Recycled Concrete Houses 3D-Printed in 24 Hours in China

A Chinese construction firm based in Shanghai has succeeded in building 10 houses each measuring 200 square metres in 24 hours by using an enormous 3D printer.

The houses are all eco-friendly and constructed from 3D-printed building blocks made from layers of recycled construction waste and glass fibre and mixed with cement.

Each home costs less than £3,000 to build.

WinSun Decoration Design Engineering spent 20 million Yuan (£1.9m) and 12 years to develop a 3D printer 6.6 metres tall, 10 metres wide and 150 metres long.

Large 3D printers have been in existence for several years and have been used to make plane parts and prototypes.

“We purchased parts for the printer overseas, and assembled the machine in a factory in Suzhou. Such a new type of 3D-printed structure is environment-friendly and cost-effective,” said the 3D-printer’s inventor, Winsun CEO Ma Yihe.

Winsun used architectural design software AutoCAD Architecture to not only plan the building but also to calculate tracing paths that took into account plumbing, electrical lining, insulation materials and windows, that would be added once the main structure was built.

The company holds 77 national patents for its construction materials.

Ma’s office building, which covers an area of 10,000 square metres, was also constructed with 3D-printed walls and took a month to build from an assembly line of four 3D printers.

“Industrial waste from demolished buildings is damaging our environment, but with 3D-printing, we are able to recycle construction waste and turn it into new building materials,” said Ma.

“This would create a much safer environment for construction workers and greatly reduce construction costs.”

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/china-recycled-concrete-houses-3d-printed-24-hours-1445981

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

10 conspiracy theories about Malaysia Airlines flight 370

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.”

Western Scientists Look To Chinese Medicine For Fresh Leads

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by Alan Yu

In the quest for new treatments, U.S. researchers are looking to traditional Chinese medicines, some of the oldest remedies in the world.

A recent discovery resulted in a better treatment for a type of leukemia that strikes about 1 in 250,000 people in the U.S. Another study found a potential new painkiller in China’s medicine chest. Other researchers are studying a traditional medicinal plant called “thunder god vine” for its anti-cancer properties.

The approach has already had some success. The Chinese herbal medicine artemisinin, for instance, has gone on to become the most potent anti-malarial drug available.

Not all the leads have panned out, of course. But the old field has shown enough potential to keep interest high.
A better leukemia treatment drawn from an ancient medicine should give us hope for developing anti-cancer drugs, says Dr. Samuel Waxman, a co-author of the report and professor of medicine and cancer specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital. “It gives a lot of optimism of seeking other types of cancer medicines in the Chinese pharmacopedia, which many people are looking into,” Waxman says.

The treatment uses arsenic trioxide, which has traditionally been used in Chinese medicine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved arsenic trioxide (sold as Trisenox here) as a treatment in 2000, and later research showed that patients who received standard chemotherapy followed by arsenic trioxide did better than patients who just received standard chemotherapy.

But a big clinical test recently found that the drug, in combination with all-trans retinoic acid — another drug commonly used to treat acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) — turned out to be more effective than the usual chemotherapy.
That results means arsenic trioxide should become the new standard for patients that can use it, says Dr. Richard Stone, director of the adult acute leukemia program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

“So this was a cure for leukemia without chemotherapy, really for the first time in a large randomized trial,” says Stone. “We’ve got a patient in the hospital right now who’s receiving that very therapy.”

He says there are still side effects from the new regimen affecting the skin and heart, but for most people they’re less of a problem than the hair loss, vomiting and diarrhea that can come with chemotherapy.

The arsenic trioxide treatment was developed by a Chinese doctor working in northern China during the Cultural Revolution, according to Mount Sinai’s Waxman. This doctor couldn’t use much Western medicine, so to treat his APL patients, he started giving them arsenic trioxide intravenously. He kept a journal for 10 years and noticed that it worked remarkably well. He eventually published his findings in 2001 with other collaborators.

“That was one of the first examples of a targeted treatment in all of cancer,” Waxman says.

Other researchers are also studying triptolide, a natural product of a traditional Chinese medicinal plant called lei gong teng or “thunder god vine” as a possible anti-cancer drug. The product was effective against cancer in animal models and scientists in the West are now studying exactly how it works, says Jun Liu, one of the researchers and a professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences at Johns Hopkins University.

“Traditional medicine will always remain a useful source of new drugs. The question is, to what extent?” Liu says. “Drug discovery and development is a very lengthy and costly process and there are always failures.”

Research into Chinese medicine is no different. Cancer reseachers at the University of Minnesota recently started an early clinical trial to study a drug that was developed from triptolide for treating pancreatic cancer, says Edward Greeno, associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota. He points out it took millions of dollars just to get to this point.

“It’s easy to think, and normal to think, that if people are using it already then it shouldn’t require a lot to develop it into a useful product. The problem is that our standard for what is safe and effective is very high, appropriately,” Greeno says. “It looks like a pretty straight path but what you don’t see are all the false starts and wrong turns that we make along the way.”

Studying Chinese medicine for new treatments has had its share of wrong turns. Western scientists previously looked into treatments for the prevention of dementia, eczema, and bacteria that cause most types of stomach ulcers, but concluded they weren’t particularly effective.

But the failures don’t mean we should give up, says Brian Berman, a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland who served as the principal investigator of two Chinese medicine research initiatives funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Chinese medicine is one lead to consider, especially for chronic diseases that have yet to be cured. “The advantage you have when you look at some of the Chinese medicine therapies is that by and large, they are safe, as long as what you’re getting doesn’t have added ingredients,” Berman says. “We need to look at what other cultures have to offer and then we need to put them through a scientifically rigorous test.”

Read more: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/01/18/261055778/western-scientists-look-to-chinese-medicine-for-fresh-leads

China is cloning on an industrial scale

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By David Shukman

You hear the squeals of the pigs long before reaching a set of long buildings set in rolling hills in southern China.

Feeding time produces a frenzy as the animals strain against the railings around their pens. But this is no ordinary farm.

Run by a fast-growing company called BGI, this facility has become the world’s largest centre for the cloning of pigs.

The technology involved is not particularly novel – but what is new is the application of mass production.

The first shed contains 90 animals in two long rows. They look perfectly normal, as one would expect, but each of them is carrying cloned embryos. Many are clones themselves.

This place produces an astonishing 500 cloned pigs a year: China is exploiting science on an industrial scale.

To my surprise, we’re taken to see how the work is done. A room next to the pens serves as a surgery and a sow is under anaesthetic, lying on her back on an operating table. An oxygen mask is fitted over her snout and she’s breathing steadily. Blue plastic bags cover her trotters.

Two technicians have inserted a fibre-optic probe to locate the sow’s uterus. A third retrieves a small test-tube from a fridge: these are the blastocysts, early stage embryos prepared in a lab. In a moment, they will be implanted.

The room is not air-conditioned; nor is it particularly clean. Flies buzz around the pig’s head.

My first thought is that the operation is being conducted with an air of total routine. Even the presence of a foreign television crew seems to make little difference. The animal is comfortable but there’s no sensitivity about how we might react, let alone what animal rights campaigners might make of it all.

I check the figures: the team can do two implantations a day. The success rate is about 70-80%.

Dusk is falling as we’re shown into another shed where new-born piglets are lying close to their mothers to suckle. Heat lamps keep the room warm. Some of the animals are clones of clones. Most have been genetically modified.

The point of the work is to use pigs to test out new medicines. Because they are so similar genetically to humans, pigs can serve as useful “models”. So modifying their genes to give them traits can aid that process.

One batch of particularly small pigs has had a growth gene removed – they stopped growing at the age of one. Others have had their DNA tinkered with to try to make them more susceptible to Alzheimer’s.

Back at the company headquarters, a line of technicians is hunched over microscopes. This is a BGI innovation: replacing expensive machines with people. It’s called “handmade cloning” and is designed to make everything quicker and easier.

The scientist in charge, Dr Yutao Du, explains the technique in a way that leaves me reeling.

“We can do cloning on a very large scale,” she tells me, “30-50 people together doing cloning so that we can make a cloning factory here.”

A cloning factory – an incredible notion borrowed straight from science fiction. But here in Shenzhen, in what was an old shoe factory, this rising power is creating a new industry.

The scale of ambition is staggering. BGI is not only the world’s largest centre for cloning pigs – it’s also the world’s largest centre for gene sequencing.

In neighbouring buildings, there are rows of gene sequencers – machines the size of fridges operating 24 hours a day crunching through the codes for life.

To illustrate the scale of this operation, Europe’s largest gene sequencing centre is the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute near Cambridge. It has 30 machines. BGI has 156 and has even bought an American company that makes them.

BGI’s chief executive, Wang Jun, tells me how they need the technology to develop ever faster and cheaper ways of reading genes.

Again, a comparison for scale: a recently-launched UK project seeks to sequence 10,000 human genomes. BGI has ambitions to sequence the genomes of a million people, a million animals and a million plants.

Wang Jun is keen to stress that all this work must be relevant to ordinary people through better healthcare or tastier food. The BGI canteen is used as a testbed for some of the products from the labs: everything from grouper twice the normal size, to pigs, to yoghurt.

I ask Wang Jun how he chooses what to sequence. After the shock of hearing the phrase “cloning factory”, out comes another bombshell:

“If it tastes good you should sequence it,” he tells me. “You should know what’s in the genes of that species.”

Species that taste good is one criterion. Another he cites is that of industrial use – raising yields, for example, or benefits for healthcare.

“A third category is if it looks cute – anything that looks cute: panda, polar bear, penguin, you should really sequence it – it’s like digitalising all the wonderful species,” he explains.

I wonder how he feels about acquiring such power to take control of nature but he immediately contradicts me.

“No, we’re following Nature – there are lots of people dying from hunger and protein supply so we have to think about ways of dealing with that, for example exploring the potential of rice as a species,” the BGI chief counters.

China is on a trajectory that will see it emerging as a giant of science: it has a robotic rover on the Moon, it holds the honour of having the world’s fastest supercomputer and BGI offers a glimpse of what industrial scale could bring to the future of biology.

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25576718

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

Televised sunrise in Beijing due to persistently heavy smog

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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.

Rising home prices send China’s ‘Rat Race’ scurrying underground

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.

2,300 year-old times table hidden in Chinese bamboo strips discovered to be world’s oldest decimal multiplication table

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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

Electric Man Ma Xiangang is impervious to electric shock

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He can light a bulb with his hand. He can control electrical currents. He is a man who isn’t afraid of direct contact with electricity.

Ma Xiangang, an ordinary man living in Daqing, a city in northeastern China’s Heilongjiang province, has a strange gift of being able to touch electricity without being shocked. He can touch 220-volt electric wires without any protection and appear as if it is nothing.

On a recent TV program, Ma held two electric wires in his hands and easily lit a bulb.

Ma learned about his gift over 20 years ago. One day, while watching TV with his wife, the television suddenly went out. Ma checked it and found a wire outside had been broken by the wind. Ma picked up the broken wire. He first touched the ends tentatively. He felt no electricity, so he connected the two broken ends together.

After he fixed the broken line, Ma suddenly realized it was not normal. The wire carried electricity, but he fixed it with his bare hands.

“Why am I not affected by electricity?” Ma asked himself.

He decided to try again and finally learned direct contact with electricity does not harm him. Instead, it makes him energetic.

Gradually, Ma became addicted to touching electricity and learned to control the voltage passing through his body. Ma claims that he can use his specialty to conduct electrotherapy and massage for others.

Ma’s special powers have also drawn the attention of experts. After careful analysis, experts believe the secret lies in Ma’s hands. The skin of his hands is much rougher and drier than others, functioning like a pair of insulated gloves. His tough skin prevents most of the electricity from entering Ma’s body. The actual current passing through Ma’s body only contains six milliamperes, while the safety limits for ordinary people is 8-10 milliamperes.

http://english.cri.cn/2906/2007/01/08/65@182653.htm

Chinese farmer grows Buddha-shaped pears

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Gao Xianzhang has managed to create what some would call the holiest fruits ever, pears shaped like Buddha.

Gao has been working on his pear-growing technique for six years and this season he managed to grow 10,000 Buddha-shaped baby pears.

Each fruit is grown in an intricate Buddha mould and ends up looking like a juicy figurine.

The ingenious farmer says the locals in his home village of Hexia, northern China, have been buying his Buddha pears as soon as he picks them from the trees.

Most of them think they are cute and that they bring good luck.

http://delightmakers.com/news-bleat/chinese-farmer-grows-buddha-shaped-pears/

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

Zhang Fuxing’s 400 kg iron shoes

Zhang Fuxing says all the heavy lifting can cure back pain and hemorrhoids.

A Chinese factory worker says walking in huge iron shoes weighing more than 200kg each can cure back pain, but faces hefty competition in his bid to build the country’s heaviest footwear.

“I’ve been walking with iron shoes for seven years,” said Zhang Fuxing, before strapping two crudely welded iron blocks to his feet.

“After they reached 400kg, I felt very proud. Next spring I plan to add 50kg.”

Zhang took a deep breath before each wrenching step in the towering footwear, with every impact leaving him struggling for balance.

It took him more than a minute to take 10 paces, but he claims to walk up to 15 metres each day in the shoes, which he has gradually increased in weight, and touts them as a cure for back pain and hemorrhoids.

Zhang, 52, credits his ability to move the shoes – which he leaves outdoors, safe in the knowledge that they are close to impossible for most people to lift – to the Chinese spiritual martial art of qigong, said to involve controlling the flow of supposed bodily energies.

“It’s not strong muscles that make you able to walk like this, the power comes from internal organs,” he said, adding: “When you walk with your heart it will work.”

Zhang believes his shoes to be the heaviest in China, but admits that competition from a number of other eccentrics renders his claim uncertain.

One of two Chinese iron shoe wearers to share a Guinness World Record for walking 10 metres backwards in heavyweight iron boots is Zhang Zhenghui from Changsha. According to a 2010 report by Xinhua news agency, he has gold-painted shoes weighing more than 200kg.

Lai Yingying, an entertainer from Fujian in the east, was shown by state broadcaster CCTV wearing shoes tipping the scales at a total of 300kg.

A runner, Liu Mei, took to exercising in metal footwear after growing bored of tying sandbags onto his trainers, the state-run China News Service reported, and challenged other exponents to compete for the title of “Iron Shoe King”.

His call “hit the world of eccentric stunt people like a tidal wave”, the report said, but there is no record of the contest having taken place.

Zhang Fuxing – who runs a workshop making machine parts – says he was inspired by one of these pioneers. “I saw someone wearing iron shoes on TV. They said it was good for the heart and bones,” he said.

At the time Zhang was suffering from back pain “so bad that I couldn’t bend over to wash my face”, but claims his symptoms disappeared just months after donning the footwear, an experience which left him wanting to share them with a wider audience.

He now manufactures a range of weighted metal footwear, which users strap over their existing shoes, in a small factory near his hometown in the northern city of Tangshan, and sells them online.

A snazzy red pair weighing 10kg each costs 550 yuan (HK$700), while the heaviest 60kg boots sell for 1,450 yuan.

He claims to have sold several hundred pairs, including at least 10 to his neighbours, several of whom gathered around on a chilly morning to watch Zhang take his wobbling steps.

“We’ve all worn his iron shoes, it makes your legs feel better,” said Chen Guanghua, a woman in her sixties. “We can’t all play badminton, but anyone can wear shoes.”

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1376837/chinese-worker-gets-leg-200kg-iron-shoes