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Facebook Says Internet Drone Lands Successfully on Second Test

Facebook Inc. said Thursday that it had completed a second test of an unmanned aircraft designed to someday beam internet access to remote parts of the planet, and unlike in the first test, the drone did not crash.

Facebook plans to develop a fleet of drones powered by sunlight that will fly for months at a time, communicating with each other through lasers and extending internet connectivity to the ground below.

The company called the first test, in June 2016, a success after it flew above the Arizona desert for 1 hour, 36 minutes, three times longer than planned. It later said the drone had also crashed moments before landing and had suffered a damaged wing.

The second test occurred on May 22, Martin Luis Gomez, Facebook’s director of aeronautical platforms, said in a blog post. The aircraft flew for 1 hour, 46 minutes before landing near Yuma, Arizona, with only “a few minor, easily repairable dings,” he said.

Facebook engineers had added “spoilers” to the aircraft’s wings to increase drag and reduce lift during the landing approach, Gomez said.

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Arts & Entertainment
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Spider-Man Swings Into Marvel Universe for Latest Film

Fans were crawling up the walls with excitement as the stars of Spider-Man: Homecoming swung into the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe series of films, which have dominated the global box office for years.

British actor Tom Holland, who plays the web-slinging hero, showed up at Wednesday’s premiere accompanied by an actor in full Spider-Man costume who was lying on the hood of a car and performing back flips for the crowd.

“I think for me I’ve realized the responsibility of being a role model for young kids everywhere,” Holland told reporters, adding that the character’s motto that “with great power comes great responsibility” resonated with him.

The film is the first time that Spider-Man, one of Disney-owned Marvel’s most popular characters, is the lead in a film set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, championed the cause of getting Spider-Man into the Disney-run sphere.

“Now we have the first time Spider-Man in the Marvel Universe where he belongs,” he stated at the premiere, adding, “I sort of am still pinching myself. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe we’re premiering the movie tonight and I can’t wait for people to see it.”

The film sees Iron Man actor Robert Downey Jr., another staple of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, who has been featured in several of the series’ films, taking a co-starring role alongside Holland.

The film is to be released in European cinemas on July 5 and in U.S. theaters on July 7.

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Science & Health
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Climate Change Up Close: Southern, Poor Counties to Suffer

Poor and southern U.S. counties will get hit hardest by global warming, according to a first-of-its-kind detailed projection of potential climate change effects at the local level.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, calculates probable economic harms and benefits for the more than 3,100 counties in the United States under different possible scenarios for worldwide emissions of heat-trapping gases. It looks at agriculture, energy costs, labor costs, coastal damage from rising seas, crime and deaths, then estimates the effect on average local income by the end of the century.

Researchers computed the possible effects of 15 types of impacts for each county across 29,000 simulations.

“The south gets hammered and the north can actually benefit,” said study lead author Solomon Hsiang, a University of California economist. “The south gets hammered primarily because it’s super-hot already. It just so happens that the south is also poorer.”

The southern part of the nation’s heartland — such as Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky and southern Illinois — also feels the heat hard, he said. Michigan, Minnesota, the far northeast, the northwest and mountainous areas benefit the most.

Counties hit hardest

The county hit hardest if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated is tiny and impoverished Union County in Florida, where median income would take a 28 percent hit. And among counties with at least 500,000 people, Polk County in central Florida would suffer the most, with damages of more than 17 percent of income.

Seven of the 10 counties with the highest percentage of projected county income losses from climate change are in Florida, along with two in Texas and one in Georgia. Half of these are among the poorest counties in the country. 

Five of the 10 counties that would benefit the most from global warming are in Michigan. The others are in Alaska, Colorado, Nevada and the mountainous region of North Carolina. Mineral County in Nevada would see a 13 percent increase in income, while Tacoma, Washington’s Pierce County would benefit by about 2 percent, the most among counties with a population of more than 500,000.

“You’re going to see this transfer of wealth from the southeast to the parts of the country that are less exposed to risk,” said study co-author Robert Kopp, a Rutgers University climate scientist. “On average both in this country and on this planet just poorer people are in hotter areas.”

The whole nation’s gross domestic product would shrink by 0.7 percent for every degree Fahrenheit temperatures go up, the study calculates, but that masks just how uneven the damage could be. On average, the poorest counties would suffer a drop of 13.1 percent of income if carbon pollution continues unabated, while the richest counties would fall 1.1 percent.

Rise in fatalities

Economists and scientists who specialize in climate and disasters praised the study as groundbreaking.

“This is the most comprehensive, the most detailed information to date,” said University of Illinois finance professor Donald Fullerton, who wasn’t part of the study. “Nobody had ever done anything like this.”

The biggest economic damage comes from an increase in deaths. In the early stages of warming, overall deaths fall because the number of deaths from extreme cold falls fast. But as the world warms further, the increase in deaths from heat rises faster and results in more deaths overall by the end of the century.

Fullerton said the one place where he felt the study could overstate costs is in these deaths because it uses the same government-generated dollar value for each life — $7.9 million per person — when most of the people who die in temperature-related deaths are older and some economists prefer valuing deaths differently by age.

The study looks at production of four different crops — soy, wheat, corn and cotton. Much of the Midwest could be hit “with the type of productivity losses we saw during the Dust Bowl,” Hsiang said.

The study also examines two types of crime data: property and violent crime. Previous studies have found a direct and strong correlation between higher temperatures and higher rates of violent crime such as assault, rape and murder, Hsiang said.

Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann called it “a fascinating and ambitious study.” But because many extreme weather factors weren’t or can’t yet be calculated, he said the study “can at best only provide a very lower limit on the extent of damages likely to result from projected climate changes.”

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Climate Change Up Close: Southern, Poor US Counties to Suffer

Poor and southern U.S. counties will get hit hardest by global warming, according to a first-of-its-kind detailed projection of potential climate change effects at the local level.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, calculates probable economic harms and benefits for the more than 3,100 counties in the United States under different possible scenarios for worldwide emissions of heat-trapping gases. It looks at agriculture, energy costs, labor costs, coastal damage from rising seas, crime and deaths, then estimates the effect on average local income by the end of the century.

Researchers computed the possible effects of 15 types of impacts for each county across 29,000 simulations.

“The south gets hammered and the north can actually benefit,” said study lead author Solomon Hsiang, a University of California economist. “The south gets hammered primarily because it’s super-hot already. It just so happens that the south is also poorer.”

The southern part of the nation’s heartland — such as Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky and southern Illinois — also feels the heat hard, he said. Michigan, Minnesota, the far northeast, the northwest and mountainous areas benefit the most.

Counties hit hardest

The county hit hardest if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated is tiny and impoverished Union County in Florida, where median income would take a 28 percent hit. And among counties with at least 500,000 people, Polk County in central Florida would suffer the most, with damages of more than 17 percent of income.

Seven of the 10 counties with the highest percentage of projected county income losses from climate change are in Florida, along with two in Texas and one in Georgia. Half of these are among the poorest counties in the country. 

Five of the 10 counties that would benefit the most from global warming are in Michigan. The others are in Alaska, Colorado, Nevada and the mountainous region of North Carolina. Mineral County in Nevada would see a 13 percent increase in income, while Tacoma, Washington’s Pierce County would benefit by about 2 percent, the most among counties with a population of more than 500,000.

“You’re going to see this transfer of wealth from the southeast to the parts of the country that are less exposed to risk,” said study co-author Robert Kopp, a Rutgers University climate scientist. “On average both in this country and on this planet just poorer people are in hotter areas.”

The whole nation’s gross domestic product would shrink by 0.7 percent for every degree Fahrenheit temperatures go up, the study calculates, but that masks just how uneven the damage could be. On average, the poorest counties would suffer a drop of 13.1 percent of income if carbon pollution continues unabated, while the richest counties would fall 1.1 percent.

Rise in fatalities

Economists and scientists who specialize in climate and disasters praised the study as groundbreaking.

“This is the most comprehensive, the most detailed information to date,” said University of Illinois finance professor Donald Fullerton, who wasn’t part of the study. “Nobody had ever done anything like this.”

The biggest economic damage comes from an increase in deaths. In the early stages of warming, overall deaths fall because the number of deaths from extreme cold falls fast. But as the world warms further, the increase in deaths from heat rises faster and results in more deaths overall by the end of the century.

Fullerton said the one place where he felt the study could overstate costs is in these deaths because it uses the same government-generated dollar value for each life — $7.9 million per person — when most of the people who die in temperature-related deaths are older and some economists prefer valuing deaths differently by age.

The study looks at production of four different crops — soy, wheat, corn and cotton. Much of the Midwest could be hit “with the type of productivity losses we saw during the Dust Bowl,” Hsiang said.

The study also examines two types of crime data: property and violent crime. Previous studies have found a direct and strong correlation between higher temperatures and higher rates of violent crime such as assault, rape and murder, Hsiang said.

Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann called it “a fascinating and ambitious study.” But because many extreme weather factors weren’t or can’t yet be calculated, he said the study “can at best only provide a very lower limit on the extent of damages likely to result from projected climate changes.”

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Studies Fuel Dispute Over Whether Banned Pesticides Harm Bees

Two major studies into how bees are affected by a group of pesticides banned in Europe gave mixed results on Thursday, fueling a row over whether the chemicals, called neonicotinoids, are safe.

The studies, one conducted across three European countries and another in Canada, found some negative effects after exposure to neonicotinoids in wild and honeybee populations, but also some positives, depending on the environmental context.

Scientists who conducted the European research – in Britain, Hungary and Germany – told reporters their overall findings suggested neonicotinoids are harmful to honeybee and wild bee populations and are “a cause for concern.”

But scientists representing companies who funded the work – Germany’s Bayer AG and Switerland’s Syngenta AG – said the results showed “no consistent effect.”

Several independent experts said the findings were mixed or inconclusive.

The European Union has since 2014 had a moratorium on use of neonicotinoids – made and sold by various companies including Bayer and Syngenta – after lab research pointed to potential risks for bees, crucial for pollinating crops.

But crop chemical companies say real-world evidence is not there to blame a global plunge in bee numbers in recent years on neonicotinoid pesticides alone. They argue it is a complex phenomenon due to multiple factors.

A spokesman for the EU’s food safety watchdog EFSA, said the agency is in the process of assessing all studies and data for a full re-evaluation of neonicotinoids, expected in November.

EFSA’s scientific assessment will be crucial to a European Commission decision in consultation with EU states on whether the moratorium on neonicotinoid use should remain in place.

The two studies published on Thursday, in the peer-reviewed journal Science, are important because they were field studies that sought to examine the real-world exposure of bees to pesticides in nature.

Researchers who led the Canadian study concluded that worker bees exposed to neonicotinoids – which they said often came from contaminated pollen from nearby plants, not from treated crops – had lower life expectancies and their colonies were more likely to suffer from a loss of queen bees.

On the findings of the European study, researchers told a briefing in London that exposure to neonicotinoid crops harmed honeybee colonies in two of the three countries and reduced the reproductive success of wild bees across all three.

They noted, however, that results from Germany showed a positive effect on bees exposed to neonicotinoids, although they said this was temporary and the reasons behind it were unclear.

“This represents the complexity of the real world,” said Richard Pywell, a professor at Britain’s Center of Ecology and Hydrology who co-led the work. “In certain circumstances, you may have a positive effect … and in other circumstances you may have a negative effect”

Overall, however, he said: “We are showing significant negative effects on [bees’] critical life-cycle stages, which is a cause for concern.”

Several specialists with no direct involvement in the study who were asked to assess its findings said they were mixed.

Rob Smith, a professor at Britain’s University of Huddersfield, said the results were “important in showing that there are detectable effects of neonicotinoid treatments on honeybees in the real world”, but added: “These effects are not consistent.”

Lynn Dicks at the University of East Anglia said the findings “illustrate the complexity of environmental science.”

“If there was a really big effect of neonicotinoids on bees, in whatever circumstances they were used, it would have shown up in both of these studies,” she said.

Norman Carreck, an insect expert at Britain’s Sussex University, said: “Whilst adding to our knowledge, the study throws up more questions than it answers.”

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Indigenous Knowledge Crucial to Tackling Climate Change, Experts Say

In the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes, indigenous farmers gather at the top of mountains the night after the winter solstice — not to enjoy the view, but to forecast the timing and quantity of rains.

If the Pleiades star cluster appears large and bright, then rains will be abundant. If it looks small and dim, then the rains will be poor — in which case, the farmers delay the planting of their crops.

“What could at first glance seem like a far-fetched ancestral tradition actually showcases indigenous peoples’ ability to make useful and constructive observations on climate forecasting,” said Douglas Nakashima, head of the small islands and indigenous knowledge section at the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“While scientists know that El Niño reduces rainfall in the Andes, they were previously not aware of the link between El Niño and cloud cover,” he said.

Traditional skills and knowledge should be seen as a complement, not a barrier, to scientific knowledge and climate adaptation efforts, experts said at a conference on how communities adapt to climate change, held this week in the Ugandan capital Kampala.

Pool traditional knowledge

National policies to adapt to climate change not only often disregard traditional knowledge, they sometimes even undermine the resilience of indigenous populations, Nakashima said.

“Initiatives around the world to build large dams or boost green fuels to reduce emissions have displaced many communities,” he said.

Krystyna Swiderska, a researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development, said that governments also largely ignore indigenous innovation in farming.

“In Peru, for example, farmers already grow hundreds of potato varieties — as opposed to relying on just a few varieties as many countries do — so they have a better chance of surviving the negative impacts of climate change,” she said.

“But there is still a strong belief among the international community that science is the best solution for climate adaptation,” she said.

Herders — who have been adapting to erratic weather for decades — have much to teach about coping with climate change, said Elizabeth Carabine, a research fellow at the Overseas Development Institute, a London-based think tank.

Cities and slums

Conference participants stressed that cities, and slums in particular, could also be a significant source of inspiration for climate adaptation.

One participant highlighted that slum dwellers were highly innovative and entrepreneurial, for example by converting parts of their home into a school or a soup kitchen.

Using cities’ knowledge is all the more important as people living in cities are just as affected as others — and perhaps more so — by climate change, said Julie Arrighi from the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Center.

“Cities are big consumers of energy and particularly exposed to threats like flooding as a result of rising sea levels,” she said. “That challenge is only going to get bigger as cities grow.”

Julie Greenwalt, an urban environment specialist at the Cities Alliance, guarded against governments ignoring the needs of cities to adapt to a changing climate, and instead focusing their resources on rural areas.

“Our definitions of urban and rural are largely driven by developed countries, but even in some cities — like in India — people keep cattle,” she said.

This, said Rebecca Carter from the World Resources Institute, means that “climate adaptation should become part of how a city works, not just an add-on.”

 

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Silicon Valley & Technology
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Malawi, UNICEF Launch Africa’s First Humanitarian Drone Testing Corridor

Malawi and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) launched an air corridor Thursday to test the effectiveness of drones in humanitarian emergencies and other development uses, the first project of its kind in Africa.

Landlocked Malawi, which suffers periodic crop failures and is prone to floods, is frequently in need of food and other aid, and limited road access in many of its rural areas makes it difficult to get help to needy communities.

“Drone technology has many potential applications. … One that we have already tested in Malawi is to transport infant blood samples to laboratories for HIV testing,” UNICEF Malawi Resident Representative Johannes Wedenig said at the launch in Kasungu, 100 km (60 miles) from the capital Lilongwe.

The test corridor is centered at the Kasungu Aerodrome, with a 40-kilometer radius and focusing on three areas: generating aerial images of crisis situations, using drones to extend Wi-Fi or mobile phone signals across difficult terrain in emergencies, and delivering low-weight emergency supplies.

“The launch of the testing corridor is particularly important to support transportation and data collection where land transport infrastructure is either not feasible or difficult during emergencies,” Malawian Minister of Transport Jappie Mhango told Reuters.

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Silicon Valley & Technology
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What Amazon Wants From Whole Foods: Data on Shopping Habits

Why is Amazon spending nearly $14 billion for Whole Foods ? One reason: People who buy yoga mats and fitness trackers on Amazon might also like grapes, nuts and other healthy items at the organic grocery chain.

In short, the deal stands to net Amazon a wealth of data-driven insights into how shoppers behave offline — insights that are potentially very lucrative.

To be sure, there are plenty of other benefits to the combination. Amazon will derive steady revenue from more than 460 Whole Foods stores; it can also introduce robots and other automation technologies to cut costs and improve the bottom line. But ultimately, Amazon wants to sell even more goods and services to both online and offline shoppers — including stuff they might not even realize they need.

Amazon has been quiet on its specific plans so far, but analysts are enthusiastic about the possibilities. “This will be a fun time for Amazon,” said Ryne Misso of the Market Track retail research firm in Chicago. “They are introducing a whole new set of shopper profiles that span grocery stores and durables.”

The tracking

Amazon is a pro at using data on past shopping and browsing to prod you to buy more. The home page, for instance, offers quick access to recently viewed items and suggests products “inspired by your shopping trends.” Amazon sends emails about price cuts on items you’ve searched for but haven’t bought — yet.

Brian Handly, CEO of the mobile analytics firm Reveal Mobile in Raleigh, North Carolina, said that while Amazon doesn’t necessarily have better artificial-intelligence capabilities than its rivals, it has scale in the number of shoppers and variety of businesses it has.

Whole Foods can help by giving Amazon a better understanding of what people do at physical retail stores, where 90 percent of worldwide retail spending still happens, according to eMarketer.

Amazon could learn whether a particular customer tends to come once a month to stock up, or make smaller and shorter visits more frequently. Wi-Fi hotspots in stores might collect unique signals emanating from smartphones to figure out which aisles customers spend the most time in. Same with sensors on product shelves, something Amazon is currently testing at a convenience store in Seattle.

“They will break that data down to build stories about their consumers,” Misso said.

All this might feel creepy, but it’s something Amazon already does and does well online. Larry Ponemon, who runs the Ponemon Institute privacy think tank, said he personally would find tracking of his self-described unhealthy eating habits “very creepy.” But he doesn’t expect any consumer backlash because Amazon and Whole Foods have both earned a high level of trust and loyalty.

Reconfiguring the store

To make stores more profitable, Amazon could push customers to order lower-profit bulk items such as detergent and toilet paper over the internet. That would free up store space for higher-profit items, such as perishables and ready-to-heat prepared meals.

Amazon’s challenge will be to “separate the profitable businesses that can be better done online and the profitable businesses that can be better done at retail,” said Larry Light, CEO of the brand consulting firm Arcature in Delray Beach, Florida.

Amazon might find that some items sell better at some locations than others. It can stock just the most popular items at each location; other items are just a click away for home delivery. It’s an approach Amazon is already taking at its eight physical bookstores.

Handly said that even if Amazon can’t get rid of every lower-profit item on shelves, it can use data to figure out ways to drive more customers to those aisles.

Beyond groceries

Amazon will be able to use grocery data to drive other purchases as well. Say you buy a lot of ingredients typically found in Asian recipes. Amazon might then suggest a Thai or Japanese cookbook. It might also recommend a new rice cooker.

It works the other way, too. If you just watched a Mexican food show on Amazon video, Amazon might point you to deals on avocados and perhaps offer subscriptions for regular deliveries of tortillas and canned beans. Or it might automate a grocery shopping list based on a chosen recipe on your Kindle e-reader.

Just bought some camping equipment? Amazon might offer granola bars and other ready-to-eat meals for your hikes. Likewise, someone who just bought a fitness tracker might be in the market for more produce.

Implications for the industry

Walmart remains the leading retailer overall and has its own huge stake in groceries; its retail revenue is more than three times that of Amazon, even with Whole Foods included. Yet it’s on the defensive. To beef up its online operations, Walmart has gone on a spending spree for e-commerce companies such as Jet, Bonobos, ModCloth and Moosejaw. Analysts say these companies should help Walmart get into the data game as well.

“The real challenge of Walmart is they recognize that technology can be bought and technical expertise can be bought,” Light said.

But playing catch-up is “harder than just building it into your company as a core part of the company’s DNA,” said Brent Franson, CEO of Euclid Analytics, a San Francisco company looking to bring data analysis to physical stores. “Amazon has the benefit from Day One of architecting a business that is data-driven, out of the gate.”

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