Monday, June 30, 2008

Undercover Cops Allegedly Frame 4 On Drug Charges

NYPD Investigating Incident, Officers Placed On Modified Duty

NEW YORK (CBS) ― Undercover police officers who arrested four men on drug charges are under investigation after surveillance video proved the men they arrested committed no crime.

Drug charges against brothers Jose Colon and Maximo Colon, along with two of their friends have been dropped.

The undercover NYPD officers are seen on video dancing in the street, then attempting to frame four innocent men.

"I asked police officer why are you arresting me," said Maximo Colon. "Never did I get an answer."

The investigators swore under oath they bought drugs from the four men. Jose and Maximo colon say that didn't happen.

"The cops are supposed to help us," said a shaken Jose Colon.

Defense lawyers say the surveillance cameras proved their clients were framed.

"It was nauseating," said defense lawyer Rochelle Berliner.

Two hours of video showed no contact at all between the four men arrested and undercover officers - proof that lead prosecutors to drop charges against the four men, and even declare in court the men did not commit the crime.

Defense lawyers say it's disturbing but not uncommon.

"As defense attorneys you know it exists more often than government wants you to believe," said Brad Wolk.

In the 6 months it took to clear the Colon brothers names, they lost their business and their savings.

As a result of his ordeal, Maximo Colon has lost trust in police officers.

The two men are now involved in a civil suit against the city and hope to one day rebuild their lives.

The NYPD is investigating the officers involved in this incident. Two of the officers are reportedly on modified duty.

(© MMVIII, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Original here

Uno and only

Start with a motorcycle, add 'Star Wars' and give the Segway a run for its futuristic money

|Special to the Chicago Tribune

19-year-old inventor Ben J. Poss Gulak demonstrates the Uno, his battery-powered, gyroscope stabilized "motorcycle." (Photo courtesy Ben Gulak)

Your first look at the Uno can be confusing.

With Ben J. Poss Gulak, its 19-year-old inventor, crouched on it like a jockey, you might think "sportbike." But where are the wheels?

The Uno's custom hoops aren't front and rear like a motorcycle's, but side by side and inches apart under the rider, rising and falling independently over the road as he leans the gyroscope-stabilized machine through effortless turns.

This is not your father's Segway.

If Dean Kamen's sophisticated personal transporter seems like some benign module from a George Jetson cartoon, Gulak's prototype looks aggressive, maybe a little dangerous, like a "Star Wars" speeder or something out of "Blade Runner."

And that's the desired effect.

By the time he made a three-week trip to China with his parents in 2006, the Toronto-based Gulak was a seasoned amateur engineer with a collection of science fair and industrial design competition awards, inspired by long hours in his grandfather's basement machine shop as a kid.

When he saw the incredible pollution in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, much of it produced by smoky two-stroke scooters and motorcycles, he knew that electrics would make ideal substitutes—if they were cool. There, of course, have been electric motorcycles and scooters before. He put college plans on hold and set out to create a practical, non-polluting vehicle with style.

Working with his grandfather's tools, he built an angle-iron frame, attached wheelchair motors, batteries and gyroscopes, and arrived at the moment of truth – the test ride. He had never ridden a Segway or a motorcycle, and he had no idea what he was in for.

"It was absolutely terrifying," he said of his first ride, which ended with a crash that chipped a kneecap.

He added a motorcycle helmet and wrist guards for later tests, but other problems, including a series of electrical fires, arose. Trevor Blackwell to the rescue. The California robotics expert had built a Eunicycle, a single-wheeled gyro-stabilized vehicle, as well as a two-wheeler that resembles a Segway.

Blackwell and Gulak refined the Uno's gyro control system so machine balances and moves smoothly.

An artist as well as, Gulak sketched designs for the Uno's bodywork and showed them to friends, then took the plans to John Cosentini of Motorcycle Enhancements, a Canadian custom motorcycle builder.

Cosentini offered a Yamaha motorcycle frame to replace the prototype's angle iron and helped Gulak carve body parts out of Styrofoam blocks, covering the foam with drywall compound and sanding it smooth before laying on fiberglass cloth and resin.

Gulak rejected the idea of adapting existing motorcycle bodywork, in favor of his own design. He thought of having the experts at Canada's Extreme Measures Kustom Paint spray the Uno green to emphasize its non-polluting nature. But he chose orage and gray to avoid any trademark entanglements with Kawasaki.

A Segway rider tilts its LeanSteer tiller to turn left or right. With no controls except an on/off switch, the Uno's electronics respond to a rider's slightest lean forward, backward or to the side quickly with no need for a throttle, brake lever or swiveling handlebar.

A Segway tops out at 12.5 miles per hour, while Gulak has coaxed 15 m.p.h. out of the Uno. He estimates that it could travel as fast as 40—with a little more work to ensure stability at higher speeds.

At Toronto's National Motorcycle Show in March, he showed the Uno off to Russell Mitchell of Exile Cycles, a custom bike builder and a veteran of Speed Channel's "Build or Bust" series, who jumped aboard and cruised with no trouble.

But Gulak seems even prouder that an 8-year-old boy rode the machine easily.

"We had to boost him into the seat, "he said, "but then he was fine."

After spending two years in relative seclusion developing the Uno, Gulak has been surprised by its reception.

"Things have just exploded in the last month," he said. He has been profiled by the Discovery Channel, contacted by a number of potential investors and done interviews with motorcycle magazine reporters from England, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Brazil. The shiny machine even appeared on the cover of Popular Science Magazine.

He will soon fly to Shanghai to talk with a company about developing the machine and possibly putting it into production. At the moment, he's refining the Uno in a friend's tool-and-die shop before showing it to Jay Leno on the "Tonight Show." Details of his appearance are still being worked out. In September, Gulak is scheduled to begin a dual-major in mechanical engineering and business at MIT. He isn't sure whether the Uno project helped him win admission to the school, but he's pretty sure it didn't hurt.


Photo courtesy Ben Gulak

19-year-old inventor Ben J. Poss Gulak demonstrates the Uno, his battery-powered, gyroscope stabilized "motorcycle."

Original here

Here it is the controversial JCPenny Commercial.

speed.jpgThis is the commercial everyone has been talking about. Did you also know that this spot was awarded a Cannes Lions 2008 Film Bronze award..? Interesting..!

This is what we call in the biz a spec spot or spec commercial. Spec commercials are usually done by creatives from an ad agency in cooperation with a director from a separate production company to help everyone gain a great piece for their demo reel. Usually spec commercials are not never even shown to the client they are being made for. Basically its a fake commercial but its a great way to showcase ones talents in their respective art form. Ad Agency Creatives, Editors, Directors, Colonists and DPs all benefit from the practice of spec commercials. In this case JC Penny probably never even heard of this commercial until we all did.

This commercial was directed by Mike Long of Epoch films. Mike did an excellent job on this spot. I found myself totally drawn in. I’m not sure if it was the controversy surrounding the commercial or that it is just that good.


Original here

Sunday, June 29, 2008

How Digg Got Me On ESPN and Fox News

What is Digg? For those who do not know, I will use the description right off their web site:

“Digg is a place for people to discover and share content from anywhere on the web. From the biggest online destinations to the most obscure blog, Digg surfaces the best stuff as voted on by our users. You won’t find editors at Digg — we’re here to provide a place where people can collectively determine the value of content and we’re changing the way people consume information online.”

I will not go into all the ins and outs of Digg. You can read a good article about it here. You basically submit content you find interesting to the Digg Community. The community votes it up or down. If enough people vote it up and not too many vote it down or “bury it”, your submission makes it to the “Front Page” which can generate thousands of hits to the submission.

Is Digg beneficial to the “obscure bloggers” of which I count myself? It can be if you remember the key phrase coined by Viacom movie mogul Sumner Redstone “CONTENT IS KING!”. I actually thought my brother Mark Cuban coined the phrase until I read about Redstone. This is the golden rule that drives the Digg community.

What is your blog about? Is your blog about getting traffic from front page postings regardless of quality of the content because you are ad supported? I see a lot of that on Digg. That kind of content in my opinion is not king when it comes to blogging because it is almost always content generated by someone else. Why not spend some time building a loyal readership base with quality and or original content? If you don’t people are not going to come back until you have another popular submission. I want reader loyalty. I want people to stick around and look at my multiple posts. The only way they are going to do that is if they enjoyed the initial post I submitted to Digg. When a Digg submission of mine hits front page, it is just as or more important to me how many other of my articles are clicked.

There is nothing wrong with writing about other people’s news. Unless you are writing an original screenplay it makes sense to write about the world happening around you. The key for me at least is to take an event, even if 500 other people have written on it, and make it mine with original ideas, thoughts and viewpoints. If I can not add something new (at least new to me) to an event, I tend to stay away from it.

The tendency of some Diggers is to read only the lead-in when they digg. I try to create a lead-in that encourages readers to click on the link to my blog rather than simply digg and comment off of the lead-in. A bad lead-in can get an article buried as quickly as a bad article itself. The art of writing a good lead-in can be compared to a a teaser for a Hollywood movie. You want to capture the interest of your audience quickly without giving to much information. You want them to be curious enough to go see the movie.(your blog) It is a continuous learning process.

Do not be afraid of the comments. When a submission goes front page there can be hundreds of comments. Many of them are hateful and tough to read but if you shrug those off and find the meaningful ones you can learn a lot about ways to improve your writing and content selection skills. I routinely got tortured for my grammar before I started working harder on it. I still get tortured to a degree but the complaints have reduced dramatically.

Here is an example of how Digg recently worked for me resulting in two ESPN interviews and an appearance on The Fox News Channel.(video below).

On June 6 2008 I wrote an article entitled “Why Athletes Go Broke“. It went popular and generated 814 Diggs. This is a fairly modest number for a front page submission. In contrast, the actual article on my blog received 30 thousand hits. This is again, not an unusually large number of hits from a front page submission. The real benefit is the other search engines and blogs that pick up on this large number of hits. This process got my post noticed by the New York Times. The Times linked to the my blog in their Freakonomics Section in a post entitled: Why Do So Many Celebrities Go Broke. It was also posted in their “Whats Online” section. The Times postings resulted in my submission being picked up by news blogs all over the world. This resulted in two ESPN interviews and a national appearance on the Fox News Channel.(video below) I have also received several offers to write for publications.

What lessons can be learned from this? There are some that will say that this only happened because my last name is Cuban. I dispute that assertion. I have written many blogs that have gone front page and not generated any interest beyond Digg. It proves that Digg does work for bloggers even in the face of any disdain by the Digg community towards the blogging community. I have no idea if this disdain actually exists but I read about it frequently. It proves that regardless of any Digg variables, content will always be king. If you have content that is timely, interesting and hits a “public nerve” Digg will work for you. Digg is not just for distributing hard news around the internet. Digg can work to distribute your thoughts on that news as well. You just have to have something worth saying. Digg can pull back the curtain but the audience still has to like the show. Be original-Be timely-Be bold as a blogger. The Digg community will stand up and take notice.

Original here

The Douchiest Phone Message In History

Douchebag Phone Message - Watch more free videos

In all my years of studying douchebaggery, never have i encountered anything like this. It’s such pure and unadulterated douche that I wish I could bottle it and use just a drop of it at a time.

The back story on this is that a girl named Olga was out with her friends in the Marina district of San Francisco (known for being a popular hang out for douches), and she talked to this guy named Dmitri for all of two minutes. Then she gave him her card and said “give me a call.” The above is the messages he left. Listen to the whole thing, it just keeps getting better and better. I won’t even tell you my favorite parts because i don’t want to ruin anything. Just listen.

Original here

Nine-year-old girl finds black widow spider in red grapes bought at Waitrose

By Daily Mail Reporter

Supermarket bosses have recalled red Mexican grapes from all their stores after a deadly black widow spider was found in a bunch.

Waitrose pulled the fruit from shelves in case other spiders had entered the country in the same consignment.

The black widow - the world's fifth most poisonous spider - was found by nine-year-old Harriet Barron in a fruit bowl at her home.

Minutes earlier, her brother Elliot had been eating from the same bunch while watching television.

The black widow is the world's fifth most poisonous spider

Their mother, Susanne, a 53-year-old nurse, had bought the grapes at her local Waitrose in Northampton.

She said: 'Harriet went to get a grape and started screaming, "There's a spider in there."'

' My husband Columbus recognised the hour-glass-shaped orange and red markings, covered it with paper and walked out of the room.'

The couple, who have four children, put the spider in a jar before contacting Waitrose and the Department for Food.

Mrs Barron said she has not asked for a refund. ' Our thoughts were about safety because there was likely to be more than one in the consignment,' she added.

Black widow spiders come from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. Females can grow to about 1.5inches, including leg-span, but males are much smaller.

A store spokesman said: 'This is an isolated incident and our fruit undergoes stringent checks during packing.'

Original here

Stilt-walker completes 830 miles across Michigan

IRONWOOD, Mich. - A 24-year-old man has completed an 830-mile trek on aluminum stilts across Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas to make people aware of cerebral palsy.

United Cerebral Palsy of Michigan reports that Neil Sauter ended his eight-week journey Friday in Ironwood, Mich., on the Upper Peninsula border with Wisconsin. He began walking in early May from southeast Michigan.

Sauter has raised $16,000 for United Cerebral Palsy of Michigan. A 3-to-1 matching federal grant pushes that total to $64,000.

Sauter has mild cerebral palsy and used three pairs of stilts on the walk.

Original here

Alabama's Nut Job Attorney General Wants To Ban Sex Toys And Sing With Dead People

Have you heard the one about the Southern politician who wants to arrest women for dildo possession?

Unfortunately, it's not a joke, so there's no punchline. There's a real live attorney general in Alabama who actually wants to enforce the sex toy ban enacted by the fundamentalist-dominated state legislature a few years ago. Troy King is serious about this -- he will bust your ass for a vibrator.

Sure, there are other states, especially in the South, that have some pretty ridiculous laws on the books. In Mississippi, for instance, it's illegal -- even for married couples! -- to have oral sex. The law's still on the books, presumably because none of the good-old-boy legislators there wants to become known as the guy who legalized blow jobs.

But Troy King is cut from a different cloth. AG King, widely known as a thin skinned, vindictive (that from the Alabama District Attorneys Association!) and spiteful little man and a "hateful punk," believes that sex toys are immoral and that he should be concerned with arresting those who use them.

With all the real crime that takes place in Alabama -- including a whole passel of shady dealings in politics, corruption, and graft, much of it involving King himself -- Troy's more concerned that the wimmen folk might let their lustful urges get out of control once they learn that "men" and "orgasms" don't always have to be in the same room.

Mobile Press Register political cartoonist J.D. Crowe's take on Troy King's sex toy phobia

My friend, fellow blogger and former Alabama gubernatorial candidate Loretta Nall gets the credit for originally alerting me to the outrageous sex-phobic shenanigans of Troy King last year. Loretta got some coverage from Dame Magazine on her "Sex Toys For Troy King" campaign, in which Loretta encouraged everyone to send the Attorney General a sex toy of their choice -- a brilliant bit of political theater.

I want to join Loretta in encouraging everyone to send sex toys to Troy King. Here's his address:

Office of the Attorney General
Alabama State House
11 South Union Street, Third Floor
Montgomery, AL 36130

Loretta also blogged about Troy's laughable, pathetically bad posthumous duet with a non-consenting Johnny Cash, and I was galvanized into action. When some idiot who never even met Johnny Cash starts screwing with the memory of The Man In Black, it is ON, homie.

In January of this year, I obtained online a 30-second sample of the King/Cash duet, which Troy had distributed to about 25 friends and supporters as Christmas "gifts," and I slapped together a little slide show video to go with it, which I then put on YouTube.


Next thing I know, I'm being interviewed by leading Alabama newspaper The Tuscaloosa News, and as I told them, as a native Alabamian myself, I really hate when some ignorant, pea-brained yokel like King makes the state a laughingstock.

Almost immediately, the video gets 1,500 views online. And Troy made a rookie mistake: His press officer ran his mouth to the press (Rule #1: If you're a public official, you never respond to a crank). To quote the Tuscaloosa News story, "King spokesman Chris Bence said the West Coast is a good fit for Elliott. 'Outside the state is the best place for him,' Bence said."

Within a few weeks, King pulled some strings and had the video pulled from YouTube; to do so he went through his friends at the John R. Cash Trust, who spooked YouTube into pulling the video with a spurious "copyright infringement" claim. (The claim is patently ridiculous, because a 30-second clip falls well within "Fair Use" doctrine, and in any event, the Cash version of the song on which King overdubbed his god-awful vocals has never been officially released.)

So I started wondering. What's up with a guy so vindictive, so petty, so insecure that he has to have his press agent answer some crackpot 2,500 miles away when I put a 30-second video showing him in a less than flattering light? And when he feels to need to discredit me, he feels that he can do it based on where I choose to live?

Now, here's where the shit gets deep.

If having dildo-phobia, a thinly-disguised fear of feminine sexuality and delusions of country stardom (even to the extent of desecrating the dead) aren't enough to convince you that Troy King is a nut job a and a dirt bag, there's plenty more, folks.

Cartoon by JD Crowe

Among Troy's, other, um, "accomplishments":

The selective prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman -- mostly for being the most popular and successful Democrat in the state -- was aided by King's office, and Troy's fingerprints, along with those of Bush operative Karl Rove, are all over the case. "Mr. King is an ambitious man who appears ruthless and vindictive," wrote the Decatur Daily. "That makes Mr. King a dangerous man who unfortunately wields extraordinary power over people’s lives."

King blew up when, as state chairman of John McCain's presidential campaign, he was passed over to give McCain's introduction. Rumor initially had it that Alabama Gov. Bob Riley would attend the event. King didn't want Riley stealing "his" spotlight, and undoubtedly making it sting even more for the man who would be King, a film crew was on hand -- our insecure but vain hero wanted to be filmed speaking to a large and adoring crowd (for future campaign ads?) U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus ended up giving the introduction, while a furious King's tantrums had worn out those around him. "Would all this be a factor in King’s unusual demeanor on stage behind McCain?" asked Alabama blog Doc's Political Parlor, which added, "People on both sides of the aisle noted how King rarely smiled... while he continually scanned the crowd like he was looking for someone or something. I would not have mentioned it here except that others also particularly noticed it and said how odd it was."

• Perhaps the paranoid King was scanning the crowd for an assassin. His megalomania and paranoia are becoming legendary; King wears a flak jacket everywhere, according to widely published accounts. King's sense of self-importance is gargantuan. Said a witness to one public appearance: "First, he comes right in and parks right up front in the spot marked off for the Governor. The man always wants front row parking. He won’t walk anywhere. It’s like he’s the president. And he’s wearing his flak jacket. He acted like there was a sniper on every roof." And this was in Elba, his hometown, where he is supposed to be widely popular.

• King is known for his adversarial relationship with local district attorneys in Alabama. He goaded district attorneys around the state by sending out critical press releases naming individual DAs who took a public stance opposing him on a widely publicized death penalty murder case. According to the Mobile Press Register, 15 district attorneys around the state were targeted with customized press releases. Newspapers throughout Alabama strongly criticized King for has ham-handed hot-dogging. "When it comes to political grandstanding, Alabama Attorney General Troy King is usually right up there with the best - or worst - of them, depending on your point of view," said the Florence Times-Daily. "Even King may have outdone himself with his latest effort, an attack on the Shelby County district attorney [Robby Owens] for his handling of a death penalty case." The Alabama District Attorneys Association questioned King's fitness for his job, noting that he has no real experience in trial law. "We think the association is right on point," the Times Daily editorialized. "His time in office has been marked by ethical and judgment lapses as well as a continual disinterest in taking the high road." It has been suggested that King’s takeover of the Gamble murder case was at least partially due to DA Owens, a fellow Republican, supporting and endorsing King’s 2006 opponent for Attorney General, Democrat John Tyson.

• King holds a grudge in the most unprofessional way. Troy was still so mad at Shelby County DA Robby Owens that, incredibly, he tried to get a judge to bar Owens' testimony in another, unrelated court hearing -- despite the fact that this time, Owens supported King's position!

Harper's Magazine has anointed Troy "The King of Political Prosecutions." "Alabamians are waking up to the realization that their Attorney General has been playing political games with prosecution for some time," political writer Scott Horton wrote in the magazine last year. According to the article, King "played a very curious role in installing his former client, Congressman Bob Riley, as Governor in the face of mounting evidence of election fraud in Baldwin County."

According to Mobile's Lagniappe magazine, an investigator working for King described how King pushed him for dirt on a former district attorney who was prepared to challenge King for the position of Attorney General: Asked to divulge details of those investigations, Anthony "Tony" Castaldo declined elaboration, saying that an investigator does not talk about the specifics of cases. But in October 2005, Castaldo was in Birmingham in a vehicle with King and one other staff member. Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson, Castaldo’s former boss, had recently announced his intention to challenge King for the state’s top prosecutor slot, and King was reading a newspaper story about it in the vehicle. “I can still see it,” Castaldo described, “King said, ‘Looks like Tyson’s throwing his hat in the ring now.’ Then he turned to me and said, ‘You used to work for him. You got anything we can use on him?’ I just looked at him and said, ‘I’ve worked for politicians and never spoke out of school about any of them and would afford you the same respect should the opportunity present itself.’” That wasn't the answer Troy King wanted. In the next months, Castaldo found his office lock was forced, his papers rifled and his timesheets examined. He has become a target of a Troy King vendetta, according to Harper's.

King then initiated the perjury trial of the afore-mentioned Anthony Castaldo by forwarding "evidence" to the Jefferson County district attorney. Castaldo claims that the trial was pushed by King as political payback for refusing “to do political things” for the Attorney General, including helping attack John Tyson, King’s Democratic opponent in the 2006 general election. Castaldo was acquitted after only 45 minutes of jury deliberation. "It seems just a little odd that King would pro-actively foward a case to a district attorney so that he can charge one of his special prosecutors," noted Daily Dixie. "It’s also pretty telling that King gave the case to David Barber, who is one of only a handful of Republican District Attornies in Alabama, when the alleged perjury occurred in Bessemer which has its own DA who happens to be Democrat."

King conducted a “year long vindictive witch hunt” in an effort to find "anything - old campaign records, finance records" to get Circuit Judge Dan King (no relation) “off the bench,” according to a sworn statement by the above mentioned Castaldo. The affidavit alleges that the prosecution of the judge was selectively based on Troy King’s disapproval of Judge King’s ruling on certain gambling machines in 2004.

• King admitted to the Birmingham News that he had asked Roy Johnson, former chancellor of the state’s two-year college system, to find a job for the mother of a friend — while King’s office was carrying out an investigation of the system and of Johnson. "It was a huge error in ethical judgment for the attorney general to seek a favor from the subject of a criminal probe," wrote "But King’s ethical lapse goes even deeper than that," wrote the Montgomery Advertiser. "He didn’t ask for just any favor; he asked Johnson to hire someone when such widespread hiring of friends and relatives by officials in the two-year college system could turn out to be a part of the investigation." King announced that he was removing himself from the investigation -- but only after only after severe public reaction and criticism from around the state -- and proceeded to ignore subsequent calls for his resignation.

King accepted luxury box seats at Atlanta Braves games from Alabama Power, the utility which has a monopoly on most electrical power in the state. The "gift" was not reported to the Alabama Ethics Commission. Bear in mind that King is supposed to be representing the customers of Alabama Power at the Public Service Commission. King claimed it wasn't a conflict of interest, and was "no different than a campaign contribution, which politicians get all the time." Except a campaign contribution would have to have been reported. The value of the gift was in the thousands of dollars. The boxes rent for more than $2,000 a day, and the food bill for King's party came to more than $1,262, according to the Tuscaloosa News. "Someone needs to have a long, heart-to-heart talk about high ethics with Attorney General Troy King," the News wrote. "He either fails to grasp the concept or scoffs at it. Either failing is especially critical for a man in his position." According to Daily Dixie, King reimbursed Alabama Power $436 for the food consumed by himself and his family only after the utility company "educated" the attorney general about ethics law. Power company officials explained to him that they could not pay for it since they were not physically present at the meals (isn't it nice to know that the Attorney General of Alabama is getting ethics advice from a lobbyist?). Notorious cheapskate King wouldn't spring for the other $826 in edibles consumed by the rest of his party.

• King's particular zeal for killing people has given pause to more than a few. "Attorney General Troy King can be criticized for many things. But nobody's ever called him a death penalty sissy," wrote the Birmingham News. "Indeed, King is so gung-ho about putting people to death that it's more than a little scary. His viewpoint on executions seems to be the more, the merrier." "To people like Troy King, courts are nothing but an annoyance," noted Alablawg. "All they do is protect 'the rights of criminals.' Troy King despises the Bill of Rights, because, in his mind, there are only two kinds of people: Good People and criminals... Like it or not, people lie, make mistakes and do stupid things. That includes cops, prosecutors, eyewitnesses, experts, and attorneys general. People are people even when they are state officials or crime victims. Because people are people, we limit their power to take away another person’s freedom," Alablawg continues. "Crime is serious, but so is executing someone. The balance struck between penalizing crime and protecting freedom is what Troy King derisively calls 'the rights of criminals.' No, they are not. They are your rights, and my rights." Beautifully put.

King had his opinion on payments to indigent defense lawyers unanimously overturned by the Alabama Supreme Court. Under King's, er, "leadership," indigent public defenders were being paid an average of $4.98 an hour to defend capital murder cases, when possibly innocent people's lives were in the balance. "Attorney General Troy King maintains Alabama's capital punishment system is as good as any in the world," noted the Birmingham News. "Yet, considering its built-in flaws, King's assurances cannot be sustained with even a modest degree of confidence. Clearly, the best hope for somebody charged with a death penalty offense is a vigorous, thorough defense at the initial trial in circuit court. But the system in Alabama works hard against that obvious and basic premise."

King forced the State of Alabama into a frivolous lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior after the Department ruled in favor of a Native American tribe in an electronic bingo games case. The Department of the Interior saw through King's attempt to choose the interests of wealthy racetrack owners, who also operate the electronic bingo games, over an Indian Tribe. As with seemingly everything King does, this became personal and in a last ditch, doomed attempt to save face in a losing argument, he sued the federal government, using the tax dollars of the citizens of Alabama.

King gets his ankle bracelet removed -- photo opportunity!

King dramatically wore an GPS tracking ankle bracelet for several days to "push" the Alabama Legislature to pass a law requiring some repeat sex offenders to wear the devices after release from prison. The law passed both houses unanimously, as expected, confirming that King's “push” was unnecessary and was actually yet another case of his callow ambition and political grandstanding.

• As a law student at the University of Alabama, King wrote nastily homophobic letters to the Crimson White, the student newspaper. King decried the tolerance exhibited towards gay students on campus: "The existence of the Gay/Lesbian alliance on this campus is an affront to the state of Alabama, its citizenry, this diversity and its students... One has but to look at the forces which the controversy has united--from the American Civil Liberties Union to the National Organization of Women to the Queer Nation just to name a few--to clearly see how corrupt a cause this truly is." When asked by current Crimson White staffers if his opinion had changed, King granted only that now he'd use "more judicioius language."

The people of Alabama deserve a better Attorney General than Troy King. Unfortunately, the next election for AG isn't until 2010.

Original here

A Quick Note From Idaho (And Why I Hate Wal-Mart)

Hey everyone, been on the road for two days now and I'm about to pull out of Idaho Falls, ID and head north and then east into Montana.

The drive has been beautiful so far. Eastern Oregon is incredible. I had driven through there in the past, but it was night time and I didn't know what I was missing, but wow, one of the most colorful places I've ever been.

My travel was delayed a bit, however, when I stopped to get my oil changed, and I thought the story was worth passing along.

Now, I ordinarily avoid Wal-Mart like the plague, but I needed a change and I was about to hit a piece of road with no services for over 100 miles, so I figured I better get it done while I had the chance.

Sadly, the ONLY place in town to change my oil was at the local Wal-Mart. So as sick as it made my stomach, I pulled up and did it.

The girl (yes, not a woman) who took my information seemed friendly at first. She politely inquired about the full car load of stuff and said "you must be going somewhere cool."

"Chicago" I said with a smile.

I handed her the keys to the car and stepped out. She told me it would be a 20-minute wait, so I grabbed the iPod and the paper I had and went into the waiting room.

By the way, the one thing I was happy about was that at least this oil change was going to be cheap. Under $25.

About 25 minutes later the girl came into the waiting room and told me the car was ready. I paid, took back my keys and jumped in, ready to hit the open road again.

But when I turned on my car the oil monitoring system said I was still at 10% of my oil's life.

That was weird.

I got out of the car and asked the girl if she was sure that the oil change had in fact been done. She said "Yep, I know it was, cause I did it myself."

"Can you explain why my car is telling me it hasn't been?"

"Well we don't reset the meter in any of those Japanese cars" was her response.

I thought maybe she was right. In all honesty, I wasn't sure if this was something that had to be reset myself or if the car automatically did it upon an oil change.

The only way to find out was to check for myself. So I headed back to the car, popped the hood, and stuck in the dipstick.

Sure enough, it was almost empty.

Unreal. They had just charged me $24 and told me they had changed the oil, but it was never done! They knew they were the only place for miles and miles, this could cause serious problems for people without the monitoring system to alert them it wasn't done.

If it wasn't for that I never would have thought to double check. In the future I will.

Anyhow, at this point I wasn't Wal-mart's happiest customer ever. So I went back in and told the girl what I found.

She called in the mechanic and IN FRONT OF ME said to him "why didn't you change the oil?" Clearly she either forgot, or just didn't care that she had already told me that SHE had done it.

His response was "You told me to just pull it into the lot, you didn't say anything about an oil change."

I was on the mechanic's side for a minute until he looked at me and said "When we get these foreign cars in here, sometimes it gets confusing."

Now I was just livid.

First of all, my car being foreign was 100%, fully and completely irrelevant to the fact that they had just charged me $24 to allow my car to sit in their garage for 24 minutes before pulling it into their parking lot. A dollar a minute. Wow.

On top of that, the disdain for my foreign car was becoming very apparent now. Which was also irritating. My bet is that neither of these people knew that while their own American cars were built by foreign workers for next-to-nothing wages, all of my Honda Civic (with the exception of the engine) was assembled in Ohio by well paid, and highly skilled Americans.

The parts were also produced in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, once again, by American workers.

Long story short, I thought about getting a manager and demanding my money back. And in retrospect, I should have. But I wanted to get back to the road and try to keep my blood pressure low. So I waited a few more minutes while the mechanic replaced the oil in my ever-so-complex Civic and instead of getting my money back I'll just blog about what a rotten, evil and horrible place Wal-Mart is.

I hate Wal-Mart.

Ok, so now it's time for me to hit the road, so much for this being a quick note.

Original here

Twenty-five Signs You Have Grown Up

1. Your houseplants are alive, and you can’t smoke any of them.

2. Having sex in a twin bed is out of the question.

3. You keep more food than beer in the fridge.

4. 6:00 AM is when you get up, not when you go to bed.

5. You hear your favorite song in an elevator.

6. You watch the Weather Channel.

7. Your friends marry and divorce instead of “hook up” and “breakup.”

8. You go from 130 days of vacation time to 14.

9. Jeans and a sweater no longer qualify as “dressed up.”

10. You’re the one calling the police because those %&@# kids next door won’t turn down the stereo.

11. Older relatives feel comfortable telling sex jokes around you.

12. You don’t know what time Taco Bell closes anymore.

13. Your car insurance goes down and your car payments go up.

14. You feed your dog “Science Diet” instead of McDonald’s leftovers.

15. Sleeping on the couch makes your back hurt.

16. You take naps.

17. Dinner and a movie is the whole date instead of the beginning of one.

18. Eating a basket of chicken wings at three in the morning would severely upset, rather than settle, your stomach.

19. You go to the drug store for ibuprofen and antacid, not condoms and pregnancy tests.

20. A four dollar bottle of wine is no longer “pretty good shit.”

21. You actually eat breakfast food at breakfast time.

22. “I just can’t drink the way I used to” replaces “I’m never going to drink that much again.”

23. Ninety percent of the time you spend in front of a computer is for real work.

24. You drink at home to save money before going to a bar.

25. When you find out your friend is pregnant you congratulate them instead of asking “Oh shit what the hell happened?”

Original here

Friday, June 27, 2008

House hunting in the age of $4 gas

Gas cost just over $2 a gallon in October 2006 when Derek Benoit bought his condominium in Amesbury in the far northeastern corner of the state. Now he's trying to sell the unit, even though he just finished renovating it.

With gas now $4 a gallon, the software executive is no longer willing to pour $500 worth into his tank each month, an expense he attributes mainly to his 34-mile commute each way to work in Wilmington, or farther, to Logan International Airport for out-of-town meetings. He is looking to buy a home closer to his employer and the airport.

"I love, love, love my place, so it's bittersweet," Benoit said. But the commute is "just getting too expensive."

Benoit's decision may seem like an extreme reaction to soaring gasoline prices, which have forced many commuters to modify their driving habits. Some are making fewer trips, and others are trading in gas-guz zling sport utility vehicles for compacts or taking mass transit to work. The US Department of Transportation recently reported a record drop in the number of miles Americans drove in March, compared with March 2007, which amounted to a 4.3 percent decline.

But if gas prices continue their inexorable rise, commuting costs will become a critical factor in where people choose to live, according to transit specialists and economists. Most will probably not take as radical a step as Benoit and relocate; instead, the next time they have to move, for a job or a bigger house, proximity to work or mass transit will be a much bigger consideration.

The first dramatic changes would probably occur for those in isolated suburbs and exurbs: the New Hampshire resident who commutes 50 miles to Boston or the Framingham resident who drives 20 miles into Kendall Square in Cambridge.

"When gas was cheap, it was financially possible to live out in the exurbs and the outer reaches of the suburban ring and commute in," said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's "That's where we'll see the largest impact from the surge of commuting costs."

There is little evidence of a migration by homeowners seeking to lower their gas costs, but there are signs that more are thinking about it.

In a survey of its agents by real estate brokerage Coldwell Banker, 81 percent said they are seeing more interest from prospective buyers in urban living because of high gasoline prices. Fifty-four percent said access to public transportation is more important to their clients now.

A May study by CEOs for Cities, a research organization supported by government and business, said rising gas prices would push new housing developments closer to the urban core in Boston, Seattle, and other US cities, while suburbs with few transit options will lose value.
The market for higher-density development in close-in neighborhoods is likely to grow stronger," the report said.

Young families might settle for tighter quarters closer to the city instead of the larger, less expensive homes with long commutes. For suburban professionals, a more expensive condo in downtown Boston might make financial sense. And baby boomers might consider giving up the family home because higher gas prices eat into their retirement savings.

Daniel Gustafson and his partner, Paula Parker, are buying a home in Milton that abuts the Red Line's Mattapan trolley. Gustafson realized he could ride the subway to work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge rather than drive his van, as he has done for years. That sold him. He calculated this would save about $200 a month in gas, after subtracting the cost of a subway pass.

In Melrose, Linda O'Koniewski, owner of Re/Max Heritage, reported a surge of interest in recent months in the compact city, which has three commuter train stops. It also offers easy access to a short highway commute into Boston and a quaint downtown, with restaurants and clothing and arts and crafts stores, to which many residents can walk.

Melrose's housing market is still slower than last year. But one indication of a turnaround is that the supply of homes for sale in Melrose has dropped sharply, to half the inventory for surrounding Middlesex County. Buyers "are making different life decisions because of the economics of energy," O'Koniewski said.

The town of Scituate, which is along the new Greenbush commuter rail line, had 77 home sales between January and May - 10 more than the same period last year. No one knows whether the sales were influenced by lower commuting costs, but the numbers are suggestive.

Economists and housing analysts said there is no specific level at which gas price increases will prompt people to move. Instead, as prices rise to attention-getting levels - up, say, 50 cents or a dollar - more people will reexamine their living situations.

But moving isn't necessarily the right answer, especially now. The outlying communities where commuting costs are hitting hardest are also experiencing a larger decline in real estate values. Closer-in communities have fared better in the slump. For those looking to relocate, that would mean less money for the home they're selling and more money for the one they would buy.

Close-in communities also often have higher property taxes, and the act of moving is an enormous and expensive undertaking.

Jeff Glew, director of the East Coast office of The Concord Group Real Estate Advisors, said gas prices are high enough now to influence those who have to move for a job change or other reasons. But he said gas prices would have to be as high as $8 a gallon before the savings from a shorter commute will compensate for moving to a more expensive, closer-in community.

For Benoit, moving closer to his Wilmington employer is unlikely to save him any money because housing in the area is more expensive. Among the communities he is considering are Medford and Woburn, which would both cut his daily, round-trip commute to 10 miles from 68 miles, saving him $163 a month at current gas prices, according to calculations by The Concord Group.

But in Woburn, for example, the median condo price is $250,500; at that level his monthly housing costs, including taxes, would increase $228. If he chooses Medford, where the median price of a condo is $310,000, his monthly housing costs would increase by $615. That doesn't include the costs associated with buying the home and moving.

Benoit is unfazed, saying the tradeoff makes sense for him.

"Even if I end up spending more money, I'm spending it in a smarter way," he said. "I'm investing in real estate. I'm not pouring it into my gas tank."

Social networks are growing in niches

The growing success of Facebook - now well ahead of MySpace - has forced the latter to revamp itself, building on its core strength of music. If MySpace becomes more of a niche player, albeit a huge one, then it may simply be part of a trend. Niche is the new buzzword. There are already lots of niche networking sites including,, and But there are new niche networks in the pipeline including two - would you believe it - from Britain with global ambitions. They are simple and, unlike the startups in the dotcom boom, they think they know how to make money.

One of the most interesting, Finerday, was launched this week, triggering the question - why on earth was something so blindingly obvious not developed before? A commercial site, supported by Age Concern, it enables older people to network and stay in touch with their families and vice versa. There are other similar sites, such as in the US and Saga Zone in the UK but they lack several factors that Finerday hopes will be killer apps: old people don't just want to talk to older people, they want to be in touch with their extended families wherever they are in the world: they want everything to be simple and they want an easy, affordable computer.

I only saw a pre-release version of Finerday, but it was enough to tell me that if - a big if - it works properly, it could be a big success. It has a simple, colourful interface with icons for messages, photos, diary, shopping, fun etc. Fun is subdivided into games, television and radio with buttons in big letters to press and play. One option, "Send a gift", takes you to well-known brands with customised suggestions, giving the site a potentially lucrative revenue stream. But the interesting thing is that within months it hopes to offer a package including simple installation by an internet service provider and one of the new generation of cheap computers - in this case an Acer - customised for older people with a large screen, simple buttons and a price as near £200 as they can get it.

Coincidentally, I have just received a phone called Emporia Life with big keys and a red emergency button for older people. The computer world has suddenly realised that, just as there are a billion poorer people in the world wanting to buy cheap, customised computers, so there is a vast, and fast-growing market of older people wanting the same.

Another interesting site set to launch soon,, couldn't be more different. It aims to marry console-style gaming with a community site that looks a bit like a digital version of the X Factor. Instead of aggregating a mass of content around users like MySpace, Basedrift encourages them to put up videos, photos, music, text or other achievements in special galleries - from urban dancing to girl of the month - with punters voting through (lucrative) text messages in the hope of getting glitzy prizes. Co-director Dom Penrice claims it is unusual because participants are competing and communicating with other people (providing the company with a fan base it can exploit) and that if you don't win you can still qualify for rewards. Helped by a marketing campaign, he hopes to have a niche market of 350,000 users by the middle of next year. I have been shown a demo, though wasn't able to test it myself - but it looks different and is one to watch.

If you are not convinced that social networks are going niche, then how about I was alerted to it by Christian Ahlert who runs the Minibar in London for budding entrepreneurs and is advising Finerday. It is a social network (not yet public) for avatars in virtual worlds such as and Second Life so they can communicate with each other across virtual borders. If avatars need their own network, can any other niche community be immune from this new trend?

Home for sale includes wife

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL-- A struggling single parent and real estate agent is trying to sell her house and find a husband. She's auctioning off both her home and herself in a package deal on eBay and Craigslist.

Single parent Deven Traboscia has been divorced for eight years. She had hoped to be remarried by now, so she is turning to the internet for help.

The real estate agent is auctioning off her Palm Beach Gardens home and herself on both Ebay and Craigslist.

In the ad, Traboscia writes:

"If you want to live the never ending dream and experience the real love, life and the romance you have always felt was a fairytale then this is the vibrant outstanding woman of your dreams! To sweep this European Loving Lady off her feet send in your application right now."

She goes on to say that her four bedroom, 2,000 square-foot home, that will be included in the deal, has "neutral colors, Berber carpet, and upgraded tile".

Traboscia says she has already been contacted by one man in Italy, who is arranging a trip to South Florida to visit her.

Her eBay auction ends July 2 and asks for a starting bid of 99 cents with a shipping cost of $500 thousand. The auction has not yet received any bids.


Seffner man dies after downing 23 shots of vodka

SEFFNER, FL -- Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies believe a Seffner man may have drunk himself to death, by downing 23 shots of vodka in 30 minutes.

Deputies discovered the body of Eric Morris at a bar on US 92 in Tampa Tuesday night.

Morris was 26 years old.

According to a sheriff's spokesman, Morris went to "The Angels" bar, which is a topless bar on US 92, and began ordering shots of Burnett's Cherry Vodka. He was playing a drinking game with a friend. The police report says his friend told Morris he was too old to keep playing the game, but Morris continued.

He drank 23 shots in 30 minutes before passing out. His friend dragged him to the club's champagne room where Morris died.

The medical examiner's office says the cause of death is pending and it may take four to six weeks before they have blood tests back to show Morris' blood alcohol level.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mr. Know-It-All: Retrieving Your Porn-Filled Laptop From Your Friend's Kid

I recently gave my old laptop to a friend's 9-year-old daughter. Later, I remembered that I had left some risqué material hidden in an obscure folder. Should I ask for the laptop back or just hope the kid doesn't discover my stash?

Never bet against the inquisitiveness of a child. It might be next month, it might be next year, but eventually the girl will stumble upon your copy of Fondling Sarah Marshall. And when she does, her father may come looking for you with a tire iron. You needn't debase yourself in order to avoid such unpleasantness. "I think it's quite OK to say, 'Gosh, I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but I really need the computer back for a day— I left some important files on there,'" says Syndi Seid, founder of Advanced Etiquette, a San Francisco-based training company. Chances are your pal won't press the matter and ask about the nature of those files. If he does, just say they're "work related." He may see through the fib, but he'll likely let it slide — why embarrass the guy who graciously provided his daughter with a free (and soon-to-be porn-free) computer?

Next time, though, do a full hard-drive wipe and OS reinstall before donating your laptop. It's so easy to forget that Grinding Nemo is lurking somewhere in the Drivers folder.

I own a restaurant that just got panned on Yelp. The reviewer called my food "worse than off-brand gruel." I suspect it's a longtime foe with an ax to grind. What should I do about such a fraudulent slam?

Hell hath no fury like a restaurateur scorned, so your inclination is probably to demand that Yelp kill the review. But before you up the ante against your nemesis, consider the consequences of giving in to anger. Because, as Yoda taught us, anger ultimately leads to suffering—or, in your case, to more bad publicity.

No one enjoys being raked over the coals by a pseudonymous commentator, especially when the attacker is motivated by hostility rather than honest dissatisfaction or disagreement. But don't credit your detractor with too much influence. You need to trust in the sophistication of online-savvy consumers—specifically, their ability to see the big picture and factor out aberrant comments. "A single review won't make or break your business," says Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp's cofounder. And that's doubly true, he adds, if the offending one-star viewpoint is offset by a slew of four- and five-star raves. That "off-brand gruel" wisecrack, though nasty, is unlikely to cause your eatery any real harm—unless you are serving off-brand gruel.

Not sufficient comfort? You may still want the review deleted on principle. Yelp, like many other sites with user-generated content, has an appeals process designed to weed out truly malicious postings. If you succeed in expunging the slam, however, your enemy will know he got your goat. And when a bully finds a weakness, he exploits it. Another mean-spirited takedown will surely follow, and then another, and another.

Now's the time to nip that vicious cycle in the bud. Mr. Know-It-All recalls an ancient adage about turning the other cheek. Was that also Yoda? Smart guy.

Illustration: Christoph Niemann

Is it OK to Photoshop my wedding pictures before I post them on Flickr? I just want to do something about my crow's-feet.

As long as you don't go overboard with the improvements, tweaking your soon-to-be-Flickr'd pics is perfectly copacetic.

Professional wedding photographers, after all, regularly blot out blemishes. "I touch up photos so people look as good in their photographs as they did in real life," says Scott Kelby, editor of Photoshop User magazine, who has shot dozens of weddings. And while such modifications might be verboten in the ethics-constrained world of photojournalism, your nuptials aren't exactly front-page news—no matter what your mother says.

Original here

World now has 10 million millionaires, report says

NEW YORK – Add an extra zero to the ranks of the millionaires club.

The number of people around the world with at least $1 million in assets passed 10 million for the first time last year, according to a new report. And their bank accounts are growing even faster.

The combined wealth of the globe's millionaires grew to nearly $41 trillion last year, an increase of 9 percent from a year before, Merrill Lynch & Co. and consulting firm Capgemini Group said Tuesday.

That means their average wealth was more than $4 million, the highest it's ever been. Home values were not included in asset totals.

"The growth of their wealth is outpacing the growth of their population, and that's a trend that's going to continue in coming years," said Ileana Van Der Linde, a principal with Capgemini.

The ranks of the wealthy are growing fastest in the developing economies of India, China and Brazil. The number of millionaires in India grew by about 23 percent.

The United States still reigns supreme when it comes to fat wallets, though: One in every three millionaires in the world lives in America. Combined, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America account for just one in 10.

All told, there were about 600,000 more millionaires in the world in 2007 than in 2006, for a total of about 10.1 million. That's a 6 percent increase from the previous year.

Ten million may seem like a big number for such an elite club, but it still represents less than one-fifth of 1 percent of the world's 6.7 billion people.

The rarefied group of the superrich – those with at least $30 million in assets – got richer, too. There were 103,000 of them around the world last year, 9 percent more than the year before, and their wealth grew by nearly 15 percent.

The 600,000 new millionaires was unsurprising to Brian Bethune, an economist with Global Insight, who said inflation and the expansion of the world economy accounts for the growth.

Besides, $1 million isn't what it used to be. One million dollars in 1996, the first year the report was issued, would have been worth about $1.3 million last year, Van Der Linde said.

Steady growth powered economies worldwide in the first half of 2007, but more mature markets were hammered in the second half by the U.S. housing and credit crises. Emerging economies were largely unaffected, the report found.

The downturn started catching up with emerging economies in the beginning of 2008, Van Der Linde said.

Already, the report found, the millionaires club wasn't expanding as fast as before. From 2005 to 2006, the group swelled by more than 8 percent. The club has grown every year since the report was started.

Because of the economic slowdown, the wealthy tended to shift their money to safer investments such as bonds and money-market savings accounts, and away from less stable investments such as real estate, the report found.

Cash deposits and fixed-income securities accounted for 44 percent of the assets of the world's millionaires, up from 35 percent in 2006.

The wealth of the world's richest is projected to reach almost $60 trillion by 2012, the report said.

Original here



My Headphones Almost Killed My Cat

I purchased a new set of headphones at Best Buy. Mine died of natural causes. I am one of those people that cannot work out unless I am listening to something so it was imperative that I got a new set before my next workout. I thought I had it planned out perfectly. I would buy the headphones, run home, get my gym stuff and be ready to rock and roll!

I found a cool pair that I liked. I got them home. Everything was going as planned. I guess I never really noticed or thought about the fact that they were enclosed in this big thick plastic case. The kind that need to be opened with a phaser or a Jedi light saber. No big deal. I would just get the scissors out and I am ready to go. There were no scissors to be found.

So here we go… I ripped it with my hands, stomped it with my feet, tore it with my teeth, fed it to my dog, fed it to my cat, stabbed it, jabbed it, prayed over it and cursed it. It just smiled back at me laughing, still snugly encased in its plastic kryptonite home. Where is Superman when you need him? Finally it a fit of rage, I took a knife and wildly stabbed at. I completely missed it and impaled my hand. I screamed loudly and throw the package across the room. I heard my cat scream. I looked over and it had sliced off the end of her tail.

After I bandaged my hand, I picked up the cat and the headphones and headed for the vet. On the way to the vet I look at the headphones and they were still in their plastic case laughing at me. I decided that I would have the last laugh and tossed them onto the highway to face a gruesome end by tire squash.

I got my cats tail re-attached. I got my hand stitched and headed home. I was stopped at a red light and out of the corner of my eye I saw a homeless guy wearing my headphones and petting his cat. He was obviously smarter that I was!

I missed my workout……

Question to ponder? What is the point of these “kryptonite cases”? Medieval Chastity Belts were probably easier to break into. Somebody please tell me who invented it so I can send him or her my vet bill.

Original here

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Thousands of Golden Rays in Amazing Mass Migration

By Nick Allen

Looking like giant leaves floating in the sea thousands of Golden Rays are seen here gathering off the coast of Mexico.

The spectacular scene was captured as the magnificent creatures made one of their biannual mass migrations to more agreeable waters.

Gliding silently beneath the waves they turned vast areas of blue water to gold off the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Sandra Critelli, an amateur photographer, stumbled across the phenomenon while looking for whale sharks.

She said: "It was an unreal image, very difficult to describe. The surface of the water was covered by warm and different shades of gold and looked like a bed of autumn leaves gently moved by the wind.

"It's hard to say exactly how many there were but in the range of a few thousand.

"We were surrounded by them without seeing the edge of the school and we could see many under the water surface too.

"I feel very fortunate I was there in the right place at the right time to experienced nature at his best."

Measuring up to 7ft (2.1 metres) from wing-tip to wing-tip, Golden rays are also more prosaically known as cow nose rays.

They have long, pointed pectoral fins that separate into two lobes in front of their high-domed heads and give them a cow-like appearance.

Despite having poisonous stingers they are known to be shy and non-threatening when in large schools.

The population in the Gulf of Mexico migrates, in schools of as many as 10,000, clockwise from western Florida to the Yucatan.

Original here

The Rhino With the World at His Feet


The "Air Mohan," left, was custom-made for Mohan, above, after the Indian rhino's feet started to abscess. A book describing his footwear struggle will be released next month. (Photos By Ron Magill)

Mohan, thought to be the world's oldest Indian rhino and the first to wear shoes, turns 39 this month. But as he kicks back and relaxes in a Florida old-age home, his former caretakers, especially in Washington, can't help but reminisce about their time together, like former groupies in a rock star's shadow.

"He is one of the icons," says Ron Magill, the communications director for the Miami Metrozoo, who began caring for Mo, as his fans call him, in the early '80s.

"That's kind of the highlight of my career," Randy Pawlak, a farrier in Round Hill, says about fashioning shoes for Mo in 2003. "It was probably the neatest thing I've ever done."

Mo was born in 1969 and captured out of the wild by a team that included Lowell Thomas, the world's first roving newscaster, who filmed the 1919 documentary "Lawrence in Arabia" during World War I. The team gave Mohan to the 39-acre Crandon Park Zoo in Key Biscayne, Fla.

Ever since, he has been in the limelight. And in July he'll be in bookstores in "The Rhino With Glue-On Shoes," in part an account of his struggle to stay on four feet after years of hard charging. Mohan is the title tale in the collection of stories from wild animal veterinarians, which was co-authored by former National Zoo director Lucy Spelman.

As a 1,500-pound babe, he was mentioned in Time magazine's April 26, 1971, issue next to a blurb on "the latest Jackie book," which documented the former first lady's "passionate perfectionism."

"Mohan munched the greens," Time wrote, on the occasion of his captor Thomas's 79th birthday, "and went right on munching until he was lunching on Thomas' trousers."

With wrinkled jowls, pimpled legs and platinum-blond ear hair, Mo has survived hurricanes and stagflation. Dry heat and Reaganomics. Along the way, he has moved from Crandon to its expanded iteration, the 740-acre Miami Metrozoo, and from there to Washington's National Zoo in 1998.

Mohan moved for the ladies, though he had issues with performance. He was genetically valuable, since his species was (and is) endangered in a region where people believe rhino horns possess medicinal value. Only 2,600 wild Indian rhinos remain.

So stud books -- the technical term -- were kept all over the country, tracing Mo's pedigree as well as those of potential mates. When experts with the American Zoological Society decided to make a match, well, Mo picked on up and rumbled down the highway.

Yet Mo wouldn't take to his female friends -- and people started to whisper. First, it was Shanti he turned down. Then Mechi. The star clearly wanted something else. Magill recalls Mohan would get excited every time he ate, but had less appetite for mating.

Another problem: Mo's feet started giving out. Somehow, this only made him a bigger celebrity. In June of '91, he had an abscess toward the bottom of one foot. Magill couldn't get bandages to stick.

He figured only a boot would do the job. And "who makes stronger rubber than Pirelli?" So Magill phoned the tire company and asked them for a "one-of-a-kind piece." Noting the success of the Reebok Pump (the hoops shoe that inflates to fit your foot), Pirelli modeled a basketball-size galosh with a built-in air bladder. The label on the front: "Air Mohan." Mo wore it for several weeks until he healed, becoming the first sneaker-wearing rhino in the world. Then Mo left him, moving to Washington, and the legend grew. His keepers here called him "Psycho Mo" because of his moody, lead-singer tendencies. He'd let you scratch him one minute and then charge you the next. Like all captive rhinos, he had a thing for self-mutilation, grinding his keratin horn against hard surfaces until it was a six-inch nub. He was a bad boy. Spelman fell for him.

"Mo's case was difficult, and we'd wracked our brains," e-mails Spelman -- who resigned from the zoo in 2004 as the National Academy of Sciences released a report critical of mistakes that led to zoo animal deaths -- from Rwanda, where she now works for an organization that cares for mountain gorillas. Mo's feet had become a swollen, rotten muck, "an exuberant growth of granulation tissue," according to his keepers' tell-all slide show "Chronic Foot Disease -- One Rhino's Story."

The rehab? Caretakers sedated Mo regularly to carve dead tissue from the three hoofed toes of each foot. They'd cut until blood streamed from his soles.

But it resolved only the symptoms. According to her book, it wasn't until Spelman attended a talk on rhino feet that she realized the underlying cause: Except for summer, Mo was mostly kept on a concrete floor, a surface much harder than his natural habitat, a muddy swamp that allows a rhino to balance on its hoofed toes, relieving its soles from bearing weight. The zoo's concrete floors shaved those hooves down, forcing Mohan to land on his footpad.

Thus was born the second iteration of Mo's footwear -- not boots this time, but flats -- cut up horseshoes, one for each rhino toe on the front, adhered with epoxy and covered with Kevlar.

And the National Zoo celebrated what it thought unprecedented: a rhino strutting in its own shoes. "Bet this is a first," Spelman says in her book, not realizing how much bigger Mohan was, how he had other firsts before hers.

Mo is back in Miami now, having left Washington in June 2003, to breed (unsuccessfully). He lives a quiet life, in a non-exhibited part of the zoo -- "a nice retirement area where he doesn't get disturbed by anybody," Magill says, "kinda like the Club Med for rhinos." The surface is soft dirt and sand, his hooves have regrown and he doesn't need footwear.

In July, Mo scratched his shoulder, and he was lethargic in September, and in November he passed a soft stool. But for an otherwise healthy rhino, such symptoms are normal.

Even a rock star has to slow down.

Original here

How Smart Is the Octopus?

Bright enough to do the moving-rock trick.

An octopus

Aristotle didn't have a high opinion of the octopus. "The octopus is a stupid creature," he wrote, "for it will approach a man's hand if it be lowered in the water." Twenty-four centuries later, this "stupid" creature is enjoying a much better reputation. YouTube is loaded with evidence of what some might call octopus intelligence. One does an uncanny impression of a flounder. Another mimics coral before darting away from a pushy camera. A third slips its arms around a jar, unscrews it, and dines on the crab inside. Scientific journals publish research papers on octopus learning, octopus personality, octopus memory. Now the octopus has even made it into the pages of the journal Consciousness and Cognition (along with its fellow cephalopods the squid and the cuttlefish). The title: "Cephalopod consciousness: behavioral evidence."

So, is the octopus really all that smart? It depends on how you define intelligence. And if you've got a good definition, there are quite a few scientists who would love to hear it. Octopuses can learn, they can process complex information in their heads, and they can behave in equally complex ways. But it would be a mistake to try to give octopuses an IQ score. They are not intelligent in the way we are—not because they're dumb but because their behavior is the product of hundreds of millions of years of evolution under radically different conditions than the ones under which our own brains evolved.

You'd have to go back about 700 million years to find the moment in the history of life when humans and octopuses diverged. Our most recent common ancestor, scientists suspect, was a little wormlike creature with eyespots and little more. Since then, our lineage evolved bones; theirs evolved boneless bodies they control with water pressure. We've accumulated so many and such incredible differences over that time that 20th-century scientists were excited to discover a few deep similarities. In the 1950s, for example, biologists demonstrated for the first time that octopuses have massive brains.

Cephalopods belong to the same lineage that produced snails, clams, and other mollusks. A typical mollusk might have 20,000 neurons arranged in a diffuse net. The octopus has half a billion neurons.* The neurons in its head are massed into complex lobes, much the way our own brains are. In comparison with their body weight, octopuses have the biggest brains of all invertebrates. They're even bigger than the brains of fish and amphibians, putting them on par with those of birds and mammals.

In the late 1950s, Oxford biologist N.S. Sutherland decided to put the big brains of octopuses to the test. He would show them two shapes and reward them for touching one but not the other. They might learn to tell a rectangle in a horizontal position from the same rectangle rotated 90 degrees. And once they had figured out this test, the octopuses knew to select any horizontal rectangle they saw, no matter what its particular dimensions. They were learning what to learn.

Over the years, octopuses have shown many more signs of intelligence. They proved to have an excellent memory. They were clever and unpredictable. Jennifer Mather, a Canadian biologist, has tossed toys into octopus tanks and watched as the octopuses inspect them and puff them around with jets of water.* They are playing, she argues. Clams do not play. Humans do.

Mather is also the author of the new paper arguing for consciousness in octopuses. She does not claim that they have full-blown consciousness like we do but a simpler form known as primary consciousness. In other words, they can combine their perceptions with their memories to have a coherent feel for what's happening to them at any moment. Mather bases her claim not just on how octopuses behave but also on how their brains work.

For example, one sign of the complexity of the human brain is that we can be left-handed or right-handed. Our preference comes from one side of the brain dominating over the other—a sign of how the two sides of our brains are not identical. Instead, they divide up mental work and communicate with each other to create a unified sense of reality. Octopuses may not be left-handed (or left-armed), but Mather claims that they show similar kinds of specialization with their eyes. In a 2004 experiment, she and her colleagues found that when they looked out from their dens, some preferred to sit with their left eye facing out, others with their right.

But some octopus experts are skeptical of these bold claims. Many reports of weird octopus behavior come from casual observations in aquariums. Even some experiments have not held up to scrutiny. Last year, Jean Boal of Millersville University and her colleagues found fault with Mather's experiments on left- and right-brained octopuses. The problem was that the scientists had looked at too few octopuses. It was impossible to rule out the possibility that octopuses might not have any preference at all for either eye. The results of the experiments might simply have been a matter of chance.

After 50 years, in other words, we still don't know that much about what's going on in the heads of octopuses. Carefully designed experiments will be essential for finding out more, but so will a more octo-centric attitude. What we call intelligence is really just a set of behaviors and abilities that evolved in our ancestors as they adapted to a particular way of life. Octopuses evolved behaviors of their own, but they were adapting to a way of life that's hard for us to imagine—they were naked mollusks in a world of fish.

The earliest cephalopods, which lived about a half-billion years ago, had shells. Over the next 250 million years, they evolved into giant predators. They shot bursts of water out of siphons to swim—a prehistoric form of jet propulsion.* But their glory was cut short by fish with jaws—our ancestors. Fish could swim faster by bending their bodies than cephalopods could move by jetting. Today, only a single shelled cephalopod survives—the nautilus, which spends most of its life lurking deep underwater.

The other living cephalopods lost their shells. While they gave up a defense against predators, they were free to evolve new skills. Squids became fast swimmers. Octopuses instead moved to the sea floor, where they could use their shell-free bodies to explore cracks and crevices for prey. But in order to survive in this new niche, they had to become fast learners.

Jean Boal and her colleagues have done some experiments that show how good octopuses are at learning geography. Boal put the octopuses in tanks with an assortment of landmarks, such as plastic jugs, plates of pebbles, and clumps of algae. It took only a few trials for the octopuses to find the quickest route to a hidden exit in the bottom of the tank. What made Boal's results particularly impressive is that the octopuses were learning two completely different mazes at once. Boal would move them from one to the other after each trial. Somehow, the octopuses could keep track of two geographies concurrently. When octopuses are moving across new terrain, they can perhaps learn the best escape from predators.

Octopuses escape from predators not just by hiding quickly but by deceit. One of the most impressive examples of this deception is what marine biologist Roger Hanlon calls the moving-rock trick. An octopus morphs into the shape of a rock and then inches across an open space. Even though it's in plain view, predators don't attack it. They can't detect its motion because the octopus matches its speed to the motion of the light in the surrounding water.

For Hanlon, what makes this kind of behavior remarkable is that it's a creative combination of lots of behaviors, used to address a new situation. Similarly, when an octopus escapes an attack, it may puff up its body and turn white to scare a predator, shoot off puffs of ink to distract it, zigzag through the water, and then suddenly switch its skin to match the surrounding coral.

There's not much point in trying to pin this sort of behavior to some human-based scale of intelligence, because our behavior emerged as apes adapted to life spent on two legs, in groups, and using our hands to make tools. We'd fail pretty badly at an octopus-based test of intelligence, but surely we wouldn't hold it against ourselves.

Original here