DanKam: Colorblindness "Corrective Lenses" for Your Smartphone

I'm not colorblind, I'm just "green-weak." At least that's what I tell everyone. I wrote about my color vision problems way back in 2007, explaining my Deuteranomaly, a condition affecting roughly 5 out of every 100 men. There are other forms of colorblindness, but this one is mine. In short, it means that things that other people see as green, I don't -- I see them as brown, or beige, or some other neutral tone. Over the weekend I bought a bunch of glass bottles to put hard cider in. I did not know they were green until I had bottled five gallons of the stuff and taken it to a friend's house.

This is the kind of minor daily embarrassment that a green-weak person takes in stride. "Oh, this sweater is green? I thought it was brown." "Oh, my house is green? I see. How green are we talking?" I've gotten very used to it, and I should emphasize that I can see SOME green (like a big green fir tree) -- it's just that if you add any subtlety to the mix (like tinting a bit of glass), I'm lost.

So I was shocked to see the new DanKam app for Android and iPhone. For three bucks, I have an app that uses my phone's camera and alters the color in realtime, giving me -- for the first time -- a glimpse of "what is green" around me. It basically takes things that are "somewhat green" and makes them VERY GREEN in a way that I can see. (It does the same for red, which in my case is helpful because the only shade of pink I can see is "shocking bubblegum pink.") The app isn't perfect, and it takes some tweaking to get it tuned to your particular needs, but it works. The image at the top of this blog post is an example of DanKam viewing the Ishihara test plates. As app author Dan Kaminsky says:

If you can read the numbers on the left, you're not color blind.

You can almost certainly read the numbers of the right. That's because DanKam has changed the colors into something that's easier for normal viewers to read, but actually possible for the color blind to read as well. The goggles, they do something!

Not only does Kaminsky slip in a Simpsons joke, he's correct -- I can only barely make out the upper plate number on the left (and can't read the lower left plate at all), but I can easily read both plates on the right. This is a big deal.

Kaminsky says the technology is still experimental, but the reviews have been pouring in from around the world -- for anomalous trichromats (most "colorblind" people), this app does help. In a properly lit room, I can hold it up to my holiday sweater and finally see the red and green! It's a minor miracle for those of us who have accepted that we'll lack color vision forever. You can read more about DanKam at Dan Kaminsky's website. It's currently available for Android and iPhone devices (and I assume it also works on the new iPod touch that has a camera).

Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
Big Questions
What Causes Sinkholes?
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

This week, a sinkhole opened up on the White House lawn—likely the result of excess rainfall on the "legitimate swamp" surrounding the storied building, a geologist told The New York Times. While the event had some suggesting we call for Buffy's help, sinkholes are pretty common. In the past few days alone, cavernous maws in the earth have appeared in Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, and of course Florida, home to more sinkholes than any other state.

Sinkholes have gulped down suburban homes, cars, and entire fields in the past. How does the ground just open up like that?

Sinkholes are a simple matter of cause and effect. Urban sinkholes may be directly traced to underground water main breaks or collapsed sewer pipelines, into which city sidewalks crumple in the absence of any structural support. In more rural areas, such catastrophes might be attributed to abandoned mine shafts or salt caverns that can't take the weight anymore. These types of sinkholes are heavily influenced by human action, but most sinkholes are unpredictable, inevitable natural occurrences.

Florida is so prone to sinkholes because it has the misfortune of being built upon a foundation of limestone—solid rock, but the kind that is easily dissolved by acidic rain or groundwater. The karst process, in which the mildly acidic water wears away at fractures in the limestone, leaves empty space where there used to be stone, and even the residue is washed away. Any loose soil, grass, or—for example—luxury condominiums perched atop the hole in the ground aren't left with much support. Just as a house built on a weak foundation is more likely to collapse, the same is true of the ground itself. Gravity eventually takes its toll, aided by natural erosion, and so the hole begins to sink.

About 10 percent of the world's landscape is composed of karst regions. Despite being common, sinkholes' unforeseeable nature serves as proof that the ground beneath our feet may not be as solid as we think.

A version of this story originally ran in 2014.

DNA Analysis of Loch Ness Could Reveal the Lake's Hidden Creatures

Stakeouts, sonar studies, and a 24-hour video feed have all been set up in an effort to confirm the existence of the legendary Loch Ness Monster. Now, the Associated Press reports that an international team of scientists will use DNA analysis to learn what's really hiding in the depths of Scotland's most mysterious landmark.

The team, led by Neil Gemmell, who researches evolutionary genetics at the University of Otago in New Zealand, will collect 300 water samples from various locations and depths around the lake. The waters are filled with microscopic DNA fragments animals leave behind as they swim, mate, eat, poop, and die in the waters, and if Nessie is a resident, she's sure to leave bits of herself floating around as well.

After extracting the DNA from the organic material found in the water samples, the scientists plan to sequence it. The results will then be compared to the DNA profiles of known species. If there's evidence of an animal that's not normally found in the lake, or an entirely new species, the researchers will hopefully spot it.

Gemmell is a Nessie skeptic, and he says the point of the project isn't necessarily to discover new species. Rather, he wants to create a genetic profile of the lake while generating some buzz around the science behind it.

If the study goes according to plan, the database of Loch Ness's inhabitants should be complete by 2019. And though the results likely won't include a long-extinct plesiosaur, they may offer insights about other invasive species that now call the lake home.

[h/t AP]


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