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MWC 2019: Lenovo unveils stylish IdeaCentre AIO A340 desktop amid laptop launches



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PC & Laptops


Lenovo IdeaCentre AIO A340

As you might expect at one of the world’s biggest mobile trade shows, Lenovo has unleashed a slew of laptops this week, not to mention a tiny server to work with a network of Internet of Things devices. Less expected is another new product the company has announced in Barcelona: an all-in-one PC that remains motionless on your desk.

While it’s a bit of a mystery why Lenovo would choose this particular week to unveil a desktop, the new IdeaCentre AIO A340 is here nonetheless. Though you won’t be lugging it around like many of the phones and other portable devices on display at MWC, the all-in-one at least will look good on your desk, with a pipe-shaped base that lends it a more minimalist vibe than some of its competitors. 

The A340 is all about choices, starting with the exterior color choice: Business Black or Foggy White, or in non-marketing speak, black or white. It will be available in 22-inch or 24-inch displays with full 1080p HD resolution and thinner bezels than its predecessors. You also get to decide whether you want an AMD or Intel processor inside — the A9-9425 or the Core i5-8400T, to be specific. The A9 works with AMD’s Radeon R5 graphics, whereas the Intel can be paired with the Radeon 530 or Intel’s own integrated graphics.   

One choice you won’t get is with the 24-inch A340 version — that’s an Intel-only configuration. The all-in-one will be available in the U.S. starting in April (a month earlier in Europe) for $500 for the 22-inch model, with the larger edition expected to start at about $100 more.

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“I can’t tell you how much vaccine we have,” new CDC head says



Enlarge / A registered nurse practitioner holds up a sign and a flag asking for another patient to dose with the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine as well as a more vaccine doses at a vaccination site in Seattle, Washington on January 24, 2021.

With the country’s vaccine rollout in utter disorder, health officials in the Biden administration are cautiously trying to both manage expectations and express optimism.

In a series of interviews over the weekend, officials warned that states could face vaccine shortages in the short term, with some states’ supplies already running low—or completely running out. On the other hand, the officials remained convinced that they would be able to achieve the administration’s goal of getting 100 million doses in arms in their first 100 days in office—a goal that has been criticized as being both too ambitious and not ambitious enough.

With 95 days to go until their goal’s deadline, the officials have made clear just how much work they face in getting vaccinations on track.

“One of the biggest problems right now is I can’t tell you how much vaccine we have,” Rochelle Walensky, the newly appointed director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in an interview on Fox News Sunday. “And if I can’t tell it to you, then I can’t tell it to the governors, and I can’t tell it to the state health officials.” Without that information, it’s difficult or impossible for local authorities to plan effective vaccine distribution, Walensky added.

Since vaccine distribution began in December, the effort has been dogged by criticism of inefficiencies. Reports trickled in from various states that vaccine doses were languishing unused in fridges or being given out at random in last-ditch efforts to get them in arms. To date, more than 41 million doses have been distributed to states and jurisdictions, but only 21.8 million doses are known to have been administered, including only 3.2 million to people getting their second dose.

Still, the pace of vaccination has ramped up since the early days, with the number of daily doses administered now over one million. The positive news has raised criticism that Biden’s goals of 100 million doses in 100 days is too low.

But officials with the administration have pushed back. That goal of a hundred million doses is “a floor; it’s not a ceiling,” Vivek Murthy, Biden’s nominee for surgeon general said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.”

Moreover, many states are now reporting that they’re running low on vaccine supplies, calling into question whether the pace of a million vaccines a day is sustainable. Notably, over the weekend, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reported that the state had completely run out of vaccine doses and wouldn’t have more until early this week.

“I think that the supply is probably going to be the most limiting constraint early on,” Walensky said on Sunday. “And we’re really hoping that after that first hundred days, we will have much more production.”

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SpaceX set to launch its next Starship prototype on Monday



Enlarge / SN8 very nearly made a safe landing in South Texas in December.

Trevor Mahlmann

It’s finally time to find out whether Starship prototype Serial No. 9 will become SN Fine or SN Nein.

After a series of static fire tests on its latest Starship prototype, SpaceX appears set to launch the full-scale vehicle as early as Monday afternoon from its rocket facility in South Texas. The nominal plan is for the prototype to ascend to an altitude as high as 12.5km, perform a “belly flop” maneuver to simulate bleeding off energy during a return through Earth’s atmosphere, reorient itself, and land near the launch pad.

Only a little more than six weeks have passed since SpaceX conducted a similar test of the SN8 vehicle in South Texas. That flight test went splendidly up until near the end of its flight. However, due to a pressure failure in a fuel tank at the top of the vehicle, the vehicle’s Raptor engines were deprived of the fuel needed to make a soft landing.

So the vehicle made a spectacular crash landing into the pad.

See the fate of SN8.

Fortunately, the wreckage was soon cleared away. And in its nearby factory, SpaceX had the SN9 vehicle almost ready to go. It might have moved to the launch pad sooner, but in mid-December the SN9 prototype leaned over, falling into the wall of its high bay. This necessitated several days of checkouts and flap replacements. Then there were issues with the Raptor engines that were discovered across several static fire attempts. All of this and more required intensive work to ready SN9 for its flight.

Sources have said SpaceX is eager to get SN9 into the sky because SN10 itself is nearly ready to stretch its wings. We can probably expect that vehicle to be moved down the road to the launch site within days of SN9’s flight, regardless of the outcome. Testing often to find the bugs is one feature of a hardware-rich program like the one SpaceX is using to develop Starship.

The six-hour launch window for Monday’s test extends from noon local time (18:00 UTC) to 6pm (24:00 UTC). As with previous tests, a technical issue may cause the test campaign to abort its launch attempt at any point. Should they be needed, SpaceX has backup launch opportunities on Tuesday and Wednesday, although weather conditions appear to be more favorable for Tuesday.

It’s likely that SpaceX will provide an official webcast of the launch attempt; if so, it will be embedded here.

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Egyptian archaeologists unearth dozens of tombs at Saqqara necropolis



Enlarge / Copies of the Book of the Dead, or excerpts from it, were often included in burials so the deceased would have a guide to the afterlife.

Archaeologists in Egypt are preparing to open a 3,000-year-old burial shaft at the Saqqara necropolis, south of Cairo, in the coming week.

The unexplored tomb is one of 52 burial shafts clustered near the much older pyramid of the Pharaoh Teti. Workers at the site found the entrance to the latest shaft earlier this week as they were preparing to announce a slew of other finds at the site, including the tombs of military leaders and high-ranking courtiers, a copy of the Book of the Dead, and ancient board games. Also among the discoveries is the name of the owner of an elaborate mortuary temple near Teti’s pyramid: Narat or Naert, the pharaoh’s queen.

“I’d never heard of this queen before. Therefore we add an important piece of Egyptian history about this queen,” archaeologist and former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass told CBS News. Archaeologists first unearthed the stone temple in 2010, but it wasn’t clear who the grand structure had been built for. At mortuary temples like this one, priests and supplicants could make offerings to the dead queen to keep her comfortable in the afterlife—and ask her to help them out in this world.

(Side note: surviving examples of ancient Egyptian prayers to the dead often include reminders that if the deceased don’t do their part and help the living, then the living might conveniently forget to keep making offerings and reciting prayers for the dead. It turns out the mummy’s curse was really just his ungrateful grandchildren all along.)

Excavations in the past decade revealed three mud-brick warehouses alongside the temple, where the priests would have stored tools and offerings for the dead Queen Narat. Recently, archaeologists found Narat’s name inscribed on a fallen obelisk near the temple’s main entrance. The name turned up again on a wall of the temple.

The queen’s temple stands near her husband’s pyramid at Saqqara. Together, they founded the last dynasty of Egypt’s Old Kingdom; 150 years and 6 kings later, the country slid into the political chaos of the First Intermediate Period.

Burial place of the rich and famous

Practically in the shadow of Teti’s pyramid, the 52 recently excavated burial shafts at the site date to Egypt’s New Kingdom, a set of dynasties that ruled from around 1570 to 1069 BCE. The earliest tombs at Saqqara are older than Egypt itself, dating back to the predynastic period, when the land along the Nile was divided among several smaller kingdoms. For the next three thousand years, some of Egypt’s great and powerful kept returning to Saqqara to build their tombs. The 7 kilometer stretch of desert holds elaborate temple complexes for pharaohs, alongside the tombs of generals, princes, and aristocrats.

Egyptian archaeologists have unearthed around 50 wooden sarcophagi from the burial shafts, which are 10 to 12 meter-deep rectangular pits covered with wooden planks or stone slabs. The coffins are much less ornate than royal burials, but they still suggest that their occupants were people of wealth and status. They’re painted with images of the deceased, scenes of deities and the afterlife, and lines from the Book of the Dead: a collection of prayers and instructions meant to guide the dead person through the various tests and challenges that lay along their route to the afterlife. Think of it as the original version of the Handbook for the Recently Deceased from the movie Beetlejuice.

In one of the burial shafts, archaeologists found the remains of a copy of Chapter 17 of the text. The 4-meter-long, 1-meter-wide papyrus scroll belonged to a man named Bu-Khaa-Af, which we know because his name is written on it. Bu-Khaa-Af’s name also appears on his sarcophagus and on four wood-and-ceramic figurines called ushabtis, which were supposed to come to life and work as servants in the afterlife.

Their presence, along with the painted coffin and the high-status real estate, marks Bu-Khaa-Af as a member of the ancient one percent. He’s buried near a military leader whose tomb includes a bronze axe, just in case he’s called out of retirement by Osiris.

Another cemetery neighbor is a courtier named Khu-Ptah and his wife Mut-am-wea. According to texts in his rather elaborate tomb, Khu-Ptah held the lofty position of “Superintendent of the King’s Chariot” for the New Kingdom pharaoh he served. It’s not clear exactly what that position entailed; it may have been largely ceremonial, like many British court positions today, or it may have involved actual chariot maintenance.

In a carved limestone panel, Khu-Ptah and his wife are shown making an offering to Osiris together; another scene shows the couple sitting with their six sons and three daughters, who are sniffing lotus flowers and wearing cones of perfume on their heads.

The things these people were buried with suggest that they had comfortable lives and expected comfortable afterlives. Their tombs featured shrines and statues of the gods, of course—especially Anubis (a funerary god), Ptah (a creator god), and Osiris—as well as lots of ceramic vessels and pottery. But archaeologists also found board games, including a senet set.

Senet dates back to at least 3100 BCE, which makes the game as old as the country of Egypt itself. It seems to have been a game of strategy, something like modern chess or checkers. A few surviving texts offer glimpses of the rules, and some modern researchers have cobbled together reconstructed versions of the game.

Life and death weren’t all pleasant even for the wealthiest New Kingdom Egyptians, however. Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities announced that it had already examined the mummified remains of one woman, who died with an abscess (a swollen, pus-filled lesion) on her liver, which was apparently an unpleasant souvenir of an infectious disease. Another of the mummies at the site belonged to a child, suggesting that wealth and status were no guarantee against crushing loss.

Along with the newly rediscovered burial shaft due to be opened this week, archaeologists at the site are still excavating a large mud-brick building. The Ministry of Antiquities says they expect the structure to end with a burial chamber, and so far the evidence suggests it hasn’t been looted.

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