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Words matter

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For more than 200 years, U.S. presidents have strived to deliver words of inspiration and humility that will stand the test of time. Even in a contentious debate in which the Oval Office is at stake, we expect a standing president to inspire and unite the country. Not surprisingly, President Donald Trump used the occasion of the first presidential debate of 2020 to deny reality, insult his opponent, and praise himself—all with his customary lean vocabulary.

Over the ages, U.S. presidents have pored over parchment, legal pads, and laptops to create the scripture of the nation: “…the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself,” “a date which will live in infamy,” “ask not what your country can do for you…,” and “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” resonate ever stronger over time.

There are no such inspiring words today. President Trump has no interest in lifting up Americans or the rest of the world. He only wants to bring society down with his rhetorical carnage. During the past 4 years we’ve heard “very fine people, on both sides,” “I need loyalty,” and “shithole countries.” And from the debate stage, he told one group of militant right-wing thugs to “stand back and stand by,” as if he was asking them to cool it for now while awaiting further orders.

When it comes to the crisis of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), Trump’s words could not be more destructive. When scientists tried to tell him a crisis was coming, he called it “their new hoax.” About the extraordinary number of lives lost he says, “it is what it is.” His plan for conquering the virus is simply that “like a miracle, it will disappear.” His communications strategy is “I always wanted to play it down.” And as for his role as the leader of a country in crisis, he says, “No, I don’t take responsibility at all.” It’s safe to say that Presidents Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Reagan would have said something more comforting and profound.

His words are particularly painful for science. Long days and nights have been spent by scientists working at the bench, fighting to understand the causative virus and methods to defeat it. Epidemiologists have been analyzing their models trying to devise mitigations. Physician-scientists and their colleagues in academic hospitals have developed new approaches to bring down the death rate substantially. And through all this, these researchers rarely have heard one word of acknowledgment from their president. It’s no wonder that the braggart who said, “I alone can fix it” can’t bring himself to admit that he is not the person who will get us through the pandemic. Even with the vaccine that so many have worked toward, Trump has manufactured a rationale by which he is the one who deserves the credit.

Now that Trump himself has been diagnosed with COVID-19, he is seeing first-hand the benefits of the science he has long undermined. The experimental antibody cocktail that he is taking is the fruit of a gargantuan effort by scientists fighting hard to understand the viral spike protein and characteristics of the most potent neutralizing antibodies. That effort stands on the shoulders of decades of fundamental research in immunology and structural biology, science that Trump has insulted and devalued by cutting funding for the National Institutes of Health in every budget he has submitted, but even more so with his words. Words that criticized science for discouraging use of hydroxychloroquine, a drug that he is not taking now that he has COVID-19. Words that discouraged public health interventions that cost lives and led directly to his own superspreader event in the White House’s Rose Garden. Words that painted career scientists at the Food and Drug Administration, who have devoted their lives to protecting the public’s health, as the “deep state.” And words that implied that the only reason scientists were working so hard was because of his compelling exhortations to do him a favor and speed it up. A speedy recovery is hoped for President Trump and everyone who is battling this disease, as science strives to provide an effective vaccine.

Those of us who live in Washington, DC, are surrounded by the words that define America. We can go on long walks to the World War II Memorial, along the Reflecting Pool, and up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. We can stand where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream.” And we can see chiseled into marble the words of Abraham Lincoln: “Let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

By now, we know that we will not get such uplifting rhetoric from Donald Trump. For the scientists and many others who have made sacrifices to fight this pandemic, we’d settle for just two words. Two words he has a hard time saying. Two words that he has rarely said to the vaccine scientists who have worked 18-hour days, their kids out of school and family members affected by the pandemic. Or to the health care workers, their faces raw from their protective masks and their souls crushed because they are living in self-isolation to protect their families, who have labored in the wards to bring down the death rate. Two words that he says now, only because he has been diagnosed with COVID-19 himself. Two words he should say constantly to those who have borne the battle of COVID-19. Two words Donald Trump struggles to say:

“Thank you.”

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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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Max Q: NASA makes key discovery for future of deep space exploration

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Max Q is a weekly newsletter from TechCrunch all about space. Sign up here to receive it weekly on Sundays in your inbox.

This past week, we unveiled the agenda for TC Sessions: Space for the first time. It’s our inaugural event focused on space startups and related technologies, and it’s happening December 16 and 17. It’s entirely virtual, of course, and the good news is that means you can attend easily from anywhere in the world.

We’ve got an amazing lineup, including newsmakers we regularly cover here. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will be there, as well as U.S. Space Force commanding office Jay Raymond, and Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck, to name just a few. Tickets are available now, so sign up ASAP to get the best price possible.

SpaceX launched not one, but two separate Falcon 9 rockets loaded with Starlink satellites for its broadband internet service last week. The first took off on October 19, then just five days later, another full complement reached orbit. SpaceX has now launched nearly 1,000 of these, and it must be getting awfully close to kicking off its public beta of the consumer-facing internet service.

OSIRIS-REx probe 'tagging' the surface of asteroid Bennu

Image Credits: NASA

NASA has managed to collect a sample from the surface of an asteroid in a first for the agency. The sample collection came courtesy of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx robotic exploration probe, which was built by partner Lockheed Martin. OSIRIS-REx still has some work to do at Bennu, the asteroid from which it collected the sample, but next year it’ll begin heading back with its precious cargo intended for study by scientists here on Earth.

NASA is full of special discoveries this week – scientists working on its SOFIA imaging project confirmed the presence of water on the surface of the Moon that’s exposed to sunlight. They’d suspected it was there previously, but this is the first confirmed proof, and while it isn’t a whole lot of water, it could still change the future of human deep space exploration.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Microsoft looks primed to invest in space-based business in a big way with Azure Space, a new business unit it formed to handle all space-related businesses attached to its cloud data efforts. That includes a new type of deployable mobile datacenter that will be connected in part via SpaceX’s Starlink global broadband network, putting computing power near where it’s needed in a scalable way.

Intel has loaded up a small satellite with a power-efficient edge AI processor, its Myriad 2 Vision Processing Unit. That’ll help the satellite do its own on-board classification of images of Earth that it takes, saving key bandwidth for what it transfers back to researchers on the ground. Local AI could help satellite networks in general operate much more efficiently, but it’s still in its infancy as a field.

Image Credits: Relativity Space

Relativity Space has tons of promise in terms of its 3D-printed rockets, but it still hasn’t actually reached the launch stage. It did however secure a key government contract, with Lockheed Martin selecting its rocket for a forthcoming mission to test fluid management systems for NASA.

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