Category: News Posts

Razer’s First Smartphone Won’t Have A Headphone Jack

Razer has unveiled its first smartphone, the Razer Phone, designed to handle high performance games and stream high resolution movies.

The company revealed the phone during an event in London, which it had previously teased last Oct. 11.

The Razer Phone boasts a few remarkable specs, including:

  • 120 Hz UltraMotion screen, Dolby ATMOS
  • THX certified audio
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor
  • 8GB RAM
  • 12MP dual cameras
  • 4,000 mAh battery for all-day power.

The one thing Razer’s Phone doesn’t have, however, is a 3.5mm headphone jack.

CNET reports that a USB-C to 3.5mm headphone adapter dongle will be come with the phone. The phone will also only be available through a GSM network, like AT&T or T-Mobile.

Razer’s foray into the smartphone business shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise considering that in January, the company purchased Nextbit, maker of the storage-focused, cloud-based phone, the Nextbit Robin.

Production on the Robin came to a halt following the acquisition.

The Razer Phone will be released on Nov. 17 for $700. The Phone can be purchased directly from Razer or Amazon.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

How To Get Internet To Isolated Puerto Rico? With Balloons.

More than one month after Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, cell phone communication and connection to the internet remain sorely lacking.

Enter Project Loon, the internet-beaming balloons from X, the “moonshot factory” run by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, which have provided a huge boost to getting the affected U.S. territories back online.

The balloons launched from the Nevada desert over the weekend and traveled the 3,500 miles by sky to reach the stratosphere over Puerto Rico. Algorithms are keeping them in position where the need is greatest.

At least 66 percent of cellular sites were out of service in Puerto Rico and 55.4 percent are out of service on the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to a status report released on Monday by the FCC.

This is the first time we have used our new machine learning powered algorithms to keep balloons clustered over Puerto Rico, so we’re still learning how best to do this,” a blog post from X said.

As we get more familiar with the constantly shifting winds in this region, we hope to keep the balloons over areas where connectivity is needed for as long as possible.”

X received permission from the FCC earlier this month to deploy the balloons 12.5 miles over the ground in Puerto Rico. However, deploying them and bringing connectivity wasn’t exactly simple.

Earlier this year, the moonshot factory had success connecting people in Peru during a time of torrential rain and flooding.

In that case, X had an advantage in rapidly getting Peruvians connected because it had already been working with a local carrier on testing the technology.

But this time, X had to quickly work with partners to integrate Loon into their networks, ensuring the system would work once it was deployed. X is working with AT&T in Puerto Rico to deploy internet to the hardest hit parts of the island.

That means some people on the ground with LTE-enabled devices will get basic connectivity, enough to send texts and emails and get some internet access.

Loon is still a work in progress, but having it up and running in Puerto Rico could potentially allow X to work out any potential snags.

Project Loon is still an experimental technology and we’re not quite sure how well it will work,” X freely acknowledged in its blog post.

But we hope it helps get people the information and communication they need to get through this unimaginably difficult time.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Antarctic Ozone Hole Is The Smallest It’s Been Since 1988

The ozone hole over Antarctica shrank to its smallest peak since 1988, NASA said Thursday.

The huge hole in Earth’s protective ozone layer reached its maximum this year in September, and this year NASA said it was 19.6 million square kilometres (7.6 million square miles) wide. The hole size shrinks after mid-September.

This year’s maximum hole is more than twice as big as the United States, but it’s 3.4 million square kilometres less than last year and 8.5 million square kilometres smaller than 2015.

Paul Newman, chief Earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said stormy conditions in the upper atmosphere warmed the air and kept chemicals chlorine and bromine from eating ozone.

He said scientists haven’t quite figured out why some years are stormier and have smaller ozone holes than others. “It’s really small this year. That’s a good thing,” Newman said.

Newman said this year’s drop is mostly natural but is on top of a trend of smaller steady improvements likely from the banning of ozone-eating chemicals in a 1987 international treaty.

The ozone hole hit its highest in 2000 at 29.86 million square kilometres (11.5 million square miles).

Ozone is a colorless combination of three oxygen atoms. High in the atmosphere, about 11 to 40 kilometres above the Earth, ozone shields Earth from ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer, crop damage and other problems.

Scientists at the United Nation a few years ago determined that without the 1987 treaty by 2030 there would have been an extra 2 million skin cancer cases.

They said overall the ozone layer is beginning to recover because of the phase-out of chemicals used in refrigerants and aerosol cans.

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The Quantum Computer That Could Spell The End Of Encryption

The researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Austria’s University of Innsbruck call it “the beginning of the end for encryption schemes“.

Most encryption used today uses integer factorisation, or “the factoring problem“, and its security comes from the difficulty of factoring large numbers.

For example, finding the prime factors, or multipliers, for the number 15 is fairly easy as it’s a small number.

However, a larger number such as 91, may take some pen and paper.

An even larger number, say with 232 digits, has taken scientists two years to factor, using hundreds of classical computers operating in parallel.

In encryption, two different, but intimately related numbers, are used for the encryption and decryption, making it easy to calculate but hard to reverse.

However, a quantum computer is expected to outperform traditional computers and crack this problem by using hundreds of atoms, essentially in parallel, to quickly factor huge numbers because data is encoded in the ‘spin’ of individual electrons.

Unlike standard computers, quantum bits, or qubits can exist in multiple states at once rather than the binary 1 or 0 of conventional bits.

This means they can perform multiple calculations in parallel and hold far more information than normal bits.

For example, a computer with just 1,000 qubits could easily crack modern encryption keys while smartphone games like Angry Birds typically use 40,000 conventional bits to run.

It typically takes about 12 qubits to factor the number 15, but researchers at MIT and the University of Innsbruck in Austria have found a way to pare that down to five qubits, each represented by a single atom.

This has been designed and built by a quantum computer from five atoms in an ion trap. The computer uses laser pulses to carry out algorithms on each atom, to correctly factor the number 15.

The approach thus provides the potential for designing a powerful quantum computer, but with fewer resources,” said the research paper.

We factor the number 15 by effectively employing and controlling seven qubits and four ‘cache qubits’ and by implementing generalised arithmetic operations, known as modular multipliers.

The system is designed in a way that more atoms and lasers can be added to build a bigger and faster quantum computer, able to factor much larger numbers.

The scientists said the results represent the first scalable implementation of Shor’s algorithm, a quantum algorithm named after mathematician Peter Shor in 1994 to solve the factorisation problem.

We show that Shor’s algorithm, the most complex quantum algorithm known to date, is realisable in a way where, yes, all you have to do is go in the lab, apply more technology, and you should be able to make a bigger quantum computer,” said Isaac Chuang, professor of physics and professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT.

It might still cost an enormous amount of money to build – you won’t be building a quantum computer and putting it on your desktop anytime soon – but now it’s much more an engineering effort, and not a basic physics question.

The researchers claimed the ion-trap quantum computer returns the correct factors with a confidence level exceeding 99 per cent.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Scientists Identify A Third Orangutan Species

By the time they got to the orangutan, it was already dying.

In the Batang Toru forest, on the western flank of Sumatra, orangutans will often venture from the jungle to pick fruit from nearby gardens—a habit that puts them in conflict with villagers.

In November 2013, the conservationist Matthew Nowak got word of one such conflict, and his veterinary colleagues went to investigate.

They arrived to find a male orangutan, badly beaten, his face and hands riddled with cuts. Despite the team’s efforts, he died from his injuries eight days later.

With just 120,000 orangutans left in the wild, the loss of any one is a tragedy. But this particular ape has a significance that will transcend his death.

Based on a close analysis of his skeleton, and a study of several orangutan genomes, Nowak and his colleagues think that the dead individual belongs to a different species of orangutan than those that we’re familiar with.

If they’re right, there are actually three species of these orange-haired apes. And the newly described one would be the most endangered great ape alive.

When I was a child, an orangutan was an orangutan was an orangutan. But in 2001, after years of debate, scientists formally agreed that there actually two species one from the Indonesian island of Borneo, and the other from neighboring Sumatra.

The Sumatran species is slimmer and paler, with fur that’s closer to cinnamon than maroon. It spends more time in trees. And it’s rarer, with about 14,000 remaining individuals, compared with 105,000 in Borneo.

Most of the Sumatran orangutans live on the northern part of the island. But there’s another small group that lives in Batang Toru—100 kilometers to the south, on the other side of the sizable Lake Toba.

A few obscure reports from the 1930s hinted at the existence of this splinter cell, but the group was only formally described in 1997, by a team led by the conservationist Erik Meijaard.

These orangutans always seemed a little unusual. They live in more mountainous forests, and they eat different kinds of food.  Their genes are also distinct.

In 2013, Michael Krützen, from the University of Zurich, analyzed the DNA of 123 Sumatran orangutans, and found that, in at least one part of their genome, the Batang Toru (or Tapanuli) orangutans were distinct.

If anything, they seemed more closely related to the Bornean orangutans on a different island than the Sumatran ones just a day’s walk to the north. “We didn’t expect that,” says Krützen. “It was peculiar, but we needed more data.”

He later mentioned this peculiarity while giving a talk at a conference, where both Meijaard and Nowak happened to be in the audience.

The three talked, and, suspecting that these orangutans might belong to their own distinct species, they teamed up to test that idea.

Krützen’s team analyzed the entire genomes of 37 orangutans, including two from Batang Toru.

This more thorough analysis confirmed that these animals are indeed genetically distinct from both the Bornean and Sumatran species—and closer to the former than the latter.

They think that the ancestors of all modern orangutans traveled from mainland Asia into Sundaland—a continuous landmass that includes what is now Sumatra, Borneo, and other islands.

Around 3.4 million years ago, these ancestral apes split into two populations, one of which gave rise to the current Batang Toru lineage.

The other group spread throughout Sundaland; around 670,000 years ago, they split again into two new lineages, which we now know as the Bornean and Sumatran orangutans.

The Batang Toru population occasionally crossbred with their Sumatran cousins, but those interspecies shenanigans stopped almost completely 100,000 years ago, when an erupting volcano cut them off.

The apes might not have 10 years, though. The Sumatran orangutans were already critically endangered, and now their population might be even smaller than anyone suspected.

The newly identified Batang Toru orangutan is rarer still, with an estimated 800 individuals left. Like the other two species, they are killed as agricultural pests, hunted for the pet trade, and rendered homeless as their forests are felled.

The good news is that since 2006, biologist Gabriella Fredriksson from the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program has been pushing the local government to spare the Batang Toru forest from logging.

Thanks to her efforts, around 85 percent of the forest is now at least partially protected. The bad news is that the unprotected 15 percent includes land that’s being set aside for a hydroelectric dam.

If built, the dam would cut off two large chunks of forest where the Batang Toru orangutans live, splitting this already small population into even smaller factions.

That would be devastating. “It’s probably one of the most endangered great apes we know,” says Krützen. “With just 800 individuals, there’s not much leeway for any mistakes.”

Marc Arcenaz, co-director of the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project, is hopeful, though.

I hope that this new status will foster conservation efforts to make sure that the population doesn’t go extinct shortly after being described,” he says.

It’s definitely good news in these times where conservation is more often than not gloom and doom.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Stephen Hawking’s Decades-Old Thesis Broke The Internet

Stephen Hawking’s 1966 doctoral thesis has broken the internet after becoming available to the general public for the first time.

Demand for the thesis, entitled Properties of Expanding Universes, was so great on Monday that it caused Cambridge University’s repository site to go down. The site was still inaccessible at 7.30pm on Monday.

The “historic and compelling” thesis had swiftly become the most-requested item in Cambridge’s open access repository, Apollo.

The university made the essay public at midnight on Sunday to mark Open Access Week after hundreds of readers sent in requests to download Hawking’s thesis in full.

A University of Cambridge spokesperson said: “We have had a huge response to Prof Hawking’s decision to make his PhD thesis publicly available to download, with almost 60,000 downloads in less than 24 hours.

As a result, visitors to our Open Access site may find that it is performing slower than usual and may at times be temporarily unavailable.”

The work considers implications and consequences of the expansion of the universe, and its conclusions include that galaxies cannot be formed through the growth of perturbations that were initially small.

However, until the university increases the website’s capacity to deal with requests, or demand falls, the paper is likely remain unavailable to many of those trying to access it.

Users on Twitter appeared to be patient and sanguine about the technical difficulties.

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A Mysterious Void Was Discovered In Egypt’s Great Pyramid

Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza—one of the wonders of the ancient world, and a dazzling feat of architectural genius contains a hidden void at least a hundred feet long, scientists announced on Thursday.

The space’s dimensions resemble those of the pyramid’s Grand Gallery, the 153-foot-long, 26-foot-tall corridor that leads to the burial chamber of Khufu, the pharaoh for whom the pyramid was built.

However, it remains unclear what lies within the space, what purpose it served, or if it’s one or multiple spaces.

The void is the first large inner structure discovered within the 4,500-year-old pyramid since the 1800s—a find made possible by recent advances in high-energy particle physics. The results were published in the journal Nature.

This is definitely the discovery of the century,” says archaeologist and Egyptologist Yukinori Kawae, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer.

There have been many hypotheses about the pyramid, but no one even imagined that such a big void is located above the Grand Gallery.

The findings mark the latest in a millennia-long quest to understand the Great Pyramid of Giza, long an object of mystery and intrigue.

The pyramid was built some 4,500 years ago during the Fourth Dynasty of ancient Egypt’s Old Kingdom. At that time, Egypt was a powerful, highly centralized monarchy, wealthy from trade and Nile-nourished agriculture.

The Great Pyramid is arguably the ultimate expression of that power.

The pharaoh Khufu, who reigned from 2509 to 2483 B.C., built for himself a pyramid whose base spreads across more than 13 acres and originally towered more than 146 feet tall.

The monument consists of about 2.3 million limestone blocks, which had to be quarried, transported, cut to size, and moved into place.

“These sorts of pyramids are the major product, so to speak, of the kings who built them,” says Kate Spence, a University of Cambridge archaeologist who studies ancient Egypt.

An awful lot of Egyptian society is probably geared toward building pyramids at this particular time.”

Ever since, the Great Pyramid has drawn in the curious; today, tourists enter the pyramid through a tunnel created in the ninth century A.D.

The new discovery comes out of the ScanPyramids project, an international mission under the authority of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities.

Launched in October 2015, the project aims to non-invasively peer into Egypt’s largest pyramids using a battery of technologies.

Previously, ScanPyramids had announced the detection of some intriguing voids and anomalies, which didn’t come necessarily as a surprise.

Spence says that the pyramids’ interiors are far more pockmarked and rubbly than people usually imagine.

But the new void definitely came as a surprise—and arguably marks the biggest-ever discovery yielded by muon radiography, an imaging technique first demonstrated in Giza’s pyramids.

It’s a striking discovery,” says Chris Morris, a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and expert on muon imaging techniques.

This makes another muon radiographer jealous, I’m jealous. These guys have discovered a remarkable thing.”

The technique, which has been used to peer through cathedral walls, Mayan pyramids, and even volcanoes, relies on the natural drizzle of subatomic particles called muons.

While we can’t see muons with the naked eye, scientists can spot them with special films and detectors that trace their 3-D paths.

Since muons pass more easily through empty space than through solid materials, arranging multiple muon detectors in and around a structure lets scientists map the structure’s solid and empty parts.

What’s so delightful is that [muons] are like Goldilocks: They lose enough [energy] to detect them but not so much that they just get absorbed in the target,” says University of Texas at Austin particle physicist Roy Schwitters, who uses muons to study Belize’s Mayan pyramids.

They’re really a fabulous treat from nature.

The seemingly empty region, which the researchers neutrally call “the void,” is at least a hundred feet long. Its purpose remains unclear; researchers are cautiously avoiding the word “chamber” for the time being.

Tayoubi and his colleagues stress that they don’t know what the void is—but already, Egyptologists have some initial ideas for what it might be.

Spence, the Cambridge archaeologist, says that the void may be a leftover from the Great Pyramid’s construction.

She points out that massive blocks weighing tens of tons form the roof of the chambers above the King’s Chamber, the central room where Khufu was laid to rest.

Since the void aligns with the Great Pyramid’s upper chambers, which were put there to relieve pressure on the King’s Chamber below, Spence suggests that the void may have been an internal ramp used to move the massive roof blocks into place.

As construction continued, she says, this ramp could have been left empty or loosely backfilled.

Time will tell whether these or other ideas about the void’s purpose pan out. Tayoubi and other ScanPyramids collaborators say that work is only beginning.

And to those fantasizing about personally exploring the void, a word of caution.

No known corridors connect to the space, and researchers and outside experts alike stress that there are no future plans to drill into the void.

Instead, they say that in the near-term, they will do whatever they can to peer into the space non-invasively.

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Can Cannabis Treat Epileptic Seizures?

Charlotte Figi, an eight-year-old girl from Colorado with Dravet syndrome, a rare and debilitating form of epilepsy, came into the public eye in 2013 when news broke that medical marijuana was able to do what other drugs could not: dramatically reduce her seizures.

Now, new scientific research provides evidence that cannabis may be an effective treatment for a third of epilepsy patients who, like Charlotte, have a treatment-resistant form of the disease.

Last month Orrin Devinsky, a neurologist at New York University Langone Medical Center, and his colleagues across multiple research centers published the results from the largest study to date of a cannabis-based drug for treatment-resistant epilepsy in The Lancet Neurology.

The researchers treated 162 patients with an extract of 99 percent cannabidiol (CBD), a nonpsychoactive chemical in marijuana, and monitored them for 12 weeks.

This treatment was given as an add-on to the patients’ existing medications and the trial was open-label (everyone knew what they were getting).

The researchers reported the intervention reduced motor seizures at a rate similar to existing drugs (a median of 36.5 percent) and 2 percent of patients became completely seizure free.

Additionally, 79 percent of patients reported adverse effects such as sleepiness, diarrhea and fatigue, although only 3 percent dropped out of the study due to adverse events.

I was a little surprised that the overall number of side effects was quite high but it seems like most of them were not enough that the patients had to come off the medication,” says Kevin Chapman, a neurology and pediatric professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine who was not involved in the study.

I think that [this study] provides some good data to show that it’s relatively safe the adverse effects were mostly mild and there were serious adverse effects, it’s always hard to know in such a refractory population whether that would have occurred anyway.

Stories of cannabis’s abilities to alleviate seizures have been around for about 150 years but interest in medical marijuana has increased sharply in the last decade with the help of legalization campaigns.

In particular, both patients and scientists have started to focus on the potential benefits of CBD, one of the main compounds in cannabis.

Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for its euphoric effects, CBD does not cause a “high” or pose the same type of risks that researchers have identified for THC, such as addiction and cognitive impairment.

Rather, studies have shown that it can act as an anticonvulsant and may even have antipsychotic effects.

The trial led by Devinsky is currently the most robust assessment of CBD’s effect on epilepsy (prior studies included less than 20 patients) but many questions remain.

Because the trial was open-label and without a control group, a main concern is the placebo effect, which previous studies have shown might be especially strong with marijuana-based products.

For example, an earlier 2015 study carried out by Chapman and his group at the University of Colorado revealed that 47 percent of patients whose families had moved to Colorado for cannabis-based epilepsy treatment reported improvement, compared with 22 percent in people who already lived there.

The other major issue is the possibility of drug interactions because CBD is a potent liver enzyme inhibitor it can increase the concentration of other drugs in the body.

This means that when administered with other compounds, consequent effects on patients may be due to the increased exposure to those other drugs rather than the CBD itself.

Despite these limitations, both commentary authors agree the study is an important step in establishing CBD as a safe and effective epilepsy treatment.

This is a first step, and it’s great,” Detyniecki says. Despite the large number of adverse events, he says that overall “there were no surprising side effects—we can conclude that CBD appears to be safe in the short term.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

A Smart City In China Uses AI To Track Every Movement Of Citizens

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Limited is aiding the Chinese police state in catching people who break the law, tracking criminals in real time in their new “smart city” of Hangzhou, home to 9 million people.

They are using video feeds and artificial intelligence, tracking things as petty as illegal parking in real time, putting the city under total surveillance.

Using hundreds of thousands of cameras located across the city and artificial intelligence, they were able to do a lot: for the people who control the city, not the residents.

However, the police state implications are the last thing to be mentioned by mainstream science articles covering the issue.

They are falling for it: because if you disregard the immorality of the Chinese government and its laws, and the danger of total surveillance, traffic congestion is allegedly down and other aspects of city life are allegedly more efficient now.

But does efficiency equal happiness for the people, or more profit for those who control the people?

“The stated goal was to improve life in Hangzhou by letting artificial intelligence process this data and use it to control aspects of urban life.”

“It seems to have worked. The trial has been so successful that the company is now packaging the system for export to other places in China – and eventually the rest of the world.

“Using AI to optimise Hangzhou has had many positive effects. Traffic congestion is down, road accidents are automatically detected and responded to faster, and illegal parking is tracked in real time.”

“If someone breaks the law, they too can be tracked throughout the city before being picked up by the police.”

If everything in your city was this tightly controlled, how would you be happy? How could anybody be happy in a “smart city?”

Efficiency does not equal happiness. Life is not improved by efficiency, or even money necessarily. Human happiness cannot possibly be acquired at the expense of everything that a “smart city” would destroy.

Invasive laws in many countries are tolerable now, because they are broken without consequence. If you smoked cannabis illegally, and you would be immediately caught if you tried to smoke for example, would you be happy?

The founder of the company creating this “city brain project” is certainly not subject to the same surveillance that the residents of Hangzhou are.

He’s living it up, a billionaire who is trying to become a movie star. Recently headlines about Alibaba founder Jack Ma read “Billionaire Alibaba founder Jack Ma is going to be a movie star next. Literally.”

An executive from this corporation had the audacity to speak of privacy as if it was some trivial, silly thing that only paranoid people need.

“In China, people have less concern with privacy, which allows us to move faster,” said Xian-Sheng Hua, manager of artificial intelligence at Alibaba, speaking at World Summit AI recently.

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A New Study Suggests Gaming Addiction Isn’t A Real Disorder

There are those that take their gaming time too far, to the extent that it negatively impacts their lives, their careers, and their relationships with friends and family.

But according to a new study from Cardiff University, gaming addiction might not be a real condition – at least, not as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes it.

There are currently nine criteria for “internet gaming disorder,” an area of interest for the American Psychiatric Association that has not yet properly been classified as a mental disorder.

The study reports that almost nobody fits the five of nine criteria necessary for diagnosis.

Of more than 2,000 regular online game players surveyed, only nine met the criteria for the disorder. When the participants were questioned again six months later, none still met the requirements for diagnosis.

The study suggests that rather than game addiction itself being a problem, those who struggle with too much game time are instead filling a hole caused by sources of unhappiness in other areas of their life.

Symptoms of gaming disorder had been reduced in participants who had found greater satisfaction in other areas of their life.

It seems none of this is to say that spending too much time in-game, but rather that gaming addiction serves as a symptom of more general unhappiness.

Nonetheless, psychological organizations and game developers alike have taken steps to mitigate gaming’s role in those problems.

The British National Health Service began treating game addiction in 2015 alongside porn and online shopping habits, Valve even began adding healthy gaming timers in Dota 2 last year.

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Pass it on: New Scientist