Two links

Aug. 15th, 2012 09:10 am
serenissima: Eastern screech owl (observer)
First, an example of how our democracy isn't working properly. Reuters: New homes burn faster, but states resist sprinklers
NEW YORK (Reuters) - In Scottsdale, Arizona, any new home must come equipped with fire sprinklers, a decades-old rule lauded by fire safety advocates nationwide. But 12 miles away in Phoenix, city officials are not even allowed to discuss adopting a requirement like Scottsdale's, because of a state law passed last year.

The same is true in Texas, Alabama, Kansas and Hawaii, where in the past four years state governments have enacted bills forbidding cities and towns from requiring sprinklers in new homes. A dozen have forbidden statewide building code councils from including the requirement in their guidelines.

[article continues]

Second, an Ursula Vernon short story: Bluebeard's Wife
She really hadn’t known.

No one believed her, of course. The more sympathetic among her friends said “Oh, poor Althea, you must have been terrified, of course you couldn’t tell anyone.” Her detractors—her sisters foremost among them—all said “Of course she knew. She just didn’t care. Those poor women.”

No one had actually suggested that she might be involved in the murders, of course. Once the bodies had been identified, it was obvious that she had still been in the nursery for most of them. The youngest of the lot had been dead for several years before Lord Bluebeard moved into the neighborhood, so no one could imply that she was a murderess herself.

Still, she’d kept silent, went the whispers, and that made her an accomplice, didn’t it?

She caught herself wishing that her husband were still alive, so that she could talk to him about it.

[story continues]
serenissima: banded sphinx moth (beauty/nature)
Daily Mail: Orphaned kangaroo and wombat are inseparable friends
Opposites can attract and Anzac a doe-eyed baby kangaroo has become best friends with Peggy, a tiny squint-eyed wombat.

Their unlikely union developed after the pair - both orphans - shared a pouch at the Wildlife Kilmore Rescue Centre in Victoria, Australia.

At just over five months old, Anzac was brought to the centre after being rescued in the Macedon Ranges.

The joey is in the mother kangaroo's pouch for about eight months, depending on the species, but Anzac was abandoned a few months before he was ready to be free.

Luckily he was placed with Peggy, who was also feeling lonely and the two now sleep together, reducing the amount Anzac misses his mum.

Worker Lisa Milligan explained the unlikely friends are comforted by each others movement and heartbeat.
[article continues]

Lots of... cute?... photos in this article. The nearly hairless wombat joey is not my idea of cuddly. She needs a few months and a lot of fur.
serenissima: Eastern screech owl (observer)
This caught my eye the other day.

For-profit colleges sue Dept of Education over new rule
(Reuters) - An association of for-profit colleges in the United States has sued the Department of Education to block the implementation of a controversial rule, saying the rulemaking process was flawed and the agency was overreaching in its capacity to frame such rules.

The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU), representing more than 1,650 colleges, filed a lawsuit in the federal District Court in Washington DC seeking to block the department's final 'gainful employment' regulations.

In June, the department finalized the rule which threatens to cut off federal aid -- a key source of revenue -- to colleges if they do not meet certain student debt criteria.
The final version of the rule is a much softer one than the draft published earlier as the industry fought back the strict rules through lobbying.

The rule is part of a larger package of regulations framed by the Obama administration to reduce student debt at for-profit colleges and make them more accountable for the taxpayers money they get to fund student loans.
Frontline television program about how some for-profit colleges use federally funded loans to pay for students' sub-standard curricula
serenissima: little red dragon (imagination)
Wired magazine: Neil Gaiman Gets Animated on Arthur
By John Booth
Geek parents of Arthur-watchers, set your DVRs for “Squee!,” because Neil Gaiman’s visit to Elwood City is set for Oct. 25.

Yes, that Neil Gaiman. The creator of Coraline, author of The Graveyard Book – which added The Carnegie Medal to its list of awards this summer – and new contributor to Doctor Who will make a Halloween week guest appearance as himself on the animated PBS series.

Cool. :)
serenissima: Eastern screech owl (observer)
[ profile] siege just linked to this old article, and I thought it was worth sharing more widely. It's originally from the New Yorker, but to get it directly from their site you need a subscription. The writer is the author of The Tipping Point and Blink, among other books.

"Million-Dollar Murray"
by Malcolm Gladwell
...if you totted up all his hospital bills for the ten years that he had been on the streets—as well as substance-abuse-treatment costs, doctors' fees, and other expenses—Murray Barr probably ran up a medical bill as large as anyone in the state of Nevada.

"It cost us one million dollars not to do something about Murray," O'Bryan said.
serenissima: Eastern screech owl (observer)
The leaking oil well makes me very depressed; I've been disinclined to learn details of what's going on, I just assume that area of the world will be severely damaged for a few generations. It's painful to think about.

But, I'm up late websurfing while trying to nurse the kidlet to sleep, so here are a couple of articles explaining why trying to punish the company who messed up is no simple action.

New York Times: "Punishing BP Is Harder Than Boycotting Stations"
...BP owns only a handful of the 11,000 stations that bear its brand and is trying to sell the few still on its books. So those who wish to inflict the maximum amount of pain on the company are instead putting much of the hurt on the family businesses that actually own the stations.

Just how little does BP gain from its gas stations, besides whatever ancillary marketing benefit it gains from the signs? The gas in its pumps may not be extracted, refined or stored by the company and may just get a spritz of BP additives right before it ends up at the service station. All of this puts a mere handful of coins in the company’s pocket per fill-up.

And the gas that people buy when they fill up elsewhere? Fuel from independent gas stations, grocery chains and big-box wholesale clubs sometimes comes directly from refineries or wholesalers that BP owns outright. ...

AP: "Boycott Big Oil? Prepare to give up your lifestyle"
...Oil is everywhere. It's in carpeting, furniture, computers and clothing. It's in the most personal of products like toothpaste, shaving cream, lipstick and vitamin capsules. Petrochemicals are the glue of our modern lives and even in glue, too. ...
serenissima: Eastern screech owl (observer)
Got this link from one of my relatives.

New York Times: The Saturday Profile
Party Elder Still Jousts With China’s Censors
By Sharon LaFraniere and Jonathan Ansfield
Published: October 17, 2009

"Du Daozheng, 86, the former head of the Chinese government’s censorship efforts, now spends his days pushing shunned topics into the public domain."
serenissima: banded sphinx moth (beauty/nature)
AP: Calif. aquarium blames flooding on curious octopus
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — Staff at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium in California say the trickster who flooded their offices with sea water was armed. Eight-armed, to be exact.

They blame the soaking they discovered Tuesday morning on the aquarium's resident two-spotted octopus, a tiny female known for being curious and gregarious with visitors. The octopus apparently tugged on a valve and that allowed hundreds of gallons of water to overflow its tank.

Aquarium spokeswoman Randi Parent says no sea life was harmed by the flood, but the brand new, ecologically designed floors might be damaged by the water.
Compare with Otto, the mischievious octopus at the SeaStar aquarium in Germany (scroll down to the section in English).
Edited To Add: Here's a longer article on the incident.

AP: 13,000-year-old tools unearthed at Colorado home
By Alysia Patterson, Associated Press Writer
DENVER (AP) — Landscapers were digging a hole for a fish pond in the front yard of a Boulder home last May when they heard a "chink" that didn't sound right. Just some lost tools. Some 13,000-year-old lost tools. They had stumbled onto a cache of more than 83 ancient tools buried by the Clovis people — ice age hunter-gatherers who remain a puzzle to anthropologists.

more details )

What researchers found on the tools also was significant. Biochemical analysis of blood and other protein residue revealed the tools were used to butcher camels, horses, sheep and bears. That proves that the Clovis people ate more than just woolly mammoth meat for dinner, something scientists were unable to confirm before.

"A window opens up into this incredibly remote way of life that we normally can't see much of," Bamforth said.

The cache was buried 18 inches deep and was packed into a hole the size of a large shoe box. The tools were most likely wrapped in a skin that deteriorated over time, Mahaffy said.

more details )
Only 18 inches deep! Imagine digging a hole in your yard and finding that!
serenissima: banded sphinx moth (beauty/nature)
This is not really news, being a month old, but it is amusing:
Otto the octopus wreaks havoc
A octopus has caused havoc in his aquarium by performing juggling tricks using his fellow occupants, smashing rocks against the glass and turning off the power by shortcircuiting a lamp.

Staff believe that the octopus called Otto had been annoyed by the bright light shining into his aquarium and had discovered he could extinguish it by climbing onto the rim of his tank and squirting a jet of water in its direction.
details )
"Once we saw him juggling the hermit crabs in his tank, another time he threw stones against the glass damaging it. And from time to time he completely re-arranges his tank to make it suit his own taste better — much to the distress of his fellow tank inhabitants."
(The aquarium has some commentary on the news article: apparently the light was not annoyingly bright.)

We drove up to the mountains last Saturday, some 100 miles north of here I guess, and went hiking for a couple hours. We followed a trail, making things easy on me. I don't care much for bushwhacking, and steep grades make me afraid of slipping. The terrain was similar to around here, rocky and beige, but there was more greenery — actual wild trees, if small ones, and more large shrubs. We had a picnic lunch on a boulder with a beautiful view.

It's clear that the mountainside there gets more moisture than here, even on the little mountain near us, because I saw a few spots of moss on the shady side of rocks, and plenty of ferns, even growing near to cactuses. There was lichen, not just the pale sea-green color I'm most accustomed to, but also lime green, rusty orange, and yellow. In fact, we crossed a little brook along the way, which fell into a steep ravine.

There were lots of grasshoppers in varying colors: dull grey-brown, black with scarlet wings, brown with yellow wings, bright green, even one with multicolored bands. I think we saw nearly as many lying dead as we did live ones. I guess it's the season when they die; temperatures probably drop below freezing at night there. Besides a couple of squirrels, a few birds, and two stray cows we met on the drive in, we didn't see any other animals. There were some really strange bird calls, though, like laughter or whooping. And herbivore droppings along the trail that seemed too small to be from horses or cattle. I know there are feral oryx in the region....

We did see a coyote a week previous, two Sundays ago. It ran across the road when we were driving to find lunch. It's nice to think we have a little wilderness around us, even if the animal probably dined on garbage.
serenissima: Eastern screech owl (observer)
Here's a bit of cheerful news.

AP: Ill. family thanks employees with surprise bonuses
By Carla K. Johnson, Associated Press Writer
CHICAGO – Even though employees at the Peer Bearing Co. no longer work for the Spungen family that recently sold the Waukegan-based ball bearings maker, they still received a turkey each this Thanksgiving in keeping with tradition.

But even better was the gift that came in mid-September, when the Spungens threw a party to celebrate the company's acquisition by a Swedish company.

They gave away $6.6 million in year-end bonuses to Peer's 230 employees, decided by a formula based on each worker's years of service.

[..there are more details..]

I debated about posting this next one, with the thought that maybe I shouldn't circulate disgusting news, but I've decided to show you anyway. Reuters has an item on the same incident.

AP: Sought: Wal-Mart shoppers who trampled NY worker
By Colleen Long, Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK – Police were reviewing video from surveillance cameras in an attempt to identify who trampled to death a Wal-Mart worker after a crowd of post-Thanksgiving shoppers burst through the doors at a suburban store and knocked him down.

Criminal charges were possible, but identifying individual shoppers in Friday's video may prove difficult, said Detective Lt. Michael Fleming, a Nassau County police spokesman.

Other workers were trampled as they tried to rescue the man, and customers stepped over him and became irate when officials said the store was closing because of the death, police and witnesses said.

A woman reported being trampled by overeager customers at a Wal-Mart opening Friday in Farmingdale, about 15 miles east of Valley Stream, Suffolk County police said. She suffered minor injuries, but finished shopping before filling the report, police said.

As for us, we had a pleasant, lazy Thanksgiving. We went over to a friend's house for dinner, brought a turkey plus stuffing, rolls, muffins, cheese, and pickles, and returned home with most of same, since there was another turkey and a ham. I predict we'll be eating leftover turkey into the new year. Yesterday we slept late, stayed in all day, read a little and played some video games -- I never even changed out of pajamas. Today we plan to be a little more active.
serenissima: (Default)
Reuters: Pope sees physicist Hawking at evolution gathering
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict told a gathering of scientists including the British cosmologist Stephen Hawking on Friday that there was no contradiction between believing in God and empirical science.
Benedict, who briefly met the wheelchair-bound physicist at an event hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, described science as the pursuit of knowledge about God's creation.
"There is no opposition between faith's understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences," the pontiff said.
The Catholic Church teaches "theistic evolution," which accepts evolution as scientific theory. Proponents see no reason why God could not have used an evolutionary process in forming the human species.
Nice to know.
serenissima: Eastern screech owl (observer)
AP: Uninvited skunk causes stink, delays plane in Miami
June 20, 2008
MIAMI—An uninvited passenger created a smelly situation on a plane in Miami. American Airlines Flight 915 from Miami to Bogota, Colombia, was delayed Wednesday night after a skunk was found in the back of the cargo hold, discharging its foul odor throughout the aircraft, airline officials said.

The skunk was discovered as workers were loading the plane. When crews tried to remove the skunk, the animal released its notorious rotten smell, American Airlines spokesman Tim Wagner said. No one was injured, but the odor filtered through the cabin and passengers were taken off the plane.

"I'm sure it smelled real bad in there," he said.

The flight took off more than two hours late, in part because of bad weather in the area, Wagner said. The skunk was removed from the plane, but it was unclear where it was taken or how it got on the aircraft.

Airport officials could not provide additional details.
serenissima: (Default)
AP: Scientists aim for origami space flight (via Yahoo! News)
KASHIWA, Japan - Japanese scientists and origami masters hope to launch a paper airplane from space and learn from its trip back to Earth.

It's no joke. A prototype passed a durability test in a wind tunnel this month, Japan's space agency adopted it Wednesday for feasibility studies, and a well-known astronaut is interested in participating.

A successful flight from space by an origami plane could have far-reaching implications for the design of re-entry vehicles or space probes for upper atmospheric exploration, said project leader Shinji Suzuki, a professor at Tokyo University's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

In a test outside Tokyo in early February, a prototype about 2.8 inches long and 2 inches wide survived Mach 7 speeds and broiling temperatures up to 446 degrees Fahrenheit in a hypersonic wind tunnel — conditions meant to approximate what the plane would face entering Earth's atmosphere.

Having survived the 12-second test with no major damage or burns, the tiny plane theoretically could get back to Earth because re-entry from outer space involves passing through several layers that last only a few seconds each, said Osamu Imamura, a scientist who works with Suzuki.

Suzuki and Toda use origami paper made of sugar cane fibers that are resistant to heat, wind and water. They spray a special coating onto the paper and then fold it into shuttles about 8 inches long and 4 inches wide that weigh about 1.05 ounces. How many shuttles will be released has not been decided.

Only problem is they have no way of knowing where or even if the paper shuttles land. I wonder if they could stick on a tiny radio transmitter?
serenissima: (Default)
Just read about this on Christian Science Monitor: inspires do-gooders to keep it up

"Tenzer, a marketing professional, started with small gestures of kindness on Mondays, her own most difficult day. Friends soon suggested she post these activities on a website, and was born."

Maybe this is something I can do. It doesn't say how significant the good deed has to be, just that you do one.
serenissima: Eastern screech owl (observer)
AP: Marriages fall victim to Kenya violence
Read more... )
We watched "Hotel Rwanda" a few weeks ago. I simply don't grok hatreds like these.

And now the cool stories.

Reuters: Australian girl changes blood group, immune system
Read more... )

AP: Photo clues lead to camera's owner
Read more... )
There's no passage I can quote to summarize neatly the way they tracked down the camera's owner. Suffice to say, it took some doing, but they succeeded.
serenissima: (Default)
AP: Bad Thai cops to endure Kitty shame
serenissima: (Default)
AP: 'Goose Whisperer' bonds with park birds - Yahoo! News
At age 23, Martin Hof has developed an unusual approach to managing urban geese populations that is gaining adherents in the animal-friendly Netherlands — the first country in the world with an animal rights party in parliament.

"It's all about respect for the geese," he says.

The main problem at the Hof van Delft and most parks is that the birds have been allowed to overbreed and are clashing with the humans whose territory they share. But rather than destroying them, Hof finds new homes for the geese, dividing them along family lines to reduce the trauma of the move.

On the other side of the equation, he works with the humans who consider the geese as either pets or pests. That means discouraging feeding the birds and educating city workers on preventing the animals from overbreeding in the first place.


Gerard Zwart of the Amsterdam's public health agency, which has hired Hof's company for several projects, says the city has been so influenced by his thinking it plans to rename its "Vermin Control Service" to the "Nature Management Service."

The cost of using Hof's service is about the same as the old eradication program, he says. A typical job of relocating 30 geese would be about $2,000-$3,000.

I think the most important point of this article is that the more humane method of controlling the geese population is just as cheap as the conventional method.

A few months ago, the large park across the street from where I work had some people with shelties or border collies (are those the same thing?) chase away the geese from the pond, and the geese stayed away for several days, but the dogs were only there for one week, and the geese are back now.
serenissima: (Default)
Washington Post: A Gate-Crasher's Change of Heart
Suddenly, a hooded man slid in through an open gate and put the barrel of a handgun to the head of a 14-year-old guest.

"Give me your money, or I'll start shooting," he demanded, according to D.C. police and witness accounts.

The five other guests, including the girls' parents, froze -- and then one spoke. "We were just finishing dinner. Why don't you have a glass of wine with us?"

The intruder took a sip of their Chateau Malescot St-Exupéry and said, "Damn, that's good wine."

There's also an Associated Press article on the same incident.
serenissima: (Default)
AP: Simulated trip to Mars is planned
...the European Space Agency ... is looking for 12 volunteers for a simulated mission to Mars that will last up to 520 days in "extreme isolation and confinement."

Unlike the adventurous spirits attracted to the desert island prospects of reality TV, only the "serious" need apply for this simulated interplanetary voyage, the space agency said. The payoff is likely less glamorous, too. Remuneration is "in line with international standards" for clinical studies, is all it would say.

The Paris-based agency, known as ESA, is working on the Mars500 project with the Institute for Biomedical Problems in Moscow and the simulated mission will be conducted there and include Russians.

The experiment will emphasize psychological factors, including stress resistance. The goal is to test how the volunteers hold up in nearly a year-and-a-half of close confinement, in cramped quarters with others and when communications with Earth can take 20 minutes to reach their destination — each way.

..."Except for weightlessness and radiation, the simulations will be as close to a real Mars mission as possible," the ESA said in its call for candidates.

The living quarters will include 30-square-foot rooms for each crew member, a kitchen-dining room, living room — and one toilet. No shower is included, and water supply will be limited.
Hmm. I vaguely remember reading that Biosphere 2 was not able to grow enough food to be self-sustaining, and also developed a cockroach infestation. If all 12 volunteers last the full 520 days, kudos to the ESA.
serenissima: Eastern screech owl (observer)
Back in January, I read an article about a severely retarded child whose growth had been deliberately stunted. [ profile] 403 has come across an editorial on the situation. (The linked piece is all one long paragraph; apparently the formatting from the Seattle Post Intelligencer was not preserved.) Essentially, the writer says that there is a chance the child may be aware, self-aware, smart enough to be able to make medical decisions for herself. It's a disquieting possibility.