Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology are working on a high-tech device with seemingly a multitude of uses in lessening our crushing overload of banality: a boredom detector. A talker, via a wearable camera and software that measures facial expressions and movements, could know whether he has lost touch with a listener (via signals from eyebrows, lips, nose, etc.). The device was designed for the autistic (who are typically oblivious of other people's reactions), but would be useful to anyone underskilled at being interesting. So far, the software is said to be accurate 64 percent of the time, according to a March report in New Scientist.
-- Bold Marketing: (1) Among men's colognes recently launched: the Elizabeth Arden-NASCAR "Daytona 500" fragrance and the Ecuadorean Football Federation's set of three soccer-motif scents, ranging from a "sporting" aroma to "an intense smell ideal for after work." (2) Butte, Mont., has long been unhappy with the presence of the Berkeley Pit, a huge, putrid, toxic lake filled by runoff from arsenic, copper, cadmium, cobalt, iron and zinc mines. Last year, however, the town began to figure out that tourists would actually pay to see the 500-acre, 900-foot-deep, foul, wretched mess. Attendance was so good that the admission price was recently increased.
-- Specialty Products: The apparently successful Iraq Insurance Co. (a state-owned firm with 50 salespeople nationwide) is thought to be the only company in the world to offer "off-the-shelf" terrorism life insurance (paying a bodyguard's beneficiary, for example, the equivalent of about $3,500, which is a policeman's yearly salary, for a $90 premium, according to a New York Times dispatch). As of mid-March, no policyholder had been killed. (2) Among the "brand" names used by marijuana traffickers to sell dope-laced candy, according to federal agents who made arrests in March in Oakland, Calif., are Buddafingers, Pot Tarts, Double Puff Oreo, Puff-a-Mint Pattie and Toka-Cola.
-- Volleyball is quite popular among female devout Muslim refugees in Kenya, according to a March New York Times dispatch, even though the women's bulky hijabs frequently shift around, hindering the "digs" and "spikes." The Nike company recently came to the rescue by designing (and then donating) sleek hijabs that cover the skin and hair appropriately, but also permit much freer movement on the court. Nike is silent on its marketing plans, but worldwide, the number of Muslim girls and women of prime sports-playing age is huge.
-- In work by various labs in the United States, the Netherlands and Australia (reported by Toronto's Globe and Mail in March), meat was grown in test tubes, and such dishes may yet be a staple in progressive kitchens. "Before bed, throw starter cells and a package of growth medium into the (coffee maker-sized) meat maker and wake up to harvest-fresh sausage for breakfast," wrote the Globe and Mail. Engineered meat would taste like beef or pork, but could be created to be as healthful as salmon. One private group told researchers it was interested in growing human meat, but funding for any of the work will be difficult, said a Medical University of South Carolina scientist.
-- A family has been found in Kurdish Turkey whose members walk on all fours, use the palms of their hands for balance, and stand upright only with difficulty, according to researchers who filmed the family for a March British television show. According to Professor Nicholas Humphrey of the London School of Economics, scientists' best guess for the family's condition is that their inbreeding caused the reprise of genetic traits long thought to have been evolutionarily passed over.
In February, two girls (aged 12 and 13) ran away from home in Cleveland, headed by bus for Minneapolis, along with Bambi, one girl's family dog (represented to the driver as a "guide dog"). However, the girls overfed Bambi on junk food, and the dog became so flatulent as to cause a commotion on the bus, which eventually drew police officers, who then discovered the girls were runaways.
In February, the Missourian newspaper reported that Columbia resident Adam Ballard, 22, now in his second year in the Army, is overeating and under-exercising so as to gain weight rapidly and exceed the Army's body-fat requirement, which will force his discharge rather than his deployment to the Middle East war zone. According to The Columbian, 3,285 soldiers were discharged for excess body fat in 2004 (although not all were war-zone shirkers). Ballard said he had no qualms because recruiters had originally assured him a desk job.
-- Inexplicable: Phillip Williams, 47, for some reason approached two uniformed police officers in Tampa, Fla., in March to ask their opinions of whether the substance he had just purchased for the crack pipe he was holding was indeed cocaine. After examining the pipe, the officers suspended their then-current investigation of a burglary and put the cuffs on Williams. The month before, in Orlando, Michael Garibay, 34, approached a sheriff's deputy in a marked patrol car and asked him if he was "straight," which, as Garibay proceeded to explain to the befuddled officer, meant, "Do you want to buy cocaine?" After Garibay pulled out a baggie of white rocks, he was arrested.
-- Recurring Themes: In March, Gary Brunner became the latest person to go to a police station and ask naively if there were any warrants on him, only to find the answer to be yes and that he was under arrest (for drug possession, Carmel, N.Y.). And Bryan Palmer, 21, and Peggy Casey, 31, were interviewed by police investigating a burglary in South Windsor, Conn., in March, but were released. Detectives changed their minds, though, and were futilely searching for them when the pair showed up at the police station to innocently ask how the investigation was going.
(1) In February in Pattaya, Thailand, the woman who was the former Guinness Book recordholder for living in a cage with scorpions was married to the man who holds the equivalent record for time spent with centipedes, with consummation immediately afterward in a coffin. (Kanchana Ketkaew had stayed 32 days with 3,400 scorpions and Bunthawee Siengwong 28 days with 1,000 centipedes.) (2) After Ms. Sohela Ansari told friends in their village in West Bengal state in India that her husband had mumbled "talaq, talaq, talaq" in his sleep, word got to local Muslim authorities, who declared the couple divorced. (A Muslim husband may obtain a divorce merely by the utterance, and the West Bengal clerics ruled that he need not be awake at the time.)
In March, Deputy Fire Chief Leroy Johnson, 52, of Mesa, Ariz., announced his retirement after becoming possibly the highest-status person in the country in recent years to be allegedly witnessed having sex with a barnyard animal (a lamb). Another possible record-setter was Kimberly Du, 36, who was charged in February in Des Moines, Iowa, with faking her December death to avoid prosecution on several traffic tickets, which might be the pettiest criminal charge anyone has ever tried to avoid by faking death.
People who recently had their sleep disrupted by out-of-control vehicular traffic crashing into their homes and right over their beds: Maryella Wallace, Davenport, Iowa, June 2005 (no serious injuries). A couple in Altamonte Springs, Fla., December (driver in a stolen car; no serious injuries). Juan Diaz, Fairdale, Ky., March (no serious injuries). A couple in the Houston suburb of Missouri City, Texas, March (two fatalities).
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or WeirdNewsTips@yahoo.com or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com.)