Global air pollution is worse than you ever thought it was


Click to enlargeBBC

The World Health Organization — which has previously found that indoor and outdoor air pollution killed a shocking 7 million people globally in 2012 — released a new analysis Tuesday underscoring the extent of the risk, which seems to grow worse and worse the more we learn about how damaging tiny airborne particles can be to our health.

Most strikingly, the new report, which combines local data with a global model to determine the extent of deadly air pollution across the planet even in places where there are no instruments recording it, finds that 92 percent of people suffer under pollution levels that are worse than WHO standards (as of 2014). The vast majority of deaths are in developing countries. The document calls air pollution the “largest environmental risk factor.”

Of greatest concern is a form of pollution called PM2.5, referring to particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers. The global health agency believes that a concentration greater than 10 micrograms per cubic meter of these fine particles in the air qualifies as dangerous. The great risk is that the particles are so small that they can be inhaled, travel into the lungs, and enter the bloodstream…

The new report credits air pollution with “about one in every nine deaths annually…”

In general, developed nations such as the United States have managed to clean their air substantially in recent years, but WHO has found that in developing countries the burden remains quite high. A previous report from earlier this year from the agency found that the Indian capital city of Delhi had annually averaged PM2.5 levels of 122, or more than 12 times the safe level…

In other words, Air pollution is improving in rich countries, but it’s still getting worse in most developing countries.

Netflix released a 12-minute film that makes real sense to engineers and developers


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Netflix released a eerie original film noir this month called Meridian that combines a classic detective tale with bizarre visuals, loud special effects, and creepy imagery. The 12-minute film got 1.5 stars and a few reviews on Netflix. But it wasn’t made for casual viewers. It was released for developers and engineers…

Netflix is giving away the project for free on Xiph.org, which houses a collection of test media, so hardware manufacturers, codec developers, and even competitors like Amazon can experiment with it, Variety reported. They can test the performance of their algorithms and the way streams look on different devices using the footage, which is listed under the Creative Commons 4.0 license. It’s part of how Netflix is pushing Hollywood to think more like Silicon Valley.

“It’s a weird story wrapped up in a bunch of engineering requirements,” Chris Fetner, Netflix’s director for content partner operations, told the publication…

The film has top notch specs, so developers and engineers are working with highest quality Netflix streaming currently offers. It was shot in 4K HDR video with 60 frames per second with a peak brightness level of 4000 nits and Dolby Atmos audio…

Cinema nuts will enjoy the piece regardless. Interesting knowing you’re watching a technical lecture at the same time.

Saudi women file petition to end male guardianship — the fight never ends

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❝ A petition signed by more than 14,000 Saudi women calling for an end to the country’s male guardianship system is being handed to the government.

Women must have the consent of a male guardian to travel abroad, and often need permission to work or study…

Activist Aziza Al-Yousef told the BBC she felt “very proud” of the campaign, but now needed a response.

❝ In the deeply conservative Islamic kingdom, a woman must have permission from her father, brother or other male relative – in the case of a widow, sometimes her son – to obtain a passport, marry or leave the country.

Many workplaces and universities also demand a guardian’s consent for female employees and students, although it is not legally required…

Renting a flat, undergoing hospital treatment or filing a legal claim often also require a male guardian’s permission, and there is very little recourse for women whose guardians abuse them or severely limit their freedom.

❝ In July, an Arabic Twitter hashtag which translates as “Saudi women want to abolish the guardianship system” went viral after a Human Rights Watch report was published on the issue. Saudi women tweeted comments, videos and artwork calling for change. Bracelets saying “I Am My Own Guardian” appeared.

❝ The women counted on the petition all gave their full names, though more signed anonymously. Hundreds of women – one estimate suggests as many as 2,500 – bombarded the Saudi King’s office over the weekend with telegrams containing personal messages backing the campaign.

Human Rights Watch researcher Kristine Beckerle, who worked on the report, described the response as “incredible and unprecedented”.

❝ Ms Yousef, who was stopped by police in 2013 for breaking the country’s ban on women driving, said she did not expect any negative consequences from the petition: “I’m not worried, I’m not doing anything wrong,” she said.

She and another activist took the petition to the Royal Court in person on Monday, but were advised to send it by mail…

“In every aspect, the important issue is to treat a woman as a full citizen,” she said.

Might be nice if some of our prominent citizens get on board this Freedom Train.

Are you in the American middle class?

About half of American adults lived in middle-income households in 2014, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data. In percentage terms, 51% of adults lived in middle-income households, 29% in lower-income households and 20% in upper-income households.

Our updated calculator below lets you find out which group you are in – first compared with other adults in your metropolitan area and among American adults overall, and then compared with other adults in the U.S. similar to you in education, age, race or ethnicity, and marital status.

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Click on graphic to reach article and calculator

New data has updated this calculator – released last December.

The world’s largest radio telescope begins operations in China


Liu Xu/Xinhua

❝ The world’s largest radio telescope began searching for signals from stars and galaxies and, perhaps, extraterrestrial life Sunday in a project demonstrating China’s rising ambitions in space and its pursuit of international scientific prestige…

Measuring 500 meters in diameter, the radio telescope is nestled in a natural basin within a stunning landscape of lush green karst formations in southern Guizhou province. It took five years and $180 million to complete and surpasses that of the 300-meter Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, a dish used in research on stars that led to a Nobel Prize.

❝ The official Xinhua News Agency said hundreds of astronomers and enthusiasts watched the launch of the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST, in the county of Pingtang.

Researchers quoted by state media said FAST would search for gravitational waves, detect radio emissions from stars and galaxies and listen for signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life…

Installation of the 4,450-panel structure, nicknamed Tianyan, or the Eye of Heaven, started in 2011 and was completed in July…

❝ The radio telescope has double the sensitivity of the Arecibo Observatory, and five to 10 times the surveying speed…

China has also completed the construction of tourist facilities such as an observation deck on a nearby mountain…Such facilities can be a draw for visitors — the one in Puerto Rico draws about 90,000 visitors and some 200 scientists each year.

There is something I’d love to visit. Wish I could drive there in my old pickup truck. I will not countenance the TSA crappola.