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Michael Seres, an influential patient who hacked together a ‘smart’ ostomy bag, dies at 51

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Michael Seres

Source: Justine Seres

Michael Seres, an entrepreneur, patient advocate, husband and father of three, died on Saturday in Orange County, California, of a sepsis infection. He was 51. 

Seres was widely considered to be one of the first and most prominent “e-patients,” a term which has become popular to denote patients who are informed and engaged in their health, often sharing their experiences online. He is also one of a small number of patient inventors who helped design and build a medical device — a digitally enhanced ostomy bag — that got FDA clearance in 2014. His invention eased the suffering of millions of people with bowel injuries, chronic gut illnesses and cancer. 

Investor Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital, who made a personal investment in his company, 11Health, praised Seres in a call with CNBC.

“You just don’t meet too many people like Michael in life,” he said. “I have never met anyone with that combination of buoyancy and bravery.”

The 11th patient

Seres, who grew up in London, experienced health issues throughout his life. Before his twelfth birthday, he was diagnosed with severe Crohn’s disease, an incurable bowel condition. He spent much of his life in and out of the hospital, overcoming more than twenty surgeries, two transplants — intestinal and bone marrow — and five bouts of cancer.

In 2011, Seres became the 11th patient in the U.K. to receive a rare intestinal transplant Oxford University Hospitals. Five of the patients who had received the procedure before him never left the hospital, said longtime colleague Dr. Robert Fearn, so Seres knew the odds. But he made a strong recovery, and the experience led him down a path to entrepreneurship. 

After the transplant, Seres was fitted with an ostomy bag — a small pouch attached to the outside of his body that collected waste from his intestinal tract. In an interview several years later, he referred to it as this “alien thing attached to my body.” The experience frustrated him because the bag would spill over without warning. As Seres later learned, no one had innovated on the system much in decades. 

He turned to eBay to purchase some gear and hacked together a sensor that would alert him before the bag leaked. He expanded on that to build tools to measure the output, which he would share with his doctors.

“It struck me at the time that people were building all these solutions in health care…and giving it to you, rather than building it with you,” he later said. “If I want to know how to solve the problem, I’ll go to another patient.” 

As he recovered, he blogged about his experiences and built a loyal following of more than 100,000 readers. He wrote about the importance of making collaborative decisions and having access to his own medical information. Alongside his growing social media presence, he kept in touch for years with his doctors via WhatsApp and Skype, and kept them updated on his progress. 

His own doctors told him they read the blog, and shared it with their medical students. He is widely considered to be one of the first “e-patients” — the “e” stands for “equipped, enabled, empowered and engaged.”

Seres was passionate about technology, but he believed that the doctor-patient relationship was the heart of health care. He recalled fondly how his nurses and doctors timed his blood tests around the few shows he had come to enjoy that were available on the hospital TV network, including “Strictly Come Dancing” and a talk show hosted by UK host Jeremy Kyle. He’d chat with them about his favorite football team, Queens Park Rangers FC, which he followed throughout his life. 

Turning a ‘ghastly personal adventure’ into a business

Once he left the hospital, Seres’ business idea — the digital upgrade to the ostomy bag — quickly gained traction in the UK, where he successfully raised some seed funding. He called the company 11Health in honor of being the 11th patient who received the intestinal transplant.

Seres suspected that he could build a bigger business by relocating to California. But before making the move to Orange County, a hub of the medical device industry, he emailed one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent venture capitalists, Michael Moritz.

Michael Seres

Source: Patient Safety Movement | YouTube

Moritz, an investor in PayPal, Yahoo, Google, YouTube and Zappos, said Seres impressed him so much that he asked Sequoia for permission to make a rare personal investment in the company. 

Moritz said it’s the hallmark of many of the best founders he’s worked with to focus on a problem that they feel personally passionate about solving. “Michael’s subject at hand happened to be this ghastly personal adventure with an ostomy bag,” Moritz said. “He felt somehow that fate had forced him to embark on this journey.”

Medical societies estimate that hundreds of thousands of people currently have an ostomy bag in the U.S., meaning there’s a significant market opportunity. Moritz notes that in medicine, even “reasonably rare problems” can become big businesses.

In 2012, Seres met Dr. Larry Chu, a practicing anesthesiologist at Stanford, who became a close friend. Dr. Chu recruited him to join Stanford’s medical-tech conference, Medicine X, as the first e-patient-in-residence. He frequently talked with the clinicians at Stanford to remind them that patients can play a role in helping design clinical trials, build companies, and that they should be active participants in their own care.

Two years later, 11Health’s connected ostomy bag received an FDA clearance, marking one of the first times that the agency has worked closely with a patient-inventor to bring a new technology to market.

A 1999 portrait of Michael Seres, Licensing Manager of Copyright Promotions Group, at Football Expo 1999 in Cannes, France.

Graham Chadwick | Allsport | Getty Images

Nick Dawson, a Bay Area-based designer, met Seres through the Stanford network. Dawson said that Seres became one of the most influential voices in an important and growing movement.

“Patients were literally knocking on doors and demanding to be a part of the conversation,” he wrote in a letter to Seres’ family that he shared with CNBC. “It was part of a necessary upheaval.”

A colleague at 11Health, Paul Gordon, said Seres an effective speaker at medical conferences because would regularly crack jokes, using with his typically British self-deprecating humor. Because he was color blind, he sometimes showed up at events in mismatched attire, which Gordon said added to his charm.

Gordon referred to Seres, who was slight in stature, as the “smallest giant I’ve ever met in my life.” 

When the coronavirus was declared a pandemic this spring, Seres knew that his friend Chu would be swamped. Seres’ health had taken a turn for the worse, but he still sent texts featuring his personal bitmoji to say hello or to give him a virtual hug.

“Every friend teaches you something,” said Dr Chu. “Michael taught me to treasure people and let them know you care every day.”

Seres is survived by his wife Justine Seres and his three children Aaron, Nathan and Lauren.

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/02/michael-seres-patient-who-invented-smart-ostomy-bag-dies-at-51.html

CNBC

Pinterest is reportedly in talks to acquire VSCO

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So what can Pinterest do to jump higher up the list of social networking sites? According to a report by the New York Times, one possibility is acquiring the owner of VSCO, the app for editing / sharing photos and videos that has brought in-depth tools to mobile users for years. Neither side directly confirmed the negotiations, and there’s no word on a possible price, but maybe combining forces can bring some Instagram-like glow. 

As it is, Pinterest is still mostly known for planning and organizing, and as the NYT article points out, other than some recent acquisitions, VSCO is currently best known for the “VSCO girls” meme.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/vsco-pinterest-014258107.html

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A sealed copy of ‘Super Mario Bros.’ just sold for $660,000

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A nearly perfect copy of Super Mario Bros. for the NES has sold for $660,000 at auction. In what turned out to be a 13-bidder contest, $550,000 went to the game’s original owner. The copy was one of the earliest shrink-wrapped versions of the games you could buy in the US (Super Mario Bros. eventually had 11 different box variants, according to WATA Games).

Heritage Auctions, the firm that oversaw the sale, told Ars Technica it dates back to late 1986. It was reportedly bought as a Christmas gift and sat unopened in a desk drawer for the better part of four decades. “I never thought anything about it,” the seller, who asked to remain anonymous, told the auction house.

The $660,000 this copy of Super Mario Bros. sold for is crazy when you consider the Nintendo PlayStation, a one-of-a-kind prototype representing a unique piece of gaming history, sold for $360,000 at auction last year. More recently, someone paid $156,000 to buy a pristine copy of Super Mario Bros. 3. It makes you wonder how much the owner would have walked away with had they simultaneously tried to cash in on the NFT craze somehow.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/super-mario-bros-auction-000001095.html

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‘Lost Tapes of the 27 Club’ used Google AI to ‘write’ a new Nirvana song

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Were he still alive today, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain would be 52 years old. Every February 20th, on the day of his birthday, fans wonder what songs he would write if he hadn’t died of suicide nearly 30 years ago. While we’ll never know the answer to that question, an AI is attempting to fill the gap.

A mental health organization called Over the Bridge used Google’s Magenta AI and a generic neural network to examine more than two dozen songs by Nirvana to create a ‘new’ track from the band. “Drowned in the Sun” opens with reverb-soaked plucking before turning into an assault of distorted power chords. “I don’t care/I feel as one, drowned in the sun,” Nirvana tribute band frontman Eric Hogan sings in the chorus. In execution, it sounds not all that dissimilar from “You Know You’re Right,” one of the last songs Nirvana recorded before Cobain’s death in 1994.

Other than the voice of Hogan, everything you hear in the song was generated by the two AI programs Over the Bridge used. The organization first fed Magenta songs as MIDI files so that the software could learn the specific notes and harmonies that made the band’s tunes so iconic. Humorously, Cobain’s loose and aggressive guitar playing style gave Magenta some trouble, with the AI mostly outputting a wall of distortion instead of something akin to his signature melodies. “It was a lot of trial and error,” Over the Bridge board member Sean O’Connor told Rolling Stone. Once they had some musical and lyrical samples, the creative team picked the best bits to record. Most of the instrumentation you hear are MIDI tracks with different effects layered on top.

One thing neither AI gave direction on is how exactly Cobain would have sung the song. Outside of cadence and tone, Hogan had to interpret how the grunge star, who famously suffered from crippling stomach pain, would have channeled his anguish into the lyrics.

Over the Bridge isn’t the first group to use AI to emulate a dead artist. But the intent here is different from similar past projects. “Drowned in the Sun” is part of the organization’s Lost Tapes of the 27 Club initiative. They set out to record AI-generated songs by musicians who died at the age of 27 to raise awareness about mental health resources musicians, and people more generally, can turn to when they feel they need help. The Toronto-based non-profit has a Facebook page where it offers support. It also offers online sessions and workshops.

If you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or over an online chat.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/over-the-bridge-lost-tapes-of-the-27-club-223000315.html

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Microsoft’s online-only Build conference starts on May 25th

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Spring is fully upon us, which means the calendar is starting to fill up with high-profile tech events. And the latest addition? Microsoft confirmed today that its online-only Build developer conference will run between May 25th and May 27th, though there’s still no word on when registration will open. (If last year is any indication, our money is on “the end of April.”)

“Microsoft Build is where developers, architects, start-ups, and students learn, connect, and code together, sharing knowledge and expanding their skillset, while exploring new ways of innovating for tomorrow,” the company’s events page explains. 

Unfortunately, Microsoft has yet to update its Build-specific webpage with information about this year’s priorities or schedule, but we’re almost certainly looking at another packed event. Last year, Microsoft went on (among other things) about improved collaboration tools for its suite of Office productivity apps, an AI-focused supercomputer running on its Azure cloud platform, and new cloud tools designed specifically for healthcare practitioners. 

Historically, spring and summer are been jam-packed with large, in-person events where app and software developers get their first glimpse at upcoming platform and strategy updates, attend workshops and code reviews, and generally mingle with their colleagues. Starting last year, though, the worldwide coronavirus pandemic has forced companies that stage these events to rapidly rethink their approaches.

Some, like Microsoft and Apple, quickly pivoted to informative online-only affairs that include full days worth of sessions, demos and fireside chats. (For what it’s worth, Apple announced this week that its own Worldwide Developer Conference will also proceed as an online-only event from June 7-11.) Meanwhile, Google has not yet confirmed whether it plans to stage its Google I/O developer conference at all this year — the company cancelled the show entirely in 2020, but said last month that it does plan to host some version of its annual Google Cloud Next event this October. 

Between a surge in COVID-19 vaccine production and news of relaxed restrictions for vaccinated travelers, Build 2021 may well be the last purely virtual developer conference Microsoft will ever need to put on. With any luck, devs will resume their pilgrimages to Seattle next year, and who knows — maybe those tiny emotional support horses from Build 2018 will show up again too.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/microsoft-build-2021-may-25-to-27-developer-conference-official-212230206.html

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