Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Jerry Miszewski shatters highlining world record

Highlining pioneer Jerry Miszewski released video footage Wednesday of his recent highlining world record, where he successfully crossed a 704-foot highline 300 feet above the Cosumnes River Gorge near Sacramento, California. (The video is above, and although it is a bit long, it is worth the watch. If you are only interested in observing the difficulty inherent in crossing the line, start the video at 1:11.)
Miszewski shattered the previous record of 494 feet, which highliner Théo Sanson earned in June in France. Every highline is named after it is walked, and the line Miszewski walked was dubbed “the 13th Crossing” after he secured the record.
Jerry Miszewski highlining
Jerry Miszewski prefers extremely loose lines, and even with 1,000 pounds of tension, there was more than 23 feet of sag in the middle of the highline. Photo by Travis Burke
Highlining is a new but rapidly growing sport with roots in rock climbing, where highliners strap themselves to dynamic webbing that moves and sways with the highliner’s motion and the wind. Although these lines are stretched over canyons and gorges, the sport is considered extremely safe, as the highliners are securely attached to the highline, and every line and knot has at least one fail-safe, including the highline itself, which is actually two separate lines taped together.
Although the sport is safe, it is mentally taxing to the extreme. When a highliner steps onto a line, which is 1 inch wide, he must immediately rid the mind of the fear and anxiety that naturally pops into it, given how high he is above the ground. To successfully cross, the highliner must enter an almost Zen-like state.
Jerry Miszewski highlining
Jerry Miszewski correcting the tension on the main and backup lines before getting on. He always double checks his equipment to ensure safety. Photo by Travis Burke
“It forces you to calm yourself in the now in order to prevent any sort of unnecessary fighting. It’s a moving Zen sensation that encapsulates slacklining as a whole: less is more. You move less, the line moves less, making it more walkable,” Miszewski wrote in his blog about the record.
In total, it took Miszewski a week of attempts before he could secure the world record, and he started with great difficulty. When he first stepped on the line, he fell 76 times before he could even figure out how to take just one step.
Each attempt took about 90 minutes, and each attempt left Miszewski mentally and physically exhausted, meaning that he could only attempt the record every other day. In fact, after a failed attempt late in the process Miszewski decided to go camping with his wife and friends to totally disencumber himself from the task at hand.
Jerry Miszewski highlining
It was difficult to see Miszewski with the naked eye, so this photo was taken with a telephoto lens as Miszewski walked 300 feet above the ground. Photo by Travis Burke
“This proved to be exactly what I needed: a day in the sun on a lake with not a worry on my brain. Away from stress, away from discouragement, away from everything,” he wrote.
After Miszewski secured the record, he said it was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life. In fact, he is still recovering from the mental and physical strength it took to complete it.
Jerry Miszewski highlining
Miszewski takes a break and talks to Dan Francis about the challenges of walking the highline. Francis was one of six people who spent hours over the course of two days stretching highline across the gorge. Photo by Travis Burke
“I am still ‘recovering’ per say. After doing a project like this, I like to change my focus for a while,” he told GrindTV. “It’s extremely overwhelming for me to devote so much of myself to a project like this. I will typically not slackline at all for several weeks after something like this.”
Miszewski is a self-described former “video game addict” who now owns a company called Balance Community, which sells highlining and slacklining equipment.
Jerry Miszewski highlining
Miszewski focuses on the end of the line and making smooth, fluid movements to try to keep the highline from moving as much as possible. “The more you focus on yourself and what you are doing at that very second, the better you will do on the line,” Jerry said. Photo by Travis Burke
Jerry Miszewski highlining
Jerry Miszewski highlining 300 feet above the ground on a line that is only 1 inch wide; photo by Travis Burke
Jerry Miszewski highlining
Frustrated and exhausted, Miszewski felt like the highline had powers over him that he couldn’t control. “Little did I know, it was me who was the issue, not the line,” he said. Photo by Travis Burke
Jerry Miszewski highlining
Miszewski sits and chats with his wife and friends, who came to support him. Photo by Travis Burke
Jerry Miszewski highlining
During the world-record-setting crossing, Miszewski felt the best he had all week, and the highline was responding exactly the way he wanted it to. He also felt the energy of his wife and friends, who had come to support him, as he spent 14 minutes crossing the line. Photo by Travis Burke
Jerry Miszewski highlining
Miszewski watches footage of the world-record-breaking highline; photo by Travis Burke
Jerry Miszewski highlining
After he had secured the world record, Miszewski felt overwhelmed with joy, confidence, pride, and relief. “I did it! I crossed that horrendous highline,” he said. “It was the most rewarding moment I had ever experienced.” Photo by Travis Burke

Humpback dolphins discovered off Australia are new species

Scientists use DNA, other analysis to uncover fourth ‘Sousa’ species; new information will help determine management decisions to protect mammals

photo of yet-to-be named humpback dolphins  photo by Guido Parra
Two mammals from a yet-to-be-named species of humpback dolphins jumping in waters off northern Australia; photo by Guido Parra
A previously unidentified species of humpback dolphin was found in waters off northern Australia, a discovery that will provide scientific evidence for helping to manage and protect the marine mammal considered vulnerable and near threatened, the Wildlife Conservation Society announcedTuesday.
The humpback dolphin is distinguished by a peculiar hump just below the dorsal fin, grows up to 8 feet in length, and ranges in color from dark gray to pink and/or white.
Using physical features and genetic data from 235 tissue samples, researchers examined the evolutionary history of this marine mammal to determine the number of distinct species within its family.
Two humpback dolphins swimming together off northern Australia; photo by Guido Parra
Two humpback dolphins swimming together off northern Australia; photo by Guido Parra
The Atlantic humpback species is already recognized, and now the researchers are suggesting the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin be divided into three species, one of which is new to science and has yet to be named.
“Based on the findings of our combined morphological and genetic analyses, we can suggest that the humpback dolphin genus includes at least four member species,” said Dr. Martin Mendez, assistant director of WCS’s Latin America and the Caribbean Program and lead author of the study. “This discovery helps our understanding of the evolutionary history of this group and informs conservation policies to help safeguard each of the species.”
Mendez told the Washington Post that knowing the distinct species is “essential to an appropriate framework for conservation. You have to absolutely know what you are trying to preserve here.”
The authors of the study published in the journal Molecular Ecology propose the four species be broken down thusly:
Two humpback dolphins; photo from Wikimedia Commons
Two humpback dolphins; photo from Wikimedia Commons
The Atlantic humpback dolphin (Sousa teuszii), found in eastern Atlantic off West Africa.
The Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa plumbea), ranging from the central to the western Indian Ocean.
The Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis), inhabiting the eastern Indian and western Pacific oceans.
The Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa to be named later), found off northern Australia.
“New information about distinct species across the entire range of humpback dolphins will increase the number of recognized species, and provides the needed scientific evidence for management decisions aimed at protecting their unique genetic diversity and associated important habitats,” said Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, Director of WCS’s Ocean Giants Program and senior author on the paper.
And clearly, the humpback dolphin family is in need of protecting.
The Atlantic humpback dolphin is considered “Vulnerable” according to the IUCN Red List, whereas the Indo-Pacific dolphin species Sousa chinensis is listed as “Near Threatened.” Humpback dolphins are threatened by habitat loss and fishing activity.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Exclusive: Microsoft investors push for chairman Gates to step down

NEW YORK/SEATTLE (Reuters) - Three of the top 20 investors in Microsoft Corp are lobbying the board to press for Bill Gates to step down as chairman of the software company he co-founded 38 years ago, according to people familiar with matter.
While Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer has been under pressure for years to improve the company's performance and share price, this appears to be the first time that major shareholders are taking aim at Gates, who remains one of the most respected and influential figures in technology.
A representative for Microsoft declined to comment on Tuesday.
There is no indication that Microsoft's board would heed the wishes of the three investors, who collectively hold more than 5 percent of the company's stock, according to the sources. They requested the identity of the investors be kept anonymous because the discussions were private.
Gates owns about 4.5 percent of the $277 billion company and is its largest individual shareholder.
The three investors are concerned that Gates' role as chairman effectively blocks the adoption of new strategies and would limit the power of a new chief executive to make substantial changes. In particular, they point to Gates' role on the special committee searching for Ballmer's successor.
They are also worried that Gates - who spends most of his time on his philanthropic foundation - wields power out of proportion to his declining shareholding.
Gates, who owned 49 percent of Microsoft before it went public in 1986, sells about 80 million Microsoft shares a year under a pre-set plan, which if continued would leave him with no financial stake in the company by 2018.
He lowered his profile at Microsoft after he handed the CEO role to Ballmer in 2000, giving up his day-to-day work there in 2008 to focus on the $38 billion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
In August, Ballmer said he would retire within 12 months, amid pressure from activist fund manager ValueAct Capital Management.
Microsoft is now looking for a new CEO, though its board has said Ballmer's strategy will go forward. He has focused on making devices, such as the Surface tablet and Xbox gaming console, and turning key software into services provided over the Internet. Some investors say that a new chief should not be bound by that strategy.
News that some investors were pushing for Gates' ouster as chairman provoked mixed reactions from other shareholders.
"This is long overdue," said Todd Lowenstein, a portfolio manager at HighMark Capital Management, which owns Microsoft shares. "Replacing the old guard with some fresh eyes can provide the oxygen needed to properly evaluate their corporate strategy."
Kim Caughey Forrest, senior analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group, suggested now was not the time for Microsoft to ditch Gates, and that he could even play a larger role.
"I've thought that the company has been missing a technology visionary," she said. "Bill (Gates) would fit the bill."
Microsoft is still one of the world's most valuable technology companies, making a net profit of $22 billion last fiscal year. But its core Windows computing operating system, and to a lesser extent the Office software suite, are under pressure from the decline in personal computers as smartphones and tablets grow more popular.
Shares of Microsoft have been essentially static for a decade, and the company has lost ground to Apple Inc and Google Inc in the move toward mobile computing.
One of the sources said Gates was one of the technology industry's greatest pioneers, but the investors felt he was more effective as chief executive than as chairman.