Monthly Archives: September 2015

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What 2,500 Sequenced Genomes Say About Humanity’s Future When the geneticist Gonçalo Abecasis stood up in front of a group of scientists in 2007 and proposed sequencing 1,000 genomes from people all over the world, he had no idea how he was going to pull it off. The Human Genome Project had published the first complete map of the human genome just four years earlier, and the technology remained exorbitantly expensive. “Imagine you’ve done ten of these,” Abecasis says today of the number of human genomes that had been sequenced at the time. “The first one cost $3 billion, and the other ones cost several million. And you say, ‘what if we set out to do a thousand?’” The price wasn’t the only hurdle. “When we first started talking about doing these genome-wide comparisons between populations”—i.e., groups of people from different continents or with different ancestries—“there was a lot of […]

In the Future, How Will We Talk to Our Technology?   One of the best scenes from Larry David’s tour-de-neuroses Curb Your Enthusiasm opens with Larry sitting at a restaurant. As cheesy music plays, the camera pans out, revealing the guy at the table next to him. He’s sitting alone, but jabbering loudly, reminding someone we can’t see that “on no planet is a shoe caddy a good gift.” Then comes the reveal: Cut to the other side of this joker’s head, and there’s his Bluetooth headset. Larry, tired of his crap, starts talking loudly to himself. Eventually he fights with the guy next to him, and then they both go back to complaining to the empty chairs in front of them. Jerks.The episode aired in 2007. Mercifully, the “Bluedouche” problem went away for a while after that—it was replaced by people sitting in silence, staring into their screens, which is at […]

Think You Know How to Wait in Line for an iPhone? Meet the Pros Most things about waiting in line suck: The waiting. The standing. The boredom. The guy who decides everyone around him really wants to hear his insipid conversation about how his Kickstarter is totally sick, yo. Now, if you absolutely must have a new iPhone 6 S the moment it hits stores today but can’t stomach the thought of actually waiting in line for it, there is no shortage of services that can help out. You can hire a TaskRabbit. You can try that new service Enjoy if you have AT&T and live in the Bay Area or New York. And you can always find someone on Craigslist do your dirty work. These tactics are strictly for small-timers. Kevin, a wily sort from Tacoma, is not a small-timer “Hi,” reads his grammatically-challenged Craigslist ad, “my names [sic] Kevin […]

Facebook Doesn’t Make As Much Money As It Could—On Purpose Facebook’s John Hegeman You can think of John Hegeman as Facebook’s chief economist. He spends his days thinking about the economics of Facebook advertising. That’s an enormous thing. Facebook pulled in $4.04 billion in the second quarter of this year. And the overall economy of Facebook advertising, as Hegeman describes it, is far larger. Advertising, you see, is very much a part of everything else on the world’s largest social network. Hegeman doesn’t just think about ads. He thinks about how ads fit with the rest of Facebook. When he joined Facebook in 2007, after getting a master’s in economics at Stanford University, Hegeman helped build the online auction that drives the company’s advertising system. Auctions are the standard way that online services accept ads from advertisers and place them on web pages and inside smartphone apps. That’s what Google […]

Where Antibiotic Resistance Is Worst Around the World Instead of the usual doom and gloom about antibiotic resistance, let’s begin with the good news. A new global report on antibiotic use, released yesterday, actually found a drop in Staph bacteria resistant to the antibiotic methicillin in countries seriously tackling drug resistance—places across Europe, the US, Canada, and South Africa. The boring stuff like handwashing and antibiotic stewardship? It works.That’s the good news. The bad news is, well, everything else. The report from the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, a public health research organization, shows worrying rates of resistance to last-line antibiotics—the ones given when all others have failed—especially in developing countries. As people use antibiotics more and more often, bacteria develop resistance to the drugs. “It’s a growing problem in the developing world,” says Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of CDDEP. “It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.” CDDEP CDDEP has […]

Google Is 2 Billion Lines of Code—And It’s All in One Place Getty Images How big is Google? We can answer that question in terms of revenue or stock price or customers or, well, metaphysical influence. But that’s not all. Google is, among other things, a vast empire of computer software. We can answer in terms of code.Google’s Rachel Potvin came pretty close to an answer Monday at an engineering conference in Silicon Valley. She estimates that the software needed to run all of Google’s Internet services—from Google Search to Gmail to Google Maps—spans some 2 billion lines of code. By comparison, Microsoft’s Windows operating system—one of the most complex software tools ever built for a single computer, a project under development since the 1980s—is likely in the realm of 50 million lines. So, building Google is roughly the equivalent of building the Windows operating system 40 times over. ‘The […]

Stevie Wonder Made James Corden Cry During Carpool Karaoke Stevie Wonder is an icon. So having him get your wife on the horn to sing “I Just Called to Say I Love You” is a major Life Moment. No wonder it made James Corden cry during this edition of The Late Late Show’s Carpool Karaoke. Well done, James. You kept it together a lot more than we would have. (Also, stick around for these two working their way through many of Wonder’s hits.)

Mapping How Tor’s Anonymity Network Spread Around the World Online privacy projects come and go. But as the anonymity software Tor approaches its tenth year online, it’s grown into a powerful, deeply-rooted privacy network overlaid across the internet. And a new real-time map of that network illustrates just how widespread and global that network has become.On Friday, freelance Sydney-based coder Luke Millanta launched Onionview, a web-based project that counts and tracks the geographic location of Tor nodes, the volunteer computers that bounce encrypted traffic around the web to offer Tor users anonymity. His goal, in part, was to show the network’s scale and how much it’s grown. “People think that Tor is 10 people running computers in their basements,” Millanta says. “When people see the map, they say ‘Holy shit. That’s what 6,000 nodes around the world looks like.’”Millanta’s map also makes it possible to compare which countries host the […]

Sorry, Apple. Turns Out Designers Don’t Use iPads Getty Images In between announcing a Hermès-branded Apple Watch and another incremental improvement to the iPhone during its big event in San Francisco this week, Apple snuck in an Adobe demo. It came during presentation of the iPad Pro, and showed some of the ways digital creators will be able to do even more with their tablet. Hint: it involves using software like  Adobe’s new CC brainstorming tool.That’s definitely a great way to use a 12.9-inch iPad, except for one thing: 64 percent of designers don’t brainstorm with software. They do it with pen and paper. That numerical nugget is one of many Khoi Vinh unearthed in a survey this summer. (Vinh, a graphic and interaction designer, was the design director at The New York Times and is now the principal designer at Adobe.) “The Tools Designers Are Using Today” looks at the preferred tools and […]

Dear M. Night Shyamalan: More Movies Like The Visit, Please M. Night Shyamalan on the set of The Visit. John Baer/Universal Pictures Dear M. Night, It’s been a rough stretch. You haven’t had a true hit for 13 years and audiences rightfully started reprimanding you for the precipitous drop in the caliber of your work since Signs. Sure, some people turned out for The Village in 2004 and The Last Airbender in 2010. Each one managed to pull in more than $100 million at the box office, but the former kicked off your sharp decline in quality and the latter marked your critical low point, generating only a 6 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Six percent! M., that is not cool. There was a run there at the turn of the millennium where you were, as the title of your 2000 film would suggest, unbreakable. Your name was at the top of […]

A Smile Detector and Other Apps You Need to Be Using Click to Open Overlay Gallery Visor Recho Recho does one very simple, little thing: It lets you leave a voice message tied to a location. When other people using the app hit those coordinates, Recho will tell them there’s something to listen to. You can use the app to discover different “rechoes” around you, if you actively want to listen in on someone’s location-aware thoughts. You can also share interesting soundbytes with your Recho followers. It’s a little weird and novel, but ultimately a new way to think about digital exploring a place. Visor You should always do your research before heading into the great unknown. Parking, hours of operation, menus—all important intel. Visor looks into how crowded a spot is, a crucial factor for many of us deciding if that beer fest or restaurant opening is even worth […]

IBM Knows What Makes Serena Williams So Good Serena Williams returns a shot to Kiki Bertens on Day Three of the 2015 US Open. It’s always hard to take your eyes off Serena Williams. But it’ll be especially tough at this year’s U.S. Open, where the tennis champ is currently working toward a single season Grand Slam. She’s just so darn good. But what is it, exactly that makes her so good?Sure, we can all speculate—it’s her power, her serve, her stamina, the way she controls a point. But we can’t calculate precisely what makes her game so special. IBM believes it can. Since 1990, IBM has been working with the United States Tennis Association to support the technological infrastructure of the U.S. Open. Back in the day, that meant generating scores and keeping the website up and running. Today, it means doing those things while also analyzing millions of […]

Mutant Plants Suck Toxic TNT (Yes, That TNT) Out of Soil Getty Images You love explosions, I love explosions, everybody loves explosions. Well…explosions where nobody gets hurt and nothing important gets blown up. Take some mortars into a field, drop a couple bombs on an empty prairie, play target practice with a barrel of TNT in the middle of a serene pasture. What’s the harm?The harm is your old pal, contamination. How could you have forgotten about contamination, right? In hindsight, it’s obvious, considering that a TNT-based explosive usually leaves about 2 percent of the material uncombusted, and TNT can cause serious health problems in humans and animals. Getting the stuff out of the soil is a pain, and typically calls for a lot of money and a lot of backhoes. But scientists have figured out how to breed some weeds with a genetically enhanced means of sucking TNT out […]

Google Has A New Logo Google got a new logo today. The new logomark is the company’s first major branding update in 16 years. It will preserve the famous blue-red-yellow-blue-green-red color sequence of the original one (the green letter was thrown in to purposefully break up the primary color pattern, because Google isn’t your ordinary tech company), but will lose the old-style serif typeface. The new logo is simpler, younger, friendlier, and—dare we say—more visually in line with Alphabet, Google’s new holding company. It’s created with a font called Product Sans, a riff on schoolbook lettering style. But the overhaul doesn’t end with the word “Google.” There’s a microphone icon designed to make clear how voice interaction is working, and a four-color “G” logo for mobile that a few smart people have pointed out may be a lot of people’s primary association with Google going forward. Designers are predictably mixed on the […]