The Light Side: Yahoo Working to Map You the Scenic Route

July 18, 2014

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Nowadays, Google usually commands headlines with new, brainy innovations to the way we all travel or plan our next moves, having already given us Google Maps, Google Earth, and Google Places. But Yahoo might have a new ace in the hole with its in-development mapping software that's based on beauty. In contrast to the quest for ruthless efficiency in getting people from Point A to Point B, Yahoo is looking to take the scenic route to the next level of discovery.

"The goal of this work is to automatically suggest routes that are not only short, but also emotionally pleasant," Daniele Quercia and other Yahoo Labs researchers, in Barcelona, Spain, wrote in a paper published on arxiv.org. "We rely on crowdsourced measurements of people's emotional experience of the city and use those measurements to propose new ways of recommending urban routes."

Quercia and colleagues used data from the site Urban Gems, whose tagline is "Crowdsourcing Quiet, Beauty and Happiness," to build their route-building algorithm. The site asks visitors to compare random, side-by-side photos of places on those three attributes. The Yahoo researchers focused on London and developed four routes around town from 3,300 opinions on different street photos on Urban Gems. They then vetted their scenic routes with 30 London residents, which gave the paths their collective two thumbs up.

morpheus memeNot wholly satisfied just yet, the Yahoo bunch set its sights on Boston. They used a program that mined 1.3 million user photos of the city on Flickr, as well as comments, keywords, and tags as metadata, to create a scenic route from South Station to Back Bay Station. Factors that correlated with beauty were the number of pictures taken of a particular scene and comments associated with positive emotions. Then, they ran what they came up with across 50 Bostonians, who gave the path two thumbs up.

If commercialized, the Yahoo software will rank routes on attributes such as pleasantness, attractiveness, and emotional stimulation. A user would simply input a start location and a destination, just like with any other mapping app. A mobile app is also being planned, with additional cities. The routes are said to take just slightly longer than the fastest routes but ones that would be worth the average 12 percent extra time, equivalent to a few more minutes.

A little beauty goes a long way, they say, but not much more, in this case.

Did Scientists Just Put the Kibosh On Malaria?

Biology caped crusaders at the Washington University School of Medicine have found a way to turn the tables on the malaria parasite by trapping it inside "a prison of its own making" and then starving it to death.

They have also isolated a protein in the parasite responsible for creating malarial proteins for release into human red blood cells. The discoveries could aid the development of drugs that zap the biological agents of malaria and preempt the parasite from wreaking havoc on the human body.

As it invades a red blood cell, the malaria parasite takes part of the host cell's membrane to build a protective compartment that will serve as its home. When it does this, it makes a "series of major renovations" to the red blood cell (RBC), but the proteins that make these changes, researchers found out, have to pass through a single pore in the parasite's little abode to get into the RBC -- much like a lone passageway to town.

When the scientists disrupted passage through that pore in cell cultures, they initiated a lock-down on the parasite, preventing it from stealing nutrients from the RBC and dumping its waste products back in, and it stopped growing and died.

"The malaria parasite secretes hundreds of diverse proteins to seize control of red blood cells," said Josh R. Beck, one of the researchers. "We've been searching for a single step that all those various proteins have to take to be secreted, and this looks like just such a bottleneck."

If inflicting a slow death on the parasite seems sinister of the part of the scientists, it is deserved, as malaria kills more than 600,000 people every year. Many strains of malaria are also becoming drug-resistant, forcing our hero microbiologists to find new ways to stop this deadly villain.

That new way might be the parasite protein identified as HSP101, implicated as the accomplice that readies the malarial proteins to go through that single pore passageway. HSP101 helps these malarial proteins unfold themselves into a linear form and also gives them a chemical kick in the pants, so to speak, to traverse the pore more easily. When researchers disabled HSP101, they stopped malarial protein activity.

"That suggests there are multiple components of the process that we may be able to target with drugs," Beck said. Daniel Goldberg, another Washington University scientist, admittedly says a commercialized drug is still a long way off, but a variety of compounds are being looked at as potential fighters of HSP101.

Power Struggle Led to the Great Chimp War 

In the new movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, genetically enhanced chimpanzees, along with orangutans, gorillas, and bonobos, wage war on humans to become the dominant species on Earth. In real life, it is likely primates would turn on mankind before they turn on each other. There has been only one known fracture in a chimpanzee community in history, and researchers recently constructed the first detailed time line of events that precipitated a four-year war.

A large society of chimps in Tanzania's Gombe Stream National Park had lived in peace until the 1970s, when the infamous Gombe Chimpanzee War broke out. Perhaps inspired by the recent Planet of the Apes series reboot, Joseph Feldblum of Duke University, in Durham, N.C., with a team of colleagues, retraced the war from 1974 to 1978 using software and detailed field notes by famed primatologist Jane Goodall. Feldblum and his team think what led to a rift was the death of a senior male ambassador named Leakey.

dawn of the apesLeakey's death left a power void, which other chimps were eager to fill. This is strikingly similar to how human political societies break down and leaves scientists to ponder the sociological convergence between man and ape.

"As soon as Leaky died, they started splitting," Feldblum told New Scientist. "He seems to have been a bridge between northern and southern chimps."

After Leakey died, a chimp named Humphrey became the alpha male. However, a pair of upstart brothers from the south, named Hugh and Charlie, began challenging Humphrey's rule. It wasn't long thereafter that the Gombe chimps took sides in the splinter, and Feldblum says he and his team predicted which group a chimp joined based on prior social contacts. This, again, is not unlike people pledging their allegiance and loyalty, and in the case with these chimps, it was either to Humphrey or the two rebels.

Over the course of a few years, Humphrey's group, called the Kasakela chimps, wiped out the rebel faction, known as the Kahama, in a conflict filled with bloody battles and sneak attacks. Feldblum presented his team's findings at an anthropologists conference in Calgary recently, but when Goodall first reported the Gombe war, human and animal behavior models didn't overlap and she was accused of projecting anthropomorphism onto her chimps.

When Jet Engine Designer Reinvents Cookware...

When you’re out in the woods backpacking, there’s nothing more precious than the gas that powers your stove. (Well, maybe dry socks.) As anyone who’s been on a multiday backwoods excursion knows, a few hot meals can make the difference between a good trip and a disaster. Being a keen mountaineer and climber, University of Oxford’s Dr. Tom Povey knew this truth all too well, and it inspired him to create what might be the most efficient cookware on the planet.

Called the Flare Pan, Povey’s line of cookware distills a Ph.D.'s worth of jet engine thermodynamics into the design of something far more conventional. After reviewing the performance of a series of standard pots on a traditional gas range, Povey noticed that much of the heat produced by a range’s flame jetted up the side of the pot and into thin air. Realizing that an enormous amount of energy was being wasted, Povey began applying the principles he’s honed in his jet engine thermodynamics research to design a better pot.

Similar to the way a jet engine is cooled, Povey added fins that run from the bottom of his cast aluminum cookware design and up across its body. Through the use of this so-called “FIN-X” technology, his design reclaimed 40 percent of the heat lost through ambient dissipation, reducing cooking times and fuel consumption levels.

Unlike most jet engines, the Flare Pan’s simple design will make it easy to move from prototype to production. In fact, in partnership with Oxford’s Isis Innovation program, the Flare Pan will be shipping to customers around the globe by the end of August.

For those of you who are into the science of cooking, what better way to bring the lessons of thermodynamics home than owning a set of what might be the world’s most efficient pots and pans? Heck, you could even take them camping.

This article was originally published on Engineering.com and is adapted in its entirety with permission. For more stories like this please visit Engineering.com.

 

Top photo credit: xedos4 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 
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