Jennifer Coolidge's comeback has been one of the best feel-good Hollywood narratives in recent years. Since starring in The White Lotus as the lovably loony Tanya, she's enjoyed the kind of critical acclaim and career resurgence that few actresses in their 60s—let alone those who work mostly in comedies and broke out decades ago—ever do. In the past few months, she's won her first Golden Globe and her first Emmy. She nabbed nominations at the Screen Actors Guild Awards two years in a row. Entertainment Weekly named her Entertainer of the Year.
The accolades are well deserved; Coolidge's work in The White Lotus is excellent—sharp and sympathetic, hilarious and heart-wrenching. Yet much of her renaissance has been attributed to her personality. Her acceptance speeches are so unpredictable, and her talk-show appearances so self-deprecating, that her off-screen antics have become the subject of YouTube compilations and The Cut's tongue-in-cheek "I Can't Shut Up About …" column. Even her first TikTok was deemed a "cinematic masterpiece."
Although Coolidge is a hoot to watch whenever she's handed the mic, her pre–White Lotus work deserves just as much recognition. I'm not talking about the roles for which she's best known—Paulette in Legally Blonde, Stifler's mom in American Pie, and Sherri Ann Cabot in Best in Show—though they're obviously worth revisiting. I'm talking about the roles she herself at the Golden Globes called "little jobs that, like, kept me going" when her career seemed in stasis: the guest turns on sitcoms, the thankless parts in big-screen spoofs, that one scene from Soul Men with Bernie Mac. Together, they prove that Coolidge's superpower is taking the roles the industry has typecast her in—oversexed, obnoxious women of a certain age—and humanizing them into something more than a mere laughingstock.
[Read: The speeches that saved the Golden Globes]
Her supporting turn in Amazon's Shotgun Wedding is the latest example. Although the action rom-com about a marriage ceremony that turns into a hostage situation (just go with it) started streaming last weekend, the film was made before the release of The White Lotus Season 1, and it cast Coolidge in a classically Coolidge-ian part. She plays Carol, the eccentric mother of the groom who at one point tries to negotiate with her captors by informing them that she was "Milford, Michigan's top realtor in 1998 and again in 2007." In another performer's hands, Carol would've simply been comic relief. The mediocre script positions her as a stereotypical overbearing relative whose sole purpose is to deliver silly one-liners and look funny shooting a machine gun while wearing a floppy sun hat.
But Coolidge makes Carol all that and more by rooting the character's most ludicrous ideas in fear rather than stupidity, and her oddball whims in years of being overlooked and underestimated. "I'm a mother; I can be upset about a lot of things at the same time," she says more than once. In one scene, Carol is convinced that the couple have ended up in a ditch; her repeated request for the staff to "check all ditches" sounds not just absurd but truly desperate. Carol, as embodied by Coolidge, isn't some pathetic, clueless narcissist; she's justifiably terrified.
[Read: 13 feel-good shows to watch this winter]
Coolidge is a master at making a meal out of scant scenes in lackluster—or, in the case of Shotgun Wedding, fun but forgettable—material. After watching the film and hearing Coolidge's assessment of her own work during her Golden Globes speech, I revisited some of the projects from that critically maligned period of her career, in the late 2000s and 2010s. Watching them now, it's striking how Coolidge threw herself into the thinnest roles. In her introduction as "the White Bitch of Gnarnia" in Epic Movie, for instance, she slips out of her sleigh as if she can't bear to part with it, keeping her body glued to the carriage and letting her feet dangle perilously above the ground for a beat too long. In Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, she takes a one-scene part as a manipulative driving instructor and makes her the scariest driving instructor ever committed to screen, so rageful that the audience can't help but wonder where the fury comes from.
Meanwhile, on TV, the CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls couldn't get enough of Coolidge. The show promoted her to a series regular after she elevated Sophie, the titular duo's sex-obsessed Polish neighbor, from a raunchy fool into a fully realized character. Whenever Sophie stepped into the diner setting of the show, Coolidge made her sound beyond delighted to see the girls, turning the woman from an annoying oversharer into someone who's just overeager, friendly to a fault. No wonder she became a fan favorite, just as Tanya would years later.
In other words, Coolidge's greatest feat as a comedic performer is her ability to make the audience share her curiosity and appreciation for her characters, many of whom were written to be the butt of jokes about older women. Some, like Carol, are supposed to be pitiable simpletons. Others, like Sophie, are cringeworthy for having robust sexual appetites. Yet Coolidge knows what people expect of Carols and Sophies, so she doesn't stop at making the audience laugh with her off-kilter line readings and impeccable timing. She uses her magic to turn objects of ridicule into objects of affection.
A new report from Semafor alleges that Silicon Valley darling and ChatGPT creator
has been making major moves to hire an "army" of outside contractors to better train a model how to code — an operation that could ultimately render entry-level coding jobs extinct.
The company, per Semafor, has brought on roughly 1,000 of these contractors — most of whom live "in regions like Latin America and Eastern Europe," according to sources familiar with the matter — in the past six months. About 60 percent of those hired were reportedly brought to do data labeling work, while the other 40 percent are computer programmers tasked with making software engineering datasets to train OpenAI's models on.
"A well-established company," reads a translated Spanish-language OpenAI job listing posted by an outsourced recruiter, according to Semafor, "which is determined to provide world-class AI technology to make the world a better and more efficient place, is looking for a Python Developer."
During the interview process, prospects are reportedly asked to complete unpaid five-hour-long coding exams that involve identifying basic coding problems and providing solutions, explaining their step-by-step thinking in written English. One of OpenAI's products, Codex, is an AI-powered text-to-code generator designed to translate written word into functioning computer programs.
"They most likely want to feed this model with a very specific kind of training data," an anonymous South American programming applicant told Semafor, "where the human provides a step-by-step layout of their thought process."
Join the Club
Codex has been mostly trained on code taken from GitHub, a practice that has offered the model some success as an assistive program, autocompleting and spell-checking code with some proficiency. GitHub — notably owned by Microsoft, OpenAI's financial overlord — even offers a Codex-powered "Copilot," which is basically like Grammarly for programmers.
The work of these recently-hired contractors, however, would almost certainly take that type of AI to the next level.
Knowing what a line of code might look like is one thing. Having a nuanced understanding of why and how a program needs to be written is entirely another, and by quietly outsourcing human engineers' thought processes, OpenAI seems intent on closing that gap.
And while these machines likely won't be writing any high-level programs anytime terribly soon, it feels fair to say that programmers looking for lower-level coding work should be wary of job prospects in the near future. Sorry, y'all — we hate to see anyone else join that party.
READ MORE: OpenAI has hired an army of contractors to make basic coding obsolete [Semafor]
More on OpenAI contractors: OpenAI Apparently Paid People in the Developing World $2/Hour to Look at the Most Disturbing Content Imaginable
The post OpenAI Reportingly Hiring "Army" of Devs to Train AI to Replace Entry-Level Coders appeared first on Futurism.
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Should teenagers use social media? US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy doesn't think so, or at least not 13-year-olds.
"I, personally, based on the data I've seen, believe that 13 is too early," Vivek said on CNN Newsroom, as quoted by the outlet.
"It's a time where it's really important for us to be thoughtful about what's going into how they think about their own self-worth and their relationships and the skewed and often distorted environment of social media often does a disservice to many of those children," he added.
Many of the most notable social platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat allow users 13 and up to join. And in many cases, younger kids can simply lie about their age. Meanwhile, other big hitters like TikTok and YouTube have special modes designed for kids under 13 that limit the content they can see, among other safety features.
What kids can be exposed to is definitely worrying, but the problem here is also much more fundamental and lies with how children engage with social media — and how many of these products are ruthlessly designed to farm children's attention.
"We have some of the best designers and product developers in the world who have designed these products to make sure people are maximizing the amount of time they spend on these platforms," Murthy added, as quoted by The Hill. "And if we tell a child, 'Use the force of your willpower to control how much time you're spending [on social media],' you're pitting a child against the world's greatest product designers and that's just not a fair fight. And so that's why I think our kids need help."
One of social media's most notorious innovations is infinite scrolling, which, as the name implies, allows users to continuously scroll through their social media feed without end, and without showing you a clear stopping point like the bottom of a page that tells your brain: "enough."
Instead, the platform will continue to find more content to show you, until you're compelled to refresh and scroll all over again. That phenomenon is called "doomscrolling," and many studies have documented its adverse effects on the mind.
In addition, a recent study that scanned the brains of social media obsessed children found significant changes to the part of their brains involved in memory and emotions called the amygdala.
Kids who checked social media more than 15 times per day, the study found, exhibited heightened sensitivity towards social conditions, particularly rewards and punishments. In other words, kids hooked on social media became more anxious about social situations over time than those who used it less frequently.
To push back against social media's troubling toll on children, Murthy suggested there should be greater safety standards these platforms should be required to meet.
"In my house right now, the vast majority of products [that we buy and use have to meet] some sort of safety standards in order to be sold," he observed. "That is not true in general of social media."
But he also thinks the responsibility lies with parents — not just individually, but as a collective whole.
"If parents can band together and say you know, as a group, we're not going to allow our kids to use social media until 16 or 17 or 18 or whatever age they choose, that's a much more effective strategy in making sure your kids don't get exposed to harm early," he told CNN.
Good luck with that, though. It's hard to imagine parents cracking down on their kid's TikTok usage wouldn't just make them want to use it even more.
More on social media: Scientists Find Something Strange in Brain Scans of Kids Hooked on Social Media
The post US Surgeon General Warns Against 13-Year-Old Using Social Media appeared first on Futurism.
A call for help sounds to ensure survival of a 140-year-old fishing partnership pairing cetaceans and humans
claims to have achieved Level 3 autonomy — "conditionally automated" vehicles that can monitor their driving environment and make informed decisions on behalf of the driver, but still require humans to occasionally take over — in the United States, an incremental but noteworthy step towards a future void of steering wheels and foot pedals.
"It is a very proud moment for everyone to continue this leadership and celebrate this monumental achievement as the first automotive company to be certified for Level 3 conditionally automated driving in the US market," said Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Dimitris Psillakis in a statement.
Last year, Mercedes showed off the new feature, a part of its Drive Pilot system, suggesting drivers could play a game of Tetris while they bomb down the highway — but the technology still comes with plenty of caveats in 2023.
The company's Level 3 autonomy-capable software was recently approved for use in Nevada, but only up to speeds of 40 mph.
Mercedes is trying to position itself as the pioneer in the autonomous driving space, which has been dominated by the likes of
, General Motors, and Ford.
For those keeping count, Level 3 is one level above Tesla, which has only achieved Level 2 autonomy with its Autopilot driver assistance software suite — despite Musk's empty promises of bringing fully self-driving vehicles to the roadways.
Level 3 is still a far cry from the kind of robust self-driving feature featured in sci-fi, and in many ways remains very similar to Level 2 systems currently being used on the road. It can keep the car in the lane, adjust speed depending on the vehicle in front of it, and even make lane changes.
But there's one notable exception: drivers don't strictly have to keep their eyes on the road at all times, which could free them up to read articles or play video games on the infotainment screen.
Not everybody agrees that Level 3 is a sensible step forward. As The Verge reports, the likes of Waymo and Cruise have argued that jumping to Level 4 technology — systems that could allow a driver to take a nap — from Level 2 makes a lot more sense as the handoff between humans and their software-based assistants can be imperfect or even prove fatal.
There are a lot more carmakers gunning to bring Level 3 autonomy to US roads. Ford, Audi, BMW, and Volvo, all have claimed to already be working on similar technologies.
But whether it's a step in the right direction — or even more of a distraction for drivers on the road — remains to be seen.
READ MORE: Mercedes-Benz is the first to bring Level 3 automated driving to the US [The Verge]
More on self-driving: Godfather of Self-Driving Cars Says the Tech Is Going Nowhere
The post Mercedes Claims to Have Achieved Level 3 Automation, Beating Tesla appeared first on Futurism.
This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections by Jeff Masters
When early settlers came to the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers before the California Gold Rush, Indigenous people warned them that the Sacramento Valley could become an inland sea when great winter rains came. The storytellers described water filling the valley from the Coast Range to the Sierra during these rare events.
And their warnings became realized when Great Flood of 1861-62 hit. A six-week onslaught of at least 10 powerful Pacific storms in December and January carried mighty "atmospheric rivers" of subtropical moisture into California, dumping torrential rains in the valleys and prodigious snows in the mountains. When an unusually warm storm struck in January, heavy rains fell on the enormous Sierra snowpack, melting it.
A cataclysmic flood ensued, inundating the Central Valley and transforming it into a lake 300 miles long and over 20 miles wide; much of the now densely populated coastal plain in present-day Los Angeles and Orange counties was also inundated. As summarized in a 2013 Scientific American overview, the flood killed thousands of people, drowned one-quarter of the state's estimated 800,000 cattle, and submerged downtown Sacramento under more than 10 feet of brown water laden with debris from countless mudslides. With the state's capital city paralyzed, the California legislature was forced to move to San Francisco until the summer of 1862. By that point, the state was bankrupt, as one-third of its taxable properties had been destroyed.
California's long history of megastorms
Sediment research has found that six storms similar to or even more severe than the 1861-62 storm hit California in the past 2,000 years, arriving about every 200 to 400 years. One study estimated the arrival dates as 212, 440, 603, 1029, 1418, and 1605 AD; the dates vary by a century or more from study to study, but the data makes clear that such megastorms have recurred regularly. The storm that occurred around 1605 appears to have been the mightiest of them all — and far stronger than storm that brought the Great Flood of 1861-62.
Given this history, it is inevitable that another great flood will hit the state someday, and climate change is thought to boost the odds of such an event. And when the next great flood comes, the damages could well dwarf those of any previous global weather disaster, adding up to more than $1 trillion — an extraordinary catastrophe with triple the cost of the feared great quake on the San Andreas fault.
According to a 2011 government scenario, waters, winds, and landslides from such a megastorm would likely overtop dozens of levees, flood nearly a quarter of the square footage of the state's buildings, wipe out key roads for weeks to months, and leave some communities without power for months.
In this first of a three-part series on California's vulnerability to a megaflood, we examine the results of this 2011 study, called the "ARkStorm" scenario, which simulated what a repeat of the Great Flood of 1861-62 might do. Part Two looks at the poor state of the U.S. dam infrastructure in general, and more specifically at the California dams at the highest risk of failure in a megaflood. And since the ARkStorm research is more than a decade old, a new study that presents an "ARkStorm 2.0" scenario will be covered in Part Three, which will discuss the future of California megafloods and how climate change likely increases their odds.
California is highly vulnerable to a great flood
Many of the prosperous cities and fertile farmlands of California are built on the flood plains of the rivers that once inundated the valleys every few hundred years. Now the rivers are dammed and lined with levees and drainage channels, protecting the critically important development on California's flood plains.
A megaflood would be a catastrophe for two main reasons:
- California produces one-third of U.S. vegetables and 75% of the nation's fruit and nut crops on a mere 1.2% of the nation's agricultural land. This production generates more than $50 billion in annual revenue — over 10% of the value of U.S. agricultural output.
- A tremendous number of people and critical infrastructure now occupy the flood plains that were undeveloped back in the 1800s. For example, during the Great Flood of 1861-62, the Los Angeles area was mostly ranchlands with fewer than 15,000 residents. Today, 10 million people and a $748 billion-per-year economy occupy Los Angeles County.
What is the ARkStorm scenario?
Were the Great Flood of 1861-62 to recur, it might resemble the ARkStorm scenario — a plausible hypothetical storm conjured up in a 2011 study by 117 experts led by the United States Geological Survey, or USGS. In the acronym, the "AR" stands for atmospheric river, and the "k" stands for the number 1,000 because the storm could be expected to bring 1-in-1000-year rains to some locations.
The storm modeled by these experts could flood up to 25% of all buildings in the state, breach approximately 50 levees, and force the evacuation of 1.5 million people. The hypothetical ARkStorm would flood about 4,000 square miles, much of it agricultural, with a population of about 6.5 million, including much of Sacramento, Silicon Valley, and Stockton. Along with the mammoth evacuation required in the inland region and delta counties, over 220,000 people would need short-term shelter.
Since there is little data on the meteorological conditions during 1861-62, the USGS ARkStorm scenario used a computer-modeled hybrid storm that combined two actual storms that hit California: a Southern California storm from Jan. 19-27, 1969, which killed 115 people and caused inflation-adjusted damages of $3.3 billion, followed by a northern California storm from Feb. 8-20, 1986, which killed 13. An additional tweak was applied to produce a sufficient amount of precipitation to approximately match the limited observations of 1861-62.
The simulated USGS ARkStorm did $725 billion (in 2007 dollars) in damage. Approximately 55% of the damage was to buildings, infrastructure, and agriculture (of which just 5-8% would be covered by insurance), while 45% of the damage resulted from business interruption. Adjusted for inflation, the ARkStorm would cost about $1.1 trillion in 2023 dollars, and additional costs would occur because of increases in wealth and population. In recent decades, wealth on the West Coast has increased by about 3.3% per year (using GDP growth stats); the population of California has increased by about 6% since 2007. This suggests that the ARkStorm would cost approximately $1.7 trillion today (about 7% of U.S. GDP). Complicating this estimate is the fact that many billions of dollars in levee improvements have occurred in California since the ARkStorm report was issued, which would likely lead to a modest decrease in damages.
The authors cautioned that the impacts modeled were not exhaustive, since they did not consider tourism and recreation or loss of cultural value as a result of damage to historic artifacts and sites. And a repeat of one of the stronger storms documented in the past 2,000 years might cause damages much higher.
Much of the rest of this post covers the specific sectors considered in the ARkStorm scenario, demonstrating the extraordinary danger such a flood would likely pose to people, infrastructure, agricultural lands, and property. All costs are in 2007 dollars; adjusting for inflation would make these costs about 50% higher in 2023 dollars.
A megastorm would breach levees and flood buildings
The ARkStorm scenario generated flooding with an estimated return period of 100 to 500 years over many critical California watersheds, in addition to some 1-in-1000-year flooding. A 100-year return period means that a flood has a 1% probability in any given year, or a 26% probability over a 30-year time span. Similarly, flooding with a 500-year return period has a 0.2% probability of occurrence in any given year, or 6% over a 30-year period.
Nearly one-quarter of the total building square footage in California was affected by flooding in the ARkStorm scenario. Most flooded buildings were not a total loss, but rather experienced damage requiring repair costs between 10-50% of replacement cost. (Just one inch of water in a 2,500-square-foot home can cause $27,000 in damage, and 12 inches can cause $72,000 in damage, according to FEMA.) Residential buildings dominated the flood-related building repair costs. Total flood damage to buildings was estimated at $195 billion, with another $103 billion in damage to building contents. Business interruption from building downtimes of one to three years would cost an additional hundreds of billions of dollars.
The scenario hypothesized that urban levees might be threatened or overtopped at 60 to 75 critical sites and that 15-20 breaches might realistically occur. In addition, 30 breaches of levees protecting the islands of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta were considered realistic, with two to three breaches occurring per island. The Delta is about 73% farmland, with much of the land lying 10-25 feet below sea level; these fields are some of the most productive agricultural land in the nation. The Delta's levees have experienced one major breach in the past 30 years, a June 2004 event that flooded the entire island of Jones Tract.
Urban levees in California are generally constructed to withstand a flood with a 1-in-200-year recurrence interval. There are, however, a few levees protecting urban areas near Sacramento and Stockton that offer protection at lower flood thresholds. For example, the levee protecting the community of Woodland (population of 9,000, property value $1.6 billion) offers protection against only a 1-in-20-year flood — one that has an 80% chance of occurring over a 30-year period (Figure 4). Fortunately, the state and federal governments are partway through the construction of a $1.85-billion flood protection project that will help shore up levees in the Sacramento area. About 361 miles of urban and 120 miles of non-urban levees have been repaired or improved since 2007, according to the state's Central Valley Flood Protection Plan.
The city of Stockton, a disadvantaged community whose metro-area population of nearly 800,000 is almost 80% nonwhite, has a particularly high flood risk because of inadequate levees. The city lies on the San Joaquin River, and a 2018 study by the Army Corps found that much of the city could flood to depths of 10-20 feet if the city's levees were breached. According to the National Levee Database, the main levee protecting the city offers only 1-in-100-year flood protection. The levee protects over 129,000 people and property worth over $16 billion.
Levees protecting rural areas in California have much lower failure thresholds, with some privately-owned ones offering only 1-in-10-year protection. Multiple levees of this nature failed in the Stockton region and on the Salinas River near Monterey during the January 2023 floods (see Tweet above). And until they are tested against a 1-in-100-year level flood, we should not be overconfident that levees rated to that level of protection will perform as designed. Extreme floods are notorious for exposing the unforeseen flaws in levees. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Jeffrey Mount, a geomorphologist and senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, said, "There are two kinds of levees: Those that have failed, and those that will fail."
Figure 4. Sacramento area levee system (red lines). The figures within each levee area show the value of property protected, the level of protection offered by the levee, and the number of people living behind the levee. For example, the levee surrounding downtown Sacramento protects 384,000 people and $6.8 billion in property and is rated to withstand a 1-in-500-year flood. (Image credit: National Levee Database, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
Would a California megaflood cause dams to fail?
The ARkStorm study did not foresee any of California's approximately 1,500 dams failing, though minor spillway damage and downstream erosion were plausible, it found. As will be discussed in Part Two of this series, there is reason to question this finding in light of the serious damage caused to the spillways of America's tallest dam, the Oroville Dam in California, during flooding in 2017.
Important roads closed for weeks to months
The ARkStorm could cause tens of thousands of landslides, the vast majority of them being debris flows. These would cost on the order of $3 billion, including $1 billion in damage to private property, $1 billion to state highways, and $1 billion to other infrastructure. Indirect costs because of disruption of infrastructure were not considered in the estimate.
The damage to roads would be long-lasting in many cases, particularly along mountain roads in regions subject to landslides, such as coastal Highway 1 in Big Sur and near Santa Cruz (see Tweet above). Important roads would be closed for weeks or months, significantly slowing recovery efforts. The ARkStorm largely cut off traffic from Los Angeles to the north and east for one to two weeks, with gradual recovery. For Sacramento, traffic to the north, south, and west was largely cut off for one week or so, with gradual recovery thereafter.
Road damage from landslides could hinder repairs of critical water pipelines and limit access to repair wastewater treatment plants like the one in Long Beach. Water supply systems and wastewater treatment plants rely on supplies of chemicals that are carried on railways and trucks every few days, which might be cut off. One possible preparation effort: stockpiling Bailey bridges, which are portable, prefabricated trusses, primarily used by military engineering units to bridge gaps up to 200 feet. They do not require heavy equipment for construction, can be brought to the job site in trucks, and are strong enough for heavy traffic.
Figure 5. Road restoration percentages in northern California 30 days after the ARkStorm and 17 days after the ARkStorm in southern California. (Image credit: USGS)
Power outages for months in some areas
Damage to the power infrastructure by wind and flooding was estimated at $1 billion, with long restoration times of months predicted in mountainous areas experiencing high winds. Business interruption costs from lack of power were estimated at $18 billion. Flood damage to power infrastructure was also cited as a major concern. While most power plants are located out of the areas predicted to flood, some are inside, especially in Santa Clara County and Los Angeles.
High-voltage substations and generating plants have high-voltage transformers that can be damaged by flooding – for example, by flood-borne debris impacting the transformer. These transformers are custom-made, designed to operate only at that location, and serve a large population, often in excess of 200,000 people. The transformers are not interchangeable and are too expensive to stockpile beyond those available for normal operational redundancy. If one of these large transformers were damaged, it could take six months or more to replace.
Figure 6. Power restoration curves at a few key locations in California, showing the percentage of customers capable of receiving power at selected times, assuming the onset of the storm on Jan. 27, 2011. Mountainous areas experiencing higher winds, like Mono County in the Sierras (light blue curve), were modeled to have significant power outages lasting months. (Image credit: USGS)
Contaminated and interrupted water supplies
An ARkStorm would wreak serious damage on the water supply systems for California, causing an estimated $3 billion in damage. Restoration of service would take days, weeks, or months; the report suggested that the water treatment plant serving the entire city of Sacramento would be inoperative for up to three to six months. The costs of business interruption because of water system failures were put at a massive $54 billion.
About half of southern California's water comes from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where multiple levee failures were anticipated, leading to a lengthy interruption in water transport. The levee repairs necessary to restore water transport to southern California might take three months, but that region would have other sources of water. In fact, water quality might be a far more significant problem than quantity, because of runoff carrying sediments into reservoirs and from erosion of the banks of reservoirs. Contaminants from runoff could potentially require extended boil-water orders.
Raw sewage in the water
The ARkStorm scenario had 21 of the 113 wastewater treatment plants in California experiencing flooding, at a cost of $300 million, taking days or weeks to repair. The resulting business interruption would cost an additional $28 billion. In Los Angeles, the scenario imagines that the Donald C. Tillman and Terminal Island wastewater treatment plants are flooded, putting raw sewage into the central and western San Fernando Valley and into the Los Angeles River. This causes a hazardous-material condition that could trigger evacuation of homes and businesses that were not otherwise flooded and could shut down roads through the affected area.
Billions in damage to agriculture
Damages to crops, livestock, and fields were estimated to range between $4 and $7 billion, and damages to farm structures and equipment were estimated separately at $13 billion. The scenario hypothesized that 31 of the approximately 60 islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta would flood and that it could take up to 1.5 years to remove that water because many of these islands lie 10-25 feet below sea level.
Wind damage in mountainous areas
Wind-related building repair costs are estimated to be $6 billion – small in comparison with the nearly $300 billion loss from flood damage. Wind damage contributes such a small fraction of the overall loss because the areas of highest winds (higher elevation mountainous areas) are relatively sparsely populated.
Coastal flooding would cause damage, too
While the vast majority of the flood damage California would experience from an ARkStorm would be from inland flooding from heavy rains, coastal flooding from large storm surges riding in on elevated sea levels would also cause significant damage. Coastal storms that hit California during strong El Niños are particularly problematic; ocean warming, wind patterns, and runoff from heavy rains inland have brought sea levels up to one foot above average during the past three strong El Niños (Figure 7).
Figure 7. Monthly mean water levels in San Francisco during the past three strong El Niño events (1982-83, 1997-98, and 2015-16), compared to average. (Image credit: Abe Doherty, updated with data from Reinhard Flick)
Even a 1-in-100-year flood would be devastating in California
It wouldn't take a California flood event as severe as an ARkStorm to cause one of the most expensive disasters in U.S. history. A 2022 study estimated a lesser flood with a 1-in-100-year return period affecting only the Los Angeles area would likely inundate property — worth $56 billion with a population of about 425,000 — to a depth of a foot or more, with the risks disproportionately higher for non-Hispanic Black and disadvantaged populations.
The other two parts of this three-part series:
Part Two: If a megaflood strikes California, these dams might be at risk
Part Three: Climate change is increasing the risk of a California megaflood
Nature, Published online: 30 January 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-00231-wFloods followed by droughts, or droughts followed by floods, will rise in frequency in a warming world.
It seems that real estate agents are already using OpenAI's controversial
artificial intelligence software to pump out property listings so they can free up time to do what they do best: part would-be homeowners from their money.
"It saved me so much time," Iowa-based realtor JJ Johannes told CNN of the burgeoning practice.
The agent, who also posted an explainer video to Twitter earlier this month describing how he writes listings using ChatGPT, admitted that the software is "not perfect" for writing ads but said it's nevertheless been helpful because "writing something eloquent takes time."
In the comments of that explainer, Johannes responded with good humor to a critic who, like many of those skeptical of the real estate industry, suggested that AI could revolutionize the art of making a crappy house seem worthwhile.
"ChatGPT will be perfect for generating real estate listing[s]," the sarcastic user wrote. "Just teach it to describe cramped shacks as 'cozy' and heaps of rotting lumber as 'fixer uppers' and you're good to go."
"LOL," the realtor replied, adding that "more accurate descriptions of what properties are versus generic catch all phrases would be good!"
Still, the troll makes a good point: with ChatGPT, it will now be much easier for realtors to write misleading listings. In an industry that's known for its predatory practices, that's definitely not a good thing.
With that in mind, CNN did present another, significantly more positive use case for ChatGPT: helping folks deal with crappy landlords and developers who refuse to fix stuff in their homes.
Andres Asion, a Miami-based broker, told the broadcaster that when a client couldn't open her windows and got no response from the developer in charge, he ran her qualms through ChatGPT and instructed the AI to write a letter that threatened legal action.
"All of a sudden," Asion said, "the developer showed up at her house."
It's reassuring to know that someone in the corrupt real estate industry is using ChatGPT — which has veritably turned the world upside down since its debut late last year — for good, while so many others seem to be using it for anything but.
More on the ChatGPT debacle: I Work for CNET's Parent Company. Its AI-Generated Articles Disgust Me.
The post Shameless Realtors Are Already Grinding Out Property Listings With ChatGPT appeared first on Futurism.
International mining giant Rio Tinto has admitted to misplacing a "highly radioactive" object along an 870-mile Western Australian highway, several outlets report. But if it's any consolation, they're very, very sorry.
"We are taking this incident very seriously," Rio Tinto head of iron ore Simon Trott said in a Sunday statement to the media. "We recognize this is clearly very concerning and are sorry for the alarm it has caused in the Western Australian community."
Princess and the Pea
At just eight millimeters in length, the object in question — a tiny "widget," as Bloomberg put it, containing the radioactive isotope caesium-137 — is roughly the size of a pea. All to say: not exactly the easiest thing to recover from an unknown spot on an 870-mile-long stretch of roadway.
"If you dangled a magnet over a haystack," Andrew Stuchbery, head of the Australian National University's department of Nuclear Physics and Accelerator Applications, told Reuters, "it's going to give you more of a chance."
And despite its puny size, this object — which is a component of a larger device that measures the density of iron ore — isn't benign. It emits radiation "equal to ten X-rays per hour," according to Reuters. And while anyone who drives past it won't be hit with too much radiation, overexposure or mishandling could reportedly cause radiation burns or even radioactive sickness.
"It's quite radioactive so if you get close to it, it will stick out," Stuchbery added.
Regardless of the challenges they face in the search for the radioactive capsule, Australian authorities seem to be in good spirits, with emergency services personnel telling the BBC that their chances of success are "pretty good." Noted.
This isn't the only recent Rio Tinto scandal in the area. Back in 2020, the company came under fire for damaging two Aboriginal heritage sites, including a cave in the Juukan Gorge that showed signs of occupation dating back 46,000 years — and had a 4,000-year-old genetic link to its present-day owners. The mining corp said it was "sorry" for that, too.
In any case, we hope that the radioactive pea is discovered before it causes anyone any harm. But we're sure that if it does, a Rio Tinto apology will be very quick to follow.
READ MORE: Rio Tinto apologizes for loss of tiny radioactive capsule in Australian outback [Reuters]
More on radioactive things: Authorities Seize "Atomik" Booze Made near Chernobyl Disaster
The post Miners Say "Sorry" for Losing Highly Radioactive Object Along Highway appeared first on Futurism.
The last several years have seen AI improve by leaps and bounds. The most advanced machine learning algorithms are no longer limited to interpreting the world — they can create new content, including art so refined it can win contests and essays that can pass an MBA exam.
is turning its attention to the musical realm. The company's new MusicLM app can generate original music from a text prompt or a few seconds of humming.
The new AI was revealed in a paper published on the arXiv pre-print server last week. The paper explains that other teams have been able to use AI to create limited "acoustic events" over several seconds, but AudioLM takes it to the next level by generating high-fidelity audio that remains coherent over several minutes. That is, the AI output sounds like a professionally composed song rather than a collection of random snippets.
MusicLM is still just an internal research project, so you can't play around with it yourself. However, Google has posted many examples of the AI's compositions on GitHub. The bot can take audio input like humming a few bars of a tune, but more impressively, it can decipher a rich text prompt like "The main soundtrack of an arcade game. It is fast-paced and upbeat, with a catchy electric guitar riff. The music is repetitive and easy to remember, but with unexpected sounds, like cymbal crashes or drum rolls."
Some of the AI-generated tracks are surprisingly listenable, but they do have a distinctively electronic vibe even when imitating other styles. Some of the tracks have vocals, consisting of mostly haunting nonsense words. It's like a song sung in a language you nor anyone else has ever heard before.
It will take time before this tool and others like it are able to match the skill of human musicians, but that day may be coming. In order to support future research, Google has released a dataset of 5,500 music-text pairs, the same data used to train MusicLM. This will no doubt raise new concerns about the role of AI in the creation of art. Many communities and artwork repositories have had to grapple with AI-generated images, with some choosing to ban the content. Others, like Adobe, have embraced AI art with a few restrictions.
There's also increasing concern over the copyright implications of AI. After digesting information, chatbots may regurgitate phrases that could be considered plagiarism. Music is already a fiercely litigious industry, and the use of AI-generated music could lead to lawsuits.
- A gun control law signed by Gov.
may be linked to low bone mineral density in adults, according to a new study.
The findings are crucial for individuals with sleep apnea, as low bone mineral density is an indicator of osteoporosis—a condition in which bones become weak and brittle.
In addition to increasing the risk of fractures, low bone mineral density also affects oral health, causing teeth to become loose and dental implants to fail, says senior author Thikriat Al-Jewair, associate professor of orthodontics in the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine and director of the school's Advanced Education Program in Orthodontics.
For the study, published in the Journal of Craniomandibular and Sleep Practice, the researchers used cone beam computed tomography (CBCT)—a type of X-ray—to measure bone density in the head and neck of 38 adult participants, half of whom had obstructive sleep apnea.
When controlling for age, sex, and weight, the participants with obstructive sleep apnea had significantly lower bone mineral density than the participants without the condition.
Obstructive sleep apnea, which is characterized by difficulty breathing while asleep, can cause hypoxia (low levels of oxygen in the body), inflammation, oxidative stress, and shortened breathing patterns. Each of these symptoms may have a chronic negative effect on bone metabolism and, ultimately, bone density, says Al-Jewair.
"While the link between obstructive sleep apnea and low bone mineral density has yet to be fully explored, this study offers new evidence on their connection that could have several implications for orthodontic treatment," says Al-Jewair, who is also assistant dean for equity, diversity, and inclusion in the UB School of Dental Medicine.
"If a patient has been diagnosed with sleep apnea, this can influence treatment planning and management. CBCT imaging has become an integral part of daily orthodontic practice and could be used as a screening tool for low bone mineral density," she says.
"Orthodontists could then inform their patients of their propensity for low bone mineral density and encourage them to seek further consultation with their physician, as well as warn the patient of possible adverse outcomes, increased risks and effects on treatment time."
Future research with larger sample sizes is needed, says Al-Jewair.
Source: University at Buffalo
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Coffee with milk may have an anti-inflammatory effect in humans, a new study shows.
Researchers found that a combination of proteins and antioxidants doubles the anti-inflammatory properties in immune cells. They hope to be able to study the health effects on humans.
Whenever bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances enter the body, our immune systems react by deploying white blood cells and chemical substances to protect us.
This reaction, commonly known as inflammation, also occurs whenever we overload tendons and muscles and is characteristic of diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
Antioxidants known as polyphenols are found in humans, plants, fruits, and vegetables. This group of antioxidants is also used by the food industry to slow the oxidation and deterioration of food quality and thereby avoid off flavors and rancidity. Polyphenols are also known to be healthy for humans, as they help reduce oxidative stress in the body that gives rise to inflammation.
But much remains unknown about polyphenols. Relatively few studies have investigated what happens when polyphenols react with other molecules, such as proteins mixed into foods that we then consume.
In a new study, researchers investigated how polyphenols behave when combined with amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. The results have been promising.
"In the study, we show that as a polyphenol reacts with an amino acid, its inhibitory effect on inflammation in immune cells is enhanced," says Marianne Nissen Lund, a professor in the food science department at the University of Copenhagen, who headed the study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
"As such, it is clearly imaginable that this cocktail could also have a beneficial effect on inflammation in humans. We will now investigate further, initially in animals. After that, we hope to receive research funding which will allow us to study the effect in humans."
Twice the inflammation-fighting power
To investigate the anti-inflammatory effect of combining polyphenols with proteins, the researchers applied artificial inflammation to immune cells. Some of the cells received various doses of polyphenols that had reacted with an amino acid, while others only received polyphenols in the same doses. A control group received nothing.
The researchers observed that immune cells treated with the combination of polyphenols and amino acids were twice as effective at fighting inflammation as the cells to which only polyphenols were added.
"It is interesting to have now observed the anti-inflammatory effect in cell experiments. And obviously, this has only made us more interested in understanding these health effects in greater detail. So, the next step will be to study the effects in animals," says senior author Andrew Williams of the veterinary and animal sciences department.
Anti-inflammatory coffee and milk
In previous studies, the researchers demonstrated that polyphenols bind to proteins in meat products, milk, and beer. In another new study, they tested whether the molecules also bind to each other in a coffee drink with milk. Indeed, coffee beans are filled with polyphenols, while milk is rich in proteins.
"Our result demonstrates that the reaction between polyphenols and proteins also happens in some of the coffee drinks with milk that we studied. In fact, the reaction happens so quickly that it has been difficult to avoid in any of the foods that we've studied so far," says Nissen Lund.
Therefore, the researcher does not find it difficult to imagine that the reaction and potentially beneficial anti-inflammatory effect also occur when other foods consisting of proteins and fruits or vegetables are combined.
"I can imagine that something similar happens in, for example, a meat dish with vegetables or a smoothie, if you make sure to add some protein like milk or yogurt," says Nissen Lund.
Industry and the research community have both taken note of the major advantages of polyphenols. As such, they are working on how to add the right quantities of polyphenols in foods to achieve the best quality. The new research results are promising in this context as well.
"Because humans do not absorb that much polyphenol, many researchers are studying how to encapsulate polyphenols in protein structures which improve their absorption in the body," says Nissen Lund. "This strategy has the added advantage of enhancing the anti-inflammatory effects of polyphenols."
Additional coauthors are from the Technical University of Dresden in Germany. Independent Research Fund Denmark funded the work.
Source: University of Copenhagen
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Seemingly without warning, a Tesla Model S "spontaneously" burst into flames while cruising down a California highway, according to the Sacramento Metro Fire District.
The Tesla was traveling at "freeway speeds," the fire district said in a Facebook post, until the driver noticed heavy black smoke emerging from the undercarriage. Fortunately, the motorist was able to pull over and exit the vehicle unharmed, but the flames continued to intensify, devouring the vehicle's front end.
A crew of firefighters used jacks to expose the Tesla's underside and extinguish the lithium ion battery blaze. Putting it out, though, required considerable effort.
Over the course of an hour, it took 6,000 gallons of water from three fire engines to subdue the flames because the Tesla's battery cells continued to combust.
"For reference, a fully involved traditional combustion vehicle can be extinguished with a single fire engine's 700 gallon water supply," the district wrote.
Lithium ion battery fires are notoriously difficult to extinguish. In addition to containing combustible and flammable materials like graphite and electrolytes, their cathodes also release oxygen as they continue to burn, making their fires formidably self-sustaining.
That's why using fire foam to smother the flames is ineffective, the district notes in a tweet.
As of now, it's unclear why the Tesla battery spontaneously went up in flames, especially since, according to the firefighters, the vehicle was undamaged prior to the fire.
Usually, a lithium battery fire is spurred by a collision, but a short circuit or excessively high temperatures could also cause a battery to combust.
Tesla cars are no strangers to suddenly combusting. In 2019, after several headline-making reports of parked
catching fire seemingly without warning, the automaker released a software update "out of an abundance of caution" to improve the batteries' safety.
More on Tesla: Of Course Elon Musk Is Pushing The Cybertruck Back Again, What Did You Expect?
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When do you think robotaxis will enter the market?
Will it be Tesla or another EV company taking the lead?
|submitted by /u/nikesh96
|submitted by /u/Mailyk
|submitted by /u/filosoful
i thought for example of 1880s when lightbulbs became normailty, or 1900s tensions rising slowly in world politics, or maybe rather in the 13th century muslim world that jump started renaissance in europe.
Nature Communications, Published online: 30 January 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36155-2Publisher Correction: Insights into the mechanism of phospholipid hydrolysis by plant non-specific phospholipase C
Nature Communications, Published online: 30 January 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36226-4Author Correction: The interferon stimulated gene-encoded protein
Nature Communications, Published online: 30 January 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36182-z
The Internet Archive lives up to its name, creating a backup of information and content that would otherwise be lost to history as technology barrels forward. The archive hosts web page snapshots, Android APKs, and a new project from the MAME emulator team: The Calculator Drawer. This collection of calculator emulators runs the gamut from the kid-friendly Electronic Number Muncher to the venerable TI-83 Plus. And they all work just like the originals.
You probably know "MAME" mostly for its arcade machine emulation — it originally stood for "Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator" but was merged with a general emulation project to cover a wide array of vintage devices. Hence, the new MAME Calculator Drawer on the Internet Archive.
The drawer includes both graphing calculators, as well as simple calculators, all emulated in MAME. Most of them even have an additional layer on top to represent the original hardware. That means you can click on the keypads and controls as they originally existed, right down to the "on" button on many of the more advanced machines. Like the real deal, they won't do anything until you turn on the power. Without the MAME Artwork system, the emulated part of many of these devices would simply be a string of LCD block numbers. MAME can create vector graphic representations of the hardware, but most of the calculators use real photos of the device for the artwork layer.
It's a lot more fun to see a representation of the calculator itself rather than using your keyboard to input numbers. That said, you can use your keyboard for input if you prefer. To use any of the emulated calculators, just open the page and click the Start button. Each page includes some basic information about the devices, including the release date, price, and hardware specs. There's also a full-screen option if you want the technology of yesteryear to fill your screen. That's more useful on mobile — most of the calculators are roughly smartphone-shaped.
As you can imagine, there are a lot of Texas Instruments graphing calculators, including some of the more advanced versions you rarely, if ever, saw in the wild. The TI v200 and TI-92 (above) are more like tiny computers than calculators, and they're much more complicated to operate as a result. If you need a little refresher on how to use these retro tabulators, The Internet Archive also has a collection of manuals linked on the Calculator Drawer page.
As NASA's Artemis program plods toward a followup mission, the agency is undertaking its secretive selection process to decide who will be sent to the Moon for the first time in 50 years.
Per a CNN report, the agency isn't quite ready to name any names until "sometime in the spring" for the mission that will first see a crewed orbital mission in 2024 and then a Moon landing the following year.
The entire process of astronaut selection is extremely clandestine, but the news outlet was able to glean an inside look at the selection process by interviewing nearly a dozen former and current NASA officials and found out who's on the agency buzz shortlist: decorated naval aviator Reid Wiseman as the probable chief of the mission; Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, the first women to ever do an all-female space walk; Army pilot Anne McClain, Stephanie Wilson, who's the most senior astronaut of the bunch; and Jeremy Hansen, who might fill the single Canadian seat on the internationally-funded mission.
As former NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman told CNN, the final selection process can end up being surprisingly petty.
"The problem is it can be influenced by trivial things, like what size spacesuit you wear. If there is only a medium and a large and you need the extra-large, you're screwed. You're not going to get assigned to the mission," he said. "It can be crazy, little things that dictate how it all comes out and it's not always the most equitable or transparent process."
The flight assignment process apparently used to be even more mystery-shrouded, but as CNN notes, astronauts still have to wait along with everyone else to learn who will be sent up — a nail-biting prospect if there ever was one, especially on a mission as important as historic as Artemis.
"This is a special and unique opportunity," Reisman, the potential chief of the mission, said, "and, frankly, I'm going to be super jealous of whoever they pick."
And even though it sounds like a mighty difficult job that carries some pretty freaky health risks, we're honestly kind of envious too.
More on Artemis: The Head of NASA Is Scared Chinese Astronauts Will Seize Portions of the Moon
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Scientific Reports, Published online: 30 January 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-28793-9Author Correction: Relationship between nitrapyrin and varying nitrogen application rates with nitrous oxide emissions and nitrogen use efficiency in a maize field
China accounted for nearly half of the world's low-carbon spending in 2022, which could challenge U.S. efforts to bolster domestic clean energy manufacturing
Nature, Published online: 30 January 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-00266-zA slew of remarkable trials have raised the profile of a class of weight loss drugs, but there are concerns about cost and weight stigma.
Nature, Published online: 30 January 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-00274-zA sustained catch-up effort is needed to help students to recover lost skills and knowledge.
Nature, Published online: 30 January 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-00258-zSETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, is deploying machine-learning algorithms that filter out Earthly interference and spot signals humans might miss.
In his office overlooking Sixth Avenue in Helena, Montana, Wilmot Collins leans back in a chair at his conference table and recounts all of the ways his being here, as a Liberian refugee who in 2018 became the first Black mayor of any city in Montana since the state joined the union, was unlikely to happen.
Perhaps it all traces back to April 12, 1980, when a faction of armed militants in Liberia, led by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe, entered the executive mansion in Monrovia, the nation's capital, and murdered President William Tolbert. They dumped his body into a mass grave with those of 27 of his colleagues—members of the West African nation's single-party leadership—ushering in a new era of military rule. Collins was a senior at Carroll High School in Yekepa then, and he remembers the string of killings and atrocities that began shortly after the start of Doe's rule. "Things were bad," he told me. They soon got worse. Those years started Collins's thinking about political systems and how they could be made better—what they might look like if they worked.
[Read: The new Southern strategy]
After high school, he attended the University of Liberia, where his interest in politics deepened. Specifically, he was fascinated by America's system. "Professor [D. Elwood] Dunn taught American government; that's where we learned about Roe v. Wade, Brown v. Board of Education; and the system of government intrigued all of us," he told me. Liberia had a three-branch federal system as well, but studying the clear divisions of power in America captivated him; he imagined a better Liberia."We had the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary—but the executive was always meddling into every other branch … But then to see that working," he said, "we had hope."
Nearly 10 years on, in 1989, his country was on the verge of a second coup. Charles Taylor and his rebel army had been training in Libya and entered Liberia through the Ivory Coast—gaining support along the way from people who had felt left behind by the ever more ruthless military dictatorship. "When Taylor came in with his rebels promising honey and gold," he said, people thought, This is who we want. But Taylor was a warlord, an ethnic conflict broke out, and Collins eventually fled to the United States.
Collins took some basic lessons from the destabilization of his home nation: the importance of a peaceful, functioning government and the dangers of despotism. It's wisdom he wishes was not so hard-won, and wisdom he gained only in hindsight. His concern at the time, of course, was escaping.
Twenty-five years after moving to Helena, Collins was serving his first term as the city's mayor and had eyes on running for statewide office. But then he learned a few more lessons, ones that received only passing mentions in textbooks on American government in the 1980s: that the party system has tremendous influence on who prevails politically. That gatekeeping can exclude candidates who lack the right connections. That hopefuls can have their campaigns smothered by their opponents' cash.
Collins learned those lessons in his own bid for Senate, a race he was elbowed out of when a candidate backed by the Democratic Party establishment jumped in, only to then lose to the Republican. To Collins, the whole experience was dispiriting. "When the establishment is not in your corner, you will struggle, and struggle raising money," Collins told me. "I was pissed; I was angry because I didn't get the support."
But he still thinks he has a path ahead. He cites a colloquial definition of insanity: "to do the same thing over and over hoping for a different result." But he hopes that here in Montana he can get a different result.
Liberia began as an idea: that Black people might better prosper in Africa than in the United States. The American Colonization Society sent more than 13,000 free Black people to the west coast of Africa—and though some believed it to be a potential remedy to slavery, it was also a mass exile.
By the time Collins was born, in 1963, Liberia had grown into an independent state. His father was a civil engineer; his mother was the superintendent of schools. "Growing up in Liberia was calm," he told me. "We grew up just like [in America] basically." He went to school, played baseball and tennis. Then the first coup happened, then the second. "And life ceased as we knew it."
On December 24, 1989, the First Liberian Civil War began. Food supplies grew scarce. Each day, Collins or one of his siblings would leave the house to find food, which was concentrated in rebel-held areas. In October 1990, when it was his turn to venture out, he and his fiancée, Maddie Muna, were able to find only a tube of Pepsodent toothpaste.
[From the December 1992 issue: Liberia]
"They say hunger is the best sauce," he told me, explaining how he guzzled down half the tube before sharing the other half with Maddie. He furrowed his brow as he related the story, but allowed himself to laugh. "I'm not kidding you, that thing tasted like, Oh wow!" His speech slowed down a little again as he remembered how they were almost killed.
On their way back to his family, they were stopped at a checkpoint by rebel troops. The armed men called Maddie over for questioning first. "Where are you from?" he recalled them asking. "What do you do?" Then they pointed at Collins, who had been standing quietly to the side. "Who's that? Is that your man?" "Yes," she replied. "You are very lucky. I'm done killing for the day," the rebel told her.
They sprinted away. "We ran until we got home; we didn't stop," he told me. "I'm talking about three, four miles." That's when they decided to leave. "We will die," he remembers thinking. "We didn't have any food; we've been threatened. We've gotta get out of here." But they didn't know how difficult getting out would be.
A peacekeeping force, led by Nigeria, was helping Liberians escape on cargo vessels, but the lines were staggeringly long. He and Maddie queued at 9 o'clock in the morning on a Friday later that October—only leaving their spot, in shifts, in order to use the bathroom. Almost three days later, on Sunday, at about 10 o'clock at night, they boarded. Three more days passed before they arrived in Ghana—it had been nearly a full week since they had eaten. "Imagine," he told me, his eyes welling up, "seven days without food and water, barely drinking. And no change of clothes. Nothing."
He eventually got a job in Ghana, working for SOS Children's Villages as a teacher—the same job he'd held in Liberia before the war began. But after a few months, he and Maddie, who'd married at the start of 1991, were still struggling to make ends meet, and Maddie offered a suggestion: They should move to America.
"How are we supposed to do that? We don't have any money," he responded. "We'll go to Montana," Maddie said. Years earlier she had been an exchange student at a high school in the state, and she thought her host family might be able to help.
She wrote a letter to the family, who contacted Montana's congressional delegation, including Senator Max Baucus. The best way for Maddie to get back to the United States would be on a student visa. With the delegation's help, the family reached out to a Catholic institution, Carroll College, in Helena, where they lived. Soon after, she was awarded a full scholarship to study nursing at Carroll. She would once again live with the family that had hosted her. But getting to the States would prove a little more difficult for Wilmot. Two weeks before Maddie left for Montana, the couple learned that she was pregnant; they resolved that Maddie should go ahead. It would take two more years before Wilmot would be able to join his family.
"Welcome to Helena, it's sunny and warm at 32 degrees," the pilot said over the intercom on February 17, 1994, as Wilmot's flight from Salt Lake City descended. He was the last one off the plane, and as he walked into the terminal he spotted a sign that read Welcome home, Wilmot. Carroll College faculty and the institution's president were waiting for him—there to support his wife and child. "I saw my wife for the first time holding my daughter up, and she put her down and said, 'There's Daddy, go to Daddy,'" he recalled. The tears start again as he remembers that day. "So my daughter started to walk towards me … and then she just started to run and I just fell on the ground and grabbed … "
He stops. It's still fresh.
"I started screaming, calling my wife. 'Maddie, Maddie, she came to me! She came to me!'"
They moved into low-income housing around the corner from Helena High School, which Maddie had attended as an exchange student, and began their life in America.
Each day, he'd get dressed, leave their eggshell-white townhome, and turn onto North Montana Avenue—both in search of a job and to acquaint himself with his new home. One day, he explored a bit farther than normal and stumbled upon the state capitol.
He walked inside and was immediately struck by the marble columns and grand rotunda. He marched up the stairs and saw the governor's office. "And I decided to go meet the governor," he told me, matter-of-factly. The governor's scheduler stopped him. "Do you have an appointment?" she asked. When he shook his head, she asked if he'd like to make one and took his information. Then a man came up behind him.
"May I help you?" he asked.
"No, I'm here to meet the governor," Collins responded.
"Well, I am the governor, Marc Racicot," the man responded.
Collins was floored. He explained that he'd just come from Africa—that he was a Liberian refugee—and that he was looking for work. He handed the governor his paper résumé, and Racicot quickly phoned his educational adviser, who in turn realized that her daughter and Collins's wife had a few classes together at Carroll College. Racicot and his adviser told Collins to apply for a job at Intermountain Children's Home, a mental- and behavioral-health facility for young people, and to list both of them as his references. By March 31—a month and a half after arriving in the United States—he had work. Soon after, he joined the Army National Guard as well.
Over the course of two years, Collins told me, he saw the best of America. Yes, his visa application and resettlement paperwork were held up in bureaucracy, but his application process was helped along by Senator Baucus, a Democrat, and he'd found work through Racicot, a Republican. He saw a system functioning without violence or corruption, and he saw what could happen when politicians tried to help someone.
Collins told me he later realized that not everything was as idyllic as he had wanted to believe—something Racicot's own trajectory would soon demonstrate. The rising star in the Republican Party was praised by both liberals and conservatives for his hawkish approach to budgeting and his personal touch, and he was so popular that one pollster jokingly suggested he "could run for king." But just a few years after helping Collins, he was deemed too moderate by the Bush administration to be considered for attorney general. Harsher undercurrents were at work.
Still, Montana proved a soft landing ground for Collins, and the assistance he received from Racicot and Baucus helped solidify the raw idea about American politics that he'd had in Liberia. They were models of the kind of leader he was starting to think he might one day become.
On February 10, 2007, Barack Obama traveled to Springfield, Illinois, to announce, on the steps of the building where Abraham Lincoln began his political career, that he would be running for president of the United States. He spoke of Lincoln's fortitude. "He tells us that there is power in conviction," Obama told the crowd of 17,000. "That beneath all the differences of race and region, faith and station, we are one people. He tells us that there is power in hope."
[Read: My president was black]
Ten days later, Wilmot Collins awoke to the words KKK: Go back to Africa scrawled across the side of his house in spray paint. He was scheduled to testify at the state capitol that day about a bill that would have expanded the definition of hate crimes in the state. His mailbox had been destroyed before; his car had been set on fire. According to a report from The Great Falls Tribune, his then-14-year-old daughter regularly heard racial slurs; and his 10-year-old son, Bliss, no longer wanted to go to school. "They shouldn't have to go through that," he told lawmakers at the time. "Please, for decency's sake, let's do something now." But he was heartened by how his neighbors had rallied around him each time something like that happened. He had seen Helena at its worst; but he'd seen his neighbors at their best.
In 2016, as he was staring down retirement from the National Guard, he began to look around for what to do next. His son, then a junior at the University of Montana, was visiting home from school and asked what Wilmot might do with all of the free time he would soon have. "I'll never have free time, because your mom will make me work," he told me he joked at the time. "But why are you asking?" Bliss suggested that he enter politics. "Dad, I know you. You know a lot of people; a lot of people know you—I think you're ready."
Eventually, Collins was persuaded. The first order of business was to figure out what his platform would be. He began knocking on doors. He needed to introduce himself to people in the community, but he also needed to hear what they were most concerned about in Helena. In those early conversations, three things came up repeatedly: funding essential services such as firefighters, EMTs, and police officers; increasing affordable housing; and curbing teenage and veteran homelessness. Those became his campaign planks. "I always call my issues 'human issues.' I don't call them 'political issues,'" he told me—a common refrain for Democrats in red states. The mayor's office is nominally nonpartisan, and a broadly appealing platform was important not only to being elected, but to properly serving his community.
Many Black politicians would find Collins's goals familiar—a strategy political scientists call "targeted universalism." In a city like Helena, which is more than 90 percent white, candidates like Collins need to find ways to appeal to a broad swath of the public. When candidates travel to the rural outskirts—or the wealthier suburbs—of their district or city to campaign, they have to align their messages to the interests of those communities. But that does not have to mean compromising a candidate's own beliefs. Instead, as Ravi K. Perry, a political scientist at Howard University, explained to me, targeted universalism is the practice of making clear to those voters why the candidate's policies—such as a large increase in low-income housing—would benefit the entire community. Even if a person is not experiencing homelessness themselves, or is not in need of low-income housing, many people can understand the ways material improvements to housing and roads in areas that need them can boost the city's bond rating and may—down the road—contribute to lower taxes, or other opportunities across the city.
Collins also knew that there was power in alliances. He and a pair of city-commission candidates, Andres Haladay and Heather K. O'Loughlin, decided that it would be best to run as a unified bloc—billed in local newspapers as the progressive ticket whose ideas were to the left of the incumbent mayor's more conservative stances on issues such as Medicaid expansion and public-works projects like fixing roads.
As Election Day 2017 approached, polls had Collins running within a point of Mayor Jim Smith. As votes were tallied, Collins eked out a marginal victory—earning 51 percent of the vote to Smith's 48 percent—to become the first Black mayor since Montana joined the union. (The election of a Black barber by the name of E. T. Johnson, in 1873, continues to be the subject of some debate among local historians.) Haladay and O'Loughlin won their races, for city commission, as well.
National outlets seized on the story, lumping Collins's victory together with other elections that they cast as a repudiation of President Donald Trump's first year in office. But Collins had campaigned on local issues, and he kept his focus on Helena. Alongside the city's commissioners and manager, his administration began improving roads, provided greater funding to the fire and parks departments to help limit the spread of wildfires, and broke ground on new affordable-housing developments.
Collins had built some momentum: He'd defeated a popular incumbent with an upstart campaign that had generated national interest. His was a story that people could believe in. And he'd never felt more like a Montanan. Perhaps, he thought, a statewide campaign might someday be in order.
He'd learned that the hardest part of running for office was fundraising. "Calling people and begging them, writing people letters—it was hard for me," he said. "I did that when I was homeless; I didn't want to do that when I was not homeless." Without a personal network of wealthy donors, he knew he'd have to get started early. And so, in 2019, nearly three decades after fleeing Liberia, Collins announced that he would be running to unseat Republican Steve Daines in Montana's 2020 U.S. Senate election.
in July 2019, standing before a group of Democrats assembled for the state party's rules convention at the Colonial Hotel in Helena, Wilmot Collins wanted to talk about division. "It's not about Democrat or Republican," he told those in the ballroom. "That's what we need to bring this state back to. We're divided. If I'm representing you, I'll represent all of you."
There was no need to explain who he was; by that point, Collins was a known quantity in the state—and nationally. What he really wanted to highlight in his brief remarks was that he intended to be the kind of political leader who cared about people—like those who had helped him come to Montana and get a job to support his family.
But he also wanted to talk about money. "I am you," he told them. "We're not rich." He was painting a contrast between himself and his would-be opponent were he to become the official nominee. In 2018, Daines had a reported net worth of more than $30 million. "Not only the rich should be able to govern," Collins told the Montana Free Press.
He may have felt personally aggrieved as well. Prior to announcing his candidacy, Collins had met with Montana's then-governor, Steve Bullock—a Democrat who had launched a presidential campaign—and asked for his blessing to run for office. But, according to Collins, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was convinced that the governor would ultimately run for the Senate seat if his bid for the White House was unsuccessful. "They tried to dissuade me and discourage me from announcing—and I announced anyway, so I didn't have any support from them," he told me. (The DSCC did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
Of course, parties are risk-averse and rally behind their perceived best bets all the time. But that tendency can have the unfortunate side effect of limiting, rather than deepening, the party's bench, and party leaders' instincts for who will succeed with voters are not always right. For example, when Jon Tester—Montana's senior senator—first wanted to run for his seat, the party wasn't interested, preferring John Morrison, then the state auditor, whose father had been a state-supreme-court justice. "A lot of Democrats tried to dissuade him as well, including people like Max [Baucus], [Chuck] Schumer, and Harry Reid," Bill Lombardi, who ran Tester's primary campaign in 2006, told me. But Tester, a farmer who was in his first term as State Senate president, managed to win the primary anyway, and has been popular with voters since, having won his seat three times now. Democrats are hoping he will run again in 2024, in what is expected to be a tough race for the party.
Collins's appearance before the Democrats in Helena in 2019 was brief, but he laid out the ideas that would underpin his campaign as well as the primary obstacle he would face. Alongside his small team, he began traveling the state to raise money—a difficult task in the fourth-largest state, but a necessary one for a candidate without party funding. He often played to small crowds, even if they weren't small for the area. "We went to Fort Benton," he told me, a two-hour drive, minimum, from Helena. "And when we got to the hall, there were 50 people—and I turned to my campaign manager and said, 'You've got to be kidding me.'" (A local Democrat later explained that it was the most people that that corner of Montana had seen turn out for someone in their party in a long time.) People would donate $5, $10, $20—anything that might gas up his tank to get him and his team to the next city to continue campaigning. "I raised $350, $400 from that crowd [in Fort Benton], but it really showed me what grassroots campaigning is."
Over the next several months, Collins raised nearly $300,000. But in December, Bullock dropped out of the presidential race. And in early March, just as America began to implement restrictions to stem the coming surge of COVID-19 cases, the governor called Collins and asked for a meeting. They met at the governor's mansion for lunch. "He told me, 'Things have changed. I'm planning to get back in the race.'" In the 24 hours after he made his announcement, on March 9, Bullock raised $1.2 million; quadruple the amount that Collins had raised in nearly six months.
Bullock was someone whom party bosses were excited about. He had already won statewide office, and he was the kind of centrist that Democrats believed Montanans could get behind. But that wasn't enough—he lost by 10 percentage points, sending Daines to the Senate.
Was Montana destined to vote for Daines regardless of who was on the Democratic ticket? Or, in a year when Democrats won the White House, retained control of the House, and got to 50 seats in the Senate, could a different candidate have earned a different result? If not for gatekeeping, would a candidate like Collins, a refugee who had served in the military for two decades before ascending to the mayor's office in a city where only a handful of people look like him, have won? Bill Lombardi isn't sure. "There aren't a lot [of Democratic candidates] rising to the top who can bridge the rural-urban divide" in the state as well as energize Montanans who have simply soured on the Democrats' brand, he told me. Candidates need to be able to show they're willing to buck the party, and party favorites may not be the people most likely to do just that.
Both Collins and Lombardi agree on one thing: Democrats in Montana need more future leaders. "I've been asking people, in traveling around the state at different events, 'Who are the candidates who can reach across the aisle?' and people are stumped because they can't think of anyone on our statewide bench," Lombardi told me.
Collins worries that a lot of young Democrats have been cowed by the party's rigidity. "I see a lot of prominent, young Dems who want to get into politics who don't know how—they're scared," he told me. If the party does not start training and encouraging them instead of going "back to the same old people who are still losing," those young Democrats will run away.
A late-summer evening in Helena is unnerving in its beauty. The walking mall down Sixth Street is bustling; patrons sit outside one of the several breweries; remnants of the Pride rally—the largest in Montana's history—still line the street. On a bench, Collins sips his beer and holds court. Not officially, but everyone here seems to know him.
In 2021, Collins was close to running unopposed for reelection—in fact, in some ways, his tenure has been marked by very little friction, though there are things that residents hope can be improved. Homelessness is still a major issue—one Collins has taken to saying can't be solved by Helena alone; he has begun calling on surrounding cities for help. On the day before campaign filing closed, he received a challenger, Sonda Gaub. "I wanted a choice, and no one was stepping up," Gaub told a local television station after her announcement.
[From the August 1866 issue: A year in Montana]
Gaub, like others in the city, worried about Helena's unhoused population. And she sought greater transparency in local government, though, as the Independent Record noted, she conceded that a lot of that transparency work—publicly available meetings where the community could hear directly what went into decision making—was already happening.
Though it was her first foray into politics, her husband, Darin, had run for public office in 2020, and has since become deeply involved in Republican politics in the state. "Here in my small town of Helena, Montana, we've got a mayor and a commission that constantly puts us in debt over things we don't need," Darin, the chair of the Lewis and Clark County Republican Central Committee, said on a podcast in August, on which he also made several references to disbelieving the 2020 presidential-election results. (Neither of the Gaubs responded to multiple requests for comment.)
Ultimately, though, a majority of voters thought Collins had done enough to serve a second term, and he was reelected—this time with more than 60 percent of the vote. His campaign was still built around issues that residents felt were most important: fixing roads, making housing affordable, improving wastewater treatment and snowplowing, expanding trails to allow for e-bikes. He's open to seeking statewide office again, but right now he's focused on helping train young Montanans to run for office; building a bench for the future through the coalition approach he used to get elected.
After more than 20,000 miles crisscrossing Montana with the hope of a Senate election, he's back where he feels most comfortable: in Helena. He's still the guy who fell in love with American democracy in Liberia, and who has had to learn, over and over again, the ways it falls short. But even if he never wins statewide office, he's part of that system now, and what could be a better testament to its ideals than that?
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Kaitlyn: What is life but a series of meals, some of which are given dramatic titles to imbue them with random significance?
I once received an email from the comms team at Reddit promoting the company's end-of-year data that made the claim that the top post of the preceding 12 months had been a recipe for something called "Divorce Carrot Cake." Of course you've heard of Engagement Chicken, the roast chicken that reportedly brought about the betrothal of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, as well as that of Howard Stern and his second wife, Beth.
There's also something called "Breakup Chili," invented by our friend Tamar, that is based on the Texas-Style Chili recipe by The New York Times' Julia Moskin and further inspired by a seminal blog post that Tamar and I have texted back and forth, and to whoever else needs to see it, for the past several years called "February is Breakup Season in Cape Town." The post, by the writer Rosa Lyster, is about a cluster of early-winter breakups she'd observed, generally of "relationships about a year and a half or less, where breaking up doesn't involve too much paperwork." The reason we return to this post so much is because it features a great email from Lyster's mom, offered as comfort to devastated winter-breakup victims, in which she talks about rereading her own diaries from when she'd just turned 30 and concludes: "The level of introspection and self-analysis and vacillation is truly alarming. I had no idea that my life as I know it now had not even begun and that I would be fine. Isn't that strange."
This is the fifth year of the Breakup Chili. Tamar makes it for us all once per winter. The third year was outside; it was 20 degrees and we ate out of our own jars brought from home. Some of the other years I don't specifically remember. Of course, the first year is a private story. Traditions become most real when you obscure their origins and rewrite their lore!
Lizzie: This was the Breakup Chili's fifth year, but it was my first year attending the party. Sometimes you gotta work for that invite! Anyway, great name. I understood the gist of it right off the bat: We'd be eating chili. There would be a meat one and a vegetarian one. Maybe someone would break up.
I don't really have any meaningful foods in my own life. Certainly nothing that has ever gotten me engaged or divorced. That's not to say that I'm a "food is fuel" person either. It's just that, unfortunately, the most memorable foods in my personal history are the ones that have given me food poisoning. Hard to forget a turkey sandwich that ruined your life for a week.
I brought Matt along to the party because he's from Texas and has strong opinions about chili (mostly re: beans). We got to Tamar's at about 4:30, rang the bell three times, and sat on the stoop for a while before giving up and calling Kaitlyn for help.
Kaitlyn: I hate that this happened. One of my least favorite feelings is waiting on a stoop thinking, If the buzzer doesn't work, and my text isn't being answered, what technologies are even left to me? What if I'm not found for another 30 minutes and by then I'm crying? But she made it.
Nathan and I had taken the S to Prospect Park at about 4:00 p.m.—just before dark on a school night. We were carrying some queso-flavored Tostitos, some Topo Chico, and a loaf of sourdough Nathan had made at 1 a.m. while I was on the couch reading the Associated Press's introduction to its original edition of the Warren Report ("Will history be fully content with the answers?" Guess!!!).
When you enter Tamar's apartment, you have to go down a long hall that curves in such a way as to conceal the entire living area from view. You get to call out, "Helloooooo," as if you were in the foyer of a mansion. When Tamar hustled around the corner to greet us, she was wearing a perfect linen apron that went down to her shins—a Christmas present from Alex who'd asked, "Do you think you'll wear it on Breakup Chili day?" It had dark blue ties on either side and a scooped back. She could leave the house in it!
The apartment was in a state of stunning beauty and warmth. The living room was lined with cream taper candles and espresso cups of Swedish Fish, spicy pistachios, and cornichons. On the bar, Tamar had set up a row of glasses of premixed "ranch water," which is what Kourtney Kardashian (among others) calls lime seltzer with tequila. She'd had another adventure at Best Meats on Flatbush, she told us. The boys there had cubed the chuck steak for her, and at first she wasn't sure it was "cube-y" enough. Over FaceTime, her dad had said that the cubes were alright.
Lizzie: Tamar showed us a photo of the raw cubed meat. Looked good to me! Nicely marbled, red, etc.
Really, you have to try and be a deserving guest at a dinner party these days, because hosting one comes with so many pitfalls that only a few brave souls attempt to do it, and even fewer invite more than 10 people. Do you know how expensive it is to buy meat for 20 people? We showed up with some nonalcoholic beer and a bag of Fritos. A bag of Fritos ran me back almost $6! I applaud Tamar for providing us with beef at a time like this, instead of telling us to just go home and chew some cardboard.
Kaitlyn: Though I hoped that the theme of the party would inspire juicy disclosure of romantic failures past, approximately 80 percent of the guests, including myself, were participating in Dry January. So the first 30 minutes were spent gossiping about how "they really have made advances" in nonalcoholic aperitifs and imaginary gin.
This reminded Sonia that her dad had recently learned that there are calories in alcohol, a life-changing revelation that prompted him to begin a somewhat extreme diet. From there, we got on the topic of the OMAD—"one meal a day"—lifestyle, which my dad is currently messing with, God knows why. Nathan said he wouldn't be impressed until dads started doing GOMAD, which stands for "gallon of milk a day." I thought he had just come up with that on the spot and was riffing, but I guess he knew someone in college who did it. They actually drank a gallon of milk every day.
Lizzie: He did mention that the GOMAD guy got sick pretty immediately. That's like, what? 16 cups of milk? You probably shouldn't be drinking 16 cups of any one thing in a day, except maybe water if you're obsessed with peeing. (This isn't medical advice, by the way; maybe you shouldn't be drinking 16 cups of water a day.)
Kait's razzing her dad for his recently acquired OMAD lifestyle, but she failed to mention that she herself is in the throes of some kind of 12-week juice-and-salad-eating commitment designed by Kate Upton, or maybe just approved of by Kate Upton. I was like, "Oh, is that enough food for a human adult?" and Kaitlyn was like, "Well, the morning juice is actually a shake."
This will be relevant soon, as the sun sets and Kaitlyn gets hungrier by the minute. For now, she's still holding it together in our ever-expanding conversation circle …
Kaitlyn: Amy was going to a date at a nearby bar called Fiona's after the party, which prompted a discussion of Fiona the Hippo. Annie, a Cincinnati celebrity, explained that Fiona is currently "mating" with her mother's boyfriend, who is the father of her tiny half-brother, Fritz. Lizzie was trying to understand and recited it back to her: "Her brother's dad is also the man she's having sex with?" When she heard herself, she didn't like that she'd said "man." She frowned and paused. "I mean hippo," she said, very quietly.
Lizzie: Yes, a hippo! That's what I meant. I don't really know that much about famous zoo inhabitants in general, or about hippos specifically, but this sexual proclivity was news to me. An interesting conversation topic for a first date, perhaps.
Meanwhile, probably totally unrelated to the fact that she'd only eaten beet juice and romaine for the past two weeks, Kaitlyn started craning her head around every few minutes to glare toward the kitchen, where the chili was sitting on the stove. The chili was available for consumption, but inaccessible to us due to the crowd of people lingering in front of it. Kaitlyn watched enviously as they ate, blocking her path to non-juice dinner. It's as if they were completely unaware that there were people in the next room positively starving!
Kaitlyn: "If it were me, I would go into the kitchen and get some chili and then leave the kitchen," I said. "I would probably not stand in front of the chili for more than a minute or so." I was joking but …
Once I was finally in there I had to eat my words because I did not want to leave. It smelled so good—spicy, smoky, etc.—and Tamar has a Tiffany lamp on the butcher's block and a big bundle of Santa Fe chilis on the wall. It's the most wonderful kitchen in New York. The chili was amazing and there were no leaves or E3Live in it, which was absolutely thrilling for me given my current commitment to the lifestyle of the new First Lady of the New York Mets. Plus, Milena was standing off to one side telling one amazing story after another—about her brother staying at his ex-girlfriend's apartment (near Hudson Yards?) in an "amethyst bed," then about a "celebrity encounter" she'd had with a Brooklyn 8-year-old who is the namesake of a coffee shop that seriously everyone hates.
Lizzie: The same person who has the amethyst bed (it "looks like a regular bed," if you were wondering) believes that one should have as many children as possible, apparently because with each additional child you have, the likelihood that one of them will solve climate change increases exponentially. Or something like that.
Milena also told us that a man in London once said to her, upon learning that she's from New York, "Rice to Riches is the best restaurant in the entire world." Anyone who knows what Rice to Riches is will recognize the charming absurdity of this statement. For those who don't know, Rice to Riches is a counter-service restaurant that serves nothing but different flavors of rice pudding out of big plastic saucers. The place looks like it was designed by someone obsessed with the Jetsons, and features a veritable solar system of baffling signs that say things like "No Skinny Bitches!!!," "Kiss My Fat Free Ass!!!" and "Man Discovered Farming … Invented Food. Woman Discovered Food … Invented Diet." It's been open since 2003, which is impressive for a restaurant in Soho that sells a single type of (apparently fat-free) dessert. The owner was arrested in 2005 for running a gambling ring, which adds to the establishment's rice-y and dicey mythology. To call Rice to Riches the "best restaurant in the world," apparently sincerely, is both inspiring and confounding.
Eventually, we got tired of standing in the kitchen, realized we were the new wave of chili-loiterers, and sat down at the table in the main room, waiting for other people to join us, like newlyweds situated in the middle of a banquet hall, anticipating visitors and gifts.
Kaitlyn: Tamar came to us with a pile of "freezer cookies"—oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookies she'd baked on impulse for a mid-party dessert after remembering that she keeps cookie dough in her freezer just in case. She also keeps a glass bottle of premade Manhattans in her fridge. I'm sure you'd like to marry her!
When Neil stopped by the table for a mandarin and a bit of sourdough, I told him I'd seen him in our backyard setting up his new exercise equipment and asked what his workout regimen was. He didn't want to get into specifics but he did have a point to make: He'd spent 15 years of his life going to the gym and doing stuff for hours, and it had all been a waste of time. "You don't have to be that strong," he said. "It's so stupid." He now does 30 minutes in the yard at 4 p.m. Squats and whatever he thinks of.
Lizzie: "Working out is for idiots," he said.
We also talked about "buffet rules," and how Nathan's friend once got kicked out of a CiCi's Pizza because he ate something off another friend's plate without paying the required fee. I honestly didn't know that buffet rules prohibited sharing, but I guess it makes sense, because otherwise you could buy one plate for 12 people. It was agreed that in this instance—a single, sneaky bite off a friend's plate—Nathan's rule-breaking friend should have been given a warning first, instead of being forced to stand out in the parking lot while the rest of his friends finished eating.
From there it was on to the topic of the Jimmy Fallon ride at Universal, which I thought was a joke that Nathan made up but is apparently real. We talked about how it'd be funny if Jimmy Fallon were the main guy in Taxi Driver instead of the 2004 flop Taxi. And what if it were Jimmy Carter who hosted a late-night show?
Kaitlyn: We were also suspicious of Nathan's claim that Adam Driver is going to be in a new movie in which his spaceship crash-lands on "prehistoric Earth" and he has to fight dinosaurs with guns. Nathan pulled up a poster to prove it to us, but it honestly looked like something he could have made himself. (Having since watched the trailer for the real movie, 65, I'm still foggy on the premise. Is Adam Driver from Earth? And he stumbles across another planet similar to Earth, which happens to be in the same ecological state that Earth was in 65 million years ago? Or is Adam Driver from an Earth-like planet that is 65 million years ahead of Earth-Earth, and he stumbles across Earth?)
Anyway, there's no knowing how these things happen, but more than once the topic of conversation turned to Jimmy Carter and how he is still alive despite the odds. ("He's had many fatal diseases," Katie said cheerfully, just as if she were saying something like, "He's from Georgia.") I bring this up because I think it's a nice way to take things full circle …
If I understand correctly, when Jimmy Carter was a younger man and was president, many people considered him to be pretty ineffectual, and his own staff gaslighted him when he reported being menaced by a swimming "swamp rabbit." But now he's old and people remember that ineffectiveness fondly, believing it indicated that he was always too good for the disgusting task of wielding power. They now love him.
This is not to say that he has been "vindicated" or to encourage attitudes of waiting years or decades to say, "Look at me now" (toxic). I just bet that Jimmy Carter would enjoy a Breakup Chili and an annual reminder that life does go on and on and on until you can barely remember what it used to be like.
Lizzie: Honestly, sometimes life goes on so quickly that I forget everything that happens to us at these parties we go to!
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Iridescent clouds formed of ice crystals are usually found in extremely cold air above polar regions
Excited weather watchers have captured stunning images of rare "mother of pearl" clouds, which have formed high up in the atmosphere over Scotland.
Such clouds tend to develop in the extremely cold air above polar regions, but were spotted on Sunday evening and Monday morning by BBC weather watchers in Aberdeenshire, the Highlands and Moray.Continue reading…
Ukraine has accused Russian forces of making use of "rubber" inflatable tanks near the country's embattled Zaporizhzhia region in Eastern Ukraine, Insider reports — which have since deflated, it says.
The news comes after Ukraine's western allies including Germany, the US, and the UK announced they would send modern tanks to the embattled nation. But until these reinforcements arrive, the Ukrainian army has to rely on Soviet-era tanks to hold the line.
But whether they're dealing with a real threat is still up for debate. Ukrainian forces are saying Russia is using inflatable "dummy tanks," a battlefield invention that has been around since World War 1 that both Russia and the US have made extensive use of over the years.
"At the time when our partners are coordinating the supply of tanks to Ukraine, the invading army is also increasing the presence of 'tank units' in the Zaporizhzhia area," the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine wrote in a Facebook post, as translated by Insider.
The post was accompanied by satellite images that appear to show deflated Russian "tanks" lying flat on the ground, dispelling the illusion.
"Apparently, the free air of the Cossack region is not suitable for the 'rubber' products of the occupiers, so they deflate without fulfilling their main mission," the post reads. "Just like the inflated bravado of the Russian army."
It's not only Russia that has been deploying decoy weaponry. Ukraine used fake wooden rocket launchers to lure Russia into using up missiles.
In short, the use of misinformation isn't just limited to digital propaganda. Soldiers are relying on century-old tactics to confuse and mislead the enemy — but only to varying degrees of success.
READ MORE: Ukraine says Russia's putting inflatable tanks on the battlefield — but the decoys deflated [Insider]
More on Ukraine: Elon Musk Warns "Civilization Is Over" If Ukraine Doesn't Give in to Russia
The post Ukraine Accuses Russia of Using Inflatable "Dummy Tanks," Which Deflated appeared first on Futurism.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 30 January 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-29002-3Transmutation of MAs and LLFPs with a lead-cooled fast reactor
Researchers are using fluorescence lifetime to shed new light on a peptide associated with Alzheimer's disease.
Through a new approach using time-resolved spectroscopy and computational chemistry, the researchers found experimental evidence of an alternative binding site on amyloid-beta aggregates. The finding opens the door to the development of new therapies for Alzheimer's and other diseases associated with amyloid deposits.
Amyloid plaque deposits in the brain are a main feature of Alzheimer's. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates Alzheimer's will affect nearly 14 million people in the US by 2060.
"Amyloid-beta is a peptide that aggregates in the brains of people that suffer from Alzheimer's disease, forming these supramolecular nanoscale fibers, or fibrils" says Angel Martí, a professor of chemistry, bioengineering, and materials science and nanoengineering at Rice University and faculty director of the Rice Emerging Scholars Program. "Once they grow sufficiently, these fibrils precipitate and form what we call amyloid plaques.
"Understanding how molecules in general bind to amyloid-beta is particularly important not only for developing drugs that will bind with better affinity to its aggregates, but also for figuring out who the other players are that contribute to cerebral tissue toxicity," he adds.
The Martí group had previously identified a first binding site for amyloid-beta deposits by figuring out how metallic dye molecules were able to bind to pockets formed by the fibrils. The molecules' ability to fluoresce, or emit light when excited under a spectroscope, indicated the presence of the binding site.
Time-resolved spectroscopy, which the lab used in its latest discovery, "is an experimental technique that looks at the time that molecules spend in an excited state," Martí says. "We excite the molecule with light, the molecule absorbs the energy from the light photons and gets to an excited state, a more energetic state."
This energized state is responsible for the fluorescent glow. "We can measure the time that molecules spend in the excited state, which is called lifetime, and then we use that information to evaluate the binding equilibrium of small molecules to amyloid-beta," Martí says.
In addition to the second binding site, the lab and collaborators from the University of Miami uncovered that multiple fluorescent dyes not expected to bind to amyloid deposits in fact did.
"These findings are allowing us to create a map of binding sites in amyloid-beta and a record of the amino acid compositions required for the formation of binding pockets in amyloid-beta fibrils," Martí says.
The fact that time-resolved spectroscopy is sensitive to the environment around the dye molecule enabled Martí to infer the presence of the second binding site.
"When the molecule is free in solution, its fluorescence has a particular lifetime that is due to this environment. However, when the molecule is bound to the amyloid fibers, the microenvironment is different and as a consequence so is the fluorescence lifetime," he explains. "For the molecule bound to amyloid fibers, we observed two different fluorescence lifetimes.
"The molecule was not binding to a unique site in the amyloid-beta but to two different sites. And that was extremely interesting because our previous studies only indicated one binding site. That happened because we were not able to see all the components with the technologies we were using previously," he adds.
The discovery prompted more experimentation. "We decided to look into this further using not only the probe we designed, but also other molecules that have been used for decades in inorganic photochemistry," he says.
"The idea was to find a negative control, a molecule that would not bind to amyloid-beta. But what we discovered was that these molecules that we were not expecting would bind to amyloid-beta at all actually did bind to it with decent affinity."
The findings will also affect the study of "many diseases associated with other kinds of amyloids: Parkinson's, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Type 2 diabetes, systemic amyloidosis," Marti says.
Understanding the binding mechanisms of amyloid proteins is also useful for studying nonpathogenic amyloids and their potential applications in drug development and materials science.
"There are functional amyloids that our body and other organisms produce for different reasons that are not associated with diseases," Martí says. "There are organisms that produce amyloids that have antibacterial effects. There are organisms that produce amyloids for structural purposes, to create barriers, and others that use amyloids for chemical storage. The study of nonpathogenic amyloids is an emerging area of science, so this is another path our findings can help develop."
The research appears in Chemical Science.
The National Science Foundation and the family of the late Professor Donald DuPré, a Houston-born Rice alumnus and former professor of chemistry at the University of Louisville, supported the research.
Source: Rice University
The post Sticky plaque discovery sheds light on Alzheimer's appeared first on Futurity.
As authorities scour the desert for the missing source, here's what we know about how it works and what threat it poses to humans
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Authorities are continuing the search for a tiny radioactive capsule lost along a 1,400km stretch of Western Australian desert highway.
The 8mm by 6mm capsule fell from a secure device on a truck that was travelling from a Rio Tinto mine site, north of Newman in the Pilbara region, to Perth, where it was being sent for repair.
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Nature Communications, Published online: 30 January 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36146-3Electron spins in diamond allow magnetometry with high sensitivity, but the bandwidth in the microwave regime is limited to a narrow band around their resonance frequency. Here, the authors solve this problem by coupling the spins to a thin film of yttrium iron garnet, exploiting the non-linear spin-wave dynamics of the magnet.
Nature Communications, Published online: 30 January 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36154-3Adipose tissue inflammation contributes to the pathogenesis of
Nature Communications, Published online: 30 January 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36008-yThe mechanisms behind how vascular repair is regulated after ischemic stroke are yet to be elucidated. Here, the authors describe that a circular RNA interacts with
A study published this month by scientists in the Netherlands suggests that the sun might break down plastics floating on the ocean's surface. A team of marine specialists from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) has found that in simulative ocean settings, ultraviolet (UV) light—the kind emitted by the sun—gradually degrades plastics, helping to reduce seawater pollution and potentially resolving what scientists call the "Missing Plastic Paradox."
Environmentalists, marine biologists, and other researchers have been studying ocean-polluting plastics for some time now, but the Missing Plastic Paradox has been a constant head-scratcher. While scientists know approximately how much plastic enters the ocean on a regular basis, they can't actually locate some of it—it's just gone. This naturally begs the question: Where does all that plastic end up?
In the NIOZ lab, researchers simulated ocean pollution and the sun's UV rays by mixing up a "plastic soup" consisting of seawater and common plastics. These plastics included the most common polluters found on the ocean's surface: polyethylene-terephthalate (PET), polystyrene (PS), polyethylene (PE), and polypropylene (PP). Each piece of plastic was barely larger than a microplastic, imitating the shape and size of pollutants capable of floating rather than sinking.
A 460-watt halogen lamp beamed UV rays similar to solar UV-A/B light at the plastic soup while a shaker table imitated the motion of ocean waves. Over the course of several days, the researchers monitored the plastic particles' physical integrity. They found that UV rays broke each plastic particle into smaller pieces, eventually creating nanoplastics (plastics that are so small, they're invisible to the naked eye) and molecules like the ones found in crude oil. These can chemically dissolve or be broken down further by bacteria.
Based on the rate of degradation measured in their experiment, the NIOZ researchers estimate that the sun breaks down common surface-level plastic pollutants by 1.7% to 2.3% per year. At this rate, anywhere from 7% to 22% of plastic ever released to the sea could have already been broken down by UV rays. While these statistics are encouraging, the scientists warn that this isn't an umbrella solution to plastic pollution. Such a rate of degradation is too slow to fully rid the ocean of all its plastics; additionally, test plastics released organic carbon, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, and other gasses as they broke down. The solution, they write, is still to mitigate which plastics are produced in the first place.
Trä kan omvandlas till nya material, men processen kräver ofta mycket energi. Forskare vid KTH har velat lösa problemet genom att studera hur svampar i naturen bryter ner trä. Resultatet blev en miljövänlig träfilm som skulle kunna användas till nya förpackningar.
Inlägget Svampar visade vägen till hållbart trämaterial dök först upp på forskning.se.
A group of astronomers poring over data from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has glimpsed light from ionized helium in a distant galaxy, which could indicate the presence of the universe's very first generation of stars. These long-sought, inaptly named "Population III" stars would have been ginormous balls of hydrogen and helium sculpted from the universe's primordial gas.
Nature, Published online: 30 January 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-00195-xThe discovery of bacterial compounds that have antifungal properties opens up opportunities for the development of agents that protect crops from a devastating disease.
Researchers have solved a puzzle that could help switchgrass realize its full potential as a low-cost, sustainable biofuel crop and curb our dependence on fossil fuels.
Among switchgrass's attractive features are that it's perennial, low maintenance, and native to many states in the eastern US. But it also has a peculiar behavior working against it that has stymied researchers—at least until now.
Berkley Walker's team in the plant biology department at Michigan State University has revealed why switchgrass stops performing photosynthesis in the middle of the summer—its growing season—limiting how much biofuel it yields.
Published in Frontiers in Plant Science, the knowledge is a key piece to overcoming this quirk and getting the most out of switchgrass.
"We want bigger plants, period, so being able to crack this and lift this limitation, that is the goal," says Mauricio Tejera-Nieves, a postdoctoral researcher and the study's lead author.
Tejera-Nieves, Walker, and colleagues discovered the explanation for this limitation in switchgrass's rhizomes. These are little knobby structures that live underground among the plant's roots.
If you've ever sliced or shredded ginger, you've held a rhizome. Rhizomes store food in the form of starch to help plants survive winter, and that starch is made from the sugars photosynthesis produces. Once switchgrass rhizomes are full of starch, they signal the plant to stop making sugars and adding biomass through photosynthesis.
Tejera-Nieves compared the rhizomes to a bank, albeit a slightly unusual one.
"Imagine getting a call from your bank and they tell you, 'Hey, your account is full. You can take a vacation, go on sabbatical, do whatever you want. Just stop working because we're not storing any more money,'" Tejera-Nieves says.
"It's a very conservative strategy, but it's one that works for switchgrass. The longer it's doing photosynthesis in nature, the more likely it is that an animal will eat it or something else bad will happen."
Although this evolutionary strategy has worked to the plant's advantage in nature, it is a disadvantage for humans who want to ferment switchgrass's biomass into biofuel. By understanding the root cause of this behavior, though, researchers can start looking for ways around it.
"Now we can start looking for breeding solutions," says Walker, an assistant professor in the College of Natural Science who also works in the department of energy's Plant Research Laboratory. "We can start looking for plants that have an insatiable appetite for photosynthesis."
Why take summers off?
Switchgrass has yet to join plants including corn and sugarcane as a commercialized source of biofuel.
But that makes sense because those established crops have a huge head start, the researchers say.
Farmers have selected and reproduced versions of those crops that have qualities that are attractive to us, such as higher sugar content, for thousands of years.
Humanity's interest in switchgrass as a biofuel source is much more recent in comparison. So, it's only natural that switchgrass exhibits some suboptimal behaviors that researchers would like to iron out, like stopping photosynthesis without explanation.
"The plants get to about midseason and say, 'Okay, we're done,'" says Walker.
"As a researcher, you're literally asking, 'Why are you doing that? It's warm, the sun is out, and your leaves are green. What is happening?'" says Tejera-Nieves.
Tejera-Nieves joined Walker's team with a hypothesis to answer that as well as the means to test it with support from the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, or GLBRC. He suspected that a lack of water might be playing a role.
In addition to awarding Tejera-Nieves a fellowship, the GLBRC built what are called rainfall exclusion shelters in the fields at Michigan State's W.K. Kellogg Biological Station. These do exactly what their name promises: They exclude rain. Plants underneath the shelters stay dry while their neighbors outside can freely soak up sprinkles, showers, and storms.
The shelters presented the perfect place to test Tejera-Nieves' idea, even if it didn't go exactly as he initially predicted.
"If water limitation was the reason for the behavior, the plants under the shelters would do poorly," Tejera-Nieves says. "But they didn't. After six months of water limitation, the plants under the shelter were just as happy as the plants outside."
So, he needed to dig a little deeper—literally—to look at what was happening in the rhizomes. He found that the starch levels of all the plants grew over time until they hit a peak level and then would remain flat. Once that happened, photosynthesis in the plants' leaves switched off.
"Once the rhizomes are full, the plant just stops," Tejera-Nieves says.
"You can see it so clearly in the data," Walker says. "The plants do photosynthesis in the summer to save carbon for the winter and, as soon as they've got enough, they shut down."
One of the next steps for the team is developing a better understanding of the molecular machinery that coordinates this photosynthesis shutdown. That knowledge could reveal even more clues about how to override the plant's behavior and may prove handy for biofuel crops beyond switchgrass.
"You see similar trends with photosynthesis across perennials," Walker says. "We'd have to look to be sure, but we think it could be the same mechanism."
The US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, the National Science Foundation Long-term Ecological Research Program at Kellogg Biological Station, and Michigan State University AgBioResearch funded the work.
Source: Matt Davenport for Michigan State University
The post Mystery solved: Why switchgrass takes the summer off appeared first on Futurity.
The AI is here, and it's pumping out articles — inaccurate, messily copied, poorly disclosed ones — at a rate that I probably couldn't achieve even if I skipped sleep, gave up eating, abdicated all hobbies and responsibilities, and forwent all those other annoying little human things that seem to get in the way of the glorious goal of making my company money.
That's right. I work for Red Ventures, the company that owns the tech news site CNET, the financial advice sites Bankrate and CreditCards.com, and many more — sites the company is now pumping full of articles churned out by a shadowy AI system.
If you think about it, it makes laughable sense that CNET and Bankrate's first attempt at a bot fell on its face. It's just an algorithm. All it can do is spit out things that sound approximately right, lacking the inconvenient context of truth that a human with expertise would figure out.
A human freelancer might have a typo here or there, or maybe a misconception about APR versus APY. But an article by an AI can be total, authoritative-sounding gibberish. The poor editor in charge of fact-checking whatever the Machine produces isn't looking for a needle in a haystack; they're faced with a stack of needles, many of which look remarkably like hay.
The funny thing about it is that up until now, it's been going down with very little fanfare for us employees. Each monthly meeting before the media storm, they gave us an update on how the Machine is progressing, usually in juxtaposition to how long it takes a human writer and editor to produce an article.
Look here. The bar graph shows a tall red line for Writing Time when it's a human. The AI has a little sliver, hugging the ground like a stump. Isn't that efficient?
But now look at Editing Time. The human writer is midway up the graph. They're only human, after all. The AI's bar, however, stretches high — it's more than the combined writing and editing time for the humans.
We're safe. I breathe a sigh of relief.
A month passes. They give us an update. The AI's editing time is down a little more. Week by week, month by month, the tree is chopped shorter and shorter. Soon, it's not only efficient — it's sufficient.
Are you a current or former employee of Red Ventures? We'd love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org. We can keep you anonymous.
I had no idea when they started publishing articles with the AI. I don't think many writers did. Maybe they were trying to avoid a fuss. Maybe they were just testing the waters.
Now the cat's out of the bag. Readers are angry, journalists are angry, the staff here are angry, and higher-ups are sending out mass messages and holding meetings and promising us that it'll all pass.
Because it's going to pass, of course. The AI will continue whether morale improves or not. They've all but said it aloud. We've thrown those darn inefficient humans under the bus, they say, for not minding the bot well enough, and we're so, so very sorry we were caught — I mean, we made those mistakes. We'll do better. Be nice to us and our algorithm, pretty pretty please.
I'm going to do you a favor by telling you to drop the pretense of Red Ventures being a good or ethical or caring company when it's using AI. The AI's work is riddled with errors that will convince trusting readers to make bad financial decisions. It has the potential to be racist and biased. And it's clearly plagiarizing from other sources.
But we aren't the bad guys. Trust us on this one. At least, that's what they're telling us.
There's an argument out there that claims text-generating AI is going to benefit humanity in the long run. How, you may ask? By robbing writers of their livelihoods? By recruiting an algorithm to craft stories, a core part of the human experience? By severing us further from human connection — the art of learning, of teaching, of writing by humans for humans?
Sure, it'll make it easier to write SEO bait. But I really don't think that was benefitting our species in the first place.
I'm friends with a lot of artists from college. They're all in despair, of course, as they watch DALL-E and Midjourney and Stable Diffusion rip off their work and make perverted copies of a skill they took years to practice.
The book cover and movie poster and featured image commissions they used to pay the rent are going to disappear soon. No point in paying some pesky human and waiting for weeks when you can generate the image you want with a click.
Some of you might laugh at the idea of an AI taking us writers' jobs. Don't be ridiculous! It's just going to supplement our jobs and let us focus on the real stories. Obviously.
And they're right, in the sense that employers aren't going to suddenly fire every writer and editor on staff because of AI. Few things happen all at once.
It's going to squeeze. It's already happening. The water is heating up. The sea is up to our knees, and it'll keep rising. Writers are going to leave and they aren't going to be replaced. Layoffs and resizings and restructurings will continue, and the sites will be told to do more with less, like it's always been after the company decides to lean up.
But not to worry! We have the AI. We can hit our KPIs. We might have lost half the staff, but we can still keep up our outputs and clock out on time. Everything's fine. Everything's fine.
And what's happening here is going to happen at other companies. The story will repeat. Someone else is going to have the same concerns I do. If they're brave enough, they'll even say it aloud. Few people will listen. Maybe higher-ups will respond with platitudes about Transparency and Responsibility and promise that it's not as bad as everyone says it is.
Then a week later, there will be another meeting. Your clicks are down, the executives say. You haven't published enough. You're not up to standard. We know you can do better. Make it happen.
And so it marches on, directed by the banal evil of numbers.
I wonder about what the future will be like for my children. I wonder if they'll have the same dreams of being a writer like I did when I was young. I wonder if that job will even be there when they grow up. Twenty years from now, will they cut their teeth on freelancing, learning and developing their style and getting their beat?
Or will it all be dried up? Will the door be closed forever, the ladder pulled up behind us, the last writers, our words used to feed the ever-starving algorithm?
(Of course, I'm just one of those silly folks filled with fear, uncertainty, doubt and misinformation about AI. C'mon, guys, Pet the wolf. It's fine, it's got sheep's wool over it. Aren't those big ol' teeth just darling?)
I wonder what the executives in charge of the pop companies thought about what would happen when they switched to plastic bottles. Did they think of the floods of unrecyclable waste their product would end up producing? Did they think of the microplastics in the sand and in human placentas? Did they think of the Pacific Garbage Patch?
Of course they didn't. They thought of how nice and cheap and lightweight plastic is. They thought of how much they'd save on shipping. They thought of the goal all these companies think of when the Sun sets: Money.
Is this how we want to be known? Red Ventures is going to be the company that led the charge on AI content. We're the dam breaker, the Pandora's box opener, the scientists who didn't stop to think if they should. What a legacy!
Other sites are going to follow. Some have already. Google's going to be clogged with AI-generated content of dubious accuracy. Will it turn into an endless prism of echoes, as the algorithm scrapes articles from other algorithm-generated articles, over and over again? Will the cultural vernacular be changed when the majority of content we read is filled with the syntax and semantics of a robot?
I'm reading about teachers scrambling to find bot-checking tools to scan their students' assignments. It's easy to throw a prompt into ChatGPT and have it spit out a five-paragraph analysis, after all.
What's the point of learning how to write, anyway, if we have a bot to do it for us? Why paint a picture when typing a prompt into Midjourney takes moments? Why chew food when there's Soylent?
Let me be clear: I don't hate AI. I am not a Luddite. I think machine learning could have the potential to solve some of humanity's greatest problems, to free people from misery, and lift us to heights we never could have dreamed of.
But that's not what AI is being used for now. All it's doing is forcing writers away from their jobs, delivering a worse product to readers, and putting more money into corporate pockets off the hard work of others.
It's unstoppable, of course. Red Ventures doesn't care. They never will, no matter how much they say they do or will. Why would they? They've discovered the Infinite Journalist, capable of pumping out masses of content for pennies.
Red Ventures won't listen, no matter how many ethical issues people rightfully raise. The only things they pay attention to are user clicks, revenue, legislation, and whatever Google decrees.
It's my hope beyond hope that Google in particular will take a stance on this, if only to avoid its search results becoming clogged with garbage from an algorithmically-generated echo chamber. Time will tell.
I started my job wanting to write for people. I wanted to help them, to guide them, to reassure them that even in times of layoffs, even in economic turmoil, even in disasters and emergencies and everything else they could still dig themselves out of debt, they could still pull through and buy a house and build credit and fulfill the American dream.
Now it all feels false. The writer is vestigial, an obstacle, mere fodder for the Machine. The audience is mere fodder for clicks. Maybe that's how it always was.
I'm sure this is going to make a lot of people angry. Is there such a thing as loyalty when employees can go around writing long-winded essays about their companies being part of systematic, technology-fuelled devastation? Then again, loyalty goes both ways. And I know where Red Ventures' lies.
And at least I could make them angry in the only way I know. Loquaciously, selfishly, human.
More on CNET: CNET's Article-Writing AI Is Already Publishing Very Dumb Errors
The post I Work for CNET's Parent Company. Its AI-Generated Articles Disgust Me. appeared first on Futurism.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 30 January 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-28106-0Formation of surface states on Pb(111) by Au adsorption
Non-native plants are spreading rapidly to higher altitudes along transport routes worldwide, a monitoring study shows.
Many mountain ranges contain semi-natural habitats experiencing little human interference. They are home to many animal and plant species, some of them endemic and highly specialized. Mountains have also been largely spared by invasions of these alien plant species or neophytes.
The new study shows that the pressure of neophytes on mountain ecosystems and their unique vegetation is intensifying worldwide: Invasions of alien plants into higher elevations increased in many of the world's mountains between 2007 and 2017. The study appears in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
Researchers observed that the number of alien plant species surveyed in each region has increased by a global average of 16% within the past ten years. In addition, in ten out of the eleven mountain regions studied, the scientists found neophytes at significantly higher elevations than ten or even five years ago.
However, first author Evelin Iseli from the Institute of Integrative Biology at ETH Zurich was not surprised that the neophytes are occurring higher up. "We were surprised, however, that their spread is proceeding so rapidly and that the number of alien species has increased so much within a decade," she says. "Normally, it takes several decades for species to become established and widespread in an area."
"This trend cannot be attributed to climate change," she says. Alien plants are usually introduced in the lowlands. From there, they spread to higher elevations until it becomes too cold for them to reproduce. So, the neophytes simply colonize the niches that match their climatic preferences. "The plants manage to do this even without global warming," Iseli emphasizes.
Climate has indeed warmed in some of the regions during the period of the study, but this was not related to the magnitude of neophyte expansion. "Warming temperatures set the stage for neophytes to spread to even higher elevations in the future because their ecological niche is also shifting upward," says Iseli.
Humans, whether deliberately or unintentionally, often introduce alien plants in lowlands, then plants spread from their starting point to higher elevations, particularly along roads, which is why the researchers focused on traffic routes. Along roads, neophytes have a particularly easy time because propagules are readily dispersed by people and because the natural vegetation is disturbed; competition with native species that have adapted to the prevailing climate is, therefore, weakened.
In intact mountain habitats further from roads, on the other hand, biological invaders have a tougher time, as Iseli points out. "If the original vegetation is intact, it takes much longer for neophytes to establish themselves and spread."
The study is based on almost 15,000 observations of 616 non-native plant species from 651 study plots and are collected worldwide using the same procedure. The researchers record the alien species in T-shaped study plots, i.e., a 50-meter-long strip (164 feet) along mountain roads and a perpendicular strip of 100 meters (324 feet). The study areas are distributed at regular intervals along multiple mountain roads in each region.
The vegetation surveys took place in southern and central Chile, two regions of Australia, Tenerife, Switzerland, two regions of the western United States, Hawaii, Kashmir, and Norway.
The first time such data were collected was in 2007 in six of the regions, and 2012 in the rest of the regions. Vegetation surveys are repeated every five to ten years. The researchers participate in this project voluntarily, funding the research from their own resources.
The Mountain Invasion Research Network (MIREN), which was founded in 2005, conducts the study. Its goal is to scientifically study "redistributions" of both alien and native species in mountain areas and to provide a basis for neophyte management. Jake Alexander, senior scientist in the Plant Ecology group at ETH Zurich, was co-chair of MIREN from 2015 to 2019.
"The current study makes it clear that we need to expand biodiversity monitoring programs worldwide and take action to avert any negative consequences for mountain ecosystems and their flora and fauna," Alexander emphasizes. "The time to act is now because we can literally see our mountain environments changing."
Source: ETH Zurich
The post Roads carry non-native plants up mountains appeared first on Futurity.