Antarctica hits record high

temperature at balmy 17.5°C


OSLO (Reuters): An Argentine research base near the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula has set a heat record at a balmy 17.5 degrees Celsius (63.5° Fahrenheit), the U.N. weather agency said on Wednesday. The Experanza base set the high on March 24, 2015, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said after reviewing data around Antarctica to set benchmarks to help track future global warming and natural variations. “Verification of maximum and minimum temperatures help us to build up a picture of the weather and climate in one of Earth’s final frontiers,” said Michael Sparrow, a polar expert with the WMO co-sponsored World Climate Research Programme. Antarctica locks up 90 percent of the world’s fresh water as ice and would raise sea levels by about 60 metres (200 ft) if it were all to melt, meaning scientists are concerned to know even about extremes around the fringes.

The heat record for the broader Antarctic region, defined as anywhere south of 60 degrees latitude, was 19.8°C (67.6°F) on Jan. 30, 1982 on Signy Island in the South Atlantic, it said.

And the warmest temperature recorded on the Antarctic plateau, above 2,500 metres (8,202 feet), was -7.0°C (19.4°F) on Dec. 28, 1980, it said.

Wednesday’s WMO report only examined the highs.

The lowest temperature set anywhere on the planet was a numbing -89.2°C (-128.6°F) at the Soviet Union’s Vostok station in central Antarctica on July 21, 1983.



Lego announces lift off for ‘Women of Nasa’ set

LONDON (Reuters): Danish toymaker Lego plans to honour five women scientists, engineers and astronauts who worked for US space agency Nasa by releasing figurines of the pioneering women that its creator hopes will inspire more girls to pursue careers in science. The women include computer scientist Margaret Hamilton, astronaut Sally Ride and Katherine Johnson, one of three black female mathematicians whose work on the US space programme in the 1960s is captured in Oscar-nominated film “Hidden Figures”. Maia Weinstock, a science editor and the winner of a Lego competition for new sets created by fans, said she wanted to recognise women who made significant contributions at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. “There are people whose stories have not really been told who have made seminal contributions to the Nasa programmes,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. After submitting her design idea to a Lego website, Weinstock said it only took 15 days before her proposal garnered 10,000 public votes and attracted attention from the toymaker.

The set, which will also pay tribute to astronomer Nancy Grace Roman and astronaut Mae Jemison, will feature a mini version of the Hubble Space Telescope which was sent into space in the 1990s to collect data and take photographs.

It will also include a space shuttle with rocket boosters, and various instruments used during historic space missions like Apollo and Mercury.

Lego Ideas spokeswoman Lise Dydensborg announced Weinstock as the winner on Tuesday in a video posted on Twitter.

Weinstock said “it was a dream come true” that her design will be available by late 2017 or early 2018 and hopes it will inspire girls to become more interested in science, technology, engineering and research (STEM).

Even though the number of women involved in STEM has significantly increased in recent years, they are still under-represented in science, accounting for only about 30 percent of the world’s researchers, the United Nations’ cultural agency UNESCO says.

“To be able to see yourself in the toys that you play with and envision a career that you might go into, I think that’s really powerful. And I hope that girls will see that and be inspired,” she said.

“I also want to make sure boys see that as well and recognise that women have a place in these fields too.”



YouTube challenges cable

TV with streaming service


SAN FRANCISCO (AFP): YouTube on Tuesday unveiled a streaming television service offering bundles of live channels, in a direct challenge by the Google-owned network to traditional cable and pay TV.

YouTube TV was tailored for younger generations seeking news, films and more programs without subscribing to cable or satellite service, according to YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki. The new service will allow subscribers in US markets to get access on any connected device to networks such as ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, along with “sports networks and dozens of popular cable networks,” according to YouTube. Set to launch in coming months, YouTube TV will cost $35 monthly, with six user accounts allowed per subscriber, positioning itself to compete against so-called “skinny bundles” from Dish Network’s Sling TV and AT&T’s DirecTV Now.



“YouTube TV is designed specifically for the needs of a new generation of TV fans who want to watch what they want, when they want, how they want without commitment,” Wojcicki said during a press briefing streamed from YouTube offices in Southern California.

YouTube TV will also combine user-created content from the Google-owned online video sharing service, with delivery customized for viewing screens from smartphones to big-screen televisions.

The service will launch first in major US markets where local television content can be provided, with YouTube working to quickly expand availability, according to Wojcicki.

YouTube TV will also allow limitless recording of shows on servers hosted in the internet cloud, so they can be saved for streamed viewing when convenient.

YouTube TV will be accessible on internet-linked mobile devices, and can be streamed to television screens using Google Chromecast.

YouTube certainly has the online video muscle to push a television service, but will also need focus, according to analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group.

“At the end of the day, I think this is going to come down to Google’s ability to maintain attention,” Enderle said of YouTube TV’s prospects.

“Which is huge, because it seems at times that Google has the attention span of a 4-year-old on sugar.”

- TV channels changing -

The complexity of licensing content from television or film studios has been a longtime bane for online streaming services that want to provide popular content while avoiding accusations of piracy.

“We’ve been on a 10 year journey with all the content providers, from being sued by quite a few around the world to embracing fingerprinting technology,” YouTube chief business officer Robert Kyncl said.

“We’ve evolved our relationships with media companies all around the world to incredibly constructive ones.”

YouTube a while back implemented technology that “fingerprints” copyrighted shows or films so software can automatically identify unauthorized uploads to the service.

YouTube TV is also making its debut as the television industry sees a trend toward “skinny bundles” in which people opt for preferred selections of channels instead of paying big fees to cable providers for myriad channels, many of which they don’t really want.

The pending mega-merger of AT&T and Time Warner has been billed by the head of the US telecommunications giant as a way to “make a different kind of competitor in the ecosystem.”

At a prestigious WSJD Live conference in California late last year, AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson said that a goal of the merger is to create a competitor to cable service, and depicted a not-to-distant future in which set-top boxes are obsolete because viewers get their content directly from the internet.

He buttressed his point by highlighting a new AT&T DirecTV Now streaming service in the US that costs $35 monthly, comes with unlimited streaming to mobile devices, and boasts more than 100 channels.

Along with its free videos, YouTube has a Red subscription service priced at $10 monthly.

Netflix and Amazon Prime are ramping up how much they spend on original shows, investing billions of dollars in content.

Sony last year expanded its PlayStation Vue internet-based television service to the entire US market, with an aimed of luring consumers away from cable subscriptions.

The PlayStation Vue offers streamlined “bundles” for as little as $30 a month without long-term contracts.

“The difficult part about getting cord-cutters is getting all the channels they want,” Enderle said, referring to video viewers who sever cable services in favor of watching content on the internet.

“Global distribution is a nightmare; the cable companies have the networks pretty locked up right now.”


Flu meds do not harm unborn babies

PARIS (AFP): Unborn children suffer no harm when their mothers take flu medication during pregnancy, a study of some 700,000 women said Wednesday. It was the largest study ever to assess the potential risks of taking oseltamivir or zanamivir (better known as Tamiflu and Relenza) - the two main drugs to combat serious flu infections - during pregnancy, its authors said. The team compared almost 6,000 pregnant women in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and France who were prescribed oseltamivir or zanamivir between 2008 and 2010, with nearly 700,000 who were not. Taking into account factors such as age, smoking and the use of other medicines, the team found “no increased risks of adverse outcomes” from one group to the next. These included low birth weight, preterm birth, stillbirth or birth defects. On the contrary, the team found that children whose mothers had been prescribed Tamiflu or Relenza, drugs known as neuraminidase inhibitors, were less likely to be underweight. Influenza flares every winter, putting millions of pregnant women at risk of severe illness during seasons with an aggressive virus strain, the research team said.

Many medicine watchdogs therefore recommended the use of flu drugs, “despite limited knowledge on their safety and effectiveness during pregnancy”.

This study, published in The BMJ medical journal, sought to correct that.

The team conceded there were shortcomings in the study, including that they did not assess risks to the child before 22 weeks of pregnancy, and did not know whether women prescribed the drugs had actually taken them.




In China, 12.4m people brought

above poverty line in 2016


SHANGHAI(Reuters): Some 12.4 million people in China were brought above the poverty line in 2016, in part due to more than 230 billion yuan ($33.5 billion) earmarked to help fight poverty, the state news agency Xinhua said late on Tuesday, quoting official statistics. China has said it aims to reduce by at least 10 million annually the number of people living in poverty - which it defines as those with less than 2,300 yuan in annual income - and eradicate poverty by 2020. Chinese President Xi Jinping has labeled the fight against poverty “the most important task” of the ruling Communist Party and the nation. Financial institutions in China issued 818.1 billion yuan of loans to aid the anti-poverty drive, and outstanding loans now totaled 2.49 trillion yuan, Xinhua said. About 8.01 million households had received access to micro-credit, worth a total of 283.3 billion yuan, it said.


Su Guoxia, with the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, said more financial resources would be added this year, according to Xinhua.

The China Daily newspaper said on Wednesday there were still 43.35 million people living on annual incomes below 2,300 yuan a year.