Smith-Batchen went through the lowest lows to the highest highs during her 584-mile run. Literally.     Photo: Marathon Training Academy/Google CC

The "Quad-Badwater" Run Is Insane

584-mile run is the baddest of them all

Finishing the 135-mile Badwater ultramarathon course is a grueling and impressive athletic feat. Finishing the "world's toughest footrace" course, and then turning around and finishing it again, and again, and again is just plain superhuman.

If any runner out there is superhuman, it's 54-year-old Lisa Smith-Batchen. She has competed in nine Badwater Ultramarathons, finishing as women's champion in 1997 and 1998. She has also finished the Marathon des Sables (across the Moroccan Sahara) twice, being the first and only female at the time to win the event in 1999. 

Smith-Batchen began her solo "quad-Badwater" race on July 1. On July 15, after braving flash flood warnings, hallucinations, and windstorms up to 50 mph, she finished. Park alerts for extreme summer heat are currently in affect. But when the going got tough—and by tough we mean steady temperatures in the 120s and a pack of coyotes following her with hungry eyes—Smith-Batchen got tougher.

Smith-Batchen, who is no stranger to running for a purpose, ran the 584 total miles to raise money for Badwater4GoodWater, an organization she founded to increase clean water around the world. She ran 40 to 50 miles per day during the two-week endeavor. "I had in my head that every mile run would help 1,000 people. I'd do three miles and think, 'Three thousand people. I can do this,'" she told Runner's World.

 Smith-Batchen raised enough money to build at least 10 wells in Africa.


robin birdsong bird song singing bird Queen Mary University in London outside magazine outside online shazam shazam for birds Dan Stowell

More than just pretty sounds, bird calls offer significant amounts of identifying and social information.     Photo: Peter Mulligan/Flickr

Shazam for Birds Is (Almost) Here

New technology identifies bird songs

Birders and ornithologists, listen up. Using four large data sets of recorded bird calls, scientists at Queen Mary University in London have created a technology that matches real-life bird calls you record with previously recorded bird calls in its database. 

The researchers, who published their methods in the journal PeerJ, wanted to tap into the growing accuracy of feature learning—a computational input method that takes foreign raw data and compares it automatically to information already in a system, rather than using prelabeled data. Their technology enables birders, who before may have had to resort to tedious deductive research to identify birds in their area, to upload information of their own, much like popular music-identifying application Shazam

To test the idea, the researchers entered their creation in a public contest of identifying more than 500 Brazilian birds' calls from thousands of recordings. The tech placed second out of 10 programs, and it won the "audio only" category.

The researchers have higher hopes for this technology than just helping you avoid awkward call-and-response-style identification of backyard birds. Lead researcher Dr. Dan Stowell, who received a grant for this project, says it might give insight into the evolution of human language and social organization.

"Birdsong has a lot in common with human language, even though it evolved separately. For example, many songbirds go through similar stages of vocal learning as we do as they grow up, which makes them interesting to study," he said. "The attraction of fully automatic analysis is that we can create a really large evidence base to address these big questions."

Up next: Stowell is working on techniques to distill even more information from raw song recordings that could revolutionize our understanding of birds' social worlds. In addition to identifying birds, the tech might be able to analyze longer recordings of multiple birds in a scene, telling you which bird was talking when, which birds responded to it, what their relationship is like, and what that tells you about who's leading the conversation.


So much for sailing away.     Photo: Wikimedia/Google CC

Should the Kaufmans Blame the Phone Company?

Couple points finger at phone company for triggering rescue

A U.S. couple is suing Whenever Communications LLC after the satellite phone company cut off their service while they were at sea. Charlotte and Eric Kaufman's infant daughter became ill during the voyage, and when they were unable to use their phone due to deactivation, the Kaufmans had to seek an emergency rescue by the California Air National Guard and the U.S. Navy. The rescue, along with the now-scuttled boat, cost an estimated $660,000.

That's much more than the family's $240 monthly satellite phone service bill, which had been paid in full since August 2012, according to a KDAL report.

The Kaufmans—Eric, Charlotte, and their two young daughters—were on an extended sail from Mexico to French Polynesia and had stocked their 36-foot sailboat with a satellite phone, rescue beacons, plenty of food and water, and medicine for their youngest daughter, who had recently been ill. When the infant became lethargic, Eric called the U.S. Coast Guard. After he was told that a pediatrician would call them back, he found the line had gone dead.

As a result, an emergency rescue ensued, which meant the family's boat had to be sunk. Now the Kaufmans have sought legal compensation for their loss. They are also inviting the federal government to seek repayment for the expenses of the military rescue, according to ABC.

They say the ordeal could have been avoided had their cell service simply worked. "I think the evidence clearly represents that they did what they did and that was the action that ultimately started a chain of events," Eric Kaufman told ABC News.


California earthquake seismic activity United States Geological Survey National Seismic Hazard Maps

New Earthquake Data Released     Photo: RoadTripFPV/flickr

Earthquakes: Coming to a State Near You

16 states have a "relatively high likelihood" of a damaging quake in the next 50 years

On Thursday, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announced updates to its U.S. National Seismic Hazard Maps, the first since 2008. Used by engineers and architects (among others) for building and bridge construction, these maps provide information on the likelihood, frequency, and severity of earthquakes throughout the nation.

These latest updates purport to be a significant improvement on previous findings. As the project's abstract states:

"The input models are improved from those implemented in 2008 by using new ground motion models that have incorporated about twice as many earthquake strong ground shaking data and by incorporating many additional scientific studies that indicate broader ranges of earthquake source and ground motion models."

The new maps indicate that 42 out of 50 U.S. states "have a reasonable chance of experiencing damaging ground shaking from an earthquake in 50 years," with 16 of these states having a "relatively high likelihood" of a more damaging quake.

The big takeaway from the most recent report might be the greater risk for states on the Eastern Seaboard, as West Coast locales have long known they are in a vulnerable geographical spot.

In case you're scouting for a place to fulfill your lifelong dream of opening the world's largest glass menagerie, here are the 16 states with the highest quake risk: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.