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Walmart Black Friday ad features $99 Chromebook, $89 Windows 2-in-1 laptop

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Walmart 2018 Black Friday ad

Walmart may not be the first place you think of when it comes to buy a new computer, but the retailing giant always manages to have a few deals on systems when Black Friday rolls around — and this year is no exception.

The company prides itself on having the lowest prices, and when it comes to Black Friday laptop sales, it’s the early leader, with a pair of notebooks selling for under $100. One is the Samsung Chromebook 3, equipped with an Intel Celeron processor, 4 gigs of RAM, 16GB of built-in storage, and an 11.6-inch display, for $99 ($100 off the regular price); the other is an RCA Cambio 2-in-1 Windows device, including Intel Atom CPU, 2GB of memory, 32GB of storage, 10.1-inch touchscreen, and detachable keyboard, for $89. Of course, RCA isn’t exactly a top-tier PC brand, but that price is $30-$40 lower than we’ve seen so far for any laptop running Windows that we’ve previewed as a Black Friday deal.

Walmart has a quartet of additional HP laptops if you don’t want the most bare-bones of specs. The Stream 11 moves up to an Intel Celeron N4000 processor, 4GB of RAM, 32 gigs of built-in storage, and a 1,366×768 11.6-inch screen for $159. For $100 more, the HP 15-inch Touch laptop uses an Intel Pentium chip, 4GB of memory, a terabyte hard drive, and a 15.6-inch touchscreen display.

A more powerful 2-in-1 option is the Pavilion x360, which features an Intel Core i5 chip, 4GB of memory, a terabyte hard drive (with 16GB of Intel Optane memory), 15.6-inch, and a digital pen for $499 ($180 off). Finally, gamers on a budget might want to consider the Pavilion Gaming Laptop, built around a Core Core i5-8300H processor, 8GB of RAM, 1TB hard drive, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics card, and 15.6-inch full HD display for $599, or $230 off the current price.

Like a few other retailers, Walmart will be selling the latest 9.7-inch iPad for $249, but unlike Target, it isn’t advertising any discount on the iPad mini 4. Cheaper tablet options include the 9.6-inch flavor of the Samsung Galaxy Tab E, which includes a $25 Google Play credit, for $129 ($60 off), and the 7-inch RCA Voyager III Android slate for a mere $28.

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Florida’s surgeon general refused to wear mask to meet senator with cancer

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Enlarge / Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo speaks during a press conference at Neo City Academy in Kissimmee, Florida.

Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida’s top health official was tossed from a meeting last week after refusing to wear a mask in the presence of a state senator with cancer.

In a reportedly tense exchange on Wednesday, state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo was asked to leave the office of Democratic state Senator Tina Polsky, who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Cancer patients are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and becoming severely ill. They also may not be able to mount a full immune response after being vaccinated against the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ladapo had requested the meeting with Polsky in an effort to win Senate confirmation for his appointment, which Gov. Ron DeSantis announced late last month. Ladapo’s appointment has drawn controversy, particularly from Democrats, because of his views on the pandemic and vocal opposition to public health measures. In a series of op-eds and public appearances, Ladapo has advocated for allowing the pandemic coronavirus to spread and signed onto the controversial Great Barrington Declaration. Meanwhile, he has stoked unfounded fears about vaccine safety, misrepresented evidence on mask effectiveness, and opposed mask mandates, vaccine mandates, quarantines for school children, and lockdowns.

According to the Associated Press, Ladapo arrived maskless at Polsky’s office Wednesday with two maskless aides. Polsky’s staff offered them masks, but they refused to wear them. At the time, Polsky had not yet made her cancer diagnosis public, but staff told Ladapo that Polksy had a serious medical condition that necessitated taking health precautions. Polsky asked Ladapo why he refused to wear a mask, but according to Polsky, he refused to answer the question.

“It was so shocking to me that he treated me in this manner,” Polsky told the AP. “If he is a surgeon general for the next several years, I am really concerned about a future public health emergency and not being able to rely on him for necessary guidance and proper scientific leadership.”

Republican Florida Senate leader Wilton Simpson on Saturday sent a memo to senators about the incident and requested that visitors be respectful. “It shouldn’t take a cancer diagnosis for people to respect each other’s level of comfort with social interactions during a pandemic,” Simpson said. “What occurred in Senator Polsky’s office was unprofessional and will not be tolerated in the Senate.”

A spokesperson for Florida’s Department of Health, Weesam Khoury, confirmed the scheduled meeting between Ladapo and Polsky but told the AP that the department would address meeting accommodations between health officials and senate members privately.

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Firefly completes design of Moon mission, aiming for 2023 launch

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Enlarge / An artist’s rendering of Firefly’s Blue Ghost spacecraft landing on the Moon.

Firefly Aerospace

Although Firefly Aerospace is only a few weeks removed from its first-ever launch attempt, the Texas-based space company is already making good progress toward its first mission to land on the Moon.

Firefly said Monday that it has completed the “critical design review” phase of its program to develop a lunar lander. This means the company can now proceed to build and order components for the “Blue Ghost” spacecraft and begin its assembly. Firefly aims to launch the spacecraft as the primary payload on a Falcon 9 rocket in the fall of 2023.

NASA is sponsoring the mission as part of its Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program, through which it pays private companies to deliver scientific experiments to the Moon. NASA is paying $93.3 million for this Blue Ghost mission, which will carry 10 payloads down to the Mare Crisium lunar basin in September 2023.

“We got through the critical design review process in eight months, which is a very fast pace for sending something to the surface of the Moon,” William Coogan, Blue Ghost’s chief engineer, told Ars.

The lander is sized like a large person, about 2 meters tall, and capable of carrying 155 kg of payload to the Moon’s surface. From the time that NASA ordered the mission, Firefly will have had about 2.5 years to design and build the lander, Coogan said.

He is most excited about the spacecraft’s potential to stream high-definition video from the surface of the Moon at 10 megabits per second. One camera, at the top of the spacecraft, will be set to track to Earth as it moves over the Moon, and its eclipse as it sets over the horizon. Coogan said he is eager to share such a view of our home planet with the entire world.

To date, NASA has selected six missions as part of the innovative commercial lunar payload program. The first two of these, built separately by Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines, may launch in 2022. If Blue Ghost holds to its production schedule, it should be the third or fourth private US mission to land on the Moon.

Firefly started as a launch company and attempted its first Alpha rocket launch in early September. The rocket failed after one of its first-stage engines shut off only seconds after launch, but the company is already well on its way toward a second attempt, said CEO Tom Markusic. The company plans to deliver hardware for its second flight to the launch site at Vandenberg Space Force Base in December and may attempt a launch as early as January 2022.

The company’s rocket production process is strongly vertically integrated, so developing Blue Ghost has been a challenge in that it relies more heavily on external partners, Markusic said. For example, the spacecraft’s engines are being built by a Ukrainian company, Flight Control. And the supply chain issues that have struck other industries have hit the aerospace sector as well.

The Blue Ghost team is shown in front of actual-size spacecraft models.
Enlarge / The Blue Ghost team is shown in front of actual-size spacecraft models.

Firefly Aerospace

“I’d say the supply chain is my biggest concern, but it’s not a serious concern,” Markusic said about Blue Ghost’s scheduled launch and lunar landing. “The way we’ve mitigated that is we’ve picked good partners and we’ve watched them carefully. Overall I feel good.”

Although he began Firefly to launch rockets, Markusic said he has realized that to scale in the space industry, a company needs to do more than launch. SpaceX, for example, has diversified beyond launch with its Dragon spacecraft and Starlink satellite businesses.

So in addition to developing a larger “Beta” rocket and the Blue Ghost lander, Firefly is also working on an in-space utility vehicle. The privately held company completed a round of Series A funding earlier this year and aims to raise an additional $100 million or more by the first quarter of 2023 to fund its ongoing development activities.

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When it comes to solar farms, sheep are great groundskeepers

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Enlarge / Sheep may safely graze.

What makes a good spot for livestock and a good spot for solar farms often overlaps. They’re both large, quite flat, and get a good amount of sun, being free from tall vegetation. As such, solar producers are increasingly leasing farm land for their operations.

The increase in solar production has environmental benefits, but it can come at the price of diminished agriculture production. That’s why there’s a growing interest in finding ways of combining ag and solar production in one place. For Todd Schmit, an associate professor of agribusiness at Cornell University, this means bringing out the sheep.

It’s still a new field (Editor’s note: pun so unintended that Doug didn’t even see it until I asked), but some farmers are partnering with solar producers, the former using the latter’s land for grazing. The solar producers pay farmers to ship their sheep over to their operations, and the sheep chow down on the weeds and other plants that might grow to the point they block the Sun from reaching the panels.

The sheep get fed, the farmers get paid, and the solar producers have their vegetation managed without using mowers and weed whackers—which can sometimes struggle to reach beneath the panels and use fossil fuels—or herbicides. This industry has been expanding in New York state since 2017, according to a report by the American Solar Grazing Association (ASGA). The report notes that the Empire State currently has 900 acres of solar energy-producing land being grazed. But there’s still plenty of room to grow.

Why sheep?

Currently, not much lamb or mutton is produced in the US. According to the USDA, more than half of this meat is imported from New Zealand and Australia. As such, having sheep graze alongside solar panels could be a bit of a growth sector—and not just for meat, as sheep also produce wool and milk. Schmit noted that, although the US doesn’t currently consume much sheep’s meat, the domestic market is growing. Raising the livestock in the US could also bolster local economies.

There are a few reasons sheep are the superior choice for grazing on solar farms. For one, they are shorter than cows and horses. They will also eat most kinds of forage, which helps keep plant growth at bay. Goats, on the other hand, will chew pretty much anything, which is a bit of a risk on solar farms.

“Cows and horses are too big, so they can do damages by rubbing on the panels,” Schmit said. “Goats will eat the wires; sheep won’t. Go figure. Sheep are like the perfect medium for this.”

Sunny disposition

Recently, Schmit received $500,000 in funding (half from Cornell, the other half from the USDA) over three years. The funding is to help expand the solar-sheep practice through the creation of either a business cooperative or producer-owned organization. The project is called “A New Dawn for Shepherds: Grazing Sheep Under Utility-Scale Solar Arrays.” Schmit is partnering with various farmers, solar industry professionals, and the ASGA, which is a nonprofit organization that connects sheep farmers with solar producers. Together, they will determine what form New Dawn will take and what it will offer to farmers either hoping to expand their sheep production on solar farms or get started doing it.

The process will involve interviewing the farmers—both current and prospective—about their common needs and goals as well as their common vision for the organization. Schmit and his team will also speak with solar producers to get a sense of what they would like to see from the organization.

The form the organization will take and what it will provide are still being determined. According to Schmit, generally speaking, solar operations would rather just deal with a single entity rather than multiple farms. So the organization could be a kind of point of contact between them and the shepherds. It could also help the shepherds with contract negotiations, marketing, planning, deliveries, and logistics, among other things. However, reaching a consensus among the farmers will take some time.

“Consensus drives participation,” Schmit told Ars. “Consensus drives investment. Consensus drives more interest in the project.”

Wool they or won’t they?

(Pun completely intended that time.)

Schmit added that, although New Dawn is focused more on New York and the American Northeast, throughout the process, he and his team will be developing tools, guides, financial feasibility templates, etc., that can be used by other groups hoping to start similar organizations elsewhere. “At the end of the day, we want to be able to develop things that industries, farms, developers can use. Not everyone has to start at zero,” he said.

ASGA co-founder Lexie Hain said that the business co-op could potentially establish biosecurity protocols. If sheep from different farms mingle, they could potentially spread diseases, which is an issue that might need addressing. The organization could also potentially bargain for cheaper insurance and help suss out details around transit.

According to Hain, solar grazing is still a young field, but farmers and solar operators are becoming increasingly interested. The ASGA only formally began in 2019, but as of last February, it had 246 members, made up of various solar and sheep industry professionals. “I think there’s a lot of interest in it, and there’s a lot of potential,” she told Ars.

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