The massive cargo ship currently blocking the Suez Canal — holding up of billions of dollars worth of shipping each day — isn’t the first time something has shut down the link between the Mediterranean and Red seas.
The 400-metre-long Japanese-owned MV Ever Given has been stuck in a single-lane stretch of the famed canal, one of the busiest shipping routes in the world, since Tuesday. And although every effort is being made to clear the way, more than 300 ships were still waiting to get through as the problem persisted on Saturday.
But the canal has seen this kind of trouble before in its long history, sometimes shutting down for hours, days, weeks or — in one case — eight years.
In 1937, the U.K.-bound ship Viceroy of India ran aground, causing a holdup for its 700 passengers and the vessels behind it.
It shut down “all shipping” for a time, according to a report by The Associated Press from Cairo on April 11, the day traffic returned to normal.
“She was refloated after part of the cargo was unloaded,” the report said.
A British freighter, the Lord Church, also ran aground in September 1953, “holding up six following ships,” The Associated Press reported, and a year later a 10,000-ton tanker called the World Peace struck a railway bridge, causing another traffic tie-up.
WATCH | Efforts to get Ever Given moving:
Shipping traffic is halted for another day on one of the world’s busiest trade routes, after the Ever Given ran aground on Tuesday. 0:31
The World Peace, owned by a Greek company headed by the brother-in-law of Aristotle Onassis, managed to block the canal “more effectively than Axis bombs did in World War II,” according to the New York Times.
More than 200 ships were forced to anchorwhile the problem, which cleared after three days, was dealt with, Reuters reported.
Britain, France and Israel attacked Egypt that fall. But the Suez Crisis, as it became known, lasted little more than a week — quelled in November by a United Nations peacekeeping force that Lester Pearson, the future Canadian prime minister, helped muster and for which he later won the Nobel Peace Prize.
The crisis closed the canal until March 30, when, according to a report in the Toronto Star, “the first convoy to transit the Suez Canal in five months cleared through Port Said … and passed into the Mediterranean to a deafening salvo of whistles and cheers.”
Five months later, in August, a 9,000-ton tanker called the Barbaros ran aground, damaged its rudder and held up traffic for nearly a day, according to The Associated Press.
The stranded ‘Yellow Fleet’
A decade later, at the outbreak of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war — also known as the Six-Day War — Egypt closed the Suez Canal to international shipping traffic. More than a dozen cargo ships were stranded partway along the canal route for eight years.
The ships stranded on Great Bitter Lake were “manned by skeleton crews, employed by insurance companies who paid off the owners long ago and hope one day to recover part of their losses,” journalist Arnold Bruner reported from the scene for CBC News in late 1973.
By that point, Bruner said, all that was left were the ships, which the crews called the “Yellow Fleet,” and cargo that could not be salvaged — including some rotted cotton shown in the footage in his report.
“If peace does come to the Middle East and the Suez Canal is eventually opened, these ships may finally go home,” Bruner said.
“When will that be? That’s what the men of the rusting Bitter Lake fleet have been asking themselves for six and a half years, and the answer is as far away as ever.”
The canal reopened on June 5, 1975, with a ceremony attended by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
The Toronto Star quoted Sadat the following day as saying he hoped the canal would again be “a channel of prosperity for the world.”
The same report said a commercial convoy — involving ships from Kuwait, Greece, the Soviet Union, China and Yugoslavia — began transiting the canal two hours after the ceremony.
(Credit: onurdongel/Getty Images)
New work in robotics research at MIT suggests that long-term bottlenecks in robot responsiveness could be alleviated through the use of dedicated hardware accelerators. The research team also suggests it’s possible to develop a general methodology for programming robot responsiveness to create specific templates, which would then be deployed into various robot models. The researchers envision a combined hardware-software approach to the problem of motion planning.
“A performance gap of an order of magnitude has emerged in motion planning and control: robot joint actuators react at kHz rates,” according to the research team, “but promising online techniques for complex robots e.g., manipulators, quadrupeds, and humanoids (Figure 1) are limited to 100s of Hz by state-of-the-art software.”
Optimizing existing models and the code for specific robot designs has not closed the performance gap. The researchers write that some compute-bound kernels, such as calculating the gradient of rigid body dynamics, take 30 to 90 percent of the available runtime processing power in emerging nonlinear Model Predictive Control (MPC) systems.
The specific field of motion planning has received relatively little focus compared with collision detection, perception, and localization (the ability to orient itself in three-space relative to its environment). In order for a robot to function effectively in a 3D environment, it has to first perceive its surroundings, map them, localize itself within the map, and then plan the route it needs to take to accomplish a given task. Collision detection is a subset of motion planning.
The long-term goal of this research isn’t just to find a way to perform motion-planning more effectively, but it’s also to create a template for hardware and software that can be generalized to many different types of robots, speeding both development and deployment times. The two key claims of the paper are that per-robot software optimization techniques can be implemented in hardware through the use of specialized accelerators, and that these techniques can be used to create a design methodology for building said accelerators. This allows for the creation of a new field of robot-optimized hardware that they dub “robomorphic computing.”
The team’s methodology relies on creating a template that implements an existing control algorithm once, exposing both parallelism and matrix sparsity. The specific template parameters are then programmed with values that correspond with the capabilities of the underlying robot. 0-values contained within the matrices correspond with motions that a given robot is incapable of performing. For example, a humanoid bipedal robot would store non-zero values in areas of the matrices that governed the proper motion of its arms and legs. A robot with a reversible elbow joint that can bend freely in either direction would be programmed with different values than a robot with a more human-like elbow. Because these specific models are derived from a common movement-planning template, the evaluation code for all conditions could be implemented in a specialized hardware accelerator.
The researchers report that implementing their proposed structure in an FPGA as opposed to a CPU or GPU reduces latency by 8x to 86x and improves response rates by an overall 1.9x – 2.9x when the FPGA is deployed as a co-processor. Improving robot reaction times could allow them to operate effectively in emergency situations where quick responses are required.
A key trait of robots and androids in science fiction is their faster-than-human reflexes. Right now, the kind of speed displayed by an android such as Data is impossible. But part of the reason why is that we can’t currently push the limits of our own actuators. Improve how quickly the machine can “think,” and we will improve how quickly it can move.
Amazon is buying four jets from WestJet and seven from Delta as the e-commerce giant moves to beef up its delivery fleet at a time when passenger jets are no longer so in demand.
In a release, the company said the 11 jets, which are all Boeing 767-300s, are all currently set up to carry passengers but are in the process of being converted to carry only cargo. The WestJet jets will join Amazon’s fleet some time this year and the Delta ones in 2022.
“Our goal is to continue delivering for customers across the U.S. in the way that they expect from Amazon, and purchasing our own aircraft is a natural next step toward that goal,” Sarah Rhoads, vice-president of Amazon Global Air, said in a release.
The 767 was a key jet for WestJet in its evolution as it was the airline’s only wide-body jet, but the airline has recently decommissioned its entire fleet of them and moved to larger 787 Dreamliners for many long-haul flights.
“Last year our 767s were removed from service as we gauged market interest for the procurement of the 767 fleet,” spokesperson Morgan Bell told CBC News in a statement. “We are pleased they found a home with Amazon.”
The four jets represents WestJet’s entire fleet of 767s.
Amazon building delivery network
Amazon launched its own air cargo fleet in 2016 and, prior to Tuesday’s news, the company leased 80 planes, but the move is the first time the company has bought their own.
The company uses parcel services such as UPS and FedEx for its current deliveries, but is moving to build its own delivery network as it increasingly views itself as a competitor to those services, not a partner.
Amazon owns tens of thousands of its own delivery trucks, and has been experimenting with its own fleet of autonomous delivery drones. But those are for the last leg of the delivery journey — it still relies on planes to get packages across vast distances, quickly.
Tuesday’s news is the first purchase of jets, but also the second time in the pandemic that the company has added to its number of planes.
Amid rumours of rifts involving Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, public appearances at Christmas became an opportunity to try to suss out the true nature of royal relationships. Maybe a sideways glance during a walk to church would indicate who was getting along — or not — with whom?
Such glimpses might not come anywhere close to revealing much of anything, but the interest was there.
It is still there, even in this year turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic, complete with the recommended abandonment of large family get-togethers — royal or otherwise — over the holidays.
Queen Elizabeth has decided she and Prince Philip will mark Christmas quietly at Windsor Castle — where they have been living in virtual isolation for most of the pandemic — rather than with the large family gathering that has taken place over Christmas at her Sandringham estate northeast of London for more than three decades.
New, stricter pandemic restrictions announced Saturday that cover the area around Windsor could mean further changes to any plans some members of the Royal Family may have had for Christmas Day.
“Under these restrictions, individuals may meet with one person from another household outdoors, and there will be interest in whether one of the Queen’s children or grandchildren meets with her outside Windsor Castle at Christmas in accordance with these requirements,” said Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal historian and author.
Already there has been notable interest in another outdoor — and physically distanced — pre-Christmas meeting of some senior members of the family at Windsor Castle.
The Queen stood outside, well apart from William and Kate, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, as they thanked volunteers and workers from local charitable organizations.
It’s hardly the first time the Royal Family has altered its actions to accommodate the world around them.
“During times of crisis, the Royal Family adjusts their own routines to reflect the conditions experienced by the wider public,” said Harris.
In the Second World War, food was rationed at Buckingham Palace, even on formal occasions, when more modest meals were served to visitors — albeit still on the fancy china.
The announcement earlier this month of the Queen’s decision to mark Christmas quietly at Windsor Castle “just shows how … clear the palace [is] about understanding the nation, or particularly the Queen is, in her 95th year,” said British public relations expert Mark Borkowski, adding that the announcement was a further reflection of her ability to do “the right thing at the right time in the right way.”
Harris said public interest in royal Christmas celebrations mirrors the interest in royal weddings and births — they’re milestones that average people also experience and ones that could provide “a glimpse of more personal moments.”
That was seen this year, she said, when William and Kate took their children to see a Christmas pantomime, and there was public curiosity about how Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis responded to the performance, and how their parents explained the jokes to them.
Watching how the royals celebrate Christmas goes back several generations.
Some of the traditions they followed then found favour with the wider public, especially during the 19th-century reign of Queen Victoria, when her husband, Prince Albert, brought his own traditions from Germany, particularly the Christmas tree.
Christmas trees had been in use during previous royal Christmases, but the unprecedented expansion of that era’s mass media helped to spread the word about what the royals were doing in the festive season.
“An image in the London Illustrated News of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, their children and Queen Victoria’s mother gathered around the Christmas tree provided a famous image of the royal Christmas, which was widely admired and emulated,” said Harris.
In that instance, there was also some royal image management going on in an attempt to counter public perception of the monarchy at the time.
“After the scandalous reigns of Queen Victoria’s uncles, George IV and William IV, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were determined to demonstrate that the monarchy was once again respectable and mirrored the prevailing middle-class views of the importance of domesticity and the home as a refuge from the concerns of the wider world,” said Harris.
Ready for his shot
Prince Charles, who had COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic, says he will get a vaccination against the coronavirus.
But he’s not expecting his shot will come any time soon.
His comments came Thursday as he and Camilla toured a vaccination centre in western England and met front-line health-care workers administering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
“I think I’ll have to wait for the AstraZeneca one before it gets to my turn. I’m some way down the list,” Charles said, according to a report from ITV.
Speculation has swirled about whether or when his mother, the Queen, might also receive a coronavirus vaccine, with palace comments widely reported that she might let it be known once she and Prince Philip had received the shot.
Flash back more than six decades, to a time when the British government wanted members of the public to take another vaccine, and Elizabeth let it be known that Charles and his sister Anne had received shots to protect them against polio.
“As a result, public mood over the vaccine thawed and millions of others went on to take the drug, which the National Health Service said helped cases ‘fall dramatically,'” the Daily Express reported recently.
No formality here
When it comes time to declare another royal baby is on the way, the general modus operandi is a formal announcement from Buckingham Palace.
So it caught people’s attention and spawned headlines the other day when Mike Tindall, husband of the Queen’s granddaughter Zara Tindall, shared news via his sports podcast that they are expecting another child.
“Had a little scan last week, third Tindall on its way,” the former rugby player told the 150,000 weekly listeners of The Good, the Bad & the Rugby podcast.
“Z is very good … obviously always careful because of things that have happened in the past. But so far, so good. Fingers crossed. I’d like a boy this time. I’ve got two girls, I would like a boy. I will love it whether it’s a boy or a girl, but please be a boy,” he said, holding up those crossed fingers and waving in the podcast video.
“Things that have happened in the past” refers to two miscarriages Zara had between the birth of their elder daughter Mia, 6, and younger daughter, Lena, 2.
According to The Telegraph, the announcement was very much in keeping with the couple’s casual, down-to-earth manner, and their “reputation as the Royal Family’s most relatable couple.”
The baby will be the Queen’s 10th great-grandchild, and is the second royal birth expected in 2021. Princess Eugenie and her husband, Jack Brooksbank, are also expecting a child in the new year.
“You just disappeared, all of you.”
— Queen Elizabeth takes a technical glitch in stride during a virtual meeting with staff at the accounting giant KPMG, as it marked its 150th anniversary. The pandemic has led to numerous online firsts for the Queen, as she carries out duties remotely. Last week, she conducted her first diplomatic audience via a video call.
A three-day rail tour through the U.K. by William and Kate to meet and thank front-line pandemic workers ran into a lukewarm welcome in Scotland and Wales. [The Guardian]
Harry and Meghan will host and produce podcasts as part of a deal the couple, now living in California, have made with the streaming service Spotify. [BBC]
Netflix says it has “no plans” to include a disclaimer with The Crown to make it clear that the award-winning drama about Queen Elizabeth’s reign is a work of fiction. [Los Angeles Times]
Christmas means Christmas cards, often including a happy family photo from the past year. For their 2020 festive mailing, Charles and Camilla are relaxing in their garden at their home in Scotland, while William and Kate are all smiles with their kids at their country home northeast of London. [BBC]
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U.S. president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris were jointly named Time magazine’s 2020 “Person of the Year” on Thursday, chosen from a list of finalists that included the man Biden vanquished at the polls – President Donald Trump.
The Democratic former vice-president and his running mate, a California senator whose election broke gender and racial barriers, together “offered restoration and renewal in a single ticket,” Time said in a profile of the pair, published online with its announcement.
Following the most tumultuous U.S. presidential campaign in modern times, waged in the throes of a deadly pandemic, economic devastation and a strife-torn national reckoning with racism, Biden and Harris prevailed in an election that drew the highest voter turnout in a century.
Time editor-in-chief and CEO Edward Felsenthal credited the victors with succeeding in “an existential debate over what reality we inhabit.”
“For changing the American story, for showing that the forces of empathy are greater than the furies of division, for sharing a vision of healing in a grieving world, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are Time’s 2020 Person of the Year.”
Trump, the 45th U.S. president and Time’s 2016 Person of the Year — so honoured a month after his upset election victory as the Republican nominee that year — was among three other finalists in the running this year, Time said.
The two others, both group candidates, were the healthcare workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic, and participants in the racial justice movement sparked by the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
The Person of the Year is usually an individual, but multiple people have been named in the past. The title is one, according to the magazine, signifying “who affected the news or our lives the most, for better, or worse.”
Boy band BTS named Entertainer of the Year
Time began its tradition in 1927. Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg last year became the youngest individual winner of the accolade.
Biden, 78, who served two terms as vice-president to Barack Obama, will become the oldest person to assume the office of U.S. president when he is sworn in on Jan. 20. Harris will become the first woman, the first Black person and the first person of Asian descent to be inaugurated vice-president.
Trump, who has continued to espouse baseless claims that the 2020 election was rigged against him and that he is the rightful winner, is not expected to attend the inauguration.
Along with its Person of the Year honour, Time magazine named the Korean pop group BTS as its Entertainer of the Year, and basketball star LeBron James was crowned Athlete of the Year.
The winners and finalists for various categories were due to be feted during a prime-time special television broadcast on NBC on Thursday night.
Toni Pressley was looking forward to a comeback season with the Orlando Pride after overcoming breast cancer.
But then life threw the veteran defender another curve with the coronavirus pandemic and the impact it had on the Pride, who had to withdraw from this summer’s Challenge Cup tournament because of positive tests.
“You go through things through soccer, and it can kind of be an up and down roller coaster, like you’re starting, you’re not starting, you perform well, you might have a bad game here and there, you have injuries and whatnot,” Pressley said. “But I think, in general, we’re all a lot stronger than we think we are and we can overcome almost anything. I’ve certainly learned that with going through having breast cancer, that I don’t think we’re given anything we can’t handle.”
Pressley has been a mainstay around the National Women’s Soccer League, and with the Pride since 2016. Last year, just as she was settling back into the starting lineup after a season-opening injury, she noticed she was tired and achy a lot. There was also a small lump in her right breast.
WATCH | CBC Sports’ Signa Butler speaks with NWSL’s new commissioner Lisa Baird
CBC Sports’ Signa Butler speaks with the NWSL’s new commissioner Lisa Baird about the league’s core values and its return to play. 4:45
At first, it didn’t make sense. Breast cancer didn’t run in her family. She was only 29. She was an athlete. A vegan. But her fear mounted quickly.
“I kind of knew it would be a possibility just because of all the doctor’s appointments that I had been going to leading up to that moment. By that time, I had a mammogram, I had a biopsy, I had an MRI. So I kind of put it in my mind, `OK, going through all these different appointments and this process, this could be a real possibility that you could have breast cancer.”‘
The day after she was told, she played in a game.
Pressley ultimately chose to have a double mastectomy. She triumphantly returned for the Pride’s final game in October last season, entering as a sub in the final moments.
Finally healthy, she was looking forward to this season. Then it all came to an abrupt stop in March, just as teams had opened training camps, because of the coronavirus.
The NWSL put together a plan to bring all the teams to a bubble in Utah for the Challenge Cup, becoming the first professional team sports league in the U.S. to play amid the pandemic. But a week before the tournament began, the Pride was hit by a number of positive COVID-19 tests and they were forced to withdraw.
Watching from afar
Pressley said it was difficult to watch from afar as the rest of the league celebrated a successful tournament.
“It was really tough, just with how last season went and the challenges and hurdles that I went through personally. And then to go off into the off-season and work really hard and then to come back, and to have that happen to us as a collective, to not be able to go to the Challenge Cup,” she said. “It was really disappointing because we all worked really hard to display all of our hard work, through our performance, in this tournament, And to have that taken away, it was really disappointing.”
Once the Challenge Cup concluded, teams went back to their local markets for a fall series of matches against regional foes. The Pride wraps up its four-game series Saturday against the North Carolina Courage, a game which will be nationally televised on CBS.
The Pride (0-2-1) are coming off a 2-1 loss to the Houston Dash last weekend. Pressley came in at the half, providing veteran help on defence for goalkeeper Brittany Wilson, who was making her NWSL debut.
“Toni is composed,” Pride coach Marc Skinner said. “That comes from understanding who she is as a person and understanding her game.”
With the fall series nearing an end, Pressley is already looking toward next season.
“Last season, I felt really confident and obviously, having cancer was a major setback, but I don’t really feel like I’m still hindered by that. I feel like I did before. I feel normal. I feel, you know, healthy. I feel fit,” she said. “So I’m just really looking forward to showing that in these final games and then hopefully next season as well.”
Nearly impossible without man-made global warming, this year’s freak Siberian heat wave is producing climate change’s most flagrant footprint of extreme weather, a new flash study says.
International scientists released a study Wednesday that found the greenhouse effect multiplied the chance of the region’s prolonged heat by at least 600 times, and maybe tens of thousands of times. In the study, which has not yet gone through peer review, the team looked at Siberia from January to June, including a day that hit 38 C for a new Arctic record.
Scientists from the United Kingdom, Russia, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland used 70 climate models running thousands of complex simulations comparing current conditions to a world without man-made warming from the burning of coal, oil and gas. They found that without climate change, the type of prolonged heat that hit Siberia would happen once in 80,000 years, “effectively impossible without human influence,” said study lead author Andrew Ciavarella, a scientist at the U.K. Met Office.
Study not peer reviewed yet
This study, co-ordinated by World Weather Attribution, was done in two weeks and hasn’t yet been put through the microscope of peer review and published in a major scientific journal. But the researchers who specialize in these real-time studies to search for fingerprints of climate change in extreme events usually do get their work later published in a peer-reviewed journal and use methods that outside scientists say are standard and proven.
World Weather Attribution’s past work has found some weather extremes were not triggered by climate change.
But 2020’s Siberian heat wave stood out among the many studied, said attribution team co-lead Friederike Otto, acting director of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute.
“Definitely from everything we have done it’s the strongest signal that we have seen,” Otto said.
The team looked at both the average temperature in Siberia over the first six months of the year when temperatures averaged 5 C above normal and the heat spike of 38 degrees that occurred in the Russian town of Verkhoyansk in June. Both really couldn’t happen in a world without the additional heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuel, Ciavarella said.
The scientists said the heat added to problems with widespread wildfires, pest outbreaks and the thawing of permafrost, which led to a massive pipeline oil spill. Thawing permafrost also has the potential to release huge amounts of greenhouse gases trapped under the frozen ground, which could then worsen the warming, scientists said.
“This event is really worrying,” said study co-author Olga Zolina, a climate scientist at the P.P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanology in Moscow.
At least 10 outside scientists contacted by The Associated Press said this study was scientifically sound, using established and proper techniques.
‘We can either adapt or suffer’
“They have, in an impressively short time, marshalled a lot of different datasets together, which really give credence to their results,” said Danish Meteorological Institute climate scientist Ruth Mottram, who wasn’t part of the research.
These types of studies allow people and world leaders to “connect the dots” between extreme weather events and climate change and prepare for them, said French climate scientist Valerie Masson-Delmotte, who wasn’t part of the research.
“The climate of the future is very different, as this paper shows,” said Pennsylvania State University meteorology professor David Titley, who wasn’t part of the research. “We can either adapt or suffer.”
We live in a solar system of eight planets, none of which collide with each other, which is nice for us. How often do planets in other solar systems smash into each other, though? A new AI designed by Princeton researchers can crunch the numbers with record speed to determine which potential orbits are stable and which will result in catastrophe. This could help astronomers nail down the orbits of distant solar systems we can’t examine in sufficient detail.
Our current exoplanet detection technology can’t provide accurate orbital information, but we can get a general idea of the mechanics by analyzing what we do know and modeling the various options. Unfortunately, there are a lot of potential orbits, and modeling a billion or so of them can take many hours even with powerful supercomputers. Daniel Tamayo, a NASA Hubble Fellowship Program Sagan Fellow in astrophysical sciences at Princeton, devised the algorithm as an alternative to the “brute force” computing that researchers currently use.
According to Tamayo, separating potentially stable from unstable orbits is computationally expensive, even with current supercomputers because there are so many orbits to explore. Tamayo’s SPOCK (Stability of Planetary Orbital Configurations Klassifier) system simplifies the process by combining a pared down model of planetary interactions with machine learning techniques. This allows SPOCK to quickly rule out the most unstable options, giving you a few thousand plausible orbits in a fraction of a second instead of hours.
At a basic level, the algorithm separates systems that will fly apart or smash together “soon” from stable ones. In this case, “soon” means in the space of a few million years. Given the average lifespan of a solar system, it’s unlikely astronomers are seeing any of these doomed configurations. The AI starts by simulating 10,000 orbits. SPOCK creates 10 summary metrics from that data to capture the system’s resonant dynamics, and then the algorithm predicts based on these metrics whether the configurations would remain stable for a billion orbits. This works out to be about 100,000 times faster than traditional methods.
SPOCK can’t tell you exactly what an alien solar system looks like, but it can rule out configurations that are definitely unstable. This could help astronomers narrow their observations as they attempt to study distant exoplanets. Maybe someday we’ll have instruments powerful enough to get an accurate picture of exoplanet orbits, but for now, we’ll have to leave it to the AI.