Blog Page 222

Cristiano Ronaldo wins Ballon d’Or 2014


Cristiano Ronaldo has beaten Lionel Messi to the FIFA Ballon d’Or for the second successive year.


The 29-year-old was voted world footballer of the year ahead of the Argentina and Barcelona forward and German international and Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer at a FIFA ceremony held in Zurich, Switzerland.

Ronaldo, who picked up his first world player of the year award in 2008, was hotly tipped to scoop the award for the third time in his career after completing another spectacular season at Real Madrid.

Ronaldo scored 56 goals in 51 appearances for Los Blancos in all competitions in 2014 and netted a total of 61 goals from 60 appearances during the calendar year.

The 29-year-old was instrumental in helping Carlo Ancelotti’s side lift a 10th Champions League title as well as winning the Copa del Rey and the UEFA Super Cup.

The Portuguese also broke the record for most La Liga hat-tricks at the end of last year.

His three goals against Celta Vigo in December took him to a total of 23 hat-tricks, one more than La Liga legend Telmo Zarra and Real Madrid icon Alfredo di Stefano.

The Portuguese has enjoyed a remarkable La Liga season so far, scoring 26 times in 17 matches for table-topping Real Madrid this season.


Black Phosphorous: The Birth of a New Wonder Material


Materials scientists have discovered how to make black phosphorous nanosheets in large amounts, heralding a new era of nanoelectronic devices.


In the last few years, two-dimensional crystals have emerged as some of the most exciting new materials to play with. Consequently, materials scientists have been falling over themselves to discover the extraordinary properties of graphene, boron nitride, molybdenum disulphide, and so on.

A late-comer to this group is black phosphorus, in which phosphorus atoms join together to form a two-dimensional puckered sheet. Last year, researchers built a field-effect transistor out of black phosphorus and showed that it performed remarkably well. This research suggested that black phosphorous could have a bright future in nanoelectronic devices.

But there is a problem. Black phosphorus is difficult to make in large quantities. Today, Damien Hanlon at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, and a number of pals, say they have solved this problem.

These guys have perfected a way of making large quantities of black phosphorus nanosheets with dimensions that they can control. And they have used this newfound ability to test black phosphorus in a number of new applications, such as a gas sensor, an optical switch, and even to reinforce composite materials to make them stronger.

In bulk form, black phosphorus is made of many layers, like graphite. So one way to separate single sheets is by exfoliation, simply peeling off layers using Scotch tape or other materials. That is a time-consuming task that severely limits potential applications.

So Hanlon and co have been toying with another approach. Their method is to place the black phosphorus lump in a liquid solvent and then bombard it with acoustic waves that shake the material apart.

The result is that the bulk mass separates into a large number of nanosheets that the team filters for size using a centrifuge. That leaves high-quality nanosheets consisting of only a few layers. “Liquid phase exfoliation is a powerful technique to produce nanosheets in very large quantities,” they say.

One potential problem with black phosphorus nanosheets is that they degrade rapidly when in contact with water or oxygen. So one of the advances the team has made is to predict that certain solvents should form a solvation shell around the sheet, which prevents oxygen or other oxidative species from reaching the phosphorus.

The team use N-cyclohexyl-2-pyrrolidone or CHP as a solvent and because of this, the nanosheets are surprisingly long-lived.

The big advantage of black phosphorus over graphene is that it has a natural bandgap that physicists can exploit to make electronic devices, such as transistors. But Hanlon and co say the newfound availability of black phosphorus nanosheets has allowed them to test a number of other ideas as well.

For example, they added the nanosheets to a film of polyvinyl chloride, thereby doubling its strength and increasing its tensile toughness sixfold. So it’s not just carbon allotropes that can increase strength!

They also determined the nonlinear optical response of the nanosheets to a pulsed laser by measuring the amount of light that is transmitted. It turns out that the amount of light black phosphorus absorbs decreases as the intensity rises, a property known as saturable absorption. What’s more, black phosphorus is better at this even than graphene.

Finally, they measured the current through the nanosheets while exposing them to ammonia. They found that the material’s resistance increased when it came into contact with ammonia, probably because ammonia donates electrons that neutralize holes in the black phosphorus sheets.

That immediately makes black phosphorous a decent ammonia detector. Hanlon and co say the material could detect ammonia at levels of around 80 parts per billion.

All this could mark an interesting step change in research associated with black phosphorus. Many people will have seen the excitement associated with the remarkable properties of graphene. If black phosphorous is half as remarkable, there should be an interesting future for material scientists.


Robot Journalist Finds New Work on Wall Street


Software that turns data into written text could help us make sense of a coming tsunami of data.


Software that was first put to work writing news reports has now found another career option: drafting reports for financial giants and U.S. intelligence agencies.

The writing software, called Quill, was developed by Narrative Science, a Chicago company set up in 2010 to commercialize technology developed at Northwestern University that turns numerical data into a written story. It wasn’t long before Quill was being used to report on baseball games for TV and online sports outlets, and company earnings statements for clients such as Forbes.

Quill’s early career success generated headlines of its own, and the software was seen by some as evidence that intelligent software might displace human workers. Narrative Science CEO Stuart Frankel says that the publicity, even if some of it was negative, was a blessing. “A lot of people felt threatened by what we were doing, and we got a lot of coverage,” he says. “It led to a lot of inquiries from all different industries and to the evolution to a different business.”

Narrative Science is now renting out Quill’s writing skills to financial customers such as T. Rowe Price, Credit Suisse, and USAA to write up more in-depth, lengthy reports on the performance of mutual funds that are then distributed to investors or regulators.

“It goes from the job of a small army of people over weeks to just a few seconds,” says Frankel. “We do 10- to 15-page documents for some financial clients.”

An investment from In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s investment division, led the company to work from multiple U.S. intelligence agencies. Asked about that work, Frankel says only that “The communication challenges of the U.S. intelligence community are very similar to those of our other customers.” Altogether, Quill now churns out millions of words per day.

The software’s output can be impressive for software, but it can’t write without some numerical data for inspiration. It performs statistical analysis on that data, looking for significant events or trends, and it draws on knowledge about key concepts such as bankruptcy, profit, and revenue, and how such concepts are related.The following paragraph, from an investment report, shows that Quill can write passable text for such a document, but it can still feel as if it were written by a computer.

Quill is programmed with rules of writing that it uses to structure sentences, paragraphs, and pages, says Kristian Hammond, a computer science professor at Northwestern University and chief scientist at Narrative Science. “We know how to introduce an idea, how not to repeat ourselves, how to get shorter,” he says.

Companies can also tune Quill’s style and use of language based on what they need it to write. It can accentuate the positive in marketing copy, or go for exhaustive detail in a regulatory filing, for example.

Quill can also take an “angle” for a piece of writing. When writing about sports for an audience likely to favor a particular team, for instance, Quill can write a story that softens the blow of a loss.

Narrative Science doesn’t publish technical details of how Quill works. But Michael White, an associate professor at Ohio State University, says that its ability to finesse the angle and arc of a piece sets it apart from previous examples of such software.

What is known as “natural language generation” software has been a research topic for years, but it has recently begun to show more commercial promise, says White. “There’s growing awareness that masses of data and visualizations are not really helpful if they can’t be explained and made relevant,” says White. “I’d say the time has finally become ripe for natural language generation to have commercial success.”

Other companies working on the technology include Arria, a U.K.-based company that was spun out of research from the University of Aberdeen, in Scotland. A Pittsburgh startup called OnlyBoth, founded last year, plans to launch its first writing software products later in 2015.

All those companies are so far focused on serving businesses. But Hammond says that as cars, health gadgets, and home appliances become connected to the Internet, the simple charts and symbols they use to communicate with humans may not be enough. “Most households are not going to be able to do the data science to make to their thermostats and cars and other data intelligible,” says Hammond. “This technology is going to be a descriptive voice of everything that has data.”

CES 2015: Nvidia Demos a Car Computer Trained with “Deep Learning”


A commercial device uses powerful image and information processing to let cars interpret 360° camera views.

Many cars now include cameras or other sensors that record the passing world and trigger intelligent behavior, such as automatic braking or steering to avoid an obstacle. Today’s systems are usually unable to tell the difference between a trash can and traffic cop standing next to it, though.

This week at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nvidia, a leading marking of computer graphics chips, unveiled a vehicle computer called the Drive PX that could help cars interpret and react to the world around them.

Nvidia already supplies chips to many car makers, but engineers at those companies usually have to write software to collect and process data from various different sensor systems. Drive PX is more powerful than existing hardware, and it should also make it easier to integrate and process sensor data.

The computer uses Nvidia’s new graphics microprocessor, the Tegra X1. It is capable of processing information from up to 12 cameras simultaneously, and it comes with software designed to assist with safety or autonomous driving systems. Most impressive, it includes a system trained to recognize different objects using a powerful technique known as deep learning (see “10 Breakthrough Technologies 2013: Deep Learning”). The computer is also designed to generate realistic 3-D maps and other graphics for dashboard displays.

“It’s pretty cool to bring this level of powerful computation into cars,” said John Leonard, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, who works on autonomous-car technology. “It’s the first such computer that seems really designed for a car—an autopilot computer.”

The new Nvidia hardware can also be updated remotely, so that car manufacturers can fix bugs or add new functionality. This is something few car companies, aside from Tesla, do currently.

So far Audi has emerged as an early buyer; at CES, the company showed off a luxury concept car called the Audi Prologue that includes the Drive PX. A year ago, the company announced at CES that it had developed a compact computer for processing sensor information (see “Audi Shows Off a Compact Brain for Self-Driving Cars”). That, too, included Nvidia chips.

The introduction of Nvidia’s product is a landmark moment for deep learning, a technology that processes sensory information efficiently by loosely mimicking the way the brain works. At CES, Nvidia showed that its software can detect objects such as cars, people, bicycles, and signs, even when they are partly hidden.

Yoshua Bengio, a deep-learning researcher at the University of Montreal, says the Nvidia chipset is an important commercial milestone. “I would not call it a breakthrough, but more a continuous advance in a direction that has been going for a number of years now,” he said.

Yann LeCun, a data scientist at New York University who leads deep-learning efforts at Facebook (see “Facebook Launches Advanced AI Effort to Find Meaning in Your Posts”), also sees the announcement as an important step: “It is significant because current solutions tend to be closed and proprietary, use custom and inflexible hardware, and tend to be ‘black boxes’ that equipment manufacturers cannot really customize.”

At a press event Sunday, Jen-Hsun Huang, Nvidia’s CEO, said the devices will provide “more computing horsepower inside a car than anything you have today.”

Volcanoes are cooling Earth: Aerosols from small eruptions have reduced global temperatures and tropical rainfall


:Volcanoes may have cooled the Earth by 0.05°C to 0.12°C since 2000
:Scientists had overlooked the role of aerosols from small eruptions
:The aerosols accumulate between the stratosphere and troposphere
:This layer of the atmosphere is difficult to study as clouds obscure it
:Eruptions through 1990s and 2000s have contributed to warming ‘pause’
:Global temperatures plateaued since 1998 after rapid warming in 1990s
:The findings mean models predicting climate change need to be revised


Small volcanic eruptions over the past 20 years have been protecting the Earth from global warming, according to a new study.
Scientists have confirmed that droplets of sulphur-rich aerosols spewed into the upper atmosphere by volcanoes have been reflecting sunlight away from the Earth.
Until recently it was thought that only particularly large eruptions had any noticeable affect on the climate.

Eruptions of volcanoes like Tavurvur in Papa New Guinea in 2006 had a greater impact on the climate in the past 15 years than had previously been appreciated and may require climate models to be revised

However, the new study has confirmed results from the end of last year that showed these small eruptions can have an accumulative impact on global temperature.
This could have helped decrease the global temperatures by between 0.05°C to 0.12°C over the past 15 years.

Amal Clooney’s Facial Expressions at the Golden Globes Represent How We Feel About the Start of Awards Season


When the Golden Globes red carpet started, the 2015 awards season officially started.
It has begun.
That means from now until the end of the Academy Awards, it’s going to be a lot of late nights watching very rich and beautiful actors congratulate each other, fawn over each other and generally celebrate their awesome lives. And after about three award shows, we’re kind of over it. Unless someone like Benedict Cumberbatch or Jennifer Lawrence spices things up, these things are basically all the same. So the realization that it’s all starting this week is a little disheartening.Which is why we’re thankful that gorgeous attorney Amal Clooney, who recently married some actor, was at the Golden Globes to represent the people who are already tired of red carpet season. She was clearly bored at her husband’s (I think we heard his name was George Clooney?) cute little office party, and we will be right there with her, emotionally, more than once in the coming months.
On the outside, we’re trying to smile politely as we work through covering every single award show, but on the inside, we want to run around screaming and punching out computer screens.
Just look at her face. You know this girl cannot wait to get back home, throw on some sweatpants and watch reruns of Top Chef:


When she does crack a smile, it’s probably to smother an instinct to roll her eyes. That’s basically the only reason we smile as we watch another handsome actor walk up on stage and talk about his craft

Thank you, Amal. You are the queen of being over rooms full of shiny Hollywood folk. We salute you.

Witnesses Horrors Of Ebola In Sierra Leone


Alex Crawford witnesses first-hand the desolation and despair caused by Ebola in the remotest parts of Sierra Leone.





A man is left lying on a hospital floor for five days, unfed and unaided.

He went to the district hospital in Kono hoping for help, only to be abandoned in an empty ward by the small number of nursing staff.

They feared he had Ebola.

When our team arrived the man was dead.

No-one had even found out his name.

Our journalists were about to discover that his story was not an isolated one in remote parts of the worst-affected country.

In Kono, the outbreak raged unchecked for weeks.

The hospital has 185 beds.

It was clear the sick do not like coming to the hospital. They are terrified of catching the virus.



The cleaner – who told  she gained experience during Sierra Leone’s civil war – decided to use the remaining two bottles of medicine in their stocks to kick-start the labour.

But shortly after the injections, Aminata had a fit and fell unconscious.

Her mother-in-law was distraught. She hadn’t wanted to come to the hospital at all.

Nearly three hours later, a nursing assistant arrived, but her gloves were poor quality and tore as she put them on.

She knew that two colleagues in the same maternity unit died last week. Again, our reporters offered their spares.

Finally the teenager woke in agony. Brutal pressure was being applied to her womb.

The heat that was exacerbated by the protective clothing proved too much for the hospital cleaner, who collapsed.

But amidst the fainting and fear, the cry of the newborn baby boy lifted everyone.

He was named Emmanual, and those who witnessed his birth were delighted.

But the feeling was tinged by fear, because Emmanual had become the latest Ebola suspect, and if he carried the virus, he could end up killing scores of others.

Help for Kono district is arriving. The British military’s part of the task force are delivering urgently needed medical supplies that would normally perish during the eight-hour bumpy ride to the eastern border.



But for many communities in this remote part of the country, the help has come too late. Until this week, Kono had no Ebola treatment centre or testing facility.

Our team met a woman called Bansaraty. She told them she was feverish and weak but did not want to go to hospital.

She was fearful of the men in white suits, who had to spend a lot of time reassuring her they had come to help.

Her neighbours believed she had Ebola and wanted her out.

Finally, she was persuaded to leave.

She had to travel dozens of miles to nearby Kanema district to get tested for Ebola. It came back negative but days after coming home to Kono, she fell ill again.

They feel very far away from the capital Freetown where government resources have been directed and where charities and aid agencies are operating in their dozens.

One woman told us: “We are crying out to the government, so we can have more pressure that Ebola should be eradicated from our nation.”

The Ebola recovery team left Bansaraty’s house unsecured and exposed, much to the disgust of the villagers.

Kono has been free of Ebola since September: now they feel as vulnerable as ever.