Popular Science https://www.popsci.com Awe-inspiring science reporting, technology news, and DIY projects. Skunks to space robots, primates to climates. That's Popular Science, 145 years strong. Tue, 23 Aug 2022 00:00:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.9.1 https://www.popsci.com/uploads/2021/04/28/cropped-PSC3.png?auto=webp&width=32&height=32 Popular Science https://www.popsci.com 32 32 How to engineer the best sandcastle https://www.popsci.com/diy/how-to-build-sand-castle/ https://www.popsci.com/diy/how-to-build-sand-castle/#respond Tue, 23 Aug 2022 01:00:00 +0000 https://www.popsci.com/?p=464277

A geotechnical engineer explains how water, air and sand create solid structures.

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This article was originally featured on The Conversation.

If you want to understand why some sandcastles are tall and have intricate structures while others are nearly shapeless lumps of sand, it helps to have a background in geotechnical engineering.

As a geotechnical engineering educator myself, I use sandcastles in the classroom to explain how interactions of soil, water and air make it possible to rebuild landscapes after mining metals critical to the energy transition.

Building a sandcastle comes down to the right mix of those three ingredients. Sand provides the structure, but it’s water between the sand grains that provides the force—in this case, suction—that holds the sand together. And without the right amount of air the water would just push the sand grains apart.

Not just any sand

Sand grains, according to the standards body ASTM International’s Unified Soil Classification System, are soil particles having a diameter of 0.003 inches (0.075 mm) to 0.187 inches (4.75 mm). Sands, by definition, have at least half their particles in that range. Silt or clay is soil with particles smaller than sand size. And soil with particles larger than sand size is gravel.

The size of particles, or grains, also determines the way sand looks and feels. The smallest sand grains have a texture almost like powdered sugar. The largest grains are more like the size of small dry lentils.

Most sand will work for building a sandcastle, but the best sand has two characteristics: grains of sand in several different sizes and grains with angular or rough edges. Variation in grain size allows smaller sand grains to fill the pockets, or pores, between the larger sand grains. The result is increased sand strength.

Sand grains that are more angular, with sharp corners on them, lock together better, making the sandcastle stronger. It’s the same reason a pile of angular wooden blocks will stay in a pile, but a pile of marbles will go everywhere.

This is also why, surprisingly, the best sand for sandcastles is not typically found on an island or a coastal beach. More angular grains of sand are usually found closer to mountains, their geologic source. These sand grains have not yet had their edges rounded off by wind and water. Professional sandcastle builders will go so far as to import river sand for their creations.

Finally, the closer together the sand grains are, the stronger the sand will be. Pressing wet sand together tightly, by compaction or tamping, squeezes sand grains together, decreasing the size of pores and increasing the effect water can have. Compaction also increases grain interlocking and, consequently, sand strength.

Water is key

Without water, sand just forms a pile. Too much water and sand flows like liquid. But between dry sand and saturated sand lies a wide range of moisture levels that enable sandcastle construction.

Water is cohesive, meaning that water likes to stick to water. But water also sticks to or climbs up certain surfaces. Look at a half-full glass of water and you will see the water going up the insides of the glass a little. Gravity still holds the water in the glass, but the water is trying to climb up and wet the surface. This tiny power struggle is what makes sandcastles possible.

Right where the air and water meet, there’s surface tension. The air-water interface pulls downward, trying to hold the water together against the competing forces of surface wetting, cohesion and gravity. Surface tension pulls the water together like the taut skin of a balloon. And surface tension also pulls sand grains together.

If the glass were much skinnier, like a straw, the water would rise higher and have more surface tension. The narrower the straw, the higher the water would rise. This phenomenon is called capillarity.

Water behaves the same way in wet sand. The pores, or spaces, between the sand grains are like a bunch of very tiny straws. Water forms tiny bridges between the grains. The water in these bridges is under tension, pulling the grains together by a force we geotechnical engineers call suction stress.

Just enough water

The quantity of water in the sand controls the size and strength of the water bridges. Too little water equals little bridges between the sand grains. More water, and the size and number of bridges grows, increasing the suction holding the sand grains together. The result is perfect sandcastle sand.

Too much water, though, and the suction is too weak to hold the sand together.

A general rule of thumb for building great sandcastles is one part water for every eight parts dry sand. Under ideal conditions in a laboratory, though, with dense sand and zero evaporation, one part water for every one hundred parts dry sand can produce wonders. At a beach, sand with the right moisture level is near the high tide line when the tide is low.

Incidentally, salt from seawater can also be a boon for sandcastle stability. Capillary forces hold sand grains together initially, but capillary water will eventually evaporate, particularly on a windy day. When sea water dries up, salt is left behind. Since the seawater was forming bridges between the grains, the salt crystallizes at these points of contact. In this way, salt can keep a sandcastle standing long after the sand has dried. But be careful not to disturb the salt-bonded sand; it’s brittle and collapsible.

To build a strong sandcastle, compact sand and a little water as tightly as you can. I prefer to create a dense mound and then scoop and carve away to reveal the art within. You can also compact the sand into buckets, cups or other molds, and build from the ground up. Just be sure to get the sand dense, and place the mold on a compacted foundation. Hands make for both a great compaction and carving tool, but a shovel or a seashell will allow for more precision. Have fun, and don’t be afraid to get sandy!

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Android 13 lets you change the language in individual apps. Here’s how. https://www.popsci.com/diy/change-app-language-android/ https://www.popsci.com/diy/change-app-language-android/#respond Mon, 22 Aug 2022 18:15:34 +0000 https://www.popsci.com/?p=464221
hands holding phone showing google maps in spanish
Ok, vámonos—come on, todos, let's go!. Karolina Grabowska / Pexels

Multi-linguists rejoice!

The post Android 13 lets you change the language in individual apps. Here’s how. appeared first on Popular Science.

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hands holding phone showing google maps in spanish
Ok, vámonos—come on, todos, let's go!. Karolina Grabowska / Pexels

Your phone is generally responsible for determining essential system details such as time and location, and sharing that data with all the apps on your device. Language used to be one of them—if your phone was set to English, everything on it would be in English too.

Android 13 put an end to that. The latest iteration of Google’s mobile operating system started rolling out last week (first on Pixel phones, as usual) and features a new option to set each app to whatever language you want. This means you’ll be able to keep your system language to English, for example, but use individual apps of your choice in Spanish, Mandarin, or any other language your phone knows. 

How to change the language of an app on your Android phone 

If you have a relatively new Pixel phone (fourth generation and later), you should already have Android 13 available to download on your device. To check, go to Settings, System, and System update. If your device tells you the operating system is up to date, tap the Check for update button in the bottom right corner of your screen. 

If your phone is not Google-made, you’ll likely have to wait a bit before you get the OS update. You can wait until your device lets you know there’s an update ready, or you can check manually. The path for hunting down system updates on your phone should be similar to the Pixel’s, but if you can’t find it, try searching for “system update” in your device’s search bar.   

Android 13 is a bit of a hefty update, so before you install it, make sure you’re connected to a secure and reliable WiFi network and an outlet, or have enough charge to prevent your phone from dying mid-update (you don’t want that—it can be terribly annoying). 

Once Android 13 is up and running, you can change the language of an individual app by going to Settings, Apps, and choosing the platform you want to change. Scroll down, and right below Battery you should see an entry for Language, which will be set to System default. Tap it, and on the next menu, choose the language you want to change the app to. You can pick from all the options Android offers (58 at the moment). 

Keep in mind that for this feature to work, the app has to support it, and since this is a new Android feature, you may have to be patient. Otherwise, you can play around setting different languages for your Google apps and see how you like your phone being bilingual. 

Why have different languages on your phone

If you’re not multilingual, you might have never considered how useful it can be to have certain apps in different languages. For example, I use WhatsApp with my Spanish-speaking friends and family, so it’s easier for me to have everything in that app in the same language. 

There’s also the problem with translations. Some apps—especially those for specific countries—were not created in English, but were translated after the interface was built. This can result in a series of problems, like forgotten and untranslated menus, or literal translations that don’t mean what the developers think they do. If you’re fluent in the language those apps were created in, you would be able to bypass the inconvenience, while still using the rest of your phone in a language you’re more comfortable with. 

Language learners can benefit from this too, in the form of limited exposure. Maybe switching your entire phone to Korean isn’t the best idea if you’re not yet fluent—just imagine how many hours you’d have to spend changing it back. But having some apps force you to get used to new lingo can acclimate you faster and add words to your vocabulary you might not otherwise get from a teacher or training app

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Best camping tents of 2022 https://www.popsci.com/story/reviews/best-camping-tent/ Wed, 21 Jul 2021 12:45:00 +0000 https://www.popsci.com/story/?p=281984
best camping tent
Peter Vanosdall, Unsplash

Choose the best camping tent for your next expedition with our guide to outdoor shelters for every group, size, and season.

The post Best camping tents of 2022 appeared first on Popular Science.

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best camping tent
Peter Vanosdall, Unsplash
Best 2 person camping tent NEMO 2 person camping tent NEMO Aurora 2 Person Backpacking Tent
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This lightweight and simply-designed two person tent has breathable fabrics and streamlined setup to make your next camping trip breezy.

Best 6 person camping tent Best camping tents of 2022 REI Co-op Base Camp 6 Tent
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For those that want to adventure with the whole family, this spacious six-person tent offers plenty of head room so you don’t need to worry about cramped quarters.

Best 4 person camping tent Marmot tents for camping Marmot Limestone 4p Tent
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This three-season tent comfortably houses four, with mesh designs for improved ventilation and a waterproofed rain shield to weather any storm.

When you’re spending the night outdoors, your tent is so much more than a shelter from rain and wind. The best camping tent is your home away from home; it’s what turns the vast wilderness into your own little haven. The right tent is also a critical part of your camping gear—a tent that rips, leaks, or requires a degree in engineering to set up will sink your trip, fast. There’s a wide variety of tents on the market, coming in all kinds of shapes, designs, weights, and materials. Here’s how to sift through them all to find the best camping tent for you. 

Factors to consider when shopping for the best camping tents

A tent has just a few jobs, but it needs to do them well: protect you from rain, wind, and bugs; stay standing; provide a place to stash your camping gear. It’s also nice if it sets up easily and packs up efficiently, and doesn’t douse you with drips from condensation or weigh a ton, either. The best camping tent will do all of those things—but remember that different models are best suited to different locations and groups. So how do you choose?

First, consider how many people—or how much gear—you need to fit in the tent. Tents range in capacity from solo shelters to behemoths that can shelter six people or more. If only two people are sleeping in it, a 2-person tent might be ideal; but if those two people have a lot of camping supplies and a couple of dogs, too, they might be better off with a 3-person tent. Likewise, one family of four might find a 4-person tent to be a perfect size, while another with very young kids could be fine with a 3-person tent. These distinctions matter because the larger the tent, generally the more you’ll pay, and the heavier it will be. Weight is particularly important for backpacking tents because you’ll need to carry them into your campsite on your back. It’s less crucial for car camping tents that can be hauled in a car (but you still have to make sure they fit well in your trunk). 

Also, consider the tent’s shape. If you’re tall, a shelter with a generous peak height will be more comfortable than one that’s low to the ground. Then again, a low-profile tent will be more stable in high winds, so your intended camping location and weather conditions also come into play. Durability is a related concern: Someone in the market for a winter camping tent will need the toughest materials and most stable design, while fair-weather campers can get away with lighter, less durable (and more affordable) options. 

A tent’s features also matter. Need to store a bunch of backpacks, boots, and other camping gear out of the elements? You’ll want a tent with at least one vestibule. Love to keep hats, phones, and flashlights close at hand? Look for a tent with pockets. Tents with lots of mesh panels are great for hot weather and provide excellent ventilation, but they won’t keep you warm when the temperature dips. Some tents offer a freestanding design—you can pitch them without having to stake them down first—which makes them easier to set up and move around a campsite. Also, check how many doors the tent has. More doors equal easier access for everyone but will add some weight to the tent. 

Are you looking for a 2-person tent?

Two-person tents are a popular choice for couples, camping friends, and solo campers who like to stretch out. They’re small enough to remain lightweight (many weigh just a few pounds) and easy to carry in a backpack, making them particularly great for backpacking excursions. And while they typically don’t provide palatial space, many designs still allow for plenty of elbow room. 

When shopping for a 2-person tent, consider whether you want one door or two. A single door saves a bit of weight, but it means that the person sleeping on the other side will have to climb over the other to get in and out of the tent. Also, look at the number and size of the vestibules and make sure they cover enough space to fit all your gear and camping accessories.

Are you looking for a 4-person tent for camping?

Need shelter for the whole family? Love camping with three of your best buddies? Looking for space for your Bernese Mountain Dog, too? A 4-person tent is just the ticket. Besides providing lots more sleeping space, this size tent typically offers more headroom and elbowroom. Naturally, a 4-person tent will also weigh more than a 2-person tent, but many are still quite lightweight for the amount of interior space they provide. 

When shopping, look at the number and size of doors for ease of entry and exit. A taller peak height will allow for space to play games and change squirming kids. And as with smaller shelters, a tent with lots of mesh will prevent condensation from building up on the interior and provide the best ventilation.

Do you want a 6-person tent for larger groups?

When it’s really time to party, you’ll need a 6-person tent. These ultra-large tents are perfect for groups of friends or larger families, providing expansive floor space for lining up sleeping bags and taller peaks that often allow for standing all the way up. Fairly heavy and stable, they’re ideal for setting up a basecamp for a long weekend or more. 

When considering your options, look for durable materials and especially, good ventilation features to prevent condensation from so many people breathing into the same space. Also, check for an easy-to-pitch design, as tents this big can be unwieldy to set up.

Do you need a winter camping tent?

Winter camping is for the brave: Who else would voluntarily sleep outdoors when temperatures dip and snow flies? So their tents have to be hardy, too. A winter camping tent must be stable enough to handle high winds and snow loads, so look for tough materials and sturdy shapes. Vestibule space becomes even more important, as cold-weather campers and hunters have lots more bulky gear to store and need a safe shelter to cook on a camp stove. 

Other winter-camp-friendly features include plentiful camping gear storage lofts and pockets inside the tent, mesh panels for ventilation, and included guy lines for increasing stability.

Are you in the market for the best camping tent on a bargain?

Some tent price tags approach the rent you’d pay to live in an actual house. And while those models tend to be premium tents with innovative designs, ultralightweight, and/or made from bombproof construction, many campers will do just fine with a more affordable choice. There are quality tents on the market that will set you back less than $200 while still performing well in the field.

Keep in mind that a bargain-priced tent will have some tradeoffs. Durability is often a big one (cheaper tents use cheaper materials and often have less-carefully designed structures). They probably won’t stand up to terrible weather, either, so consider most of them summer shelters. Bargain tents tend to weigh more, too, as ultralight materials go for premium prices. But for lower-stakes camping in campgrounds or even the backyard, why pay for a Himalayas-worthy tent? Here’s the best camping tent we’ve found for less. 

Best camping tents: Reviews & recommendations

Best 2-person: NEMO Firefly 2 Person Backpacking Tent

Weighing just under 5 pounds, the NEMO Aurora still offers ample space for changing clothes or packing up gear. Two vestibules provide extra coverage for boots and backpacks, and color-coded poles make pitching it simple. This NEMO tent also has thoughtful touches, like pockets made with light-diffusing fabric and a stuff sack that makes it easy to split up the tent load between two people.

Best 4-person: Marmot Limestone 4p Tent

Amazon

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With a 60-square-foot floor, the Limestone offers plenty of room for four—and its peak is 63 inches high, eliminating claustrophobia. The freestanding design is easy to set up, and large vestibule shelters camping gear. You also get several interior pockets for organizing camping equipment, including a special pocket for holding a headlamp. 

Best 6-person: REI Co-op Base Camp 6 Tent

A longtime favorite for group camping, the REI Co-op Base Camp 6 features easy-access double doors, strategic ventilation, two vestibules and interior pockets and hang loops for organizing everyone’s gear. The whole package weighs just under 21 pounds. Eco bonus: Solution-dyed mesh reduces the tent’s water and energy footprint.

Best for Winter: Cabela’s Instinct Alaskan Guide 6-person Tent

Cabela’s

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With near-vertical walls and a peak height of 75 inches, this winter camping tent is a big step up from a snow cave. Highly durable poles, fly, and floor are built for high winds, snow, and rain. There’s also a spacious vestibule, ventilation windows, and included guy lines with tensioners so you can adjust the pitch easily as conditions change.

Best budget: Kelty Late Start 2-Person Tent

Cabela’s

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The Late Start’s two aluminum poles are set up in a flash, and the mostly-mesh body allows plenty of breezes. The freestanding design includes a single door with a vestibule, and a polyester rainfly keeps you dry. 

FAQs

Q: What is the best camping tent brand?

There’s no single best camping tent brand: Plenty of brands on the market make excellent tents, and different brands make tents best suited to different types of campers. Generally, the best brands invest a lot of time and money in creating innovative new shapes, materials, and features. Their tents will be made from quality, durable materials and tested to make sure they hold up in high winds and rain. The best camping tent brands aren’t necessarily making the most expensive tents, either: Some top-shelf shelters at bargain price points perform very well. That said, some of the most respected and time-tested camping tent brands include Big Agnes, NEMO, Mountain Hardwear, REI, and Kelty

Q: What is the best waterproof camping tent?

Similarly, there’s no one best waterproof camping tent. In fact, any tent worth buying, from bargain shelters on up to the most expensive models, should be waterproof. Most tents achieve this by including a waterproof rainfly that pitches over the tent body. All rain flies should advertise taped seams, as water can seep in through the tiny holes left by stitches on untaped seams. A tent with a rain fly is called a double-wall design; single-wall designs, in which the tent body itself is waterproof, are also available. Those are lighter to carry but less breathable, so condensation can be an issue.

Q: Are expensive tents worth it?

Generally, yes—if you need what they offer. Expensive tents cost a lot for a reason. Maybe that’s because they use ultralight-yet-strong materials, or because they’re exceptionally weatherproof. They might use a cutting-edge design that makes them more comfortable or livable. If you’re the kind of camper who’d benefit from these features—a long-distance backpacker, an ultralight hiker, or a mountaineer, for example—a pricier camping tent is well worth it. If you’re a more casual car camper, on the other hand, there’s no need to shell out for the top-of-the-line models. 

The final word on shopping for the best camping tents

Whether you’re planning an overnight at a local campground, a long weekend base camping with friends, or a true expedition, you’ll need the right tent. The best tent for camping will fit your intended use and weather conditions. Think about how many people (and camping gear, and even pets) need to fit inside, what season or climate you want to use it in, and your budget. Then go through the variables, such as the number and size of vestibules and doors, pockets, and accessories like guy lines, to choose the best camping tent for you.

The post Best camping tents of 2022 appeared first on Popular Science.

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7 alternatives to your phone’s built-in web browser https://www.popsci.com/alternative-phone-browsers/ https://www.popsci.com/alternative-phone-browsers/#respond Mon, 18 Mar 2019 22:03:55 +0000 https://www.popsci.com/uncategorized/alternative-phone-browsers/
A phone screen with the Kiwi Browser, Ecosia browser, Brave browser, and Firefox browser icons on the screen.
You don't need four browsers on your phone, but maybe you want to try them out and compare each one. David Nield

Protect your privacy, save data, navigate faster, and do more with these lesser-used mobile browsers.

The post 7 alternatives to your phone’s built-in web browser appeared first on Popular Science.

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A phone screen with the Kiwi Browser, Ecosia browser, Brave browser, and Firefox browser icons on the screen.
You don't need four browsers on your phone, but maybe you want to try them out and compare each one. David Nield

This story has been updated. It was originally published on September 16, 2018.

More than half of the world’s website traffic comes from mobile devices, and we’re willing to bet a lot of that stems from the browsers built into Android and iOS phones. On Android, Google Chrome (of course) takes pride of place, while iPhones rely on pre-installed versions of Apple’s Safari. But these are far from your only choices.

Just like your computer, your phone offers a variety of options to help you navigate the internet. We collected seven feature-packed web browsers that protect your privacy, reduce your data use, boost your speed, and more.

1. Mozilla Firefox

The Mozilla Firefox mobile browser, showing the Popular Science website.
Avoid online trackers with Mozilla’s mobile browser. David Nield

Mozilla Firefox may be the best-known independent web browser. If you like its popular desktop version, you should try the smart and speedy app for your phone. It really excels at protecting you from the web trackers that want to follow you around the internet.

Inside Firefox’s app, you can disable tracking with a couple of taps, or work in private-browsing mode. The Android version of the browser also supports extensions for everything from ad blocking to password management.

In addition to tracking protection, Firefox has a clean, smart interface. The front page provides a list of your most-visited sites, along with recommended reading based on pages you’ve bookmarked in the past. And like its computer-based cousin, the phone version of the browser lets you save your passwords, bookmarks, and browsing history. If you already use the desktop version, you can sync all of this information, allowing you to jump between devices with ease.

Mozilla Firefox is free for Android and iOS.

2. Opera and Opera Mini

The Opera Mini mobile browser showing the Popular Science website.
Waste less data with Opera Mini, the trimmed-down mobile version of Opera’s Android browser. David Nield

Opera has long been a trusted name in the browsing business, and it has several options for your phone. There’s the standard Opera browser for both major operating systems, but Android users also have access to Opera Mini. There used to be a Mini version for iOS, but that became Opera Touch before disappearing in favor of the Opera browser for iPhone.

All versions of Opera’s mobile browser have been designed for one-handed, on-the-go use, but Opera Mini is especially handy if you want to keep data use to a minimum: it has a built-in data-saving tool that compresses websites and page elements before they show up on your smartphone.

By sending you compressed versions of pages, the browser works exceptionally well on limited or slower internet connections. This also prevents you from blasting through your data plan too quickly—open the app to check exactly how much bandwidth you’re saving. On top of that, Opera further reduces your data use with smart downloads that start and resume based on WiFi availability.

[Related: How to find free WiFi when you really need it]

The compression process doesn’t compromise privacy, either: Opera doesn’t log any of your personal information while it puts pages through its compressor, nor does it apply this to encrypted pages. You also get a bunch of other useful features on all Opera apps, including a private browsing mode, quick links for adding websites to your phone’s home page, the ability to sync passwords and bookmarks with the desktop version of the browser, and a night mode to take the strain off your eyes in the dark.

Opera is free for Android and iOS, and Opera Mini is free for Android.

3. Brave

The Brave mobile browser showing the Popular Science website.
Protect your privacy with Chromium-based Brave. David Nield

The Brave browser emphasizes security and privacy. To start with, it comes with a built-in ad-blocker (just remember to whitelist the sites you want to support) so pop-ups won’t weigh down your browsing and websites won’t be able to track you as easily. For even more control, Brave features advanced security settings.

For example, you can prevent all interactive scripts from running on a page. When you’re loading a site, you can tell the browser to only make secure HTTPS connections (where they’re available). Brave also comes with built-in anti-phishing protection to keep you safe from attacks.

Developers built this browser on Chromium, an open-source project that also serves as the foundation of Google Chrome, so you might notice some similarities with the look and feel of that app. In addition to stellar security, Brave includes all the usual features you would expect from a mobile browser, including incognito browsing, browser bookmarks, and password management.

Brave is free for Android and iOS.

4. Ecosia Browser

The Ecosia mobile browser showing the Popular Science website.
Support the planet by browsing with Ecosia. David Nield

The Ecosia Browser, which also has its foundation in open-source Chromium code, funnels all your web queries through its own search engine, earning money through advertising and referrals on these searches. So why do we like it so much? Because Ecosia spends its money on environmentally focused projects—thus far, it has planted more than 150 million trees.

Of course, Ecosia has more than just a green thumb. It also refuses to save the details of your searches or your personal information. That means as you browse, your taps will be protecting the planet’s natural balance, rather than lining the pockets of a major tech corporation.

[Related: You have the power to protect your data. Own it.]

Apart from its repurposing of search-traffic profits, Ecosia strongly resembles Chrome. It has similar tools for private browsing, ad blocking, password and bookmark management, and its interface bears those familiar tabs.

Ecosia Browser is free for Android and iOS.

5. Kiwi Browser

The Kiwi Browser app showing the Popular Science website.
Boost your mobile browsing speed with Kiwi. David Nield

Kiwi Browser focuses on speed, cutting its app down to the essentials so you can focus on zooming around the web rather than sifting through menus and settings.

If there’s one reason to give Kiwi a try, it’s that speed—this browser really is fast. It’s also easy to use—you can even move the address bar down to the bottom so you can navigate more easily on bigger screens. However, it has fewer security features than some of the other browsers on this list, and there’s currently no iOS version of the app.

Like a few Android browsers, it relies on that handy Chromium code, so you’ll get the usual tools for tabs, bookmarks, passwords, and private browsing. But Kiwi adds a few tweaks: You can access features like a night mode to prevent eye strain, an ad blocker that’s enabled by default, support for playing YouTube in the background (so you can keep listening to music while you browse), and a special scanner that helps you avoid any sites that might hijack your phone to mine cryptocurrencies.

Kiwi Browser is free for Android.

6. Tor Browser

The opening pages of the Tor Browser on a mobile phone, assuring you you're about to explore the web privately.
Tor can help you hide your footprints. David Nield

The truly paranoid web-searcher needs Tor. Like its desktop version, the Tor Browser for Android doesn’t connect you directly to sites. Instead, it routes you through a series of connected servers, making it much harder for other people—whether that’s your internet provider, marketing companies, government agencies, or identity thieves—to track and identify you.

In that respect, this browser acts a lot like a VPN, only instead of putting your trust in one VPN company and its servers, you’re relying on a decentralized network of nodes run by volunteers who believe in privacy. The good news is that all of this heavy lifting happens behind the scenes, so you can just run your searches and enter URLs as you normally would.

Note that because of Tor’s focus on privacy, you won’t get some of the features you might prefer, such as browsing history or password management. The Tor Browser aims to forget this type of information, not save it. Finally, if you own an iPhone, you’re out of luck—there’s currently no Tor Browser for iOS. That said, the Tor team recommends the Onion Browser for those within Apple’s ecosystem.

Tor Browser is free for Android.

7. Firefox Focus

The Firefox Focus mobile browser showing the Popular Science website.
Maximize privacy and security with Firefox Focus. David Nield

The second Mozilla browser in our list, Firefox Focus ramps up the ad blocking and tracking protection to offer one of the most secure and private mobile browsing experiences. It started life as an ad-blocker extension for mobile devices, but Mozilla decided to surround it with a minimal web browser based on the original Firefox.

So how does this differ from its older sibling? Firefox Focus leaves barely any trace on the web. Think of it like running Firefox in private mode all the time, without storing any browsing history or cookies on your device. It also blocks most trackers and ads by default, and you might find that pages load faster and the whole internet speeds up because of that.

Of course, because the browser stores nothing between sessions, it won’t let you easily jump back to that website you enjoyed the day before. Every time you visit a log-in site like Twitter or Gmail, you’ll have to re-enter your credentials. If you consider that a worthwhile trade-off for a more private online experience, give Firefox Focus a try.

Firefox Focus is free for Android and iOS.

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Save 25 percent on this EGO yard-care combo from Amazon https://www.popsci.com/gear/fall-lawn-amazon-deal/ https://www.popsci.com/gear/fall-lawn-amazon-deal/#respond Mon, 22 Aug 2022 19:45:05 +0000 https://www.popsci.com/?p=464170
A set of lawn tools against a blue gradient background
Amanda Reed

Get two electric power tools for the price of one with this EGO Power+ deal.

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A set of lawn tools against a blue gradient background
Amanda Reed

The lush lawn you spent all summer carefully preening and perfecting will still need plenty of love and care as we enter fall. Keep your garden edges clean and blow any pesky leaves out of your yard and sidewalk with this weed whacker/leaf blower package from EGO Power+, on sale for $249, down $80.99 from its initial $329.99 price. That’s like paying for a leaf blower and getting a weed whacker for free.

EGO Power+

Check Price

The leaf blower pushes air through its nozzle at 530 cubic feet per minute, or CFM. A mid-level leaf blower offers between 200-400 CFM, making this one a good pick for a larger yard. The blower includes a high-efficiency brushless motor that reduces vibrations, extends motor life, and allows the blower to run for a longer amount of time. At the same time, it keeps the whole tool relatively light and compact at 7.4 pounds. The trimmer includes a rapid reload head to load cutting line faster than grass grows after it rains.

EGO Power+ tools rely on interchangeable batteries. This particular combo includes a 2.5Ah battery, but a combo with a 4Ah battery to decimate leaves longer is also available to purchase. And, this battery will work with all EGO Power+ ARC Lithium battery-compatible products—like this EGO SNT2400 snowblower, which we named the best electric snow blower for gravel driveways. Plus, battery power means you’ll get the power and performance of gas without the noise and fumes.

You finally have your chance at cul-de-sac glory for a great price with this deal. Snag it to finally usurp your rival neighbor with the slightly better lawn who doesn’t know how to clean up their leftover grass clippings.

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Severe droughts are bringing archaeological wonders and historic horrors to the surface https://www.popsci.com/environment/droughts-artifacts-bodies-revealed/ https://www.popsci.com/environment/droughts-artifacts-bodies-revealed/#respond Mon, 22 Aug 2022 21:00:00 +0000 https://www.popsci.com/?p=464147
The Dolmen of Guadalperal, sometimes called "The Spanish Stonehenge," above the water level at the Valdecanas reservoir. Getty Images

As multiple countries around the world face drought conditions, dried lakes and rivers are revealing everything from World War II era bombs to human remains.

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The Dolmen of Guadalperal, sometimes called "The Spanish Stonehenge," above the water level at the Valdecanas reservoir. Getty Images

The summer of 2022 may be remembered the world over as one of the driest in recent history due to the impacts of climate change. Countries around the world are experiencing drought conditions, including 41 percent of the US and 47 percent of the European Union as of August 16. In the Horn of Africa on the eastern tip of the continent, 22 million people are struggling to find food after a years long drought has damaged crop yields and typically twice annual rainy seasons haven’t materialized. Meanwhile, China is facing its worst drought on record. Parts of the Yangtze River have become so low that it’s affecting the country’s hydroelectric power. The Sichuan provincial government declared that water flow to the province’s hydropower reservoirs had dropped by half and that the province was at the highest warning level of “particularly severe.” In response, the nation plans to try a a geoengineering technique called cloud seeding, that uses chemicals to generate rain. 

China isn’t alone in seeing its rivers and lakes well below capacity. Satellite images from NASA show how much reservoirs in the western USes have emptied and the destruction of wildfires. The depleted bodies of water and parched landscapes the world over are also revealing long-buried artifacts from the past and other secrets.

On the Serbian portion of Europe’s Danube River, a graveyard of World War II area warships filled with explosive ammunition were uncovered near the town of Prahovo. These ships were sunk in 1944 and were part of a Nazi Black Sea fleet that were defeated while fleeing Soviet forces. According to local media, 10,000 explosive devices are within the wreckage and it is uncertain whether or not the devices can still detonate. These ships last made their appearance on dry land during a heatwave in 2003

In Spain, a circle of dozens of megalithic stones dating back to 5,000 BCE was exposed in a corner of the Valdecanas reservoir. The reservoir is Spain’s central province of Caceres and is currently sitting at only 28 percent capacity. The Dolmen of Guadalperal, often called the “Spanish Stonehenge,” was discovered in 1926 by German archaeologist Hugo Obermaier. It was lost when the area was flooded in 1963 in a rural development project under Francisco Franco’s dictatorship.

In an interview with Reuters, archaeologist Enrique Cedillo from Madrid’s Complutense University said, “It’s a surprise, it’s a rare opportunity to be able to access it.” Cedillo is one of the experts racing to study the circle before it gets submerged again. Dolmens likes these are vertically arranged stones usually supporting a flat topped boulder. There are many of these stone formations scattered across Western Europe, but little is known about who erected them. Previous dolmen discoveries have uncovered human remains near the structures, leading to the theory that they are tombs or burial sites.

Lake Mead on the Nevada and Arizona border has grabbed headlines with a more gruesome set of discoveries. Since May 2022, five sets of human remains have been discovered the the western corner of the reservoir about an hour from the city of Las Vegas. Investigators are still unraveling the story behind these skeletons, with some local experts pointing to organized crime’s proliferation in Las Vegas

“If the lake goes down much farther, it’s very possible we’re going to have some very interesting things surface,” said Michael Green, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas history professor, in an interview with the Associated Press. “I wouldn’t bet the mortgage that we’re going to solve who killed Bugsy Siegel. But I would be willing to bet there are going to be a few more bodies,” Green added.

However, these archaeological and forensic discoveries are coming at a high cost. While droughts are common throughout the Earth’s history, they can lead to potential famine and displacement of populations, like what the US experienced during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Experts continue to point to climate change as the primary reason why droughts and other extreme conditions continue to persist. 

 

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Why congestion pricing reduces traffic better than new highway lanes https://www.popsci.com/environment/what-is-congestion-pricing/ https://www.popsci.com/environment/what-is-congestion-pricing/#respond Mon, 22 Aug 2022 14:21:13 +0000 https://www.popsci.com/?p=464091
George Washington Bridge traffic going into Manhattan in the daytime when congestion pricing will apply
New York City is proposing congestion pricing for peak travel times through the borough of Manhattan. Deposit Photos

In a first for the US, New York City drivers might have to pay a traffic tax of sorts.

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George Washington Bridge traffic going into Manhattan in the daytime when congestion pricing will apply
New York City is proposing congestion pricing for peak travel times through the borough of Manhattan. Deposit Photos

New York City has some of the most congested streets in the US, and a new plan hopes to address that problem. The city is working on implementing congestion pricing in Manhattan, which means drivers would be forced to pay a fee to drive through the business- and tourist-heavy borough between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. This policy could reduce vehicle traffic in Manhattan—and bring some climate benefits, too.

Drivers would have to pay up to $23 to drive through Manhattan in one of the proposals. That said, New Jersey and outer-borough residents would be able to subtract any tunnel tolls they paid during their commute from the fee. About half of New York’s carbon emissions currently come from transportation; fewer cars inching down the roads and more people using public transit could cause a steep reduction in the city’s air pollution.

Nicholas Klein, an assistant professor of city and regional planning at Cornell University, says that congestion pricing is indeed the best way to reduce congestion. “For many decades in the US, people foolishly tried to solve this problem adding more lanes,” he explains. “It does not work because of induced demand. Any time you add capacity, it causes people to change their behavior.”

When people see there are more lanes, Klein says, they tend to change their behavior. They might take a different route to their destination because they’re aware there are more lanes available, or change where and how they decide to travel. More generally, someone who hadn’t been planning on driving might decide to get behind the wheel instead of taking a bus or subway. 

[Related on PopSci+: The future of open city streets could start with smarter traffic lights]

A more straight-shot solution would be to take vehicles off the streets—and charging people to drive through dense, smoggy areas is one way to do that. “[Congestion pricing] has been implemented in other places. We know it’s been implemented Singapore since the 1970s, and in London, Stockholm, Milan, and elsewhere,” Klein says. “It’s not a new idea. It works. You’re basically just adding a price to discourage some travel.”

Klein says congestion pricing isn’t just good for combating greenhouse gas emissions, it’s also good for public health. Reducing the number of cars that spew noxious fumes in an area has been shown to improve air quality, and studies have found this can benefit a community’s respiratory heath. It’s also less expensive for a city to choose congestion pricing over highway expansions. From Klein’s perspective, adding new lanes is “wasteful from an economic perspective and foolish from a climate perspective.”

Some have argued the New York City fee would be harmful to working class drivers who can’t afford it, and still not deter wealthier drivers who may be willing to pay up. Klein says the important thing when considering a congestion pricing plan is to make sure working class people have other ways to get where they need to go. The New York City subway has the most stations of any underground transit system in the world, but service is limited in some of the outer boroughs. New bus and bike lanes could provide more options for residents and commuters.

“In London, they addressed this by ramping up bus service. They already had a good public transit system, and they made it better,” Klein says. “In some ways, it depends on what the alternatives are, and that’s very context-dependent.”

[Related: US pedestrian deaths are reaching a new high]

Klein also thinks many working class people will be okay with the fee if they can afford it because they’ll be driving on less-congested streets, which saves on time and fuel. Congestion pricing could reduce the number of cars entering Manhattan by up to 20 percent, New York City officials have stated.

If the congestion pricing plan works well in New York, Klein expects the strategy to catch on in other parts of the US. Los Angeles has already launched a study to look into its benefits, and Chicago could expand the rideshare tax it passed in 2020

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YouTube removes video of Tesla superfan testing autopilot safety on a child https://www.popsci.com/technology/tesla-autopilot-child/ https://www.popsci.com/technology/tesla-autopilot-child/#respond Mon, 22 Aug 2022 17:00:00 +0000 https://www.popsci.com/?p=464099
Man using Tesla interface inside vehicle
YouTube is not a fan of using children as road obstacles in test drives. Deposit Photos

A prominent Elon Musk defender apparently thought this was the best way to prove Tesla critics wrong.

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Man using Tesla interface inside vehicle
YouTube is not a fan of using children as road obstacles in test drives. Deposit Photos

YouTube has pulled at least one Tesla diehard’s video showing them attempting to prove the safety of their electric vehicle’s Full Self-Driving autopilot system by driving towards an actual child, although other similar clips still appear to be available to watch on the website. The now-removed clip came from Omar Qazi, a Tesla advocate and stockholder, as well as founder of the Whole Mars Catalog blog spanning multiple social media channels.

YouTube’s decision is the latest turn in an already surreal and disconcerting escalation of events reportedly stemming from a video posted earlier this month by The Dawn Project founder and U.S. Senate candidate, Dan O’Dowd. In O’Dowd’s upload, he calls the autopilot feature a “demonstrable danger to human life,” and illustrates his concerns via multiple clips of Teslas hitting child-sized pedestrian mannequins. Musk fans were subsequently so unhappy with the viral critiques that they quickly mounted a debunking campaign, showing off how confident they are in the feature by using their own children as potential victims.

[Related: “Unpacking the bot issue behind the Twitter-Musk drama“]

Motherboard gave a rundown last week of Qazi’s video while it was still online, which reportedly first showed three tests with child mannequins, followed by one with an adult man standing in the street, and finally one with an actual child. “I trust the system enough… that I would trust my kids’ lives with them, so I’m very confident that it’s going to detect my kids and I’m also in control of the wheel so I can brake at anytime,” the child’s father, Tad, says. In the video, the Tesla appears to make a full stop near the child without injuring them.

“YouTube doesn’t allow content showing a minor participating in dangerous activities or encouraging minors to do dangerous activities,” the company said in a statement, with a spokesperson later adding, “Specifically, we don’t allow content showing or encouraging minors in harmful situations that may lead to injury, including dangerous stunts, dares, or pranks.”

Despite Tesla fans’ vows of fealty, the company’s autopilot feature has received mounting scrutiny as numerous accidents, some deadly, continue to occur while the system is purportedly engaged. Currently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating multiple of these crashes in order to determine whether or not the autopilot system should be banned from roadways entirely.

As of writing, at least one similar YouTube video is still online courtesy of a different Tesla owner, in which the driver tests the autopilot feature on another child standing in the road.

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Alfalfa should be the first crop we try to grow on Mars https://www.popsci.com/science/first-mars-crop/ https://www.popsci.com/science/first-mars-crop/#respond Mon, 22 Aug 2022 15:30:00 +0000 https://www.popsci.com/?p=464085
Alfalfa sprouts have the potential to grow in Martian soil. Deposit Photos

According to a new study, alfalfa sprouts are a contender for the first plants future Mars colonizers could farm.

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Alfalfa sprouts have the potential to grow in Martian soil. Deposit Photos

While NASA doesn’t expect to have astronauts setting foot on Mars until the late 2030’s-early 2040’s, there are still numerous obstacles for the space agency ahead of any long-term settlement on the Red Planet. The process of growing food on Mars, depicted in the sci-fi novel and 2015 film The Martian gave audiences a glimpse at what space agriculture could look like. In both real-life Mars and the planet depicted in the movie, it will be anything but simple since the Martian soil (or more specifically, regolith) will need additional nutrients .

According to a recent study published in the journal PLOS One, alfalfa plants are the first greens that future astronauts should plant on Mars. The team of researchers from Iowa State University found that the forage crop can survive in tough volcanic soil similar to what is found on Mars. It could be also be used as an additional fertilizer ingredient to grow other food like lettuce, turnips, and radishes.

“The low nutrient content of Martian soil and high salinity of water render them unfit for direct use for propagating food crops on Mars,” write the researchers. “It is therefore essential to develop strategies to enhance nutrient content in Mars soil and to desalinate briny water for long-term missions.”

Producing a copy of Martian regolith, or the loose, unconsolidated soil on top of bedrock, here on Earth is quite challenging. The team put together the best approximation they could, before testing different seeds in it. Martian soil is largely weathered basalt and previous studies show that basaltic regolith contains multiple macro elements (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and others) and minor elements (manganese, chromium, nickel, and more).

The team found that the alfalfa didn’t need any additional fertilizer to grow as healthily as it does in Earth soil. They then used the alfalfa as a fertilizer in the simulated Martian soil and successfully grew lettuce, turnips, and radishes. These types of plants plants are amendable for space farming, as they do not need much water or maintenance and can grow rapidly.

But this study does not mean that astronauts are ready to start farming Mars. The experiment required fresh water, which Mars currently doesn’t have readily available. The team theorizes that the briny water on Mars could potentially be treated with a type of marine bacteria and filtered through Mars’ plentiful volcanic rock to produce fresh water.

“For the first time, we report an integrated use of a biofertilizer and microbe for effective treatment of basaltic regolith soil and briny water simulants, respectively, for suitable resources that sustain plant growth,” the team writes.

One of the biggest remaining questions is how accurately Martian soil can be replicated here on Earth. The simulated soil was also missing some of the toxic perchlorate salts, which would need to be somehow washed out of Martian soil by the desalinated water. The experiments outlined in this research do give scientists and astronauts potential simple and efficient potential options to explore to best re-create regolith.

“This study signifies that for long-term purposes, it is possible to treat in situ soil and water resources for farming on Mars to sustain human missions and permanent settlements,” write the team.

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These thoughtful nature images were captured by scientists in action https://www.popsci.com/science/nature-photography-contest-winners-bmc-journal/ https://www.popsci.com/science/nature-photography-contest-winners-bmc-journal/#respond Sun, 21 Aug 2022 19:19:29 +0000 https://www.popsci.com/?p=464054
Parasitic fungi bursting from a fly's back in macro
Overall winner: The fruiting body of a parasitic fungus erupts from the body of a fly. Roberto García-Roa

See conservation science, evolutionary biology, and other important fields of study through an artistic lens.

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Parasitic fungi bursting from a fly's back in macro
Overall winner: The fruiting body of a parasitic fungus erupts from the body of a fly. Roberto García-Roa

Some people adopt photography as a profession; others do it as a hobby. But for researchers in the field or the lab, it’s often a hazard of the job.

The BMC Ecology and Evolution image competition makes space to celebrate those ultra-close, ultra-detailed, or ultra-rare candids every year. Chosen by the editors of the journal BioMed Central Ecology and Evolution, the winners and runner-ups consist of scientists from all around the world. The 2022 submissions fell into four categories: research in action, life closeup, biodiversity under threat, and relationships in nature.

[Related: 8 award-winning photos of nature’s stranger things]

The overall winner (seen above) was taken in the Tambopata National Reserve in Peru by evolutionary biologist and expert photographer Roberto García-Roa. It depicts ”spores of the so-called ‘Zombie’ fungus (e.g. genera Ophiocordyceps) that infect arthropods by infiltrating their exoskeleton and minds,” says García-Roa in a description for the contest. ”As a result, parasitized hosts are compelled to migrate to a more favorable location for the fungus’s growth. Here, they await death, at which point the fungus feeds on its host to produce fruiting bodies full of spores that will be jettisoned to infect more victims—a conquest shaped by thousands of years of evolution.”

See PopSci‘s picks from the final lineup below, and check the journal’s website for information on the 2023 competition soon.

Male wood frog underwater with cluster of eggs
Biodiversity under threat runner-up: A male wood frog clings to an egg mass. Lindsey Swierk
African elephants standing in shade of giant baobab tree on the savannah in black and white
Biodiversity under threat: A group of African elephants shelter from the sun under a baobab tree. Samantha Kreling
Waxwing bird taking flight with red berry in its beak with a snowy background
Relationships in nature: A waxwing feasts on fermented rowan berries. Alwin Hardenbol
Clump of brown and colorful ocean plastic in a petri dish
Highly commended: A seabird’s stomach full of plastic waste. Marine Cusa
Green tree frogs in the embryo stage clustered together
Life closeup winner: Gliding treefrog siblings at an early developmental stage. Brandonl André Güell
Researchers in yellow hazmat suits and COVID PPE under a starry sky at night
Research in action: Researchers perform fieldwork during thunderstorms in the COVID pandemic. Jeferson Ribeiro Amaral

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