Apple made an American Sign Language translation of its “Time Flies” event available on its website on Tuesday (via AppleInsider). There are two screens in the ASL-translated event replay — the left one shows the event video, while the one on the right shows someone translating what’s being said in ASL.
Apple is already well-known for its accessibility features in its products. iOS 14, the company’s next major iPhone update, gives users some significant improvements. It can alert you when your iPhone picks up certain sounds such as a dog’s bark, for example. Another new feature lets you double- or triple-tap the back of your phone to perform a custom task. And if you’re using sign language while on a group FaceTime call, iOS 14 can detect that and make your window more prominent for other people on the call.
Adding an ASL translation of its “Time Flies” event shows that Apple is continuing to think through ways to serve customers who may have disabilities. The replay of the event also offers captions in different languages, including English, Spanish, and Japanese.
Hitting the Books: The invisible threat that every ISS astronaut fears
Excerpted from How to Astronaut: An Insider’s Guide to Leaving Planet Earth by Terry Virts (Workman). © 2020.
For all the emergency training I went through as an astronaut, I never expected to be holed up in the Russian segment of the ISS, the hatch to the US segment sealed, with my crew waiting and wondering—would the space station be destroyed? Was this the end? As we floated there and pondered our predicament, I felt a bit like the guy in the Alanis Morissette song “Ironic,” who was going down in an airplane crash, thinking to himself, “Now isn’t this ironic?” This is how we ended up in that situation.
Every space station crew trains for all types of emergencies—computer failures, electrical shorts, equipment malfunctions, and more serious fire and air leak scenarios. However, on the International Space Station, the most dangerous of all is an ammonia leak. In fact, our NASA trainers used to tell us, “If you smell ammonia, don’t worry about running the procedure, because you’re going to die anyway.” That sure instilled confidence.
A few months after arriving in space, we were having a typical day. My crewmate Samantha Cristoforetti and I were each in our own crew quarters, going through email and catching up with administrative work, when the alarm went off. The sound of the ISS alarm is exactly what you would think a proper space alarm should sound like—a cross between a Star Trek alarm and a sci-fi B-movie klaxon. When it goes off, there is no doubt that something significant is happening. Sam and I both popped our heads out of our respective quarters and glanced at the alarm panel.
When I saw the ATM alarm lit up, my first thought was, “Atmosphere— there must be an atmosphere leak.” The ISS had occasionally had an air leak false alarm over its fifteen-year history, and I thought it must be one of those. However, that is not what ATM means—it stands for toxic atmosphere, most probably from an ammonia leak. Significantly, this alarm was going off for the first time in ISS history. My brain couldn’t believe it, so I said to Samantha, “This is an air leak, right?” To which she immediately responded “NO—ammonia leak!”
Jolted back to reality, we jumped into action. Gas masks on. Account for everyone; we didn’t want anyone left behind. Float down to the Russian segment ASAP and close the hatch between the US and Russian segments. The US segment uses ammonia as a coolant, but the Russian segment doesn’t, so the air should be safe there. Remove all clothes in case they’re contaminated. Nobody smelled ammonia, so we skipped this step! Close a second hatch to
keep any residual ammonia vapors on the American segment. Get out the ammonia “sniffer” device to make sure there isn’t any of that deadly chemical in the atmosphere on the Russian segment. All clear. Then, await word from Houston. . . .
Fifteen long, suspense-filled minutes later, we got the news—it was a false alarm. We let out a collective sigh of relief; the station wouldn’t be dying today! Whew. Similar to frequent fire alarms and rare air leaks, ammonia leak was just added to the collection of ISS false alarms. We put away the ammonia detector, floated back to the US segment, and started to clean up the mess that we had left floating in midair when that alarm went off.
Then we received an urgent call. “Station, Houston, execute ammonia leak emergency response, I say again, execute emergency response, ammonia leak, this is not a drill!” Pretty unambiguous. Only this time the warning had come via a radio call, not via electronic alarm. After the false alarm I knew that an army of NASA engineers were in mission control, poring over every piece of data they had, trying to determine if this had been a false alarm or the real thing. Now that mission control had confirmed that it was an actual leak, there was no doubt in my mind that this thing was real. No way all those NASA engineers got this call wrong. Having worked in mission control for nearly a decade myself, I had complete confidence in our flight director and flight control team. When they said, “Execute ammonia response,” I put the mask on, shut the hatch, and asked questions later.
It was like a scene out of European Vacation—“Look kids! Big Ben!”—or maybe Groundhog Day. Oxygen masks activated—check. US segment evacuated with nobody left behind—check. Hatch between US and Russian segments closed and sealed—check. Get naked—nope. No ammonia in the Russian atmosphere—check.
By this point, we had run the ISS ammonia leak procedures twice within an hour of each other. We had a quick debrief as a crew to discuss how we handled the emergency, what checklist steps were missed, what could have been done better, and what we needed to report to Houston. By this point, it was very obvious that there would be a lot of meetings happening in Houston and Moscow and that everybody in the NASA chain of command would be aware of our predicament.
Very quickly the gravity (pun intended) of the situation hit us. Using ammonia as the coolant for the American half of the ISS had worked well for decades, but we were acutely aware of its danger. Thankfully, the engineers who designed the station did a great job making a leak extremely unlikely, but the possibility was always there. On the other hand, the Russian glycol-based coolant is not dangerous, which is why the whole station crew would safe haven there in the event of an ammonia leak.
Besides the danger of the crew breathing in toxic fumes, there was a risk to equipment. The ISS has two ammonia loops, a series of tanks and pipes that carry heat from the station’s internal water loops to the external radiators. If one leaked out to space, there would still be a second available to cool equipment. It would be a serious loss of redundancy for the station, especially given that there is no longer a space shuttle to restock the station with the massive ammonia tanks needed to fill a loop. It would be ugly, but survivable.
What is not survivable, however, is having that ammonia leak to the inside of the American segment. First of all, if the entire contents of an ammonia loop came inside the station, it would probably overpressurize and pop the aluminum structure of one or more of the modules, like a balloon being overfilled with air. Mission control could avert this problem by venting the ammonia to space—we would lose the cooling loop, but it would prevent the station from popping. Months after returning to Earth, I learned that Houston had been seriously considering that option during our emergency, and it was only averted because of a tough—and ultimately correct—call by our flight director. That’s why those guys get paid the big bucks—they are some of the smartest and most competent people I have ever worked with. However, even if you averted a catastrophic “popping” of structure, there would still be the problem of ammonia in the US segment.
If even a small amount of ammonia were present in the atmosphere, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to remove. The only scrubber we had was our ammonia masks, so theoretically you could have an astronaut sit in a contaminated module, breathing the contaminant out of the air and into the mask filter, and over time enough of this scrubbing would lower the ammonia concentration, but as the poor astronaut sat there cleaning the air he would also be covered in ammonia, and convincing his fellow crewmates on the Russian segment to allow him back to their clean air would be problematic, to say the least. There would need to be some sort of shower and cleaning system to completely clean him up, which of course doesn’t exist in space. It would be a similar situation to soldiers in a chemical warfare environment, or the Soviet soldiers in the recent miniseries Chernobyl. Dealing with a toxic environment on Earth is difficult enough, but in space it would be nearly impossible. The reality is that an actual leak into the American segment would make a significant portion of the ISS uninhabitable, and if there were no crew there when the equipment broke down, there would be nobody to fix it.
A real ammonia leak would eventually lead to the slow death of the US half of the ISS, which would then lead to the end of the entire station. We knew this and spent our afternoon staring at each other, wondering out loud how long it would be before they sent us home, leaving the space station uninhabited and awaiting an untimely death.
Later that evening, we received a call from Houston. “Just kidding, it was a false alarm.” That was a huge false alarm. It turned out that some cosmic radiation had hit a computer, causing it to kick out bad data regarding the cooling system, and it took Houston hours to sort out what was really happening. Because that call from Houston had told us that it was a real leak, we all believed it—we knew that the folks in mission control were some of the best engineers in the world and that they would be 100 percent sure before making a call like that. So we were very relieved to get that call.
The coronavirus pandemic by the numbers
I’m dwelling on numbers because this week, the US officially counted 200,000 COVID-19 deaths. Words like “grim milestone” just don’t seem adequate in the face of that toll.
Numbers are valuable. Case counts help scientists track the infection’s spread. Death tolls help policy makers figure out where things are going right — or horribly wrong. They’re utilitarian.
They can also hit like a derailed train.
Since I started this column two months ago, more than 345,470 people have died of COVID-19 around the world. 57,993 of those deaths were in the US.
That’s 345,470 people, each with families and friends and coworkers and enemies and cats and dogs and people who just saw them on the street while walking to the bus. They’re gone. Their desks and armchairs and beds are empty. The people who loved them are red-eyed and sorting through the stuff they left behind. Each human lost cuts deep into communities, and the US has etched a wound into itself that is deeper than any other covid-wound on Earth.
I’ve stopped looking at the numbers every hour, like I was doing this spring. But every Friday, when I look at the numbers on Johns Hopkins’ dashboard, it’s still a shock. I know I’m not alone.
“Shocked — that would be the word that I would say captures my response to our current death numbers from the vantage point of February,” David Celentano, the head of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health’s epidemiology department, told Vox this week.
In February, the first US death was alarming. Now, around 800 people in the country are dying of the disease every day, and the sirens and alarm bells have blurred into the background of a horrible year.
When it comes to death, numbers like 200,000 are no more tragic than numbers like 145,763, or 12 or one. But the roundness of the number does help to turn up the volume on that incomprehensible din. Visuals that compare the national death toll to our neighborhoods and cities, like The Washington Post’s brutal new interactive map, can help us understand the volume of death — body by body and block by block. Comparisons to other death tolls can help us reckon with just how unprecedented this is.
“The number of dead is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 67 days. It is roughly equal to the population of Salt Lake City or Huntsville, Alabama,” Carla K. Johnson wrote for The Associated Press.
Thinking beyond the US’s borders — more than 985,748 people have died of this disease. There are 74 different countries and territories around the world with populations smaller than that number.
Wrestling with the loss of a nation’s worth of people is not something that any one of us thought we’d be dealing with this year. Every single death, every single case, ever since the pandemic roared into public consciousness in January, is one too many.
These numbers are the subject of all the science we talk about every week — they provide the data that researchers use to study this disease. But the climb of these numbers is also an urgent motivation behind this research. Whether researchers are trying to find a vaccine, or a treatment, or figure out how the virus moves between us, or how it wrecks our bodies — the goal is the same. No one can make those numbers go down — but it is still possible to keep them from going up.
Here’s what else happened this week.
Child deaths tied to covid-19 remain remarkably low, months into U.S. pandemic
While the COVID-19 death toll in the United States remained the highest in the world, the fatality rate for people under 20 remained extraordinarily low. Experts are still trying to understand how the disease affects younger people.
(Lenny Bernstein/The Washington Post)
The Core Lesson of the COVID-19 Heart Debate
There has been a lot of effort put into understanding some of the damage that COVID-19 can do to the heart. Many studies have poured out of labs, as a flood of data has rushed into them — but many conclusions in the heart debate remain out of reach. Over at The Atlantic, Ed Yong discusses why, and finds that “as pandemics get wider, they feel weirder.”
(Ed Yong/The Atlantic)
What Do Two New Studies Really Tell Us About Coronavirus Transmission on Planes?
This is a good breakdown of some of the limitations behind two case studies that looked at coronavirus transmission on planes.
(Jane C. Hu/Slate)
Johnson & Johnson Starts Phase 3 Trial for Single-Dose Coronavirus Vaccine
This week, Johnson & Johnson started its large-scale trials for it’s vaccine in the US. Unlike many of the other candidates, this one is designed to only require a single dose — potentially making is easier to distribute. A different company, Novavax, also entered phase three trials this week in the UK.
Here come the tortoises: In the race for a Covid-19 vaccine, slow starters could still win out
At STAT there’s a good update on some of the other vaccine candidates. Pharma companies Merck and Sanofi are both moving more slowly and methodically, but are still very much making progress towards a vaccine.
A Covid-19 Vaccine for Children May Not Arrive Before Fall 2021
As vaccine development pushes ahead, one group is noticeably not represented in any of the vaccine trials underway in the US — kids. “Vaccine developers are keenly aware that children are not simply miniature adults.” Carl Zimmer writes in The New York Times. Creating a vaccine that is safe and effective for children will likely take a lot more work, and a lot more time.
(Carl Zimmer/The New York Times)
156 countries are teaming up for a Covid-19 vaccine. But not the US or China.
How will a vaccine get distributed when we finally have a good candidate? Manufacturing and shipping issues aside, it’s going to be a massive political undertaking too. For a look at the international relations side of vaccine distribution, read up on Covax, an initiative that aims to distribute billions of doses worldwide by the end of next year.
Averting a COVID-19 vaccination crisis will take careful communication
In order for a vaccine to work, people have to be willing to take it. The Sports Grind Entertainment’s Nicole Wetsman talked with a vaccine hesitancy researcher about this vaccine, and what concerns public health experts will have to overcome. (For more expert opinions on a similar topic, check out Maggie Koerth’s `How To Know When You Can Trust A COVID-19 Vaccine` at Five Thirty Eight.)
(Nicole Wetsman/The Sports Grind Entertainment)
The code: How genetic science helped expose a secret coronavirus outbreak
This is a great feature that dives deep into how researchers uncovered a single outbreak at a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa.
(Sarah Kaplan, Desmond Butler, Juliet Eilperin, Chris Mooney and Luis Velarde/The Washington Post)
More than Numbers
To the more than 32,397,479 people worldwide who have tested positive, may your road to recovery be smooth.
To the families and friends of the 985,748 people who have died worldwide — 203,549 of those in the US — your loved ones are not forgotten.
Stay safe, everyone.
13 best movies leaving Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Amazon in October 2020
If you’ve been loading up your Netflix queue with scary movies, waiting for the first of October to begin the spooky season, you might want to rethink that strategy. Several of our favorite horror movies are leaving Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and HBO Max on Sept. 30.
In the current cutthroat streaming landscape, when a movie leaves one streaming service it’s often just heading to another, but that sometimes leaves weeks or months when a movie is unavailable before moving to a different streaming library. Below, we’re rounding up our favorite movies leaving their current streaming service at the end of September. Like we said above, that includes lots of horror favorites like Blade, The Exorcist, The Silence of the Lambs, and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, as well as some less spooky offerings like Alita: Battle Angel, Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, and the majority of Christopher Guest’s filmography.
Alita: Battle Angel
Robert Rodriguez’s live-action adaptation of the manga and anime was notorious for the titular cyborg’s giant eyes that come straight out of uncanny valley. But the film itself is actually a lot of fun. From our review:
Absolutely everything about Alita: Battle Angel is unapologetically outsized — there is interplanetary war, there is a sport called “motorball” that’s basically jai alai with robots, there are slo-mo shots of objects of varying degrees of deadliness flying out of the screen — and it’s delightful.
Alita: Battle Angel leaves HBO on Sept. 30.
Best in Show/A Mighty Wind/Waiting for Guffman/For Your Consideration
A Christopher Guest quadruple feature is sadly leaving Hulu this month. All four improvisational mockumentaries showcase Guest’s signature silly, deadpan humor (though for my money, Best in Show, about the cutthroat world of competitive dog shows, is his best work.) Before they swept the 2020 Emmys with Schitt’s Creek, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara were frequent Guest collaborators, and appear in all four films. (Levy also co-wrote them.) Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Lynch, Ed Begley Jr., and the late, great Fred Willard round out the informal troupe.
Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, Waiting for Gufffman, and For Your Consideration leave Hulu on Sept. 30.
With Blade set to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s worth remembering why Wesley Snipes iconic performance as the half-human vampire hunter is such a high bar to clear. From a Sports Grind Entertainment essay on the subject:
In his performances as Blade, Snipes projects a mentality and guarded interior life as only a nuanced actor could. As the “Daywalker,” a legendary half-human vampire on a crusade to eradicate his fellow bloodsuckers, he creates the contradictory impression of an antisocial weirdo with the comic timing of a funny, charismatic dude. With all that, he brings the attention to physicality of a screen martial artist. Though almost universally beloved in his performances as Blade, Snipes rarely gets enough credit for bringing all of those facets together.
Blade leaves HBO Max on Sept. 30.
William Peter Blatty’s adaptation of his own supernatural horror novel is, simply put, a classic. Everything from director William Friedkin’s use of light and shadow to stellar performances from Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, and Ellen Burstyn works together to create a sense of dread that’s punctuated by some truly gnarly special effects. Sure, revisiting it in 2020 probably won’t cause you to vomit or pass out like audiences notoriously did when it was released (though that was definitely played up as a marketing stunt.) but the slow burn terror is still disorienting and spooky. The Exorcist is a product of its time but it totally holds up.
The Exorcist leaves HBO Max on Sept. 30.
Yep, Jurassic Park is leaving Netflix quicker than a Velociraptor escaping its pen. Just two months after Steven Spielberg’s classic creature feature hit Netflix and immediately made the streamer’s top 10 list, Jurassic Park is headed to another, undisclosed streaming network. It stuck around just long enough to coincide with Netflix’s animated kid’s series set in the Jurassic Cinematic Universe, Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous.
Jurassic Park leaves Netflix on Sept. 30.
Much Ado About Nothing
Adapted and directed by known Shakespeare master Kenneth Branagh, Much Ado About Nothing is simple fun in the sun. The film stars Branagh and Emma Thompson as the argumentative and electric Benedick and Beatrice, who must work together in order to clear Hero’s (Kate Beckinsale) name so she may marry Count Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard). Keanu Reeves stars as Don John, who aims to keep Hero and Claudio apart, with Denzel Washington as Don Pedro, the requisite straight man, and none other than Michael Keaton as Dogberry, the local constable and comic relief. —Karen Han
Much Ado About Nothing leaves Amazon Prime Video on Sept. 30.
My Cousin Vinny
Marisa Tomei and Joe Pesci turn in two career best performances in My Cousin Vinny, Jonathan Lynn’s courtroom comedy about two Brooklyn boys put on trial in Alabama for murders they didn’t commit. One of them has a cousin, Vinny (Pesci), who recently passed the bar exam (on his sixth attempt), who agrees to take the case. Not only is My Cousin Vinny famously one of the most accurate depictions of courtroom procedure in film history, it’s also freakin’ hilarious. The twists are satisfying, Lynn takes equal opportunity to make fun of the southerners and the New Yorkers, and Marisa Tomei wears a lot of leather. What’s not to love?
My Cousin Vinny leaves Hulu on Sept. 30.
The Silence of the Lambs
Anthony Hopkins won the Oscar for Best Actor with only 16 minutes of screen time. His performance as Hannibal Lecter remains one of the greatest ever committed to film, and is matched beat for beat by Jodie Foster’s turn as Clarice Starling, the FBI trainee who comes into his orbit as she pursues the serial killer known as “Buffalo Bill.” The Silence of the Lambs is also one of the late director Jonathan Demme’s best (and most well-known) films, and rightfully so, as he balances the incomprehensibly horrific with startlingly tangible, human emotions. —Karen Han
The Silence of the Lambs leaves Amazon Prime Video on Sept. 30.
The Coen brothers’ remake of the classic western stars Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld as gruff U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn and a teenager, Mattie Ross, who hires him to track down her father’s murderer, outlaw Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). True Grit was Steinfeld’s feature debut, and her portrayal of the tough young woman earned her both critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination at just 14.
True Grit leaves Amazon Prime Video on Sept. 30.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
A send-up of horror movies like The Hills Have Eyes and Evil Dead, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil stars Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine as Tucker and Dale, two hillbillies who become embroiled in trouble when they cross paths with a group of camping college students. A series of misunderstandings leads the students to believe that Tucker and Dale are trying to kill them, while Tucker and Dale come to suspect that the students are enacting a suicide pact. As they dance around each other, Eli Craig pulls out all the slapstick stops. —Karen Han
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil leaves Netflix on Sept. 28.
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