Thursday, April 26, 2007
The Tangled Web of Horror Flicks and Academic Research 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
If you have access to a JSTOR subscription (if not, you might be able to "borrow" one at your local college or university library), check out this prescient early 1979 scholarly article by John Woodcock of Indiana University - Disaster Thrillers: A Literary Mode of Technology Assessment, John Woodcock, Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 4, No. 26. (Winter, 1979), pp. 37-45. Woodcock here analyzes some of the notable technological disaster films and novels of the 70's, like The Andromeda Strain and Airport. [You can also try this link at Sage Publications] Interestingly, Woodcock devotes a large section to Thomas Scortia and Frank M. Robinson's pre-Three Mile Island (and very pre-Chernobyl) nuclear disaster novel, The Prometheus Crisis - this article was published less than three months before the Three Mile Island accident.

That's neither here nor there, but I've always been intrigued by Carpenter's use of a few lines of familiar-sounding text in 1986's Prince of Darkness (a you'll-either-love-it-or-hate-it cult classic), which pop up on a monochrome greenscreen monitor while a zombified research assistant rattles away at the keyboard:
You will not be saved by the Holy Ghost.
You will not be saved by the God Plutonium.
Which sound oddly similar to this excerpt from Stephen Vincent Benét's "Nightmare, With Angels," which appears in the frontispiece of The Prometheus Crisis:
"You will not be saved by General Motors
or the pre-fabricated house.
You will not be saved by dialectic materialism
or the Lambeth Conference
You will not be saved by Vitamin D
or the expanding universe.
In fact, you will not be saved."
Turns out that The Prometheus Crisis was reportedly turned into a screenplay by John Carpenter, but the project (working title, "Meltdown") was scrapped and Carpenter went on to helm The Fog, starring his soon-to-be-then-wife, Adrienne Barbeau. Looking back, filming a believable Prometheus Crisis, complete with colossal meltdown and the destruction of Los Angeles County would have been horrendously expensive, even back then without CGI. We'll have to be satisfied with the book: the real thing's already happened.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Chernobyl, 21 Years Later 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
I was eighteen when Chernobyl exploded. In retrospect, I realize it was one of the first times I really followed the news outside my adolescent self-absorption. The reporters' accounts of the poison fire that could not be extinguished for days on end seemed nearly supernatural - what had been unleashed there? Could the fire be extinguished?

This disaster was innocence lost - on both a personal and global scale. The local CBC television news affiliate showed Soviet helicopters futilely dumping payloads of borax and lead, attempting to quell the roaring graphite core to little avail. One copter's rotor blades came too close, and the machine crashed into the power plant, killing its pilot.

It was like fighting Godzilla, but this was no movie.

Eventually, someone proposed a last-ditch attempt to flow liquid nitrogen under the reactor floor to cool the relentless corium flow that threatened to reach bedrock aquifers. If the blazing lava flow of molten reactor fuel, concrete and metal reached it, when the intense heat split groundwater molecules into elemental hydrogen and oxygen a massive explosion far surpassing the original reactor failure would have been the result. Thankfully, the corium eventually cooled.

Researchers were detecting traces of fallout across the Northern U.S. as atmospheric movements spread the reactors' plume: it seeemed no place was truly safe. Later I would realize there was nothing supernatural about the event - it was simply man's hubris, laxity, and lack of healthy respect for the power of nature that allowed Chernobyl to happen.

At 1:23AM on April 26th, 1986:
"My friends were dying under my eyes," said Konstantyn Sokolov, 68, a former Chernobyl worker whose voice was hoarse from throat and lip cancer. "I try not to recollect my memories. They are very terrible." Mykola Malyshev, 66, was working in the control room of Chernobyl's Reactor No. 1 at the time of the explosion. He said the lights flickered and the room shook. The workers were ordered to the destroyed reactor, but when they got there, their co-workers ordered them to flee and save themselves. "They told us, 'We are already dead. Go away,"' Malyshev recalled at the Kiev ceremony.

In Slavutych, a town built to house displaced Chernobyl workers, commemorations began an hour earlier to coincide with Moscow time, which was used in the Soviet era. Residents laid flowers and placed candles at a monument as sirens blared. The explosion tore off the plant's roof, spewing radioactive fallout for 10 days over 77,220 square miles of the then-Soviet Union and Europe. At least 31 people died as a direct result of trying to keep the fire from spreading to the plant's three other reactors. One plant worker was killed instantly and his body never recovered.
Twenty-nine rescuers, firefighters and plant workers died later from radiation poisoning and burns, and another person died of an apparent heart attack.

Death tolls connected to the blast remain hotly debated, as do the long-term health effects. [from CBS2 Chicago, April 26, 2006]
A highly recommended book: Voices From Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich, published last year shortly before the 20th anniversary of the disaster; the work chronicles the experiences of Prip'yat refugees and the horrifying experiences of the "liquidators"' loved ones, who saw first-hand the effects of searing radioactive fire on frail human flesh. Its most haunting quality is the raw pain and hope expressed by the friends and family of these first responders, many of whom suffered unspeakable deaths days, weeks, and months after the tragedy. See Radioactive! The Nuclear Blog for my annual Chernobyl memoriam.

As our fossil fuels drain and we restoke our nuclear furnaces to feed our hunger, let us never forget this Promethean lesson. Respect the atom: like fire, it feeds but also kills.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Them Bones, Them Bones, Them Dry Bones 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Since childhood, I've had a strong affinity for skulls and skull art. It's not that I'm an especially morbid person, but I just think there's something clean, constant, and esthetically pleasing about the skull. Sure, skulls can be creepy when they fly out of an attic at you during a 3D horror flick, but they're also nicely radical and nostalgic. People around the world have used skull symbolism for millennia, and one of my favorite ancient skulls is this Aztec/Mixtec 15th Century turquoise-and-obsidian-encrusted specimen called the "Skull of the Smoking Mirror" currently housed at the British Museum. Note the bony Grateful Dead imagery of the past several decades: are those not the happiest skeletons you've met? Like another part of the human anatomy, skulls are like excuses - they sure come in handy, and everybody has one.

My love of skulls may reach back even further: my parents tell me they visited the Kostnice Ossuary near Prague while I was in utero.

The California Academy of Sciences has a fascinating cross-cultural look at art depicting skulls, human and otherwise, and a major exhibit on everyone's favorite osseous encasement.

If you scroll down the page you'll see a picture of sculptor Henry Moore in his studio in the early 1970's with an elephant skull hanging on the wall. If you look at the small sculpture on the table, you'll see it's a model of his rather skullish work "Nuclear Energy," the full-sized version of which resides at the University of Chicago, at the site of the world's first sustained nuclear chain reaction. [via Neatorama, which also links to a Russian Skeleton Art page via All Night Surfing]

Friday, April 20, 2007
Chinese Dumpling Strainer WiFi Booster 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Saw this little hack on ConsumerIST [via Instructables - a great site, by the way] and I must try it - since I use a USB WiFi adapter and I have a couple of Chinese brass dumpling strainers kicking around. Instead of catching ravioli and wontons, it will catch delicious Interweb rays. This WiFi signal booster is kind of like a cantenna without the can!

I know there was some brouhaha about a year ago where a police officer was quoted as saying cantennas are "illegal to possess," but I'm not sure if that's actually true. Also, you're probably fine since it's technically not a "can," so to speak.* Unless you're wardriving or sticking one out your apartment window to steal your neighbor's WiFi, you can always disassemble it quickly and claim you've taken up Chinese cooking. That's something you can't do easily with a Pringles™ can on a stick, that crack pipe of WiFi thievery.

* I think it would be hilarious (though foolhardy) to stick the electrified strainer out your sunroof seeking signalz.


The Monday '4chan' Forum Post: An Update 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
We received this comment regarding the Monday morning '4chan' posting from a user who states they are from the Planet Blacksburg website, and while I can not vouch for its authenticity, it does have the ring of truth to it:
"We removed the post due to a sick phone call and a host of sicking posts from 4chan users.

I understand that the vast majority of 4chan users are perfectly normal people exchanging information. However, it seemed that our reporter stumbled upon a sick little corner of cyberspace. With everything else we had to do in reporting on and dealing with the massacre, we decided to turn the issue over to the FBI, to remove the post and to push on to cover the story that really mattered.

Planet Blacksburg"
By the way, if you have a moment please visit CNN's section paying tribute to those who were killed Monday at Virginia Tech. People who knew them share some of their fond memories, giving us a glimpse into the stories and promise of thirty-two lives senselessly cut short. These are the people who should be remembered and celebrated; not the individual who caused their deaths.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007
VTech: One Small Thought 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
With all the coverage given to Monday's shootings in Virginia and the resulting aftermath, including widespread airing of the killer's "manifesto" of videotapes and writings - this line from an old song comes unbidden to mind:

"It's funny how one insect can damage so much grain..."


CTA Chief Frank Kruesi Steps Down 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
It's been a bumpy, squeaky ride of cutbacks, problems and "doomsday scenarios" at the Chicago Transit Authority, and word comes today that the head of the CTA is calling it quits:
Tribune staff report
April 19, 2007, 9:33 AM CDT: Chicago Transit Authority President Frank Kruesi is retiring, Mayor Richard Daley announced today
. The mayor's chief of staff, Ron Huberman, a former police official, will take over the transit agency. Immediately after his landslide election to a sixth term in April, Daley had denied that Kruesi would be leaving his administration.

Kruesi has taken the brunt of rising public dissatisfaction with deteriorating CTA service. He has been a longtime political confidant of Daley, who appointed Kruesi as his transit czar 10 years ago to turn around the troubled transit agency. Most recently, Kruesi has been preparing another doomsday plan of service cuts and possible fare increases that would kick in midyear if the legislature and the governor fail to provide a state bailout of transit. Daley has kept his distance from the boiling issue.

In addition, CTA employee retirement funds may run out this year. During the recent mayoral campaign, Dorothy Brown, one of two mayoral challengers, criticized Daley for pushing "glamour projects" such as the CTA superstation at Block 37 instead of focusing CTA management on providing commuters with relief from overcrowded trains and buses. Kruesi joined the CTA in late 1997. For the four years before that he served as an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Transportation.
© 2007, Chicago Tribune
[Thanks, Norm!] In all fairness, the city's public transportation - and its 100+ year old elevated train infrastructure - is a quagmire right now, and grabbing this particular [Chicago] bull by the horns is going to be a hard, thankless job, especially if the money isn't there or isn't going where it needs to. Best of luck to the new guy, Huberman: we need the public transportation system on its feet again, soon, and maybe having someone who's an integral cog of the Daley machine will be useful. As the blind man said, "we'll see."

[Image stolen from the wonderful ChicagoIST.]


Wednesday, April 18, 2007
[Not So] Wild Horses? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Reuters reports on plans to sedate several hundred horses near the Serbian venue hosting the Rolling Stones's Belgrade concert:
BELGRADE, Serbia (Reuters) -- Preparations to sedate as many as 300 horses stabled at Belgrade's racecourse to keep them calm during a Rolling Stones concert have enraged Serb animal lovers who are lobbying to have the gig moved to another venue. The concert is expected to draw more than 100,000 people to the Hippodrome, Belgrade's largest fenced space. The horses will be only a few meters from the stage.

"Horses differ, the same as people. Some are more nervous, more skittish," said hostler Jovanka Prelic. "If they get too nervous or start to panic during the concert, they'll get sedatives." The dozen equestrian clubs at the course were hoping concert organizers would allow a sufficient number of personnel to be at the stables during the concert to give the animals the pills, Prelic added. [read full article]
Keef must be slipping these days; one would expect the contact high would be enough to O.D. a few of those equines. [Image courtesy the Sydney Morning Herald]


Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Sick Joke, Or Real Thing: Did Virginia Tech Campus Shooter Post Threat Before Massacre? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
UPDATE 4/20/AM: We received this comment regarding the Monday morning '4chan' posting from a user who states they are from the Planet Blacksburg website, and while I can not vouch for its authenticity, it does have the ring of truth to it:
"We removed the post due to a sick phone call and a host of sicking posts from 4chan users.

I understand that the vast majority of 4chan users are perfectly normal people exchanging information. However, it seemed that our reporter stumbled upon a sick little corner of cyberspace. With everything else we had to do in reporting on and dealing with the massacre, we decided to turn the issue over to the FBI, to remove the post and to push on to cover the story that really mattered.

Planet Blacksburg"
UPDATE 4/18/PM: To all the commenters who wrote in to point out and give various reasons why the '4chan' entry is faked: if you read this blog entry, it only says that someone posted an anonymous entry on the forum threatening to kill people at 'vtech' that day. Given the nature of these forums (fora?), this probably wasn't the first time someone posted vague threats - but they are rarely paid attention to unless an actual crime occurs. Unfortunately, this time, one did.

Nowhere did I - nor did the Planet Blacksburg site - claim that the message actually was posted by Cho Seung-hui. Amazing how many people seem to miss this basic point before commenting. If you think about it, it's a bigger deal that someone would bother to fake such a tasteless message than if it were the real thing.

You've likely heard by now that Cho did mail a "manifesto package" of photos, writing and a videotape to NBC - after the West AJ dorm shootings and before the Norris Hall shootings, according to the postal date stamp. Which makes the fact that the 4chan forum posting may have been a fake (as in, posted by anyone other than Cho) rather moot. Carry on.
Sick Internet Joke or Real Thing? No information yet on the veracity of this post on Planet Blacksburg, a Virginia Tech group student blog, where a user allegedly threatened to shoot people on campus hours before the shootings occurred:
An anonymous user on the English imageboard, 4chan, posted the following warning Monday just before 5 a.m.

“hey /b/ I‘m going to kill people at vtech today in the name of anonymous”

PlanetBlacksburg.com notified authorities immediately upon discovering the threat. The timing of the post remains open to question. Is it an Internet hoax? The site 4chan, consisting of mostly anonymous users, showed busy posting activity. The nature and message in many posts was nothing short of disturbing.
The shooter has now been identified by authorities as 23-year old Cho Seung-hui, an English major from South Korea. [Image above from Department of Homeland Security, is Cho Seung-hui's "green card" photo as shown on CNN]

More info (and speculation, as much is uncorroborated) on the Virginia Tech Massacre Wikipedia page.

UPDATE: As of Tuesday evening 4/16, the Planet Blacksburg page in question seems to have been removed. Hot Air links to a screenshot of the "Sick Internet Joke or the Real Thing" page, courtesy of one of their readers.

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Monday, April 16, 2007
Diary of Violence 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
April 15th, 4:00pm: I saw Grindhouse with my good movie buddy, M. It was, as expected, grisly, gory, funny and surprisingly entertaining.


April 16th. This morning, I saw something very ugly, very uncivilized.

As I was getting on the CTA "L" at Granville this morning, there was this big, beefy woman, mid-to-late forties - who looked either homeless or mentally ill - standing outside the station. As I passed by she screamed at me "f--k you, you f--king bitch!" It was a bit of a shock, momentarily disorienting, but I didn't disturb me too much at the moment. There are plenty of weirdos out there in the city (and in the country, but that's for another post) and it was neither personal nor the first time something like that has happened.

I recalled a story my parents told me of an elderly flower-seller in the Old Country who was a little, er, unbalanced. "Would you like to buy some flowers?" was her sweet invitation. If you didn't buy any, she'd yell obscenities at you as you walked away. Chalk it up to "it takes all sorts to make the world."

There were also two smallish elderly women walking together behind me who were the target of her little spiel, who seemed to get a bit shaken up. A moment later a young African-American man in his late teens or early twenties caught her attention: "f--k you, you f---ing n----r!" He didn't visibly react, but merely plugged in his iPod earphones and continued walking into the station.

The problem really started inside the station: none of the turnstiles were accepting fares or working properly, so the station attendant had to open the wheelchair access gate and let riders on for free. In this momentary free-for-all, the crazy woman apparently entered the station, and got on the train too.

I take a seat. About a minute later, I hear the crazy woman's harsh voice yell, "you're a f--king dirty n----r!" She picked the wrong target this time.

The object of her tirade was a middle-aged African-American man who had likely not seen her previous behavior at the Granville station, as he hadn't boarded at that stop.

He started to physically fight with her in the doorway, and bodily threw her from the railcar at the next station with a "get your f--king ass off the goddamn train!" The two yelled at each other, she called him the n-word a few more times, and she stepped back on the train to spit on him - at which point the man snapped. I mean, really snapped.

The now-enraged man followed the crazy woman off the train and started punching her, knocking her to the ground. The man and the crazy woman were of similar height and weight: big enough to do some serious damage. She raised herself from the concrete platform with this look of rage and terror in her eyes, and screamed obscenities at him again. He then knocked her down again and started stomping on her with his boots on the platform. I couldn't see where his feet were landing, but they connected with sickening thumps.

The train operator must have called police but the doors closed and the train continued on. What really disturbed me was that people - normal looking people - on the train started cheering and applauding when he threw the crazy woman off the train car. Just as the older Black man was not privy to her previous disturbed tirade, the cheering passengers assumed what they were seeing was merely an old racist getting her comeuppance. When the man began to punch and stomp, the applause turned to stunned silence.

Pure ugliness, pure escalation, and pure misconnection between irrational hate fueled by mental illness and what must have been decades of deeply-embedded rage. I am highly curious to know what happened to the two afterwards.


April 16th, 11:00AM CST: AP confirms 31 are dead, dozens injured in this country's deadliest mass shooting at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg. Police believe a lone gunman was responsible for this morning's massacre, and the shooter [UPDATE: a student] is believed to be among the dead. VT President Charles W. Steger has released a recorded statement.

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Friday, April 13, 2007
Broken Legs and New Jersey Governors 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Time to break out the Freakonomics: does being a New Jersey governor predispose one to broken legs?
CAMDEN, New Jersey (AP) -- Gov. Jon S. Corzine was apparently not wearing his seat belt as required by law when his official SUV crashed into a guard rail, leaving the governor hospitalized in critical condition, a spokesman said Friday. A state trooper was driving Corzine to a meeting between Don Imus and the Rutgers women's basketball team Thursday night when another vehicle, swerving to avoid a pickup truck, hit the governor's SUV and sent it into the guard rail on the Garden State Parkway. The crash broke the governor's leg, six ribs, his sternum and a vertebrae. Authorities were searching for the pickup truck driver blamed for causing it...Corzine was the third straight* New Jersey governor to break a leg while in office. James E. McGreevey broke his left leg in 2002 during a nighttime walk on the beach, and Christie Whitman broke her right leg while skiing in the Swiss Alps in 1999.
Not to make light of what is obviously a horrible accident, but I detect a "buckle up New Jersey" public service announcement on the way. Let's see...seatbeltless car crash leading to a broken leg (and worse)? Makes sense. Skiing in the Swiss Alps leading to a broken leg? Makes sense as well.

But - walking (or jogging, according to NJ.com) on the beach at night leading to broken leg? That's a headscratcher. Apparently the circumstances surrounding McGreevey's fracture were a little mysterious. Dang, The NJ Blog beat me to it: The Curse of the Gubernatorial Broken Leg.

* Given what we know now about former governor McGreevey, I think "consecutive" would be the more appropriate word.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Packard Bell's Vision of the Future, Another Look 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Just in case you wondered how well those "futuristic" television ads from years ago come across today.

Though the "Wouldn't You Rather Be At Home?" campaign was poorly received compared to Apple's "1984" ad (recently revived when an erstwhile Obama fan remixed it into an anti-Hilary Clinton ad), I prefer it to the latter.

Speaking of mood, where did Packard-Bell go wrong? While both spots used a monochrome dystopia to depict the "problem," "1984" had an obvious hero in the hammer-tossing runner who frees the proles by smashing the "Big Brother" screen. In Packard Bell's ad, the weary masses are never seen transcending their subjection. When the candy-colored payoff scene finally appears, Packard Bell's computerized "smart home" is as uninhabited as the post-apocalyptic house in Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains."

By the way, a fascinating, unrelentingly bleak Russian animated short film, "Будет ласковый дождь" (9:15) inspired by the Bradbury short story, is available on Google Video. Caveat: it's considerably more violent and graphic than Bradbury's version. In October of 1996, a number of (pre Internet-boom) librarian listserv members expressed outrage at the ads, but a fellow user offered this forward-looking perspective:
Of ~50 camera shots in the ad depicting the urban hell, about 10 are set in the nightmare library. Other scenes contributing to the urban hell include a cobwebby bank, people migrating through urban wasteland, and lots of standing in line. It uses image ideas from the depression era photography (breadlines and sad tired faces) and film ideas (Bladerunner's urban hell, Wizard of Oz black and white blooming into color) and book ideas (1984, anyone?) and reminds me of the influential Apple Computer advertisement
that ran during the Olympics years ago.
Yes, libraries are still around 11 years later...but where is Packard Bell? Yes, I did post about this ad a couple of years ago, before YouTube.

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Phil Spector in Court: "Rip [Him] To Shreds"? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
"Yeah, that's [his] own hair..."

No, not really...but jury selection for legendary music producer Phil Spector's murder trial in connection with the February 2003 shooting death of Lana Clarkson has begun, with the proceedings to be writ large on Court TV beginning April 24th. According to Slate, the trial promises to be a true "showpiece":
For sheer trashiness, the demise of Anna Nicole Smith has nothing on the death-by-gunshot of fading exploitation-flick goddess Lana Clarkson in Spector's foyer. Spector's lawyer will argue that Clarkson killed herself. The prosecutor will argue that Spector killed Clarkson. The evidence that's surfaced publicly tilts pretty heavily against Spector, but a few stray facts tilt the other way, and of course Spector has hired some pretty high-priced legal talent, making the trial's outcome a matter of some suspense. Every theory about what happened the night of Clarkson's death seems improbable. How exactly did Clarkson die? All we can feel reasonably certain about before opening arguments begin April 24 is that the answer will be squalid. [read complete article]
Spector's hair alone is worth getting cable for; and in the new BBC photos he appears to have had "a little work" for his big performance. How interesting will it all get? Slate has a taste.
According to the grand jury testimony of a police officer named Derek Gilliam, Spector told Gilliam that Clarkson took Spector's gun, waved it over her head like a lariat, and sang "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." Then Clarkson put the gun to her temple and pulled the trigger.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007
"Ted Haggard is Completely Heterosexual" by Roy Zimmerman 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Yes, Ted Haggard is now "completely heterosexual," and this brilliant little ditty explains it all..."glory, how he blew ya!" [Thanks, Dajvid!]

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007
"So This Coyote Walks Into a Quizno's® in Chicago..." 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
I just love this photo of the now-famous coyote that wandered into a downtown Chicago Quizno's before being given the bum's rush by Animal Control officers yesterday afternoon. The urban coyote didn't come for toasty sandwiches, but rather, to chill out in the drink cooler. Look at that priceless expression on his/her face! After all, what's a hot and thirsty coyote to do on a lunch break in the Loop? Great co-branding opportunity for SoBe™ Lean, wouldn't you agree?

Strange thing is, this isn't an isolated incident; normally-shy coyotes are increasingly becoming an urban creature. From CNN:
The city captures 10 to 15 coyotes every year, especially in the spring when they are most active, said Anne Kent, director of Chicago Animal Care and Control. Veterinarians will examine the coyote and, if he is not injured, release him into the wild.
Here's more on why: "On The Loose: Urban Coyotes Thrive in American Cities (OSU), "Urban and Suburban Coyotes" (APHIS), "Thriving under our noses, stealthily: coyotes" (World Science).


UK's New Big Brother-ing : 'Talking' Surveillance Cameras are Coming Here 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Pardon my French, but I find this just f---ing creepy and beyond the pale. The BBC reports that a pilot interactive surveillance camera program - with remotely monitored units that not only observe, but verbally reprimand 'bad public behavior' - will be extended to more locations [via Kottke.org]:
"Talking" CCTV cameras that tell off people dropping litter or committing anti-social behaviour are to be extended to 20 areas across England. They are already used in Middlesbrough where people seen misbehaving can be told to stop via a loudspeaker, controlled by control centre staff. About £500,000 will be spent adding speaker facilities to existing cameras.

Shadow home affairs minister James Brokenshire said the government should be "very careful" over the cameras. Home Secretary John Reid told BBC News there would be some people, "in the minority who will be more concerned about what they claim are civil liberties intrusions...But the vast majority of people find that their life is more upset by people who make their life a misery in the inner cities because they can't go out and feel safe and secure in a healthy, clean environment because of a minority of people," he added. [emphasis mine]

What really upsets people is their night out being destroyed or their environment being destroyed by a fairly small minority of people. The talking cameras did not constitute "secret surveillance", he said. "It's very public, it's interactive." Competitions would also be held at schools in many of the areas for children to become the voice of the cameras, Mr Reid said.
Er, no, it's not "interactive" - unless you can talk back to the cams and tell them to sod off. You've got to hand it to the government officials, though, on what I like to call the "Ronald McDonald Effect": win the hearts and imaginations of children on an idea, and you've all but insured public acceptance. Plus, wouldn't you rather have a sweet-voiced primary schooler tell you "Place your trash in the bin! Yes, you - the portly bald gentleman!" than a mechanized Orson Welles? "It puts on the lotion!" indeed. Ahem...and Chicago, let's not give Da Mare any interesting ideas:Unfortunately, this wasn't just a backdated April Fool's gag.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007
farkleberries Links du Jour 175: The Fling Fake Fonts Fast Edition 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 


Monday, April 02, 2007
Google TiSP: Flush With Features! 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Those of you that know me know I love a good bathroom joke. So, in case you missed Google's traditional April Fool's Day "surprise," it was a hoot: Google TiSP.

Until you dig deeper into the site and click on the "FAQ" it's not immediately obvious what 'TiSP' really is. They almost had me for a minute, until I saw the toilet in the background and the cable snaking down into the bowl. The TiSP idea does seem at least slightly inspired by the old "iToilet" gag site, originally hosted on Electric Chicken - still up, still a good larf.
Installing a typical home TiSP system is a quick, easy and largely sanitary process -- provided you follow these step-by-step instructions very, very carefully.
  1. Remove the spindle of fiber-optic cable from your TiSP installation kit.
  2. Attach the sinker to the loose end of the cable, take one safe step backward and drop this weighted end into your toilet.
  3. Grasp both ends of the spindle firmly while a friend or loved one flushes, thus activating the patented GFlush™ system, which sends the weighted cable surfing through the plumbing system to one of the thousands of TiSP Access Nodes.
  4. When the GFlush is complete, the spindle will (or at least should) have largely unraveled, exposing a connector at the remaining end. Detach the cable from the spindle, taking care not to allow the cable to slip into the toilet.
  5. Plug the fiber-optic cable into your TiSP wireless router, which has a specially designed counterweight to withstand the centripetal force of flushing.
  6. Insert the TiSP installation CD and run the setup utility to install the Google Toolbar (required) and the rest of the TiSP software, which will automatically configure your computer's network settings.
  7. Within sixty minutes -- assuming proper data flow -- the other end of your fiber-optic cable should have reached the nearest TiSP Access Node, where our Plumbing Hardware Dispatchers (PHDs) will remove the sinker and plug the line into our global data networking system.
  8. Congratulations, you're online! (Please wash your hands before surfing.)
More: How TiSP Works, TiSP FAQ


Sunday, April 01, 2007
I Thought I Needed to Rent a Horror Movie Tonight, But the News Was Scary Enough 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
A highly disturbing news story, but unfortunately neither unique nor rare:
TAYLOR, Michigan (AP) -- A 33-year-old woman was arraigned Sunday on charges alleging she offered to let an undercover investigator take pornographic photos of her 7-year-old daughter and have sex with the girl, authorities said. The woman was arrested Friday after taking the girl to a hotel in Romulus, near Detroit Metropolitan Airport, where she had agreed to meet the investigator, the Wayne County sheriff's department said.

A not guilty plea was entered on behalf of the woman, who wasn't represented by a lawyer at the arraignment, department spokesman John Roach said. She was held in lieu of $1 million bail, and a preliminary examination was scheduled for April 12.

Authorities said the woman offered to let the investigator take the photos for a fee and, when she met with him, discussed being paid in exchange for sex with the child, the Detroit Free Press reported. "This is truly a horrifying case," Sheriff Warren Evans said in a statement. "To think that a woman would offer up her own daughter in this way impossible to comprehend."
For all the effort we display to fighting sexual predators, what do we do when a child's supposed ultimate protector, a parent, enables predation so brazenly?