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The astrophysics lab of the future is being built in a garage

The first-of-its-kind lab will help solve some of the biggest mysteries of the universe.

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In 1992, having a cellphone was still very much a clunky luxury. But they were starting to resemble what we see today. Some manufacturers were developing digital screens, the phones were getting smaller, and on November 23, IBM debuted SIMON, the world's first smartphone.

Premiering at an industry trade show in Las Vegas and built by Mitsubishi, a SIMON could make phone calls, send and receive faxes, emails, and pager messages. It had some built-in apps, including a world calendar and a predictive keyboard for its stylus.

Pretty cool, right? Well, it cost $900 and could only work for one hour before needing to charge again. Its biggest admirers referred to it as a "hip G.I Joe walkie talkie," but there wasn't much of a market for that. Only 2,000 SIMONs were ever made, and most of them were destroyed. But smartphones would get the last laugh, eventually dominating our minds and every waking moment.

New week, new question! As we enter the holiday season in earnest, let's take a trip down pre-Covid memory lane. What's your favorite tech-related holiday memory? It could be a gift from childhood, something you got someone else, or the time a piece of technology somehow saved the holidays. Shoot us an email at newsletter@inverse.com and we'll publish our favorite responses next Monday! And check at the bottom of this email for the answers to last week's questions.

This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for November 23, 2020. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day in your inbox.

Today on The Abstract Covid-19 vaccines reach new milestones, but the race is far from over

As the race to distribute the first coronavirus vaccine heats up, two frontrunners — Pfizer and Moderna —have produced stunning results from their Phase 3 vaccine trials. Claiming to have vaccines that are over 90 percent effective, the companies have ignited new hope that we might finally be turning a corner after months of uncertainty.

As a light flickers at the end of the tunnel, Covid-19 vaccines are closer to the finish line than ever — but the race is far from over.

In this episode of The Abstract, we discuss the many hurdles that remain before vaccines will be available to the public.

Listen & subscribe:

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Lo and behold — SpaceX Mars City: Werner Herzog issues a stark warning to Elon Musk

Elon Musk wants to build a city on Mars, but Werner Herzog says the plan is unequivocally a "mistake."

SpaceX CEO Musk has a plan to send the first humans to Mars in the mid-2020s, using the under-development Starship rocket. Once they get there, Musk wants to build out a self-sustaining, million-strong city on Mars by 2050.

But famed film director Herzog tells Inverse there is a massive flaw in the latter half of Musk's plan.

In a blistering criticism, Herzog describes the idea as "an obscenity," and says humans should "not be like the locusts."

In the interview, conducted earlier this month prior to the release of a new documentary on asteroids, Herzog also compares Musk's plan to the rise and collapse of communism and fascism in the 20th century. The 21st century will "quickly" end the "technological utopia like colonizing Mars," he says.

Here's what Werner Herzog thinks is an "obscenity"

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Plasticity — We're drowning in a sea of plastic. A new process could be a life preserver.

Milk jugs, bags, egg cartons, water bottles — Americans use a lot of plastic packaging.

According to the most recent numbers from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans generated 14.5 million tons of plastic containers and packaging waste in 2018, comprising around five percent of total waste that year.

The burden of plastics is not helped by the fact that so few of them get recycled. In that same year, 2018, a paltry 8.5 percent of plastics were recycled. Scientists are working frantically to produce a better material to take plastics' places in our lives, but until that happens, it seems we're stuck with them. But that doesn't mean we need to stick with that shocking recycling statistic.

New advances from a team at the University of Madison-Wisconsin could hold the key.

"Nearly 100 percent material efficiency”

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Piano man — Game-like feedback could level up expert pianists

It's a frustrating experience for elite musicians: you spend your whole life trying to perfect your craft only to reach an ability plateau on your rise to the top.

Reaching the limit of your artistic ability is something artists through the ages have begrudgingly accepted, but new research suggests there is a way to get even better. Changing how you practice, rather than how much you practice, might be the key to unlocking previously untapped potential.

The secret? Video game consoles.

Sing us a song, beep boop beep

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Coming soon ...

Barring the unexpected, it seems like the number of people going into space will go up dramatically within 10 years. Once the domain of physically elite astronauts, the expanded range of space tourists will likely encounter more health problems up there. This week on Inverse, a look into the underlying causes of health problems in space.

Boldly go — The PlanetVac will be exploring the surface of new worlds like never before

In October 2020, humanity’s conception of the Moon changed forever. NASA announced that scientists had not only definitely discovered water on the surface of Earth’s only natural satellite, but the water was much easier to access than they had previously suspected.

The number of “cold traps,” permanently shadowed crater regions that have not seen the Sun in thousands of years, surprised scientists as well. Not only was there water, but it was abundant and relatively easy to get. What other surprises could the surface hold? Well, that’s what The Planetary Society, NASA, and other international space programs want to find out with PlanetVac.

From Carl Sagan to the surface of distant worlds

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Holodeck — Scientists are building a virtual cosmos in a garage

The infinite universe, replete with thousands of galaxies, stars, and planets, can seem beyond human perception. But one team of scientists are trying to do just that — by simulating the deep cosmos within the confines of a garage in California.

A team of astrophysicists from the Carnegie Institution for Science are building a new workspace where they will study the universe using an immersive, virtual-reality display.

"Twenty-first-century data require 21st-century laboratories"

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And now, the answers to our question of the week, asking about the holidays and coronavirus. The answers were tough and sometimes painful. We want to thank our readers for the overwhelming response. Here are a few of the answers.

Anonymous — "I've already gone through my mother dying the day after my brother died in April, and then my cat died in July. My daughter and her significant other were planning to come for Thanksgiving, but now are remaining home. While that in itself isn't catastrophic, but how much more disappointment can I handle? Apparently more."

Gregg Mark — "My wife and I decided to forego the big Thanksgiving dinner shopping thing and have someone make it for us to go pick up. For someone that beat Stage 3 cancer like myself, options like this look to be the norm for dining and shopping for the foreseeable future."

Mark Chistensen — "We are going to a small island available only by ferry in Florida. Our daughter away at college is getting tested before we go. Our niece that lives alone near us is also getting a test before we go. We are having all the groceries we need for the 4 days delivered and we will be staying in and enjoying our view of the Gulf of Mexico!"

Matthew Rush — "First time ever my wife and I are going nowhere or having no one over for Thanksgiving, going back to our marriage in 1985. It was always one or the other. We're staying put. Michigan is on fire right now. First time since 1988 that my wife, my two now-adult kids, and I won't be going to my brother's house two hours away for his annual Christmas night party. It's canceled. First time ever we won't be going to northern Michigan to see my wife's family after that. We're canceling everything this year so we can all be alive to enjoy the holidays next year."

Hugh Briss — "Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Traditionally, we spend Thanksgiving with our grown children and grandchildren. We are separated by a roughly 2-hour drive and different positivity zones. Out of the proverbial abundance of caution, we decided to remain at home in our retirement community rather than to risk exposure to Covid-19 and/or to possibly bring back the virus to our retirement community. The decision was saddening to us."

Dax Jolly — "For me, a Type 1 Diabetic (so high risk), my Thanksgiving plans (where I usually travel from Washington State to Tennessee to visit my parents) have been canceled. I am still watching and waiting on whether to travel for Christmas Holidays to see them. Depending on current Infection rates (in Mid- December), any quarantine requirements (applicable for flying or driving), etc, I am not overly confident that I will actually make the trip."

Beverly Roden — "I live alone, and usually visit friends for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. I've already received invitations for both holidays, and decided for their good and mine to be home this year. We're planning Zoom and Phone calls to do our best to share holiday spirit, but there won't be any visits during either holiday. We all want to be able to hug each other again. Surviving a global pandemic means sacrifice now for hugs later. I have friends in the medical profession. I hear and heed their pleas to be cautious and take precautions."

And we'll end with a poem that sums up the response best.

Bob Gregory —

Traveling for Thanksgiving

brightens my living

Knowing covid is looming,

I go by skyping

then by zooming.

And if you're looking for an escape, make sure to check our recommendation for a crazy new time loop movie.

Thank you for reading! Follow me on Twitter if you want, where I tweet too much.

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