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The bizarre botany that makes corn a fruit, a grain, and also (kind of) a vegetable

This post has been updated. It was originally published on September 24, 2019.

We all know the “is a tomato a fruit?” debate (correct answer: yes, but you still shouldn’t put it in a fruit salad). Now we’d like to bring you a whole new botanical question you never knew you had: Is corn a fruit or a vegetable—or is it a grain?

The answer is more technical than you might think, and to fully understand it you’ll need a little primer on corn biology. So away we go!

A single corn stalk grows several ears (which are the female bits of the plant) and has one tassel up top (which, as you can guess, is the male part). The tassel produces pollen, which is the semen of the plant world. Before those ears look anything like the juicy kernel-covered cob you eat, they’re essentially a hard cylinder covered in hundreds of unfertilized ovules. Each of these ovules grows a single silk, which reaches up and out of the top of the husk, where it dangles in the hopes of catching a bit of pollen on its little sticky hairs. If it does, the silk grows a pollen tube, enabling the male genes to travel towards the ovule and fertilize it. That fertilized ovule will grow into a single kernel.

That only has to happen 400-600 more times to make a whole ear of corn. It also explains why sometimes you get cobs with bare patches—sometimes not every ovule gets fertilized.

Still with me? Good. Here’s why all of this matters.

We differentiate between fruits and vegetables depending on which bits of the plant we eat. If we eat the part derived from the ovaries or other reproductive tissue, we call it a fruit, explains Marvin Pritts, a horticulture researcher and professor at Cornell University. Everything else we call a vegetable. “Corn is a seed derived from the flower/ovary of the corn plant,” he says, “so is technically a fruit.”

More specifically, corn is a caryopsis, which is a type of fruit in which the seed coat is tightly fused with the pericarp (that’s the fleshy bit, like the part of a peach that you eat). This means they don’t have a substantial fleshy layer, helping them dry out well. You might know caryopses better by their common name: grains.

Thus, grains are a type of fruit. And that means corn is both a grain and fruit in the same way that wheat, millet, and oats are.

This brings us back to the final piece of the question: is corn a vegetable? Botanically and scientifically speaking, the answer is no. But here’s the thing: in common parlance, “vegetable” is essentially meaningless because it’s completely arbitrary.

[Related: High-fructose corn syrup vs. sugar: Which is actually worse?]

Think about what comes to mind when you conjure up an image of a vegetable. Some of it is probably accurate—lettuce, carrots, potatoes. But a lot of it is likely wrong. We have this general image of vegetables as all the produce that’s not sweet or super juicy. To most of us a fruit is a thing you can eat straight. You can pick up a peach or an apple and snack on it. You probably wouldn’t just bite into a tomato (though honestly, why not? we eat them raw in slices!) and similarly you at least need to cook corn before you chomp down, and you’d preferably add a little salt and butter.

Unfortunately that’s not a great rule of thumb if you want to be technical about it. You’d also probably roast a pumpkin or blanch peas, but they’re both actually fruits. And conversely we often eat bell peppers raw much like the fruits that they truly are, yet a lot of people lump them into the veggie category.

There’s a decent, if highly philosophical, argument to be made that we should go by the categorization that most people use. If folks think of squashes as vegetables, maybe they are vegetables. The same might go for corn. For his part, Pritts acknowledges that we do eat corn as we do other veggies, but notes that still doesn’t technically make it one. And yet lots of people do consider it a vegetable, including the US Department of Agriculture, and since “vegetable” is an arbitrary, catch-all category, maybe corn is a vegetable too. We’ll leave it to you to decide which definitions you want to abide by—there’s a decent argument for all of them.

Sara Chodosh

Sara Chodoshis an associate editor at PopSci where she writes about everything from vaccine hesitancy to extreme animal sex. She got her master’s degree in science journalism at NYU’s Science Health and Environmental Reporting Program, and is getting a second master’s in data visualization from the University of Girona. Contact the author here.

Author: empire
Read more here >>> Science – Popular Science

The debate over ‘Dragon Man’ shows that human origins are still kind of messy

For more than 80 years, Chris Stringer says a nearly intact, ancient human skull sat at the bottom of a well in Harbin City, Heilongjiang Province, China. As the story goes, the specimen was originally unearthed from the bed of the Songhua River by workers building a bridge in Japanese-occupied northeastern China in 1933. The crew foreman recognized the skull’s value and didn’t want it falling into the hands of the Japanese occupiers, so he stowed the Harbin cranium away. 

“He wrapped it up, and he put it down an abandoned well. And then about 80 years later, as he was dying, he told his grandchildren the story of how he got the skull. They went to look, and it was still down there. So incredible,” says Stringer, a paleoanthropologist studying human origins at the Natural History Museum in London. After more than an estimated 146,000 years buried in sediment and its additional decades in hiding, the Harbin cranium finally made it into researchers’ hands in 2018.

Now, three years later, the first scientific descriptions of the skull, dubbed the “Dragon Man,” were published on Friday in The Innovation, a new journal funded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in a series of three papers. Stringer joined the research team in 2019 and is an author on two of the three papers. “The cranium is a fantastically preserved specimen,” he says. “I think it’s one of the most important finds of the last 50 years.” The publication of these studies occurred on the same day as publication of similarly seismic findings based on partial skull specimens found in Israel.

[Related: Controversial study claims Botswana may be the origin of modern humanity]

In the studies, Stringer and his colleagues date the skull to a minimum age of 146,000, placing it in the Middle Pleistocene period. The researchers also declare the specimen representative of a new species on the tree of human evolution, which spans from our first bipedal primate progenitors up to modern humans today. They name this proposed species Homo longi, derived from the Mandarin word for dragon, after the skull’s geographic origin in Heilongjiang, whose name means Black Dragon River. The researchers propose that H. longi may be a more closely related lineage to present-day humans than Neanderthals, the widely accepted “sister group” of our species.

To determine the skull’s age, the scientists analyzed ratios of chemical isotopes found in tiny deposits of sediment trapped in its nasal cavity and also looked at the ratios of uranium isotopes, which decay in a predictable pattern over time, in the bone itself. To place the specimen in evolutionary history, the researchers measured the Harbin cranium’s external physical features like the size of the brain case, facial dimensions and angles, and the single intact molar tooth. They then took those measurements and compared them to 95 other previously studied specimens, including other skull and bone fragments found in China. Using a computer model, Stringer and colleagues reconstructed a possible phylogenetic tree (a diagram representing evolutionary relationships through time).  

[Related: A primer on the primal origins of humans]

“It’s a weird combination of features,” says Stringer. The skull has a distinctive combination of primitive features, like a pronounced brow ridge and broad face, and those associated with more modern humans, like finer cheekbones. Above everything else though, what he says sets the Harbin cranium apart is its enormity, “It’s massive in size. It’s the biggest fossil human skull I’ve ever seen.”

The Harbin skull is massive, with a brain case suggesting a brain size close to modern humans. But the pronounced brow ridge suggests relatedness to more primitive archaic human lineages. [Still from video]

But bigger brain volume doesn’t necessarily mean closer to modern humans.  And the conclusions presented in the new articles aren’t settled, even among the study authors. “I think calling it a different species [from Neanderthal and Homo sapien] is legitimate, but there are different opinions in the research team about what the name of this species should be,” says Stringer, who prefers to group the newly described Harbin specimen with a previously found skull known as Homo daliensis or Dali Man. The Dali Man skull has some differences from the Harbin finding, but Stringer considers that level of difference to be an acceptable amount of variation within a species. “From my point of view, [Homo daliensis] would take priority over Homo longi.” 

The classification and placement of the Harbin cranium as a new human lineage is additionally controversial among scientists unaffiliated with the new research as well.

“We need to have DNA before we really know where this fossil fits in,” says Shara Bailey, a paleoanthropologist at New York University specializing in early human specimens from the same time period as the Harbin skull. Bailey describes our knowledge of the Middle Pleistocene as “the muddle in the middle,” pointing out that lots of remains aren’t well preserved and provide mixed signals. She says the Harbin skull is “an exciting finding, because how often do we get a skull as complete as this?” but is skeptical of the new research’s conclusions. “Their divergence analysis should be taken with a grain of salt.”

Bailey believes the newly described cranium “could be the face of a Denisovan, which is what we’ve been looking for.” Denisovans are an extinct lineage of archaic humans believed to have lived throughout Asia between 50,000 and 300,000 years ago. Our understanding of Denisovans comes largely from DNA analysis of partial bone fragments, including the Xiahe mandible, which researchers say the Harbin skull shares many similarities to. “It’s exciting in its own right,” says Bailey “because it could be the first time we have the face of this enigmatic human group”

[Related: Ancient tooth yields DNA of ancient human cousins, the Denisovans]

Like Neanderthals, Denisovans overlapped and interbred with modern humans, leaving bits of their DNA detectable in populations of present-day people. A small percentage of Neanderthal DNA is common in people of both European and Asian ancestry, while Denisovan DNA is common in Aboriginal Australians, Papuans, and people of Asian ancestry, particularly Melanasians, Bailey explains.

That the Harbin skull represents an intact Denisovan specimen is, “the best hypothesis,” says John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist and professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Hawks doesn’t rule out other possibilities, though, and points out that there are limits to the usefulness of comparing a jawbone like the Xiahe mandible with this skull, which is missing its lower jaw. But he says the similarities between the two specimens are significant. “They both are lacking their third molders. They both have very big second molars. There’s things that are similar. And so I think it’s a good hypothesis that these are Denisovans.”

If the Harbin skull is a Denisovan, Hawks points out that the researcher’s thorough analysis of the cranium’s physical traits doesn’t match the DNA record. The researchers place the skull as more similar to modern humans than Neanderthals, based on their analysis. While Denisovan DNA has placed the group as sharing a most recent common ancestor with Neanderthals, more distantly diverged from modern humans. Hawks and Bailey would believe the DNA over the trait analysis, as traits can diverge, emerge, and shift in non-linear ways, whereas DNA tells a more complete story. An alternate possibility, according to Stringer, is that all three groups diverged simultaneously due to geographic isolation. Their relation to each other may not be easily defined by the standard phylogenetic tree. “In reality, you might actually have something close to a three-way split.”

Stringer acknowledges the possibility that he and his fellow researchers have found a Denisovan, and not a new species, in the Dragon Man. “These are not highly resolved issues,” he says. “I certainly don’t have 100 percent confidence that this is definitely a sister species of Homo sapiens. We’re going to be looking for more data, so this is only the first stage of the research.” Stringer hopes to soon examine the skull’s internal features, like the inner ear bones, to get a better sense of how the specimen relates to both Neanderthals and modern humans. And he says his colleagues are looking into the possibility of extracting genetic material from the skull for DNA analysis.

Ultimately, the lineage name and placement that the Harbin skull represents are small details, says Strigner. “Species names, for me, are labels that enable us to group things together, but they’re not absolute. They’re humanly created categories, and nature does not always play along with our neat concepts.”

In a way, Bailey agrees. “Whether it’s a distinct species or not really depends on how you view species.” She points out that, in much of biology, a species is defined by reproductive isolation—yet we know modern humans interbred with earlier lineages. And, whatever you call it, the lineage the Harbin cranium represents did not “evolve” into the Homo sapiens presently living in Asia, says Bailey. This finding doesn’t change that our ancestors are African.

Even with limited interbreeding between past lineages, all present-day people have much more in common with each other, genetically and physically, than with any extinct group. All visible differences between humans living across the world today are a much more recent development than the divergence of these archaic human lineages, says Bailey. “We are a lot more like each other than we aren’t.”

Author: Lauren Leffer
Read more here >>> Science – Popular Science

Review: Mushihimesama – A Cave Classic With The Right Kind Of Bugs

Note: At the time of writing, sales of Mushihimesama on the EU Switch eShop have been temporarily suspended. Publisher Live Wire has stated that it will return to the store “in the near future”.


Arcade shoot-em-ups in the 1980s may have started out as largely science fiction, but there have long been efforts in the genre to differentiate games with unique themes. One of the most interesting of these is Cave’s Mushihimesama (“Bug Princess”), which takes place in a world filled with enormous insects. It was initially released in 2004 in the arcades, with a middling 2005 PlayStation 2 conversion, an iOS port in 2011, and then finally an HD release for Xbox 360, Windows, and now the Switch.

The heroine is Princess Reco, who rides on top of an enormous beetle, which functions as the game’s player craft. At its core, the game is a bullet hell shooter in the same vein as nearly every other release from Cave, as you weave through dense patterns of pink bullets while collecting point items and racking up high scores. There are three different shot types you can pick at the outset, along with two option formations that provide extra firepower when you grab their associated power-ups.

While the action is initially overwhelming, you are aided by a small hitbox – you’ll survive any attack as long as the bullet doesn’t pass through the centre of your vessel, which helpfully glows when you concentrate your fire. You also have a limited supply of bombs that not only cause extra destruction, but also negate all attacks on the screen and let you escape from danger. There is some slowdown when the screen gets really packed, though this was intentionally left in from the arcade game since it helps you to squeeze through the more troublesome bullets. The game offers unlimited continues, though the ultimate goal is either to beat all five stages without using any additional credits or beat your own high score.

The highlight of Mushihimesama, though, is its familiar yet distinctive worldview: instead of tanks there are creepy-crawling bugs with turrets on their backs; instead of artillery there are poisonous plants; and instead of aeroplanes there are massive flying insects. Battleships are common enemies in shoot-em-ups, but here the entire third stage is devoted to taking out an enormous multi-segmented lobster-esque monstrosity – it’s all like something out of Hayao Miyazaki’s anime film ‘Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind’. The action is accompanied by an intensely upbeat soundtrack courtesy of Manabu Namiki and Masaharu Iwata, composers of other legendary shoot-em-ups like Ketsui and Battle Garegga.

While long the favourite of hardcore shoot-em-up fans, Mushihimesama marked one of Cave’s attempts to market its intimidating games to a broader audience. Part of this strategy involved the impossibly perky teenage heroine, but it also offers three difficulty levels selectable when you begin the game. Original is the default mode, with slightly less thicker-than-normal bullet patterns, and a fairly uncomplicated scoring system that mostly revolves around grabbing gems and not dying. Maniac is a more typical Cave bullet hell experience, with more intense (but slightly slower) projectiles, and a combo system similar to other games like Dodonpachi. Ultra mode is so intense that the game gives a warning when you try to select it, with bullets that are so hostile you’ll likely be demolished within seconds of starting the first level.

Since Mushihimesama has been around the block for a while, there have been a handful of extra modes added over the years that change up bullet and enemy patterns and have different scoring methods. Most of these are included here in the Switch port, including the Ver 1.5 mode, which was only included in other releases as DLC. The Arrange mode gives you tremendous firepower right at the beginning and a generous combo system that lets you obtain stratospheric points, along with the ability to switch between weapon types at will.

The Ver 1.5 mode makes further tweaks, like the ability to vacuum up gems on the ground, and an option to give yourself max power at the beginning in exchange for more intense enemy attacks. These modes have different soundtrack arrangements, with three in total, and the Ver 1.5 music by Ryu Umemoto (Yu-No, Akai Katana). Also, while the game was originally meant to attract a wider audience, the game’s still pretty difficult for those unaccustomed to bullet hell shooters, so the Novice mode makes things quite a bit easier and will allow even newbies to see the end without having to constantly feed credits.

Beyond the four modes, there’s also a score attack along with an online leaderboard – the other versions of this port also let you view uploaded replays from high scorers, but at the time of writing these functions haven’t yet been activated. A practice mode lets you tweak your weapons and play specific levels, too. You can also choose a vertical screen orientation to more closely match the original arcade monitor, which is especially handy when using the Switch in portable mode, especially with an accessory like the FlipGrip.

Whatever issues that exist are minor nitpicks. The game only features the high-res sprites that have been used in all of the HD ports, rather than the 240p visuals of the original arcade version, but they have a computer-rendered look that makes them look better in higher resolutions anyway. (Probably due to this, there’s no option for scanlines, since they only make sense for low-resolution output.) The port isn’t quite as fully featured as other Cave games in the M2 ShotTriggers line like Ketsui or ESP Ra.De., but it’s still robust while also being significantly cheaper, and is also excellent from a technical perspective. Not everyone is going to dig the aesthetics, particularly those put off by either the otaku bait protagonist or the plethora of creepy insects, but you can’t say it isn’t original. And while the sequel — Mushihimesama Futari — is slightly better, this is still a fantastic title.

Conclusion

There’s a reason why Mushihimesama is regarded as one of Cave’s best shoot-em-ups – it’s weird and colourful, it’s incredibly refined, and the many gameplay modes ensure that both newbies and veterans will be kept busy for quite some time.

Author:
This post originally appeared on Nintendo Life | Reviews

Primary Day in New York: Rain, Short Lines and a New Kind of Ballot

It appeared ranked choice was having an unusual effect on some New Yorkers: They were civil. Political rancor had no place on the street corner, the two volunteers agreed — particularly when voters could select both of the candidates.

“Be rude?” Mr. Bruce said. “Who, moi?”

On the pavement outside of a polling place in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, Evelyn Yang, the wife of Andrew Yang, a candidate for mayor, was making her own ranked choice, of sorts: In chalk, she wrote her husband’s name on the concrete — just above a chalk doodle in support of Kathryn Garcia, one of his rivals. Over the weekend, the pair of opponents had formed an alliance and campaigned together.

“I love ranked-choice voting; I think it should be the future, not just here in New York City but around the country,” Mr. Yang said. “In some cases that might require a little more time to tabulate the results. But every vote should be counted, and I’m willing to be patient.”

“New Yorkers are not a very patient lot,” Mr. Yang said with a laugh.

Not everyone agrees: Eric Adams, the presumed front-runner, has criticized the ranked-choice system and said that Mr. Yang’s alliance with Ms. Garcia, though a typical tactic in such elections, was intended to dilute Black voting power.

After voting at Brooklyn Arbor Elementary School in Williamsburg, Vismar Dominguez, 40, was heading with his godsons to Zeff’s Pizzeria across the street to celebrate. He was hopeful about his preferred candidates’ chances, but said he felt like the ranked-choice voting was a waste of time.

“I think it’s useless because I only wanted to vote for the guy I wanted,” Mr. Dominguez said. “Before it would have taken me two minutes to vote. That took me 10, and it felt pointless.”

As Josh Klinski, 43, a grant writer, left P.S. 84 José de Diego in Brooklyn, he said he felt good about his choices for mayor — but utterly mystified at the actual tallying process.

Author: Sarah Maslin Nir
This post originally appeared on NYT > Top Stories

Joe Biden calls Putin a ‘bright, worthy adversary’ and warns US will respond ‘in kind’

The US President issued Russian President Vladimir Putin a warning while speaking to reporters after Nato meetings. Labelling Mr Putin a “bright” and “worthy adversary”, Mr Biden stressed that the US would retaliate if he refused to cooperate.

He said: “I’m going to make clear to President Putin that there are areas we can cooperate if he chooses.

“If he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past, then we will respond. We will respond in kind.”

Mr Biden also warned that if Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny were to die in prison, relations between Russia and the international community would be damaged.

He said: “Navalny’s death would be another indication of Russia has little or no intention of abiding by basic fundamental human rights.

“It would be a tragedy. It would do nothing but hurt his relationships with the rest of the world in my view. And with me.”

Last week, Mr Putin said US-Russia relations are at their lowest point in years during an interview with NBC News ahead of his meeting with Mr Biden.

He hailed former US President Donald Trump as “an extraordinary individual, talented individual,” but said Mr Biden, as a career politician, was “radically different” from his predecessor.

Speaking to NBC News, Mr Putin said: “We have a bilateral relationship that has deteriorated to its lowest point in recent years.”

Author:
This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: World Feed

Admit It: The Facebook Oversight Board Is Kind of Working

Judging from the press releases filling my inbox and the tweets lighting up my timeline, no one is happy with Facebook right now. On Friday, the company issued its response to the Facebook Oversight Board’s recommendations on the indefinite ban of Donald Trump. We learned that Trump’s account is now frozen for precisely two years from his original January 7 suspension date, at which point Facebook will reassess the risks of letting him back on. The response also includes a number of other policy changes. Opinions on the announcement range from calling it a pointless bit of “accountability theater” to suggesting that it’s cowardly and irresponsible. Republicans are, of course, outraged that Trump hasn’t been reinstated.

I confess to finding myself in a different camp. The Oversight Board is performing a valuable, though very limited, function, and the Trump situation illustrates why.

When the board first published its ruling last month, it issued both a binding command—Facebook must articulate a specific action on Donald Trump’s account and could not continue an indefinite suspension—and nonbinding recommendations, most notably that the platform abandon its policy of treating statements by politicians as inherently “newsworthy” and thus exempt from the rules that apply to everyone else. As I wrote at the time, Facebook’s response to the nonbinding part would probably prove more important. It would apply more broadly than to just Trump’s account, and it would show whether the company is willing to follow the Oversight Board’s advice even when it doesn’t have to.

Now we know that the answer to that last question is yes. In its announcement on Friday, Facebook says it is committed to fully following 15 of the 19 nonbinding recommendations. Of the remaining four, it is rejecting one, partially following another, and doing more research on two.

The most interesting commitments are around the “newsworthiness allowance.” Facebook says it will keep the exception in place, meaning it will still allow some content that violates its Community Standards to stay up if it is “newsworthy or important to the public interest.” The difference is that the platform will no longer treat posts by politicians as more inherently newsworthy than posts by anyone else. It is also increasing transparency by creating a page explaining the rule; beginning next year, it says it will publish an explanation each time the exception is applied to content that otherwise would have been taken down.

Let this sink in for a moment: Facebook took detailed feedback from a group of thoughtful critics, and Mark Zuckerberg signed off on a concrete policy change, plus some increased transparency. This is progress!

Now, please don’t confuse this for a complete endorsement. There is plenty to criticize about Facebook’s announcement. On the Trump ban, while the company has now articulated more detailed policies around “heightened penalties for public figures during times of civil unrest and ongoing violence,” the fact that it came up with a two-year maximum suspension seems suspiciously tailored to potentially allow Trump back on the platform just when he’s getting ready to start running for president again. And Facebook’s new commitments to transparency leave much to be desired. Its new explanation of the newsworthiness allowance, for example, provides zero information about how Facebook defines “newsworthy” in the first place—a pretty important detail. Perhaps the case-by-case explanations beginning next year will shed more light, but until then the policy is about as transparent as a fogged-over bathroom window.

Indeed, as with any announcement from Facebook, this one will be impossible to evaluate fully until we see how the company follows through in practice. In several cases, Facebook claims that it’s already following the Oversight Board’s recommendations. This can strain credulity. For instance, in response to a suggestion that it rely on regional linguistic and political expertise in enforcing policies around the world, the company declares, “We ensure that content reviewers are supported by teams with regional and linguistic expertise, including the context in which the speech is presented.” And yet a Reuters investigation published this week found that posts promoting gay conversion therapy, which Facebook’s rules prohibit, continue to run rampant in Arab countries, “where practitioners post to millions of followers through verified accounts.” As the content moderation scholar Evelyn Douek puts it, with many of its statements “Facebook gives itself a gold star, but they’re really borderline passes at best.”

Author: Gilad Edelman
This post originally appeared on Business Latest

Crypto usage currently in kind of phase comparable to early days of cell phones – Coinbase

The cryptocurrency industry has done a great deal in terms of adoption, products, and services since bitcoin’s launch more than a decade ago. Still, crypto usage needs to be easier and more accessible.

That’s according to Emilie Choi, Coinbase’s president and chief operating officer. She said, when asked by Bloomberg Technology about any notable uncertainties regarding cryptocurrencies’ future: “It’s about, you know, how do we create the most user-friendly experiences for folks.”

Choi explained: “In many ways, I always kind of take the analogy of like the old mobile phones, right, that had these clunky-clunky interfaces. We’re in kind of that phase of crypto, so we have to make it more usable. We have to make it more accessible. We have to have more regulatory certainty for certain folks to get off the sidelines and participate.”

Coinbase’s president also said about cryptocurrencies: “We are seeing so much participation now, we feel like there’s just a great opportunity ahead of us.”
Also on rt.com Bitcoin sell-off wipes $ 365 BILLION from crypto market
The value of the cryptocurrency market suffered a loss of hundreds of billions of dollars this week, dropping to around $ 2 trillion after Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Wednesday that the electric vehicle maker would suspend car purchases using bitcoin. He also said that Tesla intends to use the digital asset for transactions “as soon as mining transitions to more sustainable energy.”

Musk’s statement sent bitcoin’s price to its lowest since March, or $ 45,700 per token, though it pared some losses later that day. The world’s largest crypto was trading at $ 48,645 as of Saturday.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT’s business section

Author: RT
This post originally appeared on RT Business News

A Brief History of Transformers (Not the Robot Kind)

I have always disliked exaggerated claims of imminent scientific and technical breakthroughs, such as inexpensive fusion, cheap supersonic travel, and the terraforming of other planets. But I am fond of the simple devices that do so much of the fundamental work of modern civilization, particularly those that do so modestly—or even invisibly.

No device fits this description better than a transformer. Non-engineers may be vaguely aware that such devices exist, but they have no idea how they work and how utterly indispensable they are for everyday life. (A transformer is a device that transfers electricity between two circuits while changing voltage, that is the “pressure” of the electric current’s power.)

The theoretical foundation was laid in the early 1830s, with the independent discovery of electromagnetic induction by Michael Faraday and Joseph Henry. They showed that a changing magnetic field can induce a current of a higher voltage (known as “stepping up”) or a lower one (“stepping down”). But it took another half-century before Lucien Gaulard, John Dixon Gibbs, Charles Brush, and Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti could design the first useful transformer prototypes. Next, a trio of Hungarian engineers—Ottó Bláthy, Miksa Déri, and Károly Zipernowsky—improved the design by building a toroidal (doughnut-shaped) transformer, which they exhibited in 1885.

The very next year, a better design was introduced by a trio of American engineers—William Stanley, Albert Schmid, and Oliver B. Shallenberger, who were working for George Westinghouse. The device soon assumed the form of the classic Stanley transformer that has been retained ever since: a central iron core made of thin silicon steel laminations, one part shaped like an “E” and the other shaped like an “I” to make it easy to slide wound copper coils into place.

In his address to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1912, Stanley rightly marveled at how the device provided “such a complete and simple solution for a difficult problem. It so puts to shame all mechanical attempts at regulation. It handles with such ease, certainty, and economy vast loads of energy that are instantly given to or taken from it. It is so reliable, strong, and certain. In this mingled steel and copper, extraordinary forces are so nicely balanced as to be almost unsuspected.”

The biggest modern incarnations of this enduring design have made it possible to deliver electricity across great distances. In 2018, Siemens delivered the first of seven record-breaking 1,100-kilovolt transformers that will enable electricity supply to several Chinese provinces linked to a nearly 3,300-kilometer-long, high-voltage DC line.

The sheer number of transformers has risen above anything Stanley could have imagined, thanks to the explosion of portable electronic devices that have to be charged. In 2016 the global output of smartphones alone was in excess of 1.8 billion units, each one supported by a charger housing a tiny transformer. You don’t have to take your phone charger apart to see the heart of that small device; a complete iPhone charger teardown is posted on the internet, with the transformer as one of its largest components.

But many chargers contain even tinier transformers. These are non-Stanley (that is, not wire-wound) devices that take advantage of the piezoelectric effect—the ability of a strained crystal to produce a current, and of a current to strain or deform a crystal. Sound waves impinging on such a crystal can produce a current, and a current flowing through such a crystal can produce sound. One current can in this way be used to create another current of a very different voltage.

And the latest innovation is electronic transformers. They are much reduced in volume and mass compared with traditional units, and they will become particularly important for integrating intermittent sources of electricity—wind and solar—into the grid and for enabling DC microgrids. Without transformers we would not have the age of ubiquitous electricity, and be stuck in the era of oil lamps and telegraph.


From Numbers Don’t Lie by Vaclav Smil, published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2020 by Vaclav Smil.


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Author: Vaclav Smil
This post originally appeared on Backchannel Latest

Coinbase IPO monumental for crypto industry – investor Mike Novogratz

Coinbase IPO monumental for crypto industry – investor Mike Novogratz

The direct listing of the biggest US cryptocurrency exchange, Coinbase, on Nasdaq this Wednesday has generated a lot of euphoria, says crypto enthusiast Michael Novogratz. He warns the market could be in store for “a washout.”

Novogratz, founder of cryptocurrency investment firm Galaxy Digital, told MarketWatch that the industry may face something of a short-term reckoning.

“In the next week, certainly we could have some volatility because of the excitement around Coinbase,” Novogratz said on Wednesday, adding: “I’ve seen a lot of weird coins like Dogecoin and even XRP have huge retail spikes, which means there’s a lot of frenzy right now. That never ends well, and so we’ll probably have a washout at one point.”

Despite the warning, Novogratz said he remains bullish on bitcoin and Coinbase on the whole, noting that he views the Coinbase IPO as “monumental” for the crypto industry. The investor recently projected that bitcoin could be worth $ 100,000 by the end of 2021, and he believes that value could increase five-fold by 2024. On Wednesday, bitcoin was hovering close to fresh highs of $ 65,000 per coin.

Also on rt.com Coinbase reports record $ 1.8 BILLION revenue for Q1 ahead of its Nasdaq listing

Coinbase closed up more than 30% from its $ 250 reference price on Wednesday, at one point passing a market value of over $ 100 billion. It closed at $ 328.28 a share, down from its intraday peak of $ 429.54.

Analysts characterized the share sale as a milestone for cryptocurrencies, pointing out that the biggest US exchange is now getting exposure to mainstream stock market investors. They said the listing was a catalyst that might drive adoption of digital assets.

READ MORE: Crypto exchange Binance launches tradable stock tokens, starts with Tesla

“The reason we’re doing a direct listing is that it’s going to get all market participants,” Coinbase CFO Alesia Haas told CoinDesk. “We’re not allocating shares to just 10 institutions. This is going to be a robust, deep price discovery. And we’re excited to see where that market ends up,” she said.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT’s business section

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This article originally appeared on RT Business News

Soapbox: After 17 Years, Monster Hunter Rise Finally Made Me Kind Of Competent

Monster Hunter Rise 1© Capcom

Soapbox features enable our individual writers to voice their own opinions on hot topics, opinions that may not necessarily be the voice of the site. Today, Kerry looks at how Capcom’s latest Monster Hunter game empowered her for the first time to feel adequately skilled when it comes to hunting big ol’ monsters…


I have been terrible at Monster Hunter for so long I was a millstone around the neck of any online team back when the now-respected series was just one weird import-only PlayStation 2 game. So many years have passed since that shameful start, I’ve had enough time to raise a kid who is somehow instantly better at any entry in the series he touches than I have ever been, at all of them combined.

I’ve always kept up with new entries because I like the idea of perhaps not being awful at just one of them (any one, please). Still, I always knew before I’d even decided on the colour of my soon-to-be-fainted character’s underwear that I was in for another round of quietly messing around with baby-level wyverns and struggling to keep up with the series’ deep well of clever strategies and expansive weapon mechanics.

My time with Rise was going to be different: because I didn’t want to be outdone again by someone younger than the series they’d become a casual master of; because that limited edition Switch wasn’t cheap; because it was about time I stopped being the only person in the world who got nervous tackling anything bigger than a Kulu-Ya-Ku. Because… just because.

I play Rise now and I’m amazed every time my character auto-crafts a potion from a single herb as I charge by on the back of a large armoured dog towards the wyvern I can see on the map at all times as if I’m slurping down classic-style Monster Hunter psychoserum from a beer hat.

I didn’t expect adjusting to this brave new world to be easy: I was still stuck in classic Monster Hunter mode; the games where I’d spend more time gathering items from a farm run by talking cats — unable to interact with any rich veins of mineable ore I’d come across because I’d forgotten to bring enough pickaxes — than fighting gigantic muscular knots of teeth and flame.

I play Rise now and I’m amazed every time my character auto-crafts a potion from a single herb as I charge by on the back of a large armoured dog towards the wyvern I can see on the map at all times as if I’m slurping down classic-style Monster Hunter psychoserum from a beer hat. Between this and the wirebugs and the everything else Rise should feel like too much all at once (again), but instead this latest Switch exclusive is effortlessly charming and welcoming; Kamura village is small and homely, and all the people within are pleasant, interesting, or both.

And so I began Rise with an entire village cheering me on and a teenaged hunting expert by my side; energised, but carrying worries — of holding him back, of being the first and only one to fall, of finding myself the one who contributed nothing to the local co-op party — that being part of a team brings. It was fantastic. Rise was exciting, tense, and so enthralling we both decided we’d rather hastily scramble for charging cables and Switch docks mid-hunt when the low battery warnings started to appear than take a break.

Monster Hunter Rise 2© Capcom
Monster Hunter Rise 3© Capcom

I couldn’t have wished for a better start. Everyone in Kamura has a tirelessly can-do attitude to hunting, and it was thanks to their encouragement, as well as my son’s bafflingly casual attitude to questing, that I got to see for myself that I really could just go kill a weird new monster that spat poison or threw things, that a good enough strategy was “Keep out of the way and attack when it’s safe to do so” with little idea of combos, resistances, or the skill to consistently attack softer body parts. It started to feel like quests were set up just so I could knock them down, and those one-star, two-star, three-star quests I used to fruitlessly throw myself against all kept falling, first time (co-op and solo).

It felt, well, weird. I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t be this goo- OK, I realise clearing a three-star quest isn’t all that far above “Well done, you know how to hold a controller” but… this isn’t how Monster Hunter games usually go for me. The only logical conclusion is that I’m not any better than I’ve always been and instead Rise must be Monster Hunter: Let’s Make Rubbish Players Feel Good About Themselves Edition. So, I ask my son — the teen who effortlessly kills bosses I’ll never see in other Monster Hunter games just to pass the time — if Rise is easy. It’s got to be easy, hasn’t it?

I think it’s about the same as Monster Hunter World.

This, to me, is like hearing about Super Mario Bros. cloud-bush shenanigans all over again. I was bad at World, so bad I couldn’t even get the PC version of the game to recognise my normally reliable Xbox One controller, and I’m supposed to believe it’s roughly as difficult as Rise? But… but that would mean I could’ve been carving and crafting my way through these games years ago and I just… didn’t?!

Yeah.

Monster Hunter Rise 4© Capcom
Monster Hunter Rise 5© Capcom

At least Magnamalo, the extremely violent entity believed to be responsible for the early “rampages” that threaten Kamura and a watershed moment in the game, would set things straight and definitively end this bizarre lucky streak I’ve blundered my way into. I almost prove myself right as the fight goes right down to the wire and finishes on a real action movie moment — with no retries remaining, dwindling supplies, and a charging Magnamalo, it really did all depend on one perfect shot.

Please…

I could’ve cried. I think I did, actually. Almost two decades of mediocrity swept away in an instant and replaced with certified mild competence and a bundle of fresh quests

I’ve never seen Monster Hunter’s credit sequence outside of somebody else’s YouTube video before now — I could’ve cried. I think I did, actually. Almost two decades of mediocrity swept away in an instant and replaced with certified mild competence and a bundle of fresh quests. At that point I finally stopped worrying about being good or bad or how Rise compares to its peers and just carried on: at the time of writing I’ve run out of single player quests to unlock and in multiplayer I’m one productive half of an unstoppable Monster Huntin’ family duo; I think the last time I felt this utterly content in a team I was playing Phantasy Star Online.

Is Rise easier or more streamlined than the vast expanses of Generations Ultimate or World that came before it? Maybe. Have I experienced more of Rise than any other Monster Hunter game ever and finally found the one version of the game I will happily play until my thumbs drop off? Definitely.

And if I can do all this, then I know you — perhaps another interested-but-nervous monster hunter in the making — can do it, too.

Are you getting battered by Bombadgys or are you mangling Mizutsunes and wrestling with Rathalos? Let us know in the comments below!