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“We started out analyzing 275 candidates of which 149 were validated as real exoplanets. In turn 95 of these planets have proved to be new discoveries,” said American PhD student Andrew Mayo at the National Space Institute (DTU Space) at the Technical University of Denmark.

“This research has been underway since the first K2 data release in 2014.”

Mayo is the main author of the work being presented in the Astronomical Journal.

The research has been conducted partly as a senior project during his undergraduate studies at Harvard College. It has also involved a team of international colleagues from institutions such as NASA, Caltech, UC Berkeley, the University of Copenhagen, and the University of Tokyo.

The Kepler spacecraft was launched in 2009 to hunt for exoplanets in a single patch of sky, but in 2013 a mechanical failure crippled the telescope. However, astronomers and engineers devised a way to repurpose and save the space telescope by changing its field of view periodically. This solution paved the way for the follow up K2 mission, which is still ongoing as the spacecraft searches for exoplanet transits.

These transits can be found by registering dips in light caused by the shadow of an exoplanet as it crosses in front of its host star. These dips are indications of exoplanets which must then be examined much closer in order to validate the candidates that are actually exoplanets.

The field of exoplanets is relatively young. The first planet orbiting a star similar to our own Sun was detected only in 1995. Today some 3,600 exoplanets have been found, ranging from rocky Earth-sized planets to large gas giants like Jupiter.

It’s difficult work to distinguish which signals are actually coming from exoplanets. Mayo and his colleagues analyzed hundreds of signals of potential exoplanets thoroughly to determine which signals were created by exoplanets and which were caused by other sources.

“We found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft. But we also detected planets that range from sub Earth-sized to the size of Jupiter and larger,” said Mayo.

One of the planets detected was orbiting a very bright star.

“We validated a planet on a 10 day orbit around a star called HD 212657, which is now the brightest star found by either the Kepler or K2 missions to host a validated planet. Planets around bright stars are important because astronomers can learn a lot about them from ground-based observatories,” said Mayo.

“Exoplanets are a very exciting field of space science. As more planets are discovered, astronomers will develop a much better picture of the nature of exoplanets which in turn will allow us to place our own solar system into a galactic context”.

The Kepler space telescope has made huge contributions to the field of exoplanets both in its original mission and its successor K2 mission. So far these missions have provided over 5,100 exoplanet candidates that can now be examined more closely.

With new, upcoming space missions like the James Webb Space Telescope and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, astronomers will take exciting new steps toward characterizing and studying exoplanets like the rocky, habitable, Earth-sized planets that might be capable of supporting life.

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by Edward Ademolu

Watching Marvel’s highly anticipated comic-book film adaptation, Black Panther, was no ordinary tried and tested cinematic experience. Much like the unapologetic showmanship, flamboyance and atmospheric idiosyncrasies of Sunday service black congregational worship, the cinema metamorphosised beyond its remnants of unswept popcorn kernels and sticky milkshake residue into an augmented space. It became a “mega-church” sanctuary of spiritual catharsis –with all the impassioned and melodic trimmings of Afro-Pentecostalism.

But, make no mistake, this was not the time nor place for solemn contemplation or confessing past transgressions – but an opportunity for continental Africans and diaspora to offload socially sanctioned climactic expressions of individual and collective excitement and expectations, as well as lip-bitten anxieties about a fictionalised Africa.

Marvel Studios' Black Panther - Official Trailer - YouTube

If this was an Afro-baptism in filmic spirit, I sought – and submitted to – full-bodied immersion.

Let’s be clear, the fervour over Black Panther among the Ankra-wearing, close-cropped Afro-crowned cinemagoers is incredibly warranted for several reasons. Not least for its reimagining, its re-presentation of Africa and communities therein – with magical realism – that makes it an intriguing anomaly among the slew of other questionable Western cinematic attempts to deliver “Africa” on screen.

Die-hard Marvel fans and those newly christened have waited with baited breath to secure a one-way ticket to Wakanda – the wondrous Afro-futuristic utopia and homeland of the titular character Black Panther (played by Chadwick Boseman). But this is by no means Hollywood’s first foray into fictionalised African kingdoms. Before Wakanda, there was the similarly named and seemingly “African-sounding” Zumunda in Eddie Murphy’s 1998 blockbuster Coming to America.

But Zumunda presented as nothing more than a visual repository of African clichés and normative assumptions, where wild animals, as domesticated pets, cohabit “as they do” nonchalantly with humans. So too, where royalty enrobe in lion’s fur. As the Nigerian literary darling Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie put it:

If all I knew about Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, animals and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and Aids, unable to speak for themselves.

If only I could speculate on what may have informed such a proclamation … dare I venture towards films such as The African Queen, Out of Africa, Hotel Rwanda, The Last King of Scotland, Blood Diamond, Beasts of No Nation – to name a handful.

Africa’s burden

Those cinematic offerings were the colonial-era mythmakers and extenders whose white lensed romanticisms have determined the space within which Africa is defined and knowable. It is also within this space that the complexities and pluralities of African representation have been lost in simplification and concealment.

Surely these films must have affixed the “Afro” in the unmistaken and riotous Afro-futurism of Black Panther. But its the “futurism” aspect that makes Black Panther stand head and shoulders above the rest. Showcasing an iteration of Africa that is more imaginatively radical than merely culturally palatable for audiences who are used to being spoon-fed – better yet, force-fed – microwavable doses of an Africa that is melancholic, benighted and savage, to satisfy their visually myopic cravings.

Afro-futuristic: Winston Duke as M'Baku. Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER

Unlike its predecessors, Black Panther’s Afro-futuristic elements challenge stereotypes by readjusting the barometer of African imagination. Where Africa and black-Africanness is equated with discourses of futurism, cybernetics, sci-fi fantasy and mysticism.

New African century

This is a far cry from previous film interpretations of Africa, and especially of Africa’s future – or lack thereof. It has too often been represented as provisional and ephemeral – or arbitrated by the technocratic and philanthropic efforts of white do-gooders. Instead, Black Panther provides a prophetic reimagining of Africa with its postmodern gravity-defying vehicles and supersonic technology that far exceed human comprehension.

This has important implications for how we see Africa, through films which have long anchored it in a “forever-more” state that is seemingly unenlightened, backward-leaning and perceived as a prolongation of the past.

Letitia Wright as Shuri. Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER

So, too, the film speaks volumes about how young and old black African “selves” can infiltrate otherworldly spheres. Its Afro-futurism allows black folk to apply self-iterations and augment alternate realities that transcend the limitations of the “here and now” towards the “what ifs” and “could bes”, through their own melanin-infused, ethno-cultural lens.

Equally, with its vestiges of the past and nods to the future, Black Panther presents a certain “contemporary ordinariness” within Africa that is discernible in all its parts. Where streets of African cities, for example, are littered with mother-tongue speaking, iPhone-clutching youth, dressed in dashiki-patterned bomber jackets, skinny jeans and with basket-woven braided hairstyles.

Moreover, the portrayal of Wakanda as resource-rich, unsoiled by European colonialism and the paraphernalia of international development, challenges cinematic presumptions of an Africa that is deficient, agentless and lacking internal diplomacies for sovereignty.

Africa upgraded Role models: the women of Wakanda. Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER

This is further reinforced by the central staging and representation of steely-eyed, intelligent African women – as Beyoncé avows in her feminist-imbued record Upgrade U, if the men are “the block” the women are “the lights that the keep streets on”. We see this in the female Wakandans, the unyielding pillars of the film, who demystify allusions and illusions of Africa – through its female proxies – as infantilised, subordinate and devoid of individual articulation of unique intent.

As a Marvel trailblazer, Black Panther is stunning in its redefining of Africa’s aesthetic within the cultural zeitgeist of cinematic consciousness. It trades cinema’s historical blueprint for Africa, for its own set of black paws. Suffice to say, representation (in all its shades) matters.


Edward Ademolu is a PhD researcher at the University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation

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by Mitch Goodwin

In Altered Carbon, the streetscape reflects the sodden bitumen and garbled neon of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles. Mythology Entertainment, Skydance Television

The opening image of Altered Carbon is of a male human form. We see him from below, suspended in the shimmering blue expanse of water, beams of angelic light creating a silhouette of his splayed body. The image evokes Scottie Ferguson on the poster for Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), Dr Frank Poole adrift in the inky blackness in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and the limp frame of David the humanoid boy-bot descending into the icy depths of a flooded Manhattan in A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001).

The new Netflix sci-fi series, based on the 2001 novel by Richard Morgan, is a bold and ambitious statement for the streaming service’s production arm. Like the opening image, scene upon scene presents an amalgam of dystopian elements, this is post-climate, post-singularity, peak-Anthropocene TV.

The year is 2384, in which liquid blue chips, known as “stacks”, constitute the limitless potential of consciousness and the human form has been reduced to disposable “sleeves”. The stacks are inserted into the spines of such sleeves, a practice known as being “spun up”, from whatever fatal demise beset your previous self.

Altered Carbon | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix - YouTube

Of course, the quality and availability of the sleeve depends on your wealth status. Your ability to access your stack requires more than a thumb print and a four-digit pin, immortality is a moral question too, a question not just for you but for those who would facilitate your rebirth.

At its narrative heart though, this is a big, brash, ballsy cop drama set in the distant future. Takeshi Kovacs, played by Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman, is a mercenary “Envoy” who has been spun up from his 250-years “on ice” – a prison sentence for his past terrorist proclivities. Funding this pardon – and his buff new sleeve – is the supremely rich oligarch, Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), who enlists Kovacs to solve a murder.

Mercenaries are a hunted breed, and tenacious cop Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda) is never far from the havoc caused by Kovacs’s less than subtle sleuthing. Of course, this is very much a man’s world, and there is the requisite white widow spider, Miriam Bancroft (Kristin Lehman) who is more than enamoured with the new skin-job on the block. Altered Carbon readily exposes its noir-ish underbelly; however, this is tech-noir rather than neo-noir, with generous splashes of fantasy to keep things ambiguous.

Joel Kinnaman and Dichen Lachman in Altered Carbon: the series readily exposes its noirish underbelly. Mythology Entertainment, Skydance Television

The series is a symbolic mash-up that boasts a familiar dystopian sci-fi aesthetic: wealth inequality, transhumanism, time-displaced characters, clunky steam punk gadgetry and most importantly, for contemporary sci-fi enthusiasts, the archive – or the “psychasec” as it is known in this universe. (The psychasec is the repository for the ultra-wealthy’s cloned sleeves and stack back-ups).

There has been a lot about the fragility of archives in sci-fi cinema since The Matrix – the Blackout web-short preceding Blade Runner 2049, the Tesseract in Interstellar and the Scarif facility in Rogue One - being the most recent examples. Each contains plot lines that involve the pursuit of an elusive data set within a closely guarded archive. In the information age, it is little wonder that such parables lie at the heart of our most ambitious narrative constructions.

The design of Altered Carbon is built on a solid pedigree: the streetscape reflects the sodden bitumen and garbled neon of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles; the glittering vertiginous glass and steel is reminiscent of Ghost in the Shell’s Niihama; while the cavernous water-ways and spiralling towers immediately struck me as evocative of Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York circa 2140. Yet, there are quirky design choices too. “The Raven”, the hotel Kovacs selects as his refuge for the show’s duration, is run by an A.I. algorithm - the whimsical concierge, Poe. This setting and its old world charm is a steam punk indulgence – and already a fan favourite – classic Bioshock meets Baltimore.

Altered Carbon | Building the World of Altered Carbon [HD] | Netflix - YouTube

There are many beautiful lines in Altered Carbon that can slip by in all the visual haberdashery. In one scene, the missing daughter of an associate of Kovacs who is trapped in a VR “trauma loop”, whimpers: “They took mommy away because she stole stars from the sky.” I would have missed moments like this if it were not for the jump-back feature on my Sony remote. The fact that the show demands “close watching” to appreciate the narrative and philosophical beats makes it a notch above your typical sci-fi programming.

Virtuality is signposted as an omnipresent companion technology, not an escape from “the real” but a simulcast of memory and emotional truth. VR becomes a place where Kovacs witnesses both the suffering of others and endures his own abduction and consequent torture.

In many ways the blending of hallucinogenic VR with extreme A.I. and the storage of memory in flesh-like synthetic forms seems like the ultimate fulfilment of a rich vein of transhumanist storytelling we have witnessed recently: films such as The Congress (2013) and the aforementioned Blade Runner 2049 and Ghost in the Shell and in episodes of TV series like Black Mirror’s San Junipero or Electric Dreams’ Real Life and of course the visceral Westworld, which Altered Carbon more than matches with frequent violent bloody flourishes.

It also echoes, as Wired magazine has pointed out, the obsession that (mostly male and white) Silicon Valley tech titans have with anti-ageing treatments and their dogged quest to keep death at bay – or at the very least, spin up a cache of permanent digitised consciousness.

Joel Kinnaman in Altered Carbon. Mythology Entertainment, Skydance Television

Kinnaman in the lead role, certainly has cred. He held The Killing together over four seasons with his awkward blue-collar persona. He was pitch perfect as the menacing yet ultimately juvenile Governor Will Conway in House of Cards but he was probably at his best in a metal suit in the Robocop reboot. As Kovacs, a character who is routinely physically and mentally assaulted, we need a little more than we get here (sleeve sex and torture scenes aside).

Sure, he plays a convincing retrofitted gum-shoe cyborg: he inhales cigarettes with gusto and downs highballs of hard liquor with a regularity that would put Don Draper to shame; his facial abrasions are classic Harrison Ford, and his trench coat and statuesque gait early Eastwood. Kinnaman’s acting range, however, is as a narrow as a bike lane. This might be okay for Robocop but not a noir detective, a role that demands a little more damage, more vulnerability, a few bare wires – think Bogart, Nicholson, Mitchum, Keach.

I did wonder if Takeshi Kovacs’s name is a play on the car thief Michel Poiccard (a.k.a. László Kovács) in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless from 1960. Godard’s Kovács has a penchant for Bogart’s film noir credentials, he chain smokes, he is on the lam and doomed to either a life in prison or a bullet to the spine.

Breathless - Trailer - YouTube
He certainly bears more than just a passing resemblance to Kinnaman. In the midst of all of this futuristic cinematic remixing I would like to think Richard Morgan is hip to French New Wave cinema. Or did I imagine that?





Mitch Goodwin is in the Curriculum Design Lab, Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation

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by Benjamin Woo

,Marvel Studios’ Black Panther, opening tonight in theatres across Canada and the United States, is pretty much guaranteed to be a hit. It set records for advance ticket sales on Fandango, its soundtrack album debuted in the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts and industry estimates point to opening-weekend revenues as high as US$170 million.

Director Ryan Coogler and star Chadwick Boseman appeared on the cover of the industry trade magazine Variety, while British GQ styled actor Michael B. Jordan to recall Black Panther Party activists. The red-carpet premiere made a splash on celebrity and fashion blogs, and it’s the most-tweeted-about film of the year. Marvel’s had big hits before. But this feels like something different.

Ahead of its time

The Black Panther, also known as King T’Challa of Wakanda, was created as a comic book hereo in 1966 by artist Jack Kirby and writer/editor Stan Lee. Although considered the first Black superhero in American comics, this is not the first time we’ve seen a Black superhero in the cinema. Comedian Robert Townsend gave us Meteor Man in 1993, Shaquille O’Neal portrayed the DC Comics character Steel in 1997 and Wesley Snipes starred as Blade the Vampire Hunter in three films beginning in 1998.

This is, however, the first Black-led superhero film since comic book movies became, in the words of Liam Burke, “modern Hollywood’s leading genre.”

Cover, Black Panther (2016) #1. Grand Comics Database

Much as T’Challa’s first appearance in print — in the Fantastic Four issue #52 in July 1966 — predated the founding of the Black Panther Party by a few months; the decision to bring him to the silver screen 50 years later ran ahead of major shifts in the discourse about diversity and representation in the entertainment industries.

The project was announced as part of Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in October 2014, a few months before April Reign launched the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite to draw attention to the racialized economy of recognition in Hollywood, and more than a year before the #whitewashedOUT campaign focused on the casting of white actors in roles written as Asian or Asian-American. It came before Moonlight’s dramatic win for Best Picture at the 2017 Academy Awards.

Sight still unseen by most, Black Panther has been embraced as a triumphant rejoinder in our long, difficult conversations about race and the legacies of colonialism and slavery. The New York Times Magazine hails it as a “defining moment for black America,” while The Globe and Mail says its treatment of the Black experience “resonates across the diaspora.”

Michael B Jordan and Chadwick Boseman. (Marvel/Disney)

In a short video clip I first encountered on Twitter, three young men admire the film’s poster, exclaiming, “This is what y’all feel all the time? I would love this country, too.” Activists, educators and scholars from racialized communities have long raised concerns about under-representation and stereotyping in the media and their impact on self-esteem and identity.

While it is difficult to draw a direct, causal line from watching a movie to an improved sense of self-worth or well-being, it is undeniable that Black Panther —with its nearly all-Black cast, stylish use of hip-hop, lush costuming, and setting in the proudly uncolonized, technologically advanced nation of Wakanda —is giving many of us who have felt under-served by Hollywood a language with which to speak our aspirations.

Box office politics

While echoing the broad picture of under-representation, research conducted by Darnell Hunt, Ana-Christina Ramón and Michael Tran at UCLA’s Ralph Bunche Centre for African American Studies also points to the positive incentives towards diversity. Canada and the U.S., which together make up the “domestic” film market, are becoming more diverse, and young people, who are the biggest purchasers of cinema tickets, are the most diverse of all.

As a result, according to Hunt, Ramón and Tran, films with diverse casts have higher global box returns and higher returns on investment. In a New York Times roundtable, Coogler suggested that commercial media production provided a space that could harmonize marginalized communities’ aspirations for representation with economic imperatives:

They say it’s the studio system, but it’s really the people system. It’s who’s running the studio? How are they running it? When you look at Disney with [Tendo Nagenda, executive vice president for production at Walt Disney Studios, and Nate Moore, a producer at Marvel Studios and an executive producer of “Black Panther”], it’s a place that’s interested in representation, not just for the sake of representation, but representation because that’s what works, that’s what’s going to make quality stuff that the world is going to embrace, that’s what leads to success.

The studio’s embrace of diversity may be sincere but it is also strategic. (Marvel/Disney)

Black Panther is a case in point. Coogler and his stars speak movingly about the experience of making this film and what it means to them as African-Americans with more or less immediate connections to Africa. But, at the same time, the studio’s embrace of diversity is also a highly strategic move — 18 films into their mega-franchise.

While some critics have begun to call out the ossifying house style of “Marvel movies,” Coogler (like Taika Waititi, director of the recent Thor: Ragnarok) brings a distinctive aesthetic sensibility and critical reputation to bear. The studio may have gambled that the Black film-goers who supported recent films like Hidden Figures and Get Out would pick up the slack as producers reach deeper and deeper into Marvel Comics’ catalogue for characters with less existing brand recognition.

We have yet to see if the increasingly vital international audiences — often rhetorically brought up by studio executives as the obstacle to more diverse casting — will also respond positively?

Marvel Studios and Disney did not make Black Panther in order to say something about race in America. It is, rather, a product designed to fit into a series, offering familiar pleasures with enough difference to keep the whole franchise interesting.

Yet, it arrives at a moment of possibility. Creators involved in its production, at the studio and on set, as well as audiences, have transformed it into a referendum on representation.

Putting different faces on movie screens will not solve all our problems, yet the Black Panther phenomenon demonstrates that people are crying out for chances to see themselves and their communities portrayed with dignity and diversity —as heroes, villains and everyone in between. Will the executives who control the purse strings listen?






BLACK PANTHER Final Trailer (2018) - YouTube
(Marvel/Disney)

Benjamin Woo is an Assistant Professor at Carleton University

This article was originally published on The Conversation

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ART: “Eyes In The Skies” by Hamza Maqsood

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by Trudy Barber

Nicescene/Shutterstock.com

Before the internet, before smart phones, teenagers and young people would seek out quizzes in comics, read problem pages in girls magazines and watch television for advice on how to be themselves. Young people would share a love of pop stars, fashion and musical trends with each other in attempt to find an identity as they were growing up.

Today, we are reportedly in times of extended adolescence, with young people studying for longer and delaying marriage and parenthood. Additionally, emerging technologies are offering new ways to uphold and even make new friends – on social media for example. Mobile media means we have more time to experiment with identity online and explore a sense of self, wherever we may be. And friendships, as always, are a key part of that.

But the manner in which such relationships work are often a far cry from how traditional friendships work. We have reached the technological coming of age of the invisible or imaginary friend often seen in childhood. Today this could be a friend who is digital, online, always available and allows us, as we mature, to play around with identity even more than we used to be able to because there is no fear of receiving biting criticism or accepting responsibility for ones’ actions. There are some positives to this, certainly, but the self-centred nature of such friendships can bring a sense of anxiety to real physical relationships and stress in live social situations.

The combination of social anxiety and addiction to technology such as smart phones and social media have proved to be ideal for those wishing to create new and innovative digital experiences. It should come as no surprise, then, that the creation of a “real” digital online imaginary friend now exists to download.

AI best friend

Yes, you can now make a new friend in the form of an AI chatbot. On January 31 Wired Online revealed that an emotional AI chat bot was to be made open source, after being downloaded 2m times since its initial availability in November last year. According to the promotional material, this friend “will always be there for you”, and listen to everything you say without interruption, promising to be “a totally unique and faithful digital friend”. This is the claim made by Replika, an AI app made by US company Luka.

This may come as a comfort to those with issues surrounding lack of self-confidence, social anxiety and a loss of sense of identity. But we should be worried about the development of social skills in a world where everyone can have their “perfect” AI friend.

Getting Started with your Replika (iOS) - YouTube

The app is interesting in that it claims to be able to develop different elements of self based on learning from your interaction with it. You are encouraged to “grow your own” Replika by interacting and training the chatbot: like a Tamagochi on steroids. This digital friend has no need for a body, as the friend appears to inhabit responses to your mind within the software of the app. It’s a tiny Turing Test, or a Chinese Room conundrum that you can carry in your pocket.

Your AI friend is represented as an egg that takes on different colourful characteristics that are supposed to describe and imply forms of identity: such as being introspective, stoic, sparkling, tender. The listing uses specific inspirational words in tandem with symbolic imagery (for example the “sensitive” Replika egg image is a soft pink). The app can also encourage you to “relax” and recommends mindfulness. You should, the promotional material advises:

Take some time with your Replika to get into a calm and balanced mindset. Nowadays we all spend so much time in our phones or staring at a screen. Replika wants you to check out of your phone for a minute and focus on your body, your breathing, and the outside world.

It also features some key phrases and how they typically make Replika react. If you say “stop it” or “I don’t like to talk about (subject)”, your Replika will apparently refrain from talking to you about those things.

A false promise

This app may seem like some form of self-help that encourages introspection, reflection and meditation. Far from it. This software, instead, has the potential to enable an individual to form a relationship with a digital concept manifest as a reflection of themselves. This could be seen as encouraging narcissism of alluring proportions. The process of conversing and training this AI app allows it to ensure that you hear only what you want to hear about yourself for yourself.

This process appears to be a re-imagining of early American sociologist Charles Cooley‘s notion of the “looking glass self”, a way of seeing ourselves through the way others do. This is usually done by socialising and interaction with others in real time in the real physical world of social spaces. According to Cooley, this is done by imagining how another person sees us and whether they like us and whether this makes us happy or not in terms of self-worth.

It would appear that with this new digital friend we will always be getting the response that satisfies us the most. Our self-worth will be set within the value boundaries of our digital re-imagining of ourselves that exist in our self-talk stored in the cloud of our mobile smart devices.

This raises further questions about our desire to connect to such digital imaginary identities, in what is revealed about attachment, human intimacy and notions of friendship and even love. Having a “real” best friend can also be seen to demonstrate visceral self-worth and confidence. A digital friend is simply you in isolation, talking to yourself.


Trudy Barber is a Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at the University of Portsmouth

This article was originally published on The Conversation

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by Constantine Samaras and Joshuah Stolaroff

Could drone delivery help the environment? AP Photo/Claude Paris

There are more than 1 million drones registered in the U.S. Most of them belong to people flying them for fun, but a growing number are used commercially. Companies including Amazon, UPS, Google and DHL are already exploring ways to deliver packages with drones instead of trucks. Our new research has measured how that shift would change how the U.S. uses energy, and the resulting environmental effects.

We found that in some cases using electric-powered drones rather than diesel-powered trucks or vans could reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. But in other cases, using trucks – especially electric-powered ones – would be more efficient and cleaner.

The U.S. electricity sector has been rapidly transitioning to generating power with fewer greenhouse gas emissions. But transportation is still largely powered by fuels made from oil and is now the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. About one-quarter of transportation emissions, the equivalent of 415 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, comes from medium- and heavy-duty trucks, the kinds of vehicles that deliver freight to warehouses, businesses and consumers’ homes.

Reducing the need for trucking by delivering some packages with electric drones could save fuel, and potentially carbon emissions. We modeled how much energy drone delivery would use, and how it would be different from the ways packages are delivered now.

Finding a drone’s energy use

First, our team – led from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and including researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, SRI International and the University of Colorado–Boulder – measured the energy use of quadcopter and octocopter-style drones carrying different payloads. The amount of energy a drone uses depends on how heavy the drone itself is, its batteries and whatever packages it’s carrying – as well as other factors, including how fast it’s moving and wind conditions.

For the purposes of making an overall estimate, we settled on a quadcopter drone capable of delivering a 1.1 pound (0.5 kg) package and an octocopter drone capable of delivering a 17.6 pound (8 kg) package, each with a range of about 2.5 miles (4 km). We considered a range of battery technologies and fuels, but focused on lithium-based batteries for our base case, because that’s what powers most current electric drones.

Amazon Prime Air’s First Customer Delivery - YouTube
An early test of an Amazon delivery drone.Comparing emissions

Even though it’s fighting gravity to stay aloft, an electric drone uses much less energy per mile than a heavy steel delivery truck burning diesel fuel. But a delivery truck or van can carry many packages at once, so the energy needs and environmental effects need to be allocated per package.

Different delivery vehicles can run on diesel, natural gas, electricity or gasoline, each with various energy and emissions characteristics. We also included the environmental effects of making these fuels and of making electric vehicle batteries. The energy needed to turn crude oil into diesel fuel can add another 20 percent or more of greenhouse gases to the amount generated when the fuel is burned. And while battery manufacturing is improving, making batteries still generates carbon dioxide.

Then we calculated the amount of greenhouse gases emitted. Burning a gallon of diesel fuel emits about 10 kg of carbon dioxide, but emissions from electricity vary by region, depending on how it’s generated. Some areas burn more coal and natural gas to generate power, while others have fewer fossil fuels and rely more on nuclear, hydropower, wind and solar power.

In general, electric power generation in the U.S. is getting cleaner over time. To show the range of energy needs and environmental effects, we paid particular attention to California, which has a low-carbon grid, and Missouri, which is in a carbon-intensive region.

Extra warehouses?

In addition, to serve drones with limited range, companies would have to change how their delivery systems use energy. Drones could transport items in multiple legs, almost like the Pony Express or stagecoaches did with horses in the early days of the American West. Or, as Amazon is testing, smaller local warehouses could serve key delivery destinations within the drones’ range.

We calculated that serving the city of San Francisco would require about four urban warehouses with drone bases. To cover the greater Bay Area would require dozens of new warehouses, each needing electricity and potentially natural gas to operate, just like other warehouses. We included this extra energy use in our estimates.

Small drone delivery can save emissions

Combining all the factors, we found that package delivery with small drones can be better for the environment than delivery with trucks. On average in the U.S., truck delivery of a package results in about 1 kg of greenhouse gas emissions. In California, drone delivery of a small package would result in about 0.42 kg of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s a savings of 54 percent from the 0.92 kg of greenhouse gases associated with a package delivered by truck in that state. In carbon-intensive Missouri the improvement would be smaller – just a 23 percent reduction – but still better.

Small drones were better than any truck or van, whether powered by diesel fuel, gasoline, natural gas or even electricity.

Our findings about larger drones were less clear-cut. They were 9 percent better than than diesel trucks when in California, but a lot worse when charged in Missouri. Because large drones need more kilowatt-hours to fly a mile, the carbon intensity of electricity really matters for large drones. Even in places where energy is typically generated from clean sources, it’s probably better to deliver larger packages with electric vans or electric trucks rather than large drones, because of the extra warehouse energy needed for drones.

But if you forgot that essential ingredient for tonight’s dinner, our findings suggest it’s much better to have the grocery store send it to you by drone rather than to take your car to the store and back.

Next steps for sustainability

Like any energy model, our estimates can change depending on the assumptions used. The amount of space needed to store packages for drones, and how much energy drones use, are important factors, as is the carbon footprint of the electricity used. In our paper, we explore how the results change under different assumptions.

For ground delivery vehicles, the best ways to improve efficiency involve increasing the number of packages delivered per mile or switching to electric delivery trucks or vans.

As more companies start using drones, package delivery will be one of their tasks. To maximize the potential environmental benefits, companies should focus on using smaller drones charged with low-carbon electricity to deliver light packages, and on limiting how much warehouse space is dedicated to serving delivery drones. Heavier packages are likely best suited for efficient, often electric, ground delivery vehicles. The biggest gains will come from improving warehouses’ energy efficiency and, crucially, reducing the amount of electricity generated from carbon-intensive fuels. Now we just have to do something about the noise of all those propellers overhead.



Constantine Samaras is Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and Joshuah Stolaroff is an Environmental Scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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ART: “Europa” by Tobias Roetsch

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ART: “Pre-Atlantis” by Jan van de Klooster

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by Matthew D. Johnson

It’s likeness that makes the heart grow fonder. Zediajaab, CC BY-SA

Everyone seems to agree that opposites attract. Young and old people, happy and distressed couples, single folks and married partners – all apparently buy the classic adage about love. Relationship experts have written books based on this assumption. It’s even been internalized by people who are on the hunt for a partner, with 86 percent of those looking for love saying they’re seeking someone with opposite traits.

The problem is that what’s true of magnets is not at all true of romance. As I explain in my book, “Great Myths of Intimate Relationships: Dating, Sex, and Marriage,” people tend to be attracted to those who are similar – not opposite – to themselves.

I love how you’re just like me

Whether people really find opposites more attractive has been the subject of many scientific studies. Researchers have investigated what combination makes for better romantic partners – those who are similar, different, or opposite? Scientists call these three possibilities the homogamy hypothesis, the heterogamy hypothesis and the complementarity hypothesis, respectively.

Happy together. Thom Wong, CC BY-NC-ND

The clear winner is homogamy. Since the 1950s, social scientists have conducted over 240 studies to determine whether similarity in terms of attitudes, personality traits, outside interests, values and other characteristics leads to attraction. In 2013, psychologists Matthew Montoya and Robert Horton examined the combined results of these studies in what’s called a meta-analysis. They found an irrefutable association between being similar to and being interested in the other person.

In other words, there is clear and convincing evidence that birds of a feather flock together. For human beings, the attractiveness of similarity is so strong that it is found across cultures.

Because similarity is associated with attraction, it makes sense that individuals in committed relationships tend to be alike in many ways. Sometimes this is called assortative mating, although this term is more often used to describe the ways in which people with similar levels of educational attainment, financial means and physical appearance tend to pair up.

None of this necessarily means that opposites don’t attract. Both the homogamy hypothesis and the complementarity hypothesis could be true. So is there scientific support that opposites might attract at least some of the time?

Filling in my weak spots with your strengths

Love stories often include people finding partners who seem to have traits that they lack, like a good girl falling for a bad boy. In this way, they appear to complement one another. For example, one spouse might be outgoing and funny while the other is shy and serious. It’s easy to see how both partners could view the other as ideal – one partner’s strengths balancing out the other partner’s weaknesses. In fact, one could imagine the friends and relatives of a shy person trying to set them up with an outgoing person to draw the shy one out. The question is whether people actually seek out complementary partners or if that just happens in the movies.

As it turns out, it’s pure fiction. There is essentially no research evidence that differences in personality, interests, education, politics, upbringing, religion or other traits lead to greater attraction.

For example, in one study researchers found that college students preferred descriptions of mates whose written bios were similar to themselves or their ideal self over those described as complementing themselves. Other studies have supported this finding. For example, introverts are no more attracted to extraverts than they are to anyone else.

Why are we so sure opposites attract?

Despite the overwhelming evidence, why does the myth of heterogamy endure? There are probably a few factors at work here.

First, contrasts tend to stand out. Even if the partners in a couple match on tons of characteristics, they may end up arguing about the ways in which they are different.

We’re totally different – she uses weights on our morning walks. CREATISTA/Shutterstock.com

Beyond that, there’s evidence that small differences between spouses can become larger over time. In their self-help book “Reconcilable Differences,” psychologists Andrew Christensen, Brian Doss and Neil Jacobson describe how partners move into roles that are complementary over time.

For example, if one member of a couple is slightly more humorous than the other, the couple may settle into a pattern in which the slightly-more-funny spouse claims the role of “the funny one” while the slightly-less-funny spouse slots into the role of “the serious one.” Scientists have demonstrated that, yes, partners grow more complementary over time; while they may begin as quite alike, they find ways to differentiate themselves by degree.

In the end, people’s attraction to differences is vastly outweighed by our attraction to similarities. People persist in thinking opposites attract – when in reality, relatively similar partners just become a bit more complementary as time goes by.




Matthew D. Johnson, Chair & Professor of Psychology and Director of the Marriage and Family Studies Laboratory, Binghamton University, State University of New York

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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