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  • jkabtech 4:30 am on January 14, 2016 Permalink |
    Tags: , discovered, disorders, Newly, plasticity, stressrelated,   

    Newly discovered windows of brain plasticity may help stress-related disorders 

    Chronic stress can lead to changes in neural circuitry that leave the brain trapped in states of anxiety and depression. But even under repeated stress, brief opportunities for recovery can open up, according to new research at The Rockefeller University.

    “Even after a long period of chronic stress, the brain retains the ability to change and adapt. In experiments with mice, we discovered the mechanism that alters expression of key glutamate-controlling genes to make windows of stress-related neuroplasticity–and potential recovery–possible,” says senior author Bruce McEwen, Alfred E. Mirsky Professor, and head of the Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology. Glutamate is a chemical signal implicated in stress-related disorders, including depression.

    “This sensitive window could provide an opportunity for treatment, when the brain is most responsive to efforts to restore neural circuitry in the affected areas,” he adds.

    The team, including McEwen and first author Carla Nasca, wanted to know how a history of stress could alter the brain’s response to further stress. To find out, they accustomed mice to a daily experience they dislike, confinement in a small space for a short period. On the 22nd day, they introduced some of those mice to a new stressor; others received the now-familiar confinement.

    Then, the researchers tested both groups for anxiety- or depression-like behaviors. A telling split emerged: Mice tested shortly after the receiving the familiar stressor showed fewer of those behaviors; meanwhile those given the unfamiliar stressor, displayed more. The difference was transitory, however; by 24 hours after the final stressor, the behavioral improvements seen in half of the mice had disappeared.

    Molecular analyses revealed a parallel fluctuation in a part of the hippocampus, a brain region involved in the stress response. A key molecule, mGlu2, which tamps down the release of the neurotransmitter glutamate, increased temporarily in mice subjected to the familiar confinement stress. Meanwhile, a molecular glutamate booster, NMDA, increased in other mice that experienced the unfamiliar stressor. In stress-related disorders, excessive glutamate causes harmful structural changes in the brain.

    The researchers also identified the molecule regulating the regulator, an enzyme called P300. By adding chemical groups to proteins known as histones, which give support and structure to DNA, P300 increases expression of mGlu2, they found.

    In other experiments, they looked at mice genetically engineered to carry a genetic variant associated with development of depression and other stress-related disorders in humans, and present in 33 percent of the population.

    “Here again, in experiments relevant to humans, we saw the same window of plasticity, with the same up-then-down fluctuations in mGlu2 and P300 in the hippocampus,” Nasca says. “This result suggests we can take advantage of these windows of plasticity through treatments, including the next generation of drugs, such as acetyl carnitine, that target mGlu2–not to ‘roll back the clock’ but rather to change the trajectory of such brain plasticity toward more positive directions.”

    View the original article here

  • jkabtech 12:26 am on January 14, 2016 Permalink |
    Tags: ,   

    Make a Doom level, part 2: design 

    Part 1: the basics · Part 2: design · Part 3: cheating

    I assume you’ve read the introduction, which tells you the basics of putting a world together.

    This post is more narrative than mechanical; it’s a tour of my thought process as I try to turn my previous map into something a little more fun to play. I still touch on new editing things I do, but honestly, you already know the bulk of how to use an editor. Poke through SLADE’s keybindings (Edit ? Preferences ? Input) to see what hidden gems it has, click that “Show All” checkbox in the prop panel, and go wild. But please do comment if I blatantly forgot to explain something new.

    (Fair warning: NVidia’s recent Linux drivers seem to have a bug that spontaneously crashes programs using OpenGL. SLADE is one such program. So if any of the screenshots seem to be slightly inconsistent, it’s probably because the editor crashed and I had to redo some work and it didn’t come out exactly the same.)

    I have to say upfront: I’m far from being an expert on design. I haven’t even released a Doom map, aside from the one attached to the previous post. I have no qualifications whatsoever. That means we can learn about it together!

    I admit also that my initial design instincts are terrible. I want to make lots of flat rectangles, aligned to the grid. It turns out that’s not very interesting. I wish I still had a copy of the very first map I made, some fifteen years ago now: every room was rectangular, every hallway was 64×64, every encounter had monsters packed in so neatly that they couldn’t even move sometimes.

    I guess tidiness, neatness, and regularity don’t make for very interesting map. So what does? I went hunting for some answers.

    John Romero, who created episode 1 of the original Doom, had a literal set of rules that I’m just going to paste straight from the Doom wiki:

    always changing floor height when I wanted to change floor texturesusing special border textures between different wall segments and doorwaysbeing strict about texture alignmentconscious use of contrast everywhere in a level between light and dark areas, cramped and open areasmaking sure that if a player could see outside that they should be able to somehow get therebeing strict about designing several secret areas on every levelmaking my levels flow so the player will revisit areas several times so they will better understand the 3D space of the levelcreating easily recognizable landmarks in several places for easier navigation

    That’s some good stuff, and you can see it in the episode 1 maps. (If you’re not familiar, here are some projections of them.) There are lots of loops, big unique central areas, windows that look into other places. Truly, this is the formula for a good map.

    But, hang on. Romero only did episode 1 of the original Doom, and half a dozen maps in Doom II. Who is responsible for the others?

    Yeah, him.

    Sandy Petersen is a Lovecraft-inspired madman who created the entire other two episodes of Doom in ten weeks. He also did more than half of Doom II, which is of particular interest to me, since that’s where my nostalgia lies. A quick perusal of the levels he designed reveals that all the ones that stick out to me are Sandy’s.

    And yet, according to Masters of Doom,

    His levels were not nearly as aesthetically pleasing as Romero’s; in fact, some of the id guys thought they were downright ugly, but they were undeniably fun and fiendish.

    You might even argue that while Romero’s levels were elegant and flowed around each other, Sandy’s were bizarre mishmashes. Slough of Despair is just a big hand. Tricks and Traps is eight different rooms containing different weird little gimmicks. Downtown is a group of unconnected buildings with various ideas in them. So is Suburbs. And so is Industrial Zone — but that one was actually Romero! Surprise:

    I loved it most when I’d try some weird experimental thing. Then John Carmack would berate me for stretching the engine too far. Then Romero, McGee, and Green would do a bunch of levels imitating it, because they liked it. Then John Carmack would change the engine. One good example was when I did a whole outdoors level, set in a city. Then everyone else had to make one.

    I love this story. Sandy just went and did something bizarre, and it was unique enough that it inspired everyone else. Game culture tends to talk derisively about “gimmicks”, but I think a well-done gimmick is a fabulous thing.

    Alas, I’m not sure this helps me — “do something bizarre” is not very concrete advice.

    In an attempt to absorb some of whatever made Doom II stand out to me, I started a project of reimagining individual levels, but larger and with fancy ZDoom features. I was explaining this to my artist partner Mel, and went to show them the first level of Doom II.

    The iconic opening view of Doom II

    They immediately commented about how everything in this opening shot draws the player’s eye to where they’re supposed to go. The hallway is the brightest thing on the screen, and the gradient of light makes it seem to glow. The walls are a bright green in an otherwise grungy brown room. The corners of the triangular steps literally point you in that direction. The two pillars frame the whole scene.

    If this were a painting rather than an 3D world, well, you could do worse.

    This is an incredible revelation that I still haven’t fully wrapped my head around. Level design requires the same kind of composition that goes into any other kind of art. You want landmarks, so the viewer knows what’s important and what’s not. You want hidden details, to reward viewers who pay closer attention. You want things to connect together and be revisited, so the world seems to evolve as the viewer spends more time with it. You want variation, so the viewer can tell the “background” from the “foreground”.

    These are the same principles you might apply to any visual work, just interpreted differently. You can find the same ideas in good novels, or even non-fiction, or even this very blog post — landmarks, details, connections. so for the most part, it’s really all about…

    Contrast is how we make any sense of the world. We look for differences and carve stuff up into groups based on those differences. Order is boring — and sometimes boring is what you want — but contrast is interesting.

    Almost all of Romero’s rules are about managing contrast. Contrast between floor height. Contrast between textures. Contrast between light and dark. Contrast between cramped and open. Contrast between required, optional, and secret. Contrast between your initial perception of an area and the way you understand it when you revisit. Contrast between landmarks and filler.

    You don’t want too much contrast, of course, or the result will be chaotic and confusing — so the hard part is figuring out how to make effective use of contrast. It should guide the player around your space, emphasizing things that are important and filling in spaces with more subdued details.

    Paint a picture, weave a story. Which reminds me:

    I’ve had a blast listening to Liz Ryerson’s Doom Mixtape series, in which she plays through a community map and just talks about its design and game culture. I hesitate to even call this a Let’s Play, since the voiceover isn’t so much about the map as about its relation to Doom modding, the Doom community, and the larger gaming community. It’s super interesting and I like to just play old episodes in the background while I’m fiddling with a map.

    She often touches on narrative elements, which are something I realized I really love a few years ago. I don’t know if she’d put it this way, but I think of it as any details that make a world feel like it exists independently of the player, as opposed to being an obstacle course specifically carved out just for you. The feeling that there’s just stuff going on, that the universe isn’t centered on you, that interesting things would still be happening even if you weren’t here. A fantastic example is when the exit of one level continues smoothly into the beginning of the next; it makes the world feel so much more connected, rather than just a pile of one-off maps, but virtually no one does this.

    In a way this is at odds with the Petersen approach to mapping — one of my complaints about the Doom II progression is that several of the early levels (supposedly uncorrupted regular Earth places) are so abstract as to be meaningless. What is Dead Simple, this isolated courtyard where the only goal is to kill all the monsters? What would it have been if Doomguy had never passed through? That kind of disconnected feeling fits much better in the later Hell levels, but it’s pretty jarring to see only two slots after The Waste Tunnels, which do a good job of suggesting… waste tunnels.

    Through Doom Mixtape (possibly via YouTube’s autoplay?) I also stumbled upon Antroid’s blind Let’s Play of Doom II The Way Id Did, which is exactly what it sounds like. Doom II The Way Id Did was a community project to create a whole new set of maps that drew inspiration specifically from the way the original level designers approached the levels, so it’s pretty interesting to see someone who cares about design play through them all. The leader of the project (I think) also chimes in. Antroid cares about narrative too, which is great for me, though he and Liz are diametrically opposed on the hot topic of texture alignment.

    Antroid has also LP’d Knee-Deep in Phobos, another map set that he had some thoughtful criticism on, and DTS-T which is a bit more goofy.

    You may also be interested in this IGN interview with John Romero which takes place while Romero plays through the first episode of Doom, which he designed.

    Right, yes, that would be nice. I’m going to keep building on top of the map I started last time, with the aim of turning it into a more respectable level. You may recall it looks like this:

    When we last left our hero...

    I have a tiny outdoor area with lava, a hallway with the ambiguous “star” texture, and a gray brick room I didn’t even bother retexturing. All of this is entirely arbitrary and a matter of taste, of course, but several things strike me.

    I already have three contrasting themes here, which could play against one another.I have a place you revisit, but it’s just meaningless backtracking at the moment.There aren’t any real landmarks to speak of, though of course the map is small enough not to need them.

    I want to take the advantage I’ve already got and run with it, so I’ll just say I have a base built into a volcano, on top of an old tomb.

    Does that make sense? Maybe not. But who cares? Doom is abstract — don’t worry too much about looking “real”. (I’m just gonna bold the more concrete tips I have.) If you wanted hyper-realistic detail, you’re probably using the wrong engine. Your goal here is to hint enough at a place that the player can fill in the gaps with their imagination, without ever consciously thinking about it. Trying too hard to create a “real” place may even backfire, if you develop a complex design in your head and then find out that Doom simply can’t express most of it.

    So my first thought is to expand the outside area into a sort of volcanic crater. A really big chamber filled with lava should definitely work as a landmark. The red key can stay where it is, on a platform in the middle of the lava, except I want the platform to be a tall spire. I can figure out how to get there later.

    Make the space bigger than you need! I always make everything too small (remember my ancient impulse to box everything in neatly), and I always regret it. It’s much easier to deal with extra space at the end than to keep having to create new space in the middle of a map.

    All I did was draw a squiggly area here. When I’m reshaping an existing area, I like to go into vertex mode, make one of the existing lines horizontal or vertical, add a bunch of vertices all along that line, and then drag them around to shape the room. You can also just draw a new outline around it, of course, but that’s not as fun. (You can join sectors together by selecting them and pressing J. The final sector will have the properties of the first sector you selected.)

    Drawing a volcano The volcano in 3D

    I put the red key spire at about the right height to catch the player’s eye when they walk outside. It would be more obvious if I changed it to the blue key, but I like that red fits the volcano theme out here. Keycards blink, so that should help.

    With the raised ceilings in the middle, I made a conscious effort not to just redraw the outer edge, but smaller. That looks artificial. Instead I tried to make the inner shape a little smoother, and I aimed to put its vertices near the midpoints of some of the outer lines.

    I think Romero said in that IGN interview that he details as he builds the map, but when I do that I get myself into trouble. Detailing is fun for sure, but if you change your mind about an area or need to move it around just a little bit, the details are a huge pain in the ass. At best, you have to destroy them all and recreate them. (Remember the crate!) Maybe it’d be easier if I were better at this and could be confident in my design from the get-go, but at least for now, I’m going to carve it out fairly rough and worry about making it pretty later.

    This is still a dead end, alas. I do like that little nook in the southwest corner, a bit out of sight. Something else I struggle to remember is to not always make a whole room immediately visible or accessible. It feels so counter-intuitive — surely I want my design to be obvious and clear! But too obvious and too clear are also boring, as there’s nothing left for the player to explore. Also, more practically, there’s nowhere to hide monsters or secrets.

    So I think I’m going to put an alcove in that nook. I want to have a switch, too, for affecting this volcano in some way. Otherwise there’s no point to going there!

    Switches are a great thing. They give the player something to do, and they give the feeling that the world reacts to the player’s actions. This switch will probably be for progression, but sometimes it’s nice to have switches that aren’t particularly important, just for a bit of contrast. Doom II is full of doors and lifts that use switch textures right on the side, or rooms that open up once you press a readily-accessible switch.

    Creating an alcove with a switch

    That’s SW1GARG, if you’re wondering. I’m mostly using it for its rough metal background, which seems to fit this room. I didn’t want the switch to be a full 128 units high, so I made it about 72 high instead, and played with the switch texture’s vertical offset to get it to a nice height. I used METAL, a texture with two columns of rivets, for the sides and top.

    That switch is a little too orthogonal, I think, so I’m going to switch to sector mode, select it, and use Edit Objects to rotate it 45°. That’ll give me a diagonal line 64 units long (the width of the switch texture), which would’ve been a huge pain to draw by hand.

    Using Edit Objects to rotate a sector Hm, this floor isn't quite right

    Oops, that looks a little funny, since floor and ceiling textures follow the map grid. The player isn’t likely to see it in play, but I’m going to fix it anyway, by setting the floor rotation to 45. Rotating the floor actually rotates the entire map grid around (0, 0), so the texture was still a bit misaligned for me, and I had to play with the offsets a bit to make it look right. By default, the offsets are changed with the numpad — in increments of 8 with numlock on, and increments of 1 with it off. I have this rebound to the arrow keys for 8, or with Shift held down for 1. Also I’d like SLADE to be able to do this particular operation automatically, which maybe it will sometime.

    Anyway! I haven’t made this switch actually do anything yet, but first, let’s figure out how the player gets over here. It seems reasonable that they might come through some tech stuff, but that’s a long way to walk, so I’ll put a little more cave too. I don’t know what’s going here yet; I’m just drawing some shapes.

    Drawing some areas to connect around the bottom

    I’m pretty tired of that gray brick floor texture. I want to replace the hallway with tiles (FLOOR3_3) that match the walls, and I’ll continue them on into that first big room.

    Changing the floor texture

    I don’t want both rooms to have that floor, though. I’m also a little tired of this tan wall. So how about I make the other room STARGR2, the gray equivalent? Then I can use FLOOR0_6 for the floor. (Around this point you might benefit from changing the sort order in the texture dialog to “Usage Count”, which puts the textures you’ve used most frequently at the beginning of the list.)

    Ah, but wait. One of Romero’s rules is that a change in floor texture means a change in floor height. I can get behind that. I need a change in floor height anyway, because I made my alcove a little higher than the starting floor. So I’ll add a few steps between the two rooms, and throw in a big door as well. I’ll even make the door bronze on one side and gray on the other, to match the room you enter into.

    (You may notice I don’t ever say anything about ceilings. I’m half-convinced that the ceiling texture just doesn’t really matter. What ceiling does any area anywhere in Doom or Doom II have? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Valve has a rule of players don’t look up for good reason.)

    I’ll also add the door on the other side, leading into the cave. The floor texture changes here, which means I need a change in floor height! I made the cave floor a little lower, so you step down out of the “building”. (Hint: you can draw lines to carve up an area however you want, then hop into sector mode and Delete some of the pieces. You’ll be left with a void surrounded by one-sided walls. If you carve too much, you can always rejoin sectors with J.)

    Making some steps The outer corner, where base meets cave Geometry of the second room

    That’s all well and good, but what do I put in these empty boxes? Ah, that’s the hard part.

    This is the part where I start to feel really conspicuous, because it’s the part where I always get stuck. I can think up individual gimmicks, and I can roughly carve out some types of areas, sure. But the meat of a map is the series of spaces you move through, and I haven’t really wrapped my head around how to even approach designing such a space.

    It’s a little awkward, then, that I find myself sitting here trying to give you advice on doing just that.

    Well, let’s see. I want contrast. That’s pretty open-ended — anything might be contrast. What I really want are some building blocks that help to provide contrast. How do my favorite maps carve up spaces? Smaller structures in a larger space come to mind, with the extreme example being city maps. Also, raised walkways that you can’t reach initially.

    Okay, that at least puts a basic idea in my head. I’m going to put a magma chamber in the middle of my room, and I’m going to put a walkway on either side of it to cut the room in half. The chamber will have doors on either side, but I’ll stick a monster in there so you can’t just barrel straight through. The walkway also gives me a place to stick some baddies.

    I’ll draw some of these areas, then delete the extra space in the middle, leaving solid walls behind. Then I just need some doors and texture work. Remember to unpeg walls with holes cut into them, like the walls above and below the doors, and lower unpeg the door tracks. I’m using DOOR1 here, which is a little squat door 72 units tall, but you can of course do whatever.

    I’m also sticking a small platform with a super shotgun in the middle of the room. I’m using CEIL1_2, which despite the name, is pretty commonly used as a floor texture for a raised square platform with an item on it. The walls are SUPPORT3, another very common go-to for raised metal platforms (like most teleporter pads).

    When all is said and done…

    Drawing the magma chamber Deleting the walls of the magma chamber Textured magma chamber Inside of the magma chamber

    You may notice that I’m using that same trick from last time to make the lava brighter than the room itself. I did it with the raised platform, too, though not as intensely.

    Lighting is really important for adding atmosphere to Doom. Compare that opening shot of Doom II with the same thing in fullbright:

    MAP01 again MAP01, in fullbright

    Wow! That looks like some hot garbage.

    You can’t just rely on the engine to do it for you, either, because the engine… doesn’t. There is no casting of shadows in Doom, whatsoever. No dynamic lighting, no light sources at all. (This isn’t true in GZDoom, which actually makes several stock Doom objects cast their own light, but the effect is fairly minor so as to not ruin the deliberate lighting of Doom maps.) The only lighting you get is the light level of sectors. Even the light level of a wall is just the light level of the sector it faces.

    So if you want to have a large outdoor area with some buildings casting shadows, you have to actually draw the shadows as separate sectors on the ground and make them darker. Even ZDoom’s fanciest lighting tricks can only give you slightly better tools for doing manual lighting, like separate floor and ceiling lighting. (In vanilla Doom, you might fake the lava trick by drawing a very thin outer lava sector that’s dark, so the walls are also dark, and then just making the inner area bright. The ceiling would also be bright, but oh well!) If you want a smooth lighting transition, well, you just have to draw a lot of thin sectors and give them all slightly different light levels.

    I don’t have a lot else to say about lighting. Like everything else design-related, it’s just something you have to learn, and I’m still doing that. Look at maps you like, play around, see what works and what doesn’t.

    Abrupt transition! The entrance of this map doesn’t make a lot of sense as I have it right now. The player starts in the middle of a hallway with monsters facing their back and most stuff in front of them. Doom’s spawn points often don’t make any sense, but this is particularly silly.

    The spawn point, in the middle of the action

    Well, that’s easy enough. I can just stick the player at the north end of the hallway, facing downwards.

    Or… I could do something a little more interesting. I do like starting areas that give the impression I actually got here somehow. All that narrative stuff, remember. A dead-end hallway is not too great at establishing that feeling. Lots of Doom II levels just stick an unopenable DOOR2 behind you (which is weird since you don’t go out through that door at the end of any levels), but I can do better. Also I want to show you the sky hack.

    This is a volcano, so I assume it has a side somewhere out there. I’ll say you climbed up the side and are facing the entrance of this weird volcano base. I guess I’ll start by drawing a squiggly area and sticking some textures on it. Then I’ll put a little building in one corner.

    A new spawn area Creating an entrance

    Hmm. This looks pretty goofy. Having all the walls of a room be the same height is certainly reasonably, but this is outside. What can I do about this?

    Enter the sky hack, arguably the Doom engine’s only special effect. The sky hack is that when two neighboring sectors both use F_SKY1, the upper wall between them isn’t drawn.

    Rough illustration of the sky hack

    This is kind of weird, so let me just do it and show you what happens. I’m going to draw a border of two sectors around this outside area. Both rings will have a floor height 64 units higher than the area’s floor. The outer ring’s ceiling will touch the floor (like a closed door), and the inner ring will have the same ceiling height as the area itself.

    Drawing some outer sectors Sky hack, visualized Sky hack, without the sky

    The last screenshot is exactly the same geometry, but with a different ceiling so you can see what the sky hack actually does. Those “missing” textures are the upper parts of the lines between the two rings, where the ceiling height changes. When both rings use the sky texture, the sky hack kicks in, and Doom doesn’t even try to draw those upper parts. It just lets the sky show through. Using this, we can create the illusion of a tall building surrounded by lower walls.

    It’s not strictly necessary to even have two rings, but there are two advantages. One, if the player happens to catch a glance over the top of the shorter wall, they’ll see the floor of the inner ring, rather than an abrupt cut to sky. Two, it lets me extend the wall of the building beyond the wall of the “courtyard”, so it looks like it has some depth.

    You may notice I just made the far outer wall a square, because it doesn’t actually matter — it’ll never appear to the player. I also marked those lines “Not On Map”, meaning they’ll never appear on the automap.

    The sky hack has plenty of limitations, of course. If you need multiple buildings made of one-sided lines (because, say, they have doors in them), they’ll all generally have to be the same height: the true height of the outdoor area. And if you want a building shorter than the outer walls, you’re gonna have a bad time. Remember, the sky hack doesn’t actually make a wall “invisible”, it just draws the sky instead. So if you put a sector with a low sky inside a sector with a higher one… well, that doesn’t work out so well.

    Sky hack doesn't work with short structures

    You might also think it would be nice to show the sides of the volcano behind the building, but I can’t do that, for the same reason — you can’t make them visible “above” the building, because you’re not actually looking above the building, you’re looking at the ceiling in front of it.

    This will do for now, though. I’m moving the player start to the outdoor area, and we are good to go. Er, almost. I made the outdoor area much higher than the indoor area, to flimsily simulate being on the outside of the volcano, so we need a way down. I’m going to make a lift.

    It’s pretty typical to use STEP1 or STEP2 as the base of a lift, so the player knows what it is. Similarly, the side of a lift (especially one you can “use” to lower) is often PLAT1, though anything obviously different from its surroundings works. I’m also going to have to make that one wall upper unpegged, since it’s an upper part of a wall with a hole (far below!) punched in it, surrounded by one-sided walls.

    Making a lift sector

    You can make lifts that lower when you step on them, but I find that kind of jarring. Instead, I want to have a switch that lowers this lift. I have a couple one-sided walls available, so I’m going to carve a little hole in one and make an inset switch.

    Creating a recessed switch

    To hook this up, we finally need to use a sector tag. Just give the lift sector a tag of 1, and then be sure to use that tag when wiring the switch. (You can use the “New Tag” button in the properties dialog, or the “…” button in the prop panel, to get a new tag you haven’t used before.)

    I’m using Plat_DownWaitUpStay, which is the generic Doom-style lift. (The default Doom delay is 105 tics, or three seconds. I would love if SLADE told you this.) I’ll use the same special directly on the south side of the lift itself, so you can summon it down again. You can use either 0 or 1 for the sector tag here; just like doors, a sector tag of 0 means the sector on the other side of the line.

    Adding a sector tag Setting up the switch

    Now I can play the level and ride down my li—

    Lift with hall of mirrors

    Whoops! That’s the hall of mirrors effect, which you get when you forget a texture. I never gave this dividing line a lower texture, and SLADE didn’t warn me, because in the map’s initial state that part of the wall isn’t visible. (I would like SLADE to be cleverer about this, too!) I can fix this even in 3D mode if I want, by temporarily moving the lift down a bit. Lower unpegging keeps the texture aligned with the other walls, and now I have a lift!

    Let’s recap. I now have several distinct areas (okay, two) with monster encounters in them, and this map doesn’t actually have any ammo. That might be nice to consider, but to know how much ammo to sprinkle around, we need to know a bit more about Doom’s monsters, and how much ammo it takes to kill them. Or we could just play the map and put more ammo in places where we run out, but this way has more numbers, and I do like numbers.

    Doom II has nine weapons: fist (and berserk fist), chainsaw, pistol, shotgun, super shotgun, chaingun, rocket launcher, plasma gun, and BFG 9000. An interesting quirk of Doom’s loadout is that damage is randomized — every shot of every weapon has its damage multiplied by a random factor, which varies from 1d3 to 1d10. A more interesting quirk is that the shotguns actually fire multiple pellets, and each pellet has its damage randomized. So the super shotgun, with its impressive 20 pellets per shot, actually has the most consistent damage output (thanks to the law of large numbers).

    With that as our baseline, you can very roughly describe all the weapons in terms of the super shotgun. All of the following do roughly the same amount of damage (200) on average, to within 10%, assuming you actually score a direct hit:

    18 punches2 berserk punches18 chainsaw hits20 pistol shots3 shotgun shots1 super shotgun blast20 chaingun shots1 rocket9 plasma shots½ BFG ball2 BFG tracers (one shot fires 40 tracers)

    You can draw a very rough comparison of ammo this way as well: 20 bullets ˜ 2 shells ˜ 1 rocket ˜ 10 cells.

    Given that, here is the number of point blank super shotgun blasts it should take to kill each monster.

    1 — zombie guy (20 HP), barrel (20 HP), shotgun guy (30 HP), ss nazi (50 HP), imp (60 HP), chaingun guy (70 HP), lost soul (100 HP), demon/spectre (150 HP)2 — revenant (300 HP), cacodemon (400 HP), pain elemental (400 HP)3 — hell knight (500 HP), arachnotron (500 HP), mancubus (600 HP)4 — arch-vile (700 HP)5 — baron of hell (1000 HP)15 — spider mastermind (3000 HP)20 — cyberdemon (4000 HP)

    Monsters that have an exact multiple of 200 HP will need an extra shot about half the time. Since one shot does 200 damage on average. Which means it’s the middle. So half the time you’ll do less than that. Right. Plus you’re probably not going to hit with every single pellet every single time.

    Using this, I can have a rough estimate of how much ammo I’ll need at bare minimum. A box of shells gives 20 shells, which should be able to take out either 10 or 20 minor enemies, depending on whether the player uses the shotgun or super shotgun. Shotgun guys drop a shotgun, which gives 8 shells, which can help kill a few more baddies. And so on. That all needs plenty of padding, of course, since running out of ammo in Doom is the worst possible thing.

    Incidentally, that makes map sets kind of hard to balance! Almost any map will leave the player with plenty of ammo at the end, meaning they still have that ammo when they start the next level. But it’s considered polite to make maps playable from a “pistol start” — i.e., with only a pistol and 50 bullets, like you just started the game. How do you make both options equally viable and (more or less) equally challenging? I have no idea.

    For now, I’m just going to stick a box of shells in the room with the magma chamber, and sprinkle a few shells (4 each) around the other areas. I’ll put a shotgun guy in the spawn area, too, facing away from the player, as a way to get a shotgun.

    I don’t know yet how I’ll balance this per skill level, but I can treat this as medium difficulty (Hurt Me Plenty) and scale it up and down later.

    What about health? I can’t ballpark that as easily, since the amount of damage the player takes is entirely dependent on their skill level. Or, well, not entirely. It also depends on how the encounters are designed.

    Doom’s combat is very very much about movement. Taking advantage of the terrain is incredibly important, and many monsters outright force you to do it: the revenant has homing rockets, the arch-vile has a line-of-sight attack, the mancubus fires a wide spread.

    A curious feature of Doom’s combat is that most monsters are just not particularly difficult to kill without taking much damage, especially for experienced players. If you want an especially challenging encounter, you have to resort to some mild trickery. Ambushing the player is a classic move, though you’ll have to be clever nowadays, since everyone has seen monsters appear when they grab a key. Opening monster closets back the way the player came is certainly surprising, and can give the feel that somehow reinforcements appeared from nowhere. You can also force the player to fight in very close quarters, have monsters appear on both sides of them, or cut off their escape route. A few imps are much more dangerous in a cramped, dark room than in an open arena.

    Spawning monsters is also an option. Typically that’s done by having a big closed-off room somewhere, filling it with monsters, and putting some “monster cross” lines that teleport to various places. Add a teeny tiny channel to connect that room to the rest of the level, so the monsters can hear the player. When they do, they’ll wake up, start milling around, and bumble over the teleport lines. (You can also literally spawn monsters with ZDoom’s scripting, but I don’t like to do that, since it means the “monsters remaining” count in the alt HUD is inaccurate.)

    What? I never explained sound? There’s not much to it, really; if a monster hears the player use a weapon, it’ll wake up and start looking for the player. Sound travels between sectors freely, but does not pass through closed doors, which is why firing a shot on most maps doesn’t immediately wake up the whole world. That’s also why there are some teeny tunnels sprinkled throughout the stock maps — there’s one in MAP01 of Doom II, to let sound reach the secret room with the imps in it, so they’ll hear you and open the door to come out. You can fine-tune how sound spreads by marking lines as “blocks sound”, though keep in mind sound only stops after passing two such lines.

    Okay, so, how much health? It’s up to you! I’m not sure there’s even such a thing as too much health; the player can only take so many hits from the stronger monsters anyway, and extra medikits don’t help once you’re dead. Doom II’s MAP21: Nirvana starts you out in a room with 20 medikits, every one that exists in the level. And that’s a map that consists mainly of imps and shotgun guys.

    Feel free to be liberal with health and armor bonuses, especially. I love those. Everyone loves those.

    Right, okay. So you go down the lift and enter this hallway, with a red door on the left and a volcano area on the right. At the end of the hallway is another room… and I’m gonna stick a door there so it’s not just exposed for all to see. You go in that room, you go through the magma chamber, you fight some dudes.

    Hold up; this is sounding a bit too linear.

    There are a couple different ways to think about linearity. Running straight through this room is obviously linear — at any given time, there’s only one thing you can do. We speak of games like Metroid as being “non-linear”, but every Metroid game still intends for you to acquire each new powerup in a specific order. In that case, the progression is still linear, but there are often multiple paths you can choose from — some will help you progress, some will be blocked off until you’ve progressed further, some will be optional areas, and some will be deliberate secrets. That’s the kind of nonlinearity Doom tends to have.

    You can also take it a step further and have true nonlinearity. like MAP19: The Citadel. That map has three bars guarding the exit, each bar locked with a different key. All three keys are in the map, but you only need two of them to squeeze through the bars and reach the exit. So you can take multiple different routes through the map, skipping different areas depending on what you’re going for. That kind of design is much more difficult, of course, and I don’t think there’s another similar example in any canonical Doom level.

    To make my map a little less linear, I’m going to add a little side room to the magma chamber, and put a switch there that opens the next door. I’ll also add a little pointless side room that has some supplies, because Doom is full of those, and I like them. (Seriously, you won’t believe how much of Doom and Doom II are completely optional. I’ve heard that this kind of thing isn’t very common in modern fan maps, which is sad. So please, put some little neat side areas in your map! It really helps with that whole narrative thing — there’s stuff in this world that doesn’t exist just to hurry you along to the exit.)

    Outside of a nonlinearish side room A little closet with goodies Side room, with computers Overhead view of this work

    I’m just slopping this together and don’t claim it’s great, but I’ve tried to put a few good ideas in here. The side room, small as it is, still has two ways to go — the obvious one just leads you to the side of that platform, whereas the back way leads to some stairs. You can see the switch from the main room, so you know where you’re going. The computers blocking the middle of the room are at least moderately interesting.

    I got that light pattern by using TLITE6_4 and setting the floor scale to 4 in both directions. You can do some pretty cool things with just the stock textures, by using bits and pieces of them in creative ways, and being able to scale them is super useful.

    Note that I used Door_Open, which opens a door permanently. Probably what you want if you’re using a remote switch to open it.

    Because the side room connects back to the main room, sound can pass freely into it. If I fired a shot in the main room like this, everything inside would wake up immediately! So I flagged all of those imps as “Ambush”, which means that they won’t start chasing the player just because they hear weapons fire. They are not deaf. The difference is subtle: if an ambush monster hears you, it’ll attack as soon as it can see you, even if it’s not facing you. A monster that hasn’t heard you at all won’t know you’re there until you step in front of it.

    Whew! 7000 words in and we’ve made a whole three rooms. I’d better hurry this up.

    Now I have another room to make interesting. Fuck it, I’m putting a lava chasm. I’ll have a switch you need to press, and a hell knight in the way. Imps on the other side will make life a little more uncomfortable.

    Fuck it, have a hell knight

    What can a switch do to get you over a lava pool, you ask? Well, let me tell you about this nifty special called Floor_RaiseByValueTxTy. It raises a floor, and changes that floor’s texture and type (hence, TxTy) to match the floor it becomes level with. So the lava texture will change to a regular floor texture, and the 20% damage will disappear. Magic. (You can quickly tell how far it needs to rise by looking at a wall of the pit in 3D mode.) Remember, the raising floor will need some lower textures!

    I’m also going to put a little teleporter alcove in the north end of the pit. There are two schools of thought here. One is that if you fall in a pit that’s obviously full of lava, that’s your own dumb fault. The other is that inescapable pits are just plain bad design, and every pit should have a way out. I’m going to go with the latter here, just so I can show you how teleporters work.

    Make a 64×64 square, and give it one of the GATE* floor textures.Make sure all its lines are facing outwards.Put a “Teleport Destination” thing where you want the teleporter to lead. Keep in mind that the player will be facing the same way the destination thing points.Give it a TID, a “thing id”, which is like a sector tag but for things. Sector tags and TIDs are different, so you can have both a sector tag of 1 and a TID of 1 and they’ll never interfere with each other.Give all four sides of the teleporter the Teleport special, and make the first arg the TID you used for your teleporter destination. Make the lines “Repeatable” and “Player Cross”, of course.

    And that’s it! Easy peasy.

    If you want to be super fancy, you can make the pad flicker. Set its light level to something higher than the surrounding area, and give it the sector special “Light Strobe 1 Sec”. (Documentation for the light-related sector types is kind of atrocious, alas. The Doom wiki is the best I’ve found, though keep in mind ZDoom’s sector specials are 64 plus those numbers.) Now it will normally appear as dim as the surrounding sector, but every second it’ll flicker to its assigned light level. You can even prevent this from making the ceiling flicker, by setting the ceiling light level and checking “Ceiling Light Absolute” to make it independent of the sector lighting.

    Here’s what I have now. (The player start is just there so I could test in ZDoom quickly.)

    Lava chasm Teleporter alcove Bridge rising from the lava

    Got it? Rad.

    I have a confession to make: I knew all along how you’d get the red key. I probably just gave it away, too: it’s a combination of raising a platform and making a teleporter.

    I’m carving out room for a big ol’ ledge around the outside of my volcano, which will connect that larger outdoor area to a small teleporter alcove. Then I’ll link that teleporter to a teleporter on the red key spire, and vice versa, so you can teleport both ways. It’s no different; you just create two teleporters that happen to send you to the other. The teleport doesn’t trigger if you cross the line from the back, so the player can step off the teleporter with no problems.

    Finally I’ll wire up that switch I made back in the beginning. Unfortunately, my volcano is really deep, and I need to raise it 320 units. SLADE currently won’t let you give arguments greater than 255, because it’s illegal in Hexen-format maps… even though it’s fine in UDMF maps. Oops.

    Lucky for me, this is ZDoom, where there are at least two ways to do anything! So I’m going to use Generic_Floor instead, which will let me say the floor should raise to meet the next-highest neighboring floor. In my map, that’s the outdoor area you start in. (For now you have to check its arguments on the ZDoom wiki, but I’m gonna go make SLADE aware of them right after this.) So my target is 3, and my flags are 1 (copy texture, set type to 0) + 4 (copy from neighboring sector) + 8 (raise) = 15.

    Adding a path around the volcano View from the spire, after raising the path

    As you can see from the overlay there, I already made SLADE aware of the arguments and will be pushing that shortly. I am super on the ball.

    With that, the map is completable again! I feel kinda bad that the exit area didn’t get touched yet, though, so I’m going to dig it down into a weird little tomb area and stick some… I dunno… revenants. They’re skeletons. Seems fitting.

    Expanding on the tomb

    Yep. Okay. Beautiful.

    Good lighting is hard, and I don’t even know where I’d start to make it better in this map. I varied it a little as I went, but it could be much better.

    One thing I did do was make a slight change to the red door. Remember its fifth argument, “Light Tag”? You can give that a sector tag, and when the door opens or closes, the tagged sectors will fade between the door’s darkest neighbor (when closed) and brightest neighbor (when open). I tagged the sectors at the beginning of the tomb, so when the door opens, those sectors lighten gradually, as though the light were trickling in. It’s a pretty neat effect, even when subtle.

    Hmm. I was saving the really good ZDoom trickery for the next part, but I’ll whet your appetite with one lighting thing that you simply cannot do in vanilla Doom. Remember this little cave with the teleporter?

    Teleporter alcove off the lava chasm

    The lava is very bright, but the walls are very dark. That goes for other places that have lava as well, but it’s particularly striking here.

    It turns out there’s actually something we can do about this.

    Draw a little sector out in the void, not connected to anything. It’s a good idea to keep it close to the cave, and mark its walls “Not On Map”. This is a control sector. It’s a junk throwaway sector, not really a part of the world. Control sectors exist so that specials can transfer some of their properties to other sectors.

    I’m going to make this sector the same height as the cave (ctrlshiftC and ctrlshiftV to copy/paste properties are very useful here), but its ceiling will be somewhat lower than the actual cave’s ceiling. You can even do this in 3D mode, since you can walk through walls and fly around all you want.

    The lava’s light level is 192; the cave’s light level is 128. I’ll make my sector’s light level 160, right in the middle. I also need to give the cave itself a sector tag.

    Now the magic happens! Pick one of the walls of the control sector, and give it the ExtraFloor_LightOnly special (under “Renderer”). Give it the sector tag of the cave, and don’t worry about the “type”. And that’s it. You don’t need any triggers.

    Teleporter alcove, with partially lit walls

    The effect is subtle, so I hope you can see it, but the tops of the walls are darker than the bottoms! The 160 light in the control sector was transferred to the walls of the cave, but only between the floor and ceiling of the control sector.

    You can use this multiple times to give more than one “layer” of lighting to the walls of a sector, so if you were really determined, you could make a rough gradient here. All the properties of the control sector’s lighting are transferred, so you can use a sector special like “Light Flicker”, and have flickering light on only part of a wall. You can transfer colored or sloped lighting, too. Ooh, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

    Let me show you the tomb in 3D mode, before and after I did some manual texture alignment.

    Tomb, no texture alignment Tomb, manual texture alignment

    Yes, manual. Auto-align is great, but it only gets you so far. In particular, it only does horizontal alignment (for now!), so you’re on your own with stairs. Aligning a wall with a floor or ceiling isn’t necessarily even possible, automated or not. But it looks so much better with the textures aligned, right?

    Another texturing quandary: what do you do when you have an obviously tiling texture like METAL2 on diagonal walls, or other places that aren’t clear multiples of the texture width? You can fiddle with the geometry until it is a multiple, of course, and you can also use non-tiling textures to fill in the gaps. But there’s also a neat trick (which I picked up from Antroid’s DTS-T videos, of all places) that I already snuck into this post. Did you catch this?

    Recessed lift switch, with neat side textures

    Look at the side of that alcove. That’s just our old friend STARTAN2. But the round parts tile every 64 units, and this wall is only 16 units long. Why isn’t it cut off?

    Map showing the side lines split in half

    The secret is that I cut the wall in half! You’re actually seeing the left edge and right edge of a “round part”, mashed together in the middle. Doom is paletted, so a lot of textures can be spliced together like this without leaving an obvious seam. You can use the same trick to stretch METAL2 across a diagonal wall:

    Line-splitting trick used to make neat diagonal walls

    Here I split the wall into three segments. If you look very closely at the rivets, you can see where I did it, but the effect at a glance is still pretty nice. Of course, if you do this, you never want to use auto-align near those walls, and you’ll have to redo it if you change the geometry later. So probably best left for last.

    You can also use textures to break up the monotony of a long wall. Most textures in Doom have some kind of variant you can use for this. Take my lava chasm room, which has STARGR2 all the way around. I can make that more interesting just by plopping in a few vertices and changing parts of the wall to the sister texture STARGR1.

    Really monotonous wall Slightly less monotonous wall

    Check out the first hallway of Doom II’s MAP01, and you’ll find that every 64 units of the wall is a different texture.

    You can also add “struts”, like I did around the switch alcove in the above screenshots. A long platform might want physical struts in the form of tiny square “voids” with a support texture. Just something to break up the monotony. Remember: contrast!

    I’m under the impression that detailing is a teeny bit controversial in the Doom community at the moment, since a lot of mappers are kind of going overboard and making extremely detailed maps where every room needs five layers of trim and inset lights every three feet and all this weird nonsense. I, for one, don’t think you need all that much. I mentioned MAP21: Nirvana earlier; do you have any memories of it? Did it seem weird and complicated and confusing, or really give you any kind of feelings at all? Maybe you should check out its automap. I’m pretty sure my map already has more lines than half of Doom II’s maps.

    And of course, I stress yet again: any kind of detailing is a pain in the ass to change once you’ve done it.

    Yeah, sure. That little bit of enclosed cave, for example, could stand to at least have a forking bit somewhere. And while I’m in there, I want to cut it up and vary the height and lighting a bit. Make it more, you know, cavey.

    One thing I try to do is lightly nudge the player towards the optional areas first. Otherwise, they may just continue down the “progression” path and never remember to come back and check out the alternatives. There are a couple biases you can try to take advantage of here — most people will be drawn to the closest option first, or in the case of a fork, will tend towards the right. So I’ll make a bit more room and put an alcove on the right side, with some goodies in it.

    Adding a side room to the cave

    I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I try to avoid having any perfectly horizontal or vertical walls in caves. The reason is that the vanilla Doom engine has a feature called fake contrast, which makes horizontal walls appear slightly darker and vertical walls appear slightly brighter. It works pretty well to accentuate sharp right angles, but with cave architecture it can make walls appear brighter for seemingly no reason.

    Without fake contrast With fake contrast

    The left screenshot has a slanted wall; the right screenshot is the same wall shifted slightly to be vertical. ZDoom lets you control this as a user setting, a map setting, or even per-wall in UDMF, but I find it easier to just not draw orthogonal lines in caves. It forces me away from drawing boxy areas, anyway.

    There’s one other place I have my eye on — those raised platforms dividing the magma chamber room. It’s a hallmark of Doom that you can reach almost any area you can see, even monster walkways. I think I’ll make them a lift that’s activated by a switch on the back of the magma chamber. Then I can put a few goodies on the platforms too, or maybe swap an imp for one of the former humans.

    Adding a switch to the back of the magma chamber

    I love secrets. A lot of what I love in Doom II is its really bizarre secrets, many of them designed by Sandy Petersen. Even MAP01 has a secret involving a jump onto a seemingly irrelevant decoration.

    I’m not feeling quite that cruel right now, but I do want to put a secret atop one of those lifts. I’ll use a very old Doom trope and hint at it by using a different texture. Making it an actual secret is pretty easy: just pop open the sector properties and check the “Secret” box on the “Special” tab.

    Try to spot the secret door On my way to the secret Nice, I found it

    In that middle screenshot, you can see another possible texturing trick: a single wall can have two different textures by putting a zero-height sector on the other side of it. In this case it’s a door, of course, but it could just be a dummy sector like I used for the sky hack.

    There’s one more thing I need to do here. Check out the automap. I changed my automap colors back to traditional Doom here so the problem is more obvious.

    Automap, giving my secrets away

    The automap shows walls in red, but shows doors (actually, any change in ceiling height) in yellow. That completely gives the secret away! Luckily there’s an easy fix for this: give the line the “Secret” flag, which will make it show on the automap as if it were a one-sided wall.

    There are other places you might want to use this flag; for example, even though I have the outer edges of the starting area marked “Not On Map”, the next set of edges are drawn in yellow. Because, of course, the ceiling height changes there. I think that looks goofy, so I’m flagging them as “Secret” as well. I like to have a tidy automap, hiding evidence of rendering tricks. Just be careful not to go overboard and make the automap useless or misleading.

    Note that the iddt cheat, which reveals the whole automap, also shows all the lines marked “Not On Map”, so it’s not an accurate picture of what the player will see normally. Development versions of ZDoom have a console command, am_cheat 4, that will reveal the full automap but leave hidden lines hidden.

    A super duper easy way to make spaces a little more interesting is by sprinkling around some stock Doom decorations. Add in a few lighting effects, and you’re off to the races, whatever that means.

    Placing a candelabra, and faking some light Sprinkling stalagmites around the start area

    Oho, it looks like I improved on the starting area without telling you. I wonder how I did that.

    Doom has two multiplayer modes: co-op and deathmatch. They need to be approached somewhat differently.

    Co-op is easy to make work, at least: just make sure you drop in player starts for the other players, 2 through 4. (ZDoom supports up to 8 players, if you’d like to do so as well.) There are probably more considerations than this, but offhand I can think of four major wrinkles that co-op adds.

    Only one player can pick up any given ammo, health, armor, or dropped weapon. Weapons and keys do remain on the map, and every player can pick them up. (A player who already has a weapon can’t keep grabbing it in co-op and get infinite ammo.) So giving the player a shotgun by way of a shotgun guy doesn’t work so well in co-op. I can fix this by putting an actual shotgun in the starting area. That will look redundant in single-player, so I can just remove the “Single Player” flag, and it’ll only appear in co-op and deathmatch.

    Ammo is split among players. This seems fine, since there are still the same amount of monsters overall. But in co-op, a player who dies respawns from a pistol start without restarting the map, so it’s easy to completely run out of ammo halfway through the map. It’s up to you how much you want to compensate for this, since giving tons of ammo may make a team of good players ridiculously overpowered. (Maybe that’s why several Doom II levels just have a cyberdemon hanging out near the spawn point in co-op.) Health and armor have similar problems.

    Some puzzles might be much easier in co-op. Say you have a timing puzzle, where you press a switch and have barely enough time to run over to a secret lift. In co-op, one player could just wait by the lift while another presses the switch, which makes the puzzle trivial. Doom tends not to have very deep puzzles and this is probably not a big deal, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

    Because players might be in separate areas of the map at any given time, and in particular a player might respawn from the start point, you have to be careful not to permanently block off parts of the map or otherwise risk separating players.

    If you want your map to be great for co-op, rather than just not-broken, you can go much further. You might use decorations that only appear in co-op to block off a path, creating a new puzzle that only exists in co-op and requires actual cooperation to solve. You might up the number of monsters considerably. (Of course, you can’t distinguish between 2 players and 8, so don’t go overboard.) You might even create separate start areas for each player and make them work together to meet up.

    Deathmatch is a little different to think about. There are deathmatch spawn points, too (and you should have at least 4), but they tend to be sprinkled all over the level. Otherwise, uh, the players would just keep shooting each other in a tight area.

    That can pose something of a problem for your design, since players may start midway through a level without some switch having been pressed yet. Players do spawn holding all the keys, so locked doors aren’t a problem, but other kinds of doors might be. The switch in my magma chamber, for example, is the only way to open the door to the gray room — so if a player starts in that gray room, they won’t be able to go back. In my case, I think that’s okay, since they could just continue forwards through the level and ultimately loop around. If this were a dead end, I’d need to do something like make the door openable normally from the inside.

    Many maps have every weapon sprinkled around in deathmatch, and that’s easy enough to do by just removing their “Single Player” and “Cooperative” flags.

    Deathmatch is also a good reason not to have too many dead ends in the first place, since a player won’t have anywhere to run when cornered. On the other hand, this can be a feature — I’m going to put the BFG9000 in the exit tomb, so that going to get it is somewhat of a risk.

    There’s also an -altdeath deathmatch mode, in which most pickups respawn, so you don’t have to worry too much about ammo.

    SLADE has a “Map Checks” panel, which can find basic errors. It may also find a couple false positives in cases like untextured walls behind a sky hack.

    Run through your level and make sure it works! You can move the player start when fiddling with a particular contraption, but there’s no substitute for actually playing through your own map from start to finish. I think Romero said in the IGN interview that he only played his maps from the beginning, so he’d get to know very well how they’d feel to a player. Your mileage may vary.

    If you don’t want to get bogged down in fighting, you can always play with -nomonsters, which is one of the run configurations in SLADE. This is one excellent reason not to rely too strongly on effects that trigger when monsters die. (I haven’t shown you how to do this. It’s deliberate.) Another excellent reason is that it’s very common to play deathmatch with -nomonsters.

    Triple-check that your doors actually work. I have a bad habit of creating and texturing a bunch of doors in a row, then forgetting to actually make them usable. Also, make sure they’re repeatable!

    That’s all for now, but I am hard at work on part 3, in which we shall break all the rules. Or, a lot of the rules.

    Here’s my version of this map. I even included a surprise, to encourage you to actually look at it in an editor. Send me yours, so I can put it in this list!

    If you like when I write words, you can show your appreciation — and force me to write more often — by throwing a few bucks at my Patreon!

    View the original article here

  • jkabtech 8:57 pm on January 13, 2016 Permalink |
    Tags: Doctorow, , , ,   

    Cory Doctorow on Software Security and the Internet of Things 

    The Trolley Problem is an ethical brainteaser that’s been entertaining philosophers since it was posed by Philippa Foot in 1967:

    A runaway train will slaughter five innocents tied to its track unless you pull a lever to switch it to a siding on which one man, also innocent and unawares, is standing. Pull the lever, you save the five, but kill the one: what is the ethical course of action?

    The problem has run many variants over time, including ones in which you have to choose between a trolley killing five innocents or personally shoving a man who is fat enough to stop the train (but not to survive the impact) into its path; a variant in which the fat man is the villain who tied the innocents to the track in the first place, and so on.

    Now it’s found a fresh life in the debate over autonomous vehicles. The new variant goes like this: your self-driving car realizes that it can either divert itself in a way that will kill you and save, say, a busload of children; or it can plow on and save you, but the kids all die. What should it be programmed to do?

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this question posed as chin-stroking, far-seeing futurism, and it never fails to infuriate me. Bad enough that this formulation is a shallow problem masquerading as deep, but worse still is the way in which this formulation masks a deeper, more significant one.

    Here’s a different way of thinking about this problem: if you wanted to design a car that intentionally murdered its driver under certain circumstances, how would you make sure that the driver never altered its programming so that they could be assured that their property would never intentionally murder them?

    There’s an obvious answer, which is the iPhone model. Design the car so that it only accepts software that’s been signed by the Ministry of Transport (or the manufacturer), and make it a felony to teach people how to override the lock. This is the current statutory landscape for iPhones, games consoles and many other devices that are larded with digital locks, often known by the trade-name “DRM”. Laws like the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (1998) and directives like the EUCD (2001) prohibit removing digital locks that restrict access to
    copyrighted works, and also punish people who disclose any information that might help in removing the locks, such as vulnerabilities in the device.

    There’s a strong argument for this. The programming in autonomous vehicles will be in charge of a high-speed, moving object that inhabits public roads, amid soft and fragile humans. Tinker with your car’s brains? Why not perform amateur brain surgery on yourself first?

    But this obvious answer has an obvious problem: it doesn’t work. Every locked device can be easily jailbroken, for good, well-understood technical reasons. The primary effect of digital locks rules isn’t to keep people from reconfiguring their devices – it’s just to ensure that they have to do so without the help of a business or a product. Recall the years before the UK telecoms regulator Ofcom clarified the legality of unlocking mobile phones in 2002; it wasn’t hard to unlock your phone. You could download software from the net to do it, or ask someone who operated an illegal jailbreaking business. But now that it’s clearly legal, you can have your phone unlocked at the newsagent’s or even the dry-cleaner’s.

    If self-driving cars can only be safe if we are sure no one can reconfigure them without manufacturer approval, then they will never be safe.

    But even if we could lock cars’ configurations, we shouldn’t. A digital lock creates a zone in a computer’s programmer that even its owner can’t enter. For it to work, the lock’s associated files must be invisible to the owner. When they ask the operating system for a list of files in the lock’s directory, it must lie and omit those files (because otherwise the user could delete or replace them). When they ask the operating system to list all the running programs, the lock program has to be omitted (because otherwise the user could terminate it).

    All computers have flaws. Even software that has been used for years, whose source code has been viewed by thousands of programmers, will have subtle bugs lurking in it. Security is a process, not a product. Specifically, it is the process of identifying bugs and patching them before your adversary identifies them and exploits them. Since you can’t be assured that this will happen, it’s also the process of discovering when your adversary has found a vulnerability before you and exploited it, rooting the adversary out of your system and repairing the damage they did.

    When Sony-BMG covertly infected hundreds of thousands of computers with a digital lock designed to prevent CD ripping, it had to hide its lock from anti-virus software, which correctly identified it as a program that had been installed without the owner’s knowledge and that ran against the owner’s wishes. It did this by changing its victims’ operating systems to render them blind to any file that started with a special, secret string of letters: “$sys$.” As soon as this was discovered, other malware writers took advantage of it: when their programs landed on computers that Sony had compromised, the program could hide under Sony’s cloak, shielded from anti-virus programs.

    A car is a high-speed, heavy object with the power to kill its users and the people around it. A compromise in the software that allowed an attacker to take over the brakes, accelerator and steering (such as last summer’s exploit against Chrysler’s Jeeps, which triggered a 1.4m vehicle recall) is a nightmare scenario. The only thing worse would be such an exploit against a car designed to have no user-override – designed, in fact, to treat any attempt from the vehicle’s user to redirect its programming as a selfish attempt to avoid the Trolley Problem’s cold equations.

    Whatever problems we will have with self-driving cars, they will be worsened by designing them to treat their passengers as adversaries.

    That has profound implications beyond the hypothetical silliness of the Trolley Problem. The world of networked equipment is already governed by a patchwork of “lawful interception” rules requiring them to have some sort of back door to allow the police to monitor them. These have been the source of grave problems in computer security, such as the 2011 attack by the Chinese government on the Gmail accounts of suspected dissident activists was executed by exploiting lawful interception; so was the NSA’s wiretapping of the Greek government during the 2004 Olympic bidding process.

    Despite these problems, law enforcement wants more back doors. The new crypto wars, being fought in the UK through Theresa May’s “Snooper’s Charter”, would force companies to weaken the security of their products to make it possible to surveil their users.

    It’s likely that we’ll get calls for a lawful interception capability in self-driving cars: the power for the police to send a signal to your car to force it to pull over. This will have all the problems of the Trolley Problem and more: an in-built capability to drive a car in a way that its passengers object to is a gift to any crook, murderer or rapist who can successfully impersonate a law enforcement officer to the vehicle – not to mention the use of such a facility by the police of governments we view as illegitimate – say, Bashar al-Assad’s secret police, or the self-appointed police officers in Isis-controlled territories.

    That’s the thorny Trolley Problem, and it gets thornier: the major attraction of autonomous vehicles for city planners is the possibility that they’ll reduce the number of cars on the road, by changing the norm from private ownership to a kind of driverless Uber. Uber can even be seen as a dry-run for autonomous, ever-circling, point-to-point fleet vehicles in which humans stand in for the robots to come – just as globalism and competition paved the way for exploitative overseas labour arrangements that in turn led to greater automation and the elimination of workers from many industrial processes.

    If Uber is a morally ambiguous proposition now that it’s in the business of exploiting its workforce, that ambiguity will not vanish when the workers go. Your relationship to the car you ride in, but do not own, makes all the problems mentioned even harder. You won’t have the right to change (or even monitor, or certify) the software in an Autonom-uber. It will be designed to let third parties (the fleet’s owner) override it. It may have a user override (Tube trains have passenger-operated emergency brakes), possibly mandated by the insurer, but you can just as easily see how an insurer would prohibit such a thing altogether.

    Forget trolleys: the destiny of self-driving cars will turn on labour relationships, surveillance capabilities, and the distribution of capital wealth.

    View the original article here

  • jkabtech 3:59 pm on January 13, 2016 Permalink |
    Tags: , , , , , ,   

    Cool roofs in China offer enhanced benefits during heat waves 

    It is well established that white roofs can help mitigate the urban heat island effect, reflecting the sun’s energy back into space and reducing a city’s temperature under normal weather conditions. In a new study of Guangzhou, China, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) researchers working with Chinese scientists found that during a heat wave, the effect is significantly more pronounced.

    Using a regional climate model combined with an urban model that allowed researchers to adjust roof reflectance, they found that the average urban midday temperature was lowered by 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) during heat waves, or 50 percent more than the 0.8 degrees Celsius reduction for typical summer conditions.

    The study, “Cool Roofs in Guangzhou, China: Outdoor Air Temperature Reductions during Heat Waves and Typical Summer Conditions,” was published recently in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The authors were Berkeley Lab researchers Dev Millstein, Ronnen Levinson, and Pablo Rosado; and Meichun Cao and Zhaohui Lin of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing.

    “The hotter it is, the more cooling you get with cool roofs–and it is a significant difference, compared to the margin of error,” said Millstein. “We found that the stagnant conditions of a heat wave, where the air is just sitting over the city, was one of the main factors.”

    Reflective roofs, also called cool roofs, save energy by keeping buildings cooler, thus reducing the need for air conditioning. Hot surfaces such as dark roofs that warm the outside air contribute to the urban heat island effect. Previous Berkeley Lab research in China found that cool roofs could substantially reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in climate zones with hot summers.

    The reasons for studying heat waves have to do with both health and energy. “That’s when reducing the hottest temperatures can have the most health benefit,” Millstein said. “It’s also when the electric grid is the most stressed. Air conditioners are running at full speed and with no break, so a small change on the margin can have a bigger impact.”

    In addition to reducing city temperatures more during a heat wave, the researchers also found that cool roofs can decrease the intensity of the urban heat island effect more during extreme conditions. “Looking at the average difference in temperature between every grid cell in the city and the adjacent rural area, cool roofs had a more dramatic effect during heat waves,” Millstein said.

    Guangzhou is a sprawling megacity in southern China, near Hong Kong, with a population of more than 8.5 million. Researchers simulated conditions from six of the strongest historical heat waves over the last decade, and compared them to 25 typical summer weeks between 2004 and 2008.

    For the purposes of the study, the researchers made all the roofs in the city as reflective as an aged white roof. While it is unlikely that will ever occur, it was necessary to have a statistically significant signal. A government policy, Millstein said, would likely be necessary to encourage use of cool roofs.

    “It wouldn’t have to be all at once, just as they’re replaced,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons we think so much about cool roofs–because it’s free or inexpensive to put a cool roof on when you’re putting a new roof on anyway.”

    Journal Reference:

    Meichun Cao, Pablo Rosado, Zhaohui Lin, Ronnen Levinson, Dev Millstein. Cool Roofs in Guangzhou, China: Outdoor Air Temperature Reductions during Heat Waves and Typical Summer Conditions. Environmental Science & Technology, 2015; 49 (24): 14672 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b04886

    View the original article here

  • jkabtech 11:35 am on January 13, 2016 Permalink |
    Tags: , tuple   

    Named tuple for C++ 

    named tuple for cpp

    When I use std::pair or std::tuple I always feel sad about using std::get to get results. Because this is not so readable, not so maintainable and a bit ugly. Even when you use first/second it’s easy to forget what was first argument of std::pair and so on. When you use tuple to pass more than 3 arguments situation becomes even worse. New standard has nothing in box to solve this, but we can fix this writing our own solution using C++14.

    At MeetingCPP 2015 conference I attended nice presentation by and found great solution there – named tuple. After some playtime I made my own implementation draft which you can find in this post.

    Ok, once again – what’s else wrong with std::tuple?

    Look at standard example from cppreference.com:

    std::tuple get_student(int id){ if (id == 0) return std::make_tuple(3.8, ‘A’, “Lisa Simpson”); if (id == 1) return std::make_tuple(2.9, ‘C’, “Milhouse Van Houten”); if (id == 2) return std::make_tuple(1.7, ‘D’, “Ralph Wiggum”); throw std::invalid_argument(“id”);} int main(){ auto student0 = get_student(0); std::cout << "ID: 0, " << "GPA: " << std::get(student0) << ", " << "grade: " << std::get(student0) << ", " << "name: " << std::get(student0) << '\n';}std::tuple get_student(int id)    if (id == 0) return std::make_tuple(3.8, ‘A’, “Lisa Simpson”);    if (id == 1) return std::make_tuple(2.9, ‘C’, “Milhouse Van Houten”);    if (id == 2) return std::make_tuple(1.7, ‘D’, “Ralph Wiggum”);    throw std::invalid_argument(“id”);    auto student0 = get_student(0);              << "GPA: " << std::get(student0) << ", "              << "grade: " << std::get(student0) << ", "              << "name: " << std::get(student0) << '\n';

    What if You by mistake switch ‘GPA’ and ‘grade’ inside your function? Nothing will happen to inform You that something went wrong. Information will still be passed to std::make_tuple, and auto-converted to std::cout. Except the output will be totally wrong… Is there some way to avoid this situation? A lot of you now are thinking about making custom struct with named fields, than and passing typed result as this struct. This is good solution and there are a lot of cases when this will be actually better, but … this is not so simple.

    But what if you know that this temporary structure is rather limited in size and will be used just ‘here’ to pass results (and so creating of additional class to pass result will be overhead) – there is nice solution from python – named tuple.

    C++14 is powerful enough to make our own named tuple. The only problem is that final syntax could be different depending on our own choice. I have chosen the following:

    auto student0 = make_named_tuple(param(“GPA”) = 3.8, param(“grade”) = ‘A’, param(“name”) = “Lisa Simpson”);auto gpa = student0[param(“GPA”)];auto grade = student0[param(“grade”)];auto student0 = make_named_tuple(param(“GPA”) = 3.8, param(“grade”) = ‘A’, param(“name”) = “Lisa Simpson”);auto gpa = student0[param(“GPA”)];auto grade = student0[param(“grade”)];

    Creation: Instead of make_tuple() here we have make_named_tuple() and param() is creating named parameter which is set in place.

    Access: To access data I use square bracers and same named parameter inside.

    There are a lot of other ways to declare this – you are free to use your own syntax. It will be better then std::get anyway.

    IMPLEMENTATION of tagged tuple

    The main trick here is compile time string hash. It does not matter which specific implementation You choose for it – I just grabbed the one from Manu’s gist:

    namespace foonathan { namespace string_id { namespace detail { using hash_type = std::uint64_t; constexpr hash_type fnv_basis = 14695981039346656037ull; constexpr hash_type fnv_prime = 109951162821ull; // FNV-1a 64 bit hash constexpr hash_type sid_hash(const char *str, hash_type hash = fnv_basis) noexcept { return *str ? sid_hash(str + 1, (hash ^ *str) * fnv_prime) : hash; } } }} // foonathan::string_id::detail            using hash_type = std::uint64_t;            constexpr hash_type fnv_basis = 14695981039346656037ull;            constexpr hash_type fnv_prime = 109951162821ull;            constexpr hash_type sid_hash(const char *str, hash_type hash = fnv_basis) noexcept                return *str ? sid_hash(str + 1, (hash ^ *str) * fnv_prime) : hash;} // foonathan::string_id::detail

    Next is simple class for named param:

    /// Named parameter (could be empty!)template struct named_param { using hash = Hash; ///< key std::tuple value; ///< param's data itself named_param(Ts&&… ts) : value(std::forward(ts)…){ }; ///< constructor template named_param operator=(P&& p){ return named_param(std::forward

    (p)); }; }; template using make_named_param = named_param;/// Named parameter (could be empty!)template     using hash = Hash;                                                  ///< key    std::tuple value;                                            ///< param's data itself    named_param(Ts&&… ts) : value(std::forward(ts)…){ };        ///< constructor    named_param operator=(P&& p){ return named_param(std::forward

    (p)); };using make_named_param = named_param;

    Nothing special as You could see – i just store optional value inside inner tuple. So parameter could be empty and be used as static search key or it can contain some value and be passed to tuple construction function.

    Now main tuple struct. To make it work with Visual Studio’s compiler I came up with this:

    /// Named tuple is just tuple of named params template struct named_tuple : public std::tuple { template named_tuple(Args&&… args) : std::tuple(std::forward(args)…) {} static const std::size_t error = -1; template constexpr typename std::enable_if::type static get_element_index() { return error; } template constexpr typename std::enable_if<I ::type static get_element_index() { using elementType = typename std::tuple_element<I, std::tuple>::type; return (std::is_same::value) ? I : get_element_index(); } template const auto& get() const { constexpr std::size_t index = get_element_index(); static_assert((index != error), “Wrong named tuple key”); auto& param = (std::get(static_cast<const std::tuple&>(*this))); return std::get( param.value ); } template const auto& operator[](NP&& param) { return get(); } };  /// Named tuple is just tuple of named params        struct named_tuple : public std::tuple            named_tuple(Args&&… args) : std::tuple(std::forward(args)…) {}            static const std::size_t error = -1;            template            constexpr typename std::enable_if::type            template            constexpr typename std::enable_if<I ::type                using elementType = typename std::tuple_element<I, std::tuple>::type;                return (std::is_same::value) ? I : get_element_index();                constexpr std::size_t index = get_element_index();                static_assert((index != error), “Wrong named tuple key”);                auto& param = (std::get(static_cast<const std::tuple&>(*this)));                return std::get( param.value );            const auto& operator[](NP&& param)                return get();

    And finally make_named_tuple() and param():

    template auto make_named_tuple(Args&&… args){ return named_tuple(std::forward(args)…);} #define param(x) make_named_param< std::integral_constant >{}auto make_named_tuple(Args&&… args)    return named_tuple(std::forward(args)…);#define param(x) make_named_param< std::integral_constant >{}

    Yes, that’s all!


    So we now have rather compact way to create named tuples in C++. This has to improve readability and simplicity of any code dealing with std::tuples and std::pairs.

    And what is even more important – this scheme is more error proof. When you change places of arguments in tuple – nothing happens – everything will still work. If you make mistake in parameter name – you will get compile error right away. If during project lifetime You decide to refactor your tuple structure you will get all places where you need to change access functions, because until you do this compiler will not produce any executable. Sweet.

    Source code: gist

    View the original article here

  • jkabtech 8:08 am on January 13, 2016 Permalink |
    Tags: antimalarial, mechanism, parasitekilling, Potent, uncovered   

    Potent parasite-killing mechanism of anti-malarial drug uncovered 

    A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has uncovered the mystery behind the potent parasite-killing effect of artemisinin, a drug that is considered to be the last line of defence against malaria. Given the emergence of artemisinin resistance, these findings could potentially lead to the design of new treatments against drug-resistant parasites.

    Assistant Professor Lin Qingsong, who is from the Department of Biological Sciences under the NUS Faculty of Science and is one of the scientists who led the study, explained, “Many people may not realise that more human lives are lost to the tiny mosquito, more specifically malaria parasites, each year as compared to ferocious animals such as lions and sharks. After infection, malaria parasites, known for their blood-eating nature, can propagate inside the human body rapidly and consume up to 80 per cent of red blood cells in a short period of time, leading to a series of deadly symptoms.”

    About 3.2 billion people — almost half of the world’s population — are considered to be at risk of malaria by the World Health Organization. As of September 2015, there were an estimated 214 million cases of malaria and 438,000 malaria-linked deaths this year alone.

    Artemisinin and its derivatives are currently the most potent class of anti-malarial drugs. In recognition of its importance against malaria, the discovery of artemisinin won Chinese scientist Ms Tu Youyou the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine earlier in October this year. While there have been extensive studies on artemisinin, the mechanism of the drug is not well understood.

    Asst Prof Lin, together with Dr Wang Jigang, who was formerly with the NUS Department of Biological Sciences and now with the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research & Technology, Associate Professor Kevin Tan from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and their research team, discovered over 120 protein targets of artemisinin, and the mechanism that activates its deadly killing effect. The findings of the study are published in the journal Nature Communications on 23 December 2015.

    How artemisinin works

    Previously, only two targets of artemisinin have been identified, and their correlation with the powerful parasite-killing effect of the drug has been questioned. This latest study by the NUS team has identified 124 protein targets of artemisinin in Plasmodium falciparum, the most pathogenic malaria parasite to infect humans.

    “With artemisinin resistance in malaria parasites becoming an emerging concern, particularly in Southeast Asia, our study could potentially contribute to the design of better drugs and treatment strategies against malaria,” said Assoc Prof Tan.

    Many of the newly-identified protein targets are involved in essential biological processes in the parasite, thus explaining its potent killing effect. Through its promiscuous targeting mechanism, artemisinin targets the blood-eating nature of the malaria parasite, binding to a broad spectrum of targets simultaneously, and fatally disrupting the biochemistry of the parasite.

    The study also showed that the main activator of artemisinin is haem, a specific iron-containing compound, either biosynthesised by the parasite at its early developmental ring stage, or derived from haemoglobin digestion in the later stages.

    The drug activation level was found to be much lower in ring stage parasites, given that artemisinin activation requires haem, which is of much lower abundance and is biosynthesised by the parasite. In comparison, during the late stages of its life cycle, the parasite actively digests the haemoglobin in infected blood cells as its primary energy source. This releases large amounts of haem, and the drug is thus able to specifically respond to parasite-infected cells and effectively attack the disease-causing parasites.

    Paving the way for new treatment strategies against malaria

    Asst Prof Lin added, “The current findings not only provide a more complete picture of how artemisinin and its derivatives work, but also suggest new ways of using the drug. For instance, to improve drug activation at ring stage, we can explore enhancing the level of haem biosynthesis in the parasite. By understanding that haemoglobin digestion releases huge amount of haem, which brings about the effective killing mechanism in the later stages, we can also consider prolonging the treatment time to ensure that the drug can effectively kill the parasite through multiple cycles.”

    The team will be collaborating with researchers from NUS’ Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering to develop novel artemisinin analogues with more specific targeting properties.

    “Moving forward, structural biology and physicochemical studies will help us to understand how exactly the drug binds to its protein targets and how these modifications of proteins affect their structures and hence their functions,” said Dr Wang.

    Journal Reference:

    Jigang Wang, Chong-Jing Zhang, Wan Ni Chia, Cheryl C. Y. Loh, Zhengjun Li, Yew Mun Lee, Yingke He, Li-Xia Yuan, Teck Kwang Lim, Min Liu, Chin Xia Liew, Yan Quan Lee, Jianbin Zhang, Nianci Lu, Chwee Teck Lim, Zi-Chun Hua, Bin Liu, Han-Ming Shen, Kevin S. W. Tan, Qingsong Lin. Haem-activated promiscuous targeting of artemisinin in Plasmodium falciparum. Nature Communications, 2015; 6: 10111 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10111

    View the original article here

  • jkabtech 3:18 am on January 13, 2016 Permalink |
    Tags: , attitudes, Educating, , , participating, ,   

    Educating patients improves knowledge, attitudes about participating in research 

    A five-center national study led by Neal Meropol, MD, and a team of researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Case Medical Center demonstrated that a little information goes a long way in encouraging cancer patients to enroll in clinical trials, a decision that could be potentially lifesaving.

    The findings, which appeared in the December 21st, 2015 issue of Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO), showed that among 1,255 cancer patients taking part in an educational program, 21 percent of patients chose to enroll in cancer clinical trials. Traditionally, less than 5 percent of cancer patients choose to participate in clinical trials, according to the American Cancer Society.

    “Unfortunately, although clinical trials are critical for advancing cancer treatment and ultimately serve as the basis for new standards of care, very few patients participate,” said lead author Neal J. Meropol, MD, Professor of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and Chief, Hematology and Oncology, University Hospitals Case Medical Center Seidman Cancer Center. “We want to close the patient knowledge gap and positively affect their attitudes toward clinical trials.”

    In this study, a tailored video education program, PRE-ACT (Preparatory Education about Clinical Trials), was compared to information delivered as simple written text. PRE-ACT videos were more effective than text at improving knowledge, and decreasing negative attitudes that serve as impediments for patients to take part in clinical trials.

    Half of the patients received PRE-ACT, which delivered tailored video education based on their individual knowledge gaps and attitudes, while the other half received written information about clinical trials that was not specifically chosen based on their responses to an initial survey.

    “Although both the PRE-ACT videos and the written materials improved participants’ knowledge, reduced attitude-related barriers, and improved their preparation to consider clinical trials as a treatment option, we found that PRE-ACT was better than the written information in reducing barriers,” said Dr. Meropol.

    Participants rated the Web-based video educational program significantly higher than the text-based education material in satisfaction with the amount of information presented, the way the information was presented, and the feeling of being more prepared for them to consider clinical trials for cancer treatment.

    PRE-ACT, developed by Dr. Meropol and collaborators, is a tailored intervention where patients access a Website to take an online survey. The survey gauges the individual patient’s knowledge and attitudes about clinical trials, and then, based on that patient’s answers, video clips are presented addressing their specific concerns.

    For example, patients sometimes worry that they will receive a placebo rather than active treatment, so one video clip explains how placebos are used ethically in cancer studies, and the fact that very few studies will include a placebo without any active treatment. The videos also help patients clarify their preferences in terms of quality of life or length of life.

    “By identifying knowledge gaps and negative attitudes and addressing those before patients meet their doctors to discuss cancer treatment, the patient will be better prepared to make a good decision about whether a clinical trial will be an appropriate option for them,” said Dr. Meropol, also Associate Director for Clinical Research, Case Comprehensive Cancer Center. “We hope PREACT will result in increased participation in clinical trials by cancer patients through improving knowledge and attitudes and facilitating treatment decision-making.”

    For the study, researchers sought a robust sample of patients representing a variety of race, ethnicity and socioeconomic backgrounds. Therefore, they enrolled patients from five centers: University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center, Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute, Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University in Chicago, and Fox-Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.

    Dr. Meropol has partnered with the American Society of Clinical Oncology to make PREACT widely available to cancer patients worldwide at http://www.cancer.net/PREACT. The development of this Web-based program was supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), according to Dr. Meropol.

    During the course of their research, investigators did uncover another surprise finding. Video clips meant to address concerns about the costs of clinical trials treatment actually caused a spike in worries about out-of-pocket costs of clinical trials. These financial concerns generated yet another paper that appeared in the same JCO edition as the main paper.

    “What was a surprise is that giving people information about costs in general terms made them more anxious,” said Dr. Meropol, the senior author of the financial concerns paper. “It was not surprising to us that these concerns actually affect distress, add to decisional conflict, and interfere with decision-making. This finding highlighted for us that communication about costs is both necessary and challenging. It indicates that we need to be sensitive to patients’ cost concerns as they navigate decisions about cancer care.”

    Next steps in research include developing new tools to assist patients with financial navigation. Additionally, the NCI is funding a project led by Dr. Meropol and Barbara Daly, Ph.D., Professor of Nursing, to develop a Web-based educational program for oncology nurses to help them in their discussions with patients about participation in clinical trials.

    Journal References:

    N. J. Meropol, Y.-N. Wong, T. Albrecht, S. Manne, S. M. Miller, A. L. Flamm, A. B. Benson, J. Buzaglo, M. Collins, B. Egleston, L. Fleisher, M. Katz, T. G. Kinzy, T. M. Liu, S. Margevicius, D. M. Miller, D. Poole, N. Roach, E. Ross, M. D. Schluchter. Randomized Trial of a Web-Based Intervention to Address Barriers to Clinical Trials. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2015; DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2015.63.2257 Y.-N. Wong, M. D. Schluchter, T. L. Albrecht, A. B. Benson, J. Buzaglo, M. Collins, A. L. Flamm, L. Fleisher, M. Katz, T. G. Kinzy, T. M. Liu, S. Manne, S. Margevicius, D. M. Miller, S. M. Miller, D. Poole, S. Raivitch, N. Roach, E. Ross, N. J. Meropol. Financial Concerns About Participation in Clinical Trials Among Patients With Cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2015; DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2015.63.2463

    View the original article here

  • jkabtech 10:19 pm on January 12, 2016 Permalink |
    Tags: , , , preventing,   

    Parents can play a role in preventing teen fighting, research finds 

    Nearly one-fourth of all teens reported being involved in a physical fight in the past year, with higher rates of violent altercations among African American and Latino adolescents. In the first study of its kind, researchers conducted focus groups with African American and Latino parents regarding teen violence.

    Findings from their study suggested that addressing the parents’ attitudes about fighting, involving them in violence prevention programs and tailoring programs to different racial/ethnic groups may improve the effectiveness of prevention programs.

    In the study, published online in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, researchers found Latino parents condoned fighting only as a last resort while some African American parents stated that fighting is sometimes necessary. Previous studies had suggested such views among parents are likely to lead to higher rates of fighting among youth.

    Latino parents in the study said they taught their children the consequences of fighting, how to regulate emotions and nonviolent means for resolving disputes. African American parents in the study endorsed nonviolent methods but expressed some doubts about the effectiveness of such strategies. African American parents also suggested corporal punishment as a method to prevent fighting. But they acknowledged that this is only a short-term strategy.

    “Fighting can lead to serious injuries and even death, so we felt it was important to identify effective ways to prevent physical altercations among adolescents,” said Rashmi Shetgiri, MD, a Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute (LA BioMed) lead researcher and corresponding author of the study. “Most violence prevention programs focus on school-based interventions with little involvement of families. This study suggests that it is crucial to involve families, especially parents, in violence prevention programs.”

    The researchers, who noted that little is known about parental views about fighting, conducted two focus groups of African American parents and two focus groups of Latino parents of urban adolescents aged 13-17. Of the 17 participants, 76% were female. The Latino parents stated that parents are the most protective influence against fighting and that fighting prevention should start at home. African American parents also said ‘teaching starts at home.’

    “In addition to addressing parental views about fighting, our study suggests that teaching parents and adolescents how to effectively use nonviolent methods to resolve conflicts and increasing their use of these methods may help reduce violent altercations among African American and Latino teens,” said Dr. Shetgiri. “We also determined that involving all the influential members of a teens’ community — from teachers to peers — would be beneficial.”

    She said violence prevention programs could be more effective by tailoring them to different racial/ethnic groups, such as addressing African American parents’ communications with their children about the acceptability of fighting and recognizing the prominent role of the family among Latinos.

    Journal Reference:

    Rui Jun Chen, Glenn Flores, Rashmi Shetgiri. African-American and Latino Parents’ Attitudes and Beliefs Regarding Adolescent Fighting and Its Prevention. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 2015; DOI: 10.1007/s10826-015-0355-8

    View the original article here

  • jkabtech 6:08 pm on January 12, 2016 Permalink |
    Tags: , , , wasnt   

    Twitter’s updated Mac app wasn’t made by Twitter 

    Twitter’s oft-neglected app for Mac got a much-needed update today, adding support for inline GIFs, videos, quote-tweets, and other features that mobile users have had for ages. But while many users were glad to see the app getting attention, others criticized it for performance issues: laggy scrolling, repeating old notifications, and login issues. If the app doesn’t appear to be totally in harmony with Twitter’s efforts on mobile apps, here’s one possible reason: Twitter didn’t build it.

    Development of the Mac app was outsourced to a third-party developer, said Jonathan Wight, a former Twitter employee, in a tweet. The Verge confirmed that the app’s development was outsourced with other people familiar with the matter. One of those people said the developer is Black Pixel, a well-regarded digital studio based in Seattle. Black Pixel’s other clients have included ESPN, Starbucks, and the New York Times, according to its website.

    As a matter of pride, companies rarely advertise outsourcing

    There’s nothing scandalous about a software company employing a third-party developer to do work on its behalf, although as a matter of pride the larger company rarely advertises it. Slack, arguably the breakout app of the year, was initially designed by a third-party firm. (Which probably took a bit too much credit for its success.) And at least there is now a team working on Twitter’s Mac app — it previously was the responsibility of a single person, sources tell The Verge.

    But Twitter outsourcing its Mac app is still suggestive in a few ways. It says the desktop is not a priority for the company — which is fine! (Mobile is the future, etc.) It hints at the strain that Twitter faces as it attempts to build consistent, high-quality apps across many different platforms at once. And given Twitter’s recent layoffs, which I’m told delivered a critical hit to teams that support the service’s infrastructure, that strain is probably only increasing. I’d also love to know the terms of the contract — is Black Pixel done? Are they going to deliver an update once a quarter?

    Twitter and Black Pixel did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

    View the original article here

  • jkabtech 1:29 pm on January 12, 2016 Permalink |
    Tags: , , , , , Winner   

    In Silicon Valley Now, It’s Almost Always Winner Takes All 

    var TNY = TNY || {}; TNY.dynamicVariables = TNY.dynamicVariables || {}; TNY.dynamicVariables.additionalBannerScroll = 200; TNY.dynamicVariables.timeToUnstick = 1500; try{Typekit.load();}catch(e){};In Silicon Valley Now, It’s Almost Always Winner Takes All – The New Yorker/* STG */header#hd li.n-store a { color: #df3331;}div#b-modal-overlay.modal-frame { z-index: 999999930 !important;}.barrier-type{height:100%!important}.barrier-body{justify-content:space-around!important}.popout-link:after { background-size: 600px auto!important;}.goat-rubric-container > div.container > h3 { display:none;}div#CM-notification{ z-index:0!important;}@media (min-width: 37.5em) {.barrier-type{height:inherit} #CM-notification { height: 635px; }}/* Pre-existing */body > time { position: absolute; left: 0; display: none!important; height: 0; width: 0;}body.homepage #in-the-magazine #special-issue figure img { max-width: 600px; width: 100%;}#main.single-post .sponsored.hasLogo, #main.single-article .sponsored.hasLogo {margin-left: 12px;}@media only screen and (max-width: 420px) { a.cartoonbank-link { display: none !important; }}/* Fix overflow issue on CAR rail module */@media only screen and (min-width: 850px) and (max-width: 1024px) { body.homepage #cartoons { max-width: 630px !important; }}/* Amazon ad */@media only screen and (min-width: 850px) { #header728x90_frame > div > div > div > div { position: relative !important; }}@media(min-width:53em) {.barrier-type{height:inherit!important}} body.customize-support #hd.collapsed #nav-container {margin-top: 28px;} Subscribe Subscribe Sign In Link your subscription Cover of current issueSubscribe now

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    ElementsElements December 30, 2015In Silicon Valley Now, It’s Almost Always Winner Takes AllBy Om Malik ShareTweetThe failure of Sidecar, a ride-sharing venture backed by Richard Branson, illustrates that today’s tech-business ecosystem isn’t structured to foster multi-company competition.The failure of Sidecar, a ride-sharing venture backed by Richard Branson, illustrates that today’s tech-business ecosystem isn’t structured to foster multi-company competition.Credit Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty.In September, 2014, after investing in a ride-sharing company called Sidecar, Richard Branson declared that it was “early days and, like a lot of other commodity businesses, there is room for innovators on great customer experiences.” He added that he was not putting his money into a “winner-takes-all market.” Lots of ride-sharing companies, he was arguing, would survive and thrive. Yesterday, though, a mere fifteen months later, Sidecar’s co-founder and chief executive, Sunil Paul, announced that the company is turning off its ignition.

    As someone who has felt, first-hand, the agony of shuttering the doors of his startup, I feel Paul’s pain. But I want to focus on what Branson, a self-made billionaire, who is more often right than wrong, said about ride-sharing not being a “winner-takes-all” market. What Branson says is generally true for companies that sell analog products, such as packaged goods or soda, or analog services, such as air travel. Coke isn’t going to drive Pepsi out of business, and Toyota isn’t going to eliminate Honda. But in today’s Internet-always-on world, that maxim increasingly doesn’t hold true. Most competition in Silicon Valley now heads toward there being one monopolistic winner. And that is why it is hard not to see that, right now, the only competition that matters in ride-sharing is between the two largest companies: Uber and Lyft.

    In the course of nearly two decades of closely following (and writing about) Silicon Valley, I have seen products and markets go through three distinct phases. The first is when there is a new idea, product, service, or technology dreamed up by a clever person or group of people. For a brief while, that idea becomes popular, which leads to the emergence of dozens of imitators, funded in part by the venture community. Most of these companies die. When the dust settles, there are one or two or three players left standing. Rarely do you end up with true competition.

    In 1998, when Google was born, search was a competitive market with one clear leader, Yahoo, which had identified the need for a Web directory. Others, such as Infoseek, Lycos, and Excite, were falling behind. So the only way to beat Yahoo’s old, directory-style search was to do something different. That’s exactly what the Google co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, did. They correctly identified that the Web was going to grow exponentially, in size, scope, and usage. It would need a new, faster, simpler search engine that would update as quickly as the Web itself. And they would make it super fast—the faster you received results when you typed in a query, the more likely you were to search again. It was a perfect behavior for a world that was going slowly from dial-up Internet to always-on broadband connections. Of course, to make this happen, they would need to build and own their own infrastructure, from networks to data centers to servers.

    As Google started to grow, its new, more algorithmic approach to search attracted new competitors—Simpli, Dogpile, Northern Light, and Direct Hit are some of the doomed companies that came out around that time. Another was a company called Powerset, which ended up getting acquired by Microsoft and eventually became a core part of what is now Microsoft Bing, which currently runs a distant second in the search-engine sweepstakes.

    Looking back, Google’s success came from the fortuitous timing of being born at the cusp of the broadband age. But it also came about because of the new reality of the Internet: a lot of services were going to be algorithmic, and owning your own infrastructure would be a key advantage. The infrastructure—networks, storage, and computers—allowed Google to crawl the Web and rank the results cheaply. As Google got more money, it built better infrastructure, which allowed the company to serve up results more and more quickly, in the process training hundreds of millions of people to use Google whenever they wanted to search. The more people searched, the more data they gave Google to make its index better, smarter, faster, and, eventually, more personal. In short: as Google got bigger, it got better, which made it bigger still. Google is a winner that has taken it all.

    This loop of algorithms, infrastructure, and data is potent. Add what are called network effects to the mix, and you start to see virtual monopolies emerge almost overnight. A network effect occurs when the value of a product or service goes up with the number of people using it. The Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe called it Metcalfe’s Law. Telephone services, eBay, and Skype are good examples of the network effects at work. The more people who are on Skype, the more people you can call, and thus the more likely it is that someone will join.

    While in the early days of networks, growth was limited by slowness and cost at numerous points—expensive telephone connections, computers that crashed, browsers that didn’t work—the rise of the smartphone has essentially changed all that. Facebook, which historically was one of the main beneficiaries of network effects (a social network becomes more valuable to you as more of your friends join it) has grown from two hundred million users to 1.2 billion in the past seven years, as phones have become the primary devices we use to get online.

    And that’s not the only way that Facebook has created a near monopoly in social networking. In the past decade, it has ramped up spending on new data centers, hired a lot more engineers, and turned its news feed into a powerful algorithm. The more we use it, the more data we give the company, and the more it is able to control where we turn our attention. The company has more than a billion users around the world, and it has figured out how to become a dominant source of our mobile addiction. Facebook, thanks to this loop of algorithms, infrastructure, money, and data, is a winner-takes-all company. Twitter is a distant second in the social web, about a fourth of the size of its rival down Highway 101.

    And now Uber is building this tight loop of algorithms, infrastructure, and data, too. In June, 2014, in a column for Fast Company magazine, I pointed out that Google and Uber aren’t very different. Broadband was Google’s sun god; the smartphone is Uber’s. If serving up instant search results was Google’s goal, then Uber’s is to reduce the time to curb, or how long it takes for you to open an app, order a car, and have it arrive. The faster the car gets there, the less likely you are to think about Lyft or Flywheel or anyone else. So far, it’s become pretty fast, which is why you probably never thought about Sidecar.

    Uber has also learned from Facebook: raise a lot of money and use it as a competitive advantage. Because Uber has raised about twelve billion dollars from investors, it has been able to flood markets around the world with Ubers. The more Ubers on the road, the more people are likely to use them. The faster they arrive to pick us up, the more we will forget about other modes of transportation. And the more we use them, the more data we give to Uber, which can then tweak their algorithms to optimize fleet usage and traffic routes. You start to see why food delivery and courier services are now part of Uber’s recent experiments. What was, at one time, an idea for an app to hail limousines for party-goers is now a company that is reimagining all kinds of transportation.

    Meanwhile, Amazon has run away with online retail, leaving everyone else to fight over scraps. Microsoft, even today, controls the office-productivity business. Eight years into the smartphone boom, Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS are the two dominant players, and even in chips it is still Intel and some others. There are two companies that dominate the public cloud—Amazon, followed by Microsoft’s Azure. Google’s G.C.E. is a distant third. There are some competitive markets, such as mobile payments, where Square, PayPal, Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay, and Walmart Pay are some of the bigger players. But, if I were a betting person, I’d wager that this, too, will become a battle between two or three companies.

    Perhaps that is why it isn’t a surprise that Sidecar is part of the growing shakeout in the ride-sharing industry. We have seen companies such as RidePal and Leap Transit go under already. And we will see more failures on this road to transportation reinvention—after all, this is part of the technology cycle. Google, Facebook, and, perhaps, Uber are indicators of something bigger: in our connected age, data, infrastructure, and algorithms give companies a distinct advantage. With all due respect to Branson, it is a winner-takes-all world.

    Correction: A previous version of this post misstated the name of the app Flywheel.

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    &Related Stories

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  • jkabtech 8:49 am on January 12, 2016 Permalink |
    Tags: , argument, Basics, conflicts, , interest,   

    Mark Zuckerberg’s Free Basics argument doesn’t address conflicts of interest 

    Sorry, I could not read the content fromt this page.Sorry, I could not read the content fromt this page.

    View the original article here

  • jkabtech 5:16 am on January 12, 2016 Permalink |
    Tags: alcohol, , , , marijuanas,   

    No easy answers in study of legal marijuana’s impact on alcohol use 

    Does legal marijuana tempt pot users to consume more alcohol — or are they likely to opt for cannabis instead of chardonnay?

    A University of Washington team of researchers sought to address those questions in the context of evolving marijuana policies in the United States. Their findings, published online Dec. 21 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, highlight the difficulties of gauging the impact of a formerly illicit drug as it moves into the mainstream.

    Recreational marijuana use is now legal in four states and medical marijuana in 23 states. Research on legalization policies has focused largely on how they impact marijuana access and use. But the UW team wanted to know how legalization affects the use of alcohol, by far the nation’s most popular drug.

    The majority of adults in the U.S. imbibe to varying degrees, and alcohol abuse is the third leading preventable cause of death nationwide. Drinking accounts for almost one-third of driving fatalities annually, and excessive alcohol use cost $223.5 billion in 2006 alone.

    “We chose to focus on alcohol because even relatively small changes in alcohol consumption could have profound implications for public health, safety and related costs,” said lead author Katarína Guttmannová, a researcher in the UW’s Social Development Research Group.

    The researchers sought to determine whether legalizing marijuana led to it becoming a substitute for alcohol or tended to increase consumption of both substances. If it was the former, they reasoned, that could greatly reduce the costs of healthcare, traffic accidents and lower workplace productivity related to excessive drinking.

    But if legalized marijuana resulted in increased use of both drugs, costs to society could increase dramatically, particularly since those who use both substances tend to use them at the same time. Those who use both substances simultaneously are twice as likely to drive drunk and face social troubles such as drunken brawls and relationship problems, a recent study found.

    Drawing on previous studies, the researchers hypothesized that legalization of marijuana could result in either substitution or complementary effects. Marijuana and alcohol both provide users with similar “reward and sedation” effects, the researchers noted, which could prompt users to substitute one for the other. But blood levels of THC, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s pleasurable psychological effects, increase with simultaneous alcohol use — so the quest for a better high might lead people to use both substances.

    The researchers reviewed more than 750 studies on marijuana and alcohol use and focused on 15 that specifically addressed the links between marijuana policies and drinking. They looked at how decriminalized marijuana, medical marijuana and recreational marijuana impacted alcohol use.

    The findings of those studies fluctuated widely, depending on the demographic and the type and frequency of alcohol and marijuana use. One study, for example, found that states where marijuana is decriminalized had more emergency room visits related to marijuana and fewer visits linked to alcohol and other drugs. Some studies found that high school seniors in states where pot was decriminalized tended to drink less, while other research found that college students who used pot also drank more.

    Findings around medical marijuana also varied. One study reported that states with medical marijuana dispensaries had higher rates of both marijuana and alcohol use, as well as higher admissions into alcohol treatment facilities. But while states with medical marijuana had fewer alcohol-related fatalities overall, those with dispensaries saw more of those deaths.

    Other research found that while legalized medical marijuana wasn’t associated with any increases in underage drinking, it was linked with more binge drinking and simultaneous use of pot and alcohol among adults.

    The issue is particularly complicated in Washington state, which legalized recreational marijuana use in 2012 after privatizing liquor sales the previous year. As a result, the uptick in alcohol sales made it difficult to isolate the impacts of legalized marijuana on drinking from the change in alcohol policy.

    The researchers concluded that there’s evidence of marijuana and alcohol being both substitutes and complements. Given the rapidly evolving landscape of marijuana policy, they say further study will be important to understand how changes in marijuana laws impact the use of alcohol and other drugs.

    In particular, Guttmannová said, future studies should address specific dimensions of marijuana policies, timing of policy change and implementation, and different aspects of marijuana and alcohol use, such as age of users and whether they are episodic or regular consumers.

    “This is a complicated issue and requires a nuanced approach,” she said. “We were hoping to have more clear-cut answers at the end of our research. But you know what? This is the science of human behavior, and it’s messy, and that’s OK.”

    Story Source:

    The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of Washington. The original item was written by Deborah Bach. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

    View the original article here

  • jkabtech 1:45 am on January 12, 2016 Permalink |
    Tags: , Obesity,   

    The Website Obesity Crisis 

    Let me give you a concrete example. I recently heard from a competitor, let’s call them ACME Bookmarking Co., who are looking to leave the bookmarking game and sell their website.

    While ACME has much more traffic than I do, I learned they only have half the daily active users. This was reassuring, because the hard part of scaling a bookmarking site is dealing with people saving stuff.

    We both had the same number of employees. They have an intern working on the project part time, while I dither around and travel the world giving talks. Say half a full-time employee for each of us.

    We have similar revenue per active user. I gross $12,000 a month, they gross $5,000.

    But where the projects differ radically is cost. ACME hosts their service on AWS, and at one point they were paying $23,000 (!!) in monthly fees. Through titanic effort, they have been able to reduce that to $9,000 a month.

    I pay just over a thousand dollars a month for hosting, using my own equipment. That figure includes the amortized cost of my hardware, and sodas from the vending machine at the colo.

    So while I consider bookmarking a profitable business, to them it’s a $4,000/month money pit. I’m living large off the same income stream that is driving them to sell their user data to marketers and get the hell out of the game.

    The point is that assumptions about complexity will anchor your expectations, and limit what you’re willing to try. If you think a ‘real’ website has to live in the cloud and run across a dozen machines, a whole range of otherwise viable projects will seem unprofitable.

    Similarly, if you think you need a many-layered CMS and extensive custom javascript for an online publishing venture, the range of things you will try becomes very constricted.

    Rather than trying to make your overbuilt projects look simple, ask yourself if they can’t just be simple.

    View the original article here

  • jkabtech 9:27 pm on January 11, 2016 Permalink |
    Tags: , doctors, reduced, training   

    In China, training doctors reduced STI risk 

    As China continues to battle epidemics of many sexually transmitted infections including HIV, results of a study newly published in The Lancet Global Health highlight the importance of training doctors to confront it head on.

    The study was a randomized controlled trial of an intensive, customized training program for physicians in sexually transmitted infections. The result was the impact on their STI patients. Those who saw a doctor who received the training had 38 percent lower odds of being infected with gonorrhea or chlamydia within the next nine months than patients of doctors who hadn’t received the training by then.

    “Our trial showed, for the first time, that providing systematic training about HIV and STI prevention, treatment, and behavioral counseling to physicians in China can lead to improved levels of knowledge among those physicians as well as lower levels of new STIs among their patients,” said lead author Don Operario, associate professor in the Brown University School of Public Health. “This trial demonstrates the population-level implications of educating physicians on HIV and STI prevention, treatment, and counseling.”

    The trial’s significance is echoed by Lancet invited commentator Zunyou Wu of the National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention, at the Chinese Center for Diseases Control and Prevention.

    “Their findings call for a scale-up of physician training in HIV and STI knowledge, treatment, and risk reduction counseling, as an important strategy to prevent HIV risk and STI transmission in China as well as around the world,” Wu wrote in the January 2016 edition of the journal.

    Operario and colleagues organized the trial as China’s epidemic was ramping up in 2007 and 2008. A new national HIV policy announced the year before relied heavily on physicians to stem the tide of new infections, but that corps of medical professionals was not fully prepared to take it on.

    “Previously, HIV was considered a small and concentrated epidemic in China and was not a priority for medical education,” Operario said. “Over the past 10 years, HIV started to become transmitted more widely through sexual intercourse, reaching virtually all parts of China. It has now become a priority in China’s health system.”

    Operario and his co-authors, including corresponding author Dr. Thomas Coates of the University of California at Los Angeles, worked with local experts to prepare and then rigorously test a custom STI training program to see if it would directly benefit patients by reducing their rate of STI infections and risky behaviors.

    They recruited 249 doctors who saw STI patients at 51 county hospitals in two Eastern provinces, Anhui and Jiangsu. Doctors at a randomly-selected half of the hospitals received the training, while doctors at the other half of the hospitals waited until after the nine-month study period to get the training. The researchers also recruited more than 1,100 patients of the doctors from their waiting rooms.

    The training involved a week of on-site education in HIV and STIs including disease biology, epidemiology, treatment, behavioral intervention and stigma reduction. Doctors would then go back to practice for two months, practicing new knowledge and keeping a journal, and then returned for two-day “booster” sessions at the three- and six-month marks.

    Doctors and patients were assessed on their knowledge at the beginning and end of the study period. Patients were also asked at the beginning and end about their behaviors such as condom use and were tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea. HIV was the main concern, but it was not common enough to produce significant changes in the study’s sample size. These other more common STIs were.

    At the nine-month mark, patients of doctors who received the training were not only significantly less likely to have an STI, but also they were less likely to report engaging in unprotected sex and had higher HIV and STI knowledge.

    Since the study, Operario has continued to work in China, focusing on subpopulations that have proven to be at greatest risk.

    “The epidemic has continued to evolve in China since we started this work, and now disproportionately affects sexual minority men and migrant populations,” he said. “I am currently working with colleagues at Anhui Medical University to develop interventions to reduce HIV and STIs in these high-risk groups.”

    Story Source:

    The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Brown University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

    View the original article here

  • jkabtech 5:12 pm on January 11, 2016 Permalink |
    Tags: , diseases, , , , Undiagnosed,   

    Undiagnosed diseases program gives answers where there were none 

    Stephanie and Christopher Smith have been on a long, difficult and often frustrating journey to find answers for the mysterious health issues of their children. It started 24 years ago when their third child, Gage, was born. Gage, his younger brother Aiden and then sister Mandalynn, now 13, all developed mysterious symptoms that mystified doctors. All had severe inflammation of their joints, and delayed intellectual development. But no one knew why.

    “We went to numerous physicians in Florida, South Carolina, Washington, D.C., and never got answers,” said Stephanie Smith. “They wrote “unknown bone disease” in the charts. We knew there was something dreadfully wrong with three of our five children, and no one could tell us what it was.”

    Through luck, or fate, or divine providence, the family ended up in Boaz, Alabama. The children became patients of Children’s of Alabama and pediatric rheumatologist Robb Lowe, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Pediatrics. Their timing was fortunate, because UAB had just created the Undiagnosed Diseases Program, a multidisciplinary effort aimed at unraveling the most perplexing medical cases that have defied diagnosis.

    “We created the UDP to tackle cases where a diagnosis has not been made despite extensive efforts by physicians,” said Bruce Korf, M.D., Ph.D., director of the UDP and chair of the UAB Department of Genetics. “Some of these conditions may be so rare that only a handful of people in the world have them. Others may be more common, but have symptoms that present in an unusual way, making diagnosis difficult.”

    Lowe referred the family to the UDP, which partnered with HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology to employ a cutting-edge technique known as whole exome sequencing. The results of the sequencing revealed that all three siblings had two variants in a gene associated with mucolipidosis III, an inherited metabolic disorder known as a lysosomal storage disease.

    Lysosomes are cellular structures that contain enzymes that break down large molecules in cells and recycle the remnants into products the cell can utilize. The three Smith children are missing the ability to package enzymes into the lysosome, so molecular material is not broken down and instead accumulates within the cells.

    Lysosomal storage diseases are rare — mucolipidosis III especially so. The Smith’s are only aware of about 650 cases worldwide. Lowe found one scientific paper in the research literature, published in 2002. He had to self-educate.

    “That one research paper discussed a drug in the bisphosphonate family called pamidronate, which has been used to treat bone diseases,” said Lowe. “The results were mixed in the previous study, but it was a starting place.”

    Mandalynn began getting monthly infusions of pamidronate in the fall of 2015. Gage and Aiden may soon follow. The infusion takes about three hours. So far, Stephanie has seen benefits.

    “It seems to lessen the pain in her legs and joints,” she said. “It should also reduce the risk of fracture. Mandalynn had a bad fall in a parking lot the other day and wasn’t injured.”

    After the first infusion, Stephanie noted improvement in Mandalynn’s memory and ability to concentrate.

    “Her teacher noticed it, too,” she said. “We’re not sure it will continue, but it’s encouraging.”

    “We fortunately sometimes see unexpected beneficial effects for medications that have unexplained anti-inflammatory effects,” Lowe said. “In the case of pamidronate, pediatric rheumatologists have been using it “off-label” for over a decade to effectively a different rare bone disease called CRMO. Hopefully, knowledge of the underlying genetics will spur new research focusing on these poorly understood rare diseases.”

    For Stephanie, finally knowing the name of this disease that has struck her children is important.

    “It’s certainly somewhat overwhelming, but I’m grateful for the diagnosis,” she said. “After 24 years, we finally know what this is. We now know what to expect, what to look for and what to prepare for.”

    Identifying a rare disease also opens up tantalizing research opportunities.

    “Every new diagnosis broadens our understanding of rare diseases,” said Korf. “Every therapy we try, whether it works or not, tells us something of the mechanisms by which these diseases operate. That’s the reason for the Undiagnosed Diseases Program and our collaboration with Children’s of Alabama and HudsonAlpha. The more we learn about rare genetic conditions, the closer we are to unlocking treatments that will have a meaningful impact on people’s lives.”

    “This is not an ending point, this is a beginning,” said Lowe. “With a better understanding of the genetics involved, new medications such as biologics or even some of the older tried and true chemotherapy agents may prove to be very useful in treating rare and little understood conditions. The genetic data that we can now access will unlock that potential.”

    View the original article here

  • jkabtech 1:36 pm on January 11, 2016 Permalink |
    Tags: , breast, , method,   

    New method for better treatment of breast cancer 

    A new study shows that a novel imaging-based method for defining appropriateness of breast cancer treatment is as accurate as the current standard-of-care and could reduce the need for invasive tissue sampling. The results suggest that the method might lead to more optimal treatment of individual patients.

    Measuring the growth factor HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor type 2) is an important tool for deciding correct treatment in breast cancer. Treatments targeting HER2 are expensive but save the lives of many women. Targeted treatments have no effect if the metastases do not express HER2. The current diagnosis of elevated HER2 expression in metastatic cancer is based on examination of tissue samples obtained by surgery or needle biopsies from the liver, bones and other organs.

    The aim of the current study, published in the Open-Access journal Theranostics, was to develop a simpler and non-invasive technique, based on whole-body PET/CT imaging, and compare the results of image analysis to the invasive measurements in the same patients. The study included 16 women with on-going treatment of metastatic breast cancer. Twelve had been diagnosed with a HER2-positive primary tumor and four were HER2-negative. All patients were scanned using combined PET/CT and a novel tracer molecule, ABY-025 Affibody, labeled with the short-lived radioactive isotope gallium-68.

    The results showed that the amount of HER2-expression in the metastases was accurately measured with the new method. In addition, the amount of HER2-expression in the metastases was frequently found to be different from the primary tumor, leading to a change in therapy in several patients.

    The new method might substitute invasive tissue sampling in the near future. Our study resulted in two patients starting therapy and one patient ending therapy with HER2-targeting drugs says Jens Sörensen, PET-reseacher and adjunct professor at the Institution of Surgical Sciences, Uppsala University.

    The research group now plans a larger study with more participating hospitals to confirm the results with the intention of making the new method more widely available to patients.

    Story Source:

    The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Uppsala University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

    View the original article here

  • jkabtech 9:40 am on January 11, 2016 Permalink |
    Tags: Bakery, Collins, Desserts, Fruitcakes, Strange,   

    Just Desserts: A Strange Tale of Fruitcakes and the Collins Street Bakery 

    Sandy Jenkins was a shy, daydreaming accountant at the Collin Street Bakery, the world’s most famous fruitcake company. He was tired of feeling invisible, So he started stealing—and got a little carried away.January 2016By Katy Vine


    On most days, around 6:30, Sandy Jenkins would wake up without an alarm and linger for just a few minutes in silence. This was one of the best parts of his day, a time when life seemed full of possibility. He didn’t sketch out plans or set goals. Preparation wasn’t his strong suit. In those quiet moments, he would lie there and fantasize. He imagined a life filled with travel and prestigious pursuits, scenes set to soaring arias or violins. Maybe he’d be stepping off a private plane, squinting into the distance at a mountain range; maybe he’d be strutting down a street in some exotic locale while people smiled deferentially. He’d play those fantasies in his head until, at 6:35, he placed them on pause, for later.

    One morning in December 2004, he slid his legs out of bed, petted his miniature dachshund, Maggie, and stumbled downstairs to make coffee; he preferred it strong and black and poured into a fine china cup. After returning to bed, he and his wife, Kay, watched Good Morning America (he liked Robin Roberts). Then he ate breakfast, showered, slipped on his Rolex, surveyed his close-cropped hair for any sign that it was getting too long and kinky, like his father’s, and wandered over to his closet. He picked out a pair of slacks and then studied his selection of polo shirts from Dillard’s and Foley’s, pondering the same choice he faced just about every day: black or gray.

    Despite his color preferences, he wasn’t macabre, not really. It’s true that he’d often dreamed of becoming the director of a funeral home, but his fixation had little to do with death. Rather, he coveted the sharp outfits, the rich backdrop, the immaculate black cars, the eloquence and reverent tones. Funeral homes didn’t use chintzy stuff, at least not the good ones. In Corsicana he liked Corley Funeral Home best. It had the most opulent rooms and, anyway, that’s where all the wealthy people went. But funeral homes were just a hobby. He wasn’t a funeral director. He was an accountant, just ten years shy of collecting his social security so he could retire, and if he stood in front of his closet any longer, he’d be late for work.

    He pulled into his parking space at 7:55 a.m. He’d spent the full ten-minute commute imagining that he was driving a newer car instead of his five-year-old Lexus. Putting that fantasy on hold, he grabbed his weathered briefcase and entered the front door of the best-known business in Corsicana: the Collin Street Bakery, which, if you didn’t know, is the world’s most renowned purveyor of fruitcakes. He braced himself for the yeasty scent of baked bread and for small talk with his co-workers. People were always polite, but they’d never really warmed up to him, despite his attempts. He remembered important anniversaries, he wished them happy birthday, and he was quick to compliment haircuts and new outfits. But his efforts made little difference. Ever since he’d arrived in town—shoot, probably his whole life—Sandy Jenkins had felt invisible.

    He knew what they whispered behind his back. People around town said they just couldn’t get him talking at a party. “His wife was a hoot and a holler,” said one woman in Corsicana. “He had zero personality.” He seemed destined to be thought of as that “little ol’ bitty toothpicky” man, as another resident put it, with droopy eyes, a weak chin, and the personality of an aged basset hound.

    You know who got respect? Bob McNutt. Everybody would agree with that. And of course he did, because Bob ran the bakery. But even if he didn’t, people would have held him in high regard. Thanks to his successful father, the previous owner of the fruitcake factory, Bob had traveled the world. He could show friends pictures of himself sitting at Hemingway’s desk in Cuba; he could entertain employees with stories about Costa Rica, where the company had planted its own crops to better control the quality of the papayas and pineapples that make the Collin Street Bakery’s fruitcakes so special. Bob was wealthy, but he didn’t flaunt it. His shirts were nice but not flashy. He gave to charity, and he didn’t brag around the office if he traveled on a private jet. He had a dry, endearing wit. “I’m sure you’ve entered my office just so you can see what the world’s most handsome CEO looks like up close.” That’s the type of thing Bob would say—not that Sandy knew him well. They worked near each other—Sandy could see Bob’s office from his door—and they attended the same church, yet they’d had only a few interactions over the years. Sandy’s was a distant admiration. Sometimes he would sit at his desk and recapture his morning fantasy. In it, he would be a little bit like Bob McNutt.

    But the monotony of the day would soon intrude. Colleagues who stopped by his office asked him for reports, not opinions or anecdotes or jokes. There were payroll reports, daily sales reports, reports on how many pounds of pineapple and pecans they’d purchased. Motioning to Sandy through the window partitioning their offices, Sandy’s immediate supervisor in the accounting department, Scott Hollomon, always wanted something: bank balances, invoices. Scott was a good boss—like a brother, actually. Still, his friendship was little reward for number-crunching drudgery. By 2004, Sandy had worked at the bakery for six years. He had proved himself a reliable employee, though he made only $50,000 a year. He was having to save money just to afford the upgraded Lexus he wanted. It all seemed so tedious.

    On most days, in the late morning, Sandy would kill time by glancing at the food coverage in the Dallas Morning News. But that day, in December 2004, wasn’t like other days. Just before lunch, as he sat with the computerized checkbook program open in front of him, he began to daydream again. What if there were a quicker way to afford that Lexus? He stared at his computer screen, at the blank spaces on the checks. Didn’t he deserve better?

    It wasn’t as if the Jenkinses had nothing going for them. They weren’t rich, but they had refined tastes; that was immediately apparent to anybody who visited their home, in a fine neighborhood with wide streets. Sometimes Sandy would sit at the piano he’d bought from a relative and play “Clair de Lune,” “Rhapsody in Blue,” or another one of his favorites for visitors while Kay cooked a gourmet concoction, something she’d likely picked up from their daughter, Allison, who was studying the culinary arts. Outside, people driving by would take note of Kay’s gardens. “You’d go past their yard and it was a profusion of color,” said one friend. Well, they’d won Corsicana Yard of the Month multiple times.

    Anybody who met them noticed right away that Sandy and Kay were opposites. “He was introverted and she was outgoing,” said one woman. “She’s great big and he’s itty-bitty,” said another woman. (People in Corsicana will dish about their neighbors, but few want their names in print.) Some people observed that she ordered him around, not that Sandy seemed to mind—or anybody else, for that matter. If she was a little overbearing, that was a forgivable sin in Corsicana. “Honey, we’re all bossy,” one woman explained. “She’s got a sarcastic sense of humor? We all do!”

    They weren’t as certain what to make of Sandy, a hesitation familiar to most people who’d met him. He’d had only a few friends growing up in nearby Wortham, the only child of doting parents who ran the Jenkins Grocery. He worked in the store after school and on weekends, stocking shelves and sweeping floors. “He was quiet, not one of the more popular guys in school,” said classmate Betty Bosley (she was voted “Most Athletic”). “I hate to use the word ‘nerdy.’ He wasn’t an athlete or anything.” Nor was he academically ambitious, preferring to daydream and play piano.

    His taste for finer things came from his mother. “My dad said if they sold poop in a bag at Neiman’s, she would buy it,” Sandy said. Her desires rarely resulted in purchases of mink stoles or diamond rings, but they did have an effect on Sandy, who started collecting watches as a twelve-year-old, buying them used off family friends. His aunt even bought him a diamond ring in high school, knowing he would love it. Little wonder he was voted “Most Fashionable” in high school three years in a row.

    While he could have inherited the family store and done well, his parents urged him to consider a different path. “Be a doctor,” they told him. But Sandy had other aspirations. All he ever wanted—for as long as he could remember—was to work as a funeral home director. His cousin’s stepfather owned a funeral home in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and when Sandy finally got to visit, he admired the lavish interiors, touching the thick decorative curtains as he passed through the halls. When Sandy told his father about this ambition, his dad discouraged him—Sandy figured his dad thought he was too shy—and suggested that Sandy choose a more mainstream career. And so in 1973, after stints at Baylor University and Navarro College, Sandy graduated from Dallas Baptist University with that most predictable of degrees: business administration.

    He’d married by this time. A family friend had told him about her niece, a dental hygiene student who also attended Dallas Baptist and occasionally needed a ride to campus. Kay Nikel was her name. She was from San Antonio originally. The first time Sandy picked Kay up at her aunt’s house, he couldn’t believe his luck. She had long brown hair, pretty brown eyes, and an enormous personality. As they drove the highway into Dallas, she bored into him, asking him questions, glancing at him flirtatiously. Sandy found it miraculous that someone so vivacious would have interest in a mousy person such as himself, and he managed to work up the nerve to ask her to Waco for a movie. By 1971 he’d persuaded her to marry him. He figured she must have liked quiet guys.

    They lived in Fairfield straight out of college, where Sandy got a job as an accounting clerk at the utility company, but they were familiar with Corsicana. Its historic red-brick downtown is one of the most beautiful in the area. Corsicana’s wealth dates back to the late 1800’s, when oil was discovered there, creating, by 1953, the highest per-capita income of any Texas city. These days, the richest families in Corsicana, the descendants of those first millionaires, will tell you they have themselves a little Highland Park “fifty miles and a hundred years south of Dallas.” They’re a gossipy, colorful group. “The Housewives of Beverly Hills?” said one socialite. “We’d blow that shit out of the water.” On the wealthy side of town, locals refer to some estates by name—Mariposa, Versailles—and homes are decorated with antiques from family members long dead. Here, nobody wonders where a rich person’s money came from. They know: it’s oil, cattle, natural gas—or, in a few cases, the bakery. Most of the wealthy families in town have been established for decades. So when Sandy’s job was transferred to Dallas and the Jenkinses moved to Corsicana, in 1988, they had a lot of catching up to do.

    They bought a two-story historic home with a wraparound porch and white Greek columns and settled into a quiet routine. They joined the choir at First Baptist Church, where Sandy became a deacon and Kay worked in food services, eventually starting a catering business on the side. It was a comfortable life for a while. But Sandy’s job was eliminated in 1995, and he soon grew depressed. In 1998 he was diagnosed with manic depression and prescribed medication. While out of work, Sandy spent even more time at the church, helping out. He occasionally subbed at the junior high and helped with Kay’s business. “Is there anything we can do for the Jenkinses?” church members would ask one another.

    Their prayers must have gone straight to heaven, because Sandy didn’t just land a job. He was hired by the most famous employer around.

     The interior of the Collin Street Bakery’s flagship location, in Corsicana, photographed on December 2, 2015. The interior of the Collin Street Bakery’s flagship location, in Corsicana, photographed on December 2, 2015.

    The Collin Street Bakery doesn’t just sell fruitcakes, it sells “DeLuxe” fruitcakes—or as one local put it, “the Cadillac of fruitcakes. The Mercedes-Benz of fruitcakes.” Sandy loved fruitcake, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas, when he soaked it in rum or brandy. Bite into the bakery’s signature fruitcake, the DeLuxe, and your mouth encases a dense universe of papayas, pineapples, cherries, raisins, and pecans barely held together by a moist swirl of flour, egg, and honey. The cakes are currency in town—a way to thank someone for jumping your car or mowing your lawn.

    When Sandy first started at the bakery, he worked for Bob’s dad, Bill McNutt. Sandy thought Bill was a brilliant businessman. Sandy knew the bakery’s history well; such was its legend. In 1946 Bill’s father, Lee McNutt, and two partners bought the business from a shy German immigrant baker named Gus Weidmann and his flashy associate, Tom McElwee, who’d started the bakery together fifty years earlier. Initially, their main focus was bread, though that changed when the Ringling Brothers Circus troupe, which regularly traveled through town, began ordering Weidmann’s German fruitcakes for Christmas presents, giving the two men an idea.

    The fruitcake is a very special baked item. It has more salt than the average cake, salt that acts as a natural preservative, so fruitcakes practically never go bad. What other food on earth can make such a claim? The DeLuxe fruitcake is a thing of wonder. Weidmann and McElwee’s traditional recipe combined ingredients that were, themselves, plain and forgettable and transformed them into a glossy ring so strikingly complex that soon everybody in the world wanted one.

    The fruitcakes’ shelf life meant that the bakery could ship them anywhere, and McElwee focused on building a fruitcake mail-order business, a tradition Lee McNutt and his son, Bill, who took over the company in 1967, developed further. Bill decided to go all-in on the fruitcakes, constructing an entire factory to make them. He was enthusiastic, a Vanderbilt man who drank ice-cold milk and chain-smoked unfiltered cigarettes that he popped out of his shirt pocket. He turned out to be a mail-order pioneer, investing in a computerized system that would allow him to reach people in 196 countries—and he was no slouch at promotion either. He sent cakes to notables like Frank Sinatra, the queen of Spain, even the president of the Republic of Malawi, and in return, their secretaries posted thank-you notes suitable for framing. (Famously, the bakery once rejected an order from the Ayatollah Khomeini.) Word got out about the DeLuxe fruitcakes, and in time the postman was delivering letters addressed to “Fruitcakes, Texas.” One envelope simply showed a photo of a fruitcake and a zip code.

    “A lot of people don’t know where Corsicana is until you say ‘fruitcake.’ Then they know,” said a local waitress named Dina. DeLuxe fruitcakes became a Christmas staple, boosted town pride, and made the McNutts rich. By the time Bob took over, in 1998, he’d realized that fruitcakes had suffered some “cultural denigration” in the eighties, though he told a reporter, “I’ve got a jar in my office for all the great fruitcake jokes. So far it’s still empty.” Bob decided to expand the Collin Street Bakery, opening storefronts in Waco, Lindale, and Greenville. It was a big risk.

    Sandy started that same year, as an accounts payable and payroll supervisor, making $25,000 a year. His office, which had previously been inhabited by a husband-and-wife team for fifty years, sat on the perimeter of the business operations floor, a checkerboard of desks and computers located on the second story just above the flagship bakery, near downtown Corsicana. Sandy spent $1,000 of the bakery’s money on an antique desk reproduction and moved it into his office, then hung up a Picasso print of a dachshund to remind him of little Maggie.

    He performed well. Sandy helped the bakery transition from a manual accounting system to a computerized one, and by 2000, he had been promoted to corporate controller. Scott, his supervisor, was a fellow member of First Baptist who enjoyed Sandy’s company and was pleased with the job Sandy was doing. Sandy was never late running the payroll, and he always kept the taxes current. “The specific task you gave him got done and got done timely,” Scott said. Sandy did it all without complaint. Only Kay, once in a while, would grumble about the bakery, telling Sandy and Scott, “Bob doesn’t pay y’all enough.”

    It was true that Sandy could think of a few ways to spend money if he had more of it. He might indulge more often at the Corsicana Country Club, where all the bigwigs in town played poker and smoked cigars; he might join a guys’ gourmet group or a wine society; he might see more productions at the theaters in town. He and Kay might have enough money and status to break into the more exclusive supper club scene. “Everybody in town belongs to a supper club. There are three or four of them and each one has fifty, sixty people in it,” explained one woman. The clubs go back generations, and these days most of them are so crowded, a couple has to wait until another couple leaves before they’re invited in. Perhaps Kay would join the more discerning book club, known as Quintillion. “That’s one of the oldest book clubs in Corsicana,” one member bragged.

    By most accounts, the Jenkinses had done well for themselves. Sandy had a good job at the town’s marquee employer; they had raised a daughter and were contributing members of the community. But those accomplishments mattered little to some in town. After all, the Jenkinses were not considered high rollers; they were the folks who made the food down at the church. They would always have trouble gaining acceptance into the upper echelon of Corsicana society. “Real Corsicana is old families,” said Scott’s wife, Kathy. Another local said, “It’s real clique-y.” And the judgments could be brutal. “Baby, if you get a hangnail, we know it before dark,” said one woman. “We’re mean and gossipy here.” Some women noted that Kay didn’t have the right name-brand sandals; she wore Yellow Box flip-flops, even in winter. “And she wore those sacks,” another said. “She never had a tummy tuck, a boob job, or new clothes. She had on those maw-maw clothes.”

    And Sandy? Sandy was invisible, as usual.

    Now, Sandy considered himself a moral person. But somehow, as he sat at his desk that December day in 2004, the action he was tempted to take didn’t seem wrong. He felt he was working the equivalent of three jobs at the bakery, and was he really compensated for all of it? How long was he supposed to wait to achieve his dreams?

    He decided to dip into the bakery’s petty cash. It wasn’t much money in the grand scheme of things. But it kept him on edge. Every time someone stepped into his office, he’d brace himself for the words “Sandy, do you know what happened with this money?” He never planned a response. He didn’t want to think about getting caught. But no one ever asked about it. Everybody went about their business, and soon the petty cash wasn’t enough. A few weeks later, on a whim, he drove up to the Dallas dealership and bought a gold Lexus sedan with tan leather interior. It wasn’t a huge leap; it was a used car and he traded in his old Lexus as a down payment. He still couldn’t afford the payments, but he had a plan. He had been thinking about those blank spaces on the checkbook software.

    Sandy had been invisible for such a long time, he was unfamiliar with the rush of power he suddenly felt driving back to Corsicana, blasting Barbra Streisand all the way down Interstate 45 in his new Lexus. If he were the type to sing in his car, he would have been singing. Cloudy gray times, you are now a thing of the past. Sandy didn’t sing, though, at least not in real life. Still, he might have been mistaken, but weren’t people looking at him with envy? That night, when Kay came home from working at the church, he told her that the car was a gift from the Fishers, a couple he’d been helping with their accounting needs. Who knows if she believed him. Maybe she had her own daydreams.

    By January 25, when his credit card payment was due, he was ready to follow through with his plan. He drummed his fingers on his desk, sipped a Diet Coke, and glanced over to see if Scott was looking. And then, taking a breath, he set his fingers on his keyboard and typed a $20,000 check payable to CitiCard. The software automatically signed the check “Bob McNutt.” Sandy printed that check, voided it in the system, but mailed it. Then, to cover his tracks, he typed the next check payable to a legitimate bakery vendor for the same amount but never mailed it. (Sandy says he doesn’t remember whether he paid off his new Lexus with the CitiCard or with other checks directly from the bakery.)

    Once Sandy was sure that nobody had noticed the first fraudulent check, he tried it again. And again and again. Each time, Sandy would repeat the scheme, pairing his fraudulent check with one that appeared legitimate. Someone would have to closely examine the checks to see any discrepancies, and that seemed unlikely.

    Before long he and Kay were spending up to $98,000 a month on their credit card, which Sandy then paid with Collin Street Bakery checks. After remodeling their kitchen with a Viking range, cooling and warming drawers, and granite countertops, they started hosting elaborate dinner parties, opening hundred-dollar bottles of wine while serving steak and veal chops. They could join multiple supper clubs now, and they did. They hosted champagne brunches with themes like “flip-flops to stilettos” and dinners featuring “burgers and Bordeaux,” mixing high and low cuisine. “She’d have a ladies tea and everybody had to wear a hat—she did that kind of thing,” said Scott, who had started seeing Sandy and Kay socially about three days a week. The Jenkinses installed a wine cellar under their staircase outfitted with two refrigerator-size storage units, and Sandy’s palate developed so quickly that when he’d go down to the Corsicana Country Club—which he didn’t do as often as some people, only once or twice a week—he’d bring his own bottle from home, as the house wines were no longer to his liking.

    At work, Sandy told people admiring his fine clothes that he’d bought his outfits at Walmart, though nothing could have been further from the truth: he was actually wearing $600 shirts from Armani and Hermès. He’d always loved shoes, and soon his closet at home was overflowing with Ferragamos and Guccis. He’d long admired the watches at the finest places in Dallas—de Boulle Diamond and Jewelry, Eiseman Jewels, Bachendorf’s, Neiman Marcus—and now that he could select among them, he decided he wanted all of them. On one trip, in December 2006, he bought five Rolexes for $52,765.75—roughly his annual salary. Their personal shopper at Neiman Marcus saw the Jenkinses so often she had nicknames for them, Fruitcake for Sandy and Cupcake for Kay. Though after a while she saw less of them. She says she ran out of things to sell them.

    Though Sandy still daydreamed at work, his desires became more instantly attainable. Sitting at his desk, he’d page through a luxury lifestyle magazine that circulated around the office called the Robb Report, and when some bauble caught his fancy, he’d simply place an order. On occasions when he’d already bought what he wanted from the latest Robb Report and he didn’t have time to drive to Dallas, he would ask jewelers to come to the bakery. Under armed guard, he’d finger the stones as he asked his colleagues, “Do you think Kay would like this one?”

    On a trip to Santa Fe, he bought a $658,000 four-bedroom adobe house far removed from the street, replete with porches, exposed beams, and a rock fireplace. He and Kay invited their upper-class friends from Corsicana to visit using a chartered jet, treating them to fine wines and dinners. And Santa Fe wasn’t their only destination spot. Sandy and Kay shuttled back and forth to Aspen, Napa, and Martha’s Vineyard via private plane. In the year after writing the first fraudulent check, Sandy took 43 private flights at a cost of $500,000, and subsequent years brought more of the same.

    You might be thinking: There must have been suspicions, right? Surely people knew that Sandy couldn’t be making that much money at the bakery. “All of a sudden, poof! They had money”—that’s how one local put it. But while the spending was very sudden, explanations circulated to reassure everyone that nothing was amiss. Both Sandy and Kay told people around town that they had inherited money, though sometimes there were different justifications for indulgent items, like the Lexuses, BMWs, and Mercedes-Benzes that were replaced at a dizzying pace. Sandy told his colleague Hayden Crawford, the director of the bakery’s public relations, “I’m a car trader. I get new cars but I’m able to flip them. I’m probably paying less than you are and getting a new car every five, six months.” He told others that a cousin was loaning him cars—the same generous cousin who was loaning him the planes.

    Authorities would later say that Kay knew he didn’t have a cousin with a private jet. And while Sandy told Kay that the money was from the Fisher family, he begged her not to mention their generous acts around anybody from the bakery. “Tell them it’s from contract work,” he suggested.

    “Can the money get us into trouble?” she asked at one point.

    “No,” he responded, “but I’m not reporting it to the IRS.”

    “And if you die?”

    “If I die, the money will stop.”

    Kay quit working not long after that first check. Regardless of what she knew, she was nervous enough about the money that when a two-seat Lexus convertible she’d ordered arrived in midnight-blue, she returned it because it didn’t match the peacock-blue color of her previous car and might draw unwanted attention. How could it not? When a friend asked Kay about a diamond ring she was wearing worth a quarter of a million dollars, and she responded that it was her engagement ring, surely she could read the look on his face, the forced smile behind the niceties that said, I doubt that was your engagement ring when you catered my daughter’s wedding. He wasn’t the only person raising an eyebrow. As their neighbor Jim Polk would later tell the local news, “I’m looking at cars that are $100,000 to $200,000 and I’m thinking, ‘My God, he must have won the lottery!’?” And yet stealing was the furthest thing from anybody’s mind. After all, this was Corsicana; a broken traffic light counts as a scandal. “If he’s gonna drop by once a quarter and drop a bottle of wine off,” said Hayden, “I just thought, ‘What a nice guy.’?”

    People were looking at Sandy in a new way. “Suddenly people were interested in me and what I had to say,” he said. “It was like suddenly I was some new, different person who could do things for them and take them places.”

    Sandy and his wife, Kay, in a photo posted on Facebook, flying on a private jet.Sandy and his wife, Kay, in a photo posted on Facebook, flying on a private jet.

    Bob McNutt was shaking his head year after year, wondering why the bakery wasn’t making more money. He couldn’t figure it out. Was the company expanding too quickly? People seemed to love the new pecan cakes, a twist on the fruitcake that came in regular or bite-size. “It doesn’t make sense,” Hayden would tell Bob. “We’re doing something wrong.” They’d finish each fiscal year and say, “It slipped through our hands again.” Some years they could blame the economy, like anybody else; other years they had no excuse. They examined their expenses: labor, the price of ingredients, even the inventory of ingredients, as if somebody were stealing the cherries or pecans to make a million fruitcakes at home. They audited the payroll. Nothing came of their efforts. Hayden said, “We did this over years trying to pinpoint what the problem was.”

    Sandy had timed his checks well. He knew when the bakery would stock up on ingredients and when it would be spending more on postage, and he’d pad the expense areas that would normally be high so that when the bakery ran its marketing analysis, nothing seemed unusual. When the higher-ups complained that their hard work on the expansion wasn’t offering much financial reward, no one saw a solution. Ultimately, they figured that the transition from mail order to “sticks and bricks” was just more painful than anyone at the bakery had anticipated.

    Once, Sandy almost got caught. The director of e-commerce and call services, Darlene Johnston, typically spent a little bit of money promoting one of the bakery’s side businesses, a small mail-order company called Cryer Creek Kitchens, but the expenses had increased exponentially. One day Scott walked into her office and told her, “Darlene, don’t spend any more on Cryer Creek Kitchens, because look, cost-to-sales, we’re not making any money at all.” Johnston looked at the numbers and said, “I didn’t spend $23,000 on postage; that’s crazy.” But the paperwork showed that she had. Sandy offered to look into it and reported back that everything seemed to be in order.

    He didn’t always cover his tracks so well. One time, for example, Sandy stopped by Bob’s office to tell Bob about his cousin’s plane. “He lets me use it,” he told Bob, as he had told everyone. Bob was confused about why this employee he barely knew was boasting to him. “I was kinda like, ‘Well, why do you need to tell that to me?’?” Bob said later. Another time, Sandy groused to Semetric Walker, an accountant in her thirties who’d been hired in December 2011, that Bob had been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. But if such remarks unsettled his colleagues, Sandy didn’t worry about it too much, just as he shrugged off any worries about Kay, who could also raise suspicions—like the time she asked one woman over cocktails, “Do people ever ask you where your money comes from?” The woman was so freaked out by the question, she simply said no and avoided her after that. Another time, Kay asked a socialite, “How much money does somebody need to fit into Corsicana society?”

    As the years rolled by, Sandy adjusted easily to the good life. He got pedicures and manicures and spent money trying (in vain) to straighten his hair so it would be smooth and thick, like Bill Clinton’s.

    He went hog wild with the spending, upping the ante with every purchase. He bought a $7,200 cellphone, a $40,000 horsehair mattress, a $58,000 Steinway. (He even inquired about investing in a funeral home but never got around to it.) When Bob’s wife appeared at a party showing off her husband’s latest gift, a Van Cleef & Arpels necklace, Kay showed up to a later event wearing the “jump-rope version,” as one local put it. By 2010, the Jenkinses preferred only the best food and drink: Dom Pérignon and Cristal Champagne, Petrossian caviar. “They never talked about how much things cost,” Kathy Hollomon said. “Kay would just say, ‘Oh, it’s only money.’?” Sandy and Kay were making their way up the social ladder of Corsicana. They stopped going to church, telling the Hollomons that the First Baptist parishioners still treated them like kitchen workers, which was fine, since they’d made other friends. Kay became treasurer of the Quintillion book club, and Sandy joined a wine club. When shopkeepers saw Sandy coming, they’d wave him down and call him by name.

    It seemed that Sandy’s invisible days were over, and now that people could see him, they loved him. Companies invited him to exclusive parties; one company even paid for him to tour watchmaking facilities in Switzerland.

    He eventually indulged in the hobby of the truly wealthy: philanthropy. He bought a table at the Navarro College fundraiser. He underwrote a performance by Hot Club of Cowtown at the Palace Theater. He was a patron and board member of the Santa Fe Opera. He gave money to the Wortham High School Ex-Students Association. He spent big money at the charity auctions—sometimes even outspending Bob McNutt.

    Bob McNutt outside the Collin Street Bakery headquarters, in Corsicana.Bob McNutt outside the Collin Street Bakery headquarters, in Corsicana.

    You’d think Sandy would have been worried, always looking over his shoulder. You’d imagine he’d have been paranoid whenever he saw his friends talking in a circle or have nightmares that someone was knocking at his door with a warrant for his arrest. After all, few things last forever. Even a DeLuxe fruitcake eventually goes bad. But Sandy wasn’t concerned, never even thought of cashing out and leaving town. He’d achieved what he’d always wanted: to be transformed from something plain and forgettable into something new and wonderful that everyone revered.

    On Thursday, June 20, 2013, Semetric, the relatively new hire in accounting, stopped in his doorway. She’d been going over bank statements that morning and had found a check that she didn’t recognize, a check made out to Capital One. She knew the bakery didn’t have any accounts or credit cards with Capital One. It was then that Sandy heard the question he had once feared: “Sandy, there’s a discrepancy with this check. Can you help me understand this?”

    Sandy tried to remain calm. “I’ll fix it,” he told her, hoping his panic wasn’t showing on his face.

    But it was. And this piqued Semetric’s interest. She didn’t want to flag the check for Scott; she knew he and his wife spent a lot of time with the Jenkinses. Still, she had a gut feeling about Sandy. So when he left a note on her desk saying he was going to be out for the afternoon (looking at a new house in the posh neighborhood known as Mills Place), Seme­tric started poking around in the system and noticed a pattern. Looking through the voided check register, Semetric quickly found eleven discrepancies—around $400,000 worth—an impressive enough sum that she felt emboldened. She brought the checks to Scott, who looped in other executives. “It looks like we’ve found Sandy Jenkins embezzling money,” they told Bob, who replied, “Well, that explains a lot.”

    The next day, when Sandy arrived at work, Scott asked him to come into one of the executives’ offices. Scott showed him copies of voided checks. “Tell us what these are,” he said. Sandy pretended, for a moment, that he hadn’t done anything wrong. He looked over the checks and shrugged, replying, “Well, I don’t know,” which only fueled Scott’s anger and prompted him to ask Sandy pointedly, “Did you write these checks?” This was a trickier question, and Sandy wasn’t good on his feet. What was he going to say: No? That somebody else had sneaked into his office? “I write the checks for the bakery,” he said.

    It was a relief to be fired, just so he could finally get out of that room. And he needed to get going: he had a lot of work ahead of him. Within hours a sheriff’s deputy would be arriving to collect his keys. The bakery would then cancel his credit card and change the locks. They’d soon know everything: that on about nine hundred occasions, Sandy Jenkins had stolen from the bakery, an amount totaling $114,342.04 in cash and $16,649,786.91 in checks. Now was his time to move. He raced home, grabbed two grocery bags from the kitchen, and ran from room to room tossing handfuls of valuables inside: watches, jewelry, gold bars—making sure to check the air vent where he’d stashed some of the jewels. Then he and Kay got in one of his cars and drove to Austin, where their daughter was living, and stored the bags in a safe before taking off to Santa Fe to regroup.

    “I was shocked out of my ever-loving mind,” said one retired schoolteacher who’d once hired Kay to cater an event. Even those who liked Sandy—the church types, the soft souls—judged him harshly after the news hit town. There was gossip at First Baptist and at the Corsicana Country Club. Naturally, they judged Kay too. As one woman put it, “She had the balls of Godzilla.”

    But the town didn’t go totally berserk until a month later, on July 24, 2013, a 95-degree day when the most earth-shattering news of the morning had been that the YMCA swim team would compete in a state meet. “I was mowing my front yard when the FBI pulled up,” Jim Polk told a TV reporter. The Corsicana Daily Sun sent a photographer to snap shots of the FBI entering the Jenkins house and towing the cars. “My phone has never rung so much,” said one socialite. It took about five seconds for word to spread. People who’d expected a typical morning drive to work took a detour past the Jenkinses’ home. Some circled the block, slowing in front of the house, while others parked nearby to watch the events unfold. One young man later recounted that when he called his mother, she responded, “I can’t talk to you right now. I’m watching the house!” and hung up. Others called their friends with updates: Here comes the tow truck for the 2010 Mercedes, the 2005 Lexus, the 2013 GMC Yukon Denali, the 2013 BMW. Are those furs they’re taking out now? (They’d spent $2 million on furs.) And wine? ($50,000 on wine.) It looked as if the FBI was taking all the big stuff, though they’d probably have to come back for the Steinway. “It was a big event and it was somebody we knew,” said one woman who saw the whole thing. “We gasped and shouted when we saw the big Louis Vuitton steamer trunks come out. Two of ’em!”

    Sandy hadn’t been around the house for three weeks. He was out in Santa Fe, and then back in Austin, thinking, wondering: What do criminals do when they hide their money? Should he bury it somewhere? Put it into an offshore account? Around the time one FBI team was searching the house in Corsicana, he noticed another crew on his tail in Austin. He retrieved the stash and poured all the jewelry into an insulated Whole Foods bag, then he drove down to Lady Bird Lake, on the edge of downtown. With the bag in his hand, he walked to a secluded bend, hoping he wouldn’t be interrupted by some stroller-pushing, power-walking busybody, and he began scattering the treasure behind trees, bushes, rocks—the way one might hide eggs at Easter. It made him cringe to imagine a dog peeing on his $25,000 Patek Philippe Aquanaut watch, his $22,359 Ulysse Nardin watch, or any of the other watches and gold bars he’d grabbed on his way out the door in Corsicana. When he ran out of hiding places, he tossed the rest in the lake, resisting the urge to jump in, fish it out, and stuff it all back in the bag. He stayed focused. He picked up Kay and drove back to Corsicana, where, finding that the FBI had changed the locks on the house, Sandy broke in and tried to lie low.

    Not long after, an off-duty police officer from the University of Texas stumbled across a quarter of a million dollars in gold bars and jewelry squirreled around Lady Bird Lake. Federal authorities quickly pieced it together, and the U.S. attorney’s office didn’t need to work very hard to convince a judge that Sandy Jenkins was a flight risk. A scuba team searched the lake, the FBI matched the serial numbers of the items to Sandy’s rec­ords, and on August 12, the FBI knocked on his door. He was eventually indicted on counts of mail fraud, money laundering, and other related offenses he’d perpetrated along the way.

    In the weeks that followed, Kay told people around town that she had known nothing about Sandy’s scheme, that she was as surprised as anybody else. “I believe she was just in total denial,” said one woman. Another theorized that Kay believed, “I can just live my life and let him take the rap.” She didn’t realize how her reputation had lost its sheen. One day in March 2014, right before she was indicted on charges similar to Sandy’s, she called a few members of Quintillion in tears, asking if it would be okay for her to attend an upcoming book club event. Their reaction was half-hearted, and her lawyer eventually advised her not to go. Then she must have known. Just like that, she was out too.

    A line forms around the Jenkinses’ former home for the estate sale on March 28, 2014.A line forms around the Jenkinses’ former home for the estate sale on March 28, 2014. Photograph by Corsicana Daily Sun/Ron Farmer

    “Jenkins Estate Sale This Weekend” was the headline in the Corsicana Daily Sun on March 27, 2014, and most everyone in town circled the date on their calendar. “People knew they stole seventeen million, so everybody assumed there was all kinds of crap in there,” said one socialite. People started lining up at the Jenkins house two hours before the doors even opened. At ten o’clock, the organizers started letting people in, a few at a time. Guests gawked at the assorted bracelets, rings, earrings, pendants, cufflinks, collector pens, and coins. There were $14,000 gold Dunhill lighters, a Cartier silver cigarette case, an Atmos clock, boxes of crystal and silver, and designer handbags, wallets, luggage, and briefcases by Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, and Balenciaga, along with, the Sun pointed out, “a frighteningly large Hummel figurines collection.”

    Bob McNutt was at the Jenkins house that morning. He was unsure how he’d ever get his $17 million back. “We had a guy go out with a metal detector to check the yard,” he said, but nothing was found on the property, and the estate sale was his next-best opportunity for reimbursement. Bob wanted attendees to spend big, and he handed out Collin Street Bakery treats to those waiting in the line, which wound around the block—so long that it required a security detail. He would quip, “You know, one of the real tragedies for Corsicana is we’ve lost arguably our most sophisticated watch collector in the history of Navarro County and also the most sophisticated collector of fine furs for men and women.” Then he’d offer them the plate he was holding, an assortment of cherry icebox, chocolate chip, and praline cookies.

    After many of the items were sold off, there were lingering questions. In the days leading up to the sentencing, this past September, people were still gossiping about why Sandy had done it. “He liked being the big shot,” said Hayden Crawford. “It allowed him to be generous.” Semetric Walker had a slightly different theory. “I think it was more to get back at Bob,” she said. “Bob had all the things he wanted.” Scott Hollomon agreed. “The lifestyle that Bob had,” he said, that’s what Sandy wanted—and more. Some people mentioned that Sandy had written letters blaming his manic depression for his erratic behavior. The consensus, though, was that the Jenkinses had simply wanted entrée into Corsicana society. “They were so poor at First Baptist, they always had nothing, and they wanted to feel like they had status,” one woman suggested. And maybe they got carried away.

    Sandy told the authorities that Kay had played no part in his scheme, though he might have been more convincing if he’d remembered that they could read his email, like the one in which he wrote Kay, “Remember: you never knew anything.” Not that she went down in flames, come sentencing. In fact, when people in town heard that she got only five years probation and Sandy ten years of confinement, many thought his scam was almost worth the penalty. Certainly people could identify with the temptation. “What’s so typical,” said an interested neighbor eating lunch at an area cafe the afternoon of the sentencing, “is he bought depreciable items! If he’d just invested in the market, he could have replaced the money, taken his share, and they would have been none the wiser.”

    That wasn’t exactly sympathy, but it’s about the best Sandy can hope for. Nothing gives him much comfort these days. He’s trying to say all the right things, strike the right note of contrition, as he has become, once again, invisible. Having served two years in federal detention already, he’ll serve at least another six, and during that time, he’ll have his routine, some of which isn’t that different from the one he had before all this started. His breakfast now consists of biscuits and gravy, French toast, pancakes, or cereal. He still drinks his coffee black, though it’s instant. He watches Good Morning America. Maybe it was all the stress, but his hair straightened out, and it’s now, finally, perfect.

    While he doesn’t dream much these days—he’ll probably never be trusted to run a funeral home—he has a lot of time to reflect. During those moments, he thinks about what it was like in those few great years of his life when he was the talk of the town, when everybody saw him coming and seemed happy to see him, waving as they said, “Hello, Sandy!” “Hello, Fruitcake!” And in some ways, they were still waving at him, still noticing him, even while he was holed up in the Federal Correctional Institution in Seagoville, just southeast of Dallas. As one socialite put it, after telling a long tale and refilling her glass of wine: “You can wave at him on your way to go shopping.”

    Tags: Business, Crime, Food, Longreads, The Culture, collin street bakery, Corsicana, fruitcake, sandy jenkins

    View the original article here

  • jkabtech 5:29 am on January 11, 2016 Permalink |
    Tags: , Extraction, , , , Theory   

    A Theory of Deep Convolutional Neural Networks for Feature Extraction 

    View the original article here

  • jkabtech 2:23 am on January 11, 2016 Permalink |
    Tags: arithmetic, finitefield, Gfverif,   

    Gfverif: fast and easy verification of finite-field arithmetic 

    The gfverif code is currently in alpha test and should not be relied upon. We prioritized rapid development over careful software engineering; we are releasing the code as a preliminary explanation of the underlying verification techniques. The code certainly has bugs, and needs a complete rewrite for several obvious reasons. The interface is also going to change.

    Cryptographic software needs to be correct: even a tiny bug can have disastrous consequences for security, as illustrated by Brumley, Barbosa, Page, and Vercauteren exploiting an ECDH carry bug in OpenSSL 0.9.8g. Standard software-testing techniques catch many bugs but did not prevent, e.g., further OpenSSL carry bugs announced in January 2015 (initial analysis: too expensive to exploit) and December 2015 (initial analysis: exploitable by well-equipped attackers).

    The goal of gfverif is to integrate highly automated proofs of correctness into the ECC software-development process. These proofs can be compromised by bugs in gfverif, but eliminating those bugs is a relatively small one-time task. Correct proofs will eliminate all ECC software bugs, including the low-probability carry bugs that slip past testing. Of course, bug-free software can be compromised by hardware bugs and compiler bugs, but separate projects are underway to eliminate those bugs.

    We have proven the correctness of a reference implementation of X25519 elliptic-curve scalar multiplication. The implementation is, except for a few minor tweaks, the preexisting “ref10” implementation in C. Correctness means that, under plausible assumptions regarding the behavior of the C compiler, the implementation computes exactly the function specified by a concise high-level description of X25519.

    We considered several criteria in the design of gfverif. Each criterion is stated here as (1) a one-line question; (2) a list of possible answers, from most desirable to least desirable; and (3) what this X25519 experiment says about gfverif’s answer.

    zero; fully automated verifiersmalltolerable for developmentpainfulso painful it has never been done

    gfverif produced most of the proof automatically, but it also relied on some “annotations” that the programmer added to the implementation. These annotations occupy only a small fraction of the original code volume, and we’re working on ways to further reduce the volume of annotations.

    For comparison, the paper “Verifying Curve25519 software” (ACM-CCS 2014) required much more annotation effort.

    The annotations are straightforward. They could easily have been written by a programmer without expertise in formal verification.

    nothingonly things that we need anyway, such as constant-timemore restrictionsgive up, write verifiable code from scratch

    A few small parts of “ref10” had to be tweaked for current limitations of gfverif. We don’t expect these limitations to be hard to remove. This doesn’t mean that gfverif will be able to handle everything: we’re targeting only constant-time code, for example.

    even smaller than writing today’s code wassame ballpark as writing today’s codenot much bigger than writing today’s codesignificantly more painful than writing today’s codeso painful it has never been done

    In the short term gfverif is targeting existing code, but in the long term we expect the ECC software developer to use gfverif from the beginning of the software-development process. The results won’t be much bigger than today’s code, and we can see ways that they can be even smaller than today’s code.

    Almost all of the proof was verified by gfverif. The human verifier checks the concise high-level description of X25519, and a few lines of input-output specification; gfverif verifies the rest.

    secondsminuteshoursdaysmaybe it’s polynomial time in some cases

    gfverif used a few minutes of CPU time to verify the full X25519 scalar multiplication. For comparison, “Verifying Curve25519 software” used many hours of CPU time for only the core operation (a “Montgomery ladder step”) of X25519 scalar multiplication.

    all, even maliciously hidden errorsanything normal, but not necessarily malicevarious important categories of bugs not caught by testingwell, um, something

    gfverif is targeting full functional verification, catching all bugs. However, this version isn’t protected against malice: for example, it assumes (and does not enforce) memory-safety constraints.

    complete crypto computationlarge fraction of code

    gfverif verified a complete X25519 scalar multiplication. For comparison, “Verifying Curve25519 software” covered only the main loop of scalar multiplication.

    1000 lines10000 lines100000 lines1000000 lines

    The current version of gfverif is about 2000 lines of code. However, it also relies on g++ and the Sage computer-algebra system, which have much more code. One of the reasons for a complete gfverif rewrite is to remove g++ and Sage.

    minimal; code provedcode audited but not provedtoo much code to audit

    Auditing the current gfverif code per se would be feasible, but auditing g++ and Sage is not feasible.

    much broader than cryptocryptocore crypto: e.g., all of NaClsignificant chunk of core crypto

    gfverif focuses on finite-field computations. This is slightly broader than ECC (for example, it can handle HECC and can probably handle NTRU) but it isn’t all of core crypto. On the other hand, it’s a significant chunk of core crypto.

    pretty much everything people wantone popular languagehave to use something new BUT IT’S A BETTER LANGUAGE YOU FOOLS

    The current version of gfverif supports C. The next target is asm, which we’ll initially handle by compiling asm to C. For the moment C and asm are the primary languages for the development of high-security ECC software. However, we see advantages in new domain-specific ECC languages and will be happy to extend gfverif accordingly.

    View the original article here

  • jkabtech 9:51 pm on January 10, 2016 Permalink |
    Tags: agerelated, , muscle, , promising, , , treating   

    Researchers see promising results in treating age-related decline in muscle mass and power 

    A proof-of-concept, phase 2 trial by an international research team has found promising results for a myostatin antibody in treating the decline in muscle mass and power associated with aging.

    “Myostatin is a natural protein produced within the body that inhibits muscle growth,” said Stuart Warden, a member of the research team who is also associate dean for research and associate professor in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “It has been hypothesized for some time that inhibition of myostatin may allow muscle to grow, resulting in improved muscle mass and physical performance. The current study confirms these beliefs.”

    In the study, injections of a myostatin antibody, made by Eli Lilly and Co., over a 24-week period resulted in an increase in lean (muscle) mass and improved performance on tasks requiring muscle power in patients older than 75 with low muscle strength, low muscle performance and a history of falling.

    “This is the first study to show that myostatin antibody treatment improves performance on activities requiring muscle power,” Warden said. “‘Muscle power’ refers to the ability to generate muscle force quickly. During aging, it is lost more rapidly than muscle strength, contributing to disability, falls, reduced quality of life and, in some instances, death.”

    “Myostatin antibody treatment improved muscle power in the elderly, as indicated by improvements in the ability to climb stairs, walk briskly and rise repetitively from a chair,” Warden said. “Treatment particularly benefited those who were most frail at baseline, a population who may not be receptive to conventional intervention such as resistance exercise.”

    Warden said the current study “provides proof-of-concept evidence to proceed to the larger studies that are required to demonstrate whether myostatin antibody treatment improves quality of life and reduces falls and their consequences during aging.” He added: “This is an important and exciting first step.”

    Story Source:

    The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Indiana University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

    View the original article here

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