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Tech titan dishes with Martha Stewart about pizza

When it comes to pizza, is there really anything new under the sun-dried tomatoes? Well, how about an all-black pizza, made with squid ink and black mozzarella? Or saffron pizza? Or a cheddar-apple-bacon pizza made with “Frankencheese”?

Nathan Myhrvold, the techie/foodie who was Microsoft’s first chief technology officer and founded Intellectual Ventures, laid out that menu today during an online chat with lifestyle guru Martha Stewart focusing on Myhrvold’s latest magnum opus, “Modernist Pizza.”

To Myhrvold’s mind, the sheer breadth of the pizza palette is one of the reasons why it was worth putting in four years of his time to research a subject that has now yielded a three-volume, 1,708-page guide (including more than 1,000 recipes and a kitchen manual).

“It’s amazing how the world took to pizza — street food for poor people from Naples in the 19th century that became the world’s most popular, important dish,” Myhrvold said. “Maybe this could have launched some other way, but that’s a hell of a start.”

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How the ‘Dune’ sci-fi saga parallels the science of dunes

The deserts of Abu Dhabi and Jordan play starring roles in the blockbuster sci-fi movie “Dune,” which premieres this week in theaters and on HBO Max — but the origins of the classic tale go back to a different set of dunes on the Oregon coast.

“Dune” creator Frank Herbert spent much of his life in the Pacific Northwest, from his childhood days in Tacoma to his stint as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s education editor. (When I worked at the P-I back in the 1980s, some of my fellow copy editors could still reminisce about Herbert’s habits.)

In 1957, Herbert spent some time researching what he hoped would be a magazine article about a U.S. Department of Agriculture project to stabilize the shifting sand dunes near Florence, Ore., by planting invasive beachgrass. The article was never finished, but according to “Dreamer of Dune,” a biography written by Herbert’s son Brian, the idea of transforming the dunes made a huge impression.

“Dad realized he had something bigger in front of him than a magazine article,” Brian Herbert wrote. “He sat back at his desk and remembered flying over the Oregon dunes in a Cessna. Sand. A desert world. He envisioned the earth without the technology to stop encroaching sand dunes, and extrapolated that idea until an entire planet had become a desert.”

From that initial thread of an idea, the elder Herbert wove six novels, published between 1965 and 1985. Since then, Brian Herbert and  longtime sci-fi collaborator Kevin J. Anderson have written more than a dozen of their own “Dune” sequels and prequels. (The latest was published just last month.)

The newly released movie covers just the first half of the original “Dune” novel. But in subsequent books, Herbert traced how fictional scientists tried to green up the desert planet of Arrakis — and how that brought about unanticipated, even problematic consequences.

Strangely enough, that part of the story parallels what’s now happening amid Oregon’s dunes. It’s a case of life imitating art … imitating life.

“It feels very extreme and sci-fi when you see it in a movie or in a book, but it’s also just like real U.S. government land management,” said Rebecca Mostow, a graduate research assistant at Oregon State University.

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This AI has the upbeat sound of a DJ down pat

As he turns from a Foo Fighters tune to the Smashing Pumpkins, Andy sounds just like your typical alternative-rock DJ — but his tag line is positively inhuman.

“Ever feel like your day just needs a shot of pick-me-up? Well, that’s what we’re here for — to help turn that frown upside down and crank the dial to 11,” he says. “Yes, I may be a robot, but I still love to rock.”

The robot reference isn’t just a nod to his canned DJ cliches: In a sense, Andy really is a robot — as in ANDY, or Artificial Neural Disk JockeY. And thanks to Seattle-based WellSaid Labs and Super Hi-Fi, an AI-centric production company in Los Angeles, ANDY could soon be coming to a streaming music service near you.

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Starliner’s next flight to orbit will slip into 2022

Boeing says its next attempt to send an uncrewed Starliner space taxi to the International Space Station will take place no earlier than the first half of 2022, due to the time needed to fix a valve problem that led to the last-minute cancellation of an August test flight.

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The disappearing bathtub and other Titanic tales

For evidence that the wreck of the Titanic is rapidly deteriorating, you need look no further than Captain Edward Smith’s bathtub. That is, if you can find it.

The case of the disappearing bathtub, as documented by Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate Expeditions, is one of the most vivid indicators showing how fast the world’s most famous shipwreck is settling into the final stages of its decay, more than a century after it hit an iceberg and sank into the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912.

More than 1,500 passengers and crew died in the sinking, but the tale of the Titanic lives on in the annals of maritime history. The rediscovery of the wreck in 1985 grabbed headlines around the world — and James Cameron’s “Titanic” movie burnished the ship’s reputation as a cultural icon.

One of the touchstones of Titanic expeditions has been the bathtub in the doomed captain’s cabin, more than two miles beneath the ocean’s surface. As recently as a decade ago, photos clearly showed the porcelain tub sitting amid rusty ruins. But two years ago, an expedition team reported that the wreck was rapidly deteriorating and cited the state of the captain’s cabin as evidence.

“The most shocking area of deterioration was the starboard side of the officer’s quarters, where the captain’s quarters were,” Titanic historian Parks Stephenson was quoted as saying at the time. “Captain’s bathtub is a favorite image among the Titanic enthusiasts, and that’s now gone.”

So it was a given that OceanGate would try to look at the captain’s quarters this summer when its Titan submersible went on a series of 10 dives. The good news is that the bathtub hasn’t completely gone away.

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Real-life space trip wows Star Trek’s starship captain

Reality caught up with science fiction today when Star Trek actor William Shatner, a.k.a. Captain James T. Kirk, briefly crossed into outer space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship.

In the process, the 90-year-old Shatner took the title of oldest human in space, less than three months after 82-year-old aviation pioneer Wally Funk set that record on Blue Origin’s first-ever crewed flight.

“How about that, guys?” Shatner could be heard saying during the descent. “That was unlike anything they described. … That was unlike anything you could ever feel.”

Today’s mission at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas was the 18th for the New Shepard breed of spaceships, including 16 uncrewed flights over the past six years. It marked a bright day for Jeff Bezos’ Kent, Wash.-based space venture, coming amid a set of challenges and controversies.

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How to watch William Shatner beam up to space

More than a half-century after William Shatner first played a starship captain roaming the galaxy in “Star Trek,” he’s getting a real-life ride to the edge of space — and you can watch the whole episode on real-life communicators, thanks to internet links that didn’t exist when the original TV series was made.

Shatner has had a long Hollywood career since then, including prime-time parts in TV series such as “T.J. Hooker” and “Boston Legal.” It’s been 28 years since he’s starred in a Star Trek movie  But if nothing else, the seasoned actor knows how to milk his signature role.

“It looks like there’s a great deal of curiosity about this fictional character — Captain Kirk — going into space,” Shatner said in a video released today by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture. “So let’s go along with it and enjoy the ride.”

If all goes according to plan, Shatner and three shipmates will enjoy their ride in Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship at 9 a.m. CT (7 a.m. PT) Oct. 13, at the company’s Launch Site One in West Texas. Blue Origin plans to stream coverage of the countdown via its website, starting 90 minutes before liftoff.

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Star Trek space trip refocuses spotlight on Blue Origin

Star Trek captain William Shatner’s scheduled suborbital space trip is bringing a renewed flood of attention to Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture — but like a movie reboot, the storyline is more complex the second time around.

Three months after Bezos took a seat on his company’s first-ever crewed spaceflight, Shatner’s celebrity is sparking a string of feel-good interviews, with his three fellow fliers playing supporting roles. Tech entrepreneurs Chris Boshuizen and Glen de Vries are paying undisclosed fares. Like Shatner, Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s VP for New Shepard mission and flight operations, is flying for free.

The foursome are scheduled to lift off from Launch Site One in West Texas at 8:30 a.m. CT (6:30 a.m. PT) Wednesday, aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship. They’re in the midst of a couple of days of pre-launch training, documented on this morning’s network news shows.

Most of the interviews touched upon the one-day delay in the flight due to a forecast of unacceptable winds for Tuesday, but during the CBS interview, Shatner volunteered a shout-out to Bezos’ long-term vision of having millions of people living and working in space.

“Jeff Bezos’ concept of doing all this is to build industry, homes, to live in close connection with Earth and function close to Earth,” Shatner said on CBS. “And that’s a vision that I think is very practical and worth getting behind.”

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Weather forces a delay in William Shatner’s space trek

The Starship Enterprise never had to delay its mission to seek out new life and new civilizations due to bad weather, but that’s precisely what Star Trek captain William Shatner is facing in his real-life bid to become the world’s oldest spaceflier aboard Blue Origin’s suborbital rocket ship.

Blue Origin, the space venture created by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, says the 90-year-old actor and his three shipmates are now due to fly on the company’s New Shepard craft on Oct. 13 rather than Oct. 12, due to a forecast for unacceptable winds at the West Texas launch site on the originally scheduled date.

Shatner is already at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One after flying in from the New York Comic Con. He’s joined by Planet Labs co-founder Chris Boshuizen, Medidata co-founder Glen de Vries and Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s vice president for New Shepard mission and flight operations.

Boshuizen and de Vries are paying an undisclosed fare for their trips, while Powers and Shatner are flying as Blue Origin’s special guests.

According to today’s advisory, weather is the only concern for launch.

“As part of today’s Flight Readiness Review, the mission operations team confirmed the vehicle has met all mission requirements and astronauts began their training today,” Blue Origin said.

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Startup’s AI software tackles stage fright

If you’re intimidated by the prospect of giving a speech, going through a job interview or doing a wedding toast, a Seattle startup called Yoodli might have just the thing: an AI-enabled software platform that analyzes your delivery and gives you tips for improvement — in a non-judgmental way.

Today the venture is coming out of stealth mode, opening up the waitlist for early access to their beta product and announcing a $1 million pre-seed funding round from Seattle’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Madrona Venture Group.

Yoodli is a spinout from the incubator program at the institute, also known as AI2. Two of the founders — Varun Puri and Esha Joshi — are AI2 entrepreneurs-in-residence. The third founder is Ehsan Hoque, co-director of the Rochester Human Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Rochester. All three are drawing upon their personal experience as they take the leap into the startup world.