I live in Osaka, Japan and often use the subway to go to work in the morning. One day, when I was waiting for the train, I noticed a homeless man standing in a corner of the subway station, muttering to himself as people passed by. He was holding out a cup and seemed to be begging for spare change.
A fat woman passed by the homeless man and I distinctly heard him say, “Pig.”
Wow, I thought to myself. This homeless man is insulting people and he still expects them to give him money?
Then a tall businessman went by and the homeless guy muttered, “Human.”
Human? I can’t argue with that. Obviously, he was human.
The next day, I arrived early at the subway station and had some time to kill, so I decided to stand close to the homeless man and listen to his strange mutterings.
A thin, haggard-looking man passed in front of him and I heard the homeless guy mutter, “Cow.”
Cow? I thought. The man was much too skinny to be a cow. He looked more like a turkey or a chicken to me.
A minute or so later, a fat man went by and the homeless man said, “Potato.”
Potato? I was under the impression that he called all fat people “Pig”.
That day, at work, I couldn’t stop thinking about the homeless man and his puzzling behavior. I kept trying to find some logic or pattern in what he was muttering.
Perhaps he has some kind of psychic ability, I thought. Maybe he knows what these people were in a previous life. In Japan, many people believe in reincarnation.
I observed the homeless man many times and began to think my theory was right. I often heard him calling people things like “Rabbit” or “Onion” or “Sheep” or “Tomato”.
One day, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to ask him what was going on.
As I walked up to him, he looked at me and said “Bread.”
I tossed some money into his cup and asked him if he had some kind of psychic ability.
The homeless man smiled and said, “Yes, indeed. I do have a psychic ability. It is an ability I obtained years ago. But it is not what you might expect. I can’t tell the future or read minds or anything like that.”
“Then what is your ability?” I asked eagerly.
“The ability is merely to know the last thing somebody ate.” he said.
I laughed because I realized he was right. He said “Bread.” The last thing I had eaten for breakfast that day was toast. I walked away shaking my head. Of all the psychic abilities someone could have, that one must be the most useless.
This ocean drifter houses a complex machine called the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP). The ESP can be used to find harmful algal blooms, other microbes, and plankton in the ocean. After setting up the ESP in the laboratory, technicians place it in the water on a mooring, or suspended from a free-floating buoy as shown here. Although operators can communicate with the ESP from shore, it works on its own, sucking in water samples, extracting the DNA or other genetic material from life in the water, then analyzing that DNA to determine what organisms are present. The ESP can also determine if certain types of genes, such as the genes necessary for nitrogen fixation, are present.