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In my teaching experience, winter break arrives at the moment when both the students and I need it most. As we are nearing winter break, I look forward to some time to relax and renew my energy before school resumes in January. Some years I realized a day or two before the end of my time off that I wasn’t any more rested than I had been in the days leading up to break. Over the years there are some things that I have found to help me have a truly revitalizing winter break.
Before break, I designate days on my calendar when I won’t check email or do anything work-related. Allocating days when I won’t engage in work helps me to be intentional about spending time with family as well as spending mindful time alone. Around a week before winter break, write down all work-related to-do items. Check off as many as possible before break. Listing what needs to get accomplished helps me stay organized. Even better, if I succeed in checking off all of the items, I return from the break with a clean slate.
A few days before break, plan a lesson for the first day back. Write out all ideas in detail and gather any materials needed to implement the lesson. Having a day planned for my return allows me to enjoy the break without worrying about the first day back.
The winter break can be a busy time filled with shopping, cooking, and chores, which means running the risk of arriving at the last day of break and realizing that I haven’t taken any time for myself. To make sure the break isn’t only full of responsibilities, I make a list of fun things I hope to do over break and then schedule them on a calendar. I include items such as outdoor activities, leisurely walking around a bookstore, taking exercise classes, baking, traveling, or watching a movie. Designating time for these activities means they are more likely to happen.
Over the years, some of my best friends have started out as colleagues. I have found that having those supportive relationships at work helps reduce stress throughout the year. Over long breaks, I like to make plans with a colleague or group of colleagues to hang out and enjoy each other’s company. We commit to not talking about work during that time together. Building relationships with colleagues outside of the work environment can reveal what is important to them other than their work.
During the school year, my schedule is often very busy, and I don’t have a lot of time to connect with friends and extended family. The winter break is an opportunity to visit friends and family outside of school.
Pick a Book
I read throughout the year, but it is typically work-related. During the break, I forgo reading young adult literature or nonfiction and instead find a relaxing book purely for pleasure. Over winter break, choose one “beach read” and take some time to read for fun. I also spend some time casually reading online for inspiration. I scroll Twitter and Instagram and read some of my favorite education bloggers for inspiration. This allows me to gather some new ideas for the second half of the year but doesn’t feel like work.
Reflect and Set a Goal
I have never been much for New Year’s resolutions, but I find that making one professional goal for the second half of the school year is inspiring without being stressful. When making a goal, I often begin by reviewing student feedback from first-semester student surveys. From these surveys, I may learn that students feel we need to spend more time on a certain aspect of the curriculum, students enjoy being read aloud to, or certain students feel distracted by the organization of the desk. I combine that feedback with ideas from the social media.
Possible goals include:
Try at least one new technology tool with students before the end of the year.
Ask students to name some of their favorite books they have read this year, and choose a few to read myself.
Send at least one positive note home to each child’s parent before the end of the school year.
Collaborate with colleagues in another subject to add interdisiplinary elements to a current assignment.
Incorporate new texts based on student interest and needs.
Find opportunities to make changes to assignments in order to provide more student choice.
Attend more events with students outside of school, such as sports, concerts, or plays.
You're reading How To Make The Most Of Winter Break
If you ask me, the new official Reddit app for Android phones and iPhones makes for a better Reddit browsing experience than the full Reddit website, particularly once you know what you’re doing.
Note: For now, the Android version of Reddit seems to be lagging behind its iOS counterpart in terms of features; hopefully, Reddit for Android will catch up sooner rather than later.Pin a subreddit (iOS only)
By default, your list of subreddits in the Reddit app is organized in alphabetical order, but there’s also a way to “pin” a favorite subreddit to the top of the list.
Swipe a subreddit and tap the button to pin it to the top of your list.
Just swipe on a subreddit from right to left, then tap the green Pin button. If you swipe a little further, you’ll also find a red Unsubscribe button.Switch on night mode
Browsing Reddit in the dark can be rather too much of an eye-opening experience, particularly if you’ve got a bedmate who’s trying to drift off. Luckily, the official Reddit app joins a growing list of Android and iOS apps that boast a night mode.
The Reddit app’s “night mode” makes for easier reading in the dark.
For iOS: Tap the Profile button in the bottom-right corner of the screen, tap the Settings button in the top-right corner, then tap the Theme drop-down menu and select Reddit Night. There’s also an Auto Night Theme setting that’ll switch on night mode automatically in the evening.
For Android: Unfortunately, the Reddit app for Android lacks iOS’s Auto Night Theme setting, but you can still turn on night mode manually. Tap the main “hamburger” menu button in the top-left corner of the screen, scroll all the way down and tap Settings, then toggle on the Night Mode setting.Switch between Compact and ‘Card’ views
One of my favorite things about the official Reddit app is its jumbo-sized “card” view, which breaks out individual Reddit posts into a card-like format complete with large image and video previews. It’s a great way to browse pictures and video clips on Reddit without having to open the actual posts.
If you don’t like the look of jumbo media previews in the Reddit app’s “card” viewing mode, you can always switch to “compact” view.
That said, the card view may not be for everyone, and luckily there’s a way to switch to a smaller “compact” view, either as an app-wide default or only (for iOS users, anyway) for specific subreddits.
For iOS: To change the default setting for viewing posts in the Reddit app, tap the Profile button in the bottom corner of the screen, tap the Settings button up at the top, tap the Default View, then pick a setting—either Card or Compact.
To change the setting for an individual subreddit, tap the three-dot menu button in the top corner of a subreddit screen, then tap Switch to Compact View or Switch to Card View.
For Android: The Android version of Reddit won’t let you pick separate viewing modes for individual subreddits (or at least, not yet), but there’s an easy way to switch default viewing modes.
Just open a subreddit, tap the three-dot menu button in the top corner of the screen, then tap Card View or Compact View.
Once that’s done, the setting you picked will become the default for every subreddit within the app.View a subreddit’s community sidebar
One of the downsides of viewing Reddit on its official mobile app is that a subreddit’s sidebar—often an essential repository for community rules, FAQs, and other essential links—is hidden from the main subreddit view. Ben Patterson
Just tap on the three-dot menu button in the top corner of the screen to view a subreddit’s community sidebar.
That said, you can still view sidebars from the official Reddit app if you know where to look.
For both the Android and iOS versions of Reddit, just tap the three-dot menu button in the top corner of any subreddit screen, then tap the Community Info option.
Want to move the scroll button somewhere else on the screen? Just tap and hold it until it bulges, then drag it anywhere.
If you want to move the button elsewhere on the screen, tap and hold the button until it bulges, then drag it wherever you like.
How to Overcome the Winter Blues amid COVID Uncertainty As we head into year three of the pandemic, here are scientifically backed ways to keep your mood lifted
All vector imagery by Ponomariova_Maria/iStock
COVID Winter BluesHow to Overcome the Winter Blues amid COVID Uncertainty Heading into year three of the pandemic, some scientifically backed ways to keep your mood lifted
Another COVID winter—with its combination of cold days, dark nights, and surging cases—is the last thing any of us needed. Heading into the third year of the pandemic, it’s no surprise that COVID-19’s mental toll has worsened since the initial outbreak, with researchers from Boston University School of Public Health finding that depression rates climbed from 27.8 percent in early 2023 to 32.8 percent in 2023, affecting 1 in every 3 American adults.
“The pandemic has had a huge effect on mental health,” says Michael Otto, director of the Translational Research Program at BU’s Center for Anxiety & Related Disorders. “We’re at a particular point of concern when more people need care and it’s harder for these people to find a therapist that’s available.”
This winter, he says, could be a difficult time for many people, especially those already struggling with mental health challenges and pandemic fatigue. Some level of winter blues—mood shifts in the colder, darker months—is very common for people who live in places where it can feel like the season drags on for too long. And those who have seasonal affective disorder—a type of depression caused by the dwindling exposure to the sun—are particularly at risk, says Otto, who’s also a BU College of Arts & Sciences professor of psychological and brain sciences.
Although the staggering surge of COVID-19 cases fueled by the Omicron variant appears to be on a steady decline in Massachusetts, experts are quick to point out the unpredictable nature of the pandemic. Between the continuous uncertainty about the pandemic and the sometimes bleak chill of winter, now is not the time to be passive about mental health.
“A lot of people might know the common strategies for what might help make them feel better, but what’s often hard is getting out there and doing it,” says Jordana Muroff, a BU School of Social Work associate professor and chair of the clinical practice department. Muroff researches treatments for various mental health disorders, such as therapies for hoarding disorder, to help make them more effective, and works closely with local community agencies to expand access to services.
The Brink spoke with Muroff and Otto to share five go-to strategies for boosting mood and resiliency during uncertain times.Experiment with small goals
One of the mental health strategies Muroff often suggests doesn’t involve any major lifestyle changes—in fact, it involves just the opposite. Instead of aiming for sweeping changes to dig out of a low point—such as New Year’s resolutions to work out every day or cook every meal, which might be difficult to maintain and become discouraging—she recommends a tool called “behavior experiments.”
“This is when you’re committing to trying out a more manageable step in improving your mental health,” she says. Behavior experiments are a tool based on cognitive behavior therapy—a well-researched treatment known to be effective for a number of mood and anxiety disorders—and are meant to encourage curiosity and exploration of small changes that may lead to an increase in mood and activity: going for a short walk, calling a friend, or even getting out of your pajamas on a day at home.
“The hope is that there is some incremental change,” Muroff says. Even when negative thoughts arise, such as worry or doubt that anything can help, behavior experiments give a person permission to “test out those thoughts and gather information about oneself.” These actions may shift those negative assumptions, bring a quick mood boost, and lay the foundation for lasting strategies for coping with avoidance, stress, and challenging emotions.Sleep at least seven hours a night
“When someone faces chronic stress or disappointment, like those induced by ongoing COVID-related restrictions and less daylight hours, maintaining adequate sleep emerges as a powerful strategy,” Otto says. Sleep, as necessary as it is to function on a daily basis, also works magic on our mood and mental health. Getting enough sleep—roughly seven to eight hours a night for most adults—restores and maintains pathways in the brain related to memory, learning, and emotional processing. On the flip side, poor sleep has been found to exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety, which can then make it more difficult to fall asleep.
Prioritizing sleep as part of a regular self-care routine is crucial for mental well-being, says Otto.
“When you have poor sleep, the task of emotional regulation is that much harder—you’re clearing off stress and emotionality of memories with sleep,” Otto says. Allowing extra time to snooze will give you more resilience during stressful times.Engage with your community
Reaching out and helping others in difficult times can be a meaningful way to fight off feeling overwhelmed, says Muroff—and have a positive impact on other people.
“It’s important to have activities that affirm our values, identities, and senses of self-worth in a time when there are a lot of challenges going on simultaneously,” she says. “Helping others and supporting each other can be part of the behavior experiments.”Stay active with regular exercise
“If exercise was a pill, it would be a best seller,” Otto says. He coauthored a book in 2009 called Exercise for Mood and Anxiety Disorders that establishes why exercise is effective at making us feel good, and helps people to use exercise to combat depression and anxiety, as well as overcome negative feelings that get in the way of exercising regularly.
“Exercise acts as an antidepressant, it helps with stress resilience, helps reduce anxiety, and helps you get to sleep,” Otto says. “A good dose of exercise is considered to be 40 minutes of aerobic exercise four times a week.” Anaerobic activities, like weight lifting or other high-intensity movements, are also great and have the same effect. For people who don’t love exercising—or who aren’t in the mood for a more intense workout—a brisk walk could be all that’s needed to bring their mood up.
“There are so many physiological reasons exercise makes us feel good,” Otto says. “There’s evidence supporting shifts in norepinephrine, serotonin, and GABA, three of the neurotransmitters involved with mood.” Besides the chemical shifts in the brain, he says, exercise gives people a resilience that carries through to other parts of their lives. And it can be a great way of making social connections.
Aiming to make a workout a pleasant and interesting experience is also key to staying motivated, according to Otto—like trying a new sport or activity, walking or jogging with friends, or group and team games.
“Poor mood calls you to do less, and exercise is so much doing in the face of having the urge not to do,” Otto says.Make time for joy
As a part of experimenting with small goals, Muroff recommends scheduling time for joyful activities, whether a physical challenge like exercising, or other ways of connecting with ourselves and others. Scheduling accessible, fun activities the same way as an appointment or a work meeting can help avoid habits of procrastination. “Reduce the barriers to make it easier to do it,” she says.
Finding fun and meaning, adds Otto, is a proven way of beating the winter—and COVID—blues.
“What can we do to get engaged and find fun? Finding fun and meaning is its own buffer against stress,” he says. “As some people’s activities are limited because of the cold and COVID restrictions, finding other ways to pursue joys is the message I want to encourage.”
Student Health Services has resources available for any BU student seeking support; BU’s Faculty & Staff Assistance Office is available for employees and their family members to access help with work and life challenges.
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Steam is a unique case, a strange hybrid of an online game e-shop and a platform for managing and launching your favorite games. And, if you so wish, other media and programs. Valve’s creation has many fans, who used to say they wouldn’t replace it with anything. But that doesn’t mean it is perfect with no room for improvement.
Augmented Steam is an extension for the two most popular browsers, Chrome and Firefox. It wakes up and starts working whenever we visit the Valve store through those browsers, transmutating it behind the scenes. The result is the Steam we all know, but better, friendlier, and in the long run, cheaper.
Some of the useful additions Augmented Steam slaps on Steam are:
Price comparison based on data from many popular online stores
Lowest available price and historically lowest price displayed for each title
Game scores from OpenCritic and MetaCritic on each title’s page
“Ignored” titles being hidden from search resultsInstallation
Accept your browser’s security warning that Augmented Steam will access your data on the Steam and IsThereAnyDeal sites.Configuration and usage
Before you start using it, go through all the configuration options of Augmented Steam. To do so, visit the list of add-ons on your browser, and from there, Augmented Steam’s options.
Augmented Steam provides a wide variety of options and parameters that allow you to change the way it operates, select which modifications you’d like it to apply on Steam, and even change the colors it will use to “mark” some titles.
While it’s worth looking at all the options, we find most of the defaults to be adequate for most users. The only things we would – and did – change are:
PRICE: Disable Auto-detect and select desired primary currency
The most important and useful addition shows up when you visit any game’s page. Just below the top slideshow and right above the game’s title, you’ll see the best price for the title as found on other competing sites. Just below this, you’ll see the title’s historically lowest price.
How come that’s useful? In the first case, it’s obvious: If a title has a lower price elsewhere, you can buy it from there. It’s worth noting how many of those alternative-to-Steam stores also offer Steam keys. In such cases, after purchasing a game on a different store and getting a Steam key to go with it, you’ll be able to return to Steam and “activate it” there. The result will be the same as if you originally bought it on Steam.
A “historically low price” might seem more like a tease, a lost opportunity, since it usually shows a drastically lower price than what you’ll have to pay now to get a title.
If you think about it, a low historical price means that the title, if you’re willing to play the long waiting game, can and probably will be available much cheaper, again, sometime in the future – perhaps during the next Steam sale. In other words, if you don’t want the title here and now, your wallet will thank you for waiting.
Leave the mouse pointer hovering above the title price, and you’ll see how it fluctuates between different countries. A dramatic difference in its price in one country can be a good indication that a similar reduction will soon appear elsewhere. Again, in such cases it’s worth playing the waiting game instead of buying the actual game itself.
If you check out the informational panels on the right side of Steam, you’ll see some new entries among the familiar crowd. One of them is a direct link to the game’s page on IsThereAnyDeal, the site from where Augmented Steam pulls its price data. Right after it, in the same info panel, you’ll find links to Steam Database and PCGamingWiki, with the latter being more useful for the majority of people. There you can find information on the title’s compatibility with newer operating systems, and instructions, tips, and tools to help it run at its best.
In the game’s details panel, where you can see if it’s single or multi-player, supports Steam Workshop, etc., you will also see a more vivid notice about any “content protection” used in the title. It was already there, but Augmented Steam makes it pop out more to make sure you don’t miss it in case you want to avoid such “annoyances.”
Protections and Digital Rights Management (DRM) are good for protecting a game creator’s rights on the title but can become a significant problem for everyone who only wants to enjoy a game. Just ask anyone who’s bought Darkspore, only to have its box gathering dust on a shelf since the game is unplayable today, thanks to its online protection not being as “online” anymore. Or try playing any game with the latest (back then) versions of the SafeDisc and TAGES protections on anything newer than Windows XP on a PC without optical drives and prepare for a royal headache.
If a game you want comes with a copy protection you’d rather avoid, you can either forget about it or check if it’s available on GOG. The GOG store has a policy of not carrying any titles with DRM.
In the cases of games re-released through it, their team tries to strip any DRM while offering upgraded compatibility with newer systems.
Apart from the above, you’ll also be able to check at a glance the title’s ratings at MetaCritic, UserScore, and OpenCritic. This is extra useful during shopping spree, when your wallet’s run dry and you barely have enough funds for only one out of two games. The games score on those sites might end up being what helps you choose one over the other.
Similarly useful, the HowLongToBeat info gives a ballpark figure of how much time you’ll have to invest in a game to complete it. If it’s a frantic period in your life, with not much time for gaming, you should probably avoid cases like the Witcher series (over 100 hours each)!Conclusion
Augmented Steam makes lots of small, barely noticeable changes and doesn’t look that of an improvement after you install it and revisit Steam. Soon, though, the features it adds become indispensable, bit by bit, elevating the whole experience of using Steam’s site.
Like most of us who are already using Augmented Steam, you’ll probably appreciate its usefulness only when, after using it for some time and for some reason, you’ll have to browse Steam’s site without it.
OK’s real life started at around 10, when he got his first computer – a Commodore 128. Since then, he’s been melting keycaps by typing 24/7, trying to spread The Word Of Tech to anyone interested enough to listen. Or, rather, read.
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In space, no one can hear a probe smash into an asteroid—but that’s just what happened in September, when NASA’s successful DART experiment proved that it’s possible to reroute a space rock by crashing into it on purpose. And that wasn’t even the most important event to materialize in space this year—more on the James Webb Space Telescope in a moment. Back on Earth, innovation also reached new heights in the aviation industry, as a unique electric airplane took off, as did a Black Hawk helicopter that can fly itself.
Looking for the complete list of 100 winners? Check it out here.Innovation of the Year The James Webb Space Telescope by NASA: A game-changing new instrument to see the cosmos
Once a generation, an astronomical tool arrives that surpasses everything that came before it. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is just such a creation. After more than two decades and $9.7 billion in the making, JWST launched on December 25, 2023. Since February of this year, when it first started imaging—employing a mirror and aperture nearly three times larger in radius than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope—JWST’s vibrant images have captured the attention of the world.
The JWST can see deep into fields of forming stars. It can peer 13 billion years back in time at ancient galaxies, still in their nursery. It can peek at exoplanets, seeing them directly where astronomers would have once had to reconstruct meager traces of their existence. It can teach us about how those stars and galaxies came together from primordial matter, something Hubble could only glimpse.
While Hubble circles in low Earth orbit, JWST instead sits hundreds of thousands of miles farther away, in Earth’s shadow. It will never see sunlight. There, protected even further by a multi-layer sunshield thinner than a human fingernail, the telescope chills at -370 degrees F, where JWST’s infrared sight works best. Its home is a fascinating location called L2, one of several points where the sun and Earth’s gravities balance each other out.
All this might just be JWST’s prologue. Since the telescope used less fuel than initially anticipated when reaching its perch, the instrument might have enough to last well past its anticipated 10-year-long window. We can’t wait to see what else it dazzles us with.Parallel Reality by Delta: A screen customized for you
You’ve probably found yourself running through an airport at some point, squinting up at a screen filled with rows of flight information. A futuristic new offering from Delta and a startup called Misapplied Sciences aims to change that. At Detroit Metro Airport, an installation can show travelers customized information for their flight. A scan of your boarding pass in McNamara Terminal is one way to tell the system who you are. Then, when you look at the overhead screen, you see that it displays only personalized data about your journey, like which gate you need to find. The tech behind the system works because the pixels in the display itself can shine in one of 18,000 directions, meaning many different people can see distinct information while looking at the same screen at the same time.Electronic bag tags by Alaska Airlines: The last tag you’ll need (for one airline)
Believe it or not, some travelers do still check bags, and a new offering from this Seattle-based airline aims to make that process easier. Flyers who can get an electronic bag tag from Alaska Airlines (at first, 2,500 members of their frequent flier plan will get them, and in 2023 they’ll be available to buy) can use their mobile phone to create the appropriate luggage tag on this device’s e-ink display while at home, up to 24 hours before a flight. The 5-inch-long tag itself gets the power it needs to generate the information on the screen from your phone, thanks to an NFC connection. After the traveler has done this step at home, they just need to drop the tagged bag off in the right place at the airport, avoiding the line to get a tag.Alice by Eviation: A totally electric commuter airplane
The aviation industry is a major producer of carbon emissions. One way to try to solve that problem is to run aircraft on electric power, utilizing them just for short hops. That’s what Eviation aims to do with a plane called Alice: 8,000 pounds of batteries in the belly of this commuter aircraft give its two motors the power it needs to fly. In fact, it made its first flight in September, a scant but successful eight minutes in the air. Someday, as battery tech improves, the company hopes that it can carry nine passengers for distances of 200 miles or so.OPV Black Hawk by Sikorsky: A military helicopter that flies itself
Two pilots sit up front at the controls of the Army’s Black Hawk helicopters, but what if that number could be zero for missions that are especially hazardous? That’s exactly what a modified UH-60 helicopter can do, a product of a DARPA program called ALIAS, which stands for Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System. The self-flying whirlybird made its first flights with zero occupants on board in February, and in October, it took flight again, even carrying a 2,600-pound load beneath it. The technology comes from helicopter-maker Sikorsky, and allows the modified UH-60 to be flown by two pilots, one pilot, or zero. The idea is that this type of autonomy can help in several ways: to assist the one or two humans at the controls, or as a way for an uninhabited helicopter to execute tasks like flying somewhere dangerous to deliver supplies without putting any people on board at risk.Detect and Avoid by Zipline: Drones that can listen for in-flight obstacles
As drones and other small aircraft continue to fill the skies, all parties involved have an interest in avoiding collisions. But figuring out the best way for a drone to detect potential obstacles isn’t an easy problem to solve, especially since there are no pilots on board to keep their eyes out and weight is at a premium. Drone delivery company Zipline has turned to using sound, not sight, to solve this conundrum. Eight microphones on the drone’s wing listen for traffic like an approaching small plane, and can preemptively change the UAV’s route to get out of the way before it arrives. An onboard GPU and AI help with the task, too. While the company is still waiting for regulatory approval to totally switch the system on, the technique represents a solid approach to an important issue.DART by NASA and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory: Smashing into an asteroid, for good
Earthlings who look at the sky in fear that a space rock might tumble down and devastate our world can now breathe a sigh of relief. On September 26, a 1,100-pound spacecraft streaked into a roughly 525-foot-diameter asteroid, Dimorphos, intentionally crashing into it at over 14,000 mph. NASA confirmed on October 11 that the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART)’s impact altered Dimorphos’s orbit around its companion asteroid, Didymos, even more than anticipated. Thanks to DART, humans have redirected an asteroid for the first time. The dramatic experiment gives astronomers hope that perhaps we could do it again to avert an apocalypse.CAPSTONE by Advanced Space: A small vessel on a big journey
Some lunar craft fill up whole rooms. On the other hand, there’s CAPSTONE, a satellite that can fit on a desk. Despite control issues, CAPSTONE—which launched on June 28—triumphantly entered lunar orbit on November 13. This small traveler is a CubeSat, an affordable design of mini-satellite that’s helped make space accessible to universities, small companies, and countries without major space programs. Hundreds of CubeSats now populate the Earth’s orbit, and although some have hitched rides to Mars, none have made the trip to the moon under their own power—until CAPSTONE. More low-cost lunar flights, its creators hope, may follow.The LSST Camera by SLAC/Vera C. Rubin Observatory: A 3,200-megapixel camera
Very soon, the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in the high desert of Northern Chile will provide astronomers with what will be nearly a live-feed view of the southern hemisphere’s sky. To do that, it will rely on the world’s largest camera—with a lens 5 feet across and matching shutters, it will be capable of taking images that are an astounding 3,200 megapixels. The camera’s crafters are currently placing the finishing touches on it, but their impressive engineering feats aren’t done yet: In May 2023, the camera will fly down to Chile in a Boeing 747, before traveling by truck to its final destination.The Event Horizon Telescope by the EHT Collaboration: Seeing the black hole in the Milky Way’s center
Just a few decades ago, Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at our galaxy’s heart, was a hazy concept. Now, thanks to the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), we have a blurry image of it—or, since a black hole doesn’t let out light, of its surrounding accretion disc. The EHT is actually a global network of radio telescopes stretching from Germany to Hawaii, and from Chile to the South Pole. EHT released the image in May, following years of painstaking reconstruction by over 300 scientists, who learned much about the black hole’s inner workings in the process. This is EHT’s second black hole image, following its 2023 portrait of a behemoth in the galaxy M87.Starliner by Boeing: A new way of getting to the ISS
After years of budget issues, technical delays, and testing failures, Boeing’s much-awaited Starliner crew capsule finally took to the skies and made it to its destination. An uncrewed test launch in May successfully departed Florida, docked at the International Space Station (ISS), and landed back on Earth. Now, Boeing and NASA are preparing for Starliner’s first crewed test, set to launch sometime in 2023. When that happens, Starliner will take its place alongside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, and NASA will have more than one option to get astronauts into orbit. There are a few differences between the two: Where Crew Dragon splashes down in the sea, Starliner touches down on land, making it easier to recover. And, where Crew Dragon was designed to launch on SpaceX’s own Falcon 9 rockets, Starliner is more flexible.
All 100 innovations for Best of What’s New 2023, this way.
We may be tired of hearing about the climate crisis, but here’s the thing: It’s still the most important challenge we face today. The good news is, lots of companies are taking novel tacks to make smarter use of the planet’s finite resources. Modernized sails might soon give the shipping industry a boost in fuel economy, and mechanical trees will shortly be scrubbing carbon dioxide from the air. Consumers can even pitch in by hopping on the fake-meat train or buying jeans dyed with greener indigo. Of course, this year’s winning engineers aren’t all just inventing new forms of damage control—there are a few not-so-simple pleasures on the list, for Star Wars buffs and robot fiends alike.
Grand Award Winner: Impossible Burger 2.0 by Impossible Foods
A rare revolution in fake meat.
It’s hard to get a meat lover to truly enjoy a veggie burger, but the future of our planet depends on people eating fewer cows and more plants. Sure, we could scarf more beans and legumes, but Impossible Foods knows that when you’re craving a hamburger, only beef—or rather, heme, the iron-containing bit of hemoglobin—will do. Heme molecules are a large part of what gives meat its meaty flavor, so engineers at the California-based company created yeast cells that produce large quantities of the stuff. Their 2.0 version, available in some groceries and fast-food chains, blends soy and potato proteins (no more wheat, making it gluten-free) for texture, with coconut and sunflower oils to mimic beef’s fattiness. In the end it’s about as healthy as a real burger; it even has the same iron and protein content. The result is a patty so convincing, longtime vegetarians might get grossed out. And really, that might be what it takes to convert meat-loving Americans to a more sustainable diet.
GauGAN by Nvidia
Gaming worlds in an instant.
Say you’re a video-game designer, and you need to generate a virtual landscape featuring a still lake with a snowcapped mountain. It would take ages to make that image by hand, but with Nvidia’s GauGAN software, you can essentially paint the basic shapes, then let its neural network render the rest in photo-realistic detail. The consumer preview version just does stills (and you’ll have to insert any character art yourself), but gaming giant Nvidia has already created a demo using solely AI-generated graphics. They hope to shave thousands of hours off development time for future designers.
Galaxy’s Edge theme park by Disney
The Star Wars universe IRL.
The Imagineers behind Disneyland would like you to forget that you’re in Disneyland. Their newest 14-acre stretch in Anaheim, California, which opened this May, instead places you on the built-from-scratch planet of Batuu, where you can share the streets with animatronic droids and whizzing lasers. Pilot the Millennium Falcon from a cockpit simulator or head off-planet in trackless escape pods that make you feel like you’re plummeting out of a Star Destroyer. With an amalgam of architecture, faux habitats, and fictitious languages, you’ll feel as if you’ve walked straight into the Star Wars universe.
A metal forest by Silicon Kingdom Holdings
The largest CO2 removal project to date.
A forest of 1,200 mechanical “trees,” designed by Silicon Kingdom Holdings and Arizona State University scientists, is poised to pull more carbon dioxide out of the air than any human-made endeavor before it. Instead of wood, these metal columns (the specific material remains under wraps) use discs made of sorbent, which can absorb three times its weight in carbon dioxide as the wind blows through it. A cluster of 12 can suck a metric ton of the gas out of the atmosphere every day; a full lot, like the pilot one SKH is planning to install in California, can remove up to 36,500 metric tons annually. That’s nearly 1,844 American households’ worth of emissions.
BLUE by UC Berkeley
A robotic arm you could actually afford.
For less than the cost of a couple of laptops, anyone can bring home a robotic arm with built-in algorithms that train it to fold laundry, clean the bathroom, or unload a dishwasher. What the bulky, low-powered arm lacks in precision, it makes up for it with uncanny, humanlike perception: It uses visual and tactile sensors to judge distances and apply gentle pressure through grippers. At the moment, Blue is exclusive to UC Berkeley labs, but it’s projected to ship to households in the next few years, where it might someday have as many uses as smartphones do today.
Sustainable dye by Tinctorium
It’s been decades since denim’s been dyed with plant-based indigo. Today, manufacturers use a synthetic powdered version that requires 100 times its weight in petroleum to produce. Fashion biotech company Tinctorium’s dye, on the other hand, comes from genetically edited E. coli bacteria, which take in sugar and release a molecular precursor to indigo. The substance is then combined with an enzyme to produce the actual chemical pigment. So far, it’s been used to color a scarf and cotton yarn; next year, Tinctorium will test it on pants, and after that, hopefully, those mom jeans you’ve got your eye on.
Project SVAN by Kongsberg
The first autonomous ferry.
On December 3, 2023, 80 passengers rode a ferry with no crew between two islands in a Finnish archipelago. The captain sat 31 miles away, on call in case of an emergency. By running point-to-point trips that don’t require complex directions, ferries could be the perfect incursion into an autonomous-driving world. The SVAN module, which uses lasers, radar, and computer vision to navigate waters, can retrofit onto any ship, which could help the shipping industry cut down on personnel costs. More importantly, the system could prevent the 75 to 95 percent of marine accidents that occur from human-operator error.
Eggs by Respeggt
Omelettes with ethics.
Male chicks are fairly useless to the poultry industry: They can’t lay eggs or fatten up quickly enough to churn out 5-cent wings, so farmers slaughter 6 billion of them for naught each year. Respeggt found a way around that: punch a 0.3-millimeter-wide hole in a shell, suck up a drop of embryonic urine, and test for estrone sulfate, a hormone only female chicks produce. Male embryos then get processed into animal feed, while ladies head to the hatchery. Berliners can already get cartons with the Respeggt seal, but the rest of the world is still on the waiting list.
Tights by Sheertex
“Nylons” you can’t wreck.
Flimsy bits of lingerie that you trash and replace every other week, sheer tights are bound to rip—unless they’re made from a featherweight polymer with a tensile strength rivaling that of steel. Sheertex’s proprietary fibers are spun from some of the same stuff in climbing ropes and bulletproof vests; they’re so strong, they require custom knitting machines (the standard ones broke from all the pressure). You could shove a high heel into the things without tearing them, making them a far better investment than the more disposable alternative—both for you and the planet.
Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge
The longest sea crossing on the planet.
A map of the HZMB looks almost like an amphibious racetrack. The 18-plus-mile roadway takes drivers from Macau and Zhuhai off the coast of China, across the bay to Hong Kong—or vice versa. The cars must cross two border checks and two artificial islands, then speed through an underwater tunnel while container ships float overhead. The entire bridge can withstand 125-mile-per-hour winds (that typhoon life) and magnitude 8 earthquake tremors. Other than those terrors, it makes for a leisurely ride over the South China Sea.
Wingsail by Bound4Blue
A boat that Greta Thunberg might get behind.
These sleek wingsails look nothing like their canvas forebears—and that’s a good thing. Their tall, broad profile enables them to capture wind from more directions, then shunt that energy into the motor. They won’t power an entire journey, but on average, they’ll reduce a vessel’s fuel consumption by 30 percent. If even a small portion of the world’s roughly 90,000 ships switched over, it could cut a significant chunk out of the more than 5 million barrels of bunker fuel that vessels burn through daily. And since the foldable sails can be retrofitted and run autonomously, they can help out on container ships and passenger boats alike.
Mjøsa Tower by Voll Arkitekter
The world’s tallest wooden building.
Most people might think of steel, concrete, and glass when they think of a quintessential skyscraper. But Mjøsa Tower, designed by Voll Arkitekter, defies that image: Its 18 stories are entirely wood. The Norwegian marvel, which holds luxury condos and sweeping offices, is made of laminated timber, a material of thin sheets of glued-together lumber. The construction adds fire resistance, and unlike steel, retains its structural integrity in blazes. Its renewable material also allows high-rise owners to slash their carbon footprint, and the lack of concrete reduces dependence on sand, a surprisingly limited resource.
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