May 24, 2013 2:01 pm
Earlier this month, a new type of waterfowl paddled into Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong. The bird was of the plastic variety: specifically, the world’s largest inflatable rubber duck, measuring 46 feet tall and 55 feet long.
The floating sculpture migrated to the harbor by tugboat on May 4 after stops in Sydney, Osaka and Sao Paolo. The art installation, created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, drew thousands of camera-toting locals and tourists to the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront.
But last week, the six-story-tall duck was temporarily deflated for maintenance, distressing its rapidly growing fan base as it bobbed helplessly in the water. It wasn’t pretty.
Harbor officials didn’t immediately explain why the duck had crumpled, and rumors spread. There were enough claims that the bird had been deflated by mainland Chinese tourists that the state-run China Central Television issued a statement denying the rumor.
But the duck returned to its full size today, announcing on Twitter:
Thanks for all the support everyone! I am all freshen up! twitter.com/hkharbourcity/…
— Harbour City (@hkharbourcity) May 21, 2013
Fans rallied behind the inflatable bird, tweeting well-wishes. Since its debut, the popular bathtime companion has become something of a beloved national icon. The International Herald Tribune reports:
Thousands gathered around the waterfront when “Rubber Duck” made its debut May 2. Since then, countless duck-themed products have shown up at shops and restaurants. Teenagers are wearing rubber-duck outfits, and tourist kiosks are selling rubber-duck postcards. Its smiling face was even seen at the Cheung Chau bun festival, a 200-year-old tradition on an outlying island.
The South China Morning Post, the main English-language broadsheet, has published no fewer than 19 articles, opinion pieces and blog posts about it. One editorial, “Giant Rubber Duck Has United the City,” argued that it did more to inspire Hong Kongers than a recent government drive to raise morale.
The inflatable rubber duck will remain in Victoria Harbor until June 9.
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May 17, 2013 4:01 pm
When you’re having a heart attack, every second counts. The tightness in your chest intensifies with each passing minute. The clotting blood in your coronary artery, blocked by plaque, steadily builds up. Deprived of oxygen-rich blood, parts of your heart muscle soon slowly begin to die. If surgeons don’t remove the blockage and restore blood flow in time, the clock runs out.
The faster a patient gets treatment, the better. That’s why many EMTs have started using smartphones to email hospitals pictures of electrocardiogram results—paper readouts of the patient’s heartbeat—while they’re still in the ambulance. But emails often take more than a few minutes to reach awaiting doctors, and an error message about a too-big file is the last thing first responders want to see.
To speed treatment, researchers at the University of Virginia bypassed email altogether. They have developed a smartphone app that transmits pictures of ECGs to hospitals in a matter of seconds. They presented their work this morning at the annual American Heart Association’s Quality of Care and Outcomes Research Scientific Sessions in Baltimore.
The team hopes the app will save the lives of patients suffering from a particular type of heart attack that causes heart muscle to die with the passage of time. During this type of attack—ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction, or STEMI—victims’ chances of dying increase by 7.5 percent with every 30 minutes they don’t receive treatment. Doctors can spot signs of a STEMI by studying the squiggly lines of an electrocardiogram printout, which shows the heart’s electrical activity and any of its irregularities.
To get this live-saving document to the emergency room, EMS personnel snap a photo of it with the app using an iPhone camera. The app, designed to maintain high-resolution quality, then compresses it to approximately 32 kilobytes. That’s a pretty small file: you could fit about 62,500 of them on a standard 2-gigabyte flash drive. Once the image has been shrunk, it’s divided into 16 parts, which are sent to the receiving hospital’s server over standard cellphone networks. There, the pieces are reassembled to form a complete image, which doctors can look at it in full using an online interface on their computers.
In 1,500 trials in the Charlottesville area, more than 95 percent of transmissions made it to the hospital in less than 25 seconds. The app consistently outperformed email, whether the cellphone network used was Verizon, Sprint or AT&T. Images were transmitted in four to six seconds, compared to 38 to 114 seconds for actual-size image files.
Both the app and email transfer times slowed when initial picture sizes were bigger or cellphone service petered out, but the STEMI app photo still reached hospital servers first. The trials showed the app had a failure rate of less than .5 percent, while rates for email ranged from 3 percent to 71 percent, depending on the network provider. Next, the researchers hope to test the STEMI app in rural areas, where cellphone service tends to be hard to find.
Mobile technology is making its way steadily into health care: it’s becoming common, for instance, for doctors and nurses to track patient charts on iPads. While the technology has been shown to improve physicians’ work flow, reports also suggest these tools can be a dangerous distraction. But in the field of medicine, most health care professionals can agree that faster emergency treatment, with or without the help of an iPhone, is always better.
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March 5, 2013 6:39 pm
After a long battle with cancer, Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela for the last 14 years, has died. He was 58 years old.
The socialist leader had been elected to another term last October, but was never sworn in because of his failing health. The Associated Press writes:
A self-described “subversive,” Chavez fashioned himself after the 19th-century independence leader Simon Bolivar and renamed his country the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
He called himself a “humble soldier” in a battle for socialism and against U.S. hegemony. He thrived on confrontation with Washington and his political opponents at home, and used those conflicts to rally his followers.
Chavez came into the public eye in 1992 in a failed attempt to overthrow then-President Carlos Andres Perez. Over the next six years, his populist views gained popularity with Venezuelans, who elected him president in 1998. During his presidency, the military officer-turned-politician took control of the country’s massive oil industry and launched anti-poverty campaigns. He also built friendships with the Castro brothers and other leftist leaders in Latin America, much to the United States’ chagrin.
In the months before his death, little was known about the leader’s health. Aside from several pictures released by the government, Chavez had been unseen by the public for months. He had four operations since June 2011, and was undergoing further treatment at a hospital in Caracas.
Three days before his final surgery last December, Chavez named Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who announced the president’s death, as his chosen successor.
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February 1, 2013 3:21 pm
Grand Central Terminal, the country’s most recognizable transportation hub, celebrates its 100th birthday today.
A legacy of the Vanderbilt family (whose adopted symbol, the acorn, sits atop the terminal’s trademark clock), Grand Central is more than just ticket booths, tracks and platforms, of which there are 44, making it the largest train station in the world based on platform number.
It’s a city within a city, housing 50 shops, 20 eateries, five restaurants, newsstands, a fresh food market and multiple passageways to maneuver around it all. Its train and subway systems serve nearly 200,000 commuters daily. In total, every day more than 700,000 people pass through the terminal, a Beaux-Arts style transportation hub that took ten years and $80 million to complete.
A quintessential New York spot, the 48-acre centenarian brings in approximately 21.6 million visitors each year. They come to see the cavernous main concourse and gaze up at the arched painted ceiling, to which as many as 50 painters contributed. The mural depicts constellations of the Mediterranean sky, but in reverse—an error that transportation officials explained away as an astronomical representation from God’s perspective.
Visitors also come to survey the 50-foot statues on Grand Central’s south face depicting Mercury, Hercules and Minerva, the gods of, respectively, travelers, strength and commerce. And they come to see for themselves the famous four-faced, 13-foot-wide Tiffany glass and opal clocks.
Grand Central Terminal has a storied past, with several well-kept secrets that have since been exposed. A “whispering gallery” in the dining concourse near the Oyster Bar, a restaurant as old as the terminal itself, allows a quiet voice to travel from one end to the other, thanks to acoustics created by low ceramic arches. Past a door inside the information booth is a hidden spiral staircase, leading down to another information kiosk.
During World War II, German military intelligence learned of a once-secret basement known as M42, which contains converters used to supply electric currents to trains. Spies were sent to sabotage it, but the FBI arrested them before they could strike.
A train platform with a concealed entrance, number 61, was once used to transport President Franklin D. Roosevelt directly into the nearby Waldorf-Astoria hotel.
In 1957, a NASA rocket was displayed inside the terminal, a move meant to encourage support for the country’s space program as it raced against the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik. A six-inch hole was carved into the ceiling to help support the missile, and it remains amidst the mural’s 2,500 stars.
In 1976, a group of Croatian nationalists planted a bomb in one of the terminal’s lockers, and the subsequent attempt to disarm the device killed a bomb squad specialist and injured 30 others.
The terminal’s interior has also been the backdrop to several Hollywood classics. In 1933, Bing Crosby received a star-studded sendoff at Track 27 in “Going Hollywood.” Twenty years later, Fred Astaire hopped off a train and danced up track 34 in a Technicolor musical number in “The Band Wagon.” The following year, Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck kissed inside the terminal before making their getaway in “Spellbound.” The 1959 action classic “North by Northwest” opens with a montage of New Yorkers bustling through the terminal, and Cary Grant later makes a nighttime escape through the main concourse.
Once dedicated to long-distance travel, Grand Central Terminal is now home to the Metro-North Railroad, the largest commuter railroad service in the United States. Three train hubs have stood at 42nd and Park Avenue since the 19th century. In 1871, Grand Central Depot consolidated several New York railroads into one station until it was partially demolished three decades later. What remained, dubbed Grand Central Station, doubled in height and received a new façade. Several years later, in 1913, a decade-long project transformed the hub into the iconic terminal anchoring midtown Manhattan today.
But the terminal’s fate hasn’t always been so secure. In the 1950s, multiple real estate developers proposed replacing it with towers, some 500 feet taller than the Empire State Building. By the late 1960s, the growing popularity of government-subsidized interstate highways and air travel had sapped the customer pool of railroads across the country. Grand Central wasn’t immune. Over time, the ceiling became obscured by tar and tobacco smoke residue, and commercial billboards blocked out natural light from streaming in.
By 1968, New York Central Railroad, which operated the terminal, was facing bankruptcy, and it merged with Pennsylvania Railroad to form Penn Central. The new company unveiled another tower proposal that year, but the plans drew significant opposition, most notably from former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The terminal became a historic landmark in 1978, following a Supreme Court decision to protect the transportation hub, the first time the court had ruled on a matter of historic preservation.
In the 1990s, the terminal saw a massive, two-year, $196 million renewal project under Metro-North. The ceiling of the Main Concourse was restored, revealing the painted skyscape, the billboard were removed to let light in and the original baggage room was replaced with a mirror image of the west staircase, a feature that had been included in original blueprints but hadn’t come to fruition.
But Grand Central Terminal won’t remain unchanged for long. A two-level, eight-track tunnel is being excavated under Park Avenue to bring in Long Island Rail Road trains, and by 2019, thousands more will be coming and going, arriving and departing, through this historic landmark.
Many thanks to Sam Roberts’ indispensable, comprehensive history “Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America.”
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