News and Blues
by Roland Sweet - Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

12-18-13

Curses, Foiled Again
To celebrate getting permission to remove the ankle monitor that held her in house arrest in Osceola County, Fla., Angela Estrella, 37, rented a car and headed for New York City. A few hundred miles up I-95, the rental car broke down. When the tow truck sent to rescue her arrived, Estrella asked driver Mike Frazier if he’’d take her to New York. He declined, but when he turned his back to call the car rental company, authorities said she jumped into the rig and drove off. The truck was equipped with a GPS, however, allowing law enforcement to track and arrest her. (The Daytona Beach News-Journal)

Second-Amendment Follies
Robert Hood, 35, and Demario Buchanon, 30, both convicted felons prohibited from possessing firearms, were handling a pistol they intended trading or selling, according to authorities in Lancaster County, N.C., when the weapon accidentally discharged, wounding Hood in the stomach. (The Charlotte Observer)
Mark Cruz, 28, a convicted felon banned from possessing a gun, accidentally shot himself in the leg, according to authorities in Hillsborough County, Fla., when his .22-caliber pistol fell out of his pocket and discharged upon hitting the ground. (South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Avoirdupois Follies
New Zealand authorities declined to renew the work visa of Albert Buitenhuis, a chef from South Africa, because he’s too fat. Weighing 286 pounds, Buitenhuis is at “significant risk” of medical complications, according to an immigration official, who pointed out, “It is important that all migrants have an acceptable standard of health to minimize costs and demands on New Zealand’s health services.” His wife, Marthie Buitenhuis, noted that their annual work visas had been renewed with “very little problem” since they moved to Christchurch six years ago, even though her husband now weighs 65 pounds less now than he did then. (BBC News)
Alan Jackson, the lawyer for Liam Johnstone, 21, pleaded guilty in West Lothian, Scotland, on behalf of his client, who he said was unable to appear in court because he is “too fat” to leave his house. The 560-pound Johnstone was accused of using a stolen credit card four separate times to pay $194 for pizza delivery. (Britain’s Daily Mail)
Techno Follies
A glitch in the Apple Maps app on newer iPhones and iPads directs users to a runway at Alaska’s Fairbanks International Airport instead of the passenger terminal, according to airport official Angie Spear, who noted that twice in September, drivers continued across a runway in use. Drivers assume they’re being properly directed, Spear explained, because they can see the terminal building. (Associated Press)
A Google Street View car hit a bus while taking photos for Google Maps and Google Earth in Bogor, Indonesia. Police said the driver appeared to panic and tried to drive off, but hit a second bus and then a truck. “We take incidents like this very seriously,” Vishnu Mahmud, Google’s head of communications in Indonesia said. (Agence France-Presse)
Earlier this year, Google denied reports that one of its Street View cars ran over a donkey in Botswana. “Because of the way our 360-degree imagery is put together, it looked to some that our car had been involved in an unseemly hit-and-run,” Google Maps official Kei Kawai explained. “The donkey was lying in the path, perhaps enjoying a dust bath, before moving safely aside as our car drove past.” (BBC News)

Alternative-Energy Follies
A wind turbine in the Scottish Highlands was destroyed by 40 mph gales. Two blades were ripped from the turbine and thrown up to 60 yards away. A third was badly buckled. No one was injured, but the incident at Dunhobby prompted calls for authorities to remove all wind turbines from school playgrounds. Stuart Young, chairman of Caithness Wind Information Forum, noted turbines are currently in three school playgrounds. He noted Highland Council officials responded to the incident by insisting the turbines are safe in winds up to 80 mph. (Britain’s The Telegraph)
Linda and Larry Shovan said seven mortgage lenders turned down their application to refinance their home 50 miles outside of Steamboat Springs, Colo., because they aren’t hooked up to the power grid. Instead, they rely on solar power and have ever since buying the property 12 years ago. Pointing out that government-controlled mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac won’t approve the couple’s loan because they live off the grid, one loan officer, Lainey Hamrick, explained, “The guideline is that you have to have public utilities so it would be like trying to sell a home that didn’t have heat by a fireplace and didn’t have a way to have any other heat.” The Shovans said their $30,000 computer-operated solar system “handles any of our needs.” (Denver’s KMGH-TV)

How Government Works
Contracting and budget officers at the Defense Department’s Defense Information Systems Agency urged their colleagues to set an aggressive spending timetable to use up all of the DISA’s $2 billion budget before the end of the fiscal year. “It is critical in our efforts to {spend} 100 percent of our available resources this fiscal year,” budget officer Sannadean Sims and procurement officer Kathleen Miller said in an email to their colleagues. (The Washington Post)
Contractors for the Environmental Protection Agency maintained a warehouse containing secret man caves, according to an audit by the EPA’s inspector general. Contractors used partitions, screens and piled-up boxes to hide the rooms from security cameras in the 70,000-square-foot building in Landover, Md. “The warehouse contained multiple unauthorized and hidden personal spaces created by and for the workers that included televisions, refrigerators, radios, microwaves, chairs and couches,” the report said. “These spaces contained personal items, including photos, pinups, calendars, clothing, books, magazines and videos.” The responsible contractor, Apex Logistics, has received $5.3 million while operating under the contract. (Washington’s Government Executive)

Fuel for Thought
Because homeowners who lease rooftop solar panels to reduce their monthly electricity bills are costing the Arizona Public Service Co. money, the utility has proposed charging customers who install the panels anywhere from $50 to more than $100 a month. APS said solar customers don’t pay enough for its services, which include providing electricity at night and during the day when power consumption exceeds the amount the panels supply. “What we are hearing from solar-leasing companies is that you are picking an alternative to your utility when you go solar,” Jeff Guldner, APS senior vice president of customers and regulation, said. “You actually need the grid 24 hours a day.” (Phoenix’s The Arizona Republic)
Congress reversed a 1996 law eliminating the Federal Helium Reserve, voting to keep the gas now that it is essential to MRI machines, fiber optic cables, computer chips and more. The government began stockpiling the inert gas after World War I when blimps were used in aerial warfare and continued until it was finally declared superfluous. “Helium is not just used for party balloons,” Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said. “It is essential to our 21st-century economy.” (The Washington Times)

Beaten to the Punch
Tony Gesin, 50, called police in Fairbanks, Alaska, to report that his neighbor had assaulted him. He repeated his story to troopers who responded but then admitted punching himself in the face because he wanted his neighbor arrested. Department of Public Safety official Megan Peters said Gesin and his neighbor are engaged in a civil dispute about property. (Fairbanks News-Miner)

Do the Math
Several students at Virginia’s George Mason University signed a petition urging the legalization of fourth-trimester abortions “so that women have a choice,” according to Dan Joseph of the conservative Media Research Center, who circulated the petition. (CampusReform.org)

You Be the Judge
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Karen Nudell ordered Arman Samsonian to stand trial for manslaughter in the deaths of two women who tried to rescue him after he crashed his sport utility vehicle into a utility pole and a fire hydrant. Irma Zamora and Stacey Schreiber were killed when they stepped into a pool of water that had been electrified by 4,800 volts from the fallen power line. Nudell said Samsonian, 20, “was definitely driving negligently,” but defense attorney Andrew Flier argued that his client couldn’t have foreseen the “intervening acts” once he crashed and that the victims should have known the dangers created by downed power lines and standing water. (Los Angeles Times)
Tennessee Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew was listening to the parents of a 7-month-old baby who couldn’t agree on the child’s last name, but when she heard that the boy’s first name was Messiah, she promptly ordered it changed to Martin. “The word Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ,” Ballew said, explaining that her decision is best for the child, especially while growing up in a predominantly Christian community. Meanwhile, according to the Social Security Administration, Messiah ranked fourth among the fastest-rising baby names in 2012. (Associated Press)

Incendiary Devices
A fire broke out in the basement of a home in Bucksport, Maine, when Lucas Ashmore, 16, tried to start a riding lawn mower, and it backfired. Fire chief Craig Bowden said the fire “did extensive damage in about one-half of the basement.” (Bangor Daily News)
A New York City woman tried ridding her two-room apartment of insects by setting off 40 foggers, or bug bombs. According to Robert G. Byrnes, the city’s chief fire marshal, she failed to turn off her oven’s pilot light, and the resulting explosion blew out the back wall of the apartment and caused a partial collapse of the building. It also ignited a fire that injured 12 people, three of them critically. (The New York Times)

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)

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 New Times.

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