New Apple Variety, Cosmic Crisp, or WA38, Enters the Market

Who would have thought that a new apple variety would be such a huge ordeal? A cross-breed between the Honeycrisp and the Enterprise apple gave way to the Cosmic Crisp. A sweet, rigid, crisp, pretty and juicy apple variety that can allegedly last up to a year in refrigerators. A holy-grail, whose fruit finally came to bare after 20-year’s of research and cross-breeding.

I wouldn’t call a new apple variety “game-changing.” However, a variety that can last longer than a few months in refrigeration is no small feat. I’ve never understood the Washingtonian penchant for Red Delicious. Maybe the Cosmic Crisp will become the new Pacifc Northwest favorite. Production of the classic red apple has been in decline for a while now. Personally, I favor the Gala, Fiji or Honeycrisp variety. Then again, there are quite a lot of cultivars out there to chose from.

A Lab-made Primordial Soup Yields RNA Bases

Looks like Stanley Miller and Harold Urey were onto something with their experiments back in 1952. Their classic abiogenesis research continues to be refined in a new experiment spearheaded by Thomas Carrell. From Nature:

Carell, an organic chemist, and his collaborators have now demonstrated a chemical pathway that — in principle — could have made A, U, C and G (adenine, uracil, cytosine and guanine, respectively) from basic ingredients such as water and nitrogen under conditions that would have been plausible on the early Earth. The reactions produce so much of these nucleobases that, millennium after millennium, they could have accumulated in thick crusts, Carell says. His team describes the results in Science on 3 October1.

The results add credence to the ‘RNA world’ hypothesis, says Carell, who is at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany. This idea suggests that life arose from self-replicating, RNA-based genes — and that only later did organisms develop the ability to store genetic information in the molecule’s close relative, DNA. The chemistry is also a “strong indication” that the appearance of RNA-based life was not an exceedingly lucky event, but one that is likely to happen on many other planets, he adds.

The results, are essential to the Hot Spring Hypothesis and the origin of complex life on Earth. Pretty awesome!

FarmWise, and the Rise of the Agribots

From TechCrunch:

Automating agriculture is a complex proposition given the number and variety of tasks involved, but a number of robotics and autonomy companies are giving it their best shot. FarmWise  seems to have impressed someone — it just raised $14.5 million to continue development of its autonomous weeding vehicle.

Currently in the prototype stage, these vehicles look like giant lumbering personnel carriers or the like, but are in fact precision instruments which scan the ground for invasive weeds among the crop and carefully pluck them out.

A pretty impressive, lumbering, weed-pulling, beast-of-a-prototype. It looks like an absolute unit too:

Image: FarmWise

These sorts of bots have became very well known in the auto industry, the textiles industry, and now they’re coming to agriculture. Simply put, they’re designed to replace mundane awful tasks previously occupied by human hands. In the long-scheme of things, this is a good thing. Not-so-fun jobs should be automated. Improving the quality of life for mankind is a good thing.

But, if you think your job can’t be automated, think again. We have robots writing headlines and blog posts, self-writing their own programs, nailing roof tiles, and just about everything else (questionable or otherwise) in-between. That may sound really scary (and it is a little bit). The long-arc of these sorts of innovations will make create abundance with little effort, and will ultimately lead to a world where a majority the human-race are unemployable. I won’t claim to know the solution to that problem, but is an unavoidable outcome (see below) we should debate and talk about more freely, because it’s happening faster than you think.

I’m serious about the nail-gun wielding roofing-robot. It’s really something to behold:

Further Watching:

If you have 15 minutes and you’re convinced your job can’t be occupied by automation, I urge you to watch CGP Grey’s film, Humans Need Not Apply. It’s a gripping must-watch short.

Hurricane Dorian Strengthens to Category 5

The New York Times reports:

As Hurricane Dorian drew near to the Abaco Islands in the northwestern Bahamas early Sunday morning, the National Hurricane Center said in a bulletin that the maximum sustained winds around the eye of the storm had reached 160- miles an hour, making it a “catastrophic” storm with “devastating winds.” 

It is moving westward fairly slowly — 8 miles an hour — and would soon be moving over Grand Abaco. The bulletin said storm surge as much of 15 to 20 feet was possible, enough to swamp many low-lying areas of the islands, and that as much as 24 inches of rain could fall before the storm passes.

This is pretty much a nightmare scenario. A storm originally forecast as a Category 3 or 4 has strengthened to a Category 5 in the balmy warm waters just south of The Bahamas. A weak jet stream, and unusually high temperatures of the waters have only strengthened the storm as it slowly creeps toward The States.

The devastating wind and sustained rain is going to pummel the tropical islands before reaching Florida on September 2, Labor Day at 2am. The NWS precipitation forecast says it all:

There will be widespread flooding, intense surf, and damaging sustained winds. As a reminder, climate change is real and it will only get worse and worse every year until we make systemic changes to roll back greenhouse emissions, and protect our only weapon in this fight — the rainforests of Earth.

The full list of Category 5 storms (data from Wikipedia) as of August 2019:

NameDates as a
Category 5
Sustained
wind speeds
“Cuba”October 19, 1924165 mph (270 km/h)
“San Felipe II
Okeechobee”
September 13–14, 1928160 mph (260 km/h)
“Bahamas”September 5–6, 1932160 mph (260 km/h)
“Cuba”November 5–8, 1932175 mph (280 km/h)
“Cuba–Brownsville”August 30, 1933160 mph (260 km/h)
“Tampico”September 21, 1933160 mph (260 km/h)
“Labor Day”September 3, 1935185 mph (295 km/h)
“New England”September 19–20, 1938160 mph (260 km/h)
CarolSeptember 3, 1953160 mph (260 km/h)
JanetSeptember 27–28, 1955175 mph (280 km/h)
CarlaSeptember 11, 1961175 mph (280 km/h)
HattieOctober 30–31, 1961160 mph (260 km/h)
BeulahSeptember 20, 1967160 mph (260 km/h)
CamilleAugust 16–18, 1969175 mph (280 km/h)
EdithSeptember 9, 1971160 mph (260 km/h)
AnitaSeptember 2, 1977175 mph (280 km/h)
DavidAugust 30–31, 1979175 mph (280 km/h)
AllenAugust 5–9, 1980190 mph (305 km/h)
GilbertSeptember 13–14, 1988185 mph (295 km/h)
HugoSeptember 15, 1989160 mph (260 km/h)
AndrewAugust 23–24, 1992175 mph (280 km/h)
MitchOctober 26–28, 1998180 mph (285 km/h)
IsabelSeptember 11–14, 2003165 mph (270 km/h)
IvanSeptember 9–14, 2004165 mph (270 km/h)
EmilyJuly 16, 2005160 mph (260 km/h)
KatrinaAugust 28–29, 2005175 mph (280 km/h)
RitaSeptember 21–22, 2005180 mph (285 km/h)
WilmaOctober 19, 2005185 mph (295 km/h)
DeanAugust 18–21, 2007175 mph (280 km/h)
FelixSeptember 3–4, 2007175 mph (280 km/h)
MatthewOctober 1, 2016165 mph (270 km/h)
IrmaSeptember 5–9, 2017180 mph (285 km/h)
MariaSeptember 18–20, 2017175 mph (280 km/h)
MichaelOctober 10, 2018160 mph (260 km/h)
DorianSeptember 1, 2019175 mph (280 km/h)

Another way to read this table — in nearly a a century of record-keeping, roughly 30% of all Category 5 hurricanes have been recorded since the New Millennium.

Are You Reading Hurricane Forecasts Correctly?

As Hurricane Dorian quickly approaches, it’s time to revisit the hurricane forecast maps. We often forget that these storms are highly complex systems, that can grow and contract and can move across hundreds of miles fairly quickly. Shouldn’t our weather projection maps communicate that complexity? Perhaps, that’s a tall order. As an primer, this was the forecast projection map for Hurricane Maria in 2017:

The great tragedy of these sorts of maps, is they communicate a very compressed amount of uncertainty. The paths these hurricanes can take can vary wildly around small meteorological variables. They’re simple and offer a condensed overview of the uncertainty of the storm (over time) without the baggage of demystifying a map legend and fraying model paths. While the cone projection maps condenses information, the spaghetti projection map illustrates the ensemble of projections:

Both the cone and spaghetti maps are helpful for adjacent government planning. But neither really communicate the size or intensity of the storm, and that misinterpretation can be fatal — The Time reports:

Studies show that some people misinterpret the map as indicating the hurricane getting bigger over time. Others think it shows areas under threat. Research by Hurakan, a University of Miami team I’m a part of, suggests 40 percent of people wouldn’t feel threatened if they lived just outside of the cone.

The NWS does publish wind projection maps. Again, we’re looking at Hurricane Maria, which easily illustrates the destructive wind speed that pummeled Puerto Rico along its path in 2017:

It’s instrumental to look at all the projections available to you, to collectively assemble a full picture of the storm ahead. This method of forecasting multiple models (known as ensemble forecasting) isn’t new either. It’s regularly used for tornado and severe storm predictions as well.

Further Reading:

Fairy Circles

Our planet, Earth, as it has come to be known — is the only place known to harbor life, is a pretty weird and mysterious ball of mud. We have it pretty good here. Even as we sit right on the cusp of complete annihilation, it’s really not so bad here. Protected by our thin atmosphere and fickle magnetosphere, we dodge immediate extermination by the all too occasional heat, radiation, and the insufferable sub-zero temperatures of interstellar space.

While we understand a whole lot about Earth and the life here (past and present), there’s also just so much we still don’t know or understand. One particular mystery (National Geographic has some great photos here) of life we don’t fully understand isn’t a creature at all — rather it is the absence of life that is startling. They’re called fairy circles.

Fairy circles seen from a hillside in Namibia. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Scientists back in 2004, believed they were the result of radioactivity or even termites. But alas, results came up short in several excavations and published papers detailing the lack of discovery. Others, unconvinced by previous research pressed on with the theory of termites causing the anomaly:

New research may now have yielded a more credible explanation for the fairy circles as examples of natural ecosystem engineering by a particular species of sand termites, Psammotermes allocerus. A German scientist reported on Thursday that most likely these industrious termites were the agents for making much of their desert home an oasis of permanent grassland.

Curious thing about the fairy circles, they occur pretty frequently in the deserts of Namibia. Researchers continue to go there for answers but then, something very peculiar happened. The fairy circles began cropping up in Australia.

The only thing Australia has in common with southwest Africa is the dry, arid conditions that resemble a desert. But apart from that, the two continents have been separated from each other for about 200 million years now, and the wildlife disparity couldn’t be more different.

The mystery continued to unravel and unfurl between scientists. However, nowadays there seems to be some agreement that the odd circles are a bi-product of ecosystems operating at the razors-edge for survival. Not unlike extremomophilic bacteria living in high-temperature deep-sea vents or cacti in deserts. The grasses, are just trying to organize in optimal patterns:

Many other researchers, including entomologists and botanists, aren’t convinced. They think the circles occur because plants engage in a tug-of-war for water and other scarce nutrients. Due to their battles, the landscape “self-organizes” into rings of deep-rooted grasses, draining water from a central reservoir where no other plants can thrive. This explains why, as the researchers Michael Cramer and Nichole Barger found in 2013, the fairy circles are restricted to places with low rainfall, and why they grow after dry years and shrink after wet ones.

There we have it. To be brief, there are two grass types: one that prefers to grow deep with roots on the edges of moisture and nutrients., and the other which prefers to grow in a collective matrix with shorter root structures. A slide from Cramer and Barger’s research is pretty revealing:

Michael D. Cramer & Nichole N. Barger

Mystery solved, for now at least. If you’re upset and feel robbed of an unsolved mystery, I invite you to read more about Australia’s unsolved (and often strange) mysteries.

The Earth’s Rainforests are on Fire

This news is only a few days old, but the fires have been raging for years in the Amazon. Adam K. Raymond for New York Magazine:

Fires raging in vast stretches of the Amazon rainforest this week are darkening the skies of cities thousands of miles away, turning rainwater black, and setting disturbing records, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, better known as INPE. The agency, which uses satellite imagery to monitor fires in the world’s largest rainforest, said this week that the Amazon is burning at the fastest rate since 2013, when it began keeping records.

The 72,843 fires in Brazil this year mark an 84 percent increase over this time last year, with INPE recording a new fire somewhere in the country roughly every minute.

Fuck. If that doesn’t scare the shit out of you, this should:

As images of wildfires in South America’s Amazon region draw global attention, a large and potentially devastating series of fires is raging in Central Africa and parts of Southern Africa.

Among the regions at risk is the Congo Basin forest, the second-largest tropical rainforest, after the Amazon, mostly in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The region absorbs tons of carbon dioxide, a key in the fight against climate change, and has been called the world’s “second lung,” following the Amazon.

NASA

When I was a teenager, I remember being gravely concerned about the CFC problem and the Ozone Hole. The last time our nations came together to ban harmful CFC’s, it resulted in healing our planet’s Ozone Layer 30 years later. We have to band together again. This time, we must ensure protections for our precious rainforests before it’s too late. Protecting our rainforest are the last bastion of protection the Earth has against greenhouse gases.

As I’m writing this, Hurricane Dorian prepares to make landfall, the first major hurricane of 2019. As of writing, it’s predicted to make landfall as a Category 3 or 4 on Labor Day. When I look back on this post 20 years from now, I wonder how much worse shape our little planet will be in. I can only wildly speculate pessimistically now, but I really hope we can turn it around before it’s too late.

KFC Sells Out of Plant-Based ‘Chicken’ in Atlanta

Photo from Unsplash

Time flies doesn’t it? It was just yesterday everyone was talking about Beyond Meat’s deep-friend nugget and boneless wing test in Georgia. Before we dive into the news, let’s do a head-count. As of writing, here’s an up-to-date compilation of all the fast-food restaurant chains with plant-based items on their menus (for sale, or in test markets):

  • KFC, The Imposter (not a typo), a U.K. chicken burger
  • Little Caesars, Supreme Pizza (spicy-sweet sausage)
  • Qdoba, Qdoba Impossible Bowl or Qdoba Impossible Taco
  • Burger King, Impossible Whopper
  • Carl’s Jr., Beyond Famous Star
  • Del Taco, Beyond Taco
  • Dunkin’, Beyond Sausage Breakfast Sandwich
  • Red Robin, Impossible Burger
  • TGI Fridays, Beyond Burger 
  • White Castle, Impossible Slider

Derrick Bryson Taylor for The Times writes:

For weeks, a debate over where to get the best chicken sandwich has waged between Popeyes, Chick-fil-A and the chicken-eating public at large. But KFC, another chicken giant with a global reach, is working on its own agenda: a plant-based “chicken” that proved so popular in a sales test that it sold out in a single day.

“It’s confusing, but it’s also delicious,” read a tweet from KFC on Monday announcing the sale of Beyond Fried Chicken, created with the help of the company Beyond Meat, at a single location in Atlanta. In about five hours on Tuesday, a KFC representative said, the restaurant sold as many plant-based boneless wings and nuggets as it would sell of its popular popcorn chicken in an entire week. (A “Kentucky Fried Miracle,” the company declared.)

In 24 hours, the test market sold out. This is simply put, delicious news for everyone.

KFC is Going Beyond Fried Chicken in Atlanta

KFC

Kentucky Friend Chicken is rolling out Beyond Meat’s plant-based meat substitute deep-fried nuggets and boneless wings in test markets in Atlanta. The Morning Brew reports:

The meatless revolution has breached the castle walls. Today, a KFC store near Atlanta is rolling out Beyond Meat’s plant-based nuggets and boneless wings, all but guaranteeing fried chicken will remain in the news cycle for a second straight week.

I cannot wait to try this. Here’s to hoping the test market responds well to Beyond Fried Chicken 🤞