New increase in antimicrobial use in animals in Denmark

Antimicrobial usage in animals in Denmark continued to increase in 2013 -- mainly due to an increased use in pigs. However, antimicrobial use in pigs is still 12% lower than in 2009. In general, livestock received very little of the critically important antimicrobials, which are used to treat humans. These findings appear in the annual DANMAP report from Statens Serum Institut and the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark. DANMAP is the Danish integrated antimicrobial resistance monitoring and research programme.

In 2013, the total use of antimicrobials in livestock and pets in Denmark was 4% higher than the previous year when measured in kilograms. The increased consumption is mainly attributed to a 6% increase in the consumption of antimicrobials in pig production, which accounts for about 84% of meat production in Denmark. But the consumption in poultry and pets has also increased.

Distributed by species, pigs account for around 78% of antimicrobial use in 2013, cattle 10%, aquaculture 3%, poultry 1%, fur animals 4%, and pets, horses and other companion animals the remaining 3%.

Increased use in pigs and poultry

Antimicrobial consumption in pigs measured in doses has increased in all three age groups: sows / piglets (9%), weaners (5%) and finishers (5%). This is primarily due to an increased consumption of pleuromutilins and tetracyclines, which are used for group medication. However, the consumption in pigs is still 12% lower than in 2009, when the highest consumption was recorded since Danish farmers stopped using antimicrobial growth promoters.

"It is crucial that we reverse the increase in consumption, if we are to tackle the problem of antimicrobial resistant bacteria," senior researcher Yvonne Agersø from the National Food Institute says.

In 2013, antimicrobial consumption in poultry increased by 57% compared to the year before. This is partly because of the wet winter, which led to more illness and -- as a result -- an increased consumption of tetracyclines in turkeys. An increased occurrence of diarrhea in broilers in 2013 can partly explain the increased consumption of penicillins, which are an effective treatment against diarrhea.

"Antimicrobial consumption in poultry is generally low compared to other species. It accounts for only 1% of the total use. For this reason, a few outbreaks of illness can cause significant fluctuations in the annual consumption data," Yvonne Agersø explains.

Continued low consumption of critically important antimicrobials

Consumption of critically important antimicrobials in animal production is still low. For a second consecutive year, the use of fluoroquinolones in pigs was very low in 2013 at less than 1 per mille of the total consumption in pigs. The use of 3 kilos of cephalosporins in pig production is also low. However, it does represent a significant increase compared to the year before when total consumption of cephalosporins was 1 kilo. There has been a significant drop in consumption in cattle.

"It remains important that Danish pigs and cattle are treated with critically important antimicrobials only when absolutely necessary to help ensure these agents continue to be effective when treating seriously ill people," Yvonne Agersø says.

In 2010 Danish pork producers introduced a voluntary ban on the use of cephalosporins where other effective treatment options are available. In August 2014, the Danish Agriculture & Food Council encouraged cattle farmers to only use cephalosporins where this is the only effective treatment option. Cephalosporins are not used in poultry production.

Companion animals and horses

Overall, the consumption of antimicrobials in the treatment of companion animals and horses increased in 2013 compared to the year before. This increase was not due to an increase in the use of critically important antimicrobials, as the consumption of both cephalosporins and fluoroquinolones in 2013 was lower than the year before. However, companion animals account for nearly 40% of the combined veterinary consumption of fluoroquinolones.

"While it is unfortunate that we continue to see an increase in the total use in companion animals, it is encouraging to see a drop in the use of antimicrobials that are critically important to humans. This suggests that the treatment guidelines put out by the Danish Veterinary Association in November 2012 has had some effect. The guidelines call for critically important antimicrobials to be avoided as much as possible," Yvonne Agersø says.

Facts about antimicrobial resistance

Treatment with antimicrobials is intended to kill pathogenic bacteria. Unfortunately, antimicrobials also cause the bacteria to protect themselves by developing resistance to the type of antimicrobials that are used to treat them. Resistant bacteria can be transmitted between humans, and bacteria can infect each other with resistance. However, resistant bacteria are poor at surviving if antimicrobials are not present. Therefore, it is important to have an overall focus on using as few antimicrobials as possible for the treatment of both animals and humans.

Bacteria know no borders, therefore antimicrobial resistance in one country can cause problems outside of its borders. As such the use of antimicrobials in both animals and humans is a global problem.

Not all antimicrobials are the same. Some are narrow spectrum and affect only individual groups of bacteria. They are used when you know which bacteria are causing the disease. Others are broad spectrum and affect numerous groups of bacteria at the same time. They can therefore be used to treat a disease before knowing which bacteria are the cause. However, they often also kill useful and harmless bacteria such as bacteria from the intestine, which may lead to the emergence of resistant bacteria.

Not all antimicrobials are equally important in the treatment of humans. WHO has declared a number of antimicrobials to be 'critically important', because they are the only or one of only a few antimicrobials, which can be used to treat serious or life-threatening infections in humans. These types include carbapenems, third and fourth generation cephalosporins, fluoroquinolones and macrolides.

Find the DANMAP report on DANMAP's website:

Amazon Is Opening A Store, But It’s Not Really for Shopping

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Jim Merithrew/WIRED

It had to happen: Amazon is opening a store. A physical store. At least, that’s what The Wall Street Journal is reporting, citing unnamed sources. The Journal says the brick-and-mortar location across from the Empire State Building in Manhattan will open in time for the lucrative holiday shopping season.

But why?

To those uninitiated in the ways of Amazon, a physical store might seem to violate the company’s basic premise for existing. The whole point is the convenience and infinite selection made possible by online shopping, right? And all that without the sizable overhead of a brick-and-mortar space and retail employees. Well, a store—particularly one across the street from the Empire State Building—serves as a giant advertisement for Amazon’s online operation. But behind the scenes, it will work in other ways—ways that reveal even bigger ambitions for the company.

Ever since Amazon started selling more than books, the company has been trying to evolve in ways that extend beyond the online version of catalog shopping. Most recently, Amazon has been moving aggressively to grab a piece of the most lucrative retail market in which it doesn’t really compete: groceries. The Amazon Prime Fresh program has given the company an unprecedented physical presence in cities in the form of Amazon-branded trucks making same-day deliveries. According to the Journal, Amazon’s new store will serve as a kind of “mini-warehouse” to service same-day orders in New York. In other words, the point of the Amazon store isn’t really to shop at it.

Kozmo Done Right

Over the past few years, several big companies—most notably eBay, Walmart, Google, and Amazon—have each taken their own run at same-day delivery, inevitably inviting comparison with failed efforts at doing the same thing during the first dotcom bubble. Amazon stayed in business where doomed startups like Kozmo and WebVan failed specifically because it avoided promising delivery speeds that necessitated setting up high-cost physical spaces in the middle of cities.

Instead, Amazon went on a decade-and-a-half building spree (that continues today), erecting million-square foot warehouses in wide-open spaces where land was cheap. The company proceeded to transform its “fulfillment centers” into logistical marvels capable of meeting the challenge of unlimited two-day shipping promised by the wildly popular Amazon Prime.

But if Amazon truly wants to compete with its major rivals—Walmart, Kroger, and Costco—on groceries and everyday goods, two days is still too long and exurban warehouses too far away. Amazon’s biggest competitors all have a much greater physical presence than Amazon that makes them the easier, more obvious choice for need-it-now items like food, drink, and household goods. What’s more, those stores can all double as distribution centers for online shopping.

Amazon’s State of Mind

On the other hand, logistics experts say stores designed for in-person shoppers aren’t designed like warehouses, and therefore lack the efficiencies that would allow them to truly scale as hubs for e-commerce inventory. It will be interesting to see how Amazon manages that distinction in its own physical space. Erecting a flagship physical location across from the Empire State Building is obviously meant to encourage foot traffic. If it really just wanted a warehouse in the city, 34th Street is not where you’d put it. (Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a WIRED inquiry seeking confirmation of plans for a store.)

At the same time, New York isn’t lacking for places to walk in and buy groceries. The biggest advantage of having a high-profile place for shoppers to actually visit isn’t so much shopping but marketing. Having a big Amazon sign along one of the country’s busiest streets is a great advertisement, and inside, Amazon can showcase its own products, like the Kindle, along with a clever selection that serves to sell customers on services like Prime Fresh. In the meantime, the everyday inventory is somewhere in the back to serve same-day delivery customers.

Boiling down Amazon’s reasons for setting up a store, the cost of holding inventory in a more expensive urban location offsets the cost of having to drive it in every day from the hinterlands—a cost further offset, Amazon hopes, by becoming a retailer identified with everyday grocery shopping. Amazon appears to be pulling a Kozmo/Webvan but 15 years later, after building up a huge financial and operational cushion to absorb the risks that torpedoed those earlier efforts. In internet years, a decade-and-a-half is an eternity. But apparently how long it takes to create a business model that has a chance of actually making sense.

NSA Mind-Bender: We Won’t Tell You What Info We Already Leaked to the Media

NSA headquarters.

NSA headquarters. Wikimedia Commons

Longtime reporters who cover the NSA know that any time we ask the obstinate spy agency for information, we’re probably going to hit a brick wall. But who would have thought that trying to obtain information about information the agency has already given us would lead to the same wall?

That’s what happened when the Federation of American Scientists filed a FOIA request with the Defense Department (of which the NSA is a part) earlier this year seeking information about any authorized leaks of intelligence made to the media during the previous 12 months.

The response they got (.pdf) from the National Security Agency might well have come from Winston Smith’s Ministry of Truth.

“The document responsive to your request has been reviewed by this Agency as required by the FOIA and has been found to be currently and properly classified in accordance with Executive Order 13526,” the letter read. “The document is classified because its disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.”

Last year, Congress amended the Intelligence Authorization Act to require government officials to notify lawmakers whenever they disclose national security secrets to the media as part of an “authorized” leak. Under Section 504 of the statute (.pdf), the government official responsible for authorizing the disclosure has to submit to congressional intelligence committees a timely report about the disclosure, if the information is classified at the time of the leak or was declassified for the purpose of making the leak, and if the information being disclosed was “made with the intent or knowledge that such information will be made publicly available.”

There have been numerous authorized leaks over the years, including the controversial White House leaks about the killing of Osama bin Laden. There have been even more unauthorized leaks, however—by government officials and workers. It makes sense for Congress to want to know when classified information has been leaked or declassified in order to distinguish official leaks from unauthorized ones. Lawmakers on the intelligence committees look silly when they tell reporters they can’t talk about something, while government officials are freely yapping about the same topic behind their backs. They also look silly when they publicly call for a criminal investigation into a leak that turns out to have been authorized. And, of course, members of both parties in Congress want to know when the party in power in the White House might be authorizing leaks for political gain.

But once those leaks are made to the media and published, why shouldn’t the public also be able to know when the information came from an authorized source or an unauthorized one?

Steve Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, noted in his letter to the NSA appealing its response (.pdf) that “It is well established that information, including classified information, that has been publicly disclosed on an authorized basis loses its exemption from disclosure under FOIA.”

He has a theory, however, about why the NSA might not want to disclose what it has disclosed. He says that even though the statute refers to information that the leaker expects will be made public, the NSA might not want the public to know which information was part of an authorized leak because some might have been provided off the record.

“I think it’s more likely that these disclosures were part of a negotiation with news organizations,” he told WIRED. In that case, “the disclosures in question were not actually published, rather they were part of a dialogue with a reporter perhaps in an effort to dissuade her or him from publication.”

The very notion of an authorized disclosure of classified information is, of course, a bit of an oxymoron, Aftergood notes in a blog post about the issue. “If something is classified, how can its disclosure be authorized (without declassification)?,” he writes. “And if something is disclosed by an official who is authorized to do so, how can it still be classified?”

Only Winston Smith knows.

New iRobot App Lets You Control a ‘Bot Army With an Android Tablet



You may be familiar with iRobot’s Roomba vacuums, but some the company’s other robots perform much harder (and more dangerous) tasks. There are around 6,000 iRobot’s defense and security robots deployed worldwide, and they’ve been customized for everything from reading radiation levels in Fukushima nuclear power plants to bomb-disposal duties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Before now, all those robots were controlled with an arcane, outmoded interface. Specifically, by remote operators using a joystick and a separate monitor based on a Linux platform, according to iRobot Technical Director of Defense and Security Orin Hoffman. Operating a mission-critical robot using an interface akin to a disembodied prize claw added stress to an already stressful task.

“That sort of interface required three to five days of training for each operator,” says Hoffman—a lot of time for a robot that’s really


Tim Moynihan / WIRED

only meant to be used once in a while. Compare that to the company’s new control scheme which takes about a minute to learn, says Hoffman, and is as simple as tapping on a tablet. Now, iRobot’s redesigned system can control all the robots in the company’s defense and security stable.

The new control hub is called the uPoint Multi-Robot Control system, and it’s an Android app. It supports hopping between individual robots, so if you have several in your setup and simply tab over to control a different machine. With it, controlling the robots is even easier than driving a remote-control car.

In the simplest setup, the app’s live-view screen shows you a feed from a robot’s front-mounted camera, and tapping on locations simply drives to that point. You can also drag your finger from the robot to different parts of the scene to lead it there. Doing so shows the drive path the machine will take, curves included. It makes it incredibly easy to navigate the robots around obstacles and corners.

I gave it a test drive using a pair of the company’s defense robots. The zippy, throwable iRobot 110 FirstLook—used for scouting dangerous and hard-to-reach areas—handled like the world’s greatest remote-control tank. It didn’t have any arms to control, but the tablet interface gave you the option of engaging its flippers (which come in handy if it lands on its side after you throw it).

The other robot had an arm: The grabber-equipped iRobot 510 PackBot, which is used for everything from bomb disposal to hazmat detection. It was perfect for showcasing the app’s other non-navigation features. Controlling that arm could be done in a few ways: You could use onscreen arrow controls or simply drag a 3-D model of the robot arm into the position you wanted.



The app also supports custom presets for arm positions if the area the robot works in is predictable. I was able to move the arm, open the grabber, position it correctly, descend upon a water bottle, and pick it up on the first try. According to Hoffman, those same controls would have taken four to five hours to learn and master with the old interface.

Touchscreen navigation makes these complex robots surprisingly simple to operate, but the new uPoint system also adds new capabilities to existing setups. According to iRobot, multiple people can watch live video streams or view sensor data from robots in several locations. Those functionalities can be used by team members on any platform, not just Android.

Bluetooth won’t cut it for these robots. The system requires the uPoint Robot Radio rig, which is able to avoid jamming by moving communications to different frequencies if it detects network interference. Another cool feature is that the robots act as a mesh network; each robot’s antenna works like a repeater to extend the range of the communication system. “With a clear line of sight, the radio network can extend for kilometers,” Hoffman says.

If you’ve already got an army of robots you can’t wait to get on the same page, you’ll have to wait until mid-2015. That’s when the uPoint system will be available, although iRobot says it was developed using real-world usage and feedback in the field.

2 Incredible Views of Super Typhoon Vongfang From Space

This beautiful image of Super Typhoon Vongfon over the Philippine Sea was taken by NASA’s Aqua satellite at 12:25 a.m. ET this morning. Below, another incredible view of the massive storm was taken by NASA astronaut Reid Weissman from the International Space Station around 7 a.m. ET this morning.

Vongfang is the most powerful tropical cyclone the planet has experienced this year. At its fiercest, the storm had sustained winds reaching 180 miles per hour on Tuesday. Vongfang has weakened during the past few days with sustained winds dropping to around 150 miles per hour this morning, and will likely have calmed further before it is expected to make Landfall in Japan on Monday night. It will still be a powerful storm, however, and Okinawa Island could take a direct hit.

Weissman tweeted the image with this comment: “I’ve seen many from here, but none like this.”

The Design Thinking Behind London’s $4B Subways

Descend underground into London’s subway system, and “Mind the Gap” is everywhere. It’s spelled out in tiles on the edge of the platform, it’s announced through the loudspeakers, and it’s probably splashed across a tourist’s t-shirt. But sometime around 2020, the actual gap—the dangerous space between the train and the platform that prompted the transit system in 1969 to start warning passengers—will begin to disappear.

Getting rid of the gap is one of several efficiencies that design firm PriestmanGoode will introduce in its redesign of the London Underground trains. Announced this week, the estimated $4 billion trains (part of a bigger $25 billion (£16 billion) upgrade) will replace trains on the Piccadilly, Central, Waterloo, and City and Bakerville lines, and are aimed at accommodating London’s booming commuter population for the next several decades. “London may well go up again twice in size, so you have to think about how these trains will evolve,” says Paul Priestman, director at PriestmanGoode. “We can’t change tunnels and platforms and stations, so how can we let people get on and off the trains more quickly?”

Clever Details

To delete the gap, PriestmanGoode drafted up trains that have shorter carriages and more of them. This gives each train extra sets of joints, so it can pivot and nestle itself closer to the platform. That leads to swifter train exits for passengers. Each train will also sport larger doors (and more of them as well) to help relieve the bottleneck of commuters getting on and off at every station. The effect is similar to the shiny AirTran system used at airports.

This wouldn’t have been possible when the original cars were built: newer access to stronger, lightweight materials like aluminum and finishes used on aircrafts means that the bigger doors won’t cause subway cars to grow weak and buckle. In an attempt to cut down on delays, they’re also proposing to amp up the communications system with flashing lights that warn commuters when doors open and close. Hopefully, the idea goes, this will stop desperate passengers from shoving doors back open.

Given all the exterior glitz, much remains the same inside the new tube cars. “Familiar is good, it’s moving forward and is still recognizable,” Priestman says. Besides the fact that the London Underground required the same number of seats, Priestman wanted to preserve a detail that’s unique to the Tube: “It’s interesting that it’s possible to have fabric, and they last,” he says of the upholstered seats, which would never fly in a city like New York. “It says a lot about the character of the design. It’s not like a jail, people have respect for it, the lighting is right. Even in Hong Kong you have steel seats on the metros.”

To keep to the thesis—make the trains as efficient as possible—PriestmanGoode adjusted the floor-to-ceiling handrails so they tilt slightly outward, away from people’s heads and upper bodies, freeing up valuable (and literal) breathing room. An even bigger change is how the cars connect: instead of disjointed carriages, these will be “through-cars” that allow for commuters to safely and easily disperse themselves, even after the train takes off.

All told, the London Underground estimates that PriestmanGoode’s trains will allow for anywhere between 25 and 60 percent more passengers, depending on the line. “We need every square inch for the passengers,” Priestman says. With these changes, “it’s almost like getting grit out of the system.”

How Facebook Made Your Mobile Messages Move at Super Speed


If you’ve noticed your Facebook mobile messages zipping around a little more quickly over the past few months, you can thank a little-known open-source project called Apache Thrift.

Facebook designed Thrift and has long used the tool to send data between computer servers inside the sprawling data centers that underpin its online empire. But in the summer, the company also began using it to connect user smartphones running the Facebook Messenger app to machines inside these data centers. “This is the first time we’ve sent it down to the phone,” says Jason Jenks, a Facebook engineer who worked on the project.

A few months back, Facebook began moving users to the Messenger app, a means of quickly trading text messages that operates separately from the company’s primary smartphone app. The change annoyed some users who wanted to be able to chat inside Facebook proper, but as we pointed out at the time, it was also a necessary move away from the company’s roots on desktop computers. It’s part of a larger “unbundling” trend, where online companies split their services into multiple apps in an effort to keep pace with the way people are using their phones.

But the new Facebook Messenger wasn’t simply a rewrite of the user experience. In a separate project that started last year, engineers redid the back-end software too. They ended up ditching a slow bandwidth-hogging architecture that was a hold-over from Facebook’s early days and replacing it with Iris, a new Thrift-based system that pushes trim little updates to your mobile phone, rather than forcing it to completely sync up with a distant Facebook server.

In technical terms, Facebook dumped a format called JavaScript Object Notation, or JSON, for Thrift. They also rejiggered things on the server side to speed up the way messages are queued up and then delivered to the Messenger client. The server changes were introduced around March, but Facebook started rolling out the improved client to users just this past summer.

When web browsers connect to Facebook, they essentially have to start from scratch, downloading everything and then displaying it in the browser window. But mobile apps don’t work like that. They can download data and then keep it on hand. The new design takes that idea into account and radically cuts down on the amount of traffic your phone now sends to Facebook’s servers. “The phone on its own should never talk to the server. It can just passively receive data,” Jenks says.

The overall results? According to Facebook, they’ve cut error messaging rates by 20 percent, and the new app uses 40 percent less data when it’s sending messages back and forth between users. With media files like photos, the results are less dramatic, but there’s still an improvement, Facebook says.

Jenks and his colleague Jeremy Fein say they knew they were onto something good a few months ago when they started testing Iris in the field. “If you have two phones using the same account,” Jenks says, “you could put them side by side and actually see the differences.”

Volvos Will Soon Plot ‘Escape Routes’ to Avoid Wrecks



Volvo wants to stop anyone from getting seriously injured or killed in its new cars by 2020, but advanced air bags and blind-spot warning systems can only go so far. It needs cars that can detect, predict, and avoid trouble, all on their own.

The automaker is openly moving toward self-driving cars, and now it’s announced a new feature that will help it get there. In a few years, its cars will be equipped with computers that have a 360-degree view of their surroundings, constantly scanning and evaluating what’s going on, and how to react if there’s trouble.

The “centralized Sensor Fusion framework” links onboard cameras, radar, lidar, GPS and more. It was developed by the Non-Hit Car and Truck Project, a four-year partnership between Volvo Cars, Volvo Trucks (they’re totally separate companies, the passenger car shop is owned by China’s Geely), and a few technology suppliers and universities. The goal was to reduce accident risks for passenger cars and commercial vehicles.

The system, which is still at least five years from hitting showrooms, can detect potential accidents before they occur, even if they’re outside the driver’s line of sight. If an accident is imminent, the car can determine an “escape route” and auto-brake and even steer the car to avoid the accident. It’s the high-tech equivalent of Sylvester Stallone in that horrible movie Escape Plan: Always looking for a way out of trouble.

The technology can identify different types of road users like pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles—an important ability because they all act differently, at varied speeds, in different parts of the road. Scenarios are anticipated up to five seconds in advance, with alerts sent to the driver. If he doesn’t respond in time, the car takes action on its own.

US Will Screen Air Passengers for Signs of Ebola. Will It Work?

Bobby Hidy (CC), Flickr

Bobby Hidy (CC), Flickr

If you’ve been following the Ebola story, you may have noticed that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a move yesterday to try to keep the disease off US soil. At the five US airports that receive most passengers from the three countries where Ebola is circulating, passengers will be singled out on the basis of their travel records; interviewed by means of a questionnaire; and have their temperature taken, to see if they have a fever.

It’s the first attempt to control Ebola at the US border, announced, probably coincidentally, on the same day as the death of the only Ebola patient to make it into the US thus far. Political pressure for the CDC to do something was growing, and some visible step was necessary. But in the public health world, I am hearing some doubt whether it will work. Here are some reasons why.

The first reason is that passengers’ routes may be murky. If you check airline routing sites (I like Skyscanner), you’ll see that there are no direct flights between the United States and those three countries. Passengers who can find flights — some are still running — connect through Brussels, Frankfurt, Paris, sometimes even Toronto. If the connection is immediate, off one plane and onto another, the itinerary is easy to trace. If it’s broken, by a stay in the connecting city of a day or more or a transfer to a non-affiliated airline, pinpointing the place of origin becomes more difficult. (This morning, the UK defense secretary rejected entry screening for just this reason.) At that point, public health officials may have to rely on identifying passengers based on the country which issued the traveler’s passport. That sorting method may both deliver more people to screening than needed, and miss people who could have been in the epidemic area but are not country nationals.

The second is that — as demonstrated in the sad case of Thomas Duncan, the Ebola patient who died Wednesday in Dallas — passengers can be infected, and on the way to developing symptoms, yet pass exit screening. Duncan was checked for fever at his origin airport in Liberia, and approved to fly. He developed Ebola symptoms, and became infectious, after he arrived in the US.

The third is that fever screening, at entry and exit, has been tried before in various outbreaks. (I experienced this screening myself once, flying into Guangzhou in 2009 in the midst of the H1N1 flu epidemic.) In assessments afterward, authorities have judged it not useful. As NPR pointed out yesterday, Australia checked 1.8 million incoming passengers during the SARS epidemic of 2003, identified almost 800 who had a fever, but did not find a single SARS case.

The country which did the most to attempt to control SARS was probably Singapore, which because of its political culture was able to impose mandatory fever screening not only at airports and land crossings, but in schools as well. But in a series of analyses afterward (including this and this), Singaporean researchers concluded that temperature screening had not been useful. The authors of those papers are surprisingly candid about what temperature screening was good for: as a reassuring sign that the government was taking action, whether or not that action worked. Consider this piece by the Deputy President and Provost of the National University of Singapore, written three years later:

Daily temperature screening of children in schools failed to pick up any SARS cases. Similarly, temperature screening at the airport and other points of entry did not yield any SARS cases. Nevertheless, the latter to measures probably helped to reassure the public that schools and the community were safe during the SARS outbreak.

Screening passengers for fever makes it look like someone is doing something. (It’s also a surprisingly active area of engineering research; check these post-SARS papers from 2005, 2006, 2009, 2013 and this year.) But as Duncan’s case demonstrated, the critical point for “border control” of Ebola may be not the airport, but the emergency room.

We already know — have known for years, in fact — that our emergency-care system is underfunded, overstressed, and asked to bear a larger burden for the health of the mass public than either hospital or outpatient care do. It is very disappointing that Duncan’s travel history was ignored in his first encounter with Texas Presbyterian — but as Texas health journalist Laura Beil pointed out on Twitter yesterday, not even slightly surprising given the churn of uninsured patients through the state’s big ERs. I noticed in my email this morning that the annual scientific assembly of the American College of Emergency Physicians takes place in two weeks in Chicago, and the organization has scheduled two expert sessions on Ebola and ERs. It is smart for them to do so; they may be the real front line.

Your Beer Attracts Fruit Flies on Purpose



The characteristic smell of beer is very easy to recognize, and never fails to attract beer lovers. But now scientists have found that it’s really meant to attract something else entirely: fruit flies.

It turns out those pesky, impossible-to-catch little flies aren’t just an annoyance for brewers. Yeast and fruit flies have evolved a mutually beneficial relationship that hinges on that smell, according to new research.

Yeast produce small quantities of volatile compounds that give beer a pungent smell that’s somewhat like ripening fruit. Scientists have already pinned down a particular gene that’s responsible for most of these aromas —if they knock out the gene, species like S. cerevisiae (brewer’s yeast) no longer release the fruity smells, and if they overactivate the gene, the yeast produce even more of the aroma.

While studying this years ago, bioengineer Kevin Verstrepen noticed that fruit flies in his lab swarmed around overactivated, flavorful yeast, and ignored non-fruity mutant yeast.

“I kind of knew already what the story would be then,” Verstrepen said.

In a new study published today in Cell Reports , Verstrepen and his team at University of Leuven and the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology in Belgium looked closer at how fruit flies react to the mutant beer yeast. They sent the flies into a cage and blew in air collected from different S. cerevisiae cultures. As expected, the fruit flies showed a strong preference for the smelliest yeast and didn’t pay any attention to the non-fruity yeast air. They also discovered that when the flies landed on fruity yeast, they unwittingly picked up the microbes on their legs and transported them to different sites around the cage.

Both species gain from this aromatic attraction, according to Verstrepen, and it’s a relationship that’s likely been around for millions of years. Fruit flies eat yeast like S. cerevisiae for protein, and the scents help lure them to the source. In exchange, yeast use fruit flies to hitch a ride and disperse to new habitats. “I think it’s the first description of this kind of smell-based collaboration,” Verstrepen said.

Because yeast can’t move around on their own, he says, they probably developed this strategy as a way to escape nutrient-poor environments and migrate to nutrient-rich places that fruit flies frequent, like ripe fruit or rotting trash.

“They definitely have good support for this mutualism,” said beer scientist Steve Wagner, who wasn’t involved in the study. “And I’d think this relationship pre-dates humans fermenting beverages, which only began about eight to ten thousand years ago.”

The aroma-based symbiosis may also apply to other microbes. “It’s possible that this type of relationship is actually really common,” said Verstrepen, “We think that some pathogenic microbes may even use this strategy with insects.”

Brewers ordinarily detest fruit flies because the insects can carry unwanted microbe species with them. For instance, fruit flies often hang out on rotten fruit where they collect acetic acid bacteria. They then transport those microbes to a batch of beer where the bacteria convert ethanol into vinegar, which ruins the alcohol.

But there’s a new trend among beer-makers called ‘wild fermentation’ that lets microbes spontaneously colonize the batch to achieve a more local flavor, and Verstrepen’s research helps explain how that happens. “You could catch a few flies in your vineyard, put it in your grape juice, and make a very unique wine,” said Verstrepen. He says he’s also considered using fruit flies, rather than machines, to select better yeast strains for brewers.

“But to be honest,” he said, “those are ideas I get after I’ve had a pint of beer on a Friday night.”

Wall Street Kingpin Carl Icahn Says Apple Is Massively Undervalued

Apple Pay lets you select from different credit cards saved to your phone.

Apple Pay lets you select from different credit cards saved to your phone. Alex Washburn / WIRED

Billionaire investor and Wall Street activist Carl Icahn believes Apple is massively undervalued. And so, in a letter posted on his website Thursday, Icahn urged the Cupertino-based company to do something about it by using its “excessive liquidity” to buy back shares of Apple stock.

Icahn has a long history of putting this kind of public pressure on companies. Just last week eBay spun off PayPal, after Icahn had goaded the company to do just that. And this is far from the first time he’s pressured Apple, in particular.

Today’s letter, which is addressed to Apple CEO Tim Cook, praises Cook’s leadership and hails Apple’s recent product launches as “a watershed moment.” And yet, according to Icahn, the company’s stock is worth more than twice the current share price, which was hovering around $101.6 per share Thursday morning. Icahn warned that this undervaluation wouldn’t last long, which makes it a particularly “opportunistic time” for Apple to use some of its $133 billion in cash reserves to repurchase shares. Such a move, Icahn says, would elevate the remaining shares to their rightful value.

Icahn has been pressing Apple to return money to shareholders for some time now, and in April, the company did approve $30 billion in share buybacks. Now, he’s urging Apple to “meaningfully accelerate and increase the magnitude of share repurchases.” This show of faith from one of Apple’s largest shareholders also sheds light on how the company’s investors seem to view Apple’s position in the ever-changing and increasingly crowded world of mobile technology. In recent years, some have argued that as these devices become better and better—and therefore, more and more similar—brands matter a lot less. But Icahn rejects that idea altogether, writing that, “the concept of commoditization is nothing more than a myth with regards to Apple.”

In the letter, Icahn attempts to affirm his faith in Apple’s long-term growth, by promising that if Apple heeds his advice, he won’t sell off any of his approximately 53 million shares. In making that promise, Icahn says he hopes to “preemptively diffuse any cynical criticism” that he is merely trying to pump the stock price, before selling his shares off. “We commit to this because we believe Apple remains dramatically undervalued. And we think you and the Board agree,” Icahn writes.

Still, the letter stops short of criticizing Apple or Cook directly. “Quite to the contrary,” Icahn writes, “we could not be more supportive of you and your team, and of the excellent work being done at Apple, a company that continues to change the world through technological innovation.

Icahn calls Cook the “ideal CEO for Apple,” and even goes so far as to say that for consumers, choosing between the new iPhone 6 and Android competitors like the Galaxy S5 and Note 4 is “analogous to the choice between a Volkswagen over a Mercedes at the same price.” Apple, in other words, is the Mercedes.

Quip Busts Barriers Between Documents and Spreadsheets

Bret Taylor, co-founder and chief executive officer of Quip and former chief technology officer of Facebook Inc.

Bret Taylor, co-founder and chief executive officer of Quip and the former chief technology officer of Facebook. David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images

When I email Bret Taylor about the new spreadsheet tool built into Quip—the online collaboration service he helped create after stepping down as Facebook’s chief technology officer—he’s happy to talk about it. But that’s not all he wants to do. He wants to show me how it works, face-to-face. Such a request isn’t uncommon when someone builds a new piece of software, but it’s particularly appropriate with Quip.

When Quip debuted last year, it was pegged as a “mobile-first word processor,” a 21st-century rethink of Microsoft Word that runs on phones and tablets as well as desktops and laptops. But that never quite did it justice. Yes, it plays nicely with mobile devices, and yes, it lets you edit documents. But ultimately, the point is that it turns document editing into a collaborative process, where multiple people can not only shape the same document over the internet and keep track of their many changes, but also discuss what they’re doing by way of a built-in chat tool.

Quip isn’t a word processor. It’s something different. At Taser International, top executives use it to build an agenda for their weekly meeting—among other things—and according to CEO Rick Smith, they end up finishing half the meeting over Quip, thanks to that chat tool. “People just comment back and forth, before the meetings,” he says. “So the meetings are cut in half—or more.”

By the same token, Quip’s new spreadsheet tool—released on Thursday—isn’t what it might seem. It’s not an online version of Microsoft Excel. It doesn’t work like, say, Google’s online spreadsheet service. It lets you integrate spreadsheets—or snippets of spreadsheets or simply data pulled from spreadsheets—into any other document you’re working on. “This isn’t a separate type of app. This isn’t a separate type of document. You can embed spreadsheets in other documents, with everything else,” Taylor says, as he demonstrates the tool at his startup’s offices in San Francisco, alongside company co-founder Kevin Gibbs. “Just as you can insert an image or a link, you can insert a spreadsheet.”

Yes, there are other ways of doing this kind of thing. But Quip does it in a uniquely fluid way. The idea is to break down the barriers between apps that often hamper the way we work. “As we were designing this, our vision wasn’t Microsoft Office for tablets,” Taylor explains. “We’re trying to reimagine the productivity suite around communication and collaboration as its primary function. The document—in this case, the spreadsheet—serves that primary goal.”


Quip is at the forefront of a sweeping effort to overturn the familiar paradigms that have driven the use of office software over the last thirty years. Thanks to Microsoft Word and Excel, so many of us think in terms of discrete digital files that get sent from machine to machine via email, but a new wave of companies—including Evernote, Box, and Dropbox as well as Quip and Google—are creating a new kind of collaboration. Digital files—based on a metaphor from the physical world—are giving way to internet services that let you collect and trade information in far more fluid ways. Even Microsoft is moving in this direction.

Some ask which of these many companies will ultimately win the day—dominate the business world as Microsoft once did. But this isn’t necessarily a zero-sum game. “Particularly because of software as service, the notion that there will be one winner might not make any sense at all,” says Steven Sinofsky, who once oversaw Microsoft’s Office suite and is now an advisor to Box and an admirer of Quip. “There’s just a lot of innovation going on here—a lot of people doing a lot of different things—and it’s exciting to watch. They’re rethinking this whole space.”

What’s undeniable is that we’re moving away from traditional office software. According to Taylor, Quip is now used by 10,000 businesses. Evernote claims 16,000. And though these tools are used alongside all sorts of other software tools, they’re very much changing the way businesses do things. According to Taser CEO Smith, for instance, Quip has significantly cut into the company’s use of older tools. “I’m spending a lot less time in Office and a lot more time in Quip,” he says. “It has probably cut by Word use by 90 percent.”

Yes, Quip can now cut into the use of Excel as well. But more than that, Taylor wants to bring the power of spreadsheets to a new kind of user, to make it easier for even the average worker to juggle numbers. “By making this another type of content you can put into this canvas,” he says, referring to Quip documents, “it makes spreadsheets more accessible.”

Both Smith and Marc Bodnick, who uses Quip inside the online startup Quora, say that although they don’t yet have access to the Quid spreadsheet tool, it’s the next logical step in the evolution of the service—and a needed thing. Smith says that inside Taser, many still email Word documents around when they need to include tables and other data, and he believes Quip can ultimately streamline this relatively cumbersome process.

That said, Quip’s tool still relies on some of the old paradigms that make spreadsheets difficult to use. In order to add spreadsheet data to documents, for instance, you have to lean on spreadsheet formulas—codes that crunch data lifted from various spreadsheet cells—and as Taylor acknowledges, this isn’t always ideal. But even as it stands, the tool is a step towards something new. As Sinofsky says, it’s part of an “ongoing redefinition of the productivity document.”

Can Apple Predict How Long a Transfer Takes?


Rhett Allain

When I was young and in the car for a long trip, I would ask my parents: “how much longer until we get there?” Now that I’m a parent, my kids don’t ask me this same question. Why? Because they have a reasonably good estimate of how long it will take to get there. They just look at the gps in the car and it says something like 2 hours and 23 minutes left. These computer-gps estimates are fairly accurate – usually within 10 minutes are so.

However, it seems like Apple has a problem. The computers apparently have no idea how long a data transfer will take. Here is the situation.

  • I am setting up a new Apple Macbook Pro for use in the lab.

  • What better way to get everything set up the way you like it than to just use Apple’s Migration Assistant. This app transfers all the data and settings from one computer to another. Simple, right?

  • The Migration Assistant is a kind and gentle assistant. It tells you approximately how long the transfer will take. This is helpful so you will know whether you should get a cup of coffee or go out drinking beer with your friends.

  • The Migration Assistant apparently has absolutely no idea how long this transfer will take so it just makes up some random looking numbers (maybe).

Really, it’s crazy. One minute I look at the computer and it says 11 hours left. Next time I check (maybe 10 minutes later) and it says 2 hours. Later it will say 8 hours. Here is some useful advice. If you don’t know something, just say “I don’t know”.

How Wrong Is the Apple Migration Assistant?

Let’s get right to it. I took a picture of the transfer screen every so often (about 10 minute intervals). This gives me three things: the time, the predicted remaining time, and the percent completion from the progress bar. Since I know when the transfer is complete (well, I approximately know when), I can determine how wrong Apple is at each measurement.

Surprisingly near the beginning, the Migration Assistant was only 10 minutes off in the projected remaining time. Of course, right after than the estimated time returned to being off by 10 hours so….maybe that was just a lucky guess.

So, I will say this now. Why even make a guess at the time remaining? Why not just say “23% complete” or something like that? If you don’t know how long it’s going to take, just don’t say anything. Oh, here’s one that’s even better. The Migration Assistant could come up with some witty sayings like:

  • It’s not over until it’s finished.

  • I bet it’s nice outside. Why don’t you go check?

  • A watched computer never boils and it never finishes the transfer.

  • Have you read a good book lately?

  • How about a game of chess? Or Global Thermonuclear Warfare?

Wouldn’t that be better?

Making My Own Prediction

Yes, I have looked at something like this before – but that never stops me from doing it again.

What if I calculate the average “percent complete” velocity for a given time? If I call the completion percent (from the progress bar) xc, then the average progress velocity would be:

La te xi t 1

Notice that I will calculate the average velocity based on the amount of progress over the whole time. Of course you could also calculate a more instantaneous velocity based on the progress in just the last time interval. I think the average would be a more realistic value.

Once I have an average velocity, I can calculate the estimated time remaining. I know what “x” position I am starting at, I know my average velocity and I know my final position (which should be 100% complete). I can now just use the following:

La te xi t 1

Just to give you an idea of how this works, here is a plot of the transfer progress as a function of time. I have also picked two of the data points to use to create an estimated completion time.

Of course the later the time, the better estimate for the average velocity. This is the difference between my estimation method and the actual remaining time left along with the Apple error.

Ok, this is crazy. How can my estimates be so much better than Apple’s? Yes, I have no idea what is actually taking place during this file transfer – but still. Why are Apple’s estimates so crazy? On top of that, my estimates are based on random time intervals that I went to check out the progress of the transfer. I assume the Migration Assistant could actually check on the progress at a more more reasonable time to give a better estimate.

I still think Apple should just leave off the time estimate. If you don’t know how long it’s going to take just don’t say anything.

Maybe I should be working for Apple since my guess is somewhat better.