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Life-size robo-dinosaur and ostrich backpack hint at how first birds got off the ground – TechCrunch

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Everyone knows birds descended from dinosaurs, but exactly how that happened is the subject of much study and debate. To help clear things up, these researchers went all out and just straight up built a robotic dinosaur to test their theory: that these proto-birds flapped their “wings” well before they ever flew.

Now, this isn’t some hyper-controversial position or anything. It’s pretty reasonable when you think about it: natural selection tends to emphasize existing features rather than invent them from scratch. If these critters had, say, moved from being quadrupedal to being bipedal and had some extra limbs up front, it would make sense that over a few million years those limbs would evolve into something useful.

But when did it start, and how? To investigate, Jing-Shan Zhao of Tsinghua University in Beijing looked into an animal called Caudipteryx, a ground-dwelling animal with “feathered forelimbs that could be considered “proto-wings.”

Based on the well-preserved fossil record of this bird-dino crossover, the researchers estimated a number of physiological metrics, such as the creature’s top speed and the rhythm with which it would run. From this they could estimate forces on other parts of the body — just as someone studying a human jogger would be able to say that such and such a joint is under this or that amount of stress.

What they found was that, in theory, these “natural frequencies” and biophysics of the Caudipteryx’s body would cause its little baby wings to flap up and down in a way suggestive of actual flight. Of course they wouldn’t provide any lift, but this natural rhythm and movement may have been the seed which grew over generations into something greater.

To give this theory a bit of practical punch, the researchers then constructed a pair of unusual mechanical items: a pair of replica Caudipteryx wings for a juvenile ostrich to wear, and a robotic dinosaur that imitated the original’s gait. A bit fanciful, sure — but why shouldn’t science get a little crazy now and then?

In the case of the ostrich backpack, they literally just built a replica of the dino-wings and attached it to the bird, then had the bird run. Sensors on board the device verified what the researchers observed: that the wings flapped naturally as a result of the body’s motion and vibrations from the feet impacting the ground.

The robot is a life-size reconstruction based on a complete fossil of the animal, made of 3D-printed parts, to which the ostrich’s fantasy wings could also be affixed. The researchers’ theoretical model predicted that the flapping would be most pronounced as the speed of the bird approached 2.31 meters per second — and that’s just what they observed in the stationary model imitating gaits corresponding to various running speeds.

You can see another gif over at the Nature blog. As the researchers summarize:

These analyses suggest that the impetus of the evolution of powered flight in the theropod lineage that lead to Aves may have been an entirely natural phenomenon produced by bipedal motion in the presence of feathered forelimbs.

Just how legit is this? Well, I’m not a paleontologist. And an ostrich isn’t a Caudipteryx. And the robot isn’t exactly convincing to look at. We’ll let the scholarly community pass judgment on this paper and its evidence (don’t worry, it’s been peer-reviewed), but I think it’s fantastic that the researchers took this route to test their theory. A few years ago this kind of thing would have been far more difficult to do, and although it seems a little silly when you watch it (especially in gif form), there’s a lot to be said for this kind of real-life tinkering when so much of science is occurring in computer simulations.

The paper was published today in the journal PLOS Computational Biology.

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USB installer tool removes Windows 11’s Microsoft account requirements (and more)

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Enlarge / The Rufus tool will offer to modify your Windows 11 install media when you create it. The workaround for the Microsoft account requirement is new to the 3.19 beta.

Andrew Cunningham

One of the new “features” coming to the Windows 11 22H2 update is a Microsoft account requirement for all new installs, regardless of whether you are using the Home or Pro version of the operating system. And that’s too bad, because the 22H2 update corrects a few of Windows 11’s original shortcomings while adding some nice quality-of-life improvements.

An easy workaround for this requirement is the Rufus USB formatting tool, which can create USB install media for Windows and all kinds of other operating systems. Rufus has already offered some flags to remove Windows 11’s system requirements checks from the installer, removing the need for clunky Windows Registry edits and other workarounds. But the beta of version 3.19 will also remove the Microsoft account requirement for new installs, making it easy to set up a new Windows PC with a traditional local account.

When setting up Windows 11, make sure not to connect your PC to the Internet before creating your user account. This trick worked to circumvent the Microsoft account requirement in Windows 11 Pro and some of the later versions of Windows 10 but is being removed entirely from Windows 11 22H2. The Rufus tool merely reverts to the pre-22H2 status quo.

If you’re using Rufus to avoid Windows 11’s system requirements, your system will still be “unsupported” once you have Windows 11 up and running. That means putting up with periodic reminder messages about unsupported hardware and the vague threat that Microsoft may eventually stop providing updates and security patches for unsupported systems. On the other hand, Rufus also doesn’t keep Windows 11’s TPM and security features from working once the OS is installed, so if you want to create a single USB installer that will cover both supported and unsupported systems, Rufus makes that possible.

Microsoft provides its own media creation tools for people who want to make USB install drives for Windows 10 or Windows 11, but it obviously doesn’t offer the same circumventions for the company’s requirements.

Listing image by Getty Images

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iFixit and Google launch official Pixel parts store

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iFixit

The iFixit and Google partnership that was announced in April is now live. iFixit says that genuine parts for Google smartphones are now for sale in “the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and European countries where Pixel is available.”

It looks like iFixit is offering screens, batteries, and rear camera assemblies for most models of the Pixel phone, along with smaller odds and ends like adhesive and cooling graphite tape. Despite the official partnership with Google, we wouldn’t call the iFixit Pixel store a comprehensive source of Pixel parts. For the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro—which are currently in production and should have tons of available parts—you can’t buy replacement glass back panels, charging ports, front cameras, or any of the delicate cables you could accidentally rip while you’re taking the phone apart. Just compare the official Pixel 6 Pro parts list, which has only six items, to any of the iPhone part lists, which have about 30 parts, and you can see there are a lot of missing items.

iFixit says it’s just getting started, though, and that it will “continue to add more types of parts to our catalog” for the Pixel 2 and later. For the Pixel 6a, which comes out at the end of July, iFixit is promising “a full selection” of parts “as soon as possible.”

iFixit says Google has continually been improving the reparability of its devices, although the repair site never actually scored the Pixel 6 or 6 Pro. (iFixit’s last full Pixel teardown was on the Pixel 4 XL in 2019.) iFixit also praised Google’s willingness to make software repair tools available online, like an easy-to-use OS flashing tool and a fingerprint reader calibration tool for the Pixel 6. If Google is really concerned about device longevity and reducing e-waste, we would like to see the company match its competitors when it comes to software support, where Google’s three years of major OS updates are still lagging behind Samsung (four years) and Apple (five years).

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Apple outs its invite-only program that rewards VIP forum members 

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Samuel Axon

Apple made its Community+ Program common knowledge this week. Similar to other tech companies like Dell, HP, and Microsoft, Apple has been rewarding the knowledgeable volunteers who frequently contribute to its online support community.

As spotted via iClarified on Wednesday, Apple launched the Apple Community+ Program webpage, which details a program that annually invites a small number of forum members to enjoy special rewards. An Apple rep told Ars Technica that while the webpage is new, the program “has been around for a few years.” It’s likely that since only a small number of people get to participate in the program, there hasn’t been much chatter about it before the page’s launch.

The Community+ members receive “special perks, white-glove experiences, and more,” according to the program’s page, but Apple didn’t specify what that means, and the company declined to provide Ars Technica more details about the rewards.

Apple also didn’t specify the boxes you have to check to get an invite. The Community+ page does say, however, that invitees are “high-level community members” who are “engaged and active in the community,” “share quality content and helpful answers to build their reputation,” and are role models for the forum.

Regular Apple support community members already receive points for participating in activities like asking or answering a question or having one of their answers marked as “helpful” by other community members. Gathering virtual points can lead to virtual rewards, like the ability to have a custom avatar image or access to The Lounge, where you and other high-ranking members can have discussions.

The Community+ Program promises better perks than that. Again, we don’t have specifics, but we can look at similar tech perks programs for ideas.

As noted by The Verge, Microsoft support forum members have been receiving MVP awards for more than 20 years, with over 4,000 reportedly earning the title so far. Perks include early access to Microsoft products and an invite to the annual Global MVP Summit at Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington, headquarters.

For a couple of years, Dell has been rewarding its most elite community members with invites to online and in-person events and providing new product testings and internal resources. Meanwhile, HP’s Expert program rewards include invites to virtual and live events and the opportunity to speak with HP employees.

It’s good to hear that Apple has also been rewarding its most helpful forum members, who can save hours of time for Apple customers and employees, free of charge. Without a detailed look at those perks, though, it’s unclear just how appreciative Apple is.

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