Spider News Digest: 11/25/2017


  • Egypt mosque attack death toll climbs above 300 (CNN):

The death toll in a bomb and gun attack on a Sufi mosque in northern Sinai has risen to 305, with 27 children among the dead, Egypt’s state prosecutor said Saturday.

Another 128 people were injured, according to a statement from the public prosecutor read out on Egyptian state-run news channel Nile TV.
Between 25 to 30 armed men carried out the assault on the al Rawdah Sufi mosque in Bir al-Abed, the statement said.
The prosecutor also gave more detail about how the brutal attack unfolded. The attackers arrived in five SUVs and were armed with automatic machine guns, the statement said. They took position in front of the mosque and its entrances.

Survivors of the incident now at the hospital described massive gunfire and loud explosions at the start of the attack. A number of attackers, some of them masked, then entered the mosque, the statement said.
The attackers had long beards and hair, were wearing military fatigues and were armed with heavy machine guns, according to the statement. At least one of those who entered the mosque was carrying an ISIS flag, it said.
There has not yet been a claim of responsibility from ISIS or its affiliate in Egypt. However, the attack bears the hallmarks of a strike by ISIS, which maintains a foothold in the north of the Sinai Peninsula and inspires local Islamist extremist groups, despite the efforts of Egyptian security forces.

  • Cinnamon might help with weight loss and improve metabolism says new study (Inquisitr):

Could cinnamon actually play a part in weight loss, despite the fact that it’s a key ingredient in many guilt-inducing sweet treats? A new study suggests that this might be the case, as the popular spice comes with an agent that burns energy in human fat cells, therefore making it potentially helpful in reducing obesity and improving metabolism.

Previous research had proven that cinnamon could help burn fat, based on lab tests on mice. But the New York Daily News noted that the new University of Michigan study was able to prove that cinnamon could promote weight loss and faster metabolism in human subjects as well, thanks to an organic compound called cinnamaldehyde. This agent is responsible for giving cinnamon its distinctive flavor and smell, which allows it to be used as flavoring for candy, chewing gum, ice cream, and drinks, and as a component of perfumes. Cinnamaldehyde can also be found in cinnamon oil and can be used as an ingredient in fungicides and insecticides.

In order to test if cinnamon facilitates weight loss in people, the researchers took fat cells from a number of subjects with varying age groups, ethnicities, and body mass indexes. These cells, which are known as adipocytes, were treated with cinnamaldehyde, which then allowed them to burn energy. The researchers also observed an increase in gene and enzyme expression that led to improved lipid metabolism.

According to Michigan News, adipocytes typically store lipids, allowing for a long-term form of energy storage that was especially helpful to our “distant ancestors” who didn’t have the same access to high-fat foods that modern humans do. That also meant it was more important for our ancestors to store fat during winter months and times of food scarcity, with the circumstances forcing adipocytes to burn energy through the process known as thermogenesis.

“It’s only been relatively recently that energy surplus has become a problem,” explained study lead Jun Wu, a research assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s Life Sciences Institute.

Considering the prevalence of obesity in modern society, Wu and her colleagues identified cinnamon as a potential weight loss aid, due to its ability to activate thermogenesis. Due to its popularity as an ingredient in various types of food, Wu believes that patients might be more amenable to “cinnamon-based treatments” than conventional regimens of medication when it comes to dealing with obesity.

Although cinnamon is a common ingredient in holiday-themed recipes, the researchers warned that people shouldn’t go overboard with their cinnamon consumption in an attempt to avoid holiday weight gain. More research is needed to determine the best way to allow cinnamaldehyde to improve metabolism without unwanted weight gain or other unpleasant side effects. This was a sentiment shared by Forbes, which cautioned that cinnamon is found in a lot of foods that “aren’t exactly known for their weight loss properties,” such as cakes, doughnuts, cookies, and rolls.

Something very strange is going on, and it seems to be happening all around our planet. Reports continue to emerge of booming sounds of mysterious origin echoing from the sky, from Colorado and Alabama to the Middle East, United Kingdom and Australia, according to News Corp Australia.

The sounds, understandably startling for those who hear them, are certainly not the voices of gods, although their source has thus far defied scientific explanation as well.

A recent example occurred in Alabama, when a thunderous noise shook houses and frightened residents on Nov. 20. Not long after, explosion-like sounds were also heard in Colorado, although officials now believe that the Colorado clamor was unrelated to the worldwide phenomenon, likely caused by oil and gas extraction.

Other booms around the world, like the one in Alabama, remain unexplained. Locals in Cairns, Australia, were shaken by a loud rumble on Oct. 10. Then two weeks later, another boom was heard over the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. Other mysterious sounds have been heard in as far reaching places as Michigan and Yorkshire, U.K.

Of course, there are theories. Anytime booming sounds are heard from the sky, it’s worth ruling out a sonic boom caused by aircraft breaking the sound barrier. This might explain a few of the events — for instance, there are reports of a FA-18 Hornet plane flying nearby when the sound was heard in Cairns, Australia — but it’s not a viable theme across all of the events.

Another possibility is that the booms are caused by meteors exploding in the sky. The Leonid meteor shower has coincided with the hysteria. This theory would certainly explain why the phenomenon is global, though astronomers have insisted that meteors produced by the Leonids are way too small for this to happen.

Ground explosions also make for a prime suspect, but it’s unclear how a ground disruption could explain the worldwide distribution of the sounds.

At least one NASA scientist, Bill Cooke, has chimed in, telling ABC 3340 that NASA’s meteor scientists are still in the process of analyzing the data and are looking for possible patterns between each of the reports. So far, though, there have been no consistent leads.

Of course, it’s also possible that each of these booming sounds is entirely unrelated to the others, each with its own local explanation. It’s not as if many of the booms from around the world occurred at the same time; several events are separated by weeks, even months at this point. Even so, anytime a loud boom is heard, it’s worth getting to the bottom of it. Booms, whether connected to largescale, global phenomena or not, can be jarring to the imagination.


IT’S BEEN YEARS since I gave a second thought to my web browser. Safari’s fine, Microsoft Edge is whatever, I think Opera still exists? None have ever offered much reason to switch away from Chrome, Google’s fast, simple web tool. I’m not the only one who feels this way, either: Chrome commands nearly 60 percent of the browser market, and is more than four times as popular as the second-place finisher, Firefox. Chrome won the browser wars.

So my expectations for Firefox Quantum, the new browser from Mozilla, were not particularly high. Mozilla made big promises about Quantum’s speed and efficiency, which are what everyone makes big promises about when they launch a new browser, and they never really make a difference in the experience. Sure, a couple dozen Chrome tabs can bring even the beefiest computer hardware grinding to a beach-balling halt, but Chrome does the job. What could Firefox even do to win me over?

It turns out there are lots of things Firefox Quantum could do to improve the browser experience, and it did many of those things. The new Firefox actually manages to evolve the entire browser experience, recognizing the multi-device, ultra-mobile lives we all lead and building a browser that plays along. It’s a browser built with privacy in mind, automatically stopping invisible trackers and making your history available to you and no one else. It’s better than Chrome, faster than Chrome, smarter than Chrome. It’s my new go-to browser.

The speed thing is real, by the way. Mozilla did a lot of engineering work to allow its browser to take advantage of all the multi-core processing power on modern devices, and it shows. Every page seems to load one beat sooner than I expect, which makes the whole browsing experience that much more efficient. It’s not life-changingly different, and I can’t say I notice the 100 percent advantage Mozilla swears it has over Chrome, but it definitely feels zippier. I definitely notice Firefox’s better memory usage; I routinely find myself with 30 or 40 tabs open while I’m researching a story, and at that point Chrome effectively drags my computer into quicksand. So far, I haven’t been able to slow Firefox Quantum down at all, no matter how many tabs I use.

Again, though, speed and memory aren’t enough to merit the hassle of switching browsers (even if they should be). Rather, it’s the little things, the things you do with and around the web pages themselves, that make Firefox really work. For instance: If you’re looking at a page on your phone and want to load that same page on your laptop, you just tap “Send to Device,” pick your laptop, and it opens and loads in the background as if it had always been there. You can save pages to a reading list, or to the great read-it-later service Pocket (which Mozilla owns), both with a single tap. Pocket also surfaces a bunch of articles you might like when you open a new tab, which is a delightful way to bring actual browsing back to the browser.

Quantum feels like a bunch of power users got together and built a browser that fixed all the little things that annoyed them about other browsers. It has a QR code reader built in. It has a menu item for copying a URL, and if you’ve ever tried to copy and paste a long URL on your phone you know how nice that is. Firefox even makes screenshots more intuitive: it can capture a section, everything on your screen, or the entire webpage all at once. You can even turn on “Night Mode” and invert the colors on most blindingly white websites. All these things are so fiddly in other browsers, requiring bookmarklets and extensions to work. Firefox just put them all in the browser.

Firefox has always been a remarkably customizable app, and Quantum takes the idea even further. You can move all the buttons around, change every color and font, and even control the visual density of the app itself. You’re able to choose which app opens when you click on an email address, which every Gmail user will appreciate. Mozilla has a huge library of add-ons, and if you use the Foxified extension, you can even run Chrome extensions in Firefox. Best I can tell, there’s nothing you can do in Chrome that you can’t in Firefox. And Firefox does them all faster.

Aesthetically, Firefox looks just like Chrome, which is a good thing. Rather than separate the search bar and address bar, Quantum combines them, just like Chrome. Tabs are rectangular and uncomplicated, as they should be. Since it’s doing so much, Quantum does get a bit cluttered in spots, like when you search in the box and it offers you autocomplete options, search results, and a bunch of other search-engine options all in the same window. But in general it’s clean and simple, like a good browser should be.

Switching browsers is kind of a pain. They’re the most important, most-used apps on just about all our devices, and there’s a steep learning curve in trying to figure out a new one. And in a few cases, it might even be impossible; I can’t use the Conde Nast CMS in anything other than Chrome, so I can’t switch completely. But if there’s ever been a reason to spend an hour importing bookmarks, installing extensions, and tweaking all your settings just so, Firefox Quantum is it. It’s a truly 2017 browser, and it might be the only one.

  • These 13 Skills Will Improve Your Branding Efforts (Entrepreneur):

It’s a slideshow on their website, but I highly recommend checking it!

  • 5 books from 2017 that these authors think you should read (PBS): 

1. “Hunger” by Roxane Gay (Memoir)

“It’s a book on Roxane Gay’s life. She was raped as a child, she didn’t tell anyone. Didn’t tell her parents. … She just continued to eat as a way of building a wall between the world and herself,” said Patchett. “I think it’s a terrific book for anyone who’s had addiction problems (and) who’s dealing with people who have addiction problems. Or maybe anybody who feels that they’re a little bit judgmental. The idea is you take care of yourself, I’ll take care of myself … a very, very moving and important book.”
2. “Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A.” by Danielle Allen (Memoir)

“This one is also a memoir. It’s written by Danielle Allen, who’s a political theorist at Harvard. … Her aunt Karen had a son named Michael, and Michael got in trouble with the law big time, when he was about 15 years old,” said Pink. “This is a story about, how did one cousin go one way, and this other cousin become a professor at Harvard? But it’s also about her attempts, and her family’s attempts, to save this kid, who, admittedly did some really terrible things, but at another level was a victim of circumstance. … You read this book feeling a sense of despair and injustice, but also wanting to do something about it.”
3. “Chemistry” by Weike Wang (Novel)

“You start to read it and you think it’s almost chic-lit. It’s funny, it’s snappy, its sentences are very crisp and short. It’s about a young woman who’s getting her PhD in chemistry at Harvard and the farther you go into it, the darker it gets,” said Patchett. “She’s a first-generation Chinese-American. It’s about the pressure of her parents and the complete crack-up as she can’t bear the pressure of trying to fulfill everybody else’s expectations.”
4. “The All or Nothing Marriage” by Eli Finkel (Non-fiction)

“Finkel’s big point here is that while the institution of marriage, in general, in America is declining, the best marriages today are better than any time in history,” said Pink. “He traces the history of marriage in America from … essentially an economic pact, to later on, about love and companionship to today, where he argues that marriage is very much about self-expression — I want a partner who can help me become my best self and self-express.”
5. “Anything Is Possible: A Novel” by Elizabeth Strout

“For those of you who enjoyed ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ last year, these are connected stories that surround Lucy Barton’s life and her town where she grew up,” said Patchett. “I was glad to get more information about these people. Boy, as I went along in this book I went from thinking it was a good book to thinking it was brilliant. It just gets deeper and more complicated. She ranges out so far in every direction with the Lucy Barton character. And it is every bit as good if not better than the first.”

  • Niantic And ‘Pokémon GO’ Have Turned An Important Corner This Past Week (Forbes):

This has been a pretty important week for Pokémon GO thanks to something that might be flying under the radar, but is not lost on the larger GO community.

Niantic is…talking. A lot. There’s fresh hope that the developer might finally have turned a corner on communication. For well over a year now, Niantic has only really spoken in cryptic blog posts and tweets, and its patch notes are scant and never well-explained at all. But that’s changed this week in two different ways.

First, Niantic published a 650 word “developer insight” about upcoming changes to normal and EX raids, one that will take the EX system out of beta and make a lot of tweaks to both. Not only were the changes themselves detailed, but Niantic actually went the extra mile to explain in-depth why these changes were made. Even if I don’t agree with some of them, finally hearing why things are happening is hugely important. It’s standard in many games when big changes are made, but Niantic has been tight-lipped about explanations for major shifts for the most part to this point. But here’s what they’re saying about EX location changes, for example:

“We also wanted to address some feedback we received about the timing and locations of EX Raid Battles. First, we’re taking popular Raid Battle times at the Gyms where the EX Raid Battle is taking place into account to help ensure many of the people who are invited will be able to participate. The reason we decided to have EX Raid Battles primarily take place at Gyms located in parks and at sponsored locations is to ensure the locations are easily accessible to Trainers in the area. Over time, we’ll explore hosting EX Raid Battles at more locations, but we want to first make sure those locations are also easily accessible.”

That is…great! It’s a change to the old system that had EX raids going on in airports and such, but it’s also a clear, concise explanation of what’s happening. The entire post is full of info like this, where even if you disagree and problems remain (you’re never going to convince me EX raids are a good idea), at least you can hear their rationale for once.

Past an update like this, Pokémon GO also seems to be changing how events work, with more communication in that realm as well. This week, players were tasked with catching 3 billion Pokémon in a week as part of a Global Catch Challenge.

It seemed like an impossible goal to start with, and the theory was that Niantic would fudge the numbers and say everyone did it on day seven. But instead, they have been posting constant updates to social media, that have been tracking how many catches players have racked up, sometimes with multiple updates a day. These have ranged from showing that players were not on pace to hit the 3 billion goal, to more recent ones that show players have picked up the pace and may hit the target after all. Perhaps these are made up figures, but I doubt it, and I think this constant communication and clear picture of how players are doing have encouraged more to participate.

I know this all seems like pretty basic stuff, but it’s pretty basic stuff that Niantic has been lacking almost since launch. Changes are made abruptly, with little explanation, and if community feedback is utilized, it’s rarely acknowledged. Events have been…hit or miss and lately, not global enough, targeted only to specific areas, but now Niantic seems determined to throw something huge and worldwide and exciting with non-stop, shared updates.

It’s a nice change. I’m hoping that it signals that Niantic has turned a corner when it comes to communication, something it has struggled with for ages now. This is a great start in two different areas this week, and needs to be the new normal going forward.



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