Thursday, 31 December 2015


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Hundreds Of Flights Cancelled As Istanbul Hit By Heavy Snow

Hundreds Of Flights Cancelled As Istanbul Hit By Heavy Snow
Turkish Airlines cancelled 265 flights in and out of the main Ataturk airport and 37 at Sabiha Gokcen, Istanbul's second airport. (File Photo)
ISTANBUL:  Hundreds of flights in and out of Turkey were cancelled for today and Friday at Istanbul's two airports after the city was blanketed by heavy snow, which also forced the closure of schools and brought chaos to the roads.

Turkish Airlines cancelled 265 flights in and out of the main Ataturk airport and 37 at Sabiha Gokcen, Istanbul's second airport. Budget airline Pegasus said it had cancelled 34 flights arriving or departing from Sabiha Gokcen.

On Wednesday, city authorities said they had more than 1,000 vehicles and heavy machinery ready to keep roads open, but warned residents against all but essential travel. More snowfall is forecast for much of today.

Ferries across the Bosphorus Strait bisecting Europe's largest city were disrupted but the waterway, the only maritime outlet for Russian oil and other commodities from the Black Sea, remained open to shipping.

PAN Must For Cash Payment Of Hotel Bill OverRs. 50,000 From Tomorrow

PAN Must For Cash Payment Of Hotel Bill Over Rs 50,000 From Tomorrow
Besides, PAN will be a must for all transactions, including purchase of jewellery, above Rs. 2 lakhs in cash or through card with effect from January 1, 2016, the Finance Ministry said in a notification.
NEW DELHI:  Furnishing Permanent Account Number (PAN) will be mandatory from tomorrow for cash transactions such as hotel or foreign travel bills exceeding Rs. 50,000 - a move aimed at curbing the black money menace.

Besides, PAN will be a must for all transactions, including purchase of jewellery, above Rs. 2 lakhs in cash or through card with effect from January 1, 2016, the Finance Ministry said in a notification.

PAN will also be mandatory on purchase of immovable property of over Rs. 10 lakh. This will be a relief to small home buyers as previously the government had proposed to make PAN mandatory for property worth Rs. 5 lakh.

Quoting of PAN will also be mandatory for term deposits exceeding Rs. 50,000 at one go or Rs.5 lakh in a year with banks, Post Offices and NBFCs.

The notification said PAN would be mandatory for payments of more than Rs. 50,000 for cash cards or prepaid instruments as well as for acquiring shares of unlisted companies for Rs. 1 lakh and above.

It has also been made mandatory for opening all bank accounts except Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana accounts.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had earlier this month announced in Parliament that PAN would be made mandatory for all cash and card transactions beyond Rs. 2 lakh.

The limit is double of Rs. 1 lakh that he had proposed in 2015-16 Budget, but is lower than the existing threshold of Rs. 5 lakh.

Making cash deposit of more than Rs. 50,000 or purchase of bank draft/pay orders/bankers cheque of equal denomination on a single day, payment of life insurance premium of Rs.50,000 in a year would also require quoting of PAN.

In keeping with the government's thrust on financial inclusion, opening of a no-frills bank account such as a Jan Dhan account will not require PAN.

Other than that, the requirement of PAN applies to opening of all bank accounts including in co-operative banks.

Qatar Lowers Gas Price for India. CNG May Become Cheaper

Qatar Lowers Gas Price for India. CNG May Become Cheaper

In a significant development, India's biggest gas importer Petronet LNG will buy liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar at virtually half the original cost. This could help bring down the CNG prices in India, say analysts.

An agreement was signed between Qatar's RasGas and Petronet LNG on Thursday. Qatar is one of the world's largest exporters of LNG while India is one of the biggest importers of the commodity.

RasGas will supply LNG to Petronet at $6-7 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), sharply lower than $12-13 per mmbtu agreed earlier.

The Qatari supplier has also waived off the $ 1 billion penalty fee for lower gas offtake.

Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said the fresh agreement with Qatar will save Rs 12,000 crore for the Indian economy.

Petronet has a 25-year contract to annually buy 7.5 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas from RasGas but has reduced purchases by about a third this year due to high supply prices, making the Indian company liable for the $1 billion penalty. Petronet has been increasingly substituting costly Qatari LNG with cheaper spot shipments.

Deven Choksey, managing director of KR Choksey Investment Managers, said the lower gas prices will benefit Petronet LNG in terms of lower working capital and higher volumes.

More importantly, the end-consumers will benefit from lower prices as the importers are expected to pass on the lower cost, he added.

However, Petnonet LNG shares had rallied earlier in anticipation of this agreement and it is already discounted in the share price.

Petronet shares, which are up nearly 45 per cent in the past three months, ended 3 per cent higher at Rs 254 on Thursday, outperforming the Sensex, which rose 0.60 per cent. 

Zuckerberg's Free Basics On Hold Till At Least End Of January

Zuckerberg's Free Basics On Hold Till At Least End Of January
Free Basics, launched in more than 35 developing countries around the world, offers pared-down web services on mobile phones, without any charge. (Reuters photo)
NEW DELHI:  India has become a battleground for Mark Zuckerberg's plan to roll out Facebook's Free Basics program with the telecom regulator or TRAI confirming that the plan is on hold till the end of January.

Free Basics, which Mr Zuckerberg, 31, says will bring free internet to millions of poor Indians through their cellphones, has been attacked by tech entrepreneurs and many others as designed to violate the principles of net neutrality, the concept that all websites on the internet are treated equally.

The program, launched in more than 35 developing countries around the world, offers pared-down web services on mobile phones, along with access to the company's own social network and messaging services, without charge. But users have to pay for content that is not offered by the companies that partner with Facebook.

The program was launched in pilot stage 10 months ago in several states through mobile operator Reliance Communications. It was suspended last week on the orders of, RS Sharma, the chairman of TRAI. He told NDTV today that Free Basics cannot launch formally till the regulator completes its consultations with stake-holders, likely at the end of January. The regulator has given the public till January 7 to share feedback.

Tech giants including Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder of ecommerce major Paytm, have petitioned TRAI, the telecom regulator, to claim that differential pricing for Internet access would lead to a "few players like Facebook with its Free Basics platform acting as gate-keepers".

"There is no reason to create a digital divide by offering a walled garden of limited services in the name of providing access to the poor," they wrote.

Mr Zuckerberg has got personally involved, arguing his company's case in an editorial inThe Times of India newspaper this week. "What reason is there for denying people free access to vital services for communication, education, healthcare, employment, farming and women's rights?" he wrote. And Facebook has issued a series of full-page newspaper advertisements and set up billboard banners in an unusual and aggressive campaign to counter the protests.

Microsoft To Warn Users When Governments Try To Hack Into Their Emails

Microsoft To Warn Users When Governments Try To Hack Into Their Emails
The policy shift at the world's largest software company follows similar moves since October by Internet giants Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc and most recently Yahoo Inc.
WASHINGTON:  Microsoft Corp said on Wednesday that it will begin warning users of its consumer services including email when the company suspects that a government has been trying to hack into their accounts.

The policy change comes nine days after Reuters asked the company why it had decided not tell victims of a hacking campaign, discovered in 2011, that had targeted international leaders of China's Tibetan and Uighur minorities in particular.

According to two former employees of Microsoft, the company's own experts had concluded several years ago that Chinese authorities had been behind the campaign but the company did not pass on that information to users of its Hotmail service, which is now called

In its statement, Microsoft said neither it nor the U.S. government could pinpoint the sources of the hacking attacks and that they didn't come from a single country.

The policy shift at the world's largest software company follows similar moves since October by Internet giants Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc and most recently Yahoo Inc.

Google Inc pioneered the practice in 2012 and said it now alerts tens of thousands of users every few months.

For two years, Microsoft has offered alerts about potential security breaches without specifying the likely suspect.

In a statement to Reuters, Microsoft said: "As the threat landscape has evolved our approach has too, and we'll now go beyond notification and guidance to specify if we reasonably believe the attacker is 'state-sponsored'."

In a blog post published late Wednesday, Microsoft said: "We're taking this additional step of specifically letting you know if we have evidence that the attacker may be 'state-sponsored' because it is likely that the attack could be more sophisticated or more sustained than attacks from cybercriminals and others.

The Hotmail attacks targeted diplomats, media workers, human rights lawyers, and others in sensitive positions inside China, according to the former employees.

Microsoft had told the targets to reset their passwords but did not tell them that they had been hacked. Five victims interviewed by Reuters said they had not taken the password reset as an indication of hacking.

Online free-speech activists and security experts have long called for more direct warnings, saying that they prompt behavioral changes from email users.

14-lane, 7500 Crore Delhi-Meerut Expressway Launched By PM Modi

14-lane, 7500 Crore Delhi-Meerut Expressway Launched By PM Modi
PM Modi launching the Delhi-Meeurt Expressway at Noida
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday launched a Rs. 7500 Crore project to widen the Delhi-Meerut highway and replace it with an expressway to decongest Delhi.  He described it as the "road to freedom from pollution."

The road connecting Meerut to Delhi is the busiest highway in the region, Union minister Nitin Gadkari said minutes before the prime minister spoke. The expressway will do away with 31 traffic signals on the road and make it "signal free", reducing travel time between Meerut and Delhi from two and a half hours to around 40 minutes, he said.

"This highway will show the path to tackle pollution," PM Modi said. Delhi is the most polluted capital in the world.

"In the changing times, pace will not slacken. It will only get faster," he said. Mr Modi said his government will take forward the programmes started by the Atal Vajpayee government. "Vajpayeeji had two projects - the Golden quadrilateral connecting four corners of the country and he started a programme to give connectivity to villages," he said referring to the Prime Minister Rural Roads Programme.

"Even the villagers now are not satisfied with single lane roads. They want double lane and four lane roads. Every villager understands that if his villager has to be connected to the path of development, his village must be connected to the highway," PM Modi said.

Mysteries Of Our World That Science Finally Solved

Scientists have been baffled for years by the mysteries of our world, from giant movements under the ocean to how the oceans themselves originated. Today, we have the answers to some of these questions.

The Secret Of Death Valley’s Sailing Stones

Photo credit: Lgcharlot/Wikimedia
Fron the 1940s till recently, the Racetrack Playa, a dry lake bed with a flat surface in Death Valley National Park, was the setting for a “sailing stones” mystery that left people scratching their heads. With years or even decades between each occurrence, an unseen force appeared to move hundreds of rocks across the ground at the same time, leaving long parallel trails in the dried mud. These sailing stones weighed up to 300 kilograms (700 lb) each.
No one had even seen the stones in motion as far as scientists knew. So a team of US researchers decided to investigate in 2011. They set up time-lapse cameras and a weather station to measure wind gusts. Then they installed motion-activated GPS tracking units in 15 limestone rocks and set them on the playa.
It could have been a decade or more before anything happened, but they got lucky. In December 2013, the team was there in person when the stones sailed—and the mystery was solved.
Heavy rain and snow had left 7 centimeters (3 in) of water on the playa. It froze at night into thin sheets of ice that broke up into larger floating panels under the midday sun. Light winds of about 15 kilometers (10 mi) per hour were needed for the accumulated ice to push the rocks across the playa, leaving tracks in the mud beneath the icy surface. The trails became visible months later when the lake bed dried out.
The rocks will only move if conditions are perfect. Not too much wind, sun, water, or ice. Not too little, either. “It’s possible that tourists have actually seen this happening without realizing it,” says researcher Jim Norris. “It is really tough to gauge that a rock is in motion if all the rocks around it are also moving.”

9How Giraffes Stay Upright On Their Bony Legs

Giraffes weigh about 1,000 kilograms (2,200 lb) but have incredibly thin leg bones for their size. Yet they don’t collapse or appear to get hurt.
To find out why, researchers from the Royal Veterinary College tested giraffe limbs donated from European Union zoos. The limbs were from animals that had died of natural causes in captivity or had been euthanized. The researchers placed the limbs in a rigid frame then used masses of up to 250 kilograms (550 lb) to simulate a giraffe’s weight on its legs. Each limb stayed stable and upright without any problem. In fact, the giraffe legs would have been able to successfully tolerate even greater forces.
The reason is a suspensory ligament (fibrous tissue that holds bones together) that resides in a groove running the length of leg bones in a giraffe. These leg bones are similar to the metatarsal bone in a human foot and the metacarpal bone in a human hand. But in a giraffe, these bones are much longer.
The suspensory ligament doesn’t generate any force on its own. It provides passive support only because it’s elastic tissue, not muscle. That lessens fatigue for the animal because it doesn’t have to use its muscles as much to bear its weight. This ligament also protects the giraffe’s foot joints and prevents the collapse of its feet.

8The Singing Sand Dunes

 kilometers (6 mi) away. Some dunes sing occasionally, others daily. It happens when grains of sand slide down these particular dunes.
At first, scientists thought the tones came from vibrations in the dunes’ subsurface layers. But researchers found that they could recreate the sound in a lab by letting sand slide down an incline. That proved that the sand, not the dune, was singing. The sound came from the vibrations of the grains themselves as they cascaded down the dune or an inclined lab structure.
Next, the researchers investigated why some singing sand dunes producedmultiple notes at once. For this, they studied sand from two dunes—one in southwestern Morocco and the other in southeastern Oman.
The Moroccan sand always produced sound at about 105 Hertz, which is similar to a G-sharp two octaves below middle C. The Omani sand produced a range of nine notes, from about F-sharp to D, with frequencies from 90 to 150 Hertz.
The researchers discovered that the size of the grains was responsible for the pitch of the notes. The Moroccan grains were all about the same size, 150–170 microns (0.006–0.0065 in). They consistently sounded like a G-sharp. But the Omani grains ranged from 150 to 310 microns in size (0.006–0.012 in), which accounted for their broader range of nine notes. When scientists isolated some of the Omani grains by size, their narrower range vibrated at one frequency to produce the same note.
The speed of the moving sand was also a factor. When the grains were all close in size, they moved at similar speeds and consistently produced the same pitch. When the grains varied in size, they moved at different speeds, causing a greater range of notes.
But scientists still don’t understand why these tones sound like music. Their theory is that the vibrations of the moving grains synchronize, pushing air together like the diaphragm in a loudspeaker.

7The Homing Pigeon Bermuda Triangle

This mystery started in the 1960s, when a Cornell University professor studied homing pigeons’ remarkable ability to find their way home from locations previously unknown to them. He released the pigeons from a variety of locations throughout New York State. They all did fine except for birds released from Jersey Hill. Those pigeons got lost almost every time. On August 13, 1969, they found their way home from Jersey Hill, but every other time, they seemed to be disoriented and flew around randomly. The professor couldn’t explain why that happened.
Dr. Jonathan Hagstrum from the US Geological Survey thinks he may have solved the mystery, although his theory is controversial. “The way the birds navigate is that they use a compass and they use a map. The compass is usually the position of the Sun or the Earth’s magnetic field,” he said. “They are using sound as their map . . . and this will tell them where they are relative to their home.”
Hagstrum believes the pigeons are using infrasound, low-frequency sound inaudible to humans. As we talked about once before, that type of sound may have been used in ancient soundscapes to alter our ancestors’ mental states when they participated in religious ceremonies.
The birds may be using infrasound (which is generated in this case by small vibrations on the Earth’s surface from deep ocean waves) as a homing beacon. When the birds got lost at Jersey Hill, the temperature and wind caused the infrasound signal to move high into the atmosphere. The pigeons couldn’t sense it on the ground. But on August 13, 1969, the temperature and wind conditions were perfect. So the pigeons could hear the infrasound and find their way home.

6The Unique Origin Of Australia’s Only Active Volcano

Australia has only one active volcanic area, which extends 500 kilometers (300 mi) from Melbourne to Mount Gambier. In the past four million years, there have been around 400 volcanic events, with the last eruption about 5,000 years ago. Scientists had been baffled by what caused these eruptions in a part of the world that otherwise has almost no volcanic activity.
Now, researchers have solved the mystery. Most volcanoes on Earth occur on the edges of tectonic plates, which constantly move small distances (in centimeters per year) on top of the Earth’s mantle. But in Australia, variations in the continent’s thickness cause currents in the mantle below to draw heat to the surface. Combined with Australia’s northward drift at 7 centimeters (3 in) per year, a hotspot evolved in the area, creating magma.
“There are around 50 other similarly isolated volcanic regions around the world, several of which we may now be able to explain,” says Rhodri Davies of Australian National University.

5The Fish That Thrive In A Superfund Cleanup Site

Photo credit: Terrapin83/Wikimedia
From the 1940s to the 1970s, manufacturing plants dumped polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) as waste into New Bedford Harbor in Massachusetts. The Environmental Protection Agency declared the harbor a Superfund cleanup site because the amount of PCB pollution was more than four times the level believed to be safe. But the harbor is also home to a biological puzzle that researchers may have finally solved.
In the midst of such toxic pollution, Atlantic killifish have thrived in New Bedford Harbor. A type of prey fish, killifish remain in the same waters within a few hundred yards of their birthplace for their entire lives.
Normally, when a fish digests PCBs, some of the metabolized chemicals become more toxic to the fish than the initial PCBs are. But killifish have flipped an off switch on this genetic pathway, stopping the metabolized toxins from forming. They’ve adapted to PCB pollution, but some scientists believe this genetic change may leave the killifish more susceptible to the harmful effects of other pollutants. It’s also possible that these fish won’t be able to live in a healthy environment when the waters are cleaned up.
Killifish are prey for striped bass, bluefish, and other fish that we eat. So even though the killifish appear to be immune to PCB toxins, they can pass those pollutants up the food chain all the way to us.

4How Underwater Waves Are Produced

Underwater waves, also called internal waves, stay beneath the ocean surface, hidden from our view. They raise the ocean’s surface water by inches, which makes them difficult to detect except by satellite. The largest internal waves appear in the Luzon Strait, between Taiwan and the Philippines. They can tower 170 meters (560 ft) and move at only a few centimeters per second across great distances.
Scientists believe we must understand how these waves are generated because they may be an important contributor to global climate change. Internal waves mix the ocean’s less salty, warmer, upper water with its saltier, colder, lower water. They drive large volumes of salt, heat, and nutrients through the ocean. It’s the primary way that heat is transferred from the upper ocean to the lower waters.
Scientists have long wanted to solve the mystery of how the huge internal waves in the Luzon Strait are generated. They’re hard to see in the ocean, although instruments can detect the difference in density between an internal wave and its surrounding water. Nevertheless, scientists decided to conduct their tests in a 15-meter (50 ft) wave tank. The internal waves were generated by pushing cold bottom water over two ridges on the simulated seafloor. It appears that these huge internal waves are produced by the spacing of the ridges in the Luzon Strait, not by one feature on a ridge such as a high mountain.
“It’s an important missing piece of the puzzle in climate modeling,” says Thomas Peacock of MIT. “Right now, global climate models are not able to capture these processes. You get a different answer . . . if you don’t account for these waves.”

3Why Zebras Have Stripes

There are many theories on why zebras have stripes. Some think the stripes act as camouflage or a way to confuse predators. Others believe the stripes help zebras regulate body heat or choose their mates.
Scientists at the University of California at Davis decided to find the answer. They studied where the species (and subspecies) of zebras, horses, and asses lived. They gathered information on the color, location, and size of stripes on the bodies of the zebras. Then they mapped the locations of tsetse flies and tabanids like horseflies and deer flies. A few other variables, some statistical analysis, and voila. They had their answer.
“I was amazed by our results,” said researcher Tim Caro. “Again and again, there was greater striping on areas of the body in those parts of the world where there was more annoyance from biting flies.”
Zebras are more vulnerable to biting flies because their hair is shorter than that of similar animals like horses. These blood-sucking flies can carry deadly diseases, so it’s important for zebras to avoid this risk.
Other researchers from the University of Sweden found that flies avoid zebra stripes because they’re the right width. If they were wider, the zebras wouldn’t be protected. In that study, more flies were attracted by black surfaces, fewer by white surfaces and the fewest by stripes.

2The Mass Extinction Of About 90 Percent Of Earth’s Species

About 252 million years ago, around 90 percent of the species on our planet were wiped out in the end-Permian extinction, also known as the “Great Dying,” the worst mass extinction on Earth. It’s an ancient whodunit, with suspects ranging from asteroids to volcanoes. But it turns out the killers can’t be seen without a microscope.
According to MIT researchers, the culprit was a single-celled microbe calledMethanosarcina that eats carbon compounds and produces methane as waste. This microbe exists today in garbage dumps, oil wells, and the guts of cows. In the Permian period, scientists believe Methanosarcina underwent a gene transfer from a bacterium that allowed Methanosarcina to processacetate. Once that happened, the microbe could consume large piles of organic matter containing acetate that were sitting on the ocean floor.
The microbe population exploded, spewing huge amounts of methane into the atmosphere and acidifying the ocean. Most plants and animals on land perished, along with fish and shellfish in the sea. But the microbes would have needed nickel to multiply so wildly. Based on their sediment analysis, the researchers believe Siberian volcanoes belched the large amounts of nickel needed by the microbes.
“I would say that the end-Permian extinction is the closest animal life has ever come to being totally wiped out, and it may have come pretty close,” says researcher Greg Fournier. “Many, if not most, of the surviving groups of organisms barely hung on, with only a few species making it through, many probably by chance.”

1The Origin Of Earth’s Oceans

Water covers about 70 percent of our planet’s surface. Initially, scientists believed that Earth formed dry, with a molten surface created by the impacts of other objects from space. Collisions with asteroids and wet comets supposedly brought water to our planet much later. “Some people have argued that any water molecules that were present as the planets were forming would have evaporated or been blown off into space,” said geologist Horst Marschall. “[Scientists thought that] surface water as it exists on our planet today must have come much later—hundreds of millions of years later.”
But a new study shows that Earth had water on its surface when it formed, enough for life to have evolved earlier than originally believed. The same may be true for other planets in our inner solar system before their environments turned hostile.
To determine when water arrived on Earth, researchers compared two sets of meteorites. The first set, carbonaceous chondrites, are the most ancient meteorites ever identified. They came into existence about the same time as our sun, before any planets developed. The second set of meteorites are believed to have come from Vesta, a big asteroid that formed in the same general area as Earth about 14 million years after our solar system was born.
The two types of meteorites share the same chemistry and contain a lot of water. For that reason, the researchers believe that Earth formed with water on its surface from the carbonaceous chondrites about 4.6 billion years ago.