Archive for the ‘Beijing’ Category

London has a dirty secret.

Levels of the harmful air pollutant nitrogen dioxide at a city-center monitoring station are the highest in Europe. Concentrations are greater even than in Beijing, where expatriates have dubbed the city’s smog the “airpocalypse.”

It’s the law of unintended consequences at work. European Union efforts to fight climate change favored diesel fuel over gasoline because it emits less carbon dioxide, or CO2. However, diesel’s contaminants have swamped benefits from measures that include a toll drivers pay to enter central London, a thriving bike-hire program and growing public-transport network.

“Successive governments knew more than 10 years ago that diesel was producing all these harmful pollutants, but they myopically plowed on with their CO2 agenda,” said Simon Birkett, founder of Clean Air in London, a nonprofit group. “It’s been a catastrophe for air pollution, and that’s not too strong a word. It’s a public-health catastrophe.”

Tiny particles called PM2.5s probably killed 3,389 people in London in 2010, the government agency Public Health England said in April. Like nitrogen dioxide, or NO2, they come from diesel combustion. Because the pollutants are found together, it’s hard to identify deaths attributable only to NO2, said Jeremy Langrish, a clinical lecturer in cardiology at the University of Edinburgh.

“Exposure to air pollution is associated with increases in deaths from cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks and strokes,” Langrish said. “It’s associated with respiratory problems like asthma.”

The World Health Organization says NO2 can inflame the airways and worsen bronchitis in children.

London isn’t alone in having bad air in Europe, where 301 sites breached the EU’s NO2 limits in 2012, including seven in the British capital. Paris, Rome, Athens, Madrid, Brussels and Berlin also had places that exceeded the ceiling. The second and third-worst sites among 1,513 monitoring stations were both in Stuttgart after London’s Marylebone Road.

“Nitrogen dioxide is a problem that you get in all big cities with a lot of traffic,” said Alberto Gonzalez Ortiz, project manager for air quality at the European Environment Agency, which is based in Copenhagen. “In many cases it’s gotten worse because of the new fleets of diesel cars.”

The EU limits NO2 to a maximum of 40 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The concentration on Marylebone Road, a stone’s throw from Regent’s Park, was almost 94 micrograms in 2012, according to the most recent data from the EEA.

The level for the site last year was 81 micrograms, and it’s averaging 83 micrograms this year, according to King’s College London. In 1998, when the King’s College data begins, it was 92. That’s about the time the switch to diesel started.

In contrast, Beijing had a concentration of 56 micrograms last year, according to China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection. The Chinese capital has a worse problem with other pollutants, registering almost triple the level of PM10 particles (bigger than PM2.5s) as on Marylebone Road.

London’s air has improved since the “pea-souper” fogs in the 1800s and 1900s. In 1952, the so-called Great Smog killed 4,000 people. East Londoners couldn’t see their feet through a choking blanket of smoke caused when cold air trapped industrial emissions and coal fumes. That led to passage of a clean-air law in 1956, seven years before the U.S. Clean Air Act.

Air pollution and particulates are “invisible and there isn’t the same pressure on politicians” as in the 1950s, said Joan Walley, an opposition Labour Party lawmaker who leads the Parliament’s cross-party Environmental Audit Committee. “It requires a long-term strategy.”

Walley’s committee began an inquiry on May 2 to assess government efforts to improve air quality, calling for written submissions by June 5.

While the government blamed an April spike in pollution on dust from the Sahara alongside domestic emissions and particles from continental Europe, the prevailing winds mean London typically exports its own problem.

“It’s not rocket science to figure out that we contribute mostly on westerly winds to our neighbors,” said Martin Williams, professor of air quality at Kings College.

Europe-wide policy triggered the problem. The “dieselisation” of London’s cars began with an agreement between car manufacturers and the EU in 1998 that aimed to lower the average CO2 emissions of new vehicles. Because of diesel’s greater fuel economy, it increased in favor.

The European Commission, the EU regulatory arm, “is and always has been technologically neutral,” said Joe Hennon, a spokesman. “It does not favor diesel over petrol-powered cars. How to achieve CO2 reductions is up to member states.”

EU rules enforced since 2000 allowed diesel cars to spew more than three times the amount of oxides of nitrogen including NO2 as those using gasoline. New rules that took effect in September narrow that gap.

“The challenge is much greater that we had thought just a few years ago,” said Matthew Pencharz, environment and energy adviser to London Mayor Boris Johnson. “A lot of that is due to a well-meant EU policy that failed. We’re stuck now with these diesel cars — about half our cars are diesel, whereas 10, 15 years ago, it was lower than 10 percent.”

The U.K. Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2011 estimated it would take London until 2025 to comply with the 2010 rules. The government didn’t ask for an extension to comply because doing so comes with a requirement to show it was possible by 2015.

For Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett, the solution is simple: Get people out of their cars.

“Fifty-six percent of journeys we make in Britain are less than 5 miles,” Bennett said in an interview. “If you turn a significant percentage of those into walking and cycling journeys, then you’ve made huge progress.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net James Hertling

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-05-27/london-s-dirty-secret-pollutes-like-beijing-airpocalyse.html

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While investigators are stumped over the fate of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, the lack of evidence as to what happened hasn’t stopped speculation as to the fate of the missing jet and its 239 passengers and crew members.

It’s not unusual for mysterious or dramatic aviation accidents to catch the imaginations of the conspiratorially inclined – the Korean Air Lines Flight 007, Pan Am Flight 103, and TWA Flight 800 tragedies spurred all kinds of claims of conspiracy, and last week’s apparent tragedy in the Gulf of Thailand is no different.

Conspiracy theorists took to social media this week to contribute their own ideas as to why Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared.

1. Aliens are involved: Alexandra Bruce at ForbiddenKnowledgeTV points to records on the flight mapping website Flightradar24 as evidence of extra-terrestrial meddling. She goes so far as to say the “captured signals” could “only be termed a UFO.”

Her source? YouTube user DAHBOO77, who posted a video that attempts to recreate the plane’s last moments. The clip shows a quick-moving plane and other strange anomalies around the time of the MH370’s disappearance from radar.

Loading the logs directly on the site allows readers to easily click and identify the so-called “UFO,” which is clearly marked as Korean Airlines Flight 672. Its apparent supersonic speed is likely related to a glitch in the system, not alien intervention, according to the site’s CEO Mikael Robertsson.

“[Some] receivers do not provide the same data quality, so sometimes parts of the data can be corrupt [and] generate errors like the one you see on the video,” he explained. “For example if Longitude received is 120 instead of 110, that would generate such error.”

2. The passengers are still alive: Families awaiting news about lost loved ones have told reporters they are able to call the cell phones of their missing relatives, and have said they can also see their instant messaging service accounts remain active online.

The news has fueled all kinds of speculation, but phones that are turned off do not always necessarily go straight to voicemail. Factors such as location, the phone’s network type and its proximity to a cell phone tower can all affect whether a dead phone will still ring on the caller’s end.

You can test this for yourself: turn off your cell phone, remove the battery and call your number on another line – most kinds of phones will still ring before you reach voicemail.

3. There’s a Snowden connection: Reddit user Dark_Spectre posted an unusual theory on the website’s conspiracy boards, related to 20 employees of the Texas-based Freescale Semiconductor who were reportedly on the flight:

“So we have the American IBM Technical Storage Executive for Malaysia, a man working in mass storage aggregation for the company implicated by the Snowden papers for providing their services to assist the National Security Agency in surveilling the Chinese.. And now this bunch of US chip guys working for a global leader in embedded processing solutions (embedded smart phone tech and defense contracting) all together..on a plane..And disappeared.. Coincidence??”

Dark_Spectre goes as far as to suggest those chip experts may have been kidnapped by Chinese or American authorities:

“Perhaps a little fast and furious dive under the radar to a flat water landing to rendezvous with a Chinese ship or sub for transport to a black-site for advanced interrogation, scuttling the plane along with the remaining passengers.(any oceanic trenches in fuel capacity distance?) What would 200 lives be to the Chinese intelligence community for the chance to find out ‘exactly’ the depth and scope of our intrusion.”

“US intelligence got late wind that their flying brain-trust of 21 were going to be arrested/detained and interrogated upon landing in China and the US intelligence community deemed the risk too great to their Asian based espionage programs and took appropriate action to “sanitize” the plane in flight.”

So far, there is no evidence of an explosion.

4. Iranians kidnapped engineers: UFO Digest’s Tony Elliott points to revelations that an Iranian national was responsible for buying plane tickets for two passengers with stolen passports as evidence that the country was involved, possibly to extract technological intelligence from Freescale Semiconductor employees.

“If the plane is not found in the next few days, or ever, we must assume the plane was hijacked and taken to a nearby country where that government wants to keep the disappearance a secret,” he wrote. “If this is the case, the two passengers with stolen passports must be the hijackers.”

Elliott concludes that the plane is in East Timor, due to an apparent u-turn made by the plane in its final moments on radar.

“If the Iranian government wanted to hijack the plane, it would have had its hijackers make an abrupt turn and head to the nearest friendly Muslim country,” he wrote. “In this case, it would be East Timor, the most likely country, located in the opposite direction from the flight path.”

The theory doesn’t address why the plane suddenly disappeared from radar entirely – no passenger plane could drop from 36,000 feet to below radar horizon in mere seconds.

5. Passengers were taken to Pyongyang: This map is slightly deceptive – while the trip to both Beijing and Pyongyang appear equidistant, this theory would require the plane fly at extremely low altitudes to avoid radar detection, which – due to greater air density at lower altitudes – would require more fuel to travel the same distance.

6. The Illuminati is involved: “Was looking at the Wikipedia page for the missing Malaysia Airlines, and noticed that it’s was [sic] the 404th 777 Boeing produced,” Redditor i-am-SHER-locked wrote.

“An HTTP 404 error mean [sic] not found, which in this case is oddly approiate [sic] for the status of the aircraft, or just a concidence [sic]. Coincidence, i think not!”

7. There’s a new Bermuda triangle: Though the Bermuda Triangle’s status as one of the sea’s most mysteriously treacherous zones has been debunked for decades, it doesn’t stop some from seeing triangles in the Gulf of Thailand.

8. The plane is in Vietnam, where it is waiting to be used as a weapon: “Conspiracy and prophecy in the news” blogger ShantiUniverse said she has three possible theories about what happened to Flight MH370: A major mechanical error (OK), a terrorist attack (reasonable) or it was whisked away to a secret Vietnamese airport to be used in a later 9/11 style attack (…).

“Flight 370 was last contacted by another unnamed pilot 10 minutes after losing initial contact,” she writes. “He claims the plane was deep into Vietnam airspace. Its [sic] possible it was hijacked and forced to land at another airport, where passengers are being held hostage. There is a long list of former airports and proposed airports in Vietnam. Its also possible since the plane had no contact, it could of [sic] managed to get to Cambodia to a former or proposed airport…Why would terrorist want a plane intact? Though this is highly unlikely, but not impossible, the only reason I can think of is they would want the plane to use as a weapon of mass destruction like on the September 11 attacks.”

9: There was some kind of miniature hydrogen bomb controlled by an iPhone app and it created a miniature black hole: It’s hard to tell whether @Angela_Stalcup’s account is the work of a completely unhinged lunatic or a genius, masterful troll. Wading through claims that Donald Trump runs a prostitution ring through Trump University or that Russian President Vladimir Putin is one of 92 clones of Adolf Hitler, you may stumble upon this gem of a theory about Flight MH370:

10. Terrorists employed a new electromagnetic pulse weapon: Such a device snuck on board and activated would cause the plane to instantly lose power and fall into the ocean. Had this been a test run, terrorists in possession of such a device would now know that it works, and we could expect to see a multitude of such attacks in the future, perhaps in multiple planes simultaneously. This, of course, has been challenged by conflicting reports of persistent electronic communication from the plane after its disappearance.

So what really happened?: The truth is, no one really knows. The AP now cites a senior Malaysian military official who reports the country has radar data detecting the plane in the Malacca Strait – hundreds of miles from the last position recorded by civilian authorities.

*Armchair conspiracy theorists have also speculated (on Twitter, of course) that the passengers on flight 370 have landed on a remote, impossible-to-find island a la “Lost.”

sunrise
This LED screen displays the rising sun in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, which is shrouded in heavy smog on Jan. 16, 2014.

Air pollution in the Chinese capital reached new, choking heights on Thursday. Those who still felt the urge to catch a glimpse of sunlight were able to gather around the city’s gigantic LED screens, where this glorious sunrise was broadcast as part of a patriotic video loop.

Read more: Beijing’s Televised Sunrise | TIME.com http://world.time.com/2014/01/17/beijing-smog-combatted-with-televised-sunrises/#ixzz2qmuRRoma

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

A general view of buildings in Beijing

Zig-zagging left and right through a maze of dark, narrow corridors in a high-rise’s basement, 35-year-old kitchen worker Hu has joined the many thousands of Chinese fleeing fast-rising property prices by heading down – down underground.

Hu lives here beneath an affluent downtown apartment building, in a windowless, 4 square-meter (43 square-foot) apartment with his wife. For 400 yuan ($65.85) a month in rent, there’s no air-conditioning, the only suggestion of heat is a pipe snaking through to deliver gas to the apartments above and the bathroom is a fetid, shared toilet down the hall.

“I can’t afford to rent a house,” said Hu as he showed off his meager appointments. Living in basement apartments isn’t illegal in China, but like anywhere else it is nothing to brag about and Hu, who guts fish for 2,500 yuan a month at a popular Sichuanese hotpot restaurant on the street above, declined to provide his given name. “If I weren’t trying to save money, I wouldn’t live here,” he said.

Locals have dubbed Hu and his fellow subterranean denizens the “rat race” – casualties and simultaneously emblems of a housing market beyond the government’s control.

Despite efforts to discourage property speculation and develop affordable housing, a steady stream of job-seekers from the countryside and a lack of attractive investment alternatives have kept prices soaring. Residential property prices rose 10 percent in November from the same month of 2012, according to data released last week, and have been setting new records every year since 2009. Prices in Beijing are rising even faster – 16 percent a year – with rents climbing 12 percent a year.

That’s pushing more and more newly arrived urbanites underground. Of the estimated 7.7 million migrants living in Beijing, nearly a fifth live either at their workplace or underground, according to state news agency Xinhua. Beijing’s housing authority refuted this statistic, saying in an email to Reuters that a government survey last year found only about 280,000 migrants living in basements and that only a small percentage of Beijing’s basements were being used as dwellings.

Last month, authorities sealed Beijing’s manhole covers after local media discovered a group of people living in the sewers below, with one, a 52-year-old car washer, reported by the local media to have been living there for at least a decade. The sewer dwellers were relocated and those not from Beijing sent back home.

Surging residential prices are both boon and bane to the government. China’s booming property sector accounts for roughly 15 percent of GDP and heavily indebted local governments rely on land sales – selling land earns them roughly three times what they collect from taxes.

But rising prices are putting home ownership farther out of reach for most Chinese, worsening the gap between rich and poor and breeding social discontent.

“Some people can buy several homes, some people can’t even buy one,” said Mao Yushi, co-founder and honorary president at the Unirule Institute of Economics, an independent think tank in Beijing. “There will be an impact on society.”

The government has responded by restricting home purchases and boosting the supply of low-cost public housing. In Beijing, the total floor space of public housing rose 20 percent in the first 11 months of 2013 from the year before.

But with the promise of employment and education beckoning in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, the problem appears likely to only get worse. Beijing saw another 316,000 migrants arrive in 2012, lifting its population to 19.6 million.

That has made housing in Beijing more expensive relative to average incomes than in many developed countries. The median price for residential property in Beijing is over $4,500 a square meter, according to property developer Soufun, with rents running at $9.50 per square meter – in a nation where the average annual income is just over $6,000.

That makes Beijing homes almost three times as expensive for Chinese as buying a home in New York City is for Americans, according to Reuters calculations based on data from the World Bank and San Francisco-based property website Trulia. Renting a 1,000 square-foot apartment in China’s capital would cost almost double the average citizen’s monthly income.

Not surprisingly, public opinion polls routinely rank rising home prices as one of the biggest sources of anxiety among Chinese adults. A 2012 survey by the Hong Kong media website Phoenix found that couples in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen spend on average 42 percent of their combined monthly income on mortgages. Chinese have invented the term “housing slave” to describe those struggling to make hefty monthly mortgages payments.

But with Beijing home prices having risen six-fold in the past decade, according to Soufun, even cheap public housing can be beyond the reach of many, forcing them to seek less attractive alternatives.

In a basement below a block of apartments in downtown Beijing, residents walk stooped to avoid pipes hanging from the ceilings. “This is better than other basements in the area,” said one 26-year-old resident.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/05/us-china-property-basement-idUSBREA040GD20140105

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

chinese table

Tsinghua%20multiplcation%20table_converted%20to%20numbers

From a few fragments out of a collection of 23-century-old bamboo strips, historians have pieced together what they say is the world’s oldest example of a multiplication table in base 10.

Five years ago, Tsinghua University in Beijing received a donation of nearly 2,500 bamboo strips. Muddy, smelly and teeming with mould, the strips probably originated from the illegal excavation of a tomb, and the donor had purchased them at a Hong Kong market. Researchers at Tsinghua carbon-dated the materials to around 305 bc, during the Warring States period before the unification of China.

Each strip was about 7 to 12 millimetres wide and up to half a metre long, and had a vertical line of ancient Chinese calligraphy painted on it in black ink. Historians realized that the bamboo pieces constituted 65 ancient texts and recognized them to be among the most important artefacts from the period.

“The strips were all mixed up because the strings that used to tie each manuscript together to form a scroll had long decayed,” says Li Junming, a historian and palaeographer at Tsinghua. Some pieces were broken, others missing, he adds: to decipher the texts was “like putting together a jigsaw puzzle”.

But “21 bamboo strips stand out from the rest as they contain only numbers, written in the style of ancient Chinese”, says Feng Lisheng, a historian of mathematics at Tsinghua.

Those 21 strips turned out to be a multiplication table, Feng and his colleagues announced in Beijing today during the presentation of the fourth volume of annotated transcriptions of the Tsinghua collection.

When the strips are arranged properly, says Feng, a matrix structure emerges. The top row and the rightmost column contain, arranged from right to left and from top to bottom respectively, the same 19 numbers: 0.5; the integers from 1 to 9; and multiples of 10 from 10 to 90.

As in a modern multiplication table, the entries at the intersection of each row and column in the matrix provide the results of multiplying the corresponding numbers. The table can also help users to multiply any whole or half integer between 0.5 and 99.5. Numbers that are not directly represented, says Feng, first have to be converted into a series of additions. For instance, 22.5 × 35.5 can be broken up into (20 + 2 + 0.5) × (30 + 5 + 0.5). That gives 9 separate multiplications (20 × 30, 20 × 5, 20 × 0.5, 2 × 30, and so on), each of which can be read off the table. The final result can be obtained by adding up the answers. “It’s effectively an ancient calculator,” says Li.

The researchers suspect that officials used the multiplication table to calculate surface area of land, yields of crops and the amounts of taxes owed. “We can even use the matrix to do divisions and square roots,” says Feng. “But we can’t be sure that such complicated tasks were performed at the time.”

“Such an elaborate multiplication matrix is absolutely unique in Chinese history,” says Feng. The oldest previously known Chinese times tables, dating to the Qin Dynasty between 221 and 206 bc, were in the form of a series of short sentences such as “six eights beget forty-eight” and capable of only much simpler multiplications. The ancient Babylonians possessed multiplication tables some 4,000 years ago, but theirs were in a base-60, rather than base-10 (decimal), system. The earliest-known European multiplication table dates back to the Renaissance.

“The discovery is of extraordinary interest,” says Joseph Dauben, a maths historian at City University of New York. “It’s the earliest artefact of a decimal multiplication table in the world.”

It “certainly shows that a highly sophisticated arithmetic had been established for both theoretical and commercial purposes by the Warring States period in ancient China,” he adds. This was just before Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor, united the country; he subsequently ordered book burnings and banned private libraries in an attempt to reshape the country’s intellectual tradition.

http://www.nature.com/news/ancient-times-table-hidden-in-chinese-bamboo-strips-1.14482

 

 

Gardening in space! Chinese astronauts may grow fresh vegetables in extraterrestrial bases on Moon or Mars in the future to provide food and oxygen supplies to astronauts, an official said after a successful lab experiment.

Deng Yibing, deputy director of the Beijing-based Chinese Astronaut Research and Training Center, said that the recent experiment focused on a dynamic balanced mechanism of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and water between people and plants in a closed system.

According to Deng, a cabin of 300 cubic metres was established to provide sustainable supplies of air, water and food for two participants during the experiment, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Four kinds of vegetables were grown, taking in carbon dioxide and providing oxygen for the two people living in the cabin. They could also harvest fresh vegetables for meals, Deng said.

The experiment, the first of its kind in China, is extremely important for the long-term development of the country’s manned space programme, Deng added.

The cabin, a controlled ecological life support system (CELSS) built in 2011, is a model of China’s third generation of astronauts’ life support systems, which is expected to be used in extraterrestrial bases on the Moon or Mars.

The introduction of a CELSS seeks to provide sustainable supplies of air, water and food for astronauts with the help of plants and algae, instead of relying on stocks of such basics deposited on board at the outset of the mission.

Advance forms of CELSS also involve the breeding of animals for meat and using microbes to recycle wastes.

Scientists from Germany also participated in the experiments.

http://www.phenomenica.com/2012/12/chinese-astronauts-plan-to-grow-vegetables-on-moon.html