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Climate change is erasing previous gains in air quality — fires are mostly to blame

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Climate change is erasing previous gains in air quality — fires are mostly to blame

Air quality in the US is projected to backslide in the coming decades, landing back where it was in the mid-2000s as a result of climate change, according to a new report. The report comes with an online tool for users to zoom in on individual properties to see what kind of air quality residents might experience there in the future. It paints a picture of a changing landscape for regulators, who are going to have to adapt to evolving threats.

“Air quality really highlights how the changing climate is being felt by individuals.”

A hotter planet sets the stage for more wildfire smoke and supercharges the chemical reactions that lead to smog. That means the game is changing when it comes to how to prevent pollution in the future. After decades of success reining in pollution from smokestacks and tailpipes, climate change is erasing some of those gains.

“Air quality really highlights how the changing climate is being felt by individuals,” says Jeremy Porter, lead author of the report published by the nonprofit research organization First Street Foundation. “Really bad floods and really bad wildfires are relatively rare, [although] we see them more and more often. But something like poor air quality, it doesn’t just affect the low houses on the street, it affects everybody in the community,” Porter says. First Street has previously released research and online tools for assessing flood, fire, and heat risks for individual properties.

While anthropogenic emissions decrease, climate impacts such as fine particle pollution concentrations will worsen.
Image: First Street, EPA: hourly PM2.5 non-FRM / FEM mass
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The group’s latest work shows that around 10 percent of properties in the US (roughly 14.3 million) already have to cope with a week or more of days when air quality is considered “unhealthy” due to fine particle pollution, also called soot. Nearly half of those properties have it much worse, experiencing two weeks of unhealthy air quality days.

To suss that out, First Street looked back on data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s network of air quality sensors across the nation. Porter and his colleagues were then able to combine that data with First Street’s existing peer-reviewed fire and heat models to make predictions about the future.

First Street modeled air quality 30 years from now, the length of a typical mortgage. On its current trajectory, air quality in 2054 could revert back to how bad it was in 2004, according to First Street, “wiping away 20 years of air quality improvements.” An additional 1.7 million properties are expected to face 10 or more poor air quality days a year from both soot and smog — a 15 percent rise from today.

That upward trend reflects a “climate penalty,” the report says. Smog, or ground-level ozone, in technical terms, is produced through a photochemical reaction where nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds react with each other in sunlight. As a result, smog can be worse on hot, sunny days. Climate change is making heatwaves longer and more intense, and pollution is part of that problem.

Hot, arid conditions also prime the land to burn. Fire is the primary driver of worsening air with climate change, the report finds. It’s particularly egregious in the Western US, where the number of poor air quality days grew by as much as 477 percent between 2000 and 2021.

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That figure is based on the EPA’s color-coded air quality index and counts the number of days in which the index value is at least considered “unhealthy for sensitive groups” — an orange day. Red days are “unhealthy,” purple are “very unhealthy,” and maroon is considered “hazardous.” Averaging the highest daily soot levels across the US, the researchers found that the average highest value has risen from orange to red since 2000.

Average maximum values for fine particle pollution between 2000 and 2001.
Image: First Street, EPA: hourly PM2.5 non-FRM / FEM mass

That generally accounts for peak levels of particle pollution during specific events like wildfires. The health risks from sudden, brief periods of pollution are different than those linked to persistent exposures to pollution from living next to a busy freeway, for example. Health risks including problems related to respiratory and cardiovascular disease increase with chronic exposure.

“If you have, say, more fires but less pollution in the rest of the year, you’d see these acute effects increase, but they will be offset by decreases in chronic effects,” says Drew Shindell, a professor of earth science at Duke University who studies climate change and air quality but was not involved in the First Street report.

Shindell also points out that there’s still the opportunity to change the trajectories laid out in the report. Just like the Clean Air Act led to big improvements in air quality between the 1970s and 1990s, the US has the opportunity to act now. Cleaning up pollution is just going to have to look different than it used to for policymakers, both Shindell and Porter say.

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“The job of somebody like an air quality regulator is changing because it used to be 100 percent of your attention would be on emissions from human activities — so you’d worry about power plants, and industry, and motor vehicles,” Shindell says. “We’ve done a good job of controlling many of these things. But we haven’t done a good job of controlling greenhouse gases.”

In other words, to get soot and smog under control, regulators will also have to prioritize slashing other pollutants — carbon dioxide and methane emissions that cause climate change. They’ll also have to think about things like forest management to better keep wildfires under control. That all links the local effects of air pollution to what’s going on in the wider world, on top of worrying about what your neighbors might be emitting. Last year, wildfires in Canada sent a plume of smoke down to the Northeastern US, causing New York City to briefly hold the title for worst air quality in the world.

To see historical data and forecasts for future air quality in your region, you can check out First Street’s online tool at RiskFactor.com. It uses First Street’s peer-reviewed models for forecasting flood, fire, heat, and now, air quality risk. It’ll show how a property ranks compared to others in the US when it comes to local air quality, which sources of pollution are nearby, and how many days of poor air quality in the area to expect now and in the future.

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Microsoft is working with Nvidia, AMD, and Intel to improve upscaling support in PC games

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Microsoft is working with Nvidia, AMD, and Intel to improve upscaling support in PC games

Microsoft has outlined a new Windows API designed to offer a seamless way for game developers to integrate super resolution AI-upscaling features from Nvidia, AMD, and Intel. In a new blog post, program manager Joshua Tucker describes Microsoft’s new DirectSR API as the “missing link” between games and super resolution technologies, and says it should provide “a smoother, more efficient experience that scales across hardware.”

“This API enables multi-vendor SR [super resolution] through a common set of inputs and outputs, allowing a single code path to activate a variety of solutions including Nvidia DLSS Super Resolution, AMD FidelityFX Super Resolution, and Intel XeSS,” the post reads. The pitch seems to be that developers will be able to support this DirectSR API, rather than having to write code for each and every upscaling technology.

The blog post comes a couple of weeks after an “Automatic Super Resolution” feature was spotted in a test version of Windows 11, which promised to “use AI to make supported games play more smoothly with enhanced details.” Now, it seems the feature will plug into existing super resolution technologies like DLSS, FSR, and XeSS rather than offering a Windows-level alternative. 

Microsoft says that the new API will be available soon via a preview version of its Agility SDK. It plans to offer a “sneak peek” of how DirectSR can be used during a developer session at the forthcoming Game Developers Conference (GDC). The session will take place on March 21st, and will include representatives from both Microsoft as well as Nvidia and AMD.

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Apple warns against using rice to dry out your wet iPhone; here’s what to do instead

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Apple warns against using rice to dry out your wet iPhone; here’s what to do instead

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Cellphones getting water damage is nothing new. Before the iPhone, I had a flip phone that fell into a swimming pool. The first thing everyone told me to do was to dry the phone out with rice.

The idea is that the rice will draw out any excess water, saving your phone from being destroyed by water damage.

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This method remains many people’s tried-and-true method for saving a waterlogged phone, and I’ve seen it work firsthand. 

However, a new support document by Apple has just come out, and the company is asking people to please not place their iPhones in a bowl or bag of rice.

CLICK TO GET KURT’S FREE CYBERGUY NEWSLETTER WITH SECURITY ALERTS, QUICK VIDEO TIPS, TECH REVIEWS AND EASY HOW-TO’S TO MAKE YOU SMARTER

An iPhone in a bowl of rice (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

Why shouldn’t you put your wet iPhone in rice?

Apple is now warning customers that placing their iPhones into a bowl or bag of rice might actually slow down the drying process and damage their phone’s internal components. In particular, the company warns that small particles of wet rice may end up in your iPhone, damaging the phone’s logic board.

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iPhone rice trick 2

Wet iPhone (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

What Apple recommends you do instead

Next time your iPhone takes a dip in the swimming pool or the toilet, instead of running for the rice in the cabinet, Apple suggests doing this instead.

Step 1 – Tap the water out

Apple suggests that your first immediate step should be lightly tapping the iPhone against your hand with the charging connector pointed down. This should pull some of the water inside your iPhone out. Don’t be alarmed if only a few drops of water come from the connector port. Leave your iPhone somewhere dry, with some airflow.

iPhone rice trick 3

Image of an iPhone and power cord (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

MORE: BEST ACCESSORIES FOR YOUR PHONE

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Step 2 – Wait 30 minutes, then try to charge your iPhone

You should leave your iPhone alone for a period of 30 minutes. Once 30 minutes have gone by, you can attempt to charge your iPhone again. If your iPhone charges, congratulations. There’s no water damage to your iPhone and you can resume using it. If you receive an alert saying “liquid detected in USB-C (or lightning) port,” you unfortunately still have water in your iPhone. However, luckily, hope isn’t lost.

MORE: 5 BEST PORTABLE PHONE CHARGERS OF 2024

iPhone rice trick 4

Liquid Detected alert on iPhone (Apple)

CLICK TO GET KURT’S FREE CYBERGUY NEWSLETTER WITH SECURITY ALERTS, QUICK VIDEO TIPS, TECH REVIEWS AND EASY HOW-TO’S TO MAKE YOU SMARTER

Step 3 – Leave your iPhone in a dry area for 24 hours

If you receive an alert saying “liquid detected in USB-C (or lightning) port,” you unfortunately still have water in your iPhone. Apple warns against using a blow-dryer or any other heat gun device to dry your iPhone after it takes a splash. You should instead leave your phone in a dry area with some airflow and allow for 24 hours to pass. A room with a ceiling fan is a great place to leave your iPhone while it dries.

iPhone rice trick 5

Charging Not Available alert on iPhone (Apple)

Step 4 – Retest the connector

After 24 hours have passed, you should try to charge your iPhone again. If your iPhone charges, you are all good. If it doesn’t charge, Apple recommends removing the charging cable from the wall outlet and changing electrical sources for a moment. Apple recommends against trying to insert a cotton swab or any other foreign object into your charging port.

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If your iPhone’s charging port is damaged or not working properly, you may want to consider alternative charging methods that do not rely on the port. For example, some iPhones support wireless charging, which uses a magnetic pad or stand to charge your phone without plugging in a cable. This way, you can avoid inserting anything into the port and prevent further damage. 

Now, if all that doesn’t work and your iPhone still does not charge or shows signs of water damage, such as a wet screen, distorted audio or malfunctioning buttons, you may need to contact Apple for repair or replacement. You can check your warranty status and common issues not covered under warranty by clicking here.

Remember to back up your data before sending your iPhone for repair, as you may lose some or all of your information.

MORE: HOW TO PROTECT AN IPHONE & IPAD FROM MALWARE 2024

Kurt’s key takeaways

It’s important to remember that all iPhones since the iPhone 12 are able to safely withstand submersion in water of up to 20 feet for 30 minutes. If you do end up dropping your iPhone in the water, just don’t run for the rice.

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Do you think Apple should make their iPhones more water-resistant or waterproof? Let us know by writing us at Cyberguy.com/Contact.

For more of my tech tips & security alerts, subscribe to my free CyberGuy Report Newsletter by heading to Cyberguy.com/Newsletter.

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X adds live video to Spaces instead of bringing back Periscope

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X adds live video to Spaces instead of bringing back Periscope

Spaces, the live audio feature for X, is now letting hosts turn on their video during chat sessions. The platform formerly known as Twitter announced the news on Wednesday as owner / CTO Elon Musk reposted a walkthrough from a user named “Dogedesigner.”

Spaces users will notice a new option to “enable video” when they first create a new Spaces session. Hosts can opt for either their phone’s front or back-facing cameras as well as either a landscape or vertical view of their video feed. 

The Video Spaces are available on the iOS version of the X app, but we haven’t seen them available on Android or the web yet. Multiple users reported significant lag while trying out the feature so far.

Right now, only hosts have the ability to turn on video. The end result is a prominent display of the host’s video feed, which is then surrounded by icons of co-hosts, speakers, and any listeners. At first glance, it’s an environment that resembles Twitch — expect for the fact that any selected audience members can chime in at any minute. A host’s video feed also only lives inside a Spaces session, so users will have to join the session in order to tune in.

When Elon Musk announced that Spaces would get video late last year, his description of it sounded closer to a videoconferencing app or video call app like FaceTime, where the video feed switches to whoever is currently speaking. 

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But for now, a typical Spaces with video session prominently features the host’s video feed, which is surrounded by the smaller icons of any other speakers, co-hosts, or listeners in the room. It’s not exactly like Twitch since anyone you give permission to can speak back to you, but it does turn the host into the main event in a similar fashion. 

The new video integration of X Spaces is separate from the platform’s existing live broadcast feature, which lets users directly livestream video. Spaces functions as a live chatroom, where multiple users can tune in and speak. In contrast, the audience in a typical live broadcast can only comment or send hearts

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