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Pilots Kept Losing Oxygen and the Military Had No Idea Why. Now There’s a Possible Fix.

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The United States Air Force and Navy appear to be closing in on a partial solution to a complicated set of problems that have for years caused pilots to experience adverse physiological symptoms midair, endangering them and the aircraft. Officials from both services said that by early 2019 they will replace faulty oxygen-supply systems with new hardware and software in their T-6 Texan trainer aircraft. They are also continuing to study how pilots in their trainer and combat aircraft are being affected by hypoxia — a physiological condition caused by low levels of oxygen in the bloodstream that can lead to a lack of concentration and muscle control, inability to perform delicate tasks and ultimately loss of consciousness.

Oxygen-deprivation and cockpit-pressurization problems have afflicted trainer and top-line aircraft in the Navy and the Air Force — including the F-22 Raptor, the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, the A-10 Thunderbolt, the T-45 Goshawk trainer and F/A-18 Hornet — for at least a decade. Until recently, the source of these episodes mystified military officials. Because so many different aircraft were affected, the services didn’t think they were being caused by one specific problem. In his testimony to the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee in February, Lt. Gen. Mark Nowland, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, said that “there is no single root cause tied to a manufacturing or design defect that would explain multiple physiological event incidents across airframes or within a specific airframe.” Lawmakers, frustrated with the lack of progress made by the services, criticized Nowland for his remarks. “I could not be more disappointed by your presentation,” said Representative Michael R. Turner, an Ohio Republican and the subcommittee chairman. “There is something wrong with the systems that these pilots are relying on for their lives.” Many junior pilots, meanwhile, felt that their leaders were ignoring or playing down the episodes, because they couldn’t replicate the problem or find an easy fix.

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Finally, under pressure from Congress to change its approach, the Air Force completed a six-month study and announced in September that it had figured out the root cause of these physiological episodes: fluctuating concentrations of oxygen tied to the oxygen-distribution system. In conjunction with the Navy, the service is developing a new oxygen concentrator for the aircraft most commonly associated with the episodes, the T-6 trainer. Air Force pilots of the trainer aircraft reported an average of eight hypoxia-related episodes per month between February and July 2018, Aviation Week reported in August.

The Air Force’s entire F-22 Raptor fleet was grounded for four months in 2011 after 12 separate incidents in which pilots of the $143 million fighter jet experienced a lack of breathable oxygen. One of those resulted in a fatal crash. By July 2012, the total number of incidents had climbed to 36. In the Navy, the greatest impact has been on its standard fighter-bomber, the F/A-18 Hornet. One report said that between 2010 and 2017, its F/A-18 Hornet pilots reported nearly 500 “physiological episodes” in flight and indicated that such problems caused four fatal Hornet crashes.

Similarly worrisome issues struck the military’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, in which the Defense Department is expected to invest $1 trillion by 2030. In May and June 2017, five F-35A pilots assigned to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona reported “hypoxia-like symptoms” while flying but managed to land their planes safely. All F-35A flights at that base were temporarily halted as a result.

Earlier in 2017, problems with the Navy’s T-45 jet caused a near revolt of instructor pilots, whose jobs are to train student aviators. On March 31, 2017, T-45 instructors canceled 51 of 129 scheduled training flights because of safety concerns about physiological episodes they had experienced in flight. The Navy responded by having senior aviators visit the three T-45 training squadrons to assure instructors and students that they were taking the problems seriously. According to an official report, those visits were “not well received at any of the three sites.” The instructors cited what they perceived as a lack of attention on the part of Navy leadership in recognizing the seriousness of the problems and a lack of urgency in correcting them. Not long after, the Navy’s Pacific Fleet set these physiological episodes as its top aviation safety priority and said it would address the problem regardless of cost or resources required. Both the Navy and Air Force have appointed high-ranking officers to lead teams to identify causes and implement fixes.

Officials from both services have pointed to two main causes of these events: flaws in the system that provides oxygenated air for pilots to breathe, and an environmental-control system that is unable to maintain the appropriate air pressure inside the cockpit. The former has resulted in episodes of hypoxia. The latter caused some pilots to suffer decompression sickness, comparable to what deep-sea divers can experience if they do not surface slowly enough for nitrogen to be removed from their bloodstream and expelled through their lungs.

In earlier decades, fighter jets carried liquid oxygen onboard for pilots flying at high altitudes. But over the past 20 years, both services have been transitioning to a system that collects air from outside the aircraft and filters nitrogen from it until it is safely breathable. The change was an attractive safety feature because liquid oxygen can be a fire hazard, and the new system offered, in theory, a functionally limitless supply of air. But the newer system also lacked sensors to monitor the air quality and had no alarm that could alert pilots to any problems. After Navy pilots reported increased physiological problems as these oxygen concentrators aged, the devices were taken apart and examined. Sailors who work on the planes found a surprising amount of wear inside, including contamination from engine exhaust. This led Navy officials to recommend that certain oxygen-system parts be regularly inspected regardless of their performance and to redesign the internal nitrogen filter.

While hypoxia is problematic, both the Air Force and the Navy point to uncontrolled cockpit-pressurization changes as a potentially greater threat to pilots than the air they breathe. Just like commercial airliners, warplanes are usually pressurized to match a constant altitude inside the aircraft no matter how high they fly. The higher up in the atmosphere a plane flies, the lower the outside air pressure is — at a certain point very low air pressures can have a negative effect on the human body, so maintaining a more or less constant pressure inside the plane is important for the health of those inside. “When you’re flying in an airliner at 38,000 feet, it pressurizes somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 feet,” said Brig. Gen. Edward L. Vaughan, who leads the Air Force’s physiological-episodes action team in the Pentagon. “Same thing with our military aircraft. The difference is military aircraft can change altitude very rapidly on purpose,” in instances where warplanes regularly train in dodging missiles or during an aerial battle.

Cockpit pressure can sometimes swing up or down by 2,000 feet without warning, and this is a prime suspect in causing decompression sickness. “We know that in most pilots on most days, that oscillation doesn’t result in any symptoms,” Vaughan said. “But some pilots on some days, those oscillations under a given condition result in these symptoms.”

The Navy has introduced a number of measures to combat the problems with cockpit pressurization, including outfitting F/A-18 pilots with commercially available smartwatches that contain barometric sensors to alert them of pressurization problems; this was necessary because the plane’s built-in altimeter gauge is in a position that makes it difficult to read. The Navy also started deploying hyperbaric chambers operated by specially trained medics onboard the aircraft carriers U.S.S. George H.W. Bush and U.S.S. Carl Vinson in January 2017, so that pilots could receive treatment after landing on the ship instead of having to be medically evacuated to a chamber ashore.

According to Vaughan, the Air Force has rebuilt spare oxygen concentrators for its T-6 trainer aircraft and is installing a redesigned model that incorporates sensors to alert pilots of certain problems like insufficient oxygen or particle contamination and will include software that can be rewritten as needed based on data it collects. The new design has been completed and is being delivered to T-6 squadrons. Vaughan’s team works in tandem with a similar Navy team led by Read Adm. Fredrick R. Luchtman, whom the Navy declined to make available for an interview. Neither service said whether it had a plan to address hypoxia-related symptoms in other aircraft.

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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal

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A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist

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Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’

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Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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