2020-07-01 00:00:00 ..
2020-10-26 11:07:42 UTC (SPIDs: [1408..1450])
2020-10-26 12:33:18 UTC --martyb
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Among the horror and the misery of this year, one tiny round hero has emerged to give thousands of people brief moments of joy. That hero is Quest Sprout.
All Quest Sprout wants to do is go on a quest. All Quest Sprout ever says is "Quest".
He's the creation of New Zealand video games tester and comic artist Matthew Wills, who's been making fantasy/comedy webcomics since March 2018.
Matthew's had some success with his Swords series, but the response to Quest Sprout, when the character appeared in May this year, was unlike anything he'd seen before.
The most recent episode got around 80,000 upvotes (Reddit's version of 'likes'), when it was posted in the Wholesome Memes subreddit, where some users were calling it "the most wholesome thing on the internet".
Quest Sprout is part of a world Matthew created to parody things like Lord of The Rings, anime and the "fantasy tropes" he saw in them.
Matthew says the response has been on "another level" to anything he's seen from his other work, and feels that world events such as the coronavirus pandemic have made people want to find things online that make them feel good.
"I think the fact everyone's having a hard time definitely helped with people attaching themselves to this character," he tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.
"It's definitely a case that it's helping people, I think, if that doesn't sound too vain."
In the nearly two centuries since German physician Carl Wunderlich established 98.6°F (37 C) as the standard "normal" body temperature, it has been used by parents and doctors alike as the measure by which fevers—and often the severity of illness—have been assessed.
Over time, however, and in more recent years, lower body temperatures have been widely reported in healthy adults. A 2017 study among 35,000 adults in the United Kingdom found average body temperature to be lower (97.9°F / 36.6 C), and a 2019 study showed that the normal body temperature in Americans (those in Palo Alto, California, anyway) is about 97.5°F (36.4 C).
A multinational team of physicians, anthropologists and local researchers led by Michael Gurven, UC Santa Barbara professor of anthropology and chair of the campus's Integrative Anthropological Sciences Unit, and Thomas Kraft, a postdoctoral researcher in the same department, have found a similar decrease among the Tsimane, an indigenous population of forager-horticulturists in the Bolivian Amazon. In the 16 years since Gurven, co-director of the Tsimane Health and Life History Project, and fellow researchers have been studying the population, they have observed a rapid decline in average body temperature—0.09°F per year, such that today Tsimane body temperatures are roughly 97.7°F (36.5 C).
"In less than two decades we're seeing about the same level of decline as that observed in the U.S. over approximately two centuries," said Gurven. Their analysis is based on a large sample of 18,000 observations of almost 5,500 adults, and adjust for multiple other factors that might affect body temperature, such as ambient temperature and body mass.
The anthropologists' research appears in the journal Sciences Advances.
Michael Gurven, Thomas S. Kraft, Sarah Alami, et al. Rapidly declining body temperature in a tropical human population [open], Science Advances (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc6599)
If you're one of the billion-plus people using Facebook Messenger, then you'd be well-advised to switch to an alternative. Unlike its Facebook stablemate WhatsApp, Messenger is missing the critical security required to protect your content from prying eyes. Everything you send on Messenger passes through Facebook servers to which it has access. We know Facebook "spies" on this content to make sure you're following its rules, well a new security report claims it also downloads your private content to its own servers without any warning.
The team behind the report has good form in holding major tech platforms to account on security grounds. Tommy Mysk and Talal Haj Bakry pushed Apple into the clipboard access warnings that are such a famed part of iOS 14; their research also caught TikTok indiscriminately reading Apple users' clipboards, part of the technical backlash that ultimately led to U.S. action against the viral Chinese platform.
Mysk and Haj Bakry had initially set out to study how various messaging platforms handled so-called "link previews." When you send a link to a website, a news article or other online content—including private documents, the recipient of your message will often see a preview of that content. Clearly this requires the link to be followed somewhere and somehow, and its data returned. The way that's done, though, is critical. Get it wrong and messaging platforms can access private data, download personal information to their servers, even expose user locations.
[...] This new report shows what all that means in practice. And so, if you're sticking rigidly to a poorly secured messaging platform, including Facebook Messenger or, worse, SMS, then now's the time to switch. WhatsApp remains a good everyday choice with a huge user base and all the functionality you need, notwithstanding Facebook's monetization drive. But there are clearly even more secure options if you want to escape Facebook altogether.
Clapper rails[*] typically live in tidal marshes where there is vegetation to hide in and plenty of fiddler crabs, among their frequent foods. Because they are generally common and rely on coastal marshes, they are a good indicator of the health of these coastal areas.
Water levels in tidal marshes change daily, and clapper rails have some adaptations that help them thrive there. They often build nests in areas with particularly tall vegetation to hide them from predators. And they can raise the height of the nest bowl to protect it against flooding during extra-high or "king" tides and storms. The embryos inside their eggs can survive even if the eggs are submerged for several hours.
When a tropical storm strikes, many factors—including wind speed, flooding and the storm's position—influence how severely it will affect marsh birds. Typically birds ride out storms by moving to higher areas of the marsh. However, if a storm generates extensive flooding, birds in affected areas may swim or be blown to other locations. We saw this in early June when Hurricane Cristobal blew hundreds of clapper rails onto beaches in parts of coastal Mississippi.
In coastal areas immediately to the east of the eye of a tropical cyclone we typically see a drop in clapper rail populations in the following spring and summer. This happens because the counterclockwise rotation of the storms results in the highest winds and storm surge to the north and east of the eye of the storm.
But typically there's a strong bout of breeding and a population rebound within a year or so—evidence that these birds are quick to adapt. After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2005, however, depending on the type of marsh, it took several years for rail populations to return to their pre-Katrina levels.
[*] clapper rails (Rallus crepitans).
A team of NASA scientists has spotted strange flashes of light known as "transient luminous events" (TLEs) in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter.
[...] For a while, astronomers have theorized their existence in Jupiter's massive, turbulent atmosphere. Thanks to new data collected by the ultraviolet spectrograph instrument (UVS) attached to NASA's Juno spacecraft, a small space probe that's been orbiting the gas giant since 2016, the team was finally able to confirm their presence, as detailed in a new paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.
"UVS was designed to characterize Jupiter's beautiful northern and southern lights," Rohini Giles, Juno scientist and lead author, said in a statement. "But we discovered UVS images that not only showed Jovian aurora, but also a bright flash of UV light over in the corner where it wasn't supposed to be."
[...] The flashes resemble TLEs we experience on Earth in numerous ways. According to Giles, these events on Earth, including "sprites," which [are] large-scale electrical charges occurring above thunderstorms, and "elves" (Emission of Light and Very Low Frequency perturbations due to Electromagnetic Pulse Sources), which are massive halos of light occurring around 100 km above thunderstorms, "appear reddish in color due to their interaction with nitrogen in the upper atmosphere."
Rohini S. Giles, Thomas K. Greathouse, Bertrand Bonfond, et al. Possible Transient Luminous Events observed in Jupiter's upper atmosphere, Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets (DOI: 10.1029/2020JE006659)
Playing through the greenery and litter of a mini forest's undergrowth for just one month may be enough to change a child's immune system, according to a small new experiment.
When daycare workers in Finland rolled out a lawn, planted forest undergrowth such as dwarf heather and blueberries, and allowed children to care for crops in planter boxes, the diversity of microbes in the guts and on the skin of young kids appeared healthier in a very short space of time.
Compared to other city kids who play in standard urban daycares with yards of pavement, tile and gravel, 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds at these greened-up daycare centres in Finland showed increased T-cells and other important immune markers in their blood within 28 days.
"We also found that the intestinal microbiota of children who received greenery was similar to the intestinal microbiota of children visiting the forest every day," says environmental scientist Marja Roslund from the University of Helsinki.
Prior research has shown early exposure to green space is somehow linked to a well-functioning immune system, but it's still not clear whether that relationship is causal or not.
The experiment in Finland is the first to explicitly manipulate a child's urban environment and then test for changes in their micriobiome and, in turn, a child's immune system.
While the findings don't hold all the answers, they do support a leading idea - namely that a change in environmental microbes can relatively easily affect a well-established microbiome in children, giving their immune system a helping hand in the process.
A new study, published today in the journal Nature Communications, suggests that sgACC is a crucial region in depression and anxiety, and targeted treatment based on a patient's symptoms could lead to better outcomes.
[...] Research at the University of Cambridge has found that increased activity in sgACC -- a key part of the emotional brain- could underlie increased negative emotion, reduced pleasure and a higher risk of heart disease in depressed and anxious people. More revealing still is the discovery that these symptoms differ in their sensitivity to treatment with an antidepressant, despite being caused by the same change in brain activity.
Using marmosets, a type of non-human primate, the team of researchers infused tiny concentrations of an excitatory drug into sgACC to over-activate it. Marmosets are used because their brains share important similarities with those of humans and it is possible to manipulate brain regions to understand causal effects.
The researchers found that sgACC over-activity increases heart rate, elevates cortisol levels and exaggerates animals' responsiveness to threat, mirroring the stress-related symptoms of depression and anxiety.
"We found that over-activity in sgACC promotes the body's 'fight-or-flight' rather than 'rest-and-digest' response, by activating the cardiovascular system and elevating threat responses," said Dr Laith Alexander, one of the study's first authors from the University of Cambridge's Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience.
[...] "Our research shows that the sgACC may sit at the head and the heart of the matter when it comes to symptoms and treatment of depression and anxiety."
Laith Alexander, Christian M. Wood, Philip L. R. Gaskin, et al. Over-activation of primate subgenual cingulate cortex enhances the cardiovascular, behavioral and neural responses to threat [open], Nature Communications (DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-19167-0)
Coronaviruses are adept at imitating human immune proteins that have been implicated in severe COVID-19 disease, a study from researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons has found.
The study was published online ahead of print in Cell Systems.
[...] "Viruses use mimicry for the same reason as plants and animals—deception," says Sagi Shapira, Ph.D., assistant professor of systems biology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. "We hypothesized that identifying viral-protein look-alikes would give us clues to the way viruses—including SARS-CoV-2—cause disease."
In the study, Shapira used supercomputers to search for viral mimics with a program similar to 3-D facial recognition software. They scanned more than 7,000 viruses and over 4,000 hosts across Earth's ecosystems and uncovered 6 million instances of viral mimicry.
"Mimicry is a more pervasive strategy among viruses than we ever imagined," Shapira says. "It's used by all kinds of viruses, regardless of the size of the viral genome, how the virus replicates, or whether the virus infects bacteria, plants, insects or people."
[...] In a separate paper published in Nature Medicine, the Columbia researchers found evidence that functional and genetic dysregulation in immune complement and coagulation proteins are associated with severe COVID-19 disease. They found that people with macular degeneration (which is associated with enhanced complement activation) were more likely to die from COVID-19, that complement and coagulation genes are more active in COVID-19 patients, and that people with certain mutations in complement and coagulation genes are more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19.
Gorka Lasso, Barry Honig, Sagi D. Shapira. A Sweep of Earth's Virome Reveals Host-Guided Viral Protein Structural Mimicry and Points to Determinants of Human Disease, Cell Systems (2020). DOI: 10.1016/j.cels.2020.09.006
Prior research has shown that physical activity can prevent unhealth as well as improve the prognosis of several diseases including various forms of cancer. Exactly how exercise exerts its protective effects against cancer is, however, still unknown, especially when it comes to the biological mechanisms. One plausible explanation is that physical activity activates the immune system and thereby bolsters the body's ability to prevent and inhibit cancer growth.
In this study, researchers at Karolinska Institutet expanded on this hypothesis by examining how the immune system's cytotoxic T cells, that is white blood cells specialized in killing cancer cells, respond to exercise.
They divided mice with cancer into two groups and let one group exercise regularly in a spinning wheel while the other remained inactive. The result showed that cancer growth slowed and mortality decreased in the trained animals compared with the untrained.
[...] In addition, the researchers examined how these metabolites change in response to exercise in humans. They took blood samples from eight healthy men after 30 minutes of intense cycling and noticed that the same training-induced metabolites were released in humans.
Helene Rundqvist, Pedro Veliça, Laura Barbieri, et al. Cytotoxic T-cells mediate exercise-induced reductions in tumor growth, (DOI: 10.7554/eLife.59996)
Facebook is the latest tech giant to get into the world of cloud gaming — but the company's offering is quite a bit different than the competition. Unlike Amazon or Google, which both offer standalone cloud gaming services for a fee, Facebook is introducing cloud games to its existing app — several of which are playable right now.
"We're doing free-to-play games, we're doing games that are latency-tolerant, at least to start," says Jason Rubin, Facebook's vice president of play. "We're not promising 4K, 60fps, so you pay us $6.99 per month. We're not trying to get you to buy a piece of hardware, like a controller."
According to Rubin, the reason Facebook is exploring the cloud is because it opens up the types of games it can offer. The company started out in games more than a decade ago with Flash-based hits like FarmVille before moving to HTML5 for its Instant Games platform, but both of those technologies are relatively limited to smaller, simpler experiences.
AMD originally planned for RDNA 2 to have 50% more performance per Watt than GPUs using the RDNA 1 microarchitecture. Now, AMD is claiming 54% more performance per Watt for the RX 6800 XT and RX 6800, and 65% more performance per Watt for the RX 6900 XT. Part of the efficiency gain is due to the use of "Infinity Cache", similar to the L3 cache found in Ryzen CPUs. This allowed AMD to use a 256-bit memory bus with 2.17x the effective memory bandwidth of a 384-bit bus, while using slightly less power.
The RX 6900 XT ($1000) has performance comparable to Nvidia's RTX 3090, with a total board power (TBP) of 300 Watts. The RX 6800 XT ($650) is comparable to Nvidia's RTX 3080, also with a 300 Watt TBP. The RX 6800 ($580) is around 18% faster than Nvidia's RTX 2080 Ti, with a 250 Watt TBP. All three of the GPUs have 16 GB of GDDR6 VRAM and 128 MB of "Infinity Cache".
The 6800 XT and 6800 will be available starting on November 18, while the 6900 XT will be available on December 8.
They state that peak measurements showed that up to nearly 60% of the iron in one vast swath of the northern part of the ocean emanates from smokestacks.
"It has long been understood that burning fossil fuels alters Earth's climate and ocean ecosystems by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere," Seth John, senior author of the study and professor at the University of Southern California, said in a media statement.
"This work shows fossil fuel burning has a side effect: the release of iron and metals into the atmosphere that carry thousands of miles and deposit in the ocean where they can impact marine ecosystems."
[...] In May 2017, they boarded a research vessel and took water samples along a north-south transect at latitudes between 25 degrees and 42 degrees north. They found peak iron concentrations in about the middle, which corresponded with a big wind event over east Asia one month before. The peak iron concentrations were about three times greater than the background ocean measurements.
[...] Since the North Pacific notably lacks iron, the scientists say that an influx of metals and other substances can help build the foundation for a new ecosystem. However, this situation must be interpreted as a 'good news, bad news' outcome for Earth.
"Microscopic iron-containing particles released during coal burning impacts algae growth in the ocean, and therefore the entire ecosystem for which algae form the base of the food chain," John said.
[...] "In the short term, we might think that iron in pollution is beneficial because it stimulates the growth of phytoplankton, which then take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as they grow to offset some of the carbon dioxide released during the initial burning process. However, it's totally unsustainable as a long-term geoengineering solution because of the deleterious effects of pollution on human health."
Paulina Pinedo-González, Nicholas J. Hawco, Randelle M. Bundy, et al. Anthropogenic Asian aerosols provide Fe to the North Pacific Ocean [$], Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2010315117)
A company operating a YouTube-ripping platform has sued the RIAA for sending "abusive" DMCA anti-circumvention notices to Google. According to the complaint and contrary to the RIAA's claims, the Yout service does not "descramble, decrypt, avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate, or impair" YouTube's rolling cipher technology.
Last Friday, the RIAA caused [outrage] on the Internet when it filed a complaint that took down the open source software YouTube-DL from Github.
According to the RIAA, the "clear purpose" of YouTube-DL was to "circumvent the technological protection measures used by authorized streaming services such as YouTube" and "reproduce and distribute music videos and sound recordings owned by our member companies without authorization for such use."
As the debate and controversy over the complaint rages on, a company based in the US that operates a YouTube-ripping platform has filed a lawsuit alleging that similar complaints, filed by the RIAA with Google, have caused its business great damage.
An RIAA takedown request, which removed the YouTube-DL repository from GitHub, has ticked off developers and GitHub's CEO. Numerous people responded by copying and republishing the contested code, including in some quite clever ways. Meanwhile, GitHub's CEO is "annoyed" as well, offering help to get the repo reinstated.
Oct. 27 (UPI) -- Increasing vitamins A, E and D through diet changes or supplements reduces a person's risk for breathing and respiratory conditions, including flu and COVID-19, a study published Tuesday by the journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health found.
People who consumed recommended amounts of the three key nutrients were less likely to develop the flu, colds, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma, the data showed.
Research has linked vitamin D, in particular, with boosting immune system function, and being deficient in the nutrient has been found to increase a person's risk for severe COVID-19.
Vitamins A, E and D -- as well as vitamin C -- are all considered micronutrients, meaning they are needed in relatively small doses to live.
[...] Major dietary sources of vitamin A include liver, whole milk and cheese, as well as carrots, dark green leafy vegetables and orange-colored fruits, while vegetable oils, nuts and seeds are primary sources of vitamin E.
Adequate intake of vitamin D through diet is more difficult to achieve, given that it is not found naturally in most foods, though it can be acquired by spending time in the sun. But people often take supplements to ensure adequate levels of the vitamin, the researchers said.
Suzana Almoosawi, Luigi Palla. Association between vitamin intake and respiratory complaints in adults from the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey years 1–8 [open], BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health (DOI: 10.1136/bmjnph-2020-000150) direct link
A team of Australian quantum theorists has shown how to break a bound that had been believed, for 60 years, to fundamentally limit the coherence of lasers.
The coherence of a laser beam can be thought of as the number of photons (particles of light) emitted consecutively into the beam with the same phase (all waving together). It determines how well it can perform a wide variety of precision tasks, such as controlling all the components of a quantum computer.
Now, in a paper published in Nature Physics, the researchers from Griffith University and Macquarie University have shown that new quantum technologies open the possibility of making this coherence vastly larger than was thought possible.
"The conventional wisdom dates back to a famous 1958 paper by American physicists Arthur Schawlow and Charles Townes," said Professor Howard Wiseman, project leader and Director of Griffith's Centre for Quantum Dynamics.
[...] "They showed theoretically that the coherence of the beam cannot be greater than the square of the number of photons stored in the laser," he said.
"In our paper, we have shown that the true limit imposed by quantum mechanics is that the coherence cannot be greater than the fourth power of the number of photons stored in the laser," said Associate Professor Dominic Berry, from Macquarie University.
"When the stored number of photons is large, as is typically the case, our new upper bound is much bigger than the old one."
Travis J. Baker, Seyed N. Saadatmand, Dominic W. Berry, et al. The Heisenberg limit for laser coherence, Nature Physics (DOI: 10.1038/s41567-020-01049-3)