News Quirks 05.17.06
Curses, Foiled Again Police investigating a break-in at a television and appliance store in Middletown, Ohio, learned that the thieves had made off with a Hitachi flat-panel TV. Moments later, other officers noticed a Mercury Sable going down the road with a 55-inch flat-screen TV, just like the one reported stolen, hanging out a back door. They stopped the car and arrested Richard and Stephanie North of Cincinnati.
-- While appearing at a custody hearing in Summit County, Ohio, Ronald Sklare, 47, admitted molesting a girl from the late 1980s to 1993, when she was 15. According to prosecutors, Sklare assumed that his offense happened too long ago for him to face criminal charges when he made his admission. In 1999, however, lawmakers extended the statute of limitations on rape from six years to 20 years. Facing life in prison, Sklare pleaded no contest.
Technology Marches On Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are developing a device able to detect boredom. Consisting of a camera attached to a pair of glasses and linked to a hand-held computer running image-recognition software, it reads the listener's emotional reactions and causes the computer to vibrate if the wearer appears to be boring or annoying the listener. New Scientist magazine reported that the "emotional social intelligence prosthetic" is intended to help people with autism that interact poorly with others because they can't recognize social cues. The challenges, according to Rana El Kaliouby of MIT's Media Lab, are paring down the existing software to work on a standard handheld computer, finding a high-resolution digital camera that can be worn comfortably with glasses and training people with autism to look at the faces of the people they're talking with so the camera picks up their expressions.
-- Scientists at the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are working to create an army of cyber-insects to check for explosives and send transmissions. The idea is to insert micro-systems at the pupa stage, when the insects can integrate them into their body, so they can be remotely controlled later. "Through each metamorphic stage, the insect goes through a renewal process that can heal wounds and reposition internal organs around foreign objects," reads the agency's proposal document, which recommends using insects such as dragonflies and moths. An earlier, similar scheme aimed at manipulating wasps failed because as soon as they were released, they all flew off to feed and mate.
-- Russian authorities will start administering lie-detector tests to air travelers, using an automated system developed by an Israeli company. Known as the "Truth Verifier," it requires passengers to speak into a handset so that "layered-voice-analysis technology" can determine whether answers are coming from memory or imagination. The test, which takes up to a minute, consists of four questions, including "Have you ever lied to the authorities?" Vladimir Kornilov, IT director for Moscow's Domodedovo airport, told the London Daily Telegraph, "If a person fails to pass the test, he is accompanied by a special guard to a cubicle, where he is asked questions in a more intense atmosphere." Kornilov explained that more rigorous interrogation increases the Truth Verifier's accuracy to 98 percent.
Scheme of the Week James Ralph Snyder, 36, and Mary Jo Elizabeth Jensen, 33, submitted a fake obituary for Jensen's 17-year-old son to a newspaper so they would have an excuse for missing work, according to police in Waterloo, Iowa. The couple, who worked at Tyson Foods, started taking time off in December, explaining that her son was sick and in a hospital, then that he was on life support and eventually that he died. When company officials asked the couple to verify their absences, Snyder submitted the fake obit. A week after it appeared, people who know the son spotted him at a restaurant and alerted authorities, who charged Snyder and Jensen.
Litigation Nation An immigrant family, quickly learning American ways, responded to winning an $8.9 million lawsuit in California by suing their lawyers. After first suing the man who took their daughters from India to Berkley to be his sex slaves, the Prattipatis charged that the lawyers ignored their decision to settle sooner for $7.5 million, exposing them to too much litigation. Going to trial, according to the suit, inflicted emotional distress by prolonging the litigation and forcing the Prattipatis to undergo depositions and court appearances. Their current attorney, William Gwire, accused the previous lawyers of intentionally holding out because their contingency fee jumped 20 percent once the trial started.
Slightest Provocation Police in Thornton, Colo., said that Joshua Randy Abeyta, 23, "went on a little rampage" overnight at a Pontiac dealership, bashing out the windows of vehicles on the showroom floor and then setting the building on fire. According to Mike Malin, manager and part owner of Grand Pontiac, the suspect "was mad at his mom, and she drives a Pontiac."
-- When the manager of a 7-Eleven store in Japan's Ibaraki prefecture asked a customer to stop reading magazines without buying any, the man left but returned with a chain saw. He threatened to cut the staff to pieces, then left the chain saw outside the shop and resumed reading the magazines. "He was still reading when I called the police," the manager told Agence France-Presse news agency. Store employees said that the 70-year-old man spent hours every day at the store reading magazines. A representative of the convenience store chain told AFP it was common for customers to spend a long time browsing the magazines but called this an "extreme case."