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Best tablet Black Friday deals: Apple iPad, Amazon Fire, and more

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It wasn’t so long ago that everyone put a tablet on their holiday gift list, with Black Friday ads giving ample cover space to the latest iPad. Thanks to bigger smart phones and 2-in-1 laptops being able to handle a lot of the tasks we once used tablets for, the market continues its decline. Nonetheless, over 36 million tablets were sold last quarter, with the iPad Pro and Microsoft Surface bringing more productivity capabilities to pricier devices, not to mention Amazon dominating the low end of the market.

So though tablet deals may not be as plentiful this Black Friday as they once were, there are still many sales out there if you happen to be in the market for a new slate. Here’s a breakdown by manufacturer and retailers.

Apple

Best Buy

Apple iPad mini 4 for $249.99
Up to $100 off the full-sized iPad
Up to $150 off the 10.5-inch iPad Pro tablets

BJs Wholesale Club

9.7-inch iPad 128GB for $349.99 ($80 off)

Costco

Apple’s latest 9.7-inch iPad for $249.99 (20 percent off)
9.7-inch iPad 128GB for $349.99 ($80 off)

Target

9.7-inch Apple iPad for $249.99 ($80 off)
Apple iPad mini 4 for $249.99 ($80 off)

Walmart

9.7-inch Apple iPad for $249
Apple iPad mini 4 for $274.99

Amazon

Amazon.com

Fire 7 for $29.99
Fire HD 8 tablet for $49.99 ($30 off)
Amazon Fire HD 10 for $99.99 ($50 off)

Best Buy

Fire 7 for $29.99
Fire HD 8 tablet for $49.99

BJs Wholesale Club

Amazon Fire 7 for $29.99

Staples

Amazon Fire 7 for $29.99

Target

Amazon Fire 7 for $29.99
Amazon Fire HD 10 for $99.99 ($50 off)

Microsoft

Best Buy

12.3-inch Surface Pro 6 with Core m3 for $599
Surface Pro 6 with Core i5 and double RAM and storage for $999 ($330 off)

Costco

Surface Pro 6 bundle with Surface Pen and Surface Type Cover: $800

Microsoft Store

Surface Go base model for $399 ($50 off)
Last-generation Surface Pro bundle for $599 ($310 off)
Surface Pro 6 base version bundle for $799 ($260 off)
Surface Pro 6 with twice the storage for $999 ($330 off)
Top-end Surface Pro 6 for $1,569 ($330 off)

Samsung

BJs Wholesale Club

Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8-inch model for $129.99 ($50 off)
Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10-inch model for $149.99 ($120 off)

Sam’s Club

Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8-inch edition for $119.86 ($120 off)

Samsung Online Store

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7-inch model for $289.99 ($110 off)
Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 10.5-inch model for $649.99 ($100 off)

Target

Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.1-inch edition for $159.99 ($120 off)

Walmart

9.6-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab E for $129 ($60 off)

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Study: Female dolphins have a working clitoris, so they probably enjoy sex

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Enlarge / Sure, they look like they’re just taking a friendly swim, but these two dolphins are actually aroused. A recent study found that female bottlenose dolphins have large erectile bodies that fill up with blood, large nerves with nerve bundles that end right under the skin, thinner skin on the clitoris body, and genital corpuscles known to be involved in the pleasure response.

Dara Orbach

Female dolphins are known to be highly social and engage in all sorts of sexual behavior. In addition to mating with male dolphins, female bottlenose dolphins are, for instance, known to masturbate and also rub each other’s clitoris with snouts, flippers, and flukes, suggesting the acts are pleasurable for them. According to a recent paper published in the journal Current Biology, there is now anatomical evidence that the dolphin clitoris is fully functional, remarkably similar in many ways to the clitoris in human females.

It’s not just dolphins that engage in what Canadian biologist and linguist Bruce Bagemihl has dubbed “biological exuberance.” Same-sex pairings have been recorded in some 450 different species, including flamingoes, bison, warthogs, beetles, and guppies. For instance, female koalas sometimes mount other females, while male Amazon river dolphins have been known to penetrate each other’s blowholes. The observation of female-female pairs among Laysan albatrosses made national headlines, prompting comedian Stephen Colbert to warn satirically that “albatresbians” were threatening American family values with their “Sappho-avian agenda.” Female hedgehogs may hump one another or perform cunnilingus, while 60 percent of all sexual activity among bonobos takes place between two or more females.

Despite this abundance of behavioral evidence, there have been very few academic studies of the clitoris and female sexual pleasure in nature, according to Patricia Brennan, a marine biologist at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and a co-author of the new study. “This has left us with an incomplete picture of the true nature of sexual behaviors,” she said. “Studying and understanding sexual behaviors in nature is a fundamental part of understanding the animal experience and may even have important medical applications in the future.” It can also yield insights into the evolution of sexual behaviors.

A number of factors contribute to that neglect in the academic literature, said Brennan. “In general, we haven’t studied sexuality, period, as much as we should, because evolutionarily speaking, it’s an absolutely critical process,” she told Ars. “I think it makes some people uncomfortable.” As for why male sexuality has been studied more frequently than female sexuality (in both humans and animals), that’s partly due to inherent biases—until quite recently, the vast majority of scientists were men. Another reason: females are just harder to study in that regard.

“A male penis is just sticking out there,” Brennan said. “Female genitalia are inside, so it’s trickier, and you have to be more creative about coming up with methods to study females.”

That’s the focus of Brennan’s laboratory, specifically studying the evolution of the vagina in dolphins and other animals. Brennan started out working with dolphins as an undergraduate but switched to studying birds (especially ducks) while she worked on her Ph.D. Male ducks are famous for their spectacularly long corkscrew penises, “but nobody had thought to look at the vagina of a duck to see how it would interact with those weird penises,” she said.

The erectile tissue of the dolphin clitoris is very similar to that found in a male dolphin's penis, and there is evidence that it becomes similarly engorged with blood during arousal.
Enlarge / The erectile tissue of the dolphin clitoris is very similar to that found in a male dolphin’s penis, and there is evidence that it becomes similarly engorged with blood during arousal.

P.L.R. Brennan et al., 2022

Brennan did think to look. She found that female ducks have corresponding corkscrew vaginas that spiral in the opposite direction of the male’s penis. “Female ducks are subjected to forced copulations by unwanted males and usually they cannot escape,” Brennan told LiveScience in 2009. “The genital morphology allows them to regain control of reproduction by making it difficult for these unwanted males to achieve fertilization.”

Since then, she’s studied the vaginas of sharks, alpacas, turtles, crocodiles, and snakes, before turning her attention back to dolphins. “Every time we looked at the vaginas, it was like this giant clitoris staring us in the face,” said Brennan. “Just from knowing the behavior of female dolphins, we had a pretty good idea that they were probably enjoying sex. They’re having heterosexual sex, homosexual sex, and they’re masturbating. That suggests this feels good to them.”

So Brennan decided to take a closer look at excised dolphin clitorises with micro-CT scanning. If the morphology of the dolphin clitoris had shared features with a human clitoris, that would suggest functionality that may provide pleasure during these sexual encounters. The 11 dolphin clitorises used in the study came from animals that had died naturally, such as in strandings.

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COVID-infected hamsters in pet shop trigger animal cull in Hong Kong

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Enlarge / Workers with Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department inspect the Little Boss pet store in Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday, January 18, 2022.

Authorities in Hong Kong are planning to cull around 2,000 small animals after a pet store employee and several imported hamsters tested positive for COVID-19, according to a report by the Associated Press.

On Monday, the pet store employee tested positive and was found to be infected with the delta coronavirus variant. Several hamsters in the store, which had recently been imported from the Netherlands, were also positive. The city, meanwhile, has been grappling with an outbreak of COVID-19 cases caused by the omicron variant.

It’s unclear if the pet store cases are linked and, if they are, if the employee was infected by the hamsters or vice versa. But Hong Kong authorities say they can’t exclude the possibility that the hamsters spread the virus to the employee. As such, they aren’t taking any chances.

Hamster havoc

Authorities halted all sales of hamsters in the city as well as the import of hamsters and other small animals, such as chinchillas. Around 2,000 small animals already in Hong Kong will be humanely culled to prevent transmission of the pandemic virus.

Meanwhile, people who bought pet hamsters in the city since December 22 must undergo testing. If their pets test positive, they must go into quarantine.

At a news conference, Hong Kong health official Leung Siu-fai advised: “If you own a hamster, you should keep your hamsters at home, do not take them out. All pet owners should observe good personal hygiene, and after you have been in contact with animals and their food, you should wash your hands.” He also advised owners to “not kiss your pets.”

In a press briefing Tuesday, officials with the World Health Organization addressed the hamster cases, saying that “the risk remains low” that animals are getting infected from people and then transmitting the virus back to people at significant rates.

“But it is something that we are constantly looking at,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, said in the briefing. As the virus circulates, it can continue to infect people and animals, “so this is something we need better surveillance on.”

It’s already clear that many animal species can become infected with SARS-CoV-2 and potentially serve as a reservoir for variants that could threaten to jump back to humans at any time. In 2020, Denmark’s government made the controversial decision to cull 17 million mink after the farmed animals were found to harbor a SARS-CoV-2 variant.

Animal reservoirs

In the US, several studies have documented widespread SARS-CoV-2 transmission in wild deer populations, as well as in farmed mink. Domesticated pets, such as dogs and cats, are known to be at risk of getting COVID-19 from their owners. Some zoo animals are equally at risk.

For now, health officials are more focused on transmission of SARS-CoV-2 among people. But there is bubbling concern about animal reservoirs, particularly amid the rise of omicron. The ultratransmissible variant quickly raised concern among experts because it first appeared with a startlingly large number of mutations—many of which had not previously been seen in variants known to be circulating in humans.

Omicron’s sudden appearance raised concerns—and hypotheses—that the variant originated in an animal reservoir, specifically mice. The thinking goes that humans had spread SARS-CoV-2 to wild mice, which then circulated the virus over a period of time. There, the virus adapted to its new host and picked up a variety of novel mutations before jumping back to humans.

For now, it’s just a hypothesis—and not necessarily the leading one. Many researchers say that a more likely explanation for omicron’s origin is an immunocompromised person. In this scenario, an immunocompromised person may have harbored an infection over a long period. That gave the virus plenty of time to be exposed to various feeble immune responses and adapt to avert them, thereby evolving into a more dangerous foe to humans overall. Such prolonged infections in immunocompromised people are the leading hypotheses for the development of new variants in general.

But the latest concerns over pet hamsters is likely to keep some attention on the potential threat of animal reservoirs of the pandemic virus.

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After six decades, Russia will build its final Proton rocket this year

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Enlarge / A Russian 3-stage Proton rocket blasts into the sky in 2000.

NASA

Russia’s main space corporation, Roscosmos, said it is in the process of building four more Proton rockets before it shuts down production of the venerable booster.

In a news release, Roscosmos said the four rockets are on an assembly line at the Khrunichev State Space Research and Design Center’s factory in Moscow’s Fili district. After their production is complete, these four rockets will be added to its present inventory of 10 flight-ready Proton-M rockets. (The news release was translated for Ars by Rob Mitchell.)

Russia said it plans to launch these remaining 14 Proton rockets over the next four or five years. During this time frame Russia plans to transition payloads, such as military communications satellites, that would have launched on the Proton booster to the new Angara-A5 rocket.

The final flight of the Proton rocket will bring an end to a long-running era. The first Proton rocket launched in 1965, nearly 57 years ago, amid the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States. Variants of the Proton rocket have launched 426 times, with about a 10 percent failure rate.

Notably, the Proton rocket has launched elements of four separate space stations—Salyut 6, Salyut 7, Mir, and the International Space Station. But the rocket, with a lift capacity of 23.7 metric tons to low Earth orbit, had come under increasing competition for commercial launches. As a result, whereas the Proton booster once launched 10 or 12 times a year, the flight rate has fallen to three or fewer missions a year since 2015.

International demand slackened, in part, due to a series of high-profile failures. At the end of 2010, one Proton rocket plunged into the ocean because too much propellant had been mistakenly loaded into its upper stage. In 2013, another vehicle performed a fiery dance seconds after liftoff because flight control sensors were hammered into the rocket’s compartment upside down. (The spectacular disaster is worth watching.)

These technical problems arose just as competitors, particularly SpaceX with its Falcon 9 rocket, undercut the Proton on cost and offered better reliability. This reduced costs for satellite operators through lower insurance premiums.

With the Angara-A5 rocket, Russia hopes to recapture some of this international satellite launch market. However, it depends on whether Russia can reduce production costs of the Angara-A5 rocket from $100 million per launch to $57 million by 2024, the country’s stated goal.

Even this ambitious target for the fully expendable rocket probably won’t help Russia too much in the competition for commercial launches, however. SpaceX has already demonstrated that it can re-fly its Falcon 9 booster for less than $30 million.

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