In a big announcement this week, Intel and Micron together described the creation of the first new class of mainstream computer memory since the development of NAND flash (solid-state, like in your phone or camera memory cards) in 1989. It’s pronounced “three-dee cross-point,” in case you want to tell your friends about it. 3D XPoint is non-volatile, which means that it’s not like RAM, which forgets everything when you turn off your computer, but more like magnetic drives or solid-state drives. But, it’s also fast. Up to a thousand times faster than NAND, according to remarks given at their press conference, although slower than DRAM. Another thing it apparently doesn’t have: transistors. According to this in-depth discussion at AnandTech, it’ll probably fill the gap between DRAM and NAND, and because of this it will probably change the general architecture of computers for years to come. It should allow for fewer data bottlenecks near the processor, meaning those loading times in games between play areas might go away, and pattern-recognition software will get faster and more precise. It’s also inexpensive enough to actually find its way into consumer products in the near term (2016), unlike phase-change memory, which though promising has continued to elude price-point aspirations. Check out the coverage at Ars Technica and AnandTech for more.
A new vaccine, produced by Merck in partnership with a number of governments (Canada, Norway) and NGOs (Wellcome Trust, Médecins Sans Frontières) seems to have produced exceptional results in fighting the disease in Guinea. In the trial, roughly four thousand people were given the vaccine, all of whom were at risk of getting Ebola because they had someone in their social circle who had the disease. In the first group, they were given the vaccine immediately, and in the second, they were given it three weeks later. Now, the vaccine takes ten days to come into effect, but after that point in the group given it immediately no cases of Ebola were reported. Meanwhile in the delayed group, sixteen cases were reported. Because the results have been so drastic, the study has been extended, and all participants will be given the vaccine immediately. In Guinea, every contact of a person who develops Ebola will be given it, a method of fighting infectious diseases known as Ring Vaccination which was remarkably effective in the fight against smallpox. By rendering all the people in contact with the infected immune, the disease cannot spread and the epidemic dies out. Check out the Guardian or the Verge for more.
This week Facebook and Internet.org (a pseudo-charity partnership between Facebook and Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Opera Software, Nokia, and Qualcomm, designed to bring internet access of a kind to impoverished areas of the world) announced some progress toward that end. The photo above is a full-scale, flight-test-ready prototype of the Aquila, a drone designed to stay aloft for up to ninety days, beaming internet.org access (like internet access, but somehow also not) to a locale. They’ve also announced a breakthrough in laser-based information streaming, claiming to be able to reliably transmit at tens of gigabits per second to a “target the size of a dime from more than [ten] miles away.” If true, it means they have the technology to keep the Aquila linked with other flying access points and ground-based access points in order to build a scalable network. Check out Wired or The Verge for more on the story.
Less Methane, More Rice
Apparently — I didn’t know this until this week — rice production is a big source of methane, right up there with cow burps and natural gas leaks. But now, a group of researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences have fixed that problem. How, you ask? Genetic modification (take that, anti-GMO people). By taking some genes from barley, they’ve made much more of the plant grow above the boggy ground rice grows in (thereby giving less food to the methane-producing bacteria that live in it). This reduces methane production by around 90%, and has the added bonus of producing nearly 50% more rice. Check out the Ars Technica article or the paper in the journal Nature for more.
Best of the Rest
There’s so much this week that I even pushed one part — a write-up on the naming conventions for the three new dwarf planets we’ve seen this year — over to tomorrow’s post. In the meantime, check out these links for other things I haven’t had a chance to write about:
- Ozy has a piece on the Soviet Mars 3 lander that paved the way for their more successful Venus missions
- The Voyager “Golden Record” is now available for free listening on SoundCloud
- The Open Space Agency wants your help beta testing a build-it-yourself telescope
- Some of my favourite whiskeys are going to the ISS (but not, strangely, for drinking)
- Mozilla’s ticked that Microsoft is overriding people’s browser preferences when they install Windows 10
- Microsoft says it’s shipping developer kits of its HoloLens within the next twelve months, and
- This is a genuinely cute spider doing a silly dance.
I leave you today with a video of Bill Nye reading “mean” tweets about him.