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Debris Impedes Post-Sandy Recovery Along Jamaica Bay

Debris Impedes Post-Sandy Recovery Along Jamaica Bay

Don Riepe of the American Littoral Society looks out over Jamaica Bay six months after Hurricane Sandy hit, May. 2013 (Katherine Jacobsen/Uptown Radio)

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When Hurricane Sandy slammed into the shore of Long Island, it devastated humans as well as ecosystems along the Northeastern seaboard.  Six months later, Katherine Jacobsen went to Jamaica Bay to see how one of these ecosystems is recovering.


The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is made up of a sprinkling of islands, tucked behind the Rockaways in the Jamaica Bay. When Sandy hit, the storm surge sent water over the low-lying islands dismantling houses, docks and sand dunes.

Lincoln Hallowell is a park ranger at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. He says that he and his colleagues still aren’t sure what effect Sandy will have on the area’s wildlife.

Lincoln Hallowell:

It’s, it’s a different place. 

He stands in his office and points to a map that shows the area before the storm.

Lincoln Hallowell:

You can see… it looks like there should be something there, and up until Oct. 29, there was something there.

That something was a freshwater pond that was an important stopover for migratory birds and a walking path.

Lincoln Hallowell:

In just a matter of a few hours during the storm, that disappeared. 

But even though the freshwater pond and the sand dunes that kept it in place were washed away by the storm, environmentalists say that the wildlife in the area has been surprisingly resilient.  But they also say the sand dunes need to be rebuilt.

Arthur Lerner-Lam is a seismologist from Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Arthur Lerner-Lam:

So, Jamaica Bay was almost a buffer for some of the populated areas inland. What do we learn from that? We learn that nature in some way can be used to protect the places where people live.   

The sand dunes at Jamaica Bay acted as natural shock absorbers.  Sand dunes are known as soft infrastructure.  That’s as opposed to hard infrastructure, like storm walls.  The walls can send the waves bouncing back into the ocean.  Lerner-Lam says, in a small inlet area, this means that the waves could hit each other, amplify and then crash into the hard structure again.

But Lerner-Lam says the dunes won’t survive a storm without the grasses that grow on top of the dunes.

Arthur Lerner-Lam:

Well, any vegetation, such as marsh grasses will actually hold the sanddunes in place, or at least the top layer in place.

In other words, the sand grasses keep the dunes from washing away.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is attempting to rebuild the dunes around Jamaica Bay in part with money allocated by Congress after the storm.  But the problem is, to restore all of these sand dunes, someone has to remove the junk that Sandy left on top of them.

Gerry Tiss is off the south shore of Long Island on a Saturday morning.

Gerry Tiss:

The orange and blue stuff is people’s docks that were blown apart. 

Tiss stands on his 4ft by 12ft skype blue wooden motor boat and points to a nearby sand dune.

Gerry Tiss:

It looks like a roof from that bayhouse that came from who knows where…

There’s no way that Tiss’s boat stands a chance of picking up the debris. And so he does what he can and scoops up pieces of washed up two-by-fours, plastic bags and the like.

The issues are similar, if not as bad, at Jamaica Bay.

Don Riepe is with the environmental watchdog group, the American Littoral Society.

Don Riepe:

You know, some of the pieces were too big, they have to be cut up… so you can see some of the debris left over by the storm.

Riepe and others say it’s the park service’s’ responsibility to move the trash   But Ranger Lincoln Hallowell says the Park Service has its own issues.

Lincoln Hallowell:

Part of the problem is, we lost a lot of equipment during the storm that hasn’t been replaced yet.  

Hallowell says even if the park service had the equipment, it wouldn’t be easy to remove the debris without disturbing the wildlife.

Lincoln Hallowell:

A lot of areas are environmentally sensitive so you don’t want to get a lot of areas with heavy equipment through there.  

Environmentalists hope the debris can be removed and dunes can be rebuilt before the hurricane season starts on June 1st.

Katherine Jacobsen, Columbia Radio News.

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New Art Technology Can Detect If Your Painting Is Fake

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Masterpieces can fetch millions of dollars at arthouse auctions. So if you’re about to buy a Van Gogh or Monet, you probably want to be absolutely sure it’s the real thing. And as Katherine Jacobsen reports, computer analysis is changing the way that art experts can detect a fake.

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Lost? Swipe Your Way to Your Destination

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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is going digital. A new, touch screen, interactive subway map has started appearing in some of the busiest subway stations. Katherine Jacobsen reports.


The first of these two maps appeared at Grand Central Terminal and the Bedford Park stop in Brooklyn.  At Grand Central, the well-lit, 47-inch computer screen sits on a corner across from a clothing chain and a cluster of MTA ticket kiosks.  It looks like a giant smartphone screen with the weather and time displayed on the header of a larger screen.

Dwight Olson stops to check the Metro North schedule to New Haven.


I hope that this terminal here is going to be helpful and it looks like it is, now that I’ve pressed the Metro North button.

Olson touches the Metro North from a menu at the bottom of the computer screen.  He scrolls through the menu options at the bottom of the screen, looking for his schedule.  Destination options appear and then with a few clicks, Olson has a timetable for his mid-morning trip.


Looks like I can tell what I want to get on and when it’s gonna go, I just hope that we can get tickets by then.

A few minutes after Olson leaves, and Joel Thomas walks past the giant computer screen and does a double take.  It’s the first time that Thomas has seen one of these new, 15,000 dollar touch screen maps.


I was actually looking for the bathroom to be honest with you.  But uh, it’s pretty convenient… I can see the train I need to catch right here.

And did you also find a map of the station as well?

Ah, honestly, I didn’t do the map yet. I just saw the time departing and I think it works pretty good.

But some of the regular commuters don’t need the new screen.


Everytime I come to it, it’s showing me a useless map or something I don’t need.  I simply want it to display what it used to display.

Paul Kipelli points to the kiosk, now lit up with a giant subway map where there used to be a train schedule.


Look what is has, do you need that map?  I don’t.

Kipeli then goes running off, briefcase in hand.  He’s late for his train.

The new map may have the biggest impact on MTA employees like Audrey Gordon.  Her job is to give directions at the terminal.


Yes, you need something?

We just wanted to check something…

What would you like to check?

Gordon doesn’t feel threatened by the new touch screen maps.  She still has one up on them, she says.  Even though the maps might be getting bigger, it doesn’t mean that they’re smarter than her.


The map is only as good as the information that is programmed in it.  I go way beyond that.

Police Officer Chris Jones is on duty right across from the new kiosk.  He hasn’t seen a lot of people using it, he says.


They’re futuristic, they look like they could be helpful, but I see ppl more likely asking other ppl for help, officers, stuff like that.

Do you get asked a lot for help when ppl need to find the bathroom or something?  Every two minutes.

The MTA will add another 77 interactive maps in an additional 16 stations.

Katherine Jacobsen, Columbia Radio News.

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How DOMA Keeps Gay and Lesbian Couples In Exile

HOST INTRO: The Supreme Court heard two big cases this week that will affect the future of same-sex marriage.  The first case dealt with Proposition 8 and whether or not it is legal for California to deny same-sex couples the right to marry.  The second case challenges DOMA, or the Defense of Marriage Act.  

DOMA defines marriage as between a man and a woman on a federal level. This definition excludes same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits that come with marriage.

For couples in which one partner is a U.S. citizen and one is foreign national, the American spouse can’t sponsor his or her same-sex partner for immigration.

Noemi Masliah works at the DOMA project, a same-sex marriage advocacy group.  She says that DOMA has affected bi-national couples ever since it was signed into law in 1996.


“A straight couple gets married and if one’s a U.S. citizen and the other one is not, that U.S. citizen could petition, thereby having the foreign national be able to immigrate the United States.  That’s the crux of the mission of the immigration law which is family immigration, the unification of families.” (0:20)   

Although, an estimated 30,000 binational, same-sex couples still live in the United States, many couples have decided to live abroad, rather than be separated.  They all stand to benefit if DOMA is repealed.


“We have many, many couples telling how the impact, the discriminatory impact of DOMA, is on them, they’re bi-national couples, they want to live here together, they’re married and because of DOMA they are unable to have the security of knowing that the laws will allow them to live in the United States.” (0:18)  

Although gay marriage is currently legal in New York, couples will only be eligible for federal benefits if DOMA is overturned.


“In many jurisdictions, United States citizens are able to marry their same-sex partners, they are not able to procure immigration benefits based on that marriage in the United states because of DOMA.” (0:11)    

The Supreme Court will decision will be announced in June.

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Spider-Man Spins a Web of Angst in Brooklyn

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HOST INTRO: And now Katherine Jacobsen takes us to a real blockbuster movie set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where filming for the Amazing Spider-Man 2 will begin next week. But some Brooklynites aren’t so excited to have celebrities on their block.


The Marcy Armory is a red brick colonial-era building in the east side of Williamsburg.  Today, teams of builders and painters are hard at work inside creating the set of The Amazing Spider Man 2.


Filming starts next Friday and continues for five days, overlapping with Passover.  And that’s a problem for the neighborhood’s largely Hasidic community.

Sam Beck is the secretary of the Hasidic Chaijim Vchesed Congregation.
Use your common sense, they coming to a community where they not watching film, they not buying film.

Not only is the Spider Man set out of place, Beck says, the film shoot brings in crowds of trucks and equipment that clog up the streets.

This is a crowded community, if you come to this community, you will see, each morning and evening a lot of school buses– why they need to block the area to take away the parking?

Hasidic leaders talked with representatives from Columbia Pictures last week about rearranging the shoot dates.  But Columbia hasn’t changed the shot schedule yet.

Doratoli, has lived near the Armory for the past 40 years.  She agrees with what Beck says about parking.

Some ppl have problems parking, it’s very hard to get a parking space, but other than that, I like that there’s a movie set coming….

But, Doratoli is used of having film crews come in and out of the Armory.  She remembers when I am legend was filmed there.

I wanted to see Will Smith, but I never did.  [laughs]

Christopher Hall is a handyman from Staten Island.  He’s worked in East Williamsburg for the past twenty years.

We need the business in New York, the movie business is important.

The Amazing Spider Man Two  is expected to bring in 3500 new jobs to New York and an additional 250 hires are expected at the Brooklyn set.  The film will be the largest ever filmed in the city.

Despite these numbers, Hall isn’t surprised by the Hasidic community’s reaction.

Generally, they really don’t like any disturbances in the neighborhood on days that are important to them.
Anything that upsets the community’s routine doesn’t go over well. And shooting Spider Man during Passover has a certain… unkosher ring about it.   Columbia Pictures says that it is working the Williamsburg community to find a Passover parking solution.

Columbia Radio News, Katherine Jacobsen.

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From Star Trek to SoHo: 3-D Printing Arrives

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Host Intro: (00:23)
Three-D printing technology can create scale models from any digital design.  This technology used to be reserved for big businesses and would cost upwards of 2,000 dollars.  But several start-up companies have began mass producing 3D printers in New York.  They’ve cut costs to as low as 500 dollars per unit. Katherine Jacobsen reports on what may be the next must-have technology.

AMBI OF FACTORY [dim after 2 seconds]

Remember in Star Trek, there were those machines you could order to make you something and it would just magically appear?

Jean Luc Picard would walk up to the computer and say “tea earl grey, hot” and out would come a cup of tea.

That’s Sam Cervantes– the CEO of Solidoodle– which manufactures 3D printers. He says a 3D printer can’t make you a cup of tea, yet.  Cervantes is showing off his company’s latest contraption– it’s about the size of a regular laser printer, but boxy with a steel frame.  And, he says, it’s not hard to use.

There is design software, think Microsoft Word– but instead of typing letters, you create or choose a 3D model and load it into your printer.

Basically, imagine a computer controlled hot glue gun drilling apart layer by layer in 3 dimensions, it’s really cool.

Instead of ink, a spool of plastic filament, that looks like the stuff you put in your weedwacker feeds into a brass nozzle.

So the print head is going to heat up about 400 degrees Fahrenheit about the temp of your oven and its got a small motor here, and this is going to drive the filament the plastic filament into the hot nozzle and onto the build platform.

AMBI PRINTER NOZZLE MOVING [2 seconds then fade back to factory noise]

The hot plastic cools on contact as the print head zips back and forth. [bring up hum]  And layer by layer, your design comes to life.  A mini-dinosaur, boat, or even a plastic replica of your child’s face– nearly anything’s possible–as long as it’s plastic.

So this squirrel that fits in the palm of my hand, it took about an hour to print.

Cervantes says he’s also using the printers to make intricate mechanical parts.

The printers are actually creating plastic parts to be used in the assembly of other printers– so we have printers making printer, really cool!

[no: we have no reason to start outside the store. use only inside store sound]AMBI STREET NOISE OUTSIDE MAKERBOTS [FADE TO THE INSIDE OF STORE SOUND]

Makerbots in SoHo is one of the few places in New York where you can play around with a 3D printer, and see what its creations.

[no: just leave it under. Don’t create a 2 sec space. it will sound like a pause.] AMBI [RAISE INSIDE OF STORE SOUND FOR 2 SECONDS]

Store manager Bethany Austen shows me a replica of Stonehenge, chess pieces and a container in the shape of a giant cupcake.  Austen says the most popular item in the store seems to be the most personal — custom plastic face replicas.

This is our 3D photo booth, you essentially go into a photobooth and have your picture taken three times, and then our system renders it into a three d file.

From the pictures, the computer makes a model of your head– the model gets plugged into the computer and within one to two weeks, you can get a detailed fist-sized reproduction of your face.

AMBI [RAISE STORE NOISE FOR A FEW SECONDS “you can create a model... audible, then fade store noise].

That’s why Kristin came all the way from Maine with her daughter.  They really wanted to use the face photo booth and printer.

We made a special trip– so what do you plan on doing with your daughters head, i guess after it’s…. laughter, i guess it’s kind of like taking a portrait, or having a bronze cast of your child…

[fade out store ambi. leave a beat of silence]___

Techie Sam Werzel was an early adopter. He bought his own 3D printer online more than a year ago.   It cost about 2000 dollars.  Werzel put it together piece by piece.
I assembled it… it took about a week everyday after work.

When it was done, Werzel said he had fun making intricate plastic puzzles.  He found the models online.  But he got tired of making things out of plastic, so he sold it on Ebay about a month ago.  He still believes in the technology, however.
If I could get a metal, table top, 3d printer, I would be really excited and I’m waiting for that day.
And how does Werzel see current 3D printers being used?
So you can imagine the sex toy industry getting into 3D printing or building uh, customizable what have you.
Let’s not go there. Let’s agree the 3D printer will continue to evolve, and that it holds great potential for  innovation
For Columbia Radio News, I’m Katherine Jacobsen

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Sweating Away Cultural Differences in a Russian Banya

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Commentator Katherine Jacobsen spent a year in Russia, hoping to perfect the difficult language. On a weekend trip, she discovered that it wasn’t the language that would be the most difficult thing to understand.


Our trip started at sunrise– I was heading out of Moscow with a dozen journalists I’d never met before. The door slid shut– we were off on an all-expenses paid tour of a Russian resort town.

In the van, we introduced ourselves,… two men, ten women in all. I gave the Russian version of my name, Katia, then I sat there, afraid to speak. I was so tired of being the American everywhere I went. No matter what I did, how good my accent was, or what clothes I wore, everyone could always tell that I was a foreigner. And I hated it.

Nearly five hours later, we arrived at the resort. We ate lunch, checked out the grounds and then prepared for the highlight of the trip– the banya.

A banya is a Russian sauna in the extreme. You alternate between a 200 degree steam room and jumping in an icy cold pool. Oh, and you’re naked most of the time.

It’s the ultimate Russian experience– they say that suffering makes you stronger, that it’s purifying… I wasn’t convinced.

Once we got there, we stripped– underwear, pants and tops of all sizes lined the room’s perimeter– we wrapped ourselves in white sheets and went in.
The steam seeped into my lungs and I started coughing. The other women started laughing.

One middle aged woman said: Oh, I remember my first banya trip when I was six… I hated it. But, in the end, the suffering feels kind of good, she said.

I looked at her quizzically.

It’s Russian, she said, you wouldn’t understand.

We sat and sweated– really sweated– thick beads of salty liquid poured out of my skin. Stories filled the banya– love, frustrations, hopes– and I began to forget that I was an outsider. Through the sheets, the sagging and svelte figures of strangers’ bodies around me started to feel familiar.

When I couldn’t take it anymore, I went outside and jumped into the pool.

I screamed as I plunged and gasped for air when I sprung to the surface. It was exhilarating, an electric shock running through my body.

Speaking Russian was no longer a problem– there were no words in English to describe what was going on…

After an hour, an obese woman in a muumuu came in with her husband. They were carrying a bucket with birch branches. We took turns going back into the banya to be beaten.

I was terrified and fumbled untying my sheet.

Don’t worry, I’ve seen it all, the old woman told me.

I lay down. The couple dipped their branches into boiling water, hitting us soft at first a ratatat, then harder, trashing. The old woman clucked at me as she hit my white Western skin.

Then, before I knew it, it was over.

The old woman asked me, what did our little American think? before she doused me in ice cold water.

I grinned stupidly, hyper aware of blood coursing through my veins. It felt… good.

As I tried to grab a towel, the old woman pushed me outside.

I protested. It was too cold on the street- and my thighs were too big, too American.

But the woman nudged me out the door.

This is Russia, she said.

As I felt the cool breeze on my naked skin and looked at a sky filled with a million stars, I felt surprisingly grounded. 5,000 miles from home, I felt like I belonged. I had sweated away the American, and, for a night, for a moment, became Russian.

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Staying Private Gets Tougher With New Facebook App

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Facebook lets users publish as much or as little of their personal information as they want. You can snap a picture, or check into a location, and then go offline.

But a new Facebook service would allow the company to keep track of you even after the application is closed. Katherine Jacobsen reports:

The new service is an app that you can download. It allows you to send your location to all of your Facebook friends, all the time, even when you’re not on Facebook.

Douglas MacMillan is a reporter from Bloomberg Businessweek. He’s seen the new app and says its more invasive than the current “check-in” feature.

“The big difference would be, you know, having essentially a breadcrumb of you following you around everywhere you go, as opposed to these little snapshots of where you are,” he said.

The little breadcrumbs use the same kind of GPS technology already built into your phone that helps you find a nearby restaurant or the closest subway station.

MacMillan says that these kinds of applications could be really practical. Say you get separated from your friend downtown. With this app, you can automatically locate him or her just by logging into Facebook.

“Even when their app is closed, and even when the phone is put away in your pocket, you’re going to be reading GPS coordinates of your friends as they move about the city or a music concert or festival,” he said.

The app would also let companies see how effective their advertisements are. Say you see a Foot Locker add on Facebook and then you go to a Foot Locker.

“Well, wouldn’t it be nice if facebook could connect those dots and realize that instead of clicking on that ad, you were inspired by that ad to go walk into Foot Locker,” MacMillan said.

“It is increasingly trivial to collect and analyze that sort of data in a very short period of time.”

That’s Emily Bell from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. She says if Facebook could sell this kind of connection to advertisers, it could mean big bucks. Since the company went public last year, it needs to prove it can make money.

“Free services of Facebook have to be paid for somehow, and they tend to pay with your data,” Bell said.

Most Facebook users have gotten used to the idea that the site pools their data for advertising. Bell points out that cell phone companies already have access to users’ locations. If Facebook doesn’t make this data public, someone else will.

Sarah Downey is a senior privacy strategist at Abine,  a company that makes apps to prevent people from getting tracked.

“This is just one more point in an ongoing trend where facebook erodes everybody’s privacy,” she said.

But even Downey says it’s unlikely that people are going to start deleting their Facebook accounts.

“Facebook’s like the party that you don’t really want to go to. But you know that everybody you know will be there, so you keep going,” she said.

A party of over one billion users. Downey advises people on Facebook to keep on the look-out for changes to privacy settings in the coming month.

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