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  • Even ants smell better than we do
    A recently published study has announced that ants can be trained to detect the presence of cancer in humans (“An ant’s sense of smell is so strong, it can sniff out cancer”, Dino Grandoni, 1/24/2023) . Their thin antennae detect chemicals in a very specific way: Stretching out their pair of thin sensory appendages atop…
  • Another kind of AI: Alternative Intelligence
    We’re starting the new year with daily news feeds and timelines auguring the centrality of ChatGPT and AI to human life. The venerable New York Times publishes opinion pieces ranging from the threat to democracy posed by ChatGPT to extolling the greatest film never made . Whether opinion makers seek to make us fearful of…
  • Of Memory and Madeleines
    Listening to the River Café Table 4 podcast interview with the director Alfonso Cuarón, I paused to take in something he said that spoke directly to me. “I think it’s the same with any creative endeavor, [whether] this is a technical endeavor or an artistic endeavor. I think that everything comes from the concept. You…
  • Banana Crème Pie with Salted Caramel
    I saved this recipe during the bleak days of winter. Appearing in my Instragram feed, luscious with its light and bright colors, it called to me, promising better days ahead. I try not to let Pi Day slip away without making a pie, and with the temperature rising (and falling, and rising…) lately, I thought…
  • Cancer doesn’t wait
    In the past two weeks, my family has been rocked by news of two friends with cancer – one diagnosis, one death. After two years of grim front-page Covid statistics, bumped now from headlines by the carnage of war, it’s understandable that quotidian nightmares draw less attention. Last month, the CDC noted that screening rates…
  • A critical point of view
    Failure to scale a promising idea is often the result of failing to evaluate the idea critically: interrogate both what’s wrong with the idea, and what could go wrong in expanding it. Let’s spend some time doing just that. The Office for Science and Society (OSS)  at McGill University in Montreal seeks to bring critical…
  • The Worth of a Life
    A walk in the almost-spring air launched my day. Recent sunny days have banished the snowy vestiges, and Ellie and I enjoyed our separate but simultaneous walks: me with my eyes to the trees; she with her nose to the grass. We breakfasted on our return, and while Ellie settled in for a post-breakfast snooze,…
  • Corn Sablés
    This post is for those who preferred Pecan Sandies over Oreos as children. Ok, now that I’ve cleared the room, it’s just you and me. There’s no better cookie, in my mind, than a shortbread (or ‘sandie’, or ‘sablé’ — which is just the French word for sand). With a subtle taste and lightly scented,…
  • A Way to Live Safely Despite Covid
    With the decline in recent days of the Omicron surge, a rising chorus of opinion advises us to learn to live with Covid. Unfortunately, the daily death rates from Covid (currently averaging ~2500) remind us that living with Covid implies also dying from it. Despite the ongoing funerals, anti-mandate sentiment is finding little resistance from…
  • A case for adoption
    What does it take for a technology innovation to tip over from niche adoption to mass acceptance? I don’t have to make a case for adopting a pup to share your home. If it’s right for you, you’ll do it. What’s on my mind today is how something new takes off from being a novelty…
  • More than just a good nose
    The human mind is profoundly adept in comparative analysis. Each day brings many fundamental decisions: what to eat, how to get it, who to trust, how and where to spend the minutes between waking and sleeping. We rely on comparisons to make those decisions (oatmeal or donuts?), evaluating options based on how they’ll satisfy our…
  • Inter-Species Travel
    Last week’s post Health has no boundaries made passing mention to Covid infections in mink populations. An article in the New York Times Magazine this week provides much more context for those mink farm infections: “Animals That Infect Humans Are Scary. It’s Worse When We Infect Them Back.” (by Sonia Shah, published 19 January 2022)….
  • Health has no boundaries
    When naming viruses that are transmitted from animals to humans, health officials use the name of the transmission species: avian influenza, swine influenza, equine influenza and so on. The World Health Organization says the disease name shouldn’t include the location (e.g., Asian bird flu) but popular usage breaks this rule. People like to blame others…
  • It’s in the air
    What if it were possible to sample the air to identify all of the animals that are in the surrounding area, even the ones we can’t see? A recently published study demonstrated that this is possible. Two groups of scientists, working independently, recently developed a process to capture airborne animal DNA and analyze it. Using…
  • What a waste
    With the Omicron variant rampant, state and national governments are working to make quick, at-home antigen tests more readily available. They hope that identifying infection quickly and broadly will reduce infectious interactions and therefore the spread of the disease. In late November, the state of New Hampshire, in partnership with the federal government, offered 800,000…
  • Not perfect
    Holiday baking can feel routine after many years of practice. And yet, yesterday I binned a batch of cookies from a recipe that I’ve been making for decades. I would have thought I’d have it down by now. Clean the pan. Move on. Over a lifetime I’ve become more practiced in accepting my own failures….
  • The high cost of slow adoption
    A scholarly paper published in September 2021 in PLOS ONE titled “Highly Sensitive Scent-Detection of COVID-19 Patients In Vivo by Trained Dogs” (Omar Vesga et al) starts with this sentence: “Timely and accurate diagnostics are essential to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, but no test satisfies both conditions. … The only effective measure to ameliorate the…
  • Treat Time: Caramel Drip Apple Cake
    Ellie shared her first Thanksgiving with us in 2018. I spent days leading up to Thanksgiving making the dessert, a stupendous recipe I had seen on Epicurious.com. All week as I baked each of the components, the kitchen smelled of spices, nuts, apples and caramel. A visually stunning cake, it rested on the far end…
  • Best. Job. Ever.
    Walking with our dog Ellie is a lesson in negotiation. On trails, we pass by other dogs who walk heads up, alert to their human companions and other animals around them. Our Ellie walks nose-first, scenting out whatever is on the ground or beneath it. If we moved at her pace, it would be less…
  • The Tragedy of Delay
    Yet another fatal impact of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been due to cancers going undetected as people dropped their annual health maintenance screenings. Waiting until symptoms manifest has deadly consequences. Despite that, when daily life poses existential threats from a virus that has taken millions of lives, thinking about a trip to a hospital or…
  • Treat Time – Cranberries, La Tarte Tatin & the Smells of Autumn
    Fall is my favorite season, when autumn winds blow away the sticky heat of summer, and hardwood trees show off the rich, abundant colors they’ve been hiding. It’s a season with scents that rival the showier floral springtime. Smells of apples, cinnamon, pumpkin, damp wood – these are the aromas I anticipate as the days…
  • Problems to solve
    For humans, smell is the third of our five senses (sight, touch, smell, taste, hearing). Smell alerts us to danger, such as smoke, gas leaks or even mold. It enhances our ability to taste and to experience the beauty of the natural world. Although subconsciously we can detect the subtle presence of molecules like pheromones,…
  • Treat Time – Ellie’s Biscuits
    I enjoy baking. Even more, I love sharing recipes and whatever I bake. Just like Ellie needs a treat now and then to replenish the energy she expends smelling literally everything, I think it’s time for a treat. Ellie adores the small dog biscuits I make for her. Redolent of the cinnamon, pumpkin, and peanut…
  • First steps
    I started my journey on a walk with our dog Ellie, while listening to a podcast. The podcast was Revisionist History, and the episode was “The Dog Will See You Now”. In it, Malcolm Gladwell explores the use of dogs to detect the presence of cancer and Covid-19 in humans. He imagines a world in…