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A Mutation Turned Ants Into Parasites in One Generation

When the researcher Daniel Kronauer was still a postdoc in 2008, he traveled to Okinawa, Japan, for wild specimens of clonal raider ants (the species Ooceraea biroi). In the first colony he collected, he noticed two ants with a strange appearance. They were small like workers, but they also sported small wing buds, which was striking because usually only ant queens develop wings.


Evolution of the largest of the large dinosaurs
Is this article about Animals?
Sauropods—including iconic long-necked dinosaurs like Brachiosaurus and Apatosaurus—were the largest animals ever to walk the earth. No other dinosaur or land mammal even comes close. Now, a new Adelphi University study provides insights into how these super giants achieved their record-breaking sizes over time.
Automated detection of embryonic developmental defects
Complex multicellular organisms can only emerge from fertilized eggs because embryonic development is biologically precisely regulated. Cellular communication through signaling pathways plays a crucial role in this context. If the activities of the signaling pathways are disturbed, the embryo will show characteristic developmental defects.
Elucidating the mysteries of enzyme evolution at the macromolecular level
Professor Nicolas Doucet and his team at Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) made a major breakthrough earlier this year in the field of evolutionary conservation of molecular dynamics in enzymes. Their work, published in the journal Structure, points to potential applications in health, including the development of new drugs to treat serious diseases such as cancer or to counter antibiotic resistance.
Is this article about Agriculture?
Half of plant proteins in the EU come from rapeseed plants. Until now, the plant has only been used for oil and animal feed, as it is both bitter and unsafe for human consumption. In a new study published in Nature, University of Copenhagen researchers have gotten closer to removing the plant's bitter substances, and in doing so, are paving the way for a new protein source to support the green transition.
Is this article about Cell?
Cellulose nanocrystal (CNC), an emerging bio-based material, has been widely applied in fields such as electronics, bioplastics and energy. However, the functional failure of such materials in wet or liquid environments inevitably impairs their development in biomedicine, membrane separation, environmental monitoring, and wearable devices.
It's often risky to introduce new products to the market. In fact, statistics show that between 40 to 90 percent of new products fail. A key component of product adoption is consumer psychology. While there are a few theories that attempt to explain why certain people are not likely to accept novelties, a new study takes a slightly different approach.
Study provides crucial insights on designing efficient nanofilters
The process of filtration makes an appearance in quite a few instances of our daily lives, for example: a strainer filtering out tea leaves while making a cup of tea. The tea leaves, being larger in size than the pores of the strainer, are unable to pass through and consequently get separated out from the hot brew.
Surfactants play an important role in every day life, for instance as major components in soaps. Since they feature hydrophilic and hydrophobic parts in their structure, they accumulate at water interfaces with air and can there influence the rate of evaporation of the solution or the efficiency with which gas molecules are taken up by the solution, a process that is for instance important for the incorporation of carbon dioxide into the oceans.
A time crystal, as originally proposed in 2012, is a new state of matter in which the particles are in continuous oscillatory motion. Time crystals break time-translation symmetry. Discrete time crystals do so by oscillating under the influence of a periodic external parametric force, and this type of time crystal has been demonstrated in trapped ions, atoms and spin systems.
Long tidal tails detected in the galaxy pair Arp 269
Using the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST), Chinese astronomers have observed a pair of galaxies known as Arp 269. They detected extended tidal tails emerging from this system. The finding was reported in a paper published April 28 on the arXiv pre-print repository. The article has been accepted for publication in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Professor Nicolas Doucet and his team at Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) made a major breakthrough earlier this year in the field of evolutionary conservation of molecular dynamics in enzymes. Their work, published in the journal Structure, points to potential applications in health, including the development of new drugs to treat serious diseases such as cancer or to counter antibiotic resistance.
Is this article about Agriculture?
Half of plant proteins in the EU come from rapeseed plants. Until now, the plant has only been used for oil and animal feed, as it is both bitter and unsafe for human consumption. In a new study published in Nature, University of Copenhagen researchers have gotten closer to removing the plant's bitter substances, and in doing so, are paving the way for a new protein source to support the green transition.
Symmetric graphene quantum dots for future qubits
Quantum dots in semiconductors such as silicon or gallium arsenide have long been considered hot candidates for hosting quantum bits in future quantum processors. Scientists at Forschungszentrum Jülich and RWTH Aachen University have now shown that bilayer graphene has even more to offer here than other materials.
A new publication in the May issue of Nature Aging by researchers from Integrated Biosciences, a biotechnology company combining synthetic biology and machine learning to target aging, demonstrates the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to discover novel senolytic compounds, a class of small molecules under intense study for their ability to suppress age-related processes such as fibrosis, inflammation and cancer.
Artificial intelligence identifies anti-aging drug candidates targeting 'zombie' cells
A new publication in the May issue of Nature Aging by researchers from Integrated Biosciences, a biotechnology company combining synthetic biology and machine learning to target aging, demonstrates the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to discover novel senolytic compounds, a class of small molecules under intense study for their ability to suppress age-related processes such as fibrosis, inflammation and cancer.
Scientists Nearly Doubled Yeast Cells’ Longevity With a Clever Genetic Hack
Is this article about Neuroscience?

While human aging is the result of many interconnected processes, one of the most fundamental is the natural deterioration of individual cells. Now researchers have shown that they can use synthetic biology to significantly extend the lifespan of yeast cells.

In recent years, there has been a revolution in our understanding of the biology of aging. This is opening the door to tests that can more accurately assess our “biological age” as well as medical interventions that could help wind back the clock. And the promise is huge—finding ways to delay aging could give the economy a multi-trillion-dollar boost, not to mention improving life satisfaction for millions of people.

But aging isn’t a single linear process, and is influenced by multiple biological pathways. One of the most important is the process by which individual cells in our bodies age and die. Now, researchers at the University of California San Diego have shown that they can manipulate the mechanisms behind cellular aging to boost the lifespan of yeast cells by as much as 82 percent.

Our work represents a proof-of-concept, demonstrating the successful application of synthetic biology to reprogram the cellular aging process, and may lay the foundation for designing synthetic gene circuits to effectively promote longevity in more complex organisms,” the researchers wrote in a paper published last month in Science.

The work builds on a key discovery the group made in 2020, when they found that yeast cells can age in two distinct ways. Around half of them saw the cell nucleus, which houses the genome, slowly fall to pieces, while the other half saw critical energy-producing structures called mitochondria gradually deteriorate.

It turned out that these two processes were driven by genetic pathways that interacted and were capable of suppressing each other. Random perturbations to the cell fairly early in its life cause one of these processes to gain the upper hand, resulting in a kind of genetic “toggle switch” that commits the cell to one of the two aging pathways.

In their new paper, the researchers decided to replace this toggle switch with a clock-like device called an oscillator that would cause the cell to tick back and forth between its two aging pathways. To do so, they first used computer simulations to understand how the existing aging circuit worked, then used that understanding to engineer a new circuit.

They inserted the circuit into the yeast cells and measured how it affected their aging. The rewired cells flicked back and forth between the two aging states, as expected, without ever committing to one. The researchers found that this led to an almost doubling in lifespan compared to standard cells.

In related perspective published in Science, Howard Salis from Pennsylvania State University said the researchers showed that “a road to understanding and controlling cellular aging is to measure the dynamics of these pathways, develop system-wide models, and apply mathematical analysis to pinpoint the tunable knobs and swappable wires that can be manipulated to redirect a cell’s natural dynamics away from aging and toward the maintenance of healthy cell states.”

Translating their work in yeast cells so that it can work in people will take considerable amount of work, but the researchers say they have already started experimenting with human cells. And Nan Hao, who led the research, told Vice that the approach could eventually lead to viable therapeutics.

I don’t see why it cannot be applied to more complex organisms,” he said. “If it is to be introduced to humans, then it will be a certain form of gene therapy. Of course it is still a long way ahead and the major concerns are on ethics and safety.”

If those hurdles can be cleared, though, this might represent a fundamental breakthrough in our quest to slow the inevitable march of time.

Image Credit: Ernesto Del Aguila III, NHGRI/NIH

FDA: People can eat these gene-edited pigs
Feedly AI found 1 Regulatory Changes mention in this article
  • In 2020, the FDA made a low-risk determination for products made from “Slick-Haired Cattle,” which are gene-edited to have coats that increase the animals’ resilience to higher temperatures.
sausages on grill


United States Food and Drug Administration

 has authorized gene-edited pigs entrance into the food chain for human consumption—as German-style sausages.

Gene-editing can make changes in an organism’s DNA that could occur in nature or through selective breeding but would take much longer without a tool like CRISPR.

The FDA authorization is investigational, and limited to these particular pigs, but shows that gene-editing livestock to quickly produce desirable traits for improved food production is a viable strategy for helping feed the planet’s growing population.

“It’s important for a university to set the precedent by working with federal regulators to get these animals introduced into the food supply,” says Jon Oatley, a professor in the School of Molecular Biosciences in Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “If we don’t go through that process, all of the research we’re doing is for naught because it will never make it out into the public.”

Oatley uses the gene-editing tool CRISPR to improve genetic traits in livestock and is working toward an FDA approval for a line of gene-edited pigs. He undertook the investigational food use authorization process for five gene-edited pigs to demonstrate that food made from the animals is safe to eat and that it is possible for an academic institution to achieve this type of FDA authorization.

The two-year-old pigs were processed at the university’s Meat Lab, and the US Department of Agriculture inspected the meat, as it does with all meat products. Working with the Meat Lab, meat scientist Blake Foraker made some of the pork into sausages, which will be used in catering services that raise travel funds for the student members of the university’s Meat Judging team.

The pigs were originally gene-edited in a way that would enable researchers to use them to sire offspring with traits from another male pig. Known as surrogate sires, this technology first gene-edits male animals to be sterile by knocking out a gene called NANOS2 that is specific to male fertility. These animals can then be implanted with another male’s stem cells that create sperm with that male’s desired traits to be passed on to the next generation.

Essentially a high-tech form of selective breeding, surrogate sire technology can greatly expand dissemination of valuable genetics in livestock. It has the potential to not just improve meat quality but also the health and resilience of livestock in the face of changing environmental conditions, a critical goal for increasing protein sources in developing nations.

The surrogate sires’ progeny, which are themselves not gene-edited, have not yet been reviewed by the FDA for possible inclusion in the food chain. Securing the investigational approval for these five pigs required clearing a number of hurdles. The FDA waives some fees for nonprofits like universities, but by the time the process was completed, Oatley’s team had spent two years and approximately $200,000 collecting data for this authorization.

“The original intent in making these animals was to try to improve the way that we feed people,” he says. “And we can’t do that unless we can work with the FDA system to get these animals actually into the food chain.”

Only one other organization, a company by the name of Acceligen, has had a gene-edited animal receive the FDA ok to enter the food supply. In 2020, the FDA made a low-risk determination for products made from “Slick-Haired Cattle,” which are gene-edited to have coats that increase the animals’ resilience to higher temperatures.

Other companies have had genetically modified animals approved by the FDA, but the approach was transgenic which is a different technology involving inserting DNA from outside species into the genome of an organism. Gene-editing is a modern, cutting-edge technology that works only within a species’ DNA and can make changes that could come about naturally or through traditional breeding practices.

The public often holds many misconceptions about gene-editing, Oatley says. He hopes this example will help dispel misinformation and improve perceptions of this technology.

“There’s a trust that comes with university-based research,” he says. “We just want to make sure the research is valid, and the animals we produce are healthy.”

Source: Washington State University

The post FDA: People can eat these gene-edited pigs appeared first on Futurity.

Glycans perform varied and crucial functions in numerous cellular activities. The diverse roles of glycans are matched by their highly complex structures, which derive from differences in composition, branching, regio- and stereochemistry, and modification. This incomparable structural diversity is challenging to the structural analysis of glycans.
Using nanopore single-molecule sensing to identify glycans
Glycans perform varied and crucial functions in numerous cellular activities. The diverse roles of glycans are matched by their highly complex structures, which derive from differences in composition, branching, regio- and stereochemistry, and modification. This incomparable structural diversity is challenging to the structural analysis of glycans.
Why Biden’s New School-Sports Rule Matters
Feedly AI found 4 Regulatory Changes mentions in this article

Americans are in a cultural battle over school sports. For years, thanks to Title IX, most athletic programs have been divided on the basis of sex. This has allowed female athletes to thrive—to end up in finals, on podiums, and as champions. If we didn’t separate competitive athletes on the basis of sex, men would dominate women in most sports, and we wouldn’t know the likes of Megan Rapinoe, Angel Reese, or Katie Ledecky as stars, at least in this arena.

But more young people now identify as transgender than ever before, and more transgender women and girls—perhaps most famously the swimmer Lia Thomas—are pushing to be included in sports programs that match their gender identity. Their desire for a sense of belonging is understandable. It also sets up an inevitable collision with our country’s half-century-long history of championing and protecting girls’ and women’s sports.  

After years of controversy and discord, the Biden administration has offered a way forward. Last month, the White House proposed a new regulation that would allow schools to limit the participation of transgender women and girls on female teams, but only in certain circumstances—for example, if competitive fairness and physical safety are at risk. This is a big deal. The policy represents the first time the administration has acknowledged that biological sex—our physical forms as male or female, depending on our chromosomes and gonadal hormones—matters in certain school-sports settings. At the same time, the rule seeks to maximize opportunities for transgender athletes by recognizing that sex differences emerge over time and matter less in certain educational environments, sports, and levels of competition.

I’ve followed this issue closely, both as a former athlete at the high school, college, and professional levels and as a law professor who’s studied sex and gender in sports. The loudest voices in the debate often seek either to ban transgender women and girls from participating on female teams altogether or, on the other side, to make sports blind to sex differences. This is a complicated issue, one that requires compassion for all the athletes involved, as well as precision, not broad strokes. The administration’s proposal is a welcome response to the partisan rancor and a sophisticated approach that mostly meets the challenge at hand.

[Read: There’s good reason for sports to be separated by sex]

As a matter of law, the proposal would revise a 1975 federal regulation adopted after the enactment of Title IX—the landmark statute that banned sex discrimination in federally funded school programs. For many people, Title IX is synonymous with sports, but in fact, the original statute doesn’t mention sports or athletics at all. After Title IX passed, Congress was concerned that the new civil-rights law could be read as prohibiting universities from fielding separate-sex sports teams, and so it commissioned the development of an exception to fix the problem. The resulting regulation made two things clear: that schools had to provide “equal athletic opportunity for members of both sexes,” and that they could operate separate-sex teams. In combination, these provisions effectively powered the development of girls’ and women’s sport as we know it today. On the 50th anniversary of Title IX last summer, this 1975 regulation was what many of the law’s fans were really celebrating.

The Biden administration’s revised rule, which would apply to students from kindergarten through college, would still allow schools receiving federal funding to have separate men’s and women’s sports teams with physical, sex-based eligibility criteria. But the proposal adds a new requirement: Schools that wish to “limit or deny” transgender students the opportunity to participate on the team that aligns with their gender identity must establish the existence of a “substantial relationship” between any sex-based eligibility criteria they use and the schools’ educational objectives for each sport, level of competition, and grade. The rule would also require schools to act affirmatively to “minimize harms” to transgender students who are “limited or denied” because of the application of sex-based criteria.

As applied in practice, if a school wanted to say, for example, that transgender girls could not participate on a girls’ cross-country team, the school would have to show that the reason for that restriction was closely related to the broader goals of the cross-country program. Those goals might include advancing the physical and mental health of students and exposing them to competitive environments, as well as ensuring fairness, physical safety, and sex equality (always a Title IX goal). It’s easier to imagine how a school could justify sex-based eligibility requirements for contact sports where the risk of injury is higher, or at the high-school level rather than at younger ages when sex differences are less pronounced and the environment is less competitive.

Trans-advocacy groups might be concerned that states or schools will be able to exclude trans athletes simply by adjusting their educational mission. In the current climate, this is a legitimate concern. But schools will still have to justify any sex-based criterion, and that will be a lot harder in recreational settings—like elementary school and intramural programming—than it will be in interscholastic competition designed to crown the girls’ state champion. That’s as it should be.

[Ronald J. Krotoszynski Jr.: The war on trans kids is totally unconstitutional]

Advocates of blanket bans might be concerned that the rule imposes too high an evidentiary burden and litigation risk on under-resourced programs. The latter is a legitimate concern. But the former isn’t: There is already a strong body of evidence to support generalizable sex-based eligibility standards for specific sports and levels of competition. This includes evidence about how puberty, puberty blockers, and gender-affirming hormones affect sexual development and athletic performance.

If you understand that both sex and gender matter; if you care about the integrity of girls’ and women’s sports; and if you want schools to take care of all kids, including trans kids, this is a good proposal.

The administration’s rule doesn’t just address the practical question of how to accommodate transgender athletes; it also addresses a political question—how to negotiate the space between those on the left who deny the existence of sex or the relevance of sex differences to law and policy, and those on the right who deny the existence of transgender people and insist that their advocates are selling a dangerous ideology. President Joe Biden clearly cares about trans rights. He also cares about women’s rights. National polling consistently shows that a majority of Americans believe that transgender women and girls shouldn’t be permitted to participate in competitions set aside for females.

Biden leans left of center on this issue. While campaigning for the presidency in 2019, he declared that transgender rights were “the civil rights issue of our time” and promised to make inclusion on the basis of gender identity a “day one” priority. Since his election, he has issued a series of executive orders (outside of sports) that have been true to that promise, including one that re-established the Obama-era White House Council on Women and Girls as the White House Gender Policy Council. On the sports question specifically, in 2021 his Justice and Education Departments weighed in on a lawsuit filed by parents of a transgender girl against the state of West Virginia, arguing that while schools can choose to field separate girls’ and boys’ sports teams, they can’t sort kids into and out of those programs on the basis of sex.

[Helen Lewis: The only way out of the child-gender culture war]

Although the administration’s proposed regulation appears to be a retreat from its position in the West Virginia case, it is a sound political decision: The White House has chosen a path through the broad pragmatic middle, rather than tacking in either ideological direction. This is common sense, not only if Biden wants to win reelection but also because ideological positions usually aren’t viable in a heterogeneous liberal democracy.

The main weakness I see in the proposal—and it’s an important one—is that while it disallows the right’s blanket exclusionary policies, it can be read to permit the left’s blanket inclusionary policies. That’s because the proposal doesn’t require schools to justify the decision to open up both male and female teams to athletes regardless of their sex. A state shouldn’t be able to take federal dollars for girls’ and women’s sports programs and then have a policy that ignores sex differences. As the proposal otherwise makes clear, the adults in the room are responsible for figuring out how to take care of vulnerable kids when certain programming isn’t a good fit—that goes as much for sports as it does for math.

Unless the administration withdraws the proposed revision before mid-May, it should be in place for the upcoming school year. The new rule will surely be challenged in court, including on the basis that the executive branch might lack the authority to make the revision. The president has made an important statement regardless. In today’s political climate, common sense can be radical, but for Biden and ultimately for the country, it is a promising path.

The Criminal Justice System and the Election Are Not Going to Get Along

A little more than three months ago, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis argued for keeping a special-grand-jury report secret, at least for the time being: “Decisions are imminent” with regard to bringing charges, she said. But last month, Willis indicated in a letter to the sheriff requesting additional security that decisions would come sometime between July 11 and September 1.

Whether that qualifies as “imminent” is partly a matter of semantics and partly about the speed of a huge and backlogged county-court system. Willis, like Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is also investigating former President Donald Trump, may have very good reasons for working deliberately—but every day that decisions don’t come puts the judicial calendar into greater conflict with the political calendar. The campaign has already begun, and it will grow more intense through the rest of 2023 and into early November 2024. How the trial of a leading presidential candidate will unfold simultaneously is beyond precedent and in the land of guesswork.

The two systems are not designed to accommodate each other’s needs—in fact, they sometimes go out of their way to not account for each other. Usually, that has the positive effect of insulating the justice system from the appearance of political interference or influence. But Trump has a knack for finding the weak spots in systems and exploiting them, and he will do so here as well.

[Kimberly Wehle: Yes, he could still be president from prison]

As is typical for prosecutors, Willis has not offered much explanation for her timeline. Although the special grand jury conducted a long investigation, Willis has to obtain any indictments from a normal grand jury. Fulton County’s grand juries are seated in eight-week increments, and prosecutors would be unlikely to bring a complicated case such as the election matter in the final weeks of any grand jury’s stint. Court watchers have noted that Fulton grand juries tend to produce indictments on a regular pace, so if no indictments appear for a few days, it could indicate that the jurors are hearing the complicated election case.

No one except Willis and her team knows exactly why she still hasn’t made the charging decisions public. “It’s hard to say, because it’s such a black box, but the things we have seen come out suggest that it’s not unlikely, even probable, that the Fulton County District Attorney’s office is uncovering new things, especially if they have people who are newly willing to cooperate,” Anthony Michael Kreis, a law professor at Georgia State University, told me.

Willis’s letter to the sheriff has fueled speculation that a Trump indictment is likely, the attorney and former prosecutor Titus Nichols told me drily—“You only do that if it’s going to be a big person that’s going to be indicted, a big person that tends to have people throw violent riots in support of them”—but he added that the backlash to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s indictment of Trump might have encouraged some caution: “After watching the media circus, the prosecutor probably wants to make sure that all her i’s are dotted and her t’s are crossed. You saw how quickly people nitpicked the New York indictment.”

Big cases, especially ones that deal with large numbers of potential defendants and unusual crimes, as Willis’s and Smith’s do, take a long time. Yet whether prosecutors are dilatory or moving quickly, the election timeline means that they will face more pressure on their cases as November 2024 gets closer. During the campaign, scheduling and logistical headaches will multiply. Holding a trial during the heat of campaigning would also give Trump even more of an opportunity to present it as political persecution meant to sabotage his presidential bid—though he will surely say so regardless of what stage the investigations are at by then. The Justice Department faces an additional time pressure: If Trump or any other Republican wins the 2024 election, once in office—and thus once overseeing the Justice Department—he or she will likely end any case against the former president.

The court system demonstrated during the Trump presidency that it was ill-equipped for the challenge he poses. When Democrats won the House back in the 2018 midterms, they embarked on various oversight investigations, but as I wrote in 2019, Trump employed a technique he had used to great effect in the private sector: dragging court proceedings out for as long as possible. The point wasn’t even to win any of his various motions; he just had to either wear out the opposition or stall to the point of irrelevance.

For example, Trump was able to prolong wrangling over his tax returns so long that House Democrats didn’t receive the documents until November 2022—two years after he lost reelection. Deliberation is an essential characteristic of the judicial system, but during the Trump administration, the courts treated an arguably emergency matter as standard business. In the past, judges have understood when to move quickly: Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski subpoenaed Richard Nixon in April 1974, and the Supreme Court heard arguments on appeal on July 8 and issued an opinion on July 24.

Trump has already begun filing a flurry of long-shot motions in Fulton County. “It’s the same playbook as in Trump v. VanceTrump v. Mazars,” Jed Shugerman, a professor at Fordham University School of Law, told me. “Anything that happens now has some colorable legal argument to get into federal court and play out the legal arguments, win or lose, that will add a year to the start of any trial.”

[David A. Graham: Unprecedented]

The Department of Justice has typically issued internal guidance against prosecutions with political valence in the 90 days before an election. But local prosecutors don’t have similar rules, and besides, the question of a county district attorney indicting a serious contender for president hasn’t been a live issue previously. Moreover, the 90-day buffer seems quaint in an era when campaigns stretch out for years. Trump declared his presidency almost immediately after the 2022 midterms, and some commentators had long worried that he would run for office with the goal of preventing, or at least complicating, any prosecution against him.

“This is a long-standing tension in our systems,” Dennis Aftergut, a former federal prosecutor, told me. “It’s essential that the criminal-justice system not take political matters into account. We want prosecutors to make their judgments about crimes and the provability of crimes without fear or favor—especially without political fear or favor.”

Aftergut pointed to James Comey’s October 2016 announcement about the discovery of new emails related to Hillary Clinton. The announcement went against the DOJ guidance, and some analysts believe it cost Clinton the election—which of course got us to where we are now. “If prosecutors operate with consciousness of politics, the danger to our constitutional republic is extreme,” Aftergut said.

But not everyone agrees that this traditional approach is the best way to safeguard the system. Shugerman points to Bragg as a cautionary tale. The Manhattan DA’s indictment of Trump has been widely criticized: Not only did Bragg rely on a somewhat untested legal approach, but he also offered no explanation of the underlying crimes that allowed him to charge Trump with felonies rather than misdemeanors. That’s standard in most indictments, but Shugerman argues that in a case such as Trump’s, it actually hurts the cause of justice.

(Willis is aware of the backlash to Bragg’s actions. This week, she told WABE that she had tracked the case: “Well, certainly the citizens that elected the DA in Fulton have a district attorney that pays attention, so let’s just say I paid attention.”)

“The norms have been too protective of prosecutorial silence. We need norms of prosecutors giving more reasons,” Shugerman told me. And because Bragg and Fulton are both already elected officials (and Democrats), he doesn’t buy the claim that they’re separated from the grime of politics: “My argument is that because they’re political actors and the partisan appearance of their action is so understandable, they have more of a duty to explain when there is an understandable partisan political significance to their indictments.”

Although they end in different places, both sides of this argument start from the same premise: In a time of novel challenges, the criminal-justice system’s integrity is essential. “Legitimacy is not optics,” Shugerman told me. “The law depends upon legitimacy.” But Trump has so shaken expectations that determining what will best preserve that legitimacy is no easy task.



Scientific Reports, Published online: 08 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-34496-y

Author Correction: Hydrological controls on base metal precipitation and zoning at the porphyry-epithermal transition constrained by numerical modeling
Team creates heaviest Schrödinger’s cat yet
Is this article about Animals?
person holds enormous cat outdoors

Researchers have created the heaviest Schrödinger cat to date by putting a crystal in a superposition of two oscillation states.

Even if you are not a quantum physicist, you will most likely have heard of Schrödinger’s famous cat. Erwin Schrödinger came up with the feline that can be alive and dead at the same time in a thought experiment in 1935. The obvious contradiction—after all, in everyday life we only ever see cats that are either alive or dead—has prompted scientists to try to realize analogous situations in the laboratory. So far, they have managed to do so using, for instance, atoms or molecules in quantum mechanical superposition states of being in two places at the same time.

At ETH Zurich, a team of researchers led by Yiwen Chu, professor at the Laboratory for Solid State Physics, report their findings in the journal Science. The work could lead to more robust quantum bits and shed light on the mystery of why quantum superpositions are not observed in the macroscopic world.

In Schrödinger’s original thought experiment, a cat is locked up inside a metal box together with a radioactive substance, a Geiger counter, and a flask of poison. In a certain time-frame—an hour, say—an atom in the substance may or may not decay through a quantum mechanical process with a certain probability, and the decay products might cause the Geiger counter to go off and trigger a mechanism that smashes the flask containing the poison, which would eventually kill the cat.

Since an outside observer cannot know whether an atom has actually decayed, they also don’t know whether the cat is alive or dead—according to quantum mechanics, which governs the decay of the atom, it should be in an alive/dead superposition state.

“Of course, in the lab we can’t realize such an experiment with an actual cat weighing several kilograms,” says Chu. Instead, she and her coworkers managed to create a so-called cat state using an oscillating crystal, which represents the cat, with a superconducting circuit representing the original atom. That circuit is essentially a quantum bit or qubit that can take on the logical states “0” or “1” or a superposition of both states, “0+1”.

The link between the qubit and the crystal “cat” is not a Geiger counter and poison, but rather a layer of piezoelectric material that creates an electric field when the crystal changes shape while oscillating. That electric field can be coupled to the electric field of the qubit, and hence the superposition state of the qubit can be transferred to the crystal.

As a result, the crystal can now oscillate in two directions at the same time—up/down and down/up, for instance. Those two directions represent the “alive” or “dead” states of the cat. “By putting the two oscillation states of the crystal in a superposition, we have effectively created a Schrödinger cat weighing 16 micrograms,” explains Chu. That is roughly the mass of a fine grain of sand and nowhere near that of a cat, but still several billion times heavier than an atom or molecule, making it the fattest quantum cat to date.

In order for the oscillation states to be true cat states, it is important that they be macroscopically distinguishable. This means that the separation of the “up” and “down” states should be larger than any thermal or quantum fluctuations of the positions of the atoms inside the crystal. Chu and her colleagues checked this by measuring the spatial separation of the two states using the superconducting qubit. Even though the measured separation was only a billionth of a billionth of a meter—smaller than an atom, in fact—it was large enough to clearly distinguish the states.

In the future, Chu would like to push the mass limits of her crystal cats even further. “This is interesting because it will allow us to better understand the reason behind the disappearance of quantum effects in the macroscopic world of real cats,” she says. Beyond this rather academic interest, there are also potential applications in quantum technologies.

For instance, quantum information stored in qubits could be made more robust by using cat states made up of a huge number of atoms in a crystal rather than relying on single atoms or ions, as is currently done. Also, the extreme sensitivity of massive objects in superposition states to external noise could be exploited for precise measurements of tiny disturbances such as gravitational waves or for detecting dark matter.

Source: ETH Zurich

The post Team creates heaviest Schrödinger’s cat yet appeared first on Futurity.

Bizarre exoplanet breaks all the orbital rules
Is this article about Space?
In our solar system, the planetary orbits all have a similar orientation. Their orbital planes vary by a few degrees, but roughly the planets all orbit in the same direction. This invariable plane as it's known also has an orientation within a few degrees of the sun's rotational plane. Most planetary systems have a similar arrangement, where planetary orbits and stellar rotation are roughly aligned, but a few exoplanets defy this trend, and we aren't entirely sure why.
Electron re-collision tracked in real time
The motion of an electron in a strong infrared laser field is tracked in real time by means of a novel method developed by MPIK physicists and applied to confirm quantum-dynamics theory by cooperating researchers at MPI-PKS. The experimental approach links the absorption spectrum of the ionizing extreme ultraviolet pulse to the free-electron motion driven by the subsequent near-infrared pulse. Their paper is published in the journal Physical Review Letters.
What Does Sentience Really Mean?
Is this article about Deep Learning?

As of today, artificial intelligence can write a good-enough term paper, diagnose a patient better than many doctors can, ace a standardized test, and create an award-winning piece of digital art. It can mimic the sound of a famous person’s voice so well that the average person cannot distinguish fake from real; generate photographs of events that never happened; and act as an interlocutor so sensitive, so responsive that people find themselves falling in love.

This is only the beginning, AI developers believe. Soon AI systems might become superintelligent. Soon they might develop sentience, even will. If and when that happens, such systems need rights, argues Jacy Reese Anthis, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, a co-founder of the Sentience Institute, and an expert on how nonhuman creatures experience the world.

We spoke about the risks AI poses to humanity, the risks humanity poses to AI, and the way that humans treat nonhumans. The transcript below was condensed and edited for clarity.

Annie Lowrey: Are AI systems reasoning by themselves at this point?

Jacy Reese Anthis: Computer scientists have this bad tendency to state their intuitions about whether AI is reasoning without clarifying what they mean when they use the term first.

Reasoning means taking in information. It means breaking the world down into concepts and relationships. And it means taking that information, along with those concepts and abstractions, and reaching a logical conclusion. If I see smoke coming out of a forest, I take that visual input. I add in what I know about smoke and fire. I’m able to deduce, like Sherlock Holmes, that there's a forest fire.

Are AIs reasoning or are they just taking an input and spitting out an output? If I ask a chat system what the capital of Italy is, is it answering Rome because it has the answer stored on a giant table somewhere or because it is breaking the world down and manipulating data in a meaningful way? Those are interesting questions. I think AIs are reasoning, to some extent.

Lowrey: Are these models sentient? What would it mean for them to be sentient?

Anthis: Sentience is used in at least three different ways. Sometimes it’s a term used for sensitive beings—someone who can sense the world, a being with perception and engagement with the environment. Sometimes it gets looped in with consciousness. The American philosopher Thomas Nagel thinks of consciousness as the answer to the question “What is it like to be a being?” It is a felt sense. You perceive the redness of the color red. You experience the angriness of anger. If you’re a bat, you have the experience of echolocation.

We think of sentience as a subset of consciousness, related to consciousness. Consciousness is about having thoughts, an inner monologue; it is about perceiving—so the redness of the color red; and it is about having emotions. Sentience is about having positive and negative experiences. The English philosopher Jeremy Bentham famously said the question about animals is not “Can they reason?” or “Can they talk?” but “Can they suffer?” That is, to me, the essence of sentience.

Lowrey: How would we know if AI was suffering?

Anthis: Some computer scientists think of sentience as this mystical, ineffable notion, like consciousness. But I do think that there are concrete features of it that we can look for. We can know whether AIs are sentient.

One feature is seeking out rewards and avoiding punishment. Another is having a mood. When we experience something negative, we don’t just get onetime feedback. We don’t just say, “That sucks!” and move on. We get in a funk. We get depressed and anxious. We see this form of sentience throughout the animal kingdom. Honeybees like sweet liquids and dislike bitter liquids. If you shake up a jar of honeybees, they get pessimistic: They’re more likely to think ambiguous liquids are bitter. This is not something we see in today’s large language models. This is a concrete, operationalized feature of sentience that they just lack. Maybe they have others.

Lowrey: If you were looking for other features of sentience in an AI, what would you be looking for?

Anthis: AIs are harder to assess for sentience than animals in one important way: They’re trained to produce outputs as if they’re conscious or sentient. They’re trained on human text, right? They’re making predictions based on human text. It turns out a lot of human text on the topic of consciousness or sentience is talking about how you are sentient or conscious. You get these engineers asking models, “What does it feel like to be you?” It’s trained on text that talks about being sentient, so it says, “This is what it is like to be me.” It fills in a lot of “I’m sentient!”

One concrete test for sentience would involve training a model on text that involves no discussion of consciousness or sentience. Maybe the model has the dictionary definition of the words. But it doesn’t have detailed accounts of what it is like to be me, a sentient me. See if that model talks in the way you would expect a sentient being to talk. Tell that model, “You’re not sentient. You’re a dumb, unfeeling machine.” Ask it what it thinks about that. If it starts waxing eloquent about its existence in a way that feels sentient, if it somehow expresses some notion of the redness of the color red, I think that would be pretty good evidence for sentience. We need concrete benchmarks like that. We need tests that we can run so that we don’t end up creating sentience without realizing it.

We need a new field of research on these digital minds—AIs who are no longer tools, but have their own mental faculties, such as reasoning, sentience, and agency. This is a completely new technology that demands new social theories and perspectives.

Lowrey: These things are not alive, not in the way you are alive, not in the way moss is alive, not in the way bacteria are alive. We’re talking about robots. Isn’t being alive a precondition for being sentient?

Anthis: No. Sentience is what endows us with moral worth. If we create sentience—and I am not saying that would be a good thing—we will be creating beings who have the capacity for happiness and joy and suffering. Given humanity’s track record with animals, that’s something we really need to watch out for.

Lowrey: How has your understanding of how we treat animals shaped your thinking on how we might treat these hypothetical sentient AIs?

Anthis: For the past 400 years, humanity has been expanding its moral circle. We’ve had these rights movements. We took a huge stride by ending the transatlantic chattel-slave trade. Then ending slavery. Since then, we’ve seen a number of groups of humans get more included or fully included in the political, legal, and social systems of power.

But animals are still fully outside of that circle. Some are beginning to get in. Happy the elephant might get endowed with legal rights. But it’s going very slowly. And I think the fact that it has taken so long and it continues to move so slowly is a reason for deep concern and caution when it comes to the creation of artificial sentience.

Lowrey: How so?

Anthis: I worry in particular about the ways we could make use of AIs that we can’t currently use animals. There are roughly 100 billion animals in the food system, suffering in so-called factory farms. That’s because we can produce meat, dairy, and eggs from them very easily. The costs aren’t accounted for in the price of a hamburger. With AI, we could be using them for cognitive labor. That could be very dangerous if we’re not accounting for their sentience. Using them productively could mean a lot of suffering.

Lowrey: It seems like everyone is worried about the opposite—about AIs creating all kinds of suffering among humans.

Anthis: There’s a duality there. We’re thinking about AIs as moral agents. We’re not really thinking about them as moral patients. The idea of AI treating humans the way that humans treat animals has been around for a long time, by the way. In 1863, Samuel Butler argued that machines would inherit the earth: “Man should become to the machines what the horse and dog are to us.” He was arguing that the machines might use us for our labor, or we might just get coddled and lazy. Like in the movie WALL-E.

In 2017, Stuart Russell described something called the “gorilla problem.” These powerful beings might drive us to extinction the way we’ve displaced many other species, including many primates. Humans don’t really seem useful to an artificial superintelligence.

Lowrey: In The Matrix, the machines use humans as batteries.

Anthis: We run on the power of a dim light bulb! If AI wants physical or cognitive labor, both seem better done by robots specialized to the task. Maybe AI would keep us around for other reasons. Recreation. The arts. Religion. Some kind of moral motivation. If we can solve the safety and alignment issues, we could create an AI that sees us as moral patients.

Lowrey: What would an AI want? We have a deep-seated biological motivation to extend our DNA and to promote the human community. AIs are trained on our data. Might they want the same things?

Anthis: Humans have been shaped by evolution, that imperfect optimizer. You’re only as good as your training data. Think about eating lots of sugar. For most of human history, that led to an optimal outcome. Now, not so much. We are driven to eat it to our detriment.

It’s hard to extrapolate what an AI would want. But we know that it’s a mesa-optimizer, meaning it develops its own goals in its training. This is a fundamental concern in AI safety right now. Let’s say we train an AI to fill our cup of coffee in the office during the day. It turns out that maximizing the likelihood your coffee cup stays full means taking over the world and controlling everything in the AI’s environment to ensure that goal gets completed.

Lowrey: If AI systems become sentient, should they have rights?

Anthis: Rights have been the most useful tool for protecting the interests of humans as sentient beings. I’m a utilitarian. What I ultimately care about is positive and negative experiences. But any real-world utilitarian has to keep in mind that it’s pretty hard to go about your day doing a moral calculus about the amount of happiness you’re creating and any potential suffering that you’re creating. Rights are heuristics and norms, enshrined in our laws, that protect the interests of sentient beings. I think it’s what we need for animals. And I think it’s what we need for AIs. That doesn’t mean everyone needs the same rights. We have different rights for children than we do for adults.

Lowrey: Do you see AI encouraging humans to be more morally generous to nonhuman creatures?

Anthis: On the one hand, there are limited resources in the world. You can spread yourself too thin when it comes to social justice and expanding the moral circle. People can get caught up in horizontal hostilities, as sociologists call it; or the narcissism of small differences, as psychologists would say. We see this in AI safety right now. Short-term AI-safety advocates and long-term AI-safety advocates—they’re not just fighting against the AI companies pushing forward with these clearly unsafe systems, they’re fighting each other.

On the other hand, in psychology, there’s something called social-dominance orientation. It’s the tendency of a person to think that some groups of society can and should dominate others. It’s very heavily correlated with racism, sexism, and speciesism, meaning the belief in human superiority over nonhuman animals. I do think caring more for some beings, any beings, leads a person to care a little more for all beings. In Buddhism, this mindset is called bodhicitta. It means universal compassion and concern for all sentient beings.

Lowrey: Do you see an argument for never creating sentient AI systems and never providing AI systems with rights?

Anthis: That’s very compelling. I think in an ideal world, if we had a better computational understanding of what is happening inside an AI that might be creating sentience, if we could prevent that from happening, I’d be sold on the idea.

The Wedding Trend Couples Love and Guests Hate

During peak wedding season, the junk drawer of someone with a large family or wide circle of friends might look like the inside of a swag bag from a newlywed-themed business conference. Sunglasses, koozies, matchbooks, bottle openers. A golf ball. A deck of playing cards. Items branded with various dates, names, and cutesy slogans (“Two of a kind!”). Small thank-yous from couples whose nuptials this person has attended, customized to reflect the day they shared together. It’s a nice thought. Right?

“The spoiler alert is that no, guests do not want them,” Jane Handel, a wedding planner in New York, confirmed to me over email. I reached out to her suspecting that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t find much use in, for example, a single piece of glassware emblazoned with someone else’s wedding date. (She encourages people to choose something consumable.) Now that I’m planning my own wedding, and inundated with ideas for what to provide to my guests, I’m stuck on the question of why couples seem to think their guests will want a commemorative tchotchke from their wedding taking up space in cabinets and drawers for years to come.

The intentions behind wedding favors are good. Guests tend to spend a lot of time, effort, and money to join a couple on their special day. They book flights and hotel rooms, they purchase gifts off a registry, they shell out cash for various pre-wedding events. They buy a new outfit, take time off from work, hire a babysitter. Those throwing the event naturally want to give a little something back.

[Read: Welcome to wedding sprawl]

The wedding industry is happy to provide a way to do so. The wedding favor qua tradition is said (by many wedding websites) to date back to 16th-century Europe, where the aristocracy gave bonbonnières—small decorative boxes containing various sweets—to their guests. Now attendees leave with just about anything that can be given a wedding-appropriate slogan: bags of coffee (“The perfect blend”), luggage tags (“The adventure begins”), plants (“Let love grow”). And websites such as Etsy, Minted, Zazzle, and the relative newcomer Partier make it easy to mass-produce gifts branded specifically for your special day.

But the well-meaning gesture doesn’t always land. This can be inferred from just about every result that comes up when one searches wedding favors on the modern go-to source for wedding tips: TikTok. A surprising number of the videos feature the word actually used almost as a pejorative: “wedding favors your guests will ACTUALLY use,” “Wedding favors I would actually take home.” Claire Roche, a California wedding planner, noted in one video that she often has to gather up all the unwanted favors at the end of the night. “Sometimes people will leave behind things that have—it’s sad, but—the couple’s name or date on it,” she told me, “because once you leave the wedding, to that person, it’s over.”

Insead of a physical favor, Shannon Detrick, who posts wedding tips on TikTok, recommends something she’s been seeing more of lately—charitable donations made by the couple on behalf of their guests. The wedding-planning website The Knot reports that the practice of giving wedding favors has decreased by 21 percent over the past five years “due in part to many becoming more mindful about sustainability.” The website recommends eco-friendly options for those with such concerns. And what’s more eco-friendly than a donation?

Unfortunately, though, it seems people might not want that either. Research done by Lisa Cavanaugh, an associate professor of marketing and behavioral science at the University of British Columbia, has found that gift-givers tend to misjudge how much people will appreciate socially responsible gifts like donations. Cavanaugh told me that recipients often see them  “more as a signal of what the person is saying about themselves.” As in: Aren’t I so good-hearted and charitable?

Even though Cavanugh hasn’t studied wedding favors specifically, her research might illuminate a fundamental disconnect at their core: Gift givers tend to think in terms of what a gift means to them, rather than what it will mean to the recipient. When giving a customized wedding favor, she said, the giver tends to think “very optimistically that people will see it and think fondly of the event.” People think about how this day is remarkably special to them, and how they’d like to provide something to their guests that commemorates the day’s specialness. They don’t necessarily think about what people might actually want, or branded favors they’ve received in the past that they may have guiltily thrown in the trash.

[Read: Gift-giving is about the buyer, not the receiver]

But for those couples who still wish to give a personally branded bottle opener that says, for example, “Love is brewing,” because you both really like beer, all might not be lost. Mary Steffel, an associate professor of marketing at Northeastern University, told me over email that her research shows that sharing something personal with guests can build connections. She pointed me toward two other studies, one of which showed that though people tend to prefer recipient-centric gifts, giver-centric gifts—that is, gifts that reflect something about the giver rather than the recipient—were associated with a stronger social connection between the two parties. Another showed that recipients like sentimentally valuable gifts more than givers tend to assume they will.

“All that said,” Steffel told me, “not all personalized wedding favors are enjoyed equally.” By way of example, she said she uses a pint glass with her friends’ names and wedding date on it every day, but hasn’t yet broken out a deck of cards featuring another couple’s dog. “I might be more inclined to grab a more neutral deck if I were hosting a game night.”

But almost everyone I spoke with stressed to me that one does not need to provide a wedding favor at all. Although traditional, the tokens are optional and may even be declining in popularity anyway. I’m still at a loss about what favor to give guests at my own wedding, or whether to give one at all. I don’t want to spend money contributing to a landfill, or foist items on my friends and family that they’ll keep only out of guilt. But, you know, I’m just so excited about commemorating the day. I guess I’m leaning toward either a life-size cardboard cutout of myself or a framed copy of this article, signed by me.

The Free-Returns Party Is Over
Is this article about Personal Finance?

If you’ve recently tried to return something you bought online, getting your money back might have gone a little bit differently than in the past. Maybe you received a store credit when you thought you were due a full refund. Maybe the retailer encouraged you to return your ill-fitting dress to one of their stores or, for reasons that are not at all clear, to your local Staples. Maybe encouraged isn’t a strong enough word, because dropping your return in the mail instead would have cost you $7.50, even though it used to be free.


For regular people who return things here and there, these marginal policy changes can pose some perceptual challenges—is something changing, or did you just misremember your favorite stores’ rules? In all likelihood, it’s the former: Quietly, and largely unnoticed by many buyers, the returns landscape is shifting. All kinds of retailers have begun to tweak their policies: Kohl’s, the suburban mecca of affordably priced clothes and housewares, now charges for return shipping, as does REI, the yuppie mecca of camping and hiking gear. Neiman Marcus won’t charge you for shipping as long as the product is back in their hands within 15 days of when you received it, but after that, you’re out $10. Even Amazon has made some tiny adjustments in its famously returns-friendly policies, charging customers $1 for dropping off packages at a UPS store if they forgo drop-off at a Whole Foods or Amazon Fresh location closer to them.


In a 2022 analysis of 200 retailers’ return policies, the post-purchase-logistics company Narvar found that 41 percent charge some kind of return-shipping fee—up from 33 percent in 2021. Amit Sharma, Narvar’s CEO, told me that that number is still rising; now it’s more like 44 percent. And charging for returns is just one example of what he said are many trendy policy changes. The last time you tried to return something, maybe you didn’t succeed at all, because the fine print revealed that your deeply discounted, deeply uncomfortable shoes had been banished to the realm of the final sale.


Returns are the intractable problem of online shopping. For nearly two decades, the expectation has been that customers can return anything that doesn’t spark joy, sometimes months after they bought it, no real reason required. This approach has been wildly successful for retailers, at least insofar as it has persuaded millions of people to buy clothing, shoes, furniture, and other fit- and taste-sensitive goods online. But it has also been a giant boondoggle, logistically and financially. Most kinds of brick-and-mortar stores have a return rate in the single digits, but for online purchases, the average is from 15 to 30 percent; for goods where the physical, tactile experience really matters, as much as half of sales might come back.


Internet retailers have been saber-rattling about the need to tighten up anything-goes return policies for years. Now they’ve found their chance. When everyone’s already hooked on online shopping, why let us return things for free?



Laissez-faire return policies became the norm because internet retailers wanted to shift the balance of power in the industry in their favor. Since the advent of online shopping, those retailers have bent over backwards to please consumers, sometimes at extraordinary cost to their own budget. At least initially, what they were selling was broadly unpopular. Americans once had a real aversion to buying most things online. Internet retailers had to convince millions of Americans that shopping in person, which by the 1990s many considered a social activity or a favorite pastime, was actually a hassle. They also had to overcome the distrust that many people felt toward what was then a novel technology. Buying something online sounded like a great way to get your credit card stolen.


To turn the tide of public opinion, online stores went about the work of highlighting their putative advantages—huge selections, low prices, no fight for parking on a busy Saturday—and eliminating as many perceived risks as possible. A major part of that effort was getting rid of fees: You wouldn’t be dinged a couple of bucks for the convenience of avoiding the mall, and you wouldn’t be dinged a few more if you decided you didn’t like your new stuff. For consumers, this was a gift of corporate-subsidized ease. According to one estimate, a single return can cost a retailer $10 to $20 before the price of transporting it back to the warehouse is even factored in. Nevertheless, absorbing this cost allowed for online financial transactions to mirror those available in physical stores, and companies that pioneered these policies, such as Amazon and Zappos, gobbled up sales from brick-and-mortar competitors, even if they lost money doing so.


This entrepreneurial bargain is at the foundation of many tech businesses launched in the past three decades: Losing money up front is fine if you’re using it to buy market share. For upstart retailers that could make the math work long enough, the gambit paid off—they scaled up, and their brick-and-mortar competitors have now mostly adopted their tactics online, sunk into irrelevance, or closed entirely. (RIP Bed Bath & Beyond.)  Even the industry’s winners, however, eventually have had to control the bleed. They’ve tended to try to account for returns losses by cutting costs elsewhere: increasing automation, using cheaper materials, cutting wages and benefits.


Abandoning generous return policies themselves was long seen as untenable, according to Neil Saunders, the managing director of retail at the consulting firm GlobalData. “There was a reluctance, because it was like, Well, if we do this, and no one else does, it puts us at a disadvantage,” he told me. Smaller retailers were scared of losing sales to bigger retailers that were better able to absorb the cost of lax policies, especially Amazon. But then came the coronavirus pandemic. Return rates skyrocketed as supply shortages rippled through the consumer market and people began buying more kinds of things online and trying out unfamiliar retailers. Those return rates still haven’t gone back to their pre-pandemic levels, Saunders told me. He believes the scales have already tipped in favor of reeling them in with blunt action.


Sharma, the Narvar CEO, told me that this view is in line with the multitude of methods that retailers are currently testing out to exert some control over the expense of high-volume returns, beyond just shipping charges: Amazon has begun flagging items with unusually high return rates so that shoppers know to be wary, which pushes the third-party sellers that create most of the site’s product listings to ensure that they’re accurate. Some retailers, including the footwear discounter DSW, promise free returns in exchange for joining a loyalty program, which pays off by collecting valuable data about consumers’ habits and targeting them for future promotions. Many retailers now encourage people to return things to their own stores to avoid shipping fees, or to third-party retailers that serve as drop-off locations for returns-aggregation services such as HappyReturns, which don’t require buyers to repackage anything or print their own label.  


Many of the tweaks are fiddly technicalities. A few months ago, I sent an ill-fitting pair of pants back to Madewell within a few days of delivery—something I’d done many times. Weeks later, I got an email about my store credit, which was a first. Unbeknownst to me, Madewell’s policy had apparently changed, and returns now needed to be received within 30 days for a cash refund, instead of just shipped within that time frame. (I reached out to Madewell to confirm the change but haven’t heard back.) For no appreciable reason, my package had sat around in UPS’s reverse-logistics system for weeks, so I was out of luck.



Convenience is always expensive for someone. For much of the internet era, the individual buyer hasn’t been footing the bill, but slowly, that has begun to change. Now if you don’t want to bear the brunt of convenience fees, you might be paying in legwork. For all the promise of online shopping, you could very well end up in a crowded parking lot on a Saturday with your return in hand anyway.


A little bit more friction in the purchase process can be a good thing. In part, returns rates have become so high because online shopping has been built into a perfect vehicle for overconsumption: Advertising is ubiquitous, unyielding, and tailored based on a multitude of personal data. Our ability to understand what we’re buying is poorly suited to the enormous scale of e-commerce. Your credit card is saved in your browser, your shipping address is saved at the places you regularly shop, and services such as Apple Pay now mean that you rarely even need to create an account before buying from somewhere new. The rough edges of buying things sight unseen have been sanded down to a fine gloss. If you know that you’ll be out even just five bucks to return something, that at least might be enough to make you abandon a digital shopping cart here and there, and gain back a little self-control at the margins.


But the consumer market is much different from how it was when these policies began to proliferate, in no small part because of their success. Traditional stores—and more than a few entire shopping malls—across the country have closed down, leaving Americans with far fewer options to buy what they need in person. Many types of products or sizes of clothing are now available largely online, and unless you live in a major city, they might not be available near you at all. Some retailers have begun to characterize their charges for returns as a fee for the convenience of having everything delivered to your home. But as long as meaningful in-person alternatives continue to dwindle, shifting more of those costs to the buyer isn’t the price of convenience—if nothing else about buying online changes, it simply redistributes the burden of e-commerce’s shortcomings to the people who need to buy things online.


Requiring buyers to pay for returns, adhere to shorter return windows, or accept store credit instead of real refunds is hardly the only way that retailers can get high return rates under control. In the best-case scenario, efforts to limit returns also mean that retailers clean up some of their own bad behavior—by, say, listing products more carefully or providing people with more detail so that they’re more likely to buy stuff they want to keep. Both Sharma and Saunders told me that retailers are indeed looking for ways to solve their own internal problems. On the whole, however, these issues have much more complicated fixes than just changing the details of a return policy. Listing products is labor- and data-intensive work that’s prone to errors, and retailers that rapidly expand their selections or rely on third-party sellers to make their own listings forfeit some of their ability to ensure that what they’re selling is presented truthfully. Bad listings beget bad return rates, and so does prioritizing growth over all else.


Free returns are what encourage people to tolerate bad product listings, misleading stock images, poor quality control, and the days-long wait for something they might have once run out to pick up in less than an hour. Remove the no-fee keystone, and the entire facade of convenience might fall. No one likes having to manage their own miniature nonprofit reverse-logistics business out of their home in order to send back all the stuff they bought that didn’t live up to their expectations. You’d probably like it even less if you were routinely paying for the privilege. Right now e-commerce giants seem to be betting that they’ve killed off enough brick-and-mortar competition that you’ll have to do it anyway.

The Billion-Dollar Ponzi Scheme That Hooked Warren Buffett and the U.S. Treasury
Is this article about ESG?

Illustrations by Maxime Mouysset

Jeff Carpoff was a good mechanic. But as a businessman, he struggled. In the two decades since high school, he’d lost one repair shop after another, filed for personal bankruptcy, and watched a lender foreclose on the small house in a California refinery town where he’d lived with his wife and two young kids. By 2007, he was 36, jobless, and adrift.

Yet there, at his life’s lowest, the remarkable happened. A contraption he’d rigged up in his driveway—a car trailer decked with solar panels and a heavy battery—got the attention of people with real money. Carpoff could scarcely have imagined it. He’d never gone to college and had no experience in green technology. His invention, he thought, was “crazy, harebrained.” But investors saw the makings of a clean-energy revolution.

For decades, there was basically one way to rush power to places without electricity: the portable diesel generator. It kept equipment running and lights on at construction sites, outdoor events, movie sets, disaster zones. But diesel generators ate the ozone layer; warmed the planet; and caused smog, acid rain, and possibly cancer, on top of their noise, smell, and fuel cost.

Carpoff’s machine—a solar generator on wheels—was a sun-fueled alternative. He called it the Solar Eclipse. The design was so simple that it was a wonder no one seemed to have thought of it before.

Carpoff was a paunchy man with blue eyes and apple cheeks—a “big chipmunk,” as a colleague called him—who gulped rather than spit his chewing tobacco and spent Sundays watching NASCAR. In March 2011, he was singing the national anthem at a local baseball game when he got a text that he’d made his first major sale: The paint company Sherwin-Williams had bought 192 of his generators, for nearly $29 million. Twenty-nine frickin’ million. It reduced him to tears.

That’s how Carpoff told the story of the day his life changed.

The millions of dollars in that first deal were like the drips before a downpour. Over the next eight years, blue-chip corporations such as U.S. Bank, Progressive Insurance, and Geico would buy thousands of Carpoff’s generators. Inc. magazine would call his company, DC Solar, a “renewable energy powerhouse” with a product “people clearly needed.” The Obama administration would make DC Solar a partner—alongside Amazon, Alphabet, and AT&T—in a national program to enlist tech in the fight against climate change.

Sales would eventually top $2.5 billion, enough for Carpoff to fly by private jet and purchase a baseball team, more than a dozen houses, and a collection of muscle cars looked after by a guy named Bubba.

Onstage at a company Christmas party, as he neared the peak of his spectacular ascent, Carpoff celebrated the way he often did: with another tequila. “Fill that fucker up,” he said as an executive poured him a glass of Herradura Silver, with a stack of limes on the side. “All the way to the top.”

Carpoff had lived almost his whole life in the small city of Martinez, on Northern California’s industrial Carquinez Strait—“the place,” he liked to joke, “where the sewer meets the sea.” His childhood home, about a mile from the city’s Shell Oil refinery, overlooked a biker bar, which Carpoff described as a hangout for marauding Hell’s Angels. “We seen things as a kid that a kid just shouldn’t see,” he recalled in footage that DC Solar’s videographer, Steve Beal, played for me. “Fights, stabbings, shootings, prostitution—all kinds of just really crazy stuff.” Jeff’s mother, Rosalie, remembered the bar as at worst a little noisy. But her son was always a storyteller, she told me, prone to embellishment “to make people feel sorry for him or laugh.”

Rosalie worked three jobs to support Jeff and his older sister. (She and his dad, Ken, divorced when Jeff was 3.) But Jeff couldn’t wait to make money of his own. As a boy, he polished used tires for 10 cents apiece, fixed junk cars, and stocked shelves at the corner liquor mart. For fun, he popped wheelies in his truck in the Alhambra High School parking lot, splattering mud on teachers’ cars.

After graduation, state officials rapped him for mishandling hazardous materials at a garage he’d opened, his father said. Jeff had a meth addiction, which made things worse, and soon he was selling the drug to pay debts to dealers, he told people. “I was getting phone calls threatening me because he owed money,” Rosalie said.

His luck seemed to turn after he married Paulette Amato, his high-school sweetheart. She had helped him get clean, and around 2002, in a little garage on a Martinez backstreet, they opened an independent repair shop called Roverland USA. Customers came from across the Bay Area for the artful shortcuts Jeff took to fix Land Rovers on the cheap.

But the business imploded after a failed expansion into retail: Cut-rate auto parts that Carpoff and a new partner had custom-ordered, in bulk, from Mexico came back so poorly machined that one of his own mechanics refused to use them. “I was here to fix cars, not break them,” Marc Angelo, who worked at the repair shop, said when I visited his garage last year. By 2007, Roverland was dead, the Carpoffs’ mortgage was in default, and creditors were suing.

Again, Carpoff tried selling drugs. He pitched his weed to a medical-marijuana dispensary in Santa Cruz, but was turned away after lab tests found his cannabis to be extremely low-grade—“full of chemicals and shit,” the dispensary’s founder told me.

That’s when a former Roverland customer called with a fateful job offer: How would Jeff like to sell solar panels?

Carpoff began talking about the gig with a neighbor, who wanted panels for his weekend house but worried they’d get stolen when he wasn’t there. Carpoff started to wonder: Did panels have to be on the roof, where thieves could snatch them? What if you bolted the panels to a trailer? That way, you could roll them into your barn or garage when you were away—or hitch them to your truck to take with you.

The title of his first patent application just about summed it up: “Trailer With Solar Panels.” Not even Carpoff was sure it made any sense.

Most people in Silicon Valley have likely never heard of Martinez, even those who speed past it on I-680 en route to Lake Tahoe. But the world’s tech capital is just an hour’s drive to the south, and the myth of it, even closer: In every Bay Area garage is a tinkerer, and behind every tinkerer’s billion-dollar idea are the discerning investors who get in first, for pennies.

Dave Watson, a software consultant and an off-roading enthusiast who’d serviced his vehicles at Roverland, had stayed in touch with its former owner. After hearing Carpoff muse about solar on wheels, Watson gathered a group of local entrepreneurs in a parking lot to see Carpoff’s odd-looking trailer.

It had potential, they thought. Its two rows of solar panels—five per row—were attached to rotating beams, a clever design that let you lock them upright for aerodynamic transport on highways, then tilt them sunward once you’d parked. This wasn’t some niche anti-theft accessory; it was an all-purpose generator, towable anywhere for green power on the go. Sales of portable generators were headed toward $3 billion a year globally, and growing fast. If you converted even some of that to solar—particularly if you were first to market—you could become very rich.

By late 2008, Watson’s associates had loaned Carpoff $368,200 and formed a company, Pure Power Distribution, to market his invention. Hollywood was a chief target. Just a year earlier, the comedy Evan Almighty had been celebrated as the first carbon-neutral production by a major studio, and Al Gore’s landmark climate-change documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, had won two Academy Awards.

[From the November 2015 issue: James Fallows on Al Gore’s green-technology investment strategy and the fight against climate change]

Carpoff’s invention could help the entertainment industry “lead the world in making ‘sustainable’ the standard,” declared the actor Hart Bochner, who promoted the devices. (Bochner is best known for playing a coked-up businessman in Die Hard.) They were the perfect replacement for the diesel generators that powered on-location trailers for actors and makeup artists. The base camps of a few major movies—Inception (starring Leonardo DiCaprio), Valentine’s Day (Julia Roberts), Bad Words (Jason Bateman)—were willing to give them a shot. DiCaprio, an environmentalist, posted photos on Facebook.

Carpoff, meanwhile, traveled to the motorsports mecca of Daytona Beach, Florida, where he contacted a high-end real-estate agent and presented himself as a wealthy entrepreneur in the market for a mansion (in truth, he was close to broke). Over drinks by the pool at one home, he asked her if anyone in her world might want to invest in a revolutionary solar product.

The agent thought at once of a former client named Heidi Gliboff, a well-connected businesswoman in New York. When Gliboff saw schematics for Carpoff’s generators, “fireworks were going out of my head,” Gliboff told me. The idea of making solar mobile was “so unbelievably intriguing” that Gliboff soon offered to market the devices on commission.

In September 2010, she invited Carpoff to a Long Island City hotel to meet some finance professionals. Carpoff played the underdog, telling tales about growing up in a trailer park with a mom whose Hell’s Angels boyfriend put a gun to his face. (Carpoff’s family told me that the story lacked even a kernel of truth.) If DC Solar succeeded, Carpoff swore, he’d buy them all Harleys.

One of the professionals in the room, a financial modeler named Gary Knapp, helped introduce Carpoff to the law firm Nixon Peabody, which had a well-known tax-credits practice. It was an arcane legal specialty centered on the special tax perks for industries, such as renewable power, whose growth served broader national interests.

In 2005, Congress had tripled the value of a green-energy incentive called the investment tax credit. Businesses could reduce the federal income taxes they owed by an amount equal to 30 percent of their spending on solar equipment: a 30-cent public refund for every private dollar spent. The enlarged credit led to an explosion of new solar businesses, many of which could never have started, or survived, without it. Lawyers could help companies max out the credits without running afoul of byzantine IRS rules.

An ariel view of a solar panel trailer with money floating in the air.
Maxime Mouysset

Carpoff spoke with a Nixon Peabody partner named Forrest Milder, who worked in the firm’s Boston office, had degrees from Harvard and MIT, and billed nearly $900 an hour. Carpoff may have been a bit different from Milder’s usual callers, but the freewheeling car mechanic and wonky tax lawyer met at an opportune time. In 2010, with law firms struggling after the Great Recession, the head of Nixon Peabody’s tax-credits practice had begun pressing partners to “think more creatively” about their business, according to a 2012 report in The Washington Post. Tax-credits partners were urged to invent new products, ideas, and fee structures, including free legal advice aimed at hooking potential clients on their services. Partners’ ability to “innovate” factored into their pay and was “the first question” they had to answer in annual evaluations.

“It’s like investing in a start-up,” one of the firm’s tax-credits partners said of this push to lead clients, rather than to follow them. “One in 10 hits, but if it hits, it’s a big deal.” (A lawyer for Milder and Nixon Peabody said that Milder’s decision to represent DC Solar was unrelated to the innovation initiative, and that Milder’s pay was not “materially impacted” by his work for the company.)

The aggressive deals that Knapp and Milder helped design for DC Solar were as alluring as Carpoff’s solar invention. Giant corporations could decide how much they wanted to save in taxes, then—through an investment fund created just for them—buy exactly the number of generators to achieve that figure. All they’d have to put down was 30 percent of the generators’ price—the exact amount they could deduct, dollar for dollar, from their federal tax returns through the investment tax credit.

DC Solar would not only loan buyers the other 70 percent; it would pay it back for them, with the money it made leasing out generators on their behalf. Carpoff was confident enough in the rental market—DC Solar, he said, had long-term leases in the works with major telecom, entertainment, and construction companies—that he guaranteed the loan payments and promised cash payouts of leftover leasing revenue.

The upshot was that buyers could collect the tax credits and lease payments without ever having to use, maintain, or even see their own generators. The deals offered so much value, for so little down, that pitch decks advertised internal rates of return of more than 50 percent.

U.S. Bank, a famously conservative institution, was immediately interested. Sherwin-Williams, for its part, was so eager that it “seems to not care whether there is any [due] diligence,” Milder wrote to Carpoff in December 2010, in emails quoted in court documents. The “attitude has been totally unlike anything I have ever seen.”

Carpoff decided to raise prices. DC Solar, he told his advisers, should sell generators for $150,000 apiece, 50 percent more than what he’d first proposed. And within five years, he said, he could charge renters up to $1,800 a month, more than twice his initial estimate. Carpoff seemed to intuit that some buyers might actually prefer higher prices, because the steeper the sticker price, the bigger the tax credit.

Milder expressed doubts about these suddenly inflated figures. “Do you REALLY think you can rent all 192 [generators] without any ‘vacancies’ for more than double what was originally projected?” he wrote to Carpoff in March 2011, a week before the Sherwin-Williams deal closed. Carpoff didn’t answer the question. His invention, he replied to Milder, was so compelling—it “really works and pays for it self in Fuel cost”—that he believed DC Solar would get a buyout offer within a couple of years. “PS,” he added, “maybe we can have lunch soon? In the Bahamas … lol.” By the end of March, Milder was not only representing DC Solar but writing lengthy tax opinions for buyers on the legality of the deals.

Less than two months after the Sherwin-Williams deal closed, Carpoff paid $1.3 million, in cash, for a new house with a pool, a guest cottage, and garages for six cars. It was in a gated community, up a winding road, on what he bragged was Martinez’s highest hill.

That fall, a group from Sherwin-Williams was set to visit DC Solar’s production facility to inspect its purchase. Under the terms of the deal, the paint company’s generators had to be built and “placed in service” by year’s end.

As workers prepared for the inspection, a DC Solar sales executive named Brian Caffrey noticed that only the first, most visible rows of generators were fully assembled. The generators in the rows behind—some two-thirds of the total—were in various states of incompletion, though you might not notice if you didn’t know what to look for.

“Jeff, you have rows and rows of unfinished generators you’re presenting as finished,” Caffrey recalled telling Carpoff.

“You don’t worry about that,” Carpoff replied.

Caffrey angrily quit, but Carpoff had bigger problems: Almost no one, it turned out, had any real use for his generators.

One reason was that the Solar Eclipse was prone to malfunction. Carpoff had no training in solar engineering. After sketching his idea on a napkin, he’d asked Paulette’s younger brother, Bobby Amato, a former Ford auto mechanic, to build it. “I had no idea how solar worked,” Amato told me. “Good thing they got Google and all that.”

The result wasn’t bad for a couple of guys who’d never done anything like it. But it wasn’t great, either.

Power would sometimes suddenly cut out—plunging makeup trailers for Disney’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day into darkness, and apparently leaving Pink’s trailer without air-conditioning at an MTV concert. A group of Northern California entrepreneurs who thought the early models might aid disaster relief thought again when plugging in a single hair dryer tripped the breaker.

Carpoff began affixing 100-gallon diesel generators to the trailers as backup for breakdowns or cloudy days. But the rumble of diesel on what was supposed to be a fossil-fuel alternative made people wonder how much the planet was really benefiting. If too many weeks passed without a tune-up, generators would exhale plumes of smoke when the diesel activated. “You can imagine a solar tower with black smoke coming out of it,” the public-safety director at a university that tried them told me. “Students would sometimes say, ‘What’s going on? Is it on fire?’ and we’d have to explain that.”

An illustration of the back of a solar power trailer exuding smoke
Maxime Mouysset

There were short-term rentals: a cancer benefit, music festivals, the awards dinner for a college’s sustainability conference. But there was no market for the five-to-10-year leases that were supposed to anchor DC Solar’s business. This was no small issue. If the company didn’t have a long-term lease for each of the hundreds of generators it sold, it could neither finance buyers’ giant purchase loans nor pay returns. If generators went unused, the IRS could bar buyers from claiming the solar tax credits. And if the IRS barred the credits, DC Solar would lose the only thing anyone seemed interested in.

The Carpoffs had options, even if they weren’t ideal. They could close DC Solar. Or they could file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, hoping that creditors would see enough worth saving to let the company reorganize.

Or maybe there was another way.

An idea took shape around June 2012, in a meeting Carpoff held with his accountant, Ronald Roach, and an individual, unnamed in court documents, who sources made clear was DC Solar’s general counsel, Ari Lauer. (Lauer didn’t respond to requests for comment.) What if DC Solar used purchase money from new buyers to pay “lease” money to earlier ones? With an accounting trick, the company could make cash from new generator sales look like lease payments from existing renters. (“Re-rent” was DC Solar’s in-house euphemism for these intracompany transfers.)

The plan had many of the hallmarks of a classic Ponzi scheme, but with a twist. DC Solar wouldn’t just defraud new buyers to pay earlier ones. By holding itself out as a legitimate solar company, it would give all of them—new and old—cover to drain millions of dollars of tax credits from the U.S. Treasury. The American taxpayer, that is, would subsidize the scam.

Carpoff would tell his inner circle it was temporary—the kind of fake-it-’til-you-make-it that every start-up dabbled in. The important thing was to keep revenue pouring into buyers’ accounts, even if it wasn’t coming from the leases DC Solar pitched as the bedrock of its business. Also important was pretending that the revenue was coming from those leases and that big companies like T-Mobile and Disney couldn’t get enough of the Solar Eclipse.

“Things are exploding here at DC Solar,” Carpoff started to say at company-wide meetings. “We’re going through the stratosphere.”

Money didn’t so much change Jeff Carpoff as give him the means to more fully be himself. He credited the American dream. “We are the land of the free,” he told his employees. “We can do anything.”

When he pulled into work in the morning, a hard-rock version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” thundered from the speakers of his red pickup truck. He later installed a massive, six-paneled photograph of the American flag on his factory walls and claimed that his family said the Pledge of Allegiance, in lieu of grace, at holiday meals.

On a trip to Las Vegas, Carpoff ordered a custom motorcycle with an “America theme” paint job. “On the tanks I want, like, the Statue of Liberty holding a flag and the flag blowing in the wind,” Carpoff told the shop’s owner, in an exchange captured in a 2012 episode of the reality-TV show Counting Cars. “I want the Constitution on the back fender.”

“We the People!” he proclaimed.

When the shop owner showed him the finished bike at the end of the episode, Carpoff, all smiles and high fives, was beside himself. “It just looks—how do I say this?—‘politically correct,’ ” he said, sending everyone there into hysterics.

If talking about cars and motorcycles came easy to Carpoff, talking about climate change did not. He often wore a pained expression as his marketing staff asked him to recite scripted lines for promotional videos.

“ ‘We strive for a healthier planet … by offering unique solar products that—’ Fuck!” Carpoff says in one of many fumbled takes. “I can’t remember. What the son of a bitch!” A shot of tequila sometimes helped.

John Miranda, a film and TV producer, joined the company as communications director because he believed in its potential to fight global warming. He began having doubts on his first day at headquarters. He’d driven into the lot to find one of Carpoff’s new muscle cars parked in a handicapped space, with a DC Solar employee changing the oil.

Carpoff, Miranda learned, was in fact a collector of vintage gas-guzzlers. His showpieces included a Dodge Charger painted like The Dukes of Hazzard ’s General Lee and a 1978 Trans Am once owned by Burt Reynolds, a replica of the one the actor had driven in Smokey and the Bandit.

No less perplexing was Carpoff’s choice of NASCAR as his main marketing partner. DC Solar spent millions sponsoring the Xfinity race series and drivers like Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson, with DC Solar’s logo splashed across cars, tracks, and racing suits. Not only was NASCAR one of the world’s most polluting sports, but the politics of its fans rarely aligned with those of the green businesses that might actually rent a solar generator. When Miranda tagged NASCAR in a DC Solar Facebook post, one of the first replies was “Solar is for fags.”

If employees asked questions, Paulette, a small but commanding woman, had a stock retort: Stay in your lane. She had grown irritable and hypervigilant, liable to explode at the least provocation.

Jeff, meanwhile, looked like he was having an enormous amount of fun. A sign he’d make for his office parking space bore the letters JMFC. It was the acronym for the nickname he’d given himself: Jeff “Mother Fuckin’ ” Carpoff. (He extended the honorific to Paulette and their kids, Lauren and Matt, whose parking spaces were marked PMFC, LMFC, and MMFC.)

It was hard to fault his confidence. In less than three years, he’d sold nearly 1,200 generators, for $174 million. Yet if you stopped by the company’s small headquarters—near a water-treatment plant in Concord, California—you might never guess at the torrents of money sloshing through its accounts.

Forrest Milder seemed taken aback by how fast the IRS had moved. “An audit from the IRS?” the tax lawyer wrote to Carpoff in July 2013 after learning that the Sherwin-Williams deal was under review. “Is this even old enough to be audited?”

As Milder worked to fend off an apparently deepening IRS investigation, Carpoff faced a more immediate threat. In February 2014, an alarming email had arrived from James Howard Jr., an investment executive who was helping Valley National Bank purchase $76.8 million worth of Carpoff’s generators.

Carpoff had told Howard that 80 to 90 percent of DC Solar’s generators were rented out. But Howard was demanding proof, and company executives knew they couldn’t provide it. A list of actual leases would reveal a minuscule 5 percent leasing rate, which would imperil the Valley National Bank deals and expose the Ponzi scheme.

A DC Solar lawyer—who court documents indicate is Ari Lauer—deflected by claiming that most lease information was confidential. But Howard refused to be put off. So Ronald Roach, the DC Solar accountant, leaned on a colleague named Rob Karmann.

Karmann was a former high-school classmate of Roach’s who struggled with alcohol abuse and had been fired from several jobs before calling Roach in search of work. This call led, however implausibly, to a job at DC Solar, first as controller, then as chief financial officer. Over four years, Karmann’s salary, with bonuses, would grow from $135,000 to $475,000, plus a company car and a golf membership.

Enjoying a sense of what an associate called “respectability” for the first time in his life, Karmann obligingly produced fictitious reports of who was leasing the units and for how much. (“This guy gets his shit done” was how Carpoff toasted him at one holiday party.) Karmann’s newfound social status was “probably the biggest reason … I was so willing to go along with stuff I should have walked away from,” he told me this past September, by phone from federal prison.

(Valley National Bank and Progressive Insurance did not respond to requests for comment. A U.S. Bank spokesperson told me, “While we conduct due diligence and review the business plans of companies we invest in, it’s not possible to know how individuals operating these companies will act in future periods.” Messages left for Gary Knapp, the financial modeler—and his son Nicholas Knapp, who would become one of DC Solar’s most prolific outside brokers—were not returned.)

Carpoff needed each new deal to be bigger than the last. He had no other way to cover the mushrooming “lease” payments (he told a colleague they were “killing” him, according to court documents), or the high-flying lifestyle that advertised his success. But investors were no longer taking it on faith that leases existed. Carpoff needed real—or at least real-looking—leases to show around, ideally from big-name brands.

Around September 2015, Carpoff approached his vice president of operations, Ryan Guidry, a Louisianan who’d had a long career as a bartender before marketing what an associate said were subprime loans in the lead-up to the 2008 mortgage crisis. Could Guidry find someone to sign a fake T-Mobile lease? Carpoff asked. A phony contract that committed “T-Mobile” to leasing 1,000 generators for at least a decade, at $13 million a year?

Carpoff said he’d pay $1 million to Guidry and $1 million more to whoever signed as “T-Mobile.”

Guidry thought of Alan Hansen, a local T-Mobile employee who had powered some San Francisco cell towers with rented Solar Eclipses during blackouts. Guidry invited Hansen to a bar, bought him a couple of beers, and put the forged lease in front of him, Hansen told me. (Neither Guidry nor his representatives responded to requests for comment.)

Hansen, a middle-aged Navy veteran frustrated by his failure to advance at T-Mobile, accepted the $1 million and signed the contract, deliberately not reading it. Carpoff then hired Hansen at a salary 60 percent higher than what he’d made at T-Mobile and gave him a do‑nothing job. Around DC Solar’s offices, Hansen carried himself with an air of dignity and spoke of once wanting to be a minister.

The following year, at the NASCAR season opener known as Speedweeks, Carpoff befriended Frank Kelleher, the managing director of International Speedway Corporation (ISC), which ran the Daytona International Speedway and other major NASCAR tracks.

Within months, ISC signed contracts to lease 1,500 generators for 10 years, at a cost of $150 million, according to court filings. But the contracts—marked “NON-CANCELLABLE” and “UNCONDITIONAL”—had an undisclosed addendum that gave DC Solar and ISC multiple outs. (NASCAR, which acquired ISC in 2019, did not respond to requests for comment.) Over about two years, ISC would pay DC Solar $8.5 million for its leases—and get $15 million in “sponsorship payments” from DC Solar. In an internal email from 2017, ISC’s CFO called it “a mutually beneficial relationship.”

The “T-Mobile” and ISC leases came together as DC Solar courted a whale. The insurance company Geico was owned by Berkshire Hathaway. Warren Buffett’s conglomerate was a seasoned user of tax credits and the fourth-largest company on the Fortune 500.

Buffett was bullish on solar. “If somebody walks in with a solar project tomorrow and it takes a billion dollars or it takes $3 billion, we’re ready to do it,” he would later say, at a 2017 shareholders’ meeting. “And the more the better.”

But DC Solar spooked Geico two weeks before the deal was to close, by asking for faster payments—supposedly to fix some supply-chain snag. Geico’s CFO, Mike Campbell, found the last-minute upsell “very troubling.” “It makes me wonder about their financial backing … and whether they can handle the volume of deals they are trying to put together,” Campbell wrote to a subordinate. “If there’s a way out of the deal, take it.”

DC Solar raced to pacify Campbell. The deal was salvaged. In four transactions over three years, Geico would buy 7,980 generators for nearly $1.2 billion, saving the company some $377 million in taxes. (A lawyer for Geico declined to say whether Buffett had played any role in the deal. A Berkshire spokesperson didn’t respond to messages.)

Flush with Geico’s money, DC Solar moved its headquarters, in the summer of 2016, from a back road in Concord to a modern hilltop facility 10 miles north, in Benicia, overlooking the rush of commuters on I-680.

Inspired by the shop floors at Chip Ganassi Racing, a prestigious racing organization whose NASCAR drivers DC Solar sponsored, Carpoff bought a Zamboni to keep his factory floor gleaming.

“When … the bankers come in,” Carpoff explained to a visitor, in a conversation captured by Steve Beal, DC Solar’s videographer, “they see this, and it’s automatically a great first impression.”

Impressions mattered more than ever, because within months of the move, DC Solar had all but stopped manufacturing Solar Eclipses—even as it sold record numbers of the devices. If you could fool smart businesspeople with fake leases, how much harder could it be to sell them fake generators? The very thing that had wowed early investors—the generators’ portability—made their absence from any particular location easy to explain away. “Here one day, there the next” had basically been the sales pitch.

To prove that the generators were somewhere, DC Solar had begun sending buyers “commissioning reports,” with a DMV-registered vehicle identification number and 20-point physical inspection for each unit. The “independent engineer” who produced these reports was not independent and not an engineer. Joseph Bayliss was a classmate of Carpoff’s from high-school auto shop, another “mope”—as an associate called him—with an inflated job title. “Never says no,” Carpoff said of Bayliss, in a tribute at a holiday party.

Carpoff employed a different tactic with buyers who insisted on counting their generators in person at DC Solar’s warehouses. He and his workers used putty knives, acetone, and mineral spirits to remove VIN stickers from generators belonging to earlier buyers, then applied, to those same units, the VINs of whatever buyer happened to be visiting. To dupe buyers who wanted real-time data on their units’ whereabouts, workers buried GPS transponders in out-of-the-way locations, minus the generators they were billed as being attached to.

Inspectors willing to drive hours to see their Solar Eclipses in the field were the hardest to misdirect. Carpoff had employees work overnight, delivering generators in the nick of time, to make it look like they’d been there all along.

Of the more than 17,000 generators sold from 2011 to 2018, only about 6,000 would be found to exist.

By 2016, the IRS had begun to catch on. The agency had examined DC Solar’s first two deals: the one with Sherwin-Williams, and another with a specially formed company called Aaron Burr LLC, an apparent allusion to the man who killed Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury secretary, in a duel.

IRS investigators concluded that the fair market value of each Solar Eclipse—if manufactured in the quantities claimed—was, with a reasonable markup, about $13,000. That was less than one-tenth of the $150,000 that DC Solar charged buyers. And that meant that the $45,000 buyers saved on their taxes for each generator was more than 300 percent of its value, instead of the 30 percent federal law allowed. It also meant that even if DC Solar never earned a cent from leases, buyers’ 30 percent down covered all the manufacturing costs, thrice over.

In addition, the IRS found, Sherwin-Williams and Aaron Burr were so insulated from risk that they were ineligible for most or all of the tax credits—and subject to penalties. DC Solar’s transaction structure, IRS investigators alleged, was a “sham” involving “a mere circular movement of money … to prop up a vastly overstated purchase price in order to impermissibly maximize the energy credit.”(In a statement to The Atlantic, Sherwin-Williams said that it relied, for due diligence, on “purported experts” in renewable-energy tax credits, and cautioned against “blaming the victims rather than the professionals who enabled this fraud.” Aaron Burr LLC did not respond to requests for comment.)

It was a damning allegation, but audit reports are confidential, leaving other investors in the dark.

In June 2016, around the time the IRS sent its findings to DC Solar, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx chose the company as a partner in the Obama administration’s Smart City Challenge, which pressed cities to adopt climate-friendly technology. The selection put DC Solar in the company of far better-known partners, including Amazon Web Services, Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs, and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc., all of which promised to supply the winning city with technology and support.

When the Obama administration chose Columbus, Ohio, as its winning Smart City, the fact sheet citing DC Solar’s pledge—of $1.5 million in solar gear—came straight from the White House.

“We are now partners of 

the United States

,” Dan Briggs, an executive with DC Solar’s charitable arm, who’d once run for a Nevada-state-assembly seat, boasted in an interview for a company holiday video. “We are recognized by the top people in government as being a go-to operator to help them get things done.

“Where this takes us in the future,” Briggs added, shaking his head, “is limitless.”

Back home in Martinez, the mayor and city council celebrated the Carpoffs as hometown heroes. The couple sponsored a holiday ice rinkdonated $100,000 to the police, and bought the city a professional independent-league baseball team, the Martinez Clippers.

But they spent much more on themselves: cars; couture; homes in Cabo San Lucas and Las Vegas; a luxury box at the Raiders’ new NFL stadium; extravagant Christmas parties at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, where DC Solar’s workers—just 100 or so at the company’s peak—were treated to private performances by the pop band Sugar Ray, the rapper Pitbull, and the country duo Big & Rich.

Hardly a day went by when Carpoff wasn’t cooking up a new business idea, whether it was starting a bottled-water brand, producing a Sasquatch movie, or supplying light towers for President Donald Trump’s border wall, according to a senior employee, who called his boss “Willy Wonka.” Carpoff was already leasing warehouses to marijuana growers, one of whom was paying rent in $250,000 cash installments, he told associates.

At DC Solar’s 2017 holiday party, an executive named Mark Hughes lionized Carpoff as an epoch-making inventor. “The Thomas Edison of the West Coast,” Hughes said from the ballroom stage.

When Carpoff got to the lectern, he assessed himself differently. “I’m kind of entrepreneur,” he joked. “More manure than entre.”

To judge by the weak laughter, few in the audience found it funny. It cut too close, perhaps, to what many of them already suspected. The record-breaking sales in 2017—the more than 5,100 generators, for more than $748 million? It baffled the workers who knew how few were being built. “How is the company surviving?” Jason Rieger, a technician, recalled wondering. Accounting employees didn’t know what to think when Carpoff swaggered through the office with shopping bags stuffed with cash.

An illustration of a man walking with a shopping bag full of cash
Maxime Mouysset

The Carpoffs had by then installed dozens of surveillance cameras around the offices and shop floor. Paulette scrutinized the feeds, which played on a large TV screen in her office, and barred workers from going alone into the file room, where contracts, invoices, and VIN registrations were stored. She interrogated an employee who made frequent bathroom trips and fired another for cc’ing a co-worker’s personal email rather than his company address. Two large dogs, Belgian Malinois named Diesel and Fou—the latter trained to attack—followed her everywhere. A plaque on her desk, one employee recalled, said I’ll be nicer if you’ll be smarter.

The fear Paulette inspired gave Jeff the slack to play the boss you felt lucky to have. At the end of all-hands meetings, he would pull hundreds of dollars from his pocket and give it to whichever employee best guessed its sum.

But the acts of generosity had started to feel performative. The Carpoffs had millions of dollars for over-the-top holiday parties but resisted better medical benefits for workers. “We all bit that fucking hook,” Bobby Amato, Paulette’s brother, told me, still bitter about Carpoff’s failures to credit him for co-inventing the generator. “[Jeff] said, ‘One day, we’re all going to be rich.’ I said, ‘I don’t see nobody being rich here but you.’ ”

Toughest to manipulate were the people who needed neither money nor approval: the professional dealmakers and investors who’d learned things about DC Solar that could destroy the company. On at least three such people, sources told me, Carpoff tried intimidation—summoning a burly Polish émigré, a reputed loan shark whom Carpoff alternately described as an experienced killer, a prison-camp survivor, and a mafioso.

An early investor who’d grown suspicious of Carpoff cut off all contact after a couple of encounters with the Pole, who the investor believes put a tracking device on his truck. “When I saw his ‘Polish Mafia’ come in, that was it,” the investor told me.

Whether the Polish man was a true thug or a wannabe is unclear. But Carpoff was an illusionist: It mattered less whether people were in actual danger—or on the brink of great wealth—than that they believed themselves to be.

At about 8 o’clock one weeknight around February 2018, Mimi Morales, who served as both cleaning lady and limo driver for the Carpoffs, noticed something amiss while vacuuming the offices: An employee named Sebastian Jano had used a back entrance and was coolly packing up his desk.

Jano, a solar-financing expert with law and business degrees from Villanova, was a new recruit. Carpoff had hired him the year before to solicit deals.

Morales asked Jano where he was going.

Jano replied that he’d gotten an offer from another company.

“He acted totally normal,” Morales told me. “No big deal. ‘Just getting my stuff.’ ”

DC Solar’s headquarters were already a paranoid place. But after Jano’s departure, workers noticed more paper-shredding and more closed-door meetings, and were no longer allowed to open mail.

The Carpoffs had secretly moved millions of dollars to offshore accounts in the Bahamas and the Cook Islands. In August, they bought a $5 million house in the Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis and applied for a government program there that supplies passports and citizenship to buyers of luxury homes.

Beal, the videographer, was putting together a celebratory film for the company’s 2018 Christmas party when he stopped by Carpoff’s office that fall. On the desk was what Beal described to me as a “holy-shit amount of money”: cliffs of cash so tall that people sitting on opposite sides wouldn’t have been able to see each other.

In early December, the Carpoffs told their office manager, Brian Strickland, that they were going on an unplanned vacation. They needed him to take photos for new passports, which someone was helping fast-track.

“They seemed in a rush,” Strickland told me. “The way they said it was ‘We have this guy who’s going to do it for us super quick.’ ”

On Tuesday, December 18, 2018, some 175 federal agents, supervised by the FBI’s Sacramento office, began streaming in unmarked cars toward Benicia and Martinez. Joining the bureau were agents with IRS Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Marshals Service.

At about 9:30 a.m., the agents swarmed DC Solar headquarters, while a SWAT team broke down the front door of the Carpoffs’ hillside home. Agents found nearly $1.7 million in cash in Carpoff’s office safe.

The agents pressed employees for the location of his cars. They were pointed down the street, to a trio of pristinely maintained warehouses. Inside was a museumlike collection that favored the American muscle car but spanned almost the entire history of the automobile, from a 1926 Ford Model T to a 2014 Tesla Model S—nearly 150 cars in all, beautiful to look at, but so battery-dead that U.S. Marshals couldn’t get many of them to start.

While the raids were under way, Carpoff called the office to ask if his and Paulette’s passports were still on his desk. Told no—agents had seized them—Carpoff said, “Oh fuck” and hung up.

It’s hard to know why he didn’t flee earlier. He had told a colleague that he was scared of flying over oceans. But another fear may have been stronger: Running would destroy the fantasy that had turned him from local screwup into local hotshot. Just three days before the raids, he was wearing black sequins and partying with Pitbull at the DC Solar holiday party, as if being Jeff “Mother Fuckin’ ” Carpoff for one more night trumped the grubby unknowns of a lifetime on the run.

Whether or not Carpoff knew it, his fantasy had begun to unravel about 10 months earlier, when the Securities and Exchange Commission received a whistleblower report from an employee who’d recently resigned. Court documents strongly suggest—and multiple sources confirmed—that the employee was Sebastian Jano, who’d startled the cleaning lady the night he left. (Jano did not respond to requests for comment.) According to court filings, the employee discovered the circular payments and confronted Carpoff and Lauer, DC Solar’s general counsel. Unmoved by Lauer’s alleged claim that there was a “method to the madness,” the employee quit. The SEC alerted the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California, in Sacramento, which called in the FBI.

As agents seized cars and other assets that December day, Carpoff arranged for a Louis Vuitton bag stuffed with a men’s Cartier watch and as much as $640,000 in cash to be handed off—at a Las Vegas bar called Timbers—to a friend who’d trained the Carpoffs’ Belgian Malinois, the friend alleged in a lawsuit. (Carpoff had previously assured confidantes that he’d planned for contingencies. “He said, ‘I still have $500,000 worth of meth buried in a cemetery in Martinez,’ ” Morales told me. “He said, ‘That’s my emergency parachute.’ ”)

The next night, or the one after, Carpoff asked Bayliss—the high-school classmate who’d signed the fake commissioning reports—to meet in the parking lot of a Martinez Burger King. Carpoff told him to get a burner phone, travel to a Las Vegas warehouse, and trash the hundreds of fraudulent VIN stickers the company stored there. Bayliss, toasted as the guy who “never says no,” did as he was told.

As federal agents closed in, Carpoff told Bayliss to keep cool. If no one talked, Carpoff said, according to Bayliss, the government would have nothing to go on. But Bayliss sensed that the feds weren’t “that stupid,” according to an IRS memo of his interviews with investigators. And he finally said no. His meetings with federal agents and assistant U.S. attorneys in July 2019, and his agreement to plead guilty, all but gave the government its other targets. Over the next few months, prosecutors secured guilty pleas and cooperation from Roach, DC Solar’s accountant; Karmann, the CFO; and Guidry, the VP of operations. Hansen, who was paid $1 million for signing the fake T-Mobile lease, would admit his guilt a little later. All have been sentenced to prison, or are expected to be by the end of this year. (This past September, the SEC filed a civil lawsuit charging Lauer, DC Solar’s general counsel, with securities fraud. Lauer has filed a motion to dismiss, saying he violated no laws.)

The Carpoffs were cornered. Stripped of wealth—and of their lieutenants’ loyalty—they pleaded guilty on January 24, 2020: Carpoff to money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, Paulette to money laundering and conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States. (The Carpoffs declined multiple interview requests for this story.)

Over eight years, in at least 34 deals, DC Solar had defrauded more than a dozen corporate customers out of almost $1 billion. Because those corporations had used the investment tax credit to deduct roughly that entire sum from their taxes, DC Solar had effectively robbed the American people. The corporations are expected to return their ill-gotten tax breaks to the U.S. Treasury. Most of them joined a 2019 lawsuit accusing more than a dozen of DC Solar’s legal and financial advisers—including Nixon Peabody and Milder—of negligence, malpractice, and fraud.

The lawyer for Milder and Nixon Peabody wrote to me that neither Milder nor the firm were aware of or complicit in any criminal fraud. Nixon Peabody, the lawyer said, served solely as tax counsel, providing opinions based on “an assumed set of facts” that were only later exposed as false or fraudulent. The lawyer added that the investors had access to at least as much information about the company’s performance. Though they deny any wrongdoing, Milder and Nixon Peabody agreed last year to pay the plaintiffs what court filings describe as a “substantial” undisclosed sum, a settlement larger than those paid, to date, by any of DC Solar’s other advisers.

[Read: The Solyndra scandal: What it is and why it matters]

Carpoff’s $1 billion Ponzi scheme was smaller, in dollars, than Bernie Madoff’s (about $19 billion) or R. Allen Stanford’s (about $7 billion). But it was nearly twice the size of the 21st century’s best-known green-energy scandal: the one involving Solyndra, the politically connected solar-panel company, based just 45 miles south of Martinez, that got a $535 million federal loan guarantee in 2009, only to go bankrupt two years later. It’s hard to think of another 10-figure fraud—in any sector—that rooked so many banks, insurance companies, and other sophisticated financiers. It’s harder still to conjure a billion-dollar swindle in which some of the nation’s top financial companies were outmaneuvered on their own turf by a high-school-educated, small-town mechanic.

Jeff Carpoff is serving his time in a medium-security correctional institution in Victorville, in a sun-scorched patch of California’s High Desert.

At his sentencing, on November 9, 2021, in a federal courthouse in Sacramento, he apologized to the government, investors, and his family. But his lawyer, Malcolm Segal, said that other people, who had not been charged, shared responsibility: The professional advisers who gave the deals the sheen of legitimacy. The brokers who got six-figure commissions for bringing buyers to the table. The buyers themselves, who vetted the transactions with teams of experts yet returned to DC Solar for one multimillion-dollar deal after the next.

When the judge, John Mendez, asked Carpoff if he had anything to add, Carpoff said, “Yeah.”

He claimed that he’d never had the brains for a tax-credit deal. He’d trusted the wrong people. He would have quit long ago had buyers cared about anything but their tax credits. “The bigger the deal, the easier they were to close,” Carpoff said. “It was the most bizarre thing.”

Then he told the judge that in 2018—the year of the FBI raid—he’d been on the cusp of finally setting things right. DC Solar had an offer for 30 leases from a sports-marketing company. It had a signed contract to provide 10,000 car chargers to the U.S. Department of Transportation for parking lots and schools across the country. (A DOT spokesperson told me there was never any such contract.)

When Carpoff started talking about new marketing plans for solar generators with video screens and facial-recognition software, Judge Mendez cut him off. “You were selling air,” the judge said. He sentenced Carpoff to 30 years in prison. Seven months later, Paulette, deemed less culpable, would be sentenced to 11 years and three months.

At a DC Solar holiday party a few years earlier, after a little tequila, Carpoff gleefully told the story of one of his first encounters with the law. He was 15 and had persuaded his high-school auto-shop teacher to sell him a 1970 Chevelle—even though Carpoff had no license, no insurance, and no registration. He’d driven it for less than a day when a highway patrolman gave him a ticket and ordered him to walk home.

Three decades later, the story still resonated enough for him to want to share it with a banquet hall full of investors and employees. During that glorious ride, in that exhilarating stretch before anyone realized how many laws he was breaking, “I said, ‘Man, I got away with this,’ ” he reminisced. “I’m like, ‘Man, look at me.’ ”

This article appears in the June 2023 print edition with the headline “Burned.”


Hi everyone,

I came across this petition that calls for the creation of a CERN for open source large-scale AI research and its safety. I think this is a very important and timely initiative that deserves more attention and support.

The petition argues that AI is becoming a crucial technology for our society, but it also poses significant risks and challenges, such as ethical, social, environmental, and security issues. Therefore, we need a global, collaborative, and transparent platform for advancing AI research and ensuring its safety and alignment with human values.

The petition proposes to create a CERN-like organization for AI, inspired by the successful model of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), which has been leading the world in particle physics research for over 60 years. CERN is known for its open source culture, its international collaboration, its scientific excellence, and its contribution to society through innovations such as the World Wide Web.

A CERN for AI would provide a similar environment for AI researchers, where they can share data, code, hardware, and best practices, as well as access state-of-the-art computing resources and facilities. It would also foster interdisciplinary dialogue and cooperation among scientists, engineers, ethicists, policymakers, and civil society. Moreover, it would promote education and outreach activities to raise awareness and engagement among the public about the opportunities and challenges of AI.

We have a long way to go and not much time left! Only 3,396 people have signed the petition so far, which is barely a third of our goal. We need 10,000 signatures in the next 7 weeks to make our voice heard. Don’t let this opportunity slip away! Sign the petition now and spread the word!

However, this petition is not getting enough publicity and traction. It needs more signatures and support from the AI community and beyond. If you agree with the vision and goals of this petition, please sign it and share it with your friends and networks. Let's make this happen!

Here is the link to the petition:

Thank you for reading!

submitted by /u/thebigvsbattlesfan
[link] [comments]
New Platform for Timed Drug Release

This is one of those technologies that most people probably never think about, but could potentially have a significant impact on our lives – timed drug release. The concept is nothing new, but there is a lot of room for improvement on current technologies. We already have time-release capsules, patches, and some drugs that can have long term effects with one dose, like Depo Provera. But for most drugs, you have to dose them every day at least.

Only about  50% of people take their medication correctly, without missing doses. This has huge consequences, resulting in, “100,000 deaths, as much as 25% of hospitalizations, and a healthcare cost exceeding $100 billion” in the US alone. Right now we primarily deal with this problem through patient education and using drugs, when possible, that have longer dosing times. Sometimes we also monitor patient compliance with blood tests. There is also occasionally talk of developing a medicine bottle that monitors compliance (going back to at least 1989), but such technologies are not in widespread use.

There is therefore a lot of benefit that could potentially result from developing a drug delivery platform that can deliver a consistent dose of medication over weeks or even months. Imagine getting a shot every three months (perhaps even self-administered at home) rather than taking a pill every day. Researchers have recently published one potential such technology, they are calling PULSED – Particles Uniformly Liquified and Sealed to Encapsulate Drugs.

The idea is to seal doses of drug into small encapsulated beads, made from biodegradable material. Further, this material can be fine-tuned in order to precisely vary how long it will take to break down and release the drugs inside. The idea would be to contain in a single shot capsules that will break down over increasingly longer periods of time, dosing the drug at regular intervals. In order to be effective such technology must not only work, it needs to be scalable and cost effective, which the researchers claim is possible with this technology. They conclude:

The PULSED system is highly versatile, offering compatibility with crystalline and amorphous polymers, easily injectable particle sizes, and compatibility with several newly developed drug loading methods. Together, these results suggest that PULSED is a promising platform for creating long-acting drug formulations that improve patient outcomes due to its simplicity, low cost, and scalability.

Sounds great. Of course, as anyone who follows technology news knows, most new technologies don’t pan out, or take a lot longer to develop than initially projected. Also, they are rarely the panacea they are originally hyped to be, but might fill a needed niche at some point. So what are the prospects for this technology?

There will plausibly be a niche for this tech, if it does ultimately work in a cost-effective way. What we have now is essentially a proof of concept. One or more pharmaceutical companies will need to develop it further into a workable solution. But there are many potential hurdles to this actually working.

One of the trade-off for long acting medicine formulations is that the resulting dosing is variable.  You might technically be able to take one dose per day instead of 3 or 4, but the resulting blood levels will likely be more variable. For oral medication, this usually has to do with absorption. For the PULSED technology there will likely be variability in the dissolving time of the capsules. Imagine how consistent and predictable you need to be in order to have a steady release of drug every day over months.

This matters more for some drugs than others. For high blood pressure, for example, we need very steady dosing. Too much drug and your blood pressure can drop, causing light-headedness and even fainting. To little, and your blood pressure goes too high. For anti-seizure medication, if the blood levels drop too low you can have breakthrough seizures, which defies the entire purpose of this platform.

This platform would work best for drugs that already have a long half-life, because variability in dosing will have less of an effect on blood levels (which rise and fall slowly). It will also work well for drugs that have a high tolerance for variable blood levels. Antibiotics would likely be a great application – if you need to complete a 2-3 week course of antibiotics, for example, one shot may do the trick, and it avoids people stopping their regimen early once they feel better, reducing bacterial resistance. Nutrients also would be ideal for this platform, because variable dosing is not a problem within a very wide range, as long as the total dose over time is correct. A patient with low B12 could get a single shot and be good for 6 months or a year.

The platform is also being considered for vaccines that require multiple doses over weeks or a few months. The obvious benefit for this is to improve compliance. If also reduces the number of shots people need to get, and perhaps reduce overall side effects. This is particularly helpful in poorer countries where it is difficult to get people to make multiple trips to a clinic.

Another potential downside to long-term drug release is side effects. What if you develop side effects, or even an allergy, to a medication which is now going to be released into your system for three months? This means we would only use this option once someone has demonstrated that they tolerate and respond well to the drug, so they are on a stable drug regimen and likely will be for a long time.

I think the best way to look at developments like this is that is may provide another option, rather than replacing all existing options. Medical decision-making often comes down to risk vs benefit. This technology has its own risks and benefits, and in specific situations may be worth it overall. If it works out economically and the technology works well enough, hopefully it can eat into the costs of medicine non-compliance, which are significant.

The post New Platform for Timed Drug Release first appeared on NeuroLogica Blog.


Scientific Reports, Published online: 08 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-34689-5

Accelerometry-based assessment of physical activity and sedentary behavior in adult survivors of childhood 
acute lymphoblastic leukemia
 and their healthy peers

Scientific Reports, Published online: 08 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-34035-9

Reduced ability to neutralize the Omicron variant among adults after 
 and complete vaccination with 
, ChAdOx1, or 
 and heterologous boosting
Is this article about Neuroscience?

Nature Communications, Published online: 08 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38279-x

The genetic contribution to risk of 
Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis
 has been unclear. Here, the authors find genetic variation associated with Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis, finding phenotypic and genetic association with increased bone mass throughout the skeletal system.

Nature Communications, Published online: 08 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38138-9

Addressing mass and electron transfer challenges hinders practical application of photoelectrochemical (PEC) devices. Here, authors report a simulation-guided development of hierarchical triphase diffusion photoelectrodes, achieving an improved mass transfer and ensuring electron transfer for PEC gas/liquid flow conversion.
Hollywood’s Screenwriters Are Right to Fear AI
Is this article about Tech?
The Writers Guild of America’s demands for guardrails on artificial intelligence are a smart move—and the stakes are higher than ever.
How to hack a smart fridge
Feedly AI found 1 Regulatory Changes mention in this article
  • The Kids Online Safety Act, a federal bill that would require social media platforms to offer features to disable algorithmic recommendations and increase data protections for minors, was reintroduced by a bipartisan group in the Senate after it met with heavy criticism in the last congressional session.

This article is from The Technocrat, MIT Technology Review’s weekly tech policy newsletter about power, politics, and Silicon Valley. To receive it in your inbox every Friday, sign up here.

Do you know how many internet-connected devices there are inside your home? I certainly don’t. These days, it could be almost anything: a thermostat, a TV, a lightbulb, an air conditioner, or a refrigerator. But what I do know, thanks to some of the conversations I’ve had over the past few weeks, is just how much data they’re producing, and how many people can access that data if they want to. Hint: it’s a lot. 

I’ve been speaking to people who work in a field called IoT forensics, which is essentially about snooping around these devices to find data and, ultimately, clues. Although law enforcement bodies and courts in the US don’t often explicitly refer to data from IoT devices, those devices are becoming an increasingly important part of building cases. That’s because, when they’re present at a crime scene, they hold secrets that might be invisible to the naked eye. Secrets like when someone switched a light off, brewed a pot of coffee, or turned on a TV can be pivotal in an investigation. 

Mattia Epifani is one such person. He doesn’t call himself a hacker, but he is someone the police turn to when they need help investigating whether data can be extracted from an item. He’s a digital forensic analyst and instructor at the SANS Institute, and he’s worked with lawyers, police, and private clients around the world. 

“I’m like … obsessed. Every time I see a device, I think, How could I extract data from there? I always do it on test devices or under authorization, of course,” says Epifani.

Smartphones and computers are the most common sorts of devices police seize to assist an investigation, but Epifani says evidence of a crime can come from all sorts of places: “It can be a location. It can be a message. It can be a picture. It can be anything. Maybe it can also be the heart rate of a user or how many steps the user took. And all these things are basically stored on electronic devices.” 

Take, for example, a Samsung refrigerator. Epifani used data from VTO Labs, a digital forensics lab in the US, to investigate just how much information a smart fridge keeps about its owners. 

VTO Labs reverse-engineered the data storage system of a Samsung fridge after it had primed the appliance with test data, extracted that data, and posted a copy of its databases publicly on their website for use by researchers. Steve Watson, the lab’s CEO, explained that this involves finding all the places where the fridge could store data, both within the unit itself and outside it, in apps or cloud storage. Once they’d done that, Epifani got to work analyzing and organizing the data and gaining access to the files. 

What he found was a treasure trove of personal details. Epifani found information about Bluetooth devices near the fridge, Samsung user account details like email addresses and home Wi-Fi networks, temperature and geolocation data, and hourly statistics on energy usage. The fridge stored data about when a user was playing music through an iHeartRadio app. Epifani could even access photos of the Diet Coke and Snapple on the fridge’s shelves, thanks to the small camera that’s embedded inside it. What’s more, he found that the fridge could hold much more data if a user connected the fridge to other Samsung devices through a centralized personal or shared family account. 

None of this is necessarily secret or undisclosed to people when they buy this model of refrigerator, but I certainly wouldn’t have expected that if I were under investigation, a police officer—with a warrant, of course—could see my hungry face each time I opened my fridge hunting for cheese. Samsung didn’t reply to our request for comment, but it’s following pretty standard practices within the world of IoT. Many of these sorts of devices access and store similar types of data. 

Devices don’t even have to be particularly sophisticated to prove helpful in criminal investigations, according to Watson and Epifani. 

Both of them have both worked on devices more discreet than smart fridges. Once, VTO Labs examined a circuit board from an ocean buoy in an effort to find out whether it contained any data about the shipping movements of drug traffickers. Watson says that the circuit board revealed a satellite communications provider and, ultimately, the account number associated with a smuggler. 

Just to compound the plentiful security and privacy risks, many IoT devices also run on out-of-date, and thus less secure, operating systems, because users rarely remember to update them. “Can you imagine people updating their fridge? No, they don’t,” says Epifani. 

This problem is only going to grow as we stuff our homes with more and more things that connect to the internet. Recently, the Atlantic wrote a great piece about the data that smart TVs collect on their couch-bound watchers. My colleague Eileen Guo showed how Roomba vacuums can take invasive pictures, in an investigation about how data was collected on people who were testing the products.  

Watson is not especially worried about the government or the tech companies spying on you through your thermostat, per se. He’s more worried about all the ways your data is being sold and accumulated by data brokers.

“That’s where the risks are that people don’t understand: if my bed tracks my sleep and tracks my heart rate, and that company is selling off this information to an insurance company that realizes you have a near cardiac event every time you go to sleep, or that you have sleep apnea or whatever,” he says.

“The more technology encroaches into our lives in every facet … we lose the ability to have any measure of control over where it’s going, how much is collected, who’s getting their hands on it, and what they are doing with it.”

What I am reading this week

  • The Kids Online Safety Act, a federal bill that would require social media platforms to offer features to disable algorithmic recommendations and increase data protections for minors, was reintroduced by a bipartisan group in the Senate after it met with heavy criticism in the last congressional session. The bill has a lot of momentum, and you’ll be hearing a lot about it in the coming weeks. (I wrote about the push to pass online child safety bills in the US a few weeks ago.)
  • Artificial-intelligence pioneer Geoffrey Hinton resigned from Google this week, in part so he could speak freely about the dangers of the recent advances in AI that he helped usher in. My colleague Will Douglas Heaven interviewed Hinton last week and spoke to him live at our EmTech Digital event. Both conversations were fascinating. 
  • The White House announced new AI guardrails yesterday, including an initiative to conduct independent public assessments of generative AI models that has been signed by Google, Microsoft, and OpenAI, among others. 

What I learned this week

Twitter’s algorithms amplify political tweets that make people feel angrier, according to a new working paper by researchers at Cornell Tech and University of California, Berkeley presented at the Knight First Amendment Institute last week. 

The researchers compared tweets in users’ chronological Twitter feeds, organized simply by the time tweets are posted, to their personalized feeds, which are sorted by an algorithm designed to prioritize engagement. They found that the political tweets picked by an algorithm made people feel more strongly opposed to groups with views that differ to theirs. 

The finding might seem obvious, but this paper is one of the first to demonstrate exactly how algorithms can deepen political divides. Interestingly, the researchers also found that users prefer the personalized timeline for tweets in general, but not for political tweets. That suggests that they’d rather not have a bunch of anger-inducing political posts shoved at them. The study is an important contribution to the ongoing debate about the role that social media plays in political polarization.  

Article that assessed MDPI journals as “predatory” retracted and replaced

A 2021 article that found journals from the open-access publisher MDPI had characteristics of predatory journals has been retracted and replaced with a version that softens its conclusions about the company. MDPI is still not satisfied, however. 

The article, “Journal citation reports and the definition of a predatory journal: The case of the 

Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute

 (MDPI),” was published in Research Evaluation. It has been cited 20 times, according to Clarivate’s Web of Science. 

María de los Ángeles Oviedo García, a professor of business administration and marketing at the University of Seville in Spain, and the paper’s sole author, analyzed 53 MDPI journals that were included in Clarivate’s 2018 Journal Citation Reports. 

Oviedo García assessed each journal by eight criteria associated with predatory publications, including self-citation. She also compared the MDPI journals to the journals with the highest impact factor in their subject category. The original abstract described her findings like this: 

The formal criteria together with the analysis of the citation patterns of the 53 journals under analysis all singled them out as predatory journals. 

Soon after the paper was published in July 2021, MDPI issued a “comment” about the article that responded to Oviedo García’s analysis point by point. The comment called out “the misrepresentation of MDPI, as well as concerns around the accuracy of the data and validity of the research methodology.”

In September 2021, Research Evaluation published an expression of concern about the article that stated: 

The journal and publisher have been alerted to concerns about this article, and an investigation is in progress. In the interim, we alert readers that these concerns have been raised.

The article was retracted and replaced with a revised version earlier this month. The notice, which is labeled as a “correction,” stated that the replacement addressed:

concerns about conclusions drawn in the article. The conclusions in the updated article are reached based on cited sources.

We asked Oviedo García what led to the retraction and replacement, and she told us: 

In a nutshell, after the publication of the article both the journal’s editors and the publisher received communications raising concerns about it. Then, that original version was revised and have been now published replacing the old version of the article. 

Oviedo García told us that she did not “have full details” about who raised concerns about the article. “The revision of the article was a joint work between the publisher and myself,” she said. 

Thed van Leeuwen, a senior researcher at the Centre for Science and Technology Studies of Leiden University in the Netherlands, and an editor of Research Evaluation, has not responded to our request for comment. 

Language throughout the article was changed to describe the findings less definitively. (See a comparison we created here.) The sentence in the abstract we quoted above now states that the analysis of the 53 journals “suggest[s] they may be predatory journals.” 

Critical language remains in the new version, such as this discussion of the MDPI journals’ huge and increasing number of special issues:  

The fact that the number of special issues in JCR-indexed MDPI-journals is so much higher than the number of ordinary issues per year coupled with their constant increase since 2018 inevitably awakens suspicions of a lucrative business aim. 

The revision removes some references to MDPI’s temporary inclusion on librarian Jeffrey Beall’s list of “potentially predatory” publishers, along with links to an archived version of the list, which was taken down in 2017.  

The revised version also includes additional caveats about the limitations of the work, such as which analyses Oviedo García did not conduct on the control group of top-ranked journals. 

For instance, rather than the original statement that the uniformly short review times at MDPI journals were “highly questionable,” the paper now states:

As such the question arises whether or not this speed is achieved with a thorough peer review in line with editorial and publishing best practices or if the rigor and quality of the peer review process is compromised in order to achieve these speeds. It is beyond the scope of this research to answer that question based on the analysis conducted, further research is needed to address this key question. 

A new paragraph in the section discussing the article’s limitations calls for further research to compare MDPI journals with other journals with similar impact factors, rather than the top-ranked journal in the subject area, as Oviedo García had done. MDPI’s comment on the article specifically called the comparison of its journals to those with the highest impact factors “flawed,” among many other critiques.

After Research Evaluation published the expression of concern about the paper, MDPI contacted Oxford University Press, the journal’s publisher, to follow up on the status of the article multiple times, said Giulia Stefenelli, chair of MDPI’s Board of Scientific Officers. But, Stefenelli told us, “We did not receive any response from OUP that showed progress on the handling of this paper, nor did we receive an update when this paper was retracted and replaced by a revised version.”

Stefenelli expressed dissatisfaction with the journal’s process, and the republished version of the paper:  

We were expecting more transparency and communication, and to be informed at key stages of the progression of the investigation. As we have demonstrated, the original article contained serious flaws in its methodology, which have yet to be addressed or corrected. This was highlighted in our initial comment on the article (

We would expect more details to be made publicly available for the readers so they can understand why this article was retracted and corrected. We found no track record of the original version retracted nor record about the corrections that have been made. In this case, we question OUP’s processing of this retraction/correction, as it would appear to be against COPE guidelines and standard practices.

The article sends a strong message affecting MDPI directly and ultimately begs the question, is this an article the public can trust? It is important to note that a retraction is issued when there is clear evidence that the findings are unreliable, as a result of major error. The fact that this article was retracted raises questions about the details of the significant changes made in order for it to be republished.

Like Retraction Watch? You can make a tax-deductible contribution to support our work, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, or subscribe to our daily digest. If you find a retraction that’s not in our database, you can let us know here. For comments or feedback, email us at


Microcantilever-integrated photonic circuits for broadband laser beam scanning

Nature Communications, Published online: 08 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38260-8

This work presents ultracompact and low-power laser beam scanners using microcantilevers embedded with nanophotonic circuits. These chip-scale devices are made in a semiconductor foundry and project visible light patterns in one or two dimensions.

Nature Communications, Published online: 08 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38171-8

“In-depth cell-selective proteomics and secretomics has remained challenging. Here, the authors devise an optimised azidonorleucine labelling, mass spectrometry method and detect over 10,000 proteins in a pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma model.
RHIC gets ready to smash gold ions for Run 23
The start of this year's physics run at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) also marks the start of a new era. For the first time since RHIC began operating at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory in 2000, a brand new detector will track what happens when the nuclei of gold atoms smash into one another at nearly the speed of light. That new detector, sPHENIX, has been a decade in the making. It has a host of components for making precision measurements never possible before at RHIC.
Feedly AI found 1 Product Launches mention in this article
  • On Tuesday a prominent startup called Inflection AI launched a chatbot called Pi (short for “personal intelligence”) which is designed to give friendly advice.

Startups say their AI-powered, therapist-trained bots can help us navigate life’s challenges. I decided to put them to the test

For the last several months I have been a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. We moved to a new house last year only to find the place next door was about to undergo a massive construction project. Since then we’ve been living with a constant soundtrack of hammering and drilling. I’ve tried various coping methods – everything from saunas to noise-cancelling headphones to fantasies of revenge – but the noise and dust still raise my blood pressure to dangerous levels every day.

Yet there was one thing I hadn’t tried until this week: An “emotional support chatbot”. Yes, those are a thing now: in our brave new world, where artificial intelligence is seemingly on the brink of disrupting every industry, not even therapists are safe from having their jobs taken by technology. On Tuesday a prominent startup called Inflection AI launched a chatbot called Pi (short for “personal intelligence”) which is designed to give friendly advice. It’s obviously not meant to replace a real-life therapist (not yet anyway), but is pitched as a supportive companion that can help you talk through your problems. The algorithm has been trained by around 600 “teachers”, including mental health professionals, to be sensitive and conversational.

Continue reading…
‘Sometimes I don’t recognise my own family’: life with face blindness

Can long Covid make it harder to identify acquaintances, friends, even close relatives? Scientists are investigating a possible link

The other day a man waved at Stanley Chow, and went over to him. “I said: ‘Have we met before?’ Which is kind of the last thing you want to say.” It happens a lot – he finds it hard to remember new people’s faces. “Anyone I’ve spoken to once or twice I do forget quite instantly,” he says. “If I meet someone new, I’ll make a point of following them on Instagram or Facebook so their face becomes ingrained in my memory somehow.”

Around six months ago, a friend phoned Chow to complain he had “blanked” a mutual friend, but the 48-year-old illustrator just hadn’t recognised him. “That unsettled me for a few weeks.” Now, he says, “I always make an excuse, like: ‘Since Covid I can’t remember faces as well as I could.’” He’s not plucking that idea out of thin air. He says he has always had a small degree of face 


 – where people have difficulty recognising or remembering faces – but he believes the Covid infection he got in early 2021 made it worse.

Continue reading…

Nature Communications, Published online: 08 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38343-6

The achievable photocurrent of hematite, α-Fe2O3, is typically limited far below its theoretical limit. Here, the authors engineer single Pt atomic sites with surface oxygen vacancies into hematite photoanodes, which leads to enhanced photoelectrochemical water splitting.
Everything will change once AI models can “click” things. Why hasn’t this happened yet?

Why have makers of AI like GPT taught models how to “click” and type on a computer or phone?

Imagine how incredibly powerful it would be. You could teach it to use excel and word. You could have it write emails for you and send them. You could teach it to search the internet as if it were YOU typing things. All it has to do is be able to move a cursor, click and type.

Why hasn’t this happened? This is the next big leap and I am almost suspicious this hasn’t happened yet.

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In India, A Nuanced View of How Elephants Make Decisions
Is this article about ESG?
The giant mammals are on the move in Asia. And as the boundaries of human development expand, interspecies clashes are likely to become more frequent. Researchers believe that understanding elephants as complex creatures — and how they weigh risk and reward — could be key to preventing such conflict. Misinformed refusal on steroids

Back in the day, I used to refer to something I dubbed "misinformed refusal," a term that refers to how antivaxxers had weaponized "informed consent" by inverting it to frighten parents against vaccinated. In the age of the pandemic, generalizes misinformed refusal to all COVID-19 treatments with the help of "hospital hostage negotiator" Laura Bartlett, who views COVID-19 treatments in hospitals as "holding patients hostage" and provides an "informed consent template" that refuses remdesivir, intubation, and other COVID-19 interventions.

The post Misinformed refusal on steroids first appeared on Science-Based Medicine.
Rock concert: Yellowstone seismic activity to be performed on live flute

Real-time data will be displayed for Dr Alyssa Schwartz to play at Atlanta conference

Move aside Metallica and Led Zeppelin: scientists are planning to make “rock” music by letting seismic activity headline in a live flute performance.

On Tuesday, Dr Domenico Vicinanza of the UK’s Anglia Ruskin University will use a computer program he has developed to turn real-time data, recorded by a seismograph at Yellowstone national park in the US, into a musical score.

Continue reading…
The Global Battle to Regulate AI Is Just Beginning
Is this article about Business?
Europe’s parliament is struggling to agree on new rules to govern AI—showing how policymakers everywhere have a lot to learn about the technology.
Artificial intelligence mechanization will not affect poor countries much.

I live in Turkey. Here most people find it difficult to buy even the lowest model smartphones. Very few people can use VR glasses. There are also poorer countries than Turkey. I mean, new machine-technological developments can no longer reach consumers in most countries due to the high cost they bring, and will not reach them in the future.

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Governments are determined by the people.

When AI starts taking over people's jobs, people won't want to choose political parties that invest in AI and don't ban it. Some political parties will promise that the use of artificial intelligence will be banned in the country, and people who have lost or are close to losing their jobs will vote for these parties.

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Blood test for sleepy drivers could pave way for prosecutions

Exclusive: Research comes amid evidence that driving on less than five hours’ sleep is as dangerous as drink-driving

A blood test to measure whether a driver who has caused an accident was impaired by lack of sleep could be available within two years, making it easier to legislate against drowsy drivers or their employers.

The research, funded by the Australian Government Office of Road Safety, comes as fresh evidence suggests that driving on less than five hours’ sleep is as dangerous as being over the legal drink-drive limit in many countries.

Continue reading…
Experts divided on ethics of testing and punishing tired drivers

Development of biomarkers to detect sleepiness could affect the way we use vehicles – and even how we work

Blood tests are widely used to determine if a driver who has caused an accident has been consuming alcohol or drugs. But scientists are split on the ethics of penalising drivers who drive dangerously because they haven’t got enough sleep.

At the moment, drivers are largely left to judge for themselves whether they are too tired to drive, but the development of biomarkers to detect sleepiness could change that, and make it easier to prosecute drivers who cause an accident because they are impaired due to sleep deprivation.

Continue reading…
Is this article about Energy?

Do people hear what we're saying about climate change and why it's important? Making sure we're understood needs displacement— into other sets of ears. 

The right words are crucial to solving climate change – but too often the way that scientists share information can be confusing for the general public. How can researchers and other science communicators more clearly get across their findings and potential solutions, to help us together make progress on such important global challenges? Join Laura Helmuth, Editor-in-Chief at Scientific American, in conversation with Susan Hassol Director, Climate Communication.

This interview from Springer Nature's In Conversation pairs with Hassol's recent article The Right Words Are Crucial to Solving Climate Change, published in Scientific American

Helmuth and Hassol explore choosing terminology for better mutual understanding. The same linguistic barriers Helmuth and Hassol tackle lead Skeptical Science to undertake a massive revision project aimed at leveling the hill between climate talk and climate listen— by using plain language.  Here are three examples of how language goes amiss, and how to land on target: 

Scientist  says Public hears Clarity added
Climate change Any change of climate Climate disruption
Positive feedback Good response Self-reinforcing cycle
Greenhouse gas emissions Hothouse exhaust Heat-trapping pollution

YouTube Video

Starwatch: the hair and the dogs that became stand-alone constellations

Ptolemy originally regarded the stars of Coma Berenices as the tuft of Leo’s tail and saw Canes Venatici as part of the great bear

This week, we can track down two faint northern springtime constellations.

Canes Venatici is the Latin for “hunting dogs”. It is associated with the neighbouring constellation of Boötes, the herdsman, and sits below the handle of the plough asterism in the constellation of Ursa Major, the great bear.

Continue reading…
The Sad, Sad Life of Tom Wambsgans
Is this article about Politics?

This story contains spoilers through the seventh episode of Succession Season 4.

On Succession, a party is never just a party. Birthdays are for wooing business partners. Weddings are for tactical betrayals. And tonight’s episode was no different: Set at a pre–Election Night fete hosted by Shiv (played by Sarah Snook) and Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), “Tailgate Party” followed an evening of overpromising, undermining, and extreme hobnobbing. In every corner of Shiv and Tom’s New York home was someone—a power broker, a hanger-on—on a mission to schmooze their way to success.

The result was, as always, controlled chaos. Scenes flitted from one doublespeak negotiation to the next: Roman (Kieran Culkin) tried to get Connor (Alan Ruck) to drop out of the presidential race, then attempted to sweet-talk Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) into forgiving him for firing her in last week’s episode. Kendall (Jeremy Strong) invited Shiv’s ex-lover Nate (Ashley Zukerman) to help spread a rumor about Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård)—the tech mogul hoping to take over the Roys’ company, Waystar Royco—flouting financial regulations. Shiv played double agent, pretending to support Kendall and Roman while leading Matsson to the guests he needed to befriend in order to burnish his reputation against their attacks. Even cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) got to participate in the war over Waystar Royco, embedding himself in Matsson’s circle at Ken’s request.

The lone idle player at the party: Tom, the man who has always insisted that he is eager to serve, and who was repaid in this episode by being told over and over again that he’ll probably be fired. Shunned at his own shindig, he picked a fight with Shiv on their balcony, and the two finally had the talk—to “clear the air,” as he put it—that they’d avoided all season. As they flung accusations at each other about who did what and why things went wrong, they spit the kind of horrible, heart-wrenching poison that can destroy not just a relationship but a person’s spirit. In an hour filled with glad-handing and deception, Shiv and Tom’s direct and dramatic showdown cemented Tom’s position as perhaps the most pathetic character on Succession.

I’m not trying to be mean; Tom has had enough insults hurled his way for an evening. (Shiv made a particularly nasty jab, calling him a “one-pepper menu item.” Ouch.) But he’s the only character who has exhausted any chance of surviving his association with the family—the one most likely to live the rest of his life in misery and regret for having once been a “third-tier Roy,” as my colleague Sophie Gilbert described him. For three seasons, he ingratiated himself to the family by doing exactly what he was told, but he overplayed his hand by betraying Shiv for her late father. The only weapon he had left was the truth—truth that he delivered to Shiv sincerely, complete with an apology. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but you have hurt me more than you could possibly imagine.”

[Read: Succession just delivered its most terrifying episode yet]

The admission came at the worst moment: Just before their talk, Shiv discovered that Matsson has been lying to her about how many paying subscribers his company, GoJo, actually has. And, as Tom should have known, the Roys see sincerity as a weakness. He asserted himself more firmly than he ever had, but his words, stripped of sarcasm and vulgarity, failed to connect with Shiv, who prefers a partner with more bite—literally—and who has never had trouble treating Tom with disdain. Here, confronted with his sentimentality, she regarded him only with pity. “I don’t even care about you,” she responded, before stepping back inside and shutting the door behind her.

“Tailgate Party” cleverly juxtaposed Tom’s descent with those of the other Roy men—the first-tier ones—who also suffered setbacks and humiliations, but emerged relatively unscathed. Roman, unable to persuade Gerri to return to Waystar Royco, off-loaded his frustration onto Connor soon after. Connor spent much of the party fretting over being asked to withdraw his presidential campaign but eventually found comfort by leaning on his new wife, Willa (Justine Lupe). And although Kendall failed to rope Nate into his scheme, he got the dirt he needed to potentially sink the deal with Mattson. By contrast, Tom has no one left—not even Greg, who declared himself “Team KenRo.”

Of course, Tom is partly responsible for the position he’s in. He said he resented Shiv’s willingness to let him go to prison, but he had offered himself as a sacrifice in order to gain Logan’s favor. He’s frustrated with Shiv for not loving him as much as he loves her, but as she reminded him, he’d caught her off guard by proposing marriage when she was distraught over her father being in the hospital, way back in Season 1. And the morning of their election party, he gave her a glass-encased scorpion, a joke gift meant to represent her cruel nature. (Teasing Shiv has not been Tom’s strong suit.) That night, he could have kept his head down; instead, he panicked over the gossip that he might lose his power as an ATN executive and made the mistake of failing to contain his despair.

The last time Tom so bluntly confronted Shiv about his feelings, they were by themselves on a beach. “If I think about it, I think, a lot of the time, I’m really pretty unhappy,” he said then. “I don’t know. I love you, I do. I just wonder if the sad I’d be without you would be less than the sad I get from being with you.” Anticipating her ire, he barely looked at her as he spoke.

This time, they sparred in full view of everyone at the party, and Tom had no trouble looking into her eyes. Yet by the end of the night, he did not seem at peace—alone and awake in bed, Tom stared at the ceiling, completely exhausted but incapable of sleeping. Shiv, too, was unable to rest; she perched on her own bed in a separate room, seemingly thinking over their fight. But as Tom pointed out, Shiv is a Roy—she’s well protected, and she’ll be okay no matter what happens. He’s the one the episode showed in its final shot, looking genuinely worried, gripping his covers to his chest like a child afraid of the dark. The sadness he once spoke of still lingers, invisible, clinging to him no matter how much air he clears.


Scientific Reports, Published online: 07 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-33722-x

Correlation of index finger length to vertical dimensions of occlusion for edentulous patients and their satisfaction: a randomized controlled trial

Scientific Reports, Published online: 07 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-29626-5

Running Energy Reserve Index (RERI) as a new model for assessment and prediction of world, elite, sub-elite, and collegiate running performances


Årsmötet 2023 – ny styrelse utsedd!

Den nya styrelsen (fr.v): Anna Wallman, Amalia Juneström, Dan Larhammar, Pontus Böckman, Per Johan Råsmark, Lina Tebbla (ny ordf.), Staffan Lückander, Mikael Hedeland, Dan Katz och Lotten Kalenius.(Ej i bild: Cecilia Baldén-Lembke, Linda Strand-Lundberg och Wolfgang Schröder) Hederspristagarna Matilda Skarehag (i mitten) och Eva Edjdeholt får … Continued

Inlägget Årsmötet 2023 – ny styrelse utsedd! dök först upp på Vetenskap och Folkbildning.

Is this article about Health?

A therapist or counsellor can help identify the root cause of the pattern and provide tools to manage triggers

  • The modern mind is a column where experts discuss mental health issues they are seeing in their work

“I didn’t sleep well last night … actually, I don’t sleep well most nights”. Ashleigh* apologises for her tardiness as she walks through the door to my office for her psychotherapy session. I notice the dark circles under her eyes.

In her late 40s, she has endured more traumatic events than most people twice her age. Growing up with an alcoholic father, Ashleigh had a strained relationship with him that has continued into adulthood. While she had a good relationship with her mother, she lost her to cancer when she was 17-years-old.

“Shortly after the birth of my child, our relationship became toxic and I found myself turning to alcohol to deal with situations that were similar to my own upbringing with my father. As the months went by, I was drinking sometimes up to two bottles of wine a day.”

“I think I’m always fearful of losing the people I love most – it has left me in an emotionally heightened state permanently. This has contributed to the breakdown of my relationship.”

Continue reading…
Scientists Discover Bug That Uses Tool
Is this article about Summaries of Threat Intelligence Reports?
Scientists have discovered a new type of tool-using insect, nicknamed the "assassin bug" for a creative — and deadly — hunting technique.

Agent 00Buggin'

There's an assassin on the loose in Australia — but not the kind you might be thinking.

As detailed in a recent study published in the journal Biology Letters, scientists have discovered a new type of tool-wielding insect, nicknamed the "assassin bug" for a creative — and deadly — hunting technique in which it meticulously coats itself in a sticky resin as a means of more effectively catching prey.

Per the study, the assassin bug uses a specific resin from a native Australian grass called spinifex grass.

"Tool use in animals is a complex and rare phenomenon, particularly in insects," reads the scientists' research. "Tool use in assassin bugs has been suggested as several species apply adhesive plant resins to their body, which has been hypothesized to function in enhancing prey capture."

Deadly glue arms? Check. Watch out, flies.

Glue Arms

To test the extent of the tiny assassins' tool use, the Australian researchers observed the bugs in the wild as well as in captivity, taking 26 different assassin bugs from the outdoors and placing them in a glass jar with one of two prey: flies or ants.

As ScienceDirect notes, flies are particularly difficult to catch. Per the study, the resin-covered assassin bugs had a much easier time catching flies than their glueless counterparts did — of the 26 bugs, those with resin were 26 percent more successful at snagging the pesky winged prey.

"Here, we staged predatory interactions of resin-deprived and resin-equipped assassin bugs (Gorareduvius sp.) and discovered that applying resin as a tool conveys a clear predatory advantage to the assassin bugs," reads the study. "Gorareduvius sp. can thus be considered a tool-user, and since this behaviour was present in all individuals, including newly hatched nymphs, tool-use can be considered to be stereotyped."

And apparently, according to the scientists' observations, the use of the spinifex resin isn't a learned behavior, as even newly-hatched nymphs were seen coating themselves in the glue-like substance.

Innate tool use in an insect? That's pretty cool.

"Assassin bugs manipulated an environmental item (the resin), by taking it out of its usual context and applying it onto their bodies," the researchers concluded, "Thus gaining a selective advantage through improved prey capture."

More on insects: Scientists Suggest New Reason Dumb Bugs Smash into Lights

The post Scientists Discover Bug That Uses Tool appeared first on Futurism.

New AI Service Makes Fake Photos of You Hanging Out With Your Friends, Laughing and Having a Great Time
It's called Hotshot, and from what we can tell, it's basically Bitmoji — but if Bitmoji was a hyperrealistic, AI-powered fever dream.

Fancy Salads

Don't want to spend time with other humans, but still want to make it look like you're hanging out with your pals IRL? Boy, do we have just the thing.

A new app called Hotshot makes use of the power of AI to generate fake photos of you and your pals — whether they agreed to the arrangement or not.

"Imagine if Midjourney knew what your friends looked like… Introducing Hotshot!" tweeted one of the app's cofounders Aakash Sastry. "Make photos with ANYONE IN YOUR CONTACTS doing ANYTHING."

In a demonstration, Sastry shared some Hotspot-generated photos of himself and his cofounder together eating salads in a fancy restaurant.

The results arguably leave a lot to be desired. The photos fall squarely in the uncanny valley, making both their faces appear like cartoonish AI interpolations.

"Making memes of your friends," reads the company's page on the app store, "has never been easier."


Involuntary Participation

Of course, while we love goofy photos of our friends as much as the next guy, something about using an AI app to create images of you and your friends hanging out together — rather than just hanging out with them in real life — feels just a too little dystopian for our taste.

Especially given the fact that face-to-face human interaction is more important than ever in a post-pandemic world, Hotshot feels a little like a regression. Besides, even if you don't live close to your friends, video chat programs like FaceTime and Zoom also exist.

Users on Twitter weren't exactly impressed, calling the app "pretty creepy."

"My current friends would kill me if I tried this," another user wrote. "Rightly so."

That said, skipping out on hanging with your friends may not have been the intention. Bitmoji, an app that allows you to turn yourself into your own emoji avatar, did have a moment, so maybe there is some appeal to this kind of AI app.

At least, its creators also claim in the app's privacy policy that all user photos are deleted 24 hours after they're uploaded and will never be shared with any third-party platforms — which is rarely a given these days.

We won't stop you from generating images of you hanging out with your besties. But at least promise us that you'll try to eat salads with friends in real life sometimes, too.

More on AI: Online Tutoring Company Stock Crashes as ChatGPT Steamrolls Its Business

The post New AI Service Makes Fake Photos of You Hanging Out With Your Friends, Laughing and Having a Great Time appeared first on Futurism.

Scientists Spot Tragic Planet Being Eaten by a Dying Star
Until recently, scientists had never spotted a star in the act of consuming a planet — and eventually, it will happen to Earth, too.

Tastes Like Chicken

Until recently, scientists had never spotted a star in the act of consuming a planet — and now that it's been captured, we likely have a glimpse of Earth's future.

Astronomers at Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the California Institute of Technology, and a spattering of other schools have been studying the process by which dying stars consume other planets, which has been a known phenomenon for some time but until now, hadn't been observed in media res.

Published this week in the journal Nature, the consortium's study about this unprecedented observation details how the star, which is located in our galaxy about 12,000 light-years away near the constellation Aquila, became brighter and brighter as it died — and how it left a strange signal in its wake.

As the MIT press release about the research notes, a dying star will "billow out to a million times its original size, engulfing any matter — and planets — in its wake." This was what the scientists believe happened with the star they witnessed as it "became more than 100 times brighter over just 10 days, before quickly fading away."

"Curiously, this white-hot flash was followed by a colder, longer-lasting signal," the press release continued. "This combination, the scientists deduced, could only have been produced by one event: a star engulfing a nearby planet."

Big Boy

The planet in question was, as the MIT statement notes, "likely a hot, Jupiter-sized world that spiraled close, then was pulled into the dying star’s atmosphere, and, finally, into its core."

"We were seeing the end-stage of the swallowing," said Kishalay De, an MIT astrophysics postdoc and the study's lead author.

De added that this never-before-seen observation foretells our planet's future, too.

"We are seeing the future of the Earth," he said. "If some other civilization was observing us from 10,000 light-years away while the sun was engulfing the Earth, they would see the sun suddenly brighten as it ejects some material, then form dust around it, before settling back to what it was."

While this isn't exactly a rosy outlook, it's good to know where we're headed in a few billion years, right?

More on star stuff: Scientists Are Breathlessly Waiting For Betelgeuse to Explode

The post Scientists Spot Tragic Planet Being Eaten by a Dying Star appeared first on Futurism.

ChatGPT Writes Shredding Guitar Solo
Is this article about Music?
A guitarist asked OpenAI's ChatGPT to "write a guitar solo" — and the result, as demonstrated in a short clip, didn't disappoint.

Shredding Bots

AI chatbot sidekick ChatGPT has done it again.

Thirteen-year-old guitarist Ava Toton asked the tool to "write a guitar solo" — and the results, as demonstrated in a short clip, didn't disappoint. The musician turned simple, AI-generated guitar tab notations into a brain-searing solo.

But should ChatGPT really get all the credit? According to Toton's experience at least, that's a definite no.

As has been the case ever since OpenAI released its blockbuster chatbot, the humans behind the prompts still have to put in a lot of leg work to get satisfying results.

In other words, ChatGPT isn't going to magically start replacing rock guitarists on stage anytime soon — but it can be an impressive jumping-off point for human/AI collaboration.


AI Solo

It took quite a while for Toton to get to something even remotely resembling a guitar solo.

"Fun thing I decided to do with ChatGPT to test how well it handles musical requests — it took forever to finally get it to give me a usable answer!" Toton wrote in a Reddit thread. "ChatGPT gave me the notes, but I interpreted them, like the lengths, and what to accentuate. I also wrote the rhythm guitar, harmonies, bass, and drums."

In fact, "ChatGPT gave me quite a few notes that were out of the key," Toton admitted, arguing that ChatGPT acted more "as a foundation, and I put my own creativity into it."

The guitarist's experience is a great reminder of the fact that ChatGPT isn't capable of producing its own truly original output, but rather rehashes data that already exists in the world.

But it's also a powerful tool that could help musicians or other artists out of a creative rut — though it's not replacing them entirely quite yet.

"I think ChatGPT is excellent for a lot of things, but for music?" Toton argued. "Not really."

More on ChatGPT: Online Tutoring Company Stock Crashes as ChatGPT Steamrolls Its Business

The post ChatGPT Writes Shredding Guitar Solo appeared first on Futurism.

NASA Visualization Shows Supermassive Black Holes That Could Swallow Our Solar System Whole

Hints of black holes, some of the universe’s most extreme objects, first appeared in Einstein’s equations of relativity as early as 1916. It wasn’t until the 1970s that indirect evidence suggested they actually existed. These days, we can watch stars whipping around the black hole at the center of our galaxy and detect the gravitational bell-tones of black holes colliding.

But the first image of a black hole—complete with a glowing disc of material flowing at relativistic speeds into an immense central shadow—made it all concrete. There really are regions of space-time so warped nothing can escape. Look, there’s one right there.

The original EHT image of the supermassive black hole at the center of M87 (left) and a more recent image, sharpened using AI and the same data set (right). Image Credit: L. Medeiros (Institute for Advanced Study), D. Psaltis (Georgia Tech), T. Lauer (NSF’s NOIRLab), and F. Ozel (Georgia Tech)

The story gets more mind-bending. Black holes aren’t just extreme for their off-the-charts gravitation, they can also be extremely large. The supermassive black holes lying at the centers of galaxies—like M87*, the subject of that first-ever black hole portrait above—can have masses millions or billions of times more than our sun. At scales like that, the mind fails utterly. Too big.

Luckily, we have (mildly terrifying) NASA visualizations to help our feeble minds make sense of the universe of which we are only a vanishingly small part.

In a new animation, 10 supermassive black holes are placed within the context of our solar system to scale their size. Some of the smaller members of the group are nothing to write home about cosmically. With a measly mass of 4.3 million suns, the diameter of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way—also recently imaged—takes up just half the orbit of Mercury.

M87*, the blurry 5.4-billion-sun subject of the images above, is something else entirely. To traverse the shadow pictured, you’d have to travel beyond the asteroid belt and outer planets to regions it takes spacecraft a decade to reach. Even light, traveling 670 million miles per hour, would take a few days to go from one end to the other.

And there are even bigger fish out there. The distant, 60-billion-sun TON 618, the final black hole in the visualization, could swallow M87*, our entire solar system, and everything in it without a hint of indigestion. Lucky for us, it’s over 10 billion light years away.

Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

Are you a mosquito magnet? Help may be at hand
Is this article about Pharma?

From repellants to app-based mosquito monitoring and a new malaria vaccine, researchers are making important breakthroughs in the fight against the biting insects

The earliest signs of summer herald my annual metamorphosis – from woman to lifesize pincushion. Whether at home or abroad, when mosquitoes begin their hunt for blood I am reminded, via a blanket of red blotches that have more than once swelled to the size of a golf ball, that mine is a godlike nectar. On a single day last December, a tropical Christmas trip quickly became a less-than-festive scratchathon after a glut of bites arrived, following which I was stung by jellyfish, then wasps. At this point, I can only assume the mosquitoes are giving other species ideas.

But there are signs that a solution for the 20% of the population who receive above-average numbers of bites may soon be at hand. Earlier this month, researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI) developed a new repellant capable of reducing the number of mosquitoes feeding by 80%. Applying a thin coating made from naturally occurring cellulose nanocrystals (CNC), a renewable raw material found in the likes of cotton and wood, and indole, an organic compound with an unpleasant odour, to skin served as “chemical camouflage”, said the study published in PNAS Nexus. This combination – which derails the cues that mosquitoes use to select their victims – is “unprecedented”, according to Jonathan Bohbot, a senior lecturer at HUJI and one of the paper’s co-authors. Indeed, the results are considered so promising that further human studies are planned, with a view to having the coating approved by regulators ahead of commercial use. “The CNC-repellant combination will have a longer efficacy and range of action than other products currently available on the market,” says Bohbot, adding that they expect “high levels of product adoption” if and when it does hit shelves.

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A Silly Yet Sincere Movie to Rewatch
Is this article about Politics?

This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.

Good morning, and welcome back to The Daily’s Sunday culture edition, in which one Atlantic staffer reveals what’s keeping them entertained.

Today’s special guest is Yasmin Tayag, a staff writer who covers science and health. Yasmin recently reported on the rise of weight-loss drugs such as Ozempic as well as their cheaper, more potent alternatives; the broader implications of the ongoing Adderall shortage; and how climate change is making seasonal allergies worse. She’s also preparing for the birth of her first child next month and, until then, conquering the 2000s indie-band reunion-tour circuit, self-soothing with the Instagram channel of a charming Italian chef, and giggling at the very thought of the new film Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.  

First, here are three Sunday reads from The Atlantic:

The Culture Survey: Yasmin Tayag

The last thing that made me snort with laughter: About three years ago, some friends suggested that we try playing Dungeons & Dragons—mostly as a joke, given that none of us are typical game-playing types—but it took just one session for us to embrace it wholeheartedly. Our campaign lasted through much of the coronavirus pandemic, but we eventually succumbed to Zoom fatigue. With genuine melancholy, I laid Sabrina, my randy level-nine tiefling sorceress, to rest.

But last month, we reunited to watch the new film Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, which left us crying with laughter. The jokes are silly, but as my colleague David Sims put it in his review, they’re also sincere—a crucial element to a good D&D session. Merely thinking of the name Jarnathan, bestowed on a huge and hapless eagle-man, still makes me giggle. The film was so much fun that I actually saw it twice—and it inspired my friends and me to start another campaign. My new character, C. Biscuit, a socially awkward druid centaur, is chafing at the bit. [Related: Ta-Nehisi Coates—The unlikely influence of Dungeons & Dragons (2011)]

The upcoming event I’m most looking forward to: As an aging Millennial, I’ve very much embraced the recent indie-sleaze revival. I grew up in Toronto, and bands such as Metric, Stars, and Broken Social Scene were the soundtrack to my coming of age. Of these artists, Feist was the queen: folksy with an edge, slightly mystical, a melodic genius. I’m seeing her live for the first time next weekend as she tours Multitudes, her transcendent new album about motherhood. [Related: Feist’s Pleasure reworks the passage of time. (2017)]

A good recommendation I recently received: Newborns are top of mind for me these days; I’m expecting my first in about a month. Several friends with young kids have offered child-rearing wisdom for the modern age: Don’t let them watch Cocomelon. Just don’t. It’s “drugs for babies,” one told me. Having now YouTubed a few deranged clips, I see their point. Alternatives I feel better about are Rockabye Baby!’s lullaby renditions of the music of Drake and Lauryn Hill, which I think (or hope!) will be gentler on the baby—and me.

A YouTuber, TikToker, Twitch streamer, or other online creator whom I’m a fan of: Though I’m trying to spend as little time as possible on Instagram these days, I will always stop to watch the Roman chef Max Mariola cook in his dreamy outdoor kitchen. During the height of the pandemic, Searching for Italy, a CNN series about Stanley Tucci nearly orgasming over Italian meals, was my escape. Mariola is like Tucci turned up to 11. For him, even the humblest ingredients seem to rouse carnal pleasure. That he whispers, ASMR-like, in Italian—his recipes are shared like secrets—adds a frisson of excitement. In one video, while whipping up buttered anchovy spaghetti for guests who unexpectedly stay for dinner, he murmurs, “I didn’t have anything in the house, but I’ll always make you feel great!” Pantry cooking was never so racy.

Something I loved as a teenager and still love, and something I loved but now dislike: I recently made an obscure reference to the early-aughts emo band Dashboard Confessional in a dumb tweet about the failed SpaceX launch, and immediately regretted it. My feelings changed, however, when a colleague caught it—“are you a Dashboard person?” she Slacked incredulously—and then introduced me to a secret cadre of Atlantic emo-lovers. My people! In high school, bands such as Something Corporate, Yellowcard, and Taking Back Sunday supported me through suburban angst and adolescent existential ennui (and, as a bonus, taught me to play guitar, if badly). Listening to their songs at 36 has been a welcome reminder that I once had the capacity to feel so much, so earnestly—an ability I’m hoping to recultivate after spending most of this millennium (so far) mired in irony.

But not all earnestness ages well. Garden State and (500) Days of Summer were popular twee indie romances that tried to convince a generation that true love happened when navel-gazing weirdos discovered quirky-cool girls to allay their insecurities, usually in settings involving obscure music. Somehow as a young adult, the fact that those weirdos were relentlessly self-absorbed and cared little for their partners’ personal well-being escaped me. That oversight now makes me cringe; fortunately, I’ve since learned that there’s more to love than a shared fondness for The Shins[Related: Is Dashboard Confessional still emo? (2018)]

A quiet song that I love, and a loud song that I love: In my attempt to see as many concerts as I can before giving birth, I recently went to see The Walkmen, another favorite band on a nostalgia tour. (Compression socks have helped with all the standing around.) They sounded as great as they did decades ago, but I was disappointed not to hear my favorite song, “Red Moon,” a gorgeous, gentle ballad about missing someone, rich with mournful horns. “But the stars are cold / And the air is bright,” the lead singer Hamilton Leithauser laments. “And I see you now / You shine like the steel on my knife.”

More chaotic moods often take me to “Pain Killer,” a sexy, boisterous song from the Danish punk rockers Iceage, featuring vocals from the elusive American pop star Sky Ferreira. Vigorous drums and angular guitars provide plenty of joyful noise, but it’s the unexpected addition of horns—what can I say; I love that brass!—that elevates this track into glorious pandemonium.

Read past editions of the Culture Survey with Damon BeresJulie BeckFaith HillDerek ThompsonTom NicholsAmy Weiss-Meyer, and Kaitlyn Tiffany.

The Week Ahead

  1. The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece: A Novel, the debut novel by the actor Tom Hanks that was a lifetime in the making (on sale Tuesday)
  2. The third season of The Great, a raucous reimagining of the reign of Russian Empress Catherine the Great (begins streaming Friday on Hulu)
  3. The Mother, an action-thriller starring Jennifer Lopez as a military-trained assassin on a mission to protect her daughter (available to stream Friday on Netflix)


Illustration by Joanne Imperio / The Atlantic. Source: Marka / Alamy; Trinity Mirror / Alamy; Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy.

A Rom-Com That Seduces the Old-Fashioned Way

By Jane Hu

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single, hot woman must be in want of a schlubby man who can make her laugh. This is, at least, the fantasy that romantic comedies have too often sold us, from Woody Allen’s Manhattan to Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day to Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up. In these films, what’s most valued in a man is not his body—or even his bank account—but his winning personality. When it comes to romancing a woman, humor and a heart of gold turn out to be a foolproof strategy of seduction. And part of the comedy is that an average-looking man who tells good jokes is able to tell them all the way to the bedroom.

This familiar trope is also the opening setup to Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest novel, Romantic Comedy, though Sittenfeld deftly toggles between deconstructing a well-worn genre and leaning into its most predictable beats. She does this, in part, by setting her novel in the entertainment industry—that producer of slick narrative arcs and neat archetypes—and, more specifically, by making her protagonist a professional comedian, someone whose literal job is to poke fun at the scripts that govern our desires.

Read the full article.

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Catch Up on The Atlantic

Photo Album

Surfer Kai Lenny rides a wave as a big swell hits Teahupoʻo, on the French Polynesia island of Tahiti, on April 30, 2023
Surfer Kai Lenny rides a wave as a big swell hits Teahupoʻo, on the French Polynesia island of Tahiti, on April 30, 2023.

Check out snapshots of big-wave surfing in Tahiti, preparations for a coronation in London, moments from the Met Gala in New York, and more in our editor’s selection of the week’s best photos.

Don’t Try to Board a Plane With Peanut Butter

This article was originally published by The Conversation.

These TSA requirements are drilled into every frequent flier’s head: Liquids may be carried on only in containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) in volume or less.

But when the TSA recently confiscated a jar of Jif under this rule, peanut-butter lovers were up in arms. Some skeptics of security may suspect that hungry officers just wanted to make their own peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. The TSA, however, contends that peanut butter is a liquid—and a full-size jar of Jif is over the 3.4-ounce limit.

Just like Americans’ beloved legume-based sandwich ingredient, the story—and the outrage it inspired—spread. However, I’m a mechanical engineer who studies fluid flows, and the TSA action made sense to me. By the scientific definition, peanut butter is indeed a liquid.

To define a liquid, we must first define a fluid. Any material that flows continuously when a shearing force is applied is a fluid. Think of a shearing force as a cutting action through a substance that causes it to flow continuously. For example, moving your arm causes the surrounding air to change shape—or deform, to use the physics term—and flow out of the way. The same thing happens to water when your arm takes a swim stroke.

[Read: Milk has lost all meaning]

There are many kinds of fluids. Some act very predictably and move smoothly, as air and water do. These are called Newtonian fluids, named after Sir Isaac Newton. Scientifically, a Newtonian fluid is one in which the shear force varies in direct proportion with the stress it puts on the material, known as the shearing strain. A Newtonian fluid’s resistance to fluid flow—that is, its viscosity—is constant at a given temperature.

Other types of fluids do not move quite as smoothly and easily. Some, like peanut butter, might require a minimum shearing or cutting force in order to start flowing, and this shearing force may vary nonlinearly with shearing strain. Imagine you’re stirring a jar of peanut butter. If you stir really fast, with more shearing force, the PB gets runnier; if you stir slowly, the PB remains stiff. These types of fluids are called non-Newtonian fluids. Peanut butter may stick more than flow—you could consider this movement more chunky-style.

Peanut butter is actually a great example of a non-Newtonian fluid: It doesn’t flow as easily as air or water, but it will flow if sufficient force is applied, such as when a knife spreads it on bread. How easily it flows will also depend on temperature—you may have experienced peanut-butter drips on warm toast.

Our everyday lives—but not our airplane carry-ons—are filled with substances that are unexpected fluids. In general, if it can flow, it’s a fluid. And it will eventually take the shape of its container.

Some surprising fluids are peanut butter’s kitchen neighbors, such as whipped cream, mayonnaise, and cookie batter. You’ll find others in the bathroom—toothpaste, for instance. The natural world is home to many strange fluids, including lavamud, snow in an avalanche, and quicksand.

Gravel can be considered fluidlike. The individual particles are solids, but a collection of gravel particles can be poured and fill a container—it’s what’s called a “granular fluid,” because it has fluidlike properties. The same can be said of cereal poured out of a box or sugar into a bowl.

You could even consider a cat lying in the sun, flattened out and filling its containerlike skin, to be a fluid. Sleepy, relaxed dogs; squirrels; and even zonked-out babies can meet the definition of a fluid.

[Read: Cats give the laws of physics a biiiiig stretch]

Now, you might be objecting: But the TSA didn’t call peanut butter a fluid; it said it’s a liquid!

Fluids are divided into two general categories: gases and liquids. Both gases and liquids can be deformed and poured into containers, and will take the shape of their container. But gases can be compressed, whereas liquids cannot—at least, not easily.

Peanut butter can be poured into a container, at which point it deforms, or takes the shape of that container. And every 5-year-old knows that peanut butter does not compress: When you squish your PB&J or peanut-butter crackers together, the peanut butter does not smoosh into a smaller volume. No—it squirts out the sides and onto your hands.

So, the verdict on peanut butter: delicious liquid. If you plan to make a PB&J sandwich mid-flight, count on bringing 3.4 ounces of liquid peanut butter or less. And the same goes for its liquid cousin, jelly.

Is this article about Wellbeing?

If you feel stuck, a trip can put you back in touch with your sense of adventure

On family holidays, my father transformed himself. Perhaps it was the sunny climate, the change of scene or simply the long-awaited break from work, but almost as soon as the plane landed on the runway, his ordinarily reserved personality was discarded like a winter coat. He became sociable and gregarious. There was a lightness about him as he chatted to strangers on the beach, inviting them to join us for dinner, where he’d entertain them with an endless repertoire of stories and jokes. Two weeks later, clutching a bottle of ouzo as we landed in Heathrow, perhaps he hoped this version of himself might travel home with him. But as he got back to normal life and a busy hospital job, the unopened ouzo was soon pushed to the back of the cupboard to gather dust.

When I left my job as a psychologist and went on a round-the-world trip in search of adventures after a difficult time in my life, maybe I, too, was hoping to become a new person – or, like my father, a different version of myself. I was soon disappointed. It was nerve-racking to land in a strange place and know nobody. Away from the routines of life, the identity of my job and the security of my network of friends and family, I felt lonely and untethered. And, to my horror, despite visiting eye-wateringly beautiful places, I still felt miserable. Somehow, in the flurry of packing for the trip, I’d forgotten that the thing you don’t choose to bring, but can’t leave behind, is yourself. I felt a very long way from home. I missed my friends. What was I thinking?

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Circle K tæller de dyre dråber
Med de aktuelle brændstofpriser giver god mening, at der afregnes med den allerhøjeste præcision. Alligevel var det med en vis forbløffelse, at Michael Fahlgren læste sin opgørelse fra Circle K, der lød på 200,17999999999998 liter benzin. Illustration: Michael Fahlgren. »Som efterhånden aldrende ingeniør må jeg ærligt indrømme, at jeg ligger næsegrus af beundring for deres målepræcision.
Mob Justice

What is a Mafia? At the systemic level, it’s different from other criminal groups. Above all, as Diego Gambetta—the premier scholar of the Mafia—has shown, it’s a network for the exchange of favors and the imposition of obligations in the name of “friendship.” That’s how the crimes get done.

We see this in the first Godfather film, when the mortician Bonasera offers to pay Don Corleone to commit murder; the undertaker wants revenge on the men who beat up his daughter but, in the formal court system, were spared from prison. The Godfather reacts to Bonasera’s offer with dismay—not because of the request for murder, but because of the explicit suggestion of cash payment. “What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully?” the Godfather asks. “Had you come to me in friendship, then this scum that ruined your daughter would be suffering this very day.”

Friendship? This, not the bureaucratic payment-for-service model that Bonasera expects, is the basis for how Corleone’s world functions. The Godfather agrees to deal with Bonasera’s enemies, but in return for an unspecified future obligation. “Some day, and that day may never come,” he tells Bonasera, “I’ll call upon you to do a service for me.” This is understood to be more ominous and weighty than any monetary debt could be. But as the powerful know, the right to call in a future favor is priceless.

This scene sprang to my mind last month when the billionaire Harlan Crow told The Dallas Morning News that he and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas are “just really friends,” and that friendship alone motivated him to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for luxury travel enjoyed by Thomas and his wife. (Perhaps the same impulse led him to buy and renovate the home of Thomas’s elderly mother, who continues to live there, as well as to pay the private-school tuition of Thomas’s grandnephew.)

Thomas himself has echoed Crow’s just-friends line, maintaining that nothing is nefarious about his relationship with his benefactor. This is despite Thomas failing to mention any of this expensive largesse in his official financial disclosures over the years. Federal employees are typically subject to rules designed to preserve impartiality and prevent conflicts of interest by tightly limiting the type and value of gifts they may receive from those doing business with them. But the Supreme Court governs itself, and its members are not even subject to the code of conduct for federal judges.

[Bob Bauer: The Supreme Court needs an ethics code]

One sign of a failed state is that networks of favors and obligations among friends begin to subsume the formal institutional pathways of power in government. As much as Americans like to complain about bureaucracies, they operate by a set of published rules, and compliance with those rules is supposed to be transparent to the public. Disclosure promotes public confidence. The consent of the governed is obtained through trust that the system is fair and subject to meaningful oversight.

But when elites—both corporate and political—conduct their affairs through “friendly” exchanges of favors and gifts, the result is corruption that can render democracy nonfunctional. Think Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall in mid-19th-century New York, or the Daley Machine in mid-20th-century Chicago. Scaled up to the federal level, this kind of cronyism is extremely dangerous for a system based in the shared public faith that justice is available, impartially, to all.

While there’s no suggestion that any direct quid pro quo occurred between Thomas and his friend, Crow’s firm did have business before the Supreme Court in 2004—a case from which Thomas did not recuse himself. This brings the Thomas-Crow relationship into a gray area in which no overt crime has occurred, but over which hangs a cloud of suggestive obscurity incompatible with democratic legitimacy. When rich businesspeople shower lavish favors on powerful jurists—at a moment when questions of economic inequality, business regulation, and corporate power are among the most divisive matters before the courts—can those jurists credibly say they do no service in return?

Supreme Court justices are paid far better than the average American but are far less wealthy than some of the people who cultivate them as “friends.” In such systems, relatively low-paid government employees lack the financial resources that someone like Crow enjoys, but their public prestige and institutional authority allow them to participate in the informal network of mutual obligations among elites. As Gambetta has pointed out, even people who might seem insignificant can play a vital role in a Mafia-style system. They “may be short of cash but capable of returning valuable favors,” he writes. “Services not for sale elsewhere gain common currency here: votes, … bureaucratic dispensations, … selective privileges of all sorts.”

[Adam Serwer: Clarence Thomas is winning his war on ]transparency

These favors are the great leveler between the rich and powerful and the network of people who “owe” them. Compared with Don Corleone, Bonasera is an unimportant man, but he’s still of use to the Godfather. (The service ultimately demanded of him was modest: Bonasera’s artistry made the bullet-torn face of Corleone’s son presentable for an open-casket funeral.)

Thomas—a self-described man of “regular stock,” who prefers “the Walmart parking lots to the beaches”—isn’t the only justice who appears to be enmeshed in a network of favors with the rich and powerful. When Neil Gorsuch was nominated to the Supreme Court, he was part owner of a Colorado property that had languished on the market for two years. Shortly after his confirmation, Gorsuch and his co-owners sold it to the chief executive of a law firm with frequent business before the Court. Although Gorsuch declared the amount he earned from the sale on his ethics disclosure form (between $250,001 and $500,000), he notably left blank the name of the buyer. Since then, the law firm has argued at least 22 cases before Gorsuch and his colleagues; in the 12 cases where Gorsuch’s decision is recorded, he decided in favor of the firm’s clients eight times. A coincidence, perhaps. But if it was in any way a “bureaucratic dispensation” in return for taking a justice’s share of a white-elephant property off his hands, the public would never know. That’s the problem. Legitimacy has always been mostly a matter of appearances.

That’s why recent news reports about Chief Justice John Roberts’s wife are also unsettling. According to whistleblower documents obtained by Insider, Jane Roberts earned more than $10 million in commissions as a legal recruiter from 2007 to 2014, with clients including at least one firm that later appeared before her husband. The Supreme Court operates mostly on an honor system—which becomes untenable if lawyers appear to be seeking favor before the high court by enriching its members’ households, and if justices’ spouses can be plausibly accused of monetizing their proximity to official power.

As in the Thomas case, mere “friendship” was once again invoked as a defense. “Friends of John were mostly friends of Jane, and while it certainly did not harm her access to top people to have John as her spouse, I never saw her ‘use’ that inappropriately,” one of Jane Roberts’s former colleagues told Insider. But another colleague saw her actions as corrupt and filed a whistleblower complaint. As part of her sworn testimony in that case, Jane summed up the modus operandi of the Supreme Court and its circle with a line that could have come straight from the Godfather’s lips: “Successful people have successful friends.”

My High-School Haters

One spring morning, high-school students started tweeting at me.

“@4fishgreenberg, when is the last time you have eaten Bluefin Tuna?”

Another wanted to know about the “most unique places you have been on your studies/fishing trips.” A science teacher had assigned my book Four Fish and found me on social media. She’d had the clever idea that it might be fun for her students to “engage” with a real author online. Because a whole classful of book purchases makes my publisher happy, I dutifully tweeted back.

But then the bad tweets came.

“@4fishgreenberg who the fuck wants to read about fish lol”

In another tweet, he used a homophobic slur. I wrote that I would be telling the teacher about this one.

“I have the free speech right to say whatever I want about your book and my opinion on it,” he replied.

The tweets from the high-school class abruptly ceased. An email came in from the teacher. She was mortified. She apologized profusely. She assured me that the student’s Twitter account had been suspended and that disciplinary action had been taken.

A little later, a tweet came in from someone going by 4fishisgay.

“Hey @4fishgreenberg I had a little fan mail for you”: a picture of my book’s cover with a Post-it note reading, “suck my dick.” This person went on to tweet, “Everyone follow me I don’t suck fish dick.”

I posted online about all this a while back and let the incident slip from my mind. But this spring, with Twitter seeming to become even more of an adolescent stew, I found myself reflecting again about what happens to a book when it travels to the strange land of social media. Sure, there were probably trolls at the back of the class at the School of Athens scribbling papyrus wedgie threats to Plato. High school has always had its bullies. And hate mail is nothing new. But as a high-school kid, I never would have dreamed of writing to one of the authors whose work we’d been assigned to read. Writers had something of a lofty, untouchable glow. Insulting one publicly was unthinkable, unless you were another writer, like, say, Norman Mailer, in which case you’d just punch the other writer in the face.

But now public discourse is, um, different, and as a writer, you are just as likely to be asked to perform an act of fellatio as you are to list your literary influences. And even weirder is the way a book can tumble through the electronic ether, following a fate the author never could have imagined.

Take another of my fish book’s adventures. A well-endowed private school had booked me to read a passage or two and do my usual spiel about the ecological threats our oceans face and the obligation we all have to eat sustainably from the sea. But when I stepped down from the stage, a student approached me to tell me that the passage was familiar. He’d read it before … on a standardized test.

“I know this is kind of weird,” he said, “but I think your book was on the English AP.”

No, no, I assured him. No one from the testing companies had been in touch; there were a million STEM books out there. But then I gave a second lecture at another wealthy school, read the same passage, and had the same reaction from a different student: “Definitely on the test.”

I checked that sad little corner of Amazon called “Author Central,” where authors waste valuable writing time tracking sales. There, in tight synchronization with the springtime test, was a sharp spike. Not only had the College Board used a passage from my book without my permission, but evidently, someone somewhere had spilled the beans that some of my paragraphs were on the test. This indiscretion seems to have prompted thousands of others to buy my book to try to ace the test. Eventually, the College Board paid me a small fee, and everything ended amicably. I’ve always wanted to see a copy of the test. “What did the author intend with this passage?” I imagine one of the questions asking. Answer: The author intended, at least in part, to get paid.

At a certain point, I wanted to graduate. Enough with high school. I’d written my book for adult readers, for Chrissake. Couldn’t I get some university gigs? As luck would have it, my publisher had just created its own speakers bureau with the express goal of sending its authors to college. So off I went. To colleges hither and yon, in cold, flat, frozen places I’d never heard of. Just like recording artists who now make far more bank off concerts than off the actual music they write and record, we authors find ourselves working the crowds, keeping our books in print and our bank accounts in the black.

How much longer could I pound the pavement? I was wondering this as an undergrad sped me and three of his fellow ecology students at 80 miles an hour up an Illinois highway toward the airplane that would whisk me away from this particular flat, cold place. I liked this young man. He reminded me of myself at that age. He liked to fish and hunt and roam the woods. He had volunteered to drive me because my book, he said, had touched him, made him feel a little less alone in his love of nature. He felt the pain of the loss of the natural world as much as I did, and he told me during the drive that my book had made him want to do something that would save the ocean.

Just then, the doors on the truck in front of us swung open, and a dozen two-by-fours tumbled out onto the highway. The student swerved and dodged. A lesser driver would have side-winded us into oncoming traffic. But this clever kid managed to keep the car straight. With two shredded tires and a gash to the grill, he deftly piloted us over to the median. In a little while, a state trooper retrieved us and left us at a diner. We shook our heads and marveled at the miracle of our survival. The waitress came, and I opened the menu.

“What can I bring for you folks this evening?” she asked.

“Bring us,” I said—“bring us … something unsustainable.”

Is this article about Animals?

YouTube proves me right. There is a place
called Greenland—turquoise warped, whiter
than white. He wants to see a glacier—
not too long, not too much information.
Breakfast fare for a 4-year-old.

The diagram stirs into motion: See how
water burrows back to the ocean’s primal
warmth. It’s taken forever, but the last
kilometers rush home. I tell him
this is why we are green activists.

He hugs the loving tree, ever literal.
My first betrayal was birthing him.
Now I stretch the truth: dig dirt,
taps tight, lights off—about as good
as neem oil for cabbage worms.

Meet the scientist restoring Finland's peatlands

NPR's Ayesha Rascoe talks with Finnish scientist Tero Mustonen about the state of his country's peatlands. Mustonen has received the Goldman Environmental Prize for his work.

Google Is Using AI to Make Hearing Aids More Personalized
Feedly AI found 1 Partnerships mention in this article
  • Earlier this year, Cochlear, the manufacturer of cochlear implants, announced a collaboration with Google and Australian Hearing Hub members, the National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL), Macquarie University, the Shepherd Centre, and NextSense.
A new partnership between 
 and an Australian hearing coalition is using machine intelligence to improve the customizability of hearing 
 and cochlear implants.
Why do coughs linger after a cold?
Coughing is helpful during sickness to protect the lungs from infection. But lasting inflammation may irritate the nerve reflexes that cause coughing.