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The Apple Watch is evolving into a legitimate medical device

Technology

The smartwatch's new ECG function brings fitness trackers into real medical care.

This week, Apple took a big step in bringing its Apple Watch Series 4 beyond the scope of a typical fitness or wellness trackers into the sphere of clinical medical…

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Frozen ‘super-Earth’ could support life, experts say

A frozen "super-Earth" discovered six light years from Earth could be capable of harbouring life, scientists have said.

The rocky planet, at least 3.2 times the size of Earth, is orbiting Barnard's Star, one of the closest and most well studied red dwarf stars in the Galaxy and the sun's nearest neighbouring single star.

Known as Barnard's star b, its surface temperatures are estimated at minus 150C. Despite this, scientists believe pockets of liquid water, warmed by geothermal activity, could lie beneath the ice capable of harbouring life.

As a red dwarf, Barnard's star is smaller, older and much cooler than the sun. Although the planet is much closer to it than the Earth is to the sun, it's surface remains locked in a blanket of ice.

Barnard's star under the orange tinted light from the frozen "super-Earth" discovered orbiting it
Image: Artist's impression of Barnard's star b under the orange tinted light from its star Pic: ESO – M. Kornmesser

Professor Carole Haswell, head of astronomy at the Open University and a member of the international team that announced the discovery in the journal Nature, said: "While the starlight from Barnard's Star is too feeble for Barnard's Star b to have liquid water on its surface, Barnard's Star b probably has a similar temperature to Jupiter's moon Europa.

"Famously, Europa has a sub-surface ocean which has been considered as a potential habitat for life. It is possible Barnard's Star b may offer similar niches for life.

"Tantalisingly, super-Earths like Barnard's Star b probably sustain geothermal activity for longer than their lower mass counterparts.

"This could be helpful to life by providing sustained heat and the chemicals needed to build complex organic molecules.

"This new discovery offers exciting prospects to learn more about the galaxy's diversity of planetary systems, starting with our own solar system's near neighbours."

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The existence of Barnard's star b was confirmed after two decades of observations by the Calar Alto Observatory in Spain using the radial velocity technique.

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This involves looking for light frequency variations that betray the "wobble" an orbiting planet imparts on a star.

From these measurements astronomers are able to estimate a planet's mass and orbital period.

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Snapchat mines teen users with Friendship Profiles

Snapchat has launched a new feature with a focus on friendships in a bid to take on rivals like Facebook and Instagram.

Friendship Profiles will allow users to access the records of relationships with each other, collating the images, videos, messages, links, and more that they have saved in Chat.

Announcing the update, the company said: "Friendship Profiles make it easy to find your favourite memories and the important information you've saved over time. It's the fastest way to find the highlights of your friendship.

The profiles are designed to appeal to Snapchat's young userbase
Image: The profiles are designed to appeal to Snapchat's young userbase

"Friendship Profiles celebrate your relationships in a private way – each Friendship will only be visible to you and the person (or Group!) that you are friends with on Snapchat."

It will be rolling out to users across the world over the coming weeks, it added.

To find a Friendship Profile users just need to tap on the friend or group's Bitmoji – the personalised avatars which Snapchat uses.

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While Facebook still remains the dominant player in the social media space, the company's series of data blunders and potentially simply its age have left it losing some cool among younger users.

Snapchat, with disappearing messages and clever image filters, has replaced Facebook as the growing market player among younger teens in the UK.

Its access to measure not merely how many people know each other – as per Facebook's social graph – but the consolidated metric regarding close relationships – also offers it a strong avenue to attract advertisers.

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The Friendship Profiles offer Snapchat a way of measuring how much interest in particular topics or consumer items could be shared between different individuals.

The update comes as the company struggles to recover from the collapse of its share price just days after it initially listed on the New York Stock Exchange, alongside consistent user growth.

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Gamer admits hoax call that led police to fatally shoot man

A gamer in the US has pleaded guilty to making a hoax call that led to a man being shot dead by police.

Tyler Barriss, 25, claimed that Andrew Finch had killed his own father and was holding family members hostage in Wichita, Kansas last year.

A SWAT team arrived at Mr Finch's house and he was ordered to put up his hands as he stepped on to the porch.

When he unexpectedly dropped his hands, the 28-year-old was shot and killed, according to the US Department of Justice.

Andrew Finch was shot dead by police on Thursday.
Image: Andrew Finch was shot dead by a SWAT team

Barriss, who was arrested shortly after the incident in December 2017, pleaded guilty to making the false report resulting in a death, as well as cyber-stalking and conspiracy related to the deadly swatting call.

Swatting is a criminal offence in which emergency services are hoaxed into responding to a false hostage situation.

Barriss, from Los Angeles, had also made bomb hoaxes via phone calls to the FBI headquarters and the main offices of the Federal Communications Commission in Washington DC.

He pleaded guilty to a total of 51 charges filed in California and the District of Columbia related to other fake calls and threats, including bomb hoaxes sent to schools, universities, shopping malls and television stations.

Tyler Barriss is understood to have been arrested. Pic: Glendale Police
Image: Tyler Barriss admitted 51 charges. Pic: Glendale Police

The deal with prosecutors will send him to prison for between 20 and 25 years, if the judge accepts it.

Two co-defendants in the deadly swatting incident, Casey Viner, 18, and Shane Gaskill, 20, are awaiting trial.

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As part of Barriss' plea, he admitted becoming involved with the two other defendants while playing video game Call of Duty online.

Viner is accused of asking Barriss to swat Gaskill, although Gaskill allegedly fooled Barriss by claiming to still live at an old address – the address where Mr Finch lived.

Mr Finch's family said he was not even involved in online gaming.

US Attorney Stephen McAllister said: "Without ever stepping foot in Wichita, the defendant created a chaotic situation that quickly turned from dangerous to deadly.

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"His reasons were trivial and his disregard for the safety of other people was staggering."

Barriss will be sentenced on 30 January.

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Astronomers discover ‘ghost’ galaxy near Milky Way

Astronomers have discovered an enormous "ghost" galaxy lurking near the Milk Way through the European Space Agency's Gaia satellite.

The international team, including many astronomers from the University of Cambridge, discovered the faint galaxy when examining data from Gaia's telescope.

Named Antlia 2, or Ant 2 for short, the galaxy has managed to avoid detection until now due to its extremely low density – as well as being hidden behind the shroud of the Milky Way's disk.

It is known as a dwarf galaxy, one of the first types of galaxies to emerge in the early universe.

Dwarf galaxy stars are old and quite low in mass and metal.

However compared to other dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way, Ant 2 is truly enormous – about a third of the size of the Milky Way itself.

It is also eerily faint, according to normal measurements.

The University of Cambridge wrote that the galaxy is either far too large for its luminosity or far too dim for its size.

The Milky Way
Image: Ant 2 was hidden by the disk of the Milky Way

"This is a ghost of a galaxy," said Dr Gabriel Torrealba, the paper's lead author.

"Objects as diffuse as Ant 2 have simply not been seen before. Our discovery was only possible thanks to the quality of the Gaia data."

Co-author Dr Sergey Koposov, from Carnegie Mellon University, added: "The simplest explanation of why Ant 2 appears to have so little mass today is that it is being taken apart by the Galactic tides of the Milky Way.

"What remains unexplained, however, is the object's giant size. Normally, as galaxies lose mass to the Milky Way's tides, they shrink, not grow."

According to the University of Cambridge, if it is impossible for the dwarf galaxy to have grown as the Milky Way stripped its mass away, then Ant 2 must have been truly enormous.

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Alternatively, the academics suggest that Ant 2's low density could mean that a modification to the properties of dark matter is needed.

The current favoured theory predicts dark matter to pack tightly in the centres of galaxies.

But given the lack of density within Ant 2, it suggests another dark matter particle which does not cluster may be needed.

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"Compared to the rest of the 60 or so Milky Way satellites, Ant 2 is an oddball," said co-author Dr Matthew Walker, from Carnegie Mellon University.

"We are wondering whether this galaxy is just the tip of an iceberg, and the Milky Way is surrounded by a large population of nearly invisible dwarfs similar to this one."

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Photo editing presets make big money for influencers, but you’re better off making your own

The Mastin Labs Ektar preset is one of my personal favorites. It's designed to emulate real Kodak film. It has lots of contrast and bright colors.

Stan Horaczek

Adding filters to Instagram photos is a practice that goes back to the app’s early days. If you were an early adopter, scroll back to your first posts and you’ll probably find photos you posted with the stylish, washed out Valencia filter. Since then, however, the default Instagram filters have fallen out of favor, but many popular accounts still have a certain visual consistency across its posts, some of which look great, while others look outlandish for the sake of style. In fact, filters have been replaced by presets: pre-determined sets of image adjustments created and implemented using Adobe’s Lightroom photo editing software.

The Atlantic has a great look at the latest trend of Instagram influencers selling image presets that allow followers to give their photos the same overall look. Adobe only gave the mobile version of Lightroom the ability to use custom and purchased presets, even though photographers had been using them on computers for years.

You can use presets from photography companies like Mastin Labs, which makes excellent presets designed to mimic the look of film photography. VSCO uses a similar approach, but its interpretations of film looks are less authentic and more stylized. But these companies have been around for years. Photographers also sell their own custom presets.

Pop Sci preset

This is a regular photo from my library without the new Pop Sci preset applied.

Stan Horaczek

Pop Sci preset

The Pop Sci preset cuts down on highlights and warms up the color temperature.

Stan Horaczek

But now, you can also buy presets from makeup companies or YouTube personalities. Or, you can just make them yourself. Here’s how to do it

You’ll need access to Lightroom, which is part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud. You don’t need the full Creative Cloud subscription, but rather the much-cheaper $10 per month Creative Cloud for Photographers plan that includes the full versions of Photoshop and Lightroom.

You can create presets in the app or the desktop version. Here’s a quick guide to each.

Creating presets in the Lightroom CC app

Open a photo and edit it so it has the look you want by adjusting things like contrast, brightness, and saturation. Then scroll over to the Presets tool in the bottom right part of the screen. Once you’re in that screen, click the three dots in the top right corner. It gives you the option to create a preset. Once you click that, it will save all the adjustments you’ve made so it can later apply them to other photos.

You can pick and choose what kinds of adjustments you want to include as part of the preset, so if you want to change the color of the photos, but not the brightness or contrast, you can do so.

Creating presets in the desktop version

The process is simple here, too. Click on the Presets tab on the bottom right of the screen and it will list the default presets for you. Open and edit an image so it looks how you want, then click “Create a new Preset.” From here, it’s the same process as creating a preset in the app.

Etsy presets

There's a thriving market for presets on sites like Etsy.

Etsy

Getting the look right

This is a trial-and-error process, so there’s a good chance your first preset won’t look good when you try to apply it across a variety of photos. Once you know what your go-to look will be, you’ll likely want to start shooting photos that lend itself to that look. So, if you want lighter, brighter pictures, you’ll want to expose your original photos to accommodate that look. If you like bright and contrasty, look for things that will look good when you punch them up. Graffiti walls look great with lots of contrast, but most human faces do not.

Many influencers and companies team up with companies or photographers who know their way around the various adjustments within the app to help them nail the style, but you can get there by experimenting if you want. Here’s a simple overview of what each slider does to a photo.

As a final tip, be careful about having too heavy a hand when editing. Gobs of saturation or lots of “clarity,” (that’s is a word Adobe uses to describe “midtown contrast” that’s nice in small doses, but makes things look gritty in excess) will look bad down the road.

Now you’re ready to get rich

Once your preset is ready and you’re already internet famous so people will buy anything you’re trying to sell, especially if they think it will grant you access to some of their fame, you can export your presets as files and sell them through any online store like Shopify or Squarespace’s. There’s also a bustling market for presets on Etsy, where some packs of settings can sell for hundreds of dollars depending on the look or how famous the creator is.

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