Tagged: Beijing

Pic of the day

Flower power Beijing
Click to enlarge — Flower Power goes viral in BeijingKim Kyung-Hoon

On the bustling streets of Beijing, nature is taking over – in people’s hair. Plastic hairpins of green clover and multi-coloured flowers are peeking out of hairdos, male and female alike.

Deep Learning Machine surpasses humans in IQ test

University of Science and Technology China, Hefei

Just over 100 years ago, the German psychologist William Stern introduced the intelligence quotient test as a way of evaluating human intelligence. Since then, IQ tests have become a standard feature of modern life and are used to determine children’s suitability for schools and adults’ ability to perform jobs.

These tests usually contain three categories of questions: logic questions such as patterns in sequences of images, mathematical questions such as finding patterns in sequences of numbers and verbal reasoning questions, which are based around analogies, classifications, as well as synonyms and antonyms.

It is this last category that has interested Huazheng Wang and pals at the University of Science and Technology of China and Bin Gao and buddies at Microsoft Research in Beijing. Computers have never been good at these. Pose a verbal reasoning question to a natural language processing machine and its performance will be poor, much worse than the average human ability.

Today, that changes thanks to Huazheng and pals who have built a deep learning machine that outperforms the average human ability to answer verbal reasoning questions for the first time…

Huazheng and buddies devised an algorithm for solving natural language verbal questions using standard vector methods but also the multi-sense upgrade they’ve developed.

They compare this deep learning technique with other algorithmic approaches to verbal reasoning tests and also with the ability of humans to do it. For this, they posed the questions to 200 humans gathered via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing facility along with basic information about their ages and educational background.

And the results are impressive. “To our surprise, the average performance of human beings is a little lower than that of our proposed method,” they say.

Human performance on these tests tends to correlate with educational background. So people with a high school education tend to do least well, while those with a bachelor’s degree do better and those with a doctorate perform best. “Our model can reach the intelligence level between the people with the bachelor degrees and those with the master degrees,” say Huazheng and co…

Deep learning techniques are currently sweeping through computer science like wildfire and the revolution they are creating is still in its early stages. There’s no telling where this revolution will take us but one thing is for sure: William Stern would be amazed.

Every chucklehead writing articles that conclude artificial intelligence, computational analysis and reasoning will never pass a Turing test is shuttered from reality. Much less useful. The best minds already predict the opposite even if it takes the usual road to scientific success – recognition one death at a time. As the old farts or those who think like old farts die off, reality moves progress beyond the ennui of culture.

RTFA for the reasoning employed by Huazheng in development of their deep learning machine.

China expands ban on coal to suburbs

Click to enlarge12,000 died in the London smog of winter, 1952

China will expand its bans on coal burning to include suburban areas as well as city centers in efforts to tackle air pollution…

Detailing its clean coal action plan 2015-2020, the National Energy Administration (NEA) said it would promote centralized heating and power supply by natural gas and renewables, replacing scattered heat and power engines fueled by low quality coal.

The world’s biggest coal consumer will ban sale and burning of high-ash and high-sulphur coal in the worst affected regions including city clusters surrounding Beijing.

If you’ve been around as long as I have – and your memory still works – you recall the two-pronged solution to air pollution and smog has been this simple for decades.

After World War 2 the worst smog in the world belonged to London. Just like Beijing, the problem not only was coal-fired electricity generation; but, coal-fired home heating and cooking. It took a couple of decades; but, the last mile solution of getting natural gas to homes took care of the worst of it.

In Beijing and other polluted Chinese cities renewable energy sources are phasing out the portion of pollution coming from soft coal-fired electricity and, now, the government has dropped the other shoe and will end reliance on coal for home fires.

Under the action plan, coal-fired industrial boilers will all shift to burn natural gas or clean coal by 2020 in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei city clusters, Pearl River delta and Yangtze River delta area…

The government will offer subsidies for clean fuels

Natural gas will serve as the first level of carbon reduction as wind power and solar power continue the most dramatic expansion in the world.

France uses new law allowing it to ban half the cars in Paris

Paris smog
Click to enlarge

Tomorrow will be an odd day in Paris. The government has triggered a pollution control law which allows it to ban half the private cars in the greater Paris area.

Cars with registrations ending in odd numbers will be allowed to drive today. If the air pollution alert continues, it will be the turn of the even-numbered cars on Tuesday.

Over 1,000 police officers will be mobilised to hand €22 on-the-spot fines to offenders. The law, first triggered last year, allows the government to limit traffic if micro-particles in the atmosphere rise above 50 microgrammes a cubic metre.

The use of the law has provoked a spat in recent days between two of France’s best-known female Socialist politicians.

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, asked for the restrictions to be imposed last Friday. The environment ministers, Ségolène Royal, complained that a ban on even-numbered cars without advance warning would be a “punitive” attack on suburban commuters.

The two women have a long-standing quarrel, believed to be private in origin. President François Hollande intervened. He ruled in favour of Ms Hidalgo and against his former romantic partner, Ms Royal.

You won’t see much about this in the mainstream media in the US, of course. In the eyes of the American Establishment the only only air pollution in the world that’s dangerous is in Beijing.

In truth, there are long-standing reasons for much of the air pollution in the world – including geography and topography. Which everyone living in Albuquerque or Denver well knows. Correcting the political economy at the root of most air pollution takes time measured in decades, no magic bullets. Beijing’s problem is almost identical to the cause of London’s famous smog – not the fog – and will take longer to clear than current solutions aimed at transport and electric power generation.

Half of Beijing’s smog comes from coal-fired home fires used for heating and cooking. That will take a network of natural gas pipelines to resolve. Right down to the last mile, the last block, house-by-house.

And in related news? In Los Angeles, exposure to both nitrogen dioxide and small particulates has dropped dramatically since the late 1990s.

Children living in five notoriously smoggy parts of greater Los Angeles showed improved lung growth of about 10% between the ages of 11 and 15, compared with children at the same age 20 years ago.

It’s a never-ending fight, folks. Albuquerque’s determination that MTBE added to winter gasoline also increased deadly smog led to the removal of what was a common additive. And more whining.

China’s capital to begin replacing some coal-fired plants

Auld Reekie

China will replace four coal-burning heating plants in the capital Beijing with natural gas fired ones by the end of next year as it steps up efforts to clean up pollution…

The report, citing the city’s Municipal Commission of Development and Reform, said the four plants and some 40 other related projects would cost around $8 billion and cut sulphur dioxide emissions by 10,000 metric tons. It did not detail the related projects.

The plan is the latest step by authorities to deal with a persistent smog crisis in China’s big cities that is fuelling public anger. The capital has been shrouded in thick hazardous smog for several days during the ongoing seven-day national holiday.

China has been under pressure to tackle air pollution to douse potential unrest as an increasingly affluent urban populace turns against a growth-at-all-costs economic model that has besmirched much of China’s air, water and soil.

Last month the government announced plans to slash coal consumption and close polluting mills, factories and smelters, though experts said implementing the targets would be a major challenge.

The new plants will replace four coal-fired ones that provide heating for homes in the city’s central urban area as well as generating electricity, Xinhua said.

Beijing is the Auld Reekie of the 21st Century. For those of you who don’t know the term, it described Edinburgh [and London] not only in the years before World War 2, but, especially afterwards during the efforts to ramp industrial production back up to speed in the UK.

Then, as now, though industrial use was a significant portion of the air pollution, everyone’s attachment to their wee coal fire heating the main rooms of home was a tough cultural obstacle – just as central to established urban life in Beijing. The solution has to be the same – replacing those coal fires with natural gas or electricity generated by means other than burning coal.

The cost of bringing large volumes of natural gas to locations in and around Beijing also lays the groundwork for local provision and access to that cleaner substitute for coal. Smart idea.

World’s longest high-speed railway debuts in China

The world’s fastest trains ready to roll — Click to enlarge

The world’s longest high-speed rail line, which spans over half of China, began operating on Wednesday, further cementing the country’s high-speed railway development ambitions.

Two trains departed from stations in Beijing and Guangzhou at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., respectively, to mark the opening of the 2,298-km line.

Running at an average speed of 300 km per hour, the new route cuts travel time between Beijing and Guangzhou from over 20 hours to about eight.

A total of 155 pairs of trains will run on the new line daily and alternative schedules have been made for weekends and peak travel times, according to the Ministry of Railways…

There will still be 183 pairs of trains running daily on the old Beijing-Guangzhou line that runs parallel to the high-speed line, allaying concerns that the new line will increase passengers’ travel costs.

A second-class seat on the new high-speed line costs $138 while a sleeper on the old line sells for around half that amount…

With the opening of the Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed line, China now has more than 9,300 km of high-speed rails in operation.

The new line is one of four north-south lines expected to serve as a backbone for the country’s planned high-speed railway network, which also features four east-west lines…

Research by the Development Research Center of the State Council showed that the Beijing-Zhengzhou section of the new high-speed line will add $44 billion to the country’s GDP by 2030…

The full operation of the Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed railway will accelerate China’s urbanization progress, as it will help large cities to better perform their role as central cities, boost the development of medium-sized cities along the route and foster the birth and development of new small cities and towns, said Sun Shuli, a chief engineer responsible for designing sections of the new line.

I’m a fan of any kind of railroad that runs quiet and reasonably fast. Our own shiny new railroad connecting north/south in central New Mexico is quiet, on time, and not especially fast. Though it has a roadbed capable of high speeds.

I sort of knew the opening run of the bullet trains was happening, yesterday [US time], from mentions on the news on CCTV9; but, wasn’t paying close attention. It was a kick when I switched to the channel mid-afternoon and realized I was watching a live feed of the train setting forth from Beijing’s central RR station. Cameras along the track and inside the engine and passenger cars showed the kind of excitement I know I would have felt to be on such a trip.

Obama and his administration have a clear idea of the benefits of high-speed rail to our economy and logistics in general. Congress and conservatives owned pretty much lock, stock and barrel by motor freight and fossil fuel industries couldn’t care less. I doubt if we’ll see any success at repairing existing infrastructure much less upgrades to our rail network – in this century.

Rust-Tracker developed to fight Ug99 stem rust in wheat

Ronnie Coffman, right, with project collaborator Germa Bedada

Top wheat experts reported a breakthrough in their ability to track strains of a deadly, rapidly mutating wheat pathogen called stem rust that threatens wheat fields from East Africa to South Asia.

Using data submitted by farmers and scientists, creators of Rust-Tracker, a global cereal rust monitoring system, say they can monitor 42 million hectares of wheat in 27 developing countries in the path of a wind-borne disease so virulent it could quickly turn a healthy field of wheat into a black mass of twisted stems and dried-up grains.

At a symposium in Beijing organized by the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) Sept. 1-4, scientists reported significant progress developing and introducing 20 new varieties of rust-resistant wheat…Studies presented in Beijing reported on progress with isolating genes that confer resistance to the Ug99 fungus in a wild relative of wheat from Israel and Lebanon. An estimated 85 percent of wheat in production, including most wheat grown in the Americas, Asia and Africa, is susceptible to Ug99 and its variants…

In using Rust-Tracker specialists use smartphones and tablets to collect and submit field data that generates “risk maps.” Researchers use the maps to determine the path of virulent strains of stem rust, assess the severity of the threat and prepare farmers to resist it.

“The only manageable solution for farmers who cannot afford fungicides when rust hits is to replace their crop with new rust-resistant varieties,” Ronnie Coffman said. “Planting only 5 percent of a nation’s wheat fields with seed from resistant varieties would allow replacement of susceptible varieties within a year, if Ug99 should appear.

“It’s frustrating,” Coffman continued. “We have the technology to prevent a tragedy that could destroy crops in one of the world’s most important wheat-producing regions. But the funding is not in place to get enough rust-resistant wheat seed multiplied fast enough and into the hands of the people who need it….”

Because China is the largest wheat producer and consumer in the world, threats to its wheat crop or any significant decline in production could have an impact on food security, according to Coffman, who is also director of international programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Wheat is the third leading grain crop in China after rice and maize, with 24 million hectares under cultivation. Yearly production stands at 115 million tons, which is 17 percent of the world’s production.


Though I have to wonder to what extent alternative methods of planting and cropping might aid resistance?

China crackdown on ID theft – over 1700 arrests in a month

Beijing authorities have arrested 160 individuals on charges of stealing personal information, according to the Chinese news site Sina. Police have also shut down 13 online platforms that were alleged to have traded in stolen personal information. It follows the arrest of 1,700 suspects in China on similar charges last month.

The raids are part of an ongoing crackdown on online identity theft in the country.

In a co-ordinated raid, 400 police homed in on 10 districts including Dongcheng, Xicheng and Chaoyang to make the arrests.

The suspects are believed to have registered fake commercial consultancies and legal affairs research firms. They are also accused of illegally using professional spying equipment to obtain large volumes of personal and company information. It is claimed the details were then sold for a profit.

A Beijing-based lawyer is among those detained. Sina reports that he had been the subject of a police investigation since October 2009. It said the suspect had been identified while using an online chat program. He is alleged to have told a lawyers’ group that it could be “profitable” to pass on company information.

Sina reported that he had subsequently searched for clients online and had obtained documents from Beijing’s Industry and Commerce Department, with the help of a fake introduction letter from the law firm he worked at.

The news site said it was believed that he went on to recruit other lawyers to obtain further information from local businesses, and raised more than 40,000 yuan ($6,310) from selling it on.

Some of the script kiddies sell essential stolen information for as little a $1 a pop at Chinese sites. Always nice to see authorities in any nation make this part of their daily practice.