Ford is making new Broncos; mockumentary John Bronco has its ideal pitchman

The trailer for Hulu’s John Bronco.

John Bronco—Hulu’s new sub-40-minute mockumentary about a “lost” “Ford pitchman”—is a good idea, well-executed. What if you took the competent-idiot Southern charm of Justified‘s Boyd Crowder, but, instead of an Appalachian criminal, made the character the unlikely pitchman for a beloved classic SUV, who oozes over-the-top marketable machismo a la the Marlboro Man? And… what if you can get Walton Goggins himself to play the S.O.B? To call that comedic premise excellent, well, “It’d be like saying, ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter is just margarine…’ which I guess it is,” as one interviewee describes Bronco.

In case the title alone doesn’t explain the premise: sometime around the 1960s, Ford had a rugged SUV, called the Bronco, lined up for the masses. But it needed a way to sell this new contraption. The company decided it would enter a prototype of the vehicle in the Baja 1000, a famed off-road race. It needed someone tough enough to handle this beast of a vehicle and course, so it sought out whoever seemed to be the most rugged guy in the region—a rodeo champ named John Bronco. John Bronco chronicles the (to be clear, fictional) man’s rise, fall, and disappearance before trying to figure out where the legendary ad icon is now.

The team behind John Bronco—Director Jake Szymanski (HBO’s Tour de Pharmacy) and producer Marc Gilbar—started on the idea in 2019 but ultimately timed the project for maximum impact when they learned Ford had real-life plans to relaunch the iconic Bronco late this summer. According to The Ringer, the team met directly with Ford and earned access to the company’s marketing archives, which get mined thoroughly for aesthetic and pseudo-accuracy in the film. For instance: if you, too, were also born after the mid-1980s, maybe it’d be surprising to learn Doug Flutie had enough of a Q score to actually hawk cars for Ford in 1985 (though the original ad does not seem to end in tragedy).

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#cars, #gaming-culture

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Lamborghini’s Huracán Evo RWD is made for maximum fun, not lap times

“Hang back for a second so I can show you the course,” Dean DiGiacomo says over the radio as we approach the skid pad in a pair of 610hp (455kW), Skittle-colored Huracáns.

A professional racer and the chief instructor for Lamborghini’s various performance schools—which range from customer track days to an intensive training programs for the automaker’s Super Trofeo wheel-to-wheel racing series—DiGiacomo takes a moment to explain the vehicle settings I’ll need to select before he sets off on a demonstration pass.

The matte purple machine arcs gracefully from one cone of the figure eight to the next, V10 wailing as it turns rubber into smoke. Before I know it, DiGiacomo is already back in the pit area and it’s my turn to give it a go. “Now, do it just like that,” a photographer says to me with a knowing grin. We share a laugh. But how hard can it be, right?

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#car-review, #cars, #lamborghini-huracan-evo, #lamborghini-huracan-evo-rwd

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The new adaptation of The Witches is almost too much fun

The trailer for The Witches

Roald Dahl’s 1983 children’s fantasy novel The Witches begins with a simple declaration: “This is not a fairy tale.” Witches, the unnamed boy narrator claims, are real. They live among us, demons indistinguishable from real women, hell-bent on murdering children. The boy is matter-of-fact about this frightening reality, but also urgent—he is relaying the immediate threat of a global network of bloodthirsty child predators. It’s an intimate, conspiratorial opener, drawing readers in by whispering the secret truths grown-ups usually don’t want them to know: not only is the world not safe for the young, it’s unfair, treacherous, and cruel.

As the story progresses, the narrator recounts his fateful encounter with the wicked Grand High Witch—the big, bad boss of all the witches around the world—along with every witch in England, a run-in that shapes his life. While on vacation with his grandmother at a seaside resort, he stumbles into a hush-hush witch conference, where the Grand High Witch explains a plot to turn all the world’s children into mice. (The witches disguise themselves as a society against cruelty towards children.) In classic Dahl fashion, there’s a surfeit of jokes about bodily functions, an unkind depiction of a fat kid as a greedy idiot, and vividly drawn villains who speak in rhyme. The boy and his grandmother ultimately foil the witches’ scheme, but the ending is more melancholic than happily-ever-after: the narrator is transformed into a mouse by the witches; even after outwitting them, he cannot change back. He takes his predicament in stride, comforted by the knowledge that he won’t outlive the only person in the world who loves him, but still—it’s a children’s story where the hero is doomed to premature death. Dark! It’s a macabre, gripping tale, one which has remained a perennial favorite for kids since its debut more than 35 years ago. The Witches, like Dahl’s best work, taps into a wavelength that acknowledges the dark edges of childhood in a way that so much young adult literature does not: puerile and mean and honest. People who hate children think they smell like shit. Strangers with candy have bad intentions. Parents die. And sometimes kids do too.

The new adaptation of The Witches, out on HBO Max this week, doesn’t totally carry this brutal worldview forward. It begins with a monologue modeled after the book’s opener. It’s narrated over a slide show that even includes snippets of Dahl’s original text (including “Witches are REAL!”). But even though many of the words are the same, the tone is quite different. The narrator begins by sputtering out a cough, then says, “Alright, where were we?” as though he’s a substitute teacher trying to figure out which slide of the presentation he’s on. He also sounds unmistakably like Chris Rock. Because he is voiced by Chris Rock. No knock to Rock, who has an excellent voice—his “Lil’ Penny” commercials should be playing on a loop in the Louvre—but his jocular, bemused timbre here conjures a much different atmosphere than the book’s prologue. Instead of tugging viewers aside to offer a warning, it opens like a classroom lecture about something that happened long ago. It’s the first of many signs that this version of The Witches, directed by Robert Zemeckis, is a substantial departure in sensibility from its source material.

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Besides the “Big One,” closer faults could also shake Portland

It may not look like much, but that red line marks the Gales Creek fault.

Enlarge / It may not look like much, but that red line marks the Gales Creek fault. (credit: Horst et al./BSSA)

Coastal denizens of the US Pacific Northwest are (or should be!) familiar with the significance of “the Big One”—a major earthquake just off the coast that will occur someday. The tectonic plate boundary, where oceanic crust slides downward beneath the North American continent, is capable of producing major shaking and an incredibly dangerous tsunami. This hasn’t happened in centuries, leading to a false sense of security, but the evidence is there for events deeper in the past.

But the plate boundary itself isn’t the only source of seismic danger. Near Portland, for example, there are a number of smaller active faults. There have even been moderate earthquakes in recent years to serve as reminders. In 1993, a magnitude 5.7 quake just 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of the city caused around $30 million in damage. Here, too, seismologists can look deeper into the past. And it shows that much bigger earthquakes are possible.

Forensic seismology

Today, we measure and quantify earthquakes with seismometers, but it’s possible to find physical evidence that testifies to past earthquakes. Paleoseismology relies on the fact that some things move during an earthquake, displacing their position. In the right situation, you can even see about how much the fault moved and put a date on each event. That allows for a rough estimate of earthquake magnitude, as well as the average time between major earthquakes. (Note that this does not mean we can predict the date of the next one. Earthquakes are not clockwork events.)

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Why is everyone building an electric pickup truck?

The electric pickup trucks are here. Or almost here, at least.

General Motors dropped a pretty penny to debut its new electric Hummer during the World Series on Tuesday, with a two minute, 15 second ad that took up an entire commercial break. But you won’t be able to drive the $112,595 truck off the lot until at least next fall. Tesla staged a smashing reveal for its Cybertruck pickup nearly a year ago, but it hasn’t yet built the factory in Texas that will make the thing—reservation holders can probably expect their truck late next year. Other contenders on the horizon include the Rivian R1T, which, after delays, should show up around June; the Lordstown Endurance(sometime in 2021); the Bollinger B2 (probably next year); the Ford F-150 EV(due mid-2022); and the Nikola Badger (thanks to the company’s leadership troubles, who knows). The competition for the hearts and minds of the American electric pickup truck buyer is bound to be intense.

Here’s the problem: No one knows who that American electric pickup buyer is. “It’s not like people have been asking for this,” says Jessica Caldwell, the executive director of insights at Edmunds. “I don’t think people have been sitting around and thinking, ‘You now what I need? A pickup with an electric motor.’”

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#cars

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Hackers behind life-threatening attack on chemical maker are sanctioned

Oil and gas industry and sunrise at a refinery in Fujian

Enlarge / Oil and gas industry and sunrise at a refinery in Fujian (credit: Getty Images)

Russian state nationals accused of wielding life-threatening malware specifically designed to tamper with critical safety mechanisms at a petrochemical plant are now under sanction by the US Treasury Department.

The attack drew considerable concern because it’s the first known time hackers have used malware designed to cause death or injury, a prospect that may have actually happened had it not been for a lucky series of events. The hackers—who have been linked to a Moscow-based research lab owned by the Russian government—have also targeted a second facility and been caught scanning US power grids.

Now the Treasury Department is sanctioning the group, which is known as the State Research Center of the Russian Federation FGUP Central Scientific Research Institute of Chemistry and Mechanics or its Russian abbreviation TsNIIKhM. Under a provision in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, the US is designating the center for “knowingly engaging in significant activities undermining cybersecurity against any person, including a democratic institution, or government on behalf of the Government of the Russian Federation.”

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#biz-it, #policy

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Google Fi now sells the Pixel 4a on a subscription plan for $9 a month

Google Fi now sells the Pixel 4a on a subscription plan for $9 a month

Enlarge

Google Fi is now offering a new way to buy phones: a subscription plan. Instead of buying a device outright, you can now sign up for a two-year contract, tack a few bucks onto your monthly bill, and get a phone to go with your service plan.

You have one entire device to pick from, the Pixel 4a (not the Pixel 5?). The basic contract is $9 a month for two years ($216 total), which will get you a Pixel 4a (MSRP $349) that is “yours to keep” at the end of the plan. From there, Google imagines you’ll keep paying the subscription fee and pick up a new device, with the company proposing you “upgrade to a new Pixel after 2 years.”

There’s also an optional “device protection plan” for another $6 a month that Google says will “Protect against accidental damage, loss or theft (except in NY), and out-of-warranty mechanical breakdown.” That $6 a month won’t actually get your phone repaired if something happens, however—there are deductibles on top of that. For the Pixel 4a, Google says it’s an extra $49 for a screen replacement, $79 for a mechanical breakdown, and $99 for a theft replacement. Google is primarily pitching that you pick up the service plan with the phone, which works out to $15 a month for two years, a total of ($360).

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Huge COVID study finds remdesivir doesn’t work—FDA grants approval anyway

A vial of Remdesivir during a press conference about the start of a study with severely COVID-19 patients in Hamburg, Germany on April 8, 2020.

Enlarge / A vial of Remdesivir during a press conference about the start of a study with severely COVID-19 patients in Hamburg, Germany on April 8, 2020. (credit: Getty | Ulrich Perrey)

The US Food and Drug Administration on Thursday issued a full approval of the antiviral drug remdesivir for treating COVID-19—just days after a massive global study concluded that the drug provides no benefit.

“The FDA is committed to expediting the development and availability of COVID-19 treatments during this unprecedented public health emergency,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a statement. “Today’s approval is supported by data from multiple clinical trials that the agency has rigorously assessed and represents an important scientific milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Early results

The FDA made its decision based on three clinical trials on remdesivir, a repurposed experimental antiviral drug brand-named Veklury. One was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial run by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. It included 1,062 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, 541 of which received remdesivir. The trial concluded that remdesivir shortened the median recovery time from the infection from 15 days to 10 days. The researchers running the trial defined “recovery” of a patient as either a patient being discharged from the hospital—regardless if the patient still had lingering symptoms that limited activities or required supplemental oxygen to be taken at home—or a patient remaining in the hospital but no longer requiring medical care, such as if they were kept in the hospital for infection-control reasons.

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#covid-19, #fda, #gilead, #public-health, #remdesivir, #science, #who

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T-Mobile screwups caused nationwide outage but FCC isn’t punishing carrier

A T-Mobile advertisement that says,

Enlarge / T-Mobile advertisement in New York City’s Times Square on October 15, 2020. (credit: Getty Images | SOPA Images)

The Federal Communications Commission has finished investigating T-Mobile for a network outage that Chairman Ajit Pai called “unacceptable.” But instead of punishing the mobile carrier, the FCC is merely issuing a public notice to “remind” phone companies of “industry-accepted best practices” that could have prevented the T-Mobile outage.

After the 12-hour nationwide outage on June 15 disrupted texting and calling services, including 911 emergency calls, Pai wrote that “The T-Mobile network outage is unacceptable” and that “the FCC is launching an investigation. We’re demanding answers—and so are American consumers.”

Pai has a history of talking tough with carriers and not following up with punishments that might have a greater deterrence effect than sternly worded warnings. That appears to be what happened again yesterday when the FCC announced the findings from its investigation into T-Mobile. Pai said that “T-Mobile’s outage was a failure” because the carrier didn’t follow best practices that could have prevented or minimized it, but he announced no punishment. The matter appears to be closed based on yesterday’s announcement, but we contacted Chairman Pai’s office today to ask if any punishment of T-Mobile is forthcoming. We’ll update this article if we get a response.

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#911-outage, #ajit-pai, #biz-it, #fcc, #policy, #t-mobile

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Today is iPhone 12 and iPad Air launch day, but don’t expect speedy shipping

As previously announced, Apple has begun shipping orders of the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and redesigned iPad Air, with the first orders arriving today. This is the launch day for all three products, and new orders are no longer considered preorders on Apple’s website. The products are also available in Apple’s retail stores today.

Note, though, that today marks the day the first preorders are ending up in consumers’ hands. Shortly after these products went on sale, shipping dates for new online orders began to creep beyond the release date and into November. And at the time of this writing, new orders of the iPhone 12 Pro models are shipping in the United States between November 13 and 20, Apple’s website says, and the iPhone 12 is shipping between November 2 and 4. The iPad Air is shipping sometime between November 12 and 18.

Apple has yet to begin shipping the smallest and largest new iPhone models—the 5.4-inch iPhone 12 mini and the 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max. Only the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are going out today. The other sizes will be available in November, Apple says, along with the new HomePod mini smart speaker.

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#apple, #apple-store, #ipad, #ipad-air, #iphone, #iphone-12, #iphone-12-pro, #tech

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Bot orders $18,752 of McSundaes every 30 min. to find if machines are working

This 2019 photo was taken in Poland, but McDonald's main virtue is that you pretty much know what you're getting with it anywhere in the world.

Enlarge / This 2019 photo was taken in Poland, but McDonald’s main virtue is that you pretty much know what you’re getting with it anywhere in the world. (credit: Michal Fludra | NurPhoto | Getty Images)

Burgers, fries, and McNuggets are the staples of McDonald’s fare. But the chain also offers soft-serve ice cream in most of its 38,000+ locations. Or at least, theoretically it does. In reality, the ice cream machines are infamously prone to breaking down, routinely disappointing anyone trying to satisfy their midnight McFlurry craving.

One enterprising software engineer, Rashiq Zahid, decided it’s better to know if the ice cream machine is broken before you go. The solution? A bot to check ahead. Thus was born McBroken, which maps out all the McDonald’s near you with a simple color-coded dot system: green if the ice cream machine is working and red if it’s broken.

The bot basically works through McDonald’s mobile app, which you can use to place an order at any McDonald’s location. If you can add an ice cream order to your cart, the theory goes, the machine at that location is working. If you can’t, it’s not. So Zahid took that idea and scaled up.

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#biz-it, #funny, #ice-cream, #mcdonalds

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A typical teenager’s stroll: Carrying a baby and dodging mammoths

Color photo of human and mammoth footprints.

What could make you walk miles across a landscape full of Ice Age predators, all alone except for the toddler you’re carrying? Archaeologists recently discovered a long trail of footprints left behind by someone brave enough—or desperate enough—to undertake the journey.

Sometime between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago, a rather small person, probably a young teen or a short adult woman, walked quickly across the Pleistocene landscape. Mammoths and a giant ground sloth crossed the tracks in the travelers’ wake, trampling some of the footprints. People at ancient White Sands usually moved in groups, which often included a mix of ages and genders, based on the other trackways at the site. But for some reason, this person set out alone—almost.

The person’s gait is uneven, as if they were carrying a load on their left hip. And three spots along the northbound trail reveal what that load must have been: a toddler, probably around three years old. The child’s small feet left their own tracks when their guardian set them down just long enough to rest or switch arms.

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#science

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Our PlayStation 5 has arrived—here’s what we can show you so far

This morning, the PlayStation 5 arrived at the Ars Orbital HQ, which means we’re allowed to say a few things—emphasis on “few”—as the new console’s November 12 launch date draws nearer.

First off, take a look… at the box! You can look as long and hard at the console’s box as you wish. As part of our console review agreement with Sony, we’re not allowed to share photos of anything inside the box yet, but we are allowed to confirm that there is indeed a working PlayStation 5 console in there. (Not cake.)

But we really can’t say anything else about its contents. Anything that resembles an “impression” is off limits at this point, so if your many questions haven’t already been answered by a Sony promotional video or social media post, we can neither confirm nor deny. (Our box absolutely pales compared to one of Sony’s lead hardware engineers tearing an entire PlayStation 5 apart.) At the very least, we can zoom in on the box’s fine text, which you’ll find in the above gallery.

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#gaming-culture, #playstation, #playstation-5, #ps5

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How Indiana Jones, Rambo, and others ended up in 1980s Czechoslovak text-adventures

The loading screen of the browser-friendly version of ‘Indiana Jones in Wenceslas Square’ converted by Jaroslav Švelch and 8-bit veteran Martin Kouba.

Enlarge / The loading screen of the browser-friendly version of Indiana Jones in Wenceslas Square, converted by Jaroslav Švelch and 8-bit veteran Martin Kouba. (Let’s officially consider this canon over Crystal Skull.)

Indiana Jones is caught behind the Iron Curtain. Specifically, the globe-trotting archeologist is in the former Czechoslovakia, a Soviet satellite state, and he’s fighting violent Communists, dodging water cannons, balancing on the edge of a crater, and running away from exploding bombs—the usual Indiana Jones stuff. But there’s no artifact this time. Instead, like many of the citizens toiling under the discredited regime, Dr. Jones simply wants to escape Czechoslovakia and return to the United States.

If you’re familiar with the Indiana Jones tetralogy trilogy, you know the situation above doesn’t come from the movie canon. Instead, this Jones adventure takes place in a clandestine video game that was released anonymously, then copied from one audio cassette to another. In 1989, students and dissidents had flocked to the center of Prague to protest Communism, only to be beaten and arrested by the riot police—an incident that took place during the lead up to the country’s historic Velvet Revolution. These individuals could not fight back in real life, so they’d later use their computers to get a fictional revenge. A Western hero, Indiana Jones, came to their rescue to teach their oppressors a text-based lesson.

The Adventures of Indiana Jones in Wenceslas Square in Prague on January 16, 1989 puts the famous archeologist when and where the protests took place, video game historian Jaroslav Švelch, assistant professor at Charles University in Prague, Czechia, tells me. This title and others created by Czechoslovak teenagers in the late 1980s became part of the “chorus of activist media” that included student papers, rock songs, and samizdat—handwritten or typewritten versions of banned books and publications that circulated illegally.

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#features, #gaming-culture

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Rocket Report: Bank doubles value of SpaceX, Russia won’t talk Amur anymore

Hot fire test of integrated second stage for ABL Space System's RS1 rocket.

Enlarge / Hot fire test of integrated second stage for ABL Space System’s RS1 rocket. (credit: ABL Space Systems)

Welcome to Edition 3.21 of the Rocket Report. As of Friday morning, there are just 70 days left until January 1. This means that if your rocket company is planning a launch in 2020, you have just 10 weeks left. No pressure!

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

China reveals five-year plan for commercial space. The China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. outlined plans for developing launch services, satellite constellations, and a reusable spaceplane at the 6th China International Commercial Aerospace Forum, which opened on Monday in Wuhan, Hubei Province, SpaceNews reports. The group plans to double the number of launches of its Kuaizhou-series rockets (which deliver small satellites into orbit) by 2023 and lead the world in solid-rocket technology by 2025.

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#science

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Better than the Scoville scale? Chili-shaped device can rate pepper hotness

Seeds spill out of a trio of hot peppers in a skillet.

Enlarge / There could soon be an easier way to tell how hot that chili pepper is. (credit: Azman Mohamad / EyeEm via Getty Images)

Capsaicin is the compound responsible for determining just how hot a variety of chili pepper will be; the higher the capsaicin levels, the hotter the pepper. There are several methods for quantifying just how much capsaicin is present in a pepper—its “pungency”—but they are either too time-consuming, too costly, or require special instruments, making them less than ideal for widespread use.

Now a team of scientists from Prince of Songkla University in Thailand has developed a simple, portable sensor device that can connect to a smartphone to show how much capsaicin is contained in a given chili pepper sample, according to a new paper in the journal ACS Applied Nano Materials. Bonus: the device is whimsically shaped just like a red-hot chili pepper.

An American pharmacist named Wilbur Scoville invented his eponymous Scoville scale for assessing the relative hotness of chili peppers back in 1912. That testing process involves dissolving a precise amount of dried pepper in alcohol so as to extract the capsaicinoids. The capsaicinoids are then diluted in sugar water. A panel of five trained tasters then tastes multiple samples with decreasing concentrations of capsaicinoids until at least three of them can no longer detect the heat in a given sample. The hotness of the pepper is then rated according to its Scoville heat units (SHU).

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#capsaicin, #chemistry, #chili-peppers, #food-chemistry, #science

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Sacklers—who made $11 billion off opioid crisis—to pay $225 million in damages

Protestors hold up a banner while surrounded by empty prescription bottles.

Enlarge / PURDUE PHARMA, STAMFORD, Conn. – 2019/09/12: Members of P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) and Truth Pharm staged a protest on September 12, 2019, outside Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, over their recent controversial opioid settlement. (credit: Getty | Erik McGregor)

The infamous megarich Sackler family will pay $235 million in civil penalties as part of a controversial $8.3 billion settlement with the US Department of Justice.

Members of the Sackler family own and formerly directed Purdue Pharma, which introduced the powerful opioid painkiller OxyContin in 1996. Throughout the years, Purdue and members of the Sackler family have been accused of using aggressive, misleading marketing tactics to push the highly addictive opioid painkiller on doctors and patients, which helped spark a massive nationwide epidemic of opioid abuse and overdose. So far, nearly 450,000 people have died from opioid overdoses in the United States during the past two decades, and the epidemic is still ongoing.

As part of the settlement with the federal government, Purdue will plead guilty to one count of defrauding the United States and two counts of violating the anti-kickback statute. Between 2009 and 2017, Purdue paid two doctors via the company’s doctor speaker program to increase opioid prescriptions to patients, according to the Justice Department. In 2016, the company also paid an electronic medical records company to install prompts and alerts in its software that would refer, recommend, and set up ordering for Purdue’s opioid drugs for patients.

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#addiction, #doj, #opioid, #purdue, #sacklers, #science, #settlement

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Apple pushes out iOS 14.1, iMovie updates, and more

Promotional image of smartphones against a white background.

Enlarge / The various color options of the iPhone 12. (credit: Apple)

This week, Apple has released a number of software updates to pave the way for tomorrow’s iPhone 12 launch. Among them: iOS and iPadOS 14.1, and updates to iMovie and GarageBand for iOS.

iOS 14.1 adds support for the various new iPhone 12-specific features, plus a number of bug fixes. Most of the bug fixes fix UI bugs that shipped with iOS 14 last month. iPadOS 14.1 includes some of the same bug fixes.

Both updates are the second to come since iOS 14, after iOS and iPadOS 14.0.1. The update immediately prior to this one fixed a bug that caused users’ default mail and browser apps to reset when a device was turned off or restarted. However, users have since found that their preferences are also being reset when App Store updates occur. iOS 14.1 does not address that issue.

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#apple, #homepod, #ios, #ios-14, #ios-14-1, #ipad, #ipados, #ipados-14, #ipados-14-1, #iphone, #ipod, #ipod-touch, #tech

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AT&T loses another 600,000 TV customers as it seeks buyer for DirecTV

AT&T's logo and stock price displayed on a monitor on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in January 2019.

Enlarge / AT&T’s logo and share price displayed on a monitor at the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

AT&T lost 627,000 TV customers in Q3 2020, an improvement over previous quarters as the company continues its attempt to sell its failing DirecTV division.

In earnings results reported today, AT&T said it lost 590,000 “Premium TV” customers, a category that includes DirecTV satellite, U-verse wireline TV, and the online service known as AT&T TV. AT&T also lost 37,000 customers from AT&T TV Now, the streaming service formerly known as DirecTV Now.

The Premium TV loss of 590,000 customers in Q3 is the best result since AT&T lost 544,000 subscribers in Q1 2019. AT&T’s Premium TV losses ranged from 778,000 to 1.16 million customers per quarter from Q2 2019 through Q2 2020. AT&T currently has 17.1 million Premium TV customers, down from over 25 million in early 2017.

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#att, #biz-it, #directv, #hbo-max

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Iran behind supposed “Proud Boys” voter-intimidation emails, Feds allege

A man in a suit speaks in front of a Justice Department logo.

Enlarge / FBI Director Chrisopher Wray speaking at a press conference in Washington, DC, on October 7. (credit: Jim Watson | AFP | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

We now have less than two weeks to go before the federal voting deadline for the presidential election on November 3, and basically everything is, as many expected, hitting the fan at once. Now, intelligence officials and lawmakers are all but begging Americans to be less credulous with what they see and hear online amid new allegations that actors from Iran emailed individual voter-intimidation efforts.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray joined forces at a hastily announced press conference Wednesday night to issue a warning that foreign actors “have taken specific actions to influence public opinion relating to our elections.” Specifically, Ratcliffe said, actors from Iran and Russia had separately obtained “some voter registration information” and were using it “to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos, and undermine your confidence in American democracy.”

Ratcliffe was referring to an email campaign that started earlier this week, when some voters in Florida, Arizona, and Alaska started receiving threatening messages.

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#disinformation, #election-security, #elections, #fbi, #intelligence, #iran, #national-security, #policy, #proud-boys, #right-wing-extremism, #russia

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Bunches of Amazon devices are back down to their Prime Day prices today

A collage of electronic consumer goods against a white background.

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Today’s Dealmaster is headlined by a wide range of deals on Amazon Echo, Fire, Kindle, and Fire TV devices, almost all of which equal the deal prices we saw during Amazon Prime Day last week. Kohl’s and Best Buy appear to have the largest collection of deals available, but a handful are also live at other retailers including The Home Depot, B&H, and Target. (Amazon, meanwhile, is not matching the discounts on its own storefront.) Best Buy’s landing page says its sale will end at 11:59pm CT on October 22.

You can find our full list of the most noteworthy deals in the sale below, but the highlights include Amazon’s Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10 tablets available for $55 and $80, respectively. Both deals match the all-time lowest prices that were available on Prime Day. We’ve detailed the Fire HD line before, but in general it remains a solid value for those who want an competent tablet for as low a cost as possible. You’ll have to deal with a heavily customized version of Android that doesn’t support Google apps by default, although there are ways around that. But the hardware itself is comfortable and quick enough for light reading, video viewing, and Web browsing.

A Fire HD 8 Plus adds a USB-C port, an extra GB of RAM (3GB in total), and wireless charging to the 8-inch slate, while the Kids Edition models continue to provide a more durable design and a year’s subscription to Amazon’s Kids+ (formerly FreeTime Unlimited), which is a library of child-friendly books, shows, and apps. All of those are back at their Prime Day discounts—and thus lowest prices to date—as well.

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#dealmaster, #staff

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Hacker says he correctly guessed Trump’s Twitter password—it was “maga2020!”

Illustration that includes a Twitter logo, President Trump's Twitter account, and a password that reads

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

A security researcher reportedly logged in to President Trump’s Twitter account last week by guessing the password—it was “maga2020!”—and then alerted the US government that Trump needed to upgrade his Twitter security practices.

Security researcher Victor Gevers reportedly guessed Trump’s password on the fifth attempt and was dismayed that the president had not enabled two-step authentication. The news was reported today by de Volkskrant, a Dutch newspaper, and the magazine Vrij Nederland. Both reports had quotes from Gevers, while Vrij Nederland also published a screenshot that Gevers says he took when he had access to the @realdonaldtrump account.

Gevers reportedly gained access to Trump’s Twitter account on Friday last week. He says he tried passwords such as “MakeAmericaGreatAgain” and “Maga2020” before hitting on the correct password of “maga2020!” Gevers is a well-known security researcher and has been quoted in several Ars articles on other security topics going back to 2017. He is a researcher at the nonprofit GDI Foundation and chair of the Dutch Institute for Vulnerability Disclosure.

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#biz-it, #policy, #trump, #twitter

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The 2020 Polaris Slingshot—still a conversation starter on three wheels

The Polaris Slingshot was definitely the most unusual vehicle I reviewed last year. Classified as a motorcycle, this three-wheeler looked like nothing else on the roads. In fact, it would be hard to draw more attention without the help of some sirens and a bullhorn. For 2020, Polaris has substantially revised the Slingshot. Well, on the inside, that is. There’s an all-new four-cylinder engine, unique to the vehicle, and an optional automated gearbox for those who want three wheels but only two pedals. But it still looks like nothing else on the road, and as I discovered over the course of a few days, it still isn’t the vehicle for you if you want to blend in.

Instead of using a 2.4L Ecotec engine from General Motors, Polaris decided to create its own in-house. It’s a 2.0L four-cylinder design called the ProStar, and in addition to being smaller than the old engine, it’s also about 65lbs (30kg) lighter thanks to an aluminum block. It’s also more powerful, and it likes to rev, too. In SL-spec, it makes 177hp (132kW) at a heady 8,500rpm; we tested the Slingshot R which packs 203hp (151kW) at 8,250rpm. Both SL (120lb-ft/163Nm) and R (144lb-ft/195Nm) are less torquey than the old Ecotec (166lb-ft/225Nm), although that never felt like a problem as there’s just that single 20-inch rear tire with which to apply it.

The other major new addition is the AutoDrive automated manual transmission, something the company says has been its most common request from potential customers. It’s a five-speed with a hydraulically activated clutch and is the only gearbox available for the $26,499 Slingshot SL. The R offers buyers the choice of AutoDrive ($32,699) or a conventional three-pedal manual option ($30,999). Polaris says that AutoDrive only weighs about 14lbs (6.3kg) more than the regular manual, and at 1,645lbs (746kg) the 2020 Slingshot R is about 100lbs (45kg) lighter than a 2019 model.

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#cars, #polaris-slingshot, #review

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Nintendo’s new translation tune? What a Fire Emblem re-release means in 2020

Nintendo’s latest surprise announcement hinges on a different anniversary than the usual mascots like Mario, Link, and Pikachu: it’s for Fire Emblem, the turn-based strategy series that launched exclusively in Japan in 1990. To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the game’s first 8-bit adventure is getting the re-release treatment, either as a basic digital version or with a deluxe, physical collection of booklets, maps, and more.

But there’s a funny thing about Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & The Blade of Light. This 8-bit re-release has some emulation-like tweaks and perks, but this is otherwise not a remake. Up until now, its text-filled Famicom version never got an official translation and release for Western audiences. And unlike the rare cases where Nintendo produced, then shelved, a translated version of a Japanese game, this first Fire Emblem game was never advertised or teased to Western fans.

In any other year, we might look at this delightful throwback to a classic, Japan-only Nintendo game and briefly give the whole thing a thumbs up. But 2020 has been a weird one for Nintendo, so I’m tempted to take a closer look and ask: is this a sign of more unearthed translations to come?

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#fire-emblem, #gaming-culture, #nintendo

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PS5 will be missing some PS4 video-streaming apps at launch

It seems that many of the video-streaming apps on the PS4 won’t be available on the PlayStation 5 at launch. That’s a marked contrast to the Xbox Series X, where media apps designed for the Xbox One work seamlessly on the new hardware.

In a blog post this morning, Sony listed “some of the entertainment apps scheduled to hit the PS5 console on day one.” Those include:

  • Apple TV (new to Sony consoles, and also coming to PS4)
  • Disney+
  • Netflix
  • Spotify
  • Twitch
  • YouTube

The post also lists a few “additional streaming apps” that are simply “coming to PS5” with no mention of timing, including Amazon Prime Video, MyCanal, Hulu, Peacock “and more.” While the wording is a little vague, the implication seems clear that these apps, and others not listed, are part of the promised “more apps to come in the future” and are not expected to be ready for the PS5’s Nov. 12 launch. (Sony has yet to respond to a request for comment from Ars Technica.)

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#gaming-culture

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Senior space officials met to “war game” Biden administration space policy

US Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a public memorial service for former astronaut and US Senator John Glenn at Ohio State University on December 17, 2016.

Enlarge / US Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a public memorial service for former astronaut and US Senator John Glenn at Ohio State University on December 17, 2016. (credit: Paul Vernon/AFP via Getty Images)

On Tuesday about a dozen space officials met virtually to simulate how a National Space Council might operate during a Joe Biden administration, should the Democratic Party nominee win the 2020 presidential election.

The American Foreign Policy Council convened what it characterized as a “closed-door” and “scenario-based simulation” to understand how the Biden administration would think through important space events. Invitations were sent to officials in the aerospace industry whom the Biden administration might call upon as advisers or to fill key leadership roles. The event was not organized at the behest of the Biden campaign.

Invitations from the non-profit organization to would-be participants explained that they would be assigned various roles to play, such as NASA administrator and the head of other agencies such as the Department of Defense and Department of Commerce. The participants would then act as a “National Space Council” to war-game scenarios.

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#science

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New laptops announced at Acer Next 2020 feature Intel Tiger Lake

Ooo, snazzy.

Enlarge / Ooo, snazzy. (credit: Acer)

Acer announced Intel-powered refreshes of several product lines today at the Acer Next 2020 online event. Notable new or refreshed products include the Swift, Aspire, and Spin general-purpose laptop lines and the high-end ConceptD 7 and Porsche Design laptops.

Aspire 5, Spin 3, Spin 5

The Aspire and Spin product lines get pretty straightforward refreshes with 11th-generation (Tiger Lake) Intel CPUs, but otherwise they remain largely unchanged.

For those unfamiliar with Acer branding, the Spin 3 and Spin 5 are convertible touchscreen laptops featuring a 360-degree hinge. That means they can be used as standard laptops, used in “tent mode” (unfolded 270 degrees, resting on edge of both screen and keyboard—a presentation much like a tablet in a folio stand), or opened a full 360 degrees into tablet mode.

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#acer, #laptops, #tech, #tiger-lake

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Narf! Yakko, Wakko, and Dot are back in first trailer for Animaniacs reboot

Yakko, Wakko, and Dot are back in Hulu’s reboot of the classic Animaniacs cartoon.

Readers of a certain age will have fond childhood memories of weekday afternoons spent in the company of the Warner siblings, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, the central figures of the hugely popular, Emmy-award winning animated series, Animaniacs. Now a whole new generation can appreciate their comic genius with Hulu’s revival of the show, slated to debut next month.

The premise of the original Animaniacs was that Yakko, Wakko, and Dot were characters from the 1930s who were locked way in a water tower on the Warner Bros. lot until they escaped in the 1990s. Now they exist to wreak havoc and have fun. The format borrowed heavily from sketch comedy, with each episode typically featuring three short mini-episodes centered on different characters, connected by bridging segments. Other regular characters included two genetically altered lab mice, Pinky and the Brain, who are always trying to take over the world; Ralph the Security Guard; Slappy Squirrel and her nephew, Skippy; Chicken Boo; Flavio and Marita, aka the Hip Hippos; studio psychiatrist Dr. Otto Scratchansniff and Hello Nurse (also a common catchphrase); and a trio of pigeons known as The Goodfeathers.

As appealing to adults as to kids, the show was smart, funny, irreverent, and even educational, especially with its playful songs listing the nations of the world, for instance, or all the US states and their capitals—set to the tune of “Turkey in the Straw”—or all the presidents set to the “William Tell Overture.” (My personal favorite was “The Solar System Song,” complete with the obligatory joke about Uranus.) The writers were masters of parody, so much so that it became something of a badge of honor to be so featured. Honorees included A Hard Day’s Night, Seinfeld, Friends, Bambi, Power Rangers, Rugrats, and The Lion King, as well as the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S. Pinafore. And of course, the Goodfeathers segments invariably parodied characters from both The Godfather and Goodfellas.

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#animaniacs, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #hulu, #reboots, #streaming-television

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New Google Nest Hub experiment nixes the “Hey Google” voice hotword

Here’s an interesting experiment Google is kicking around on its smart displays: voice-command input without a hotword. A video detailing the feature is up on YouTube from Jan Boromeusz, a Nest Home hacker who has a proven track record of scoring early smart display features before they get announced.

Boromeusz’s Nest Hub Max is somehow in “Dogfood” mode, which means it receives early, non-public builds of the smart display software meant only for internal use at Google. A special menu called “Dogfood features” lists a “Blue Steel” feature that will let the device respond to commands without having to say the “Hey Google” hotword first—you just say a command and it will respond. Boromeusz says the device will listen for commands after “detecting presence,” so if someone is in front of the display, it will just start answering questions.

Today Google’s voice command hardware listens all the time, but only for the “Hey Google” hotword. Once that’s detected, it will start processing additional commands. The more modern implementations also use the hotword as the cutoff point for connecting to the Internet—”Hey Google” detection is processed locally, and anything after that will get uploaded, processed, and stored on Google’s servers. The hotword also acts as a form of consent, not just by having the following words uploaded to the Internet, but also because letting the device listen all the time and respond to every possible thing that could be interpreted as a command would be annoying.

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#tech

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NASA reaches out and touches an asteroid 320 million kilometers away

OSIRIS-REx collects samples from asteroid Bennu.

NASA scientists confirmed Wednesday that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully made contact with an asteroid a day earlier, touching the surface for six seconds and collecting dust and pebbles from its surface.

The spacecraft’s performance at the asteroid Bennu, which is only about as wide as the Empire State Building is tall, was remarkable. Because the asteroid is so small, its gravity is negligible, which complicates orbital maneuvering by the spacecraft around what is, essentially, a rubble pile.

Despite these challenges, at a distance of 320 million kilometers on Tuesday, NASA engineers and scientists programmed a spacecraft to autonomously touch down within a single meter of its target area.

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Tesla made $331 million profit in Q3 2020

A Tesla logo superimposed over a mess of numbers and figures.

Enlarge (credit: Tesla / Aurich Lawson)

On Wednesday, Tesla published its financial results for the third quarter of 2020. The company says it ended Q3 2020 with a GAAP profit of $331 million, the fifth profitable quarter in a row for the US automaker. Despite the pandemic, it’s a strong improvement on Q3 2019.

Tesla ends Q3 2020 with a positive free cash flow of $1.4 billion and $14.5 billion in cash and cash equivalents. Tesla says in its presentation to investors that Q3 was marked by substantial growth in vehicle deliveries, which counteracted a decrease in the average selling price as the company sells fewer and fewer Models S and X and sells more and more Models 3 and Y. Regulatory credits accounted for $397 million of its revenues, and the company had to pay out $280 million in stock-based compensation for CEO Elon Musk after the company reached certain milestones.

The automaker had already released data on its Q3 deliveries earlier in October, but to reiterate, it made 16,992 Models S and X, delivering 15,725 of the same. Models 3 and Y production clocked in at 128,044; in total, it delivered 124,318 of these vehicles during the three months in question. Impressively, total deliveries are up 54 percent quarter-on-quarter and 44 percent year-on-year. In total, the company’s automotive business brought in $7.6 billion in revenue.

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#cars, #tesla, #tesla-earnings

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Twitch blasts streamers with vague, unhelpful DMCA takedown emails

Twitch blasts streamers with vague, unhelpful DMCA takedown emails

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Streaming platform Twitch this week surprised many of its users when it sent out a huge batch of copyright takedown emails. These messages not only didn’t tell streamers what supposedly infringing content they posted, but it also said that Twitch had simply deleted content outright without giving users a chance to appeal.

Many Twitch “partners”—the folks who make actual money from their Twitch participation—received emails on Tuesday warning that some of their archival content was about to be deleted for violating copyright law.

“We are writing to inform you that your channel was subject to one or more of these DMCA takedown notifications and that the content identified has been deleted,” a screenshot of the email posted to Twitter by streamer Devin Nash reads. The email then goes on to recommend that users familiarize themselves with Twitch’s guide to copyright law before “normal processing” of DMCA notifications resumes on Friday (October 23).

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#copyright, #dmca, #gaming-culture, #policy, #takedowns, #twitch

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Quibi streaming service shutting down after less than 1 year

It's not a great tombstone, but... well, we'll just leave it at that. RIP Quibi.

Enlarge / It’s not a great tombstone, but… well, we’ll just leave it at that. RIP Quibi. (credit: Getty Images / Sam Machkovech)

Quibi, the video-streaming service designed to revolve around smartphone screens, is no more, according to The Wall Street Journal.

After launching only in April this year, with a $1.75 billion infusion of cash and the leadership of former NBC bigwig Jeffrey Katzenberg, the service is ending as part of the closure of its holding company, Quibi Holdings LLC, according to “people familiar with the matter,” the WSJ says. The news was delivered directly by Katzenberg to the LLC’s investors on Wednesday, according to the report.

The writing appeared to be on the wall as soon as Quibi’s primary sales pitch—quick-burst videos designed to attract the average on-the-go smartphone user—fell apart all over the United States in the wake of coronavirus-related shutdowns. (People just weren’t watching videos on their phones as much this year while, say, commuting on crowded trains or going to and from schools and universities.) This issue was compounded by Quibi’s surprising lack of home-friendly ways to watch its content, with zero major launches on set-top platforms like Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire TV.

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#gaming-culture, #quibi, #video-streaming

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Trial to deliberately infect people with coronavirus draws mixed reaction

Woman receives an experimental COVID-19 vaccine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, MA, on September 04, 2020, as part of a clinical trial.

Enlarge / Woman receives an experimental COVID-19 vaccine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, MA, on September 04, 2020, as part of a clinical trial. (credit: Getty | Boston Globe)

Researchers in the United Kingdom plan to begin intentionally infecting a small batch of healthy young people with the novel coronavirus in January as part of a first “human challenge trial,” according to an announcement Monday.

The plan has not yet been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which regulates clinical trials in the UK, and outside experts have had mixed reactions to the announcement so far.

Nevertheless, the UK government is planning to invest $43.4 million (33.6 million pounds) in the trials. Researchers meanwhile are preparing to recruit an initial 30 to 50 people, aged 18 to 30, who have no underlying health conditions. Those conditions include diabetes, heart disease, or obesity, all of which would put them at greater risk of the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and the disease it causes, COVID-19.

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#science

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FCC cites Title II in defense of helping Trump’s attack on social media

A computer keyboard with the word

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Peter Dazeley)

The Federal Communications Commission’s top lawyer today explained the FCC’s theory of why it can grant President Donald Trump’s request for a new interpretation of a law that provides legal protection to social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

Critics of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan from both the left and right say the FCC has no authority to reinterpret Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives legal immunity to online platforms that block or modify content posted by users. FCC General Counsel Thomas Johnson said those critics are wrong in a blog post published on the FCC website today.

Johnson noted that the Communications Decency Act was passed by Congress as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which was an update to the Communications Act of 1934 that established the FCC and provided it with regulatory authority. Johnson also pointed to Section 201(b) of the Communications Act, which gave the FCC power to “prescribe such rules and regulations as may be necessary in the public interest to carry out the provisions of this Act.”

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#facebook, #fcc, #policy, #section-230, #social-media, #trump, #twitter

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Does paper recycling benefit the climate? It depends

A row of blue paper recycling bins stuffed with cardboard.

Enlarge (credit: John Lambert Pearson / Flickr)

For many people, the most familiar way to “go green” or “be eco-friendly” is probably paper recycling. (And perhaps its aging office cousin: “Consider a tree before you print this email.”) There are many ways to evaluate the environmental benefits of such actions, and one of those is greenhouse gas emissions. So how does paper recycling stack up in this regard?

That’s a more interesting question than it may seem, namely because of the way paper products are made. Processing pulp to make paper is typically powered by “black liquor”—a byproduct organic sludge with some useful properties. Burning it for heat and electricity to run the mill is approximately carbon neutral, since the carbon you emit into the air started out in the air (before a temporary stint as tree stuff). So if your recycling process generates CO2 as it makes new paper, recycling could end up increasing emissions.

A new study led by Stijn van Ewijk at Yale University tries to do the math on this, using practical scenarios for the next few decades. Namely, they calculate whether increasing paper recycling would make it easier or harder to hit emissions targets that would halt global warming at 2°C.

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#greenhouse-gas-emissions, #life-cycle-analysis, #recycling, #science

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