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My last drop

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I was looking back in my diary, trying to find clues to why I was struggling with severe insomnia. I had just begun to take new antidepression medications, and something wasn’t right. I’d experienced insomnia before, and now I saw the common thread. In both cases, my psychiatrist had started me on new medications and had recommended that I temporarily stop drinking alcohol. Suddenly it hit me: The insomnia was a symptom of alcohol withdrawal. I was a functioning alcoholic. It was the wake-up call I needed, and I’ve been sober ever since. But now I worry that others, facing the stresses and sadness of the pandemic, may be starting down a similar path. Here’s my cautionary tale.

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ILLUSTRATION: ROBERT NEUBECKER

“It was the wake-up call I needed, and I’ve been sober ever since.”

Alcohol had long been a respite for me. During high school and into college, I drank heavily to cope with anxiety. Part of me knew this wasn’t a healthy approach, but it seemed to work. When I discovered a love of geochemistry, I eased up on my drinking. On weekdays, I chose to study rather than go to the bars. I still enjoyed drinking on weekends, but it was social drinking—nothing I was concerned about. Throughout grad school and my early years as a professor, I still sometimes drank too much. But it didn’t cause problems.

That started to change roughly 11 years into my faculty position, when my father died. Devastated by his loss, I began to suffer from depression, which in turn led to weight gain and sleep apnea. I became chronically sleep deprived and could no longer think clearly, which made it challenging to meet the intellectual demands of my job. I suffered from a short temper and strained relationships. I started to self-medicate with alcohol, which reduced my anxiety in the short term. But eventually I became so depressed that I no longer tried to restrain my drinking. I took up mixology as a hobby and started to drink cocktails every night.

Years passed, and I still felt deeply unhappy. I decided to see a psychiatrist, who began to treat me for chronic depression at first. It took me several more years to recognize I was an alcoholic.

An important clue came one morning when I awoke after an awards dinner at a conference feeling so hungover I wasn’t able to co-chair a session that morning as planned; I had to ask colleagues to go on without me. I had vowed not to drink too much. But my anxiety got the best of me. After multiple bottles of wine were placed on the table in front of me, I started to drink heavily, the conversation distracting me from realizing how much I consumed. Afterward, I was frustrated and confused by my lack of control, but I wasn’t quite ready to admit I had a serious problem.

That changed a few months later when I looked back on my diary and finally, with the help of my psychiatrist, named my problem. I immediately committed to abstinence. The first 6 weeks were especially hard, but I got through them by exercising regularly and spending time with my family. I was fortunate that I was on a sabbatical at that time, which gave me space to focus on my health and recovery. I started to practice mindfulness and meditation and attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. I also took time to learn about a new scientific discipline and start a new collaboration, which got my creative juices flowing again and helped me rediscover my thirst for research.

Now, nearly 10 years later, I live with less stress, have healthier relationships, and am happier and more productive. I still suffer from anxiety, but I find that regular exercise and meditation help me cope. When I attend conferences—at least, when I used to do so in person, before COVID-19—I avoid alcohol-centered events or decline the free alcohol tickets. Occasionally, I get odd looks from colleagues, but they quickly understand when I tell them I’m a recovered alcoholic. No one I’ve confided in has made me feel bad.

If you’re one of the many people who are currently struggling in the midst of the pandemic, take it from me: Alcohol may make you feel better temporarily, but it’s not a healthy way to cope with stress and anxiety. Ask for help instead.

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Science

Too bright to breed

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Night light from coastal cities overpowers natural signals for coral spawning from neighboring reefs.

PHOTO: NOKURO/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Most coral species reproduce through broadcast spawning. For such a strategy to be successful, coordination has had to evolve such that gametes across clones are released simultaneously. Over millennia, lunar cycles have facilitated this coordination, but the recent development of bright artificial light has led to an overpowering of these natural signals. Ayalon et al. tested for the direct impact of different kinds of artificial light on different species of corals. The authors found that multiple lighting types, including cold and warm light-emitting diode (LED) lamps, led to loss of synchrony and spawning failure. Further, coastal maps of artificial lighting globally suggest that it threatens to interfere with coral reproduction worldwide and that the deployment of LED lights, the blue light of which penetrates deeper into the water column, is likely to make the situation even worse.

Curr. Biol. 10.1016/j.cub.2020.10.039 (2020).

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SpaceX launches Starlink app and provides pricing and service info to early beta testers

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SpaceX has debuted an official app for its Starlink satellite broadband internet service, for both iOS and Android devices. The Starlink app allows users to manage their connection – but to take part you’ll have to be part of the official beta program, and the initial public rollout of that is only just about to begin, according to emails SpaceX sent to potential beta testers this week.

The Starlink app provides guidance on how to install the Starlink receiver dish, as well as connection status (including signal quality), a device overview for seeing what’s connected to your network, and a speed test tool. It’s similar to other mobile apps for managing home wifi connections and routers. Meanwhile, the emails to potential testers that CNBC obtained detail what users can expect in terms of pricing, speeds and latency.

The initial Starlink public beta test is called the “Better than Nothing Beta Program,” SpaceX confirms in their app description, and will be rolled out across the U.S. and Canada before the end of the year – which matches up with earlier stated timelines. As per the name, SpaceX is hoping to set expectations for early customers, with speeds users can expect ranging from between 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s, and latency of 20ms to 40ms according to the customer emails, with some periods including no connectivity at all. Even with expectations set low, if those values prove accurate, it should be a big improvement for users in some hard-to-reach areas where service is currently costly, unreliable and operating at roughly dial-up equivalent speeds.

Image Credits: SpaceX

In terms of pricing, SpaceX says in the emails that the cost for participants in this beta program will be $99 per moth, plus a one-time cost of $499 initially to pay for the hardware, which includes the mounting kit and receiver dish, as well as a router with wifi networking capabilities.

The goal eventually is offer reliably, low-latency broadband that provides consistent connection by handing off connectivity between a large constellation of small satellites circling the globe in low Earth orbit. Already, SpaceX has nearly 1,000 of those launched, but it hopes to launch many thousands more before it reaches global coverage and offers general availability of its services.

SpaceX has already announced some initial commercial partnerships and pilot programs for Starlink, too, including a team-up with Microsoft to connect that company’s mobile Azure data centers, and a project with an East Texas school board to connect the local community.

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Erratum for the Report “Meta-analysis reveals declines in terrestrial but increases in freshwater insect abundances” by R. Van Klink, D. E. Bowler, K. B. Gongalsky, A. B. Swengel, A. Gentile, J. M. Chase

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S. Rennie, J. Adamson, R. Anderson, C. Andrews, J. Bater, N. Bayfield, K. Beaton, D. Beaumont, S. Benham, V. Bowmaker, C. Britt, R. Brooker, D. Brooks, J. Brunt, G. Common, R. Cooper, S. Corbett, N. Critchley, P. Dennis, J. Dick, B. Dodd, N. Dodd, N. Donovan, J. Easter, M. Flexen, A. Gardiner, D. Hamilton, P. Hargreaves, M. Hatton-Ellis, M. Howe, J. Kahl, M. Lane, S. Langan, D. Lloyd, B. McCarney, Y. McElarney, C. McKenna, S. McMillan, F. Milne, L. Milne, M. Morecroft, M. Murphy, A. Nelson, H. Nicholson, D. Pallett, D. Parry, I. Pearce, G. Pozsgai, A. Riley, R. Rose, S. Schafer, T. Scott, L. Sherrin, C. Shortall, R. Smith, P. Smith, R. Tait, C. Taylor, M. Taylor, M. Thurlow, A. Turner, K. Tyson, H. Watson, M. Whittaker, I. Woiwod, C. Wood, UK Environmental Change Network (ECN) Moth Data: 1992-2015, NERC Environmental Information Data Centre (2018); .

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