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Industry & Technology

Artificial “tongue” for maple syrup weeds out batches with “buddy” off flavors

Ars Technica - May 28, 2020 - 11:45am

Enlarge / A sampling of different brands of Canadian maple syrup. Scientists at the University of Montreal have developed an artificial "tongue" using gold nanoparticles to detect batches with "buddy" off flavors. (credit: Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Genuine maple syrup is a treat for the taste buds, whether you prefer light golden varieties or robust darker syrups. But sometimes batches can have off-putting flavors. Scientists at the University of Montreal in Quebec, Canada, have developed an artificial "tongue" using gold nanoparticles that can weed out bad batches early on. It's not so much an electronic device as a simple, portable chemistry test that detects a color change when an off flavor is present in a sample, according to a recent paper published in the journal Analytical Methods.

"Especially here in Canada, we take maple syrup for granted," said co-author Jean-François Masson of the University of Montreal. "But it is much more complicated than we had anticipated. It has some of the same complexities as fine wine and whiskey." Quebec is the largest producer of maple syrup, accounting for about 70 percent of the world's supply.

He is not referring to cheap knockoffs whose primary ingredients are high-fructose corn syrup with imitation maple flavoring. To be considered a true maple syrup, at least in Canada, a product must be made entirely from maple sap collected from maple trees, usually sugar maple, red maple, or black maple varieties. Maple syrup is mostly sugar, water, and a small amount of organic molecules that are responsible for the final product's flavor profile. Those compounds account for just 1 percent of the content, but it is a crucial 1 percent, determining whether a given syrup is caramelized, smoked, salty, or woody, among the 60 or so possible categories.

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Uber destroys thousands of bikes and scooters

BBC Technology News - May 28, 2020 - 11:41am
Videos of the red bikes being crushed were shared online after Uber sold its Jump business to Lime.

New data indicates the Mississippi Delta is on borrowed time

Ars Technica - May 28, 2020 - 11:30am

Enlarge / The drowning of Louisiana's wetlands is "inevitable." (credit: Louisiana Sierra Club)

Since 1932, coastal wetlands in Louisiana have declined by about 25 percent. At its fastest, the decline was around one football field lost every 34 minutes; at its slowest, every 100 minutes. The Pelican State is losing ground faster than any other state in the contiguous United States. And those losses reach far beyond its borders: coastal Louisiana plays a crucial role in fisheries, shipping, and oil and gas production.

In recent years, the wetlands have been faring better than in previous decades, possibly because there hasn't been a Katrina-level storm in that time. But a study published last week in Science Advances suggests that this is a temporary reprieve. With sea levels rising as rapidly as they are, the wetlands, including the famed Mississippi Delta, are likely to be gone in a matter of decades—or, at most, centuries.

Tipping point

Coastal Louisiana is currently home to 15,000 square kilometers of marshland, a critical ecosystem held together by a complex, interlocking set of processes. The tide washes in; plants grow and die; sediment is brought in by rivers and builds up. If the system changes—for instance, if sea levels rise rapidly—the marsh changes, too.

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Coastguard plans to add drones to air fleet

BBC Technology News - May 28, 2020 - 10:21am
The use of unmanned aerial vehicles will form part of a new search and rescue contract.

Trump to 'sign executive order about social media'

BBC Technology News - May 28, 2020 - 4:07am
The latest dispute comes after Twitter added fact-check links to the president's tweets for the first time.

HBO Max is live: $15/mo for a massive library, significant headaches

Ars Technica - May 28, 2020 - 1:18am

Enlarge (credit: WarnerMedia)

Like it or not, another subscription streaming service has entered the chat.

This one—HBO Max—debuts across the United States on Wednesday, and it comes from the combined AT&T-Time Warner media empire. After taking shape in 2018, the new "WarnerMedia" cluster of film and TV content has since put together a streaming library of exclusive content—particularly by yoinking content away from Netflix and other partners in apparent defiance of AT&T's antitrust pledge to US Congress.

WarnerMedia didn't make the service available to Ars Technica ahead of the launch, so I jumped into the fray by claiming a free seven-day trial on launch day and picked through its first day's content and interface. I did so to answer the following question: has WarnerMedia pulled off a service worthy of a $15/month fee?

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Keeping fit in lockdown: Apps and sites which could help

BBC Technology News - May 28, 2020 - 12:53am
Kate Russell looks at the online tools and guides helping motivate you to take exercise.

Video streaming: Lockdown sees fifth of UK homes sign deals

BBC Technology News - May 28, 2020 - 12:49am
Britons turned to Disney+ in droves, data suggests, but Apple TV has struggled to engage viewers.

Meng Wanzhou: Huawei executive suffers US extradition blow

BBC Technology News - May 27, 2020 - 9:59pm
A Canadian court has ruled that the extradition hearing of Meng Wanzhou can continue.

YouTube ducks questions about “error” that nixed anti-Beijing comments

Ars Technica - May 27, 2020 - 9:51pm

Enlarge / Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks in Wuzhen, China, in 2017. (credit: Du Yang/China News Service/Visual China Group via Getty Images)

YouTube says it has "rolled out a fix" for an "error in our enforcement systems" that had led to the automatic deletion of comments that included two phrases critical of China's government. But in an email exchange and phone call with Ars Technica, a company spokeswoman declined to provide real details about why YouTube's software was deleting the comments in the first place.

As I explained on Tuesday, "共匪" means "communist bandit." It was a derogatory term used by Nationalists during the Chinese Civil War that ended in 1949. It continues to be used by Chinese-speaking critics of the Beijing regime, including in Taiwan.

"五毛" means "50-cent party." It's a derogatory term for people who are paid by the Chinese government to participate in online discussions and promote official Communist Party positions. In the early years of China's censored Internet, such commenters were allegedly paid 50 cents (in China's currency, the yuan) per post.

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100,000 Americans dead—and counting—as COVID-19 ravages US

Ars Technica - May 27, 2020 - 9:15pm

Enlarge / Transporter Morgan Dean-McMillan prepares the body of a COVID-19 victim at a morgue in Montgomery county, Maryland, on April 17, 2020. (credit: Getty | ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS)

More than 100,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19 according to several pandemic-tracking efforts—and the pandemic is far from over. As the country reached the grim milestone, many areas were still seeing increasing case counts, and researchers have suggested that a second wave of infection is looming.

The risk of continued spread remains high as all 50 states have now begun easing restrictions aimed at curbing transmission.

So far, the US leads the world in the number of confirmed cases and deaths, with around 1.7 million cases and over 100,000 deaths. The country with the next highest numbers is Brazil, which has nearly 400,000 cases and over 24,500 deaths.

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Bankrupt OneWeb seeks license for 48,000 satellites, even more than SpaceX

Ars Technica - May 27, 2020 - 7:51pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Shulz)

SpaceX and OneWeb have asked for US permission to launch tens of thousands of additional satellites into low Earth orbit.

SpaceX's application to launch 30,000 satellites—in addition to the nearly 12,000 it already has permission for—is consistent with SpaceX's previously announced plans for Starlink.

OneWeb's application to launch nearly 48,000 satellites is surprising because the satellite-broadband company filed for bankruptcy in March. OneWeb is highly unlikely to launch a significant percentage of these satellites under its current structure, as the company reportedly "axed most of its staff" when it filed for bankruptcy and says it intends to use bankruptcy proceedings "to pursue a sale of its business in order to maximize the value of the company." Getting FCC approval to launch more satellites could improve the value of OneWeb's assets and give more options to whoever buys the company.

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Trump tweet throws House surveillance debate into chaos

Ars Technica - May 27, 2020 - 6:27pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

President Donald Trump threw efforts to renew a controversial Patriot Act provision into turmoil on Tuesday evening with a tweet calling on Republican members of the House to reject spying legislation that is due for a vote this week. It's the latest setback for a bill that has been embroiled in controversy for months.

The provision, known as Section 215, was first passed in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. It gives the federal government broad powers to obtain "any tangible thing," including "books, records, papers, documents, and other items," without a warrant.

This power isn't supposed to be used for ordinary criminal cases—only for foreign intelligence operations. But it has been subject to abuse in the past. Most notoriously, Section 215 was used to collect records of every phone call made in America for several years. The NSA ultimately terminated the program under sustained pressure from civil liberties groups.

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Fraggle Rock to be revived by Apple TV+ after 33 years

BBC Technology News - May 27, 2020 - 6:16pm
Gobo, Red, Boober, Mokey, Wembley and Uncle Travelling Matt will have more songs and adventures.

Poor weather scrubs SpaceX’s historic launch attempt [Updated]

Ars Technica - May 27, 2020 - 6:10pm

Enlarge / Skies at 2pm ET Wednesday over the launch site were rather stormy. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

4:20pm ET Wednesday: SpaceX scrubbed the launch of its Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft Wednesday a little less than 17 minutes before liftoff. Although weather conditions were improving at the launch site—thunderstorms rolled through earlier in the day, and a tornado warning was issued for Kennedy Space Center—they did not improve fast enough. Had Dragon been able to launch 10 minutes later, the weather would have been good to go.

Informed of the scrub, Dragon's commander Doug Hurley said from inside the spacecraft, "It was a good effort by the teams, and we understand. Everybody’s probably a little bit bummed out. It’s just part of the deal."

There were no technical issues with Dragon or the rocket. Now SpaceX will work to recycle the systems for another launch attempt on Saturday at 3:22pm ET (19:22 UTC). The reason for skipping the next two days is an unfavorable phase angle for Dragon's approach to the International Space Station. Weather is forecast to be somewhat better on Saturday, but it is no slam-dunk. A back-up opportunity will be available on Sunday.

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Tracing the trajectory of a 66 million-year-old asteroid impact

Ars Technica - May 27, 2020 - 5:33pm

Enlarge / How to make a big hole fast. (credit: Collins et al./Nature Communications)

You know that scene in every forensic crime drama where someone works out the angle the bullet was fired from and points back to the source? In the case of the Chicxulub asteroid impact and the end-Cretaceous mass extinction 66 million years ago, there’s no mystery about the shooter. (Space did it.) But the trajectory is interesting for other reasons, and researchers have long been trying to trace the path back out of the crater off the Yucatán coast.

Unsurprisingly, 66 million years have taken their toll on the crater, so researchers have offered several very different answers. Did the asteroid hit from the southeast at a very low angle? Did it come from the southwest at a moderate angle? Many studies that needed to model the impact have simply defaulted to a 90-degree strike and avoided the whole argument. The details actually matter, though, and precisely which rocks get vaporized—and which climate-changing gases they release—depends on that impact angle.

A lot of new research on the crater has been published recently thanks to a major expedition that included drilling a rock core down through the crater’s peak ring. (Impacts this violent leave a raised ring in the center rather than a single peak.) A new paper led by Imperial College London’s Gareth Collins makes the latest contribution using model simulations to see what impact angle best matches the observed characteristics of the crater.

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Samsung copies the Apple Card, announces “Samsung Money”

Ars Technica - May 27, 2020 - 5:17pm

The Apple Card debuted 14 months ago, and right on cue, Samsung is today announcing "Samsung Money," a self-branded MasterCard debit card from SoFi. Unlike the Apple Card, which is a credit card, it sounds like Samsung Galaxy smartphone owners will be signing up for a money management account from SoFi, an online personal finance company. The account is FDIC insured, has "no account fees," and even pays out interest for your savings.

Sign up for the account, and you'll get a physical "Samsung Money" card. It doesn't seem like Samsung tried to compete with Apple's fanciful titanium card design—the Samsung card looks like a regular plastic credit card with "dark mode" toggled on. Samsung did strip the card of numbers: it won't display the card number, expiration date, or CVV. Instead, you'll have to look those numbers up in the app, which is locked behind a pin or biometrics.

Users will be able to manage their new money management account from the Samsung Pay app. "With just a tap in the Samsung Pay app," Samsung's press release reads, "users can check their balance, review past statements, and search transactions. They can flag suspicious activity, pause or restart spending, freeze or unfreeze their card, change their pin, and assign their trusted contact—all without ever having to leave home or call a representative."

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New material releases hydrogen from water at near-perfect efficiency

Ars Technica - May 27, 2020 - 5:00pm

Enlarge (credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

Solar energy is currently dominated by photovoltaic devices, which have ridden massive economies of scale to price dominance. But these devices are not necessarily the best choice in all circumstances. Unless battery technology improves, it's quite expensive to add significant storage to solar production. And there are types of transportation—long-distance rail, air—where batteries aren't a great solution. These limitations have made researchers maintain interest in alternate ways of using solar energy.

One alternative option is to use the energy to produce a portable fuel, like a hydrocarbon or hydrogen itself. This is possible to do with the electrons produced by photovoltaic systems, but the added steps can reduce efficiency. However, systems that convert sunlight more directly to fuel have suffered from even worse efficiencies.

But a Japanese group has decided to tackle this efficiency problem. The team started with a material that's not great—it only absorbs in the UV—but is well understood. And the researchers figured out how to optimize it so that its efficiency at splitting water to release hydrogen runs right up against the theoretical maximum. While it's not going to be useful on its own, it may point the way toward how to develop better materials.

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GE switches off light bulb business after almost 130 years

Ars Technica - May 27, 2020 - 4:04pm

Enlarge / A good old-fashioned General Electric lightbulb, which not only is no longer incandescent but also no longer made by GE. (credit: Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

General Electric has finally found a buyer for its lighting business and will be selling off its last consumer-facing business after more than 120 years of operation.

Boston-based GE said today it would divest the lighting business to Savant Systems, a smart home management company also based in Massachusetts. The companies did not disclose financial terms of the deal, but sources told The Wall Street Journal that the transaction was valued at about $250 million.

Savant specializes in full smart home systems for the luxury market. Acquiring a lighting business directly will allow it to take advantage of vertical integration and take more control over the physical equipment it installs in consumer' homes. Savant will keep the business's operations in Cleveland, where it is currently based, and will receive a long-term license to keep using the GE branding for its products.

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Twitter tags Trump tweet with fact-checking warning

BBC Technology News - May 27, 2020 - 3:49pm
It is the first time the social media giant has said one of Donald Trump's tweets could be misleading.

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