Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Google Chromecast: Does It Deserve a Place In Your Living Room?

Last week, Google unveiled the Chromecast: a $35 HDMI stick that can stream content directly to your TV. It sold out nearly immediately due to the low price, but can it replace other streaming devices like the Roku or Apple TV?

How it works: The Chromecast has a dead simple setup process, all things considered. For instance, you don't have any remote control. You need a smartphone, tablet, or PC to use it. In any other situation, this would cause some set up problems for a device with no native input.
Fortunately, the Chromecast pairs directly with your control device for the initial setup. It sends you to a webpage where you'll either download an app or browser extension to conduct the initial pairing. Once you've entered your Wi-Fi password, though, it just sits on your network waiting for you to send something to the big screen.

How it's different: The Roku, Apple TV and similar devices provide a set up process nearly as simple as the Chromecast. It's easy enough to enter Wi-Fi information, although other boxes typically require you to sign in to your various accounts to stream content. The Chromecast doesn't ask for any account info because you're already logged in to the apps you're using on the remote device. In that sense, the Chromecast is a little nicer. However, logging in to accounts is also a problem you'll only deal with once on boxes like the Roku. In my own experience, setting up the Chromecast was simple. However, others (including our own Adam Dachis) have reported some difficulty getting it to work while using both a Mac and a Nexus 7. Your mileage may vary.

The Supported Apps Are Great, Especially YouTube

How it works: Once you have everything set up, any connected device in the house can send videos to the TV. Users don't have to log in, enter any code, or join a group. Once your Chromecast is on the Wi-Fi network, every device on that network is effectively a remote.

If you're using a supported app, it works great. Right now, the Chromecast only officially works with Netflix, YouTube, Google Play Music and Movies. These apps have a button in the Action Bar that will connect to the Chromecast and allow you to start streaming content. It doesn't actually transfer video from your device to the TV, though. If it's available via a server, the Chromecast will elect to get it straight from the source directly, which aids performance.

Most of the apps work just fine, but YouTube especially shines. Multiple users can connect to the Chromecast (though it will interrupt a video if you are watching as they join). Each person can play and pause the stream as well as add videos to the active playlist. This highlights a distinct potential advantage of Chromecast. Remotes aren't just remotes. They're interactive mini-apps within the main apps themselves. If developers can leverage this, the Chromecast could offer much more than the typical set-top box. Unfortunately, only YouTube takes advantage of this extended capability.

How it's different: Other boxes typically have some form of app support. However, utilizing smartphones and tablets offers a lot of flexibility. YouTube brings some distinct advantages with the group playlist functionality, but beyond that, most set top boxes will still be better for now, if for no other reason than because they have more services.

Hulu, HBO GO, ESPN, and a variety of other popular apps are completely unavailable, except by screensharing a browser tab.

Browser Streaming Is Not As Good

How it works: When Google can't quite build an ecosystem from scratch, the company has a habit of offering a complex workaround that technically covers the empty bases but isn't the best experience. This is what the browser streaming feature does. For starters, you can't use your phone to stream a browser tab. Mobile devices don't have the ability to stream anything to the Chromecast if an app doesn't have the functionality built-in.

The result is that laptops have an entirely different experience with the Chromecast. YouTube sharing via the site doesn't have the same group playlist functionality as using the apps. You can stream anything that Chrome can see, but it can get jittery if your Wi-Fi connection isn't that strong. If your connection slows or hiccups, the tab casting can't buffer, so your video will just skip over a portion. As long as your connection is solid, it's fine, but if not, the video can get unusable.

It's also not ideal for watching videos on the couch. Forgoing the remote control can kind of work when you're replacing it with a phone or tablet, but a laptop is big, clunky, and not designed to be a handheld controller for something else. If you're comfortable with that, then it's great, but it's overly cumbersome.

Also, one note on playing local files: you can do it. Sort of. By opening a local video in Chrome and casting that tab, you can stream files you've downloaded to your TV. However, this is less than ideal. This also means that you're essentially watching a video of a video. This can result in a loss of quality. For a YouTube clip, that's not the worst thing. For that 1080p Blu-Ray rip you made, it's borderline painful.

How it's different: The Chromecast's solution is a stopgap. Google has made the SDK available for developers to plug into the Chromecast directly, but until they do (assuming many will), tab casting fills the void. For streaming content that's not available via an app, you have to pull out a laptop. This means that the remote that you're going to need will be dictated by which service you use to watch a particular video. Local file playback is similarly up in the air. In most cases, it may just be simpler to plug your laptop directly into the TV. Except, that defeats the point of most set-top boxes: to make things easier. HTPCs have their purpose, but if you want something like the Chromecast to begin with, chances are this isn't going to be very satisfying for regular use.

The Chromecast Is Worth Exactly What it Costs

Ultimately, the Chromecast has a lot of potential. It's not quite Google's version of Airplay. Services that support native playback are actually using lightweight HTML5 apps and streaming content directly from servers. Flinging a video from your iPod to the Chromecast isn't quite in the cards yet.

However, getting Netflix and YouTube is worth $35, if you can't already play them on your TV some other way. Additionally, Google Play is actually a pretty great service. On average, movie rentals from Play Movies are slightly cheaper than Amazon, and Play Music is actually a pretty great subscription option. Until Google gets its apps on to other devices, the Chromecast is the best way to get their content on to your TV if you don't have an HTPC connected directly.

However, the Chromecast is unlikely to dethrone any particular streaming box in its current form. We can collectively check back in a year or so to see if developers pick up the platform, but for the moment it needs more proper app support to gain any real ground. That being said, Google has it priced perfectly.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

First ever footage from 47 Ronin shows off one wild fantasy twist

Keanu Reeves makes an explosive return to action-adventure in 47 Ronin. 

After a treacherous warlord kills their master and banishes their kind, 47 leaderless samurai vow to seek vengeance and restore honor to their people. Driven from their homes and dispersed across the land, this band of Ronin must seek the help of Kai (Reeves)—a half-breed they once rejected—as they fight their way across a savage world of mythic beasts, shape-shifting witchcraft and wondrous terrors. As this exiled, enslaved outcast becomes their most deadly weapon, he will transform into the hero who inspires this band of outnumbered rebels to seize eternity. 

Helmed by director Carl Rinsch (The Gift), 47 Ronin is produced by Scott Stuber (Ted, Identity Thief), Pamela Abdy (Identity Thief, upcoming Kill the Messenger) and Eric McLeod (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Austin Powers series).

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Google Unveils the Chromecast, an HDMI Stick for Streaming Video

Google took the wraps off of the Chromecast today, a tiny thumb drive-sized stick with an HDMI port on one end that's Wi-Fi enabled and designed to make it simple to push video from your home network, smartphone, or the web right to your TV screen.

The Chromecast looks a bit like a cross between a Google TV, a Nexus Q, and someHDMI sticks that run XBMC that we've seen before, and that's a compliment. The Chromecast can be controlled remotely from any Android device, iOS device, or computer running Chrome, as long as you're using a Chromecast enabled app (in the demo, we saw YouTube, Netflix, Pandora, and Google Play Music, Movies, and TV).

The video or music plays directly from the web without going through your phone or tablet first. Even if you decide to do something else with your phone, or if someone else needs to control playback with their phone instead, your movies or music keep playing without interruption. You can toggle between your phone and the TV easily, or build shared playlists with friends if their devices are in the same room as well,similar to the way the Nexus Q worked.

The Chromecast will also work directly with Chrome on the desktop, which will get a "cast" button for the toolbar that will push whatever's in your current tab directly to the TV. You'll be able to continue using your desktop while your tab is being projected, even if you open a new tab and keep working.

In the demo, one person used their Android phone, iPhone, and laptop to push YouTube video, music from Pandora, and even music from Google Play Music to a TV in the same room, much like AirPlay, and even controlled volume and playback from the phone. Then they left the YouTube app entirely and opened up Gmail on their phone, all without interrupting the video experience on the TV. You can put your phone to sleep, charge it, or just put it to the side without stopping the video. Pick up your phone and you can control playback from the lock screen or directly from the screen.

The Chromecast is available to purchase now from the Google Play Store (and it'll be available at Amazon and Best Buy soon), and it'll set you back $35.

Source: http://lifehacker.com

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Singing Happy Birthday makes cake taste better

Singing 'Happy Birthday' before having a slice of cake makes it taste better, scientists claim.

Rituals such as saying grace, making a birthday wish while blowing out candles or the ceremonial cutting of the cake before eating can enhance the flavour of the food, according to a new study.

The study, by researchers from Minnesota University, could explain why we have so many unusual customs and quirky habits when it comes to eating and drinking.

Professor Kathleen Vohs, who led the study, said: "Whenever I order an espresso I take a sugar packet and shake it, open the packet and pour a teeny bit of sugar in and then taste.

"It's never enough sugar so I then pour about half of the packet in. The thing is this isn't a functional ritual – I should just skip right to pouring in half the packet."

To learn more about the link between rituals and food, the researchers carried out a series of experiments which they described in the Psychological Science journal.

In one test some participants were given a piece of chocolate and told to break it in half without unwrapping it first, and then eat one half before unwrapping the other and eating it too.

Those who had performed the ritual rated the chocolate more highly, savoured it more and were willing to pay more for it than a separate group who were allowed to eat it however they wanted.

A second experiment using carrots found that the anticipation of eating the vegetable following a ritual improved their taste, with people enjoying them more the longer they waited to eat them.

In the final experiments the researchers showed that watching someone else methodically mix lemonade does not make it taste any better, suggesting that personal involvement is key.

They also found "intrinsic interest" – the fact rituals draw people into what they are doing – fully accounted for the positive effects they have on our eating experiences.

While these could seem small or mundane the effects they produce are quite tangible. And while rituals are common before mealtimes they could play a role in other situations.

Prof Vohs said: "We are thinking of getting patients to perform rituals before a surgery and then measuring their pain postoperatively and how fast they heal."


Monday, July 22, 2013

Trailer for 'Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey', Carl Sagan's legacy with Neil deGrasse Tyson

Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey is an upcoming American documentary television series. It is a follow-up to Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which was presented by Carl Sagan. The new series' presenter will be Neil deGrasse Tyson. The executive producers are Seth MacFarlane and Ann Druyan, Sagan's widow. It was originally announced that it would premiere in the 2012–13 United States network television schedule, but a Twitter update from Neil deGrasse Tyson in June 2012 indicates a Q2 2014 release. Episodes will premiere on Fox and also air on National Geographic Channel on the same night.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Doctor Who: 50 Years of Humanism

For 50 years, "Doctor Who" has been more than just delectable entertainment. It has been a consistent beacon of humanism, championing the value of the individual, charging us all with resisting those who oppress the weak, and revealing the universe to be a place of awe and wonder.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

GrabLinks bookmarklet grabs links from webpages, turns ‘em into Markdown for your clipboard

Brett Terpstra, eternal tinkerer and gentleman extraordinaire, released GrabLinks 2.0, an incredibly useful bookmarklet for just about anyone who writes or simply collects things from the web. Scroll down at his site for the actual bookmarklet button that you drag to your browser toolbar to install.
In a nutshell, clicking this bookmarklet will automatically collect all the links from a section of a webpage and turn them into a Markdown list. So:
  • click the bookmarklet
  • mouse around a webpage and see each ‘section’ highlighted with a red boundary
  • click the section with links you want to collect
  • a new tab opens with the name of the page and URL, as well as all links from the section in a Markdown list
In a nutshell of a nutshell: if you use this bookmarklet, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that unicorns flew out of your USB ports and ears to celebrate the potential of what Brett built here. I highly recommend you donate to let Brett keep doing his fantastic thing.

10 Niche Search Engines That Still Do Something Google Can't

On July 8, Yahoo! shut down 18-year-old search engine AltaVista. Its servers were switched off, its algorithms silenced, its web crawlers laid to rest. Back in 1997, a year before Google first appeared online, AltaVista raked in two million hits per day. AltaVista was one of the most successful search engines to launch in the mid-90s. That success didn't last long in the age of Google, and AltaVista was purchased by Yahoo! in 2003 and eventually relegated to obscurity.

AltaVista's death is a reminder that, pre-Google dominance, there were a ton of search engines with their own quirks, specialties, and varied indexes of the web. Searching one wasn't guaranteed to deliver the same results as the others. The World Wide Web didn't quite feel like a wholly interconnected web, just yet--each search engine or web crawler was a nexus into a unique corner of the Internet.

AltaVista also established a precedent of branching out from search that Google would later build upon. Long after it had lost popularity as a search engine, AltaVista's Babel Fish was the go-to online language translator. And while Google now serves as our general purpose search tool, and makes the operating system for millions of smartphones, and runs the most popular email platform on the web, and dominates Internet advertising, there are still those quirky, speciality search engines out there that do things Google Search can't.

The World Wide Web is far more interconnected and searchable than ever, but it's also bigger than ever. In AltaVista's honor, we've hunted down some of those search engines that still fill a special niche, gotten advice from some Tested readers and highlighted a few old favorites that once seemed amazing and have now been one-upped by the all-consuming Google.

The Wayback Machine: Archive.org's Wayback Machine is the ultimate search tool for things Google can't find--because they no longer exist. According to Archive.org's FAQ, the Wayback Machine hosts more than 350 billion pages, taking up more than two petabytes of storage. Popular websites will often have hundreds of entries archived over years of Wayback crawls, but it's amazing how many obscure Geocities fansites are preserved within the Wayback Machine.

Baseball-Reference: There's no sport with a greater emphasis or appreciation for stats than baseball. Baseball is as much about history as it is the current season's games, and players are often famous more for their RBIs or home runs or strikeouts over a dozen seasons than they are for individual game-winning plays. Baseball-Reference.com has made all those records and statistics searchable since 2000. And we mean all the records. Just look at the immense amount of detail on Hank Aaron's page, for example.

Wolfram Alpha: The "computational knowledge engine" doesn't search the web like Google, but it's definitely smarter--or at least better at math--than our go-to engine. Wolfram Alpha's ability to spit back direct answers to questions still feels a little bit like magic, and it offers a more scientific approach to search results.

The results page for Tony Blair, for example, lists notable facts about the British politician, his governmental role, and one physical characteristic. Google has begun to integrate Wolfram Alpha-like results into its search engine by showing similar data for famous people (pulled from Wikipedia), showing weather conditions, and so on.

Giphy: Just a few months ago, Google added an option to narrow Image Search results down to "animated," aka GIF search. Giphy is a brand new startup that offers its own database of searchable GIFs, and each image is tagged. A search for Metal Gear Solid, for example, brings back the kinds of GIFs you'd expect, but a search for something more general--like the word joy--returns very different results. Memes and more expressive GIFs pop up than in a similar Google search. Giphy also tells you how many frames are in each GIF, which is pretty cool.

TinEye: Reverse image search is another tool Google has recently added to its arsenal. But before Google added the ability to search by an existing image, TinEye was an invaluable tool for finding out where a video screencap came from, or to find a larger version of an image, or to track down a mystery artist. TinEye doesn't search by image metadata, but rather through recognition algorithms to identify similar or identical pictures. Also, Google and TinEye present their findings differently. TinEye is extremely focused on its database of 3 billion images, but Google actually uses an image to, first and foremost, return web page results that host a similar image.

Creative Commons Search: Here's a simple one. When you search for a photograph on Flickr or Google Images, often the photographer hasn't' given permission for that photo to be used elsewhere online. So you trudge off, sullen, to find something else. With a Creative Commons search, you can set narrow search results for images, music, or other media that's shared under a CC license.

Can I Stream It: Just a couple years ago, if a movie or TV show wasn't on Netflix or Hulu, you probably wouldn't plan to stream it online. But those days are past--there are now so many competing popular video delivery services with different movie studio deals that it's hard to keep track of what is available where. Can I Stream It is awesome because it searches all of them--streaming options like Netflix and Amazon Instant and Epix, rental options like iTunes and Vudu, even cable services like HBO and Comcast Xfinity. With an account you can also set up notifications to be messaged when a movie becomes available.

Duck Duck Go: This search engine made a name for itself in 2012 by promising not to track its users--Google's privacy issues over the past couple years have been one of the unfortunate side effects of its massive web reach. But the engine also highlights a ton of "goodies" or instant feedback tools akin to Wolfram Alpha--doing matematic calculations, generating random passwords, providing instant recipes. Google can do some of those things, but not all of them, and Duck Duck Go offers a very clean, simple interface.

Google Flights: This may be one of Google's least-known search acquisitions, but it's a great tool. Back in 2010, Google Purchased ITA Software, which ran the airface search system QPX. Never heard of QPX? You've probably used it--the engine was behind travel sites like Kayak, Orbitz, and CheapTickets. Now that data is fed raw into Google Flights, without the annoyance of a travel site trying to sell you hotel rooms or rental cars alongside your plane tickets. We know including a Google site on the list is cheating, but ITA Software built the technology before Google bought them up--that counts, right?

Flightfox: On the subject of airfare searches, Flightfox is a pretty awesome person-driven flight tool. It's not a search engine, exactly, but a pay-for service that draws upon the expertise of frequent flyers and travel agents to net you the best possible deal on airfare. You can go in pre-armed with knowledge about cheap flights and pay a few bucks for the experts to find something cheaper, or describe a desired trip and let them do all the work for you. While paying for Flightfox for short or cheap domestic flights doesn't make much sense, you could potentially save hundreds on major international flights by crowdsourcing the kinds of people who know exactly how to snag the best airfare.

Honorable mentions: The Library of Congress' Thomas database, the subscription-based Galileo educational search database, and LexisNexis for legal documents.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

'Mythical' corpse-eating fly rediscovered in Europe

THIS species of fly was declared extinct more than 100 years ago. Here's the problem. It's still buzzing around, feasting merrily on decaying corpses.

The 'bone-skipper', or Centrophlebomyia anthropophaga if you're in a scientific mood, once developed quite a reputation for eating human remains. Not fresh remains, mind you. These flies prefer bodies in advanced stages of decomposition.

Thankfully, their diet isn't exclusively human. Bone-skippers love to pick over large animals, and researchers believe they flourished several centuries ago when those animals were more plentiful.

Incidentally, the flies are nicknamed bone-skippers because of the manner in which they skip along the bones of a decaying body, making it look "alive with larvae". My, what a beautiful image.

Bone-skippers supposedly disappeared about 160 years ago, and achieved near-mythical status in the scientific community. Yes, they have myths about flesh-eating flies.

But to nobody's great delight, the flies have recently been rediscovered in Europe, LiveScience reports.

Pierfilippo Carretti, a researcher at the Sapienza University of Rome and presumably the most Italian man alive, has worked with his colleagues to establish a "type-species" for the fly. That's the super-long scientific name mentioned above, and it allows researchers to classify and study the species with greater ease.

You can read all about Centrophlebomyia anthropophaga in Carretti's study here.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Does Being a Bookworm Boost Your Brainpower in Old Age?

MINNEAPOLIS – New research suggests that reading books, writing and participating in brain-stimulating activities at any age may preserve memory. The study is published in the July 3, 2013, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology

“Our study suggests that exercising your brain by taking part in activities such as these across a person’s lifetime, from childhood through old age, is important for brain health in old age,” said study author Robert S. Wilson, PhD, with Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. 

For the study, 294 people were given tests that measured memory and thinking every year for about six years before their deaths at an average age of 89. They also answered a questionnaire about whether they read books, wrote and participated in other mentally stimulating activities during childhood, adolescence, middle age and at their current age. 

After they died, their brains were examined at autopsy for evidence of the physical signs of dementia, such as lesions, brain plaques and tangles. 

The research found that people who participated in mentally stimulating activities both early and late in life had a slower rate of decline in memory compared to those who did not participate in such activities across their lifetime, after adjusting for differing levels of plaques and tangles in the brain. Mental activity accounted for nearly 15 percent of the difference in decline beyond what is explained by plaques and tangles in the brain. 

“Based on this, we shouldn’t underestimate the effects of everyday activities, such as reading and writing, on our children, ourselves and our parents or grandparents,” said Wilson. 

The study found that the rate of decline was reduced by 32 percent in people with frequent mental activity in late life, compared to people with average mental activity, while the rate of decline of those with infrequent activity was 48 percent faster than those with average activity. 

The study was supported by the National Institute on Aging and the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

10 mindblowingly futuristic technologies that will appear by the 2030s


1. Artificially Intelligent Personal Assistants

I’ve been impatiently waiting for this one for quite some time now. Microsoft got the ball rolling on this concept with Clippy, the office assistant that proved to be more annoying than useful. More recently, Apple developed SIRI for its iPhone, an intelligent assistant that can respond to specific language cues and access the Internet. But this is nothing compared to what’ll be available two decades from now.
10 mindblowingly futuristic technologies that will appear by the 2030s
Looking ahead, we can expect our personal assistants to fully respond to natural language, including colloquialisms and our personal idiosyncrasies. And owing to ubiquitous computing (which we’ll look at next), our personal assistants will be accessible to us 24/7.
What’s more, these agents will exhibit an uncanny level of general intelligence. We’ll even be able to have conversations with them. They will know everything about us, including our behaviors, our tendencies, our preferences, and our typical ways of responding to certain situations. Accordingly, they’ll be our virtual clones. In essence, they’ll be our proxy selves, representing us on the Internet and in the real world by taking the form of telepresent holographic avatars. They’ll write emails for us, book appointments, perform menial thought tasks, and even anticipate our needs. Of course, we’ll still be responsible for the decisions they make on our behalf — so we’ll need to be careful about the degree of autonomy we give our mind clones.

2. Computers Are Everywhere — But Unseen

As noted, ubiquitous computing — also known as “pervasive computing” and “everyware” — is coming. Already today we have computers in our cars, our phones, our toys, and even our fridges. But they’re still very obvious. We often have to hold them. Or use keyboards to input information into them.

10 mindblowingly futuristic technologies that will appear by the 2030s These devices, however, are getting steadily smaller owing to the miniaturization revolution that’s in full swing (e.g. the shift towards microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS). In short order we’ll be living in a Rainbow’s End world, where information processing devices will be virtually everywhere, but completely invisible — absorbed into our surroundings. These computers will be in our clothes, our fashion accessories, and even in our contact lenses. And to use them we’ll use natural language and haptic technologies (i.e. tactile feedback). Or better yet, these devices will be endowed with a certain level of “ambient intelligence” to help them perform autonomously under specific conditions. So by the 2030s we’ll be completely surrounded by computers, but utterly unaware of their presence.

3. Virtual Animals with Digital Minds

Whole brain emulations of human minds are quite a ways off, and likely won’t appear until the second half of the 21st Century. But in the stage leading up to this we’ll be able to emulate the brains of much simpler organisms. Already today there’s the OpenWorm project, an effort to digitize the brain of a nematode worm.
10 mindblowingly futuristic technologies that will appear by the 2030s
Within the next two decades, we will most certainly be able to emulate the brains of other organisms, like ants and bees. And who knows, by this point we might even be able to start emulating the brains of simple mammals, like mice. But by virtue of doing so, we will have created virtual animals who essentially “live” inside a computer. And someday, perhaps even by the 2030s, these digital brains will be uploaded to robotic avatars.

4. The First Sanctioned Megascale Geoengineering Project

The effects of climate change are getting increasingly hard to ignore, whether they manifest as superstorms, historically low levels of sea ice, rampant wildfires, or record temperatures. Whether we like it or not, we will embark on geoengineering projects in the near future. And indeed, the conversations have already started. 

10 mindblowingly futuristic technologies that will appear by the 2030s
Take, for example, the 25 scientists who recently declared that the time has come to start working on actual geoengineering solutions to reverse the effects of rampant carbon emissions. Their particular solution is cloud whitening — the seeding of marine stratocumulus clouds with copious amounts of tiny sea water particles. They’re pretty much ready to get started, but they’ll need international support to do it legally. Others have even started to do it illegally.

5. An Interplanetary Internet

This one’s fairly straightforward, but no less profound. Someone from Earth will reach Mars by the early 2030s — whether it be private enterprise or a government agency. At least we freakin’ hope so! But regardless of who gets there first, one of the first things they’ll do is set up an Internet connection with Earth. And why not? The explorers — or settlers, if they’re part of the Mars One project — will both want and need to access and share information. Oh, and they’ll probably want to purchase something while they’re there when supplies run low. 

6. The First True Anti-Aging Intervention

There are a crap-ton of products on the market that claim to be “anti-aging,” but each and every one of them is either cosmetic or a total scam. There is nothing available right now that can either slow down or reverse the effects of aging, not even resveratrol pills or rapamycin.
But this is set to change by the 2030s. Futurists and gerontologists aren't entirely sure what form this intervention could take. It could be a genetic tweak, not unlike the one Cynthia Kenyon performed on roundworms to extend their lifespans by more than half. And indeed, there are efforts currently underway to map the genetic constitutions of supercentenarians to isolate the factors that make them so robust. It might involve therapies to restore the length of our telomeres, or replenish our mitochondria. Or it could draw from any number of experiments currently being conducted on mice. 

7. Autonomous Robots with a License to Kill

The rise of autonomous killing machines is a grim and frightening prospect, but it’s virtually guaranteed to happen.
10 mindblowingly futuristic technologies that will appear by the 2030s
We already have various levels of autonomy in a number of weapons systems, including cruise and patriot missiles. The Aegis Combat System, which is found aboard naval ships, has an autonomous mode in which it uses powerful computers and radars to track and guide weapons to destroy enemy targets. There’s also Samsung Techwin's remote-operated sentry bot — which is currently deployed in the Korean DMZ. And the U.S. packbot/REDOWL system could be easily modified to take out snipers on its own.

8. Our Very Own Lab-Grown Organs (and Meat)

We are in the midst of the biotechnology revolution, the benefits of which are finally starting to emerge. Personalized medicine will emerge in the coming decades, where physicians will be able to prescribe medicines tailored specifically to our genetic constitutions. Biologists are also exceedingly close to being able to generate differentiated tissue from our very own stem cells. This will eventually allow us to grow our very own organs, including the heart — no donors needed, and with virtually no chance of rejection. 

9. Personal Fabricators in Every Home

Okay, maybe not every home — but it’s certainly poised to be the kind of thing that may be as ubiquitous as DVD players and traditional 2D printers are today. And there’s very little doubt that 3D printers are poised to be as disruptive as the techno-cognoscenti are predicting.
Indeed, the ability to produce our own products in our very own homes will upset traditional models of manufacturing. At first, we’ll have to pay for these items to download the specs. But eventually, owing to the open source movement, many of these items will be shared and available for free.
And in addition to day-to-day items and electronics, these printers could generate handguns (which is not such a hot idea), vaccines (we won’t have to leave our homes to get inoculated during a pandemic), self-assembling robots, and androids. And eventually, these printers won’t need human guidance at all. 

10. The Oceans Will Quench the World’s Thirst

Industrial-scale desalination is poised to make an appearance by the 2030s. Owing to advancements in solar power, namely the development of affordable and scalable photovoltaic cells, we will be able to build massive concentrated solar power plants (CSPs) that utilize the residual heat to strip ocean water of its salt. Experts predict that the growing freshwater deficits could be increasingly covered starting in the 2020s, and possibly as late as the 2030s. The spread of CSP desalination plants will likely reduce non-sustainable water supply and inspire the development of most of potable water production by the year 2030 and afterwards.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Exercise reorganizes the brain to be more resilient to stress

Physical activity reorganizes the brain so that its response to stress is reduced and anxiety is less likely to interfere with normal brain function, according to a research team based at Princeton University.

The researchers report in the Journal of Neuroscience that when mice allowed to exercise regularly experienced a stressor — exposure to cold water — their brains exhibited a spike in the activity of neurons that shut off excitement in the ventral hippocampus, a brain region shown to regulate anxiety.

These findings potentially resolve a discrepancy in research related to the effect of exercise on the brain — namely that exercise reduces anxiety while also promoting the growth of new neurons in the ventral hippocampus. Because these young neurons are typically more excitable than their more mature counterparts, exercise should result in more anxiety, not less. The Princeton-led researchers, however, found that exercise also strengthens the mechanisms that prevent these brain cells from firing.

The impact of physical activity on the ventral hippocampus specifically has not been deeply explored, said senior author Elizabeth Gould, Princeton's Dorman T. Warren Professor of Psychology. By doing so, members of Gould's laboratory pinpointed brain cells and regions important to anxiety regulation that may help scientists better understand and treat human anxiety disorders, she said.

From an evolutionary standpoint, the research also shows that the brain can be extremely adaptive and tailor its own processes to an organism's lifestyle or surroundings, Gould said. A higher likelihood of anxious behavior may have an adaptive advantage for less physically fit creatures. Anxiety often manifests itself in avoidant behavior and avoiding potentially dangerous situations would increase the likelihood of survival, particularly for those less capable of responding with a "fight or flight" reaction, she said.

"Understanding how the brain regulates anxious behavior gives us potential clues about helping people with anxiety disorders. It also tells us something about how the brain modifies itself to respond optimally to its own environment," said Gould, who also is a professor in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.

The researchers found that running prevents the activation of new neurons in response to stress. In sedentary mice, stress activated new neurons in the hippocampus (red and green cell above), but after 6 weeks of running, the stress-induced activation of both new and mature neurons disappeared. The red cells are new neurons and the green cells are activated mature neurons. (Photo courtesy of the Gould laboratory)

The research was part of the graduate dissertation for first author Timothy Schoenfeld, now a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Mental Health, as well as part of the senior thesis project of co-author Brian Hsueh, now an MD/Ph.D. student at Stanford University. The project also included co-authors Pedro Rada and Pedro Pieruzzini, both from the University of Los Andes in Venezuela.

For the experiments, one group of mice was given unlimited access to a running wheel and a second group had no running wheel. Natural runners, mice will dash up to 4 kilometers (about 2.5 miles) a night when given access to a running wheel, Gould said. After six weeks, the mice were exposed to cold water for a brief period of time.

The brains of active and sedentary mice behaved differently almost as soon as the stressor occurred, an analysis showed. In the neurons of sedentary mice only, the cold water spurred an increase in "immediate early genes," or short-lived genes that are rapidly turned on when a neuron fires. The lack of these genes in the neurons of active mice suggested that their brain cells did not immediately leap into an excited state in response to the stressor.

Instead, the brain in a runner mouse showed every sign of controlling its reaction to an extent not observed in the brain of a sedentary mouse. There was a boost of activity in inhibitory neurons that are known to keep excitable neurons in check. At the same time, neurons in these mice released more of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which tamps down neural excitement. The protein that packages GABA into little travel pods known as vesicles for release into the synapse also was present in higher amounts in runners.

The anxiety-reducing effect of exercise was canceled out when the researchers blocked the GABA receptor that calms neuron activity in the ventral hippocampus. The researchers used the chemical bicuculine, which is used in medical research to block GABA receptors and simulate the cellular activity underlying epilepsy. In this case, when applied to the ventral hippocampus, the chemical blocked the mollifying effects of GABA in active mice.

The paper, "Physical Exercise Prevents Stress-Induced Activation of Granule Neurons and Enhances Local Inhibitory Mechanisms in the Dentate Gyrus," was published May 1 in the Journal of Neuroscience. This research was supported by National Institute of Mental Health grant MH091567.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Astronomers Identify 514 of the Most Powerful Objects in the Universe, Have No Clue What 65 of Them Are

A new map of the universe created with data from the Fermi Space Telescope has identified the 514 most highly energetic objects in the known universe. The slightly unnerving part of that news — researchers have exactly no idea what 65 of those objects, which are throwing off more than 10 gigaelectronvolts of gamma ray energy, are. These sources could be standard high energy objects — like blazars — that simply haven’t been properly identified yet, or they could be an entirely new class of object never before seen on the cosmic landscape.

One explanation for the unidentified energy sources — which throw off huge amounts of gamma rays, but are not associated with radio or optical emissions, could be dwarf galaxies composed of dark matter. If that’s the case, learning more about these mystery objects could help us understand dark matter more thoroughly. Of course, the objects could also just be standard high energy objects that have yet to be properly identified. Also, they could be Galactuses, in which case we should probably just leave them alone, because staring at them too closely is a good way to get our whole planet eaten.

You can take a look at the new study prior to its publication in the Astrophysical Journal over on Arxiv right now.

Fat Cells Feel the Cold, Burn Calories for Heat

Transforming fat cells into calorie-burning machines may sound like the ultimate form of weight control, but the idea is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Unexpectedly, some fat cells directly sense dropping temperatures and release their energy as heat, according to a new study; that ability might be harnessed to treat obesity and diabetes, researchers suggest.

Fat is known to help protect animals from the cold—and not only by acting as insulation. In the early 1990s, scientists studying mice discovered that cold temperatures trigger certain fat cells, called brown adipose tissue, to release stored energy in the form of heat—to burn calories, in other words. Researchers have always assumed this mechanism was an indirect response to the physiological stress of cold temperatures, explains cell biologist Bruce Spiegelman of Harvard Medical School, Boston. The activation of brown fat seems to start with sensory neurons throughout the body informing the brain of a drop in temperature. In response the brain sends out norepinephrine, the chief chemical messenger of the sympathetic nervous system, which mobilizes the body to cope with many situations. In experimental animals, stimulating norepinephrine receptors triggered brown adipose tissue to release its energy and generate heat, while animals bred to be missing these receptors were unable to mount the same fat cell response.

People also have brown adipose tissue that generates heat when the body is cold. And unlike white fat, which builds up around the abdomen and contributes to many disorders including heart disease and diabetes, this brown fat is found in higher proportions in leaner people and seems to actively protect against diabetes.

In brown fat, the heat-generating process depends on a protein called UCP1; the protein is also thought to be central in brown fat's ability to prevent diabetes. Researchers are now exploring ways of activating this molecular pathway. But in trying to figure out exactly how fat cells respond to the body being cold, Spiegelman and colleagues discovered that plain old "white" fat cells have a few surprises left. In a study appearing online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers exposed various kinds of fat cells to cold temperatures directly. "We were a little surprised that no one had tried this before," Spiegelman says.

The researchers cooled several types of lab-grown human fat cells—brown, white and "beige" (white adipose tissue with some brown cells mixed in)—to temperatures between 27˚ and39˚C for four hours, eight hours, or up to ten days. White fat cells and "beige" cells (white adipose tissue with some brown cells mixed in) responded to cooling in dramatic fashion. In these cells, levels of the UCP1 were doubled by 8 hours after the treatment. The change in UCP1 also proved to be reversible: Its levels returned to normal once the cells' temperature was lowered to 37 degrees. But in brown fat cells, no induction of the protein was observed, indicating that cold temperatures don't mobilize these cells by flipping this particular switch.

The researchers also found that white fat cells obtained from mice lacking receptors for norepinephrine were still able to respond to cooling by turning on UCP1—showing that the heat-generating pathway is both specific to those fat cells and independent of the sympathetic nervous system .

The finding won't lead to an antifat pill any time soon, Spiegelman says, but it does give scientists new avenues to explore. "It's a piece of the basic science, adding to an evolving awareness that fat cells have many lives that we never knew about. Now we know they can sense temperature directly. The next question is, how do they do it, and can that ability be manipulated?"

"The paper is filling in an emerging picture that adipose tissue can be a more flexible, adaptive organ than we once thought," says Sven Enerbäck, a physician and adipose tissue researcher at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. "The finding raises the question of whether this new pathway has widespread effects on the animal as a whole."

Finding that white fat cells directly detect and react to cold is a surprising development, notes cell biologist Peter Tontonoz of the University of California, Los Angeles, because it shows that the sympathetic nervous system isn't the whole story when it comes to heat generation by adipose tissue. He's curious whether the heat-generating pathway in white fat is a routine part of everyday temperature regulation. "Even if it isn't," he adds, "it could still be targeted by small molecules or other drugs." 

Source: http://news.sciencemag.org