Kanye West is watching a TED Talk from the Google exec who predicted that computers will become super-intelligent by 2030 and humans will live forever by 2045


Healthy Living: Vitamin D and sleep

Are you having trouble sleeping? A vitamin D deficiency may be behind your insomnia.

Canadians and more than half the world’s population is deficient in vitamin D. You may enjoy better sleep as well as reduced pain and inflammation in just a few days with more vitamin D.

It is commonly believed people only need to be outdoors to receive enough of the sunshine vitamin but, to avoid excess sun, we are wearing sunscreen and staying either covered up or in the shade. This has limited our ability to create enough vitamin D, which takes place in the skin.

We need to expose most of our skin to the sunlight during the hours we observe our shadow is shorter than we are tall. If our shadow is too tall then the angle of the light is not correct for the UVB exposure necessary. This leaves a very limited window of time during the day and there are few days when the sun is shining warmly enough to be outdoors with exposed skin.

In Canada, vitamin D is added to commercially produced milk, some soy milks, orange juices and cereals to prevent rickets, a bone disease resulting from lack of vitamin D. Eating foods rich in vitamin D may be helpful, for instance, fatty fish, mackerel, salmon, egg yolks and beef liver, but research shows typically not enough.

Health Canada recommends 400 IU per day with an upper limit of 4,000 IU. Should you choose a higher dosage, then reduce to 400-600 IU per day after either 12 months or a blood test showing a satisfactory levels. Be sure to take your dose in the morning as it may temporarily pause the production of melatonin, a sleep hormone.

Supplementing your diet with additional vitamin D may solve your sleeping problems safely and naturally.

WATCH: Communicating with people who sign just got a whole lot easier                     TOPICS: APPLE, APPLE WATCH , BIG-TECH-COMPANIES, IPHONE, TECH, WATCHOS

CRISPR Screens Stem Cell Genome, Charts Essentialome

Haploid human embryonic stem cells created at the Hebrew University’s Azrieli Center for Stem Cells and Genetic Research. [Hebrew University of Jerusalem]

  • Click Image To Enlarge +
    A colony of haploid embryonic stem cells created at the Hebrew University’s Azrieli Center for Stem Cells and Genetic Research. [Hebrew University of Jerusalem]

    Scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have generated an atlas of genes—the essentialome —that are essential for the normal growth and maintenance of human pluripotentent stem cells (hPSCs). The team, led by Nissim Benvenisty, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Azrieli Center for Stem Cells and Genetic Research and the Herbert Cohn Chair in Cancer Research, carried out a genome-wide CRISPR-Cas9loss-of-function screen on haploid human embryonic stem cell (hESCs) to highlight which of more than 18,000 genes are necessary for growth and survival of the pluripotent cells and which genes restrict cell growth.

    “Our screen revealed the essentialome of hPSC-specific genes, and highlighted the main pathways that regulate the growth of these cells,” the researchers write in their published paper in Nature Cell Biology. The findings also uncovered opposing roles for tumor suppressor and oncogenes, evaluated the role of genes for hereditary disorders in early human development and growth, and demonstrated how cancer-causing genes could affect growth of the human embryo.

    “This study creates a new framework for the understanding of what it means to be an embryonic stem cell at the genetic level,” comments co-lead author Atilgan Yilmaz, Ph.D. “The more complete a picture we have of the nature of these cells, the better chances we have for successful therapies in the clinic.” The researchers report their findings in a paper entitled “Defining Essential Genes for Human Pluripotent Stem Cells by CRISPR–Cas9 Screening in Haploid Cells.”

    The Hebrew University scientists recently identified a type of haploid hESC that retains human pluripotent stem cell features, gene expression signatures, and epigenetic profiles; can differentiate into haploid somatic cells both in vitro and in vivo; and can be grown and retain a normal haploid karyotype in culture. These features make the cells “an efficient screening platform to address questions regarding pluripotency on a genome-wide level,” the researchers write.

    They carried out a CRISPR-Cas9-based genome-wide loss-of-function screen on the haploid cells, using a library of single guide RNAs (sgRNAs) targeting more than 180,000 mutations on some 18,000 coding genes. The aim was  “to identify mutations in essential genes that affect the survival or normal growth of hESCs based on their depletion in the hESC population, as well as mutations in growth-restricting genes that provide a growth advantage to hESCs.”

    Results from the screen suggested that while 9% of all the genes are essential to the growth and survival of these human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs), 5% act to limit cell growth. Loss of function of these genes gives the hPSCs a growth advantage. “We found that 66% of the cell-essential genes encode proteins that localize to the nucleus, 12% encode mitochondrial proteins and 8.5% encode cytosolic proteins, while the rest encode proteins that are distributed between the endoplasmic reticulum, plasma membrane, extracellular space, cytoskeleton and the Golgi,” the researchers write.

    Many of the essential genes identified are also mutated in human autosomal recessive (AR) genetic disorders. “Of 2,099 human AR-related genes reported in the Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM) database that were also represented in our library, 226 (10.8%) were found to be essential for hESC growth,” the authors note. Genes responsible for AR disorders that have a growth-retardation phenotype were highly represented in the set of essential genes. “Our analysis suggests that the phenotype of growth retardation associated with AR disorders may initiate, in one-fifth of the disorders, at very early stages of embryogenesis,” the researchers continue. These findings open up an exciting future direction toward modeling the growth-retardation phenotype already in hPSCs for a wide group of AR disorders.

    Nearly all of the oncogenes whose mutations affect the growth of hESCs were also classified as essential for normal growth, except for one, JUN, which was growth restricting. In contrast, tumor suppressors were classified into both essential and growth-restricting camps, with analyses indicating an enrichment for apoptosis-related genes among the growth-restricting tumor suppressors, whereas essential tumor suppressor genes were more likely to be involved in processes such as genomic instability and DNA repair. “This analysis thus points to distinct roles for tumor suppressor genes in hPSCs,” the researchers state. In particular, a role for the p53-mTOR (mechanistic target of rapamycin) pathway was identified in hESC growth regulation. “Our screen also led to the identification of growth-restricting genes whose loss of function provides a growth advantage to hPSCs, highlighting the role of the P53–mTOR pathway in this context.”

    Further analyses of the screening results also uncovered a set of genes that are essential for the survival of hPSCs, but not other cell types, and are thought to play a role in maintaining ESC identity, holding back cell differentiation and preventing stem cells from becoming cancerous. “hPSC-enriched essential genes mainly encode transcription factors [TFs] and proteins related to cell-cycle and DNA-repair, revealing that a quarter of the nuclear factors are essential for normal growth,” they write. “Our characterization of the hESC essentialome extends the definition of pluripotency beyond the TF-centric view and suggests that genes regulating cell-cycle and DNA repair, which are enriched in hESCs, are also essential for their normal growth and play a vital role in pluripotent cell identity.”

    The team suggests its findings could lay the groundwork for future studies investigating human pluripotency essential genes, hPSC growth regulation, and disease modeling using hPSCs. “This gene atlas enables a new functional view on how we study the human genome and provides a tool that will change the fashion by which we analyze and treat cancer and genetic disorders,”Dr. Benvenisty concludes.

The Apple Watch turns 3, and it’s still flawed

The Apple Watch Series 3.

The Apple Watch Series 3.
In 2007, Apple changed the act of socializing, maybe forever, with the release of the iPhone. There it was, a perfectly packed 4.5-inch-long computer designed to pulverize boredom like a drill through your skull. You bought one, and now, whenever you have a few minutes of downtime, even if that downtime is shared with your friends or spouse or mom at Christmas, you tap or scroll or swipe something on that little glass screen.

To own a smartphone is to cede some part of yourself to it. The device is too innately fascinating to be conquered by lifehacks, which feel like treating a hernia with vinyasa flow. So, three years ago, Apple released the Apple Watch, promising a better way forward. It’s a mini-computer you strap to your wrist to free yourself of the one you carry in your pocket. Apple’s promises then are worth reconsidering today, after years of modest improvements to the wearable, because the fundamental problem — tech interrupting and shaping our natural lives — remains unsolved.

Indeed, the original sales pitch of the Apple Watch was an admission that something wasn’t quite right in iPhoneland. There was Tim Cook, beginning hour two of a PR gauntlet that had included the announcement of the iPhone 6S, hawking his company’s new “intimate way to connect and communicate.” There was a standing ovation.

Minutes later, Apple screened a commercial narrated by Jony Ive, the corporation’s chief designer. In 2018, we may understand the Apple Watch mostly as a fitness tracker, but in the video, Ive gives it a significantly more nuanced pitch.

“We conceived, designed, and developed Apple Watch as a completely singular product,” Ive says in his silken British hum. “You know, you can’t determine a boundary between the physical object and the software.”

One of the first promotional images for the Apple Watch depicted a romantic embrace.

One of the first promotional images for the Apple Watch depicted a romantic embrace.


Throughout all of this, a render of the Apple Watch rotates and shimmers. During this next line, you see chain-link metal flowing like cream and an erotic pan over the bottom of the Watch’s golden wrist strap.

“We’re introducing an unparalleled level of technical innovation combined with a design that connects with the wearer at an intimate level to both embrace individuality and inspire desire,” he continues.

You can draw a message on the 42-mm screen, or try to. You can share your heartbeat with someone. That’s the Apple Watch difference.

The money shot.

The money shot.


All of which is to say the Apple Watch, at conception, was a very personal response to an already very personal computer — the iPhone, which you can use during a potluck or after 50 sit-ups or whenever, really.

Yes, Apple, like any great company in the business of marketing products, is skilled at creating needs where you didn’t have any, though maybe it was onto something here. The smartphone made personal computers and the internet ubiquitous, but it also moved them into social life, creating millions of invisible barriers between people that never existed before. Perhaps something smaller, with a series of subtly actionable notifications that only alert the human wearing the device, could in some way solve the problems we hadn’t anticipated from the iPhone.

But the Apple Watch doesn’t solve these problems.

Mixed messages

The author (Damon Beres) and his loaner Apple Watch.

The author (Damon Beres) and his loaner Apple Watch.


Three years after the original device went on sale, I strapped on the newest iteration of the Apple Watch — a “Series 3” model, temporarily provided for review by Apple — and expected to learn something new. Truthfully, I’ve always been suspicious of wearables, for a fairly self-evident reason: Their pitch is to solve data overload by more or less re-contextualizing that data, without meaningfully changing much in the process. Worse, by virtue of the device being strapped onto your wrist, the chances for unwanted technological interjection are quite a bit higher than they are with a phone in your pocket, or in another room.

Say your friend sends you a text message. In Apple’s ecosystem, that message is equally accessible and interactive no matter what device you’re on. Just like your iPhone, iPad, or MacBook, the Apple Watch receives the signal and produces a little blue, text-filled bubble. You can respond to it fully no matter what device you’re on.

Messages on the Apple Watch
Messages on the Apple Watch


Messages on the iPhone
Messages on the iPhone


On paper, that’s impressive. The Apple Watch has a unique user interface, with a digital crown to rotate and different ways of responding to messages by default — write out letters with your fingers, dictate with your voice, use one of many automated responses — but the core functionality mirrors the programs you’re already accustomed to. Especially with the Series 3, which can be completely untethered from your iPhone, Apple has designed a wristwatch that functions like a “full” computer (at least with some applications).

It is unmistakably an engineering feat, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for people. Though they should offer quite different things to a user, the membrane between the Apple Watch and the iPhone is basically nonexistent. When it comes to something like messages, you’re getting all or nothing on your wrist, just as you do on your iPhone.

The Apple Watch's iMessage settings.

The Apple Watch’s iMessage settings.


I use iMessage a lot. It is, in effect, my preferred social network. Very quickly, the notifications on my wrist became vomit-inducing. When I need to, I can shove my iPhone in a bag or put it in another room or, in a fit of heaving sobs, ask my wife to hide it, but taking the Apple Watch off is another thing entirely. If you’re going to do that, why have one at all?

Yes, you can use the “Do Not Disturb” function, which stops notifications from prodding at your wrist, though again I wondered: If I turn everything off, what good is this thing? At that point, it becomes a glorified fitness tracker — more on that in a second — that I can use like a mini-iPhone when needed. That is literally never needed, because I have an iPhone, and the Apple Watch is no less disruptive to tinker with than the rectangular slab in my pocket. 

Remember that Apple’s original pitch for this thing was all about intimate communication. There are two really important but unspoken elements of that pitch:

  1. Unlike the iPhone, the Apple Watch should keep your hands free. Pay attention to the amount of time people spend actually touching the watch in commercials for this device: It’s not very much.
  2. If you have to look at the Apple Watch, you should get the information you need very quickly.

Remember, out of the context of Apple’s advertising, “intimacy” is already a defining trait of the iPhone. It goes with you everywhere, it takes pictures of everything — that’s intimacy! So, the Apple Watch really has to make its case as something that can remove the barrier between you and the people you’re communicating with in real life (and not via gadgets).

I’m belaboring this point to the exclusion of the, like, billions of other little things the Apple Watch can do — I downloaded a game about chewing bubble gum! — because fundamentally, the Apple Watch fails to remove this barrier. When it comes to intimacy between people, the Apple Watch is nothing new. The user interface replicates the functions of your iPhone, and fiddling with its screen or digital crown will be just as annoying to anyone you’re sitting across from.

This 1983 concept for an Apple "wrist and ear phone"  is nuts, but at least it's not emulating an existing computer.

This 1983 concept for an Apple “wrist and ear phone”  is nuts, but at least it’s not emulating an existing computer.


So… it sucks?

Measured against the original promises, the Apple Watch is hardly a success. And indeed, I wanted to experience the device — its latest update, no less — specifically in reference to those promises. We’re more aware now of the potential harms lying beneath our touchscreens, but the fundamental product hasn’t changed much.

That’s probably why Apple has pivoted its marketing for the device. The original commercials were all about subtle interactions between people; many of the recent ones are about exercise. Fair enough: The exercise and health features are great, and certainly better than any of the several other fitness trackers I’ve used over the years.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, focusing on fitness seems to have improved Apple Watch sales.

“My theory is that consumers are starting to see a place for Apple Watch in their lives,” industry analyst Neil Cybart recently wrote on his Above Avalon blog. “While Apple’s revised Apple Watch marketing campaign around health and fitness has led to a clearer sales pitch, I think the health and fitness messaging ends up being Apple’s way to get its wrist in the door.”

His full argument is much more involved. The familiar functions of the Apple Watch attract people, but the device introduces new ideas that hint at the future Apple is trying to build. I may not like the screen interface, but Cybart rightly points out that the Apple Watch is packed with additional technology — voice recognition, artificial intelligence, smart sensors — that could become very important to Apple moving forward.

But we’re not in that future yet. I would argue we’re a paradigm shift or two away from the Apple Watch standing apart as a device that most of us would experience as meaningfully different than the iPhone when it comes to most aspects of personal computing, fitness tracking aside. The Apple Watch won’t be “done,” in my view, until you can own it without needing an iPhone — not because Apple’s ecosystem is busted, but because the Watch is too beholden to the iOS framework, warts and all. In an era when many of us dream about being less trapped by screens and notifications, the Apple Watch does little more than pile on.

One could argue that Apple needs to rethink what the Watch is capable of. The fanboys will crucify me for saying so, but maybe reducing functionality would be a step in the right direction — perhaps we don’t need the full, iOS-like iMessage experience on our wrists, for example, though I could only guess at what the right replacement would be.

Until then, here’s what the Apple Watch is for: more of the same.

Augmented-reality system lets doctors see medical images projected on patients’ skin

April 23, 2018

Projected medical image (credit: University of Alberta)

New technology is bringing the power of augmented reality into clinical practice. The system, called ProjectDR, shows clinicians 3D medical images such as CT scans and MRI data, projected directly on a patient’s skin.

The technology uses motion capture, similar to how it’s done in movies. Infrared cameras track invisible (to human vision) markers on the patient’s body. That allows the system to track the orientation of the body, allowing the projected images to move as the patient does.

Applications include teaching, physiotherapy, laparoscopic surgery, and surgical planning.

ProjectDR can also present segmented images — for example, only the lungs or only the blood vessels — depending on what a clinician is interested in seeing.

The researchers plan to test ProjectDR in an operating room to simulate surgery, according to Pierre Boulanger, PhD, a professor in the Department of Computing Science at the University of Alberta, Canada. “We are also doing pilot studies to test the usability of the system for teaching chiropractic and physical therapy procedures,” he said.

They next plan to conduct real surgical pilot studies.

UAlbertaScience | ProjectDR demonstration video

How Net Neutrality Impacts eLearning: Trouble on the Horizon?

By Sherman Morrison April 19, 2018

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net neutrality impacts elearningA protester at a 2016 rally in support of net neutrality. Source: Arbeitskreis Vorratsdaten, Flickr.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted in December of 2017 to dismantle the net neutrality policy it established in 2015 under the Obama administration. The core of the Net Neutrality policy was to reclassify Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as “common carriers” who are providing public telecommunications services like other utilities (electricity) instead of just being “information providers.” The distinction is important. If ISPs are common carriers, then they have to treat all content the same, no matter where it’s coming from. This means they can’t decide to make it more difficult to access or stream some content (slowing it down is called “throttling”) nor can they charge different prices to different customers for the same service.

Net neutrality will officially end on April 23rd.

There are a number of reasons why this dismantling of net neutrality is a disturbing development, some of which could have direct effects on eLearning in general. Here’s how net neutrality impacts eLearning, and why many eLearning professionals are concerned:

Net Neutrality Impacts eLearning Content Access

Imagine now that ISPs can charge customers different amounts depending on the kind of content they’re accessing. Imagine they’re allowed to throttle some content. The customers trying to access that kind of content are going to be negatively impacted. Those who favor dismantling net neutrality say that won’t happen because ISPs will not do anything to alienate paying customers. The counter-argument, of course, is that not all paying customers are created equal. If net neutrality goes away, carriers will be free to cater to their most lucrative customers, possibly at the expense of others. It seems obvious that society very much depends on open, unfettered access to the Internet. Anything less than that will surely wind up putting some people at a disadvantage.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock
Montana Governor Steve Bullock signed legislation in January that forces net neutrality in his state. Source: Flickr.

Take Montana, for example. It’s a large rural state where there are many tiny schools that simply don’t have the resources to offer a wide range of learning opportunities. But eLearning has changed that, and the state has done a fantastic job at making sure people throughout the state can get connected. Without net neutrality, will Montana’s students still have unfettered access to the content they have come to depend upon? There’s no way to answer that question at present, but if net neutrality is done away with, providers who diminish that access to some content or for some customers won’t be doing anything illegal – and that strikes many as a gamble not worth taking. Let’s face it, in a head-to-head comparison of entertainment traffic versus educational traffic, which one do you think profit-hungry ISP companies are going to focus on?

Part of the repeal of net neutrality by the FCC includes a ban on states passing their own net neutrality laws. Needless to say, several states are already taking legislative action to protect net neutrality within their borders, even though doing so is in direct defiance of the FCC. The governors of both Montana and New York have signed legislation mandating that state agencies purchase their Internet access from companies adhering to net neutrality principles. Washington has gone a step further and passed its own net neutrality law. Another bill in California is currently making its way through several state committees.

Net Neutrality Impacts eLearning via Internet Access

Besides the issue of how providers could legally mess with access to content through streaming rates and/or cost differentials between different types of content, there’s the additional problem of basic access to the Internet itself. Some have made the point that, without net neutrality, ISPs won’t have as much incentive to keep investing in the improvement of infrastructure. They will still be able to make money by just increasing prices on the wealthy customers who can pay, but there will be no incentive to serve less wealthy customers, paving the way to legal “net discrimination.”

Where Net Neutrality Goes from Here

Although the FCC’s net neutrality vote took place in December 2017, the rules couldn’t take effect until being published in the Federal Register, which didn’t happen until February 22 as The Restoring Internet Freedom Order. The rules still aren’t in full effect yet, though, as the FCC has a few other bureaucratic hoops to jump through. But now that the new rules are “on the books,” the next phase of the battle over Internet deregulation is getting underway. Net neutrality supporters are looking to file lawsuits against the FCC’s ruling and have also been seeking Congressional support for a resolution to undo the FCC’s actions and restore the previous net neutrality rules. Lawsuits have now been filed by a number of companies, including Kickstarter, Foursquare, Etsy, Shutterstock, Expa, Automattic, Vimeo and Mozilla. For the most part, these are not top-shelf tech companies, which means they’re nervous about finding themselves “throttled” out of the market if ISPs cater to their larger competitors.

How dismantling net neutrality impacts eLearning remains to be seen. Those who believe that the repeal of net neutrality creates a slippery slope down which Internet providers are likely to slide in pursuit of profits (at the expense of those who most need unobstructed access to content) are working hard to block the FCC ruling. Whether or not they will succeed is something to which eLearning professional everywhere should be paying close attention.

How Apple Will Use AR To Reinvent The Human-Computer Interface

Taking a careful look at how the company has reinvented the UI down through its history provides strong clues as to how it will do so again with AR glasses.

How Apple Will Use AR To Reinvent The Human-Computer Interface
[Photo: Joanna Nix/Unsplash]

As a technology industry analyst, I have had the privilege of covering Apple since 1981. During this period of time, I have watched Apple introduce new products and change leadership many times. I’ve delved deep into its product roadmaps and strategies. In the process I have learned a great deal about Apple’s culture and how its people think about advancing personal computing.

It’s in Apple’s DNA to continually deliver the “next” major advancement to the personal computing experience. Its innovation in man-machine interfaces started with the Mac and then extended to the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, and most recently, the Apple Watch.

Now, get ready for the next chapter, as Apple tackles augmented reality, in a way that could fundamentally transform the human-computer interface.

With the Mac, Jobs and his team created a new computing design that included a mouse and a new software graphical user interface (GUI). In those days the PC was usually battleship gray, and consisted of a monitor, CPU unit, and a keyboard. It usually ran Microsoft’s text-based DOS OS. Jobs and Apple changed the paradigm by creating an all-in-one design in the original Mac, and added the mouse and a GUI to the OS. The company then extended the computing experience by adding a CD ROM drive, launching the era of multimedia computing. With the iPhone and iPad, Apple introduced a new way to interact with mobile devices. Instead of a mouse, it used finger touch for navigation.

The hardware design of Apple products has constantly evolved. At the same time, the software and UI have been pushed forward to harmonize with the hardware. This will continue as Apple moves into new technology areas.