Technonlogy

Monday briefing: Hurricane Irma puts weather modelling systems to the test

This visible image of Category 4 Hurricane Irma was taken on Sunday Sept.10, 2017 at 9:25 a.m. EDT (1325 UTC) by the NOAA GOES East satellite as its eye approached the southwestern coast of Florida. Hurricane Jose is seen (right) near the Leeward Islands.

NASA/NOAA GOES Project

Your WIRED daily briefing. Today, Hurricane Irma reveals flaws in US weather prediction models as it hits North America, new species could exist beneath Antarctica, the final version of iOS 11 appears to have been leaked by a source inside Apple and more.

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1. Hurricane Irma puts weather modelling systems to the test

The destructive power of Hurricane Irma has not only impacted the lives and infrastructures of people in numerous countries but has also revealed critical flaws in a number of US weather forecasting models, including that used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Ars Technica compared error data for various US and European models of the hurricane and found that while “the average error of the European (global) model with respect to Irma has been about 175km in its position forecast”, US models’ positioning errors range from a decent 300km to an extremely poor 550km. The hurricane has made landfall in the US state of Florida, where it has flooded the streets of Miami and is moving north towards the state of Georgia. Meanwhile, Tesla has released an over the air firmware update to increase the range of some 60kWh models to 75kWh, giving evacuating drivers around 50km of extra driving range.

2. Unknown species could dwell in warm caves beneath Antarctica

Researchers have published evidence that volcanic caves beneath Antarctica could be home to entirely unknown plant and animal species (NewsWeek). The team collected soil samples from around antarctic volcanoes, and from the subglacial caves surrounding volcanic Mount Erebus, which reach temperatures of up to 25 degrees Celsius. It was here that unidentifiable DNA fragments, alongside evidence of known mosses, algae and arthropods, were found. Lead researcher Ceridwen Fraser said: “The results from this study give us a tantalizing glimpse of what might live beneath the ice in Antarctica — there might even be new species of animals and plants”.

3. Internal Apple source leaks details of new iPhone

Tech sites including 9 to 5 Mac and MacRumours appear to have been leaked the final, ‘gold master’ build of iOS 11 from within Apple (BBC News). The operating system includes references to the ‘iPhone X’, potentially indicating either a tenth anniversary name change or a new high-end model to launch alongside more a more conventionally priced device, as well as animated emoji and a facial identification system for users. Apple’s official launch event for the eighth iteration of Apple’s smartphone is due to take place tomorrow, September 12.

4. China is planning an end to fossil fuel cars

China’s vice minister of industry and information technology, Xin Guobin, has announced that the country is planning to issue a ban on fossil fuel powered vehicles (Bloomberg). A date has yet to be revealed, but the government is currently working with to develop a timetable for the end of both production and sales of the vehicles. The UK and France have both committed to ending the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

5. Genetic evidence shows honoured viking warrior was a woman

Archaeologists at Uppsala University and Stockholm University have revealed that one of the best-known warrior graves of the Swedish Viking Age belongs to a woman (Phys.org). The team extracted genetic material from skeletal remains, buried in the Viking town of Birka alongside grave goods including a sword, armour-piercing arrows, two horses and a board game. Tests revealed that the warrior has carried two X chromosomes and no Y chromosome. Lead author Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, says: “The gaming set indicates that she was an officer, someone who worked with tactics and strategy and could lead troops in battle. What we have studied was not a Valkyrie from the sagas but a real life military leader, that happens to have been a woman”,

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6. A deep reservoir of water might be lurking beneath the Moon’s surface

A new study suggests there is more water on the Moon’s surface than we thought, which in turn indicates that its interior might also be hiding some water (WIRED). “Surficial water can be detected basically all over the Moon at all local times of day,” says Christian Wöhler, lead author of the study from TU Dortmund University in Dortmund, Germany. The most accepted theory as to why water exists on the Moon’s surface is that the water molecules formed when protons from the solar wind react with oxygen atoms in the surface of the Moon. If this were the case, we would expect the amount of water on the Moon to vary much more with time. “However, the observed time-of-day-dependent variations are much weaker than expected,” said Wöhler. This means there must be something else at play, causing the water molecules to be found on the Moon’s surface, and one possibility is that the water is coming from the Moon’s interior.

7. The music industry bands together to get paid online

The Open Music Initiative is a cross-industry group that’s brought together representatives from major labels like Universal Sony, and Warner with technologists from companies like Spotify, YouTube and Ideo with the bold aim of ensuring a more financially sustainable future for the music industry (WIRED). “Pretty early on it was obvious that there’s an information gap in the industry,” says Erik Beijnoff, a product developer at Spotify and a member of the OMI.
That “information gap” refers to the data around who helped create a song. Publishers might keep track of who wrote the underlying composition of a song, or the session drummer on a recording, but that information doesn’t always show up in a digital file’s metadata. This disconnect between the person who composed a song, the person who recorded it, and the subsequent plays, has led to problems like writers and artists not getting paid for their work, and publishers suing streaming companies as they struggle to identify who is owed royalties. To that end, the OMI has developed an API that companies can voluntarily build into their systems to help identify key data points like the names of musicians and composers, plus how many times and where tracks are played. This information is then stored on a decentralized database using blockchain technology—which means no one owns the information, but everyone can access it.

8. Twitter is developing automatic tweet threading

A twitter user has uncovered an inactive feature in the company’s Android app that will automatically create threaded posts, also known as tweetstorms, when your message gets too long for a single tweet (TechCrunch). Twitter says it has “no comment to share on the record” about the feature, which is apparently not currently available for public testing. However, if and when it does become available, it’ll save users a great deal of effort involved in keeping their tweets tidy: creating threads manually requires you to reply to each of your previous tweets in sequence.

9. Malaysia blocked Steam over deity-fighting game

The Malaysian government temporarily blocked the entire Steam store over the weekend to prevent citizens from accessing PQube Limited’s – reportedly somewhat ropey – deity fighting game Fight of Gods (Rock, Paper, Shotgun). The game, which features Christian messiah Jesus Christ alongside other mythological figures such as Odin and Anubis, has been banned in the country “(to ensure) the solidarity, harmony and wellbeing of the multi-racial and multi-religious people in the country”, and blocked the Steam Store after Valve failed to remove the game from sale within the region 24 hours after a request. The government has reportedly now lifted the ban, as Valve has removed the title from its Malaysian store.

10. This free documentary tells the story of The Witcher’s digital adaptation

Polish gaming site arhn.eu has produced a fantastically in-depth documentary about CD Projekt’s adaptation of the first Witcher game from the works of fantasy author Andrzej Sapkowski (Kotaku). Named Biały Wilk: Historia komputerowego Wiedźmina (White Wolf – The History of Digital Witcher), documentary is in Polish with high-quality English subtitles, and its almost two hour length provides detailed insights into the process of adapting Sapkowski’s stories and characters into what would go on to become one of gaming’s most iconic franchises.

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With iOS 11, Apple is finally giving Siri a new, more human voice

This fall, when iOS 11 hits millions of iPhones and iPads around the world, the new software will give Siri a new voice. It doesn’t include many new features or tell better jokes, but you’ll notice the difference. Siri now takes more pauses in sentences, elongates syllables right before a pause, and the speech lilts up and down as it speaks. The words sound more fluid and Siri speaks more languages, too. It’s nicer to listen to, and to talk to.

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