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Alienware redesigns m15, m17 gaming laptops, adds ninth-generation Intel Core processors



Alienware m15 gaming laptop

Gaming laptops were once barely able to live up to their “laptop” moniker — too big and hot to use on laps and too heavy to be very mobile. Those days are mostly over, however, as technological advances have allowed gaming notebooks to slim down and cool off without sacrificing power.

The latest example of this evolution comes from Alienware, Dell’s longtime gaming brand, which just launched redesigned versions of its m15 and m17 laptops that the company says are its thinnest 15-inch and 17-inch laptops ever. Despite that claim, the new notebooks still pack enough performance punch to keep gamers happy.

While they won’t be confused with a MacBook, the new m15 and m17 have dieted down to to 4.7 pounds and 5.8 pounds, respectively, thanks to a rebuild based on Alienware’s Legend design DNA (first seen earlier this year on its Area 51 laptop). Other design enhancement include a revamped keyboard design and larger glass track pad, plus some intriguing display options. In addition to 144Hz, 240Hz, and OLED screen options, the m15 is the first laptop that can be equipped with Tobii eye-tracking technology, while the m17 is the first that can ship with an Eyesafe display that limit blue light emissions.

The new systems wouldn’t be Alienwares, however, if they didn’t include the latest and greatest internal components, and the m15 and m17 are no exceptions. They can be configured with Intel’s ninth-generation Core processors, along with the latest GPU options from Nvidia — including the new GeForce GTX 1660 Ti and RTX 2060, 2070 and 2080 cards. Both laptops include either 8GB or 16GB of RAM, and to help keep things slimmer, they are only offered with solid-state drives (256GB and up) .To handle the heat version 3.0 of Alienware Cyro-Tech will increase airflow by at least 20 percent more than the last m15 and m17 editions.

The refreshed versions of the m15 and the m17 will become available to order on June 11, with a starting price of $1,499 for a base configuration of either size. 

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Biologists name new species of branching worm after legendary King Ghidorah



Enlarge / (left) Biologists have named a newly discovered species of branching worm, Ramisyllis kingghidorahin, after Godzilla’s nemesis. (right) Fragment of one specimen of the branching worm.

M.T. Aguado

In the 2019 blockbuster film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, everyone’s favorite kaiju, Godzilla, battled another titan named King Ghidorah, a monster notable for its three heads. Now biologists have discovered a new species of marine worm that has one head but a body that can branch out into several posterior ends, according to a recent paper published in the journal Organisms Diversity & Evolution. So naturally the biologists named the new species after Godzilla’s legendary adversary: Ramisyllis kingghidorahi.

“King Ghidorah is a branching fictitious animal that can regenerate its lost ends, so we thought this was an appropriate name for the new species of branching worm,” said co-author M. Teresa Aguado of the University of Göttingen. In fact, the director of the first Ghidorah-centric feature film in 1964, Ishiro Honda, said his monster was a modern take on a legendary eight-headed and eight-tailed dragon/serpent in Japanese folklore called Yamata no Orochi.

According to Aguado and her co-authors, only two other species of these rare branching worms have been discovered. Back in 1879, an amateur naturalist named Charles Macintosh reported the discovery of a “remarkably branched Syllid” (dubbed Syllis ramosa). The creature was found lurking inside a glass sea sponge in the Philippines during the Challenger natural history expedition. Syllis ramosa was the first known instance of an annelid species with a “randomly branching asymmetrical body.”

The second species of branching marine worm (Ramisyllis multicaudata) wasn’t found until 2012, observed in the coastal shallows of Darwin, Northern Australia. Like Syllis ramosa, the second species also had a randomly branching asymmetrical body and lived inside the labyrinthine canals of sea sponges. And both reproduce asexually through a process called schizogamy. The worms form posterior segments with buds (or gametes) which can develop features like eyes and sensory organs. Once formed, the gametes can detach and swim freely, and the posterior ends can regenerate.

The home of the branching worm: a host sponge in its natural habitat. The posterior end of the branching worm can be seen on the surface of the sponge.
Enlarge / The home of the branching worm: a host sponge in its natural habitat. The posterior end of the branching worm can be seen on the surface of the sponge.

Toru Miura

This new third species was discovered at Shukunegi Point on Sado Island in Japan, also inhabiting sponges. The Japanese team sent images of the worms to Aguado, who instantly recognized the worms’ novelty and organized a 2019 expedition to the island to gather samples and study the creatures in greater detail.

“We were astonished to find another of these bizarre creatures with only one head and a body formed from multiple branching,” said Aguado. “The first worm was thought to be unique. This discovery reveals a higher diversity of these tree-like animals than anyone expected.”

Aguado and her co-authors combined their interdisciplinary expertise to learn more about the new species. Their investigation included molecular analysis that revealed Ramisyllis multicaudata and Ramisyllis kingghidorahi share a common evolutionary ancestor. But there are still some genetic divergences, particularly regarding the shape of certain body segments.

The authors suggest that both species may have inherited the distinctive long asymmetrical body from their last common ancestor. which had adapted to survive inside the branching canals of a sponge. “The ramified bodies of the branching syllids might mirror the intricate labyrinth of the sponge canal system, with the ability to produce new fully developed segments allowing the worm to explore the canals,” the authors wrote.

Plenty of mysteries remain about these rare species of branching worms, which will be the focus of future research. “Scientists don’t yet understand the nature of the relationship between the branching worm and its host sponge: is it a symbiotic relationship where both creatures somehow benefit?” said Aguado. “And how do the worms manage to feed to maintain their huge bodies having just one tiny mouth in their single head?”

DOI: Organisms Diversity & Evolution, 2022. 10.1007/s13127-021-00538-4 (About DOIs).

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Omicron-specific vaccine boosters are now in humans as trials begin



Enlarge / A vial of the current Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

The first doses of omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccines went into the arms of clinical trial participants this week. This took place just as the towering wave of cases from the ultratransmissible coronavirus variant appears to be cresting in the US and experts are unsure of what to expect next.

Leading mRNA-based vaccine makers Moderna and partners Pfizer and BioNTech each announced this week that they had dosed their first trial participants. The tweaked vaccine doses update existing formulations to match the mutations found in omicron’s spike protein rather than the spike protein present in an earlier version of SARS-CoV-2.

The companies all emphasized that three doses of existing vaccines—two doses in the primary series, followed by a booster dose—are holding up against omicron. The doses provide strong protection from severe disease, hospitalization, and death, say the companies. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published data suggesting that three doses are 82 percent effective at preventing visits to urgent care clinics and emergency departments for COVID-19. Three doses, the CDC added, are also 90 percent effective at preventing hospitalization.

However, protection from infection has taken a significant hit from the highly mutated variant. In general, antibody levels that ward off infection naturally wane over time. With so many people boosted months before omicron’s peak, defenses are down. Additionally, omicron is able to evade some immune defenses from vaccines and past infections, lowering protection from infection further.

“Vaccines continue to offer strong protection against severe disease caused by omicron. Yet, emerging data indicate vaccine-induced protection against infection and mild to moderate disease wanes more rapidly than was observed with prior strains,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said in a statement. The new omicron-specific vaccine is aimed at spurring “a similar level of protection against omicron as it did with earlier variants but with longer duration of protection.”

Uncertain future

Pfizer and BioNTech are testing their omicron-specific vaccine in a trial with 1,420 participants. Participants are split into three groups. In one group, 615 participants who have had just two doses of the existing vaccines will get one or two omicron-specific boosters. In a second group, 600 people who already have three doses of existing vaccine will get an omicron-specific booster. And in a small third group, 205 people who have not been vaccinated at all will get three doses of the omicron-specific vaccine. The companies hope to have the omicron-specific booster ready for use in March.

Moderna has begun a smaller trial with its omicron-specific vaccine, involving 600 patients in two even groups. One group will include people who have received just two vaccine doses previously, while the other will include people who have had three. Like Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna also hopes to have the new omicron-specific vaccine ready by March.

“We are also evaluating whether to include this omicron-specific candidate in our multivalent booster program,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a statement, referencing the company’s development of a vaccine that would address multiple variants in one shot.

Bancel has also previously discussed Moderna’s goal of producing a seasonal shot that would cover seasonal flu and another seasonal respiratory virus, RSV, in addition to the pandemic coronavirus. However, development of such a shot is a long way off; mRNA-based vaccines for RSV and seasonal flu are not yet developed.

Overall, it’s still not certain if an omicron-specific vaccine and/or seasonal COVID shots will be necessary—and, if they are, for how long. While vaccine makers are preparing for more jabs, experts are divided on what to expect after the current record-breaking wave. Some experts have openly hoped for a lull in transmission and an end to towering peaks. Others, including the World Health Organization, point to the continued risk that more variants will emerge—variants that could potentially outcompete omicron and thwart all our vaccines. The only aspect most experts seem to agree on is that the pandemic coronavirus will, at some point, settle into endemicity. That means COVID-19 will continue to circulate but at low levels that generally do not disrupt daily life at a population level or overwhelm health care systems, as is happening now. But when that will happen and what will happen until then remains unclear.

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Citizens of countries that rebate carbon taxes aren’t aware of the rebate



Enlarge / Carbon tax isometric vector concept.

One of the simplest ways to reduce carbon emissions is to put a price on them, gradually ratcheting up the price to induce conversation and emissions-free technologies. In turn, the simplest way of imposing that price is by taxing emissions. But taxes are typically unpopular, as people are very sensitive to the cash they extract.

A rebate plan alongside carbon taxes makes those taxes less painful. Rather than putting the tax’s income into the national budget, the revenue is divided up and returned to citizens. The division is often done on a per-capita basis, which turns out to be progressive, since lower-income individuals tend to end up producing fewer carbon emissions but get an equal share of the rebate.

While a rebate sounds great on paper, only a couple of countries have actually tried it. A new study looks at these countries more carefully and finds that most citizens underestimate the rebate they get, and opinions on the taxes have become politicized.

The case in Canada

Canada is one of the countries with a tax-and-dividend program, although it’s a complicated one. Each of its provinces has the option of implementing its own program for putting a price on carbon emissions; and a number of them have. But, in the absence of that, a federal tax-and-dividend plan will kick in. Complicating matters further, at least one province (Alberta) started with its own program, revoked it, and then defaulted to the federal system.

The rebate from the tax is done on a per-household basis (only one person per household gets the payment) but is based on the total number of people in the household. The rebate never shows up as an actual payment; instead, it’s given as a credit on annual income taxes. As it’s structured, 80 percent of Canadian households will get a rebate that’s larger than what they paid via the carbon tax.

The researchers behind the new work took surveys of Canadians in four provinces. One was Quebec, which has a provincial cap-and-trade scheme, and another was Alberta, which changed its scheme partway through the study period. But they also surveyed in Ontario and Saskatchewan, which both used the federal tax-and-dividend plan.

A couple of things were clear. One is that support for the program is pretty heavily politicized. Over 75 percent of Liberal Party voters supported the federal programs in the two provinces that were using it. Among Conservative Party voters, support was only 32 percent in Ontario and a tiny 13 percent in Saskatchewan. Controlling for the amount of tax people had paid made little difference to these figures.

The second point that was obvious was that people really weren’t paying attention to the rebate portion of things. In provinces where rebates went out, 17 percent of Canadians were unable to remember if they had received one. Numbers were even higher in non-rebate provinces, where over 10 percent of the respondents claimed they had received the rebate.

People who had actually received the rebate consistently underestimated how much they received, with Ontario residents being nine percent low, and those in Saskatchewan averaging 29 percent below the actual value. Put differently, only about 20 percent of Canadians who received rebates were able to guess the amount within $100 CAN. Unfortunately, informing people what their rebate actually was didn’t change levels of support for the tax-and-rebate scheme.

Again, the problem was politicized: people who back the Conservative Party were more likely to underestimate their rebates and were more likely to continue to do so even after they were informed of its actual amount.

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