In The News: Florida Middle Schoolers Write Bomb Threat, Debate Organizers Clarify Crist Fan, GPD Cracking Down On Cyclists, Second Jacksonville Hospital Handles Ebola Scare

By on October 16th, 2014 | Last updated: October 16, 2014 at 2:00 pm
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Two Organizations Team Up For Second Time On Smokey Bear Park Developement

By on October 16th, 2014 | Last updated: October 20, 2014 at 9:18 am

The Gainesville Parks Recreation and Cultural Affairs will work with the Rotary Clubs of Gainesville Foundation to reignite a history of park development.

The groups plan to restore a rotary wheel located in Smokey Bear Park, which, nearly 50 years ago, both organizations helped create at 2500 NE 15th St. near the University of Florida’s eastside campus.

Linda Demetropoulos, nature and cultural manager for GPRCA, said the project is part of an ongoing renovation at the park, which started in the summer.

A project coordinator from GPRCA approached Susan Spain, president of RCGF, after discovering the club participated in the original development of the park in 1963.

Spain said RCGF is the oldest club in Florida and is excited to be a part of the latest renovation that will help mark its history of involvement in Gainesville.

“When you look at it and start analyzing, it really tells you about the history of Gainesville,” she said.

John Weber, operations supervisor with GPRCA, said an artist specialized in tile work will design the wheel with mosaic tile painted in the rotary colors: blue and gold.

The colors have to be specific to the rotary shades because the organization is strict about representing their logo, Spain said.

“They don’t want you to change it in any way,” she said.

Weber helps oversee the current renovation of Smokey Bear Park, originally a 4.5 acre piece of land given to the county by the Florida Forest Service. After the FFS asked the county 50 years ago if they wanted to use the land, the city and rotary got together to start building the park.

The club dedicated $3,000, and the city helped design the park, Demetropoulos said. Over the course of two years, both departments went back and forth in the process of development, leaving behind a small swing set, some trees, and the rotary wheel.

The RCGF will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in six years by trying to put its history together, and Spain said the information about its involvement with the park came at the right time.

As part of the renovation over the summer, the city purchased the land from FFS in July, expanding the facility to include a dog park, Weber said. It also cut down some trees to open space for a parking lot.

The renovation of the park, Weber said, will be completed by November. It will include a new pavilion, playground and swing sets, as well as the new wheel located at the entrance with newly planted shrubbery.

The wheel remains the only amenity from the original 1963 design.

“This is a very hidden gem,” Weber said.

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Grace Marketplace Worried About Spread Of Illness On Site

By on October 16th, 2014 | Last updated: October 16, 2014 at 10:09 am

A man diagnosed with scabies and living in a tent on the campus of Grace Marketplace is causing concern.

Residents are worried about transmission, and administrators are wondering about the facility’s preparedness for disease control.

Grace Marketplace, an emergency homeless shelter off Waldo Road near the Gainesville airport, officially opened its dorms on Oct. 1. There is no medical clinic on the campus. To receive a diagnosis and medical care, residents must visit one of Gainesville’s clinics or the Alachua County Health Department.

The man infected with the highly contagious skin disease came to the site already infected, said Theresa Lowe, executive director for the North Florida Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry.

Lowe said many of the people who use the services provided by Grace Marketplace do not qualify for Medicaid, have no private insurance or are not old enough for Medicare.

The shelter plans on converting an old building into a health care center, but costly repairs to bring it up to code for a medical facility could take up to one year.

With winter approaching, the possibility of an airborne disease outbreak, such as the flu, is a concern for staff at the facility.

Racheal Morrison, 29, spends time on Grace Marketplace campus Wednesday. The campus is preparing for flu season by disinfecting and attempting to vaccinate everyone with flu mist.

Cassidy Whitson / WUFT News

Racheal Morrison, 29, spends time on Grace Marketplace campus Wednesday. The campus is preparing for flu season by disinfecting and attempting to vaccinate everyone with flu mist.

Scabies is only spread through skin-to-skin contact, making containment of the disease fairly simple.

“It’s not some deadly, highly-contagious disease,” Lowe said.

The flu virus, however, can spread rapidly through close quarters, such as meals and communal living in the shelter.

“That would be a lot more devastating,” Lowe said.

She beleives if five people contracted the flu in one week, it could progress to over 50 by the next.

Grace Marketplace is looking to provide FluMist as part of its homeless services. Lowe stressed the shelter is not a medical facility and is met with the challenges of convincing people to get vaccinated.

Brandi West, a client advocate at the shelter, said misinformation and rumors cause anxiety among residents. She personally brought in information about scabies, common colds and the flu to educate those who had doubts about transmission and treatment of the diseases.

“We disinfect anything and everything,” she said.

West said the shelter is trying to build up more advanced infrastructure to handle the potential of more disease outbreaks. They are trying to get medical gloves and masks, among other necessities. However, she said they are trying to meet the imperative needs of clothing and personal hygiene products first.

Brice Kinney, 48, stays in a tent in Dignity Village. He said he is concerned for his health in the shelter.

“Any medical help I can get, I will take,” he said.


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Local Student Develops Epilepsy App, Wins $75,000

By on October 16th, 2014 | Last updated: October 16, 2014 at 12:49 pm
Amir Helmy, 13, and his father Ahmed Helmy present their smartphone app Heatera at the 20th Annual International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking in early September. Helmy has also won multiple awards for a second app called Seizario.

Michaela Bisienere / WUFT News

Amir Helmy, 13, and his father Ahmed Helmy present their smartphone app Heatera at the 20th Annual International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking in early September. Helmy has also won multiple awards for a second app called Seizario.

Eastside High School freshman Amir Helmy was just looking for a 7th grade science fair project idea in the fall of 2012.

A family friend and neurologist was talking about the expensive and complicated equipment epilepsy patients had to rely on to monitor their seizures when Helmy came up with the idea for his first award-winning smartphone app. 

“I didn’t have a science fair idea yet, and I know that our phones have the same capabilities as the sensors that he was talking about,” said Helmy, 13. “I thought, ‘Why not just use an everyday device to solve a big problem?’”

Helmy was familiar with the basics of programming from building Lego robots growing up and attending NASA camp. With the help of his father, an associate professor in the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Department at UF, Helmy began to create the software Seizario, which uses the accelerometer inside of a smartphone to monitor human movement.

Seizario can differentiate between normal movements and those related to seizures and send alert to emergency contacts or caregivers. Seizario can also detect falls, allowing it to be useful for the elderly or other patients who are prone to falling and injuring themselves.

“He told me that he wanted to do something that no one else has done before,” said Helmy’s father, Ahmed. “We didn’t know if it was going to succeed or not.”

The two began to use the app to look for patterns in everyday movement that could be analyzed. After consulting with neurologists to test the validity of the app and fine-tuning the programming, Seizario became a success. The app took Amir to the regional and state science fair competitions, in which he won first place.

The duo then created a second app, HeartEra, for the 8th grade science fair the following year. HeartEra also used smartphone sensors to monitor the body, this time giving a reading of heartbeat patterns when the user lies down and places the phone over his or her heart.

It was while Helmy was in Turkey with his family for his father’s sabbatical that he made the decision to continue working with the apps beyond the science fair. Father and son found the International Epilepsy Pipeline Conference, to take place in San Francisco in early June 2014. The conference included a “Shark Tank” competition, which would honor innovators in epilepsy product concepts with up to $200,000 in grant money.

“It was a surprise to us just to be chosen as a finalist,” Ahmed said. “They thought the idea was simple enough to understand and simple enough to implement. It was readily available on smartphones, you didn’t need any extra hardware.”

Helmy and his father then presented Seizario in front of a panel of judges, or “sharks”.

Although Helmy remembers the judges “didn’t even mention us when they were giving away their money that they had,” Seizario won the People’s Choice award – one of the largest monetary awards at the competition with a $75,000 prize.

“When my dad and I got the People’s Choice award [from the Epilepsy Foundation], it really showed that people wanted and needed the product we had to offer,” Helmy said. “I guess that was the biggest moment and realization point for me, that I could really take this to the next level and that this is getting serious.”

A couple of months later in September, the duo submitted HeartEra and Seizario to the Annual International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking, known as ACM MobiCom and held in Maui, Hawaii. According to Ahmed, MobiCom is the premier conference in the field of mobile computing.

“I told him the competition is going to be very tough. You’re competing with Ph.D students and renowned professors from MIT and Berkeley, Chicago, all over the world,” Ahmed said. “And he said ‘You know what, let’s try. What do we have to lose?’”

Heartera went on to win first place in the mobile app competition and second place in the start-up pitch conference.

“We went there and people were just excited to see him,” Ahmed said. “I think it’s the first time that a student that was not a college student was participating.”

A few weeks later, and Helmy is back in the daily routine of class and after-school activities typical of a high school freshman. He said he has plans to keep his apps moving forward until they are on the market and available to be used by the public. He and his father plan to launch a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo in the next month to create a community of users for the apps and make improvements.

“I realize after winning all these awards that I still have a lot of work to do in order to make it into a product that will actually help people,” Helmy said.

One of the people who has assisted Helmy in testing his app as a product is Dr. Jean Cibula, neurologist and chief of the Epilepsy Division at the UF Department of Neurology. Helmy approached Cibula for assistance in getting the app tested on a real patient after the app won his school science fair.

Cibula said the app is a significant step in ensuring the safety of epilepsy patients and will help doctors to monitor the health of their patients.

“Currently, one of the biggest issues in treating folks is knowing how often people have seizures,” she said. “People can’t always remember when they’re having a seizure. This will not only log the seizure but send a notice to a family member or designated caregiver.”

Helmy hopes his apps will be available for download within the next six months. He and his father are working with cardiologists and neurologists like Cibula to continue refining the existing apps, and he wants to create new health apps when the time comes.

Biomedical engineer, computer scientist and doctor are all potential future career paths for Helmy. He credits his father for continuing to help him achieve his goal to develop technology that will improve patient’s lives.

 “My dad has pretty much taught me everything I know and he helped me throughout the whole journey,” he said.

Cibula said she thinks the academic community in Gainesville encourages innovation among students like Helmy.

“It’s really inspiring,” she said. “I think that’s indicative of what kids are doing all over Gainesville. Kids are smart and creative and have this huge reservoir of resources that can be accessed.”

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In The News: Missing Students Not Among Bodies In Mexico, Hurricane Gonzalo Still Threatens Bermuda, UF Homecoming Parade To Be Televised, Neil Patrick Harris To Host Oscars

By on October 16th, 2014 | Last updated: October 16, 2014 at 9:17 am
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Ocala Symphony Orchestra Renovates Old Auditorium

By on October 16th, 2014 | Last updated: October 14, 2014 at 8:59 pm

Pamela Calero envisions a future where she can enjoy a nighttime performance at the old City Auditorium then take a trolley downtown for dinner.

And her vision might soon be a reality, except the auditorium won’t be called that anymore. The Ocala Symphony Orchestra is renovating the 80-year-old building, giving it a new life and a new name — The Reilly Arts Center.

“What our goal is, is really to help connect Tuscawilla Park to our downtown square and just add to the cultural benefits of the community,” said Calero, the Ocala Symphony Orchestra’s executive director. “Our vision is, ‘memories are made.’”

The city-owned building has held a lot of memories as one of the longest-standing buildings in Ocala. Built in 1932 under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” the auditorium, located at 836 NE Sanchez Ave., has housed acts like Buddy Holly and the Boston Pops, as well as high school proms in the 1950s and 60s. More recently, the auditorium sat vacant for a number of years.

The symphony, which currently plays out of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Auditorium, first expressed interest in securing a location of its own about five years ago. After searching through available sites that fit its criteria, it settled on the City Auditorium just two years later.

To officially start the renovations on the performing arts center, the symphony has a fundraising goal of $2.6 million. But construction can begin in earnest when $2.3 million has been raised. So far, donors have contributed just over $2 million.

To raise interest, the group is offering tours of the facility and putting together a video about its renovation efforts. Minor construction is already underway. A team has removed the modern ceiling to reveal a 1930s original. And while there’s no set timeline, Calero said the symphony hopes the project will be completed by September of next year in time for the 2015-16 concert season.

If all goes according to plan, about 650 seats will have been added in the downstairs and upstairs areas by then.

Calero expects the renovation to be beneficial for symphony attendance, especially considering the auditorium’s location in the heart of Ocala. She said she also believes the new Reilly Arts Center, named after one of its largest donors, will benefit other cultural and community organizations as well as the area’s economy.

“I think it’s a great place and right now, especially with the economic boom we’re seeing happen in our downtown area, we’re hoping it will be an anchor point,” Calero said. “And we expect it will be.”

The city of Ocala extended the symphony a 30-year lease of the building, with rent at $1 per year. The symphony was expected to be self-sufficient in funding the construction.

The renovation effort is part of the larger “Reinvent Tuscawilla Park” project, according to city manager Matthew Brower. The project is a part of a regional effort to bring people to Ocala to enjoy what the city can offer, including performance arts.

“Although the project is very small in scope, its impact on our broader goal and strategic plan is enormous,” Brower said.

The arts center will still be available to rent out for events like birthdays, anniversaries and corporate meetings.

Aside from a fresh coat of paint, most of the renovations to the building affect the interior, which will still match the art deco theme of the exterior.  It is important to the symphony, and to the community, that the history of the building be preserved.

Calero said that the symphony has received great support from the community in regards to the renovations.

“People are tied to this building for different reasons,” Calero said. “They’re tied to it for historic reasons—maybe they experienced an event in their life that took place here. Some people are just really interested in having a place for the arts in our community and are excited to see this building used for that function.”

Historic Ocala Preservation Society member Suzanne Thomas said that she was looking forward to seeing the building be used again in a productive way.

Thomas said many locals have great memories of events, like graduations or proms, held at the auditorium.

“I’m just very excited about the fact that it will be utilized by the city for people to enjoy once again,” she said. “People who grew up here have a great fondness for it. It’s a great building.”

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Oct. 16, 2014: Morning News in 90

By on October 16th, 2014 | Last updated: October 16, 2014 at 9:00 am

Michelle Manzione produced this update.

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Investment Into Open-Access Textbooks Could Save Students Millions

By on October 16th, 2014 | Last updated: October 17, 2014 at 9:36 am
Charlie Mitchell in front of   the online version of his open-access textbook.

Charlie Mitchell in front of the online version of his open-access textbook.

Next year, Florida students might be able to start saving on college textbooks if the state grants a request to invest in an open-access textbook program.

The textbooks could save students upward of $150 per book, which adds up to a $77.5 million for the 500,000 students enrolled in the state’s Calculus I system alone, according to the results of a pilot program for open-access textbooks.

These savings depend on whether the Florida Legislature accepts a 2015-2016 budget request from the Board of Governors for a $227,000-investment in an open-access textbook initiative called Orange Grove Text Plus.

If accepted, the money will go to University Press of Florida, a system-wide press that prints textbooks for 11 universities in the Florida system.

Meredith Morris-Babb, the director of UPF, said she believes open-access textbooks can replace the standard model with more affordable versions for students in core curriculum.

Unlike e-textbooks, open-access is free for anyone to view online. Teachers can also take what is available and add anything that fits course objectives.

“Open-access is not e-textbooks,” Babb said. “There is a huge difference.”

E-textbooks can cost nearly the same price as their hardback counterparts, but they have more bells and whistles like interactive online content, high-quality graphics and photos.

Charlie Mitchell, a theater appreciation and advanced improvisation teacher at the University of Florida, said he would meet with other professors and complain about the textbooks they had to use.

“Sure, they had nice features and all, but they were never worth the amount of money you were shelling out,” he said.

Mitchell decided to switch to open-access and collaborated with eight other theater professors to write their own textbook. This semester is his first time using the text, and students haven’t noticed any difference in quality.

For first addition, new textbooks on Amazon, Mitchell’s students were paying $140 on average. Now, his students can have the material for free online or buy a paperback copy from the UFP for $25.

“And I don’t see a dime of that,” Mitchell said.

That is the biggest obstacle standing in the way of open-access: funding.

Usually, publishing representatives walk the halls looking to sell textbooks to professors with large classes like Mitchell’s. If he agrees to use one of their books, the publishers will have 600 guaranteed sales that contribute to paying the book’s authors.

If open-access is used in the classroom, a $5-fee will be added onto students’ tuition along with the option to buy a hard copy essentially worth its weight in paper, but this hardly goes to the authors for their work. Therefore, the money needs to come from somewhere other than the students’ pockets.

UF Provost Joe Glover, for example, sponsored Mitchell’s book, which allowed Mitchell to pay his co-authors $500 each. For other books to succeed, more funding will be needed to get professors involved.

Babb said the bulk of the $227,000 will be going to funding projects and starting the core curriculum.

Lynne Vaughan, the director of the University of Florida Bookstore, said open-access isn’t a new concept. It has been available for a long time but is underutilized because the material is never updated.

“But two plus two is always going to be two plus two,” she said. “So, courses like (math) lend themselves well to (open-access).”

Vaughan said books end up open because copyrights exceed their lifespans and are no longer valid. This is either due to failure to have copyrights renewed or publishers moved the content into a newer package.

When Amanda Phalin first became a lecturer in international business at UF, she reviewed all of the major publishers’ textbooks and their online material to find what she considered the best for her students. Price was a factor for her, too.

“It absolutely came into play when I was searching for a book,” Phalin said. “That is the main reason I switched to e-textbooks.”

Her first book was from Pearson.

Phalin’s Pearson representative came to her one day and offered her a full online program with no hardcover. She agreed but only if it saved her students money. And it did.

Publishing companies are beginning to make everything digital for a number of reasons, but with potential programs like Orange Grove Text Plus getting the funding they need, textbooks prices may drop.

“The big losers if this doesn’t get funded,” Babb said, “are the students.”

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Oct. 15th, 2014: Afternoon News in 90 #2

By on October 15th, 2014 | Last updated: October 15, 2014 at 6:08 pm

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Oct. 15th, 2014: Afternoon News in 90 #1

By on October 15th, 2014 | Last updated: October 15, 2014 at 5:13 pm

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