An ongoing global project to map the human body cell by cell has received a $68 million shot in the arm from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative. It will support dozens of individual projects contributing to the eponymous atlas of human cells.
The Human Cell Atlas is a collection of projects that aim to document healthy human cells at about as detailed a level as is practical. And CZI has been supporting it for a few years in various ways as part of its ongoing philanthropic work in basic research.
In fact CZI announced that it would be backing these 38 three-year projects some time back, along with 85 one-year projects along the same lines. But the grants process moves slowly, since everything has to be approved, estimated and arranged beforehand — it’s rare a scientist or lab just gets a blank check for whatever they feel like doing.
The results of the work and tools created to enable it will be made available freely to other researchers — another priority of CZI is open-source software and data sets.
“We’re excited to further support and build interdisciplinary collaborations that will accelerate progress towards a first draft of the Human Cell Atlas,” said CZI’s head of science Cori Bargmann in a press release. It’s a big job, all right. We’ll check back in a few years to see how they’re getting on.
It’s easy to get jaded about potential signs of life on Mars, but a recent discovery might raise eyebrows. The New York Times has learned that NASA’s Curiosity rover has detected "startlingly high" levels of methane — the gas typically produced by life as we know it. The quantities are still tiny at 21 parts per billion, but that’s three times the amount Curiosity spotted during a surge in 2013. The rover’s operators were reportedly surprised enough to pause regularly scheduled studies to obtain follow-up data, with the additional findings slated to arrive on June 24th.
Just what would produce the methane isn’t clear. It could represent recent or even current microbial life (possibly underground), but it could also geothermal reactions or ages-old methane finally escaping to the surface. The one certainty is that any gas will have appeared relatively recently — reactions with sunlight and chemicals would split the molecules within centuries.
If scientists can confirm the presence of methane, the greater challenge is finding ways to study it in more detail. The Mars 2020 rover and other upcoming vehicles are meant to look for the ingredients of life, but not to verify the possibility of existing life. It could be a long time before there’s a definitive pronouncement on what the gas represents.
We just can’t stay away from our phones, even in the car.
The drive safety app Drivemode looked at driving data from 2.7 million U.S. drivers using Android phones between Jan. 2018 and April 30, 2019 and found that over 167 million miles and 13.3 million hours, Americans use their phone for a better part of an hour in the car on average
Keep in mind, only drivers who had the Drivemode app on their phones were tracked, so these are already fairly connected users who are probably more likely to use a smartphone for various activities in the car. But still, in an hour the average driver surveyed spends some quality time using tech on the phone. During this time they drive about 20 miles at 45 mph, on average. Let’s break it down.
Almost 45 minutes listening to music through the phone
Those 44 minutes are the bulk of phone use in the car (74 percent) with music volume changes twice in that time and playing back the previous song or clicking onto the next nine times. Spotify is the music player of choice 30 percent of the time, followed by Google Play Music 27 percent of the time (these are Android users after all).
Almost 8 minutes talking
Our smartphones are phones first and foremost, but we often forget about that function. Only 12 percent of driving time is spent chatting on the phone.
31.9 seconds sending and listening to voicemail
So Millennials might’ve killed voicemail, but we dedicate a solid 0.8 percent of an hour checking our messages. It’s a hands-free activity listening to messages or leaving someone a voicemail, so easier than texting…
1 text sent, 5 received
We can’t stay away from text messages, but since it’s harder to send a hands-free using voice, we are likely to receive more messages during an hour of driving than we send. Although we have a plethora of texting apps to choose from, standard SMS messages through the phone pulls through the most, accounting for nearly half of all messages. Then it’s almost 24 percent through Whatsapp, followed by 20 percent through Facebook Messenger.
So there you have it: an hour in the car and we’re on the phone or using it most of the time. At least it’s a break from screen time. Eyes on the road.
Not long ago, people in China would need to visit a posh, stylish mall for luxury shopping. That’s rapidly changing as high-end brands race to embrace digital channels, which aren’t just the obvious options of ecommerce platforms or brand-owned sites. In China, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Bulgari and other luxury brands are now connecting and selling to millions of customers through WeChat .
Many know WeChat as China’s largest messaging app, and perhaps how it has over time morphed into an all-in-one ecosystem that lets one chat, run errands, hire services, and shop for an infinite list of things. Now the flurry of different products people find on WeChat may include a $10,000-plus purse.
The trend, according to Pablo Mauron, partner and managing director for China at Digital Luxury Group, a luxury marketing agency, reflects WeChat’s huge potential as an app tailored to transactions and services.
“I think WeChat is finally becoming what it’s supposed to be for luxury brands, which is not just a social media app,” Mauron told TechCrunch over a phone interview. “One [function] could be for customers to buy the product. Another could be for brands to build a loyalty program. Customers can pre-order a product or set up an appointment with the [offline] store.”
Indeed, according to a new report from market research firm Gartner L2, 60% of the fashion luxury brands it surveyed have at least one WeChat store, surging from just 36% in 2018.
Like Facebook, WeChat allows businesses to set up their online shops. The Chinese app now boasts more than 1 billion monthly users, but these people aren’t readily exploitable as customers. WeChat, unlike Alibaba, isn’t a marketplace and does not have a central search engine that indexes all the merchants selling over its platform.
A WeChat store is thus more comparable to a site store — it exists in the online universe but requires a lot of marketing before consumers stumble upon it. People may discover Wechat stores by scanning a QR code at a brick-and-mortar outlet, clicking on an ad embedded in an online article or through a slew of other creative ways that merchants devise.
Despite the challenges in driving traffic, WeChat stores hold great appeal to brands for they offer a large toolbox for boosting customer loyalty, observed Mauron.
Shoppers can, for instance, talk to shop assistants over WeChat or check their membership status with just a few taps on the screen. It’s the social prowess of WeChat that separates it from entrenched ecommerce candidates like Alibaba and JD.com, which focus more on transactions. In a way, WeChat is not directly taking on Alibaba but playing a complementary role by providing customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities.
Screenshot of Louis Vuitton’s WeChat mini app for customers in China
A lot of these service-oriented features are powered by so-called “mini programs,” which are essentially stripped-down versions of native apps that run within a super app such as WeChat. As the Gartner L2 report points out, the rise in WeChat store adoption is linked to the increased use of mini programs by luxury brands.
A total of 69% the luxury brands in the sample group have at least one mini program. The adoption rate among fashion-focused luxury brands grew from 40% in 2018 to 70% in 2019, while the watch and jewelry category climbed from 36% to 62% over the same time period.
“WeChat is becoming the most appealing option for brands that want to think about CRM, ecommerce strategies or simply other value-added services without having to rely on external partners,” Mauron suggested, referring to Alibaba, JD and others that are traditionally the more popular choices for digital sales.
From social to shopping
While WeChat imposes certain rules on sellers, it’s built a reputation for being more laissez-faire compared to conventional ecommerce companies. For one, WeChat doesn’t (yet) take commissions from ecommerce transactions as online marketplaces normally do. As Mauron noted, “Tencent’s business model is not so much about making money out of the mini program transactions.”
On the other hand, WeChat’s e-wallet WeChat Pay benefits from processing transactions happening inside the chat app where Alibaba’s Alipay isn’t available.
That’s a crucial development because WeChat Pay has been for the most part associated with micropayments, thanks to a series of early campaigns that encouraged people to send cash-filled digital packets to each other, a tradition deep-rooted in a culture of exchanging cash during holidays.
Alipay, by contrast, is more extensively used for online shopping given its ties to Alibaba.
With the rise of mini app-enabled ecommerce, however, people are starting to use WeChat Pay for big-item purchases too.
“This allows WeChat to take market share in online payments. That’s the other big battle, which is between Alipay and WeChat Pay,” said Mauron.
When Tesla deployed its new TeslaCam and Sentry Mode features, it basically enabled millions of cameras (8 per car) installed on its vehicles to capture videos of their surroundings.
Those cameras are now capturing some crazy things. Here are some of the videos:
In September of last year, Tesla released a software update to enable owners of vehicles with Autopilot hardware to use the Autopilot cameras to record footage when needed – like a dashcam – hence why they called the feature: “TeslaCam“.
Building on its previously released dashcam feature, Tesla enabled the use of more cameras around the vehicle and activated a “stand-by” parking mode earlier this year.
The feature became Sentry Mode, which also includes an alarm and notification system to deter thieves even more — efficiently creating a system to watch over Tesla vehicles when their owners are not around.
It was first developed to address a growing problem with break-ins that Tesla owners were dealing with especially in California, but you film enough and you start capturing other things that have nothing to do with break-ins.
The two features combined have to result in hundreds of thousands of Tesla vehicles potentially recording people all over the world.
It is now recording some crazy things, which we reported on in a previous post in April.
Now here are some more things captured by TeslaCam and Sentry Mode over the past few months:
TeslaCam and Sentry Mode videos
Either this man doesn’t like the look of that Tesla or there’s a problem with the vehicle that makes it an extremely powerful grocery cart magnet:
Of course, the idea behind those features was to provide some video evidence in case something happens to your Tesla, but it also has an impact on other drivers.
It instantly added dashcams to an incredible number of vehicles and some owners of those vehicles are making the feature useful to other drivers who could need the footage.
Like this Tesla driver in San Antonio who captured this accident on his TeslaCam:
The Tesla owner, Venumadhav Kanaparthy, said:
“This accident happened just before me in San Antonio TX. I talked to both drivers and offered the video recorded in TeslaCam.”
It is also recording other things on the road that don’t really impact the Tesla vehicles, like this pile-up of SUVs for example:
Another interesting consequence of the feature that might not have been intended: it captures instances where Autopilot might have helped prevent accidents.
For example, here’s a TeslaCam video showing Autopilot’s side-collision avoidance feature moving away from a possible crash just when a merging vehicle was only a few centimeters away:
We have been seeing a lot more of those videos lately and more are expected as Tesla improves Autopilot and more Tesla owners start using the TeslaCam feature.
Another unintended benefit of those features: it captures unrelated funny things.
There are already a bunch of weird/funny Tesla Sentry Mode videos out there, but this one might be my favorite: sentry mode catches the girlfriend of a Model 3 owner “airing” a fart before going inside the car:
When 19-year-old pop artist released her summer 2019 song “Superfruit,” her fans quickly posted it to their Instagram stories.
She encouraged it. “My audience is my publicity team, and when people share songs on Instagram, it helps so much,” she says. “With ‘Superfruit,’ over 100 people shared it on their stories. That’s a network of maybe 100,000 people. Not all of them look, but even if a few people do, that’s amazing,” Latour says. “Superfruit” now has upwards of 250,000 streams on Spotify.
Instagram began allowing users to share album covers and Spotify links to music on their stories in May 2018. But in recent months, the feature has grown increasingly popular. More and more, it seems that Instagram is becoming a place for discovery, while Spotify is more the place you go to listen and catalog those discoveries.
Tyler Dial is a 23-year-old country artist who says a lot of his fans have found him on Instagram. He, too, hopes people share his music on their stories when he releases a new song. He tells Mashable, “A big push is when you have new music out, and you want people to post it and talk about it.”
For many, Instagram is now their most effective method of finding new music. “I have noticed more people doing this,” Josie Milisci, a freshman at The University of Texas Austin, tells Mashable. She says she finds more new songs on Instagram than on Spotify because she “generally [doesn’t] like the music Spotify recommends.”
‘People are sharing the music they listen to on Instagram to establish their own identities.’
“I feel like [Spotify] is an outdated algorithm based on genre,” she says, noting that she cares more about the messages in the songs she listens to than the category of music they fall into. On the other hand, the stories she sees from her friends on Instagram “usually focus on music that suits a memory or an emotion,” and she believes that helps her connect with her friends.
“People are sharing the music they listen to on Instagram to establish their own identities,” she says.
As an example, Milisci points to a day when one of her friends shared a “scathing break up song” by on her Instagram story after ending it with her boyfriend.
Milisci clicked on the song and liked it herself. Now, King Princess is one of her favorite artists.
It’s not ultra-famous pop stars she and her friends are looking for on their friends’ Instagram stories. Everyone already knows when Taylor Swift releases a new song, and no one needs Instagram to find it. Instead, Milisci has found a lot of up-and-coming or lesser known artists through Instagram stories.
Malavika Vivek, a recent high school graduate and a solutions architect at a software company, also says Instagram has been the way she’s discovered some of her favorite songs recently. “People used to post music with pictures, but now people are just posting the music they’re listening to, and I’ve gotten a lot of new music from Instagram.”
Vivek says her playlist generally consists of songs she first heard on the radio. But while she was overseas a couple months ago, she couldn’t listen to her favorite station.
“Lizzo was becoming popular while I was away, but I wouldn’t have known about her without Instagram,” Vivek says. “One of my friends posted one of her songs on their Instagram story, I listened to it, and now she’s one of my favorite artists.”
People like to listen to songs they see their friends post on Instagram because the recommendations are personal. “With a Spotify playlist based on your music, you’ll like maybe one in 10 of the new songs it recommends. But if someone whose music tastes I like posts a song on their story, I always look into that song. There’s more of a connection there,” Latour says, echoing Milisci.
Vivek, Milisci, and Latour all think music sharing has a lot of potential to grow on Instagram.
“Instagram is one of the popular apps for our generation, so I think the move to include music on the platform was a brilliant idea, and I think it’s going to become something that’s increasingly popular,” Vivek
Milisci only sees music sharing on Instagram becoming more common as well. “As more people use it, it will become more popular,” she says, referencing the ability to add an album cover and a Spotify link to a story.
I’m getting all of my new music from people’s Instagram stories now so that’s cool
To be sure, not everyone thinks Instagram will lead the way in music discovery. Tori Husain, an incoming first-year at New York University, says she’s found quite a few new artists and songs on Instagram.
“I found both Jon Bellion and Kota The Friend on Instagram, and Jon Bellion is now one of my favorite artists,” she tells Mashable.
In terms of where she finds most of the music on her playlist, Husain says it’s a mix of Spotify and “I guess Instagram now.”
But despite this, she thinks the platform is getting too cluttered and additional music features would only make this problem worse. “It’s just all getting too much,” Husain says. She misses the days when Instagram was just photos and short video. “You look at IGTV, and no ones uses that. That didn’t take off, and lots of people who use the app probably haven’t even heard of it. Now they’re adding shopping, and we don’t know how that will do,” she says. “If Instagram expanded more on music, I’m not sure if people would actually use it.”
Instagram is betting on the opposite. Devi Narasimhan, an Instagram spokesperson didn’t share statistics with Mashable on any uptick in use of music features on Instagram, but he does say the company is “working to give people more ways to share their moments and interact with each other using music.”
Latour, for one, thinks there is space for music in the social media arena. “I’ve always thought there is a niche for music sharing on social media. [Instagram is] definitely working on it, but I think there’s definitely room for more,” she says.
Bill Gates has spoken candidly about his regrets as the leader of Microsoft, most particularly the company’s attempts to build a dominant mobile OS. As reported by The Verge, during an interview at venture capital firm Village Global, Gates said "the greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is."
When the first Android handset came along in 2008, Google’s mobile platform became an open alternative to the iPhone, which was released in 2007. Microsoft tried, but ultimately failed, to adapt to the competition.
As Microsoft was the dominant force in desktop software at the time, it should have meant that the company would be a big player in mobile as well. Microsoft did have a phone platform, Windows Mobile, but it was centered on keyboard and stylus input. By the time the touch-friendly Windows Phone 7 launched in 2010, it was too late for Microsoft to gain traction. It limped along with low market share for years, until Microsoft ended support for the OS in 2017. It will end support for Windows Phone’s successor, Windows 10 Mobile, later this year.
"Android is the standard non-Apple phone platform," Gates later noted in the interview (embedded above). "That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win. It really is winner take all. If you’re there with half as many apps or 90 percent as many apps, you’re on your way to complete doom. There’s room for exactly one."
This wasn’t Gates’ fault personally, as he stepped down from his role as CEO in 2000. He continued as a part-time chairman and chief software architect for over a decade but left these roles to pursue philanthropic work.
Still, it’s clear that Gates feels regret over the failure of Microsoft to capture the mobile market. "There’s room for exactly one non-Apple operating system," he said, and pointed out that this alternative operating system was worth the equivalent of $400 billion.