How Much Do Planes Actually Get Cleaned in Between Flights?

Photo: Shutterstock

Mile High WeekFlying the “friendly skies” is often hell, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s Mile High Week, and we’re investigating everything flight-related, from how to score cheap tickets to the best time to book, from how to fall asleep on a long-haul flight to how to win the perennial war over armrests. Wheels up.  

It’s usually best, in any situation where you end up with your finger touching your eye or grazing your lips, to not think of where it’s been. That goes double when taking any form of public transit, where your hands touch the places all the other hands of people who are just as gross as you have touched (relax, it’s fine, take it from a New Yorker: constant exposure to germs make you indestructible).

So should we triple this advice when taking air travel? It’s a notoriously unpleasant experience that we all deal with by trying to turn our seats into mobile living rooms, stretching our shoeless feet wherever they fit, gorging on snacks on the little tray, drooling mouth fluids all over the blankets, hiding gum between the pages of the in-flight magazine. Sometimes that relaxation goes too far: Comedian Nicole Byer recently found an actual piece of poop in her plastic-wrapped blanket. And were you even thinking about what happens to those seatback touchscreen monitors before this video went viral this week showing a passenger casually swiping through the options with his bare feet?

Advertisement

Of course, planes are “cleaned” in between flights—you know this because it’s one of the reasons you’re given for why you can’t get on the dang plane yet when you can see it sitting right there. It can seem like a nebulous excuse, like telling your editor “just tightening this story up!” when actually you’ve only written about 100 words. So we asked some airlines: what does “cleaning” the flight actually entail?

Advertisement

In between flights

The airlines we talked to (Southwest, Spirit and United) have general guidelines on what can be cleaned in between flights, and what will get attention only during a deep-clean at the end of the day.

Advertisement

A spokesperson for Southwest Airlines told us aircraft cabins and galleys are “tidied and refreshed” between flights by both flight attendants and other crew. That means picking up items from seats, seatbacks and cabin floors. Flight attendants walk through the cabin to visually inspect and pick up junk in each row as needed. The spokesman said the airline, which runs as many 4,000 flights a day, also has portable sweepers on board that can be used to clean carpet areas that need special attention. Other crew members refresh the galleys and can mop the galley floor, if needed. A typical cleaning turnaround is 30 to 40 minutes.

Spirit Airlines, which operates 600 daily flights to 76 airports, follows a similar system, but a spokesperson did specifically mention cleaning the bathrooms:

Advertisement

“All aircrafts are cleaned after each flight,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. “In addition to a full service lavatory clean, we remove all guest trash, restock necessary items, wipe down countertops, vacuum the cabin’s center carpet and disinfect.”

Advertisement

Spirit’s timeframe for completing a cleaning depends on how long the plane is on the ground, and both flight attendants and an outside cleaning crew are used in between flights. Both Southwest and Spirit don’t offer seatback screens, so no worry about your foot-to-finger transmission there.

United is much bigger boy of the skies, with 4,900 daily flights to 355 destinations. A spokesperson told us that between flights, crews focus on the bathrooms and galley. Then each night, tray tables and armrests are wiped down and disinfected and floors are vacuumed. Tray tables and seatback monitors are, in fact, cleaned after every flight.

Advertisement

Deep Cleans

On United planes, “regular” (the airline didn’t say how often specifically) deep cleans involve washing ceilings and overhead bins and completely scrubbing the entire interior.

Advertisement

Southwest also told us its Aircraft Appearance Teams perform “a thorough cleaning every night,” covering a detailed checklist of items in the galleys, bathrooms and sanitizing of food surfaces, disinfecting all hard surfaces within the cabin and cleaning the carpet.

Spirit has a deeper cleaning program that’s based on aircraft use, which tackles every area of the aircraft, including metal areas under the seats, seat tracks, seat track coverings and leather conditioning plus all galley compartment walls, ceilings and doors are opened and cleaned.

Advertisement

“Our team will spend the entire night on one plane as this clean is extremely detailed,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

So all this to say is that an airplane is mostly just spot cleaned in between flights, which makes it better than your average bus or subway train, but doesn’t get a deep clean all that often, which is true of most public spaces your body typically occupies and that you don’t think about that often.

Advertisement

How to minimize your germ contact

If this still freaks you out at all, study up on the germiest spots on an airplane and try out some of these germaphobe tips for air travel (or at least learn how to avoid the obvious sick person on the plane). Even Naomi Campbell revealed she’s an airplane germaphobe this week: she shared a video of her preflight ritual that involves actual disposable plastic gloves and scrubbing down every surface (this reporter definitely sides with braving germs over creating a bunch of disposable plastic waste though!).

Advertisement

Giving planes a deeper cleaning would delay your flight more, and some of us would gladly trade a full scrubdown for faster boarding time and cheaper flights. So like we said, it’s best not to worry too much about germs, because they’re not as bad for you as you think. But if you want to wipe down your touch screen before you take off your shoes, no one will blame you.

Quickly Thaw Frozen Food Using These Techniques

Photo: Nick Sarro (Unsplash)

If you’ve ever found yourself in a position where you need to defrost some chicken thighs ASAP, you’ve probably wondered which thawing method is best and also quickest. Well, you’re in luck—because that’s exactly what we’re about to tell you.

But before we get to thawing, you should know some of the best practices to freeze food. If it’s not frozen right in the first place, the thawing process will be inconsistent and there’s a higher chance of developing bacteria. The Kitchn claims to have a foolproof method that keeps frozen meats good for three months:

When packaging meats for the freezer, the most important thing is to protect them from exposure to air. Wrap meats very tightly in either plastic wrap or freezer paper, pressing the wrapping right up against the surface of the meat. Next, wrap another layer of aluminum foil around the meat or seal it inside a zip-top freezer bag. Packaged like this, meat can be kept frozen for at least three months.

Advertisement

Now that you have your meat, you need to know how to thaw it correctly for the best taste. Let’s go.

Avoid room temperature

Photo: Jez Timms ( (Unsplash)

Advertisement

The first rule of thaw club is that we don’t talk about room temperature. Just keeping your frozen food out on the countertop for a long time is asking for trouble.

Remember, the “danger zone” for bacterial growth in food is between 40°F and 140°F (5°C and 60°C), and sitting right in the middle of that is “room temperature,” around 68°-70°F (20°-22°C). A couple of hours at room temperature will certainly make sure that the meat is thawed, but it’s a field day for bacterial growth as well, especially as the deeper parts of your cut begin to come up to temp while the outsides have been room temperature for hours.

Advertisement

If you are going to thoroughly cook it later, there’s a good chance that bacteria like E. Coli will get destroyed in the process. But as a general safety practice, it’s better to avoid thawing at room temperature. So what are your alternatives?

Advertisement

Pop it into the fridge

Photo: Ernest Brillo ( (Unsplash)

Advertisement

Works with: Meat, fruits, some vegetables, frozen foods

The most common thawing technique, and one of the safest, is to take your frozen food out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator. This takes longer than any other process, but you are assured that since it is confined to the cold environment of your fridge, it won’t develop bacteria.

Advertisement

The other benefit is that a fridge’s temperature is controlled, so your thawing process is more even. You do need to make sure that the temperature is 40°F or below. Of course, the closer you are to 40 Fahrenheit, the faster the meat will thaw, but 35-40 is the best zone. Additionally, there isn’t a rapid cool-down from the freezing temperature so again, you get some uniformity. The USDA adds that the freezer-to-fridge process also keeps thawed food safer for longer and retains the ability to refreeze:

After thawing in the refrigerator, items such as ground meat, stew meat, poultry, seafood, should remain safe and good quality for an additional day or two before cooking; red meat cuts (such as beef, pork or lamb roasts, chops and steaks) 3 to 5 days. Food thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking, although there may be some loss of quality.

Advertisement

But the freezer-to-fridge method takes time. Depending on the size of your food, you might have to leave it in the fridge anywhere from 8-24 hours. Not everyone plans their meals that much in advance.

Advertisement

Use a cold water bath

Photo: Dana DeVolk  ((Unsplash)

Advertisement

Works with: Meat, fruits

If you plan on cooking the food immediately and need to thaw it quickly, a cold water bath is a good option. It does take attention, however, so it’s not going to be as simple as the fridge technique, according to the USDA.

Advertisement

You will need to wrap your food in a sealed plastic bag, making sure there are no leaks. If your frozen food already came in a plastic bag, just to be safe, throw it into a Ziploc bag. Since we are going to submerge this in water, you’re better to be safe than sorry.

Grab a bowl in which your frozen food can fit and fill it with cold tap water. Submerge your sealed food into this water. You will need to change the water whenever it comes to room temperature—on average, this is about 30 minutes, but it could vary depending on your climate, so pay attention.

Advertisement

If that seems like too much trouble, The Kitchn says that you can also keep it running under a rapidly dripping faucet as long as the water is cool to the touch. But that’ll use up a lot more water.

Depending on the size and nature of your food, it will defrost in an hour or less, but larger frozen foods (like a whole turkey) can take up to three hours. In those situations, it’ll take about 30 minutes per pound.

Advertisement

The USDA is adamant about one point: you need to cook the food after a cold water bath. It can’t be refrozen.

Advertisement

Last-minute for thin cuts: use a hot water bath

Works with: Meat, fruits

When you need your meat thawed as quickly as possible, your best bet is probably a hot water bath. But you will need water that is at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, ideally. Two studies back this up: The USDA tested the method with beef steaks, while the Utah State University used chicken breasts.

Advertisement

The hot water bath is meant for thin cuts only, so your large roasts and whole turkeys are still left best in the fridge. But for a quick steak, it’s a great last-minute solution.

In the tests, the beef thawed in 11 minutes at 102 degrees, while the chicken thawed in 8.5 minutes at 140 degrees. Both studies found that not only did a hot water bath speed up the process over refrigeration, but tasters could not tell the difference between fridge-thawed and hot-water-thawed meats later.

Advertisement

But as The New York Times warns, your results will vary and this method isn’t for everyone:

Quick-thawing is easy to adopt in the home kitchen. But don’t expect your thaw times to match the lab times I’ve quoted unless you have an immersion circulator or another method to keep the water in motion and at a constant temperature. If the water is still, a cold zone develops around the food and insulates it from the remaining warm water. And without infusions of hot water or heat from a burner, the icy food cools the water bath.

Advertisement

To avoid the still water, it’s best to stir it occasionally, or run a steady drip of hot water in the bath. And yeah, like the cold water bath, you need to cook this after thawing; there’s no refreezing.

Advertisement

Immediate cooking: Microwave it

Photo: Miles Rausch ( (Flickr)

Advertisement

Works with: Meat, fruits, some vegetables, frozen foods

This isn’t a method you should use unless you want to cook immediately. Chances are, you need to prep other things so the half hour needed for the cold water bath is a reliable option in most cases. But just in case you need your fix right now, then turn to the microwave and its defrost setting.

Advertisement

There are a few things to keep in mind here. Of course, for the microwave process, you need to remove all plastics and keep the meat in a microwave-safe bowl or plate. The biggest problem with thawing in the microwave is that they have hot spots which heat your food unevenly and can even start cooking your food, which you definitely don’t want. So you need to be ready to cook as soon as thawing is done, says the USDA:

Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn’t have been destroyed and, indeed, the food may have reached optimal temperatures for bacteria to grow.

Advertisement

Like with the hot water bath method, this is best left for thinner slices than large meats. If you do need to microwave larger meats, then follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the back.

Advertisement

Speed it up: pour some vinegar on it It Up:

Works with: Meat

To fire it up if you can’t get enough, you may want to pour some vinegar on it. This is a two-in-one trick since it speeds up the process while also tenderizing the meat. The vinegar lowers the freezing temperature while its acid deliciously breaks down connective tissues. And it can be rinsed off later if necessary.

Advertisement

Boil it: don’t thaw veggies, cook them

Photo: Lizzardo ( (Flickr)

Advertisement

Works with: All vegetables

Contrary to what you may have heard, most frozen vegetables don’t need to be thawed. You are better off putting them directly in boiling water. Vegetables are usually flash-frozen directly after picking, which means they retain most of their nutrients. The thawing process can release these nutrients. The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) notes a few exceptions that should be partially thawed, including corn on the cob:

Most frozen vegetables should be cooked without thawing first. Corn on the cob should be partially thawed before cooking in order for the cob to be heated through by the time the corn is cooked. Letting the corn sit after thawing or cooking causes sogginess. Leafy greens, such as turnip greens and spinach, cook more evenly if partially thawed before cooking.

Advertisement

The cooking process is up to you. The NCHFP recommends putting them directly in boiling water, with a ratio of a half cup of water to a pint package. The Kitchn finds that boiling frozen veggies makes them icky, so they recommend steaming them into the microwave with the water going one-third of the way up the side of the vegetables.

With either method, you want to remember one thing: frozen vegetables will release water rapidly, so take that into account when adding your own water. You don’t want to end up with a mushy mess.

Advertisement

When can you refreeze thawed food?

This is a simple rule to follow: Unless you have opted for the refrigeration method of thawing, you should never refreeze thawed food as-is. You can cook the food and freeze it again, though.

Advertisement

Sometimes, you may be halfway through the thawing process when you decide you don’t need the frozen food and want to pop it back in. How do you tell if the food has completely thawed or not? The best way is to use an appliance thermometer and check if it has hit 40°F. If it’s still below that, you can safely pop it back into the freezer. Above 40°F, you will need to cook it.

Not everyone has an appliance thermometer though, in which case, Foodsafety.gov has prepared a handy chart that will let you know what you can eat and what you need to toss out.

Advertisement

This story was originally published on 4/28/14 and was updated on 7/19/19 to provide more thorough and current information.

Watch the Best Episodes of a TV Series With ShowSkimmer

Seinfeld: “The Puffy Shirt”Screenshot: Castle Rock Entertainment

The site ShowSkimmer is a new tool for finding the best episodes of a TV show. Search for a series, and ShowSkimmer will list the best 5, 10, 25, or 50 episodes, in chronological order. It’s a great way to watch a series while skipping all the forgettable episodes—which is especially good for long-running sitcoms with light plots and a lot of time to fill. If you’re watching something short like Atlanta or Fleabag, you should watch every episode. If you’re plowing through ten seasons of Friends, you can afford to skip some.

ShowSkimmer gives each episode a rating out of 100. According to its creator, these ratings are partly based on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes ratings, but they’re partly derived by searching for series and episode titles and seeing which return the most results. So an episode can get a high rating through good reviews or by being mentioned frequently. That probably gives a boost to pilots and finales, or other middling but “important” episodes of a show.

Advertisement

Our spot-checks show respectable, if ruthless, results. The best Community episodes are mostly in seasons 2 and 3, and the list skips the Dan Harmon-less season 4 altogether. The top 50 list for The Office starts a few episodes into season 2, after the show’s rough start, and covers most of the middle seasons up to Michael Scott’s departure, skipping the weak late seasons and returning for the last three for closure. Apart from ignoring too many early foundational episodes, this system really seems to know how to watch a long-running sitcom.

Parks and Recreation starts in season 2 as well, and spends most of its time in seasons 4 and 5. (In practice, you probably need to watch a little more of seasons 2 and 3 to get used to the characters in their element, before the later seasons push them into new situations.) And if you’ve watched the show, you’ll recognize episode titles like “Hunting Trip,” “Jerry’s Painting,” and “Ron and Tammys.” And even if you didn’t care for the silly final season, you really do have to watch the two-part series finale, with its Six Feet Under-style flash forwards. Just as ShowSkimmer recommends.

Advertisement

The site is less useful for anything with an important plot. A list of 10 great Breaking Bad episodes doesn’t do you any good; those episodes lose all their heft when separated from the full story. Even Arrested Development, with its intricate web of callbacks, suffers too much from a skimming approach. And if a show has under 35 episodes, ShowSkimmer doesn’t even bother to include it.

Advertisement

If you want to skim a TV series, you have other options. There’s a great trend of entertainment sites listing the best episodes of classic shows. The Ringer collected the best 100 Simpsons episodes; Rolling Stone collected the best 150. Unfortunately, many of these lists are sorted by quality ranking, not by watch order. (An excellent exception is Cards Against Humanity founder Max Temkin’s guide to the best of Star Trek: The Next Generation.) Even if you’re only watching the 25 best episodes of Seinfeld, you’ll still enjoy them more if you watch them in order.

You can also crawl through IMDb yourself, watching every episode above a certain rating. (That’s how I’ve been approaching Frasier. I’ve determined that the true minimum rating for a good episode is 8.2.) You can do the same with ratings from Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes, or from recap sites like A.V. Club. It’s a decent approach that lets you evaluate each episode before choosing to watch. But if you want a quick solution that doesn’t feel like homework, pull up a ShowSkimmer list and dive in.

Advertisement

How to Keep Negative Compounding From Derailing Your Financial Goals

Every penny counts, when you’re saving for retirement or another big financial goal. That includes the pennies you’re paying in brokerage fees and losing to expense ratios—which can add up to a lot more than you realize, thanks to what’s called “negative compounding.”

Negative compounding is essentially the opposite of compounding. It represents the money you could have earned in compounding gains, but didn’t.

Advertisement

As MarketWatch explains:

If you buy an expensive mutual fund, one that costs you around 1% of your balance per year in fees, that’s 1% of your entire retirement savings being subtracted each and every year.

It’s not 1% of your savings in that year or 1% of your gain. It’s 1% of everything you’ve ever saved and all the money that you’ve earned from compounding, taken from you.

Thus the effect of a 1% fee in a stock mutual fund is that you lose one-third and up to one-half of your potential gains to the fund’s managers. You’ve effectively sandbagged your own retirement.

Advertisement

This is another argument for why you should invest in low-cost index funds or low-cost ETFs, but we can take it even further than that and apply the negative compounding ethos to any potential purchase.

That is: Would you rather have the item you’re about to buy, or all of the compounded gains that money might earn for you in the future?

Advertisement

Yes, there’s always some risk involved in investing. On the other hand, since the compound interest you’ll get from sticking that money in a savings account probably won’t beat inflation, the three bucks you’re thinking about putting towards a cup of coffee (why is it always coffee) will probably be worth less in the future than it’s worth right now unless you invest it.

On the third hand, don’t forget that buying stuff can add value to your life that comes with its own compound gains—the benefits of regularly visiting a coffee shop where you see people you know and feel integrated with your community, for example.

Advertisement

Still, if you’re trying to grow your net worth, save for retirement, pay down debt, sock away enough money for a down payment, and all of the other big financial goal stuff that usually gets listed here, thinking about how to avoid negative compounding is a smart move. This means:

Advertisement

And then… well, compounding takes time, so you might have to wait a while. But at least your money isn’t compounding in the wrong direction.

How to go to market in middle America

There comes a time for many startup companies where they either realize they need to do a nationwide rollout, or they need to actively target buyers in the middle of the country. If you are a startup on either the East or the West Coasts, it’s worth thinking about how this market might present its own set of unique challenges, and how you plan to overcome them.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what some people call “flyover country,” and as a San Francisco native who spent two decades in New York, Washington DC, and Boston before moving to Pittsburgh, I can assure you they are almost all wrong. Without getting into specifics, the reality of “middle America” is that it’s the same as anywhere else.

Income, education, world view, and waistlines are all varied. It’s pretty accurate that San Francisco possesses a culture obsessed with fitness and entrepreneurship, but California isn’t necessarily all like that, and if you think it is, I encourage you to go to Bakersfield, the Central Valley, or Eureka sometime.

In addition, just because the stereotypes are wrong doesn’t mean there’s nothing different about doing business here. As you think about how to conduct your rollout, here are some things you should consider:

Table of Contents

Research

As with any market, research is key since it informs every other aspect of the rollout. Start by looking into who your competition is.

Since there are fewer VC-backed startups in middle America, and smaller companies tend to get less press, the research may be harder. However, there are some major universities that are actively putting money into their own Entrepreneurship programs and those spinoffs often do very well.

Lyft expands its PIN feature for airport pickups to LaGuardia

Lyft has announced an expansion of its new program designed to make airport pickups less confusing for riders and drivers alike, by directing riders to a designated pickup spot where they’ll show the driver a PIN code. The program is launching this weekend at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, the company says, and the plan to roll out a similar experience at other airports in the future still remains.

Starting on Saturday, July 20 at LaGuardia, users who request a Lyft ride won’t have to search for their vehicle at the usual and often busy pickup areas. Instead, they’ll be directed through the Lyft app to a designated Lyft pickup spot, located in the Terminal B Garage, Area G.

A screen will pop up after the user enters their ride request and destination that explains how to get to the Lyft pickup area, and will display a button that says “Get Code.” Riders tap this button for a unique code they’ll show their driver, which matches them to that ride.

This way, Lyft users can hop in the first available car as opposed to waiting for a particular driver to arrive.

Screen Shot 2019 07 19 at 12.25.08 PM

The company says it will have Lyft ambassadors on hand to assist as the new program rolls out.

The end result is effectively a ridesharing alternative to an airport taxi line. It also comes shortly after Lyft announced a similar program in May in partnership with the Portland International Airport (PDX), as did Uber. That made Portland the first U.S. airport to participate in Uber’s pilot, following its trials of PIN pickups in Bangalore.

LaGuardia, meanwhile, will be the first East Coast airport to offer such an option, according to reports.

Only standard Lyft rides are available for the feature, Lyft notes.

The company didn’t say which other airports will receive the feature in the future. But it may not always make sense, as it requires the airport to offer a designated pickup spot — and capacity for that could be limited in some cases. In addition, the location of the pickup spot plays a key role as to whether such a feature is even useful, as both Uber and Lyft are now finding out.

Both companies have been making the headlines in recent days due to their pickup problems at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO), following their move to a new pickup location. With wait times pushing 24-28 minutes, both services saw increased cancellations, according to local reports.

Meanwhile, LaGuardia has been experiencing all kinds of problems of its own, but related to construction. This included traffic backups that led to Uber and Lyft drivers getting stuck trying to get to the pickup spot. Because of these problems, LaGuardia may not have been the best airport for this latest expansion, as Lyft won’t know the feature’s true impact on efficiency for some time.

Powering the brains of tomorrow’s intelligent machines

Sense and compute are the electronic eyes and ears that will be the ultimate power behind automating menial work and encouraging humans to cultivate their creativity. 

These new capabilities for machines will depend on the best and brightest talent, and investors who are building and financing companies aiming to deliver the AI chips destined to be the neurons and synapses of robotic brains.

Like any other Herculean task, this one is expected to come with big rewards. And it will bring with it big promises, outrageous claims and suspect results. Right now, it’s still the Wild West when it comes to measuring AI chips up against each other.

Remember laptop shopping before Apple made it easy? Cores, buses, gigabytes and GHz have given way to “Pro” and “Air.” Not so for AI chips.

Roboticists are struggling to make heads and tails out of the claims made by AI chip companies. Every passing day without autonomous cars puts more lives at risk of human drivers. Factories want humans to be more productive while out of harm’s way. Amazon wants to get as close as possible to Star Trek’s replicator by getting products to consumers faster.

A key component of that is the AI chips that will power these efforts. A talented engineer making a bet on her career to build AI chips, an investor looking to underwrite the best AI chip company and AV developers seeking the best AI chips need objective measures to make important decisions that can have huge consequences. 

A metric that gets thrown around frequently is TOPS, or trillions of operations per second, to measure performance. TOPS/W, or trillions of operations per second per Watt, is used to measure energy efficiency. These metrics are as ambiguous as they sound. 

What are the operations being performed on? What’s an operation? Under what circumstances are these operations being performed? How does the timing by which you schedule these operations impact the function you are trying to perform? Is your chip equipped with the expensive memory it needs to maintain performance when running “real-world” models? Phrased differently, do these chips actually deliver these performance numbers in the intended application?

Image via Getty Images / antoniokhr

What’s an operation?

The core mathematical function performed in training and running neural networks is a convolution, which is simply a sum of multiplications. A multiplication itself is a bunch of summations (or accumulation), so are all the summations being lumped together as one “operation,” or does each summation count as an operation? This little detail can result in a difference of 2x or more in a TOPS calculation. For the purpose of this discussion, we’ll use a complete multiply and accumulate (or MAC) as “two operations.” 

What are the conditions?

Is this chip operating full-bore at close to a volt or is it sipping electrons at half a volt? Will there be sophisticated cooling or is it expected to bake in the sun? Running chips hot, and trickling electrons into them, slows them down. Conversely, operating at modest temperature while being generous with power allows you to extract better performance out of a given design. Furthermore, does the energy measurement include loading up and preparing for an operation? As you will see below, overhead from “prep” can be as costly as performing the operation itself.

What’s the utilization?

Here is where it gets confusing. Just because a chip is rated at a certain number of TOPS, it doesn’t necessarily mean that when you give it a real-world problem it can actually deliver the equivalent of the TOPS advertised. Why? It’s not just about TOPS. It has to do with fetching the weights, or values against which operations are performed, out of memory and setting up the system to perform the calculation. This is a function of what the chip is being used for. Usually, this “setup” takes more time than the process itself. The workaround is simple: fetch the weights and set up the system for a bunch of calculations, then do a bunch of calculations. The problem with that is that you’re sitting around while everything is being fetched, and then you’re going through the calculations.  

Flex Logix (my firm Lux Capital is an investor) compares the Nvidia Tesla T4’s actual delivered TOPS performance versus the 130 TOPS it advertises on its website. They use ResNet-50, a common framework used in computer vision: it requires 3.5 billion MACs (equivalent to two operations, per above explanation of a MAC) for a modest 224×224 pixel image. That’s 7 billion operations per image. The Tesla T4 is rated at 3,920 images/second, so multiply that by the required 7 billion operations per image, and you’re at 27,440 billion operations per second, or 27 TOPS, well shy of the advertised 130 TOPS.  

Screen Shot 2019 07 19 at 6.13.46 AM

Batching is a technique where data and weights are loaded into the processor for several computation cycles. This allows you to make the most of compute capacity, BUT at the expense of added cycles to load up the weights and perform the computations. Therefore if your hardware can do 100 TOPS, memory and throughput constraints can lead you to only getting a fraction of the nameplate TOPS performance.

Where did the TOPS go? Scheduling, also known as batching, of the setup and loading up the weights followed by the actual number crunching takes us down to a fraction of the speed the core can perform. Some chipmakers overcome this problem by putting a bunch of fast, expensive SRAM on chip, rather than slow, but cheap off-chip DRAM. But chips with a ton of SRAM, like those from Graphcore and Cerebras, are big and expensive, and more conducive to data centers.  

There are, however, interesting solutions that some chip companies are pursuing.

Compilers

Traditional compilers translate instructions into machine code to run on a processor. With modern multi-core processors, multi-threading has become commonplace, but “scheduling” on a many-core processor is far simpler than the batching we describe above. Many AI chip companies are relying on generic compilers from Google and Facebook, which will result in many chip companies offering products that perform about the same in real-world conditions. 

Chip companies that build proprietary, advanced compilers specific to their hardware, and offer powerful tools to developers for a variety of applications to make the most of their silicon and Watts, will certainly have a distinct edge. Applications will range from driverless cars to factory inspection to manufacturing robotics to logistics automation to household robots to security cameras.  

New compute paradigms

Simply jamming a bunch of memory close to a bunch of compute results in big chips that sap up a bunch of power. Digital design is one of the trade-offs, so how can you have your lunch and eat it too? Get creative. Mythic (my firm Lux is an investor) is performing the multiply and accumulates inside of embedded flash memory using analog computation. This empowers them to get superior speed and energy performance on older technology nodes. Other companies are doing fancy analog and photonics to escape the grips of Moore’s Law.

Ultimately, if you’re doing conventional digital design, you’re limited by a single physical constraint: the speed at which a charge travels through a transistor at a given process node. Everything else is optimization for a given application. Want to be good at multiple applications? Think outside the VLSI box!

How to Travel Abroad With Your Pet

Traveling is fun and exciting, but traveling with my 40-pound Aussie mix is not my idea of a good time.

Bodie just isn’t a great travel companion: he’s high energy, high anxiety, and sensitive to sound and motion. Flying with him would be a nightmare. That doesn’t mean we haven’t considered bringing him along on our adventures abroad—but there are a lot of rules to follow and forms to fill out (as well as his safety and comfort to consider).

Advertisement

But maybe you have the kind of pet who’s ready for adventure! Or you’re moving and your pet doesn’t have much of a choice. Here’s what you need to know before you travel internationally with your pet.

Research import and quarantine rules

The biggest difference between flying across the US with your pet and flying around the world is the import restrictions imposed by each country. The US Department of Agriculture has a database of export requirements, where you can search for the country you’re traveling to.

Advertisement

While each country has its own rules, there are a few things you can expect to need:

  • An official health certificate signed by a USDA-accredited veterinarian and a medical officer from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
  • Your pet’s microchip information
  • Updated vaccination records, rabies certificate, and possible parasite treatments
  • An import permit for the country you’re traveling to

Most countries allow dogs and cats from abroad, but many restrict the entry of birds, ferrets, rabbits, and other pets. Some also have breed restrictions for dogs and cats.

Advertisement

You’ll also need to research arrival procedures. For example, you may have to enter at specific airports with your pet. Some countries have mandatory quarantine periods; others impose quarantine if you don’t meet entry requirements. Your pet could also be sent back or even (rarely, in a worst-case scenario) euthanized.

Confirm with your airline

In addition to your customs paperwork, you’ll need to make sure the airline you’re flying allows pets aboard. Domestic airlines have their own rules about age, size, and documentation requirements for animals. Some international airlines are pet-friendly, others less so.

Advertisement

You can expect to pay a fee for flying with your pet in the cabin or cargo hold. Airline reps may also ask for your pet’s medical records before allowing them on board. If you’re traveling with a service animal, read up on the airline’s policies.

It’s best to contact your airline directly—don’t assume anything before you arrive at the airport. Here are the numbers the US State Department lists for several US-based carriers:

Advertisement

American Airlines

  • Reservations: 800-433-7300
  • Air Cargo Section: 800-227-4622

Delta

  • Reservations: 800-241-4141
  • Live Animal Desk: 888-736-3738 or 888-SEND-PET or 866-782-2746

United Airlines

  • International Reservations: 800-538-2929
  • Live Cargo: 800-825-3788

If traveling on your flight isn’t an option, you may want to consider a pet transport company.

Advertisement

Get your vet’s signature

You’ll have to see your vet to get health records and certificates signed, whether they’re required by your destination country, your airline, or both. Again, regulations vary—some countries will accept a basic letterhead record from a licensed vet, while others demand an official from with original signatures from a USDA-accredited vet and an APHIS medical officer.

Advertisement

The USDA has a handy checklist for how to get an international health certificate for your pet.

You should also talk to your vet about how to minimize stress on your pet, including when and how much to feed them prior to flying and whether sedation is safe (and permitted by your airline).

Advertisement

Mitigate your pet’s stress

Learning the rules and filling out the proper paperwork is a hassle for you—but keep in mind that traveling can be really hard on your pet. If they aren’t small enough to fit under your airplane seat, they’ll have to fly in the cargo hold. This is stressful at best and dangerous at worst, as some breeds with respiratory difficulties can have trouble breathing in varying cargo conditions.

Advertisement

Plus, for longer flights, your pet will be without food, exercise, or comfort for hours at a time. There are laws regulating animal welfare on airplanes, but some pets may not tolerate it well.

Before you fly anywhere (domestic or international) with your pet, make sure you’re prepared with the right carrier and accessories. Begin planning well in advance so you can make arrangements and collect any special equipment you’ll need.

Advertisement

Parrot’s getting out of the low-end drone business

Parrot announced the AR.Drone back at CES 2010, three years before DJI’s Phantom 1. It was a seemingly odd move by a company best known for making Bluetooth speakers and headsets, but over the years it’s continued to release fairly novel takes on the growing category.

Two years back, the French company announced its intentions to shift product away from consumer-focused devices. Since then, it’s been slowly scaling things back, this week confirming a Wirecutter report that it’s leaving the toys behind.

No doubt seeing an insurmountable challenge from China’s DJI, the company is shuttering all drone lines but Anafi. While the line closely resembles DJI’s Mavic products, Parrot has begun to position the foldable quadcopter at enterprise users. As we noted in April, the addition of a Flir thermal camera finds the company targeting construction workers and firefighters.

The move comes as the consumer and hobbyist market continues to grow, but those numbers have been utterly dominated by DJI’s offerings in recent years. Of course, DJI has also been tackling the B2B space, both with souped-up versions of the Mavic line and higher payload devices like the Matrice and Inspire.

Those products can perform a wide range of different tasks, from pesticide spraying to search and rescue.

Mylk Guys wants to be the online vegan grocery store that non-vegans can love

Gaurav Maken, the chief executive officer of the online vegan grocery store Mylk Guys, doesn’t think of his company as a place to just buy food. For him, it’s a testing ground and platform for all of the new food products he expects to be developed as startup entrepreneurs and established food companies start tackling the plant-based and alternative-meat market in earnest.

The company has raised $2.5 million in support of that vision from investors, including Khosla Ventures, Pear Ventures and Fifty Years.

“Today we’re an online grocery store,” says Maken. “We are also a place for cultured meats and any genetically engineered food that allows us to scale our food production and allows us to keep feeding people.”

Screen Shot 2019 07 19 at 8.37.42 AM

Maken isn’t wedded to plant-based products and envisions a virtual store stocked with products that create more sustainable consumption options for its customers. In fact, 40% of the company’s customers are not vegan, according to Maken.  

“We don’t only think about vegans. We think about sustainable food systems,” says Maken. “Our audience is an educated consumer who wants to have less of an impact from their diet… They’re just folks trying to do better with their eating habits.”

Right now, the company sells around 1,300 products through its site. And the pitch that Maken makes to suppliers is that they can access the data around their customers (unlike other online retailers, whose name rhymes with shmamazon).

“We provide analytics and a way for brands to unlock the data coming from their customers,” Maken says. “Our focus is how can we get you a personalized staple that works for you.” 

The company’s top sellers are vegan cheeses like Sparrow Camembert, lines of vegan jerkies and the Beyond Burger, Maken said.

“You can build brands that are successful that are $1 million brands or $5 million brands and the reason why you haven’t is because they haven’t had the platform to provide national distribution to be successful,” says Maken.  

Mylk Guys launched in 2018 and went through the Y Combinator accelerator program. Now, with its new capital, the company is focusing on expanding its sales and marketing on the East Coast, opening a new warehouse for distribution and reaching out to the vegan community on the Eastern Seaboard.

The model for selling more sustainable foods directly to the consumer has at least one precedent. Los Angeles-based Thrive Market raised $111 million in a 2016 round of funding for its online sustainable product-focused grocery store.

As recent reports indicate, the sustainable food business is only growing. Citing reports from Ecovia Intelligence, the publication Environmental Leader reported that organic food sales topped $100 billion for the first time in 2018.