Google and Nest’s Plan to Make Controlling Your Home as Easy as a Web Search



Interacting with Google has always meant making something happen on a screen–getting a search result, sending an email, adding a calendar event. But this fall, giving Google a command will have immediate consequences in the physical world.

That’s when Google’s new integration with Nest hardware is set to go live, according to the smart home device maker: “Just speak a command: ‘OK Google. Set Nest to 75 degrees,’ and your Nest Thermostat will do as you say.” This pairing of the thermostat and Google’s “Actions” service is the most visible interaction between the two companies since Google bought Nest for more than $3 billion earlier this year.

The neat trick is just one of many revealed in Nest’s announcement today that it’s now offering an API, or application programming interface, that lets developers connect software and hardware of all kinds to the Nest smart thermostats and fire alarms. According to Nest senior product manager Greg Hu, Google will use the API in much the same way that third-party developers like Whirlpool and Mercedez Benz already have. “The program lets any connected platform integrate with Nest,” Hu says.

“Just speak a command: ‘OK Google. Set Nest to 75 degrees,’ and your Nest Thermostat will do as you say.”

Though Google’s integration with its Google Actions service won’t arrive until August, many third-party integrations are already available. For example, Jawbone’s UP24 fitness band can tell when its wearer wakes up. The band can ping Nest when you rise, and the thermostat that will automatically set itself to your favorite temperature. Through an integration with Mercedes, your car can tell Nest when you’ve left or arrived home and set the temperature accordingly.

But the possibilities don’t end with temperature. Since Nest’s thermostat knows when you’re home or away, other smart devices can use that data point to adjust their own functionality. Wi-fi-enabled LIFX lightbulbs, for example, can randomly turn lights on and off for security when they “know” via Nest that you’re gone. The LIFX bulbs can also connect to Nest’s smoke alarm to flash red when high smoke or carbon monoxide levels are detected. The smoke alarm also works with IFTTT, which can send neighbors a text message when it senses smoke.

As a still-new company working hard to push the idea of the smart home into the mainstream, Nest is following a time-honored blueprint by opening itself up to outside developers. As Apple, Facebook, and Google itself have all demonstrated, platform trumps product alone in driving massive adoption. To draw users to Nest who might not have considered themselves prospective smart home customers, the company needs to make as many channels as possible available to attract interest.

But while Google said at the time of its acquisition that Nest would continue to operate as an independent company, it’s hard not to see Google’s own integration with the Nest API as a sign of things to come for the search giant. As Google’s spending spree on new companies shows, the company knows search alone is not its future. Google Now is Google’s effort to anticipate what you want to know before you even ask for it. This fall will also see the integration of Google Now with Nest. Along with predicting your information needs, Google will now make your home nice and cozy for you before you even get there.

Withings Unveils a Slick Fitness Tracker Disguised as an Analog Watch

Up until now, the marketplace for wrist wearables has been largely comprised of sporty-looking bracelets with a silicone finish. But today Withings, a French product company and early player in the connected health space, is releasing a fitness tracker worth coveting. It’s at once a sartorial throwback, and a step forward for wearables.

The Activité is a watch—and a handsome one at that. But its dials appear analog, not digital, and it was made in Switzerland. Unlike a traditional luxury timepiece, the display masks an accelerometer instead of cogs, to track the wearer’s steps taken and hours slept. Settings provided by the user help calculate calories burned, and all of that data is streamed back to the Withings Health Mate app. The only giveaway that the Activité can do more than the average watch is a smaller, secondary dial: over the course of a day, a hand ticks from 0 to 100, showing your progress. How that progress gets defined (Did you walk at least four miles? Burn off 1,000 calories?) is up to the user, and controlled through the accompanying app.

“Our mission is to have an impact on health,” Julien De Preaumont, CMO at Withings, tells WIRED. “That requires devices that we’ll use in the long term.” The Activité is so pared down, the design borders on obvious: “Let’s use the design of a classic watch that we know people like,” De Preaumont says. Besides the sapphire glass screen and leather strap, De Preaumont says that users will have the luxury of not needing to charge their gadgets all the time. The Activité stays charged up to a year, because it’s powered with standard, long-lasting watch batteries. “It wasn’t convenient enough,” he says. “The technology has been too confident thinking that you could rely on people, so we are taking a much humbler approach.”

The app offers many of the capabilities seen in the Jawbone Up, but with the added benefit of being connectable to the Withings Scale.

The app offers many of the capabilities seen in the Jawbone Up, but with the added benefit of being connectable to the Withings Scale. Withings

We have yet to see the iPhone of wearables, and it’s possible we never will. Convincing people to wear a new piece of technology—all day—is a big ask. As every fashion magazine and clothing retailer knows, when a consumer buys and wears something on their body, they’re laying bare a small slice of their identity. And because we all have highly nuanced ideas about who we are, the fashion industry has to cater to an infinite number of wants.

Likewise, in his article on wearable technology, WIRED senior editor Bill Wasik points out that, “tech companies will be competing in product categories—wristwatches, glasses, other fashionable accessories—where even the least fashion-conscious consumers demand a great degree of uniqueness and variety.” The promise of wearable technology won’t be fulfilled until its packaged in enough ways that anyone can find one that feels “like them.” With is either a daunting or exciting premise for upstart entrepreneurs, makers, and fashion designers.

Withings Activité will come in black or silver, and has a plastic band that can used for cardio workouts or for swimming. It will be available this fall, for $390.

What Crowdfunding Site Patreon Will Do With That $15M in Funding

Screengrab: WIRED

Screengrab: WIRED

Crowdfunding platform Patreon, which operates more like a subscription service than the more traditional Kickstarters or Indiegogos of the world, announced today it has raised $15 million in funding from 17 angel investors and venture capitalists, including Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and a pair of talent agencies.

The Series A funding round follows impressive growth since the company’s initial $2.1 million seed funding round last August; revenues are said to have grown more than ten times in the last five months alone, with the company having distributed more than $1 million to content creators in the last two months. (Full disclosure: This writer is a Patreon user.)

The influx of cash means Patreon can begin expanding their offerings for the artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers and other creatives who use the service to get income from fans—or “patrons” in the site’s parlance—for their work. Unlike Kickstarter or Indiegogo, which are best used to fund single projects, Patreon allows fans to fund self-employed creatives so that they make work on an ongoing basis. Along with announcing the new funding, the service also launched a new website, and said the new funding will be used to expand the company’s offerings—creating an even broader platform for its users to get backing for their endeavors.

But beyond the tangible changes to the service, a robust Series A round speaks to the viability of an individual-driven subscription service, and by extension to the emergence of the creator as its own brand. While there have steps in this direction—creator-owned Image Comics has long allowed comic-book artists and writers to work outside of a corporate publishing structure, and videogame service Steam provides a pipeline to publish the work of independent developers—Patreon transcends medium for the first time. If you like what someone makes, you can support their work. In other words, we’re all Medicis now.

Patreon co-founder Jack Conte, himself a Patreon user with his band Pomplamoose, told TechCrunch that the funders of this round were chosen because the company “wanted investors who believed in the arts and understand our mission,” and went on to note that even more money could have been available if necessary.

The funding will be used in part to make new hires and move the Patreon team into a new office—the first official office in the company’s history—as well as expand the company’s offerings, including iOS and Android apps and a new “Launch Mode” for artists to help promote new content and ongoing campaigns.

Yahoo’s Aviate Is a Smart, Simple Take on the Android Homescreen



Aviate is a slick rethinking of the Android homescreen experience, and it’s now available for the masses—along with some useful new features.

The launcher blends Google Now-like smarts, personalization, and organization into its three neatly organized homescreens, two of which are markedly different than what you’ll see in Android.

The main screen is dominated by a large image, with five app icons populating the bottom of the screen. Swipe to the right, and you’re taken to a screen of your apps, organized neatly by “collection.” Social, music, productivity, and transit apps, for example, are each lumped together automatically by category. When you download a new app, it’s slotted straight into the appropriate collection. Here Aviate also recommends apps you should try based on your usage patterns.

The main homescreen also houses an icon at the top of the display that changes throughout the day depending on the time and where you are. This is basically a hint of Aviate’s “smart” features, which are accessed with a swipe from the left of the screen. There, much like Google Now, Aviate aggregates all sorts of relevant information to your current location and situation, disambiguated from their original apps so you don’t have to tap and swipe a dozen times to get at it.

In the morning, for example, this screen shows you how much sleep you got, how long it estimates your commute will take, the weather, and what meetings are on the calendar for the day. When you’re at work (detected based on your location), your calendar dominates the screen, with quick buttons for sending an email or creating a new calendar event at the top. If you’re at a restaurant, Aviate populates this screen with information from Yelp, tips from Foursquare, and access to other restaurant apps on your handset.

As for the calendar experience, Aviate was able to leverage technology from Incredible Labs (both companies were acquired by Yahoo in January) to make it more functional. The calendar lets you do things like dial into a conference call straight from this interface, pull in map directions for a meeting, and send a message to meeting participants to tell them you’re running late.

Another convenient feature in Aviate is how easy it is to access the people you talk to most. By swiping up from the bottom of the screen, you get access your eight favorite contacts, based on how often you interact with them. Below that, you’ll see your four most recent contacts. Tap their circular profile image and you can easily launch a Google Hangout with them, or give them a call.

Aviate’s user interface seems like it would really streamline your mobile experience, making it easier to access the information you need, when you need it, as well as the apps and people you most want to interact with.

Aviate launched as an invite-only beta back in October, but is available from Google Play for all Android users today.

A Redesigned Coffee Lid That Totally Changes the Drinking Experience

Seattle company Vapor Path has designed a new coffee cup lid, the Viora lid, that claims to enhance the aroma and taste of your drink by mimicking the the design of an open-top ceramic cup. “If we’ve done our job right, and god knows we’ve tried, we’ll be recreating that experience of drinking from an open-top cup,” says Doug Fleming, CEO and founder of Vapor Path.

A ceramic cup is an ideal drinking vessel for a few reasons. An open top allows aroma to hit your nostrils and inform your brain what you’re about to be drinking. Another consideration is mouth position, which should be as natural as possible while drinking. “If you purse your lips like you’re sucking from a straw it pulls the soft palate closed, which is in the back of your mouth that connects the back of your mouth and your nose,” Fleming explains.

A relaxed mouth means you’re engaged in retronasal breathing, which allows the aroma in your mouth to travel up that passageway, adding to the taste experience. Lastly, drinking a cup of coffee is actually pretty similar to drinking a good glass of wine. You want it to hit various parts of your tongue, in the proper order, to engage different taste buds. An open-top cup lets this happen.

Your standard coffee cup is good at spill protection, but that’s about it. The most recognizable lid, the Solo Traveler, was designed by Jack Clements in 1986. It features a horizontal opening on the top ridge of the plastic that makes your drink pour out like a spout. The raised center allows room for foam while the depressed area gives your nose some wiggle room. It’s a thoughtful, efficient design, and good enough to be in the MoMA’s permanent collection. But Vapor Path thinks it has something even better.

The Viora lid features an exaggerated hole in the middle to let the steamy aroma reach your nose faster. Its depressed middle makes room for your nose and foam. Pretty standard stuff. But the real innovation comes from the repositioned drink opening. While most lids have a hole on the top of the drinkover rim, the Viora is cut into the inside wall of the rim. This has a couple added benefits: It keeps liquid sloshing inside the cup instead of onto your shirt, and it’s the key to a natural open top-like drinking position.

You’ll notice that the hole is wider and arches up into the rim. This allows the liquid to fill a well before it hits your lips. We’ve been conditioned from a young age to know what to expect from our cups. We instinctively know how soon the liquid is going to hit our lips, so if the timing is off, it starts to feel weird. “If you make the drink opening too big then you don’t get decent spill prevention. You make it too small and the liquid starts reaching your lips just a little too late so it starts to feel uncomfortable,” says Barry Goffe, CEO of Vapor Path. “When you get it right it feels like you’re not drinking out of a lid anymore.”


It sounds simple enough, but manufacturing a lid with a this kind of opening was a challenge. Most mass-produced thermal-formed lids use a certain type of tool to cut the opening. The Viora, because its cut is on the inside wall of the rim, required custom cutting tools. “We went to manufacturers and they said, ‘We can’t really do that, the people who do do that are in the berry trade,” recalls Fleming. Many plastic berry trays feature vertical side cuts for draining; the Viora lid needed an adapted version of those slits. So Felming and Goffe reached out to the berry manufacturing world and created custom cutting tools that could make the cut at scale.

Because it’s not able to use the same mass production techniques, the Viora is a little pricier than other lids. Standard lids go for 3 to 5 cents apiece, and high-end lids with resealable closures and premium sustainable plastics sell for 7-10 cents. Viora has positioned itself in the middle of that market at 6 cents. Vapor Path is making a bet that the burgeoning artisanal coffee scene will be enough to support the lid until they can produce it in bigger quantities, reducing the prices.

For what it’s worth, drinking out of the Viora does feel noticeably smoother. The liquid flows instead of dribbles, and I could actually smell hints of lemon in my green tea with lemon. It does everything the standard coffee lid does, but maybe even just a little bit better. You hear that, Starbucks?

App That Lets Users Sell Public Parking Spots Is Ordered to Shut Down



The fight between entrepreneurs and regulators over the so-called sharing economy is entering weird new territory.

With the arrival of Monkey Parking–an app that lets parking-space squatters auction their prized curb space to drivers weary of circling the block–startups are now making it possible to “share” things you don’t own in the first place. The service has been available for several weeks in San Francisco–a notoriously difficult place to park–but that was long enough for city officials. San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has now demanded that Monkey Parking stop operating in the city. He has threatened to fine the Rome-based startup and two other companies with similar apps $2,500 per transaction, and he says anyone who uses the app could be hit with a $300 penalty.

“Monkey Parking’s business model is wholly premised on illegal transactions,” Herrera said, citing city laws against buying and selling public on-street parking. “People are free to rent out their own private driveways and garage spaces should they choose to do so. But we will not abide businesses that hold hostage on-street public parking spots for their own private profit.”

Monkey Parking CEO and co-founder Paolo Dobrowolny told WIRED in an email that he couldn’t comment specifically on the city’s order while he consulted with lawyers. “As a general principle we believe that a new company providing value to people should be regulated and not banned,” he said.

In the past, other online marketplaces such as Uber and Airbnb that faced similar crackdowns on their way to becoming multi-billion-dollar companies have offered variations on the argument that they simply act as facilitators connecting supply with demand. For those companies, however, supply generally consists of private property: someone’s car or apartment. Monkey Parking, on the other hand, appears to be premised on the idea that it’s okay to cordon off the commons for private gain as long as you get there first.

Parking in many cities truly sucks, a “pain point” toward which tech-minded entrepreneurs were bound to gravitate. Judging by the public outcry so far, however, spot-squatting isn’t a solution that seems likely to withstand the political backlash. While the legality of Uber and Airbnb in many cities, including San Francisco, is ambiguous at best, both have thrived because the services they offer are incredibly popular. Their opponents are mainly the entrenched industries–taxis and hotels–that their new business models threaten to undermine. But politicians, especially in San Francisco, have been wary of alienating consumers and tarnishing their pro-innovation cred.

Messing with street parking, on the other hand, turns everyone behind the wheel into a potential enemy. Perhaps Monkey Parking will fight off the legal challenge in San Francisco long enough to show it really is a more efficient way to parcel out parking. But city officials can likely count on the traditional kindergarten definition of sharing to win popular support: Use something until you’re done, then let somebody else have a turn.

NYC Construction Crew Unearths a Military Railroad Relic

A relic of Governor's Island's past was dug up recently.

A relic of Governor’s Island’s past was dug up recently. The Trust for Governor's Island

Crews digging a storm water trench on Governor’s Island unearthed the rusty, filthy remains of what appeared to be the remains of a train. They had no idea what it was. But we do.

It’s an archbar, a relic from the days when the island was a key military installation. During World War I, the Army built the Governor’s Island Railroad to move equipment around the 172-acre island, which first housed a colonial militia in 1755. The railroad had just 1.75 miles of track and three flat cars that moved between the pier, shops, and warehouses. That made it the world’s shortest railroad, The New York Times said in 1931. The railroad was dismantled that year.

In 1966, the Army handed the island over to the Coast Guard, which maintained a base there for 30 years. The city bought 150 acres of the island in 2003, and the Trust for Governor’s Island is now turning it into a park with spaces for non-profit and commercial facilities.

An archbar is a type of freight car truck common in the early 1900s, says Robert Holzweiss, president of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society. Simply put, they’re the wheels the boxcar sits on. They were commonly used on freight and maintenance cars, as well as early tenders and cabooses, according to Don Mooney, president of the Railroad Historical Society of Northern New York. The Association of American Railroads banned the design, which was outdated and required a lot of maintenance, from interchange (railroad to railroad) service in 1939.

Island officials plan to do more research and find a place to display the relic. Why the archbar was sitting underground on the island for nearly a century, we may never know.

Effectiveness of antibiotics in treating cholera reviewed

Researchers from the Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group, co-ordinated through the editorial base in LSTM, conducted an independent review of the effects of treating cholera with antimicrobial drugs, published in The Cochrane Library today.

Cholera is an acute watery diarrhea caused by infection with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, which can cause rapid dehydration and death. Effective treatment requires early diagnosis and rehydration using oral rehydration salts or intravenous fluids. This review looked at the effects of adding antimicrobial drugs to this treatment.

Thirty-nine randomized and quasi-randomized controlled clinical trials were included in the review, with a combined total of 4623 participants, both adults and children. Overall the researchers found that antimicrobial therapy shortened the average duration of diarrhea by about a day and a half when compared to placebo or no treatment. Antimicrobial therapy also reduced the total stool volume by 50% and reduced the amount of rehydration fluids required by 40%, and shortened the duration of fecal extraction of vibrios bacteria by almost three days.

There was substantial variation between trials in the size of these benefits, probably due to differences in the antibiotic used, the trial methods (particularly effective randomization), and the timing of outcome assessment. However the benefits of antibiotics were seen both in trials recruiting only patients with severe dehydration and in those recruiting patients with mixed levels of dehydration.

In direct head-to-head comparisons, researchers found that there were no obvious differences detected in diarrhea duration or stool volume for tetracycline compared to doxycycline or tetracycline compared to ciprofloxacin or norfloxacin. However, a higher number of studies looked at indirect comparisons and in those cases tetracycline appeared to have larger benefits than doxycycline, norfloxacin and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, while single dose azithromycin shortened the duration of diarrhea by over a day compared to ciprofloxacin and by half a day compared to erythromycin. Tetracycline was not compared with azithromycin.

Ya'ara Leibovici-Weissman from Tel Aviv University said: "In treating cholera a quick and accurate diagnosis remains key, but it is clear from the results that antimicrobials result in substantial improvements in clinical and microbiological outcomes, with similar effects observed in severely and non-severely ill patients. Our results also point to the likelihood that azithromycin and tetracycline may have some advantages over other antibiotics."

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

No, not evolutionary biology, too! [Pharyngula]

We’ve heard so much about bad behavior at conferences, and how sexist attitudes can suppress the contributions of women. And it doesn’t seem to matter what the conference is about: tech, gaming, atheism, skepticism, philosophy, you name it. Now Prof-Like Substance describes the scene at evolutionary biology conferences, explaining how many women are hesitant to participate in important events because of the predatory behavior of some men. And she gives a little advice.

So dudes, pull this apart a little bit. First off, the frequency with which inappropriate advances occur is causing some women to avoid after hours social events. Not only does that have consequences, but that very fact in itself should bother you. Also consider that even consensual sexyfuntimes have very different career implications for men versus women. These communities are small and things get around. Finally, are you going to be That Guy who women are warned against being around alone? Do you want the dumb things you say when you’re out late to be the reason a woman leaves the field or is uncomfortable attending social events? Consider that maybe your work colleagues are not the best target audience for your affections.

Interesting. She isn’t appealing to the altruistic best side of men, who ought to care about what’s best for their colleagues, but their self-interest. Sounds like an evolutionary biologist.

Star Talk


Josh Valcarcel/WIRED

Blink a few times, and then a few more, and the world will be smothered in signal; ubiquitous Internet and voice service is coming. Balloons, miniature satellites, and aerial drones will get us there. But not yet, not today. Even here in the United States, there are plenty of spots where a cellular signal is impossible to come by. That’s where GlobalStar’s Sat-Fi comes in. It lets you make calls and use the Internet from anywhere there’s sky.

The Sat-Fi is a satellite antenna that’s connected by a cable to a Wi-Fi router. It has apps for iOS, Android, Mac OS, and Windows that let you make voice calls, send emails (or even update your Twitter and Facebook accounts). It’s designed for areas where there is no network to connect to—4G, 3G, Edge, you name it. It’s really geared towards industrial use, but preppers take note, it would make a great emergency kit addition as well.

And here’s the thing: it works. If you need to send an email or make a call from way boonie nowhere, the Sat-Fi will connect you. Once I had it properly set up (more on that below) and had a clear shot at the sky, there was never an instance where I absolutely couldn’t connect.

A pair of Sat-Fi apps—one for voice, another for data—serve as your comms center. They jack into your phone’s address book and suck up your contacts—which is nice because you don’t have to manually plug in phone numbers or email addresses to get in touch with people. The email function is pretty basic, and takes some getting used to, because, for example, the “send” button on Android isn’t right in front of you. You actually have to go into the options. But it’s also solid in a way that you want something in the field to be. When you send and receive email, you can see the server connections, and you get a confirmation message so you know you were able to communicate. One nice touch? You can attach photos to your messages. These are dropped way down in resolution so the files are small enough to reasonably transmit and end up looking about like the phone cam pictures you took a decade ago. But they’re enough to get the point across.

I also thought it was kind of neat to be able to link up with Facebook and Twitter. While that may seem twee (hey, I’m tweeting from space!), when you consider one of Twitter’s best use cases is as a form of emergency communication—to tell the world about a fire or a flood or some other disaster when there are no other ways of getting the word out—it makes perfect sense that Sat-Fi included it. Similarly, it’s easy to see how the Facebook connection could be very handy to send updates to your friends and families when doing so would normally be impossible.

When everything is set up right, and conditions are good (meaning you’ve got a clear sky setup) it worked perfectly. Voice calls don’t exhibit noticeable lag. The internet connection just rolls data out and reels it back in again. At night under a wide open starry sky by the side of a lake, I had stellar voice quality that sounded about like a normal cell phone call. Yet on a heavily overcast day when I had the antenna in the shadow of a house, there was a noticeable lag of several seconds between the time I would say something and when it came through to the other caller.

The downside to everything running through the Sat Fi apps is that those apps are, frankly, ugly and a little confusing to set up and use. You’re going to have to RTFM. If you set everything up correctly, it works nearly flawlessly. But there are a lot of set up steps, and if you mess something up, it’s hard to tell what went wrong. My one hiccup, for example, was due to not selecting the right option in a drop down menu, and it kept me from making a data connection. It was an easy fix, but I couldn’t diagnose it myself because the interface just isn’t very intuitive. It all feels a bit industrial. And if someone is using this in an emergency type of situation, perhaps for the very first time, you want it to be easy.

But overall this is a really impressive product. It connects you with the rest of the world, where you previously could not. It’s a remarkable feat.

Come for the Oz-kicking, stay for the information [Pharyngula]

This is an excellent piece on that quack, Dr Oz, by John Oliver. The first 5 minutes is spent mocking the fraud, but then, the last ten minutes are all about the real problem: the evisceration of the FDA’s regulatory power over supplements, thanks to Senators Hatch and Harkin.

OK, there is a silly bit at the end where they show that you can pander to your audience without lying to them about the health benefits of magic beans, but still — let’s beef up the FDA, all right?

Molecule regulates production of antibacterial agent used by immune cells

Researchers have discovered how a protein molecule in immune cells promotes the production of nitric oxide, a potent weapon in the cells' arsenal to defend the body from bacterial attack. The protein may offer a target for reining in the inflammatory response, which must be able to fight infection without damaging tissue.

The study was published in the Journal of Innate Immunity.

NFATc3 is one of several related protein molecules known to play a role in regulating genes in the T and B cells of the immune system. Ravi Ranjan, research scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, who is first author on the paper, said he and his collaborators wanted to know if NFATc3 also had any function in macrophages -- specialized killer cells that hunt down, engulf and destroy marauding bacteria.

Macrophages kill using chemicals, including nitric oxide, that they synthesize in response to infection. Macrophages are also important in reducing the inflammation in sepsis, an out-of-control reaction to infection that can cause organ failure and death.

When the researchers exposed macrophages to chemicals that signal a bacterial infection, they found that NFATc3 increasingly bound to genes that boost the production of nitric oxide synthase -- the enzyme that makes nitric oxide. The binding of NFATc3 suggests the molecule is turning on those genes and upping the production of nitric oxide. Macrophages deficient in NFATc3 produced much less nitric oxide synthase under the same conditions.

"Without the ability to synthesize inducible nitric oxide synthase, a macrophage would be missing a key element of its chemical weaponry," Ranjan said. "We would expect these cells to be much less effective at killing bacteria and attenuating sepsis."

To test this hypothesis, the researchers then induced sepsis in mice that lacked the ability to make NFATc3. As expected, lung tissue from these mice had a much higher bacterial load than the lung tissue of septic mice that could produce NFATc3.

"Our study demonstrates that NFATc3 is required for macrophages to effectively fight infection, because without it, they can't make their primary bactericidal agent -- nitric oxide," Ranjan said.

The immune system must strike a balance between fighting infection and going overboard as it does in sepsis and actually causing harm, Ranjan said.

"An overproduction of nitric oxide can actually contribute to lung injury even as it helps clear bacterial infections," he said.

"An NFATc3 inhibitor, given as a drug to people in septic shock, may be a way to attenuate the harmful effects that come with an overproduction of nitric oxide."

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Illinois at Chicago . The original article was written by Sharon Parmet. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Safe water for the people in Tanzania

Hydraulic engineer Andrea Schäfer and photovoltaics expert Bryce Richards have developed a solar filtration system to produce high-quality drinking water from polluted brackish water and tested it successfully in Tanzania. The test results are currently being analyzed at the KIT. The filter effectively separates undesired substances, bacteria, and viruses. Fluoride concentration that often is extremely high in Tanzania is reduced below the limit given by the World Health Organization (WHO). The system combines two membrane techniques for the separation of smallest particles and dissolved contaminants. As it is robust and autonomously mobile, it is suited well for water supply in poor and rural areas.

Outside of the rainy season, the area of Mdori which is located in the north of Tanzania in the region of Manyara is extremely hot and dry. Water is scarce, the lake located nearby has an extremely high salt concentration. A well drilled to extract water from a natural spring supplies water with a high salt concentration and 60 µg of fluoride per liter -- 40 times the concentration limit given by the WHO -. This water is not potable. At this spring, Professor Andrea Schäfer and Professor Bryce Richards, who are now working at the KIT, tested their water filtration system ROSI (Reverse Osmosis Solar Installation).

The system can be operated with solar and/or wind power. It combines ultrafiltration membranes of about 50 nm in pore size to retain macromolecular substances, particles, bacteria, and viruses with membranes for nanofiltration and reverse osmosis with pore sizes below 1 nm to remove dissolved molecules from the water. Andrea Schäfer and Bryce Richards conceived ROSI in Australia and developed it further in Scotland before they started to plan their field tests at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology in Tanzania. In February and March this year, they tested the system at places like Mdori. Presently, Schäfer and Richards are evaluating the test results at the KIT. In the next phase, the systems will be installed at the locations selected.

As the system is run directly by solar power without batteries, the behavior of the filter changes as a function of the light conditions: Under full solar irradiation, the filtration system reduces the fluoride concentration of the water below the WHO limit of 1.5 mg/l. As a result of the change between day and night and strong temporary cloud formation in the region of Mdori, however, energy supply varies considerably. It is interrupted, if solar irradiation is insufficient. Influence of such fluctuations on water quality was one of the aspects covered by the tests of the researchers. "If less power is available, pressure decreases. As a result, less water passes the membranes. The fluoride concentration increases for a short term," Professor Andrea Schäfer explains. She heads the Membrane Technology Division of the Institute of Functional Interfaces (IFG) of KIT. "The concentration of fluoride and other pollutants, however, is balanced as soon as more water passes the filter again. Hence, the water is completely safe."

Andrea Schäfer and Bryce Richards, Professor of Nanophotonics for Energy at the KIT, are now looking for companies to support system manufacture and installation and operation in rural regions of Tanzania. One system can supply about 50 people with high-quality drinking water and water for household use. "At the moment, no other system removes pollutants, such as fluoride, as reliably and sustainably as ours," Schäfer says. High fluoride concentrations may cause tooth discolorations and severe skeletal deformities in children. It is also important to remove bacteria and viruses from the water. In many areas of Africa, diseases that actually can be treated well, such as diarrheal diseases, are often fatal especially for children due to malnutrition and lacking medical care. Supply with safe drinking water will play a key role for the future of the people in Africa.

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The above story is based on materials provided by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

How botulism-causing toxin enters bloodstream

UC Irvine School of Medicine researchers have discovered the mechanism by which bacterial toxins that cause food-borne botulism are absorbed through the intestinal lining and into the bloodstream. Their study, which appears in the June 20 issue of Science, points to new approaches to blocking this poisonous substance.

Botulism is a rare and often fatal paralytic illness due to a neurotoxin produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria, which can appear in rotted, uncooked foods and in soil. Listed as a Tier 1 agent by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the botulinum toxin is also a potential biological weapon.

Using a crystal structure of a complex protein compound of botulinum neurotoxin, Rongsheng Jin, associate professor of physiology & biophysics at UC Irvine, and collaborators found that these compounds -- called clostridial hemagglutinin (HA) -- bind with epithelial cell proteins in the intestines of patients, which initiates a process that disrupts the close intercellular seals so that the complex toxin molecules can slip through the epithelial barrier.

"Normally, botulinum neurotoxin molecules are too large to break through this tight junction of epithelial cells," Jin said. "By identifying this novel process by which the toxin compound manages to open the door from inside, we can better understand how to seek new methods to prevent these deadly toxins from entering the bloodstream."

In further tests, he and his colleagues designed a mutated version of the botulism compound, based on the novel crystal structure, in which HA would not bind with the epithelial cell protein E-cadherin.

Remarkably, even though this lab-made toxin compound contains the fully active live toxin molecule, it was not orally toxic when tested on mice because the mutated HA cannot break up the intercellular seals and, therefore, the toxin compound cannot be absorbed through the epithelial layer.

Jin said this approach could lead to the identification of small molecules able to stop HA from binding with epithelial cell proteins, thus preventing the toxin invasion.

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The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Irvine . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Gamers Unite to Bring Back Titles Stranded by GameSpy Shutdown

Battlefield 1942.

Battlefield 1942. Electronic Arts

When GameSpy Technology—which hosted games such as Crysis, Battlefield 1942, and the original Halo—shut down its servers at the end of May, it left a bevy of games and gamers stranded offline. But fans are developing workarounds and setting up private hosting to keep their games going.

ModDB user Rorisup has compiled a collection of solutions, hosted on a Wiki-type article on ModDB, showing players how to get back in the game.

Solutions for at least 12 games have been found so far: For Battlefield 1942, users must install a modified .exe file to redirect their game to a new list of master servers. Halo community member btcc22 wrote a new server-browser application, which Bungie itself now hosts and supports, via an official patch.

GameSpy Technology, which was independent of the gaming site GameSpy (which was shuttered in February, 2013), started in 1997 as a host for Quake server IP addresses. IGN bought it in 2000, and ran it for more than a decade before selling to Glu Mobile Inc. in 2012. Its services included matchmaking, leaderboards, and player metrics; community features such as friends lists, messaging, and voice communication; and management tools and services for teams, guilds, and clans.

A long list of companies, including A-listers like 2k Games, Electronic Arts, Activision, and Bethesda, relied upon it. When word of the shutdown got out, many of them took steps to ensure players could stay online. Iron Galaxy, for example, patched Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike Online Edition to use a homegrown solution. Similarly, Epic Games has been phasing out GameSpy’s involvement in its games for some time.

But a side-effect of the shutdown is that many games—even if they have found a way to stay online—have lost their connection to fan-made mods. Arma 2 for example—the game upon which the massively popular Day Z mod was originally built—will stay online via Steamworks integration (a hosting service run by Valve), but its mods will be affected. Similarly, many stand-alone mods were built to use the same framework as their parent game, meaning that even if the base game has migrated to a new service, the mod creators must make a shift as well.

On the other hand, stand-alone mods are also free to set up their own hosting services. The Battlefield 2 mod Project Reality has already developed a replacement, while a solution for BF2 itself is still in the works.

To be fair, most of the games that used GameSpy’s servers are old, to say the least—Battlefield 1942 and Halo both have been around long enough to spawn 10th-anniversary collectors’ editions, for example—but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still be playable. Take the backlash surrounding always-on DRM such as Ubisoft’s Uplay or last year’s SimCity. Players feel its bad enough when they need a constant server connection in order to play a single-player game, but even worse if they’ll be locked out if and when those servers, for whatever reason, go down.

For games where the online component is the crux of the experience, getting locked offline is effectively the same as getting locked out entirely.

What’s the Difference Between a Cheap Camera Lens and an Expensive One?


Josh Valcarcel/WIRED

What do you get for your money? That’s the question everyone looking to buy a piece of tech asks themselves. It also happens to be the question this recurring feature will try to answer. Is it worth spending extra on high-end gear, or do you get what you need with cheaper models? Every month, we’ll look at some of the cheapest and most expensive products in a given category, testing each to see what their limits are and help you figure out when you can cheap it out, and when to plunk down some extra cash to get what you need.

The legendary photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson described photography as being about what he called “the decisive moment,” capturing that image frozen in time that is the essence of the subject. Although much of what Cartier-Bresson was taking about was learning to see that perfect moment, the equipment you use also plays a part in capturing it.


Josh Valcarcel/WIRED

This desire for perfect photos is what drives many of us to spend big bucks on lenses. One of the reasons to buy a Single Lens Reflex (SLR) or mirrorless camera is the ability to swap lenses. You can use different lenses for different situations, or upgrade to better lenses over time. Sure, a lot of photographers don’t bother, sticking with the lens that comes with the camera. But the deeper you get into photography, the more you realize that you’d be happier with your results if you picked up a quality lens.

So how big is the difference between a lens that costs a few hundred dollars, and one costing over a thousand dollars more? What kinds of gains does your money buy? Are the quality improvements substantial enough to be noticed by the untrained eye?

I decided to find out. I took two lenses and shot a series of images with them side-by-side, using the same camera and settings. The two lenses were both made by Nikon: a 50mm f/1.4 that costs about $350 and a 58mm f/1.4 that costs about $1,700, both lent to us courtesy of I chose two prime lenses like this because they offer better image quality than comparable zoom lenses, and that’s what we were looking for: quality photos. Both lenses offer excellent aperture ranges, and having a wide aperture (such as the f/1.4 of these) makes it easier to create an attractive, defocused background in an image.

Looking just at the specs of these two lenses, you’d think that they are the same: they have similar focal lengths and the same aperture ranges. So why the huge price difference? My tests show that both are great lenses, shooting sharp, clean images, but that the 58mm lens is sharper, leading to images of better overall quality.

One thing to note here: most modern SLRs come with a zoom lens as part of the kit you buy. These invariable produce worse images than the fixed focal length, prime lenses I tested. Take it as read that both of these lenses are much better than the one that came with your SLR camera.

Test 1: The Cat Photo

First, I took photos of a jaguar statue, carved by Mexican artist Jacobo & Maria Angeles, which is painted with intricate detail. On first glance, the two images look identical: both lenses captured the details of the painting well. However, a closer look shows that the 58mm lens captured more detail, which produces a more striking image. Look at the eye: the 58mm shot (on the right, click to see it full size) shows more of the details of the brush strokes and dots, which makes for a more compelling photo. The background is also worth looking at: the defocused foliage has a softer, more organic look on the 58mm shot that helps the statue stand out from the jungle (well, my back garden), while the 50mm produces more artificial looking hard circles with halos that detract from the statue. Photographers refer to this defocused organic look as Bokeh, and it makes a lot of difference when you are trying to make the foreground object stand out. A background with plenty of Bokeh looks soft, diffused and non-intrusive, while one with the halos and sharp-edged blobs of a cheaper lens draws the eye away from the subject.

Test 2: The Selfie

Next, I tried a self-portrait. Again, both of the images are sharp, with great detail. But the 58mm lens (on the right) has an edge again: looking at details like the hairs on my chinny chin chin and the pores on my nose, the 58mm shot looks more natural with smoother detail and tone.

Test 3: The Check-In

Shooting on the streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts, I came across two cherry trees in blossom in front of the former home of Edith Lesely, the founder of Lesley University. The differences between these two shots are subtle: both lenses captured a good amount of detail across the images, capturing the paler hints and shades of the cherry blossoms well. The 58mm (on the right, click to see it larger) has the edge here again, though, with details like the pink blossoms against the white paint standing out a little better than the 50mm, especially in the center of the frame.

Test 4: The Landscape

Next was a bucolic shot of a bridge over the Mystic River. For this, I put the camera on a tripod and stopped the lens down to f/16 to make sure that I had plenty of depth of field. Again, the 58mm had a slight, but significant, edge here, with better detail and clarity. The reflections of the sun on the river are also telling: with the 50mm, they have a starburst look, caused by light reflecting within the lens elements. On the 58mm, the starburst look is less visible. To be fair, I could have removed this on both lenses by using a slightly wider aperture, but the idea here is to compare them. If you look at the bottom right corner of the image on the 50mm version, you can also see how much detail is lost in the waves, while the 58mm image remains sharp to the edge.

The Verdict

I balanced my own tests with a comparative review of these two lenses done by DXOLabs, and I can definitely rate the 58mm higher than the 50mm. Based on the visible details within my own images, and DXO’s objective measurements of sharpness, transmission (the amount of light the lens lets through) and chromatic aberration (the color fringing caused by different frequencies of light being diffracted differently by the lens elements), it’s clear that while both lenses are good, the 58mm is better.


Josh Valcarcel/WIRED

But is it worth the extra $1,350? For most shooters, no. The $350 lens shoots excellent images, and a lot of photographers won’t notice the subtle differences between the two — especially if they’re not generating large prints. Camera lenses are like wine: when you get to the good stuff, a subtle improvement costs you a lot more, and some people can taste the difference. Others are happy with a cheaper bottle that tastes just fine, and the $350 50mm f/1.4G lens shows that you don’t need to spend that much to get a lens that is much better than the cheap zoom your SLR came with.

It’s a truism to say that buying a more expensive lens isn’t going to make you a better photographer. Our old friend Cartier-Bresson himself used one camera and one lens—a Leica with a 50mm—for most of his career. But he was regarded as one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century because he knew exactly how his camera would perform. A good photographer takes the time to understand their equipment so they can get the best image, irrespective of how expensive their kit is. If you spend $350 on a lens and really learn how to use it, you’ll be closer to the ideal of photographers like Cartier-Bresson, who used good equipment to take great photos.