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Industry & Technology

Georgia Tech physicists unlock the secret to perfect wok-tossed fried rice

Ars Technica - 5 hours 28 min ago

Enlarge / Wok tossing has long been suspected of causing the high shoulder injury rate among Chinese chefs. (credit: Hunting Ko and David Hu/Georgia Tech)

Fried rice is a classic dish in pretty much every Chinese restaurant, and the strenuous process of tossing the rice in a wok over high heat is key to producing the perfect final product. There's always chemistry involved in cooking, but there's also a fair amount of physics. Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have devised a model for the kinematics of wok-tossing to explain how it produces fried rice that is nicely browned, but not burnt. They described their work in a recent paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society: Interface.

This work hails from David Hu's lab at Georgia Tech, known for investigating such diverse phenomena as the collective behavior of fire ants, water striders, snakes, various climbing insects, mosquitos, the unique properties of cat tongues, and animal bodily functions like urination and defecation—including a 2019 Ig Nobel Prize winning study on why wombats produce cubed poo. Hu and his graduate student, Hungtang Ko—also a co-author on a 2019 paper on the physics of how fire ants band together to build rafts—discovered they shared a common interest in the physics of cooking, particularly Chinese stir-fry.  

Hu and Ko chose to focus their investigation on fried rice (or "scattered golden rice"), a classic dish dating back some 1500 years. According to the authors, tossing the ingredients in the wok while stir-frying ensures that the dish is browned, but not burned. Something about this cooking process creates the so-called "Maillard reaction": the chemical interaction of amino acids and carbohydrates subjected to high heat that is responsible for the browning of meats, for instance.

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Ten rules for dating my teenage daughter placing your Wi-Fi access points

Ars Technica - 6 hours 28 min ago

Enlarge / The top floor of our test house is relatively straightforward—although like many houses, it suffers from terrible router placement nowhere near its center. (credit: Jim Salter)

Here at Ars, we've spent a lot of time covering how Wi-Fi works, which kits perform the best, and how upcoming standards will affect you. Today, we're going to go a little more basic: we're going to teach you how to figure out how many Wi-Fi access points (APs) you need, and where to put them.

These rules apply whether we're talking about a single Wi-Fi router, a mesh kit like Eero, Plume, or Orbi, or a set of wire-backhauled access points like Ubiquiti's UAP-AC line or TP-Link's EAPs. Unfortunately, these "rules" are necessarily closer to "guidelines" as there are a lot of variables it's impossible to fully account for from an armchair a few thousand miles away. But if you become familiar with these rules, you should at least walk away with a better practical understanding of what to expect—and not expect—from your Wi-Fi gear and how to get the most out of it.

Before we get started

Let's go over one bit of RF theory (radio-frequency) before we get started on our ten rules—some of them will make much better sense if you understand how RF signal strength is measured and how it attenuates over distance and through obstacles.

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Climate change is drying up the Colorado River

Ars Technica - 7 hours 57 min ago

Enlarge / The shores of Lake Mead, faded from previously higher water levels. (credit: Chris Richards / Flickr)

In 2014, the Colorado River reached the ocean for the first time in 16 years. Most years, the river doesn't make it that far because it has been dammed and diverted along the way, supplying fresh water to approximately 40 million people and supporting agriculture and economic activity in the dry Southwestern United States.

As climate change disrupts historical patterns of rainfall and temperature, the Colorado River has not been faring well, and it's getting even increasingly unlikely that the river will reach the sea again. A paper published this week in Science reports that the river's flow has been declining by an alarming 9.3 percent for every 1°C of warming—and that declining snow levels are the main culprit for this dramatic decline.

Some history

For a resource as critical and carefully managed as the Colorado River, precision is key. Just knowing that it's declining in response to climate change is not enough; more crucial is knowing how much that decline is likely to be.

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Cities fighting climate woes hasten “green gentrification”

Ars Technica - 8 hours 50 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Michael Lee | Getty Images)

Boston’s plans to harden its waterfront against the perils of climate change—storm surge, flooding, and sea-level rise—seem like an all-around win. The only way to keep a higher, more turbulent Atlantic out of South Boston and Charlestown is to build parks, bike paths, gardens, and landscaped berms with waterfront views. These are all things that make a greener, more walkable, more livable city. If this is adaptation to a warmer world, bring it on.

Except geographers and community activists are getting more and more worried about how cities choose which improvements to build and where. They’re noticing that when poorer neighborhoods get water-absorbing green space, storm-surge-proof seawalls, and elevated buildings, all of a sudden they aren’t so poor anymore. The people who lived there—who would’ve borne the brunt of whatever disasters a changing climate will bring—get pushed out in favor of new housing built to sell at or above market rates to people with enough money to buy not just safety but a beautiful new waterfront. In real estate lingo, “adaptations” are also “amenities,” and the pursuit of those amenities ends up displacing poor people and people of color. The phenomenon has a name: green gentrification.

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How lake gases are powering homes in Rwanda

BBC Technology News - 10 hours 23 min ago
Methane is being extracted from Lake Kivu in Rwanda to generate electricity.

'Mad' Mike Hughes dies after crash-landing homemade rocket

BBC Technology News - 12 hours 35 min ago
"Mad" Mike Hughes, 64, wanted to launch himself into space to prove that the Earth was flat.

Physics undergrads crunched numbers for Star Trek’s tribble problem

Ars Technica - 19 hours 43 min ago

Enlarge / Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is buried in adorable fluff balls in the classic 1967 episode, "The Trouble with Tribbles," on Star Trek: TOS. (credit: Paramount/CBS Television)

Chalk this one up to fun scientific papers we inexplicably missed last year. A group of undergraduates at the University of Leicester in the U.K. calculated the growth rate of the fictional Star Trek critters known as tribbles. They published their results in a short paper in the university's undergraduate-centric Journal of Physics Special Topics, estimating just how long it would take for there to be enough tribbles to fill up the USS Enterprise.

First aired on December 29, 1967, "The Trouble with Tribbles" episode was written by David Gerrold, then a 23-year-old college student in California. He originally envisioned it as a cautionary tale of ecological disaster—inspired in part by how quickly rabbits multiplied when they were first introduced to Australia in 1859, a region where they had no natural predators. However, over several rewrites, the tone evolved to incorporate more humor—much to the dismay of ST:TOS creator Gene Roddenberry, who thought the episode lacked gravitas. Roddenberry was ultimately proven wrong. The episode frequently ranks among the top ten best episodes of ST:TOS, if not the entire franchise.

In the episode, the Enterprise is charged with guarding a shipment of "quadrotriticale" grain to Sherman's Planet. While on shore leave, Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) is given a purring ball of fluff called a Tribble by interstellar trader Cyrano Jones (Stanley Adams) and brings it aboard the ship. The tribble quickly reproduces, and its offspring reproduce in turn.

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A neural network picks promising antibiotics out of a library of chemicals

Ars Technica - February 22, 2020 - 7:49pm

Enlarge / Here, have some antibiotics. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Biochemists have had some success at designing drugs to match specific targets. But much of drug development remains an arduous grind, screening hundreds to thousands of chemicals for a "hit" that has the effect you're looking for. There have been several attempts to perform this grind in silico, using computers to analyze chemicals, but they've had mixed results. Now, a US-Canadian team is reporting that it's modified a neural network to handle chemistry and used it to identify a potential new antibiotic.

Artificial neurons meet chemicals

Two factors have a major influence on the success of neural networks: the structure of the network itself, and the training it undergoes. In this case, the training was pretty minimalist. The research team did the training using a group of 1,760 drugs that were previously approved by the US FDA, along with another 800 or so natural products. Most of these aren't antibiotics; they target a variety of conditions and are made up of largely unrelated molecules. The researchers simply tested whether these slowed down the growth of E. coli. Even though many of them were partially effective, the researchers set a cutoff and used that to provide a yes or no answer.

This approach does have some advantages in that it shouldn't bias the resulting neural network for any particular chemical structure. But with a dataset that small, it's likely that some specific functional chemical groups were left out of the training set entirely. Success was also very rare, with only 120 molecules coming in above the cutoff. And, since the cutoff was a binary "works" or "doesn't work," the network had no way of identifying trends that could help it project what chemicals might be more active.

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January was warmest on record for the globe

Ars Technica - February 22, 2020 - 2:45pm

Enlarge (credit: NOAA)

We’re off to a hot start in 2020, with January setting a new mark as the warmest instance of that month on record for the globe. And as NOAA pointed out in its monthly summary released Thursday, that occurred without the warming influence of an El Niño in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, where conditions remain neutral.

Few places around the world had a cool month, with much of India and Alaska/Western Canada providing exceptions. Europe through to northern Asia was particularly warm, and January ranked fifth warmest over the contiguous US. This was largely due to remarkably tight circulation of the “polar vortex,” which helped keep Arctic air bottled up north of the mid-latitudes.

For the US, the weather pattern was dominated by an area of low pressure around Alaska and high pressure off the coast of California. Alaska and western Canada stayed colder in this pattern, which also funneled moisture over the Pacific Northwest while keeping the US Southwest dry. In the middle of the month, the low pressure shifted east for a bit, bringing just enough cool air over the central US to produce a fair bit of precipitation.

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The Mandalorian was shot on a holodeck-esque set with Unreal Engine, video shows

Ars Technica - February 22, 2020 - 1:30pm

Industrial Light and Magic has published a behind-the-scenes video on the production of Disney+'s The Mandalorian that gives an illuminating look at two of the biggest, high-tech trends in film and TV production: LED sets, and using game engines to create scenes. The video explains a major shift in virtual filmmaking that is unknown to most viewers.

It has historically been impractical to achieve the production values seen in The Mandalorian in TV series, because the kind of visual effects work necessary simply takes more time than a TV production schedule allows. Generally, special effects-driven productions shoot scenes with actors and props in front of a green screen, and then teams add in the background environments and any computer-generated objects in a lengthy post-production period.

That's not how things worked on The Mandalorian. Executive Producer Jon Favreau, Industrial Light and Magic, and game engine-maker Epic Games collaborated to use the Unreal Engine to pre-render scenes then display them as parallax images on giant LED walls and an LED ceiling in a 21-by-75-feet digital set. It's part of a lineage of production techniques and tools developed by Favreau's teams called StageCraft. This approach offered numerous benefits.

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Companies are stealing influencers’ faces

Ars Technica - February 22, 2020 - 12:50pm

Enlarge / 30 October 2019, North Rhine-Westphalia, Cologne: Svea Simonis (l-r), Antonia el Ghali, Chany Dakota and Ana Lisa pose in a pink Cadillac at the Supercandy Pop-Up Museum. On 1 November, the "Supercandy Pop-Up" Museum opens in Cologne and offers photographers, bloggers and influencers the perfect backdrop for self-presentation. (credit: Rolf Vennenbernd/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The first time Lucy Kyselica’s face was stolen, it turned up in the window of a beauty salon in small-town America. Kyselica is a Dutch beauty YouTuber who mostly makes videos about historical hairdos, but she had also made a video showing her subscribers how to thread their own eyebrows. The salon took a screengrab from that video, enlarged it to poster size, and used it to advertise their eyebrow threading services. Across the ocean in the Netherlands, Kyselica only found out because some fans recognized her, and asked her if she was working with the salon or if she even knew her image was in its window. She wasn’t; she didn’t. She sent an email, and never heard back. “It may still be there,” she says.

In the six years since, Kyselica has seen her image used to sell other people’s products over and over. She’s been the face of hairstyling tools, hair thickening products, and beauty pills. “The products are always kind of dodgy,” she says. Most recently, it was clip-in bangs sold by a Chinese merchant on Amazon. Kyselica decided to publicize her problem, and made a video about it: “I Ordered My Own Bangs Off Amazon

Study finds quarter of climate change tweets from bots

BBC Technology News - February 22, 2020 - 2:59am
Researchers at Brown University found bots were far more likely to post tweets denying climate change.

Email address charges branded 'daylight robbery'

BBC Technology News - February 22, 2020 - 1:42am
Ofcom is asking why broadband firms charge people to keep old email addresses after switching providers.

Review: Time travel and murder combine in HBO’s riveting Beforeigners series

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 11:20pm

Beforeigners trailer.

Two police detectives from wildly different time periods must learn to work together to solve a murder in Beforeigners, a riveting blend of science fiction and police procedural from HBO Europe that is already poised to become one of the standout shows of the year. Like Netflix's Ragnarok, it is a Norwegian TV series that draws heavily on the history and mythology of the region. But Beforeigners eschews the supernatural, and the campier teen soap elements, to deliver a thoughtful, moving, and often quite ribald and funny tale of various worlds colliding.

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

Series creators Eilif Skodvin and Anne Bjørnstad wanted to follow up their successful series Lilyhammer with a science fiction story built around the idea of refugees arriving from different historical periods rather than different countries, and they combined the concept with a hard-boiled murder mystery. They've cited District 9 and The Leftovers among their influences, along with classic novels like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's 1984.

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Google faces state lawsuit alleging misuse of schoolkids’ private data

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 10:57pm

Enlarge / Students use Google Suite apps on computers in a classroom in Groton, Mass. on May 11, 2016. (credit: David L. Ryan | The Boston Globe | Getty Images)

Adults who use Google products and services tend to know, at least on some background level, that the cost for access to "free" tools is paid in data. Google also provides low- and no-cost hardware and software tools to students and educators in school districts nationwide, and one state now says that children are also paying that privacy price, in violation of the law.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a lawsuit (PDF) alleging Google's collection and use of data from schoolchildren in his state is in violation violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and New Mexico's Unfair Practices Act.

COPPA, one of the few US federal laws protecting data privacy, imposes certain restrictions on the collection and use of personal data associated with children under age 13. Under the law, websites, apps, and digital platforms that collect data from young users are required to post a privacy policy and have parents consent to it, to give parents the option to opt out of having their children's information shared with third parties, to let parents review their children's data, and to follow sound data storage and retention policies. The suit accuses Google of deliberately deceiving school districts and parents with regards to its data policies. A platform explicitly designed for use in elementary and middle schools, by schoolchildren, is by definition going to be associated with children under age 13.

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California man arrested on charges his DDoSes took down candidate’s website

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 10:35pm

Enlarge (credit: US Air Force)

A California man has been arrested on charges he used distributed denial-of-service attacks to take down the website of a Congressional candidate whose rival employed his wife.

Arthur Jan Dam, 32, of Santa Monica, was arrested by FBI agents on Thursday. According to a criminal complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court, Dam DDoSed the website of a candidate that The Intercept reported was running against Katie Hill in the 2018 primary election. Hill won by fewer than 3,000 votes and went on to flip a Republican-held seat in the general election. Hill later resigned after nude photos of her were published without her consent.

Dam, who The Intercept reported was married to Hill fundraiser Kelsey O’Hara, allegedly staged four attacks that took down the website of Bryan Caforio, Hill's rival candidate in the primary. The candidate spent from $27,000 to $30,000 in response to the 21-hour outages and also experienced a reduction of campaign contributions. Rolling Stone reported on the attacks in the September 2018 election. The FBI has not uncovered any evidence that either Hill or Dam’s wife had any involvement in the attacks, prosecutors said in a release. Friday's complaint didn't identify either the candidates or Dam's wife.

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Trump report bizarrely claims net neutrality repeal raised incomes $50B a year

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 9:27pm

Enlarge / President Donald Trump at a "Make America Great Again" rally in Phoenix, Arizona, on August 22, 2017. (credit: Getty Images | AFP Contributor)

A new White House report claims without convincing evidence that eliminating consumer-protection rules in the broadband industry has boosted real incomes by tens of billions of dollars per year. Including a supposed improvement to "consumer welfare," the report claims an annual benefit of more than $100 billion from killing net neutrality and privacy rules.

The February 2020 "Economic Report of the President" claims that "the Trump Administration's 'Restoring Internet Freedom' order will increase real incomes by more than $50 billion per year and consumer welfare by almost $40 billion per year." That's in reference to the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality rules and its related deregulation of the broadband industry.

The White House report also claims a decision by Congress and President Trump to eliminate broadband privacy rules created "additional real income of about $11 billion per year." That financial benefit will double over the years, the report claims, saying that "After 5 to 10 years when these effects are fully realized, the total impact on real incomes is estimated to be $22 billion."

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It’s the hosts versus the rest of humanity in new trailer for Westworld S3 [Updated]

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 8:28pm

The original trailer for HBO’s Westworld S3.

The hidden trailer for forthcoming third season of HBO's Westworld.

It has been a long wait, but HBO just dropped a full trailer for the third season of Westworld, HBO's Emmy-award-winning science fiction series. And it looks like we're in for another wild, mind-bending ride through multiple dystopian timelines.

(Warning: major spoilers for the first two seasons of Westworld below.)

The titular Westworld is one of six immersive theme parks owned and operated by a company called Delos Inc. The park is populated with a "cast" of very human-looking androids, called hosts. The park's well-heeled visitors can pretty much do whatever they like to the hosts and don't generally view the hosts as anything more than unfeeling props in their private dramas. But the hosts' creator/co-founder and park director of Westworld, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), "awakens" a host named Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) to true sentience. S1 concluded with a bloody massacre, as the reprogrammed hosts rise up to take revenge on the guests. 

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Facebook offers to pay users for their voice recordings

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 7:33pm

Enlarge (credit: Chesnot | Getty Images)

Facebook is offering to pay its users for personal information including recordings of their own voice, in a rare example of internet companies directly compensating people for collecting their data.

The recordings, made through its new market research app Viewpoints, will help to train the speech recognition system that powers Facebook’s Portal devices, which rival Amazon’s Echo speakers and its Alexa virtual assistant.

Makers of smart speakers including Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google faced criticism last year when it emerged that they were routinely sending users’ voice recordings to human moderators, without revealing the practice to customers or obtaining their consent.

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An extended interview with Atrus himself, Myst creator Rand Miller

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 7:17pm

Video shot by Justin Wolfson, edited by Aulistar Mark. Click here for transcript.

A couple of weeks back after running our War Stories piece on Oddworld, we took a chance and published an extended cut of the interview with Oddworld creator Lorne Lanning. Readers responded very well to the extended interview, so we're doing it again—this time with Myst creator Rand Miller.

To produce our War Stories video on Myst and its CD-ROM-based design challenges, we spent more or less the entire day at the Cyan offices in beautiful Washington state, where Rand and his team were the very soul of hospitality (they even insisted on buying coffee for the crew while we were shooting). The pastoral setting—everything looked so much like Myst island!—brought out the storyteller in Rand and, as usually happens with these things, we got way more stories and tales of game design out of him than we ever could have crammed into a 15-minute video.

So here we are, with Rand unleashed. Hear more about the creative process behind The Manhole and the magical tool that was HyperCard! See Rand talk about Cosmic Osmo and the transition from black and white to color game design! Feel the... uh... OK, there's no tactile component to this whole deal, so you'll have to come up with something on your own to feel. (Maybe grab a Myst box and give it a squeeze, or, you know, whatever you're into.)

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