Uplifting News and Stories Gleaned from the Web

Archive for January, 2008

Photo Clues Lead To Camera’s Owner

By BRIAN BERGSTEIN, AP Technology WriterSat Jan 26, 4:43 AM ET

At dusk on New Year’s Eve, Erika Gunderson got into a taxi in New
York City and entered a digital-age mystery. Sitting on the back seat
was a nice Canon digital camera. Gunderson asked the driver which
previous passenger might have left it, but the cabbie didn’t seem to
care. So Gunderson brought it home and showed it to her fiance, Brian
Ascher. They decided that the only right thing to do was to find the

But how? The only clues were the pictures on the camera: typical
tourist snapshots, complete with a visit to the Statue of Liberty. How
could they find a stranger among the huddled masses?

Gunderson is busy in finance for Bear Stearns Cos., so the detective
quest fell to Ascher, a 26-year-old law student at New York University.
He was on winter break and eager to put off writing a paper about
climate change treaties.

He checked whether anyone had reported a matching missing camera to
the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission. No dice. He placed ads in
lost-and-found sections of Craigslist but got just one response — from
a couple in Brazil who had lost a camera in a cab on Oct. 12, not Dec.

"I guess they thought their camera had been riding around in a taxi
for two months," Ascher recalls now, chuckling at the notion that such
a thing would be possible in New York.

The 350 pictures and two videos on the camera showed several adults,
an older woman and three children. Half put them at New York sites like
the Empire State Building. The other half had the group enjoying warm
weather and frolicking at kid-friendly theme parks.

Ascher easily pinpointed Florida. The group had stood in front of a
sign indicating Clearwater, Fla., and posed at Bob Heilman’s
Beachcomber Restaurant there.

They also took a pirate-themed boat ride where the kids got
mustaches painted on their faces. Ascher zoomed in on the group to see
name tags on their shirts. He spotted an Alan, an Eileen, a male Noel
and a female Noelle, plus a Ciarnan. Under their names was written

When Ascher checked the videos, he saw nothing telling, just the
children dancing and swimming. But in the background, he heard Irish

OK, Ascher figured, the camera’s owner is from Ireland.

Ascher called Canon’s Ireland division to see if anyone had
registered the $500 camera’s serial number. No such luck. He posted ads
on Irish Web sites. Nothing.

He checked the date stamp on the photos from Bob Heilman’s and
called to inquire whether anyone remembered serving a big Irish group
that day. Without the diners’ last names, there was no way to check.
It’s a nice thing you’re trying, the manager told Ascher, but you
probably just found yourself a new camera.

Enter some fresh eyes. Ascher’s mother, Nancy, and sister, Emily
Rann, scoured the pictures for clues he might have missed. Nancy was
particularly confident, having reunited people with their lost
belongings before. She once found a California woman’s wallet in a cab
in Florence, Italy, and spent all day on her trail before making a
handover at an American Express office.

"I thought, with all this data in the camera, there’s no way we’re
not going to get it back to them," Nancy Ascher says now. "I was hoping
it wasn’t going to take a trip to Ireland, flashing their pictures

Ascher’s mother and his sister noticed that one of the pictures
showed a doorman helping someone into a New York taxi. Zooming tight on
the doorman’s uniform, they made out the logo of the Radisson Hotel.

After several phone calls and a visit to the hotel to show the
pictures around, Nancy Ascher persuaded an employee to search the
Radisson’s guest records by first name and country of residence.
Indeed, a Noel from Ireland had stayed there on the date stamped on the
photo. Nancy Ascher charmed the hotel employee into sharing the guest’s
e-mail address.


Except that when Noel responded to Brian Ascher, he said he hadn’t lost a camera.

By now, school was resuming, and Ascher was prepared to give the camera
to his mom so she could take over. She had figured out the name of the
Florida pirate-boat cruise and was trying to reach its operator.

But first Ascher took a final look at the photographs.

He pored over some from Dec. 30 that didn’t include the
children. The photos showed signs for bars in Manhattan’s East Village:
The Thirsty Scholar, Telephone Bar, Burp Castle. There also were
multiple interior shots of a tavern, but they didn’t seem to fit with
what Ascher knew of those other three bars.

Then he stopped on another picture, showing two people outside
an apartment building. Seemingly accidentally included in the picture
was something Ascher had missed the first time: an awning in the
background that read "Standings." Aha! Standings is a bar next to Burp
Castle. Ascher checked its Web site, and the interior matched the
pictures on the camera.

Ascher found Standings’ owner, who reached the bartender who
had worked Dec. 30. Yes, he recalled an Irish group. Especially because
one of the women was a big tipper and said she worked at another New
York City bar, Playwrights. The Standings bartender called Playwrights
to ask which employees had been in his bar.

Ascher soon got an e-mail from a woman named Sarah Casey, whose
sister Jeanette works at Playwrights. Suddenly everything Ascher had
seen on the camera came to life.

The Caseys recently had hosted relatives and friends from
Ireland. The group included their friend Alan Murphy, who had journeyed
to Florida with family before heading to New York, where the clan
stayed at the Radisson. (Their Noel was not the Noel whom Ascher
e-mailed.) Murphy ended the trip kicking himself for leaving his camera
in a cab in the twilight on New Year’s Eve.

Sarah Casey agreed to send it to him. It didn’t go to Ireland but to Sydney, Australia, where Murphy lives now.

Murphy, an insurance underwriter, had been devastated to lose
the pictures from a trip he had planned for years. It was Jan. 10 — his
34th birthday — when he heard he would be getting the photos back. "I
was over the moon," he says now. "Best present ever."

"I owe you one," he wrote to Ascher. "It’s good to know there are some honest people left in the world."


Ma Li and Zhai Xiaowei: She without arm, he without leg – ballet – Hand in Hand


This was posted on another site by a friend:

I was in China last month, I saw a Chinese modern dance competition on
TV. One couple won one of the top prizes. The lady [Ma Li] has one arm
and the guy [Zhai Xiaowei] has one leg. They performed gracefully and

lady in her 30s was a dancer and was trained as one since she was a
little girl. Later she got into some kind of accident and lost her
entire left arm. She was depressed for a few years. It seemed that
someone asked her to coach a Children’s dancing group. From that point
on, she realized she could not forget dancing. She still loved to
dance. She wanted to dance again. So she started to do some of her old
routines. But by her losing an arm, she also lost her balance. It took
a while before she could even making simple turns and spins without
falling. Eventually she got it.

Then she heard some guy in his 20s had lost a leg in an accident.
guy also fell into the usual denial, depression and anger type of
emotional roller coaster. She looked him up (seemingly he was from a
different Province) and persuaded him to dance with her. He had never
danced. And to dance with one leg? Are you joking with me? No way.

she didn’t give up. He reluctantly agreed. " I have nothing else to do
anyway." She started to teach him dancing 101. The two broke up a few
times because the guy had no concept of using muscle, control his body,
and a few other basic things about dancing. When she became frustrated
and lost patience with him, he would walk out. Eventually they came
back together and started training. They hired a choreographer to
design routines for them. She would fly high (held by him) with both
arms (a sleeve for an arm) flying in the air. He could bend
horizontally supported by one leg and she leaning on him, etc.

They danced beautifully and they legitimately beat others in the competition.

would like to share with you this most magnificent and touching
performance I have ever seen! It is a living proof that strong spirit
can conquer any physical limitations!

[The Chinese word in the background means Dance]

A Hero’s Busy Year After Saving A Life


A Hero’s Busy Year After Saving a Life

  • One year ago, Wesley Autrey Sr. saved a life (see my blog New York Subway Savior Showered With Gifts)
  • He jumped on subway tracks to save man as train came
  • Kept job as laborer between trips to White House
  • Calls a lawsuit a "costly learning experience"

NEW YORK (AP) — The train was bearing down, and Wesley Autrey Sr. was trying to lift Cameron Hollopeter off the wet, slippery subway tracks where the young man had fallen after suffering an epileptic seizure.

Recalling the heroic act that earned him the nickname "subway superman" one year ago, Autrey described how he "bear-hugged" Hollopeter and told him: "Whatever you do, please don’t push me up. I’m going to be the one that’s going to get it, and you’re going to be OK."

The train passed over both men, grazing Autrey’s hat, while Autrey’s two young daughters watched in horror.

Dapper in a leather fedora and sporting a tiny hoop earring, Autrey was patient and soft-spoken as he recounted the events for the hundredth time, or perhaps the thousandth, over cafe con leche Tuesday at his favorite West Harlem restaurant, steps from the subway station where the January 2, 2007, rescue unfolded.

It’s been a busy year for Autrey, 51, a laborer and shop steward who works Monday through Friday at an apartment building under construction nearby, takes care of his daughters on the weekends and gives all the speeches and interviews he can squeeze in.

No time for the trip to Disney World he was promised during the rescue’s dizzying aftermath, no time for the Playboy mansion, where he was invited by Hugh Hefner because he was wearing a hat with a Playboy insignia the day of the rescue.

But he has been on David Letterman’s and Ellen DeGeneres’ shows; flown to Germany for Letterman’s late-night equivalent there, Johannes Kerner; and been feted at City Hall and at the Super Bowl.

He’s been to the White House twice, during a trip to attend the State of the Union address and for a Black History Month commemoration.

There’s been controversy, too. Autrey and his lawyer settled lawsuits against each other over a contract they signed to exploit his name and heroism.

"The only thing that I can say is that it was a very costly learning experience for me as far as trusting people," he said.

Autrey said his daughters, Shuqui and Syshe, now 7 and 5, are doing well. The Writers Guild strike has delayed movie deals, but a children’s book and an adult book are in the works.

He spoke with Hollopeter, a film student, and Hollopeter’s mother on Thanksgiving.

"They’re a very private family," he said. "The mother just thanked me and thanked me and thanked me. He’s doing fine."

Hollopeter suffered his first seizure on the platform, and two women joined Autrey in trying to help the 19-year-old, he said.

"When he fell onto the track he went into a second seizure," he said.

Autrey glanced at the women who had helped earlier.

"I didn’t even have time to tell them to watch my daughters. I just pointed at them and gave them a look. And when I saw them grab my daughters around the waist and they went and sat on the bench, I knew that they was OK. A voice from somewhere said, ‘Go save that life, don’t worry about your own, don’t worry about your daughters."’

An artist later showed him a picture he had painted of an angel holding Autrey as Autrey held Hollopeter. "And that’s exactly what went down," he said.

On the one-year anniversary Wednesday, Autrey planned to report to work at 7 a.m. as usual. Construction work has its own rewards, he added.

"I drive around the city a lot," Autrey said. "I tell my daughters, ‘Dad worked on that building.’ At the Waldorf back in February there was a dinner in my honor. Ten years ago I was hanging on a scaffold 40 stories in the air outside that building, little knowing that someday I’d be in that building and they’d be recognizing me for what I’d done."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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