Monday, December 31, 2007

Man saves his trash for a year

Ari Derfel leads a trashy life. He just wants to remind everyone else that they do, too.

The 35-year-old Berkeley caterer said he has saved every piece of trash he has generated during the past year to see how much garbage one person creates. In his case, it was about 96 cubic feet.

The experiment began as a way to examine his own consumption habits, Derfel said, but grew into a statement about consumerism and the environment.

"When we throw something away, what does 'away' mean?" Derfel said. "There's no such thing as 'away."'

The refuse -- including every tissue, receipt, food wrapper and plastic bottle -- lies in bins in the kitchen and living room of Derfel's apartment. He composts his food scraps.

Derfel said he eventually hopes to donate his accumulated waste to a sculptor.

There's a fuller story on SFGate and his blog is HERE

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Mom marries Son

A mother has married her foster son, seven years after she took him in as a teenage refugee from Eastern Europe.

Julia Gregg, 34, from Ebbw Vale, and her then husband gave a home to Kosovan Krenar Lleshi after he arrived in south Wales in the back of a lorry. But after her marriage broke down, Ms Gregg fell in love with Mr Lleshi, then 19 but now aged 21.

They married in a quiet church service, with just two witnesses. Their one-year-old daughter was bridesmaid.

The new Mrs Lleshi said: "I know how much people have gossiped about us and we wanted it to be a very special, very private occasion. I didn't even tell my sisters - when they found out they were shocked. I wanted to keep it as something between me and Krenar."


A town in the US state of Louisiana is to be allowed to change its telephone prefix so that residents can avoid a number many associate with the Devil. Christians in Reeves have been unhappy since the early 1960s about being given the prefix, 666 - traditionally known as the Biblical "number of the beast".

For the next three months, households will be able to change the first three digits of their phone numbers to 749. Mayor Scott Walker said CenturyTel's decision was "divine intervention".

However, he admitted it helped that Louisiana's two senators had also lobbied for the change with the phone company and the state Public Service Commission.

"It's been a black eye for our town, a stigma," he said. "I don't think it's anything bad on us, just an image," he added. "We're good Christian people."

Mayor Walker said he had already made the switch to using the 749 prefix and expected about 80% of the town's 450 homeowners to do the same. The reference to 666 is taken from translations of the Biblical book of Revelation, which talks about the events leading to the end of the world.

Revelation 13:18 states: "If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666."

Although in recent years scholars at Oxford University said that they had discovered a 3rd Century papyrus, from Oxyrhynchus, which gives the Number of the Beast as 616.
And a manuscript fragment from the 11th Century lists the number as 665. The traditional number, 666, has fascinated and puzzled Christians for centuries and led to a great deal of speculation about its meaning.

Many scholars believe it is a reference to the Roman emperor at the time Revelation was written - either Nero or Diocletian. Both men put large numbers of Christians to death. Using the Jewish system of Gematria, in which each letter is given a number, either name can be made to add up to 666.

Mystery container washed up

A mysterious metal container, more than 80 feet long with a cone-shaped top, has washed up on a Scottish beach. Where it came from, nobody knows, but it is thought to have fallen off a ship, the BBC reported Saturday. Officials were using two numbers found on the container to try to determine its origin, the British network said.

The container was first sighted by a dog walker on Poll Na Crann beach -- known locally as Stinky Bay because of the stench of fermenting seaweed -- near Griminish.

Alasdair MacEachen, assistant director of environmental services at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, told the BBC it's attracting a good bit of attention from the locals.

"It's a big object so you can't miss it, and it's not often you see something like that on the beach," MacEachen said. "It would be standing almost 30 meters tall and really looks pretty much like a silo. I think it's a bulk storage tank of some sort, possibly for storing some liquids."

MacEachen said it appeared to have been ruptured and looks as if it's empty.

Perfect Patriots

The New England Patriots completed the NFL's first unbeaten 16-game season by turning around a 28-16 deficit to beat the New York Giants 38-35. The Patriots are only the second team in NFL history to complete a perfect season since The Miami Dolphins set a 14-0 record in 1972.

Quarterback Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes to wide receiver Randy Moss to set up the historic victory. Brady said: "We're going to enjoy this. It only happens once every 35 years."

The two touchdowns helped set single-season records for touchdown passes and catches respectively. Brady's two scoring passes gave him 50 for the season, eclipsing the previous mark of 49 set by Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts in 2004.

Moss's catches gave him 23 for the season which broke the previous best set by Jerry Rice in 1987.

The Patriots now face the play-offs in January aiming to match the 1972 Dolphins team whose perfect season included winning the Superbowl.

Record row

Four Australian rowers on Sunday completed an epic journey from New Zealand to Sydney after surviving huge seas, encounters with sharks and whales and near-misses with ships.

The two men and two women left Hokianga Harbour, north of Auckland on November 29 and arrived at Sydney's Neutral Bay at about 8:15 am on Sunday (2115 GMT Saturday) to become the first Australians to row across the Tasman.

Steven Gates, Andrew Johnson, Kerry Tozer and surfboat champion Sally Macready appeared fit and well after their 31-day, 2,000 kilometre (1,240 miles) journey. Gates said he felt "absolute euphoria" as their custom-made 11.1-metre craft entered Sydney Harbour.

"We were beyond the point of exhaustion, we really were," he told reporters. "We pushed that envelope to its absolute limit and to hit the (Sydney) heads this morning at four o'clock and to know that this was all going to be over really soon was just the most powerful feeling."

The foursome battled severe weather, came into close range of sharks, whales and dolphins and narrowly missed colliding with ships, he said.

"There were some really nasty storms and some really lucky incidents with ships where they hadn't seen us. They were coming for us and if it wasn't for Sal seeing them, identifying them coming towards us, grabbing the spotlight and sticking it in their eyes, we probably wouldn't be here."

About 40 people met the crew, which was a little unsteady after so long at sea, as they arrived at Neutral Bay wharf.

"My legs aren't feeling too bad, it's just after being at sea for that long I've sort of got off and it's like you're very drunk, so I find it hard to be balanced at the moment so it's almost like when we were seasick on the first few days," Macready said.

Macready said the team's main concern was to cross the Tasman safely, particularly as lone kayaker Andrew McAuley perished on his Australia to New Zealand journey a year ago. "For us it was really just to get across, but it's a bonus always to get a record," she said.

New Zealander Colin Quincy rowed across the Tasman in 1976 in a journey which took more than 67 days.

Cheering classes

China is organising classes in cheering aimed at preparing Chinese sports fans for the Olympic Games next year. For the Chinese government, the Beijing Olympics are a big part of the country's emergence onto the international stage.

It wants the games to be perfect - right down to the applause.

So volunteers are being trained on the finer points of cheering, including when to clap and the importance of avoiding unsporting behaviour. Beijing is worried about a repeat of events during the Asian Cup in 2004, when the Chinese football team's loss to Japan led to ugly scenes among some Chinese fans.

The cheering classes are part of a broader campaign by the Chinese government to encourage what it calls "civilised behaviour" during the Olympics, including no queue jumping or spreading litter.

Such initiatives are all part of the government's attempts to make sure everything goes according to plan in 2008.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Tree Pub

Some people will go to any lengths for a pint - even if it involves supping in a tree. This bar in the trunk of a Baobab has punters travelling from miles around for a brew. It has been created in a huge 72ft high tree in this garden in Limpopo, South Africa, to keep thirsty locals happy. But tourists flock to see the amazing bar inside the hollow 155ft circumference of the trunk.

The tree even has its own cellar, with natural ventilation to keep the beer cool. The huge tree, in the grounds of Sunland Farm, is so wide it takes 40 adults with outstretched arms to encircle it. Carbon-dating, which can determine the age of organic materials, has shown the anicent tree is about 6,000 years old.

"This tree is likely to be older than the Giza Pyramids of Egypt," said Heather van Heerden, owner of Sunland Farm. "It is phenomenal to have such a magnificent tree in your back garden. It is possibly the biggest living thing on earth."

More than 7,000 visitors from all over the world come to see the majestic Baobab each year and have a drink in its bar, which has four metre high ceilings and comfortably seats up to 15 people.

Even though the tree trunk is hollow, it walls are up to two metres thick.

"One year we had a party and squashed 54 people inside, but I wouldn't recommend that," said Mrs van Heerden.

She and her husband Doug came up with the idea of setting up a pub when they found a natural hollow inside the Baobabb shortly after they bought the farm in the late 1980's.

Sheep-Pig reintroduced

A farmer has reintroduced a sheep-pig breed which became extinct in Britain 37 years ago.

The 'Curly Coats' were exported to Hungary during the early 20th century, where their coat helped them survive harsh winters. They were then cross-bred with the Mangalitza, a similar breed, creating the 'Lincolista'.

Tony York found them thriving in Austria and brought 17 of the sub-breed back to his Pigs Paradise farm near Stonehenge in Wiltshire.

The British Pig Association has now agreed to register them as direct descendants of the Lincolnshire Curly Coat.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Fined for warming up car

A motorist has been fined for defrosting his car outside his home because he left it unattended with the engine running. Ken Hardman was given a £30 fixed penalty notice for leaving his engine on to warm up his car during the cold snap in the morning.

He was prosecuted under the Road Traffic Act offence of 'quitting' which is when a person leaves their vehicle's engine running while they are not in it. The 45-year-old was visited by a police officer as part of Operation Cold Start which targets residential areas of Chorley and Leyland in Lancashire where car thieves are operating.

Mr Hardman, of Whittle-le-Woods, says thieves had no way of stealing his silver Mercedes saloon because the windows and doors can be locked while the engine is running.

He said: "I heard a knock on the door at 8.20am and the officer asked me whether the car outside was mine and said that, if it was, I was committing a crime. I think it's completely outrageous because the car has a function on the automatic key which means the windows and doors can be locked while the engine is running. It's not possible to defrost your car and sit inside it because it's too cold and I think they don't take that into consideration. This fine means that I'm paying stealth charges even though my car was secured and locked. There was no way of stealing it. I pay council tax and a lot of it goes towards policing so it's a complete and utter disgrace to have to pay for defrosting the car, which is a company car. I feel like I haven't been dealing with the police force but with a police farce."

During Operation Cold Start officers have been taking the keys out of unattended cars and giving crime prevention advice to car owners.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Record Tube Travellers

The record for the most people travelling on the Tube (London's Subway) in a single day has been broken. An estimated 4.17 million passengers travelled on the network on December 7, compared with the previous record of four million on December 8 2006.

On average, the number of people travelling on the Tube is increasing by about 7% a year. During 2006/07, more than a billion people used the Tube - the first time the figure had been reached.

London's Mayor Ken Livingstone said: "The fact that the Tube is now carrying more passengers than ever before illustrates its crucial role in London's prosperity." He added: "Renovating existing lines and building the Crossrail will underpin London's economy for decades to come. The significance of that is shown by one simple fact - every day the London Underground carries more passengers than the entire national rail network."

Russia bans denial of Santa

The Russian government has banned a television advertisement for denying the existence of Father Christmas. The ad for Eto electrical stores stated Father Frost, Russia's version of Father Christmas, did not exist.

The Federal anti-Monopoly Service said the ad had broken rules for advertisers not to discredit parents and teachers. It said that declaring that Father Frost did not exist implied that parents were not telling the truth, so undermining childrens' trust in them.

The ad "induces negative relations between children and parents", Andrei Kashevarov, the service's deputy director, told Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

The advertiser, Eto, defended its commercial, saying it was aimed at adults.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Skimpy Santa Arrested

A beefy gent wearing a red Santa hat and purple G-string in Los Angeles this holiday season not only didn't pass for Santa but failed a Breathalyzer test, too.

Rick Carroll, 53, of Long Beach, Calif., who also sported a blond wig, black leg warmers and red, lace camisole, allegedly registered just over the legal blood-alcohol limit of .08 percent when officers tested him after he pulled up in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater Sunday night, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

The 6-foot-4, 280-pound Carroll was booked on a misdemeanor DUI charge and released on $5,000 bail, the newspaper said. His car was impounded.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Chief Ken Garner said officers were "pretty sure this is not ... Santa Claus."

"There was no Mel Gibson treatment for him," Garner added, referring to the help the actor received from deputies after his drunken driving arrest last year. "He had to sober up and find his own reindeer."

Man Spends Christmas Eve in Septic Tank

A 77-year-old Des Moines man got stuck in his septic tank.

"It wasn't good, I'll tell you what," Schoff told the Des Moines Register. "It was the worst Christmas Eve I've ever had."

Schoff's holiday adventure started Monday when he dug a hole and reached inside to find a clog. He lost his balance and became wedged in the opening of the tank.

The 5-foot 5-inch, 135-pound Schoff hollered, screamed and hoped his wife, Toni, would hear him.

He waited for an hour until she walked by a window and noticed feet in the air.

"I saw these kicking feet and ran out, but couldn't get him out," Toni Schoff said.

She called 911.

Two Polk County sheriff's deputies arrived to yank her husband out.

"How that happened, I don't know," he said. "I thought it was the end of my life. Thank God my wife saw me. I don't think I could have stood staying in there much more. She's my lifesaver."

Boy gets Garbage truck for Xmas

For Zachery Harrison, garbage trucks are almost as cool as trains. Maybe even cooler.
So when he had a chance Wednesday to ride shotgun in the cab of a real garbage truck, he was as his mom says "over the moon." He'll probably talk about this day till he's 78, she says.

Zach is currently 15 years old chronologically but about 6 developmentally, says Heidi Harrison. He suffers from autism, mental retardation and a genetic disorder called tuberous sclerosis, affecting his heart, skin and eyes. Just recently it was discovered that tubers are now also growing in his brain and kidneys.

Heidi and Terry Harrison get respite care through TURN Community Services, where family services coordinator Andrea Baugh recently asked Zach what he'd like for Christmas.

"Garbage truck," said Zach.

One thing led to another, and pretty soon it was all arranged: Allied Waste Services would let Zach have a first-hand garbage truck experience.

Liability issues wouldn't allow Zach to go on a real life garbage pick-up. So the next best thing was to ride along as a real life garbage man drove a truck in the Allied Waste parking lot, lifting up empty Dumpsters into the hopper, then compacting the fictional garbage in the packer.

For Zach, these subtleties were lost in the sheer ecstasy of the moment. The afternoon, in fact, was kind of a twofer, because as soon as Zach climbed up into the cab of the big blue truck, a freight train happened to appear on the horizon, its whistle blaring.

Actually, the afternoon was more of a three-fer, because it turned out that the garbage truck driver for one leg of the short journey was the Jazz Bear.

Allied Waste outfitted Zach with steel-toed boots, a bright green vest, gloves and safety goggles, all of which he was allowed to take home. The company also presented him with a toy garbage truck, complete with toy residential garbage cans and a toy industrial Dumpster. Also tickets to a Jazz game.

In one of the two real garbage trucks he got to ride -- the residential variety, with the driver's side on the right -- Zach got to sit on the left side of the cab, so he had the illusion that he was driving.

But he knows that he can't really drive till he's much older, says his mom. "He knows he can't drive till he's 84."

World's smallest bible

Israeli scientists have inscribed the entire Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible onto a space less than half the size of grain of sugar. The nanotechnology experts at the Technion institute in Haifa say the text measures less than 0.5 square millimeter (0.01 square inch) surface.

They chose the Jewish Bible to highlight how vast quantities of information can be stored in minimum amounts of space.

"It took us about an hour to etch the 300,000 words of the Bible onto a tiny silicon surface," Ohad Zohar, the university's scientific adviser for educational programs, told the Associated Press.

The Technion's microscopic bible was created by blasting tiny particles called gallium ions at an object that then rebounded, causing an etching affect.

"When a particle beam is directed toward a point on the surface, the gold atoms bounce off and expose the silicon layer underneath just like a hammer and chisel," Zohar said.

Zohar said the technology will in the future be used as a way to store vast amounts of data on bio-molecules and DNA.

The tiny Bible appears to be the world's smallest.

The previous smallest known copy of the Bible measured 2.8 x 3.4 x 1 centimeters (1.1 x 1.3 x 0.4 inches), weighing 11.75 grams (0.4 ounces) and containing 1,514 pages, according to Guinness World Records spokeswoman Amarilis Espinoza.

The tiny text, obtained by an Indian professor in November 2001, is believed to have originated in Australia.

Ref pulls red card, then his gun

A Malaysian referee took out his gun and fired warning shots in the air after a local football match turned unruly following the suspension of a player, a newspaper said.

The referee, who was also a policeman, ran to his patrol car to get his gun after players mobbed him for showing the red-card to one of them, the New Straits Times said.

"We are investigating as to whether the policeman was justified in taking out his firearm and discharging it, and also why he had it with him during the match," it quoted Hussin Ismail, police chief in the southern Johor state, as saying.

The policemen was taken into custody for suspected misuse of firearms.

Five players, aged between 23 and 40, were also being held for questioning and could be charged for rioting, the paper said.

Grinch thieves ousted by Youtube

You've heard of the Grinch that stole Christmas, but in North Carolina, it was some kids who stole the Grinch.

The stuffed Dr. Seuss character was part of a display outside some stores in the town of Southern Pines.

The kids who stole the statue didn't realize who was watching. A camera at the store next door caught them all on tape and then police posted the crime on You Tube.

Among those who saw the video were the boys' parents. The kids won't be criminally charged, but they were grounded.

There's a great Rhyming News story HERE

Minivan crashes into Newsroom building

Chicago police were questioning the driver of a minivan that crashed into a television news studio Sunday, moments after the station went on-air for its 10 p.m. newscast.

Gerald Richardson, 25, of Evanston, was ticketed with reckless driving and operating a vehicle without insurance.

No one inside the WLS-Ch. 7 studios at 190 N. State St. was injured, police said, but the loud impact unnerved anchor Ravi Baichwal, who shouted and looked off camera. It was not immediately clear why Richardson drove his Mazda MPV with Indiana license plates into the studio's reinforced glass wall, police said. The thick, bullet-proof glass did not shatter and Richardson was not hurt, said Chicago Police Sgt. Darien Easterday.

ABC 7 President and General Manager Emily Barr said the incident might have been deliberate, "but we can't verify it."

Dozens of people were on the sidewalk watching the newscast at the time. Witnesses said the driver was making a series of U-turns on State Street before he crashed into the building.

The studio was back in use for the station's 5 a.m. newscast. The car was removed about 3:30 a.m. The window was boarded up.

Pup saved from star

A puppy's furtive festive feast nearly ended in disaster when the Christmas decoration he swallowed got lodged in his throat. Charlie, a five-month-old Yorkshire Terrier, began struggling to breathe after tucking into a Christmas star while his owner's back was turned.

He was rushed to Plymouth's PDSA Pet Aid centre, where vet Robert Newcombe removed the decoration with forceps. Mr Newcombe said he got a shock when he realised what was causing the blockage.

"The last thing I expected to see on the X-ray was a star shining back at me," the vet said.

Owner Felicity Clifford, from Plympton, Devon, realised something was wrong when Charlie began gagging.

But the dog has now fully recovered from its ordeal.

Tiger kills in Frisco

One person has been killed and two others injured after a tiger escaped from its cage at San Francisco Zoo. All of the victims were visitors to the zoo, a spokesman for San Francisco emergency services said.

The Siberian tiger, named Tatiana, was the same one that mauled a keeper just before Christmas last year. It has now been shot dead.

The incident occurred as the zoo was closing around 5pm. It is not clear how the cat escaped its pen. Emergency services spokesman Lt Ken Smith said that they were called to the zoo at 5:15 following a report that a person had been attacked by a tiger.

In response the zoo was evacuated and armed police officers and firefighters sent to the scene.

Christmas cards from Heaven

A man from the US state of Oregon has stunned friends and relatives by sending them Christmas cards, two months after his own death. The 34 handwritten cards were sent and signed by Chet Fitch, who died in October aged 88, with "Heaven" given as the return address.

In a message on the cards, Mr Fitch said God had allowed him back to Earth specially to deliver the cards. But his barber told local media they had planned the ruse together.

Patty Dean, 57, was quoted by the Ashland Daily Tidings newspaper as saying Mr Fitch had approached her with the idea in 1987, saying he wanted to play one last trick on people after his death.

She said he told her a week before his death that she would probably be able to send the cards this year. The card showed Mr Fitch square-dancing with his wife Jessie, who herself died in 1995.

"I asked Big Guy if I could sneak back and send some cards," he wrote in the card. "At first he said no; but at my insistence he finally said, 'Oh well, what the heaven, go ahead but don't [tarry] there.' Better get back as Big Guy said he stretched a point to let me in the first time, so I had better not press my luck," he ended the message. "I'll probably be seeing you (some sooner than you think). Wishing you a very Merry Christmas."

Friends and relatives were both amazed and amused. Mr Fitch's daughter, Tangren Alexander, described the card as "sweet and funny. So much like him".

"When I opened his card, all I could think was: 'You little stinker,'" said Debbie Hansen-Bernard, an old friend.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Boar shot

French police have riddled a wild boar with bullets after it got into a clothes shop in the city of Poitiers, forcing customers to flee. The boar, weighing 90kg (198lb), was shot after it began charging at police, the French news agency AFP reported.

The incident happened on Saturday near a busy hypermarket on the edge of the city, in central France. Fifteen people were evacuated and the shop reopened two hours later. Two other boars were seen in the area.

The boars are believed to be part of a larger group that forestry workers are trying to relocate. Local police said the officers who opened fire were not used to dealing with such incidents.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Slow menace

A woman who suffers a driving phobia is facing a ban after police caught her crawling along a motorway at 10mph. Stephanie Cole, 57, was spotted in her Malaysian-made Perodua Kenari with a sign in the back which read "I do not drive fast, please overtake", a court heard yesterday.

She was straddling the hard shoulder and the inside lane of the M32 in Bristol, England and, despite driving at walking pace, repeatedly jammed on her brakes. Officers pulled Mrs Cole over, and she told them: "I'm scared. I've no confidence on the motorway. Last time this happened a policeman drove me there."

Mrs Cole, of Fishponds, Bristol, pleaded guilty by letter to driving without reasonable consideration. In the letter read to North Avon Magistrates' Court Mrs Cole said her GP had been treating her for a "fear of driving" for the last three-and-a-half years.

She said: "I have suffered from a driving anxiety for some time and I have been receiving counselling for the problem. I apologise for my behaviour. I think a driver improvement course would help."

Magistrates' chairman Malcolm Richardson said: "We have no doubt that the bench should seriously consider banning Mrs Cole from driving for this offence. "We have heard from police officers that road users were put in danger by Mrs Cole. The fact that it is caused by a medical condition does not remove the need for her to be a capable driver on the road. We shall adjourn the case till January 4 when she can appear. I hope she doesn't drive here."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Italian street name axed

A street in the Scottish Borders is to be renamed - after residents complained about its Italian name. The cul-de-sac in Earlston was called Cappella Maggiore after a request by the community council to honour the town they twinned with in 2004.

However, residents moving into the new homes - which cost between £160,000 and £240,000 - have complained that it sounds "ridiculous".

Scottish Borders Council has agreed to rename the street Station Brae (meaning hillside especially along a river).

Cappella Maggiore is situated in northern Italy close to the city of Treviso. Since it formed twinning links with Earlston there have been regular visits between the two towns. Last year a delegation of about 30 school pupils and council officials were hosted by families in the Borders. They were also taken on a tour of the Scottish Parliament.

Duck rescue

A duck which was stuck in ice next to a canal bank in Greater Manchester has been rescued by firefighters.

The bird was spotted by a member of the public in Monton on Thursday afternoon. Fire crews from Eccles were called out and smashed the frozen water around the bird to free her before the RSPCA tried to release her back into the wild. She refused.

Station commander Paul Starling said: "This isn't the first time I've been called out to rescue a bird trapped in ice.

"Unfortunately this duck had been there all night and was very cold and frightened. A number of people had tried to free her and had given her food before calling us in. We used a pole to break the ice around her and she then waddled into the middle of the canal so we had to wade in and get her. She was taken back to the station where she laid an egg and was then taken to a rescue centre so she could be nursed back to health before hopefully being released."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Nativity sand sculptures

An exhibition showing a life-size nativity scene made of sand opened in the to...wn of Jesolo, in Northern Italy. The biggest Sand Crib in Italy will be housed inside a transparent and heated structure. It measures 16 metres in length and is 8 metres tall and weighs 800 tonnes. Since the first exhibition in 2002, The 'Sand Nativity' exhibition is an opportunity to raise money for charities.

Tree searchers rescued

A family that got lost while searching for a Christmas tree in California has been rescued after sheltering in a wood for three days in heavy snow. Frederick Dominguez and his three children went missing on Sunday near Inskip, 190 miles (305 kilometres) north of San Francisco.

They huddled together in a culvert under a bridge before being spotted by a rescue helicopter on Wednesday. Until then, aerial searches had been impossible because of bad weather.

The family said they got lost going from pine to pine trying to find the perfect Christmas tree, the Associated Press reported.

The four huddled together telling jokes and singing songs for the first couple of days before beginning to grow scared, said Lisa Sams, Dominguez's ex-wife and the mother of the three children.

They were dressed in jeans, sweat shirts and coats. The father had taken off his sweat shirt and wrapped the torn-up fabric around his children's feet.

The helicopter pilot and a paramedic saw Mr Dominguez waving and the word "help" marked in the snow before landing to pick the family up.

Blue skinned man

MADERA, Calif. - It's not makeup or paint that makes Paul Karason's skin a bluish color. The 57-year-old started making the transition from fair skin and freckles to what he looks like today 14 years ago.

"The change was so gradual that I didn't perceive it and for people around me, likewise," Karason said. "It was just so gradual that no one really noticed. It wasn't until a friend that I hadn't seen in several months came by my parents' place to see me and he asked me 'what did you do?'"

What Karason did was use a substance called colloidal silver, which is made by extracting silver from metal. It goes into water with an electrical current and then you drink it. Colloidal silver is billed as something that will cure just about everything that ails you and Karason swears by it.

Karason does not believe drinking the potion is what caused his discoloration. He believes it happened because he rubbed it on his face to treat a skin problem. A medical condition called Argyria has been linked to such discoloration since the days when silver solutions were used as antibiotics.

Whatever the cause, Karason said it is not easy living life as a blue man.

"I do tend to avoid public places as much as I can," he said.

Karason's girlfriend, Jackie Northrup, said she was surprised at first, but is now used to it.

Congrats your Majesty

The Queen will reach a new milestone when she overtakes Queen Victoria to become the oldest British monarch.

Her great-great grandmother, who was born on 24 May 1819, lived for 81 years, seven months and 29 days.

Buckingham Palace says the Queen will beat the record at about 1700 GMT, taking into account the times of their births and Victoria's death.

But the day will be business as usual for the Queen, as there will be no special event to mark the occasion.

The monarch, who was born on 21 April 1926, will spend the day on her normal duties and has no public engagements or audiences.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Court names boy

An Italian court has ruled that a couple could not name their son "Friday" and ordered that he instead be called Gregory after the saint whose feast day he was born on.

"I think it is ridiculous they even opened a case about it," the family's lawyer, Paola Rossi, said by telephone from the northern city of Genoa on Tuesday.

Friday/Gregory Germano was born in Genoa 15 months ago. The parents registered him as Friday in the city hall and a priest even baptised him as Friday – unusual in Italy since many priests insist that first names be of Christian origin.

"We named him Friday because we like the sound of the name. Even if it would have been a girl, we would have named her Friday," the boy's mother, Mara Germano, said.

When the boy was about five months old, a city hall clerk brought the odd name to the attention of a tribunal, which informed the couple of an administrative norm which bars parents from giving "ridiculous or shameful" first names to children.

The tribunal said it was protecting the child from being the butt of jokes and added that it believed the name would hinder him from developing "serene interpersonal relationships".

The Germano family appealed but lost their case this month and the story was carried on the front page of a national newspaper on Tuesday.

When ordered to change the name, the parents refused and the court ruled the boy would be legally registered as Gregory because he was born on that saint's feast day.

"I really doubt this would have happened to the child of parents who are rich and famous," the boy's mother said, recalling that some famous Italians had given their children unorthodox names such as "Ocean" or "Chanel".

The appeals court ruled against Friday because it recalled the servile savage in Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe and because superstitious Italians consider Friday an unlucky day.

"I am livid about this," the boy's mother said. "A court should not waste its time with things like this when there is so much more to worry about. My son was born Friday, baptised Friday, will call himself Friday, we will call him Friday but when he gets older he will have to sign his name Gregory," she said.

Police shoot actors

Two actors filming a crime movie have been shot dead by police who apparently took them for real-life robbers.

Three other men were injured in the shoot-out on a film set in the Angolan capital Luanda. The movie's director only just survived unscathed, but was left shocked by how police seemed to storm in and start firing.

Radical Ribeiro, of the Banda Mulundi production company, insists he had permission to film at the location, a gritty suburb of Luanda. He believes the police officers, who leapt from a speeding van, were members of an elite squad.

He said: "We saw the police pick-up speeding towards us. It looked empty but then suddenly it stopped and people appeared on the back. Without asking any questions, they started shooting at everybody at close range. I don't know how I escaped. I was just two metres away. They went on shooting until I shouted out: 'Please don't shoot - this is a movie.'"

He claims the officers then left the scene without tending to any of the victims, who were rushed to hospital.

Angolan officials have so far not commented.

Man gets breast implants - in his leg!

For a man to have a boob job is unusual enough - let alone to have the silicone implants not in the chest, but in the leg.

But Lane Jensen's figure is now looking a little more voluptuous in an odd place after one of the most unusual operations of the year.

Lane, a devotee of body art already, had a tattoo of a buxom lady on his shin. But for some reason, he decided this was not quite expressive enough - so had silicone implanted to make the etching stand out in all the right places.

Canadian Lane, editor of a body art and tattoo magazine, even sat up to watch most of the operation carried out in Edmonton, Alberta.

Brian Decker, owner of the firm Pure Body Arts, carried out the strange surgery which lasted just 45 minutes - and left Lane feeling nothing more than "a small bruise", but delighted with his new breasts.

The Sims

A convicted criminal has moved in with a married couple against their wishes after giving their address in court as his home. Shane Sims, 19, has spent the last few days living with Brenda and Robert Cole after he was sentenced to a week's curfew for breaching a supervision order.

But the couple claim the first they knew about it was when Sims, a friend of their daughter, moved in on Thursday – followed by security contractors who put a box in a bedroom to monitor his movements with an ankle tag.

Mrs Cole, 47, said: 'It's turned our lives upside down. He's taken over the whole place. He sprawls across the sofa and he's always in the bathroom when you need it. It's an absolute disgrace. They've let a criminal come into our home and there is nothing we can do about it.'

Sims appeared before magistrates last Thursday where he admitted breaching a two-year supervision order imposed for assault. He gave the Coles' Bristol address as his bail address but the Probation Service did not verify it.

Sims claims he was told he could stay by the Coles' 16-year-old daughter Tanya after he fell out with his father. He allegedly told Mrs Cole: 'I'm staying here until the tag's off. There's f**k all you can do about it. The courts have told me to.'

The court said it was looking into the situation but police said they could not act without a court warrant.

Stormtrooper helmet transport

London's Heathrow Airport is set to install the world's first Personal Rapid Transport system. The PRT is a fleet of 18 driverless pods for business passengers flying out of Terminal Five, with installation scheduled to be complete in less than two years. Traveling at up to 25mph, the pods will ferry passengers rapidly between their cars and terminal check-in.

The airport claims there will never be more than an 18 second wait, no delays due to congestion and no need to consort with the rest of the riff-raff from steerage. It's likely this new PRT system will be the first of many, as local governments seek to replace car use within city centers.

The chief benefits of PRT are obviously the reduction of waiting times and overcrowding -- it eliminates the need for a fixed timetable -- door-to-door service, privacy and security. Predictably, its environmental credentials are also being touted, PRT creates zero local emissions and overall uses 50% less energy than an equivalent bus system.

The system's main drawback is that it necessitates installation of guide ways separate from existing roads or pedestrian walkways. Because of this, its inventors, Advanced Transport Systems Ltd, envision it complementing, rather than replacing, existing form of mass transit such as the London Underground.

Good driving rewards

RANCHO CORDOVA, California — Happy holidays. Now pull over to the side of the road.

Motorists may be in for a surprise if they spot flashing red lights in their rearview mirrors in this Sacramento suburb during the holiday season.

Police are stopping law-abiding motorists and rewarding their good driving with $5 Starbucks gift cards.

A traffic officer came up with the idea to "promote the holiday spirit and enhance goodwill between the traffic unit and the motoring public," police Sgt. Tim Curran said.

Local businesses donated money to buy the gift cards.

"They raised a substantial amount of money," Curran said. "They'll be pulling over a lot of people."

Driving ace banned

Lewis Hamilton has been banned from driving in France after being caught speeding at 120mph, it emerged yesterday.

Hamilton's Mercedes was stopped by police near Laon doing 120mph – 40mph over the motorway speed limit. A spokesman for McLaren, his team, said: "McLaren were made aware that Lewis was stopped for speeding in France whilst driving in a private capacity.

"We understand he has received a mandatory fine and suspension from driving in France for one month." The spokesman stressed that the incident would not affect Hamilton's professional driving career.

Hamilton, who regularly hits speeds of more than 200mph on the racetrack, achieved enormous fame in his rookie season, breaking numerous records and leading for much of the world championship. But the Mclaren driver finished second, one point behind Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, in the 2007 world championship .

Michael Schumacher, the seven-times F1 champion, also courted controversy this month when he took over the wheel of a taxi, fearing he was running late for a flight.

Tap water beats expensive brands

A Glass of tap water has beaten bottled mineral waters costing thousands of times as much in a blind taste test by some of the most experienced palates in Britain.
Experts including a leading sommelier and a wine critic put a glass of Thames Water's standard tap water at third equal in a tasting of 24 different waters.

The water, from a tap in South Kensington, London, costs less than 1p a litre but was rated higher than mineral waters costing £50.

The Waiwera brand, from New Zealand, selling for £9 a litre at Claridges, came top in the tasting for Decanter magazine, with Vittel at second (39p from Tesco).

Thames Water's offering was third alongside Iskilde, which costs 900 times more at £9 a litre. Anthony Rose, wine critic for the Independent, nominated the tap water as the one he believed to be the most expensive. Terry Threlfall, sommelier at the Michelin-starred Chez Bruce restaurant, said it was his favourite.

The most expensive water tested – 420 Volcanic, £50 a litre from Claridges – was low down the list in 18th place. Bling H20 from California, the second most expensive at £40 and sold in a bottle encrusted with Swarovski jewels, was ranked lower at 22.

Guy Woodward, the magazine's editor, said: "It's bad enough that restaurants get away with charging scandalous mark-ups on wine, but charging £5, £10 and £20 for a resource that is freely available is an outrage. Most tasters preferred tap water."

Car thief's change of heart

Brixham, London - A thief who stole a car after spotting the keys in the ignition swiftly abandoned it when he was confronted by a great dane that had been asleep on the back seat.

The man was unaware that Diesel, an alsatian cross, was inside the Toyota 4x4. As he drove off he saw the dog, 9st (57kg) and 6ft tall on his hind legs, through his rear view mirror. As soon as Diesel sat up, the man stopped the car and fled.

Police found the car outside Brixham Rugby Club, Devon, only 30 yards from where it had been taken. The owner, Nick Griggs, 41, of Brixham, who runs a quad bike centre, said: “I’d love to have seen the look on his face when he saw Diesel. He must have got the shock of his life. There’s no alarm, but who needs one when you’ve got the Hound of the Baskervilles in your back seat?”

The car was stolen after Mr Griggs’s wife, Karen, 41, forgot to remove her keys from the ignition when she went to collect the couple’s two children from school. She said that the 11-month-old dog “would have thought it was time for walkies”. She added: “He’s a big softie – if the guy had hung around he’d have licked his hands and face. He’s very good with strangers.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


A New Hampshire city employee has been reprimanded in Manchester after getting a crew to cut a 50-foot spruce from a city cemetery for the downtown Christmas tree. The tree that's now on Elm Street, across from Veterans Park, used to stand over graves at Pine Grove Cemetery.

"It's terrible. It's like robbing from the dead," Manchester resident Jacqueline Flanders told WMUR-TV.

The mayor's office said it did not know that a Parks, Recreation and Cemeteries crew had gotten the tree from the cemetery. The mayor's chief of staff said the employee has been reprimanded and that a new tree -- not quite as big -- will be planted at Pine Grove.

"I was not aware that this decision had been made," said Chuck Deprima, from the city's Parks, Recreation and Cemeteries department. "(The employee) is remorseful. He realizes he made a poor decision."

The city said the employee looked to the cemetery after he failed to run an ad seeking the donation of a tree.

"I don't know the story about that," Deprima said. "I don't know if he forgot or didn't do it, but it wasn't done."

One environmentalist saw a bright side to the situation. "It's better than having (a tree) shipped from somewhere and wasting all the gas," said resident Andrew Languette.

Firefighters lift

Embarrassed firefighters had to call 999 (UK's Emergency #) when they got stuck in a lift for half an hour.

Chris Rogers, Richard Furse and Lawrence Mackrell were fitting smoke alarms in flats when it broke down.

A crew from Portsmouth had no idea who was trapped and turned up to find a tender from nearby Southsea outside.

Watch manager Craig Sadler said: "I admit I had a wry smile. It certainly won't be forgotten."

Happy Tree Friends Christmas

NSFK (Not safe for Kids, or people of a weak demeanor)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Illegal checked Home Office passes

An illegal immigrant was employed as a security guard at the Home Office, the government has admitted. The man worked at the front desk of the department's headquarters in Westminster checking the passes of people visiting Ms Smith, ministers and senior civil servants.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said problems were identified with one of the sub-contractors providing services to the Home Office. Deportation proceedings have now begun against the guard.

Ms Smith said that problems had been identified with one of the sub-contractors providing services to the Home Office. This led on Friday to the identification and arrest of one member of the sub-contractor's security staff who did not have the right to work.

The man is from Nigeria and had been working for the security company for more than 18 months.

"The Home Office is now working with the sub-contractor to recheck individually the right to work of all their security staff supplied to the Home Office," Ms Smith said.

It's all Dutch to me

The language divide that has led to Belgium's political deadlock has also spread to its Miss Belgium contest. French-speaking Miss Belgium winner Alizee Poulicek, 20, was booed by parts of a 3,400-strong Antwerp audience when she revealed she could not speak Dutch.

When the show's presenter quizzed her on her hopes for the future, she said: "I didn't understand, can you repeat?"

Ms Poulicek says she has been taking language lessons and has promised to improve her standard of Dutch.

The beauty queen's language skills take on a wider significance as Belgium is still without a government six months after elections amid political stalemate between the main Dutch- and French-speaking parties.

In halting Dutch, Ms Poulicek told the Flemish network, VRT: "I have to try to learn more." She then went on in French: "I spoke almost no Dutch when I started this adventure."

The daughter of a Czech father and a Belgian mother, she has spent half her life in the Czech Republic.

The organiser of the contest, Darlene Davos, said it could have been far worse. "It is the least painful thing," she said. "I would consider it different if they had said: 'Miss Belgium is an ugly girl'."

Costly socks

School bosses have had to pay more than £47,000 ($95,000)for a pair of Winnie the Pooh socks.

They have been lumbered with the hefty lawyers' bills after being sued by five families over a school dress code. The parents went to court after a pupil was disciplined for wearing socks decorated with the Pooh character Tigger.

Northern California's district's superintendent said the settlement money was for the plaintiffs' lawyers. The district also has to pay the lawyers it hired.

The settlement also says Redwood Middle School may no longer require students to wear only solid-colour clothing.

Driver,100, arrested

A 100-year-old Japanese man has been arrested after his car hit an umbrella held by a child. Masaru Hori has been arrested several times for driving offences in recent months.

But insisted he needs to stay on the road to stop himself going senile. He told police: "Driving helps me from going senile because it keeps me alert. He has now been accused of driving without a licence since it was revoked after a hit-and-run accident in August, police said.

He was also involved in a similar accident last month, they added. Hori was arrested on Friday after a policeman saw him hit an umbrella that a seven-year-old child on the street was holding. The child was unhurt.

Police told the man's family to get rid of the car, media said, and Hori swore his days of illegal driving were over.

"I'll never drive without a licence again," he promised.

Starting in 2009, drivers over age 75 in Japan will be required to get checkups for dementia when they renew their licences.

Santa's on a diet

A health-conscious Santa is refusing to wear a pillow under his suit as he believes it promotes child obesity. Bill Winton, 80, said children traditionally viewed Father Christmas as a chubby role model and grow up thinking it is fine to be overweight.

The former pipe coater said he was spurred into action after noticing children sitting on his knee had become heavier over the years.

The 12-stone (170lb)Santa is at Westside Plaza Shopping Centre in Edinburgh. Speaking to BBC Scotland news website, Mr Winton, from Wester Hailes, said he maintains a healthy diet and does not drink cola.

He said: "It makes me wonder why parents allow their children to get into that state and makes me slightly annoyed about it. "The parents and kids have been asking why I'm so thin and I say 'Santa's been on a diet' and everyone is in agreement that it is a good idea. I have always eaten healthily and have run a healthy eating course in the past. I gave up cola years ago when I saw what it did to a penny. I hope other Santas across the country follow suit so that parents start taking responsibility for their children's diets."

Alex Limond, Westside Plaza Shopping Centre, said: "We back Santa in the campaign to fight obesity in children, which is in the news and everyone's minds. It is time for a change and as Santa is a role model for children, then his body shape is where it should start."

Spanish tip too much

Spaniards still have not fully got to grips with the value of the euro and often tip too much, according to Economy Minister Pedro Solbes.

Over-tipping had added to the sense among Spanish consumers that the cost of living is higher since the euro's introduction in 2002, he said. "People haven't taken on board the value of a euro," Mr Solbes told a political rally in Madrid.

Spain's inflation is higher than other eurozone states - at 4.1% last month.

"I see people having a couple of coffees and calmly leaving a euro tip," Mr Solbes told a Socialist Party economic forum in the Spanish capital.

"That's 50% of the value of the product."

Before the euro hit the streets five years ago, leaving a 25 peseta tip was the norm. One euro was then worth 166 pesetas.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Free room at the inn

Josephs and Marys in search of a room at the inn this Christmas are being made an offer they can't refuse. A British hotel chain is promising free accommodation to couples who share their first names with the couple from the Christian Nativity story. Almost 30 Josephs and Marys had already signed up for the free night's stay at the Travelodge, said Shakila Ahmed, a spokeswoman for the hotel chain.

"The 'gift' of a free night's stay is to make up for the hotel industry not having any rooms left on Christmas Eve over 2000 years ago when the original 'Mary and Joseph' had to settle for the night in a stable," the company says on its Web site.

The offer is good at any one of the chain's 322 hotels in the United Kingdom, the Web site says. The couples must bring proof of identity and must prove that they are in a long-term relationship.

"If you satisfy the criteria, you get a free night in a family room for two adults and two children," Ahmed said. "There's also parking space for a donkey if needed," she joked.

Ahmed said the offer, which will run from Christmas Eve to Twelfth Night -- December 24 to January 5 -- had been very well-received.

"We've had a lot of interest. I think people like the fact that it resonates with the Nativity story at a time when the actual meaning of Christmas often becomes forgotten in festive overkill," she said.

Couples can register their names at a special e-mail address set up by Travelodge, which has hotels across the Britain, Ireland and Spain, Ahmed said.

Man jailed for minting

A counterfeiter who produced fake £1 coins with an estimated total value of £14m ($28.5m) has been jailed for five years. Marcus Glindon, 37, from Enfield, north London, made the coins over seven years from a workshop near his home.

When officers raided his home and nearby business, MG Engineering, in March they found machines used to manufacture coins and counterfeit dies. Glindon admitted five counts relating to counterfeiting the coins at Wood Green Crown Court.

Glindon was caught after an anonymous tip-off alerted police. He was arrested and charged two days later. He said that he worked mainly alone, producing coins for two men.

Of the estimated 14 million coins, 2.5 million were completed while the remainder were left blank, due to be finished off. It is thought that at one stage he was making 10,000 to 12,000 coins per day and was paid about £2,000 in cash a week by the two men.

The Royal Mint said it would be extremely difficult for members of the public to differentiate between legitimate coins and the fake ones Glindon had produced.

Metropolitan Police Det Con Dan Roberts said: "As a result of a collaboration between the police, the Royal Mint and the counterfeit agency at the Serious Organised Crime Agency, we have disrupted a nationwide criminal network and put a substantial dent into the illegal production of £1 coins."

Pot smoking son a bonus for Pa

After catching his 15-year-old smoking pot, a father sold the hard-to-get "Guitar Hero III" video game he bought his son for 90 dollars for Christmas at an online auction, fetching 9,000 dollars.

The sale took place after the father spent two weeks searching for the video game for the Nintendo Wii gameboard.

"So I was so relieved in that I had finally got the Holy Grail of Christmas presents pretty much just in the nick of time. I couldn't wait to spread the jubilance to my son," the father wrote on the eBay website.

"Then, yesterday, I came home from work early and what do I find? My innocent little boy smoking pot in the back yard with two of his delinquent friends."

The man, a school teacher, who kept his identity private, said he sold the coveted video game to punish his son and discourage him from smoking dope.

The sale was a boon for the family's bank account, since the game the father purchased for 90 dollars (US) was finally sold to an Australian who plunked down 9,100 dollars for it.

The naughty son, however, will not go without a present on Christmas.

"I am still considering getting him a game for his Nintendo. Maybe something like Barbie as the Island Princess or Dancing with the Stars ... I know he will just love them," the father said, tongue-in-cheek.

Anyone missing a foot?

New Zealand Police have been fielding several calls from the public suggesting possible owners of the severed foot found on Sumner Beach on Sunday morning. Detective Sergeant Will McIvor said police were hoping pathologist findings would be concluded this afternoon to help give clues as to the owner of the foot.

Police were hoping to match the foot found inside a sock to its owner from their missing person files.

"We are getting some response from the public about what's been found and possible people who are missing that it could be. There are no strong leads at this stage but we are working on it."

An off-duty policewoman walking her dog found the foot on the beach, opposite Stokes Street, at 6am on Sunday morning. The foot looked like a man's right foot, McIvor said.

"The pathologist is looking at it and will try to give us an idea as to how long it's been severed from the body. From there we will be able to look at missing person files and hopefully find which file to look at."

The pathologist pointed out to officers the foot could have been severed from the body for months as the sock would have given it some protection from sea life, McIvor said.

Lakshmi leaves hospital

Ask Lakshmi where are her extra legs and hands and the two-year-old gives a bright smile. She gestures with her hands indicating they are ‘gone’.

Dressed in red top and white shorts, Lakshmi Tatma enjoys her cookies as she sits comfortably on her father’s lap. Born with four hands and four legs, she was separated from her ‘parasitic twin’ in a 27-hour-long surgery by 30 doctors. Lakshmi, who could have landed up in a circus in Delhi, took a flight to Jodhpur to join the Sucheta Kripalani Siksha Niketan (SKSN), an institute for rehabilitation of the physically challenged.

"I will educate her to the best of my abilities. Who knows she might become a doctor or an engineer tomorrow," says Shambhu, her father, who’s a daily wage worker from Araria, Bihar.

A relieved Shambhu, his wife Poonam and their children, Mithilesh and Lakshmi, performed a ‘thanksgiving’ puja at a Lakshmi temple on Saturday before leaving Bangalore. "We had prayed for our daughter’s recovery. Now that we are leaving the city with good memories, we wanted to thank god," says Shambhu.

The couple will build a small Lakshmi temple in their daughter’s name in Bihar. "I always believed my daughter would be fine, though many thought it as an impossible feat. Now, I want to tell all that miracles do happen," adds Shambhu.

Doctors said Lakshmi needs to exercise and have foot massages regularly till her next trip to the hospital in March 2008.

Pretty in pink

Troy, Ohio - Jail administrator Dee Sandy thought the sheriff was joking when he mentioned painting cellblocks pink. He wasn't.

Inmates at the Miami County Jail are putting color on the jail's once cream-colored walls after Sheriff Charles Cox entered the academic debate over the color pink's calming abilities.

After Sandy realized Cox was serious, she said she picked purple for the jail bars, which had been blue. The jail, about 20 miles north of Dayton, houses up to 111 inmates, both men and women.

Researchers have documented the ability of certain colors to evoke emotional and physical responses, and many jails around the nation have been painted pink as a pacifying measure.

County jails in Arizona, Tennessee and Texas have had similar makeovers, but last year, the Kansas City, Mo., Police Department abandoned pink for institutional gray. Jail officials there said the pink hue had no discernible effect on prisoners but annoyed the jail staff.

Naked in St. John's

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - For most, standing naked facing the North Atlantic in the middle of December would be cruel and unusual punishment.

But for about 50 brave Newfoundlanders, baring it all for the cameras along the St. John's waterfront at the crack of dawn Saturday was an opportunity they couldn't resist.

"It's such a strange and interesting event," said 20-year-old Beth Fagan, an English student at Memorial University.

"How many times do you get to be naked in public in St. John's and not get arrested or molested?"

The unusual photo shoot, arranged by actor-director Mary Walsh, was intended to show people in their natural form without the riches and luxuries that separate them.

Walsh did not appear in the buff, but she said there was "a certain egalitarianism to us all being together."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Landmark map on display

A map has gone on display in the US that contains the first known use of the word "America".

The map is thought to have been drawn exactly 500 years ago by a monk in the present-day French region of Lorraine.

The map, which has just gone on permanent display for the first time, was bought by America's Library of Congress four years ago.

It was produced in 1507 in the town of Saint Die by the German monk Martin Waldseemueller.

His was the first map to show a full and separate western hemisphere and in some regards it remains fairly accurate.

One of the main sources for his new work was the knowledge brought to Europe by the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci.

The word America - said by many scholars to be derived from the explorer's name - appears however not where the modern US is but where Brazil now is.

That was the region Vespucci had begun to explore.

Things to see in Scotland pt I

A mechanical cow that breaks wind on the hour has become Edinburgh's latest tourist attraction. The bovine backside has been attached to the side of the Rowan Tree pub in the city's historic Old Town.

It lifts its tail and shoots out a cloud of white smoke at passers-by throughout the day. Pub landlord Norrie Rowan, a former Scotland international rugby star, said the cow was becoming as popular with tourists as nearby Greyfriars Bobby.

It was installed on the side of the pub earlier this year, but the mechanics that allow it to break wind at 11am, noon and 1pm are a new addition.

A dry ice machine ensures the flatulent beast is regular and helps locals keep track of time in a similar way to the city's famous One O'clock Gun.

Mr Rowan said the cow was a bit of fun that had already become a popular landmark in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh. He added: "The cow is already famous around Edinburgh and I get hundreds of tourists coming by and taking pictures of it."

Scanner mix up

A scanner built for a hospital in Norfolk ended up 10,000 miles away in Australia after a medical mix-up. Technicians installing equipment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in King's Lynn, found it was not quite what the doctor ordered.

They found a CT scanner built for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Adelaide was sent to the Fens, while a scanner ordered by the QEH had gone down under. The machines have now been dismantled to be shipped to their correct homes.

"There's probably a shipping clerk sitting in an office very miserable," QEH spokesman Richard Humphries said. The mistake over the £500,000 scanner, built for the QEH's new £3m radiology suite, was made by Dutch medical supplier Philips.

Amsterdam-based Philips admitted both scanners were sent to the wrong side of the world following an administrative error.

A spokesman for the firm said: "It's the first time this has ever happened and I don't understand how it could have happened.

"There were two being built at the same time and something must have got mixed up with the paperwork in the final stages."

He confirmed a replacement scanner was being shipped to the QEH from Israel which would be up and running by Wednesday.

The cost of exchanging the two machines will be met by Philips.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Captain Kidd's ship discovered

The wreckage of a pirate ship abandoned by Captain Kidd in the 17th century has been found by divers in shallow waters off the Dominican Republic, a research team claims.

The underwater archaeology team, from Indiana University, says they have found the remains of Quedagh Merchant, actively sought by treasure hunters for years.

Charles Beeker of IU said his team has been licensed to study the wreckage and convert the site into an underwater preserve for the public.

It is remarkable that the wreck has remained undiscovered all these years given its location, just 70 feet off the coast of Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic in less than 10 feet of seawater.

"I've been on literally thousands of shipwrecks in my career," Beeker said. "This is one of the first sites I've been on where I haven't seen any looting. We've got a shipwreck in crystal clear, pristine water that's amazingly untouched. We want to keep it that way, so we made the announcement now to ensure the site's protection from looters."

The find is valuable because of what it could reveal about William Kidd and piracy in the Caribbean, said John Foster, California's state underwater archaeologist, who is participating in the research.

Liquid prices

Thanks Jonco

Flourescent cats

South Korean scientists have cloned cats by manipulating a fluorescent protein gene, a procedure which could help develop treatments for human genetic diseases, officials said today.

In a side-effect, the cloned cats glow in the dark when exposed to ultraviolet beams.

A team of scientists led by Kong Il-keun, a cloning expert at Gyeongsang National University, produced three cats possessing altered fluorescence protein (RFP) genes, the Ministry of Science and Technology said.

"It marked the first time in the world that cats with RFP genes have been cloned," the ministry said in a statement.

"The ability to produce cloned cats with the manipulated genes is significant as it could be used for developing treatments for genetic diseases and for reproducing model (cloned) animals suffering from the same diseases as humans," it added.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bus driver's revenge

A Peter Pan bus driver, angry because of a complaint about his driving, kept the bus at a Framingham layover for an extra half hour as punishment and wouldn't allow passengers on the New York to Boston trip to get off, passengers said.

Riders told The Boston Globe that the driver said he was miffed because one of them had called the company dispatcher to complain the driver had been swerving during the first leg of Sunday's trip.

"Since you aggravated me, I'm going to aggravate you," the driver told passengers, according to Brian Moore, 21, an Emerson College junior who posted an account of the incident on his personal blog.

Leigh Schuelke, 23, an event planner from Cambridge who was traveling with her husband, James, 23, said passengers initially thought the driver was kidding because he looked at them with "kind of like this crazed, creepy smile."

But it soon became apparent he was serious. When one man asked to get off the bus and reclaim his luggage, the driver looked at the man's ticket and told him, "I can't get your bags."

The driver ignored a passenger who asked to continue for the sake of her baby, as well as apologies on behalf of the rider who offended him, according to Moore's blog post. He also refused to allow passengers to smoke or buy snacks, repeating that this was punishment.

"He explained it to us over and over," Schuelke said. "He seemed to be enjoying, just like sticking it to us."

After the half hour ended, the driver raced down the turnpike, flying through toll booths, Leigh Schuelke said.

Christopher Crean, director of safety and security for Springfield-based Peter Pan Bus Lines, declined to identify the driver, except to say he was in his early 30s with three years on the job.

"If any of this came even close to happening, the driver could in some cases be subject to termination," Crean said. "It's definitely become an issue. And the more I dig, the less I like."

The bus left New York at 1 p.m. on Sunday and arrived in Framingham at 4:35 p.m., about a half hour ahead of schedule. On weekdays, the bus must wait 25 minutes to pick up any passengers, but on Sundays it can go straight through, Crean said.

Crean said the driver acknowledged a dispatcher contacted him to report the passenger's complaint, but he denied retaliating. The driver said he stopped because he didn't know he could continue immediately to Boston, Crean said.

Crean said he also received a handwritten letter commending the driver for dealing respectfully with the "agitated" passengers. The Globe and Peter Pan could not reach the woman who signed the letter.

Moore, a film major, said some friends have suggested the incident at Framingham would make a good script.

"It would be like 'Speed,' " he said, "but maybe a little more boring because it wouldn't be moving."

$85,000 Internet/Cell phone charge

A Canadian oil-field worker, stunned to get a C$85,000 ($83,700) cell phone bill, has had the charges reduced to C$3,400, but is still fighting them.

Piotr Staniaszek, a 22-year-old oil and gas well tester in rural northwest Alberta, became a figure of international media attention this week when his father went to the press to complain about the size of his son's bill.

Staniaszek's father, also named Piotr Staniaszek, said his son thought he could use his new phone as a modem for his computer as part of his C$10 unlimited browser plan from Bell Mobility, a division of Bell Canada.

He downloaded movies and other high-resolution files unaware of the charges they would incur.

"He's working in the field sometimes, alone, in the shack. What to do? Drink vodka or go on the Internet?" Staniaszek senior told Reuters on Thursday from Calgary, Alberta.

"Now it's $85,000 and nobody told him," he said.

According to the invoice, his son rang up C$60,000 in charges in November, and they have since climbed to C$85,000.

Staniaszek senior said Bell has agreed to reduce the charges to C$3,400 for "goodwill."

"It's still high...Who can afford it?" he said, adding his son can barely make payments on a new truck he bought for work, and will continue to fight the charges.

A Bell spokesman said the plan is not intended for downloading files to a computer, and that's clear in his contract.

Staniaszek said his son did not want to talk to the press after the interest his story has received and that he is afraid to use his cell phone and incur more long-distance charges.

Lollipop reprieve

A Southampton lollipop lady who was banned from wearing Christmas outfits for health and safety reasons will be allowed to continue for three more days.

Bosses at Southampton City Council agreed the compromise late last night after the Echo told how the ban had sparked debate over whether their decision was political correctness gone mad.

Margaret Russell has been dressing up in the costumes at Christmas for the past 20 years, collecting money for charity as she helps children cross the road.

This year she decided to dress up as a giant golden bell.

But following a complaint by two parents, Mrs Russell from Millbrook was ordered to cease her dressing-up, because without her reflective jacket, if she was hit by a car she would not be covered by the council's insurance. And that is against health and safety rules.

But Cabinet member for environment and transport, Councillor Gavin Dick, agreed to let Mrs Russell continue until the end of term next week - meaning she can have three more days of fancy dress. But she will have to have a second crossing officer with her to ensure she and the children stay safe.

Lennon's hair (Update)

A lock of John Lennon's hair sold for $48,000 Wednesday in an auction of Beatles' memorabilia collected by the band's hairdresser.

The hair — inside an autographed copy of Lennon's book A Spaniard in the Works— sold to an unnamed telephone bidder.

Gorringes auction house had estimated the hair would sell for $4,000 to $6,000.

Lennon gave the book and the lock of hair to Betty Glasow, the Fab Four's hairdresser during their heyday. He wrote in the book, "To Betty, Lots of Love and Hair, John Lennon xx."

"It is astonishing that there is still so much interest in the Beatles and the sale goes to prove that John Lennon is still an icon," said Francesca Collin, a spokeswoman for Gorringes.

Vodka Eejit

German police said a man nearly died from alcohol poisoning after he chugged two pints of vodka because airport security said he either had to throw it out or pay a fee to have his carry-on bag checked.

The incident occurred Tuesday at the Nuremberg airport, where the 64-year-old man was on his way home to Dresden from a vacation in Egypt.

New airport rules prohibit passengers from carrying larger quantities of liquid onto planes, so police said the man downed the vodka and was quickly unable to stand or otherwise function.

A doctor who was called to the scene determined he had possibly life-threatening alcohol poisoning, and he was sent to a Nuremberg clinic for treatment. The man, whose name was not released, is expected to be able to go home in a few days.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Going for a walk

...around London, without touching the ground (pavement/sidewalk)

Spot the house

It might look like Cruella de Vil's ideal home but the owners painted this house black and white in memory of their beloved Dalmatian.

Goran Tomasic, 52, and his wife Karmen, 35, were distraught when Bingo the Dalmatian died after being hit by a car.

But they were determined to let everyone know how much they loved Bingo.

Mr Tomasic, from Pribislavec, northern Croatia, said: 'At first we were afraid of what the neighbours would say, but we loved Bingo so much we had to do it. We wanted everyone to know what he meant to us and for his memory to live on.'

Bass Car

Driver Andy Hazell battles to find a place to park his new car – because it’s an 18ft-long fish. The battered Vauxhall Corsa has been turned into a giant scale model of a sea bass.

It now measures 18ft from nose to tail, but Andy admits he can’t fit it into car parks.

He said, “I made it for a laugh but it does cause me a few problems when I take it out for a spin. I get lots of fishy looks, but I have a whale of a time driving it until I try to park. It’s just too big and that’s no fisherman’s tale.”

Builder Mr Hazell, 48, has fitted a cunning hydraulic system to the silver car so the fish can swish its tail, raise its fins and open and close its mouth. There are more than 100 fluorescent lights along its streamlined body making it an electrifying sight to catch the eye.

Mr Hazell of Knighton, Powys, said, “It took me three weeks to build and has cost me a couple of thousand pounds. Designers these days make cars slippery and aerodynamic, so I thought a fish was the next step.”

“Some people do think I’m mad but I love building strange things.”

Mr Hazell will be showing off his fish car by driving it to Newcastle for an annual New Year’s illuminated car parade.

But he can’t drive it on the road – well officially, anyway – so the catch will arrive on a trailer.

In a Zone of their own

Venezuela creates its own unique time zone on Sunday, putting the clock back half-an-hour on a permanent basis.

President Hugo Chavez says that an earlier dawn means the performance of the country will improve, as more people will wake up in daylight.

"I don't care if they call me crazy, the new time will go ahead," he said.

But critics say the move is unnecessary and the president simply wants to be in a different time zone from his arch-rival, the United States.

The new time puts Venezuela four-and-a-half hours behind Greenwich Mean Time, and out of step with all its neighbours.

The move had first been announced in August, but it has been delayed twice because international bodies and Venezuela itself were not ready to implement the change.

Science and Technology Minister Hector Nacarro praised the measure.

"I see it as a very positive thing that while there is light we can be in it," he said.

Lennon's hair auction

A lock of John Lennon's hair is being put up for sale. Lennon gave Betty Glasow, the Beatles' hairdresser, the lock of hair in a copy of his book "A Spaniard in the Works." In the dedication he wrote, "To Betty, Lots of Love and Hair, John Lennon."

On Wednesday, fans will have the chance to bid on the hair and other autographed photos and Beatles memorabilia when they go up for auction in Worthing, in southern England.

The book -- with the hair still inside -- could fetch as much as $6,200, said Nick Muston, director of Gorringes auction house.

Glasow, who kept the Beatles' moptops trimmed on the set of the films "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" decided to sell the items because she wanted fans to have them, Muston said.

"She feels that rather than these things being stuck in a drawer with nobody enjoying them, real enthusiasts [could] get their hands on these things," Muston said.

Other items in the sale include signed photographs of the Beatles dedicated to Glasow, including one where George Harrison signed the photo George "Dandruff" Harrison.

Another lot includes a program, ticket and screw from one of the seats at a 1965 Beatles Christmas Concert at Hammersmith Apollo in London, where fans ripped out seats so they could dance in the aisles.

Glasow has also worked with a number of actors. Her collection includes a photo album of signed photos and personal messages from Michael Caine, from "Educating Rita"; Peter Ustinov, from "Death on the Nile"; Steve McQueen, from "The War Lover"; Harrison Ford, from "Patriot Games"; and the cast of the Harry Potter films.

No Miracle Button

PLYMOUTH, England -- A British woman who believes prayer healed her damaged hip had trouble getting her benefits stopped because the government does not recognize miracles.

June Clarke told the Daily Mail she felt bad receiving disability benefits when she was no longer disabled. But officials told her she had received a permanent disability designation after she slipped on a wet floor in 2001, causing severe damage to her hip, spine and pelvis.

The computer apparently was not programmed for her stated manner of recovery.

"They said: 'We haven't got a button to push that says miracle,'" Clarke told the newspaper.

Eventually, Clarke was examined by a government doctor. He said he did not understand what had cured her -- but pronounced her cured.

Clarke lives in Plymouth where her husband, Stuart, is pastor of the Hooe Baptist Church. She said she regained the use of her legs in January while attending a Christian conference and after years of prayer from her husband.

Text Trick

NZ - It was a case of love's labour's lost, 21st-century style. The man thought he was in for an early Christmas present when he got an alluring text offering him the friendly company of two young women.

They invited him around for some close attention, helpfully suggesting he get his gear off to save time. So off he went, reached the house, and threw his clothes through the front window prior to entering.

Trouble is, it was all a joke and the householder wasn't two little lovelies pining for passion, but someone else altogether - who promptly called the police.

The constabulary duly arrested the 31-year-old for being unlawfully on a property and he was later offered diversion.

Some time later the police caught up with the 17-year-old text sender, who was also offered diversion, for misusing a phone, when she appeared in the Palmerston North District Court last week.

Santa Paws

While many art fans hang Van Gogh or Michelangelo prints on their walls, a local doggie daycare hopes Winnipeggers prefer the likes of Guiness and Mischa.

Canines at Woofs 'n Wags daycare and obedience centre are spending the week in "Santa Paw" workshops, creating "impressionist art" to be auctioned off next Monday through Friday.

Proceeds go to D'Arcy's Animal Rescue Centre, the shelter from which many of the dogs were adopted.

"We're a big family here and we really just want to give back to the community and back to dogs who don't have anything," said Woofs 'n Wags owner Nikki Sherwin.

"We're blessed that our dogs are spoiled rotten and loved, but we want to make sure we're doing as much as we can for dogs that need a little extra, especially during the holiday season."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Human Calculator

The world's fastest human calculator today broke his own record for working out a 200-digit number using nothing but brain power to produce the answer in just over 70 seconds.

Alexis Lemaire, a 27-year-old Frenchman, correctly calculated the 13th root of a random 200-digit number from a possible 393 trillion answers.

The so-called 'mathlete' produced the answer of 2,407,899,893,032,210 in 70.2 seconds, beating his previous record of 72.4 seconds, at London's Science Museum.

A computer was used to produce a random 200-digit number before he sat down to calculate the answer in his head.

The museum's curator of mathematics, Jane Wess, said: "He sat down and it was all very quiet - and all of a sudden he amazingly just cracked it. I believe that it is the highest sum calculated mentally. He seems to have a large memory and he's made this his life's ambition. It's quite remarkable to see it happen. A very small number of people have this extraordinary ability; nowadays there is only a handful."

Mr Lemaire, who attends the University of Reims in northern France, began demonstrating his prowess by finding the 13th root of a random 100-digit number but gave up trying to improve his performance when he calculated an answer in under four seconds in 2004.

Like an athlete, he trains his brain daily for the far harder task of finding the 13th root of 200-digit numbers.