I grew up reading and re-reading Roald Dahl's Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, and there were two scenes that always blew my mind.
In the first, Willy Wonka shows the children a stick of gum — "the most amazing and fabulous and sensational gum in the world!" — that conveys the flavors of a meal, one course after the other: tomato soup, roast beef, blueberry pie. Of course, it hasn't been fully developed yet, and when one of the children, Violet, grabs the gum and starts chewing, she expands into a giant blueberry ("Violet, you're turning violet!").
In the other, he shows off a teleporter can send a miniature bar of chocolate to a real TV in someone's living room. Someone watching TV can simply snatch it from the screen. "If these people can break up a photograph into millions of pieces and send the pieces whizzing through the air and then put them together again at the other end, why can't I do the same thing with a bar of chocolate?" he challenges.
Roald Dahl's creations were limited only by the imagination. But real-life innovations are too. And technology from the National University of Singapore aims to kind of do a mix of Wonka's two taste-tests — without, we hope, the unfortunate side effect of turning into a blueberry.
It's called a "digital lollipop," and it sends electrical and thermal stimulation to different parts of the tongue to simulate flavors.
In the prototypes developed so far by Nimesha Ranasinghe and his team, users put silver electrodes on the tip of their tongue, connected manually or with Bluetooth to a control computer. The electrodes then transmit non-harmful electrical currents and slight changes in temperature. The varying currency, frequency and temperature stimulate the tongue's taste receptors, producing the illusion of taste.
So far, they've been able to successfully simulate sour, salty, minty (especially as the electrodes cool down) and spicy (especially as the electrodes heat up) sensations. They've been mildly successful with bitter and sweet sensations, according to a paper published in October.
This, of course, is still far from creating the illusion of tomato soup or anything remotely complex. It's nowhere near the complexity even of chemically synthesized flavors.
But if it worked, it could be used as part of an ultra-sensory media experience where flavors are transmitted remotely to an electronic device in the user's mouth. Imagine tasting food on TV cooking shows, getting rewarded with a treat for succeeding in a video game or sharing a meal with a friend on social media.
"In the future, we believe that this technology will be further enhanced to develop new applications in remote multi-sensory interactions," Ranasinghe and his team wrote in a 2012 research paper. "For example, the possibility of tasting food remotely without physically consuming it."
Science and technology magazine New Scientist writes that it could also be used to help people stop consuming sugary drinks and give diabetics a risk-free sugar hit.
It's interesting to note that the perception of taste comes from more than just taste bud receptors. The researchers say it's also shown to be influenced by texture, color and smell. And we've already written about researchers in Japan trying to simulate scents from an iPhone, so maybe they can collaborate. We'll take some credit if they do.
The essence of the budget deal reached by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is better understood by looking at what's missing, rather than what's included in it.
The agreement by the budget committee chairs is no grand bargain. It's more like a mini-bargain. And all the missing elements are absent precisely because the yawning ideological rift between Washington Democrats and Republicans made it impossible to include those items and still have the votes to get to "yes" and avoid a government shutdown in mid-January.
In short, it's the really hard stuff that didn't make it into the agreement.
So what's missing? Plenty. Here are some of the holes:
- Unemployment insurance extension — Democrats had wanted an extension of unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed in the deal. But Republicans resisted. So an extension isn't in the deal. Democrats hope one can be negotiated outside the Murray-Ryan mini-bargain. This is the season for hope, after all, though it all probably feels like a lump of coal in the the stocking if you're one of those long-term unemployed.
- Taxes — Republicans were adamant that any deal couldn't raise revenue through new taxes so there are none. Instead, the deal raises money to offset reduced sequester cuts through new or higher fees. For instance, the deal essentially raises the maximum aviation security fee a passenger pays for a one-way flight to $5.60 from $5. So flying just got a little more expensive.
- No tax extenders — There are more than 60 tax provisions set to expire on Dec. 31, largely business tax breaks, according to the Tax Policy Center's TaxVox blog. Congress has routinely extended these in the past but the Murray-Ryan budget deal is silent on these tax provisions. That's another area where the budget negotiators kicked the can down the road.
- Entitlement reform — Republicans, mainly, had sought something in the deal to slow the increasing pressure on federal spending from the rising costs of Medicare and Social Security caused by all those aging Baby Boomers. That's a non-starter for many Democrats, so long as Republicans refuse to consider higher taxes on the wealthiest and corporations.
- Postal savings — Some budget experts saw the Murray-Ryan negotiations as a good chance for Congress to achieve savings through more austerity for the postal service, such as ending Saturday service. But such actions have proven unpopular with many voters so the Murray-Ryan budget negotiators avoided that hornet's nest altogether.
- Doc fix — When negotiations started, health care providers were among those hoping that the the Murray-Ryan budget negotiators would solve the perennial threat that Medicare will slash its reimbursements to physicians. That would be the "doc-fix" you hear so much about in Washington. Alas, the deal contains no doc-fix. That will have to come from elsewhere in Congress.
Jason Bentley, KCRW Music Director
Of Montreal was founded by singer Kevin Barnes back in 1996; ever since, the Athens, Ga., group has continued to explore new creative possibilities, as true artists do. The band recently returned to Morning Becomes Eclectic to showcase songs from its new album, including "Fugitive Air."
While Ukrainian riot police have reportedly left Kiev's Independence Square, one of the United States' top diplomats says she has told President Viktor Yanukovych that "what happened last night, what has been happening in security terms here, is absolutely impermissible in a European state, in a democratic state."
Victoria Nuland's sharp words followed Tuesday's crackdown at the square. As we reported, "hundreds of riot police ... stormed an anti-government camp in the capital's Independence Square, with police dismantling barricades amid shouts of 'Shame!' and 'We will stand!' from protesters."
Wednesday, Nuland was in Kiev. She reported afterward that she "spent more than two hours with President Yanukovych. It was a tough conversation, but it was a realistic one. I made it absolutely clear to him that what happened last night, what has been happening in security terms here, is absolutely impermissible in a European state, in a democratic state."
But, Nuland added, "we also made clear that we believe there is a way out for Ukraine, that it is still possible to save Ukraine's European future and that is what we want to see the president lead. But that is going to require immediate security steps and getting back into a conversation with Europe and with the International Monetary Fund, and bringing justice and dignity to the people of Ukraine. I have no doubt after our meeting that President Yanukovych knows what he needs to do. The whole world is watching. We want to see a better future for Ukraine."
The State department also posted pictures of Nuland offering food to some of the protesters and to some of the riot police.
Also in Kiev on Wednesday to pressure the government to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis: European Union diplomat Catherine Ashton.
The protests, as we wrote Tuesday, began late last month after Yanukovych "backed away from an agreement to strengthen economic ties with the 28-nation European Union — a pact that enjoyed the support of roughly half of the people in the former Soviet republic. By moving closer to the EU, Ukraine would have weakened links with Russia, which has dominated the region for centuries."
NPR's Corey Flintoff is in Kiev. He reports that it's hard to say what will happen next. It was "a shock to everyone when the government decided to bring in riot troops and try to forceably clear the square," he tells our Newscast Desk.
Secretary of State John Kerry said after the police action that the U.S. is "disgusted" by the use of force. His predecessor, Hillary Clinton, tweeted Wednesday that she was "on my way back to the U.S. from Madiba's [Nelson Mandela's] funeral and watching what's going on in Ukraine with alarm."
A doctor, a vegan, a researcher and a farmer recently waded into a hot-button topic in the food world: Is it a bad idea to eat meat?
They faced off two against two on the topic for the Intelligence Squared U.S. series. In an Oxford-style debate, they delved into the medical, ethical and environmental arguments surrounding the motion "Don't Eat Anything With A Face."
Before the debate, the audience at New York's Kaufman Music Center voted 24 percent in favor of the motion and 51 percent against, with 25 percent undecided. After the debate, 45 percent agreed with the motion, while 43 percent disagreed — making the team arguing against eating meat the winners of the debate.
Those debating were:
FOR THE MOTION
Neal Barnard, M.D., is adjunct associate professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. He guides numerous clinical trials investigating the effects of diet on body weight, chronic pain and diabetes. Barnard's most recent study of dietary interventions in Type 2 diabetes was funded by the National Institutes of Health. He has authored dozens of scientific publications, 15 books for lay readers, and has hosted three PBS television programs on nutrition and health, ranging from weight loss to Alzheimer's prevention. As president and founder of the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Barnard has worked on efforts to overhaul federal dietary guidelines. He also leads programs advocating for preventive medicine, good nutrition and higher ethical standards in research.
Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, has been called "the conscience of the food movement" by Time magazine. Since the mid-1980s, Baur has campaigned to raise awareness of what he sees as the abuses of industrialized factory farming and a system of cheap food production. His book, Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food (2008), a national bestseller, investigates the ethical questions surrounding beef, poultry, pork, milk and egg production.
AGAINST THE MOTION
Chris Masterjohn is a nutritional sciences researcher who is currently examining the physiological interactions between fat-soluble vitamins A, D and K at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has published six peer-reviewed publications and has submitted one manuscript for review. He also writes two blogs: The Daily Lipid and Mother Nature Obeyed, which is hosted by the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Joel Salatin is a full-time farmer in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. A third-generation alternative farmer, he returned to the farm full-time in 1982 and continued refining and adding to his parents' ideas. The farm serves more than 5,000 families, 10 retail outlets and 50 restaurants, through on-farm sales and metropolitan buying clubs. Salatin has written for magazines such as Stockman Grass Farmer, Acres USA and Foodshed. He is the author of eight books, including Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World (2012). The family's farm, Polyface Inc., was featured in the new New York Times bestseller The Omnivore's Dilemma, by food writer Michael Pollan, and in the award-winning documentary film Food Inc.