non-electric Legend, will be sold in the UK through Halfords this summer. A Cybic spokesperson hinted that the bicycles will come to other markets later.

Cybic E-Legend

The Cybic E-Legend has a small color-display computer, nestled in the middle of the handlebars, that houses a small speaker and far-field microphone array. The latter was surprisingly sensitive — on the show floor, packed with loud attendees, it picked up my “Alexa” requests just fine. Of course, a convention booth is quite different to real-life riding conditions. I’ll be interested to see how the microphones hold up while I’m riding at high speed, with plenty of wind and noisy cars around me.

Actually listening to Alexa proved tricky. For one, the speaker in the bike was too quiet, tinny and crackly. It should be possible, however, to connect some Bluetooth headphones and listen to Alexa that way. The second problem was connectivity. Cybic’s bikes can access the internet through a tethered phone or bundled Vodafone SIM card (each bike will come with a three-year data plan). On the show floor, where connectivity of any kind is impossible, the bike struggled to deliver timely responses. I asked for a flash briefing, for instance, and heard the first headline minutes later.

For now, I’ll reserve judgment. It does highlight the importance of response times, however — if you’re waiting more than two minutes for an answer, you might as well stop pedaling and find the information on your phone.

Cybic E-Legend

At the top of a frame, near the stem, is a plastic panel with three physical buttons. These “park” the bike using a smartly integrated rear-hub lock, turn on the frame’s front and rear lights, and snap a picture with any Bluetooth or WiFi-connected camera. Like VanMoof, a smart bike startup based in Amsterdam, the Cybic has integrated GPS to combat any potential thieves. It’s not clear, however, if the company is developing any kind of premium retrieval service that doesn’t put your own life in danger.

The electric version of the Cybic comes with a currently unconfirmed battery and motor system to aid your flesh-and-bone legs. “Bafang M500” is written on the pedals, though, which points to a respectable 250W motor and 450Wh battery. Unfortunately, the bike was locked to the show floor, so I wasn’t able to ride around and test its assistive powers. For now, I’ll just have to imagine what it’s like to pedal around Camden barking for Deliveroo, traffic updates, and the next track in my “get hyped” playlist.

Oh, and there’s no word on pricing. Most electric bikes, however, cost at least a few thousand dollars. I would expect something similar for the E-Legend, and be very surprised if it retails for under £1,000 in the UK.

Gallery: Cybic E-Legend | 15 Photos

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Fighting another virus? Blame your parents

Fighting another virus? Blame your parents

Genetics may play a bigger role in the body’s disease-fighting ability than scientists previously thought, according to the results from a new study of twins in Queensland, Australia.

Scientists have long known that people build their own immune defence networks using antibodies — which are disease-fighting molecules that are deployed when our bodies are exposed to different viruses and other pathogens.

There is strong evidence, however, that genetic factors play a key role in how effectively and efficiently the body builds and deploys these disease-fighting molecules.

Researchers from James Cook University’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) and the University of Queensland’s (UQ) Diamantina Institute have analysed blood samples from 1835 twins and thousands of their siblings.

The participants were recruited as part of the Brisbane Adolescent Twin Sample (BATS, also known as the Brisbane Longitudinal Twin Study; BLTS) conducted at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute (QIMRB).

AITHM Principal Research Fellow, Associate Professor John Miles of JCU said the team looked at the body’s immune response to six common human viruses, including the Human Herpes virus, Parvovirus, Epstein Barr virus and the Coxsackie virus.

“We were surprised to see that the ‘power’ of your immune system is predominantly controlled by the genes passed down from your mother or father,” said Associate Professor Miles.

“These genes determine whether you mount an intense or weak immune response when confronted with a viral infection.”

Professor David Evans, from UQ’s Diamantina Translational Research Institute said environmental factors shared between the twins appeared to be more important in determining whether individuals had been exposed, and generated an antibody response, to a virus in the first place.

“The classic twin study compares trait similarity between identical twins, (who are derived from the same fertilised egg and therefore share identical genomes), with the trait similarity between fraternal twins (who are derived from different eggs and therefore are as genetically similar to each other as ordinary siblings),” said Professor Evans.

“Demonstrating that antibody response is heritable is the first step in the eventual identification of individual genes that affect antibody response.”

The next step in the research is to identify the exact genes that are involved in tuning the strength of the immune response, said Dr Miles.

“If we can identify these genes we can imitate ‘super defenders’ when we design next generation vaccines. Likewise, if we can identify the genes that are failing in an immune response we could possibly correct that dysfunction using immunomodulation,” he said.

Professor Evans said the findings had very important implications for research into auto-immune disease.

“In the future, we are interested in seeing whether the genes that affect antibody response to particular viruses are also the same genes that affect risk of autoimmune disease (diseases where the body’s immune system attacks itself).

“Demonstrating that the same genes underlie both response to viral infection and risk of autoimmune disease would provide powerful evidence that infection by certain viruses are involved in triggering or maintaining disease.”

Queensland Minister for Science Leeanne Enoch said these results showed the high quality of science being conducted in Queensland. “It is wonderful that Queensland scientists have been able to generate ground-breaking research such as this,” Ms Enoch said.

“These results highlight the importance of scientific collaboration and shows how Queensland is a leader in science and innovation.”

The research was published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and was conducted in partnership with JCU’s AITHM, UQ’s Diamantina Institute and QIMRB. The work was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC) and the Australian Infectious Diseases Network.

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