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Astronomy Picture of the Day


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Judge's daughter sues driver she ran into during crash

By BRIAN ROGERS Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle


Elizabeth Shelton, shown with her father, juvenile court Judge Pat Shelton, had a blood alcohol concentration more than three times the legal limit when the SUV she was driving rear-ended a truck, killing her boyfriend.

Convicted last year of intoxication manslaughter for the death of her boyfriend, the 21-year-old daughter of a state district judge is suing the truck driver she ran into during a drunken driving crash.

Elizabeth Shelton, the daughter of juvenile judge Pat Shelton, is accusing truck driver Lance Bennett of negligence in the Oct. 23, 2007, wreck that killed her boyfriend Matthew McNiece.

Shelton had a blood alcohol concentration more than three times the legal limit, two tests showed. She was sentenced to eight years' probation and had to serve four months in jail.

Shelton, her family and the family of the boyfriend who was killed are suing for $20,000 for the destruction of the Lexus SUV she was driving and an undetermined amount for mental anguish, pain and suffering.

Bennett was driving the box truck that Shelton rear-ended on the Southwest Freeway near Kirby around 2 a.m.

Bennett's attorney, John Havins, said the lawsuit, filed in October, was the last chance to make a claim before the statute of limitations ran out.

He noted that Shelton named 16 defendants, including insurance companies and banks. "They're just throwing everything against the wall to see if anything sticks," Havins said.

During Shelton's trial, an expert for the defense testified there was evidence that Bennett swerved into Shelton's lane. An expert for the prosecution, however, said there wasn't evidence that Bennett got in her way.

Testimony also showed that the company Bennett was working for let the insurance on the truck lapse.

"The injuries and property damage sustained by (Shelton and her family) were not the result of intentional acts, but were accidental and caused by the negligence of the uninsured/underinsured driver," Shelton's attorney Mark Sandoval wrote in the lawsuit.

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St. Paul homicide suspect found through OnStar

Filed under: Creepy


A man charged in a St. Paul homicide was tracked though a car's OnStar system and arrested in Texas last night, according to the Pioneer Press.

Jerome Kinta West, 33, was found in El Paso. West, along with three other men, were charged Monday in an alleged drug-related murder. The victim was shot 15 times in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood last Thursday.

While we are impressed with the ability of the police to track down a suspect so quickly, what does the power of OnStar mean to just regular users? We'll give you a quick run down of what OnStar knows about you.

Note to criminals: Don't drive GM cars.

First off, who actually purchases GM cars these days? In other words, if you're buying their cars, you're out of luck. GM cars come equipped with OnStar services.

OnStar does have a lot of great features that could put you at ease in case of emergencies. The service can detect accidents, communicate with drivers and get help to the scene quickly. That is obviously the main reason to use OnStar in the first place. But what about other uses of this information?

Yes, we know the classic "if you aren't a criminal, why do you care?" statement, but privacy is still a concern to anyone. And yes, we know many of these privacy invasions can also happen through your cell phone.

In an article on Truth about Cars, they highlight some of the features of OnStar. Some can be used for safety purposes, but think about other uses of this information:
OnStar is a telemetry system providing a central data bank with real-time data on virtually every system in your car, including GPS. OnStar's computer knows where you were, when you were there, and how fast you went. It knows if and when you applied the brakes, if and when the air bags deployed, and what speed you were going at the time. It knows if and when your car was serviced.
OnStar operators can determine if you have a passenger in the front seat (airbag detection). All interactions with OnStar's operators are automatically recorded (hence the commercials). By the same token, under certain conditions, OnStar can switch on your GM car's microphone remotely and record any and all sounds within the vehicle (i.e. conversations).
And the latest feature?
As of 2009, customers who upgrade to OnStar's "Safe & Sound" plan automatically receive the "Stolen Vehicle Slowdown" service. (Yes, it's an "opt out" deal.) If the OnStar-equipped vehicle is reported stolen and law enforcement has "established a clear line of sight of the stolen vehicle," the police may ask OnStar to slow it down remotely.
OnStar says they keep your information private, but that changes when police want access to it:
"OnStar is required to locate the car to comply with legal requirements, including valid court orders showing probable cause in criminal investigations." And OnStar may use gathered information to "protect the rights, property, or safety of you or others."
Truth about Cars says you can't even simply turn it off. The service can be remotely enabled unless you actually disconnect it in the car.

The case of the suspect in the St. Paul homicide is one example of how police can use your OnStar car to find you, but the data available goes much deeper into your everyday life. Is that lack of privacy worth it for your safety or has OnStar gone too far?

Shark jumps out of aquarium into swimming pool

By Matthew Moore

Reef sharks in waters off the Bahamas
Reef sharks in waters off the Bahamas Photo: ROY LETKEY

The female reef shark, one of various exotic creatures in the popular Mayan Temple aquarium at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, tumbled down the slide – known as the Leap of Faith – after vaulting the one foot high and 18 in wide barrier around its pool.

Although the creature survived the journey its body could not cope with the chlorinated water in the swimming pool at the bottom of the slide. Rescuers managed to return the 12-year-old shark to its own pool but it died shortly afterwards.

Staff at the Atlantis resort said that guests were never at risk as the water park had yet to open for the morning. The shark posed no threat to humans and regularly swam with guests in its aquarium

"The Atlantis Aquarists believe the shark was startled by an unusual circumstance that we have no way of defining completely. In the over ten years guests have experienced the Leap of Faith, the reef shark itself, harmless to humans as it is fed regularly by our staff, had shown no previous incidences of leaping out of the water in the marine habitat," the resort said in a statement to the TMZ website.

"Once the shark fell onto the slide and into the chlorinated water, it was in significant distress.

"The Marine Aquarium Operations team responded immediately and was able to retrieve the animal at the bottom of the slide and return the animal to the main marine habitat in an attempt to resuscitate her. Despite the team's best efforts to recover the animal, it died shortly after the occurrence.

"The entire team at Atlantis is truly saddened by the loss of this animal who had resided in the Atlantis marine habitat for over ten years."

The Atlantis resort describes itself as a "unique, ocean-themed destination", with 20 million gallons of pools and lagoons, waterfalls, and a marine habitat filled with water filtered from the Atlantic Ocean.

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Burger King Unveils Meat-Scented Cologne

NEW YORK -- Fast food chain Burger King has released a new body spray for men that, according to its Web site, is "the scent of seduction with a hint of flame-broiled mean."

The body spray, called "Flame," is being sold a Rickey's -- a New York City retailer -- and on the Web for a mere $4.00 per bottle.

"Flame by BK captures the essence of that love and gives it to you. Behold... now you can set the mood for whatever you're in the mood for," the Burger King site proclaims.

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College underwear event has high price tag

ORANGE, Calif., Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Officials in Orange, Calif., say it will cost up to $19,000 to fix a fountain broken during Chapman University students' unofficial Undie Run event.

City officials said during the annual student event, in which students run through parts of the city in their underwear, a 71-year-old fountain in the city's traffic circle was damaged, The Orange County (Calif.) Register said Tuesday.

City spokesman Paul Sitkoff said several underwear-clad students decided to climb onto the fountain during last Thursday's event, resulting in damage to the fountain's upper bowl.

Sitkoff said the cost of fixing and cleaning the 1937 fountain will cost $8,100, but additional costs are possible if the upper bowl has to be completely replaced.

The university has agreed to pay for any repairs to the fountain, but Orange Mayor Carolyn Cavecche said she is still concerned about the city property damage and the possible use of police to contain the non-sanctioned run.

"Those are my major concerns, and that's putting aside having college students take their clothes off and party in the city's plaza," Cavecche told the Register.

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8 Guinness World Record Attempts That Failed (Hilariously)

By Mark Hill

Are we the only ones who think that Hilariously Failed Attempts at Guinness World Records would make a better book?

We believe we have much to learn from these brave souls who, through lack of planning and/or ability, set an example for all of us not to follow.

Coconut Breaking

The Goal

To break a row of coconuts open as quickly as possible with his bare hands, thus proving once and for all man's dominance over nature.

What Went Wrong

Imagine if coconut breaking was your ultimate goal in life. Practicing long and hard on the lesser, punier fruits, calculating the ideal point at which to hit a coconut for maximum destruction, trying to find someone who actually cared about your hobby...these are all part of the trials that a coconut smasher faces in life.

Imagine the anticipation when the big day comes, when you finally get that chance to join the hallowed ranks of famed fruit and vegetable destroyers that Guinness has produced.

So you invite your friends and family to watch. You get the TV cameras there to record your triumph. You line up many, many coconuts...

...And while you manage to break both your spirit and probably your hand, you break not a single coconut.

Lesson Learned

Look, we know coconuts aren't free. But when you try to set a record of some kind, you might want to, you know, practice doing it at least once. And don't practice on, say, rotten watermelons or eggplant. Spring for a couple of real coconuts, and do a dry run before the cameras get there. You'll thank yourself later.

Sandwich Making

The Goal

To make the longest sandwich ever prepared, proving that they're better at wasting food than anyone else.

What Went Wrong

The record to beat was 1,378 meters, set by a group of Italians. To top that, an Iranian women's organization assembled more than 1,000 cooks with the goal of creating a 1,500-meter long sandwich. Even with that many people at work, making the sandwich was a process that took hours.

The event drew quite a crowd, as watching people make large sandwiches is one of Iran's most popular past times. Do you know what happens to people when they're either working or standing around in a crowd for a number of hours? They get hungry.

Making another compelling argument for why you shouldn't let strangers watch your record attempts, the observing crowd forced their way past the cooks and started eating the sandwich before its record length could be verified. Reports of a Scooby Dooesque scene where the crowd chomped at one end of the sandwich while the cooks frantically tried to out-build them at the other remain unconfirmed.

Lesson Learned

When inviting a hungry crowd to a lengthy event that revolves around not eating, maybe you should provide a snack or two.

Fire Walking

The Goal

To have as many people walk through a pit of hot coals as possible, demonstrating the power of peer pressure in getting people to do stupid things.

What Went Wrong

Shockingly, of the three hundred and forty-one people who gathered to take part in the attempt, some of them didn't know what they were doing. Despite strict supervision and training, twenty-eight people ended up being treated for burns and eleven of them had to be taken to the hospital.

The attempt was designed to double as a fundraising effort for New Zealand's ambulance service and in that sense it was a success, raising one thousand dollars for the cause. That is, it was a success until well over that amount had to be spent treating all the injuries. At least a number of doctors were on hand to watch the event, so help came quickly. Something tells us the bedside manner of those doctors was a lot more sarcastic and bitter than usual.

"According to this X-ray, you're not retarded. Well, that can't be right."

Lesson Learned

If you're going to raise money for a health service, try doing something that doesn't inevitably involve horrible burn wounds.


The Goal

To assemble as many people dressed and painted as Smurfs as possible, know, we're not exactly sure what this one is supposed to prove.

What Went Wrong

The event was organized quite well, but those in charge forgot one key step: figuring out what the old record was. Thinking that the previous largest number of Smurf-clad adults gathered in one place couldn't have been higher than, say, one, 395 Croats--all of whom apparently had Smurf costumes handy--assembled and waited to enter the annals of pointless world record history.

Unfortunately for the group, 451 students from Warwick University had beaten them to it the previous year, rending their accomplishment somehow even sadder than it already was.

We're curious as to the exact point in time these people learned they had failed. Was it well after they had thrown their funny little hats into the air, joyously celebrating what they thought was a victory for the entire nation of Croatia? Or had Guinness informed them from the start and they decided to forge ahead anyway, truly capturing the spirit of what the Smurfs stand for? Either way, this attempt was no doubt an emotional roller coaster from start to finish.

Lesson Learned

When trying to break a world record, it's probably worth your time to check what the record is first. Also, the sight of hundreds of people dressed as Smurfs is fucking creepy in ways we can't fully comprehend.


The Goal

To free-fall from 34 kilometers above the Earth's surface, breaking the sound barrier in the process. Also, to prove that some Guinness Records are actually pretty badass.

What Went Wrong

A balloon that was part of the mechanism designed to carry the aspiring record-setter (Michel Fournier) into the air detached from its capsule as it was being inflated and floated away. No problem, just go get another balloon, right? Oh, wait... it cost five hundred thousand dollars.

Fournier spoke in a press conference after the attempt, saying "This is the first time that something like this has arisen." While demonstrating his ability to make puns in the midst of stressful situations, Fournier also assured the public that it was merely a simple mechanical problem that kept him from getting off the ground. Unfortunate, but at least technically speaking the idea was sound, and it's not as though he's in the habit of wasting money or anything, right?

Oh, wait. Did we mention Fournier had attempted this once before, and failed that time as well? Combined, the two attempts have set him back nearly twenty million dollars. Hell, with that much money lying around why not just buy the rights to the book and make up some record so specific that you're the only one who could possibly hold it? "Most Money Wasted Attempting to Get Into the Guinness Book of Records" has a nice ring to it.

Lesson Learned

After a certain point in time, you just have to cut your losses and accept the inevitable. And that that point in time was well before you invested twenty million dollars.


The Goal

To demonstrate that Ghandi was a pussy who could have held out for way longer.

What Went Wrong

Agasi Vartanyan, the Russian making the attempt, forgot one key step: telling Guinness he was doing it. In order to successfully make it into the book, you must first inform Guinness of the attempt, which they then look into and approve. Vartanyan, on the other hand, decided it would be better if he sat in a giant plastic cube for fifty days first, and then dealt with all that boring and tedious paperwork once he got out.

Before doing that though, he berated the reporters who had gathered around to watch him emerge for not providing enough coverage of his record attempt. We're not sure, but we suspect that had something to do with the fact that he technically wasn't making an attempt at all. Plus "Day 38: Yup, he's still sitting in there" doesn't make for a very good headline. After ranting at the media he hopped into his car and drove off, presumably to learn a valuable lesson about how bureaucracy works.

Oh, and even if he had filled out all the proper forms and had his attempt adjudicated by Guinness, he would have failed anyway. The book lists the record for longest hunger strike as 94 days, set by jailed Irish Republicans in 1920.

Lesson Learned

That perhaps we were too hard on the Croatian Smurfs up there.

Domino Toppling

The Goal

To set up four million dominoes and then knock them all over, each one representing seconds of precious time those involved will never, ever get back.

What Went Wrong

Four million dominoes require a very large building, in this case a Dutch convention centre. Like any large building, it's possible for animals to get inside from time to time. Oh, yeah, you know where this is going.

A sparrow flew into the building during setup and, while it didn't knock over all four million of the dominoes, it did knock over 23,000 of them. Little did the sparrow know that domino standing volunteers, usually a passive and meek bunch, are quick to anger when their hard work is toppled prematurely. They cornered the bird and shot it, presumably knocking over countless dominoes during their blind rage.

Seriously, don't fuck with these people.

Their brutal vigilante justice quickly backfired when they learned that the one thing the Dutch love more than record breaking dominoes are cute birds. Animal rights groups threatened to investigate, a tribute website for the sparrow was set up and contests were announced to reward anyone who managed to further damage the attempt.

The television station that was broadcasting the affair even started to receive personal threats, likely in the form of photographs of knocked over dominoes. Oh, and did we mention the bird they shot was endangered? That kind of pissed people off too.

Lesson Learned

Always check for unpredictable animals before investing hundreds of man-hours into a project that can be destroyed by a gentle touch. Guinness learned a valuable lesson as well, choosing to cancel the announcement of their upcoming "Most Endangered Birds Killed by an Angry Mob" record.

Bar Hopping

The Goal

To visit as many bars as possible in a single night while consuming at least a pint at each establishment, while pretending this is being done in the name of setting some kind of record.

What Went Wrong

We're sure you don't need us to explain the many, many ways this one could go wrong. What you probably won't think of is what happened in this case: Guinness declined to oversee the attempt because the man behind it, Larry Olmsted, had been blacklisted by the organization.

Olmsted had previously held the world record for the greatest distance travelled between two rounds of golf played on the same day. Not content to simply bask in the glory, Olmsted planned more attempts. But in between, he wrote a book that chronicled both his own record attempt and the history behind Guinness Records as a whole. Guinness didn't take kindly to it, calling the book an unauthorized association with the company. Apparently, the history of Guinness Records is full of dark and shameful moments that the public can't be allowed to know about.

"That book is an insult to the dignity of everyone who owns a Guinness Record."

When Olmsted made his application for a new record attempt he learned that Guinness was looking to taking legal action against his book, and so they wouldn't consider any applications from him until the matter was settled. Word has it that Olmsted made the attempt anyway, not in the name of setting a Guinness record but because it was Wednesday night.

"I'll make my own Guinness book. Then we'll see who can't get in."

Lesson Learned

That a book that contains information about the most dogs married at one time and the fastest game of Operation ever played is extremely serious business.

Original here

Hurriphoonado Cuts Swath Of Destruction Across Eastern, Western Hemispheres

Hurriphoonado Claire

Claire drowns the western, eastern, northern, and southern seaboards, valleys, and metropolitan areas.

WASHINGTON—In what many are calling the most devastating natural disaster of 2008, a massive hurriphoonado touched down in Southeast Asia this summer, upending countless homes and drowning thousands before picking up speed and also ravaging the other six continents.

A storm system characterized by high winds, torrential rain, lightning, fist-sized hail, massive tidal waves, low barometric pressure, and six separate cyclonic eyes, the first-recorded hurriphoonado caused billions of dollars in property loss along the coast of China in early June. From there, meteorologists said, the weather system traveled inland, covering most of Asia Minor, where it sparked a series of even more destructive earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, monsoons, and landslides.

"The scope of Hurriphoonado Claire was unprecedented," said Mark Mancuso, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, who classified the hybrid storm as an F4 tornado, Category 5 hurricane, and Level 7 redemptive act of God. "By the time it surged through the Middle East in late August, there was little anyone could do but pray."

"If only we'd evacuated all of Eastern and Western Europe in time," Mancuso added. "And Northern Africa."

According to a handful of survivors in the Bahamas and what was once the island of Saint Kitts, the Hurriphoonado continued to gather strength as it traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, swelling in size, producing a number of catastrophic tsunamis, and, in early September, sucking up sharks from the warm Caribbean waters and heaving them onto unsuspecting residents in Nicaragua.

"It's difficult to make sense of what occurred in Nicaragua as most of our weather satellites were pulled back down to Earth by the sheer force of the Hurriphoonado," Mancuso continued. "However, we do know that the impact of those satellites into the Gulf of Mexico did not help matters."

Experts were not able to measure Hurriphoonado Claire's true strength until it made landfall in Florida Oct. 5. Barreling through Georgia and Alabama over the next two days, the storm dropped 15 feet of snow on Tennessee, opened a mile-wide chasm in Missouri, and then doubled back and obliterated much of southern Texas. It then returned to Florida to flood its remaining four cities.

After igniting hundreds of wildfires in California, the Hurriphoonado reportedly made its way out to the Pacific Ocean, where it finally slowed down and broke into four separate storms, which then ravaged Oregon, a coastal state located 25 miles from Hawaii.

Despite the utter devastation, many Americans said they weren't going to let "just any little Hurriphoonado" change their way of life.

"It's going to take more than the complete destruction of our planet to make me pack up my belongings and leave my home behind," said West Virginia resident and mother of three Margaret Baker. "Now, if you don't mind, where exactly am I?"

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