viernes, 28 de marzo de 2014

Hour of The Planet 2014 - Saturday March 29th at 8:30pm

On Saturday March 29th at 8:30pm, millions of people across the world are switching off lights for one hour - to celebrate their commitment to the planet. This year, you can do more. 

Use your power with Earth Hour Blue - our all new crowdfunding and crowdsourcing platform. What started as an hour is turning into a global movement. 

Have questions? Visit our FAQs.

Change is already underway, and it's all because of you.

Numenta, Jeff Hawkins’ AI startup, is now only about learning your AWS patterns

photo: Shutterstock / Will Deganello
Numenta, the machine learning company from Palm creator Jeff Hawkins, has narrowed its business model to focus solely on predicting anomalies in Amazon Web Services (AWS) instances. It’s one of several big changes at the company in the past few years.

Numenta, the startup from Palm creator Jeff Hawkins that’s trying to commercialize a “cortical learning algorithm” that mimics the brain’s capability to detect complex patterns, has narrowed its focus to predicting anomalies in customers’ Amazon Web Services instances. It’s a pretty sharp pivot for the company, which came out of stealth mode in late 2012 talking about how it could learn patterns and predict failures in any system pumping out streams of performance data.

Here’s how I described Numenta’s broad capabilities when covering its partnership with smart-grid-management company EnerNOC last year:

Grok … is continuously learning from every new data point that hits the system, and it’s always readjusting its models to account for any changes it sees in the patterns of data. Not only does this help it make predictions faster and more accurately, but it also helps Grok spot anomalies that could cause problems.

Here’s how Numenta now describes the product on its web site:
Grok leverages sophisticated algorithms to analyze connected datastreams, such as those from AWS CloudWatch. Through complex pattern analysis, Grok identifies abnormal conditions or gradual trends – situations that tools based on thresholds or simple statistics can easily miss.

A screenshot of Grok.
While Numenta previously discussed turning Grok loose on streaming data as part of an automated system that could even take action in extreme scenarios, the new Grok provides a mobile-only interface for users to check their metrics. Curiously, it’s Android-only.

Actually, Numenta has undergone a lot of changes in the past few years. The company was founded in 2005 to commercialize one neuroscience-based algorithm but shifted its focus to the cortical learning algorithm in 2009. Co-founder and former CTO Dileep George left in 2010 to launch Vicarious, the artificial intelligence startup that recently received a $40 million investment from Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Ashton Kutcher, among others. Former CEO Rami Branitzky left in August 2013 and is now a managing director at SAP Ventures. Numenta Co-founder Donna Dubinsky is currently CEO.

From May 2013 until Tuesday, Numenta had changed its name to Grok Solutions and maintained Numenta as the name of its open source corollary.

It will be interesting to see if Numenta can catch on among AWS users at a level it apparently couldn’t as a general-purpose technology. There are already myriad services out there for analyzing AWS performance – Stackdriver, Boundary and New Relic among the more well-known ones — and Numenta will have to provide a truly differentiated service to make a name for itself. Its algorithms might be fancier and tuned for prediction rather than just monitoring, but I suspect the folks in charge of keep cloud applications running are tiring of new tools to consider and aren’t too keen on fixing environments that aren’t broken.

For more on the technology behind Numenta, check out then-CEO Branitzky presenting as part of our Big Ideas collection at Structure Data 2013.

MAR. 25, 2014 

Wow...This 3200 Year Old Tree Is So Huge It's Never Been Captured In A Single Image. Until Now.

It takes a special kind of tree to have a nickname.

"The President" is one of those trees. The giant sequoia stands 247 feet tall, measures 45,000 cubic feet in volume, and is an estimated 3,200 years old.

The trunk is 27 feet wide and the his mighty branches hold 2 billion needles, the most of any tree on the planet.

Source: YouTube
On top of that, he still adds one cubic meter of wood per year - making him one of the fastest growing trees in the world.

Giant sequoias exist in only one place, where The President and smaller trees that make up his "House" and "Senate", reside.

On the western slope of the Sierra Nevadas in California, at 5000-8000 ft above sea level.
Until now, the tree had never been photographed in its entirety.

A team of photographers from National Geographic worked with scientists from the park to be the first.

Source: YouTube
It took an intricate set of pulleys and levers to scale the tree, which some argue is the largest in the world (taking width into account).

After 32 days and stitching together 126 separate photos, we are left with this breathtaking portrait of The President.

Absolutely incredible. To see how it was done, check out this video: Source: YouTube

Although we like to think humans are greatest species on earth, The President gives us a stoic reality check by dwarfing these scientists with his enormous trunk. In his 3200 years, he has seen a hundred generations of humans come and go. He has weathered thousands of storms, fires, harsh winters, earthquakes, and even climate change - but is growing even faster than ever before.

To visit the "Giant Forest" at Sequoia National Park and witness the majesty in person, more info here. Share his story with others by clicking below!

ORIGINAL: Distractify
March 4, 2014

Is the Oculus Rift sexist?

Just remember to use parallax and everything will be fine. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

In the fall of 1997, my university built a CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) to help scientists, artists, and archeologists embrace 3D immersion to advance the state of those fields. Ecstatic at seeing a real-life instantiation of the Metaverse, the virtual world imagined in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, I donned a set of goggles and jumped inside. And then I promptly vomited.

I never managed to overcome my nausea. I couldn’t last more than a minute in that CAVE and I still can’t watch an IMAX movie. Looking around me, I started to notice something. By and large, my male friends and colleagues had no problem with these systems. My female peers, on the other hand, turned green.

What made this peculiar was that we were all computer graphics programmers. We could all render a 3D scene with ease. But when asked to do basic tasks like jump from Point A to Point B in a Nintendo 64 game, I watched my female friends fall short. What could explain this?

At the time any notion that there might be biological differences underpinning computing systems was deemed heretical. Discussions of gender and computing centered around services like Purple Moon, a software company trying to entice girls into gaming and computing. And yet, what I was seeing gnawed at me.

That’s when a friend of mine stumbled over a footnote in an esoteric army report about simulator sickness in virtual environments. Sure enough, military researchers had noticed that women seemed to get sick at higher rates in simulators than men. While they seemed to be able to eventually adjust to the simulator, they would then get sick again when switching back into reality.

Being an activist and a troublemaker, I walked straight into the office of the head CAVE researcher and declared the CAVE sexist. He turned to me and said: “Prove it.

The gender mystery
Over the next few years, I embarked on one of the strangest cross-disciplinary projects I’ve ever worked on. I ended up in a gender clinic in Utrecht, in the Netherlands, interviewing both male-to-female and female-to-male transsexuals as they began hormone therapy. Many reported experiencing strange visual side effects. Like adolescents going through puberty, they’d reach for doors—only to miss the door knob. But unlike adolescents, the length of their arms wasn’t changing—only their hormonal composition.

Scholars in the gender clinic were doing fascinating research on tasks like spatial rotation skills. They found that people taking androgens (a steroid hormone similar to testosterone) improved at tasks that required them to rotate Tetris-like shapes in their mind to determine if one shape was simply a rotation of another shape. Meanwhile, male-to-female transsexuals saw a decline in performance during their hormone replacement therapy.

Along the way, I also learned that there are more sex hormones on the retina than in anywhere else in the body except for the gonads. Studies on macular degeneration showed that hormone levels mattered for the retina. But why? And why would people undergoing hormonal transitions struggle with basic depth-based tasks?

Two kinds of depth perception
Back in the US, I started running visual psychology experiments. I created artificial situations where different basic depth cues—the kinds of information we pick up that tell us how far away an object is—could be put into conflict. As the work proceeded, I narrowed in on two key depth cues – “motion parallax” and “shape-from-shading.

Motion parallax has to do with the apparent size of an object. If you put a soda can in front of you and then move it closer, it will get bigger in your visual field. Your brain assumes that the can didn’t suddenly grow and concludes that it’s just got closer to you.

Shape-from-shading is a bit trickier. If you stare at a point on an object in front of you and then move your head around, you’ll notice that the shading of that point changes ever so slightly depending on the lighting around you. The funny thing is that your eyes actually flicker constantly, recalculating the tiny differences in shading, and your brain uses that information to judge how far away the object is.

In the real world, both these cues work together to give you a sense of depth. But in virtual reality systems, they’re not treated equally.

The virtual-reality shortcut
When you enter a 3D immersive environment, the computer tries to calculate where your eyes are at in order to show you how the scene should look from that position. Binocular systems calculate slightly different images for your right and left eyes. And really good systems, like good glasses, will assess not just where your eye is, but where your retina is, and make the computation more precise.

It’s super easy—if you determine the focal point and do your linear matrix transformations accurately, which for a computer is a piece of cake—to render motion parallax properly. Shape-from-shading is a different beast. Although techniques for shading 3D models have greatly improved over the last two decades—a computer can now render an object as if it were lit by a complex collection of light sources of all shapes and colors—what they they can’t do is simulate how that tiny, constant flickering of your eyes affects the shading you perceive. As a result, 3D graphics does a terrible job of truly emulating shape-from-shading.

Tricks of the light
In my experiment, I tried to trick people’s brains. I created scenarios in which motion parallax suggested an object was at one distance, and shape-from-shading suggested it was further away or closer. The idea was to see which of these conflicting depth cues the brain would prioritize. (The brain prioritizes between conflicting cues all the time; for example, if you hold out your finger and stare at it through one eye and then the other, it will appear to be in different positions, but if you look at it through both eyes, it will be on the side of your “dominant” eye.)

What I found was startling (pdf). Although there was variability across the board, biological men were significantly more likely to prioritize motion parallax. Biological women relied more heavily on shape-from-shading. In other words, men are more likely to use the cues that 3D virtual reality systems relied on.

This, if broadly true, would explain why I, being a woman, vomited in the CAVE: My brain simply wasn’t picking up on signals the system was trying to send me about where objects were, and this made me disoriented.

My guess is that this has to do with the level of hormones in my system. If that’s true, someone undergoing hormone replacement therapy, like the people in the Utrecht gender clinic, would start to prioritize a different cue as their therapy progressed.

We need more research
However, I never did go back to the clinic to find out. The problem with this type of research is that you’re never really sure of your findings until they can be reproduced. A lot more work is needed to understand what I saw in those experiments. It’s quite possible that I wasn’t accounting for other variables that could explain the differences I was seeing. And there are certainly limitations to doing vision experiments with college-aged students in a field whose foundational studies are based almost exclusively on doing studies solely with college-age males. But what I saw among my friends, what I heard from transsexual individuals, and what I observed in my simple experiment led me to believe that we need to know more about this.

I’m excited to see Facebook invest in Oculus, the maker of the Rift headset. No one is better poised to implement Stephenson’s vision. But if we’re going to see serious investments in building the Metaverse, there are questions to be asked. I’d posit that the problems of nausea and simulator sickness that many people report when using VR headsets go deeper than pixel persistence and latency rates.

What I want to know, and what I hope someone will help me discover, is whether or not biology plays a fundamental role in shaping people’s experience with immersive virtual reality. In other words, are systems like Oculus fundamentally (if inadvertently) sexist in their design?

By danah boyd
March 28, 2014

danah boyd is a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, a research assistant professor at New York University, and a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center

Llega Suma+mente, una revista para entender la ciencia

Original: SEMANA
Publicaciones Semana le apuesta a la información de este sector fundamental para el desarrollo del país

Desde este domingo (Próximamente) circulará Suma+mente, la primera revista de periodismo científico que busca tomarle el pulso a la Ciencia, la Tecnología y la Innovación (CT+I).

Cada mes los lectores serán testigos de todos los avances, descubrimientos, investigaciones y esfuerzos que están sucediendo Colombia, sin dejar a un lado los acontecimientos mundiales sobre estos temas. Todo esto presentado con un lenguaje periodístico claro, directo y ameno.

Suma+mente trae en su primera edición un profundo análisis del programa de repatriación de cerebros fugados que acaba de lanzar Colciencias y el Gobierno Nacional.

También los lectores podrán enterarse sobre
  • el uso que se les están dando a las regalías para la CT+I; 
  • las razones técnicas y científicas que llevaron a los paperos de Colombia a la quiebra; 
  • la batalla que van a librar Juan Valdez y Starbucks por los consumidores de café en Colombia, 
  • la polémica alrededor de la experimentación en animales o 
  • los avances que se tuvieron que hacer para producir la película Gravity, entre otros. 
La publicación trae, así mismo, tres columnas de opinión que analizan de manera crítica la actualidad científica y tecnológica del país.

Suma+mente busca convertirse en la revista más importante de periodismo y divulgación científica de Colombia. Para ello, cuenta con un experimentado equipo de periodistas, científicos, investigadores y expertos nacionales e internacionales.

En los próximos días Suma+mente estrenará un portal, dedica a los temas de Ciencia tecnología e innovación. Allí los internautas encontrar información actualizada del acontecer científico del país y del mundo

Con este nuevo proyecto, Publicaciones Semana le hace una apuesta para destacar uno de los sectores que hoy es fundamental para el desarrollo del país.

Tomado de: Semana

ORIGINAL: Colciencias

The Forgotten Woman Who Made Microbiology Possible

Angelina Fanny Hesse: An Unsung Heroine of Microbiology
Collage by Fruzsina Eördögh; Petri dish image © M J Richardson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Lab work can be a lot like cooking. You have to follow directions to measure, mix, and heat different chemicals to the right temperature to get the desired result. For some experiments, the desired result is actually something that can be eaten by a range of different organisms. In microbiology labs, feeding bacteria is a major preoccupation, and preparing the proper growth medium in a lab's "kitchen" is often the first step of any experiment. Petri dishes are filled with a sort of savory Jell-O, a nutrient-filled semi-solid matrix that creates a cozy home for bacteria to grow. Without the solid-yet-moist surface of the gel where the bacteria can cling to and reproduce, there's little hope of separating a bacterial cell from its environment in order to study it.

In the earliest days of microbiology, scientists were stumped about how to isolate bacteria. That is, until the family cook—a woman named Angelina—changed everything by bringing her culinary insight into the lab. Before Angelina, the work of classifying different bacteria seemed hopelessly complex. Unable to differentiate them, Linnaeus classified all bacteria in the order Chaos in 1763. (Today, Chaos is a genus of giant amoebae.) In the 1800s, scientists studying the spots of fungus growing on moldy bread and meat began to realize that each spot was an individual species of microorganism, which could be transferred to a fresh piece of food and grown in isolation. Inspired by these early food-based studies, Robert Koch used thin slices of potatoes as naturally occurring "Petri dishes" when he began his studies of bacterial pathogens.

New techniques to isolate, grow, and study the behavior of individual species of microorganisms were developed in Koch's lab in the last decades of the 19th century. In a 1939 article, Arthur Hitchens and Morris Leikind described the history of these crucial microbiological techniques and the development of the solid medium still used in labs today. They begin by writing that Robert Koch's "genius lay in his ability to bring order out of chaos. Starting as it were with a box of miscellaneous beads, varying in size and shape, each bead a scientific fact, he found a thread on which the beads could be strung to form a perfect necklace." But they continue to highlight not only the genius "bead stringers" but also the numerous and talented "bead collectors" who help to build the tools and collect the data that the bead stringers use. For Koch's legendary discoveries of the bacteria that cause diseases like tuberculosis and cholera to be possible, he needed new techniques to effectively isolate bacteria beyond carefully sliced potatoes. He needed the tools that were developed by his less-celebrated laboratory assistants, like Julius Richard Petri's dishes and Walther Hesse's solid growth medium.

But behind the talented laboratory technicians that supported Robert Koch's genius was an even more unsung heroine of microbiology. It was Walther Hesse's wife (who was often an assistant and scientific illustrator for the lab) Angelina Fanny Hesse who made the isolation of bacteria possible. In the early 1880's, Walther was struggling to find the right sort of gel for Petri's dishes. He was experimenting with using gelatin to congeal the nutrient broth that the bacteria ate, but bacteria also liked to eat the proteins that congealed the gelatin, chewing through the gel and ruining the experiments. Gelatin also had another major drawback: it would soften and begin to melt at the incubation temperatures required for growing the bacteria.

Angelina, who cooked both the family's meals and the beef stock that the bacteria ate in her kitchen, suggested that Walther use agar-agar, which is more heat-stable than gelatin and used to make soups, desserts, and jellies, particularly in Asia. (She had learned about it from Dutch friends who had lived in Indonesia, which was a colony of the Netherlands at the time.) Agar is a sugar polymer derived from algae that most bacteria can't digest. Once it's boiled and cooled, it forms a tough matrix that stays solid at much higher temperatures than gelatin.

With agar, many of the technical problems hindering Hesse's—and therefore Koch's—experimental progress were solved. Koch briefly mentioned the development (though he fails to mention either Walther or Angelina) in his 1882 paper announcing the identification of the bacteria that causes tuberculosis: "The tubercule bacilli can also be cultivated on other media...they grow, for example, on a gelatinous mass which was prepared with agar-agar, which remains solid at blood temperature, and which has received a supplement of meat broth and peptone."

Angelina Hesse's creative insight was thus written out of history with the ever-present passive voice of the scientific literature. Even today, the Wikipedia article about Robert Koch masks Angelina's contribution to microbiological history, simply stating that Koch "began to utilize agar to grow and isolate pure cultures." In the late 19th century, the use of agar to isolate bacteria was initially referred to as "Koch's plate technique," but since the early 1900s only Petri's name remains in common use. In their article, Hitchens and Leikind suggested (seventy five years ago) that "plain agar" be referred to as "Frau Hesse's medium" to acknowledge her forgotten "service to science and to humanity." Perhaps it's finally time that we remember Frau Hesse and celebrate all the ignored "bead collectors"

Popular Science
By Christina Agapakis
Posted 07.14.2014

jueves, 27 de marzo de 2014

A Countertop Composter That Zaps Your Food Scraps Into Healthy Soil Fertilizer

In just three hours, the Food Cycler turns waste into value--and could hopefully help households cut down on the hundreds of pounds of uneaten food they throw away. 

About 25% of the food in your refrigerator will probably end up in the trash instead of on your plate. And while that’s unfortunate for your wallet, it’s even worse for the environment: The carbon footprint from food waste is actually bigger, amazingly, than the pollution from driving the typical car. Some of the impact comes when the food goes to the landfill, since rotting scraps release the potent greenhouse gas methane.

This is all the reason for a new kitchen device called the Food Cycler Home that aims to make it much easier for people to compost their scraps, even in cities that don't offer composting services (which is most cities). In three hours, it can sterilize and deodorize anything and everything from orange rinds to meat and convert it to a soil amendment that can be safely sprinkled on plants.

The byproduct is organic and looks like coffee grinds. “This will vary slightly depending on what you choose to process, but what is great is that anything you could eat, it could eat--including chicken and fish bones," says Brad Crepeau from the manufacturer Food Cycle Science.

The company, which recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for the Food Cycler on Indiegogo, hopes that the product might offer a viable alternative to the need to create new municipal composting programs. “The challenge with greenbin programs is that they are often costly, and it is sometimes difficult to achieve quotas and sustain widespread buy-in, often because of the odor and unattractiveness of the greenbin and everything that lives in it,” Crepeau says.

A larger version of the Food Cycler has been in use for three years at hospitals, restaurants, universities, and grocery stores, so the company says the technology is proven. But it’s not exactly cheap: The expected retail price is $499, while some chains might offer it for $399.

It also takes a fair amount of electricity as it runs--perhaps not surprising if you’re running something for three hours every day. In a month, it can use about as much as the average dishwasher. It’s not clear how that environmental impact would stack up against something like curbside composting or not composting at all, since that also takes energy, both in driving food away in trucks and running giant commercial composting facilities.

In the end, backyard composting is still probably best for anyone who has the option. Even better is trying to remember to eat the leftovers next time before they turn to mold, so we don't have as much food waste in the first place.

ORIGINAL: FastCo Exist

Science gets closer to artificial life with first synthetic chromosome

An international team of scientists have made a major breakthrough in synthetic biology (Science Magazine). For the first time ever, they were able to insert a man-made, custom-built chromosome into brewer's yeast to not only create a life form but one that also passes down its man-made genes to its offspring. We're closer to creating artificial life.

Scientists have previously made chromosomes for bacteria and viruses but this is the first time they've been able to build a chromosome for something more complex. Called eukaryotic chromosomes, they have a nucleus and are found in plants, animals and humans.

The artificial chromosome, called synIII after the chromosome three in brewer's yeast it replaced, was stitched together via a computer by a team of scientists over a period of seven years. They basically redesigned the whole damn thing piece by piece. The scientist liken man-made chromosomes to the idea that you could shuffle genes into them like a deck of cards.

The yeast cells that contained the designer chromosomes behaved as normally as, well, normal yeast cells only that they could theoretically be improved and do things normal yeast cells could not. Potentially, scientists could create man-made versions of all the chromosomes in organisms thus creating artificial life. 

By Casey Chan

Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1249252

Total Synthesis of a Functional Designer Eukaryotic Chromosome

  1. Srinivasan Chandrasegaran1,

Author Affiliations
  1. 1Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Johns Hopkins University (JHU) School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.
  2. 2High Throughput Biology Center, JHU School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.
  3. 3Group Spatial Regulation of Genomes, Department of Genomes Genetics, Institut Pasteur, F-75015 Paris, France.
  4. 4CNRS, UMR 3525, F-75015 Paris, France.
  5. 5New York University Langone Medical Center, New York, NY 10016, USA.
  6. 6Department of Biomedical Engineering and Institute of Genetic Medicine, Whiting School of Engineering, JHU, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA.
  7. 7Biological Sciences, Research and Exploratory Development Department, JHU Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, MD 20723, USA.
  8. 8Department of Biology, Loyola University Maryland, Baltimore, MD 21210, USA.
  9. 9University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.
  10. 10Carnegie Institution of Washington, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA.
  11. 11Department of Biology, JHU, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA.
  12. 12Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, JHU, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA.
  13. 13Whiting School of Engineering, JHU, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA.
  14. 14Pondicherry Biotech Private Limited, Pillaichavady, Puducherry 605014, India.
  15. 15Sorbonne Universités, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Univ Paris 06, UMR 7238, Génomique des Microorganismes, F-75005 Paris, France.
  16. 16CNRS, UMR7238, Génomique des Microorganismes, F-75005 Paris, France.
Rapid advances in DNA synthesis techniques have made it possible to engineer viruses, biochemical pathways and assemble bacterial genomes. Here, we report the synthesis of a functional 272,871–base pair designer eukaryotic chromosome, synIII, which is based on the 316,617–base pair native Saccharomyces cerevisiae chromosome III. Changes to synIII include TAG/TAA stop-codon replacements, deletion of subtelomeric regions, introns, transfer RNAs, transposons, and silent mating loci as well as insertion of loxPsym sites to enable genome scrambling. SynIII is functional in S. cerevisiae. Scrambling of the chromosome in a heterozygous diploid reveals a large increase in a-mater derivatives resulting from loss of the MATα allele on synIII. The complete design and synthesis of synIII establishes S. cerevisiae as the basis for designer eukaryotic genome biology.