News and Blues
by Roland Sweet - Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

02-05-2014

Curses, Foiled Again
James Patrick Andrews, 43, tried to withdraw money from a Bank of America ATM in St. Petersburg, Fla., but after the machine informed him that his account had a negative balance, he robbed the bank. Police reported that Andrews made off with $1,000, but they had his photo from the ATM and the getaway car’s license number and arrested him. (Tampa Bay Times)

Follies of Democracy
Nobody voted in November for mayor and city council in Wallsburg, Utah, and no candidates ran for office because the city forgot to hold the election. The new recorder in the town of 275 failed to announce the filing period or make arrangements to hold the election. By the time someone noticed the oversight, it was too close to Election Day to field candidates and print ballots. “They’re going to have to appoint the current mayor and council for two more years,” Wasatch County Clerk Brent Titcomb said. Wallsburg also forgot to hold an election two years ago, and the council had to be appointed then. “We will remember them in 2015,” Titcomb vowed. “They will definitely have an election in 2015.” (The Salt Lake City Tribune)

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)

Sons of Beaches

  • After a bridge collapsed in Uganda’s Nebbi District, cutting off access to a health center, a school and businesses, authorities took five years to rebuild it. Three days after the new bridge opened, it collapsed. Chief Administrative Officer Seraphine Ali blamed sand mining, which cleared all the supporting grass to the bridge while it was being rebuilt. (Uganda’s Daily Monitor)
  • Florida’s beaches are running out of sand. Even worse, communities that have replenished storm-eroded beaches by dredging up offshore sand are discovering that there’s little sand left offshore. As a result, beach communities are competing to find more sand. “You have counties starting wars with each other over sand,” Broward County mayor Kristin Jacobs said. “Everybody feels like these other counties are going to steal their sand.” Broward officials are considering a proposal to grind down recycled glass into substitute beach sand. Another option is trucking sand to beaches from sand mines in central Florida. (The New York Times)

Future Farmers

  • Researchers are designing robots that can harvest fresh produce without bruising it by integrating advanced sensors, robotic hardware and GPS technologies. Farmers say the robots are costly, but they ultimately save money, avoid labor shortages and yield a more consistent product. Farm workers counter that using robots results in lost jobs and greater pesticide use. (Associated Press)
  • A Massachusetts enterprise, New Earth Robotics, announced it’s teaming up with Worcester Polytechnic Institute to develop self-powering robots to destroy weeds and harmful pests, rendering herbicides and pesticides obsolete. “The robot’s artificial intelligence will make them able to tell crops from weeds and good bugs from the bad,” the company’s Dean Cook explained, adding that the first step is to raise $65,000 to begin research. (NewEarthRobotics.com)

Problem Solved
The way to stop recidivism, according to Maryland’s attorney general, is to give prisoners tablet computers with Internet access. Android tablet, for example, would allow inmates to benefit from e-books, law resources and online learning programs. “It has to work,” Douglas F. Gansler, declared. “It’s common sense that it will work.”
Coincidentally, American Prison Data Systems is seeking to sell prison systems tablets that it promises are indestructible and designed so they can’t be used as weapons. CEO Christopher Grewe said tablet and Internet access would cost $500 a year per inmate. (The Washington Times)

Country in Need of a First Amendment
Indonesian authorities detained Broderick Chin, a manager at a vegetable oil company in Riau province, after workers who couldn’t find a red-and-white Indonesian flag to fly on Independence Day complained that he told them, “Just use my underpants. I have red underpants, and my wife has white ones.” National police official Agus Rianto said Chin was charged with insulting a state symbol and faces five years in prison. (Malaysia Chronicle)

What’s Your Emergency?

  • Authorities in Hooksett, N.H., charged Jeanie Dufresne with misuse of 911 after she made 10 non-emergency calls in one month, including one asking for a pen. Earlier this year, Hooksett resident Elizabeth Niemi was arrested for calling 911 to ask for help ordering Chinese food. Police Chief Peter Bartlett said he hoped that holding Dufresne and Niemi accountable would send a warning that the emergency system is “not for something frivolous.” (Boston’s WBZ-TV)
  • Police told citizens of Fairfield, Conn., to stop calling 911 to complain about losing their cable television service after the emergency system was inundated with calls from distressed Cablevision customers. “Misuse of the 911 system may result in arrest,” police posted on the department’s Facebook page. (The Washington Times)
  • Japanese authorities charged Teruo Nozaki, 44, a part-time convenience store worker in Tokyo, with making 28,000 emergency phone calls between January 2012 and June 2013. Nozaki would make as many as 1,500 calls a day. When someone answered, he hung up. After he was arrested, he explained he made the calls “because I was irritated by the fact that I was always watched by police.” (Japan Today)

Revenge of the Dead
A 51-year-old hunter who shot an elk outside Vernal, Utah, was trying to roll the 600- to 700-pound animal over when one of its antlers punctured his neck behind the jaw. Uintah County Undersheriff John Larson said the victim phoned for help and was airlifted to the hospital. (Associated Press)

Better Than Armed Guards
The Glendale, Calif., school district paid a private firm $40,500 to monitor 14,000 middle and high school students’’ posts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. School officials insist the purpose isn’t snooping but student safety. The contractor, Geo Listening, which has other school clients, searches public postings, looking for possible violence, drug use, bullying, truancy and suicide threats. “We enforce the code of student conduct for every school we serve” by compiling a daily report to send each principal,” CEO Chris Frydrych said. The firm employs 10 full-time staffers and hires freelance workers to work no more than four hours a day, Frydrych said, because “the content they read is so dark and heavy.” The firm intends expanding its monitoring capacity by offering a smartphone app that lets students and parents notify school officials of conduct violations. (CNN)

Deflated Protest
After British police stopped a chartered party bus for carrying nine passengers instead of the allowed eight, driver Bash Ali, 41, objected, pointing out that the ninth passenger was actually a blow-up doll. Lacking money for a lawyer, however, Ali pleaded guilty in Manchester court, which ruled “that the vehicle was overloaded and that they were all human beings.” Ordered to pay $688.86 in fines and cost, Ali declared, “I have no faith in the justice system.” (United Press International)

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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