As the US federal government furloughs an overwhelming number of employees, the websites they manage are going dark as well. The FTC, USDA, NASA, Library of Congress, and other agency sites have been turned off completely, and others are being updated periodically or not at all. With all non-essential personnel off duty, there's almost certainly nobody home to man the sites, and redirecting to a splash page doesn't take much work. But the stark, mournful notices are effectively a protest as well, creating an online graveyard reminding us of what's no longer running.
We're sorry, but we will not be tweeting or responding to @ replies during the government shutdown. We'll be back as soon as possible!
— CDC Emergency (@CDCemergency) October 1, 2013
Some sites have opted for a simple sentence or two explaining why they're not running. "Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available," says NASA. Others let you know exactly what you're missing: the FTC informs visitors that they can't file consumer complaints or register for the Do Not Call list. If you send a FOIA request, the FTC can't process it. The Library of Congress is closing everything except, perhaps ironically, its legislative information sites THOMAS and Congress.gov.
Etsy is making significant policy changes today that will offer sellers more flexibility and convenience than ever before. But the new guidelines, which allow the sale of items produced entirely by "manufacturing partners," may also change what Etsy's users love about the site: its homemade, indie feel. But according to CEO Chad Dickerson, it's a necessary change. "When Etsy started, we relied on one word to carry all our values out into the world: handmade," he wrote in a blog post detailing the new policies. "Almost immediately, that was a problem."
The new rules allow products to be labeled "handmade" so long as the original idea for that item — or its "authorship" as Dickerson says — comes from its respective seller. Further, Etsy businesses can now bring on as many helping hands as they deem necessary (and even hire workers in different locations). And sellers can finally ship orders via third-party couriers rather than the post office.
More flexibility, but at what cost?
According to the company's CEO, many users felt hamstrung by the old policies, criticizing them as confusing and overly restrictive. "Some sellers chose to work punishing hours to maintain a one-person shop, thinking that if they hired help, they would get kicked off the site," he said. Others "quietly began to bend the rules, hoping that no one would really notice." But Etsy is determined not to move away from its reputation completely. Sellers that wish to partner with outside businesses will need to apply for the company's approval by the start of 2014. As part of that process, they'll need to be completely transparent about where and how their items are being produced. Dickerson also notes that, even as the company works to make things clearer for its seller community, there's bound to be pushback. Speaking to All Things D, he said, "Policy changes can’t make everyone happy,”
Microsoft has long been rumored to be preparing a Surface "mini," and the company's tablet creator has revealed he's working on multiple new Surface devices. Speaking at a special Surface event at Microsoft's Seattle store last night, Panos Panay didn't answer Surface mini questions directly, but he did confirm different shapes and sizes for the future. "We have a lot of great things that we are thinking about and working on, and there are multiple aspect ratios and sizes and awesome things to come from Surface," he said. "That’s the best answer I have for you."
In an interview with The Verge recently, Panay merely hinted the team was "working on a lot of stuff" that would be released in "various shapes and sizes" without specifically mentioning different aspect ratios. Microsoft's Surface tablets use a 16:9 ratio, which makes it difficult to use in portrait mode due to the length of the display. The rumored Surface mini tablet is expected to include a 7.5-inch display with a 4:3 ratio that will make it easier to hold in portrait.
No Surface Pro 2 with LTE
Geekwire also reports that Panay also confirmed that Surface 2 LTE versions will debut early next year on AT&T in the US and Vodafone in Europe. Panay had previously revealed that the Surface 2 would include LTE variants, but he also clarified that there won't be a Surface Pro 2 version with LTE.
Healthcare.gov, the website where Americans can shop for health insurance, is now officially open for business. It's sleek, translates well to an iPhone, and ostensibly offers live support by chat. Unfortunately, it's also buggy and agonizingly slow, and the chat support was unavailable. Many users have experienced errors for hours or have been locked out entirely.
"I've been trying since last night," Twitter user @patrickhills told The Verge. "No dice."
The site is supposed to either help you sign up for health insurance or redirect to a local site if you live in one of the 15 states (16 including Utah's small business-only site) that opened their own exchanges. When The Verge attempted to create a login, the site was overloaded: "Please wait. We have a lot of visitors on our site right now and we're working to make your experience here better. Please wait here until we send you to the login page. Thanks for your patience!"
After a few minutes, we were directed to create a user name and password. The user name must include a symbol or number, an unusual requirement but presumably done for added security, and the password requirements were strong. So far, so good. But when we got to step three — security questions — all the drop down menus were blank. We then got a message saying "Important: Your account couldn't be created at this time. The system is unavailable."
@HealthCareGov has been inundated with complaints via Twitter. "We're working to fix these issues as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience," the account tweeted.
Thanks for all your comments and updates as you enroll. We apologize that wait times on the site and hotline are longer than expected! (1/2)
— HealthCare.gov (@HealthCareGov) October 1, 2013
We're working to fix these issues as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience (2/2)
— HealthCare.gov (@HealthCareGov) October 1, 2013
The Verge was unable to get past the account registration phase, although it's unclear if the site would have been usable even then. One user reported registering, only to find the site did not recognize his login. Our call to the marketplace support center was answered within 11 minutes but was no help: call center reps are using the same website to sign people up. If you don't already have an account registered, there is nothing they can do.
Ben Lamb, who lives in Indiana, has been trying to sign up with no success. "Right now I have a Blue Cross plan that I think was the cheapest, but it was hard to actually get a quote from an insurer without an intent to buy, which is why I'm excited about this new system," he said in an email. "Websites all have hiccups under load like this so hopefully they'll have everything figured out soon."
Some state sites have also reportedly had problems
Some of the state sites have also reportedly had problems. California's site was slow and not working properly, users reported. Maryland announced a four-hour enrollment delay. Colorado, Washington, D.C., and Oregon all announced delays last week. Colorado in particular has been working on its site for two years and was supposed to be among the most prepared, so it was alarming when the state said it wasn't ready. However, it ended up launching on time, albeit with some glitches.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which warned ahead of time that there might be problems with the exchanges, says it is aware of the issues with the federal site. HHS has scheduled a briefing this afternoon to "provide an operational update."
There is some time to fix the exchanges before millions of Americans are cut off. If you enroll by December 15, you can get coverage starting January 1. The enrollment period lasts until March 31, 2014. People who miss that window will have to wait until the next open enrollment period. These technical issues should be resolved before anyone is prevented from getting insurance — or else the government will have to consider extending the deadlines.
The US federal government ceased most operations just after midnight on October 1st, 2013, as a divided Congress failed to reach a compromise for continued funding. NASA, the Department of Health and Human services, and other hi-tech agencies are largely frozen until further notice, except for critical services. With the Republican-controlled House of Representatives holding fast in their attempt to block funding for the President's health care reform effort, no clear end is in sight for the first full government shutdown in 17 years.
A new fertility treatment has allowed a woman in Japan to give birth, even though she'd stopped producing eggs around four years prior. The new treatment is being called "in vitro activation," and it may be able to let women who have become infertile because of a condition called primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) have children. The researchers behind it think that it may be applicable to even more conditions than that, and it's already seeing its first success stories against POI. Another patient has become pregnant with the method, and three other women were able to produce eggs.
Ovarian follicles that had stopped growing were reactivated
The method involves activating ovarian follicles that have become inactive. Generally, a single one of these follicles will grow to maturity and release an egg each month, but POI prevents that from happening. This research, which was led from Japan's St. Marianna University School of Medicine with additional work by Stanford, has determined a way to activate those follicles again in some women. According to the Los Angeles Times, by removing part of the ovary, cutting the tissue into small cubes, and then treating the cubes with a drug that encouraged growth, the research team was able to prevent the process that would normally stop the follicles from maturing, and coax them into producing eggs.
After treatment, transplanting the cubes of tissue back to the women led to follicles growing on eight out of 13 patients, reports the LA Times. Five of the women produced eggs, which have been fertilized using in vitro fertilization techniques. Many embryos were successfully created in the process, though some still remain frozen while others have failed to establish a pregnancy after being implanted. The woman who did give birth is 29, and reportedly hadn't been producing eggs since she was 24. The researchers' findings were published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Lead researcher Kazuhiro Kawamura performed the Cesarean section for the successful birth himself. "I could not sleep the night before the operation, but when I saw the healthy baby, my anxiety turned to delight," Kawamura says in a statement. "The couple and I hugged each other in tears." The research team is now looking to see whether the method is effective in women who are infertile for other reasons, including sterilizing cancer treatments. Even though the new technique is only working with a single cause of infertility right now, Kawamura sees this birth as an important step forward: "I hope that [in vitro activation] will be able to help patients with primary ovarian insufficiency throughout the world."
In his speech over the government's shutdown and the launch of a new healthcare site, President Barack Obama has brought up the trump card in modern political debates: successful and beloved tech companies. Obama addressed criticism of Healthcare.gov, the sleek but buggy and unreliable system that lets Americans shop for health care plans, by comparing it to Apple's iOS. "Like every new law, every new product rollout, there are going to be some glitches in the sign-up process along the way that we will fix, he said. "Consider that just a couple of weeks ago, Apple rolled out a new mobile operating system, and within days, they found a glitch, so they fixed it."
"I don't remember anybody suggesting Apple should stop selling iPhones or iPads or threatening to shut down the company if they didn't," Obama continued. "That's not how we do things in America. We don't actively root for failure." The problems, he said, were partially caused by the extremely heavy load of new users — though some are clearly out-and-out bugs. Either way, the site's administrators have promised to shore it up as quickly as possible, admitting that the wait times on both it and the accompanying hotline are "longer than expected."
Obama's statements are meant to address the larger political climate, particularly a bevy of Republicans who insist that the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") be delayed as part of budget negotiations. "I'll work with anybody who's got a serious idea to make the Affordable Care Act work better," he said. "I've said that repeatedly. But as long as I am president, I will not give in to reckless demands by some in the Republican Party to deny affordable health insurance to millions of hardworking Americans."