On a warm winter afternoon as I unpacked my equipment onto a small wooden boat, one of my curious assistants approached me asking what was the red torch that I was holding. “It’s not a torch,” I said hastily, checking if my survey sheet was in place. “It is a depth meter… umm… Depth dekhar jonno… (to look at the depth).”
Perhaps overwhelmed by my sense of urgency he moved back and let me continue my work. Soon, I jumped onto the boat, and was on my first survey of the River Ganga, at Farakka in West Bengal. Farakka, a small town in central Bengal, sits besides NH34, bustling with heavy movement of traffic and people all day long. It is perhaps the last place a layman would imagine a wildlife researcher to be in. Yet there I was, on a motored wooden boat in the middle of the vast Ganga, constantly dipping my depth meter in the water, recording its reading and looking for Ganges river dolphins at the same time.
‘What are you writing?’ asked the curious guy again as our boat – barely big enough for five people – rocked on crashing waves.
“Depth. Goirahi.” I told him.
“Hmm… goirahi ki kore deikhen?” he asked and immediately I had realised the subtleties of speaking a non-native language. He wanted to know how I was ‘looking’ at the depth.
I slowly explained to him that it is not light that the device uses, but sound. Sound – too high in frequency for us to hear – is emitted by one end of the depth meter and its reflection from the bottom of the river is received by an acoustic sensor on the same end. Since the speed of sound in water is known, the time elapsed between emitting this sound and sensing its reflection is translated into the distance travelled or depth – goirahi.
He looked confused by the details, but refrained from asking any following questions.
As a student of curiosity, I love its other disciples. Therefore, on our journey ahead, I took to explaining him something a little simpler – a handheld GPS device. A device fitting in my palm, housing a dull coloured 2.2-inch TFT screen alongside a tiny joystick to navigate its menu.
It is a fairly common device used by all kinds of people all over the world to record their positions, navigate landscapes and so much more. It works just like the GPS on a smartphone used by applications like Google Maps, but is designed to work in harsher and more rugged environments, also offering plenty of battery backup. After I had explained it to my assistant, he would often look at the odometer at display on it, and scream atop the engine noise about the distance that we had travelled so far. His friends at the rear end of the boat were equally happy to receive the news. Perhaps it was a new way of looking at the river — that they had grown up around — that filled them with fascination.
At the survey’s end, as we stood on the dock discussing future plans, my assistants were calm and happy. They by now could better visualise the river in a third dimension, quite accurately.
A few days after some consecutive surveys, I had become good friends with my assistants. I told them to be ready at the Ghaat on a cold December morning; I was bringing the CPOD with me.
Surveys are important to know where dolphins are at a point in time, but it is impossible to know how they move all throughout the day. Do they stay in close proximity to one spot? Or do they move a lot? To know this, one would have to sit on a still boat for the whole day, and record dolphins as they surface to breathe. This of course would be a tiring task! But this is exactly what the CPOD does, with minimal complications and biases.
A Cetacean – POrpoise Detector records the parameters of the vocal signal of a dolphin.
Just as we speak in sentences made up of words, river dolphins communicate in long trains made up of clicks, which have certain properties like frequency, SPL (loudness) and so on. A CPOD records these parameters along with time. Therefore, in effect it becomes like a watchman who is always on alert for dolphins. Since it is a passive logger, it does not affect the animals.
Just like this, much of what researchers do is simple conceptually. It is the translation of their concepts into reality that is complex. How exactly do you employ a watchman underwater? In fact, the quality of research one does is contingent on the quality of this translation, the equipment employed and the methods used. Growing technology and steady access to it is gradually transforming the way we look at our surroundings.
In fact, there are many interesting devices that researchers use to observe and understand the world. One such device that excited my assistants more than ever was the Chart-plotter. It works on the same principle as the depth meter and is used to ‘see’ underwater, just like how a paediatrician ‘sees’ and assesses a foetus inside a womb. With this, river qualities like its shape, presence of fish and so on can be better understood.
Improving technologies are heavily empowering research, yet one must always remember that any gadget used is only as good as its user. With proper logic and motivation, you can find new ways to look at the same old things. So always stay curious; your observations may someday change the world.
Imran Samad is an engineer turned wildlife biologist who is fascinated by the nature of nature. He is currently enrolled in the M.Sc. in Wildlife Biology and Conservation at NCBS, Bangalore, where he is studying cetaceans. He also loves to write poetry on his blog.
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Facebook, Twitter Arbitrarily Censuring ‘Nationalistic’ Content: Tejasvi Surya
BJP member Tejasvi Surya on Wednesday raised the issue of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook allegedly arbitrarily censuring content posted by users, especially those with a “nationalistic approach” and sought government intervention for protection of such content.
Raising the issue during Zero Hour in Lok Sabha, Surya said for a long time there have been many “credible” allegations made against Twitter, Facebook and their affiliates of “arbitrary and unilateral regulation and censuring” of content posted by third party users, especially those with a “nationalistic approach”.
“This poses a significant constitutional challenge not only on the grounds of unreasonable restriction of free speech but also amounts to illegal interference during elections,” he said.
The MP said Facebook, Twitter and similar platforms claim themselves to be intermediaries within the meaning of the term under the IT Act, 2000.
He said the key element of this definition is that the role of the said intermediaries is limited to processing, storing and transmitting data of third party users and does not include intervention on content of the users.
Therefore, Section 79 of the Act provides these intermediaries exemption from liability. An intermediary receives protection that a regular publisher does not receive, he said.
Article 19(2) of the Constitution authorises the government to impose, by law, reasonable restrictions upon the freedom of speech and expression “in the interests of… public order”, whereas section 69 of the IT Act allows the government to intercept any information and ask for information decryption.
Surya said the guidelines essentially empower private party intermediaries to remove on the basis of user complaints or suo moto any content deemed to be in violation of its guidelines.
He said these guidelines are not only ultra vires the parent statute but also unconstitutional as the grounds they provide are too wide and will fail the standards of constitutionality set out by the Supreme Court in the Shreya Singhal case while striking down Sec 66A of the IT Act (which provided police the power to arrest a person for posting “offensive” content online).
The guidelines are problematic because they empower private enterprises performing essentially a public function to act as censors of free speech without government oversight, thus effectively and severely impacting safeguards of the fundamental right to free speech, he said.
“I therefore urge the government to repeal such unconstitutional guidelines and issue new ones to govern social media platforms, thereby protecting the fundamental right to free speech of our citizens and protect our democracy from foreign interference,” he said.
Are Apple Watch SE, iPad 8th Gen the Perfect ‘Affordable’ Products for India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.
Google adds a COVID-19 layer to Maps app to show health status at county and state levels
The new layer is color-coded, includes a count of new cases per 100,000 people, and indicates whether the count is going up or down.
Google Maps now has a COVID-19 layer that tracks how cases are trending at a county level on the mobile version of the app. You can see how cases are increasing or decreasing in your area as well as any places you may be visiting.
To see COVID-19 data for a particular location, tap the layers button on the top right-hand corner and click on COVID-19 Info. You’ll see a number and “increasing” or “decreasing.”
SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)
This number is the seven-day average for the number of new cases per 100,000 people. The layer’s colors indicate:
- Grey: Less than 1 case
- Yellow: 1-10 cases
- Orange: 10-20 cases
- Dark orange: 20-30 cases
- Red: 30-40 cases
- Dark red: 40+ cases
This count includes both confirmed and probable cases in some locations. Probable cases are identified by public health officials and use criteria developed by government authorities. Some areas may not have data because local authorities haven’t published data or haven’t done so recently.
If you zoom out to the state level on a map of the US, there is a count for each state and an increasing or decreasing indicator with a matching color code.
In Europe, there is more data for some countries than others. Germany is gray, and the COVID-19 map layer shows data for individual states within the country. In France, there is data at the country level only with a rate of 14.8 cases per 100,000 which is increasing. Most of Asia is gray.
- The New York Times
- Johns Hopkins University CSSE COVID-19 Data
- Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation
The Kaiser Family Foundation lists 34 states as coronavirus hotspots. Utah’s positivity rate is 9.1% with a 104.5% change in cases over the last 14 days. If you zoom in to the county level, you can see that Utah County (65.5, increasing) is in worse shape than Salt Lake County (28, increasing). Many of the state’s rural areas are gray and show few cases. Overall the state is light orange.
In June, Google Maps added more information about transit conditions to help travelers avoid crowded metro and train stations. When you look up public transit directions for a trip, the recommended routes show relevant alerts from local transit agencies. These alerts can help you prepare accordingly if government mandates impact transit services or require you to wear a mask on public transportation. Transit alerts rolled out in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, France, India, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, Thailand, United Kingdom and the U.S. where we have information from local transit agencies.
This update also included driving alerts about COVID-19 checkpoints and restrictions along certain routes, such as national borders (starting first in Canada, Mexico, and the US). Maps users see an alert on the directions screen and after starting navigation if the route is impacted by these restrictions.
Immune Protein IL-17A Responsible for Lethal Side Effects of Gastric Cancer
The formation of scar tissue, or fibrosis, as gastric cancer disseminates throughout the peritoneum can be more lethal than the cancer itself and can interfere with chemotherapy. Researchers from Kanazawa University have now found that proinflammatory cytokine IL-17A from mast cells heavily influences the degree of fibrosis and causes structural changes in peritoneal cells. Preventing mast cells from releasing IL-17A may therefore be a promising treatment strategy for gastric cancer patients with peritoneal dissemination.
Gastric cancer, one of the leading causes of cancer-associated mortality worldwide, is renowned for its ability to disseminate throughout the peritoneal cavity. As well as causing secondary tumors in other organs, metastatic gastric cancer cells trigger extensive stromal fibrosis, or the formation of scar tissue, that can be more deadly than the cancer itself—bowel obstruction and hydronephrosis and jaundice are all common side effects of gastric cancer-associated fibrosis. What’s more, the densely packed scar tissue can disturb chemotherapy drugs from reaching their target due to intra-tumoral high pressure.
Preventing fibrosis could therefore improve the prognosis for gastric cancer patients. The problem is, researchers have yet to discover what causes fibrosis, let alone how to prevent it.
But in a study published recently in Gastric Cancer, researchers from Kanazawa University found that an inflammatory protein produced by mast cells, IL-17A, triggers cellular changes in the peritoneum, leading to stromal fibrosis in gastric cancer patients.
Lead author Katsuya Gunjigake from Kanazawa University’s Division of Cancer Medicine explains why the researchers targeted IL-17A.
“Over-stimulation of the immune system by IL-17A plays a major role in chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. It has also been associated with increased tumor growth and dissemination in various forms of cancer. Interestingly though, while studies had shown that IL-17A causes fibrosis in both Crohn’s disease and lung disease, no one had investigated the link between tissue fibrosis and IL-17A in cancer.”
By studying cancerous tissue from 70 gastric cancer patients with peritoneal dissemination, the researchers discovered that the degree of fibrosis was governed by the amount of IL-17A, and that IL-17A was being produced by a subgroup of white blood cells called mast cells.
Says Gunjigake, “Mast cells are most commonly associated with anaphylaxis but are also involved in pathogen defense and immune tolerance, among other things. They contain small particles called granules that are filled with molecules such as histamine, serotonin, and IL-17A that are released into the extracellular environment in a process known as degranulation.”
The researchers then injected mice with human peritoneal cells and gastric cancer cells and examined the effects of IL-17A treatment, with interesting results.
“Not only did IL-17A increase tumor size and the degree of fibrosis, it also changed the structure of the peritoneal cells, enhancing their invasive and migratory capabilities,” explains responsible author Sachio Fushida.
“Given the obvious role of IL-17A in driving fibrosis, our results suggest that suppression of mast cell degranulation may be a promising treatment strategy for gastric cancer patients with peritoneal dissemination.”
Interleukin-17A derived from mast cells contributes to fibrosis in gastric cancer with peritoneal dissemination
Journal: Gastric Cancer
Authors: Katsuya Gunjigake, Jun Kinoshita, Takahisa Yamaguchi, Hiroto Saito, Daisuke Fujimori, Toshihide Horiike, Shinichi Harada, Hidehiro Tajima, Itasu Ninomiya, Tetsuo Ohta, Sachio Fushida
This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number 16K10494.
Source: Kanazawa University
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