Mining the secrets of carbohydrates for new leads on antibiotics

Laura Kiessling, Ph.D., thrives on steep learning curves. So when she started her research lab, she took a risk and plunged into the wide-open field of carbohydrates, which despite their ubiquity and notoriety for expanding waistlines, have many secrets. Now, her team has stumbled on something about these molecules that opens up new possibilities for fighting bacteria that are resistant to known antibiotics.

She will present her latest discovery during "The Fred Kavli Innovations in Chemistry Lecture" at the 249th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Carbohydrates' infamous role in weight gain underrepresents to an enormous degree what this group of molecules is responsible for, explains Kiessling, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry and the director of the Keck Center for Chemical Genomics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

"Every cell on the planet wears a coat of carbohydrates -- we all need them," she says. "And those carbohydrates play a lot of roles. For example, blood type is determined by the carbohydrates on our red blood cell surfaces. They're also used in vaccines and are important for development."

A major challenge to understanding these molecules is that so far, there is no simple code to help scientists figure out what carbohydrates are produced by which cells or why. As scientists are finding out, this information could be particularly important when it comes to fighting bacteria. And it's on this front where Kiessling saw tremendous opportunity.

"My lab is interested in the differences between the carbohydrates that humans and microbes put on their surfaces," she says. "Most of the antibiotics we have don't exploit those differences."

If scientists could specifically target bacterial carbohydrates, it would open up a new field in antibiotic research. Kiessling's lab has potentially hit upon such a way.

"It was really like a detective story with twists and turns," she says.

Her team had been searching for a way to disrupt bacteria's essential carbohydrate-making machinery. Instead they discovered that the human protein they were studying possesses a powerful trait -- the ability to recognize carbohydrates unique to microbial cells. It was an unexpected but significant finding.

"A human protein that is selective for microbes could be harnessed to deliver an antibiotic or toxin to kill harmful bacteria without hurting human cells," Kiessling explains. "It could also be used to detect and diagnose bacterial infections.

"The exciting part is that this could be a part of human immunity that we're just beginning to reveal," she says. "And maybe we have had within us all along a key to combatting microbial infections that we haven't yet mined."

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

The Real Star of Bloodline Isn’t Who You Thought It Would Be

Kyle Chandler (as John Rayburn) and Ben Mendelsohn (as Danny Rayburn) in the Netflix Original Series Bloodline. Kyle Chandler (as John Rayburn) and Ben Mendelsohn (as Danny Rayburn) in the Netflix Original Series Bloodline. Saeed Adyani/Netflix

As last week’s premiere of Netflix’s Bloodline drew near, most of the media attention focused on Kyle Chandler—including a rollicking ride-along profile in The Hollywood Reporter. And that makes sense; it’s his triumphant return to television after his Emmy-winning turn as Coach Eric Taylor on Friday Night Lights. But while Chandler’s the one delivering the voiceovers on Netflix’s highly-touted family drama, he’s not really the lead on Bloodline. That honor stealthily goes to Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn, who takes yet another small step toward the kind of big-time recognition his recent performances deserve.

Set in the Florida Keys, Bloodline centers on the Rayburn family: parents Robert (Sam Shepard) and Sally (Sissy Spacek) run a successful and beloved inn; John (Chandler) is a county sheriff; Meg (Linda Cardellini) works as an attorney; Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) works at a local harbor and has his father’s anger issues. The pilot begins as eldest son and black sheep Danny (Mendelsohn) returns home. He’s the character who catalyzes all the action in one way or another, from his father’s trauma over a past tragic accident to his brothers’ guilt over lying after witnessing a violent incident as kids. Everything from the various Rayburn family history threads depend on Danny sticking around, waiting to discover one key detail he can use to quench his bitterness and twist one his siblings into knots. He’s the dangerously calm eye at the center of a familial hurricane, causing secrets to shake loose and wounds of the past to sting once more. It’s the most important part in the story, which is exactly why the show’s creators (Daniel Zelman and Damages creators Todd and Glenn Kessler) cast Mendelsohn as soon as they’d landed Chandler.

Ben Mendelsohn as Danny Rayburn in Bloodline. Ben Mendelsohn as Danny Rayburn in Bloodline. Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Mendelsohn has been on the fringes of some notable films in the past five years, but he’s been a high-profile actor for decades. He was a young heartthrob in Australian films and television shows dating back in the 1980s, when he won an Australian Oscar (now known as the AACTAs) for Best Supporting Actor as the roguish rugby player who couldn’t stay out of trouble in The Year My Voice Broke ( He came up alongside other Aussie actors like Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, and Noah Taylor—but whereas the other three jumped to the US and the UK to find international fame, Mendelsohn mostly remained in Australia, only occasionally popping up in bigger international films like The New World, Knowing, and Baz Luhrmann’s Australia.

But when Jackie Weaver scored a Best Supporting Actress Academdy Award nomination for Australian drama Animal Kingdom in 2010—a movie in which Mendelsohn appeared alongside her—Hollywood paid attention. That film won Mendelsohn another AACTA, but it also led to more roles in America. He played a drug-addled crook in Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, the grimy mentor and bank robbing partner to Ryan Gosling’s motorcycle stuntman in The Place Beyond The Pines, Jessa’s father on HBO’s Girls, and most visibly in The Dark Knight Returns as the sniveling Wayne Enterprises board member who Bane.

Earlier this year, Mendelsohn showed up in two Sundance films this year that got picked up for distribution: frontier period piece Slow West, and Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s gambling film Mississippi Grind. “I’m embarrassed to admit it, but the first time I had ever seen [him] was in The Place Beyond the Pines,” says Fleck. “But he has such a wonderful presence that we just kind of fell in love with him on that first meeting. We just looked at each other, nodded, and offered him the part on the spot without even consulting with our producing team.”

Two years ago in a Grantland piece around the release of The Place Beyond The Pines, Sean Fennessey posited that Mendelsohn “seems one starring role—might we suggest a downtrodden garbageman-turned-bankrobber?—away from transitioning out of That Guy.” Danny Rayburn may not be a sanitation worker, but it’s a role that Mendelsohn was born to play—and might just the casting bridge he needed.

Tiny bio-robot is a germ suited-up with graphene quantum dots

As nanotechnology makes possible a world of machines too tiny to see, researchers are finding ways to combine living organisms with nonliving machinery to solve a variety of problems.

Like other first-generation bio-robots, the new nanobot engineered at the University of Illinois at Chicago is a far cry from Robocop. It's a robotic germ.

UIC researchers created an electromechanical device -- a humidity sensor -- on a bacterial spore. They call it NERD, for Nano-Electro-Robotic Device. The report is online at Scientific Reports, a Nature open access journal.

"We've taken a spore from a bacteria, and put graphene quantum dots on its surface -- and then attached two electrodes on either side of the spore," said Vikas Berry, UIC associate professor of chemical engineering and principal investigator on the study.

"Then we change the humidity around the spore," he said.

When the humidity drops, the spore shrinks as water is pushed out. As it shrinks, the quantum dots come closer together, increasing their conductivity, as measured by the electrodes.

"We get a very clean response -- a very sharp change the moment we change humidity," Berry said. The response was 10 times faster, he said, than a sensor made with the most advanced human-made water-absorbing polymers.

There was also better sensitivity in extreme low-pressure, low-humidity situations. "We can go all the way down to a vacuum and see a response," said Berry, which is important in applications where humidity must be kept low, for example, to prevent corrosion or food spoilage. "It's also important in space applications, where any change in humidity could signal a leak," he said.

Currently available sensors increase in sensitivity as humidity rises, Berry said. NERD's sensitivity is actually higher at low humidity.

"This is a fascinating device," Berry said. "Here we have a biological entity. We've made the sensor on the surface of these spores, with the spore a very active complement to this device. The biological complement is actually working towards responding to stimuli and providing information."

T. S. Sreeprasad and Phong Nguyen of UIC were lead co-authors on the study. Sreeprasad, a postdoctoral fellow, is now at Rice University in Houston. Ahmed Alshogeathri, Luke Hibbeler, Fabian Martinez and Nolan McNeiland, undergraduate students from Kansas State University, were also co-authors on the paper.

The study was supported by the Terry C. Johnson Center for Basic Cancer Research and partial support from the National Science Foundation (CMMI-1054877, CMMI-0939523 and CMMI-1030963) and the Office of Naval Research (N000141110767).

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

Thanks to Google, TV Ads Are About to Start Watching You

Google is about to make ads on television work just like ads on the web. Through Google, advertisers will know how many times their ads were viewed. They’ll be able to target audiences based on location and viewing history. In other words, TV advertisers will have access to the same audience intel online advertisers take for granted.

Finally, after all this time, your TV is going to know as much about you as your web browser.

This stands in stark contrast to the way ads on television have traditionally been sold. Advertisers have had to estimate the reach of the commercials based on services such as Nielsen ratings and have only been able to target ads based on specific shows, not on specific viewers. That’s started to change in recent years, but now that Google is in the game, a future where TV ads work like the web feels inevitable.

What if you could say, I just bought a car, so don't show me ads for car dealerships. That would save advertisers a lot of money. Randy Giusto

Google announced a trial run of its new TV ad-targeting capability in its product forum for Google Fiber, its super-fast internet service available in select US cities. Subscribers to its cable-like Fiber TV package in Kansas City will be the first test subjects for the experiment, which was first reported by AdWeek. “These ads will show during existing ad breaks, along with national ads, on live TV and DVR-recorded programs,” Google said.

The ads will be delivered in real time and matched to geography, the type of show being watched and the viewer’s history. Customers will have the choice to opt out of being shown ads based on their viewing history, much like users of Google’s web services can opt out of being targeted based on browsing history. It’s not clear what “viewing history” means, how granular that opt-out process will be, or whether this type of targeting will be available to both national and local advertisers.

Cable Plays Catch-Up

In many ways, this is exactly what privacy advocates feared Google Fiber would become: yet another way for Google to collect even more data about you. It would be easy to make a “TV watches you” crack, but this is how advertising has worked on the web for at least fifteen years. Broadcast media, meanwhile, has been largely stuck in the dark ages, unable to match advertising to individual viewers or even say with any certainty how many people saw any given ad. But this has started to change.

The issue isn’t entirely technological. Cable companies and broadcasters haven’t wanted to charge per view for advertising because, well, they’d probably make a lot less money that way, says Randy Giusto, the vice president of research firm Outsell. “The advertisers want them to prove that the ads are being seen, but it’s never been in the cable operators’ best interest to show those numbers,” he says.

Today, however, advertisers have more options for reaching audiences than ever. For example, political campaigns are now able to measure and test the impact of their online advertising, non-profit organizations can use information gathered from petition sites to target only the most passionate people for donations, and retailers can rely on affiliate advertising they only pay for if someone actually makes purchase.

As more advertising shifts to the web and mobile, it only makes sense for cable companies to offer more measurability, even if it means charging less for ad time in the long run. Less money is better than no money at all.

A company called VisibleWorld has long offered advertisers the ability to target cable television ads at the household level, and offers many tools to automatically customize ads based on the region and demographic they’ll likely reach. The Wall Street Journal reported that Comcast is in talks to buy the company. Meanwhile, NBCUniversal is already offering targeted advertising based on Comcast’s set-top-box data, and other providers such as Cablevision and DirecTV are also offering data-driven ad targeting.

As the technology evolves, and if viewers are given more control over what they want to see, this could open a whole new range of possibilities, Giusto says. “What if you could say ‘I just bought a car, so don’t show me ads for car dealerships,” he says. “That would save advertisers a lot of money.”


This approach is old hat on the web, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be privacy concerns. Ad targeting and data collection online are already subject to much debate and regulator scrutiny. According to Pew Research, 64 percent of Americans believe the government should do more regulate how advertisers use personal information. And there are social norms to consider. We’re not used to the idea that the shows we watch will be logged and turned into advertising fodder. This may have already been going on for years, thanks to set-top boxes, but Google’s move could raise greater awareness of the practice and finally cause a backlash.

Still, with new services like the Dish Networks’ Sling, Sony’s PlayStation Vue and Apple’s long rumored TV streaming service poised to make paying for a separate television subscription redundant, the difference between TV and internet will only continue to blur. That blurring will include a melding of business models, one where knowing exactly what viewers are watching will be worth a lot more than an educated guess.

We Want to Believe: The X-Files Is Coming Back to TV

Good news, conspiracy theorist sci-fi fans: Mulder and Scully are coming back.

Although the network has not set an air date, Fox announced today that X-Files creator Chris Carter will come back to helm a new six-episode limited run of the series; the miniseries begins filming this summer.

“I think of it as a 13-year commercial break,” Carter told Variety . “The good news is the world has only gotten that much stranger, a perfect time to tell these six stories.”

It’s excellent news indeed. But what should you do until we get these smoking new episodes? Binge-watch the original show, obviously! With nine years’ worth of episodes ranging from creepy to batshit crazy, chances are you don’t remember every detail as well as you should. Luckily, we have a binge-watching guide ready for you.

Now fire up that Netflix account (or dust off that VHS box set) and start catching up on all the unexplained phenomena and sexual tension now. You are not alone.

The Longest Turn Ever in Hearthstone Is Happening Right Now

Right now, a potential world record is being set in Hearthstone, and you can watch it as it takes place.

The record is for the longest Hearthstone turn ever. Usually, a single turn in the popular online card game takes about a minute and a half per player. But part of the Blizzard game’s charm is the animations that accompany the different cards, and if a turn ends with an animation still in progress, the game will let everything play out before ceding control to the other player.

Even if it takes 40 hours.

The Hearthstone players attempting the feat, Florian “Mamytwink” Henn and Julien Aubrée, have a history of attempting things that Blizzard’s card game wasn’t supposed to do.

“We like to do ‘useless challenges’ in Hearthstone,” Henn told WIRED. “For example, winning on turn one, or playing 144 cards in a single turn.”

For this particular challenge, Henn and Aubrée used a combination of cards to generate a massive amount of spell power, channeling that energy into nine copies of the card “Arcane Missiles.” This card fires three projectiles, plus one for each additional spell power. Using a combination of cards that multiply the effects of other cards, Henn and Aubrée figured out a way to add not one, not two, but almost a quarter of a million extra projectiles.

How’d they do it? By doing something that Hearthstone opponents rarely do: Scheme together.

“Lorewalker Cho” is a legendary creature card that alters the rules so that when either player casts a spell, it puts a copy of that spell into the other player’s hand. And “Mind Vision,” when played, copies a random card in your opponent’s hand and puts it in your hand. If both players work together using these cards, they could generate many additional copies of cards that normally would be limited to a single use.

Lorewalker_Cho(456)_Gold Blizzard“Prophet Velen” is another legendary card, one that doubles the damage and healing power of your spells. You can’t have more than one of them—unless you use the card “Faceless Manipulator,” which transforms into a carbon copy of another creature when it comes into play. Generate multiple copies of those, then use them in sequence, and you’ve got seven copies of Prophet Velen. Now make a whole stack of the special card “Velen’s Chosen,” which buffs Velen up even more.

By the time they were ready to start the attack, Henn had nine copies of the card “Arcane Missiles” and 209 spell power, meaning that each copy of the card would shoot 209 individual projectiles, taking up about 0.67 seconds of animation time each.

But each of the Prophet Velen cards doubled the attack power. And it stacked. And Henn had seven Prophets. Doubled seven times, that means that each Arcane Missiles card would shoot 26,752 projectiles. And with nine cards in play, that means that 240,768 missiles were heading for Aubrée’s face. (And he couldn’t have been happier.)

By Henn’s calculations, the turn should take around 45 hours to complete—if Hearthstone could handle it, that is.

HS velen BlizzardOne of the biggest obstacles in Henn and Aubrée’s “useless challenges” is not the cards at their disposal but the architecture of Hearthstone itself. When dealing with the massive numbers Henn throws at it, sometimes Hearthstone can’t handle it and simply crashes.

It’s the reason he stopped at around 30 uses of the “Velen’s Chosen” buff this time around—this wasn’t his first attempt at a super-long turn, but previously Velen was buffed so much that the game couldn’t handle the calculation for such a massive amount of damage.

The first bit of drama during the in-progress turn came when Henn set the play into motion. Simultaneously operating two computers in the same room, he cast the nine Arcane Missiles cards. But while the primary account seemed to be running fine, the other computer crashed. If it wasn’t back up within 15 minutes, the whole operation would be a bust. Luckily, it came back online and everything seemed to be running smoothly.

Another snafu happened around 10 hours in: The Twitch channel broadcasting the world record attempt mysteriously went down. And Henn wasn’t sure what was wrong. He had left the game running in his office, and wouldn’t be able to check on it for another eight hours. It was entirely possible the game was still running, and only the stream had gone down. But perhaps the game had crashed altogether.

Luckily, everything was still running smooth when he clocked in the next morning. The stream came back up just before crossing the 19-hour mark, and the longest turn ever continued burning on.

Vineyard's soil microbes shape grapes' microbial community

In the first study of an entire wine grapevine's microbiome, researchers have found that the microbes associated with the grapes, leaves and flowers are largely derived from the soil microbes found around the plant's roots. The findings, published in mBio the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology, could help dissect how microbes affect a wine's properties and pave the way for biotechnological advances for producing hardier crops.

"Growers have been sub-selecting the best regions to grow grapes over thousands of years, but the science of that is poorly understood," says Jack Gilbert, a microbial ecologist at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. "Just the same as the human biome plays a role in health, bacteria have intricate associations with plants that affect disease resistance, stress tolerance and productivity."

Besides making tasty wine, Merlot grapes, Gilbert explains, are a really well controlled, understood crop system. He and his colleagues wanted to understand how different bacteria colonize these plants and also how those microbes might ultimately contribute to the wine's sensory properties. In other words, they wanted to find out if there is a microbiological component of terroir--the wine's properties that are imparted by the ground its grapes are grown in.

The team of researchers, which included winemaker Gilles Martin, looked at four closely related Merlot plants growing in five different vineyards across a 2-mile stretch of the North Fork region of Long Island, New York. For each location, they sampled the soil, roots, leaves, flowers and grapes throughout a growing season. Then, the team used shotgun metagenomic sequencing to characterize all the bacterial species found on each part of the grapevine. The team found that it's all about location, location, location.

"Where you grow that particular grapevine is the most important characteristic shaping which bacteria will colonize the plant," says Gilbert. The majority of bacterial species found in the plant were also present in the soil it was growing in. A few rare species found in the soil, were enriched in the aboveground grapes and leaves. This indicates that the soil acts as a reservoir for most of the bacteria that are colonizing the plants' structures.

Next, the team compared the New York grapes' microbiome to those associated with Merlot grapes from Bordeaux, France, and crushed Merlot grapes from California. All three hosted similar bacteria species. "No matter where you are in the world, the types of bacteria growing on or in Merlot grapes are quite similar," says Gilbert.

There is immense commercial interest in finding specific bacteria that would add benefits to crops, such as drought and pest resistance. But the findings may also point to new, bacterial ways to massage a wine's outcome.

"From the wine industry's perspective, terroir comes from the plant's physiology, the chemical nature of the grapes, and the yeast that do the fermenting work," says Gilbert. From this study, Gilbert argues that the microbes present in the soil, rather than the soil's physical characteristics, might play a bigger role in influencing terroir.

"We don't have evidence that bacteria are specifically contributing to terroir, but our next step is to figure out how those bacteria are affecting the chemistry of the plant."

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

Action Bronson’s Album Art Is as Insane as His Lyrics

Action Bronson has an active imagination. With each new collection of music he releases, with each dab hit he inhales, with each Eataly meal he consumes, his visions get more vivid. The Queens-born rapper is hip-hop’s Hunter S. Thompson—and Mr. Wonderful, his major-label debut LP out today through VICE/Atlantic, is his Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. To wit: “Twisted off the jenkem, watching Iron Chef/The secret ingredient was lion’s neck.” To double wit: “We took acid for ten days straight up in the mountains/Started running with the stallions/Playing Frisbee in the West Indies, did the tango with my kidneys.”

The bugged-out pictures Bronson describes in his lyrics are matched only by his bizarre cover art, which he takes a lead role in putting together. Since his first release, the mixtape Dr. Lecter, Bronson has guided the visual artists he chooses to execute his ideas. To celebrate the new album, Bronsolino talked us through some selections from his discography, explaining his concept for each release’s cover art and how he tried to pull it off.

Dr. Lecter Mr. Kiji

Dr. Lecter (mixtape, 2011)

Artist: Mr. Kiji

“I’m not one of those guys who likes to take weirdo pictures of myself, like looking off into the distance-type shit. I felt that since art is my background—I come from a graffiti writer background—why not use art in the best way possible to get my ideas and views across?

I want to be hands on with everything, period. Every aspect of my career is important to me. I’ve been doing everything myself from the beginning. You got people that help you out, but after that, you’re the one that has to say “yes” or “no.” I don’t leave my shit up to anybody, because nobody knows me like I know me, that’s just the way it has to be.

Mr. Kiji is a dope artist out of New York. He’s done a lot of digital shit, he did a lot of work for the New York Times. He was just one of the homies that my producer at the time, Tommy Mas, knew. He killed it. I gave him all the ideas—Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal, where Anthony Hopkins is eating Ray Liotta’s brain.”

Artist: Dust La Rock Artist: Dust La Rock Fool's Gold/Reebok

Blue Chips (Fools Gold/Reebok, 2012)

Artist: Dust La Rock

“Rest in peace to my bro [Former Fool’s Gold art director and co-founder] Dust La Rock. We were mutual fans of each other—[producer] Party Supplies is signed to Fool’s Gold, so I was around them for a minute. I’d always run into [Dust] and talk. That’s really how that came about. It’s just an ode to the movie. You’ve got me in the background and Party Supplies dunking on it. Party Supplies dunking the sampler was all Dust. He put his little twist on everything. It’s done classy. It’s a classy cover.”

Rare Chandeliers Johnny Sampson

Rare Chandeliers (mixtape, 2012)

Artist: Johnny Sampson

“Johnny Sampson was brought to my attention by the VICE people. I told him exactly what I wanted and he put exactly what I wanted on the cover in an incredible manner. It’s a beautiful painting. Everything was specific: Alligators with the lasers on their heads, the car, the wizard… It came to me while I was talking to him. It’s like a textbook blaxploitation movie to have a lot of scenes and to have a very eye-catching poster. I felt I had to put some ill shit on the poster to get people to watch this movie.”

Artist: Honkey Kong Artist: Honkey Kong VICE/Atlantic

“Easy Rider” single (VICE/Atlantic, 2014)

Artist: Honkey Kong

“That was my man Honkey Kong from San Diego, he’s an incredible tattoo artist who tattooed me two years ago. He did the one on my left arm, the fighting rooster. He was the perfect guy for it. I told him to make it a skeleton and he just made it happen. He had his own live style to it. That’s one of my favorites. I’m actually going to have that tattooed on me when I go out west soon.”

All of FRKO's handiwork together. All of FRKO’s handiwork together. VICE/Atlantic

Mr. Wonderful/”Actin Crazy” single/”Terry” single/”Baby Blue” single (VICE/Atlantic, 2014-2015)

Artist: FRKO

“FRKO made all these pictures online and he was illustrating my raps. He just got me. And I love his illustrations—very minimalist, almost King of the Hill-esque. I caught a good vibe from the kid. I’ve never met him in person. We’re either going to meet up the next time I’m in Atlanta or at South by Southwest. A lot of [artists] I find on Instagram. People just decide to draw me. There’s ill paintings and ill illustrations of me. They post them and I post them back up when I see them. I just go to the hashtags for my name and I look at the pictures.

For Mr. Wonderful I sent him a picture of Jean Claude Van Damme from Bloodsport in that exact pose and he just did it. I give [artists] a concept and I let it go. If it comes back and it doesn’t need notes, it just comes out. It’s hard sometimes to nail something when someone tells you exactly what it is that they want. You have to give them credit for at least getting in the ballpark. You gotta sometimes turn down some things. You gotta go back to the drawing board and give suggestions instead of just shooting it down. Maybe they didn’t grasp it exactly like I explained it.

Aside from Honkey Kong, who I know, everything has just been a wild card and it’s just worked out. All of them blow my mind every single time. And I’m a tough critic.”

The Most Important Thing on the Internet Is the Screenshot

Ivelina's boyfriend stopped responding to her texts. No small trauma. She was a high school senior; they'd been together a year, and then—two weeks of nothing. Eventually he sent her a rambling excuse via SMS: He'd been longboarding, he said, and broke his phone. “u want me to send you a picture of it?” he offered.

Hmm, thought Ivelina. Pretty lame. To reality-check her reaction, she applied a relatively new tool: She took a screenshot of her boyfriend's text and forwarded it to her close friends. They agreed: lame. Ivelina dumped him.

Screenshots never used to be that powerful. Sharing one was largely reserved for epic videogame wins or error messages. But now people routinely take screenshots of funny/outrageous comments on social media to share with friends. Twitter users post grabs of things they're reading. College students take notes by screenshotting articles and books on their phones, tablets, and laptops. Users of Evernote on iOS save 45 percent more screenshots than a year ago, the company reports.

The same thing happened with cameraphones a decade ago, when we suddenly began capturing evanescent moments from our physical lives. Today some of our most intense experiences are online, so screenshots serve the same function. It's photography for life on the screen—“how you share point-of-view,” says Joanne McNeil, a resident at the art-and-technology center Eyebeam (and a blogging colleague of mine).

Screenshots can also be almost forensic, a way to prove to others that you're really seeing the crazy stuff you're seeing. The first viral hit of the screenshot age was the often-filthy autocorrect errors in SMS. Now screenshots hold people accountable for their terrible online words. When Australian videogame reviewer Alanah Pearce was getting harassed online, she discovered that many of her trolls were young boys. She tracked down their mothers and sent a screenshot to one (who then demanded her son handwrite a letter of apology). DC writers eagerly pounce on politicians' social media faux pas, preserving them before they can vanish down the memory hole—part justice, part gotcha.

Even more arrestingly, though, screenshots let you see other people's screenworlds, increasingly where we all do our best thinking. They invite a useful voyeurism. Venture capitalist Chris Dixon tweeted a link to an article on how “Nikola Tesla predicted the iPhone” and got 109 retweets; when he tweeted a readable screenshot of the piece, it got over 4,200. Indeed, one of the more delightful aspects of screenshot culture is how often people share text instead of just the clickbaity headline. Developers have strained for years to devise technologies for “collaborative reading.” Now it's happening organically.

We're going to need better apps to help us share, sort, and make sense of this new flood. Screenshots are more semantically diverse than typical snapshots, and we already struggle to manage our photo backlog. Rita J. King, codirector of the Science House consultancy, has thousands of screenshots from her online ramblings (pictures of bacteria, charts explaining probability). Rummaging through them reminds her of ideas she's forgotten and triggers new ones. “It's like a scrapbook, or a fossil record in digital silt,” King says. A lifetime of scraps, glimpsed through the screen.

Voice Control Will Force an Overhaul of the Whole Internet

Jason Mars built his own Siri and then he gave it away.

Mars is a professor of a computer science at the University of Michigan. Working alongside several other university researchers, he recently built a digital assistant that could instantly respond to voice commands—much like Siri, the talking assistant offered on the Apple iPhone. Then he open sourced the thing, freely sharing the underlying code with the world at large.

Known as Sirius, the project is a way for all sorts of other software coders to explore the complexities of modern speech recognition, and perhaps even add speech rec to their own mobile apps. This, Jason Mars realizes, is where the world is moving.

But the project has another aim. Mars also realizes that the massive computing centers that underpin today’s internet are ill-equipped for the coming voice revolution, and with his project, he hopes to show how these facilities must change. “We want to understand how future data centers should be built,” he says.

We want to understand how future data centers should be built. Jason Mars

You see, digital assistants like Siri and Google Now and Microsoft Cortana don’t just run on your phone. They run across thousands of machines packed into these enormous computing centers, and as we extend such services to more and more people across the globe, we can’t just run them on ordinary machines. That would take up far too much space and burn far too much energy. We need hardware that’s significantly more efficient.

With their open source project, Mars and his colleagues, including a Michigan PhD student named Yunqi Zhang, can show how a tool like Siri operates inside the data center, and ultimately, they aim to identify the hardware best suited to running this kind of voice service—not to mention all the other artificially intelligent tools poised to remake the internet, from face recognition tools to self-driving cars.

Dwarfing Google Search

In testing Sirius, Mars has already shown if you run the service on traditional hardware, it requires about 168 times more machines, space, and power than a text-based search engine a la Google Search. When you consider that voice-recognition is the future of not only mobile phones but the ever growing array of wearable devices, from Apple Watch on down, that’s completely impractical. “We’re going to hit a wall,” Mars says. Data centers don’t just take up space. They don’t just cost enormous amounts of money to build. They burn enormous amounts of energy—and that costs even more money.

The big question is: What hardware will replace the traditional gear? It’s a question that will affect not only the Apples and the Googles and the Microsofts and so many other app makers, but also the companies that sell data center hardware, most notably big-name chip makers like Intel and AMD. “We’re all over this,” says Mark Papermaster, AMD’s chief technology officer. “It’s huge for us and our future.”

Ultimately, that’s why Mars is running his Sirius project. The Apples and Googles and the Microsoft know how this new breed of service operates, but the rest of the world doesn’t. And they need to.

A Parallel Universe

Most web services, from Google’s web search engine to Facebook’s social network, run on basic server chips from Intel and AMD (mostly Intel). The problem is: these CPUs (central processing units) are ill-suited to a voice-recognizing services like Siri, which tend to run lots and lots of tiny calculations in parallel.

As companies like Google, Microsoft, and Chinese search giant Baidu have said, these calculations work better on simpler, less-power-hungry processors, such as the GPU (graphics processing unit) chips originally built for processing complex digital images, or on the FPGA (field programmable array) chips that can be programmed for specific tasks. Google is already using GPUs to power the brain-like “neural networks” that help drive its Siri-like service, Google Now. And Microsoft is using FPGAs to drive at least part of its Bing search engine.

No, Bing doesn’t do voice. But like GPUs, FPGAs improve efficiency across all sorts of sweeping web services, mainly because they don’t burn as much power or take up as much space.

Basically, with GPUs and FPGAs, you can pack more chips into each machine. Though each one alone is not as powerful as a CPU, you can divide larger calculations into small pieces and spread them across each chip. This becomes even more attractive with applications like voice recognition, which are so well suited to parallel processing. “A number of these emerging workloads require you to sift through a massive amount of information very quickly,” Papermaster says. “Those, by their very nature, can be accelerated [with GPUs or FPGAs] because of the repetitive nature of the work you’re doing.”

GPUs are now the chips of choice not only for voice recognition, but for all sorts of other services based on neural networks. These “deep learning” tools involve everything from the face recognition services on Google+ and Facebook to the ad targeting tech on the Baidu search engine, and eventually, they’ll help power self-driving cars and othe robotics. Jeff Dean, who helps oversee much of the deep learning work at Google, says the company now uses a blend of GPUs and CPUs in running neural networks that now help power about 50 different Google web services.

But as Microsoft has shown, FPGAs provide another option. With his open source digital assistant, Jason Mars—who has long explored modern data center architecture, at Michigan as well as the University of California, San Diego—seeks to determine which is the best option for our future internet services.

Beyond Apple and Google

The answer is still unclear. But with Sirius, Mars has at least shown that GPUs and FPGAs are much better options than what a company like Intel offers today. “It’s going to be absolutely critical that future data center designs include GPUs or FPGAs,” Mars says. “You can get at least an order-of-magnitude improvement.”

Because you can program them to do whatever you want, he says, FPGAs are potentially much more efficient than GPUs (according to the University of Michigan tests, FPGAs can provide about 16 times the performance, versus about ten times for GPUs). But they require more design work. Companies like Google and Apple and Microsoft must hire engineers who can program them.

Siri and Cortana and Google Now—and even more advanced applications that deal with data analytics and process video in realtime and give you personalized suggestions—is where our technology is going.

GPUs also require some extra work. As with FPGAs, you must tailor your software to these particular chips. But you needn’t program the chips themselves. And for that reason, these could be a more viable option, especially when you consider that voice recognition tools will eventually move beyond the Apples and the Googles and Microsofts, into companies even less willing to hire their own chip engineers.

“Siri and Cortana and Google Now—and even more advanced applications that deal with data analytics and process video in real time and give you personalized suggestions—is where our technology is going, where industry is going,” Mars says.

However all this plays out, it will reshape the world of computer processors. Intel is already exploring FPGAs. GPU maker nVidia is riding the deep learning wave to new heights. And AMD, which bought GPU maker ATI years ago, is pushing even further into the field. As Papermaster says, the company is now working with companies across the industry to built tools that will let coders more easily write software for GPUs.

When you consider that many of the big internet companies, including Facebook and Microsoft, are also exploring the use of low-powered ARM chips inside their data centers, the chip market is poised for an enormous shift over the next several years. Jason Mars and his Sirius project aims to show what this will look like. But Sirius could also feed the big shift. After all, if everyone runs their own Siri, they’ll need their own chips.

Rock Your Noodle With These Killer New In-Ear Buds

Rock Your Noodle With These Killer New In-Ear Buds

gl_headphones_1_ff Peden + Munk

Logitech’s New Wireless Mouse Is a Fistful of Awesome

Peripherals manufacturers can hawk their glass trackpads and other touchy-swipey desk candy all they want. There are still a lot of us who prefer to use a real mouse. Maybe I open myself to ridicule by saying so, but I find it immeasurably satisfying to use an input device that punctuates every marquee selection, every drag and drop, and every navigational nudge with a bona fide mechanical click.

So this is my new spring fling: Logitech’s MX Master. The third-generation entry in the company’s MX line, it’s a precision-engineered mouse that’s comfortable to use. It has a bevy of customizable buttons and wheels, as well as a feature that lets you connect it wirelessly to up to three different machines. It goes on sale in April for $100.

The stand-out feature is the MX’s speed-adaptive scroll wheel. Scroll slowly, and the little metal wheel goes “click-click-click” beneath your finger, giving you a nice bit of haptic feedback and a sense of precise control. To quickly scroll all the way up or down a page, you just flick the wheel with your finger, at which point the click-to-click mechanism disengages, and the wheel spins freely. Your document zooms by until you stop the wheel by resting your finger on it. It feels great, very machine-like.

You also get the two traditional mouse buttons, a third button behind the wheel, and a set of thumb controls. The little platform where you rest your thumb is its own button—just press down on the pad under your thumb to register a click. Above that platform, there’s a pair of small thumb buttons and a thumb scroll wheel. This thumb wheel is great for horizontal scrolling, but just like all the other buttons on the mouse, you can program it to do anything. If you’re a Mac user, the buttons are set up by default to work with Exposé and Launch Pad, but Logitech provides a free download of its utility app that lets you set it up however you’d like. WoW fans rejoice.

To connect the new MX mouse, you can use Bluetooth, or you can use Logitech’s proprietary “unifying receiver”—a little USB dongle that comes in the box. The mouse can be paired with three different computers, which is handy if you switch between a laptop and a desktop several times a day. All it takes to jump between machines instantly is pressing a button on the bottom of the mouse.

Logitech claims the MX battery lasts about 40 days between charges. There’s an LED meter that alerts you when it’s running low. And if it ever goes dead, plugging it in for one minute will earn you an hour of mousing, so you’re never left stranded for longer than it takes you to visit the water cooler. Then you can get back to spinning that wheel. Zip, zip! (It’s really cool.)