System76 has been producing Linux-based computers for years, succeeding well enough that it could even produce a PC manufactured largely in the United States. Its latest plans are for a refresh of the Darter Pro laptop to answer customers’ requests for improved battery life.
The Darter Pro is a thin and light portable (3.6 pounds, 0.78 inches thick) designed to offer more than just the basics for computing tasks. It will ship with either an Intel Core i5–8265U or i7-8565U quad-core processor, up to 32GB of RAM, up to 2TB of built-in storage, and a full HD 15.6-inch display. System76 claims that the updated Darter Pro will provide a full workday’s worth of battery life so you don’t need to be chained to a wall outlet by noon.
While a laptop like the Dell XPS 13 can ship with Ubuntu Linux if you choose the Developer Edition, the Darter Pro only ships with a choice of Linux OS: Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, or one of two versions of System76’s own Linux OS, Pop!_OS 18.04 LTS or Pop!_OS 18.10 (64-bit). Pop!_OS is based on Ubuntu, but offers additional features such as full-disk encryption for the company’s systems.
According to Softpedia News, System76 will begin taking orders for the Darter Pro beginning on February 5. Pricing has not been announced — at least we won’t have to wait too long — though the company’s other laptop lines are generally priced around the $1,000 mark.
Potential PC buyers are starting to get more options to consider if they plan to …
Welcome to Edition 5.24 of the Rocket Report! I joined Ars more than seven years ago to write about space. It has been an amazing ride, and now I’m thrilled to say we’re expanding our coverage. Come work with me as a space reporter! Pay is competitive, and you can work remotely. But you must be passionate about space and writing. At least some experience in space journalism is preferred. Here is the place to apply. Anyway, in a few months, I hope to have someone to help with the Rocket Report, so there will no longer be interruptions!
As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.
A deeper dive into the German launch industry. A German market research firm, Capitol Momentum, has published an extensive report on the financial and technical health of Germany’s three most prominent small launch companies—HyImpulse Technologies, Isar Aerospace, and Rocket Factory Augsburg. The report (which requires an email address to download) provides a trove of data about the companies, which are all attempting to bring orbital rockets online within the next 12 to 24 months.
That’s a lot of projected launches … Since they are all private, limited recent data exists about their overall progress, but the report culls what is available. What emerges is a paradoxical picture: One company, Isar, is well funded but has not produced significant technical milestones of late; the other companies, HyImpulse and Rocket Factory Augsburg, have less financing but appear to be closer to launch readiness. One red flag for me is that both HyImpulse and Rocket Factory Augsburg have business cases built around 50 commercial launches a year, which seems completely unrealizable, both from a demand standpoint as well as the exceptional technical capability needed to reach such a cadence.
Virgin Orbit in financial trouble. This week, small launch company Virgin Orbit formally notified investors that it raised an additional $10 million from Virgin Investments Limited, an investment firm owned by Sir Richard Branson. Exactly what this filing means for the company’s future will probably not become clear until Virgin Orbit releases financial details about its fourth-quarter earnings for 2022, and this may not happen until late March. But there are a few things in the filing that raise concerns about the financial solvency of the US-based small-launch company, Ars reports.
Paying a higher rate … The $10 million amount is very low, providing only a few weeks of funding for the company given its high overhead and large payroll. Moreover, the note has an interest rate of 12 percent, double the rate of the November and December notes, which had interest rates of 6 percent. And finally, the new filing contains a separate security agreement that explicitly turns the unsecured November Branson note into a secured obligation. This could have been an injection of cash to meet payroll.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.