Trees In The Amazon Make Their Own Rain

The Amazon rainforest is home to strange weather. One peculiarity is that rains begin 2 to 3 months before seasonal winds start to bring in moist air from the ocean. Now, researchers say they have finally figured out where this early moisture comes from: the trees themselves.

The study provides concrete data for something scientists had theorized for a long time, says Michael Keller, a forest ecologist and research scientist for the U.S. Forest Service based in Pasadena, California, who was not involved with the work. The evidence the team provides, he says, is “the smoking gun.”

Previous research showed early accumulation of moisture in the atmosphere over the Amazon, but scientists weren’t sure why. “All you can see is the water vapor, but you don’t know where it comes from,” says Rong Fu, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. Satellite data showed that the increase coincided with a “greening” of the rainforest, or an increase in fresh leaves, leading researchers to suspect the moisture might be water vapor released during photosynthesis. In a process called transpiration, plants release water vapor from small pores on the underside of their leaves.

Fu thought it was possible that plants were releasing enough moisture to build low-level clouds over the Amazon. But she needed to explicitly connect the moisture to the tropical forest.

So Fu and her colleagues observed water vapor over the Amazon with NASA’s Aura satellite, a spacecraft dedicated to studying the chemistry of Earth’s atmosphere. Moisture that evaporates from the ocean tends to be lighter than water vapor released into the atmosphere by plants. That’s because during evaporation, water molecules containing deuterium, a heavy isotope of hydrogen made of one proton and one neutron, get left behind in the ocean. By contrast, in transpiration, plants simply suck water out of the soil and push it into the air without changing its isotopic composition.

Aura found that the early moisture accumulating over the rainforest was high in deuterium—“too high to be explained by water vapor from the ocean,” Fu says. What’s more, the deuterium content was highest at the end of the Amazon’s dry season, during the “greening” period when photosynthesis was strongest.

The tree-induced rain clouds could have other domino effects on the weather. As those clouds release rain, they warm the atmosphere, causing air to rise and triggering circulation. Fu and colleagues believe that this circulation is large enough that it triggers the shift in wind patterns that will bring in more moisture from the ocean, they report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists have studied the connection between trees and rain in the Amazon before. A 2012 study found that plants help “seed” the atmosphere for rain by releasing tiny salt particles. But the new study strongly supports the idea that plants play an important role in triggering the rainy season, says Scott Saleska, an ecologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who was not involved with the work. The deuterium provides a clear “fingerprint” for what plants contribute to the process, he says.

The findings also address a long-standing debate about the role plants play in weather, says Saleska, suggesting that they are more than just “passive recipients,” and that they instead can play an active role in regulating rainfall. If that’s true in the Amazon, Saleska says, climate scientists will need to take into account practices like deforestation when predicting regional changes in weather patterns. And curbing deforestation will be an important step for people to take in preventing drought.

Next, Fu will be studying rainforests in the Congo, to see whether the same process is happening.

International Technology Bank to launch operations this year

The International Technology Bank, which aims to strengthen science, technology and innovation capacities in the least developed countries, will launch operations this year in Turkey, Science, Industry and Technology Minister Faruk Özlü said. Özlü said that a United Nations delegation has come to Turkey to evaluate preparations of the International Technology Bank site to be established in Gebze.

Explaining that a host country agreement between Turkey and the U.N. will be prepared and signed, Özlü said that following the signing, employees and office space in Gebze will be determined and the International Technology Bank will launch operations this year.

Özlü told Anadolu Agency (AA) that the International Technology Bank in Turkey is being established under the leadership of the U.N. in coordination with the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBİTAK).

Recalling that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan previously announced a commitment package at the United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries in 2011 when he was still prime minister, Özlü said that one of the commitments in science and technology fields in the country is the establishment of an international hub that will take over the role of the technology bank for least developed countries.

Özlü said that a high-level expert panel was set up to provide consultancy and suggestions during the establishment process of the bank and that evaluation conferences were held. Recalling that the proposals for the operation and structuring of bank were presented and that it was recommended the bank be established in Turkey during the meetings, Özlü said that it was decided at the 70th U.N. General Assembly that the International Technology Bank be established in Gebze.

Bank employees to be determinedÖzlü said that the U.N. delegation visited the Science, Industry and Technology Ministry, adding that the issues of the host country agreement as well as financial, aid in kind agreement were discussed.

Özlü pointed out that the U.N. delegation will go to the U.S. after Turkey, adding that the host country agreement between Turkey and the U.N. will be prepared and signed afterward. “The signing is expected to be held this month. After the signing, office space and employees in Gebze will be determined and this year the International Technology Bank will launch its activities,” Özlü said.

Stressing that Turkey has pledged its full support for the International Technology Bank project, Özlü said that financing is voluntary, informing that the donor country, Turkey, will provide financial support of $2 million annually for the first five years and that following the establishment, many U.N. member countries, as well as world-famous technology companies, are expected to support the bank.

Özlü underlined that when the International Technology Bank commences operations, need analysis will be carried out for the least developed countries and service will be provided in line with the shortcomings. Indicating that the countries will be given training and support on the establishment of governance mechanisms and the development and implementation of science and technology policies, Özlü added that they wish Turkey to contribute to the efforts in reducing income disparities in the world and the great differences in development levels.

There are more jobs in Artificial Intelligence than ever before

It’s probably not a stretch to say we are facing a looming job crisis — one that only has the potential to become worse as in the next decade, as automation becomes the biggest disruptor of jobs in traditional industries.

But with disruption comes opportunity. According to the job search website Indeed.com, there has been a 500 percent increase in the number of job postings in the field of artificial intelligence from June 2015 to June 2017.

While the absolute numbers might not be large (34 to 202 jobs in Canada), the growth trajectory is significant. Considering the potential for the widespread use of AI across many industries, there is a strong possibility that this field will be a substantial contributor to economic growth for the next little while, says Daniel Culbertson, an economist with Indeed.com.

Data from Indeed.com also found that Toronto has emerged as a hub for AI jobs, with 37 percent of all AI opportunities concentrated in Canada’s biggest city.

The most likely explanation for this is Geoffrey Hinton — computer scientist extraordinaire, and creator of a strain of artificial intelligence called neural networks which basically sets up computer systems to mimic the human brain. Hinton is based at the University of Toronto’s Engineering Department, where he is the director of a new AI lab, one that has seized the attention of global venture capitalists.

So what exactly do you have to major in to be able to gain access to to an industry with possibly the biggest job growth potential? Computer science, with a focus on machine learning engineering, for starters. It’s basically a more complex version of software engineering — you build algorithms and make sure they work reliably and quickly on a piece of software.

According to Indeed.com, 61 percent of the job postings in the AI industry were for machine learning engineers. 10 percent were for data scientists and only 3 percent were for software developers.

Interest in AI-related jobs has also grown exponentially in the last two years, which is a positive sign considering the growing skills gap problem in the Canadian labour force (too many graduates in fields with too few jobs). Searches for AI and machine learning jobs have apparently soared by 293 percent since June 2015.

And what’s even more interesting is the kind of companies that are hiring machine learning experts. You don’t have to work at a startup to be part of the AI revolution; banks and insurance companies are increasingly piling up on machine learning talent, fearing an impending existential crisis in their current business models.

A simple search on LinkedIn, fast-becoming the go-to online centre for job postings, yielded 679 jobs in Canada in machine learning. The top two job postings were BMO Financial Group recruiting a machine learning specialist, and accounting firm Ernst & Young for a research scientist in machine learning.

Annoying yet sorta fun virus makes you watch ‘Homestar Runner’

Remember the old days of viruses — which instead of holding your computer to ransom unless you pay hundreds of dollars like they do now — would just mildly annoy you with random changes.

As you’ll see in the case of Email-Worm.Win32.Lacon, which has been detailed in a video by YouTuber danoct1.

On the 10th of every month, the virus sets your Internet Explorer homepage to the 404 webpage of the much-loved Homestar Runner and also forces a log off when you try and close a dialog box titled “Your Angry Computer.”

The virus affects Windows computers and spreads via an executable attached to an email about a “National Call Registry” program. But unlike today’s viruses, this one is just simply mildly annoying.

“It’s not at all damaging, does not go after your files. All it does is kind of mess with you on the 10th of every month. So if all worms were like this, the world might be a pretty alright place,” explains danoct1. Wouldn’t it be indeed.

Scientists discover brain’s neural switch for becoming an alpha male

Brash, brawny and keen to impose their will on anyone who enters their sphere of existence: the alpha male in action is unmistakable.

Now scientists claim to have pinpointed the biological root of domineering behaviour. New research has located a brain circuit that, when activated in mice, transformed timid individuals into bold alpha mice that almost always prevailed in aggressive social encounters.

In some cases, the social ranking of the subordinate mice soared after the scientists’ intervention, hinting that it might be possible to acquire “alphaness” simply by adopting the appropriate mental attitude. Or as Donald Trump might put it: “My whole life is about winning. I almost never lose.”

Prof Hailan Hu, a neuroscientist at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, who led the work said: “We stimulate this brain region and we can make lower ranked mice move up the social ladder.”

The brain region, called the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC), was already known to light up during social interactions involving decisions about whether to be assertive or submissive with others. But brain imaging alone could not determine whether the circuit was ultimately controlling how people behave.

The latest findings answer the question, showing that when the circuit was artificially switched on, low-ranking mice were immediately emboldened. “It’s not aggressiveness per se,” Hu said. “It increases their perseverance, motivational drive, grit.”

Mice generally organise themselves in stable social hierarchies that minimise conflict between cage mates. So the scientists pitched animals of different rank against each other in a range of tests to assess dominance.

In one, pairs of mice engaged in a head-to-head contest to shove their opponent backwards out of a narrow tube. In the video, one subordinate mouse is seen putting up only light resistance, but when the “alpha” circuit is stimulated for 10 seconds it adopts a rugby-style drive, propelling its opponent along the tube. With brain stimulation, low ranking mice won 90% of the time against animals they would normally have lost to.

“When we took mice that used to lose in the tube test they could win within just several seconds of stimulation,” said Hu.

Intriguingly, the experience of winning appeared to leave an imprint on the mice, making them more assertive, even when their brains’ were no longer being artificially controlled. They were found to be more combative in a second scenario in which they competed to occupy the warm corner in a cage with an ice-cold floor.

“We observed that not all the mice returned to their original rank,” said Hu. “Some mice [did], but some of them had this newly dominant position.”

The scientists described this as the “winner effect”, hinting that there may be a grain of truth in the self-help mantra “fake it ‘til you make it”.

The authors note that similar circuitry exists in the human brain, and although our own social hierarchies are less rigid they argue that similar mechanisms may be at play. The findings, they suggest, could have applications in understanding a variety of psychiatric conditions where people exhibit overly dominant behaviours, or lack motivation to compete socially.

Ivan de Araujo, a psychiatry researcher at the Yale University School of Medicine, agreed that the findings could be relevant in people.

“Social behaviours in rodents arguably operate under very different conditions when compared to human social behaviours,” he said. “However, history of winning is one characteristic of social dominance that is relevant for almost every social species studied, from insects to primates. Because each brain region investigated has its direct primate homologue, the present study opens new opportunities for understanding the involvement of brain regions linked to planning and decision-making in establishing social hierarchies.”

If the “winner effect” translates to humans, it would suggest that experience of success in one area of life could help build confidence in another. “And you can imagine for athletes before a really serious game they could maybe play a video game to have the winner experience to build up confidence,” said Hu.

The study, published in the journal Science, used a technique called optogenetics, to pinpoint and ultimately take control of the neuronal circuits involved in socially dominant behaviour. The mice were genetically engineered so that the target group of neurons were light-sensitive, meaning that the scientists could switch the circuit on and off at will by shining a laser into the mouse brain.

In the past few years, optogenetics has provided a window into the brain circuitry involved in a wide range of behaviours, from romantic attachment to the killer instinct of predators.

HOW TO RAISE BRILLIANT CHILDREN, ACCORDING TO SCIENCE

Parents receive a lot of mixed messages surrounding how best to bring up their children.

How strict should you be? Should you be more of a friend or guardian? How much independence should they be given?

And current parenting culture may not actually be setting kids up in the best way, according to two professors.

“We’re training kids to do what computers do, which is spit back facts. And computers are always going to be better than human beings at that,” says Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, developmental psychologist, professor at Temple University and co-author of Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children.

“But what they’re not going to be better at is being social, navigating relationships, being citizens in a community. So we need to change the whole definition of what success in school, and out of school, means.”

Hirsh-Pasek and her co-author Roberta Golinkoff from the University of Delaware believe children should be assessed in the six Cs: collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation and confidence. And they go in that order too.

Collaboration is crucial in the classroom and at home, and teaches children to get on with others.
Communication includes speaking, reading, writing and listening.
Content comes next because, as Hirsh-Pasek explained to NPR, “you can’t learn anything if you haven’t learned how to understand language, or to read.” Figuring out which content to select from a mass is a skill.
Critical thinking is then what you do with that content.
Creative innovation is the next step because: “You need to know something well enough to make something new,” Hirsh-Pasek explains.
Confidence is crucial in teaching children to take safe risks.

And it’s the roles of parents to encourage children in these six areas: “So, if you’re going to have a kid who engages in critical thinking, you’re not going to shut them down when they ask a question,” Golinkoff says.

“You’re not going to settle for ‘because.’ You’re going to encourage them to ask more. And you want them to understand how other people think.”

There are then levels to each of the six Cs, which reflect how strong you are in each skill, and Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek say parents can use the system to evaluate their own relationship with their children too.

The authors believe it’s crucial that parents supplement what children learn in school and they stress that social interaction – rather than gadgets – are crucial.

“What we do with little kids today will matter in 20 years,” says Hirsh-Pasek. “If you don’t get it right, you will have an unlivable environment. That’s the crisis I see.”

Creators Update installed on just over 35 percent of Windows 10 PCs, AdDuplex says

AdDuplex has pushed out its latest monthly report, giving us a snapshot of certain aspects the Windows ecosystem for the month of June. With this month’s report comes news that the Windows 10 Creators Update is now installed on 35.7 percent of all Windows 10 PCs. That’s up from an even 18 percent coverage as of AdDuplex’s last report in May.

The surge in Creators Update coverage has taken a chunk out of the Anniversary Update’s install base, but the latter still dominates for now with a 58.3 percent share of all Windows 10 PCs. That is down from the Anniversary Update’s 75 percent coverage in May, however.

On the Mobile side of things, the Creators Update takes the top spot, sporting an install base of 58.9 percent of Windows 10 Mobile devices. The Anniversary Update comes in at a 31.9 percent share, while Windows 10 Mobile version 1511 is installed on 4.6 percent of devices. AdDuplex also pegs Windows 10 Mobile devices running Insider builds at 4.6 percent.

Also included as part of the report is a very early look at how the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop are faring. So far, according to AdDuplex’s numbers, the Surface Laptop makes up a 0.4 percent share of Surface Devices, while the new Surface Pro comes in at a slightly larger 2.2 percent share. Keep in mind that we’re only 2 weeks out from the launch of both devices, so it’s way too early to come to any conclusions from the data.

Again, the numbers are interesting to look at, but there’s nothing too surprising about the pace of the Creators Update’s spread yet. So far, as AdDuplex notes, the Creators Update is tracking at around the same pace as the Anniversary Update before it.

As always, it’s worth noting that AdDuplex’s numbers are based on data collected from a sample of 5,000 Windows Store apps that use the AdDuplex SDK. Actual figures likely differ, but AdDuplex’s reports can be useful for tracking general trends from month to month. This month’s number were collected throughout the day on June 26.