Advice from a manicurist is helping researchers track baby sea turtles [Life Lines]

With the help of advice from a manicurist, Dr. Kate Mansfeld (University of Central Florida) has come up with a way to track hatchling sea turtles for the first time. After hatching, the turtles head straight for the ocean where they grow for about 10 years or so before returning to the same beach where they hatched. Until now, researchers have wondered how these juvenile turtles spent their time.


Scientific American

Bitcoin Exchange CEO Pleads Guilty to Enabling Silk Road Drug Deals

Image courtesy Charlie Shrem

Courtesy Charlie Shrem

The former CEO of a top Bitcoin exchange and one of his customers pled guilty today in Manhattan on charges relating to operating an unlicensed money exchange that provided Bitcoins to customers buying illegal drugs on the Silk Road.

Charlie Shrem, formerly the CEO of BitInstant, and Robert Faiella, a bitcoin seller, were arrested earlier this year and charged with exchanging more than $1 million worth of Bitcoins that authorities say the two knew would be used to buy illicit drugs and other paraphernalia on the Silk Road. To make matters worse, while Shrem was CEO he was simultaneously BitInstant’s compliance officer, responsible for ensuring that his company followed the law.

Between December 2011 and when the Silk Road site was taken down in a raid by federal authorities in October 2013, Faiella, a 54-year-old operating under the user name BTCking, obtained Bitcoins through BitInstant, then sold them at a profit to Silk Road users. He did so without registering his operation as a money-transmitting business.

Authorities asserted that the 24-year-old Shrem knew about Faiella’s activities and even personally processed his orders, giving Faiella a discount on high-volume trades of Bitcoins that he purchased for Silk Road buyers. Shrem also availed himself of Silk Road’s drug services, according to court documents, though he was not charged with buying drugs.

“Robert Faiella and Charlie Shrem opted to travel down a crooked path—running an illegal money transmitting business that catered to criminals bent on trafficking narcotics on the dark web drug site, Silk Road,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. “The approximately $1 million in Bitcoins Faiella and Shrem sold to these outlaws cost them a lot more than they bargained for and bought them today’s convictions.”

The charges against them came three months after the underground drug emporium was shuttered by law enforcement and its alleged founder, Ross Ulbricht, arrested.

Shrem, a well-known figure in the Bitcoin community, is the co-owner of a bar in New York that takes Bitcoin payments and the co-chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation, which promotes Bitcoin as a currency. He’s known for having engraved the private key for one of his Bitcoin stashes on a ring that his jeweler father made.

BitInstant closed in July 2013, citing plans to revamp the business, but never re-opened.

How They Pulled It Off

To purchase Bitcoins for use on Silk Road, Faiella submitted orders to BitInstant specifying the number of Bitcoins he wanted to purchase and providing an email address. A third company, which handled the cash transactions, replied with an email instructing where to deposit the cash. The latter included a handling fee that was designed to help the company identify each transaction to the proper purchaser.

Customers would then deposit the cash in person at the specified local bank, directing the money to a bank account owned by the cash-processing firm. Once the cash deposit was verified, the Bitcoins were transferred to the customer’s Bitcoin account of choice.

Shrem and Faiella began doing business directly in December 2011, when Shrem contacted Faiella about an order he had submitted, court documents show. One of the deposits for Bitcoin had been made with a check instead of cash. When Shrem contacted Faiella and realized he was responsible for a number of orders BitInstant was receiving and further realized Faiella was reselling Bitcoins on Silk Road, he sent Faeilla an email banning him from using BitInstant, and copied the cash processor on the email.

Faiella, concerned that BitInstant planned to keep $4,000 he had already deposited to purchase Bitcoins, threatened to contact the feds to report BitInstant. Shrem wrote back threatening to report Faiella for operating an unlicensed money exchange on Silk Road.

But authorities say Shrem then contacted Faiella privately and instructed him in how he could continue to use BitInstant surreptitiously. Although Faiella’s email address was banned from being used to conduct transactions at BitInstant, Shrem told him to simply use a different email address to secretly bypass the ban.

Faiella pleaded guilty to one count of operating an unlicensed money transmitting business, which carries a maximum sentence of five years. Shrem pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting Faiella’s business, which carries the same sentence range.

The two are scheduled to be sentenced in January.

Knowing how bacteria take out trash could lead to new antibiotics

A collaborative team of scientists including biochemist Peter Chien at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has reconstructed how bacteria tightly control their growth and division, a process known as the cell cycle, by specifically destroying key proteins through regulated protein degradation.

Regulated protein degradation uses specific enzymes called energy dependent proteases to selective destroy certain targets. Because regulated protein degradation is critical for bacterial virulence and invasion, understanding how these proteases function should help to uncover pathways that can be targeted by new antibiotics.

All organisms use controlled degradation of specific proteins to alter cellular behavior in response to internal or external cues, says Chien, an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology. And, a process that has to happen as reliably and stably as cell division also has to be flexible enough to allow the organism to grow and respond to its ever-changing environment. But little has been known about the molecular mechanics of how cells meet these challenges.

This work, done in collaboration with Kathleen Ryan and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, was supported by the NIH's National Institute for General Medical Sciences. Results appeared this week in an early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Energy dependent proteases can be thought of as tiny molecular-level machines, says Chien. By selectively cutting and destroying key proteins at precise time points during cell division, they take charge of when, and at what rate, a cell grows and divides. They are found in all kingdoms of life, but are especially important in bacteria where they help cells overcome stressful conditions such as an attack by antibiotic treatment.

"When the environment becomes damaging, these proteases selectively target particular proteins to stop cell division so the bacteria can turn to focus instead on repair until the stress is over," Chien explains. "Understanding how bacteria use these machines at the cellular and molecular level could reveal avenues for discovery of new drugs to treat infectious diseases."

The researchers focused on the bacterium Caulobacter crescentus. The cell cycle for this bacterium is controlled by the destruction of key proteins such as the essential transcription factor known as CtrA, but until now it has been unclear how this actually worked at the molecular level. Researchers have known for more than 20 years that one of the factors important for this protein destruction is an energy dependent protease ClpXP.

But ClpXP is always present through the bacterial cell cycle, not always actively breaking down CtrA, suggesting that more complex regulation was going on. Further, more recent work showed that CtrA degradation requires changes in second messengers, small molecules that help different cell pathways communicate with each other. CtrA degradation also needs dephosphorylation of proteins known as adaptors, Chien notes.

His graduate student Kamal Joshi found that these additional proteins were needed to create a scaffold that linked the CtrA substrate to the ClpXP protease. Importantly, this scaffold had to bind the small molecule second messengers in order to hold CtrA and had to contain properly dephosphorylated adaptors in order to hold the ClpXP protease.

"By requiring both these inputs, the cell ensures that degradation of CtrA only occurs at a very specific time," Chien summarizes. "We show that three proteins work together as a multi-component adaptor to stimulate the degradation of CtrA in Caulobacter crescentus. The adaptor only functions when one of the components, CpdR, is unphosphorylated and when another component, PopA, is bound to the signaling molecule, cyclic diguanylate. All this ensures that CtrA is only broken down during a specific window in the bacterium's cell-division cycle."

Chien recently received a five-year, $1.4 million grant from NIH to further explore how bacteria deal with stress by destroying their own proteins. His future work should reveal new pathways that could be targeted to block bacterial virulence or to prevent bacteria from resisting the stresses produced by antibiotics now in use.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Massachusetts at Amherst . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Breast vs. bottle feeding in rhesus monkeys: Marked difference in intestinal bacteria, immunologic development

Infant rhesus monkeys receiving different diets early in life develop distinct immune systems that persist months after weaning, a study by researchers from UC Davis, the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) at UC Davis and UC San Francisco have shown. The study, which compares breast- and bottle-fed infants, appears online September 3 in Science Translational Medicine.

While the researchers expected different diets would promote different intestinal bacteria (microbiota), they were surprised at how dramatically these microbes shaped immunologic development. Specifically, breast-fed macaques had more "memory" T cells and T helper 17 (TH17) cells, which are known to fight Salmonella and other pathogens.

These differences persisted for months after the macaques had been weaned and placed on identical diets, indicating that variations in early diet may have long-lasting effects.

"We saw two different immune systems develop: one in animals fed mother's milk and another in those fed formula," said Dennis Hartigan-O'Connor, a CNPRC scientist in the Infectious Diseases Unit and Reproductive Sciences and Regenerative Medicine Unit, and an assistant professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology at UC Davis.

"But what's most startling is the durability of these differences. Infant microbes could leave a long-lasting imprint on immune function," he said.

Previous research has highlighted the relationship between breast milk, microbiota and the developing immune system. For example, sugars in breast milk help grow specific bacteria, which in turn support certain immune cells. This new study is an important step towards understanding how these separate pieces link together and how they might influence the immune systems response to infections or vaccinations.

Macaques are born with virtually no TH17 cells, and must develop them during the first 18 months of life. Hartigan-O'Connor and other researchers have noted that some macaques develop large TH17 populations, while others have few of these cells. This could profoundly affect the animals' ability to fight infection, particularly SIV, the simian strain of HIV.

To understand this variability, the investigators followed six breast- and six bottle-fed rhesus macaques from age five months to 12 months. At six months, they found significant differences in the two groups' microbiota.

Specifically, the breast-fed macaques had larger numbers of the bacteria Prevotella and Ruminococcus, while the bottle-fed group had a greater abundance of Clostridium. Overall, the microbiota in breast-fed macaques was more diverse than in the bottle-fed group.

The big surprise came when examining their immune systems. By 12 months, the two groups showed significant contrasts, with the differences centered on T cell development. The breast-fed group had a much larger percentage of experienced memory T cells, which are better equipped to secrete immune defense chemicals called cytokines, including TH17 and interferon-producing cells.

"This is the first time researchers have shown that these immunologic characteristics may be imprinted in the first new months of life," said Amir Ardeshir, the study's first author. "Our study suggests that the gut microbiota present in early life may leave a durable imprint on the shape and capacity of the immune system, a programming of the system if you will."

Further investigation may have identified chemicals that drive these differences. For example, arachidonic acid, which stimulates the production of TH17 cells and is found in macaque breast milk, was tightly linked to TH17 cell development. Previous studies have suggested it can influence T cell development. The researchers caution that these chemicals must be tested in larger studies to understand their effects.

While this research provides a fascinating window into immune cell development in macaques, Hartigan-O'Connor cautions that it doesn't prove the same mechanisms exist in people. The lab is planning similar studies in humans to test that hypothesis. In addition, this study does not prove a link between breastfeeding and better health.

"There's a developmental shape to the immune system that we don't often consider," Hartigan-O'Connor said. "It's dramatic how that came out in this study. There's a lot of variability in how both people and monkeys handle infections, in their tendency to develop autoimmune disease, and in how they respond to vaccines. This work is a good first step towards explaining those differences."

Is Home Depot the New Target?

Image: CJ Schmit/Flickr

CJ Schmit/Flickr

Let’s be honest: When it comes to data breaches, it’s more fun hearing about titillating pictures of celebrities being stolen than the average cybercrime. But with all due respect to the celebrities whose privacy has been invaded, there’s a very different new hack that will likely take up far more of the FBI’s time, and with good reason. This one potentially affects millions of consumers who did nothing worse than shopping at Home Depot.

If this has the whiff of déjà vu, it should — it’s very much like the massive breach that occurred at Target’s retail outlets late last year. That one, you might remember, directly involved the financial information of 40 million customers, and the personal information (includes addresses and phone numbers) of 70 million individuals. The same intrepid security reporter who broke the news of the Target breach is now saying that numerous banks are “seeing evidence that Home Depot stores may be the source of a massive new batch of stolen credit and debit cards that went on sale this morning in the cybercrime underground.”

So why does this keep happening? And what can be done to prevent it?

First — and many institutions are surprisingly reluctant to accept this premise — security has to be seen as a top-level business priority rather than an IT-specific issue. Just ask Target: The company has registered a drop in store traffic, profits have fallen significantly and several executive heads, including the CEO, have rolled in the aftermath.

Compared to that episode, this new breach could be. . .even worse. Home Depot actually has more U.S. locations than Target, which means more (and more disparate) customers. And in this instance, there’s already informed speculation that the perpetrators may be the same Eastern European hackers who invaded not just Target but also Sally Beauty and P.F. Chang’s, and many others that didn’t get the same attention. The evidence also indicates that the stolen cards are currently being shopped around on the same underground store used in those cases.

Another and potentially more insidious fear is that in every such episode, there might be internal parties involved or an attacker posing as an employee on the network — both are equally dangerous. Corporations are understandably inclined to trust their employees, and most deserve that trust, but all it takes is one bad apple or stolen credential for things to go terribly wrong. Ignoring insider threats and putting blind faith in your team is naïve and careless. So is assuming that data is secure if it is within your data center.

In a cloud-based infrastructure that is designed specifically to offer great flexibility, it can be ridiculously easy to gain the administrative controls needed to hack into sensitive databases or even crash the system from a laptop. It’s been done, and done often.

So even before all the details are in, let’s hope that this is a real wake-up call. The interconnected data centers linking vendors, financial services providers and consumers carry an incredible concentration of risk, and represent an irresistible goldmine for attackers. Making information security a top priority isn’t just sound IT policy, it’s good business.

Eric Chiu is co-founder and President of HyTrust.

Hearables Needed to Realize Wearables, Nearables?


Are Hearables needed to fully realize Wearables and Nearables? Alex Washburn/Wired

I, like many, was absolutely blown away when I saw the movie Her by Spike Jonze. My head felt like an idea generator being overloaded with predictions and plans for new start-ups. With a paper and pen in hand to make notes I pushed myself to watch the film twice. Now, I have not come up with the idea that will change the world just yet, but the film definitely changed my view on how I feel the world will look in the not too distant future.

A couple of months later, I am currently in the branding process of a few startup projects. I feel more equipped to form an idea that could change and impact the wearable tech world and the effect it will have in everybody’s life. I am trying hard to be ahead of the latest news and technologies coming out and ensuring I also know about the tech that have not arrived yet.

Reading reports from many influential people like Nick Hunn, I am more and more convinced that “hearable” technology is a force to be reckoned with. There is one type of technology that just keeps exciting me, and it is the idea of having all kinds of automated conveniences in my ear like an on board Artificial-Inteligence device with direct report of my physiological condition and on top of that my own personal assistant like Samantha (The soothing voice of Joachim Phoenix’s OS voiced by Scarlett Johansson) giving me the information I need and being as intuitive as possible while giving me advice. Which leaves me wondering, is that where it will stop?

Futurologists are in agreement over the fact that soon billions of devices will be connected to the cloud. Another technology, that I think has a sexy new name is Nearables, also known as The Internet of Things, or worse, “The Internet of Everything,” is ready to take off. I think it is only logical to conclude that all these devices will be connected to the same hearable device, which will be able to act on commands and teach itself to be the best in fulfilling our needs.

I have been looking at Viv Labs, the makers of Siri, which was bought by Steve Jobs when he was in control of Apple. They are currently on the DL about their project Viv, which is an intuitive artificial PA intelligence, that probably is the closest thing to the OS from Her. The founders of Viv Labs, Adam Cheyer, Dag Kittlaus, and Chris Brigham have mentioned a little about what their new Siri was going to be able to do, calling it, “the global brain” and “the future of intelligent agents and a multibillion-dollar industry”.

Kittlaus stated that: “Siri is chapter one of a much longer, bigger story. Intelligence becomes a utility (a way of saying he wants the AI to be omnipresent). Boy, wouldn’t it be nice if you could talk to everything, and it knew you, and it knew everything about you, and it could do everything for you? Let me just cut through all the usual founder BS, what we are really after is ubiquity. We want this to be everywhere, and we are going to consider all paths along those lines.

Although up until now it looks like Viv is more likely going to be like a service-based product that can be licensed instead of being purchased once. It will make sense if it ends up as a hearable device, but that could be my wishful thinking. That being said, it doesn’t take anything away from the idea of a hearable device controlling everything that it is connected too.

Are Hearables needed to fully realize Wearables and Nearables?

Mano ten Napel is the founder of the wearable startup Novealthy.

Obama’s New CTO Pick Is a Massive Win for Women in Tech

Google[x] Vice President Megan Smith speaks during "Google's Made With Code" Launch Event To Inspire Girls To Code.

Megan Smith speaks during “Google’s Made With Code” launch event.

Taylor Hill/FilmMagic for Google

The United States has appointed a new chief technology officer and, in turn, women across the country have gained a new role model as they attempt to break through the gender bias in the tech industry.

On Thursday, the White House announced the appointment of Google veteran Megan Smith, who was most recently vice president of the company’s Google[X] “moonshot lab.” In replacing the outgoing Todd Park, she becomes the United States’ first female CTO.

It’s a fitting appointment. In addition to being a gifted programmer and technologist, Smith has been one of the country’s leading advocates in the movement to get more women into tech jobs. Just this summer, Smith led the team behind Google’s Made with Code initiative, a new campaign aimed at getting more young girls interesting in coding. The MIT graduate was also a driving force in recruiting more women to Google’s I/O conference this year, where 20 percent of the audience was female, up from just 8 percent last year.

In an interview with WIRED earlier this summer, Smith explained that one reason so few young women pursue careers in tech is that they lack visible role models. “There are 2 to 3 million women programmers in the world. We need to see them more,” she said.

Now, Smith is about to step into one of the most visible roles there is. It’s also one of the most amorphous roles in government. The responsibilities that accompany this position, which was created just five years ago, have varied greatly in just a short amount of time. Smith’s predecessor Todd Park’s tenure, for instance, was largely defined by his hands-on efforts to salvage the botched rollout, whereas Aneesh Chopra, the country’s first CTO, fulfilled more of an advisory role.

According to The White House blog, in her new role, Smith “will guide the Administration’s information-technology policy and initiatives, continuing the work of her predecessors to accelerate attainment of the benefits of advanced information and communications technologies across every sector of the economy and aspect of human well-being.”

Smith joins the White House at a time in which there is renewed focus on using technology to improve government. The most recent example of this is the establishment of the U.S. Digital Service unit. In all likelihood, Smith’s time will be more than occupied leading this effort to modernize government. That means encouraging more diversity in tech may well become a secondary mission.

And yet, having a woman fulfill one of the top roles in tech will likely have its own halo effect. As Smith told a room full of young girls at an event this summer introducing Google’s Made With Code initiative, what women really need are more “heroes.” “Nobody’s encouraging you. Nobody’s showing you the value of why you’re doing this and why it’s so impactful on the world,” Smith said at the time. “We want to show you that you have incredible heroes who already do this work.”

With this new role, Smith certainly solidifies her position among those heroes.

Software Robots’ Hidden Benefit: Scale

As many enjoy their summer getaway, a Canadian robot has just hitched (no hiking) from Nova Scotia to Victoria BC, a journey of some 6,000 kilometers.

HitchBOT, the brainchild of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD), is a friendly kind of helpless looking robot that appears to have a washing-up glove as a hand, which it uses in order to carryout the crucial hitching.

The robot has crossed the whole country, one ride to the next. The machine has a face, can tweet and can carry on some rudimentary conversation too — enough to talk someone into giving it a lift, apparently.

The idea is to test whether humans can be trusted by robots. Naturally, this is an issue that is normally viewed the other way round. During the journey, the robot fished, camped and attended a wedding. All in all it seems to have had a good time on the way — judging by the smiling selfies with the good people who have been kind enough to give it lifts. So far so good.

In our theme of software robots — clerical robots that mimic admin staff, is there an analogy to hitchBOT and some kind of upside in the collaboration with humans, or is it simply cold commercial advantage delivered though a low-cost workforce?

Well, firstly we should state some basics: they do take jobs. As the momentum in the field grows most will see this firsthand.

They replace humans doing rules-based routine work because it is vastly economic to do so. The actual cost of the robot may be more or less than that of a person, the real gains, however, are all the upside benefits of flexible automation. If humans are going to compete with this then it is vital to understand what this robotic competition offers.

The challenge ultimately is that robots present relentless advantage. To see what I mean it should be understood they do at least four jobs — and only one of which is the automation of the core task where a human is directly replaced! To see this more clearly lets go through them.

The robot can work 24 hours a day — which is at least three times a human shift. This actually implies they could be doing seven or eight jobs. Recall that even hitchBOT was “working” (i.e., achieving a task) as it carries out its experiment. However, forgetting for the moment the actual automation what else are these things up to?

I should build this up, but let’s just list them: Job 1 — the automation (we know!); Job 2: capacity planning; Job 3: documentation; Job 4: analytics modeling.

Capacity management is a massive job. Any clerical service organization that is not struggling with capacity management is probably not trying hard enough. Robots give scale — up and down. Based in the cloud with dial-up processing, it offers almost infinite acceleration.

No more stuffing the staffing numbers to sandbag capacity. The robots are used and paid as and when they work. This is night-and-day from what exists now and is probably the real job killer.

To date, in many instances software robots are being used in routine work that is carried out by temporary staff, or staff that is hired to fulfill seasonal peaks, or for staff bursts that are required by regulatory spikes, new product launches or some new operation being introduced.

These types of planning challenges are the daily burden of the operations teams. Operations heads have been trying to predict what staffing levels are needed and how to keep pace with the rigors of changing market demands since administrative services began. Let alone overlaying the complexity of staff turnover and wage demands which is a tough, expensive job. For these operations heads, software robots are almost the first time they have had a genuine productivity tool.

Think of the issues with the mass hiring in the departments we are talking about. The business is growing — your colleagues are demanding more capacity so they can grow revenue. Business is faltering — your colleagues (not necessarily the same ones) are now demanding immediate reductions so that margins can be maintained.

Market analysts hear this all the time — especially from the BPOs who specialize in this kind of work. Woe be the operations head: “Margins are down because investment is required to match growth — confirmed CEO X.” “Margins are down because there has been a slow down in demand — confessed CFO Y.” Up or down the market loses. Robots change this.

It is also the reason why shareholders will eventually demand businesses bring in senior management that get this and gets on with it. It is of course conceivable that programmatic trading will end up punishing companies for not using robots — so robots could end up demanding more robots!

The upside is clearly commercial for admin robots — but is there a sweeter side? The one area that gets overlooked is the job satisfaction of the robot leaders. Organizations that have committed millions of dollars to software robots, and that have made the cultural change to use them, have staff (and end customers) that are delighted. They come to work as operations designers who want to make things run faster, cheaper, more accurately and with greater flexibility and scale.

Rather than run when their colleagues ask about launching new products, or taking on new customers, they actually turn toward the gunfire. So perhaps as with hitchBOT some humans have decided trust works. We’ll look at the other robot jobs next time.

Jason Kingdon is chairman of the robotic automation company Blue Prism.

Nokia’s Latest Lumias Focus on Photography and Affordability

The Nokia Lumia 830 has a 10-megapixel PureView camera.

The Nokia Lumia 830 has a 10-megapixel PureView camera. Nokia

Nokia Lumias consistently take some of the best smartphone photos out there. The company, now under Microsoft’s watchful eye, continues that tradition with three new handsets. The Lumia 830 promises flagship phone-quality at a budget-friendly price, while the Dual SIM 730 (and single SIM 735) aim to please the selfie-shooting crowd.

The Lumia 830 runs Windows Phone 8.1 on a 5-inch 720p display and is backed with a removable polycarbonate shell. Inside, a 1.2 Ghz Snapdragon processor runs the show. The smartphone also has a 10-megapixel PureView camera on the rear with optical image stabilization. For better audio capture while recording video, the 830 has two mics on the backside and one on the front. It also features wireless charging, which you can use with a new Nokia wireless charger that starts glowing when your phone is in the vicinity and has less than 30 percent charge. The charger is an eye-popping orange hue.

The Lumia 730 and 735 (which differ only in that the 730 is the Dual SIM model popular with international travelers) boasts a 5-megapixel front-facing camera with a wide angle lens—the better for capturing selfies and selfies with friends (groupies?). That focus on the front-facing camera also brings with it a 3-month Skype Unlimited subscription. The 730/735 has a 4.7-inch 720p display and on the back, an f/1.9 6.6-megapixel shooter.

Both phones run the new “Denim” version of Windows Phone 8.1, which features updated imaging capabilities on PureView devices and improvements to Cortana, Windows Phone’s digital assistant.

Both Lumia models are global (U.S. carrier availability TBD) and will ship in September with 15 GB of free OneDrive storage. The Lumia 830 is priced at 330 Euros, while the 730 is 219 and the 735 is 199.

The Ultra-Fast F1 Track Where the Biggest Problem Is Slowing Down

F1 Grand Prix of Italy - Race

Mark Thompson/Redbull via Getty Images

A quick look at the map of the Autodromo Nazionale Monza circuit, where the Italian Grand Prix takes place this weekend, makes the track seem simple. It’s got a bunch of long straightaways and just a few turns. But a closer look reveals that racing a Formula One car here is far more complicated than it seems. Monza, one of only four circuits from the inaugural 1950 season still used today, pushes drivers to some of their fastest speeds of the year. Those straightaways earn Monza the nickname “Temple of Speed,” but it’s the 11 corners that make getting the most out of the car tough for even the world’s best drivers.

In order to take advantage of the long straights, teams adjust their cars’ front and rear wings to provide less downforce than at any other track. That increases the top speed, but makes it harder to brake: With less force pushing down on the car, slowing down takes longer. By the end of the distances, the cars will see some of their fastest speeds of the year, up to 223 mph. “At those speeds,” says former F1 racer Jean Alesi, “you feel that the car is about to lift off from the track. It’s something that you only find in Monza; sometimes it even feels quite hard to keep the car in a straight line on the straights.”

But the really difficult part is turning after building up all that speed. “You’re coming down to that first chicane at the highest speed an F1 car will reach all year and you’re braking into one of the tightest corners you’ll take all year,” says Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo. “Added to that you’re doing this with the least amount of downforce you’ll have all year—which means the car tends to slide around quite a bit as well as taking longer to stop.”

In the heaviest braking zones, drivers will drop their speed by more than 150 mph in just a couple seconds, enough to generate 4.5 G’s of force. Because the corners are taken so fast, and with so little downforce to keep the cars grounded, cars are much more likely to suffer oversteer (rotating too much, with the rear end sliding out to the side) as well as understeer (just the opposite, when the wheels are turned but the car keeps going straight). There’s a greater risk of locking up the tires while slowing down (F1 regulations don’t allow anti-lock braking), which can lead to flat spots: flattening out part of an otherwise round tire, which slows down the car. These conditions can be adjusted for, especially by talented F1 drivers, but it adds to the overall challenge and charm (at least for the fans) of Monza.

On top of all that, Monza feature especially high curbs on the corners (the orange bits in the above photo) that punish both tires and drivers if they take the corners too sharply. Cutting the corner entirely results in a car traveling over the black and yellow speed bumps, with potentially disastrous results for the underside of the car.

Not all the turns are so tough, but that actually makes the race more complicated. “Every range of cornering speed is covered,” says Alesi, so drivers must continually change their approach throughout each lap. And the low number of corners makes mastering each one critical. On Sunday, the drivers who best time their braking and reapplication of the throttle when exiting each corner (without spinning their tires too much) are likely to come out on top.

This year’s Italian Grand Prix will air in the U.S. on the NBC Sports Network beginning Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m. Eastern.

Sennheiser Takes on Beats With New ‘Urbanite’ Headphones

Sennheiser's new Urbanite headphone. It's a bass-forward model made to sound just like the dance club. Sound familiar?

Sennheiser’s new Urbanite headphones. It’s a bass-forward model made to sound just like the dance club. Sound familiar? Courtesy of Sennheiser

When your company has a successful product on its hands, what do you do? You iterate and spin out different versions of it, hoping to strike gold twice. And when a competitor has a huge hit? You iterate on their idea, make your own version, and try to hop onto their wave too.

Those are the playbook moves, anyway, and that’s what we’re seeing from Sennheiser with the release of two new headphone models for the fall.

First up is something I know you’ve all been waiting for: Sennheiser’s take on the Beats phenomenon, a portable headphone called the Urbanite. These brand new headphones, which come in on-ear and over-ear “XL” versions, are heavy on the visual flare. There’s a lot of bright plastic, a ring of color on the earpads, and some converse-color stitching on the headband. Pick a color; blues, reds, greens, creams, and whites, all pretty close to Beats. And just like Beats, the Urbanites are bass-forward—obviously meant for getting the most wallop out of club music like hip-hop, dub-step, reggaeton, NOLA bounce, what have you. The company isn’t shy about this at all; the marketing copy on the back of the box starts with, “Take your club with you, massive bass and clear treble.” The on-ears will sell for $200 and the over-ear XLs will sell for $250.

The company sent me a pair of Urbanite on-ears to audition, and they certainly live up to the claims on the box. They are big on bass, and the treble is pretty clear. Also, I should note that they do sound better than Beats to my ears. The folding, portable Beats models closest to the design of the Urbanites I tested sound muffled and dark, whereas the Urbanite has more sparkle. But still, lots of booty.

About that folding design: These headphones are made for mobile use. The flat cable has an in-line remote, and it’s only long enough to reach your phone in your pocket. These wouldn’t work very well at a desk. Also, with the on-ear model I tested, they fold up nicely and the cups don’t bump into your chin when you drop the band around your neck. But they aren’t as comfortable or as isolating as on-ear headphones, which to my taste will always be the better choice for sitting down and enjoying music. I look forward to trying the XLs. Maybe they come with a bottle of Cîroc?

In all, it’s a product category Sennheiser can’t ignore, but I wonder if it will catch on. The appeal of Beats is based just as much on who’s wearing them as what they sound like—maybe more so. They’re a fashion item, and the purchasing decisions for such things aren’t based on technical superiority, but on social signals. We’ll see.

New in-ear versions of Sennheiser's popular Momentum headphones are coming this fall.

New in-ear versions of Sennheiser’s popular Momentum headphones are coming this fall. Courtesy of Sennheiser

Also in the House, Some New In-Ears

Even if you’re not part of “Generation Beats,” Sennheiser has some new hardware you might like. Also announced today: the Momentum in-ear, a $100, in-canal earphone addition to the company’s Momentum line of premium headsets.

Sennheiser’s original Momentums were compact (and damn impressive-sounding) over-ear headphones. A huge hit, they were followed up by an on-ear model last year. And now here are the in-ears. Sennheiser says the in-ear Momentums will exhibit the same sound profile as the rest of the Momentum line, which means we should expect a little boost in the bass with some slightly mellower highs. The materials and styling are also the same, with the stainless steel and plastic bodies, a three-button clicker/mic, and a nice carrying case with different sized tips so you can find the best in-ear fit. When it hits stores later this month, there will be two models: one optimized for iOS devices, and for Android or Windows.

I didn’t get a chance to hear the Momentum in-ears, but I want to. Sennheiser’s higher-quality stuff doesn’t go for cheap, but just based on the other in-ears the company has been putting out recently, I’d gamble that these will sound quite good for $100.

High-End Earbuds You Wear All Day Like a Necklace

Rope is a pair of earbuds you wear around your neck all day, like a necklace. A Bluetooth pendant transmits wirelessly to your phone or computer.

Rope is a pair of earbuds you wear around your neck all day, like a necklace. A Bluetooth pendant transmits wirelessly to your phone or computer. Roam

When you consider all the problems you run into with earbuds, some of the big ones relate directly to convenience—or inconvenience. Either they’re not on you right when you need them, or you thought you put them into your bag when you didn’t, or the cable is so impossibly knotted that you can’t untangle it in time for a phone call. What can you do to address all these issues in one fell swoop? How about a pair of earbuds you wear around your neck all day.

That’s the thinking behind Ropes, a forthcoming pair of high-end earbuds from newly minted audio startup Roam. They’re essentially earphones reimagined as a wearable, connecting wirelessly to your phone or computer via a Bluetooth pendent that dangles down to your stomach.

Roam was founded by Steven Lamar, no stranger to pushing the boundaries of personal audio. As head of SLS Audio several years back, he worked with Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre in the formative stages of the Beats headphones. Though the duo ultimately teamed with Monster to manufacture the first few runs of the cans, some consider Lamar the true father of Beats, a role Lamar’s currently trying to prove out in the courts.

The industrial design was handled by Frog.

The industrial design was handled by Frog. Roam

On one level, Lamar sees Ropes as a chance to show people an acoustic world beyond cheap plastic earbuds. “We’ve been programmed to accept the audio quality in these earbuds we get with our phones,” he says, though with a preorder price of $299, they’re competing more with the Shures of the world than Apple’s chintzy EarPods.

Still, Lamar hopes that a personalized approach to high-fidelity audio will set Ropes apart. One of the product’s unique aspects is that users will be able to tune the buds’ sound themselves with an accompanying app.

“Whether it be on a phone call, or listening to music, or watching a movie, we all hear things differently,” Lamar says. “We hear things differently out of each ear. And we’re going to give you a tool that communicates directly with the drivers in the earphones to adjust the sound dynamics however you want.”

The Form Factor’s the Thing

But even more unique is the way Ropes’ attempting to solve what Lamar calls the “ergonomic” problems of earbuds. Mainly, he wants to do away with digging around in pockets and having to fastidiously spool earbuds back into fussy carrying cases. “The concept is you wear it. All day. My earbuds are always on my person,” Lamar says. The industrial design was handled by the renowned consultancy Frog. Essentially, Ropes are a pair of stark, Bang and Olufsen-style buds set in the middle of a thick cable. When you’re not using them, they simply hang from your neck.

The idea of wearing earbuds all day may seem a bit silly on its face. But consider that some people are still willing to endure the stigma of Bluetooth headsets simply because they’re so useful for handling phone calls. At the very least, a set of wearable earbuds could be a less douchey way to cover that use case. Plus, as we’ve seen with Beats and bracelets like the Jawbone Up, the lines between consumer electronics and fashion accessories are starting to blur. We’re increasingly open to the idea of wearing our gadgets conspicuously—if, that is, they’re pretty enough for the job.

The accompanying app lets you adjust the sound profile directly via the drivers.

The accompanying app lets you adjust the sound profile directly via the drivers. Roam

There’s also the simple fact that our lives are saturated with digital audio, and for many, having a pair of headphones or earbuds at arm’s reach is already the norm. It’s not just phone calls. There’s music, videos, driving directions. Wearing a pair of headphones at work isn’t a signal that you’re slacking off. Today, heaps of jobs legitimately require listening to stuff coming from a computer. Ropes, at least in concept, seem well-suited to accommodate that reality. As Lamar points out, his earbuds aren’t a wearable you put on to be cool. They’re something you wear because it’s practical to do so.

The world may not quite be ready for ubiquitous buds today. After all, part of Ropes’ always-on convenience disappears when you realize you have to recharge them via micro USB after every six hours of use to keep the wireless juice pumping.

But if you look forward a few years, the idea of on-the-body earbuds will probably seem perfectly normal. The movie Her gave us a taste of what that might look like. In a future where we operated computers simply by talking to them, Joaquin Phoenix’s wireless ear plug was the crucial piece of hardware. As natural language interfaces in our own world become more sophisticated, always-on-you earpieces are the obvious hardware complement.

We’re still a ways off from being spurned by our artificially intelligent assistants. But in that context, Ropes’ approach is an intriguing one. With a little imagination, they’re not just a more convenient pair of earbuds for listening to Spotify, but an evolutionary step toward something else, anticipating a time when audio isn’t just entertainment but an interface too.

More here at the Roam site.

A fish, a rabbit — same thing, to a creationist [Pharyngula]

JBS Haldane is said to have responded to a question about how evolution could be disproved by saying, “A Precambrian rabbit”. What was meant by this, of course, is any substantial discovery that greatly disrupted the evidence for the chronological pattern of descent observed in Earth’s life. That pattern of descent is one of the central lines of evidence for evolution, so creationists would dearly love to find something that wrecked it — this is why they send expeditions to Africa to find a living dinosaur, Mok’ele-mbembe, or more conveniently, to Canada in search of a plesiosaur, Manipogo.

The Discovery Institute has it easy. They don’t mount expeditions, they just sit around, read scientific papers, and misinterpret them. Their latest abuse is to claim to have discovered the equivalent of a Precambrian rabbit.

A vertebrate swimming fish with camera eyes, blood vessels, digestive system, muscular swimming, and gills in the Lower Cambrian: for Darwinists, it should hardly be more surprising to find than a Precambrian rabbit.

Only it’s not in the Precambrian, it’s Cambrian. And it’s not a mammal, it’s a very primitive fish, unlike anything extant. Is anyone surprised to find ancient fish-like creatures in the Cambrian? Anyone who has been paying the slightest attention to publications about the fossils of the Burgess Shale or the Chengjian fauna in the last century?

Here’s a reconstruction of the animal that Conway Morris and Caron analyzed in a recent issue of Nature. It’s called Metaspriggina.


Just for comparison, here’s Pikaia, a familiar chordate (although it’s classification is somewhat controversial) from the Cambrian. The fossil was first described in 1911.


Here’s another Cambrian beast, Haikouichthys, described in 2002.


Here is a rabbit.


One of these things is not like the others. Which one would surprise you, boys and girls, if it were found swimming in the shallow, silty seas beneath the relatively hypoxic skies of planet Earth, 500 million years ago? Which ones look similar, as if they are related, yet don’t look like any modern organisms?

If you can answer those two questions, you’re smarter than a creationist. There is no prize, I’m afraid that’s a rather low bar to hurdle.

What also surprises is how much the Discovery Institute press release mangles the story. For instance, they want to claim that it is more advanced than modern forms.

All these traits show that Metaspriggina was not a primitive chordate intermediate to lampreys or other extinct Cambrian swimmers, but was in fact more “derived” (advanced) in some respects than some of the alleged descendants.

They then quote a section of an article that explains that lampreys have derived structures — that their branchial anatomy is extensively specialized. What Conway Morris and Caron actually say in the paper is the opposite — that Metaspriggina had primitive or ancestral branchial structures, that they possessed two-part bars in their branchial arches, which was the ancestral condition.

A striking feature is the branchial area with an array of bipartite bars. Apart from the anterior-most bar, which appears to be slightly thicker, each is associated with externally located gills, possibly housed in pouches. Phylogenetic analysis places Metaspriggina as a basal vertebrate, apparently close to the Chengjiang taxa Haikouichthys and Myllokunmingia, demonstrating also that this primitive group of fish was cosmopolitan during Lower–Middle Cambrian times (Series 2–3). However, the arrangement of the branchial region in Metaspriggina has wider implications for reconstructing the morphology of the primitive vetebrate. Each bipartite bar is identified as being respectively equivalent to an epibranchial and ceratobranchial. This configuration suggests that a bipartite arrangement is primitive and reinforces the view that the branchial basket of lampreys is probably derived.

Notice that Conway Morris and Caron have identified Metaspriggina as a “basal vertebrate”, and that they note it’s affinities to other Cambrian forms. This is not a fish out of water; there is no evolution defying anachronism here.

The creationists even comment on the cladogram included in the paper, rather obliviously. Do they even realize that this diagram places Metaspriggina in an evolutionary context, and that it is clearly an intermediate form, more advanced than Pikaia, comparable to its rough contemporary Haikouichthys, and less derived than lampreys?

Cladogram with backbone constraint for cyclostome monophyly, and using rescaled consistency indices, showing the position of Metaspriggina as part of basal stem-group soft-bodied vertebrates. The origin and potential loss of key vertebrate structures is indicated.

Cladogram with backbone constraint for cyclostome monophyly, and using rescaled consistency indices, showing the position of Metaspriggina as part of basal stem-group soft-bodied vertebrates. The origin and potential loss of key vertebrate structures is indicated.

Seriously, what part of “basal stem-group soft-bodied vertebrate” did they fail to comprehend? Metaspriggina is an unsurprising resident of the Cambrian era…and no rabbit at all.

Morris SC, Caron JB2 (2014) A primitive fish from the Cambrian of North America. Nature 512(7515):419-22.

Garmin’s New Fitness Tracker Looks Simple, But It Acts Like a Smartwatch

The Garmin Vivosmart comes in five different shades.

The Garmin Vivosmart comes in five different shades. Garmin

Fitness trackers like the Jawbone Up, Nike Fuelband, and Garmin Vivofit are typically smaller, more minimalist than their smartwatch cousins, but their features are limited too. Garmin’s latest wearable, the Vivosmart, combines these two worlds with a fitness tracker design and robust smartwatch-like features.

Garmin introduced its first general purpose wearable, the Vivofit activity tracker, last year. It could track your steps, heartrate (with a separate heartrate monitor), calories burned, and share the time and date. It also gave you subtle visual reminders to get off your butt and get moving after more than an hour of sitting. The Vivosmart can do all of these things too, but it also delivers vibration alerts for calls, texts, emails, and calendar events when paired with a smartphone. It’ll even preview of the notifications on its display.

Unlike the Vivofit’s always on display, Vivosmart has a hidden OLED display that you wake up with a double tap. A finger swipe on the display rotates through various customizable display pages, like the fitness-focused ones mentioned above.

The Vivosmart is waterproof up to about 50 meters and is specced to get up to 7 days of battery life. It also tracks your sleep based on movement and offers up daily reports on how much time you spent moving vs being still. In fact, through the Garmin Connect app, all your activity data gets translated into easier-to-understand charts and graphs. And if you’ve got one of Garmin’s VIRB action cameras, you can also use the Vivosmart as a remote.

After a short demo of its capabilities, it was clear the Vivosmart could be a great solution for anyone who wants smartphone notifications and fitness tracking on their wrist, but not a big, clunky screen. For someone with a small wrist, like myself, the small form factor and display is a big plus over larger smartwatches and wearables. Still, that small screen also means that navigation isn’t as intuitive as a full color touchscreen display with tappable icons.

Vivosmart will be available in five different colors (black, slate, purple, berry, and blue) in mid-September. It’ll cost $170 for the band alone, or $200 for the band bundled with a heartrate monitor.

New Touchscreen Pens Pull All Kinds of Cool Tricks

The Bamboo Stylus Fineline, a pressure-sensitive digital pen for iPads. It costs $60 and is aimed at digital artists.

The Bamboo Stylus Fineline, a pressure-sensitive digital pen for iPads. It costs $60 and is aimed at digital artists. Courtesy of Wacom

Touch is now one of our primary input methods. Given we poke and swipe at glass screens to get things done on phones, tablets, Windows 8 computers, it surprising styluses and digital pens haven’t caught on in a really big way. Sure, they’re popular accessories in the mobile era. But most people, rather than spend $30 or $40 on a bit of metal and plastic, still prefer to use the pointer they’re born with.

If you are a stylus person—a population whose numbers continue to swell—then no doubt you’re a fan of Wacom’s products. The company has been making digital styluses and tablets (the kind that sit on your desk and take the place of your mouse) for years, and has also seen some great success with its Bamboo pens for touchscreens.

This week, Wacom announced three new Bamboo pens for mobiles. The first two are updates to familiar designs: the $20 Bamboo Stylus Solo, a dead-simple pointer with a carbon fiber nib, and the $30 Bamboo Stylus Duo, which is basically a Solo with a traditional roller-ball ink pen built into the other end. You know, so you can write on paper and stuff. Both of these third-generation Bamboo pens are passive input sticks and work with any touchscreen phone or computer. Doodle with them, swipe and tap with them, use them for games. Clip them into your pocket and use them to sign for Square purchases at the store.

More intriguing is the new Bamboo Stylus Fineline, a $60 Bluetooth-enabled pen made for iPad Air, iPad mini, and iPad 3. It has a super-thin tip that offers 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity. It works with all the leading drawing and note-taking apps, including Wacom’s own Bamboo Paper app for iOS.

A pen like this lets you do more than just navigate and jot down notes, which the cheaper pens are great for. The Fineline is made primarily for artists who can take advantage of the control over the thickness of the line that the pressure sensitivity affords. Wacom lent us a Fineline to test, and it’s really fun to draw and sketch with—I’m no Boris Vallejo, but I gave it a good whirl. The button that sits beneath your index finger can be programmed to do a number of things, like hold and scroll, or to trigger the eraser. The internal battery charges over microUSB (no AAAs!) and lasts a few days between charges.

So if you’re looking for a iOS-ready pen that’s smarter than your dumb old finger, this one will serve you well—at least until input technologies advance to the level where you to draw a picture with your voice.

Inside the Rainbow Factory Where Crayola Crayons Are Made

The first box of Crayolas rolled off the production line 101 years ago, and today the company’s Easton, Pennsylvania, factory turns out 12 million crayons a day. “We maintain the process as though we were making food,” says Dave Farkas, manager of manufacturing quality assurance at the plant. Makes sense, given how likely its consumers are to put the product in their mouths. Here’s how Crayola makes the iconic (but inedible) color sticks.


Etsy CEO to Businesses: If Net Neutrality Perishes, We Will Too


Free Press/CC

As the CEO of a young company, I spend most of my time thinking about serving our community of one million sellers, leading 600 employees, building web and mobile products, and managing growth. The last thing I want to think about is an arcane legal proposal at the Federal Communications Commission.

Chad Dickerson

Chad Dickerson is the CEO of Etsy.

But the FCC has proposed an end to the open Internet. This proposal has alarmed the Etsy community and employees. One seller, Beth in Oregon, said “If internet users find it too difficult to load our websites and see our products, it will be impossible for us to grow or succeed.” The FCC proposal threatens any business that relies on the Internet to reach consumers, stream video, process payments, advertise services or products, speak their minds, or do just about anything else. It therefore demands my time, as it should yours.

This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for the business world, because the future of the Internet is the future of American business.

It’s time for the business community to take a public stand in support of the open Internet. Digital rights organizations are calling for a day of action on Wednesday, September 10, when businesses across the Internet will mobilize their communities to contact DC policymakers directly. Etsy will proudly take part. I call upon all my fellow CEOs, small business owners, employees, and Internet users to join the action on September 10 — and encourage their bosses to do so — for three simple reasons.

1. The Future of Our Businesses Is at Stake

If you missed this late-night explanation, we’re fighting for the basic principle that cable and phone companies should treat all websites and applications equally and without new tolls. For years, cable and phone providers have lobbied for the right to charge companies a fee to reach users, creating fast lanes for those willing and able to pay, and slow lanes for the rest of us.

Earlier this year, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler put out a proposal that would give these companies everything they asked for. And it would kill permissionless innovation and free expression. Companies would succeed because of deals struck with cable companies, not because of superior products. That’s why we filed comments and met with the FCC chairman to explain the potential harm to our business and our one million sellers, 88 percent of whom are women and 18 percent of whom make their entire living selling on Etsy.

Etsy offices.

Etsy offices. Etsy

The current proposal doesn’t just threaten tech or media companies. It threatens any business that relies on the Internet to reach consumers.

Research from Google and Microsoft shows that delays of milliseconds result in fewer page views and fewer sales in both the short and long term. This is true not just for high-bandwidth services like video, but for any content delivered over the Internet. That means businesses in every industry will suffer under the chairman’s proposal. This is a fight for all of us.

2. Policymakers Need to Hear From Businesses

Average citizens and digital rights organizers have spent the last six months sounding the alarm to save the Internet as we know it. At first, these folks were received like an early stage startup — they faced apparently impossible odds and almost everyone wrote them off for taking on a noble but doomed fight. But then something clicked. Three million Americans filed comments in favor of an open Internet. Hundreds of companies, investors, and civil rights groups joined the movement. Fourteen Senators, nearly 40 members of Congress, and the New York City and San Francisco mayors called on the FCC to establish a clear, bright-line rule banning paid prioritization under any circumstances.

Even President Obama spoke out to oppose Internet fast lanes, which the FCC chairman’s proposed rule would plainly authorize. Policymakers have heard from the public and civil libertarians. Different messengers click for different policymakers. Some are waiting to hear directly from the businesses that will be harmed by the FCC’s dangerous proposal. That’s us and the micro-businesses we represent.

3. Now Is the Moment

The action is on September 10 for several good reasons. It is just a few days before the end of the FCC comment period, on the 15th. Plus, Congress is only in town for two weeks before recessing to campaign for reelection. We want our communities to reach out to DC while members of Congress are there and thinking about their reelection. Activists from Fight for the Future, Demand Progress, and Free Press, working with Engine Board Member and lawyer Marvin Ammori, have created tools available at that empower people to send comments and call their representatives directly, so most companies should have enough time to implement them.

To be sure, the cable and phone companies are counting on our apathy. After all, businesses are often more conservative than activists and tend to not want to jump alone. But not this time. Our employees care, our communities are invested, and after months of progress, we now have a real shot at victory.

This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for the business world, because the future of the Internet is the future of American business. I ask my friends in the business community to join us on September 10. Let’s get this done, so that we can all go back to serving our customers and building our businesses without spending the rest of our lives petitioning the FCC and cable companies for permission to innovate and grow.