Nepal joins new UN initiative protecting journalists
The United Nations agency tasked with defending press freedom today launched a new project in Nepal aimed at increasing the safety of journalists and ending impunity in the crimes against media and media professionals, while also contributing to the overall peace effort in the country.
“Journalists play an essential role in the peace process. But they must be safe to be able to provide people access to non-partisan information,” said Axel Plathe, Representative of the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to Nepal and the Head of UNESCO Office in Kathmandu.
“Continuous aggression against journalists and media persons and the impunity in many cases of press freedom violations and violence against journalists continue to threaten the still fragile peace process,” Mr. Plathe stressed.
Cutting edge California tunnels poised to open
Two slick new mile-long tunnels are undergoing final safety tests this month, poised to divert motorists away from an ocean cliff-hanging roadway dubbed Devil’s Slide south of San Francisco to a smooth, Alpine-like passageway unlike any in the U.S. today.
The $439 million project, paid with federal emergency funds, features massive exhaust fans, carbon monoxide sensors and a pair of 1,000-foot bridges soaring 125 feet above a grassy horse ranch. A series of 10 fireproof shelters are staggered between the double bores, and remote cameras dangle from the ceiling, monitored by an around-the-clock safety staff of 15.
The tunnels, the first in the U.S. designed and built with an Austrian technique, have a Euro-glossiness to them, with white, glistening walls and shiny pipes gliding down a rounded ceiling. There’s a bit of theme park vibe as well, with retaining walls and fake boulders at the entrance sculpted by the man who shaped and molded Disneyland’s Indiana Jones ride.
"A new highway tunnel is a rare beast in this country, and what they are doing at Devil’s Slide is certainly different than anything we’ve seen in the U.S.," said Neil Gray, director of government affairs at the Washington, D.C.-based International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.
The Tom Lantos Tunnels, named after the late congressman, are the first tunnels built in California in more than 50 years. There are only a handful of tunnels under construction in the U.S. today, including the Alaskan Way Tunnel in Seattle, and the fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel, just 34 miles east of Devil’s Slide in the eastern San Francisco Bay area.
Unlike those tunnels built to relieve commuter congestion, this new pair, 15 miles south of San Francisco, will divert a treacherous 1.2-mile stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway that constantly erodes and frequently collapses.
It’s a spectacular section of road that was never meant to be.
Just three years after its 1937 completion, the road tumbled into pounding waves below. The road has fallen eight times since, causing costly closures that have devastated communities to the south — Montara, Moss Beach, El Granada, Princeton and Half Moon Bay — that depend on the route for daily commutes and for tourism from motorists heading south from San Francisco.
Each closure turns a 7-mile scenic drive from Pacifica to Montara into a 45-mile detour through the hills, and some have lasted for months.
In addition to slides, every year there are serious — often deadly — accidents on the narrow roadway, which twists so sharply that safe drivers are forced to slow to less than 25 mph. Reckless motorists have plunged hundreds of feet down the cliffs or drifted into oncoming traffic, resulting in horrifying head-on collisions. Plans are to turn the road, once closed, into a pedestrian and cycling park.
The new route, once bitterly contentious, became a model of Californian cooperation in 2006 after local voters declared 3-to-1 that they wanted the more expensive tunnels instead of a state-backed 4 1/2-mile road that would cut inland around a rugged, sage-covered mountain, crossing streams and paving over sensitive plants and habitat.
But not everyone wants to be rerouted.
For decades, Capt. William “Smitty” Smith, has eased his SUV every morning through the stretch, driving south from San Francisco to his charter boat in Half Moon Bay.
"I come around the Devil’s Slide bend and the whole world opens up, the entire coast, and I can see what kind of day I’m going to have," he said.
Now, instead of dense fog, rainbows, choppy seas and rolling currents, he’ll face a tunnel long enough to challenge the toughest breath holders in the back seat.
Other residents are apprehensive about earthquakes. The tunnels cut through a seismically flashy area, where the notorious San Andreas fault grumbles and jolts.
"I’m not going to like going through those tunnels, but it’s mind over matter," said Phoebe McGaw, working in a coffee shop a few miles south of the project. "And it’s about time they finish."
Neither on budget nor on time, it was a 5-year, $240 million project when it launched in 2006. Seven years and $439 million later, Y. Nien Wang, project manager for design contractor HNTB Corp., said seismic concerns, along with few existing standards and regulations, made it a particularly challenging project.
The Federal Highway Administration is only now developing national tunnel inspection standards, and doesn’t track information on tunnels in any systematic way. And since this was the first tunnel constructed in decades in California, there were many first-time decisions to be made about seismic safety and design.
"A lot of what we did will be a model for future tunnel work in California," said Wang.
The one-lane tunnels with wide shoulders for stalled cars and bicycles are built to withstand a magnitude 7.5 to 8.0 earthquake, the maximum movement geologists estimate for this reach of the San Andreas fault.
Caltrans spokesman Bob Haus said the site’s geology also added costs. With one set of machinery for soft rock, a different set for hard rock, crews dug with what were at the time the two largest excavators in the country, 148 tons each. Each time they bumped into a different type of rock, they would have to swap out the entire set of machinery.
"We had to demobilize, remobilize, demobilize, remobilize," Haus said. "That adds up."
And then there were the red-legged frogs. Early on, planners realized that at least one of the 256 streams this protected species lives in ran close to the tunnel sites. Thus, a team of three biologists were hired to protect whatever frogs they could find.
Going from sliding roadway to high-tech tunnels has been a grinding process for U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who spent hours in emotional hearings about the slide as a county supervisor 25 years ago.
"When we first started debating this issue, I was young and frisky. Now I’m old and color my hair," she said. "But residents on the coast no longer have to live in fear that their road will wash out and they’ll be stranded."
Meanwhile in the Netherlands of the Day
The Dutch design firm Studio Roosegaarde teamed up with the infrastructure management group Heijmans to replace the traditional paint used on roads with a photoluminescent powder that will glow in the dark. Additionally, the roads will light up with snowflake indicators when the temperature drops below freezing to warn drivers of icy conditions. These new highway designs are expected to debut by the middle of the year.
2012 was safest year ever to travel by plane, figures show
The number of fatal crashes in 2012 and the number of people killed in those crashes fell sharply compared with 2011.
And the fatal accident rate of one per 2.5 million flights made 2012 the safest year on record and almost twice as safe as 2011, flight advisory service Ascend said.
The figures, which relate to airliner safety, showed that there were 15 plane crashes involving deaths in 2012 compared with 25 last year.
The number of people killed in fatal accident crashes this year was 362 compared with 403 last year.
Nearly three quarters of the deaths came in two incidents this year.
A total of 127 people were killed when a Bhoja Air Boeing 737 crashed near Islamabad airport in Pakistan on April 20.
Then on June 6, a total of 153 people, plus 10 on the ground, died when a DANA Air plane crashed on approach to Lagos airport in Nigeria.
Ascend said the passenger death rate for the last five years was about one per 6.1 million passengers carried, while for the period 2000 to 2009 the rate was one per 3.7 million and for the 1990s it was one per 1.8 million.
Insurance claims for loss of airliners in 2012 are around 980 million dollars (about £612 million) - the lowest level since 1991.
Paul Hayes, head of safety at Ascend, said: ”2012 does not represent a new norm for the world airlines.
”Nonetheless, airline fatal accident rates have been steadily improving and on average, operations are now twice as safe as they were 15 years ago. About 335 fewer passengers and crew were killed each year in the last decade than during the 1990s.”
When Anirudha Surabhi was a grad student at the Royal College of Art in London, he was in a bike accident. Even though it was a minor crash, and Surabhi was wearing an expensive helmet, the next day he learned that he had a concussion. He spent three days in the hospital. He wondered why the helmet hadn’t worked—and decided to explore the problem for his thesis project.
It turns out that bike helmets are not as safe as they’re portrayed to be. Over the last few decades, Surabhi says, some helmets have gotten more aerodynamic and better-looking, but they haven’t gotten any better at protecting us from injuries.
As he began working on his design, Surabhi looked at the anatomy of a woodpecker for inspiration. When a woodpecker slams its beak into the trunk of a tree, the impact is cushioned by a special micro-structure between the beak and head. By mirroring that structure—after testing 150 different materials—Surabhi was able to create a helmet that can withstand three times greater impact than a standard helmet.
Special cardboard ribs inside the helmet are designed for flexibility. The cardboard itself has a honeycomb structure filled with air pockets to provide more cushioning. It’s stronger than a standard helmet liner, and lighter.
It’s also greener than the ubiquitous polystyrene foam liners. Foam, unsurprisingly, is not great for the environment; the manufacturing process is a health hazard, and it also creates hazardous waste. It’s also more energy-intensive to produce than cardboard. Surabhi used 100 percent recycled cardboard, which he says takes no electricity to produce at all.
For the full design story, watch the video below. The helmet’s in production now, and Core77 reports that the first U.S. version of the helmet will be out next year through ABUS.
Images courtesy of Anirudha Surabhi
Experimental headlight system can see through rain and snow
Driving at night in falling rain or snow can be treacherous, but not just because the asphalt is slippery – visibility is also greatly reduced, as the driver’s view of the road ahead is obscured by brightly headlight-lit raindrops or snowflakes. In the future, however, that may not be so much of a problem. A team led by Carnegie Mellon University’s Prof. Srinivasa Narasimhan has developed an experimental headlight system that renders most foreground precipitation virtually invisible, while still adequately illuminating the road beyond.
At the heart of the system are a digital light projector (which serves as the actual headlight) and an adjacent video camera. The camera is able to “see” the projector’s exact field of illumination, via a beamsplitter. As a raindrop falls into the top of this field, it is illuminated by the projector and its image is picked up by the camera.
A microprocessor then calculates the drop’s trajectory, and proceeds to selectively deactivate the projector’s light rays along that path. The result is that the raindrop is able to fall through the field of illumination, but with no light rays actually striking it – except for at the very top of the field, as it’s first detected. All of the other rays, or at least those that aren’t lined up with a raindrop falling within three to four meters (10 to 13 feet) in front of the projector, proceed through to light up the road.
This process is carried on for multitudes of drops simultaneously. For each individual raindrop, the amount of time between detection and reaction is approximately 13 milliseconds. Because the light rays are turned off and back on so quickly, there is reportedly no noticeable “flickery” quality to the light.
Needless to say, because numerous rays from the projector are continuously being disabled, it isn’t able to illuminate the road quite as brightly as would be possible otherwise … although it’s not as pronounced of an effect as one might think. Even in heavy rain, the air volume consists of only about two to three percent raindrops, so the projector’s light output would only drop by about the same amount.
According to a report in Technology Review, the system is able to “hide” 70 percent of raindrops in simulated thunderstorm conditions, at a driving speed of 30 km/h (18.6 mph). That figure drops to 15 to 20 percent when the speed is increased to 100 km/h (62 mph).
Smart fabric for new soldier uniform
British soldiers’ uniforms could soon use electrically conducting yarn woven directly into the clothing, replacing cumbersome batteries and cabling.
The “e-textiles” could provide uniforms with a single, central power source.
This would allow soldiers to recharge one battery instead of many and cut the number of cables required in their kit.
Surrey-based Intelligent Textiles showcased the lightweight uniform at an event organised by the Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE).
The company has patented a number of techniques for weaving complex conductive fabrics.
"We have built-in conductive yarns that then take power and data to where it needs to be," Asha Thompson, director of Intelligent Textiles, told BBC News.
"One of the problems with conventional cables is that breakages can be catastrophic. What we do here is build in redundancy, so that if the fabric gets cut, damaged or torn, we still have a way of re-routing the data."
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Afghanistan opened its first female-only internet cafe on Thursday, hoping to give women a chance to connect to the world without verbal and sexual harassment and free from the unwanted gazes of their countrymen.
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The world’s richest man Carlos Slim will spearhead a project to rescue the Pacific port of Acapulco, a once glamorous haunt of Hollywood stars that has lately become mired in violent crime.
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Japan to scrap nuclear plants after 40 years to improve safety
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It’s never been safer to fly in the United States; deaths at record low
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The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics said Wednesday that those companies — all fairly small and in the industry’s “natural products” niche — have met all or nearly all of its goals to make items from soaps and shampoos to cosmetics and aromatherapy safer for U.S. consumers.
The coalition of about 150 groups worked with the companies to get them to remove substances banned by health authorities in other countries, particularly chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects and preservatives that release formaldehyde, which can cause cancer as well as burn the eyes, nose and throat. The coalition also pushed for companies to list all ingredients in their products, which many companies don’t do.