News, commentary and fun things from the Internet and around the world.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

I'm taking a few sick days. Be back when I feel like it!

Sunday, August 11, 2002

Prince bin Salman fulfills his dream at the Kentucky Derby with War Emblem [photo copyright Cindy Dulay]Prince Ahmed bin Salman Dies
I missed this one when it happened. I wrote about the Prince earlier this year when I realized that he was the owner of a winning throughbred horse, War Emblem. I'm sorry that he has passed so young. I love stories like this, a man whose passions, not heredity, lead him to the successes that he sought in life.
[Previous coverage]

Administrative Crack Down on Illegal Workers
Until recently, many people who are in this country without a social security number have invented numbers to get past the Department of Justice requirement for employers to make sure their employees are in the country and working legally. Now, the DOJ is actually getting around to checking the submitted social security numbers, and they are notifying employers when an employee didn't match the number they gave. Sometimes, it is an honest, clerical error. But many people are losing jobs because they falsified this information, which is impacting the businesses that are losing employees. About 1/8 of employers have received this kind of letter and over 7 million employees have been addressed since the beginning of the year. The Social Security Administration and the Immigration and Naturalization Service are being factual in their handing of these cases, while special interest groups like the National Imigration Law Center are screaming about it. In 1999, there was $4.9 billion in social security taxes withheld from paychecks for people whose SSN didn't match what was on file.

NetFlix Sucess Makes Them a Target
You've got to hand it to the people at Blockbuster... they are smart about their business. First, they took on the mom & pop video stores, running them out of business with their exclusive deals with the studios. Second, they took on satellite TV services, becoming one of the largest retailers of DirecTV. And now, they are experimenting with a subscription service to knock out the impact of their newest competitor, NetFlix. The new program is called DVD Subscription Pass and it's being tested in Phoenix, Seattle, Houston, and New York right now. With video on demand services just around the corner, Blockbuster isn't letting any competition stand in their way. But NetFlix isn't fazed by this... they have just opened several regional processing centers so they can deliver their DVDs through the mail quicker across the country.
[Previous coverage]

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Crop Circle in Quebec This Week [photo copyright]
"I See Crop Circles..."
OK, I'll stop making fun of M. Night Shyamalan's movies. But as you might expect, the interest in crop circles has risen in response to his new movie Signs. I'm planning to see it in a couple of weeks. I don't have an opinion about crop circles, and my world wouldn't be shaken one way or the other if they were unmistakenly proven true or false. But the images are pretty. Here is the latest from Quebec, Canada.

Everyone With A Stolen Debit Card Should Be So Lucky
Jacqueline Boanson had her debit card stolen by Andrew Cameron in the UK. He used the card to place two £50 (about $80) bets on horse races. He won, but the winnings were posted to the debit card that was used to make the bet. The overall effect? Her bank account balance went up by nearly $500.

Australian Grain Shipments to Iraq Refused
Recently, the government of Iraq threatened to reduce the level of wheat they import from Australia because of their military presence in the Gulf region and their political support of the US policies against Iraq. At that time, shipments were already on their way by boat. Now that the shipments have arrived, the have been refused by the Iraqis because they claim that the shipments are contaminated. The AWB Limited, the grain board, says that is the shipments are not contaminated, but indeed the refusal is political, the AWB is going to put pressure on the Australian government because of the importance of these imports. Fasten your seatbelts, the shakeout has begun.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Martha puts all of her eggs in one basket [photo copyright MSO]
Martha in an Orange Jumpsuit?
Looking for a belly laugh? Then read this wonderful opinion about why Martha Stewart won't be going to jail -- not because she isn't guilty, but because the Federal Bureau of Prisons isn't prepared to contain a style maven like her. In fact, about the only thing M would like about prison is the heavy use of grey, which Paul Coggins observers "...Gray is the new black..."

Was bin Laden Upset About the WTC Architecture?
Did you know that the World Trade Center incorporated Islamic sacred architectural elements? Or that the architect, Minoru Yamasaki, was a favorite of the Saudi royal family who had also designed the King Fahd Dhahran Air Terminal in the 1950s which the royal family liked so well that it appears on their currency?

Monday, August 05, 2002

Example of road side direction sign [photo copyright Brian Lucas]
Which Side of the Road is Right?
Have you ever wondered why some countries drive on the right side of the road, and other countries drive on the left? That question has been answered! Fascinating history of transportation site that gives a method to the madness. While you are there, check out the list of countries that prefer each side. And if you have any additional information, they are accepting input from visitors.

Privacy Zone Getting Smaller
Imagine that you live in a country without the separation of church and state. And imagine that it is illegal to explore many of the types of services available so easily on the Internet. Now, imagine that you are a creative business owner in that country. So you convert a back room, or maybe a hallway, into a cybercafe where your customers can pay for a slice of privacy and a chance to explore options on the Internet. Now, imagine that your country puts in new homeland defense type of laws, that require you as the operator of a cybercafe to register with the government, and then, to require ID from all of your customers. Welcome to Pakistan. Welcome to the Brave New World post-September 11.

Dream DVD Rentals? I Think So
About two years ago, when I bought my DVD player, I joined NetFlix. At first, I was incredulous -- the offer sounded too good to be true. But I've found that the company is reputable, the service is good, and the promises are delivered. In this time, the company has gone public and seems to be headed for that elite group: dot com financial success. It's a smart idea that seems to be well executed. If you are thinking about joining them, make sure that you poke around for a free trial membership offer to try-before-you-buy. I think you'll be hooked.

Back To School Tip: Bananas & Bach
With schools getting ready to start up, it is time to think about coping with that most common problem: test taking. According to the staff at the Turves Green Girls' School in the UK, the best way to prepare students for test taking is to have them eat bananas, listen to some Bach, and do some mental gymnastics. Unless you hate bananas, it can't hurt. I wonder if this works for adults preparing for difficult days on the job, too.

Sunday, August 04, 2002

Arnolda and Lizza, the Virgin Blue beefcake guys [photo copyright Campbell Scott]
Virgin Blue Men Get Fair Coverage
In America, we have the NY firefighters beefcake calendar... but in the UK, they are now getting a beefcake article about the male flight attendants that work for Virgin Blue airlines. Seems that a group of the women posed for a layout in FHM magazine, and the The Sunday Telegraph decided to select the best beefcake among the male attendants. The winners are Stuart Arnolda and Fabian Lizza.

Beacon in the Desert
The Arizona/Mexico border is the place where many people attempt to enter this country illegally. (Don't get me started about the legalities of political borders...) With the conditions they encounter crossing the desert, many of them die in the process. As a humanitarian effort, especially after the deaths of a group of 14 Mexicans about a year ago (and influenced by the events of 11 September), the Yuma, Arizona division of the US Border Patrol has begun installing beacons that are 30 feet tall that allow those people crossing the desert can notify the Border Patrol that they are there and need help. So far, the beacons have been saving lives, and more are scheduled for installation.

Korean Textbook Bias Investiation Started
The Grand National Party in Korea has ordered an investigation into pro-governement (North Korea) bias found in recent history textbooks, written to support Marxist theory. They want the textbooks corrected and those responsible punished.

Demand for Universal Cell Phone Chargers
More interesting news from South Korea -- the government there is calling for all cell phone manufacturers selling phones there to come up with a universal charger so that people don't have to purhase a new charger when they get a new phone. What a great idea!

Talk About Sailors on Shore Leave...
On a recent shore leave trip to Perth, Australia, it seems that American soliders were wearing out the sex workers at a local brothel, so badly that they closed their doors so the girls could get some sleep. The madame, Mary-Anne Kenworthy, said that she would rather the US soldiers would get their leave in smaller groups so her business could keep up. The ships were the USS John C Stennis, USS Port Royal, and the USS Bridge which were returning to the US after a tour of Afghanistan in late April.

Saturday, August 03, 2002

Sherrif Joe's Pink Boxers [photo copyright the Posse]
Arizona Prisoner Law Being Challenged
I live in the wild, wild west. People shopping in Circle K have guns on them. Last month, a prisoner chain gang (yup, with stripes and ankle shackles like "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?") was cleaning up the street about a half mile from my home. We have a tent city jail, and the prisoners have to wear pink boxer shorts. Oh, and we have webcams inside the jails. But I didn't know that prisoners are prevented from Internet communications. It fits, though, with the rest of Sherrif Joe's agenda. I'm not sure how I feel about it.

Hungary for Rocky Horror
OK, that's a bad pun. But I had to snicker when I found this article in the Budapest newspaper about fans of, you guessed it, the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

No Russian Word for "Frustration"
Wow. What a fascinating article. I've heard that in the Navajo language there is no word for "art" because everything is art, and that the Eskimos have a huge number of words for snow so they can describe it accurately. But this is a new fact, and totally fascinating.

Flying Sauces Being Built by Boeing
OK, maybe I exaggerate about the shape of what they are working on, but the good folks at Boeing admit that they are working on an anti-gravity airplane propulsion system in their Phantom Works division. Finally, someone admits it.

Friday, August 02, 2002

Working on Dzongkha fonts [photo copyright Kuensel Online]
Bhutan Gets New Window on the World
It's official. In 2003, the people of Bhutan will finally be able to use the Windows operating system, thanks to a new version in the Dzongkha language developed jointly by Microsoft, The Orient Foundation, and Dzongkha Development Commission. Too bad they didn't get the Mac first!

Russian Mob's Sports Connection
I guess that with the big bucks generated by sponts, it was only a matter of time before mobsters got involved. I don't know much about the Russian mob (although I suspect I may know a few members), or about corruption around sports, so I was surprised to read about it here. Alimzan Tokhtakhounov has been arrested as being behind an ice skating medal fixing fisasco at the Salt Lake City Olympics, and no, I don't mean the pairs fisasco [previous coverage]. Another one.

Give Me A Break!
There is an uproar going on because the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill has given their incoming freshman this assignment: Read Approaching the Qur'an -- a book about the Koran, the scriptures for Muslims. This is offered in the context of understanding the events of September 11th, of getting to the heart of the issues between the US and the Muslim world. And people are complaining about the assignment, and a lawsuit has been filed by a conservative Christian organization. People are offended to be told to learn about the religion of another group of people. It's not like they are being asked to participate in Muslim prayers, or to defend their own religious choice! How can any of us understand anyone else if we are not willing to walk a few steps in their shoes? The school isn't suggesting that the students consider Islam as a personal religion choice, only that they take a few steps towards understanding these people. Bravo for the school for focusing on relevant topics. And to everyone who is complaining -- shut your ignorant mouth, and maybe if you opened up a crack in your mind, a good idea might fall in.

Patty Hearst May Testify Against SLA Member
The strange story never seems to end. Now, nearly 30 years after her kidnapping, Patty Hearst Shaw is tapped to be a witness for the prosecution against Kathleen Soliah, who had been in hiding in Minnesota as Sara Jane Olson. She is on trial for planting bombs under police cars.

Thursday, August 01, 2002

Package of Cock Flavoured Soup from Jamaica
Cock Flavoured Soup Mix
Maybe it's just because it is late and I haven't had much sleep, but when I ran across this product, a real product from Jamaica, I fell on the floor laughing. The jokes are running wild in my head. I'll spare you... fill in your own punch line. I'm not recommending that you buy from these guys, just showing off what made me laugh and laugh. And don't ask how I found it, either!

Cuban Missile Crisis Anniversary
In October, a conference will be held in Cuba to discuss the greatest crisis point of the Cold War, the blockade of Cuba by President Kennedy. The conference organizer, José Ramón Fernández, has invited the former advisors from that time to participate. Most of the research on this topic has explored the US and USSR activites, but this conference will also review the Cuban involvement. This event is being co-sponsored by The Center for the Study of Defense Information, the Center for Military Studies, the State Security Center for Historical Research, the Institute of Cuban History, and the Center for Studies on the United States.

End of an Era
Thanks to Kate for pointing out this one as one of the first entries in her new blog. I love neighborhood stories, and cat stories. I'll leave the rest of this to Kate to tell, since she had first hand knowledge of it.