The New Tech of Disaster Response, From Apps to Aqua-Drones – TIM MOYNIHAN: 08.29.15. : 6:00 AM.

Hurricane Katrina was a tale of three disasters. The first was natural, a violent storm that devastated the Gulf Coast. The second was man-made, the catastrophic failure of levees protecting New Orleans. Together, these disasters killed more than 1,800 people and displaced half a million families. Damages ran into the billions, and the recovery continues even now.

The third was also man-made, and the most maddening: the failure of preparation, logistics, and action at every level. The Federal Emergency Management Agency drew widespread criticism for a slow, disorganized response that bordered on incompetence, and its poor communication and coordination with local and state authorities.

If such a disaster occurred today, FEMA insists it would respond swiftly and efficiently. It points to the leadership of Craig Fugate, whom President Obama tapped to head the agency in 2009. Fugate, unlike his much-maligned predecessor Michael Brown, is a former director of the Florida Emergency Management Division and has extensive experience managing disasters responses, particularly hurricanes.

No less importantly, FEMA has embraced key reforms, not the least of which is the authority to act immediately. Until 10 years ago, the agency had to await a governor’s request for federal aid before jumping in.

“One of the most important improvements we’ve made came as a result of congressional action to authorize FEMA to deploy resources to states before a presidential declaration request has even been made,” says Ted Okada, the agency’s chief technology officer. “If FEMA believes that a situation will require a presidential disaster declaration, we’re now authorized to expend funds out of the Stafford Act to prepare. By pre-staging resources such as water, generators, and staff, we’re able to faster mobilize response efforts.”

FEMA hasn’t faced a test quite like Katrina, but its ability to move quickly has changed how it responds. Even before Hurricane Sandy pummeled New York in October, 2012, FEMA deployed truckloads of food, water, generators and other supplies. Some 900 employees were standing by, primed to provide any assistance once the storm made landfall.

post-Sandy audit by the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA, gave the agency top marks. “FEMA prepared well for this disaster, overcame operational and staffing challenges, quickly resolved resource shortfalls, made efficient disaster sourcing decisions, and coordinated its activities effectively with State and local officials,” concluded the report. State and local officials, including New Jersey governor Chris Christie and New York senator Chuck Schumer offered similarly positive reviews.

The change in attitude and policy proved instrumental in setting FEMA on a new course. But technology played an equally important, if somewhat less obvious, role in how the agency and its counterparts at the state and local level, prepare for and respond to a crisis. These changes run the gamut from a comprehensive smartphone app to broader adoption of drones and robots.

The agency’s embrace of new tech prompted it to formalize the role of CTO, consolidating roles held by various people before Okada came aboard. It was a wise move, given how quickly things have changed in the past decade. When Katrina hit, social media was in its infancy, people still got a lot of their news from television and radio, and Blackberry and Razr phones were state of the art. These days, 40 percent of Americans use their phones to access government services, and 68 percent of them use phones to keep track of breaking news events, according to the Pew Research Center.

“FEMA must be able to reach at-risk populations that get their information from Twitter and Facebook,” Okada says. “We use social media as a platform to get information out, but also engage in widely distributed conversations. Better situational awareness allows us to improve decision making, leading to better survivor outcomes.”

According to FEMA, the app has been downloaded more than 200,000 times since it launched in 2011, and the organization has hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook. Social media played a larger role than ever helping FEMA and local organizations communicate to residents during Hurricane Sandy. To combat false information on Twitter during the storm and its aftermath, FEMA created a “Rumor Control” page and has done the same during more recent emergencies.

At the state level, disaster-response teams also are embracing social media. Bryan Koon, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, says the agency has streamlined statewide communications during events and created a two-way street of communication.

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How I Became A Bikini Body Builder – As Told To Andrea Bartz for Trending NY AUG 28, 2015

Sabrina Mercado, 24, devoted a year to grueling training and life sans simple carbs—all so her body could be judged onstage.

Illustration by Ben Wiseman

​I played water polo in college, but after school, I couldn’t find a workout routine that fit. I started looking at fitspo on Instagram, and these female bikini athletes had the most incredible, muscular figures—I thought, “How can I look like that?” My stepdad and boyfriend helped me start lifting weights, and for a year and a half, I watched my body transform. Then I decided to see how far I could take it; I wanted to look back in 20 years and say, “I did this, I pushed myself, I looked like this.” So I signed up for a bikini bodybuilding competition.

In bikini bodybuilding, women compete onstage for the title of best physique. It isn’t the scary, steroid-y bodybuilding you’re thinking of; the women are just super fit, like models in a Nike ad. My very first competition was the World Beauty Fitness & Fashion Show on July 11, and I started training in January. It was a full-time commitment: I did 1½ hours of lifting five days a week, and I drank a huge amount of water and ate every 2½ hours. I took in 3,000 calories a day: After my morning workout, I’d have a double serving of oatmeal plus 2 cups of egg whites, scrambled. At 10 a.m., I’d eat one of those big, squat tubs of Greek yogurt and three slices of bread. And that was all before 11 a.m.

In spring, I started a new job in merchandise planning, and halfway through a meeting I’d have to get up and grab food to stay on schedule. I was the new girl who always had stinky ground turkey at her desk. On my first day, I blurted out, “Oh, it’s nice my desk is so close to the bathroom!” because I had to pee every 25 minutes. And I was totally that weirdo eating sweet potatoes and green beans on the subway. It wasn’t cute.

I couldn’t drink alcohol or deviate from the eating plan, so my social life took a hit. I’d order seltzer at bars and pull out a Tupperware of ground meat at restaurants. It was tough on my relationship, too, because I had so little energy—I’d say, “You can come over and sleep next to me!” But my boyfriend was  supportive, as were my friends and family.

My body was so depleted right before the competition, thanks to four hours at the gym every day and no carbs. I cried almost every day. Then I walked onstage and it all faded away. I thought, “Every second of the last six months was leading to this.” I felt so proud of myself! It was such a crazy rush of endorphins. Then I walked off and tore into a bag of Oreos. I didn’t place, but I know I did my best. I’m looking forward to having margaritas and pizza and cookies again, but I might sign up for a November competition and get back into training mode soon. I want to do better.

You know, I’ve been told my whole life that my brain is the most important thing, not my body, and it was funny to be doing something that’s strictly about my looks. I understand the criticism, but—have you ever worked so hard for something and then gotten an opportunity to showcase it? The rush of that moment on stage…for that, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

The US may have to go after the ‘Great Firewall’ to stop China’s cyber-attacks – South China Morning Post Sun Aug 30 2015


obama china cyberAssociated PressUS President Barack Obama is expected to take a firm line on the issue of hacking during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit.

As the world recalls how two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan to end the second world war in Asia 70 years ago, a digital deterrent of a similar magnitude could be Washington’s only way to stop cyber attacks from the latest Asian aggressor, China, experts say.

United States president Barack Obama is due to entertain his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Washington next month on a state visit and the issue of cyber espionage will “no doubt” be addressed, Obama said recently.

The issue rose to the fore in the wake of a major attack this summer on the US Office of Personnel Management, which saw hackers make off with the personal information of over four million current and former federal workers.

Officials have pointed the finger at hackers linked to China’s People’s Liberation Army, saying the data poses a security risk as it contains military records and other sensitive information, potentially including state secrets.

“We absolutely have to do something,” said Dennis Poindexter, author of The New Cyberwar: Technology and the Redefinition of Warfare.

As such hacks become more audacious the US needs the cyber equivalent of a nuclear deterrent, added Poindexter, a former faculty member at the Defence Security Institute under the US department of defence.

He pointed to this year’s OPM hack as an example of Chinese hackers inadvertently crossing the line of “acceptable” state espionage.

Former head of the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency Michael Hayden told the Washington Post after the attack that “if I could have done it [as head of the NSA], I would have done it in a heartbeat”.

“You have to kind of salute the Chinese for what they did,” said US director of national intelligence James Clapper in June, referring to the sophistication of the hack.

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Ancient Ales | The Past, Present, and Future of Middle Eastern Beer Brewing – By Steve Hindy August 2015

When I was a Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press in 1980, I covered an Arab Summit meeting at the InterContinental Hotel in Amman, Jordan. We journalists gathered what news we could from the secretive proceedings, cobbled our stories together, and then spent our evenings around the bar, which was amply provisioned with the world’s best-known liquors and local and imported beer and wine. The Arab Summit was followed by an Islamic Summit, which was attended by the very same leaders. The InterContinental’s bar was shut down in observance of the Islamic ban on alcoholic beverages. I recall the hotel manager telling me that the whiskies, gins, vodkas, and other libations had been transferred to the delegates’ private suites. There was no drinking in public, but the liquor flowed in private.

Beer brewing, winemaking, and distilling all have long histories in the Middle East. In fact, liquor, beer, and wine are still available in most countries within the region, despite the Islamist revivals that have swept the area since the early 1980s. Heineken owns breweries in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon—it acquired the Egypt-based, century-old Al Ahram Beverages Company in 2006 and Lebanon’s Brasserie Almaza in 2002 (a brewery that has been in operation since 1933)—and its Middle East division boasts group operating profits of just under $8 million per year. In Lebanon, the main brands are Amstel and Laziza (which means “delicious” in Arabic).

Even in the countries that have banned alcohol outright (some of the Emirates, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia), non-alcoholic breweries abound. For example, Carlsberg, the world’s fourth-largest brewer, also owns a brewery in Saudi Arabia that produces Moussy, a non-alcoholic brew aimed at upscale and metropolitan consumers. It has a 38 percent market share of non-alcoholic brews in the nation. Not to be outdone by its rivals, in 2002 Heineken purchased the Al Ahram brewing company for control of Fayrouz—its signature malt beverage that claims the unique designation of being the world’s first, and so far only, halal (permissible within Islam) non-alcoholic beer.

It probably won’t be the last. According to an October 2014 report by Euromonitor International on drinks in Saudi Arabia, there is an “increasing presence of international brands in the country in clothing, food and drinks. Low/non alcohol beer, for these reasons, is now highly popular among Saudi Arabian youth, many of whom associate it with a sense of adventure, the thrill of being young and a sense of being free-spirited.”

VICE News Daily: Nigerians Mark 500 Days Since Schoolgirls Abducted – Vice News Published on Aug 28, 2015

The VICE News Capsule is a news roundup that looks beyond the headlines. Today: French authorities clear out a Roma camp, Nigerians remember their missing schoolgirls, Pakistani women increasingly join the military, and Thailand will send Indonesian orangutans home.

Authorities Evacuate Roma Camp North of Paris
More than 200 people were evicted from the site near La Courneuve.

‘Bring Back Our Girls’ Campaigners March 500 Days After Abductions
The group staged a youth walk in Abuja to mark the date.

Women Join Armed Forces in Greater Numbers
Female enrollment in the air service has tripled in the last seven years.

Orangutans to be Repatriated to Indonesia
The apes were found on the side of the road in Phuket in 2010.

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When He Says Yoga Saved His Life, He’s Not Exaggerating – MARC SILVER AUGUST 28, 2015 12:40 PM ET

Yoga Pose

Yes, it’s a cliche: “Yoga saved my life.”

Google the phrase, and you’ll get 12 million matches!

But when Walter Mugbe says it, he really means it. It’s not an exaggeration. It’s the truth.

When Mugbe was 7, growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, his father, John, died in a car accident. John Mugbe was an electrician, and his salary supported the family of five children. Walter’s mother, Catherine, didn’t work. Suddenly, the family was in crisis. The two older siblings had a tough time. At a very young age, Walter Mugbe felt he had to make sure his younger siblings had enough to eat.

To earn money, he began transporting drugs for dealers. By the time he was 10, he was selling drugs and picking pockets as well.

But he lived a kind of double life — he excelled in what he calls “acrobatics”and took classes to improve his skills. That training had real-life benefits. When you’re a pickpocket, he says, you do a lot of running and jumping to get away from victims and from the cops.

Did his mother know what was going on? “She didn’t want to know,” he says.

By the time he was in his early teens, two of his friends had been “killed by a mob,” he says. “I knew I was going to be the next person to die.”

And then, yes, yoga saved his life.

In 2007, Paige Elenson came to town. A businesswoman and yoga teacher, she co-founded the Africa Yoga Project and began offering free classes in poor neighborhoods in Nairobi to ease tensions after election-related violence and give people a way to “positively transform lives.”

There was a class at the school where Mugbe practiced soccer, so he signed up. He went through the poses for the first time. He was in downward dog. He lifted one leg to the sky and brought it down in front of his body, parallel to the front of his mat. He folded himself flat over his leg. He was in half-pigeon pose. (That’s the sequence in the animated GIF above.)

“I felt so free and safe at that moment,” he says. He was always on the run in his criminal life. And now, his worries were gone. “I felt light, like something was weighing me down and all of a sudden I felt free. It was a brand new experience for me.”

Walter Mugbe kept taking yoga classes.

Some family members and friends thought he was getting into a crazy cult. That didn’t bother him because he loved yoga. Eventually he gave up his criminal activities. He looked at who he was and who he wanted to become. “It was tough to face the truth,” he says.

AYP offered him a scholarship for teacher training. Today at age 26, Mugbe is one of 100 teachers who lead free classes for kids and teenagers as well as adults in the slums of Nairobi, reaching thousands each week.

Walter Mugbe, a teacher with the Africa Yoga Project, demonstrates side plank in the Bethesda, Md., studio of Down Dog Yoga.

Walter Mugbe, a teacher with the Africa Yoga Project, demonstrates side plank in the Bethesda, Md., studio of Down Dog Yoga.

Mahafreen H. Mistry/NPR

Mugbe visited Washington, D.C., this summer to spread the word about AYP and teach classes at the local studios of Down Dog Yoga, an AYP sponsor. The Down Dog studios are heated to the mid-90s, which is not the case at home: “It’s hot in Kenya.”

With a twinkle in his eyes and a sweet grin, he tells his American students to really root down deep in a pose. And he makes them hold it for what seems like eternity plus five minutes. “The worst that can happen is you get stronger, you get flexible,” he teases. There’s another benefit, he says: “When you are firmly rooted to your purpose, you are unmessable with.”

Here in D.C. the majority of his students are women — that’s pretty much the norm in the West. In Kenya, he says, yoga is a guy thing. Men like the physical nature of it. But the Africa Yoga Project is training female teachers and persuading girls to take classes.

While some Western practitioners don’t want to be touched by their teacher to adjust a pose, that’s not a problem in Nairobi: “People love to be touched in Africa,” Mugbe says.

His family is doing well now. His older brother is a safari guide. His younger sister just graduated from high school. His younger brother is, like Walter, a yoga teacher.

In classes he talks about “the magic moment” a pose can bring. Even now, secure in his career as a yoga teacher, happy that his family is flourishing, he finds comfort in his favorite pose, half-pigeon. It still makes him feel “free — and flexible.”