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If there’s anything Cal Henderson knows about, it’s scaling technology to keep up with extremely rapid growth.

As cofounder and CTO of Slack, maker of the wildly popular cloud-based team communication software by the same name, Henderson has seen the technological demands on his company skyrocket since it launched into beta two years ago Friday.

Among his challenges: Scaling both technical capacity and culture while hiring 60 engineers in 12 months and expanding the technical infrastructure to accommodate the demands of a user base that grew to 750,000 daily active users in a single year.

Today Slack claims roughly 1.1 million active users, including more than 300,000 paid seats, and annual recurring subscription revenue of more than $25 million. Using Slack’s application programming interface (API), teams have set up over 900,000 integrations accounting for more than 30 million messages sent each week.

Having grown from 10 or so employees to more than 200, the company counts Adobe, Airbnb, BuzzFeed, Dow Jones, eBay, Expedia, Intuit, Paypal, Samsung and Salesforce among its customers.

Privately held Slack has been the subject of considerable excitement both among users and among investors, resulting in a stratospheric valuation some say is overblown. In many ways, its growth has been just as surprising to Slack’s leaders as it has to the outside world.

“It’s not like we had some amazing grand plan and it’s all working out as expected,” Henderson said. “We didn’t have a sense of the scale it could grow to.”

“As a team, we didn’t really know anything about making enterprise software,” Henderson said. “We came at it from a consumer point of view—out of the gate, we weren’t trying to sell it to CIOs or IT departments.”

Henderson credits luck and timing for a big part of Slack’s success, as the rise of both the cloud and personal messaging tools like WhatsApp made potential users more accepting on both fronts. With apps for Mac, Windows, Android and iOS, Slack’s software as a service (SaaS) offers real-time messaging, archiving and search. In essence, it’s designed to replace email as the primary tool for team communication, but it’s by no means the only company with its eyes on this space: HipChat and Microsoft’s Yammer are two direct competitors, and companies including Google, Box and Quip are vying for a stake as well.

The cloud, however, has made things easier than they would have been otherwise, he noted. Running a large infrastructure with on-premises equipment means large upfront costs and overhead, Henderson said: “You have to have a good sense of what you’ll need for the future.”

Slack, on the other hand, chose Amazon Web Services. “It allowed us to experiment,” he said. “It reduces the ramp-up time and has definitely saved us money and time to manage the thousands of servers that Slack uses. You don’t have as much control over the hardware, but at our scale it’s been hugely beneficial for agility.”

Slack has also made a deliberate decision to use “slightly boring” technologies to power its product, he added, such as the open source LAMP stack including Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP/Python/Perl.

“When you’re building a large infrastructure, you only have so many points to spend on interesting technology before you get overwhelmed,” Henderson said. “We’re trying to make a product that just does its job, and that’s orthogonal to trying out the latest shiny new toys.”

There have been some bumps along the way, including some memorable outages and a hack attack earlier this year.

Nevertheless, rather than technological, Slack’s biggest challenges as it has grown have been organizational ones, primarily as a result of the focus it’s had to have on hiring, Henderson said.

“You work in a very different way when it’s just five developers,” he explained. “It’s a constant evolution—as soon as we figure out the best method, we’ve grown again and it no longer applies.”

Then, too, there’s the fact that enterprise software is not typically considered as “sexy” as consumer software is, making it more difficult to attract developers.

“While we are not competing with Facebook, Google or Microsoft as a product, we are at a hiring level,” Henderson pointed out.

Among the best decisions the company has made on that front, he said, is emphasizing the company’s values in its hiring efforts, including empathy and courtesy.

“When people use Slack, it’s eight hours a day,” he said. “Slack’s goal is to make people’s working lives more simple and more productive. We focus on whether potential employees are interested in making it a really good experience.”

Careful hiring, in fact, is where Henderson would encourage other rapidly growing startups to focus as well.

“Whatever your product is at launch, you’ll hopefully be making it better over time,” he said. “You could double your staff overnight, but the team you build now is the one that will be making those changes in the future.”

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Mosquitoes Have A Bizarre Sense Of Smell, Study Finds

Mosquitoes Have a Bizarre Sense of Smell, Study Finds New research finds that the unconventional way mosquitoes process odors could help explain why they are so good at finding humans to bite

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes have started to expand their typical range as the climate warms, making the quest to intervene with the disease-spreading insects even more urgent. Photo by LoveSilhouette/iStock


Mosquitoes Have a Bizarre Sense of Smell, Study Finds The unconventional way mosquitoes process odors could help explain why they are so good at finding humans to bite

If you’ve ever sprayed yourself head to toe in bug repellent, yet still felt like a mosquito magnet, it will come as no shock to you that mosquitoes are very, very good at finding humans to bite. One key factor in this superpower is their keen sense of smell, or olfaction, which relies on the olfactory system. 

“Mosquitoes are highly specialized,” says Meg Younger, a Boston University College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of biology, who studies mosquito olfaction. These relentless, buzzing creatures are designed to find us, bite us, use proteins in our blood to reproduce—and repeat. Mosquitoes, as much as they feel like a seasonal nuisance in the Northeast United States, are deadly creatures that kill more people than any other animal in the world. Depending on where they live, certain types of mosquitoes transmit diseases like malaria, West Nile virus, Zika virus, dengue, eastern equine encephalitis, and others. And warmer, dry, and tropical climates battle mosquitoes all year long. 

Younger is working to crack the code on how mosquitoes use their sense of smell to track us, in order to better understand how we can repel them more effectively. In a new paper published in Cell, Younger and her colleagues describe the unique and previously unknown way Aedes aegypti mosquitoes process smell at the biological level; their findings are a departure from the central theories that previously guided our understanding of insect olfaction. 

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes normally inhabit warm, tropical climates, and have caused minor outbreaks of dengue in southern states like Florida and Texas. But in recent years, they’ve been spotted as far north as Connecticut, raising alarm bells about what to expect as global temperatures continue to warm. 

“This is part of why this work is going to get more and more important,” says Younger, who began the study while completing postdoctoral research with Leslie B. Vosshall at The Rockefeller University, a biomedical research-focused institution in New York.

How Smell Works

For humans, scents are registered in the brain by a flow of communication that begins in the nose, which is lined with special cells called olfactory sensory neurons. These neurons—which house sensory receptors, specialized molecules that are stimulated by odor particles—act as detectors of odor and as messengers to the brain.

“The central dogma in olfaction is that sensory neurons, for us in our nose, each express one type of olfactory receptor,” Younger says. This is the underlying organizational principle of olfaction: one receptor to one neuron. For example, the smell of a freshly baked apple pie is actually a chemical code created by different odor molecules. As the distinct smell wafts into our noses, it triggers sensory receptors that match the different odor molecules; corresponding neurons then communicate to a brain region called the olfactory bulb—or the antenna lobe in insects—where it maps the odor code.

According to the study findings, Aedes aegypti mosquitoes’ olfactory system is organized very differently, with multiple sensory receptors housed within one neuron, a process called gene coexpression. This uniquely specialized olfactory system could help explain why mosquitoes are so good at sniffing out humans to bite. 

“This is shockingly weird,” says Younger, who initially thought her look into mosquito sensory neurons would prove it to be like every other olfactory system, like in flies and mice. The difference might seem technical, but it suggests that mosquitoes’ sense of smell is highly attuned to humans. “It’s not what we expected,” she says.   

Past research has found that even eliminating entire receptors in mosquitoes that are used for decoding carbon dioxide—a major chemical cue that they use to hunt humans—does not interfere with them finding people. Younger’s latest study may indicate one reason why.

In her lab at BU, Younger is raising mosquitoes in incubators and using modern genetic tools to understand olfaction in ways that were not possible a decade ago. For this study, the researchers developed mosquitoes that would light up under the microscope when exposed to certain smells—they expressed fluorescent proteins that glow under the microscope, allowing the researchers to see chemical responses to odorants. They also used CRISPR (which stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats and is a genetic tool created to edit DNA in living organisms) technology to label different groups of sensory neurons, while preserving the function of the cell proteins.

All of the results point to an olfactory system that is unconventional in the way that it coexpresses sensory receptors within individual sensory neurons. This suggests redundancy in the code for human odor—and possibly a stronger sense of smell that draws mosquitoes to humans. The next step is figuring out what role coexpression plays in driving the behaviors of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. 

“A compelling idea is that it’s making them good at finding people,” Younger says. Her long-term goal is to intervene in mosquito biting by generating new, improved repellents, or attractants that are more appealing to mosquitoes than human blood. “As we learn about how odor is encoded in their olfactory system, we can create compounds that are more effective based on their biology,” she says.  

Until then, Younger uses bug spray—brands with 15 to 25 percent DEET or picaridin tend to be rated most effective—to protect herself from mosquitoes outdoors. Eventually, with more and more research, she hopes there will be a better option. 

This research received support from the National Institutes of Health.

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Must We Give Up All Sense Of Privacy?

Must We Give Up All Sense of Privacy?

Privacy is dead, right? I mean, that’s all I’ve been hearing over the last year. From Edward Snowden to repeated hacks to claims that the US federal government is accessing personal information, we have nothing in the way of real privacy. No, according to all of the reports surrounding the Web, security, and privacy, the only thing we have going for us is, well, the realization that we’re not actually anonymous at all – either online or in our lives.

One can say what they’d like about the anti-privacy efforts going on across the world. Some say that when we head to the Web, we should expect to lose all privacy and to believe that we have it is following a fool’s errand. Others, however, argue that anonymity is a right and privacy is an expectation, and we should stop at nothing to get both.

Unfortunately, the pessimist in me believes that there’s really no way to achieve that goal. While I’d like to see the governments around the world spend less time allegedly intruding our privacy, I’m a realist. I understand that we’ve come to a place where we can never go back. Like it or not, our privacy is dead. And to believe it’s not is a mistake.

Look, I don’t like to say that our Web (or personal) privacy is dead, but how can we ever undo something that has been going on for so long? It appears, based on the evidence made public over the last year, that we’ve been had.

We’ve had all of our personal communications collected, according to reports, and we’ve unknowingly been having her information kept on a server somewhere in the event governments need it, according to those reports. In other words, we’ve allegedly been spied upon for what some might say is no reason.

Similarly, we’ve had our data collected by companies across the globe. Today’s world is all about data and how much is available to a company to capitalize on. We’ve always known there have been some privacy concerns related to data sharing with companies, but it’s the piling-on effect that has made it worse and worse.

To be fair, the US government has specifically said that it’s not collecting US information and has denied all claims that it’s acting outside the scope of our freedoms. Companies have also made clear that any data that has been collected is encrypted, leaving it open to no one.

Still, we’ve left an indelible mark on the Internet and the future just by having a connection to the Web. And that’s a little more than concerning.

Luckily, there are some organizations that care about this stuff and have been fighting for improved data security, most notably the Electronic Frontier Foundation. But we can’t simply hope that we will be able to rely on those organizations to save us.

From this vantage point, it appears companies are incapable of saying “no” to governments around the world, and governments have no problem accessing data with impunity. Nothing can stop them unless we all collectively find issue with it and speak up.

Until that changes, I can’t see how we can possibly turn the privacy tide.

Laptop Buying Guide: Making Sense Of The Specifications


If you’re buying a netbook, you’re bound to find that it uses an Intel Atom processor. You won’t encounter a particularly noticeable difference in performance between the Atom chips you find on modern systems, but the newer N450 Atom processors do offer slightly better battery life.

Ultraportable PCs generally use low-voltage AMD or Intel processors. These chips are usually dual-core CPUs that are quite similar to the regular notebook CPUs found in larger laptops but run at much lower clock speeds (1.2GHz instead of 2.1GHz, for example). Lots of processors–too many to list here–are available in this group, but when you’re shopping, you can follow a few general rules: More cache is preferable, and higher clock speeds are better but will drain the battery a little faster. AMD’s CPUs are a bit slower than Intel’s, but are priced to move. Note, too, that some ultraportables don’t use low-voltage CPUs, and are considerably faster (but have shorter battery life) than those that do.

All-purpose and desktop-replacement laptops offer both dual-core and quad-core CPUs in a range of speeds. Intel’s Core i3 and Core i5 CPUs are excellent for most users; only people who truly need a quad-core CPU (for encoding video, playing games, or running engineering applications, for example) need to look for a quad-core Core i7 processor. Again, more cache and higher clock speeds are better, but any CPU over 2.0GHz is fast enough to handle all the basic stuff, like playing music, surfing the Web and playing Web games, displaying online video, and managing e-mail.

You’ll still find many laptops on sale with Core 2 Duo CPUs, which are the previous generation of dual-core chips from Intel. These models are perfectly fine for most tasks–just avoid the ones with low clock speeds and small caches (1MB or 2MB), if you can. Be wary of cheap laptops bearing Intel Celeron or Pentium CPUs, or those that carry AMD Sempron CPUs; these processors help laptop manufacturers keep prices low, but they do so at the expense of performance.


The GPU (graphics processing unit) in a computer is useful for more than just playing games. This bit of silicon is ultimately responsible for everything you see on screen, from 3D games to the basic desktop. Perhaps more important for some people, many GPUs can accelerate video decoding: With the latest version of Adobe Flash and the right GPU, Web videos from Hulu or YouTube will run more smoothly and look better (especially if you have a netbook or an ultraportable laptop with a weaker CPU).

Integrated GPUs from Intel are generally quite poor: They don’t run 3D games well, and their video decoding is lackluster. The GPUs built into the new Core i5 CPUs are much better than previous integrated graphics, but still not as good as ATI or nVidia dedicated graphics. If you want to play games other than the occasional Web-based diversion, you probably want discrete graphics. You’ll find lots of graphics chips to choose from, but in general the 5000 series from ATI is faster than the comparable 4000-series models, and the 300 series from nVidia is faster than the comparable 200 series. Within each series, the more expensive models are speedier: ATI’s Mobility Radeon HD 5850 is faster than the Mobility Radeon 5650, and nVidia’s GeForce 330M is faster than the GeForce 310M, for example.


Laptop memory comes in two types, DDR2 and DDR3. Of the two, DDR3 is faster and can speed up memory-intensive operations. You’ll also see a clock speed listed on some laptop memory specs, like 667MHz, 800MHz, or 1066MHz. The higher the number, the faster the RAM. But spend the money to get to 4GB first, and then worry about speed: If your choice is between 4GB of 800MHz DDR2 memory or 2GB of 1066MHz DDR3 memory, go with the 4GB of slightly slower RAM, as you’ll get more performance bang for your buck by doing so.


Many laptops have LED-backlit displays. Instead of compact fluorescent tubes, LEDs (light-emitting diodes) sit behind the LCD panel. LED-backlit displays tend to be more energy-efficient, so the battery lasts longer, and they often provide better contrast. LED-backlit displays are increasingly common, and now can be found in all laptop segments and on most notebook models, at least as an option.

You’ll also notice that some laptops have a very shiny, glossy display, while others have a soft matte finish on their screen. This is a matter of the coating on top of the display. A glossy coating certainly creates a lot more glare, but it also lets light through more easily; as a result, glossy displays tend to look like they have better contrast and brightness. The matte finish on other displays may result in the appearance of a little less contrast, but it also produces a lot less glare. If you plan to use your laptop outdoors or in brightly lit areas, you might want to consider avoiding a glossy display.


Every laptop, from a netbook to a desktop replacement, includes wireless networking. The standard you’re most likely to encounter in coffee shops and airports is 802.11g Wi-Fi, and you can’t find a laptop these days that doesn’t include 802.11b/g support (802.11b is an older, slower networking standard that you don’t see much these days). That’s the good news.

If you need to plug your computer into a wired network, ensure that the laptop you buy has an ethernet jack. Most do, but a few netbooks don’t. The standard now is gigabit ethernet, but while some laptops may have slower ethernet jacks (limited to 100 megabits per second), it isn’t a major concern. Unless you need gigabit speed to transfer lots of very large files and you’re sure you’ll be plugging into a gigabit wired network, you don’t need to look for that feature specifically.

If you want to connect on the go but no Wi-Fi hotspot is available nearby, you’ll need a mobile broadband radio. You can buy one as an add-on card, but many laptops offer built-in mobile broadband radios as an option. Typically these are tied to a single wireless carrier (AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon, for example) and require a mobile data plan to use. If you constantly use your laptop on the road, it can be a convenient option. Some netbooks are available from wireless carriers at subsidized prices along with a wireless data plan, but we don’t recommend taking this option–the money you initially save isn’t worth being locked into a contract for a couple of years.

Optical Drive

Most all-purpose and desktop replacement laptops include an optical drive, while most netbooks do not; with ultraportables, it’s hit-and-miss. All optical drives in laptops these days will play and burn DVDs. Some laptops even include (or offer the option to add) a drive that can play Blu-ray media and burn DVDs and CDs, which means you can use these models to watch high-def movies. Blu-ray Disc writers–which burn to those high-def discs as well as to DVDs and CDs–remain less common in laptops, and are a more expensive upgrade than the Blu-ray-reader/DVD-and-CD-burner combo. Don’t worry too much about the performance ratings on optical drives (expressed, for example, as 8X) unless you plan to do a lot of disc burning.

If you have software on CD or DVD that you need to install, or if you want to watch a movie on disc, you can buy an external DVD drive that plugs into the USB port on your laptop. You don’t have to buy the drive from the manufacturer of your notebook, and in general the drive will cost between $40 and $60, sometimes less. Look for a drive that’s “bus-powered”–this means that the drive can get its power from the laptop’s USB bus, and shouldn’t need a dedicated power adapter.


Some laptop models provide an option for using an SSD, or solid-state drive, instead of a standard hard drive. SSDs tend to cost more (adding hundreds of dollars to the cost of the laptop) and offer far less space than the regular rotating magnetic media type, but they’re usually faster and far more durable since they have no moving parts. Some SSDs are even more power-efficient than regular hard drives. SSDs can be a good idea for anyone especially concerned with performance or durability, but you’ll pay a lot more money for a lot less storage capacity.

The 2023 Iphone Could Have More Useful Wireless Than 5G

The 2023 iPhone could have more useful wireless than 5G

The 2023 iPhone may not have 5G, but Apple could instead adopt another cutting-edge wireless technology for its flagship smartphones. Although the next-generation iPhones are still several quarters away – and Apple remains at the center of controversy around whether its handsets are too expensive – rumors about the specifications of the 2023 iPhones have already begun.

Chatter earlier today circulated around the camera and display technology that would be used in this year’s new iPhones. The expectation is that Apple will stick with its current arrangement of two OLED iPhones – catering to the high-end of the market – and a single LCD phone. The latter will effectively replace the iPhone XR.

Meanwhile, there’s also talk that the largest, most expensive device – which will replace the iPhone XS Max – will add an extra camera to its rear. The three camera array will further distinguish it from the smaller OLED phone, which will replace the iPhone XS. That’s expected to have two camera sensors, while the iPhone XR replacement will stick with just one.

What we’re not expecting, though, is 5G. Apple is said to be waiting until 2023 at the earliest to embrace fifth-generation cellular networks, for a number of reasons. On the one hand, even by the end of 2023 the networks aren’t expected to have widespread 5G coverage; similarly, first-generation 5G modems are likely to be power-hungry.

In addition, though, Apple is believed to be looking to Intel for its 5G modem supply, given its ongoing legal battles with Qualcomm. Reports in mid-November 2023 suggested Intel was pulling forward its 5G modem launch, but that it would still be targeting availability in time for a 2023 iPhone 5G release.

Before that, though, Apple may well adopt another bleeding-edge wireless standard. WiFi 6, the freshly-rebranded name for 802.11ax, will be on the list of 2023 iPhone specifications according to Barclays analyst Blaine Curtis, Mac Rumors reports.

Successor to 802.11ac – which will now be known as WiFi 5 after the WiFi Alliance announced its new nomenclature – WiFi 6 is obviously faster than earlier versions. However it also improves range, and allows larger numbers of devices to coexist wirelessly in the same area. High-resolution video is expected to benefit, along with IoT applications where power frugality is key.

Indeed you could argue that WiFi 6 will have a broader impact on iPhone connectivity experiences than 5G would, at least in the short- to medium-term. After all, while WiFi 6-enabled routers aren’t going to be commonplace in stores until later this year at the earliest, upgrading your home network to support 802.11ax will be a lot more practical than trying to do the same with 5G.

In the process, mind, it will draw attention to a lingering empty spot in Apple’s line-up. The company still hasn’t replaced the AirPort range, after discontinuing its routers in early 2023. While for the moment it seems content to leave third-party networking companies to fill that gap, perhaps with WiFi 6’s arrival the time will be ripe for an Apple-branded return to the category.

We Might Have Better Lab Mice If We Paid More Attention To Their Guts

Before any medication, vaccine, or other drug therapy reaches human use, it goes through extensive testing in the lab—often in animals, and typically in mice. This step in the evaluation process is extremely important. The way a drug affects a cluster of cells in a Petri dish often has little to do with the way it will behave inside a living organism, where multiple organ systems are at play.

Mice, being mammals, have a physiology relatively similar to our own, so their reactions to drugs often are as well. But that’s not always the case.

In a study out today in the journal Cell, researchers say they’ve figured out one possible reason for this variation. Their microbiomes—the collection of bacteria in animal guts that scientists are currently obsessed with—vary wildly depending on whether they were raised in the lab or in the wild.

So their gut microbes are different, what’s the big deal? The microbes that live in our intestines aren’t just there because it’s cozy; they also do a lot for our health. They help digest the food we eat, of course, but they also influence how our immune systems react to various infectious bugs and pathogens, as well as other diseases like cancer. And recent research suggests that they might also play a role in even lesser understood conditions like Alzheimer’s and autism.

The researchers wanted to figure out just how big of a difference this change in microbiome could have. So they exposed two groups of mice—mice with typical lab microbiomes and lab mice with microbiomes resembling those seen in the wild—to a high dose of the influenza virus. Turns out, 92 percent of the lab mice with wild microbiomes survived the infection whereas only 17 percent of the lab mice with typical lab mice microbiomes did.

They also induced other diseases, including colorectal tumors. The lab mice with wild microbiomes had fewer and less severe tumors than those with the lab microbiomes.

“We hypothesized that this might explain why laboratory mice, while paramount for understanding basic biological phenomenon, are limited in their predictive utility for modeling complex diseases of humans and [other mammals],” says Stephan Rosshart, a fellow at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and an author of the study.

Rosshart and his colleagues also showed that they could isolate the microbiomes found in wild mice and introduce them into laboratory mice, meaning that they could, in theory, do future experiments on mice with these wild gut bacteria. However, Rosshart and Barbara Rehermann, lead author of the study and director of the immunology section at NIDDK, say that’s not the ultimate goal. Rather, they say, researchers should use the wild microbiome as an additional component to their research. By directly comparing the two groups to other disease processes, like the researchers did in this case, the results could help pinpoint more exactly what protective mechanisms the wild bacteria have.

They also think a better understanding of mice gut microbiomes could help researchers figure out why they are sometimes unable to reproduce certain experiments. For example, if two scientists from different institutions order the same genetically identical mice from the same place, those two animals should have the same response to a particular drug, but they often don’t.

That could be because the mice go through different environments en route to their new homes, which can alter the diversity of bacteria in their guts. This difference could alter the outcomes of the studies that the researchers do on them.

Rosshart says that wild or natural microbiomes are likely more resilient to small environmental changes like a temporary modification in housing. That’s because this collection of bacteria often have a higher diversity of microbe species. That makes it harder for one bacterial strain to take over and wreak havoc on the fragile ecological system.

Mouse studies are crucial to drug and vaccine development. Since they are the step directly before human testing, their effectiveness is even more critical. It is imperative that scientists come to understand why mouse models react the way they do.

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