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New July 2013

Escaped rhea ‘death threat issued’

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People trying to find an escaped 2m-tall bird capable of running at 40mph say they have received a threat to kill it.

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Garden centres ‘want’ Easter choice

The government is urged to end restrictions that prevent many garden centres in England and Wales from opening on Easter Sunday.

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William and Kate at Easter service

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The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attend an Easter Sunday church service in Sydney and take Prince George to the zoo as part of their overseas tour.

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Easter Miracle in Brooklyn

Despite being shot in the head twice, a young boy credits his faith in God for keeping him alive and able to sing his praises.

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Mark Twain, Writing Coach

Young writers besotted by the image of a swaggering, confident Twain should take heart: Underneath that white suit lurked an author as insecure and neurotic as those who idolize him.

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Millennials and the American City

Michael Tubbs, a 23-year-old councilmember in Stockton, California, and the star of the documentary ‘True Son,’ says that now is the time for young people to engineer social change.

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Making the road safe for biking’s nervous Nellies

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I used to bike like everyone was trying to kill me. I was fresh out of college and had moved to San Francisco to seek my fortune, only to discover that the city’s public transit system was more of a simulacrum of a system than something that actually got me reliably on time to my job — or, let’s be honest, jobs. Living in the city required a lot of jobs, and sometimes the bus came and sometimes it didn’t. So I started biking. Even if drivers didn’t bear any malice towards me — and almost none of them did — I learned to regard them with caution. They were bored. They were tired. They were steering 3,000+ pounds of metal powered by a combustion engine, but they spent so much time there that they behaved like it was their living room. (I looked over, once, and saw a woman in huge Audrey Hepburn sunglasses, eating corn on the cob and driving with her elbows.) It is because of this experience that I view the recent news that California’s Department of Transportation has signed on to the National Association of City Transportation Officials guidelines for street design with unmitigated delight. NACTO is the kind of agency that rarely makes the news — probably because it’s dead boring. But to those interested in the future of our cities, NACTO is also an illustration of how local governments can have much more power than they initially seem to. Cities are often more progressive than the states that surround them. And while city governments that set out to plan for a future that will have more bike traffic and public transit and fewer personal automobiles can be jerked around by their states, they can also make inroads against more conservative state and national policy. In the case of NACTO, they accomplish this by working together to form a giant multi-city Voltron. In 2007, a traffic engineer in Portland, Ore., named Rob Burchfield set out to design away a particularly common car/bike accident – the one in which a car turns right without noticing the cyclist in the right-hand bike lane coming at it. The fix he developed — brightly marking off a specific box for cyclists that leaves them in front of any car, in the driver’s line of vision — was common in Europe, but not in the U.S. Burchfield encountered some red tape from the Federal Highway Administration for his decision. It was the last straw for Burchfield. He’d come up with the designs in response to two fatal accidents that had occurred within a two-week period. So he partnered up with Portland’s former city bike coordinator, Mia Birk, and began compiling a set of street design guidelines that they called Cities for Cycling. Portland was a member of NACTO, and it persuaded the group to adopt the standards for their own. Anyone designing roadways is trying to do so with an eye towards avoiding lawsuits or unwanted attention from the Federal Highway Administration for getting too creative. By adopting the Cities for Cycling guidelines, the cities of NACTO saved themselves the hassle of designing their own individual standards for, say, what is the appropriate signage for a contra-flow bike lane. In the process they also created a grassroots urban policy that could someday be adopted by the federal Department of Transportation and become truly national policy — instead of just a set of standards that happens to have “National” in its name. When I began biking, San Francisco seemed like a city primed to become the bike capital of the country. It was only seven miles square, it had nice weather, and it was full of both hippies and people who liked to exercise compulsively. (The hills, you say? They added drama. Plus, they were easy to cut around.) But creating bike safety infrastructure, like bike lanes that were separated from car traffic, was a process that took much, much longer than I, in my idealism, ever expected. Often, at the last minute, changes would be overruled. Or they’d have to go through an $900,000 Environmental Impact Review. Or they’d just be taken out altogether, because Caltrans had declared that a road was too critical to car transportation to put in a bike lane. According to the categorization developed by the Portland Department of Transportation, I, as a young cyclist in San Francisco, was one of “The Strong and the Fearless.” This sounds like a soap opera, but in reality describes the 0.5 percent of the population who will ride a bike regardless of the dangers of the road they are traveling. As cities have put in more bike lanes, they have brought out onto the road more of the cyclists classified as “The Enthused and Confident” – the 7 percent who are happy to take on the risks of cycling, as long as there’s a bike lane. Cities that are serious about making it safer to bike are now going after a tougher crowd: the 60 percent of the population that actually fears death on two wheels. The elderly. Parents with kids. People who haven’t been on a bike since they were kids. To accomplish this, communities face the prospect of going back into the bicycling infrastructure that they’ve already built and changing it even further — taking out street-side parking that can result in cyclists being hit by car doors; adding concrete barriers between car traffic and bike traffic; even making entire streets bicycle-only. That’s going to be a massive project. As of this month, San Francisco — and any other city in California — is one step closer to it.Filed under: Article, Cities, Living, Politics

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These biologists created a gorgeous film about African glaciers

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Chasing Ice launched a new sub-genre of horror films: Watch big beautiful glaciers melt. OK, that might not sound as date-night friendly as a slasher flick, but, hey, if a kid talking to a wagging finger named Tony can be scary, watching the Arctic melt away is downright terrifying. Filmmakers Neil Losin and Nathan Dappen recently joined the field with Snows of the Nile, a visually stunning documentary about the disappearing glaciers in Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains (you can watch the trailer here). Losin and Dappen brought a twist to their ice-gazing short by focusing on glaciers where you might not expect them: the tropics. The emerging filmmakers, who both have PhDs in biology and star in the film, got some financial help from a Dos Equis promotion. Snows follows their journey to the Rwenzori, with prints of its glaciers from a 1906 expedition in hand. And yes, as compared to the original photos, the glaciers have changed. A lot. Grist interviewed Losin and Dappen about their respective transitions from young science students to photographers to documentarians — and on beer’s starring role. On liquid courage: Losin: I was a fan of [Dos Equis'] page because I loved The Most Interesting Man in the World campaign. And one day this thing about the “Stay Thirsty” grant came across my Facebook feed, and I thought “wow, I could really use that $25,000 – what could we pitch that would cost that much to do.” Dappen: We already had this idea of documenting tropical glaciers that are disappearing, since not a lot of attention is given to them. Neil started doing research on the topic and he found the Rwenzori Mountains. And then he discovered there was this expedition there in 1906 that photographed the glaciers. We came up with the idea to replicate the photographs. Losin: It turned out when all was said and done, the Rwenzori idea could cost about as much as the Dos Equis grant – or at least enough to get us there so we could get the footage to tell the story. On finding science: Losin: When I was 8 years old, my grandmother gave me an old bird book and a pair of binoculars that she got at a garage sale. And I was just like immediately hooked. I knew from that point forward that I wanted to do science in some way. Dappen: Growing up, I didn’t know that I wanted to be a scientist. But my mom was an agricultural economist working mostly in the third world, and my dad was a doctor and a big adventurer. So I spent a lot of time traveling in kind of exotic locations, like in the new world tropics and in Africa. On finding photography: Losin: My passion for photography also started out with birds, but there’s sort of a barrier to entry for equipment costs to photograph birds because you need enormous, expensive lenses. But ultimately I was able to invest the money into getting a big telephoto lens, and my bird photographs were like the first images that I actually sold into magazines and books. Dappen: I started taking photos in high school – I was really interested in art. I worked a lot in black and white. And then I got a job working in a photo studio and started shooting weddings and stuff like that. During my biology PhD, I still did a lot of that on the side, just because pay is not very high in grad school. On forming Day’s Edge, their production company: Dappen: We met when we were both in grad school, on an eight-week intensive field biology course for graduate students. We both quickly realized that we had a lot in common and became close friends. We talked a lot about science and photography and communication. At that point in time I think both of us thought we’d go into academia and research, but over the next few years we continued to meet up and go on adventures and talk about using our images to communicate science. And it sort of just evolved to the point where we said, “Hey, maybe we could do more with our sort of visual storytelling skill set in science than by actually doing research.” On telling the story of climate change: Losin: We really wanted to make Snows of the Nile more experiential than just beating people over the head with the same messages over and over again. So we framed it in terms of us going on a quest to recapture the images from the 1906 expedition, and the conflicts we have fighting against the weather and fighting against the clock, because we didn’t have a lot of time in the mountains to get what we came for. I also think it’s important to see climate change not just in terms of shrinking glaciers, but also in terms of what that’s going to do to human inhabitants. I think the people from the Bakonjo tribe who helped with our trip were such a great embodiment of the human impacts of climate change in the Rwenzori Mountains. To see the surprise in their eyes when we showed them the prints from 1906 – they knew stories of what it used to be like from their great-grandparents, but most of them had never seen images of it before. On green guilty pleasures: Dappen: Both Neil and I are really big into equipment. When the new camera gear comes out, we’re always excited about buying it, you know? And, finally, on dealing with green guilt: Dappen: I try to set certain guidelines of how to live and what to buy, but for me it’s not the end of the world. I think everybody just has to change in small ways. Losin: There comes a point where it can be your entire life trying to have a lower impact. And I think it’s because there isn’t necessarily an infrastructure to make life easier for people to consume in a way that doesn’t release enormous amounts of CO2. And that’s why I don’t think it should be on every individual’s shoulders – there are things that every individual can do and should do, because it really doesn’t place any undue burden on you, but the most important things might be if we can advocate politically, because then we can make it easier for everyone to live greener. Once we have a certain kind of infrastructure in place, then it doesn’t have to take your entire day to go out of the way and do these things. They become a lot more natural.Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Living

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Ask Umbra: How do I know if my local swimming hole is safe?

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Send your question to Umbra! Q. Summer is coming, so I wonder if the river near my house (the famous Kamogawa) is safe for my kids to splash in. There is a garbage incinerator upstream, though not directly on the river, and the operators *swear* it does not leak. Is there a water testing kit? What kinds of things would I want to test for? And what kinds of safety limits would I want to look for? It does not have to be drinking-water quality, just safe enough to stick their little feet and hands in. GabiKyoto, Japan A. Dearest Gabi, You’ve just officially made it Water Week here at Ask Umbra. On Monday, we waded into what kind of substances we can safely put in the water; today, let’s address whether or not we can put ourselves in as well. I hope you’ll forgive me for answering your question broadly. I don’t know how clean the Kamogawa is, nor will my expense account cover phone calls to Japan to check. But I can share some information I hope will be useful to you and anyone else longing for a warm-weather dip in a local waterway. When water-quality monitors talk about a lake or river being safe for swimming (or splashing), they’re almost always talking about bacteria – whether or not there is any, and in what numbers. Specifically, we’re concerned about the infamous E. coli: Not because it’s dangerous in and of itself (most strains aren’t), but because it’s a good indicator that other, nastier bugs are invisibly doing the backstroke in there. Why? E. coli is commonly found in human and animal poop – so if it’s in the water, then sewage probably is, too. This doesn’t necessarily mean the local sewage treatment plant is overflowing into the river (though it might). High E. coli counts also often come from stormwater runoff, which washes pet waste and bird poop, plus oil, fertilizer, trash, and pesticides into streams and lakes. No matter the source, we should be concerned about the presence of bacteria because it can make us sick, and kids are especially at risk. And you don’t have to drink the water to come down with a case of Kamogawa’s revenge: Open cuts can admit nasty bacteria, and just getting the bugs on your skin can eventually transport them into your mouth. Many agencies here in the States sample the water regularly, particularly at popular swimming spots, and publish the results. These can usually be found through a town or county environment department; a little Googling should point you in the right direction. Failing that, there are some consumer water-testing kits on the market; the Vermont Health Department sells one, for example, and some labs offer kits online. Becky Hammer, a water attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, tests for E. coli as a volunteer for a water-quality project near her Virginia home, and recommends checking to see if your local authorities have a similar program. Any lab should be able to tell you what the safe limits for bacteria are and whether or not your river exceeds them. Industrial and chemical pollution of the sort you might get from a negligent factory upstream is another matter, Gabi. As far as I can tell, detecting this kind of contamination is beyond your typical citizen-scientist. A funky smell, sludgy water, an oil slick, or lots of dead fish can tip you off that something is amiss, but Hammer recommends checking with those local water-quality officials for a more definitive answer. If you’ve done your due diligence and decide it’s OK for the kids to wade and splash a bit, following these don’ts won’t hurt, either. Don’t let the kiddos put their heads underwater. Don’t go in after heavy rains, as that’s when stormwater runoff makes high bacterial counts most likely. Don’t swim or wade near or downstream of storm drains. Don’t let the kids get in if they have open wounds or scrapes. Don’t forget to wash their little hands and feet when you’re done. Happy researching, Gabi, and I do hope you turn up good news about your lovely river. I hear it gets hot in Kyoto come summertime. Horseplayfully, UmbraFiled under: Living

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Student’s mother pleads for release

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The mother of a London student who is to be deported to her native Mauritius pleads with MPs to release her from Yarl’s Wood immigration centre.

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America, Inc. at it’s Finest

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Chocolate Artisan Truffles by Just Chocolate

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Burberry
New July 2013