Highly evolved bacteria found near hydrothermal vents: Iron-oxidizing bacteria found along Mid-Atlantic Ridge

Bacteria that live on iron were found for the first time at three well-known vent sites along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, one of the longest undersea mountain ranges in the world. Scientists report that these bacteria likely play an important role in deep-ocean iron cycling, and are dominant members of communities near and adjacent to sulfur-rich, black-smoker hydrothermal vents prevalent along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. These unique chemosynthetic communities live off the chemical components in the vent fluid, rather than sunlight used by their photosynthetic counterparts. This specialized group of iron-oxidizing bacteria, Zetaproteobacteria, appears to be restricted to environments where iron is plentiful, which suggests that these bacteria are highly evolved to utilize iron as an energy source.

Parts of the ocean floor along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge are covered in patches of what looks like yellowish jelly. Scientists recovered some of this yellowish material using a novel, syringe-based sampler deployed by the remotely operated vehicle, Jason. The precision sampler was developed jointly by scientists at Bigelow Laboratory and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and allows for unprecedented retrieval of delicate microbial mats from miles deep in the ocean. The collected material was found to be composed of millions of Zetaproteobacteria living off the iron. The results were reported in a PLoS ONE article published on March 11th.

"With each expedition to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge we learn more about its complex ecology," says Jarrod Scott, a postdoctoral researcher at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and lead author of the PLoS One article.

Researchers also conducted a meta-analysis, a review of published literature, to determine locations where Zetaproteobacteria have been observed. They found that Zetaproteobacteria were only detected in samples from iron-rich environments, which suggests these bacteria are highly evolved to utilize iron. Because iron is such a common element in the Earth's crust, it is possible these bacteria acquired these traits billions of years ago and have evolved to form their own unique lineage within the microbial world.

"Zetaproteobacteria do not appear to be common members of water column microbial communities. Yet, if I were to hang an iron bar in the ocean, wait a few days, they would appear there because of an available food source. Finding out where and how they know where food is and relocate to use it, is but one of the many mysteries that remain to be solved, " adds Scott.

The paper also suggested that iron from vent water near and adjacent to hydrothermal vents (diffuse flow systems) may be an important iron source into the deep ocean. This is important because iron can be an important limiting nutrient in the open ocean.

Scott was joined on the paper by John A. Breier of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, George W. Luther III of the University of Delaware, and his Bigelow Laboratory colleague, David Emerson.

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The above story is based on materials provided by Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

The True* Origin Story of the New MacBook

The True* Origin Story of the New MacBook

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Now You Can Play Cards Against Humanity on Your Phone

Heres the scenario: you’re at the park with a handful of friends. You’ve got your picnic blanket, snacks, and beer. Everyone’s in a great mood. “Hey, let’s play Cards Against Humanity !” someone says. It’s a great idea, except you can’t, because nobody lugged the game’s big black box of cards to the park.

Or maybe you did bring the set of cards—bigger, blacker box and all. But then a gust of wind kicks up and sweeps everything halfway across the field. That’s a bigger bummer than being shipped a literal box of crap.

Lucky for you, dear reader, these are now issues of the past. An ingenious fellow named Dawson Whitfield has built Cards Against Originality, a shameless ripoff of the mega-popular party game for horrible people packaged as a handy website/app for smartphones, tablets, and computers.

How shameless? Well, it’s not original at all. Cards Against Originality isn’t “inspired by” CAH or anything—it’s the actual cards. All the originals, plus all five expansions. The app “is intended to fill in when you forget your physical cards,” Whitfield says on the website. “This is a shameless copy of the real Cards Against Humanity . They deserve all the credit.”

The app is 100 percent free. To play, just hit the “new game” button and share a link with your friends—the app handles the rest.

The bigger question: Is it legal? Actually, yes! Cards Against Humanity is available under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0 license, which means anyone can use, remix, and share the game for free—so long as they don’t sell it without permission or steal the name. The game has always been available as a free PDF download for those who want to make their own cards—the game’s $25 price is purely paying for the official physical cards.

“We obviously think that the game is best played in real life with cards,” Cards Against Humanity creator Max Temkin told WIRED. “If we thought it was fun to play on an app, we would have made an app ourselves. That being said, it’s extremely cool to see projects like this come out of our Creative Commons license. It’s why we’ve always shared the game in a free and open way.”

In other words, party on, you horrible people.

Kleiner Lawyer: Ellen Pao Made a Co-Worker Cry

Ellen Pao exits San Francisco Superior Court, March 10, 2015. Ellen Pao exits San Francisco Superior Court, March 10, 2015. Josh Valcarcel/WIRED

Apparently Lynne Hermle isn’t the only one who can make people unhappy.

The attorney defending Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers against a gender discrimination suit brought by former partner Ellen Pao has a reputation for being so tough she reportedly once made a rival throw up. But in her questioning of the plaintiff on the witness stand today, Hermle convincingly established that Pao herself had once made a colleague cry.

Under questioning from Hermle, Pao confirmed that she once called former partner Trae Vassallo “untrustworthy” to her face, and that she’d heard Vassallo crying in her office over the comment.

Hermle also revealed emails Pao had apparently sent to her managers, with bullet points for each item on which Pao thought Vassallo could improve. In one email to her mentor, famed VC John Doerr, Pao wrote of Vassallo, “Let me know when you think I’ve overstepped, but I think I have to break some glass to make it happen, and I’m not afraid to do it.”

The attacks on Pao’s character are at the heart of Kleiner’s strategy to show that her lack of advancement at the firm was not due to gender discrimination but to Pao herself. Throughout the morning, Hermle tried to show that Pao’s managers had tried to help Pao move past a failed relationship with a coworker; that Pao herself had conflicts with many colleagues during her tenure; and that she was willfully misinterpreting events to prop up her lawsuit.

Pao Emails Point to Inconsistencies

Under questioning from her own lawyers this week, Pao portrayed Kleiner Perkins as a workplace where complaints fell upon deaf ears regardless of how many times they were raised, and where internal processes could not be depended upon to effect a much-needed change of culture within the company.

But Hermle produced an email trail in court today that suggested Pao herself failed to heed attempts to help her navigate past a tumultuous relationship with a co-worker.

In her lawsuit, Pao alleged that Kleiner managing partner Ray Lane pushed her into having lunch with a former colleague, Ajit Nazre. Pao had had an affair with Nazre, whom she claims retaliated against her when the relationship ended. In mid-2007, Pao previously testified, Lane asked her to have lunch with Nazre to help them move past the conflict. During that lunch, Pao said, Nazre accosted her, telling her he loved her and then following her to her car in the parking lot, which made Pao uncomfortable.

Let me know when you think I’ve overstepped, but I think I have to break some glass to make it happen, and I’m not afraid to do it. Ellen Pao

But Hermle presented an email that showed Pao herself had asked Nazre out to that infamous lunch. In other emails sent by Pao to Nazre from later in the day after the lunch, Pao used warm and friendly language. “You really are amazing at what you do and you shouldn’t let anyone take that away from you. You’re the only person in the office…who gives me consistent, productive feedback,” Pao wrote.

Pao also confirmed under questioning that she had to conveyed to Doerr that she could continue to have a professional and collegiate relationship with Nazre. “It’s a real honor to be thought of as your surrogate daughter,” Pao wrote in one email to Doerr, adding that she was sorry she didn’t live up to the distinction.

“Did you mean you didn’t live up to it by having a relationship with a coworker?” Hermle asked Pao. Pao said she did not recall.

Pao Dissatisfied

In her cross-exam, Hermle also sought to establish that Pao was often dissatisfied at work. In discussing one piece of evidence, Pao’s 2009 self-review, Pao previously testified that Doerr asked for a revision because he found it “too self-promotional.” But in an email Doerr sent to Pao, he wrote, “In several places I sense resentment in your self-review.”

Hermle also tried to show that Pao had rocky relationships with several of her coworkers, and often complained about them to managers. She suggested Pao had arguments with assistants over being late, and resented coworkers for personal time off if that meant she had to pick up the extra work.

In her suit, Pao alleged that a more senior colleague, Randy Komisar, had inappropriately given her what she described as an erotic book of poetry on Valentine’s Day, Leonard Cohen’s “Book of Longing.” Pao also alleged that Komisar invited her out to dinner when his wife was out of town.

Hermle called Pao’s interpretation of the incident into question, establishing that Komisar had not made any advances toward Pao before the incident, and never made any advances after it. Pao admitted that Komisar may not have read the book or known that it was sexual in nature, and the invitation to dinner could have been a benign, friendly gesture that she misinterpreted. Pao conceded that she did not recount the incident to an internal investigator Kleiner had hired to look into her allegations of gender bias at the firm in early 2012.

Pao was terminated from Kleiner Perkins in October 2012. Her suit alleges that her managers passed her over for promotion while letting her less-qualified male peers advance. She also claims when she raised her concerns about an offensive boy’s club culture at the firm, and that she was penalized for complaining. The trial, now into its twelfth day, has captivated Silicon Valley, where women are still in the distinct minority despite efforts to increase diversity.

Google CFO’s Touching Farewell Note Almost Redeems Google+

Patrick Pichette, Senior Vice President & Chief Financial Officer at Google. Patrick Pichette, Senior Vice President & Chief Financial Officer at Google. Google

Patrick Pichette started working at Google when its only social network was called Orkut and stayed long enough to see its most ambitious effort, Google+, wither. But on his way out, the soon-to-be-ex-chief financial officer finally figured out what Google+ was good for: the Google resignation letter.

Pichette’s farewell, posted yesterday, is getting attention not so much because of what it means for Google’s C-suite but for its revealing look into the psyche of a powerful tech exec.

Yes, the 52-year-old Pichette said he wanted to spend more time with his family. But the way he said it appears to have spoken to the frustrations of overworked professionals everywhere who, whatever the successes they’ve achieved, wonder when they finally get to feel like they succeeded.

“While I am not looking for sympathy, I want to share my thought process because so many people struggle to strike the right balance between work and personal life,” wrote Pichette, who started at Google nearly seven years ago.

In the post, Pichette describes an epiphany he had while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with his wife, Tamar. What if, his wife asked him, they just kept going? Not back to work, but out into the wider world.

“I would love to keep going,” Pichette said he told her, “but we have to go back. It’s not time yet, There is still so much to do at Google.

“But then she asked the killer question: So when is it going to be time? Our time? My time? The questions just hung there in the cold morning African air.”

In the end, Pichette says, he couldn’t ultimately come up with a better answer than now. The couple’s kids are grown. He has worked straight for “about 1500 weeks,” he says. And though he’s been married almost 25 years, work appears to have always come first.

“When our kids are asked by their friends about the success of the longevity of our marriage, they simply joke that Tamar and I have spent so little time together that ‘it’s really too early to tell’ if our marriage will in fact succeed.”

One nice thing about all that work is that, for Pichette at least, it’s apparently given him the financial security to leave the work world and seek personal fulfillment at a relatively young age—a luxury that many people will never know, no matter how hard they work. But Pichette appears to appreciate the opportunity he has, and in doing so has spoken a truth that is nearly taboo in corporate life, especially in the work-addicted culture of Silicon Valley: you are not just your job.

“In the end, life is wonderful, but nonetheless a series of trade offs, especially between business/professional endeavours and family/community,” Pichette writes. “And thankfully, I feel I’m at a point in my life where I no longer have to have to make such tough choices anymore.”

Graphene: A new tool for fighting cavities and gum disease?

Dental diseases, which are caused by the overgrowth of certain bacteria in the mouth, are among the most common health problems in the world. Now scientists have discovered that a material called graphene oxide is effective at eliminating these bacteria, some of which have developed antibiotic resistance. They report the findings in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Zisheng Tang and colleagues point out that dentists often prescribe traditional antibiotics to get rid of bacteria that cause tooth decay or gum disease. But with the rise in antibiotic resistance, new approaches are needed to address these problems, which can lead to tooth loss. Previous studies have demonstrated that graphene oxide -- carbon nanosheets studded with oxygen groups -- is a promising material in biomedical applications. It can inhibit the growth of some bacterial strains with minimal harm to mammalian cells. Tang's team wanted to see if the nanosheets would also stop the specific bacteria that cause dental diseases.

In the lab, the researchers tested the material against three different species of bacteria that are linked to tooth decay and gum disease. By destroying the bacterial cell walls and membranes, graphene oxide effectively slowed the growth of the pathogens. The researchers conclude that the nanosheets could have potential uses in dental care.

The authors acknowledge funding from the Shanghai Natural Science Foundation and the Hospital-Public Cross-Link Project of Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

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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.

Premiere: Check Out the Trailer for the New Space Doc Planetary

Premiere: Check Out the Trailer for the New Space Doc Planetary

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When the Internet of Things and Smart Machines Collide

Slowly at first and then suddenly — that’s the signature of exponential growth. Out at sea, a tsunami is an almost imperceptible swell. But when it rises up and hits you, unlike a normal wave it just keeps on coming.

We are all constantly bombarded by hype on technology trends but there are two genuine technology tsunamis heading our way right now, namely the Internet of Things and Smart Machines. Where these two forces collide with one another and with us, they will create an explosion of new opportunities in areas as diverse as entertainment, healthcare, disaster management and smart cities. If you thought the mobile revolution has had a huge impact on individuals and businesses, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

At a recent Ocado conference, we gave all the delegates a small electronic gizmo and asked them to put it behind one of their ears. We then demonstrated that we could locate them and remotely sense information such as their heart rate, temperature, stress and arousal levels. The demonstration was in fact a spoof, not because anything we did was impossible just that doing it for real would have been challenging in terms of the size of the device and its cost; but all that is changing.

There are already relatively low cost consumer EEG brain sensing devices available that can feedback your stress level and its only a matter of time before it becomes practical to do the sort of sentiment analysis we pretended to demonstrate. Indoor location is ironically harder to do than outdoor location, especially in environments such as our highly automated warehouses (we call them Customer Fulfilment Centres or CFCs), but new technologies are becoming available and their cost is falling.

The last ingredient was two way communication to a dense population of thousands of sensors. Imagine a restaurant where the lighting, music, decor, temperature, humidity and even smells are controlled by feedback from wearables attached to customers. Or a nightclub where the music and lighting are controlled by the movement and bio-feedback of the dancers. However what if you wanted to do the same for a large rock concert, or the real time control a herd of robots on an automated construction site or choreographing a swarm of nanobots cleaning up an oil spill.

Those are genuine Internet of Things challenges where conventional communication solutions won’t cope with the density of devices. It’s actually a problem Ocado has just had to solve for our next generation of CFCs and the solution we have created has far wider applications.

So what about the second tsunami, smart machines. For a system to be considered a genuine smart machine, I believe it needs to do something that previously you would have thought only a human could do and it must display a high level of autonomy. Products such as Google Now or Microsoft’s Cortana are smart(ish) machines that give us a sense of what truly smart machines will be able to do for us in areas such as proactive search, cognitive analytics, digital assistants and smart agents.

We already employ a lot of machine learning, optimization and data science techniques to make our end to end solution very smart but like the holes in the proverbial Swiss cheese, we can see so many opportunities where advances in areas such as deep learning will enable us to make it much much smarter. These are the sort of technologies we are building into our new Ocado Smart Platform, to put grocery retailers around the world online using our disruptive business model.

But the really exciting opportunities come where these two tsunamis collide. Then we will have smart machines talking to all these internet enabled devices and in so doing, becoming much more aware of the world around them. And smart machines will be talking to other smart machines, creating a lattice of smart machines and devices all talking to one another.

Let’s imagine you are driving to work and your smart car develops a fault. The smart engine management system communicates with the car manufacturer and additional diagnostics are downloaded and run to identify the cause of the fault. A repair is required and your car communicates with your garage to find a suitable service slot tomorrow. The necessary parts are ordered from the manufacturer. Your car is aware that its MOT and annual service are due soon, so it arranges for these in to happen at the same time.

Your car contacts your digital assistant at work. You have an early meeting this morning that needs to be cancelled as you will now be in late. The digital assistants of the other meeting attendees are also contacted to handle the consequences of the meeting cancellation. You had a one day business trip arranged for tomorrow and your digital assistant knows you were planning to drive to and from the airport. Since your car will be unavailable, it asks if you would like to go by train or taxi. Having opted for the train, your smart luggage is re-programmed accordingly.

You were due to collect the kids on your way back from the airport which now you won’t be able to do and so your partner’s digital assistant is contacted to arrange for them to do the school pickup instead. You have an Ocado order booked for tomorrow afternoon but since now neither of you will be around, your digital assistant asks if you would like it moved until later or converted to a click and collect delivery.

A temporary digital key is downloaded to your car to allow the garage to collect it from the roadside. Your home management system is alerted to allow the garage to open your gate and drop off your car in the afternoon. Your digital assistant knows you like to watch Suits tomorrow evening but since you will be back late, it records the episode for you. As nobody will be around to give the dog her second walk, your digital assistant asks if you would like the dog walker contacted. Finally it’s your partner’s birthday tomorrow, so your digital assistant reminds you to buy a present and asks if you would like dinner booked for the two of you; and so on. The initial car fault is like dropping a stone into a pond, with the implications rippling out and being handled by a lattice of smart machines and devices.

So who will build out this smart internet of things? The rise of mobile app stores and cloud services has democratized the art of the software start-up, making it genuinely possible to setup a multi-million (or even billion) dollar worldwide business from your bedroom. In a similar way, the explosion of low cost hardware platforms for embedding computing have democratized building the internet of things, enabling SMEs, start-ups and even makers to be players in this revolution. This will be an innovation battle fought with asymmetric warfare.

So what are the implications of all this technology coming our way? Well one of our holy grails is using technologies such as deep learning to process all the data we collect to predict what our customers want before even they have clue. And then we need to integrate with our customers’ increasingly smart worlds. Here smart packaging is really exciting. Imagine a portal in your home that warns you when products enter that might trigger your child’s peanut allergy. And forget fizzy drink bottles with your name on and think about smart labels that interact with you.

And smart packaging will interact with smart utensils. And smart packaging and smart utensils will interact with smart appliances and robotic cooking assistants. Devices that require supplies, such as your coffee machine or your dishwasher, will be going online and taking responsibility for replenishing themselves. And all of this is part of the fabric of the truly smart home. And smart homes, smart offices and smart communities will be part of smart cities and smart countries.

Many of us already inhabit a hyper-connected always-on world with mobiles next to our beds but wearables are going to take this to a whole new level and with it, data overwhelm. To the rescue will come another breed of smart assistants, the Smart Agents. These will help you manage your data privacy and when you finally get tired of splurging all your personal data over social media, these agents will negotiate what data you are prepared to share with whom. And since these data have value, they will also administer the auction to get the best deal for selling them.

So what are the next steps? Well if you are up for building this stuff, then there are some capabilities to go shopping for such as data science, natural language processing, machine learning and deep neural nets. This is a revolution where fortune is going to favor the early adopters and those willing to get their feet wet experimenting before these technologies mature.

Returning to the theme of tsunamis, the water is drawing back now, the tsunamis are on the horizon and the time to act, is now.

Paul Clarke is Director of Technology at the UK online grocery giant Ocado.

A Building Designed to Solve Haiti’s Cholera Problem

MASS Group designed a permanent treatment center in Port-au-Prince to battle the cholera epidemic. MASS Group designed a permanent treatment center in Port-au-Prince to battle the cholera epidemic. MASS Group

In 2010, a major earthquake sparked the worst cholera outbreak Haiti has seen in centuries. Five years and nearly 9,000 lost lives later, there’s an interesting question to be asked: Could better architecture have saved lives?

A newly opened cholera treatment center in Port-au-Prince might provide a tentative answer to that question. Despite cholera’s deadly grip on the country, the open-air clinic (designed by Boston architecture firm MASS Group in partnership with Haitian non-profit Gheskio) is the first permanent treatment center in Haiti dedicated to battling the highly contagious disease.

It’s a simple metal structure that looks more beach cabana than hospital. Unlike typical healthcare architecture in the United States, where hospitals are designed as hermetically sealed, one-stop ailment shops, MASS’ building is designed specifically to treat cholera in a tropical climate. The CTC smartly embraces Haiti’s warm temperatures and sea breezes rather than fighting its natural environment.

It’s framed by ocean-hued walls that that allow light and air to sweep through the space, adding cooling cross breezes and ample sunlight to help kill bacteria. Aesthetically speaking, it’s an attractive building, but its looks are by far its least important feature. Hidden below the structure is a mini waste-water management system, which will process up to 250,000 gallons of waste over the next year.

The perforated walls allow breezes to flow through the center while sunlight helps kill bacteria. The perforated walls allow breezes to flow through the center while sunlight helps kill bacteria. MASS Group

Treating Waste Is Treating Patients

Haiti’s biggest foe when it comes to preventing the spread of cholera has always been a lack of sanitation infrastructure. With no city-wide waste management system, the treatment centers in Port-au-Prince rely on outside contractors to remove and transport waste. Spillage is a risk, as is the possibility that the contracted companies will still mismanage the waste. Instead of sewers, the city has traditionally relied on bayakous, workers who clean latrines in the middle of the night, and who often stealthily (and illegally) ditch waste. But living in Haiti’s slums means even a latrine is a luxury. This meant more often than not, waste water would end up back in the city’s water table, effectively creating a never-ending cycle of infection.

MASS’ design relies on a five-chamber anaerobic biodigester to turn solid waste into clean water. As waste makes its way through the five vertical chambers, anaerobic bacteria helps to break it down into liquid form. Whereas many anaerobic biodigesters stop at three chambers, the CTC’s employs another two, with the final chamber adding a dose of chlorine to kill 99.9 percent of the bacteria before the water is routed to a garden adjacent to the building.

Despite being hidden, the treatment system is the centerpiece of the CTC. It’s also supported by a handful of equally clever design details that ensure the center stays as clean as possible. For instance, the structure’s roof collects rainwater (particularly helpful in Haiti’s rainy season), which is funneled down into a tank underneath the building to be used for cleaning. Because the center will be washed with a solution of bleach and water multiple times a day, the epoxy floor is subtly sloped, which directs the dirty water into the waste processing tank below. The deep sinks are also built directly into the building’s foundation to prevent unwanted spillage.

The 36,000 apertures in the facade are arranged to promote both privacy and airflow (aided also by several 12-foot in diameter fans positioned through the center). The perforated walls, originally designed in software, were hand punched by local Port-au-Prince metal workers before being painted shades of sky blue.

A local artisan building the facade. A local artisan building the facade. MASS Group

The Architecture of Health

So why invest so much into a single-use center? Architecture and health are inextricably linked, says Dr. Bill Pape, head of Gheskio. “How do you think that we got rid of tuberculosis?” asks Pape, while noting that while not entirely eradicated, the disease is under control. “It’s not the drugs, it’s the fact that you have better ways of living.” It’s no surprise that quality of life plays a major role in how healthy we are, and architecture is certainly part of that. On a basic level, the impact of our built environment is direct: If you live in a closed-off, unventilated space, the potential for you to become sick is greater. But when you begin thinking about architecture as a more systemic solution to chronic diseases, its potential becomes much more powerful.

The cholera epidemic in Haiti and ebola in West Africa are enabled by what Murphy calls “the plague of shortermism.” When an outbreak occurs, the reaction is to slap on a band-aide as quickly as possible. In Haiti, this came in the form of temporary treatment centers. Patients rested in tents lined with cots. The structures did little to keep already-dehydrated patients cool and were easily demolished in Haiti’s tempestuous weather. “When there was a hurricane, I prayed that the tents wouldn’t be blown away,” says Pape.

When an epidemic is raging, there’s little time to consider the failings of the underlying infrastructure—you do what you can as fast as you can. It was a necessary stop-gap effort, and it did work to stem the spread of cholera. Now that the disease is under control, Pape and Murphy hope to begin addressing bigger issues like sanitation infrastructure and cholera treatment training for medical professionals.

Still in many ways, this first clinic is a proof of concept, an experiment almost, to test best practices for cholera treatment. If it goes well, Pape and Murphy envision similar designs being rolled out to other areas of Haiti. “One building isn’t going to solve the cholera problem, but as a piece of architecture we must ask, how does it represent bigger, systemic challenges?” says Murphy. “How can it work as a beacon for catalytic change?”

WIRED Binge-Watching Guide: Portlandia

Portlandia isn’t just about Portland (Or “Millennials.” Or “hipsters.”) It’s about paradoxes. From the inefficiencies of recycling to the side effects of vegan diets, it’s a show about how entitled people blindly adopt trends with only the best intentions, then fall short to an absurd degree. It’s a satire, but it’s not that far off from reality.

Co-creators Fred Armisen (SNL) and Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney) perform various recurring roles in the sketch comedy series with similar accuracy; whether feminist bookstore owners or goth couples, they nail almost every persona from demeanor to dialogue.

And the attention to detail doesn’t stop with the cast: In the director’s cut of “Brunch Village” at the end of Season 2, director Jonathan Krisel sets out to find the perfect “marionberries” to use as props, delaying filming and stressing out his crew. If the show’s about anything, it’s folks who get bogged down in details, and can’t see the forest for the marionberries. (Cameos by SNL players, Pitchfork-endorsed musicians, and even Roseanne Barr mean that even if this show doesn’t have something for everyone, it probably has someone.)

If you’ve caught some episodes of Season 5 on IFC this winter, don’t wait for Seasons 6 and 7. Toni and Candace’s origin story is funnier after you’ve known them through four seasons. And some of the best episodes are from Seasons 2 and 3. So put a bird sticker on all of your possessions, hang up some bad art on your good walls, and make sure your Mind-Fi connection is working.

bookstore2 IFC


Number of Seasons: 5 (47 episodes)

Time Requirements: Forty-seven 22-minute episodes total to about 17 hours of TV. Season 5 isn’t widely available for streaming yet, so that knocks it down to 37 (13.5 hours). You could do that in a day. But to be safe, give it two weeks at three or four episodes per day.

Where to Get Your Fix: Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, IFC.com (for Season 5 with some cable subscriptions).

Best Character to Follow:

Peter and Nance. Since Carrie and Fred come as a packaged duo in this show, so do their characters. Peter and Nance are nicey-nice, aging yuppies bound together almost as much by their shared timidity as by love. (Fellow insufferable couples will strongly relate.) The show’s writers seem to enjoy plopping the anxious, often insufferable couple into just about any situation, and the ensuing variation makes the recurrence feel less like re-runs than reunions. (In contrast, Dave and Kath’s act of monopolizing public spaces and wearing matching PJs gets old fast.)

Seasons/Episodes You Can Skip:

Because it’s a sketch series, it’s hard to get lost; even if a given episodes alludes to a previous one, it’s rarely disorienting. That said, it’s hard to find an episode that doesn’t have at least one or two segments to make the rest of the 22 minutes worth sitting through.

Season 2: Episode 7, “Motorcycle”

The last third is worth watching, but that’s about it. Claire hires an elderly woman (the sassy Ellen Bloodworth) to babysit Doug while she’s out. Later, Peter has some trouble remembering 9/11. (Said no one ever.)

Season 3: Episode 4, “Nina’s Birthday”

Armisen as Nina is great, especially when yelling “cacao!” (see: “Episodes You Can’t Skip”), but most of this episode isn’t. It’s no wonder Lance doesn’t show up to the party. Skip to watch 5:50-7:10 and 9:10-11:25 for the birthday loan officer, played by master of deadpan Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley). Or just watch it here.

Season 3: Episode 11, “Blackout”

Bill Hader makes a Birdman appearance, but this season was shot in 2012, so it has nothing to do with the Michael Keaton film. Silliness + errings on the side of plot development rather than satire = skippable. I’d rather watch a never-ending string the show’s 30-second one-offs than go on another Walkabout.

Seasons/Episodes You Can’t Skip:

The show’s opening montage is a treat every time, from the Instagram-esque filtered footage of Portland to the perfect accompaniment by the Washed Out song “Feel It All Around.” Time is precious, we know, but treat yourself to the opening sequence every time.

Season 1: Episode 2, “A Song for Portland”

This is the first time we meet Nina and Lance, and Armisen is hilariously effective in drag as a whiny girlfriend. (Brownstein with a mustache and creepy down-pitched voice? Not so much.) Aubrey Plaza makes a cameo at Women and Women First, the feminist bookstore, and Armisen sports fake ear gauges. Also the episode with the show’s flagship “put a bird on it!” sketch.

lance IFC

Season 2: Episode 3, “Cool Wedding”

Weddings are the hardest thing to innovate, Spyke and Iris find upon planning theirs. Everything’s been done before (but not death and divorce!). One of those colorful parachutes from gym class is involved. Iris (Brownstein) yells at her friend Shannon – don’t miss it. Jack McBrayer forgets his reusable bag. A snobbish postal worker delivering Netflix DVDs escapes his role when one homeowner on his route watches a certain “film.”

Season 2: Episode 6, “Cat Nap”

“Two Girls Two Shirts” captures the short-sighted entrepreneurial spirit of Portlandians. Later: classic Kristin Wiig being Kristen Wiig as “Gathy,” a groupie for a new band featuring Kevin the Siamese cat. Keep your ears peeled for a jab at Sigur Ros. (Skip bike movers and “she’s making jewelry now,” if you’re fast-tracking your binge.)

Season 2: Episode 8, “Feminist Book Store 10th Anniversary”

One of the funniest sketches leads this episode: Twins Marcus and Madeline Harris educating Portland residents about “all the new recycling bins!” No discarded item is left out from the new color-coded bin system. Also, Peter and Nance appear in one of their silliest skits, which pretty much just feels like Armisen and Brownstein trolling us. “Byaaaaay!”

Season 3: Episode 3, “Missionaries”

Perhaps the best single-episode distillation of the series. You get a mockery of organic products (or two) ending abruptly amid awkwardness (the best kind of ending), along with Armisen making noises. A house meeting of Seattle roommates takes place, complete with a Kurt Cobain shrine and a “queen” (two fixtures of every community house). Things are rounded out by a white people’s dinner party and a nod to Portland’s dog population.

Season 3: Episode 5, “Squiggleman”

Well-intentioned hipster parents produce music for their preschoolers when the school library’s offerings aren’t good enough. The material they come up hits the sweet spot between ridiculous and realistic—and with a little help from Squiggleman, kid critics approve. The Portland Milk Advisory Board is getting old (and it’s not going anywhere), but luckily the clip is short. There’s also a guy named Wrick, which is about as plausible as having a smooth visit to the DMV.

Season 4: Episode 1, “Sharing Finances”

In an era where opening a joint checking account is akin to putting a ring on it, Claire and less-financially viable Doug agree to make the leap—but SNL‘s Vanessa Bayer is skeptical. One sketch is especially grating until you meet “Kermit the Bag.” Also, ghosts that cite left-leaning publications haunt a Portland home.

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Why You Should Binge:

The show is hard to get into. The characters are annoying (that’s intentional, by the way). At first, it’s hard to keep Skype and Iris, Candace and Toni, Peter and Nance, Michelle and Brendan, Dave and Kath, Alicia and Royce (that’s her boss), Doug and Claire, Lance and Nina, and plain old Fred and Carrie straight. But it quickly becomes easier to pick up different characters’ nuances. You’ll start to notice throughlines; as the show goes on, plot matters more. Some of the best episodes are early in the show, and they’re the exposition that will prime you to plow through the rest. You’ll pick up little gems, like how this song pops up in all the right moments.

Also, the more Portlandia you watch, the more difficult it will become to distinguish what’s the show and what’s real. Which thankfully gives you the perspective to make real-life absurdities (e.g. organic foods market cashiers with leather jackets and beaded necklaces) that much more entertaining.

Best Scene:

Fred and Carrie (as Doug and Claire) get hooked on Battlestar Galactica (maybe they could have used our binge guide). After finishing every DVD, they’re still not satisfied, and in the characters’ usual misguided manner, they overreact, then brainstorm a way to take matters into their own hands to fulfill their desires.

The Takeaway:

“Portland is a city where young people go to retire,” Fred Armisen (as “Jason from LA”) explains. The adults who live there are sheltered and gullible. They skateboard instead of playing golf. They’re also self-righteous and independent. And if they’re not, they have babysitters—or parents.

If You Liked Portlandia You’ll Love:

If sketch comedy is your thing, try Little Britain. (Matt Lucas makes cameos in a couple of Portlandia episodes.) Key and Peele is another good bet. For eccentric characters in bite-size doses, The Office, Parks and Recreation, or 30 Rock all do the trick.

How Two Different Gene Sequencers Comb Through DNA

How Two Different Gene Sequencers Comb Through DNA

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Media and Education Merge in Latest Cousteau Venture

Philippe Cousteau explores the Great Barrier Reef during a recent expedition. (Image: EarthEcho)

The modern environmental movement means many things to many people, but to Philippe Cousteau, it still doesn’t mean enough.

As the heir to one of the most recognizable family names in oceanography and exploration, Cousteau has embraced environmental causes as his life’s mission, and he sees plenty of room for improvement. “There’s no real strategy in the environmental movement right now,” he says, “and there’s a lot of duplication of effort.” Cousteau acknowledges that organizations like the Sierra Club or the Nature Conservancy do important work, but there is a critical missing piece that threatens the long term viability of the movement: a youth strategy, with education and activism at its core. “In many ways these conservation organizations were underinvesting in building the constituency,” he reflects, “but innovative leadership always comes from the younger generation.”

To grow the cause, Cousteau founded EarthEcho, an environmental education organization that develops curricula and career guides for schools across the country. Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the group’s educational materials is the videos that take students on virtual field trips. One module, “Beyond the Dead Zone” examined the threat posed by agricultural runoff to the Everglades and nearby coral reefs. Lessons related to acid-base chemistry, natural resources, climate change, plant physiology, and ecosystem dynamics were built into the agenda, along with a service learning component that tries to move seamlessly from awareness to action. Because curricular requirements are built into the videos, schools under pressure to reach testing benchmarks can justify their inclusion in the classroom; with adventurous themes and documentary-level production values, the clips are a welcome change of pace. Other projects like the World Water Monitoring Challenge synthesize past lessons and crowdsource data collection, giving students ownership of the scientific process and a tangible link with environmental causes.

Ultimately, Cousteau hopes that the video field trips offer the carrot of aspirational interest in exploring new places, as well as the stick of threatened ecosystems – all in the service of inspiring action. But EarthEcho has not always been so steadfast in its mission or so confident in its underlying purpose. “It’s been a decade long learning curve,” explains Cousteau, after recounting years of false starts and wrong turns. “I initially thought that awareness was enough, but then I started to realize that we should learn about behavior, things like behavioral psychology.”

As he delved into the issue, he soon realized that the missing link was hiding in plain sight: media-driven storytelling – dominantly used for entertainment or news – could be re-purposed as a powerful educational tool. It was a natural direction and a key strategic advantage for Cousteau: few people are as well positioned within the spheres of education, conservation, and entertainment. With a range of TV hosting gigs on the resume and several more on the docket, the potential for productive cross-fertilization was clear: a more integrated educational component of his documentaries would leverage the resources of the entertainment industry and the educational storytelling tools Cousteau and his team have optimized.

“The barriers between media and the classroom are just tumbling down,” Cousteau explains, and a more explicit link between the two realms is an obvious next step. He chastises the Cosmos team, for example, in failing to see this: “The most successful science-based program in years,” he says, “and they didn’t get anything into the classroom? That’s a missed opportunity.”

Cousteau doesn’t plan on making the same omission. With his show Xploration Awesome Planet, “education is part of the planning and production process rather than a post-hoc thing,” he says. Curricula will be developed for each episode, along with teacher guides and a range of supplementary resources that allow each classroom to customize their involvement based on specific needs.

Through such endeavors, Cousteau hopes to remove the “eat your vegetables” stigma from educational material and inspire action in the process. “Entertainment, education, and action – these don’t need to be separate spheres,” he explains. “We can break down these barriers.”

This Crazy Honda Is Everything We Love About IndyCar Racing

Honda Aero Kit A rendering of Honda's 2015 Indy car "aero kit". The crazy looking car is meant to maximize downforce and take advantage of looser regulations in car design. Honda

Last month, Ferrari released a Formula One concept car covered in crazy aerodynamic adornments. More than a PR-inspired project designed to generate some buzz for the upcoming season, it appeared to be a thinly disguised critique of the sport’s mega-strict regulations. Those rules, set by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, cap aerodynamic downforce (which keeps cars planted on the asphalt at high speeds) and limit engine design. They require hybrid powertrains and careful use of fuel. What it all means is that the world’s premiere racing series isn’t solely focused on going as fast as possible, and, for better or worse (better, as far as safety goes), winning depends on a lot of things beside flat out speed.

That’s why this absurd-looking new aero kit from Honda, created for IndyCar, is so refreshing. Rule changes for the 2015 season of the top American open-wheel racing series, which starts March 29, have allowed teams to push the boundaries and try wackier designs—something we’d love to see in F1. The kit is made for the six IndyCar teams driving Honda cars. It’s made up of 200 pieces those teams can pick and choose depending on the race.

From the front, the fully kitted out car looks like something you’d use in to julienne carrots, if you hated carrots. There’s reason behind the madness: It’s all about shaping air to your advantage. Those pieces—sculpted based on wind tunnel testing—maximize the effect of the air that passes over the front wing, pressing down on the car’s nose to help it brake and steer. They channel air to other parts of the car to maximize engine cooling and increase downforce at the back of the car, to help with acceleration.

Honda Aero Kit The car was developed using complicated fluid dynamics formulas and then tested in a wind tunnel to confirm anticipated performance. Honda

This extensive kit allows Honda’s racing customers to mix and match aerodynamic pieces depending on driving style, circuits, and weather conditions. On higher speed courses, downforce is less desirable, because it’s not worth increased drag that hurts the car on long straightaways. On more technical courses with lots of turns, the value of staying stuck on the ground is worth losing a bit of top speed.

Mostly, we’re glad that IndyCar is encouraging the kind of eye-catching, wonder-inducing designs, and not because they’re really ugly like last year’s Formula One cars were. That spirit of invention is a big part of what can make motorsports so exhilarating.

This year’s 16-race season starts March 29 in St. Petersburg, Florida.

You Can Soon Bid on These 10 Badass Antique Motorcycles

1 / 10

In 1913, the Minneapolis Motorcycle Company informed customers, “as to gracefulness of outline and sturdiness of build,” its bikes were “all the most exacting buying could demand.” This Model S-2 De Luxe Twin has a two-speed gearbox and comes with original paint. Estimated price: $150,000 to $170,000. Courtesy Mecum Auctions

2 / 10

It wouldn’t be a real motorcycle collection if it didn’t somehow involve Steve McQueen. Bullitt owned this 1915 Cyclone, equipped with a V-twin that produced 45 horsepower, and no brakes. Estimated price: $650,000 to $750,000. Courtesy Mecum Auctions

3 / 10

This Indian was the first motorcycle off the line in 1942, the last year the motorcycle company produced four-cylinder bikes. It’s been restored, and is sold with the title. Estimated price: $85,000 to $110,000. Courtesy Mecum Auctions

4 / 10

Before the “Merkel” name was associated with Europe’s most powerful woman, it was a Milwaukee-based motorcycle maker with visible influence on its neighbor, Harley-Davidson. This 1911 Flying Merkel was made for racing and is in remarkable condition. Estimated price: $350,000 to $400,000. Courtesy Mecum Auctions

5 / 10

By the late 1920s, the increasing popularity of dirt racing and hill climbs called for longer frames, chains on the rear wheels, and more horsepower. This 1929 Excelsior OHV Super X obliged. Estimated price: $105,000 to $120,000. Courtesy Mecum Auctions

6 / 10

One of the newest bikes counted among Cole’s “main attractions,” this 1942 “big tank” Crocker was restored in the early 1980s. It’s one of the last bikes Al Crocker ever built; the war interrupted his production and he didn’t restart in peacetime. Estimated price: $300,000 to $350,000. Courtesy Mecum Auctions


7 / 10

The 1917 Henderson Model G was terrifically modern for its time: It came with a three-speed gearbox, kickstarted, clutch, and rear drum brake. Another bike once owned by Steve McQueen, this Model G is one of just four known examples with the optional generator that powered the front and rear lamps and the horn. Estimated price: $135,000 to $175,000. Courtesy Mecum Auctions

8 / 10

In 1912, the Minneapolis-based Theim Manufacture Co. sold this Model G two-speed, which produced some four horsepower from a 400cc engine, for $200. Mecum says it’s “remarkably complete,” including a backrest and Klaxon horn, but a new front wheel would be a good idea for anyone who wants to ride. Estimated price: $65,000 to $75,000. Courtesy Mecum Auctions

9 / 10

This 1907 “Strap Tank” (for the steel bands holding the fuel and oil tanks to the frame) was the 94th bike Harley-Davidson even built. Mecum calls it “the best unrestored “strap tank” Harley in the world.” Estimated price: $800,000 to $1,000,000. Courtesy Mecum Auctions

10 / 10

This pile of rust is a 1915 Harley-Davidson Twin Model 11, which offered a 37 percent power bump over the 1914 version, thanks partly to larger inlet valves. This bike is in original condition, with a license plate from 1925 and untouched “Renault Grey” paint. Estimated price: $110,000 to $130,000. Courtesy Mecum Auctions