Friday, June 28, 2013

Feeling edgy? Get some sleep

A lack of sleep, which is common in anxiety disorders, may play a key role in firing up brain regions that contribute to excessive worrying.

Sleep deprivation amplifies anticipatory anxiety by activating the brain’s amygdala and insular cortex regions associated with emotional processing.

The resulting pattern mimics the abnormal neural activity seen in anxiety disorders.
Furthermore, research suggests that innate worriers people who are naturally more anxious and therefore more likely to develop a full-blown anxiety disorder are acutely vulnerable to the effect of insufficient sleep.

“These findings help us realize that those people who are anxious by nature are the same people who will suffer the greatest harm from sleep deprivation,” says Matthew Walker, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley.

The results suggest that people suffering from such maladies as generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder, may benefit substantially from sleep therapy.

“If sleep disruption is a key factor in anxiety disorders, as this study suggests, then it’s a potentially treatable target,” Walker says. “By restoring good quality sleep in people suffering from anxiety, we may be able to help ameliorate their excessive worry and disabling fearful expectations.”

While previous research has indicated that sleep disruption and psychiatric disorders often occur together, this latest study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, is the first to causally demonstrate that sleep loss triggers excessive anticipatory brain activity associated with anxiety.

“It’s been hard to tease out whether sleep loss is simply a byproduct of anxiety, or whether sleep disruption causes anxiety,” says Andrea Goldstein, a doctoral student in psychology and lead author of the study. “This study helps us understand that causal relationship more clearly.”

In their experiments, researchers scanned the brains of 18 healthy young adults as they viewed dozens of images, first after a good night’s rest, and again after a sleepless night. The images were neutral, disturbing, or alternated between both.

Participants in the experiments reported a wide range of baseline anxiety levels, but none fit the criteria for a clinical anxiety disorder. After getting a full night’s rest at the lab, which researchers monitored by measuring neural electrical activity, their brains were scanned via functional MRI as they waited to be shown, and then viewed 90 images during a 45-minute session.

To trigger anticipatory anxiety, researchers primed the participants using one of three visual cues prior to each series of images. A large red minus sign signaled to participants that they were about to see a highly unpleasant image, such as a death scene. A yellow circle portended a neutral image, such as a basket on a table.

Perhaps most stressful was a white question mark, which indicated that either a grisly image or a bland, innocuous one was coming, and kept participants in a heightened state of suspense.

When sleep-deprived and waiting in suspenseful anticipation for a neutral or disturbing image to appear, activity in the emotional brain centers of all the participants soared, especially in the amygdala and the insular cortex. Notably, the amplifying impact of sleep deprivation was most dramatic for those people who were innately anxious to begin with.

“This discovery illustrates how important sleep is to our mental health,” says Walker. “It also emphasizes the intimate relationship between sleep and psychiatric disorders, both from a cause and a treatment perspective.”

The National Institute of Mental Health funded the research.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

All the New Stuff in Windows 8.1

Microsoft showed off an in-depth look at Windows 8.1 today, and released a preview for everyone to try out. Here are all the new features you'll find in the next version of Windows.

We've seen most of these features in Microsoft's "first look" video (embedded above), but today they gave us a closer look at all the new features in 8.1. Most of the new features are specific to Windows' tiled "Modern" interface, but there are one or two updates for desktop users as well. Here's what you'll see.

Better Organization and Customization on the Start Screen

All the New Stuff in Windows 8.1

The Start screen has a few improvements. You get two new tile sizes: one small square one and one large one, so you can configure the Start screen a bit more like Windows Phone 8. You can also select multiple tiles and put them into a named group, and swipe up gesture for the "All Apps" view. The All Apps view has a few new organization methods, too—you can view them by category, most used, and date installed, not just alphabetical.

The new Start screen has more colors to choose from, and you can even put your desktop wallpaper behind the Start screen as well. You can also turn the lock screen into a photo slideshow, sourced from your PC or SkyDrive. While you're on the lock screen, you can launch the camera or answer Skype calls without logging in.

More Powerful Multitasking

All the New Stuff in Windows 8.1

One of Windows 8's coolest features is the side-by-side window snapping, and Microsoft has made a big improvement to this feature: now you can resize those snapped windows however you want. Before, you could only have Windows split 50/50, or into thirds. Now, you can actually drag the slider to make each app take up as much or as little space as you want.

Furthermore, you can have more than two apps or windows on-screen at once—in fact, you can have up to four, as long as your monitor is big enough (Engadget reports that the Surface Pro is still limited to two). You can also move them between monitors, if you have more than one.

Improvements to the Windows Store and Built-In Apps

Windows 8.1 also comes with some handy improvements to the Windows Store and its built-in apps. The whole store has been given a facelift, and it will now automatically update your apps unless you're on a metered connection. Internet Explorer 11 now has unlimited tabs, the camera has a panorama feature, and the new Mail app will have a "sweep" feature that deletes multiple emails of the same type (e.g. newsletters). All apps are supposed to be faster, and push notifications are easier for developers to implement, so hopefully more apps will support them.

All the New Stuff in Windows 8.1

Microsoft has also made a big update to search in 8.1 If you open the search charm, you'll see that all your search results are grouped into one place: no more switching between files, settings, apps, and the web. If you press enter, you'll be taken to a full-screen view of your search results. If Bing understands the person, place, or thing you've searched for, it'll load a full-screen app-like view called "Search Heroes," with intelligent results similar to Google's Knowledge Graph, that offers photos, videos, and relevant facts all in one unified interface.

Laslty, SkyDrive is even more integrated with Windows 8 now, automatically updating with new files in the background (like Dropbox) and staying in sync with all your other devices.

Boot to Desktop and the Return of the Start Button

All the New Stuff in Windows 8.1

The desktop didn't get as much love as we would have liked, but there are two features desktop enthusiasts have been asking for: boot to desktop and a Start button.

Boot to desktop does exactly what it sounds like: You can tell Windows 8 to boot straight to the desktop instead of going to the Start screen first.

All the New Stuff in Windows 8.1

They've also added the ability to shut down from the Win+X menu. Just press Win+X or right-click on the Start button and choose Shut Down from the menu. This is much faster than Windows 8's previous method of shutting down, which required you to open the charms menu. Again, if you use a Start menu replacement tool this won't affect you much, but it's nice that they've added it.

All in all, it's a good update if you're using Windows 8 on a touch-enabled device, but desktop users probably won't find anything too exciting in this update—after all, if you wanted the Start menu back, you probably have it already. 


Mouse cloned from drop of blood

Scientists in Japan have cloned a mouse from a single drop of blood.

Circulating blood cells collected from the tail of a donor mouse were used to produce the clone, a team at the Riken BioResource Center reports in the journal Biology of Reproduction.

The female mouse lived a normal lifespan and could give birth to young, say the researchers.

Scientists at a linked institute recently created nearly 600 exact genetic copies of one mouse.

Mice have been cloned from several different sources of donor cells, including white blood cells found in the lymph nodes, bone marrow and liver.

The Japanese research group investigated whether circulating blood cells could also be used for cloning.

Their aim was to find an easily available source of donor cells to clone scientifically valuable strains of laboratory mice.

The team, led by Atsuo Ogura, of Riken BioResource Center in Tsukuba, took blood from the tail of a donor mouse, isolated the white blood cells, and used the nuclei for cloning experiments, using the same technique that produced Dolly the sheep in Edinburgh.

The process, known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, involves transferring the nucleus from an adult body cell - such as a blood or skin cell - into an unfertilised egg that has had its nucleus removed.

Reporting their findings in the US journal, Biology of Reproduction, the scientists said the study "demonstrated for the first time that mice could be cloned using the nuclei of peripheral blood cells".

'Invaluable strains'

They added: "These cells could be used for cloning immediately after collection and no donor animals need to be euthanised. 

"This technique would be applicable for generating genetic copies of invaluable strains of mice, which cannot be preserved by other assisted reproductive techniques such as conventional in vitro fertilisation or intracytoplasmic sperm injection."

Scientists in Japan have years of experience in cloning mice.

A team at a linked institute recently revealed they had produced almost 600 mice from one donor mouse after 25 consecutive rounds of cloning.

The research is aimed at large-scale production of high-quality animals for farming or conservation purposes, they say.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Two genetic code tweaks 500 million years ago caused evolutionary jump

Modern day reproductive systems are the result of changes in two letters of genetic code that took place 500 million years ago, a team of geneticists has discovered. 

"If those two mutations had not happened, our bodies today would have to use different mechanisms to regulate pregnancy, libido, the response to stress, kidney function, inflammation, and the development of male and female characteristics at puberty," Joe Thornton, a professor of human genetics, ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, said in a statement. 

Tweaks in how proteins function have been key to how humans evolve, and this study demonstrates how the smallest of mutations can be responsible for vital permanent changes. It also gives some insight as to how genetic code works to change those functions, and Thornton believes discoveries such as these will have a key role to play in developing targeted drugs that combat genetic mutations -- the better we understand how genetic mutations occur, the better equipped we'll be to combat unhelpful ones. 

The team made the discovery by retracing today's steroid hormone receptor proteins' historical steps, choosing this group of proteins for their wide-ranging roles in controlling hormones for reproduction and development. 

Working backward to the common link connecting all these proteins, a protein that only recognised oestrogen, the team looked for differences that caused it to morph into a family of proteins that recognise testosterone, progesterone and the stress hormone cortisol. They built a computational model of those ancestral relationships, inputting the genetic code of the hundreds of sequences that make up the modern receptors and then biochemically synthesised the ancestral sequences that emerged. Once these were engineered, the team could test to see what hormones the proteins would interact with. 

After discovering roughly when steroids began to shoot off and create relations that could recognise other hormones (a mere 500 million years ago), they then introduced the different mutations identified into the engineered proteins. How their structure and functions were affected by these mutations was noted, and it was found that just two mutations at the atomic level resulted in the correct sequence, a sequence that changed the course of human reproduction, development, immunity and even our risk of cancer. 

"Changes in just two letters of the genetic code in our deep evolutionary past caused a massive shift in the function of one protein and set in motion the evolution of our present-day hormonal and reproductive systems," said Thornton. 

That one shift has resulted in a 70,000-fold change in the protein. Although only two amino acids were affected, it meant oestrogen sensitivity was reduced markedly as the protein began to spread its attention across a variety of hormones.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Sony and Disney begin streaming movies still in theaters in a bold move against piracy

In a bid to limit movie piracy in Asia, Disney and Sony have quietly begun testing a bold new on-demand service in South Korea which offers movies to rent while they are still playing in theaters. As noted by the Wall Street Journal, the two companies are the first US studios to provide consumers anywhere with the option to buy a ticket to see a movie or watch it in their own home using their cable, internet, or satellite-TV subscription. Django Unchained, Wreck-it Ralph, and Brave had all been made available as part of the trial.

In May, Shane Carruth's Upstream Color went online and hit iTunes and Amazon Instant Video after about a month in theaters. Similar attempts by studios have been met with resistance in the past. Tim Burton's film version of Alice in Wonderland was nearly not screened at Odeon cinemas in the UK, Ireland, or Italy in 2010 after Disney attempted to reduce the exclusive theater release window from 17 weeks to 12 weeks in order to bring forward the DVD launch. Disney also conducted an on-demand test in Portugal with a six-week window for animated movie Tangled a year later but has not repeated the experiment until now.

As the world's eighth-largest film market, South Korea is a good place for Disney and Sony to start. Should they test the model outside of Asia, both companies will likely be met with greater opposition in countries like the US and UK. With movies like Iron Man 3 performing fantastically at the US box office with an $175 million opening weekend (second only to The Avengers), theaters play a major part in building buzz for a title — helping Google to predict future box office hits. That said, the four other major Hollywood studios are said to be watching the situation closely and may follow suit, putting pressure on movie theater chains and the future of the exclusive 90-day play window in the US.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Spill a lot? NeverWet's ready to coat your gear

Waterproof and water-resistant products have nothing on NeverWet. The superhydrophobic coating, now available in stores, repels liquids like you've never seen before.

Imagine spilling red wine or chocolate syrup on your shirt, only to watch it glide off as if nothing ever happened in the first place. Hogwash? No, it's called NeverWet.
Awhile back, I wrote about NeverWet, a superhydrophobic coating that can be applied to nearly any surface and repels liquids startlingly well. To bring NeverWet to the masses, developer Ross Nanotechnology licensed the product to Rust-Oleum, which recently started selling the spray for $19.97 at Home Depot.
The NeverWet package contains two cans -- a base and top coat -- capable of covering 10 to 15 square feet with water-repelling action on a multitude of surfaces including metal, wood, fabric, and plastic. The base coat takes about 30 minutes to dry, and the top coat takes another 30 minutes to cure.
Unfortunately, it's not wise to use NeverWet on transparent surfaces like glass, as the spray dries with a frosted appearance. A clear-drying version is in the works, according to a NeverWet representative that spoke with Lancaster Online.
An FAQ included with the NeverWet instructions (PDF) advises that you not use the coating on electronics. However, in a video demonstration created by Lancaster Online, a NeverWet employee shows a brief step-by-step process on how to make an iPhone waterproof for up to half a foot of water. We don't recommend you try coating your own electronics with NeverWet, but it sure makes for an interesting demonstration!
Watch the jaw-dropping liquid-repelling abilities of NeverWet in the following video.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

More data storage? Here’s how to fit 1,000 terabytes on a DVD

We live in a world where digital information is exploding. Some 90% of the world’s data was generated in the past two years. The obvious question is: how can we store it all?
In Nature Communications today, we, along with Richard Evans from CSIRO, show how we developed a new technique to enable the data capacity of a single DVD to increase from 4.7 gigabytes up to one petabyte (1,000 terabytes). This is equivalent of 10.6 years of compressed high-definition video or 50,000 full high-definition movies.
So how did we manage to achieve such a huge boost in data storage? First, we need to understand how data is stored on optical discs such as CDs and DVDs.

The basics of digital storage

Although optical discs are used to carry software, films, games, and private data, and have great advantages over other recording media in terms of cost, longevity and reliability, their low data storage capacity is their major limiting factor.

Adam Foster | Codefor

The operation of optical data storage is rather simple. When you burn a CD, for example, the information is transformed to strings of binary digits (0s and 1s, also called bits). Each bit is then laser “burned” into the disc, using a single beam of light, in the form of dots.
The storage capacity of optical discs is mainly limited by the physical dimensions of the dots. But as there’s a limit to the size of the disc as well as the size of the dots, many current methods of data storage, such as DVDs and Blu-ray discs, continue to have low level storage density.
To get around this, we had to look at light’s fundamental laws.

Circumnavigating Abbe’s limit

Ernst Abbe. Wikimedia Commons

In 1873, German physicist Ernst Abbe published a law that limits the width of light beams.
On the basis of this law, the diameter of a spot of light, obtained by focusing a light beam through a lens, cannot be smaller than half its wavelength – around 500 nanometres (500 billionths of a metre) for visible light.
And while this law plays a huge role in modern optical microscopy, it also sets up a barrier for any efforts from researchers to produce extremely small dots – in the nanometre region – to use as binary bits.
In our study, we showed how to break this fundamental limit by using a two-light-beam method, with different colours, for recording onto discs instead of the conventional single-light-beam method.
Both beams must abide by Abbe’s law, so they cannot produce smaller dots individually. But we gave the two beams different functions:

Nature Communications

  • The first beam (red, in the figure right) has a round shape, and is used to activate the recording. We called it the writing beam
  • The second beam – the purple donut-shape – plays an anti-recording function, inhibiting the function of the writing beam
The two beams were then overlapped. As the second beam cancelled out the first in its donut ring, the recording process was tightly confined to the centre of the writing beam.
This new technique produces an effective focal spot of nine nanometres – or one ten thousandth the diameter of a human hair.

The technique, in practical terms

Our work will greatly impact the development of super-compact devices as well as nanoscience and nanotechnology research.
The exceptional penetration feature of light beams allow for 3D recording or fabrication, which can dramatically increase the data storage – the number of dots – on a single optical device.
The technique is also cost-effective and portable, as only conventional optical and laser elements are used, and allows for the development of optical data storage with long life and low energy consumption, which could be an ideal platform for a Big Data centre.
As the rate of information generated worldwide continues to accelerate, the aim of more storage capacity in compact devices will continue. Our breakthrough has put that target within our reach.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Download Files from the Web Directly to your Online Drives

A little web app that will let you save files from the web directly to any of your cloud drives be it Dropbox, Google Drive or Windows SkyDrive. There’s no sign-up required, you don’t have to install any extensions and the app works on mobile devices as well.

Copy Internet files to your account, via the cloud
To get started, put the URL of any web file in the input box, pick a storage service and copy of that file should appear in your cloud drive in no time. You may even put web page URLs in the input box and in that case, the HTML page will get saved to your online drive.

There are a couple of benefits. One, if you are on a mobile phone or a tablet, you can quickly save any file from the Internet to your online drives without using a single byte of 3G data connection as the file transfer will happen via the cloud.

The app can work as a proxy as well allowing you to download files from websites that may otherwise be blocked /inaccessible in your country /workplace. All you need to know is the URL of the file.

Chromebook users may find this even more useful as the SkyDrive or Dropbox clients cannot be installed on these machines.

Similar to Podcast Gallery, the file saving app is also powered by Ink File Picker. Alternatives include SideCloudLoad and URL Droplet but they only work with Dropbox and also have certain limitations on the file sizes that you can transfer.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013


If you're thinking about taking up hiking, want to get out and walk, or need the right footwear for another type of exercise, this graphic from our friends at Greatist will help you find it.

Get health and fitness tips at


Monday, June 17, 2013

They've Invented a Twist-Off Wine Cork and Life Will Never Be the Same

Just when you thought that mankind's genius could go no further, four years of research has given birth to a new apex in cork innovation. Please say hello to your newest wine-stopper, the Helix cork.

The product of a collaboration beween the industrious lushes at cork manufacturer Amorim and those at bottle-making company O-I, the new threaded, resealable design (and matching threaded bottle neck) is aimed at the "popular premium" wine market, which includes bottles that retail for between $8-$15, roughly. And while four years of research may seem a tad excessive, much of that time was spent waiting... and waiting... and waiting some more, allowing them to see whether or not the new cork had any effect on taste, aroma, or color. (Spoiler: it didn't.)

This kind of testing was necessary because the agglomerated type of cork used in the Helix is atypical of wine manufacturing. Since cork is cellular in nature, the presence of open spaces in a common, straight cork stopper is ideal—it allows the wine to fill those spaces, expand the cork, and form a tight seal. However, agglomerated cork is more granular, meaning fewer open spaces and less room for expansion. This would be a problem with a normal stopper, but the threaded design of the Helix creates its own tight seal, meaning oxygen can't escape on the sides while the density of the stopper prevents oxygen from escaping through the cork itself.

And its resealability is a major plus in the eyes of consumers, who want the convenience of a resealable container but still prefer cork to other methods of wine stoppering such as screw tops. According to Erik Bouts, O-I Europe president:

Cork is still by far the preferred stopper. Our research has found that at least 80% of consumers prefer the cork and glass combination for their wine. It has the highest-quality image in the market and now we have made it easier to use. And it is still the most sustainable option.

The Helix cork is being unveiled at Vinexpo in Bordeaux today, although its creators say it may still be two years before we start seeing it on shelves. So if you must have your fancy corks, until the day comes that we can leave the cork screws behind and securely reseal wine with ease, it seems your best option is to just finish the bottle. No one said being classy came easy. 


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Google introduces Project Loon: Balloon-Powered Internet for Everyone


Many of us think of the Internet as a global community. But two-thirds of the world’s population does not yet have Internet access. Project Loon is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters.

Scientists Use New Engineered Virus to Restore Sight

To evolve the adeno-associated virus best suited for gene therapy, the researchers created more than 100 million engineered adeno-associated viruses, left, and injected them into the gel-like center of the eye. Those able to penetrate the many cell layers of the retina are used to shuttle a corrective gene into cells with a defective gene. To reach these cells, in particular the light-sensitive photoreceptors and the retinal pigment epithelium – RPE – cells, the virus must pass through multiple cell layers, right (University of California, Berkeley)

Researchers have engineered a new adeno-associated virus that could greatly expand gene therapy to help restore sight to patients with blinding diseases like retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration.

Over the last six years, several teams of scientists have successfully treated people with a rare inherited eye disease by injecting a virus with a normal gene directly into the retina of an eye with a defective gene. Despite the invasive process, the virus with the normal gene was not capable of reaching all the retinal cells that need fixing.

“Sticking a needle through the retina and injecting the engineered virus behind the retina is a risky surgical procedure,” explained Prof David Schaffer of the University of California, Berkeley, senior author of a paper published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

“But doctors have no choice because none of the gene delivery viruses can travel all the way through the back of the eye to reach the photoreceptors – the light sensitive cells that need the therapeutic gene.”

Prof Schaffer generated around 100 million variants of adeno-associated virus – each carrying slightly different proteins on its coat – from which he and his colleagues selected five that were effective in penetrating the retina.

They then used the best of these, labeled 7m8, to transport genes to cure two types of hereditary blindness for which there are mouse models: X-linked retinoschisis, which strikes only boys and makes their retinas look like Swiss cheese; and Leber’s congenital amaurosis. In each case, when injected into the vitreous humor, the engineered virus delivered the corrective gene to all areas of the retina and restored retinal cells nearly to normal.

“Building upon 14 years of research, we have now created a virus that you just inject into the liquid vitreous humor inside the eye and it delivers genes to a very difficult-to-reach population of delicate cells in a way that is surgically non-invasive and safe. It’s a 15-minute procedure, and you can likely go home that day.”

The engineered adeno-associated virus works far better than current therapies in rodent models of two human degenerative eye diseases, and can penetrate photoreceptor cells in the eyes of monkeys.

“The team is now collaborating with physicians to identify the patients most likely to benefit from this gene-delivery technique and, after some preclinical development, hope soon to head into clinical trials,” Prof Schaffer said.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Earbits Offers Fast, Completely Free Streaming Music

Web/Android: With all the talk of streaming music services vying for your headphone time, it's easy to overlook some of the ones that are simple, fun, and pump out a stream of good, interesting music when you fire them up. Earbits is one of those services, and it's available for Android and the web, completely free.

On your Android device, Earbits will scan your device for music and load up blended channels and radio stations that combine your music with the free songs that Earbits has to offer. On the web, you just click "Listen to Editor's Picks" or "Browse Channels" to start the music, no questions, no sign-ups (unless you want to save your preferences), no hassle. Browsing channels takes you to a tiled selection of genres, each with their own subgenres that you can select to further narrow the songs Earbits plays for you, but at most it's two or three clicks before the music starts flowing.

From there, Earbits works like some of the other great, underrated music services we've mentioned—your play history is in the sidebar, you can favorite songs to make note of them, and you can sign up for an artist's mailing list, like their Facebook page, or otherwise connect with them right from the song you're listening to. When you do, you earn "Groovies," a currency that lets you play specific songs whenever you like, bypassing the radio feature. Best of all, Earbits is completely free.

Hit the link below to try it out, or grab the Android app from Google Play. When I tested it out, I found the Android app was particularly useful at generating blended stations that fit all of my music tastes together in one. It helps that the Android app is really good looking, too.

Earbits Demo from Earbits on Vimeo.

Study: hardcore gamers have enhanced visual abilities

Hardcore gamers "see the world differently", says the author of a study that suggests gamers who play action games have better visual skills than non-gamers.

"They need less [visual] information to arrive at a probabilistic conclusion, and they do it faster," said Greg Applebaum, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Duke School of Medicine in North Carolina.

The study, published in the June issue of Attention, Perception and Psychophysics, tested how well 125 non-gamers and intensive gamers could identify letters that flashed up for only a fraction of a second.

In the test, a circle of letters appeared for 0.1 seconds followed by an arrow in the centre of the circle, pointing to where one of the letters had previously been. The study participants were then asked to identify the letter.

The arrow appeared between 13 milliseconds to 2.5 seconds after the letters flashed up. The gamers outperformed the non-gamers for all time intervals.

Your brain discards a great deal of visual information. For example, even though your nose is in your line of sight, your brain chooses to ignore that information and keeps your vision clear. The study found that gamers and non-gamers had similar abilities in terms of visual memory retention.

However, it could be that gamers are able to detect visual information faster, or simply make better guesses with the little visual information available to them.

Previous studies have also shown that gamers have enhanced visual capabilities. In 2003, researchers at the University of Rochester in New York found that people who play action games were able to track 30 percent more objects than non-gamers. Not all gaming is equal, the study found. Gamers who played non-action games like Tetris saw no benefit.

In a medical robotics study in 2012, young gamers attained similar scores on robotic surgery simulators to trained physicians.

Darpa, the Pentagon's research division, is one of the funders of the research, along with the US Department of Homeland Security and the US Army Research Office.

Why might the US military be interested in the visual capabilities of gamers? No comment.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

'World's fastest' home internet service hits Japan with Sony's help, 2 Gbps down

Google Fiber might be making waves with its 1Gbps speeds, but it's no match for what's being hailed as the world's fastest commercially-provided home internet service: Nuro. Launched in Japan yesterday by Sony-supported ISP So-net, the fiber connection pulls down data at 2 Gbps, and sends it up at 1 Gbps. An optical network unit (ONU) given to Nuro customers comes outfitted with three Gigabit ethernet ports and supports 450 Mbps over 802.11 a/b/g/n. When hitched to a two-year contract, web surfers will be set back 4,980 yen ($51) per month and pony up a required 52,500 yen (roughly $540) installation fee, which is currently being waived for folks who apply online. Those lucky enough to call the Land of the Rising Sun home can register their house, apartment or small business to receive the blazing hookup, so long as they're located within Chiba, Gunma, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Tokyo, Kanagawa or Saitama.


What are people googling - in real time

A list of popular google searches at the moment.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

New Human Cornea Layer Discovered

Scientists at The University of Nottingham have discovered a previously undetected layer in the cornea, the clear window at the front of the human eye.
The breakthrough, announced in a study published in the academic journal Ophthalmology, could help surgeons to dramatically improve outcomes for patients undergoing corneal grafts and transplants.
The new layer has been dubbed the Dua’s Layer after the academic Professor Harminder Dua, who made the discovery.
“This is a major discovery that will mean that ophthalmology textbooks will literally need to be re-written. Having identified this new and distinct layer deep in the tissue of the cornea, we can now exploit its presence to make operations much safer and simpler for patients," says Dua, a professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences. “From a clinical perspective, there are many diseases that affect the back of the cornea which clinicians across the world are already beginning to relate to the presence, absence or tear in this layer.”
Tough and strong
The human cornea is the clear protective lens on the front of the eye through which light enters the eye. Scientists previously believed the cornea to be comprised of five layers, from front to back, the corneal epithelium, Bowman’s layer, the corneal stroma, Descemet’s membrane and the corneal endothelium.
The new layer that has been discovered is located at the back of the cornea between the corneal stroma and Descemet’s membrane. Although it is just 15 microns thick— the entire cornea is around 550 microns thick or 0.5mm— it is incredibly tough and is strong enough to be able to withstand one and a half to two bars of pressure.
The scientists proved the existence of the layer by simulating human corneal transplants and grafts on eyes donated for research purposes to eye banks located in Bristol and Manchester.
During this surgery, tiny bubbles of air were injected into the cornea to gently separate the different layers. The scientists then subjected the separated layers to electron microscopy, allowing them to study them at many thousand times their actual size.
Better outcomes
Understanding the properties and location of the new Dua’s layer could help surgeons to better identify where in the cornea these bubbles are occurring and take appropriate measures during the operation. If they are able to inject a bubble next to the Dua’s layer, its strength means that it is less prone to tearing, meaning a better outcome for the patient.
The discovery will have an impact on advancing understanding of a number of diseases of the cornea, including acute hydrops, Descematocele and pre-Descemet’s dystrophies.
The scientists now believe that corneal hydrops, a bulging of the cornea caused by fluid build up that occurs in patients with keratoconus (conical deformity of the cornea), is caused by a tear in the Dua layer, through which water from inside the eye rushes in and causes waterlogging.
A copy of the paper, "Human Corneal Anatomy Redefined — A Novel Pre-Descemet’s Layer (Dua’s Layer)," can be found online.

Witness the terrifying birth of a supercell thunderstorm

A supercell near Booker, Texas from Mike Olbinski on Vimeo

It took photographer Mike Olbinski four years to capture the formation of a colossal, spiraling supercell on video – but good grief, was it worth the wait. This footage is the very definition of spellbinding.

Writes Olbinski, who spotted the thunderstorm forming near Booker, Texas:

It took four years but I finally got it.

A rotating supercell. And not just a rotating supercell, but one with insane structure and amazing movement.

I've been visiting the Central Plains since 2010. Usually it's just for a day, or three, or two...but it took until the fourth attempt to actually find what I'd been looking for. And boy did we find it.

No, there was no tornado. But that's not really what I was after. I'm from Arizona. We don't get structure like this. [Ed. Note: Supercell storms tend to form over vast plains, like those found in Texas and Oklahoma] Clouds that rotate and look like alien spacecraft hanging over the Earth.

We chased this storm from the wrong side (north) and it took us going through hail and torrential rains to burst through on the south side. And when we did...this monster cloud was hanging over Texas and rotating like something out of Close Encounters.

The footage is truly otherwordly. The lighting, the motion, the scale of it all. It's absolutely sublime. This should go without saying, but you'll want to watch this one full screened, in high definition.

Read more about Olbinski's experience on his website


This Guy Reinvented the Wheel ... by Turning It Into a Cube

What's better at being a wheel than ... a wheel? That is not a rhetorical question or a Zen kōan or the start to an awesome joke (sorry). Inventor David Patrick, an avid skateboarder, stumbled (or, you know, skated) onto a way to reinvent the wheel as something that he claims is better than the tradition cylindrical model -- something faster, more stable, and more ground-gripping. Its inspiration, Patrick says, "came from a cube." He calls his creation the "SharkWheel," and he has patented the invention -- and is now raising money for its production on Kickstarter. (A week into the campaign, the modified wheel has taken in almost double the amount of its original $10,000 funding goal.) 

So what is the SharkWheel, exactly? And how is it possible that a cube -- an object defined, after all, by its 90-degree angles -- would inspire an object whose whole point is its lack of points? 

It comes down to the materials used to modify the wheel. Patrick took six modular tubes, connected into a circle, and then bent them in such a way that, in their contours, "they formed a perfect cube." (The bending, thus mitigating the sharp angles while maintaining fidelity to the cube-like shape, would be key here.) And then he dropped that object on the ground -- and discovered that it rolled. And: it kept rolling.

"The helix shape was balanced," Patrick explains, meaning that, whatever terrain the helix traversed, it kept traveling.
Patrick turned that insight into a series of skateboard wheels designed for different types -- and terrains -- of skateboarding. Those wheels, in (yep) turn, "feel perfectly circular when you're riding, but look like a square from the side when in motion." Furthermore, Patrick says, because of their modular design, they're faster than the traditional wheel: the sine-wave pattern of the wheels' treads reduces the surface area that makes contact with the ground ... which, in another turn, reduces friction.

Patrick and his team are marketing the wheels as technology for skateboarding. But it's easy to see them applied to other vehicles, too, from cars to robots to Segways -- to anything, really, that could take advantage of faster, slicker, and otherwise reinvented wheels.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

All the New Stuff in iOS 7

Apple announced iOS 7 with a ton of new features, a complete overhaul to the interface, and plenty more. Here are all the new features.

New User Interface
The biggest difference with iOS 7 is a brand new interface. From the lock screen to each of the apps, the entire system is overhauled. Apple has moved away from the ridiculed skeuomorphic design in favor of a simpler look. Calendar, messages, weather, mail, the notification center, and more have been overhauled with the new look.

Control Center
Control Center adds a quick-toggles bar to iOS so you can change brightness, add a flashlight, do not disturb, turn on airplane mode, and plenty more.

All the New Stuff in iOS 7

Multitasking now works for all apps. iOS tracks your app usage and decides when and how to give an app background cycles. So, if you're opening something like Facebook all the time, then Facebook is updated more often. Push notifications also trigger a background state in apps so that when you open the app it'll be updated. Switching between apps is also done with a new gesture and a swipe that shows the full app instead of just an icon.

All the New Stuff in iOS 7

Safari gets a new full-screen mode, as well as a new quick search feature. With a tap at the top of the screen you get instant access to a search field that looks both online and in page. The iCloud Keychain announced for Mavericks is also added into Safari. Tabs also get a new look with vertical scrolling, and the eight tab limit is removed.

All the New Stuff in iOS 7

Airdrop allows you to instantly share any file in an app that supports it. This can be done with any other iPhone user near you, or over messages, mail, or social networks. It's peer-to-peer WiFi, and works on the most recent devices.

All the New Stuff in iOS 7

Camera and Photos
The camera is overhauled to include video, a new square camera, panorama, widescreen camera, and also has new photo filters. The Photos app is also redone, and automatically organizes your photos into "Moments" based on where and when they were taken. Sharing is also expanded to include Mail, AirDrop, iCloud, Twitter, and Facebook. The iCloud photo sharing gets a new shared photos setting where you can create shared photo streams with friends where anyone can upload pictures and comment on pictures.

All the New Stuff in iOS 7

Siri now has a new voice, including both male and female voices in several languages. Siri also gets a little smarter and can now recognize commands like, "increase brightness," or "play last voicemail." Services like Wikipedia, Bing, and Twitter are integrated right into Siri.

All the New Stuff in iOS 7

iOS in the Car
iOS 7 adds support for various car models and their in-car displays. In supported devices, iOS will be able to display Maps, messages, and more.

All the New Stuff in iOS 7

The App Store
The App Store now has a few new discovery methods. You can search for apps based on age range, or by apps that popular based on your location. The App Store also now updates your apps automatically.

All the New Stuff in iOS 7

The Music app also gets a visual overhaul. All your music from iCloud and your local library are integrated in one library. A new sideways interface is also added to flip through your albums.

iTunes RadioiTunes Radio is integrated directly into the Music app. Like Pandora or Spotify Radio, iTunes Radio is essentially a streaming radio station that exists within the Music app. Everything you play is synced across your devices so you can easily track down songs you've heard. On top of iOS, it's built into iTunes and the AppleTV. The service is free with ads, or ad-free if you're an iTunes Match subscriber.

All the New Stuff in iOS 7

Activation Lock
New to the Find My iPhone function is the ability to lock out thieves from your iOS device. If your phone is stolen you can set it so it can't be activated again without your iTunes password.

The iOS 7 beta is available to developers today, and will be launching publicly this fall for the iPhone 4 and above, iPad mini, and iPad 2 and above.

Source: Lifehacker