Creating New Technology to Understand Cancer Growth


Engineers at the University of Toronto are “unrolling” the mysteries of cancer… literally. They have developed a way to grow cancer cells in the form of a rolled-up sheet that mimics the 3D environment of a tumor, yet can also be taken apart in seconds. The platform offers a way to speed up the development of new drugs and therapies and ask new questions about how cancer cells behave.

The difficulties of studying cancer cells in a traditional petri dish are well known. Growing tumors in petri dishes is a standard approach for this kind of work, but it has a problem: in a real tumor, cells near the center of the mass have less access to oxygen and nutrients, and these subtle differences are tough to replicate in a flat dish. Another approach, growing cancer cells on building blocks made of porous sponge, results in a 3D model with differing oxygen levels but leaves researchers with discontinuous blocks of cells to keep track of.

The rolled-up cancer strip, on the other hand, is essentially a 3D model that can be laid out in 2D. Its cells get less and less oxygen along the strip on a smooth gradient towards the center of the device, making it easier to analyze. Because of this, it can also be a boon for basic research into what makes a normal cell turn cancerous.

Personalized cancer treatment is a growing field. At Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, fruit flies are being modified to have the same genetic defects as individual cancer patients, so they can be tested for cancer treatments that might work on the patient.

Facebook Testing Break-up Feature

facebook-relationship-status-update-sparks-gun-fight-f94f9e2d50It’s no secret that social media has influenced how we communicate. There are people that take to social media to announce EVERYTHING that happens in their lives, while others remain quieter. One phrase has been incorporated into the English lingo: “So have you made it ‘Facebook’ official?” This is of course reference to letting the world know that you are in a relationship. Conversely, Facebook is testing a new feature that lets you “take a break” if you break-up with that partner, making it so you see a lot less about what their life is like without you.

The features allow Facebook users to hide a former partner’s posts and profile; edit past updates in which both people are tagged; and control the status updates, photos, and other content their ex-lover will be able to view after the breakup

People in the United States will be prompted to test these features if they change their relationship status. Other users won’t be told if someone uses the utilities; the point of hiding someone’s profile or posts is to make it easier to do so without un-friending or blocking that person, and the other features are equally discreet.

Introducing these features is an implied admission of two things: There are real risks connected to using a service where people are encouraged to share everything about their daily lives, and not everything posted to Facebook has to be positive. These new features can make it easier for people leaving toxic relationships to protect themselves. Not having to see an abuser without having to block them, which could make them angry, is a valuable ability. Being able to hide new posts could help address the same issue.

Google+ Surviving by Refocusing Its Use and New Design


Google+ is still trucking along as a social network, as Google announced a redesign for the site that focuses purely on the social aspects and moves the site from being people-based to focus more on “interests.”

The new design brings a splash of color and more of Google’s Material Design aesthetic to the desktop site. The whole thing looks a lot more like the mobile app. The header has changed from a boring gray to a bright red, and the mobile app’s floating circular button even makes an appearance as the new way to write a post. The “core” of the site looks pretty much the same—text and images inside a scrolling list of cards.

Narrowing the focus of Google+ was probably the best way for Google to salvage the service. It originally started life as a Facebook-style social network for posting links, photos, status updates, and more with your friends. The original big innovation was the concept of dividing the people you followed on Google+ into “circles” and then sharing content with just the relevant groups of people, but it failed to catch on with users. However, there’s no doubt that some good things came out of Google+ as well — particularly the excellent Google Photos project that the company separated out of Google+ back at I/O this year. With the change, Google+ will formally be less about interacting with your friends and more about finding topics that interest you and meeting people across the internet who have those same interests.

Social Media’s Benefit Magnified in Wake of Paris Attacks


Following the horrific attacks in Paris that has claimed more than 100 lives, people around the world took to social media looking for their loved ones. Social media has put forth tools to help people in times of crisis.

Facebook activated its Safety Check tool, which allows users in an area affected by a crisis to mark themselves or others as safe. Facebook created the tool to help in times of crisis, and it has activated it five times in the past year after natural disasters.

Twitter kept followers informed by highlighting top news tweets, as well as well wishes posted by people around the world. It also turned into a message board Friday night with information to help people in Paris get to safety. The hashtag #PorteOuverte or “open door,” became a vehicle for offering shelter to those in Paris who needed it. Twitter has revealed that 1 million tweets were associated with the hashtag in 10 hours. The hashtag #StrandedInUS gained a lot of traction in the United States to help French people whose flights had been canceled.

Google Allowing Users to Control Public Information


There is a lot of talk regarding privacy and more people are concerned about their searchable online data. Aware of this change in the behavior of its users, Google has recently released a new tool to help control online privacy, called “About me”.

Users can adjust their personal and work contact information, education and employment history as well as the places they have lived. It is also possible to control who sees gender, birthday, occupation, personal websites and social network URLs.

Google explains that all the content on the About Me page is “information that people explicitly provided to Google.” Also noting that “people have control over what information is here and on the About Me page, they can control what others see about them across Google Services.”

Google’s Machine Learning TensorFlow Is Now Open-Sourced


Machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence that employs software to interpret and make predictions from large sets of data, is in popular demand in Silicon Valley. Some of the largest of those companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple have thrown their hat into the ring. But it was Google that started the trend, and in order to remain innovative, Google needed to keep looking like the cutting-edge leader.

Hence TensorFlow, a machine-learning system that Google has used internally for a few years. Today, Google is taking it open source, releasing the software parameters to fellow engineers, academics and hacks with enough coding skills. There is no denying that learning systems have made it possible to create and improve apps when it comes to speech and image recognition technologies.

For example, Google Photos have benefitted from their own machine learning system, called DisBelief. Developed in 2011, DisBelief has helped Google build large neural networks, but it has its limitations, including difficult configurations and its inability to share code externally. As a result, the company has open-sourced TensorFlow, which was designed to fix the shortcomings of DisBelief. However, it’s important to note that it only allows for part of the AI engine to be open-sourced.

By releasing TensorFlow, Google aims to make the software it built to develop and run its own AI systems a part of the standard toolset used by researchers. It may also help Google identify potential talent for the future.

Will We See More Mobile Use with Comcast Data Limits?


Comcast has recently offered Atlanta customers the option of getting an unlimited data plan for an extra $35 a month, as they have been subject to the data cap (300 gigabytes) since 2013. It’s a limited trial, but the economics of Comcast’s unlimited plan make it a potentially dramatic shift in the way we’ll buy broadband in the future. If Comcast decides this trial is a working model, other markets where the data cap is in place could start seeing similar offers, and it’s not crazy to think the plan might someday roll out nationwide.

Cellular providers have been selling mobile Internet like this for years. You know how it works: Go over your monthly limit, and you’ll face penalties such as reduced speeds or expensive overage fees. In the select markets where Comcast has experimented with data caps, the company assesses a $10 charge for every 50 GB a customer uses beyond their monthly limit. And yes, some Comcast users actually reach this point, paying as much as $30 a month in overage fees. When Comcast surveyed these folks, it found that 60% were willing to pay a flat $30-$40 a month extra to be freed from overage payments, hence the $35 a month that Atlanta customers pay.

You can probably see where this is headed. Even if you don’t use a ton of data now, more of our work and play is moving to the Web. Netflix is the cause of one-third of the country’s Internet traffic, and we’re only just getting started with driverless and connected cars, smart appliances and other devices associated with the Internet of Things.

However, Comcast isn’t the only one looking into data cap-associated fees for unlimited usage. A study last year found Internet providers everywhere could benefit financially from introducing data caps and other features associated with metered usage plans.

So how will this possible change effect mobile users? You might be more inclined to have your data increased, as it is much more convenient to have your data readily available to you on your mobile. How will these data limits persuade you to forget home internet all together, and opt for mobile data instead?

Respond Quickly to E-mail Using Smart Replies


Not every e-mail that you get in your inbox deserves a well thought out reply, which is why Google is using the power of machine learning to make email triage a little bit faster.

Google announced the new “Smart Replies” feature for its Inbox email client, which gives users of its service up to three quick options to send back in reply to emails based on a machine learning analysis of the message’s content. People can use the short replies as either a way to quickly respond, or a way to start a longer message. This could prove to be especially useful for mobile users who would rather reply with a quick response, rather than type out a whole e-mail on their phone. This is the latest example of Google’s effort to teach machines how to take over some of the tasks typically handled by humans.

The new feature is available to all consumers who use the free version of Inbox, as well as the more than 2 million businesses who pay for Google’s suite of applications designed for work.

Controversy Over Facebook “Real-Name” Policy

47073158.cachedFacebook is planning on tweaking its policy that requires members of their social media site to use their real or “authentic” names on profiles, as advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union have shown discontent in the requirement.

The strictly enforced “real names” policy requires users to use the names that friends and family know them by, as Facebook says it helps to root out online bullying and makes users more accountable. However, the policy has seen many users suspended from Facebook despite using authentic names, with online trolls taking advantage of it to report sections of users. Transgender individuals who have chosen a new name to match the gender they identify with say they have been affected by the policy, as have drag queens and Native Americans.

Facebook has said they would add new tools that improve how users confirm their name on Facebook when signing up, and make it more difficult for trolls to target individuals. When users are asked to confirm their name (which it can do when users are reported or when a moderator questions an account) they will be allowed to add additional details to provide context. Secondly, people that want to report profiles for using non-authentic names will have to provide additional information about why they are reporting an account.

These new changes are part of the latest in a series of tweaks to Facebook’s real names policy, which include it demanding “authentic” rather than “real” names, and allowing users to verify names using more methods than just government IDs.

Be Comfortable at Work with the Altwork Station


Maybe you slouch in your chair. Maybe you have tried to make using a standing desk a habit. Maybe, your preferred working position is curled up on a sofa. The California startup Altwork has what may be the solution: the Altwork Station.

While adjustable sit/stand desks have been done before, the Altwork Station takes things to the next level: it’s an integrated workstation combining seat, desk, and monitor stand, and it’s all electrically controlled to support not just sitting and standing but also a horizontal position: you lie back with your monitor or monitors above you. The keyboard and mouse stay affixed to your desk through the magical power of magnets.

At the push of a button, the desk can tweak the position of everything or fully shift back into sitting or standing. As the back moves, the monitor moves with your eyes, the desk moves with your hands, and the back headrest shifts slightly in or out to best support your head.

It’s available now to pre-order for a still-steep discounted price of $3,900, but once that promotional price period is over, the Altwork Station will increase to an eye-popping $5,900. The company says its trying to price things in the same realm as a really high-quality mechanically adjustable desk alongside a similarly excellent chair and a monitor arm, but no matter how you slice it that’s a lot of cash.

Ultimately, it’s a product that’s hard to recommend to most normal people, but it’s also a fascinating engineering study. It’ll be interesting to see if Altwork can find an audience with this product — and if it does, hopefully it can bring some of this technology to more people at a lower price point down the line.