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Parkour: A Holistic Training Discipline


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj
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Last week, I came across an action video on Facebook. The participant’s smooth movements on a hazardous course clearing obstacles, climbing walls in a jiffy faster than Spider-Man, traversing walls by jumping from one to another, jumping down from heights with ease, etc., just amazed me.

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Parkour, the art of motion, is a holistic training discipline. The term “Parkour” derives from the French phrase “parcours du combattant“, the classic obstacle-course method of military training proposed and developed by Georges Hébert, a pioneering French physical educator, theorist and instructor.

Georges Hébert (April 27, 1875 – August 2, 1957)

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Georges Hébert   (Source: ihpra.org)
Georges Hébert (Source: ihpra.org)

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Before the First World War, Georges Hébert was an officer in the French Navy. In 1902, when stationed in the town of Saint-Pierre, Martinique, a volcanic eruption occurred in Mount Pelée. Hébert coordinated the rescue of about 700 people from the catastrophe. This incident reinforced his belief that courage and altruism must go hand in hand with athletic skill.

Georges Hébert traveled far and wide throughout the world. He was impressed by the movement skills of indigenous peoples living in natural surroundings in Africa and elsewhere.

When Georges Hébert returned to France, he became a physical education tutor at the college of Reims for the French marines in Lorient. He defined the principles of his own system of physical education, the “méthode naturelle” (natural method). He created ten fundamental exercises: walking, running, jumping, quadrupedal movement, climbing, balancing, throwing, lifting, self-defense, and swimming.

Être fort pour être utile” (“Be strong to be useful”) became his personal motto.

He wrote:

“The final goal of physical education is to make strong beings. In the purely physical sense, the Natural Method promotes the qualities of organic resistance, muscularity and speed, towards being able to walk, run, jump, move on all fours, to climb, to keep balance, to throw, lift, defend yourself and to swim.”

Here is how Georges Hébert defined the guiding principles and fundamental rules of his Natural Method:

“With regard to the development of virile qualities, this is obtained by the execution of certain difficult or dangerous exercises requiring the development of these various qualities, for example, while seeking to control the fear of falling, of jumping, of rising, of plunging, of walking on an unstable surface, etc.”

Hence Georges Hébert is considered one of the proponents of “parcours“, an obstacle course, now the standard in French military education and training. His teachings and methods of instruction spread between and during the two World Wars. This further led to the development of civilian fitness trails and confidence courses.

Georges Hébert was critical of the physical inactivity imposed upon women by the contemporary European society and was an early advocate of the benefits of exercise for women and criticized the fashion of women wearing corsets.

Modern day Parkour

Modern day Parkour, the holistic training-discipline using body movements was developed in France, primarily by Raymond Belle, David Belle, and Sébastien Foucan during the late 1980s. The name of their method was eventually changed to “le Parkour“.

Now Parkour includes running, climbing, swinging, mantling, vaulting, jumping, rolling, quadrupedal movement, and the like, depending on what movement is deemed most suitable for a given situation.

This is a set of 5 Parkour silhouettes of people doing Parkour tricks. All tricks are named. (Source: occasionallyxxx.deviantart.com)
This is a set of 5 Parkour silhouettes of people doing Parkour tricks. All tricks are named. (Source: occasionallyxxx.deviantart.com)

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A practitioner of Parkour called a traceur (feminine: traceuse) aims to move from one place to another in the most efficient way possible to using body movements and the surroundings for propulsion. The traceur trains to maintain as much momentum as possible while still remaining safe.

Raymond Belle

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Raymond Belle
Raymond Belle

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Raymond Belle, a French soldier and firefighter is considered one of the originators of Parkour. He was born on October 3, 1939 to a French doctor and a Vietnamese mother. His father died during the First Indochina War. Raymond got separated from his mother during the division of Vietnam in 1954.

The French Army in Da Lat took Raymond Belle into its care and gave him military education and training. He trained himself harder than everyone else to become strong to survive and never be a victim. At night, when others were asleep, he would sneak out of the dormitory to run, climb trees, and use the military obstacle courses without the knowledge of the officers. To test his endurance, strength and flexibility he created exercises on his own.

When the Battle of Dien Bien Phu came to an end, Raymond was repatriated to France, where he completed his military education in 1958.

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Logo of Sapeurs-pompiers.
Logo of Sapeurs-pompiers.

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At age 19, Raymond joined the Paris’ regiment of sapeurs-pompiers (military firefighters). With his unique physical fitness and athletic ability, he became the champion rope-climber of the regiment. He was inducted into its elite team composed of the unit’s fittest and most agile firefighters. The peerless elite team members were often called upon to take on the most difficult and dangerous rescue missions.

Noted for his undaunted courage and keeping cool in any circumstance Raymond was lauded for his spirit of self-sacrifice.

He played a key role in the first ever helicopter-borne operation of the regiment of sapeurs-pompiers. His many rescue exploits earned him a large number of medals and a reputation of being an exceptional pompier. He inspired the next young generation of firefighters.

Raymond Belle dedicated his life to physical well-being. He followed the teachings and the disciplines laid out in Georges Hébert’s book “Méthode Naturelle“. He used climbing, jumping, running, balancing, etc., for his personal advancement in athletics. He referred to his interpretation of Hébert’s methods as “le Parcours” to encompass all his training methods.

Raymond learned how best to overcome obstacles in a fluid manner in a natural environment. His extraordinary athleticism and physical ability, was nothing less than a ‘force of nature’. He was a role-model for athletes, especially to his son David Belle and Sébastien Foucan.

Raymond died in December 1999, but his memory and the record of his many acts of bravery live on, just as valid now as they were in his heyday. With his charisma and his human qualities, he left his mark on his comrades. Raymond Belle will forever embody the iconic ideal of the military firefighters of Paris.

Now, thanks to David Belle (son of Raymond Belle) and his friend Sébastien Foucan, Parkour as a sport has spread around the world. It has both a great number of male and female adherents in many countries, among the young generation.

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The Pallikaranai Wetland in Chennai: Part 2 – Now It Is a Concrete Jungle!


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Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj
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Why am I interested in wetlands and writing about them?

Because I am concerned.

My home in Jalladianpet in Chennai, Tamilnadu, India is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai wetland. Now, this once pristine idyllic wetland and many other smaller wetlands, pasture lands and patches of dry forest in Chennai are being transformed into concrete jungles!

That is why I am concerned.

I am not an environmentalist per se. I am just a layman. I seek protection of our natural environment from changes made by harmful human activities. I yearn for improvement in the quality of our surroundings worldwide for the benefit of our present and future generations.

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 My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai marsh.
My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai marsh.

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The Pallikarani wetland serves as nature’s primary aquifer recharge system for Chennai city. It harvests rainwater and the flood water during monsoons and thereby mitigates the desolation and suffering that floods could cause in low-lying areas in Chennai.

Four decades ago, this pristine idyllic wetland had a water spread of approximately 5,500 hectares estimated on the basis of the Survey of India toposheets (1972) and CORONA aerial photographs (1965).

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A large area of the Pallikaranai marshland is now a dump yard (Photo:  anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)
A large area of the Pallikaranai marshland is now a dump yard (Photo: anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

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Lamentably, over the years, the Chennai Metropolitan authorities without giving any thought to the future recklessly chose to dump almost 2,600 tonnes of garbage per day, which is over one-third of the garbage of the ever-growing metropolis, here in this climatic marshland.

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Pallikaranai marsh (Photo: Simply CVR)
Pallikaranai marsh (Photo: Simply CVR)

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Now, the water spread has shrunk to one-tenth its size due to indiscriminate dumping of city refuse; discharging of sewage; disgorging toxic waste products, etc.

Many nature lovers have photographed the current palpable and saddening state of the Pallikaranai wetland. On June 8, 2013, The Hindu published the article “The mired marsh” by Shaju John. He has augmented his article with photographs captured by him in the post-Photo file: The mired marsh.

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A significant chunk of non-biodegradable waste is lost in the heaps.( (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
A significant chunk of non-biodegradable waste is lost in the heaps.( (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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Thousands of tonnes of trash of all sorts containing non-biodegradable waste find their way to the wetland amidst the dumped refuse each day.

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Fires, lit to dispose off the garbage, are a regular and major health hazard.  (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
Fires, lit to dispose off the garbage, are a regular and major health hazard. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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While traveling along the roads around the Velachery wetland one encounters the unbearable stench emanating from the decaying garbage hillock. Despite the widespread clamour to stop burning rubbish in the dump yard that stifles the air and impairs visibility of commuters, the incessant burning goes on.

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The smoke from the garbage heaps chokes the air for miles around.  (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
The smoke from the garbage heaps chokes the air for miles around. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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Despite the toxic smoke rag-pickers, mostly children living in inhospitable slums, frequent the garbage dumps.

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The burning continues despite widespread clamour for alternatives. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
The burning continues despite widespread clamour for alternatives. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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Air samples from the Perungudi garbage dumping yard registered the highest number of chemicals found in any Indian sample. The air contained cancer-causing and other harmful chemicals.

People living miles around the Pallikaranai wetland continually inhale the omnipresent malodorous virulent air. They suffer the stifling smoke. They have no other alternative than to use the polluted and poisoned ground water. These factors subject them to major wheezing and carcinogenic health hazards.

On June 15, 2012, a concerned Jaison Jeeva uploaded the following video on YouTube. It shows the fire accident that happened at the garbage dumps in Pallikaranai. The incident caused physical and mental disturbance to the people in the vicinity.

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There is an incredible rate of development in the Pallikaranai wetland. The sanctioning of many IT parks has resulted in countless high-rise office and residential buildings.

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A high rise building (Cognizant Technology) on Velachery Tambaram Road.  (Photo - T.V. Antony Raj)
A high rise building (Cognizant Technology) on Velachery Tambaram Road. (Photo – T.V. Antony Raj)

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The campus of the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), Engineering and Dental Colleges, and Hospitals have been built on the marshland.

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One of the flyovers constructed  in the midst of the marshland (Photo credit: N. Lalitha and C.R .Sivapradha)
One of the flyovers constructed in the midst of the marshland (Photo credit: N. Lalitha and C.R .Sivapradha)

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Velachery MRTS Railway station (Photo - Simply CVR)
Velachery MRTS Railway station (Photo – Simply CVR)

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All these encroachments have led to building infrastructures such as the Velachery MRTS railway station, the flyovers, the road connecting old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram, etc., in the midst of the marshland.

Sadly, all these rampant developments have shrunk the water spread.

With policies in place to crack down on encroachment, illegal waste disposal, and poaching, there is still hope for saving the Pallikaranai wetland.

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Pallikaranai marsh, which was once a scenic wetland has lost its charm, mainly on account of rapid urbanisation. (Photo:  M. Karunakaran)
Pallikaranai marsh, which was once a scenic wetland has lost its charm, mainly on account of rapid urbanisation. (Photo: M. Karunakaran)

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In 2007, to protect the remaining wetland from shrinking further, 317 hectares of the marsh were declared by notification as a reserve forest by the State of Tamilnadu.

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Road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram over Pallikaranai Marshland, Chennai, (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
Road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram over Pallikaranai Marshland, Chennai, (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

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Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve  showing the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh
Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve showing the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh

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Even so, it is the opinion of the scientists and researchers involved in the study of the wetland that an additional 150 hectares of undeveloped region located on both sides of the road connecting old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh should also be declared a forest reserve.

An official release on Friday, June 9, 2006 the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) underscores the need to protect the rare species of fauna and flora in the ecologically important wetland of Chennai.

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Dumping sewage into the Pallikaranai marshland.
Dumping sewage into the Pallikaranai marshland.

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To retain the groundwater recharging potential the TNPCB banned the dumping of garbage and discharge of sewage and industrial effluents into the Pallikaranai marshland. The TNPCB directive states that untreated sewage should be discharged only into the sewage treatment plant operated by Metrowater at Perungudi. The TNPCB warned that violators of its directions would be Penalized without prior notice under section 15 (1) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

On June 10, 2006, The Hindu in an article titled “Dumping banned in Pallikaranai marsh” said:

The punishment under this section involves imprisonment for a term, which may extend to five years or with fine, which may extend to Rs.1 lakh, or both. In cases of repeated violation, the penalty involves additional fine, which may extend to Rs. 5,000 for every day during which the contravention occurs, after the conviction for the first violation.

Further, if the violation continues beyond a period of one year after the date of first conviction, the offender is liable to be imprisoned for a term that may extend to seven years. According to the press note, the basis of the directive is a routine inspection of the Perungudi dump site and the marsh zone by the TNPCB, which found that unsegregated garbage along with other wastes emptied into the marshland by the Chennai Corporation and other local bodies as well as private agencies. This garbage is burnt by ragpickers, causing nuisance to the residential areas and setting off air-pollution. The inspection also observed that untreated sewage collected from nearby areas in tanker lorries was being discharged into the marshland.

The TNPCB has also constituted a Local Area Environment Committee to protect the marsh. The public can refer any complaint on discharge of sewage or solid wastes into the marsh area by any agencies to this committee through the District Environmental Engineer, TNPCB, Tambaram (Phone 22266239). The Pollution Control Board’s announcement comes just days after a non-governmental initiative released the results of a recent study on air quality.

In April 2008, the Madras High Court directed the State Government of Tamilnadu to remove all encroachments on the Pallikaranai marshlands. The Madras High Court also directed the Chennai Corporation not to allow the four municipalities – Pallavaram, Madipakkam, Kottivakkam and Valasaravakkam – to dump garbage at Perungudi after April 30, 2008.

On April 3, 2008, The Hindu in an article titled “Court directive on Perungudi garbage dump” said:

Passing interim orders on two writ petitions, the Bench said the State Government should not permit any construction activity on the marshlands. The court appointed a six-member expert committee, with Sheela Rani Chunkath, Chairperson, TIIC, as its convener to inspect the Perungudi Municipal Solid Waste Yard, CMWSSB treatment plant and the surrounding areas and submit a report regarding the suitability of the present site for usage and the continuance as a municipal solid waste ground and sewage treatment plant; to review compliance of various legislations, guidelines, rules and regulations in relation to dumping of solid waste and discharge of sewage; to review the earlier studies done by various agencies, and the measures taken and proposed to protect the Pallikaranai marsh and render suggestions for restoration and protection of the marsh.

The committee would also suggest measures for remediation of the land, ground water, flora and fauna in the marsh and Seevaram, Pallikaranai, Thoraipakkam and Perungudi villages. It would also consider the cumulative aspects of dumping of garbage, discharge of sewage and conversion of the marshlands to other use and suggest scientific alternative methods of dumping of garbage and discharge of sewage in the light of the methods in other countries.

The committee would conduct public hearing to ascertain the views of the residents of the four villages. The report should be made within six months, the Bench said.

Pending receipt of the report, the Chennai Corporation was directed not to permit their trucks to dump garbage on either side of the road and to remove the garbage already dumped on either side of 60 Feet Road abutting the residential areas and also the 200 feet road, within four weeks. It should demarcate the area of 200 acres which had been allotted to it by CMWSSB and further demarcate 106 acres which was actually used for dumping waste. Security at the dumping site should be increased to prevent incidents of fire. Appropriate scheme for segregating biodegradable and non-biodegradable wastes should be evolved and submitted to the court within three months.

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board in its report in respect of the landfill at Perungudi submitted that the Chennai Corporation had not complied with the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000.

Seven years have passed since then, but even now, dumping of garbage and sewage in the Pallikaranai marshland by the Chennai metropolitan authorities goes on unabated.

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← Previous: The Pallikaranai Wetland: Part 1 – Flora and Fauna

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Do You Have Dutch Courage?


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Sipping off the ‘head’ of a liqueur at Wynand Fockink. (Source: whatsupwithamsterdam.com)
Sipping off the ‘head’ of a liqueur at Wynand Fockink. (Source: whatsupwithamsterdam.com)

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What happens to a person after he or she consumes any form of alcohol?

First, it gives the drinker the gift of the gab if he is not dumb. Then it gives him ‘Dutch courage’ also called ‘liquid courage’ or potvaliancy  that makes him feel brave enough to become boisterous and violent.

Dutch courage may also be used as a synonym for Jenever, the juniper-flavored national and traditional liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium, from which Dutch gin evolved. Even now, Jenever is famous in Holland as an “old man’s drink”.

Jenever became popular in England during the time of King William III, better known as William of Orange (1650-1702), who also governed as Stadtholder over Holland, Zeeland, Gelderland, Utrecht, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic.

A few entomologists claim that the term ‘Dutch courage’ was first referred to in Edmund Waller’s Instructions to a Painter (1666):

The Dutch their wine and all their brandy lose,
Disarm’d of that from which their courage grows.”

During the Thirty Years’ War, the English soldiers  noted Jenever’s bravery-inducing effects on Dutch soldiers and dubbed it “Dutch Courage”. In turn, the English soldiers believing Jenever’s warming properties on the body in cold weather and its calming effect drank it before going into battle. English speakers knew the famous spirit as “Dutch gin”.

According to some other entomologists, the origin of the phrase “Dutch courage” dates to 1805-1815 almost two centuries after the relevant wars.

But no matter the level of intoxication that alcohol induces, most people would not dare to pick a fight with an elephant unless Dutch courage sets in.

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A tusker in the  Kruger National Park in South Africa (Source: gardenwebs.net)
A tusker in the Kruger National Park in South Africa (Source: gardenwebs.net)

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The Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in South Africa. The following video shot there shows a drunkard challenging a wild elephant with Dutch courage. Surprisingly, the tusker retreats.

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But, this was not the case recently when a drunkard consumed by Dutch courage ignoring the pleas of the horrified onlookers infuriated an elephant in the Udawalawe National Park in Sri Lanka. That is pure Dutch courage. See what happened!

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Video: “I Will Fight Back”


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Stop violence against women

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Easy access to the internet in the current decade has allowed women to start online activism and empower themselves. They use social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc. The internet allows women freedom to voice their opinions and organize campaigns for equality rights.

On May 29, 2013, three women started an online campaign to take down various misogynistic pages on Facebook that spread hatred toward women. In just one week, the campaigners roused hundreds of thousands of supporters who are part of the “great feminist revival.” The social networking giant Facebook caved into pressure. The campaign succeeded where many previous efforts failed. Facebook took action over contents that celebrated rape and domestic violence.

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I Will Fight Back.
I Will Fight Back.

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The following video titled “Woman Empowerment – I will fight back” by Unseen Passage Pictures is an eye opener. It carries the message that if women do not empower themselves, then nobody will.

While many praise the audacity of the young woman there are a few detractors, as expected, with their sarcastic, derogatory remarks. Some even insinuate that the video is a concocted one implying that the woman is an actor with makeup for bruises for the ‘skit’, and lying.

Whatever it is, the video impressed me.

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Here is a transcription of the young woman’s rendering of the incident.

Hi,

I usually don’t talk like this. It’s because my tooth is broken.

Actually, yesterday I went shopping with a friend to Sarojini Market. I love street shopping, but you know how crowded it is.

We were checking out some dresses in a shop. Suddenly, somebody touched me from behind. I felt very  uncomfortable. I screamed out of fear and everybody around got to know what just happened.

It was very embarrassing. But that guy was simply walking away with his friends, laughing at me. I thought somebody would catch hold of them; somebody would take an action against them. But everyone was staring at me only as if I had done something wrong. Some people were even laughing. But then, an uncle stepped forward and showed some courage and he said:

“Dear, they are mannerless people. Nobody can do anything about it. They are incorrigible. You better take care of yourself and try wearing decent clothes.”

No. No. I didn’t wear a bikini to go shopping. I was just wearing a jeans and a sleeveless shirt. But, I am just another helpless woman, isn’t it? So, obviously everybody had to judge me only like they always do.

Whenever I am alone at the bus stop waiting for the bus or when I come late from the office and my colleague drops me, when I am with a guy, when I ask for help, or when I wear western clothes, and also when they feel like judging, they judge.

But, I am just another helpless woman. So, I said: “Uncle, it’s okay. I will handle.”

I called the woman helpline and told them my current location. Then, I ran behind them, grabbed him by his collar and slapped him hard. They hit me back. Then, people around came to help me and beat them up badly. You should have seen their wounded faces. They all are behind the bars now charged with ‘Women Harassment’.

Then, I understood one thing that in our country, it is very important to take your own stand. If we didn’t empower ourselves, then nobody will.

Take your own stand. Only we are responsible for ourselves.

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Mr. Yo: “The Boss of Cleaning”


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Myself 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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A smoker walking in front of you throws the cigarette butt on the sidewalk. The teenager seated on the park bench crumbles the chocolate wrapper and throws it on the grass. The satiated taxi driver throws the parcel of leftover food through the window of his cab for the stray dogs, creating a mess on the street.

These are incidents we see daily around us.

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Garbage not going anywhere (Source: thehindu.com)
Garbage not going anywhere (Source: thehindu.com)

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 Now, what will you or I do? Usually, we just ignore these litterbugs and will let the tossed items accumulate as garbage for the municipal garbage workers to pick them up the following day.

Omar Faruk, a 20-year-old Bahraini youth produced the video I have included here titled “Millionaire Garbage Man” and uploaded it on YouTube. The video which has received an overwhelming response online shows that “actions speak louder than words.” It features a Korean picking up trash in the suburban neighborhood of Seef in Manama, the capital of Bahrain.

The Korean do-gooder identifies himself thus:

“I have two names. My first name is Yo. My second name is ‘The Boss of Cleaning‘.”

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Mr. Yo - The Boss of Cleaning (Custom)

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Korean-born Yo, a millionaire investor living in Bahrain for the past 11 years is not only interested in keeping the streets clean, but also strives to keep it so. He wants everyone to enjoy living in a clean and healthy neighborhood devoid of litter. Every morning he wakes up before dawn. His first task of the day is clean up the streets in his neighbourhood. He also sorts out the garbage he collects, making it easier for recycling.

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Mr. Yo - A role model for the present-day youth.
Mr. Yo – A role model for the present-day youth.

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Yo is a simple, modest person and is a true role model for the present day youth to follow.

There is a lot of garbage and this makes people sick. It causes problems,” explains Yo.

The recycling bags Yo uses are from Korea.

Yo speaks Arabic. He says:

I’m just cleaning the place I’m living in. It’s my right...”

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The Five Days of December 1952 When the Killer Smog Blanketed London.


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Myself 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Smokestack belching dense dark smoke.
Smokestack belching dense dark smoke.

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The modern fight against environmental pollution around the world owes much to the tragedy that befell Greater London, about 63 years ago. The haphazard use of coal brought the country to the brink of a frightening black disaster on December 5, 1952.

During the Industrial Revolution, from about 1760 to around 1840, there was a transition to new manufacturing processes. The main factor in this transition was the change from wood and other biofuels to coal.

Indiscriminate use of coal drove Britain, the most powerful empire in the world. Tall smokestacks became the symbols of the industrial age in Britain. The appalling use of coal in industries, for generating electricity, heating homes, for cooking, etc., was frightening. Trains, boats, iron, steel, everyday items used coal. In London, it was like millions of micro-volcanoes erupting all at once. It was as if London was eating coal to survive.

People were burning large quantities of poor quality coal and emitting pollution at low elevations. The pollution from home chimneys was double the amount of the industries.

In the Victorian era, London was well known for its romantic fog that covered the city for 90 days each year for decades. But as the years passed by, this romantic fog and the smoke and fog turned into a poisonous cloud of smog (smoky fog) during each winter. In his book “Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (18591930) wrote:

In the third week of November, in the year 1895, a dense yellow fog settled down upon London. From the Monday to the Thursday I doubt whether it was ever possible from our windows in Baker Street to see the loom of the opposite houses. … But when, for the fourth time, after pushing back our chairs from breakfast we saw the greasy, heavy brown swirl still drifting past us and condensing in oily drops upon the windowpanes, my comrade’s impatient and active nature could endure this drab existence no longer. He paced restlessly about our sitting- room in a fever of suppressed energy, biting his nails, tapping the furniture, and chafing against inaction.

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A view  of Battersea Power Station in 2012 from River Thames.
A view of Battersea Power Station in 2012 from River Thames.

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Construction of the first phase, the A Station of the Battersea Power Station, began in March 1929. It first generated electricity in 1933, but was not completed until 1935. The total cost of its construction was £2,141,550. It burned approximately 10,000 tons of coal each week to supply one fifth of the electricity for the entire city of London.

Washing off the accumulated soot in London.
Washing off the accumulated soot in London.

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Slowly, with time, London became completely covered in soot.

In late 1952 an unusual cold cinch had gripped London for weeks. On December 5, 1952, the day the disaster began, Londoners awoke to find a clear sky, but coal fireplaces worked overtime to fight the chill in the air. As the day progressed, a light veil of fog began to blanket the city. In the afternoon, the fog mixed with the thousands of tons of soot being pumped into the skies of London by million or more coal stoves, home chimneys, from local factories and industrial smokestacks began to turn a sickly shade of yellow and settled in the London basin.

Smog was nothing new for Londoners, but on that day, this thick sulfurous yellow “pea souper” quickly thickened into a poisonous brew, unlike anything the city had ever experienced before. A high-pressure system parked over London caused a temperature inversion. The air about a thousand feet above the surface, warmer than that at ground level kept the smog under the clouds and prevented it from rising. And, there was no breeze to disperse and dissipate the soot-laden soup.

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The Killer Smog That Blanketed London, 63 Years Ago (Source: history.com)
The Killer Smog That Blanketed London, 63 Years Ago (Source: history.com)

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For five days from Friday, December 5 to Tuesday, December 9, 1952, the Great Smog paralyzed life in London. Poisonous smog closed down all establishments.  Day became as dark as night.

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People found it difficult to breathe the murky air.
People found it difficult to breathe the murky air.

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People found it difficult to breathe the murky air. The smog was so dense that residents of the Isle of Dogs section of the city reported they were unable to see their feet as they walked. It was as if they needed a blind person to lead them home.

The dense smog crippled all transportation. Boat traffic on the Thames came to a halt. Bus conductors holding flashlights and torches walked in front of the double-deckers to guide drivers. Flights were grounded, and trains canceled. Only the Underground was in service.

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The ambulance drivers had to rely on the police and people holding live burning torches s to show them the way.
The ambulance drivers had to rely on the police and people holding live burning torches s to show them the way.

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London was completely silent. Only sirens of ambulances which brought those whose lives were in danger to the hospitals was heard. The ambulance drivers had to rely on the police and people holding live burning torches to show them the way.

Even at mid-noon, automobile drivers and motorcyclists turned on their headlights. They hung their heads out the windows in a futile attempt to inch ahead through the yellow gloom. Many abandoned their vehicles.

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Traffic police used large lamps to light themselves up to avoid getting hit by vehicles.
Traffic police used large lamps to light themselves up to avoid getting hit by vehicles.

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Traffic police used large lamps to light themselves up to avoid getting hit by vehicles.

A greasy grime covered exposed surfaces. Pedestrians with their faces and noses blackened by the smog tried not to slip on the greasy black ooze that coated the sidewalks.

People wore face masks to go to shopping, to walk their dogs. Students wore face masks to go to school.

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People wore face masks even to kiss.
People wore face masks even to kiss.

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People wore face masks even to kiss.

Fearing the children might get lost in the smog, authorities advised parents not to send their children to school.

Fearing the children might get lost in the smog, authorities advised parents not to send their children to school.

Criminals emboldened by the thick dark smog resorted to purse snatching and burglaries and then vanished into the cloaking darkness.

Birds lost in the fog crashed into buildings.

Breeders fashioned improvised gas masks for their cattle by soaking grain sacks in whiskey. Eleven prize heifers brought to Earls Court for the famed Smithfield Show choked to death.

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All weekend soccer matches were canceled.
All weekend soccer matches were canceled.

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All weekend soccer matches were canceled. However, Oxford and Cambridge, carried on with their annual cross-country competition at Wimbledon Common. As runners materialized out of the thick haze, the track marshals shouted continually, “This way, this way, Oxford and Cambridge.”

Since the smog seeped even inside closed buildings, movie theaters closed down as the yellow haze made it impossible for the audience to see the screen. The opera houses too put up their shutters as the audience could no longer see the performers on the stage due to the acrid smog.

The unparalleled admissions to hospitals and the great number of pneumonia reports overwhelmed the medical authorities.

Sadly, the Great Smog was not only a nuisance, it was also lethal for those with respiratory and cardiovascular problems, the elderly, the babies and the infants. Amidst coughing and the wheezing, death came silently to London. The smog literally choked thousands to death. Deaths from bronchitis and pneumonia increased more than sevenfold and the death rate in the East End increased ninefold.

Eventually, the siege abated on December 9, 1952 when cold winds from the west swept the toxic smog away from London and carried out to the North Sea. Yet, the detrimental effects lingered on, and death rates remained above normal into the summer.

Initial reports estimated that upwards of 4,000 died prematurely in the first week of the Great Smog. The mortality rate remained high for a couple of months after the Great Smog. People realized the impact of the deadly Smog when the undertakers ran out of caskets and the florists out of flowers and bouquets.

There were 12,000 unexplained deaths and additional deaths during the episode and in the two months after the abatement of the peak smog.

A preliminary report not finalized yet attributed these later deaths to an influenza epidemic. New evidence shows that only a fraction of the deaths could be from influenza.

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The lungs of the dead confirmed that they died due to prolonged exposure to black carbon.

The lungs of the dead confirmed that they died due to prolonged exposure to black carbon.

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Thorough examination of the lungs of the dead confirmed that they died due to prolonged exposure to black carbon, a by-product of burning coal and a short-term overexposure to a high concentration of fine particulate matter containing heavy metals.

Initially, the British government was reluctant to act in the wake of the Great Smog.

The Coalition for Clean Air calculated the concentration of pollution in London at the time. They concluded that it might have surpassed the current pollution in China by a large margin even though PM2.5 was not measured at the time. During the Great Smog, the concentration of sulfur dioxide was 190 times higher than the WHO standard.

Following the investigation, the British Parliament passed the Clean Air Act of 1956, which restricted the burning of coal in urban areas. The Act authorized local councils to set up smoke-free zones.

The public received grants to convert from coal stoves to alternative heating systems.

It took years, for London to transit from its primary source of heating coal to gas, oil, and electricity. During the transition period, deadly smogs occurred periodically, such as one that killed 750 people in 1962. But none of them reached the scale of the Great Smog that descended upon London on December 5, 1952.

In the 1960s, after the Great Smog in London, other countries began to reduce and control their use of coal.

Now, India, a country suffering from severe air pollution is also on a similar footing. Soon, India will become the world’s second largest consumer of coal. Yet, as of today, India has not yet set standards for emissions of important pollutants in its industries.

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China Bans Chai Jing’s Antipollution Documentary about Smog in China


China Bans Chai Jing’s Antipollution Documentary about Smog in China

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Myself 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Ten years ago, I asked what that smell in the air was,
and I got no answer. Now I know. It’s the smell of money.
– Chai Jing, journalist and documentary filmmaker

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Chai Jing's review - Under the Dome – Investigating China’s Smog
Chai Jing’s review – Under the Dome – Investigating China’s Smog

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The Chinese documentary film “Under the Dome” was released online on Saturday, February 28, 2015, just before China’s annual “two meetings” period – the meetings of the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in the following week.

The film highlights the severe pollution problem in China.

Major internet platforms such as Youku Tudou and Tencent aired it without interference from film censors. On Tencent alone, it racked up more than 170 million views and sparked a huge amount of debates online.

Chen Jining, China’s environmental protection minister, praised the documentary as “worthy of admiration” and told reporters it should “encourage efforts by people to improve air quality”.

People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, re-posted the film and published an interview with Chai Jing.

Debates on environmental issues dominated the current session of the National People’s Congress, in Beijing. According to some correspondents, the popularity of the impassioned, independent film about environmental pollution appears to have brought jitters to the communist authorities.

Early this month the Chinese authorities banned the popular documentary just two days after Premier Li Keqiang called pollution a blight on people’s lives and had promised to fight it with all the government’s might. It was no longer aired on Youku Tudou, and Tencent from Friday March 6, 2015. The authorities instructed the media to stop writing about the documentary.

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Chai Jing - former investigative reporter and a celebrity TV anchor.
Chai Jing – former investigative reporter and a celebrity TV anchor.

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Chai Jing is a former investigative reporter and a celebrity TV anchor at the state broadcaster China Central Television. She has a good following among university students with a high-level of social consciousness.

Last year, she quit her job to look after her baby daughter born with a benign lung tumor.

For almost a year, Chai Jing conducted critical investigations of China’s massive air pollution problem. She used $160,000 of her own money and one year to produce the 104-minute documentary “Under the Dome”,  a wake-up call for China.

Chai Jing confesses that, like many other Chinese citizens, it was only recently that she learned the difference between fog and smog. Here is a transcript of the introduction by her:

“This graph shows that the Beijing PM2.5 index during January 2013. In just one month, there were 25 days of smog.

I was in Beijing at that time and as I looked back on this curve over the course of that year, I tried to recall the senses and emotions. But I couldn’t. At that time, everyone said random weather patterns caused the haze. Hardly anyone took it seriously.

In that month, I made four business trips: to Shaanxi, Henan, Jiangxi and Zhejiang. Looking back at the sky of these trips, it seems like China at that time was immersed in smog blanketing 25 provinces and 600 million people. I was right in the middle of it, but I didn’t even realize it. But the sensation in my throat remained. When I was in Xian, I was coughing so badly that I couldn’t even sleep. I cut up a lemon and put it beside my pillow.

When I returned to Beijing, I discovered that I was pregnant … At that moment, I knew she must be a girl … When I heard her [baby’s] heartbeat for the first time, there was nothing I wanted more than for her to be healthy. But she was diagnosed with a benign tumor which would require surgery immediately after birth… Before I could even hold her, she was carried off to the operating room … When I saw my little angel after the surgery, she was still unconscious. The Doctor said,… When I saw my little angel after the surgery, she was still unconscious. The Doctor said,… At that moment, I knew she must be a girl … When I heard her [baby’s] heartbeat for the first time, there was nothing I wanted more than for her to be healthy. But she was diagnosed with a benign tumor which would require surgery immediately after birth… … When I saw my little angel after the surgery, she was still unconscious. The Doctor said,

“The operation was very successful. But there is one thing you have to forgive me for: She is so chubby that it took several attempts to find a vein for the anesthetic.”

I took her tiny hand full of needle marks, and I held it to my face. I called her name until she opened her eyes and looked at me.

I’m a very lucky person. After that, I quit my job so I could spend my time keeping her company and looking after her. As long as we are all together, safe and sound, nothing else matters.

But already on our way home from the hospital, I started to feel scared. The smell of the black smoke and burning fire was everywhere. I covered her nose with my handkerchief. I know how stupid that seems, since in her struggle to breathe through it, she would just breath in more smog.

Before that moment, I’d never been afraid of air pollution and I’d never worn a filter mask. But now, there is a little life in your arms, her breathing, eating and drinking are all on your shoulders. That’s when you begin to feel afraid.

That severe smog at the end of 2013 lasted about tw months. The continuing smog made me feel like it was more than just a random occurrence and that it couldn’t possibly be over quickly. It was the same sky that I saw ten years ago, when I was in Shanxi.”

In 2004, Chai Jing interviewed a six-year-old girl named Wang Huiqing.

Chai: “Have you ever seen a real star before?”

Wang Huiqing: “No, I haven’t.”

Chai: “What about blue sky?”

Wang Huiqing: “I’ve seen one that’s a little blue.”

Chai: “What about white clouds?”

Wang Huiqing: “No, I haven’t.”

Chai then says: “When I interviewed this six-year-old girl in 2004, it didn’t cross my mind at all that what she said could be the same experience my daughter would have.”

Later on in her presentation Chai describes how difficult it was to explain to her daughter why she shouldn’t go outdoors. She says:

“These photos show each day of 2014 in Beijing. Only when the air quality was good would I dare to take my daughter outside with me. But how many good days were there? 175 were polluted. That means that in one year, half of the time I had no choice but to keep her at home like a prisoner.

Sometimes, when I get up in the morning, I see my daughter standing in front of our balcony smacking the glass window. This is her method of telling me that she wants to go outside.

I think, one day, she will ask me ‘Mama, why do you keep me shut inside? What is really out there? Will anything hurt me?’

Everything I have done throughout this year is to answer the questions she will ask me in the future. What is smog? Where does it come from? What can we do about it? ‘

Rivers in Shanxi: 84% are polluted, 62% are no longer usable. Chai speaks to an official named Wang.

Chai: “Sir, do you think this is still a river?”

Wang: “It’s not river water, it’s wastewater. Tests show that the annual average Benzopyrene is a powerful carcinogen. As time goes on, it accumulates in one’s body. Once enough of it accumulates, it increases a person’s risk of getting cancer.”

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Tourists wear facial masks while visiting the Temple of Heaven Park in Beijing in January. (Photo: Li Wen/Xinhua/Landov)
Tourists wear facial masks while visiting the Temple of Heaven Park in Beijing in January. (Photo: Li Wen/Xinhua/Landov)

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Chai Jing mentions the number of polluted days in some cities in China in 2014: Tianjin – 197, Shenyang – 152, Chengdu – 125, Lanzhou – 112, and Shijiazhuang – 264.

Chai Jing interviews local officials who protect industries that create jobs and pay taxes, but pollute the environment. She poses some tough questions about the politics and economics behind the smog. In one scene she confronts an official about fake emission stickers.

Chai: “So after so many years your law enforcement powers are still completely toothless?”

Officer: “Nowadays I don’t dare open my mouth out of fear that people will see I have no teeth.”

Some scenes in the film are shocking. In one scene during a visit to a hospital operating room, viewers are shown the damage China’s polluted air can do to a person’s lungs.

Chai Jing’s documentary focuses more on pollution and its effects on the daily lives of millions of Chinese. She doesn’t explicitly criticize China’s model of economic development. She does not assign any blame or call for China’s leaders or the party to be held accountable for their policies. However, she explains that the environmental pollution is due to the rapid industrialization. She blames the fast-growth development policies of the past which are linked to corruption for creating environmental side-effects.

Chai Jing’s documentary could be summarized by her words:

“I once watched a TV series titled ‘Under the Dome‘. It was about a small town suddenly enclosed by a dome that appeared out of nowhere. Cut off from the world, no way out. But one day, I realized that we’re all living in the same reality.”

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RELATED ARTICLES

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“The Good Samaritan” Narayanan Krishnan’s Actions Speak Louder than Words!


Myself 

 

 

BT.V. Antony Raj

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If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.
–  Mother Teresa

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Narayanan Krishnan - The Good Samaritan

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Born in 1981, Narayanan Krishnan, a former award-winning chef hails from Madurai, Tamilnadu, India.

In 2002, while working at Taj Hotels, Bengaluru, India, he secured a job as a chef in a five-star hotel in Switzerland. Before heading for Europe, he went to his birthplace to see his parents. There, on his way to a temple, he saw a distressing scene. Narayanan recalls:

“I saw a very old man, literally eating his own human waste out of hunger. I went to the nearby hotel and asked them what was available. They had idli [rice cake], which I bought and gave to the old man. Believe me, I had never seen a person eating so fast, ever. As he ate the food, his eyes were filled with tears. Those were the tears of happiness.”

Narayanan forfeited the job in Switzerland. From June 2002 onwards, using his savings of about $2500, he started distributing around 30 food packets a day for the destitute in and around Madurai City.

Narayanan Krishnan action reminds me of an incident in the Gospel of Mark:

Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

akshaya-logo

In 2003, Narayanan Krishnan founded the nonprofit Akshaya Trust. In Sanskrit, Akshaya means “non-depleting.” In Hindu mythology, Goddess Annapoorani fed the hungry with the never depleting “Akshaya bowl”. Krishnan said that he chose the name Akshaya “to signify that human compassion should never decay or perish … The spirit of helping others must prevail forever.”

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Narayanan Krishnan preparing the vegetables.
Narayanan Krishnan preparing the vegetables.

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Narayanan Krishnan wakes up every day at 4 am and with his team, prepares a simple hot meal. After loading the cooked food in a donated van, the team goes out to feed around 400 destitute, mentally disabled, and elderly people in Madurai. He provides them breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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Narayanan Krishnan shaves a destitute.

Narayanan Krishnan shaves a destitute.

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He not only feeds the needy, he has also acquired the skills of a barber. With the comb, scissors and razor he carries along with him, he cuts hair and shaves those he serves, transforming them into dignified persona. Krishnan says:

“I cut their hair, I give them a shave, I give them a bath. For them to feel, psychologically, that they are also human beings, that there are people to care for them, that they have a hand to hold, and a hope to live. Food is one part, and love is another part. So, the food will give them physical nutrition, and the love and affection which you show will give them mental nutrition.”

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Narayanan Krishnan hugging the destitute

Narayanan Krishnan, born into the Brahmin caste says:

“Brahmins are not supposed to touch these people, clean these people, hug these people, feed these people. Everybody has got 5.5 liters of blood. I am just a human being. For me, everybody is the same. “

Many destitute people do not know their names or where they come from. Some, because of their conditions, are paranoid and hostile. They do not beg, ask for help or offer thanks. Even then, their attitude only helps strengthen Krishnan’s steadfast resolve to help them.

“The panic, suffering of the human hunger is the driving force in me and my team members of Akshaya,” he said. “I get this energy from the people. The food which I cook … the enjoyment which they get is the energy. I see the soul. I want to save my people.”

In 2010, Narayanan Krishnan was in “CNN heroes 2010″ list. He was selected among the top 10 out of 10,000 nominations from more than 100 countries.

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Narayanan Krishnan summarizes his goal:

What is the ultimate purpose of life? It is to give! Start giving. See the joy in giving.

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A Sinhala – Tamil Hymn to Commemorate Saint Joseph Vaz


Myself 

 

 

BT.V. Antony Raj

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Saint Joseph Vaz
Saint Joseph Vaz

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Saint Joseph Vaz was born on April 21, 1651 in the village of Benaulim, Goa, India.

In 2012, Rev. Fr. Anthony Hemantha Peiris of the Diocese of Badulla, Sri Lanka, wrote the Lyrics in Sinhala and also composed the music of the hymn sung in the following video to commemorate the birth of the Saint of India and Sri Lanka.

Rev. Fr. Michael Rajendram Pillai of the Diocese of Galle translated the lyrics were Tamil.

The hymn is sung in both Sinhala and Tamil languages in the same Melody.

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Here are the lyrics and the music sheet.

Hymn to St. Joseph Vaz in Sinhalese and Tamil

Music Sheet Page 1

Music Sheet Page 2

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RELATED ARTICLES

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Hugh Herr: The Bionic Man


Myself 

 

 

BT.V. Antony Raj

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Dr. Hugh Herr Phot by Claudia Dreifus( Source: nytimes.com) (Custom)
Dr. Hugh Herr Phot by Claudia Dreifus( Source: nytimes.com) (Custom)

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Hugh Herr, an American, born October 25, 1964, a double amputee is building the next generation of bionic limbs, robotic prosthetics inspired by nature’s own designs. Herr is a rock climber, engineer, and biophysicist.

Herr grew up in rural Pennsylvania, and his only dream was becoming a mountaineer. By the time he was 8, being a prodigy rock climber, he scaled the face of the 11,627-foot (3,544 m) Mount Temple in the Canadian Rockies.

In January 1982, the 17-year-old Hugh Herr, acknowledged as one of the best climbers in the United States, and a fellow climber 20-year-old Jeff Batzer ascended a difficult technical ice route in Huntington Ravine on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. They were caught in a blizzard. Disoriented, they wandered through the frozen wilderness. Eventually, they descended into the Great Gulf and spent three nights in −20 °F (−29 °C) degree temperatures. When rescued, both the climbers had suffered severe frostbite and hypothermia. During the rescue attempt, an avalanche killed a volunteer named Albert Dow.

Months of surgeries followed. Unfortunately, both legs of Hugh Herr were amputated below the knee. His companion, Jeff Batzer lost his lower left leg, all the toes on his right foot, and the fingers of his right hand. He did not climb again. He joined the clergy and is now the director of pastoral care at the Lancaster Evangelical Free Church.

After the amputation and rehabilitation, Hugh Herr focused on academics. He earned an undergraduate degree in physics at the Millersville University, and then a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at MIT, followed by a Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard University.

Soon, an undaunted Hugh Herr using specialized prostheses that he himself designed, was climbing once again, a feat his doctors told him was unthinkable.

Hugh Herr climbing High Exposure in Mohonk Preserve an hour south of Albany on the cliffs called The Gunks. (Source: jothyrosenberg.com)
Hugh Herr climbing High Exposure in Mohonk Preserve an hour south of Albany on the cliffs called The Gunks. (Source: jothyrosenberg.com)

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Hugh Herr designed and created prosthetic feet with high toe stiffness that made it possible for him to stand on small rock edges the width of a coin. He designed titanium-spiked feet to assist him in ascending steep ice walls. He used the prostheses to alter his height that could range from five to eight feet, to avoid awkward body positions and to grab hand and footholds that were previously out of reach. He created robotic powered ankles because that was the only way for smooth walking.

Using the prostheses, Herr climbed rock cliffs at a more advanced level than he had before the amputation. He became the first person with a major amputation to perform in a sport on par with able-bodied sportsmen.

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At present, Hugh Herr is an associate professor in MIT’s Program in Media Arts and Sciences and at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. As the head of the MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics group, Herr focuses on the designing of the next generation of bionic limbs and robotic prosthetics inspired by nature’s own designs. He is developing wearable robotic systems that serve to augment the human physical capability. He is rewriting the laws of physiology by redefining what it means to be human.

TED is a nonprofit group devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today it covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages.

TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes or less on Technology, Entertainment and Design — plus science, business, global issues, the arts and much more.

In the following video, Dr. Hugh Herr shows his incredible technology in a talk that is both technically and deeply personal. He demonstrates the Biometric technology developed by the MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics group with the help of the ballroom dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis, who lost her left leg in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and performs again for the first time on the TED stage.

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Here is the transcript of the above video:

0:12
Looking deeply inside nature through the magnifying glass of science, designers extract principles, processes and materials that are forming the very basis of design methodology, from synthetic constructs that resemble biological materials to computational methods that emulate neural processes, nature is driving design. Design is also driving nature. In realms of genetics, regenerative medicine and synthetic biology, designers are growing novel  technologies not foreseen or anticipated by nature.

0:51
Bionics explores the interplay between biology and design. As you can see, my legs are bionic. Today I will tell human stories of bionic integration, how electromechanics attached to the body and implanted inside the body are beginning to bridge the gap between disability and ability, between human limitation and human potential.

1:23
Bionics has defined my physicality. In 1982, both of my legs were amputated due to tissue damage from frostbite incurred during a mountain climbing accident. At that time, I didn’t view my body as broken. I reasoned that a human being can never be broken. Technology is broken. Technology is inadequate. This simple but powerful idea was a call to arms to advance technology for the elimination of my own disability and ultimately the disability of others. I began by developing specialized limbs that allowed me to return to the vertical world of rock and ice climbing. I quickly realized that the artificial part of my body is malleable, able to take on any form, any function, a blank slate through which to create perhaps structures that could extend beyond biological capability. I made my height adjustable. I could be as short as five feet or as tall as I’d like. (Laughter) So when I was feeling badly about myself, insecure, I would jack my height up, but when I was feeling confident and suave, I would knock my height down a notch just to give the competition a chance. (Laughter) (Applause) Narrow, wedged feet allowed me to climb steep rock fissures where the human foot cannot penetrate, and spiked feet enabled me to climb vertical ice walls without ever experiencing muscle leg fatigue. Through technological innovation, I returned to my sport stronger and better. Technology had eliminated my disability and allowed me a new climbing prowess. As a young man, I imagined a future world where technology so advanced could rid the world of disability, a world in which neural implants would allow the visually impaired to see, a world in which the paralyzed could walk via body exoskeletons.

3:31
Sadly, because of deficiencies in technology, disability is rampant in the world. This gentleman is missing three limbs. As a testimony to current technology, he is out of the wheelchair, but we need to do a better job in bionics to allow one day full rehabilitation for a person with this level of injury. At the MIT Media Lab, we’ve established the Center for Extreme Bionics. The mission of the center is to put forth fundamental science and technological capability that will allow the biomechatronic and regenerative repair of humans across a broad range of brain and body disabilities.

4:12
Today, I’m going to tell you how my legs function, how they work, as a case in point for this center. Now, I made sure to shave my legs last night, because I knew I’d be showing them off.

4:25
Bionics entails the engineering of extreme interfaces. There’s three extreme interfaces in my bionic limbs: mechanical, how my limbs are attached to my biological body; dynamic, how they move like flesh and bone; and electrical, how they communicate with my nervous system.

4:41
I’ll begin with mechanical interface. In the area of design, we still do not understand how to attach devices to the body mechanically. It’s
extraordinary to me that in this day and age, one of the most mature, oldest technologies in the human timeline, the shoe, still gives us blisters. How can this be? We have no idea how to attach things to our bodies. This is the beautifully lyrical design work of Professor Neri Oxman at the MIT Media Lab, showing spatially varying exoskeletal impedances, shown here by color variation in this 3D-printed model. Imagine a future where clothing is stiff and soft where you need it, when you need it, for optimal support and flexibility, without ever causing discomfort.

5:30
My bionic limbs are attached to my biological body via synthetic skins with stiffness variations that mirror my underlying tissue biomechanics. To achieve that mirroring, we first developed a mathematical model of my biological limb. To that end, we used imaging tools such as MRI to look inside my body to figure out the geometries and locations of various tissues. We also took robotic tools. Here’s a 14-actuator circle that goes around the biological limb. The actuators come in, find the surface of the limb, measure its unloaded shape, and then they push on the tissues to measure tissue
compliances at each anatomical point. We combine these imaging and robotic data to build a mathematical description of my biological limb, shown on the left. You see a bunch of points, or nodes. At each node, there’s a color that represents tissue compliance. We then do a mathematical transformation to the design of the synthetic skin shown on the right, and we’ve discovered optimality is where the body is stiff, the synthetic skin should be soft, where the body is soft, the synthetic skin is stiff, and this mirroring occurs across all tissue compliances. With this framework, we produced bionic limbs that are the most comfortable limbs I’ve ever worn. Clearly in the future, our clothing, our shoes, our braces, our prostheses, will no longer be designed and manufactured using artisan strategies, but rather data-driven quantitative frameworks. In that future, our shoes will no longer give us blisters.

7:07
We’re also embedding sensing and smart materials into the synthetic skins. This is a material developed by SRI International, California. Under electrostatic effect, it changes stiffness. So under zero voltage, the material is compliant. It’s floppy like paper. Then the button’s pushed, a voltage is applied, and it becomes stiff as a board. We embed this material into the synthetic skin that attaches my bionic limb to my biological body. When I walk here, it’s no voltage. My interface is soft and compliant. The button’s pushed, voltage is applied, and it stiffens, offering me a greater maneuverability of the bionic limb.

7:49
We’re also building exoskeletons. This exoskeleton becomes stiff and soft in just the right areas of the running cycle to protect the biological joints from high impacts and degradation. In the future, we’ll all be wearing exoskeletons in common activities such as running.

8:07
Next, dynamic interface. How do my bionic limbs move like flesh and bone? At my MIT lab, we study how humans with normal physiologies stand, walk and run. What are the muscles doing, and how are they controlled by the spinal cord? This basic science motivates what we build. We’re building bionic ankles, knees and hips. We’re building body parts from the ground up. The bionic limbs that I’m wearing are called BiOMs. They’ve been fitted to nearly 1,000 patients, 400 of which have been U.S. wounded soldiers.

8:40
How does it work? At heel strike, under computer control, the system controls stiffness to attenuate the shock of the limb hitting the ground. Then at mid-stance, the bionic limb outputs high torques and powers to lift the person into the walking stride, comparable to how muscles work in the calf region. This bionic propulsion is very important clinically to patients. So, on the left you see the bionic device worn by a lady — on the right a passive device worn by the same lady that fails to emulate normal muscle function — enabling her to do something everyone should be able to do, go up and down their steps at home. Bionics also allows for extraordinary athletic feats. Here’s a gentleman running up a rocky pathway. This is Steve Martin, not the comedian, who lost his legs in a bomb blast in Afghanistan.

9:33
We’re also building exoskeletal structures using these same principles that wrap around a biological limb. This gentleman does not have any leg condition, any disability. He has a normal physiology, so these exoskeletons are applying muscle-like torques and powers so that his own muscles need not apply those torques and powers. This is the first exoskeleton in history that actually augments human walking. It significantly reduces metabolic cost. It’s so profound in its augmentation that when a normal, healthy person wears the device for 40 minutes and then takes it off, their own biological legs feel ridiculously heavy and awkward. We’re beginning the age in which machines attached to our bodies will make us stronger and faster and more efficient.

10:26
Moving on to electrical interface, how do my bionic limbs communicate with my nervous system? Across my residual limb are electrodes that measure the electrical pulse of my muscles. That’s communicated to the bionic limb, so when I think about moving my phantom limb, the robot tracks those movement desires. This diagram shows fundamentally how the bionic limb is controlled, so we model the missing biological limb, and we’ve discovered what reflexes occurred, how the reflexes of the spinal cord are controlling the muscles, and that capability is embedded in the chips of the bionic limb. What we’ve done, then, is we modulate the sensitivity of the reflex, the modeled spinal reflex, with the neural signal, so when I relax my muscles in my residual limb, I get very little torque and power, but the more I fire my muscles, the more torque I get, and I can even run. And that was the first demonstration of a running gait under neural command. Feels great. (Applause)

11:34
We want to go a step further. We want to actually close the loop between the human and the bionic external limb. We’re doing experiments where we’re growing nerves, transected nerves, through channels or microchannel arrays. On the other side of the channel, the nerve then attaches to cells, skin cells and muscle cells. In the motor channels, we can sense how the person wishes to move. That can be sent out wirelessly to the bionic limb, then sensors on the bionic limb can be converted to stimulations in adjacent channels, sensory channels. So, when this is fully developed and for human use, persons like myself will not only have synthetic limbs that move like flesh and bone, but actually feel like flesh and bone.

12:24
This video shows Lisa Mallette shortly after being fitted with two bionic limbs. Indeed, bionics is making a profound difference in people’s lives.

12:34
(Video) Lisa Mallette: Oh my God. Oh my God, I can’t believe it. It’s just like I’ve got a real leg. Now, don’t start running.

12:49
Man: Now turn around, and do the same thing walking up. Walk up, get on your heel to toe, like you would normally just walk on level ground. Try to walk right up the hill. LM: Oh my God. Man: Is it pushing you up? LM: Yes! I’m not even — I can’t even describe it. Man: It’s pushing you right up.

13:11
Hugh Herr: Next week, I’m visiting the center’s —

13:14
(Applause) Thank you, thank you.

13:18
Thank you. Next week I’m visiting the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and I’m going to try to convince CMS to grant appropriate code language and pricing so this technology can be made available to the patients that need it.

13:33
Thank you. (Applause)

13:38
It’s not well appreciated, but over half of the world’s population suffers from some form of cognitive, emotional, sensory or motor condition, and because of poor technology, too often, conditions result in disability and a poorer quality of life. Basic levels of physiological function should be a part of our human rights. Every person should have the right to live life without disability if they so choose — the right to live life without severe depression; the right to see a loved one in the case of seeing impaired; or the right to walk or to dance, in the case of limb paralysis or limb amputation. As a society, we can achieve these human rights if we accept the proposition that humans are not disabled. A person can never be broken. Our built environment, our technologies, are broken and disabled. We the people need not accept our limitations, but can transcend disability through technological innovation. Indeed, through fundamental advances in bionics in this century, we will set the technological foundation for an enhanced human experience, and we will end disability.

14:52
I’d like to finish up with one more story, a beautiful story, the story of Adrianne Haslet-Davis. Adrianne lost her left leg in the Boston terrorist attack. I met Adrianne when this photo was taken at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. Adrianne is a dancer, a ballroom dancer.

15:10
Adrianne breathes and lives dance. It is her expression. It is her art form. Naturally, when she lost her limb in the Boston terrorist attack, she wanted to return to the dance floor.

15:22
After meeting her and driving home in my car, I thought, I’m an MIT professor. I have resources. Let’s build her a bionic limb to enable her to go back to her life of dance. I brought in MIT scientists with expertise in prosthetics, robotics, machine learning and biomechanics, and over a 200-day research period, we studied dance. We brought in dancers with biological limbs, and we studied how do they move, what forces do they apply on the dance floor, and we took those data and we put forth fundamental principles of dance, reflexive dance capability, and we embedded that intelligence into the bionic limb. Bionics is not only about making people stronger and faster. Our expression, our humanity can be embedded into electromechanics.

16:13
It was 3.5 seconds between the bomb blasts in the Boston terrorist attack. In 3.5 seconds, the criminals and cowards took Adrianne off the dance floor. In 200 days, we put her back. We will not be intimidated, brought down, diminished, conquered or stopped by acts of violence. (Applause)

16:43
Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to introduce Adrianne Haslet-Davis, her first performance since the attack. She’s dancing with Christian Lightner. (Applause)

17:04
(Music: “Ring My Bell” performed by Enrique Iglesias)
(Applause)

18:21
Ladies and gentlemen, members of the research team, Elliott Rouse and Nathan Villagaray-Carski. Elliott and Nathan.
(Applause)

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