December has arrived (finally), and as we get ready to say goodbye to 2016 and welcome the festive season, the White House has found an interesting way to open up the iconic building to the whole nation - through innovative technology and interactive storytelling.
In a symbol of how digital is having an impact on all aspects of our lives and how important digital is, Nexus Studios’ innovative Interactive Arts division have created and featured animation from Nexus Studios director Jack Cunningham, with a new, free mobile app '1600', which will allow the public to explore the White House using augmented reality (AR) technology. The experience is narrated by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest and tracks a stunningly intricate AR animation off a one-dollar bill.
1600 is an immersive and interactive mobile experience; a beautifully realized animation celebrating the traditional events that unfold each year at the White House. It continues President Obama’s legacy of using digital innovation to increase accessibility to the White House.
All you need to do is open the app '1600' and point your phone at George Washington. Watch as the White House beautifully augments the one-dollar bill and move freely around it in 360 degrees as different events take place in and around the White House.
From the Easter Egg Roll to a press conference in the Rose Garden, users will experience all four seasons at the White House, as they try to spot President Obama and the First Lady or President Kennedy or even President Lincoln.
There are also a number of moments that can only be revealed through exploration; try tapping on the oval office or the White House roof for a hidden surprise.
Additionally, users can literally pause the entire scene to explore the action in detail, zooming in and out and take photos for sharing on social media.
Nexus Studios was pleased to use Unity as its game engine of choice to develop this animated AR experience #madewithunity.
Luke Ritchie, Head of Interactive Arts at Nexus Studios, said: "It's a great honour and pleasure to have worked with the White House Historical Association and the Executive Office of the President on their first AR story. We believe interactive storytelling and emerging technologies can be unbelievably valuable in reaching audiences and with 1600 we've worked hard to tell an important story in the most beautiful and unexpected way".
Effectively, anybody with access to a smartphone will for the first time be able to enjoy the story and experience a year at the White House in Augmented Reality. This digitally innovative experience is a fitting collaboration to mark the end of the Obama’s administration that has sought to engage the tech community in government at an unprecedented level.
I am deeply sad to write that my good friend, Howard G Franklin, passed away, surrounded by close family in Portland (US), on the evening of September 11, 2016. I first met him in person in March 2012 when he visited Hangzhou (China) while he was touring the country with his wife, Linda, who I have known as a writer way back from 2008 when I published my first book on China through FirstBooks and Inkwater Press. We kept in touch ever since as good mates. Such is the sad fact of life that we are all busy in our day-to-day lives and distance makes it challenging to meet each other often than we hope for. I was hoping to go and meet him in Portland one day (a city I have never been to and I had hoped that I would visit).
Linda confirmed that he was diagnosed with metastatic cancer at the beginning of April. He had three very good months, sailing through chemo, continuing to play singles tennis and walk three miles a day. Following a genetic test that indicated it was 90% likely bladder cancer, he had immunotherapy, but developed pneumonitis throughout July. By August, it had metastasized very widely with 11 new brain lesions, which robbed him of all balance and stability, and invasion of heart lining, lungs, GI tract, etc. His last six weeks were a very rapid decline, from walking with Linda's assistance, to a walker, to a wheelchair and finally to being bedridden. With his whole family by his side, he left our world at 9.19pm local time, holding Linda’s hand. They had over nine wonderful years’ together, way too short but as Linda says, they did so much and he was able to leave a legacy behind, which was so important to him.
Outside of personal life, his work as a distinguished author and attorney in the US will always be remembered by the many who he was able to bring inspiration and joy to with his lifelong experiences. Here is a link to an article I wrote last year about Howard’s work, and below is a screen shot of an obituary that was published in his local newspaper in Portland.
May god bless Howard G. Franklin and may his soul rest in peace. Great man.
Many thanks to my friend Captain James Nixon of Emirates Airlines, (And late of Ansett Australia, Air Malta, and Vietnam Airlines), for sharing the above video link. NASA has released videos shot from onboard the Space Shuttle's Solid Rocket Boosters in the past, but you've never seen one prepared as masterfully as this.
It's a sad change of the times I'm afraid that we live in an era where fine magnificent technological marvels such as Concorde and the Space Shuttle are no more. James' paragraph on the subject in his book touches the core of where we stand, and where future generations will wonder (our grandchildren may never believe us that there was once a world that made such fetes happen in times in memorial):
'Future generations will forget that, for fifty short years, men and women from earth rose on a thundering, ground-shaking plume, sitting in a tin can on top of a flame that, this day, was brighter than the rising sun.' - James Nixon (extract from page 23 of his book 'OnTour')
VETERAN Whitehouse correspondent, and pioneer female journo Helen Amelia Thomas dies at 92.
Thomas circled the globe several times, traveling with every U.S. president from Richard Nixon through Barack Obama. She covered every Economic Summit since 1975, working up to the position of UPI's White House Bureau Chief, a post she would hold for over 25 years.
What I liked about her was the way she harassed TEN Presidents and paved the way for women in serious journalism. Loved the way she'd take 'em on. As they say in the States, ‘she didn't cut anyone any slack’. Journalism, and indeed the White House Correspondents' Club, has lost a real gem.
On the morning of the 6th of July 2013 just past 11.28am local time, a Boeing 777-200ER belonging to South Korea's Asiana Airlines (flight number OZ214) carrying 307 passengers and crew, crash landed while on approach onto San Francisco International Airport's Runway 28L.
Whenever a plane crash happens, second guessing and pure rumors or any other speculation does no good and is of no value to anyone - even to professional journalists who work for Broadsheets - trust me on that one!. It can be extremely irritating (and distressing for passengers relatives), when people on the likes of Twitter, Facebook, PPRune, Airliners.net, Jetphotos.net and Fox News' etc. go about with their so called 'aviation experts', spewing historical events and their own takes on what could have gone wrong. I prefer to wait until either the wreckage is examined/investigation in complete or the NTSB is notified. It's one of the reasons that I don't turn on the TV at these times but rely on concrete factual information for journalists from informed media such as FT.com and the BBC.
The weather was reported as very good; the latest METAR reported light wind, 10 miles (16 km) visibility, with no precipitation, and no forecast or reports of wind shear. The pilots performed a visual approach assisted by the runway's precision approach path indicator (PAPI).
The landing gear and then the tail struck the seawall that projects into San Francisco Bay. Both engines and the tail section separated from the aircraft. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) noted that the main landing gear, the first part of the aircraft to hit the seawall, "separated cleanly from [the] aircraft as designed". The vertical and both horizontal stabilizers fell on the runway before the threshold.
The remainder of the fuselage and wings rotated (yawed) counter-clockwise 330 degrees as it slid westward. Video showed it pivoting about a wing and the nose while sharply inclined to the ground. It came to rest to the left of the runway, 2,400 feet (730 m) from the initial point of impact at the seawall.
Out of the 291 passengers and 16 crew, sadly 3 passengers died, and 181 passengers suffered serious but non-fatal injuries. Out of the three who lost their lives, two were named as Ms. Ye Mengyuan and Ms. Wang Linjia, both Chinese nationals, and both 16-year-old middle school students from China's eastern Zhejiang province. They were seated at the rear of the plane and their bodies were found on the tarmac. The third passenger died of her injuries several days later at hospital. At the request of her immediate family, her name and the extent of her injuries were not published. Among the injured were three flight attendants who were thrown onto the runway while still strapped in their seats when the tail section broke off after striking the seawall short of the runway.
Now, on that note a point about the photos of the crash and the relatives going around on Twitter etc. (especially the UK Daily Mail, and other tabloids), that can be so ridiculous. OK, photographers may have to get pics of the grieving families to keep their Editors happy ..BUT I don't want to OR have to look at them. It's just sick. RIP to those who have died. You can tell when the stupidity at The UK Daily Mail has reached new heights when they write false stories in order to get their readership high. The Editor has been trying to pretend that his rag is NOT a tabloid (heaven forbid) by spilling stories over the gutter in an effort to win a design competition at his local school. He should give up & just use the tabloid tricks that were developed by experts.
The Boeing 777, like ALL American built aircraft (except the 787 Deamliner - now dubbed the 'nightmareliner' because of its high number of faults) is a very reliable and strong aircraft- the Boeing 777s are the aviation's equivalent of the John Deer Tractor, you can throw anything at them and not a single whisker in sight will damage them.
This was the Boeing 777's first fatal accident, and second crash (previous: British Airways Flight 38 in 2008), and third hull loss since the Boeing 777 began operating commercially in 1995.
It's a well known fact in the industry that around 95% of aircraft crashes happen 8 nautical miles either side of the airport below 3000 feet. 95% of aircraft fires happen in the first two hours. The fix is, when realizing it is uncontrollable, dive for the ground before the wing burns through. Record aloft is below 25 mins.
Below is video animation showing the comparison between the actual flight path taken by flight OZ214 into San Francisco's Runway 28L, and what the correct flight path should have looked like.
The video is a testament to a brilliantly-built aircraft; designed and modelled entirely on computers in the early 1990s. The video shows what happens if you can use the fuselage to dissipate the energy, then the landing gear and the engines shear off at extreme speed, as designed. Unlike steel, aluminium doesn't produce sparks like steel does.
An experienced Airline pilot with over 28 years in the cockpit, who did not wish to be named, told me (I quote):
'It's long been the Airbus philosophy that "if the aircraft is not doing what you want (for ANY reason) disconnect the automatics and fly it manually at once". That works well in airlines where you have a wealth of basic Visual Flight Rules (VFR) flying skills to fall-back on. Sadly, with the death of general aviation around the world, there are many countries where pilots don't have that background. It's why Airbus has increased the endorsement program from 9 simulators to 13. Airbus now teaches people to fly each model visually with all systems working normally (especially after what happened with the Air France 447 crash). Who would have thought it would come to this? Many of us. Predicting that, one day, each pilot would have to pass a test of knowledge to survive. At Aviation Theory Centre in the early 90s I ran a series of lectures explaining that our books taught "To Pass The Test - Not Just The Exam". Sadly most theory centres just teach the syllabus and no more.'
Another airline pilot gave me this account of an aircraft coming in too LOW into Dubai Airport a few days after the Asiana Airlines crash happened (I won't name the pilot who gave me this credible report):
'Blood ran cold today. 28 years of flying and never heard this from an APProach controller:
APP: "XXXXX (an indian carrier) Are you too low? I have you at 800 feet!" [now, he usually transfers to TWR at about 5 miles (1500 feet) so there is no reason to be at that level on Approach.]
XXXX: after long silence "XXXX going around"
APP: "XXXX are you climbing? I still have you below radar lowest safe!"
XXXX: " We are climbing through 1,500, can we make a visual circuit?" (this is how Gulf Air crashed an A320 and the clever controller decided to take it out of his hands...)
APP: "Climb to 4000 feet and make left turn to 030." (Thereby saving the day, he never even answered the query for a visual approach.)
How, you ask? Well the QNH was 994mb and 500 feet lower than the std of 1013. Setting the altimeter from high (1013) to a low number winds OFF altitude. Old Pilots say: "High to Low LOOKOUT below!" I bet the XXXX boys still had 1013mb set'.
The below presentation, ('Children of Magenta'), provides a wealth of experience and advice for pilots of new-generation airliners (especially 787, A380, and A350). When in doubt: Disconnect automation, fall back on your flying skills and FLY THE AIRCRAFT.
HOWEVER, the problem is: what if you a crew who have no experience in hand-flying aircraft, no raw flying experience to fall back-on (as those Asiana 214, and Air France 447 pilots)?
One of my mates, an experienced Captain for Emirates, says: 'Always make sure YOU are flying the aeroplane, and that IT'S not flying you. Sadly, this brilliant instructor has passed away. He'd be rolling in his grave if he knew that there are thousands of pilots currently flying airliners who have never had such a background.'.
Flying is not the same as it just to be back in the 1980s and even early 1990s- it's not as glamorous as it used to be...and even more importantly safety is plummeting these days. Did you know Singapore have fired ALL their expats since this accident at SFO? The week before this Asiana crash, a Singapore Airlines B777 did a go around on the same runway after doing the exact same thing…with a 777 full of passengers. That - in the 90s - would have been inconceivable!.
When you have 300 passengers behind you, there is no room for failure, and it's dangerous to just depend on the Autopilot. No doubt, the Asiana Airlines crew were invited for a not-so polite chat over a tea session in Washington...no biscuits though.
Following on from my previous posting, here are some more photos of life in Detroit.
Oh by the way, I did notice that the weather is weird here thanks to the close proximity of many lakes. It's very common to experience rain, thunderstorm, clear blue skies, hailstorm, sunshine, and TORNADO....all in 24 HOURS. I was driving with my cousin from Rochester to Detroit city (a distance of around about 27 miles), and during the 40 minute drive we experienced clear blue skies with sunshine, then some sudden sleet snow, and then rain. By the time we got to Detroit the sun started to show its face again. I have never experienced such as quick and dramatic change of weather anywhere else. People here are used to it as well.
Plus I did eventually pay a visit to a baseball game, thanks to my friends who showed me around. We were treated to a game between Detroit and the Kansas City team.
Baseball game in Detroit
Founded in 1701 by the French explorer and adventurer Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, and located on the border of Canada Detroit is the largest city in the state of Michigan. With a population of around 5.5 million people, the city’s economy and survival is built around the automotive industry. General Motors have their global Headquarters here, as well as major plants of Ford, and Daimler Chrysler. Oh and not to forget the town that gave us the music from the likes of Diana Ross, Eminem, Stevie Wonder, Motown Rage, Della Reese, Madonna (born in Bay City!), Martha Reeves, Aaliyah...and so many others. World renowned for its Detroit Symphony Orchestra and music celebrities, the area has a long and rich heritage, including several Platinum artists in different genres whose recordings had surpassed forty million copies by the year 2000.
This is my first time to the United States of America, and it’s interesting that I happen to be in a city that is not really strongly representative of the whole country. The city of Detroit has gone through a lot in recent times. My first impressions after landing were that there is not much happening here. One of my first few questions to my taxi driver included ‘Where is everyone?!’. The roads are not busy, and on the way from the airport to my hotel, I came across many derelict buildings, most of them former factories or just left empty by people who could not pay their taxes. According to official statistics, between 2000 and 2010, the city's population fell by around 26%, from the nation's 10th largest city to 18th. In 2010, the city had a population of around 714,000, more than a 61% drop down from a peak population of over 1.8 million at the 1950 census, indicating a serious and long-running decline of Detroit's economic strength. If there was one city that had strong signs of a depriving global economy, then in my opinion it would be Detroit. In some parts of the city, it just feels like a ghost town.
Part of this decline may have to contribute to the history of the city. During the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Detroit witnessed some of the worst confrontations between the police and inner city black youth, culminating in the Twelfth Street race riots in July 1967- which went on for over a month. Governor George W. Romney ordered the Michigan National Guard into Detroit, and President Johnson sent in U.S. Army troops. The sad result was 43 dead, 467 injured, over 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed. This also resulted in thousands of small businesses being closed permanently or relocated to safer neighbourhoods around the state or country. The impact of those riots have had a long lasting impression on Detroit and the affected districts lay in ruins for decades- even today the scars of those riots can be seen as in some parts of the city most buildings are derelict. As of 2010, the mean income of Detroit is below the overall U.S. average by several thousand dollars. Of every three Detroit residents, one lives in poverty. Luke Bergmann, author of Getting Ghost: Two Young Lives and the Struggle for the Soul of an American City, said in 2010, "Detroit is now one of the poorest big cities in the country."
While taking a drive around town, my friend told me that the American government and the local Michigan State government are trying their best to bring business back to Detroit however without much avail. The city has a strong baseball team (Detroit Tigers), and a very good American Football team too (Detroit Lions). It comes across that apart from the automotive industry, which itself is suffering because of the outsourcing to growing economies such as India, Brazil, Mexico, and China, there is little else that Detroit has to offer. There are a handful of Casinos in the Greek town of the city, however that’s mostly for touristy purposes and is not really fuelling the economy of the local area.
I don’t want to make it sound like Detroit is a bad city at all, and it’s not all doom and gloom here. It’s a nice, and quiet city. Above all else one must bear in mind that Detroit is an industrial city and where ever in the world you have an economy being fuelled by heavy industry you are not always going to have that neat blend of being a touristy city as well as an industrial city. The same I suppose goes for Seattle which is home to Starbucks, Boeing, Microsoft and others, but its not a touristy city at all. There are many other examples around the world.
There are many beautiful parts to Detroit as well. Like every city in the world, Detroit does posses a few jewels, such as the Grosse Pointe Shores area, which is an affluent suburb on the shores of Lake St Clair. This area is home to A-Listers, government officials and Captains of Industry. Then there are pockets of nice area outside of the main Detroit area such as Rochester, Ann Arbour (home to Michigan University Campus), Troy, and Shelby Township.
So here are some photos I have taken of life in Detroit.
On the 29th of April 2013, a National Air Cargo Boeing 747-400 freighter on behalf of US Mobility Command, registration N949CA performing cargo flight N8-102 from Bagram (Afghanistan) to Dubai Al Maktoum (United Arab Emirates) with 7 crew and cargo consisting of 5 military vehicles, crashed shortly after takeoff from Bagram Air Base's runway 03 at 15:30 local time, and erupted into flames near the end of the runway within the perimeter of the Air Base. All 7 crew died in the accident.
National Air Cargo confirmed their aircraft N949CA with 7 crew, 4 pilots, 2 mechanics and a load master - initial information had been 8 crew -crashed at Bagram. The airline later added, that the aircraft had been loaded with all cargo in Camp Bastion (Afghanistan, about 300nm southwest of Bagram), the cargo had been inspected at Camp Bastion, the aircraft subsequently positioned to Bagram for a refuelling stop with no difficulty, no cargo was added or removed, however, the cargo was again inspected before the aircraft departed for the leg to Dubai Al Maktoum.
A horrifying dashcam video captured the full extent of the crash with the Boeing 747-400F appearing to take off normally as it gained altitude, and then plunging into the ground like a rock. It’s the kind of stuff you may see in a nightmare. The video went viral on the internet and elsewhere (except it was not shown by some respected media outlets). There was a time in history when such things were NOT shown by the media.
At the time the news broke out of the crash I was in Detroit, (Michigan), home state to six of the crew members who died. Interestingly enough on that day I was on the phone to a very good friend of mine who personally knew the deceased Captain of that unfortunate flight. Captain Rajan, former of Pan-Am and a veteran Boeing 747-400 training Captain with Boeing, told me of his utter shock and disbelief that the video of the crash was freely available on the internet.
It’s a sad change of the times indeed that with all the modern technology and social media there is nothing that cannot be sold by anyone (and they don’t have to be journalist in order to do so). In my opinion, such videos should not be on the internet or elsewhere as a mark of respect for the deceased. Yes, there are lots of unmentionable and horrific videos on the internet, however normally such things are not shown by the media. It’s not a Hollywood movie...it’s totally disrespectful to those who died to show that video (In my opinion).
I am in Detroit, U.S.A., and happened to spot this sign at Rochester Library. In the UK we call them Audio Books, so it seemed funny to see that someone had named this section 'Talking Books'. This photo was featured in The Telegraph as part of Sign Language. Check it HERE!
According to official statistics provided by the OECD survey, and THIS Reuters report, the United States of America has the highest rates of obesity in the world with 34% of the adult population classified as obese. Michigan is ranked 10th highest for obesity in the U.S.A.* (Mississippi State is 1st with 67.4% of adults obese*). Therefore, it is no surprise that fitness centres aimed at helping people fighting obesity are part of a multi-million dollar industry in the U.S.A. - and they are in a challenge fighting a corporate war alongside fast-food giants such as McDonald's, KFC and others who in contrast encourage people to eat their food.
I noticed an extreme example of this as I drove by in Detroit earlier this week (I arrived in Detroit earlier this week...first time in the USA...more to come on this!). A weight-loss center was placed right alongside a McDonalds fast food outlet!
For around 30 minutes in the late afternoon of the 16th of November 2009, airspace around China's capital city, Beijing, was closed off to general civilian traffic. Beijing Capital Airport itself came to a standstill for around 20 of those minutes- there were no take-offs or landings EXCEPT for the EIGHT- I say again- EIGHT aircraft belonging to the entourage of the President of the United States of America who landed one after another on Runway 36R. President Obama's plane, Air Force One (a special Boeing 747-200) was the 3rd aircraft to land on Runway 36R. The aircraft vacated left on taxiway 'Whiskey 5', and then 'Mike 6', before turning around on taxiway 'Zulu 3' towards the VIP parking bays (stands 710 to 714). The VIP terminal and parking area for aircraft is quite a distance away from the main passenger terminals, and even media are not allowed to go without extra special permission. I took these photos from around 2 miles away (from Terminal 3!), and it'll probably be the closest I'll ever get to Air Force One. While the aircraft are on the ground, they are manned by hundreds of staff from the Chinese and American national security guard 24 HOURS a day. The President's Air Force One parked neatly in between the two Air Force Two aircraft.
President Obama had come over from Shanghai, where yesterday (Monday the 16th), he greeted a group of about 500 Chinese students at the Museum of Science and Technology. His trip to Beijing was to boost further the relationship with China, and to have dinner with President Hu Jintao. Both of the Presidents met in private off Tiananmen Square here on a freezing Tuesday morning to discuss issues like trade, climate change and further boosting positive relationships, in a session that signalled the central role of China on the world stage. Beijing was in a lockdown for most of the day. President Barack Obama also toured the Forbidden City in Beijing.
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