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Pre-Columbian people spread fruit species across Latin America

2018-03-13 21:11:11

Enlarge / A sapodilla, one of the fruits used by the native inhabitants of Central America. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Prehistoric humans helped spread edible fruit species across Central and South America, even as they wiped out the megafauna that had done so previously. In the process, we maintained and even expanded the plants’ habitats, increased biodiversity, and engineered ecosystems on two continents. Today, these fruit species could be important in 21st-century efforts to diversify human diets, address food scarcity, and improve agricultural sustainability.

Fruiting plants have evolved a very solid strategy for getting their offspring out into the world. Animals eat the fruit, they drop the seeds, and the next generation of plants takes root, often quite a distance away from their parents. Before about 12,000 years ago, animals like the giant sloth, elephant-like mammals called gomphotheres, and native horses did most of the work of seed dispersal in Latin America.

When those animals died out around the end of the Pleistocene, many of the fruit species they’d helped spread found their ranges contracting. But as the early Holocene climate shifted toward warmer, wetter conditions, humans picked up the slack in a big way for some fruit species.

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Dealmaster: Get an Apple TV 4K for $105 (when you buy three months of DirecTV Now)

2018-03-13 19:58:06

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. Today's list is highlighted by a pretty stellar discount on the Apple TV 4K, albeit one with a catch.

AT&T is selling the 4K- and HDR-compatible entry in Apple's line of set-top boxes for as low as $105, which is well down from its normal going rate of $179. But to get that price, you need to prepay for three months of the company's DirecTV Now streaming service. That starts at $35 a month for its entry-level package, titled "Live a Little." If you throw down the $105 needed to cover that tier for three months upfront, AT&T will then toss in the Apple TV 4K at no extra cost.

Now, you'll have to create an account with AT&T and be a new customer to DirecTV Now to be eligible. And if you're not interested in the service in the first place—be it for its lack of DVR or just the fact that it's owned by AT&T—you'll have to remember to turn off auto-renew once your three months are up. But given that it's possible to just ignore the service completely and treat this like any other discount, this is about as good a deal as we've seen for Apple TV 4K. The box itself isn't without its issues, but, per usual, still plays nice if you're already knee deep in Apple products.

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Harsh winter weather in eastern US could be due to warmer Arctic

2018-03-13 19:47:05

Enlarge / Temperatures at the start of 2018—a familiar pattern as of late. (credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

Without some historical context, it’s easy to over-interpret an unusual weather event, especially when it's fresh in your mind. At this time of year in the US, that means cold snaps or unseasonably warm weather—and the storms that accompany them. Are they tied in with our changing climate?

There’s a legitimately controversial proposal that they are. The idea that warming in the Arctic (and shrinking sea ice coverage) has been making northern mid-latitude winters “weirder” has drawn a lot of attention in recent years. But does it explain the weather you complained about last week?

The idea suggests that the weirdness is driven by the fact that the Arctic is warming faster than any other region, which slightly decreases the temperature difference from equator to pole. A number of researchers think this can cause the jet stream (which separates frigid polar air from warmer midlatitude air) to get more wiggly—allowing cold air to spill southward more frequently. On the opposite side of those wiggles, warm air will get pulled north to normally frigid regions.

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Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference begins June 4

2018-03-13 19:20:52

Enlarge (credit: Apple)

This year's Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple's annual software-focused event, will run from June 4 to June 8. Like last year's WWDC, 2018's conference will take place at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California.

Members of Apple's Developer Program and its Developer Enterprise Program can apply for conference tickets now through March 22. Tickets will be issued through a random selection process. Other attendees will have to pay $1,599 per ticket, the same as a ticket was to last year's WWDC.

This is the second year that Apple will host WWDC at the McEnery Convention Center. In previous years, the company held the conference in San Francisco at the Moscone West Convention Center. The number of people attending WWDC has grown so much over the years that Apple needed to move it to a larger location to accommodate all the attendees.

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AT&T/Time Warner merger will raise TV bills $436 million a year, US says

2018-03-13 19:10:16

Enlarge / AT&T will own a bunch of new media properties if it is allowed to buy Time Warner. (credit: Aurich Lawson)

AT&T's proposed purchase of Time Warner Inc. would raise the total amount Americans pay for TV service by $436 million a year, the US Department of Justice alleges in its lawsuit attempting to block the merger.

"If TV-program distributor AT&T acquires TV-program producer Time Warner, American consumers will end up paying hundreds of millions of dollars more than they do now to watch their favorite programs on TV," the DOJ's trial brief said last week. "In short, the transaction violates Section 7 of the Clayton Act, because its effect 'may be substantially to lessen competition.' Prices for current services will go up and development of emerging competition will slow down."

AT&T scoffed at the government's calculations, disputing the methodology and saying that even if the DOJ is correct, the average customer bill would rise by only 45 cents a month.

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“Women at Microsoft are sexualized by their male managers,” lawsuit alleges

2018-03-13 18:50:14

Enlarge (credit: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

According to a newly unsealed court filing, women at Microsoft who work in technical jobs filed 238 internal complaints pertaining to gender discrimination or sexual harassment from 2010 through 2016. The new document was first reported Monday evening by Reuters.

The figures were revealed as part of a proposed class-action lawsuit originally filed in 2015 (Moussouris v. Microsoft). The female plaintiffs argue that the company’s internal rating system discriminates against women and disfavors professional advancement for women.

As part of the class certification process and civil discovery, Microsoft handed over years of records to the plaintiffs’ lawyers. In the Monday-released filing, which was originally submitted to the court in October 2017, Moussouris’ lawyer, Michael Subit, wrote that “Microsoft’s Culture is Rife with Sexual Harassment” before continuing:

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Flying taxis backed by Larry Page could come to New Zealand in 3 years

2018-03-13 17:34:04

Enlarge (credit: Kitty Hawk)

For years, rumors have swirled about Kitty Hawk, a flying car startup that has been lavishly funded by Google co-founder Larry Page. Last year, Kitty Hawk unveiled an awkward-looking contraption that worked something like a flying jet ski.

But now we know that Kitty Hawk had something more ambitious in the works: a small, electric aircraft called Cora with the capability to take off and land vertically, but fly horizontally like an airplane. On Tuesday, the company unveiled the new vehicle.

"Cora is self-piloting, which means that to get where you need to go, you don't need a pilot's license," says Eric Allison, Kitty Hawk's vice president for engineering. Cora can fly up to 110 miles per hour and has a range of 62 miles.

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Electric, self-flying, vertical takeoff taxis are coming to New Zealand

2018-03-13 17:34:04

Enlarge (credit: Kitty Hawk)

For years, rumors have swirled about Kitty Hawk, a flying car startup that has been lavishly funded by Google co-founder Larry Page. Last year, Kitty Hawk unveiled an awkward-looking contraption that worked something like a flying jet ski.

But now we know that Kitty Hawk had something more ambitious in the works: a small, electric aircraft called Cora, which flies horizontally like an airplane but has the capability to take off and land vertically. On Tuesday, the company unveiled the new vehicle.

"Cora is self-piloting, which means that to get where you need to go, you don't need a pilot's license," says Eric Allison, Kitty Hawk's vice president for engineering. Cora can fly up to 110 miles per hour and has a range of 62 miles.

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Doctors shocked by 3.5-inch air bubble where part of man’s brain should be

2018-03-13 17:10:54

An 84-year-old man in Ireland stunned doctors when scans revealed that he seemed to be missing a large chunk of his brain. Instead of brain tissue, the doctors found a 9 cm (~3.5 inch) pressurized pocket of air where much of his right frontal lobe ought to be. The doctors reported the discovery recently in BMJ Case Reports.

The missing white matter was particularly surprising because the man arrived in the emergency department with afflictions otherwise common for his age. He had been complaining to his regular doctor about repeated falls and feeling unsteady in recent months. When the man added left-sided arm and leg weakness to the list of complaints, his doctor advised him to go to the emergency room, fearing a possible stroke.

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Violent video game not welcome for Olympic esports consideration

2018-03-13 16:34:10

Enlarge / The 2024 Paris Olympic Games could be the first to feature non-violent esports as a medal event.

Those pushing for the $1.5 billion esports industry to be considered on equal footing to traditional sports got a big boost back in October, when the International Olympic Committee said "competitive 'eSports' could be considered as a sporting activity" for Olympic competition. It's becoming increasingly clear, though, that the IOC won't even consider any eSports that involve violence, a decision that eliminates many of the space's most popular games.

AliSports, a division of Chinese e-commerce giant AliBaba, found this out directly when trying to negotiate a bid to sponsor an eSports competition at an upcoming Olympic games. "In our communication with the Olympics committee, we’ve come to have a better understanding of their values, which is to promote peace,” AliSports CEO Zhang Dazhong told Bloomberg in a recent interview. "That’s why for the future development of eSports, we will focus more on titles that are actually related to sports, instead of games that focus on violence and slaughter."

This isn't the first sign that violent content could stand in the way of eSports becoming Olympic sports. IOC President Thomas Bach told the South China Morning Post last August that "we want to promote nondiscrimination, nonviolence, and peace among people. This doesn’t match with video games, which are about violence, explosions and killing. And there we have to draw a clear line."

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Violent video games not welcome for Olympic esports consideration

2018-03-13 16:34:10

Enlarge / The 2024 Paris Olympic Games could be the first to feature non-violent esports as a medal event.

Those pushing for the $1.5 billion esports industry to be considered on equal footing with traditional sports got a big boost back in October when the International Olympic Committee(IOC) said that "competitive 'esports' could be considered as a sporting activity" for Olympic competition. It's becoming increasingly clear, though, that the IOC won't even consider any esports that involve violence, a decision that eliminates many of the space's most popular games.

AliSports, a division of Chinese e-commerce giant AliBaba, found this out directly when trying to negotiate a bid to sponsor an esports competition at an upcoming Olympic games. "In our communication with the Olympics committee, we’ve come to have a better understanding of their values, which is to promote peace,” AliSports CEO Zhang Dazhong told Bloomberg in a recent interview. "That’s why for the future development of eSports, we will focus more on titles that are actually related to sports, instead of games that focus on violence and slaughter."

This isn't the first sign that violent content could stand in the way of esports becoming Olympic sports. IOC President Thomas Bach told the South China Morning Post last August that "we want to promote nondiscrimination, nonviolence, and peace among people. This doesn’t match with video games, which are about violence, explosions, and killing. And there we have to draw a clear line."

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Volkswagen bets big on electric with $25 billion battery bonanza

2018-03-13 15:55:35

Come with us and explore the I.D. Buzz concept. Video shot and edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

After seriously tarnishing its reputation with the diesel scandal, Volkswagen Group has changed strategy. As we reported last September, the company is now heavily committed to electrifying all of its brands by 2030, with 30 new plug-in hybrids and 50 new battery electric vehicles due by that date. On Tuesday, it revealed a crucial part of that plan, called Roadmap E, by locking up a $25 billion supply of batteries.

This isn't one single deal. Rather, VW Group has contracted with suppliers including Samsung and LG Chem, among others. And it's not the end of the story. VW Group says this is just to line up batteries for vehicles to be built in Europe and China; a decision about a supplier for North American production "will be taken shortly," it said in a press release.

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At its best, new Last Jedi making-of film is a touching tribute to old Star Wars

2018-03-13 14:27:06

Enlarge / Three of the main characters in The Director and The Jedi (credit: Disney / Anthony Wonkie / SXSW)

Warning: The Director and The Jedi is a film about the making of The Last Jedi, therefore this review contains potential spoilers for the most recent Star Wars film.

AUSTIN, Texas—It may come with resources you can’t find anywhere else, but helming a Star Wars film is no walk in the park. To start, it involves sky-high expectations, continent-spanning production schedules, and perhaps unrivaled levels of fan obsession (including possible Russian social accounts lobbying for General Hux to live, seriously). The House of Mouse now also looms over everything, inevitably demanding a certain box office bottom line.

That’s a daunting task for even the most established of Hollywood creators—but it’s especially herculean for a relatively unknown filmmaker. And that evidently made Rian Johnson’s intergalactic debut with The Last Jedi the perfect opportunity for a full-length behind-the-scenes documentary, The Director and the Jedi.

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The $199 Fitbit Versa is the company’s new “mass-appeal” smartwatch

2018-03-13 14:00:18

Valentina Palladino

A new Fitbit smartwatch is ready to keep last year's Ionic company in the device family lineup. Today, Fitbit announced the new Versa smartwatch, a thin-and-light metal wearable that runs on Fitbit OS. The longtime king of fitness devices knew it needed to expand into the smartwatch category, and it started that evolution last year with the debut of the $299 Ionic. But the Ionic ultimately replaced the Fitbit Surge, which was the most high-tech and comprehensive fitness watch the company made at the time. Not everyone needs such a powerful device, and that's where the new Versa comes in—it's a smartwatch that mixes smart functions with important fitness features to (hopefully) reach a wider audience than the Ionic.

In the short time I had with the new Fitbit Versa, I was struck at how light it is. While Fitbit didn't provide the exact weight of the Versa, the company did note that the Versa is its lightest device to date. The Versa is quite comfortable to wear, but it also doesn't feel flimsy thanks to its all-metal, rounded-square case. Its case comes in black, gray, and rose gold colorways, as well as special graphite and rose gold editions that come with two band options instead of one. Like other smartwatches, the Versa is compatible with a number of silicone, leather, woven, and metal bands made by Fitbit.

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TSA accused of searching domestic travelers’ devices with no warrant

2018-03-13 13:35:42

Enlarge / A Transportation Security Administration baggage screener inspects an electronics device as a man is screened in the background at the international terminal of San Francisco International Airport August 5, 2003 in San Francisco, California. (credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California has sued the Transportation Security Administration, alleging that the agency has improperly withheld documents and other materials that would shed light on warrantless searches of digital devices at airports prior to purely domestic flights.

This lawsuit, which is meant to compel the TSA to fully respond to a Freedom of Information Act request, is related to another lawsuit (Alasaad v. Duke) brought by the ACLU to better understand such searches that happen when Americans return home from abroad.

"The federal government’s policies on searching the phones, laptops, and tablets of domestic air passengers remain shrouded in secrecy," said Vasudha Talla, staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, in a Monday statement.

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Developers love trendy new languages, but earn more with functional programming

2018-03-13 08:00:27

(credit: Stack Exchange)

Developer Q&A site Stack Overflow performs an annual survey to find out more about the programmer community, and the latest set of results has just been published.

JavaScript remains the most widely used programming language among professional developers, making that six years at the top for the lingua franca of Web development. Other Web tech including HTML (#2 in the ranking), CSS (#3), and PHP (#9). Business-oriented languages were also in wide use, with SQL at #4, Java at #5, and C# at #8. Shell scripting made a surprising showing at #6 (having not shown up at all in past years, which suggests that the questions have changed year-to-year), Python appeared at #7, and systems programming stalwart C++ rounded out the top 10.

These aren't, however, the languages that developers necessarily want to use. Only three languages from the most-used top ten were in the most-loved list; Python (#3), JavaScript (#7), and C# (#8). For the third year running, that list was topped by Rust, the new systems programming language developed by Mozilla. Second on the list was Kotlin, which wasn't even in the top 20 last year. This new interest is likely due to Google's decision last year to bless the language as an official development language for Android. TypeScript, Microsoft's better JavaScript than JavaScript comes in at fourth, with Google's Go language coming in at fifth. Smalltalk, last year's second-most loved, is nowhere to be seen this time around.

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President Trump halts Broadcom’s bid for Qualcomm, citing “national security”

2018-03-13 05:40:01

Enlarge / U.S. President Donald Trump hugs Broadcom CEO Hock Tan as Tan announces the repatriation of his company's headquarters to the United States from Singapore during a ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House on November 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. (credit: Martin H. Simon - Pool/Getty Images)

On Monday evening, President Donald Trump officially blocked Broadcom’s efforts to purchase Qualcomm. He issued an executive order saying that there is "credible evidence" to suggest that the deal "threatens to impair the national security of the United States."

Had the proposed deal gone through, it would have allowed the Singapore-based Broadcom to purchase the San Diego-based Qualcomm for $117 billion. The hostile takeover also would have been the biggest deal in the history of the tech industry.

The order, which did not fully explain on what basis the president made this assessment, suggests that the Trump administration is willing to protect American companies against foreign competitors even more than some had realized. Trump recently ordered that tariffs on imported steel and aluminum be put in place, propping up those American industries.

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