Thursday, December 1, 2022

The Download: cattle’s deadly tick-borne disease, and molten salt batteries

Must read


This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

A new tick-borne disease is killing cattle in the US

In the spring of 2021, Cynthia and John Grano, who own a cattle operation in Culpeper County, Virginia, started noticing some of their cows slowing down and acting “spacey.” They figured the animals were suffering from a common infectious disease that causes anemia in cattle. But their veterinarian had warned them that another disease carried by a parasite was spreading rapidly in the area.

After a third cow died, the Granos decided to test its blood. Sure enough, the test came back positive for the disease: theileria. And with no treatment available, the cows kept dying.

Cattle owners like the Granos are not alone. Livestock producers around the US are confronting this new and unfamiliar disease without much information. Researchers still don’t know how theileria will unfold, even as it quickly spreads west across the country. If states can’t get the disease under control, then nationwide production losses from sick cows could significantly damage both individual operations and the entire industry. Read the full story.

—Britta Lokting

Super-hot salt could be coming to a battery near you

The world is building more capacity for renewables, especially solar and wind power that come and go with the weather. But for renewables to make a real difference, we need better options for storing energy. That’s where batteries come in. And handily, there’s a wave of alternative chemistries slowly percolating into the growing energy storage market.

Some of these new players could eventually be cheaper (and in various ways, better) than the industry-standard lithium-ion batteries. Among the most promising is molten salt technology, which Ambri, a Boston-area startup, is convinced could be up to 50% cheaper over its lifetime than an equivalent lithium-ion system.

But, like its rivals experimenting with other forms of energy storage, Ambri is facing real barriers to adoption, with scaling presenting the main, ever-present hurdle. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

Casey’s story is from The Spark, her weekly newsletter covering battery breakthroughs and other climate news. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 What comes after Twitter?
Whatever the answer, downloading data and contacts is a smart move. (NYT $)
+ It’s unlikely, however, that you’ll be able to save everything. (Wired $)
+ A load of fired contractors aren’t planning on going quietly. (Bloomberg $)
+ One of its former data scientists is extremely worried. (Rest of World)
+ Twitter’s potential collapse could wipe out vast records of recent human history. (MIT Technology Review)

2 The ripple effects of FTX’s collapse
The crypto exchange’s poor practices are triggering fears about the industry’s future—and its employees are furious. (WSJ $)
+ Sam Bankman-Fried had an ill-advised chat with a journalist over Twitter. (Vox)
+ A class action has been filed against FTX in the US. (The Guardian)

3 The US’s bioweapon detection system is unreliable  
20 years after its introduction, it still costs $80 million a year. (The Verge

4 Telehealth sites are riddled with data trackers
They could reveal sensitive addiction information that’s ripe for abuse. (Wired $)

5 Activision Blizzard’s games are being pulled offline in China
It’s been unable to strike a deal with its Chinese distributor. (FT $)

6 Intel thinks it can catch deepfakes with 96% accuracy
By tracking the “blood flow” of video pixels to detect living humans. (VentureBeat)
+ A horrifying AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click. (MIT Technology Review)

7 We’ve ignored concrete’s carbon footprint for too long
It’s not as big a polluter as transport or energy, but it’s in urgent need of a greener overhaul. (Knowable Magazine)
+ How Joe Biden got away with passing the IRA. (The Atlantic $)
+ How hydrogen and electricity can clean up heavy industry. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Lab-grown meat is safe to eat
The FDA has green lit lab-grown chicken—but it needs to pass other tests before it can be sold. (NBC News)
+ Will lab-grown meat reach our plates? (MIT Technology Review)

9 Why NASA’s astronauts aren’t allowed to TikTok from space 🪐
Even though their European counterparts are. (Vox
+ NASA’s Artemis 1 launch was an oddly muted affair. (The Atlantic $)
+ Here’s everything the mission is taking with it to the moon. (IEEE Spectrum)

10 We could hitch a ride on a flying taxi one day 🚁
By the end of the decade, apparently. Let’s see. (Economist $)

Quote of the day

“Ireland really bet the farm on the future of tech . . . almost at the expense of everything else.”

—Mark O’Connell, executive chair and founder of OCO Global, a trade and investment focused advisory firm, tells the Financial Times why the tech sector’s mass job cuts will hit Ireland particularly hard.

The big story

Bright LEDs could spell the end of dark skies

A view of Milky Way from the Grand Canyon

August 2022

Scientists have known for years that light pollution is growing and can harm both humans and wildlife. In people, increased exposure to light at night disrupts sleep cycles and has been linked to cancer and cardiovascular disease, while wildlife suffers from interruption to their reproductive patterns, increased danger and loss of stealth.

Astronomers, policymakers, and lighting professionals are all working to find ways to reduce light pollution. Many of them advocate installing light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, in outdoor fixtures such as city streetlights, mainly for their ability to direct light to a targeted area. But the high initial investment and durability of modern LEDs mean cities need to get the transition right the first time or potentially face decades of consequences. Read the full story.

—Shel Evergreen

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ A luxurious train journey looks like the perfect way to unwind to me.
+ Nothing can replace the joy of picking out a great read from a bookstore.
+ It’s never too early to start planning for your next great adventure.
+ Olive oil? Good. Cake? Good. An olive oil cake?! GOOD!
+ The oldest known sentence written in the first alphabet is entertainingly domestic.





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