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Virginia school board learns a hard lesson… and other stories • The Register

Voice Of EU



ROUNDUP Welcome to this week’s gallimaufry of gaucheness, as we present a selection of daft stories to make you glad that you’re not that person.

Virginia school board gets thoroughly schooled

We begin with a cautionary tale from the US state of Virginia, where a member of the Henrico County school board fell victim to one of the oldest tricks in the book during a live-streamed meeting, to the subsequent amusement of many millions of YouTube viewers.

Reverend Dr Roscoe D Cooper III had just finished hearing from a member of the public in the hall and so consulted his list of other interested parties who had asked to speak.

Unfortunately, it seems somebody had supplied a list straight from Bart Simpson’s repository of the fake names he uses to torment barkeeper Moe Szyslak in a famous recurring gag from The Simpsons.

As a result, the poor, unsuspecting reverend ended up asking for comment from a long list of spurious individuals including “Phil McCraken”, “Don Kedick”, “Eileen Dover” and “Wayne Kerr”.

Youtube Video

Rev Cooper, who later admitted to Newsweek that he was not a Simpsons fan and had never seen the gag on the show, was blissfully unaware that he had been pranked until he received a text message after running through the whole list which read: “Those names may not be real people lol.”

“I had no clue,” he admitted. “The names looked legit, and so were their associated districts and board members. I had a duty to call them.”

Rev Cooper took the prank and his unexpected YouTube fame with good humour, however, describing it as “harmless” and saying it gave him, his fellow board members and his family something to laugh about.

Nobody has yet determined who was responsible for submitting the fake names, but it is understood that a list of possible suspects has been given to the board and they are looking to speak with Amanda Huggankiss, I P Freely and Hugh Jass.

Florescent wasp nests shine light on scientist life choices

Illuminating news now from Vietnam, where scientists have learned that certain species of wasps produce paper nests that glow.

Paper wasps create paper nests made out of chewed-up wood and plant matter mixed with saliva (hence the name). Researchers have discovered that the nests of six wasp species from the genus Polistes glow in the dark under UV black light. This ability is due to the presence of silk created by wasp larvae in the base of each nest to cover the entrance of the protective cells they inhabit during their metamorphosis into adult wasps.

So far the Franco-Vietnamese team performing the study has identified four species from Vietnam whose nests glow with a green light, along with one from Europe and one from South America that glow with a blue light, adding a pleasingly cool variety to the faintly psychedelic displays.

What is less certain is why the nests do this in the first place. Some entomologists believe that the glow is to help the wasps find their way home at the end of a hard day of needlessly stinging things and doing other wasp stuff. Others disagree, since paper wasps are reputedly already very good navigators and would not need such aids. They suggest that the UV-sensitive silk shields are to help protect the larvae from harmful UV rays in sunlight.

Even more illuminating is the fact that this extraordinary fact was discovered one night by accident by a chemist called Bernd Schöllhorn. He told The Atlantic that he often took such nocturnal trips to look for things glowing in the dark, but usually had to go on his own.

“No one wanted to go with me,” he explained to The Atlantic‘s Katherine J Wu. “There is no light at all, and snakes, spiders, insects everywhere.”

While boffins often find themselves in precarious situations in the name of science, there can surely be few which force one to question one’s life choices as sharply as realising you are tramping on your own through a Vietnamese jungle at night armed with nothing but a UV black light, looking for wasps so you can steal their florescent nests.

We have contacted Dr Schöllhorn to ask him about this, but we have yet to receive a response.

DARPA plans to resurrect the Caspian Sea Monster

It was, perhaps, only a matter of time.

Everybody’s favourite unhinged military research agency, DARPA, has finally got around to looking into possibly the greatest, most beloved piece of lost geek machinery of the cold war, if not the whole of history.

Yes, last month the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency put out a Request for Information [PDF] to the combined brains of the US defence industry about the viability of launching a programme for the “Design of Seaplane Wing-in-Ground Effect Vehicles”.

In short, DARPA are considering building an ekranoplan.

If you do not know the history of the ekranoplan, then El Reg will attempt to fill you in with some of the basic details of these glorious machines now.

The ekranoplan (a Russian word meaning “screen glider”) or Wing-in-Ground-Effect vehicle (WIGE) is a vehicle which combines the characteristics of a boat, a hovercraft and an aircraft, using the aerodynamic properties of ground effect.


The beached Lun-class ekranoplan in the republic of Dagestan, city of Derbent, Russia

While most WIGE vehicles have boat hulls to allow them to take off and land on water, they actually travel in the air, riding on an air cushion generated under the craft’s wings and body, allowing it to travel long distances at high speeds with relatively little drag due to the unique qualities of the ground-effect environment.

(If you would like a better explanation of the science behind this concept than this scribe’s rudimentary efforts, there is a very good guide here.)

The most famous example was developed by the Soviet Union during the cold war. It was dubbed the Caspian Sea Monster by US intelligence agencies after they discovered it in reconnaissance images taken over the world’s largest inland body of water, as they initially could not work out what it was or what it was for.

The enormous machine, known as KM to the Soviets, was 92m (301ft) long, had a maximum weight of 544 tonnes and was the largest aircraft in the world from its introduction in 1966 until it crashed during testing on the Caspian Sea in 1980.

They developed further versions of the ekranoplan for the Soviet Navy, including the 400-tonne Lun (“Harrier”) anti-ship missile carrier and the smaller Orlyonok (“Eaglet”) patrol and transport vessel, but despite its lengthy development process, the ekranoplan never quite fulfilled its obvious potential and the collapse of the Soviet Union saw these mighty vessels consigned to history.

In a final indignity, the sole Lun-class ekranoplan ended up stranded on a Caspian Sea beach after breaking free while it was being towed to a new home at a Russian military theme park. It remains beached there now.

Youtube Video

Despite the prospect of fast, economical transport of large quantities of cargo or weaponry over long distances, there are some disadvantages with the WIGE concept. The fact that it travels only a few metres above the surface means that it has difficulty in rough seas and is susceptible to serious damage from obstructions on land (which is why they have always traditionally been used over water).

This is seemingly why DARPA have issued their request for information: to see if these problems can be solved, so that the ekranoplan’s potential as a new form of ocean-crossing transport, cheaper than aircraft and quicker than ships, can finally be fulfilled.

Their request ponders the possibility of a vessel capable of carrying 100 tons, while being able to operate in seas of up to sea state 3 (or waves of up to 1.25 metres). This would suggest a vessel around the size of the Soviet Lun class, which had a similar payload and sea state capability.

So DARPA wants an ekranoplan. The Caspian Sea Monster may yet inspire a new generation of mighty seaborne leviathans.

What a time to be alive. ®

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Crypto is starting to lose its cool – just look at El Salvador | Rowan Moore

Voice Of EU



To its evangelists, bitcoin is a frictionless, empowering form of money that liberates citizens of the world from the shackles of banks and national governments. To sceptics, the cryptocurrency is a tool of kleptocrats and gangsters, environmentally monstrous in its consumption of energy, a digitally glamorised Ponzi scheme whose eventual crash will most hurt those least able to afford a loss.

Confidence may or may not have been enhanced by the unveiling, by President Nayib Bukele, of images of a proposed bitcoin-shaped Bitcoin City in El Salvador, funded with a bitcoin bond, the currency’s logo embedded in the central plaza, a metropolis powered with geothermal energy from a nearby volcano. Bukele, the self-styled “coolest dictator in the world”, a former publicist who wears baseball caps back to front, has already made El Salvador the first country to adopt bitcoin as the official currency. “The plan is simple,” he said. “As the world falls into tyranny, we’ll create a haven for freedom.”

Leaving aside the worrisome Pompeii vibe of the city’s location, some shine has come off the president’s vision with the news that the country’s investments in cryptocurrency have lost 45% of their value, that it scores CCC with the credit rating agency Fitch, and that the perceived risk of its bonds is up there with that of war-torn Ukraine. And Bukele’s talk of freedom doesn’t sit well with Amnesty International’s claim that his recent state of emergency has created “a perfect storm of human rights violations”.

But why worry about any of this when you have shiny computer-generated images of a fantasy city to distract you?

Unsecured credit line

Boris Johnson waves his arms behind a podium with the Elizabeth line sign.
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan looks on as Boris Johnson gives a speech at Paddington station on 17 May 2022. Photograph: Reuters

The use of constructional bluster by populist leaders – Trump’s wall, for example – is not in itself anything new. See also the island airport, garden bridge, Irish Sea bridge, 40 new hospitals and 300,000 homes a year promised but not delivered by Boris Johnson, and the nuclear power stations he has implausibly pledged to build at a rate of one a year.

Last week his fondness for Potemkin infrastructure took a new twist. Rather than over-promise illusory schemes and under-deliver them, he decided to take credit for something actually built, the £19bn Elizabeth line in London, formerly known as Crossrail, whose central section opens to the public on Tuesday. “We get the big things done,” he boasted to the House of Commons, choosing to ignore the fact that the line was initiated under a Labour prime minister and a Labour mayor of London. He almost makes Nayib Bukele look credible.

Behind the red wall

Characters from The House of Shades gather around a table on stage
Mounting misery: The House of Shades. Photograph: Helen Murray

If you want a light-hearted night out – a date, a birthday treat – then The House of Shades, a new play by Beth Steel, might not, unless you are an unusual person, be for you. It is a cross between Greek tragedy and what was once called kitchen sink drama, a story of ever-mounting misery set in a Nottinghamshire town from 1965 to 2019. It covers the collapse of manufacturing, the rise of Thatcherism, the promises of New Labour and the disillusionment that led to “red wall” seats voting Conservative in 2019.

It features illegal abortion, graphically portrayed, and the effects of inflation, both newly significant. All presented at the Almeida theatre in the famously metropolitan London borough of Islington, not far from the former restaurant where Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did the 1994 deal that shaped some of the events in the play. There’s irony here to make this audience squirm. Which, along with several other not-comfortable emotions, is probably the desired effect.

Rowan Moore is the Observer’s architecture correspondent

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Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon’s lava tubes • The Register

Voice Of EU



Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world’s data.

“It’s inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we’re setting off bombs and burning things,” Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. “We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe.”

Stott said Lonestar’s efforts to build a data storage facility in space are a bit like trying to preserve all of the world’s seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located on the Norwegian Arctic island ofSpitsbergen. But instead of trying to protect crop diversity, the upstart wants to safeguard human knowledge. 

“If we don’t do this, what will happen to our data on Earth?,” he asked. “The seed bank flooded due to effects of climate change. It’s also susceptible to other forms of destruction like war or cyber attacks. We need to have somewhere we can keep our data safe.” Lonestar has its sights set on the Moon.

One side of our bigger natural satellite is tidally locked and constantly faces Earth, meaning it would be possible to set up a constant, direct line-of-sight communication between devices on the Moon and our planet.

Lonestar is currently closing its $5m seed round from investors like Seldor Capital and 2 Future Holding. To raise more money, it’ll have to prove its technology is feasible and will start with small demos on commercial lunar payloads. Last month, it announced it had signed contracts to launch prototype demonstrations of its software and hardware capabilities aboard two lunar landers with NASA-funded aerospace biz Intuitive Machines.

Under the space agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, Intuitive Machines will, after some delay, send its Nova-C lander to the Moon for its first mission, dubbed IM-1, at the end of 2022. Lonestar will run a software-only test, storing a small bit of data on the lander’s hardware. IM-1 is expected to last one lunar day, an equivalent of two weeks on Earth. 

The second launch, IM-2, is more ambitious. Intuitive Machines plans to send another Nova-C lander to the Moon’s South Pole carrying various bits of equipment, including NASA’s PRIME-1 drill for ice and a spectrometer as well as Lonestar’s first hardware prototype: a one-kilogram storage device, the size of a hardback novel, with 16 terabytes of memory. IM-2’s is expected to launch in 2023.

Robots and lava tubes

The tiny proof-of-concept datacenter will be storing immutable data for Lonestar’s early beta of its so-called Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS), Stott told us. “[We will be] performing upload and download tests (think refresh and restore of data), and performing edge processing tests of apps as well. It will be running Ubuntu.” The company is still in the process of determining bandwidth rates, and has secured permissions to transmit data to the Moon and back to Earth in the S, X, and Ka-Bands in the radio spectrum.

Lonestar’s opportunity to test its technology on the Moon for the first time will depend on whether Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C landers successfully make it to the lunar surface in one piece. Soft landings on the Moon are notoriously difficult; numerous endeavors from the Soviets and the US in the Sixties have ended in failure. The last two attempts that ended badly were in 2019, when Israel’s SpaceIL and India’s National Space agency’s respectively crashed their Beresheet and Chandrayaan-2 lunar landers.

The strong gravitational pull of the Moon and its very thin atmosphere means the speeds at which spacecraft approach the surface have to be considerably slowed in a short amount of time to land gently. Nailing the landing process is key to lunar exploration, whether it’s sending robotic spacecraft or a crew of astronauts. 

“Our turnkey solution for delivering, communicating, and commanding customer payloads on and around the Moon is revolutionary,” Intuitive’s president and CEO, Steve Altemus, told us in a statement. “Adding Lonestar Data Holdings and other commercial payloads to our lunar missions are critical steps toward Intuitive Machines creating and defining the lunar economy.”

The path from a book-sized prototype to real fully fledged cloud storage datacenters, however, is handwavy. Stott said Lonestar has plans for future missions to launch servers capable of holding five petabytes of data in 2024, and 50 petabytes of data by 2026. By then, he hopes the datacenter will be able to host data traffic to and from the Moon at rates of 15 Gigabits per second – much faster than home internet broadband speeds – beamed from a series of antennas. 

If the company is to continue scaling and storing data long-term, it’ll have to figure out how to protect its datacenters from cosmic radiation and deal with the Moon’s fluctuating surface temperatures, which can go from a scorching 222.8°F (106°C) during the day to a -297.4°F (-183°C) at night.

Stott has an answer for that: nestle the datacenters in lunar lava tubes, cavernous pits bored below the surface of the Moon by the flow of ancient basaltic lava. Inside these pits, the temperature will be steadier and the servers will be better shielded from harmful electromagnetic rays.

And how will the Lonestar get them down there? “Robots… lots of robots,” Stott said. ®

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Here are the Royal Irish Academy’s newest members from STEM

Voice Of EU



14 of the 29 new members being welcomed by the Royal Irish Academy this year are from STEM. We take a quick look at what they do.

Every year, the Royal Irish Academy admits new members to its prestigious roster of researchers from across the island of Ireland for their exceptional contributions to the sciences, humanities, social sciences and public service.

This year, the 236-year-old institution has elected 29 new members from universities and bodies across Ireland, officially welcoming 24 of them at its Admittance Day event held in Dublin today (20 May).

Future Human

“We are immensely proud of these 29 new members who we are recognising today for their scholarly achievements, their research and international distinction or for significant contributions to Irish society,” said Dr Mary Canning, president of the Royal Irish Academy.

“As new members of the Academy, they will contribute to and strengthen our capacity to provide expert advice on higher education and research policy.”

Here we take a quick look at 14 new members who have a background in STEM-related fields.

Linda Doyle, TCD

Doyle made history by becoming the first woman provost of Trinity College Dublin in its 429-year history last year. Before that she was a professor of engineering and the arts at Trinity and the university’s dean of research from 2018.

Geraldine Boylan, UCC

A former Science Foundation Ireland Researcher of the Year, Boylan is the director of the Infant research centre for maternal and child health research and professor of neonatal physiology at University College Cork.

Mary Cannon, RCSI

Cannon is a consultant psychiatrist and professor of psychiatric epidemiology and youth mental health at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. She is a leading researcher in the area of youth mental health and childhood and adolescent risk factors for mental illness.

Rónadh Cox, Williams College

One of this year’s five honorary members, Cox is the Brust Professor of Geology and Mineralogy at Williams College, Massachusetts. She is prominent internationally within the coastal erosion and geomorphology community.

Marie Donnelly, Climate Change Advisory Council

Donnelly is the only new member in this list not associated with any university. Instead, she is the chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council. She previously worked with the European Commission for three decades.

Gary Donohoe, NUI Galway

A professor of psychology at NUI Galway, Donohoe is an internationally known researcher in the cognitive neuroscience and mental health space. His work focuses on understanding and treating factors relevant to social and occupational function.

Fiona Doohan, UCD

Doohan is a professor of plant health at University College Dublin’s School of Biology and Environmental Science. She is one of the co-founders of agricultural sustainability company CropBiome, which is one of the many high-potential start-ups backed by Enterprise Ireland.

David Jones, QUB

A professor of pharmaceutical and biomaterial engineering at Queen’s University Belfast, Jones is an internationally recognised researcher in polymer-based implanted medical devices and enhanced pharmaceutical dosage forms.

Patricia Kearney, UCC

Kearney is a professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health at UCC. A recognised clinical triallist, her research focuses on population health and health services.

Mairead Kiely, UCC

Another researcher working in the area of health, Kiely is a professor of human nutrition at UCC. Her research focuses macronutrients, particularly vitamin D, and their impact on health and child development.

Hannah McGee, RCSI

McGee is the deputy vice-chancellor for academic affairs at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and a scholar in psychology. A former president of the European Health Psychology Society, she was also appointed as the deputy chair of Ireland’s National Research Ethics Committee for Covid-19.

James P O’Gara, NUI Galway

A professor of microbiology at NUI Galway, O’Gara’s research focuses on the mechanisms underpinning biofilm production and antimicrobial resistance in staphylococci, including MRSA.

Stefan Oscarson, UCD

Oscarson is a professor of chemical biology at UCD and an internationally known researcher in the field of carbohydrate chemistry. His synthetic work underpins the development of drug and vaccine candidates against various infectious diseases.

Patrick Wyse Jackson, TCD

Curator of the Geology Museum based in Trinity College Dublin, Jackson is also a professor of geology at the university. He is an expert on the history of Irish geology and his research focuses on fossil bryozoans – a large phylum of invertebrate animals.

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