Google helps out cyclists by adding elevation data to Maps bike routes  By Chris Welch on May 16, 2014 05:03 pm

Google has quietly begun adding elevation data for bike routes listed on Google Maps. TechCrunch first spotted the new elevation profiles, and the company has since confirmed it’s taking new steps to offer cyclists a better preview of bike routes and trails. It’ll certainly be a welcome improvement for riders, who previously had to turn elsewhere if they wanted to know whether they’d be climbing a steep hill or flying down a mountain ahead of time.

And Google’s implementation does more than simply tell you how high you’ll be going. When you pick a route that contains elevation info, you’ll see a card appear that breaks down exactly how much of the trip will be spent spent riding uphill (and also down). Google has yet to officially announce the new feature, and it’s currently not appearing in Google Maps for mobile. But if history is any indication, it won’t be long before you’re able to scope out routes on the go.  Click to read more.

The California Drought Is Far From Over, And The Entire State Is Suffering  Carly Schwartz and Lydia O’Connor

The California Drought Is Far From Over, And The Entire State Is Suffering

In past years, California's drought has sparked a new push by federal lawmakers to create or expand a handful of reservoirs around the state. | ASSOCIATED PRESS
In past years, California’s drought has sparked a new push by federal lawmakers to create or expand a handful of reservoirs around the state. | ASSOCIATED PRESS

For a few days last month, it rained in San Francisco. Residents across the city cheered a welcomed respite from a drought that has crippled California for more than two years — but the celebration turned out to be premature.

On Thursday, for the first time this century, the U.S. Drought Monitor declared that all of California is in a “severe” drought, with many areas of the state in an even worse condition, from “extreme” to “exceptional,” the poorest possible rating.

“This is a once-in-a-generation conversation,” Mark Svoboda, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, told The Huffington Post. He added that the last time California experienced comparable conditions was in the mid-1970s.

“The state has doubled its population between then and now,” Svoboda said. “You’ve got a lot more people using a relatively finite amount of water.”

The map below, courtesy of the U.S. Drought Monitor, shows the varying levels of drought throughout California. The orange represents “severe,” the red is “extreme,” and the maroon is “exceptional” — the agency’s highest level (Story continues below):


Detention in Malta: Europe’s migrant prison  Belen Fernandez  Last updated: 18 May 2014 12:03

Malta’s detention of asylum seekers is part and parcel of the racist and anti-immigrant frenzy now sweeping Europe.

Migrants arrive onboard a Maltese armed forces vessel after being rescued at sea [EPA]
Migrants arrive onboard a Maltese armed forces vessel after being rescued at sea [EPA]
A recent Quartz article about “unexpected and terrible destinations for the world’s persecuted” lists Malta as the industrialised nation with the largest number of asylum seekers per capita: 20.2 for every 1,000 inhabitants. On average, 1,500 undocumented migrants turn up in Malta every year.

Most are from sub-Saharan Africa and arrive by accident to the small European island, which is located south of Sicily, while attempting to sail to mainland Europe. It’s thus clearly an “unexpected” destination in the majority of cases, but why is it so “terrible”?  click to continue reading



In foreign countries, young students often turn to American TV to improve their English skills. The CNA language school in Liberdade, Brazil, found an unexpectedly engaging–and more giving way–to help them learn. Through a program called “Speaking Exchange,” CNA and agency FCB Brazil connected teens via web chats to elderly Americans at the Windsor Park Retirement Community in Chicago, who are eager for conversation.

Students record their conversations with the old timers, so that teachers can evaluate their progress. But for the Brazilian teens, learning to speak English well is only half as great as hearing a nice old lady call you her “new granddaughter.”  Click here for video. 


FAA seeks to unleash small ‘low-risk’ drones for films and farms by November



Since the FAA has only just begun flying drones at test sites, it’ll take quite some time before it can draw up rules and regulations for commercial use of UAVs. But if you start seeing small flying contraptions frequently, it’s because the agency is considering approving drone use for farming, filmmaking and other industries it deems “low risk” a lot earlier than planned. The overlord of all things that fly even wants to dole out permits quickly and aims to greenlight commercial flights (of machines that pose no security risk and weigh less than 55 pounds) as soon as November. According to Bloomberg, the agency has already started taking requests from various companies, though the FAA’s unmanned aerial vehicle crew are still discussing how they can expedite approval requests. Oh yeah, the FAA might have yet to officially authorize commercial drone flights, but some companies have been flying UAVs illegally for films and other industries for a while. Clearly, there’s a demand for these flying machines, so it’s no surprise that the agency wants to speed things up.

Need Advil Or A Condom? Call Up A Drone


Sick in bed and need some medicine? Soon, you might be able to call up a drone delivery.
Sick in bed and need some medicine? Soon, you might be able to call up a drone delivery.

A new service launching in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood will use drones for small deliveries. Just make sure you’re good at catching things first: “We’re not going to be landing, we’re going to be dropping things.”

In a few months, if you happen to live in the Mission District in San Francisco and need a last-minute delivery from a local drugstore, you might be able to call up a drone to fly it to your apartment.

QuiQui (pronounced “quicky”), a new startup, is taking advantage of a recent court decision that made commercial drones legal to fly below 500 feet. The service will pick up small deliveries–say, a bottle of medicine that you don’t want to pick up because you’re sick in bed–and bring it to your front door for just $1.  Click here to continue reading.


A Groundbreaking Mini-Satellite Project May Be Doomed  MAY 5 2014, 1:19 PM ET

A fleet of 104 quarter-sized satellites hit a deployment snag in space.

A visualization of tiny satellites deployed by a larger satellite. (YouTube)
A visualization of tiny satellites deployed by a larger satellite. (YouTube)

The plan was to launch a cloud of tiny satellites into space, each one no bigger than a quarter, and scatter them like spare change in the orbital dusk.

But two weeks after a successful launch, there are concerns that the larger satellite carrying all those tiny ones—known as sprites—will burn up before the sprites are deployed.

The satellites were designed by scientists at Cornell who want to replicate the success of Sputnik, the beach-ball-sized Soviet satellite that launched in 1957 and officially set off the space race. These sprites are each less than one ten-millionthSputnik’s size, but with all the functionality of the original.

“Our design packages the traditional spacecraft systems (power, propulsion, communications, etc) onto a single silicon microchip smaller than a dime and unconstrained by onboard fuel,” scientists said in a description of the project.

Now, those scientists are waiting—along with 315 backers who contributednearly $75,000 on Kickstarter to support the project—to see if a technological snafu can be corrected before all of the satellites burn up in the atmosphere.

The sprites were set to be deployed from a larger satellite, known as KickSat, on May 4. Here’s a video that shows how KickSat is designed to disperse sprites across space:   click to read more


Illegal drones ruining Yosemite’s natural beauty, rangers say

from:  by A Times Staff Writer, May 2, 2014

Yosemite National Park issued a warning Friday, and it didn’t have to do with bears or hazardous park conditions. The new concern: Unmanned drone aircraft.

There are numerous videos on YouTube in which drones are used to take in the scenic beauty.

Rangers said enough is enough.

“The park has experienced an increase in visitors using drones within park boundaries over the last few years,” officials said in a statement. “Drones have been witnessed filming climbers ascending climbing routes, filming views above tree-tops, and filming aerial footage of the park.”

The park said drones pose a safety threat as well as ruin the aesthetics of the wilderness.

“Drones can be extremely noisy, and can impact the natural soundscape,” officials said. “Drones can also impact the wilderness experience for other visitors, creating an environment that is not conducive to wilderness travel.”

The park said the use of drones there is illegal, but it’s unclear if anyone has been caught in the act.,0,3645936.story#ixzz30rvp3uwS