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Teaching & Research Forum / The computer pioneer who built modern China
« on: February 20, 2020, 11:35:20 AM »
"The computer pioneer who built modern China"

In April 1960, China’s first home-grown electronic digital general purpose computer – the Model 107 – went live. Xia Peisu, the machine’s engineer and designer, had just made history.

After decades of war with Japan and the Chinese Civil War in the first half of the 20th Century, the country’s technological innovation had fallen behind much of the developed world. Later, caught in the politics of the Cold War, the newly established People’s Republic of China was cut off from aid and exports from capitalist nations in the West. Chinese scientists relied heavily on hardware and expertise from the Soviet Union to build up their computing power.

But when that relationship dissolved in 1959, China was once again isolated and it had to look inward for a way forward in an increasingly computerised world. Within a year of the Soviet Union withdrawing aid, Xia delivered the 107 – China’s first step on the road to independence in computing.

Today, China is a global leader in computer production. In 2011, China surpassed the US to become the world’s leading market for PCs, and the desktop PC segment of their computer industry alone is projected to bring in a revenue of over $6.4bn (£4.9bn) this year.

But there was more work to be done than making computers. To build a new computer industry – and a new field of computer science to support that industry – China needed trained personnel. Here, too, Xia was essential.

She helped shape some of China’s first computing and computer science institutions and developed their training materials. She taught the first computer theory class in the country. Over her career, she would usher hundreds of students into the country’s burgeoning field of computer science.

In the aftermath of war and political upheaval, Xia shaped a new field of science and a new industry in China. Through both her technological innovations and the many students she taught, Xia‘s influence resonates throughout China’s computing world today.

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Born into a family of educators in the south-eastern municipality of Chongqing on 28 July 1923, Xia rarely went without an education. First attending primary school aged four and receiving private home tutelage at eight, she went on to excel at Nanyu Secondary School and graduated top of her high school class at National No. Nine in 1940.

China was in the throes of the Second Sino-Japanese War, an eight-year conflict that ravaged China and claimed the lives of millions of Chinese civilians. At the war’s onset in 1937, the Japanese captured Nanjing, the capital city of the Republic of China. Xia’s home of Chongqing became a haven for Nanjing refugees. It also became home to National Central University – an institution which, despite forced relocation from Nanjing, kept teaching students. In 1941, Xia joined as a student in electrical engineering.

Xia Peisu’s home of Chongqing, China during a Japanese airstrike in 1940 (Credit: Getty Images)

Xia graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1945. The same year she met Nanjing war refugee and fellow National Central alumnus Yang Liming, now a professor of physics at the university. They started and maintained a relationship even after Xia left for Shanghai for graduate studies at the Telecommunications Institute of Jiaotong University and Yang left to study under Nobel laureate Max Born at the University of Edinburgh.

Two years later, Xia reunited with Yang when she began to study for her doctorate in electrical engineering at the University of Edinburgh. In her dissertation, “On Parametric Oscillations in Electric Circuits and A Graphical Analysis for Non-Linear Systems”, she developed methodologies that could more accurately predict variations in frequency and amplitude within electronic systems, which led to wide-reaching applications for any system with an electrical frequency, from radios to TV to computers.

In 1950, she was awarded her PhD. Later that same year, she and Yang married in Edinburgh. Both scientifically-minded and deeply invested in putting those minds to work in their home country, the couple returned to China in 1951. They both took up positions at Tsinghua University (now Quinghua University), where Xia worked on telecommunications research.

Xia Peisu would go on from a PhD in electrical engineering to designing China’s first home-grown electronic digital general purpose computer (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The China that she and Yang returned to, however, was a changed one.

In 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had prevailed over the Kuomintang party (Chinese Nationalist Party) in the Chinese Civil War, driving the Republic of China to Taiwan and replacing it with People’s Republic of China led by Mao Zedong. In the wake of the Second Sino-Japanese War and the transfer of political parties, China’s economy, industry, and infrastructure was languishing and lagging behind many Western nations.

The Second Sino-Japanese War had hit the country particularly hard. “In essence, all institutions of higher learning, all centres of finance, the main centre of industrial production and the government of China has fled, first to the city of Wuhan, and then after Wuhan [was] lost, to the city of Chongqing in [the] more remote and much poorer area of Sichuan,” says Tom Mullaney, historian at Stanford University and author of the forthcoming book The Chinese Computer. “[The government of China is] basically living a kind of survival existence, but it’s definitely not in any kind of position to invest in electrical engineering, weapon design, and so forth.”

When the CCP came to power, they attempted to rebuild the lost infrastructure, but it wasn’t easy. The US had supported the defeated Kuomintang party in the Chinese Civil War, and they, along with other capitalist nations in the West, denied the newly formed communist country assistance and exports. Mao and the CCP turned to their Soviet neighbours to the north. Seeing an opportunity to bring China into the communist block in the East, the Soviet Union entered into a partnership with China, agreeing to assist China in bolstering its economy, science and technology, including computing.

In 1950, the USSR and China joined an alliance, a relationship that would directly impact China’s computing industry (Credit: Getty Images)

Xia became intricately tied to Sino-Soviet partnership when, in 1953, mathematician Hua Luogeng visited her place of work at Tsinghua University and recruited her into his computer research group at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). She was now one of the three founding members of China’s first computer research group. The CAS would become ground zero for computing technology and research and Xia would be at its centre.

Even though Luogeng’s and Xia’s research group had been developing plans of their own to design electronic computers for three years, the CCP didn’t adopt an official in this area of technology until 1956, with the formalisation of the Sino-Soviet agreement “Long-term Protocol for Developing National Sciences and Technology between 1956 and 1967” – also known as the 12-year plan. Together with Soviet experts, the CCP and the CAS identified computing technology as one of four fields in science and technology key to building up China’s national defense.

An electronic computer would have wide-reaching applications in support of China’s infrastructure and national defense, including development and testing of nuclear weapons, management of large-scale complex transportation systems and development of a satellite program or space program, says Mullaney. “All of these things, and more, were domains in which other powers – the Soviet Union, the US, Great Britain and later France – were developing electronic computing in support of. And China knew that it needed to be able to enter that space if it was going to become competitive on the global stage, economically and militarily.”

China had a long way to go before they could produce a computer. For one, rather than having a single field of computer science, the industry’s fundamental parts were spread out over mathematics, engineering and physics. These would need to be consolidated and then taught to a workforce before a computer could be built.

With her knowledge of electronics and mathematics, Xia was an ideal choice for this part of the plan.

With her knowledge of electronics and mathematics, Xia was an ideal choice
In 1956, she joined a delegation to Moscow and Leningrad to explore Soviet research, production and education in computing. When she returned that same year, she undertook translation of Soviet computer design from Russian into Chinese, including a 1,000-page manual that became the course text for teaching Chinese students Soviet computing.

That same year, under the auspices of the CAS’s Institute of Mathematics and Institute of Physics, Xia taught the country’s first computer theory class. She also helped the CAS in its first major step in establishing a computer science department with the Institute of Computer Technology (ICT). The ICT was quickly followed by the CAS’s founding of the University of Science and Technology. Xia was involved in developing the computer science courses at both institutions, and as a course developer and lecturer, she oversaw the training of hundreds of students between 1956 and 1962.

 “What [China] needed above all was a training program,” Mullaney notes. Xia gave them one.

By 1959, China had succeeded in replicating two Soviet electronic computer designs; the 103 model and the 104 model, each based on the Soviet M-3 and BESM-II computers respectively. But just as China began making progress in producing computers, the Sino-Soviet relationship was in dissolution. The two countries’ leaders sparred over whose nation was the centre of the communist world and whose path to global communism was the right one.

The relationship had become so bad by 1960 that the Soviet Union withdrew all support, both material and advisorial, from China, says Mullaney. After the Soviets withdrew, many other countries assumed that China’s computing industry just stopped.

It didn’t.

Far from stopping after the 1960 USSR withdrawal of support, China’s computing industry continued to advance (Credit: Getty Images)

CAS researchers continued to pursue computing technology and computer science on their own. Xia’s 107 model was the first computer that China developed after Soviet withdrawal, and unlike the 103 and 104 models based on Soviet design, the 107 was the first indigenously designed and developed computer in China. The 107 was soon reproduced and installed in training institutions around China.

Throughout the 1960s, China continued to develop more powerful and sophisticated computers at the CAS in isolation, progressing from tube circuits like that of the 107 to transistors and, in the 70s and early 80s, to integrated circuits. When a delegation of US computer scientists visited China in 1972, they didn’t expect to find China’s computer industry humming along. “All of the members of that delegation, in the few testimonials we have, all express surprise at how far [China had come],” Mullaney says.

Throughout this time, Xia continued a balance of research and development in high processing speed computers and training new computer scientists and engineers. In 1978, Xia helped found the Chinese Journal of Computers as well as the Journal of Computer Science and Technology, the first English-language journal for computing in the country. And in 1981, she developed a high-speed processor array called the 150AP. Compared to the earlier Soviet-based model 104 that performed 10,000 operations per second, her 150AP boosted a computer’s operations to 20 million per second.

Due in large part to Xia, computer science coalesced into an independent field of study in China and the country’s computer industry emerged despite a tumultuous beginning. “In terms of someone who held her position and was such a central actor in a leadership role, I have not come across other women of her stature at that time,” Mullaney says.

By the 1970s, China had developed powerful, sophisticated computers with integrated circuits (Credit: Getty Images)

Although her design of the 107 made history, it was Xia’s founding of institutions and cultivation of cohort after cohort of students that ultimately made China’s future. “Those are students who… would lay groundwork for what we see today,” says Mullaney.

One of those students later became the chief architect of Loongson CPUs, and in 2002, he personally honored his mentor by naming the processing chip of China’s first CPU computer “Xia 50”.

Dubbed in China the “Mother of Chinese Computing”, Xia is still recognised as a founding member of the country’s computer industry. The China Computer Federation awards the Xia-Peisu Award annually to women scientist and engineers “who have made outstanding contributions and achievements in the computing science, engineering, education and industry”. Chen Zuoning and Huan Lingyi received the award most recently in 2019: Chen for her work in developing domestic high-performance computing systems and Huan for her research in CPUs and other core computer devices. Continuing along the path Xia charted for them, Chen and Huan have strengthened China’s domestic computer technology.



Fair and Events / Rahaf al-Qunun: Thailand vows not to deport Saudi woman
« on: January 07, 2019, 06:59:40 PM »

The head of Thailand's immigration police has said the country will not deport a young Saudi woman who fled her family at the weekend, due to concerns for her safety.

Thai immigration officials had tried to return Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, to Kuwait, where her family is.

She refused to board a flight to Kuwait City on Monday, and barricaded herself into her hotel room at Bangkok airport.

The teenager said she believed her family would kill her if she went back.

"My brothers and family and the Saudi embassy will be waiting for me in Kuwait," she told Reuters.

"My life is in danger. My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things."

Rights groups including Human Rights Watch have expressed grave concerns for Ms Mohammed al-Qunun, who arrived at Bangkok's international airport on a flight from Kuwait. She had travelled to Thailand for a connecting flight to Australia, where she hoped to seek asylum.

She has said she will not leave her hotel room until she is allowed to meet the UN refugee agency.

Melissa Fleming, head of communications at the refugee agency, tweeted at 18:25 (11:25 GMT) on Monday that "Our Bangkok protection team is meeting with @Rahaf84427714 now".

Skip Twitter post by @melissarfleming

Melissa Fleming

 Breaking: The Thai authorities have granted UNHCR, @Refugees access to Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun at Bangkok airport to assess her need for international refugee protection and find an immediate solution for her situation.

5:24 PM - Jan 7, 2019
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377 people are talking about this
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End of Twitter post by @melissarfleming
Thailand's chief of immigration police Surachate Hakparn said on Monday afternoon local time that the country would "protect her as best we can".

"She is now under the sovereignty of Thailand, no-one and no embassy can force her to go anywhere," he said. "We will talk to her and do whatever she requests.

"Since she escaped trouble to seek our help... we will not send anyone to their death."

An injunction filed by Thai lawyers in Bangkok criminal court to stop the deportation was dismissed earlier on Monday.

Image copyrightREUTERS
Image caption
Thailand's chief of immigration police Surachate Hakparn said Thailand would not deport the young woman to her death
Thailand is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, and provides no legal protection to asylum-seekers - although there are more than 100,000 refugees in the country.

Skip Twitter post by @pakhead

Jonathan Head
 All quiet at the transit hotel. No obvious preparations to deport @rahaf84427714. Thai officials say they want to negotiate. She will be in need of food and water by now.

1:30 PM - Jan 7, 2019
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57 people are talking about this
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End of Twitter post by @pakhead
How did the stand-off start?
Ms Mohammed al-Qunun says that when she arrived in Bangkok on Saturday, her passport was seized by a Saudi diplomat who met her coming off the flight.

On Sunday, Thailand said she was being deported because she did not have the requirements for a Thai visa. However, Ms Mohammed al-Qunun insists she has a visa for Australia, and never wanted to stay in Thailand.

The Saudi embassy in Bangkok earlier said that Ms Mohammed al-Qunun would be deported to Kuwait "where most of her family lives". It said Saudi Arabia did not have the authority to hold her at the airport or anywhere else, and that officials are in touch with her father.

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Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told the BBC: "It seems that the Thai government is manufacturing a story that she tried to apply for a visa and it was denied... in fact, she had an onward ticket to go to Australia, she didn't want to enter Thailand in the first place."

He argued that the Thai authorities had clearly co-operated with Saudi Arabia, as Saudi officials were able to meet the plane when it arrived.

How was the world alerted?
Ms Mohammed al-Qunun started attracting attention with her social media posts over the weekend. She has also given a friend access to her Twitter account, calling it a contingency in case anything should happen to her.

She told BBC Newshour she was in a hotel in the transit area.

"I shared my story and my pictures on social media and my father is so angry because I did this... I can't study and work in my country, so I want to be free and study and work as I want," she said.

Women in Saudi Arabia are subject to male guardianship laws, which mean they need a male relative's permission to work, travel, marry, open a bank account, or even leave prison.

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Ms Mohammed al-Qunun wrote on Twitter that she had decided to share her name and details because she had "nothing to lose" now.

She has asked for asylum from governments around the world.

Image Copyright @rahaf84427714@RAHAF84427714
A photo appeared of her in her room as officials reportedly stood outside, waiting to put her on a flight back to Kuwait.

Image Copyright @Sophiemcneill@SOPHIEMCNEILL
Thai Police Major General Surachate Hakparn told the BBC that Ms Mohammed al-Qunun was escaping a marriage, and called the case a "family problem".

Why are there fears for her welfare?
Ms Mohammed al-Qunun told the BBC that she had renounced Islam, and feared her family would kill her if she was sent back to Saudi Arabia.

She explained to the New York Times: "They will kill me because I fled and because I announced my atheism. They wanted me to pray and to wear a veil, and I didn't want to."

Freedom of religion is not legally protected in the Islamic kingdom, and people who convert to another religion from Islam risk being charged with apostasy - or abandoning their religious beliefs.

The crime is legally punishable by death - although courts have not carried out a death sentence in recent years.

Alternatively, Ms Mohammed al-Qunun could be charged with "terrorism". Saudi Arabia's counter-terrorism law and a series of related decrees are used to criminalize a wide range of acts, including insulting the country's reputation, harming public order, and "calling for atheist thought in any form".

An adult woman who does not heed her guardian can also be arrested on charges of "disobedience". If a woman is detained for any reason, the police will not release her unless her guardian comes to pick her up, even if she faces no criminal charges.

Award-winning activist Samar Badawi sought refuge in a women's shelter in 2008, alleging that her father had beaten and abused her. When her father filed a lawsuit, she was arrested and spent seven months in jail on the charge of "parental disobedience".

Mariam al-Otaibi, another activist, spent 104 days in jail in 2017 after her father had her arrested on charges of "disobedience".

Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said Saudi women fleeing their families can face "severe violence from relatives, deprivation of liberty, and other serious harm if returned against their will".

The case echoes that of another Saudi woman who was in transit to Australia in April 2017.

Dina Ali Lasloom, 24, was en route from Kuwait via the Philippines but was taken back to Saudi Arabia from Manila airport by her family.

She used a Canadian tourist's phone to send a message, a video of which was posted to Twitter, saying her family would kill her.

Her fate on arriving back in Saudi Arabia remains unknown.


Russia 2018: Why a single nation may never host the World Cup again

This summer's World Cup in Russia could well be the last one staged by just one country for some time, as financial and political considerations play an ever-increasing role in choosing hosts.

With the cost of this year's event soaring to £8.8bn ($12bn) football authorities and bidding nations are looking at a ways of sharing the daunting financial costs and boosting political relationships.

The answer is joint hosting. In 2002, South Korea and Japan jointly staged the World Cup so there already is a precedent, while several European Championships have also been jointly hosted.

It means the load can be spread when it comes to building new stadiums and supporting infrastructure such as roads, railways and airports, as well as security.

"There are material benefits from sharing the hosting of major events, not to mention being politically expedient," says Simon Chadwick, professor of sports enterprise at Salford Business School.
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Joint hosting the World Cup is set to become more common

"It is a helpful way of building a relationship with a number of partners for political purposes.

"There are benefits in terms of certain cost efficiencies. There are huge financial issues around hosting costs when it comes to World Cups, European Championships and Olympic Games.

"This 'distributed events' model may be the way forward when you consider the economic costs of events hosting."

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Joint hosting

There is already a joint USA-Canada-Mexico bid in to host the 2026 event, and Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay are putting together a bid for the 2030 event.

Meanwhile, there are signs that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar may have to be widened to include other Middle Eastern nations after world governing body Fifa said it could expand that tournament from 32 to 48 teams.
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Poland and Ukraine jointly hosted the 2012 European Championships

As mentioned, European governing body Uefa has long been a supporter of hosting their major tournament for international teams in more than one country.

Kicking off in 2000, when the event was held in the Netherlands and Belgium, it has has subsequently been staged in Austria-Switzerland in 2008 and Poland-Ukraine in 2012.

And the finals of the 2020 Euros will be staged across no less than 12 football nations to mark the 60th anniversary of the first tournament.

"Former Uefa president Michel Platini was credited with the Euro 2020 model, but really the brains behind the throne was Gianni Infantino," says Prof Chadwick.

Ex-Uefa general secretary Mr Infantino is now president of Fifa, and has talked of expanding the 2022 World Cup from 32 to 48 teams.

As Qatar could not host that amount of games, there is talk of bringing in other nations in the region..
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Infantino is cited as the brains behind a multi-nation Euro 2020

"When you look at the 2026 and 2030 tournaments, then Infantino may now preside over one, or indeed more, World Cups that could adopt a similar type of model to Euro 2020," says Prof Chadwick.

"He has an eye for trying to reconcile disparate partners over hosting. He is shrewd in that sense."
Safe option

For Fifa the idea of a 2026 World Cup in the USA, Canada, Mexico, would be an economically and politically safe option after some of the issues around Qatar 2022, adds Prof Chadwick.

The organisers of the bid claim it would make an $11bn (£8.1bn) profit for Fifa, and create $14bn in revenue.

US President Donald Trump has been banging the drum for the bid, tweeting: "The US has put together a STRONG bid w/ Canada & Mexico for the 2026 World Cup."

But it is not a guaranteed shoo-in, and is up against rival bidders Morocco for what is be promised to be a 48 team World Cup.
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay intend to bid to host the 2030 World Cup

Meanwhile in South America, Uruguay Sports Secretary Fernando Caceres has explained the reasoning behind their intended bid for 2030.

"We can't say what the final costs will be to each of our countries, but it cannot be measured only in the building of infrastructure.

"There's an intangible measure, which is how much a country earns in coexistence, in integration, identity, and the construction of citizenship by hosting an event of this magnitude."
Spreading hosting

David Davies is a former FA chief executive and also a football advisor whose expertise is frequently called upon by football associations and confederations globally.

"I happen to think that the idea of having 48 teams in Qatar will not happen," he says. "The political will, I think, is not there."

"But I agree that joint hosting is an established concept now. The fundamental point is that more countries can be involved and benefit from holding major events.
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Qatar has built a number of new stadiums in the expectation of hosting a 32-team World Cup

"That is one of the objectives of those who are in positions of influence in the game, to come up with these sorts of proposals to spread hosting to as many differing nations as they can."

A joint North American bid for 2026 would also be deemed useful politically, both within the US and the regional footballing body Concacaf, says Mr Davies.

"So while economic considerations are part of the picture, there are always over-riding political ones."
Pooling resources

Sean Hamil, lecturer at Birkbeck College's Sports Business Centre, says there are only so many countries who can host events such as Euros or World Cups by themselves.

"After the last Euros in France (in 2016) I don't think Uefa could find any more countries willing to take on the costs."
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption France and Portugal are the only nations to have solely hosted the Euro finals over a 20 year period

There has been a lot of research into sporting mega-event, "and the balance of opinion is that the economic benefits don't always stack up," he says.

"With a World Cup you need a large number of international-standard stadiums and it is a huge financial burden. so pooling resources in terms of stadiums to help spread that load would appear logical."


Science and Information / Vaping - the rise in five charts
« on: May 31, 2018, 10:59:57 AM »
Vaping - the rise in five charts

For travellers looking forward to their summer holidays, what to pack can be a source of stress. But did you know that taking an e-cigarette with you to countries such Thailand could land you with a fine - or even time in jail?

Countries including the Seychelles, Brazil and Argentina have also banned the sale of e-cigarettes, but spending on them globally is going up.

These charts tell the story of a growing industry - but how many people vape, how much is being spent on e-cigarettes and why do people buy them?
1. Vaping is increasingly popular

According to the latest statistics from the World Health Organization, there has been a small but steady decrease in the estimated number of smokers globally since 2000 - from 1.14 billion then to about 1.1 billion now.

But it's a different matter when it comes to vaping.

The number of vapers has been increasing rapidly - from about seven million in 2011 to 35 million in 2016.

Market research group Euromonitor estimates that the number of adults who vape will reach almost 55 million by 2021.
2. Spending on e-cigarettes is growing

The e-cigarette market is expanding, as the number of vapers rises.

The global vapour products market is now estimated to be worth $22.6bn (£17.1bn) - up from $4.2bn just five years ago.

The United States, Japan and the UK are the biggest markets. Vapers in the three countries spent a combined $16.3bn on smokeless tobacco and vaping products in 2016.

European countries such as Sweden, Italy, Norway and Germany also feature in the top 10.
3. Open-system e-cigarettes are the most popular

There are two main types of e-cigarette - open and closed system, also known as open and closed tank.

In an open system, the liquid that is vapourised can be refilled manually by the user. There is also a removable mouthpiece.

Closed system e-cigarettes use ready-made refills, which screw directly on to the e-cigarette's battery.

Since 2011, the gap in spending between them has been gradually widening.
Image copyright Getty Images

It is reckoned that this year, vapers will spend an estimated $8.9bn on open system e-cigarettes, also known as vape pens - more than double the spend on closed-system products.
4. Most e-cigarettes are purchased in-store

Most e-cigarette users buy their devices in specialist shops, according to a report published by Ernst & Young.

In 2015, 35% of e-cigarette users surveyed across the UK, France, Germany, Poland, Italy, Russia and South Korea bought their devices in e-cigarette shops.

Of the 3,000 users surveyed by Kantar for Ernst & Young, 21% said they had purchased their devices online.

It's thought that consumers might make their first e-cigarette purchase in person, to build familiarity with a relatively new product, or to seek advice on which type of device might suit them best.

In the UK, Europe's largest e-cigarette market, there are an estimated 2,000 vaping outlets.
5. Why do people vape?

Across the countries surveyed for Ernst & Young, the most common reason for using an e-cigarette was that they are "less harmful than regular cigarettes".

About 49% of regular users said that they used e-cigarettes in order to curb their smoking habit.

Public Health England's latest report on vaping highlighted evidence that e-cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes, and that there was no evidence so far to suggest that e-cigarettes might encourage young people to take up smoking.

The agency has also recommended that e-cigarettes should be available on prescription, because of their role in helping people give up smoking.

However, the World Health Organization has cited several health concerns associated with vaping, pointing out that:

    The long-term effects are unknown
    Nicotine in the liquid that is vapourised in an e-cigarette is addictive
    Users replacing the liquid in refillable e-cigarettes might spill the product on their skin, possibly leading to nicotine poisoning
    Some sweeter flavours of e-cigarettes are irritants, potentially causing inflammation of the airways


Humanities & Social Science / The Strange beauty of Greece's weirdest town.
« on: February 01, 2018, 10:06:24 AM »
The Strange beauty of Greece's weirdest town.

Originally designed as a utopia by Mussolini’s architects, Lakki fell into ruin and few now know it exists. Alex Sakalis visits to find out why it deserves a second chance.

    By Alex Sakalis

31 January 2018

There is a town in Greece like no other.

Lakki, on the Dodecanese island of Leros, is unique. Its church, austere and minimalist, is more Bauhaus than Mamma Mia. The school, with its wide, looping porticos, is a hybrid of modernist and Byzantine elements. The pulsating Art Deco cinema seems to power towards the sea like a speeding bullet train. Just behind it, a UFO-shaped atrium latches onto the town’s imposing clock tower. A strange, disc-shaped appendage sprouts from the tower like a toadstool. As if to hammer home the surreal nature of it all, all four clock faces show different times.

Few people know this place exists, and even those who live here view their town with a degree of scepticism.

Its origins date back to the early 20th Century when Leros, along with the rest of the Dodecanese, was under Italian rule. Strategically placed and gifted with one of southern Europe’s biggest natural harbours, it was here that Mussolini decided to house the Royal Italian Navy, as part of his plan to establish control over the eastern Mediterranean.


Lakki’s austere and minimalist church is more Bauhaus than Mamma Mia (Credit: Alamy)

In 1923, he sent two architects – Rodolfo Petracco and Armando Bernabiti – to Leros in order to construct a model town on the harbour for the settlement of thousands of Italians, including military personnel and their families. At the time, the whole bay was uninhabited marshland and authorities began filling in the area with tonnes of concrete imported from Italy.

    Lakki should be classified as a monument of national significance – Anastasia Papaioannou

Upon arriving in Leros, Petracco and Bernabiti surveyed the area, sat down and began to design their utopian town from scratch.

Fanning out in a series of wide, curving roads, their town would prioritise efficiency and order, while espousing a sense of beauty and harmony. On the eastern perimeter, a railroad would carry cargo from the port to the customs house. Next to that would be the economic zone, with a cinema, market and hotel. Further into town, the residential zone would be comprised of separate quarters for different ranking officers and workers. The houses, some of which have been beautifully restored, are graceful cylinders and cuboids with spacious gardens. A huge hospital was built. Large squares were constructed and hundreds of pine and eucalyptus trees were planted.

Clock tower

A UFO-shaped atrium latches onto the town’s imposing 1930s clock tower (Credit: Alamy)

The resulting town, which the Italians named Portolago, is considered to be the only true rationalist town outside of Italy.

Playfulness and absurdity

Rationalism, an architectural movement which developed in early 20th-Century Italy, emphasised simple, functional design based on ideals of purity, reason and universalism. It drew inspiration from emerging trends such as modernism and the Futurist movement, as well as the classical geometry of ancient Greek and Roman temples.

However, even within the rationalist movement, Lakki is an oddity.

“Whereas Italian rationalist towns were rigid, monotonous and unjustifiably monumental,” writes Anthony Antoniades, author of Italian Architecture in the Dodecanese: A Preliminary Assessment, “the architecture of Lakki is diverse, inclusivist and imaginative.”


The Italians named the town Portolago; its architecture was created using the principles of Rationalism (Credit: Alamy)

George Trampoulis is Leros’s local historian and archivist. At his office in the island’s colourful capital, Platanos, he shows me the original masterplan of Lakki, signed by Petracco, and explains his goal of moving the island’s archives to the old naval barracks  ̶  a picturesque rationalist-Moorish building on the western fringes of Lakki.

Trampoulis describes Petracco and Bernabiti as talented yet eccentric men who didn’t quite fit in with the Fascist establishment back in Italy.

“They took advantage of the lack of direct oversight from Rome to explore and experiment, indulge in flights of fancy, and merge rationalism with local vernacular styles,” he says.


In the early 20th Century, the Dodecanese islands came under Italian military rule (Credit: Alamy)

For Lakki, they drew inspiration from the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, the geometry of ancient temples and the optimistic modernism of Art Deco. There’s a feeling of playfulness, even absurdity about their designs, as if they were finally free to express themselves without Il Duce breathing down their necks. The result is one of the 20th Century’s most daring and unique experiments in architecture and urban planning.

“Lakki should be classified as a monument of national significance,” says Anastasia Papaioannou, an architect who has carried out restoration work in the town. “It’s a rare example of a town created from scratch, adhering to the same style and following the same plan by the same architects from beginning to end.”


The town’s school is a hybrid of modernist and Byzantine elements (Credit: Alamy)

After World War Two, Petracco and Bernabiti returned to Italy to find their architectural philosophy discredited and a public ignorant of – and uninterested in – their work abroad. Neither of them ever made another rationalist building. Both men died in obscurity.

Rediscovering rationalism

In 1947, the Dodecanese were ceded to Greece. Portolago was renamed Lakki and the town was largely left to rot. Rather than represent the vision of a utopian future, the town symbolised an Italian fascist occupation which, in its later years, had become increasingly oppressive and brutal for the Greeks of the island. Forgotten and semi-abandoned, it wasn’t until the turn of the millennium that it began to be seriously reappraised.

“The church, theatre, school, hospital, barracks, hotel, and above all the circular market hall constitute an exemplary, coherent architectural whole that could well be presented in any exhibition of 1930s architecture,” writes Vassilis Colonas, author of Italian Architecture in the Dodecanese Islands 1912-1943.

    Walking through Lakki at night feels like walking through an old film set after the lights have gone off and the actors have gone home

In its heyday in the late 1930s, over 8,000 people lived in Lakki. Today, fewer than 2,000 call it home. Its large buildings and streets have allowed the town to be reclaimed as something of a commercial centre for the island, but at night its streets become empty and the town is eerily quiet. Bereft of their meaning, the buildings evoke a certain sadness. Walking through Lakki at night feels like walking through an old film set after the lights have gone off and the actors have all gone home.


The architects drew inspiration from the geometric paintings of Giorgio de Chirico – his Piazza (1913) is shown here (Credit: Alamy)

Enzo Bonanno is 71, but has a youthful exuberance that belies his age. In 1989, he and his wife left their native Italy in a yacht and sailed aimlessly around the Mediterranean, visiting Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Turkey before stumbling upon Leros in 1998. They’ve been here ever since.

As we bounce around the island in his jeep he explains, in a breathless mixture of Italian and Greek, what he felt when he first arrived at Lakki’s port. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says, “I thought I was hallucinating, but in a good way.” Now retired, he spends his time teaching Italian at the local school, and raising public awareness of Lakki anyway he can. “The world has to know about this town!” he exclaims.

    Italians are rediscovering this architecture without connecting it with Fascism – Daniele Ratti

He founded The Friends of Leros, which brings together locals, expats and NGOs and works to promote the island abroad. He and his wife also organise an annual Italian film festival in the newly restored cinema in Lakki.


Lakki’s theatre and cinema building displays the influence of Art Deco design on the town’s architects (Credit: Alamy)

Daniele Ratti is a photographer and founder of the Eritalia project, which documents Italian rationalist architecture in former colonies such as Eritrea, Albania and the Dodecanese. He has seen a renewed interest in Italian rationalism in recent years, especially after exhibiting his photos at the 2015 Milan Expo.

“For a long time, Italians didn’t want to remember what happened during the Fascist period, so they forgot about rationalism,” he tells me. “But now, they are rediscovering this architecture without connecting it with Fascism.”

In 2014, he presented his photographs at an exhibition in Lakki’s school. Many locals who attended were surprised to see their town painted in such a reverent light.

“People are starting to realise just how special this place is,” says George Trampoulis, at his home overlooking Lakki’s gargantuan bay.

His dream, he tells me, is to gain Unesco World Heritage status for Lakki. He has reason to be optimistic; last year the Eritrean capital Asmara, known for its striking Italian modernist architecture, was awarded World Heritage status. He has seen an increasing number of visitors of all nationalities to the island, all interested in learning about the town.


In 1947, the Dodecanese were ceded to Greece; Portolago was renamed Lakki and the town was left to rot (Credit: Alamy)

Nonetheless, the situation for Lakki remains dire. Although work continues on restoring the old hotel and the surprisingly attractive customs house, many other buildings lie on the verge of ruin, while clumsy extensions by locals have drastically altered the character of many others.

“Lakki is too far gone. It will never be at a level we can show to Unesco,” an architect tells me. “At this point, it’s just damage limitation.”

This doesn’t dissuade those like Enzo. “Tourism is the future of Leros, and Lakki will be at the heart of that,” he told me. He dreams of a fully restored Lakki, as it was in the 1930s; the spearhead of a rationalist renaissance. He’s even been in talks to create the world’s first Museum of Rationalism right here in Lakki, but has been met with numerous obstacles, both political and financial. “It’s a constant battle,” he says.

For now though, Lakki carries on, as it always has done. A historical curiosity that is – to borrow a phrase from Hunter S Thompson – too weird to live and too rare to die.


Science Discussion Forum / Crows reveal foundation of technology
« on: January 23, 2018, 01:43:31 PM »
Crows reveal foundation of technology

The earliest human-made fishing hooks - from about 23,000 ago - were one of the most significant technological milestones.

The archaeologists, who unearthed these seashell-carved hooks in a cave on the Japanese island of Okinawa, said this early "maritime technology" had allowed humans to survive on islands.

Lead researcher on the crows study, Prof Christian Rutz, told BBC News: "[Our invention of fish hooks] was incredibly recent - only 1,000 generations ago, which is an eye-blink in evolutionary terms.

"When you think that we went in that 1,000 generations from crafting fish hooks to building space shuttles - that's absolutely mind-boggling."

Understanding what drove the crows' tool-manufacturing provides Prof Rutz and his colleagues with a unique and valuable "non-human model" to investigate the origins of this fundamental step in human progress.

"When I see these crows making hooked tools, I have a glimpse of the very foundations of a technology that is evolving," Prof Rutz said.

Juan Lapuente, an ecologist from Wurzburg University in Germany, who studies primate tool-use, said the tool-making and tool-using behaviour in crows was "amazing".

He added: "We tend to assume that the closer an animal is to us, the more intelligent it should be and thus we understand more easily that primates and especially the chimpanzees make and use tools.

"But we have to be more humble and accept that many 'small-brained' animals are intelligent enough to make and use tools and sometimes are even more proficient at this task than our cousins."

Prof Rutz said that while he could only speculate about the future development of crow-made tools, he did not think making these hooks was "the end of the story" for the birds.

"I think this species will come up with even better tools," he said.


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