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Apple debuts new iPad Pro alongside revamped MacBook Airs
... and also the return of the (mini) Mac.
- Inside the new iPad Pros are the new A12x Bionic chip, which are apparently faster than 92% of the laptops out there.
- MacBook Airs come with Retina display, first true update in 8 years.
- The iPad Pro starts at $799 while the MacBook Air starts at $1,199.
Apple product launches are sort of like sports drafts in that there's a lot of pageantry and hullabaloo surrounding what is ostensibly just an introduction to a slightly updated lineup. 99.5% of the people out there are going to be doing roughly the same thing they're doing on these new machines as they are on their current ones, so it's not that big a deal—right?
Well... perhaps it is this time. Apple just launched not one but three updates to its lineup: new iPad Pros, updated MacBook Airs, and even a revamp of the Mac Mini.
Watch the full keynote event here.
The new iPad Pro
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 30: Apple unveils a new iPad Pro with new Apple Pencil during a launch event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on October 30, 2018 in New York City. Apple also debuted a new MacBook Air and Mac Mini.
(Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
This is probably the biggest deal of the three. It not only looks futuristic, but it's... well... it's super cool. It has a processor that's faster than most desktop computers and as much graphics power as the latest XBox, in a package that's just a few millimeters thick and the size of a piece of paper. That's pretty incredible.
The keynote spent some time showing just how good this is as a gaming device, too, with a vaguely humorous demonstration of what 2K Games' NBA 2K looks like on the new iPad Pro. You can really see every bead of sweat on the players and movement in the stands, a far-cry from the crummy graphics of most mobile games.
It looks like last year's iPhone X, itself a big deal, and for good reason. Anyone who has used an iPhone X (or XS or XR) can attest to how quickly the gesture system starts to feel natural—there's no reason to go back to the home button after you use this thing. At risk of sounding too hyperbolic, this update turns the iPad from a "squashed / really big iPhone" into a laptop replacement. This is arguably what computers will look like in five years; the kind of design that actually looks like it's from the future.
- Comes in both 11" and 12.9" sizes. The 11" is the same body size as the 10.5" previous generation of iPad Pros, just the screen is bigger. The 12.9" size is almost exactly the size, measured diagonally across, as an 8"x11" piece of paper.
- The A12X Bionic chip is by all accounts one of the fastest mass market chips out there. It's faster than those in Apple's iPhone XS, and can handle "up to five trillion operations a second". Which is a lot, I'm told. The keynote addressed that the A12X Bionic is faster than 92% of current notebook computers out there.
- The new iPad Pro is unlockable no matter how you hold it.
- USB-C should alleviate charging problems, as they are much more energy efficient than lightning. Likewise, battery is advertised as "all day battery" — in the real world, though, that should amount to anywhere between 6 hours (heavy use) to 12 hours (simple use).
- An updated Apple Pencil can now respond to 'tap' gestures. Which is great for illustrators who want to switch brushes on the fly. Or writers who want to erase things quickly. It also fits magnetically on the iPad and charges accordingly. This is a big deal for anyone who was thrown off by the previous Apple Pencil, which had to be charged by plugging into the iPad (and anyone like me who lost the top quickly).
To put some of those numbers into perspective, the A12X Bionic chip is 40% faster than the A11 chip, which was in the last iPad Pros. So you're looking at a dramatic increase in power, looks, and usability.
Updated MacBook Airs
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 30: Tim Cook, CEO of Apple unveils a new MacBook Air during a launch event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on October 30, 2018 in New York City. This is Apple's first full upgrade of the laptop in three years.
(Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
MacBook Airs got an update about three years ago, getting marginally bumped up specs so that they could continue to be used with Apple's ever-evolving operating system. These new puppies, the 2018 MacBook Airs, however, get way bigger updates that put the old machines out to pasture. But before you get too excited, remember that this is the MacBook Air and thus doesn't have nearly the top-notch technical specs as the MacBook Pro.
- Touch ID! Now you can use your laptop just as you would your, um, iPhone 8!
- Expectations were that there'd be quad-core CPUs, but instead we've got dual-core Intel Core Y-series CPUs. Don't ask me to explain what that means (I'm a writer, and if you need help describing what a cloud look likes I'm your guy), but from what I've researched it's about as fast as the top-of-the-line 2015 MacBook Pros. For most people who will be using this, this is all you really need to surf the web, check your emails, and do some light video-editing. But it's by no means the fastest Apple has.
- Retina display, on a machine this light, is the biggest draw. That translates to 48% more colors in terms of range, and this is most likely what will be the 'wow' factor for buyers.
- Smaller bezels mean more screen size, and an updated trackpad means more usability.
- Speakers have been updated to be 25% louder with twice as much bass.
This could be the go-to option for most people looking for a new laptop. The Air line is Apple's most popular laptop line for a reason: they're light enough to throw into a backpack or bag without thinking twice and fast enough for almost everyone.
Ask yourself how much audio editing or video editing you're really going to be doing over the next 3 to 5 years. If the answer is less than one Drake album or one family vacation video, chances are the MacBook Air is going to be your next laptop.
Return of the Mac (Mini)
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple unveils a new Mac Mini during a special event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Howard Gilman Opera House October 30, 2018, in New York.
(Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Sing it now... the return of the (mini) Mac! Mac Mini's are the caffeine-free-Diet-Coke of the Apple empire; if you love 'em, you're part of a small but die-hard fanbase. They get the job(s) done. Nobody is going to be wowed by one on your desk. But string a few of them together (really—during the keynote, Tim Cook briefly showed a picture of an entire server farm full of them) and you've got an insanely powerful productivity team. At $799 they are considerably cheaper and more powerful than the MacBook Air by some degree, but don't forget these roughly sandwich-sized computers don't come with a display.
But, it's worth mentioning, the last time these were updated was 2014. That was so long ago! There were midterm elections! An ebola outbreak in NYC! Pharrell wore a silly hat! Given that Apple has had four years to tinker with the Mini, what are you getting with the 2018 models?
- Snark aside, these are 5x faster than the previous line of Mac Minis. That's a huge jump, making them twice as powerful as the 2018 MacBook Airs.
- They're made with 100% recycled aluminum, apparently using leftover aluminum from the new iPad Pro line.
- One of the best things about the Mac Mini is its ability to connect to pretty much anything you throw at it. An HDMI 2.0 port means you could theoretically connect it to any 4K TV (or other display) and have a giant workspace for a fraction of the price of a huge display. Meanwhile, two USB-A ports, an audio jack, and Gigabit Ethernet round out the connections.
- A T2 security chip makes this the machine you want on your desk if you want to keep your files safe. It adds security, meaning that hackers won't be able to listen in on your microphone. And hacking overall should be way, way more difficult, according to TechCrunch.
Ideally, this is the kind of thing you'd buy 20 of if you were starting a start-up. They're workhorses, and can handle 4K video editing easily without slowing down the rest of your workflow too much.
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
In what is perhaps one of the weirdest experiments ever that comes from the category of "why did anyone need to know this?" scientists have proven that the Regimbartia attenuata beetle can climb out of a frog's butt after being eaten.
The research was carried out by Kobe University ecologist Shinji Sugiura. His team found that the majority of beetles swallowed by black-spotted pond frogs (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) used in their experiment managed to escape about 6 hours after and were perfectly fine.
"Here, I report active escape of the aquatic beetle R. attenuata from the vents of five frog species via the digestive tract," writes Sugiura in a new paper, adding "although adult beetles were easily eaten by frogs, 90 percent of swallowed beetles were excreted within six hours after being eaten and, surprisingly, were still alive."
One bug even got out in as little as 7 minutes.
Sugiura also tried putting wax on the legs of some of the beetles, preventing them from moving. These ones were not able to make it out alive, taking from 38 to 150 hours to be digested.
Naturally, as anyone would upon encountering such a story, you're wondering where's the video. Thankfully, the scientists recorded the proceedings:
The Regimbartia attenuata beetle can be found in the tropics, especially as pests in fish hatcheries. It's not the only kind of creature that can survive being swallowed. A recent study showed that snake eels are able to burrow out of the stomachs of fish using their sharp tails, only to become stuck, die, and be mummified in the gut cavity. Scientists are calling the beetle's ability the first documented "active prey escape." Usually, such travelers through the digestive tract have particular adaptations that make it possible for them to withstand extreme pH and lack of oxygen. The researchers think the beetle's trick is in inducing the frog to open a so-called "vent" controlled by the sphincter muscle.
"Individuals were always excreted head first from the frog vent, suggesting that R. attenuata stimulates the hind gut, urging the frog to defecate," explains Sugiura.
For more information, check out the study published in Current Biology.
Are "humanized" pigs the future of medical research?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires all new medicines to be tested in animals before use in people. Pigs make better medical research subjects than mice, because they are closer to humans in size, physiology and genetic makeup.
In recent years, our team at Iowa State University has found a way to make pigs an even closer stand-in for humans. We have successfully transferred components of the human immune system into pigs that lack a functional immune system. This breakthrough has the potential to accelerate medical research in many areas, including virus and vaccine research, as well as cancer and stem cell therapeutics.
Existing biomedical models
Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or SCID, is a genetic condition that causes impaired development of the immune system. People can develop SCID, as dramatized in the 1976 movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble." Other animals can develop SCID, too, including mice.
Researchers in the 1980s recognized that SCID mice could be implanted with human immune cells for further study. Such mice are called “humanized" mice and have been optimized over the past 30 years to study many questions relevant to human health.
Mice are the most commonly used animal in biomedical research, but results from mice often do not translate well to human responses, thanks to differences in metabolism, size and divergent cell functions compared with people.
Nonhuman primates are also used for medical research and are certainly closer stand-ins for humans. But using them for this purpose raises numerous ethical considerations. With these concerns in mind, the National Institutes of Health retired most of its chimpanzees from biomedical research in 2013.
Alternative animal models are in demand.
Swine are a viable option for medical research because of their similarities to humans. And with their widespread commercial use, pigs are met with fewer ethical dilemmas than primates. Upwards of 100 million hogs are slaughtered each year for food in the U.S.
In 2012, groups at Iowa State University and Kansas State University, including Jack Dekkers, an expert in animal breeding and genetics, and Raymond Rowland, a specialist in animal diseases, serendipitously discovered a naturally occurring genetic mutation in pigs that caused SCID. We wondered if we could develop these pigs to create a new biomedical model.
Our group has worked for nearly a decade developing and optimizing SCID pigs for applications in biomedical research. In 2018, we achieved a twofold milestone when working with animal physiologist Jason Ross and his lab. Together we developed a more immunocompromised pig than the original SCID pig – and successfully humanized it, by transferring cultured human immune stem cells into the livers of developing piglets.
During early fetal development, immune cells develop within the liver, providing an opportunity to introduce human cells. We inject human immune stem cells into fetal pig livers using ultrasound imaging as a guide. As the pig fetus develops, the injected human immune stem cells begin to differentiate – or change into other kinds of cells – and spread through the pig's body. Once SCID piglets are born, we can detect human immune cells in their blood, liver, spleen and thymus gland. This humanization is what makes them so valuable for testing new medical treatments.
We have found that human ovarian tumors survive and grow in SCID pigs, giving us an opportunity to study ovarian cancer in a new way. Similarly, because human skin survives on SCID pigs, scientists may be able to develop new treatments for skin burns. Other research possibilities are numerous.
The ultraclean SCID pig biocontainment facility in Ames, Iowa. Adeline Boettcher, CC BY-SA
Pigs in a bubble
Since our pigs lack essential components of their immune system, they are extremely susceptible to infection and require special housing to help reduce exposure to pathogens.
SCID pigs are raised in bubble biocontainment facilities. Positive pressure rooms, which maintain a higher air pressure than the surrounding environment to keep pathogens out, are coupled with highly filtered air and water. All personnel are required to wear full personal protective equipment. We typically have anywhere from two to 15 SCID pigs and breeding animals at a given time. (Our breeding animals do not have SCID, but they are genetic carriers of the mutation, so their offspring may have SCID.)
As with any animal research, ethical considerations are always front and center. All our protocols are approved by Iowa State University's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and are in accordance with The National Institutes of Health's Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.
Every day, twice a day, our pigs are checked by expert caretakers who monitor their health status and provide engagement. We have veterinarians on call. If any pigs fall ill, and drug or antibiotic intervention does not improve their condition, the animals are humanely euthanized.
Our goal is to continue optimizing our humanized SCID pigs so they can be more readily available for stem cell therapy testing, as well as research in other areas, including cancer. We hope the development of the SCID pig model will pave the way for advancements in therapeutic testing, with the long-term goal of improving human patient outcomes.
Adeline Boettcher earned her research-based Ph.D. working on the SCID project in 2019.
Satellite imagery can help better predict volcanic eruptions by monitoring changes in surface temperature near volcanoes.
- A recent study used data collected by NASA satellites to conduct a statistical analysis of surface temperatures near volcanoes that erupted from 2002 to 2019.
- The results showed that surface temperatures near volcanoes gradually increased in the months and years prior to eruptions.
- The method was able to detect potential eruptions that were not anticipated by other volcano monitoring methods, such as eruptions in Japan in 2014 and Chile in 2015.
How can modern technology help warn us of impending volcanic eruptions?
One promising answer may lie in satellite imagery. In a recent study published in Nature Geoscience, researchers used infrared data collected by NASA satellites to study the conditions near volcanoes in the months and years before they erupted.
The results revealed a pattern: Prior to eruptions, an unusually large amount of heat had been escaping through soil near volcanoes. This diffusion of subterranean heat — which is a byproduct of "large-scale thermal unrest" — could potentially represent a warning sign of future eruptions.
Conceptual model of large-scale thermal unrestCredit: Girona et al.
For the study, the researchers conducted a statistical analysis of changes in surface temperature near volcanoes, using data collected over 16.5 years by NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. The results showed that eruptions tended to occur around the time when surface temperatures near the volcanoes peaked.
Eruptions were preceded by "subtle but significant long-term (years), large-scale (tens of square kilometres) increases in their radiant heat flux (up to ~1 °C in median radiant temperature)," the researchers wrote. After eruptions, surface temperatures reliably decreased, though the cool-down period took longer for bigger eruptions.
"Volcanoes can experience thermal unrest for several years before eruption," the researchers wrote. "This thermal unrest is dominated by a large-scale phenomenon operating over extensive areas of volcanic edifices, can be an early indicator of volcanic reactivation, can increase prior to different types of eruption and can be tracked through a statistical analysis of little-processed (that is, radiance or radiant temperature) satellite-based remote sensing data with high temporal resolution."
Temporal variations of target volcanoesCredit: Girona et al.
Although using satellites to monitor thermal unrest wouldn't enable scientists to make hyper-specific eruption predictions (like predicting the exact day), it could significantly improve prediction efforts. Seismologists and volcanologists currently use a range of techniques to forecast eruptions, including monitoring for gas emissions, ground deformation, and changes to nearby water channels, to name a few.
Still, none of these techniques have proven completely reliable, both because of the science and the practical barriers (e.g. funding) standing in the way of large-scale monitoring. In 2014, for example, Japan's Mount Ontake suddenly erupted, killing 63 people. It was the nation's deadliest eruption in nearly a century.
In the study, the researchers found that surface temperatures near Mount Ontake had been increasing in the two years prior to the eruption. To date, no other monitoring method has detected "well-defined" warning signs for the 2014 disaster, the researchers noted.
The researchers hope satellite-based infrared monitoring techniques, combined with existing methods, can improve prediction efforts for volcanic eruptions. Volcanic eruptions have killed about 2,000 people since 2000.
"Our findings can open new horizons to better constrain magma–hydrothermal interaction processes, especially when integrated with other datasets, allowing us to explore the thermal budget of volcanoes and anticipate eruptions that are very difficult to forecast through other geophysical/geochemical methods."