All posts by John Skrhak

John Skrhak | Gadgets, Sports and Toys Fanatic | Read about them all here.

April the pregnant giraffe didn’t kick the vet — but she tried

April the Giraffe may be getting a little tired of waiting for baby to arrive, but no, she didn’t successfully kick her veterinarian, “Dr. Tim,” who came to check on her on Monday.

Pregnant April has been in the spotlight since a live webcam in her pen at Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York, started up on Feb. 22. Since then, fans have watched her eat, play, poop and interact — mostly patiently — with the human keepers and doctors who pop in to check on baby.

“April’s attitude is good, though she did strike at (and miss) the vet again,” keepers wrote on the park’s Facebook page Monday night. “We just think she was giving him a hoof (hand) out the door.

And while fans may be getting impatient for a baby to arrive, imagine how April — and her human companions — must feel, as giraffes are pregnant for 15 months “plus or minus 60 days,” Dr. Tim said in a video published March 25.

“Keepers, vet, and Jordan (Patch, the park’s owner) agree — we are getting there!” the park’s Facebook update continues.

And for those who really want to know what biological variations to watch for, here you go.

“Her mammary development has continued to slowly increase,” the update continues. “Photo in comments. This is good! We do not expect any additional back-end swell, so all judging is now done based on udder changes. You will notice keepers continuing to snap photos of the underside to document changes.”

Sandra Lockman Jones wrote: “Never EVER thought I would be this interested in a giraffe’s teats!!!”

She’s not alone. At various times during Monday evening, more than 100,000 viewers were watching the livestream, and when zookeepers held a chat, comments were being posted so fast the stream flew by at an almost unreadable pace. The almost-kick at the vet was a topic of conversation, as was how the park knew April was pregnant (“she stopped cycling, we confirmed with a poo sample sent to a lab”) and how the keepers will know it’s go time (“hooves showing means active labor”).

The live feed and accompanying additional videos now have a sponsor in Toys R Us, whose cartoon mascot, Geoffrey, is a giraffe.

On Monday, the park posted a video of zoologist and head giraffe keeper Allysa Swilley, who’s familiar to live-feed watchers, discussing her bond with April. Swilley has known the giraffe since she arrived at the park in September 2016 and worked with her “almost every day since then.”

Giraffes, Swilley says in the video, only sleep about 20 minutes a day. “She doesn’t really go to bed, she takes quick short cat naps,” Swilley says of April. She also says the giraffes can eat about 50 pounds of food per day.

April, age 15, is expecting her fourth calf, and it’ll be the first for daddy Oliver, who’s 5. The calf will weigh around 150 pounds (68 kilograms) and will be about 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall at birth.

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Scientists turn spinach into a farm for human heart cells

The result is a safe and potentially ideal bed for growing heart tissue. Existing approaches to generating heart cells, such as 3D printing, aren’t good at replicating the extremely complex network of veins needed to grow cells — spinach already has that. And when cellulose is bio-compatible, you don’t have to worry about hostile interactions between the heart cells and their host.

As is often the case with this kind of research, it’ll be a long while before this method is ready for practical use. If it pans out, though, it could lead to an affordable and eco-friendly of growing replacement tissue for heart attack patients. You could potentially apply this to other body replacements, too — the researchers suggest that wood’s structure might be helpful for generating bone. They’ve already applied this method to parsley, peanut hairy roots and sweet wormwood, so it’s more a question of finding use cases than overcoming technical hurdles.

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Intel Optane is high-octane memory

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Intel Optane memory is making a lot of big promises. It’s a low-latency, high-response memory module that sits in front of your hard-drive, translating into faster launch, save and load times on your applications and files.

Faster. It makes your computer faster.

“But Luke,” I hear you ask through the magic of rhetorical devices that I am using to prove a point, “won’t more RAM do the same thing?”

Well, yes and no. RAM is memory that will improve the performance of your computer, but the key difference is that RAM is volatile memory, whereas Intel Optane is non-volatile. That means Optane won’t reset when your computer is turned off like RAM will, so every time you launch an application beyond the first, you should see those speed upgrades even if you rebooted your computer in between.

Essentially there’s a tradeoff between storage size and processing speed. Solid state drives brought that compromise way down, but you’re also paying for the privilege when comparing similarly sized hard drives. Intel is swinging for SSD-level performance by piggybacking the Optane chip on your hard drive, and running a file architecture that means your important apps are moved to the front of the storage pile and accessed that much faster.

Optane is also adaptable, which means the accompanying drivers and software will learn which files you use more frequently, and add those to the same up-front cache.



So what kind of performance boosts will you see? We’re going to have to wait to do our own testing, but Intel says Optane delivers “user-perceivable” speed boosts. You’ll notice the difference, especially if those claims of twice-as-fast boot times, browsers launching four times faster and Office applications loading up to six times faster hold true.

The demo session ran through loading things like large image files in Photoshop and load-intensive areas in World of Warcraft in side-by-side machines, one of which was powered with a 16GB Optane memory chip. The Optane machine was shaving tens of seconds off.

Average stats put desktop users at between 11 and 14 unique applications per day, with seven to eight launches of each app. That translates to feeling the benefits of the Optane memory boosts 70-80 times per day.

Optane Memory will be available on April 24 (preorders on March 27) in 16GB and 32GB sizes. Stay tuned for CNET’s hands-on experience with the new tech.

Technically Literate: Original works of short fiction with unique perspectives on tech, exclusively on CNET.

Solving for XX: The industry seeks to overcome outdated ideas about “women in tech.”

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The Morning After: Monday, March 27th 2017

4K graphics, reworked audio and even story improvements.‘StarCraft: Remastered’ upgrades a real-time strategy classic

Blizzard is legendary for keeping old games alive, but it’s going the extra mile this time around. The studio has unveiled StarCraft: Remastered, an overhaul that drags the 1998 real-time strategy game into the modern era. It’s getting the obligatory fresh coat of paint, including higher-resolution graphics and improved audio. The team is also using this as an excuse to ‘fix’ the game by adding content and features you take for granted. Multiplayer fans will see features that have been a staple of newer Blizzard titles, including “advanced” matchmaking, ladder play and social features. You’ll also have cloud saves for everything from your solo progress to custom maps and key bindings. About the only thing that won’t change is the core gameplay.

The retailer plans to expand its non-gaming businesses.Digital downloads killed 150 GameStop stores

It’s game over for at least 150 GameStop stores. The retailer has announced that it’s shutting down 2 to 3 percent of 7,500 shops across the globe after sales and earning plummeted last year. According to The Wall Street Journal, the company was affected by the shift to digital downloads. More and more people now prefer installing their games straight from their console’s online store instead of buying physical copies, that GameStop’s sales dropped 14 percent in 2016.

Travel through space on your porcelain throne.
Toto hopes to woo you with its high-tech toilet showroom

High-functioning toilets have long been a mainstay in Asian households, but the concept is still something of a curiosity in much of the Western world. Toto, Japan’s biggest toilet maker, has attempted to market its high-tech commodes to American audiences for decades with little success. The company is trying to change all this with a brand new “experiential” showroom that launched this week in San Francisco. It’s called Concept 190, and it’s equipped with four sensor-laden bathrooms where visitors are invited to pee, poo and have a toilet experience unlike anything they’ve had before.

Automakers may have to ignore the feds’ attempts to loosen rules.
California’s new car emission standards defy the White House

The Trump administration may be rethinking car efficiency regulations, but that isn’t stopping California. The state’s Air Resources Board has finalized car emissions standards for 2022-2025 that the White House still wants to review, creating the potential for a conflict if federal officials rethink the rules.

‘Not taking risks’Uber suspends self-driving tests following an Arizona crash

Uber isn’t taking any chances in the wake of its self-driving car accident in Tempe, Arizona. The company has suspended both its Arizona testing and its Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania operations while it investigates what happened. The company has confirmed that its vehicle was in self-driving mode at the time, but adds that there were no serious injuries on either side of the collision, and “no backseat passengers” in Uber’s autonomous Volvo.

‘Hi! I’m Alexa. How may I help?’
Amazon considers opening augmented reality furniture stores

Amazon’s retail plans could extend well beyond books and groceries. New York Times sources hear that the internet giant is “exploring” the possibility of appliance and furniture stores with a technological angle. You’d use augmented or virtual reality to see how items would look in your own home, making it easier to pull the trigger on that new couch or stove. Amazon might directly challenge some of its tech rivals in retail too. Just as long as Alexa doesn’t try to sell me a sofa on interest-free credit.

But wait, there’s more…

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Aliens have never been to Earth, claims former astronaut

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that’s taken over our lives.

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They’ve never been here?

UIG via Getty Images

I’d always thought that aliens have visited us from quite a few planets.

Each time, they took one look, snorted: “Primitive creatures. Sad!” and left us to our own pitiful devices.

Former moonwalker Alan Bean, though, is of a different view.

Speaking to Australia’s, Bean — an Apollo 12 astronaut and one of only 12 humans to have ever walked on the moon — mused: “I do not believe that anyone from outer space has ever visited the Earth.”

That’s quite a belief. Hasn’t he ever looked around the world — goodness, he lives in Texas — and wondered about a few of his fellow beings and where they might have originated?

Bean, though, insisted: “Civilizations that are more advanced are more altruistic and friendly — like Earth, which is better than it used to be — so they would have landed and said, ‘We come in peace and we know from our studies you have cancer that kills people, we solved that problem 50 years ago, here’s the gadget we put on a person’s chest that will cure it, we will show you how to make it.'”

How odd that he thinks Earthlings are altruistic and friendly. I suppose everything is relative. And how depressing is the idea implied here that we might be the most advanced, altruistic and friendly beings in the Universe.

But isn’t the idea that advanced civilizations always come in peace a touch far-fetched? World history suggests that at least some advanced civilizations were rather fond of conquering lesser nations and butchering their people.

Indeed, Stephen Hawking has already warned that aliens might hate us and seek to immediately destroy us, even if it’s just for fun.

Bean says he does believe aliens exist.

“There’s so many billions of stars and these stars have planets around them so there must be statistically many planets around many stars that have formed life,” he said.

Relying on statistics has its perils. But there could surely be fewer better times for aliens to show themselves to us than now.

It might give us a little perspective. It might even teach us what a small, uneducated blip in the galaxy we truly are.

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Mobile World Congress 2017: All the coolest new phones and wearables from the trade show in Barcelona.

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Amazon considers opening augmented reality furniture stores

Reportedly, Amazon is mulling an electronics store that would be similar in concept to Apple’s shops. While Amazon’s bookstores already carry some of its devices, these would have a “heavy emphasis” on hardware and services like Echo speakers and Prime Video.

The Times is quick to point out that talking about stores isn’t the same as definitive plans. There’s a chance that Amazon will scrap the ideas if they prove to be unworkable. Even if that happens, this still shows just how much Amazon’s philosophy has changed over the years. It was originally known for rendering physical stores obsolete — now, it seems bent on reinvigorating retail by using its internet expertise as an advantage. The furniture and electronics stores in particular would represent an admission that shoppers still want hands-on time with products when possible, even if they’re happy to purchase online.

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