Science & Health

From Prague to Mongolia, Wild Horses Return to the Steppes

A quarter-century-old project to repopulate the steppes of Mongolia with wild horses was kept alive as four animals made the long trip back to their ancestral home from the Prague Zoo.

Driven to extinction in their homeland in the 1960s, the Przewalski’s horses survived in captivity before efforts began to re-introduce them to the arid desert and mountains along Mongolia’s border with China.

Zoos organized the first transport to Mongolia of the strong, stocky beasts in 1992.

For the past decade, Prague Zoo has been the only one continuing that tradition and it holds the studbook of a species whose ancestors – unlike other free-roaming horses such as the wild mustangs of the United States – were never domesticated.

The zoo completed its seventh transport last week, releasing four mares born in captivity in the Czech Republic, Germany and Denmark in the Gobi desert. They will spend the next year in an enclosed area to acclimatize before being freed.

“All the mares are looking very well, they are not hobbling, they are calm, eating hay and trying to test the taste of the new grass,” Prague Zoo veterinarian Roman Vodicka said after making observations a few days after the release.

Prague has released 27 horses in total and officials estimate around 190 are now back in the wild in the Gobi B park, where the most recent arrivals were sent.

Arts & Entertainment

US Library of Congress, British Royal Archives to Host ‘Two Georges’ Exhibit

A new exhibition will examine the overlapping worlds of two figures bound together by history on different sides of the Atlantic — King George III and President George Washington.

Britain’s Royal Archives and the U.S. Library of Congress said on Wednesday that a new “Two Georges” exhibit, to be first shown in Washington in 2021, would tap into the libraries’ rich sources of historic knowledge to find parallels and contrasts between the two men.

A venue in Britain has yet to be decided.

“Linked and then ultimately separated by empire, the two Georges offer a distinctive perspective on this vital historical period,” the institutions said in a statement.

The first president of the United States and one of its founding fathers lived from 1732 to 1799. Washington is believed to have earned the respect of George III, his rival, who lived from 1738 to 1820 and was defeated in the American War of Independence.

Arts & Entertainment

LA City Council OKs Plans for George Lucas Museum

The Force was with George Lucas on Tuesday as the Los Angeles City Council moved with lightsaber speed to clear the way for a $1.5 billion Museum of Narrative Art the Star Wars creator plans to build down the road from his alma mater.

After hearing from Lucas himself, the council voted 14-0 to approve an environmental impact report and other requirements for the museum’s construction adjacent to the University of Southern California.

“For a very brief time I actually grew up here,” said Lucas, who earned a degree in film from USC. “That’s where I learned movies. That’s where I learned my craft. Basically where I started my career was in school here.”

Lucas said his museum won’t just focus on movies, however, but on the entire history of narrative storytelling, from the days of cave painting to digital film.

“I realized that the whole concept of narrative art has been forgotten,” he told the council.

With Tuesday’s approval, plans are to break ground in Exposition Park, south of downtown, as early as this year and open the museum to the public in 2021. The city says the project will cost taxpayers nothing because Lucas and his wife, Mellody Hobson, are footing the bill.

“It is the largest private gift in our city, in our state or in our nation’s history,” said Councilman Curren D. Price Jr., whose district takes in the park.

It will feature all forms of narrative storytelling, said the museum’s president, Don Bacigalupi. He said its exhibits will include story boards, costumes, props and various other elements that went into making Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz and other classic films.

And, yes, there will be plenty of cool Star Wars stuff there, too.

“Everything from Luke Skywalker’s first lightsaber to Darth Vader’s costume and helmet,” said Bacigalupi.

The Lucas-Steven Spielberg Indiana Jones films also will be represented.

Interactive programs

Numerous interactive programs for children, film students, academics and others will be offered.

Lucas said he hopes the museum will serve as inspiration to people of all ages, but especially to children, encouraging them to create a better world.

Popular art, he said, is the glue that holds people together, that teaches them that while we may have differences, we have similar aspirations.

In addition to USC, the Museum of Narrative Art will be within close proximity to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the California Science Center and the California African American Museum.

Although Lucas’ affection for USC is clear — he and his foundation have given the school tens of millions of dollars over the years — it was once assumed he’d put his museum in his hometown of San Francisco. Or if not there, then his wife’s hometown of Chicago.

But when it came time to clear away all the bureaucratic hurdles, it was Los Angeles that prevailed.

“I wanted to put it in my hometown. They said no. Mellody wanted to put it in her hometown. They said no. We were both basically heartbroken,” Lucas said.

“And then we said, ‘All right, let’s clear the boards and find a place that really wants it.’ ”

Arts & Entertainment

U2 Bassist Clayton Thanks Band for Helping Him Through Addiction

In a frank and heartfelt speech, U2 bassist Adam Clayton thanked his bandmates of four decades for their support during his treatment and recovery for alcohol abuse years ago, and then joined them for a rollicking rendition of a few hits.

“We have a pact with each other,” said Clayton, 57, who was receiving an award from MusiCares, the charity arm of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. “In our band, no one will be a casualty. We all come home, or none of us come home. No one will be left behind. Thank you for honoring that promise, and letting me be in your band.”

He ended by quoting lyrics that Bono, U2’s frontman, had written when the band was starting out: “If you walk away, walk away, I will follow.” At that, his bandmates came out to join him, performing “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” “Vertigo” and, fittingly, “I Will Follow.”

The evening at the PlayStation Theater in Times Square also featured performances by rapper Michael Franti, Jack Garratt, reggae singer Chronixx, Macy Gray, and the Lumineers, who are currently appearing with U2 on their “Joshua Tree” tour.

‘I had to leave it behind’

Clayton was introduced by British record producer Chris Blackwell as someone who “lived through addiction and came out the other side, and has been courageous enough to admit it.”

Taking the stage, the bassist quipped: “I’m not used to achieving anything on my own.”

Turning serious, he said: “I’m an alcoholic, addict, but in some ways that devastating disease is what drove me towards this wonderful life I now have. It’s just that I couldn’t take my friend alcohol. At some point I had to leave it behind and claim my full potential.”

He said part of the reason he had a hard time quitting drinking was that “I didn’t think you could be in a band and not drink. It is so much a part of our culture.”

It was Eric Clapton, he said, who finally told him he needed help.


“He didn’t sugarcoat it. He told me that I needed to change my life and that I wouldn’t regret it,” Clayton said. He credited another friend, the Who’s Pete Townshend, for visiting him in rehab, where he “put steel on my back.”

As for his bandmates, Clayton said, “I was lucky because I had three friends who could see what was going on and who loved me enough to take up the slack of my failing. Bono, the Edge, and Larry [Mullen] truly supported me before and after I entered recovery, and I am unreservedly grateful for their friendship, understanding and support.”

Access to treatment

Clayton received the Stevie Ray Vaughan Award for his support of the MusiCares MAP Fund, which offers musicians access to addiction recovery treatment.

Arriving at the theater earlier, he told reporters the fund was especially important given the current epidemic of opioid addiction. “MusiCares … really provides funding for a lot of people to look into those things and find help,” he said.

He added that his bandmates had been supporting him for 40 years.

“You know, I guess they loved me before I knew how to love myself,” he said. “So it’s really important that they share this with me.”

Silicon Valley & Technology

Not Just for Gamers and Techies, HoloLens Gets Down to Business

Tech enthusiasts may be drawn to HoloLens, the head-mounted holographic computer from Microsoft, but company executives say businesses also should consider how it can help improve their bottom line.

The wearable device allows users to interact with holograms using their gaze and simple hand gestures. Virtual interfaces are superimposed onto the immediate environment, combining the real world with a digital one. It’s a form of mixed reality that Microsoft executives say offers more than just entertainment value — it can be put to work in business scenarios.

“We’re seeing mixed reality broadly as a new kind of dimension, literally, of how we’re going to interact with information,” said Greg Sullivan, director of communications for the Windows and devices group at Microsoft.

Companies like German elevator maker Thyssenkrupp have begun experimenting with HoloLens. In a promotional video, an elevator repairman dons a HoloLens headset to begin a work order. The computer assesses the repair situation and displays holographic guidance, along with the ability to conference in an associate located remotely.

The associate can interact within the repair technician’s virtual workspace, “She can sit in her office in Germany and scale her expertise literally around the world … see what they’re seeing, guide them and even ink on their display,” Sullivan said.

WATCH: High-tech HoloLens in Action

Cirque de Soleil

Data visualization is another potential use for HoloLens.

“You can walk around the 3-dimensional representation of that data and it gives you powerful new insights, because as humans, we live in a 3-D world and we understand things better … if we interact with them in three dimensions,” Sullivan said.

That can be useful for creative industries. At Microsoft’s recent “Build” conference for software developers, set designers from Cirque de Soleil demonstrated how holographic versions of their theater sets allowed them to plan ahead. Team members wearing HoloLens could walk around and interact with true-to-scale holograms of their set designs, even inserting virtual avatars of real-life performers.

Architecture and engineering

Other industries that utilize 3-D modeling, like architecture and engineering, potentially can benefit from holographic computing, too. Trimble, a company specializing in GPS technologies, developed an application for HoloLens that allows architects and contractors to manipulate 3-D holographic designs and models in real-life environments, such as construction sites.

“You can have multiple people sharing an experience in mixed reality, look at a digital version of the project … and then make those changes in real time and all see them, and then go ahead and move right into production much, much quicker,” said Sullivan. “The efficiencies that are gained are really profound.”

Chris Silva, research director at Gartner, agrees. “3-D models in health care, extremely complex design documents … they’re a natural fit for something like HoloLens, where stepping into the data really can help get the job done better,” Silva said.

Big investment

But like many new technologies, HoloLens’ price tag initially may deter widespread adoption. The device retails for $3,000 for a developer edition and $5,000 for a business edition that comes bundled with enterprise applications.

“The biggest risk is making an investment in this technology and not having a plan for how it gets used,” Silva said. “These are devices that are two, maybe even three, times the cost of the average laptop, and much more expensive than a mobile device. They’re new, and therefore the organizations aren’t always sure how they’re going to use them.”

Silva recommends that companies take a pilot approach to the technology by introducing it to a single group, picking one process to improve upon and analyzing the subsequent results.

Microsoft’s long-time presence on office desktops means HoloLens eventually could transform everyday workspaces.

“When we look at the average worker model, where this type of technology starts literally replacing people’s monitors on their desks, somebody like Microsoft is well positioned to capture that,” Silva said. “They can plug HoloLens into the way they’re doing business today.”

Overall, Silva is excited for future developments in the mixed reality space.

“This is definitely the next frontier of mobile devices … this could be the next thing that replaces the desktop PC, the iPad, the smartphone in your pocket.”

Science & Health

Review Shows Concussions Ignored in World Cup

Professional football players are still not getting properly checked for concussions, despite a pledge by the sport’s governing body. That was obvious from a review of footage from the games in FIFA’s 2014 World Cup, the international men’s football championship held every four years.

The review, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association,  found that out of 81 head collisions there were only 12 assessments that fit the minimum requirements.

Co-author Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, told VOA, “There were only two collisions [where] I could be happy and confident that a proper assessment was actually done.”

According to the 2012 Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport, of which FIFA was a signatory, players showing any sign of concussion should immediately be withdrawn from play and assessed by a health care professional on the sideline. But players in the World Cup only received that full assessment 15 percent of the time.

More than half of the time, an assessment was done on the field or by a referee or another player. And 26 percent of the time, they received no assessment at all, despite showing as many as three signs of concussion. Those symptoms include being slow to get up, disorientation, obvious disequilibrium, unconsciousness, seizure-like movements, and head clutching.

The impact of concussions can accumulate over years and may lead to trouble with memory, attention, depression, anxiety, and early onset dementia. In rare cases, repeated blows to the head over a short period of time, even mild ones, can lead to death.

A concussion ignored

There was obviously something wrong with Christoph Kramer during the final game of the World Cup. The German player was struck on the side of his head by a shoulder and thrown to the ground. Following a brief assessment on the pitch, he was returned to play, despite showing at least three signs of concussion. After 13 minutes of strange, confused behavior, he was removed from the game.

A referee later told the Gazzetta dello Sport, “Shortly after the blow, Kramer came to me asking: ‘Ref, is this the final?’” The referee told teammates, but Kramer continued to play.

“Had he been injured to his knee and couldn’t walk there would be no doubt that he would have been taken off,” Cusimano said, “so why are we treating people with brain injuries any different than people who have, say, a leg injury?”

In response, FIFA soon created a policy to allow referees to stop play for as long as three minutes, so that players can receive an on-pitch assessment by health care personnel. But it is only at the discretion of the referee. This is not enough for Cusimano. He points out it was an on-pitch assessment that failed to catch Kramer’s apparent concussion, and it takes at least seven minutes to properly diagnose the condition. So he wants to see mandatory assessments on the sidelines, just as the 2012 Consensus advises.

‘Whole world is watching’

FIFA declined a request to speak with VOA, but shared a written statement highlighting their recent rule change, and their participation in the most recent International Consensus Conference on Concussion.

“Protecting the health of football players is and will remain a top priority in developing the game,” it said.

Researchers decided to analyze the World Cup because of the size of the audience. Over a billion people tuned in. That means that the World Cup provides an opportunity to set an example for how to handle concussions. They hope that better policy at the premier sporting event might not just protect those playing in the World Cup, but those playing in little leagues too.

“The whole world is watching,” said Dr. Cusimano. “FIFA has all the ability to do this properly.”

Science & Health

A Visit to Dr. Yum Means a Checkup and a Cooking Class

Imagine going to the doctor and getting a cooking lesson! That’s what happens at a doctor’s practice near Washington D.C. Dr. Yum Pediatrics is half doctor’s office, with waiting area and exam rooms, half kitchen.  Food is an important part of her approach to treatment.  

In the exam rooms, she explains to her patients and their parents the crucial importance of eating nutritious meals. In the kitchen, she shows them how to prepare those meals.

Dr. Fernando’s goal is to help children establish good eating habits and inspire families to prepare nutritious meals with the ingredients they have in hand.

Food for good health

Fernando has seen first-hand the connection between what kids eat and their well-being.

“In the first glance, you think of diet-related illnesses, mainly just pediatric obesity, and it’s true that 30 percent of kids in our community and nationwide are obese. And that’s a pretty staggering number,” she says, adding, “but as I paid more attention to a lot of the symptomology that I was seeing in kids who even weren’t obese or overweight, I was seeing that those symptoms often traced back some way to the diet.”

To help change that, the pediatrician co-authored a book, Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater: A Parent’s Handbook.  She also started a blog and a website.

“I simply posted recipes on that website and when I would see patients in the office and felt like I didn’t have enough time to go over the nutrition topics with them I would point them to that website.”

In 2012, she went a step further, co-founding the Dr. Yum Project.  She developed a curriculum that preschool teachers can use to introduce nutrition lessons in their classrooms.  Inside her practice, Fernando leads cooking classes.

Cooking with your doctor

Young patients, their parents and members of the community are invited to cook with Dr. Fernando and her team.  They try different recipes and use different tools that make cooking an easy, fun everyday experience.

“Maybe it’s using our menu planners to see how they can make meal planning easy for them,” Fernando explains. “Maybe it’s using budget-friendly recipes to figure out how to eat really healthy on a budget.  Maybe it’s our baby food options so that they can see how they can feed their babies the same food they’re eating.”

Yara Esquivel, a working mother of two, has been taking cooking classes with Dr. Yum for more than three years.  “Even my husband and I are eating better because we’re making sure the kids are eating better,” she says.

Almost all of the ingredients used in the cooking classes come from the clinic’s garden.

“As part of our classes, we really want to create a playful experience around feeding and eating,” Fernando says.  “We also want to create a rich sensory experience.  So taking kids out to the garden where they can grow food, plant food and harvest it and bring it to the kitchen, then cook it with their own hands, it really inspires them and makes it easier for them to accept new foods because they’re invested in it.”

Delicious, Healthy Meals Made Easy

Dr. Yum co-founder, Heidi DiEugenio, says all the recipes are taste-tested and posted online.  “Every single recipe is tasted by our families and we have the real feedback from some families, parents and kids about the food.  We tagged all those recipes, making it very easy for them to find.”

The ultimate goal of this project is to change the culture around kids’ food.

“There is a lot going in the media, kinds of advertising and things going around that say kids food, like ‘lunchables,’ kids like processed food, kids wouldn’t eat fresh carrots, they would eat Doritos,” DiEugenio says.  “You have to remember that these messages are out there because those companies are trying to make money.  But it’s not necessarily the case.  It’s a matter of being able to be patient with your kids, you have to learn how to try new foods all the time.”

The Dr. Yum team hopes to inspire pediatricians around the country to start cooking lessons to help families enjoy real, nutritious meals.

Silicon Valley & Technology

Small Farm, Meet Big Data

It’s one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century: how to feed a growing population without ruining the environment. Farmers may get some help from artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. As VOA’s Steve Baragona reports, falling costs and advancing technology may put precision agriculture in reach for more farmers worldwide.