Shell has just floated the hull of the world's largest vessel out of its dry dock in South Korea. It's so massive, that if you stood it up, it would be 1,601 feet tall, reaching higher into the sky than the Empire State Building.
The vessel, called the Prelude, will actually be used more as a floating island than a ship. It won't be able to travel under its own power. Shell plans to tow it and anchor it about 300 miles off the coast of western Australia for 25 years.
There, the 600,000-ton Prelude will serve as a liquefied natural gas, or LNG, facility, which lets the company tap into the natural gas deep at sea. The gas will then be chilled into a liquid, which makes the gas easier to store and ship.
Smaller ships will come and pick up the natural gas and transport it to customers. Shell's Prelude is so huge it can store enough liquefied natural gas (LNG) to fill 175 Olympic swimming pools. It will stay in place during stormy weather and is built to withstand a category five cyclone, according to the company.
The Prelude will allow Shell to tap into natural gas reserves that have previously been too expensive to extract, according to Kayla Macke, a U.S. spokeswoman for the company.
She declined to comment on the cost of the drilling project, but noted that Samsung, the South Korea company that built the Prelude, put the cost of the vessel at $3 billion back in 2011.
Previously, the world's largest vessel was the Jahre Viking, an oil tanker that's 1,504 feet long, according to Guinness World Records.
Macke says the Prelude will be similar to the offshore rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, adding there will likely to be around 100 workers who will perform two-week shifts at sea before heading back to shore.
Energy companies are increasingly going far offshore for oil and natural gas.
The U.S. Geological Survey, in a report last year, estimated that there are large potential reserves of oil and gas in the oceans of southeast Asia, off the coast of Australia and around Cuba.
The Wall Street Journal reported last month that deep-water drilling is the "next big frontier for oil and natural gas production."
Australia could be a big winner. By 2020, the country is projected to more than double its gas production of 49 billion cubic meters (1730 billion cubic feet) in 2010, according to this year's gas market report from the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics in Australia.
Earlier this year, the Economist noted that by "eliminating pipelines and other onshore costs, floating LNG production may prove the blessing Australia needs to stay in the gas game."
If you love cats and adore Christmas, do we ever have the website for you. In a project that takes the concept of "reality TV" in new directions, eight solid hours a day of streaming video.
The scene you'll find at Christmas Cats TV is a unique one. A woman sits in a den that includes a Christmas tree, a hearth, and some presents — and a whole lot of cats, some of which have been cajoled into wearing Christmas sweaters.
Streaming from Wednesday to Friday this week, the reality show's goal isn't just to provide us with Internet cuteness.
"For three days, eight hours a day, people at home can watch a LIVE stream of a wacky grandma 'cat lady' in her home, rocking, knitting, and hanging out with room full of adoptable cats available for adoption," according to a news release about Christmas Cats TV.
When they're not making webcasts, the cats live at North Shore Animal League America, in Port Washington, N.Y., which calls itself "the world's largest no-kill rescue and adoption organization."
The show, which is being streamed from Brooklyn, is also active on Twitter. One recent post included one of the cat's photo and the question, "Can I haz a family?"
And there's another motivation at work: Viewers also hear Christmas music (identified by a "Meow playing" tag) that's for sale by Legacy Recordings, a division of Sony Music.
Our thanks go to NPR's Nicole Beemsterboer for finding this unique show.
For a half-century, JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association, adorned its cover with works of fine art. You could have easily mistaken an issue of the august medical journal on your doctor's desk for a stray copy of ARTnews.
But a JAMA redesign this summer put the table of contents on the front cover and moved the art inside.
Why? "Many readers let us know that while they appreciated [the art], there was no indication on the cover of what was in the journal, the content of the journal," says Dr. Phil Fontanarosa, JAMA's executive editor.
Sometimes for a theme issue, though, the editors will push the article listings down a bit to make room for a picture.
And this week for an issue devoted to medical education, JAMA created what may be a new kitsch masterpiece. A group of seven canine healers, some apparently in training, hover around a sick mutt sucking on a thermometer in a hospital bed.
If you've spent any time in knotty-pine-paneled rec rooms or playing pool in dive bars, you'll recognize the style instantly.
Just in case you don't, the JAMA editors write that the cover is "an homage to the early 20th-century artist Cassius Marcellus Coolidge." His body of work includes paintings such as A Friend in Need and A Bold Bluff. The JAMA editors point out that Coolidge's "oeuvre is most commonly referred to as Dogs Playing Poker."
The JAMA editors say they were unaware of any Coolidge paintings that depicted medical education and decided to commission a cover to fill the gap. The Dogs Playing Doctor cover was a collaboration between editor Dr. Robert Golub and JAMA medical illustrator Cassio Lynm.
"While the cover is certainly whimsical, we think it's an homage of sorts to medicine," Fontanarosa tells Shots. "We fully expect that our readers are going to react to the cover." In fact, he says, one doctor who admired it has asked about getting a poster-size print suitable for framing. That's not something JAMA is able to do just yet.
But don't get fixated on the doctor dogs. Fontanarosa says the issue has lots of excellent research on hot topics in medical education, ranging from substance abuse by anesthesiology residents to reduction of errors when residents hand off patients at the end of shifts.
So just like another magazine that used to be headquartered in Chicago, you might pick up JAMA to look at the eye-popping cover and stick around for the thought-provoking articles.
Florida State University Quarterback Jameis Winston, considered a Heisman Trophy frontrunner, will not be charged with rape, the state attorney Willie Meggs announced on Thursday after an investigation into the allegations.
Freshman Winston, who led his team to the national polls, has been facing allegations that he assaulted a female FSU student in December 2012, prior to his college career.
Winston's attorney, Tim Jansen of Tallahassee, has contended that his client had consensual sex with the woman.
On Thursday, Meggs, who is the state attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit said prosecutors did not feel they had enough to make a case against Winston.
"We've carefully examined all the evidence in this case and have concluded that no charges will be brought against anyone in this case," he said.
The Associated Press writes:
"The alleged assault occurred nearly a year ago, but it wasn't until last month that Tallahassee police turned over information about the case to prosecutors."
"Meggs said Wednesday his office had 'exhausted all investigative tools' since the case was handed over in mid-November."
After Meggs' office took over the case, investigators took DNA from Winston, interviewed the victim and looked at other evidence, the AP says.
"Search warrants in the case were released before Meggs' announcement and indicate the woman told police she was raped at an apartment after a night of drinking at a bar. In the warrant, the accuser says she and friends had shots at Potbellys and her 'memory is very broken from that point forward.'"
"Meggs said that toxicology reports show the accuser had a blood alcohol level of .04 and that there was no evidence of drugs, including what are commonly referred to as date rape drugs."
"According to the warrants, the accuser says she remembers being in a cab with a man and going into an apartment before she was raped."
"After that, she remembers the suspect dressing her, putting her on a scooter and dropping her off at an intersection, but she had no idea where the alleged rape occurred."
Barbara J. King
In the movie Robot and Frank, made in 2012 and set in the near future, an elderly man named Frank (played by Frank Langella) is losing his memory. His adult son, concerned because his father lives alone, gifts him with a robot caretaker that is humanoid in appearance and prone to dialoguing with Frank. At first scornful of, and highly resistant to, co-habitating with a machine, Frank comes to consider this unnamed machine his friend.
Even when the robot reminds Frank that he himself is aware that he's not a person, and that his memory can be wiped without undue loss, Frank treats him as just that, anyway — as a person.
Robot and Frank's plot reminded me of something I witnessed about seven years ago when I attended a conference in Chicago at which Anne Foerst talked about the robot Kismet. When Foerst showed video clips similar to this one that showcased Kismet's ability to convey emotions, we in the audience responded audibly (oohs, aahs, laughter), as if we were watching a precocious child or some other clever person.
But why do we respond this way to robots? Like the character Frank in the movie, we grasp that robots do what their programmers want them to do. We know very well that we aren't interacting with persons — an assertion I make even as I'm keenly following a debate over the very definition of "person." As NPR reported on Tuesday, a fascinating legal case challenges us to think of chimpanzees, our closest living relatives, as persons in their own right.
The answer to the "why" question about our drive to connect with robots must be an evolutionary one, I think, and thus not set apart from questions of chimpanzees' cognitive, emotional and behavioral similarities to us.
We humans, over millions of years, have been selected not only to communicate with, but also to want deeply to communicate with, other beings who share our world. Communication was and is intimately tied to cooperation and deception, to forging alliances and battling rivals, to tracking, hunting and domesticating other animals — to the reproductive success that is the name of the game in evolution. Nowadays that deeply ingrained drive spills over to include our interactions with machines. And a new study shows that chimpanzees display the same impulses.
Published online in the journal Animal Cognition, a paper by Marina Davila-Ross, Johanna Hutchinson, Jamie L. Russell, Jennifer Schaeffer, Aude Billard, William D. Hopkins and Kim A. Bard reports the outcome of testing 16 captive chimpanzees' responses to a doll-like interactive robot, 45 centimeters tall.
Robota, as the machine is called (and which to my eyes looks like a futuristic American Girl doll) is capable of moving her head and limbs in certain specified arcs.
Almost all the apes freaked out a bit when first introduced to Robota: their hair stood on end and they threw boxes around their cages. But all calmed down before the period of research testing began. Also before testing, the chimpanzees watched a human-robot interaction, enabling them to comprehend that the strange creature that had entered their world was capable of relating with others.
Here are the research results I found most intriguing. Robota, controlled by an experimenter at a distance from the chimpanzees, was made in the imitation condition of the experiment to copy the chimpanzees' head, arm and leg movements. In control periods, she instead moved randomly or in synch with the chimpanzees' movements but by activating a different body part, so that when the ape turned her head the robot would move her arm.
Chimpanzees who were imitated by Robota showed active interest in her for significantly longer periods than did their counterpart apes who were not imitated.
Also, the chimpanzees directly solicited interaction with the robot, by offering Robota toys and other objects, and reaching out to her.
Ross et al. write that their study "provides strong evidence that chimpanzees, like humans, respond with interaction-promoting behaviors to even the most rudimentary cues of an agent."
Even with a robot that hardly resembles a promising social partner, in other words, the chimpanzees became invested in setting up a kind of communicatory dialogue. And they, like humans who are imitated, responded positively when their robot partner copied their actions.
Humans and chimpanzees are animals who (along with others) have evolved to forge extensive and elaborate social connections. Now we and our closest kin, when offered the chance, extend those social circles to embrace newly created creatures that are, perhaps, at their own dawn of evolution as members of our society.