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The $299 Oculus Quest 2 VR headset starts shipping today

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The Oculus Quest 2, Facebook’s new virtual reality headset, has started shipping today. The Quest 2 is a cheaper, revamped version of the original 2019 Quest. It’s got the same untethered standalone design but with a new chipset and a big bump in screen resolution and controller battery life. And it’s starting at $299 for the base 64GB model and $399 for a 256GB version, a $100 drop from the original Quest.

Quest 2 preorders have been open since September, and it’s available through Oculus’ own site and stores like Best Buy and Walmart, with a full list of retailers in Oculus’ announcement post. It was difficult to buy an original Quest over much of the past year, thanks to persistent supply problems, but the Quest 2 still appears to be widely in stock.

As we wrote in September, the Quest 2 improves some of the Quest’s biggest shortcomings, particularly its weight and balance problems, as long as you pay the extra $49 for an alternate head strap. Oculus has also expanded its library since the original Quest’s launch, and it’s got a slate of upcoming games promised for later this year. The only potential catch is that you’ll need a Facebook account — not just a separate Oculus account — to use it.

The Quest 2 is replacing the original Quest, and starting next year, it’s going to be Facebook’s only headset, since the tethered Rift S will be discontinued in the spring. The product still has some higher-end competition, including the Valve Index and upcoming HP Reverb G2. But if you’re looking for relatively cheap VR that doesn’t require a PC, the Quest is in a unique position — and now, it’s on sale.

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Here’s why scientists think women are better suited to space travel

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Are women better astronauts than men? This question will become central to the selection of crews to the Moon, Mars, and beyond as we undertake the colonization of space.

In the struggle for gender equality, women have already proven they are capable of doing anything — including conquering space, showing that not even the sky is the limit for their success.

[Read: Meet Alyssa Carson, the 18-year-old training to become the first human on Mars]

“The first all-women spacewalk at the International Space Station was carried out in October of 2019 and many other milestones have already been accomplished by women astronauts. But there has yet to be a first woman on the moon (or on Mars),” Katharina Buchholz writes for Statista.

The first woman in space 

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Valentina Tereshkova seen in 1963 became the first woman in space. Image credit: RIA Novosti

Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova was born in Russia, in 1937. At the age of 18, working at a textile factory, she designed parachutes to aid her love of skydiving.

In the early 1960’s, the Soviet and American space programs were each engaged in reaching milestones in space exploration, attempting to upstage their adversary. Striving to beat the United States in sending the first woman in space, Soviet officials selected Tereshkova to become the first woman in space.

Tereshkova was launched into space on June 16, 1963, aboard the spacecraft Vostok 6. After 3 days, Vostok 6 reentered the atmosphere, culminating in Tereshkova successfully parachuting to Earth after ejecting at 20,000 feet. (This was standard for cosmonauts at the time).

“After her historic space flight, Valentina Tereshkova received the Order of Lenin and Hero of the Soviet Union awards… In 1966, Tereshkova became a member of the Supreme Soviet, the USSR’s national parliament, and she served as the Soviet representative to numerous international women’s organizations and events. She never entered space again, and hers was the last space flight by a woman cosmonaut until the 1980s,” The History Channel reports.

Although women successfully trained as American astronauts in the 1960’s, It took 15 years for the U.S. to fully accept women in their astronaut corps. In 1978, NASA approved six women to become the first woman astronauts of the U.S. space program.

One of them was Sally Ride, a doctor in physics who became part of the STS-7 crew on April 30, 1982, serving as a mission specialist. She was also the first American woman astronaut to return to space a second time, in 1984.

“Ride again made history when she became the first American woman to fly to space a second time on October 5, 1984, on shuttle mission STS-41G, where she was part of a seven-member crew that spent eight days in space. Another woman, mission specialist Kathryn D. Sullivan, was also part of that crew, making it the first NASA space flight with two women aboard (Sullivan became the first American woman to walk in space during that mission),
The History Channel reports.

After that, more than 59 women including cosmonauts, astronauts, payload specialists, and foreign nationals have flown in space, and several other women astronauts are now preparing to take their first flight beyond Earth.

Despite enormous progress, since Sally Ride took her first flight, over 80% of the astronauts are still men. The 2013 class of incoming astronauts were the first to reach a 50/50 division of women to men.

Advantages of flying women astronauts

There are some reasons suggesting that women astronauts may perform better than men in some respects, including:

  • Women are lighter: Sending too much weight to space requires fuel, costing a lot of money. Having more women on the crew could help reduce the cost of space travel.
  • Women eat fewer calories and use fewer resources: When you plan to send humans to Mars, it may be a good idea to have more women on the crew because they require 15 to 25% fewer energy calories than men. They also expend less energy despite possessing similar activity levels. Additionally, because women are (on average) smaller than men, they produce less waste (CO2 and body excretions), making it easier for the spacecraft systems to recycle it.
  • Space traveling affects men and women differently: Due to the effects of microgravity and radiation, space-traveling can have several implications on astronaut’s health. It seems that men are less affected by space motion sickness than women, but men are quicker to experience diminished hearing. Men also have a higher risk of vision problems, while women tend to have more urinary tract infections.
  • Women can give birth: One idea for the long-term colonization of space is to send an all-women crew to Mars or other colonies. This would reduce travel costs, as an all-women crew to reproduce over time through artificial means.

“More significantly, men tend to have problems with deteriorating vision, which women don’t experience as often or as severely. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly — who has spent a cumulative 520 days in space and has the eye problems to prove it — half-jokingly wrote in his autobiography that if scientists can’t figure out what’s causing those eye issues, ‘we just might have to send an all-women crew to Mars,’” Nadia Drake writes for National Geographic.

Women have already proven to be great astronauts. However, there have not yet been enough studies to conclude whether or not women should make up most — or all — of the first colonists to space.


This article was originally published on The Cosmic Companion by Dr. Ana Luiza Dias and James  Maynard. You can read this original piece here.

Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion is also available as a weekly podcast, carried on all major podcast providers. Tune in every Tuesday for updates on the latest astronomy news, and interviews with astronomers and other researchers working to uncover the nature of the Universe.

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Yale may have just turned institutional investing on its head with a new diversity edict

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It could be the long-awaited turning point in the world of venture capital and beyond. Yale, whose $32 billion endowment has long been led since 1985 by the legendary investor David Swensen, just let its 70 money managers across a variety of asset classes know that for the school, diversity has now moved front and center.

According to the WSJ, Swensen has told the firms that from here on out, they be measured annually on their progress in increasing the diversity of their investment staff, meaning their hiring, training, mentoring and retention of women and minorities.

Those that show little improvement may see the university pull its money, Swensen tells the outlet.

It’s hard to overstate the move’s apparent significance. Though the endowment saw atypically poor performance last year, Swensen, at 66, is the most highly regarded endowment manager in the world, growing Yale’s endowment from $1 billion when he joined as a 31-year-old former grad student of the school, to the second-largest school endowment in the country today after Harvard, which currently manages $40 billion.

Credited for developing the so-called Yale Model, which is short on public equities and long on commitments to venture shops, private equity funds, hedge funds, and international investments, Swensen has inspired legions of other endowment managers, many of whom worked with him previously, including the current endowment heads at Princeton, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania.

It isn’t a stretch to imagine that they will again follow Swensen’s lead, which could go a long way in changing the stubbornly intractable world of money management, which remains mostly white and mostly male across asset classes.

While the dearth of woman and minorities within the ranks of venture firms may not be news to readers, a 2019 study commissioned by the Knight Foundation and cited by the WSJ found that women- and minority-owned firms held less than 1% of assets managed by mutual funds, hedge funds, private-equity funds and real-estate funds in 2017, even though their performance was on a par with such firms.

Swensen tells that WSJ that he has long talked about diversity with the fund managers to which the endowment commits capital, but that he had he held of anything systematic owing to a belief, in part, that there were not enough diverse candidate entering into asset management for a mandate to make sense.

After the Black Lives Movement gained momentum this spring, he decided it was time to take the leap.

What about that perceived pipeline concern? Fund managers will have to figure it out if they. For his part, says the WSJ, Swensen suggested to the U.S. managers that they forget the standard resume and consider recruiting directly from college campuses.

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How Riot used tech from The Mandalorian to build Worlds’ astonishing mixed reality stage

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After a hard-fought win over Korean team Gen.G, all five members of Europe’s G2 Esports stood at the edge of a pool of clear, glistening water to take a bow and celebrate their victory. Two members then picked up their star teammate, Rasmus “Caps” Borregaard Winther, and held him over the water, as if to throw him overboard. It’s a good thing they didn’t — despite how real the water may have looked to viewers, it was nothing but pixels.

The annual League of Legends World Championship is currently underway in Shanghai, and like most major events, it has had to be re-envisioned in order to be possible in our new pandemic-dominated reality. Typically, the early stages of the tournament are something of a traveling road show, with different rounds taking place in different cities. In 2020, things had to change.

With travel restrictions in place, and fans no longer able to attend matches, the team at League developer Riot tried something different. They built out a set made up of massive LED screens in a technology setup similar to what Disney used to create The Mandalorian’s sci-fi landscapes. It has been used to startling effect. Matches have looked like they’ve taken place in a cloudy, cyberpunk Shanghai skyline or amid a flooded landscape. What could have been a drab competition in the absence of fans has turned into perhaps the most impressive Worlds in recent memory.

“There are any number of days where we come to the set and say ‘Wait, I don’t think this has ever been done before.’ You just kind of get used to it after a while,” says Michael Figge, creative director at Possible Productions, which partnered with Riot on the event.

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The feat is all the more impressive when you consider the compressed schedule. Typically, producers from Riot and Possible spend well over a year planning for Worlds, but that simply wasn’t possible this year. It wasn’t until May that the decision was made to utilize this tech in a studio without fans.

The setup is a powerhouse, and Riot says that the LED screens — there are more than 900 LED tiles in total — display visuals at 32K resolution and at 60 frames per second. Those visuals were made using a modified version of the Unreal Engine, and in total, the team is made up of 40 artists and technicians. Nick Troop, executive producer for Worlds 2020 at Riot, describes it as “a creative tool that gives us effectively infinite power to manifest whatever our collective imaginations bring to the fore.” And he says one of the most important elements of the whole setup is the way things are shot, powered by four specialized cross-reality cameras.

“Rather than having a single projected camera perspective, we actually have two running simultaneously, effectively all of the time,” he explains. This allows the broadcast team to work in a more traditional way; they can swap between the two simulated perspectives at will, using four cameras to shoot the action on set. “It means that the broadcast team can do what feels to them what feels like a ‘normal television show,’ but in this curated, and beautiful series of environments,” says Troop.

For viewers watching on Twitch or YouTube, the LED soundstage is transformed into a sprawling fantasy world, with AR technology used to make the images expand beyond just the screens. You still see players sitting at desks and playing, but their surroundings are quite elaborate. In a nod to the current state of League of Legends, where four elemental dragons are of pivotal importance in a game, each of the four preliminary rounds of Worlds was styled with a different element.

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Initially, there were lots of crumbling rocks and mountains to represent the earth dragon; this was followed by the cloudy Shanghai skyline for the air dragons; later, the set appeared to be flooded with water that stretched on forever. This weekend, during the two semi-finals games, things will shift to fire.

While this technology has been used before, most notably on The Mandalorian, this is the first time it’s been done live. “Pretty much every [cross-reality] expression that has been broadcast to this point has not been live,” explains Possible’s Figge, whose company has worked on everything from Super Bowl halftime shows to Justin Bieber concerts. “It’s been pre-shot, similar to a lot of AR stuff for awards shows in North America. It’s risky to do live. We’re doing up to 10 hours a day of live television on this stage. There’s no second chance at it.”

One of the challenges was balancing the desire to make things look cool without interfering with the players. Everyone onstage — teams, coaches, and support staff — has a somewhat different visual experience than viewers at home, since the AR elements only appear for viewers at home. This turned into something of an advantage for the broadcast team.

“When we do these games, it’s really important for the competitive integrity of the sport for the players not to be able to see the game on the Jumbotron or anything like that. It’s a really difficult design problem,” says Figge. “With this stage, everything that’s above a certain level of height on the stage is completely virtual. It’s augmented reality. So we have the game playing in the background and the players can’t see it.”

A comparison showing how the stage looks to players (left) and viewers (right).
Photo: Riot Games

That said, while players don’t get the full experience viewers do, it was still important that being onstage felt special. This is the World Championship, after all, something teams from across the globe have been striving for all year long. Without the roar of a crowd to hype up players, the spectacle of a vibrant fantasy backdrop is a solid second option. Those onstage can’t see the AR elements, but they can see the graphics on the screens around them. “It helps ground the player,” says Troop. “They can still have a sense of the [game] world reacting, in a way that I think helps with their Worlds experience. There is a certain mindset that comes from being on stage, and we wanted to preserve that.”

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In most years, the technical showcase of Worlds is reserved for the opening ceremonies at the finals. In the past, that’s included an AR K-pop concert and a holographic hip-hop performance. It’s still not clear what this year’s big show will look like (though it will likely involve K-pop again), but you could argue that the early rounds have already stolen the show thanks to this new technology. Each round even opened with its own mini ceremony, featuring choreographed dances set in the fantasy realm; performers jumped across crumbling stone bridges and twirled around with magical spells. Despite the circumstances, Riot turned what could have been a low-key edition of Worlds into a surprisingly memorable one.

“It’s been more educational than frustrating,” says Troop of the experience so far.

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