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Dogs Sniff Out Corona Infections at Finnish Airport

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  • If there’s a prize for the most adorable public health program, these pooches need to win it.

“They’re all good dogs, Brent,” an online personality once said. While that is true, some dogs might be a bit better than others. Or at least some of them can hold down a job.

The K-9 unit is old news to anyone who knows anything about the police force. Dogs also serve in the army, the fire department, and they help the visually impaired get around more easily.

Some dogs are even trying to become dog-tors. A 2019 study found that pooches can be trained to accurately sniff out the presence of cancer cells in blood.

In a similar vein, some medical mutts are now tackling the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In Finland, sharp-nosed dogs have been brought in to sniff out potential coronavirus infections at the country’s largest airport.

The COVID-sniffing dogs have good timing, too. After the first wave of the ‘Rona abated, countries around the world started loosening movement restrictions. Some even allowed travel again.

Turns out, that may have been a mistake. According to the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe Hans Kluge, the continent could be facing another, potentially even more serious corona wave, reported the BBC.

New cases in Europe have doubled over the past couple of weeks, with 300,000 new infections discovered just within one week.

“Although these numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, it also shows alarming rates of transmission across the region,” Kluge said.

“Good Lord, she reeks of the ‘Rona! Get her off me!”

Canine Pioneers

To try and cope with the surging infection rate, Finavia – the company responsible for maintaining Finland’s airport network – turned to dogs for help.

Since yesterday, the COVID canines have been patrolling the Helsinki Airport in the city of Vantaa.

“We are among the pioneers. As far as we know, no other airport has attempted to use canine scent detection on such a large scale against COVID-19,” says Helsinki Airport Director Ulla Lettijeff.

Finavia is training a total of 10 dogs for tracking potential corona infections at the airport. They will work in shifts, with four dogs active at one time.

According to Susanna Paavilainen, CEO of WiseNose Ry, University of Helsinki’s DogRisk research group, the length of the work shift will depend on the dogs.

“Dogs need to rest from time to time. While two dogs are working, the other two are on a break,” Paavilainen says.

The dogs will mainly be sniffing travelers arriving to Finland from outside the country. If you’re scared of dogs, though, there’s no need to delay your trip to Finland. At least not because of the dogs.

The smell experts will perform their duties from a separate booth without coming into direct contact with travelers. People taking the test will swipe their skin with a test wipe and drop it into a cup.

The cup is then given to the COVID dogs for analysis. If they smell something sick, the traveler will be directed to a health information desk operated by the city of Vantaa.

“We are pleased with the city of Vantaa’s initiative. This might be an additional step forward on the way to beating COVID-19,” Lettijeff says.

Flesh Beats Metals

If a dog sniffing out a COVID infection sounds like an arbitrary detection method to you, think again. Research carried out before the start of Finavia’s project showed that the dogs are more efficient than expensive machinery.

The preliminary tests – carried out at the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Helsinki – found that dogs can sniff out COVID-19 with pretty much 100% accuracy. They can even smell the presence of the virus days before the test subject shows the first symptoms.

It turns out that a dog’s nose is much more sensitive to the coronavirus than the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests doctors usually use. A PCR test requires 18 million molecules to be present in a sample before it notices the virus.

A dog only needs 100, or even as little as 10 molecules. So which one would you rather trust?

The Next Generation

In the future, dogs from the Finnish Customs might take over the duties of the current dogs.

“We are working with Finnish Customs to prepare for a potential scenario where it takes charge of the operation,” says Paavilainen.

However, for the time being, the WiseNose dogs will continue their task. For the customs to take over, the Finnish government will need to pass a corresponding legislative amendment.

It will also take some time to train the customs dogs to recognize the COVID-19 virus. According to Paavilainen, almost all of the current dogs have previously performed scent detection duties.

The time it takes to train a dog can also vary, as it’s completely dependent on the dog in question. The star of the current program is Kössi, an 8-year-old greyhound mix.

He learned to pick up the scent of the coronavirus in a mere seven minutes. Talk about a fast learner.

“Not all dogs can do it as they operate in different ways. Kössi has a lot of experience from identifying biological samples,” Paavilainen says.

Such a good boy.

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Cheating or Not? – Students Figure Out How to Fool the AI Grading their Exams

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  • They say opportunity makes a thief. Here’s case study number 1.

If you’re getting sick of hearing about how the coronavirus has disrupted normal life, well, we’re in the same boat. Still, there’s no way around it, many things we took for granted have changed.

One of the most severely impacted facets of everyday life is something as simple as going to school. There’s a whole debate out there that we won’t be getting into, but it all boils down to one question – is it safe to send our kids to school?

Around the globe, the answer has been “no”. As a result, schools have had to put in place remote classroom solutions that have ranged from brilliant to… Less than brilliant, to put it nicely.

Many schools in the U.S. and the U.K., for example, make students take their exams online. To help their teachers deal with grading the exams, some of them have started relying on an AI.

The problem here is as that AI can be kind of stupid sometimes. Many students in both countries have been angered and reduced to tears because the AI’s grading algorithm is skewed or incorrectly calibrated.

Others, though, have found the AIs strict algorithms to be an easy avenue to better grades. Students as young as 12 have learned how to game the system, formatting their answers so that the AI gives them a perfect score.

That’s sometimes even if the answer is pure gobbledygook. Try learning that in a classroom.

“What’d you answer for #6?” “Moo moo correlation balance trade pistachios.”

From Zero to Hero

One of these students is seventh-grader Lazare Simmons. According to his mother Dana, she found her son crying after taking his history exam.

The boy had gotten a score of 50 out of 100. For those unfamiliar with the U.S. grading system, that’s not great. In fact, it’s a failing grade.

“He was like, I’m gonna have to get a 100 on all the rest of this to make up for this. He was totally dejected,” Mrs. Simmons – a history professor herself – told The Verge.

She tried to console Lazare, telling him that some teachers are harsh graders early in the semester but usually mellow out later on. But her son told her that the teacher wasn’t grading his answers.

He had gotten his results back in seconds after he had submitted the exam. No matter what kind of a super teacher you are, no human being can grade an exam so quickly.

Instead, an AI algorithm developed by a company called Edgenuity was the only one looking at what Lazare submitted. Simmons asked her son to submit some more assignments, so she could see how the system worked.

Since Edgenuity gives the user its preset correct answers, Lazare and Mrs. Simmons were able to deduce that the system was looking for specific keywords.

Together, the two figured out the best way to fool the AI. For every answer, Lazare now writes only two sentences, followed by a nonsensical list of keywords that he assumes the system is looking for.

Lo and behold, he’s getting a perfect score on every question. Human ingenuity 1, artificial intelligence 0.

Word Salad for Lunch

As an example of a perfect answer, Mrs. Simmons quoted the following prompt: “What was the advantage of Constantinople’s location for the power of the Byzantine Empire?”

“So you go through, okay, what are the possible keywords that are associated with this? Wealth, caravan, ship, India, China, Middle East, he just threw all of those words in,” she explained.

And the system swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. Edgenuity’s website explains that the system is seriously only looking at keywords.

Give it what it wants, and it’ll give you a perfect score. It doesn’t matter how the answer is phrased.

We can all decide for ourselves if what the Simmons’ are doing is immoral. On one hand, they’re practically cheating on a school exam; on the other, the system in place is so dysfunctional that maybe it’s justified.

Lazare, at least, doesn’t seem to feel too bad about it.

“I wanted to game it because I felt like it was an easy way to get a good grade,” the boy said, shrugging away the moral dilemma.

‘Works Every Time’

Lazare isn’t alone in taking advantage of simplistic AI grading. One student, who wanted to remain anonymous, told The Verge that they simply copied the presented question to Edgenuity’s answer field.

According to them, all the keywords the AI was looking for were right there in the question. The system gave them a perfect score “pretty much every time”.

Austin Paradiso, another student, said his high school used Edgenuity and he too sometimes resorted to underhanded methods. And they worked every single time.

“I always tried to make the answer at least semi-coherent because it seemed a bit cheap to just toss a bunch of keywords into the input field,” Paradiso said.

“But if I was a bit lazier, I easily could have just written a random string of words pertinent to the question prompt and gotten 100%.”

Fight the System

In the U.K., however, students have not welcomed easy grades. That might be because for many, a flawed AI grading system has cost them their place in college.

According to Wired, roughly 40% of students taking their college placement-deciding A-level exams have gotten lower scores with the AI than they would’ve with a human teacher.

The system used in the exam is particularly unfair because it punishes students for factors beyond their control. The AI looks, among other things, data from past students of the particular school when assigning individual grades.

The process is complex, but the whole domino effect leads to things like school funding affecting the students’ grades. And no matter what you think, that shouldn’t be a factor when assigning grades.

The students have been so angry that they’ve taken to the streets in protest. And it’s not hard to see why. Missing out on college because of an AI that is too dumb to understand your exam answers must not feel great.

An AI overthrowing humanity is a common science fiction trope. In reality, it seems these dumb things should at least learn to read before they can get to that point.

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Iowa Woman Has Her Dead Pet Cat Cloned

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  • Well, that’s one way to stick it to the Grim Reaper.

The loss of a beloved pet is a tough pill to swallow. Believe us, we at Oddee have collectively said our goodbyes to all too many of them.

Still, most people will eventually make their peace with it. We’ll bury our friends, feel bad for a while, but eventually, time moves on.

But it wasn’t so for one woman from Cedar Falls, Iowa. The retiree, who wants to remain anonymous, lost her precious Mr. Tufts some time ago.

Mr. Tufts was a cat with semi-long, black fur and coppery eyes. He had a small white patch on his throat, tufts on his ears and between his toes, and a glorious, fuzzy tail that was to die for.

And die Mr. Tuft did. The loss left his owner devastated and mourning.

“I had never had such a wonderful creature. It was harder losing him than any other cat I’ve ever had,” she told The Courier.

But if you were to visit this retired cat lady’s home, you’d think she’d gotten over Mr. Tufts. She has a new cat.

Mr. Tufts, Jr., is a cat with semi-long, black fur and coppery eyes. He has a small white patch on his throat, tufts on his ears and between his toes, and a glorious, fuzzy tail that is to die for.

Seem familiar? It probably does, because Mr. Tufts Jr. is a clone.

Harvesting Cat Essence

So maybe our cat lady didn’t quite move on. Instead of getting just any new cat, she decided to have Mr. Tufts immortalized through advanced biological science.

While the original Mr. Tufts was still alive and kicking, she brought him to the clinic of Dr. Kevin Christman at the Cedar Valley Veterinary Center. Dr. Christman extracted living tissue samples from the cat to preserve its genetic blueprint.

“We had to sedate him and take a little skin, fat, and hair – tiny pieces of tissue, like taking a biopsy sample,” Christman explained.

He had never in his 10-year career taken part in cloning an animal. The prospect seemed exciting, so he decided to offer his assistance.

“Obviously, I’m science-minded, so it was very interesting and kind of cool. He was an awesome cat, so what better cat than Mr. Tufts?” asked Christman.

So, the recipe to making another Mr. Tufts was safely secured. But neither the cat lady, nor Dr. Christman, could clone him themselves.

For that, they needed an expert.

Defying Death… At a Price

They found that expert in Cedar Park, Texas. Lots of cedars going on with this cloning business.

ViaGen Pets is a pet cloning and genetic preservation company. They have extensive experience in cloning animals. The firm’s helped preserve the endangered Przewalski’s horse through cloning, for example.

Christman and the cat lady contacted ViaGen after Mr. Tufts had passed, asking about the possibility of cloning him. The company said that they could definitely do it, but it would cost the cat’s owner dearly.

Sounds like a deal with the devil, but no eternal souls were exchanged in this transaction. Only cold, hard cash. A total of $35,000 worth of it.

Apparently, no price was too high for our cat owner, since she coughed up the money. Christman sent the extracted genetic material over to ViaGen, and their experts got to work.

Melain Rodriguez, ViaGen’s client services manager, said they replaced the nucleus of a female cat’s egg with one of the frozen cells from Mr. Tufts. Then, they joined the egg and cell together and transferred the whole shebang to surrogate cat mother.

After a normal feline pregnancy and birth, Mr. Tufts Jr. entered the world.

Same, but Different, but Still the Same

Despite his artificial origins, Mr. Tufts Jr. is no different from any other cat. Rodriguez explained that the copycat is a genetic twin of the original Mr. Tufts.

ViaGen does no genetic modification on the animals it works on. Mr. Tufts Jr. is identical to his progenitor in looks, temperament, and intelligence, said Rodriguez.

She did say, though, that it was good that his owner had Christman extract the cat’s essence before he passed.

“It’s much better to have samples from living cells. We recommend pet owners let their vets know that they’re interested in cloning or want to clone their pet, so they can be proactive about getting a tissue sample, such as when the pet is under anesthesia for a dental cleaning or spay-neuter, to be prepared for when that time comes,” Rodriguez said.

Although Mr. Tufts Jr. is supposed to be identical to the original cat in every way, his owner has noticed one difference. The clone is much healthier.

“The original Mr. Tufts had been found on a forest trail and had a very bad respiratory illness,” she said. The clone has not developed this condition, probably due to never having been a stray.

Guilt, but Is It Warranted?

She does, however, feel kind of bad on putting all that money into an essentially selfish endeavor. She could afford it, sure, but the cat lady still felt she needed to make amends somehow.

To begin with, she adopted Mr. Tufts Jr.’s surrogate mother. The young kitty gets to live with his mama and an eerily familiar-looking picture of his dad.

She has also donated money to the Cedar Valley Veterinary Center, is paying for her great-niece’s college education, and has pledged another $35,000 to Habitat for Humanity.

She’s clearly not hurting for money, and it seems to be going to good causes. Whether she needed to go those lengths, though, is up to your own judgement.

But who wouldn’t want their dear pet back from the dead? And cloning seems a safer option than finding your nearest Pet Sematary.

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Man Named Crook Gets Arrested Twice in One Day

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  • Geez. Maybe it’s a better idea to go hide out after your first arrest of the day?

How is it even possible for a Crook to get arrested more than once in one day? We’ve seen it before and clearly, we’ll see it again.

Well, let them show you how. Because apparently not everyone “feels really bad” and goes home to hide out after they get into trouble (much less arrested.)

Lawrence Crook, 37, from Jersey City, was charged with first-degree larceny, possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia for the first incident and third-degree burglary and first-degree criminal trespass for the second incident. 

According to Lt. Antonio Granata, police were called to a condo complex after they got reports of a suspicious male October 8th. A witness told officers that they saw the man remove a small dumpster from a fenced-in area within a parking lot and that he parked a black SUV back there.

“He was seen loading several blue and white striped bags into the vehicle,” Granata said. “When he was confronted by the witness, a brief conversation ensued, and the male quickly fled on foot which prompted a call to police.”

The SUV was reported stolen from a Bayside Queen car dealership, Granata said. A male matching the description was found thanks to a witness at the 300 block of Pequot Avenue. He was identified as Crook.

“Officers later confirmed it to be the same suspect through surveillance video, a police K9 track, witness identification and suspect admission,” Granata said.

Granata said that Crook was found in possession of suspected methamphetamine along with drug paraphernalia. The suspect was also seen loading blue and white striped bags into the stolen SUV. Turns out they were stolen laundry bags from a nearby hotel.

Crook was arrested and then eventually released after posting $300.00 bond and signing a promise to appear in court as scheduled on October 29th. 

Then, less than an hour after being released, he was arrested again. 

This time, a lieutenant for the Fairfield Fire Department saw Crook in the fire department headquarters of Reed Road. He was walking around the apparatus floor and rummaging through fireman’s property. 

“Police were called, responded and arrested Lawrence Crook,” Granata said. Crook has two separate bonds, each set at $25,000 and is awaiting  disposition for the charges. 

 

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