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System76 prepping updated Darter Pro Linux laptop

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PC & Laptops

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System76 Darter Pro Linux laptop


Trevor Gass

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 i58265U 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.

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North Korea’s COVID outbreak taking “favorable turn” as cases exceed 1.7M

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Enlarge / People watch a television broadcast showing a file image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade at the Seoul Railway Station on May 4, 2022, in Seoul, South Korea.

A mushrooming COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea has reached over 1.7 million cases, with nearly 233,000 new cases reported on Wednesday alone, according to state media reports. It’s a startling rise given that North Korea claimed to have zero COVID-19 cases a week ago.

But now the secretive, authoritarian country is acknowledging that the pandemic virus has been spreading “explosively” in since late April. Many experts have interpreted the admission as a sign of a dire situation in the country and a plea for international aid. North Korea has a weak health care system, and many of its people are undernourished due to an ongoing food crisis. Moreover, the country previously shunned offers of vaccines from the United Nations-backed COVAX program and China, leaving its population unvaccinated.

After North Korea acknowledged the outbreak for the first time last Thursday, South Korea offered aid, including vaccines. But North Korea has reportedly not responded. But, the country may have accepted aid from its closest ally, China. According to unnamed diplomats who spoke with The Wall Street Journal, three North Korean cargo planes flew to the Chinese city of Shenyang on Monday, returning the same day carrying basic medical supplies.

In the meantime, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has openly chastised his country’s response as state media reported a rosy outlook. In a politburo meeting on Tuesday, Kim blasted the “immaturity in the state capacity for coping with the crisis” and blamed the poor response on officials’ “non-positive attitude, slackness, and non-activity,” according to KCNA.

Still, the report said officials discussed “maintaining the good chance in the overall epidemic prevention front” and that the situation was taking a “sustained favorable turn.”

WHO worried

Outside health experts are not as optimistic. In a press briefing Tuesday, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, expressed worry about the spread of disease, lack of data, and refusals of aid.

“WHO is deeply concerned at the risk of further spread of COVID-19 in [North Korea], particularly because the population is unvaccinated and many have underlying conditions putting them at risk of severe disease and death,” Tedros said. “WHO have requested that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea share data and information, and WHO has offered to provide a package of technical support and supplies, including diagnostic tests, essential medicines, and vaccines ready to be deployed to the country.” So far, North Korea has not taken the WHO up on the offer.

In North Korea’s state media reports, the country has reported 62 deaths. Outside experts expect that number to be significantly lower than the actual total, given the large number of cases the government has acknowledged. But, that number is in doubt, too, because the country lacks testing resources. Currently, cases are being counted based on unexplained fevers. People infected with the coronavirus who are asymptomatic, only mildly ill, or lacking a fever may not be counted, potentially making the 1.7 million a vast underestimate.

Health experts are also concerned that the unchecked spread of the virus could make North Korea a breeding ground for new variants. “Where you have unchecked transmission there’s always a higher risk of new variants emerging,” Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said in the press briefing. Vaccines will save lives, reduce hospitalization and suppress transmission, but they also function “to keep pressure on the virus so we don’t see the same rate of evolution,” he said.

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A collision strips dark matter, starts star formation

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Enlarge / The dark matter-poor galaxies are so diffuse that you can see right through them.

The Universe’s first galaxies are thought to have formed at sites where a lot of dark matter coalesced, providing the gravitational pull to draw in enough regular matter to create stars. And, to date, it’s impossible to explain the behavior of almost all the galaxies we’ve observed without concluding that they have a significant dark matter component.

Almost, but not all. Recently, a handful of galaxies have been identified that are dim and diffuse, and appear to have relatively little dark matter. For a while, these galaxies couldn’t be explained, raising questions about whether the observations had provided an accurate picture of their composition. However, researchers recently identified one way the galaxies could form: A small galaxy could be swallowed by a larger one that keeps the dark matter and spits out the stars.

Now, a second option has been proposed, based on the behavior of dark matter in a galaxy cluster. This model may explain a series of objects found near the dark matter-poor galaxies. And it may suggest that galaxy-like objects could be formed without an underlying dark matter component.

Bullet time

The galaxy cluster that’s the inspiration for this model is called the Bullet Cluster. First described in 2006, this huge grouping of galaxies is the product of a collision between two previously distinct clusters. Because dark matter doesn’t interact physically, the dark matter portion of each of the two clusters passed gracefully through the collision site and continued on its way. The regular matter, in contrast, experienced an actual collision, with shockwaves developing within the large amounts of gas that accompanied the galaxy clusters.

Observations of gravitational lensing indicated that most of the mass was with the dark matter, which had moved past the collision site. But most of the visible matter is still near where the collision initially took place. This method of separating regular and dark matter has held up well to further observations and modeling.

The new work relies on extending the mechanism involved in creating the Bullet Cluster down to the scale of individual galaxies. The physics works the same way: A collision slams normal matter into a messy collision driven by its interactions, while dark matter passes smoothly through the mess. It’s not clear how much of the regular matter structures can survive this sort of mess. But, because there can be a lot of gas present after the dark matter has moved on, it’s possible the regular matter can form structures that lack a dark matter component.

The new research applies this logic to the two best-established dark matter-free galaxies, called DF2 and DF4, which are dwarf galaxies that exist near a normal, large galaxy called NGC 1052.

This goes to 11

It’s easy to model collisions between dwarf galaxies that create a situation akin to the Bullet Cluster, with dark and regular matter separated. Collectively, these are referred to as “bullet dwarf” collisions. (Dwarf bullet would seem to be more descriptive, but that wasn’t chosen for some reason.)

But in this case, the researchers were able to put a lot of constraints on the model based on the physical situation around NGC 1052. One of those constraints was provided by NGC 1052, the large galaxy in the area. There’s no real reason to expect these sorts of galaxy collisions to occur near a large galaxy like that. Its presence in the area suggests that the proximity was central to the collision: One of the smaller galaxies involved in the collision was in orbit around NGC 1052.

Obviously, having both in orbit would make a collision more probable. But it would also mean that the dwarf galaxies wouldn’t have a combined speed that would create a sufficiently violent collision. So at least one of the galaxies would have to come in from outside the system and pick up speed while being drawn in toward NGC 1052.

The other major constraint they have is the existence of the two dark matter-poor galaxies, DF2 and DF4, as well as a sense of their relative motion. The relative motion allowed the researchers to trace the galaxies’ movements backward through time and conclude that any collision probably took place about 8 billion years ago, which is in good agreement with the age of some of the stars in DF2.

Models of the collision suggest that, in addition to DF2 and DF4, this collision should produce two dark matter-rich dwarf galaxies, and those should appear to be roughly along the line defined by DF2 and DF4. So the researchers looked in a catalog of objects for other dwarf galaxies in the region that might have emerged from the collision. Instead of four total objects, they found 11.

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Martin Shkreli out of prison over 2 years early, moved to halfway house

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Enlarge / Martin Shkreli, former CEO of Turing, smirked his way through a congressional hearing.

Infamous ex-pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli has been released from federal prison after serving less than five years of a seven-year sentence for a securities and wire fraud conviction. He is now moving into a US Bureau of Prisons halfway house at an undisclosed location in New York until September 14, 2022.

Shkreli was convicted in August 2017 on two counts of securities fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud in connection to what federal prosecutors called a Ponzi-like scheme involving two hedge funds Shkreli managed. In March 2018, a federal judge sentenced him to seven years, which he was serving in minimum security federal prison in Allenwood, Pennsylvania.

His early release—slightly more than four years after his sentencing—reflects time shaved off for good behavior in prison, plus completion of education and rehabilitation programs, according to CNBC. It also includes a credit for the roughly six months he spent in jail prior to his sentencing.

“I am pleased to report that Martin Shkreli has been released from Allenwood prison and transferred to a BOP halfway house after completing all programs that allowed for his prison sentence to be shortened,” his lawyer, Ben Brafman, said in a statement to The Washington Post and other media.

The statement also noted that Brafman “encouraged Mr. Shkreli to make no further statement, nor will he or I have any additional comments at this time.”

A Bureau of Prisons spokesperson told CNBC that Shkreli was transferred to community confinement overseen by the agency’s Residential Reentry Management Office. “For safety and security reasons, we do not discuss any individual inmate’s conditions of confinement to include transfers or release plans,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

While the hedge fund-related fraud charges were what landed Shkreli behind bars, his infamy dates back to 2015 when he abruptly jacked up the price of lifesaving, decades-old antiparasitic drug Daraprim by more than 4,000 percent. The drug is largely prescribed to babies and people with compromised immune systems, such as HIV patients, and its price hike made Shkreli a poster child of pharmaceutical greed. His subsequent online antics, smugness, and shameless disregard for patients earned him the nickname of “pharma bro” in the press.

In January of this year, a federal court issued Shkreli a lifetime ban from working in the pharmaceutical industry in any capacity. He was also ordered to pay back $64.6 million in profits from the Daraprim scheme.

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