Science X Newsletter Friday, Jan 31

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for January 31, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

Investigating dynamics of democratic elections using physics theory

Discovery takes pressure off blood measurements

Study provides first look at sperm microbiome using RNA sequencing

Robotic submarine snaps first-ever images at foundation of notorious Antarctic glacier

Got slime? Using regenerative biology to restore mucus production

Researchers identify possible new combination treatment for advanced melanoma

A projector had far too much fun with car tech

Could resetting our internal clocks help control diabetes?

A quantum of solid: A glass nanoparticle in the quantum regime

More countries publishing ecosystem accounts, considering environment in economic decisions

How the immune system becomes blind to cancer cells

First view of hydrogen at the metal-to-metal hydride interface

Nonflammable electrolyte for high-performance potassium batteries

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope ends mission of astronomical discovery

New light shed on neuronal circuits involved in behavior, learning and dysfunction

Physics news

Investigating dynamics of democratic elections using physics theory

Sometimes, physics theories and constructs can also be used to study seemingly unrelated phenomena, such as social behaviors or dynamics. While human beings are not necessarily similar to specific physical particles, theories or techniques that physicists typically use to analyze behavioral patterns in atoms or electrons may aid the general understanding of large-scale social behaviors as long as these behaviors do not depend on small-scale details. Based on this idea, some researchers have started using physics theories to investigate social behaviors that take place during democratic elections.

A quantum of solid: A glass nanoparticle in the quantum regime

Researchers in Austria have used lasers to levitate and cool a glass nanoparticle into the quantum regime. Although it is trapped in a room-temperature environment, the particle's motion is solely governed by the laws of quantum physics. The team of scientists from the University of Vienna, the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) published their new study in the journal Science.

How supercomputers are helping us link quantum entanglement to cold coffee

Theoretical physicists from Trinity College Dublin have found a deep link between one of the most striking features of quantum mechanics—quantum entanglement—and thermalisation, which is the process in which something comes into thermal equilibrium with its surroundings.

Ultra-high energy events key to study of ghost particles

Physicists at Washington University in St. Louis have proposed a way to use data from ultra-high energy neutrinos to study interactions beyond the standard model of particle physics. The 'Zee burst' model leverages new data from large neutrino telescopes such as the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica and its future extensions.

Exploring strangeness and the primordial Universe

Physicists believe that in the Universe's first ten microseconds free quarks and gluons filled all of spacetime, forming a new phase of matter named 'quark-gluon plasma' (QGP). Experimental and theoretical work at CERN was instrumental in the discovery of this hot soup of primordial matter, which is recreated today in accelerator-based lab experiments. To discover QGP in such experiments, the observation of exotic 'strange' quarks is very important. If QGP is created, strangeness is readily produced through collisions between gluons. In analysis published in EPJ ST, Dr. Johann Rafelski from The University of Arizona, United States, also working at CERN, presents how our understanding of this characteristic strangeness production signature has evolved over the span of his long career.

Calculating Hawking radiation at the event horizon of a black hole

A RUDN University physicist has developed a formula for calculating Hawking radiation on the event horizon of a black hole, which allows physicists to determine how this radiation would be changed with quantum corrections to Einstein's theory of gravity. This formula will allow researchers to test the accuracy of different versions of the quantum gravity theory by observing black holes, and comprises a step toward the long-sought "grand unification theory" that would connect quantum mechanics and relativity. The article is published in the journal Physical Review D.

Astronomy & Space news

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope ends mission of astronomical discovery

After more than 16 years studying the universe in infrared light, revealing new wonders in our solar system, our galaxy and beyond, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope's mission has come to an end.

Warp factor: We've observed a spinning star that drags the fabric of space and time

One of the predictions of Einstein's general theory of relativity is that any spinning body drags the very fabric of space-time in its vicinity around with it. This is known as "frame-dragging."

Space station's cosmic detector working after 4 spacewalks

The cosmic detector that required a series of difficult spacewalking repairs is back in action.

Your brain on Mars: How scientists will track astronauts' mental performance on missions

A journey to Mars is not going to be easy and there are a number of problems that need to be solved before we go. One interesting problem is how do we monitor the astronauts themselves. Of course, it is easy to monitor their heart rate and blood pressure, but is it possible to monitor what is going on inside their heads?

Making simulated cosmic dust—in the microwave

Cosmic dust is the key to the chemical evolution of stars, planets, and life itself, but its composition is not well understood, and we can't currently collect samples for analysis. A few examples have arrived on Earth as interplanetary dust particles and comet dust, in meteorites, but their complicated history means they may not be representative.

Image: Hubble spies bar, baby stars

The galaxy depicted in this image taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is a barred spiral known as NGC 7541, in the constellation of Pisces (the Fishes). 

From Antarctica to space: Telemedicine at the limit

ESA is working with Argentina to test telemedicine device Tempus Pro in the harsh conditions of Antarctica as Europe prepares for its next phase of human exploration in space.

Technology news

Discovery takes pressure off blood measurements

Researchers at Monash University are on the verge of creating a revolutionary, portable blood pressure monitoring device that can provide data continuously to patients from the comfort of their home.

A projector had far too much fun with car tech

Stop it. You can fool a Tesla Autopilot system with a projector?

Study gets up close with near-death experiences

Those who momentarily shuffled off this mortal coil returned with positive perceptions of what they discovered on the other side—a finding that encourages researchers to dig deeper into the ways people describe near-death experiences, according to a joint study between Western and the University of Li├Ęge (Belgium).

Ginni Rometty, 1st female CEO at IBM, to step down in April

Ginni Rometty, the first female CEO in IBM's century-long history, is leaving the helm in April.

Atari plans to open video game-themed resorts in 8 US cities

Atari, the arcade game company that ushered in the gaming revolution in the 1980s, is opening eight video game-themed hotels across the United States, including ones in Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Amazon's latest milestone: 150 million Prime members

Amazon had another prime holiday season.

Nintendo says no new Switch in 2020

Japanese gaming giant Nintendo said Friday there would be no fresh model of its hot-selling Switch console this year, dashing the hopes of fans eager for a new version.

Autonomous vehicles could benefit health if cars are electric and shared

What impact will self-driving cars have on public health? The Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) has taken part in a study that analyzed the potential risks and benefits of autonomous vehicles for public health. The conclusions of the study, published in the Annual Review of Public Health, indicate that this new type of mobility could benefit public health if the cars are electric and the model used is based on ride sharing.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos, already the wealthiest person on the planet, just got billions richer

Jeff Bezos, the world's richest person, got billions richer in minutes Thursday as Amazon shares soared in extended trading on news of a killer quarter driven by strong holiday sales.

The 49ers will win the Super Bowl, Alexa predicts, but Siri and Google Assistant won't say

The San Francisco 49ers are going to win the Super Bowl. That's what Amazon Alexa says anyway.

Coronavirus outbreak: Social media platforms scramble to contain misinformation

Hoaxes about the coronavirus are spreading as fast, if not faster, than the actual virus on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and the social media platforms are scrambling to contain the global outbreak.

Researchers look at novel methods to enhance battery performance

Researchers at Penn State are looking at innovative ways to improve energy storage in an effort to better utilize renewable energy technologies.

As cities grow, the Internet of Things can help us get on top of the waste crisis

Total global waste is expected to double from nearly 2 billion tonnes in 2016 to an estimated 4 billion tonnes by 2050 as consumer-oriented urban populations grow. As population growth increases consumption and waste, managing this waste is becoming an ever greater challenge. The Internet of Things (IoT) can be used to develop smarter and more effective ways of managing and reducing waste.

Attacking the clones: Dual techniques help reveal malicious image editing

It is relatively easy to clone parts of an image with photo editing software to remove objects and backgrounds or even to duplicate objects. A skillful digital artist will be able to do this almost seamlessly. Such artists with malicious intent can use cloning tools and to fake and forge images and detecting such distortions of the originals can be difficult even to those trained in the art themselves.

iPhone and Android users are getting 117 new emoji in 2020

New year. New emoji.

For $10 fee, startup offers unlimited calls and texts

A San Francisco startup may have the solution parents have been seeking for years. Free phone service—without an expensive monthly contract.

The most human algorithm

It is now possible to predict who the best candidate for receiving an organ transplant is, know whether clients of a bank will return the loans they request, choose the films that best coincide with the interests of consumers, or even select someone's ideal partner. Mathematical algorithms constantly analyse millions of items of data, identify patterns and make predictions about all areas of life. But in most cases, the results give little more than a closed prediction that cannot be interpreted and which is often affected by biases in the original data.

Facebook fights spread of misinformation about virus online

Facebook says it's working to limit the spread of misinformation and potentially harmful content about the coronavirus as bogus claims about the ongoing outbreak circulate online.

Amazon highlights taxes paid in pushback against critics

Amazon said Friday it paid more than $1 billion in US federal income taxes in 2019 as it pushed back at criticism over its corporate responsibility.

Waymo: Self-driving vehicle in manual mode at time of crash

A Waymo self-driving minivan operating in manual mode was involved in a rear-end collision in a Phoenix suburb caused by a sedan's reckless driving, the company said Friday.

Apple takes smartphone sales crown from Samsung

Apple was the top smartphone seller in the final quarter of last year, seizing the crown from Samsung, according to market trackers.

Amazon is big ... really, really big; workforce hits 500K

Need more proof that Amazon is big? It came this week.

Online ads still vulnerable to manipulation in US election

Older men in Arkansas might see a close-up photo of President Donald Trump pumping his fist in the air, along with a message asking them to donate $30 to his campaign for a Super Bowl commercial.

Twitter, Pinterest crack down on voter misinformation

Twitter and Pinterest are taking new steps to root out voting misinformation designed to suppress participation in the November elections.

China's factory activity falls in January as virus fears grow

China's manufacturing activity slipped in January, official data released Friday showed, as the country grapples with a new virus that has claimed more than 200 lives.

Facebook agrees to $550 million settlement in facial recognition class action lawsuit

Facebook has agreed to pay $550 million to settle a class-action lawsuit over its use of facial recognition technology in Illinois.

ViacomCBS names NBC exec to head CBS

ViacomCBS has named George Cheeks as president and CEO of CBS Entertainment group starting March 23.

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Super Bowl ads: Google and Amazon go for emotion

Happy Friday — the Super Bowl is this weekend and some of the ads have begun to be released. The two that have struck me the most are from Google and Amazon, each taking a different tack to sell you on their respective intelligent assistants.

They are very different. Amazon got Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi leading off the joke about what life was like before Alexa, then people asking other people throughout history things they'd normally ask Alexa. I was with it until there was a joke about refusing to erase the Nixon tapes which maybe was a little too on the nose given this past year's voice-recording scandals.

In any case, the motive is clear: make Alexa seem like an integral part of our lives now, like electricity or running water. But do that in a way that makes it seem lighthearted and fun, not oppressive. The ad mostly works on both of those levels. If you're Amazon and you want to try to affect people's feelings about Alexa, I don't know that you could possibly do better than associating a little of Ellen with Alexa.

Just, you know, it's still okay to ask real people questions.

I have much more to say about Google's ad, I'll put them after the links.

- Dieter

Streaming and the Superbowl

└ AT&T tried to buy out the streaming wars — and customers are paying for it

Good news: you no longer have to sign up for a two-year contract that subsidizes the cost of your very expensive smartphone.

Bad news: you are subsidizing AT&T's harebrained scheme to turn into a media conglomerate that turns 5G subscribers into HBO Max watchers and vice versa.

└ Amazon says it has more than 150 million Prime members after huge holiday season

It occurred to me today that Amazon Prime is also a kind of infrastructure service that includes hidden costs for video content.

└ Here's what you need to watch the Super Bowl in 4K HDR

Good story from Cameron Faulkner. The whole story is way more complicated than it should be! It's also low-key a win for Amazon, because the short answer to "how do you get the best Super Bowl stream?" is "get a Fire TV."

└ Twitch and Caffeine are hosting their own Super Bowls before the big game

Bijan Stephen:

If you squint, the Twitch Rivals tournament makes sense in terms of negotiating a new, better deal with the NFL; it can't have escaped the league's notice that a lot of its players — who are young and internet-literate — are interested in streaming, either professionally or personally.

Ad from our sponsor

Gadget news

└ Nintendo says it has no plans for a new Switch this year

No, the Animal Crossing-themed Switch doesn't count.

└ Huawei overtakes Apple in annual race to Samsung's smartphone crown

The jump is especially surprising given Huawei's continued presence on the USA's entity list, which prevents the company from installing Google's apps and services on its new devices, limiting their appeal outside of China. As a result, Huawei's main strength was in its home country. Counterpoint Research says China accounted for 60 percent of its sales.

└ Motorola's stylus-equipped handset appears in leaked photos

Apparently it's going to be the "Moto G Stylus." The G line is Motorola's branding for low-end and mid-range phones. What this rumor tells us, then, is that this isn't quite going to be a heads-up competitor to Samsung's Galaxy Note and this isn't the "flagship" phone that Motorola promised to deliver this year.

Motorola teased the return to flagships back when the Razr launched, but so far as I know that high-end phone hasn't leaked yet. That either means Motorola has done an incredible job keeping it under wraps or that it isn't likely to hit stores imminently. My money's on the latter.

└ Samsung's delayed Galaxy Book S will arrive on February 13th

More than other companies, Samsung announces major products and then just goes radio silent on them. Exhibit A: the Bixby Cauldron Smart Speaker. Glad to see this ARM-based laptop finally getting released, then, but very curious about the hold-up. Also very curious to see how Qualcomm's 8CX processor holds up without the custom enhancements that are present on its variant in the Surface Pro X.

└ OnePlus just took a big step toward supporting wireless charging in future phones

Earlier this year on The Vergecast, Lau commented that even 10W fast wireless charging was too slow and "not worth it" compared to the wired fast-charging Warp Charge that OnePlus' current phones offer.

Guess he changed his mind.

More from The Verge

└ Today, NASA turns off a space telescope that peered into the extra cold Universe

The satellite was designed to last less than five years. It has lasted 17. It could keep going but there's no funding for it. Seems like a tragic mistake.

└ The Hummer is coming back as a 1,000-horsepower electric truck

While there are plenty of electric SUVs already on the road, the electric truck market is still wide open. That won't be the case for long. Ford is working on an all-electric F-150 that it promises will be just as capable a truck as people have come to expect from its most popular nameplate, and Tesla's Cybertruck will serve as an option for more contrarian customers. A number of startups are entering the space, too. Most notably, Michigan's Rivian plans to release its luxury electric pickup truck later this year. Others, like Bollinger, Karma, and Lordstown Motors, are all trying to be among the first to sell electric pickup trucks as well.

└ Apple's redesigned maps are now available for all US users

If you're an iPhone user, you should give Apple Maps another shot.

└ Early iPhone hit SpellTower gets reimagined a decade later

First game in a while that has a shot at replacing Holedown as my subway game.

I love this: This Untitled Goose Game app turns your Windows PC into pure mayhem


└ World Health Organization declares global public health emergency over coronavirus outbreak

└ Pilots just sued American Airlines to force a halt to China flights

Verge Deal of the day 

Amazon's Fire TV Stick 4K is $15 off, and is your ticket to a free 4K HDR stream of Super Bowl LIV

Super Bowl LIV is coming up this Sunday, February 2nd. Fox Sports will be offering a 4K HDR stream of the game for free (including the pregame, commercials, halftime show, and postgame). The most affordable way to watch the highest-quality stream is with the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K.

Right now, it's $15 off, bringing it down to $34.99. This isn't the cheapest price that we've seen, but if you need a streaming device that's guaranteed to display the best-looking feed on gameday, you should get one of these.

Google goes for the full Don Draper

Google went directly for the emotional jugular in a spot so blatantly designed to tug at your heartstrings it was immediately uncomfortable to the point where it felt manipulative. It felt that way all the more so because it was based on a real relative of a Google employee.

In the spot, an 85-year-old widower asks Google to bring up various memories he has of his late wife, then says "remember when" about those moments. Guess what? That's a little-known Google Assistant feature, asking it to remember things. It is very earnest if you think about how a computer could help, but also very dystopian if you think about sharing your fond remembrances with an uncaring algorithm instead of other actual humans.

This is very nearly a trend now, by the way. Apple also recently created an ad that played on our emotions and sympathies for a widower who was brought to a tearful moment through the medium of technology (an iPad keynote presentation). Apple, at least, had the presence of mind to include actual human relatives in its ad to share that moment, instead of it being simply shared with a smart display.

Tying a product to deep emotions is an ad tale as old as time, I suppose. And I would argue that we are going to need to find better ways to talk about how we invest genuine sentiment, nostalgia, and loving affection into our digital lives. Nobody would bat an eye at a commercial with a Kodak print in the '80s pulling exactly these same tricks, but somehow when you integrate software it still feels different — even though both are technological products. It probably won't feel different for very long.

Speaking of Kodak, Google's ad reminds me of nothing so much as the famous Mad Men Don Draper Carousel pitch. Only now, instead of a slide projector, it's a smart display. I'll quote it in full below — tell me this couldn't be the pitch for Google's ad if you changed just a few words.

Well, technology is a glittering lure. But, uh, there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product. My first job, I was in-house at a fur company, with this old-pro copywriter, a Greek named Teddy. Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is new. Creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product. Nostalgia. It's delicate, but potent. Sweetheart. Teddy told me that in Greek, "nostalgia" literally means "the pain from an old wound". It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn't a spaceship, it's a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards, takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It's not called the wheel. It's called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Round and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.

Does it feel really crass and manipulative for a company to say that a technological product driven by machine-learning algorithms will help us remember our lost loved ones? That we will have some sort of emotional connection to an ephemeral piece of software instead of a physical token? Yes.

Is all of that inevitable? Is it in fact already happening every day? Also yes. We should probably figure out what that means.

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.

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