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Apple adding its own co-processors to three Macs in 2018, Bloomberg reports

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Apple’s own T2 co-processor inside the iMac Pro desktop.

A new Bloomberg article is reporting that Apple plans to expand the number of Macs using its own co-processor chips this year, a move that could foretell a future where Intel is no longer inside Apple’s computers.

According to the report, Apple is looking to add one of its custom co-processing chips to a pair of MacBook laptops and a Mac desktop to be released later this year. They would join the existing MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and iMac Pro as being Mac systems with Apple-made co-processors. Of course, iPhones and iPads have used the company’s own chips for several years, and the Apple Watch has since its launch in 2015.

For now, Intel remains the provider of the main CPU for Macs, though Bloomberg claims that the recent security woes that have dogged that company’s chips may have provided Apple more ammunition to chart its own course for future Mac processors. Another report today claims Apple is slowing its roll-out of new iOS features in 2018 as it deals with reliability issues, so security — something the company has long touted compared to systems without its “walled garden” approach — is receiving greater attention in Cupertino.

Apple avoids some of the cost issues that other companies have had in the past building their own chips by outsourcing the manufacturing. Designing chips in-house also allows the company to tailor them to new features it’s developing. Abandoning its on-again off-again relationship with Intel would starve the chip maker of its fifth-largest client, according to Bloomberg.

Despite the increasing resources Apple is devoting to chip research and creation, it’s only built computer chips that complement Intel’s primary processor — the T1 co-processor handles the Touch Bar, while the T2 edition offloads some security and power management duties on the iMac Pro. It remains to be seen what a potential T3 co-processor will control, and there’s quite a leap from a chip working on a few tasks to ones that have to power the entire system, potentially including graphics processing to boot.

If Apple decides in the future to produce its own CPUs for Macs, it could drive a great debate among its fanboys. Would Macs (and their users) be better served by Intel, whose high-performance chips have been undermined by security holes, or by Apple, whose chips would be untested in laptops and desktops but could maximize the potential of the Mac OS? It seems unlikely we’ll find out in 2018, but another year of behind-the-scenes work by Apple could make for a very interesting 2019.

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Kids 5-11 appear safely protected by small doses of COVID vaccine, Pfizer says

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Enlarge / Vials of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

Small doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 mRNA in children ages 5 to 11 appeared to produce strong antibody responses and comparable side effects to those seen in older age groups, according to the first top-line results from a Phase 2/3 clinical trial released by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech early Monday.

The trial data involved 2,268 children ages 5 to 11 years, and these children were given a series of two 10-microgram doses of the vaccine, 21 days apart. The dosage is just a third of the 30-microgram doses given to people ages 12 and above.

One month after their second dose, researchers measured the children’s levels of antibodies able to neutralize SARS-CoV-2 virus in a lab experiment. The geometric mean titer of antibody in the 5 to 11 year olds was 1,197.6 (95 percent confidence interval of 1,106.1 to 1,296.6), which is comparable to the geometric mean titer of 1,146.5 seen in people ages 16 to 25.

Pfizer described the vaccine as being well tolerated in children, with side effects generally comparable to what’s seen in people ages 16 to 25. But the company did not provide further data on the side effects.

It also did not provide any further data on vaccine efficacy, though experts expect that comparable neutralizing antibody levels will provide comparable levels of protection against infection, hospitalization, and death.

In an announcement this morning, Pfizer said it plans to submit the data to the US Food and Drug Administration, European Medicines Agency, and other regulators as soon as possible and “before the start of the winter season.” William Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development, told Stat news that the company aims to submit the data for emergency use authorization to the FDA by the end of this month.

Once data is submitted to the FDA, it will take regulators several weeks to review the data and make a decision. That places the earliest estimates for vaccine authorization and availability for the 5-to-11 group at the end of October.

That timeline is largely in line with what Pfizer and US officials have said before. The company has also estimated that it will be ready to submit vaccine data for even younger children—ages 6 months to 5 years—about a month later, in the early November timeframe. If all goes well, that could put vaccine availability for that youngest group around the start of December.

“Since July, pediatric cases of COVID-19 have risen by about 240 percent in the US—underscoring the public health need for vaccination,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement. “These trial results provide a strong foundation for seeking authorization of our vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old, and we plan to submit them to the FDA and other regulators with urgency.”

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After Inspiration4, SpaceX sees high demand for free-flyer missions

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Enlarge / Dr. Sian Proctor seems to have enjoyed three days in orbit.

SpaceX

Four amateur astronauts returned from a three-day private spaceflight this weekend overflowing with enthusiasm about the experience. “Best ride of my life,” said Dr. Sian Proctor, shortly after emerging from the Crew Dragon capsule.

Future customers for such a free-flying orbital experience, however, weren’t waiting for the initial reviews to express their interest in going to space. Even before the Crew Dragon spacecraft splashed down on Saturday night the Inspiration4 mission had already ignited a firestorm of interest.

“The amount of people who are approaching us through our sales and marketing portals has actually increased significantly,” said Benji Reed, Senior Director of Human Spaceflight Programs for SpaceX, during a call with reporters after the space tourism mission landed. “There’s tons of interest rolling in now.”

The company has declined to release pricing information for the Inspiration4 flight, which was purchased by billionaire Jared Isaacman. However, according to sources, the cost of an individual seat on future orbital flights is expected to be less than $40 million, and SpaceX will seek to drive prices down further for human orbital flights.

“If you look at the track record of SpaceX, we’ve driven down launch costs overall,” Reed said. “When you look at what it really costs for us to be servicing the NASA or other things that we’re doing, we’re trying very hard to drive that down. And in opening up the market to these kinds of visions, we’re doing something nobody’s ever been able to do before. But you’ve got to keep driving that cost down.”

SpaceX first flew humans on its Crew Dragon spacecraft in May 2020, with a demonstration launch for NASA carrying astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station. Since then, the vehicle has launched two more operational crew missions for the space agency in addition to the first private mission.

Reed declined to speak about how many of the reusable vehicles SpaceX plans to build, but it currently has Endeavour, which is presently at the space station and has flown two flights; Resilience, also a veteran of two flights, which has been modified with a cupola for free-flying missions and does not got to a specific destination; and a third unnamed vehicle to be used for space station missions. With these three vehicles, SpaceX can likely accommodate at least six crew flights a year.

SpaceX could build more Crew Dragons for purely space tourism missions, Reed said. “If the demand is there, then we’ll want to to look at what we can do to continue to grow that,” he said. “And then, on the horizon of course, is Starship. Starship will be able to carry a lot more people at once. So, you know, there’s really both options and we have interest for both Dragons and Starships, which is pretty exciting.”

Demand for SpaceX's orbital tourism missions seems to be skyrocketing.
Enlarge / Demand for SpaceX’s orbital tourism missions seems to be skyrocketing.

SpaceX

Starship remains under development, and it will launch to orbit on a Super Heavy rocket. It is not clear how soon the vehicle could be ready for human launches and landings—this seems at least a couple of years away, given the challenge of demonstrating propulsive landing coming back from orbit. However, a single Starship could easily carry dozens of people to orbit, instead of the four inside a Crew Dragon. NASA’s space shuttle holds the record for most people launched on a single spacecraft, with eight astronauts on the STS-61-A flight in 1985.

As it prepares for future customer missions, SpaceX will debrief the four amateur astronauts who flew on Crew Dragon to gauge their experiences over the three-day flight. Aside from a “minor” issue with a waste management fan, there appear to have been no technical glitches. SpaceX founder Elon Musk said he’s planning to add more amenities to future flights, such as a means to to heat up food, and wifi service from Starlink satellites already orbiting around the Earth.

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Fire weather is getting worse in the American West

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Kyle Monoon | Mercury News | Getty

California is famous for its beach weather, but it’s also growing increasingly infamous for its “fire weather,” which is when high temperatures, strong winds, and low humidity combine to prime the landscape to burn. It’s no accident that you’ve been hearing so much about wildfires in recent years: Thanks to climate change, fire weather is on the rise, a new analysis shows.

“It’s not just that it’s hot. It’s not just that it’s dry. It’s that all these conditions are happening at the same time,” says Kaitlyn Weber, a data analyst at Climate Central, a nonprofit news group that published the analysis. “There’s very clearly an increase in these fire weather days that’s been happening since the early 1970s across most of the western United States.”

Weber analyzed data from 225 weather stations from 17 western states going back to 1973, looking at temperature, humidity, and wind speeds, the three main variables that drive catastrophic fires. High temperatures and low humidity suck the moisture out of vegetation to create dry fuels, so one spark easily ignites a wildfire, which swift winds can then push across a landscape with incredible speed. The Camp Fire of 2018, for instance, moved so quickly that it overwhelmed the city of Paradise, killing 86 people, many in their cars trying to get out of town.

NOAA | NCEI’s local climatological data

In the maps above, we can see the percentage change in annual days when these three variables exceeded the thresholds Weber used for her analysis. (Bluer colors mean fewer days, redder colors mean more days.) So with wind, for instance, that means speeds over 15 miles per hour, and for temperature it’s above 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the season.

You’ll notice that the southwest, in particular, has gotten much hotter and drier—perhaps no surprise there. But at the same time, the region is seeing far more windy days, when an ignition is liable to turn into a speedy, intense blaze.

NOAA | NCEI local climatological data

The map above visualizes when these three variables—temperature, humidity, and wind—combined to produce fire weather days, shown as percent change since 1973. All parts of Colorado have experienced at least 100 percent more fire weather days. Texas is looking gnarly, too, with the southern tip of the state seeing a 284 percent increase. And Central California is similarly troubled, with a 269 percent jump in fire weather days. “The Southwest was really coming out on top,” says Weber. “We’re even seeing some parts of Oklahoma and Kansas, some of these places where we don’t traditionally think of fires.”

But if you’re wondering why we don’t often hear about catastrophic fires in the plains states like we do in California, Oregon, and Colorado, that’s because “fire weather” just means the conditions are right for a blaze—it doesn’t mean they necessarily happen. “We’re not talking about the ignition of fires,” says Weber. “We’re talking about the number of days per year that the weather elements have primed the landscape for these high-risk fires that are really more dangerous to fight, and really more difficult to fight.”

Atmospheric conditions aren’t the only variables that exacerbate the likelihood of wildfires. Land management decisions in California and Oregon, for instance, play a role. These coastal regions are covered in forests that once regularly burned in a healthy way: Lightning would spark a relatively small fire that chewed through brush, clearing way for new growth but leaving many mature trees alive. Historically, Native Americans also set purposeful fires to strategically reset ecosystems. The landscape burned a lot, but that also meant it burned less intensely, since flammable brush didn’t have a chance to pile up between burns.

But in the past century or so, land managers have taken the opposite approach: fire suppression, or immediately putting out anything that might encroach on residential areas. That’s allowed the buildup of dry vegetation—more fuel. And with more human communities living in the “wildland-urban interface,” where the forest meets towns, people are also setting more accidental fires, whether from a cigarette butt thrown out a window or electrical infrastructure malfunctioning.

This is part of the reason fires are so much more catastrophic in California than in Kansas or Oklahoma: There’s just way more forest with way more accumulated fuel, and way more people living in harm’s way. To adapt, land managers in western states need to do more controlled burns, which will do the brush-clearing work that frequent, smaller wildfires used to do.

Climate change has also forced some seemingly contradictory seasonal changes. Because a warmer atmosphere holds more water, the amount of precipitation may actually increase in the future, while the length of the wet season is shrinking. In California, rains typically arrive in October and last until March. Now they are coming later in the year. “The dry season will expand into the normal wet season,” says climate scientist Ruby Leung, of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “When we look at climate models projecting into the future, the fire season will become longer.”

Firefighters are already seeing this happen. California used to get its biggest blazes in the autumn, right before the seasonal rains arrived, when the landscape was extra parched from half a year without water. This coincided with ferocious seasonal winds that would drive huge wildfires. But now, because the rainy season is so short and the landscape has more of the year to dry out, fire season comes even earlier. “What we are seeing more consistently and more regularly is the fact that these fires are growing larger and larger, sooner than they typically would have in the past,” Issac Sanchez, battalion chief of communications for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told WIRED earlier this month. “So when August rolls around, late July rolls around, we’re seeing these dry conditions that are absolutely a result of climate change.”

Oregon, too, has had increasingly catastrophic wildfires of late, driven by the relentless increase in fire weather days. And Weber thinks things will only get worse until we slow global warming. “I think we can definitely expect fire weather days to increase as the climate continues to warm,” she says. “No matter what we do, there is no easy way out of this. We should just call it for what it is: There’s no substitute for reducing our emissions, and that’s really the name of the game.”

This story originally appeared on wired.com.

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