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Best Microsoft Store Black Friday 2018 deals: Ad showcases Surface, Windows laptop deals

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While we saw a couple of Microsoft Surface deals courtesy of Best Buy’s Black Friday ad, Microsoft itself is offering more options to save with the Black Friday ad for its own store. On top of those, it has several specials on Windows laptops from its PC partners.

Best Microsoft Store Black Friday 2018 deals

Microsoft Store 2018 Black Friday ad

Microsoft has six different deals on its various Surface device, from the Surface Go to the Surface Laptop 2. The Go is the 10-inch tablet that most closely competes with the 9.7-inch iPad, and it will see $50 taken off the $399 price for its base model (Intel 4415Y processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB storage). There’s also significant savings on the last-generation Surface Pro, which comes with a seventh-generation Intel Core m3 processor, 4GB of memory, 128GB SSD, and a Platinum Signature Type Cover for $599, $310 off the regular price. (Note, however, that you can obtain this deal right now from the Microsoft Store.)

Also: Best Black Friday 2018 deals: Business Bargain Hunter’s top picks

That price reduction is no doubt related to the introduction of a refreshed Surface Pro 6, which is the Surface device discounted in Best Buy’s ad. The Microsoft Store adds three more deals on the new tablet, starting with the base version with Core i5, 8GB of RAM, 128GB SSD, and Type Cover for $799 ($260 off current price) and then taking $330 off the version with twice the solid-state storage, lowering the price to $999. That same $330 amount is also being slashed from a higher-end Surface Pro 6 stacked with Core i7, 16 gigs of RAM, and 512GB of solid-state storage, which brings the price to a still formidable $1,569. Finally, Microsoft is taking $300 off the new Surface Laptop 2, though it only vaguely says the discount applies to “select” configurations.

2018 Black Friday deals

  • Walmart features $99 Chromebook, $89 Windows 2-in-1 laptop
  • BJs Wholesale ad leaks with laptop, desktop, tablet deals
  • Target ad includes $250 iPad mini 4, $120 Chromebook deals
  • Costco kicks off leaks season with $250 iPad, pair of $200 laptops
  • Amazon: See early deals on Echo, Fire HD, and more
  • Dell features $120 Inspiron laptop, $500 gaming desktop
  • Sam’s Club: TVs, game consoles, and cameras
  • Office Depot: Laptops, printers, and chairs

Microsoft is also happy to sell you some other manufacturers’ laptops that run its Windows 10 operating system. It has nine specials on Windows notebooks, in fact, from the likes of Dell and HP. At the low end, there’s an HP Stream configuration with Intel Celeron N4000 CPU, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and a 14-inch full HD display for $229 ($70 off current price), or a budget 2-in-1 in the form of an Asus VivoBook Flip with Intel Pentium Silver N5000 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB SSD, and 14-inch full HD touchscreen for $279 ($120 off). A final sub-$300 laptop deal is for an HP 15-DA0071MS with a last-generation Core i3 processor, 8 gigs of RAM, terabyte hard drive, and 15.6-inch touchscreen for $299 ($200 off).

CNET: Black Friday deals 2018 | Best Holiday gifts 2018 | Best TVs for the holidays

If you want to step up to a Core i5 CPU, you’ll have a half-dozen choices, including the HP 15-DA0073MS for $349 and the HP Pavilion 15-cc610ms for $399, both of which are built around 15.6-inch touchscreen displays and pack 8GB of RAM, but the cheaper model comes with a last-generation Core i5 — albeit with a 2TB hard drive — while the pricier one has an eighth-generation Core i5, terabyte hard drive, and a full HD screen. There are also a pair of systems for $499: a Dell Inspiron 15 with Core i5, 8GB of RAM, 1TB hard drive, and 15.6-inch full HD touchscreen; and a Lenovo Flex 2-in-1 with Core i5, 8GB of memory, 128GB SSD, and 14-inch full HD touchscreen.

Rounding things out is another 2-in-1 in the HP Pavilion x360, which offers similar specs as the Lenovo but with a slightly larger 15.6-inch display and $599 price tag. If you’re looking for a gaming laptop on the cheap, Microsoft will be selling the Dell G3 with Core i5, 8GB of RAM, terabyte hard drive, 15.6-inch full HD display, and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics for $599.

TechRepublic: A guide to tech and non-tech holiday gifts to buy online | Photos: Cool gifts for bosses to buy for employees | The do’s and don’ts of giving gifts to coworkers

We also recommend comparing these sale events to discounts offered by other retailers, some of which we’ve rounded up in ZDNet’s Black Friday hub here.


For more great deals on devices, gadgetry, and technology for your enterprise, business, or home office, see ZDNet’s Business Bargain Hunter blog. Affiliate disclosure: ZDNet earns commission from the products and services featured on this page.

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Second lab worker with deadly prion disease prompts research pause in France

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Enlarge / A pathologist examines brain tissue of a diseased deer. The white circular shapes are the sponge-like holes found with prion-related diseases called transmissable spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs).

Five public research institutions in France announced a three-month moratorium on prion research this week, following a newly identified case of prion disease in a retired lab worker.

If the case is found to be linked to a laboratory exposure, it would be the second such case identified in France. In 2019, another lab worker in the country died of a prion disease at the age of 33. Her death came around nine years after she accidentally jabbed herself in the thumb with forceps used to handle frozen slices of humanized mouse brains infected with prions.

Prions and disease

Prions are misfolded, misshapen forms of normal proteins, called prion proteins, which are commonly found in human and other animal cells. What prion proteins do normally is still unclear, but they’re readily found in the human brain. When a misfolded prion enters the mix, it can corrupt the normal prion proteins around them, prompting them to misfold as well, clump together, and corrupt others. As the corruption ripples through the brain, it leads to brain tissue damage, eventually causing little holes to form. This gives the brain a sponge-like appearance and is the reason prion diseases are also called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs).

Outward symptoms of TSEs can include rapidly developing dementia, painful nerve damage, confusion, psychiatric symptoms, difficulty moving and/or speaking, and hallucinations. There are no vaccines or treatments for TSEs. They often progress rapidly and are always fatal.

The most common type of TSE in humans is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), which has two forms: “classic” and “variant.” The classic form strikes about one person in a million in the US and other countries, and patients typically die within a year of the onset of symptoms. In roughly 85 percent of classic CJD patients, the disease is found to be sporadic. That is, there’s no clear explanation of what sparked the protein misfolding. In about 5 percent to 15 percent of cases, the disease is determined to be hereditary, linked to a family history of CJD or a mutation in a prion protein that’s linked to misfolding. In extremely rare cases, classic CJD can also be acquired, usually through prion-contaminated medical procedures, such as a cornea transplant.

Variant CJD, on the other hand, is an infectious type, and it’s often associated with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), aka “mad cow” disease. People can contract variant CJD by eating prion-contaminated meat, which appeared to be the case in a large outbreak of BSE among cattle and variant CJD among people in the United Kingdom during the 1980s and 1990s. It also seems possible to develop variant CJD through prion-infected wounds, and prions may even be able to spread in aerosols—at least researchers have shown that it’s possible in mice. Once an exposure occurs, variant CJD tends to incubate for around 10 years. That is, symptoms show up around a decade after the prion exposure.

Émilie Jaumain

Importantly, the classic and variant forms of CJD have distinct clinical and pathological features. For one thing, classic CJD tends to afflict older adults (median age of death is 68), while the variant form tends to strike earlier (median age at death is 28). Classic CJD may start with memory problems and confusion, while variant CJD may start with psychiatric symptoms and painful nerve damage.

Variant CJD was the clear cause of the 2019 prion disease in the young lab worker, named Émilie Jaumain. In May of 2010, a 24-year-old Jaumain was working in a prion lab in Frances’ National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE) when she tragically stabbed her thumb, piercing through a double-layer of latex gloves and drawing blood. “Émilie started worrying about the accident as soon as it had happened, and mentioned it to every doctor she saw,” her widower, Armel Houel, told Science Magazine.

According to a case report of her disease and death published in the New England Journal of Medicine last year, Jaumain first developed symptoms in November 2017, about 7.5 years after the accident. The symptoms started as burning pain in her right shoulder and neck, which worsened and spread to the right half of her body over the next six months. In January 2019, she became depressed and anxious and had memory impairment and visual hallucinations. The muscles on the right side of her body stiffened. According to an association set up in Jaumain’s name to promote lab safety, she was diagnosed with variant CJD in April 2019, and, before her death in June, lost the ability to move and speak. Postmortem analysis included in the NEJM case report confirmed the diagnosis of variant CJD.

Researchers cannot entirely rule out the possibility that Jaumain developed variant CJD after eating contaminated meat. However, the authors of the NEJM report noted that the last similar case of variant CJD in France died in 2014. The authors concluded that the risk of developing variant CJD in France in 2019 was “negligible or nonexistent.”

Lab safety

The authors also note that the occupational cases of variant CJD are not unheard of. “The last known Italian patient with variant CJD, who died in 2016, had had occupational contact with BSE-infected brain tissues, although subsequent investigation did not disclose a laboratory accident,” the authors wrote.

So far, little is known about the new case in France that prompted the moratorium this week. In a joint statement announcing the moratorium, the research institutions said that it was not yet known if the retired researcher, who also worked at the INRAE, had variant or classic CJD.

“The suspension period put in place as of this day will make it possible to study the possibility of a link between the observed case and the person’s former professional activity and to adapt, if necessary, the preventive measures in force in the research laboratories,” the joint statement, released Tuesday, reads.

According to reporting by Science magazine, Jaumain’s family has filed both criminal charges and an administrative lawsuit against the INRAE. The family’s lawyer told the magazine that she had not been properly trained to safely handle dangerous prions, did not wear metal mesh or surgical gloves, and did not immediately soak the thumb in bleach, which the lawyer said should have been done.

Prion decontamination is notoriously difficult. The World Health Organization recommends decontaminating waste materials by soaking them in a high concentration of bleach for an hour, then putting them in an autoclave (a steam- and pressure-based sterilization machine) at or above 121° Celsius (~250° Fahrenheit) for an hour. That said, for skin punctures, the WHO suggests people should “gently encourage bleeding” and wash the wound with soap and water.

French investigators identified 17 other lab accidents involving prions in the past decade in the country, five of which involved cuts or stabs, Science noted. Some labs have said they had improved safety in light of Jaumain’s death, such as by using plastic tools that are less sharp than metal ones and using cut-resistant gloves.

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Over half the deer in Michigan seem to have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2

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Enlarge / Plague-bearing Bambi?

On Wednesday, the US Department of Agriculture released some rather disturbing news: a survey of wild deer populations has found that large numbers of the animals seem to have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The finding indicates that there’s a very large population of wild animals in North America that could serve as a reservoir for the virus, even if we were to get its circulation within the human population under control.

Probably not an error

Why check deer in the first place? It turns out that the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is studying a variety of species “to identify species that may serve as reservoirs or hosts for the virus, as well as understand the origin of the virus, and predict its impacts on wildlife and the risks of cross-species transmission.” This is the same group that identified the spread of the virus to a wild mink in 2020.

Using a captive deer population, the USDA had already determined that deer can be infected by the virus, although the animals display no symptoms. So although direct interactions between deer and humans are relatively limited, checking the wild populations made sense. The USDA checked populations in a total of 32 counties in four different states, obtaining blood samples to look for antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2.

The antibodies were quite common, ranging from a low of 7 percent of the samples in Illinois to a high of 60 percent in Michigan. All told, a third of the deer tested had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.

The USDA also took reasonable precautions to make sure the data was accurate. Agency scientists tested samples that were around prior to the pandemic to confirm that the rate of false positives was low (it was). The researchers also ran antibody tests using two different machines to make sure the conclusion wasn’t due to some sort of hardware problem (it wasn’t). So in all likelihood, a large number of deer have been exposed to the virus.

What does that mean?

By now, we’ve spent a lot of time studying how SARS-CoV-2 spreads, and prolonged exposure to respiratory droplets is the most efficient method. There aren’t many contexts in which this kind of exposure is likely to be happening between humans and wild deer. It’s possible that these numbers are generated by a rare transmission to deer that is followed by extensive spread within the population. Or another species, possibly a domesticated one, is carrying the virus between humans and deer.

Understanding how the transmission takes place will be critical to determining whether the existence of a large viral reservoir in deer poses a threat to humans. While there’s been no indication of a human picking up an infection from deer, the virus is so common in the US population that it would be difficult to rule out human-to-human transmission as an alternative explanation for any cases. Still, if the US ever does manage to control the spread of the virus, being aware of any alternative routes of infection would be a good idea.

Another issue is that the virus can pick up mutations that help it adapt to deer as a host and prove dangerous to humans if the virus jumps back to humans. So far, the one case where this has been studied with SARS-CoV-2 is a strain that is adapting to mink. That virus is becoming less efficient at infecting human cells, but it’s also changing in ways that make it less susceptible to the immune response generated by vaccines or prior infections. There is, of course, no reason to think that a deer-adapted SARS-CoV-2 would follow a similar trajectory.

In any case, both of these issues—the presence of a difficult-to-control reservoir and the prospect for further evolution of the virus—means that it will be important to understand how the virus is reaching the deer population and whether it’s spreading between deer.

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On Earth, things evolve into crabs—could the same be true in space?

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Enlarge / It sure looks like a crab, but it isn’t. Why are crab-like forms so common?

Many organisms on planet Earth aren’t crabs. Dogs, for instance—definitely not crabs. Science also suggests that humans are not, in fact, crabs. But a surprising number of creatures either are crabs or look a lot like them. For example, a hermit crab has a distinctly crab-like appearance but is not technically a real crab. Hermit crabs are not alone; over the history of life on Earth, there have been five separate cases in which decapod crustaceans have evolved this way, a process common enough that it has picked up a formal term: carcinization.

Around a year ago, this evolutionary process captured the imagination of the Internet. Headlines like “Why everything eventually becomes a crab” and “Why Does Evolution Keep Turning Everything Into Crabs” popped up. PBS even made a video.

“Everything” is clear hyperbole—the overwhelming majority of things on Earth are not crabs and seemingly have no plans to become them. But if there are benefits to having a crab-like shape on Earth, should we view that as a general rule of life? Could it hold true on other planets? If the process of carcinization operates here, it’s not unreasonable to expect that it might happen elsewhere.

Because we take these things far too seriously, Ars spoke to experts on crabs, evolution, and alien life to find out. The answer: It’s highly speculative, given that we haven’t found life—crab-like or otherwise—anywhere else, but it’s not wholly impossible.

OK, but why crabs?

The reasons why creatures evolved crabby features are still unknown, though there are numerous hypotheses. According to Jo Wolfe, a researcher at Harvard University’s Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, carcinization could be a mixture of genes and the environment. However, Wolfe—who penned a paper on the topic last March—also noted that there are still no definitive answers.

“There is no clear-cut reason why being a crab is better than not being a crab,” she told Ars.

Yet crab-like forms are common enough that a number of the things we call crabs aren’t all that closely related to crabs. For instance, a hermit crab is a decapod crustacean and part of a group called Anomura. Though they evolved to have crab-like features, they are not true crabs, which are in the infraorder Brachyura.

Wolfe said that the similar body plans may evolve because the body shape of a crab could have some advantages. Crab bods tend to be compact and quite flat, with their abdomens folded up below. This could make them smaller targets for predators and could allow the crabs the ability to run and hide in smaller crevasses.

Claws might be a be boon as well, Wolfe said. (Even though, again, having claws doesn’t make a species a crab—lobsters have huge claws but aren’t crabs.) But defending that argument is made harder by the fact that claws have multiple functions. Some crabs don’t even use their claws for predation; a male fiddler crab, for instance, uses his one massive claw for sexual display.

Wolfe also suggested that there are probably genetic limits to carcinization. The genetic makeup of a species that evolved a crab-like body plan would need to have the right building blocks for the process. So, for example, both shrimp and crabs have a genetic toolkit that lets them produce many limbs and exoskeletons, while humans do not—meaning, most likely, there are no human-relative crabs on the horizon.

When does being a crab make sense?

Right now, there’s no evidence that there is any life, much less crab life, on other planets. Even if we found aliens that looked like crabs, they obviously wouldn’t be crabs as we’ve defined them. With the right environment, however, crab-like aliens could hypothetically evolve elsewhere. Wolfe noted that any creatures on these theoretical planets would still need to have the right genetic building blocks to be capable of evolving into crab-like forms. And a converse is also true: Planets different from Earth are less likely to have crabs.

For example, a planet like Naboo in Star Wars—which has land, bodies of water, rock, etc.—could be home to crabs, Wolfe said. On Earth, there are terrestrial crabs, which evolved from their marine kin. There are also terrestrial false crabs, such as the terrifying coconut crab. But largely, it seems that water or some kind of liquid on a planet would increase the odds of there being crabs there.

If the form of a crab works because it makes it easier to scurry away into rocks and such, then some kind of rocky geography could also help a planet’s chances of carcinization. Going back to the Star Wars analogy, planets like the desert world Tatooine or the gas giant Bespin (home of Cloud City) probably wouldn’t have what it takes.

Crab-like creatures could also fill specific niches in planets with Earth-like environments, according to Arik Kershenbaum, a zoologist at the University of Cambridge and the author of 2020’s The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy. Some crab species hang out at the bottom of the ocean and either eat the waste that flows down from higher in the water column or eat the other species that use the waste for nutrients.

Assuming another planet has aquatic life that dies and sinks to the bottom, that niche could also exist there. “You could see the sort of evolutionary game playing out very similarly to what presumably happened on Earth,” he told Ars.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the niche would be filled by crab-like critters, however. There are some benefits that crabs do have, like claws, multiple legs to scuttle around on, and segmented bodies, Kershenbaum said. But he said that our guesses about the purposes of evolutionary traits aren’t always accurate. Further, he noted that in many cases, species simply inherit traits from previous generations, even after those traits no longer contribute to survival.

So they would be on Earth-like planets?

It seems likely that if there are space crabs, they’d probably come about on planets that have environments similar to Earth’s. For her part, Wolfe doesn’t necessarily expect that the emergence of life would need to be restricted to Earth-like planets. There could be all kinds of strange forms that evolve to live in alien environments. “I think that you could [have crab-like creatures on other planets]. I also think you could get things that don’t look like anything on Earth at all,” she said.

Kershenbaum doesn’t think that life in the stars needs to look exactly like life on Earth. Rather, weird and wacky alien life is just more likely to be rare by comparison. For example, there are plenty of rocky planets out there that probably have water on them, which could be a necessary precursor of life. But it’s possible that life could exist in settings that are distinctly different from Earth—like spores living in the acidic atmosphere of Venus.

“It seems likely that Earth-like planets are going to be relatively well-stocked with life compared to weird and wonderful planets,” he said. “More reasonable life is more likely to be common.”

Charles Marshall, director of the University of California Museum of Paleontology, said, however, that it’s a fairly narrow group of species that have evolved to become crabby on Earth. Moreover, these species are already pretty similar to crabs. “You’ve already got to be so close to being a crab before you evolve into a crab, it’s kind of a moot point,” he told Ars. “Life is produced in an enormous amount of morphologies, and crabbiness is just one of them.”

The presence of crabby creatures on a planet could suggest the planet has the potential to develop into something interesting, Marshall added. He said that if he were to send a probe into space to look for life, he’d expect to see many worm-shaped things—they’re quite common on Earth and have been around for more than 500 million years. For something to carcinize, there needs to be a vibrant ecology surrounding it. There would need to be predators for the organism to protect itself or hide from, plus a good variety of food. Worm-like forms probably don’t need all of that.

“Finding a crab might be indicative of a rich enough biosphere and a rich enough genomic potential that you may yet expect to evolve something like humans,” he said. “Therefore, searching for something like a crab might be a good idea. If [a planet hasn’t] evolved something crab-like, you know you’ve found a world that’s still relatively simple.”

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