Bomb Found in London's University
University of Glasgow building evacuated and cordoned off after 'suspicious package' found (Newsflare All Videos)
A suspicious package found at the University of Glasgow "looks to be linked" to explosive devices sent to three London transport hubs on Tuesday, Sky sources have said.
A controlled explosion was carried out on the suspicious package, which was found at the university's mail room on Wednesday, police said.
Sky correspondent David Bowden said: "We know from our own sources that the Met are linking this Glasgow potential device.
"There will have been something within that packaging that looked, felt, or was put together in a similar way to the other three."
This afternoon, a package was found at Parliament and investigated but it was later deemed to be non-suspicious.
Read more: New IRA terror fears after firebombs sent to Heathrow, Waterloo and City Airport (Daily Mirror)
Assistant Chief Constable Steve Johnson said the package in Glasgow was not opened and there were no injuries to university staff or students.
However, several buildings were evacuated as a precaution.
ACC Johnson said: "A controlled explosion of the device was carried out this afternoon by EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal).
"Police Scotland is liaising with the Metropolitan Police in relation to their investigation into packages received in London yesterday.
"However, it is too early to say whether there is a link."
On Tuesday, explosive devices were discovered at Waterloo Station and buildings near Heathrow and London City airports.
The devices were small and, while one package was opened, there were no injuries.
At least two of the packages appeared to have Irish stamps on them and Irish police are assisting the Met Police with that investigation.
Dean Haydon, Britain's senior national co-ordinator for counter-terrorism policing, said a sender had not yet been identified.
He added: "We are talking to our Irish counterparts but at the moment there's nothing to indicate motivation of the sender or ideology, so I cannot confirm at the moment if it's connected to any Ireland-related terrorist groups."
At 4.30pm, Essex Police said: "Following an investigation we have established that the package posed no risk to the public.
"We thank you for your support and patience as we managed this incident."
Police were also called over a package found at a Royal Bank of Scotland branch in Edinburgh but it contained only "promotional goods", officers said.expand_more
share Barabási Albert-László a CEU-n: Mennyit ér egy piszoár?
Barabási Albert-László a CEU-n: Mennyit ér egy piszoár?
„Mennyit ér egy piszoár? Attól függ, hol van: ha a szeméttelepen, akkor azért kell fizetni, hogy odakerüljön. A falra szerelve érhet 100-200 dollárt, a múzeumban viszont akár dollármilliókat is érhet, feltéve, hogy Duchamp egyik műveként van kiállítva” – szemléltette siker és teljesítmény viszonyát a Közép-európai Egyetem (CEU) Határtalan tudás című rendezvénysorozatának március 22-i alkalmából Barabási Albert-László sztárfizikus és hálózatkutató. A CEU és a Harvard hálózatkutató professzora Marcel Duchamp francia-amerikai avantgárd képzőművész 1917-es szobrával példázta: egy olyan tevékenység során, ahol a teljesítmény hagyományos módszerekkel nem mérhető, alapvetően a hálózat határozza meg, mekkora sikerre lehet számítani.
Mi a siker titka? Erre a kérdésre kereste a választ a CEU estje, ahol a Behálózva, a Villanások és a Képlet című bestsellereket jegyző Barabási mellett Vedres Balázs szociológus, a CEU docense, valamint Palya Bea énekes-dalszerző osztották meg a közönséggel kutatási eredményeiket és személyes tapasztalataikat a témában. A szeptembertől Bécsbe kényszerülő magánegyetem nemcsak megismételte, túl is szárnyalta előadássorozatának első, február 7-i bravúrját. A budapesti Nádor utcai CEU-székház nagyelőadójában egy gombostűt sem lehetett leejteni. A teátrumszerűen elrendezett hatalmas csarnoknak még a lépcsőin is ültek.
Határtalan tudás 2.0: Barabási Albert-László, Palya Bea, Vedres Balázs és László FlóraFotó: Daniel Vegel/© 2019 Daniel Vegel
A kapcsolati hálók feltérképezése nemcsak arra adhat választ, hogy milyen viszonyok sejlenek fel a fegyverkereskedelem és a terrorizmus mögött, hanem azt is felfedik, hogy melyik karakter fog meghalni a Trónok harca következő részében. A digitális térben hagyott nyomokból kirajzolódik a felhasználók profilja, családjaik működése, és az is, hogyan fordítják a kibertérben lézengőket egymás ellen a különféle algoritmusok – nyitotta meg az eseményt Enyedi Zsolt, a CEU rektorhelyettese. Az est házigazdája, a CEU társadalmi felelősségvállalási irodáját vezető László Flóra saját kamasz fia problémafelvetésével adta meg az alaphangot: miért játszanak le a rádióban minden órában egy meglehetősen béna zeneszámot? Az esemény médiapartnereként felvonuló Qubit színeiben mi is feszülten vártuk a válaszokat.
Bár az iskolában ezt hazudják, a teljesítmény sajnos ritkán vezet sikerre
Egy futóversenyen az utolsóként célba érkező és a világ leggyorsabb emberének teljesítménye között mindössze egy százaléknyi a különbség, mégis előrevetíti, melyikük lesz sikeres. De ez csak azért van így, mert ebben az esetben a teljesítmény nagyon pontosan mérhető. Miközben az iskolában gyakorlatilag egymás szinonimájaként használják őket, a teljesítménynek és a sikernek matematikailag többnyire vajmi kevés köze van egymáshoz – mondta Barabási. Ez már csak azért is igaz, mert a teljesítményt az egyén produkálja, miközben a sikert a közönség osztja. Vagyis, foglalta össze a hálózatkutató, „a teljesítményed rólad, a sikered viszont rólunk szól”.
Barabási Albert-László a sikerről a CEU-nFotó: Daniel Vegel/© 2019 Daniel Vegel
Mindez különösen igaz a művészetre, ahol a siker mércéje nem a teljesítmény, hanem az elismerés. Ezt pedig Barabási kutatásai szerint elsősorban a hálózatok határozzák meg. A harvardi kutató a munkatársaival olyan algoritmust hozott létre, amelynek segítségével meglepő pontossággal megjósolható, mennyire lesz sikeres egy-egy művész. Az algoritmus alapja egy adatbázis, amelybe összegyűjtötték 140 ország több mint 460 ezer képzőművészének összesen 14,5 ezer galériában és múzeumban 1980 és 2016 között rendezett 444,5 ezer kiállítását. Mindezek alapján megrajzolható az adatbázisban szereplő kezdő művészek jövőbeli előmenetele.
Az infografikákból kiderül, hogy a világ legnagyobb múzeumaiba, például a New York-i MoMA kiállítótereibe a Blum & Poe-hoz hasonló, kisebb, de ugyancsak magasan jegyzett galériákon keresztül vezet az út. Aki utóbbiakba eljut, számíthat rá, hogy meg sem áll a Guggenheimig. Az adatbázisból az is világosan látszik, hogy a Kelet-Európához hasonló művészeti szigetekből nem nagyon van bejárás a világszjnpadra. Más kérdés, hogy az alacsonybbról induló művészek is elérhetnek az abszolút csúcsra, igaz, nekik ehhez nagyon intenzív és még annál is kétségbeesettebb próbálkozásokon keresztül vezet az útjuk. „A karrierjük első éveiben, évtizedeiben kénytelenek össze-vissza kiállítani, mígnem véletlenszerűen rábukkanhatnak egy olyan központra, ahonnan útjuk nyílhat a halhatatlanságba”.
A kapcsolatokat meg is kell tudni válogatni
Vedres Balázs szociológus, a CEU társadalmi hálózatokat és a változások összefüggéseit kutató docense azt is megkísérelte felfedni, hogyan. A problémát leginkább az jelenti, hogy hálózatépítéskor rossz döntések sorozatát hozzuk: olyanokhoz szeretünk kapcsolódni, akik már amúgy is népszerűek. Csakhogy ilyenkor a hálózatunkban egyetlen, vagy korlátozott számú embertől függnek az ötleteink, így azok nem lesznek elég változatosak.
Vedres Balázs a sikerről a CEU Határtalan tudás rendezvénysorozatánFotó: Daniel Vegel/© 2019 Daniel Vegel
Az sem szerencsés, ha a hozzánk hasonlókkal keressük a kapcsolódási pontokat, mert ilyenkor megfosztjuk magunkat az újszerű ötletektől. Az ismerőseink ismerőseivel való kapcsolódás is zsákutca, mert így bezáródnak a hálózatok, ami ugyancsak megakasztja az ötletek szabad áramlását. A megoldás Vedres szerint az, ha egy csapaton belül erős, de nyílt végű kapcsolatokat létesítünk. A kreativitás kimaxolásához a nyitott hálózatokon keresztül vezet az út.
A jótanácsok a vállalati struktúrákba is könnyedén átültethetők. A CEU előadójában pallérozódni vágyó menedzserek Vedrestől megtudhatták, hogy tévedtek, ha azt hitték, hogy tíz emberből két ötfős csapatot érdemes alkotniuk. Miért is tennék, ha alkothatnak két hatfőst is, és ehhez még csak nem is kell felvenniük két további munkaerőt. Elég, ha átfedő teameket hoznak létre: 4-4 állandó csapattag mellé rendelnek két olyan embert, aki mindkét csapatnak a tagja.
Az önazonosság fél siker
Palya Bea énekes-dalszerző ehhez azért még hozzátette, hogy a sikerre vágyók legnagyobb barátja az önazonosság. Saját eredményei sarokköveinek azt tartja, hogy megtanulta használni természet adta tehetségét, a hangját.
Palya Bea a sikerről a CEU-nFotó: Daniel Vegel/© 2019 Daniel Vegel
azonban még kevés lett volna, mondta Palya Bea, ha nincs meg benne az
az ambíció, amellyel az élete árán is énekes-dalszerzővé szeretett volna
válni. A képességei csiszolgatása után rá kellett jönnie, mit akar
tőle a közönsége és ő mit kíván cserébe. Hálózatát, mint mondja, az
önazonosság hívta életre. Ezután már csak néhány berögzült mítosztól
kellett megszabadulnia. Olyanoktól, mint hogy a „művész ösztönös zseni”,
vagy hogy „szégyellni kellene, hogy a zenélésből igenis meg lehet
Grammy-nominated rapper Nipsey Hussle shot and killed at 33
Nipsey Hustle shot dead
LOS ANGELES — Rapper Nipsey Hussle was fatally shot outside the clothing store he founded to help rebuild his troubled South Los Angeles neighborhood, police said, cutting short a career that earned him a Grammy nomination this year for his major-label debut. He was 33.
Police said Hussle was one of three men shot Sunday outside Marathon Clothing, his store in South Los Angeles; the other two were in stable condition. A large crowd gathered outside the store as night fell. Detectives were canvassing the area for witnesses and looking to see if any surveillance video captured the shooting, police Lt. Chris Ramirez said. Investigators had not yet determined a motive or identified any suspects, Ramirez said."Our hearts are with the loved ones of Nipsey Hussle and everyone touched by this awful tragedy. L.A. is hurt deeply each time a young life is lost to senseless gun violence," Garcetti tweeted.
Hussle, who had two children and was engaged to actress Lauren London, was an Eritrean-American whose real name was Ermias Asghedom.
"This doesn't make any sense! My spirit is shaken by this!," Rihanna wrote while posting photos of Hussle with his daughter and another with his fiance. "Dear God may His spirit Rest In Peace and May You grant divine comfort to all his loved ones! I'm so sorry this happened to you @nipseyhussle."
Hussle was born on Aug. 15, 1985, in the same Crenshaw neighborhood where he died, and where he had been working to provide youths with alternatives to the hustling he did when he was younger.
Los Angeles Police Commissioner Steve Soboroff tweeted that he and Police Chief Michel Moore had agreed with Hussle to meet with him on Monday to "talk about ways he could help stop gang violence and help us help kids."
Hussle explained where he was coming from in a Los Angeles Times interview last year: "In our culture, there's a narrative that says, 'Follow the athletes, follow the entertainers,'" he said. "And that's cool, but there should be something that says, 'Follow Elon Musk, follow (Mark) Zuckerberg.'"
Hussle said his first passion was music but getting resources was tough after leaving his mother's house at 14 to live with his grandmother. Hussle said he got involved in street life as he tried to support himself, and he joined the gang Rollin 60's Neighborhood Crips as a teenager.
"The culture of my area is the gang culture," he explained in a 2014 interview with VladTV. "So by being outside, being involved with hustling, being in the hood, doing things to try to get money, being young, you know riding your bike through the hood, getting shot at, your loved ones and homies that's your age getting killed, getting shot at ... it's like, we were just raised like if you with me and something goes now, I'm in it."
Music eventually happened for Hussle, who said in interviews that his stage name, a play on the 1960s and 70s rhyming standup comic Nipsey Russell, was given to him as a teen by an older friend because he was such a go-getter — always hustling.
Hussle released a number of successful mixtapes that he sold out of the trunk of his car, helping him create a buzz and gain respect from rap purists and his peers. In 2010 he placed on hip-hop magazine XXL's "Freshman Class of 2010" — a coveted list for up-and-coming hip-hop acts — alongside J. Cole Big Sean, Wiz Khalifa and others.
The proud West Coast rapper continued to build more hype for himself, scoring big when Jay-Z bought 100 copies of his 2013 mixtape "Crenshaw" for $100 each, and sent him a $10,000 check.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Hussle and rapper YG released the protest song "FDT," short for "(Expletive) Donald Trump." He later hit a new peak with "Victory Lap," his critically acclaimed major-label debut album on Atlantic Records that made several best-of lists last year, from Billboard magazine to Complex. The album debuted at No. 4 on Billboard's 200 albums charts and featured collaborations with Kendrick Lamar, Diddy, CeeLo Green and more.
At this year's Grammy Awards, "Victory Lap" was one of five nominees for best rap album in a year that hip-hop dominated the pop charts and streaming services and a number of top stars released projects, including Drake, Eminem and Kanye West. Cardi B's "Invasion of Privacy" won the honor.
"It's my debut album so for my first one (to be nominated) out the gate, it's like, it was overwhelming a little bit. It was ... inspiring, humbling," he said in an interview with the Recording Academy on the red carpet of the 2019 Grammys, which he attended with this daughter.
Many celebrities were mourning his death on social media. NBA star Steph Curry tweeted, "God please cover and restore @NipseyHussle right now!!!"
Snoop Dogg posted a video of himself and Hussle together on Instagram, and posted a second clip sending prayers to the rapper's family.
"Prayers out to the whole family man. This (stuff has) got to stop man," he said in the second video.
Rapper Nas mourned Hussle's death on Instagram and wrote, "It's dangerous to be an MC. Dangerous to be a b-ball player. It's dangerous to have money. Dangerous To Be A Black Man... Nipsey is a True voice. He will never be silenced."
Outside of music, Hussle said he wanted to provide hope and motivation to those who grew up in Crenshaw like him, and pay it forward. Forbes magazine reported in February that with business partner Dave Gross, the rapper had purchased the Crenshaw plaza where his Marathon Clothing store is located, and had plans to knock it down and "rebuild it as a six-story residential building atop a commercial plaza where a revamped Marathon store will be the anchor tenant."
"Watching Nipsey inspired me to invest and own in our communities," Emmy-nominated actress Issa Rae, also from Los Angeles, wrote on Twitter.
TV commentator Van Jones also tweeted, writing: "AWFUL. This brother was JUST getting started. He'd finally figured out how to use celebrity to build real wealth and opportunity in the hood. AND HE WAS DOING IT — FOR ALL OF US!!!"
The 50 most useful Alexa skills
Alexa can stream music, control your smart gadgets, order items from Amazon and even integrate with IFTTT.
While all of this is awesome, there is a whole world of third-party skills that can make Alexa even more useful. In fact, there are currently more than 70,000 skills.
There's no need to wade through them all, though. Below you will find some of Alexa's most helpful, clever and entertaining skills available today.
A skill for finding skills
- Alexa Skills themselves are quite helpful. However, even with an updated Skills section in the Alexa app and the ability to add skills using only your voice, discovering new and useful skills is a less than desirable experience. So much so that Amazon actually created a skill called Skill Finder which, you guessed it, helps you discover new skills. Launch it by saying, "Alexa, open Skill Finder" or "Alexa, tell Skill Finder to give me the skill of the day."
- The Capital One skill allows you to check your credit card balance or make a payment when one is due. This is secure: The skill performs security checks and requires you sign in using your username and password. Then, when you open the skill, you must provide a four-digit code to confirm your identity. Just be wary of who is around when using the skill -- anyone who overhears you say your personal key can access your banking or credit card info just by asking Alexa.
- If you'd like to check stock prices before heading out in the morning, try Opening Bell. This Skill allows you to ask for a stock price using a company's name instead of the ticker symbol, such as, "Alexa, ask Opening Bell for the price of Google."
- Similar to Opening Bell, TD Ameritrade has a skill that lets you check "US-traded stocks, ETFs, mutual funds and major US indices -- 75,000 securities," just by asking. Say, "Alexa, ask TD Ameritrade for the price of Amazon."
- Since cryptocurrency is so popular (and so volatile) these days, you can keep up with your current investments during your Flash Briefing with the Cryptocurrency Flash Briefing skill. When you ask to play your Flash Briefing, this skill will retrieve the current prices of Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, BitcoinCash and Litecoin.
- You can use IFTTT to push additions to your Amazon To-do List to Google Calendar, or you can use the Quick Events skill. Say something like "Alexa, tell Quick Events to add go to the grocery store tomorrow at 6" to add an event to your calendar.
- If you're in marketing or are just looking for some ideas that are outside the box, enable the Giant Spoon skill. Chances are, the ideas aren't always going to be applicable to what you're working on, but in my use, they've sparked some interesting ideas.
Smart home and car
- Out of the box, Alexa has support for IFTTT, but not Yonomi. Support for Yonomi is enabled through a skill. Yonomi is a lot like IFTTT, but designed specifically for the smart home. Yonomi generates virtual devices for each scene you create, so the command sounds more natural, such as, "Alexa, turn on Sunset."
- You can also keep tabs on your car with Alexa using the Automatic skill. Automatic is a dongle you install in your car's OBDII port which connects with your smartphone and tracks the status of your car. You can connect your Automatic account to Alexa and ask for the current fuel level, where your car is or how far you've driven in a span of time.
- The Harmony skill by Logitech will allow you to control your entertainment system using your voice though a Harmony hub-based remote. You can say things like, "Alexa, turn on the TV," "Alexa, turn on Netflix" or "Alexa, turn on the Travel Channel."
- The Anova Precision Cooker now has an Alexa skill, called Anova Culinary. With this skill, you can look up cooking guides and begin cooking using your voice. You can say things like, "Alexa, ask Anova to help me cook steak" or "Alexa, ask Anova to increase temperature by 2 degrees."
- Likewise, the Joule has an Alexa skill, called Joule: Sous Vide by ChefSteps. This skill can recall your past cooking settings when you say, "Alexa, ask Joule to cook steak like last time." You can also set the temperature and check the status of your cooking session, just by asking.
The 15 coolest things you can do with your Amazon Echo
Food and drink
- If you're anything like me, you have no idea which wines pair well with which food. Fortunately, the MySomm skill will tell you. Just ask, "Alexa, ask Wine Gal what goes with a pot roast?"
- The same goes for beer and the What beer? skill. The invocation for this particular skill is clever, making the phrasing natural and easy to remember. Just say, "Alexa, ask what beer goes with ramen."
- To kick up your home-bartending skills a notch, enable The Bartender. You can ask what a drink is made of, and it will tell you the ingredients and the recipe. The answers are a lot to take in for a single response all at once, but this skill can definitely help you dissect your favorite cocktails.
- To double-check what internal temperature is considered safe when cooking different meats, use Meat Thermometer. Say, "Alexa, ask Meat Thermometer what is the best temperature for steak."
- For recipes and food recommendations, try the Best Recipes skill. You can find recipes based on up to three ingredients and narrow the results to breakfast, lunch or dinner. To get started, say, "Alexa, tell Best Recipes I'm hungry" or "Alexa, ask Best Recipes what's for dinner."
- Similarly, Meal Idea will give you recipe ideas that call for common, everyday items you likely already have in your pantry. It's suggested things like bone soup (out of canned tomato soup and elbow noodles) and a salad made of salad greens, canned beets and goat cheese. At least one of those sounds great.
- One of my personal favorite skills is Domino's. You can place your Domino's Easy Order just by speaking, "Alexa, open Domino's and place my Easy Order." You can also track the status of an order you've placed by saying, "Alexa, open Domino's to track my order."
- If Pizza Hut is your jam, there's a skill for that, too. To get started, first enable the skill, link your account and say, "Alexa, tell Pizza Hut to place an order."
- Starbucks lets you place an order using Alexa with the Starbucks Reorder skill. After you enable the skill, you will need to link your account. The skill will not work unless you've previously placed a mobile order with the Starbucks app on Android or iOS. It can place an order at one of the last 10 Starbucks locations you've visited in person. You can also check your account balance and switch between your five previous mobile orders.
- For those familiar with the 7-Minute Workout, you'll be happy to learn there is a skill for the famous workout available on Alexa speakers. Say, "Alexa, open 7-Minute Workout." The workout will begin. You can pause and resume workouts as needed.
- Similarly, there is a skill for a 5-Minute Plank Workout. This skill walks you through five minutes of various planks with a 10-second break between each.
- If you wear a Fitbit tracker on your wrist, you can enable the Fitbit skill. With this skill, you can ask Alexa about your progress or how you slept the night before. Before you can use the skill, however, you will need to link your Fitbit account by going to the skill page at alexa.amazon.com and linking your accounts.
- For tracking your food, you can use the Track by Nutritionix skill, which lets you record your food intake using your voice, or ask for caloric values of foods. (Alexa does the latter by default.) Say things like, "Alexa, tell Food Tracker to log a cup of almond milk" or "Alexa, ask Food Tracker how many calories are in two eggs and three slices of bacon."
- Each day, Guided Meditation will give you a different meditation routine, ranging from three to eight minutes. If you're not digging the current routine, you can say, "Alexa, play next" to skip to the next exercise.
- Not impressed by Alexa's default weather forecasting abilities? You'll want to enlist the help of Big Sky. Using the Dark Sky API, Big Sky provides hyperlocal weather forecasts, telling you when rain will start or stop for a specific address or the humidity and wind speed and direction. Big Sky does require a small amount of setup first, though.
- If you're less interested in what the actual temperature is and care more about how it feels outside, try the Feels Like skill. It will give you the wind chill when the temperature is less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit and heat index when it's over 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
- And when you don't have time to listen to an entire, drawn-out forecast, Fast Weather is your best bet. Just say, "Alexa, fast weather." You will be given a no-nonsense forecast with no wasted words -- something like, "Chance of rain. High: 58. Low: 31."
- If you want to do some casual research for a future trip, you can get fare estimates using the Kayak skill. You can say, "Alexa, ask Kayak where I can go for $400" or "Alexa, ask Kayak how much it costs to fly from Los Angeles to Dublin." The skill will ask for additional information and eventually provide you with a series of options and price ranges.
- If you need a ride to the airport, you can order an Uber with Alexa just by asking. Say, "Alexa, ask Uber to get me a car." Tell me that doesn't sound like the future.
- There's also a skill for Lyft that functions in the exact same way, except you can ask for pricing. Say, "Alexa, ask Lyft how much a Lyft Plus from home to work costs."
- Before leaving or your next flight, make sure to check for security wait times at your airport. The Airport Security Line Wait Times skill will give you wait times for over 450 airports around the US. Say something like, "Alexa, ask Security Line what is the wait time at SFO terminal 2?"
- If you're looking for movie recommendations, the Valossa Movie Finder skill can help you find movies based on context or by genre and date. You can say things like, "Alexa, use Movie Finder to find comedies from the 1980s" or "Alexa, ask Movie Finder what are the best war movies."
- For a similar experience finding TV shows and the times that they air, try TV Guide.
- If you have an interest in history, the This Day in History skill will give you a daily history lesson. Just say, "Alexa, open This Day in History." To get historical information for a different date, just say, "Alexa, ask This Day in History what happened on April 2nd."
- The Radio Mystery Theater skill lets you listen to radio mysteries of yore. Just say, "Alexa, open Radio Mystery Theater" to start, and say, "Alexa, next" or "Alexa, previous," to skip between episodes.
- Take a load off and let Alexa put your kids to sleep with the Short Bedtime Story skill. Not only will Alexa read bedtime stories, but you can tailor those stories to your own children by customizing the names in the stories (and which stories are told) using the companion website.
- After your kids are asleep, Alexa can help you doze off with the Ambient Noise skill and its companion skills. There are several different sounds to choose from, all of which come with their own skill. You can fall asleep to the sounds of a thunderstorm, rain, ocean, wind chimes, babbling brook, rain on a tent, city sounds and much more. For all available sounds, just say, "Alexa, ask Ambient Noise for a list."
- If you want to learn something surprising every day, check out the Reddit TIL skill. It will pull one of the TIL (today, I learned) posts from the current top 25.
Podcasts and radio
- AnyPod is an Alexa skill for podcast power listeners. Alexa's built-in podcast capabilities are somewhat limited. For instance, you can only ask for a podcast. AnyPod allows you to subscribe to your favorite podcasts, play your subscriptions or request a specific episode.
- Similarly, you have more podcast listening controls if you use the Stitcher skill. You must link your Stitcher account, but then you can access your podcast playlists, play your favorite podcast or play the Stitcher front page.
- Not sure what to listen to? Try the Learn Something Radio skill. It pulls podcasts from 99% Invisible, NPR, Freakonomics, Hidden Brain and many more.
- Or you could listen to a TED talk with Alexa using the TED Talks skill. You can specify what sort of TED talk you want to listen to, as well. Just say, "Alexa, ask TED Talks to find talks about nature" or "Alexa, ask TED Talks to play the latest talk."
- Looking to up your Pokemon Go game? Enable Trainer Tips to learn more about various Pokemon. Just say, "Alexa, ask Trainer Tips to teach me something" or "Alexa, ask Trainer Tips what's weak against fire" to learn about your favorite Pokemon.
- Warner Brothers created a choose-your-own-adventure game for Alexa called The Wayne Investigation, wherein you investigate the death of Bruce Wayne's parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne. Start the game by saying, "Alexa, open The Wayne Investigation" and follow the prompts. Each choice you make affects the outcome of the story. This is one of the best examples of a game style that suits Alexa perfectly.
- Another choose-your-own-adventure game is The Magic Door, which takes place in a mythical world with dragons and wizards. It has recently been updated to include a new adventure.
- Earplay is a similar adventure game where your responses affect the outcome of the story. However, instead of being a bystander, you become part of the radio drama. To get started, say, "Alexa, start Early."
- And for you Harry Potter fans out there, Potterhead Quiz will test your knowledge of Potter realm.
share New pill shows early promise for blocking many strains of flu
The flu season is at its height in the Northern Hemisphere, but—as many are discovering—seasonal flu vaccines don’t always provide complete protection, because unexpected flu strains show up unannounced. Now, researchers report they’ve developed an experimental oral medicine that protects mice from a wide range of influenza viruses. If it works in humans, it could lead to a new pill to fight one of the deadliest infections humanity faces.
Every year, influenza causes a severe illness in some 3 million to 5 million people worldwide and kills up to 650,000, according to the World Health Organization. Medicine’s primary defense against the flu is the seasonal flu vaccine, an injected cocktail of killed viruses designed to prod the immune system to produce antibodies. Those antibodies disable the flu strains deemed most likely to circulate that season. But sometimes unforeseen strains end up spreading instead, rendering the vaccine less effective.
Normally, antibodies target an individual strain of flu. But in 2008, researchers discovered a class of so-called broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) in humans that can bind to and disable multiple flu strains at once. Detailed studies of one the best of these bnAbs, called CR6261, showed it binds to the stem portion of a mushroom-shaped hemagglutinin (HA) protein on the surface of the virus. This portion of the protein is virtually identical in multiple flu strains and is essential for enabling the virus to fuse with the membranes of cells it infects.
Close-up images of CR6261 bound to the HA stem revealed the antibody binds by holding on to five tiny indentations in the stem, much as a rock climber uses minute toe and finger holds to hang onto an otherwise sheer granite cliff face. “CR6261 targets all five pockets up and down the stem,” says Ian Wilson, a structural biologist at Scripps Research in San Diego, California.
In 2011 and 2012, researchers led by Wilson and David Baker at the University of Washington in Seattle used computer design techniques to create a much smaller protein called HB80.4 that binds to HA’s stem using the same holds and blocks viral fusion. But proteins typically don’t work as oral medicines because digestive enzymes break them down in the stomach.
Now, Wilson, Maria van Dongen, a drug discovery expert at the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson in Leiden, The Netherlands, and their colleagues have used the previous discovery of HB80.4 to help them find small molecules that do the same thing. Van Dongen and her team created a lab test in which they first bound HB80.4 to the flu virus’s HA stem. They then screened 500,000 small molecules from the company’s proprietary library to see whether any bound to the same site so tightly that they essentially pushed HB80.4 out of the way.
They initially got some 9000 hits, which they whittled down to a top binder. They tweaked this compound further to create JNJ4796, a molecule containing six rings in a line, which not only binds better than HB80.4 to the HA stem’s indentations but has improved properties for acting as a drug, such as increased solubility in blood.
Van Dongen’s team showed the would-be drug blocks a group of flu viruses from infecting mouse and human cells in a petri dish. And studies in mice given the drug orally showed it prevented animals from getting sick after being exposed to lethal doses of multiple strains of the flu, the researchers report today in Science.
“It’s a beautiful story,” showing how scientists have steadily progressed toward coming up with a new antiflu drug, says Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a virologist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. If the drug proves safe and effective in humans, it would join two approved oral medications—Tamiflu and Xofluza—that can help fight the flu. Unlike JNJ4796, which blocks viruses from entering cells, the approved drugs block viruses from spreading once they have already infected cells. But viruses have already shown signs of developing resistance to the current drugs. “It’s important to have drugs against different targets,” Kawaoka says.
That said, JNJ4796 doesn’t work against all flu viruses. The compound blocks influenza A group 1 viruses, which includes the H1N1 virus that accounts for nearly half of flu infections this season. But it doesn’t block two other classes—influenza A group 2 or influenza B viruses—that account for the rest of this year’s infections.
Nevertheless, Florian Krammer, a virologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, says the “elegant” screening approach Van Dongen’s team used to identify the initial HA binder could also help find drug leads that bind the other viral classes. The same strategy could even work for finding novel drugs to block other viral diseases, such as Ebola, he says. “This is just the start.”expand_more
Stacking concrete blocks is a surprisingly efficient way to store energy
Thanks to the modern electric grid, you have access to electricity whenever you want. But the grid only works when electricity is generated in the same amounts as it is consumed. That said, it’s impossible to get the balance right all the time. So operators make grids more flexible by adding ways to store excess electricity for when production drops or consumption rises.
About 96% of the world’s energy-storage capacity comes in the form of one technology: pumped hydro. Whenever generation exceeds demand, the excess electricity is used to pump water up a dam. When demand exceeds generation, that water is allowed to fall—thanks to gravity—and the potential energy turns turbines to produce electricity.
But pumped-hydro storage requires particular geographies, with access to water and to reservoirs at different altitudes. It’s the reason that about three-quarters of all pumped hydro storage has been built in only 10 countries. The trouble is the world needs to add a lot more energy storage, if we are to continue to add the intermittent solar and wind power necessary to cut our dependence on fossil fuels.
A startup called Energy Vault thinks it has a viable alternative to pumped-hydro: Instead of using water and dams, the startup uses concrete blocks and cranes. It has been operating in stealth mode until today (Aug. 18), when its existence will be announced at Kent Presents, an ideas festival in Connecticut.
On a hot July morning, I traveled to Biasca, Switzerland, about two hours north of Milan, Italy, where Energy Vault has built a demonstration plant, about a tenth the size of a full-scale operation. The whole thing—from idea to a functional unit—took about nine months and less than $2 million to accomplish. If this sort of low-tech, low-cost innovation could help solve even just a few parts of the huge energy-storage problem, maybe the energy transition the world needs won’t be so hard after all.
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The science underlying Energy Vault’s technology is simple. When you lift something against gravity, you store energy in it. When you later let it fall, you can retrieve that energy. Because concrete is a lot denser than water, lifting a block of concrete requires—and can, therefore, store—a lot more energy than an equal-sized tank of water.
Bill Gross, a long-time US entrepreneur, and Andrea Pedretti, a serial Swiss inventor, developed the Energy Vault system that applies this science. Here’s how it works: A 120-meter (nearly 400-foot) tall, six-armed crane stands in the middle. In the discharged state, concrete cylinders weighing 35 metric tons each are neatly stacked around the crane far below the crane arms. When there is excess solar or wind power, a computer algorithm directs one or more crane arms to locate a concrete block, with the help of a camera attached to the crane arm’s trolley.
Once the crane arm locates and hooks onto a concrete block, a motor starts, powered by the excess electricity on the grid, and lifts the block off the ground. Wind could cause the block to move like a pendulum, but the crane’s trolley is programmed to counter the movement. As a result, it can smoothly lift the block, and then place it on top of another stack of blocks—higher up off the ground.
The system is “fully charged” when the crane has created a tower of concrete blocks around it. The total energy that can be stored in the tower is 20 megawatt-hours (MWh), enough to power 2,000 Swiss homes for a whole day.
When the grid is running low, the motors spring back into action—except now, instead of consuming electricity, the motor is driven in reverse by the gravitational energy, and thus generates electricity.
The innovation in Energy Vault’s plant is not the hardware. Cranes and motors have been around for decades, and companies like ABB and Siemens have optimized them for maximum efficiency. The round-trip efficiency of the system, which is the amount of energy recovered for every unit of energy used to lift the blocks, is about 85%—comparable to lithium-ion batteries which offer up to 90%.
Pedretti’s main work as the chief technology officer has been figuring out how to design software to automate contextually relevant operations, like hooking and unhooking concrete blocks, and to counteract pendulum-like movements during the lifting and lowering of those blocks.
Energy Vault keeps costs low because it uses off-the-shelf commercial hardware. Surprisingly, concrete blocks could prove to be the most expensive part of the energy tower. Concrete is much cheaper than, say, a lithium-ion battery, but Energy Vault would need a lot of concrete to build hundreds of 35-metric-ton blocks.
So Pedretti found another solution. He’s developed a machine that can mix substances that cities often pay to get rid off, such as gravel or building waste, along with cement to create low-cost concrete blocks. The cost saving comes from having to use only a sixth of the amount of cement that would otherwise have been needed if the concrete were used for building construction.
The storage challenge
The demonstration plant I saw in Biasca is much smaller than the planned commercial version. It has a 20-meter-tall, single-armed crane that lifts blocks weighing 500 kg each. But it does almost all the things its full-scale cousin, which the company is actively looking to sell right now, would do.
Robert Piconi has spent this summer visiting countries in Africa and Asia. The CEO of Energy Vault is excited to find customers for its plants in those parts of the world. The startup also has a sales team in the US and it now has orders to build its first commercial units in early 2019. The company won’t share details of those orders, but the unique characteristics of its energy-storage solution mean we can make a fairly educated guess at what the projects will look like.
Energy-storage experts broadly categorize energy-storage into three groups, distinguished by the amount of energy storage needed and the cost of storing that energy.
First, expensive technologies, such as lithium-ion batteries, can be used to store a few hours worth of energy—in the range of tens or hundreds of MWh. These could be charged during the day, using solar panels for example, and then discharged when the sun isn’t around. But lithium-ion batteries for the electric grid currently cost between $280 and $350 per kWh.
Cheaper technologies, such as flow batteries (which use high-energy liquid chemicals to hold energy) can be used to store weeks worth of energy—in the range of hundreds or thousands of MWh. This second category of energy storage could then be used, for instance, when there’s a lull in wind supply for a week or two.
The third category doesn’t exist yet. In theory, yet-to-be-invented, extra-cheap technologies could store months worth of energy—in the range of tens or hundreds of thousands of MWh—which would be used to deal with interseasonal demands. For example, Mumbai hits peak consumption in the summer when air conditioners are on full blast, whereas London peaks in winters because of household heating. Ideally, energy captured in one season could be stored for months during low-use seasons, and then deployed later in the high-use seasons.
David vs Goliath
Piconi estimates that by the time Energy Vault builds its 10th or so 35-MWh plant, it can bring costs down to about $150 per kWh. That means it can’t fill the needs of the third category of energy-storage use; to do that, costs would have to be closer to $10 per kWh. In theory, at the current capacity and price point, it could compete in the second category—if it could find a customer that wanted Energy Vault to build dozens of plants for a single grid. Realistically, Energy Vault’s best bet is to compete in the first category.
That said, some experts told Quartz that the cost of lithium-ion batteries, the current dominant battery technology, could fall to about $100 per kWh, which would make them cheaper even than Energy Vault when it comes to storing days or weeks worth of energy. And because batteries are compact, they can be transported vast distances. Most of the lithium-ion batteries in smartphones used all over the world, for example, are made in East Asia. Energy Vault’s concrete blocks will have to be built on-site, and each 35 MWh system would need a circular piece of land about 100 meters (300 feet) in diameter. Batteries need a fraction of that space to store the same amount of energy.
Batteries do have some limitations. The maximum life of lithium-ion batteries, for example, is 20 or so years. They also lose their capacity to store energy over time. And there aren’t yet reliable ways to recycle lithium-ion batteries.
Energy Vault’s plant can operate for 30 years with little maintenance and almost no fade in capacity. Its concrete blocks also use waste materials. So Piconi is confident that there’s still a niche that Energy Vault can fill: Places that have abundant access to land and building material, combined with the desire to have storage technologies that last for decades without fading in capacity.
Meanwhile, whether or not Energy Vault succeeds, it does make a strong case for the argument that, while everyone else is out looking for high-tech, futuristic battery innovation, there may be real value in thinking about how to apply low-tech solutions to 21st-century problems. Energy Vault built a functional test plant in just nine months, spending relative pennies. It’s a signal of sorts that some of the answers to our energy-storage problems may still be sitting hidden in plain sight.expand_more
What Could Possibly Go Right?
The Utopian Vision of AI
In the late 1800s, in what's known as the Second Industrial Revolution, multiple major new technologies initiated an era marked by even more rapid transformation than the century that preceded it — especially in the United States. Electrification, railroads, telegraphs, and eventually the automobile all helped unleash unprecedented productivity gains, and thus unprecedented prosperity.
But these and other new technologies of that era didn't just raise standards of living. They also radically transformed how people lived.
Electrification meant people could suddenly do far more at night than they'd ever done before. There was a massive shift from rural living to cities. Railroads and telegraphs enabled new networks of communication and distribution. Skyscrapers concentrated human capital and allowed corporations to take on increasingly sophisticated endeavors.
Overall, life got faster and more connected, and much, much richer with possibilities. These new technologies, in other words, didn't just change how people, goods, or information got from one place to another. They changed how people dreamed about the future. They created new social relations and life patterns. They expanded conceptions about what one might aspire to, what defined a "good life," and how one should achieve meaning or purpose. They re-defined what it means to be human.
Today, we're in the early stages of a similarly massive transformation. Multiple new technologies that get broadly categorized under the label artificial intelligence, or AI, are the animating force in this transition. Over the next several decades, AI will have the kind of economic and cultural impact that electrification, railroads, and the other technologies driving the Second Industrial Revolution had on the world. We'll achieve massive increases in productivity and prosperity. We'll also see massive shifts in how people live and organize their lives.
In the face of such change and uncertainty, it's easy to slip into a dystopian mindset. To see more challenges than opportunities. To lean toward fear rather than hope. With AI, uncharted territories definitely lie ahead. And the effects of this transformation are likely to take place over a much shorter time period than previous technological revolutions. But the best way to confront this fact, I believe, and the risks it implies, is not simply to ignore or resist AI's evolution. Instead, we should rigorously steer toward the best possible outcomes in a thoughtful and deliberate way.
And that's why I'm delighted to be a part of the launch today of Stanford University's new Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence.
The purpose of Stanford HAI is to convene researchers, builders, leaders, and users from across a broad range of disciplines — including philosophy, neuroscience, government, computer science, robotics, and many others — to promote and develop human-centered AI technologies and applications that enhance human productivity and quality of life.
One reason some people tend to view AI through a dystopian lens, I think, is because of how corporations are at the forefront of this realm. Granted, there are a handful of nations, including China, France, Canada, and the U.S., which have undertaken government-funded initiatives to accelerate AI development. But corporations have been at the leading edge of such efforts.
And that leads to concerns that AI's development trajectory will favor approaches, applications, products, and services that prioritize the profitable over whatever works best for humanity.
As someone who views entrepreneurship as a powerful lever to create positive impact at scale, I have a different view. While I believe strong government oversight is a key component to productive, prosperous, and well-managed societies, I also believe that corporations, including those operating on a global scale, can create massive social progress along with the profits that sustain their efforts.
And history bears this out: The gains we've made since the First Industrial Revolution began in England in the mid-1700s are so astounding it's easy to lose sight of them. To illustrate this, for example, we live more than twice as long as most people did then — and yet we can make a 500-mile trip in roughly 1/100th of the time it would have taken in 1750.
Compared to the humans of just a few hundred years ago, in other words, humans today can draw upon an expanding array of technological superpowers to make life more productive and more meaningful. And while governments played a key role in making this era of rapid transformation and human progress possible, by providing social stability and key physical infrastructure, breakthrough innovations like the steam engine, or standardized parts, or the factory assembly line didn't arise out of official government programs or initiatives. They were the work of inventors, entrepreneurs, and corporations in search of profits.
Of course, as much as humanity has achieved over the last few centuries, we've hardly created a utopia here on earth. Whatever prosperity our new productivity has created, we still have the same kinds of inequity, conflict, and injustice that plagued us in eras of lesser abundance.
Our new technologies have also created new challenges like pollution, resource depletion, and climate change. And to achieve the net positive outcomes we now benefit from, government often had to step in to temper capitalism's shortcomings and excesses — via child labor laws and other forms of workplace regulation, consumer protection laws, and more.
So as much as I believe that today's corporations are already leading us toward a new era of rapid productivity gains — and the subsequent increase in quality of life that will arise out of that — I also believe that successfully navigating the shift that is now underway must involve many different stakeholders with the widest possible range of perspectives.
Stanford HAI will be a place for such conversations. While the institute will draw upon Stanford's deep history with Silicon Valley and its most innovative technologists and companies, it will also incorporate the multi-disciplinary viewpoints of policy-makers, legal experts, ethicists, philosophers, economists, and scientists, and ensure that participation is diverse and inclusive in terms of race, gender, and culture. In doing so, it will seek to understand best practices for developing AI technologies that serves humanity in ways that broadly benefit us all.
As chair of Stanford HAI's advisory board, I look forward to the robust discourse it initiates in pursuit of this mission.
And as it officially begins its work today, I want to share one question I will continue to ask myself as AI evolves: What could possibly go right?
This question, of course, stands in counterpoint to the one that has driven much AI discourse in recent years: What could possibly go wrong?
With a technology as powerful and unprecedented as AI is, "What could possibly go wrong?" is obviously a crucial question to ask and thus I know Stanford HAI will keep asking it. And I hope many others do too, especially those who are directly developing this technology.
Whether it's the prospects of mass unemployment or algorithmic bias baked into hiring processes, lending decisions, and more, we need to have the rigorous and even skeptical inquiry from diverse viewpoints that will help us see potential problems, and then either steer away from them before they happen or correct them when they do.
At the same time, I also believe that we mustn't simply view our efforts to navigate to the best possible future through defensive or preventative lenses.
And that's why I ask "What could possibly go right?"
What, in our most wildly optimistic vision, does the world look like when AI is as woven into contemporary life just as seamlessly as electricity is?
How might we use it to create new jobs that are both economically rewarding and personally fulfilling?
Can it drive down the costs of crucial goods and services so much that governments will be able to provide much better safety nets than they ever have before?
How can we best tap AI to create education tools and services that make it possible for every person on the planet to maximize their potential?
Can new AI-driven healthcare devices lead to massive decreases in illness?
Can myriad new forms of emotionally attuned robot companions abolish or at least greatly diminish human loneliness?
My point is not that AI is the magic answer to all humanity's problems — but that it will only be as magic as we dream it can be. Today, some of that dreaming starts at Stanford HAI. I can't wait to see where we go from here.expand_more