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News Quirks 07.13.05


Published July 13, 2005 at 4:00 p.m.

Curses, Foiled Again

Police in Boise, Idaho, arrested Kathy Lynn Jean, 42, and Robby Joe Jean, 39, after the Arizona couple moved into a home that they paid for with a forged check. Investigators said that the Jeans bought a legitimate cashier's check worth $37.06, altered the amount to read $317,000 and presented it to a title company after business hours as cash payment for the home. "The title company was instantly suspicious and went to the bank the first thing in the morning," Detective Wade Spain said after the couple was charged with forgery and violating federal probation. "I guess they thought they were smooth talkers and could get away with it."

- After sheriff's deputies in Bernalillo County, N.M., received a call from OnStar reporting that a small boy locked inside a Cadillac Escalade had activated the system, they arrived to find the father, Alfredo Ibarra, 25, trying to coax his son to open the door. Deputies notified OnStar to unlock the door, freeing the boy. According to the Albuquerque Journal, while the deputies tried to figure out how the boy got trapped, they became suspicious of a new trailer near the vehicle. They asked for permission to search the trailer and found 1700 pounds of marijuana, then arrested Ibarra and three other men on drug trafficking charges. "As the commercials say," Sheriff Darren White said, "Thanks, OnStar."

Fathers of Invention

Nike has introduced shoes for people who like to run barefoot. According to Tobie Hatfield, Nike's senior engineer for advanced products, the new Free line of lightweight running shoes is designed so that the balls of the feet, not the heels, absorb most of the impact. Because the concept of running barefoot is so revolutionary, each pair comes with an owner's manual.

- California inventor Elwood "Woody" Norris, 63, who holds 47 U.S. patents, won the $500,000 annual Lemelson-MIT Prize for his soundless sound system. It works by sending a focused beam of sound above the range of human hearing. People at whom the beam is directed hear the sound coming from inside their head. "Imagine you are a lifeguard or a coach, and you want to yell at someone," Norris explained. "He'll be the only one to hear you."

- Spanish designer Pep Torres has invented a washing machine that won't let the same person use it twice in a row. He explained that his Your Turn washing machine uses fingerprint recognition technology to make sure couples share laundry chores. Both partners register their fingerprints on the machine's sensor while it is hooked up to their home computer. "The only way to override the system," Torres notes, "is to crawl around the back of the machine, unplug the sensor, take it back to the computer and re-program it -- not that easy."

- Researchers at the National University of Singapore's Mixed Reality Lab have developed a system that allows physical interaction over the Internet. So far, the experience has been limited to petting a chicken. Touch sensors attached to a hollow, chicken-shaped doll convey tactile information to a nearby computer through radio signals. The data is sent over the Internet to a remote computer near the chicken, triggering tiny vibration motors in a lightweight haptic jacket worn by the bird. The chicken feels the touch in the same place where the replica was stroked, according to head researcher Adrian David Cheok, who, after spending two years working on the technology, proclaimed, "This is the first human-poultry interaction system ever developed." The researchers explained that remote haptic interaction could allow people who are allergic to dogs and cats to touch their pet or even allow visitors to pet zoo animals. Noting that development of a haptic suit for humans will take another year, the team is also investigating the possibility of "Internet hugging." Experts dismissed the notion of Internet sex, however, as silly.

Bureaucratic Payback

After working alone one weekend, Jerry Adams, Tennessee's deputy finance commissioner, got stuck between floors in an elevator at the state Capitol for 13 hours because the phone he tried to use to call for help had been disconnected. The state hadn't paid the bill. A cleaning crew finally heard Adams, who oversees Tennessee's $25 billion budget, and called rescue crews. The Finance Department's Lola Potter explained that the phone bill was mistakenly sent to the Department of Human Services, where officials had no record of the line and didn't pay the bill.

Bad Apples

The rise in popularity of family history because of the availability of records on the Internet has prompted British genealogists to urge that psychotherapy be made available for people who discover skeletons in their closet. "People can be dealing with many serious things, from discovering your ancestor was a rapist who was deported to Australia to finding out you are adopted," Else Churchill of Britain's Society of Genealogists told the London Sunday Telegraph. "Burying secrets causes problems."

Obedience Training

Following riots caused by Newsweek magazine's reporting of the desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo Bay prison, Pakistan's parliament reacted angrily to an editorial cartoon in the Washington Times newspaper that depicts Pakistan as a dog. The May 6 cartoon by Bill Garner shows a U.S. soldier patting a dog holding al-Qaeda suspect Abu Faraj al-Libbi, who was arrested in Pakistan. "Good boy," the soldier urges the dog, "now go find Bin Laden." Pakistan's National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution condemning the cartoon and urging the government to seek an apology from the paper. Garner said he meant no offense and that he intended the cartoon to depict "the spirit of goodwill and friendship that exists between the two countries."