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first_imgA giant pouched rat hard at work sniffingout landmines.(Image: Sylvain Piraux) Bart Weetjens with one of his trained rats.(Image: Sylvain Piraux) The rat is trained to dig when it sniffs amine.(Image: Sylvain Piraux) The rats are rewarded for a job well done.(Image: Sylvain Piraux) There is a strong bond between the ratsand their trainers.(Image: Xavier Rossi) Not just a pretty face – these adorableanimals are bright, too.(Image: Xavier Rossi)Jennifer SternAfrican countries such as Angola, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo have been devastated by civil war for decades. Although the conflicts are over and the countries are slowly rebuilding themselves, one deadly legacy remains – landmines.Landmines can lurk underground for decades, primed to explode and destroy the limbs and lives of rural people, and hamper any kind of development. But demining the land is a slow, dangerous and expensive process – particularly in these vast African states.Until now. A Danish engineer has developed an astonishing new system of locating and destroying landmines that is cheap, safe and quick. All it requires is trained deminers – and lots of rats.Most of us think of engineers as people who fiddle around with machines, electronic circuits, chemical reactions or cement. But Bart Weetjens is an engineer with a difference – part of a new wave. He studied design engineering at the University of Antwerp, and then worked at a couple of jobs that most people would have thought were pretty cool – designing coaches and then leisure goods.But he was frustrated. He wanted to use his considerable skills to address real problems in the real world, and he had a romantic notion that he wanted to live and work in Africa. But he still wasn’t sure where exactly in Africa he wanted to work, and what exactly he wanted to do.Then in 1993 he found a muse in the form of a tall, beautiful blonde. Princess Diana was a tireless campaigner for the removal of landmines, and her message fell on at least one pair of receptive ears. Weetjens had found his vocation.Insidious weaponsLandmines are the most hideous and insidious of weapons – and that’s saying a lot, because there aren’t any nice and gentle weapons.  The problem with landmines is that once they’ve been laid, they’re there for a long, long time.Weetjens would have been very aware of this in his native Belgium. Amazingly, the Belgian bomb disposal unit gets about 700 calls a year to remove and defuse landmines and unexploded ordnance from the First and Second World Wars. The Second World War ended more than 60 years ago, and Belgium is a small, densely populated, technically advanced first world country. But on average two unexploded devices are found there every day.Then think of vast rural countries such as Angola, Mozambique or the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is estimated that about 200 million unexploded landmines lie buried across the world – mostly in Africa and the Middle East. And this is only an estimate because minefields, by their nature, are not exactly well documented.Barrier to developmentWeetjens relates how Diana got the message across that landmines were not only awful weapons that maim and kill people. They are also an effective barrier to development. People can’t farm, or fish or prospect with landmines around. So in many once war-torn African countries they have to be removed before recovery can begin.Having decided that landmines were the problem he wanted to solve, Weetjens began work. He attended conferences, read widely and tried to find out all he could about demining. One of the biggest problems, he discovered, is that demining is expensive and depends heavily on high-level skills that mostly must be imported into developing countries.Before Weetjens there were two ways of finding mines. Using metal detectors, the traditional method, was costly, high-tech, slow and dependent on foreign expertise. Using dogs to sniff out mines was faster and more cost-effective – particularly in places like Afghanistan. But dogs didn’t work well in Africa. Norwegian People’s Aid brought 20 expensive trained demining dogs into Mozambique, but half of them were dead in six months. They were simply not adapted to Africa’s climate, and its interesting array of external and internal parasites.The perfect ratThen Weetjens came across an article describing how two US scientists had successfully trained gerbils to detect explosives, and the penny dropped. Whatever a dog or gerbil could do a rat could do as well – possibly even better. And certainly cheaper. But he was met with derision when he mooted the concept.From when he got the idea in 1995, it took two years to get funding to implement the programme and then, with the help of a rodent specialist, he set out to find the perfect rat.  This turned out to be the giant pouched rat, which is found all over Africa. It is resistant to local diseases, is relatively long-lived – surviving easily to the age of about eight in captivity –  and is much less aggressive than the more familiar city rat.It is also quite a lot bigger, being the size of a cat, which makes it easy to see as it scuttles over minefields. Like other rats, it is highly intelligent, has an excellent sense of smell, and is easy to train.It took another three years to breed up a stable of rats and to train them. The project was based at the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, near Dar es Salaam. This site was chosen because Tanzania is a relatively stable country, and the university has a long relationship with the University of Antwerp.The first part of the programme was to recruit and train rat trainers, as the aim of the project was to produce a locally sustainable solution that would minimise, if not totally eliminate, dependence on imported expertise and technology.The rats were first trained to detect the smell of explosives in small contained areas, using classic sound association and food reward techniques. Once they had got the hang of it, they were trained on a specially built 24-hectare minefield. With 1 553 defused landmines of 14 different types, the field is the most varied minefield in the world, so it’s a good training ground.The real test was when the rats and their trainers were moved to Mozambique in 2003 to work their skills in the field – with real, live landmines. But this turned out to be easier than the test field. Ten years in the ground had increased the mines’ concentration of tell-tale vapour, making them easier to smell out.The processTo demine a field, it is divided into squares bisected by corridors that have been cleared with metal detectors. The trainers walk in the demined corridors and the rats, wearing little harnesses and leashes, run along laid-out lines, sniffing the ground.If they find a mine, they dig, showing the trainer where it is. The rats only weigh a couple of kilograms at most so they can’t set the mines off. Each area is covered by two or three different rats, and the results are collated before the mines are destroyed in a controlled detonation.It takes about half an hour to detect all the mines in a 100 m2 block using rats, whereas it would take two days to clear the same area in the traditional, more expensive way using metal detectors.With a sigh of relief, Weetjens realised the technology worked, so he applied for accreditation with International Mine Action Standards. The technology was accredited in 2004, and the programme as a whole in 2006.Each rat and trainer pair needs to be tested every six months, and the standards are high – 100%. Not only can the team not miss a single landmine, which obviously could have dire consequences in the real world, they can’t get a false positive identification.Although the animals and trainers are accredited as pairs, the beauty of rats is that they are not quite as dependent on one trainer as dogs are. But that doesn’t mean they don’t build up a relationship with their human colleagues. The trainers and other team members have developed a definite fondness for the rats. And, as they are well-fed, well-groomed and kept clean, they are actually rather cute – with their little twitchy noses and bright black eyes.The project is not only ground-breaking in its effective removal of landmines. It also challenges some of our most cherished prejudices. It’s shown us that rats can be clean and useful animals that save lives and make a positive contribution to society. It’s also shown that engineers can be people who work with ideas as opposed to machines, and that technology can be adapted to suit the needs of people, instead of the other way round.Do you have queries or comments about this article? Email Mary Alexander at marya@mediaclubsouthafrica.com.Useful linksApopoHero RatMine Action Standardslast_img read more

first_img4 March 2010: The second day of South African President Jacob Zuma’s state visit to the UK included talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a meeting with the England and South Africa football captains, and a trip to Wembley Soccer Stadium. Click arrow to play slideshow, or view the photoset on Flickr. See also: Slideshow: President Zuma in London (1)last_img

first_img The team at Buffer shares what worked and what didn’t work for them when they switched to asynchronous meetings. (Image credit)Going Beyond…Leo Babauta shares a tip on how to stop overthinking by cutting through indecision. We will never have the certainty we’d like to have in our lives so it’s quite good to have a strategy for dealing with uncertainty. As I’m struggling with this a lot, I found the article helpful.The ethical practices that can serve as a code of conduct for data sensemaking professionals are built upon a single fundamental principle. It is the same principle that medical doctors swear as an oath before becoming licensed: Do no harm. Here’s “Ethical Data Sensemaking.”Paul Hayes shares his experience from trying to live plastic-free for a month and why it’s hard to stick to it. It’s surprising how shopping habits need to be changed and why you need to spend your money in a totally different way and cannot rely on online stores anymore.Oil powers the cars we drive and the flights we take, it heats many of our homes and offices. It is in the things we use every day and it plays an integral role across industries and economies. Yet it has become very clear that the relentless burning of fossil fuels cannot continue unabated. Can the world be less reliant on oil?Uber and Lyft admit that they’re making traffic congestion worse in cities. Next time you use any of those new taxi apps, try to remind yourself that you’re making the situation worse for many people in the city.Thank you for reading. If you like what I write, please consider supporting the Web Development Reading List.—Anselm (cm)From our sponsors: Monthly Web Development Update 8/2019: Strong Teams And Ethical Data Sensemaking HomeWeb DesignMonthly Web Development Update 8/2019: Strong Teams And Ethical Data Sensemaking Monthly Web Development Update 8/2019: Strong Teams And Ethical Data SensemakingYou are here: Related postsInclusive Components: Book Reviews And Accessibility Resources13th December 2019Should Your Portfolio Site Be A PWA?12th December 2019Building A CSS Layout: Live Stream With Rachel Andrew10th December 2019Struggling To Get A Handle On Traffic Surges10th December 2019How To Design Profitable Sales Funnels On Mobile6th December 2019How To Build A Real-Time Multiplayer Virtual Reality Game (Part 2)5th December 2019 Posted on 16th August 2019Web Design FacebookshareTwittertweetGoogle+share No more custom lazy-loading code or a separate JavaScript library needed: Chrome 76 comes with native lazy loading built in. (Image credit)AccessibilityThe best algorithms available today still struggle to recognize black faces equally good as white ones. Which again shows how important it is to have diverse teams and care about inclusiveness.SecurityHere’s a technical analysis of the Capital One hack. A good read for anyone who uses Cloud providers like AWS for their systems because it all comes down to configuring accounts correctly to prevent hackers from gaining access due to a misconfigured cloud service user role.PrivacySafari introduced its Intelligent Tracking Prevention technology a while ago. Now there’s an official Safari ITP policy documentation that explains how it works, what will be blocked and what not.SmashingMag launched a print and eBook magazine all about ethics and privacy. It contains great pieces on designing for addiction, how to improve ethics step by step, and quieting disquiet. A magazine worth reading.Work & Life“For a long time I believed that a strong team is made of stars — extraordinary world-class individuals who can generate and execute ideas at a level no one else can. These days, I feel that a strong team is the one that feels more like a close family than a constellation of stars. A family where everybody has a sense of predictability, trust and respect for each other. A family which deeply embodies the values the company carries and reflects these values throughout their work. But also a family where everybody feels genuinely valued, happy and ignited to create,” said Vitaly Friedman in an update thought recently and I couldn’t agree more.How do you justify a job in a company that has a significant influence on our world and our everyday lives and that not necessarily with the best intentions? Meredith Whittaker wrote up her story of starting at Google, having an amazing time there, and now leaving the company because she couldn’t justify it anymore that Google is using her work and technology to get involved in fossil energy business, healthcare, governance, and transportation business — and not always with the focus on improving everyone’s lives or making our environment a better place to live in but simply for profit.Synchronous meetings are a problem in nearly every company. They take a lot of time from a lot of people and disrupt any schedule or focused work. So here’s how Buffer switched to asynchronous meetings, including great tips and insights into why many tools out there don’t work well.Actionable advice is what we usually look for when reading an article. However, it’s not always possible or the best option to write actionable advice and certainly not always a good idea to follow actionable advice blindly. That’s because most of the time actionable advice also is opinionated, tailored, customized advice that doesn’t necessarily fit your purpose. Sharing experiences instead of actionable advice fosters creativity so everyone can find their own solution, their own advice.Sam Clulow’s “Our Planet, Our Problem” is a great piece of writing that reminds us of who we are and what’s important for us and how we can live in a city and switch to a better, more thoughtful and natural life.Climate change is a topic all around the world now and it seems that many people are concerned about it and want to take action. But then, last month we had the busiest air travel day ever in history. Airplanes are accountable for one of the biggest parts of climate active emissions, so it’s key to reduce air travel as much as possible from today on. Coincidentally, this was also the hottest week measured in Europe ever. We as individuals need to finally cut down on flights, regardless of how tempting that next $50-holiday-flight to a nice destination might be, regardless of if it’s an important business meeting. What do we have video conferencing solutions for? Why do people claim to work remotely if they then fly around the world dozens of times in their life? There are so many nice destinations nearby, reachable by train or, if needed, by car. Monthly Web Development Update 8/2019: Strong Teams And Ethical Data Sensemaking Monthly Web Development Update 8/2019: Strong Teams And Ethical Data Sensemaking Anselm Hannemann 2019-08-16T13:51:00+02:00 2019-08-16T12:35:43+00:00What’s more powerful than a star who knows everything? Well, a team not made of stars but of people who love what they do, stand behind their company’s vision and can work together, support each other. Like a galaxy made of stars — where not every star shines and also doesn’t need to. Everyone has their place, their own strength, their own weakness. Teams don’t consist only of stars, they consist of people, and the most important thing is that the work and life culture is great. So don’t do a moonshot if you’re hiring someone but try to look for someone who fits into your team and encourages, supports your team’s values and members.In terms of your own life, take some time today to take a deep breath and recall what happened this week. Go through it day by day and appreciate the actions, the negative ones as well as the positive ones. Accept that negative things happen in our lives as well, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to feel good either. It’s a helpful exercise to balance your life, to have a way of invalidating the feeling of “I did nothing this week” or “I was quite unproductive.” It makes you understand why you might not have worked as much as you’re used to — but it feels fine because there’s a reason for it.NewsThree weeks ago we officially exhausted the Earth’s natural resources for the year — with four months left in 2019. Earth Overshoot Day is a good indicator of where we’re currently at in the fight against climate change and it’s a great initiative by people who try to give helpful advice on how we can move that date so one day in the (hopefully) near future we’ll reach overshoot day not before the end of the year or even in a new year.Chrome 76 brings the prefers-color-scheme media query (e.g. for dark mode support) and multiple simplifications for PWA installation.UI/UXThere are times to use toggle switches and times not to. When designers misuse them, it leads to confused and frustrated users. Knowing when to use them requires an understanding of the different types of toggle states and options.Font Awesome introduced Duotone Icons. An amazing set that is worth taking a look at.JavaScriptBen Frain explores the possibility of building a Progressive Web Application (PWA) without a framework. A quite interesting article series that shows the difference between relying on frameworks by default and building things from scratch.Web PerformanceSome experiments sound silly but in reality, they’re not: Chris Ashton used the web for a day on a 50MB budget. In Zimbabwe, for example, where 1 GB costs an average of $75.20, ranging from $12.50 to $138.46, 50MB is incredibly expensive. So reducing your app bundle size, image size, and website cost are directly related to how happy your users are when they browse your site or use your service. If it costs them $3.76 (50MB) to access your new sports shoe teaser page, it’s unlikely that they will buy or recommend it.BBC’s Toby Cox shares how they ditched iframes in favor of ShadowDOM to improve their site performance significantly. This is a good piece explaining the advantages and drawbacks of iframes and why adopting ShadowDOM takes time and still feels uncomfortable for most of us.Craig Mod shares why people prefer to choose (and pay for) fast software. People are grateful for it and are easily annoyed if the app takes too much time to start or shows a laggy user interface.Harry Roberts explains the details of the “time to first byte” metric and why it matters.CSSYes, prefers-reduced-motion isn’t super new anymore but still heavily underused on the web. Here’s how to apply it to your web application to serve a user’s request for reduced motion.HTML & SVGWith Chrome 76 we get the loading attribute which allows for native lazy loading of images just with HTML. It’s great to have a handy article that explains how to use, debug, and test it on your website today.last_img read more

first_imgThe National Institutes of Health (NIH) would receive a $1.1 billion boost in 2016 under a draft measure released by a House of Representatives spending panel today. That 3.6% increase, to $31.2 billion, is $100 million more than the president’s request.But although good news for NIH, the bill would also abolish the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which supports studies of evidence-based medicine. As a result, the bill released by a House appropriations subcommittee is drawing a mixed reaction from the biomedical research community.“While we appreciate the committee’s recognition of the critical importance of NIH-funded research, there are aspects of the bill that we find very troubling,” particularly the elimination of AHRQ, says Dave Moore, senior director for government relations for the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) in Washington, D.C.Sign up for our daily newsletterGet more great content like this delivered right to you!Country *AfghanistanAland IslandsAlbaniaAlgeriaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBolivia, Plurinational State ofBonaire, Sint Eustatius and SabaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of theCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’IvoireCroatiaCubaCuraçaoCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuatemalaGuernseyGuineaGuinea-BissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsle of ManIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJerseyJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontenegroMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorwayOmanPakistanPalestinianPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRWANDASaint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da CunhaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Martin (French part)Saint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbiaSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSint Maarten (Dutch part)SlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsSouth SudanSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwanTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-LesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuela, Bolivarian Republic ofVietnamVirgin Islands, BritishWallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabweI also wish to receive emails from AAAS/Science and Science advertisers, including information on products, services and special offers which may include but are not limited to news, careers information & upcoming events.Required fields are included by an asterisk(*)Much of the new NIH funding would go for specific projects. Research on Alzheimer’s disease would receive $300 million in new funds, about $250 million more than the president’s request. The bill also matches the president’s request for $100 million for NIH’s piece of a federal antibiotic resistance initiative and $200 million for President Barack Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative. The multiagency BRAIN project would get $95 million, $25 million more than the president’s request.The bill allocates $312 million for the Institutional Development Awards, about $38.5 million above than the president’s request for this program for states with relatively little NIH funding. And $165 million would go to what the bill calls the “National Children’s Study Alternative.” That apparently refers to NIH’s plans for research to support the goals of the giant National Children’s Study that the agency canceled last December.While welcoming the increase for NIH, AAMC is dismayed that the bill reduces by 8% the maximum salary of $183,300 that NIH grants can currently support. A few years ago, Congress trimmed the cap back from an even higher level, putting the burden on universities and other institutions receiving extramural funding to make up any difference.And the elimination of the $465 million AHRQ—it would close down on 1 October 1—is a major concern, Moore says. House appropriators also tried to abolish AHRQ 3 years ago, but ultimately failed. AAMC is also worried about a $100 million cut to the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund, which supports studies of which medical treatments work best.The draft bill will be considered tomorrow by the House appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. The measure will then go to a full committee vote next week. The corresponding Senate panel is expected to release its version of the bill next week. After votes by the full House and Senate, the two chambers will then need to reconcile the bills.NIH boosters are hopeful that the agency will receive another $2 billion next year from funding sources separate from the regular appropriations process if Congress passes 21st Century Cures, a measure awaiting a vote by the full House. A Senate panel has yet to introduce its version of that bill.last_img read more