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Ludwig ends his 31-day stream by breaking Ninja’s all-time sub record

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The Overwatch League is bringing back some live matches with a trio of events in China

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The next Oculus Quest 2 update brings native wireless PC streaming and a 120Hz mode

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The FBI is remotely hacking hundreds of computers to protect them from Hafnium

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US carriers have thankfully abandoned at least one bad plan for RCS

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Samsung teases ‘the most powerful’ Galaxy device is coming at its April 28th Unpacked event

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Detroit man sues police for wrongfully arresting him based on facial recognition

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Gigabyte is announcing three OLED gaming monitors with HDMI 2.1 and TV sizes

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U.S. pauses J&J vaccine rollout after 6 people of 6.8 million get rare blood clots

Federal health officials in the United States are pressing pause on administering Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine following rare reports of blood clots in people who received the shot. U.S. officials are recommending that, for now, states halt the shots, too.   Out of more than 6.8 million people vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson’s jab in the United States, six developed severe blood clots in the sinuses that drain blood from the brain, officials with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said April 13 in a news release. That condition, called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis or CVST, is coupled with low levels of platelets in the blood after vaccination. How long the pause will last largely depends on the outcome of an expert review of the cases, but could be a matter of days, Janet Woodcock, the FDA’s acting commissioner, said in an April 13 call with news reporters. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet April 14 to discuss the cases and potentially update its recommendations for use. The U.S. action comes less than a week after the European Medicines Agency announced that its experts had found a link between a COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford and conditions like CVST (SN:4/7/21). In the European Union and the United Kingdom, most of the rare blood clots have occurred in vaccinated women younger than 60 years old. But the risk factors remain unclear, according to the EMA. Health officials there have recommended that CVST and other unusual clots be listed as a rare side effect of AstraZeneca’s vaccine. Sign Up For the Latest from Science News Headlines and summaries of the latest Science News articles, delivered to your inbox In the United States, all six CVST cases were in women younger than 50 and appeared six to 13 days after vaccination. One person died and another is in critical condition. “These events appear to be extremely rare,” Woodcock said. She noted that like with AstraZeneca’s shot, there are too few cases with Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine to come to any conclusions about who is at highest risk of developing the clots. Johnson & Johnson has delayed the rollout of its vaccine in Europe, the pharmaceutical company said April 13 in a news release. The pause on using the vaccine is “out of an abundance of caution” until health officials review the cases, Woodcock said. It will give experts time to prepare the health care system so health care providers can learn about options to treat patients, since CVST requires different medical treatments than other types of clots. Experts can also notify people being vaccinated about symptoms to watch out for, as well as keep an eye on new reports that might pop up.   See all our coverage of the coronavirus outbreak “These clots are very different from normal blood clots,” says Elliott Haut, a blood clot expert and trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “It’s a tough place to be,” but with the numbers so far showing a rate of 1 case of clotting per 1 million people, the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks, he says. COVID-19 itself can cause clots in around one-fifth of hospitalized patients and has killed nearly 3 million people worldwide over the past year (SN: 11/2/20). Other medications like hormonal birth control also carry blood clot risks, yet people still take contraceptives, Haut says. Symptoms like severe headache, leg or abdominal pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks of vaccination with Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine could be a sign of a dangerous clot, Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, said in the April 13 call. Those side effects are different, and appear much later than the flulike symptoms that stem from the immune response to the jab in the days following the shot.   Vaccine safety is a top priority so officials are taking the reports of clotting seriously, Woodcock said. There have been no cases of clotting seen in people vaccinated with Moderna’s or Pfizer’s mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines out of 180 million doses given in the United States. Both AstraZeneca’s and Johnson & Johnson’s shots are adenovirus-based vaccines. The shots use an engineered form of adenoviruses — which usually cause the common cold but are altered to not cause disease — to deliver instructions to cells to make the coronavirus’s spike protein. That’s what primes the immune system to recognize an infection. It’s possible — though far from proven — that the rare clots are linked to these types of vaccines. But researchers don’t know yet, Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research said in the call with reporters. It also unknown how the vaccines could cause clots. Studies suggest that an immune response to the vaccines might spur platelets to clump together, but that too is far from clear. Sign up for e-mail updates on the latest coronavirus news and research

Surprisingly, humans recognize joyful screams faster than fearful screams

Screams of joy appear to be easier for our brains to comprehend than screams of fear, a new study suggests. The results add a surprising new layer to  scientists’ long-held notion that our brains are wired to quickly recognize and respond to fearful screams as a survival mechanism (SN: 7/16/15). The study looked at different scream types and how listeners perceive them. For example, the team asked participants to imagine “you are being attacked by an armed stranger in a dark alley” and scream in fear and to imagine “your favorite team wins the World Cup” and scream in joy. Each of the 12 participants produced seven different types of screams: six emotional screams (pain, anger, fear, pleasure, sadness, and joy) and one neutral scream where the volunteer just loudly yelled the ‘a’ vowel. Separate sets of study participants were then tasked with classifying and distinguishing between the different scream types. In one task, 33 volunteers were asked to listen to screams and given three seconds to categorize them into one of the seven different screams. In another task, 35 different volunteers were presented with two screams, one at a time, and were asked to categorize the screams as quickly as possible while still trying to make an accurate decision about what type of scream it was, either alarming screams of pain, anger or fear or non-alarming screams of pleasure, sadness or joy. It took longer for participants to complete the task when it involved fear and other alarming screams, and those screams were not as easily recognizable as non-alarming screams like joy, the researchers report online April 13 in PLOS Biology. In another experiment, 30 different volunteers underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging, or  fMRI, while listening to the screams. Less-alarming screams elicited more activity in the auditory and frontal brain regions than more-alarming screams, the team found, though why we respond that way isn’t yet clear.  The study shows that scream communication and the ways in which we understand that vocalization is diverse in humans, compared with other mammals whose screams are usually associated with alarming situations like danger, says Sascha Frühholz, a psychologist at the University of Zurich. His team’s work challenges the dominant view in neuroscience that the human brain is primarily tuned to detect negative threat, he says. Though the results are limited only to the experiments and don’t reflect how humans would respond to screams in the real world, the rigor of the study methods provides a high confidence in the results, says Adeen Flinker, neuroscientist at New York University’s School of Medicine not involved in the study. The difference that turned up between alarming and non-alarming screams provides a “deeper understanding of this important vocalization,” says NYU psychologist David Poeppel, who also was not involved in the study. The range of experiments, from acoustic analysis to fMRI, also provides “a nice next stepping stone to develop a more methodical and mechanistic understanding of how we process screams,” he says.

Wildfires launch microbes into the air. How big of a health risk is that?

As climate change brings more wildfires to the western United States, a rare fungal infection has also been on the rise. Valley fever is up more than sixfold in Arizona and California from 1998 to 2018, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Valley fever causes coughs, fevers and chest pain and can be deadly. The culprit fungi, members of the genus Coccidioides, thrive in soils in California and the desert Southwest. Firefighters are especially vulnerable to the disease. Wildfires appear to stir up and send the soil-loving fungi into the air, where they can enter people’s lungs. If the fires are helping these disease-causing fungi to get around, could they be sending other microorganisms aloft as well? Leda Kobziar, a fire ecologist at the University of Idaho in Moscow, decided in 2015 to see if she could find out if and how microorganisms like bacteria and fungi are transported by wildfire smoke — and what that might mean for human and ecological health. By 2018, Kobziar had launched a new research field she named “pyroaerobiology.” First, she asked if microorganisms can even survive the searing heat of a wildfire. The answer, she found, is yes. But how far bacteria and fungi can travel on the wind and in what numbers are two of the many big unknowns. With a recent push to spark new collaborations and investigations, Kobziar hopes that scientists will start to understand how important smoke transport of microbes may be. For Kobziar’s earliest studies in 2015, her students held up petri dishes on long poles to collect samples of the smoky air near a prescribed fire at the University of Florida experimental forest.L. Kobziar Today, Kobziar and colleagues use drones to collect samples at the University of Florida experimental forest.L. Kobziar Invisible but pervasive Air may look clear, but even in the cleanest air, “hundreds of different bacteria and fungi are blowing around,” says Noah Fierer, a microbiologist at the University of Colorado Boulder. Winds whisk bacteria and fungi off all kinds of surfaces — farm fields, deserts, lakes, oceans. Those microbes can rise into the atmosphere to travel the world. Scientists have found microorganisms from the Sahara in the Caribbean, for example. Many (if not most) of the airborne microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi and viruses, are not likely to cause disease, Fierer notes. But some can make people sick or cause allergic reactions, he says. Others cause diseases in crops and other plants. The billions of tons of dust that blow off of deserts and agricultural fields each year act as a microbial conveyor belt. In places like Arizona, people know to be alert for symptoms of airborne illnesses like Valley fever after dust storms, since infections increase downwind afterward. If dust can move living microorganisms around the globe, it makes sense that particulates in smoke would be microbe movers too, Kobziar says — assuming the microscopic life-forms can survive a fire and a spin in the atmosphere. Sign Up For the Latest from Science News Headlines and summaries of the latest Science News articles, delivered to your inbox Tiny travelers Rising temperatures and worsening droughts have led to longer and more intense wildfire seasons across the West (SN: 9/26/20, p. 12). Breathing wildfire smoke makes people sick (SN Online: 9/18/20), even causing premature death from heart and lung illnesses. In the United States, wildfire smoke causes about 17,000 premature deaths per year — a number projected to double by 2100, according to a 2018 study in GeoHealth. In other parts of the world, the effects are far worse. In 2015, smoke from illegal land-clearing blazes plus wildfires in Indonesia killed an estimated 100,000 people across Southeast Asia, according to a 2016 report in Environmental Research Letters. Blame is usually attributed to particulate matter — organic and inorganic particles suspended in the air, including pollen, ash and pollutants. But scientists and health officials are increasingly realizing that there’s an awful lot we don’t know about what else in smoke is affecting human health. The most intense fires, the ones that burn the hottest and release the most energy, can create their own weather systems and send smoke all the way into the stratosphere, which extends about 50 kilometers above Earth’s surface (SN: 9/14/19, p. 12). Once there, smoke can travel around the world just as ash from explosive volcanoes does. Kobziar’s team and others provided compelling evidence in the February ISME Journal that live, viable microorganisms can be carried in smoke plumes — at least near Earth’s surface if not higher up. The Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment, or FASMEE, team set this high-intensity crown fire in the aspens of Fishlake National Forest, Utah, in 2019. The team used a drone to measure microbial concentrations in this smoke.L. Kobziar In 2015, while at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Kobziar and her students collected the first air samples for this line of research during a series of planned, or prescribed, burns that Kobziar set at the school’s experimental forest. The group arrived at the forest armed with 3-meter-long poles topped with petri dishes to collect samples from the air. Before any fires were set, the team held the petri dishes in the air for three minutes to collect air samples as a pre-fire baseline. Then Kobziar, a certified prescribed burn manager (or as she calls it, a “fire lighter”), lit the fires. Once flames were spreading at a steady rate and smoke was billowing, students hoisted new petri dishes into the smoke, almost as if aiming a marshmallow on a stick at a campfire. This allowed them to collect smoky air samples to compare to the “before” samples. Back in the lab, in a dark room held at a constant 23° Celsius, both the baseline and smoky petri dishes — covered and sealed from further contamination — were left for three days. Microbes began to grow. Far more bacterial and fungal species populated the smoky petri dishes than the baseline dishes, indicating that the fire aerosolized some species that weren’t in the air before the fire, Kobziar says. These petri dishes show bacterial and fungal colonies that grew after five minutes of exposure to smoke. The smoke came from pine needles collected from Florida then burned in Kobziar’s University of Idaho lab.L. Kobziar These petri dishes show bacterial and fungal colonies that grew after five minutes of exposure to smoke. The smoke came from pine needles collected from Florida then burned in Kobziar’s University of Idaho lab.L. Kobziar “We were stunned at how many different microbial colonies survived the combustion environment and grew in the smoke samples, compared to very few in the ambient air,” she says. Based on DNA tests, Kobziar’s team identified 10 types of bacteria and fungi; some are pathogenic to plants, one is an ant parasite and one helps plants absorb nutrients. “This was the moment when the way we thought about smoke was completely transformed,” she says. In 2017, after Kobziar had moved to Idaho, her team collected soil samples from the University of Idaho’s experimental forest and burned them — this time, in the lab. As smoke unfurled above the burning soils, the researchers collected air samples, and again, sealed them and put them in a dark, warm room to see what would grow. After a week, lots of different microbes, including fungi, had multiplied into colonies on the plates, the researchers reported in 2018 in Ecosphere. Alive and on the move Since then, Kobziar’s team has collected more air samples during prescribed burns of varying intensities in Florida, Idaho, Montana and Utah, joining forces with the U.S. Forest Service Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment, or FASMEE, team. For her students’ safety, she’s replaced the poles and petri dishes with drones. She sends a single drone carrying a vacuum pump with a filter into smoke plumes at varying altitudes up to 120 meters, the team described in the journal Fire in 2019. [embedded content] The FASMEE team set up a mobile research lab on the fire line at Fishlake National Forest. Drone operators sent the machines into the smoke to collect samples, back to the “lab” to return samples, then back up to collect more multiple times. They found about 1,000 different microbe types in the smoke. In every experiment, the researchers have found living bacteria and fungi, many of which were not found in any of the air samples taken before the fires. In Utah smoke samples, for example, the FASMEE team found more than 100 different fungi that were not in the air before the fire, Kobziar says. Findings included species of Aspergillus, which can cause fevers, coughs and chest pain, as well as Cladosporium, molds that can cause allergies and asthma. Whether any of these microorganisms pose a danger to people is unknown, Kobziar cautions. Her team has not tested whether the microbial species that survive the heat can cause disease, but the group plans to do so. The research in Utah revealed another crucial fact: These microbes are tough. Even in smoke from high-intensity, high-temperature fires, about 60 percent of bacterial and fungal cells are alive, Kobziar says. Roughly 80 percent seem to survive lower-intensity fires, which is “about the same percentage of cells we’d expect to see alive in ambient air conditions,” she says. Thus, these first studies show that fires are sending live bacteria and fungi into the air. And that they can travel at least 120 meters above the ground and close to a kilometer from a flame front. But many basic questions remain, Kobziar says. How do the microbes change — in quantity, type or viability — based on distance traveled away from the flames? How far can they actually go? How do different fuel sources — pine trees, grasslands, deciduous trees or crops, for example — affect microbial release? How does fire intensity affect what is released and how far it travels? Does the type of combustion — smoldering (like a wet log on a campfire) versus high-intensity flaming fires — affect what is released? How does temperature or humidity or weather affect microbial survival? Then, of course, Kobziar has plenty of questions about how to conduct this new field of research: What are the safest and best ways to sample the air in the dangerous environment of an unpredictable wildfire? How do you avoid contaminating the biological samples? She’s been learning as she goes, honing her methodology. The answers to many of those questions could come if one of Kobziar’s dream collaborations comes true: She wants to work with the researchers whose studies involve the NASA DC-8 “flying laboratory,” which explores Earth’s surface and atmosphere for studies ranging from archaeology to volcanology. Researchers have already tracked many different chemicals released by fires into the stratosphere from the Arctic to the South Pacific and everywhere in between, using the DC-8 for NASA’s Atmospheric Tomography Mission, says Christine Wiedinmyer, a fire emissions modeler at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences in Boulder, Colo. Finding traceable signatures of fires everywhere in the atmosphere suggests that fires could also be sending bacteria and fungi around the world, she says. Nine kilometers above Earth’s surface, a camera on NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory took this image of thunderclouds rising above columns of smoke from a fire in eastern Washington on August 8, 2019. Such storms, formed by intense fires, loft particulate matter, chemicals and maybe even microbes into the stratosphere.David Peterson/U.S. Naval Research Lab “Pyroaerobiology is so cool,” says Wiedinmyer, who tracks and simulates the movement of chemicals in wildfire smoke around the world. She sees no reason that such atmospheric chemistry models couldn’t also be used for tracking and forecasting the movement of microbes in smoke plumes — once researchers collect sufficient measurements. Those data might answer basic questions about the human health hazards of microorganisms in smoke. Microbiologist Fierer in Boulder and Wiedinmyer have collaborated on chemistry sampling and modeling. The two plan to move to bacterial and fungal modeling using data Fierer is gathering on microbial concentrations in wildfire smoke. Kobziar, meanwhile, is working with atmospheric modelers to figure out how to model microbes’ movements in smoke. The long-term aim is to develop models to supplement current air-quality forecasts with warnings of air-quality issues across the United States related to wildfire-released microorganisms in smoke. A U.S. map While Kobziar’s team focuses on measuring microbes in smoke, Fierer’s team is working to get a baseline of what microbes are in the air at different locations during normal times and then comparing the baseline to smoke. The group has been sampling indoor and outdoor air at hundreds of U.S. homes to “map out what microbes we’re breathing in as we’re walking around doing our daily business,” Fierer says. They are also sampling air across Colorado, which experienced record-breaking fires in 2020 (SN: 12/19/20 & 1/2/21, p. 32). Fierer’s team uses sampling stations with small, high-powered vacuums atop 2-meter-high poles to “sample air for a period of time without smoke. Then boom, smoke hits [the site], we sample for a few days when there’s smoke in the air, and then we also sample afterward,” Fierer says. Analyzing samples from before, during and after a fire is ideal, he says, as there’s tremendous variation in microbial and fungal populations in the air. Near a Midwestern city in winter, for example, microorganisms might include ones associated with local trees or, strangely, dog feces; near a Colorado cattle feedlot in summer, microbes might include those associated with cattle feces. Joanne Emerson, then a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder, samples air atop a 300-meter-tall tower at the Boulder Atmospheric Observatory.N. Fierer When the team gets its results — data collection and analysis have been delayed by the pandemic — Fierer says, “we will know the amounts and types of microbes found in wildfire smoke compared with paired smoke-free air samples, and whether those microbes are viable.” At least in Colorado. Once scientists get the measurements of how many microbes can be carried in smoke, and to what altitudes, Fierer’s group can combine that information with global smoke production numbers to come up with “some back-of-the-envelope calculations” of the volume of microbes traveling in smoke plumes. Eventually, he says, scientists could figure out how many are alive, and whether that even matters for human health — still “an outstanding question.” Big leaps forward could be made if more scientists get involved in the research, Fierer and Kobziar both say. This research needs a truly multidisciplinary approach, with microbiologists, forest ecologists and atmospheric scientists collaborating, Fierer says. Going it alone would “be equivalent to a microbiologist studying microbes in the ocean and not knowing anything about oceanography,” he says. Fortunately, after Kobziar and infectious disease physician George Thompson of the University of California, Davis published a call-to-arms paper in Science last December, summing up their pyroaerobiology research and noting key questions, several researchers from different fields expressed interest in investigating the topic. “That’s exactly what we hoped would happen,” Kobziar says. Is there danger? In recent years, Thompson has seen a substantial increase in patients getting Valley fever and other fungal infections after nearby wildfires. He was well aware that when particulate matter in smoke gets into the lungs, it can cause breathing difficulties, pneumonia and even heart attacks. In fact, scientists reported in the Journal of the American Heart Association in April 2020 that exposure to heavy smoke during 2015–2017 wildfires in California raised the risk of heart attacks by up to 70 percent. He began to wonder if California’s record-breaking infernos were stirring up other microbes along with the fungus that causes Valley fever. So he joined forces with Kobziar. The Valley fever link appears to be real, but so far, local. For example, after the 2003 Simi Fire burned through Ventura County, more than 70 people got sick with Valley fever. But whether the Coccidioides fungi can travel to make people sick at a distance from the fire, no one knows. There are ways to figure out if more people, either locally or farther away, are getting sick with bacterial or fungal infections after wildfires. One way, Thompson says, is to look at a community’s antibiotic prescriptions and hospitalizations in the month preceding and the month after a fire: More prescriptions or hospitalizations from bacterial or fungal infections after a fire could indicate a link. In 2019 at the American Transplant Congress meeting, for example, researchers linked California wildfires with increased hospitalizations related to Aspergillus mold and Coccidioides fungi infections. But until we know more about what microbes fires release and where they go, we won’t know how important such a link is for human health, Fierer says. There’s so much we don’t know yet, Thompson agrees. “We still have a lot of work to do. This is sort of the beginning of the beginning of the story.”

Discarded COVID-19 PPE such as masks can be deadly to wildlife

A Magellanic penguin in Brazil ingested a face mask. A hedgehog in England got itself entangled in a glove. An octopus off the coast of France was found seeking refuge under a mask. Wildlife and ecosystems around the world are suffering from the impact of discarded single-use COVID-19 protective gear, researchers warn March 22 in Animal Biology. Latex gloves and polypropylene masks which protect people from the coronavirus are exacerbating the plastic pollution problem when not disposed of properly and are causing wildlife deaths (SN:11/20/20). The study is the first global documentation of the impacts of COVID-19 litter on wildlife via entanglement, entrapment and ingestion (SN:12/15/20). In August 2020, volunteers cleaning canals in Leiden, Netherlands, chanced upon a perch — a type of freshwater fish — trapped inside a finger of a latex glove. The ensnared fish was the first recorded wildlife casualty caused by COVID-19 litter in the Netherlands. The find shocked two Leiden-based biologists — Auke-Florian Hiemstra and Liselotte Rambonnet — who wanted to know more about the extent of COVID-19 litter’s impact on wildlife. They embarked on an extensive search, online and in newspapers, to collate examples. A perch found trapped in a latex glove (pictured) in a Leiden canal inspired two Dutch biologists to look into how discarded single-use PPE is impacting animals around the world.Auke-Florian Hiemstra They found 28 such instances from all around the world, pointing to a larger, global problem.   The earliest reported victim was from April 2020: an American robin in Canada, which appears to have died after getting entangled in a face mask. Pets are at risk, too: In Philadelphia, a domestic cat ingested a glove, and a pet dog in Boston that had consumed a face mask. “Animals with plastic in their stomach could starve to death,” says Rambonnet, of Leiden University. “What this paper does is give us insight to the extent of the [COVID-19] litter’s impact on wildlife, so we can make efforts to minimize the consequences,” says Anna Schwarz, a sustainable plastics researcher at TNO, an independent organization for applied scientific research in Utrecht, Netherlands. That could be a tall order: A report published by Hong Kong–based marine conservation organization OceansAsia, for instance, estimates that 1.56 billion face masks would have entered the world’s ocean last year, part of the 8 million to 12 million metric tons of plastic that reaches the oceans annually. As the far-reaching impacts of COVID-19 litter on wildlife become more apparent over time, Hiemstra, of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, and Rambonnet are relying on citizen scientists to help them continue monitoring the situation: At www.covidlitter.com, people from around the world can submit their observations of affected wildlife. To curb the growing hazards, the study authors recommend switching to reusables wherever possible, as well as cutting up disposal gloves and snipping the straps off of single-use masks to prevent animals from getting entangled or trapped in them. Sign Up For the Latest from Science News Headlines and summaries of the latest Science News articles, delivered to your inbox “The paper highlights the importance of proper waste management, especially the recycling or disposal of single-use materials,” says Schwarz. But the situation isn’t always so dire. Some animals have commandeered discarded PPE for their own uses. COVID-19 litter has become so pervasive that birds have been observed using face masks and gloves as building materials for their nests. “Bird nests from 2020 are so easy to recognize,” says Hiemstra.

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The Welshman who mailed himself home from Australia in a box

(CNN) — He'd only just arrived in Australia from Wales, but teenager Brian Robson quickly realized that he'd made a big mistake by emigrating to the other side of the world.Unfortunately the homesick 19-year-old didn't have the money to cover the cost of abandoning the assisted passage immigration scheme he'd traveled with in 1964, as well as his return flight home.After realizing his options were pretty limited, Robson, from Cardiff, hatched a plan to smuggle himself onto a plane in a small box and travel back in the cargo hold. Now, over 50 years after the extremely risky journey that saw his picture splashed across newspapers around the world, Robson is hoping to track down his old friends John and Paul -- two Irishman who nailed down the crate and sent him on his way."The last I spoke to John and Paul was when one of them tapped the side of the box and said 'You OK,'" he tells CNN Travel. "I said 'yes' and they said 'Good luck.' I'd love to see them again." Thinking inside the boxA Pan Am service representative examines the crate that Brian Robson was found in back in 1965.Julian Wasser/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty ImagesA year or so before he decided to mail himself home, Robson had been working as a bus conductor in Wales when he applied for a job on the Victorian Railways, the operator of much of the rail transport in Australia's Victoria state at the time.Shortly after his 19th birthday, he took a long plane ride across the world to start his new life in Melbourne, passing through Tehran, New Delhi, Singapore, Jakarta and Sydney."It was one hell of a journey," Robson admits. "But it was better going than coming back."When he arrived in the Australian city, the Welshman discovered that the hostel he'd been allocated was "this rat infested hole."Although he hadn't even started his job yet, Robson decided there and then that he didn't want to stay in Australia. "Once I'd made my mind up, nothing was going to change it," he adds. "I was adamant I was coming back [home]."He says he worked for the rail operator for around six or seven months before quitting both the job and the hostel.Robson spent time traveling through the outback of Australia before returning to Melbourne and landing a job in a papermill.However, he never adjusted to life down under and was still determined to leave. But there was the small matter of paying the Australian government back the fee for his flight over, and he'd also need to raise the cash for his flight home."It was about £700 to £800 (around $960 to $1,099)," he says. "But I was only earning about £30 ($41) a week, so it was impossible."Feeling frustrated, Robson decided to walk to the hostel that he'd originally stayed in to see if anything had changed. It was there that he met John and Paul, who had recently arrived in Australia.The trio quickly became friends and went on to attend a trade exhibition where they spotted a stall for Pickfords, a UK-based moving company."The sign said, 'We can move anything anywhere.' And I said, 'Maybe they could move us.'"Although his remark was initially intended as a joke, Robson couldn't get the thought out of his head. The crate escapeThe Welshman is trying track down the two Irish men who help him smuggle himself onboard a plane in a crate.Tom King/Mirrorpix/Getty ImagesThe next day he visited the Melbourne office of Australian airline Qantas to find out the process for sending a box overseas, taking note of the maximum size and weight permitted, as well as the paperwork needed and whether the fee could be paid on delivery. After gathering all of the information he needed, he went back to the hostel and told John and Paul that he'd found a way to solve his problem."They said, 'Have you come into money or something?'" he explains. "I said, 'No. I've found a way to do it. I'm gonna post myself. And Paul said, 'Hang on a minute, I'll go out and buy the stamps.'"According to Robson, when he explained his plan fully, Paul "thought I was stupid," but John "was a bit more easy going." "So we spent three days talking about it and eventually I had them both on my side," he recounts. Robson then bought a wooden box measuring 30 x 26 x 38 inches and spent at least a month planning things out with his two friends.They made sure there was enough room inside for both Robson and his suitcase, which he was determined to bring back with him.He would also carry a pillow, a torch, a bottle for water, a bottle for urine, and a tiny hammer to force open the crate once he'd reached London, his intended destination.The trio then completed a "trial run," where Robson got inside the box and the others sealed it, and arranged for a truck to pick up the crate and take it to the nearby airport in Melbourne.The following morning, Robson climbed into the wooden box once again, before John and Paul nailed it shut and bade him farewell. It would be another five days before he was freed."The first 10 minutes was fine," he says. "But your knees start to cramp up when they're stuck up to your chest."The crate was loaded onto a plane a couple of hours after he reached the airport."By then I was really cramping up," he says. "The plane took off and it was only then I thought about oxygen. These planes were not pressurized, so there was very little oxygen in the hold."The first part of his journey was a 90-minute flight from Melbourne to Sydney, which was incredibly tortuous. Tortuous journeyBut Robson's traumatic ordeal was about to get much worse. When the crate he'd squeezed himself into arrived in Sydney, it was put onto the tarmac upside down. "So now I'm sitting on my neck and my head and I was there for 22 hours upside down," he explains. Although he'd booked the crate onto a Qantas plane to London, that flight was full, and it was moved onto a Pan Am flight to Los Angeles, which would be a longer journey."This flight took about five days," he explains. "The pain was unbearable. I couldn't breathe properly. I was drifting in and out of consciousness."Robson says he began having extremely vivid night terrors and couldn't tell what was real and what was in his head."I thought they were going to throw me out of the plane," he says. "I got into one hell of a state." He spent most of his time in the box in complete darkness and struggling to cope with the pain and confusion."At one point I thought I was dying," he shares. "And I just thought 'please let it happen quick.'"When the aircraft reached its final destination, he resolved to go through with the rest of his plan."The idea was to wait until night time, knock the side of the crate out with the hammer I had on me and just walk home," he says. "That's how stupid the whole thing was."He was quickly discovered by two airport workers after dropping his torch onto the bottom of the crate. Needless to say, the pair, who had spotted the beaming light coming from the box, were stunned when they took a closer look and saw a man inside."The poor guy must have had a heart attack," says Robson, who only realized he was in America when he heard the workers' accents. "He kept screaming 'there's a body in there.' I couldn't answer him. I couldn't speak. I couldn't move."The airport staff soon went to find their supervisor, but it was a while before they were able to convince anyone that it wasn't a practical joke.After confirming that the stowaway inside the crate was very much alive and no threat to anyone, the airport staff rushed Robson to hospital, where he spent at least six days recovering. By that point his story had been picked up by the media, and reporters were flocking to hear the tale of the man in the crate.Although Robson was technically in the United States illegally, no charges were filed against him. The authorities simply passed him back to Pan Am, who arranged for the 19-year-old to fly back to London in a first class seat. He was greeted by television cameras when he finally returned to the UK's London Airport on May 18, 1965. "My family were happy to see me, but they weren't happy about what I'd done," he admits.Once he was back in Wales with his parents, Robson was keen to put the whole experience behind him.Reunion hopesRobson spent around 96 hours in the wooden crate before he was found after landing in Los Angeles.Tom King/Mirrorpix/Getty ImagesBut the publicity garnered by his now infamous journey meant he'd become a recognizable face, and the attention proved to be overwhelming.Robson says he still feels haunted by the time he spent inside that crate and finds it difficult to talk about all these years later."It's a part of my life that in all honesty I'd like to forget, but in all practicality I could never forget," he says. "It's just inbuilt in me. "I mean, you try staying in a crate that long and see if you can forget it. I think it would have been easier in a coffin, because at least you could stretch your legs out."However, the incident has also brought a number of positive things to his life, Robson has written a soon-to-be-released book, "The Crate Escape," which details the journey, and his story is also being developed into a movie.Although he wrote to John and Paul soon after he returned to Wales in 1965, he isn't sure whether they ever received the letters.But he's heard through the grapevine that they may have "done a runner" when his story first gained media attention.It only recently occurred to Robson that his dear friends may have faced criminal charges if he had not survived the trip."I want to apologize for putting them in that position," he says. "But in all fairness, it was a joint effort. They had some input into it. But I feel a bit guilty about it."While he won't go into specific details, the 76-year-old says he's received encouraging news regarding the pair in recent weeks and is hopeful that he may be close to finding them.For Robson, reuniting with John and Paul would be a fitting way to round off the saga that he's been unable to escape his whole life.And while he's lived in and traveled to various countries over the years, he's never been back to Australia. However, there's at least one circumstance that Robson would be willing to return for."The other day an Australian reporter asked me, would I consider going back," he says. "I said, 'Only if somebody pays my expenses and it's for the reunion [with John and Paul]. Apart from that, no thanks.'"

The gleaming city that emerged from turmoil in the heart of Africa

(CNN) — Kigali's streets thrum with traffic, motorbikes darting around buses, its roadside markets a hive of activity. Standing on the roadside, it's much like any other major city in the heart of Africa. But this is a city that stands apart from other metropolises on the continent.Today, Rwanda's capital is synonymous with the surrounding green hills where mountain gorillas cling to life, while its streets have become famous throughout the world for being immaculate.But for so many, this city remains tied to the genocide, which saw between 800,000 and one million Rwandans murdered in a brutal tribal conflict in 1994.Now though, through a combination of community service and entrepreneurial spirit, Kigali is moving forward, while never forgetting the lessons of its brutal past.Cleaning up for the communityA major clean up campaign has turned Kigali's streets into some of the world's tidiest. MARCO LONGARI/AFP via Getty ImagesDriving through Kigali, the cleanliness and the lack of trash has to be seen to be believed. There is not a speck of refuse, not a piece of paper, not a thrown away plastic bottle. While the local government pays some residents to tidy streets, on the last Saturday of every month each family must help clean up their community.This is known as Umuganda, which translates as "coming together in common purpose." It's an old Rwandan concept, which was officially revived in its current, compulsory form in 2009. There are penalties for those who don't take part. The result is that the city is now one of the world's tidiest major capitals.Inyambo cattle are treated like royalty in Rwanda.CNNUmuganda is part of a wider healing process going on across Rwanda. The government has also restored the tradition of Girinka, a welfare scheme in which vulnerable families are given their own cow. Meaning "may you have a cow," Girinka has played a huge role in bringing society back together. Cows are held in high regard in Rwanda, a ticket out of and an assurance against the toughest forms of poverty. And when a cow has a calf, it's expected that its owners will give the newborn to their neighbor. The idea is to foster community through traditional means."If you want to wish someone wealth, you give him a cow," explains Edouard Bamporiki, a poet and Rwanda's cultural minister. "And if I give a cow to you, it's like we're sealing our friendship. You can't betray someone who gives you a cow."The importance of cows in Kigali is on show at the King's Palace Museum, which is home to a herd of long horned Inyambo cattle. These cows hold regal status in Rwanda. They are serenaded and pampered, afforded the kind of luxury that today's wealthy tourists would expect."In our tradition, when we're dancing, we raise our hands like the Inyambo's horn," says Bamporiki. For him and everyone at the King's Palace, it's clear just how much the Inyambo are revered and why cows play such a vital role in bringing people together.Entrepreneurs at the ready Mathias Kalisa is one of a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kigali.CNNIt's not just traditions that are being used to help create a new Kigali. Mathias Kalisa is a young entrepreneur utilizing one of Rwanda's greatest exports, coffee, to show just how this city has changed and developed over the past 25 years. He is typical of the younger generation here, who have created an energy and togetherness that can be felt on the streets."Before 1994, you couldn't see a young person like me doing business," he says as he carefully pours out a cup.Despite the horrors of that time, Kalisa does not believe there is a chance of Kigali, and Rwanda at large, going back to that time."When you look at the pace this country is growing, how stable it is, how the young generation is involved in the future of the country, we actually feel we are different and we are committed," he says.This same energy can be found in Joselyne Umutoniwase, a designer and the creative force behind Rwanda Clothing. Like Kalisa, she is on a mission to show a new and different side to Kigali."The fabric comes from all over Africa," she says as she walks through her shop, showing off her latest creations. "So, we have West Africa, the colorful ones, the wax ones."The clothes Umutoniwase makes are designed to shift perceptions.Joselyne Umutoniwase's fashion designs help broadcast the creativity of Rwanda. CNN"It's all about telling a new story," she says. "I think every time someone takes an outfit from here, in this show room, travels with it, goes to New York, goes to London, goes to Paris, that outfit can tell a different story of Rwanda."Umutoniwase started her business in 2012, using branding techniques that weren't commonplace in Rwanda at the time."I took the chance to create different types of things and to show people it's possible to create things here in Rwanda, have it made here in Rwanda, and sell it on the market here in Rwanda."She says that she's offering more than just clothes to tourists and fashion-conscious locals. "I think it's the image of Rwanda. I sell the image. I sell the creativity, the energy of the people. I sell the dream of the people who want to move forward."As with Umuganda and Girinka, Umutoniwase hopes her textiles and clothes can be part of a bigger story of unity in the wake of adversity."I think the word which I would use to describe Rwanda would be turi kumwe. It's the word which means 'we are together,' we work together toward one goal ... to construct a Rwanda which we are all proud of."A past never forgottenPhotographs of victims on display in the Kigali Genocide Memorial. CNNThis urge to work together, to promote unity over division, comes from the still raw and painful memories of the 1994 genocide. The indiscriminate killing that took place over just 100 days and saw the deaths of as many as one million people, has been well documented. But no trip to Rwanda would be complete without a visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. It is a stark and harrowing testament to the events of 27 years ago and why this country has tried so hard to create a new, unified front.The remains of 250,000 victims are buried in mass graves here, alongside a memorial wall with their names, where relatives can come and pay their respects. The photographs of these victims, which can be found throughout the museum, act as a reminder that the very nature of genocide is to kill indiscriminately, regardless of sex, age or wealth.Honore Gatera is the director of the Kigali Genocide Memorial. His work here is personal -- he is a survivor of the genocide and saw the brutality of that time first hand."I saw the result of hate," he says. "I saw how a human, a normal human, a friend, a neighbor, someone you went to school with, a classmate, can turn into your killer ... I saw death. I saw hundreds and hundreds of people being killed."Honore Gatera, the Memorial's director, survived Rwanda's atrocities.CNNGatera says that Rwanda has learned the painful lessons of this time, one in particular."You'll never be able to prevent mass atrocities, genocide and hate, if it doesn't start with the personal and individual commitment to the cause. I think the lesson we learned in Rwanda is from the individual to the community to the national level we have to hold hands with each other."Education, too, has played a major part in Kigali's path towards healing, he says."The DNA of the people who became the killers was changed through 30 years of education to hatred. Of education to divisionism and exclusion. How does one become a killer to the scale of killing 100 people in a day? "Which kind of humanistic values and cultural values that that person has lost in his DNA so that he becomes a killer? And this is what we are teaching the younger generations. Let us restore those humanistic values and cultural values."Walking through the memorial, it's impossible not to feel the presence of the quarter of a million people buried here. This place represents them, but also the way in which the country remembers, doesn't forget and is determined to unite and renew.Gorillas in the mistTrekking guide Francoise Bigirimana says he can communicate with gorillas.CNNTourism, outside of the Covid pandemic, has become a key factor in Rwanda's regeneration and rehabilitation. And nothing entices outsiders here like the chance to catch a glimpse of the mountain gorillas that hide deep within the rainforests of the Virunga Mountains, which stretch across the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The efforts of local conservationists to protect and preserve that fragile, endangered species has seen their population slowly start to rise. There are now over 1,000 in the wild, found here and in Bwindi Impenetrable Park in Uganda. Getting close to them is a privilege that's as heart pounding as it is unforgettable.Francoise Bigirimana is a trekking guide who knows the gorillas of this region intimately. His depth of knowledge comes from working with renowned primatologist Dian Fossey, who lived with the region's gorilla population for almost 20 years.In fact, he knows them so well that he can even speak gorilla. From "mmm hmmmm" for good morning to "mmmmggghhh mmmgghhh" for sit down, Bigirimana is well versed in how to stay safe around these wild primates."In my heart I feel I love them so dearly... just like my own children," he says. Bigirimana's love of the gorillas is obvious. He keeps them calm when close by because, while they're habituated to humans, they are very much not tame. Up close, it's impossible to escape our relationship with them. Humans share up to 98% of their DNA with gorillas and it shows in their facial expressions, their movements, the way they relate to each other.Bringing tourists close to gorillas has helped create the right conditions to conserve their population and their habitat. It's a great example of a good news story coming out of Rwanda. Their preservation and resurgence is a clear parallel for a country where everyone is trying to pull in the same direction.



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