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COVID-19 And The State of the Climate

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The novel coronavirus sweeping the globe has led governments to institute widespread quarantines to stem the spread. Many industries have slowed production or shutdown entirely, and economic activity has slowed to a crawl. This has naturally led to a sudden reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. But how great will the effect be, and will it buy us any real time?

On The Ground

Nitrogen dioxide levels in China have dropped sharply with the reduction in industrial activity due to COVID-19. Image source: NASA

In the wake of COVID-19, good news stories have sprung up as people look for a silver lining. Unfortunately, these stories aren’t always true. There aren’t dolphins in the waters of Venice, though the water has cleared due to reduced boat activity. And drunken elephants did not begin roaming the mountains of China.

Despite this, there have been notable reductions in emissions in several areas due to government-mandated lockdowns. Northern Italy is seeing a much concentration of nitrogen dioxide, likely due to reduced industrial and vehicular activity. Carbon monoxide levels have similarly dropped in New York, while China has seen its carbon emissions temporarily drop by a full 25%.

On the surface of it, these are all promising numbers. Many are cautiously optimistic that this could be a major development to help stave off the worst of climate change for a little longer. Nonetheless, it’s early days yet, and what happens after the crisis passes is just as important as what’s happening now.

Similar Situations - Similar Results

A model comparing GDP and carbon dioxide output, which accounts for the improved carbon efficiency in the global economy over time.

The most relevant comparison with the current situation would be the 2007/2008 Global Financial Crisis. Due to reduced economic activity, the world’s total Gross Domestic Product contracted by 0.1%, and emissions output dropped by 1.3%. Following years led to a rapid increase as economic activity picked up, with 2010 reaching an all time high.

 

While the current situation is fluid and changing rapidly, OECD worst-case predictions are that the global economy will continue to grow, albeit at a reduced rate of just 1.5 this year. This is due to widespread job losses, and the slowdown and shutdown of many industries. Modelling based on this data from Glen Peters suggests that this could lead to an emissions reduction of up to 1.2%.

Air travel usually accounts for around 2.5% of global carbon dioxide emissions. With most international air travel cancelled due to COVID-19, it’s likely this number will change in 2020.

There’s scope for these numbers to change drastically in the coming months. Unease in global markets could lead to further issues with liquidity, or a resurgence of the virus could extend lockdowns, keeping industries closed for a longer period of time. Alternative modelling may show that the reductions in air transport and vehicle use may have a larger effect than first anticipated. At the same time, the crisis may also hold up work on projects that aim to reduce emissions, negating expected gains in carbon efficiency going forward. As it stands, the best guess we have shows a significant, but small, reduction in emissions this year.

Is It Enough?

In 2018, the UN warned that we had just 12 years left to put a stop to the worst effects of climate change. At the time, the goal was to reduce carbon pollution by 45% by 2030, dropping down to net zero by 2050. Given that sweeping lockdowns of entire cities at a time, along with massive reductions in all international air travel, is only netting us 1.2%, it’s clear that a worldwide epidemic is not the silver bullet that will solve climate change once and for all.

The goals put in place by the UN may seem lofty, particularly when even a global pandemic barely makes a dent. Notwithstanding, they are achievable with the technology we have available. The only requirement is we invest $300 billion to achieve it. In a time of turmoil, with unemployment spiraling ever higher and a new disease threatening the health of the world, this may seem like an impossible sum. However, given the recent expenditures governments have made in the name of economic stimulus, well into the trillions of dollars, it’s unlikely the citizens of the world will continue to accept affordability as an excuse.



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Microsoft’s solution to Zoom fatigue is to trick your brain

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There’s a certain routine to logging on to the now-ubiquitous videoconference: join a screen of Brady Bunch–like squares, ping-ponging your gaze between speakers but mostly staring self-consciously at your own face. What started as a novelty of working at home is now an exhausting ordeal that can leave us feeling mentally wiped out. 

Microsoft thinks it’s got a solution. On Wednesday it launched “Together Mode” for its Teams business software, as part of a new suite of updates. The videoconferencing tool uses artificial intelligence to take a cutout of your live video image and place it into a fixed position within a setting. In a demo I participated in, it was a seat in a virtual auditorium, not unlike those found in lecture halls. The idea is that when you can see people in a fixed position, nonverbal cues like looking at or pointing at a speaker become clearer and more like what would happen a natural in-person meeting. 

Microsoft is playing catch-up in the lucrative videoconferencing arena. It has been outflanked during the pandemic-fueled remote-work boom by Zoom, which has become the envy of Silicon Valley, a cultural phenomenon, and a verb practically overnight. 

Microsoft thinks its Teams platform and Together Mode can match Zoom’s reach. It’s got the benefit of a key demographic in its grip: students and educators. Microsoft said 183,000 educational institutions in 175 countries were using Teams, with about 150 million students and faculty actively using Microsoft Education products as a hub for remote learning.

But we’re increasingly fed up with video calls. Months of videoconferencing—not just for work and school, but for dating, happy hours, holiday gatherings, appointments, and chats with loved ones—have led to “Zoom fatigue.” Why is this the case? Jeremy Bailenson, a professor of communication at Stanford University who consulted on Together Mode, says that the faces presented on a typical videoconferencing grid reflect the dimensions of a person standing about two feet from you.

“Very rarely are you standing two feet away from a person and staring at them for an hour like that, unless you’re getting in conflict or about to mate,” he says. “When you have faces staring at you like this, the arousal response kicks in, that fight-or-flight mode. If you’re in fight-or-flight mode all day, it’s taxing to do these meetings.”

Microsoft hopes Together Mode will make videoconferencing feel less taxing. In Zoom’s gallery mode, for example, it can be hard to figure out who is speaking and who wants to speak. Together Mode solves this, in theory, by putting a participant in the same seat on everyone’s screen. That means if a person pipes up in the upper right hand corner of the virtual room, everyone’s gaze moves at about the same time to focus on that person; if someone interrupts from the middle, heads and eyes shift in that direction. In internal tests, Microsoft claims, users felt less fatigued and more focused in Together Mode.

But whether Together Mode encourages quieter or often ignored members of a team to speak up is yet to be seen. Despite the promise of a more democratic virtual platform, women have had a more difficult time making their voices heard. Teams, Meet, and Zoom have all incorporated a hand-raising function to help, and guides for supporting female colleagues in this setting have become increasingly common.

“I think Together Mode gives people the tools to do better, but it doesn’t guarantee people will be better,” says Jaron Lanier, a research scientist at Microsoft who’s considered a world expert in mixed reality.

Another nagging issue is, well, your face. In a demo, I found myself trying to adjust my seating so that I would not appear too big or too small, something Lanier claims is helpful in democratizing participation. But it meant I often lost track of the discussion as I self-consciously corrected my posture. And perhaps self-consciousness is the root of the problem to begin with.

“The ideal technology would let you disappear so you would stop being aware of yourself,” says Amber Davisson, an associate professor of communication at Keene State College. Davisson, who researches the intersection of intimacy, communication, and technology, says the way videoconferencing tries to emulate meetings contrasts with how humans normally interact.

“When I’m sitting in my class and teaching, I’m not looking at myself,” she says. “[Videoconferencing] is anxiety-causing and we can never relax; we’re way too aware of ourselves. The best technology would eliminate your face so you can look at everyone and they can look at you, and you don’t see yourself.”

One thing Davisson says is working in Together Mode’s favor is the non-personal background and predictable seating layout. Personalized Zoom backgrounds can be fun, but Davisson says having an agreed-upon, bland background like the ones offered by Together Mode eliminates the brain’s confusion of personal and professional.

That concept—of delineating work and home as the two spaces coalesce—is ultimately the challenge of videoconferencing during a pandemic. We need a safe place to fall apart, “and we used to think that was home,” she says. “But we do work and school in our homes now. Our only private space has been invaded, and it’s a lot for our brains to compute.”



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Video: Bil Herds Looks at Mitosis

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I loved my science courses when I was in Junior High School; we leaned to make batteries, how molecules combine to form the world we see around us, and basically I got a picture of where we stood in the  scheme of things, though Quarks had yet to be discovered at the time.

In talking with my son I found out that there wasn’t much budget for Science learning materials in his school system like we had back in my day, he had done very little practical hands-on experiments that I remember so fondly. One of those experiments was to look and draw the stages of mitosis as seen under a Microscope. This was amazing to me back in the day, and cemented the wonder of seeing cell division into my memory to this day, much like when I saw the shadow of one of Jupiter’s moons with my own eyes!

Now I have to stop and tell you that I am not normal, or at least was not considered to be a typical young’un growing up near a river in rural Indiana in the 60’s. I had my own microscope; it quite simply was my pride and joy. I had gotten it while I was in the first or second grade as a present and I loved the thing. It was just horrible to use in its later years as lens displaced, the focus rack became looser if that was possible, and dirt accumulated on the internal lens; and yet I loved it and still have it to this day! As I write this, I realize that it’s the oldest thing that I own. (that and the book that came with it).

Today we have better tools and they’re pretty easy to come by. I want to encourage you to do some science with them. (Don’t just look at your solder joints!) Check out the video about seeing mitosis of onion cells through the microscope, then join me below for more on the topic!

What is Mitosis?

The microscope is an excellent tool of Biology and a great place to start is by observing mitosis as it happens. Mitosis is where cells divide to make more cells so that tissue may grow. As it turns out, the tips of fresh roots on onions and garlic have rapid tissue growth in a concentrated area, making the viewing of the various stages of cell division worthwhile. In preparation for this article I started growing a shallot and an onion in a class of water and waiting for the tips to spout.

mi·to·sis /mīˈtōsəs/ noun BIOLOGY

  1. a type of cell division that results in two daughter cells each having the same number and kind of chromosomes as the parent nucleus, typical of ordinary tissue growth.

I can think of no better example of being able to see one of the complex miracles that make life possible than to look at cell division with one’s own eyes.

Scope with a Camera

My son owns a ‘scope that is much better than my old tiny clunker, yet he got it for the same price as what mine cost back in the day relatively speaking. What’s more is that I can replace one of his eyepieces with a camera and share what I see with others — you in this case. This is something I would not have ever imagined being able to do “back in my day”.

I actually have several microscopes in my hardware lab, two are dedicated to assisting with surface mount assembly, but my son’s includes up to 2000x magnification! That what I used to make these picture.

What We’re Looking For

Life based on cell division has the ability to make new copies of vital tissue cells starting with the ability of DNA to divide and replicate. As the process continues, whole chromosomes replicate by division with two new cells forming in place of the original one. Different organisms have differing numbers of chromosome by default, the onion under the scope today has 16 chromosomes arranged in 8 pairs, by default compared to the 23 pairs of a human. The number of chromosomes doesn’t necessarily imply the complexity of the organism, dogs have 78 chromosomes for example, compared to humans’ 46.

Major Events in Mitosis [Image source: NIH Science Primer]

Phases

Onion cells in different stages of mitosis [Image by Edmund B. Wilson]

Some of the main phases of Mitosis are:

Prophase or the “before” phase. The cell still looks very similar to a non-replicating cell even though things are starting to happen.

Prometaphase is where the walls of the nucleus break apart and the act of cell division takes over the whole cell. This is where it really starts to be visible using this level of microscope.

Metaphase or “next to” and true to its name the chromosomes line up side by side near the center of cell as various forces pull in opposite directions. This looks cool when seen in real life.

Anaphase or “after” is when it starts to look like as new twin cells.

Telophase or “end”.  ‘nuff said.

Sliding Away

To prepare the onion tissue for observation I first soaked it in warm hydrochloric acid. If you think that that sounds like I am digesting the tissue much like our own stomachs do, you would be correct. The cells cease activity, sometimes called “fixing”. A bunch of the matter exterior to the cell walls is digested or softened, allowing us to concentrate on the contents of the cells. It also makes it easier for dye to get into the cell and to mash the tissue thin enough to see one layer of cells.

I meant to use a Feulgen stain and thought I had some. I didn’t. I ended up using Methylene Blue, an old standby and was the stain I used originally back when I was young. The slides weren’t quite as clear as I would have liked but my son still got the experience of making his own slides.

Smashing Roots

The next step is to carefully smash the softened root tissue as flat as possible in an effort to get as close to one layer of cells. Usually I break the slide cover doing this, occasionally resulting in my finger bleeding all over the slide, but today it goes almost perfectly.

With that said, there is only so much flattening the “mash method” and part of the experience in looking through the eyepiece is continuous adjustment of the focus as the subject matter still has an amount of three dimensional aspect to it.

As can be seen in the images below, we caught all of the major phases of mitosis, my onions have been sacrificed for a worthy cause.

Click to view slideshow.

Conclusion

I loved my microscope, and still do, it represented my ability to study and learn on my own and yet see way more than I could than I could without it.  It also allowed me to focus my curiosity in a hidden realm and was a early gateway in my quest for science when I was young.



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4 PUBG Mobile Alternatives That Aren’t Chinese | Games Like PUBG In 2020

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PUBG Mobile is an immensely popular game with millions of players worldwide. However, recently, the free battle royale game is under fire because of its Chinese connection. In India, #PUBGBAN is trending as several people want the government to ban the game like the other 59 Chinese apps. As of now, the mobile game is on the safe side. However, many players are still boycotting the game and looking for some alternatives that aren’t Chinese.

If you’re one of those players who are looking for some non-Chinese alternatives of PUBG Mobile, then you’re in luck. In this article, we’ve mentioned some PUBG Mobile alternatives for both Android and iOS.

PUBG Mobile Alternatives

1. Garena Free Fire

Garena Free Fire is a free-to-play battle royale game for Android and iOS. Garena, a company based in Singapore, published Free Fire and Vietnam-based 111dots studio lead the development of the game.

Free Fire’s game mechanics are very much similar to PUBG Mobile. However, instead of 100 players, Garena Free Fire consists of 50 players fighting each other for survival.

PUBG Mobile players may hate Free Fire for its average graphics, but no one can deny that the game has a huge player base. For instance, Garena Free Fire was the most downloaded mobile game of 2019. Also, the reason behind Free Fire’s insufficient graphics quality is that the game is optimized to run smoothly on low-end smartphones.

Nevertheless, for players obsessed with amazing graphics, Garena is working on an enhanced version of Free Fire, which will be called Free Fire Max.

Platforms: Android and iOS

2. Call Of Duty: Mobile

If you play PUBG Mobile, then you must know about Call of Duty: Mobile. That’s because Call of Duty Mobile is the only battle royale game that stands strong against PUBG Mobile.

Like PUBG Mobile, Call of Duty Mobile is also developed by a subsidiary of Tencent Games, TiMi Studios. However, the game is published under the banner of Activision, a company based in America. In short, despite the fact Activision pays a small portion of revenue to Tencent for the development, the game is fully owned by Activision.

The fact that distinguishes COD Mobile from PUBG Mobile is its fast-paced gameplay. There are two modes in Call of Duty Mobile - Battle Royale and Multiplayer. In battle royale mode, 100 players go against each other to be the last one standing. Also, each player in the battle royale game has to choose an operator class, which makes the game even more exciting.

On the other hand, Call of Duty Mobile Multiplayer mode puts you in a 5v5 situation with amazing weapons and militaristic operator skills.

Platforms: Android and iOS

3. Battlelands Royale

Battlelands Royale is a 32-player battle royale game developed by Finnish developer, Futureplay. When compared to games like PUBG and Call of Duty Mobile, Battlelands Royale looks completely different. The graphics make everything in the game look cute, but that doesn’t mean the game doesn’t get competitive.

32 players drop together and make use of all the available resources to kill every other player on the map. There are different game modes in Battlelands Royale to provide you with more variety.

The only bad thing about Battlelands Royale is that it doesn’t have a voice chat feature, which makes it impossible for players to communicate with each other.

Nevertheless, it is a great game and the developers are working hard to make the game even better. So, if you plan to shift from PUBG Mobile, then Battlelands Royale is worth trying out.

Platforms: Android, iOS, Windows

4. Fortnite

Fortnite-PUBG mobile Alternatives

Fortnite is developed and published by Epic Games, an American company. It is one of the biggest competitors of PUBG for PC and consoles. On the other hand, the mobile version of Fortnite is far behind from COD Mobile and PUBG Mobile in terms of the player base. However, it is definitely a great game, and if you’re not into other PUBG Mobile alternatives we’ve mentioned above, then maybe you can try out Fortnite.

It doesn’t matter how much you hate Fortnite for its cartoonish graphics, you’d have to agree that it is a well-executed game that is loved by millions of players around the world.

In Fortnite Battle Royale, 100 players drop from an airbus empty-handed. After landing on the island, players have to utilize the resources and weapons they find to eliminate all the other players.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Fortnite for Android and iOS, players without a controller would sometimes find themselves at a disadvantage. Despite that, Fortnite is an amazing game that is worth trying out if you’re leaving PUBG Mobile.

Also, you should know that Tencent has 40% stake in Epic Games, but we can’t really call Fortnite a Chinese app because of that, can we?

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Mac, Windows, Nintendo, Android, iOS

So, these are the best non-Chinese PUBG Mobile alternatives. We hope that one of these can fill the void in your heart in case PUBG Mobile also gets banned someday. Is there any other game that is worthy of being on this list? If yes, then do let us know in the comments.

The post 4 PUBG Mobile Alternatives That Aren’t Chinese | Games Like PUBG In 2020 appeared first on Fossbytes.



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