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New Study Confirms Its Much Safer to Get Vaccinated Than to Catch Covid-19

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A vial of the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine

A vial of the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine
Photo: Jack Guez (Getty Images)

New research from Israel offers some unsurprising but reassuring news on the safety of covid-19 vaccines. The study found that the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine was not associated with a higher risk of most potential adverse events. And for rare suspected complications such as myocarditis, the risk was still substantially higher in those who got covid-19.

When symptoms show up after taking a drug or vaccine, they’re known as adverse events. These events may be true side effects of a treatment, but they may have happened regardless of the drug. One key way to determine the risk of a potential side effect is to see how often a population of people who received the treatment experience these symptoms compared to those who didn’t take the treatment, the latter being a real-world control group. And that’s what these researchers did, combing through data from the largest health care system in Israel from the start of the vaccination campaign late last year. The study collectively involved more than a million people.

The researchers compared the rate of adverse events documented in vaccinated people to unvaccinated people matched up in age and other demographics. Ultimately, they found that the vaccine wasn’t associated with a higher risk of most adverse events in the 42 days after vaccination. There were some events with a stronger link to vaccination, though. These included appendicitis, swollen lymph nodes, and myocarditis (heart inflammation). But when the researchers then looked at people with confirmed covid-19 and compared them to vaccinated people, the difference was stark.

Potentially severe adverse events much more common in the infected than in the vaccinated. For instance, the rate of myocarditis in the vaccinated was 2.7 cases documented in every 100,000 people, but it was 11 cases per 100,000 in the infected—a fourfold difference. There were also other conditions that vaccinated people didn’t have any added risk of experiencing, but that were more likely to show up in people who contracted covid-19, such as heart attacks, kidney damage, and pulmonary embolisms.

“[O]ur results indicate that SARS-CoV-2 infection is itself a very strong risk factor for myocarditis, and it also substantially increases the risk of multiple other serious adverse events,” the authors wrote in their study, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

While it may seem obvious that taking a vaccine to gain immunity to a disease will be safer than catching the disease itself, it’s always important to keep an eye out for any major side effects that might have gone unnoticed in clinical trials.

Since their authorization last year, scientists have found that vaccinated people can have a higher risk of some adverse events that weren’t documented in the original clinical trials, including myocarditis in those who get an mRNA vaccine like the Pfizer or Moderna shot. And there have been cases of serious illness and even deaths linked to vaccines, such as the death of BBC journalist Lisa Shaw in May following a rare blood clotting condition tied to the AstraZeneca vaccine. But so far, all of the real-world data has shown that these sorts of serious events remain very rare, while covid-19 deaths and long-term complications are far more common. In the U.S. alone, vaccines may have prevented up to 140,000 deaths by early May. In other words, the benefits of covid-19 vaccination continue to vastly outweigh any risks.

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What’s the Best Way to Save Electricity & Decarbonize My Home?

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An apartment complex in New York.

Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP (Getty Images)

Welcome to Burning Questions, a series where Earther answers the most common asks we get on how to address climate change. Many people want to do something, anything to help address the climate crisis. We answer your questions about how to help change your life—and the systems that will save us.

If you want to clean up the planet, there’s no better place to start than in your own home. Roughly 38% of all carbon pollution is tied to buildings.

Bad news, yes. But the bright side is, there is no shortage of tactics to clean up those emissions and doing so will save us money and make our homes more comfortable places to live. There are two big buckets to draw from when it comes to reducing how much buildings pollute: improving efficiency and electrifying everything. An increasing number of states and cities are making it easier to do both those things, trade unions are hopping on board, and some utilities are even coming around to the idea that yes, it’s a good business decision to not burn down the planet.

Better Energy Efficiency Is the Easiest First Step

If you want to make the biggest dent in your home energy bills, the answer is efficiency. It might not be as exciting as, say, putting a wind turbine in your backyard or a wall of batteries in your apartment building’s basement. But improving how efficiently homes use electricity and resources is crucial right now given our continued reliance on fossil fuels.

“Energy efficiency is more invisible than some of the other solutions, but it really is crucial for decarbonization,” said Rachel Gold, the head of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s utilities program. She pointed to a recent International Energy Agency report on how we could limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), a goal laid out in the Paris Agreement. While everyone—including this very outlet—made hay out of the need to end oil and gas exploration and renewable energy ramp up, the report also contains a message on energy efficiency: The world must do energy efficiency retrofits at “three times the average of the last two decades.”

ACEEE’s own research has found upgrading water heaters and furnaces to more efficient versions offers major carbon cuts. So, too, can adding insulation and plugging leaks where air can seep in or out. Doing so comes with added comfort by cutting down on drafty spots.

Those are relatively costly upgrades for a homeowner and require professional installers. But even smaller actions can add up, like more efficient showerheads. Yes, even the much-mocked changing your lightbulbs to LED bulbs is among those actions. In fact, ACEEE’s recommendations for improving energy efficiency standards includes light bulbs near the top of that list along with the aforementioned big-ticket items.

“Choices that you can make in your home really do matter,” Gold said, “and matter not just for yourself, but also because when you make efficient choices in your home and then talk about it with your neighbors and your friends, it really does influence them.”

Other less costly upgrades include things like smart thermostats that can further help with efficiency, though those can come with security and privacy concerns. In Texas, utilities raised some residents’ smart thermostats during a heat wave to conserve electricity, so if you go that route, read the fine print. But these devices and other appliances that can connect to the internet and stay abreast of electricity rates could provide savings while using less energy.

“There’s all sorts of cool stuff that we can bring into that picture like flexible demands [where] your water heater is going to know that it’s windy in the middle of the night and use that time to heat up the water so that it’s ready to go when you want to take a shower in the morning,” said Mike Henchen, a principal at the Rocky Mountain Institute who’s working on building decarbonization.

Electrifying Everything Makes Sense, Too

It’s exceeding strange that we keep poison detectors in our homes to ensure our appliances don’t kill us. Carbon monoxide is the most immediate public health danger of gas-powered stoves, water heaters, furnaces, and other appliances. But those appliances are also frying the planet by emitting carbon dioxide and methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas. That’s why we can’t just improve-efficiency our way out of cleaning up our homes.

“[It’s] yes and,” Henchen said. “Whatever energy we’re still going to use—which is still going to be a lot—we need to understand how that energy is being produced.”

Getting natural gas out of homes by installing a heat pump that efficiently handles heating, cooling, and water heating, is a surefire way to reduce your household’s carbon footprint, save money, and also not risk death by explosion or carbon monoxide poisoning. (Induction stoves are a good option, too.) These can be expensive upgrades upfront, though they’ll save money in the long run. A growing number of states and utilities offer rebate programs and incentives to install heat pumps, though, which can help bring that cost down.

Advocate for Policies So Everyone Can Enjoy the Good Life

Even those rebate programs aren’t enough to bring down costs or make more comfortable, decarbonized homes available to all. The programs there are for low-income residents—notably, the incredibly acronymed Weather Assistance Program (WAP)—are underfunded and have long waiting lists. Henchen pointed to a report by the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative that shows only 35,000 households get weatherized a year through the program while there are 40 million that qualify.

Remember, we need to triple the rate of efficiency upgrades to meet the Paris Agreement target. That means expanding access to efficiency and electrification for all, particularly since economically disadvantaged households spend quadruple the amount of their income on utility bills as well-off ones.

So, by all means, install your heat pump and swap in your LED lightbulbs. But, as Henchen noted, “there’s a big need for public investment and housing upgrades.” For WAP alone, the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative calls for $423 billion in sustained funding for the program. That would help meet people’s needs, create jobs, and bring costs down. So, too, would proposals such as a Green New Deal for Public Housing that would address the $70 billion backlog in repairs. Both Gold and Henchen also mentioned local legislation with requirements for landlords to improve efficiency that would benefit the third of us who rent our homes or apartments.

If you don’t want to be the only one enjoying a carbon-free house, then pick one of those fights—or find another since there’s no shortage. And don’t forget to talk with your neighbors, friends, and family while you’re at it.

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Russian Space Junk Likely Hit Chinese Satellite Yunhai 1-02

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A spectacular view of Earth from low Earth orbit.

A spectacular view of Earth from low Earth orbit.
Image: NASA

The mysterious breakdown of the Yunhai 1-02 satellite in March has likely been solved. The discarded remnants of an old Russian rocket appear to have smashed into the Chinese satellite, in what is an ominous sign of things to come in our increasingly cluttered low Earth orbit.

On March 22, 2021, the 18th Space Control Squadron of the U.S. Space Force published a surprising tweet announcing the breakup of Yunhai 1-02—a Chinese military satellite launched in September 2019. The breakup had occurred four days earlier, and it wasn’t immediately clear as to why this satellite, at less than two years old, should suddenly experience such a calamitous malfunction. In its tweet, the Space Force squadron said its “analysis is ongoing” and that it would track the 21 newly created pieces of debris.

This sort of thing is not without precedent. Satellites do get wrecked in orbit, though it happens very rarely. Back in 2016, for example, Japan’s Hitomi satellite spun out of control owing to human errors and crummy software; the satellite spun wildly out of control, causing it to break up. Frighteningly, a similar scenario could’ve played out on the International Space Station a few weeks ago, when Russia’s Nauka module began to fire its thrusters shortly after docking.

Another possibility is that the Yunhai 1-02 satellite was deliberately shot down. China did exactly this in 2007 with an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon, shooting down a defunct weather satellite. The incident created hundreds of pieces of debris and considerable international angst. India did a similar thing in 2019—an incident that likewise resulted in a dangerous debris field in low Earth orbit.

A collision with space junk could explain the demise of Yunhai 1-02, and again, a precedent also exists for this sort of scenario. In 2009, the Iridium 33 communications satellite smashed into Kosmos-2251, a defunct Russian military communications satellite. NASA described the incident as being the “most severe accidental fragmentation on record,” as the collision produced more than 1,800 pieces of debris larger than 4 inches (10 cm).

Some crafty sleuthing from Jonathan McDowell, a researcher at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, suggests something similar happened to Yunhai 1-02, in which a chunk of space junk slammed into the Chinese satellite. While scanning through the Space-Track.org catalog (which contains data from the 18th Space Control Squadron), McDowell noticed an odd note about orbital debris object 1996-051Q (48078). The debris object was described as having “collided with a satellite.”

“This is a new kind of comment entry—haven’t seen such a comment for any other satellites before,” wrote McDowell in a tweet published on Sunday, August 15. Diving deeper, the astrophysicist identified the debris object as being a remnant of a Russian Zenit-2 rocket, which delivered the Tselina-2 electronic intelligence satellite to orbit in 1996.

An obvious candidate for the affected satellite was Yunhai-1-02, which turned out to be the case. A quick analysis of the data showed that Yunhai 1-02 and the Russian space junk passed to within 0.6 miles (1 km) of each other on March 18, and “exactly when 18SPCS reports Yunhai broke up,” McDowell tweeted. To which he added: “37 debris objects have been cataloged so far from the breakup—there are likely to be more.” He describes the incident as the “first major confirmed orbital collision in a decade,” referencing the aforementioned smash-up in 2009. Despite the collision, Yunhai 1-02, though no longer in use, is still making orbital adjustments, which suggests the collision wasn’t completely catastrophic, said McDowell.

I reached out to McDowell to learn more about the offending Russian space junk, the nature of the collision, and what should happen next.

The size of debris object 48078 is not known, but it’s likely somewhere from 2 to 12 inches (5 to 30 centimeters) wide, McDowell said. He explained that in-space collision involving a small object of this size will damage a satellite, “but not destroy it completely.” Small objects are increasingly appearing in orbit, “so we expect more incidents like this, and indeed we have been seeing about one a year.”

I’ve covered some close-calls in the last several years, including an incident involving two defunct satellites: the joint NASA-Netherlands Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) and the the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory’s GGSE-4 satellite, which launched in the late 1960s. And back in June, an errant chunk of space junk pierced a hole in Canadarm2, a robotic arm currently in service on the ISS.

The space junk problem “is real,” said McDowell, “and as the number of satellites increases we should expect many more like this as well as increasing numbers of the rarer but more serious debris events.” The Space Force will continue to monitor and catalog the debris that came from this event, but McDowell says we may never get official confirmation of this apparent collision. As for Yunhai 1-02’s unexpected movements, “it’s possible that it is just tracking mistakes,” he said.

An uncomfortable amount of space junk circles Earth. Estimates from the European Space Agency suggest 900,000 objects from 0.4 to 4 inches (1 to 10 cm) and 34,000 objects larger than 4 inches (10 cm) are currently in Earth orbit.

A major concern is that debris might trigger a Kessler Syndrome, which is akin to a snowball that increasingly gets bigger as it tumbles down a maintain. Upsettingly, the debris caused by this latest collision could go on hit other objects in space, resulting in an even larger debris field. A hypothetical cascade could conceivably destroy troves of satellites, which would be very bad and make low Earth orbit inaccessible. The time has come for us to better regulate space and clean up our junk.



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Animated Sci-Fi Short The Desert: Lonely Robots on Earth

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A robot stares over a candle flame in a frame from animated film The Desert.

In a future where humanity has abandoned its home planet—or perhaps gone entirely extinct, as bits of atomic-bomb imagery suggest—robots rule, but it’s a lonely and strange existence. They’re drawn to things that remind them of the past, like libraries and TV sets, but also feel more primal urges, like the instinct to fight.

A Vimeo Staff Pick and Short of the Week selection, Michael Dockery’s The Desert has a simple logline: “Earth in a post-human age. Our creations left to wander in desolation.” There’s not a traditional plot to follow in the film, which runs just under five minutes, but it sets a mood that’s somehow both melancholy and hopeful. In keeping with those contrasting tones, the artwork is dark and apocalyptic before giving way to the warm colors of the sunrise. (Dockery also did the music and sound design, speaking of setting a mood.)

According to Short of the Week’s post on the film, Dockery’s influences and inspiration include “the literary dystopias of J.G. Ballard, the concept art of Ralph McQuarrie … and his own broad cynicism of modern A.I. discourse and fandom,” while also noting the piece took three years to make and that director is working on another short that’ll continue the story of The Desert, as well as a TV series in his native Australia.

What’s your interpretation of The Desert—does that beam of light from the starry sky (aliens or some other sort of cosmic creator?) mean that life will be returning to the planet? What’s that creature that appears before the kneeling robot? What are your thoughts on the world presented by The Desert? Share your thoughts below.


Wondering where our RSS feed went? You can pick the new up one here.

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Facebook News Consumers Are More Anti-Vaccine Than Fox Viewers

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Image for article titled Facebook News Consumers Are More Anti-Vaccine Than Fox News Viewers, Study Finds

Photo: At Washington, DC Facebook headquarters, activists [the Real Facebook Oversight Board] lay body bags and call for Facebook to stop disinformation that leads to Covid deaths on Wednesday, July. 28, 2021 in Washington. (Eric Kayne/AP Images for All the Citizens Ltd.) (AP)

Joe Biden might want to consider re-backpedaling after backpedaling his accusation that social media companies [Facebook] are “killing people” by spreading vaccine conspiracies and bunk. A new study suggests that Facebook’s news consumers are inordinately unwilling to get the covid-19 vaccine.

Facebook fired back at President Biden’s comment earlier this month with a blog post and a study from Carnegie Mellon University’s Delphi Group. It reported that, of millions of Facebook users, 85% of U.S.-based users were vaccinated or planned to get vaccinated. “President Biden’s goal was for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July 4,” they sniffed. “Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed.” Biden later clarified that misinformation is killing people.

But the study didn’t account for people who consume news through Facebook, potentially exposing them to its massive disinformation mill and targeting them with the content that Facebook believes will get the most engagement. The new study of that user group nudges Facebook off its high horse.

Researchers from numerous universities, specializing in various public health and political science-related fields, surveyed 20,669 people from all 50 states and D.C., between June and July 2021. They found that 25% of people who only got news from Facebook in the previous 24 hours say they won’t get vaccinated, putting it above only Newsmax (41%) and slightly below Fox (23%).

Image for article titled Facebook News Consumers Are More Anti-Vaccine Than Fox News Viewers, Study Finds

An alarmingly high portion of people got their news (“news”) through Facebook. About a third (31%) had consumed news from Facebook over the past 24 hours, ranking Facebook as the second-largest news provider below CNN. Researchers didn’t define Facebook “news,” which could range from anything from user-generated content to Tucker Carlson to the New York Times.

Image for article titled Facebook News Consumers Are More Anti-Vaccine Than Fox News Viewers, Study Finds

As researcher David Lazer, political science and computer science professor at Northeastern University, pointed out to Gizmodo, Facebook’s numbers simply align with overall population data. “The 85% figure, depending on the threshold [the Delphi Group] used, roughly matches our numbers for the general population for being ‘potentially’ willing to get vaccinated,” he wrote. “Indeed, most surveys find about 15% of the population that is really hardcore that says they will never get the vaccine.”

Facebook and Delphi’s numbers (including people probably willing to get vaccinated) gel with the CDC’s report that nearly 70% of the U.S. adult population has received at least one dose of the vaccine and the Kaiser Family Foundation’s finding that 16% of U.S. residents don’t plan to get the vaccine unless forced to. Facebook’s estimate of 85% of users who got vaccinated or are willing to get it matches up.

Facebook could clean up the site, and activists and researchers have been telling it, for a year, about the culprits. And if it really wants to place the blame on users, it could stop algorithmically recommending the most “engaging” content, be it from Ben Shapiro or Aunt Charlene. Facebook will never be able to say it’s done everything it can to fight misinformation as long as it continues recommending content as a business practice. A March 2021 report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that 73% of vaccine disinformation originated from just twelve people. Today, the activist group Real Facebook Oversight backed up those findings with a report that over 83% of posts with the most engagement this quarter came from five disinformation spreaders.

That group also dropped a bunch of body bags at Facebook’s door this morning, pictured above. Facebook’s policy communications director Andy Stone tweeted that they’re out for “cheap stunts” and linked to the insubstantial blog post stating that 85% of U.S. Facebook users are vaccinated.

There’s no way to prove that people are dying specifically because of pieces of information they read on Facebook, but associating a primary vaccine disinformation source with death is not a performative exaggeration. As covid-19 case rates are doubling and tripling, especially in states with paltry vaccination rates like Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama, we’re reading daily reports of sufferers who wished they’d gotten the vaccine on their deathbeds. Doctors are pleading with the public to reconsider.

A pastor told Dallas-Fort Worth’s Fox News affiliate that he regretted believing disinformation after a brush with death. A 27-year-old who suffered a severe case said he’d believed he didn’t need the vaccine because he was young and fit. One mother who nearly died told ClickOrlando.com that she let disinformation-spreaders influence her with government conspiracy theories. A grieving mother recounted her 28-year-old son’s dying words to the Washington Post: “This is not a hoax, this is real.”

Facebook has historically chosen to sweep criticism under the rug with broad statistics about disinformation it’s removed and its number of moderators and pledges to change and add labels, but none of that translates to meaningful responsibility as a leading news source.

So Facebook’s hands-off attitude has reached Executive Branch intervention time. Earlier this month, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that, fine, the Biden Administration will do the job. She said they’re tracking covid-19 misinformation on Facebook and are making a series of recommendations for the company, and days later, Facebook told Biden to quit “finger-pointing.”



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Former NSA Official Jen Easterly Is New CISA Director

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Image for article titled CISA Gets a New Director Amidst Ongoing Ransomware Dumpster Fire

Photo: Kevin Dietsch (Getty Images)

America’s top cybersecurity watchdog, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, finally has a permanent director again—and not a moment too soon.

On Monday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Jen Easterly, a longtime military and intelligence professional and former NSA employee, as the new head of the agency.

Easterly is the first permanent director since the unceremonious exit of Chris Krebs, who was fired by President Trump in November after refusing to endorse the President’s claims about election interference and voting irregularities. Since then, the agency has been helmed by interim director Brandon Wales, a longtime DHS employee.

Established in 2018, CISA serves as an operational component of the Department of Homeland Security, focusing on protecting federal networks, as well as providing cybersecurity guidance to government agencies and the private sector. It also focuses on election security and protections for critical infrastructure.

It’s hard to imagine someone with more qualifications for this job than Easterly. She served in the U.S. Army for some 20 years, focusing on intelligence and cyber operations—and actually helped stand up the Army’s first information warfare battalion. She has played different roles at the National Security Agency, including working with the Tailored Access Operations group—one of the most elite hacking units in the federal government. She has also worked for the Pentagon’s U.S. Cyber Command, served as senior director for counterterrorism on the National Security Council during the Obama years, has done security work for banking giant Morgan Stanley…you get the picture.

Whatever her credentials, it’s certainly good to have someone at the helm of our cybersecurity agency again because, you know, stuff hasn’t been so great in that department lately. The last six months have seen some of the biggest cyberattacks on the U.S. ever—from SolarWinds to Colonial Pipeline to Kaseya. The agency would seem to have its work cut out for it for the foreseeable future.

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Raging Oregon Wildfire Threatens California’s Power Grid

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Image for article titled Raging Oregon Wildfire Threatens California's Already Beleaguered Power Grid

Photo: Mario Tama (Getty Images)

A raging wildfire in Oregon has doubled in size to 120 squares miles (roughly 311 square kilometers) within 24 hours and now threatens vital transmission lines that carry power to California’s already beleaguered energy grid, the Associated Press reports. It’s one of dozens of blazes scorching the West Coast amid a triple-digit heat wave.

This latest threat to California’s grid—the Bootleg Fire—sparked in southern Oregon earlier this week before strong winds pushed the flames toward Path 66, a corridor of three parallel 500 kilovolt power lines that connect the two states’ energy grids, CBS SF Bay Area reports. Containment remains at 0%, according to a Saturday update from the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office.

The Bootleg Fire exploded from 61 square miles (about 158 square kilometers) on Friday to 120 squares miles (about 311 square kilometers) on Saturday, NBC-affiliate KGW8 reports. The blaze has prompted mandatory evacuations and is threatening about 3,000 homes and structures, Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office told the outlet.

As the fire quickly grew out of control Friday evening, California Gov. Gavin Newsom sent out an emergency proclamation to “alleviate the heat-induced demands” already stressing the grid to its limits. The order waived permits for the use of backup power generation and called on residents and businesses to conserve energy during high-demand hours on Friday.

The energy crisis continued to get worse over the weekend. The California Independent System Operator, which runs California’s bulk electricity grid, issued a grid warning for Saturday evening as it predicted a potential energy shortfall. The state has lost 5,500 megawatts of power as a result of the Bootleg Fire’s impact, California ISO CEO Elliot Mainzer said in a press conference on Saturday.

“That is a significant fraction of the state’s power supply,” Maizer said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

That may even be an understatement. For context, in 2020 the agency declared a Stage 3 emergency for the first time in about 20 years after the unexpected loss of a 470 megawatt power plant along with the loss of nearly 1,000 megawatts from wind power.

Firefighters in Oregon are also working to contain the Jack Fire raging in Douglas County, which has grown to more than 14 square miles (37.7 square kilometers) and is 10% contained as of Saturday, according to an OSFM update. In Northern California, two lightning-caused fires continued to rage over 45 miles (72.4 kilometers) north of Lake Tahoe over the weekend. One of the fires has grown so fast so quickly that it’s generating its own lightning—because that’s apparently a thing that can happen! 

Soaring temperatures and widespread drought conditions have further exacerbated firefighting efforts. On Friday, Death Valley National Park in California hit 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4 degrees Celsius), one of the hottest temperatures ever reliably recorded on Earth.

More than 1,200 firefighters in California are being aided by aircraft to douse the flames. The air is so dry that some of the water dropped by these planes has evaporated before reaching the ground, state fire information officer Lisa Cox told AP.

“We’re expecting more of the same the day after and the day after and the day after,” Cox said.



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The Biden Administration Is Ready To Go to War Over ‘Right To Repair’ Rules

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Illustration for article titled The Biden Administration Is Ready To Go to War Over ‘Right To Repair’ Rules

Photo: Tom Brenner / Stringer (Getty Images)

President Joe Biden is reportedly gearing up to issue an executive order compelling the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to draft new “right to repair” rules — a set of regulations that will protect consumers’ ability to repair their equipment on their own and at independent shops.

While the FTC will get to decide the final shape of the forthcoming rules, Bloomberg reports that the recommended language will specifically cite mobile phone manufacturers and defense contractors as potential areas for regulation. Under the current policies, consumers — and the farming industry, specifically — are oftentimes prohibited from making repairs on their own devices thanks to software locks, end-user license agreements and the use of proprietary parts that have functionally formed repair “monopolies” that small business owners are forced to resort to using when they need their equipment fixed.

As Motherboard reports, activists have lobbied for years for state-level legislation that would make it easier for the average person to repair their own devices, but have historically faced opposition from companies like Caterpillar, John Deere, and Apple, which have used aggressive lobbying tactics to ensure that there are as many logistical hurdles in place as possible in order to all but ensure that self-repairs are unfeasible.

If and when Biden does release new guidance — as he expected to in the coming days — it will be the first time in U.S. history that a president has intervened in the repair monopoly issue.

During a White House briefing on Tuesday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the order would give consumers “the right to repair their own equipment how they like.” Those comments follow a Friday statement by White House economic adviser Brian Deese, who said that the order was designed with the express intention of driving “greater competition in the economy, in service of lower prices for American families and higher wages for American workers.”

The order is also expected to include a number of other provisions aimed at alleviating stressors on the agriculture industry, including rules that would allow cow, pig, and poultry farmers to sue large processors that try to underpay or retaliate against them.

“We’re thrilled to see the Biden administration step up to protect farmers from repair monopolies,” Nathan Proctor, a right to repair advocate with consumer protection group US PIRG, told Motherboard. “This order should be the first step in giving farmers a choice for who repairs their equipment. This is great news for farmers, and it’s great news for everyone concerned with repair monopolies. It also shows that the Right to Repair campaign is continuing to move forward, and win new support.”

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It’s Possible to Drill a Key Ring Hole Into Apple’s AirTags

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Illustration for article titled It's Apparently Possible to Drill a Key Ring Hole Into Apple's AirTags Without Messing Them Up

Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

One of the first things that jumped out to me when I saw Apple’s long-awaited AirTags was their surface, which reminds me of a giant, polished M&M. Like real M&Ms, AirTags don’t have any holes, which means that you have to buy AirTag accessories to hook the device to your keys or hang it on your purse. However, although Apple did not include a key ring hole in the AirTags, you can apparently make one yourself without messing them up too much.

In their teardown of the AirTag published on Saturday, the folks over at iFixit decided to test whether it was possible to drill a key ring hole into the device, a noble service for those who don’t want to shell out the extra cash for accessories and are willing to take the risk of destroying the thing. If this sounds like you, you’ll need a 1/16” drill bit, according to iFixit.

Before wielding your drill, the first thing you have to do is remove the battery. The key lies in locating and successfully drilling through one of the three notches, which you can see clearly over at iFixit, in the AirTag’s circuit board and antenna shield. The notches are made for the clips that hold the AirTag together. (Remember, although AirTag batteries last more than a year without charging, they can be replaced by pulling off the back of the device).

iFixit notes that the location of the notches “roughly” corresponds to that of the clips for the metal battery cover, which means they can serve as a guide. Now, you want to drill through the notch, not through the clip itself. But should you have bad luck, doing this purportedly won’t kill your AirTag.

In the case that you are successful (and we hope that you are, because who wants to throw money away), iFixit states that the AirTag should work “as if nothing happened.” The device’s speaker, which it uses to emit chimes to help you find it if you lose it or inform others that there’s a lost AirTag nearby, was hardly affected.

There is a price to pay for saving a few bucks, though. iFixit states that if you drill a hole in your AirTag, you shouldn’t expect it to remain waterproof and dust resistant. Meanwhile, MacRumors points out that this will undoubtedly void Apple’s warranty.

In the end, those of you searching for your drill have a decision to make. Is it worth taking a risk when there are accessories available for $12.95 or less? The waterproof thing also worries me, mainly because I’ve had to open my door in the rain. Alas, it is a choice each one of us must make. May luck be on your side.

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As Weed Becomes More “Acceptable,” Weed Gadgets Are Growing Up

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Illustration for article titled As Weed Becomes More 'Acceptable,' Weed Gadgets Are Growing Up

Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

However you choose to blaze it today or any day, at this point, there’s a gadget out there to fit just about any style preference or format. And many of them look like small pieces of art in their own right.

This was something I noticed as I was working on a recent weed gadget buyer’s guide ahead of April 20. What I specifically wanted to look for were pieces, accessories, and other tools that looked as beautiful and appropriate sitting out on a coffee table as a glass of fine wine. When I called in a veritable truckload of weed gadgets to review, design and function were two of my topmost priorities.

Not all of those beautiful gadgets made their way onto our guide—we picked a single device for five primary categories and spoke a little bit more about some of them in a companion video. But whether it was a beautiful gold grinder from Sackville & Co. ($40) that looked like a miniature Guggenheim or a thoughtfully designed Cache Jar ($35) from Tetra, many of the accessories I was sent for review were so beautiful I found I actually wanted them displayed in my home, rather than tucked away somewhere in a cupboard.

Rolling papers from House of Puff; Upright Bubbler from Jane West; Nomad Pipe from Tetra; Glass Tanjun Pipe by Laundry Day.

Rolling papers from House of Puff; Upright Bubbler from Jane West; Nomad Pipe from Tetra; Glass Tanjun Pipe by Laundry Day.
Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

The same goes for a couple of porcelain accessories from a Jonathan Adler collection from Higher Standards that I absolutely adore and use frequently as catchalls for things like my papers or lighters. They feel, to be honest, a little more “grown up” than some of the more traditional weed accessories of my youth. Eric Hammond, VP of Greenlane Brands and GM of Higher Standards, told Gizmodo that a touchstone of the brand “is our elevated design ethos which merges both functionality and elegant craftsmanship.” I fully agree with that, particularly where its premium glass smoking devices are concerned.

When I spoke with Monica Khemsurov, co-founder of Tetra, about the company’s design principles, I learned that Khemsurov had a background both in journalism as well as design, most recently as a contributing design editor to T Magazine and the co-founder of Sight Unseen. Khemsurov said Tetra was founded in 2015 between Khemsurov and two other arts journalists, who’ve since left the company, “precisely at the moment when I realized—one day when the three of us were at the beach and the two of them lit up—that the smoking world was almost entirely devoid of a design-driven point of view.”

Grinders from Sackville & Co.; Cache Jar from Tetra; Jonathan Adler tray from Higher Standards

Grinders from Sackville & Co.; Cache Jar from Tetra; Jonathan Adler tray from Higher Standards
Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

“At the time, there was no brand or store devoted entirely to aesthetically minded smoking accessories; I had seen the ceramicist Ben Medansky making pipes, which was definitely part of my inspiration, but we were the first to really plant a stake and say, we’re going to be the place to go when you want beautiful and thoughtful smoking accessories,” Khemsurov said. “I had all of these connections to product and furniture designers from my roles at T and Sight Unseen, and so I started reaching out to them to see what they might come up with if they turned their expertise from vases and chairs to these objects, and that was really how we got started.”

Tetra’s shop does, in fact, feel like a very well-curated collection of beautiful trinkets that often break the mold of what smoking devices should even look like. Look no further than its Nomad Pipe ($80) or Elbow Pipe ($70) to see what I mean. Its Tetra Starter Kit ($160) is downright gorgeous. (I haven’t had the chance to review it, but I’ve been considering throwing down for one for myself for months.)

When I asked Sackville & Co. about its aesthetic, I was surprised to learn that some of that beauty is actually informed by a background in fashion, which makes sense when you take a closer look at its wider product lineup. The company sells everything from beautiful gold grinders to crystal pipes to pre-rolled cones in a rainbow of colors.

Heir Water Pipe and Handpipe with magnetic cap.

Heir Water Pipe and Handpipe with magnetic cap.
Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

Lana Van Brunt, co-founder of Sackville & Co., told Gizmodo “the way that we approach cannabis products is the same way that we would approach any other design project, form and function being at the top of the list.” Additionally, Brunt believes that design can work double duty to help break perceptions about weed.

“Design plays a huge role in changing people’s perspectives so as cannabis becomes more and more acceptable and people start letting their guard down about having it on display it will naturally beg for more designed options,” Brunt said.

Sam Bertain, co-founder of Session, which got a top spot on our buyer’s guide for its hand pipe ($40), seemed to agree that beautifully designed weed products can help shift the stigma around cannabis use.

Jonathan Adler tray from Higher Standards; lighters by Tetra and Tsubota Pearl.

Jonathan Adler tray from Higher Standards; lighters by Tetra and Tsubota Pearl.
Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

“Beautiful product design elevates the rituals of getting high to one that is no longer relegated to the shadows, but to a realm that can be celebrated, shown off, or at the very least just recognized as normal,” Bertain told Gizmodo. “On the wave of massive legalization and changing stigmas around smoking pot, companies like Session Goods, which is more of a lifestyle brand than a heady smoke shop peddler, is using the same sentimentalities that designers use to create home goods, fashion accessories, or technology to actually change the way people see, feel, and partake in casual or medical cannabis use.”

I’m inclined to agree. I live in a state where weed has been legal for some time. But I still find that when I have guests over, a beautiful water pipe I have sitting out in my home from Heir ($260) is often a conversation starter for its design. And while I’m certainly not suggesting that everyone needs a designer smoking device—there are plenty of beautiful and affordable accessories that can be found at your local shops or from creators on Etsy—it very much feels like there’s been a significant sea change in cannabis product design. And hey, if that helps destigmatize weed use, I’m all for it.

Bertain, speaking to that point, added that it is “really amazing to see how people’s meanings of what it looks like to be a stoner shift when the visual identity of that lifestyle is more thoughtful, beautiful, and in step with the things people buy for their home or their personal style.”

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