A beekeeper holds up a bee hive. Photo, Damian Dovarganes, AP
BY JACQUELINE GUZMAN
Host: You’ve seen them. You’ve dodged them. And chances are, you’ve been stung by them. But bees are more complex and less dangerous than we might think. A recent study finds that these busy little creatures make decisions much as our brains do.
In the summer of 2009, professor Thomas Seeley was following a swarm of honeybees as they moved their hive. He watched the scout bees do their “waggle dances” to recruit others to a potential nesting site. He took a small microphone, listened in on those dancers and was surprised at what he heard.
Sound: Bees beeping from video – Courtesy of Dr. Thomas D. Seeley, of Cornell University.
Seeley: I heard these little “beep” sounds and I didn’t know what those were. And they caught my attention, so I looked closely and found that that beeping was produced when a bee butted her head against a dancer. (:11)
Seeley rounded up a group of researchers to see what was going on. The team went to an island free of natural nests and gave the scouts a choice between two fake nesting boxes. They carefully observed how the bees chose their new home and published their conclusions in Science Magazine.
It turns out that the “beeping” was a strong signal from dominant scout bees, to stop the others from dancing and promoting the other site. Once the whole swarm was in agreement, they’d set up there.
Seeley’s team found a parallel between this process and the decision-making system we have in our brains.
Seeley: They’re both composed of lots of small units. In the case of the brain of course it’s the neurons – and for a colony of bees, it’s bees. (:14)
So essentially your brain works like a beehive. The neurons are like the “scout bees”. Each unit has its own impulse on what to do, which might conflict with another. There is some “head butting” and arguing among the neurons. But eventually, the units work together to reach a consensus. Seeley calls that “cross-inhibition” and says bees do the same to decide where to move.
Seeley: The swarm has to steer itself just as we have to steer ourselves when we decide to go from point A to point B.
Seeley’s observations have been noticed by beekeepers, too. Andrew Coté has been active in the field for 30 years and is the founder of the New York City Beekeepers Association. He says that much like humans, bees collaborate in order to achieve a goal.
Coté: It’s a fascinating society with a “hive” mentality, where the good of the unit, of the colony, is much more important than the individual. (:17)
Sound: Ambience of rooftop under narration.
Teamwork is crucial for a hive to thrive. Every member has a certain job: the queen’s is to lay the eggs. The workers look for food, bring back pollen. And others produce honey or wax.
But the bees’ teamwork isn’t limited within their own species. Coté explains that humans have worked closely with bees before… in an unusual way.
Coté: One of the most fascinating things about bees that most people don’t usually know is that they have been used in warfare. That catapults have been used to hurl hives of bees and wasps into the thick, into the fray of the enemy. (:30)
Sound: Bees buzzing in the hive; Roll faintly under narration
That sounds pretty scary, right? But Professor Seeley says that North American bees really aren’t as aggressive as people make them out to be.
Seeley: They see it as a very dangerous object, almost as though it were an unexploded bomb! And it looks a little bit like that they are these massive stinging insects. But what is remarkable is that the bees are very gentle. (:12)
Andrew Coté seconds that. On the roof of an Upper West Side high school — where he has some of his bees — he assured students that bees aren’t out to get them.
Sound: Student asking Coté if the bees can sting them:
Student: “Can the bees sting through this [shirt]?”
Coté: “They can, but they generally don’t”
Coté: Honeybees are not interested in us. They’re interested in honey, interested in nectar, in pollen. If you don’t kick the hive, you won’t have a problem with the bees. (:16)
Coté and Seeley agree that bees are harmless creatures. As long as you give them some space, they’re pretty indifferent. Like us, they’re just trying to make decisions that’ll get their job done effectively. Jacqueline Guzman, Columbia Radio News.
BY JASON SLOTKIN
SOUNDS: Cafe noises
NARRATION: Alex Ramirez sits near the door at the Hungarian Pastry Shop In Morningside Heights. Macbook open in front of him, he Googles the name of a Harvard faculty member and post-doc program he’s been researching.
RAMIREZ: Typing Larien Enghart. His webpage is the first to come up and his lab page is the second to come up.
NARRATION: Then, he drops the faculty member’s name and searches again
RAMIREZ: His name doesn’t come up. I just get admissions for Harvard and Harvard’s website. Yeah, not focused enough.
NARRATION: Bottom line for Ramirez: Google searching hasn’t changed. In fact, he hasn’t even read the new policy.
RAMIREZ: I’ve been lazy and its something I want to read and should be concerned about.
NARRATION: There’s plenty of concern among Internet privacy advocates. The new policy will allow Google to consolidate account information for every Google, Youtube, Gmail, Android or user of any of the company’s services, allowing the company to share data across both its Internet and phone platforms.
David Jacobs, a fellow at the Electronic Privacy information Center says Google is not collecting new information, but they change will allow it to compile the largest caches of personal information of held by any private company in the world.
JACOBS: Google collecting all this information provides a lot more info and more detailed profile than if another company that only does email and one other service tried to combine it together.
Larry Magid, a freelance tech journalist for CBS and Forbes blogger, says Google is not the only company that collects our information. Credit card companies and phone carriers have been collecting our information for decades.
MAGID: It’s one of many examples of how we given up our anonymity in exchange for various technological wonders.
NARRATION: Magid whose non-profit Connect Safely has received grant funding from Google, dedicated several recent blog posts to alerting users how they can hide information from Google which includes deleting your Google history, not logging into Google, and clearing data from your web browser.
Joshua Jefferey, digital media manager at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, demonstrates the museum’s iPad app on July 12, 2011. The app lets visitors “silk-screen” photos on portable devices. Photo by Keith Srakocic, AP.
BY BEN BRADFORD
HOST: Nearly half a million U.S. workers develop applications for mobile devices—smart phones and tablet computers. It’s one of the fastest growing industries in the US, according to a recent report by the Washington tech policy organization TechNet. And, New York has a large share of those jobs—almost 10 percent according to the report. Ben Bradford visited one of the city’s app businesses to find out why New York is doing so well.
BRADFORD: New York software firm Expand the Room has been around for ten years. It has about 30 employees, a floor in a chic little office building down by Fulton Street, and a speakeasy-ish bar tucked in back. The company has traditionally developed websites that featured a survey or a contest, or browser-based games. For instance they’re getting ready to launch a new slot machine/time-travel game on Facebook.
SOUNDS: slot machine game
BRADFORD: But since last summer, company president James Cole says demand has changed significantly.
COLE: Up to a year or two ago we were primarily 100 percent web-based and now about 50 percent of what we’re doing is mobile-based.
BRADFORD: In other words: Apps. Apps. Apps. And that’s been good for business. Expand the Room is…expanding. In 2009, the company had 10 employees, now it has about 30. And, still hiring.
The surge in demand started after Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007. But it was another two years before Expand the Room started to see business. The company’s Matthew Brochstein thinks that, as more people became comfortable with mobile devices in their personal lives, corporate executives felt pressure to evolve as well.
BROCHSTEIN: All of a sudden these CEOs—50, 60, 70 years old—running these companies were aware that apps existed, and their kids and their grandkids, they were now using these. And all of a sudden, it moved to “well if I go into the app store, and I don’t have an app, and someone searches my brand and I don’t have an app, they’re just going to stop, because I’m not taken seriously anymore.”
BRADFORD: The company produced its first app last summer. As Cole tells it, celebrity gossip magazine Us Weekly was already a client, and now the magazine wanted an app—something with fitness news and photos of celebrities. So the folks at Expand the Room built it. Another client saw that app and wanted one too, so they made that. And, then another. These clients are predominantly from the media and entertainment industries in New York.
Donn Morrill, who’s president of the trade group the New York Technology Council, says the presence of those powerhouse industries in New York helps explain the city’s booming app market.
MORRILL: You’ve got this interesting combination in New York between media, entertainment, and technology, and I think that’s driving a lot of the innovation you’re seeing in the mobile and the app space.
BRADFORD: And a third major New York industry is driving the boom, as well: finance.
But Morrill doesn’t think the city just got this business by default. He says Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration have prioritized the technology industry, most recently offering Cornell billions of dollars to develop a tech campus on Roosevelt Island.
MORRILL: He now has a post of a chief digital officer, he has Cornell opening up shop here in the city, so I think you’re going to see long-term sustainable technology growth here in the city.
BRADFORD: So, Morrill thinks these jobs are here to stay. But, the app economy is still only five years old. While apps are the hot new frontier, the TechNet report warns, “the location and number of app-related jobs are likely to shift greatly in the years ahead.”
John Glenn took his legendary space flight 50 years ago this week. Most New Yorkers, won't be in Glenn's shoes for a while, in the meantime The American Museum of Natural History has a space exploration exhibit (AP Photo/NASA)
Fifty years ago this week, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. These days, Newt Gingrich wants to build colonies on the moon and millionaire Richard Branson plans to fly us there on vacation with Virgin Galactic. But that’s still while away. If you want to travel into space today, at least in New York, the closest you can get is at the American Museum of Natural History. Their current exhibition, Beyond Planet Earth, begins on the moon, before orbiting Mars and finally landing on Europa.
Small business owners are more optimistic now than they’ve been since before the recession. A nationwide poll, commissioned by Wells Fargo and conducted by Gallup, says twenty two percent of business owners with fewer than 20 employees plan to add workers over the next year.
Graphic: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce
It’s been a balmy winter in New York City, and apparently the rest of the nation, too. A study shows that last month was the fourth warmest January in one hundred eighteen years for the contiguous United States.
Every year, New York City dumps billions of gallons of raw sewage into its waterways. Not only is that unpleasant — but the city could face hefty fines if it doesn’t clean up its act. The city has recently come up with a new plan to address the problem — a plan based on so-called “green infrastructure.” It’s not going to stop sewage from overflowing entirely. But as Willow Belden reports, experts and community groups alike hope it will make a major difference.
Interactive graphic by Jonah Comstock.
Story by Willow Belden
Second Avenue in Brooklyn is a noisy, industrial street that dead-ends into the Gowanus Canal. There’s a maze of buses parked at the end of the cul de sac.
Hans Hesselein picks his way around the pot holes and steps out into a small, grassy park on the southeastern bank of the canal. A big green sign warns visitors not to swim. The Gowanus polluted with toxic chemicals, and this spot is a discharge point for sewage.
Hesselein says he was here last summer during a downpour — and he saw sewage pouring into the canal.
“There was just this huge, violent swelling of water rippling the surface,” Hesselein said. “And this pitch black cloud, filled with all kinds of floating debris just spread across the water like an oil slick.”
This spot on the Gowanus Canal is one of hundreds of locations around the city where raw sewage is discharged into the water. (Photo by Jonah Comstock)
Most of it was human excrement.
“And it smelled,” Hesselein said. “Oh my goodness — You can imagine what it smelled like. It was all sewage.”
This spot on the Gowanus is one of more than 450 places across the city where raw sewage is discharged into the water. It happens whenever it rains hard.
Here’s how it works:
Step one: It starts raining.
Step two: The rain runs off of rooftops and streets and sidewalks … and flows into the sewers.
Most of New York City has what are called “combined sewers.” That means rainwater from the street mixes with wastewater from your bathroom and kitchen.
As a result, any time it rains, the sewage treatment plants have to deal with a lot more liquid.
“The systems — the treatment plants — in New York are generally able to treat twice what’s called the dry weather flow,” saidKevin Bricke, the director of environmental planning and protection at the regional office of the EPA.
Even with a moderate rainfall, the city gets significantly more than that.
When the capacity of the system is exceeded, the excess volume — i.e. rainwater mixed with raw sewage — overflows into the waterways around the city. That’s called “combined sewer overflow” — or CSO. The city’s waterways get about 30 billion gallons of it every year. That’s more than 45,000 Olympic swimming pools full of sewage.
Signs like this one warn visitors about sewage discharge points near parks and beaches. (Photo by Jonah Comstock)
Some of the release points are near beaches, so when it rains, swimming is off limits. And people who live and work near discharge locations say the smell is sometimes nauseating.
But there’s a bigger problem. A legal problem.
The Clean Water Act makes it illegal to dump contaminants — including sewage — into U.S. waters. Cities can get permits allowing them to discharge some waste — but they have to prove that they’re working to remedy the situation.
“The city of New York is already in the process of developing what are called long-term control plans,” said Bricke. “These are their plans to abate combined sewer overflows and achieve the goals of the act. … They’re doing that under an order that they have with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.”
Until recently, the plans focused on increasing the capacity of the sewer system — building more tanks and pipes. That’s what’s called a “gray infrastructure” approach.
It’s expensive, though. A recent upgrade to a plant in Brooklyn cost five billion dollars.
And there’s another problem. Carter Strickland, director of sustainability at the city’s Department for Environmental Protection, says gray infrastructure treats the symptoms — not the disease.
“The fundamental cause of our wet-weather issues in urban areas is the fact that when you build a dense city … you have a lot of impervious areas,” Strickland said. “You cover things with roads and roofs and whatnot. … So address the fundamental root cause of the problem, we need to make our impervious areas effectively pervious.”
In other words, we need to make New York City more like a natural environment, where the ground — not the sewer system — handles the rainwater.
That’s what the city is trying to do now: Not focus exclusively on gray infrastructure, but instead add what’s called “greeninfrastructure.” The new plan includes measures designed to stop storm water from entering the sewers in the first place.
“Green infrastructure gets to the root of the problem in a way that gray infrastructure doesn’t,” Strickland said.
There are several different types of green infrastructure.
One is being tested right now on a parking lot in New Jersey. The lot is made out of “porous pavement,” which is designed to let water seep through into the ground below.
Pat Pozzolano is in charge of testing the pavement for the EPA — to see how well it works. He picks up a plastic container with a precisely measured amount of water and empties the bucket onto the porous concrete.
The water disappears into the pavement almost instantly.
“That was 3.6 liters, and that flowed through at a little over five seconds,” Pozzolano says as he scribbles numers in a notebook.
Mike Borst, a chemical engineer with the EPA, says the pavement is tested every month.
“None of these have ever demonstrated runoff,” Borst said. “All the water that has hit it has gone in.”
Up to 960 inches of rain per hour can flow through porous concrete, which Borst says is 100 times more than almost any rain event.
There’s another way to get water to go into the ground: Get rid of the pavement, and replace it with “rain gardens.”
Rain gardens are gardens that are specifically designed to absorb stormwater.
The Gowanus Canal Conservancy is planning to rip out part of the sidewalks on this block and install rain gardens to absorb stormwater. (Photo by Jonah Comstock)
Hans Hesselein, who works for the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, is about to install a series of rain gardens, not far from where he saw the sewer overflow last summer.
He walks up the street away from the Gowanus.Workers bustle around the open doors of warehouses. Vehicles stand idle on the sidewalks. There’s not a tree in sight. Not yet, anyway.
The Gowanus Conservancy is planning to put in seven long, narrow gardens along the edges of the street.
“We hope to absorb all of the rain that falls on the sidewalk and the street itself, and channel it into basic rain gardens with street trees and shrubs,” Hesselein said.
The beds will be slightly lower than the surrounding areas, so water will flow off the pavement and into them. They’ll only take up half the width of the sidewalk. But if Hesselein’s calculations are right, the two and a half blocks where they’re installed won’t send any water into the sewers.
The city’s Department of Environmental Protection is funding this project and several others that community groups are undertaking.
The city also has more than 30 green infrastructure projects of its own in the works. It’s making green roofs — which are basically rain gardens on top of buildings. And blue roofs — where they essentially turn the roofs into swimming pools.
“We have pretty much every technology that’s practical built on a pilot scale, and we’re starting the monitoring this spring,” Strickland said.
Monitoring — to see how effective green infrastructure is.
The city expects that it will actually work better than gray infrastructure — and cost less.
DEP has estimated that building more tanks and pipeswould reduce CSOs by 30 percent. Add in green infrastructure,and they say we’ll reduce sewer overflows by 40percent.
Environmental experts say that’s plausible.
“Green infrastructure can be very effective in terms of volume reduction for stormwater management,” said Robert Roseen, director of the Stormwater Centerat the University of New Hampshire.
Roseen is working on a study about green infrastructure, and he says cities like Chicago and Portland, Oregon are successfully reducing their CSOs — and saving money — through green measures.
“Cost savings for CSO management with green infrastructure are often in the 20 to 30 percent ranges,” Roseen said. “And when you’re talking billion dollar price tags, that’s a lot.”
But green infrastructure isn’t a panacea.
Combined sewer overflows are particularly noticeable on Newtown Creek because the water is nearly stagnant. (Photo by Jonah Comstock)
Porous pavement may be good at keeping water out of the sewers. But Mike Borst, the EPA engineer, says that in the few places where it’s been used on roadways, it’s fallen apart three times as fast as normal pavement.
Some environmental groups also worry that the city’s green infrastructure plan doesn’t go far enough.
Katie Schmid, director of the Newtown Creek Alliance, likes the idea of green infrastructure. In fact, her group is redoing a park in Bushwick to add more soil and trees.
Schmid says the trees will help soak up stormwater in the Newtown Creek watershed. But she’s concerned that initiatives like this won’t be enough to solve the creek’s problems.
“You can make a huge difference with green infrastructure if you commit to it, you make every street tree pit capture stormwater, if you green enough city property as you can,” Schmid said. “But the caveat to that is that we need more than a big difference on Newtown Creek. We are radically under any sort of attainment standards. … And you have decades and decades of sewage just sitting on the bottom of the creek.”
The city’s green infrastructure plan would only keep ten percentof the rainwater out of the sewers. And environmental officials like Kevin Bricke say that even that is going to be hard to achieve.
“It’s much easier to implement green infrastructure measures when you’re doing new development, which you’re not going to find a lot of in New York City,” Bricke said. “When you’re retrofitting in an existing area, you can still achieve some objectives but not the same level of objective.”
The city is trying to encourage private individuals to help out by adding green infrastructure to their property. There’s a tax break for green roofs, and a fee that parking lot owners have to pay if they don’t manage their stormwater runoff.
The DEP is also giving out grants for green infrastructure projects, like the rain gardens by the Gowanus Canal. The deadline for applications is next Friday. And the groups that are selected will have a year to carry out the projects.
Where are the sewer discharge points (and public beaches) near you? Click for a larger map. (Map courtesy EPA).
A still from a video posted on YouTube. Photo courtesy of YouTube.
The number of gangs in Northern Manhattan has doubled in the past four years— according to the NYPD the number has gone from 20 to 40. Law enforcement and community leaders alike are pointing to a growing factor in the way gangs have been recruiting: They, like everyone else, are using social media. Sandhya Dirks reports.
Reverend Vernon Williams is patrolling the streets of Harlem on a cold Tuesday night. People in the neighborhood and law enforcement across the City know him as the “Pastor on Deck.” That’s because Williams takes his ministry out to the community. He does outreach to fight violence from his roving office– his car.
And you can also find him on his blackberry — tonight his phone is blowing up. He is fielding texts, tweets, and phone calls…
Reverend Vernon Williams: Tell me right now I want to know.
Williams uses social media to monitor situations as they unfold. Tonight he’s trying to calm down a fight brewing between two young women –
Williams: I’m coming over there, I’ll be there in a minute, I’m coming over there.
Williams says that the problem erupted from a quarrel over a boyfriend, but now, It’s out there for everyone to see…
Williams: Somebodies gonna verify right here on facebook.
Williams picks up Shakira– – the girl who is making threats. She asked that we not use her last name. She is shaking with anger as Williams drives through the streets, buying time.
Shakira: I am going to shoot her, I’m gonna just shoot her.
Shakira dials down the threat, at the very least she says, she is going to beat other girl up. But things gets tense in the front seat as Williams tries to calm her down.
Shakira: I’m putting hands on her pastor, it is what it is.
Williams: You’re not putting hands on nobody
Shakira: Watch me Pastor, you and me really gonna stop speaking cause I’m really gonna put hands on her.
Williams: For real, were really gonna stop speaking? You wanna stop right now?
Williams keeps driving. It takes an hour but he gets her to calm down. Williams says that his work has taught him to be alert to social media; it’s a key part of how he knows when and where violence might erupt.
Williams: Because we are there and we are aware that something’s getting ready to go down, we can see it coming we tell people watch out. And it has saved lives.
Social media is ramping up conflicts between individuals—it also maybe leading to increased gang violence. According to the New York City Police Department there’s a never-ending stream of videos that feature young men, flashing guns and wads of cash. Like this one— that shows young black men “throw up” gang signs for the camera. The video ends in a fist fight.
Assistant District Attorney Nigel Farinha is the Deputy Chief of Manhattan’s gang unit. He says that gangs use social media to create a brand that helps them recruit new members. And they do it very efficiently.
Assistant District Attorney Nigel Farinha: Because if you can reach a young person that’s not standing right in front of you, but you can talk to him on facebook, or you can send a tweeter message that a lot of people get, I mean you could literally reach the entire student body at George Washington High School with one tweeter.
But even contacting one person with social media can be dangerous. Farinha uses the example of a young person who gets a recruiting text from one of the largest gangs in New York, like the Trinitarios. But what if the young person doesn’t want to join? He might say–
Farinha: Look here’s this text message I got from one of their members. And I told them to step off, and I forward that to twenty of my friends, the reputation of the Trinatarios has just been damaged. And that’s definitely going to produce some ramifications. I mean we’ve seen those kind of beefs been escalated because of the fact that everybody’s watching.
Farinha says that social media are ideally suited to gangs
Farinha: The gang mentality is us against them, so the focus is, we are going to replace your family, your social network.
Farinha says that technology is changing the way in which law enforcement approaches gang violence. It’s also changed the way that Reverend Vernon Williams does his outreach. Still as Williams talks with some young people about social media, he reminds them that the tools aren’t necessarily the problem.
Williams: At the end of the day it’s not twitter that’s doing anything. It’s the people who are on twitter who are doing whatever they are doing. You can’t blame twitter for it.
Williams says that social media may be changing the way gangs operate, but they exist for the same reasons they always have.
With a tiny tissue sample, the DMR, can detect cancer cells in an hour and can be interfaced with an ordinary iPhone. Photo by Jonah Comstock/Columbia Radio News.
Checking for cancer isn’t a quick process. From the time doctors first notice a tumor-like growth, it takes as much as a week before they can be sure of what they’re seeing. But a new technology could change all that. Doctors at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital have completed clinical trials on what they’re calling a Diagnostic Magnetic Resonance device, or DMR. The machine is smaller than a shoebox, and can diagnose cancer in an hour.
Dr. Ronald Ennis is the director of radiation and oncology at New York’s St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital. He says cancer diagnosis usually starts with an MRI or CAT scan, and then a biopsy, which involves taking a lot of cells with a large needle.
“There can be some tissue damage caused by the biopsy itself,” he said. “Those risks are usually low, but in the lung for instance there can be a possibility of causing lung collapse”
But risks like these could soon become obsolete—along with the waiting time for test results. The DMR uses a tiny fraction of the cells a biopsy takes, and can screen them for cancer within an hour.
In Boston, at his lab at Mass General, engineer Hakho Lee showed me to the DMR prototype, which was in three pieces on a table. A metal cylinder in a clear plastic cube, a little smaller than a shoebox, was connected to a plain metal box–like an external hard-drive. That was attached by a jury-rigged cable to an iPhone. Lee touched the smartphone’s screen, displaying a red chart.
“And this little computer or little electronics is being interfaced with this iPhone here, so, just with a tap, you can start the measurement,” he said.
The “MR” in DMR is the same as in MRI – magnetic resonance. That’s because the DMR is essentially a scaled down, stripped down MRI machine. The DMR uses a magnetic field to scan tissue samples for particular proteins, the calling cards of whichever kind of cancer the doctors are looking for.
Cesar Castro–another doctor at Mass General–says that in tests like this one, DMR also detected cancer more accurately than traditional biopsies.But speed and ease of use are where the machine really shines. With a DMR, patients could get an immediate diagnosis at their bed-side, or even from their family doctor.
“It essentially equips the clinician and the researchers with more information about the status and kind of a snapshot of the cancer throughout the course of therapy. We haven’t been able to do that previously with prior technologies,” Castro said.
Cancer may not be the only disease the DMR can detect. By changing the protein markers, engineer Hakho Lee envisions using the device in third-world countries as a near-instant test for tuberculosis. The machine is also cheap to make – about $200 each if they were mass-produced – though Castro says the DMR will still need to be handled by medical professionals.
Dr. Ronald Ennis is cautiously optimistic about this invention. He says the greatest benefit could be to patients, who experience a lot of anxiety waiting to hear about test results.
“If that could be shortened to an immediate procedure instead of you know a week or two of one scan and then a biopsy and then waiting for the results, that would be great in terms of patient experience,” he said.
Ennis warned that technologies that look good in a lab don’t always make it into the real world, and he admits that a cancer detector that’s smaller, faster, cheaper, AND more accurate than current methods sounds too good to be true. But if the DMR makes it through clinical trials, it may turn out to be just that.
A bacon cheeseburgers like so many whose buns are wasted each year. Photo courtesy of Larry Crowe/AP
We all feel a tinge of dismay, when we pull a rotting tomato out of the refrigerator, or pop open a foul smelling jar that might have held dinner. But for our commentator, Alex Alper, a returned peace corps volunteer, wasting food is more than a nuisance: it’s the cause of a crusade.
I started to notice it not long after returning to the states two years ago. I’d go out to dinner with friends. Everything would be going great, but as the meal would wind down, I would start to get a little nervous.
As everyone took their last sips of coffee or wine, I would stare at the leftovers: Some wilted bits of lettuce, a piece of hamburger bun, some cold French fries saturated in ketchup.
The waiter would come to clear the plates and I would pry the plates from his hand.
“We need just a few more minutes with that,” I’d say.
“Alex, we’re done,” my friends would say, as I frantically ate the rest.
“Me too, I’m stuffed.” I’d confess. “but I can’t help it.”
And I couldn’t.
After three years in Peace Corps West Africa, I’ve had this socially awkward affliction: I cannot let food go to waste.
It’s not impossible to manage: I can walk past an abandoned cheeseburger on an empty table. I can go to a lunch interview and not ask the interviewer if he wouldn’t mind me eating the olives he picked off his pizza. I’ve gotten so much better, I can even let a waiter take uneaten bread or rice from my own plate.
But it’s been a hard road back.
In Guinea, I watched my neighbors struggle through the rainy season. That’s when last year’s harvest of rice and manioc is almost gone. They call it “la saison du souffrance” or the season of suffering.
But suffering in Guinea is year-round: kids have bloated bellies and orange tinged hair: telltale signs of malnutrition.
And the way Guineans treat food is just what you would expect: without refrigerators, women prepare just enough for dinner and the following breakfast. Not a kernel of rice is left in the pot. If the unthinkable happens—a baby tips over a bowl of uneaten food—something will be nourished: a goat, a chicken, or a cow, itself a source of food.
But here, in the US things are really different.
The National Institute of Health says Americans waste 40 percent of their food-from from farm to table to landfill.
And I get it!
Thirty four percent of Americans are obese and the same number are overweight. In a land of supersized sodas and plates the size of trays, leaving food would almost seem healthy.
But on an individual level, I root for the middle ground: take the rest home, order a side, or giving the leftovers to your crazy returned peace corps volunteer friend.
I admit, I’m as embarrassed to be that crazy returned peace corps volunteer on a mission, as I am about the neurosis itself.
But one of the three Peace Corps goals is to share what you learned abroad with other Americans.
So I‘m grateful for that knowledge, and grateful for the opportunity to share it, even if it makes me a somewhat awkward dinner guest.
That was Alex Alper, who is currently accepting dinner invitations.
Jodie Singer, 13, at home with her iPad. Photo by Gianna Palmer
By Gianna Palmer
When people refer to autism, they’re actually talking about a set of five developmental brain disorders known as autism spectrum disorders. The symptoms of autism and their intensity vary, but often include difficulties with communication and social skills.
Thirteen-year-old Jodie Singer, like many children with autism, is not conversational. She tends to repeat phrases and words over and over. Earlier this morning, before her school bus arrived, Jodie listened to children’s songs on her iPad.
A lanky bundle of energy, Jodie alternates between bites of Cheerios and excited hopping to the tune of Old MacDonald. Her mom, Alison Singer, says the iPad is able to hold Jodie’s attention in ways that other toys haven’t.
“She likes the farm a games, the baking cooking games, the animals games. So there’s certainly a lot of things that interest her on the ipad. But I think more importantly is she’s able to be independent. She can listen to music, she can watch youtube videos and she can do this independently. Which with other toys she really needs much more assistance,” said Singer.
Singer is also the founder and president of the Autism Science Foundation and keeps close track of emerging tools for kids with autism. She says the iPad has been a boon to the autism community. Kids really love it, she says, in many ways much more than other devices specially developed for them. Singer also points out that iPads can actually help some children communicate. For example, there are applications where a child can type in words, and the device will read them aloud. But Singer doesn’t see the iPad as a therapeutic in and unto itself.
“Think about it like a workbook. Some children can use workbooks independently, some children love to do workbooks, some children really gain great skills from doing , and some just do it for fun. It’s the same with an ipad. I mean an ipad can be fun, it’s something kids can do independently, and it can also be a very valuable tool in hands of trained, skilled therapist,” Singer says.
Dr. Howard Shane specializes in communication disorders, particularly with children on the autism spectrum,. Though Dr. Shane uses iPads in the autism language program he directs at the Children’s Hospital Boston, he agrees with Singer that the iPad is not, by itself a clinical intervention.
“The clinical procedure of choice is for the child to be looked at to see what their strengths are and their weaknesses and then try to find apps and hardware that’s going to match those abilities,” says Shane.
Shane says one of the most important things about the iPad is that it doesn’t cost nearly as much as the specialized medical computers that came before it.
“We used to, you know, we could justify suggesting 7,8, 9,000 dollar pieces of equipment that now, you have the same functionality in an iPad,” Shane says.
Shane and his colleagues at the Children’s Hospital Boston use many different technologies in their research into communication disorders. And as for the iPad—
“We think its emerging an tool and its going to be an important one, but its certainly not the only thing that we, the only arrow in the quiver,” said Shane.
Rhonda McEwen is trying to quantify the impact of that arrow. She is a professor at the University of Toronto, and is currently conducting phase two of a study examining touch technologies, including the iPod Touch and iPad. Her studies put these technologies into Toronto classrooms and worked with students with autism.
“We actually did measurements of baseline communication measurements before, during and after the study, and we see increases in their communicative ability over so many categories, but particularly in the areas of social interaction and peer-based interaction” McEwen says.
McEwen says that so far, her research supports putting iPad in classrooms with autistic children.
“The teachers have demonstrated that they have been able to find use for it as a supplement to their curriculum in all of the classes that it was introduced to,” McEwen says.
In the Singer’s Scarsdale home, Jodie is on her way out the door to the bus. After a morning spent playing with her iPad, she wants to take it with her, but her mom has her leave it behind. For now, the iPad is not a part of her school day.
Bre Pettis, C.E.O. of MakerBot Industries, Photo by Jonah Comstock/ Columbia Radio News
Imagine if your desktop printer could print not just photos and documents, but 3D objects, if you could print everything from a model of a brain tumor to help doctors prepare for surgery to a fully edible chocolate cake. All that is possible with 3D printers, a technology that, in the wake of its 25th anniversary, is becoming more and more accessible.
It sounds like something out of science fiction. Type some commands to a computer and print out a 3D plastic model of anything you like. You can replace lost board game pieces or broken machine parts, create toys for your kids, or abstract sculpture.
“Let’s see, we’ve got a little puzzle box, we’ve got Space Invader ice cube trays, we’ve got bunnies,” says Bre Pettis, C.E.O. of MakerBot Industries. Pettis is giving me a tour of the MakerBot Bot Cave, a downtown Brooklyn warehouse. MakerBots, the company’s signature products, are small, do-it-yourself 3D printers. They look a bit like an easy bake oven, and they retail for just under thirteen hundred dollars. Pettis shows me a MakerBot at work, “What you’re hearing is the music of the MakerBot. As it moves, the motors make different sounds depending on how fast it’s moving.”
The frame of the MakerBot is a wooden box. Inside, in the glow of a colored LED light, you can watch it working: A nozzle, like the inkjet in your desktop printer, spits out an instantly-hardening plastic resin as a platform moves mechanically underneath it and, layer by layer, an object takes shape.
Shelves of bots line the walls, along with a vending machine stocked with the little plastic models they make. Printed in bright colors and intricate shapes, the only thing the objects have in common is the ridged texture that gives away their genesis.
The process is called additive manufacturing and it’s not just about plastic trinkets. Cathy Lewis is marketing director for 3D Systems, the California company that invented the technology. She says the inventor, Charles Hull, originally conceived of the process as a powerful tool for engineers. “He envisioned being able to create prototypes more rapidly and help engineers and designers actually deliver products faster to the market and make them better,” says Lewis.
3D systems makes large units which retail for more like $10,000 and can print in a wide range of materials including metal, wax, and chocolate. They sell products to high end manufacturers such as the aerospace and health markets. For instance, they sold a printer to a research hospital in Washington, where premature infants were too small to use even the smallest oxygen tubes. “So” Lewis says, “they did a CT scan of an infant, they printed the nasal morphology of that specific infant, and they were able to test devices, breathing devices, that are going to be accretive to saving those young babies.”
New uses for 3D Printers are being developed every day: recently scientists have printed a working flute, developed a food printer, and researchers are looking to see whether there’s a way to print human organs – and put an end to donor shortages.
But even as researchers push the boundaries of what this technology can do, companies like 3D Systems are concerned about making sure anyone can do it. Lewis says the biggest barrier right now is that to use a 3D Printer, you need a design, and the average person isn’t familiar with 3D design software.
Back at the MakerBot Bot Cave, Pettis and his team have a solution: An open source database called Thingaverse. “So we have a site called Thingaverse.com and it’s THE UNIVERSE OF THINGS. That’s a place where people share their digital designs, so you can go check them out, download them, and then print them out without having to do any designs,” Pettis says.
A browse through Thing-a-verse demonstrates a huge range of printables from toys to tools, all free. One user has even used the MakerBot to print components he used to build another MakerBot. Pettis equates the 3D printing market with the personal computer market – years down the line, he says, we’ll have one in every household. When that happens, things are going to change. “I’d like to think it’s the beginning of the end of consumerism as we know it. Because right now you buy something and it’s very likely made overseas, put on a boat, then it’s put on a train, then it’s put on a truck and it sits on a store shelf waiting for you to come and buy it, but with a 3D printer you either design it or download it from Thingaverse.com and print it out. You have it,” says Pettis.
3D Printers are as hot as the plastic resin in a MakerBot, and they’re just going to get cheaper and easier to use. It may not be long before online shopping is just a matter of point, click, and print.
Metro North introduced a new service: train schedules via text message. Larry Tung/Columbia Radio News
New York’s commuter train Metro North launched a new service today: train schedules via text message.
Richard Romano has been taking Metro North from his home in Poughkeepsie into Manhattan five days a week for the last 20 years.
So train schedules are pretty important to him. Until now, he’s been getting them online.
“I can only do that when I’m near my computer, which is typically the night before I leave for the day or the night before,” said Romano.
Now, he will be able to get that information anytime on his cell phone from a Long Island company named Coo Coo. It piloted the service on the Long Island Rail Road last April.
MTA Chairman and CEO Jay Walder says you start by texting to Coo Coo itself.
“That’s 266-266. You type in where you are and where you want to go. From Rye to Grand Central, ” said Walder. “And within an instant, you get a text message back that tells you what the next five trains are that are coming on the schedule.”
If you are not great with spelling or simply made a typo, not a problem.
Ryan Thompson, a co-founder of Coo Coo, says the system is usually smart enough to correct it.
“We accept abbreviations, we understand that texting inherently uses abbreviation, there’s typos, and the system learns what these idiosyncrasy are of the users and get smart, and we deliver the best information possible,” said Thompson.
That information is free of charge. Right now it doesn’t cost Metro North anything, either.
But Coo Coo is planning to introduce advertising in a few months.
There will be a small footer at the bottom of the text message.
Romano, the customer from Poughkeepsie, says he won’t mind.
“It’s totally reasonable to want to generate revenue from something that people find useful,” said Romano.
There’s no plan to make the service available for the New York subway system yet. MTA chief Walder says that’s because subway riders generally don’t rely on train schedules in the same way Metro North customers do.
But city bus commuters might be in luck. MTA has just launched a pilot program in Brooklyn: tracking bus locations on the B63 line.
Anyone who’s ever flown internationally is familiar with jet lag. It’s the disorienting feeling of suddenly finding your body in another time zone. But jet lag isn’t just in your head.
“Jet lag is a disorder of the whole body,” said Justin Blau, a biologist at New York University whose team studies circadian rhythms in the brain cells of fruit flies. “It’s not just your brain telling you to wake up at the wrong time of day, it’s also your liver clock telling you it’s getting ready to deal with food at the wrong time of day.”
Like researchers all over the world, Blau’s team is seeking to better understand what makes cellular clocks tick – how the gears fit together. At their weekly lab meeting, Blau and his team gathered in his office to talk about a new study by biologists at Blau’s alma mater, Cambridge University. The upshot, he says, is simple.
“Clocks are more complicated than we thought,” Blau said.
Until now there’s been a general consensus in the field that the DNA in a cell’s nucleus is the spring that drives the clock. But Ahkilesh Reddy and John O’Neill at Cambridge looked for timekeeping in red blood cells – a human cell with no nucleus at all. What they found was a chemical called peroxiredoxin, which allowed the cells to maintain rhythms for days with no outside stimulus – and no DNA spring. Reddy says that’s a surprising discovery.
“The status quo for many years has been that although non-transcriptional rhythms – those not requiring DNA – have been seen in very primitive bacteria, no one thought that you’d be able to see the same things in complex organisms,” Reddy said.
Matthew Kayleigh, a post-doctorate student in Blau’s lab at NYU, says the discovery is groundbreaking.
“It’s a bit like you know how a car works, and these people are saying there’s like another motor in a car,” Kayleigh said.
The Cambridge team didn’t just look at human cells. They found the same chemical, serving the same function, in a species of algae. Ben Collins, another post-doc and the NYU lab’s circadian rhythm expert, says that this kind of circadian rhythm may date back to the very origins of life on earth, because while the genes are different, this newly discovered chemical marker is the same in algae, flies, and humans.
“This is something that links all those sets of genes together, and it suggests maybe the original clock in the first organism was something like this,” Collins said.
But although the clock teaches about the past, it has immediate health implications in the future. And that brings us back to jet lag. If peroxiredoxin turns out to be the body clock’s original spring, Cambridge University’s Ahkilesh Reddy says it could give doctors a new way to wind the human clock – without having to mess with genetics
“Even though gene therapy has been bandied around for many years, affecting gene function is very difficult, whereas things like peroxiredoxin are easy to target with drugs,” Reddy said.
That’s further down the line. In the meantime, scientists are looking at just how many species have this metabolic clock in their cells. That means Blau’s NYU team will keep looking at flies, and keep asking questions.