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From The Editors Technology

Ford Invests $500M in Rivian; Partnership to Produce Ford-Branded EV on the Startup’s EV Platform

Ford is all set to invest $500 million in automotive startup Rivian in a “strategic partnership” that will see both the Michigan-based companies work together to develop a Ford-branded all-new battery electric vehicle using the startup’s flexible skateboard platform.

Calling it a “strategic partnership,” Rivian founder and CEO R.J. Scaringe said that it “marks another key milestone” in the company’s endeavor to expedite the “transition to sustainable mobility.”

“Ford has a long-standing commitment to sustainability, with Bill Ford being one of the industry’s earliest advocates, and we are excited to use our technology to get more electric vehicles on the road,” he said.

“We are excited to invest in and partner with Rivian,” Ford’s executive chairman Bill Ford said in a statement.

“I have gotten to know and respect RJ, and we share a common goal to create a sustainable Future for our industry through innovation,” he added.

“As we continue in our transformation of Ford with new forms of intelligent vehicles and propulsion, this partnership with Rivian brings a fresh approach to both,” said Jim Hackett – president and CEO of Ford.

“At the same time, we believe Rivian can benefit from Ford’s industrial expertise and resources,” he added.’

Meanwhile, Ford North-America Product Communications manager, Mike Levine, said in a tweeted statement that the Rivian investment was “in addition to Ford’s previously announced $11 billion investment in Evs,” adding that the company had “already confirmed two key fully electric vehicles: a Mustang-inspired crossover coming in 2020 and a zero-emissions version of the best-selling F-150 pickup.”

Having maintained a low profile for almost a decade,  Rivian announced its all-electric 5-passenger pickup truck, capable of clocking 0 to 60 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds in its top configuration, as recently as November 2018.

Established in 2009, Rivian had since been surreptitiously developing its line of electric vehicles, officially launching its first two products – the R1T pickup truck and the R1S SUV – at the 2018 Los Angeles auto show.

To give you an idea of the company’s expertise in developing EVs, and what it can develop together with Ford, let’s take a look at what the startup has already achieved with the R1T.

At 215.5-inch long and 79.3-inch wide, the R1T is a tad larger than a Honda Ridgeline or a Nissan Navara, with a generously spacious cabin that comfortably accommodates five passengers.

Futuristically designed, the vehicle has a full-width LED light bar on the front, it’s continuity broken by two vertical sets of round LEDs housed inside oval “stadium lights.”

In the absence of a traditional grille, the truck looks pretty neat and flat front-on, with just a skid plate and a couple of recovery hooks at the lower edge.

As Rivian was a relatively unknown entity in the industry, it was imperative that the vehicle’s design stood out to give the brand the desired recognition, which it seems to have done, considering the recent announcement.

“We don’t have history, we are a new brand,” Jeff Hammoud, Rivian VP of vehicle design had said at the time.

“You’ll be able to describe this [truck] to your friends quite easily,” he added.

As is the current trend in so far as electric vehicles are concerned, the R1T sits on a “skateboard” platform, but what Riviana has done differently is that it has integrated four compact  – yet powerful -electric motors.

Each motor has a 147 kW power output or 197 horsepower, which translates to a combined output of 788 hp,  vindicating Scaringe’s claim of “nearly 800 horsepower.”

However, it’s a bit more complicated than that, as the R1T is being offered in three battery-pack configurations of 105-kWh, 135-kWh, and 180-kWh – each offering a different “input to gearbox” power of 300kW, 522kW and 562kW and a range of 230+, 300+ and 400+ miles, respectively.

The 105-kWh model is rated 402 hp and 413 pound-feet of torque; the 135-kWh version should give 754 hp, plus 826 pound-feet of torque; while the 180-kWh R1T will be rated 700 horsepower and 826 pound-feet of torque.

Post-purchase, online upgrades will allow buyers to “unlock” more power, somewhat along the lines of Tesla’s “Ludicrous Mode” upgrades via software.

The RT1 also boasts a payload capacity of 800 kg and a towing capacity of 5,000 kg, in addition to a plethora of other features.

“The R1T’s lockable Gear Tunnel aft of the cab, which extends from one side of the vehicle to the other, provides more than 350 liters of space for hauling gear of any size, whether it be snowboards, golf bags or strollers,” claims Rivian.

The company also says that the R1T will be equipped with an extensive array of sensors for autonomous highway driving, including “camera, lidar, radar, ultrasonic and a high precision GPS coupled with high definition maps.”

According to the automaker, the R1T is expected to hit the roads sometime in the last quarter of 2020.

Rivian is doing a Tesla here by releasing the higher versions first – much like the Palo Alto-based company did with the Model 3.

This means, we can expect to see the 400+ and 300+ miles range versions at launch, while the 230+ miles base version will release “within 12 months of the start of production.”

The R1T will sell at a starting price of $69,000, which is not cheap by any stretch, however, it does offer fantastic value for all those dollars – at least on paper, for now.

Coming back to the Ford-Rivian tie-up, Wednesday’s press release said that Rivian would continue to remain an “independent company,” with the investment being “subject to customary regulatory approval.”

As part of the deal, Ford’s president of Automotive, Joe Hinrichs, will join the startup’s seven-member board once the investment formalities are over and done with.

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From The Editors Health

Scientists Invent Wearable Testicle-Chiller to Enhance Fertility in Men

If you found the idea of Autoblow AI – the world’s first oral sex device for men – disgusting, here’s one that will put a smile on your face, or even make you laugh out loud.

Scientists have come up with a wearable testicle refrigerator, of sorts, that not only keeps the unmentionables in their place but also boosts their sperm-producing capabilities by keeping them a degree or two cooler than the body temperature.

Of course, the latter is what the inventors have designed the device for; the former is just a bonus benefit.

My apologies if I have offended anyone by using the term “unmentionables” to describe them, as I do understand that there are many who mention these guys at the drop of a hat, and what’s more is that they have different nicknames for these hanging marvels.

Jokes apart, if CoolMen can truly boost sperm count as its developers claim, it could well prove to be the world’s best non-invasive fertility-boosting option for all those fatherhood aspirants out there.

Developed by Cooltec Limited, a Polish company that claims to specialize in helping men “becoming fathers,” the contraption consists of two rubber-lined pouches, shaped precisely to give the testicles a snug fit, and a waistband that is attached to the two holders.

CoolMen is worn like underwear and supposed to be kept on for at least 12-16 hours every day for three to four weeks to derive maximum benefit out of it.

Testicles work best when they’re a degree or two cooler than the body temperature
Testicles work best when they’re a degree or two cooler than the body temperature

The materials used in manufacturing CoolMen are flexible and lightweight to avoid injury and to make the device as comfortable as possible, considering it is meant to be kept strapped on for extended periods of time.

Male infertility has been on the rise in recent times, largely due to unhealthy lifestyles, such as eating habits, lack of exercise, smoking, excessive indulgence in alcoholic beverages, and the likes.

Low sperm count can also result from regular use of tight-fitting clothes, too many saunas, driving or cycling regularly for long hours and, of course, conditions like obesity and diabetes, to name a couple.

However, Cooltec says that reduced sperm count, or infertility, is “most commonly associated with elevated testicular temperatures,” which should ideally be one to two degrees Celsius below the normal body temperature.

“Elevated temperatures result in the death of cells from which spermatozoa are formed and further stages of the spermatogenesis process,” says the company website.

“Because of this, the quality of the semen from superheated testicles decreases,” the website goes on to add.

The company claims that CoolMen can also be used to effectively treat varicoceles, a scrotal condition that also causes infertility, affecting as many as fifteen to twenty percent of all men, with a higher vulnerability rate among older men.

Embedded sensors in the pouches constantly monitor the temperature of the testicles and feed the data to a dedicated smartphone app allowing for real-time readings.

The wearer can share the stored data with his doctor who can then work out a suitable line of treatment.

CoolMen smartphone app.
CoolMen smartphone app.

By the way, CoolMen can also record the wearer’s steps, calorie intake and heart rate, which makes it almost as good as a smartwatch and worth the $305 price tag attached to it.

If only it could read the time as well, but then smartwatches can’t read the temperature of your testicles, can they?

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From The Editors Top 5

Top Five Space Stories of 2018

Ghost Galaxy

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About a month ago, a team of astronomers from different universities around the world discovered a bizarre dwarf galaxy, named Antlia 2 (or Ant 2), orbiting the Milky Way in the constellation Antlia.

Not only was Antlia 2’s enormous proportions atypical of a dwarf galaxy, but it was so dim and pale that it had gone undetected, until now – thanks to the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite that provided the necessary data for the research team to sift through.

Antlia 2’s dimness, low density and the fact that it is hiding behind the Milky Way’s bright central disk are the reasons why it went undiscovered for as long as it did.

The relatively smaller size of most dwarf galaxies makes them defenseless against the gravitational forces of larger and more massive galaxies in their vicinity.

However, being larger than normal and the fact that it barely emits any light, Antlia 2 is kind of bizarre for a dwarf galaxy.

Researchers attribute Antlia 2’s low luminosity to the gravitational tides of the Milky Way.

Even though the Phantom galaxy is distant enough from the Milky Way to be ripped apart by its gravity, it does get influenced by the huge mass of the larger parent galaxy.

What the researchers have not been able to explain, though, is the disparity in Antlia 2’s mass and size.

With a relatively low mass, the ghost galaxy is vulnerable to the gravitational forces around it, because of which its size should have also been small, which is not the case – something the researchers have, so far, been unable to explain.

Under normal circumstances, the powerful forces of a much larger galaxy would cause the smaller galaxy to lose mass as well as condense, rather than grow.

For now, Antlia 2 may appear to be an “oddball” dwarf galaxy, but if researchers are able to locate more such galaxies, the oddity of Antlia 2 could possibly be better explained.

Parker Solar Probe

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Earlier this year, NASA launched it’s $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe on a seven-year mission that will take it deep into the sun’s atmosphere, the corona.

During this period, the instruments-loaded Parker will orbit the Sun 24 times, collecting important scientific data and beaming it back to earth.

If all goes well, researchers should have ample data by the end of the longish mission – not in space terms, though – to begin understanding the mysterious workings of our star, something that the scientific community has devoted decades towards.

Data such as 3-D images, electric and magnetic field recordings, and high-energy particle catalogs, to mention a few, will go a long way in helping them find long-elusive answers to most of their questions about the Sun and its corona.

It should, and probably will, enable scientists to safeguard spacecraft, astronauts, and sensitive ground equipment through improved space weather forecast, and much more, in times to come.

“It’s of fundamental importance for us to be able to predict this space weather, much like we predict weather here on Earth,” says NASA solar scientist Alex Young of the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

Not only is Parker expected to achieve record-breaking speeds of up to 450,000 miles per hour during the course of its multiple revolutions around the sun, it should also be able to get within 3.83 million miles of the star’s fiery surface – which is the closest it will get to it during its 7-year spin, creating yet another record.

The nearest that any spacecraft has ever got was a probe called Helios 2, which was able to make it to within 27 million miles, or 43 million kilometers, of the sun, way back in 1976.

Curiosity Rover

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2018 was another great year of photos and science on Mars for NASA’s nuclear-powered Curiosity rover, which was launched in 2011.

In June 2018, Curiosity found organic matter embedded in the sedimentary rocks of the three-billion-year-old Gale Crater on Mars, giving newfound impetus to the possibility that extraterrestrial life existed on the planet at some point in its past.

The organic molecules found in the ancient bedrock suggest that conditions back then may have been ideal to support some form of life, with a good chance that microorganisms once thrived on the red planet.

Despite numerous tests, researchers are unable to give a definitive reason for the formation of the organic matter, leaving open three main possibilities.

  • The material had its origin elsewhere in the universe and was carried to Mars in a comet, or other such celestial bodies crashing into the Martian surface.
  • They are the remnants of ancient organisms that lived on the planet billions of years ago.
  • They are the by-products of chemical reactions that the rocks underwent over time.

Voyager 2 Entered Interstellar Space

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NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft became the second human-made space plane to enter interstellar space after Voyager 1 achieved the feat in 2012.

Launched way back in in 1977, broke through the Sun’s heliopause and entered the void of interstellar space on Nov 5, 2018 – officially announced by the space agency on Dec 10.

While the heliopause is the boundary separating the Sun’s heliosphere from interstellar space, the heliosphere itself is a vast region surrounding the Sun that is dominated by its continuously expanding plasma known as the solar wind.

It is because of this solar wind that objects within this vast bubble of heliosphere, including Earth, are relatively better protected from the impact of galactic cosmic rays that are far more dominant beyond the heliopause – in interstellar space.

Voyager 2 is currently more than 11 billion miles from earth, getting farther and farther away as it hurtles through the interstellar void at 34,191 miles per hour (55,025 kph).

However, it is still 300 years short of entering the disc-shaped inner Oort cloud and another 30,000 years away from exiting the spherical outer Oort cloud, completely beyond the influence of the solar system.

Oumuamua

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Although more than a year has passed since a cigar-shaped asteroid came tumbling through our solar system, scientists learned a lot more about this interstellar intruder in 2018.

The cigar-shaped space rock was detected by astronomers at the Pan-STARRS 1 observatory in Hawaii, in Nov 2017, during a routine search of the skies for near-Earth objects on behalf of NASA.

The name Oumuamua is Hawaiian for a messenger from a distant past.
Studies based on the observations made during the 2017 flyby deemed it a strange interstellar object.

Rob Weryk, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy (IfA), said, “Its motion could not be explained using either a normal solar system asteroid or comet orbit.”

Further inspection of follow-up images from the European Space Agency’s telescope on Tenerife in the Canary Islands revealed that there was, indeed, something unusual about the object.

Estimated to be a quarter of a mile long, which is ten times its width, OUMUAMUA is dark reddish in color and elongated in shape, somewhat like a cigar, with no gas or dust surrounding it.

According to NASA, “Oumuamua is dense, comprised of rock and possibly metals, has no water or ice, and that its surface was reddened due to the effects of irradiation from cosmic rays over hundreds of millions of years.”

In November 2018, Harvard researchers submitted a paper that suggested Oumuamua could well be a fully operational probe sent to our solar system by some alien civilization.

However,  many experts in the field are skeptical about the alien spacecraft theory, something that the authors of the paper, Avi Loeb, chairman of Harvard’s astronomy department, and Shmuel Bialy, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics were also not too sure of, calling it an “exotic scenario.”

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From The Editors Science

Sending People to Mars is “Stupid” – “Almost Ridiculous” Says Former NASA Astronaut

While the likes of NASA and private players like SpaceX and Blue Origin, to name a couple, seem determined to send manned missions to Mars, one of the first men to orbit the moon believes it’s a “stupid” idea.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, former NASA astronaut Bill Anders, said that sending people to Mars was “almost ridiculous.”

He was speaking to the radio broadcast service as part of a special documentary – “Apollo 8: Christmas On the Far Side of the Moon” – celebrating the golden jubilee anniversary of the mission.

Anders told the service that he was a “big supporter” of unmanned space missions, largely due to the fact that they were much cheaper to fund than human missions, which is why they didn’t have any public support.

“What’s the imperative? What’s pushing us to go to Mars?” Anders asked.
“I don’t think the public is that interested,” he added.

Anders, who as a lunar module pilot was an integral part of NASA’s Apollo 8 mission in 1968, was rather critical of how the space agency has evolved since.

“NASA couldn’t get to the Moon today. They’re so ossified,” Anders lamented.

“Nasa has turned into a jobs program… many of the centers are mainly interested in keeping busy and you don’t see the public support other than they get the workers their pay and their congressmen get re-elected,” he said.

“I think NASA’s lucky to have what they’ve got — which is still hard, in my mind, to justify,” he said, acknowledging that he wasn’t a “very popular guy at NASA for saying that,” but that’s what he thought.

Ander’s Apollo 8 crewmate and mission commander, Frank Borman, has a different perspective, though.

“I’m not as critical of NASA as Bill is,” he told Radio 5, adding, “I firmly believe that we need robust exploration of our Solar System and I think a man is part of that.”

However, Borman was somewhat scathing in his opinion about Space X CEO Elon Musk and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, both of whom have manned missions to the red planet in the pipeline.

“I do think there’s a lot of hype about Mars that is nonsense,” Borman said.
“Musk and Bezos, they’re talking about putting colonies on Mars, that’s nonsense,” he added.

Reminiscing about the pioneering mission, Anders said that the “Earthrise” picture taken from Apollo 8, which shows the blue planet above the lunar horizon, half-lit against the pitch black of space, has left a lasting impression on his mind.

The famous Earthrise image from Apollo 8 (Source: NASA)
The famous Earthrise image from Apollo 8 (Source: NASA)

Calling it a “great endeavor,” Borman said that the Apollo 8 mission, effectively, won the space race for the United States.

When people were celebrating Christmas back home, Anders, Borman and the third crew member of the mission, command module pilot Jim Lovell, were marveling at the sight of the moon up close.

Apollo 8 went on to orbit the moon as many as ten times, taking twenty hours in the process, and each time they went around the far side they lost radio contact with mission control.

“Behind the moon, you have absolutely no contact with anybody on Earth, anyway,” Anders said.

“I felt like I have to make sure the spacecraft was working,” he said, adding that he didn’t dwell much on the fact that they were out of touch with humanity.

Borman said that working with NASA kept him away from home for 200-250 days a year, “so it was nothing that we weren’t accustomed to,” but the fact that it was Christmas made him more nostalgic than he had ever felt.

Launched on December 21, 1968, Apollo 8 traveled through space for 68 hours to cover the distance to the moon and, as mentioned, orbited Earth’s natural satellite ten times in just over twenty hours before heading back home.

Their spaceplane made a watery landing in the northern Pacific Ocean on December 27, about 4,500 meters off-target, where they were picked up by the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown.

The Apollo 8 mission set the tone for Commander Neil Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin’s historic moon landing on Apollo 11, which in the words of Armstrong was “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Speaking at a Q&A session at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, earlier this year, Musk had spoken at length on one of his pet topics, Mars and its imminent colonization.

He said that SpaceX was in the process of building an “interplanetary ship,” which would be the first step towards realizing his super-ambitious dream of putting humans on the red planet.

“We are building the first ship, or interplanetary ship, right now,” Musk told screenwriter Jonathan Nolan at the Austin venue.

He was obviously referring to the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR)

“And we’ll probably be able to do short flights, short up and down flights, during the first half of next year,” he said.

Clearing the general misconception that the colonization of Mars would mainly serve as “an escape hatch for rich people,” Musk said that it was far from the truth.

He said that it was a dangerous undertaking that could even end in death for some, but “excitement” for those who manage to come out of it alive.

“For the people who go to Mars, it’ll be far more dangerous,” he said.

“It kind of reads like Shackleton’s ad for Antarctic explorers. ‘Difficult, dangerous, good chance you’ll die. Excitement for those who survive.’ That kind of thing,” he added.

He said that despite the risks involved, there were people for whom the thrill of the adventure into the “next frontier” would take precedence over everything else.

“There are already people who want to go in the beginning. There will be some for whom the excitement of exploration and the next frontier exceeds the danger,” Musk said.

Taking it a step or two further, he said that his Mars endeavor would herald larger world participation, in terms of building the infrastructure necessary for the colonization of his favorite planet, ranging from “iron foundries to pizza joints and nightclubs.”

He even spoke about a “direct democracy” kind of government on the red planet, allowing colonizers to vote directly on specific issues, rather than having a representative government.

“Most likely, the form of government on Mars would be somewhat of direct democracy.” He said.

“Maybe it requires 60% [majority vote] to get a law in place, but any number over 40% can remove a law,” Musk said. That way it would be “easier to get rid of a rule than to put one in,” he added.

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From The Editors Technology

Australia Passes Anti-Encryption Bill Allowing Law Enforcement Agencies to Snoop on People

In a bid to allow security agencies to bypass encryption in private messaging apps, Australia’s House of Representatives on Thursday (Dec 6) passed the controversial Assistance and Access Bill, better known as the Anti-Encryption Bill.

Once the bill gets the necessary royal approval and becomes enforceable law, which is expected to happen sometime before Christmas, it will empower the country’s law enforcement agencies to issue “technical notices” to companies like WhatsApp and Signal, among others, to allow them access to people’s private messages and chat histories.

Encryption is basically a mathematical manipulation to scramble communication in a way that nobody can decipher what it is except the people involved in the exchange – that is the sender and the receiver.

Obviously, the purpose of this method is to protect sensitive information from being accessed by unauthorized people.

Tech companies like Apple and Google, to name a couple, have been increasingly building encryption into their products to protect the digital privacy of billions of users across the globe.

So, when you’re messaging a friend or exchanging sensitive information about your business, or whatever else, with another person, you can rest assured in the fact that the communication is strictly between the intended parties and completely undecipherable to others.

The problem is that there is no stopping these encrypted exchanges from taking place between people with malicious intent, like terrorists, for example, which makes it next to impossible for law enforcement personnel to decipher the communication and prevent crime from being perpetrated.

However, privacy advocates across the world continue to fight in favor of digital privacy, arguing that communication between individuals should be protected from potential snoopers, including the government.

For now, it’s a hot topic of debate with no immediate resolution in sight.

Coming back to the bill in question, lawmakers argue that its purpose is to target serious crimes like terrorism, homicide, sex offenses and drug smuggling and that requests made to tech companies for backdoor access will carry two mandatory signatures from senior government officials to avoid misuse of the law.

Despite the assurances, there is a general sense of skepticism and mistrust among people and institutions, including the Law Council of Australia, about the proposed legislation – as was evident from the reaction it evoked on social media.

In fact, the Law Council issued what it calls a “warning,” asking the Australian Parliament to avoid rushing the bill as it carried the “very real risk of unintended consequences” if not properly scrutinized before making it a law.

While the council is not against giving law enforcement agencies the additional tool to fight crime, it is of the opinion that a thorough scrutiny of the proposed legislation is absolutely imperative to address the genuine concerns of the people.

“The Law Council supports aspects of this bill to give intelligence agencies additional powers to help keep us safe,” said Arthur Moses – the President-elect of the Law Council.

However, the “unprecedented” bill was way too multifaceted to be pushed through Parliament in a matter of just four days, without giving it the due scrutiny it deserved, he cautioned.

“Parliament must proceed carefully to ensure we get it right. Rushed law can make bad law,” he said.

He goes on to say that failure to assess all aspects of the bill can result in undesired consequences that can likely infringe on the “privacy and rights of law-abiding Australian citizens, the media and corporate sector.”

Moses is also worried about a possible political backlash against those who are voicing their concerns about the proposed anti-encryption law.

“When dealing with sensitive and complicated legislation like this, it is completely inappropriate for any politician to accuse anyone of putting at risk national security because they are raising legitimate concerns about legislation,” he said.

He said that Australian democracy had no place for such allegations to be thrown around like “confetti,” suggesting that “the energy would be better spent on getting the legislation right.”

He appealed to the parliament to act with “caution, moderation and restraint,” not only as far as the bill is concerned but in “all legislation that impacts on the privacy and rights of Australians.”

“I’ve spent >20 years building cryptography and security software. Now the Australian govt is considering laws that could coerce me to add backdoors.

This is akin to requiring a doctor to infect a patient or an engineer to weaken a bridge,” tweeted one Damien Miller, who couldn’t have said it better.

Western Australia Senator Jordan Steele-John called it a “sad day for democracy and our online privacy, safety & security.”

Whatever the comments, there seems to be a general consensus among the Twitterati that the Assistance and Access Bill is not such a brilliant idea after all – the discontentment was palpable.

Here are some more interesting reactions.

https://twitter.com/thetopjob/status/1069891828436987909

https://twitter.com/jurassic_snark_/status/1070130066636529664

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From The Editors Science

Antares Rocket Launches Spaceship Cygnus, Carrying NASA Cargo to the International Space Station

After two days of weather-related delays, a Northrop Grumman Antares 230 rocket climbed into orbit after a spectacular pre-dawn launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 4:01 a.m. EST (0901 GMT), on Saturday (Nov 17).

Propelled by a whopping 864,000 pounds of thrust from the Russian-built RD-181 engines, the rocket soared into the pre-dawn sky over Virginia’s Eastern Shore, veering southeast over the Atlantic to stay on course for its intended destination.

Perched atop the 139-foot launcher was a Cygnus spacecraft – also developed and owned by Northrop Grumman – loaded with 7,400 pounds worth of research hardware and supplies for the International Space Station (ISS).

Included in the provisions are some ice cream and fresh fruits for the three-member Expedition 57 team currently manning the orbital laboratory; they are NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Alexander Gerst and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev.

As the first-stage of the Antares shut down and separated three and a half minutes into the launch, the upper-stage Castor 30XL rocket motor took over the next stage of the supply mission, accelerating Cygnus towards the intended point of the second separation.

Five and a half minutes later, the Antares upper-stage released the supply ship into a preliminary orbit for its two-day onward journey to the ISS.

“Not only was it a beautiful launch this morning, it put Cygnus exactly where we wanted it in orbit,” said Frank DeMauro, Northrop Grumman vice president of advanced programs.

“The spacecraft, after separation, we were able to communicate (with it) extremely quickly and start conditioning. We initialized the guidance system and the propulsion system. That all checked out really well,” DeMauro added.

If all goes according to plan, the un-manned Cygnus should make contact with the space station early Monday morning, at around 5:20 a.m. EST (1020 GMT).

Auñón-Chancellor and Gerst will be eagerly waiting to deploy the space station’s robotic arm to grab the goodies-laden Cygnus – nothing less than a treasure ship for the resident astronauts.

The Cygnus launch was the second ISS supply mission in a matter of a day, following the launch of Russia’s Progress 71 space vehicle aboard a Soyuz-FG rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Saturday (Nov 17) at 12:14 a.m. local time (1:14 p.m. EST, 1814 GMT on Nov. 16).

Progress 71 has been cruising with its three-ton cargo of food, fuel, and other essential supplies for more than forty hours now, and is expected to dock at the Russian section of the space station at around 2:30 p.m. EST (1930 GMT) on Sunday (Nov 18).

“While we were waiting on the weather out here at Wallops, we had an awesome Progress launch out of Baikonur, Kazakhstan on Friday,” said Joel Montalbano, deputy space station program manager at NASA

“We’re looking forward to both vehicles being attached to the International Space Station and the crew working on them getting the science, getting the research out, getting all the equipment that we’ve bought up on these vehicles, and continuing the great work we do on the International Space Station,” Montalbano added.

Cygnus will remain berthed at the orbiting lab until mid-February 2019, by which time it will have offloaded its cargo and taken on waste, before returning back to the Earth’s atmosphere for its intended burn up.

However, before the cargo hauler meets its fiery end, it will deploy two CubeSats (MYSat 1 and CHEFSat 2) at a higher orbit, some 500 kilometers (300 miles) above Earth, as well as a NASA-sponsored CubeSat called Kicksat 2 at a lower orbit roughly 325 kilometers (200 miles) above the planet.

Built by Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi, with support from Northrop Grumman and the UAE’s Al Yah Satellite Communications Company, MYSat 1 is a 1U CubeSat, roughly the size of a Rubik’s cube, with an onboard camera and lithion-ion coil cell battery.

The U.S. Naval Research Lab’s shoebox-sized CHEFSat 2 – a replica of the CubeSat launched in Nov last year, also aboard a Cygnus spaceship – “will test commercial off-the-shelf technologies to evaluate their performance in space, focusing on new radio communications capabilities,” reports Spaceflight Now.

The lower orbit KickSat 2 is equipped with 100 “sprites” that are, basically, 1,4-inch circuit boards with integrated power, computing, sensing and communication equipment.

KickSat 2 is designed to deploy the tiny sprites at a relatively low orbit to enable re-entry within a few weeks, rather than deploying them at a higher orbit where they are likely to become space debris and a threat to other satellites.

KickSat 2 is a continuation of the unsuccessful KickSat mission in 2014 when it failed to deploy the sprites in orbit.

The Cygnus space cargo hauler was Christened S.S. John Young, in honor of NASA astronaut John Watts Young who passed away on January 5 this year.

The veteran astronaut had the distinction of flying six space missions, including Gemini 3, Gemini 10, Apollo 10, Apollo 16, STS-1 and STS-9, in his 42 years of active service at NASA – a record in itself.

He also holds the record of being the only person to have piloted and commandeered four classes of spacecraft, including Gemini, the Apollo Command/Service Module, the Apollo Lunar Module, and the Space Shuttle.

He was one of just three people to have flown to the Moon on two occasions, in addition to becoming the first person to fly solo around the natural satellite.

He also drove the Lunar Roving Vehicle on the Moon’s surface during Apollo 16.

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From The Editors Science

Catastrophic 5C Temperature Rise Expected by Turn of the Century, Says New Study

A new study, ranking the environmental targets of different countries, holds the climate change policies of dozens of them, including China, Russia, and Canada, responsible for the expected 5C-plus temperature rise by the end of the century.

Published Friday in the journal Nature Communications, the research paper reveals that these countries are not pursuing their climate change pledges to the United Nations sincerely enough to avoid an environmental catastrophe, which as of now looks imminent.

According to the Paris Agreement of December 2015, adopted within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), hundreds of countries pledged individual NDCs, or Nationally Determined Contributions, toward a collective environmental goal.

The NDC calls for member countries to ensure that their individual contributions to climate change are ambitious, progressive and Agreement-centric enough to achieve the “aspirational levels” of 1.5 °C – 2 °C by 2100.

However, the authors note that the NDCs are self-serving and not in keeping with the Paris Agreement, as a result of which the aspirational level targets have little chance of being met.

“Current NDCs individually align, at best, with divergent concepts of equity and are collectively inconsistent with the Paris Agreement,” writes study head and lead author Yann Robiou du Pont from the Australian-German Climate & Energy College, University of Melbourne, along with co-author and university colleague Malte Meinshausen.

If the existing state of affairs does not change soon enough, we could well be looking at a 2.3 °C increase in global temperatures by 2100,” say the authors.

“Extending such a self-interested bottom-up aggregation of equity might lead to a median 2100-warming of 2.3 °C,” they write.

Robiou du Pont and Meinshausen do, however, believe that “tightening the warming goal of each country’s effort-sharing approach to aspirational levels of 1.1 °C and 1.3 °C could achieve the 1.5 °C and well-below 2 °C-thresholds, respectively.”

Calling the suggested target revision a “new hybrid allocation,” the authors say that it’s a reconciliation between “the bottom-up nature of the Paris Agreement” and its “top-down warming thresholds and provides a temperature metric to assess NDCs.”

The UNFCCC objective of stabilizing GHG (Greenhouse Gas) concentrations, based on the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC) to push global warming targets, is far from being met as portrayed by the NDCs.

“While the quest for a common understanding of what is a fair effort-sharing continues, rapidly falling technology costs of renewables and increasing mitigation co-benefits shift the attention away from effort-sharing considerations,” note the authors.

“However, current bottom-up NDCs do not add up to a global ambition consistent with the joint temperature goals,” they say, suggesting that “a 5-year stocktake requires all countries to pledge enhanced actions and support.”

Per the current NDCs, India is leading the pack with a warming target of 2.6 °C, which is rather impressive considering it only marginally exceeds the upper target threshold of 2C.

“The greenest countries on this assessment are the least developed,” The Independent quotes Robiou du Pont as having said.

“Given that they pollute so much less, have polluted so much less and have low per capita GDP, they could increase their emissions to some extent, and that would be fair,” Robiou du Pont told the online newspaper.

The industrialized nations, on the other hand, are the poor performers with China and major energy exporters like Saudi Arabia, Canada and Russia among the top offenders with their NDCs leading to a potentially catastrophic 5C-plus warming.

“Many industrialised countries perform poorly. After all, we know that industrialisation brought climate change,” Robiou du Pont told The Independent, adding that it did not mean that these countries could not take corrective measures.

Among the countries pursuing policies that are likely to lead the planet to a 4C temperature jump, are Australia (heavily dependent on coal exports) and the United States, which is looking to balance its industry, energy and agricultural emissions by encouraging more renewables.

Slightly better-off are EU countries, with most of them producing emissions that would raise the planet’s temperatures by 3C.

“It is interesting is to see how far out some countries are, even those that are considered leaders in the climate mitigation narrative,” the Guardian quoted Robiou du Pont as saying.

The lead author is confident that study revelations will inspire governments to adopt friendlier environmental policies, despite the fact that it exposes the lack of political will on their part to adhere to the spirit of the Paris Agreement.

Here’s what he told the Guardian:

“The positive outcome of this study is that we have a metric to assess the ratcheting up of ambition.

“Civil society, experts and decision-makers can use this to hold their governments accountable, and possibly undertake climate litigation cases as happened recently in the Netherlands.

“This metric translates the lack of ambition on a global scale to a national scale.

“If we look at the goal of trying to avoid damage to the Earth, then I am pessimistic as this is already happening.

“But this should be a motivation to ratchet up ambition and avoid global warming as much and as rapidly as possible.

“Every fraction of a degree will have a big impact.”

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From The Editors Health

U.K. Companies Considering Microchip Implants for Employees to Boost Security

In what is being seen by many as a ridiculous bid to augment security and stop access to sensitive areas, U.K. companies are reportedly exploring their options to literally get under their employees’ skin by microchipping them.

Biohax International, a Swedish tech company specializing in human chip implants, told the Sunday Telegraph that it was in talks with several legal and financial firms in the U.K., including a “major” player with hundreds of thousands of staff on its payroll, about fitting their employees with the £150 device, not bigger than a grain of rice.

”These companies have sensitive documents they are dealing with,” said Biohax founder and former professional body piercer Jowan Österlund.
“[The chips] would allow them to set restrictions for whoever,” he told the publication.

As insensitive as it may sound, Österlund’s justification is understandable as Biohax stands to gain hugely should the talks materialize into something concrete – read lucrative microchipping contracts for the company.

Microchipping someone would entail implanting the tiny device in the fleshy part between the thumb and the index finger (forefinger).

X-Ray showing microchip implant between the thumb and index finger (Image: Biohax)
X-Ray showing microchip implant between the thumb and index finger (Image: Biohax)

X-Ray showing microchip implant between the thumb and index finger (Image: Biohax)

The prospect of being microchipped by employers is being looked at by workers and certain organizations as a breach of employees’ right to privacy.

A spokesperson for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which represents 190,000 businesses comprising some 1,500 direct and 188,500 indirect members, was quoted by the Guardian to have said that it made for “for distinctly uncomfortable reading.”

Here’s what he told the British daily newspaper.

“While technology is changing the way we work, this makes for distinctly uncomfortable reading.

“Firms should be concentrating on rather more immediate priorities and focusing on engaging their employees.”

Trades Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady is concerned that companies may use coercive tactics to microchip their workers.

“We know workers are already concerned that some employers are using tech to control and micromanage, whittling away their staff’s right to privacy,” O’Grady told the Guardian.

“Microchipping would give bosses even more power and control over their workers,” he added, going on to say that “there are obvious risks involved, and employers must not brush them aside, or pressure staff into being chipped.”

Österlund is of the opinion that bigger companies with 200,000 or more workers should make microchipping optional for them, saying that even “if you have a 15% uptake that is still a huge number of people that won’t require a physical ID pass.”

BioTeq is another microchipping company offering the implants to, both, businesses and individuals, with 150 successful implants in the U.K. to its credit.

In fact, the founder and owner of the Hampshire -based company, Steven Northam, has the distinction of being the first Britisher to be microchipped.

This is what he told BusinessCloud in an interview in September this year.
“I thought it was quirky and that there were interesting things you could do with the tech.

“I had the chip fitted almost a year ago and recently bought a house, so I thought instead of fitting a lock I’ll fit a swipe-card entry so I can get in with my hand, start my car, all sorts of stuff.

“I didn’t really have any concerns about having it done, it was quite straightforward.”

Northam told the Guardian that BioTeq had also microchipped employees of a bank interested in testing the technology and that it had even shipped the tiny implants to Spain, France, Germany, Japan and China.

He also said that all directors at BioTech and IncuHive, one of the other companies he owns, have been microchipped.

Three out of the Big Four auditors, including KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Ernst & Young, have said that they are not considering microchipping their employees, with the fourth biggie, Deloitte, declining to comment, the Guardian reported.

If the Biohax website is anything to go by, the company will soon have a presence in London.

The company also claims to have microchipped 4,000 people – a majority of them in Sweden – and says that is working closely with Statens Järnvägar, the state-owned Swedish rail company, to enable passengers to travel using chip plants instead of tickets.

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From The Editors Technology

SAMSUNG Galaxy X: Here’s a First Look at the Foldable Smartphone

After months of rumors, speculations, leaks, concept images, patent illustrations and what not, we finally got our first official look at the Samsung Galaxy X, the South Korean giant’s next flagship smartphone that folds up like a paperback.

Five years in the making, the device is both smartphone and tablet, bundled into a foldable package that you can easily slip into your pocket – thanks to the ground-breaking Infinity Flex Display technology.

Unveiled at the company’s annual developers’ conference in San Francisco on Nov 7, the prototype device opens up to reveal a 7.3-inch display on the inside, designed to serve as a tablet capable of running up to three applications simultaneously, using a feature that Samsung chooses to call multi-active window.

Not only can you multi-task with multiple apps, but you can also browse, watch TV or movies, and do everything else that you would normally do on a regular tablet.

And, as soon as you fold it up, it transforms into a smartphone with one side of the device serving as a separate “cover display.”

“When it’s open, it’s a tablet offering a big-screen experience,” said Justin Denison, Samsung’s SVP of mobile product marketing, at the Wednesday event. “When closed, it’s a phone that fits neatly inside your pocket.”

All this while, it had been a neck and neck between Samsung and Huawei in so far as being the first to reveal such a device is concerned, but a dark horse called Royole came from behind and won the foldable race, taking the game away from under their noses.

An unsung California-based start-up, Royole launched its FlexPai smartphone on Oct 31, which not only unfolds to reveal a bigger 7.8-inch high-definition tablet display, but also folds up to become a smartphone with not one, not two, but three separate smaller screens on the front, back, and spine of the device.

No wonder the company has laid claim to creating the “world’s first commercial foldable smartphone with flexible display.”

Coming back to the Samsung scheme of things, the company chose not to reveal the design of the device as of now, intentionally keeping the lights dimmed during the presentation to keep it obscure and highlight only the Infinity Flex Display.

So committed was Samsung to keeping the design elements all hush-hush that Denison wasted no time in tucking the device back into his pocket as soon as he was done with showing off the display, which was not more than a twenty-second demo.

“We’ve disguised some elements of the design but trust me, there’s a device inside here and it is stunning,” he said.

And, it’s not just the design that’s shrouded in secrecy, as Samsung has not been very forthcoming about the timeline for the device’s release or its branding, although there is talk that the device could be called Samsung Infinity-V.

For now, let’s just be content with Galaxy X.

The device will have Google’s Android support, as will other upcoming smartphones with bendable form factor that Samsung prefers to refer to as “foldables.”

According to Dave Burke, Google’s VP of engineering, the company is “enhancing Android to take advantage of this new form factor with as little work as necessary.”

Speaking at the company’s Android Developer Summit, Burke said that the company was working closely with Samsung to help it launch the Galaxy X sometime next year.

In order to scale apps seamlessly across smartphones and tabs, Google is encouraging Android app developers to create multiple app layouts and assets to cater to different screen sizes and resolutions.

So, all they’ll need to do to make an app compatible with foldables is add a new layout.

“This new form factor is therefore simply adding new use cases to this existing pattern,” Google’s director of product management Sagar Kamdar told The Verge.

“[We’re] exploring many different ways to ensure a seamless foldables experience for users. More to come, but nothing to announce today,” Kamdar said.

“You can think of the device as both a phone and a tablet,” says Burke. “Broadly, there are two variants — two-screen devices and one-screen devices. When folded, it looks like a phone, fitting in your pocket or purse.

The defining feature for this form factor is something we call screen continuity.”

The “screen continuity” feature will enable apps to respond to the changing screens as the device folds and unfolds, just like they do when you switch between portrait and landscape orientations on your smartphone.

Speaking about the device in October, Samsung’s mobile chief D.J. Koh told CNET that before the company released a foldable device it was important for it to be “meaningful” to the customer.

”When we deliver a foldable phone, it has to be really meaningful to our customer,” Koh said.

“If the user experience is not up to my standard, I don’t want to deliver those kind of products.”

Although nothing was disclosed about the internals of the device, rumor has it that the Samsung Galaxy X will be powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, with 6GB of RAM and 256 GB of integrated storage.

Not much is known about the price, as well, except that it’s not going to be cheap by any stretch of the imagination.

Just to give you an idea of what to expect in terms of pricing, Royole’s FlexPai is priced in the $1,300 range.

SAMSUNG Galaxy X Official Trailer 2018

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From The Editors Science

Scientists Find Evidence of ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ at the Core of our Galaxy

Scientists have long theorized that most galaxies, including our Milky Way, have a supermassive black hole at their center.

However, they had been unable to find that elusive cosmic proof to confirm their long-held belief; well, not until the European Southern Observatory’s supersensitive GRAVITY instrument on the VLT (Very Large Telescope) provided the images and data that had been dodging them all these years.

The VLT, which is world’s most advanced optical telescope, is strategically located at the Paranal Observatory in the Atacama desert in Chile.

The research paper entitled “Detection of Orbital Motions Near the Last Stable Circular Orbit of the Massive Black Hole SgrA*” was published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics on October 31.

The findings not only prove a point for the scientists but also substantiates Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and cosmological evolution, as well as his conviction that Blackholes did exist.

In their attempt to measure the effects of gravity on an object passing close to a black hole, scientists trained the VLT on a small star called S2, situated 26,000 lightyears away.

“This always was one of our dream projects but we did not dare to hope that it would become possible so soon,” said study lead Reinhard Genzel of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) in Garching, Germany.

He went on to add that the result was “a resounding confirmation of the massive black hole paradigm.”

S2 was the ideal choice for the research team for the simple reason that it comes precariously close to Sagittarius A*’s gravity well once every sixteen years as it orbits this compact object – believed to be a black hole – at the heart of the Milky Way, packing a gravitational pull of 4 million suns it has sucked into its bottomless depths.

As S2 was due to pass Sagittarius A* this year, the researchers formed two teams to track it as it zipped past the hungry monster at speeds of 3,000 miles per second.

“We were closely monitoring S2, and of course we always keep an eye on Sagittarius A*., Oliver Pfuhl, a scientist at the MPE, said in a statement.

“During our observations, we were lucky enough to notice three bright flares from around the black hole — it was a lucky coincidence!”, added Pfuhl.

These flares that Pfuhl was talking about were the result of swirling masses of gas circling the Sagittarius A*’s event horizon at about 30 percent of the speed of light, fast enough to generate three powerful flashes of radiation from the clouds.

The researchers also noted that the gas clumps took around 45 minutes to circle the 150- million-mile circumference of the event horizon – the point of no return if you will.

“It’s mind-boggling to actually witness material orbiting a massive black hole at 30% of the speed of light,” Pfuhl said.

“GRAVITY’s tremendous sensitivity has allowed us to observe the accretion processes in real time in unprecedented detail,” he said.

Although not part of the study, Dr. Josephine Peters – an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford – told Business Insider that “astronomers have observed material as close as you can get to a black hole without being consumed by it.”

‘Even though [Sagittarius A*] is our closest supermassive black hole, it is still incredibly mysterious,” she said., adding that the discovery “marks the beginning of understanding more about our nearby astronomical monster.”

Studying radio maps of powerful jet sources, researchers at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK have also “found signs that would usually be present when looking at black holes that are closely orbiting each other,” reported the Financial Express last week.

“Before black holes merge they form a binary black hole, where the two black holes orbit around each other, ” said the Financial Express article.

“We have studied the jets in different conditions for a long time with computer simulations,” said Martin Krause who belongs to the University of Hertfordshire.

“In this first systematic comparison to high-resolution radio maps of the most powerful radio sources, we were astonished to find signatures that were compatible with jet precession in three quarters of the sources,” he added.