Month: March 2018

Tesla Says Vehicle in Deadly Crash Was on Autopilot 

A vehicle in a fatal crash last week in California was operating on Autopilot, making it the latest accident to involve a self-driving vehicle, Tesla has confirmed.

The electric car maker said the driver, who was killed in the accident, did not have his hands on the steering wheel for six seconds before the crash, despite several warnings from the vehicle. Tesla Inc. tells drivers that its Autopilot system, which can maintain speed, change lanes and self-park, requires drivers to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel in order to take control of the vehicle to avoid accidents. 

Tesla said its vehicle logs show the driver took no action to stop the Model X SUV from crashing into a concrete lane divider. Photographs of the SUV show that the front of the vehicle was demolished, its hood was ripped off  and its front wheels were scattered on the freeway.

The vehicle also caught fire, though Tesla said no one was in the vehicle when that happened. The company said the crash was made worse by a missing or damaged safety shield on the end of the freeway barrier that is supposed to reduce the impact into the concrete lane divider.

The crash happened in Mountain View, in California’s Silicon Valley. The driver was Walter Huang, 38, a software engineer for Apple.

“None of this changes how devastating an event like this is or how much we feel for our customer’s family and friends,” Tesla said on its website late Friday.

Earlier this month, a self-driving Volvo SUV being tested by ride-hailing service Uber struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona.

Tesla Inc. defended its Autopilot feature, saying that while it doesn’t prevent all accidents, it makes them less likely to occur than is the case for vehicles without it.

Federal investigators are looking into last week’s crash, as well a separate crash in January of a Tesla Model S that may have been operating under the Autopilot system.

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AP Analysis: Blacks Largely Missing From High-Salary Positions

Jonathan Garland’s fascination with architecture started early: He spent much of his childhood designing Lego houses and gazing at Boston buildings on rides with his father away from their largely minority neighborhood. 

But when Garland looked around at his architectural college, he didn’t see many who looked like him. There were few black faces among students, and fewer teaching skills or giving lectures. 

 

“If you do something simple like Google ‘architects’ and you go to the images tab, you’re primarily going to see white males,” said Garland, 35, who’s worked at Boston and New York architectural firms. “That’s the image, that’s the brand, that’s the look of an architect.”

And that’s not uncommon in other lucrative fields, 50 years after the Reverend Martin Luther King, a leader in the fight for equal employment opportunities, was assassinated.

An Associated Press analysis of government data has found that black workers are chronically underrepresented compared with whites in high-salary jobs in technology, business, life sciences and engineering, among other areas. Instead, many black workers find jobs in low-wage, less prestigious fields where they’re overrepresented, such as food service or preparation, building maintenance and office work, the AP analysis found.

‘Other America’

In one of his final speeches, King described the “Other America,” where unemployment and underemployment created a “fatigue of despair” for African-Americans. Despite economic progress for blacks in areas such as incomes and graduation rates, some experts say many African-Americans remain part of this “Other America,” with little hope of attaining top professional jobs, thanks to systemic yet subtle racism.

The AP analysis found that a white worker had a far better chance than a black one of holding a job in the 11 categories with the highest median annual salaries, as listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The ratio of white-to-black workers is about 10-to-1 in management, 8-to-1 in computers and mathematics, 12-to-1 in law and 7-to-1 in education — compared with a ratio of 5.5 white workers for every black one in all jobs nationally. The top five high-salary fields have a median income range of $65,000 to $100,000, compared with $36,000 for all occupations nationwide.

In Boston, a hub for technology and innovation and home to prestigious universities, white workers outnumber black ones by about 27-to-1 in computer- and mathematics-related professions, compared with the overall ratio of 9.5-to-1 for workers in the city. Overall, Boston’s ratio of white-to-black workers is wider than that of the nation in six of the top 10 high-income fields.

Boston, where King had deep ties, earning his doctorate and meeting his wife, has a history of racial discord. Eight years after King’s assassination, at the height of turbulent school desegregation, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph from an anti-busing rally at City Hall showed a white man attacking a black bystander with an American flag.

The young victim was Theodore Landsmark. He’s now 71, a lawyer, an architect and director of Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy.

Why progress lags

He said “structural discrimination” is the overarching cause of disproportionate race representation in high-salary fields. Landsmark and others say gains are elusive for myriad reasons: Substandard schools in low-income neighborhoods. White-dominated office cliques. Boardrooms that prefer familiarity to diversity. Discriminatory hiring practices. Companies that claim a lack of qualified candidates but have no programs to train minority talent.

Some also say investors are more likely to support white startups. When Rica Elysee, a lifelong Boston resident who grew up in predominantly black neighborhoods, brought her idea of an online platform linking beauty professionals with customers for in-home appointments to investors, she was shunned, she said.

“They said I didn’t belong in the program, that they couldn’t identify with it because they weren’t black,” said Elysee, 32, who initially marketed BeautyLynk to black women like herself. “I remember crying pretty harshly. They couldn’t relate to what I was doing.”

Some even advised her to move out of Boston, which had a booming innovation economy but was “not encouraging minorities in the tech space,” she said. Three years later, Elysee said BeautyLynk is slowly growing but still needs capital.

Most American metro areas are like Boston, with AP’s analysis showing that racial disparities in employment are indifferent to geography and politics. California’s Silicon Valley struggles to achieve diversity in computer fields. In Seattle, home to Amazon, whites outnumber blacks nearly 28-to-1 in computer- and math-related fields. Financial powerhouse New York has a 3-to-1 ratio of white-to-black workers in all occupations, but nearly 6-to-1 in business and finance. Hollywood shows inequality in entertainment, with almost nine whites for every black worker.

In Atlanta, King’s hometown, the proportional representation of black-to-white workers is close to even in many fields. Many reasons are cited. Atlanta has historically black colleges and universities such as King’s alma mater, Morehouse; the first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, pressed for policies helping black professionals after his 1973 election; and events like the 1996 Olympics opened doors for entrepreneurs of all races.

Nationally, it’s much different

Atlanta is an exception. For nearly all of the past half-century, black unemployment nationally has hovered at about twice that of whites.

President Donald Trump touted on Twitter that December’s 6.8 percent unemployment rate for blacks was the lowest in 45 years — a number critics say ignores a greater reality. For example, in an economy that increasingly demands advanced degrees, Department of Education data show that black representation among graduates in science, tech, engineering and mathematics peaked at 9.9 percent in 2010 and has been slowly declining.

In Boston, Democratic Mayor Marty Walsh said in a recent speech that the city is addressing the issue and is committed to placing 20,000 low-income residents in “good-paying jobs” by 2022.

Landsmark said stronger role models may be a solution. As Boston Architectural College’s president, he mentored Garland. They discussed race issues in the professional world — as when Garland, trying to land jobs in his neighborhood, realized many people who looked like him were unfamiliar with the very concept of architecture. He once had to explain to a homeowner who wanted his roof reframed: “I’m not a builder, I’m an architect.”

Today, Garland speaks at high schools and works at the DREAM Collaborative, which focuses on projects in low-income neighborhoods.

“I know the barriers exist in other folks’ minds, and I have to disprove that,” he said. “I keep myself focused on the issues.”

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Scientists Track Chinese Space Station’s Final Hours in Orbit

Scientists are monitoring a defunct Chinese space station that is expected to fall to Earth sometime this weekend — the largest man-made object to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere in a decade.

The head of the European Space Agency’s debris office, Holger Krag, says China’s Tiangong-1 space station likely will fall to Earth Sunday.

Krag said it still not yet known where the space station will hit Earth, but said it would be extremely unlikely for anyone to be injured when it does.

“Our experience is that for such large objects typically between 20 and 40 percent of the original mass, of 8.5 tons, will survive re-entry and then could be found on the ground, theoretically,” he said.

“However, to be injured by one of these fragments is extremely unlikely. My estimate is that the probability to be injured by one of these fragments is similar to the probability of being hit by lightning twice in the same year,” Krag added.

China’s first space lab, Tiangong-1 — or “Heavenly Palace 1″ — was launched in 2011 as a facility for testing docking capabilities with other Chinese spacecraft and to explore the possibilities for building a larger permanent space station by 2023.

Chinese astronauts visited it several times flying aboard the Shenzhou spacecraft.

It was scheduled for a controlled de-orbit and eventual crash into the Pacific Ocean, but in September 2016 China’s space agency conceded it had lost contact with the station.

Krag, says the 8-and-a-half ton craft will re-enter the atmosphere at a speed of 27,000 kilometers per hour.

He said the space station is expected to fall between the areas of 43 degrees south and 43 degrees north, and everything outside that zone is considered safe.

“Northern Europe including France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland are definitely on the safe side. Southern Europe, the southern part of North America, South Asia, Africa, Australia and also South America are still within the zone today,” he said.

The re-entry area covers huge parts of the Earth’s oceans, so any surviving pieces of the space station are most likely to end up at the bottom of the sea.

 

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Australian Project to Probe Links Between Head Injuries in Sport, Disease

Researchers in Australia have begun an ambitious task to learn more about the long-term impacts of head injuries suffered by athletes. This week, the Australian Sports Brain Bank was launched in Sydney, and experts are encouraging players who have participated in all levels of sport – whether or not they’ve had a head injury – to donate their brains to the cause after they die.

The Brain Bank has been set up to investigate links between concussion, head injuries and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.  It is a neurodegenerative disease found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma.

The Australian study is being supported by American researchers, who set up a similar brain bank a decade ago.

Dr. Chris Nowinski, head of the Boston-based Concussion Legacy Foundation which has examined the brains of deceased National Football League players, says the presence of CTE among them is pervasive.

“Any contact sport where you receive repetitive brain trauma puts you at risk for this disease.  We do not know at what risk but we have seen CTE in 110 of the first 111 players that we have studied, which has really surprised us.”

Nowinski believes energy from blows to the head during competition causes brain tissue to move.  Symptoms of CTE include depression, aggression and memory loss, and can take years or decades to appear.

The cause of CTE has yet to be established, but the disease has prompted a class action lawsuit in the U.S.

Australia’s Brain Bank is a joint venture between Sydney University and the city’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.  It hopes to obtain 500 brains over the next 10 years.

 

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Helping the Planet, One Burger at a Time

Chef Rob Morasco didn’t set out to make a planet-friendly burger.

But the 25 percent mushroom burger he created at food service company Sodexo not only has a lower carbon footprint, it’s also lower in calories, fat and salt.

It’s juicier, too.

“When you bite into it, it’s kind of like a flavor explosion,” Morasco said. “And you don’t taste the mushrooms, either.”

And because mushrooms are cheaper than beef, he could answer customer demand for antibiotic- and hormone-free burgers “without having to jack up the price,” he said.

Mushroom-blended burgers have been catching on among both chefs and environmentalists. In March, Sonic Drive-In became the first fast-food chain to offer them.

WATCH: These Burgers Are Better for the Planet, but You’d Never Know It

​2 million cars

Americans eat about 10 billion hamburgers each year, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI).

All those burgers take a toll on the planet.

Beef is “the most resource-intensive food that we commonly eat,” Richard Waite of WRI said.

Beef accounts for about half the greenhouse gases produced by the American diet, he added. Cows take far more feed, land and water than any other source of protein.

If every burger in America were blended with mushrooms, WRI estimates the greenhouse-gas savings would be like taking more than 2 million cars off the road.

It would save as much water as nearly 3 million American households use in a year. And it would reduce the demand for farmland by an area larger than the state of Maryland.

For the carnivore

Blended burgers are part of The Culinary Institute of America and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Menus of Change project, challenging chefs across the food industry to make their meals healthier and more sustainable.

Demand for meatless meals is growing along with rising health and environmental concerns. There are bean burgers, soy burgers, even beet-infused veggie burgers that “bleed.”

But it’s a limited market.

“The veggie burgers tend to cater to folks who identify as vegetarian or vegan, or actively want to be eating less meat,” Waite said.

On the other hand, blended burgers appeal to “the real carnivores, someone who really loves meat,” he added. “This is potentially a dish that could have broad mainstream appeal and also pretty big environmental benefits.”

Helps keep burgers juicy

Chefs say the mushrooms retain water, helping the burger stay juicy as it cooks.

Sonic Drive-In’s ads for its new Signature Slinger blended burger play up the juiciness and the lower calories.

“When you’re about something that is going to be better for you, it had better deliver the flavor first,” said Scott Uehlein, vice president for product innovation and development at Sonic Drive-In.

The company is piloting the burgers in a two-month trial run.

And the potential goes beyond burgers.

About 400 cafeterias, universities and hospitals are using Sodexo’s blended beef to prepare not only burgers, but lasagna, chili, meatballs, meatloaf and more. The company has adapted 30 popular recipes to use its mushroom blend.

“All those different things you can make with that product just like you would make with regular ground beef,” chef Morasco said.

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These Burgers Are Better for the Planet, but You’d Never Know It

As the world’s population heads toward 10 billion by midcentury, experts are wrestling with how to feed the world without wrecking the planet. It’s not easy to find foods with lower environmental impact that still taste as good as the ones they are intended to replace. But chefs and environmentalists are both cheering one new menu item: the mushroom-blended burger. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

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Kids, Candymakers Look Forward to Easter Holiday

The Easter holiday is synonymous with symbols of spring, and for kids, it means candy in their Easter baskets. From Washington, VOA’s Jill Craig finds out how much sales increase over the holiday, and what the best sellers are.

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Traditional Pakistani Bamboo Curtains Gaining Popularity

Traditional handicrafts from Pakistan are exported to many countries around the world. One item that appears to be gaining in popularity are the country’s hand-made bamboo curtains. VOA’s Saman Khan has more in this report from Lahore, Pakistan, narrated by Sarah Zaman.

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NY’s Immigrant Taxi Drivers Despair as Taxi Industry Slumps

A financially distraught yellow cab driver from Romania recently hanged himself in his New York garage, marking the fourth suicide among city taxi drivers in as many months. In the tragedy’s aftermath, members of New York’s taxicab drivers union are renewing their calls for a cap on the number of app-based for-hire vehicles, such as Uber and Lyft, which they say are driving workers of a once-thriving industry into the ground. VOA’s Ramon Taylor reports.

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Could Enemies Target Undersea Cables That Link the World?

Russian ships are skulking around underwater communications cables, causing the U.S. and its allies to worry the Kremlin might be taking information warfare to new depths.

Is Moscow interested in cutting or tapping the cables? Does it want the West to worry it might? Is there a more innocent explanation? Unsurprisingly, Russia isn’t saying.

But whatever Moscow’s intentions, U.S. and Western officials are increasingly troubled by their rival’s interest in the 400 fiber-optic cables that carry most of world’s calls, emails and texts, as well as $10 trillion worth of daily financial transactions.

“We’ve seen activity in the Russian navy, and particularly undersea in their submarine activity, that we haven’t seen since the ’80s,” General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the U.S. European Command, told Congress this month.

Without undersea cables, a bank in Asian countries couldn’t send money to Saudi Arabia to pay for oil. U.S. military leaders would struggle to communicate with troops fighting extremists in Afghanistan and the Middle East. A student in Europe wouldn’t be able to Skype his parents in the United States.

Small passageways

All this information is transmitted along tiny glass fibers encased in undersea cables that, in some cases, are little bigger than a garden hose. All told, there are 620,000 miles of fiber-optic cable running under the sea, enough to loop around Earth nearly 25 times.

Most lines are owned by private telecommunications companies, including giants like Google and Microsoft. Their locations are easily identified on public maps, with swirling lines that look like spaghetti. While cutting one cable might have limited impact, severing several simultaneously or at choke points could cause a major outage.

The Russians “are doing their homework and, in the event of a crisis or conflict with them, they might do rotten things to us,” said Michael Kofman, a Russian military expert at nonprofit research group CNA Corp.

It’s not Moscow’s warships and submarines that are making NATO and U.S. officials uneasy. It’s Russia’s Main Directorate of Deep Sea Research, whose specialized surface ships, submarines, underwater drones and minisubs conduct reconnaissance, underwater salvage and other work.

One ship run by the directorate is the Yantar. It’s a modest, 354-foot oceanographic vessel that holds a crew of about 60. It most recently was off South America’s coast helping Argentina search for a lost submarine.

Parlamentskaya Gazeta, the Russian parliament’s publication, last October said the Yantar has equipment “designed for deep-sea tracking” and “connecting to top-secret communication cables.” The publication said that in September 2015, the Yantar was near Kings Bay, Georgia, home to a U.S. submarine base, “collecting information about the equipment on American submarines, including underwater sensors and the unified [U.S. military] information network.” Rossiya, a Russian state TV network, has said the Yantar not only can connect to top-secret cables but also can cut them and “jam underwater sensors with a special system.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Preparing for sabotage

There is no hard evidence that the ship is engaged in nefarious activity, said Steffan Watkins, an information technology security consultant in Canada tracking the ship. But he wonders what the ship is doing when it’s stopped over critical cables or when its Automatic Identification System tracking transponder isn’t on.

Of the Yantar’s crew, he said: “I don’t think these are the actual guys who are doing any sabotage. I think they’re laying the groundwork for future operations.”

Members of Congress are wondering, too. 

Representative Joe Courtney, a Connecticut Democrat on a House subcommittee on sea power, said of the Russians, “The mere fact that they are clearly tracking the cables and prowling around the cables shows that they are doing something.”

Democratic Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, an Armed Services Committee member, said Moscow’s goal appears to be to “disrupt the normal channels of communication and create an environment of misinformation and distrust.”

The Yantar’s movements have previously raised eyebrows.

On October 18, 2016, a Syrian telecom company ordered emergency maintenance to repair a cable in the Mediterranean that provides internet connectivity to several countries, including Syria, Libya and Lebanon. The Yantar arrived in the area the day before the four-day maintenance began. It left two days before the maintenance ended. It’s unknown what work it did while there.

Watkins described another episode on November 5, 2016, when a submarine cable linking Persian Gulf nations experienced outages in Iran. Hours later, the Yantar left Oman and headed to an area about 60 miles west of the Iranian port city of Bushehr, where the cable runs ashore. Connectivity was restored just hours before the Yantar arrived on November 9. The boat stayed stationary over the site for several more days.

Undersea cables have been targets before.

At the beginning of World War I, Britain cut a handful of German underwater communications cables and tapped the rerouted traffic for intelligence. In the Cold War, the U.S. Navy sent American divers deep into the Sea of Okhotsk off the Russian coast to install a device to record Soviet communications, hoping to learn more about the U.S.S.R.’s submarine-launched nuclear capability.

Eavesdropping by spies

More recently, British and American intelligence agencies have eavesdropped on fiber-optic cables, according to documents released by Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor.

In 2007, Vietnamese authorities confiscated ships carrying miles of fiber-optic cable that thieves salvaged from the sea for profit. The heist disrupted service for several months. And in 2013, Egyptian officials arrested three scuba divers off Alexandria for attempting to cut a cable stretching from France to Singapore. Five years on, questions remain about the attack on a cable responsible for about a third of all internet traffic between Egypt and Europe.

Despite the relatively few publicly known incidents of sabotage, most outages are due to accidents.

Two hundred or so cable-related outages take place each year. Most occur when ship anchors snap cables or commercial fishing equipment snags the lines. Others break during tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural disasters.

But even accidental cuts can harm U.S. military operations. 

In 2008 in Iraq, unmanned U.S. surveillance flights nearly screeched to a halt one day at Balad Air Base, not because of enemy mortar attacks or dusty winds. An anchor had snagged a cable hundreds of miles away from the base, situated in the “Sunni Triangle” northwest of Baghdad.

The severed cable had linked controllers based in the United States with unmanned aircraft flying intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions for coalition forces in the skies over Iraq, said retired Air Force Colonel Dave Lujan of Hampton, Virginia.

“Say you’re operating a remote-controlled car and all of a sudden you can’t control it,” said Lujan, who was deputy commander of the 332nd Expeditionary Operations Group at the base when the little-publicized outage lasted for two to three days. “That’s a big impact,” he said, describing how U.S. pilots had to fly the missions instead.

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