Google’s ‘Faster’ undersea internet cable goes live

The undersea cable cost $300 million to create and has been in the works since 2014

Internet users in Japan are about to get a speed boost. Google’s 9,000km undersea internet cable from the United States to the country has been ‘switched on’.
The 60 terabits per second capacity “Faster” cable, first announced in 2014, has been completed and “officially entered into service”.

Urs Hölzle, Google’s senior vice president of technical infrastructure, said the cable’s capacity is “more than any active subsea cable” and is “10 million times faster than your cable modem”.

As well as Google, China Mobile International, China Telecom Global, Global Transit, KDDI, SingTel, were all involved in the cable’s creation and laying. The NEC Corporation supplied the systems behind the cable.
It features a “6-fibre-pair cable and optical transmission technologies” and is based at two locations in Japan – Shima and Chikura – with connections in the US extending the system to hubs on the West Coast of the US.

“This cable is the first of its kind, with multiple colours (100) of light transmitted over various frequencies,” Hölzle said in a Google Plus post

“Every ~60km a repeater re-energizes the light as it travels over 9,000km across the ocean floor”.
Google’s ‘Faster’ cable is one of a number of undersea cables that connect the world and form a backbone for the internet. The first cable laid across the Atlantic, which was used for telegram communications, was put in place back in 1906.

How the first cable was laid across the Atlantic

How the first cable was laid across the Atlantic

A global map – in a similar style to London’s Tube map – from TeleGeography shows all the undersea cables currently in operation across the world. The majority of all the cables run around individual countries and continents but there are cables that cover longer distances such as across the Atlantic ocean.

The SEA-ME-WE 3 cable that connects Europe to Australia and Asia is the longest cable in the world. The cable has 39 landing points and is 39,000km in length.
In May, Facebook and Microsoft announced they would be building a new underwater cable across the Atlantic. The Marea cable will offer speeds of 160 terabytes per second and is due to be constructed in 2016.

Marea will feature eight fibre pairs, offer speeds of up to 160 terabytes per seconds and will be the first to connect the US to southern Europe – from Virginia to Bilbao.

The cables don’t always work as planned though. Currents running through oceans can damage the cables as well as fishing trawlers and anchors being dragged along the sea bed, which is exactly what happened to one connecting Northern Ireland in 2015.

The undersea cable broke and it took a crew of 30 people and a giant robot two weeks to repair the cable.

A smarter ‘bionic’ cardiac patch that doubles as advanced pacemaker/arrhythmia detector

“Cardiac patches might one day simply be delivered by injection” — Charles Lieber
June 28, 2016

(a) Schematic of the free-standing macroporous nanoelectronic scaffold with nanowire FET (field effect transistor) arrays (red dots). Inset: one nanowire FET. (b) Folded 3D free-standing scaffolds with four layers of individually addressable FET sensors. (c) Schematic of nanoelectronic scaffold/cardiac tissue resulting from the culturing of cardiac cells within the 3D folded scaffold. Inset: the nanoelectronic sensors (blue circles) innervate the 3D cell network. (credit: Xiaochuan Dai at al./Nature Nanotechnology)

Harvard researchers have designed nanoscale electronic scaffolds (support structures) that can be seeded with cardiac cells to produce a new “bionic” cardiac patch (for replacing damaged cardiac tissue with pre-formed tissue patches). It also functions as a more sophisticated pacemaker: In addition to electrically stimulating the heart, the new design can change the pacemaker stimulation frequency and direction of signal propagation.

In addition, because because its electronic components are integrated throughout the tissue (instead of being located on the surface of the skin), it could detect arrhythmia far sooner, and “operate at far lower (safer) voltages than a normal pacemaker, [which] because it’s on the surface, has to use relatively high voltages,” according to Charles Lieber, the Mark Hyman, Jr. Professor of Chemistry and Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.

Early arrhythmia detection, monitoring responses to cardiac drugs

“Even before a person started to go into large-scale arrhythmia that frequently causes irreversible damage or other heart problems, this could detect the early-stage instabilities and intervene sooner,” he said. “It can also continuously monitor the feedback from the tissue and actively respond.”

The patch might also find use, Lieber said, as a tool to monitor responses to cardiac drugs, or to help pharmaceutical companies screen the effectiveness of drugs under development.

In the long term, Lieber believes, the development of nanoscale tissue scaffolds represents a new paradigm for integrating biology with electronics in a virtually seamless way.

The bionic cardiac patch can also be a unique platform to study the tissue behavior evolving during some developmental processes, such as aging, ischemia, or differentiation of stem cells into mature cardiac cells.

Although the bionic cardiac patch has not yet been implanted in animals, “we are interested in identifying collaborators already investigating cardiac patch implantation to treat myocardial infarction in a rodent model,” he said. “I don’t think it would be difficult to build this into a simpler, easily implantable system.”

Could one day deliver cardiac patch/pacemaker via injection

Using the injectable electronics technology he pioneered last year, Lieber even suggested that similar cardiac patches might one day simply be delivered by injection. “It may actually be that, in the future, this won’t be done with a surgical patch,” he said. “We could simply do a co-injection of cells with the mesh, and it assembles itself inside the body, so it’s less invasive.”

“I think one of the biggest impacts would ultimately be in the area that involves replacement of damaged cardiac tissue with pre-formed tissue patches,” Lieber said. “Rather than simply implanting an engineered patch built on a passive scaffold, our work suggests it will be possible to surgically implant an innervated patch that would now be able to monitor and subtly adjust its performance.”

In the long term, Lieber believes, the development of nanoscale tissue scaffolds represents a new paradigm for integrating biology with electronics in a virtually seamless way.

The study is described in a June 27 paper published in Nature Nanotechnology.

Abstract of Three-dimensional mapping and regulation of action potential propagation in nanoelectronics-innervated tissues

Real-time mapping and manipulation of electrophysiology in three-dimensional (3D) tissues could have important impacts on fundamental scientific and clinical studies, yet realization is hampered by a lack of effective methods. Here we introduce tissue-scaffold-mimicking 3D nanoelectronic arrays consisting of 64 addressable devices with subcellular dimensions and a submillisecond temporal resolution. Real-time extracellular action potential (AP) recordings reveal quantitative maps of AP propagation in 3D cardiac tissues, enable in situtracing of the evolving topology of 3D conducting pathways in developing cardiac tissues and probe the dynamics of AP conduction characteristics in a transient arrhythmia disease model and subsequent tissue self-adaptation. We further demonstrate simultaneous multisite stimulation and mapping to actively manipulate the frequency and direction of AP propagation. These results establish new methodologies for 3D spatiotemporal tissue recording and control, and demonstrate the potential to impact regenerative medicine, pharmacology and electronic therapeutics.

What the rest of Canada can learn about happiness from B.C.

UBC economist John Helliwell commented on the results of a Chateleine survey, which found that 52 per cent of B.C. women claimed to be happier now than they were 10 years ago, compared to a national average of 44 per cent.

He noted that there are more opportunities to exercise and enjoy the outdoors in B.C. “Outdoor activities can provide more connections with friends; but it takes some work,” Helliwell told Chateleine.

Seniors with undiagnosed hearing loss can become isolated


Credit: Flickr

Senior citizens with undiagnosed or untreated hearing problems are more likely to suffer from social isolation and cognitive impairment, a UBC study has found.

UBC Okanagan researchers examined the impact of undiagnosed or untreated hearing issues in seniors aged 60 to 69. The study found that for every 10 decibel (roughly the sound of calm breathing) drop in hearing sensitivity, the odds of social isolation increased by 52 per cent.

Dr. Paul Mick

Dr. Paul Mick

Among the sample of seniors, a ten-decibel reduction of hearing sensitivity was also associated with cognitive declines equivalent to almost four years of chronological aging.

“Hearing loss is often not thought of as a public health issue and as a result there is often not a lot of health care resources that have been put towards testing and hearing support,” says Dr. Paul Mick, a physician and clinical assistant professor at UBC’s Southern Medical Program. “As social isolation has been shown to have similar impacts on mortality rates as smoking and alcohol consumption, this is something we should examine further at both the system and individual patient level.”

Mick’s study examined data collected between 1999 and 2010 by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a survey that samples 5,000 people each year across the United States. The survey examines demographic, socioeconomic, dietary and health-related issues.

Mick said he would like to expand his research to see if interventions such as a hearing screening program similar to what is done for young children could positively impact health outcomes for Canadian seniors.

Mick’s study was recently published in the journal Ear and Hearing.

New Technology Could Deliver Drugs To Brain Injuries

Schematic illustrating how intravenously injected peptide would accumulate at the site of brain injury. Credit Ryan Allen, Second Bay StudiosSchematic illustrating how intravenously injected peptide would accumulate at the site of brain injury. Credit: Ryan Allen, Second Bay Studios

A new study led by scientists at the Sanford BurnhamPrebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) describes atechnology that could lead to new therapeutics fortraumatic brain injuries. The discovery, published todayin Nature Communications, provides a means ofhoming drugs or nanoparticles to injured areas of thebrain.

“We have found a peptide sequence of four amino acids,cysteine, alanine, glutamine, and lysine (CAQK), thatrecognizes injured brain tissue,” said Erkki Ruoslahti,M.D., Ph.D., distinguished professor in SBP’s NCI-Designated Cancer Center and senior author of thestudy. “This peptide could be used to deliver treatments that limit the extent of damage.”

About 2.5 million people in the US sustain traumatic brain injuries each year, usually resulting from carcrashes, falls, and violence. While the initial injury cannot be repaired, the damaging effects of breakingopen brain cells and blood vessels that ensue over the following hours and days can be minimized.

“Current interventions for acute brain injury are aimed at stabilizing the patient by reducingintracranial pressure and maintaining blood flow, but there are no approved drugs to stop the cascadeof events that cause secondary injury,” said Aman Mann, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher in Ruoslahti’slab and first author of the study.

More than one hundred compounds are currently in preclinical tests to lessen brain damage followinginjury. These candidate drugs block the events that cause secondary damage, including inflammation,high levels of free radicals, over-excitation of neurons, and signaling that leads to cell death.

“Our goal was to find an alternative to directly injecting therapeutics into the brain, which is invasiveand can add complications,” explained Ruoslahti. “Using this peptide to deliver drugs means they couldbe administered intravenously, but still reach the site of injury in sufficient quantities to have an effect.”

The CAQK peptide binds to components of the meshwork surrounding brain cells called chondroitinsulfate proteoglycans. Amounts of these large, sugar-decorated proteins increase following brain injury.

“Not only did we show that CAQK carries drug-sized molecules and nanoparticles to damaged areas inmouse models of acute brain injury, we also tested peptide binding to injured human brain samples andfound the same selectivity,” added Mann.

“This peptide could also be used to create tools to identify brain injuries, particularly mild ones, byattaching the peptide to materials that can be detected by medical imaging devices,” Ruoslahticommented. “And, because the peptide can deliver nanoparticles that can be loaded with largemolecules, it could enable enzyme or gene-silencing therapies.”

This platform technology has been licensed by a startup company, AivoCode, which was recentlyawarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation forfurther development and commercialization.

Ruoslahti’s team and their collaborators are currently testing the applications of these findings usinganimal models of other central nervous system (CNS) injuries such as spinal cord injury and multiplesclerosis.

The brain watched during language learning

Learning a new language is a difficult task. It requires skills for memorizing new words, learning how to put those words together in a grammatical way, and integrating them with existing linguistic knowledge. In a new study from researchers at the Donders Institute and Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, these skills were observed through brain imaging as native speakers of Dutch learned an artificial miniature language ‘Alienese’.

Reuse grammatical characteristics

The major discovery was that the brain cares whether or not the grammatical properties of the new language (in this case, word order) resemble the grammatical properties of your native language. If they are similar, your brain uses its own grammar in learning the new language. And if the word order of the new language differs from your mother tongue, your brain needs to build a new grammatical repertoire. For the first time, researchers have shown that it helps the brain if it can reuse characteristics of our mother tongue when learning a new language.

Josa komi oku

Alienese consisted of a set of words like josa ‘woman’, komi ‘man’, and oku ‘to photograph’. These words could be combined in a particular order, which either did or did not conform for Dutch word order. For instance, both sentences Komi oku josa (man photograph woman) and Josa komi oku (woman man photograph) have the meaning “The man photographs the woman”. The former sentence conforms to Dutch word order (and English), but the latter does not. Participants read sentences with familiar and unfamiliar word orders accompanied by pictures depicting the meaning (see image).

Language brain network

When the unfamiliar word orders (josa komi oku) were repeated, brain activation increased within regions of the brain network known to be involved for your native language. Lead author of the study Kirsten Weber proposes, “The enhanced activity might reflect a brain mechanism to build and strengthen a neural network to process novel word order regularities.” When the familiar word order (komi oku josa) was repeated, brain activation decreased in language-related regions. “That we found suppressed activation on the other hand, supports our ideas that a known structure in a novel language quickly behaves like a structure in your native language. Processing a known structure is easier for the brain second time round. As a whole, our study shows that we seem to use the same brain areas for native and new language structures and that Alienese was in the process of being integrated into the participants existing language brain networks.”

Source: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

Anti-smartphones: Why inventors are making bare-bones (but stylish) devices

light phoneThe Light Phone, seen here, is about the size of a credit card, can last up to 20 days on a single charge and only makes phone calls. It’s among a small niche in the phone market that favours stylish design and purposefully lacks bells and whistles. (The Light Phone)

Published Tuesday, June 28, 2016 6:30AM EDT

For those who remember flip phones, there’s something undeniably nostalgic about the simple 90s-era technology. They only buzzed for calls and texts, were free of time-consuming apps and could end conversations with a satisfying snap.

The age of flip phones may be far gone, but a quiet revolution of “anti-smartphones” has recently emerged on the market, offering low-tech but stylish solutions to the purported stressors of modern digital life.

  • See spec details for each “anti-smartphone” below

Light Phone

The Light Phone is a credit-card sized phone that never beeps or vibrates unless someone calls. It is designed to be connected to a user’s primary smartphone and, through an app, forwards phone calls.

MP 01

The MP 01 by Punkt does a little bit more. The Swiss-made device can send and receive texts and phone calls and act as an alarm clock, but that’s it.


Then there’s the circular Runcible, made by Berkeley, Cali.-based company Monohm. Inventors are wary to call the palm-sized device a phone, since it connects to phone services via a separate Bluetooth device, and instead use the term “heirloom electronic.” Designed after the pocket watch, the Runcible still allows users to surf the web or use apps, but it‘s designed to be quiet and never interrupt users.

Throwback appeal

In an era when Apple unveils its newest iPhone models on a yearly basis, why opt for a phone without the latest bells and whistles? CTV technology analyst Carmi Levy says dumbed-down phones have a certain niche appeal, and they aren’t just attractive to elderly consumers anymore.

“Beyond the senior demographic, there’s a bit of a pushback against technology that’s too complex for its own good. And we’re seeing it at the fringes of the phone market in rising demand for simple phones that remind us of days gone by,” Levy told

Devices like Runcible, the Light Phone and MP 01 are directly marketed towards a younger demographic. Both Runcible and the Light Phone began as online crowd-funding initiatives, with backers given a device in return for financial support.

Levy says the phones are “ideal” for younger consumers looking to make a statement with their handheld device.

“There’s probably a small percentage of younger consumers out there who would absolutely love to have something that none of their friends or colleagues have,” Levy said.

“They’re not deliberately cheap, they’re not stripped down, they’re actual design statements … I think they’re just as fashionable as a pair of shoes or that coat that they bought.”

Gauging smartphone stress

The toll of smartphone usage on stress levels has been widely contested, and research on smartphone stress is still in its early stages. But some recent studies suggest that too much screen time could reduce sleep, impact work-life balance and negatively affect brain function.

At McGill University, researchers presented several studies that suggest that reliance on GPS programs – like Google Maps or Apple Maps – can negatively impact a user’s hippocampus, the part of the brain that helps people navigate using visual memory.

Researchers from Michigan State University found that people who checked their smartphones for work-related purposes after 9 p.m. were more tired and less alert at their jobs the next day. Researchers credited their findings to mental stimulation from smartphones that made it difficult for subjects to relax and fall asleep.

Levy insists these anti-smartphones won’t eclipse smartphone sales anytime soon, but he agrees that there’s a certain appeal to bare-bones tech.

“The promise of technology is that it’ll improve our lives, but sometimes we become enslaved to the technology because there’s so much going on,” he said. “A certain part of our brain is always looking for something that is perhaps simpler … and delivers as promised with fewer frustrations.”

Still, Levy says it’s too early to say whether these pared-down devices will take off, simply because they’re so new.

“These will never have mainstream appeal within any demographic within any consumer group, but the question is: is there enough demand? Do they have enough features to keep mainstream millennial consumers interested? And I think for that the question remains unanswered.”

As for the bygone flip phone, there’s some evidence that they aren’t totally extinct. According to recent figures from the International Data Corporation, a U.S. research firm, an additional two million “feature phones” – phones that simply make calls and texts – were sold in 2015 in the U.S., an increase from the previous year.

By the numbers


Light 3

HOW DESIGNERS DESCRIBE IT: “Unlike a basic flip phone, Light won’t allow you to text, email or anything, it is the most simple phone designed specifically to work with your existing smartphone.”

SIZE: 4.5 mm thick (advertised as “the world’s thinnest phone”)

COST: $100 USD

STAGE OF PRODUCTION: Available for pre-order with shipping beginning in the summer of 2016.

APPEAL: Clean design, fits inside wallet, can last 20 days on a single charge.

POSSIBLE DOWNSIDE: Doesn’t support texting,

COLOURS: White, and a black version called “Night” is in the works.



HOW DESIGNERS DESCRIBE IT: “Featuring a first-of-its-kind fully round screen and a palm-sized form factor, Runcible is modeled on devices humans have carried around with them and loved for hundreds or thousands of years: the pocket watch, the compact, the compass, the magical stone in your hand.”

SIZE: 2.5-inch display, fits in the palm of the hand.

COST: $399 to $599 USD, depending on the model

STAGE OF PRODUCTION: Available in fall of 2016, open for pre-order.

APPEAL: Wi-Fi-connectivity, unique wooden backing,

POSSIBLE DOWNSIDE: For those truly looking to disconnect, the allure of Internet connectivity may be a deal-breaker.

COLOURS: Dark grey plastic or wooden backings, including a “Sinker Redwood” salvaged from Mendocino, Cali.

MP 01

MP 01

HOW DESIGNERS DESCRIBE IT: “The Punkt. MP 01 is a stylish, well-crafted mobile phone which focuses on modern simplicity, inside and out. It makes phone calls and sends texts. That’s all.”

SIZE: 14.5 mm thick

COST: $295 USD

STAGE OF PRODUCTION: Available for sale.

APPEAL: “Bespoke ringtones” by Norwegian sound artist Kjetil Røst Nilsen, an alarm clock.

POSSIBLE DOWNSIDE: Users must acquaint themselves with the phone’s keypad shortcuts to access features such as call history, voicemail and hands-free mode.