The Hobbit Production Diary – Start of Production

For my fellow nerds:

The first production diary video from The Hobbit, as posted by Peter Jackson on his facebook page. Enjoy!


Smartphone App Helps Troops, Vets Manage Stress

(VA graphic)

Veterans dealing with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can turn to their smartphones for help any time with the “PTSD Coach” application created by the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments. “This is about giving veterans and service members the help they earned when and where they need it,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said. “We hope they, their families and friends download this free app. Understanding PTSD and those who live with it, is too important to ignore.”

PTSD Coach lets users track their symptoms, links them with local sources of support, provides accurate information and also helpful individualized strategies for managing symptoms, officials said. The app is now available for download from the iTunes Store and will be available for Android devices by the end of the spring. “This application acknowledges the frequency with which our warriors and veterans use technology and allows them to get help when and where they feel most comfortable,” said Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

PTSD Coach is primarily designed to enhance services for individuals who are already receiving mental health care, though it is helpful for those considering entering mental health care and those who just want to learn more about post-traumatic stress, officials said. “This is a great service we are providing to veterans, service members, their families and friends, but it should not be seen as a replacement for traditional therapy,” said Dr. Robert Petzel, VA’s undersecretary for health. “Veterans should utilize all of the benefits they have earned with their service, and one of the best things about this app is it will get veterans connected to the places that are out there to provide help.”

The application is one of the first in a series of jointly designed resources by the VA National Center for PTSD and the Defense Department’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology to help service members, veterans, their families and friends manage their readjustment challenges and get anonymous assistance, officials said.

(Courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs)


Orangutan and Stray Dog Become Best Friends

Suryia the orangutan and Roscoe a Blue Tick hound became friends when they crossed paths at a South Carolina sanctuary for endangered animals. Now they swim together, play together and Suryia even takes the dog for his walks. The loving pair have been together for two years and appeared on an Oprah show based on amazing animal friendships. National Geographic Magazine has also featured a spread about this amazing duo.


Bolivian Circus Lions in Keenesburg Get First Taste of Wide Open Space

Lions romp after being released for the first time into their outdoor habitat Thursday at the Wild Animal Sanctuary near Keenesburg. (Joe Amon, The Denver Post)

Three lionesses explore their 20-acre outdoor habitat for the first time Thursday. (Joe Amon, The Denver Post)

Campeon is a 2-year-old male whose legs were deformed by disease and injury while in captivity in Bolivia. (Joe Amon, The Denver Post)

Maria was the first, and then came Rosita. Soon other members of a pride of eight lions, rescued last fall from a life of deprivation in a Bolivian circus, braved their way out of their shelter at the Wild Animal Sanctuary and into a spring snow shower. “It’s something they’ve never seen, not to mention grass and dirt, but snow,” said Pat Craig, executive director of the sanctuary near Keenesburg.

This pride, or family group, was the first of the 25 circus lions airlifted from Bolivia this year to be released into four specially built lion habitats that cover 80 acres. There are four prides in the group, each of which will have access to 20 acres of habitat. In Keenesburg, the female lions eased out first, lured by hunks of raw chicken and turkey thrown just beyond the shelter walls. The head of the pride, a 6-year-old male named Bam Bam, eventually made his appearance and immediately began staking out his turf. The other prides will be released from their enclosures into the habitats as they grow more confident in the coming weeks.

In November and December, a team from Animal Defenders International working with Bolivian officials raided every circus in the country, rescuing animals in the most wide-ranging enforcement action of its kind, said ADI president Jan Creamer. “When we arrived, there was a huge confrontation. The circus owner pulled out a knife and then slashed the tires of the vehicle we were loading the lions into,” Creamer said. “Eventually we calmed the situation down, changed the wheels and took the lions to safety.” In addition to the lion airlift, the work of “Operation Lion Ark” also resulted in Bolivia banning the use of all animals in traveling circuses.

The arrival of the Bolivian lions in the U.S. on February 16th drew national attention. Since they arrived in Keenesburg, the lions have lived in a special 15,000-square-foot, 44- foot-tall biosphere where they have become acclimated to living outside of a cramped cage. They also encountered snow in small open-air enclosures adjacent to the lion house a few times over the winter. “They were running around, rolling around in it,” Craig said. “They were having a good time.”

On Thursday, after just a few minutes of gingerly inching their way through the enclosure barrier into the habitat, the lions were bounding over the terrain, nipping at one another and nosing around their new surroundings. It wasn’t long before the sun was shining on their backs. “I think they are going to like it here,” Craig said.


How Would You Design a Better New York City?

From April 11th through the 30th, a design institution is asking everyone to share their ideas about where the greatest opportunities are for improvement around New York city. From local issues like streetscapes and parks all the way up to big systems like transportation and garbage disposal, they want to know what you think needs a fresh look.

Some of the most innovative architects and planners are in on this event. In May, they will rally the international design community to create proposals for many of your suggested sites and situations. Then they’ll gather everything together, publish an atlas of opportunity for the future for the city, and celebrate this collective civic vision at the first-ever Urban Design Week festival from September 15–20, 2011.

Post your ideas at By the City/For the City and have designers around the world tackle your problems! Designers will address the opportunities they find most interesting. Once you’ve shared an idea, invite your friends, family, and neighbors to comment and vote on your suggestion. That way, designers will be able to see that people are excited about your idea, and you’re much more likely to get design responses.

Who are the organizations behind this?

Institute for Urban Design:

For thirty years the Institute for Urban Design has positioned itself as a central platform for debate over issues related to urban planning, development, and design. By creating a common territory for architects, planners, policy-makers, developers, academics, journalists, and urban enthusiasts, we acknowledge that to ensure quality in planning and urban design, a dialogue must emerge that represents the diversity of stakeholder voices affected by urban development. Learn more at

Project for Public Spaces:

An international non-profit planning and design organization with project experience in over 40 countries and 2,500
communities. Learn more at


More Families are Adopting HIV-Positive Children

HIV-positive children at an orphanage in Odessa, Ukraine

While most adoptions present challenges, there’s a distinctive set of them facing parents who decide to adopt children living with HIV – a twice-daily medication regimen, lingering prejudice and fear, uncertainty about the child’s longevity and marriage prospects. Yet the number of U.S. parents undertaking HIV adoptions, or seriously considering them, is surging. Most involve orphans from foreign countries where they faced stigma, neglect and the risk of early death. “I can’t think of a more significant way to make an impact than to do this,” said Margaret Fleming, a 74-year-old Chicagoan whose nine adopted children include three HIV-positive first graders. “These kids were, in many ways, the modern-day lepers,” she said.

Ignorance and bias related to HIV haven’t vanished in the United States. But the stigma is steadily lessening, especially compared to many of the other countries that are home to an estimated 2.5 million children with the disease. At forums and over the Internet, parents who have adopted HIV-positive kids are offering advice and encouragement to those who might follow suit. Ryan Vander Zwaag, the youth pastor at a Baptist church, said he and his wife had talked about adoption ever since they married right out of high school. The more they learned about the vast numbers of HIV-positive orphans, the more interested they became in bringing one into their family. Fears about exposing their own family to health risks and prejudice gradually faded as they read articles, attended a conference, and spoke with other parents who had undertaken HIV adoptions. “It’s not that hard,” said Stacy Vander Zwaag. “And there are so many kids who would die without it.”

Throughout most of the AIDS epidemic, only a relative handful of HIV-positive foreign children came to the U.S. because of strict U.S. immigration policies that limited entry for anyone with the disease. In January 2010, that restriction ended – enabling children with HIV to enter as easily as other adoptive children. “That change helped drastically,” said Erin Henderson of Afton, Wyo., who is HIV coordinator for Adoption Advocates. The agency handled 37 adoptions of HIV-positive Ethiopian children in 2010, up from four in 2006, and is also working on HIV adoptions from India, Ghana, Thailand, China and Eastern Europe.


Lost Stories by Dr. Seuss to Be Published in September

A new book of stories from the late Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel, seen here in 1987, will be published in September.

Fans of iconic children’s author Theodor Seuss Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss, have reason to celebrate. In September, Random House will release “The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories,” a collection of seven virtually unknown stories that the author wrote in the 1950s, a time that many consider Seuss’ most productive creative period — when he wrote both “The Cat in the Hat” and “The Grinch.” Random House says the new Seuss stories are the “literary equivalent of buried treasure.”

“In these stories, we’ll meet new characters,” Susan Brandt, president of Dr. Seuss Enterprises in LaJolla, Calif., told Fox News. “So you’re going to meet the twins Todd and Tadd, you’ll meet Gustav the Goldfish and a small boy name Henry McBride, as well as the other characters Dr. Seuss is known for…Readers of all ages are in for a treat.”


Google’s Driverless Car

“As a boy, I loved cars. When I turned 18, I lost my best friend to a car accident, like this,” Thrun said, snapping his fingers before an audience at the TED 2011 conference in Long Beach last month. “And then I decided I’d dedicate my life to saving 1 million people every year. Now, I haven’t succeeded, so this is just a progress report. But I need to tell you a little bit about self-driving cars.”

Thrun is a Stanford University robotics professor and a project leader on Google’s Driverless Car effort — a system that enables cars to drive on their own, safely, without human input. So far, Google’s driverless cars have safely logged more than 140,000 miles on California roads, including San Francisco’s crooked Lombard Street and Hollywood Boulevard packed with pedestrians.

While Thrun’s contributions to the Google project are personally motivated, the engineer believes that the technology can eradicate traffic jams and curb fuel consumption, as well as save humans now-wasted time and prevent needless deaths.

“Did you know that driving accidents are the No. 1 cause of death for young people? And do you realize that almost all of those are due to human error and not machine error and can therefore be prevented by machines?” Thrun said at TED. He added that he foresees a future in which driverless cars become the norm. “I’m really looking forward to a time when generations after us look back and say how ridiculous it was that humans were driving cars.”

Google is hardly alone in this effort. General Motors has been developing driverless cars for some time, but wasn’t expected to begin road tests until 2015. If the technology becomes fully operational, it could mark a return to a benefit of an old-fashioned method of transportation. During the 1918 flu epidemic, exhausted country doctors making house calls resisted making the switch from horse-and-carriage to Model T, simply because they needed sleep and knew Old Betsy could find the way home.


Style with Purpose

As the woman sits in the dirt, cradling a baby in the crook of her arm, she chatters away in Kimaa, her fingers moving rapidly, knotting wires between rows of beads so flawlessly that the breaks can barely be seen by the naked eye. The Maasai women have been beading for centuries using wire and dyed, multicolored beads to adorn themselves, to attract potential mates and to communicate their status within their communities. Today, these women – at work for the nonprofit organization Tanzanian Maasai Women’s Art (TMWA), are using the same ancient art form to change their lives. The jewelry collection is stunning, with rich, vibrant colored necklaces and sophisticated drop earrings. The Ashé Collection also includes very cool beaded belts and sandals and amazing weekend bags.

On the other side of the world, Anne Wells is managing orders for the Ashé Collection (ashé is “thank you” in Kimaa), featuring TMWA jewelry. “Our buyers here in the West have the opportunity to connect – even in the tiniest of ways – with people living and working in some of the most remote and impoverished places on our planet. And hopefully that will inspire a deeper sense of respect, curiosity and appreciation.” 100% of the Ashé Collection profit supports women’s health, education and micro-finance programs throughout Tanzania.

Anne Wells is also the founder and director of the social organization UNITE The World With Africa.
UNITE The World With Africa, LLC, is an independent, social organization founded in January 2010 by Anne Wells to provide impactful connections, resources and expertise to advance and grow women’s health, education and microfinance programs in select communities throughout Tanzania, East Africa.


Beautiful Italian Landscapes and a Beautiful Italian Quote

“The more you know the more you love, and by loving more, the more you enjoy.” –St. Catherine of Siena

“Chi più conosce più ama, più amando più gusta.”