News and Blues
by Roland Sweet - Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

01-22-14

Curses, Foiled Again

  • When two men showed a gun at a busy Chicago restaurant and announced a holdup, the owner asked them to come back in an hour when fewer customers would be around. After they agreed and left, the owner called police, who were waiting when Mario Garcia, 39, and Domingo Garcia-Hernandez, 28, returned and arrested them. The gun turned out to be a toy water pistol. (Chicago Tribune)
  • Police investigating vandalism during a riot that followed a surfing contest in Huntington Beach, Calif., posted photos of 25 suspects on Facebook and asked the public to help identify them. Enrique Rodriguez, 18, saved them the trouble by “liking” his photo and posting another photo of himself at the scene on his Facebook profile page, leading investigators to him. They also arrested Niko Johnson, 18, who saw his photo and bragged on Twitter about being Huntington Beach’s Most Wanted. (LAist and Associated Press)

Every Utility’s Dream
When Kentucky’s Richardsville Gas Co. announced plans to discontinue service, 36 of its 47 customers signed a petition demanding a rate increase so they wouldn’t lose the service. Owners of the utility said they couldn’t keep up with the constant changing costs of natural gas. Besides wanting to pay more, the petitioners asked the utility to start charging late fees for late payments. Co-owner Joan Miller said the gas company would consider staying in business if the state Public Service Commission approved a rate increase. (Bowling Green Daily News)

Eyes Front
Mindflash, an online training technology company in Palo Alto, Calif., announced its new software forces users to pay attention during courses. The new feature, FocusAssist for the iPad, uses the tablet’s camera to track a user’s eye movements. When it senses a user looking away for more than a few seconds, it pauses the course until the user resumes watching the screen. Mindflash CEO Donna Wells said the software makes sure “trainees get all the information they need to do their jobs well.” (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Litigation Nation
A Texas sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed a man whose relatives called 911 is suing the family for failing to warn responders that the man “posed a violent threat to others,” even though that’s why they called 911. Harris County Deputy Brady Pullen is seeking $200,000, claiming that Kemal Yazar attacked him and tried to grab his service weapon. After shooting Yazar, Pullen said he needed medical treatment for concussion, cuts and a bite. (Houston Chronicle)

When Grading on the Curve Isn’t Enough
After all the nearly 25,000 applicants to the University of Liberia failed the school’s admission exam, a university official explained that the students, who paid $25 to take the test, had difficulties because they lacked a basic understanding of English. Education Minister Etmonia David-Tarpeh acknowledged weaknesses in the country’s education system but declared that the 100 percent failure rate “is like mass murder.” (Fox News)

Rubble Without a Cause
The former high school attended by actor James Dean is collapsing. “Last night, we had the whole roof come down,” Roger Reneau, chief of police in Fairmount, Ind., said, noting that a smaller section of the building collapsed in July. Reneau said he’s concerned for public safety if the remaining parts of the three-story brick building are left standing, especially if people start taking bricks from the building as souvenirs. James graduated from Fairmount High School in 1949 before pursuing his acting career. Jim Davis, creator of the Garfield comic strip, also attended the school. (Indianapolis Star)

Reasonable Explanation
After David Wayne Jordan, 36, was arrested for shooting an arrow with a baggie of marijuana tied to it into Washington’s Whatcom County Jail, he explained he’d been aiming at a squirrel, according to Sheriff Bill Elfo, who added, “He had no explanation as to why squirrel hunting requires attaching marijuana to an arrow.” (The Bellingham Herald)

Critter Alert
After a resident reported spotting a motionless raccoon in his front yard in Alexandria, Va., an animal control officer investigated and discovered it was a brush from a push broom. (The Washington Post)

Droning On

  • Amazon.com founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, 49, unveiled a working prototype of a drone that he predicted would pave the way for using drones to deliver packages in as little as 30 minutes. The unmanned aerial vehicle uses a claw to scoop up packages at Amazon fulfillment centers and transport them to customers. Appearing on CBS’s 60 Minutes, Bezos said the technology could be fully implemented within five years. (The Washington Post)
  • In the latest backlash against unmanned aerial vehicles, town officials in Deer Trail, Colo., are considering a proposed ordinance that would grant hunting permits allowing residents to shoot down drones. The permits would cost $25, and anyone who presents evidence of shooting down a drone would receive $100. “This is a pre-emptive strike,” said Phillip Steel, 48, who proposed the measure and collected enough signatures on a petition to require local officials to act on it. “I don’t want to live in a surveillance society.” The Federal Aviation Administration responded that people who fire guns at drones could be prosecuted or fined, but Steel insisted, “The FAA doesn’t have the power to make a law.” (Associated Press)

Cursive’s Last Gasp
Two German entrepreneurs invented an ink pen that recognizes misspelled words and bad handwriting. Its name is Lernstift, German for “learning pen,” according to Daniel Kaesmacher, co-founder of the company that spent 18 months developing the digital pen. It’s a regular pen with real ink, but also contains a tiny motion sensor and a battery-powered Linux computer with a WiFi chip. “The pen will have two functions,” Kaesmacher said, “calligraphy and orthography mode.” In the spelling mode, the computer compares words it writes to its language database; when it doesn’t recognize a word, it vibrates. If it senses bad letter formation or messy handwriting, it also vibrates. The company intends testing the digital pen with a whole school class before selling it, for 130 to 150 euros ($170-$200). The device will work with smart phones and tablets eventually, but its “basic functionality is all in the pen,” Kaesmacher said, pointing out “there’s no app needed” or special paper. (ABC News)

Criminal Cuisine
Sheriff’s deputies who arrested Rick Frederick, 22, for resisting arrest for drunk driving and 11 other violations in LaSalle County, Ill., reported that while sitting in the patrol car, Frederick started eating the molding around the door. The deputies added criminal damage to government property to the other charges. (Associated Press)

The Eyes Have It
Unfavorable reaction to a Facebook photo of students at Thailand’s Kasetsart University wearing special “anti-cheating helmets” caused embarrassment and stress to the faculty, according to dean Tanaboon Sajjaanantakul, prompting the school to discontinue their use. The picture, posted on the university’s alumni Facebook page, showed the cumbersome hats consisting of a headband with two sheets of blank paper draped on both sides of the head to keep students from looking at their neighbors’ answers. Only about 90 students in one course wore the headgear, which they designed themselves following a class discussion of how to prevent cheating. (NPR)

Wanna-Be of the Week
Firefighters arriving at a library fire in Brooksville, Fla., noticed a man on the scene wearing firefighting gear. When asked for an explanation, the man, identified as Joseph Michael Brannen, 18, said he bought the gear on eBay, heard the call about the fire on his scanner and showed up hoping to help fight the blaze. After further questioning, Brannen admitted setting the fire, which caused more than $500,000 in damage. (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

Mum’s the Word
After an audit by a Virginia homeowners association found at least $73,183.48 in unauthorized transactions, Albemarle police charged the association’s treasurer, Patricia Anne Cuthbert, 43, with embezzlement. The Hollymead Citizens Association advised residents to keep quiet about the incident. “They asked us not to make the audit public and to not even talk about it at cocktail parties,” Hollymead homeowner Paul Moruza said, “because it could lower our property values.” (Charlottesville’s The Daily Progress)

News and Blues is compiled from the nation’s press. To contribute, submit original clippings, citing date and source, to Roland Sweet in care of the Syracuse New Times.

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