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    - Huge Reservoir of Fresh Water Found Beneath the Sea Off Hawaii
    A huge cache of fresh water found beneath the sea floor off the western coast of Hawaii's Big Island could lift the threat of drought for people living there. From a report, submitted by reader schwit1: Eric Attias at the University of Hawaii and his colleagues discovered the reservoir, which is contained in porous rock reaching at least 500 metres beneath the sea floor, using an imaging technique similar to an MRI scan. They used a boat towing a 40-metre-long antenna behind it to generate an electromagnetic field, sending an electric current through the sea and below the sea floor. As seawater is a better conductor than fresh water, the team could distinguish between the two. They found that the reservoir extends at least 4 kilometres from the coast and contains 3.5 cubic kilometres of fresh water. Most of Hawaii's fresh water comes from onshore aquifers, which are layers of rock and soil underground that collect water after rainfall. The team believes that this newfound reservoir is replenished by water flowing out of these aquifers.

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    - China Rises as World's Data Superpower as Internet Fractures
    Back in 2001, the U.S. was the dominant country when it came to cross-border data flows. It was the early days of the internet boom, and America was where tech companies and tech-savvy consumers were. But the global data order is changing rapidly. From a report: China now accounts for 23% of cross-border data flows, nearly twice the share of the U.S., which ranks a distant second with 12%. And the Chinese lead could turn into a dominant advantage as the formerly world-spanning internet shatters into the "splinternet": a balkanized mosaic of information networks marked off by national borders. A Nikkei survey of information on cross-border data flows from the International Telecommunication Union and U.S. research firm TeleGeography showed that cross-border data flows of China, including Hong Kong, in 2019 far outstripped any of the other 10 countries and regions examined, including the U.S. (Click here for a graphic-rich version of this article.) The source of Beijing's power lies in its connections with the rest of Asia. While the U.S. accounted for 45% of data flows in and out of China in 2001, that figure dropped to just 25% last year. Asian countries now make up more than half the total, particularly Vietnam at 17% and Singapore at 15%. Beijing has used its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative to encourage private-sector tech companies like Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent Holdings to expand abroad. Alibaba spinoff Ant Group's Alipay mobile payment platform is available in more than 55 countries and used by 1.3 billion people. China surged past the U.S. in 2014, and its influence outside its borders has only grown in the ensuing years. What does that mean? As China becomes a global data superpower, it will control huge quantities of a resource that will be invaluable to its future economic competitiveness. Data from foreign sources can provide an edge in developing artificial intelligence and information technologies.

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    - 'Tokenized': Inside Black Workers' Struggles at the King of Crypto Start-Ups
    Nathaniel Popper, reporting for The New York Times: One by one, they left. Some quit. Others were fired. All were Black. The 15 people worked at Coinbase, the most valuable U.S. cryptocurrency start-up, where they represented roughly three-quarters of the Black employees at the 600-person company. Before leaving in late 2018 and early 2019, at least 11 of them informed the human resources department or their managers about what they said was racist or discriminatory treatment, five people with knowledge of the situation said. One of the employees was Alysa Butler, 25, who worked in recruiting. During her time at Coinbase, she said, she told her manager several times about how he and others excluded her from meetings and conversations, making her feel invisible. "Most people of color working in tech know that there's a diversity problem," said Ms. Butler, who resigned in April 2019. "But I've never experienced anything like Coinbase." In Silicon Valley, where entrepreneurs and investors often preach high-minded missions and style themselves as management gurus, Coinbase has held itself up as a model. Since the start-up was founded in 2012, Brian Armstrong, the chief executive, has assembled memos and blog posts about how he built the $8 billion company's culture with distinct hiring and training practices. That has won him acclaim among influential venture capitalists and executives. But according to 23 current and former Coinbase employees, five of whom spoke on the record, as well as internal documents and recordings of conversations, the start-up has long struggled with its management of Black employees. One Black employee said her manager suggested in front of colleagues that she was dealing drugs and carrying a gun, trading on racist stereotypes. Another said a co-worker at a recruiting meeting broadly described Black employees as less capable. Still another said managers spoke down to her and her Black colleagues, adding that they were passed over for promotions in favor of less experienced white employees. The accumulation of incidents, they said, led to the wave of departures. On Wednesday, before publication of this article, Emilie Choi, Coinbase's chief operating officer, wrote an email to employees to preemptively question the article's accuracy and said, "We know the story will recount episodes that will be difficult for employees to read." The company posted the email to its public blog. "As Brian shared with the ColorBlock ERG this morning, we don't care what The New York Times thinks. "

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    - India Enters Recession as Virus Pummels No. 3 Asian Economy
    India entered an unprecedented recession with the economy contracting in the three months through September due to the lingering effects of lockdowns to contain the Covid-19 outbreak. From a report: Gross domestic product declined 7.5% last quarter from a year ago, the Statistics Ministry said Friday. That was milder than an 8.2% drop forecast by economists in a Bloomberg survey, and and a marked improvement from a record 24% contraction the previous quarter. Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed one of the world's strictest lockdowns in March, sapping demand for non-essential goods and services. Despite the measures to stem the pandemic, the country is now home to the second-highest Covid-19 infections after the U.S. at 9.3 million cases. The second straight quarterly decline in GDP, pushes Asia's third-largest economy into its first technical recession in records going back to 1996. Financial and real estate services -- among the biggest component of India's dominant services sector -- shrank 8.1% last quarter from a year ago, while trade, hotels, transport and communication declined 15.6%. Manufacturing gained 0.6%, electricity and gas expanded 4.4% and agriculture grew 3.4%.

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    - Leaf-Cutter Ants Have Rocky Crystal Armor, Never Before Seen in Insects
    Leaf-cutter ants are named for their Herculean feats: they chomp foliage and carry unwieldy pieces, like green flags many times their size, long distances to their colonies. There they chew up the leaves to feed underground fungus farms. Along the way, the insects brave all manner of predators -- and regularly engage in wars with other ants. But these insects are even tougher than previously thought. From a report: A new study shows that one Central American leaf-cutter ant species has natural armor that covers its exoskeleton. This shield-like coating is made of calcite with high levels of magnesium, a type found only in one other biological structure: sea urchin teeth, which can grind limestone. Bones and teeth of many animals contain calciferous minerals, and crustaceans, such as crabs and lobsters, have mineralized shells and other body parts. But before this finding, no type of calcite had been found in any adult insect. In leaf-cutter ants, this coating is made of thousands of tiny, plate-like crystals that harden their exoskeleton. This "armor" helps prevent the insects from losing limbs in battles with other ants and staves off fungal infections, according to a paper published November 24 in the journal Nature Communications. The discovery is especially surprising because the ants are well known. "There are thousands of papers on leaf-cutter ants," says study co-author Cameron Currie, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "We were really excited to find [this in] one of the most well-studied insects in nature," he says. Though this paper looked only at one species, Acromyrmex echinatior, Currie and colleagues suspect other related ants have the biomineral too.

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    - Dyson Pledges New Investment Into AI, Robotics and Batteries
    Dyson will invest an additional 2.75bn pound ($3.67 billion) on developing technologies and products over the next five years [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source], as the appliances brand pushes deeper into areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics and energy storage. From a report: The company founded by billionaire James Dyson and famous for its vacuum cleaners said it intended to double its portfolio of products by 2025 and enter new fields, taking it "beyond the home" for the first time. Although it did not provide any breakdown of the investments, they will be focused in Singapore, where the group controversially decided to move its headquarters last year, as well as the UK and the Philippines. The announcement comes more than a year after Dyson abandoned its ambitious plans to manufacture an electric vehicle from scratch in the Asian city-state. Sir James had hoped that the EV project would redefine his business but, after spending hundreds of millions of pounds, concluded that it was too expensive to compete against established carmakers.

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    - UK To Set Up 'Pro-Competition' Regulator To Put Limits on Big Tech
    The UK is moving ahead with a plan to regulate big tech, responding to competition concerns over a 'winner takes all' dynamic in digital markets. From a report: It will set up a new Digital Market Unit (DMU) to oversee a "pro-competition" regime for Internet platforms -- including those funded by online advertising, such as Facebook and Google -- the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced today. It's moving at a clip -- with the new Unit slated to begin work in April. Although the necessary law to empower the new regulator to make interventions will take longer. The government said it will consult on the Unit's form and function in early 2021 -- and legislate "as soon as parliamentary time allows." A core part of the plan is a new statutory Code of Conduct aimed at giving platform users more choice and third party businesses more power over the intermediaries that host and monetize them. The government suggests the code could require tech giants to allow users to opt out of behavioral advertising entirely -- something Facebook's platform, for example, does not currently allow. It also wants the code to support the sustainability of the news industry by "rebalancing" the relationship between publishers and platform giants, as it puts it.

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    - Patients of a Vermont Hospital Are Left 'in the Dark' After a Cyberattack
    A wave of damaging attacks on hospitals upended the lives of patients with cancer and other ailments. From a report: At lunchtime on Oct. 28, Colleen Cargill was in the cancer center at the University of Vermont Medical Center, preparing patients for their chemotherapy infusions. A new patient will sometimes be teary and frightened, but the nurses try to make it welcoming, offering trail mix and a warm blanket, a seat with a view of a garden. Then they work with extreme precision: checking platelet and white blood cell counts, measuring each dosage to a milligram per square foot of body area, before settling the person into a port and hooking them up to an IV. That day, though, Ms. Cargill did a double-take: When she tried to log in to her work station, it booted her out. Then it happened again. She turned to the system of pneumatic tubes used to transport lab work. What she saw there was a red caution symbol, a circle with a cross. She walked to the backup computer. It was down, too. "I wasn't panicky," she said, "and then I noticed my cordless phone didn't work." That was, she said, the beginning of the worst 10 days of her career. Cyberattacks on America's health systems have become their own kind of pandemic over the past year as Russian cybercriminals have shut down clinical trials and treatment studies for the coronavirus vaccine and cut off hospitals' access to patient records, demanding multimillion-dollar ransoms for their return. Complicating the response, President Trump last week fired Christopher Krebs, the director of CISA, the cybersecurity agency responsible for defending critical systems, including hospitals and elections, against cyberattacks, after Mr. Krebs disputed Mr. Trump's baseless claims of voter fraud. The attacks have largely unfolded in private, as hospitals scramble to restore their systems -- or to quietly pay the ransom -- without releasing information that could compromise an F.B.I. investigation. [...] The latest wave of attacks, which hit about a dozen hospitals in the United States, was believed to have been conducted by a particularly powerful group of Russian-speaking hackers that deployed ransomware via TrickBot, a vast network of infected computers used for cyberattacks, according to security researchers who are tracking the attacks.

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    - Britain Commits $333 Million To Help Carriers Replace Huawei 5G
    Britain will spend $333 million to diversify its sources of 5G wireless equipment after banning China's Huawei from supplying the next-generation technology. From a report: Huawei is set to be excluded from British 5G networks by 2027 due to security concerns, leaving phone carriers reliant on a supply duopoly of Finland's Nokia and Sweden's Ericsson. Around $67 million of the total will be spent next year to help build "a secure and resilient 5G network" according to documents published on Wednesday as part of Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak's spending review. The resulting reduction in competition could hurt security and push up prices, so Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden has started a task force to increase the number of suppliers. He is set to publish more details before the end of the year. Britain's crackdown on Huawei came in July after UK officials said US sanctions made it impossible to verify the security of Huawei's supply chain. The White House accuses Huawei of being a security risk, which the company has always denied. Since then, Nokia and Ericsson have already won major contracts from British carriers like BT Group and CK Hutchison Holdings' Three UK. The phone industry is banking that longer-term initiatives such as OpenRAN -- a project to make mobile network equipment more interoperable and encourage new suppliers -- will eventually introduce more competition.

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    - Amazon Workers To Stage Coordinated Black Friday Protests in 15 Countries
    On Friday, Amazon warehouse workers and social and environmental justice activists around the world will stage a series of coordinated protests, strikes, and actions to demand the online retailer respect workers' rights to participate in union activity, stop circumventing tax laws, and commit to higher environmental standards, according to the event's organizers. From a report: The day of action, which is being called #MakeAmazonPay, coincides with Black Friday, one of Amazon's biggest sales events of the year and the start of its peak season, when warehouse worker injuries are highest and workloads for warehouse workers and delivery drivers skyrocket. On Friday, protest actions will take place across Amazon's supply chain in Brazil, Mexico, the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Italy, Poland, India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Australia. As many as 3,000 workers will strike at six Amazon facilities in Germany. Garment workers in Bangladesh who manufacture clothes sold by Amazon will also protest. Trade union members and environmental groups, including the climate-focused Extinction Rebellion, will demonstrate outside Amazon's European headquarters in Luxembourg. In the Philippines, contracted Amazon Ring call center workers, who face 'subhuman' conditions according to a recent Financial Times article, will hold a virtual action. At Amazon's Seattle and Northern Virginia headquarters, community activists from social justice organizations, including Justice for Muslims Collective and La ColectiVA, will hold their own protests.

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    - Tired of Mockery, Austrian Village Changes Name
    Residents of an Austrian village will ring in the new year under a new name -- Fugging -- after ridicule of their signposts, especially on social media, became too much to bear. From a report: They finally grew weary of Fucking, its current name, which some experts say dates back to the 11th century. Minutes from a municipal council meeting published on Thursday showed that the village of about 100 people, 350km (215 miles) east of Vienna, will be named Fugging from 1 January 2021. Increasing numbers of English-speaking tourists have made a point of stopping in to snap pictures of themselves by the signpost at the entrance to the village, sometimes striking lascivious poses for social media. Some have reportedly even stolen the signposts, leading the local authorities to use theft-resistant concrete when putting up replacements. Finally, a majority of the villagers decided they had had enough. "I can confirm that the village is being renamed," said Andrea Holzner, the mayor of Tarsdorf, the municipality to which the village belongs.

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    - Afghan Youth Find Escape in a Video Game
    An anonymous reader shares a report: Rifle fire, hurried footsteps and distant explosions. The rat-a-tat of a firefight. Cars mangled from grenades. The young man was transfixed. It could have been any day in Kabul, where targeted assassinations, terrorist attacks and wanton violence have become routine, and the city often feels as if it is under siege. But for Safiullah Sharifi, his behind firmly planted on a dusty stoop in the Qala-e Fatullah neighborhood, the death and destruction unfurled on his phone, held landscape-style in his hands. "On Friday I play from early morning to around 4 p.m.," said Mr. Sharifi, 20, with a sly grin, as if he knew he was detailing the outline of an addiction to a passer-by. His left hand is tattooed with a skull in a jester's hat, a grim image offset by his lanky and not-quite-old-enough demeanor. "Almost every night, it's 8 p.m. to 3 a.m." The game is called PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds, but to its millions of players worldwide, no matter the language, it's referred to as PUBG (pronounced pub-gee). It's violent. And it's becoming widely played across Afghanistan, almost as an escape from reality as the 19-year-old war grinds on. In the game, the player drops onto a large piece of terrain, finds weapons and equipment and kills everyone, all of whom are other people playing the game against each other. Victory translates to being the last person or team standing. Which makes its growing popularity in Afghanistan peculiar since that can eerily almost describe the state of the war -- despite ongoing peace negotiations in Qatar. Even as ending that war seems ever more elusive, Afghan lawmakers are trying to ban PUBG, arguing that it promotes violence and distracts the young from their schoolwork. But Mr. Sharifi laughed at the mention of the proposed ban, knowing he could circumvent it easily with software on his phone. He said he uses the game to communicate with friends and sometimes talks to girls who also play it. That is a remarkable feat on its own since only in the last several years have Afghanistan's cell networks become capable of delivering the kind of data needed to play a game like PUBG, let alone communicate with people concurrently. Gaming centers became popular in Kabul in the years after the 2001 United States invasion, which reversed the Taliban's ban on entertainment including video games and music. But PUBG and other mobile games are usurping these staples because they are downloadable on a smartphone, and free, in a country where 90 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

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    - Russia Wants To Ban Social Media Sites Discriminating Against Russian News Outlets
    The Russian government is working on a new law to block foreign social media sites inside Russia's territory as repercussions for "discriminating" against Russian news outlets operating abroad. From a report: Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are specifically mentioned in "explanatory notes" (Word document) accompanying the new draft bill, submitted last week for debate in the Russian Duma (state parliament). Russian lawmakers say that since April 2020, state authorities had received complaints from editors of Russian news sites that had their social media accounts censored on the aforementioned sites. "Media outlets such as Russia Today, RIA Novosti, Crimea 24 were censored. In total, about 20 acts of discrimination were recorded," Russian lawmakers said. The acts of discrimination referenced in the draft bill's notes refers to rules introduced at Twitter and Facebook this year, and at YouTube in 2018. The three sites have been showing special labels on the profiles of state-affiliated news agencies and have been reducing their visibility on their sites by removing their content from recommendation algorithms.

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    - Bitcoin at $100,000 in 2021? Outrageous To Some, a No-Brainer for Backers
    Bitcoin investors, which include top hedge funds and money managers, are betting the virtual currency could more than quintuple to as high as $100,000 in a year. From a report: It's a wager that has drawn eye-rolls from skeptics who believe the volatile cryptocurrency is a speculative asset rather than a store of value like gold. Since January, bitcoin has gained 160%, bolstered by strong institutional demand as well as scarcity as payment companies such as Square and Paypal buy it on behalf of customers. Bitcoin is within sight of its all-time peak of just under $20,000 hit in December 2017. It debuted in 2011 at zero and was last trading at $18,415. Going from $18,000 to $100,000 in one year is not a stretch, Brian Estes, chief investment officer at hedge fund Off the Chain Capital, said. "I have seen bitcoin go up 10X, 20X, 30X in a year. So going up 5X is not a big deal."

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    - Evidence Builds That an Early Mutation Made the Pandemic Harder to Stop
    As the coronavirus swept across the world, it picked up random alterations to its genetic sequence. Like meaningless typos in a script, most of those mutations made no difference in how the virus behaved. But one mutation near the beginning of the pandemic did make a difference, multiple new findings suggest, helping the virus spread more easily from person to person and making the pandemic harder to stop. From a report: The mutation, known as 614G, was first spotted in eastern China in January and then spread quickly throughout Europe and New York City. Within months, the variant took over much of the world, displacing other variants. For months, scientists have been fiercely debating why. Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory argued in May that the variant had probably evolved the ability to infect people more efficiently. Many were skeptical, arguing that the variant may have been simply lucky, appearing more often by chance in large epidemics, like Northern Italy's, that seeded outbreaks elsewhere. But a host of new research -- including close genetic analysis of outbreaks and lab work with hamsters and human lung tissue -- has supported the view that the mutated virus did in fact have a distinct advantage, infecting people more easily than the original variant detected in Wuhan, China. There is no evidence that a coronavirus with the 614G mutation causes more severe symptoms, kills more people or complicates the development of vaccines. Nor do the findings change the reality that places that quickly and aggressively enacted lockdowns and encouraged measures like social distancing and masks have fared far better than the those that did not. But the subtle change in the virus's genome appears to have had a big ripple effect, said David Engelthaler, a geneticist at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Arizona. "When all is said and done, it could be that this mutation is what made the pandemic," he said.

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