Given the radical changes people have undertaken to limit the spread of COVID-19 (hello month six of quarantine-except-for-groceries), many have naturally wondered what impact this has had on pollution, including greenhouse gases and climate change. Some short-lived pollutants dropped noticeably during the strong lockdowns of April, as businesses shuttered and travel was reduced. But CO2 levels don't fluctuate based on short-term events like that, so the long-term effect on climate change was expected to be trivially small—assuming economies rebounded fairly quickly.
A new study led by the University of Leeds’ Piers Forster (and his daughter Harriet) takes advantage of phone location data to re-examine the first six months of the year, tracking more than just CO2. While they ultimately find that the impact has been small, their results also highlight that the way economies choose to rebound could have a much bigger effect over the long term.
The work relies on mobility data made public by Google and Apple, covering 114 countries. Using that along with energy and emissions datasets, the researchers converted behavior changes into pollution changes. The phone data record changes in transportation use quite well, although purported changes in activity between residential, commercial, and industrial settings are harder to relate to energy. The researchers compared the changes they saw in their phone data to a May study that estimated April emissions using things like utility data. They found their phone-based estimate of home energy use probably overestimates the real change.
In October, Michael Stay got a weird message on LinkedIn. A total stranger had lost access to his bitcoin private keys—and wanted Stay's help getting his $300,000 back.
It wasn't a total surprise that The Guy, as Stay calls him, had found the former Google security engineer. Nineteen years ago, Stay published a paper detailing a technique for breaking into encrypted zip files. The Guy had bought around $10,000 worth of bitcoin in January 2016, well before the boom. He had encrypted the private keys in a zip file and had forgotten the password. He was hoping Stay could help him break in.
In a talk at the Defcon security conference this week, Stay details the epic attempt that ensued.
For 20 years Bill Gates has been easing out of the roles that made him rich and famous—CEO, chief software architect, and chair of Microsoft—and devoting his brain power and passion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, abandoning earnings calls and antitrust hearings for the metrics of disease eradication and carbon reduction. This year, after he left the Microsoft board, one would have thought he would have relished shedding the spotlight directed at the four CEOs of big tech companies called before Congress.
But as with many of us, 2020 had different plans for Gates. An early Cassandra who warnedof our lack of preparedness for a global pandemic, he became one of the most credible figures as his foundation made huge investments in vaccines, treatments, and testing. He also became a target of the plague of misinformation afoot in the land, as logorrheic critics accused him of planning to inject microchips in vaccine recipients. (Fact check: false. In case you were wondering.)
My first interview with Gates was in 1983, and I’ve long lost count of how many times I’ve spoken to him since. He’s yelled at me (more in the earlier years) and made me laugh (more in the latter years). But I’ve never looked forward to speaking to him more than in our year of Covid. We connected on Wednesday, remotely of course. In discussing our country’s failed responses, his issues with his friend Mark Zuckerberg’s social networks, and the innovations that might help us out of this mess, Gates did not disappoint. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The government's gigabit voucher scheme has £70m available to poorly served communities.
A new project encourages adults to communicate more with their kids and focus less on their devices.
On Friday afternoon, the US Air Force answered one of the big questions that had been hanging over the US launch industry for more than a year—which two companies will be selected to compete for national security launch contracts from 2022 to 2026?
During a video call with reporters, William Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said that United Launch Alliance will receive approximately 60 percent of the launch orders and SpaceX will receive the other 40 percent. Two other bidders, Northrop Grumman with its Omega rocket, and Blue Origin with its New Glenn vehicle, will not receive awards.
"The ability to meet our technical factors to do the mission is the most important thing," Roper said, in response to a question on the Air Force criteria. Secondary factors included past performance, the ability to work with small businesses, and total evaluated price. The military has nine reference orbits for large and complex payloads that these rockets must meet.
A federal appeals court has ruled that the federal judiciary has been overcharging thousands of users for access to public court records. PACER, short for Public Access to Court Electronic Records, is an online system that allows members of the public (including Ars Technica reporters) to download documents related to almost any federal court case. For PDF documents, the site charges 10 cents per page—a figure far above the costs of running the system.
In 2016, three nonprofit organizations sued the judiciary itself over the issue. The class action lawsuit, filed on behalf of almost everyone who pays PACER fees, argued that the courts were only allowed to charge enough to offset the costs of running PACER. Over the last 15 years, as storage and bandwidth costs fell, the courts actually raised PACER fees from 7 cents to 10 cents. The courts used the extra profits to pay for other projects, like installing speakers and displays in courtrooms.
The plaintiffs argued that the courts were only allowed to charge the marginal cost of running PACER—which would be a fraction of the current fees. The government claimed that the law gave the courts broad discretion to decide how much to charge and how to use the money. In a 2018 ruling, a trial court judge charted a middle course. She ruled that some uses of PACER fees had exceeded Congress's mandates. But she didn't go as far as plaintiffs wanted by limiting spending to the operation of the PACER system itself.
Lots of people missed last year's debut of Doom Patrol, a delightfully bonkers show about a "found family" of superhero misfits, because it aired exclusively on the DC Universe streaming service. Fortunately, S2 also aired on HBO Max, expanding the series' potential audience. Apart from one sub-par episode, this second season expanded on the strengths of the first, with plenty of crazy hijinks, humor, pathos, surprising twists, and WTF moments. Alas, the season finale is bound to frustrate fans, since it ends on a major cliffhanger and leaves multiple dangling narrative threads.
(Spoilers for S1; some S2 spoilers below the gallery.)
As we reported previously, Timothy Dalton plays Niles Caulder, aka The Chief, a medical doctor who saved the lives of the various Doom Patrol members and lets them stay in his mansion. His Manor of Misfits includes Jane, aka Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero), whose childhood trauma resulted in 64 distinct personalities, each with its own powers. Rita (April Bowlby), aka Elasti-Woman, is a former actress with stretchy, elastic properties she can't really control, thanks to being exposed to a toxic gas that altered her cellular structure. Larry Trainor, aka Negative Man, is a US Air Force pilot who has a "negative energy entity" inside him and must be swathed in bandages to keep radioactivity from seeping out of his body. (Matt Bomer plays Trainor without the bandages, while Matthew Zuk takes on the bandaged role.)
A New Jersey man is facing felony charges for a tweet seeking to identify a police officer. Four others are facing felony charges for retweeting the tweet, the Washington Post reports.
Kevin Alfaro was attending a Black Lives Matter protest in the New York suburb of Nutley, New Jersey in June. He snapped a photo of a masked police officer and tweeted, "If anyone knows who this bitch is throw his info under this tweet."
In a GoFundMe campaign to cover his legal fees, Alfaro explained that he had been "physically threatened" by counter-protesters during the Black Lives Matter demonstration. He was trying to identify an officer who seemed to be friends with one of the counter-protestors, who Alvarao considered a "blatant racist."
Cloud gaming is increasingly becoming a thing, one that lets you play AAA games on a device regardless of the hardware specs. If your device can stream a video, it can probably play Red Dead Redemption on Google Stadia or Halo on Microsoft's xCloud (which is now technically called "Cloud gaming (Beta) with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate"). If your device is an iPhone or iPad, though, you're out of luck. Apple says these apps violate its App Store policies and will not be allowed into Apple's walled garden.
Apple sent a statement to Business Insider:
The App Store was created to be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers. Before they go on our store, all apps are reviewed against the same set of guidelines that are intended to protect customers and provide a fair and level playing field to developers.
Our customers enjoy great apps and games from millions of developers, and gaming services can absolutely launch on the App Store as long as they follow the same set of guidelines applicable to all developers, including submitting games individually for review, and appearing in charts and search. In addition to the App Store, developers can choose to reach all iPhone and iPad users over the web through Safari and other browsers on the App Store.
Apple's App Store pitch is that it has real, live humans personally review each app for safety and quality, giving users a single, trusted place to get all their apps. Apple wants to approve these games individually and let users rate them individually through the App Store. The guidelines Apple cites flatly ban showing "store-like interfaces" on a remote computer and "thin clients for cloud-based apps," which Stadia and xCloud both run afoul of.
Dozens of discussion groups on Reddit—including those dedicated to the National Football League, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Gorillaz—were hit in a Friday morning mass takeover spree that used the subreddits to spread messages promoting President Trump.
The hijacked accounts had tens of millions of combined members. The 148,000-member subreddit Supernatural, dedicated to the TV show by the same name, was emblazoned with pro-Trump images and slogans. Reddit personnel have since restored the moderator account to its rightful owner. The image above is how the subreddit appeared when the takeover was still active. The takeovers came five weeks after Reddit banned /r/The_Donald, a leading forum for fans of the president, and hundreds of other unrelated subreddits for violating recently rewritten content rules.
Reddit personnel published this post captioned, "Ongoing incident with compromised mod accounts." Reddit personnel then warned that moderator accounts were being compromised and used to vandalize subreddits. It asked moderators of affected subreddits to report them in responses. At the time this post when live, the list of reported subreddits included:
The Chinese firm's investments include Fortnite, Tesla and Universal Music - but it's under fire in the US.
The White House's campaign against the China-based developers of popular apps escalated dramatically in the last day, as President Donald Trump declared both TikTok and WeChat to be national emergencies and said the administration will ban or curtail their operations in September.
"The spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China (China) continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States," both orders read. "The United States must take aggressive action against the owners" of the apps "to protect our national security."
A 15-year-old high school student who posted a viral photo of a crowded school hallway says the school suspended her for five days for allegedly violating a social-media policy. But the school has since backed down and lifted the suspension.
Hannah Watters, a student at North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia, posted a photo to Twitter on Tuesday, noting the "jammed" hallways and "10 percent mask rate." Her tweet received 1,800 retweets and 4,500 likes. She also posted a 10-second video of a hallway at the 2,000-student school and says she was suspended around noon the next day.
This is what it looks like even with split dismissal. pic.twitter.com/erCA2lhOUb
— hannah (@ihateiceman) August 4, 2020
"The policies I broke stated that I used my phone in the hallway without permission, used my phone for social media, and posting pictures of minors without consent," Watters said, according to a BuzzFeed article. Watters called her actions "good and necessary trouble"—an apparent reference to a John Lewis quote—saying she is worried about the safety of students, faculty, and staff as the school reopens despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
As the scale and threat of the COVID-19 pandemic became clear, researchers who trace the spread of diseases were pretty unanimous: to buy us time to develop a therapy or vaccine, countries needed to implement heavy-handed restrictions to limit the opportunities for the virus to spread. Experts painted frightening pictures of huge peaks of infections that would overwhelm local hospital systems if lockdowns weren't put in place, leading to many unnecessary deaths. For countries like Italy and Spain, which were already in the throes of an uncontrolled spread, reality bore these predictions out. Peaks rose sharply in advance of restrictions but fell nearly as sharply once they were put in place.
But those same models also predicted that ending the restrictions would put countries at risk of a return of the virus a few months later, forcing governments to again decide between strict restrictions or an out-of-control pandemic in the next step of a cycle that would repeat until a vaccine or therapy became available. Those countries now have a somewhat different question: are there ways of controlling the virus without resorting to a cycle of on-and-off lockdowns? For countries like the US, which implemented restrictions briefly, erratically, and half heartedly, such that peaks haven't been separated by much of a trough, the same question will become relevant if we ever get the virus under control.
A new study by a large international team uses epidemiological models to explore ways of keeping things in check while allowing most of the population to resume a semi-normal life. It finds that there are ways of handling restriction easing, but they require a combination of an effective contact tracing system, extensive testing, and a willingness of households to quarantine together.
With offices shuttered around the world, many people are experiencing working from home for the first time—or experiencing it in much longer doses than they were used to. Many companies are planning to keep employees working remotely at least part of the time well into 2021. And some are considering making it permanent.
Countless people have had to improvise their work-at-home workspaces. But now that we're several months in, some of that improvisation may be wearing thin. And one of the things that often gets pushed to the back burner in all this improvisation is ergonomics. If you haven't worked from home regularly in the past, and you're now sitting at the kitchen table every day working from a corporate-issued laptop, you're probably feeling the physical strains of this never-going-to-be-normal reality.
As someone who has worked primarily from home for a quarter of a century, I've had a lot of time to figure out what does and does not work in a home office. The changes that have come with COVID-19—including having my wife and daughter in lockdown with me, both working from home themselves—have required some adjustments and some re-equipping. We needed our home workspaces to support the new world of work while maintaining comfort and a reasonable level of sanity mid-pandemic.
The Chinese firm says it is "shocked" by an order for US companies to stop doing business with the app.
Facebook has joined Twitter and TikTok in taking action against QAnon conspiracy-theory content.
In recent years, a number of car companies have—like Tesla—begun offering driver assistance systems that offer lane-keeping as well as adaptive cruise control. This might seem like a big step toward a "self-driving car," since a system like this can travel down the freeway for miles without human intervention. But a new report from AAA underscores the limitations of these systems.
Its most dramatic finding: the advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) on the latest cars still struggle to avoid collisions with parked vehicles. They tested cars from BMW, Kia, and Subaru; none consistently avoided running into a fake car partially blocking the travel lane.
The researchers also examined the ADAS in the Cadillac CT6 and the Ford Edge, but these cars' systems weren't included in the parked-vehicle test because their driver assistance systems wouldn't engage on AAA's closed course. They were included in other tests conducted on public highways.
Welcome to Edition 3.11 of the Rocket Report! A lot of the most interesting news this week came in the world of small launch, with Electron announcing a quick return to flight as well as boosting the capacity of its Electron booster. We were also surprised to see such a robust fundraising effort by ABL Space Systems.
As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.
Astra attempts launch of second orbital rocket. The launch window for launching Rocket 3.1 from the company's spaceport on Kodiak Island, Alaska, opened Sunday night. A combination of technical issues with the rocket and ground systems, as well as weather issues, precluded launches on Sunday through Wednesday.