Apple Planning to Jazz It Up With Some Original Podcasts: Report

  • July 16, 2019
Photo: Drew Angerer (Getty)

With Apple poised to further expand its services to better compete with its streaming rivals—whether or not its offerings will be any good—it was probably only a matter of time before we learned that the company has its eye on podcasts as well. The question is, will they be any good?

Citing sources familiar with the matter, Bloomberg reported Tuesday that Apple plans to create original podcasts to better compete with the likes of like Spotify, which recently acquired Gimlet, Parcast, and Anchor and appears to be tinkering with how best to serve its podcast offerings to its consumer base. It also makes sense for a company launching a standalone Podcasts app for desktop.

According to Bloomberg, the company’s top brass “have reached out to media companies and their representatives to discuss buying exclusive rights to podcasts,” though the report stated that the company does not yet have a “clear strategy” in place for its podcast originals. But if Apple’s vision for podcasts is anything like its rumored template for its forthcoming television series, expecting anything groundbreaking might be a bit premature.

Back in September, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple CEO Tim Cook was personally involved with running interference on any gratuitous sex, violence, or profanity, turning its Apple TV+ video streaming service into what some members of Apple’s team in Los Angeles allegedly referred to privately as “expensive NBC.” Earlier this month, Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of internet software and services, disputed the rumor and insinuated at least one of the product’s series, The Morning Show, will deal with adult topics not suitable for children.

Bloomberg reported that Apple “has said it plans to pursue the kind of deals it didn’t make before” for its podcasts, which does seem promising. Quite frankly, however, until we’re shown otherwise, it’s probably safer to bet on some pretty tame offerings from a notoriously clean-cut company with apparently little interest in rocking the content boat.

Zero’s SR/F electric motorcycle makes a great commuter bike

  • July 9, 2019

But instead of blending into the sea of motorcycles, the SR/F sticks out in a way other Zero models never did. A lot of it has to do with the design; the company decided to highlight its electric powertrain. The updated Z-Force motor is smack dab in the center of the bike while the battery pack gets orange accents. It looks good. But more importantly, it rides great.

The bike is a smorgasbord of new and updated parts. The company’s latest motor is coupled to a 14.4kWh battery pack. The motorcycle maker’s latest Cypher III operating system and Bosch’s Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC) keep the bike under control. While the monochrome dash cluster found on other Zeros has been replaced with a full-color, five-inch TFT LCD display. Oh, and it comes standard with a level 2 charging port.

The combination of all those elements means this isn’t just an evolution of the company’s lineup. It’s actually a leap forward. The past few years I’ve remarked on how much fun it is to ride an electric motorcycle. That excitement is still there, but some of the rougher edges have been smoothed out for a more enjoyable experience overall.

Zero SR/F review

The 110 horsepower and 140 pounds of torque are kept in check by the updated system and I still got the excitement of taking off like a shot. But the acceleration is smooth and more importantly, the anti-lock brake system and stability control features gave me confidence that if something went hinky, I could stop, slow down, or maneuver around any obstacles

The bike’s neutral steering position made for an exciting and stable ride through mountain passes. Slow for a turn, lean, accelerate out, and repeat. The lack of a clutch still takes me a little bit to get used too, and after half a day of riding, I only caught myself twice reaching for a phantom lever with my left hand during the month I had the bike.

Riding the SR/F is a refined experience that still provides mile after mile of enjoyment. But the tech doesn’t stop at the powertrain and handling.

The inclusion of the level 2 charging port as standard means no longer looking for an electrical outlet while riding beyond the range or paying extra to add the port to a bike. The 14.4kWh battery pack can recharge at up to 6kW for the premium model and 3kW for the standard model. That seems low but remember the battery itself isn’t that large to begin with. I’d still opt for the premium bike. The SR/F starts at a whopping $19,000 and the premium model will set you back $21,000. If you’re already spending that much for an electric motorcycle, you might as well splurge on the quicker charging one. I would typically ride for a while, stop for lunch and hook up the bike and be ready to continue my ride within 45 minutes. Again, the inclusion of the level 2 port makes longer trips possible. But to be honest, that’s not the bike’s primary use case.

Zero says the SR/F has a city range of 160 miles. While riding around San Francisco, mostly in ECO mode, I got 140 miles. This was about a week’s worth of riding to work and back and running errands. But once I left the city and started riding on highways, that range plummeted to about 70 miles. Speed kills electric batteries and the human body isn’t very aerodynamic. That places the SR/F squarely in the commuter bike market with a few fun jaunts on the weekend if you do some planning.

For those commutes, the bike (like many of its predecessors) has a storage area where the gas tank would go. It locks and has two USB ports so you can charge your phone while transporting, let’s say, five burritos.

Zero SR/F review

Above that is the new full-color display. Zero has done a commendable job keeping the system from becoming too overwhelming with information. It has just enough to keep you informed of what’s going on. But with new tech comes new features. Cruise control, heated grips, ride modes and other options are all controlled by a single button/toggle/lever. To use anything there’s a learning curve that involves pressing and holding, then moving through settings. It took me about two to three days to figure it out.

That said, I kept turning on the heated grips instead of changing the ride mode. Sure my hands were toasty, but I wanted to go faster. Once you “get it” you’re set, but it takes a while. One issue I did have with the system is the slight latency while moving through settings. In a car, I’d ignore it, but on a bike, the last thing I want to do is be looking down at the gauge for any length of time especially on San Francisco’s busy streets.

If you’d rather set it then forget it, the ride modes can be adjusted via the new companion app. Like the rest of the bike, the app is better in almost every way. The layout is easier to navigate and the information is displayed in a more logical way. There is a splash screen that also includes the latest news about Zero that seemed more about self-promotion than anything, but I guess this review will end up there eventually. So woohoo?

Overall though, the tech and the bike’s 3G connection make it smarter than most anything else out there on two wheels. I could keep track of the bike’s charging and send my modified ride modes to the bike before riding.

Zero SR/F review

That’s the best part of the SR/F. It’s a piece of machine wrapped in technology that is a blast to ride. Technology and transportation should be the means to an end. When it overwhelms, it can spoil the vehicle. Here it’s in balance with a motorcycle that you want to ride. Even without the app, or smart cluster, the SR/F is great (shiny displays are just a bonus).

When is Prime Day 2019?

  • July 2, 2019

Amazon Prime Day is only two weeks away and once again we’ll bring you all the very best Prime Day deals right here throughout the Prime Day period. 

Like Black Friday, the summer’s Amazon Prime Day is a chance to pick up some amazing bargains. When the deals are gone, they’re gone. 

When is Amazon Prime Day 2019?

The deals will flowing on Monday 16 July at midnight – so Sunday into Monday morning. The deals will keep going for 48 hours this time around. so it’s Amazon Prime Days rather than a single day – and yes, things end at the end of Tuesday 16 July. 

Prime Day, as the name suggests, was previously centred around a 24-hour period, but this is the first 48-hour Prime Day. Last year Amazon Prime Day deals took place for 36 hours across 16-17 July. In July 2017 it was 10-11 July. 

Do I need to be a Prime member to get Amazon Prime Day deals?

Yes – to get Amazon Prime deals you need to be a Prime member. If you’re not, it’s high time you signed up for Prime membership – you get 30-days free membership if you’ve not been a member before. It costs £79 a year (or £7.99 a month, if you can’t stretch to the one-off payment).

Some of the very best deals are always on Amazon devices, but there are stacks across all product categories such as TV, laptops, smart home, fitness, cameras, gaming and more.

Amazon UK early Prime Day deals

There are some Amazon Prime Day deals already live. It might be quite early, but things are hotting up. As well as the offers below you can get some excellent deals on Amazon subscriptions, too. Get Kindle Unlimited (three months free) or Music Unlimited (four months for 99p). There are also some top deals available in other areas, such as 20 percent off Amazon Basics tech gear.

You can expect more than one million deals on Amazon’s own devices as well as other products across the next couple of weeks. 

This year’s Prime Day sale is available to Prime members in the US, UK, Spain, Singapore, Netherlands, Mexico, Luxembourg, Japan, Italy, India, Germany, France, China, Canada, Belgium, Austria, Australia, and the UAE.

Browse Amazon deals by category

Check out these popular deal pages on Amazon (UK) to see if there’s a deal for you:

You can ask an Alexa-enabled device, such as an Amazon Echo or Amazon Dot, “Alexa, what are your deals?”, and you’ll get a heads up on many Prime Day deals. Try asking Alexa right now, she’s always got deals on the go. 

How to find Amazon Lightning deals

Lighting deals go as quick as they arrive and are offered throughout Amazon Prime Day. Check out the links below for Lightning deals in key areas on

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Can you get Amazon Prime Now on Amazon Prime Day? 

Yes you can on selected items. Prime Now is Amazon’s free two-hour delivery service available to customers in select postcodes in London, Birmingham, Hertfordshire, Sheffield, Surrey, Newcastle, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Portsmouth and Glasgow. You order something from the dedicated smartphone application or in-browser at and it will be with you, with free delivery, within two hours.

Previous Amazon Prime Now deals included:

  • 30 per cent off select Walkers crisps
  • 40 per cent off select Nescafe coffee
  • 30 per cent off select Coca-Cola bottles and cans
  • 25 per cent off select wine when you buy 6 bottles
  • 20 per cent off select items from Dettol, Vanish and Finish

Amazon Prime Day 2019 tips and tricks

Get an Amazon Prime free trial to get the deals

Amazon Prime costs £79 a year. You can, however, sign up for a free 30-day trial to get the deals. A neat trick is that you are fully entitled to cancel your Amazon Prime subscription after once you’ve got your shopping deal.

  • Amazon Prime free trial: UK
  • Amazon Prime free trial: US

As long as you cancel the trial before the end you won’t be charged the £79 / $99 yearly subscription. Amazon hopes though that once you’ve enjoyed some of the benefits you won’t hit the cancel button.

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Don’t miss an Amazon Prime Day deal

Get the dedicated Amazon shopping app on your mobile and turn on notifications.  Within the notifications settings you can turn on “Watched” and “Waitlisted Deals” so you don’t miss it.

Save even more money on your Amazon Prime Day deal

Get £1 back by opting for No-Rush Delivery if you don’t need your new bargain straight away.

Make a list to get the best deals

Rather than going in with a scattergun approach, make a list before you go onto Amazon and be targeted about the products you want. It might be in July, but Amazon Prime Day is a perfect chance to do your Christmas shopping on the cheap.

It’s sure to be a big day for deals on Amazon Prime Day 2019. Hitwise data reveals that the volume of Prime Day web searches last year were up 57% compared to the previous year and on the day of Prime Day’s official announcement, searches unsurprisingly increased 162%

Amazon’s own devices are the most popular products on Prime Day. Echo Dot and Kindle were the most viewed product pages in the days leading up to the announcement of the sale. There were also 68,000 visits to the Nintendo Switch product page around Prime Day last year, too, in anticipation of a decent Nintendo Switch deal. 

Check out more great Amazon Prime Day tips

Oregon Climate Bill Appears Dead After Some Ridiculous Bullshit You Can’t Make Up

  • June 25, 2019
Student leaders with the lobbying group Renew Oregon, which helped craft landmark climate change legislation currently under debate in Oregon, pose to show their T-shirts after a news conference in Salem, Oregon, on June 20, 2019.
Photo: AP

A landmark climate change bill that appeared on the brink of passing the Oregon state legislature last week now seems to be dead.

The state’s senate was set to take up a vote on a cap-and-trade bill that would have used a market mechanism (favored by conservatives) to reduce carbon pollution when Republicans deserted their duties. All 12 Republican state senators absconded from Salem late last week or refused to appear at the statehouse. That sparked a state police manhunt, Republican senators sending not-so-veiled threats at police, and right wing militias throwing their support behind the senators. Rather than stay the course, five days after the debacle began and with the Republicans still MIA, state Democrats have caved.

On Tuesday, Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney said the bill would not move forward because it did not have the votes. Details are still emerging, but the message this whole episode sends are pretty terrible.

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Oregon State Police Are Searching for Republican Lawmakers Afraid of Voting on Climate Policy

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“There’s no strategy for what I’m about to say,” Courtney said announcing his decision in what may be the understatement of the century. “House Bill 2020 does not have the votes on the senate floor.”

It’s not immediately clear what sparked Courtney’s decision to announce the bill didn’t have the votes, but Lauren Dake, OPB’s politics reporter, tweeted that “senators were visibly upset.” It’s indeed possible the senate no longer had enough Democratic votes to pass the bill, but outside groups who helped craft the bill and supported it called bullshit.

“Senate President Peter Courtney said on the Senate Floor today there are not the votes to pass HB 2020,” Tera Hurst, executive director of Renew Oregon, said in a statement. “That is in direct contradiction to what 16 Senators told their constituents to their faces in recent days. This is the biggest failure of public leadership in Oregon in recent memory.”

Democrats control a supermajority in Oregon’s statehouse and needed 16 of their 18 caucus members to vote yes for the bill to pass (it already cleared the house) and go to Governor Kate Brown’s desk. It would have been one of the strongest climate laws in the nation, regulating greenhouse gas emissions from across industries under a carbon market. The money it raised would have then been plowed back into protecting low-income communities as well as those affected by the transition to a clean energy economy.

Republican senators opposed it. As the minority, there was little they could do and so as an option of last resort, they packed up and left. That left the senate without a quorum to vote, and so Governor Brown dispatched the state police to look for them and started to organize a special session to vote on the bill should the Republicans not return before the end of the legislative session on June 30. Militias offered to “protect” senators from said police, and issued enough credible threats that the Oregon capitol shut down over the weekend at the recommendation of the state police commissioner.

The whole thing represents a perversion of democracy. Democrats controlled supermajorities in both chambers of the state senate and the governorship. They did it by appealing to a majority of voters, giving them a mandate to pass their agenda. And on climate, it’s an agenda worth fighting for since time is short and a habitable planet is a terrible thing to waste. Instead of holding to those principles, they appear to be blinking in the face of Republican intransigence and veiled threats of violence by right wing extremists.

It’s possible Democrats are playing some 12 dimensional chess. Courtney didn’t outright say he had killed the bill. The Oregonian reports Republicans are suspicious this could be a ruse to bring them back to the Capitol, which seems like it’s giving Democrats too much credit. It’s also possible Democrats will introduce a more moderate version of the cap-and-trade bill. But if you think the lesson senate Republicans and its militia supporters have learned is to bargain, I’ve got a bridge from Portland to Salem I’ll sell you.

The whole debacle has made it pretty clear that for the growing number of Republicans seemingly invested in addressing climate change, the party line is still to very much to oppose any meaningful progress. And by caving to the threat of violence and theatrics, Oregon Democrats just paved the way for more extremist responses to climate legislation. I’m sure this will end well.

Earther has reached out to Senator Courtney’s and Governor Brown’s offices and we will update this post if we hear back.

Google reveals plans to build 20,000 Bay Area homes

  • June 18, 2019

Additionally, Google is setting up a $250 million investment fund for developers to build more than 5,000 affordable housing units in the area. It also plans to give $50 million to nonprofits focused on homelessness and displacement.

“Across the region, one issue stands out as particularly urgent and complex: housing,” Pichai wrote. “The lack of new supply, combined with the rising cost of living, has resulted in a severe shortage of affordable housing options for long-time middle and low-income residents.”

Google aims to work with local authorities to cut through red tape and clear a path for developers to build homes as soon as possible. Pichai says the company has already successfully convinced its home city of Mountain View to change the zoning on some land to allow housing development, and it’s working with Sunnyvale and San Jose (where it’s expanding) to free up land for homes.

The lack of available, affordable housing is a real concern in the Bay Area. Pichai notes that last year, developers built only 3,000 new homes in the South Bay. Google is one of the biggest employers in the region and, naturally, everyone working for it needs a place to live relatively close by.

News of the investment arrives a day ahead of a shareholders meeting at Google’s parent company Alphabet. Several protests are planned for the meeting, including from those concerned about Google’s impact on the San Jose real estate market. The investment also follows Mountain View legislators voting in March to ban people from parking RVs in the city overnight. Thousands of people reportedly live in RVs across the Bay Area because they can’t afford to rent or buy a home.

Fantastic street artist transforms the world with pixel art

  • June 11, 2019

Johan Karlgren is an incredible street artist with an eye for creating new views of the world with awesome pieces of pixel art.

This brilliant Swedish artist is essentially using the world as his canvas. Decorating the streets, coastlines and landscapes with handcrafted wonders.

He uses a mix of beads and ingenious imagination to craft incredible little pixel style visions of some of our favourite cartoon, gaming and TV characters from over the last few decades.

We’ve collated a gallery of our faves for you to enjoy, but be sure to check out his Instagram account and follow him for more.

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Everywhere’s a golf course

The great thing about this tiny little pixel creations is a simple change of perspective and the smallest area of the world can seem enormous. This shot is a perfect example of that as a small strip of grass is turned into a personal golf course. 

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Sonic catching some waves

Even Sonic the Hedgehog needs some downtime. Of course, our nifty little blue friend never slows down though. This shot shows him catching some waves in the middle of the urban jungle. 

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Luigi in danger

Luigi looks fairly cheerful considering he’s plummeting off the side of the road into the waters below. Totalled automobile will be the least of his problems. 

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Guybrush Threepwood fishing

Guybrush Threepwood is not above a good adventure. The star of the classic Monkey Island series of video games (that originally started in the 1990s) is seen here engaging in a casual spot of fishing. Why not? Adventuring is pretty exhausting and everyone needs a break now and then. 

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Nevermind Mario

What awesome pixelated display of classic video game characters would be complete without Mario? 

Johan Karlgren, aka Pappas Pärlor, went even further with this one though, by using Mario to recreate the iconic cover of Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind. The old plumber taking the place of the naked baby and the dollar bill being swapped for a mushroom. 

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Cookie monster

Some of this art almost creates itself. A blue overflow drain by the side of the road, quickly and easily transformed into the cookie monster with the addition of some wild eyes, a cookie and a single munching arm. 

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Grumpy Cat

Alas, the most famous feline to ever grace the web, Tardar Sauce (aka Grumpy Cat) passed away in May 2019. This pixel art recreation of her may well be a fitting tribute to the much loved pussy. 

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Mario Kart in real life

We all enjoy a spot of Mario Kart. Imagine if you could race on real beaches and turn the entire world into your race track. How much fun could you have? These chaps are certainly having a blast. 

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Mo tavernless

Simpson’s bartender Mo is rarely the happiest of chappies, but being without his tavern and forced to sell his wares on the street, he looks even more put out. We love the reimaging of Duff beer in pixel form though, bound to quench the thirst. 

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Homer meme

It’s great to see the classic Simpson’s meme recreated in wonderful pixel art – Homer Simpson backing carefully through a hedge to avoid the neighbours. 

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Hulk smash

Hulk smash! Even a tiny, tiny version of the green-skinned Marvel superhero packs a serious punch. We always enjoy seeing artists using potholes to create artwork. There are plenty of different ways these individuals create something cool out of an urban menace. This one might be one of our favourites. 

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Arcade-style racing game OutRun came out back in the hazy days of 1986, but it’s still an iconic legend and sports visual that are instantly recognisable. Pappas Pärlor used his skills to create an awesome homage to the gaming classic with a video that makes it look like he’s racing against the Ferrari in real life. 

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Sensei Splinter

Mentor and trainer of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Sensei Splinter looks pretty impressive in this close up snap of him above ground guarding the entrance to his lair. It does look like he’s casually dropped a cigarette butt though, we don’t approve of smoking or littering. 

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It seems like everyone is selfie obsessed these days. This spot of artwork does make us wonder what it might look like if Robocop was real and had his own Instagram account though. 

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A different kind of ring

It seems that Sonic’s compulsive need to collect golden rings isn’t limited to virtual ones he can catch as he runs through a gaming level. Crisps and ring-shaped cereal is also fair game. 

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Finish him

Mortal Kombat fighting legends Subzero and Skorpion have taken to numerous locations on the mean streets to battle it out and see who will be the victor. Who will be the first to pull off their finishing move? 

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Never eat yellow snow

No Yoshi! Bad dinosaur! Don’t eat yellow snow! Everyone knows you shouldn’t eat yellow snow. 

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Ninja turtles surveying their surroundings

While Sensei Splinter might be standing guard on the harsh streets, the Ninja Turtles are busy looking for the nearest place to grab a slice of pizza. Guessing by the looks on their faces, we’re not sure they’ve found the right spot. 

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Vader’s day a the beach

Photos from Darth Vader’s holiday snaps show that even one of the greatest screen villains of our time enjoys a little time by the shore. We’d love to know why he felt the need to take his lightsabre with him though. 

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Shark puddle

Another pothole, another classic piece of artwork. This small section of the urban landscape has been transformed into a much more dangerous place to be. Jaws strikes again, only this time from the ankle-nipping shallows. 

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Spiderman just hanging out

Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can. Does he hang from some stairs? Yes does because he’s Spiderman. A little light and a brilliant location shows off a wonderful vision of Spiderman like we’ve never seen before. 

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Genie in a bottle

A bottle of beer might not be your classic haunt for a genie, but it is an interesting one. This vision of Aladdin’s Genie brings back wonderful memories of the humour and acting talent of Robin Williams. 

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Who ya’ gonna call?

Slimer is on the loose and the Ghostbusters gang have rocked up to sort him out and clearance the ghostly menace from the streets before he brings any harm to the local motorists. 

We love the attention to detail Pappas Pärlor puts into his work. Little touches including the colours of the ghost traps and even Egon Spengler’s spectacles make an appearance. 

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Duck hunt dog

That pesky dog! Cheeky rascal that he was. Popping up to tease us when we were busy blasting ducks in Nintendo classic Duck Hunt. We thoroughly enjoyed seeing him reimagined for VR in Duck Season and we equally love seeing him recreated in pixel art too. 

North Korea’s 2017 Nuclear Test Estimated to Be 16 Times Stronger Than the Bomb Dropped on Hiroshima

  • June 4, 2019
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspecting an apparent hydrogen bomb in 2017.
Image: Korean Central News Agency

An updated estimate shows the September 2017 nuclear test by North Korea was equivalent to 250 kilotons of TNT—an explosive yield 16 times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima during the Second World War. The explosion was also an order of magnitude stronger than the country’s previous five tests.

New research published this week in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth is providing new estimates for an underground nuclear test conducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea on September 3, 2017. The bomb, detonated at Punggye-ri nuclear test site within Mount Mantap, produced 250 kilotons of TNT, according to the new research. Given uncertainties, the strength could be as high as 328 kilotons. The 2017 test was also an order of magnitude greater than any of the previous tests conducted at the site from 2006 to 2016, indicating a sudden increase in capability.

The authors of the new study devised a more accurate estimate by taking the region’s geology into account. To determine the power of these weapons from afar, scientists study the seismic waves produced by these tests.

North Korea withdrew from the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 2003, and it started testing nukes in 2006. The country has now conducted a total of six tests, each one stronger than the last. But as the new research shows, the difference detected between the fifth and sixth tests is particularly alarming. The jump from roughly 20 kilotons to 250 kilotons signifies a dramatic boost in North Korea’s nuclear potential.

“The scary thing is that this was such a big device.”

“From 2006 to 2016 North Korea steadily increased the size of the events, from somewhere around 1 kiloton up to around 20 kilotons. The very early events looked like they didn’t work very well, because they were unusually small,” study co-author Thorne Lay, a seismologist at the University of California Santa Cruz, said in an American Geophysical Union press release. “And then in one year they jumped up to 250-ish kilotons. The scary thing is that this was such a big device.”

This revised estimate is not entirely surprising. The 2017 test triggered a 6.3 magnitude earthquake—an event that literally moved the mountain. The subterranean explosion also caused the collapse of the nuclear chamber at the at Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

Updated estimates of the six nuclear tests conducted by the DPRK to date. Black vertical lines indicate the estimated yield of each device, while the blue bars show the estimated range given uncertainty.
Image: AGU

A 2018 study assessed the yield of the device at 209 kilotons. It’s standard practice in U.S. intelligence to apply an error margin of a factor of two, so reported estimates ranged between 120 to 304 kilotons. The new study has upgraded the strength further still, to 250 kilotons with a margin of error between 148 and 328 kilotons. At the highest bound, that’s nearly 22 times the strength of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, which was 15 kilotons.

To devise their updated estimates, the researchers analyzed previously compiled data about the way sound travels through different types of rock. A soundwave, for example, will behave differently when it propagates through granite compared to sandstone. And because the geology of Mount Mantap and the surrounding area is not well known, the scientists had to use the explosions from previous nuclear tests conducted at Punggye-ri to calibrate their models.

Satellite view of Mount Mantap, the site of the nuclear tests. The exact location of each test, designated from NK1 to NK6, are shown in yellow.
Image: Google Earth/AGU

An important consideration had to do with the way underground blasts bounce back from the surface like an echo—an effect that distorts seismic recordings taken from a distance. With this in mind, the researchers estimated the “relative sizes of the bombs by finding a combination of depth and yield that compensated for the reflection of the sound from the surface,” as the AGU noted in its press release.

“They’ve modeled what the reflection would look like for different yields and depths and solved for what the signal would look like if you didn’t have to account for this returning wave. The most impressive thing in the paper for me is how similar these waveforms are. This is what gives me confidence that they’ve done a good job,” geologist Steven Gibbons, who wasn’t involved with the new study, said in the AGU press release. “I think the authors have pushed it to the limits with this paper. I would be surprised if we can get tighter constraints on the absolute yield without additional information.”

As for the type of weapon used in the 2017 test, Lay said it’s either a boosted fission bomb or modest fusion device, the latter of which is also known as a thermonuclear or hydrogen bomb. Fusions bombs combine hydrogen nuclei to form helium, resulting in enormous explosive potential—the strongest of which, the Tsar Bomba in 1961, produced upwards of 50,000 kilotons.

Quadro RTX power in a stylish package

  • May 28, 2019

That said, the company didn’t offer any games to really push the limits of this newly christened graphics card. Cherlynn Low dabbled with some Autodesk Maya, with skills one could politely call rudimentary, while I slung an awful lot of video, online and offline, onto the 15.4-inch UHD-resolution matte display — it wasn’t a test-it-to-the-limit situation whatsoever. It did, however, reaffirm what we thought the first time around: it’s an impressive machine that will surely benefit from keeping up on the cutting edge of mobile GPUs. (I’m looking forward to seeing how the new GPUs performs when review samples start to appear.)

Acer ConceptD 7

One of the core selling points remains the high-resolution screen. The matte finish batted away some heavy-duty spotlights (this was during Acer’s not-at-Computex-but-still-here media event), with a “Pantone validated” 100 percent Adobe RGB color gamut specification ensuring that visual creatives have a portable device that better represents their projects. No need for that separate high-end monitor, perhaps.

The ConceptD 7, with its matte white body, also looks perfectly pitched as a device suitable for gamers, designers and graphics artists who regularly use resource-intensive apps. Acer’s Product Marketing VP Peter Chang affirmed that’s exactly what the company is chasing with the ConceptD family. (The more substantial ConceptD 9 will also be getting a Quadro RTX 5000 option, alongside other GeForce RTX configurations, according to NVIDIA.)

Acer is shipping the ConceptD 7 in its existing config already in the US, and we’re waiting to confirm exactly when the RTX Studio edition will go on sale.

Osmo Action, DJI’s first rugged action cam, has arrived

  • May 21, 2019

DJI, a company that has become synonymous with consumer drones, is now moving into the action camera market, with the new Osmo Action.

This pits DJI against GoPro, the most popular maker of action cams. There’s been plenty of rumours about it releasing a device to to compete with the likes of GoPro, but now, we finally have a confirmation from the Chinese company. The move isn’t too surprising, considering many people who use drones pair their unmanned aerial vehicles with action cameras for stunning aerial photography.

So, DJI has some insight into what consumers might want from a rugged camera. With that said, it loaded the Osmo Action with top-end features, such as a 1/2.3-inch sensor that records 12-megapixel photos and 4K video at up to 60fps at 100Mbps. It also features what DJI described as a “three-glass aspherical lens design”, which will allow the Osmo Action to record low-distortion content.

DJIDJI image 2

The lens cap further has two layers of anti-fingerprint and anti-reflective coatings to reduce lens glare, allowing you to shoot in the brightest conditions. The Osmo Action also features colour screens on both the front and the rear, ensuring it’ll stand out from other action cameras. The 1.4-inch front-facing screen is meant to let vloggers capture perfect selfies the first time around.

As for the 2.25-inch rear-facing touchscreen, it has a water- and fingerprint-resistant coating, with a brightness of 750 nits no less, making it easy to use even in direct sunlight and other conditions. Not just the screen is waterproof; the entire action camera body is capable of operating at a depth of 36 feet, and it can withstand drops from up to five feet and can withstand temps of 14-degrees F.

Other features include a removable battery offering up to 93 minutes during 4K video recording, as well as three-axis mechanical gimbals along with Electronic Image Stabilization to ensure smooth, stable video recording during stunt work.

DJIDJI image 4

DJI said there’s a wide selection of creative features built in to the camera, including a selection of slo-mo, time lapse, and custom exposures. These features are easily accessible with a few clicks on the device. The Osmo Action can also be connected to your mobile device through the new DJI Mimo app to see a live feed of the camera, perform quick editing, and to access to story templates.

DJI is also introducing an accessory range to expand what you can do. It includes a protective camera frame kit with a universal mount for other accessories; adhesive mounts for flat and curved surfaces; a waterproof case that extends protection up to 60 meters; a 3.5mm adapter for mics, an extension rod selfie stick; a floating handle that’ll bob in water; and a charging hub for three batteries.

DJIDJI image 3

The Osmo Action itself is available now for $349 at DJI’s store. It should also be available from other retailers starting 22 May.

The Race to Save the World’s Smallest Porpoise From Extinction

  • May 14, 2019

The smallest porpoise on Earth is facing an imminent extinction event. At this moment, if aggressive action is immediately taken, experts believe the vaquita may still have a chance to survive. If nothing changes, by 2020, it could spell the end of this charismatic porpoise.

With dark-lined eyes and inky, upturned lips, the vaquita has a doll-like face and petite silhouette. Its full name, vaquita marina, means “little sea cow” in Spanish; a fitting moniker given the porpoise’s endearing appearance. But the vaquita also holds the title of most endangered marine mammal on the planet—one it was bestowed after the Yangtze river dolphin in China was declared extinct in 2006. In the 13 years since, its population collapsed over 90 percent. As of March, it was estimated that as few as 10 to 15 vaquita survive.

Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, the world’s leading vaquita expert, has been studying the species in its one and only habitat—the turquoise- and azure-colored Sea of Cortez in Baja, California—for over 20 years. He says that despite the low vaquita numbers there is still hope for the species, and notes they are genetically resilient. “They reproduce, they eat, they do what healthy populations do—we just need to stop killing them,” Rojas-Bracho told Earther.

So, what exactly is killing the vaquita? “It is absolutely gillnets,” Cynthia Smith, Executive Director for National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) told Earther.

Gillnets are coarse nylon fishing nets popular in artisanal fisheries and used across the Gulf of California. Though not directly hunted, the vaquita has been finding its death by becoming entangled in these gillnets as “bycatch” and subsequently drowning.

Over the last thirty years, gillnets set out by the legal, local shrimp industry proved devastating to vaquita numbers. On top of that, illegal fishing of the critically endangered totoaba fish has taken place since the late 1980s. The totoaba’s fish bladder, or “maw,” is in high demand in China and in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) markets around the world, where it can fetch more money than gold or cocaine.

At first, illegal totoaba fishing was sporadic and uncoordinated. But around a decade ago, international crime networks began running a large-scale, systemized trade in totoaba parts harvested from across the Gulf using gillnets. It was also around this time that the vaquita decline began to intensify. Like many species around the world, the porpoise was getting caught in the crosshairs of wildlife crime.

A totoaba caught in a gillnet.
Photo: Carolina Castro via Sea Shepherd

Andrea Crosta is a crime intelligence expert and the Executive Director of the Elephant Action League (EAL), an organization with a mission of protecting wildlife and the environment through intelligence and investigative operations. Starting in 2017, EAL led an undercover investigation of the totoaba maw supply-chain that makes its way from the Gulf of California to China and TCM markets overseas. He told Earther that “the main mistake in dealing with this [vaquita] case for the past decade was to focus only on the illegal fisherman,” rather than on the trafficking network.

“When we met and talked to Mexican law enforcement, they admitted themselves that they did not even know how to begin [gathering intelligence on] the Chinese trafficker,” Crosta said. He said the government is starting to act on the findings of the EAL’s investigation, which was shared with the top-echelons of Mexican authorities and enforcement

But while the species’ long term survival may depend on rooting out a global crime network, in the short term, efforts to halt the illegal fishing that feeds it need to be ramped up. Historically, some of the government’s undertakings to protect the vaquita have been effective, while others have not.

Off the coast of the fishing town of San Felipe lies an oceanic expanse that covers about 50 percent of vaquita range. It was protected by the government in 2005, which banned all commercial fishing, including gillnet, within its borders. Despite this protection, illegal fishing remains rampant.

In 2008, the government attempted to encourage fishers to adopt new fishing gear that does not threaten the vaquita. Unfortunately, this effort was poorly implemented and did not reap much impact. In 2015, then-Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto ordered measures to protect both the vaquita and totoaba including a two-year ban on gillnet fishing in a 5,000-square-mile area in the northern Gulf, patrols by the Mexican Navy, and financial subsidies to fishermen impacted by the plan. Many believe that these measures fell short.

In the 2015 short documentary Souls of the Vermilion Sea, Jorge Piza, a captain of the Mexican Navy who patrols vaquita habitat, offers some insight as to why. “When we find people, or fishermen, with the totoaba, or the swim bladder of the totoaba, these people are arrested and they are sent to the Federal Public Ministry,” Piza says in the film. “Usually, because it is not considered a serious crime, they get out on bail, and they are released. They just pay bail and they get out.”

Given the landscape of cartels, lax punishments, and lawlessness surrounding illegal fishing in the vaquitas’ waters, new tactics were cooked up. In the fall of 2017, an attempt known as Vaquita CPR was made to capture the last remaining vaquita and place them in a protected open-sea sanctuary. Regrettably, the species proved unable to sustain and survive capture, and the plan was soon aborted. Smith of NMMF, who was part of the leadership team in the effort, said that “the vaquita was an animal that was more fragile than we hoped for.”

A patrol ship in the vaquita refuge.
Photo: Courtesy Sea Shepherd

Others have been trying to help, too. Since 2014, activist organization Sea Shepherd has been on the front lines; collecting illegal gillnets, physically stopping fishermen from poaching totoaba, and rescuing entangled vaquita. “It’s not just the vaquita, but other species get entangled and are endangered too—hammerhead [sharks], whales, dolphins, sea lions, turtles,” Jean Paul Geoffroy, the Campaign Director for Sea Shepherd’s Operation Milagro, told Earther.

Despite all of this effort, Crosta estimates that up to 80 percent of fishers in the upper Gulf fish totoaba today.

As of this writing, the illegal totoaba fishing season in the upper Gulf is at its height. The remainder of this season, as well as other bycatching fishing that will take place before the next one, carry critical weight to the survival of the vaquita. The big question is whether local and national Mexican government will enact and enforce restrictive measures to protect the last remaining vaquita. Such measures might include zero-tolerance enforcement of the no-fishing zone inside the vaquita refuge, combatting local corruption, and higher authority given to the Mexican Navy, along with more expansive patrols.

Toward the end of May and into early June, the totoaba fish will start to migrate south and exit the vaquita refuge. As early as November the fish are due to return. Looking forward, experts say the vaquita is unlikely to endure the next totoaba season beginning in the fall of 2019.

“It is very important what everyone will do in the next months before the next [totoaba] season starts,” Crosta said, adding that top priorities will be a “high-level investigation along the illegal supply chain of totoaba, disruption of the criminal networks and pressure on the Chinese traders in Mexico.”

“There is potential for the vaquita to recover.”

Giulia Good Stefani, the NRDC attorney who led U.S. litigation banning gillnet-caught seafood imports from the Gulf of California, outlined a number of common-sense solutions. “Mexico must increase enforcement, outlaw all gillnets, effectively combat corruption, and invest in the communities impacted by transitioning to vaquita-safe gear,” Stefani told Earther.

She said that while the vaquitas’ plight is “terribly sad”, the problem isn’t complicated. And given the animals’ healthy genetic profile, vaquitas have a strong chance of rebounding.

Rojas-Bracho is finding optimism with respect to the new administration in Mexico. “The reason [President] López Obrador won the election was because he promised to combat corruption and the vaquita is a perfect place to put an example,” he said. He added that Mexico has a good record of protecting marine mammals and was the first country to create a sanctuary for endangered whales.

“There is potential for the vaquita to recover,” Rojas-Bracho went on. “There are many other examples of species’ populations that recovered from just a few animals.”

The next generations of enchanting little sea calves may still have a chance—and perhaps, one day, we will see the vaquita flourishing once again in those blue, desert waters just south of the border.

Rina Herzl is a freelance writer covering pressing environmental and wildlife conservation issues. Her work is published in Earth Island Journal, Mongabay, Biosphere Magazine, and EcoWatch.