First look: Todoist for iOS gets smarter and better-looking with new, free features

The popular task management app on Tuesday rolled out a brand new version for iOS that sets the stage for a dramatic, platform-wide overhaul. Some 4 million people use Todoist to add 510,000 projects daily, and share an average of 52,000 tasks a day across millions of projects. Todoist founder and CEO Amir Salihefendic told me his team has been working to make the task management tool’s mobile apps as powerful as its desktop version, and with version 10, they have finally succeeded.

“A few years ago. you could only do a simple list and nothing else,” Salihefendic said. “Now we have made the mobile apps as powerful as our desktop apps, and I think they are easier to use and more intuitive.”

A slew of new (free!) features

There are immediately obvious changes: Version 10 gives Todoist a makeover that makes every interaction cleaner and simpler to use. There are also now 10 themes to choose from, so you can swap in tangerine, blueberry, or a neutral shade for the Todoist red.

todoist projectTODOIST
Todoist now lets you easily edit and reorganize tasks across multiple projects.

But the new Todoist for iOS goes beyond a fresh face. The app’s new features are subtle but convenient. The two biggest changes are multi-task editing, which lets you change due dates, delegate, and move multiple tasks from one project to another, and more intelligent scheduling, so you can create tasks with unique start and end dates like, “Run 5 miles every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7 a.m. from May 1 through November 1.” Todoist has always been able to parse deadline dates/times as you type, but now it’s even smarter—and the app’s in-line adding can recognize 10 languages.

Todoist’s overhauled date-parsing is one of the features that will take time for its users to discover, but it’s also what sets the app apart, Salihefendic said. More than 50 percent of Todoist tasks include dates, so the company decided to make those dates “much more powerful” in a way that no other to-do list app has done.

Another new feature is one I didn’t even realize I wanted until I had it: the ability to pull apart two tasks to add one in between. You can also use a long press to reorder projects, move sub-tasks from one project to another, and collapse or expand tasks or projects.

All of the new features, minus a few of the themes, are available in the free version of Todoist. Premium users can pay $29 a year to unlock labels, task reminders, location reminders, calendar synchronization, productivity tracking, and the complete library of color schemes.

Glimpse of early galaxy formation captured for the first time


VANCOUVER – A discovery by a team of astrophysicists including UBC researchers promises to have major implications for the understanding of how structures in the universe formed 10 billion years ago. Hidden within images of some of the oldest light in the universe, the team identified what they believe are galaxies clumping together into the larger galaxy clusters we know today.

Data for the study came from the observations of two European Space Telescope missions, Planck and Herschel, and the work of an international team of astrophysicists including researchers from the University of British Columbia. The Planck telescope catches light from the early days of the universe, known as the cosmic microwave background, while the Herschel telescope allowed researchers to zero in on some of the objects they saw in the Planck telescope data.

“The objects found by Planck appear to be clumps of young galaxies, seen early in the history of the universe,” said Douglas Scott, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UBC. “By studying them we may be able to learn how clusters of galaxies form and evolve.”


The main panel shows the entire sky projected onto an oval, with emission from our Milky Way Galaxy in a band across the centre. The black dots are the new objects and the Herschel images from 9 of them are indicated in the surrounding panels. These may be clusters of galaxies caught in the process of forming.

The universe is estimated to be 13.8 billion years old. In the early days, stars and galaxies formed quickly and assembled into large clusters. Today’s universe is full of these clusters of galaxies but researchers don’t understand how they formed.

In the study, the Planck telescope captured 10 billion year-old light and researchers identified the interesting objects they now believe are galaxy clusters. The results also offer researchers a unique opportunity to see galaxies when they were young; today’s nearby galaxies are quite old.

Scott and UBC graduate student Todd MacKenzie are now working to understand the Planck objects better by studying them at a range of other wavelengths.

“What’s exciting is that we don’t know if we’re looking at something really bizarre or if these clumps are what would be expected. It will change our view of how these structures form,” said Scott.

The Canadian contributions to both the Planck and Herschel satellite are supported by the Canadian Space Agency.

SanDisk announces bundles for Flashsoft smart caching range

Platform-independent caching for most used data
Tue Mar 31 2015, 14:56
SanDisk headquarters

SANDISK HAS ANNOUNCED Flashsoft 3.7, a smart caching and software system that uses technology picked up from the firm’s acquisitions of Flashsoft and is a data centre flash company that SanDisk bought last summer for a cool $1.1bn, while Flashsoft was acquired in 2012.

The caching process stores the ‘hot data’ most frequently accessed on low latency, super fast SSD, thus significantly speeding up access times for business-critical data.

The INQUIRER got the lowdown from Rich Petersen, SanDisk’s head of enterprise marketing.

“There are two hand-in-hand announcements here. The first is that Flashsoft software is being refreshed across all platforms, including Windows, Linux and VMWare,” he said.

“The big news is that we now support Hyper-V, and we’ve added support for shared clusters and Windows failover clusters. We’ve now been declared VMWare Customer Verified and Supported Product status.

“Meanwhile in Linux, it’s about the broadening of our kernel support for the Red Hat and Suse families.”

SanDisk is best known for its hardware provision, but the firm plans to create bundled offerings of software and hardware, as Petersen explains.

“This will apply to the existing products in the line, plus the new ones such as those being developed by before the takeover, so we’re able to offer software and hardware bundles in a range of form factors, with 12 new products that we think are going to simplify caching technology,” he said.

“There’s one product to buy. There’s one throat to choke. There’s one name to trust.”

Petersen is keen to make it clear that this does not tie customers into the SanDisk ecosystem.

“We get this every time. ‘Does this mean that Flashsoft and io.turbine will only work with SanDisk flash devices?’ The answer is ‘no’, that’s never been our policy,” he said.

“We always support all SSDs from all vendors for the simple reason that quite often we’ll be working with customers which have already qualified a certain vendor’s SSD and they want to continue to use it.”

And that sentiment goes both ways. “On occasion, other vendors have brought SanDisk into their customers because they didn’t provide the software that the customer wanted,” Petersen explained.

“In some cases we work with OEM partners who want to guarantee that standardisation of caching software does not tie them into standardised solid state hardware. So for all of those reasons, we remain hardware agnostic.”

Performance optimisation has been a priority for SanDisk in integrating the product lines from its acquisitions, in terms of the speeds that products are capable of and the formatting of 4-byte sectors rather than the standard 512-byte.

As a result, the software is capable of supporting caches of up to 60TB. “We do have some customer use cases where we’ve had to make sure we can do that because the customer is working in high-performance computing with very large data sets,” Petersen said.

List prices will depend on operating system and configuration but will start at around $4,000. SanDisk has confirmed that Windows products are ready for Windows 10.

“Windows Server 2012 r2 has also become increasingly efficient for Hyper-V, so anyone thinking of using Windows 10 as a client for Hyper-V can be sure the plans are coming together very well,” added Petersen.

Windows and Linux versions of the software are available immediately. The VMWare version will be out “within the next few weeks” following some last minute tweaks.

5 Lessons On Apple Watch Design From Evernote


Since it’s one of the early entrants into the Apple Watch arena, we asked Evernote’s VP of mobile products, Jamie Hull, to tell us what the Evernote team had learned from developing the app. Here’s what she told us.


Even more so than on other devices, the use of clear iconography and strong colors in a user interface is important in an Apple Watch. There’s just not enough room on a cramped screen for labels, says Hull. The Evernote app, for example, has three different top-level interactions competing for attention on a very small screen. By using strong, colorful iconography, like a green plus button to add a new note, Evernote for Apple Watch can communicate what buttons do in an intuitive way without wasting pixels on a label.


The Apple Watch user interface guidelines recommend that developers keep their interactions on the watch to under 30 seconds. “In our opinion, that’s actually too long,” says Hull. “It should be only three to five.” Having released apps for wearable platforms like the Pebble smartwatch and Android Wear, the Evernote design team has seen that after 30 seconds, users’ arms get tired. The lesson? Design to get people in and out of your app as quickly as possible.


Although Evernote’s previous efforts on the Android Wear platform tried to give users full access to their note library on a smartwatch, Evernote for Apple Watch takes a step back. Instead, it surfaces only five or ten notes automatically, based on how useful it thinks it will be to you. For example, if you had taken a photo to remember your airport parking space, Evernote might automatically surface that to your Apple Watch when you fly home from your trip. Because it’s hard to pull off complex navigation on such a small screen, in such a short time frame, a good smartwatch app has to anticipate a user’s needs as much as possible.


Evernote is trying to develop the best Apple Watch app it can, but the Apple Watch isn’t out yet. So once it’s released, Hull says, Evernote plans to be nimble on its feet to react to customer feedback; not just with bugs, but also with core features it thinks are most valuable. In some ways, release is where an app’s development truly begins, not ends. “It’s always true with new platforms,” says Hull. “Expect rapid iteration.”


The number-one rule of Apple Watch app design, according to Evernote, though, is ultimately not to get carried away. Hull says very few actions will actually be better on an Apple Watch than on an iPhone, iPad, or Mac, so it’s important to focus on those that make sense. In Evernote’s case, that’s quickly dictating a note, accessing a useful note, ticking off a grocery market checklist, and so on. Don’t try to recreate the same app for another screen: Remember, a user’s iPhone is just a pocket away.

‘Nanoneedles’ generate new blood vessels in mice, paving the way for new regenerative medicine

March 30, 2015

Scientists have developed “nanoneedles” that have successfully prompted parts of the body to generate new blood vessels, in a trial in mice.

The researchers, from Imperial College London and Houston Methodist Research Institute in the USA, hope their nanoneedle technique could ultimately help damaged organs and nerves repair themselves and help transplanted organs  thrive.

In a trial described in Nature Materials, the team showed they could deliver nucleic acids DNA and siRNA to back muscles in mice. After seven days there was a six-fold increase in the formation of new blood vessels in the mouse back muscles, and blood vessels continued to form over a 14 day period.

The nanoneedles are tiny porous structures that act as a sponge to load significantly more nucleic acids than solid structures. This makes them more effective at delivering their payload. They can penetrate the cell, bypassing its outer membrane, to deliver nucleic acids without harming or killing the cell.

The nanoneedles are made from biodegradable silicon, meaning that they can be left in the body without leaving a toxic residue behind. The silicon degrades in about two days, leaving behind only a negligible amount of a harmless substance called orthosilicic acid.

Generating new blood vessels

The hope is that one day scientists will be able to help promote the generation of new blood vessels in people, using nanoneedles, to provide transplanted organs or future artificial organ implants with the necessary connections to the rest of the body, so that they can function properly with a minimal chance of being rejected.

“This is a quantum leap compared to existing technologies for the delivery of genetic material to cells and tissues,” said Ennio Tasciotti, Co-Chair, Department of Nanomedicine at Houston Methodist Research Institute and co-corresponding author of the paper.

“By gaining direct access to the cytoplasm of the cell we have achieved genetic reprogramming at an incredible high efficiency. This will let us personalize treatments for each patient, giving us endless possibilities in sensing, diagnosis and therapy. And all of this thanks to tiny structures that are up to 1,000 times smaller than a human hair.”

The researchers are now aiming to develop a material like a flexible bandage that can incorporate the nanoneedles. The idea is that this would be applied to different parts of the body, internally or externally, to deliver the nucleic acids necessary to repair and reset the cell programming.

Ciro Chiappini, first author of the study suggested that in the future it may be possible for doctors to apply flexible bandages to severely burnt skin to reprogram the cells to heal that injury with functional tissue instead of forming a scar. “Alternatively, we may see surgeons first applying the nanoneedle bandages inside the affected region to promote the healthy integration of these new organs and implants in the body. We are a long way off, but our initial trials seem very promising.”

Abstract of Biodegradable silicon nanoneedles delivering nucleic acids intracellularly induce localized in vivo neovascularization

The controlled delivery of nucleic acids to selected tissues remains an inefficient process mired by low transfection efficacy, poor scalability because of varying efficiency with cell type and location, and questionable safety as a result of toxicity issues arising from the typical materials and procedures employed. High efficiency and minimal toxicity in vitro has been shown for intracellular delivery of nuclei acids by using nanoneedles, yet extending these characteristics to in vivo delivery has been difficult, as current interfacing strategies rely on complex equipment or active cell internalization through prolonged interfacing. Here, we show that a tunable array of biodegradable nanoneedles fabricated by metal-assisted chemical etching of silicon can access the cytosol to co-deliver DNA and siRNA with an efficiency greater than 90%, and that in vivo the nanoneedles transfect the VEGF-165 gene, inducing sustained neovascularization and a localized sixfold increase in blood perfusion in a target region of the muscle.

High-resolution biosensor can report conditions from deep in the body

Going where no light has gone before
March 30, 2015

A new microscopic shape-shifting probe capable of sensitive, high-resolution remote biological sensing has been developed by scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

If eventually put into widespread use, the design could have a major impact on research in medicine, chemistry, biology, and engineering and ultimately used in clinical diagnostics, according to the researchers.

To date, most efforts to image highly localized biochemical conditions such as abnormal pH* and ion concentration — critical markers for many disorders — rely on various types of nanosensors that are probed using light at optical frequencies.

But the light doesn’t reach far into the body, so the sensitivity and resolution of the resulting optical signals decrease rapidly with increasing depth into the body. That has limited most applications to more optically accessible regions.

Deep-tissue detection

The new probe devices, described online in the journal Nature, are not subject to those limitations. They make it possible to detect and measure localized conditions on the molecular scale deep within tissues, and to observe how they change in real time.

“Instead of optically based sensing, the shape-changing probes are designed to operate in the radio frequency (RF) spectrum, specifically to be detectable with standard nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment,” says NIST’s Gary Zabow, who led the research with NIH colleagues Stephen Dodd and Alan Koretsky. “In these RF ranges, signals are … not appreciably weakened by intervening biological materials.”

The novel devices, called geometrically encoded magnetic sensors (GEMs), are microengineered metal-gel sandwiches about 5 to 10 times smaller than a single red blood cell, one of the smallest human cells. Each consists of two separate magnetic disks that range from 0.5 to 2 micrometers (millionths of a meter) in diameter and are just tens of nanometers (billionths of a meter) thick (see animation below).

Between the disks is a spacer layer of hydrogel,** a polymer network that can absorb water and expand significantly; the amount of expansion depends on the chemical properties of the gel and the environment around it. Conversely, it can also shrink in response to changing local conditions.

Swelling or shrinking of the gel changes the distance (and the magnetic field strength) between the two disks, and that, in turn, changes the frequency at which the protons in water molecules around and inside the gel resonate in response to radio-frequency radiation. Scanning the sample with a range of frequencies quickly identifies the current shape of the nanoprobes, effectively measuring the remote conditions through the changes in resonance frequencies caused by the shape-changing agents.

In the experiments reported in Nature, the scientists tested the sensors in solutions of varying pH, in solutions with ion concentration gradients, and in a liquid growth medium containing living canine kidney cells as their metabolism went from normal to nonfunctional in the absence of oxygen.

Tracking cancer pH clues

That phenomenon caused the growth medium to acidify, and the change over time was sensed by the GEMs and recorded through real-time shifting in resonant frequencies. The frequency shifts resulting from changes in pH were easily resolvable and orders of magnitude larger than any equivalent frequency shifting observed through traditional magnetic resonance spectroscopy approaches.

Tracking highly localized pH values in living organisms can be difficult. (A blood test cannot necessarily do it because the sample mixes blood from numerous locations.) Yet local pH changes can provide invaluable early signals of many pathologies. For example, the pH around a cancer cell is slightly lower than normal, and internal inflammation generally leads to local change in pH level. Detecting such changes might reveal, for example, the presence of an unseen tumor or show whether an infection has developed around a surgical implant.

Biomedical uses would require, among other things, further miniaturization. The 0.5 to 2 µm diameter GEMs in the experiments are already small enough for many in vitro and other possible non-biological applications, as well as possibly for some in vivo cellular related applications. But preliminary estimates by the experimenters indicate that the sensors can be reduced substantially from their current size, and might conceivably be made smaller than 100 nanometers in diameter. That would open up many additional biomedical applications.

Tuning for different pathologies

One of the most significant features of GEMs is that they can be “tuned” in fabrication to respond to different biochemical states and to resonate in different parts of the RF spectrum by altering the gel composition and the magnet shapes and materials, respectively.

So placing two different populations of GEMs at the same site makes it possible to track changes in two different variables at the same time — a capability the researchers demonstrated by placing GEMs with two different dimensions in the same location and detecting the signals from both simultaneously.

“The idea is that you could design different sensors to measure different things, effectively measuring a panel of potential biomarkers simultaneously, rather than just one, to better differentiate between different pathologies,” Zabow says. “We think that these sensors can potentially be adapted to measure a variety of different biomarkers, possibly including things such as glucose, local temperatures, various ion concentrations, possibly the presence or absence of various enzymes.”
NIST PML | New Biosensor

* pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a substance, on a scale ranging from 0 (highly acidic) to 14 (highly alkaline). 7 is neutral. Human blood is normally around 7.4.

** Hydrogels are cross-linked networks of polymers that can absorb various amounts of water depending on their chemical composition and structure. The hydrogels used in the NIST-NIH project were engineered to swell in neutral environments and to shrink in low-pH environments.

Abstract of Shape-changing magnetic assemblies as high-sensitivity NMR-readable nanoprobes

Fluorescent and plasmonic labels and sensors have revolutionized molecular biology, helping visualize cellular and biomolecular processes. Increasingly, such probes are now being designed to respond to wavelengths in the near-infrared region, where reduced tissue autofluorescence and photon attenuation enable subsurface in vivo sensing. But even in the near-infrared region, optical resolution and sensitivity decrease rapidly with increasing depth. Here we present a sensor design that obviates the need for optical addressability by operating in the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) radio-frequency spectrum, where signal attenuation and distortion by tissue and biological media are negligible, where background interferences vanish, and where sensors can be spatially located using standard magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment. The radio-frequency-addressable sensor assemblies presented here comprise pairs of magnetic disks spaced by swellable hydrogel material; they reversibly reconfigure in rapid response to chosen stimuli, to give geometry-dependent, dynamic NMR spectral signatures. The sensors can be made from biocompatible materials, are themselves detectable down to low concentrations, and offer potential responsive NMR spectral shifts that are close to a million times greater than those of traditional magnetic resonance spectroscopies. Inherent adaptability should allow such shape-changing systems to measure numerous different environmental and physiological indicators, thus providing broadly generalizable, MRI-compatible, radio-frequency analogues to optically based probes for use in basic chemical, biological, medical and engineering research.

How bacteria can use magnetic particles to create a ‘natural battery’

Could help clean up environmental pollution
March 30, 2015

Iron-metabolizing bacteria can load electrons from microscopic particles ofmagnetite (magnetic iron oxides) and later, discharge electrons to the microparticles, which could lead to a new way to clean up environmental pollution and other bioengineering applications, an international team of researchers have found.

For example, using light energy, magnetite can reduce (gain electrons from) the toxic form of chromium, chromium VI, converting it to the less toxic chromium III, which can then be incorporated into a harmless magnetite crystal.

“In our study we only looked at iron-metabolizing bacteria, but we speculate that it might be possible for other non-iron metabolizing organisms to use magnetite as a battery as well, or they can be made to use it, through genetic engineering,” said study leader James Byrne from the University of Tübingen

As the researchers note in the journal Science on March 27, they showed that in simulated daylight, phototrophic iron-oxidizing bacteria (Rhodopseudomonas palustris) removed electrons from the magnetite, thereby discharging it. At night, the iron-reducing bacteria (G. sulfurreducens) took over and were able to dump electrons back onto the magnetite and recharge it for the following cycle.

This oxidation/reduction (redox) mechanism was repeated over several cycles, meaning that the “battery” functioned over repeated day-night cycles. This could also work with other types of bacteria that do not normally require iron to grow, e.g., fermenters, the researchers suggest.

Scientists at the University of Manchester and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory were also involved in the research.