Zipping cross-country in a super-high-speed train has become commonplace in many countries these days, but it was unheard of when Japan launched its bullet train between Tokyo and Osaka 50 years ago Wednesday.
The Shinkansen, as it’s called in Japan, gave a boost to train travel in Europe and Asia at a time when the rise of the automobile and the airplane threated to eclipse it. It also was a symbol of pride for Japan, less than two decades after the end of World War II, and a precursor of the economic “miracle” to come.
The Oct. 1, 1964, inauguration ceremony was re-enacted at Tokyo Station on Wednesday at 6 a.m., complete with ribbon cutting. The first bullet train, with its almost cute bulbous round nose, traveled from Tokyo to Osaka in four hours, shaving two and a half hours off the 513-kilometer (319-mile) journey. The latest model, with a space-age-like elongated nose, takes just two hours and 25 minutes…
The Shinkansen renewed interest in high-speed rail elsewhere, notably in Europe. France and Spain are among the leaders in Europe, and Turkey last year became the ninth country to operate a train at an average speed of 200 kph, according to Railway Gazette. South Korea and Taiwan also operate high-speed systems in Asia…The fastest train in the U.S., Amtrak’s Acela Express, averages 169 kph (105 mph) on a short stretch between Baltimore and Wilmington, Delaware…
Here’s a look at the rest of the modern world. Which really doesn’t include the United States.
Shortly before Christmas, we heard about 35 year-old British adventurer Maria Leijerstam’s planned attempt to ride to the South Pole on a recumbent fat-tired tricycle. On December 27th at 1am GMT, she achieved that goal, becoming the first person to ever successfully cycle from the edge of the Antarctic continent to the Pole.
Leijerstam used a modified version of the commercially-available Sprint trike, made by recumbent tricycle manufacturer Inspired Cycle Engineering (ICE). She chose to go with a recumbent trike because it would allow her to maintain stability in the often very-high winds. This allowed her to concentrate simply on moving forward, instead of having to waste time and effort keeping her balance.
The strategy paid off, as she not only made it, but also beat two other cyclists who had set out for the Pole on two-wheelers, days before her Dec. 17th start date. Her victory wasn’t just due to the fact that she could move faster, but also because the stability of her trike allowed her to take a different route that was shorter but technically more challenging.
That “shorter” route was nonetheless approximately 644 km long, stretching from the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, up over Leverett Glacier, and onward to the South Pole.
Bravo! Difficult enough to develop, plan and build the whole process of a challenge like this. That took two years of training in Siberia, Norway and Iceland.
Having the courage, stamina and complete physical skill to win a first like this one – is worth worldwide recognition.
“At least three different lines of scientific inquiry allow us to tell a story about cat domestication that is reminiscent of the old ‘house that Jack built’ nursery rhyme,” said study co-author Fiona Marshall, PhD…
“Our data suggest that cats were attracted to ancient farming villages by small animals, such as rodents that were living on the grain that the farmers grew, ate and stored.”…The study provides the first direct evidence for the processes of cat domestication.
“Results of this study show that the village of Quanhucun was a source of food for the cats 5,300 years ago, and the relationship between humans and cats was commensal, or advantageous for the cats,” Marshall said. “Even if these cats were not yet domesticated, our evidence confirms that they lived in close proximity to farmers, and that the relationship had mutual benefits…”
While it often has been argued that cats were attracted to rodents and other food in early farming villages and domesticated themselves, there has been little evidence for this theory.
The evidence for this study is derived from research in China led by Yaowu Hu and colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Hu and his team analyzed eight bones from at least two cats excavated from the site.
Using radiocarbon dating and isotopic analyses of carbon and nitrogen traces in the bones of cats, dogs, deer and other wildlife unearthed near Quanhucan, the research team demonstrated how a breed of once-wild cats carved a niche for themselves in a society that thrived on the widespread cultivation of the grain millet.
…Carbon and nitrogen isotopes show that cats were preying on animals that lived on farmed millet, probably rodents. At the same time, an ancient rodent burrow into a storage pit and the rodent-proof design of grain storage pots indicate that farmers had problems with rodents in the grain stores.
Other clues gleaned from the Quanhucun food web suggest the relationship between cats and humans had begun to grow closer. One of the cats was aged, showing that it survived well in the village. Another ate fewer animals and more millet than expected, suggesting that it scavenged human food or was fed.
Recent DNA studies suggest that most of the estimated 600 million domestic cats now living around the globe are descendants most directly of the Near Eastern Wildcat, one of the five Felis sylvestris lybica wildcat subspecies still found around the Old World…
“We do not yet know whether these cats came to China from the Near East, whether they interbred with Chinese wild-cat species, or even whether cats from China played a previously unsuspected role in domestication,” Marshall said.
Wow. Would I ever love to see a docudrama in classic Chinese-film style about this.
Nathan Dyer opens the scoring
Swansea City secured the first major trophy in their 111-year history as League Two Bradford City were thrashed in the Capital One Cup final at Wembley.
The Bantams had beaten Premier League trio Wigan Athletic, Arsenal and Aston Villa on the way to becoming the first side from English football’s fourth tier to reach this final since 1962.
But Swansea proved a step too far and there was to be no storybook ending to this remarkable campaign as Bradford were taken apart by Michael Laudrup’s side en route to the biggest win in the final of this competition.
The Bantams were swiftly out of their depth and goals from Nathan Dyer and Michu gave Swansea a comfortable half-time lead that was no more than their ordered passing game merited…
Dyer’s second goal just after half-time removed any remaining doubt about the destination of the trophy and a thoroughly chastening experience for Bradford was encapsulated by Swansea’s fourth on the hour. Goalkeeper Matt Duke, a hero of the run to Wembley, was sent off for bringing down Jonathan de Guzman, who scored from the spot.
De Guzman added his own second in stoppage time – not that this stopped Bradford’s supporters rising to acclaim the team that has given them and their city so much to be proud of as they went up to collect their runners-up medals.
I can only echo remarks in the article by Phil McNulty. We all hoped against hope for Bradford City to continue their tale of performances well above their station in the English Leagues. That was not to be.
The polish and professionalism of Swansea City was too much. Their strength and skill capable of scoring at any reasonable chance. Good and ready enough to lift the silverware. Bravo!
REUTERS/JORGE SILVA used by permission
Mexico’s Oribe Peralta scored twice in their victory over Brazil, today, for the Olympic gold medal in football. This was the celebration after his first goal – in the first 30 seconds of the match. Final score Mexico 2 – 1 Brazil.
Carlos Sousa driving a Great Wall Haval to 7th overall in Dakar 2012
Great Wall Motor has become the first Chinese carmaker to open an assembly plant in Europe as it aims to lift sales in the region.
The factory, in the northern village of Bahovitsa in Bulgaria, will eventually produce 50,000 vehicles a year.
The facility was built together with Great Wall’s Bulgarian partner Litex Motors. It will manufacture Great Wall’s Hover SUV, Steed pick-up and Voleex city car models.
The plant will initially employ 150 workers capable of making 4,000 vehicles per year, rising to 2,000 employees when at full capacity in 2013.
“Great Wall’s plans to build a plant in Bulgaria and produce automobiles here are aimed at boosting our production capacity and exporting these automobiles for the European market,” company president and chief executive Feng Ying Wang said. “We estimate that in three to five years we will have a wide range of models made here and that these cars will be sold in all European countries.”
The sort of enterprise following on economic growth and market penetration by the Asian countries preceding China into Western markets. I expect this will continue with sensible entry and growth models – in Europe. It’s all part of sensible, interconnected globalising of economies. That doesn’t require ideology, prayer or xenophobia.
I think Cold War conservatism will continue to get in the way of similar job creation in the United States. A ship of fools.
An explorer on Friday said he was “exhilarated” after he and his crew became the first people to row to the magnetic north pole.
Jock Wishart and his five-man team took just under four weeks to complete the 450-mile route. They encountered polar bears and collided with icebergs as they travelled through the Arctic waters in their specially designed vessel.
The trip has only recently become possible because of an increase in seasonal ice melt in the Arctic, which has opened up the waters.
Wishart, who was born in Dumfries, organised the Old Pulteney Row to the pole to highlight the effects of climate change on the ice in the region.
He said: “I think this is one of my greatest achievements. It was a dream four years ago but now it’s reality. Up until last night we still could not say with certainty that we would reach our destination, so we are all exhilarated and relieved that weather conditions were in our favour and we have completed our row to the magnetic north pole while it was still possible.
“It is an enormous achievement, and a privilege for our team to have been part of what is one of the world’s last great firsts…”
Throughout the journey, the rowing crew worked with scientific research partners to provide environmental data on the impact of arctic deterioration on the polar landscape.
RTFA for more of the details. One of the explorers is a cinematographer – so, sooner or later, we’ll get to see a documentary about the expedition.
Endurance challenges send a spark to unique human beings. Perhaps these require skills and talents leftover from earlier days in our evolution. Combined with modern training and nutrition knowledge, human beings are capable of amazing efforts.
During the record attempt, the crew consumed 7,000 calories a day. Each.
A spidery crater named for a French composer features in the very first picture MESSENGER took from orbit around Mercury, taken March 29 and released March 30.
Debussy Crater had been known since before MESSENGER’s arrival, thanks to its brilliant appearance in Earth-based radar images of Mercury. But no spacecraft had seen Debussy in visible light until MESSENGER made a flyby on its way into orbit.
The new shot of the 80-kilometer-wide crater is a composite of three out of eight images taken through different light filters. Combining images taken at multiple wavelengths can reveal changes across Mercury’s surface, since different minerals reflect light in unique ways. A black-and-white version of this Mercury picture was released on March 29.
RTFA – go to the NatGeo site and click through each photo and description. Delightful.
Nasser Al-Attiyah (R), co-driver Timo Gottschalk (L) and VW team manager Chris Niessen
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission
Qatari driver Nasser Al-Attiyah described winning his first Dakar Rally title as “the biggest moment in my career” following Saturday’s final stage of the testing endurance race.
Carlos Sainz won the 13th leg into Buenos Aires from Cordoba to extend his career record of stage wins to 24, but the defending car champion finished third overall behind South African Giniel De Villiers as their Volkswagen team filled the podium.
The 40-year-old Al-Attiyah was delighted following his second-place finish last year, and a disqualification in 2009.
“It means a lot to win a Dakar, for me, for my people, for my country and for my team,” he told the race’s official website after finishing second in the final stage to head off De Villiers by almost 50 minutes.
“It is a great victory. It’s hard to explain everything that goes through your head. But it is a very nice feeling. We demonstrated that we have the strongest team in the world. It is the third time the team has won a Dakar.
I’m the primo maniac in a family of Dakar nuts. It’s the singular form of motorsports that brings together the greatest portion of our extended family.
I’ve been a Carlos Sainze fan for many years; but, I’ve followed Al-Attiyah’s progression through the ranks – mostly driving as a BMW privateer. It’s truly satisfying to watch and witness his first win in the Dakar.
Scientists claimed a breakthrough Thursday in solving one of the biggest riddles of physics, successfully trapping the first “anti-atom” in a quest to understand what happened to all the antimatter that has vanished since the Big Bang.
An international team of physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, managed to create an atom of anti-hydrogen and then hold onto it for long enough to demonstrate that it can be studied in the lab.
“For us it’s a big breakthrough because it means we can take the next step, which is to try to compare matter and antimatter,” the team’s spokesman, American scientist Jeffrey Hangst, told The Associated Press.
“This field is 20 years old and has been making incremental progress toward exactly this all along the way,” he added. “We really think that this was the most difficult step…”
Theory posits that matter and antimatter were created in equal amounts at the moment of the Big Bang, which spawned the universe some 13.7 billion years ago. But while matter — defined as having mass and taking up space — went on to become the building block of everything that exists, antimatter has all but disappeared except in the lab…
Scientists have long been able to create individual particles of antimatter such as anti-protons, anti-neutrons and positrons — the opposite of electrons. Since 2002, they have also managed to lump these particles together to form anti-atoms, but until recently none could be trapped for long enough to study them, because atoms made of antimatter and matter annihilate each other in a burst of energy upon contact.
“It doesn’t help if they disappear immediately upon their creation,” said Hangst. “So the big goal has been to hold onto them…”
“We have a chance to make a really precise comparison between a matter system and an antimatter system,” he said, “That’s unique, that’s never been done. That’s where we’re headed now.”