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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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Animals
Watch an Antarctic Minke Whale Feed in a First-of-Its-Kind Video
WWF
WWF

New research from the World Wildlife Fund is giving us a rare glimpse into the world of the mysterious minke whale. The WWF worked with Australian Antarctic researchers to tag minke whales with cameras for the first time, watching where and how the animals feed.

The camera attaches to the whale's body with suction cups. In the case of the video below, the camera accidentally slid down the side of the minke whale's body, providing an unexpected look at the way its throat moves as it feeds.

Minke whales are one of the smallest baleen whales, but they're still pretty substantial animals, growing 30 to 35 feet long and weighing up to 20,000 pounds. Unlike other baleen whales, though, they're small enough to maneuver in tight spaces like within sea ice, a helpful adaptation for living in Antarctic waters. They feed by lunging through the sea, gulping huge amounts of water along with krill and small fish, and then filtering the mix through their baleen.

The WWF video shows just how quickly the minke can process this treat-laden water. The whale could lunge, process, and lunge again every 10 seconds. "He was like a Pac-Man continuously feeding," Ari Friedlaender, the lead scientist on the project, described in a press statement.

The video research, conducted under the International Whaling Commission's Southern Ocean Research Partnership, is part of WWF's efforts to protect critical feeding areas for whales in the region.

If that's not enough whale for you, you can also watch the full 13-minute research video below:

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technology
AI Could Help Scientists Detect Earthquakes More Effectively
iStock
iStock

Thanks in part to the rise of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, earthquakes are becoming more frequent in the U.S. Even though it doesn't fall on a fault line, Oklahoma, where gas and oil drilling activity doubled between 2010 and 2013, is now a major earthquake hot spot. As our landscape shifts (literally), our earthquake-detecting technology must evolve to keep up with it. Now, a team of researchers is changing the game with a new system that uses AI to identify seismic activity, Futurism reports.

The team, led by deep learning researcher Thibaut Perol, published the study detailing their new neural network in the journal Science Advances. Dubbed ConvNetQuake, it uses an algorithm to analyze the measurements of ground movements, a.k.a. seismograms, and determines which are small earthquakes and which are just noise. Seismic noise describes the vibrations that are almost constantly running through the ground, either due to wind, traffic, or other activity at surface level. It's sometimes hard to tell the difference between noise and legitimate quakes, which is why most detection methods focus on medium and large earthquakes instead of smaller ones.

But better understanding natural and manmade earthquakes means studying them at every level. With ConvNetQuake, that could soon become a reality. After testing the system in Oklahoma, the team reports it detected 17 times more earthquakes than what was recorded by the Oklahoma Geological Survey earthquake catalog.

That level of performance is more than just good news for seismologists studying quakes caused by humans. The technology could be built into current earthquake detection methods set up to alert the public to dangerous disasters. California alone is home to 400 seismic stations waiting for "The Big One." On a smaller scale, there's an app that uses a smartphone's accelerometers to detect tremors and alert the user directly. If earthquake detection methods could sense big earthquakes right as they were beginning using AI, that could afford people more potentially life-saving moments to prepare.

[h/t Futurism]

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