Did the Vikings help bring cats around the world?

  • Stephen Lam/Reuters/File
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  • Cats have been constant companions to humanity for thousands of years. Yet scientists know remarkably little about their origins and their spread across the world.

Finally, the veil of mystery around the origins and spread of ancient cats is beginning to lift. The first large-scale genetic study of domesticated cats has revealed a huge amount of information about how early feline companiions boarded boats that would take them around the world, hitching rides with all sorts of ancient cultures, including the Vikings.

Cats first began developing an affinity with humans around the dawn of agriculture, some 12,000 years ago. The study, presented at the 7th International Symposium on Biomolecular Archaeology in Oxford, Britain, suggests that the first of these domesticated cats were descended from wild cats that would chase small rodents in fields planted by early farmers. These farmers would have encouraged this behavior, and eventually cats would be taken into homes to become family pets. The Ancient Egyptians took a particular liking to the creatures, going so far as to worship them, cover them in jewels, and even mummifying them in the manner of pharaohs after they died.

From their original breeding grounds, Egyptian cats were taken aboard boats to deal with mice and rats that often infested ships in the region.

The study analyzed the mitochondrial DNA from the remains of 209 cats from across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The cats lived anywhere from 15,000 years ago to the 1700s. Cats that shared Egyptian mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down only on the mother’s side, were found as far north as a Viking site in northern Germany dating between the eighth and eleventh century.

The study also discovered that the blotched coats present in tabby cats did not occur until the Middle Ages.

“There are so many interesting observations,” Pontus Skoglund, a population geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, who was not involved in the study, told Nature. “I didn’t even know there were Viking cats.”

Vikings were well-known for conducting raids across Europe, and they probably brought their cats with them. Jes Martens from the Cultural History Museum in Oslo, Norway, told ScienceNordic that cats were an important part of Norse mythology.

“Freja, the goddess of love, had two cats that pulled her carriage. And when Thor visited Utgard, he tried to lift the giant, Utgard-Loki’s cat. It turned out to be a serpent, the Midgard Serpent, which not even Thor could lift,” said Martens.

While cats may have conquered the high seas with the Vikings, it is unlikely that Norse peoples held the same reverence for the felines as the Ancient Egyptians, according to Tech Times. Early Norse peoples would use cat skins for warmth, a necessity in the cold, northern winter.

The genetic study is the first of this scale to understand the history of the internet’s favorite animal. Despite the ubiquity of the felines around the world for thousands of years, cats lag far behind dogs in terms of genetic research, due in part to long-term breeding of dogs over the past few centuries, and perhaps a prevalence of “dog people” in the scientific community.

Dr. Geigl, however, doubts that dogs are more popular among scientists, insisting that the field of feline study is merely underfunded.

Apple will release written news as ‘Spoken Edition’ podcasts on iTunes

Apple will release written news as ‘Spoken Edition’ podcasts on iTunes

With the growing popularity of podcasts and audiobooks these days, it appears that Apple is planning to offer a similar way for users to listen to written news articles. As part of new feature coming to iTunes soon, “Spoken Editions” audio podcasts will offer spoken word versions of written articles from a wide variety of news sources. Much like how Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa is capable of reading news headlines and other information via the Echo speaker, being able to listen to the news frees up users to do other things at the same time.

The audio isn’t officially available just yet, but a selection of Spoken Editions from Time, Wired, Forbes, and several other outlets were briefly seen on iTunes on Friday before getting pulled by Apple. It’s believed that Spoken Editions are scheduled to roll out in early October, likely with many more partnering publications.

TechCrunch was one of the first to spot early iTunes leak, and discovered that the file descriptions say they were created by SpokenLayer, an existing service that already converts written word into audio formats for a number of media brands, including Reuters, Huffington Post, Time, and Forbes.

It’s likely that Apple’s Spoken Editions will include audio ads, just as SpokenLayer already does, which makes up for the revenue lost from a declining readership. While we don’t know Apple’s full plans for Spoken Editions just yet, they seem like they could also be integrated with Apple News and even the Apple TV.

Apple Watch Diary: Transforming the user-interface in watchOS 3 was Apple’s real act of courage

Apple used the word ‘courage’ recently to describe its decision to remove the headphone socket fromthe iPhone 7, and much fun was poked at the company by those who missed the reference. But what Ipersonally found far more courageous was Apple effectively admitting that it got the original AppleWatch user-interface badly wrong, and completely revamping it in watchOS 3.

Glances never worked. They were supposed to be a fast way to see information from your favoriteapps, and to go on to quickly open those apps when required. In reality, neither objective was achieved:data was slow to load, and so were the apps.

And the side-button for immediate access to contacts was simply the waste of a button. Using theWatch Dick Tracy-style for phone calls was never more than a novelty, and sending scribbles and thelike to contacts was even more of a gimmick.

So Apple had the courage to abandon both. Glances are gone, replaced by the app Dock, and the sidebutton has been repurposed to access it. These two changes have transformed my use of my Watch

I said recently that I literally couldn’t remember the last time Iactually opened an app on the Watch as it was so tediously slow todo so. Instead, I used my Watch for just four things:

  • Glancing at Complications on the Modular watch face
  • Notifications
  • Replying to text messages
  • Apple Pay

Those four things were enough for the Watch to earn its keep, but Icould see no benefit to me in upgrading to Apple’s shiny newhardware. What I do love, though, is Apple’s even shinier newsoftware.

By keeping the most-used apps in memory, and providing instant access to them via the newly-repurposed side button, using apps has gone from a frustrating act of last resort to a quick and easyway to get stuff done. The result? I’m now frequently using eight different apps. Effectively, a freeupgrade to my Watch has added eight ‘new’ features – features that were always there in theory butwere previously too slow to use in practice.


I listen to a lot of podcasts (This American Life, Freakonomics Radio and a whole bunch of Radio 4shows, in the main), so keep Now Playing in my dock. The Watch now makes it really easy to skip back15 seconds if I missed something or my mind was wandering, and while pause/play is very easy onthe B&W P5 wireless headphones I was assimilated into using, sometimes it’s even more convenientto pause on the Watch. That would never have been true before.


The Music app itself now comes into its own. It’s a more convenient way to start a playlist while outand about, and I frequently use the Quick Play button as an instant way to start some music.


Still on the music front, I love the convenience of being able to quickly Shazam a music track in a baror coffee shop. I previously used to use Siri on my iPhone, but this is much easier. Siri is unfortunatelyuseless for identifying music on the Watch.


I also love that Shazam can display lyrics on the Watch. I’m not usually a fan of using small screens todisplay more than a glance’s worth of info, but it’s nice when Shazamming a song to also be able toquickly skim the lyrics.


I’m not much of a selfie guy, but it’s always better to prop the iPhone up to avoid motion-blur whentaking photos in low light, and using the Watch as a remote-control is much more convenient thanusing the self-timer.


I love the convenience of navigating by wrist-taps. It’s much more pleasant than walking along staringat your phone screen, and a lot safer in sketchy areas. You can look like you know exactly where you’regoing while keeping your attention on your surroundings.

I know London well, so most places I can get to within a few streets without navigational assistance,then just use Apple Maps for the last few blocks. I tend to set the destination on my iPhone, as it’seasier on the larger screen, and to do that in advance. When I get close enough to need the help, I thenset it going on my Watch.06

Dark Sky is my preferred short-range weather app. I generally use it to decide whether or not I’ll need acycling jacket, and to see whether I might be better off leaving a little earlier than planned to avoid arain shower. Here the benefit of having the info on my wrist rather than my phone is more marginal,but interestingly it’s been one of the things that has most sold friends on an Apple Watch when theysee it in action.


I have a lot of friends in other countries, and Skype is my default way of keeping in touch with them.Mostly I just keep the app in the dock to ensure it’s open so I’ll receive call alerts on my Watch. I findthat otherwise it can fall out of RAM.


Finally – and this is a big one for me – I now use my Watch as a remote control when listening tomusic on the hifi. My MacBook Pro is my music repository, AirPlaying music to a variety of speakers indifferent rooms. In the living-room, I control music directly from the Mac (where it lives in the evening),but in other rooms it’s great to have the Watch as a remote control.

Around 90% of my listening is from Apple Music’s For You playlists, which has two implications. First, Iwon’t always know the name of the artist or track, and the Watch will show it to me. Second, if I don’tlike a track, I can use the Watch to skip to the next one.

The only thing missing for me is Love and Dislike buttons for Apple Music. I do try to religiouslylike/dislike tracks, as that’s why Apple’s For You recommendations are so good for me, but I can’t do itfrom the Watch.


One small criticism: I never change watch faces, so for me the ‘swipe left/right’ UI is completelywasted. A friend (thanks, Greg!) observed that, even if you do, it’s unlikely to be something you do sooften that a ‘top level’ gesture is justified. I’d prefer to see the swipe gesture used for something moreuseful – perhaps swipe right to access your most-used app and left for the one you used mostrecently?

Oh, and a kind of combined compliment and complaint, I guess: now I’m actively using the Watch somuch more, I’m finding that I burn through a lot more battery power. International travel excepted, theWatch always used to comfortably make it through a day for me, but I’ve twice run out of power sincewatchOS 3.

But that aside, I’m blown away by how much difference watchOS 3 has made. I really feel like Applejust gave me a free upgrade to a whole new model.

Chevy Bolt: First impressions of Chevrolet’s electric car

  • Chevy Bolt's infotainment display with breakdown of how energy is being used.

     Chevy Bolt’s infotainment display with breakdown of how energy is being used.
    Photo by Brian Fung for The Washington Post

  • Range meter display on the Chevy Bolt.

     Range meter display on the Chevy Bolt.
    Photo by Brian Fung for The Washington Post

  • Chevy Bolt's infotainment display with breakdown of how energy is being used.

     Chevy Bolt’s infotainment display with breakdown of how energy is being used.
    Photo by Brian Fung for The Washington Post

  • Range meter display on the Chevy Bolt.

     Range meter display on the Chevy Bolt.
    Photo by Brian Fung for The Washington Post

Tesla and Chevrolet are locked in a fierce battle for consumers who’ve never considered an electric vehicle before. Previous generations of EVs lacked range and performance, but both companies say their forthcoming vehicles will be capable of going more than 200 miles on a single charge. Even though EVs account for 1 percent or less of new vehicle sales, automakers like Tesla and Chevy are hoping the arrival of a car that can go toe-to-toe with gas guzzlers will change that equation.

I had an opportunity to test-drive the Bolt on Tuesday. Chevrolet this week confirmed the price of the Bolt at $37,495 — officially making it one of the most affordable electric cars around in a nod to the mainstream consumer. As we glided through the morning rush hour in Washington, one thing immediately became clear: Chevy has taken everything it has learned in its 104-year-old history and carefully broken with a few of the industry’s long-standing conventions. (Its rival, the Model 3, isn’t yet available, so its performance remains a mystery for now.)

Unlike traditional cars, electric vehicles lack internal combustion engines and all of their supporting machinery. That’s partly what enables engineers to make different choices, such as Tesla’s decision to put an additional trunk under the front hood to complement the one in the rear.

Chevy’s re-imagining of the automobile doesn’t go quite that far, but it does make some notable changes. For example, conventional cars often have a bump in the floor that divides one back seat passenger from another, keeping each person’s feet separated and making life difficult for anyone unfortunate enough to be sitting in the middle. But the Bolt’s mechanical simplicity means its floor can be built completely flat, creating extra space that leaves the car feeling roomier on the inside. This feeling is only enhanced by the larger, taller windows that give the driver a wider field of view.

The company has also taken the opportunity to install what some users will find a novel — and possibly confusing — feature: one-pedal driving. This doesn’t mean the Bolt comes with only one pedal. It means that with a downward tap on the shifter, drivers can engage a separate driving mode in which they can use the accelerator both to speed up and to brake.

One-pedal driving means that as soon as you lift your foot off the accelerator, the car begins to slow down, using regenerative braking to send energy back into the battery. The amount you lift your foot off the pedal determines how aggressively the braking occurs. There’s also a paddle on the steering wheel that can be used as an extra brake to slow you down even further and save even more electricity. And, of course, if you really need to slam on the brakes, you can still use the brake pedal.

Officials from Chevy’s parent company, General Motors, said one-pedal driving stands to make commuting less of a chore. I’m open to the idea, but for many people, the technique may take a lot of getting used to. At one point during our ride, I took my foot completely off the accelerator, expecting to coast. Instead, we got some extremely minor, mostly embarrassing whiplash as the car’s braking threw everyone forward in their seats. Sorry, guys.

Other aspects of the car may strike people as equally counterintuitive. Where you’d ordinarily see a speedometer and tachometer on a typical car, Chevy has placed a range meter showing how many miles you can still travel on what’s left in the battery. But instead of a single number, the company gives you three. These represent not only your “official” maximum range, but also how far you can go if you drive conservatively and, alternatively, if you ask more from the vehicle. For people who’ve never driven an electric car, all these figures may prove more confusing than informative.

A separate meter on the instrument cluster showed how much electricity I was using — or putting back — at any given moment. While it was entertaining to look at, I lacked a frame of reference that allowed me to put those numbers in perspective. It was only after GM told me that the regenerative braking can recoup 95 percent of the energy used to accelerate the car that I really got a sense for what the meter was telling me.

Performance-wise, the Bolt is about as peppy and responsive as any car you’ve probably driven, if not more. That’s thanks to the nature of electric driving: Unlike conventional engines that need to rev up, electric motors can apply maximum torque instantly. The Bolt can accelerate from 0 to 60 in 6.9 seconds, according to GM. That’s comparable to the 2016 Honda Civic 1.5-liter turbo, which accomplishes the task in 6.8 seconds.

Of course, using the car this way will probably deplete your battery more quickly, which is why the Bolt’s infotainment display comes with a screen that shows you a breakdown of how your energy is being used. During our ride, roughly half of the battery consumption went to driving and half went to the air conditioning.

Finding a place to charge the car was relatively straightforward, although it was disappointing to learn that you won’t be able to search for charging stations right from the car’s built-in tablet, at least at first. Googling for a charger led us a few blocks north to a local parking garage, where we pulled up to an empty spot and plugged in. For reference, a 120-volt home power outlet is capable of adding about four miles of driving range for every hour the car is plugged in. Plugging into higher-voltage outlets, such as a 240-volt charger that you will be able to buy at the dealership, can speed up the charging process. With that kind of charger, you’d be adding 25 miles to your range every hour.

It’s still unclear whether many consumers will warm to the Chevy Bolt. But it will have some lead time on its competitor, the Tesla Model 3, allowing Chevrolet to make an early first impression. And while the Bolt makes some clear departures from other, more traditional cars, Chevy seems to be hoping that it will seem familiar enough for people to consider adopting it.

Turn A Raspberry Pi Zero Into A Miniature Dongle Computer

Video: The Raspberry Pi Zero’s best feature is its size, but that comes at the cost of ports. DIYer Node figured out how to turn the Pi Zero into a dongle computer so it can tether itself directly to another computer’s network through USB, making it much easier to use.

With a few mods, Node turns the Zero into a dongle computer, which means you simply need to plug it into your computer and it will start sharing the network resources. From there, you can SSH or VNC into the Zero and control it using your laptop or desktop computer, no extra mouse, screen or keyboard required. This is great for setting up different SD cards or testing projects when you don’t want to pull out a bunch of extra gear. Head over to YouTube for the full guide.