Gut bacteria are protected by host during illness

To protect their gut microbes during illness, sick mice produce specialized sugars in the gut that feed their microbiota and maintain a healthy microbial balance. This protective mechanism also appears to help resist or tolerate additional harmful pathogens, and its disruption may play a role in human diseases such as Crohn's disease, report scientists from the University of Chicago in Nature on Oct 1.

"Both hosts and their gut microbiota can suffer in the case of sickness, but this mutually beneficial relationship is guarded by the host," said study senior author Alexander Chervonsky, MD, PhD, chairman of the Committee on Immunology at the University of Chicago.

When faced with systemic illness, animals eat less to conserve energy instead of foraging for food and to deprive pathogens of nutrients. However, this can harm beneficial gut bacteria, which have an important role in health and disease.

To investigate how microbiota might be supported during illness, Chervonsky and his team focused on a potential internal resource produced by the host -- L-fucose, a sugar which has been shown to affect gut microbes. A host cannot use L-fucose for energy, but when bound to proteins, it can be used by microbes as a food source. Under normal conditions, however, the small intestine of mice produces almost no L-fucose.

The team exposed different types of mice to a molecule that mimicked a systemic infection. The mice became sick -- eating less food, drinking less water and losing weight. Only a few hours after this induced sickness, the researchers observed that L-fucose was produced and present on almost every surface of the small intestine. This effect was seen only in response to illness.

The researchers then tested genetically engineered mice lacking Fut2, the gene responsible for L-fucose production. Healthy under normal conditions, mice without Fut2 regained weight after induced sickness -- a measure of recovery -- much slower than their normal counterparts. However, only mice with both intact gut microbiota and the ability to produce L-fucose recovered efficiently.

"Mice that can produce L-fucose recover better than those that can't," Chervonsky said. "If you remove bacteria the effect goes away."

The team used genetic analyses to confirm that gut microbes were affected metabolically by the production of L-fucose. As part of this analysis, they noted that sick mice without Fut2 had significantly greater expression of harmful microbial genes than normal mice. Hypothesizing that L-fucose production was somehow preventing opportunistic bacteria from expressing virulent genes, they exposed mice to a mild bacterial pathogen and then four days later induced sickness. Under this condition, mice without Fut2 lost significantly more weight than normal, suggesting that the production of L-fucose helps the host tolerate or resist additional harmful pathogens.

Interestingly, around 20 percent of humans lack a functional gene to produce L-fucose, a problem that has been associated with the inflammatory bowel ailment known as Crohn's disease.

"We speculate that without L-fucose, the activation of virulence genes cannot be blocked, and that's why bacteria play a role in Crohn's disease," Chervonsky said. "Whether we can use this toward therapeutics in the future requires further study."

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The above story is based on materials provided by University of Chicago Medical Center . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Dog waste contaminates our waterways: A new test could reveal how big the problem is

Americans love their dogs, but they don't always love to pick up after them. And that's a problem. Dog feces left on the ground wash into waterways, sometimes carrying bacteria -- including antibiotic-resistant strains -- that can make people sick. Now scientists have developed a new genetic test to figure out how much dogs are contributing to this health concern, according to a report in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Orin C. Shanks, Hyatt C. Green and colleagues explain that our waterways are susceptible to many sources of fecal contamination, including sewage leaks and droppings from farm animals and wildlife. Contamination from dog feces is a concern because it can harbor antibiotic-resistant strains of E. coli and other bacteria and parasites that can infect humans -- and there are nearly 70 million domesticated dogs in the U.S. Scientists have had few tools to determine the extent to which waste from dogs is adding to the pathogens in rivers, lakes and beachfront surf. Current methods look for certain genes from gut bacteria that end up in dog feces. However, this is not foolproof -- the microbiota of humans and the canine pets they live with often overlap, making the analysis complicated. So Shanks' team set out to create a more specific test.

The researchers developed a new genetic testing method to specifically detect canine fecal contamination in water. They identified 11 genetic markers that were common among most of the dog samples but missing from the human ones. To determine whether their method would work for real-world monitoring, they sampled storm water from a rain garden where people often walk their dogs. The technique successfully detected some of the same markers they had identified as evidence for canine waste.

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The above story is based on materials provided by American Chemical Society . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Effect of topical antibiotics on antibiotic resistance, patient outcomes in ICUs

A comparison of prophylactic antibiotic regimens applied to an area in the mouth and throat and digestive tract were associated with low levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and no differences in patient survival and intensive care unit (ICU) length of stay, according to a study published in JAMA. The study is being posted early online to coincide with its presentation at the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine annual congress.

Reductions in the incidence of ICU-acquired respiratory tract infections have been achieved by some antibiotic regimens, such as selective decontamination of the digestive tract (SDD) and selective oropharyngeal (the mouth and throat) decontamination (SOD). Both SDD and SOD comprise nonabsorbable antibiotics with activity against gram-negative bacteria, yeasts, and Staphylococcus aureus; these agents are applied in the oropharynx every 6 hours throughout the ICU stay. Selective decontamination of the digestive tract also includes administration of topical antibiotics in the gastrointestinal tract, and a third-generation cephalosporin administered intravenously during the first four days in the ICU. Controversy exists regarding the relative effects of both measures on patient outcomes and antibiotic resistance, according to background information in the study.

Evelien A. N. Oostdijk, M.D., Ph.D., of the University Medical Center Utrecht, the Netherlands, and colleagues conducted a study that compared 12 months of administration of SOD or SDD in 16 Dutch ICUs between August 2009 and February 2013. Patients with an expected length of ICU stay longer than 48 hours were eligible to receive the regimens, and 5,881 and 6,116 patients were included in the clinical outcome analysis for SOD and SDD, respectively. Intensive care units were randomized to administer either regimen.

Respiratory and perianal (rectal) culture samples were performed and demonstrated that the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant gram-negative bacteria in perianal swabs and ICU-acquired bacteremia were significantly less common with SDD compared with SOD (5.6 percent vs 11.8 percent, respectively). During both interventions the prevalence of rectal carriage of aminoglycoside-resistant gram-negative bacteria increased 7 percent per month during SDD and 4 percent per month during SOD.

Day 28 mortality was 25.4 percent and 24.1 percent during SOD and SDD, respectively. Median length of stay in the ICU and hospital was determined for patients alive at day 28 and was similar for SOD and SDD. Intensive care unit-acquired bacteremia occurred in 5.9 percent and 4.6 percent of patients during SOD and SDD, respectively.

The authors note that because of the low incidence and minor absolute risk difference between the two study groups, the number needed to treat with SDD to prevent l episode of ICU-acquired bacteremia (as compared with SOD) was 77 and was 355 for ICU-acquired bacteremia caused by an aminoglycoside-resistant gram-negative bacterium. "It is therefore not surprising that the observed reduction in ICU-acquired bacteremia during SDD was not associated with a detectable effect on patient outcome."

Editorial: Rational Use of Antibiotics in the ICU

Marin H. Kollef, M.D., of the Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, and Scott T. Micek, Pharm.D., of the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, comment on this study in an accompanying editorial.

"The investigation by Oostdijk et al represents another important study performed by expert investigators and aimed at determining the optimal use of topical antibiotic prophylaxis for ICU patients with a specific focus on intestinal and oropharyngeal decontamination. Despite a large amount of research in this area, clinicians are still unclear on the optimal use of SDD and SOD. For the time being in the United States, SOD seems to be a more reasonable approach for the prevention of pathogenic bacterial overgrowth in critically ill patients. The use of SDD in the United States should probably be avoided until multicenter studies demonstrate the overall efficacy of SDD in hospitals with more widespread background antibiotic resistance."

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Dr. Who and Skyler Team Up to Solve a Small-Town Murder

Anna Gunn and David Tennant star in Gracepoint. (Image: Fox)

Anna Gunn and David Tennant star in Gracepoint. (Image: Fox)

Two of television’s most iconic characters of the last decade – David Tennant’s Dr. Who and Anna Gunn’s Skyler White – have new gigs as an argumentative detective team tasked with solving a small-town murder. They team up on the Fox show Gracepoint , which is the latest British import to hit American screens, a remake of the ITV series Broadchurch. Seaside England becomes northern California, fish and chips turns into burritos, and British accents shift to American ones. The connective on-screen tissue is Tenant, the kinetic Scot who plays the outsider detective in both iterations, an irascible sleuth hoping to make up for past mistakes.

Significant portions of the first two episodes are a carbon copy of Broadchurch: Chris Chibnall’s series was a critical and popular hit in England, and if it ain’t broke, why fix it? But things are bound to diverge, since Gracepoint has 10 episodes rather than 8, and the word on the street is there’s a different killer (though, “we might be double-bluffing you,” warns Tennant).

So why devote so much time to the same character? (Tenant flew in for the L.A. premiere from England, where Broadchurch season 2 is filming.) “When the writing is this good, the story is this potent, that’s catnip for actors,” he says. “So with this quality of writing, I’ll tell the story 25 times if I can, not just twice.”

Come Learn at WIRED University in a New USC Degree Program

USC Roski School of Art and Design dean Erica Muhl and WIRED editor in chief Scott Dadich.

USC Roski School of Art and Design dean Erica Muhl and WIRED editor-in-chief Scott Dadich. Lester Cohen/Getty

WIRED is going back to school, and you can come with us.

At the first-ever WIRED by Design conference on Wednesday, our editor-in-chief Scott Dadich revealed that WIRED would be realizing a longtime dream to launch a real-world degree program focused on the people and ideas at the center of our universe.

The online master’s degree in Integrated Design, Business and Technology will be offered in partnership with the University of Southern California. In other words, it’s a real credential, not just a certificate with the WIRED logo stamped on it. The program will include coursework from multiple schools across USC. It will also offer seminars and lectures developed and taught by WIRED editors, writers, and designers. You’ll even get the chance to come hang out with us during residencies at WIRED’s San Francisco HQ—our awesome new offices should be done by the time classes start in 2015.

The idea behind the degree is to combine the rigor, resources, and faculty of a first-rate academic institution with WIRED’s expertise and on-the-ground engagement with the core disciplines covered by the program. Thoughts about what a WIRED university curriculum would look like have been percolating for years, Dadich said. “Taking the best from USC and WIRED, we can teach discipline and disruption, business fundamentals, and the very latest innovation models from Silicon Valley. This is going to be thrilling,” he said.

The program will last 18 to 24 months and will include specially designed classes in conjunction with USC’s Roski School of Art and Design, the USC Marshall School of Business, and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Students will also get to connect with the industry leaders and innovative thinkers constantly circulating through the WIRED world.

“The pace of technology development requires higher education to continue to respond with programs that are flexible and adaptable, and that meet the needs of future cultural and business leaders,” said Muhl, dean of USC’s Roski School.

The unique partnership comes as organizations across the media industry rethink what it means to be a media brand. Since being named editor-in-chief in November 2012, Dadich has redoubled WIRED’s emphasis on design as an essential piece of both its editorial coverage and brand identity.

WIRED and USC are developing the program in collaboration with Qubed Education, a joint venture between higher-ed investment firm University Ventures and Condé Nast, WIRED’s parent company, as well as online degree consultancy Synergis Education.

Homepage image: Wikimedia

WIRED Space Photo of the Day for October 2014

For caption information and links to high-resolution images, please use the full-screen version of this gallery.

For more mind-blowing space photos, see the entire WIRED Space Photo of the Day collection.

With Ebola, the Public’s Right to Know Trumps Patient Privacy

The Ivy Apartments, where the confirmed Ebola virus patient was staying, is seen on October 1, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. The first confirmed Ebola virus patient in the United States was staying with family members at The Ivy Apartment complex before being treated at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. State and local officials are working with federal officials to monitor other individuals that had contact with the confirmed patient.

The Ivy Apartments, where the confirmed Ebola virus patient was staying, is seen on October 1, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. The first confirmed Ebola virus patient in the United States was staying with family members at The Ivy Apartment complex before being treated at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. State and local officials are working with federal officials to monitor other individuals that had contact with the confirmed patient. Tom Pennington / Getty Images

What we know for sure about the confirmed case of Ebola in Dallas, Texas is that it occurred in a man who travelled here from Liberia to visit his family. And that is about it.

We need to know a lot more.

Privacy is a crucial value in medicine, but in times of potential panic and fear, privacy has to yield to securing public trust and confidence.

Arthur Caplan

Arthur Caplan is the Drs. William F and Virginia Connolly Mitty Professor and founding head of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center in NYC. He is one of the nation’s top medical ethicists.

What more do we need to know about the Dallas patient? We don’t need to know his name or his family’s name or their address. But we do need to know; how he traveled here, was he screened in any way when he landed, did he take a taxi to get to his relatives, what symptoms made him think he was sick; what happened when he first went to the hospital, did he use a regular ambulance to go back to the hospital, and where else, if anywhere, did he go besides the hospital.

Why do we need to know all this information, which normally and appropriately is nobody else’s business? To secure trust.

People want to know if they were exposed or near the Ebola patient at any time. The CDC and every other public health expert says there is no need to know—no one is going to get infected without body fluid contact with a person with obvious symptoms. Moreover they are doing aggressive contact tracking to see where he went and who was near him. Now, I fully understand that and it makes scientific sense to reassure people that CDC and Texas health authorities are on the ball. But, a fuller, more transparent story will go a long way toward securing public trust in the message authorities want to send.

This afternoon Gov. Rick Perry said that some Texas school children may have come into contact with the patient. When? Where? Who? Partial facts like this only serve to fuel paranoia and worry.

Saying in some detail that the Liberian visitor came to Dallas this way, went here, went there and then went to the hospital and then went back again and still no one got sick will go a long way toward persuading a nervous and skeptical public that they can really trust what the experts say about the extremely low risk of exposure and contagion.

Americans have no idea–none–about what to do if they have the symptoms of Ebola or suspect someone might.

Why do we need to know how he got to the hospital? Because Americans have no idea–none–about what to do if they have the symptoms of Ebola or suspect someone might. Flu season is here. Should everyone with flu-like symptoms in Dallas, Atlanta or other cities where Ebola patients have been cared for run to the E.R.? Isnt it a good idea to get a flu shot so you lessen the chance of thinking you have Ebola. This is what the CDC needs to explain. If your family member comes here from a country with Ebola and gets very ill you should do what—call 911, call the police, call the CDC, call a taxi to the closest hospital, go to a particular hospital with an isolation unit, stay home and let someone come and get you, go alone or with help?

And beyond these practical tips, we need to be transparent about some other normally private matters. Everyone should know that insured or not, illegal alien or visitor or not, you will get cared for without cost if you think you have Ebola. Do not stay home for fear of an inability to pay or that INS might find you.

It is not polite to be a snitch. Right now, though, be one. If you sit next to someone on a plane or boat from a country with Ebola and they seem sick, say something to the airline personal or immigration. Being nosy and invading privacy is not a bad thing if someone is really sick and is travelling from a known Ebola-infected country.

Everyone should know that insured or not, illegal alien or visitor or not, you will get cared for without cost if you think you have Ebola. Do not stay home for fear of an inability to pay or that INS might find you.

And get ready to lose some privacy if you are known to have been exposed to Ebola or die from it. The key to controlling the disease is isolation. So if someone dies in quarantine from Ebola they won’t get the usual choices about private funeral arrangements. And if you are exposed your normal privacy right to be left alone and go about your business is going to have to yield to protecting others.

At yesterday’s news conference, Dr. Edward Goodman told reporters, “Because of the patient privacy, we are unable to share any information about the patient’s symptoms or his treatment at this time. I can say that he is ill, under intensive care, being seen by highly trained, competent specialists. And the health department is helping us in tracing any family members that might have been exposed.”

Privacy is a crucial value to Americans. To secure trust it has to be earned not presumed.

At a time when trust is fragile and panic is lurking in the shadows privacy ought not be the dominant ethical value guiding our response to Ebola.

Cops Are Handing Out Spyware to Parents—With Zero Oversight

Mere days after a government crackdown on a spyware manufacturer comes the startling revelation that law enforcement agencies have been purchasing commercial spyware themselves and handing it out to the public for free.

Police departments around the country have been distributing thousands of free copies of spyware to parents to monitor their children’s activity, a fact that’s come to light in the wake of a federal indictment this week against the maker of one commercial spyware tool on wiretapping charges.

The tool being distributed by agencies, known as ComputerCOP, has been purchased in bulk by more than two hundred police departments in thirty-five states as well as by sheriff’s offices and district attorneys. It’s designed to search computers for files and videos based on a keyword dictionary that comes with the software and also can log every keystroke on a computer, sending some of that data—in an unsecured manner—to a server belonging to the company that makes the software.

But according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which examined the spyware and uncovered the arrangement with law enforcement agencies, the spyware works badly and there is nothing to prevent parents who receive it from using it against other adults.

Computer Cop Promotional Poster

Computer Cop Promotional Poster EFF

“It’s certainly ironic that law enforcement agencies are going after spyware makers while also distributing software that could be used for the same purposes,” says Dave Maas, an investigator with the EFF. “Obviously there’s a difference in how these were marketed by the maker. But certainly law enforcement needs to train their magnifying glasses on their own operations.”

By providing a free key logging program to the public, law enforcement agencies are “passing around what amounts to a spying tool that could easily be abused by people who want to snoop on spouses, roommates, or co-workers,” Maas notes in his report about the software.

Earlier this week, federal authorities announced an indictment against the creator of a different spyware program, called StealthGenie, which performs some of the same operations as CyberCOP but is marketed specifically to people interested in surreptitiously tracking their spouses or other partners whom they believe may be cheating. The CEO of the company that markets StealthGenie was indicted on wiretapping charges because his spy tool is completely stealth and is designed to intercept phone calls and text messages from mobile phones, among other things.

In the case of the CyberCOP software, a pop-up notice appears to anyone installing the tool to be mindful of who they’re targeting lest they run afoul of local laws. But Maas says the spy tool can be installed on the system stealthily so that users do not know it’s there. Parents and others who install the software can choose an option that displays an icon for the spyware—a police siren—in the computer’s toolbox to indicate its presence, but they’re not required to do so. The software also is not listed in major malware spyware databases used by top antivirus products, so it won’t be detected with a normal virus scan of the system, according to Maas.

Many law enforcement agencies purchased the software in batches of 5,000 copies—and in one case a department bought 43,000 copies of the spyware—and used asset-forfeiture money to make the purchases. Asset forfeiture is money either seized from suspects in criminal cases or obtained through the sale of seized assets by law enforcement agencies.

If the user isn’t careful, it will collect keystrokes from all users of the computer, not just children. When running on a Windows machine, the software stores full key logs unencrypted on the user’s hard drive.

If the user isn’t careful, it will collect keystrokes from all users of the computer, not just children. When running on a Windows machine, the software stores full key logs unencrypted on the user’s hard drive. EFF

“All of the [law enforcement] agencies are clear to say it’s not tax dollars, which is true for the most part,” says Maas. “But asset forfeiture money still belongs to the public and needs to be spent responsibly.”

The civil liberties group also discovered that the company that makes the spyware fabricated endorsements for its product to convince police departments to purchase it. The company falsely told police departments that the spyware had the approval and recommendation of the American Civil Liberties Union and gave police departments a doctored letter from the Treasury Department.

There are strict rules governing how police departments can spend asset forfeiture funds. Departments are required to get approval from the Treasury Department before making a purchase. But ComputerCOP handed out a modified Treasury Department letter to prospective law enforcement customers implying that the Treasury Department gave blanket approval for purchase of the software. Most police departments appeared to take the letter at face value, though one did inquire directly with the federal agency in 2010 about purchasing the software with asset-forfeiture funds and was given approval. The Treasury Department, upon learning about the letter ComputerCOP was handing out to customers, has issued a fraud alert about it, according to EFF.

Aside from the issue of police departments distributing spyware to the public, there are security issues with the product. According to EFF, the open-source keystroke logger records every keystroke made on the computer—either by specified users or by every user—and stores it on the computer. On Windows machines, it stores this data unencrypted. On machines using Mac operating systems, it encrypts the keylog files, but uses a default password to decrypt the file—a password (logKext) that is readily available for anyone to see in documentation available online for the open-source key logging tool.

The system transmits logged keystrokes whenever the targeted user on the machine types a keyword that parents, or anyone who installed the software, sets. These can be the email address of a user, a name, or any term such as “drug,” “sex” or even “the”. Once a user types a designated keyword, the software sends an email containing the typed sentence or text around the keyword to the person monitoring the target. That email, however, is sent unencrypted through ComputerCOP’s servers, making it possible for ComputerCOP or others who may be sniffing the unencrypted traffic across a wireless network to capture the content—including usernames, passwords, Social Security numbers and credit card numbers that the target may have typed.

“Security experts universally agree that a user should never store passwords and banking details or other sensitive details unprotected on one’s hard drive, but that’s exactly what ComputerCOP does by placing everything someone types in a folder,” EFF notes in its report. “The email alert system further weakens protections by logging into a third-party commercial server. When a child with ComputerCOP installed on their laptop connects to public Wi-Fi, any sexual predator, identity thief, or bully with freely available packet-sniffing software can grab those key logs right out of the air.”

McLaren Offers a Watered-Down Supercar for Buyers in Asia

The 625C is a less powerful, more refined version of the 650S.

The 625C is a less powerful, more refined version of the 650S. McLaren

The 650S, McLaren’s $265,000 entry-level supercar, is a triumph. Its 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 engine propels it from a standstill to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds. It runs the quarter mile in 10.5 seconds. It’s packed with Formula 1-derived tech that makes any old millionaire feel like a professional racer behind the wheel.

But buyers in Asia, who account for an increasing portion of McLaren sales (20 percent in 2013, more than 30 percent this year), want something a bit different, the company says. And when McLaren customers want something, (say, a $3.3 million hypercar and two years of driving lessons) they usually get it.

And so we have the 625C, a watered-down version of the mid-engine, rear wheel-drive 650S. McLaren says its first “regionally tailored” model has the same exterior as the original, “but with an increased focus on day-to-day usability and comfort.” Translation: It softened the car’s suspension to make hitting potholes less annoying.

The 625C comes as a spider or coupe.

The 625C comes as a spider or coupe. McLaren

The 625C, which will be available as an open top spider and a coupe, comes with new dampers and a “revised mechanical balance” that offers a softer spring rate at the back of the car. McLaren also tweaked the 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 engine to dial it down from 650 PS (641 horsepower) to 625 (616 hp), which explains the name change. The “C” stands for “Club,” which, we’re told, connotes “a more accessible and less extreme model in terms of character.” Torque drops from 500 to 450 pound-feet, explaining the 0-to-60 mph time of 3.1 seconds instead of 2.9, but the 625C delivers the same 207 mph top speed as the 650S. There’s no change in fuel efficiency numbers.

Changes to American cars for the Asian market, at least for Chinese buyers, often focus on the backseat, since chauffeurs are more common in China and owners may spend more time riding than driving. But the 650S doesn’t have a backseat, and it’s certainly not made for a chauffeur, so McLaren worked hard to make the car accessible and fun for amateurs.

The 625C and 650S are essentially the same car, and it’s hard to imagine customers demanding a minor power reduction. So why knock down the horsepower? McLaren never got back to us with an official reason, but Karl Brauer, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book, has an idea. It might be in response to taxes or fees levied on cars that produce a certain amount of horsepower—McLaren could be dropping just below the threshold to save its customers money. As for the softer suspension, Brauer says, “I suspect it’s because of the road quality over there,” which may not be as good as it is in Europe or the United States. Bumpy roads can make for a harsh ride or potentially damage the vehicle.

McLaren hasn’t released pricing information for the 625C, but it’s a good bet to think it’ll come for a bit less than the $265,500 MRSP of the 650S. And when you’re spending that much money, any tax you can avoid or pothole you can soften is a good move.

New Swarming Drones Appear Just in Time for Looser Rules on Eyes in the Skies

The PlexiDrone

The PlexiDrone DreamQii

Just in time for new US rules allowing drones for movie-making, a Toronto startup is launching a campaign to send swarms of lightweight cameras into the skies.

The PlexiDrone is a small quadcopter with a snap-in socket for lifting a variety of pro-sumer devices skyward, from point-and-shoots to GoPros. DreamQii, the company behind the PlexiDrone, boasts that the aircraft’s design lets users capture 360 degrees of footage without propellers or landing gear getting in the way. Pilots can control multiple drones using a smartphone or tablet along with a custom Bluetooth hub to shoot from multiple points-of-view simultaneously. To get off the ground, the company is hoping to raise $100,000 on Indiegogo in a campaign launched Wednesday.

The debut comes less than a week after the Federal Aviation Administration, seeking to overcome its image as a killjoy on new uses for small-scale unmanned aircraft, announced that six film production companies had been granted exemptions that would allow them to fly drones to shoot movies and television. The agency’s decision came out of negotiations with the Motion Picture Association of America, which pushed for the liberalized rules, in part, to stem the exodus of filmmakers taking productions outside the US to countries with fewer restrictions on the commercial use of drones.

But former Democratic U.S. Senator Chris Dodd, now chairman and CEO of the MPAA, said that drones—which the FAA calls UAS, or “unmanned aircraft systems”—were a great victory for audiences as filmmakers looked to new technologies to expand the horizons of their craft. “The UAS’s are a big part of that creative evolution,” Dodd said.

While Dodd might not be the first person who comes to mind as a beacon of artistic innovation, he’s probably right about the possibilities opened up by drones, as the PlexiDrone itself illustrates. Its makers say it has the ability to follow whoever or whatever is being filmed by homing in on a GPS signal. It’s not the only drone to offer that feature, but the point is more ease-of-use than originality. Swarming would also seem to open up truly original vantage points, considering that the nearest possible parallel—sending up multiple helicopters—is not only incredibly expensive by comparison but also simply unable to provide the kind of granular control promised by drones.

In crafting its exemptions, the FAA still kept many limitations in place. Drone operators must be certified, and the drones must be within their line of sight at all times. They can only fly above closed sets, and the FAA needs to be notified. These restrictions are meant to ensure drones only fly under controlled, predictable circumstances to minimize safety risks.

But it’s hard to imagine the remarkable new perspectives opened up by drones—to say nothing of swarms of them—won’t ultimately be tapped in less predictable circumstances, such as breaking news and live sports. And drone makers themselves are working to engineer safety right into their aircraft.

The PlexiDrone, for instance, weighs just under three pounds, almost exactly the weight of a 13-inch MacBook Air. While no one wants a laptop falling out of the sky and onto their heads, aircraft like the PlexiDrone are becoming almost wispy. DreamQii also claims the PlexiDrone is smart enough to steer clear of obstacles in its way, suggesting the drone’s systems would have to crash completely before the drone itself would.

The public will likely need greater assurances than these before they’re comfortable with drones flying overhead in everyday life. But momentum is clearly shifting toward sending more eyes skyward.

Windows 10 Will Run Everywhere. But What Does That Mean?

Terry Myerson

Terry Myerson Microsoft

Terry Myerson says Windows 10 will run on “the broadest range of devices ever,” from small “internet of things” gadgets set up in offices and homes, to game consoles, to handheld tablets and phones, to computer servers that drive websites and other business software inside massive data centers.

“Some of these devices have four-inch screens. Some of these devices have 80-inch screens. Some don’t have any screen at all,” Microsoft’s Windows chief proclaimed on Tuesday morning while unveiling an early version of its latest operating system at a press event in San Francisco. “Some you hold in your hand. Some you sit 10 feet away from and use with a controller or gestures. Some include a touchpad, some a mouse and keyboard. Some switch between input devices.”

All this sounds rather impressive. The question is what it actually means for the people and businesses interested in using the upcoming operating system—and that’s a question worth asking. As Myerson said during yesterday’s event, 1.5 billion people now use Windows in one form or another. But few use Windows on phones or tablets, it’s losing ground to the open-source Linux operating system in the data center, and relatively few businesses have moved to the latest flagship version of the OS, Windows 8. As it faces increasing competition—in various markets—from the likes of Apple and Google, Microsoft is fighting to maintain its place in the computing universe, particularly its place inside the world’s businesses.

According to David Johnson, an analyst with Massachusetts-based research firm Forrester Research, only about one-in-five businesses are currently offering Windows 8 machines to employees, and the older Windows 7 will reach the end of its life in 2020. “Microsoft has to give enterprises a reason to move to a new version before it becomes a crisis,” he says, warning that companies like Apple and Google will step into the breach.

That’s why Myerson is pitching Windows 10 as an OS that runs everywhere. At least nominally, Apple and Google still offer disparate OSes for disparate machines—Apple with Mac OS for desktops and iOS for mobile devices, Google with ChromeOS and Android. Myerson wants to show that Microsoft is doing something that others aren’t. But, really, what does his pitch ultimately mean? And how much does it matter?

Terry Myerson, executive vice president, Operating Systems Group, and Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president, Operating Systems Group, take questions from the audience at a press and analyst Windows update in San Francisco, where they spoke about the next chapter of Windows and announced Windows 10 Technical Preview available on October 1.

Terry Myerson and Microsoft corporate vice president and Joe Belfiore take questions at the unveiling of Windows 10. Microsoft

Basically, it means that the same core operating system code will run wearables, game consoles, phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, and servers—though, naturally, disparate devices will still offer different interfaces and other tools atop this core code. Microsoft has been moving in this direction for the past several years, and now, it seems, Windows 10 is taking things further.

But what does that mean? Well, Myerson tells WIRED it will ultimately lead to a more effective and reliable OS running across those myriad devices. “There’s quality that comes with scale,” he tells WIRED. “The same code being on the client? There’s so much quality and reliability that can then go into the server.”

Certainly, he has a point here. But Microsoft sharing core code in this way is nothing new. Its server, desktop, phone, and game console OSes already use a lot of the same core code, and, well, this kind of thing happens all the time. When it comes right down to it, Apple’s Mac OS X and iOS use much of the same core code, though they’re separate OSes in many ways. Google’s ChromeOS and Android are both based on Linux.

Myerson also says that the new Windows 10 will allow software developers to more easily build applications that run across disparate machines, and that the company will offer a “universal” app store that serves all devices. You know, it’s the old “write once, run anywhere” pitch. “Developers can write once and target many systems,” Myerson explains. A coder could build an app that, say, runs on both a desktop and a tablet or both a wearable and a server.

But how often will that really be possible? How often will it be necessary? Microsoft hinted that the Xbox will be able to run more applications built for desktops and laptops, but it’s unclear how this will work. And it’s unclear how many developers will really want to build apps that span devices at opposite ends of the spectrum. “There are examples where the answer is a categorical ‘Yes,’ and there are examples where the answer is ‘Of course not,’” he says, when asked about the possibility of wearable/server apps. “But this is about allowing coders to make their code available in more places.”

The idea is that the ubiquity of Windows 10 will lead to more applications on all devices, but while “write-once, run-anywhere” is easy to say, it’s really hard to pull off. In fact, it’s near impossible. Microsoft already took a step down the “same code” road with Windows 8—the predecessor to Windows 10—offering the same core software on both desktops and mobile devices, but coders are still required to do a lot of extra work if they want to build an app that runs in both places. Microsoft may take another step forward with Windows 10, making it easier to build apps for multiple devices, but how far? Even if the different devices use the same core code, developers still have to make changes in building software for each one. After all, they’re different devices.

In the end, it’s not even about “write once, run anywhere.” Most developers write apps to make money, and they get paid when they write their software for devices that people crave. That’s been Microsoft’s great weakness in recent years. While the company has done some promising work with its Surface tablets and phones, for instance, coders don’t build a whole lot of apps for them because there aren’t a lot of people who use them.

Myerson and company want to change that. They want lots of people using all kinds of Microsoft devices, so they’re trying to bootstrap the prospects of each device using all the others. In some ways, that makes sense. But ultimately, it all comes down to how well each device works, whether there’s good reason to use it over something else. Windows 8 also sought to bridge the gap between disparate machines, but, says Forrester’s Johnson, people have been slow to adopt it, in large part because its interface—one of the things that tried to bridge the gap—ended up confusing and frustrating people.

The future of Windows 10 is not about how many different devices it will run on. It’s about how well it runs on each one.

Stop What You’re Doing and Go to the Cosmos with This New Interstellar Trailer

You might be tempted to blacklist any more footage from Interstellar until the movie actually comes out. That’s fair. It’s the kind of film where the mystery leading up to its release feels essential to the viewing experience itself. It would be understandable if you wanted to let all the jittery excitement and anticipation bottle up so that by the time the lights dim in the theater you want to jettison out of your seat like the rocket on screen. But the latest Interstellar trailer hit the web today, and it is so worth your time.

In other words, stop whatever you think is more important and watch this trailer now.

The first trailer for Interstellar came out last year and was pretty vague. It was essentially a stream of two-seconds-max wordless visuals: news clips, humanity, history, space, Earth, life, death, corn, Matthew McConaughey crying in a truck, rocket shooting out of a field. We trusted director Christopher Nolan implicitly but it was still a little “Oh-kaaaaaay…”

The second full-length spot introduced us to our hero (McConaughey), his family, and the fact that life on our planet is no longer tenable. This was good stuff and had us crying one minute in. We learned that food is running out, and we must look to the cosmos for our salvation. The third trailer gave us an even split between terrestrial and space narratives and showed audiences there is going to be a lot of time spent among the stars in Interstellar, appropriately.

Now comes this brand new trailer, and it’s all space space space! And not just any space; it’s, like, gorgeous space. Is that a mountain in the distance? NOPE! It’s an apocalyptic freaky alien ocean wave!

Guess what, America: Christmas arrives on Nov. 7 this year, and the role of Santa will be played by Christopher Nolan. Bring all your tissues with you.

Women Entrepreneurs: Are We Whining Too Much?



In my recent article, Women ARE Raising Venture Capital, I said, there is no bias among Silicon Valley VCs against women.

I got an earful on that one.

What? There are hardly any female VCs. So few female CEOs. So few blah blah blah.

Right. Yes. I know. But it is what it is. How is whining going to help us change any of those factors?

I countered with:

The technology workforce of the world is predominantly male. Technology entrepreneurs are predominantly male. The entrepreneurs who apply for VC funding are predominantly male. The stats are not evidence of prejudice against women, it is a retrospective on the fact that not enough women play the technology entrepreneurship game to begin with. That’s where most of the venture capital gets invested. How do you expect people to win if they don’t play?

Also, there is a vast number of small businesses that are run by women that are not venture fundable. These include small retail stores, e-commerce shops, and a variety of services businesses – there are 500,000 marketing agencies, many run by women. None of these warrant venture capital financing, and it is hardly demonstrative of prejudice. It is the nature of the businesses themselves.

This drew out two more issues: One, the lack of girls going into STEM.

Two, venture capital vs. bootstrapping. “I am bootstrapping my company and don’t want venture capital because VCs are evil …!”

The STEM problem is real and a lot of colleges are trying to address it. The best progress has been made at CMU and Harvey-Mudd who recently reported statistics. I am of the very strong opinion that VC stats cannot improve until the STEM stats improve. That’s one, if not two generations out. May be even three.

Then, we have to wait and see whether these STEM-educated women will stay in the workforce, or drop out in their mid-thirties to raise children. This has also been a major problem for the feminist movement in general. [Re: Talented Women: Please Do NOT Quit]

The venture capital vs. bootstrapping issue isn’t a problem, IMO. It’s an opportunity. In 1M/1M, I constantly advise entrepreneurs to bootstrap first, and then raise capital because the terms are way better that way. And, as I keep saying, VCs love to come to the rescue of victory, so let them!

If you want venture money, that is. I have done startups both ways – with and without VC funding. Each approach has its pros and cons, some VCs are good, some are incompetent, some are mediocre … just like the rest of us.

But one thing is absolutely clear to me: VCs ONLY care about making money. That is their justification of existence. That is why their Limited Partners entrust money to them. If a woman entrepreneur shows them a pot of gold, I just cannot imagine they will reject it just because the person offering it is a woman. They’re, usually, not that stupid.

Case in point Sophia Amoruso. Don’t know her? She’s the CEO of Nasty Gal. VCs have not only invested in her, they have beaten a path to her door to do so. Why? Because she bootstrapped a fabulously successful business. She created an opportunity for VCs to come to the rescue of victory!

Look, if we’re going to play in a male-dominated field and make our mark, we need to be able to carry ourselves in ways such that men cannot intimidate us. The fact IS, that the field IS male dominated. The men compete with one another. Do you think they cut each other any slack? Why should women expect to be coddled?

I don’t. Do you?

[“I think that the difference right now between good art and bad art is that the good artists are the people who are, in one way or another, creating, out of deep and honest concern, a vision of life in the twentieth century that is worth pursuing. And the bad artists, of whom there are many, are whining or moaning or staring, because it’s fashionable, into the dark abyss.” —John Gardner]

Sramana Mitra is the founder of One Million by One Million (1M/1M), a global virtual incubator.

The Ambitious Windows 10 Is An Attack Disguised As a Retreat

Windows Product Family


From the early looks of Windows 10, it’s a long-overdue concession to the fact that Windows users prefer the way things used to be.

A video tour hosted by Windows VP Joe Belfiore is most notable for what Microsoft’s new OS is missing, as well as what’s returned from the pre-Windows 8 days. Rather than carrying on Windows 8’s strange hybrid of animated tiles and Start Menu-less desktop, Windows 10 has an interface more akin to that of Windows 7. Those colorful Metro tiles haven’t disappeared completely—they’ve been moved to the Start Menu—but they’re less in-your-face and mission-critical than they were in Windows 8.

Because of that, consumers and businesses are likely to be ecstatic. Neither of them liked Windows 8 much. The numbers don’t lie. According to Net Applications data, about half of the computers in the world right now are running Windows 7. In second place, with about a 24 percent install base, is the never-say-die Windows XP.

It’s 13 years old, and Microsoft doesn’t support it anymore. Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 combine for about half of XP’s install base, roughly 12 percent.

The world may be moving toward mobile devices en masse, but people still use laptops and desktops for good reasons: They remain the best tools for sitting down at a desk and working. Windows is best at its most boring, as a blank napkin for productivity. There’s nothing wrong with that; people need it. The less Windows feels like a laptop or desktop OS, the more people shun it.

Windows is best at its most boring, as a blank napkin for productivity.

But while Windows 10 is a step back for the interface, its underlying strategy is an ambitious leap forward. Under the hood, it’s a far bolder attempt to meet the needs of both desktop and mobile users than Windows 8′s hybrid weirdness. With Windows 10, Microsoft is trying to achieve several big goals at once: Make 75 percent of its desktop users finally consider an upgrade, attract more developers, and elevate its mobile OS beyond also-ran status.

Those last two are where Microsoft can gain the most ground. At its core, Windows 10 is an attempt to realize the dream of “write once, run anywhere” for Windows development. It promises the ability to write software that will magically morph to fit any phone, tablet, desktop, or other device. You won’t have to pick a way to interact with software, which was one of Windows 8’s fatal flaws. Instead, Windows 10 will pick the best software experience for your device.

That holds a lot of promise for a platform that has always been left wanting for mobile developers, as Windows 10 presents a way to attract them through the side door. With a 90-plus-percent market share, the Windows desktop is a hotbed for development. And now that Windows applications will purportedly adapt to any device, that 3-percent Windows Phone market share isn’t a massive obstacle for building up its app market.

The hardware is already solid. Windows Phone has a slick device in its smartphone stable in the HTC One M8. Nokia’s Windows Phones have incredible cameras. Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 tablet is an outstanding piece of hardware. Add the ability to run a lot more software on those devices—an ecosystem that works seamlessly with Windows desktop environments at home and in the office—and you’ve got a platform that could make a sizeable dent in the Android/iOS duopoly. Maybe.

When he announced the first iPhone, Steve Jobs famously claimed that it “runs OS X.” It wasn’t true.

That “one adaptive OS” is a strategy also notable for how un-Apple it is. In a technology world where everyone seems to be following Apple’s lead, it’s something very different. Rather than creating distinct mobile and desktop environments that work more seamlessly together—the Continuity features in OS X Yosemite, for example—Microsoft is building a multi-device platform. A single OS that can run flawlessly on the various devices we use.

No one has really done that before, but the idea has certainly been paid lip service. When he announced the first iPhone, Steve Jobs famously claimed that it “runs OS X.” It wasn’t true. It didn’t matter, and most people would agree that the iPhone not running OS X was a major factor in its success. The mobile version of Windows 10 won’t need to replicate the functionality of a desktop OS. It will just need to run a lot more apps.

Most importantly, it’ll need to execute them well. Not many people wanted the hybrid desktop/touch OS of Windows 8. Likewise, they won’t want hybrid adaptive software that offers a crappy experience compared to true mobile apps. But Microsoft had to do something to boost its presence in the mobile OS market. It’s no sure thing, but Windows 10 may be the only way to do it.

Darwin, sexist asshat [Pharyngula]

That same bozo who sent me the Hitler quote sent me another image in reply:


Fair enough. Darwin got a lot of things wrong. I’m actually going to be lecturing my intro biology students on where Darwin screwed up in a few weeks, focusing mainly on his bad genetics, but I’ll toss that quote into the mix, too. To be perfectly fair, I’ll also include the more complete quote below the fold…and no, nothing in the larger context excuses it.

The quote is from the Descent of Man , and not only is it a sexist comment, he throws in some casual racism, too.

Difference in the Mental Powers of the two Sexes.—With respect to differences of this nature between man and woman, it is probable that sexual selection has played a highly important part. I am aware that some writers doubt whether there is any such inherent difference; but this is at least probable from the analogy of the lower animals which present other secondary sexual characters. No one disputes that the bull differs in disposition from the cow, the wild-boar from the sow, the stallion from the mare, and, as is well known to the keepers of menageries, the males of the larger apes from the females. Woman seems to differ from man in mental disposition, chiefly in her greater tenderness and less selfishness; and this holds good even with savages, as shewn by a well-known passage in Mungo Park’s Travels, and by statements made by many other travellers. Woman, owing to her maternal instincts, displays these qualities towards her infants in an eminent degree; therefore it is likely that she would often extend them towards her fellow-creatures. Man is the rival of other men; he delights in competition, and this leads to ambition which passes too easily into selfishness. These latter qualities seem to be his natural and unfortunate birthright. It is generally admitted that with woman the powers of intuition, of rapid perception, and perhaps of imitation, are more strongly marked than in man; but some, at least, of these faculties are characteristic of the lower races, and therefore of a past and lower state of civilisation.

The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shewn by man’s attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can woman—whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands. If two lists were made of the most eminent men and women in poetry, painting, sculpture, music (inclusive both of composition and performance), history, science, and philosophy, with half-a-dozen names under each subject, the two lists would not bear comparison. We may also infer, from the law of the deviation from averages, so well illustrated by Mr. Galton, in his work on ‘Hereditary Genius,’ that if men are capable of a decided pre-eminence over women in many subjects, the average of mental power in man must be above that of woman.

Amongst the half-human progenitors of man, and amongst savages, there have been struggles between the males during many generations for the possession of the females. But mere bodily strength and size would do little for victory, unless associated with courage, perseverance, and determined energy. With social animals, the young males have to pass through many a contest before they win a female, and the older males have to retain their females by renewed battles. They have, also, in the case of mankind, to defend their females, as well as their young, from enemies of all kinds, and to hunt for their joint subsistence. But to avoid enemies or to attack them with success, to capture wild animals, and to fashion weapons, requires the aid of the higher mental faculties, namely, observation, reason, invention, or imagination. These various faculties will thus have been continually put to the test and selected during manhood; they will, moreover, have been strengthened by use during this same period of life. Consequently, in accordance with the principle often alluded to, we might expect that they would at least tend to be transmitted chiefly to the male offspring at the corresponding period of manhood.

Darwin was a man of his time, and he takes for granted the narrow Victorian view of gender roles, and also mistakes a cultural imposition for a biological disposition. That last paragraph is particularly interesting, though, for the way his theory of heredity was creeping in. Darwin subscribed to pangenesis, a Lamarckian way of thinking, so that practice of a trait during life, such as frequent exercise to build up physical strength, would actually be transmitted to your children — and in particular, that male traits, identified as male because his culture defined them as male, would be specifically transmitted to male children.

He was wrong, you know.

It would actually be an educational and entertaining exercise to go through all of Darwin’s books and pluck out the stuff he got totally wrong — it would be a long effort, though, and as we see here, would be thoroughly misinterpreted by creationists. Darwin is not our prophet. He came up with some really good ideas, and some really bad ideas, and they’ve been winnowed by experiment and evidence over the last century and a half, with the bad ones getting mostly discarded (sadly, there are still some scientists who argue for the inferiority of women and non-white people) and the good ones being retained. The Descent of Man is not holy writ, and we now see it as an interesting historical document…but more current papers are much more relevant to modern scientific thinking about evolution.

I’ll also point out that modern Christianity works the same way — they’ve winnowed out most of the bad ideas about slavery and race and justice, for instance, from the Bible, although they also tend to pretend that the flaws weren’t there in the first place, unlike scientists, who tend to readily repudiate errors, even when held by extremely eminent people. Religious believers also tend to be far slower at expunging fallacies than scientists — I think you’ll find more conservative Christians agreeing with the extended Darwin quote above than you will scientists.

3 Big Ideas from a Visionary Architect

Bjarke Ingels is an architect who isn’t afraid to think weird. When a competition solicited ideas for what to do with a huge trash-munching power plant soon to be built in his native Copenhagen, Ingels’ studio, BIG, submitted the sort of idea you’d expect from a precocious first-grader: They suggested turning it into an massive artificial ski slope. To the firm’s surprise, the proposal won, and by 2017 or so when the project’s complete, it will no longer seem odd to spend a day skiing on a mountain of trash.

To Ingels, this is architecture at its most exciting—when it brings the world we live in a little bit closer to the world of our dreams. Yesterday, at the morning session of the WIRED by Design conference, the architect broke down some of the big ideas that inform these sort of radical designs.

Bjarke Ingels.

Bjarke Ingels. Ben Rasmussen/WIRED

Information-Driven Decisions

For BIG, no decision is arbitrary. Every project starts with a rigorous research process. “We learn everything we can before we start thinking about our intervention,” Ingels explains. In some cases, that means research on sites and materials. In other cases, the data can be playfully incorporated into the design itself.

When Ingels was tapped by his high school math teacher to create a handball court for the architect’s former school, BIG had two choices for where to put it: on the soccer field or in the courtyard. The firm chose a third option: underneath the courtyard. Ultimately, they used a bit of data to shape the design. The ceiling of the subterranean gym took its form from a mathematical equation for a ballistic object rising and falling. In other words, the roof of the handball gym is the exact arc of a handball thrown through the air.

The underground gym's ceiling was shaped by an equation for the arc of a thrown ball.

The underground gym’s ceiling was shaped by an equation for the arc of a thrown ball. BIG

Open-Source Design

Since architecture is made for people to live with and enjoy, Ingels’ firm often looks to include regular people in the design process. His work on a park in Copenhagen’s most diverse neighborhood offers a perfect example. Instead of trying to come up with some sort of aesthetic compromise for the public space, his team came up with a design that actively reflected the diverse community.

An s-curve bench from Mexico City in BIG's Superkilen park.

An s-curve bench from Mexico City in BIG’s Superkilen park. BIG

BIG asked people from the neighborhood for their favorite public objects from their native countries. Then, the firm imported them wholesale into the design. The result is a park with a Jamaican boombox, a Finnish bike rack, and a Kazakh bus stop–one that’s “so much cooler” than a standard Danish stop, Ingels points out. There’s an S-curve bench from Mexico City that lets the two people sitting in it look each other in the eye—right next to a circular Belgian bench that forces everyone to look away from each other. Visitors can use a smartphone app to learn the story behind each object.

Finding Beauty in Brutal Necessity

BIG’s currently in the middle of perhaps its most ambitious project yet: storm-proofing Manhattan against future catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy. By tackling the project neighborhood by neighborhood, the aim is to create protective infrastructure that doubles as useful public space.

The effort combines the data-driven and community-centric approaches of the two previous projects. In some areas on Manhattan’s East side where only four feet of protection are needed to hold back waters anticipated for a fifty year flood, undulating, riverfront benches could serve as a functional dam. In other areas that could see more intense tides, covered storefronts could convert quickly into massive flood proof walls.

BIG's proposal for Manhattan includes a museum with a rad half-underwater observation room.

BIG’s proposal for Manhattan includes a museum with a rad half-underwater observation room. BIG

BIG worked closely with the various New York City neighborhoods involved to figure out which sort of structures were most attractive to them specifically. Ingels jokingly refers to the approach as a “lovechild” of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. It’s unglamorous but necessary infrastructure that respects and, ideally, enriches the community it’s to be located in. The plan recently received over 300 million in federal grant money.


Recently, BIG’s been trying to work out one nagging detail of its trash mountain ski slope plan. Instead of having a chimney belching smoke, they wanted one that playfully puffed out a gigantic steam ring at regular intervals. It proved a tough engineering challenge—it turns out no one really specializes in industrial-size smoke rings. A handful of early tests were total failures. But Ingels closed his talk with a short clip of the most recent trial, conducted in August. It shows a massive chimney. Then, there’s a blast like a cannon and a cloud of fog. At first it seems like a failure. Then, you hear someone cheering as you see a thick ring of smoke sail upwards into a clear blue Copenhagen sky.