October 2005

Family Photo
Family Photo (Sharon Cekada/Associated Press)

Associated Press, reports:

APPLETON, Wisconsin — When Emily the cat went missing a month ago, her owners looked for their wandering pet where she had ended up before — the local animal shelter.

But this week they learned Emily sailed to France.

Lesley McElhiney figures her cat went prowling around a paper warehouse near home and ended up in a cargo container that went by ship across the Atlantic Ocean and was trucked to Nancy, a city in northeastern France near the border with Germany.

Employees at a French lamination company found her in the container, checked her tags and called Emily’s veterinarian back in the U.S., John Palarski.

Rosa Parks (2001)
Mrs. Parks, at a ceremony in Detroit honoring the 46th anniversary of her arrest for civil disobedience. (File 2001/ Associated Press)

Rosa Parks (1956) Booking Photo
A Montgomery (Ala.) Sheriff’s Department booking photo of Rosa Parks taken Feb 22, 1956 (AP Photo/Montgomery County (Ala.) Sheriff’s office)

Mark Feeney, Boston Globe Staff reports:

Civil Rights Pioneer Rosa Parks, 92, Dies
The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 25, 2005; 9:58 AM

DETROIT — Nearly 50 years ago, Rosa Parks made a simple decision that sparked a revolution. When a white man demanded she give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus, the then 42-year-old seamstress said no.

At the time, she couldn’t have known it would secure her a revered place in American history. But her one small act of defiance galvanized a generation of activists, including a young Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and earned her the title “mother of the civil rights movement.”

Mrs. Parks died Monday evening at her home of natural causes, with close friends by her side, said Gregory Reed, an attorney who represented her for the past 15 years. She was 92.

On Slashdot, xbmodder writes:

 ”Two tier one ISPs are down today. At about 23:30PST both Verio and Level 3 starting having problems with routes. According to Level 3 this is a software upgrade gone awry. Is this the end for Level 3?” Many, many reports about this are coming in, and if you’re wondering why the stories were rather sparse overnight, it’s because it’s difficult to post them without internet access. Hope everyone else is back online too.

AAP, ZDnet (AU), via Slashdot, reports:

Glitches in a new customs computer system have caused a massive container backlog at NSW’s largest port and threaten to bring it to a standstill, the state government says.

NSW Ports Minister Eric Roozendaal today said Port Botany was at 90 per cent capacity and space was “rapidly diminishing”.

The federal government agency Australian Customs’ integrated customs management system has been unable to clear containers quickly enough.

The industry estimates cargo clearance rates at Port Botany and Melbourne — two of the nation’s most important ports — are down to 30 per cent of normal levels because of the system. “Almost two months before Christmas, Port Botany is almost full and delays are at critical levels for products coming into NSW busiest port,” Roozendaal said in a statement.

“There couldn’t be a worse time to introduce a new computer system.”

Michael Kanellos, Staff Writer, CNET News.com, reports:

Habitual activity–smoking, eating fatty foods, gambling–changes neural activity patterns in a specific region of the brain when habits are formed. These neural patterns created by habit can be changed or altered. But when a stimulus from the old days returns, the dormant pattern can reassert itself, according to a new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, putting an individual in a neural state akin to being on autopilot.

Sandra Jontz, Stars and Stripes, reports:

On Tuesday, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps blocked all access to commercial e-mail services, such as Yahoo!, Hotmail, America Online and Google, from overseas government computers.

And not just at office workstations.

The block includes access to e-mail services from computers at base libraries and liberty centers that are connected to an official government network.

Maggie Mulvihill and Dave Wedge, Boston Herald, report:

BOURNE – Hurricane Katrina evacuees hastily handed $2,000 in federal relief money last month have been living it up on Cape Cod, blowing cash on booze and strippers, a Herald investigation has found.

Herald reporters witnessed blatant public drinking at a Falmouth strip mall by Katrina victims living at taxpayer expense at Camp Edwards on Otis Air Force Base. And strippers at Zachary’s nightclub in Mashpee, a few miles from the Bourne base, report giving lap dances to several evacuees.

“They were tipping me $5 a pop,'’ said a Zachary’s dancer named Angel. “I told them I felt bad taking their money. But I still took it.'’

Another dancer said a large group from the military base was in Zachary’s recently and she gave lap dances to several of the victims.

Al jazeera reports:

According to most recent surveys, just 28 percent of Americans think the president is doing a good job, the lowest in a decade. But pollsters say that even without running a poll; just wandering down to the local coffee shops you will see the amount of anger and frustration as a result of Iraq war, the mounting casualties, skyrocketing energy prices and the government’s policy.

“More and more Americans are angry,” says retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a Democratic presidential candidate in 2004. “They are angry about the president’s incompetence and his general unwillingness to acknowledge with some humility that he has made some terrible and tragic mistakes regarding the mission in Iraq.”

Last month, thousands of American anti-war protesters, carrying signs that read “Bush Lied, Thousands Died,” and “End the Occupation,” rallied in Washington and other U.S. cities demanding the return of U.S. troops and the end of Iraq war- It was the largest gathering since the war began in March 2003.

“We believe we are at a tipping point whereby the anti-war sentiment has now become the majority sentiment,” said Brian Becker, national coordinator for ANSWER, a famous antiwar group.

Mark Benjamin, Salon.com, reports:

On Sept. 24, 2005, tens of thousands of protesters marched past the White House and flooded the National Mall near 17th Street and Constitution Avenue. They had arrived from all over the country for a day of speeches and concerts to protest the war in Iraq. It may have been the biggest antiwar rally since Vietnam. A light rain fell early in the day and most of the afternoon was cool and overcast.

Unknown to the crowd, biological-weapons sensors, scattered for miles across Washington by the Department of Homeland Security, were quietly doing their work. The machines are designed to detect killer pathogens. Sometime between 10 a.m. on Sept. 24 and 10 a.m. on Sept. 25, six of those machines sucked in trace amounts of deadly bacteria called Francisella tularensis. The government fears it is one of six biological weapons most likely to be used against the United States.

The Associated Press reports:

SANFORD (Florida) - Hundreds of cases involving breath-alcohol tests have been thrown out by Seminole County judges in the past five months because the test’s manufacturer will not disclose how the machines work.

All four of Seminole County’s criminal judges have been using a standard that if a DUI defendant asks for a key piece of information about how the machine works - its software source code, for instance - and the state cannot provide it, the breath test is rejected, the Orlando Sentinel reported Wednesday.

Prosecutors have said they do not know how many drunken drivers have been acquitted as a result. But Gino Feliciani, the misdemeanor division chief in the Seminole County State Attorney’s Office, said the conviction rate has dropped to 50 percent or less.

Seminole judges have been following the lead of county Judge Donald Marblestone, who in January ruled that although the information may be a trade secret and controlled by a private contractor, defendants are entitled to it.

“Florida cannot contract away the statutory rights of its citizens,'’ the judge wrote.

Judges in other counties have said the opposite: The state cannot turn over something it does not possess, and the manufacturer should not have to turn over trade secrets.

Published: Jun 5, 2005

By DAWN WALTON, Friday’s Globe and Mail, reports:

Calgary — Forget the stereotype about dopey potheads. It seems marijuana could be good for your brain.

While other studies have shown that periodic use of marijuana can cause memory loss and impair learning and a host of other health problems down the road, new research suggests the drug could have some benefits when administered regularly in a highly potent form.

Most “drugs of abuse” such as alcohol, heroin, cocaine and nicotine suppress growth of new brain cells. However, researchers found that cannabinoids promoted generation of new neurons in rats’ hippocampuses.

Hippocampuses are the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory, and the study held true for either plant-derived or the synthetic version of cannabinoids.

“This is quite a surprise,” said Xia Zhang, an associate professor with the Neuropsychiatry Research Unit at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

Chronic use of marijuana may actually improve learning memory when the new neurons in the hippocampus can mature in two or three months,” he added.

The research by Dr. Zhang and a team of international researchers is to be published in the November issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, but their findings are on-line now.

The scientists also noticed that cannabinoids curbed depression and anxiety, which Dr. Zhang says, suggests a correlation between neurogenesis and mood swings. (Or, it at least partly explains the feelings of relaxation and euphoria of a pot-induced high.)

MIT via BoingBoing reports:

Ancient Greek and Roman historians recorded that during the siege of Syracuse in 212 BC, Archimedes (a notably smart person) constructed a burning glass to set the Roman warships, anchored within bow and arrow range, afire. The story has been much debated and oft dismissed as myth.

TV’s MythBusters were not able to replicate the feat and “busted” the myth.

Intrigued by the idea and an intuitive belief that it could work, MIT’s 2.009ers decided to apply the early product development ‘sketch or soft modeling’ process to the problem.

Our goal was not to make a decision on the myth—we just wanted to assess if it was at least possible, and have some fun in the process. Jumping ahead, you can see the result… but let’s start at the beginning of the process.

(btw, the boat is made of 1″ thick red oak and this is a photoshop-free zone!)

When a new idea pops into one’s head it’s good to do a quick feasibility estimate. The course instructor’s quick “back of the envelope” calculation (done while pondering the MythBuster result) indicated that it could be possible (assuming that the wood is not reflective).

When the 2.009 class was given a 5 minute challenge to assess technical feasibility, about 95% (of 80 students) deemed the death ray infeasible. In a democracy this would probably doom the idea. However, since ‘the bosses’ thought it might work, further exploration and sketch model tests to learn more were merited.

The Unicef advert, which shows the Smurfs’ village being bombed

David Rennie in Brussels for the Telegraph (UK) reports:

The people of Belgium have been left reeling by the first adult-only episode of the Smurfs, in which the blue-skinned cartoon characters’ village is annihilated by warplanes.


A monk shows how he can collect alms and remain protected in a prototype “monkmobile,'’ developed to protect Buddhist monks in predominantly Muslim southern Thailand from attacks in Bangkok. The vehicle was developed by Precipart Co, Ltd. Company owner Major Songphol Eiamboonyarith has developed an array of devices, including orange-colored bulletproof vests for monks and everyday items that can fire rubber bullets, such as umbrellas and microphones. (PHOTO: EPA via Taipei Times)

Red Herring reports:

XO Communications has connected its telecommunications facilities to Stealth Communications’ VoIP peering fabric, allowing the carrier to bypass the public telephone network and its termination fees.

Stealth operates a Voice Peering Fabric (VPF), essentially a wide-area Ethernet network that is a kind of private Internet, allowing member carriers to route calls to each other’s subscribers without the calls going through the public telephone network.

For instance, a call from an XO subscriber to an RCN subscriber will never leave the network and will be free to the subscriber making the call.

XO, the largest of the member companies on Stealth’s VPF, will become the main outlet for calls to subscribers of traditional telephone companies, the companies said on Tuesday. Calls from a VPF member carrier to a public network subscriber will be routed through XO, which is one of the largest non-Bell carriers in the United States.

A Robotic Mouth Check
A robot was used to check the mouth of Jeffry Leon Lewis Jr. after the Army sergeant presented a note at a Tucson bank saying he had a bomb in his mouth. Lewis was handcuffed to to a fence during the procedure. No explosive device was found.

David L. Teibel and Heidi Rowley, Tucson Citizen, via BoingBoing, reports:

TUCSON - An Army sergeant based at Fort Huachuca walked into a bank Monday, his mouth covered in duct tape, and presented a note saying he had a bomb in his mouth, police said.

Sgt. Jeffry Leon Lewis Jr., 33, was arrested after the 9:30 a.m. incident at a Wells Fargo bank branch in Tucson. Police found no explosives in his mouth, backpack, vehicle or on the grounds around the bank, Tucson police Sgt. Mark Robinson said.

The Sunday Times reports:

Behind the neoclassical facade of the Royal Institution, in London’s Mayfair, the latest in a 200-year series of lectures was taking place in a hushed amphitheatre this summer. Standing on the shoulders of scientific giants such as Faraday and Dewar were three academics debating “Happiness, the science behind your smile”.

Purists might imagine the founding geniuses of the Royal Institution turning in their graves. What does science have to tell us about such a frivolous subject? And how do you define happiness, let alone study it? But happiness has finally burst out of the academic closet. Several weighty volumes on the subject have been published this year. And on the same night as the RI event, the economist Lord Layard and the psychiatrist Dr Raj Persaud were debating the Politics of Happiness at the London School of Economics just a mile away.

Perversely, happiness has a negative image in our culture. Influenced by a sceptical European philosophical outlook, we think of happiness as a trivial pursuit for the Oprah generation, a Shangri-La perpetuated by self-help gurus. Isn’t it selfish to try to increase our happiness, while much of the world faces suffering and premature death?

AFP reports

WASHINGTON (AFP) - More bicycles than cars have been sold in the United States over the past 12 months, with rising gas prices prompting commuters to opt for two wheels instead of four.

Not since the oil crisis of 1973 have bicycles sold in such big numbers, according to Tim Blumenthal, executive director of Bikes Belong, an industry association.

“Bicycle sales are near an all-time high with 19 million sold last year — close to the 20 million sold during the oil embargo in the early 1970s,” said Blumenthal, whose association is based in Boulder in the western state of Colorado.

The US Chamber of Commerce says more bicycles have been sold than cars over the past 12 months.


Hospitals brought out their SARS suits to deal with a mysterious respiratory outbreak that has killed four patients and put dozens of others into quarantine.

“There is no guarantee that this is not the beginning of the next pandemic,” Dr. Allison McGeer, a microbiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital said yesterday, adding tests so far have shown the outbreak is not SARS, avian flu or influenza.

“This is a sizable outbreak and it’s somewhat unusual. We are doing everything we can to find the organism. We still have to identify it so this is serious.”

Experts have said it’s only a matter of time before a worldwide outbreak of a potentially deadly flu overtakes Toronto, infecting as many as 900,000 people.

This outbreak, which occurred at the Seven Oaks nursing home at 9 Neilson Rd. in Scarborough, began on Sept. 25 and has killed four and affected 68 other residents and five employees.

Fifteen residents have been taken to Scarborough hospital and Rouge Valley hospital and have been quarantined.

One patient died in hospital. The other three died at Seven Oaks. The patients were in their fifties, seventies and nineties.

“We don’t know what it is. The patients have severe flu-like symptoms and we have them in isolation,” said Katie Cronin-Wood at Rouge Valley hospital, which is caring for 12 patients.

James Sturcke, The Guardian (UK), reports:

A global influenza pandemic is imminent and will kill up to 150 million people, the UN official in charge of coordinating the worldwide response to an outbreak has warned.
David Nabarro, one of the most senior public health experts at the World Health Organisation, said outbreaks of bird flu, which have killed at least 65 people in Asia, could mutate into a form transmittable between people.

“The consequences in terms of human life when the pandemic does start are going to be extraordinary and very damaging,” he said.