5,000 people drown in Lake Victoria each year. A single text message could help save them.

Lake Victoria is a rich fishing ground in eastern Africa, but it's also stormy — very stormy. In fact, lightning has been recorded 4 out of every 5 days of the year in Kampala, the Ugandan capital city situated along the lake's northern edge.

And without reliable, accessible weather forecasts, these storms can catch fishermen and other boaters off guard. About 5,000 people drown every year because of them.


Storms like this can be deadly. Image from Martin Richardson/YouTube.

"There are people who need this information, but because of poverty they can't afford it," Frank Annor, field director for the Trans-African HydroMeterological Observatory (TAHMO), told New Scientist. "People's lives could change for the better if they are given some knowledge about the weather."

TAHMO is an organization dedicated to improving weather forecasting in Africa. They're already setting up a huge network of weather stations across the continent. Now they'll help get that information to the people who need it.

A new text message program the organization is set to unveil in eastern Africa could help save lives.


Image from Ken Banks/Flickr.

More than 19 million Ugandans have cellphones. They're not usually smartphones, so no Internet or complex apps, but they do get text messages. That's how some of them will be able to get that on-demand weather information they need.

Over the next two years, TAHMO will roll out a text message program that can warn people of incoming storms. People can call or text the service to hear weather forecasts. They can also opt-in to get push messages whenever the system detects and approaching storm. The messages will be free to users.

The program will start in Uganda, and the service should be operational by April.

The text messages will be part of a larger program called 3-2-1. The system is a research project led by TAHMO in collaboration with the Uganda National Meteorological Authority and partnered with a number of different organizations such as Human Network International (HNI).

The text message platform was developed by HNI and Airtel, a cell phone provider. At first, only the 8-million Airtel subscribers will have access to the program, but TAHMO hopes to expand it to all carriers. If everything goes according to plan, they can extend the service to people in nearby countries as well.

The undertaking comes after TAHMO was selected by the Global Resilience Project, which helped give them funding to start it.

Similar text message warning programs have been unveiled in the past, but TAHMO's weather monitoring stations set it apart.

The stations will power an incredible information-gathering network.

This is an older version. Installing them at schools helps protect the stations and also provides a learning opportunity for the kids. Image from TAHMO/Flickr.

Built to be cheap and low-maintenance, these weather stations will measure temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind speed, and rainfall. TAHMO wants to set up 20,000 of them across Africa.

The new generation of stations are designed to be as robust as possible. They have no moving parts or open cavities, so things can't break and critters can't get in. They have both batteries and small solar panels, so they won't run out of power, either.


This is more like what the new stations will look like. Image from TAHMO/Flickr.

TAHMO hopes to install many of these stations at local schools, but the stations can be placed anywhere they can get a mobile phone signal. They'll use the mobile phone service to send the information back to weather forecasters. The forecasters can use this extra information to make weather predictions a lot more accurate and timely.

A simple, clever idea can make a difference in countless lives.

The weather data wouldn't just be useful for fishermen. Private companies partnered with TAHMO could use it to offer services to other people as well. For example, though farmers aren't usually in danger of drowning, a bad storm could damage crops.


A rainstorm did this to a corn crop in India. Image from IITA/Flickr.

Also, at a larger scale, farmer's insurance companies might be interested in TAHMO's more accurate weather data because it could help them offer better insurance coverage for farmers. Construction companies, schools, and airports might also benefit from this data.

The two ideas — better weather monitoring and early warnings — are a magical mix.

Better data, safer boating, and a clever use of technology? Sign me up.

Heroes

As a child, Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia's parents didn't ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Instead, her father would ask, "Are you going to be a doctor? Are you going to be an engineer? Or are you going to be an entrepreneur?"

Little did he know that she would successfully become all three: an award-winning biomedical and mechanical engineer who performs cutting-edge medical research and has started multiple companies.

Bhatia holds an M.D. from Harvard University, an M.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT, and a PhD in biomedical engineering from MIT. Bhatia, a Wilson professor of engineering at MIT, is currently serving as director of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, where she's working on nanotechnology targeting enzymes in cancer cells. This would allow cancer screenings to be done with a simple urine test.

Bhatia owes much of her impressive career to her family. Her parents were refugees who met in graduate school in India; in fact, she says her mom was the first woman to earn an MBA in the country. The couple immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s, started a family, and worked hard to give their two daughters the best opportunities.

"They made enormous sacrifices to pick a town with great public schools and really push us to excel the whole way," Bhatia says. "They really believed in us, but they expected excellence. The story I like to tell about my dad is like, if you brought home a 96 on a math test, the response would be, 'What'd you get wrong?'"

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Someday, future Americans will look back on this era of school shootings in bafflement and disbelief—not only over the fact that it happened, but over how long it took us to enact significant legislation to try to stop it.

Five people die from vaping, and the government talks about banning vaping devices. Hundreds of American children have been shot to death in their classrooms, sometimes a dozen or so at a time, and the government has done practically nothing. It's unconscionable.

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For those of us who are not on the spectrum, it can be hard to perceive the world through the senses of someone with autism.

"You could think of a person with autism as having an imbalanced set of senses," Stephen Shore, assistant professor in the School of Education at Adelphi University, told Web MD.

"Some senses may be turned up too high and some turned down too low. As a result, the data that comes in tends to be distorted, and it's very hard to perceive a person's environment accurately," Shore continued.

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Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign, is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

Over the last decade, 127 e-cigarette-related seizures were reported, which prompted the FDA to launch an official investigation in April 2019. Since then, over 215 cases of a new, severe lung illness have sprung up all over the country, with six deaths to date. While scientists aren't yet sure of the root cause, the majority of victims were young adults who regularly vaped and used e-cigarettes. As such, the CDC has launched an official investigation into the potential link.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, a former frequent e-cigarette-user, is one of the many teens who experienced severe side effects. "Vaping was my biggest addiction," he told NowThis. "It lasted for about 15 months of my high school career." In 2018, Kinard was hospitalized after having a seizure. He also had severe nausea, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

After the harrowing experience, he quit vaping, and began speaking out about his experience to help inform others and hopefully inspire them to quit and/or take action. "It shouldn't take having a seizure as a result of nicotine addiction like I had for teens to realize that these companies are taking advantage of what we don't know," Kinard said.

Teens are 16 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than adults, and four times more likely to take up traditional smoking as a result, according to truth, and yet the e-cigarette market remains virtually unregulated and untested. In fact, companies like JUUL continue to block and prevent FDA regulations, investing more than $1 million in lawyers and lobbying efforts in the last quarter alone.

Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

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