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Let’s talk science and why we need it

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Light travels at a finite speed of 280,000km per seconds – the speed of light. Because the speed is finite, every photon in every ray of light that reaches an eye or camera sensor left its source some time ago. If the object under observation is a few feet away, that time was a tiny fraction of a second ago. If the source is many trillions of kilometres away, the picture that is seen is quite literally of an object as it was billions of years ago. For that reason, it is said that telescopes are time machines.

Last week, the world got its first peek of images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), developed over a period of 10 years, launched in December of last year and currently parked more than a million kilometres beyond the orbit of the Moon. Telescopes are also differentiated by the wavelength of the photons of ‘light’ (electromagnetic radiation) they are capable of detecting. The JWST is able to capture visible light and, more critically, improves on the ability to capture infrared light of its older cousin, the Hubble Space Telescope.

Since the beginning of the universe around 13.8 billion years ago, space has been expanding. One effect of that is that the wavelength of light in the visible spectrum emitted by sources in the early universe has been gradually increasing. That light from the earliest of objects in the universe is now in the infrared spectrum, the same kind used by your TV’s remote control. Due to its wider range in the infrared spectrum, the JWST will be able to capture those early photons, which makes it a time machine that will allow us to peer back as much as just 100-250 million years after the Big Bang.

If you think this will give us the earliest picture of the universe yet you are mistaken. That distinction goes to the picture of the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation released in 2012. It goes back to just 380,000 years after the Big Bang, a time when all matter in the universe was so densely packed together that stars, planets and galaxies could not form yet.

The price tag of the JWST has been $10 billion over 10 years, split between the lead partner of the project, NASA, and its European and Canadian counterparts, ESA and CSA.

As many economies around the globe are anticipating entering recessions, some people across the political spectrum are questioning the wisdom in spending this much money on space exploration. To put it in a local perspective, $10 billion over 10 years is comparable (but not equal) to Pakistan’s import bill of tea over the same period. The argument to postpone spending on science because there are more urgent needs at home is a weak one. Such a standard for spending on science and R&D would put all human exploration in the back seat permanently because there will always be competing priorities, and without exploration humans would still be living in caves.

Spending on science is a lot like spending on art. The Covid lockdowns in 2020 drastically curtailed options for activities, which meant that a lot more people were consuming artistic works (film, TV, music, books, games) and which hopefully made everyone appreciate the importance of the artist in society. Perhaps that is something science and art spending have in common – you only realize you need it when you do not have it.

I learnt most of this from following news coverage of the JWST since its launch late last year. In that period, not to my surprise, the contribution of local news sources to my education has been non-existent. Locally, hobbyist astronomer societies in major cities (Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi) organize meetups and viewings for the public around events on the astronomical calendar. Beyond that, however, in the broader media landscape of radio and television, there are few takers for in-depth coverage of this kind of news or science news in general outside the obligatory 30-second bulletin.

But the blame for this cannot be put on the supply side of information alone. For a look at the demand side (media consumers) consider the daily landscape of Pakistani/ Urdu social media which is a barren wasteland almost completely devoid of art, science, and exploration – anything that is not power politics or religion. Follow Pakistani Twitter for a few months and you could be forgiven for believing that the first thought on waking and last thought before sleeping of foreign leaders everywhere is Pakistan, that the world, nay the galaxy, revolves around us. Scroll your newsfeed back by six months, a year, even five years, and the only difference between the conversations you will see will be the cute nicknames the public and the media give political and corruption scandals of the day.

If you doubt that we have an inflated sense of self, may I remind you that just a few days ago our former prime minister declared that angels would hold voters that did not cast their ballot for the PTI accountable in their graves for not supporting him.

There are many good reasons to fund science and exploration and make it figure more prominently in everyday life. They include the economic argument of producing unforeseen yet commercially valuable inventions. Space exploration in particular has the ability to puncture our egos by showing us the relative insignificance of our size (and our problems) relative to the rest of the universe.

A population as science illiterate as ours becomes a target begging to be cheated by any charlatan that comes along. In 2012, Agha Waqar earned himself his own Wikipedia page as well as a spot on its page for “water-fuelled car” by claiming to have built a perpetual motion machine, something I wrote about in an article (‘Charlatans in a science illiterate society, Oct 2, 2016, The News on Sunday). Unable to figure out the impossibility of such a claim, the majority of people were willing to give Agha Waqar’s claims the benefit of the doubt. That was not surprising. However, what was shocking was that in the days to follow he was granted audiences with the country’s leading scientists and engineers, with the media in tow, and none was willing or able to call out the absurdity of his claim (save for one!).

On Oct 21, 2021 the New Yorker published an article titled ‘NASA’s New Telescope Will Show Us the Infancy of the Universe’. It retells an anecdote of Columbia University astronomer David Helfand from the ‘60s back when he was an undergraduate student. A professor asked him how he would justify spending on space exploration in front of Congress. He invoked the economic argument for his answer to which his professor replied it was the wrong answer. He said that the study of the universe is “like opera, or poetry” because exploration is “what distinguishes us as humans.” And so, while there are many valid reasons to explore the world we live in (economic, the ability to not be taken in by frauds), the best one is satisfying our human curiosity.

The writer (she/her) is a professional engineer and has a PhD in Education

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WhatsApp to let users share photos in ‘original quality’

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Meta-owned WhatsApp is once again working on a new update for its users, making their experience smooth and better while chatting with their family and friends. 

The instant messaging app is releasing a new update through which users can send photos in their original quality, WaBetaInfo reported Friday. 

The new update is being introduced through the Google Play Beta Program, bringing the version up to 2.23.2.11. This feature has not yet been introduced as it is still under development. 

It is also not yet ready to be released to beta testers. 

The screenshot above shows that the messaging app “plans to integrate a new setting icon within the drawing tool header which will enable users to configure the quality of any photo”.

The users will be allowed to select an option to send the photos in their original quality in the future. Through this feature, users will have more control over the quality of the pictures they are sending, especially when they need to send pictures in their original quality. 

The feature will be released in the future update of the app.

Voice notes 

Earlier this week, the app tracking website said that WhatsApp is releasing the ability to share voice notes through status updates. 

The new update is being introduced through the Google Play Beta Program, bringing the version up to 2.23.2.8. However, this feature is only available to some beta testers for now and users will have to wait for a future update to get their hands on the feature.

The feature would let users “share a voice note as a status update with a certain audience configured within your privacy settings.”

Users can share voice notes as status updates by “accessing the feature within the text status section, in case it is enabled for them”.

The users can also discard a recording before they share it, hence, gaining more control over their voice recordings. As per the app-tracking website, the maximum recording time for the voice note is 30 seconds.

Moreover, those who want to listen to the voice recordings on status updates need to update their WhatsApp.

Ensuring the privacy of its users, WhatsApp has made the status updates end-to-end encrypted. This will allow users to share the voice notes with the people they choose within their privacy settings.

“Similar to images and videos, voice notes shared via status disappear after 24 hours but users also have the ability to delete voice notes for everyone after they have been posted as status updates: users are always in control over what they share,” said WaBetaInfo.

The feature will be rolled out to more users in the coming weeks. 

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Here’s a ‘new way’ to send voice notes on WhatsApp

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Meta-owned WhatsApp is once again rolling out a new update for its users, allowing them to have a smooth and better experience while connecting with their loved ones. 

The instant messaging app is releasing the ability to share voice notes through status updates, WaBetaInfo reported Wednesday.

The new update is being introduced through the Google Play Beta Program, bringing the version up to 2.23.2.8. However, this feature is only available to some beta testers for now and users will have to wait for a future update to get their hands on the feature. 

The feature would let users “share a voice note as a status update with a certain audience configured within your privacy settings.”

Heres a new way to send voice notes on WhatsApp

As it is shown in the screenshot above, users can share voice notes as status updates by “accessing the feature within the text status section, in case it is enabled for them”. 

The users can also discard a recording before they share it, hence, gaining more control over their voice recordings. As per the app-tracking website, the maximum recording time for the voice note is 30 seconds. 

Moreover, those who want to listen to the voice recordings on status updates need to update their WhatsApp. 

Ensuring the privacy of its users, WhatsApp has made the status updates end-to-end encrypted. This will allow users to share the voice notes with the people they choose within their privacy settings. 

“Similar to images and videos, voice notes shared via status disappear after 24 hours but users also have the ability to delete voice notes for everyone after they have been posted as status updates: users are always in control over what they share,” said WaBetaInfo

The feature will be rolled out to more users in the coming weeks. 

Blocking feature

Last week, the tracking app announced that WhatsApp is working on a block shortcut update right within the notification bar.

The new feature will allow users to block someone when they get a notification of their message on their phones.

“WhatsApp plans to introduce a block shortcut within notifications but not always: the block shortcut is visible only when you receive a message from unknown and untrusted contacts,” said the app tracking website.

The feature is limited to untrusted contacts as users may tap on the block option by mistake when replying to someone through notifications, accidentally blocking their trusted contacts.

The new feature will be available to users in the future update of the app. 

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Amazing WhatsApp tricks for daily use

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Meta-owned WhatsApp has been introducing newer features and making the application’s usage easy for its users.

Despite billions of people using the messaging app, several users are still unaware that WhatsApp has a few tricks up its sleeves that come in handy while texting.

Here are some amazing tricks:

To italicise text: 

Users can use underscore ( _ ) at the start and at the end of the text to italicise their text. 

Trick 1. — Instagram/genuine.knowledge.ig
Trick 1. — Instagram/genuine.knowledge.ig

Bold fonts: 

The users can add an asterisk (*) on both sides of the text in order to bold the text that they want to highlight. 

Trick 2. — Instagram/genuine.knowledge.ig
Trick 2. — Instagram/genuine.knowledge.ig

Monospace font: 

For the monospace texts, users can add three (“`) backticks at the beginning and at the end of the text.

Trick 3. — Instagram/genuine.knowledge.ig
Trick 3. — Instagram/genuine.knowledge.ig

Strikethrough font: 

To make the text strikethrough, add a tilde (~) on both sides.

Trick 4. — Instagram/genuine.knowledge.ig
Trick 4. — Instagram/genuine.knowledge.ig

Combined font: 

The users can make the same text bold, or italic and change its font strikethrough. For that, they can use asterisk, tilde, and underscore at the beginning and end of the text.

Trick 5. — Instagram/genuine.knowledge.ig
Trick 5. — Instagram/genuine.knowledge.ig

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