Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rittenhouse Square deer hunt postponed

Some residents are avoiding the park because of the large number of deer.

Animal rights activists cheered loudly yesterday on the northeast corner of Rittenhouse Square. Echoing from the group of two hundred or so protesters were cheers of, "Get up off that little couch and let the deer in Rittenhouse."

The city and Fairmount Park have decided to postpone the scheduled February 23rd deer hunt, in one of the city's most popular parks, for at least six months.

The deer have been wreaking havoc on the park's vegetation for years, eating the bark and leaves off countless trees. The animals also present challenges for farmers markets and disturb picnickers. For these reasons, park and city officials seek to reduce, by half, the 624 deer of the two square block park.

"This is a huge victory for us," said Stacy Corbin, president of Dear Deer, a watch group for the park's deer. "This postponement can only mean that a full cancellation is just over the horizon."

Some residents have had enough of the deer and are willing to finally support a controlled hunt.

"Enough is enough," said Jon Mondesi, 44, of Rittenhouse. "The deer are always looking to start trouble. If I must cut through the park, I keep my head down and sprint, ignoring their comments. They're horrible."

Talk of the hunt began after last spring's Rittenhouse Square Arts Festival debacle, in which many deer ate paintings, knocked over tents and smashed sculptures. Forty-four deer were later arrested and charged.

Monday, January 25, 2010

New helmet did not deter Saints defenders, as quarterback had hoped

Brett Favre wanted to go out in style. Though he didn't quite have enough yesterday to lead the Vikings back to the Super Bowl, he did, however, make a dramatic fashion statement. The 40-year-old quarterback from Mississippi was the only member of the Minnesota squad to wear three-dimensional viking horns on the sides of his helmet. "I really thought the defenders would think twice about trying to sack me if I had real horns," said a distraught Favre, who was knocked to the ground repeatedly throughout the 31-28 overtime loss to the Saints in the NFC Championship game. "Obviously it only made them more determined." Though Favre was not sacked in the game, he was hit hard and often and, at one point, limped off the field with an injured ankle. "When I saw the horns in pregame warm-ups," said Saints' linebacker Scott Shanle, who sustained a deep wound to his abdomen in the second quarter from Favre's left horn, "I knew it was going to be a fun day. The kind that linebackers live for."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Phila pretzel vendors using touchscreen technology

The new machines are not error-free, however, as some customers ordering mustard are getting catchup.
Don't let the rusted shopping carts, mildew-covered cardboard boxes or broken milk crates fool you. Philadelphia soft pretzel vendors are going high-tech. On January 1st, during the annual Mummers march up Broad St, ten to twenty vendors across the city began to use touchscreen ordering technology.

Only three weeks later, that number has easily surpassed twenty-five. The new--and costly--commitment to technology by vendors, however, is not by choice. The City passed a law in November requiring that all vendors begin to use the touch monitors by March 1, 2010.

"It's an efficiency thing," said Councilman Jim Borten. "I mean, c'mon, we need to embrace technology, not fight it."

Customers will approach the stands and, instead of verbally communicating with the salesman behind the cart, will simply use the attached screen to order pretzels and choose from various condiments.

"It was a little strange," said Gail Rosioli, 53, of South Philadelphia. "It takes a lot longer to order now than it did before. Is it so difficult to say, 'I want a pretzel with mustard?' I guess, like all new things, it will just take time to get used to."

"It's fantastic," said Gail Travers, 48, a parade reveler from University City. "I don't have to make eye contact with the vendors anymore."

Most vendors are warming to the idea of the new systems.

"It's a new interactive experience," said Frank Sullivan, a vendor from Pennsport, as he used and old comb to remove the salt from a pretzel for a no salt order. "Although, I will say that I do miss the interaction with the customers that come to buy the pretzels."

The initial screen greets patrons with a picture of a smiling, hand-clapping soft pretzel (vendors can add costumes to the pretzels for different occasions). This is followed by a screen asking, "What would you like today?" The only choice is a pretzel icon, which customers touch to advance to the next screen. Here, icons for quantity and an option to checkout are shown.

At the bottom of every screen is the option to purchase pretzels that are more than a day old--a Philadelphian's God-given right. "Do you like your pretzels a little more stiff? Choose pretzels from two to sixty days old."

Orders are then displayed on a smaller screen facing the vendor at the back of the cart. Most screen systems are powered by car batteries, but the option to plug into an outlet is also available. Solar power may also be a power choice in the future.

Most of the ordering devices being fastened to the side of the metal shopping carts are secondhand, sold to the mobile merchants by Wawa, Inc. The popular local convenience store chain said they will not be requiring a percentage of the pretzel proceeds.

"Every now and then there is a glitch in the system and customers are given the option of ordering a shorti hoagie or soup," said smiling vendor Steve Butterfield, as he sprayed his inventory with a solution from an old Windex bottle. "And I'm like 'pretzels only people, pretzels only.'"

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lifting son should have given clue to McGwire steroid use

It is hard to believe that the great McGwire-Sosa home run race is almost twelve years old. The epic showdown of two home run hitters on rival teams had America's baseball fans captivated, checking the highlights each night to see who had taken the lead in the chase to break baseball's greatest, most cherished record.

The great race of 1998 gave new life to baseball. In the early to mid-90's, many fans and critics claimed that the game had not properly adapted to the younger, less attentive, video game-playing spectator. A faster pace was needed to compete with football, basketball and hock ... er, NASCAR.

Then came 1998. Fans that had left, quickly and blindly returned and critics began to count home runs and track down the Maris family.

The home run battle, however, was recently forever tainted by Mark McGwire's announcement that he used performance enhancing drugs during that period.

Were there any clues at the time that either player was using PEDs to power the historic run? Some are pointing to the record-breaking home run celebration by McGwire, when he lifted his then 10-year-old son, and batboy, off the ground and high into the air.

"After [McGwire] hit number 62 it never even occurred to me that PEDs were involved," said Cardinals' fan Jack Gaffney. "But when he touched home plate and lifted that son of his high into the air ... I really began to wonder."

"After he lifted his son, I turned to a colleague of mine in the press box and said I should really investigate this and find out where this sudden burst of strength came from," said New York Times reporter, Victor Styles. "But I ended up writing an article about the Maris' family sightseeing tour while they were staying in St Louis."

"Honestly, when my dad lifted me up I began to wonder," said son and former batboy, Matt McGwire.

Friday, January 8, 2010

City’s new solar compacting mailboxes allowing for even less frequent collection

Has that letter you mailed four weeks ago--or even four months ago--arrived at its destination? Did you think your package was lost in the mail? Did you call the Postal Service to complain? Perhaps you resent your letter or package ... several times.

Well, with the city's new solar compacting mailboxes, chances are your mail is likely still in the box, and, at one-twentieth it's original size.

The City of Philadelphia and the United States Postal Service have agreed that the latest attempt to streamline costs (email and text messaging are greatly reducing USPS revenue) has been a huge success. The USPS Solar Mailbox Pilot Program began in Philadelphia in June with about 20 units, with more added every couple of weeks. They can be seen at many corners in and around Center City and, as the name suggests, are powered by the sun.

“With these solar compacting mailboxes I can go three to four weeks in between pickups for some of the mailboxes on my route,” said Rebbecca Stevens a mail carrier in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia.

"I haven't even looked in that mailbox since July," said Hank Tanner gesturing towards a box on Front Street.

What does it take to increase the capacity of a standard size mailbox by twentyfold? How about 30 tons of compacting force per square inch of diamond-coated steel. Engineers agree that there is a fine line between compacting and turning your mail into pulp.

"Thirty-one pounds per square inch was turning a simple letter-size envelop into apple sauce. We are really urging customers not to place small boxes with fragile or non-fragile items into the new mailboxes," said Betty Sharon a consultant to the pilot program and employee of Lockheed Martin. "Unless the boxes are steel and concrete reinforced, but even then I wouldn't do it."

Though the less frequent collections are benefiting postal carriers, customers are experiencing much longer delivery times for a simple letter.

"My cable, electricity, water and heat have all been turned off," said Greg Dallenbach. "[USPS] is telling me my September heating bill should arrive at PGW any day now."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Empire State Building placed atop new Dubai superscraper

Cell tower atop new building providing much of planet with cell service.

Dubai, UAE--The world's tallest building (and structure) officially opened yesterday in this small Middle Eastern country along the shores of the Persian Gulf. The Burj Khalifa, formerly known as the Burj Dubai, pierces some 2,717 feet into the sky. And the veiws? Well, the views are astounding.

"Mommy, mommy, I can see Abu Dhabi," shouted an excited Timothy Greenway, 10, visiting with his family from Chicago, IL, after spotting Dubai's neighboring emirate some 80 miles to the west. "I can also see parts of Ras Al-Khaimah. This is sweet."

So excited was the youngster that he called his grandparents back in the U.S. to brag about the sightings, a relatively simple task that would have been impossible without ... a spire cell antenna.

The building's architects, Gelkin & Associates of Berlin, Germany, initially called for the standard double-steel, cross-braced spire/antenna to grace the top, but were admittedly uncertain about compromising the aesthetics. Many Dubai government officials and citizens echoed concerns for preserving the beauty of the building, despite the fact that, at 2,700 ft, details will be indiscernible from ground level.

The grand idea came from one of the site's construction workers, when, half-joking, he suggested to his supervisor to "look to New York for a beautiful spire." The idea to cap the Burj with the Empire State Building found its way up the ranks and was, obviously, well-received.

"We needed a beautiful spire that doubled as an antenna and so we called Michael Bloomberg about the availability of the building and he was all, 'this would be great marketing for New York City,'" said tower official Halid Damascus. "We purchased the ESB and moved it here for only $200 trillion. I had that in my pocket."

"It makes for a great little ornament, don't you think?" said building designer Helmet Von Brugge. "The ultimate 'star on the tree.'"

Like most of the planet, the Emirate has hit hard economic times recently and believed that acquiring and moving one of the most well-known structures in the world to the peak of the Khalifa would lend the project credibility and lure pensive, would-be tenants.

Desperately trying to market the struggling region the developer felt a water slide cork-screwing down the side of the entire building--as suggested by one emirate--was tackier than ... an indoor ski area. Not only will the Empire State Building make a name for the Burj, but it will provide cell phone service to 78 percent of the world's population.

Though successful in New York, Dubai was unsuccessful in acquiring Toronto's CN Tower, in addition to the ESB, but, undeterred, will build a life-size model of the needle in the lobby of the new building. Stacking the CN Tower on top of the ESB would have provided the final 22 percent of the world with cell reception.

"We thought maybe we could place two of North America's most famous structures at the top, but it didn't work out that way," said Damascus. "But I always have five bars on my mobile phone. Which, I guess, is what really matters."