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Satellites Track, Illustrate Incoming Hurricane Florence

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Hurricane Florence, the Category 2 storm heading straight for my parents’ South Carolina house, has the country on high alert.

But between evacuations and storm shutter installations, NASA and NOAA are keeping people informed and entertained.

The agencies’ fleet of satellites track various elements, including location, wind speed, rainfall, and temperature.

As Florence nears the east coast, meteorologists are focused on two key factors: ocean temperatures and wind sheer (the difference in speeds at the upper and lower parts of the storm).

Forecasters have warned of life-threatening storm surges, catastrophic flooding, damaging winds, and dangerous rip currents along the coastlines of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

Trouble began brewing last week, when three hurricanes—Florence, Isaac, and Helene—starting churning up the North Atlantic. Florence, the most ominous for US residents, is expected to make landfall today.

Terrifying as the situation is (I am regularly checking on my folks, who abandoned Charleston for the highlands of North Carolina), there is a silver lining.

Staring down a hurricane (via Alexander Gerst)

Early on Wednesday, astronaut Alexander Gerst captured this absolutely stunning image of Florence’s eye from the International Space Station, some 250 miles above Earth.

“Ever stared down the gaping eye of a Category 4 hurricane? It’s chilling, even from space,” he tweeted.

(That’s just one of the dazzling pictures the cosmonaut took; check out Gerst’s flickr album for more.)

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NASA also shared this video—a “stark and sobering” view of Hurricane Florence—shot using a high-definition camera outside the ISS captured.

Hurricane Florence nears the east coast (via NOAA)

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite, meanwhile, snapped a truly awesome photo of the whirlwind, creeping closer to the American south.

NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) on the DSCOVR satellite acquired this view of Florence and two other storms on Sept. 11 (via NASA)

Florence is joined by Tropical Storm Isaac and Hurricane Helene in this snapshot taken Tuesday some 1 million miles away via NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) on the DSCOVR satellite.

Last year’s Hurricane Irma wrought havoc on the Caribbean Islands and Florida, where Tesla Motors extended the range of its vehicles to aid fleeing drivers. The event also pushed digital walkie-talkie app Zello to No. 1. Read more about our changing climate here.

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Americans Are Checking Their Phones More Than Ever

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Like most people, my smartphone is an extension of me: It’s the first thing I see after I wake up and one of the last things I see before I go to sleep. It sits on my desk as I work, in my pocket while I travel, and in my hand when I make a cup of tea.

And I know I’m not alone.

According to consulting firm Deloitte, Americans are viewing their smartphones more often than ever before—on average 52 times per day, up 6 percent from last year.

The unsurprising data was revealed as part of the UK-based firm’s 2018 Global Mobile Consumer Survey, which confirms the central role of handsets in the connected ecosystem.

One of the only gadgets (aside from smartwatches) to gain market penetration over the last year, smartphones have become a primary form of online access for 20 percent of U.S. adults.

After all, who needs traditional broadband service when you’ve got a mobile connection and Wi-Fi?

“This year’s survey really advances the story of smartphones as the true center of our lives, both inside and outside the home,” Deloitte Vice Chairman Kevin Westcott said in a statement.

“The smartphone remains the go-to device for consumers,” he continued, “enabling them to do anything they desire: communicate, work, socialize, consume entertainment, stay fit, or take take of things at home.”

But the first step is admitting you have a problem. And many people have.

Nearly 40 percent of Americans think they use their smartphone too much, Deloitte said; a whopping 60 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds concede to mobile overuse.

And while 63 percent of folks claim they’re trying to limit handset usage, only a little more than half are succeeding.

“While smartphones are becoming the nerve center of our homes, our businesses, our families, and our lives, consumers are craving more speed and responsiveness as their usage patterns mature,” according to Mic Locker, a managing director in Deloitte’s Technology, Media, and Telecommunications industry practice.

“It will be interesting to watch the availability of 5G networks and 5G-enabled smartphones over the next year to see if consumers’ yearning for better performance is satisfied,” she added.

That’s not the only thing smartphone-addicted Americans desire: A majority of folks also worry about keeping their personal data private.

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Wireless System Uses RFID Tags to Sense Food Contamination

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The MIT Media Lab is putting food-safety detection directly in the hands of consumers.

Researchers developed a wireless system leveraging the RFID tags already on many products to sense potential contamination.

Inspired by two real-life events involving corrupted baby formula and poisoned alcohol, the team created a simple program that could save lives.

Dubbed RFIQ, the MIT reader senses minute changes in wireless signals emitted from radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags when those signals interact with food.

Even the smallest adjustments correspond to levels of certain contaminants, according to a new release. A machine-learning model reviews those correlations and, given a new material, can predict if it is pure or tainted, and at what concentration.

When tested on baby formula laced with melamine (an organic compound used to make plastics which, in high concentrations, is toxic) and alcohol diluted with methanol, the system boasted a success rate of 96 percent and 97 percent, respectively.

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“In recent years, there have been so many hazards related to food and drinks we could have avoided if we all had tools to sense food quality and safety ourselves,” study co-author Fadel Adib, an assistant professor at the Media Lab, said in a statement. “We want to democratize food quality and safety, and bring it to the hands of everyone.”

RFID tags—stickers with tiny, ultra-high-frequency antennas—can be employed in a variety of applications, including tracking of goods, people, and animals; contactless payments; machine-readable travel documents; and timing sporting events.

A wireless reader (used manually or automatically) pings the tag, which emits a unique signal containing information about whatever it’s attached to. Electromagnetic waves then penetrate the material and return distorted—in MIT’s case, to a machine-learning model on a separate computer.

Currently restricted to a lab, the system may eventually be available for commercial use; researchers envision a future in which people have their own reader and software to conduct food-safety sensing before buying virtually any product.

Models could also be implemented into supermarkets or smart fridges to keep a steady eye on food spoilage.

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Study: Sex-Crazed Lawbreakers Will Turn Autonomous Cars Into Roving Brothels

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Buried in an otherwise dry report on autonomous vehicles and urban tourism is the very interesting conundrum of selling sex in self-driving cars.

Researchers Scott Cohen and Debbie Hopkins teamed up to explore how advances in transportation technology could affect global tourism.

Their study, published in the journal Annals of Tourism Research, highlights the seedier side of driverless vehicles.

“It’s only a natural conclusion that sex in autonomous vehicles will become a phenomenon,” Cohen, a tourism professor at the University of Surrey, told The Washington Post, citing convenience and the “lack of front-seat chaperones” (as the newspaper put it).

Still in their infancy, self-driving cars are expected to flood roads in less than a decade.

And when they do, luxurious cabs (featuring room enough for bedding, perhaps a massage chair) will chase out traditional taxis, with their glass partition and sticky seats.

Enter brothels on wheels.

“‘Hotels-by-the-hour’ are likely to be replaced by CAVs, and this will have implications for urban tourism, as sex plays a central role in many tourism experiences,” Cohen and Hopkins, a transport studies lecturer at the University of Oxford, wrote in their report.

“It is just a small leap to imagine Amsterdam’s Red Light District ‘on the move,’” they added.

The world’s oldest profession, of course, is illegal in the US (save for a few counties in Nevada). But, as the study authors pointed out, motivated lawbreakers will find a way around those pesky rules.

Shared CAVs, they said, will likely be monitored, “to deter passengers having sex or using drugs in them, and to prevent violence.”

Surveillance, however, can easily be disabled or removed. And personal autonomous cars will likely be “immune” from such scrutiny.

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