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March 2012 Potpourri Print E-mail

Japan Finishes World's Tallest Communications Tower
World meets UN safe water goal
Chinese Named IMF Secretary
China Completes System to Monitor Earth's Crust
Russia to Build Space Warning System
IMF Chief Cautiously Upbeat on Global Economy
Swaziland Households Hit by Hunger: UNICEF
The Disappearing Ponds of Kashmir
A Biplane to Break the Sound Barrier
Three-Cylinder Cars Coming to U.S.
Friendly-to-a-Fault, Yet Tense: Personality Traits Traced in Brain
Mammoth Extinction Not Due to Inbreeding
Renewable Battery Cathode Formed from Waste
US Wind Generation Increases by 27 Percent

Japan Finishes World's Tallest Communications Tower

Construction of the Tokyo Sky Tree, the world's tallest communications tower and second-highest building, finished Wednesday, two months late because of the quake and tsunami that struck Japan last March.

Tokyo (AFP) Feb 29, 2012 Tourist bosses in the country hope the 634-metre (2080-foot) tower will be a big draw for foreign visitors, whose numbers have plummeted in the aftermath of the disaster and the nuclear crisis it sparked. "The construction was originally scheduled to finish in December 2011 but was delayed due to a shortage of supplies after the disaster," said a spokeswoman for the operator, adding that the finished structure is sound. "The building was officially handed over" from contractors to the operating firm, linked with Tobu Railway Co., on Wednesday afternoon, another spokeswoman said. Construction of the tower, near the popular Asakusa traditional district on Tokyo's eastern side, began in July 2008.

The Tokyo Sky Tree tops the 600-metre Canton Tower in China's Guangzhou and the 553-metre CN Tower in downtown Toronto. It is the world's second-tallest manmade structure, beaten only by the 828-metre Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Some 580,000 workers were engaged in the construction, which cost 65 billion yen ($806 million) for the tower alone, the spokeswoman said. The Tokyo Sky Tree is expected to overshadow landmarks in the capital's upscale western parts, including the 333-metre Tokyo Tower, which was built in 1958 and became a byword in Japan for the country's rapid post-war growth. It hosts two observation decks -- at 350 meters and 450 meters above ground -- as well as restaurants and office space and sits at a former freight shunting yard along the Sumida River. http://www.spacemart.com/reports/Japan_finishes_worlds_tallest_communications_tower_999.html

World meets UN safe water goal
Geneva (AFP) March 6, 2012
The world has easily beaten a 2015 deadline to halve the proportion of people drinking unsafe water, the United Nations Children's Fund and the World Health Organization said Tuesday. The two UN agencies released a report saying that between 1990 and 2010, two billion people had gained access to improved water, through tools such as water pipes and protected wells. The report, however, found that governments, communities and other entities will likely fall short of a target for three-quarters of the planet to have access to improved sanitation access. The water milestone is one of the first Millennium Development Goals to be met. The goals, outlined by the UN, comprise eight targets to help the world's poor, including by improving living conditions and stopping the spread of HIV and AIDS. "For children, this is especially good news," UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a statement. "Every day more than 3,000 children die from diarrheal diseases. Achieving this goal will go a long way to saving children's lives." According to the report, 89 percent of the world population had access to improved drinking water at the end of 2010, about 6.1 billion people. The report estimates the proportion will improve further, to 92 percent in 2015.

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In Malawi, for instance, 7.2 million people gained access to clean water between 1995 and 2010, almost half the population. But despite the encouraging trend, Lake noted that 11 percent of the planet -- about 783 million people -- remained without safe water supplies, and billions have no toilets. The Millennium Development Goal is for 75 percent of the world's population to have access to improved sanitation by 2015. But that figure is likely to fall well short, at just 67 percent, the report said. Currently about 2.5 billion people have no access to decent sanitation. A lack of access to clean water disproportionately affects some parts of the world. Only 61 percent of sub-Saharan Africans have access to clean water, compared to 90 percent in Latin America, the Caribbean, north Africa and much of Asia.
In the world's poorest countries, 14 percent of the population still drinks water from rivers, ponds and lakes. http://www.terradaily.com/reports/World_meets_UN_safe_water_goal_999.html

Chinese Named IMF Secretary
Washington (AFP) March 7, 2012
International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde tapped a Chinese IMF official Wednesday as the Fund's next secretary. Jianhai Lin, who has been acting secretary since November, will hold the key post of the department that is responsible for the operations of the IMF executive board and serves as a main contact point for the institution's 187 member countries, the IMF said in a statement. Lin will succeed Siddharth Tiwari, an Indian national who was recently appointed strategy director. Lin's appointment takes effect on March 22. "Jianhai has had a wide-ranging Fund career in both country and policy work," Lagarde said in the statement. "This breadth of experience has been of particular benefit to the IMF, where Jianhai's skill in building consensus among staff, management and our global membership has been essential for the productive work of the executive board during one of the most challenging periods in the Fund's history." Lin studied at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing and the University of California at Berkeley, and earned his doctorate in international finance from George Washington University. Prior to his arrival at the Fund in the 1990s, he worked in the financial sector and academia. In July 2011, Lagarde selected Zhu Min as the first Chinese to hold the newly created post of deputy managing director. http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Chinese_named_IMF_secretary_999.html

China Completes System to Monitor Earth's Crust
Beijing (IANS) Mar 15, 2012
China Friday completed a system designed to monitor the movement of the Earth's crust and predict earthquakes, officials said. Based on satellite navigation, the system involves a network of 260 permanent observing stations and 2,000 part-time observing stations with data-processing technology. It will also be used for weather forecasting and scientific research, among other purposes, Xinhua quoted the China Earthquake Administration as saying. Experts in charge of the project agreed that the outcome is a comprehensive, precise and versatile geo-scientific resource, and that its information should be shared. The new network joins the US's Plate Boundary Observation system and Japan's GEONE as the most advanced means of observing the movement of the Earth's crust. China started the project in December 2007, with an investment of 524 million yuan ($83.2 million). http://www.terradaily.com/reports/China_completes_system_to_monitor_Earth_crust_999.html

Russia to Build Space Warning System
Moscow (UPI) Mar 14, 2012
Russia says it will spend $2.1 million to create an automatic warning system to prevent collisions between spaceships, satellites and orbital debris. Russian space agencyRoscosmos said Wednesday the system will monitor objects in orbit and warn of potentially dangerous situations -- such as when spaceships, satellites and their waste come too close to each other, or when an object re-enters Earth's atmosphere uncontrolled, China's official Xinhua news agency reported. The telescope-based system will be capable of monitoring 30 space vehicles and raising an alarm at least 30 hours before the situation becomes dangerous, Roscosmos said. The decision to build the early warning system comes after a Phobos-Grunt mission failed in January due to faulty propulsion units and fell back to Earth, crashing into the Pacific Ocean. "The latest event confirmed the necessity of developing the means and capabilities to clean up near-Earth space and the danger from artificial objects," Roscosmos said. http://www.spacemart.com/reports/Russia_to_build_space_warning_system_999.html

IMF Chief Cautiously Upbeat on Global Economy
Beijing (AFP) March 18, 2012
IMF  chief Christine Lagarde said Sunday measures taken to fight financial woes in Europe and the US were starting to pay off, in a cautiously upbeat assessment of the global economy. But Lagarde -- in Beijing for a two-day trip to attend a high profile forum on China's development and hold meetings with her economic counterparts -- also warned that "major" vulnerabilities still remained. "Even just a few months ago, the situation was decidedly gloomy. Indicators for the last quarter of 2011 -- namely for Europe and the United States -- did not provide much reassurance," Lagarde said in a speech at the forum… http://www.terradaily.com/reports/IMF_chief_cautiously_upbeat_on_global_economy_999.html

Swaziland Households Hit by Hunger: UNICEF
Mbabane, Swaziland (AFP) March 16, 2012 Friday
One in four households in Swaziland, Africa's last absolute monarchy, were hit by the rising cost of food and even forced to skip meals, UNICEF said in a report on Friday. "The report showed that households with family members living with HIV were at greater risk to shocks and relied more on cheaper meals or skipped meals altogether," said the report, which surveyed 1,334 households in 2011. The poor southern African kingdom is grappling with a severe financial crisis after a sudden loss in earnings last year from a regional customs union, its main source of income. According to the report, Swaziland entered the crisis with "already major social challenges including the highest HIV rate in the world". Experts say it stands between 25 and 40 percent. Widespread poverty affects 63 percent of the 1.1 million population and 29 percent of them were in need of social security. The report warned that failure to curb government spending as well as cuts in labor income threatened the country's progress towards reaching the Millennium Goals in health, education, and food security. http://www.seeddaily.com/reports/Swaziland_households_hit_by_hunger_Unicef_999.html

The Disappearing Ponds of Kashmir
Shopian, India (IANS) Mar 13, 2012
Thirty years ago, Avend village in the south Kashmir district of Shopian was also called ‘Talaab Gaam’ because of dozens of fresh water ponds surrounding it. All but one of these ponds have now disappeared because of encroachments and other constructions. According to the residents of the village, 60 km south of Srinagar, apart from encroachments, government buildings, schools, graveyards and funeral prayer grounds now stand where the ponds once existed. Villagers say a few influential families encroached on the ponds by dumping mud and debris of old houses to dry them out and build on them. "It was the helplessness of the villagers before these selfish people and negligence from government side that failed to preserve these ponds," Shabir Ahmad Bhat, a villager, told IANS. … http://www.terradaily.com/reports/The_disappearing_ponds_of_Kashmir_999.html

A Biplane to Break the Sound Barrier
Cambridge MA (SPX) Mar 21, 2012


For 27 years, the Concorde provided its passengers with a rare luxury: time saved. For a pricey fare, the sleek supersonic jet ferried its ticketholders from New York to Paris in a mere three-and-a-half hours - just enough time for a nap and an aperitif.

Over the years, expensive tickets, high fuel costs, limited seating and noise disruption from the jet's sonic boom slowed interest and ticket sales. On Nov. 26, 2003, the Concorde - and commercial supersonic travel - retired from service. Since then, a number of groups have been working on designs for the next generation of supersonic jets. Now an MIT researcher has come up with a concept that may solve many of the problems that grounded the Concorde. Qiqi Wang, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, says the solution, in principle, is simple: Instead of flying with one wing to a side, why not two? Wang and his colleagues Rui Hu, a postdoc in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Antony Jameson, a professor of engineering at Stanford University, have shown through a computer model that a modified biplane can, in fact, produce significantly less drag than a conventional single-wing aircraft at supersonic cruise speeds. The group will publish their results in the Journal of Aircraft. This decreased drag, according to Wang, means the plane would require less fuel to fly. It also means the plane would produce less of a sonic boom. "The sonic boom is really the shock waves created by the supersonic airplanes, propagated to the ground," Wang says. "It's like hearing gunfire. It's so annoying that supersonic jets were not allowed to fly over land."

Double the wings, double the fun: With Wang's design, a jet with two wings - one positioned above the other - would cancel out the shock waves produced from either wing alone. Wang credits German engineer Adolf Busemann for the original concept. In the 1950s, Busemann came up with a biplane design that essentially eliminates shock waves at supersonic speeds. Normally, as a conventional jet nears the speed of sound, air starts to compress at the front and back of the jet. As the plane reaches and surpasses the speed of sound, or Mach 1, the sudden increase in air pressure creates two huge shock waves that radiate out at both ends of the plane, producing a sonic boom. Through calculations, Busemann found that a biplane design could essentially do away with shock waves. Each wing of the design, when seen from the side, is shaped like a flattened triangle, with the top and bottom wings pointing toward each other. The configuration, according to his calculations, cancels out shock waves produced by each wing alone. However, the design lacks lift: The two wings create a very narrow channel through which only a limited amount of air can flow. When transitioning to supersonic speeds, the channel, Wang says, could essentially "choke," creating incredible drag. While the design could work beautifully at supersonic speeds, it can't overcome the drag to reach those speeds.

Giving lift to a grounded theory: To address the drag issue, Wang, Hu and Jameson designed a computer model to simulate the performance of Busemann's biplane at various speeds. At a given speed, the model determined the optimal wing shape to minimize drag. The researchers then aggregated the results from a dozen different speeds and 700 wing configurations to come up with an optimal shape for each wing. They found that smoothing out the inner surface of each wing slightly created a wider channel through which air could flow. The researchers also found that by bumping out the top edge of the higher wing, and the bottom edge of the lower wing, the conceptual plane was able to fly at supersonic speeds, with half the drag of conventional supersonic jets such as the Concorde. Wang says this kind of performance could potentially cut the amount of fuel required to fly the plane by more than half. "If you think about it, when you take off, not only do you have to carry the passengers, but also the fuel, and if you can reduce the fuel burn, you can reduce how much fuel you need to carry, which in turn reduces the size of the structure you need to carry the fuel," Wang says. "It's kind of a chain reaction."

The team's next step is to design a three-dimensional model to account for other factors affecting flight. While the MIT researchers are looking for a single optimal design for supersonic flight, Wang points out that a group in Japan has made progress in designing a Busemann-like biplane with moving parts: The wings would essentially change shape in mid-flight to attain supersonic speeds. "Now people are having more ideas on how to improve [Busemann's] design," Wang says. "This may lead to a dramatic improvement, and there may be a boom in the field in the coming years." http://www.spacemart.com/reports/A_biplane_to_break_the_sound_barrier_999.html

Three-Cylinder Cars Coming to U.S.
Los Angeles (UPI) Mar 21, 2012 Wednesday
U.S. automakers say new cars with three-cylinder engines can give better gas mileage with the same power as the four-cylinder compact sedans Americans buy now.
The Los Angeles Times reported on Friday, “The cars can get 40 miles per gallon in traffic and 50 on the highway; and they're neither expensive hybrids, nor do they need any special fuels.” Ford Motor Co. said it will have a three-cylinder Focus or Fiesta for sale in the United States by the middle of next year. "This engine is a game-changer," Steve Cropley of the British publication Autocar said of the three-cylinder Focus that just went on sale in Europe. "You barely hear the thing start, and it idles so smoothly you'd swear it had stalled." Japanese makers Mitsubishi and Nissan and Germany's BMW and Volkswagen are all said to be working on three-cylinder designs. … http://www.spacemart.com/reports/Three-cylinder_cars_coming_to_US_999.html

Friendly-to-a-Fault, Yet Tense: Personality Traits Traced in Brain

Scans reveal how genes alter circuit hub to shape temperament — NIH study

A personality profile marked by overly gregarious yet anxious behavior is rooted in abnormal development of a circuit hub buried deep in the front center of the brain, say scientists at the National Institutes of Health. They used three different types of brain imaging to pinpoint the suspect brain area in people with Williams syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by these behaviors. Matching the scans to scores on a personality rating scale revealed that the more an individual with Williams syndrome showed these personality/temperament traits, the more abnormalities there were in the brain structure, called the insula. "Scans of the brain's tissue composition, wiring, and activity produced converging evidence of genetically-caused abnormalities in the structure and function of the front part of the insula and in its connectivity to other brain areas in the circuit," explained Karen Berman, M.D., of the NIH's National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Berman, Drs. Mbemda Jabbi, Shane Kippenhan, and colleagues, report on their imaging study in Williams syndrome online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "This line of research offers insight into how genes help to shape brain circuitry that regulates complex behaviors — such as the way a person responds to others — and thus holds promise for unraveling brain mechanisms in other disorders of social behavior," said NIMH Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D. …
http://www.nih.gov/news/health/mar2012/nimh-22a.htm

Mammoth Extinction Not Due to Inbreeding

A British study on the extinction of woolly mammoths found the last known population of the prehistoric animals did not die out because of inbreeding.

London (UPI) Mar 24, 2012
A British study on the extinction of woolly mammoths found the last known population of the prehistoric animals did not die out because of inbreeding. The study, conducted jointly by British and Swedish scientists, examined bones, teeth and tusks from Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean where the last known population of woolly mammoths lived about 4,000 years ago, the BBC reported. Mammoths generally disappeared from mainland Eurasia and North America about 10,000 years ago, but lived on for another 6,000 years on Wrangel Island. "Wrangel Island is not that big and it was initially thought that such a small population could have suffered problems of inbreeding and a lack of genetic diversity," said the report's co-author, Dr. Love Dalen of the department of molecular systematics at the Swedish Museum of Natural History. Researchers found that, contrary to popular belief, the animals more likely were killed off by human activity or environmental factors. The report, published Friday, concluded that the extinction of mammoths on Wrangel Island was "not a delayed outcome of an inevitable process" such as inbreeding. "This suggests that the final extinction was caused by a rapid change in the mammoths' environment, such as the arrival of humans or a change in climate, rather than a gradual decline in population size," the study said. The study also found the population of mammoths on the island generally ranged between 500 and 1,000. Dalen said the study can be useful in modern-day conservation programs. "What's really interesting is that maintaining 500 effective individuals is a very common target in conservation programs," he said. "Our results therefore support the idea that such an effective population size is enough to maintain genetic diversity for thousands of years. These mammoths did fine with what was originally considered to be a small number." http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Mammoth_extinction_not_due_to_inbreeding_999.html

Renewable Battery Cathode Formed from Waste
Washington DC (SPX) Mar 26, 2012
Researchers have designed a battery cathode made of lignin byproducts from the pulp and paper industry, which may lead to cheaper and safer electrodes. This new,rechargeable battery cathode is comparable to other cathodes that require precious metals or rare, raw materials. … http://www.energy-daily.com/reports/Renewable_battery_cathode_formed_from_waste_999.html

US Wind Generation Increases by 27 Percent
Washington (IANS) Mar 13, 2012
Wind generation in the US increased by 27 percent in 2011 as compared with 2010, continuing a trend of rapid growth, the government said Monday. Tax credits and grants for electricity from certain renewable sources have encouraged capacity additions and increased generation from wind and other renewable sources, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said Monday. Wind energy is the largest source of non-hydroelectric renewable electricity in the US, contributing 61 percent of the nearly 200 gigawatthours of non-hydroelectric renewable generation in 2011, Xinhua reported quoting the EIA. In its Annual Energy outlook 2012, the agency estimates that increased generation from renewable energy resources in the power sector will account for 33 percent of total electricity generation between 2010 and 2035. The share of non-hydro renewable sources is expected to rise from 4 percent to 9 percent over the period.
Biomass generation is estimated to expand nearly four-fold during that period. Solar is expected to grow nearly seven-fold by 2035. http://www.winddaily.com/reports/US_wind_generation_increases_by_27_percent_999.html

 

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