Those moules frites you had at the French bistro last night were delicious, but now you're feeling kind of funny. Worse than funny. Actually, you're trapped in your bathroom, suffering from food poisoning. Who are you going to tell about this?
Many cities have hotlines where citizens can report getting food poisoning from restaurants, but not everybody uses them. So, in a recent project, the city of Chicago sought food poisoning cases by setting an algorithm to mine Chicago-area tweets for complaints. The Chicago Department of Public Health's Twitter bot, plus a new online complaint form, helped the department identify 133 restaurants for inspections over a 10-month period. Twenty-one of those restaurants failed inspection and 33 passed with "critical or serious" violations. Not a bad haul.
Chicago is now working with the health departments of Boston and New York to see if its system could work in those cities, according to a report city researchers published with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Plus, Twitter isn't the only social media platform cities are looking to mine for public health violations. In May, New York City's department of health reported on using an algorithm to spot Yelp reviews that point to food poisoning cases. New York's Yelp project led the city to discover three restaurants that had multiple violations. All the Yelp cases the city inspected had otherwise gone unreported, New York officials wrote in their own CDC report.
The Chicago bot was pretty simple, as Twitter-reading computer programs go. It searched for tweets geo-located to Chicago and its surrounding suburbs that mentioned "food poisoning." Human staff then read the tweets to determine if they were relevant. (Sounds fun.) Staff marked tweets as relevant or not relevant, to give the algorithm data to better learn what tweets to pull in the future. Then staff members responded to relevant tweets themselves. Here's a sample tweet and reply:August 15, 2014
The link leads to a new online form, called Foodborne Chicago, where city residents can report problematic restaurants.
Between March 2013 and January 2014, the Chicago bot culled 2,241 tweets, of which 270 were relevant and staff replied to them. Thirty Twitter users went to Foodborne Chicago directly from the link the health department sent them. An additional 163 people submitted complaints to Foodborne Chicago, but staff don't know if they learned about the site through Twitter or someplace else. Overall, Foodborne Chicago complaints contributed to four percent of the restaurants the city shut down for violations during the study period.
The city likely would have never caught the majority of those complaints without the Twitter bot, officials wrote to the CDC.
The city has made its Twitter bot open-source. You can see the code on GitHub.
A newly released image of Antarctica offers the most complete, detailed view of the continent since 1997. The map is a mosaic of more than 3,150 individual, high-resolution readings, taken in the Southern Hemisphere's autumn of 2008, and tiled together into a coast-to-coast view of the entire continent with its coastal waters. And the results sure are pretty.
Scientists will compare the two images to learn more about changing Antarctic ice conditions, says Ellsworth LeDrew, director of the Canadian Cryospheric Information Network and a professor at University of Waterloo.
The information is being made free of charge to the public online, via the Polar Data Catalogue. "It used to be that a lot of data were inaccessible" to non-specialists, says Ellsworth. Now anyone will be able to find and use the maps to better understand science, environmental issues and political policies affecting Antarctica. The data from 1997 will also be put online in the same collection, hopefully "in the next few months," he says. Furthermore, the Polar Data Catalogue will allow users to search for the individual tile images of particular Antarctic locations, making the data easier to store and use.
The different colors on the image represent different wavelengths and frequencies of light. "These colors in a nutshell represent different physical characteristics of the ice, which the scientist can interpret," LeDrew says. "It's what is called polarimetric information. It's like looking through a camera's polarizing filter. Some wavelengths are up and down and some are side to side. These colors represent these wavelengths and different wave bands," which to an informed eye will reveal much about the condition and motion of glaciers, ice shelves and sea ice. "For example where the edge of a glacier is, or sea ice shelves that have broken off," he says, or ice thinning as landbound glaciers expand towards the sea. Ships also use the information for navigation, he says.
"Also, you will be able to access subareas – the individual images that are stitched together – at very high resolution. You don't have to pick out the entire mosaic," says LeDrew, to study the edge of a particular glacier or where certain sea ice shelves have broken off since the late 1990s. “This is very important for looking at changes in the environment over time."
LeDrew spoke with Popular Science just a few hours before leaving for New Zealand, where he will present this new image at the 2014 Open Science Conference of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.Ready for my closeup A closeup view of Antarctica near the Ronne Ice Shelf CSA/MDA/CCIN University of Waterloo
Greased Lightning is part of a NASA program to make efficient hybrid-electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing aircraft. It's one of four concepts, and is the most conventional of the bunch. According to NASA, it recently flew while tethered, and untethered flight tests are planned for this fall.
Facial-recognition software cut its teeth on criminal mugshots, but now it offers an arguably more civic service: uniting people with potential life partners. Algorithms search for a match based on your prior dating or pet-ownership preferences. Friends accuse you of living in the past? Now you can relive it.Three Day Rule
The dating service Three Day Rule—which recently partnered with Match.com—feeds a customer’s relationship history and preferences into software that hunts for potential dates with similar physical characteristics. The service’s software examines facial shape, jaw structure, and “eyes and nose coordinates.” The company says its goal is more efficient matchmaking, not to help customers find people that look like their exes—but we can’t help thinking of Lyle Lovett’s classic lyric: “I married her just because she looks like you.”PetMatch
To home in on furrier friends, PetMatch searches for adoptable cats and dogs based on visual similarities. Users upload wish-list photos, which the mobile app reads like a book, pixel by pixel. It analyzes those pieces of information, turning them into a language that can help spot similarities within a database. Although some users might feel inclined to try to find a replica of a deceased pet or a Grumpy Cat facsimile, Superfish, the company that created PetMatch, isn’t too concerned. “Let the user decide what they’re looking for,” Geoffrey Shenk, vice president of business development for Superfish, says, “and let the experience run from there.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Popular Science.
At that moment, separated from the physical seashore by 150 miles, I began to ponder what actually accounts for the telltale flavors of the sea. People often describe the taste of uni as a meaty, in-your-face beach flavor. Nori has that green sea taste. And oysters are best when they append the bright brininess of their growing environment with their own sweet butteriness. What are the chemicals that actually create these ocean flavors?
No single chemical compound can really be pinned down as quintessential ocean essence. A diverse mix of molecules contribute to that seemingly singular seashore flavor that you smell at the beach, and that you taste in many of the foods harvested from the ocean. Here’s an overview of three of the more widespread marine molecules, brought to you by death, sex, and fish food.
One of the most common and best-understood components of seashore aroma is dimethyl sulfide, or DMS. Food scientists use a variety of descriptors to characterize the flavor notes of DMS, including green, sulfur, clammy, boiled cabbage, and creamed corn. This stinky sulfur compound puts the funk in everything from nori, to truffles, to beer. It’s also abundant in farts.
In the ocean, DMS is produced in large part by bacteria that eat dying phytoplankton—microscopic organisms that use light from the sun to make their own energy. The phytoplankton use a precursor to DMS known as dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) as a sort of sunscreen to protect themselves from the stresses of being phytoplankton (it’s rough out there!). When the phytoplankton die, they burst open and the bacteria make DMS from DMSP as they digest the phytoplankton. Seabirds and other ocean animals use the smell of DMS to identify areas rich in phytoplankton, which are also usually packed full of tasty fish.
For a clearer idea of what DMS smells like, visit a salt marsh. The flooded soils of salt marshes release a whole bouquet of sulfur smells, and one is DMS. Barring that, your local artisan-cheese counter is one of the best places to get a nice hit of DMS. Microbes such as the bacterium Brevibacterium and the fungus Geotrichum that grow on ripening cheeses can produce high levels of DMS as a consequence of decomposing cheese proteins. If I had to guess, I’d say that DMS played a part in producing the ocean aroma I encountered from that cheese sample in Vermont.
The smell of seaweed sex
Sex has a smell, even for seaweed.
In the 1960s and ’70s, scientists isolated chemical compounds from numerous seaweeds that had a strong “beach odor.” When they started trying to figure out the role of these compounds, they noticed that the seaweed eggs were producing a lot of these volatile compounds and seaweed sperm were highly attracted to them. With all of the various species of sperm swimming around in the ocean, it’s good to have a chemical calling card to lure in compatible mates.
Dictyopterenes, a type of these aromatic sex pheromones, also contribute to the aroma profiles of edible seaweeds. I’ve never actually smelled a purified version, but most reports describe it as smelling like—surprise!—dried seaweed. Limu lipoa (Dictyopteris plagiogramma), a seaweed commonly eaten in Hawaii, is packed with dictyopterenes, and lends a wonderful ocean spice often used in stews. A perfect dish to get you in the mood.
Fish are what they eat
The brininess of wild seafood, including fish, mollusks, oysters, clams, shrimp, and crabs, comes in large part from a class of compounds called bromophenols. In low concentrations, these chemicals are described as smelling sealike, fishlike, and crablike. In really high concentrations, they come off as a harsh chemical smell, similar to iodine.
Seafood biologists suspect that most of these animals don’t produce these compounds on their own, but acquire them from the foods they eat, especially marine worms, algae, and other bottom-feeders. Wild-caught seafood tends to have higher concentrations of these compounds and more oceanlike flavors compared to their farm-raised counterparts. Some fish species, like Pacific salmon, which split time between the ocean and fresh water, exhibit high levels of bromophenols when they’re caught in the ocean and almost none when landed in fresh water.
In order to re-create the flavor of ocean-faring fish, some farmers have attempted to add bromophenols to the diets of farm-raised seafood. They’ve had mixed success. One challenge with this approach is striking the delicate balance between a hint of ocean flavor and the overbearing metallic tang of iodine. You can take a fish out of the ocean, but it’s hard putting the ocean back in the fish.Benjamin Wolfe will be an Assistant Professor of Microbiology at Tufts University starting in September 2014. He can't decide what to wear on his first day of school. Twitter: @LupoLabs Lucky Peach is a quarterly journal of food and writing. Each issue focuses on a single theme, and explores that theme through essays, art, photography, and recipes. Issue 12, the Seashore issue, hits newsstands today. If you loved this--or even just strongly liked it--why not subscribe to the magazine here? At least visit our website at lky.ph, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
The heavy, treaded, gun-swinging battlefield behemoths know as tanks haven't changed much since their invention a century ago. Using a crapload of armor, the tank is meant to keep soldiers inside safe from bullets and other projectiles, while shooting a cannon at anything that poses a threat. But the problem with all this armor is that it makes vehicles slow and therefore more vulnerable. DARPA wants to change that. Their new Ground X-Vehicle Technology (GXV-T) initiative aims to get vehicles beyond armor, figuring out new ways to keep the people inside safe without sacrificing mobility.
Here's how DARPA describes the project's broader aim:GXV-T seeks to investigate revolutionary ground-vehicle technologies that would simultaneously improve the mobility and survivability of vehicles through means other than adding more armor, including avoiding detection, engagement and hits by adversaries. This improved mobility and warfighting capability would enable future U.S. ground forces to more efficiently and cost-effectively tackle varied and unpredictable combat situations.
If any of this sounds familiar, it's because the Army had similar goals with an expansive vehicle project in 1999. "Future Combat Systems" was a major vehicle design program, aimed at created 18 vehicles and a network that tied them all together. Ambitious in scope, it was ultimately canceled a decade later. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where troops faced deadly IEDs that tore apart fast, lightly armored vehicles, made a whole vehicle system built around that concept untenable.
The idea that lighter, more mobile vehicles are better for the future of war persists. GXV-T is an attempt to explore that concept, not in a sweeping 18 vehicle system, but with smaller, simpler prototypes. DARPA is assembling interested groups in Arlington, Virginia, for a Proposers' Day on September 5th. Afterwards, teams will develop technologies over the next 24 months designed to meet some or all DARPA's GXV-T objectives:
- Reduce vehicle size and weight by 50 percent
- Reduce onboard crew needed to operate vehicle by 50 percent
- Increase vehicle speed by 100 percent
- Access 95 percent of terrain
- Reduce signatures that enable adversaries to detect and engage vehicles
What might such a vehicle look like? Here's DARPA's concept art about possible GXV-T entries:GXV-T Concept Art The future of tanks is apparently robot dune buggies. DARPA