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Science X Newsletter Friday, Aug 14

Dear ymilog,

Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for August 14, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

Searching for Heavy Higgs bosons decaying into two tau leptons with the ATLAS detector

A light bright and tiny: Scientists build a better nanoscale LED

Stabilizing monolayer nitrides with silicon

Computer scientists set benchmarks to optimize quantum computer performance

Researchers one step closer to bomb-sniffing cyborg locusts

Reconstructing global climate through Earth's history

Sounds of action: Using ears, not just eyes, improves robot perception

Nanoparticles to immunize plants against heat stress

Team discovers a new role for a well-known molecule as a plant hormone

Patients' access to opioid treatment cumbersome

Targeting the LANDO pathway holds a potential clue to treating Alzheimer's disease

Researchers overturn hypothesis underlying the sensitivity of the mammalian auditory system

New method for late-stage functionalization of carbon-hydrogen bonds

Marine food webs under increasing stress

200,000 years ago, humans preferred to sleep in beds

Physics news

Searching for Heavy Higgs bosons decaying into two tau leptons with the ATLAS detector

In particle physics, three out of the four known fundamental forces in the universe, namely electromagnetic, weak and strong interactions, are described by a theory known as the standard model (SM). One extension of this model is supersymmetry (SUSY), a theoretical construct that points to a possible relationship between two classes of particles: bosons and fermions.

Black silicon photodetector breaks the 100% efficiency limit

Aalto University researchers have developed a black silicon photodetector that has reached above 130% efficiency. Thus, for the first time, a photovoltaic device has exceeded the 100% limit, which has earlier been considered as the theoretical maximum for external quantum efficiency.

Exponential scaling of frictional forces in cells

AMOLF researchers have presented a theory that describes the friction between biological filaments that are crosslinked by proteins. Surprisingly, their theory predicts that the friction force scales highly nonlinearly with the number of crosslinkers. The authors believe that cells use this scaling not only to stabilize cellular structures, but also to control their size. The new findings are important for the understanding of the dynamics of cellular structures such as the mitotic spindle, which pulls chromosomes apart during cell division.

A superelastic alloy with a nearly limitless temperature window

A team of researchers at Tohoku University has developed a new kind of superelastic alloy with a nearly limitless superelastic window. In their paper published in the journal Science, the group describes the new alloy's properties and possible uses for it. Paulo La Roca and Marcos Sade with Universidad Nacional de Cuyo–CNEA have published a Perspective piece in the same journal issue outlining the state of bendable alloys and the work done by the team in Japan.

Investigation of five-layered cuprate reveals Fermi pockets

A team of researchers affiliated with a host of institutions in Japan and one in the U.K has observed Fermi pockets during experiments with a five-layered cuprate, confirming theories. In their paper published in the journal Science, the group describes their study of the cuprate Ba2Ca4Cu5O10(F,O)2 and what they learned about superconductivity. Inna Vishik with the University of California Davis, has published a Perspective piece in the same journal issue giving background on superconductivity research involving cuprates and their transition temperatures and outlining the work done by the team in Japan.

Researchers capture footage of fluid behaving like a solid

Swansea University researchers from the College of Engineering have captured the moments a fluid reacts like a solid through a new method of fluid observation under pressurised conditions.

Monolayer transition metal dichalcogenide lens for high resolution imaging

An ultrathin optical lens made from a monolayer of two-dimensional transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDCs) could pave the way for next-generation imaging devices. An international team of researchers, led by Prof. Baohua Jia from Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, used femtosecond laser writing to pattern nanoparticles on TMDC crystals. The lens has a sub-wavelength resolution and a three-dimensional focusing efficiency of 31%, laying the foundations for optical devices for use in nano-optics and on-chip photonic applications.

Astronomy and Space news

Simulations show lander exhaust could cloud studies of lunar ices

A new study led by scientists at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, shows that exhaust from a mid-sized lunar lander can quickly spread around the Moon and potentially contaminate scientifically vital ices at the lunar poles.

Aurora mysteries unlocked with NASA's THEMIS mission

A special type of aurora, draped east-west across the night sky like a glowing pearl necklace, is helping scientists better understand the science of auroras and their powerful drivers out in space. Known as auroral beads, these lights often show up just before large auroral displays, which are caused by electrical storms in space called substorms. Previously, scientists weren't sure if auroral beads are somehow connected to other auroral displays as a phenomenon in space that precedes substorms, or if they are caused by disturbances closer to Earth's atmosphere.

Fastest star ever seen is moving at 8% the speed of light

In the center of our galaxy, hundreds of stars closely orbit a supermassive black hole. Most of these stars have large enough orbits that their motion is described by Newtonian gravity and Kepler's laws of motion. But a few orbit so closely that their orbits can only be accurately described by Einstein's theory of general relativity. The star with the smallest orbit is known as S62. Its closest approach to the black hole has it moving more than 8% of light speed.

Space bricks for lunar habitation

In what could be a significant step forward in space exploration, a team of researchers from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has developed a sustainable process for making brick-like structures on the moon. It exploits lunar soil, and uses bacteria and guar beans to consolidate the soil into possible load-bearing structures. These 'space bricks' could eventually be used to assemble structures for habitation on the moon's surface, the researchers suggest.

Technology news

Computer scientists set benchmarks to optimize quantum computer performance

Two UCLA computer scientists have shown that existing compilers, which tell quantum computers how to use their circuits to execute quantum programs, inhibit the computers' ability to achieve optimal performance. Specifically, their research has revealed that improving quantum compilation design could help achieve computation speeds up to 45 times faster than currently demonstrated.

Researchers one step closer to bomb-sniffing cyborg locusts

If you want to enhance a locust to be used as a bomb-sniffing bug, there are a few technical challenges that need solving before sending it into the field.

Sounds of action: Using ears, not just eyes, improves robot perception

People rarely use just one sense to understand the world, but robots usually only rely on vision and, increasingly, touch. Carnegie Mellon University researchers find that robot perception could improve markedly by adding another sense: hearing.

Amazon Alexa bug exposed voice data

"Alexa, who is hacking into my system?"

AI software enables real-time 3-D printing quality assessment

Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers have developed artificial intelligence software for powder bed 3-D printers that assesses the quality of parts in real time, without the need for expensive characterization equipment.

Computer scientist, pixel inventor Russell Kirsch dead at 91

Russell Kirsch, a computer scientist credited with inventing the pixel and scanning the world's first digital photograph, died Aug. 11 at his home in Portland, Oregon, The Oregonian reported. He was 91.

French firm thrusts Microsoft Flight Simulator to new take-off

Many aircraft are still grounded due to the coronavirus pandemic. But would-be and real pilots will soon be able to travel anywhere in the world—virtually—thanks to the first update in years of Microsoft's Flight Simulator game.

Amazon launches online pharmacy in India

US tech giant Amazon launched its first Indian online pharmacy service on Friday as it attempts to grab more of the country's burgeoning e-commerce market.

Deep learning-based cough recognition model helps detect the location of coughing sounds in real time

The Center for Noise and Vibration Control at KAIST announced that their coughing detection camera recognizes where coughing happens, visualizing the locations. The resulting cough recognition camera can track and record information about the person who coughed, their location, and the number of coughs on a real-time basis.

Pandemic helps Angry Birds maker's profits take wing

Finland's Rovio reported Friday that quarterly game revenue climbed to a record 66.9 million euros ($79 million) as people stuck in coronavirus lockdowns spent more time playing its leading title Angry Birds.

An AI algorithm to help identify homeless youth at risk of substance abuse

While many programs and initiatives have been implemented to address the prevalence of substance abuse among homeless youth in the United States, they don't always include data-driven insights about environmental and psychological factors that could contribute to an individual's likelihood of developing a substance use disorder.

Dropbox adds more features including a password management tool for premium users

Dropbox launched a trio of new services, and one of them will remember your passwords so you don't have to.

Navigation preferences across people with a diverse range of disabilities

Researchers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and the University of California, Irvine (UCI) have collaborated to create a universal design schema for navigation technologies to better support people with disabilities in getting from place to place. Although studies about assistive technologies and navigation have become more popular in recent years, the researchers argue that current research has been too narrow in its view of people with disabilities. For this study, researchers worked with technology users with a broad and diverse range of disabilities to find similarities and differences in their navigation preferences. They then used those findings to create a schema that can inform the design of future technologies.

Cloud computing testbed Chameleon launches third phase with focus on IoT and reproducibility

Over the past decade, cloud computing grew from a tool used primarily by large scientific collaborations to one of the core technologies beneath the hood of the internet and other critical systems. That evolution continues today, as the Internet of Things (IoT), more powerful mobile applications, and serverless computing drive new scientific and commercial uses of cloud computing.

American considering cutting flights to many smaller cities

American Airlines is planning to drop flights to up to 30 smaller U.S. cities if a federal requirement to continue those flights expires at the end of next month, an airline executive familiar with the matter said Thursday.

Party's over: Airbnb restricts under-25s in UK, France and Spain

Airbnb said Friday it is restricting the ability of people under 25 in Britain, France and Spain from renting entire homes via its platform in order to reduce unauthorised parties and ensure safety.

Facebook, Google step up election protection efforts

Facebook on Thursday launched its voting information center as internet platforms unveiled fresh moves to protect the November US election from manipulation and interference.

Survey finds more than half of all Americans back potential ban on TikTok

Most adult TikTok users in the U.S. don't seem to want President Trump to ban the app, according to new Harris Poll data shared with U.S. TODAY.

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▼ Fortnite vs Apple vs Google: a brief and very incomplete timeline

'Our enemies shall talk themselves to death and we will bury them with their own confusion.'‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ 

If you weren't watching tech news yesterday, you missed an entire afternoon's worth of cramming handfuls of popcorn in your mouth as you stared wide-eyed at the screen wondering what madness was coming next. It was A Day. Epic baited both Apple and Google into banning Fortnite from their respective app stores and did so with a full game plan in mind — including an in-game anti-Apple video event and two very public lawsuits.

Beyond Epic, I have many tech topics to weigh in on from this week that I haven't had a chance to tackle because I've been working on our review and video for the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra — hit me up if you have questions you'd like to see addressed in that.

But before we get to the Battle Royale between these three companies, I can't not quickly talk about the Microsoft Duo. Holy wow that phone/not-a-phone looks really interesting but also looks like it might be overpriced and underpowered. I am decidedly on team "specs don't tell the whole story" but I am also on team "better specs are a safer bet, especially when the thing costs $1399." Long story short: I love the idea of folding devices but the burden of proof is on Microsoft with this one. I absolutely cannot wait to review it.

We'll have plenty of analysis that goes much deeper into everything Fortnite on The Verge today. Expect a long discussion on The Vergecast and articles from reporters on our tech and gaming crews. We have a page where you can see all the updates, too: Everything you need to know about Epic's fight against mobile app stores.

For my part, I'm just going to give you a brief and very incomplete timeline of some of the relevant app store dramas that bought us to the point where the most important gaming company on the planet created a video parodying Apple's famous 1984 Superbowl commercial. I will start... earlier than you might expect.

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January 22nd, 1984: the national Super Bowl broadcast of Apple's famous Macintosh advertisement. It was a stunning, wildly influential ad. Directed by Ridley Scott, it told the story of a revolutionary upstart that was going to break the totalitarian rule of the monopolist behemoth who dominated the industry.

June, 2016: Apple very slightly changed its App Store rules to lower its cut on subscription apps from 30 percent to 15 percent after their first year. It was a moment when Apple finally started easing up, if only slightly, on the rules that give it a 30 percent cut on everything in the store.

August 3rd, 2018: Epic took Fortnite off of the Google Play Store because it was angry about Google taking that same 30 percent cut. Epic was able to do this in the first place because Android, unlike iOS, allows people to install apps directly from any source. It just requires clicking "OK" on a bunch of relatively intimidating security warnings.

January 17th, 2020: the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing in Colorado about how big tech treats smaller companies in its orbit. Short answer: it's often a "shakedown." Sonos (which is suing Google), PopSockets, Tile, and Basecamp all testify to having been kicked around by Apple in various ways.

April 3rd, 2020: we learned that Apple had given Amazon a special deal that let it do things that other developers couldn't. Apple claimed it was "an established program," but we all saw through it: Amazon got a deal because Amazon had leverage.

April 21st, 2020: Fortnite returned to the Google Play Store. Turns out all those warnings about third party apps (and maybe the lack of easy discovery) was too much of a problem for Epic. Epic's CEO, Tim Sweeney, was pretty blunt about how unhappy he was that his app had to come back.

June 16th, 2020: Basecamp's new email app, Hey, was rejected from the Apple App Store because it didn't offer a way to sign up directly on the iPhone — mainly so that it won't have to pay Apple's fee. Exactly one week later (just in time to keep it from ruining Apple's developer conference) a compromise was reached: Hey offered a kind of minimum functionality that let it sneak on to the App Store.

July 29th, 2020: the judiciary committee met again, calling in the CEOs of Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook over video conference. It went better than expected, if only because the committee displayed some semblance of technical knowledge. Still, it didn't create any enduring moments. In particular, Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai didn't get pressured on App Store issues in any meaningful way.

August 6th, 2020: Apple reiterated its policies surrounding streaming games platforms: not allowed. Microsoft, Google, and Facebook all would like to offer their streaming game services to iPhone users, but Apple insists that it get a cut on digital purchases and that it have the ability to directly review and list every game. Microsoft and Facebook issued condemnations of the policy.

Alright, that's a lot of history. Believe me when I tell you it's very incomplete — there's a whole other Spotify timeline, European Union timeline, and Android timeline we could do here. Anyway, from this incomplete timeline, here are the key points you should remember as we digest yesterday's hijinks.

  • First, there has been a lot of unhappiness related to Apple's monopoly over app distribution on the iPhone, and anger at both Apple and Google over their 30 percent cut. Developers are seeing an opportunity to push back.
  • There's also been a general decline in trust and faith in big tech (duh).
  • Finally, there's been growing interest from regulators to start enforcing some antitrust laws.

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...And now, welcome to August 13th, 2020. I assure you, all of the events below happened in a single day.

┏ Epic offers new direct payment in Fortnite on iOS and Android to get around app store fees. Epic straight up pushed a server side update to its app that wasn't reviewed by either Apple or Google. That's no-no number one. No-no number two is the big one, though: offering direct payments without giving Apple or Google a cut.

You can already see the seeds of what's to come here. The move was blatant and it was also designed to curry favor with users, presenting the new options with a 20 percent discount. (Interestingly, not 30 percent, but also there are credit card fees and other issues that could account for that discrepancy. Arguing about it misses the point.)

┏ Apple just kicked Fortnite off the App Store. Apple stuck to its guns. Fortnite broke the rules, Fortnite is out.

┏ Epic will mock Apple's most iconic ad as possible revenge for Fortnite's App Store ban. It becomes obvious that the original direct payment option was a setup all along. Epic intends to make it a big issue and rally its fans to its cause.

to be clear, I am quite confident that nobody was surprised by this move. I am sure that before it made the decision to kick the app out of the store, Apple knew Epic would do something like this.

┏ Epic Games is suing Apple. But did Apple know that Epic would sue? Who knows? There are two things to note about Epic's lawsuit:

  1. It starts with very readable, very passionate language about how Apple used to be good but now it's bad.
  2. It very carefully positions its anti-trust argument by saying that Apple has a monopoly over iOS distribution, not over all smartphones. The antitrust arguments for every big tech company tends to hinge on some question of "market definition."

┏ Microsoft releases Surface Duo press event video with 30 minutes of demos. Yeah okay this has nothing to do with anything else, but it's worth watching. I love gadgets, what can I say?

┏ Watch Epic's Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite short mocking Apple right here. I cannot begin to express how savvy this video is. It mirrors Apple's famous anti-IBM commercial shot for shot. It re-contextualizes Apple as the bully. It ...tells the story of a revolutionary upstart that is going to break the totalitarian rule of the monopolist behemoth who dominates the industry.

┏ Epic rallies Fortnite players against Apple with a warning that they'll miss the next season. Of course, there is a hashtag. But also, there are real and immediate stakes. Apple and Google banned Fortnite from their stores, but they still work on every device they're already installed on. So a bunch of users might just shrug at this as a fight that will be over before it affects them. Epic is making even those people realize that this is a problem for them.

┏ Fortnite for Android has also been kicked off the Google Play Store. I have to be honest with you, I expected Google to just sit this one out and let Epic break the rules for a day or two. Nope. Late in the day, Google acted. It also pointed out that there are other ways you can install apps on Android. Not just side-loading, but via other stores.

You know how back in the day Microsoft was happy Apple existed because then Microsoft could say it wasn't a total monopoly? That's exactly the vibe I get when Google talks about the Samsung Galaxy App Store.

Sidenote! Both Epic and Microsoft are pointing users to Samsung's store. That's because they're apparently able to get their in-app purchases in without paying a 30 percent fee. What fee are they paying Samsung? Unclear — and Samsung did not return a request for comment.

┏ Epic is suing Google over Fortnite's removal from the Google Play Store. Epic had a lawsuit ready for Google too, but no video parody. Of course, it followed the same script as the Apple lawsuit. Google used to have this "don't be evil" motto, you see.

┏ Google forced OnePlus to decimate a Fortnite launcher deal, claims Epic Games. One tidbit in the Google lawsuit: we got another example of Google pushing around companies who might not want to put Google's services front and center on their phones out of the box. This seems like a small thing, but it's very close to the practice that made the EU slap a huge fine on Google and force it to use a browser ballot on Android.

What have we learned? As I write this evening, I have a few very preliminary thoughts:

  1. Apple and Google do not want to be pushed around by anybody, not even the most important game company today.
  2. Apple and Google are so fabulously wealthy and powerful that maybe they're just too big to be pushed anyway.
  3. Whether you like him or not, you have to admit that Epic CEO Tim Sweeney sure does know how to put on a show. No wonder Fortnite is so popular.
  4. The backlash against app stores is real and growing.
  5. Apple has largely managed to avoid being seen as a bully, but that perception could change. Really, that's one of Epic's main goals here.
  6. I don't know what's going to happen next, but I would be very surprised if Apple backs down first.
  7. One of Epic's intended audiences — maybe the main one — is the regulators who are looking at potential antitrust actions. There's a lot of fodder here for them if they want it.

Disclosure: My wife works on the Oculus Store, including setting policies for that store. I recuse myself from reporting on Oculus, VR, and Facebook and so am not familiar with what Oculus' policies are. Here's my ethics statement.

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