December 20, 2013

Shanghai Half Marathon 2011.     Photo: Marc van der Chijs/Flickr

Running Boom Hits China

Marathons popular despite poor air quality

When a marathon in Hong Kong opened its online registration in October, the website crashed within five minutes because 30,000 people tried to register. Chinese marathons with servers that can handle the demand have been seeing their quotas filled in hours.

Just as running experienced an upsurge in popularity in the United States during the 1970s, running is becoming exponentially popular in China. On average, three marathon are held a month on the Chinese mainland. There were three time as many marathons in 2013 as there were in 2010.

Popularity continues to rise even when smog levels reach record highs.

Approximately 35,000 runners from 84 countries ran in the Shanghai International Marathon on December 1, according to the People's Daily newspaper. On the same day, Shanghai air levels reached record highs, surpassing "heavily polluted" and drifting into "severely polluted." The Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Center reported pollutant levels as more than 10 times the World Health Organization's threshold.

U.S. citizen Bridget O'Donnell ran in the Shanghai Marathon and told Bloomberg News she noticed other runners wearing face masks for the first time.

"The sky was pretty bad," O'Donnell said the day after the race. "It didn't really affect me during the race but toward the end of the race I started to feel a little sick. After the race and today my lungs are really hurting."

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Dyer's "Pretty Faces" is now on Kickstarter     Photo: wojciech_gajda/Thinkstock

All-Female Ski Film Hits Kickstarter

Lynsey Dyer's "Pretty Faces" aims to inspire the next generation of women

Lynsey Dyer, a pioneer of the big mountains, sets out to make Pretty Faces, an all-female ski film that will celebrate and encourage the next generation of ladies on the slopes. Pretty Faces has landed on the crowd-funding site, Kickstarter, with a goal of  $60,000 in the next 27 days. 

According to the Kickstarter, nearly 40 percent of the skiing population is female, while only 14 percent of major ski film athletes are women—a new record this year. Both of these statistics are on the rise, and Dyer sees a real opportunity to jump in and share her experiences as a female star in the ski world.

“Young girls need more positive role models to offer then an alternative to the world of skinny jeans, reality TV and fashion magazines. We aim to provide a positive source of inspiration for young girls first and foremost,” reads an excerpt from the Kickstarter page.

Dyer has recruited an all-star team to make the film a reality. Ben Ford, a National Geographic filmmaker, will lead the camera crew while athletes and friends such as Ingrid Backstrom, Rachael Burks, and Sally Fracnklyn will fill out the cast.

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USDA fined Harvard $24,000 on Wednesday for repeated animal welfare violations, including the deaths of four monkeys.     Photo: Photo: Kevin Jones/Flickr

Harvard Fined $24K for Monkey Deaths

Med school guilty of multiple animal welfare violations

Since 2011, four monkeys have died at a Harvard Medical School research center. Two died of dehydration, another was killed by an overdose, and the fourth strangled to death on a chain hanging in its cage. 

As a result of these repeated animal welfare violations, the U.S. Department of Agriculture fined the university $24,000 on Wednesday. The USDA cited Harvard for 11 incidents, including several pointing out that staff members weren’t properly trained to handle the animals, Reuters reports.     

The decision to fine the university comes after a probe into primate mistreatment at its research centers in Massachusetts, one of which Harvard already planned to close for financial reasons.

Harvard released a statement agreeing to the fine. "The leadership of the School cares deeply about upholding exemplary standards of care," it said.

But the animal welfare advocacy group PETA worries that the fine isn’t enough to protect the primates. "For an institution that receives $185 million annually in taxpayer funds alone, half of which is used for experiments on animals, a $24,000 fine for years of abusing and neglecting monkeys won't motivate Harvard to do better," a statement said

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Big Bertha, in all her glory.     Photo: Washington State Dept. of Transportation

UPDATE: Mysterious Underground Object Blocks Seattle Highway

Stopped the world's largest tunneling machine cold

They call it…the Object.

A mysterious mass deep under the ground in Seattle has put a stop to Bertha, the world's largest tunneling machine, and engineers are baffled.

The mostly automated Bertha is 300 feet long and five stories tall, making it the largest tunnel-boring machine on the planet. It was brought to Seattle to help with the construction of a two-mile-long, $3.1 billion highway tunnel along the city's western edge.

Bertha should be able to punch a hole through anything, and yet two weeks after first contact with the Object, engineers are no closer to knowing what stands in the machine's way.

Much like a mole, Bertha is pretty much operating blind, and engineers have been unable to get in front to see what's blocking her. “What we’re focusing on now is creating conditions that will allow us to enter the chamber behind the cutter head and see what the situation is,” said project manager Chris Dixon.

In the meantime, speculation on the Object's nature is running rampant. People have suggested everything ice age boulders to downed alien spacecraft and dragon eggs. One of the more plausible theories is that the obstruction is a piece of old Seattle, swallowed by the mucky waterfront centuries ago. “I’m going to believe it’s a piece of Seattle history until proven otherwise,” Seattle Public Library curator Ann Ferguson told The New York Times.

If the Object cannot be broken up underground, a new excavation would need to begin. Though progress has now been halted for weeks, Dixon says that work is continuing at the ends of the tunnel. The highway is scheduled to open by late 2015.

With any luck the dragons will have hatched by then and moved on.

UPDATE, January 6, 2014:

As it turns out, the object that brought the world's largest tunneling machine to a halt for weeks was just an 8-inch-diameter steel pipe. According to the Seattle Times, the 115-foot-long "well casing" was left over from a 2002 study designed to measure ground water for the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project.

Now comes the task of assigning blame for the pipe. According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, the well site was listed in the contract specifications sent out to bidders on the project. "I don’t want people to say WSDOT didn’t know where its own pipe was, because it did," said DOT spokesman Lars Erickson. However, Chris Dixon, project director for contractor group Seattle Tunnel Partners, says they didn't expect the pipe to be there, as well casing are normally removed after the ground water is measured.

Deputy project administrator Matt Preedy says there is no current estimate on the time and money it will take to remove the pipe and repair Bertha's cutting face.

The $1.44 billion tunnel project is now three months behind schedule.

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    Photo: Getty Images

They “Shot” a Bear in Reno

Euthanized bear leads to death threats for Nevada couple

When Richard and Adrienne Evans started getting regular visits from a 263-pound black bear at their home in Reno, Nevada, they called the Nevada Department of Wildlife, which trapped and later euthanized the animal. The bear was a threat to public safety, department spokesman Chris Healy told USA Today.

The bear had previously been tranquilized for his activity in the area as recently as October, but members of the community—particularly the citizens group the Bear League—were not pleased with this most recent news.

"People have been giving me death threats," Adrienne Evans said. As soon as the traps were set outside of the Evans’s Incline Village home, the phone calls started. They called the house, Richard’s place of business.

Adrienne gave an example of one of the messages: "You'll be struck dead (and) if that bear dies you will have to leave Incline."

Bryant, founder of the Bear League, maintains that members are encouraged not to break the law in the name of the bears, but that as long as NDOW is killing bears, “emotions are going to be high."

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