Monday, December 31, 2007

Not Rocket Scientists!

They were the consolation prize then, but it's the Golden Anniversary of their first effort:
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama: In 1950, this cotton market town in northern Alabama lost a bid for a military aviation project that would have revived its mothballed arsenal. The consolation prize was dubious: 118 German rocket scientists who had surrendered to the Americans during World War II, led by a man — a crackpot, evidently — who claimed humans could visit the moon.

Ultimately those German immigrants made history, launching the first American satellite, Explorer I, into orbit in January 1958 and putting astronauts on the moon in 1969. The crackpot, Wernher von Braun, was celebrated as a visionary.

Far less attention, though, has been given to the space program's permanent transformation of Huntsville, now a city of 170,000 with one of the country's highest concentrations of scientists and engineers. The area is full of high-tech giants like Siemens, LG and Boeing, and a new biotech center.

Rocket scientists, propulsion experts and military contractors have given the area per capita income levels above the national average and well above the rest of the state.

Huntsville residents regard their city as an oasis, as un-Alabaman as Alabama can be. But they acknowledge that the state's backwater reputation is a hindrance to recruiting. Local boosters are hoping to use the 50th anniversary of Explorer I on Jan. 31 as a way to promote Huntsville as Rocket City, unveiling a new pavilion, housing a 363-foot Saturn V rocket, at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, a museum and popular tourist attraction.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Old As the Hills

The new game in town:
Mobilisa is one of a new breed of companies sustained by lawmakers handing them government contracts through line-item appropriations known as earmarks.

These companies make their sales pitch not to experts in places like the Pentagon but to lawmakers and their staff in the halls of Congress. The startups rely on dollars from taxpayers rather than from venture capitalists who demand a cut of profits. All the while, company executives usually give campaign donations to lawmakers.

Nelson Ludlow and his wife, Bonnie, have donated generously in the past five years, giving $11,500 to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and nearly $20,000 to U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton.

At the same time, the Ludlows have mastered the earmark game. Since 2003, Murray and Dicks have favored Mobilisa with at least nine earmarks worth $20.3 million.

Mobilisa had to split some of the earmark money with others and hasn't received all of it yet. But most of the company's $13 million to $14 million in revenues since 2003 have come from political pork, federal dollars for which Mobilisa didn't have to competitively bid. That puzzles competitors, who describe the company's technology as dated and overpriced.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

We'll Always Have, Paris?

The girl will have to make a living:
Hotel magnate Barron Hilton, 80, will donate 97% of his $2.3bn (£1.2bn; 1.6bn euros) fortune to the Conrad N Hilton Foundation, set up by his father.

The funds come from the $20bn sale of Hilton Hotels to The Blackstone Group.

Reports have said that Mr Hilton is embarrassed by the behaviour of his granddaughter.

Ms Hilton, known for her party lifestyle, spent three weeks in jail earlier this year for violating probation in a drink driving case.

....The foundation supports projects that provide clean water in Africa, education for blind children and housing for the mentally ill.

Death Comes to the Arch Obituarist

Now, it's his turn:
Hugh Massingberd, who died on Christmas Day aged 60, always used to insist, during his time as obituaries editor of The Daily Telegraph, that understatement was the key to the form.

....It was as obituaries editor of The Daily Telegraph from 1986 to 1994 that he found the perfect fulfilment for his gifts. First, though, he had to reinvent the whole concept of the form, substituting for the grave and ceremonious tribute the sparkling celebration of life.

Before his arrival at the Telegraph, obituaries had been regarded as an inferior branch of News, and afforded minimal space.

As far back as 1969, however, Massingberd had discerned the immense potential that lay in this disregarded cranny of journalism.

The moment of illumination had come when he went to see Roy Dotrice's rendering of John Aubrey's Brief Lives at the Criterion Theatre.

Picking up a dusty tome, Dotrice/Aubrey read out a dreary entry about a barrister (Recorder of this, Bencher of that, and so on). Suddenly he snapped shut the volume with a "Tchah!" and turned to the audience: "He got more by his prick than his practice."

There and then, Massingberd later wrote, "I determined to dedicate myself to chronicling what people were really like through informal anecdote, description and character sketch." Laughter, he added, would be by no means out of place.

His ambition took many years to come to fruition. When, in 1979, during the strike at The Times, Massingberd sought to convince the Telegraph's editor, Bill Deedes, to venture upon a more expansive obituaries section, he was given to understand that it would be rather poor form to exploit the difficulties of a rival publication.

Finally, in 1986, Max Hastings gave Massingberd his opportunity. Immediately, Telegraph readers found themselves regaled by such characters as Canon Edward Young, the first chaplain of a striptease club; the last Wali of Swat, who had a fondness for brown Windsor soup; and Judge Melford Stevenson, who considered that "a lot of my colleagues are just constipated Methodists".

The column also made a speciality of tales of derring-do from the Second World War. The foibles of aristocrats proved another fertile source.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ghost of Christmas Passed

Now, the tough go shopping in Britain:
Savvy shoppers appear to have been deliberately saving their cash in order to get more for their money in the sales.

And some Britons were already on the lookout for bargains just hours after finishing their Christmas pudding.

Up to 4million of us spent part of yesterday browsing store websites for potential purchases.

Major retailers, including Marks & Spencer, PC World, Argos, Comet and Dixons, all launched web sales just after midnight yesterday.

It was predicted this would lead to online shoppers spending more than £50million on the same day they unwrapped their presents - up 66 per cent from last year.

....Consumer analyst James Roper, from the Interactive Media in Retail Group, added: "The desire to shop doesn't go away and the web fills a niche when stores close.

"The peak spending time was likely to be after the Queen's speech and between 8pm and 10pm."

And a spokesman for PC World said: "Sitting in front of elderly relatives playing charades is one way to spend your Christmas Day - surfing for good deals is another.

"Boxing Day is one of the biggest shopping days of the year, and people are keen to get started on the sales."

Monday, December 24, 2007

Chinese New Gear

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas:
Christmas has secured a spot on the Chinese calendar as a cherished excuse to buy, buy, buy. And while Christianity is indeed spreading in the officially atheist country, many shoppers have only a faint idea of the holiday's religious connection.

But their manner of celebration is sure to win the blessing of at least one group: economists.

"It's not really a real holiday," said Benny Zhang, 29, a computer programmer outside a Beijing mall with his wife. "It's just a nice atmosphere for shopping and a chance to swap gifts with each other."

Economists long despaired that the Chinese propensity to save, not spend, was storing up trouble should China's exports falter and hurting the world economy because it was not buying enough from abroad.

Even as China has become wealthier, the savings culture has been reinforced by the dismantling of the social-security system, which forced ordinary people to keep enough money on hand for education, medicine and old age.

But Christmas reveals that Chinese consumers, buoyed by fast-rising incomes, have now burst on the scene with a fervor for shopping that someday might rival their U.S. counterparts.

....Seven of the world's 10 biggest shopping malls will be in China by 2010....

Hard numbers show why. Retail sales rose 18.8 percent in November from a year earlier, marking the fastest growth since 1999, the National Bureau of Statistics reported this month.

An Mi, spokeswoman for one of China's biggest electronics retailers, Gome, says December sales now rival the traditional spike months for Chinese retailers, May and October, when consumers enjoy weeklong holidays to celebrate International Labor Day and National Day.

Bedecked in trees and bunting, with carols piped through their speakers, Chinese malls are thronged by shoppers at Christmas and look much like ones anywhere else in the world.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

On Donder, and Blitzen!

We're moving corporate headquarters for efficiency:
With characteristic Scandinavian thoroughness, ...logistics experts calculated the most efficient route for Father Christmas to make his way round each of the world's 2.5 billion households, and discovered he is based in the wrong place. They decided that his workshop needs to move 3,400 miles south, to a mountainous region of Kyrgyzstan in central Asia, a country once part of the Soviet Union.

....Anders Larsson, one of the experts behind the study at the Stockholm-based engineering consultants Sweco, which calculates optimum delivery routes for companies, said: "Kyrgyzstan is the best place because it is close to China and India, while it is also located in the northern hemisphere, which is more densely populated than the southern.

....The Swedish programme recommends that Father Christmas start delivering his presents in eastern Asia, then fly west before finishing his journey in Alaska or Hawaii. That direction of travel, against the Earth's rotation, would extend the night, giving him twice as much time to deliver gifts to all the world's children. But even so, his sleigh would need to travel at 3,604 miles per second, or 17,000 times faster than the speed of sound.

At each home he would have just 34 millionths of a second to climb down the chimney, leave the gift, gulp a mince pie and knock back a glass of sherry before rejoining his waiting reindeer. Mr Larsson added: "His extreme speed is also the reason we rarely meet him."

The Kyrgyzstan authorities have seized on the idea of relocating Santa to their country with enthusiasm. Despite being predominantly Muslim, the residents believe in Ayaz Ata, or Father Snow, who brings gifts to their children. The ministry for tourism has also announced plans for an expedition to the area identified by the Swedish study to climb a mountain and rename the peak Mount Santa.

Akbar Djigitov, a tourism official, said: "It was a real surprise to find he would be best to set up his home in our country, but we think it perfect. Our mountains are very snowy, so he would feel at home."

Henry VIII We're Not, We're Not

The Catholics are the Comeback Kids:
Roman Catholics have overtaken Anglicans as the country's dominant religious group. More people attend Mass every Sunday than worship with the Church of England, figures seen by The Sunday Telegraph show.

This means that the established Church has lost its place as the nation's most popular Christian denomination after more than four centuries of unrivalled influence following the Reformation.

....The statistics show that attendance at Anglican Sunday services has dropped by 20 per cent since 2000. A survey of 37,000 churches, to be published in the new year, shows the number of people going to Sunday Mass in England last year averaged 861,000, compared with 852,000 Anglicans ­worshipping.The rise of Catholicism has been bolstered by an influx of immigrants from eastern Europe and Africa, who have packed the pews of Catholic parishes that had previously been dwindling.

....n an attempt to combat the declining interest in traditional religion, the Anglican Church has launched radical new forms of evangelism that include nightclub chaplains, a floating church on a barge and internet congregations.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Written Off

Scrivenering isn't what it used to be in India: the professional letter writer is confronting the fate of middlemen everywhere: to be cut out. In India, the fastest-growing market for mobile phones in the world, calling the village or sending a text message has all but supplanted the practice of dictating your intimacies to someone else.

And so [G.P.] Sawant, 61 years old and by his own guess the author of more than 10,000 of other people's letters, was sitting idly at his stall on a recent Monday, having earned just 12 cents from an afternoon spent filling out forms, submitting money orders, wrapping parcels - the postal trivialities that have survived the evaporation of his letter-writing trade.

But this is not the familiar story of the artisan flattened by the new economy, because, it turns out, his family has gained more from that economy than it has lost.

Sawant has three children riding the Indian economic boom, including a daughter, Suchitra, who works at Infosys, one of the preeminent Indian outsourcing firms. In the very years that a telecommunications revolution was squashing her father's business, it was plugging India into the global networks that would allow her industry to explode. Suchitra now earns $9,000 a year, three times as much as her father did at his peak.

Globalization is said to create winners and losers. In the Sawants, it created both. And that duality reflects the furious pace at which entire professions are being invented and entire professions destroyed in the rush to modernize India.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Good Judgment

At last, she can be embarrassed:
A book about parenting by troubled singer Britney Spears' mother has been delayed indefinitely.

Lynne Spears' memoir was put on hold last week, said Lindsey Nobles, a spokeswoman for Christian book publisher Thomas Nelson. She declined to comment on whether the delay was connected to the revelation that Spears' 16-year-old daughter, Jamie Lynn, is pregnant.

....Jamie Lynn Spears, star of Nickelodeon's “Zoey 101” and sister of Britney, told OK! magazine in its new issue that she is expecting her first child and the father is boyfriend Casey Aldridge.

Britney Spears is going through a bitter custody battle with estranged husband Kevin Federline for their two young sons.

Brave New World

Europe meanders into the wine market:
So strong is the Continent's attachment to the grape that the most radical reforms have been put off or toned down to give wine growers years to adapt.

Nevertheless, the changes agreed to Wednesday marked the start of a new phase in Europe's battle to compete better with reliable and well-marketed wines imported from the New World.
Under the deal, up to 175,000 hectares, or 432,000 acres, of vines will be removed to allow unprofitable producers to quit. A host of subsidies will end in 2012, rules will be amended to allow more wines to be labeled as grape varieties and successful producers will be able to plant as many vines as they like by 2018 at the latest.

"In the long term we were heading for the abyss," said Portugal's agriculture minister, Jaime Silva, who led the negotiation, adding that "this reform gives us the opportunity to change tack."

"The reform is quite clear: the guiding principle is that the market shall guide production," he said.

That idea has been anathema to producers in some European countries where wine is viewed as a special case because of its cultural significance. In France the notion of ripping up vines, abandoning traditional holdings and producing wine on a large scale provoked has fierce opposition.

But the heavily subsidized structure of the sector has become increasingly untenable as wine imports from countries like Australia, Chile and the United States have steadily grown.

Polish Without Tears

No more, 'Show me your papers.' :
As of midnight Thursday the once contentious border between Poland and Germany will be thrown open. For the most part, it has been more whimper than bang for the fall of one of the most historically fraught and violently fought over frontiers on earth.

Traveling along the 450-odd kilometers, or about 280 miles, of the border - from the German town of Zittau in the south, where the German and Polish dividing line ends at the border of the Czech Republic, to the Polish port city of Szczecin in the north - what is most striking is the relative indifference along the way to the change.

....The border controls are ending because Poland is officially joining the borderless zone within the European Union known as the Schengen area. It is named after the town in Luxembourg where the first agreements to open their boundaries were signed by a group of West European countries including Germany and France in 1985.

Now Poland and eight other countries, most from the former Soviet sphere of Central and Eastern Europe, have adopted the common visa, asylum and external border procedures required for membership. The police will still perform patrols and spot checks inside their borders. But once the new members have joined, it will be possible to drive clear from Lisbon to Tallinn without taking out a passport or identity card.

Finny, That

They're fond of the swastika:
In Finland, the public is supporting its war heroes with a silver swastika ring.

In most countries, the swastika is forever linked to the horrors of Hitler's regime, but for centuries in Finland it has been a symbol of good luck - during the Second World War, Finnish military aircraft even sported blue swastikas as they fought the Nazis.

So when the Finnish War Veterans Association sought a new way of raising funds for the nation's 80,000 Second World War veterans, the obvious choice was a replica of its 1940 Air Defence ring, complete with swastika, rosette and stylised wings.

"We thought they would make great Christmas presents for men, or for young people if their grandparents fought in the war," said Pia Mikkonen, the head of the Finnish Veterans' Association.

She added that sales had not been as strong as she would have liked.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Senior Discount

A line written apparently without intended irony:
As a suicide bomber he was most unusual.

Followed by:
But the story of Rabah Bechla, a 63-year-old grandfather of seven who rammed a truck packed with explosives into a United Nations office here last week, killing at least 17, is in many ways the story of Algeria itself.


Doing business in Russia:
Highly educated and well connected, former Federal Security Service officers include among their number Russia's president, Vladimir Putin. And Putin has seeded former colleagues throughout government and appointed them to boards of state-run corporations

For big Western companies, the prevalence of former Federal Security Service agents in Russian business is raising questions of ethics and due diligence, as a growing number — including Boeing, Exxon Mobil and Renault — have business transactions with Russian companies linked to former spies or members of the political police.

Boeing and Exxon declined to comment on their companies' due-diligence criteria for deals with former KGB officials. A spokeswoman for Renault said her company was "not concerned" with the matter.

"We look at AvtoVaz as an interesting partner," the spokeswoman, Olga Sergeyeva, said, referring to Russia's largest carmaker, "so we work with the people who manage the factory. That person is Chemezov." Sergei Chemezov, chairman of the state-run Russian Technology, is a former KGB agent who served with Putin in the east German city of Dresden in the 1980s.

"Very creepy" was how one European manager of an equity fund invested in Russia described his dealings with the leadership of a company run by former security service officers. He did not want to be identified making the assessment because he wants to do business with the companies.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sauce for the Goose

French producers of foie gras complained about it:
Eduardo Sousa cannot cope with the worldwide demand this Christmas holiday season for his "ethical" foie gras, produced without force-feeding the geese -- a success he puts down to a French outcry over his methods.

When he won an award at a Paris food salon last year, French producers protested, arguing that "foie gras" must come from the traditional "gavage" or force-feeding method. The publicity that generated led to massive orders this year.

"From England, the demand we have is quite astonishing, from restaurants, from anyone who wants something natural," he said at his sprawling farm in the rolling hills of western Spain's Extremadura region north of Seville.

....Sousa's geese roam freely around his 22-hectare (54-acre) farm where they feed mostly on acorns and grass, but also figs, lupins and olives at different times of the year.

The birds, their bellies swollen, rush excitedly among the rows of small oak trees in the bright winter sunshine pecking up the acorns that carpet the hills, as Sousa looks on like a proud parent. Two ferocious-looking dogs patrol the fields in case of predatory foxes.

The birds' livers swell naturally as they fatten themselves up for what would be a migratory winter flight south to Africa.

....When their bellies begin scraping the ground, they are ready for slaughter, which is done by first gassing them to sleep, in a process overseen byveterinarians.

"Stress produces tougher meat, so it's better if the goose is relaxed when it dies," he said.

....In 2006, Sousa was awarded the "Coup de Coeur" prize for innovation for his "gavage-free" foie gras at the Paris International Food Salon.

At first, it did not create much of a buzz.

"It was a tremendous thing, but nothing happened afterwards," he said. "It was when the association of French producers released a press statement (in protest) that demand soared."

Because of the publicity, he now has 50 times as many orders as last year.

"It wasn't very smart of (the French producers). I don't think they thought it through."

Friday, December 14, 2007


The War Against Christmas is going badly, which is good for Denmark's tree farms:
Ole Holm, a Christmas tree grower in western Denmark, is planning a deer-hunting trip to Scotland as a tree shortage allows him to charge an average of 20 percent more for his evergreens this year.

"We'll use the extra money to sweeten our existence a little," said Holm, 55, who expects this to be the best holiday season since he started selling trees from his farm in Oestervraa 15 years ago. "It'll be good times."

Danish growers, Europe's biggest Christmas tree exporters, are raising prices by as much as 25 percent for the country's Nordmann firs, coveted for their long-lasting, soft needles, said Kaj Oestergaard, director of the Danish Christmas Tree Growers' Association.

....Tree farmers like Holm cut back on planting almost a decade ago, when a glut caused prices to slump.

That has led to a dearth of trees today. At the same time, demand has risen in eastern Europe, where consumers are buying higher-quality imported Christmas trees as economic growth fuels spending.

"The Eastern Europeans are getting wealthier and upgrading to the Nordmann," said Claus Jerram Christensen, a senior consultant at the Danish growers' association in Frederiksberg, a suburb of Copenhagen. "We expect China will be next."

Shake a Leg

It might be your unlucky day in India:
Two men attacked an 80-year-old, self-proclaimed holy man in southern India and chopped off his right leg, apparently believing it had magical powers, police said Thursday.

Yanadi Kondaiah, who claimed that those who touched his leg would be cured of illness or have wishes granted, was hospitalized in serious condition after the attack Tuesday, said R. Ravindranath Reddy, a senior police officer.

"We are looking for the miscreants as well as the leg," Reddy told The Associated Press by telephone from the Chittoor district, a remote area 340 miles south of Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh state.

"This seems to be a case of superstition. The two people might have taken away the leg hoping to benefit from its magical powers," said Pendakanti Dastgiri, the police officer handling the case.

Superstitions, belief in magic and the occult remain widespread in much of rural India.

It Was the Worst of Times

To hear Helen tell it:
Just ask Dame Helen Mirren.

The 62-year-old Oscar winner has become embroiled in an astonishing war of words with critic Michael Winner after accusing him of treating her "like a piece of meat".

But for Mr Winner it was the Breast of Times:
...the 72-year-old Death Wish director insists he was not auditioning the actress for a part but was merely advising her to amend a set of rather unflattering casting photos.

Speaking tonight, he told the Mail: "The only time I ever met Helen Mirren it was as a favour to her agent, Margaret Johnston, who was a real friend of mine.

"She rang me and said she had photographs of Helen in which she had these enormous sagging boobs. She thought the photographs wouldn't help her get work.

"She said to me: 'Could you see Helen and impress upon her that she should wear a brassiere to hold up these bosoms. I can't talk any sense into her - see what you can do.' So it was favour to the agent.

"I saw Helen and as I had been instructed to deal with the situation of her breasts, I did indeed ask her to stand up. I don't remember asking her to turn around but if I did I wasn't being serious.

"I can see it now; she was wearing a peasant blouse and a skirt in the photographs - with enormous bosoms which were sagging a bit even though she was young. I was only doing what the agent asked me - and for this I get reviled!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Doesn't Add Up

Andrew Coulson says, think a second time about No Child Left Behind:
So, according to the [Program for International Student Assessment] test, U.S. students have suffered overall stagnation or decline in math, reading, and science in the years since NCLB was passed. ....

Taken together, the PISA test data suggest NCLB has been a failure. That same picture is painted by a separate test of 4th grade students: the Program on International Reading Literacy Survey. According to PIRLS, U.S. 4th grade reading achievement fell, though only by a negligible 2 points, between 2001 and 2006.

While NCLB hasn't improved achievement or closed the gaps, it has succeeded in making public schools far more expensive to operate. The average estimate of the costs imposed by NCLB's accountability provisions hovers around 5% of combined state and local spending. Conservatively speaking, that amounts to roughly $16 billion in additional spending, annually. And since those accountability provisions appear to have done no good, we seem to have wasted almost $100 billion since NCLB was enacted.

But this isn't just another story about federal waste or "unfunded mandates." It's a story about the millions of American children whose chances of receiving a good education have been gambled away because Congress backed the wrong policy horse. Our elected representatives went to the track one day and bet our money on a long-shot -- on the idea that increased federal intrusion in the classroom would promote academic excellence. They, and we, lost. But of course the biggest losers are American kids -- particularly the lowest-performing students, whom the law was especially intended to help.

Now that the results are in, only obstinacy and foolishness would lead us to continue throwing money at NCLB. It is time for Congress to return authority over education to the states and the people, where the Constitution so presciently left it.


Do not read while standing:
Words to live by, from a warning label on a small tractor: "Danger: Avoid Death."

That warning was selected Wednesday as the winner of the 11th annual "Wacky Warning Label Contest," sponsored by Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch. The contest is part of an effort to show the effects of lawsuits on warning labels.

....The $250 second place was given...for a label on an iron-on T-shirt transfer that warns: "Do not iron while wearing shirt."

Richard Goodnow...earned the $100 third-place prize for a label on a baby stroller featuring a small storage pouch that warns: "Do not put child in bag."

....Honorable mention went to Cyndi LaMonde, of Traverse City, for a label on a letter opener that says: "Caution: Safety goggles recommended."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Gold Medal Winner

LaFayette we are here:
NEW YORK, December 12, 2007 - A gold and enamel medal that once belonged to the American Revolutionary hero the Marquis de Lafayette was bought at Sotheby's auction here Tuesday for 5.26 million dollars by France's Fondation de Chambrun.

Sold by Lafayette's descendants, the medal was given to the Frenchman in 1824 by relatives of America's first president George Washington, when Lafayette was 67 years old. Its pre-sale estimate was between four and 10 million dollars.

"We are thrilled with the results. This is the highest price ever paid for a medal," said David Redden, Sotheby's vice-president.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007 oft proclaim the man

Polonius didn't know the half of it:
Exciting progress in the booming, intelligent clothing and textiles industry means mobile-phone shirts (just speak into the collar) and socks that mend themselves could soon be a reality.

Meanwhile, iPod-playing suits and clothes that change size and shape to fit the wearer are already here.

Such garments are set to become part of our daily wardrobes as advances in smart fabrics mean our clothes will do more than just preserve our modesty, protect us from the elements, or, for some of us, make a fashion statement.

In recent years, smart clothing has progressed significantly from wearable computers - where devices such as MP3 players or mobile phones are seamlessly integrated into clothing - to "intelligent" fabrics and clothes that can conduct electricity, change shape and even colour.

"The world is your oyster when it comes to the sorts of things you can do with clothing and technology. You're only limited by your imagination, really," says Dr Adam Best, a research scientist at the CSIRO division of energy technology, who has developed a shirt that produces electricity simply by being moved, such as when the wearer is walking.

The power shirts - or flexible, integrated-energy devices - are basically wearable batteries that charge whenever the person moves.

Weight Up

Students without lockers in their schools are a problem:
...Marissa, 15, a sophomore at River Ridge High School, also faces a heavy day. The school was designed with no lockers, and students have to carry their belongings all day.

"I have textbooks for all of my classes, pretty much. I have an AP [Advanced Placement] class, and that's a heavy-duty textbook. I have math, and we have to carry around a huge binder for that," she said.

"It's almost like you're being punished for having a big academic load," [her mother] Debbie Macy said.

The Macy family recently asked the North Thurston School District to consider what can be done for students weighed down by textbooks.

Heavy backpacks have been a large-enough issue that other states have tried to lighten the load.

In July, California's law regarding the maximum weights of textbooks went into effect. Books should be no heavier than 5 pounds in high school, 4 pounds in middle school and 3 pounds in elementary school, according to that state's Department of Education.

....Kent School District spokeswoman Becky Hanks said some of the schools in her district offer classroom sets of textbooks so students don't have to haul heavy books back and forth.

The North Thurston district reviewed the Macys' request. District spokeswoman Courtney Schrieve said the middle schools have enough books to allow teachers to keep a set in the classroom and students to keep a set at home.

Having a school set and a home set of books has been the practice at the middle schools for several years, since the schools stopped using their lockers for safety reasons and because they cut into instructional time, Schrieve said.

"Students spent a lot of time getting books out of their lockers or just hanging out at their lockers," she said. North Thurston middle-school students in sports have lockers available to them, and the district offers instrument rental, so band members don't have to lug their equipment to and from school.

Monday, December 10, 2007

These Times Demand

A half way or the other, says Hugo:
Venezuelans turned their clocks back half an hour on Sunday, putting them in the company of people in other nations that offset time in half-hour increments from Greenwich Mean Time, like Afghanistan, India, Iran and Myanmar.

"This is a public health measure that benefits the health of Venezuelan men and women and, above all, boys and girls," the government's official news agency said.

The time change, which will remain in effect year-round, was initially announced in August, but confusion ensued as to whether clocks would be moved ahead or behind. Senior officials here recently confirmed that clocks would be turned back 30 minutes, arguing that exposing citizens to more sunlight would improve their metabolism.

Venezuela will now be in its own time zone, only a half-hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

He cashed in his chips

For the last time:
David 'Chip' Reese, who died on Tuesday aged 56, was regarded by many as the best all-round poker player at work; he won three World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets, though he played in fewer tournaments than most professionals, preferring high-stakes money games, often for seven-figure sums.

....At Dartmouth College, where he studied Economics, he regularly took money from his professors as well as members of his fraternity house. After graduating, he had been due to attend Stanford Business School, where he planned to study Law, but stopped off for a weekend in Las Vegas on his way there.

He turned $400 into $40,000 by winning a poker tournament and, by the time he should have started at Stanford, had made $100,000.

He seldom left Vegas again and had his possessions sent on to him: “Law doesn’t have the same monetary incentive as poker,” he explained.

They're stupid...

...after all they voted for me, says the leader of Spain:
The poor results obtained by Spanish students in the recently published PISA report, which analyses average abilities in math, reading and science, sparked fierce debate among politicians and educators yesterday, with parents being subjected to blame, as well as the education system itself.

The results of the PISA 2006 survey of 15-year-olds, released on Tuesday, showed that Spain is the country to have dropped furthest in terms of reading skills with respect to previous reports - from an average of 581 points to 561 - leaving it in 35th place of the 56 countries surveyed, behind Luxembourg, Portugal, Italy and Slovakia. Moreover, Spanish students have also failed to improve in math and science, leaving them in 32nd and 31st places, respectively.

Speaking on Tuesday at a conference organised by British publication The Economist, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said that "the main determining factor regarding education for each generation is the education that their parents received, along with what they get from the education system." He went on to explain that Spain has seen many generations with little education in its recent history.

Stay Home and Bake Cookies, Mon Cheri

France has no fury like a Socialist leader scorned:
France's Socialist leader Francois Hollande fired back Wednesday at his former partner Segolene Royal, who in a new book accuses the party of sabotaging her presidential election bid, saying she had only herself to blame.

Royal, 54, who was defeated by Nicolas Sarkozy in the May presidential race, returned to the political fray with the publication Tuesday of a tell-all book, accusing Hollande and other Socialist heavyweights of betraying her.

"There is no point trying to find blame with other people. It is better to look at what one might have done better, based on the role and the place one held," Hollande told reporters.

In her election memoir entitled "My Greatest Story Is You", Royal attacks senior party colleagues who "had sworn to crush" her, and says she got no support from Hollande, the father of her four children.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Klass Klowns

In Ohio, they're not rocket scientists:
Two college students say the high cost of tuition led them to rob a bank.

The men pleaded guilty to two charges of aggravated robbery and six charges of kidnapping. They face 20 years in prison when sentenced Dec. 27.

Andrew Butler, 20, a theater major at the University of Toledo, told Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Steve Martin on Monday that tuition increases outpaced his scholarships and financial aid.

Christopher Avery, 22, who was studying engineering at the University of Cincinnati, said he couldn't pay for summer classes after an internship at a grocery store fell through.

"I was strapped for cash," Avery said. "I thought I had nothing to lose."

....Armed with guns and wearing masks, Butler and Avery made off with $130,000 from a crowded Valley Central Savings Bank in suburban Reading on July 17, said Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor Brian Goodyear.

An attempt to rob a check-cashing business a day earlier was thwarted when the students couldn't get through the business' security system despite firing four shots at the bullet-resistant glass, Goodyear said.

Stop the World...

...they want to get off:
"We've said, just take us off the map, actually," said Geoff Coombs, chairman of the parish council in Barrow Gurney, a village that, despite being too small to have a sidewalk, is host to some 15,000 vehicles a day - cars as well as larger vehicles - whose GPS systems identify it as a good alternative route to Bristol Airport.

But that is easier said than done.

"We map the reality - the streets, the signposts and the road infrastructure as it is in reality," said Dick Snauwaert, a spokesman for Tele Atlas, which provides digital maps to portable navigation systems. "We cannot change that reality in our data base. Who are we to make a change and say, 'You cannot drive in that road' if, in reality, you can drive in that road."

Snauwaert said that it was up to local communities to make it clear what roads were not appropriate for trucks, and to install signs saying so. The relevant information, including things like height, width and weight constraints, could then eventually be integrated into the data bases used for GPS devices, he said.

...."We've heard some very hilarious stories where people just blindly follow the sat. nav. instructions," said Vince Yearley, a spokesman for the Institute of Advanced Motorists, using British shorthand for "satellite navigation." "Like if the sat. nav. says, 'drive into this muddy field,' they think, 'that's weird,' but they do it anyway."

As far as trucks getting lost, much of the problem is caused by truck drivers from foreign countries - more than 14,000 a day - who come from abroad with GPS devices but without maps or an ability to read English road signs, said Geoff Dossetter, a spokesman for the Freight Transport Association, which represents road haulers.

"Foreign drivers very much depend on sat. nav. systems when they're coming to a different country, and they are following them rather more blindly than they ought to," Dossetter said.

....Last month, a Slovakian truck driver arrived in Dover, bound for Wales with 22 tons of paper. But, directed off the highway and onto increasingly narrow roads by his navigation system, he ended up wedged on a tiny lane between two houses in the village of Mereworth, in Kent, whereupon he jumped out of his truck and burst into tears.

"He got back in his lorry and tried to maneuver his way out, but he was starting to scrape against the front walls," a resident, Mark Siggers, told a local newspaper. He also knocked down the village's power cables, cutting off the electricity. It took the authorities several days to remove his now-mangled truck.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Coulter Scanner?

It's a step forward for airport security:
Prague’s airport is testing a technology that could eventually end the need to chug that bottle of water before going through the security check.

A new device, called the Emili 1, uses microwaves to detect benign liquids from hazardous ones that could be used for terrorism. Ideally, it could speed up onerous security lines at airports, make flights safer and — eventually — lead to the elimination of the ban on outside liquids.

Next, a scanner to separate dangerous swarthy young males from benign ones?

No Sausages Made Here

The Dutch benefit from divided government:
It is becoming clear that the coalition deal is to avoid trouble because neither party can afford an election right now. This means that either party can veto the other's proposals. Behind the scenes deals are made along the lines of "if you take your idea of the table, we'll do the same with ours".

The result has been a wide collection of things that will NOT happen: there will be no enquiry into Netherlands participation in the Iraq war; there will be no referendum on Europe, there will be no reform of firing laws and there will be no cutting back tax breaks for the rich.

....For the time being it seems we are stuck with a deadlocked cabinet, agreeing above all not to do anything controversial.

Unfortunately, the author of the above doesn't understand it's a feature not a bug:
History buffs will see a parallel with the First World War. Both sides were down in their trenches, taking occasional pot-shots at each other. Sometimes there was a bit of movement forward or back, but at the end of four bitter, embattled years little had been accomplished. And much was lost. Let's hope these are just the growing pains of a new coalition, because we really cannot afford a second year of stagnation.