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Traffic through Suez Canal starts up again as stranded ship finally freed

Ship traffic through the Suez Canal has slowly resumed after salvage teams managed to move the 200,000-tonne container ship that had blocked all passage through the crucial waterway for nearly a week.

Helped by the peak of high tide, a flotilla of tugboats managed to wrench the bow of the skyscraper-sized Ever Given from the sandy bank of the canal, where it has been lodged since last Tuesday.

“We pulled it off!” said Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis, the salvage firm hired to extract the Ever Given, in a statement. “I am excited to announce that our team of experts, working in close collaboration with the Suez Canal Authority, successfully refloated the Ever Given, thereby making free passage through the Suez Canal possible again.”

Flanked by tugboats, the ship made its way cautiously to the Great Bitter Lake, a wide stretch of water halfway between the north and south end of the canal, where it was undergoing a technical examination to see if it was damaged and whether or not it is safe to proceed to its original destination of Rotterdam.

Billions of dollars worth of goods delayed

About $ 9 billion US ($ 11.3 billion Cdn) worth of goods normally pass through the canal every day, and the backlog of ships numbered nearly 400 when Ever Given was finally moved on Monday.

Dozens more had already left the canal’s entrance and are making their way along the lengthy alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip — a detour that costs ships hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and other costs.

With canal transits stopped, Egypt already has lost over $ 95 million in revenue, according to the data firm Refinitiv. If the ship is freed in the next few days, clearing the backlog of ships waiting to pass through the canal would take over 10 days, Refinitiv said.

Even before the ship was fully freed, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi portrayed the development as a victory in his first comments on the stranded vessel.

“Egyptians have succeeded in ending the crisis,” he wrote on Facebook.

In the village of Amer, which overlooks the canal, residents cheered as the vessel moved along. Many scrambled to get a closer look while others mockingly waved goodbye to the departing ship from their fields of clover

The situation on the Suez Canal strained supply chains and forced some ships to take a longer route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)

“Mission accomplished,” one villager Abdalla Ramadan said. “The whole world is relieved.”

The price of international benchmark Brent crude dropped some two per cent to just over $ 63 US on the news.

WATCH: Hundreds of ships are lined up behind the Ever Given, trying to get through:

Ships sit idle waiting to pass through one of the world’s busiest trade routes, which has been blocked by the Ever Given since Tuesday. 0:39

The unprecedented shutdown has threatened to disrupt oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East and raised fears of extended delays, goods shortages and rising costs for consumers.

It has also prompted new questions about the shipping industry, an on-demand supplier for a world now under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve gone to this fragile, just-in-time shipping that we saw absolutely break down in the beginning of COVID,” said Capt. John Konrad, the founder and CEO of the shipping news website gcaptain.com. “We used to have big, fat warehouses in all the countries where the factories pulled supplies — Now these floating ships are the warehouse.”

The high tide on Monday helped rescue teams get the ship, bearing 20,000 truck-sized shipping containers, moving again. (Maxar Technologies/The Associated Press)

Although the exact cause of the grounding are still unknown, the Ever Given lost power in the middle of a sandstorm last Monday, while it was about six kilometres north of the entrance to the canal. It rammed into the eastern bank of the canal, while the stern of the ship drifted west and also got stuck in the sand.

Dredgers, tugs and other equipment had very little luck in moving the colossal ship bearing 20,000 truck-sized shipping containers, until high tide on Monday proved to be the boost that rescue teams needed.

As a window for a breakthrough narrows with high tide receding this week, fears have grown that authorities would be forced to lighten the vessel by removing the ship’s 20,000 containers — a complex operation requiring specialized equipment not found in Egypt that could take days or weeks.

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NBA’s 1st all-female broadcast at helm as Raptors finally win amid trade rumours

Midway through Kyle Lowry’s marathon 23-minute post-game Zoom session with the media, he took a FaceTime call from Drake.

If Wednesday was indeed Lowry’s last appearance as a Toronto Raptor, it’ll go down as a game with a little bit of everything.

Toronto’s six-time all-star had nine assists, eight points and five rebounds, and was a career-high plus-42 on the night, and the Raptors finally snapped their ugly nine-game losing skid with an emphatic 135-111 victory over the Denver Nuggets.

“It was kinda weird tonight not knowing what the next step would be, just with understanding there are things that could possibly be done [Thursday] … but it was great to get a win,” said Lowry.

WATCH | Raptors rout Nuggets to snap skid:

Toronto ends their 9-game losing streak with a 135-111 win over Denver, sets franchise record with 24 3-pointers. 1:18

On the eve of the NBA trade deadline, the six-time all-star plus Norman Powell have been front and centre of numerous trade rumours. In Lowry, the Raptors would lose the player coach Nick Nurse said “plays harder than anybody I’ve seen. He’ll go down as the greatest Raptor ever, to date.”

Asked why he’s made hard work the trademark of his game, Lowry said: “You never know when the opportunity is gonna be your last time to play, right? You go on that floor, you never know when’s the last time you’ll play the game that you love and you’ve given your all to, right?

“I’m not the tallest, I’m not the most athletic and I’m not the fanciest but I play hard and it’s got me a long way, by playing hard,” said Lowry, wearing a white T-shirt with a red heart.

Pascal Siakam led all scorers with 27 points, while OG Anunoby had 23, Powell added 22, and Fred VanVleet chipped in with 19 for Toronto (18-26).

Jamal Murray of Kitchener, Ont., and Nikola Jokic had 20 points apiece for the Nuggets (26-18).

The Raptors built a 24-point first-half lead on sizzling shooting and better defensive hustle than they’d shown in awhile. They led 98-81 with one quarter to play.

A Lowry deep three-pointer, and three baskets from distance from Paul Watson, highlighted a 21-6 Raptors run in the fourth that had Toronto up by 29 points. Denver coach Michael Malone went deep into his bench soon after.

Lowry headed to the bench with 5:43 to play, and was greeted with hugs from teammates.

“We have been through a lot of things together and you want to keep that, you want to have that,” Siakam said. “But I think that goes beyond basketball. Again, a lot of memories.”

His plus-42 was second in franchise history to Mark Jackson’s plus-46 in 2000.

One thing missing was a Toronto crowd, since the Raptors are playing home games this season at Tampa’s Amalie Arena.

“It’d be nice but he wouldn’t know anyway, right, it’s not like they can give a final standing ovation to anybody because nobody knows what’s going on [at the trade deadline],” Nurse said. “One thing is pretty much sure, these guys have a place in Raptors fans’ hearts or whatever.

“So if they do move and they come back some time there’ll be a time to give him that round of applause, hopefully. Jeez, I hope so. I want to get back home and play a home game in a full sold-out arena in Toronto, sounds pretty good right now.”

Lowry opened his post-game media session by heaping praise on the all-female broadcast. All five broadcast positions were filled by women for the first time in NBA history.

“I heard it was unbelievable,” Lowry said. “Kayla, Kate, Amy, Meghan and Kia, I heard you did a great job. So shoutout to those beautiful ladies. It’s a huge step in our league and in our organization”

WATCH | NBA’s 1st all-women broadcast team on call for Raptors vs. Nuggets:

Play-by-play announcer Meghan McPeak and WNBA player Kia Nurse working as a colour analyst make the call as Jamal Murray of Kitchener, Ont., scores an impressive basket for Denver in a game against Toronto. 0:31

Meghan McPeak did the play-by-play, while Kia Nurse of the Canada’s national team and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, provided analysis. Kayla Grey was the sideline reporter while Kate Beirness and Raptors 905 analyst Amy Audibert were the in-studio hosts.

The Raptors began the night mired in their longest losing streak in a decade and dogged by mishaps, including a COVID-19 outbreak that sidelined Siakam, Anunoby and VanVleet for nearly three weeks.

‘Losing ain’t fun’

Siakam’s frustration boiled over after Nurse sat him for the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to Cleveland. The Raptors disputed a report Siakam was fined $ 50,000 US for his angry outburst, but Nurse said the Raptors’ front office is dealing with his discipline.

“I just felt like losing ain’t fun,” Siakam said. “You lose nine games in a row I guarantee you that, if you are a team that is serious about winning, it’s not going to be fun, there’s not going to be a lot of joking around. It’s going to be tough. … That’s what I have say. We want to win and losing ain’t fun.”

They looked intent on ending that streak from the opening whistle Wednesday, connecting on their first five three-pointers of the game. They had seven in the opening quarter to lead 38-30 heading into the second.

Anunoby led the way with 13 points in the second as the Raptors built a 24-point lead. Toronto took a 72-54 lead into the halftime break.

The night also provided Nurse a close-up look at Nuggets guard Murray, who he hopes to coach as part of the Canadian team this summer. Canada must win a last-chance qualifying tournament to earn an Olympic berth.

“[Murray] has been really positive and proactive even about saying how badly he wants to play for Canada,” Nurse said. “He’s really smart. He’s found a couple things he’s doing when teams are doing some certain things to him that he’ll shift into another gear. Again, he’s smart, he’s intelligent. I’ve been impressed with the kind of quick learning-curve growth that he’s made to keep giving himself opportunities.”

The game was the first of a three-game homestand. The Raptors, who’ve played more road games than any other team in the league, play just five games on the road in their next 18.

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Can vaccinated grandparents finally see their grandkids? Your coronavirus questions answered

We’re answering your questions about the pandemic. Send yours to COVID@cbc.ca, and we’ll answer as many as we can. We publish a selection of answers online and also put some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network. So far, we’ve received more than 69,800 emails from all over the country.

Is it safe for vaccinated grandparents to see their grandkids?

It’s been an incredibly long and difficult year for so many Canadians, especially for the grandparents who’ve written to us to say they’ve gone 12 whole months without hugging, or even seeing, their grandkids over fear of getting sick or worse.

“We have stayed put at home like good little girls and boys for the past year,” wrote grandmother Gaille M. who wanted to know if vaccination might mean the family members can finally get together.

The short answer is, it’s complicated.

Despite mass vaccination campaigns underway across the country, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is still recommending that we all “avoid or keep exposure very brief” with people outside of our immediate households. 

“This is a really controversial question,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician and medical director of infection control at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, in a recent CBC News Network interview.

“We know the vaccines are going to reduce those grandparents’ risk of death and disability if they do get COVID-19,” said Chagla, and while vaccines “probably” reduce the risk of the grandparents transmitting it to their grandchildren, he warned it’s not entirely risk-free, especially because children cannot yet be immunized.

“When you start mixing crowds with different degrees of vaccination, where those people can go into other settings, it is a whole lot trickier,” Chagla said. That’s because the virus may spread from grandkids to other family members, or vice versa

Even if you have both doses, you may still be at risk of potentially catching the virus, explained Maria Sundaram, an infectious disease epidemiologist who studies vaccines.

“It’s likely that if you were, you might not notice it or you might have a milder illness,” Sundaram said in a recent CBC News Network interview. “So I’d say still try to take some precautions … that you’ve been taking.”

Health Canada’s Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Supriya Sharma said waiting until both parties are vaccinated offers the best level of protection.

“We don’t want to give people the sense that as soon as you’ve got your vaccine, you’ve got this cloak of invincibility and you can never get [COVID-19],” said Sharma. “They’re excellent, but there still is a potential risk.”

People should assess their individual risk tolerance, she said.

“Each situation is a little bit different, but we’re not at a place, unfortunately, yet that we can say as soon as somebody has got a vaccine, that they can go back … and do all of those things that they were doing before,” she said.

But as we learn more about the vaccines in a real-world setting, the public health guidance could soon change.

Can fully-vaccinated seniors safely get together?

A senior receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine from at a pharmacy prototype clinic in Halifax on Tuesday, March 9, 2021. Health Canada’s Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Supriya Sharma says holding off on visits until both parties are vaccinated offers the best level of protection. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Yes. People who are fully vaccinated interacting with other fully vaccinated people is “pretty low-risk” said Sundaram.

Chagla agreed, and pointed out that there are long-term care facilities that have allowed their vaccinated seniors to have controlled group activities.

“If you have two people that are vaccinated together in a single room, they’re the lowest risk people in that sense,” he said.

Though all of the approved vaccines offer a high level of protection, they don’t offer 100 per cent protection, said Sharma. 

“It’s possible someone who is vaccinated could still get and transmit COVID-19,” she said.

Public Health guidelines same for everyone in Canada

A spokesperson for Health Canada confirmed on Monday that PHAC has not updated its guidelines and for the time being and remain the same for everyone, whether vaccinated or not.

Meanwhile in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated guidelines to say it’s OK for fully vaccinated people to visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors, without wearing masks or physical distancing.

The CDC also says fully vaccinated people in the U.S. can “visit with unvaccinated people from a single household” without masks or physical distancing if they are “at low risk for severe COVID-19.” 

It is important to note the number of fully vaccinated people in Canada remains low. As of Tuesday, only 1.5 per cent of the population has received two doses. 

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Scientists Can Finally Study Einsteinium 69 Years After Its Discovery

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The 20th century was notable for numerous reasons, not least of which that humanity split the atom. In the remnants of atomic explosions, scientists found never-before-seen elements like einsteinium. Now, almost 70 years after its discovery, scientists have collected enough einsteinium to conduct some basic analysis

Scientists understood that something should exist on the periodic table where einsteinium sits (atomic number 99), but the material had never been identified before 1952, which is when the United States set off the “Ivy Mike” thermonuclear bomb in the Marshall Islands (see above). However, einsteinium is extremely unstable, and it decayed before we could learn much about it. That’s been the case for the intervening 69 years, until now. 

We no longer have to make einsteinium with hydrogen bombs, thank goodness. Scientists have a regular, if meager, source of einsteinium from Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s High Flux Isotope Reactor. This device is used to produce heavy elements like californium (atomic number 98). Scientists make californium because it’s an excellent source of neutrons, but the process also yields some einsteinium. Usually, einsteinium is mixed up with other materials and decays rapidly into berkelium and then into californium. 

Researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory managed to isolate a tiny sample of pure einsteinium, a mere 200 nanograms. Previously, 1,000 nanograms was considered the smallest sample suitable for analysis, but the team prepared their einsteinium for testing and completed an X-ray absorption spectroscopy series. The sample showed a blueshift in the emitted light, meaning the wavelength was shortened. They expected a redshift; longer wavelengths. This suggests einsteinium’s bond distances are a bit shorter than predicted based on nearby elements on the periodic table. 

A tiny sample of einsteinium. It glows from the intense radiation as it decays.

So that’s potentially fascinating science! But the coronavirus pandemic ruined the experiment as it has so many other things in the past year. The team was unable to complete X-ray diffraction testing that would have told us more about the electron and molecular bond structures of einsteinium before the lab was closed. When the team was again able to access their experiment, too much of the sample had decayed into californium — einsteinium decays at a rate of about 3.3 percent each day. Therefore, the contaminated sample was no longer suitable for testing. 

The good news is more einsteinium will be available from the reactor every few months. This first step will pave the way for future research on this mysterious element.

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Trump finally concedes election, condemns attack on U.S. Capitol by supporters he incited yesterday

U.S. President Donald Trump has finally conceded the 2020 election to president-elect Joe Biden in a new video condemning his violent supporters who stormed the Capitol building on Wednesday.

In the statement posted to Twitter, Trump declined to mention Biden by name or explicitly admit he’d lost the election, instead saying now that Congress has certified the election results, the “new administration will be inaugurated on January 20” and his focus now turns to “ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power.”

He called the riot in the Capitol a “heinous attack” that left him “outraged by the violence, lawlessness and mayhem.” However, in a video to the pro-Trump rioters on Capitol Hill Wednesday, he told them to go home, but also that he loved them, that they were special people and that he felt their pain. Twitter removed that video. 

In the new statement, Trump did not address what Democrats and even some Republicans say was his role in inciting the violence. He did say he “immediately deployed the National Guard,” although it took a long time for order to be restored on Capitol Hill and CNN has reported that it was Vice-President Mike Pence who co-ordinated bringing in the troops. 

In the short message, Trump told his supporters that while he knows they are “disappointed,” their “incredible journey is only just beginning.”

WATCH | Trump’s statement about the attack on the U.S. Capitol: 

U.S. President Donald Trump has posted a new video on Twitter, more than 24 hours after an angry mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol building, saying he was outraged by the “heinous attack.” He also conceded to president-elect Joe Biden and promised a “smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power.” 2:41

‘We will stop the steal,’ Trump told supporters

The address came at the end of a day where the president stayed out of sight in the White House. Silenced on some of his favourite social media lines of communication, he didn’t comment as several of his top aides, including a cabinet secretary, announced their resignations.

The statement was also a stark reversal for Trump, who has spent months insisting widespread voter fraud cost him the Nov. 3 presidential election despite providing no evidence.

During a rally in Washington on Wednesday, he encouraged his thousands of supporters to march to the Capitol to protest the certification of the electoral college vote.

“We will stop the steal,” he told the crowd, using the rallying cry of protests against the election results.

A large mob of rioters later overran police officers and invaded the Capitol building, forcing members of Congress into hiding for their own safety.

As recently as Thursday morning, Trump was still maintaining the election was stolen from him.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, seen here in August 2020, have called on Vice-President Mike Pence to use the 25th Amendment to oust Trump from office. (Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press)

Before Trump released his video message on Thursday, the top Democrats in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, called on Vice-President Mike Pence and Trump’s cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment, a provision of the U.S. Constitution that allows a cabinet majority to remove the president from power if he is unable to discharge the duties of the office.

But a Pence adviser says the vice-president, who would have to lead any such effort, is opposed to using the amendment to oust Trump from the White House.

Barring that, Pelosi has said she would likely reconvene the House to initiate impeachment proceedings against Trump for his role in Wednesday’s violence, which claimed five lives, including that of a Capitol Police officer.

A day later, Republicans and Democrats alike struggled with how best to contain the impulses of a president deemed too dangerous to control his own social media accounts but who remains commander-in-chief of the world’s largest military.

“I’m not worried about the next election, I’m worried about getting through the next 14 days,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of Trump’s staunchest allies. He condemned the president’s role in Wednesday’s riots and said, “If something else happens, all options would be on the table.”

In Pelosi’s words, “the president of the United States incited an armed insurrection against America.” She called him “a very dangerous person who should not continue in office. This is urgent, an emergency of the highest magnitude.”

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Astronomers Might Finally Know the Source of Fast Radio Bursts

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We know much more about how the universe works today than we did just a few decades ago, but there will always be new mysteries to solve. In recent years, scientists have puzzled over the riddle of fast radio bursts (FRBs). These short-lived electromagnetic beacons can outshine entire galaxies, and we haven’t been able to figure out what causes them. A trio of new studies report on an FRB within our own galaxy. Because this one was so much closer than past signals, scientists were able to track it to a particular type of neutron star known as a magnetar

Despite the immense amount of energy emitted during an FRB, scientists didn’t know they existed until 2007. That’s when a team discovered the first FRB hiding in data acquired back in 2001. Since then, astronomers have spotted numerous FRBs throughout the cosmos. However, this phenomenon seemed to be non-repeating until the discovery of FRB 121102. We now believe this radio source operates on a 157-day cycle, which makes it easier to study. 

With the data from FRB 121102, magnetars merged as a plausible candidate. Like pulsars, magnetars are a subset of neutron stars. They don’t spin as quickly as a pulsar, but they have an incredibly intense magnetic field. At about a trillion times as strong as Earth’s magnetic field, a magnetar can disrupt the electron orbitals in molecules, essentially halting chemistry in any normal matter that gets too close. 

magnetars head

That brings us to SGR 1935+2154, a magnetar about 30,000 light-years away. That’s not close by any means, but it’s still inside the Milky Way. Back in April, this dead star woke up and began firing off high-energy photons, which was normal. However, two instruments were on the hunt for FRBs at the same time, and that’s what they found exactly when SGR 1935+2154 lit up the sky. Both the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) and Survey for Transient Astronomical Radio Emission 2 (STARE2) detected an FRB from this object. 

We can’t call this one solved quite yet, though. As the researchers point out in the papers, the apparent FRB from SGR 1935+2154 was only about one percent as powerful as the FRBs we’ve seen from outside the galaxy. It’s possible only very young and energetic magnetars can produce bursts visible from a few galaxies away. Perhaps SGR 1935+2154 is displaying the same phenomenon at a lower level of power. If the team can prove that this object produced FRBs, we can refine our models and hopefully mark this one down as solved.

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Steam Shows CPU Core Counts Slowly, Finally, Creeping Upwards

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When AMD launched Ryzen back in April 2017, the company made it a point to emphasize higher core counts than Intel was selling in the consumer market, with a Ryzen 7 1800X offering up to eight CPU cores, compared with four on the 7700K. From a gaming perspective, however, Ryzen wasn’t quite as strong against Intel as it was in other segments. At 1440p and 4K the difference was minimal, but Intel had a modest advantage at 1080p.

It’s now been several years since Ryzen launched, and AMD has been steadily improving its gaming performance at 1080p versus its larger rival with every passing product generation. Intel has responded at various points with new, higher core count CPUs of its own, though the company’s current mainstream consumer desktop socket tops out at 10 CPU cores, compared with AMD’s 16. AMD has improved its performance and core counts more rapidly, but Intel is still shipping far more CPU cores per chip than it did four years ago. Are gamers buying them?

Despite its flaws, the Steam Hardware Survey remains our best source of information for this kind of data. As always, keep in mind that the SHS is a survey of every machine on which Steam is installed, not every computer used to play games. If you download Steam to a low-end laptop to install a game like League of Legends or Darkest Dungeon, it counts for just as much as if you build a dedicated gaming rig and bring it online for the first time.

First, the cumulative data (not shown) shows AMD gaining market share. In May, AMD had 22.45 percent of the market. In September, it holds 25.75 percent of the total install base. The breakdown by CPU core count is shown below:

This covers every chip but 18-core CPUs, which have 0.01 percent market share. All CPU core counts above that, up to 56 (not 64) cores are listed at 0.00 percent, so we stopped at 16. We see evidence of growth in the 6, 8, 10, 12, and 16-core markets. While quad-cores are still the most popular configuration by far, 36.63 percent of the market now uses six cores or more. If you want to see games using more CPU cores in the future, moving the needle on median CPU core count is how we’ll get there.

We cannot distinguish between AMD and Intel when it comes to the lower core counts, but above eight cores, we can take a pretty good guess at which company is gaining market share in certain SKUs. AMD does not sell a 10-core or a 14-core CPU. Intel does not currently sell a 10th Generation 16-core CPU. While Intel has sold 16-core chips in the past, any recent growth in the segment is almost certainly being driven by AMD, now a sudden surge in demand for last-generation Intel Core X CPUs.

Intel’s 10-core CPUs include the Core i9-10900K, as well as multiple members of the Core X family. Most of the recent growth has likely come from the 10900K, and the CPUs collectively account for 0.16 percent of the market, 2x what they held in May.

AMD shares the 12-core space with a similar range of older Core X CPUs, but 12-core market share has increased from 0.37 percent in May to 0.61 percent in September. We can safely assume most, if not all, of that increase was driven by the Ryzen 9 3900X and Ryzen 9 3900XT. There are virtually no 14-core chips, but the 0.01 percent of them out there are all Intel CPUs. The number of 16-core chips has also edged upwards, from 0.1 percent in May to 0.14 percent in September. 6-core chips improved their market share by 1.15x, while 8-core chips grew faster, at 1.32x.

Fun Fact: The only three-core CPU ever released that I recall was AMD’s Toliman-core Phenom II. Toliman wasn’t a bad chip, but there would have to be an absolute ton of them out there in the ether to be holding 1 percent of the market all by themselves. But what else could be holding down the 3 CPU market?

We don’t know how large the difference is in CPU core count between the median gaming PC and the total Steam install base, but it seems safe to bet that most gamers are now playing on quad-cores at minimum. Unlucky dual-core mobile owners who last bought lightweight gaming systems in 2016 – 2017 are likely approaching an upgrade cycle.

With so many gamers already using six-core and eight-core systems, this may finally be the console generation where we start seeing games practically optimized for high core counts on upper-end Ryzen and Core systems. If quad-cores continue declining at the current rate and six cores keep growing, the two markets will switch places in the next few years. Between the growth in CPU core counts and the likelihood that we’ll start seeing games beginning to play with using AI for calculations this cycle, we could see a bit more innovation in the gaming market than we’ve seen in the past seven years or so. The improvements to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will help with this — outfitting both consoles with an eight-core Ryzen CPU will ensure developers have reason to target optimal performance on a modern high-end CPU as opposed to optimizing against last-generation’s Jaguar.

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The InSight Mars Lander’s Heat Probe Finally Makes It Underground

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NASA’s InSight lander touched down at Elysium Planitia on Mars in late 2018, and it has subsequently made history by taking the first seismic readings on another planet. However, the mission’s burrowing probe was stuck on the surface after the Martian soil proved less receptive than expected. NASA reports its plan of pushing the probe into the surface appears to be working — the instrument is finally below the surface. Its ability to tunnel deeper is unknown, though. 

InSight is a stationary lander rather than a rover like Curiosity or Perseverance, but it doesn’t need to go anywhere to do what it went to Mars to do. NASA carefully chose the landing site at Elysium Planitia to perform this important geophysics work. The team deployed InSight’s Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument shortly after landing, allowing the spacecraft to relay data on marsquakes. SEIS just sits on the surface of Mars, so deploying it was straightforward after analyzing the area around the rover. The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) was another story. This “mole” was supposed to dig 16 feet (five meters) into the planet, but it only made it a few inches down before popping back out. 

The engineers who designed HP3 had to make some educated guesses about how the Martian soil would behave as it’s so unlike what we have here on Earth. NASA has speculated that the material is so fine that it continuously falls back into the hole each time the probe tries to hammer itself down deeper. After several failed remedies, NASA decided in March to just shove the probe into the surface with the lander’s robotic arm. NASA now says this seems to be working. 

Over the last several weeks, the arm has slowly applied pressure to help the probe dig deeper. The operation was more delicate than you might expect. The arm had to be carefully placed for each push so it could apply pressure to the instrument without damaging the tether that connects it to the lander. Now, the HP3 has finally disappeared below the surface. 

This is a big step in the right direction, but NASA still doesn’t know if the probe will be able to drag itself deeper. If the same issues persist at this depth, there’s nothing on InSight that can reach down there to help it along. Even if the mole is stuck and can’t move deeper, the team has still learned a lot about Mars that could help future instruments reach greater depths.

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Israel finally swears in government after 3 elections

After three deadlocked and divisive elections, a year and a half of political paralysis and another three-day delay because of political infighting in his Likud party, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally swore in his new government on Sunday.

The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, passed a vote of confidence in Netanyahu’s new administration to end over 500 days of upheaval.

Over the weekend, both Netanyahu and his rival-turned-partner Benny Gantz announced their appointments for the new government — the most bloated in Israeli history with an expected 36 Cabinet ministers and 16 deputies.

Netanyahu and Gantz, a former military chief, announced last month they would be putting their differences aside to join forces to steer the country through the coronavirus crisis and its severe economic fallout.

Their controversial power-sharing deal calls for Netanyahu to serve as prime minister for the government’s first 18 months before being replaced by Gantz for the next 18 months. Their blocs will also have a similar number of ministers and mutual veto power over most major decisions.

A protester wearing a protective mask demonstrates against Netanyahu in front of his residence in Jerusalem on Sunday. (Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images)

Critics have already accused the government of being out of touch by creating so many Cabinet posts at a time when unemployment has soared to 25 per cent as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But because Netanyahu’s bloc includes several smaller parties, he still only has a limited number of Cabinet ministries to hand out to the Likud rank and file.

A mini-insurgency by angry senior Likud members forced Netanyahu to seek a delay in the swearing-in ceremony last Thursday. To mollify his backbenchers, Netanyahu created a series of new ministries with questionable responsibilities, such as “community development,” “settlement affairs” and “higher education and water resources” and a minister to be the liaison between the parliament and the Cabinet. Each ministry means paying for drivers, staff and office space.

Yair Lapid, the new opposition leader, said the machinations have led to a loss of “trust of the Israeli public.”

“The coronavirus is an excuse for a corrupt party at the expense of the taxpayer. After all the empty talk of an `emergency government,’ the government being formed today is the largest and most wasteful in the history of the country,” he said. “It’s not just the waste, it’s the contempt. The complete contempt for the crisis facing the Israeli public.”

The deal has already led to the dissolution of Gantz’s alliance with Lapid after he reneged on his central campaign promise not to serve under Netanyahu, who has been indicted on corruption charges and faces a criminal trial starting next week. Their much-scrutinized coalition deal could only come about after the country’s Supreme Court ruled it had no legal grounds to block it.

‘The public wants a unity government’

Gantz and Netanyahu fought to stalemates in three bitter election campaigns over the past year.

After the most recent vote in March, Gantz appeared to secure enough support in parliament to pass legislation that would have barred the indicted Netanyahu from continuing as prime minister. But in a stunning about face, Gantz agreed to enter a partnership with his arch rival.

Despite the criticism, Gantz argued that teaming with Netanyahu offered the country its only way out of the prolonged stalemate and prevented what would have been a fourth costly election in just over a year.

Benny Gantz speaks in Israel’s parliament on Sunday. (Adina Valman/Knesset Spokesperson’s Office via Reuters)

In his speech to parliament, Netanyahu acknowledged that compromises had to be made but that another election would have been far more devastating.

“The public wants a unity government and this is what the public is getting today,” he said. “We chose to serve the country together.”

Gantz will start out as defense minister, with party colleague and fellow retired military chief Gabi Ashkenazi serving as foreign minister. Netanyahu’s top deputy in Likud, outgoing Foreign Minister Israel Katz, will become finance minister. Yariv Levin, perhaps Netanyahu’s closest ally, will become the new parliament speaker.

Netanyahu, right, Benny Gantz, wear face masks at the Israeli parliament on Sunday. (Adina Valman/Knesset Spokesperson’s Office via Reuters)

The coalition will also include a pair of ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and some other individual defectors. It was voted into office by a 73-46 margin, with one lawmaker in the 120-seat Knesset skipping the vote.

The main point of contention for critics has been the newly created position of “alternate prime minister.”

The post, initially held by Gantz, could allow Netanyahu to remain in office even after the swap and throughout his corruption trial and a potential appeals process. There are also deep suspicions about whether Netanyahu will keep his part of the bargain and ultimately cede the premiership to Gantz.

Gantz took his oath of office as “the alternate prime minister and future prime minister” immediately after Netanyahu was sworn in as prime minister.

Indictment looms over Netanyahu

The new position is supposed to enjoy all the trappings of the prime minister, including an official residence and, key for Netanyahu, an exemption from a law that requires public officials who are not prime minister to resign if charged with a crime.

Netanyahu has been indicted on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals involving allegedly trading favours with wealthy media moguls. He denies any wrongdoing and blames the charges on a media-orchestrated plot to oust him.

Since his indictment last fall he has repeatedly lashed out at the country’s legal system as well, with his political allies taking special aim at the high court and accusing it of overreach and political interference. His legal woes and fitness to serve were central issues in the recent election campaigns.

Netanyahu also pledged to push forth with controversial plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

Netanyahu’s nationalist base is eager to push for annexation before the U.S. elections in November — after which Trump could be replaced by Joe Biden, who has said he opposes unilateral annexation. The coalition agreement allows him to present a proposal as soon as July 1.

“The time has come for anyone who believes in the justness of our rights in the land of Israel to join a government led by me to bring about a historic process together,” he said.

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Canadian crew stranded on 2 cruise ships finally allowed home

Canadians working aboard two cruise ships, who have been prevented from coming ashore due to COVID-19 concerns, have finally been allowed to return home.

Global Affairs Canada said Saturday that 18 Canadians and one permanent resident on Holland America’s Koningsdam disembarked and had left Los Angeles on Friday. 

Several dozen others left Princess Cruises’s Emerald Princess in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Saturday and headed to Miami where they boarded a chartered flight to Toronto, according to statements from the government and the cruise line. Global Affairs said the group included 49 Canadian citizens and five permanent residents. 

Earlier this week in Nassau, Bahamas, crew members from Canada aboard the Emerald Princess were told to prepare to be flown home in a charter plane, but the Bahamian government did not allow the ship to dock

‘Like a mini-vacation,’ but only at first

“We’re in Toronto and feeling great even though it’s snowing,” Michelle Joly, a singer with Princess Cruises, said in a phone interview Saturday after her charter flight arrived from Florida.

Joly said her first two weeks with only crew on board were sweet. She was performing aboard the Sky Princess when all the passengers were offloaded on March 14, and she said she continued to perform every second night for her fellow crew members.

“We felt like we were having our own mini vacation. We were allowed to utilize a lot of the guest areas that we wouldn’t
normally use, like the pools, and the pizza and burger place was open,” said Joly.

That changed on April 1 when they had to go into self-quarantine and were confined to their cabins, only being allowed out for brief periods, such as for meals. Then she was transferred to the Emerald Princess on April 26, she said.

In this April 28 photo provided by Melinda Mann, she shows the empty deck on board the Koningsdam, a Holland America cruise ship. Mann, a youth program manager for the cruise line, was stuck on board for weeks. (Melinda Mann via AP)

Global Affairs said the Canadian government continues to work with airlines, cruise lines and foreign governments to bring Canadians home.

“We encourage Canadian crew members on cruise ships who are experiencing difficulties in returning to Canada to contact the closest Canadian consulate or embassy, or Global Affairs Canada headquarters, to request consular assistance,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Approximately 99 U.S. crew members were also allowed to leave both ships, Princess Cruises said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last month that about 80,000 crew members remained on board ships off the U.S. coast after most passengers had disembarked. There are hundreds of Canadians on dozens of ships yet to return home.

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