Banks Are Betting Big on a Startup That Bypasses Banks

Forget about banks. Online peer-to-peer lending platforms have surged in popularity by connecting people who want to borrow directly with people who want to lend. And now banks want in on the action.

On Wednesday, San Francisco-based startup Prosper announced a new $165 million round of financing led by Credit Suisse NEXT Investors, and which included participation by J.P. Morgan Asset Management, SunTrust Banks and USAA, among others. The new funding raises Prosper’s valuation to $1.865 billion—making it eligible to join the elite club of “unicorns,” or startups valued at over $1 billion. The round also shows just how big investor appetite has gotten for startups offering tech-driven solutions to bypass traditional banking methods.

The idea is simple: services such as Prosper sidestep traditional bank loans, which can involve complicated applications and lengthy wait times, and to connect borrowers and lenders directly online. Both Prosper and rival Lending Club launched in 2006. In spite of the 2008 economic meltdown and a host of regulatory issues, the two emerged as credible financing alternatives with very real consumer demand. Prosper has issued more than $3 billion in total loans, while Lending Club has facilitated more than twice that amount, to the tune of $7.6 billion.

And they aren’t alone. A slew of similarly-themed startups are cropping up to expand the world of financial tech, or “fintech,” on the whole. There’s OnDeck, another company that lends sums of money to small business owners who have a hard time borrowing money from banks, and Fundera, a kind of Kayak for small business loans that shows potential borrowers all of their options on one platform. On the wealth management front, companies like Wealthfront and Betterment offer automated portfolio management at prices they say are cheaper than traditional money manager. Lenda seeks to transform home loan financing with a service that runs entirely online.

Investors have picked up on the trend, which is heading into the mainstream. In December, both OnDeck and Lending Club saw hugely successful IPOs; OnDeck’s shares rose as much as 40 percent in their market debut, while Lending Club raised over $1 billion in its offering.

Taking Credit

But even as some startups seem to be shooting ahead—Lending Club is the clear leader of the pack so far, with such esteemed investors as Kleiner Perkins’ Mary Meeker and Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack sitting on its board, and even a little company called Google taking a minority stake—Prosper insists that it’s different in ways that will make it a winner in its own right.

Prosper CEO Aaron Vermut says his company is singularly focused on unsecured consumer credit loans—or loans that aren’t protected by any collateral. In the process, he says Prosper is growing. In the last quarter, the company facilitated close to $600 million in loans, 200 percent more than the same quarter one year ago, he says. “[Lending Club] used to be ten times bigger than us, and now they’re maybe two or two and a half times bigger than us,” Vermut says.

Vermut admits that there’s no guarantee the platform will remain unscathed in another economic downturn, but he’s relatively confident that Prosper may be able to weather a potential crisis, in part because of the company’s model of reliance on consumer credit. “Credit card companies actually did reasonably well through the crisis of 2008,” he says. The economy would have to tank hard before Prosper’s lenders saw real losses, he says. Loan defaults would have to jump to more than triple the platform’s current 3 percent rate.

It’s no coincidence, Vermut says, that many regional banks and asset management groups participated in financing Prosper this time around. The move was strategic rather than a potential conflict, he explains, because small banks don’t traditionally offer unsecured credit loans, anyway. “We’re really good at lending credit to consumers,” he says. If that’s true, banks are going to want a piece of that action, whether they’re the ones lending the actual money or not.

Alternating antibiotics could make resistant bacteria beatable

Pioneering new research has unlocked a new technique to help combat the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, that cause debilitating and often life-threatening human illness.

Researchers from the University of Exeter has shown that the use of 'sequential treatments' -- using alternating doses of antibiotics -- might offer effective treatment against bacterial infection.

Crucially, the research also demonstrates this technique for administering treatment also reduces the risk of the bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics, and so maintaining the long-term effectiveness of the drugs.

The collaborative international research, led by Professor Robert Beardmore from the University of Exeter and funded by EPSRC, is published in leading scientific journal PLOS Biology on Wednesday 8 April.

The research indicates that drug treatments with two antibiotics can be designed to kill bacteria at dosages that would ordinarily cause rapid development of drug resistance and sustained bacterial growth, when administered alone or in combination.

The researchers used a test-tube model of a bacterial infection to show that, even in bacteria that already harbour drug resistance genes, sequential treatments could deal with the bacteria, even when much higher doses of single drugs or mixtures of two drugs failed to do so.

"Our study finds a complex relationship between dose, bacterial population densities and drug resistance," said lead author, Professor Beardmore. "As we demonstrate, it is possible to reduce bacterial load to zero at dosages that are usually said to be sub lethal and, therefore, are assumed to select for increased drug resistance."

The researchers also discovered that, although sequential treatments didn't suppress the rise of all drug resistance mutations in the bacteria, one drug would 'sensitize' the bacteria to the second drug, and therefore reduce the risk of resistance occurring.

Study co-author Dr Ayari Fuentes-Hernandez said: "Research has concentrated for decades on synergistic drug cocktails. We believe 'sequential synergies' might be just as potent if we look for them, this research will therefore be of interest to the pharma and dwindling antibiotic discovery communities."

While bacteria are masters at adapting to antibiotic challenge, this research suggests that there is a way to use this adaptation against them. The fluctuating environments created by well-designed sequential treatments can sensitize bacteria and render them susceptible to concentrations of antibiotics that would normally induce drug resistance and continued existence.

EPSRC-funded researcher, Dr Jessica Plucain, said that although extensive further work is now needed to will be needed before sequential treatments make it in to the clinic, the research demonstrates that they can be effective even when using drug doses below their maximal potency.

She said: "One outcome of this highly surprising result will be to set in motion a series of studies to determine ways of using antibiotics not only in combination, but sequentially and with the potential for lower dosages than is currently thought possible."

Story Source:

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

Bacteria inhibit bat-killing fungus, could combat white-nose syndrome

Bacteria found naturally on some bats may prove useful in controlling the deadly fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome, which has devastated bat populations throughout eastern North America and continues to spread across the continent. Scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, isolated bacteria that strongly inhibited the growth of the white-nose syndrome fungus in laboratory tests.

Experiments are now in progress to see if treating bats with the bacteria can protect them from the disease, said Joseph Hoyt, a UC Santa Cruz graduate student who led the study. "We are analyzing data from tests on live bats now, and if the results are positive, the next step would be a small field trial," he said.

The results of the laboratory studies were published April 8 in PLoS ONE. Hoyt isolated bacteria from the skin of four bat species and tested the isolates for their ability to inhibit the growth of the fungus. Six bacterial isolates (all in the genus Pseudomonas) showed promise and were tested more extensively. All six significantly inhibited growth of the fungus, and two isolates performed especially well in suppressing fungal growth for more than 35 days.

"What's promising is that the bacteria that can inhibit the fungus naturally occur on the skin of bats. These bacteria may just be at too low a level to have an effect on the disease, but augmenting them to higher abundances may provide a beneficial effect," Hoyt said.

The researchers hope that a bacterial spray applied to bats during hibernation could suppress the fungus enough to help the bats survive the winter. The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) grows on the exposed skin of bats' noses, ears, and wings during hibernation, when the bats' body temperatures drop. Previous research by Kilpatrick's lab has shown that the fungus can infect nearly every bat in a hibernating colony, but bats that survive the winter are able to clear the infection when they emerge from hibernation and their body temperatures rise.

"The potential for a treatment is exciting, because this disease is raging across the country," said coauthor Marm Kilpatrick, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz. Kilpatrick is a wildlife disease expert whose lab has been working with state and federal wildlife agencies and other partners to track the spread of white-nose syndrome, which was first discovered in New York state in 2006.

Four bat species have been hit especially hard by the disease, with some regional populations declining by more than 90 percent. One species in particular, the northern long-eared bat, appears headed toward extinction, Kilpatrick said. "Everywhere the disease has been for a couple of years, this bat is gone. We don't have any tools right now to protect this species," he said.

According to Hoyt, the new findings raise the possibility that naturally occurring bacteria could partially explain some of the differences seen in the impacts of the disease on different species. The isolates with the strongest inhibitory properties were cultured from a bat species that has suffered lower mortality from white-nose syndrome than other species. More research is needed, however, to determine if disease severity is related to the bacteria found on wild bats. "This study is just the first step in investigating that possibility," Hoyt said.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Santa Cruz . The original article was written by Tim Stephens. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

WIRED Binge-Watching Guide: Adventure Time

Adventure Time has long been lauded as one of TV’s most progressive shows, a children’s cartoon that regularly flirts with some very mature material. Yes, the show has a Candy Kingdom, unicorn-rainbow hybrids, and a princess made entirely of sentient bubblegum. But a glimpse at the visual style and character design won’t give you an idea about the essence of the show—one that’s about the struggles of adolescence, out-of-body experiences, genetic mutation, and nuclear war. Adventure Time is a whole lot of fun, but it’s also bildungsroman of epic proportions.

The show, created by writer/producer Pendleton Ward, follows the exploits of a human named Finn (voiced by Jeremy Shada) and his best friend/adoptive brother Jake (John DiMaggio), who happens to be a magical dog with the power to stretch to nearly any size or shape. The pair lives in a treehouse in the Land of Ooo, the spectacular ruins of post-apocalyptic Earth repopulated by adorable mutants, magical creatures, and lab-developed beings. Show regulars include voice-acting superstars DiMaggio (Bender from Futurama) and Tom Kenny (the voice of SpongeBob) and cameos from the likes of George Takei, Andy Milonakis, Maria Bamford, and Lou Ferrigno.

Adventure Time has been called the best science fiction show on television. But even if you disagree with that assertion, you can still count on it to inspire the next generation of artists who are watching this trippy, visual playground unfold while they’re still in their pajamas and munching on Fruit Loops.

So, c’mon. Grab your friends, whip up some bacon pancakes, and hang on for the ride.

Adventure Time

Number of Seasons: 6 (187 episodes)

Time Requirements: Each episode is only 11 minutes, so with 187 episodes you’re in for just over 34 hours in the Land of Ooo. That means you could probably knock it out in a long weekend, if you wanted, but we recommend you spread it over a couple weeks.

Where to Get Your Fix: Google Play, Amazon Prime, iTunes, the Cartoon Network web site (select episodes)

Best Character to Follow:

Finn is our story’s hero and, as his character becomes more complex over time, he becomes more and more worthy of his fan-favorite status. But the not-so-secret best plotline is between Marceline the Vampire Queen (Olivia Olson) and the Ice King (Kenny). Ice King starts out as a one-dimensional and, frankly, pretty obnoxious villain fixated on kidnapping princesses, but over time his front starts to fade. We begin to learn more about his past and his special bond with Marcy. It’s a lovely story, plus any episode focused on punk rocker Marcy is sure to include a killer song.

Seasons/Episodes You Can Skip:

Season 2: Episode 10, “To Cut a Woman’s Hair” Much like South Park’s Kenny, we’re unsure of what Finn looks like under his hat up until this point. Finding out is one of the few worthwhile moments of this episode.

Season 3: Episode 13, “From Bad to Worse” Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch) accidentally creates a zombie virus that infects Cinnamon Bun (Dee Bradley Baker) and, quickly, the rest of the Candy Kingdom. Adventure Time is known for its spot-on genre parodies, but this is one that falls flat.

Season 3: Episode 23, “Another Way” After Jake and Finn hurt their toes while adventuring, Finn has to come to terms with the fact that he may not always be right. This episode features some seriously scary clown nurses with foot fetishes and an off-putting, Auto-Tuned song about being wrong.

Season 6: Episode 5, “Sad Face” Jake’s tail gets a life of its own once a month as a clown in a flea circus. The whole thing is pretty uneventful.

All of the Graybles Episodes: Adventure Time rarely feels like a kids’ show. But the Graybles episodes, which feature five super-short scenes with a shared theme (Get it? Fables? Graybles?), won’t appeal to adults.

Episodes that Focus on the Earl of Lemongrab: Lemongrab (Justin Roiland), a genetically modified (and very neurotic) lemon created by Princess Bubblegum to take over the Candy Kingdom when she dies, is probably one of our least favorite characters. His tagline (“Unacceptable!”) is funny at first, but his anxiety and shrill voice become more stressful than funny. Eventually, he’s exiled to rule his own kingdom of Lemon People where he becomes an exacting dictator. (Spoiler: His subjects begin to starve and wither under his rule. It’s hard to watch.)

Seasons/Episodes You Can’t Skip:

Season 1: Episode 2, “Trouble in Lumpy Space” Lumpy Space Princess, affectionately known as LSP and brilliantly voiced by the show’s creator Pendleton Ward, accidentally chomps down on Jake’s foot, which gives him “the Lumps.” As Jake starts becoming a Lumpy being, Finn travels to Lumpy Space to find a cure for his best friend.

Season 1: Episode 12, “Evicted” In this episode, we’re introduced to Marceline, voiced by Olivia Olson (best known as the little girl who sings “All I Want for Christmas” in Love Actually), when she shows up at Finn and Jake’s treehouse and tries to kick them out. Oh, and of course there’s a song about Finn and Jake trying to find a new home.

Season 2: Episode 1, “It Came From the Nightosphere” After Marceline reveals her strained relationship with her father to Finn and Jake via a song about him stealing her French fries, Finn summons him from an alternate dimension known as the Nightosphere … without realizing that her dad happens to be the Lord of Evil.

Season 2: Episodes 24 & 25, “Mortal Folly” and “Mortal Recoil” In “Mortal Folly,” we’re introduced to the Lich (voiced by Ron Perlman), an undead sorcerer who serves as one of the few purely evil characters on the show—and who becomes important to the plot down the line. At the end of “Mortal Folly,” the Lich nearly kills Princess Bubblegum. Though she survives, in “Mortal Recoil,” it becomes clear that something’s, uh, a little different about her.

Season 3, Episode 9, “Fionna and Cake” This is the first of a series of gender-bender episodes, where each of the Adventure Time gang is replaced with their other-sex alter ego—in the case of Finn and Jake, they’re replaced by Fionna and Cake, a girl in a rabbit-like hat and a sassy, stretchy cat. Neil Patrick Harris guests as Prince Gumball. The episode is totally out of the blue, and totally amazing.

Season 3, Episode 17, “Thank You” Considered one of the best Adventure Time episodes ever, this one-off is about a Snow Gollum who befriends a fire wolf pup from a pack that is destroying his snowy world. As the Snow Gollum works to return the pup to his family, he risks melting. This episode shows off the true artistry of Adventure Time—and it’s done almost entirely without dialogue.

Season 3, Episode 18, “The New Frontier” The episode opens with Jake having a “croak dream,” a premonition of his death. Though Jake finds comfort in knowing how he’ll die, Finn panics. But, as Finn works prevent Jake from meeting the same demise he experienced in his dream, he seems to actually propel Jake closer to his foreseen fate. It’s like a modern retelling of Oedipus denying the prediction of the Oracle, without all the weird familial sex stuff and a bit more about the afterlife. You know, normal kids’ show stuff.

Season 3, Episode 27, “Holly Jolly Secrets Part II” Finn and Jake discover Ice King’s past as Simon Petrikov, an antiquarian driven mad by the magic of the Ice King crown after buying it in Scandinavia.

Season 4: Episode 10, “Goliad” We’re introduced to the immortal, genetically modified candy sphinx destined to take over the Candy Kingdom if Princess Bubblegum dies. We’re not sure why PB thought this was a good idea considering how Lemongrab turned out. And, of course, the plan to teach Goliad smarts and a sense of justice backfires. The episode features a glorious reappearance by Buff Baby Finn—we’ll get to that later.

Season 4: Episode 25, “I Remember” Ice King comes to Marceline to help him write a song to attract princesses. Marcy, disgusted with what the wizard Ice King has become, starts to reveal more about her relationship with Simon in the aftermath of the Great Mushroom War. This episode features an incredibly poignant duet—if you’ve been following the Ice King’s plotline, we dare you not to sniffle.

Season 5: Episode 6, “Jake the Dad” Jake and his girlfriend Lady Rainicorn, a Korean rainbow-unicorn hybrid, have puppies. They are, obviously, adorable, and become recurring characters (two are voiced by reunited TV-siblings Kristen Schaal and Dan Mintz, who play Tina and Louise Belcher on Bob’s Burgers).

Season 5: Episode 13, “Simon and Marcy” Marcy tells Finn and Jake about the beginning of her friendship with Ice King 996 years ago, when Simon and was the caretaker of 7-year-old Marcy in the ruins of the war.

Season 5: Episode 16, “Puhoy” Finn accidentally finds himself in an alternate pillow world. Unable to find his way back home to the treehouse, he meets a pillow woman named Roselinen, gets married, has children, and starts a whole new life. The episode features guest voicing from Wallace Shawn.

Season 5: Episode 17, “BMO Lost” BMO (Niki Yang) tries to find her way back to the treehouse after being snatched up by an eagle. While wandering, BMO meets a bubble (named Bubble) and a baby that they name Ricky. Come for a Rube Goldberg-like chain of actions that Bubble uses to save Ricky and BMO, stay for BMO and Bubble’s gender-ambiguous love story.

Season 5: Episode 29, “Frost and Fire” Finn eggs on Flame Princess to fight Ice King after a previous conflict between the two sparks some, er, pleasant dreams. Unfortunately for Finn, it marks a serious betrayal of Flame Princess’ trust and the dissolution of their relationship.

Season 5: Episode 31, “Earth and Water” Flame Princess and Princess Bubblegum’s tumultuous past is revealed (and indicates a rocky relationship to come between the Flame and Candy Kingdoms), and an unlikely friendship is forged between Flame Princess and Cinnamon Bun.

Season 5: Episode 34, “The Vault” Finn revisits his past life as a one-armed bandit named Shoko, who has a strange encounter with Princess Bubblegum (who is way older than she seems—or, as Finn says it, “PB, you’re like a bazillion years old! You’re not freaking 19, what the heck?”).

Season 5: Episode 48, “Betty” Ice King is briefly changed back to Simon Petrikov. Though he starts dying without magic keeping him alive, he asks Marceline, Finn, and Jake to help him time travel to communicate with his fiancée, Betty Grof (voiced by Lena Dunham).

Season 5: Episode 51, “Billy’s Bucket List” Skip the awkward rap contest at the start of this episode. You’re here for the incredible ending and, of course, to see Finn race through the desert on a motorcycle while being chased by a dinosaur.

Season 6: There are some mediocre episodes this season, but not many. Season 6 is when things, generally, start to get very real. Don’t miss the first three episodes, which are key to the plot (and feature the amazing Prismo, voiced by Kumail Nanjiani). Some other standout episodes include “Breezy,” in which a seriously depressed Finn tries to make out with tons of princesses to fill an emotional void; “Evergreen,” in which we get a strange, cosmic explanation for Ice King and Gunter’s relationship and Ice King’s magic crown; and “Astral Plane,” in which Finn has an out-of-body experience, contemplates the meaning of life, and watches Glob sacrifice himself to save Mars from a comet … that is diverted toward Earth.

Why You Should Binge:

Most of the episodes are easy enough to follow that they could be watched as one-offs. But part of the joy of Adventure Time is how much detail is packed into each short episode. Binge-ing is the best way to follow the narrative arcs and watch the characters change, sometimes very literally. As Finn ages, you can see him slowly become taller. (And as Finn’s voice actor Jeremy Shada matures, you can hear the character’s voice crack and deepen.) Once Season 6 wraps up, there will be a miniseries focused on Marceline—we have a feeling it will be worthwhile to catch up on the series before that gets started.

Best Scene—Tie

The Best Scene crown has to be split in two for Adventure Time. The first half goes to Buff Baby Finn, as first seen by Marceline while traveling through Finn’s memories (long story):

The second half goes to Jake’s encounter with a dancing bug:

The Takeaway:

“I was just playing around with my imagination. And then everything got intense.”—Jake the Dog

If You Liked Adventure Time You’ll Love:

Regular Show, created by Pendleton Ward’s CalArts friend J.G. Quintel, follows the antics of a blue jay and raccoon working as groundskeepers at a park. Also check out Steven Universe, created by Adventure Time alumna Rebecca Sugar, writer of many glorious AT songs, including the aforementioned “Bacon Pancakes.”

With Super-Slim Windows, Microsoft Eyes the Future of Cloud Computing

Today, big Silicon Valley names like Google and Twitter run their online services atop the open source Linux operating system across thousands of machines. To efficiently execute software with so much hardware in the mix, they use a technology called “containers.” What they don’t use is Windows.

Microsoft’s flagship operating system operates quite differently from Linux—which could be a problem as containers become the preferred way of computing in the cloud. But now, as so many others follow the lead of giants like Google and Twitter, Microsoft is reshaping Windows so that it doesn’t get left behind.

In the fall, Microsoft announced that it would add Linux-like container technology to a future version of Windows. Today, the company revealed that it’s also developing a super-slim version of Windows that will run what it describes as a new kind of container—one that provides an added level of security. The OS is called Windows Server Nano.

According to Microsoft spokesman Mike Schutz, the company is building a way of wrapping containers in its Hyper-V “virtualization” technology, so that they’re completely isolated from each other. But the real news seems to be that Microsoft will offer a stripped-down operating system along the lines of CoreOS, a Linux operating system that’s particularly suited to running containers across a large number of computers. This kind of operating system represents the future of online services, which necessarily run on hundreds or even thousands of machines—or what industry marketers like to call the cloud.

Unsuited to the Task

At a San Francisco company called Pivotal, Mike Kropf helps build such services, and he says that today’s Windows is, in many ways, unsuited to the task. Part of the problem, he says, is that Windows is such a large operating system that you need time to deploy it across many machines. In an age when you can so easily push Linux operating systems like CoreOS onto a vast array of computer servers, Windows is behind. Kropf calls Microsoft’s move to close this gap “interesting.”

It’s also important that Windows Server Nano will offer containers. Containers provides a way encapsulating software so that developers and businesses can more efficiently run applications across a large number of machines. In essence, you can readily move these containers from machine to machine, as well as squeeze many of them onto the same machine, to take advantage of any unused computing power.

But the added security Microsoft provides with its “Hyper-V containers” is something that will appeal to only some organizations, such as government agencies that have extreme security requirements. Some agencies may need a way of tightly securing individual containers because they’re running alongside containers from other agencies. Regulations often require agencies to maintain complete software separation.

Yes, many organizations now run containers atop public cloud computing services such as Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud and Microsoft Azure, and that means they end up sharing computers with each other. But here, containers run atop virtual machines, which provide the needed security.

This Guy Says He Can Make 20-Year-Old Rum in 6 Days

Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits Distillery outside his lab in Monterey, Ca. Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits Distillery outside his lab in Monterey, Ca. Gabriela Hasbun/WIRED

The whiskey renaissance has the world clamoring for well-aged hooch, but the so-called brown spirits—whiskey, brandy, rum—have one widely-publicized problem. It takes time, and lots of it, to make them. Or at least to make them taste good.

The booze industry has been looking for shortcuts to the aging process virtually since its inception, ranging from dumping extra oak chips into barrels of whiskey to artificially heating and cooling them to rapidly simulate the passing of seasons. While some of these tools have had modest levels of success, many have been complete failures. In fact, even Jesus weighed in on the dangers of trying to hasten the processes of nature when he said, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined.” (Luke 5:37)

If Bryan Davis has his way, that’s all about to be totally upended, sacrilege or not. Davis has come up with a method of producing spirits that taste like they’ve been aging in the barrel for 20 years, but his process only takes six days. Davis doesn’t accelerate the aging process like so many of the methods that have been tried in the past. Rather, he shortcuts it by taking new distillate and running it through his proprietary chemical reactor. Davis’s device forces the creation of the same key chemical compounds that give a well-aged spirit its unique character. Give him a week, and Davis says he can create a booze that tastes decades old.

The transformative effect Davis’s technique could have on the spirits industry cannot be overstated—not only from a production standpoint, but also in the challenge it presents to long-held attitudes about the craft of distilling. It’s something that takes time, and lots of it, to be done correctly. By all but removing time from the equation, Davis could end up rebooting the entire culture.

Of course, that’s only true if Davis’s system actually works as well as he claims. Those of us who’ve tasted the results are already believers. Whether or not the rest of the spirits world will raise their glasses in praise remains to be seen.

The Young Science of Making Old Spirits

Formerly employed as an art teacher, Davis decided to get into absinthe distilling when the U.S. production ban lifted. While living in Spain he made a well-regarded bottling called Obsello beginning in 2006. By 2009 the absinthe market was starting to tank so he set his sights on more traditional, aged spirits. He sold Obsello, relocated to the states with his girlfriend and business partner Joanne Narula, and started Lost Spirits as a self-described “skunk works” on the shores of the Pacific in Monterey, California.

Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits Distillery. Gabriela Hasbun/WIRED

Lost Spirits at one time boasted a completely wooden still (these work with steam rather than direct heat) and a water cooling reservoir that doubled as a gloriously heated swimming pool after each production run. Lost Spirits initially turned out heavily-peated American whiskeys designed to taste like the spirits you find on Scotland’s Islay, and bottlings like Lost Spirits Leviathan generated a cult following among peat freaks.

Leviathan spent just a short time in barrel, but Davis wanted to figure out a way to reduce the time even further—preferably to nearly zero. Explaining his interest in the subject, Davis says “it just seemed like something doable and with a massive benefit and need. I didn’t—and still don’t—think the craft spirits movement could survive without someone hacking the process.” Aging in barrels for years requires a massive amount of capital that few small distilleries can afford. Reducing that time ultimately became a bit of a quest for Davis, and he started tinkering with the science of aging as a hobby around 2008, immersing himself in researching the chemical reactions that take place inside the barrel and partnering with a biochemist to understand the magical ways that wood and alcohol interact.

A breakthrough came in 2010, when Davis says he finally figured out how to force “oak catalyzed esterification,” a key part of the maturation process.

Like any foodstuff, aged spirits are complex beasts, with every step of the production process contributing to the final product. Fermentation and distillation are the quick and relatively easy parts. It’s inside the barrel where things undergo the mightiest of changes, and where spirits like whiskey and Cognac develop their characteristic nuances.

New-make distillate is distinguished by short-chain molecules called carboxylic esters and short-chain fatty acids. In a white dog or unaged whiskey, these have aromas that include overripe fruit and paint thinner and vinegar. Drinkable, but rarely worth savoring by the fire. Still, you need these chemicals to start with, because the interaction between these compounds and the wood in the barrel results in two processes: extraction and esterification.

Much as it sounds, extraction involves the pulling of new chemicals from the oak, including phenol, benzoic acid, and vanillin. When you taste notes of sawed wood, burnt toast, smoke, or vanilla in a whiskey, it’s largely due to extraction of these compounds from the barrel, literally aldehydes and phenols leaching into your drink. Extraction isn’t all that difficult, but alone it doesn’t really impact a spirit that positively. (Inhale the essence-of-lumberyard aroma of a craft whiskey that was aged for six months and you’ll get the idea.)

Bryan Davis. Bryan Davis. Gabriela Hasbun/WIRED

Davis says that the more complex part of the barrel aging process is esterification, which is when alcohol and phenol or weak acids bond together. The result of this reaction is the creation of medium- and long-chain esters, which are responsible for the flavors and aromas of honey, floral elements, and nutty notes—the classic character of a nicely aged spirit. Meanwhile, “off” flavors dissipate during the process as the short-chain acids vanish in the reaction. Says Davis, “Butyric acid, a common acid found in white rums, has the characteristic aroma of vomit. However, when it is esterified with ethanol, the resulting ester, ethyl butyrate, has the aroma of a pineapple.” Sounds great, but the process can take years or decades, depending on the climate in which the barrel is stored.

It’s All About the Esters

The trick then is to encourage esterification in a short time period, and that’s the core science behind Davis’s Model 1 reactor. The reactor accomplishes this in three stages, taking white distillate and chunks of oak as inputs. The first stage forces the esterification of short-chained fatty acids in the white spirit, turning them into fruity, short-chained esters. Phase two literally splits apart big polymer molecules in the oak, extracting the compounds needed to complete the esterification process. This pulls out the aldehydes needed for the final step, but also some unpleasant medium-chained acids. In the final stage, those acids and phenolic compounds are forced to esterify, with simple esters being made to bind and combine into longer-chained esters that would normally be associated with a very mature spirit.

What comes out the other side is not necessarily an aged spirit, but rather one that bears the same chemical signature of an aged spirit. Davis uses mass spectrometry to compare old spirits with products put through his process. Spikes on the chromatogram correspond to compounds that appear in the highest concentrations in the spirits.

Davis simplifies all of this, saying, “Our trick was to develop a system that breaks the wood polymers apart in the same proportion as classical aging. Then force the esterification.” But that’s really all that Davis can say publicly about the process until his patents are finalized. In a nutshell, he is catalyzing the same chemical reactions that happen in the barrel, rapid-fire.

Reviving Dead Spirits Through Science

A few years ago, while developing the Model 1, Davis switched from whiskey to rum production. (Bags of sugar are easier to come by.) Lost Spirits Colonial American Inspired Rum, released in December 2014, was the first commercial product to fully undergo the Lost Spirits accelerated aging process, and the reviews were glowing (including one from this critic). Bottled at 62 percent alcohol, it’s a bracing, navy-strength rum with intense coffee, dried fruit, and chocolate notes, with a gentle smoky finish.

Colonial tastes a lot like very old, overproof rum—The Black Tot is often mentioned—which is of course the whole idea. The chromatograms that compare this rum to very old stock (like Port Mourant 33 Years Old) are uncannily similar. Spikes on both graphs show that both products contain significant doses of ethyl octanoate, ethyl propanoate, and isovaleraldehyde, among a dozen or so other compounds. Both spirits spike in the same places, though Colonial’s are often a bit smaller—an effect Davis chalks up to the limitations of his technique.

“It tops out after about 20 years,” he says. “If you let it keep running after that, things quickly go out of balance.” Davis says that’s because the Model 1 does not allow for any substantial evaporation: Put in 100 liters of white dog and you get back about 98 liters of aged spirit. Without the “angel’s share”—equating to about 50 percent evaporation in a 33 year old rum—it just doesn’t seem possible to push a spirit any further.

The Model 1 can process 555 liters of spirit every week. The software is cloud-based, controlled by an onsite iPad but managed by Davis. Davis requires a $20,000 deposit to lease a reactor, which will cost $4,000 a month to rent. After an initial run of five to be shipped this summer, he wants to produce 50 reactors a year.

Davis says he wants to promote higher quality spirits, save time and money for distillers, and allow for rapid prototyping. Now a distiller needn’t wait 20 years to see if a new mashbill produces a spirit worth drinking. “Distillers will be able to immediately see what a spirit aged in, say, chestnut wood tastes like,” he says.

Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits Distillery. Gabriela Hasbun/WIRED

Davis also says the goal isn’t necessarily to increase subterfuge in an industry that already suffers from a high level of artifice. “Transparency is important. Quality is more important,” says Davis. “I hope we can help a bunch of distilleries to show an amazing value to consumers. My beta testers (so far) have said they desire to be up front about it. If this becomes a major issue I may well intervene. Until the patent expires, this is under my company’s control. As long as I have the driver’s seat I intend to see an open and transparent market.”

One of Davis’s big goals is that the reactor will make it possible to revive, well, “lost spirits” that are no longer in production, like the beloved but defunct Wray & Nephew 17 Year Old Rum, built not through poring over old recipe books and notes but rather by simply recreating their chemical signatures in the lab.

Prior and Future Art

The distilling world is awash in companies that are trying to leverage technology to rapidly age spirits, but Davis dismisses them all as primitive at best, charlatans at worst. Perhaps the closest to Lost Spirits is a company called Terressentia, which uses ultrasound and oxygenation to purportedly induce the production of long-chain esters like Davis. Products made with the company’s TerrePURE are commercially available and are often labeled as such. “Based on their patent, Terressentia is where we were five years ago,” says Davis.

Meanwhile, Davis has his own believers lining up. He formally and publicly unveiled the Model 1 at the American Distilling Institute Annual Spirits Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, on April 1, as inauspicious a choice of release date as possible for such a machine. After his presentation, he says he received 27 inquiries and signed up nine beta testers to fill his five openings. He’s now holding a waiting list for future customers.

Greg Miller, Ph.D., is a professor of chemical engineering at UC Davis and a self-described whiskey enthusiast who is one of only a handful of outsiders who have seen the system in operation. Miller is a wholesale believer who describes what Davis has done as “really extraordinary” but says that the proof is right there in the bottle.

“I’ve been following Davis’s products for years,” Miller says. “I had no idea that Bryan was working on a hobby scale. I thought he’d been distilling on an industrial scale and had been aging in barrels for years and years.”

Miller says the biggest risk for Davis is what will happen once his patent is published and knockoffs start to emerge. With a basic scientific background and the instructions that the patent will provide, Miller says the actual methodology involved is trivial. “Anyone can do it.”

And in fact that day may come sooner than expected. Davis says he’s heard of at least four competing technologies under development by major American distilleries that are designed to accelerate aging, but he says that none can come close to matching his 20-year technology—not yet, anyway.

For now, if you want to hack your way to a 20 year old rum, brandy, or bourbon in the space of a week, it seems that Davis is your only bet—and there’s nothing funky going on behind the scenes, either. “It’s crystal clear from the evidence,” says Miller. “He’s the real deal.”

An Unnecessarily Rushed Recap of the Funniest Game Ever

Unnecessarily Rushed Explanations is a new WIRED video series in which I can’t stop talking. In fact, I’m not allowed to.

With zero preparation, and with the cameras rolling, the WIRED video team gives me a mandate—in this case, describe the funniest videogame of all time—and I have to think of and defend an answer without stopping until I think I’ve made the case. This time, I made the split-second decision to defend Sam & Max Hit the Road (recently re-released!) as the funniest game ever made.

Agree? Disagree? I’ll be defending my rushed explanation in the YouTube comments. Let us know what you think!

An Algorithm to Make Online Currency as Trustworthy as Cash

An internet of money. That’s the dream.

Through bitcoin and other digital currencies, so many activists, entrepreneurs, and opportunists are chasing the dream. They envision a world where we can trade money as easily as we trade data, where anyone can send and receive currency from any machine on earth, where our financial system is controlled not by big banks or big government but by the people.

The trouble is: we need a way ensuring that the people can be trusted, that this vast network of machines can reliably keep track of our money, that no one can game the system and make off with money that isn’t rightful theirs (or, at least, that no one will game things too easily). Bitcoin tackles this issue using a rather elaborate online system where people build specialized computers, or “mining rigs,” that do little more than solve random math problems all day long. But David Mazières is proposing a new method, one that affords trust—perhaps even a greater level of trust—without relying on the expensive and power-hungry mining operations that drive bitcoin.

David Mazières is a professor of computer science at Stanford University. But right now, he’s on leave at Stellar, a San Francisco non-profit that’s seeks an extreme version of that dream. Stellar aims to create a worldwide network of machines that lets anyone send any currency and have it arrive as any other—bitcoin could arrive dollars, euros as yen, Brazilian real as dogecoin—and last summer, the organization asked Mazières to show that all those machines could keep each other accurate and honest.

The result is a new kind of algorithm. You can think of as a mathematical model for online trust, and it can help drive not only the Stellar network, but all sorts of other online systems that seek to operate without a central authority, from digital currencies to stock markets to email services. As Mazières describes it, at the highest of levels, the algorithm provides a way for a vast network of machines to reach a reliable consensus. “It’s a way of having everyone in the world agree on something,” he says. And this include everyone agreeing that everyone else is on the up-and-up.

Achieving Consensus

It’s a fascinating, if rather complicated, proof, and today, Stellar and Mazières are sharing it with the world. They’re releasing a paper that describes this “consensus algorithm,” seeking comment from outside academics and developers, and they’re open sourcing a new version of the Stellar software that makes use of it. Stellar had previously open sourced software for running its money network, but according to project founder Jeb McCaleb, it didn’t work all that well with a large number of machines—and it needed a way of ensuring trust. “We never really had a good proof for why the system works,” he says. “We needed to show that anyone can plug into the system, and it can remain robust.”

Dan Boneh, a computer science and electrical engineering professor at Stanford who specializes in cryptographic systems, has reviewed the paper, calling it “pretty interesting.” The algorithm, he says, could help build a wide range of online systems that require many machines to securely and accurately work in concert. “It can serve any system that’s based on quorums, where we must all agree on what the state of the world is,” he says. “It can be used for payments transactions, the exchange of property rights, financial trading, all the standard applications of a trust ledger.”

At least, that’s the theory. Although he has reviewed the paper, Boneh has not reviewed the software code—and that code is still evolving. Stellar must still turn theory into reality.

Trust Without Miners

Stellar was bootstrapped by McCaleb, an early bitcoiner, and Stripe, the startup that helps drive online payments for he likes of Apple, Facebook, and Twitter. Like bitcoin, McCaleb and Stellar aim to create a universal online ledger that securely controls the movement of money from one place to another. But unlike bitcoin, it will deal in many currencies, not just one. And it won’t use miners.

Bitcoin miners serve multiple purposes. These are the machines that run bitcoin’s universal ledger, or “blockchain.” And if you set one up, you’ll receive a fraction of the new bitcoin currency the system creates with each passing day. That’s how the system encourages people to run its network. But mining requires a pretty large investment too: you can’t win those new bitcoin unless you build a pretty hefty rig that performs more mathematical busy work than most miners on the network. That’s how the system engenders trust. “If someone spends enough money on the infrastructure needed to mine bitcoin,” Boneh says, “then they have incentive to keep the system running well.”

With his algorithm—dubbed federated byzantine agreement—Mazières builds trust in a very different way. In short, he knits together a large trusted network from smaller trusted networks. In joining the network, you connect to people you know and trust. They, in turn, connect to machines they trust. And so on. If the system can show that none of the small quorums are separated from the rest, then we can all trust the larger whole. “As an individual, I choose users that I can trust and those users do the same,” Boneh explains. “If we can achieve that combinatorial property, we can achieve consensus.”

That may sound simple. But the proof is not. As McCaleb explain it, in analyzing how the network is organized, the system can mathematically determine where the weak points are, and then work to shore up those weaknesses. Basically, it can help machines determine what other machines they should trust. “You can see where you need to plug in to make the system stronger,” McCaleb says.

According to Boneh, who has worked alongside Mazières at Stanford but has no connection to the Stellar project, the algorithm is something new. Existing “byzantine fault-tolerance algorithms” do something similar, but they only work with a fixed number of machines. Stellar’s algorithm, in theory, works with a unlimited number of machines. Plus, it allows more people to join the network because it doesn’t require power-hungry mining rigs. “Anyone can potentially participate in the consensus—and you don’t burn up a lot of power,” Boneh says.

Where’s the Incentive?

The rub is that this system doesn’t encourage people to add machines to the network in the way that bitcoin does. You don’t have miners paying people for their hardware resources. But according to McCaleb, who launched one of the first big bitcoin exchanges, all sorts of organizations will help run the Stellar network simply because they want that “internet of money.”

Unlike bitcoin, McCaleb points out, Stellar is trying to build a system that handles all currencies, that means its audience is potentially larger, that more organizations will be interested in using it, from PayPal to Wells Fargo. These organizations will not just want to use the system, but help run it—so that they can ensure that it runs well. “Anyone who is running a business on Stellar will want to run their own node,” he explains. “And because it’s lightweight, asking people to run it is not a big thing.”

It’s an idealistic pitch. But that’s the nature of the project. Stellar isn’t an startup designed make money. It’s a non-profit intent on building a way for others to move it. That’s an ambitious undertaking. But at least some of the pieces are in place.

Plotting the elimination of dengue

Researchers at the University of Melbourne along with international collaborators are using a novel way to block the dengue virus in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes using the insect bacterium Wolbachia and have for the first time provided projections of its public health benefit.

Dengue is a viral infection spread between humans by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Dengue causes flu-like symptoms, including intense headaches and joint pains.

Published in the Journal of Science Translational Medicine, Professor Cameron Simmons, from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Melbourne and the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, said that the discovery could lead to improved strategies to reduce the incidence of dengue.

"We did a 'real world' experiment and allowed mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia and uninfected mosquitoes to feed on the blood of Vietnamese dengue patients. Our team then measured how efficiently Wolbachia blocked dengue virus infection of the mosquito body and saliva, which in turn steps stops them spreading the virus between humans," Professor Simmons said.

Researchers developed a mathematical model of dengue virus transmission and used the experimental results as a basis to predict how well Wolbachia would reduce the intensity of dengue transmission under a variety of scenarios.

"We found that Wolbachia could eliminate dengue transmission in locations where the intensity of transmission is low or moderate. In high transmission settings, Wolbachia would also cause a significant reduction in transmission.

"Our findings are important because they provide realistic measures of the ability of Wolbachia to block transmission of the dengue virus and provide precise projections of its impact on dengue infections," Professor Simmons said.

Wolbachia has been recently introduced into Cairns and Townsville and the results of this study suggest future dengue outbreaks in these cities should be much less severe than in the past.

"Our results will enable policy makers in dengue-affected countries to make informed decisions on Wolbachia when allocating scarce resources to dengue control," Professor Simmons said.

Dengue continues to be a major public health problem in Asia and Latin America. Estimates suggest more than 100 million cases occur globally each year.

Story Source:

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

The Invisible Design Behind the Apple Watch’s Many Faces

On February 10th, 1982, in a room full of designers and engineers drinking champagne and eating cake, Steve Jobs called out the names of Apple’s Macintosh team. And one by one, beginning with motherboard engineer Burrell Smith, they signed their names to a large sheet of paper.

These 47 signatures—some in perfect script, others loopy and illegible, a few just hastily printed—would soon be inscribed on the inside of every Macintosh, etched into the hard plastic case. According to former engineer Andy Hertzfeld, whose signature is on that paper and whose business card during his time at Apple read “Software Wizard,” this was a natural course of events. “Since the Macintosh team were artists,” he wrote on his blog, “it was only appropriate that we sign our work.”

Thirty-three years later, the spirit lives on. Apple’s human-interface chief Alan Dye says that people always ask him what the secret sauce is at Apple, and his answer can seem slightly unsatisfying.

“It’s not that big a secret,” he says. “We have a group of people who are really, really super-talented, but they really care. They care about details that a designer might not show in his portfolio because it’s so arcane. And yet getting it right is so critical to the experience.”

Inside Apple’s design studio, where hardware engineers sit next to software programmers next to graphic designers, there is but one constant character trait: the drill-down, the asking of question after question.

As Dye speaks, he’s flipping through a coffee table book his team made to document some of its process for designing the Apple Watch. The Watch could be Apple’s most important product since the iPad: It’s more than three years in the making, and its aim is nothing short of igniting the market for smartwatches. The stakes are enormous.

Yet what Dye seems most fascinated by is one of the Apple Watch’s faces, called Motion, which you can set to show a flower blooming. Each time you raise your wrist, you’ll see a different color, a different flower. This is not CGI. It’s photography.

“We shot all this stuff,” Dye says, “the butterflies and the jellyfish and the flowers for the motion face, it’s all in-camera. And so the flowers were shot blooming over time. I think the longest one took us 285 hours, and over 24,000 shots.”

Apple spent weeks photographing jellyfish, butterflies, and flowers in incredible detail for watch faces. Apple spent weeks photographing jellyfish, butterflies, and flowers in incredible detail for watch faces. Apple

He flips a few pages further into the making-of book, onto the first of several full-page spreads with gorgeous photos of jellyfish. There’s no obvious reason to have a jellyfish watch face. Dye just loves the way they look. “We thought that there was something beautiful about jellyfish, in this sort of space-y, alien, abstract sort of way,” he says. But they didn’t just visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium with an underwater camera. They built a tank in their studio, and shot a variety of species at 300 frames-per-second on incredibly high-end slow-motion Phantom cameras. Then they shrunk the resulting 4096 x 2304 images to fit the Watch’s screen, which is less than a tenth the size. Now, “when you look at the Motion face of the jellyfish, no reasonable person can see that level of detail,” Dye says. “And yet to us it’s really important to get those details right.”

The Watch’s faces are littered with such details. The Mickey Mouse face, which is an explicit update on the 1933 Mickey Mouse Watch from Ingersoll, was particularly complex. Select this face, and watch Mickey’s toe tap once per second, in perfect time. Line up a bunch of watches, Dye says, and they’ll all tap at exactly the same time. There’s no reason to point out that almost no one will ever fact-check this claim—he doesn’t care. He did it for the same reason Jony Ive has taken to personally designing the internals of the Mac. Details matter.

The Astronomy watch face is another of Dye’s favorites: it gives you a view of the Earth as if you were floating peacefully above it. Spin the Digital Crown and you see moon phases, the Earth’s rotation, and even the solar system. It’s a riff on the oldest method of telling the time just with digital stars and planets instead of those far-away real ones.

Dye points out the subtlety of this face. “When you tap on the Earth and fly over the moon: We worked really hard with our engineering team to make sure the path you take from your actual position on the Earth to where the moon is and seeing its phase, is true to the actual position of the Earth relative to the moon.”

It's that rare combination of financial security and artistic obsession that make Apple, and the Apple Watch, hard to beat.

Apple employees often use the word “inevitable” to describe their work. When Dye uses it, it’s self-deprecating, as if to say: ‘this was always the right answer, but it took us a while to figure that out.’ It’s true of even seemingly simple things, he says, like the concentric circles the Watch uses to display your fitness goals.

“I couldn’t tell you from a design perspective the number of iterations we did on those three rings.” The human interface team wanted to make it easy to see progress and activity for the day, but also to make you want to hit your goals. “We spent a year, and did far more studies… enough studies to kind of fill this wall, probably,” he says, gesturing to the giant glass walls of Apple’s Caffe Macs cafeteria. “Different ways that, at a glance, someone could understand that information, and easily assess where they’re at in their day, and hopefully in a really simple and visceral way feel like they accomplished something when they fill them up.” They arrived at three circles because there’s just something about a not-quite-complete circle that drives you just crazy enough to take those last 400 steps.

Every face is about time, whether it's flowers blooming over many hours or a butterfly's wings flapping quickly. James Day

Alan Dye and his team can afford to spend months—years—developing watch faces to a level of detail and craftsmanship far beyond expectation because their company has $178 billion in the bank backing them up. Is it worth it? We’re about to find out. Apple’s team has had the time and space to make sure the taps on your wrist feel right, that the Milanese loop strap clasps exactly the right way, and that the watch faces are far more rich than you will ever notice. Apple can afford, to borrow a well-worn Steve Jobs parable, to paint the back of the fence. And so they did. We’ll soon see if this level of obsessive fidelity pays off. One thing is clear, though: While there are no signatures etched on the inside of the Apple Watch—we think—the marks of the people who worked on it are there everywhere you look.

Daredevil’s Showrunner on Bringing Gritty Heroes to Life

Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock in Marvel's Daredevil, premiering today on Netflix. Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock in Marvel's Daredevil, premiering Friday on Netflix. Netflix

Daredevil sees Marvel break its own mold. Based on classic comic-book arcs by Frank Miller and Brian Michael Bendis, the show debuting on Netflix this Friday is grittier and more violent than the studio’s blockbuster summer movies. But it also takes a page from the Marvel Cinematic Universe; Daredevil is the first in a crop of four interrelated shows on the streaming platform—the Man Without Fear will be followed by Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist—which will culminate in a crossover Defenders miniseries. (Just like the Avengers, but with some of Marvel’s lesser-powered, more approachable “street-level” heroes.) Daredevil showrunner Steven DeKnight took some time to talk to us about what inspired the series, what to expect, and how to bring the MCU to the small screen.

WIRED: Are you still working on the show?

DeKnight: Last night, we just did the final mix on the finale. It’s all in the bag, it’s all mixed and we’re done. I’m for all intents and purposes done with season 1.

How does it feel to be finished?

Sleepy. With no exaggeration, it was working seven days a week for eight months. The only actual time off I’d have was the plane trips back and forth to New York, but I have no complaints.

Daredevil is so tonally different from the movies, but also from Marvel’s other shows like Agents of SHIELD.

Oh, absolutely. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the gods of the Marvel Universe. Captain America, Iron Man, Thor: they tend to save the world. Daredevil is really our first time doing the street-level heroes, so we wanted to differentiate that in terms of both the palette and the tone. We always referenced the classic films of the ’70s is terms of what we wanted to do: Dog Day Afternoon, The French Connection, The Conversation—movies that had that gritty New York feel. It was one of the reasons we wanted to shoot in New York. It’s cheaper to shoot in Canada, but to Marvel’s credit, they really wanted it to be in New York; they felt, and rightly so, that you just can’t capture the feeling of New York without being in New York.

There’s a line in the first episode about things happening in New York that reflect the events of Avengers. Was there pressure from Marvel about wanting it to tie in to the movies even more?

We all wanted it to exist in the same cinematic universe, but we at no point wanted to lead the audience astray and have Iron Man drop from the sky. I’ve never bumped into George Clooney, even though I live in Los Angeles, you know? That’s the way we approach this: we’re in the same universe, but it’s a one in a several hundred million chance that you’d run into one of them.

Since Daredevil is the first of the four Netflix shows, what kind of conversations were there about things that you should seed for other shows moving forward?

I was up to my eyeballs just trying to get this show off the ground. [Laughs] At that point, AKA Jessica Jones was still in a very, very early stage, and they hadn’t actually put the writers room together yet, while we were much further along. I would have loved to have Jessica Jones pop up, even for a scene or two, but I was shooting the last two days of the finale when they cast Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, so we couldn’t do that on our side. Hopefully down the line, on the other shows, they can take advantage of that a little more.

One thing I appreciated about the first five episodes was that it felt like one story told over multiple chapters, as opposed to an episodic TV show or a procedural.

Jeph Loeb, head of Marvel Television, refers to it as a 13-hour movie, and that’s definitely how we approached it. My last serialized show was Spartacus, and I approached that in the very same way: It was one episode a week , but while each had its own arc, it was also part of one larger story. And now, the way the entire first season goes, there’s definitely an act one, an act two, and an act three. We wanted to give the feeling that you could sit down over a day or two watch the whole thing.

We really approached this foremost as a crime drama. We kept saying, ‘let’s edge towards The Wire instead of anything else.’ One of the things that you keep getting told with a lot of shows in Hollywood these days is that no scene should run longer than two pages, which drives me bananas. My feeling is that a scene should run as long as a scene needs to run. The great thing about Netflix and Marvel is that they let us have these really long, intense scenes of people talking, which you don’t get much on an action TV show.

The Marvel convention has always been to start with the origin story, but Daredevil starts in media res, with the audience having to catch up.

We go back and fill stuff in later on, but why belabor the point with an entire episode of origin story? Let’s get down to it. With a movie, you have some more leeway, you can spend the first act on the origin story and then tell the rest of the story. But with a TV show, I think you have to tell the audience, this is what you’re going to be watching for 13 hours.

What were the comic book influences for this? The opening titles mention Stan Lee and Bill Everett, but I got much more of a Frank Miller vibe, and a Bendis vibe as well.

You hit it right on the head. Stan and Bill, of course, co-created the characters. We drew our spiritual inspiration from the Frank Miller run and the Bendis run. We pulled a lot from elsewhere, but those two, for me, were the big influences of the tone we wanted to capture. I’m a huge Frank Miller fan and a gigantic Bendis fan — I’m very excited for Jessica Jones, because I think that Alias is one of the great graphic novels, just one of the greatest I’ve ever read. I love Bendis’ work, and I loved his run on Daredevil. It was so different for a comic book.

Are you involved in the Defenders series, or perhaps thinking about a Daredevil Season 2? Is there a future for you and Daredevil after this?

We’ve had no official word on a Season 2 of Daredevil. I’m extremely proud of the show; I think certainly deserves a second season. It’s a little too early for Defenders—I know they’re still working on Luke Cage and Iron Fist and they just started shooting Jessica Jones, so I think that’s down the road a little bit. But if fans pay close attention, there are little things we drop through the season of Daredevil that might get picked up in Defenders.

Were there things that you had to set up, or was it a case of leaving things that you hoped would turn into something?

There’s a little bit of both. There are things we definitely know will pay off, and there are other things that we thought would be really cool to explore later on, either in Defenders or one of the other shows. There are easter eggs that I didn’t even get. We would need to replace a storefront in the background of one of our locations, and we would reach out to our Marvel rep, and we would get back Marvel references that I had to look up—and I’ve been reading comics since the ’60s. There’s a ton of references, both verbal and visual.

The cast is relatively small as well; is that in case there’s another season?

One of the questions I get on social media is ‘Is Elektra going to be in it?’ ‘Is Bullseye going to be in it?’ I love Miller’s Elektra/Bullseye run, but this didn’t seem like the place to do it. I’m not big on cluttering up the landscape with too many ‘villains,’ unless it really serves an emotional purpose. Focusing on Wilson Fisk was exactly the right thing to do. Focus on one antagonist, and really parallel the rise of the hero with the rise of this criminal mastermind.

Vincent D’onfrio does a great job playing Wilson Fisk. You can’t take your eyes off him.

I cannot say enough good things about Vincent. When I first signed on, I started sending Jeph Loeb pictures of Vincent D’onfrio with a shaved head, saying ‘We gotta try to get him.’ We were very, very fortunate. Our casting director knew Vincent and reached out to him, and he was very enthusiastic about the character and the material. I don’t think there’s another human being on the planet that could embody Wilson Fisk as he appears in the comics.

D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk. D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk. Barry Wetcher/Netflix