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Pollution-Sniffing Robofish to Scour Thames

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They're a lot like Robocop "“ except instead of patrolling the mean streets of Detroit in a fictional future, they could be patrolling the mean waters of the Thames. Researchers at the University of Essex at Colchester, working with a £2.5 million grant from the EU, are currently developing pollution-sniffing robofish to help detect harmful chemicals in the Thames and other bodies of water.

The robofish are each armed with internal GPS systems, artificial intelligence software, and sensors capable of detecting levels of pollution. They move, much like real fish do, by undulating their faux-scaly bodies. The pollution-detecting robofish's movement is based on an existing battery operated working model on view at the London Aquarium, which employs an internal motor in a watertight compartment and moves eerily exactly like a real fish. Here's a video of an early model:

The robofish will be deployed in schools of five and can communicate with one another using wi-fi; when one robofish has detected a contaminant, it sends a message to the others, which will then motor on over and take readings of the area. The fish will swim about the Thames, or another body of water, unmonitored by humans unless they find pollution. Researchers plan to have a working prototype, jam-packed with sensors, ready in as little as 18 months.

The Dirty History of The Thames

thames.jpgThe Thames, which may become home to these unique fish, was at one time so polluted that it wasn't home to any fish at all. After literally thousands of years of human sewage and industrial waste filtering through its depths, the river gave up its last salmon in 1833. Also in the 1830s, pollution in the river "“ which supplied London with its main drinking supply "“ caused a massive outbreak of cholera. In the 1850s, MPs were driven out of House of Commons by the stench of the nearby river.

In 1878, the pleasure steamship the Princess Alice collided with another vessel on the river and sank "“ just north of the section of the river that supported the industrial waste of two cities and an open sewer drain from another. More than 600 people died in the accident, though identifying the victims proved to be a monumentally difficult task because the river's pollution had so disfigured them.

In the 1950s, British scientists declared the river a biological deadzone, incapable of sustaining marine life.

Still, incredibly polluted though it was, the river has made a substantial comeback in the last 50 years, as the result of the closing of the docks, legislation, and concerted efforts to clean up. In 1974, salmon even made their way back up the river. It enjoys a reputation now as one of the cleanest rivers to flow through a metropolitan city, although that standing suffered a few blows this decade after surveys found high levels of illness-causing bacteria present in the water caused by sewage overflow after heavy rains.

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Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
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There’s a reason most of us only cook turkey once a year: The bird is notoriously easy to overcook. You could rely on gravy and cranberry sauce to salvage your dried-out turkey this Thanksgiving, or you could follow cooking advice from the experts.

Brining a turkey is the best way to guarantee it retains its moisture after hours in the oven. The process is also time-consuming, so do yourself a favor this year and let Alexa be your sous chef.

“Morton Brine Time” is a new skill from the cloud-based home assistant. If you own an Amazon Echo you can download it for free by going online or by asking Alexa to enable it. Once it’s set up, start asking Alexa for brining tips and step-by-step recipes customized to the size of your turkey. Two recipes were developed by Richard Blais, the celebrity chef and restaurateur best known for his Top Chef win and Food Network appearances.

Whether you go for a wet brine (soaking your turkey in water, salt, sugar, and spices) or a dry one (just salt and spices), the process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. And the knowledge that your bird will come out succulent and juicy will definitely take some stress out of the holiday.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.


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