News & Current Affairs

September 26, 2008

Pilot completes jetpack challenge

Pilot completes jetpack challenge

A Swiss man has become the first person to fly solo across the English Channel using a single jet-propelled wing.

Yves Rossy landed safely after the 22-mile (35.4 km) flight from Calais to Dover, which had been twice postponed this week because of bad weather.

The former military pilot took less than 10 minutes to complete the crossing and parachute to the ground.

The 49-year-old flew on a plane to more than 8,200ft (2,500m), ignited jets on a wing on his back, and jumped out.

Yves Rossy aimed to reach speeds of 125mph

Mr Rossy had hoped to reach speeds of 125mph.

It felt “great, really great”, said Mr Rossy: “I only have one word, thank you, to all the people who did it with me.”

He said weather conditions on Friday had been perfect and his success signalled “big potential” for people to fly “a little bit like a bird” in the future.

Known as “Fusionman,” he was aiming to follow the route taken by French airman Louis Blériot 99 years ago when he became the first person to fly across the English Channel in a plane.

In Dover, Mr Rossy flew past South Foreland lighthouse – which the building’s manager Simon Ovenden said Blériot used as a target during his pioneering flight – and looped onlookers before landing in a field.

“It’s a remarkable achievement, we saw the climax of his attempt as he came down to earth with his parachute. It’s been an exciting afternoon,” said Geoff Clark, a 54-year-old spectator from Chatham, in Kent.
His quote consistently is: I’m not worried about risk, I manage risk
Kathryn Liptrott
National Geographic Channel

Mark Dale, the senior technical officer for the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, described Rossy’s flight as a “fabulous stunt”.

In an interview earlier this week, Mr Rossy said: “If I calculate everything right, I will land in Dover. But if I get it wrong, I take a bath.”

The flight was broadcast live for the National Geographic Channel. Its producer, Kathryn Liptrott, told the  Mr Rossy was fearless.

“When we’ve talked to him and asked him are you worried about risk his quote consistently is: I’m not worried about risk, I manage risk.

“He flew Mirage fighters for the Swiss army, he now flies an Airbus. And in his sort of heart he’s a pilot and a parachutist and what they do is manage risk.”

The longest flight he had previously taken lasted 10 minutes.

The wing had no rudder or tail fin, so Mr Rossy had to steer it using his head and back.

As well as a helmet and parachute, he wore a special suit to protect him from the four kerosene-burning turbines mounted just centimetres from him on the wing.

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September 18, 2008

Central banks release more funds

Central banks release more funds

Dollar bills

The extra funds are aimed at easing banking sector woes

Global central banks are pumping billions of dollars of extra funds into money markets in a co-ordinated move to lift the amount of credit available.

The move is the fourth such joint effort since December last year. It will see the US Federal Reserve inject a further $180bn (£99bn).

The Bank of England is releasing $40bn, while the European Central Bank is to provide $55bn.

The Bank of Japan and Swiss National Bank have announced similar moves.

‘Appropriate steps’

“These measures, together with other actions taken in the last few days by individual central banks, are designed to improve the liquidity conditions in global financial markets,” said the Bank of England.

“The central banks continue to work together closely and will take appropriate steps to address the ongoing pressures.”

It does help to release some of those immediate tensions that have been building up in the money market
Ian Stannard, currency strategist, BNP Paribas

The central banks of South Korea, India, Canada and Australia have also released extra funds.

The co-ordinated move comes after four days of almost unprecedented turmoil in the global financial industry.

Firstly, US giant Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection, while compatriot Merrill Lynch lost its independence in a rescue takeover by Bank of America.

The US government has also had to bail-out insurance giant AIG, while in the UK, thousands of jobs are predicted to go at banking group HBOS following its sale to rival Lloyds TSB.

Major problem

Analysts said the latest move by the central banks should help to ease immediate fears.

“Obviously it does not tackle the underlying root causes of the problem, but it does help to release some of those immediate tensions that have been building up in the money market,” said Ian Stannard, senior currency strategist at BNP Paribas.

Koichi Haji, chief economist at NLI Research in Tokyo, said the co-ordinated move “shows how serious the problem has become”.

“I think the root cause was letting Lehman fail,” he said.

“That made investors reluctant to supply funds to their counterparts, particularly to the smaller banks.”

September 9, 2008

Superb Federer ends Murray dream

Superb Federer ends Murray dream

Andy Murray

Murray will rise to a career-high ranking of four in the world

There was no change of momentum early in the second set, Federer firing a vicious cross-court forehand in game one and repeating the trick to break for 2-0.

A humiliatingly swift defeat looked on the cards for the Briton, who appeared to be struggling with a knee problem, but he got a foothold in the match when Federer’s level finally dropped in game three.

Murray pounced with a big cross-court forehand and a powerful backhand drive that Federer could not control at the net, and the Scot finally had a break of serve.

The match appeared well and truly on when a couple of loose errors saw Federer slip 0-40 down again at 2-2 but he continued with his attacking policy and, thanks in part to one dubious line call, he managed to escape.

And the relentless pressure applied by Federer eventually paid off when he broke to love to take the second set in game 12, making a lunging backhand volley, a successful chip and charge, a thumping smash and a running pass.

It was irresistible stuff from the champion and he swept into a 5-0 lead in the third set before Murray staged a late rally to cut the deficit with his second break of the day.

But it only delayed the inevitable and Federer put the British number one out of his misery on his second championship point, winning an epic rally with a smash that Murray could not return.

“I had a great tournament but I came up against, in my opinion, the best player ever to play game the today,” said Murray.

“I got the better of him the last two times and he definitely set the record straight today. I’ve learnt I’ve got a lot of improving to do if I want to win one of these things.

“I love playing in front of this crowd – it’s been the best time of my life.”

By Piers Newbery

Roger Federer was at his brilliant best as he won a fifth straight US Open title and ended Andy Murray’s hopes of a first Grand Slam crown in New York.

Murray, 21, had been trying to become the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win one of the four major singles titles, but he was outclassed.

Federer stormed to a 6-2 7-5 6-2 victory in one hour 51 minutes at Flushing Meadows.

The Swiss now has 13 Grand Slam titles, one behind record holder Pete Sampras.

Federer joins Sampras and Jimmy Connors as a five-time winner of the US title in the Open era, but neither American won in five successive years.

He is also the first man ever to win five consecutive titles at two Grand Slams – the US Open and Wimbledon.

“It definitely feels great,” said Federer afterwards. “After this year, to take this home is incredible. It means the world to me.

I had a great tournament but I came up against, in my opinion, the best player ever to play the game today
Andy Murray

“I’m not going to stop at 13 – that would be terrible! I congratulate Andy – he’s done great these last two weeks. I’m sure we’re going to see a lot more of him in the future.”

Murray was playing in his first Grand Slam final and came into the match on the back of a first-ever win over world number one Rafael Nadal.

But the confidence the Scot carried from that landmark victory soon took a battering as Federer opened in spectacular fashion.

Having failed to win a major title so far this year, and having lost his number one ranking to Nadal, the second seed had been desperate to arrest his slide.

And after approaching his best in beating Novak Djokovic in the semis, Federer was at the top of his game from the start of the final.

Murray had to stave off a break point in game three but could not repeat the trick two games later, a double fault and two errors handing Federer the advantage.

The champion’s confidence was obvious as he moved 4-2 clear with an outrageous forehand drive volley on the run, before more brutal forehands forced another break in game seven, and he wrapped up the set in 26 minutes.

September 8, 2008

‘Climate crisis’ needs brain gain

‘Climate crisis’ needs brain gain

CMS (M. Brice/Cern)

The UK alone has invested more than half-a-billion pounds in the LHC

The most brilliant minds should be directed to solving Earth’s greatest challenges, such as climate change, says Sir David King.

The former UK chief scientist will use his presidential address at the BA Science Festival to call for a gear-change among innovative thinkers.

He will suggest that less time and money is spent on endeavors such as space exploration and particle physics.

He says population growth and poverty in Africa also demand attention.

“The challenges of the 21st Century are qualitatively different from anything that we’ve had to face up to before,” he told reporters before the opening of the festival, which is being held this year in Liverpool.

“This requires a re-think of priorities in science and technology and a redrawing of our society’s inner attitudes towards science and technology.”

Huge expense

Sir David’s remarks will be controversial because they are being made just as the UK is about to celebrate its participation in the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s biggest physics experiment.

The Collider, built at the Cern laboratory under the Swiss-French border, is starting full operations this Wednesday.

It will seek to understand the building blocks of matter, and, in particular, try to find a mechanism that can explain why matter has mass.

This international venture is extremely expensive, however. The UK alone has contributed more than £500m to the LHC – the largest sum of money to date invested by a UK government in a single scientific project.

Sir David said it was time such funding – and the brains it supports – were pushed to answering more pressing concerns.

“It’s all very well to demonstrate that we can land a craft on Mars, it’s all very well to discover whether or not there is a Higgs boson (a potential mass mechanism); but I would just suggest that we need to pull people towards perhaps the bigger challenges where the outcome for our civilization is really crucial.”

Big ideas

Chief among these challenges for Sir David is the issue of climate change. When he was the government’s top scientist, he made the famous remark that the threat from climate change was bigger than the threat posed by terrorism.

He said alternatives to fossil fuels were desperately needed to power a civilization that would number some nine billion people by mid-century – nine billion people who would all expect a high standard of living.

“We will have to re-gear our thinking because our entire civilization depends on energy production, and we have been producing that energy very largely through fossil fuels; and we will have to remove our dependence from fossil fuels virtually completely, or we will have to learn how to capture carbon dioxide from fossil fuel usage,” he said.

Finding and exploiting clean energy sources was now imperative, he said; and Sir David questioned whether the spending on particle physics research in the shape of Cern’s Large Hadron Collider was the best route to that goal.

He even doubted whether Cern’s greatest invention was an outcome that could only have come from an institution that pursued so-called “blue skies research”.

“People say to me: ‘well what about the world wide web? That emerged from Cern’. Brilliant. Tim Berners Lee was the person who invented that. What if Tim Berners Lee had been working in a solar [power] laboratory? Perhaps he would have done it there as well. The spin-out would have come from the brilliant individual.”

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