Silicon Valley & Technology

New York Firm Makes New Oscars Using 3-D Technology

The original Oscar statue was hand carved by Los Angeles sculptor George Stanley.  For decades the statuettes have been made by a Chicago trophy company and gold-plated. 

But last year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided they wanted to return to the original bronze figure made using the lost wax process.  The Academy chose Polich Tallix as the foundry to cast the bronze figures.

3-D Scans Merge Previous Versions

They started by scanning a classic Oscar from 1928 and the 2015 model and entering the information into a 3-D printer.

“We have the three different versions,”  said Daniel Plonski, the 3-D artist and the head of production. “We have the classic statue, the recent 2015 version and the third version which we created.”

The new design is then 3-D printed in wax and a mold of that statue is made to make another wax figurine for each statuette. 

Plonski says the 3-D printing makes the process much quicker, but just as faithful to the Art Deco original.

“So before it required a great deal of hand-sculpting and carving,” hei said.  “And now all of that can be done completely with a digital environment. Once we have our design created we can send it to our 3-D printer which produces the 3-D wax patterns.”

Lost Wax-casting Process

The new Oscar is then dipped in a ceramic slurry, and once it is cured, fired in an oven at 871 degrees Celsius.  Molten bronze is then poured into the ceramic mold and allowed to cool. 

Production manager Paul Pisoni says the molds are not reused – that each Oscar is a brand new casting.

“One mold is only good for one Oscar and then it gets cracked and destroyed so therefore we have to make one of these molds for every piece of metal that we cast in the foundry,” he said.

After some cleanup, the bronze statuettes are polished to a mirror finish and electroplated with 24 karat gold at another firm in Brooklyn, New York.  The base of each Oscar is also cast in bronze, and is given a smooth, black finish.

Pisoni says since they don’t know who wins, they have to engrave a bronze plate with all the nominees’ names.

And the Oscar Goes to…

When the actual winner is announced, the correct plate is attached in the center of the base.

The whole process takes about three months. The final product stands about 34 centimeters tall and weighs about 3.9 kilograms. And the gleaming statues will be on full display at Sunday’s ceremony in Los Angeles.

Science & Health

Scientists Turn to Chile’s Atacama Desert to Study Life on Mars

Astrobiologists seeking to understand where life might be found on Mars, and what form it might take, are finding that the Atacama desert in Chile, the driest in the world, may hold some important clues.

Since a 2003 study that examined microbial life in the ‘Mars-like soils’ of the Atacama, astrobiological research – the study of life on Earth to understand how it may form elsewhere in the universe – in the desert has grown dramatically.

“It is much cheaper than traveling to Mars,” said Armando Azua, a Chilean astrobiologist at the Blue Marble Space Institute in the U.S., who grew up in one of the Atacama’s few populated areas.

“It is the driest and oldest desert in the world, a unique place where life had no choice but to adapt to the lack of water.”

Still, even in this harsh environment, scientists have found life – usually at the microbiological level – clinging on.

“We think that even in those places on Mars where previously it was thought life would not be found, because they were too dry for anything to survive, well we’ve found places just like that on Earth and there are still different kinds of microrganisms,” said Azua.

Scientists are currently investigating if fungi or other organisms could adapt and harvest high levels of ultraviolet radiation as an energy source, in the way that fungi found near the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster was apparently feeding off the area’s high levels of radiation.

Azua’s team identified a patch of the Atacama that was the driest of all, where centuries may pass without any rainfall.

They dug down, and found a whole host of thriving bacteria.

“If we can show that in the Atacama desert, life is capable of tolerating extreme dryness…that will open up tremendously the possibilities of finding life not only on Mars but elsewhere in the universe,” he said.

Arts & Entertainment

Pregnant Beyonce Pulls Out of Coachella Music Festival

Pregnant singer Beyonce on Thursday pulled out of performing at California’s Coachella music festival in April, citing doctor’s orders.

The “Formation” singer, 35, who is expecting twins, will however headline the event in 2018, organizers said in a statement.

“Following the advice of her doctors to keep a less rigorous schedule in the coming months, Beyonce has made the decision to forgo performing at the 2017 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival,” the statement from festival organizer Golden Voice and Beyonce’s Parkwood Entertainment said. “However, Goldenvoice and Parkwood are pleased to confirm that she will be a headliner at the 2018 festival. Thank you for your understanding.”

Beyonce was due to headline the annual festival in the Southern California desert on April 15 and April 22. It was not clear who would replace her.

The R&B singer performed at the Grammy ceremony on Feb. 12, where she proudly displayed a large baby bump and took home two awards.

Beyonce and her rapper husband Jay Z, who have a five-year-old daughter Blue Ivy, have not said when the twins are due.

Economy & business

Will US Workers Have Right Skills for Jobs of the Future?

President Donald Trump told the heads of more than 20 of the largest U.S. manufacturers Thursday that he planned to bring millions of factory jobs back to the United States.

Trump said the United States had lost one-third of its manufacturing jobs since the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed, and that 70,000 American factories had closed since China joined the World Trade Organization.  

Experts say trade and company efforts to take advantage of cheaper labor overseas contributed to the decline of U.S. manufacturing employment, but many economists say the rising tide of automation played a major role in the loss of high-wage factory jobs.

To boost the economy and employment, Trump has said he will change tax policy, cut regulations and spend more money rebuilding roads and other infrastructure, though many details have not yet been announced.

“Everything’s going to be based on bringing our jobs back, the good jobs, the real jobs,” he said Thursday.  

The chief executive officers of General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Dow Chemical and other firms gathered at the White House, where they discussed regulations on minerals extracted in conflict zones, export regulations for military hardware, business taxes and problems finding technically skilled workers for manufacturing jobs.

Focus on creativity

MIT research scientist Andrew McAfee told VOA the U.S. education system was doing a great job of turning out the kinds of workers “we needed 50 years ago.” He said schools and employers should put more emphasis on “encouraging creativity” and helping students not just learn to solve problems, but to “figure out what problem we should go chase down next.” 

He said technology is “lousy at that.”


A study by the Deloitte consulting firm says that the U.S. economy will create 3.5 million manufacturing jobs over the next decade, but that more than half of them may go unfilled because companies cannot find people with the right skills. The problem grows from the retirement of millions of baby boomers and the creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs.  

The key to closing this gap is training and retraining for workers, Senator Chris Coons said in a recent Capitol Hill speech.  But the Delaware Democrat said the United States had cut its investment in retraining by half over the past 30 years and now spends just one-sixth the amount that other advanced industrial nations put into upgrading workforce skills. He said that hurts economic growth and employment over time.  

Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina told the same gathering the problem was the “mismatch” between workers’ current skills and “the needs of the industry.”

Other nations’ systems

Both lawmakers said Americans should study the system used by Germany, Austria and other nations for apprenticeships, technical training, and updating and upgrading workforce skills. In Germany, companies, schools, unions and government officials work together to figure out what skills are needed for jobs today and in the future, what gaps exist in workers’ knowledge, and how to organize appropriate classes and training.

The head of science, technology, engineering and math education at a North Carolina community college said many of his students were already involved in programs that blend academic skills with on-the-job training in a system that borrows ideas from the German model. Chris Paynter said many different kinds of companies are involved, so the program offers a blend of core skills and training customized for the needs of the particular firm that employs the apprentice.  

While there has been a lot of concern about manufacturing jobs, Harvard University’s James Heskett said the automation and trade that cut jobs from factories could also hurt employment in the far-larger services sector. In a recent blog post, the emeritus professor from Harvard’s business school said there might be an even larger job crisis ahead.

Science & Health

WHO: Depression Largest Cause of Disability Worldwide

More than 300 million people, or more than four percent of the global population, were living with depression in 2015 – an 18-percent increase over a 10-year period.   

New figures released Thursday by the World Health Organization show that depression was increasing worldwide and now was the leading cause of global mental and physical disability.

Dan Chisholm, Health Systems Adviser in WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, and a lead author of the report, noted that depression was a disorder that can affect anyone, at any point in their lives.

“If you look at the prevalence of different disorders around the world and you look at the disability that is associated with them – if you combine those together, depression ends up at the top of the list because it is very common,” he said.

“You can see one in 20 people in the world have it and then it has quite a high level of impairment or disability associated with it,” he added.

Corresponding data released in the same report found that anxiety disorders, which cover a range of conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, affected more than 260 million people, which represented more than three percent of the global population.

“Many people actually suffer from both anxiety disorder and depression simultaneously,” said Chisholm. “There is a lot of overlap between them.”

Numbers rising

Chisholm noted that anxiety disorders, which rose by 15 percent between 2005 and 2015, were now the sixth largest cause of disability and were particularly high in the region of the Americas.

The report found the prevalence rates for depression peak among older adults, affecting two percent more women between the ages of 55 and 74 than men. However, across all age groups, it said depression was 1.5 times more common among females than males.

Breaking a widespread misconception, Chisholm said the disorders were not diseases of the rich or the affluent. He said more than 80 percent of these conditions were present in low-and-middle-income countries.  

He told VOA that depression around the world was rising mainly because the world’s population was growing and aging, particularly in developing countries.

“For example, African countries might have 40-50 percent of the population under the age of 15, but as they transition, they might have only 30 percent. So, you have more people reaching adulthood where the rates of depression are highest,” Chisholm said.

He said this was what was driving the increase over time in the numbers of people. Because of the demographic factors, he said, many countries were going to see a dramatic increase.

“Nigeria is going to double probably in the next 50 years. So, we can expect more cases of these disorders,” Chisholm said.

While depression was a growing problem in Africa, the report noted that nearly half of people living with this condition were in the heavily populated regions of South-East Asia and the West Pacific.

This report is a precursor to the World Health Day celebration on April 7.  In a build-up to the event, WHO launched a one-year campaign in October called “Depression: Let’s Talk” to highlight the problems associated with depression.

‘So much stigma’

Alison Brunier, WHO Communications Officer, told VOA that the name of the campaign was chosen because “talking is really the first step towards recovery.”

“There is so much stigma associated with depression that often people do not want to talk about symptoms or the fact that they might have depression and so really that was the opening of the door in the campaign,” she said.

“Talk to somebody you trust. It could be a parent, another family member, a friend, a teacher, a colleague. And that is really the first step to getting help,” said Brunier.

She added that people diagnosed with depression should seek psychotherapy or some other treatment.

The campaign mainly targets three categories of people. One is young people.

“The pressures on today’s youth are like no other generation perhaps,” Chisholm said. “We are thinking very much about what are the preventive and appropriate strategies, for identifying and managing disorders in that age group.”

The report notes that nearly 800,000 people died by suicide in 2015. Suicide was the second leading cause of death among 15- to 19-year-olds globally.

Another target group, he said, was pregnant women or those who have recently given birth, many of whom suffer from post-natal or prenatal depression. “Around 15 percent of women will suffer, not just the blues, but a diagnosable case of depression.”

The last target group was the elderly, who he said were prone to depression as they became more isolated from their communities.  

“When we stop working or we lose our partner – when we become more frail and subject to physical diseases, disorders do become more common,” he said.

Arts & Entertainment

Professor Has Taken a Selfie Every Day for the Past 30 Years

Long before they were called selfies, Karl Baden snapped a simple black-and-white photo of himself. Then he repeated it every day for the next three decades.

Baden’s “Every Day” project officially turns 30 on Thursday, and he says he has no intention of stopping. The stark contemplation on mortality and aging has prompted some to dub the Boston College professor the unwitting “father of the selfie.”

The 64-year-old Cambridge resident grumbles at comparisons to the pouty face, self-congratulatory portraits that now fill Instagram and Facebook. But he recognizes the ubiquity of the selfie has helped raise the profile of the project, which has been exhibited in art galleries in Boston, New York City and elsewhere over the years.

“If it wasn’t for the selfie craze, I’d probably be slogging along in anonymity as usual,” Baden joked this week. “Which is sort of what I had expected.”

‘Personal, universal’

What makes the project work is that it reflects a number of universal themes, from death to man’s obsession with immortalizing himself in some way, said Howard Yezerski, a Boston gallery owner who has exhibited the project on two occasions.

“It’s both personal and universal at the same time,” he said. “He’s recording a life, or at least one aspect of it that we can all relate to because we’re all in same boat. We’re all going to die.”

Robert Mann, a New York City gallery owner that exhibited Baden’s work on its 10th anniversary, says he’s impressed with how Baden has stuck to his process. “Watching Karl age — gracefully — in front of the camera has been an honor,” he said.

Baden quietly launched his project on Feb. 23, 1987, the day after Andy Warhol died and nearly two decades before Facebook emerged. He tries to remain faithful to that first image, posing with the same neutral facial expression and using the same 35mm camera, tripod, backdrop and lighting.

“The act itself is like brushing your teeth,” he said. “I’ll just take the picture and get on with the rest of my day. It’s not a holy ritual or anything.”

Continuity, change

Baden has taken other pains to maintain the same aesthetic. He has consciously not grown a beard or mustache, and his hair remains simply styled.

“I have to turn all these variables into constants so that I’m not distracting from the aging process,” Baden explained.

Besides mortality, Baden says the project touches on the notions of obsession, incremental change and perfection.

“As much as I try to make every picture the same, I fail every day,” he said. “There’s always something that’s a little different, aside from the aging process.”

Approaching 11,000 photos, the changes in Baden’s appearance over time don’t appear dramatic. But in 2001, Baden underwent chemotherapy to treat prostate cancer and became noticeably thinner.

The cancer is now in remission and, as later pictures show, Baden quickly bounced back. The only lasting change from that time, he says, has been his eyebrows; they never quite grew back.

And there’s been just one day over the past 30 years where Baden admits he neglected to take a photo: Oct. 15, 1991. “It was a dumb moment of forgetfulness,” he said.

Economy & business

Mnuchin Says Goal Is to Pass US Tax Reform by August

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday the administration is committed to getting major tax reform legislation through Congress by August. He predicted that President Donald Trump’s economic proposals will be able to boost growth significantly to annual rates above 3 percent.

Mnuchin said that tax reform is the administration’s top economic priority and the goal is to have a measure approved by the time Congress takes its August recess.

“We are committed to pass tax reform,” Mnuchin said in an interview on CNBC. “It’s going to be focused on middle income tax cuts, simplification and making [the U.S.] business tax competitive with the rest of the world, which has been a big problem.”

He said implementation of Trump’s economic program including tax cuts and deregulation would make growth in a range of 3 percent to 3.5 percent “very achievable.”

During the campaign, candidate Trump had set a goal of achieving growth, as measured by the gross domestic product, of 4 percent or better. The country has struggled through the weakest recovery in the post-World War II period in terms of growth, with GDP averaging annual gains of just above 2 percent in the seven years since the recession ended in mid-2009.

“We have underperformed where we need to be,” Mnuchin said. “We believe we can be competitive and get back to sustainable growth of 3 percent or more.”

The GDP grew by just 1.6 percent last year, and many forecasters are predicting growth this year at an only slightly better pace of 2 percent to 2.5 percent. Mnuchin said it would take time for Trump’s economic program to translate to faster growth. But he said positive effects would be realized by next year.

Mnuchin’s prediction of an August passage of a tax plan could prove optimistic given that House and Senate Republicans seem sharply divided over key elements of the program. GOP lawmakers in the Senate have expressed opposition to a House proposal to replace the current 35 percent tax on corporate profits with a border adjustment tax.

Under the House proposal, American companies that produce and sell their products in the United States would pay a new 20 percent tax on the profits from those sales. But if the company exports its products, the profits from those exports would not be taxed by the United states. However, foreign companies that import goods into the United States would have to pay the 20 percent tax.

Mnuchin did not commit to supporting the border adjustment tax but said the administration was “looking closely” at the issues raised by this type of tax. He said he has discussed those issues with two supporters of the approach, House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas.

“We think there are some very interesting aspects of it. We think there are some concerns about it,” Mnuchin said.

He said one thing the administration wants is a combined plan that would draw support from lawmakers in both the House and Senate.

“We’re working behind the scenes very carefully. We’re running a lot of numbers and we’re taking into account a lot of issues,” he said. He said the administration hoped to have a proposal ready to unveil in “the near future, and we’re committed to get this passed by August.”

In a separate interview with the Fox Business Network, Mnuchin said the administration was focused on an “aggressive timeline” to enact tax reform, calling it critical to stimulating economic growth.

“There’s trillions of dollars offshore that will come back, and this will create jobs [and] this will create investment and we need to make sure our U.S. businesses are competitive,” Mnuchin said.

Arts & Entertainment

‘La La Land’ Has Hollywood Singing a Different Tune on Musicals

From “Singin’ in the Rain” to “The Wizard of Oz,” musicals haven’t traditionally seen much love from the Oscars. But “La La Land” has changed all that, tapping into a desire for escapism and sending Hollywood scrambling to dust off its dancing shoes.

With a leading 14 Academy Award nominations including best picture, director, actor, actress and screenplay, Damien Chazelle’s love letter to Los Angeles is the favorite to waltz away with an armful of Oscars on Sunday and revive musicals as a force to be reckoned with.

“The country is so sad right now and ‘La La Land’ is the only escapist movie,” said Craig Zadan, co-producer with Neil Meron of “Chicago,” the last musical to win a best picture Oscar in 2002.

“The others are artistically wonderful, but they are not necessarily peppy and boost you into a flight of fancy. The cards are all aligned for this to be the year of the musical again.”

It’s been a long time coming.

Musicals have long been snubbed in the top categories by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

“That’s probably because musicals just aren’t as cool as they used to be and Academy members care a lot about what’s cool,” said Tom O’Neil, founder of awards website

“The miraculous thing about ‘La La Land’ is that it’s anti-cool — shamelessly and joyously old-fashioned. It’s performing so well with Oscar voters because of its impressive craftsmanship,” he added.

Musicals have not fared well

Only 10 musicals have won the coveted best picture Oscar in the 89-year history of the Academy Awards.

The winners include “Chicago,” “The Sound of Music,” and “West Side Story,” but the losers list is longer. Along with “The Wizard of Oz” and “Singin’ in the Rain,” it also includes screen icons like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, none of whom ever won a major Oscar.

It took director Chazelle, 32, six years to get “La La Land” off the ground, fusing a 1950s musical sensibility with a contemporary love story.

“I like to think that it’s providing an emotional experience. That was the goal of the movie — to use the tropes of musical traditions to say something about what it means to be young and in love today, and what it means to be an artist and chase a dream,” Chazelle said.

Record-setting evening?

Some awards watchers think “La La Land” could win up to 11 Oscars on Sunday, a feat that would tie it with all time record holders “Ben-Hur,” “Titanic” and “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

Its success is already changing perceptions about the genre at Hollywood movie studios, which have been slow to catch up with the trend elsewhere.

Shows like “Glee,” and live versions of musicals like “Grease” and “Hairspray” have brought in big TV audiences while Broadway hit “Hamilton,” with its rap twist on history and politics, has given musicals new respectability.

‘La La Land’ cost a modest $30 million

Movie musicals have often been associated with large budgets, big casts and long rehearsals for singers, musicians and dancers. “La La Land” however cost a modest $30 million to make and has taken $300 million global box office.

“Musical used to be a dirty word when you are going to these studio meetings. But the word has taken on a better patina lately. It seems people don’t look at you and throw you out of the office if you say you want to do a musical these days,” said Meron.

“I would say there is a buzz going round the studios right now that everyone is looking for the next musical,” added Zadan.