Oggi e' 02.06.2020
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  • Coronavirus Patients Lose Senses of Taste, Smell -- and Haven't Gotten Them Back
    An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Wall Street Journal: Clinicians racing to understand the novel disease are starting to discern an unusual trend: one common symptom -- the loss of smell and taste -- can linger months after recovery. Doctors say it is possible some survivors may never taste or smell again. Out of 417 patients who suffered mild to moderate forms of Covid-19 in Europe, 88% and 86% reported taste and smell dysfunctions, respectively, according to a study published in April in the European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology. Most patients said they couldn't taste or smell even after other symptoms were gone. Preliminary data showed at least a quarter of people regained their ability to taste and smell within two weeks of other symptoms dissipating. The study said long-term data are needed to assess how long this can last in people who didn't report an improvement. Anyone who has had the sniffles knows a stuffy nose impedes smell and taste; the novel coronavirus's ability to break down smell receptors is puzzling because it occurs without nasal congestion. One theory is that the "olfactory receptors that go to the brain -- that are essentially like a highway to the brain -- commit suicide so they can't carry the virus to the brain," said Danielle Reed, associate director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center. "It could be a healthy reaction to the virus. If that doesn't work, maybe people do get sicker," she said. "It might be a positive takeaway from what is obviously a devastating loss to people."

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  • 5G Obliterates Your Phone Battery, But a Power-Saving Fix Is Coming
    It's no secret that 5G networks drain battery. "To rectify that grim side effect, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Lille in France have developed a new radio-frequency switch they say is 50 times more energy efficient than the current solid-state switches," reports Popular Mechanics. From the report: The solution is actually rooted right in the problem. Because smartphones are packed with switches that perform duties like hopping back and forth between different networks and spectrum frequencies (4G to LTE, to WiFi, to Bluetooth, etc.), batteries drain much faster. State-of-the-art radio-frequency switches are constantly running in the background on your iPhone or Android device, consuming not only battery life, but processing power. So when the limited number of 5G-enabled smartphones on the market are constantly bouncing back and forth between 4G and 5G communications, for instance, the problem is amplified. "The switch we have developed can transmit an HDTV stream at a 100GHz frequency, and that is an achievement in broadband switch technology," lead researcher Deji Akinwande, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a prepared statement. And the premise is simple: the switches stay off most of the time. Unless the radio-frequency switches are actively helping the device jump between networks at that precise point in time, they stay off, preserving precious battery life for other processes. To build it, the scientists used a nanomaterial called hexagonal boron nitride, a newcomer in the materials science field that comes from the same family as graphene, a honeycomb-lattice sheet of carbon atoms used in everything from bike tires to cleaning up radioactive waste. According to research in Semiconductors and Semimetals, hexagonal boron nitride is only as thick as a single layer of atoms and is the thinnest known insulator in the world, with a thickness of 0.33 nanometers (for comparison's sake, a human hair is about 100,000 nanometers thick). In this case, these scientists used a single layer of boron and nitrogen atoms in a honeycomb pattern. Then, they sandwiched the layers between a set of gold electrodes. The findings have been published in the journal Nature Electronics.

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  • Class of Stellar Explosions Found To Be Galactic Producers of Lithium
    A team of researchers, led by astrophysicist Sumner Starrfield of Arizona State University, has combined theory with both observations and laboratory studies and determined that a class of stellar explosions, called classical novae, are responsible for most of the lithium in our galaxy and solar system. The results of their study have been recently published in the Astrophysical Journal of the American Astronomical Society. Phys.Org reports: Several methods were used by the authors in this study to determine the amount of lithium produced in a nova explosion. They combined computer predictions of how lithium is created by the explosion, how the gas is ejected and what its total chemical composition should be, along with telescope observations of the ejected gas, to actually measure the composition. [Astrophysicist Sumner Starrfield of Arizona State University] used his computer codes to simulate the explosions and worked with co-author and American Astronomical Fellow Charles E. Woodward of the University of Minnesota and co-author Mark Wagner of the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory in Tucson and Ohio State to obtain data on nova explosions using ground-based telescopes, orbiting telescopes and the Boeing 747 NASA observatory called SOFIA. Co-authors and nuclear astrophysicists Christian Iliadis of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and W. Raphael Hix of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and University of Tennessee, Knoxville provided insight into the nuclear reactions within stars that were essential to solving the differential equations needed for this study. "Our ability to model where stars get their energy depends on understanding nuclear fusion where light nuclei are fused to heavier nuclei and release energy," Starrfield said. "We needed to know under what stellar conditions we can expect the nuclei to interact and what the products of their interaction are." Co-author and isotope cosmochemist Maitrayee Bose of ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration analyzes meteorites and interplanetary dust particles that contain tiny rocks that formed in different kinds of stars. "Our past studies have indicated that a small fraction of stardust in meteorites formed in novae," Bose said. "So the valuable input from that work was that nova outbursts contributed to the molecular cloud that formed our solar system." Bose further states that their research is predicting very specific compositions of stardust grains that form in nova outbursts and have remained unchanged since they were formed.

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  • 135-Year-Long Streak Is Over: Renewables Overtake Coal, But Lag Far Behind Oil and Natural Gas
    An anonymous reader quotes a report from Forbes: Last week the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported something extraordinary. For the first time in 135 years, last year U.S. consumption of renewables surpassed consumption of coal. There are two interrelated reasons for this: The collapse of coal consumption over the past decade, which was fueled by the rise of cheaper alternatives. I have covered the reasons for coal's collapse previously. The short version is that policies to curb carbon emissions were put in place about the same time the shale boom and renewable power revolutions created cheaper, cleaner alternatives to coal. The graphic above shows the surge in renewables that helped collapse coal demand. This surge is better shown by the following graphic, which highlights the three categories of modern renewables that have driven the consumption surge: Wind power, solar power, and biofuels. The report points out that fossil fuels still dominate our energy consumption. "Last year the U.S. consumed 11.3 quadrillion BTUs (quads) of coal and 11.5 quads of renewables," adds Forbes. "But we also consumed 36.7 quads of petroleum and 32.1 quads of natural gas. Each of these categories of fossil fuel consumption was greater than our combined consumption of renewables and coal, which provides a broader perspective on our energy consumption." "In total, the U.S. consumed 80.5 quads of fossil fuels, 11.5 quads of renewables, and 8.5 quads of nuclear power. Renewables represented 11.4% of U.S. energy consumption in 2019, versus 8.1% a decade ago."

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  • MIT Builds Robot Hand That Can 'See and Feel' Objects
    Robotic hands capable of picking up objects as fragile as a crisp by "sensing" objects have been developed by researchers. The Independent reports: Two new tools built by MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) offer a breakthrough in the emerging field of soft robotics -- a new generation of robots that use squishy, flexible materials rather than traditional rigid equipment." These types of soft robots often draw inspiration from living organisms and offer numerous benefits in their versatile functionality. They are able to operate far more delicately than their rigid counterparts, but until now they have lacked the ability to perceive what items they are interacting with. To overcome this, the researchers equipped their robots with various sensors, cameras and software, allowing them to "see and classify" a range of objects. The first robot built of research from MIT and Harvard University in 2019, where a team developed a robotic gripper in the shape of a cone. It worked by collapsing in on an object in a similar way to a Venus flytrap, allowing it to pick up a range of awkwardly shaped objects up to 100-times its weight. By adding tactile sensors, the robot was able to understand what it was picking up and adjust the amount of pressure exerted accordingly. Of the 10 objects used in the experiment, the sensors were able to identify them with an accuracy rate of more than 90 percent. The second robot made use of an innovative "GelFlex" finger, which uses a tendon-driven mechanism and an array of sensors to provide "more nuanced, human-like senses." The team now hopes to fine-tune the sensing algorithms and introduce more complex finger configurations, such as twisting.

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  • Tesla Model 3 Drives Straight Into Overturned Truck In What Seems To Be Autopilot Failure
    A viral video making the rounds on social media shows a Tesla Model 3 smacking into the roof of an overturned truck trailer. The crash took place on Taiwan's National Highway 1 and appears to be "caused by the Tesla's Autopilot system not detecting the large rectangular object right in front of it, in broad daylight and clear weather," reports Jalopnik. From the report: There's video of the wreck, and you can see the Tesla drives right into the truck, with only what looks like a solitary attempt at braking just before impact. For any human driver paying even the slightest bit of attention, this accident is almost an impossibility, assuming the driver had the gift of sight and functional brakes. Tesla's Autopilot system primarily uses cameras for its Autopilot system, and previous wrecks have suggested that situations like this, a light-colored large immobile object on the road on a bright day can be hard for the system to distinguish. In general, immobile objects are challenging for emergency automatic braking systems and autonomous systems, as if you use radar emitters to trigger braking for immobile objects, cars tend to have far too many false positives and unintended stops than is safe or desirable. News reports from Taiwanese outlets, clumsily translated by machine, do seem to suggest that the driver, a 53-year-old man named Huang, had Autopilot activated: "The Fourth Highway Police Brigade said that driving Tesla was a 53-year-old man named Huang, who claimed to have turned on the vehicle assist system at the time. It was thought that the vehicle would detect an obstacle and slow down or stop, but the car still moved at a fixed speed, so when the brakes were to be applied at the last moment, it would be too late to cause a disaster." Thankfully, nobody was seriously hurt in the accident. The takeaway is that regardless of whether Autopilot was working or not the driver should always be paying attention and ready to step in, especially since no Tesla or any currently-available car is fully autonomous.

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  • Pepper Spray Sales Soar On Amazon
    The unrest following the death of George Floyd has prompted Amazon shoppers to buy pepper spray for self-defense. According to Bloomberg, "a $9.48 canister of Sabre 'max police strength' pepper spray shot up to the top-selling rank in Amazon's sports and outdoors category Monday morning." The No. 2 spot was a neck gaiter, which can cover the nose and mouth. From the report: One Amazon shopper named "Bill" left a 5-star review for the pepper spray May 31 and said "Put the cops down when they mess with you." People are swapping recommendations for self-defense products on social-media platforms like Twitter, where users are posting links to Sabre pepper spray on Amazon. According to customer reviews, the pepper spray can be used for self-defense. Amazon became a pipeline for household essentials such as toilet paper and disinfecting wipes for shoppers hunkered down at home to avoid contracting Covid-19. The spike in pepper spray sales shows how protests around the country are influencing consumer demand. Amazon's best-seller product rankings provide a real-time gauge for sudden swings in consumer demand.

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