Traditional bridge replacement on as prominent a highway as Interstate 15 in Mesquite, Nev., has generally required rerouting traffic for as long as a year, but the new "accelerated" technology in January necessitated detours for less than a week. Excited engineers traveled in from around the country to watch the old bridge be demolished and the new one (which had been built on a platform off to the side) be slid into place using hydraulic jacks and Teflon-coated metal beams -- lubricated with Dawn dishwashing detergent to glide them smoothly into the old frame. The Nevada Department of Transportation estimated that the accelerated process saved commuters about $12 million in time and fuel costs.
-- "(Our critics) are absolutely right. We are professional liars," said Everett Davis, founder of the Internet-based Reference Store, which supplies pumped-up, but false, resumes for job-seekers having trouble landing work. Davis and associates are, he told Houston's KRIV-TV in November, ex-investigators schooled in deception and therefore good at fooling human resources personnel who follow up on the bogus work claims. Davis admitted he would even disguise a customer's past criminal record -- but not if the job is in public safety, health care or schools.
-- Veterinary technician and food blogger Lauren Hicks recently inaugurated service on what is surely one of the few food trucks in the country catering exclusively to dogs. She parks her "Sit 'n Stay Pet Cafe" -- a retrofitted mail truck -- in downtown Winter Park, Fla., on Thursday nights (according to an October Orlando Sentinel report), serving gourmet organic snacks like the Poochi Sushi (jerky), "Ruff-in" muffins, and "Mutt-balls" and "Grrr-avy," among other specialties.
-- Western nations and foundations have tried for decades to build sewage treatment plants in sub-Saharan Africa, with little success (since many countries lack stable governments to assess operating fees), and to this day, raw sewage is still merely collected and dumped, either in rivers or directly onto beaches, such as the notorious (and formerly beautiful) Lavender Hill in Ghana. U.S. entrepreneurs recently established Waste Enterprises in Ghana to build the first-ever fecal-sludge-to-biodiesel plant (funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). Feces undiluted by water, and then heated, is highly concentrated and more resembles coal than the goo that Americans associate with sewage.
-- Medical Marvels: (1) The British Medical Journal reported in December that a 76-year-old woman had been unbothered until recently by the felt-tip pen she accidentally swallowed 25 years earlier. It was removed without complication, and, though the plastic was flaky, the pen still had an ink supply and was "usable." (2) Twice during 2011, babies with two heads were born in Brazil. Though the first, in Paraiba state, died hours after birth, the 9.9-pound "Emanoel" and "Jesus," born in Para state in December, are apparently otherwise healthy. (The baby has two heads and two spines but shares one heart, liver, pelvis and pair of lungs.)
-- Medical Marvels (Canine Edition): The Dogs Trust in Kenilworth, England, was soliciting potential homes in December for "Bentley," a Border Collie whose monophobia might make it what the Daily Mail calls the "most cowardly" dog in the country. While frisky around people, Bentley immediately goes into a frightened sulk when left alone, cowering from cats, holing up behind a couch, and constantly biting his nails, even at the sound of a cat on television. (Bentley was recently outfitted with special lace-up booties to preserve the nails.)
-- Ratnagiri, India, businessman Murad Mulla, 48, filed a complaint recently with the Maharashtra Medical Council after his surgeon used an outdated procedure to cure his urine-retention disorder. Previously, skin from the scrotum was routinely used for urethral repair, but current science recommends using skin from the mouth to avoid the worst-case risk, which Mulla apparently experienced. Specifically, the scrotum contains both hair-bearing tissue and non-hair-bearing tissue, and only the latter is usable. Evidently, Mullas' surgeon used hair-bearing tissue, and as a result, Mulla's urethra itches constantly, and he expels specks of pubic hair with his urine.
-- Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme cost 16,500 investors a total of as much as $18 billion, according to the court-appointed trustee, but at least Madoff is not on death row. In Hangzhou, China, in November, Ji Wenhua and his brother and their father (who were managers of the Yintai Real Estate and Investment Group) were sentenced to death after their convictions for cheating 15,000 investors out of the equivalent of $1.1 billion. Prosecutors said the men had continued to collect money by claiming profits while losses mounted.
-- News of the Privileged: Among the high-end items catching consumers' fancy last holiday season was premium firewood, for those who need to burn trees for reasons beyond merely warming the house. "Pretty white birch logs" were a best-selling item for Paul's Fireplace Wood of Little Falls, Minn., and the owner of J.N. Firewood (Fort Ripley, Minn.) touted its "really cool blue flame and crackling noises," according to a December Wall Street Journal report. (The wood itself goes for well over $1 a pound, even before adding the substantial shipping cost.)
(1) Janet Knowles, 62, was arrested in January in Jupiter, Fla., for aggravated assault after allegedly bludgeoning her housemate, 65, with a hammer as they watched television. The victim said only that Knowles was "upset with Judge Judy." (2) Michael Monsour, the former CEO of Monsour Medical Center in Jeannette, Pa., was charged with assaulting his brother, Dr. William Monsour, in their father's home on New Year's Eve. In an argument, Michael allegedly bit William's nose so hard that he required cosmetic surgery. (Michael's temper remained untempered. The next day, according to police, Michael sent William an email threatening to beat him "into blood pudding.")
-- Need Time in the Gym: (1) According to police in Bellingham, Wash., William Lane, 22, had yelled slurs at a lesbian couple in the early morning of Dec. 11 and smashed the car window of one of the women, but she immediately chased him down, tackled him, and held him until help arrived. (2) Anthony Miranda, 24, was arrested and charged with armed robbery in December in Chicago after unknowingly choosing as his victim an "ultimate fighting" champion. The "victim" gave Miranda two black eyes and a heavily lacerated face, and, as Miranda drew his gun, overpowered him in such a way that Miranda wound up shooting himself in the ankle.
-- Not Ready for Prime Time: (1) Keith Savinelli, 21, was arrested in Gallatin County, Mont., in December and charged with attempted burglary involving a woman's underwear. When the resident caught Savinelli in the act, he attempted to talk her out of reporting him by apologizing and handing her his voter registration card, but she called police, anyway. (2) A 25-year-old man was rescued by fire crews in Tranent, Scotland, in December and taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. According to police, four men were attempting to steal an eight-ton steamroller when the 25-year-old got his leg trapped underneath. The other three fled.
Prominent novelist Michael Peterson was convicted in 2003 of beating his wife to death with a fireplace poker, but he, assisted by a former neighbor, has maintained since then that she was killed by a rogue owl. In 2008, for the first time, North Carolina state investigators acknowledged that a microscopic feather was indeed found in her hair, and in December 2011, Durham County Judge Orlando Hudson granted Peterson a new trial. Although several owl experts have declared that the wife's head trauma was consistent with an owl attack, the judge's decision was based instead on a finding last year that the state crime lab had mishandled evidence in 34 cases and specifically that an investigator in the Peterson case had exaggerated his credentials to the jury. (A 2007 fictionalized movie and a 2006 NBC "Dateline" also gave durability to the owl theory.)