Red and white—conveying fire and blankness—were such perfect colors for Rihanna to strobe at us tonight. Over 18 years in the spotlight, the singer has left no doubt that she's a woman of depth and range, with wild fascinations and gut-held convictions and a rich personal life. But by now, we should understand that she's never going to show us all of that—because no artist ever could, and because she's not going to bullshit us otherwise. Rihanna will instead give us blazing-hot surfaces. She'll insist that attitude and fashion are enough, because they can be, because this is pop.
So no one should be surprised by what her Super Bowl performance was: an act of radical minimalism, seasoned with lovable humanity. It was austere yet scruffy, flat yet real. Some halftime performers have dazzled through exertion. Some have done so by sending messages. Many have failed, or at least flailed, in the process. But Rihanna wanted us mesmerized by the thing itself, by the images and the sounds, and she largely succeeded. Plus, she graciously implied a bonbon of personal revelation: She's pregnant again!
The show started abruptly, with the camera close on her face and the queasy beat of "Bitch Better Have My Money" lurching to life. The disorientation fit with where she was: up in the air, on one of the many suspended platforms that would ascend and descend throughout the show, arranging themselves as stairs or championship pedestals. High-flying feats are always cool, and while other halftime shows have featured levitating-superhero illusions, Rihanna opted for industrial-chic honesty. The platforms aligned all of the action onto one vertical plane, drawing attention to the performance's fundamental nature as a screen event happening in a stadium.
[Read: The first Super Bowl halftime show about the depravity of halftime shows]
After letting our eyes adjust to the circus, Rihanna did something important: She put one hand behind her head and bared her teeth, like a demon on a trucker's windshield. Thank goodness she brought her sharpest weapons, her facial expressions, into battle. She rolled her eyes and smirked. She powdered her face (a business plug so shameless, it circled into being noble) and touched her crotch (dare you be offended by the miracle of life?). These moments told us not to take anything we were seeing too seriously. When she seemed to be just barely trying to hit the choreography, or duetting with a backing track, that's because she was. Irony and insouciance can be distancing qualities in a performance, but here they were a kind of earnestness.
[Read: Rihanna is back in the pop game—on her own terms]
The pops of personality and shrugs of imperfection were also vital because they broke up a pageant of precision. Rihanna's dancers, modeling the innovative use of hooded puffers as crop tops, wobbled and swayed as one organism. When Rihanna sang, she did so clearly and strongly as the set list pounded through a selection of anthemic hits: "We Found Love," "Umbrella," Ye's "All of the Lights." The continuity was numbing at times, especially due to the predominance of EDM pop and midtempo sing-alongs. But when the strident rhythm was interrupted by something lithe and syncopated —"Work," "Wild Thoughts," "Pour It Up"—it gave Rihanna's nuclear-cleanup crew a fun chance to register the change with their bodies.
Strictly speaking, the show didn't meet the expectations that had made it the most anticipated halftime performance of all time. Once one of the most prolific working hitmakers, Rihanna put her music career mostly on mute after 2016's Anti, and nothing about this Super Bowl suggests she's hurrying into a new chapter. But she gave us what made so many people love her in the first place, including dignity where so much of mass culture offers only desperation. The show's most moving moment came at the end, when the music had stopped, and she thanked the audience, looked around, and smiled. Rihanna was high in the air, and she felt as close to us as she'll ever be.
Trees communicate and cooperate through a fungal web, according to a widespread idea. But not everyone is convinced
A psychologist has advice for how to find and foster love, including how to get the most out of online dating.
Social psychologist Harry Reis was instrumental in launching the field of relationship science. For nearly five decades, the University of Rochester professor has been studying close relationships, theories of intimacy, and personal attachment styles.
Here, Reis shares his science-backed advice on how to find—and keep—love:
Which is better: Online dating or traditional dating?
Dating apps or sites are not necessarily better equipped at introducing you to higher-quality candidates than meeting someone in public or through your social circles, says Reis. But they do give you a lot more options. Where else would you be able to meet two or three dozen people a week?
By now, the apps have largely given up on formulating algorithms that claim to match perfect couples. Instead, they offer dating options based on factors such as location, interests, life goals, and more, expanding the "field of eligibles," as Reis calls it.
"If I were single, I would definitely be using those sites," he says.
According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, online dating is much more common among younger generations, with 53% of adults under 30 saying they have used dating sites or apps. One in five adults under 30 say they met their current spouse or partner on a dating site or app, as do about a quarter of partnered lesbian, gay, or bisexual adults.
Are marriages that result from online dating any better than other marriages? Reis doubts it, since studies point in both directions. The bigger issue, according to him, is that the research isn't properly designed to answer this question in the first place. In addition, emerging and changing technologies for dating—virtual reality dating, for example—are outpacing research on the subject.
Reis's main takeaway in the current age of digital dating? "You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince," he says. "And that's fine."
How you can get the most out of online dating?
First, take some of the information in online profiles with a grain of salt, says Reis, who has studied the effectiveness of online dating. "Women, on average, claim to be a few years younger, and men say they're a few inches taller," he says, but these are just averages—they don't mean that everyone is dissembling.
That aside—don't reject candidates out of hand just because they don't seem to share your interests, Reis and coauthors write in their critical analysis of online dating. Instead, weed out only those who are clear no's from the get-go—those who live thousands of miles away, or simply live on the wrong side of your core values. Then, connect with as many possible partners and go on as many dates as you can, advises Reis. Make some semi-random choices and see where that takes you. Don't make assumptions about the person simply based on what they claim in their online profile; rather, pick up the phone and find out what they're like firsthand.
Keep in mind, too, that similarities matter to an extent but are far from a guarantee for happy relationships. In fact, connecting with someone who has different interests from your own can be a way of growing—something that psychologists explain via the self-expansion model. Instead of looking for a person who likes baseball as much as you do, try being open to something new. "If somebody loves ballet, and you don't know much about ballet and have never tried going to a performance, that could turn out to be really interesting," offers Reis.
But the biggest mistake in online dating? Putting too much emphasis on appearances.
Of course, attractiveness matters—that's true whether meeting online or in person. But most people use looks as the main criterion when making choices online about whom they want to get to know better, thereby weeding out possible good matches by mistake.
The other thing people get wrong, according to Reis, is processing the information about another person in a superficial way, without really giving much thought to what the other might be like and might be interested in.
In short: slow down when swiping. Take time to read, think, feel.
"Romantic chemistry is certainly elusive," says Reis, who recently published a paper on interpersonal chemistry. "But it's an exaggeration to claim it's either there or not, based on a few minutes of interaction."
Instead, chemistry is about forging a connection, a feeling of being on the same wavelength with another person. If someone opens up about what they find interesting and what's important to them—and if the potential partner responds in a way that shows true listening—then a back-and-forth ensues.
"The feeling that the other person just 'gets us' is really emerging chemistry," says Reis. That feeling, by the way, can be similar to what happens at the start of new (non-romantic) friendships.
More often than not, romantic chemistry emerges relatively quickly—although not necessarily instantly. Yet plenty of people go on first dates after connecting on a dating app, only to decide hastily that "we have no chemistry." While there's no magic number of minimum hours or dates to aim for, Reis recommends avoiding snap judgments.
Occasionally, chemistry between two people emerges much later. Some relationships can and do change, with a sense of connection turning a friendship into a romance. "Be on the lookout, but don't expect magic to arrive out of thin air," says Reis.
Avoid the 'suffocation model'
Keep your expectations grounded. Perfection is the enemy of good. If you want a partner for life, pay less attention to looks and don't expect the impossible, advises Reis.
In the 1950s, he says, people frequently found their partner in their own neighborhood, or in their religious or social groups. But in today's digitally connected world, people tend to have higher expectations for potential partners. "It's been called the 'suffocation model of relationships' by researchers, in that we want the other person to be our sexual partners, our best friends, our confidants, our co-parents, and our financial partners. We want them to be everything to us. And that's an awfully high expectation for us humans to live up to."
During one of Reis's studies, a participant told him that they knew exactly what they wanted their future partner to be. And if the participant couldn't find someone who was 100% like that, they'd rather be single.
In some ways, online dating has contributed to the false idea of finding a perfect match by serving up a seemingly endless supply of options. "I don't think that 100% person exists for anybody," Reis says. "If you are holding out for perfection, you may very well find yourself priced out of the market."
Meanwhile, dating during the pandemic has created additional challenges. Seven in ten Americans, who were single and looking for a partner, said their dating lives weren't going well, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey.
Make small tweaks for big improvements
You've found your partner for life (or, at least, for now). How do you make sure mutual love endures? What makes couples stay together—for months, years, decades, or forever—and remain happy and fulfilled? Plenty has been written on the topic in books, magazines, blogs, and other outlets. But what does the research say?
One of the critical factors, according to Reis, is the ability to resolve disagreements in a cooperative and supportive way without creating further hurts. It's "a huge one" that's been shown in just about every study that's been done on the topic.
Another important strategy is to share positive events with your partner. Reis has studied both the intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits—that is, the advantages for both the "sharer" and the partner—of communicating positive experiences and letting your partner know that you are excited for them. So, why does this strategy work? Because we all like when good things happen to us—such as getting a promotion at work, passing a big test, setting a personal best in bowling or at a 5K race—and we want to share that experience with our partners.
In a set of experiments, Reis found that when people talked about personal positive events with others, they felt even happier, beyond simply the uplifting effect of the event itself. And when a partner responded enthusiastically to the sharing of the other's good news, the relationship fared better with increased well-being for both partners, greater intimacy, and higher daily marital satisfaction.
Research shows that another seemingly trivial, yet nonetheless effective, way of building connections with a partner is having the "how was your day" conversation, where partners listen to one another, ask questions, allow for elaboration, and show empathy or enthusiasm.
"The point is that you're really listening to your partner, that you're really engaging," says Reis. "It's not so much about the issue of the conversation as it is about the engagement, the sense of making time for each other, and connecting in those moments."
When people first start dating, connecting happens naturally and frequently. As time goes on—and especially once couples are married or have been living together for a while—it's easy to lose that attentiveness in the daily humdrum of work, household responsibilities—and for some—the raising of children. But it's these little things that make a big difference, says Reis, and that contribute to feeling understood by your partner.
Shared hobbies matter
While spouses (or partners) don't have to be clones of each other or do everything together, they need to be on the same page about where they want their lives to go. Part of that means enjoying some degree of shared recreation. "If you're always doing things separately, you're not building connections," Reis points out.
There's important research on so-called "novel" and "arousing activities," which has shown that couples do well when they are taking up a new hobby together. It typically should be something that's a bit more active, says Reis, like learning to ski, taking cooking lessons, or trying dance classes together—something that introduces an element of novelty for both participants.
Particularly in this COVID era, many couples feel their lives have become stagnant. "The same thing every night: they have dinner and then they watch Netflix. That can get awfully tiresome," says Reis.
Doing new things together that are fun and interesting can help keep a marriage or a partnership vital. "Even something as mundane as going to the movies together and then talking about it," says Reis, pointing to research by colleague Ronald Rogge, which shows that couples who watched romantic comedies together and talked about them afterward reduced their risk of divorce.
The evolving nature—and science—of love
Even as social psychologists and others continue to learn more about the intricacies of human love and intimacy, it's important to remember that research in this area is ongoing—and increasingly reflective of changing norms and practices, from virtual reality dating to ethical non-monogamy.
Reis notes that much of the literature on relationship research to date is predominantly based on "WEIRD samples," participants who belong to groups that are western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. But, he says, more work is being done with married same-sex couples—and so far, the findings among same-sex couples seem, with a few exceptions, very much similar to those of mixed-sex couples.
The one thing couples can do right now to improve their relationship
It depends, of course, on the strengths and weaknesses of each particular relationship. But if he had to pick one thing, Reis says, it would be this one: "Make it clear that your relationship is one of your highest priorities. And really act on that. Make connecting in the relationship not the thing you do after everything else is done."
How do you signal that importance? Set aside time for a regular date night, for example. Really talk and listen to each other, perhaps while doing a chore together—such as washing the nightly dishes or walking the dog. Send your partner an affectionate text during the day to let them know they are on your mind. And don't forget the importance of physical affection.
Beware that problems have a tendency to swamp us, he cautions. "The difficulties, the stresses, the disagreements, all tend to dominate our attention. That's what we humans do—we pay attention to what's going wrong," says Reis. That negative bias can lead people to forget what was fun about their relationship in the first place.
"Building in those little positive moments is an easy way of reminding oneself and one's partner that there's something good here," says Reis.
Source: University of Rochester
The post Science-backed tips for finding love and keeping it appeared first on Futurity.
Trees communicate and cooperate through a fungal web, according to a widespread idea. But not everyone is convinced
Trees communicate and cooperate through a fungal web, according to a widespread idea. But not everyone is convinced
For many Americans, wearing a mask has become a relic. But fighting about masks, it seems, has not.
Masking has widely been seen as one of the best COVID precautions that people can take. Still, it has sparked ceaseless arguments: over mandates, what types of masks we should wear, and even how to wear them. A new review and meta-analysis of masking studies suggests that the detractors may have a point. The paper—a rigorous assessment of 78 studies—was published by Cochrane, an independent policy institution that has become well known for its reviews. The review's authors found "little to no" evidence that masking at the population level reduced COVID infections, concluding that there is "uncertainty about the effects of face masks." That result held when the researchers compared surgical masks with N95 masks, and when they compared surgical masks with nothing.
On Twitter, longtime critics of masking and mandates held this up as the proof they'd long waited for. The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative outlet, quoted a researcher who has called the analysis the "scientific nail in the coffin for mask mandates." The vaccine skeptic Robert Malone used it to refute what he called "self-appointed 'experts'" on masking. Some researchers weighed in with more nuanced interpretations, pointing out limitations in the review's methods that made it difficult to draw firm conclusions. Even the CDC director, Rochelle Walensky, pushed back against the paper in a congressional testimony this week, citing its small sample size of COVID-specific studies. The argument is heated and technical, and probably won't be resolved anytime soon. But the fact that the fight is ongoing makes clear that there still isn't a firm answer to among the most crucial of pandemic questions: Just how effective are masks at stopping COVID?
An important feature of Cochrane reviews is that they look only at "randomized controlled trials," considered the gold standard for certain types of research because they compare the impact of one intervention with another while tightly controlling for biases and confounding variables. The trials considered in the review compared groups of people who masked with those who didn't in an effort to estimate how effective masking is at blunting the spread of COVID in a general population. The population-level detail is important: It indicates uncertainty about whether requiring everyone to wear a mask makes a difference in viral spread. This is different from the impact of individual masking, which has been better researched. Doctors, after all, routinely mask when they're around sick patients and do not seem to be infected more often than anyone else. "We have fairly decent evidence that masks can protect the wearer," Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Brown University, told me. "Where I think it sort of falls apart is relating that to the population level."
The research on individual masking generally shows what we have come to expect: High-quality masks provide a physical barrier between the wearer and infectious particles, if worn correctly. For instance, in one study, N95 masks were shown to block 57 to 90 percent of particles, depending on how well they fit; cloth and surgical masks are less effective. The caveat is that much of that support came from laboratory research and observational studies, which don't account for the messiness of real life.
That the Cochrane review reasonably challenges the effectiveness of population-level masking doesn't mean the findings of previous studies in support of masking are moot. A common theme among criticisms of the review is that it considered only a small number of studies by virtue of Cochrane's standards; there just aren't that many randomized controlled trials on COVID and masks. In fact, most of those included in the review are about the impact of masking on other respiratory illnesses, namely the flu. Although some similarities between the viruses are likely, Nuzzo explained on Twitter, COVID-specific trials would be ideal.
The handful of trials in the review that focus on COVID don't show strong support for masking. One, from Bangladesh, which looked at both cloth and surgical masks, found a 9 percent decrease in symptomatic cases in masked versus unmasked groups (and a reanalysis of that study found signs of bias in the way the data were collected and interpreted); another, from Denmark, suggested that surgical masks offered no statistically significant protection at all.
Criticisms of the review posit that it might have come to a different conclusion if more and better-quality studies had been available. The paper's authors acknowledge that the trials they considered were prone to bias and didn't control for inconsistent adherence to the interventions. "The low to moderate certainty of evidence means our confidence in the effect estimate is limited, and that the true effect may be different from the observed estimate of the effect," they concluded. If high-quality masks worn properly work well at an individual level, after all, then it stands to reason that high-quality masks worn properly by many people in any situation should indeed provide some level of protection.
Tom Jefferson, the review's lead author, did not respond to a request for comment. But in a recent interview about the controversy, he stood by the practical implications of the new study. "There's still no evidence that masks are effective during a pandemic," he said.
Squaring all of this uncertainty with the support for masking and mandates early in the pandemic is difficult. Evidence for it was scarce in the early days of the pandemic, Nuzzo acknowledged, but health officials had to act. Transmission was high, and the costs of masking were seen as low; it was not immediately clear how inconvenient and unmanageable masks could be, especially in settings such as schools. Mask mandates have largely expired in most places, but it doesn't hurt most people to err on the side of caution. Nuzzo still wears a mask in high-risk environments. "Will that prevent me from ever getting COVID? No," she said, but it reduces her risk—and that's good enough.
What is most frustrating about this masking uncertainty is that the pandemic has presented many opportunities for the U.S. to gather stronger data on the effects of population-level masking, but those studies have not happened. Masking policies were made on sound but limited data, and when decisions are made that way, "you need to continually assess whether those assumptions are correct," Nuzzo said—much like how NASA collects huge amounts of data to prepare for all the things that could go wrong with a shuttle launch. Unfortunately, she said, "we don't have Houston for the pandemic."
Obtaining stronger data is still possible, though it won't be easy. A major challenge of studying the effect of population-level masking in the real world is that people aren't good at wearing masks, which of course is a problem with the effectiveness of masks too. It would be straightforward enough if you could guarantee that participants wore their masks perfectly and consistently throughout the study period. But in the real world, masks fit poorly and slip off noses, and people are generally eager to take them off whenever possible.
Ideally, the research needed to gather strong data—about masks, and other lingering pandemic questions—would be conducted through the government. The U.K., for example, has funded large randomized controlled trials of COVID drugs such as molnupiravir. So far, that doesn't seem to have happened in the U.S. None of the new studies on masking included in the Cochrane review were funded by the U.S. government. "The fact that we never as a country really set up studies to answer the most pressing questions is a failure," said Nuzzo. What the CDC could do is organize and fund a research network to study COVID, much like the centers of excellence the agency has for fields such as food safety and tuberculosis.
The window of opportunity hasn't closed yet. The Cochrane review, for all of its controversy, is a reminder that more research on masking is needed, if only to address whether pro-mask policies warrant the rage they incite. You would think that the policy makers who encouraged masking would have made finding that support a priority. "If you're going to burn your political capital, it'd be nice to have the evidence to say that it's necessary," Nuzzo said.
At this point, even the strongest possible evidence is unlikely to change some people's behavior, considering how politicized the mask debate has become. But as a country, the lack of conclusive evidence leaves us ill-prepared for the next viral outbreak—COVID or otherwise. The risk is still low, but bird flu is showing troubling signs that it could make the jump from animals to humans. If it does, should officials be telling everyone to mask up? That America has never amassed good evidence to show the effect of population-level masking for COVID, Nuzzo said, has been a missed opportunity. The best time to learn more about masking is before we are asked to do it again.
A meteor burned up while traveling through Earth's atmosphere over the weekend — and lucky skywatchers in Europe were treated to an incredible light show.
Known as Sar2667, this meteor was only the seventh in human history that was detected before reaching our planet's atmosphere, as Space.com reports — and what a meeting it was.
Photographers all over mainland Europe and in the British isles captured incredible videos and photos of the space rock as it burned to a crisp over the Western hemisphere.
Dutch landscape photographer Gijs de Reijke, for instance, captured an incredible shot of Sar2667, replete with its green tail over a desolate field in the southern part of the Netherlands.
In total, 40 people reported sightings to the American Meteor Society during the window of Sar2667's fall.
Some of the most incredible videos of the fireball were actually taken by regular folks back on the ground in Paris, where the meteor was visible to the naked eye in the night sky.
One now-viral video shows the roughly three-feet-wide near-Earth object (NEO) screaming through the sky as it harmlessly burns up in the atmosphere.
Early Warning System
Hungarian astronomer Krisztián Sárneczky first detected Sar2667 just hours before it collided with our atmosphere on Sunday night from the country's Konkoly Observatory's Piszkéstető Station outside of Budapest.
He described the dramatic discovery in an interview with Space.com.
"I discovered this small body during a routine NEO hunt," Sárneczky told the publication. "It was immediately obvious that it was an NEO, but it wasn't particularly fast across the sky, as it was heading right towards us, and it was faint."
As Space.com noted, Sar2667 brushed with Earth almost exactly ten years after another, much more unexpected meteor made landfall in Chelyabinsk, Russia, a "wake-up call" collision that resulted in minor injuries and property damage at its landing site.
As gorgeous as it was to watch in the night sky, Sars2667 underlines the importance of tracking other near-Earth objects that may run the risk of making their way through the atmosphere — something that could have far more grave consequences.
More on early space rock detection: In NASA Simulation, Humankind Dismally Failed to Save Earth From Killer Asteroid
The post Incredible Videos Capture Meteor Burning Up Over European Skies appeared first on Futurism.
, the aerospace firm founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, has thus far focused on its New Shepard sub-orbital rocket. However, it has bigger plans, including a commercial space station and a newly unveiled solar panel manufacturing system called Blue Alchemist. The company claims its technology can cheaply and safely produce solar panels using only lunar regolith, bringing essentially unlimited electricity to the moon.
Since 2021, Blue Origin claims it has been manufacturing solar panels using simulated lunar regolith and has demonstrated every step of the process. It starts with the simulated regolith, which Blue Origin manufactures to be chemically and mineralogically identical to what you'd find on the moon. Blue Alchemist uses a contactless process to melt the regolith, reaching temperatures in excess of 2,900 degrees Fahrenheit (1,600 degrees Celsius). With the raw materials molten, the reactor uses a process called molten regolith electrolysis to separate out iron, silicon, and aluminum.
Producing high-quality solar panels requires unadulterated silicon, and Blue Origin says its process reaches more than 99.999% purity. The standard silicon purification methods on Earth require toxic and unstable chemicals, but all Blue Alchemist needs is energy from sunlight. In fact, the only byproduct of Blue Alchemist is oxygen liberated from the lunar oxides. This gas bubbles up during electrolysis and can be collected for fuel or breathable air. The low environmental impact means this technology could also be adapted for use on Earth.
Blue Alchemist makes everything you need to deploy new solar panels, including cover glass that protects the panels from harsh lunar conditions and transmission wires. Engineers at the company believe the Blue Alchemist panels will have a service life of about 10 years. Even if they don't last that long, you can make more of them — Blue Origin says this technology can "scale indefinitely."
Blue Origin says its solar panel manufacturing technology is aligned with NASA's goals for a long-term human presence on the moon. There's great interest in so-called in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). Every ounce you have to lift off of Earth for use in space adds to the cost. So, making the things you need from materials at the destination can save substantial time and money. Time will tell if Blue Alchemist becomes a part of NASA's Moon-to-Mars objectives.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 13 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-29696-5Author Correction: Processing laser ablated plasmonic nanoparticle aerosols with nonthermal dielectric barrier discharge jets of argon and helium and plasma induced effects
- They held a Halloween event last October, and will host a special "Un-Valentine's Day" event this February 10 with a guest lecture, bar, DJ and special-edition Taylor Swift laser show, all in addition to access to all the museum's galleries and theater experiences.
While Rihanna's jaw-dropping Super Bowl halftime performance — and baby bump reveal — invariably stole the night, a group of weird robot dogs during the pregame show left viewers with a bit more shock than awe.
As if the concept of an NFL "TikTok Tailgate" wasn't enough, the show put on by singer Jason Derulo featured, for some reason, a bunch of diminutive Boston Dynamics-esque dancing robodogs, whose uncanny choreography was timed to match the human dancers alongside them.
Unsurprisingly, second-screen Super Bowl watchers were wigged out by the robots, with one user likening them to the human-hunting doggos from the "Metalhead" episode of Netflix's "Black Mirror."
Some even wondered why Derulo was "dancing with the robot dogs that are going to be hunting us in 10 years."
"Not loving these robot dog backup dancers in the pregame show," one user posted. "What does [Derulo] think this is, the Puppy Bowl in 2055!?"
As of now, it's unclear who built the robodoggos — which, we gotta admit, are pretty adorable in a dystopian way — and if they were meant to be advertising anything other than a future of mass surveillance.
Given, however, that there were lots of other robotic aspects of Derulo's performance, including two huge robot lady torsos that look remarkably like the album art for Erykah Badu's excellent 2009 album "New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh," it's easy to surmise that the performance's half-baked theme was "robots."
If only his team had gone a step further and predicted that people might be a little freaked out by the sight of dancing robodogs.
More on creepy robots: Scientists Create Shape-Shifting Robot That Can Melt Through Prison Bars
The post Viewers Worried Jason Derulo's Super Bowl Robot Dogs Will Kill Them appeared first on Futurism.
New research provides insight into the unique sex lives of giraffes, their reproductive behavior, and how their anatomy supports that behavior.
It can be hard to know if someone is really into you. Sometimes, you get hints—a certain look or smile, a nervous blush, or flirtation. Giraffes get none of that.
They have no set breeding season. They don't go into heat, like dogs or cats. They don't make mating calls or provide visual cues of sexual readiness. So how is a male giraffe to know his advances will be well-received? In short: pee, pheromones, and a gentle nudge.
The new study in the journal Animals describes how male giraffes test females for sexual receptivity.
First, the bulls provoke the females to urinate by nudging them and sniffing their genitalia. If the female is open to his invitation, she widens her stance and pees for about 5 seconds while the male takes the urine in his mouth. He then curls his lip, inhaling with an open mouth—an act called flehmen that transports the female's scent and pheromones from his oral cavity to the vomeronasal organ.
The study provides the most precise understanding yet of how flehmen occurs with giraffes' anatomy. While flehmen is common among many animals, including horses and cats, most mammals wait until urine is on the ground to investigate. The giraffe, however, is not built for such explorations.
"They don't risk going all the way to the ground because of the extreme development of their head and neck," says lead author Lynette Hart, a professor of population health and reproduction in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis. "So they have to nudge the female, effectively saying, 'Please urinate now.' And often she will. He has to elicit her cooperation. If not, he'll know there's no future for him with her."
Hart and her coauthor and husband, Benjamin Hart, professor emeritus with the School of Veterinary Medicine, witnessed this behavior on multiple research trips to Namibia's Etosha National Park.
Dotted among the park's western side were large watering holes, where dozens of giraffes would congregate. Lynette called it "a dream come true" for observing giraffes. "So often you see a few in the distance, not an up-close view of what they're doing," she says.
Benjamin Hart had studied how flehmen behavior worked within the anatomy of other animals, including goats. During their trips to East Africa, the Harts suspected a similar process was underway for giraffes.
"This is part of their reproductive behavior," Benjamin Hart says. "This adds to our understanding of what giraffes are doing as they accumulate around a water hole. People love watching giraffes. I think the more the public understands about them, the more interested they'll be in their conservation."
The Harts also describe in the study previously undocumented giraffe behaviors, from chewing bones to potentially mourning their dead:
- Earlier studies noted that osteophagia, or chewing bones, was unusual for giraffes. But the Harts observed many instances of giraffes seeking and chewing bones, and sometimes getting them lodged in their mouths.
- After a giraffe had been killed by two lions, the Harts also witnessed for several days a steady procession of giraffes arriving to investigate the body.
- The Harts experienced another significant observation when they heard a bull emit a loud growl on different occasions. It was most likely a warning call, as it drove away most surrounding giraffes. Giraffes are typically very quiet and were once even thought to be mute.
The research received no direct external funding. Financial assistance for travel and accommodations was provided by UC Berkeley's University Research Expeditions Program.
Source: UC Davis
The post Pee is a big part of giraffe sex lives appeared first on Futurity.
In the pre-balloon era, China was busily engaged in a charm offensive. Following October's Communist Party congress, at which Xi Jinping won an unprecedented third term in office, Beijing made moves to stifle the combative and confrontational group of diplomats known as wolf warriors. Xi hosted German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the capital, and condemned Russia's threats to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The tone of China's leading diplomats noticeably softened. Vice Premier Liu He, meeting with corporate executives in Davos, Switzerland, emphasized that China was back and open for business. And for the first time in almost six years, Xi planned to host a U.S. secretary of state in China.
Then a Chinese spy balloon drifted across the U.S., and into America's consciousness. The very brazenness of the act upended Beijing's carefully tended diplomatic campaign and forced it into damage-control mode. At the same time, the balloon handed the United States, already engaged in heightened competition with China, a rare opportunity to rally both public concern and international solidarity.
Xi and his team must wish it weren't so. Even before an F-22 fired a
missile into the Chinese airship off the South Carolina coast, Beijing's miscalculation was clear. Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed his visit, the Biden administration denounced the violation of American sovereignty, and Republicans alternately blamed Beijing for launching the balloon and Biden for not downing it sooner. Now the United States has shot down three more airborne objects—possibly balloons, potentially Chinese, perhaps engaged in espionage—over Alaska, Canada, and Lake Huron, galvanizing further attention. Whether a product of hubris or incompetence, the Chinese-spy-balloon affair has derailed Beijing's charm offensive and raised grave suspicions among Americans.
And not only, it turns out, among Americans. Soon after the first balloon appeared over Montana, a second one was detected floating across Latin America. Beijing claimed that it, like the first, was simply an errant meteorological airship blown off course—but apologized for violating Costa Rica's airspace nevertheless. Taiwan then reported that it had been subject to dozens of spy-balloon overflights in recent years, and Japan launched an investigation to identify potential Chinese intrusions in its airspace. London began a security review and warned that balloons may have crossed British territory, while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg observed that the spy balloon "confirms a pattern of Chinese behavior," requiring allies to "step up what we do to protect ourselves."
In recent years, U.S. policy makers and politicians have tried to raise public awareness of the challenge posed by China. Beijing wishes to revise the international order, they've argued, in accordance with its own vision of autocratic rule. China's economic and technological power radiates illiberalism and creates national-security threats. Beijing steals intellectual property, conducts cyberattacks, and is building a world-class military. The United States and its partners must, policy makers have said, gird for long-term competition against a formidable adversary—a task made far more complex by our deep economic interdependence.
Their warnings have been only partially heeded. Americans have, according to polls, become somewhat more concerned about China in recent years, but it does not top their priority list. Allies and partners have grown more skeptical of Chinese intentions, and more interested in working with America to resist them, but they also wish to avoid any confrontation with Beijing. Here the balloon stunt—visible, politically salient, and transfixing—provides an opportunity.
There are rough antecedents, including the Soviet shootdown of Francis Gary Powers's U-2 spy plane flight in 1960, and the collision of a U.S. Navy EP-3 surveillance plane with a Chinese fighter jet in 2001. Despite—or perhaps because of—the secrecy of those missions, the public fallout far outweighed the value of any intelligence that the operations obtained. The same is true today.
The Biden administration is already making the most of its opportunity. Officials now publicly refer to a fleet of Chinese balloons that have conducted surveillance over five continents. The State Department briefed representatives of 40 countries on the flights just days after the first balloon's appearance. National-security officials are providing multiple public briefings as well, and they are moving to declassify information about Chinese activity. The continued appearance—and forcible downing—of airborne objects will keep attention focused squarely on Chinese activities.
This is the stuff that heightens public anxiety and brings about greater international solidarity. Protected by friendly neighbors and two oceans, Americans are unaccustomed to violations of their physical sovereignty by foreign nation-states. Exhortations to beware threats to the liberal international order, or warnings about Chinese activities in the South China Sea, can't be half so effective at focusing public attention as huge airships spying on U.S. military installations. Learning that their own airspace may also have been violated by the Chinese government, for years, is likely to stiffen spines abroad as well.
[Garrett M. Graff: A history of confusing stuff in the sky]
Numerous countries have seen public opinion on China turn on a specific episode. For Australia, it was Beijing's interference in domestic political affairs in 2019. In Canada, it was the seizure and detention, for more than 1,000 days, of two of its nationals. In India, border skirmishes turned the national mood, and in Britain it was the extinguishing of Hong Kong democracy. As strange as it sounds, for America and for others, Beijing's spy balloons may supply a similar turning point.
For China hawks, however, this poses its own challenges. Yes, Beijing's diplomatic harm offensive is convincing the skeptics to take Chinese ambitions seriously. The balloon will likely make the adoption of competitive strategies easier and quicker than if it had never taken flight. China's miscalculation could lead to a broader awakening.
Yet policy makers must guard against overreaction as well. The United States has not calibrated its responses to past national-security shocks terribly effectively. America is slow to boil but quick to boil over. Those dismissive of the balloon stunt—it's just a balloon; let's not get worked up about a trifle—have it wrong, given the scale of Chinese ambitions and the means with which Beijing pursues them. But that does not imply that those aiming rifles in the air have it right. Competing effectively with China requires avoiding needless confrontation.
The news cycle will eventually turn away from Beijing's balloon fiasco. Chinese leaders may recalibrate once again, and attempt to catch more flies with honey than helium. Yet this episode will likely shift perspectives for good, certainly in America and possibly abroad. For all the recent increase in tensions, the public has lacked a dramatic, concrete illustration of Chinese activities, one that would raise both public consciousness and the demand for action. Just as it was attempting to allay the fears and suspicions of the international community, Beijing supplied the fulcrum for a broader and more resolute coalition seeking to frustrate its designs.
The North American skies, it turns out, contain lots of unidentified objects. That is the unremarkable conclusion from a remarkable weekend in which fighter jets downed a trio of separate flying things—over Alaska, northern Canada, and Lake Huron. This weekend's sky wars followed the identification and eventual downing of a Chinese surveillance balloon earlier this month, only after it had traversed the continental United States and was safely over U.S. waters.
This is a strange series of events. A single deployment of Air Force units to obliterate something in the sky is unusual; to have three more in close succession seems quite unprecedented. Is this activity connected to a sophisticated new Chinese plot? Russian opportunism? Some other aggression testing our systems? Aliens? Pentagon officials have downplayed that last possibility while offering little additional detail about what these objects are. Before Americans react with rage or fear over the apparent uptick in intrusions into our skies, we should consider the simplest explanation: a recalibration of the U.S. military's policies on aerial intrusions. We are seeing the legacy of the Chinese-balloon incident, which put two new factors in play.
First, the U.S. is finding more things in the sky because it is looking for more things. The scope and quality of the surveillance of American skies have increased since the first incident earlier this month and the subsequent public revelation of previous Chinese incursions. Air-defense authorities have widened the camera aperture, so to speak, and doing so will give them more, not fewer, things to look at. This does not mean the objects are threatening or even new. Think of an MRI, which may find cell clumps that are cancerous—but will also find clumps that are innocuous and would be nothing but for the looking.
Second, just as our surveillance has increased, America's standard for shooting stuff out of the sky is now lower. The Chinese balloon has made U.S. officials more willing to act, even knowing that many such cases could be false positives. American airspace is full of objects—balloons, surveillance equipment, corporate gizmos, various other innocuously errant devices—and American air defense seems to have been relatively tolerant of those in the past. After all, there is a lot of sky, and scrambling F-22s is expensive. The risk calculation now—is the device manned? Does it threaten commercial aviation? Would shooting it harm people below?—is being balanced well before any verification of what the thing is.
Recent events have increased the likelihood of a shootdown. Lest people around the world assume that the downed objects reflect hostile intentions, the White House should quickly disclose the nature of the objects now in U.S. possession, even if they are nothing significant. Especially if they are nothing significant. The U.S. cannot shoot first and then avoid asking or answering questions.
Is something nefarious going on? Maybe, maybe not. The U.S. may be under a new threat or finally seeing more evidence of an old threat, but perhaps none of this is new or terribly threatening. Jumping to only one conclusion, without considering others, is the quickest way to make a major national-security error.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 13 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-29611-yAuthor Correction: Muscle coordination and recruitment during squat assistance using a
Scientific Reports, Published online: 13 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26988-0House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) escape behavior is triggered faster in smaller settlements
After the Pentagon spotted a series of mysterious objects and then shot them out of the sky, an official made a baffling admission: that the military hasn't ruled out that the objects could have been extraterrestrial in nature.
A total of three airborne objects were shot down over just three days, Reuters reports, prompting widespread speculation about their origins.
"I'll let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out," Air Force general Glen VanHerck told reporters, referring to the possibility of aliens being behind the sightings. "I haven't ruled out anything."
Shoot 'Em Down
The Pentagon, however, also noted that it has yet to find any compelling evidence supporting
theory. So as cool as that would be, there's almost certainly a more mundane explanation.
On Sunday, a mysterious octagonal object was shot down over Lake Huron, representing the fourth flying object to have met a similar fate since a Chinese balloon was destroyed on February 4.
But the latter three objects don't appear to be balloons, making the encounters even more puzzling.
"We're calling them objects, not balloons, for a reason," VanHerck, head of North American Aerospace Defense Command, told reporters, as quoted by Reuters.
So far, all we can do is speculate. Officials will attempt to fish out the latest object out of Lake Huron to investigate it, according to the general.
While we still have no idea who or what was behind these objects, it's certainly an eyebrow-raising series of events.
The US has spent decades investigating "unidentified aerial phenomena," strange sightings made by military pilots over the years, that remain unexplained to this day.
Maybe there's finally a chance we could get some answers.
READ MORE: Ruling out aliens? Senior U.S. general says not ruling out anything yet [Reuters]
More on the objects: China Wants the Corpse of Its Balloon Back After the US Killed It With a Missile
Not Ruling Out That Unidentified Shot Down Objects Were Alien appeared first on Futurism.
New guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics on how to deal with
will have "unintended negative effects," says Kate Bauer.
The guidelines, the first in 15 years, advise urgent and early treatment interventions, including medications and surgery at younger ages, rather than relying on wait-and-see treatments.
More than 14.4 million US children and teens are at risk of serious short and long-term health concerns such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and behavioral health issues, if untreated, according to the AAP.
Bauer, an associate professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, is an expert on causes of and reactions to childhood obesity, especially in marginalized communities.
Here, she talks about the guidelines and some of her specific concerns about what they mean for health care providers, families, and society:
The post New childhood obesity guidelines may do more harm than good appeared first on Futurity.
It's been estimated that the human body contains about 60,000 miles of blood vessels. The heart has to pump blood through every inch of them unceasingly to meet the body's bottomless needs for oxygen and nutrients. But because the heart has its own needs too, some of those vessels form a filigree of coronary arteries that laces through the cardiac muscle. If something goes wrong with those…
Scientific Reports, Published online: 13 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-29749-9Author Correction: Tracking
Studies of prairie voles are providing surprising new insights into how social bonds form
To improve workers' health, research shows, companies need to support "transformational" leaders and weed out "destructive" actors, not just tout wellness programs
|submitted by /u/EconHacker
Over the last month I've researched Waymo, Cruise, Tesla and motional. Initially I was focused on comparing Lidar to cameras and Radar. Sensors are important, but it became apparent that there are 2 essential steps to that will lead us to self driving vehicles.
- In order to solve full self-driving properly, you actually just have to solve real world AI. (this is actually a quote from someone you might know :))
- As Level 5 autonomous driving is far away, the main focus right now is to have a fleet that continuously trains the AI model, which means that you over time.
Step 1 is super hard to achieve and the main reason for it is, that you really need to take a HUGE amount of factors into account when driving. It requires much more than AI can deliver right now.
I think that a lot of Tesla owners ask themselves why Radar and ultrasonic sensors have been removed. I believe the answer lies in that you can invest heavily in sensors, but then you might not obtain "the fleet" that will train your AI model.
Taking everything into consideration, we are probably somewhere between Level 2 (Partial Driving Automation) and Level 3 (Conditional Driving Automation). We have a long way to go before we reach Level 5 (Full Driving Automation).
What is your take on it? Looking forward to hear your point of view:)!
Would it be conceivably possible to create a fully self-contained, self-sufficient architectural ecosystem with modern technology?
Say, a space colony on the moon or orbiting the earth, powered totally by solar energy, with its own hydroponic warehouse agricultural operation, and some way of recycling waste with maximal efficiency, including converting carbon dioxide back to oxygen?
Is this technologically achievable with the means available to us today?
What I understand, is that
provides answers based on an already existing database. Does this disable it from being able to come up with ideas that not yet have been conceptualized? I do not know if my understanding of ChatGpt is incomplete.
Thanks in advance!
I made a computer model to see how we could do an energy transition and reduce climate change.
And I wrote a report on this model:
It takes into account what other countries did regarding low-carbon energy sources in the past, and it tries to find an optimal solution for each country based on local possibilities and constraints (sunshine, wind speed, technical skills, etc..). It considers emissions of CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, f-gases and sulfur dioxide. It also considers constraints on multiple resources: Lithium, Cobalt, Uranium, Silver, Graphite, Aluminium…. And it partly takes into account E.V. batteries, storage for intermittent sources, recycling, etc.
Spoiler: It'll be hard to stay below +2°C.
I can try to answer any questions you may have about this model!
And if you understand the model and have an interesting strategy to try, perhaps I can also run it and send you the results.
|submitted by /u/darth_nadoma
|submitted by /u/egusa
self-replicating machines have always been a fascinating concept but I've wondered how they'd deal with things like cpu manufacturing which require gigantic factories to be viable.
I'm wondering how far out we think such machines are and if things like manufacturing in the vacuum of space or thin atmosphere of Mars would simplify these to the point a single machine could handle it?
for a 2-minute video script and then combined another AI video tool to create a complete video presentation with a voice-over. After 3 minutes of loading this is the result.
Watch here: https://youtu.be/ldy9dPtaJ7Y
What do you think? What else can we do with AI?
Studies of prairie voles are providing surprising new insights into how social bonds form
One of the least discussed aspects of the AI language generator
might be its ability to produce pretty awful poetry. Given how difficult it is to teach a computer how to recognize a syllable, I'm not disparaging the technical prowess of the chatbot's creators and testers. But very few of the AI-produced poems I've read actually follow the prompt that's been provided. "Write a poem in the style of Seamus Heaney"? This is not that poem:
In a garden green and fair,
A flower blooms, a sight so rare.
But is it meant for me, I fear?
Will I, like it, bloom this year?
Odds are good that this poem, titled "Is It for Me?," will not win the National Poetry Series. The final phrase seems plucked from T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," which gives the last line an unintended comic air, because Eliot is referring to a corpse.
[Read: T.S. Eliot saw this all coming]
Poetry, with its heightened states of emotion, intimate address, ecstatic proclamation, and enchanting song, would seem to be one of the limit cases that prove the point: ChatGPT can write anything we can write. It can indeed compose poems from prompts such as "write a poem about the estate tax." Asked to write a sonnet about socks, it will produce a poem with the opening line "Oh socks, my trusty companions on my feet."
Such goofy attempts could be said to emulate praise poetry, that venerable form of ode-making. They could just as well have been spoken by Brick Tamland, Steve Carell's character in Anchorman, who is prone to spouting cryptic one-liners—including, famously, "I love lamp." (As a teacher of poetry, I can't help but imagine an overly eager chatbot in one of my creative-writing workshops in the year 2030. "Do you really love the lamp," I picture myself asking it, "or are you just saying that because you saw it?")
Heaney wrote a poem about the death of his mother called "Clearances" that—like the AI-generated "Is It for Me?"—also uses rhyme, meter, and nature imagery:
I thought of walking round and round a space
Utterly empty, utterly a source
Where the decked chestnut tree had lost its place
In our front hedge above the wallflowers.
The difference between ChatGPT's Heaney-esque poem and Heaney's actual poem is not simply that one is bad and one is good, or that one is sentimental and one is elegiacally beautiful. The difference is that Heaney lost his mother, and the poem expresses the emotional urgency of this fact during a reflective moment sometime after the event. Heaney's poem carries the ineffable sense that the poet has not only pillaged from the horde of words that already exist but has also worked on them himself, claiming them partly as his and partly as a treasure loaned to him from centuries of poetry written in English.
I could point to other aspects of the language: the pause in the second line, the similarity between the sounds of decked and chest-, the lingering syllables of wallflowers. Above all, there's the mystery of the mourning poet's meditation—that missing tree that both orients and eludes him.
ChatGPT can write poemlike streams of regurgitated text, but they don't mourn and console and mystify with an image like the chestnut tree, which casts an immersive spell. They don't satisfy the minimal criterion of a poem, which is a pattern of language that compresses the messy data of experience, emotion, truth, or knowledge and turns those, as W. H. Auden wrote in 1935, into "memorable speech."
Ian Bogost suggests that ChatGPT produces "an icon of the answer … rather than the answer itself." This is correct: The poem it spits out is an emblem of what a poem is rather than an example of a poem. It is closer to a found object than to Emily Dickinson's four-line poems in rhyme, which take "unorthodox, subversive, sometimes volcanic propensities" and channel them "into a dialect called metaphor."
That's what the poet Adrienne Rich found in Dickinson's poetry—a hint as to how poems are made, a trace of their creation. Rich thought it was critically important that a poet's imagination be followed back to her confining circumstances. For Dickinson, that was a house in Amherst in the 1860s and '70s. For Rich, who wrote a century later, it was raising three children while questioning her sexuality and political commitments.
[Read: The encounter that revealed a different side of Emily Dickinson]
Not that the relation between the life and the poem is ever easy to make out: Indeed, Rich spent her career learning radically new ways to thread her experiences—as a mother, a homemaker in the suburbs, a lesbian, a feminist, a Jew—into language, changing the language in the process. She was like the poet she imagines in "Poetry: II, Chicago," written in 1984:
Wherever a poet is born enduring
depends on the frailest of chances:
Who listened to your murmuring
over your little rubbish who let you be
who gave you the books
who let you know you were not
Poems, she continues, are "fiery lines" that say, "This belongs to you you have the right / you belong to the song / of your mothers and fathers You have a people." They are almost always precarious in their transmission, whether they get to the poet from a god via Plato's chain of magnetized iron or from the "inconstant wind" of human inspiration that Percy Bysshe Shelley likened to a fading coal. Now is not the time to give up on that essential strangeness and fragility in favor of productivity and predictability. The world needs more poems, not faster ones.
ChatGPT cannot write poetry—or prose, for that matter—that is "the cry of its occasion," as Wallace Stevens would have it, because there is no lived "occasion" other than the set of texts it can read. Neither can there be emotion recollected in tranquility. There's no involuntary memory that's stimulated by the taste of a madeleine. Creativity requires more than an internet-size syllabus or a lesson in syllables. So does essay writing, which is why, even though many acknowledge that ChatGPT can write passable high-school and undergraduate essays, I'm not concerned about that either.
The poems that ChatGPT writes are riddled with cliché and wince-worthy rhymes, but it isn't just issues of quality that separate AI- and human-generated compositions. Poetry, whether in the style of Heaney or Dickinson or your journal from fourth grade, comes from the felt necessity to speak a truth, whatever kind of truth that might be, in a tongue that you've inherited or learned—or that has been imposed upon you by force or violence. That's obvious to anyone who, for reasons they can't fully explain, sits down and organizes their words into a pattern that's slightly different from the language they use at the dinner table.
Whatever upgrades might come for ChatGPT, what it writes likely won't emerge from the burning sense that something is missing from the world. Poetry speaks in the words of the dead, words sometimes borrowed from past poems—but the desire to use those words comes from an intuition that something is still hidden in them, something that needs to be heard in the harmony between our present voices and those earlier ones. The resemblance between AI-generated writing and human-generated writing is surface level. We know a little more now about how computers arrange words into patterns. The real question—the question that we keep trying to answer with vital metaphors of "fiery lines" and fading coals—is how humans do.
Until I'm actually doing it, I frequently forget how pleasurable it is to stop in the middle of a book and text a friend, aghast at what just happened. Because I no longer read with classmates and I'm not in any book clubs, this delight has become a rare one for me—most of the time, reading is a solitary pursuit. But lately, I've tried to make more room for wandering through a plot alongside someone I love.
When my fiancée and I adore, or despise, an author's work for the same reasons, it's a rush—like the feeling of finishing each other's sentences. Making my way through a book at the same time as friends who are more attentive readers helps me notice details I may have missed entirely. And with any companion—especially on a road trip—listening to an audiobook together can be spellbinding, or at least give you something to laugh about.
Below are five books made even better by experiencing them with somebody else—a significant other, a friend, or a family member. They offer riddles to crack, and polarizing characters and conclusions to argue about. And whether you agree with them or not, your reading partner's impressions might entirely change how you think about the story.
[Read: How to keep your book club from becoming a wine club]
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, by Samantha Irby
Irby is the author of multiple self-deprecating, affecting, painfully funny essay collections—We Are Never Meeting in Real Life is her second; her newest, Quietly Hostile, will be out in May. (She also writes for TV and has an irreverent Substack newsletter dedicated to breaking down reruns of the courtroom reality show Judge Mathis.) Here, she circles many of the same subjects she's known for: her body, her experience with Crohn's disease, aging, her childhood, her parents, and the exuberant gratifications of television and staying indoors. She also tells the genuinely romantic tale of falling in love with her now-wife. But Irby is at her best when writing about sex; in a previous book, she offered tips on "how to get your disgusting meat carcass ready," a phrase I will never forget. Here, thankfully, she remains unafraid to describe exactly how humiliating and hysterical "thirty-seven minutes of really taxing physical labor" can be. You won't be able to get through this without sharing some of its choice passages with anyone who's within earshot. Save some time by buying two copies, or better yet, try the audio version.
His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman
One of the great joys of reading is encountering worlds you don't want to leave; reading with another person means exploring those worlds together. Pullman's beloved fantasy trilogy offers an entire universe to venture into, one that orbits around an irresistible protagonist, Lyra: a brave scoundrel who very quickly becomes responsible for the fate of free will in all sentient beings. The author alludes to John Milton and William Blake in this abstract retelling of Genesis, which takes place in a fantasy realm populated by witches, specters, and souls embodied as talking animals. Lyra stands in for Eve in the Garden of Eden, on the verge of acquiring forbidden knowledge. But the trilogy fiercely argues that this transition is no sin—that it's essential and even beautiful. While many fantasy stories might build to a bloody, dramatic war, Pullman instead focuses on the swell and heartbreak of first love, and the indelible moment when a child, without quite knowing it, becomes a young adult. His Dark Materials is long but never drags, and its hundreds of pages construct a deep and wondrous cosmos to discover together. When readers reach the last page, they can pick up Pullman's sequel trilogy, The Book of Dust, about Lyra's life as an adult. It's a relief—you won't want to say goodbye to her.
[Read: Philip Pullman's problem with God]
The Portrait of a Mirror, by A. Natasha Joukovsky
Joukovsky's novel follows two high-status young couples whose paths cross in the hallowed professional worlds of museums and consulting during the summer of 2015. The satirical comedy of manners skewers wealth and self-obsession, reinterpreting beats from Ovid's myth of Narcissus, the young man who wasted away while staring at his own reflection. Wes and Diana, born into privilege and living in New York, and Vivien and Dale, upwardly mobile in Philadelphia, are forced into a kind of unacknowledged love quadrangle, but their adulterous sexual tension is overshadowed by the fact that these people love themselves far more than they love one another. Their relationships rely on carefully balanced rounds of passive-aggressive sniping and layer after layer of perfectly understood, but uncommunicated, displeasure. Sharing Portrait with a friend will only heighten the delicious friction. The book will have you and a companion constantly switching allegiances among the four unlikable characters, debating which of them is the worst. After all, Joukovsky reminds us, mocking someone behind closed doors is no fun unless you have a partner to do it with.
Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban
Some vague stretch of time after a nuclear disaster destroyed civilization, a 12-year-old boy named Riddley Walker goes on a pilgrimage around southeast England to Canterbury. The plot of Hoban's delightful, perplexing novel doesn't immediately make sense, though, because it's narrated entirely in a corrupted, phonetic dialect. It begins, "On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar." Fragmented pieces of our culture have been preserved, and warped, by storytelling: The society's foundational myth is about how "clevver" people hunted down a shining little "man," the "Addom," then tore him in two to release great power. Riddley discovers, alongside the reader, that some wish to resuscitate the knowledge that existed before the disaster wiped it out; they go around collecting materials like "Saul & Peter" and "chard coal" and "salt 4" to create a weapon they know is potent and explosive. Reading the book with someone else—or, even better, reading it aloud with them—gives you the chance to discuss theories as you try to solve the puzzles of Hoban's dystopia. As Riddley's journey progresses, legends and rhymes gain additional meaning, and the novel's pace accelerates until you figure out, only a beat before it happens, the incendiary climax.
[Read: Why some people become lifelong readers]
Trick Mirror, by Jia Tolentino
In Tolentino's collection, subtitled "Reflections on Self-Delusion," nothing is quite as it seems. Through relentless curiosity, it defamiliarizes topics such as workout culture, Jesus, literary protagonists, marriage, and the internet. Tolentino's criticism lets readers see commonplace ideas split into their constituent parts, revealing overlooked connections between our daily behavior and the subliminal messages American culture sends us. In one standout essay, she experiences the euphoria of MDMA as religious fervor; in another, the office worker's routine of fast-casual lunch bowls and hypnotic barre classes becomes a series of sinister, almost robotic tune-ups. When the writing is personal, it's always in service of creating a shared understanding between the author and the reader. And even when Tolentino adopts a more authoritative voice, she retains her intimate tone—she addresses the reader not quite like a friend, but like a person special enough to be let in on her discoveries. Sharing those secrets with an actual friend is even more exciting. There will be plenty to talk about, and the debates that ensue will inspire reflection long after you're done.
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As the conflict in Ukraine nears its first anniversary, both sides have settled in for a long war. Russia mobilized some 300,000 reservists in September to stabilize its front as winter set in. Despite recent successes in Kharkiv and Kherson, Ukrainian leaders are now warning that a new Russian offensive is imminent, boosted by these reinforcements. Some analysts believe that this offensive may already have begun. But there is little reason to expect that increased manpower alone will lead to Russian victory. Ukraine's Western backers should hold their nerve and keep providing Ukraine with what it needs most: modern weapons and the training to use them effectively.
After the invasion's initial repulse, Russian President Vladimir Putin procrastinated on further mobilization as long as possible, summoning reserves only when the situation forced him to. Russia does not have a ready and deployable reserve like America's Army Reserve or National Guard. Russian reservists are simply men who previously served as one-year conscripts—most of them many years removed from the military. Less than 10 percent of those now mobilized had carried out any refresher training within five years of leaving active service. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu himself noted that the average age of mobilized soldiers was 35.
Hastily equipped with old weapons, Russia's mobiks were rushed into combat—with predictable results: immediate heavy casualties. According to a recent estimate from Norway's defense chief, the total number of Russians killed or wounded in the war is nearing 200,000.
Russia's belated, partial mobilization did put men in uniform in Ukraine in time for winter, but at the cost of some social unrest and a significant brain drain. A spate of protests occurred and several recruiting stations were set on fire or shot up, while hundreds of thousands of young men, many of them from Russia's educated professional class, have fled to neighboring countries such as Armenia and Georgia.
[Phillips Payson O'Brien: Tanks have shifted the balance of power in Europe]
Numbers alone are seldom the determining factor in modern war. All else being equal, the side that can throw more troops into battle has a big advantage. But all else is almost never equal. In this war, the Ukrainians' superior ability to both employ and evade firepower has been the crucial component.
Historians and pundits are apt to note Russia's record of eking out victories of grinding attrition and invoke the country's tolerance for enormous casualties and its scant regard for the lives of its soldiers. But the character of war (though not its nature) has changed since the days of Peter the Great and Napoleon. In a process that began more than a century ago, modern firepower has "emptied" the battlefield, as military analysts say. Units have to disperse and seek cover and concealment from enemy observation and the fire that follows it. That has become only more emphatically the case on battlefields surveilled by satellites and growing drone fleets.
Firepower is key to victory, but its effects depend on the relative tactical skill and flexibility of the forces employing and facing it. Advances in military technology have dramatically magnified the rewards for superior combat skill—while punishing ineptitude ever more harshly. In his 2004 Military Power, the Columbia professor Stephen Biddle dubbed this "the modern system." Armies that lack the tactical proficiency and cohesion to disperse and survive in the face of enemy surveillance and firepower are little better than targets. The Russians have demonstrated in this year of conflict that they are that kind of army.
In manpower terms, the Russian armed forces entered the war with a professional core of contract soldiers that was too small, augmented by hundreds of thousands of conscripts with basic training and the expectation that they would only ever be asked to fight in a war of national defense. Thanks to the shortage of noncommissioned officers—the hands-on tactical leaders who ensure small-unit success in Western armies—Russian troops immediately showed a deficit of discipline that has made them vulnerable to determined Ukrainian defenders. Vehicles have frequently been abandoned undamaged, communications security (such as limiting cellphone use during fighting) has been nonexistent, and troops have huddled together for a false sense of security, making them big targets for Ukrainian firepower. Within a week of the initial invasion, Russian soldiers were sometimes sabotaging their own vehicles to evade combat.
Ukrainian success has come down to skillful use of modern weapons against this incompetent and demoralized enemy. A succession of Wunderwaffe, or wonder weapons, has been much hyped: Turkish Bayraktar attack drones, Javelin anti-tank missiles, and, most recently, HIMARS rocket artillery. All of these have had an impact, but none individually has been decisive. Javelins and HIMARS are not new; both systems were first fielded in the 1990s. They have, however, been brutally effective against poorly employed Russian troops and vehicles. By some estimates, Russia has lost half of its entire operational tank fleet in a year of fighting.
[Eliot A. Cohen: Western aid to Ukraine is still not enough]
The Biden administration is now fending off calls to provide the Ukrainians with F-16 jets and ATACMS ballistic missiles. Because concerns about a Russian escalation aimed at Ukraine's Western allies still linger, even if they have diminished, the U.S. is rightly focusing on Ukraine's near-term needs: armored vehicles to provide protected mobility and artillery to continue to wear down Russian forces.
Less high-profile than the hardware, Western training and advising have been almost as significant. The Ukrainians identify and prioritize Russian targets, but the U.S. military reportedly provides the precise GPS coordinates for a great majority of HIMARS strikes. Though difficult to quantify, U.S. training of Ukrainian forces since Russia's initial incursion back in 2014 has undoubtedly played a role in Ukraine's success to date. A far more ambitious effort planned in Germany could help Ukrainian forces increase their overall proficiency in combined arms even as they suffer heavy casualties and continue to integrate tens of thousands of new soldiers into their formations.
Many have likened the war in eastern Ukraine, with its trenches, mud, and incessant shelling, to World War I. But another echo of the Great War is worth remembering: collapse. Like Putin's troops, the Imperial Russian Army went to war in 1914 woefully unprepared, without even enough rifles for its soldiers. As in 2022, the Russian battalions of 1914 suffered dearly for the hubris of their political leaders and the incompetence of their generals. After a shattering initial repulse at Tannenberg by the Germans—who were even more outnumbered than the Ukrainians are today—the Russians settled in for a long fight. But Imperial Russia would be out of the war sooner than any other major nation.
Every army that started the war in 1914, with the singular exception of Britain's, suffered a crisis of cohesion and morale, culminating in mutiny, mass desertion, even revolution. In Russia, Czar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate after protests and violence, when soldiers joined demonstrators on the streets of Petrograd (St. Petersburg). The strains of war, and the loss of any remaining faith in its leaders, drove Russia past the breaking point.
[David Frum: Zelensky recalled us to ourselves]
Deteriorating morale on the front lines and at home is mutually reinforcing, especially in an age of near-universal cellphone ownership and social-media use. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Russia's brutal Wagner Group of mercenaries, has just announced that he will no longer fill the ranks of his private military with Russian convicts. This move is probably driven less by any ethical considerations—for months, Wagner has fed tens of thousands of men into the meat grinder in the Donbas—and more by the fact that news of the grim reality has gotten out. As a result, Prigozhin's task of filling his penal battalions has gotten far harder. Russia's conventional army is facing similar recruiting problems.
For two decades, Putin has been free to rule as he wished by insulating the Russian people from political concerns, an implicit bargain that runs from the oligarchs to the middle class. His reluctance to mobilize has been driven at least in part by fear of a political backlash to the call-up. It remains to be seen whether Russian mobilization ends up being a bigger threat to Putin's hold on power than to Ukraine's sovereignty.
Ukraine appears now to have lost the manpower advantage it briefly held last year. But Russia's increased numbers are unlikely to overcome Ukrainian will and skill. As the French philosopher Voltaire noted more than two centuries ago: "God is not on the side of the big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best."
Oroar du dig för att barnen spelar för mycket och önskar att de sysslade med något mer meningsfullt? Då kan det vara läge att tänka om. Forskning visar att datorspel kan vara både personlighetsutvecklande, kreativt och leda till ett helt nytt berättande.
Inlägget Sportlov framför skärmen – så kan spelandet bli utvecklande dök först upp på forskning.se.
She's seen what happens when people don't trust or understand their doctor. Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick founded 'Grapevine Health' to get solid information out, especially to Black and Latinx patients.
(Image credit: Ryan Levi/Tradeoffs)
A new system for tropical disease research spares people and animals mosquito bites.
Researchers are working to take some of the pain out of studying the feeding behavior of mosquitoes. The insects' bites can spread diseases like malaria, dengue, and yellow fever, but setting up experiments to examine their behavior can take a big bite out of lab budgets.
"Many mosquito experiments still rely on human volunteers and animal subjects," says Kevin Janson, a graduate student in bioengineering at Rice University and lead coauthor of a study in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology. Live subject testing can be expensive, and Janson says the "data can take many hours to process."
So he and his coauthors found a way to automate the collection and processing of that data using inexpensive cameras and machine-learning software. To eliminate the need for live volunteers, their system uses patches of synthetic skin made with a 3D printer. Each patch of gelatin-like hydrogel comes complete with tiny passageways that can be filled with flowing blood.
To create the stand-ins for skin, the team used bioprinting techniques that were pioneered in the lab of former Rice professor Jordan Miller.
For feeding tests, as many as six of the hydrogels can be placed in a transparent plastic box about the size of a volleyball. The chambers are surrounded with cameras that point at each blood-infused hydrogel patch. Mosquitos go in the chamber, and the cameras record how often they land at each location, how long they stay, whether or not they bite, how long they feed, etc.
Researchers in the laboratory of Dawn Wesson, associate professor of tropical medicine at Tulane University, tested the system. Wesson's research group has facilities for breeding and testing large populations of mosquitoes of varying species.
In the proof-of-concept experiments featured in the study, Wesson, Janson, and coauthors used the system to examine the effectiveness of existing mosquito repellents made with either DEET or a plant-based repellent derived from the oil of lemon eucalyptus plants. Tests showed mosquitoes readily fed on hydrogels without any repellent and stayed away from hydrogel patches coated with either repellent. While DEET was slightly more effective, both tests showed each repellent deterred mosquitoes from feeding.
Omid Veiseh, the study's corresponding author and an assistant professor of bioengineering at Rice, says the results suggest the behavioral test system can be scaled up to test or discover new repellents and to study mosquito behavior more broadly. He says the system also could open the door for testing in labs that couldn't previously afford it.
"It provides a consistent and controlled method of observation," Veiseh says. "The hope is researchers will be able to use that to identify ways to prevent the spread of disease in the future."
Wesson says her lab is already using the system to study viral transmission of dengue, and she plans to use it in future studies involving malaria parasites.
"We are using the system to examine virus transmission during blood feeding," Wesson says. "We are interested both in how viruses get taken up by uninfected mosquitoes and how viruses get deposited, along with saliva, by infected mosquitoes.
"If we had a better understanding of the fine mechanics and proteins and other molecules that are involved, we might be able to develop some means of interfering in those processes," she says.
The Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation supported the research.
Source: Rice University
The post To spare research volunteers, robot gets mosquito bites appeared first on Futurity.
Geoengineering the planet to reverse the worst effects of climate change is a controversial idea that has been largely rejected by the scientific establishment. But what if we did it out in space instead?
Despite growing efforts to reduce carbon emissions worldwide, the consensus is that we're doing too little too late. This has led to growing interest in geoengineering approaches, which either attempt to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or manage the amount of solar radiation entering it.
Both would involve tinkering with critical Earth systems though, which is why most scientists say the risks outweigh the potential rewards. But an alternative that has been floated several times over the last few decades is to instead deflect the sun's rays before they even reach the planet.
Now researchers have devised a new twist on this idea by proposing to fire dust from the moon's surface towards a gravitationally stable point between the Earth and the sun where it could act as a solar shield.
"Our strategy could be an option in addressing climate change," lead author Ben Bromley, from the University of Utah, said in a press release. "We aren't experts in climate change, or the rocket science needed to move mass from one place to the other. We're just exploring different kinds of dust on a variety of orbits to see how effective this approach might be. We do not want to miss a game changer for such a critical problem."
Previous suggestions for creating solar shields in space have involved building giant mirrors or fleets of spacecraft in orbit, or most recently a giant raft of bubbles made of silicon. But a major problem with most of these approaches is the cost and complexity of doing construction in outer space.
An alternative is to use simple clouds of dust to reflect the light, but this raises the question of where to source it from and how to get it there. To have a significant impact on climate change you would need approximately 10 billion tons of the stuff, the researchers say in a paper in PLOS Climate outlining their idea.
The team is well suited to solving the problem, because they specialize in studying how planets form from the clouds of dust orbiting around stars. They used techniques from their regular line of work to analyze the best positions for a dust-based solar shield, the best ways to get it there, and how long it would stay put.
They found the most effective approach would be to launch dust from Earth to a space-based platform at the Lagrange point between the sun and Earth, where the gravitational pull of the two bodies cancels each other out. The dust would then be released and disperse to create an effective solar shield. However, the cost and effort involved in launching dust from Earth would be astronomical, and the particles would quickly be blown away by the solar wind.
That's why the researchers suggest using lunar dust instead. The low gravity of the moon makes launching material far less costly, and the team also found that the regolith on the surface of the moon is surprisingly effective at reflecting light. What's more, they found that firing it along a trajectory between the moon and the Lagrange point led to a sun shield that would last considerably longer.
There are clearly still plenty of gaps in the plan. For a start, you would need to build mining infrastructure on the moon to harvest the dust, and some kind of high-powered gun to launch it into space. Also, while it would hang around for longer, those 10 billion kilograms of dust would still need to be replenished at regular intervals. Perhaps most disconcertingly, any failure in the system would lead to a "termination shock" that could cause a rapid and deadly spike in solar radiation.
Given the enormous cost and potential pitfalls, it seems unlikely the idea will get off the ground anytime soon. But given our slow action on climate change so far, it can't hurt to have some people thinking about potential moonshots.
Image Credit: NASA
Scientific Reports, Published online: 13 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-29179-7Low frequency lattice mode dynamics of cyclotrimethylene trinitramine (RDX) crystal studied by femtosecond time-resolved impulsive stimulated Raman scattering
Scientific Reports, Published online: 13 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-29430-1Publisher Correction: Epidemiology of patients who died in the emergency departments and need of end-of-life care in Korea from 2016 to 2019
Scientific Reports, Published online: 13 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-29406-1Resistance training restores skeletal
Scientific Reports, Published online: 13 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-29567-zThe association between shift work and the incidence of
To improve workers' health, research shows, companies need to support "transformational" leaders and weed out "destructive" actors, not just tout wellness programs
För att undvika infektioner hos intensivvårdade covidpatienter användes bredspektrum-antibiotikum i början av pandemin. Men detta ledde till en ökning av de antibiotikatoleranta bakterierna enterokocker – något som försvårade behandlingen av urinvägsinfektioner.
Inlägget Bred antibiotika försvårade behandling av urinvägsinfektioner dök först upp på forskning.se.
People experiencing a miscarriage in states with restrictive abortion policies may be less likely to receive optimal care than those in states with supportive abortion policies.
The new study, published in the journal Women's Health Issues, was conducted prior to the Supreme Court's decision last June to overturn Roe v. Wade when lead author Elana Tal was a fellow at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Tal, now a clinical assistant professor in the obstetrics and gynecology department in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, had concerns about how restrictive abortion policies affect care for people experiencing spontaneous pregnancy loss.
"I had a hunch that restricting abortion means less ideal care for people experiencing miscarriage," says Tal, who focuses on complex family planning.
"Too often, when we talk about abortion the conversation becomes about the morality of ending a pregnancy and not about how restricting abortion affects reproductive health in general," she says. "We know abortion restrictions correlate with higher rates of maternal mortality, so it follows that other aspects of health care would be affected, especially miscarriage care, which so closely mirrors abortion care. I wanted to find out if that was true."
Spontaneous pregnancy loss, i.e. miscarriage, in the first trimester occurs in about 10% of all clinically recognized pregnancies, and 25% of all people capable of becoming pregnant will experience a miscarriage in their lifetime.
This study is among the first to explore how miscarriages are managed in light of evidence-based, patient-centered guidelines issued in recent years by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
Those guidelines, and the research they were based on, found that for managing
, optimal care includes uterine aspiration in the physician's office and the prescribing of both mifepristone and misoprostol, which block hormones that are necessary for pregnancy and help clear the uterus.
Because these methods are also used to terminate a pregnancy, Tal and her coauthors wanted to see if access to these methods is compromised for those experiencing a miscarriage.
The researchers found that in states with restrictive abortion policies, physicians managing early pregnancy loss were less likely than physicians in supportive states (40.8% vs. 67.5%) to offer mifepristone alone and less likely to offer both mifepristone and office uterine aspiration (33.2% vs. 51.3%). They also found, however, that there was no significant difference in the proportion offering uterine aspiration between physicians in restrictive states and those in supportive states.
In addition, physicians in restrictive states were less likely to report having received abortion training (67.3% vs. 89.6%), and less likely to report perceived institutional support for abortion care (49% vs. 85%).
"Our study is consistent with the notion that general pregnancy care suffers where abortion is restricted," says Tal. "That would apply to routine early miscarriage, more complicated miscarriage like second trimester fetal demise, and abortion for life-threatening situations.
"Clinicians should be aware of the potential deficiencies in their ability to provide miscarriage care if they train or practice in states with restrictive laws," she says.
In addition to surveying the impact of a state's policies on access to reproductive care, the survey was also aimed at determining how a physician's perception of their institution's support for abortion care, or lack of it, might influence access to reproductive care generally.
The survey was sent to more than 1,500 members of ACOG. Respondents were deemed eligible to respond if they were an attending physician with an academic medical center who provided obstetric and/or gynecologic care and had provided early pregnancy loss care in the past year.
Eligible responses were received from 350 physicians from every region in the US, representing half of academic medicine centers.
Tal notes that the end of Roe v. Wade is expected to even more strongly affect access to care for those experiencing miscarriage.
"At the time of our study, access to abortion was constitutionally protected, and we still saw disparities in the management of miscarriage, a very common reproductive health issue," she says. "We would expect the disparities we outlined in our study to get worse since the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
"We should recognize that people experiencing miscarriage are at risk of collateral damage from abortion restrictions. We need to actively work to destigmatize abortions, be outspoken in support for abortion care, and promote universal access to excellent miscarriage care."
Additional coauthors are from Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine. The Society for Family Planning Research Fund supported the work.
Source: University at Buffalo
The post Abortion restrictions may stymie miscarriage care appeared first on Futurity.
Site workers building a new crossing at the River Yare discovered the explosive on Tuesday. Local police immediately shut down nearby roads and established a 400-meter evacuation zone, requiring residents and workers in the area to vacate. Army explosives specialists quickly arrived on the scene to build a protective sand barrier around the bomb and begin attempting to defuse it.
The sand barrier and evacuation zone proved necessary. On Friday, the meter-long, 551-pound explosive device detonated unexpectedly, resulting in a massive cloud of dirt and blue-gray smoke that could be seen from miles away. No one was injured, but Army and emergency personnel, regional gas company workers, and the United Kingdom's Environment Agency continue to assess damage to the surrounding region. As of this weekend, they found nearby vehicles with broken windows, compromised bridge scaffolding, and damage to the River Yare's flood wall. Local gas pipes are said to be in proper working condition.
Specialists originally hoped to disarm the bomb via robot. They initiated the process by having the robot sever the bomb's fuse and trigger. But twists and turns are inherent to the explosives specialist profession, and the team had to pivot when water destabilized their surrounding sand barrier. They quickly switched to a slow-burn, controlled explosion technique, which would have gradually burned away layers of material until the bomb could safely be brought out to sea or destroyed at a military site. The lengthy operation was abruptly brought to a close just 24 hours later when the bomb went off.
This isn't the first time the British Army has dealt with an explosive holdover from WWII. In 2017, contractors building a housing development in Brent, London, found a similarly-sized WWII bomb. Local police evacuated the area and set up a cordon as Army explosives specialists got to work. But these incidents differ in conclusion: The Army defused the London bomb the following evening, allowing for the device's safe removal from the site.
Nature Communications, Published online: 13 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36470-8The synthesis of functionalizable nanographenes remains challenging. Here, the authors report that mechanochemical Scholl reaction allows access to regioselectively modifiable curved nanographenes in a high-yielding and general manner.
On Valentine's Day, psychologist Chris Cheers proposes we redefine love – not as something we find, but something we do
Over the last few years, as a psychologist and as a friend, I have sat with many people struggling with isolation and loneliness. Some government-enforced, some just the way things have turned out. But although the causes may be different, one thing is clear: nobody wants to be lonely.
Our bodies need social connection. It's in our biology. This is one reason, as often reported, that married people are shown to have lower rates of mortality compared to single people of the same age. But it's important not to end the story there. In his book The Myth of Normal, Gabor Mate points to other important findings that get mentioned less: that those who are unhappily married show poorer wellbeing and health than the unmarried and that improving the quality of all your relationships reduces your risk of death by the same amount as quitting smoking or drinking.Continue reading…
Animals possibly being knocked off course by storm events on the east coast of the US and in the Caribbean
Small, wrinkled and stranded in chilly waters, young hard-shelled turtles have been turning up on the beaches of the UK and Ireland in higher numbers than usual this winter.
According to reports made to the Marine Conservation Society and Marine Environmental Monitoring, 13 juvenile turtles have been stranded since November – 12 loggerheads and one Kemp's ridley turtle.Continue reading…
The strongest relationships are built on efforts couples make every day, not just on holidays—so don't fret if your Valentine's Day is a flop.
"The more ridiculous the date, the better in my opinion."
As Valentine's Day approaches, people prepare to woo their romantic partners with dinner reservations, flowers, and expensive gifts. Some of the extravagance will be well-received. And sometimes, February 14 turns out to be a dud. But there's hope.
Kale Monk, assistant professor at the University of Missouri, has done extensive research in how couples in romantic relationships deal with transitions and instability.
Here, he offers some insight on the importance of Valentine's Day to relationships and how partners can show each other they care on Cupid's favorite day:
The post Instead of big gifts, do this for your sweetie appeared first on Futurity.
In the early spring of 2020, the condition we now call long
didn't have a name, much less a large community of patient advocates. For the most part, clinicians dismissed its symptoms, and researchers focused on SARS-CoV-2
' short-term effects. Now, as the pandemic approaches the end of its third winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the chronic toll of the coronavirus is much more familiar. Long COVID has been acknowledged by prominent experts, national leaders, and the World Health Organization; the National Institutes of Health has set up a billion-dollar research program to understand how and in whom its symptoms unfurl. Hundreds of long-COVID clinics now freckle the American landscape, offering services in nearly every state; and recent data hint that well-vetted drugs to treat or prevent long COVID may someday be widespread. Long COVID and the people battling it are commanding more respect, says Hannah Davis, a co-founder of the Patient-Led Research Collaborative, who has had long COVID for nearly three years: Finally, many people "seem willing to understand."
But for all the ground that's been gained, the road ahead is arduous. Long COVID still lacks a universal clinical definition and a standard diagnosis protocol; there's no consensus on its prevalence, or even what symptoms fall under its purview. Although experts now agree that long COVID does not refer to a single illness, but rather is an umbrella term, like cancer, they disagree on the number of subtypes that fall within it and how, exactly, each might manifest. Some risk factors—among them, a COVID hospitalization, female sex, and certain preexisting medical conditions—have been identified, but researchers are still trying to identify others amid fluctuating population immunity and the endless slog of viral variants. And for people who have long COVID now, or might develop it soon, the interventions are still scant. To this day, "when someone asks me, 'How can I not get long COVID?' I can still only say, 'Don't get COVID,'" says David Putrino, a neuroscientist and physical therapist who leads a long-COVID rehabilitation clinic at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine.
As the world turns its gaze away from the coronavirus pandemic, with country after country declaring the virus "endemic" and allowing crisis-caliber interventions to lapse, long-COVID researchers, patients, and activists worry that even past progress could be undone. The momentum of the past three years now feels bittersweet, they told me, in that it represents what the community might lose. Experts can't yet say whether the number of long-haulers will continue to increase, or offer a definitive prognosis for those who have been battling the condition for months or years. All that's clear right now is that, despite America's current stance on the coronavirus, long COVID is far from being beaten.
Despite an influx of resources into long-COVID research in recent months, data on the condition's current reach remain a mess—and scientists still can't fully quantify its risks.
Recent evidence from two long-term surveys have hinted that the pool of long-haulers might be shrinking, even as new infection rates remain sky-high: Earlier this month, the United Kingdom's Office for National Statistics released data showing that 2 million people self-reported lingering symptoms at the very start of 2023, down from 2.3 million in August 2022. The U.S. CDC's Household Pulse Survey, another study based on self-reporting, also recorded a small drop in long-COVID prevalence in the same time frame, from about 7.5 percent of all American adults to roughly 6. Against the massive number of infections that have continued to slam both countries in the pandemic's third year and beyond, these surveys might seem to imply that long-haulers are leaving the pool faster than newcomers are arriving.
Experts cautioned, however, that there are plenty of reasons to treat these patterns carefully—and to not assume that the trends will be sustained. It's certainly better that these data aren't showing a sustained, dramatic uptick in long-COVID cases. But that doesn't mean the situation is improving. Throughout the pandemic, the size of the long-COVID pool has contracted or expanded for only two reasons: a change in the rate at which people enter, or at which they exit. Both figures are likely to be in constant flux, as surges of infections come and go, masking habits change, and vaccine and antiviral uptake fluctuates. Davis pointed out that the slight downward tick in both studies captured just a half-year stretch, so the downward slope could be one small portion of an undulating wave. A few hours spent at the beach while the tide is going out wouldn't be enough to prove that the ocean is drying up.
[Read: We're bungling the COVID wind-down]
Recent counts of new long-COVID cases might also be undercounts, as testing slows and people encounter more challenges getting diagnosed. That said, it's still possible that, on a case-by-case basis, the likelihood of any individual developing long COVID after a SARS-CoV-2 infection may have fallen since the pandemic's start, says Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist at Queen Mary University of London and the University of New South Wales. Population immunity—especially acquired via vaccination—has, over the past three years, better steeled people's bodies against the virus, and strong evidence supports the notion that vaccines can moderately reduce the risk of developing long COVID. Treatments and behavioral interventions that have become more commonplace may have chipped away at incidence as well. Antivirals can now help to corral the virus early in infection; ventilation, distancing, and masks—when they're used—can trim the amount of virus that infiltrates the body. And if overall exposure to the virus can influence the likelihood of developing long COVID, that could help explain why so many debilitating cases arose at the very start of the pandemic, when interventions were few and far between, says Steven Deeks, a physician researcher at UC San Francisco.
There's not much comfort to derive from those individual-level stats, though, when considering what's happening on broader scales. Even if immunity makes the average infected person less likely to fall into the long-COVID pool, so many people have been catching the virus that the inbound rate still feels like a flood. "The level of infection in many countries has gone up substantially since 2021," Gurdasani told me. The majority of long-COVID cases arise after mild infections, the sort for which our immune defenses fade most rapidly. Now that masking and physical distancing have fallen by the wayside, people may be getting exposed to higher viral doses than they were a year or two ago. In absolute terms, then, the number of people entering the long-COVID pool may not really be decreasing. Even if the pool were getting slightly smaller, its size would still be staggering, an ocean of patients with titanic needs. "Anecdotally, we still have an enormous waitlist to get into our clinic," Putrino told me.
Deeks told me that he's seen another possible reason for optimism: People with newer cases of long COVID might be experiencing less debilitating or faster-improving disease, based on what he's seen. "The worst cases we've seen come from the first wave in 2020," he said. But Putrino isn't so sure. "If you put an Omicron long-COVID patient in front of me, versus one from the first wave, I wouldn't be able to tell you who was who," he said. The two cases would also be difficult to compare, because they're separated by so much time. Long COVID's symptoms can wax, wane, and qualitatively change; a couple of years into the future, some long-haulers who've just developed the condition may be in a spot that's similar to where many veterans with the condition are now.
[Read: The flu-ification of COVID policy is almost complete]
Experts' understanding of how often people depart the long-COVID pool is also meager. Some long-haulers have undoubtedly seen improvement—but without clear lines distinguishing short COVID from medium and long COVID, entry and exit into these various groups is easy to over- or underestimate. What few data exist on the likelihood of recovery or remission is inconsistent, and not always rosy: Investigators of RECOVER, a large national study of long COVID, have calculated that about two-thirds of the long-haulers in their cohort do not return to baseline health. Putrino, who has worked with hundreds of long-haulers since the pandemic began, estimates that although most of his patients experience at least some benefit from a few months of rehabilitation, only about one-fifth to one-quarter of them eventually reach the point of feeling about as well as they did before catching the virus, while the majority hit a middling plateau. A small minority of the people he has treated, he told me, never seem to improve at all.
Letícia Soares, a long-hauler in Brazil who caught the virus near the start of the pandemic, falls into that final category. Once a disease ecologist who studied parasite transmission in birds, she is now mostly housebound, working when she is able as a researcher for the Patient-Led Research Collaborative. Her days revolve around medications and behavioral modifications she uses for her fatigue, sleeplessness, and chronic pain. Soares no longer has the capacity to cook or frequently venture outside. And she has resigned herself to this status quo until the treatment landscape changes drastically. It is not the life she pictured for herself, Soares told me. "Sometimes I think the person I used to be died in April of 2020."
Even long-haulers who have noticed an improvement in their symptoms are wary of overconfidence. Some absolutely do experience what could be called recovery—but for others, the term has gotten loaded, almost a jinx. "If the question is, 'Are you doing the things you were doing in 2019?' the answer is largely no," says JD Davids, a chronic-illness advocate based in New York. For some, he told me, "getting better" has been more defined by a resetting of expectations than a return to good health. Relapses are also not uncommon, especially after repeat encounters with the virus. Lisa McCorkell, a long-hauler and a co-founder of the Patient-Led Research Collaborative, has felt her symptoms partly abate since she first fell ill in the spring of 2020. But, she told me, she suspects that her condition is more likely to deteriorate than further improve—partly because of "how easy it is to get reinfected now."
Last week, in his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden told the American public that "we have broken COVID's grip on us." Highlighting the declines in the rates of COVID deaths, the millions of lives saved, and the importance of remembering the more than 1 million lost, Biden reminded the nation of what was to come: "Soon we'll end the public-health emergency."
When the U.S.'s state of emergency was declared nearly three years ago, as hospitals were overrun and morgues overflowed, the focus was on severe, short-term disease. Perhaps in that sense, the emergency is close to being over, Deeks told me. But long COVID, though slower to command attention, has since become its own emergency, never formally declared; for the millions of Americans who have been affected by the condition, their relationship with the virus does not yet seem to be in a better place.
[Read: Trying to stop long COVID before it even starts]
Even with many more health-care providers clued into long COVID's ills, the waiting lists for rehabilitation and treatment remain untenable, Hannah Davis told me. "I consider myself someone who gets exceptional care compared to other people," she said. "And still, I hear from my doctor every nine or 10 months." Calling a wrap on COVID's "emergency" phase could worsen that already skewed supply-demand ratio. Changes to the nation's funding tactics could strip resources—among them, access to telehealth; Medicaid coverage; and affordable antivirals, tests, and vaccines—from vulnerable populations, including people of color, that aren't getting their needs met even as things stand, McCorkell told me. And as clinicians internalize the message that the coronavirus has largely been addressed, attention to its chronic impacts may dwindle. At least one of the country's long-COVID clinics has, in recent months, announced plans to close, and Davis worries that more could follow soon.
Scientists researching long COVID are also expecting new challenges. Reduced access to testing will complicate efforts to figure out how many people are developing the condition, and who's most at risk. Should researchers turn their scientific focus away from studying causes and cures for long COVID when the emergency declaration lifts, Davids and others worry that there will be ripple effects on the scientific community's interest in other, neglected chronic illnesses, such as ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome), a diagnosis that many long-haulers have also received.
The end of the U.S.'s official crisis mode on COVID could stymie research in other ways as well. At Johns Hopkins University, the infectious-disease epidemiologists Priya Duggal, Shruti Mehta, and Bryan Lau have been running a large study to better understand the conditions and circumstances that lead to long COVID, and how symptoms evolve over time. In the past two years, they have gathered online survey data from thousands of people who both have and haven't been infected, and who have and haven't seen their symptoms rapidly resolve. But as of late, they've been struggling to recruit enough people who caught the virus and didn't feel their symptoms linger. "I think that the people who are suffering from long COVID will always do their best to participate," Duggal told me. That may not be the case for individuals whose experiences with the virus were brief. A lot of them "are completely over it," Duggal said. "Their life has moved on."
Kate Porter, a Massachusetts-based marketing director, told me that she worries about her family's future, should long COVID fade from the national discourse. She and her teenage daughter both caught the virus in the spring of 2020, and went on to develop chronic symptoms; their experience with the disease isn't yet over. "Just because the emergency declaration is expiring, that doesn't mean that suddenly people are magically going to get better and this issue is going to go away," Porter told me. After months of relative improvement, her daughter is now fighting prolonged bouts of fatigue that are affecting her school life—and Porter isn't sure how receptive people will be to her explanations, should their illnesses persist for years to come. "Two years from now, how am I going to explain, 'Well, this is from COVID, five years ago'?" she said.
A condition that was once mired in skepticism, scorn, and gaslighting, long COVID now has recognition—but empathy for long-haulers could yet experience a backslide. Nisreen Alwan, a public-health researcher at the University of Southampton, in the U.K., and her colleagues have found that many long-haulers still worry about disclosing their condition, fearing that it could jeopardize their employment, social interactions, and more. Long COVID could soon be slated to become just one of many neglected chronic diseases, poorly understood and rarely discussed.
Davis doesn't think that marginalization is inevitable. Her reasoning is grim: Other chronic illnesses have been easier to push to the sidelines, she said, on account of their smaller clinical footprint, but the pool of long-haulers is enormous—comprising millions of people in the U.S. alone. "I think it's going to be impossible to ignore," she told me. One way or another, the world will have no choice but to look.
This is today's edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what's going on in the world of technology.
This biohacking company is using a crypto city to test controversial gene therapies
Last year, biotech startup Minicircle started recruiting participants for a clinical trial of gene therapy. But several details made it unusual. For one, it instructed would-be guinea pigs to purchase an NFT to take part, before being paid in cryptocurrency. Another is it would take place in what is essentially an experimental crypto city—Próspera, Honduras.
It's against this unusual backdrop that Minicircle is trying to lead biohacking's charge into the mainstream—studying gene therapies that target familiar conditions like muscular disorders, HIV, low testosterone, and obesity.
But medical ethics experts are less enthusiastic—and are concerned about how the trials will move forward, and what they could mean for the burgeoning and sometimes unscrupulous medical tourism industry. Read the full story.
The Supreme Court may overhaul how you live online
Recommendation algorithms sort most of what we see online and determine how posts, news articles, and accounts you follow are prioritized on digital platforms. Now they're at the center of a landmark legal case that ultimately has the power to completely change how we live online.
Next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Gonzalez v. Google, which deals with allegations that Google violated the Anti-Terrorism Act when YouTube's recommendations promoted ISIS content. It's the first time the court will consider a legal provision called Section 230, and the stakes could not be higher. Read the full story.
Tate's story is from The Technocrat, the first edition of her new weekly newsletter covering power, politics and Silicon Valley. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Friday.
Restoring an ancient lake from the rubble of an unfinished airport in Mexico City
Weeks after Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in 2018, he controversially canceled ambitious plans to build an airport on the deserted site of the former Lake Texcoco—despite the fact it was already around a third complete.
Instead, he tasked Iñaki Echeverria, a Mexican architect and landscape designer, with turning it into a vast urban park, an artificial wetland that aims to transform the future of the entire Valley region.
But as López Obrador's presidential team nears its end, the plans for Lake Texcoco's rebirth could yet vanish. Read the full story.
This story is from our forthcoming print issue, which dives into the intersection between technology and design. Sign up for a subscription to read the full edition when it comes out later this month.
I've combed the internet to find you today's most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 The US has shot down more mysterious flying objects
The suspicious objects, which are decidedly not balloons, were passing over US airspace. (The Guardian)
+ US authorities are racing to work out what they actually are. (Vox)
+ Uruguay and China have reported lights in the sky and unidentified objects. (Motherboard)
+ Why the 'spy balloon' has unnerved America so much. (Slate $)
2 The US government is threatening to sue crypto firm Paxos
It claims that by offering a stablecoin pegged to the US dollar, Paxos has been selling unregistered securities. (WSJ $)
3 The tech industry is undergoing a Great Re-Sorting
Laid-off workers are often well-compensated, but feel bruised existentially. (The Information $)
4 What Tencent's return to glory tells us about the Chinese economy
The conglomerate has had a tough two years, but now it's bouncing back. (Economist $)
+ Alibaba hacks are gaining traction in Latin America. (Rest of World)
+ Tencent wants you to pay with your palm. What could go wrong? (MIT Technology Review)
5 What is Amazon without Jeff Bezos at the helm?
Andy Jassy's first first of leadership has been far from smooth sailing. (FT $)
6 The FBI is at risk of losing its most valuable surveillance tool
Authorities are concerned it's misused its powers on native soil. (Wired $)
7 South Africa's traditional healers are going high-tech
Video consultations are becoming increasingly commonplace, but not everyone agrees they should. (Rest of World)
8 Interns are in high demand
Particularly if they've got the skills to produce viral TikToks. (NYT $)+ Elsewhere, younger workers are picking up their employer's IT support. (Bloomberg $)
9 Wikipedia doesn't have much time for cryptids
Which is bad news for ardent cryptologists. (Slate $)
10 High school students built their classmate a prosthetic hand
Sergio Peralta can now toss and catch a ball for the first time. (WP $)
+ These prosthetics break the mold with third thumbs, spikes, and superhero skins. (MIT Technology Review)
Quote of the day
"Imagine that stress, imagine waking up every morning and wondering if you've lost your career."
—Pornographic actress Cherie DeVille describes her intense fear over being banned from Instagram, which she worries is becoming less hospitable to adult stars, she tells NBC News.
The big story
We asked Bill Gates, a Nobel laureate, and others to name the most effective way to combat climate change
Despite decades of warnings and increasingly devastating disasters, we've made little progress in slowing climate change.
Clean energy alternatives have secured just a fraction of the marketplace today, and greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to climb year after year.
Given the lack of momentum, how do we make faster, more significant progress? We asked 10 experts a single question: "If you could invent, invest in, or implement one thing that you believe would do the most to reduce the risks of climate change, what would it be and why?" Read the full story.
We can still have nice things
A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet 'em at me.)
+ A deep-dive investigation into each US state's favorite Super Bowl dip.
+ There's no better way to kick off your week than looking through pictures of beautiful gardens (thanks Peter!)
+ This version of This Guy's in Love with You featuring Noel Gallagher is great—thank you to the late, great Burt Bacharach.
+ These samsas look beyond tasty, and are cooked in an ingenious way.
+ Don't even think about getting too close to California's super bloom.
The emergence of several AI applications for public use, such as Dalle-2, Midjourney, and
, had made AI one of the biggest science news items of the past year. I have written about it here extensively myself, and have been using these applications extensively to get a feel for what they can, and cannot, do. The capability of these systems, however, is a rapidly moving target.
Recently I wrote about the potential for a ChatGPT-like application as an expert system, specifically to aid in medical practice. Already there is an update worthy of a new post (also that was posted on SBM). For background, ChatGPT is a large language model, essentially a powerful chatbot that is able to produce natural-language responses that are coherent in response to user prompts. Ask it a question or give it a task and it will spit out a fairly descent response. It is trained on data from the internet up to 2021. The application has many teachers freaking out because it produces good essay responses, at least at a high school level. I don't think this will ultimately be a problem but it will force teachers to rethink essay-based assignments.
As a marker of the real-world potential of these AI apps, Microsoft has reportedly put billions of dollars into ChatGPT and is incorporating it into their Bing search engine. Google has countered with their own application, Bard, which is off to a bumpy start, but give them time. The next version of ChatGPT, version 4, is coming out soon, and promising to be even more powerful and up-to-date. The bottom line – expect to see this software everywhere, incorporated into the background of our computing experience. In fact, ChatGPT will be writing that software.
It is always a question, however, how the public will interface with new technology and how they will feel about it. Once we get over the novelty and hype stage, will the general public incorporate the new tech into their daily lives? The smartphone is perhaps the best recent example of a new technology that rapidly changed the world. The Segue is the iconic counter example. I think the answer for the new AI apps is how they are applied. One "killer app" and soon we won't remember how we got buy without this technology. My prediction is that ChatGPT-type AI applications will be excellent personal digital assistants.
What I discussed on SBM is the potential for ChatGPT-style AI software to be an excellent expert system for medical professionals. What these systems are great at is having a massive database of information at their digital finger tips. They can quickly comb through that information and provide a readable executive summary. The medical world is crying out for such an application, as we are increasingly buried in a non-stop avalanche of new research, practice standards, and treatment options. This can, and should become, an essential tool for any clinician.
I am apparently not the only person to have this (admittedly obvious) idea. Stanford University has created PubMedGPT – a version of ChatGPT trained exclusively on the medical literature. At the very least this can serve as an excellent search engine – "Show me all published studies in the last 2 years relating to treatment X of disease Y." PubMed is an invaluable and necessary resource. But it's search engine is somewhat clunky. I often will combine it with a Google search, which just has a better search engine. If nothing else I would like to see PubMed incorporate ChatGPT technology into its search engine.
To test the model PubMedGPT was given the three part USMLE exams, which doctors have to pass in order to become licensed. Pass/fail is determined as a percentile, but is usually around 60% of the questions (it's a really hard test, so don't think that's a bad performance). PubMedGPT scored a 50.8%, which is not passing but pretty good for a chatbot. Many of the questions are subtle and conceptually complicated, so that is an impressive performance.
However, ChatGPT (again, trained on the internet as of 2021) was also given the test. It performed between 52.4 and 75% on the three tests, with an average score just below the 60% threshold. To be clear, it would not have passed all three exams, but this is an impressive result. It's also better than PubMedGPT, which is interesting. I wonder how a GPT app would do if it were first trained on the internet and then on PubMed giving priority to information on the latter?
We should think of this result the same way as the first time a computer program came close to beating a world chess master. Before long those chess programs were so good no human player could come close to them. Similarly, I don't think it will be long (if development on this specific application continues) before we have GPT medical expert systems scoring 80% correct, and then eventually >90% correct. f
ChatGPT is also passing law school exams, and MBA exams. Again, it is not outperforming the best students, or even average students, but give it time.
This is all good. It shows the potential of this type of application of AI technology. I look forward to the day I have on my clinic desktop a MedicalGPT application ready to provide up-to-date information to assist my clinical decision-making. Think of the health care money savings. Microsoft is putting billions of dollars into getting an edge on the search engine wars. We can put billions of dollars into improving healthcare.
The post ChatGPT Almost
Medical Licensure Exams first appeared on NeuroLogica Blog.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 13 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-28045-wMultiple plasma membrane reporters discern
Scientific Reports, Published online: 13 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-29202-xPerfect intrinsic squeezing at the superradiant phase transition critical point
Individual atoms trapped by optical 'tweezers' are emerging as a promising computational platform
Nature Communications, Published online: 13 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36469-1Manipulating molecular self-assembly and disassembly in vivo may permit temporal control of drug delivery and release. Here, the authors report a fluorogenic cisplatin prodrug for
The way we teach quantum theory conveys a spookiness that isn't actually there
Think you're stuck being scatty, or an introvert? The latest research suggests otherwise
Have you ever wished you could be better organised or more sociable? Or more inventive and original? Perhaps you're a constant worrier, and you'd prefer to be a little more carefree?
If any of these thoughts ring true, you are far from alone. A number of surveys show that at least two-thirds of people would like to change some element of their personality. In the past, such desires appeared to be futile. Our personalities were thought to be formed in childhood and to remain fixed throughout lives. Like the proverbial leopard that could never change its spots, our virtues and flaws were believed to be woven into the fabric of our psyche.Continue reading…
Six years ago, when my now-husband was still just a friendly old flame from my high-school days, I sent him an Apple Music playlist of my favorite songs of the moment. This was not unusual: Song swapping, album recommendations, and musical one-upmanship had kept us in touch for nearly a decade. Instead of a coffee date, it was "Have you heard of Noname?" In lieu of a lengthy phone call, it was "Listened to the new GoldLink album yet?"
On this playlist, the final track was "Saved" by the R&B artist Khalid. "But I'll keep your number saved / 'Cause I hope one day you'll get the sense to call me," goes the swoony chorus. "I'm hoping that you'll say / You're missing me the way I'm missing you." It was an innocent offering, I swear! But for my now-husband, it was an opening. "That song told me there was a chance," he told me years later. In 2022, we added it to the must-play list at our wedding.
All of this is to say: The gift of music curation is powerful, a love language to be wielded with care. In fact, the courtship method that I gratefully stumbled into has persisted for decades. True, not many romantic mixtapes these days are actual tapes—you're more likely to receive a Spotify playlist with a flirtatious title than a cassette with Sharpie cover art. But the essential elements remain: a compilation of songs, thoughtfully selected and precisely ordered, that intimately express to the recipient, "I see you." Or perhaps, "I want you to see me."
The roots of the mixtape go back to the mid-to-late 1970s with the arrival of the boom box and then the Walkman, writes Jehnie Burns, a history and cultural-studies professor at Point Park University, in Mixtape Nostalgia: Culture, Memory, and Representation. The Walkman, which shrank the cassette player dramatically, gave rise to the first generation of teens who could drown out the outside world on the school bus or subway via headphones, and it transformed music from a primarily social experience into an individual one. The boom box allowed regular people to make copies of albums—as well as record the radio and live music—on cheap tapes. For the first time, through mixtapes, anyone could be an amateur DJ.
"Mixtapes were my way of participating in music, even though I could only play a radio," Zack Taylor, a Brooklyn-based filmmaker and the director of Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape, told me. By the mid-'80s, mixtapes were a tool for identity signaling and "a venue for sharing emotionality wordlessly," as Burns writes. They were a new way for young people to communicate.
Naturally, people started using that power to communicate with their crushes; the romantic appeal, after all, is manifold. "For teenagers or people who don't want to say, 'You mean a lot to me,' they can say that in a song," Burns told me. Peer pressure and fitting in and braces and body hair—the awkwardness of puberty can leave a particularly wide gap between young people's emotions and their ability to express them. Telegraphing a crush through song choice helps deliver the message with subtlety and, crucially, plausible deniability. "There's a safety in a mixtape, where you can hide behind the song," Taylor said. Love letters require direct authorship, and jewelry is an expensive gamble, but music curation is cheap and mysterious.
Then there's the bonus of peacocking for a potential mate. The mixtape might demonstrate both cultural cachet and a willingness to share this expertise with another person: To introduce someone to Joy Crookes or Holy Hive or Ciscero can be a gift in itself. It also allows the recipient to get to know you through what you like. High Fidelity, the Nick Hornby book turned film turned TV show, is probably the best example of this idea. In the movie, John Cusack plays the flailing Rob Gordon, a heartbroken record-store owner who uses his knowledge of music to communicate his love, condescend to people, and, later, understand his failed romances.
And although the mixtape is typically associated with a budding courtship, it works its magic in a different way for couples with a long history. For them, it can be a time capsule, says Regan Sommer McCoy, the founder of the archive project The Mixtape Museum. A mixtape can communicate new emotions while spurring old memories: the earworm that played on the car radio at the end of a first date, the crowd favorite from prom 1992, the Khalid song she sent you that made you believe you could be more than just friends.
[Read: What Nancy Meyers understands about love after age 50]
Yet not everything has carried over from tapes to mix CDs to the digital playlists of the present. The experts I spoke with agreed that much of the beauty and romance of the original cassette mixtape lies in the linear experience. There is less skipping, deleting, and shuffling with tape. There are only The Songs I Chose For You In The Order In Which I Chose Them.
Although listening to a personalized Spotify playlist isn't exactly the same, the intimacy and intentionality of music curation still hold weight. In fact, in the streaming era, the gift of a playlist addresses a slightly different problem: It brings meaning to the flood of new releases and the blandness of algorithmic playlists. Curated playlists are not mere background vibes; they are individual universes of coded flirtation. A well-made mix playlist is still a confrontation: Hey, you! I've got a message! Sit down and listen!
If you've now been persuaded to deliver a musical message of your own for Valentine's Day, there are a few basic rules. First, have a theme: Is this a walk down memory lane? An invitation to get to know the "real" you? You can expect the recipient to pay close attention to the lyrics, so make sure they're conveying the message you intend. Also, have a catchy playlist title—harken back to an inside joke, hint at the hidden message in the songs, crib a lyric that speaks best to your theme.
Keep in mind that song order matters too. Your opening number sets the tone, and your final track is likely what they'll remember most. And don't forget the element of surprise—consider a balance of crowd pleasers and personally cherished gems. You don't want the recipient to feel boxed out by the obscurity of your song choices, but you also don't want to bore them by delivering only the expected tracks.
Above all, any romantic gift should be vulnerable. Done well, a mixtape is a chance to be bold, to show your cards. "Music itself is not safe," Taylor said. "So a mixtape shouldn't be either."
Four years ago, my now-husband traveled from Chicago to Washington, D.C., to pay me a supposedly platonic visit. We spent 48 hours talking, teasing, song swapping, and exchanging long, meaningful looks. Then we shared a very awkward goodbye. Neither of us knew how to make the next move. A few days later, I sent him another playlist. This time, I knew what I was doing. It opened with "Hell N Back," by the indie-rock artist Bakar—an unsubtle declaration. Underneath the song's bright, whistled opening and sunny ska-like horns was a straightforward message: Let's do this thing for real.
"Could you tell where my head was at when you found me? / Me and you went to hell and back just to find peace," the song begins. "Man, I thought I had everything, I was lonely / Now you're my everything, I was lonely." We added that song to our wedding playlist too.
Late last year, the tech companies Stripe, Amazon, Facebook, Cisco, and Twitter laid off workers en masse. Come the new year, Google, Microsoft, Amazon (again), Salesforce, Dell, IBM, SAP, Zoom, and PayPal did the same.
Sure, many of those firms have seen their revenues and profits decline in the past year; the tech sector as a whole has been hit hard by shifting consumer behavior, falling advertising spending, and rising interest rates. Yet each of them, except Twitter, is making money—some of them wildly so. Facebook's parent company, Meta, made $23 billion last year. Microsoft made more than $70 billion, placing it second in profitability among Standard & Poor's 500 companies, behind Apple.
Those firms, in other words, did not need to let so many workers go; they chose to. And they did so because other tech firms were making the same choice. Laying off employees turns out to be infectious. And that makes it all the more insidious.
[Derek Thompson: What tech and media layoffs are really telling us about the economy]
Indeed, these tech layoffs (as well as a recent round of media layoffs, I should add) are what the Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, an expert on organizational behavior, has termed "copycat layoffs." When executives see their corporate competitors letting go of workers, they seize what they see as an opportunity to reduce their workforce, rather than having no choice but to do so.
Shedding employees when everybody else is doing it avoids drawing public scrutiny to or creating reputational damage for a given firm, for one. A lone business announcing that it is downsizing is likely to be described as mismanaged or troubled, and may well be mismanaged or troubled. However merited, that kind of reputation tends to hinder a company from attracting investment, workers, and customers. But if a firm downsizes when everyone else is doing it, the public seldom notices and investors seldom care.
Copycat layoffs also let executives cite challenging business conditions as a justification for cuts, rather than their own boneheaded strategic decisions. In this scenario, the problem isn't that corporate leadership poured billions of dollars into a quixotic new venture or hired hundreds of what ended up being redundant employees. It's not that the C-suite misunderstood the competitive environment, necessitating a costly and painful readjustment. It's Jay Powell! It's a COVID-related reversion to the mean! Who could have known?
In addition to being simpler for executives to explain to their shareholders or the board, large-scale copycat layoffs are easier to carry out and better received by employees than selective or strategic layoffs. Managers let staffers go instead of firing them, blaming economic conditions rather than detailing their direct reports' shortcomings. Morale might take less of a hit if the remaining workers fault the broader business environment instead of their bosses.
Another possible reason layoffs are contagious is that executives might take other firms' hiring and firing decisions as a kind of market intelligence. Even when a company's own financials appear sound, it may interpret a competitor's layoff announcement as a sign of worsening conditions. Something less intellectual and more instinctual is at play too, Pfeffer told me. "Humans imitate other humans. We copy what other people do," he said. "These tech companies copied one another in hiring on the way up, and now they're copying each other in laying off on the way down. I would find it almost inexplicable if this kind of behavior did not get copied." He added: "It does not make a lot of sense. If you're going to achieve exceptional results, you need to do things that are different from what everybody else does."
[Isabel Fattal: The tech-layoff 'contagion']
Indeed, reflexively laying off employees when every other company is doing so makes bad business sense. Downsizing is horrible for morale. It hinders the performance of retained workers. It is expensive, as many firms pay severance to departing employees. And layoffs do not tend to improve a given company's profit margins, boost its valuation, or lead it to perform better than its peers either—in part because of the effect on surviving employees and the loss of institutional knowledge, and in part because layoffs tend to be a sign of mismanagement in the first place. (Indeed, chief executive officers who engage in mass layoffs are more likely to get pink-slipped themselves.)
Firms that downsize end up suffering. Laid-off employees suffer as well, particularly if few other firms are hiring. "There's been an absence of discussion of the profound consequences, behaviorally and mentally and physically, of these decisions," Pfeffer told me, pointing to the large body of research on the miserable and long-lasting health impacts of getting fired.
A better copycat trend would be for firms to proactively and aggressively avoid layoffs, as they did before becoming enthralled with "lean" management practices and focused on near-term returns in the 1970s. "Decades ago, layoffs were exceptional and done only in the face of pretty severe economic contractions," Pfeffer told me. "You want to treat people like you treat any of your assets. Don't hire and fire based on short-term considerations." Or better yet, think about picking workers up when other firms are putting them down.
The system for granting asylum in the U.S. has long been a political point of contention. Democrats and Republicans debate how liberal or restrictive its rules should be, but evidence suggests that the fate of some asylum seekers may be less influenced by the rules than by something far more arbitrary: the judge they're assigned.
A 2007 study titled "Refugee Roulette" found that one judge granted asylum to only 5 percent of Colombian applicants, whereas another—working in the same building and applying the same rules—granted it to 88 percent.
Asylum is by no means the only part of our legal system where such discrepancies arise. In a landmark 1974 study, 50 judges were given an identical set of facts about a hypothetical heroin dealer. Their proposed sentences ranged anywhere from one to 10 years. The problem persists today. A series of more recent studies suggests that some judges show greater leniency toward defendants of their own race, whereas others are systematically harsher on such defendants.
[Read: Do algorithms have a place in policing?]
This kind of variability—the kind that comes from any exercise of human judgment—creates massive unpredictability in the legal system. Because humans are inconsistent and subjective, we've come to see this as a fixed feature of our justice system. But it doesn't have to be. Artificial intelligence, used in concert with human decision making, offers us a way to rein in the inconsistency that distorts the application of our laws and subjects so many people to unpredictable judgments.
Some variability is to be expected, even desired: Our legal ideals— fairness, justice, proportionality—lend themselves to a range of reasonable interpretations. And judicial discretion is crucial for preserving the rule of law; without it, those with political power could bend judicial outcomes to their will. This is why courts controlled by nondemocratic leaders are likened to kangaroos: They "jump" over evidence, reason, and rules to get to a preordained result.
But just how wide a range of judicial outcomes is acceptable? When a law's impact is primarily determined not by the facts of a case or even by the law itself, but by the person applying it, our entire system of democratic lawmaking suffers.
Judges who are free from external meddling are nevertheless subject to a series of internal threats in the form of political prejudice, inaccurate prediction, and cognitive error. In their book Noise, Daniel Kahneman, Cass Sunstein, and Olivier Sibony show that these threats come in two flavors: bias and noise. Bias is a systematic leaning in a particular direction—when the readings of a scale are always too low or too high. Noise is unpredictability in all directions—when the results are always different.
Each time we statistically analyze legal decisions, we seem to find more evidence of bias and noise. Defendants are shown more leniency on their birthday, for example; judges are more likely to deny parole the longer they've gone without a food break, and they hand out harsher decisions after their local sports team loses.
Of course, judges are skilled at rationalizing their conclusions. But just because you'd never find these influences mentioned in their judgments does not make them any less real.
For our justice system to remain responsive to democratic lawmaking and live up to our legal ideals, the judgments it produces must fall within a reasonably limited range. In other words, to ensure the integrity of the law, we need not only judicial autonomy but also reasonable predictability. That's where artificial intelligence can help.
AI has many potential applications in the justice system. Imagine, for instance, a judge tasked with determining whether a defendant represents a flight risk, or whether the use of a particular brand or logo will "likely cause confusion" with a registered trademark. Statistics could quantify these determinations with much larger data sets than those that judges have access to. AI could also help stamp out prejudice by showing us when and how systemic biases give undue influence to criteria such as race, gender, and ethnic origin.
[Pierre H. Bergeron and Michael P. Donnelly: How a spreadsheet could change the criminal-justice system]
In such cases—and many more—less humanity could lead to more fairness.
Entrusting justice to technology will understandably cause some alarm. For one thing, many data sets are already contaminated by historical prejudice. The discriminatory decisions of the past may cause certain data to suggest that being a member of a disadvantaged group constitutes a risk factor in and of itself (for example, in decisions that evaluate the risk of recidivism in bail hearings). If we aren't careful, AI could end up entrenching discrimination instead of reducing it.
To mitigate this risk, AI and human judgment must work together, each alleviating the potential biases of the other. Any decision AI makes, no matter how minor, should be subject to human review.
We will never be able to achieve a perfect ideal of fairness, but AI can help us achieve something measurably fairer than our current system. To take self-driving cars as an analogy: The correct safety benchmark isn't whether they'll lead to no accidents but whether they'll lead to significantly fewer accidents than human drivers.
Integrating AI into the justice system should be done gradually. One relatively modest application would be for AI to notify judges when their determinations fall outside a standard range of outcomes in comparable cases. This would offer judges an opportunity to self-correct without imposing any direct constraint on their decision making.
Furthermore, AI-driven analysis could open new avenues of appeal to a defendant when his or her punishment is determined to be abnormally stringent. A somewhat more assertive application could be using AI to refine mandatory minimums and statutory maximums by reviewing past judgments. Fine-tuning these applications will be the difference between merely reinforcing the decision-making tendencies of past deciders and actually reducing bias and noise.
Justice may be blind, but human beings are fallible. Our thinking is clouded by more prejudices than we can count, not to mention an excessive confidence in our own judgment. A fairer legal system may need to be a little less human.
Photographs by Christopher Churchill
In 2005, the photographer Christopher Churchill visited a Hutterite colony on the Montana Hi-Line, a sparsely populated stretch of prairie along the Canadian border. He was traveling the United States for a project about faith, hoping to find commonalities among divergent beliefs. But as he spent time in the small religious community, surrounded by endless wheat fields and tracks that once formed the main line of the Great Northern Railway, he soon became interested in another American belief system: capitalism. Churchill was struck by the way commerce had shaped even this isolated landscape—and also by how the colony, in which members live and work together and share the proceeds of their labor, offered an alternative view of prosperity.
The experience got Churchill thinking about how individual lives intersect with broader economic forces. It became the inspiration for a new project, focused on "the American dream," that brought him back to Montana last summer. The resulting photographs, some shot in black-and-white and some in color, contain traces of American industry, class divides, and westward expansion: power lines interrupting the horizon, the glint of a belt buckle, the wind blowing through a reservation town. But the people Churchill met in brief encounters on his drive across the state take the foreground.
There is something precarious in these images, yet also defiant. A toughness and a tenderness. Churchill's subjects look directly into the camera, their expression demanding interpretation. This elusiveness offers its own revelation: A dream, after all, is a matter of one's own perception. Hutterite children bounce on a trampoline, their long skirts floating against the open sky. The girl in the center seems to smile, suspended in mid-air. It is impossible to know whether she is going up or down.
This article appears in the March 2023 print edition with the headline "Views of Montana."
Nature Communications, Published online: 13 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36425-zIn cell membranes, lipids are ubiquitous regulators of protein function. Here, Thakur et al. observe anionic phospholipids impact the conformational dynamics of a class A human GPCR.