Briefing

Green Scene

From atop the seventh story of the Morgan mail processing facility in New York City, visitors can enjoy panoramic views of midtown Manhattan. And employees at the federal building who lunch al fresco on the roof can experience some of the city's most unique plants, vegetation and recycled materials.

In July, the U.S. Postal Service opened its first green roof, which at nearly 2.5 acres is NYC's largest. About 60 percent of the structure is composed of native plant life. Fourteen benches and an art wall are made of Brazilian ipe hardwood that doesn't require maintenance. And the original 176 copper column caps, which helped earn the Morgan facility its historical building status, are now green due to natural oxidation.

"Not only does it provide employees with a beautiful, serene outdoor environment, the green roof will help us meet our goal to reduce energy usage 30 percent by 2015," says Sam Pulcrano, the Postal Service's vice president for sustainability.

The new roof also should save the government some green. The agency projects $30,000 in annual savings on heating and cooling costs. And the roof is expected to last another 50 years-twice as long as a typical covering.

-Robert Brodsky

Viral Video

With the arrival of the H1N1 virus, flu season has acquired a new significance this fall, so it seems fitting that the Health and Human Services Department has harnessed the power of YouTube to promote prevention. During the summer, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced a video contest and in late September presented the grand prize to Dr. John D. Clarke, a rapping family physician from New York.

The competition awarded $2,500 and TV broadcast time for the best 15-, 30- or 60-second public service announcement about flu prevention. Contestants submitted more than 240 entries to HHS' YouTube channel, and after judges narrowed the list to 10 finalists, viewers cast votes for their favorite production.

Clarke, the medical director for New York's Long Island Railroad, in 2004 created Health Hop, a music genre that transforms information about topics like asthma, allergies and diabetes into catchy rap tunes. His H1N1 public service announcement features his own lyrics, music and performance, in which he urges viewers to wash their hands frequently, avoid touching their faces, and stay at home if they feel sick.

Contestants had to meet the basic criteria of creativity, accurate messaging and entertainment value. One finalist followed an overly cautious hazmat suit-wearing man through his daily routine, while another compared a germ-filled toothbrush with unwashed hands. Other videos depicted a colorful puppet show, a young girl instructing her dogs in proper hygiene, and a SimLife Michael Jackson character moonwalking across an empty porch.

-Emily Long

Seeing Stars

Marilyn Muir, a Florida resident and self-described perpetual student, uses astrology to examine cycles of change in U.S. history. Before she retired to research and write on a range of topics, Muir was a magazine business manager, ordained minister, metaphysics teacher, TV host and radio columnist. Her most recent book, Presidents of Hope and Change (100MonkeysPress, 2009), maps astrological influences on U.S. elections and leadership.

Q: What themes emerge in Presidents of Hope and Change?

A: This is a study of the cycles within our solar system. When I set my particular system up, I saw that Barack Obama was going to win [the presidency]. As we got closer to the inauguration, I wondered what the president was all about: What was he going to do, what was his purpose in being here? We elected him, what was our game plan? I started looking for purpose, commonality, and the first theme that seemed to come out was the theme of hope and change.

Q: What conflicts are there between conformity and change?

A: The problem is between the status quo, which usually at a moment like [this] is not working, and so the forces of change are there trying to pop it loose, make something happen that will make it right, that will heal it, that will fix it. . . . In choosing a leader, [the electorate] is choosing a direction from a point where the road forks. When change wins, we move forward. When conformity wins, we'll move backwards.

-Emily Long

Earth, Wind & fire

The prospect of disasters keeps two new IBM supercomputers busy at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Stratus and Cirrus are the crown jewels of a nine-year $180 million project to improve weather and climate prediction. They take in billions of bytes of data daily from the ground, air, sea and space, spinning out up to 278.8 trillion calculations per second. With such complex forecasts, meteorologists can protect lives with quicker updates for hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, storms, wildfires and tsunamis.

Stratus' microprocessors contain 2,000 miles of copper wiring, enough to stretch from Washington to the Grand Canyon

Stratus is one-half the size of a tennis court

It would take a person with a calculator 3 million years to tabulate the computations that Stratus can perform in one second

Stratus is 34 times more powerful than the most powerful supercomputer a decade ago

Source: NOAA

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