Science X Newsletter Thursday, Jan 30

Dear ymilog,

Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for January 30, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

ArguLens: a framework to help developers make sense of usability-related feedback

Heart failure: Researchers make headway against diastolic dysfunction

Researchers create 3-D-printed, sweating robot muscle

Brain's 'GPS system' toggles between present and possible future paths in real time

Astronomers investigate broadband variability of the blazar Markarian 501

Four-dimensional micro-building blocks: Printable, time-related, programmable tools

Astronomers witness the dragging of space-time in stellar cosmic dance

New predatory dinosaur added to Australia's prehistory

Fermented soy products linked to lower risk of death

Meteorites reveal high carbon dioxide levels on early Earth

Emerging organic contaminant levels greatly influenced by stream flows, seasons

Cells' springy coils pump bursts of RNA

Antibiotic-resistance in Tanzania is an environmental problem

Microscopic partners could help plants survive stressful environments

Anti-solar cells: A photovoltaic cell that works at night

Physics news

Researchers combine X-rays and laser light to image sprays

Researchers have developed a new laser-based method that provides an unprecedented view of sprays such as the ones used for liquid fuel combustion in vehicle, ship and plane engines. The technique could provide new insights into these atomizing sprays, which are also used in a variety of industrial processes such as painting and producing food powders and drugs.

Bats inspire detectors to help prevent oil and gas pipe leaks

Engineers have developed a new scanning technique inspired by the natural world that can detect corroding metals in oil and gas pipelines.

Researchers discover a new way to control infrared light

In the 1950s, the field of electronics began to change when the transistor replaced vacuum tubes in computers. The change, which entailed replacing large and slow components with small and fast ones, was a catalyst for the enduring trend of miniaturization in computer design. No such revolution has yet hit the field of infrared optics, which remains reliant on bulky moving parts that preclude building small systems.

Physics of giant bubbles bursts secret of fluid mechanics

A study inspired by street performers making gigantic soap bubbles led to a discovery in fluid mechanics: Mixing different molecular sizes of polymers within a solution increases the ability of a thin film to stretch without breaking.

Super accurate sensor could lead to producing even smaller chips

Electrical engineer Stefanos Andreou built a sensor with an extraordinary accuracy of less than the size of an atom.

Improving aerodynamics during entire flight, not just takeoff and landing

Currently in use on the wings of airplanes are little fins near the leading edge or just upstream of control surfaces to help control the aircraft during takeoff or landing. But these vortex generator vanes and other similar solutions are fixed in place across the entire flight, creating a cruise penalty from the drag. A promising new idea for a device was tested at the University of Illinois that uses an electric spark that can be turned on and off when needed to generate rotating air across the wing for better lift.

Researchers lay foundation for next generation aortic grafts

A new study by researchers at McGill University has measured the dynamic physical properties of the human aorta, laying the foundation for the development of grafts capable of mimicking the native behaviour of the human body's largest artery.

Scientists develop a concept of a hybrid thorium reactor

Russian scientists have proposed a concept of a thorium hybrid reactor in that obtains additional neutrons using high-temperature plasma held in a long magnetic trap. This project was applied in close collaboration between Tomsk Polytechnic University, All-Russian Scientific Research Institute Of Technical Physics (VNIITF), and Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics of SB RAS. The proposed thorium hybrid reactor is distinguished from today's nuclear reactors by moderate power, relatively compact size, high operational safety, and a low level of radioactive waste.

Astronomy & Space news

Astronomers investigate broadband variability of the blazar Markarian 501

An international team of astronomers has studied variable broadband emission of the gamma-ray blazar Markarian 501 during a period of its high X-ray activity. The research, published January 21 on the arXiv preprint server, could lend better understanding of emission mechanisms in blazars.

Astronomers witness the dragging of space-time in stellar cosmic dance

An international team of astrophysicists led by Australian Professor Matthew Bailes, from the ARC Centre of Excellence of Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav), has shown exciting new evidence for 'frame-dragging'—how the spinning of a celestial body twists space and time—after tracking the orbit of an exotic stellar pair for almost two decades. The data, which is further evidence for Einstein's theory of General Relativity, is published today the journal Science.

Solar Orbiter mission to track the sun's active regions, improve space weather prediction

Our understanding of space weather, its origin on the sun, and its progression and threat to Earth, comes with critical gaps—gaps that the European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter hopes to help fill after its upcoming launch.

Two satellites just avoided a head-on smash: How close did they come to disaster?

It appears we have missed another close call between two satellites—but how close did we really come to a catastrophic event in space?

Technology news

ArguLens: a framework to help developers make sense of usability-related feedback

Evaluating the usability of open-source software (OSS), software that is made freely available to developers worldwide, generally entails analyzing the feedback and comments of those who used it. Processing and understanding the feedback provided in user discussions, however, can be challenging due to the vast number of comments online, and because they often present opposing opinions.

Researchers create 3-D-printed, sweating robot muscle

Just when it seemed like robots couldn't get any cooler, Cornell researchers have created a soft robot muscle that can regulate its temperature through sweating.

Four-dimensional micro-building blocks: Printable, time-related, programmable tools

Four-dimensional (4-D) printing is based on merging multimaterial printing, reinforcement patterns or micro and nanofibrous additives as time-related programmable tools, to achieve desired shape reconfigurations. However, the existing programming approaches still follow an origami design principle to generate reconfigurable structures using self-folding and stacked 2-D materials at small scales. In a new report on Science Advances, T. Y. Huang and a team of interdisciplinary, international researchers in the U.S. and China proposed a programmable modular design to directly construct 3-D reconfigurable microstructures capable of 3-D-to-3-D transformations via 4-D micro-building block assembly.

Anti-solar cells: A photovoltaic cell that works at night

What if solar cells worked at night? That's no joke, according to Jeremy Munday, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UC Davis. In fact, a specially designed photovoltaic cell could generate up to 50 watts of power per square meter under ideal conditions at night, about a quarter of what a conventional solar panel can generate in daytime, according to a concept paper by Munday and graduate student Tristan Deppe. The article was published in, and featured on the cover of, the January 2020 issue of ACS Photonics.

Rachmaninoff the most innovative composer according to network science

Rachmaninoff, followed by Bach, Brahms and Mendelssohn, was the most innovative of the composers who worked during the Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras of music (1700 to 1900) according to a study published in the open access journal EPJ Data Science.

Intel casts third patch to battle MDS Goliath

What does a chip giant gotta do? ZombieLoad won't die and that is not to be allowed. Intel has forced out a third patch, said reports.

Wearable health tech gets efficiency upgrade

North Carolina State University engineers have demonstrated a flexible device that harvests the heat energy from the human body to monitor health. The device surpasses all other flexible harvesters that use body heat as the sole energy source.

Giving cryptocurrency users more bang for their buck

A new cryptocurrency-routing scheme co-invented by MIT researchers can boost the efficiency—and, ultimately, profits—of certain networks designed to speed up notoriously slow blockchain transactions.

Computer servers now able to retrieve data much faster

Computer scientists at the University of Waterloo have found a novel approach that significantly improves the storage efficiency and output speed of computer systems.

Samsung Electronics says Q4 net profit slumps 38%

The world's biggest smartphone maker, Samsung Electronics, reported a slump in fourth-quarter net profits on Thursday, blaming weakening demand in key products and falling chip prices.

Mitsubishi Motors denies emissions test fraud after German raids

Mitsubishi Motors denied Thursday equipping engines with devices to make them appear less polluting, after raids by prosecutors in Germany probing suspected diesel emissions cheating.

Huawei races to replace Google apps for next smartphone

If you can make smartphone apps, Chinese tech giant Huawei wants you.

Toyota's 2019 global vehicle sales trail Volkswagen's

German automaker Volkswagen has kept its lead as the world's largest automaker after Japanese rival Toyota announced it sold fewer vehicles last year.

Uber, Lyft confirm Phoenix airport business as usual for now

Ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft say they won't change their service at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport until Arizona's highest court rules on proposed fee increases that prompted threats to stop picking up and dropping off customers at one of the nation's largest airports.

Apple, Broadcom ordered to pay $1.1bn for patent infringement

A Los Angeles jury on Wednesday ordered Apple and Broadcom to pay $1.1 billion to a California university for infringing wifi technology patents in what is thought to be one of the largest patent verdicts ever.

Nintendo logs nine-month profit leap, upgrades annual forecast

Japanese gaming giant Nintendo on Thursday reported a leap in sales and profit for the nine months to December, upgrading its full-year profit forecast on strong demand for its popular Switch console.

Microsoft gets lift from rise in earnings

Microsoft said Wednesday that its profits rose sharply in the past quarter, boosted by improving sales across a range of consumer products and business services, sending its shares higher.

Using AI, people who are blind are able to find familiar faces in a room

Theo, a 12-year-old boy who is blind, is seated at a table in a crowded kitchen on a gray and drippy mid-December day. A headband that houses cameras, a depth sensor and speakers rings his sandy-brown hair. He swivels his head left and right until the camera in the front of the headband points at the nose of a person on the far side of a counter.

Building standards give us false hope. There's no such thing as a fireproof house

Bushfires have killed 33 people and destroyed nearly 3,000 houses across Australia so far this fire season. Canberra is under threat right now.

China demand for Jaguar, Land Rover boosts India's Tata Motors

Chinese demand for British luxury brands Jaguar and Land Rover helped Indian automaker Tata Motors return to the black on Thursday, despite falling sales in the domestic market.

Big hit for Facebook as latest results show cracks in growth

Facebook shares came under heavy selling pressure Thursday as the latest earnings report for the leading social network highlighted mushrooming costs in dealing with privacy, abuse and misinformation.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a message for you: He doesn't care if you like him

Mark Zuckerberg has a message for you: He doesn't care if you like him.

IBM's Watson Center pitches AI for everyone, from chefs to engineers

At the IBM Watson Experience Center, digital and physical worlds meet in a futuristic-looking lounge overlooking San Francisco's Financial District.

Axing Lightning for iPhone would mean unprecedented e-waste, Apple says

Forcing Apple to change iPhones from Lightning to USB-C connectors would cause "an unprecedented volume of electronic waste," the company said recently. The remark follows a European Commission call earlier this month for a common charger for all mobile phones, an effort to reduce waste and make life easier for consumers. Apple argues, however, that this would create even more waste, because its Lightning accessories would become obsolete.

Here's why Galaxy Z Flip is the foldable phone I'm most excited for right now.

Samsung's fully embraced the "Go big or go home" mentality with its tabletlike Galaxy Fold last year. But its second foldable phone—rumored to be called the Galaxy Z Flip (internal code name Galaxy Bloom) - is almost guaranteed to be smaller. It's also likely going to be cheaper, bend vertically instead of horizontally and be outfitted with only half the cameras its folding predecessor has. And honestly, I couldn't be more excited.

Novel approach allows 3-D printing of finer, more complex microfluidic networks

First introduced in the 1980s, stereolithography (SL) is an additive manufacturing process that prints 3-D objects by the selective curing of liquid polymer resin using an ultra-violet (UV) light source in a layer-by-layer fashion. The polymer employed undergoes a photochemical reaction which turns it from liquid to solid when exposed to UV illumination. Today, SL is touted as one of the most accurate forms of 3-D printing that is accessible to consumers, with desktop models (e.g., liquid crystal display variants) costing as little as USD $300.

World record: Efficiency of perovskite silicon tandem solar cell jumps to 29.15%

While silicon converts mostly the red portions of sunlight into electricity, perovskite compounds primarily utilise the blue portions of the spectrum. A tandem solar cell made of stacked silicon and perovskite thus achieves significantly higher efficiency than each individual cell on its own.

Autonomous pods SWARM together like bees in world first demonstration

Autonomous pods born in Coventry are now able to swarm together in a world first, thanks to research by WMG at the University of Warwick in partnership with Aurrigo and Milton Keynes council.

Sun, wind, and hydrogen: New Arctic station will do without diesel fuel

The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) has initiated a project of the Russian Federation called "Arctic Hydrogen Energy Applications and Demonstrations" (AHEAD) in the Arctic Council's Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG). The project is supported by the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic, the governor of Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, and the EnergyNet infrastructure center of the National Technology Initiative.

Hummer is making a comeback, but this time it's electric

The Hummer, once a gas-guzzling target for environmentalists, is making a comeback. But this time around it won't burn fuel or spew greenhouse gases.

Self-learning heat­ing control system saves energy

Can buildings learn to save all by themselves? Empa researchers think so. In their experiments, they fed a new self-learning heating control system with temperature data from the previous year and the current weather forecast. The "smart" control system was then able to assess the building's behavior and act with good anticipation. The result: greater comfort, lower energy costs.

Haptic helmet for firefighters

Imagine firefighters trying to navigate through an unfamiliar, burning building full of suffocating smoke and deafening noise. Firefighting is exceedingly dangerous, and the ability for first responders to maintain communications in hostile environments can literally mean life or death.

Dating apps face US inquiry over underage use, sex offenders

A House subcommittee is investigating popular dating services such as Tinder and Bumble for allegedly allowing minors and sex offenders to use their services.

UK automakers report drop in investment, production

British auto production dropped for a third straight year in 2019, as carmakers continued to hold off on investment amid uncertainty over the country's departure from the European Union.

Dark patterns: The secret sauce behind addictive tech

Think you're pretty internet savvy? You may be falling for app and web design tricks without even realizing it ...

Likelihood of e-book purchases increase 31% by combining previews and reviews

New research in the INFORMS journal Information Systems Research finds that the purchasing decision of customers considering buying e-books is significantly influenced through easy access to a combination of e-book previews and reviews, resulting in a staggering 31% increase in a consumer's likelihood to purchase an e-book. When exposed to either previews only or online reviews only, purchase likelihood is between 7 and 17%.


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Apple’s App Store still limits developers’ options for how to make money

It's not every day we get to talk about a good old-fashioned utility app update. I wouldn't go so far as to say they're a dying breed, but the Apple App Store platform dynamics of recent years have made their row much harder to hoe.

So while I'd like to spend a long time talking about Fantastical itself and how the new versions launched yetsterday are great, I want to just do a quick riff reminding us how the app ecosystem is shaped by Apple's choices. We'll do that after the links.

One quick note: A lot of my newsletters have had a little "" in the subject line. It's there not to evoke The Verge logo (though that's a nice side effect), but instead to indicate that the newsletter includes a longer essay. I'll aim to keep doing it, but you'll notice this one doesn't have one because it's relatively short. I bring it all up as a reminder and also a heads-up that as tech news picks up over the next few weeks there may be a few more -less editions than usual.

- Dieter

Earnings news

└ Samsung hopes 5G will save its slumping profits this year

└ Tesla's record 2019 has bought it some breathing room

Tesla has bought itself more breathing room than it's had in years, maybe ever. The company spent the last few years — especially 2017 onward, as it started spinning up production of the Model 3 — moving at breakneck speed with little margin for error. Tesla CEO Elon Musk even said in late 2018 that his company was single-digit weeks away from death at one point. Its workforce suffered through what Musk dubbed "production hell" as he pushed to make the Model 3 — the company's most affordable electric car — at mass-market scale.

└ Tesla says it will start delivering the Model Y this spring, months ahead of schedule

Is Elon Musk feeling okay, do you think? Delivering something ahead of schedule is very out of character for him so I'm a little worried.

└ Microsoft Q2 2020 earnings: Office, Surface, and cloud lead results

Most divisions are up. The Windows 7 transition helped Windows, Surface is making respectable but not outsized gains, and of course the real money driver is cloud services. The following note from Tom Warren made me laugh, it's funny because it's surely true:

Microsoft notes that Xbox content and services revenue also decreased by 11 percent, primarily due to a "third-party title" (likely Fortnite) performing better last year. Subscription growth has partially offset this decrease, but clearly the third-party game boosted Xbox content revenue last year.

└ WarnerMedia takes $1.2 billion revenue hit in hopes that HBO Max pays off in the long run

AT&T really, really seems to think there's going to be a virtuous cycle between HBO Max, 5G, and hardware upgrades. I am far from convinced that's the case with any two of those three nodes, much less the entire flywheel. And even if it turns out to be true, it will mean that content services end up getting tied more tightly to other products.


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More from The Verge

└ Apple reportedly working on tracking tags, high-end headphones, a new wireless charger, and more

└ 2020's new emoji include the transgender flag and more gender-inclusive options

└ LastPass is discontinuing its native Mac app and replacing it with a more universal web app

As should be blindingly obvious to readers of this newsletter, I use a ton of web apps every day, and in many cases I use them instead of native apps because I prefer their interfaces and functionality. Password managers are not one of those times when I prefer a web app. They benefit so much from being integrated into the OS. This one's a bummer.

└ Grubhub lets customers order from restaurants that never agreed to be on its platform

The increased competition in the food delivery space is leading to a lot of scummy practices. Natt Garun looks at the latest.

└ SpaceX successfully launches its fourth batch of internet-beaming Starlink satellites

SpaceX has permission to launch nearly 12,000 satellites and has expressed interest in launching 30,000 more. To fulfill its licensing obligations, SpaceX has to launch nearly 6,000 within the next five to six years. The company plans to launch up to 24 Starlink missions this year. ... Each Starlink launch consists of 60 satellites, so today's mission will bring SpaceX's constellation to about 240 satellites in orbit

└ Wireless carriers may soon boost speeds with a bunch of free spectrum

The FCC has been trying to open up 3.5GHz airwaves since 2015, but it's taken years to put structure around how it'll happen. The trouble is, this spectrum is already being used by the US Navy, as well as a small number of companies. Particularly when it comes to the Navy, the FCC doesn't want any of these new deployments getting in the way. ... So the commission spent the last several years setting up a scheme to make it all work. Any company that wants to use the 3.5GHz spectrum will have to work with an approved company

└ The Twitch streamer behind Tfue's custom $3,500 mechanical keyboard

Really nice profile from Nick Statt:

One commenter referred to Kim as the "Bob Ross of keyboard making," and it's an appropriate assessment. What makes the videos so appealing is Kim's steady, soothing narration of the rather technical keyboard construction process. He walks through each step slowly and accentuates the precision involved in, say, soldering the key switches onto the printed circuit board. He also fields live questions from his Twitch chat about his work, the parts he finds, and why he enjoys doing what he does. All the while, light lounge music plays in the background.

└ Lincoln will build an electric vehicle using EV startup Rivian's tech

Lincoln's parent company, Ford, announced a $500 million investment in Rivian in April 2019, and said it would build an electric vehicle on the startup's platform (basically the battery, electric motors, and all the other tech that makes an EV go). It was reported in the months following that the vehicle would be a Lincoln SUV, but Ford's luxury marque had not confirmed any parts of those reports until today.

Verge Deal of the day 

Get a two-pack of Google Nest Mini smart speakers for $46.99

Daily Steals is offering Verge readers a big discount on a two-pack of Google Nest Mini smart speakers. By using the offer code VERGENEST at checkout, you'll get two for $46.99. These cost about $35 each right now, so getting two for around $10 more is a very good deal.

Why would you need two, exactly? They can hang on your wall, so you won't have to give up precious desk or table space. And compared to the previous generation Home Mini, this speaker sounds better and uses an ultrasonic sensor to detect when you're near, which then turns on lights that guide you to the right button.


Coronavirus and tech

└ Google is temporarily shutting down all China offices due to coronavirus outbreak

└ Apple is limiting China travel and has closed one retail store due to coronavirus outbreak

└ LG now banning all employee travel to China to protect against coronavirus risk

└ Tesla says China has ordered its Shanghai factory shut down over coronavirus fears

└ Overwatch League cancels February and March games in China following coronavirus outbreak

└ British Airways suspends all China flights due to coronavirus outbreak

└ Delta is limiting flights between the US and China due to coronavirus outbreak

└ American Airlines cancels some flights to mainland China after coronavirus outbreak


Apple's App Store still limits developers' options for how to make money

I'm happy to say that if you're a Mac or iPhone user (or, ideally, both), you should absolutely go check out the newly updated Fantastical apps. There are a few new features and parity across platforms — I personally am excited for a calendar app that integrates with several to-do apps.

The thing about this update that may grab some attention is that it is moving to a subscription model. Historically, this kind of move has sparked consternation, but I'm not feeling any of that. It's $4.99 a month or — in my preferred way to talk about subscription pricing — $40 per year (a $20 discount). That subscription gets you access to the iPhone, Mac, iPad, and Apple Watch apps. Non-Apple users should look elsewhere.

I think the subscription model is totally fair, especially given Flexibits' history of updates and quality. That's partially because, as I alluded to up top, there really aren't better options for this category of apps given the rules laid down by Apple in the App Store.

If you've watched the App Store market dynamics over the past years, none of this will come as a surprise, but let's recap:

  • First, there was a rush to the bottom when it came to pricing. Many apps were priced at $0.99, which set a consumer expectation that iPhone apps are cheap.
  • Driven by that dynamic and by ranked lists on the App Store, the app market moved to a sort of hit-based system, where games and free apps dominated downloads.
  • (Many of those games switched over to very skeezy in-app purchase schemes once Apple later allowed microtransactions in free apps, but that's a story for another time.)
  • Over the years, Apple refused to offer more flexible pricing options to developers. There never has been (and may never be) such a thing as "upgrade pricing" in the App Store, unlike on more open platforms like the Mac. Developers either had to offer major new versions for free, charge current users the same amount as new users, or try to jerry-rig an in-app purchase system.
  • (Apple also obstinately refused to let any app so much as gesture to the whisper of an idea that it might be possible to pay the developer in any way other than through Apple's 30-percent-cut payment system, and is now facing anti-trust complaints on this point, but again, story for another time.)
  • Perhaps realizing that the rules it had put in place for the App Store were skewing the market dynamics for apps, Apple switched over to a new system that encouraged subscriptions by reducing its cut after a year.

There are pros and cons to the subscription model for both developers and users and they're all heavily context-dependent. So I'm not making a judgement on that one way or the other — only pointing out that the realm of possible business models has been heavily constrained by the App Store's rules.

Those limitations have sometimes forced developers into weird decisions and I obviously wish Apple would open up to more pricing models. I especially wish it weren't engaging in such blatant rent-seeking when it comes to taking a cut of in-app fees.

Anyway, the point is that if you see an app switch to a subscription model, it's not necessarily doing so because it's the trendy thing to do — instead, there may not be any other real choice.

One thing strikes me about Fantastical's switch to a subscription model is how elegantly it was handled. I can't imagine figuring out how to fork its versions to support this, but Flexibits is doing it:

If you already own Fantastical 2, though, Flexibits has a pretty cool offer to help mitigate that feeling, in part. If there's any feature in Fantastical 2 that is now a Fantastical Premium feature, you will still be able to use that feature in the updated app on the platform you own it on, even without a Premium subscription.

You are reading Processor, a newsletter about computers by Dieter Bohn. Dieter writes about consumer tech, software, and the most important news of the day from The Verge. This newsletter delivers about four times a week, at least a couple of which include longer essays.

If you enjoyed this email, please feel free to forward to a friend. You can subscribe to Processor and our other newsletters by clicking right here and here is an RSS feed. You can also follow Dieter on Twitter: @backlon.

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