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The Nasal Ranger Is a Real-Life Smell-O-Scope

It was easy to laugh at Futurama’s Professor Farnsworth when he unveiled the Smell-O-Scope. What use could there possibly be for a device that detects and measures odors?

As it turns out (in the cartoon and in real life) the Smell-O-Scope is a pretty handy tool. But the Professor didn’t invent it; smell detectors, called olfactometers, have been around since the late 1960s.

The most popular olfactometer on the market today is the delightfully named Nasal Ranger. The telescope-shaped meter is fitted with a small mask at one end and a dial at the other. Inquiring sniffers put their nose into the mask and inhale, then use the dial to determine the strength of the odor.

The Nasal Ranger may look silly, but its users are deadly serious. Environmental health departments, wastewater treatment plants, landfill managers, and even police departments whip out the Nasal Ranger when things start to stink. Measuring the intensity of an odor can help locate the source of the problem [PDF]—or identify who’s breaking the law.

Some time after marijuana was legalized in Colorado, state officials realized they’d have to create some new ground rules. Residents had begun complaining about the pall of pungent pot smoke that hung in residential areas and near grow facilities, so the city of Denver passed an ordinance [PDF] banning intense marijuana odors. Any smell measuring more than 7/1 dilutions to threshold on the Nasal Ranger would be considered a nuisance, and the people responsible would be fined.

To enforce this ban, investigators armed with Nasal Rangers patrol the city, responding to smell complaints, of which there are plenty. The olfactometers are a welcome sight to some. To others, it’s something of a joke. The pot culture magazine High Times asked two of its correspondents to test-drive a Nasal Ranger. Unsurprisingly, they used it to get high.

Smell is a vastly underrated component of our everyday experience. St. Croix Sensory, the Minnesota-based company that makes the Nasal Ranger, offers a surprising menu of sniff-enhancing experiences. There’s the Nasal Ranger and scent-tracking software, of course, but you can get your products, materials, or environment tested for smells; enroll in Odor School; or even add “smell-scapes” to your art installation or theatrical production.

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History
The Queen of Code: Remembering Grace Hopper
By Lynn Gilbert, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Grace Hopper was a computing pioneer. She coined the term "computer bug" after finding a moth stuck inside Harvard's Mark II computer in 1947 (which in turn led to the term "debug," meaning solving problems in computer code). She did the foundational work that led to the COBOL programming language, used in mission-critical computing systems for decades (including today). She worked in World War II using very early computers to help end the war. When she retired from the U.S. Navy at age 79, she was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the service. Hopper, who was born on this day in 1906, is a hero of computing and a brilliant role model, but not many people know her story.

In this short documentary from FiveThirtyEight, directed by Gillian Jacobs, we learned about Grace Hopper from several biographers, archival photographs, and footage of her speaking in her later years. If you've never heard of Grace Hopper, or you're even vaguely interested in the history of computing or women in computing, this is a must-watch:

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Google
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Animals
Watch Christmas Island’s Annual Crab Migration on Google Street View
Google
Google

Every year, the 45 million or so red crabs on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island migrate en masse from their forest burrows down to the ocean to mate, and so the female crabs can release their eggs into the sea to hatch. The migration starts during the fall, and the number of crabs on the beach often peaks in December. This year, you don’t have to be on Christmas Island to witness the spectacular crustacean event, as New Atlas reports. You can see it on Google Street View.

Watching the sheer density of crabs scuttling across roads, boardwalks, and beaches is a rare visual treat. According to the Google blog, this year’s crabtacular finale is forecasted for December 16, and Parks Australia crab expert Alasdair Grigg will be there with the Street View Trekker to capture it. That is likely to be the day when crab populations on the beaches will be at their peak, giving you the best view of the action.

Crabs scuttle across the forest floor while a man with a Google Street View Trekker walks behind them.
Google

Google Street View is already a repository for a number of armchair travel experiences. You can digitally explore remote locations in Antarctica, recreations of ancient cities, and even the International Space Station. You can essentially see the whole world without ever logging off your computer.

Sadly, because Street View isn’t live, you won’t be able to see the migration as it happens. The image collection won’t be available until sometime in early 2018. But it’ll be worth the wait, we promise. For a sneak preview, watch Parks Australia’s video of the 2012 event here.

[h/t New Atlas]

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