Scalpel-free brain surgery can relieve common tremor disorder symptoms: study

A million Canadians are affected by essential tremor disorder. Pauline Chan reports. Staff
Published Wednesday, August 24, 2016 5:03PM EDT

A non-invasive ultrasound therapy can safely improve the symptoms of a common neurological disorder that causes involuntary shaking, a new Canadian study has found.

The study looked at 76 patients with essential tremor, a condition that causes constant shaking and mainly involves the hands and the head. All of the patients in the study had moderate-to-severe tremors that did not respond to medications.

The patients were enrolled in a randomized controlled trial. Some of them received MRI-guided focused ultrasound thalamotomy, a scalpel-free brain surgery that involves destroying small parts of tissue in the thalamus, which co-ordinates and controls muscle activity.

Other patients in the group underwent “sham,” or placebo, treatment.

After three months, tremors in patients receiving focused ultrasound therapy improved by 46 per cent, compared with a 0.1 per cent improvement in those receiving sham procedures.

The findings were published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Essential tremor can occur at any age, but is most common in those 40 and older. The condition, sometimes confused with Parkinson’s disease, is usually not life-threatening, but it worsens over time and can be severe. In some cases, patients become unable to feed or dress themselves.

About one million people in Canada are affected by essential tremor. Most patients are able to control their symptoms with medications, but they do not work for everyone. That’s why ultrasound thalamotomy, recently approved for use in Canada and the U.S., is gaining international attention.

The Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto is currently the only one offering the treatment in Canada and already has a three-month-long waiting list of patients across the country.

Dr. Nir Lipsman, the co-author of the study and a neurosurgeon at Sunnybrook Research Institute, told CTV News that the technology “has a significant impact on (patients’) quality of life – without making a hole in the skull or an incision.”

He said the results have been “extremely rewarding” and doctors are “thrilled” for patients who see significant improvements. Among them is Noreen Smith, a 76-year-old former nurse whose tremors complicated simple tasks such as writing and drinking from a glass of water.

Before she underwent treatment, Smith told CTV News that she was too embarrassed to go out and socialize due to her tremors.

“My life has really diminished somewhat because of this,” she said. “It’s demeaning, depressing.”

But after the ultrasound treatments, Smith saw considerable improvement in her movements.

“I will be able to sign my husband’s 50th anniversary card,” the Bobcaygeon, Ont., resident told CTV News after undergoing a successful treatment last Friday morning.

Tony Lightfoot, a 73-year-old Calgary resident, was one of the first patients treated with focused ultrasound thalamotomy in 2012, with doctors targeting his right hand.

Four years later, Lightfoot says he feels “so much better.”

“From what I’ve observed, (the hand) is about 99 per cent steadier than what it was,” he said.

However, the treatment doesn’t work for some patients. Doctors don’t know why and are conducting more research.

Side effects can include problems with walking and a sensation of pins and needles, but those are usually temporary and resolve with time, doctors say.

The study published Wednesday was partially funded by InSightec, a company that develops and distributes non-invasive medical technologies such as the MRI-guided focused ultrasound.

Smartphone speech recognition can write text messages three times faster than human typing

Smartphone speech recognition software is not only three times faster than human typists, it’s also more accurate. The researchers hope the revelation spurs the development of innovative applications of speech recognition technology.

Smartphone speech recognition software gets a bad rap. Most users find the nascent technology to be frustratingly slow, and there are entire blogs dedicated to documenting examples of its biggest – and sometimes hilarious – mistakes.

But results from a new experiment suggest a different reality: Speech recognition can be used to compose text messages faster and more accurately than humans can type on mobile phone screens.

Kurt Hickman

Stanford computer science researchers compared speech recognition software with humans for speed and accuracy.

“Speech recognition is something that’s been promised to us for decades, but it has never worked very well,” said James Landay, a professor of computer science at Stanford and co-author of the new study. “But we were noticing that in the past two to three years, speech recognition was actually improving a lot, benefiting from big data and deep learning to train its neural networks to produce faster, more accurate results. So we decided to formally test it against humans.”

The research team, which included computer scientists from Stanford, Baidu Inc. and the University of Washington, devised an experiment that pitted Baidu’s Deep Speech 2 cloud-based speech recognition software against 32 texters, ages 19 to 32, working the built-in keyboard on an Apple iPhone.

“They grew up texting, so we’re putting speech recognition up against people who are really good at this task,” Landay said.

The subjects took turns typing or speaking about 100 phrases sourced from a standard library of everyday phrases used in text-based research – phrases such as “physics and chemistry are hard,” “have a good weekend” and “go out for some pizza and beer” – while the testing app recorded their times and accuracy rates. Half the subjects performed the task in English using the QWERTY keyboard; the other half conducted the test in their native Mandarin using iOS’ Pinyin keyboard.

The results were clear no matter the language. For English, speech recognition was three times faster than typing, and the error rate was 20.4 percent lower. In Mandarin Chinese, speech was 2.8 times faster, with an error rate 63.4 percent lower than typing.

“We knew speech recognition is pretty good, so we expected it to be faster, but we were actually quite surprised to find that it was almost three times faster than typing on a keyboard,” said co-authorSherry Ruan, a computer science PhD student at Stanford who helped run the experiments.

Although the researchers used Baidu’s speech recognition software, they suspect that other high-accuracy speech engines perform at a similar level. Now that the team members have quantified that speech recognition actually works well, they hope it will encourage engineers to design user interfaces that take better advantage of the technology.

“We should put speech in more applications than just typing an email or text message,” Landay said. “You could imagine an interface where you use speech to start and then it switches to a graphical interface that you can touch and control with your finger.”

The study, titled “Speech Is 3x Faster than Typing for English and Mandarin Text Entry on Mobile Devices,” is published online at Co-authors included Jacob Wobbrock of the University of Washington and Kenny Liou and Andrew Ng of Baidu; Ng is also an adjunct professor of computer science at Stanford. More information can be found at

Media Contacts

Bjorn Carey, Stanford News Service: (650) 725-1944,


Tesla has also added the bigger battery pack to its Model X SUV – it says the Model X P100D is able to reach 60mph in 2.9 seconds and travel around 300 miles on one charge. Those with existing Tesla’s are able to upgrade their vehicles, starting at $10,000 (£7,500).

While die-hard Tesla fans will be thrilled by the news of the new, more powerful, models, it doesn’t solve the company’s production problem. For successive months the California-based company has been ramping up its ability to produce cars, but it has been missing its own targets.

In August Tesla said it had aimed to sell 17,000 vehicles in the third quarter of the year and make at least 20,000. In reality it produced 18,345 but shipped 14,000 of those. In the remainder of the year it hopes to deliver around 50,000 of both the Model S and Model X vehicles.

Hundreds of thousands of potential customers made pre-orders for the company’s low cost Model 3 vehicle, when it was revealed in April 2016. Producing fewer, expensive, cars so mass produced vechiles can be cheap to produce has long been part of Musk’s masterplan.

Tesla said in its blog post: “While the P100D Ludicrous is obviously an expensive vehicle, we want to emphasize that every sale helps pay for the smaller and much more affordable Tesla Model 3 that is in development.”

“Without customers willing to buy the expensive Model S and X, we would be unable to fund the smaller, more affordable Model 3 development.”

A possible habitable planet is only 4 light-years away, astronomers discover

Proxima b’s estimated temperature would allow for a liquid state on its surface, placing it within the “habitable zone” around the star (assuming water is present) — Hawking’s $100 million Breakthrough Starshot vindicated
August 24, 2016

Artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. The double star Alpha Centauri AB also appears in the image to the upper-right of the star Proxima. (credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

A rocky planet called Proxima b — the closest exoplanet to us — is in the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Solar System, a team of astronomers has found after painstaking observation and data analysis.

The new world orbits its cool red-dwarf parent star every 11.2 days and has a temperature suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. A paper describing this milestone finding was published online today (Aug. 24) in the journal Nature.

The star Proxima Centauri, which is 4.2 light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Centaurus, is too faint to be seen with the naked eye and is close to the much brighter pair of stars known as Alpha Centauri A and B.

A view of the skies over the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory in Chile (credit: Y. Beletsky (LCO)/ESO/ESA/NASA/M. Zamani)

During the first half of 2016, the HARPS spectrograph on the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6-meter telescope at La Silla regularly observed the star Proxima Centauri, as did other professional and amateur telescopes around the world in a collaboration known as the Pale Red Dot campaign — looking for a tiny back-and-forth wobble in the star caused by the gravitational pull of an orbiting planet. (Other scientists have also been observing Proxima Centauri for years.)

The two bright stars are (left) Alpha Centauri and (right) Beta Centauri. The faint red star in the center of the red circle is Proxima Centauri. (credit: Skatebiker/CC)

So here’s what the Pale Red Dot data — when combined with earlier observations — shows:

  • At regular intervals, the star Proxima Centauri is approaching Earth at about 5 kilometers per hour — normal human walking pace — and at opposite times in those cycles it is receding at the same speed. This regular pattern repeats with a period of 11.2 days.
  • Analysis of the resulting Doppler shifts (and removing brightness-variation artifacts from the star) indicated the presence of a planet with a mass at least 1.3 times that of the Earth, orbiting about 7 million kilometers from Proxima Centauri (about 5 percent of the distance of Earth for our Sun, and coser than the planet Mercury is to our Sun — but Proxima Centauri is cooler than our Sun).
  • Proxima b is tidally locked to its star (one side is always sunny, the other is dark) and has an estimated temperature that would allow for a liquid state on its surface, thus placing it within the “habitable zone” around the star (assuming water is present). Atmosphere: unknown.
  • Proxima may be strongly affected by ultraviolet and x-ray flares from the star — far more intense than the Earth experiences from the Sun. (Extreme sun glasses recommended if you visit.)

Meanwhile a wild project by Stephen Hawking and philanthropist Yuri Milner — who announced in April a $100 million research and engineering program, Breakthrough Starshot, to study the concept of using laser light beams to propel gram-scale “nanocraft” to 20 percent of light speed to travel to Alpha Centauri — (KurzweilAI: Breakthrough Starshot’ aims to reach Alpha Centauri 20 years after launch) has been vindicated — with a minor detour.

Abstract of A terrestrial planet candidate in a temperate orbit around Proxima Centauri

At a distance of 1.295 parsecs, the red dwarf Proxima Centauri (α Centauri C, GL 551, HIP 70890 or simply Proxima) is the Sun’s closest stellar neighbour and one of the best-studied low-mass stars. It has an effective temperature of only around 3,050 kelvin, a luminosity of 0.15 per cent of that of the Sun, a measured radius of 14 per cent of the radius of the Sun and a mass of about 12 per cent of the mass of the Sun. Although Proxima is considered a moderately active star, its rotation period is about 83 days and its quiescent activity levels and X-ray luminosity are comparable to those of the Sun. Here we report observations that reveal the presence of a small planet with a minimum mass of about 1.3 Earth masses orbiting Proxima with a period of approximately 11.2 days at a semi-major-axis distance of around 0.05 astronomical units. Its equilibrium temperature is within the range where water could be liquid on its surface.

Google Offers Free Cloud Access to Colleges, Plays Catch Up to Amazon, Microsoft

In several years, nearly all universities will have a cloud computing provider.

Google in June announced an education grant offering free credits for its cloud platform, with no credit card required, unlimited access to its suite of tools and training resources. Amazon and Microsoft’s cloud services both offer education programs, and now Google Cloud wants a part in shaping future computer scientists — and probably whatever they come up with using the tool.

“We want computer science students and faculty to experience Google Cloud Platform and learn what’s possible when you apply cloud computing to tough problems, just like we do at Google,” says Bram Bout, director of Google for Education.

Amazon Web Services has dominated the cloud service business by being around longest (2006) and nabbing corporate and governmental customers like Comcast, Adobe and the Department of Defense.

Microsoft’s cloud service, Azure, doesn’t fall too far behind, having launched in 2010 and doing business with GE Healthcare and DocuSign. Google Cloud launched in 2011, but has caught up to competitors to work with Best Buy, Kaplan and Khan Academy.

While it seems like everyone has carved out corners of the cloud business, linking up with schools comes with two advantages. On the one hand, Google and its cloud competitors can become the platform of choice as younger professionals and computer science students begin their careers. At the same time, cloud providers have a vested interest in the upstart businesses or ideas that result from these education discounts.

“Of course we’d be thrilled to see innovative ideas and even companies emerge from this, but the goal for the grants program is to help students and faculty discover our cloud and do incredible things,” Bout says.

Google breaking in?

Amazon and Microsoft’s cloud services offer an education partnership in free trials or discounted pricing. For the time being, Microsoft Azure’s education program is not taking new applications and “oversubscribed,” the website reads. Amazon Web Services has an online application for its education program for teachers and students to get accounts, and Google is acceptingapplications from faculty members.

Google Cloud’s grant will allow U.S. faculty teaching computer science to apply for free credits and distribute them to students in the upcoming academic year, according to a blog post. The grant is only offered in the U.S. now, but Google says it plans to extend access to other places in the future.

Students can use the credits toward developing mobile apps on Google App Engine or experimenting with machine learning using Vision API and Translate API, among the other data and system administration tools available on the platform.

Aza Tulepbergenov, a third-year undergraduate at Boise State heads up a Google Developer Group chapter on campus that provides mentoring and support for young developers. The chapter president, who’s interning at Hewlett-Packard for the summer, says he hopes his program will apply for Google Cloud’s grant.

In a class last year that covered cloud computing, Tulepbergenov got experience using another cloud service, Amazon Web Services, but he’s curious to learn more about what Google has to offer. His department was able to secure a student discount from Amazon so his group could build a server that provides queuing time for client applications.

“I personally think that Google invests a lot in teaching other developers how to use their tools and platforms. It makes me think that Google’s platform has a bright future just because so many developers will get exposed to it,” he says.

Long range forecast: Cloud, cloud, cloud

At Cornell University, computer science professor Ken Birman prepares students to use these platforms in his cloud computing course, which he says will spend a lot of time on Google’s new tools.

Birman calls Google Cloud “an obvious first choice” for validating his class’ research systems using cutting-edge infrastructure. Up until now, he’s mainly used Amazon’s service, which also offers an education partnership for a free tier for limited access and has sent people to to schools to teach staff how to use it.

“Partnerships like the one between Google and Cornell are the key to a vibrant cycle of innovation, a steady stream of students ready for jobs at Google or elsewhere and also help us validate our best work,” Birman tells EdSurge.

“Our students have become very entrepreneurial, especially with the rapid growth of NYC Tech,” Cornell’s new incubator and tech training program, he says.

Birman says he expects students to develop major products, many of which go on to launch as product companies.

Thomas Ristenpart, associate professor at Cornell’s new tech campus, agrees that these educational programs prove valuable for teaching. Ristenpart says the free credits for Google Cloud help toward course projects that are otherwise “hard to fund.”

“Students would lose out on learning valuable skills needed in today’s cloud-heavy development ecosystem,” Ristenpart says.

Some professors already using Google Cloud in their classes in the last year have seen students’ work recognized in published papers and presented at industry conferences. Indranil Gupta, associate professor in computer science at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, teaches a graduate class on advanced distributed systems where students created research and entrepreneurial cloud-based projects using Google Cloud.

Gupta suspects research results would be the same had his classes used Amazon or Microsoft, but most students prefer Amazon for its ease. Having launched earliest in 2006, Amazon has “matured for a while,” Gupta says.

“The ability to access virtual machines and storage on demand without buying your own cluster is really cool. And that’s what Google Cloud provides, as does AWS and Azure,” he says.

“Public clouds are here to stay a while, and all engineers and many non-engineers are rushing to learn how to use them.”

His students have published research including a scheduling framework for processing large datasets and a virtual amphitheater for live broadcasting performances. To Gupta, all computer science and engineering classes need access to clusters so students can write programs and crunch data. He believes in introducing students to cloud computing in their freshmen and sophomore years.

Still, it remains a hassle having to rebuild his course material every time a cloud service trial or grant ends, Gupta adds. Because the companies often offer academic credits to use their cloud service for an academic year or limited time or access, the free trials work better for Gupta’s graduate students for one-off projects than undergraduate students who need a deeper understanding of the platforms, he says.

Cloud leaders

Although Google entered the cloud computing scene about two years after Microsoft and five years after Amazon, users and experts still debate performance of one over the other.

In August, IT research firm Gartner reviewed the major cloud “Infrastructure as a Service” providers worldwide based on each one’s ability to execute its offerings and completeness of vision. The report evaluated its service features, and public and private offerings and applications, placing providers on a quadrant of challengers, leaders, niche players and visionaries.

Gartner’s Magic Quadrant identifies Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure as leaders, whereas Google is considered a visionary — showing a promising vision but lacking in ability to execute.

“Despite a change in leadership at the beginning of 2016, we believe that there is still insufficient forward movement in service features, sales, marketing, globalization and partner ecosystem to make Google broadly attractive as a strategic cloud Infrastructure as a Service provider in 2016,” the report says.

“Google Cloud Platform has a solid and well-implemented core of fundamental Infrastructure as a Service and Platform as a Service capabilities, but its feature set and scope of services are not as broad as that of the market leaders,” the study continues.

Gartner points to missing features vital to established organizations as well as startups, such as software licensing and user management capabilities.

Other players, such as Rackspace, VMware and IBM SoftLayer, are considered niche players. Although both leaders by Gartner’s measure, Amazon outranked Microsoft in terms of execution and vision.

Choices aside, experts of Google seem to agree students and professionals alike need to prioritize learning to use cloud services. Lynn Langit, the first Google Developer Expert on Google Cloud Platform, runs her own consulting firm.

“[Cloud] is inevitable. Learn it as fast as you can,” she says. “They need to learn how to use the cloud while they are in school.”

Langit recalls attending data science events on college campuses only to hear they don’t have the resources to support their research. Langit is in the process of discussing an opportunity with University of California, Irvine, as an adjunct professor to teach data science.

Universities, as well as online education programs like Udacity or technology bootcamps, have established themselves as popular breeding grounds for young entrepreneurs and their upstart ventures. Vikram Tiwari, Google Expert and developer at Omni Labs, Inc., acknowledges the trend in students founding startup companies out of college.

“Hackathons are becoming diverse and engaging, and academia is pushing more towards unconventional methods of providing education,” he says.

“With this grant Google will be reaching to earliest adopters and tinkerers. It’s a win-win on both sides, for Google gets a lot of highly qualified individuals and individuals get all the horsepower they have hoped for to do ambitious projects.”

The cloud has been growing fast, especially in areas of machine learning and the access to a lot of data, Tiwari says.

While the education initiative isn’t yet available in other countries,Brazil-based Google Expert Daniel Viveiros echoes what faculty and industry professionals are saying — embrace the cloud.

In the last few years Viveiros has been mentoring startup programs, where he met students using machine learning to help people buy clothes by making size and style recommendations and data analytics to optimize energy consumption with energy-saving sensors.

“It’s amazing how bold they are in terms of ideas and willingness to take risks,” Viveiros says.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity to let undergraduate students get in touch with bleeding edge technologies sooner.”

Viveiros remembers working with cloud computing platforms around 2011 and stresses how powerful it is to have available this set of products as a 20-year-old.

“Once you move the responsibility to learn and master cloud platforms to the very beginning of your professional [career], you let the students focus on what is next,” he says.

Biometrics Professionals See Opportunities in Wearables for Law Enforcement: Unisys

Biometrics industry professionals are seeing major opportunities for wearables in law enforcement, according to new survey data from Unisys.

Biometrics Professionals See Opportunities in Wearables for Law Enforcement: UnisysThe company polled 54 individuals at this year’s Biometrics Institute Asia Pacific Conference, and found considerable enthusiasm for applications of biometric wearable technology in law enforcement and security, with 63 percent agreeing that this “is the most appropriate opportunity to incorporate biometrics into wearable technology”, according to a statement from the company. The company also reports that facial recognition was selected as “the most appropriate biometric modality for wearable technology,” as in the use of a wearable body camera to scan faces. Voice identification was the next most popular modality.

Of course, there’s a flip side to that coin. Seventy-nine percent of respondents to the poll agreed that privacy issues pertaining to cloud-based storage of such biometric data represent “the most significant roadblock to incorporating biometrics into wearable technology”, with Unisys Border and National Security Programs Director John Kendall asserting that “communication about how information is obtained, used and secured, for what purpose and for whose benefit, is key to gaining public acceptance.”

The findings reflect a longstanding trend that has seen biometric identification technologies grow increasingly popular in the security and law enforcement community, but controversial in some applications with respect to privacy rights—the twist being that it’s increasingly taking the form of wearable hardware. As Kendall notes, “Many traditional biometric modalities, such as finger, face, iris and voice, can be readily applied to wearable formats.”


Although this Thursday will see the release of issue 49 of The MagPi, we’re alreadyhard at work putting together our 50th issue spectacular. As part of this issue we’regoing to be covering 50 of the best Raspberry Pi projects ever and we want you, thecommunity, to vote for the top 20.Below we have listed the 30 projects that we think represent the best of the best.All we ask is that you vote for your favourite. We will have a few special categorieswith some other amazing projects in the final article, but if you think we’ve missedout something truly excellent, let us know in the comments. Here’s the list so youcan remind yourselves of the projects, with the poll posted at the bottom.

From paper boats to hybrid sports cars
From paper boats to hybrid sports cars
  1. SeeMore – a huge sculpture of 256 Raspberry Pis connected as a cluster
  2. BeetBox – beets (vegetable) you can use to play sick beats (music)
  3. Voyage – 300 paper boats (actually polypropylene) span a river, and youcontrol how they light up
  4. Aquarium – a huge aquarium with Pi-powered weather control simulating theenvironment of the Cayman Islands
  5. ramanPi – a Raman spectrometer used to identify different types ofmolecules
  6. Joytone – an electronic musical instrument operated by 72 back-lit joysticks
  7. Internet of LEGO – a city of LEGO, connected to and controlled by the internet
  8. McMaster Formula Hybrid – a Raspberry Pi provides telemetry on this hybridracing car
  9. PiGRRL – Adafruit show us how to make an upgraded, 3D-printed Game Boy
  10. Magic Mirror – check out how you look while getting some at-a-glance infoabout your day
Dinosaurs, space, and modern art
Dinosaurs, space, and modern art
  1. 4bot – play a game of Connect 4 with a Raspberry Pi robot
  2. Blackgang Chine dinosaurs – these theme park attractions use thediminutive Pi to make them larger than life
  3. Sound Fighter – challenge your friend to the ultimate Street Fight, controlledby pianos
  4. Astro Pi – Raspberry Pis go to space with code written by school kids
  5. Pi in the Sky – Raspberry Pis go to near space and send back live images
  6. BrewPi – a microbrewery controlled by a micro-computer
  7. LED Mirror – a sci-fi effect comes to life as you’re represented on a wall oflights
  8. Raspberry Pi VCR – a retro VCR-player is turned into a pink media playingmachine
  9. #OZWall – Contemporary art in the form of many TVs from throughout theages
  10. #HiutMusic – you choose the music for a Welsh denim factory throughTwitter
Robots and arcade machines make the cut
Robots and arcade machines make the cut
  1. CandyPi – control a jelly bean dispenser from your browser without the needto twist the dial
  2. Digital Zoetrope – still images rotated to create animation, updated for the21st century
  3. LifeBox – create virtual life inside this box and watch it adapt and survive
  4. Coffee Table Pi – classy coffee table by name, arcade cabinet by nature. Teaand Pac-Man, anyone?
  5. Raspberry Pi Notebook – this handheld Raspberry Pi is many people’s dreammachine
  6. Pip-Boy 3000A – turn life into a Bethesda RPG with this custom Pip-Boy
  7. Mason Jar Preserve – Mason jars are used to preserve things, so this one isa beautiful backup server to preserve your data
  8. Pi glass – Google Glass may be gone but you can still make your ownamazing Raspberry Pi facsimile
  9. DoodleBorg – a powerful PiBorg robot that can tow a caravan
  10. BigHak – a Big Trak that is truly big: it’s large enough for you to ride in

Now you’ve refreshed your memory of all these amazing projects, it’s time to votefor the one you think is best!

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