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The Spill: Who Will Be President?

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Presidential Confusion

The 2020 presidential election has been fraught with confusion and arguments. Usually, by the end of election night – or at least by the next day – we know who has been chosen as our commander in chief for the next four years. This year, however, is anything but normal. Almost into December, the American people are still not sure whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden will hold the next term office. One of the main reasons for this is the possibility of voter fraud. The president has challenged several states to perform a recount on the votes, and Georgia and Wisconsin have begun the efforts.

Georgia

Officials discovered more than 5,000 uncounted votes, which reduced Biden’s lead by about 10%. On November 24, election workers began a machine recount of nearly five million votes that were cast. Earlier, they had completed the count by hand, which showed Biden as having the lead. The recount was approved because state law says a candidate can request a recount if the winning margin is less than 0.5%. In this case, Biden was reported to be ahead by 12,670 votes which equals 0.25%.

Georgia is important in the presidential race; it’s considered a battleground state. Currently, it has two Senate runoff races going that will determine which party will control the chamber.

Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, there were almost 400 absentee ballots from Milwaukee that were not opened and counted. President Trump’s team paid for a recount for which the county board of canvassers unanimously approved. Although it is early in the process, the recounted ballots (which do not include the unopened votes) showed Trump had gained 57 more votes than previously recorded.

The discrepancies in Georgia and Wisconsin are only some of the issues from the election that the president is protesting. While some recounts may not show a significant change in results, the fact that there are so many issues with missing and uncounted ballots reveals the necessity for making sure Americans are getting and participating in a fair and just election.

NASA Tree Counters

How many trees do you think there are? Is there a job for counting trees, and just how is that accomplished? Furthermore, why does it matter how many trees we have? To answer some of these questions, scientists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and an international team of researchers started mapping trees using a high-resolution satellite – and found a way to capture lone trees and small copses that regular satellites have not been able to pick up.

The new supercomputer is searching for and counting more than 1.8 billion trees that are located outside of forests and on land of more than a half million square miles. Blue Waters at the University of Illinois is one of the fastest supercomputers in the world, and it has been engaged in performing a “deep learning” on terrain images from parts of West Africa. Until now, much of the research on trees has been in large forests, not on the isolated trees in drylands to get a better picture. They discovered that they could count trees that satellites cannot see, but even more exciting, they can assess carbon storage potential of those trees as well.

“These dry areas are white on maps – they are basically masked out because normal satellites just don’t see the trees,” said Martin Brandt, lead author in the study. “They see a forest, but if the tree is isolated, they can’t see it. Now we’re on the way to filling these white spots on the maps. And that’s quite exciting.”

Climate control is a concern around the globe. Counting and having an accurate number of trees on the Earth gives scientists a sense of how much carbon the Earth can store as well as how it can change over time. Given time, these studies will be able to help track deforestation by comparing one year to another. The information will help determine if conservation efforts are working. It will also help landowners who get carbon credits for storing certain amounts of carbon.

Smelling the World

Humans are equipped with five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Each is powerful in its own way, and sometimes if one sense is lost, such as sight, the others become stronger and more sensitive. A blind person, for example, will sometimes have a keener sense of hearing and smell to help make up for the loss of sight. And now, a group of researchers want to give the gift of smell throughout the ages in an online “Encyclopedia of Smell Heritage.”

The group formed what they call the Odeuropa consortium. They’re in the process of recording familiar and odd smells for patrons to experience. These odors range in time periods and objects. For example, have you ever wondered what made 18th century smelling salts so effective in waking up a person who had fainted? One whiff of the ancient remedy should be enough to get an idea. Some of the scents they plan to feature include scented tobacco that was used by perfumers, motor oil and ozone that was found in texts by Italian futurists, and much more.

“Much more so than any other sense, our sense of smell is linked directly to our emotions and our memories,” Odeuropa remarked. The lead investigator of the group, Inger Leemans, said her team would “dive into digital heritage collections to discover key scents of Europe and bring them back to the nose.” And Matija Strlic of the University College London explained that “Old smells, or smells of objects, tell us a lot about how those objects degrade, how they can be preserved, and also how those smells can be conserved.”

Imagining a book (of sorts) that contains ancient, foreign, and even present smells brings to mind a huge scratch ‘n sniff. But that isn’t exactly the case. The book of smells is planned to be available in museums as a way to bring the past to the future through the nose.

“Once you start looking at printed texts published in Europe since 1500 you will find loads of references to smell, from religious scents – like the smell of incense – through to things like tobacco,” said Dr. William Tullett of Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. Tullett is also a member of the Odeuropa team and is the author of Smell in Eighteenth-Century England.

The project is scheduled to officially begin in January and is expected to take three years. The first step will be to develop artificial intelligence responsible for screening historical texts, in seven languages, for descriptions of odors from the past, as well as how these smells were used in context. The AIs will also look for aromatic items in paintings and drawings. That information will be used to create the encyclopedia of smells.

“It will [also] include discussions of particular types of noses from the past – the kinds of people for whom smell was significant and what smell meant to them,” said Tullett. An example, he said, would be physicians.

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