March 7, 2021

On Valentine’s Day, a rare burst of Arctic air spread across the central US and into Texas, dropping temperatures there into the single digits and nearly causing the state’s power grid to collapse. A state known for its abundant energy resources saw widespread failures of natural-gas and electricity systems that left more than four million Texans without power for days.

The proximate cause of Texas’s grid failure is now well understood. Frigid temperatures drove electricity demand to a new winter record that exceeded even the “extreme” demand scenario considered by the state’s power grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT. Then dozens of natural-gas power plants and some wind turbines rapidly went offline, plunging the Texas grid into crisis. To prevent the whole grid from going down, ERCOT ordered utilities to initiate emergency blackouts and disconnect millions of customers. 

Scientists are still working to determine whether the fast-warming … Read the rest

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Walgreens is now giving out vaccines — and getting a few things in return. | Pat Greenhouse/Boston Globe via Getty Images

Retail pharmacies are now giving out Covid-19 vaccines, and some of them are using it as an opportunity to profit off your information.

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I became eligible to get the coronavirus vaccine on February 15. Hoping to get an edge on the millions of other newly eligible New Yorkers I’d be competing with for an appointment, I spent a few days before the big day figuring out how and where to sign up for a vaccine between the many portals for my state, my city, health care providers, and retail pharmacies that were distributing them.

And that’s when I noticed something about Walgreens:

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Across the country, schools are wrestling with the difficult choice of whether to reopen, and how to do it with reduced risk. In Kalamazoo, Michigan—not far from one the main sites where Pfizer is frantically manufacturing vaccines—they plan to stay virtual through the end of the school year. In Iowa, a state without a mask mandate, kids can now go back to in-person learning full time. Meanwhile, in a school district in San Mateo County, California, that borders Silicon Valley, there’s no clear decision—and low-income and affluent parents are clashing over what to do. 

It’s been a difficult journey. Since March 2020, when most schools closed, districts have been asked to adjust over and over—to new science about how the virus behaves, new policy recommendations, and the different needs of families, kids, teachers, and staff. 

Now, as President Biden forges ahead with his promise to reopen most schools within his … Read the rest

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NFTs, explained 1 min read

A screenshot of Bitski, a Shopify-like storefront for creators to list and sell their NFTs.

Artists, influencers, and the NBA are making millions from non-fungible tokens.

Arc, a visual artist from Saudi Arabia, was initially skeptical of how cryptocurrency could be adopted in the art world. He didn’t know much about the technology and was doubtful of its reputation. Last year, a representative from KnownOrigin, a digital art marketplace powered on the Ethereum blockchain, approached Arc on Twitter and he agreed to give the platform a try. The representative helped him set up an artist account and a cryptocurrency wallet, and covered the “gas” fees Arc paid in order to upload and “mint” his artwork on the blockchain.

“I started posting on KnownOrigin without knowing what I was doing at all and just experimenting,” Arc told me. “A few days later, I got a notification that one of my pieces … Read the rest

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On March 3, SpaceX’s Starship pulled off a successful high-altitude flight—its third in a row. Unlike in the first two missions, the spacecraft stuck the landing. Then, as in the last two, the spacecraft blew up.

What happened: At around 5:14 p.m. US Central Time, the 10th Starship prototype (SN10) was launched from SpaceX’s test facility in Boca Chica, Texas, flying about 10 kilometers into the air before falling back down and descending safely to Earth. 

About 10 minutes later, the spacecraft blew up, from what appears to have been a methane leak. Still, the actual objectives of the mission were met.

What’s the big deal? This is the first time Starship has landed safely after a high-altitude flight. SN8 was flown on December … Read the rest

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Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell on the set of Mission Impossible 7, which will arrive on Paramount+ 45 days after the movie debuts in theaters later in 2021. | Marco Ravagli/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Three charts that explain the streaming wars.

Paramount+, the latest entrant in the streaming wars, launches today, promising a mix of classic TV shows and movies, sort-of-early access to some Hollywood blockbusters, and some reboots of stuff you didn’t know you wanted rebooted: Welcome back, Frasier Crane.

But in some ways, the stuff that ViacomCBS’s new service offers may be less important than the timing of its launch. It comes after every other big media company has rolled out its own streaming service. Which means Paramount+ is entering a very crowded marketplace.

And that means, most likely, that ViacomCBS isn’t just trying to get someone to pay $10 a month for Paramount+ — it … Read the rest

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In the private space industry, it can seem that there’s SpaceX and then there’s everyone else. Only Blue Origin, backed by its own billionaire founder in the person of Jeff Bezos, seems able to command the same degree of attention. And Blue Origin hasn’t even gone beyond suborbital space yet. 

Rocket Lab might soon have something to say about that duopoly. The company, founded in New Zealand and headquartered in Long Beach, California, is second only to SpaceX when it comes to launch frequency—the two are ostensibly the only American companies that regularly go to orbit. Its small flagship Electron rocket has flown 18 times in just under four years and delivered almost 100 satellites into space, with only two failed launches. 

On March 1, the company made its ambitions even clearer when it unveiled plans for a new rocket called Neutron. At 40 meters tall and able to carry 20 … Read the rest

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YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, flanked by former US President Bill Clinton and Google co-founder Larry Page, in September 2007. A year earlier, Google had bought YouTube for $1.65 billion. | Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Google’s video site has room for everything, from everyone. Is that a feature or a bug?

YouTube has more than 2 billion users. It generates $20 billion a year. But those numbers don’t begin to explain the size and impact of the world’s biggest video site.

So let’s try this: YouTube is so big that you almost don’t notice it. It’s just always there, always on. It seems fundamental to digital life, like texting or email. Maybe, like my kids, you actively go to YouTube for entertainment or education. Maybe you’re like a lot of other people and end up watching YouTube without even knowing you’re doing it: You’re just watching a … Read the rest

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Fully recovering from the SolarWinds hack will take the US government from a year to as long as 18 months, according to the head of the agency that is leading Washington’s recovery.

Brandon Wales, the acting director of CISA, the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, says that it will be well into 2022 before officials have fully secured the government networks compromised by Russian hackers. The list includes at least nine federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. Even fully understanding the extent of the damage will take months.

“I wouldn’t call this simple,” Wales says. “There are two phases for response to this incident. There is the short-term remediation effort, where we look to remove the adversary from the network, shutting down accounts they control, and shutting down entry points the adversary used to access networks. But given the amount of time they were … Read the rest

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Twitter, like other social media companies, is contending with vaccine misinformation as Covid-19 inoculations roll out. | Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The company is introducing a new strike system that could lead to some users getting permanently banned.

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Like other social media companies, Twitter has banned harmful misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccines out of concern that it could make people more hesitant to get inoculated. Now, the social media platform is adding more layers to its approach.

On Monday, Twitter said that posts deemed to be harmful misinformation will be subject to labels directing people to content curated by Twitter, public health resources, or the company’s rules. At the same time, users who continue to post such tweets will be subject to a strike policy. If a user posts too much vaccine misinformation and gets five strikes, their account could be permanently deleted from the app.

“Our goal with … Read the rest

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