Never put off the work till tomorrow what you can put off today.

Did bots help push GameStop and other ‘meme stocks’? A new report says yes. — 02/28/2021

Did bots help push GameStop and other ‘meme stocks’? A new report says yes.

Were bots behind the GameStop stock surge from less than $20 per share to nearly $350 per share? One cybersecurity firm is saying that may very well be the case.

A new report from PiiQ Media, provided to Reuters, found that social media bots on some of the biggest online platforms were “hyping” GameStop and other “meme stocks” such as AMC. The same report also found similar activity behind the sudden increase of popularity in Dogecoin, a meme-based cryptocurrency.

PiiQ Media’s report says that it looked closely at keywords related to these stock surges, such as “GME,” the stock symbol Gamestop; and “Hold the Line,” a phrase popular among Reddit users encouraging others to not sell their shares.  When comparing posts about these keywords to social media conversation surrounding non-meme stocks from Jan. 28 to Feb. 18, researchers found patterns correlating with bots among the GameStop and meme stock discourse.

The cybersecurity firm says it analyzed posts on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Earlier in February, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman said his company did not find any “significant” bot activity surrounding the GameStop stock surge. However, while PiiQ Media did not analyze Reddit, it told Reuters that it would “expect to see a similar pattern” of bot-like activity on the platform. Reddit is the social media platform that acted as the original source for the meme stock activity in January. 

It should be noted that real human beings did indeed start the conversation and push surrounding the GameStop stock and other meme stocks. The report indicates that bots were at least partly responsible for hyping and promoting these stocks once the initial Redditor-inspired campaign took off, however.

Another important aspect to keep in mind is that not all bot use is nefarious in nature. There are many legitimate applications of automated accounts on social media, such as Twitter handles that automatically keep track of and post about the price of stock shares.

This new report from PiiQ Media also adds an interesting layer to a separate report from CREOpoint, a firm that tracks misinformation and manipulated media surrounding brands.

CREOpoint CEO, JC Goldenstein, tells Mashable that the company had found that while most of the attention was paid to Reddit during the GameStop stock surge, the event was racking up more views, shares, and overall engagement on mainstream social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube.

For example, CREOpoint found that the Gamestop surge was engaged with around 3 million times on Reddit between Jan. 21 and Jan. 31. However, Facebook shares around that topic brought in more than 8 million shares alone and YouTube videos about the meme stocks netted a whopping 28 million views.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is currently investigating what happened to cause GameStop stock to skyrocket — as Redditors say — “to the moon.”

Ancestry company uses deepfakes to bring old photos of your great grandma to life —

Ancestry company uses deepfakes to bring old photos of your great grandma to life

While some companies are fighting nefarious uses of deepfakes, others are embracing the technology for more playful reasons.

MyHeritage, a family ancestry company that offers DNA testing much like 23andMe, has unveiled a new AI-powered tool called “Deep Nostalgia.” The technology takes your old photos and animates the people in them, producing a full fledged moving picture kind of like the iPhone’s Live Photos.

To create this completely automated tool, MyHeritage partnered with a company called D-ID, which has written an algorithm that creates these animated videos out of old images. Deepfake technology has often been used to “teach” a computer to seamlessly swap the faces of two different people in a video. MyHeritage’s tool, however, uses D-ID’s deep learning technology to automatically animate old still images.

And the results are quite stunning. Here’s an old photo that MyHeritage uploaded to its tool:

Ancestry company uses deepfakes to bring old photos of your great grandma to life

Image: myheritage

And here’s what Deep Nostalgia was able to create:

Ancestry company uses deepfakes to bring old photos of your great grandma to life

Although, if it was an old photo of your deceased relative, one can also see how it can be at least a little bit weird.

There are some limitations to the technology, though. For example, if there’s more than one person in an old photo, a user can only animate one individual. Also, the animations are limited to the head, face, and neck. So, while you might wish to see grandpa strutting around town, it’ll still be pretty cool to see him look around and crack a smirk.

To use Deep Nostalgia, all you have to do is signup at the MyHeritage site and upload your photo. The service will automatically use its already-existing AI-powered photo tools to clean up your image. Then it’ll get to work bringing your old photo to life using pre-recorded movements and gestures.

Ancestry company uses deepfakes to bring old photos of your great grandma to life

The service is free, if you don’t mind a MyHeritage watermark on the bottom right-hand side of your now-moving image. 

Although, free often does come with a price. DNA testing companies have been criticized over data privacy concerns before. One of the giants in the industry, 23andMe, previously signed a deal to provide access to the data it collects from the kits to a pharmaceutical company. Databases created by these ancestry companies have even been used by law enforcement to solve crimes.

If that doesn’t bother you and you’d like to try MyHeritage’s Deep Nostalgia tool, you can find it here.

Verizon admitted 5G might be a big battery drain without admitting it —

Verizon admitted 5G might be a big battery drain without admitting it

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This probably wouldn’t merit any discussion if Verizon hadn’t been so unnecessarily shady. It’s tough when your phone battery drains fast, but most people recognize that new features and tech can have that effect.

In a Sunday morning tweet, the wireless provider offered up a suggestion for customers struggling with a fast-draining battery. And while the substance of the advice boils down to “turn off 5G if your phone supports it,” that’s not actually what Verizon’s tweet said.

“Are you noticing that your battery life is draining faster than normal?” the tweet, which Verizon apparently deleted while this story was being written, asks. “One way to help conserve battery life is to turn on LTE.” (h/t The Verge for spotting the tweet)

While the advice is technically accurate, it’s also misleading. See, LTE is active by default as a backup for those times when 5G isn’t available. Following these instructions actually has the effect of turning off 5G.

But wait, things get weirder. At one point, a Verizon Twitter follower noted the dissonance between the company promoting “new 5G ultra-speedy phones” while also coming up with advice for battery drain issues that amounts to “hey turn off your 5G.” It’s hard to read the company’s response as anything other than a straight-up deflection.

Do you see what’s happening here? The initial tweet was about troubleshooting battery drain issues. But this Verizon response changes the subject and makes the conversation about speed issues. This is despite the fact that the tweet it’s replying to wasn’t citing speed or battery issues; it was putting the company on blast for sending mixed messages.

None of this is a huge deal when all is said and done. But there’s real “the cover-up is worse than the crime” energy emanating from the whole situation. Yeah, 5G is probably a source of battery drain. People might have gotten mad if Verizon had just up and said that, but it still would’ve been the truth.

Instead, the company tried to play PR games and shift the message away from “5G is a battery drain” to make it more of a “LTE is a battery preserver” kind of thing. Then, when someone pointed out the fact that those two things are the same, the response was a performatively oblivious change of subject. As if all that wasn’t enough, Verizon just up and deleted the tweet as media organizations took notice.

The whole thing is just odd and unnecessary. People on the internet are smart enough to see through this. Verizon would do well to remember in the future that a little transparency can go along way.

‘Things’ app review: A smart tool to help you get things done —

‘Things’ app review: A smart tool to help you get things done

If you are overwhelmed with too much to do, Things is for you. 

It’s a subtly powerful organizational tool that, in the right hands, combines the best of an analog paper-list-and-planner system, with the convenience and technical magic of a digital one. But that’s only if you put in the work to tune it – otherwise you’re going to waste money and time.

Productivity or work management systems (and here I’m using the term “system” loosely) have two functions: When you are working, they help you not to forget anything that needs to be done. When you’re not working, they give you the peace of mind to relax.

Fans of the “Getting Things Done” method, popularized by a book of the same name by David Allen, will find a lot to love in the Mac and iOS-based program. Things shines in the way that it blends your calendar with your other priorities, giving you a clear overview of your day. 

Things app
$49.99 (Mac app), $19.99 (iPad app), $9.99 (iPhone & Watch app)
The Good

Helps mesh your work and your calendar • Gives a clear picture of what needs to be done • Well designed with thoughtful features

The Bad

Steep initial price • Apple-ecosystem only • Needs fine-tuning to get the full benefits

The Bottom Line

A sophisticated project-management tool for people with a lot of information to stay on top of.

⚡ Mashable Score
? Cool Factor
?Learning Curve
?Bang for the Buck

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of Things, a note on terminology: The program uses as titles a lot of regular works, like “list,” “today,” and “anytime.” For ease of reading, I’ve put “proper Things nouns” in italics and capitalize them where appropriate. 

How to use Things

Things is created by software company Cultured Code, which is based out of Germany. Like other sophisticated project management software, you’ll need to spend time setting Things up to your specifications, and the pricing structure of the app can be an obstacle here. It’s $50 outright for the desktop app and another $10 for an iOS app.  The iPad app costs $19.99, but I found I didn’t need it. In a world of recurring subscriptions, it’s refreshing to not be held hostage by an ongoing revenue stream. However, my two-week free trial felt too short to fully appreciate all that Things had to offer. I could see its potential, but found it hard to fork over the fee. 

The all-purpose entry point of Things is the Inbox – a place that GTD stans and devotees of blogs like 43 Folders will recognize instantly. Here is where you can jot down every random to-do that crosses your mind (you’ll worry about organizing them later). 

Tasks feel more like cards from Trello or a Kanban board, though without the visual progression through statuses. They unfurl to reveal space for notes and checklists, tags, and deadlines, though I’m not always sure where to draw the line between a project, a task, and subtasks. If your task has a checklist, does that mean it’s really a project? It’s to-dos all the way down. 

The When pop-up for a task.

The When pop-up for a task.

Image: courtesy cultured code

A look at Things' lists on the iPhone.

A look at Things’ lists on the iPhone.

Image: courtesy cultured code

A field called When is part of Things’ secret sauce. It refers to when you’re planning to do the work, not simply when it’s due. If you have a report draft on Friday, but you’ve set aside time to write it on Wednesday, you’d add your to-do with a Friday deadline and choose Wednesday in the When field. It forces an extra step of thinking ahead – which you probably should be doing anyway. Then, when your daily agenda is generated, Things shows you what you actually need to work on. For anyone who’s opened up their computer and frittered away 30 minutes of their morning deciding what to work on, circumventing that distraction is a dream. 

In addition to the Inbox, Things auto-populates several views of information. Today shows events and tasks that are due or being worked on today. Upcoming shows the next few days, again mixing events with tasks. Two future-looking lists are Anytime and Someday. Tasks without start dates or due dates are automatically added to the Anytime list, since by definition they can be completed at any time. The Someday list is for tasks that you want to accomplish at some point in the future, but aren’t being worked on right now for whatever reason. 

Here’s the difference in a nutshell: 

“Call and catch up with Joyce” is a to-do that belongs on the Anytime list. It doesn’t have a specific time it has to be done (unless you decide to schedule it) and there’s also nothing preventing you from being able to do it. 

A to-do like “Visit Italy” goes on the Someday list because while you want to remember that it’s important to you, right now there’s a global pandemic and traveling isn’t happening. 

The Today list pulls tasks from across all your projects that are slated to be worked on “today” or have a due date of today, so you don’t need to check the deadlines of tasks inside of each project. 

Anything from a previous day that you didn’t finish will stay in Today until you check it off or change the date. Each task in Today is also labeled with its project. If you switch into a project view, any tasks that are for today will have stars next to them. There’s visual prioritization no matter if you’re looking at the project level or day level.

Tags are also available, for both projects and tasks. In an AreaThings’ term for a project header – you can filter the view by tag. I’ve used this to label my active projects by client, and it’s nice to be able to zoom in on one client’s outstanding work. 

Officially, only Apple Calendar works with Things, but in practice it’s more porous since you can add external calendars into Apple’s Calendar app pretty easily. Being able to see the day’s events in the same space as the day’s tasks feels like it solves one of most enduring annoyances of digital work management. Paper planners get around this issue by making space for both temporal events and to-dos, but of course they lack some of the convenient features that digital tools have.

Some unexpected gems

One unexpected delight of Things is the This Evening section of the Today list. Just as you can mark that a task should be worked on today, you can mark that some tasks should be worked on “this evening.” It’s useful for non-work tasks or projects that you’re doing in your off hours, and helps nudge Things into a whole-life organizational tool. 

This Evening ports to the iPhone app well, helping you stay on top of things when you’re away from the computer. In fact, were it not for This Evening, I probably would have skipped the iPhone app since I’m working from home and am hardly ever away from my computer. 

A view of a project in Things. The left rail shows all projects and lists and the main window shows the tasks for this project.

A view of a project in Things. The left rail shows all projects and lists and the main window shows the tasks for this project.

Image: courtesy cultured code

To sync Things between your phone and desktop, you set up a Things Cloud account, which is only used for your Things data. You can also keep your information local to your devices, which is easier to do if you only use Things on either your iPhone or your Mac. But if you want portability, you’ll need to enable the cloud. 

The Logbook is another feature that sets Things apart from other project management software. All completed tasks get filed here, creating a running “done” list. Projects have an option to show completed tasks as well (Things refers to them as “logged”.) This makes it easy to see what’s been done – helpful if you want to pat yourself on the back or send a weekly report to a boss. 

Things integrates with Apple’s Reminders system, so you can, naturally, remind yourself to do something without having to leave the app. 

Enabling the Things Cloud also opens up a feature called “email to Things.” You’re given a unique email address, to which you can send short messages that will be automatically added to your Things Inbox. The feature seems most useful when you have a task in one system, like a company email, that you want to port over to Things. Otherwise, it’s pretty easy to open Things on either your computer or phone and just add the task to the Inbox directly. 

Within a project, you can hide items that are due later, beyond the next week or so. It’s a good way to approximate a Gantt chart, or a dependency in a project, if you can’t do subsequent actions without the prior one being completed.

Scheduling repeating tasks is another unexpected, but much-appreciated, feature. Similar to being able to use Slackbot to remind you of recurring deadlines, you can set up a recurring task in Things, like “send a project update every Friday.” You’ll specify how many weeks the tasks should repeat, or a repetition interval after the previous task has been completed. A good example of the latter would be something like “Remind me to update my budget 4 weeks after the last budget was updated.”

The downsides of Things

The biggest hole in Things is a use-case for which it is clearly not designed: collaborating with others. There are no multi-user accounts and in general all your data stays local to your devices unless you enable Things Cloud, but even then that just lets your phone and desktop apps sync with each other. 

But Things isn’t going to be a solution for teams at an enterprise level. If your role is one where you have to share a lot of information with your colleagues, or make it accessible across groups, Things isn’t for you. You’ll spend too much time duplicating information in other places.

Some of Things’ terminology also feels needlessly particular. You add a new project making a “new list” on the bottom left, which you can either categorize as a “New Project” – which has a goal you work toward – or a “New Area,” which is just a header under which projects can be grouped. 

Next to each project is a pie chart that measures progress based on the tasks you’ve logged inside of it. It’s helpful to see this progress, but it doesn’t fit for ongoing lists that will never be completed. I wish there was a list that wasn’t a project and wasn’t “done” I have some recurring spaces in my week where I dump similar types of tasks, a weekly “office hours” for things like expenses, following up on emails, and filling out school forms. I want a dedicated space for these tasks to live until I’m ready for them, but they aren’t a project that will ever be finished. 

You can add tasks directly into Areas, as well as projects. I can see this being useful for something like a home improvement list. Some of your tasks will be one-offs and others will be small projects in and of themselves, but again, the nesting feels a bit arbitrary.

One thing Things doesn’t do well is goals. I use a Full Focus Planner, which encourages you to set quarterly and annual goals, and then identify 3 priorities each week, ideally which propel you toward meeting those goals. With that guiding light in place for your quarter and then your week, you can set your daily intentions accordingly. Things is excellent at managing the day-to-day, but it doesn’t ladder up well to bigger picture goals. 

You could, of course, make a goal like “take a vacation” its own project and tackle it without putting a deadline on it. But nothing in the software will visually encourage you to think of and set these bigger picture goals. Things assumes you already know where you want to go, and it’ll help you get there. For a person whose work is largely directed by other people, like a boss or colleagues, and who needs to stay on top of vast amounts of information and deadlines, Things is probably the best tool I’ve encountered.

Bottom Line: Things is a tool, but you still need a system

Things is a powerful, full-featured productivity tool, but to make it worth your while you need to make sure it’s right for the job you’re doing. Just like you can’t drill with a hammer, it’s worth making sure you have a workflow in place that Things will fit in with. 

To make the most of the time-based organizational structure, you’ll need to actively think about deadlines for your projects (and the tasks within them) as well as when in your days and weeks you’ll do the work. It’s helpful to end your day prioritizing tasks for the next day, so that when you open Things in the morning, you will already have your Today list populated. Otherwise you’ll end up with a lot of lists of to-dos and no real way to figure out what you actually need to be working on at a given moment. 

Things won’t save you from the labor of evaluating and prioritizing your work. If you already do this, you’ll either love Things, or already have a workflow that suits you and you won’t need it. 

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How to Set Up a 4G LTE Wi-Fi Network as an Alternative to Broadband —

How to Set Up a 4G LTE Wi-Fi Network as an Alternative to Broadband

For many of us, especially in rural areas, broadband speeds over cable or DSL (or heaven forbid, satellite) aren’t as reliable or as fast as we would like—if they’re even available at all. But the increase in speed and capacity of 4G LTE (and now 5G) networks has opened up another option.

Traditional hurdles that made this less than an ideal solution—data caps, expense, bandwidth, coverage, compatible hardware—are slowly becoming less of an issue as the technology improves, and it’s now very possible to switch completely from standard broadband to 4G LTE broadband—with a few caveats and conditions.

How 4G LTE Internet Works

Routers such as the Netgear Orbi can bring 4G LTE into your home.

Photograph: Netgear

The idea behind 4G LTE at home is pretty simple at its core: Deliver internet access to your home in the same way that your phone gets online when it’s away from Wi-Fi. If you’ve ever tried to connect your laptop to a hot spot running from your phone, then you know what’s involved, together with all the potential pros (wireless internet access anywhere) and cons (interference and bandwidth issues).

Using a 4G LTE home internet service isn’t quite the same as running a hot spot though. Instead of having everything come through your phone, you set up a router to speak directly to the 4G LTE network, and then that router converts the signal into the conventional Wi-Fi that we all know and love. You don’t need SIM cards for every gadget you’re connecting, because they just see your home Wi-Fi as normal.

We’ll explain some of the speeds you might get in the selection of packages we’ve outlined below, but the theoretical maximum transfer speed is around 1 Gbps for 4G LTE (and 10 times that for 5G). In reality and outside of a laboratory, you won’t see that, but if you’re in the right area to get a good signal, then a 4G LTE connection can make your existing home broadband seem sluggish by comparison. 

Latency—the speed with which your inputs reach the web and ping back again—can be a problem for certain uses such as gaming, but like most other technologies, 4G LTE is getting better over time. As the years go by it’s also getting cheaper, reaching more areas at faster speeds, and becoming more viable for more people. Other restrictions such as data caps are starting to disappear in some cases too, though it’s still worth bearing these caps in mind when comparing services. Traditionally, restrictions on data use have been one of the main reasons not to make the switch to 4G LTE for home connectivity.

As both conventional broadband and 4G LTE internet end up at a Wi-Fi router inside your home, you’re really just comparing a certain section of the infrastructure: that link between your property and the internet at large. Whether a cable running up to your home or a 4G LTE signal beamed from a nearby cell tower is going to be preferable will depend on numerous factors, with your geographical location perhaps the most important.

4G LTE internet availability is subject to the same kind of restrictions and limitations as any other type of internet, from fiber-optic broadband to satellite networks: It has to be cost-effective for companies to offer it at your address, with all the regulatory and infrastructure and pricing considerations that involves. Whether it’s the right solution for you is going to depend first and foremost on whether or not you can actually get it, and then how it compares to the traditional broadband options you have.

There are plenty of gadgets and gizmos you can pick up to create your own bespoke solution, from antennas to hot spots. Just plug a SIM card into the $300 Netgear Orbi 4G LTE, for example, and it’ll convert the cellular signal received by the router into Wi-Fi for your whole home. For a similar price you can pick up the HTC 5G Hub if 5G happens to have rolled out in your neck of the woods already.

What’s Available

Verizon offers one of the 4G LTE home internet packages you can pick from.

Verizon via David Nield

All 4G LTE home internet packages are limited in terms of their availability by area—every signup page has a tool that you can use to see if the service is live wherever you live. Assuming your zip code qualifies, you’ll be provided with the necessary hardware to get your home online, and you can usually set everything up yourself. Be sure to read the small print, though, especially when it comes to data caps, throttling, and congestion.

AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet starts at $59.99 per month plus taxes and uses both an outdoor antenna and an indoor router to convert 4G LTE into a Wi-Fi network that blankets your property. The carrier quotes typical download speeds of 25 Mbps (with a minimum speed of 10 Mbps) and typical upload speeds of 1 Mbps, and you get 350 GB per month of bundled data to use before excess charges apply.

Verizon LTE Home Internet Service can be yours for $40 per month plus taxes if you’re on a Verizon mobile plan, and $60 if you’re not. Verizon claims “typical download speeds of 25 Mbps,” and there are no data caps, so you can stream and download as much as you want. In the case of the Verizon service, all you need is the router that will be supplied to you, which once installed will connect to 4G LTE and convert it to Wi-Fi for your home.

T-Mobile Home Internet is going to set you back $50 a month plus taxes if it’s available in your area. T-Mobile says that “the vast majority of our customers experience speeds of 25 Mbps or more”—the same figure mentioned by AT&T and Verizon—but the company does seem to be a bit more honest in admitting that you might not see those speeds all of the time. There are no data caps with the T-Mobile service though, so you can download and upload as much as you want without it costing you anything extra.

There are third-party companies who will sell you some internet as well, making use of the 4G LTE infrastructure set up by the carriers and focusing particularly on rural areas. NoLimitData has a $90 per month, unlimited data plan you can take advantage of, for example, while the UbiFi package is a little more at $100 per month. Both providers promise to get your hardware and connection up and running as quickly as they can and with the best possible speeds for your area.

Of course, you can just use your phone as a hot spot for everything in your home rather than signing up for one of the packages we’ve mentioned above—but it’s not going to have the same multi-device management capabilities as a dedicated 4G LTE router, and there might well be complications in regards to your SIM card data usage as well (check with your network if you’re not sure).

And what of 5G? Well, think 4G LTE home internet, only faster (Verizon already offers it). The same socioeconomic factors are in play though, and if 5G does have a weakness, then it’s range—to get the very best speeds from 5G you need to be close to an antenna, which may limit its effectiveness whether you’re living in the middle of nowhere or in the middle of a big group of apartments. Watch this space.

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A Decades-Long Quest Reveals New Details of Antimatter —

A Decades-Long Quest Reveals New Details of Antimatter

It often goes unmentioned that protons, the positively charged matter particles at the center of atoms, are part antimatter.

We learn in school that a proton is a bundle of three elementary particles called quarks—two “up” quarks and a “down” quark, whose electric charges (+2/3 and −1/3, respectively) combine to give the proton its charge of +1. But that simplistic picture glosses over a far stranger, as-yet-unresolved story.

In reality, the proton’s interior swirls with a fluctuating number of six kinds of quarks, their oppositely charged antimatter counterparts (antiquarks), and “gluon” particles that bind the others together, morph into them, and readily multiply. Somehow, the roiling maelstrom winds up perfectly stable and superficially simple—mimicking, in certain respects, a trio of quarks. “How it all works out, that’s quite frankly something of a miracle,” said Donald Geesaman, a nuclear physicist at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.

Thirty years ago, researchers discovered a striking feature of this “proton sea.” Theorists had expected it to contain an even spread of different types of antimatter; instead, down antiquarks seemed to significantly outnumber up antiquarks. Then, a decade later, another group saw hints of puzzling variations in the down-to-up antiquark ratio. But the results were right on the edge of the experiment’s sensitivity.

So, 20 years ago, Geesaman and a colleague, Paul Reimer, embarked on a new experiment to investigate. That experiment, called SeaQuest, has finally finished, and the researchers report their findings in the journal Nature. They measured the proton’s inner antimatter in more detail than ever before, finding that there are, on average, 1.4 down antiquarks for every up antiquark.

Illustration: Samuel Velasco/Quanta Magazine

The data immediately favors two theoretical models of the proton sea. “This is the first real evidence backing up those models that has come out,” said Reimer.

One is the “pion cloud” model, a popular, decades-old approach that emphasizes the proton’s tendency to emit and reabsorb particles called pions, which belong to a group of particles known as mesons. The other model, the so-called statistical model, treats the proton like a container full of gas.

Planned future experiments will help researchers choose between the two pictures. But whichever model is right, SeaQuest’s hard data about the proton’s inner antimatter will be immediately useful, especially for physicists who smash protons together at nearly light speed in Europe’s Large Hadron Collider. When they know exactly what’s in the colliding objects, they can better piece through the collision debris looking for evidence of new particles or effects. Juan Rojo of VU University Amsterdam, who helps analyze LHC data, said the SeaQuest measurement “could have a big impact” on the search for new physics, which is currently “limited by our knowledge of the proton structure, in particular of its antimatter content.”

Three’s Company

For a brief period around half a century ago, physicists thought they had the proton sorted.

In 1964, Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig independently proposed what became known as the quark model—the idea that protons, neutrons and related rarer particles are bundles of three quarks (as Gell-Mann dubbed them), while pions and other mesons are made of one quark and one antiquark. The scheme made sense of the cacophony of particles spraying from high-energy particle accelerators, since their spectrum of charges could all be constructed out of two- and three-part combos. Then, around 1970, researchers at Stanford’s SLAC accelerator seemed to triumphantly confirm the quark model when they shot high-speed electrons at protons and saw the electrons ricochet off objects inside.

But the picture soon grew murkier. “As we started trying to measure the properties of those three quarks more and more, we discovered that there were some additional things going on,” said Chuck Brown, an 80-year-old member of the SeaQuest team at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory who has worked on quark experiments since the 1970s.

Scrutiny of the three quarks’ momentum indicated that their masses accounted for a minor fraction of the proton’s total mass. Furthermore, when SLAC shot faster electrons at protons, researchers saw the electrons ping off of more things inside. The faster the electrons, the shorter their wavelengths, which made them sensitive to more fine-grained features of the proton, as if they’d cranked up the resolution of a microscope. More and more internal particles were revealed, seemingly without limit. There’s no highest resolution “that we know of,” Geesaman said.

The results began to make more sense as physicists worked out the true theory that the quark model only approximates: quantum chromodynamics, or QCD. Formulated in 1973, QCD describes the “strong force,” the strongest force of nature, in which particles called gluons connect bundles of quarks.

QCD predicts the very maelstrom that scattering experiments observed. The complications arise because gluons feel the very force that they carry. (They differ in this way from photons, which carry the simpler electromagnetic force.) This self-dealing creates a quagmire inside the proton, giving gluons free rein to arise, proliferate and split into short-lived quark-antiquark pairs. From afar, these closely spaced, oppositely charged quarks and antiquarks cancel out and go unnoticed. (Only three unbalanced “valence” quarks—two ups and a down—contribute to the proton’s overall charge.) But physicists realized that when they shot in faster electrons, they were hitting the small targets.

Yet the oddities continued.

Mary Alberg, a nuclear physicist at Seattle University, and her co-authors have long argued for the significance of the pion in shaping the identity of the proton.Courtesy of Seattle University

Self-dealing gluons render the QCD equations generally unsolvable, so physicists couldn’t—and still can’t—calculate the theory’s precise predictions. But they had no reason to think gluons should split more often into one type of quark-antiquark pair—the down type—than the other. “We would expect equal amounts of both to be produced,” said Mary Alberg, a nuclear theorist at Seattle University, explaining the reasoning at the time.

Hence the shock when, in 1991, the New Muon Collaboration in Geneva scattered muons, the heavier siblings of electrons, off of protons and deuterons (consisting of one proton and one neutron), compared the results, and inferred that more down antiquarks than up antiquarks seemed to be splashing around in the proton sea.

Proton Parts

Theorists soon came out with a number of possible ways to explain the proton’s asymmetry.

One involves the pion. Since the 1940s, physicists have seen protons and neutrons passing pions back and forth inside atomic nuclei like teammates tossing basketballs to each other, an activity that helps link them together. In mulling over the proton, researchers realized that it can also toss a basketball to itself—that is, it can briefly emit and reabsorb a positively charged pion, turning into a neutron in the meantime. “If you’re doing an experiment and you think you’re looking at a proton, you’re fooling yourself, because some of the time that proton is going to fluctuate into this neutron-pion pair,” said Alberg.

Specifically, the proton morphs into a neutron and a pion made of one up quark and one down antiquark. Because this phantasmal pion has a down antiquark (a pion containing an up antiquark can’t materialize as easily), theorists such as Alberg, Gerald Miller and Tony Thomas argued that the pion cloud idea explains the proton’s measured down antiquark surplus.

Illustration: Samuel Velasco/Quanta Magazine

Several other arguments emerged as well. Claude Bourrely and collaborators in France developed the statistical model, which treats the proton’s internal particles as if they’re gas molecules in a room, whipping about at a distribution of speeds that depend on whether they possess integer or half-integer amounts of angular momentum. When tuned to fit data from numerous scattering experiments, the model divined a down-antiquark excess.

The models did not make identical predictions. Much of the proton’s total mass comes from the energy of individual particles that burst in and out of the proton sea, and these particles carry a range of energies. Models made different predictions for how the ratio of down and up antiquarks should change as you count antiquarks that carry more energy. Physicists measure a related quantity called the antiquark’s momentum fraction.

When the “NuSea” experiment at Fermilab measured the down-to-up ratio as a function of antiquark momentum in 1999, their answer “just lit everybody up,” Alberg recalled. The data suggested that among antiquarks with ample momentum—so much, in fact, that they were right on the end of the apparatus’s range of detection—up antiquarks suddenly became more prevalent than downs. “Every theorist was saying, ‘Wait a minute,’” said Alberg. “Why, when those antiquarks get a bigger share of the momentum, should this curve start to turn over?”

As theorists scratched their heads, Geesaman and Reimer, who worked on NuSea and knew that the data on the edge sometimes isn’t trustworthy, set out to build an experiment that could comfortably explore a larger antiquark momentum range. They called it SeaQuest.

Junk Spawned

Long on questions about the proton but short on cash, they started assembling the experiment out of used parts. “Our motto was: Reduce, reuse, recycle,” Reimer said.

They acquired some old scintillators from a lab in Hamburg, leftover particle detectors from Los Alamos National Laboratory, and radiation-blocking iron slabs first used in a cyclotron at Columbia University in the 1950s. They could repurpose NuSea’s room-size magnet, and they could run their new experiment off of Fermilab’s existing proton accelerator. The Frankenstein assemblage was not without its charms. The beeper indicating when protons were flowing into their apparatus dated back five decades, said Brown, who helped find all the pieces. “When it beeps, it gives you a warm feeling in your tummy.”

The nuclear physicist Paul Reimer (left) amid SeaQuest, an experiment at Fermilab assembled mostly out of used parts.Courtesy of Fermilab

Gradually they got it working. In the experiment, protons strike two targets: a vial of hydrogen, which is essentially protons, and a vial of deuterium—atoms with one proton and one neutron in the nucleus.

When a proton hits either target, one of its valence quarks sometimes annihilates with one of the antiquarks in the target proton or neutron. “When annihilation occurs, it has a unique signature,” Reimer said, yielding a muon and an antimuon. These particles, along with other “junk” produced in the collision, then encounter those old iron slabs. “The muons can go through; everything else stops,” he said. By detecting the muons on the other side and reconstructing their original paths and speeds, “you can work backwards to work out what momentum fraction the antiquarks carry.”

Because protons and neutrons mirror each other—each has up-type particles in place of the other’s down-type particles, and vice versa—comparing the data from the two vials directly indicates the ratio of down antiquarks to up antiquarks in the proton—directly, that is, after 20 years of work.

In 2019, Alberg and Miller calculated what SeaQuest should observe based on the pion cloud idea. Their prediction matches the new SeaQuest data well.

The new data—which shows a gradually rising, then plateauing, down-to-up ratio, not a sudden reversal—also agrees with Bourrely and company’s more flexible statistical model. Yet Miller calls this rival model “descriptive, rather than predictive,” since it’s tuned to fit data rather than to identify a physical mechanism behind the down antiquark excess. By contrast, “the thing I’m really proud of in our calculation is that it was a true prediction,” Alberg said. “We didn’t dial any parameters.”

In an email, Bourrely argued that “the statistical model is more powerful than that of Alberg and Miller,” since it accounts for scattering experiments in which particles both are and aren’t polarized. Miller vehemently disagreed, noting that pion clouds explain not only the proton’s antimatter content but various particles’ magnetic moments, charge distributions and decay times, as well as the “binding, and therefore existence, of all nuclei.” He added that the pion mechanism is “important in the broad sense of why do nuclei exist, why do we exist.”

In the ultimate quest to understand the proton, the deciding factor might be its spin, or intrinsic angular momentum. A muon scattering experiment in the late 1980s showed that the spins of the proton’s three valence quarks account for no more than 30 percent of the proton’s total spin. The “proton spin crisis” is: What contributes the other 70 percent? Once again, said Brown, the Fermilab old-timer, “something else must be going on.”

At Fermilab, and eventually at Brookhaven National Laboratory’s planned Electron-Ion Collider, experimenters will probe the spin of the proton sea. Already Alberg and Miller are working on calculations of the full “meson cloud” surrounding protons, which includes, along with pions, rarer “rho mesons.” Pions don’t possess spin, but rho mesons do, so they must contribute to the overall spin of the proton in a way Alberg and Miller hope to determine.

Fermilab’s SpinQuest experiment, involving many of the same people and parts as SeaQuest, is “almost ready to go,” Brown said. “With luck we’ll take data this spring; it will depend”—at least, partly—“on the progress of the vaccine against the virus. It’s sort of amusing that a question this deep and obscure inside the nucleus is depending on the response of this country to the Covid virus. We’re all interconnected, aren’t we?”

Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

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Warnings From the Queer History of Modern Internet Regulation —

Warnings From the Queer History of Modern Internet Regulation

In 1996, when the Communications Decency Act—the first major law intended to regulate the internet—went on trial before a federal court months after it was passed, lawyers called on an AIDS activist named Kiyoshi Kuromiya to testify. Kuromiya, a civil rights leader who was also a survivor of Japanese internment, had created an online resource called the Critical Path AIDS Project that provided safe sex tips and a 24-hour hotline to thousands of queer HIV+ people.

That work, Kuromiya said, would be criminalized by the Communications Decency Act, a piece of legislation that made it illegal to publish online any “indecent” or “patently offensive” material that could be accessed by minors—a nearly impossible restriction to uphold when it came to the internet. Supporters often framed the CDA as a narrow anti-porn bill that would only apply to minors, but the requirements it imposed on computer networks and internet service providers were so thinly defined that the law seemed certain to block much more than porn. Though signed into law in 1996, a lower court had placed a stay on its implementation. As the media historian Cait McKinney documented, Kuromiya told the district court that the law would make discussing safe sex online—an essential public health tool—subject to prosecution.

The court agreed with him. Its final decision striking down large swaths of the CDA frequently referenced Kuromiya, and The New York Times wrote that Kuromiya’s story “proved decisive” in the case. A year later, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling. But one piece of the CDA survived the decision: a short section best known as Section 230. That section, which states that interactive computer services, such as websites, are not legally liable for most content that third-party users post, took a much different approach to regulating the internet than the broader bill. The CDA held interactive computer services liable for an entire category of content, while Section 230 gave them breathing room on most everything else (save for federal criminal laws, intellectual property laws, and electronic privacy laws).

Today, as Section 230 faces reform and repeal efforts on both sides of the political aisle, with some calling for a return to CDA-style regulation that puts platforms on the hook for large amounts of content, it’s worth revisiting how the early internet regulation impacted queer internet users in the ‘90s. This sordid history shows the pitfalls of overly aggressive internet legislation—and holds warnings for contemporary reforms. Whether it is the “indecent” provision of the CDA or the sex work crackdown in the later Fosta-Sesta law, the brunt of laws that make internet service providers liable for certain categories of posts has inevitably fallen on marginalized users.

Queer people were essential to the fabric of the early internet. At the same time as the CDA was passed, the Associated Press reported that one-third of all chatrooms on AOL involved gay topics, and many onlookers began to jokingly refer to it as “gay-OL.” An executive at Microsoft noted that “the gay community has always been one of the most active groups on line.” Earlier in the decade, Bloomberg claimed that the “Adult” and “Alternative Lifestyles” channels (the latter being a euphemism mostly for queer people), were the busiest on the service provider CompuServe. Yet the same factors that drew queer people online—the ability to connect anonymously to anyone in the world and frankly discuss the realities of sexuality or gender—alarmed conservatives. Democratic Senator J. James Exon, the lead sponsor of the CDA, declared that children were being exposed to “on-line ‘red light’ districts.”

Chris Kryzan, who worked in tech marketing at the time, remembers this well. In 1993,

he launched an online organization called OutProud, a “Google for queers.” It featured a collection of resources for queer teens: national chat rooms, lists of queer-friendly hotlines, news clippings, and a database where kids could type in their zip codes and get connected to resources in their area. At its peak in the mid-90s, somewhere in the range of 7,000 to 8,000 kids had signed up. Yet the computer networks that hosted him, like CompuServe and to a lesser extent AOL, quickly cast his group as sexually explicit, simply because it centered gay and trans people.

So in 1995, when Congress first began considering a draft of the Communications Decency Act, it put Kryzan’s work in jeopardy of being labeled criminal. Kryzan—along with internet-focused groups like the Queer Resources Directory—decided to fight back. Gay newspapers ran editorials opposing the law. When queer activists discovered that the Christian Coalition, a prominent supporter of the CDA, set up a phone line that would forward messages of support for the Act on to senators, queer users instead flooded it with anti-CDA calls.

As the CDA debate raged, a pair of lawmakers—Chris Cox and Ron Wyden—introduced an unrelated bill in the House called the Internet Freedom and Family Empowerment Act. The legislation responded to a controversial court case, where a bulletin board service was held liable for third-party posts because it had conducted content moderation; the judge considered the service as much a publisher of the defamatory material as the original poster. The decision seemed to suggest that service providers that took a hands-off approach would be free from liability, whereas those that moderated even some content would have to be accountable for all content. Essentially, the Cox/Wyden bill tried to encourage service providers to perform content moderation, while also granting them legal immunity by not treating them as publishers.

Eventually, in early 1996, the Communications Decency Act was signed into law. But as a compromise to the tech world, a version of the Cox/Wyden bill—Section 230—was added into it.

When the ACLU, Kuromiya, the Queer Resources Directory, and a coalition of others sued, they were able to strike down much of the CDA, including the “indecent” and “patently offensive” provisions, as unconstitutional—but Section 230 remained. In his testimony, Kuromiya showed not only that overly broad internet regulation like the CDA would endanger online gathering spaces for marginalized people, but also that a community website like his didn’t have the resources to verify user ages or moderate all content that outside users post. The latter bolstered the case for Section 230. Whereas the CDA jeopardized marginalized communities’ online presences, Section 230, even if it did not necessarily intend to protect them, at least gave them some breathing room from the knee-jerk impulses of internet service providers seeking to avoid liability.

At the time, few anticipated that Section 230 protections would soon apply to a new crop of internet behemoths like Facebook and Google, rather than small providers like Kuromiya. Yet the internet governance that lingers today came out of these clashes around sexuality and who gets to exist online.

Except for Section 230 and an obscenity provision, the CDA is no longer with us. But that doesn’t mean revivals haven’t been attempted in the decades since: Queer activists like Tom Rielly, former co-chair of the tech worker group Digital Queers, have been involved in shutting down later efforts to regulate sexuality on the internet. Rielly testified in court that a 1998 law called the Child Online Protection Act, a kind of CDA reprise, would mean the downfall of a gay-focused website he launched called PlanetOut. (COPA was later struck down.)

More recently, amid calls to rein in the immunity given to platforms, a version of the nightmare scenario for marginalized communities has come to pass. In 2018, Congress carved out an exemption to Section 230, known as Fosta-Sesta, that proponents said would hold platforms liable for third-party posts or ads that facilitated sex trafficking. But the package of laws made “knowingly assisting, supporting, or facilitating” sex trafficking or prostitution a crime, without ever defining either term. Platforms, nervous about the broad scope of words like “supporting” and “facilitating,” began ejecting consensual sex workers from their main forums for safely getting work. The crackdown targeted not only online ads for sex work, but also online communities where sex workers organized and exchanged tips and mutual support.

The web infrastructure company Cloudflare, for instance, pulled Switter, a social media site for sex workers with 49,000 members, just days after Fosta-Sesta was signed into law. PayPal froze sex workers’ accounts so as not to facilitate payments. Elsewhere, queer sex workers accused Instagram of hiding their posts from their followers, a practice called shadowbanning, thanks in part to Fosta-Sesta. Legislation around sex online has—as queer activists once feared would happen to them—chased a marginalized community out of its digital home.

The latest wave of Section 230 reforms—like the EARN IT Act from last year—have been written so broadly that they could, for instance, curtail different kinds of anonymous speech, a medium that Slate noted “is especially important for queer youth.” Other proposals, like the SAFE TECH Act, are more thoughtful, but many analysts still worry they would end with platforms filtering out broad categories of posts to avoid lawsuits. The SAFE TECH Act, for instance, has a civil rights provision that removes Section 230 immunity when third-party posts lead to discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, and other protected categories. That is an honorable goal on the surface, but given that Facebook famously considers “men are trash” to be an example of hate speech since sex is a protected category, it is easy to see such an approach backfiring on actually marginalized groups. (Facebook now appears to be walking back its stance slightly.)

The criticism of the immunities that Section 230 has given platforms is understandable. At its worst, Section 230 has incentivized inaction. It has allowed an online gun vendor to facilitate the purchase of weapons without legal background checks and protected reputation websites like Ripoff Report from taking down false and vindictive accusations, and shielded platforms from liability for harassment campaigns. But returning to the broad regulation of the ’90s is dangerous, too. And as Congress weighs this new round of Section 230 reforms, if history is any indication, they should tread carefully.

Laws like Fosta-Sesta and the Communications Decency Act show the ways in which internet regulations that purport to block narrow categories of content will inevitably have much larger ripple effects. When those categories involve sex, queer people and sex workers—groups with many overlaps—have historically been the ones to be silenced first. But should Congress introduce new exceptions to Section 230 in the coming months, there is every reason to think other marginalized groups will be caught in the crosshairs, too.

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What is Bluetooth LE Audio? —

What is Bluetooth LE Audio?

Many folks might use Bluetooth daily without ever wondering how it works. It’s a good example of how wireless technology can feel like magic. Thanks to an upcoming evolution of that tech called Bluetooth LE Audio, the experience of beaming signals from one device to another is about to seem a whole lot more magical. 

First outlined by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (or SIG) in 2020, LE Audio is a new kind of Bluetooth standard with the potential to unlock all kinds of new audio streaming tricks once adoption is widespread enough. Things like sharing a song you’re listening to with another person’s earbuds nearby will be possible once companies like Qualcomm make compatible chips.

But since we’re not quite there yet, now is the time to brush up on what Bluetooth LE Audio actually is and how it can make your life better going forward.

What’s the difference between Bluetooth and Bluetooth LE Audio?

In the simplest terms possible, Bluetooth is the decades-old technology that allows you to do things like wirelessly connect a pair of AirPods to your iPhone. It’s not new, and though it’s regularly updated like any other technology to allow for higher data speeds and longer connection ranges, those upgrades are probably more noticeable to developers than they are to regular folks.

Bluetooth LE Audio broadly does the same thing, but it’s a new and specialized kind of Bluetooth that can transmit high-quality audio while drawing significantly less power than before. A general non-audio version of this called Bluetooth LE has existed since 2009, but it wasn’t really possible to adequately stream audio in a low-energy format until now.

Bluetooth LE Audio is fueled by the new Low Complexity Communications Codec, or LC3. A codec basically compresses audio to whatever size it needs to be for streaming. LC3 can transmit audio at an acceptable quality without draining as many resources as the classic form of Bluetooth.

To get an idea of what LC3 can do, scroll down to the audio testing section on the Bluetooth SIG’s website. If you click through the different bitrates (data speed measured in kilobytes per second, or kbps) in the LC3 section, you’ll notice the audio quality gradually gets higher as the bitrate gets higher. However, even at the lower end of the spectrum, such as 128kbps or 96kbps, the quality remains acceptable despite theoretically using less of your earbuds’ and phone’s battery in a real-world scenario.

What are the benefits of Bluetooth LE Audio?

No more of this

No more of this

Image: Getty Images

The most obvious benefit of low-energy audio streaming is better battery life on Bluetooth LE Audio-enabled devices. Anyone who’s used Spotify with wireless headphones to power through their work day can attest to the amount of battery charge that can use up. That said, there are some less obvious and actually way cooler applications for Bluetooth LE Audio.

For example, the fact that LE Audio uses much less power means you might be able to more easily connect one pair of headphones to multiple devices at once without doing any manual Bluetooth juggling. Perhaps you could go from watching Netflix on your laptop to taking a phone call using the same earbuds without any hassle.

One other very cool potential application of Bluetooth LE Audio is what the Bluetooth SIG calls “audio sharing.” Imagine you’re listening to a song you think is totally fresh, or a podcast you think is super important, and you want to show it to someone nearby. With LE Audio, you should be able to broadcast that audio from one source (a phone, for example) to multiple pairs of wireless headphones at the same time.

What devices support Bluetooth LE Audio?

Time for the bad news: It’ll be a little while before most people can properly try out Bluetooth LE Audio. It’s a very new technology that has yet to be implemented in most relevant devices, like headphones, earbuds, and smartphones. One morsel of good news, however, is that Qualcomm announced in December that it had developed a wireless earbud chip with LE Audio compatibility. 

In other words, it’s not quite here yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

Eventually, it’ll be in the same devices that already use Bluetooth. Probably the most impactful and exciting new development, though, is that LE Audio will be compatible with hearing aids. Being able to connect hearing aids straight to a device like a phone or even a TV for a clearer audio stream right in the ear could be a real game-changer for those who need hearing aids.

For now, full Bluetooth LE Audio adoption is still a ways off, but there are still plenty of reasons to get excited. Whether it’s to assist those with hearing difficulties or just to bug your friends by trying to share a sick jam with them, look forward to enjoying LE Audio in the near future.

Period Underwear Changed My Life—and I’m Never Going Back —

Period Underwear Changed My Life—and I’m Never Going Back

I didn’t think underwear could change my life. Then I started bleeding into pairs of underwear meant to soak up menstrual blood without leaking.

There used to be a term that those who menstruated were familiar with: period panties. These were pairs of undies that lost their beauty after many battles against blood, developed permanent stains, and were then only worn during that time of the month. The modern invention sold as “period underwear,” on the other hand, is quite different. It’s a technology-laden class of undergarment that absorbs liquid without leaking or staining, leaving you feeling comfy, dry, and secure. Sometimes, period underwear can even be pretty.

Before I got up the nerve to try period underwear, I was unsure how they became so popular. Mostly this was because I didn’t quite get how they worked. Don’t you just leak through the edges? Doesn’t it feel like you’re sitting in a diaper? Do you have to change them multiple times a day? The answer to all those questions is no—if you’re wearing the right absorbency level for your flow. And if you aren’t currently menstruating, they could still provide protection against incontinence and discharge. Basically, it’s a marvelous upgrade to a necessary garment.

Code Red

Knix Cotton Modal Super Leakproof Bikini in indigo and High Rise in Sahara; and Nylon Super Leakproof Highrise in black.

Photograph: Knix 

I got my period for the first time when I was young and for many years it was horrendous, for lack of a better word. It was heavy and painful, with cramps that left me unable to move for hours. Menstruation during those first few years tends to be abnormal and sporadic anyway. It often doesn’t follow a schedule, so you can’t easily keep track of what days you need to be prepared with a stockpile of pads and tampons.

A period could start at any moment, as it sometimes did while I was sitting in school. This resulted in many embarrassing days where I went to the bathroom and found blood stains in my pants, or worse, was told by a fellow classmate that they could see blood. I had to walk down to the nurse’s office and wait for a parent—sometimes my dad—to drop off new pants. When you’re a kid, the thought of anyone seeing even a pad in your purse was paralyzing, never mind a class full of elementary schoolers seeing your bloody behind. (Now I’m writing about my period for WIRED, go figure.)

Not long after my first period, there was a school field trip I remember vividly. When I went to the bathroom, I realized that I had started a new cycle. I had to ask my teacher for a pad. She handed me one that was super absorbent, thankfully, but it was also thick and uncomfortable. It felt like I had just put on a pull-up diaper. I was convinced everyone could hear the plastic within the pad crackling as it rubbed together in my pants. I can’t help but think how much different those years would have been if I had period underwear all along.

As I’ve become an adult, I’ve realized that menstruation is normal, of course, and not embarrassing like I once thought it was. Nobody wants to have blood stains in public, but I’ve lost the shame associated with periods and can now talk openly about them with my boyfriend and, really, anyone else who will listen. But still, periods can be painful, annoying, and unpredictable. They can be expensive too; in most states, tampons, pads, and menstrual cups are taxed as luxury items, not necessary medical supplies. Disposable menstrual products are also wasteful—pads and tampons are made to be thrown away, after all. According to an article from the fashion and lifestyle publication Image, a pad is made up of around 90 percent plastic, and one single tampon takes longer to degrade than most women are alive.

How It Works

Modibodi Classic Boyshorts in harbour nights, Classic Full Brief in blush, and Seamfree Full Brief in dahlia.

Photograph: Modibodi

I recently wrote a buying guide offering advice about different types of menstrual products that can help reduce environmental waste. There are comfortable menstrual cups and reusable pads, or even subscription services if you’re not ready to give up tampons entirely, but period underwear stood out in my testing for its simplicity and effectiveness. Instead of going through multiple pads or tampons per day, you can put on a pair of underwear, just as you do every morning, and change pairs before bed. Of course, how long you can wear them before needing to change into a new pair will depend on the type of underwear you buy, as well as your own flow.

Most brands use about three layers of absorbent material in the crotch of the underwear—some go all the way up the back too—that traps liquid and keeps it from transferring to your clothes. Similar to a pad keeping liquid in, the liquid-locking materials in the underwear keep blood from leaking out the sides onto your legs. I started to notice some blood reaching the seams of the underwear when I chose the wrong absorbency level, but it took a lot of blood to get to that point.

Even the thickest and most absorbent pairs I tried, which are designed like shorts, didn’t feel like a diaper. They felt kind of like a supportive pair of yoga shorts, which means there’s even more protection against blood leaking through the edges. To be clear, these thick, 24-hour protectant pairs feel a bit bulky under tight clothes, so I plan accordingly and opt for pants that are looser on those days. But I’d take thick shorts and peace of mind over a bulky pad anytime.

I’ve tried six different brands with differing absorbency levels. You can read about them more in-depth in the menstrual products guide, but I have some favorites. If you want to make the switch, I suggest trying a few different pairs to find what works best for you and your body.

My favorite is Modibodi. It has the biggest range of absorbency levels with heavy-overnight and 24-hour options that should last you all night or all day without worry. It also has a patent on its lining design. The lining includes a top bamboo layer that wicks moisture and curbs odors, plus a merino wool middle layer that absorbs that liquid and keeps it locked in place to avoid getting your clothing bloody (or your skin from feeling wet). There’s also an extra waterproof bottom layer as an additional defense against blood soaking through them and staining your pants.

Another of my favorite pairs comes from the brand Knix. The company’s nylon styles were by far the comfiest; the silky feeling against my skin was a nice change of pace on those normally uncomfortable days. If you’ve ever felt like you could take on the world because your bra and underwear match despite no one else knowing, you’ll understand the feeling these nylon underwear give me. Maybe I’m bleeding and pretending my insides aren’t cramping up, but at least my underwear feels good, you know?

Knix uses a cotton top layer with spandex and carbon for moisture wicking and odor suppression, plus polyester middle and exterior layers for absorbing and trapping liquids.

Safety Concerns

I couldn’t rave on about how much period underwear has changed my life without mentioning the elephant in the room: in 2020, PFAs were found in certain pairs of Thinx menstrual underwear. Sierra Club writer Jessian Choy sent in several pairs of her Thinx underwear and Lunapads (now called Aisle) to Graham Peaslee, a physics and chemistry researcher at the University of Notre Dame. Peaslee found high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (chemicals commonly known as PFAs) in two of the three Thinx pairs, but not in the Lunapads. (Peaslee had previously discovered PFAs in fast-food wrappers.)

“It was enough PFAs that we are sure it was intentionally added to make a layer water resistant—which is a lot of PFAs in general,” Peaslee told WIRED when asked about his findings. Peaslee can’t say whether the amount of PFAs found in the underwear posed a risk to the wearer (PFAs are more harmful if ingested than if worn) but he does believe such “non-essential” use of these toxic chemicals should be avoided.

I talked to every company I tried, including Thinx, and all assured me that there are no toxic chemicals in its underwear. Some even started including language in their marketing noting that their products are PFA-free. We’re going to continue researching the topic, but we think these brands are being truthful about the makeup of their menstrual underwear, especially after this finding.

There’s not a lot of research in general about menstrual products. In fact, when I reached out to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists when I first wrote the menstrual products guide, it couldn’t answer much about any menstrual products at all because of the lack of peer-reviewed scientific research. Like a lot of aspects of personal care that women deal with, we have to take a leap of faith that the products designed for us aren’t going to harm us.

I just know that there’s little that makes me feel good when I’m bleeding from my vagina for the fifth straight day, and if period underwear can help me even a little, I’m not letting it go.

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