Joe Biden cancels Keystone XL permit

In one of his first actions in office, President Joe Biden issued an executive order on a broad range of environmental protections that included stopping construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. This is the second time a president has pumped the brakes on the embattled pipeline. Barack Obama denied a permit for the project in 2015. Then in 2017, Donald Trump reversed that decision and issued a permit.

The order directed federal agencies to review environmental rollbacks made under the Trump Administration, according to the Huffington Post and The New York Times. That includes revisiting fuel efficiency standards, and the boundaries for the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments. It also temporarily halts oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Gina McCarthy, national climate advisor, said Biden’s moves “begin to put the U.S. back on the right footing, a footing we need to restore American leadership, helping to position our nation to be the global leader in clean energy and jobs,” according to Agence France-Presse.

830,000 barrels of crude oil were expected to flow through the $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline every day. In an apparent last-minute attempt to get the project in Biden’s good graces, on January 17th, the company said it would spend $1.7 billion to purchase enough renewable energy to match the pipeline’s power consumption by 2030. Keystone XL developer TC Energy suspended work on the pipeline today and said in a statement that it is “disappointed” with Biden’s decision.

For more than a decade, Native American tribes, activists, and environmentalists have fought to stop the 1,210-mile-long pipeline from being built. Obama backed away from the pipeline just before the adoption of the Paris climate agreement, saying that approving the project would do little for the US economy and would instead undercut US leadership on climate change.

The pipeline continued to face opposition and legal challenges after Trump gave it the green light in 2017. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation filed lawsuits against the administration. They say that the administration failed to consult with the tribes and that the pipeline poses a danger to their lands and water sources.

This is just one piece of Biden’s plan to transition the US away from fossil fuels driving the climate crisis. The climate change plan he developed while on the campaign trail includes goals to get the US to “100 percent clean energy” by 2050. Biden also recommitted the US to the Paris climate agreement today, a global pact to avoid that tipping point.

Activists are pushing Biden to stop the construction of other pipelines, including the Dakota Access pipeline — which Trump similarly expedited, despite high-profile protests in defense of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s water supply and land. There are also calls to stop the Enbridge Line 3 project, a plan to abandon an aging pipeline that runs between Alberta and the Midwestern US and replace it with a new one that can transport more oil.

“Suspending one big oil expansion project through Native territory and approving another is the opposite of climate leadership and respect for Indigenous sovereignty,” Tara Houska, a citizen of Couchiching First Nation Anishinaabe and prominent attorney, said in a statement penned by Indigenous women leaders on January 14th. “The Biden administration can uphold their climate justice claims by acting to Stop Line 3, Stop Keystone XL, and Stop Dakota Access Pipeline, now.”

Tim Cook gave the first Mac Pro to Trump, apparently

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Among Us developers explain why new features are taking a while

Among Us was one of the smash hits of 2020 — it reportedly had nearly half a billion players in November — and there are some exciting updates announced for the game, including a new airship map and an account system. In a blog posted yesterday, developer Innersloth discussed how it has adapted in response to the game’s enormous popularity and why new features are taking a while to be released.

Among Us gained incredible traction pretty late into 2020 that we weren’t expecting, and that meant A LOT of change for us,” the developers said. Innersloth, which is comprised of just four employees, had to spend two months restructuring, figuring out processes, and working with new external partners, according to the blog. “It’s all behind-the-scenes work, and while it meant time away from the game, it’ll make it easier for current and future us to develop the game better,” Innersloth said.

The studio has also juggled bringing the game to new platforms — it hit Nintendo Switch in December and is coming to Xbox One and Xbox Series X / S consoles in 2021.

There’s a lot to look forward to, though. The airship map, which is scheduled to come out in early 2021, has new tasks to complete as well as ladders and floating platforms for traversal. Innersloth aims to launch the account system “ASAP” with a focus on moderation. And the studio plans to share a public feature roadmap at some point.

Metroid looks amazing in Lego — and could become real if you vote

If you want a Metroid Lego set, you have the power to bring the idea closer to reality. User L-DI-EGO has submitted a design on Lego’s Ideas website that brings the block treatment to Samus and her gunship, but the site requires votes to get this concept in front of Lego itself (via Nintendo Life).

Lego Ideas is an official site for users to submit their concepts and designs for the Lego company to consider, and where Lego fans can vote for their favorites. If a submission gets 10,000 votes, the Lego Group may turn it into a real product. Right now the Metroid concept has around 5,700 votes, so it’s just over halfway. If you like the concept, you can go to the website to put your thumb on the scale.

Image: L-DI-EGO on Lego Ideas
Image: L-DI-EGO on Lego Ideas

It’s worth noting, however, that many of the submissions that do get 10,000 votes don’t actually end up hitting store shelves. The program has been running since 2008, and only 33 sets have made it to production so far. Lego only guarantees that it’ll look at the idea, but usually fans will end up waiting to hear back from the company only to get a rejection.

That isn’t to say it’s impossible. Lego has a page listing some of the Ideas that you can buy today. The list includes the truly awesome 1969-piece Saturn V rocket, and we’ve written about a Doctor Who set that started out as an Idea. Space ideas really seem to speak to Lego, as nearly a quarter of the sets produced (if you count WALL-E and Doctor Who) have been space-themed. This includes a Women of NASA kit and a recreation of the International Space Station. Maybe that’s a good sign, since Metroid is set in space?

Image of a proposed Metroid Lego set
You wouldn’t see anything like this on Earth.
Image: L-DI-EGO on Lego Ideas
What would the official version of this look like? Still cool, I bet.
Image: L-DI-EGO on Lego Ideas

Despite the space examples, the program doesn’t operate at warp speed. It can often take over a year from an idea getting reviewed to it being something you can buy: that Doctor Who kit got to 10,000 votes on April 7, 2014, and hit store shelves in December of 2015.

And even if the Metroid idea does end up being produced by Lego, there are no promises it’ll look the same as it does now. Lego will often make changes to the Ideas designs. You can see this by comparing the Back to the Future set from 2011. On the top is the Ideas version, and on the bottom is the retail packaging.

Image by m.togami on Lego Ideas
The hoverboard and Doc’s fit are clear downgrades.
Image: Lego

While Lego deciding to make this Metroid set may be unlikely, it already has a relationship with Nintendo from the work the companies have done on a couple of Super Mario sets and a version of the NES that’s just as endearingly blocky as the system’s graphics.

If Metroid isn’t your preferred Nintendo franchise, there’s an Animal Crossing set that’s just under the 10,000 vote line. It’s got over 9,000 votes, so it just needs a small push to make it to Lego’s desk. And, if you want to spend an evening dreaming about Lego sets that aren’t likely to ever come out, I suggest you take a look at the Ideas sets that are currently pending review — there’s some great ones in there, including Tom Nook’s infamous shop.

Image of an Animal Crossing lego set, including a house, beach, workbench, and river.
You can design your island however you want in this set inspired by a game where you design your island however you want.
TiagoCatarino on Lego Ideas

Joe Biden halts US withdrawal from World Health Organization

In one of his first acts as president, Joe Biden walked back the former administration’s plan to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will participate in the organization’s executive meeting this week, according to a fact sheet released by the Biden-Harris transition team.

Donald Trump announced plans to cut ties with the WHO in late May, claiming that China had “total control” over the global health organization. Experts widely criticized the move, saying that it would be catastrophic for public health in the midst of a deadly pandemic. The US is a major funder for the WHO.

At the time the withdrawal was announced, then-presidential candidate Biden tweeted that he would rejoin the WHO on his first day as president.

Members of the United Nations have to give 12 months’ notice for this step, so the withdrawal was set to take effect on July 6th. As soon as Biden was elected, it was clear that was not going to happen. Tedros Adhanom, director-general of the WHO, congratulated Biden after he was elected in November. “My WHO colleagues and I look forward to working with you and your teams,” he tweeted.

Common Back Pain Treatment Doesn’t Actually Work, Study Finds

A bottle of venlafaxine, also sold as Effexor, an SNRI used to treat depression and nerve pain.

A bottle of venlafaxine, also sold as Effexor, an SNRI used to treat depression and nerve pain.
Photo: Joe Raedle (Getty Images)

A common treatment for chronic back pain may not provide much soothing after all. A new review released Wednesday suggests that antidepressants on average provide little to no back pain relief, though they could have a modest benefit for osteoarthritis and sciatica.

Chronic pain can be an emotionally draining experience, so antidepressants are sometimes prescribed by doctors to help sufferers with their mental distress. But beyond their typical use, research has also suggested that antidepressants such as serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) can have an added pain-relief effect. How this exactly happens is still being studied, but it’s thought the same neurotransmitters that regulate mood (and that antidepressants help balance) also play a part in regulating our sensations of pain, especially pain caused by damaged nerves or a dysfunctional nervous system.

At least one antidepressant—the drug duloxetine, also known as Cymbalta—has been approved in the U.S. to treat chronic nerve pain and back pain. And organizations such as the American College of Physicians now recommend duloxetine for lower back pain as well. But according to the authors of this new paper, published in the BMJ on Wednesday, the overall effectiveness of antidepressants for treating pain is still uncertain.

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Their review looked at data from 33 randomized and controlled clinical trials examining the use of antidepressants for chronic back pain as well as osteoarthritis of the hip and knees, including trials that hadn’t been included in previous reviews of the evidence, they wrote. These trials involved over 5,300 participants in total. The main outcome they looked at was a reduction in people’s reported score on a pain scale from 1 to 100, with any reduction 10 points or more following three months of treatment being considered a clinical improvement that patients would notice in their lives.

Altogether, the review found that the average pain reduction for SNRIs in treating lower back pain three months into treatment was only around five points. For osteoarthritis, the average reduction from SNRIs was just under 10 points, so more likely to be a meaningful improvement. Other evidence also suggested that tricyclic antidepressants, an older class of drug, had little effect on back pain, but that both tricyclic antidepressants and SNRIs might have a effect on treating pain from sciatica, a particular type of nerve pain that can affect the legs and back. However, the researchers were much less certain about the latter two findings, due to the limited data available.

“Our findings show that antidepressants are largely ineffective for back pain, but may be beneficial for osteoarthritis and sciatica,” lead author Giovanni Ferreira, a researcher studying musculoskeletal Health at the University of Sydney in Australia, wrote in an email.

The findings don’t necessarily mean that no one should use these drugs for back pain. Chronic back pain is notoriously difficult to treat, and, for some patients, even the hope of a small benefit might be worth trying for. But antidepressants have side effects, and both doctors and patients should know upfront that the chances of significant improvement from using them are likely slim, Ferreira and his team noted. There are also other, non-medication options that patients can still try, such as physical therapy programs and exercise.

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“If people are currently taking antidepressants for their back pain or osteoarthritis and they feel that it is helping them, we recommend that they continue the treatment,” he said. Those who aren’t benefiting from them should consult with their doctor before making any changes, though, since abruptly stopping their use can cause withdrawal symptoms like anxiety and insomnia.

Another important consideration brought up the authors is that much of the data they studied came from trials funded by the makers of the antidepressants being tested. Industry-funded trials are well known to paint a rosier picture of the evidence, so it’s still possible that even the benefits they found here might not be as big as they look.

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“This should be taken into account when interpreting the findings from our review, particularly for osteoarthritis, where six out of eight trials were sponsored by pharmaceutical companies,” Ferreira said. “That is why we still need more trials, and these should ideally be conducted by independent investigators free of industry ties.”

Life-size NASA Perseverance rover snow sculpture brings Mars to Earth – CNET

NASA/JPL solar system ambassador Mark A. Brown created quite a conversation piece with this life-size Perseverance Mars rover snow sculpture.

Mark A. Brown

When it snows, you might look out on the wintry landscape and think about making a snowperson with a carrot nose. Mark A. Brown, a solar system ambassador for NASA/JPL, looked out on the remains of a snow storm in Iowa and decided to craft a life-size frozen Perseverance Mars rover.

Brown spent three days building the rover, which sports wheels decorated with silver metallic spray paint and a mastcam (the rover’s camera-equipped “head”) made from PVC pipe and a cardboard box. 

The snow rover bears a remarkable resemblance to the real deal, which is en route to Mars with a scheduled landing on Feb. 18. “The plan was to attempt to create as close a likeness in size … and I had enough snow to do it,” Brown told CNET.  

Snow rover builder Mark A. Brown made sure to include the Mars helicopter Ingenuity as part of the installation.

Mark A. Brown

Perseverance isn’t traveling alone. It carries a helicopter named Ingenuity in its belly. The experimental chopper will attempt a powered flight on the red planet. Brown made sure to pay tribute to Ingenuity with a bonus model of the helicopter sitting next to the rover.

The frosty rover was a creative way for Brown to engage in pubic outreach with only a month to go until Perseverance’s big arrival. 

“I wanted to do something unique and educational for my neighborhood,” said Brown. “Many people take daily walks, and so as they did so they were able to look at this sculpture taking place and to ask about it.”

The snow rover might be almost as rugged as its space-faring counterpart. Brown shared a video of some wicked winds whipping the sculpture on Tuesday. 

Like the real rover, this one is persevering. 

Follow CNET’s 2021 Space Calendar to stay up to date with all the latest space news this year. You can even add it to your own Google Calendar.    

UFC 257 Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier: Press conference, start time, how to watch and full fight card – CNET

gettyimages-592224614

McGregor takes on his first UFC fight in over a year on Jan. 23.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

It’s UFC 257 fight week and Conor McGregor is back! After fighting once last year — mainly as a result of COVID-19 — McGregor will enter the Octagon at UFC 257, against elite lightweight contender Dustin Poirier.

With current UFC lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov all but officially retired, this contest is seen by many as a title eliminator. Most likely the winner will fight for the belt later down the track in 2021, potentially against Charles Oliveira or the winner of Dan Hooker vs. Michael Chandler. 

Also looming in the wings is Nurmagomedov who, according to Dana White, will be watching UFC 257. If someone does something spectacular, reports say, he may come back for one more defence of his UFC lightweight title.

The fight takes place on the UFC’s Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.

This isn’t the first time this fight has taken place. McGregor defeated Poirier comfortably the last time they fought over six years ago at UFC 178, but Poirier has improved dramatically since then. He defeated Max Holloway for the UFC interim lightweight championship, and put up a decent showing against Nurmagomedov, the current lightweight king. The undefeated Nurmagomedov also defeated McGregor in 2018.

Despite Poirier’s improvements, most oddsmakers have McGregor as a clear favorite in this bout. His destruction of Donald Cerrone in 2020, combined with the style matchup, has most people seeing this as a favorable fight for McGregor. Poirier is primarily a boxer and McGregor is still the sharpest striker at 155 pounds. 

McGregor also appears to be in phenomenal shape and, by most reports, is as motivated as he’s been since his legendary first run at featherweight. We could be in for something special with this performance. McGregor has predicted he’ll win this fight inside 60 seconds.

Personally, I’m a big fan of the UFC’s Inside the Octagon series, which breaks down the match-up. The McGregor vs Poirier one is already online.

But outside of the blockbuster main event, UFC 257 runs deep. Michael Chandler is making his UFC debut against fight of the night machine Dan Hooker in a compelling co-main event and the undercard is dotted with names like Joanne Calderwood. There’s a lot of great matchups in there.

Press conference

Conor McGregor is well known for his outlandish performances during UFC press conferences, and now we know that conference will take place this coming Thursday. You won’t want to miss this.

The press conference will feature Conor McGregor alongside his opponent Dustin Poirier. Dan Hooker and Michael Chandler from the co-main event will also feature. Dana White will also be at the event. 

Here’s the exact timing…

US

The press conference takes place at

  • Midday EST on Thursday, January 21.
  • 9am PST on Thursday, January 21.

UK

5pm on Thursday, January 21.

Australia

4am on Friday, January 22.

You’ll be able to watch it live on the UFC’s official YouTube channel. The UFC is also making it available on its social media channels and on its homepage. We’ve embedded the YouTube livestream here, so feel free to hang around and watch on this very post!

How to watch UFC 257

This year the UFC entered into a new partnership with ESPN. That’s great news for the UFC and the expansion of the sport of MMA, but bad news for consumer choice. Especially if you’re one of the UFC fans who want to watch UFC live in the US.

It’s worth noting, however, that the UFC has increased the price of PPVs starting with UFC 257.

In the US, if you want to know how to watch UFC 257, you’ll only find the fight night on PPV through ESPN Plus. The cost structure is a bit confusing, but here are the options to watch UFC on ESPN, according to ESPN’s site:

  • Existing yearly ESPN Plus subscribers can order the upcoming UFC fight for $70
  • Existing monthly ESPN Plus subscribers will be able to either upgrade to an annual plan and buy UFC PPV for $85 or purchase the ability to watch the UFC event on PPV for $70 by itself.
  • New ESPN Plus subscribers can buy a bundle of one UFC PPV event (streaming in HD) and an ESPN Plus annual recurring subscription for $90. This is a decent deal. The previous bundle gave a saving of 25% but this new bundle is a 35% saving. The ESPN Plus annual ESPN subscription will auto-renew after one year, at the price of an ESPN Plus annual subscription at the time of auto-renewal.

You can do all of the above at the link below.

MMA fans in the UK can watch UFC 257 exclusively through BT Sport. There are more options if you live in Australia. You can watch UFC 257 through Main Event on Foxtel. You can also watch on the UFC website or using its app. You can even order using your PlayStation or using the UFC app on your Xbox.

Start time

The card is not finalized, but based on previous UFC times, this is what we expect…

US

  • The main card starts Jan. 23, 10 p.m. ET (7 p.m. PT).
  • The prelims start Jan. 23, 8 p.m. ET (5 p.m. PT).
  • The early prelims start Jan. 23, 6.30 p.m. ET (3.30 p.m. PT).

UK

  • The main card starts Jan. 24, 3 a.m. GMT.
  • The prelims start Jan. 24, 1 a.m. GMT.
  • The early prelims start Jan 23, 11.30 p.m. GMT.

Australia

  • The main card starts Jan. 24, 2 p.m. AEDT.
  • The prelims start Jan. 24, 12 p.m. AEDT.
  • The early prelims start Jan. 24, 10.30 a.m. AEDT.

Fight Card

This one is far from finalized at this point. We’ll update when more fights are announced.

Main Card

  • Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier
  • Michael Chandler vs. Dan Hooker
  • Jessica Eye vs. Joanne Calderwood
  • Matt Frevola vs. Ottman Azaitar
  • Marina Rodriguez vs. Amanda Ribas

Prelims

  • Arman Tsarukyan vs. Nasrat Haqparast
  • Brad Tavares vs. Antonio Carlos Junior
  • Julianna Pena vs. Sara McMann
  • Khalil Rounree Jr vs. Marcin Prachnio

Early Prelims

  • Andrew Sanchez vs. Makhmud Muradov
  • Nik Lentz vs. Movsar Evloev
  • Amir Albazi vs Zhalgas Zhumagulov

SpaceX Starship SN9 reloads its Raptors ahead of high-altitude flight – CNET

Nose cone of SpaceX Starship SN8

This is the nose of Starship SN8.

Elon Musk

The latest SpaceX Starship prototype got some fresh Raptor engines and is being prepped for another test firing before a high-altitude test flight as early as this Thursday.

Elon Musk’s new Mars rocket iteration, which is identified by the serial number SN9, underwent a series of three static test fires on Wednesday, Jan. 13. Afterward, Musk said two of its three engines required slight repairs and would be switched out. That took place over the weekend and next up will be the test-firing of the newly refreshed SN9.

The latest airspace closure notices to pilots indicate that we could see this test happen as soon as Wednesday, with a launch the following day. However, the launch of SN9 has been repeatedly pushed back over the past few weeks, so it wouldn’t be surprising if we have to wait until later this month or even into February before it finally gets off the ground.

SpaceX has been testing and tweaking its Starship design over the past two years, beginning with a series of low-altitude “hops.” The first successful flight of significant altitude came last month when SN8 reached approximately the same altitude where commercial jets do much of their cruising.

The milestone was then followed by a fall back to Earth and a new landing maneuver that seemed to succeed in orienting the rocket, but alas SN8 came in too fast and met a spectacular and explosive end.

SpaceX SN8 flew high and landed hard.

SpaceX/CNET video capture by Jackson Ryan

We could get lucky and see the sequel to the ordeal of SN8 this week, but scrubs and delays have been part of the routine in Starship’s development process. Heck, I I’ve already updated this post several times.

Whenever SN9 flies, we’ll be sure to carry the video here. Stay tuned.

Biden rejoins WHO, Paris climate agreement on first day in office – CNET

gettyimages-1297448571

President Joe Biden had a full first day. He’s shown here with First Lady Jill Biden.

Getty Images

Among the first actions the Biden administration undertook was rejoining the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, as well as reversing the United States’ withdrawal from the World Health Organization. President Joe Biden signed the executive orders at around 5:30 p.m. ET, after his inauguration Wednesday morning. 

In a tweet on the POTUS account, Biden said Wednesday evening that the “got right to work taking action to control the pandemic, provide economic relief, tackle climate change [and] advance racial equity.”

The Biden-Harris transition team said in a post on the White House website that the administration will also be be issuing a 100-day coronavirus masking challenge on the first day in office.

“[Biden] will sign a combination of executive orders, memoranda, directives, and letters to take initial steps to address these crises,” the post said, noting that these actions and more will take place within hours of the inauguration. These three moves (as well as others) reverse policy stances set forth by former President Donald Trump.

Other actions will include continuing the pause on student loan payments, stopping border wall construction and reversing Trump’s immigration ban.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn in Wednesday. 

CNET reporter Corinne Reichert contributed to this report.