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Qantas Completes Record 19-Hour Test Flight

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Qantas completed the world’s longest commercial flight over the weekend.

The non-stop journey from New York City to Sydney landed Sunday, after 19 hours and 16 minutes in the air.

Forty-nine passengers and crew served as human guinea pigs, participating in experiments to assess their health and well-being.

Tests ranged from monitoring pilot brain waves, melatonin levels, and alertness to exercise classes for passengers. Cabin lighting and in-flight meals were also adjusted to reduce jetlag.

“This is a really significant first for aviation,” Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said in a statement. “Hopefully, it’s a preview of a regular service that will speed up how people travel from one side of the globe to the other.

Exercise classes keep passengers and crew members limber and alert. (Photo Credit: James D. Morgan / Qantas)

“We know ultra-long-haul flights pose some extra challenges, but that’s been true every time technology has allowed us to fly further,” he continued. “The research we’re doing should give us better strategies for improving comfort and wellbeing along the way.”

Qantas night flights typically start with dinner and lights off, reflecting external conditions and keeping time with passengers’ body clock.

But this time, cabin crew kicked off with lunch, then left the lights on for the first six hours, matching the time of day at their final destination—Sydney, Australia.

“It means you start reducing the jetlag straight away,” Joyce explained.

Data from the trial will be used to help shape future crew rostering and customer service of Qantas’ ultra-long-haul flights, including Project Sunrise.

At least the meals look good. (Photo Credit: James D. Morgan / Qantas)

“What’s already clear is how much time you can save,” according to Joyce.

Qantas’ regular one-stop New York-to-Sydney service (QF12) took off three hours before the direct flight, but arrived “a few minutes” after it.

“Meaning we saved a significant amount of total travel time by not having to stop,” Joyce added.

The flight, according to lead pilot Captain Sean Golding, went “really smoothly.”

“Given how long we were airborne, we were able to keep optimizing the flight path to make the best of the conditions,” he said. “Overall, we’re really happy with how the flight went and it’s great to have some of the data we need to help assess turning this into a regular service.”

Two more research flights are planned as part of Project Sunrise—London-to-Sydney in November and a second New York-to-Sydney in December. Emissions from all research flights will be fully offset, Qantas promised.

A decision about Project Sunrise is expected by the end of this year. 

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Seattle District First to Allow Mobile Voting in Local Election

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Voters across Seattle’s King County can now cast ballots via smartphone.

This historic moment for American democracy comes with a catch, though.

Online voting is available only for the King Conservation District Board of Supervisors election—a contest “so obscure,” the Seattle Times explained, voters must specifically request a ballot.

King Conservation District elections typically draw voter turnout of no more than three percent, according to the paper.

Polls are now open: Use your name and birthdate to log into the Democracy Live web portal through a mobile browser. Once the ballot is complete, verify your submission and sign the screen.

Electronic entries returned by 8 p.m. PT on Feb. 11 (election day) will be printed and counted toward the final tally.

“This is the most fundamentally transformative reform you can do in democracy,” Bradley Tusk, founder and CEO of Tusk Philanthropies, a nonprofit working with the county to implement this mobile voting pilot.

Mobile voting dates back to May 2018, when the Voatz app opened to two counties in West Virginia for initial testing of the technology.

Following a successful pilot, the option was extended to military and overseas voters during the November 2018 general election, and then during the May 2019 Denver municipal poll.

Utah and Oregon followed suit, and by the end of last year had implemented mobile voting pilots in their respective states.

The KCD in Washington marks the first time mobile voting is available to all eligible registered constituents.

“This election could be a key step in moving toward electronic access and return for voters across the region,” King County Director of Elections Julie Wise told the Times.

The polarizing move, as NPR pointed out, will likely fan the flames of controversy regarding voting access-versus-voting security.

While the U.S. lags far behind most developed democracies in terms of election turnout rates, digital voting technology has let the country down before. (Russian cyberattacks, anyone?)

“There’s a lot of things we do online—banking, health records—that are also of concern for people that are secure,” Wise said. “I’ve vetted this, technology experts in the region have vetted this to ensure that this is a safe, secure voting opportunity.”

Specialists, however, have warned against mobile voting, arguing that technology has not yet advanced enough, and that the internet will “never be safe or transparent enough for something as important as democracy,” NPR reported.

But that won’t stop Tusk Philanthropies, which is determined to step into the future of voting—no matter how much convincing it takes.

“Everyone who doesn’t want this to happen is never going to say, ‘We oppose mobile voting because we don’t want higher turnout,’” company chief Tusk said. “They’re going to say, ‘It’s not safe.’ And if we have proven 30, 40, 50 times over that it is safe, it’s a lot harder for those objections and arguments to fly.”

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Tinder Adds Built-In Panic Button, Photo Verification

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Your hookups are about to get a lot more secure.

Tinder this week announced new safety features, including access to personal emergency services and anti-catfishing photo verification.

“Every day, millions of our members trust us to introduce them to new people, and we’re dedicated to building innovative safety features powered by best-in-class technology that meet the needs of today’s daters,” Tinder CEO Elie Seidman said in a statement.

“I’m proud to share these updates, which represent an important step in driving our safety work forward at an unmatched scale,” he added.

Noonlight

Discreetly trigger emergency services if they are feeling uneasy or in need of assistance. (Photo Credit: Tinder)

A new partnership with personal safety app Noonlight allows U.S. users to share details about upcoming dates, like who, where, and when you’re meeting.

The built-in panic button also makes it easy to discreetly trigger emergency services if you feel uneasy or need assistance.

“Noonlight acts as a silent bodyguard in situations when you’re alone or meeting someone for the first time,” company co-founder Brittany LeComte said. “Now, through our integration with Tinder, it can serve as a quick backup for daters, helping to deter bad behavior and helping members meet matches with more confidence.”

“It’s a first-of-its-kind added security measure to help protect Tinder members even when they’ve taken their interactions off the app into real life,” she added.

Photo Verification

Verified profiles will display a blue checkmark. (Photo Credit: Tinder)

No one wants to get catfished—lured in then disappointed by the person with whom they thought they’d made a connection.

Which is why Tinder is introducing Photo Verification: to ensure every match is who they say they are.

Self-authenticate through a series of real-time posed selfies that are compared to existing profile photos by human-assisted AI. Pass the test to receive a sought-after blue checkmark, so users can trust your profile is bonafide.

The function is currently testing in select markets, and will continue rolling out more widely this year.

Safety Center

Users can always check Tinder’s ever-evolving Safety Center (via the main menu and chat) for new features, resources, and tools.

Available soon to members in the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany, content will eventually become more personalized to provide a relevant experience for every dater.

Safety Center was developed in collaboration with the Match Group Advisory Council, and will be launched across Match Group’s portfolio of courtship platforms over the coming months.

No Offense

Taking a page from Instagram’s book, Tinder announced the “Does This Bother You?” function, which uses machine learning to detect whether an offensive message has been sent.

If a recipient responds “yes” to the automated prompt, they can report the person’s inappropriate behavior.

The coming-soon “Undo” feature similarly asks folks if they’d like to take back a message containing potentially offensive language before it’s sent.

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Coca-Cola Won’t Ditch Single-Use Plastic Bottles For BS Reason

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While environmental campaigners fight tooth and nail to save our planet, Coca-Cola continues to destroy it.

The drinks giant refuses to ditch single-use plastic bottles because “consumers still want them,” head of sustainability Bea Perez told the BBC.

As one of the largest manufacturers of synthetic waste, Coke produces some three million tons of plastic packaging each year—about 200,000 bottles per minute.

In a 2019 global audit, it was deemed the top-polluting company (alongside Nestlé and PepsiCo) by the charity Break Free From Plastic (BFFP).

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, Perez said the firm recognizes it must now be “part of the solution.”

Last year, Coca-Cola introduced new bottles made with 25 percent marine plastic—specifically, plastic polluting the Mediterranean Sea or found washed up on its beaches.

Coke pledged to, by 2030, recycle as many plastic bottles as it uses and employ at least 50 percent recycled material in its packaging. But it won’t reject the material entirely—for fear of alienating customers and losing sales.

People like plastic bottles, the company said; they’re lightweight (unlike glass) and resealable (unlike cans).

Besides, using only aluminum and glass packaging could increase the firm’s carbon footprint, Perez argued.

“Business won’t be in business if we don’t accommodate consumers,” she said. “So as we change our bottling infrastructure, move into recycling and innovate, we also have to show the consumer what the opportunities are. They will change with us.”

Not everyone.

Coke’s stubborn stance will likely alienate some patrons, who are opting for more eco-friendly options (like Jason Momoa’s line of water in a pull-tab can).

“Recent commitments by corporations like Coca-Cola … to address the crisis unfortunately continue to rely on false solutions,” Abigail Aguilar, Greenpeace Southeast Asia plastic campaign coordinator, said in a statement to BFFP.

Replacing plastic with paper or bioplastics and relying heavily on a “broken global recycling system” are not a proper fix.

“These strategies largely protect the outdated throwaway business model that caused the plastic pollution crisis,” she added. “And will do nothing to prevent these brands from being named the top polluters again in the future.”

Starbucks, meanwhile, has revealed a “new sustainability commitment,” promising to expand its plant-based menu options and shift to reusable packaging, as well as invest in conservation, waste management, and environmentally friendly operations, manufacturing, and delivery.

“We agree with the consensus of scientific experts who note that without drastic action from everyone—governments, companies, and all of us as individuals—adapting to the impact of climate change in the future will be far more difficult and costly,” CEO Kevin Johnson wrote in an announcement.

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