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Update  November, 2019


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Science & Technology
 

Wine cellar in space: 12 bottles arrive for year of aging

 

In this Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019 photo provided by Space Cargo Unlimited, researchers with Space Cargo Unlimited prepare bottles of French red wine to be flown aboard a Northrop Grumman capsule from Wallops Island, Va., to the International Space Station. The wine will age for a year up there before returning to the Luxembourg company. Company officials say researchers will study how weightlessness and space radiation affect the aging process. (Space Cargo Unlimited via AP)

Marcia Dunn

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) — A dozen bottles of fine French wine arrived at the space station Monday, not for the astronauts, but for science.

The red Bordeaux wine will age for a year up there before returning to Earth. Researchers will study how weightlessness and space radiation affect the aging process. The goal is to develop new flavors and properties for the food industry.

The bottles flew up aboard a Northrop Grumman capsule that launched from Virginia on Saturday and arrived at the International Space Station on Monday. Each bottle was packed in a metal canister to prevent breakage.

Universities in Bordeaux, France, and Bavaria, Germany, are taking part in the experiment from Space Cargo Unlimited, a Luxembourg startup.

Winemaking uses both yeast and bacteria, and involves chemical processes, making wine ideal for space study, said University of Erlangen-Nuremberg’s Michael Lebert, the experiment’s scientific director, in a company video.

The space-aged wine will be compared to Bordeaux wine aged on Earth. What’s left will go to those who helped pay for the research, according to a company spokeswoman.

This is the first of six space missions planned by the company over the next three years touching on the future of agriculture given our changing world.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure,” Nicolas Gaume, chief executive and co-founder of Space Cargo Unlimited, said in a statement.

NASA is opening the space station to more business opportunities like this and, eventually, even private astronaut missions.

The Cygnus capsule that pulled up to the space station on Monday contains multiple commercial ventures. Also on board: an oven for baking chocolate chip cookies, as well as samples of carbon fiber used by Italy’s Lamborghini in its sports cars.

Budweiser has already sent barley seeds to the station, with an eye to becoming the beverage of choice on Mars. In 2015, a Japanese company known for its whiskey and other alcoholic drinks sent up samples. Scotch also made a visit to space in another experiment.

As for high-flying wine cellars, this isn’t the first. A French astronaut took along a bottle of wine aboard shuttle Discovery in 1985. The bottle remained corked in orbit.

The space station’s current crew includes three Americans, two Russians and an Italian, who might have preferred a good Chianti on board.


Fitbit buy is Google’s latest step into gadgetry

In this Aug. 16, 2018, file photo, the Fitbit Charge 3 fitness trackers are displayed in New York. Google’s parent company is buying wearable device maker Fitbit for about $2.1 billion. Alphabet said Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, that it will pay $7.35 per share. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Rachel Lerman

Google’s acquisition of wearable pioneer Fitbit may be a bold plunge into health and fitness technology. But it’s also just the latest step in the internet giant’s often-halting effort to become a force in consumer hardware.

Once a pure software company known for its search engine, apps like Gmail and its Android software for smartphones, Google has for the last several years been building out its own suite of hardware products. These include its niche Pixel smartphones and a variety of smart gadgets from speakers to thermostats to Wi-Fi routers, all recently rebranded as “Nest” products.

Last month, the company announced a slate of new products including a Pixel phone, a Nest speaker and wireless earbuds. But its gadget sales are still minuscule compared to rivals Apple and Samsung.

That doesn’t necessarily matter much to Google, which sees hardware mostly as a way to get people hooked on its software and artificial-intelligence services. Health and fitness wearables like the ones that made Fitbit famous are just one more avenue for Google to forge a presence in people’s lives.

Google has previously tried and failed to build a business in health technology, and its Wear OS software offers fitness tracking and AI for smartwatches made by other companies. But it doesn’t have its own branded fitness wearable.

That seems about to change.

Although Fitbit has been struggling recently against amped-up competition from Apple and Samsung, it still has one of the most recognizable and trusted brand names in wearable health tech, said eMarketer analyst Victoria Petrock.

“I think this gives Google immediate credibility in the market,” she said.

In a blog post announcing the deal with Fitbit, Google hardware executive Rick Osterloh said the merger would give the company an opportunity to release its own wearable device.

Google is realizing that it needs to build products that are consistent and coherent, like Apple does because it makes both hardware and software, said Forrester analyst Frank Gillett. He said Microsoft is taking steps in this direction as well with the Surface.

“The Android model has been successful to a point, but it has also created a fragmented user experience,” Gillett said.

Google’s last big acquisition-fueled push into a hot hardware space involved its takeover of smart-thermostat maker Nest.

Although Nest functioned for years as a largely autonomous unit, last year it folded back into Google.

It’s possible we might soon see “Fitbit by Google” wearables, Petrock said.

But the push for Google, and increasingly other tech companies, is about the services they can sell along with the hardware.

“These companies want to sort of be everywhere,” Petrock said. “They want to provide a seamless connected device experience to users across the board. And wearables are part of that strategy.”

Digital health is a fast-growing market, with one study tracking more than $8 billion in venture investment in 2018. The market could bust open once a federal Department of Health and Human Services initiative to give patients better control over their electronic health data becomes a reality.

The Fitbit deal, which is expected to close next year, will also give Google another big chunk of personal health and location data. Google said it won’t sell ads using health and wellness data.

But it will still have all that information, which puts a lot of personal data in one place in case of breaches or leaks.

One unanswered question is what will happen to people who have enrolled in workplace “wellness” programs that use Fitbit. Consumer Reports health privacy expert Dena Mendelsohn worries that such workers may not realize that they’ve lost control of their data.

In the case of this acquisition, she said, “all that data that Fitbit collected over the years that users may or may not have been aware was being collected about them now is going over to Google.”


Facebook agrees to pay fine in Cambridge Analytica scandal

(AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)

London (AP) — Facebook has agreed to pay a 500,000-pound ($643,000) fine in a privacy case stemming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, agreeing to accept the fine without admitting any liability.

Britain’s Information Commissioner Office had leveled the fine after concluding Facebook processed the personal information of users unfairly by exposing it for use by app developers without informed consent.

Facebook was at pains to underline that the ICO had not found that the data had actually been transferred to Cambridge Analytica, which counted U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign among its clients.

Facebook associate general counsel Harry Kinmonth says the company has “made major changes” to the platform since that time and that it is “significantly restricting the information which app developers could access.”


Facebook CEO defends refusal to take down some content

 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at Georgetown University, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, in Washington. At left is Mo Elleithee, the founding Executive Director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Marcy Gordon

Washington (AP) — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended the social media platform’s refusal to take down content it considers newsworthy “even if it goes against our standards.” But while he promoted free expression, limitations were place on coverage of his remarks at Georgetown University.

Reporters were not allowed to ask questions — only students were given that chance, filtered by a moderator. Facebook and Georgetown barred news organizations from filming. Instead organizers provided a livestream on Georgetown’s social media site and made available video shot by Facebook.

“It’s quite ironic,” said Sally Hubbard, director of enforcement strategy at the Open Markets Institute and a former state prosecutor. More generally, she said of Facebook, “The key to free expression is to not have one company control the flow of speech to more than 2 billion people, using algorithms that amplify disinformation in order to maximize profits.”

Facebook, Google, Twitter and other companies are trying to oversee internet content while also avoiding infringing on First Amendment rights. The pendulum has swung recently toward restricting hateful speech that could spawn violence. The shift follows mass shootings in which the suspects have posted racist screeds online or otherwise expressed hateful views or streamed images of attacks.

Facebook also has come under criticism for not doing enough to filter out phony political ads.

“Right now, we’re doing a very good job at getting everyone mad at us,” Zuckerberg told the packed hall at Georgetown.

He said serious threats to expression are coming from places such as China, where social media platforms used by protesters are censored, and from court decisions restricting the location of internet users’ data in certain countries.

“I’m here today because I believe that we must continue to stand for free expression,” he said. People of varied political beliefs are trying to define expansive speech as dangerous because it could bring results they don’t accept, Zuckerberg said. “I personally believe this is more dangerous to democracy in the long term than almost any speech.”

Taking note of mounting criticism of the market dominance of Facebook and other tech giants, Zuckerberg acknowledged the companies’ centralized power but said it’s also “decentralized by putting it directly into people’s hands. ... Giving people a voice and broader inclusion go hand in hand.”

John Stanton, a former fellow at Georgetown who heads a group called the “Save Journalism Project,” called the CEO’s appearance “a joke.”

Zuckerberg “is the antithesis of free expression,” Stanton said in a statement. “He’s thrown free speech, public education and democracy to the wayside in his thirst for power and profit.”

The social media giant, with nearly 2.5 billion users around the globe, is under heavy scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators following a series of data privacy scandals, including lapses in opening the personal data of millions of users to Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Facebook and other social media platforms have drawn accusations from President Donald Trump and his allies that their platforms are steeped in anti-conservative bias.

Zuckerberg recently fell into a tiff with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, who ran a fake political ad on Facebook taking aim at the CEO. Warren has proposed breaking up big tech companies. With the phony ad, she was protesting Facebook’s policy of not fact-checking politicians’ speech or ads in the same way it enlists outside parties to fact-check news stories and other posts.

“We think people should be able to see for themselves,” Zuckerberg responded Thursday on the fact-checking issue. “If content is newsworthy, we don’t take it down even if it goes against our standards.”

The social media network also rebuffed requests that it remove a misleading video ad from Trump’s re-election campaign targeting Democrat Joe Biden.

A spokesman for Biden said Zuckerberg’s speech was an effort “to cloak Facebook’s policy in a feigned concern for free expression.”

“Facebook has chosen to sell Americans’ personal data to politicians looking to target them with disproven lies and conspiracy theories, crowding out the voices of working Americans,” campaign spokesman Bill Russo said in a statement.

Several of the students’ questions to Zuckerberg at Georgetown pointed up the conflict. One asked, if Facebook supports free speech, “why is conservative content disproportionately censored?” But another asserted that the policy of not fact-checking political ads is pro-conservative.

“I think it would be hard to be biased against both sides,” Zuckerberg replied, smiling.

Asked about the handling of questions, Facebook spokeswoman Ruchika Budhjara said, “They were submitted by students as they walked into the room. And they’re being picked at random by Georgetown.”

AP Technology Writer Barbara Ortutay in San Francisco contributed to this report..


UPDATE

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Wine cellar in space: 12 bottles arrive for year of aging

Fitbit buy is Google’s latest step into gadgetry

Facebook agrees to pay fine in Cambridge Analytica scandal


Facebook CEO defends refusal to take down some content