Interesting read

Many people have remarked that Bitcoin resembles the internet in the early 90s: we haven’t yet built the Googles that will make it accessible or the Facebooks and Netflixes that will make it broadly useful. So it’s an open question: what might a Bitcoin that’s useful for the mainstream look like?


Money has three functions: it’s a store of value (that is, somewhere you can put your life savings), a unit of account (that is, a measure of value), and a medium of exchange (a way to transport value). On the first two fronts, Bitcoin has shown promise in high-inflation economies, but it’s a much tougher sell for mainstream consumers in stable countries. There, consumers mostly want a safe place to hold their savings, and the existing bank account insurances and consumer protections have set a high bar.

However, Bitcoin has huge potential as a way to transport value. It’s surprisingly difficult to move money today, and the experience of paying for something online is just about the only part of the internet that hasn’t changed dramatically in the past twenty years. There are a few walled gardens with great payment experiences (the App Store, Amazon), but otherwise it’s still a wild west of punching in your card details. (We’re working on it, though.)

Compounding the issue, value transport becomes especially challenging as soon as there’s a regional border involved. This is in stark contrast to the transmission of information: if you’re using the internet in Honduras, you don’t need to figure out how to hook up your local ISP to send packets to Kenya. But traditional payment systems look a lot like computer networks before the internet.

Cryptocurrencies have given us a real opportunity to solve these problems.


If we want to make Bitcoin useful but still allow consumers to think in their local currencies, the place to start is likely by building a series of “gateways”. These gateways should allow people to transparently get into and out of the network, while always thinking in terms of their normal currency.

A consumer could go and sign up for a gateway in their country, link their local bank account, and then specify all their actions in currencies they understand: “send £10 to this destination; send $20 to that destination”.

Behind the scenes, the sender’s gateway would convert the specified amount to Bitcoin and send those bitcoins to the recipient’s gateway. The recipient’s gateway would then translate the received amount back into the recipient’s preferred currency.

If this became widely adopted, we’d suddenly have proper connectivity between the world’s financial systems. Today, each of those systems does a reasonable job of moving money around within one country or market, but there’s no great way to move money between systems. If every system backends to Bitcoin (or another cryptocurrency), suddenly the world starts to look a lot like this:

You could imagine the gateway ecosystem choosing a traditional financial system as their backend in place of Bitcoin. However, doing so would require each to navigate the regulatory and partnership landscape in two countries: their local country, which they likely understand well, and the country in which the backing system is based, which they likely do not. For example, if American ACH were the chosen backing system, an entrepreneur building an Australian direct debit gateway would need a relationship with both an Australian bank and an American one.

Bitcoin as the IP layer

One exciting consequence of having a network of gateways built on top of Bitcoin is that they’ll all be technology-driven companies in an open ecosystem. They’ll be willing to adopt new open protocols that deliver additional value. For example, you can imagine a protocol to make the web payment experience look like the following:

Namely, every entity on the internet could have a payment address that feels like an email address. To pay on a site, you would just provide your payment address. The merchant’s gateway would then request funds from yours, which you could authorize via a push notification to your phone.

In this way, Bitcoin would start to become the IP layer of payments. Just as users are used to human-readable hostnames (such as which resolve down to an IP address, this system would result in human-readable names ( being what people know and remember. Behind the scenes, systems would still use Bitcoin addresses to speak to one another. (Mike Hearn has some ideas here.)

And in the end, we’d have a globally-connected network. It wouldn’t replace the existing financial systems—consumers would still be able to use all the infrastructure they use today. But it would make the existing system incredibly more valuable, in the same way that connecting everyone’s local networks via the internet multiplied the value of what was already there.

Contrast with other global networks

This would not, of course, be the first global payments network. One obvious comparison is withPayPal. The fundamental advantage a Bitcoin gateway ecosystem has over PayPal is that it’s open. Any closed network will, by nature, be deprived of structural pressures that force it to improve. A third-party can’t improve a closed network; if they really want to, they first have to try to replicate the network itself from scratch. In contrast, the Bitcoin space is already seeing rapid iteration and compounding improvements.

Swift is another global network. When sending money with Swift, one bank says to another “I’m going to send you 100 euros”, and then finds a path of peered banks to actually move the money. Fees and currency conversion are handled in an ad hoc (and often surprising) fashion. The more you can bake “what will happen” into the network protocol, the more understandable and usable the resulting system will be. Bitcoin does better than Swift by including money movement and transaction fees in the protocol, though it similarly lacks native currency conversion.

There are a number of cryptocurrencies which already have gateways baked in at a protocol level (such as Open Transactions and Ripple). However, there are huge network effects in any financial system, and to date these other systems have failed to win the necessary user support.

Comparison to the card networks

If we really want to make a Bitcoin-backed global network useful to consumers, it’s worth comparing it against a system that is already quite useful to them: namely, Visa. Visa has a number of functions, which can be roughly bucketed into three categories:

  1. Network for initiating transactions and moving funds.
  2. Setting rules and regulations.
  3. Consumer trust and protection (chargebacks, stolen cards).

(Other functions such as consumer credit are provided by the banks rather than Visa itself.)

Of these, the Bitcoin gateway network described above provides 1 and the technical aspects of 2 (“this is how the protocol works” is covered, while “every online merchant needs a privacy policy” is not). But the other functions are very important. Ultimately, the message Visa delivers to consumers is that if they see the Visa logo, they are safe. If something goes wrong (such as the merchant delivering a bad product), the consumer will be made whole. This results in many transactions happening that otherwise would not, and makes the whole ecosystem more valuable.

And so, unless we solve decentralized reputation (which people are starting to think about), the Bitcoin ecosystem will see the emergence of a few centralized consumer “trust providers”.

You can already start to see the need for this with the emergence of Bitcoin escrow services. However, escrow isn’t actually a solution to trust—it’s a way not to trust. It makes sense only for a certain segment of purchases, and requires you to jump through stressful hoops like completing an inspection of the goods before irrevocably releasing the funds.

The winners in this space will instead be companies which inspire consumers to trust those they endorse. They’ll provide consumer protection services like chargeback mediation (and have a direct relationship with the merchant to actually recoup funds for those chargebacks). They’ll gain acceptance among Bitcoin-accepting merchants if they can boost sales:

Because the trust providers’ main assets are their brands, and those brands benefit from network effects, it’ll generally make sense for these companies to consolidate. Ultimately there will be one or a few major players, just like there are in the credit card world.

Other participants in the ecosystem will want to display the brand too. You’ll see gateways cobranding with the trust providers, just like today you see cards cobranded with Visa and their issuing bank.

As a result, the trust providers will be building a network of vetted merchants and gateways. To make sure only good actors are in the system, they’ll need to set and enforce rules and regulations for acceptable behavior—otherwise their brand will become less meaningful. This brings us back to a world of a few entities who get to set the rules.


So what would all of this buy us? There would be three major improvements to the existing financial system.

First, the resulting ecosystem is technologically open. Open ecosystems have a way of getting better much faster than their closed counterpart. Anyone can enter, connect to the network, and start building good tools and applications on top of it. The emerging regulatory landscape may change some of the constants, but this fundamental advantage will remain.

Second, this model unbundles the existing financial system into layers run by independent companies. To see the value of this, contrast with the US mobile carriers, who used to own the entire stack. They owned the handsets, the operating systems, the applications running on the phone, and the service. This meant that most of the stack never had anything pushing it to get very good, and there were even incentives to hold it back in order to preserve legacy revenue-generating facilities like SMS. By enabling competition at individual layers of the financial system, each one should improve.

And third, this would be the first truly global payments network: anyone would be empowered to start a gateway in their country, rather than relying on it eventually making sense for some centralized actor. This is especially powerful for people in countries with underdeveloped banking systems, which many traditional payment systems never reach.

So what role will Stripe play here? We already provide Bitcoin acceptance, and we’re actively investigating other functionality. We’ll have other updates on this front before too long.

We’re still in the very early days, but we can already start to see the shape of the potential impact of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. If we get things right, life is going to be much better for billions of people.

By Mario Cacciottolo BBC News Magazine

Pile of Lego

A container filled with millions of Lego pieces fell into the sea off Cornwall in 1997. But instead of remaining at the bottom of the ocean, they are still washing up on Cornish beaches today - offering an insight into the mysterious world of oceans and tides.

"Let me see if I can find a cutlass," says Tracey Williams, poking around some large rocks on Perran Sands with a stick.

She doesn’t manage that, but does spot a gleaming white, pristine daisy on the beach in Perranporth, Cornwall. The flower looks good for its age, seeing as it is 17 years old.

It is one of 353,264 plastic daisies dropped into the sea on 13 February 1997, when the container ship Tokio Express was hit by a wave described by its captain as a “once in a 100-year phenomenon”, tilting the ship 60 degrees one way, then 40 degrees back.

As a result, 62 containers were lost overboard about 20 miles off Land’s End - and one of them was filled with nearly 4.8m pieces of Lego, bound for New York.

No-one knows exactly what happened next, or even what was in the other 61 containers, but shortly after that some of those Lego pieces began washing up in both the north and south coasts of Cornwall. They’re still coming in today.

Lego cutlass
Lego octopus

A quirk of fate meant many of the Lego items were nautical-themed, so locals and tourists alike started finding miniature cutlasses, flippers, spear guns, seagrass and scuba gear as well as the dragons and the daisies.

"There’s stories of kids in the late 1990s having buckets of dragons on the beach, selling them," says Tracey, who lives in Newquay.

Tracey with Lego haul on beach

"These days the holy grail is an octopus or a dragon. I only know of three octopuses being found, and one was by me, in a cave in Challaborough, Devon. It’s quite competitive. If you heard that your neighbour had found a green dragon, you’d want to go out and find one yourself."

She says the ship’s manifest - a detailed list of everything in the containers - shows a whole range of Lego items, not all sea-themed. After all this time “it’s the same old things that keep coming in with the tide”, particularly after a bad storm.

Lego seagrass

Tracey runs a Facebook page which documents the Lego discoveries, and recently received an email from someone in Melbourne who found a flipper which they think could be from the Tokio Express spillage.

US oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer has tracked the story of the Lego since it was spilled. “The mystery is where they’ve ended up. After 17 years they’ve only been definitely reported off the coast of Cornwall,” he says.

It takes three years for sea debris to cross the Atlantic ocean, from Land’s End to Florida. Undoubtedly some Lego has crossed and it’s most likely some has gone around the world. But there isn’t any proof that it has arrived as yet.

"I go to beachcombing events in Florida and they show me Lego - but it’s the wrong kind. It’s all local stuff kids have left behind."

Since 1997, those pieces could have drifted 62,000 miles, he says. It’s 24,000 miles around the equator, meaning they could be on any beach on earth. Theoretically, the pieces of Lego could keep going around the ocean for centuries.

Ocean currents visualised

"The most profound lesson I’ve learned from the Lego story is that things that go to the bottom of the sea don’t always stay there," Ebbesmeyer adds. The incident is a perfect example of how even when inside a steel container, sunken items don’t stay sunken. They can be carried around the world, seemingly randomly, but subject to the planet’s currents and tides.

"Tracking currents is like tracking ghosts - you can’t see them. You can only see where flotsam started and where it ended up."

Lost Lego Pieces

Cargo included:

  • Toy kits - Divers, Aquazone, Aquanauts, Police, FrightKnights, WildWest, RoboForce TimeCruisers, Outback, Pirates
  • Spear guns (red and yellow) - 13,000 items
  • Black octopus - 4,200
  • Yellow life preserver - 26,600
  • Diver flippers (in pairs: black, blue, red) - 418,000
  • Dragons (black and green) - 33,941
  • Brown ship rigging net - 26,400
  • Daisy flowers (in fours - white, red, yellow) - 353,264
  • Scuba and breathing apparatus (grey) - 97,500
  • Total of 4,756,940 Lego pieces lost overboard in a single container
  • Estimated 3,178,807 may be light enough to have floated

Source: Beachcombers’ Alert, vol 2. No 2 1997


But there’s also a dark side to the story, he says. If Lego is on land then it’s fun. If it’s on the ocean it’s deadly, a poison for birds. If you lose one container with 5m pieces of Lego in it, that is a catastrophe for wildlife.

Lego sea-themed items
Lego daisies

Lego spokeswoman Emma Owen says the Tokio Express incident “was of course very unfortunate, however this had nothing to do with the Lego Group activities”.

"We share an overall concern for the environment and we are very focused in our environmental efforts at our production sites to eliminate the waste that potentially could become a marine litter problem."

Elsewhere in Cornwall, Martin Dorey of Bude is all too aware of the Lego being washed up. He runs the 2 Minute Beach Clean group which encourages people to pick up litter on beaches, and gets in touch with companies whose produce ends up on the shoreline as a result of this kind of accident.

"I know it’s not their fault, it’s the way the ships are stacked," he says. "But while container spills are all resolved from the insurance point of view, it’s not resolved from the marine point of view." The 2 Minute Beach Clean group has a Twitter hashtag and an Instagram page, which Dorey says allows litter pickers “to see that their work is adding to the work of others”.

Claire Wallerstein runs the Rame Peninsula Beach Care group, which cleans up beaches in south-east Cornwall. The group has collected more than 1,000 sacks of beach debris since it began its monthly collections in March last year, andone recent intensive clean up led to 576,664 pieces of plastic being recovered from a cove (including 42 pieces of Lego).

Container losses
  • About 120m containers carried on world’s oceans in 2013
  • 2011 survey by World Shipping Council estimated an average of 675 containers lost at sea each year between 2008-10
  • 2014 survey says average annual loss between 2011-13 was approximately 2,683 containers
  • Both surveys took “rare catastrophic losses” into account - losses of more than 50 or more containers in a single incident

Source: World Shipping Council

Lego dragons
Witch's broom
Lego daisy
Black Lego dragon

"The Lego isn’t a one-off thing - it happens all the time. There’s a certain type of cigarette lighter that’s from a container spill more than 20 years ago which is still washing up on Cornish beaches today.

"If you look at the washed-up Lego, it looks perfect, like it’s just come out of the box. Plastic in the sea is not going to just decompose and go away."

More from the Magazine
A 32.5m tall tower made of Lego in Prague

It’s not just children who like to build towers with Lego - the internet is alive with discussion on how many Lego bricks, stacked one on top of the other, it would take to destroy the bottom brick. So what’s the answer?

How tall can a Lego tower get? (December 2012)


Chris Koch, the president of the World Shipping Council, says there is an “array” of legislation in force regarding the construction of containers - each one costing £2,927 ($5,000, 3,671 euros) - and how they are stacked aboard container ships.

"The predominant cause of loss is very, very bad weather, when the forces of nature overcome the forces of lashing the containers to the ship. The industry does what it can, but it can’t control Mother Nature."

Back on Perrin Sands, Tracey continues to pick up debris thrown up by the tides on each of her daily beach walks.

"It’s a never-ending job. Sea debris, and plastic, doesn’t go away. It’s filling up the sea and our beaches.

"Very often you find a lot of Lego when you’re bending down with a litter-picker. It’s like a reward for picking up the rubbish."

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What bizarre things have you found washed up on shore?

Send your pictures using the instructions below or tweeting with the hashtag #strangestuffwashedashore.

Adventure Tested: Whistle, A Fitness Tracker For Your Dog


Whistle is a new, collar-mounted activity monitor for your dog, allowing you to track exercise, food, medication and other parameters whether you’re with them or even when you’re apart.…

Wiley Meets SnowWiley Meets SnowWiley Meets Snow

Wiley discovered snow for the first time over the July 4th weekend. Won’t lie, this is pretty…Read moreRead on

What’s It Supposed To Do? The Whistle device is a silver dollar-sized wafer of plastic and stainless steel equipped with a three-axis accelerometer, plus WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity. It syncs data with a smartphone app (iOS or Android) to give you the ability to track your dog’s daily activity.

In addition to that activity tracking, you can use it to log meals, medications and annotate your dog’s day with notes and photos.

Multiple owners or caretakers can use the app, giving you the ability to track your dog’s activity as he’s cared for by different people.

Adventure Tested: Whistle, A Fitness Tracker For Your Dog


How’s It Supposed To Do It? Whistle pairs with your phones via Bluetooth and you can connect it to multiple WiFi hotspots, say at home and at a friend’s house where your dogs spends a lot of time.

It uses data from the accelerometer to determine what your dog’s up to throughout the day, the kind of exercise he’s receiving — walking, playing, running, swimming or resting — and the intensity of that exercise. Through the phone pairing, Whistle also informs you who the dog is doing those activities with. Here’s an in-depth explanation of how the device determines different types of activities are occurring, in addition to their intensity.

All that data is then synced to the cloud once an hour (when in a connected WiFi area) and displayed on a slick app. You can set daily activity goals, compare your dog’s amount of exercise to others of similar breed, age and size and track all that over time.…

The app also includes simple data logging functionality for meals and medication and you can attach photos and share all that data.

The device itself is IPX7-level waterproof and can even survive swimming in the ocean. Its Lithium-Ion battery lasts 7 to 10 days and charges via USB dock in just an hour.

The included collar attachment is variable in size to fit virtually any collar and mounts the device in total security. It’s designed to fit dogs as small as 15lbs, but will be too cumbersome if you’ve got one of those Paris Hilton purse “dogs.”

Adventure Tested: Whistle, A Fitness Tracker For Your Dog


How Does It Perform? Wiley leads an extremely active lifestyle, so I was skeptical of Whistle’s usefulness for him. But, it has actually proved an invaluable tool, particularly when I’m forced to leave him at home while traveling.

It’s also been useful over the last week, when temperatures and humidity in LA have been so high that we’ve been unable to do our typical daily hike, instead allowing me to work towards his daily activity goal through smaller pieces of exercise throughout the day. Whistle allows me to track a 15 minute walk here, 10 minutes of play in the front yard there, then shows me how all that’s adding up towards his daily goal.…

With my work schedule and frequent travel, Wiley is often cared for by a variety of people, including roommates, friends and the girlfriend, all of whom chip in here and there to feed him, walk him and give him cuddles. Equipping each with the app has allowed what was once an unorganized group who had to talk feeding schedules and walks over various text messages to become organized through a central communication hub — the app — making it easy for them to tell when Wiley needs a little TLC.

He’s not currently taking any medication, but in the instances where he’s been prescribed antibiotics or painkillers, it would have made logging those easy and centralized too. Previously I would draw out a chart and stick in on the fridge, asking people to check off the dates and times, but now it’s much more easily tracked on the app. Whistle will also allow me to monitor this remotely, make sure he’s getting the required medication, and remind my friends if a dosage is forgotten.

So far, Whistle has worked flawlessly. With only one button on the device and a simple, slick smartphone app, it’s idiot-proof to use and there is no learning curve. The device itself is rugged enough that I have no doubt in its ability to remain attached to Wiley’s collar or survive any of his shenanigans. It’s also light and small enough that it wears without him noticing it and shouldn’t snag or be caught on anything, even when he takes off through dense chaparral after a rabbit.

Adventure Tested: Whistle, A Fitness Tracker For Your Dog


How Does It Compare To Rivals? As far as I can tell, Whistle is the first fitness tracker for dogs. It works similarly to human devices, but can’t currently track distance, speed or location — functions that will be arriving with a GPS-equipped update next year.

Adventure Tested: Whistle, A Fitness Tracker For Your Dog


Worth It? With detailed tracking of exercise and easy data logging of other health parameters, Whistle more than justifies its $129 price by making what we used to do poorly through memory and paper into a seamless daily process that actually requires less human input on its way to creating a much better system for tracking Wiley’s care.…

Activity tracking has turned into a valuable data point in Wiley’s daily life, giving me the data needed to ensure he’s adequately exercised each day, even at times in which work, life and weather get in the way. Whistle will be an invaluable tool for dogs who’s care is shared across multiple family members, friends or caretakers as well.

Whistle is simple, effective tool that empowers owners to better care for their dogs.

IndefinitelyWild is a new publication about adventure travel in the outdoors, the vehicles and gear that get us there and the people we meet along the way. Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

South Korea’s capital city said on July 21, 2014 it planned to ban the smartphone car-hailing service Uber, saying it raised passenger safety issues and threatened the livelihood of licensed taxi drivers. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

UPDATE: Uber Monday evening called Seoul city government’s earlier statement a sign that it lags behind in adopting what it called an innovation in transportation. “Comments like these show Seoul is in danger of remaining trapped in the past and getting left behind by the global ‘sharing economy’ movement,” the statement said. An Uber spokesman in Seoul denied that the service was illegal as Uber is “a technology company that connects drivers with passengers” and doesn’t directly run a taxi service with rented cars.

The Seoul city government said Monday it would seek a ban on a car-hailing smartphone app from Uber Technologies Inc., joining a global battle by municipalities and traditional taxi services against the service.

The local authority said in a statement that Uber is illegal under South Korean law, which forbids fee-paying transport services using private or rented motor vehicles unregistered with the authorities.

The city added that it will launch in December an app that will provide similar features to Uber for official taxis, such as geo-location data on cabs nearby, information about them and their drivers, as well as ratings.

A Seoul-based Uber spokesman said the company was preparing a response to Seoul’s move, which follows a string of other actions taken by the city against the service in recent months.

In April, Seoul issued a fine of 1 million won ($974) to a driver after he or she solicited customers through Uber while driving a rented car. A month later, the city government asked the police to investigate the San Francisco-based startup but the probe was suspended due to a lack of evidence. The city will ask police to resume the suspended inquiry, its statement said.

Seoul’s move comes as similar efforts are pursued by state agencies and city governments worldwide that say Uber and similar apps skirt regulations. The five-year-old company faces a slew of lawsuits across the U.S. and its app is banned in some European cities.

Thousands of conventional taxi drivers around Europe last month protested the service. Uber’s general manager for Europe welcomed the protests as a chance to increase publicity and offered promotions to counter taxi strikes.

Taipei’s taxi drivers also stopped traffic earlier this month in protest of Uber.

Brussels and Berlin have banned the service for violating regulations about areas of operation and routes, respectively. Hamburg, Germany’s second-largest city, is also pushing to outlaw Uber.

In spite of its multiple legal challenges worldwide, investors have valued Uber at more than $18 billion in a recent financing round. The service also launched in Beijing last week, though there it faces another problem: traffic jams.

I heard about this on the Science podcast — the idea is kind of horrifying… we wouldn’t want individual actors/agents implementing geoengineering without consent from a broader community — the same thing goes with broad-scale gene therapy

By Bio-IT World Staff

July 18, 2014 | In a paper published yesterday in the open access journal eLife, George Church and colleagues discuss the potential for “gene drives” that alter the genomes of whole wild populations using CRISPR gene editing technology, and weigh the risks and public interests surrounding such initiatives. Church’s lab at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard Medical School has been involved in the development of CRISPR since it first took off as a gene editing tool two years ago.

Gene drives have been imagined and even attempted for over a decade, traditionally with disease-carrying species of mosquito as their targets. A gene drive takes advantage of mechanisms of biased inheritance, in which a genetic element is favored to be passed on to the next generation even if it confers no adaptive advantage, or even harms the host organism. Such genetic elements could include endonucleases, which seek out a target region of a chromosome, cut out the native sequence, and copy themselves in its place; or segregation distorters, which destroy entire homologous chromosomes during cell division, leaving only their own copies intact. Although no gene drive has yet advanced beyond the lab, a transgenic swarm of mosquitoes without a gene drive was released in Brazil earlier this year as a control measure against dengue fever.

In the eLife paper, “Concerning RNA-guided gene drives for the alteration of wild populations,” Church and his colleagues note that CRISPR will make it much easier for a far wider variety of labs to engineer future gene drives in any species they choose. CRISPR is more specific, more durable after multiple replications, and easier to target to a chosen site on the genome than any previous gene editing technique. Writing that “we hope to initiate transparent, inclusive, and well-informed discussions concerning the responsible evaluation and application of these nascent technologies,” the authors consider in detail how multiple obstacles to a CRISPR-based gene drive could be addressed. They also float a number of real-world applications, including the control of disease vectors, elimination of invasive species, and agricultural pest control.

The authors further note that a successful gene drive, once released into the wild, would be difficult to control and would not respect any artificial boundaries like political borders in spreading through a species. They make certain broad suggestions for responsible conduct of gene drives, including education and engagement of the public. “[A]ll decisions involving the use of suppression drives must involve extensive deliberations including but not limited to ecologists and citizens of potentially affected communities,” they write.

More specifically, the authors list certain precautions that any lab considering a gene drive could take to make the effects as precise and reversible as possible. They propose field trials with small populations that contain any desired genetic changes, but not the gene drives to favorably spread them, in order to observe the ecological impacts of the modified organisms. They also insist that after a gene drive is released, wild samples should be captured and sequenced periodically to monitor how the relevant genes are dispersing through the population, and “recommend that all laboratories seeking to build standard gene drives capable of spreading through wild populations simultaneously create reversal drives able to restore the original phenotype.”

"These precautions," they add, "would allow the effects of an accidental release to be swiftly if partially counteracted."

A more complete discussion of how CRISPR was discovered, and how it changes the picture for gene editing, can be read in “Gene Therapy’s Next Generation.”

One day a coworker said to me, “Luke! You’re, like, the happiest person I know! How come you’re so happy all the time?”

It was probably a rhetorical question, but I had a very long answer to give. See, I was unhappy for most of my life,1 and even considered suicide a few times. Then I spent two years studying the science of happiness. Now, happiness is my natural state. I can’t remember the last time I felt unhappy for longer than 20 minutes.

That kind of change won’t happen for everyone, or even most people (beware of other-optimizing), but it’s worth a shot! 

We all want to be happy, and happiness is useful for other things, too.2 For example, happiness improves physical health,3 improves creativity,4 and even enables you to make better decisions.5 (It’s harder to be rational when you’re unhappy.6) So, as part of a series on how to win at life with science and rationality, let’s review the science of happiness.

The correlates of happiness

Earlier, I noted that there is an abundance of research on factors that correlate with subjective well-being (individuals’ own assessments of their happiness and life satisfaction).

Factors that don’t correlate much with happiness include: age,7 gender,8 parenthood,9 intelligence,10 physical attractiveness,11 and money12 (as long as you’re above the poverty line). Factors that correlate moderately with happiness include: health,13 social activity,14 and religiosity.15 Factors that correlate strongly with happiness include: genetics,16 love and relationship satisfaction,17 and work satisfaction.18

But correlation is not enough. We want to know what causes happiness. And that is a trickier thing to measure. But we do know a few things.

Happiness, personality, and skills

Genes account for about 50% of the variance in happiness.19 Even lottery winners and newly-made quadriplegics do not see as much of a change in happiness as you would expect.20 Presumably, genes shape your happiness by shaping your personality, which is known to be quite heritable.21

So which personality traits tend to correlate most with happiness? Extroversion is among the best predictors of happiness,22 as are conscientiousness, agreeableness, self-esteem, and optimism.23

What if you don’t have those traits? The first thing to say is that you might be capable of them without knowing it. Introversion, for example, can be exacerbated by a lack of social skills. If you decide to learn and practice social skills, you might find that you are more extroverted than you thought! (That’s what happened to me.) The same goes forconscientiousnessagreeablenessself-esteem, and optimism - these are only partly linked to personality. They are to some extent learnable skills, and learning these skills (or even “acting as if”) can increase happiness.24

The second thing to say is that lacking some of these traits does not, of course, doom you to unhappiness.

Happiness is subjective and relative

Happiness is not determined by objective factors, but by how you feel about them.25

Happiness is also relative26: you’ll probably be happier making $25,000/yr in Costa Rica (where your neighbors are making $13,000/yr) than you will be making $80,000/yr in Beverly Hills (where your neighbors are making $130,000/yr).

Happiness is relative in another sense, too: it is relative to your expectations.27 We are quite poor at predicting the strength of our emotional reactions to future events. We overestimate the misery we will experience after a romantic breakup, failure to get a promotion, or even contracting an illness. We also overestimate the pleasure we will get from buying a nice car, getting a promotion, or moving to a lovely coastal city. So: lower your expectations about the pleasure you’ll get from such expenditures.

Flow and mindfulness

You may have heard of the famous studies28 showing that people are happiest when they are in a state of “flow.” Flow is the state you’re in when you are fully engaged in a task that is interesting, challenging, and intrinsically rewarding to you. This is the experience of “losing yourself in the moment” or, as sports players say, “being in the zone.”

Finding flow has largely to do with performing tasks that match your skill level. When a task is far beyond your skill level, you will feel defeated. When a task is too easy, you’ll be bored. Only when a task is challenging but achievable will you feel good about doing it. I’m reminded of the state troopers in Super Troopers, who devised strange games and challenges to make their boring jobs passable. Myrtle Young made her boring job at a potato chip factory more interesting and challenging by looking for potato chips that resembled celebrities, and pulling them off the conveyor belts for her collection.

If you’re struggling with negative thoughts, achieving flow is probably the best medicine. Contrary to popular wisdom, forced positive thinking often makes things worse.29 Trying to not think about Upsetting Thought X has the same effect as trying to not think about pink elephants: you can’t help but think about pink elephants.

While being “lost in the moment” may provide some of your happiest moments, research has also shown that when you’re not in flow, taking a step outside the moment and practicing “mindfulness” - that is, paying attention to your situation, your actions, and your feelings - can reduce chronic pain and depression30, reduce stress and anxiety31, and produce a wide range of other positive effects.32 

How to be happier

Happiness, then, is an enormously complex thing. Worse, we must remember the difference between experienced happiness and remembered happiness. I can only scratch the surface of happiness research in this tiny post. In short, there is no simple fix for unhappiness; no straight path to bliss.

Moreover, happiness will be achieved differently for different people. A person suffering from depression due to chemical imbalance may get more help from a pill than from learning better social skills. A healthy, extroverted, agreeable, conscientious woman can still be unhappy if she is trapped in a bad marriage. Some people were raised by parents whose parenting style did not encourage the development of healthy self-esteem,33 and they will need to devote significant energy to overcome this deficit. For some, the road to happiness is long. For others, it is short.

Below, I review a variety of methods for becoming happier. Some of them I discussed above; many, I did not.

These methods are ranked roughly in descending order of importance and effect, based on my own reading of the literature. You will need to think about who you are, what makes you happy, what makes you unhappy, and what you can achieve in order to determine which of the below methods should be attempted first. Also, engaging any of these methods may require that you first gain some mastery over procrastination.

Here, then, are some methods for becoming happier34:

  1. If you suffer from serious illness, depression, anxiety, paranoia, schizophrenia, or other serious problems, seek professional help firstHere’s how.
  2. Even if you don’t need professional help, you may benefit from some self-exploration and initial guidance from a reductionistic, naturalistic counselor like Tom Clark.
  3. Develop the skills and habits associated with extroversion. First, get some decent clothes and learn how to wear them properly. If you’re a guy, read these books. If you’re a girl, ask your girlfriends or try these books. Next, learn basic social skills, including body language. If you’re really introverted, practice on Chatroulette orOmegle first. Next, spend more time with other people, making small talk. Go to meetups and CouchSurfinggroup activities. Practice your skills until they become more natural, and you find yourself enjoying being in the company of others. Learn how to be funny and practice that, too.
  4. Improve your self-esteem and optimism. This is tricky. First, too much self-esteem can lead to harmful narcissism.35 Second, it’s not clear that a rationalist can endorse several standard methods for improving one’s self esteem (self-serving bias, basking in reflected glory, self-handicapping)36 because they toy with self-deception and anti-epistemology. But there are a few safe ways to increase your self-esteem and optimism. Make use of success spirals, vicarious victory, and mental contrasting, as described here.
  5. Improve your agreeableness. In simpler terms, this basically means: increase your empathy. Unfortunately, little is currently known (scientifically) about how to increase one’s empathy.37 The usual advice about trying to see things from another’s perspective, and thinking more about people less fortunate than oneself, will have to do for now. The organization Roots of Empathy may have some good advice, too.
  6. Improve your conscientiousness. Conscientiousness involves a variety of tendencies: useful organization, strong work ethic, reliability, planning ahead, etc. Each of these individual skills can be learned. The techniques for overcoming procrastination are useful, here. Some people report that books like Getting Things Done have helped them become more organized and reliable.
  7. Develop the habit of gratitude. Savor the good moments throughout each day.38 Spend time thinking about happy memories.39 And at the end of each day, write down 5 things you are grateful for: the roof over your head, your good fortune at being born in a wealthy country, the existence of Less Wrong, the taste of chocolate, the feel of orgasm… whatever. It sounds childish, but it works.40
  8. Find your purpose and live it. One benefit of religion may be that it gives people a sense of meaning and purpose. Without a magical deity to give you purpose, though, you’ll have to find out for yourself what drives you. It may take a while to find it though, and you may have to dip your hands and mind into many fields. But once you find a path that strongly motivates you and fulfills you, take it. (Of course, you might not find one purpose but many.) Having a strong sense of meaning and purpose has a wide range of positive effects.41 The ‘find a purpose’ recommendation also offers an illustration of how methods may differ in importance for people. ‘Find a purpose’ is not always emphasized in happiness literature, but for my own brain chemistry I suspect that finding motivating purposes has made more difference in my life than anything else on this list.
  9. Find a more fulfilling job. Few people do what they love for a living. Getting to that point can be difficult and complicated. You may find that doing 10 other things on this list first is needed for you to have a good chance at getting a more fulfilling job. To figure out which career might be full of tasks that you love to do, a RIASECpersonality test might help. In the USA, O*NET can help you find jobs that are in-demand and fit your personality.
  10. Improve your relationship with your romantic partner, or find a different one. As with finding a more fulfilling job, this one is complicated, but can have major impact. If you know your relationship isn’t going anywhere, you may want to drop it so you can spend more time developing yourself, which will improve future relationships. If you’re pretty serious about your partner, there are many things you can do to improve the relationship. Despite being touted widely, “active listening” doesn’t predict relationship success.42 Tested advice for improving the chances of relationship success and satisfaction include: (1) do novel and exciting things with your partner often43, (2) say positive things to and about your partner at least 5 times more often than you say negative things44, (3) spend each week writing about why your relationship is better than some others you know about45, (4) qualify every criticism of your partner with a review of one or two of their positive qualities46, and (5) stare into each other’s eyes more often.47
  11. Go outside and move your body. This will improve your attention and well-being.48
  12. Spend more time in flow. Drop impossible tasks in favor of tasks that are at the outer limits of your skillset. Make easy and boring tasks more engaging by turning them into games or adding challenges for yourself.
  13. Practice mindfulness regularly. When not in flow, step outside yourself and pay attention to how you are behaving, how your emotions are functioning, and how your current actions work toward your goals. Meditationmay help.
  14. Avoid consumerism. The things you own do come to own you, in a sense. Consumerism leads to unhappiness.49 Unfortunately, you’ve probably been programmed from birth to see through the lens of consumerism. One way to start deprogramming is by watching this documentary about the deliberate invention of consumerism by Edward Bernays. After that, you may want to sell or give away many of your possessions and, more importantly, drastically change your purchasing patterns.

Note that seeking happiness as an end might be counterproductive. Many people report that constantly checking to see if they are happy actually decreases their happiness - a report that fits with the research on “flow.” It may be better to seek some of the above goals as ends, and happiness will be a side-effect.

Remember: Happiness will not come from reading articles on the internet. Happiness will come when you do the things research recommends.

Good luck!

Science and nature cartoonist Rosemary Mosco’s latest webcomic explains the difference between venomous and poisonous in just half a dozen panels (fewer, if you count the intro and the kicker), which makes it as pithily informative as it is charming.

"Venomous" vs "Poisonous," Explained With Adorable Talking AnimalsEXPAND

Here’s a little more information for those interested. See more of Mosco’s work here and here.

With Intel’s tablet business taking off, why is its mobile unit revenue plummeting?

The company saw a significant spike in tablets using its chips — 10 million last quarter — but its mobile revenue was just $51 million — down 83 percent from a year earlier and by more than two-thirds from the prior quarter.

Yes, its phone modem chip business is tailing off, but that alone doesn’t explain such a steep decline. The reason turns out to be something known as “contra revenue.”

Despite the name, it has nothing to do with funding Nicaraguan rebels. Rather, it is financial jargon that means Intel is essentially paying tablet device makers to use its chips.

For 2014 anyway, Intel is selling a chip into low-end tablets that was never intended for that market. As a result, the chip is more costly and complex to design into devices than rivals. Because tablet makers would otherwise choose the chip leading to an overall less expensive design, Intel is paying the manufacturers who use its chips to offset the higher costs that an Intel design entails. It is also paying some of the device maker’s costs for designing the Intel-based tablets.

Although not unheard of in the tech world, it’s an unusual business model that only a desperate and wealthy company can afford.

Intel has been upfront that this was its plan — it disclosed this at a November 2013 analyst meeting — but it showed up quite prominently in the latest earnings report as Intel’s tablet volume started to take off.

And, of course, since Intel says it is “on track” to reach its goal of selling 40 million tablet processors this year, that means more huge losses for the quarters ahead. Indeed, the more “successful” Intel is at getting device makers to use its chips, the more money it will lose.

The company has said that the tablet program is expected to take the company’s entire profit margin down by as much as 1.5 percentage points this year. Considering Intel has tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue, that means Intel is racking up hundreds of millions of dollars in expenses.

Intel finds itself in this position because it originally envisioned the Bay Trail chip it is selling to tablet makers would wind up in high-end devices, iPad-like rivals that sell for several hundred dollars apiece. Instead, Intel’s opportunities have been in lower-end devices such as the Asus Memo Pad, a device that costs around $150.

The bet is that next year Intel will be able to keep some of these tablet customers when it has more integrated chips that can fit in lower-end tablets without requiring such outlays from Intel.

Intel doesn’t expect the mobile unit to turn profitable next year, but the losses should narrow, CFO Stacy Smith said in a conference call with analysts on Tuesday.

“It won’t be profitable, but we should be able to improve it nicely,” Smith said.

CEO Brian Krzanich put a finer point on things, assuring analysts that the investments were both temporary and necessary.

“I mean, clearly, we don’t go into businesses to lose money, and we believe that over time we can make this a profitable business,” he said.

To do so sooner, Intel is making another big bet. The company, for the first time in its history, is making Intel-architecture chips outside its own factories. The chips, known as SoFIA, take a design inherited from the Infineon acquisition, but swap in an Intel processor core for the ARM chip that Infineon had used.

Over time, Intel plans to move the chip’s production in house, but sticking with an outside manufacturer for now will get it to market faster.

In the meantime, Intel’s losses are clearly mounting.


It’s no secret that New York City’s wildlife is a bit, well, different.

Maybe it’s the water, the constant struggle to survive or the way they only eat garbage and never sleep. Who can say? But something is making the Big Apple’s wildlife tougher than their counterparts that live elsewhere.

The small differences in Manhattan’s native pigeons, squirrels and other animals are easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention, but trust us — they’re there.

Because we here at Mashable are in tune with nature and the universe, we notice the things that make NYC animals unique. We’ve compiled a thorough list of distinct variations below.

  • Pigeons-redux
  • Rats-final
  • Squirrels
  • Cockroaches
  • Turtles

Working On My Novel is a book by artist Cory Arcangel featuring 127 tweets from authors who are, you guys, seriously so busy working on their novels that they barely have time left over to tweet about their novel-writing process. Which is something I suspect none of us can relate to. Nope. Not at all.

Working On My Novel Is Hilarious, Hits A Little Too Close To Home

Working On My Novel Is Hilarious, Hits A Little Too Close To Home

Working On My Novel Is Hilarious, Hits A Little Too Close To Home

The tweets were found by searching Twitter for the phrase “working on my novel,” and originally compiled at Arcangel’s twitter account, @wrknonmynovelSeriously meta. And seriously funny-sad. Here, maybe this will help:

Strategies to Make Sure You Actually Finish That Novel

It’s National Novel-Writing Month, which means you’re starting a novel from scratch. And…Read more

Or, if you’re really, really hurting for ideas:

Do Not Take Writing Advice from the Worst Muse

Twitter account the Worst Muse isn’t even a week old, but it’s already a premiere source…Read more

Working On My Novel drops July 31st. Pre-order it here.

Working On My Novel Is Hilarious, Hits A Little Too Close To HomeEXPAND

Via Creative Review

Video: Electric bacteria connect to form wires

Unlike any other life on Earth, these extraordinary bacteria use energy in its purest form – they eat and breathe electrons – and they are everywhere

STICK an electrode in the ground, pump electrons down it, and they will come: living cells that eat electricity. We have known bacteria to survive on a variety of energy sources, but none as weird as this. Think of Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life by galvanic energy, except these “electric bacteria” are very real and are popping up all over the place.

Unlike any other living thing on Earth, electric bacteria use energy in its purest form – naked electricity in the shape of electrons harvested from rocks and metals. We already knew about two types, Shewanella and Geobacter. Now, biologists are showing that they can entice many more out of rocks and marine mud by tempting them with a bit of electrical juice. Experiments growing bacteria on battery electrodes demonstrate that these novel, mind-boggling forms of life are essentially eating and excreting electricity.

That should not come as a complete surprise, says Kenneth Nealson at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. We know that life, when you boil it right down, is a flow of electrons: “You eat sugars that have excess electrons, and you breathe in oxygen that willingly takes them.” Our cells break down the sugars, and the electrons flow through them in a complex set of chemical reactions until they are passed on to electron-hungry oxygen.

In the process, cells make ATP, a molecule that acts as an energy storage unit for almost all living things. Moving electrons around is a key part of making ATP. “Life’s very clever,” says Nealson. “It figures out how to suck electrons out of everything we eat and keep them under control.” In most living things, the body packages the electrons up into molecules that can safely carry them through the cells until they are dumped on to oxygen.

"That’s the way we make all our energy and it’s the same for every organism on this planet," says Nealson. "Electrons must flow in order for energy to be gained. This is why when someone suffocates another person they are dead within minutes. You have stopped the supply of oxygen, so the electrons can no longer flow."

The discovery of electric bacteria shows that some very basic forms of life can do away with sugary middlemen and handle the energy in its purest form – electrons, harvested from the surface of minerals. “It is truly foreign, you know,” says Nealson. “In a sense, alien.”

Nealson’s team is one of a handful that is now growing these bacteria directly on electrodes, keeping them alive with electricity and nothing else – neither sugars nor any other kind of nutrient. The highly dangerous equivalent in humans, he says, would be for us to power up by shoving our fingers in a DC electrical socket.

To grow these bacteria, the team collects sediment from the seabed, brings it back to the lab, and inserts electrodes into it.

First they measure the natural voltage across the sediment, before applying a slightly different one. A slightly higher voltage offers an excess of electrons; a slightly lower voltage means the electrode will readily accept electrons from anything willing to pass them off. Bugs in the sediments can either “eat” electrons from the higher voltage, or “breathe” electrons on to the lower-voltage electrode, generating a current. That current is picked up by the researchers as a signal of the type of life they have captured.

"Basically, the idea is to take sediment, stick electrodes inside and then ask ‘OK, who likes this?’," says Nealson.

Shocking breath

At the Goldschmidt geoscience conference in Sacramento, California, last month, Shiue-lin Li of Nealson’s lab presented results of experiments growing electricity breathers in sediment collected from Santa Catalina harbour in California. Yamini Jangir, also from the University of Southern California, presented separate experiments which grew electricity breathers collected from a well in Death Valley in the Mojave Desert in California.

Over at the University of Minnesota in St Paul, Daniel Bond and his colleagues have published experiments showing that they could grow a type of bacteria that harvested electrons from an iron electrode (mBio, That research, says Jangir’s supervisor Moh El-Naggar, may be the most convincing example we have so far of electricity eaters grown on a supply of electrons with no added food.

But Nealson says there is much more to come. His PhD student Annette Rowe has identified up to eight different kinds of bacteria that consume electricity. Those results are being submitted for publication.

Nealson is particularly excited that Rowe has found so many types of electric bacteria, all very different to one another, and none of them anything likeShewanella or Geobacter. “This is huge. What it means is that there’s a whole part of the microbial world that we don’t know about.”

Discovering this hidden biosphere is precisely why Jangir and El-Naggar want to cultivate electric bacteria. “We’re using electrodes to mimic their interactions,” says El-Naggar. “Culturing the ‘unculturables’, if you will.” The researchers plan to install a battery inside a gold mine in South Dakota to see what they can find living down there.

NASA is also interested in things that live deep underground because such organisms often survive on very little energy and they may suggest modes of life in other parts of the solar system.

Electric bacteria could have practical uses here on Earth, however, such as creating biomachines that do useful things like clean up sewage or contaminated groundwater while drawing their own power from their surroundings. Nealson calls them self-powered useful devices, or SPUDs.

Practicality aside, another exciting prospect is to use electric bacteria to probe fundamental questions about life, such as what is the bare minimum of energy needed to maintain life.

For that we need the next stage of experiments, says Yuri Gorby, a microbiologist at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York: bacteria should be grown not on a single electrode but between two. These bacteria would effectively eat electrons from one electrode, use them as a source of energy, and discard them on to the other electrode.

Gorby believes bacterial cells that both eat and breathe electrons will soon be discovered. “An electric bacterium grown between two electrodes could maintain itself virtually forever,” says Gorby. “If nothing is going to eat it or destroy it then, theoretically, we should be able to maintain that organism indefinitely.”

It may also be possible to vary the voltage applied to the electrodes, putting the energetic squeeze on cells to the point at which they are just doing the absolute minimum to stay alive. In this state, the cells may not be able to reproduce or grow, but they would still be able to run repairs on cell machinery. “For them, the work that energy does would be maintaining life – maintaining viability,” says Gorby.

How much juice do you need to keep a living electric bacterium going? Answer that question, and you’ve answered one of the most fundamental existential questions there is.

This article appeared in print under the headline “The electricity eaters”

Leader: ”Spark of life revisited thanks to electric bacteria

Wire in the mud

Electric bacteria come in all shapes and sizes. A few years ago, biologists discovered that some produce hair-like filaments that act as wires, ferrying electrons back and forth between the cells and their wider environment. They dubbed them microbial nanowires.

Lars Peter Nielsen and his colleagues at Aarhus University in Denmark have found that tens of thousands of electric bacteria can join together to form daisy chains that carry electrons over several centimetres – a huge distance for a bacterium only 3 or 4 micrometres long. It means that bacteria living in, say, seabed mud where no oxygen penetrates, can access oxygen dissolved in the seawater simply by holding hands with their friends.

Such bacteria are showing up everywhere we look, says Nielsen. One way to find out if you’re in the presence of these electron munchers is to put clumps of dirt in a shallow dish full of water, and gently swirl it. The dirt should fall apart. If it doesn’t, it’s likely that cables made of bacteria are holding it together.

Nielsen can spot the glimmer of the cables when he pulls soil apart and holds it up to sunlight (see video).

Flexible biocables

It’s more than just a bit of fun. Early work shows that such cables conduct electricity about as well as the wires that connect your toaster to the mains. That could open up interesting research avenues involving flexible, lab-grown biocables.