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China has flown its first flight to the US powered partly by used cooking oil

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Hainan Airlines' new service from Changsha to Sydney touches down for the first time at Sydney Airport in Australia, Tuesday, Sept 13, 2016. The airline will run a twice-weekly service operated by an A330-200 aircraft with 250 seats. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

A little over two years ago, China’s Hainan Airlines flew 156 passengers with the help of cooking oil from Shanghai to Beijing. Now, the same carrier, which is already China’s biggest private airline by both market size and fleet size, flew passengers much further on cooking oil-blended aviation fuel.

A Hainan Airlines Boeing 787 carrying 186 passengers and 15 cabin crews took off from Beijing and landed in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Tuesday (Nov. 21), the first time a Chinese airline conducted an international flight with the fuel.

The blend—15% waste cooking fuel and the rest from normal jet fuel—came from Zhennan Refining and Chemical, an oil manufacturer based in eastern China, according to state news outlet China Daily. The manufacturer is a subsidiary of state-owned oil giant China Petrochemical (also known as Sinopec). A senior engineer with Zhennan told state news agency Xinhua that the company could collect and process 100,000 metric tons of waste cooking oil from restaurants every year.

Cooking oil, a biofuel since it’s made from oilseeds, is a cleaner burning power source compared with petroleum diesel, a traditional jet fuel. Using biofuels can cut an airline’s carbon emissions up to 80% compared to using traditional diesel. Biofuels can also be produced from virgin vegetable oil, but in this case Zhennan was using restaurant waste. Re-using waste cooking oil as biofuel could divert waste from landfills and sewer pipes—where restaurants and cafes sometimes dump it.

Sun Jianfeng, president of Hainan Airlines, who was also captain of the nearly 13-hour flight, said the plane ran smoothly and that the overall performance was stable.

Several airlines already operate commercial flights using biofuels or plan to do so soon. United has been using biofuel for regularly scheduled commercial flights since last year. In September last year, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, the flagship carrier of the Netherlands, also announced that it would operate biofuel flights out of Los Angeles. In January, Cathay Pacific, the flagship carrier of Hong Kong said it would use biofuels on flights to the US starting 2019.



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What soup kitchens wish they could say about volunteering on Thanksgiving

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soup kitchen

Soup kitchens and food pantries are inundated by requests from well-meaning would-be volunteers and bags of donated groceries during the holidays. But here’s what they’d say, in the nicest possible way, if they were really asked whether they need the help:

“No really, we got this. How about coming to help out another time?”

Clearly, people eager to spend the holiday helping out have excellent intentions—but there are more meaningful, more effective ways to get at the root of hunger and inequality than ladling out gravy once a year.

Here’s what people who work to alleviate hunger every day want you to know before you show up hoping to don a hairnet on Thanksgiving Day.

The holiday awareness glut is followed by a long, cold winter.

Thanksgiving is actually one of the easiest days of the year to find a hot meal if you need one. Many churches and community organizations that don’t function as soup kitchens on the regular serve a meal that day, and there are many programs through schools, daycares and churches that provide families with turkey vouchers and boxes full of staples. John-Harvard Reid, associate executive director of Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen in Manhattan, notes that restaurants that are open on Thanksgiving often make up to-go boxes full of food on Thanksgiving to distribute to people in need.

The day after Thanksgiving, that all changes, says Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of Food Bank For New York City. That Friday actually can be a very tough day to find a hot meal in the city—and there are still months of winter to go.

Your professional skills are likely more useful than your mashed-potato-scooping abilities.

“We get a glut of volunteer requests during this time, from the beginning of November all the way to January,” says Reid, whose soup kitchen serves more than 1,000 meals each weekday, and provides support and services for guests. “It’s appreciated but we really need volunteers in the winter months, in January, February, March. That’s especially tough for us because a lot of our regular volunteers are retirees who don’t like to venture out when it’s either too cold or icy.”

People who are down on their luck also need more than food. They need jobs, training, housing, health care, child care. And they need people with the skills to help them navigate bureaucracies and get the services they need. Your professional skills could be exactly the help a person needs.

“If I have someone who comes and volunteers who’s a lawyer, sometimes I’d rather have them volunteer to give me some free legal help than serve food,” says Tony Butler, executive director of St. John’s Bread and Life, a food pantry and soup kitchen in Brooklyn, New York. “Or if they’re a job coach, or if they can help me line up some jobs for our job training program. Or if they’re a real chef, maybe they can teach some skills or help me retool some recipes.”

Giving money is more efficient than giving cans.

Food pantries and soup kitchens buy a lot of food. There’s a network in place, including government commodity food distributed by Food Bank For New York, wholesale accounts, and long-standing relationships that make their purchasing costs far below the retail prices at the grocery store. “Food donations are a waste of folks’ money,” says Butler, whose programs provide meals to about 3,500 people each day. “I can buy food a lot cheaper than they can.”

This one should be a win-win, as it’s a lot easier to write a check and pop it in the mail than to hit the grocery store and deliver a carload of canned goods. But it’s perhaps a less visible form of charity. “Where people can actually be of support may not provide as many instagrammable moments,” says Purvis.

Hunger is a structural problem, and solving it requires political action.

“Hunger in this country is a symptom of poverty,” says Butler, speaking of the US. “We haven’t had a typhoon or a war or a huge drought. It’s a problem made by people. Certain economic choices have created hunger in this country.” Feeding people who are hungry right now is a relatively simple problem to solve, when compared with addressing the complex reasons for the hunger itself.

In an effort to bring awareness to the systemic issues that contribute to hunger, Food Bank For New York releases an annual report and study the week of Thanksgiving each year. This year the report, Trade-Offs at the Dinner Table, released on Nov. 20, focused on the effects of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The group argues that the program benefits the entire community, not just the recipients, pointing out that in Brooklyn alone, SNAP benefits created over $1 billion in retail food sales every year. “They [SNAP recipients] are answering a need for retailers, as well by the money they are spending locally in their communities,” she says.

The government may fund SNAP, but most local food pantries and soup kitchens are primarily run through private donations. The Farm Bill, which determines a great deal about SNAP funding, heads to Congress for reauthorization in 2018. Advocating for SNAP with your representatives, and citing the wider economic impacts of the program for small businesses and communities, is another potent way to address hunger.

It’s not a non-profit’s job to make you feel good.

When so much of the operating budget comes from donors, organizations feel an immense pressure to give potential donors and volunteers what they want—which is often a feel-good experience. Purvis said new would-be volunteers often get upset that there aren’t any open slots to come and volunteer on Thanksgiving, when they’ve been booked for months by regulars. “Unless they’re the best kind of supporter who you can say to, ‘Can you come on Friday?'” (Be that best kind of supporter!)

Butler said he tries to educate new volunteers, gently. “One of the dangers is that the least impactful volunteering is simply to make the volunteer feel good, that they’ve done something,” he says. “They in their mind have responded to a problem. I want to move folks from that, move them [to see] they have both an obligation and the power to address this, on many different levels, to start reframing it that way.”

Hungry people are people, end of story.

If you truly want to volunteer, and especially if you want to bring your family, remember that you’re feeding humans. They’re not walking lessons for yourself or your children about how fortunate you are to have what you have. Don’t make it into poverty tourism. Don’t snap a million selfies. Don’t take photos without asking. Do be kind, polite and ready to connect—or to give space to guests who don’t want to interact.

And by all means, do volunteer. “A day of service here is one of the things we promote. It is teaching that giving back is important,” says Reid. “It should never be at the expense of our guests.”



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Japan’s new “Blade Library” lets amputees rent pricey prosthetic limbs for $9 a day

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Prosthetic “blades” are carbon fiber prosthetic limbs that can bend and spring as you run. They are designed for professional-athlete amputees, and they usually cost thousands of dollars each.

To alleviate that cost, Japanese prosthetics company Xiborg opened the “Blade Library” in Tokyo for people to borrow and try out the prosthetics. The company raised more than 17.5 million yen ($156,000) to open the facility.

At the library, visitors can try any of 24 prosthetic blades for a daily fee of around 1,000 yen ($9). They can also exercise on the library’s sports track with professional-athlete amputees coaching them.

Watch our video above to see the amputees’ enjoy running and jumping in their prosthetic “blades.”



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Animation: U.S. Population Pyramid From 1980-2050

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It’s no secret that an aging population will be the source of major demographic challenges in the coming years.

In 1975, the median age in the United States was just 28 years old. However, it’s been rising fast as the Baby Boomers age, and it’s expected to break the 40 year mark by 2030.

This shift is so fundamental that its ripples will be felt in almost every area imaginable. How we manage this change will have implications on the economy, culture, and politics – and it will almost certainly affect our personal wealth and investments, as well.

Visualizing Age in the U.S.

We’ve previously compared the population pyramids of China and India, but today we’re going to key in on the U.S. using a similar type of animation.

Below is an animated population pyramid that shows how the U.S. population has been shifting, including projections up until 2050 based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and World Bank.

Animation: U.S. Population Pyramid From 1980-2050

Credit: Reddit user milamiso

By 2050, the U.S. population will close in on 400 million people.

As with most demographic data, viewing changes in the composition of this population through a visual lens helps to provide perspective.

Aging Population

One of the biggest differences in this particular chart can be seen in the 65+ year region. In the 1980s, only a small portion of the population fits there – but by the end, it’s becoming quite crowded.

In more numerical terms – the number of Americans aged 65+ is projected to jump from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060, and the 65+ age group’s share of the total population will rise to nearly 24%. This is mainly a function of a big generation (Baby Boomers) hitting their later years, and improved life expectancy and healthcare.

According to the Population Reference Bureau, aging Baby Boomers could mean a massive 75% increase in number of Americans requiring nursing home care, from 1.3 million in 2010 to 2.3 million in 2030.

Social Security and Medicare expenditures will also increase from 8% to 12% of GDP by 2050.

Fewer Babies

Another factor in the population equation is also lower fertility rates.

U.S. Fertility Rate (births per woman)
Fertility Rates in the U.S.

In the United States, the fertility rates that led to the Baby Boomer generation (born 1946-1964) have been long-gone for many decades now.

Lately, fertility has been hovering closer to 1.8 births per woman.

For reference, the replacement fertility rate is about 2.1 – meaning that without taking into account net immigration, each new generation will be smaller than the last. Unless something changes here (or with immigration policy), a more mature population will increasingly become the norm for the country.

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The post Animation: U.S. Population Pyramid From 1980-2050 appeared first on Visual Capitalist.

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Walmart’s relentless march to automation is coming for the late-night cleaning crew

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Walmart is piloting Brain Corps self-driving floor scrubbers called EMMA in five stores.

Walmart has over 4,600 stores in the US. Between its Supercenters (187,000 sq ft on average), Discount Stores (104,000 sq ft), Neighborhood Markets (42,000 sq ft), and Sam’s Clubs (134,000 sq ft), that’s a lot of shopping aisles to keep clean.

That might be why the US’s largest private-sector employer is testing out self-driving mechanical floor scrubbers during overnight shifts in five of its stores near its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, according to a post by LinkedIn managing editor Chip Cutter. The machine, named EMMA, roams around the store like the cross between a Zamboni and a Roomba.

The machine is manufactured by a company called International Cleaning Equipment, and is normally driven by a human, but after modifications from the robotics startup Brain Corporation, the seat sits empty. Much like a self-driving car, EMMA uses cameras, sensors, and LiDAR, as well as AI, to navigate and avoid obstacles—but instead of navigating roads and avoiding people and other cars, EMMA works its way through retail store aisles and dodges other staff.

A Walmart spokesperson told Quartz these tests are part of a very early “proof of concept” stage, and won’t be adopted widely in the immediate future. But the move has already caused anxiety among some employees, Cutter reports. Though the retail giant has taken progressive steps in recent years to boost employee pay and revamp its vacation and sick leave, it has in parallel eliminated swaths of jobs through increasing automation. Last year, for example, it nixed roughly 7,000 store accounting and invoicing positions, which the Wall Street Journal noted (paywall) were mostly highly coveted, well-paying jobs held by long-tenured employees.

The spokesperson said Walmart is unaware of any employees expressing discontent. According to Walmart, the maintenance associates working directly with the self-driving floor scrubbers are excited about getting an opportunity to work with robotics. They have learned to program EMMA and are involved in monitoring, cleaning, and maintaining it on a day-to-day basis, the spokesperson said, emphasizing that the bot is not capable of fully operating without human assistance.

Other recent actions taken by Walmart suggest the company is relatively sensitive towards concerns about reduced job opportunities for humans. In October, the company introduced shelf-scanning robots in 50 US stores to help, rather than replace, employees tasked with replenishing missing and misplaced inventory. The company also says that as it adds more machines, it will find new roles for employees whose jobs get automated.

Even so, it’s easy to imagine a future where the retail giant won’t need all of the 1.4 million people it currently employs in the US. And should that happen, it would be a major hit on US employment: 1.4 million is 1% of the entire workforce.



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James Simons: Conquering Wall Street with Mathematics

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A speech and Q&A with billionaire and the second richest hedge fund manager in the world, James Simons. In this speech James talks about his life, career and the events that lead him to starting Renaissance Technologies. James also goes on to speak about why Renaissance technologies is so successful and his guiding principles for…

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The post James Simons: Conquering Wall Street with Mathematics appeared first on The Big Picture.

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