Friday, April 2, 2010

Employee suicides spike at Disneyland Paris.

From The Independent:
Disneyland Paris is investigating after two park employees committed suicide in the past six weeks, under working conditions which a trade union described as "humiliating".

A Eurodisney chef hanged himself at his home near Paris last Friday, on the same day he was due to return to work after a period of sick leave. According to the Disneyland branch of the trade union federation, Force Ouvrière, the worker, in his 40s, had told colleagues he wanted to leave his job because he was struggling with demands to "increase figures with fewer resources".

Disneyland Paris directors have denied the suicide was work-related and said that it should not be made "a symbol of something it isn't." It added that the chef had been "highly appreciated by his managers" and well-integrated with fellow employees.

The company has organised a meeting with the chef's fellow employees to discuss the suicide and its possible causes.

Trade union representative, Mary Lyn Lesueur, acknowledged the man's personal problems contributed to his death but insisted that, "it's certain that there is a real management problem at Disney".

The worker was not the first Disneyland chef to commit suicide in recent weeks. On 21 February a 30-year-old chef de partie (line cook) from the park threw himself in front of a train after working in conditions which a trade union spokesman called "humiliating".

Physics professor writes open letter to Hot Tub Time Machine.

Great letter from a real professor. Click here to read the whole thing.
Dear Sirs:

As a noted time-travel expert, I looked forward to your new film, "Hot Tub Time Machine" with great anticipation. Of course, one expects a fair amount of artistic license in movies. For example, even in 1985, the most energy efficient flux capacitors could be powered at far less than 1.21 Gigawatts of electricity. It is also wholly understandable that you have ignored (or are perhaps ignorant of) the vast literature on time machine design and have therefore built yours around a hot tub, which has been shown to be unstable, rather than around the more conventional wormhole. Further, you exhibit an admirable attention to detail on many particulars. Following on the Terminator model, you correctly realize that time travel may only be undertaken while in the nude.

However, I cannot stand idly by as you subject your characters to a number of inviolable paradoxes. Considered from least to most egregious:

1. Predestination Paradoxes. In models of time travel with a single timeline, a traveler who has already experienced the past has no choice but to repeat his/her actions. It is troubling to me that you address predestination in matters of only the most trifling detail, such as whether John Cusack is destined to get a fork in the eye or the fate of Crispin Glover's arm, all while allowing gross details of history to be changed with impunity. Tinkering with history isn't a matter of "close enough." Once things are changed, however slightly, they're changed for good.

Your characters, showing better temporal intuition than you, yourselves, comment on this point, and warn of the "Butterfly Effect." A couple of observations are in order. First, the movie of that name was unspeakably terribly, and you do yourself and your characters a disservice to speak of it approvingly. Secondly, the changes wrought in the past would have so changed the future that any foreknowledge would quickly become worthless. If you don't make your fortune in the first couple of days, it's already too late. The alternate future you will have created will likely have everyone running around in goatees and building doomsday devices.

Adorable laundry-folding robot to kill us all.

Just wait until it starts folding our fleshy bodies. From PopSci:

This laundry-folding robot may not find many fans at the local laundromat, but only because it takes so long in holding up each towel for scrutiny before folding. Still, its fussiness speaks to a special care for laundry -- or painstaking programming routines -- that has won our hearts. You see, folding isn't a chore for this robot. It's an art.

The special PR2 bot is the result of a collaboration between University of California-Berkeley researchers and the gadget guys at Willow Garage. A first video shows the robot very carefully inspecting and then folding a pile of five unfamiliar towels of various sizes on a table, sped up 50 times.

Federal judge: Bush wiretapping program was illegal.

From Raw Story:
In a repudiation of the Bush administration's now-defunct terrorist surveillance effort, a federal judge ruled Wednesday that government investigators illegally wiretapped the phone conversations of an Islamic charity and two American lawyers without a search warrant.

U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker said the plaintiffs provided enough evidence to show "they were subjected to warrantless electronic surveillance" by the National Security Agency.

The judge's 45-page ruling focused narrowly on the case involving the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, touching vaguely on the larger question of the program's legality.

Nonetheless, Al-Haramain lawyer Jon Eisenberg said the ruling had larger implications.

"By virtue of finding what the Bush administration did to our clients was illegal, he found that the Terrorist Surveillance Program was unlawful," Eisenberg said.

Sugar gliders at the mercy of stupid Americans.

Australia's iconic sugar gliders are being bred and traded as domestic pets in the US where they sell for about $US220 ($A240) each.

Vets are treating malnourished gliders for broken bones and chronic lethargy as clueless owners feed the creatures classic American fare - soft drink and hotdogs - instead of insects.

Companies are charging a small fortune for glider accessories and spruiking the tiny marsupials as Easter pets.

"Sugar gliders are exploding right now but wild animals generally are not recommended as pets," Humane Society captive wildlife specialist Beth Preiss said.

"It's difficult caring for wild animals in captivity."

Florida is the commercial breeding hub, fueling a sophisticated trade that is booming online.

News Limited found dozens of examples of caged gliders being fed unusual foods such as ham, hotdogs and soft drinks.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Feds probe 2nd report of Mexican military helicopters in US airspace.

From the Houston Chronicle:
The U.S. Department of Defense said it was investigating the second sighting within three weeks of a Mexican military helicopter flying in U.S. airspace over rural Zapata County.

“The incident did occur and it's still under investigation,” department spokeswoman Maj. Tanya Bradsher said, confirming that the copter, believed to belong to the Mexican navy, was seen Sunday.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Rick Pauza earlier in March confirmed a Mexican military helicopter hovered as long as 20 minutes on March 9 over a residential area near Falcon Lake, a reservoir on the Rio Grande.

He said CBP officials who lived in the neighborhood were among those who saw it.

Pauza said the helicopter crossed back without incident and that once the sighting was reported up the chain of the command “that was the extent of it.”

Man nabs burglar by sealing door with nailgun.

From the Daily Mail:
A DIY hero stopped a burglar from robbing a disused factory by sealing the only exit with a nailgun.

Night watchman Simon Jayne noticed someone lurking inside the former textile mill while he carried out a routine check on the premises.

But when the thief attempted to run away, Mr Jayne used his nail fun to fire 12 nails into a wooden door to seal it firmly shut.

As the door was the only way out of Albion Mill in Ewood, Blackburn, Iulian Mihociu, 29, was trapped in the factory until police arrived to arrest him just minutes later.

Mr Jayne, whose quick thinking was praised by local officers, said: 'I only acted on instinct and thought nothing about it as I trapped him.

'I had my nail gun with me to do some maintenance tasks on the building but never believed I would need it to catch a burglar.'

April Fools "news" items across the web...

The Guardian: Labour Party to rebrand Gordon Brown as tough alpha male.

PC World: Sudden PC acceleration causing injuries.

Starbucks: Responding to consumer demand, Starbucks introducing two new sizes: the Plenta and Micra.

ThinkGeek: Some funny new products. (I would totally buy "My First Bacon")

ReadJunk: James Cameron to helm Batman 3.

Marvel: Introducing... Hulkpool.

SF Chronicle: Obama clears way for oil drilling off US coasts. Oh wait, that's true.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cigarettes may contain pig blood.

I wonder if cloves contain cloven hoofs. From
Cigarettes may contain traces of pigs' blood, an Australian academic says with a warning that religious groups could find its undisclosed presence "very offensive".

University of Sydney Professor in Public Health Simon Chapman points to recent Dutch research which identified 185 different industrial uses of a pig - including the use of its haemoglobin in cigarette filters.

Prof Chapman said the research offered an insight into the otherwise secretive world of cigarette manufacture, and it was likely to raise concerns for devout Muslims and Jews.

Religious texts at the core of both of these faiths specifically ban the consumption of pork.

"I think that there would be some particularly devout groups who would find the idea that there were pig products in cigarettes to be very offensive," Prof Chapman said today.

"The Jewish community certainly takes these matters extremely seriously and the Islamic community certainly do as well, as would many vegetarians.

"It just puts into hard relief the problem that the tobacco industry is not required to declare the ingredients of cigarettes ... they say 'that's our business' and a trade secret."

The Dutch research found pig haemoglobin - a blood protein - was being used to make cigarette filters more effective at trapping harmful chemicals before they could enter a smoker's lungs.

Cucumber in rear was "failed suicide bid."

Oldest excuse in the book, next to "I was only trying to help the sheep over the fence." From
A Hong Kong man, taken to the hospital to have a cucumber removed from his bottom, told doctors he inserted it in a suicide attempt.

The Sun reported Chin Wei, 62, said the method was a variation of the Japanese ritual suicide hara-kiri - usually carried out with a sword plunged into one's own stomach.

He was found in a pool of blood by his daughter before being rushed to receive medical health.

Medics said a severe tear to the man's anus was not life-threatening.

Drunk man tried to revive roadkill.

From Ananova:
A US man has been charged with public drunkenness after he tried to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to roadkill.

Police arrested Donald Wolfe, 55, after witnesses reported seeing him trying to revive a long dead possum, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

One reported seeing Mr Wolfe kneeling before the animal and gesturing as though he were conducting a seance.

Another reported seeing him give mouth to mouth resuscitation to the carcass on a highway north-east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

State police trooper Jamie Levier said the animal had been dead a while.

Trooper Levier says the Brookville man was "extremely intoxicated" and "did have his mouth in the area of the animal's mouth, I guess".

A possum is about the size of a domestic cat. The animals are known for feigning death when threatened, hence the phrase "playing possum".

Toyota recall might be caused by cosmic rays.

From Live Science:
It may not lessen Toyota's woes to hear that the problems the company has been having with faulty gas pedals could be blamed on cosmic rays from space. Sound unbelievable? The concept is actually a lot more plausible than you might think.

Toyota's sticky gas pedals caused sudden and unintended acceleration in several of the automaker's top-selling Toyota and Lexus-brand cars, which led to a massive recall of more than 9 million vehicles worldwide, beginning in November. While ongoing inquiries attempt to locate the source of the problem and figure out a fix, investigators might find it useful to examine a far-out culprit: cosmic ray radiation from deep in the cosmos, which has been known to plague vulnerable data and memory chips in electronics.

Cosmic rays could be at least partially to blame for Toyota's mechanical defects, scientists now say. And the problem could get worse in the future, as the increasing use of tiny computer chips — replacing mechanical parts — makes cars more and more vulnerable to space radiation.

Tourist dies after falling into active volcano.

From FOX News:
A Swedish tourist was killed Wednesday when he fell 490 feet into the crater of Mount Batur, an active volcano on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali, local police said.

The 25-year-old man slipped as he tried to peer into the crater after a dawn trek to the summit, which climbs to 5,600 feet, on the northeastern side of the island, police added.

"He was looking into the crater, slipped and fell," local police chief Made Oka told AFP.

He said emergency responders were at the scene and were trying to recover the tourist's body using ropes. Police were unable to provide the man's name.

Mount Batur is easy to climb compared to some other volcanoes in Indonesia and is popular with day-trippers on Bali.

NYC restaurant unleashes the Bacon Donut.

From Consumerist:
Perhaps taking advantage of the whole bacon = cocaine thing, a restaurant in New York has unleashed what may simultaneously be the worst and best idea in the history of food: bacon donuts.

Yes, two of the essential food groups have been combined into a dessert at NYC's Wildwood BBQ, where last Friday Chef "Big Lou" Elrose added a new offering -- glazed cinnamon donuts bedazzled (bacon-dazzled?) with bits of candied bacon.

Man plunges to death from Empire State Building observation deck.

Luckily, this jerk didn't hit any pedestrians. The area around the ESB has heavy foot traffic, especially during rush hour. From NY Post:
A man jumped to his death from the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building tonight, police sources said.

The jumper, who was in his 20s, landed on the sidewalk by a bank branch on W. 34th Street near Fifth Avenue at about 6:30 p.m.

Police believe he was able to get over the barriers because there weren’t too many people on the deck due to rainy weather.

Jason Beck, 28, of Brooklyn was walking with a friend on the street when the tragedy occurred.

"My friend heard this really loud weird sound," he said. "He turned around and saw someone splattered on the ground."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Large Hadron Collider smashes collision record.

Yay, we're getting closer to destroying all matter in the universe! From Huffington Post:
The world's largest atom smasher conducted its first experiments at conditions nearing those after the Big Bang, breaking its own record for high-energy collisions with proton beams crashing into each other Tuesday at three times more force than ever before.

In a milestone for the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider's ambitious bid to reveal details about theoretical particles and microforces, scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, collided the beams and took measurements at a combined energy level of 7 trillion electron volts.

The collisions herald a new era for researchers working on the machine in a 17-mile (27-kilometer) tunnel below the Swiss-French border at Geneva.

"That's it! They've had a collision," said Oliver Buchmueller from Imperial College in London as people closely watched monitors.

In a control room, scientists erupted with applause when the first successful collisions were confirmed. Their colleagues from around the world were tuning in by remote links to witness the new record, which surpasses the 2.36 TeV CERN recorded last year.

Oklahoma anti-gay bill accidentally becomes anti-church bill.

From Raw Story:
They meant to make it easier to discriminate against gays, but instead they passed a bill making it easier to discriminate against Christians and other religious groups.

The Oklahoma Senate two weeks ago voted in favor of a bill that it thought was going to reduce protections for gay people by allowing local law enforcement agencies to ignore the expanded hate crimes law passed by the US Congress last year.

But, as the University of Oklahoma's Oklahoma Daily reported last week, the Oklahoma bill cited the wrong clause in the federal code, and instead prevented law enforcement from upholding laws against hate crimes based on religion, race or ethnicity.

Eliminating protection for religious groups is pretty much the exact opposite of what the bill's supporters had intended.

"The bill in its current form doesn't take away rights from gays and lesbians," state Senate Minority Leader Andrew Rice told Oklahoma Daily. "It takes away rights for religion and race."

Grandmother arrested, tagged for selling goldfish to 14-year-old.

Meanwhile, rapists get off scot-free in the UK. From the Daily Mail:
A pet shop owner has been ordered to wear an electronic tag for selling a goldfish to a 14-year-old boy.

Great-grandmother Joan Higgins, 66, was caught by council bosses in an undercover investigation after she unwittingly sold the fish to the boy, breaching new animal welfare laws.

She was subjected to an eight-month court ordeal and threatened with jail before being fined £1,000 and ordered to abide by a nightime curfew and wear the tag so the authorities can monitor her movements.
The court ruling has now prevented Joan from babysitting her one-month-old great-grandson at his mother's home and attending weekly Bingo sessions with her sister.

Mrs Higgins was also forced her to cancel plans to attend a Rod Stewart concert after tickets were bought for her by her TV actor nephew Will Mellor.

Today, Joan's 47-year-old son son Mark, who was also fined £750 and ordered to complete 120 hours of unpaid work, labelled the prosecution a 'judicial joke'.

Mr Higgins, of Sale, Greater Manchester said: 'I think it's a farce and legal lunacy and I told the council that.

'What gets me so cross is that they put my Mum on a tag - she's nearly 70, for goodness sake.

'Once it's fitted she'll be on a curfew from 7pm until 7am until June. She won't be able to go out with her sister to bingo every week, and she's been bought tickets to see Rod Stewart by her nephew Will Mellor, so she won't be able to go to that.

'She's a great-grandmother - so she won't be able to babysit a newborn baby, all because of this tag. You would think they have better things to do with their time and money.'

The prosecution has cost the taxpayer an estimated £20,000.

Mrs Higgins and her son were caught out by a new bill passed in 2005 which makes it illegal to sell goldfish to under 16s and threatens offenders with up to 12 months in prison.

In July 2009, Trafford council sent a 14-year-old boy to the shop to do a test purchase and after failing to ask the boy for identification, the pair were summoned to court.

Mr Higgins labelled the incident 'entrapment', saying the boy looked older than 14.

He added: 'The council sent the 14-year-old into us - in my book that's entrapment.

'And besides which is it hard to tell how old a lad is these days. He looked much older than 14.'

Mrs Higgins, a grandmother of three and great-grandmother to one, has been running the shop for 28 years.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Film: Battlefield Earth's screenwriter pens hilarious apology.

List: 10 big rules of small talk.

Religion: Colbert Report guest (and not Colbert himself) is secretly the messiah.

Creepy: Exotic plant takes over dunes in southern Spain.

Robot Uprising Watch: Researchers equip robot sub with wacky sensory system.

Prophesy: Underwater volcano may destroy Italy.

Zombie Watch: Ancient Egyptian door to the afterlife found.