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Roz Savage: First Woman to Row Solo From California to Hawaii

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Early on the morning of September 1, Roz Savage became the first woman to row, alone, from California to Hawaii. The voyage of 2,600 miles took her 99 days, 8 hours and 55 minutes. During the trip she was in surprisingly regular contact with the outside world, equipped with high-tech gear including a satellite phone, iPod loaded with audiobooks, water-proof speakers, video/still camera, and a solar panel rig to power everything (read more about the boat and the gear). In total, Savage packed a reported $80,000 of electronic equipment on the journey, which made it possible (at a cost of $1.50/min via the satellite phone) to update her blog, including photos and even videos, from the middle of the Pacific.

But the media coverage from her boat didn't end with text, photos, or even video. Savage managed to record forty podcasts (iTunes link) from the water as well. They're well worth a listen (despite the occasional satellite phone connection problems), and are sponsored by Audible (who also provided her with the audiobooks she listened to on the journey). It's an amazing thing being able to keep in touch, at least via this technological remove, with a person who's on a solo journey across the ocean.

Here are some highlights from Savage's blog:

Day 34: No Emergency Exit

Further to the watermaker issue, somebody suggested that maybe I should abandon my voyage. With apologies and all due respect to that person, this really made me smile.

As I said in the podcast yesterday morning, this is not like a big city marathon, where I could just decide, "Hey, this isn't going so well, maybe ocean rowing isn't the sport for me after all" - then pull over to the side, stop running, and catch a bus to the finish.

Abandonment of my voyage simply is not an option. ...

Day 89: A Watery Walkabout

I've come to regard my little rowboat as my own personal floating nun's cell - a place for quiet contemplation. (In fact my existence generally has been quite nun-like: Poverty and chastity are pretty easy out here - but I'm afraid obedience is not my strong suit, no matter where I am!) ...

Day 94: Fundamental Issues

I've been at sea for over 3 months now, and it's starting to take its toll on my body. I've been fortunate so far - but this week I've started to fall apart. Nothing major - fingernails lifting from fingers (apparently due to some fungal thing), aches in the back, sunburned skin - but worst of all is the saltwater rash. It may sound like a trivial complaint, but grown men have been reduced to tears and/or excessive use of painkillers by this undignified ailment. ...

Savage plans to continue to row around the world in two more legs, over the next two years. But for the moment, she's relaxing and healing up in Hawaii. Check out her website for tons of information on this truly amazing voyage!

(Image of Roz preparing to stow her oars in Hawaii courtesy of Roz Savage's SmugMug site.)

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science
11-Year-Old Creates a Better Way to Test for Lead in Water
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In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a Colorado middle schooler has invented a better way to test lead levels in water, as The Cut reports.

Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old seventh grader in Lone Tree, Colorado just won the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, taking home $25,000 for the water-quality testing device she invented, called Tethys.

Rao was inspired to create the device after watching Flint's water crisis unfold over the last few years. In 2014, after the city of Flint cut costs by switching water sources used for its tap water and failed to treat it properly, lead levels in the city's water skyrocketed. By 2015, researchers testing the water found that 40 percent of homes in the city had elevated lead levels in their water, and recommended the state declare Flint's water unsafe for drinking or cooking. In December of that year, the city declared a state of emergency. Researchers have found that the lead-poisoned water resulted in a "horrifyingly large" impact on fetal death rates as well as leading to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that killed 12 people.

A close-up of the Tethys device

Rao's parents are engineers, and she watched them as they tried to test the lead in their own house, experiencing firsthand how complicated it could be. She spotted news of a cutting-edge technology for detecting hazardous substances on MIT's engineering department website (which she checks regularly just to see "if there's anything new," as ABC News reports) then set to work creating Tethys. The device works with carbon nanotube sensors to detect lead levels faster than other current techniques, sending the results to a smartphone app.

As one of 10 finalists for the Young Scientist Challenge, Rao spent the summer working with a 3M scientist to refine her device, then presented the prototype to a panel of judges from 3M and schools across the country.

The contamination crisis in Flint is still ongoing, and Rao's invention could have a significant impact. In March 2017, Flint officials cautioned that it could be as long as two more years until the city's tap water will be safe enough to drink without filtering. The state of Michigan now plans to replace water pipes leading to 18,000 households by 2020. Until then, residents using water filters could use a device like Tethys to make sure the water they're drinking is safe. Rao plans to put most of the $25,000 prize money back into her project with the hopes of making the device commercially available.

[h/t The Cut]

All images by Andy King, courtesy of the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

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technology
Google's AI Can Make Its Own AI Now
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Artificial intelligence is advanced enough to do some pretty complicated things: read lips, mimic sounds, analyze photographs of food, and even design beer. Unfortunately, even people who have plenty of coding knowledge might not know how to create the kind of algorithm that can perform these tasks. Google wants to bring the ability to harness artificial intelligence to more people, though, and according to WIRED, it's doing that by teaching machine-learning software to make more machine-learning software.

The project is called AutoML, and it's designed to come up with better machine-learning software than humans can. As algorithms become more important in scientific research, healthcare, and other fields outside the direct scope of robotics and math, the number of people who could benefit from using AI has outstripped the number of people who actually know how to set up a useful machine-learning program. Though computers can do a lot, according to Google, human experts are still needed to do things like preprocess the data, set parameters, and analyze the results. These are tasks that even developers may not have experience in.

The idea behind AutoML is that people who aren't hyper-specialists in the machine-learning field will be able to use AutoML to create their own machine-learning algorithms, without having to do as much legwork. It can also limit the amount of menial labor developers have to do, since the software can do the work of training the resulting neural networks, which often involves a lot of trial and error, as WIRED writes.

Aside from giving robots the ability to turn around and make new robots—somewhere, a novelist is plotting out a dystopian sci-fi story around that idea—it could make machine learning more accessible for people who don't work at Google, too. Companies and academic researchers are already trying to deploy AI to calculate calories based on food photos, find the best way to teach kids, and identify health risks in medical patients. Making it easier to create sophisticated machine-learning programs could lead to even more uses.

[h/t WIRED]

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