Scientists discover massive sulfur-eating hell-clams in the Philippines

Scientists have discovered a hellish, sulfur-eating, worm-like relative of clams living in a Philippines bay, a new study reports. At more than five feet long and two inches wide, these creatures are the longest members in this family of shellfish that exist today — and they look like massive, ink-black, alien boogers.

Known as the giant shipworm (Kuphus polythalamia) even though they aren’t worms, they’ve never before been described in the scientific literature. But scientists knew that they had to exist, because of the massive, elephant tusk-like shells that stick around even when their horrifying denizens are gone. The shells were first described in the 1700s, and continue to be sold to collectors, but scientists were previously unable to find ones that still contained living shipworms to study, Popular Science reports.

Giant shipworm outside of its shell. Photo by Marvin Altamia (part of press materials)Giant shipworm outside of its shell. Photo by Marvin Altamia (part of press materials)
Giant shipworm outside of its shell. Photo
Photo by Marvin Altamia

In fact, Margo Haygood, a medicinal chemistry professor at the University of Utah, and her colleagues only knew where to look for them because a cluster of the shells had been caught on camera. The calcified tusks were spotted in a documentary film, poking out of the muddy seafloor in a shallow Filipino bay that had once been used to store logs. Researchers retrieved five specimens from the area, and published their findings today in the journal PNAS.

The scientists painstakingly chipped the giant shipworms out of their shells and dissected them, but the creatures still didn’t give up their secrets easily. The scientists were particularly stumped as to exactly how the worms grow so big. The cap of the giant shipworm’s shell seals over its mouth, presumably stopping it from directly consuming the sediment it lives in, and there were only “trace quantities of fecal matter” in their digestive systems. So, what were these worms eating?

Chipping away the giant shipworm’s shell
Video by Marvin Altamia

Relatives of the giant shipworm are known to bore into soggy, submerged wood — digesting the wood particles they churn up with the help of symbiotic bacteria that live in their gills. The giant shipworm, though, is less picky — shacking up in muddy seafloor sediments or rotting wood. So clearly, wood isn’t its only — or even its main — food source.

Haywood and her colleagues suspected the giant shipworms might instead be consuming hydrogen sulfide released by decaying vegetation or rotting animal carcasses at the bottom of the bay. But hydrogen sulfide, which gives swamp gas its eau de rotten eggs, isn’t all that nutritious.

The worms would need symbiotic bacteria to digest down the inorganic compound and release more nutritious carbon for them to eat. Fortunately for the worms, scientists used electron microscopes to discover microbes that could do just that, living in the giant shipworms’ gills.

Infographic by the University of UtahInfographic by the University of Utah Infographic by the University of Utah

The hellish creature may look like a set piece from Dante’s Inferno, but Haygood calls it a “unicorn” in a video about the discovery. “We think of this planet of as being well explored, but I think there’s plenty of room left for exploration,” she said. “We should not believe that we know all there is to know about the biology of our planet.”

Marines are trying out a throwaway delivery drone

The delivery drones would be much less sophisticated than this one.
The delivery drones would be much less sophisticated than this one.


The U.S. Marine Corps is reportedly testing an innovative new way of getting care packages to its troops in the field: disposable drones.

The Tactical Air Delivery gliders, as they’re calling them, would be able to deliver up to 700 pounds of food and other supplies, according to IEEE Spectrum. They can then be left to rot where they landed.

The technology could also be used for a variety of applications outside the military, for example in fire fighting or search and rescue.

Dropped from a height dozens of miles away, the drones would use basic GPS to float to within an easily walkable distance of wherever they are needed. Marines could then take apart the drone to get after what’s inside, and leave the casing where it landed. 

This would solve a few problems. First, the drones would theoretically be cheap — around $1,500-$3,000. Second, disposable drones mean the soldiers that find them don’t have to lug them around until they’re able to get them back to some kind of base. Third, the drones can glide for some distance, so they could begin their flights in friendly skies and keep the planes that serve as launching stations out of danger.

The Marines want to start testing these gliders in 2018, and the hope is that the drones will one day be used for more than resupplying soldiers. They could also resupply firefighters or send food to people caught in remote areas. 

Those capabilities make Tactical Air Delivery gliders giant versions of the biodegradable paper airplanes built by Otherlab, a group based in San Francisco. 

Otherlab’s planes can carry around two pounds of supplies to people in remote areas in need of humanitarian aid. Like the gliders built by the Marines, Otherlab’s drones would be tossed from delivery planes and use GPS to land well within range of their target. Unlike the drones built by the Marines, Otherlab’s little planes are biodegradable. 

WATCH: Watch bee drones pollinate flowers

Samsung really doesn’t want you to mess with the Galaxy S8’s Bixby button

The Bixby button is on the left side of the phone, below the volume control.
The Bixby button is on the left side of the phone, below the volume control.


Samsung’s digital assistant Bixby is here to help, whether or not you want it to. 

In fact, Samsung is so sure that you’re going to love the groundbreaking power of Bixby that it preemptively blocked users’ ability to decouple the service from one of the phone’s few actual buttons. 

The Galaxy S8 voice assistant—which won’t even be available on the day of the phone’s launch thanks to unspecified delays—allows customers to speak to their phone and ask it to do things like arrange rides or set up calendar invites. Eventually, the hope is that Bixby can be the voice interface for all of Samsung’s various consumer products (“Bixby, please microwave this burrito.”)

Assuming that anyone wants to use the thing. 

Samsung designed the S8 with a physical button on the left side of the phone just below the volume control. When Bixby is up and running on Samsung phones sometime this spring, hitting the side button will launch the voice assistant. Super easy and convenient, right?

What’s more, in a world where everything is going the way of the touchscreen, a dedicated button shows just how committed Samsung is to its digital assistant. 

Do customers have the same unfettered Bixby enthusiasm? Maybe, maybe not — but either way Samsung is going to make sure that the Bixby button stays a Bixby button.

XDA Developers reports that a Samsung update blocked the ability of users to remap the Bixby button to other functions. Let’s say you wanted that button to launch a ride-hail app, or your music player, or whatever — consumers would have previously been able to do just this with third-party apps. 

No more. A Samsung representative confirmed on Twitter that the ability to remap the button is a thing of the past. 

In other words, that button belongs to Bixby and there’s nothing you can do about it. Well, except to root the phone — then you can make the Bixby button do whatever you want, even if that means launching Google Assistant. 

The Samsung Galaxy S8 launches April 21. 

WATCH: It sure looks like the Galaxy S8’s battery won’t explode even if you stab it with a knife

This marathon VR binge-watching session is a new Guinness World Record

VR binge-watchers jacked in via the Oculus Rift headset.
VR binge-watchers jacked in via the Oculus Rift headset.

Image: Phil Kiene via diffusion 

The art of binge-watching has already been perfected by TV addicts. But this weekend, a new kind of binge-watching took place—setting a  Guinness World Record for the most time spent watching visual content in virtual reality. 

Using Oculus Rift VR headsets, two participants, Alex Christiso and Alejandro Fragoso, binge-watched 50 hours of non-stop VR movie content in lower Manhattan. The videos ranged from immersive content like Invasion and Stranger Things VR to streaming video via CyberLink’s PowerDVD 17 software and the Netflix VR app. 


Arranged by CyberLink, the record was officially set on Monday and follows a previous Guinness World Record set for 25 hours of VR marathon gaming in January. (Others have claimed longer VR gaming marathon records, but this is the only one listed by Guinness World Records.)

To guard against possible harmful effects, Dr. Robert Glatter, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, examined the two participants both before and after the VR binge. There were no reports of any ill effects.

Some of the more hardcore VR gamers out there are already accustomed to spending upwards of three to eight hours in VR environments, but we know less about the habits of VR users when it comes to watching video and immersive content. 

Dr. Robert Glatter examines one of the VR binge-watchers.

Dr. Robert Glatter examines one of the VR binge-watchers.


From my own experience, binge-watching via a traditional TV is far easier than spending the same amount of time binge-watching in VR, mainly due to logistics. For example, drinking beverages and snacking (the fuel of all binge-watchers) is a bit harder while wearing a VR headset. And hitting pause to take a bathroom break is slightly more jarring when it means first removing the immersive environment provided by the VR headset. 

Because of those factors, I’m betting that most VR binge-watching will be limited to sessions of just a few hours at a time (at least with current set-ups). But it’s good to know that, if we wanted to, we could dive even deeper into the binge-watching Matrix. 

WATCH: Samsung Gear VR is now so much easier to use

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The Mercury Effect

In 1999 the eponymous owner of the popular proto-blog Stile Project wrote a post called “The Mercury Effect.”

In it Stile described receiving a video from some fans who had, if I remember correctly, tortured a stray cat to death in his honor; they appeared to have been inspired by the other shocking material he’d posted and solicited. Stile briefly discussed the despondency into which this event had plunged him and his failing hopes for the human race. The title referred to the madness visited upon haberdashers by an invisible force, something to which he perhaps sensed a modern analog.

He concluded: “Something wonderful is going to happen at midnight.” That night, he turned on his webcam’s live broadcast function, stepped onto a chair, and hung himself.

Or appeared to. A few days and a great deal of speculation later, it was revealed that the whole thing was a hoax, something Stile was fond of perpetrating — though this one was especially cruel. All this material has passed from the internet’s memory (even’s), but I’ve never been able to forget it.

This horrible little episode seems a to me a spiritual precursor to this weekend’s all-too-real socially promoted murder, and the issues that have resurfaced in its wake. But for all the talk about content moderation, machine learning, flag-monitoring algorithms, the problem isn’t the platform, and it isn’t one that can be solved by the platform. That’s because the problem is people.

I wrote a while back in Hate that not only is it naive to think the tools we create won’t be used for evil, but it’s irresponsible to pretend so. This is just another example of that. Connect depressed people with a support network here, and you connect white supremacists with gun dealers there. You make a forum for supporting recent immigrants here, and you make one for choosing women to harass there. Let a zoo share a baby giraffe with millions, let someone else stream the murder of a stranger.

This is a direct, unavoidable consequence of the tools; they’re not being “abused” or “misappropriated.” Routers and switches don’t care if they relay coding tutorials or child porn, just like a car doesn’t care whether you drive it into a garage or a crowd.

By empowering people to broadcast themselves, you empower the meek and the oppressed equally as much as the dangerous and the hateful.

What did you expect? Those people are out there in their millions. They want you to experience the extent of their hate just as much as a lonely kid wants to get support from her peers. As with the Morlocks in The Time Machine, every once in a while those of us living in blissful ignorance are reminded of their presence by some horrific act. That sort of thing was always happening, but now you’re aware of it. Thanks, internet.

Pick your fail state

You won’t like the solutions.

The first one is: disconnect. Don’t use the tools of the information age to connect with the world at large. I think we can all agree that it’s a little late to try putting that particular genie back in the bottle. Even if millions of people submitted themselves to a modern asceticism and denied themselves access to social media and other communication tools, it accomplishes nothing. If anything, it merely moves the needle of the remaining online population towards the side of extreme sharing. So we can forget about disconnecting.

The second one is: submit to extremely invasive content monitoring. Live TV has faced a problem that is at least superficially similar and networks’ solution — delayed live broadcasting and someone with their finger on the “cut to commercial” button — works, after a fashion. But the volume of material put on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on is such that this approach is quickly rendered absurd. Even hundreds of thousands of moderators assisted by the latest tools struggle to keep up with the fraud, gore, and porn that would otherwise engulf the web.

Could machine learning algorithms eventually learn the difference between a sleeping person and a dead one? A scene from an action move and a real murder? There is great promise here but the flip side of that is the idea that everything you create will be analyzed frame by frame, every action categorized and recorded with a granularity that may creep out even the most permissive and laissez-faire of us. And even if the machines had their way with our content, it would still require an army of humans to verify each decision. Platforms have already learned that lesson.

The only feasible way to vet content quickly and accurately is through the community, but it is in order that it may be provided to that community that the content must be vetted. It’s a Gordian Knot, and us without a sword.

The third “solution” is to admit there isn’t one. Admit the problem as it stands can’t be resolved, that solutions at best merely hide or delay it, that the fundamental nature of the tools and platforms we’ve created enables both miracles and enormities. We can appreciate the former while doing our best to combat the causes of the latter. If people didn’t go around killing each other all the time, we wouldn’t be forced into uncomfortable acknowledgement of the fact that all is not well in the world. Wouldn’t that be nice?

So, the elevation of humanity’s ethical acumen. More of a long-term goal, I’d say.

The best policy

The thing is, the kind of philosophically-inclined defeatism I just endorsed isn’t really a crowd pleaser. When you’ve got a billion angry users and a board breathing down your neck, you’ve got to take action — even when there’s no action to take. But in this case can you, or more specifically Mark Zuckerberg, even say “we’re working on it”?

We know as well as he does that Facebook can’t prevent this stuff. The risk is baked into the platform. Real-time sharing is fundamental to the company’s vision of the future of communication. It’s too late to go back on that. The best they can hope to do is react faster.

Can he lie, or prevaricate, about their hopes to solve this, and get away with it? Because there isn’t really a way forward; in a few weeks or months, when something like this happens again, he’ll be called to account. The reality of the problem’s insolubility will catch up to any promises he makes. So why make them? People aren’t going to leave Facebook because it has no way of censoring the real world.

In this case, Zuckerberg’s position is stable enough that he may well tell the (relatively) unvarnished truth, albeit with the frame of reference changed a little. The risk of unwillingly hosting atrocities is inherent to Facebook’s mission (he will say) to connect all the people of the globe. There is no way to prevent it except by infringing on the privileges, perhaps even the rights, of those people — and Facebook will always decline to do that. What’s more, he may add, sunlight is after all the best disinfectant. We have to know of these people, these problems, before we can address them.

Shall we remain inside our safe little bubble, hearing only that which pleases us and seeing not that which frightens or confuses us? Shall we be forever free of cognitive dissonance, isolated from disharmony long enough that we forget that we are surrounded with it, a few of us merely lucky enough to have the choice of ignoring it? Well, maybe Zuck won’t say that exactly, but the sentiment, I suspect, may come through.

We’re only human, and the internet reflects that. What’s to fix?

Everything we expect from Facebook’s F8, and how to watch it

Facebook’s big conference for the year is right around the corner, and while it seems like the hype has been a little subdued this time around, we’re expecting some pretty big announcements to come from the show.

F8 will start on Tuesday, April 18 with a keynote presentation at 10 a.m. PT, however different sessions will follow throughout the day. Another keynote will take place the next day at the same time, with more sessions to follow — so there’s plenty to be announced, even if it is largely developer-focused.

How to watch

How can you keep up with all these big announcements yourself? Thankfully, Facebook is live-streaming the majority of its sessions, including the big keynotes. As mentioned, the conference itself will start on Tuesday April 18 at 10 a.m. PT, and will run a full two days.

To watch the keynote and the sessions, you will have to register on the Facebook F8 website, but when you do you’ll be able to live-stream the event, and watch sessions on-demand. You can also join the “F8 Online Experience” Facebook event page for updates on F8, as well as live-streamed video and more information.

The event is hosted by the Facebook for Developers page.

What to expect

The announcements will cover a variety of Facebook products and services, from the Facebook app and Messenger, to the company’s other interests — like virtual reality. While not too much has been announced about the show so far, here’s everything we expect to see.

Group bots

Chat bots were a big focus at F8 2016, and it looks like that might shape up to be the case again this year. This time around, however, Facebook might expand its bots platform to groups — that’s to say, instead of bots only being able to help individuals, they could help groups keep up to date with news, sports games progress, e-commerce, and more.

The news, reported by TechCrunch, isn’t surprising. Facebook mentioned it would be expanding bots to work in group chats a while ago, and since then we haven’t seen that actually happen.

An offline version of Instagram

This one could be pretty helpful for Instagram users with spotty internet connections. A session called “Building Offline Experiences for Instagram” has been posted on the Facebook F8 schedule, suggesting that the platform will get at least some more offline features. It would make sense — Facebook has had quite a lot of success with Messenger Lite and Facebook Lite, which currently sits at 200 million users.

The Camera Effects Platform

Another session on the F8 schedule is called “Introduction to the Camera Effects Platform,” and it could signal a way for developers to submit their own filters and photo frames. The idea here is simple — Facebook’s team is excellent at building great frames and filters, but they can’t make everything. If more developers make filters and frames, the company could potentially outdo Snapchat.

A virtual reality headset

Virtual reality is seriously gaining steam, and Facebook is a major player in that happening. The company launched a 360-degree camera at F8 last year, and now recent rumors from Variety suggest Facebook could also launch its own VR headset — or at least the specifications for a VR headset that other companies could go on to use.

We’ll be on the ground in San Jose at F8, so follow our site for continuing coverage and updates. You can follow us on Twitter at @DigitalTrends. We’ll keep this page updated with all the F8-related info as we hear it, so stay tuned.

CPQ: Boost Selling Performance and Accuracy

They say it can take a product idea 10 years to go from concept to mass-market appeal but that might be only an optimist’s viewpoint. Some of the best ideas in CRM right now have been marinating for at least that long — and some for much longer. Two great examples are analytics and CPQ, which companies like Oracle, Salesforce and others have embraced with passion. Interestingly, each technology has traversed a path that needed other technologies to become fully mature.

“Analytics” — that is, business intelligence and data mining — is an old term for what we now call “machine learning.” Analytics and big data needed a lot of hardware improvements to become prominent.

For example, way back in the 1990s, Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts — next door to MIT — became known as “AI Alley” for all of the startups there that were going to enable us to know customers’ minds before they did. Most of those pioneering companies are gone now, but their ideas generated big R&D throughout the tech sector.

One of the major drawbacks of any kind of advanced analysis is the need for processing power on specific data. To do that, you need fast CPUs — but also, your data can’t be static and sitting on a disk. So, the AI movement influenced not only speedups for CPUs, such as multiprocessors and federated computing, but also in-memory databases and very dense memory.

Of course, it took 20 years, but today we’re reaping the benefits of the investment and research necessary for all of it to happen. Now we really do have the ability to know probabilistically what customers in the aggregate will think, and we can act by putting next best action suggestions on a smartphone. That’s pretty cool.

Flag the Outliers

Analytics has come a long way, but the ultimate benefit likely will be felt in the Internet of Things, as machines increasingly communicate with machines with rich data streams that have to be monitored for exceptions.

CPQ — or configure, price, quote — software has become a now, or in the moment, idea. It was once a standalone category that could be grafted on to SFA for companies that needed it — but every company needs CPQ, and without it many are reduced to relying on spreadsheet apps that often collapse under their own weight.

Consider the spreadsheets involved in proto-CPQ. We all developed spreadsheets in-house to deal with needs not addressed elsewhere for the product catalog, including prices and descriptions. Businesses also needed a spreadsheet for each deal, which would be updated multiple times within a sales process. Quarterly updates to the product spreadsheet and random updates to quotes invited all kinds of problems.

Sales reps are known for their ability to seek out the shortest distance to close, and we love them for it. However, in the past the path often went through using old quotes modified for new deals, using old product catalogs and price lists, and possibly offering the wrong discounting.

In that type of scenario, management has to patrol every bid for every deal, and that’s getting to be hard to do. Management would rather be promoting the new product line with new pricing and other things that add greater value.

There’s also the issue of turning the catalog loose on a website so that customers can configure their own solutions. However, you can’t begin to do that unless you can build business rules into the process — such as “Product A is always sold with 2-Product B’s, or 1 Product C plus services.”

Other forms of front-office automation, like SFA, make it possible for reps to handle increasing territory responsibilities. That decreases the number of reps needed but leaves their managers with the same amount of work reviewing manually created quotes.

The front-office strategy today is to manage the exceptions — SFA with analytics and good reporting makes managing the territory easy. However, spreadsheet-based CPQ is not a good fit for analytics, so CPQ becomes the weak link in an otherwise improved sales process.

Spreadsheet CPQ is impossible to manage by exception, leading to slow turnaround on quotes and lost deals. To manage quotes by exception, the same as you manage a territory, you need a CPQ system.

Not surprisingly, this is where analytics and CPQ cross paths. Analytics tools are great at finding the exceptions based on the business rules set up. Rather than a manager scanning all deals or offers, a rules and analytics-based CPQ system simply can flag outliers, such as overly generous discounts or incorrect pricing.

There might be legitimate reasons for the exceptions, but there should be easy ways to find and deal with them without having to sift through the majority of plain vanilla deals.

Agility for All

Besides just saving labor or improving accuracy, a business that more easily pivots on a customer’s quotation request and does it first is in a better position to win. It’s a form of business agility — an idea much in the news today.

Agility is supposed to be about flexibility, as well as the capability to change rapidly and evolve to meet market demands accurately without incurring a great deal of overhead. Business agility is important. While it might be possible to manually respond to a single special need, it’s not a good idea to base a business model on it. Specifically, responding to special needs — good! Doing it manually over the long run — not so much.

Last point: If business agility is important to your business, then software agility ought to be important too. This means using solutions built on the same platform, where possible, so that they use the same objects and data naturally, without having to rely on massive integrations.

In my experience, many point solution integrations take a toll on IT that should be avoided if you expect to maximize your business’ agility.

CPQ and analytics have come a long way over decades to provide us with some of the needed components of a truly agile business approach today. Spreadsheets barely have changed. In a more competitive world, it makes great sense to ensure that every part of your key business processes (there’s nothing more core than sales) is supported by a system — not a spreadsheet — and the best way to do this is with platform-based components like CPQ.

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can’t Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. He can be reached at

Our shared concept of truth is being held together by hatred of Comcast

Truth is in trouble. Fake news. State disinformation campaigns. Facebook bubbles. But even as our deeply polarized electorate sets fire to The Enlightenment, there’s one shred of common belief that unites the right and left-wings of the world: the idea that Comcast is Bad. It’s downright patriotic.

Former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who spent years making the case that President Obama was an existential threat to America, has found an even bigger threat: Comcast. After missing a service appointment today, Huckabee responded proportionally by comparing Comcast to the mafia, cold molasses, root canals, United Airlines, and North Korea.

Huckabee’s tweetstorm is a setback for Comcast, which announced in 2015 that it planned to stop being the worst company in America.

Disclosure: Comcast is an investor in Vox Media, The Verge’s parent company.

PicoBrew just added a PicoStill to its latest Kickstarter

PicoBrew’s latest Kickstarter project, Pico Model C, is already way past its funding goal. The countertop brewing machine is a cheaper, smaller, easier-to-use version of earlier models, and 1,000,000 Kickstarter bucks say this is what the people want. Now, in a surprise addition to the existing Kickstarter, PicoBrew is offering a PicoStill, which can be purchased in a bundle with the Pico C, or separately (via TechCrunch). Prices vary based on how early of a bird you are, but for the rest of today you can get a Pico C and a PicoStill combo for $479.

PicoStill itself is an attachment that works with any Pico or Zymatic brewing appliance. It has a copper distilling coil and glass infusion chamber, and can be used to distill essential oils, waters, and, of course, “spirits.”

The thing is, the laws for making wine and beer at home in the US are way different than the laws pertaining to spirits, so you’ll need a license and a permit if you want to get into the moonshine game.

Adding a surprise extra product to an already-doing-well Kickstarter is an interesting move. I don’t know how many people will want to spent $170-ish more to add “hop oils” to their craft brews, or who desire to turn large quantities of organic matter into essential oils, and I certainly can’t imagine anybody asking the government for permission to make vodka at home, but maybe I’m just not the target demo. It just seems like a lot of work!