Cigarette Smoke Makes Superbugs More Aggressive

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an antibiotic-resistant superbug, can cause life-threatening skin, bloodstream and surgical site infections or pneumonia. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine now report that cigarette smoke may make matters worse. The study, published March 30 by Infection and Immunity, shows that MRSA bacteria exposed to cigarette smoke become even more resistant to killing by the immune system.

"We already know that smoking cigarettes harms human respiratory and immune cells, and now we've shown that, on the flipside, smoke can also stress out invasive bacteria and make them more aggressive," said senior author Laura E. Crotty Alexander, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine at UC San Diego and staff physician at the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System.

Crotty Alexander is a pulmonologist who sees many patients who smoke cigarettes. She also sees many MRSA infections, and that got her wondering if one might influence the other. To test the hypothesis, Crotty Alexander and her team infected macrophages, immune cells that engulf pathogens, with MRSA. Some of the bacteria were grown normally and some were grown with cigarette smoke extract. They found that while the macrophages were equally able to take up the two bacterial populations, they had a harder time killing the MRSA that had been exposed to cigarette smoke extract.

To better understand why, the Crotty Alexander team tested the bacteria's susceptibility to individual mechanisms macrophages typically employ to kill bacteria. Once inside macrophages, smoke-exposed MRSA were more resistant to killing by reactive oxygen species, the chemical burst that macrophages use to destroy their microbial meals. The team also discovered that smoke-exposed MRSA were more resistant to killing by antimicrobial peptides, small protein pieces the immune system uses to poke holes in bacterial cells and trigger inflammation. The effect was dose-dependent, meaning that the more smoke extract they used, the more resistant the MRSA became.

MRSA treated with cigarette smoke extract were also better at sticking to and invading human cells grown in the lab. In a mouse model, MRSA exposed to cigarette smoke survived better and caused pneumonia with a higher mortality rate.

The data suggest that cigarette smoke strengthens MRSA bacteria by altering their cell walls in such a way that they are better able to repel antimicrobial peptides and other charged particles.

"Cigarette smokers are known to be more susceptible to infectious diseases. Now we have evidence that cigarette smoke-induced resistance in MRSA may be an additional contributing factor," Crotty Alexander said.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California, San Diego Health Sciences . The original article was written by Heather Buschman, PhD. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Why Bill Nye Makes the Perfect Leslie Knope

Bill Nye would like to change the world. Well, he’d like you to change the world with him. Recently named a centennial ambassador of the National Park Service, he’s now using his platform as everyone’s favorite Science Guy to educate people about climate change and get them interested in preserving their local parks.

So yeah, he’s basically Leslie Knope in a bowtie.

“We did 100 Science Guy shows and it was time to move on and up,” says Nye. “It’s been an evolution, a growth: the modern adult science guy as a spokesman for … science! For provable facts and observable things in nature.”

To help average folks know where go to get out in nature and observe those things, he’s championing the just-launched Find Your Parks initiative, which is aimed at expanding interest in our American treasures beyond the Baby Boomer generation and bringing a younger, more diverse group of citizens into the country’s parks. And for Nye specifically, the initiative is a way to educate people about the impact climate change will have on the natural landscape.

It’s a pretty cool gig for someone like Nye, and one he’s uniquely suited for. Here’s why he is the perfect real-life version of Parks and Recreation’s public space champion—and not just because his ambassadorship has the support of Find Your Parks honorary co-chair Michelle Obama. (Though that doesn’t hurt, either.)

He’s Not Afraid of Real Talk

With each month of drought that stacks up in the West and each massive storm that trashes the East, it’s becoming clear that our parks—much like our crops—won’t survive without our help. A big part of that is opening people’s eyes to the effects of climate change. “Glacier National Park will be Mudslide National Park, perhaps in my lifetime, unless we get to work on it,” Nye explains. “If we make choices not to preserve parks, not to set aside wild lands, we are making a choice that I think will be judged very poorly. ‘Why did you choose to let all that stuff go? Why did you choose to ruin things?'”

He’s Very Popular—On TV and Beyond

Most people know the name Bill Nye from the 1990s PBS show Bill Nye the Science Guy. The “Science Guy” thing is a moniker he took on as a contributor to the comedy show Almost Live! in Seattle, where he was working for Boeing. Eventually his “mechanical engineer by day, educational sketch comedian by night” situation lead him to becoming one of America’s go-to minds for explaining just what the hell makes this planet tick to the broadest common denominator of viewers. But over the past 25 years he’s been more than a TV host. He’s also been an author, an advocate for science education (particularly when it comes to evolution), and a regular on cable news and late night talk shows. He also pops up on the StarTalk podcast with Neil deGrasse Tyson and in selfies with people like Barack Obama. And if that resume doesn’t make him the perfect celebrity spokesperson, nothing does.

He Thinks Talking About the Environment Is as Important as Other News of the Day

If there’s one thing Nye is big on it is choice and agency. The environmental problems we face won’t solve themselves, and the best way to catalyze change, as Nye sees it, is to get people talking. Putting the focus on national parks is a way to incite discourse about our changing world and the effect we have on it as heavy-footed humans. “The big thing is just raising awareness right now,” he says. “The main thing you can do, and this is true for everybody, is talk about climate change. If we were talking about climate change the way we’re talking about ISIS, we could get things done much more effectively or much more quickly.”

Nye’s Ambitions Go Beyond Earth

Like fellow public science advocate Neil deGrasse Tyson, Nye is one of the inheritors of the legacy of astronomer, author, and original Cosmos host Carl Sagan, who Nye actually had as a professor at Cornell University. These days Tyson is hosting the rebooted Cosmos and Nye is CEO of the Planetary Society, which Sagan founded. In addition to answering a few dozen e-mails every day and making “some big sweeping executive decisions about the logo,” Nye views his CEO role as a charge to continue the work started by Sagan decades ago. “Any [computer] climate model that stands today is a derivative of, or uses many of the same assumptions and the same science as, those Sagan proposed in 1978, 1977,” says Nye. “In my way, I am carrying his message into the future.”

He’s Very Optimistic About What We Can Accomplish Together

As he takes up the mantle of centennial ambassador, Nye is waging a full-court educational press. First, there’s the book he’s currently working on that he describes as “an optimistic view of the future as we address climate change,” adding the inspirational footnote: “When I say ‘we’ I mean everybody, humankind. We can solve these problems. We can get this done.” And then there’s the feature film in the works about the same topic, which Nye says “will change the course of human history and all that, or maybe not. Maybe it just won’t lose money.” But whether or not Nye makes the next Inconvenient Truth or he goes straight to VOD, we can all be sure he will never stop fighting the good fight. “It will be very difficult for me to change the world just on my own,” Nye says. “But what we want to do is inspire people all over the world to change the world.”

Week’s Best Videos: Azealia Banks Has Hair Made of Snakes

Sometimes you want a music video to come equipped with a hard-hitting socially conscious message, and sometimes you just want to watch people go crazy throwing color powder around. To each their own, and to each we dedicate this week’s roundup of top music videos. There’s a turtle navigating his way across a Micro Machine minefield, a nasty breakup between a pair of men in drag, and a surprise threesome. We won’t tell you where to find each of these Easter eggs, but immerse yourselves in these videos and all will be revealed.

“Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”—Run the Jewels feat. Zack de la Rocha (Above)

The team behind this Run the Jewels video really puts a fine point on the futility of police brutality, putting the subjects in a feedback loop of violence that feels very resonant in our current cultural climate.

“Everybody Is Somebody”—Chateau Marmont

This animation is so densely packed with pop culture and religious iconography it is literally dizzying. Artist and director Marion Dupas fills every frame with rich detail, so be ready to watch several times if you want to take in everything.

“Hard Came the Rain”—Ran’N’Bone Man

Whoa. This is a very intense short about a drag performer and his jealous ex-lover.

“Come Back to You”—Saint Raymond

When life happens in the back of a British cab.

“Rule the World”—Walk Off the Earth

So this video is kind of a hot mess, but in a totally endearing sort of way. It kept feeling like “Should we turn this off?” but we genuinely wanted to finish watching Walk Off the Earth wild out until the end.

“Let You Go”—The Chainsmokers ft. Great Good Fine Ok

Hey, we’ve all been there, right?


There’s something super empowering about a song called “Strong” fueling one turtle’s journey across a landscape of tiny toy cars. This is your official Why Not?! video of the week.

“Ice Princess”—Azealia Banks

Medusa Azealia and her clone army of high-heeled silver droids is just super luscious. Mount your platinum python and ride into the rainbow prism volcano!

Samsung’s New 4K TVs Are Here, and They’re Gorgeous

The 65-inch Samsung JS9500, which costs $6,000, backs up its 4K resolution with an elegant design and quantum-dot color enhancement. The 65-inch Samsung JS9500, which costs $6,000, backs up its 4K resolution with an elegant design and quantum-dot color enhancement. Samsung

Grab the popcorn, folks. There are some mighty interesting developments going on in TV land.

After decades of Japanese dominance, the top of the TV market is a battle royale between South Korean and Chinese brands. The shift to 4K is in its early stages, and along with it, we’ll also see a transformation in smart platforms, content delivery, and how commercials work. OLED TVs are getting cheaper, and 1080p TVs are practically free.

Perhaps most importantly, the sets themselves are getting more and more stunning. Samsung, still the global market-share leader in the TV industry, launched its new SUHD TVs today. “SUHD” is the company’s code name for its quantum-dot-enhanced 4K TV lineup, its first collection of sets to run a new Tizen-based operating system for its smart ecosystem. It’s not just one TV, it’s a slew of tiered models—a sign that Samsung (and the rest of the industry) is betting heavily on 4K momentum this year. The top-end SUHD models are very very nice. The top-end models are also very very expensive.

One of the proposed advantages of quantum-dot technology is that it’s able to produce vivid, OLED-like colors at a fraction of the price of an OLED TV. That’s because quantum dot (or as Samsung is calling it, “revolutionary nano-crystal technology”) involves adding an extra component to an LCD TV rather than having to revamp the manufacturing process from scratch.

Alas, deep savings are not a trait of these first sets. The highest-end model in the SUHD lineup is the JS9500, an incredible-looking 65-incher that ships this month. It’s curved, it’s sharp, it’s vibrant, and it has a “Peak Illuminator Ultimate” feature which basically sounds like Samsung’s marketing spin on HDR. In other words, it boosts its full-array LED backlight system in the brightest areas of scenes, making it possible to see spectral highlights and life-like shimmering water.

The picture quality looks amazing, and the set has an elegant, sweeping design that makes it droolworthy even when it’s powered off. A modular One Connect box lets you upgrade its capabilities over time with new codecs, remote-control tricks, and other features without having to buy a new TV. And with a $6,000 starting price, you won’t want to buy a new TV for a while.

The “step-down” model is an even pricier proposition. The curved 78-inch JS9100 sports an edge-lit backlight system instead of the JS9500’s full-array LED setup, but it has many of the same features otherwise. The JS9100 is only available in that huge 78-inch screen size, and it’ll set you back $10,000 starting in May. Ouch.

They’re Not All Crazy Expensive

From there on down, you can find semi-savings. The edge-lit 65-inch JS9000 is basically the JS9500 without full-array, motion-control features, or a built-in camera—which many people would consider a plus—for $5,000. There’s also a 48-inch ($3,500) and 55-inch ($4,000) version of the JS9000, although those are small screen sizes for a 4K TV. The flat 65-inch J8500 ditches the curves, has a quad-core processor instead of the pricier sets’ eight-core CPUs, and has a 40W sound system instead of the 9000 series’ 60W speakers. That one clocks in at $4,000, or a cool $3,000 for a 55-inch version.

From there, you have lower-end SUHD sets that can save you money at smaller screen sizes. The most-affordable model is the curved JU6700, which costs $1,150 at 48 inches and $1,500 for a 55-incher. But even though it’s 4K, don’t expect the same kind of stunning picture as those 9000 series and 8000 series sets.

So the highest end of Samsung’s SUHD lineup looks terrific in terms of image quality, and Samsung’s sets generally churn out the best-looking video in the business. Still, all this hubbub about 4K sets getting cheap doesn’t apply to the company’s best offerings, even if they are based on cheaper tech than OLED.

But the bird’s eye view is a wonderful trend. It’s great to see the TV industry shift focus back to picture quality. After the past few years of 3D TVs, remote-control gimmicks, and curvy screens (oh wait, that one still exists), manufacturers have strayed from what matters most. With a 4K transition in the works, promising technologies like HDR and quantum dot gaining momentum, and LG’s incredible 2015 TV lineup bound to compete with these Samsung SUHDs in terms of quality and price, the big picture for consumers is nicely calibrated.

Comcast Says It’ll Bring Ultra-Fast Internet to US by 2016

Comcast says it will soon compete head-on with Google Fiber.

In a blog post today, the company announced plans to offer internet speeds of up to 2 gigabits per second to the majority of its nearly 22 million subscribers by the end of the year. That’s about twice as fast as the ultra-high-speed service Google is now offering in three US cities, and 80 times as fast as Comcast’s standard broadband internet plan.

“We’ll first offer this service in Atlanta and roll it out in additional cities soon with the goal to have it available across the country and available to about 18 million homes by the end of the year,” the blog post says.

Most remaining customers who aren’t able to take advantage of the two-gigabit service will eventually be offered Google-like one-gigabit speeds over traditional coaxial cable, according to the post.

Google began rolling out its one-gigabit fiber service more than two years ago, saying it wanted to push other ISPs into offering faster internet speeds. And this is now happening, at least on some level. For Google and others, the hope is that faster speeds will not only improve the performance of today’s internet application, from Facebook to Netflix, but also engender a whole new wave of more advanced online applications.

The rub is that Comcast’s offer may not result in widespread use of high-speed fiber. It must still lay fiber to individual homes, and customers may be asked to incur the cost—something they may not be willing to do.

The Price of Fiber

Comcast hasn’t discussed pricing for its new service. The company’s XFINITY Extreme 505 service costs $399.95 per month and offers speeds of about half a gigabit. However, competition from Google Fiber, which is planned to expand into Atlanta, may drive down prices in some areas. We’ve already seen this from AT&T, which offers gigabit fiber connections for $70 a month in Austin, Texas, where it competes with Google Fiber, but $110 in Cupertino, where it doesn’t.

The real sticking point may the the setup costs. Comcast already has fiber optic pipe running through much of the country, but providing links from these pipes into people’s homes—so-called “last mile” connections—could be an expensive process. Google has largely defrayed these costs by focusing on rolling out the service one neighborhood at a time to areas in which many people have signed up in advance.

What Comcast is promising is a service that will be widely available to everyone within proximity to its pipes, which suggests it will install the service on a per-household basis. While offering nation- and city-wide service sounds radical, if the costs are so high that only a few people can afford to have service installed, it becomes a much less impressive.

For those not within proximity of Comcast’s fiber optic pipes, the company is experimenting with a new hybrid cable/fiber solution called DOCSIS. “We hope to begin rolling out DOCSIS 3.1 in early 2016,” the blog post says. “And when fully deployed, it will mean almost every customer in our footprint will be able to receive gigabit speeds over our existing network.” That should be considerably less expensive to install since it will rely on the company’s existing infrastructure, but Comcast is being much less specific about who will receive this service and when.

Time Warner Deal Looms

But if Comcast is successful, it could be the first nationwide gigabit capable residential internet provider. Google Fiber has been expanding into more cities but is still, at present, only available in three metro areas, and is only available in select neighborhoods in those cities.

Likewise, other telcos like CenturyLink and AT&T have announced gigabit services in a select neighborhoods in a few cities. As mentioned, this helps keep costs down, but it drastically limits access. This would be the first time higher speeds have been widely available virtually everywhere that Comcast already services.

The announcement comes as Comcast angles to take over Time Warner Cable, a deal that is still pending approval by the Federal Communications Commission. The merger has been met with widespread opposition from consumer advocacy groups, and the FCC has delayed its decision to mid-2015, sparking speculation that the deal is dead in the water. But if Comcast can make the case that by taking over Time Warner Cable that it will be able to offer Google Fiber level speeds to even more customers, it might have an easier time swaying the courts.

From Two to Ten

It’s impossible know what the applications for such fast speeds would be. The ideas produced thus far have been largely banal. But that’s largely a chicken and egg problem, since there are so few people with fast enough speeds to take advantage of such services. As gigabit speed internet connections become more widely available, we can expect a whole new generation of innovations to take root.

And from there? Well, Google is already thinking about 10 gigabit services.

Retro City Rampage Gets Limited-Edition Physical Release on PlayStation Vita

Retro City Rampage Gets Limited-Edition Physical Release on PlayStation Vita

Microbes scared to death by virus presence

The microbes could surrender to the harmless virus, but instead freeze in place, dormant, waiting for their potential predator to go away, according to a recent study in mBio.

University of Illinois researchers found that Sulfolobus islandicus can go dormant, ceasing to grow and reproduce, in order to protect themselves from infection by Sulfolobus spindle-shaped virus 9 (SSV9). The dormant microbes are able to recover if the virus goes away within 24 to 48 hours--otherwise they die.

"The microbe is hedging its bet," said Associate Professor of Microbiology Rachel Whitaker, who led the research at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. "If they go dormant, they might die, but we think this must be better than getting infected and passing it on."

Sulfolobus is a species of archaea (a domain of single-celled organisms distinct from bacteria) found in acidic hot springs all over the world, where free viruses are not as common as in other environments. These microbes will go dormant in the presence of just a few viruses, whether active or inactive. While inactivated virus particles cannot infect a host, Whitaker's lab found they could still cause dormancy, and ultimately, death in Sulfolobus.

"People thought these inactivated viruses were just an accident, that they were just mispackaged," Whitaker said. "Now we know they are being sensed by the host so they are having an effect. People are starting to think that it is adaptive for the virus to produce inactivated virus particles."

Sulfolobus have an adaptive immune system found in archaea and bacteria that allows the microbe to encode a specific piece of DNA that matches the viral DNA, causing it to target the viral DNA and degrade it thus preventing the virus from propagating, or reproducing. Cultures with immunity to SSV9 recover from dormancy and grow normally once the virus is removed from the culture. Microbes without this immunity are susceptible to infection and eventually kill their neighbors by maintaining viral particles in the environment.

The researchers do not know exactly what is going on while the microbes are dormant, only that the microbes look drastically different in that state. More research is needed to better understand these new interactions between microbes and viruses. Incorporating these findings into models will show the true ecological impact of viruses in the microbial world, Whitaker said.

"We really don't understand the way that viruses affect microbes," Whitaker said. "There is a lot to learn. These communities are usually modeled where a virus will either kill the microbe or the microbe is resistant. But actually there are all these other subtleties going on, like dormancy, that are having a bigger impact than we understand."

Dormant microbes are found everywhere, in water, soil, and even the human gut, said Maria Bautista, a graduate student in Whitaker's lab, who led the research.

"Many microbes go dormant when they face environmental stress such as a change in pH or temperature " Bautista said. "Maybe virus-induced dormancy is something that doesn't just happen in Sulfolobus; it may be a widespread response to viruses in other environments. We don't know."

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign . The original article was written by Claire Sturgeon. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Uber Just Poached Facebook’s Security Chief Joe Sullivan

Joe Sullivan. Joe Sullivan. Ariel Zambelich/WIRED

Joe Sullivan, the Facebook executive in charge of keeping the social network’s 1.3 billion users safe, is leaving to become Uber’s first chief security officer.

The move is a major talent grab by the $40 billion car-hailing-app company, and it comes as cofounder and CEO Travis Kalanick grapples with security concerns escalating so rapidly they threaten to slow Uber’s momentum.

In particular, serious accusations involving its drivers are piling up. District attorneys in both San Francisco and Los Angeles have filed lawsuits against the company, alleging its background checks aren’t adequate. In December, a woman in New Delhi, India accused an Uber driver of raping her, and the woman has since filed a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, similar allegations have cropped up in cities across the United States including Chicago and Boston. In London, a woman alleged an Uber driver sexually harassed her and asked her to perform oral sex. Just two days ago, the Denver Post reported that an UberX driver had been arrested for attempting (unsuccessfully) to break into a passenger’s home after dropping her at the airport.

That’s enough to scare anyone into thinking twice before tapping the Uber icon. And it’s why Kalanick recruited Sullivan, who starts in late April and will report directly to him. Sullivan, 46, will head up Uber’s efforts to keep passengers and drivers safe, and he’ll also oversee global cybersecurity. At Facebook and during an earlier stint at eBay, Sullivan dealt in online security, not physical security. But one often plays into the other, and in addition to his work in Silicon Valley, Sullivan can draw on years of experience as a federal prosecutor.

In a blog post announcing Sullivan’s hire, Kalanick wrote: “We see opportunities ahead not just in technology, through biometrics and driver monitoring, but in the potential for inspiring collaborations with city and state governments around the world.” It’s a tall order that will require the company, which has often found itself at odds with city regulators and law enforcement, to work more closely with them.

From 9/11 to Facebook

After more than two decades spent working to combat cybercrime and keep people safe in both the public and private sectors, Sullivan may be uniquely qualified for this challenge. After getting a law degree from the University of Miami, he spent eight years with the United States Department of Justice. As the first federal prosecutor dedicated full-time to fighting high-tech crime, he worked on many high profile internet cases from digital evidence aspects of the 9/11 investigations to economic espionage and child predator cases.

In 2002, he joined eBay where he oversaw security for both the Skype and Paypal units. He grew adept at managing the fine line between complying with authorities, and holding back some information to protect users. During six years at Facebook, he was the guy responsible for weeding out the miscreants from among the social network’s users. He navigated the company’s relationship with law enforcement and investigations, and he managed the teams responsible for information security and product security, among other things.

Sullivan has long been interested in the security challenges facing the companies that compose the sharing economy. In an interview with Fortune last year, he mentioned that he advised Airbnb on trust and safety issues, explaining: “It’s a fun side project.”

New Code of Conduct

At Uber, he’ll work closely with Katherine Tassi, who is tasked with safeguarding rider data as the managing counsel of data privacy. Phil Cardenas, the company’s head of global security, will report to him.

Uber has been amping up its safety efforts in recent months. Already, it has a fraud engineering team that reports to CTO Thuan Pham. Cardenas manages compliance and incident response teams as well as a group of people who work with law enforcement.

In a March 25 blog post, Cardenas said Uber will form a safety advisory board of independent experts who will review its practices and advise on future safety features. He also said Uber plans to improve its background checks on drivers, and it has established a new code of conduct.

U.S. Travelers in Cuba Can Now Book Their Stay on Airbnb

Thanks to loosening restrictions on travel from the United States to Cuba, it’s now easier than it has been in 50 years for Americans to hop on a plane and head to Havana. When they get there, now they can stay in an Airbnb.

The lodging rental startup announced in a blog post today that it’s expanding to Cuba, offering travelers 1,000 homes to choose from. The move makes Airbnb one of the first tech companies to capitalize on the improving diplomatic relations between the neighboring countries, but it won’t be the last, as American businesses across the country eye Cuba as a potential source of growth.

Companies like Airbnb will be case studies in how challenging that is to pull off. For starters, the internet is a rarity in Cuba, with just about a quarter of Cubans currently connected, according to a 2012 report. Then there’s the fact that Americans still can’t use their credit cards in Cuba, making it impossible for Airbnb and other companies to accept online payments. According to Bloomberg, in order to make its Cuba expansion possible, Airbnb is working with a money remitter in Florida that makes payments to hosts on Airbnb’s behalf.

But for Airbnb’s leadership team, these workarounds are well worth it. According to a press release about the expansion, after President Obama announced in December that the United States would be changing its policies regarding Cuba, the site saw a 70-percent spike in searches for Cuban listings. And this year, Cuba is one of the most frequently searched destinations in Latin America. In some ways, Airbnb is a perfect fit for Cuba, which already has a rich history of casas particulares, or private homestays that help encourage tourism in Cuba.

“When we founded Airbnb in 2008, our dream was to help create a world where you could belong anywhere, and that vision has taken root in almost every country in the world,” Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk said in a statement. “For over 50 years, Cuba has been out of reach for most Americans. We couldn’t be more excited that, starting today, licensed U.S. travelers will now be able to experience the unique culture and warm hospitality that makes the island so special through our new Cuban community.”

The key word there is “licensed.” Though it’s getting easier to travel to Cuba, it’s still far from a free for all. Today, straight up tourism is still off limits, but travelers can get to Cuba if they can prove they’re going for one of the 12 reasons approved by the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. And in order to book a room on Airbnb, travelers will have to confirm that their travel reason falls under the general license for accepted entry into Cuba.

Members of Congress are now working to lift those remaining restrictions on travel. In the meantime, though, if you’ve got a good reason to travel to Cuba, now might be a good time to use it. You can currently snag this beautiful villa for $38 a night.

New Tool Could Make It Easy to Build Dynamic Virtual Worlds

Like his father, Herman Narula is in the construction business.

His father is the multi-millionaire Harpinder Singh Narula, a construction mogul who builds things like the eight-lane highway that stretches from Delhi to Indira Gandhi airport to the Indian call center hub in Gurgaon. And with his own company, Improbable, the younger Narula is behind a similarly ambitious project. It’s just that he works in the digital world, not the physical.

After graduating from Cambridge, Narula and a fellow student named Rob Whitehead set about building technology that could help engender a new breed of online game, games so vast and complex that they would continue to run—and continue to evolve—even when no one is watching. Basically, he envisions virtual worlds that run across tens of thousands of machines in a wholly unified way, expanding to new machines as they evolve, and with Improbable, he’s providing a way for any game developer to build and operate this kind of alternate universe (see video below). “We’re like an operating system on which you can build these worlds,” the 27-year-old says.

Others have built such virtual worlds in the past, including Eve Online and, most notably, the alternate universe known as Second Life. But Narula and company aim to simplify the process, to give game designers a tool that makes building games for thousands of machines as easy as building for one. Some designers are already using Improbable’s technology to build new games, including Dean Hall, maker of popular indie game DayZ . “The dream of worlds like this isn’t new, but the approach is new,” he says of Improbable. “It’s a quite profound change.” But others, including Narula, believe it can do more.

Narula says Improbable can help simulate everything from traffic patterns to economies to contagious diseases, and Vijay Pande, a professor of chemistry, structural biology, and computer science at Stanford University, agrees. He’s considering the tool as a way of doing biological research, simulating systems of cells.

Pande is a kind of scientist-in-residence at the big-name Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, and last week, the firm pumped $20 million into the company, with Andreessen partner Chris Dixon taking a seat on the Improbable board. Like Pande, Dixon sees Improbable not just as a gaming thing, but as something bigger. “It’s like a super-charged Amazon Web Services,” he says, referring to the seminal cloud computing tools that provide instant access to machine power over the net.

Improbable is just one of many tools that can help build software that runs across tens, hundreds, even thousands of machines—i.e. software for the modern age. Most apps now run in this way, from Google and Facebook and Twitter to Uber and Dropbox. But building such services is an immensely complicated undertaking, and all sorts of tools now aim to simplify things, from Amazon Web Services to Hadoop, an open source tool for analyzing data across a vast array of machines, to Docker, a way of readily distributing most an application across a network of computers.

Narula and company don’t say much about how their technology works. But its team includes engineers who have helped build sweeping applications at places like Google, and Narula does say that the tool uses Docker and a slimmed down computer operating system called CoreOS. In short, these tools provide a means of more efficiency running distributed software, and apparently, Improbable tailors this kind of thing to simulated worlds. Dean Hall describes it as something that lets him plug into an enormous number of machines without having to think about how all those machines will work.

Mark Ferlatte, who spent nine years overseeing the technology that ran Second Life, says the much-dicusseed virtual world operated a lot like the games that Narula envisions. “It sounds very similar to what we did with Second Life,” says Ferlatte, who now runs a consulting firm called TetherPad, which specializes in online infrastructure. “The simulation was running all the time, and scripts would execute and respond to things and do things even when no one was around.” And if Improbable is based on Docker and CoreOS, he adds, it seems a lot like standard technology. But he also says there’s ample room to streamline and improve the creation of virtual worlds like Second Life.

Second Life ran across many distributed machines, he explains, but it was fashioned in such a way that some machines could be overloaded with traffic. Building with a newer breed of technology, Narula says, Improbable fixes this problem, making it easier to run software in a truly distributed manner.

The question is just how easy this really is. “The claims that makes me raise an eyebrow is the ones that say a game designer can designer without thinking about infrastructure at all,” says Ferlatte. “To make a pun their name, that’s improbable.” And though Narula and others pitch it as a way of running biological simulations and modeling economies, Ferlatte believes this is a very different prospect. “You get into precision concerns, which don’t matter as much with games,” he says.

But for Narula, games and simulations aren’t that far apart. In each case, he says, you need a way of running a virtual world that acts like a whole but runs across many machines. Each piece of the code must operate on its own, but also in tandem with any other part of the the whole. “You’re creating a place where there are things. These things interact on various ways. And the only real property that defines this is that each thing isn’t always talking to every other thing,” he says. “This is true of a crowd, of a city, of traffic, of economic activity, of disease propagation.”

Yes, it’s a high-falutin pitch. And Narula acknowledges the enormous ambition of his project. That’s why the called the company Improbable, he says. But at the same time, this is indeed where the software world is moving. And that’s why people like Chris Dixon are so high on the technology. “On the one hand, you have millions of computers available, through things like Amazon Web Services. But on the other hand, it’s really hard to write software that runs across so many machines,” Dixon says. “Improbable can provide a bridge.”

Smart phone diagnosis? Biosensing platform quickly and accurately diagnoses disease and monitors treatment remotely

In much the same way that glucometers and pregnancy tests have revolutionized in-home diagnostic testing, researchers from Florida Atlantic University and collaborators have identified a new biosensing platform that could be used to remotely detect and determine treatment options for HIV, E-coli , Staphylococcus aureas and other bacteria. Using a drop of blood from a fingerprick, this novel biosensing platform provides clinically relevant specificity, sensitivity and detection of pathogens from whole blood and plasma.

The thin, lightweight and flexible materials developed by these researchers can be fabricated and operated without the need for expensive infrastructure and skilled personnel, potentially solving real-world healthcare problems for both developed and developing countries. Using this technology, they also have developed a phone app that could detect bacteria and disease in the blood using images from a cellphone that could easily be analyzed from anywhere in the world.

Waseem Asghar, Ph.D., assistant professor of electrical engineering in the College of Engineering and Computer Science at FAU, co-first author on the study, along with Hadi Shafiee, Ph.D., instructor in medicine at the Division of Biomedical Engineering at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School; Fatih Inci, Ph.D.; and Utkan Demirci, Ph.D., Stanford School of Medicine, senior authors on the study, have published their findings in Nature Scientific Reports in an article titled "Paper and Flexible Substrates as Materials for Biosensing Platforms to Detect Multiple Biotargets." Other team members on the study include Mehmet Yuksekkaya, Ph.D.; Muntasir Jahangir; Michael H. Zhang; Naside Gozde Durmus, Ph.D.; Umut Atakan Gurkan, Ph.D., and Daniel R. Kuritzkes, M.D.

In the article, the researchers address the limitations of current paper and flexible material-based platforms and explain how they have integrated cellulose paper and flexible polyester films as new diagnostic tools to detect bioagents in whole blood, serum and peritoneal fluid. They employed three different paper and flexible material-based platforms incorporated with electrical and optical sensing modalities. They were able to demonstrate how these new materials can be widely applied to a variety of settings including medical diagnostic and biology laboratories.

Using paper and flexible substrates as materials for biosensors, Asghar and his colleagues have identified a new rapid and cost-effective way to diagnose diseases and monitor treatment in point-of-care settings. They have been able to show how their new platforms are uniquely able to isolate and detect multiple biotargets selectively, sensitively, and repeatedly from diverse biological mediums using antibodies.

"There is a dire need for robust, portable, disposable and inexpensive biosensing platforms for clinical care, especially in developing countries with limited resources," said Asghar.

Existing paper and flexible material-based platforms use colorimetric, fluorometric and electrochemical approaches that require complex labeling steps to amplify their signal, are very costly to fabricate and also require expensive equipment and infrastructure.

"The future of diagnostics and health monitoring will have potentially cell-phone based or portable readers sipping saliva or blood and continuously monitoring human health taking it way beyond where we are with counting steps today," said Demirci, who is the corresponding author.

Asghar notes that because their materials are easy to make, easy to use, and can easily and safely be disposed by burning, they provide appealing strategies for developing affordable tools that have broad applications such as drug development, food safety, environmental monitoring, veterinary medicine and diagnosing infectious diseases in developing countries.

"Our paper microchip technologies can potentially have a significant impact on infectious diseases management in low- and middle-income countries where there is limited laboratory infrastructure," said Shafiee.

Demirci notes that these platforms could potentially be adapted and tailored to detect other pathogens and biotargets with well-known biomarkers.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Florida Atlantic University . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Cape Watch: Suicide Squad Has, Like, 5 Million Characters Now

It’s all about the mutants this week, with a lot of activity on Fox’s X-Men franchise on three different projects. Meanwhile, Warner Bros.’s Suicide Squad is continuing its apparent quest to hire every single actor who isn’t already signed on to appear in another superhero movie. Oh, and one of the CW’s leading men is getting a plum role as a hero in a comic book movie, but it’s really not what you’re expecting. Here are the highlights of this week’s superhero movie news.

SUPER IDEA: DC’s Suicide Squad Grows Yet Again

The already-sizable cast of David Ayer’s DC Entertainment adaptation is getting even larger, with the news that (deep breath) Scott Eastwood will be playing Steve Trevor, boxer Raymond Olubowale will be playing King Shark, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje will be playing Batman villain Killer Croc, and Karen Fukuhara will be playing Plastique in the movie. Considering there are already a lot of characters in this movie, it’s relatively safe to assume that these are all going to be something similar to cameo appearances. Either that, or there are going to be a hell of lot of people onscreen at any one time.

Why this is super: Ignoring the sheer volume of people who are going to be appearing in this movie for a second, just look at the diversity of those new announcements. If nothing else, it’d be nice if Ayer manages to convince studios that comic book heroes don’t have to be white dudes all the time. (Looking at you, Marvel. Yes, Black Panther is on the roster, but still.)

MEH IDEA: Jubilee Slouches on the Settee

Proving once and for all that Fox’s X-Men franchise is moving into the 1990s in terms of inspiration, news broke last week that Lana Condor would be joining the cast as Jubilee, the mallrat-turned-superhero that plagued the ’90s comics and animated series. (No, we’re not fans; sorry, Jubilee obsessives.) Meanwhile, director Bryan Singer is continuing to post production art on social media, suggesting that Angel might be showing up in the movie as well.

Why this is villainy: As if Gambit wasn’t bad enough, now we have to deal with Jubilee, as well? At this rate, perhaps we should expect all of the characters to be wearing lots of buckles and pouches when the movie opens next summer. Wasn’t this supposed to be the movie set in the 1980s?

SUPER IDEA: Wolverine No More (Again! Maybe!)

Speaking of X-Men, Hugh Jackman also took to Instagram to suggest that he would only be playing Wolverine in one more movie … maybe. Jackman’s gone back and forth about this a lot in the last few years, and it’s worth bearing in mind that the caption “Wolverine… One Last Time” could refer to his planning only one more solo Wolverine movie, rather than only agreeing to play the character one final time overall.

Why this is super: It sounds odd to celebrate the idea of an actor quitting a role, but it seems like most people would be happy to see Wolverine go back on the shelf for a little time, wouldn’t they? And it’s not as if the character himself would have to go away, given that almost every other major role in the franchise has been recast by this point. But who could follow Jackman as the grumpiest mutant around?

SUPER IDEA: Negasonic Teenage What?

And sticking with the X-Men movies for one last bit, it’s been revealed that newcomer Brianna Hildebrand will be playing Negasonic Teenage Warhead in next year’s Deadpool movie. If you’re thinking “Who’s Negasonic Teenage Warhead?” then answer is, “She’s an amazingly obscure character who was created and killed in the same issue about a decade ago,” leading everyone to believe that the Deadpool movie might be even wackier than first seemed to be the case. (Meanwhile, Ryan Reynolds is taking his costume from the movie for a test drive on social media, underscoring just how much weirder this flick might get.)

Why this is super: The stranger the Deadpool movie sounds, the better. Bringing back a character who pretty much didn’t even have a comic book career at all outside of dying? That’s pretty damn weird.

SUPER IDEA: The TV-to-Movie Jump You’ve Been Waiting For (Kinda)

After three seasons of the CW’s Arrow, fans have been ready to see Stephen Amell play a comic book hero on the big screen, instead of the small one. They’ll get their chance soon, but Amell won’t be playing his DC Entertainment hero—instead, he’ll be taking on the role of Casey Jones in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, alongside Megan Fox, Will Arnett, and a bunch of CGI heroes in a half-shell. Like you saw that coming.

Why this is super: Amell’s done his time in the television salt mines, and the surreality of Jones’ persona might be a nice payoff to the relatively thankless, humorless Oliver Queen that he’s been stuck with for the last few years. Of course, this also means that Flash‘s Grant Gustin should get a big role in something soon as well, right…?

Mad Men Is Back—And With it, the End of Great TV Dramas

TV is an odd mishmash of a medium. It shares enough qualities with film that we can use the word “cinematic” as a blanket compliment, yet its traditional broadcast model more closely resembles radio. In fact, with the advent of original programming from online-only platforms, it’s increasingly difficult to tell what, exactly, TV is. Maybe that’s why, dating back to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, TV is so often about itself. There’s a long history of scripted TV that’s about making TV. Yet, for all the literal examples of it—Sports Night, 30 RockMad Men, which returns for its final seven episodes on Sunday, is the most self-reflexive series of them all.

Mad Men‘s ad firm Sterling Cooper & Partners (né Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, né the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency) is itself a representation of the process of making television. The writers’ room pitches, the long nights, the fights with executives over the creative integrity of material that, with varying degrees of explicitness, is ultimately about selling products. Many of the show’s most triumphant moments come not from interpersonal dynamics, but the act of intellectual conception—being struck by writerly inspiration, often in a room full of people trying to come up with their own perfect idea.

And the show’s behind-the-scenes dynamics become manifest in its characters. Critic Todd VanDerWerff has described episodes as “fan fiction Matt Weiner is writing about his own writers’ room,” something that’s especially apparent in the relationship between Don Draper and his protege-turned-peer, Peggy Olson. Their tempestuous creative partnership prompts fights over the ownership of everything from ad campaigns to each other’s careers, culminating in the infamous “That’s what the money is for!” scene from “The Suitcase”—an episode in which they argue over what you can and cannot do on TV.

In later seasons of the show, even that layer of metaphor has fallen away; the show has become much more explicit in enacting its own struggle to surpass the limitations of TV storytelling. In particular, the merger between Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and onetime rival agency Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough is a self-conscious solution to the problem of keeping Peggy on the show once she had naturally grown past the point of needing Don as a mentor and professional champion. Don and Betty may have gotten divorced, but their relationship is effectively unchanged from what it was in Season 1—because to send her offstage is to deny Don his true moral foil. Will any of these characters ever change? Maybe not, but they’ll certainly keep trying, and stay painfully aware of their failures. Matthew Weiner and his staff threaten change, but it’s never real; they’re just daring us to confront what would happen if the status quo ever seriously shifted. And it’s all so artfully done that Mad Men more than justifies the level of Talmudic recap coverage it has historically received.

But at its core, that self-reflexivity is rooted in anxiety for the future—as well it should be. Because as it turns out, the end of Mad Men is not the end of TV, but rather the end of a particular era for the medium, one that has been repeatedly canonized in books like Brett Martin’s Difficult Men and Alan Sepinwall’s The Revolution was Televised. The Difficult Men narrative of “visionary” showrunners provides a picture of what Good TV is supposed to look like, and how it’s supposed to be made: by exacting geniuses like Don Draper. Often, these creatives’ relationships are exorcised for public viewing: The best tidbit in Difficult Men is the fact that Damages‘ central relationship, between an overbearing, perfectionist mentor and her naive protege, was based on David Chase’s Sopranos writers’ room. And the TV that springs from their brains is supposed to be “novelistic,” fraught with antiheroes, and above all, bleak. (This is mostly an issue for dramas; half-hour shows are currently in the midst of their own revolution.)

Indeed, many of today’s prestige shows feel like the creative efforts of people who watched Mad Men, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad and then tried to replicate them without understanding what actually made them so good. (To name a few names: House of Cards, The Affair, True Detective.) Many of these seem to be more about their relationship to these older shows than they are to anything else (pretty much any 20th-century period piece must now make an explicit case for why it should exist in the wake of Mad Men, while every show with guns puts itself in contention with Breaking Bad).

And their showrunners are increasingly self-parodies of Difficult Men; they’re monstrous Pete Campbells or Harry Cranes, whose value lasts only until you look closely at their work. Nic Pizzolatto wantonly punches above his intellectual weight. Everything out of Beau Willimon’s mouth about the future of TV is terrible. And Aaron Sorkin’s last, disastrous attempt at making TV was so concerned with flailing back at his critics that it finally ended in a perversion of TV darkness. Thankfully, this type of behavior is increasingly being pushed out—networks are increasingly willing to jettison showrunners who are too in love with their imagined imprimaturs. But with that comes the end of the type of man (and it’s always a man) symbolized by Don Draper.

Much of Mad Men is spent interrogating Don’s status as a Difficult Man. Sure, he has reasons to do the things he does, but they’re uninteresting and flat; the show’s worst scenes are the ones that blandly fill in Don’s hard-knock backstory. Don’s best pitches and strongest moments (especially his Carousel pitch from the first season finale and his Hershey pitch-slash-meltdown from the sixth) invert that ratio: They tell us his past, and they show us his creative genius. We’re told over and over that he’s an advertising savant, but it’s a rare and special thing indeed to be convinced of that by the man himself. Is Don so powerful a character because he is a Difficult Man? We have yet to get a satisfactory answer.

So the final cut to black on Mad Men, whether it’s preceded by Don’s death, an enigmatic statement about his future relationship with his daughter, or jumping out of a plane, will signify a type of death, a decay in the bout of creativity that fueled the past few years of TV. The show itself is aware of this, in the way that it has increasingly become about its characters’ irrelevance to their jobs and, in turn, about the future of TV itself. In last year’s batch of episodes, Mad Men‘s copywriters pitch ever more TV spots while witnessing the Harry Crane’s horrifying ascendance or Jim Cutler’s vision for the future of the agency (“Computer services, media buys pinpointed with surgical accuracy”)—something that sounds like focus-tested, blandly developed pilots. So yes, people will continue to make excellent TV. The question is just what comes next.