Wednesday, September 16, 2020

TikTok will partner with Oracle in the United States after Microsoft loses bid

TikTok and Oracle will become business partners in the United States in a deal meant to satisfy the national security concerns about the short-form video app. The news comes after weeks of speculation about the Chinese app’s future in the United States. President Donald Trump has demanded the app be sold, or else shut down in the United States. The exact nature of the agreement between TikTok and Oracle remains unclear, but it was not described as an outright sale. The news about Oracle came just after Microsoft announced that it will not buy TikTok’s US operations from ByteDance. (CNN)


Binge drinkers may struggle to feel empathy, study says

Binge drinkers may not feel empathy for people in pain as easily as non-binge drinkers, according to a study from the University of Sussex. The report showed the brains of binge drinkers require more effort to feel empathy for other people experiencing pain, according to the study. The researchers studied 71 participants from the UK and France who took part in a pain perception task while their brain activity was observed with MRI scanners. Half of the participants were classified as non-binge drinkers and the other half were considered binge drinkers, which was defined as drinking more than 60 grams of pure alcohol (which the study authors said is equivalent to about three-quarters of a bottle of wine or two and a half pints of lager) on at least one occasion in the past 30 days. The binge-drinkers were sober during the study, according to the news release. An image of a body part being injured was shown to the participants who were then asked to imagine that the limb was theirs or another person’s limb. They had to then report how much pain was associated with the image. The binge-drinking group struggled more than the non-binge-drinking participants when asked to take on the perspective of another person experiencing the pain, according to the release. The study found the binge-drinking group not only took longer to respond, but the MRI scans found their brains required more work to use more neural resources to understand how intensely another person would feel pain. When the participants were asked to envision the injured limb as their own, the binge drinkers estimated pain level was the same as the non-binge-drinking counterparts, according to the study. This reduced empathy correlated with binge drinking, the study authors said in the release, could trigger more drinking. (Science Direct)


The iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will not be live this year because of coronavirus risks — instead, viewers will be able to “feel the spirit and joy of that day” on television and online

The parade is a tradition dating back to 1924 and will be modified “for the first time in its more than 90-year history” for television audiences, Macy’s said in a statement. “This year the celebration will shift to a television only special presentation, showcasing the Macy’s Parade’s signature mix of giant character helium balloons, fantastic floats, street performers, clowns and heralding the arrival of the holiday season with the one-and-only Santa Claus,” the company said in a statement. Thanksgiving falls on November 26 this year. The traditional 2.5-mile parade route that begins near Central Park on Manhattan’s Upper West Side will not be used. Instead, floats will be staged at Midtown Manhattan’s Herald Square and secured to vehicles instead of by participants holding ropes. Out-of-state marching bands will have to wait until 2021 to participate, and local musical performers will take their place. The total number of participants will be down 75% from last year, Macy’s said, and those who do participate will be socially distanced and wear face masks. The Wednesday balloon inflation event has been canceled. The three-hour event, which Macy’s says typically draws 3.5 million spectators in New York City and more than 50 million viewers on television, will still be broadcast on NBC television at 9am ET. (Macy’s Inc)


Taco Bell is now selling its own custom wine

Taco Bell is debuting its own custom wine, Jalapeño Noir, to pair with its Toasted Cheesy Chalupa. The tantalizing combination is only available for a limited time in Canada to celebrate the launch of the menu item. Taco Bell Canada said in a release the duo is “irresistible,” adding that “the rich taste and crunchy texture of the beloved Toasted Cheesy Chalupa complements notes of wild strawberry, cherry and beetroot in this silky limited-edition red wine.” The wine is made at an Ontario, Canada vineyard. The wine, which is being called a collector’s item because it has three unique bottle labels, costs $25 Canadian or about $19 US. Fans can buy it on Taco Bell’s Canada website or in some locations in Ontario. The wine won’t be sold in the United States once the same chalupa rolls out in November. That addition is part of a broader menu shakeup that saw some fan-favorites be removed to make place for new items. However, some Taco Bell restaurants in the US sell both food and assorted boozy drinks (just not the custom wine) at its Cantina locations. (CNN)


VA notifies Veterans of compromised personal information

The Department of Veterans Affairs said that roughly 46,000 veterans had their personal information, including Social Security numbers, exposed in a data breach in which “unauthorized users” gained access to an online application used for making health care payments. A preliminary review of the incident indicated that the hackers accessed the application “to change financial information and divert payments from VA by using social engineering techniques and exploiting authentication protocols,” according to the department’s announcement. “The Financial Services Center (FSC) determined one of its online applications was accessed by unauthorized users to divert payments to community health care providers for the- medical treatment of Veterans. The FSC took the application offline and reported the breach to VA’s Privacy Office,” the statement said. “To prevent any future improper access to and modification of information, system access will not be reenabled until a comprehensive security review is completed by the VA Office of Information Technology,” it added. (United States Department of Veteran Affairs)


$100,000 reward offered in search for gunman who ambushed and shot LA County deputies in Compton

Authorities are asking for the public’s help in finding the gunman who ambushed and shot two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies as they sat in their car. The deputies, a 31-year-old mother and a 24-year-old man, have been hospitalized in critical condition since Saturday night and are “fighting for their lives, but it looks like they’re going to be able to recover,” the sheriff’s department has said. “We’ll see what the long-term impact is. We don’t know that yet, but they survived the worst.” Local officials announced a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the gunman. (Los Angeles County, California Sheriffs Facebook)


A group of international scientists have unexpectedly detected phosphine in Venus’ acidic clouds, a discovery that they say raises the possibility that life exists on the planet

According to a press release by the Royal Astronomical Society, the team of scientists, led by a Professor from Cardiff University, detected the rare molecule using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii before confirming their discovery using 45 high-powered telescopes at a facility in Chile. “In the end, we found that both observatories had seen the same thing — faint absorption at the right wavelength to be phosphine gas, where the molecules are backlit by the warmer clouds below,” he said about the findings. Once the molecule’s presence was confirmed, researchers ran calculations to see if it could have been produced from natural processes on Venus, but so far haven’t come up with an explanation. The team believes their discovery is significant because they can rule out many alternative ways to make phosphine, but they acknowledge that confirming the presence of life needs a lot more work. Although the high clouds of Venus have temperatures up to a pleasant 30 degrees centigrade, they are incredibly acidic,  around 90% sulfuric acid, posing major issues for microbes to survive there. The team are now eagerly awaiting more telescope time, for example to establish whether the phosphine is in a relatively temperate part of the clouds, and to look for other gases associated with life. New space missions could also travel to our neighboring planet, and sample the clouds in situ to further search for signs of life. (Royal Astronomical Society)


Oil demand has cratered

Global oil demand has plummeted amid the pandemic, with BP warning that oil consumption may never return to its pre-pandemic peak. Similarly, OPEC has said any recovery in demand would be longer than previously forecast. The drop (along with a falling price per barrel that preceded the pandemic) has hit U.S. energy companies particularly hard, with Chevron and Exxon recently posting losses. The latter has doubled down on oil and gas while rivals have invested in renewable energies. (Yahoo News)


Sheriff challenges LeBron James to match reward money for gunman who ambushed two deputies

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has challenged NBA star LeBron James to match and double the reward money being offered for information on the gunman who ambushed and shot two deputies last weekend. The Sheriff said the reward money reached $175,000, a combination of donations of $100,000 from the county and $75,000 from two private individuals. “This challenge is to Lebron James. I want you to match that and double that reward,” said the Sheriff. “I know you care about law enforcement. You expressed a very interesting statement about your perspective on race relations and on officer-involved shootings and the impact that it has on the African-American community. And I appreciated that,” he continued. “But likewise, we need to appreciate that respect for life goes across all professions.” (KABC)


Massachusetts man buys electric fence to protect his Trump sign

A man in New Bedford, Massachusetts went to extremes to protect his support for President Donald Trump after he said several of his Trump signs were stolen from his lawn. “It’s a shame I have to do this,” said the man, who’s a member of the New Bedford School Committee. A Trump sign on a lawn isn’t uncommon, but a Trump sign surrounded by electric wire fence is. “I believe in the president. Obviously, people didn’t like it,” he said. “Horse wire carries a charge. Certainly will send a message.” The lifelong  resident, except for his 20 years in the U.S. Navy, is showing his support for the president. Six signs and two police reports later, the man said he was “done with this. I’m just trying to make a statement of what I believe in.” (WJAR)


The U.S. government warned citizens that if they travel to mainland China or Hong Kong they may be subjected to “arbitrary detention”

The statement said that people visiting China may not be allowed to return to their home countries because the Chinese government imposes “exit bans” for a variety of reasons, including civil disputes and to “gain bargaining leverage over foreign governments.” The State Department warned that U.S. citizens could be detained for extended periods of time and interrogated while being denied access to consular services. If they visit Hong Kong, U.S. nationals could face “heightened risk of arrest, detention, expulsion, or prosecution.” The Chinese government said that it protects the rights of foreign visitors and accused the U.S. government of engaging in “unwarranted political manipulation.” Beijing and Washington have clashed on multiple issues in recent months, including TikTok, coronavirus, Taiwan, Tibet, the South China Sea, Hong Kong, and Chinese detention camps in Xinjiang. The tensions have led to tit-for-tat closures of consulates and new visa restrictions on students and journalists. (Associated Press)


This has been the hottest summer on record in the Northern Hemisphere, NOAA said

Temperatures in June, July, and August were 2.11 F above the 20th-century average. In August, global surface temperatures were the highest in history worldwide, behind 2016. The organization said that 2020 is on track to be among the five-warmest years on record. According to scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, the average global land and ocean surface temperature in August was 1.69 degrees F above the 20th-century average of 60.1 degrees F, making it the second-hottest August in the 141-year record, behind August 2016. The Northern Hemisphere had its hottest August on record with a temperature departure from average of 2.14 degrees F, besting the previous record set in August 2016.  Globally, the 10 warmest Augusts have all occurred since 1998 — with the five warmest occurring since 2015. (NOAA)


An autonomous ship is about to begin trials before it sails across the Atlantic Ocean using only AI and solar energy

The Mayflower is scheduled to officially make a voyage across the ocean in April 2021, following the same path that the Pilgrims did in 1620. It will use cameras, radars, IBM Watson, and computer vision technology to navigate. Crews will begin trialing the ship off England’s south coast over the next several months. The actual 3,000-mile voyage will take 12 days rather than the two months it took the Pilgrims. AI and edge computing software from IBM will navigate the fully autonomous boat. It will make onboard decisions via an edge computing module fed with data from an IBM AI engine. The University of Plymouth, autonomous craft specialists MSubs, and charity Promare are also working on the project, which will travel from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth, Mass. and gather scientific data during the trip. The organizations are training the PowerAI engine with ocean data, which will allow it to navigate and recognize things like ocean life and other ships. Researchers predict the autonomous shipping market could reach $135 billion by 2030. Fully autonomous oceangoing cargo ships could be routine in 10-15 years. (CNBC)


Wednesday Creates Confusion With:

  • Anne Dudley Bradstreet Day
  • Cinnamon Raisin Bread Day
  • Guacamole Day
  • International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer
  • Mayflower Day
  • Rehabilitation Day (Wednesday of Third Week)
  • School Backpack Awareness Day (Third Wednesday)
  • Play-doh Day
  • Stay Away From Seattle Day
  • Stepfamily Day
  • Tatoo Story Day
  • Trail of Tears Commemoration Day
  • Working Parents Day

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