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Lenovo introduces five new Android tablets, starting at $70

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Lenovo Tab E8 Android tablet

It’s no secret that the tablet market continues to crater, falling 13.5 percent just in the second quarter alone, but manufacturers continue to give it the old college try. Samsung just released the Galaxy Tab S4, and Lenovo is making a big push with a whopping five new Android tablets for the home market.

With a $69.99 price, the Tab E7 is clearly an Amazon Fire rival for bargain buyers. Its budget-level specs include a 7-inch 1,024×600 display, a MediaTek processor, and 16GB of built-in storage. It runs the Go Edition of Android Oreo, a lightweight version designed primarily for entry-level smartphones. Nonetheless, Lenovo claims a meager 5 hours of battery life for the Tab E7. It will include a rear cover, at least, when it becomes available exclusively through Walmart.com starting in October

Already at Walmart for $30 more, the Tab E8 doubles the battery life, upgrades to an 8-inch 1,280×800 screen, and improves the dual cameras to 5-megapixel (rear-facing) and 2-megapixel (front). It also runs Android Nougat, instead of the cut-down Go Edition. Rounding out the new Tab E series, the E10 comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 chip and a 10.1-inch 1,280×800 display. However, it runs Android Oreo Go Edition like the E7 and musters only 7 hours of battery life, which explains while it will only cost $129.99 when it hits Walmart in October.

If you need something a little more premium, the Tab M10 and P10 round out Lenovo’s new tablet announcement. Both include 10.1-inch full HD displays and a Snapdragon 450 octo-core processor, though the P10 comes with twice the storage (64GB) as the M10 and four front speakers instead of two. It also trounces the M10 in battery life, with Lenovo promising 15 hours of juice from the P10 compared to just 5 hours. Presumably the M10 will run the Go Edition of Android Oreo, though Lenovo has not specified that, nor has it released a price for either the M10 or P10, both of which will be available sometime this winter on Amazon.com

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Extremely drug-resistant germ found in eye drops infects 55 in 12 states; 1 dead

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This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

An extensively drug-resistant bacterial strain is spreading in the US for the first time and causing an alarming outbreak linked to artificial tears eye drops, according to an alert released Wednesday evening from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So far, the germ has caused various infections in 55 people in 12 states, killing one and leaving others hospitalized and with permanent vision loss.

Infected patients reported using more than 10 brands of artificial tears collectively, with some patients using multiple brands. But the most common brand used among the patients was EzriCare Artificial Tears, a preservative-free product sold by Walmart, Amazon, and other retailers.

No recalls have been announced by the Food and Drug Administration, but the CDC recommends clinicians and patients stop using EzriCare Artificial Tears products pending additional guidance from CDC and the FDA. The manufacturer of EzriCare Artificial Tears announced that it plans to recall the product, which is also sold as Delsam Pharma’s Artificial Tears.

Formidable foe

The culprit behind the outbreak is a strain of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an extremely versatile, innately drug-resistant bacterium that lurks in the environment, particularly freshwater. It is known to cause various skin, wound, burn, lung, and systemic infections. It most often strikes people in immune-compromised states, such as those with cystic fibrosis, and has a reputation for sparking outbreaks in health care settings, particularly among people with indwelling devices, like catheters and breathing tubes. In hospital settings, it lurks in sinks, icemakers, device washers, respiratory therapy equipment, and on soap bars.

In the current outbreak, 35 of the 55 infected patients were linked to four clusters of cases in health care facilities. Among those four healthcare-associated clusters, the EzriCare Artificial Tears product was the only common product among the facilities. CDC investigators also found the outbreak P. aeruginosa strain in opened containers of EzriCare Artificial Tears bottles, which were manufactured in different lots and collected from patients in two different states.

EzriCare product information.
Enlarge / EzriCare product information.

The outbreak strain is a rare, extensively drug-resistant strain with a mouthful of a name: Verona Integron-mediated Metallo-β-lactamase (VIM) and Guiana-Extended Spectrum-β-Lactamase (GES)-producing carbapenem-resistant P. aeruginosa—or VIM-GES-CRPA for short.

While multi-drug resistant P. aeruginosa strains have long posed a threat in the US and elsewhere, this is the first time VIM-GES-CRPA has been found spreading in the US. The strain is resistant to various antibiotic weapons, including: cefepime, ceftazidime, piperacillin-tazobactam, aztreonam, carbapenems, ceftazidime-avibactam, ceftolozane-tazobactam, fluoroquinolones, polymyxins, amikacin, gentamicin, and tobramycin, the CDC reported.

So far, antibiotic susceptibility testing on three outbreak isolates suggests that the VIM-GES-CRPA strain is still susceptible to cefiderocol, a newer antibiotic that received FDA approval in 2019 to treat multidrug-resistant urinary tract infections.

In the current outbreak, which began in May 2022, investigators have isolated the outbreak strain from 13 sputum or bronchial washes, 11 cornea swabs, seven urine samples, two blood samples, 25 rectal swabs, and four other nonsterile sources. The patients presented in inpatient and outpatient settings with a range of infections. Those include eye infections—infection of the cornea (keratitis) and infection of tissue or fluids inside the eyeball (endophthalmitis)— to respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, and sepsis. The patient who died had a systemic infection.

The cases so far occurred in 12 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Response

In a statement on February 1, EzriCare, LLC said that is cooperating with the CDC and FDA on the investigation. “As of today, we are not aware of any testing that definitively links the Pseudomonas aeruginosa outbreak to EzriCare Artificial Tears,” the company said. “Nonetheless, we immediately took action to stop any further distribution or sale of EzriCare Artificial Tears. To the greatest extent possible, we have been contacting customers to advise them against continued use of the product.”

EzriCare noted that it only has limited involvement with the artificial tears product—which is also marketed under other brands, the company noted, without identifying any other brands. “EzriCare, LLC’s only role in introducing the product to the market was to design an exterior label and to market it to our customers,” the company said. The eye drops are manufactured in India by Global Pharma Healthcare PVT Limited and imported into the United States by Aru Pharma Inc.

Global Pharma Healthcare posted a press release on its website dated February 1 saying that it is voluntarily recalling its artificial tears products, though no formal recall notice has been posted by the FDA.

Delsam Product information.
Enlarge / Delsam Product information.
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Squid skin inspires novel “liquid windows” for greater energy savings

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Enlarge / Artist’s impression of a “liquid window’ prototype inspired by the structure of squid skin.

Raphael Kay, Adrian So

Squid and several other cephalopods can rapidly shift the colors in their skin, thanks to that skin’s unique structure. Engineers at the University of Toronto have drawn inspiration from the squid to create a prototype for “liquid windows” that can shift the wavelength, intensity, and distribution of light transmitted through those windows, thereby saving substantially on energy costs. They described their work in a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Buildings use a ton of energy to heat, cool, and illuminate the spaces inside them,” said co-author Raphael Kay. “If we can strategically control the amount, type, and direction of solar energy that enters our buildings, we can massively reduce the amount of work that we ask heaters, coolers, and lights to do.” Kay likes to think of buildings as living organisms that also have “skin,” i.e., an outer layer of exterior facades and windows. But these features are largely static, limiting how much the building “system” can be optimized in changing ambient conditions.

Installing blinds that can open and close is a crude means of easing the load on lighting and heating/cooling systems. Electrochromatic windows that change their opacity when a voltage is applied are a more sophisticated option. But, per Kay, these systems are pricey and have complicated manufacturing processes and a limited range of opacities. Nor is it possible to shade one part of a windowpane but not another.

So they looked to nature for inspiration. Last year, the Toronto engineers built a system with arrays of optofluidic cells inspired by marine arthropods, such as krill, crabs, and fish like tilapia, which can disperse and collect pigment granules in their skin to change their color and shading. Those prototype cells consisted of a thin layer of mineral oil between two transparent sheets of plastic. Injecting a bit of water containing a pigment or dye through a tube connected to the cell’s center creates a bloom of color. The shape of the bloom is tied to the flow rate, which can be controlled by a digital pump. A low flow rate produces circular blooms; faster flow rates create intricate branching patterns:

In these prototype optofluidic cells inspired by tilapia, krill, and crab skins, injecting dye at different flow rates leads to different branching patterns. Credit: Raphael Kay, Charlie Katrycz.

Squid skin is translucent and features an outer layer of pigment cells called chromatophores that control light absorption. Each chromatophore is attached to muscle fibers that line the skin’s surface, and those fibers, in turn, are connected to a nerve fiber. It’s a simple matter to stimulate those nerves with electrical pulses, causing the muscles to contract. And because the muscles are pulling in different directions, the cell expands, along with the pigmented areas, changing the color. When the cell shrinks, so do the pigmented areas.

Underneath the chromatophores, there is a separate layer of iridophores. Unlike the chromatophores, the iridophores aren’t pigment-based but are an example of structural color, similar to the crystals in the wings of a butterfly, except a squid’s iridophores are dynamic rather than static. They can be tuned to reflect different wavelengths of light. A 2012 paper suggested that this dynamically tunable structural color of the iridophores is linked to a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. The two layers work together to generate the unique optical properties of squid skin.

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Carbon capture is here—it just isn’t evenly distributed

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Enlarge / The tank on the right is one of a half-dozen in which carbon dioxide is separated from other gasses by a compression/decompression cycle.

John Timmer

Global emissions have continued to burn through the carbon budget, meaning each year brings us closer to having put enough CO2 in the atmosphere that we’ll be committed to over 2°C of warming. That makes developing carbon-capture technology essential, both to bring atmospheric levels down after we overshoot and to offset emissions from any industries we struggle to decarbonize.

But so far, little progress has been made toward carbon capture beyond a limited number of demonstration projects. That situation is beginning to change, though, as some commercial ventures start to either find uses for the carbon dioxide or offer removal as a service for companies with internal emissions goals. And the Biden administration recently announced its intention to fund several large capture facilities.

But I recently visited a very different carbon-capture facility, one that’s small enough to occupy the equivalent of a handful of parking spaces in the basement of a New York City apartment tower. Thanks to a local law, it’s likely to be the first of many. CarbonQuest, the company that installed it, already has commitments from several more buildings, and New York City’s law is structured so that the inducement to install similar systems will grow over time.

Carbon city

Because of its vast number of large buildings, New York City has a dizzying variety of fossil fuel-burning hardware tucked away in basements or hidden behind facades. All of the major buildings need significant hardware to provide heat and hot water, and many use co-gen facilities that generate electricity on-site and use the waste heat for these purposes. These co-gen plants can be quite large if they service one of the city’s college campuses or major hospitals. A steam system boils water at a central facility and distributes it through pipes to many buildings.

So while dense urban housing has lower per-capita emissions, individual sources in New York remain considerable and difficult to decarbonize quickly. While the long-term goal would be to switch everything to electric so emissions will go down with grid improvements, it will take many decades for some of this equipment to reach its end of life. And those are decades that New York City’s climate goals will not allow.

As a result, the city passed Local Law 97, which sets emissions-based fines starting next year and ramping up over time. The fines are agnostic about how emissions were reduced, however, allowing for the continued use of recent hardware as long as enough of its carbon is kept from reaching the atmosphere. CarbonQuest’s business is based on performing that service.

“While we’re waiting on this journey for 100 percent renewables, the conversion of electrification, we can take buildings and make a significant impact in their carbon footprint right away,” Shane Johnson, the company’s CEO, told Ars.

The CarbonQuest’s system is designed to work with any hardware that burns natural gas, which can include boilers and combined heat and power systems. It diverts exhaust gases from these systems to a cooler and dehumidifier that pulls out the water. The remaining gas is then pressurized and exposed to a solid material that selectively retains the CO2. Once the remaining gases (mostly nitrogen and oxygen) are removed, the carbon dioxide comes back out. It’s then re-pressurized and stored as a liquid until a truck removes it.

The process is powered by electricity and doesn’t require any consumable materials. “These are smaller plants; they need to operate lights out 24/7, low maintenance, can’t have toxic chemicals,” Johnson said. “You know, they can’t have a guy in a white suit.”

The system is modular, allowing it to be constructed from a series of pallets that can fit in a typical freight elevator. This also allows the system to be scaled up to handle higher-volume facilities.

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