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Archive for February 5th, 2009

New Yorkers stuck with maple syrupy smell – harmless

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The source of a mysterious maple syrup-like smell that has periodically blanketed New York is not a particularly aromatic pancake house but a New Jersey factory involved in the processing of fenugreek seeds, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Thursday.

The source of New York’s sweet-smelling aroma has been identified as a food-flavoring firm in New Jersey.

The sweet aroma first descended upon Manhattan and northern New Jersey in October 2005, initially triggering several building evacuations as well as concern the scent was physically harmful. Authorities from the Office of Emergency Management soon concluded it posed no danger to the public.

The odor made several return appearances in subsequent years, each time confounding nostrils before vanishing as perplexingly as it arrived…

Last week, when several dozen residents of Upper Manhattan called to complain about the smell, the environmental department, having developed a new evidence gathering procedure, gathered air samples from each suspected source in canisters. Tests revealed the pungent perpetrator of that incident was a Hudson County facility owned by Frutorom, a company that develops and manufactures flavors for the food, fragrance and pharmaceutical industries.

The specific chemical agents responsible for the scent are esters, compounds “created by the reaction between an alcohol and an acid” during the processing of fenugreek seeds, according to Bloomberg.

The mayor said New Yorkers will have to tolerate the syrup smell’s occasional return, noting that it’s a relatively benign odor. “All things considered I can think of a lot of things worse than maple syrup,” he said.

Ah-hah! As soon as I realized [thanks to my beloved wife] that we’re talking about methi, I know what these folks are in mind of. Wonderful seasoning and quite common in cooking from some regions of India.

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Written by Ed Campbell

February 5, 2009 at 10:00 pm

Posted in Business, Health

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Israel seizes aid ship off coast of Gaza

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Daylife/AP Photo by Sebastian Scheiner

The Israeli navy boarded a freighter trying to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip on Thursday and escorted it to the port of Ashdod where 20 passengers were being questioned, the military said.

It was the first apparent attempt by a foreign ship carrying aid to reach the Palestinian coastal enclave since Israel ended its 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip two weeks ago.

A military official said humanitarian aid found on the ship would be transferred to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Video footage released by the army showed boxes piled up in one corner of the ship and no weapons were found.

Israel Radio said those aboard the Tali, a cargo vessel flying the flag of the West African state of Togo, would be returned by land to Lebanon, from where the ship sailed. The military official said the ship’s 20 passengers, including 10 journalists, were being questioned.

Once the questioning is completed we will make a decision on their fate,” a military spokesman said.

The Israelis have plenty of experience at deciding the fate of civilians.

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Written by Ed Campbell

February 5, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Posted in Crime, Politics

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Parking ticket leads to a Trojan Horse

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Hackers have discovered a new way of duping users onto fraudulent websites: fake parking tickets.

Cars in the US had traffic violation tickets placed on the windscreen, which then directed users to a website. The website claimed to have photos of the alleged parking violation, but then tricks users into downloading a virus.

Vehicles in Grand Forks, North Dakota were the targets for this new type of fraud. Drivers found the following message on the yellow ticket on their windscreen: “PARKING VIOLATION This vehicle is in violation of standard parking regulations”.

The ticket then instructed drivers to visit a website, where drivers could “view pictures with information about your parking preferences”.

According to internet security watchdog The SANS Institute, the website then had photos of cars in various car parks around Grand Forks and instructed users to download a tool bar to find photos of their own vehicle.

But the tool bar was actually an executable file which installed a Trojan virus that then displayed a fake security alert when the PC was rebooted. The fake alert then prompted the user to install fake anti-virus software.

You know what I’m going to say. There is no patch for stupidity.

Though I have to admit this stunt is sharp enough to take in folks who usually don’t qualify for stupid!

Written by Ed Campbell

February 5, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Crime, Geek

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Pensioner trying for license – 772nd driving test!

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A 68-year-old South Korean woman this week signed up to take her driving test once again — after failing to earn a license the first 771 times.

The woman, identified only as Cha, first took the written portion of the exam in April 2005, said Choi Young-cheol of the Driver’s License Agency in the southwestern city of Jeonju.

At the time, she made her living selling goods door-to-door and figured she would need a car to help her get around, Choi told CNN.

She failed the test. She retook the test the next day and failed again. And again. And again.

“You have to get at least 60 points to pass the written part,” said Kim Rahn, who wrote about the unflappable woman in the Korea Times, an English-language daily. “She usually gets under 50.”

The office estimates she has spent more than $2,888 in exam fees.

Cha’s last failed attempt was Monday. She tries for the 772nd time either Thursday or Friday.

Persistence. But, failing that many times, I don’t know if I’d want to share the road with her.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 5, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Posted in Culture

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AP sues for copyright infringement of Obama image

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On buttons, posters and Web sites, the image was everywhere during last year’s presidential campaign: a pensive Barack Obama looking upward, as if to the future, splashed in a Warholesque red, white and blue and underlined with the caption HOPE.

Designed by Shepard Fairey, a Los-Angeles based street artist, the image has led to sales of hundreds of thousands of posters and stickers, and has become so much in demand that copies signed by Fairey have been purchased for thousands of dollars on eBay.

The image, Fairey has acknowledged, is based on an Associated Press photograph, taken in April 2006 by Mannie Garcia on assignment for the AP at the National Press Club in Washington…

The AP’s director of media relations, Paul Colford, said in a statement. “AP safeguards its assets and looks at these events on a case-by-case basis. We have reached out to Mr. Fairey’s attorney and are in discussions. We hope for an amicable solution.”

“We believe fair use protects Shepard’s right to do what he did here,” says Fairey’s lawyer, Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project at Stanford University and a lecturer at the Stanford Law School…

A longtime rebel with a history of breaking rules, Fairey has said he found the photograph using Google Images. He released the image on his Web site shortly after he created it, in early 2008, and made thousands of posters for the street…

The image will be included this month at a Fairey exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and a mixed-media stenciled collage version has been added to the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.

Frankly, I come down on the side of the artist. Even selling an artist’s impression of the photograph is legit as far as I’m concerned. The artist has a right to interpret and reproduce what he sees – even if he’s looking at a photograph.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 5, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Business, Culture

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Sweden aims to lift nuclear ban

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The Swedish government plans to overturn a nearly 30-year-old decision to phase out nuclear power and lift a ban on building new reactors.

The centre-right government says it wants to allow for new reactors to replace 10 still in operation.

The decision still needs to be approved by parliament. The plan will not receive state funding.

“Authorisations can be granted to successively replace the existing reactors once they reach the end of their economic life spans.”
It added: “Swedish electricity production currently stands on only two legs – hydro power and nuclear power. The climate issue is now in the spotlight and nuclear power will therefore remain an important part of Swedish electricity production in the foreseeable future.”

The government said no state money would be provided for nuclear projects. It also called for renewable energies, such as wind power, to be increased to reduce Sweden’s vulnerability.

Sweden’s existing 10 reactors supply about 50% of the country’s electricity.

Bravo! There’s a 30-year history of improvement and efficiency, not only in nuclear power plant construction – but, in monitoring construction and maintenance costs. It’s encouraging to see a government with the leadership and smarts to move forward – instead of hiding from changing times.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 5, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Feds and Texas ignore Peanut Corporation plant

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outsideplainview1
Just outside of Plainview, Texas

A peanut processing plant in Texas run by the same company blamed for a national salmonella outbreak operated for years uninspected and unlicensed by government health officials.

The Peanut Corp. of America plant in Plainview never was inspected until after the company fell under investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to Texas health records obtained by AP.

Once inspectors learned about the Texas plant, they found no sign of salmonella there. But new details about that plant — including how it could have operated unlicensed for nearly four years — raise questions about the adequacy of government efforts to keep the nation’s food supply safe. Texas is among states where the FDA relies on state inspectors to oversee food safety.

Relying on Texas bureaucrats for safety? Har!

The salmonella outbreak was traced to the company’s sister plant in Blakely, Ga., where inspectors found roaches, mold, a leaking roof and internal records of more than a dozen positive tests for salmonella…

In Texas, inspector Patrick Moore of the Department of State Health Services was sent to Plainview, in the sparsely populated Texas Panhandle, after salmonella was traced to the company’s plant in Georgia. Moore said the Texas plant wasn’t licensed with health officials and had never been inspected since it opened in March 2005. Texas requires food manufacturers to be licensed every two years and routinely inspected.

I was not aware this plant was in operation and did not know (what) type of products processed,” Moore wrote in an inspection report obtained by AP.

Bureaucrats, flunkies, whatever. There are plenty of inspection services that work fine. In some states.

Obviously, the Feds and Texas don’t give a damn about inspection standards and procedures. Surprised?

UPDATE: Hiding out in bankruptcy.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 5, 2009 at 10:00 am

Bill Gates unleashes swarm of mosquitoes on TED Conference

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Microsoft founder turned philanthropist Bill Gates released a glass full of mosquitoes at an elite technology conference to make a point about the deadly disease malaria.

“Malaria is spread by mosquitoes,” Gates said while opening a jar onstage at the TED Conference — a gathering known to attract technology kings, politicians, and Hollywood stars.

I brought some. Here I’ll let them roam around. There is no reason only poor people should be infected.”

While he asked the audience “How do you stop a deadly disease that is spread by mosquitoes?”, Mr Gates also noted that more money is spent finding a cure for baldness than eradicating malaria.

The release of the mosquitoes got everyone’s attention.

TED curator Chris Anderson quipped that when a video of the talk is posted on its website it would be headlined “Gates releases more bugs into the world.”

Always nice to see Bill Gates unleash his quiet sense of humor. And the TED conference appears to be as interesting and productive as ever.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 5, 2009 at 8:00 am

Hormone therapy caused breast cancer for thousands

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U.S. breast cancer cases have dropped in women aged 50 to 69 in recent years because many women have stopped taking hormone therapy. In fact, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests long-term use of hormone therapy causes breast cancer.

The report is the best evidence to date that the breast cancer drop is indeed due to a decline in hormone use, rather than changing rates of mammograms or other factors, experts said.

The good news: The study found that breast cancer risk in women who took hormones dropped back down to normal soon after they quit.

The bad news: In the last decade in which it was still widely used (1992–2002), long-term hormone therapy probably caused breast cancer in 200,000 women, said Dr. Rowan T. Chlebowski, a medical oncologist at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute…the study’s lead author…

Some experts have argued that breast cancer rates declined because fewer women were getting mammograms (so fewer cancers were being detected), and that the drop-off in cancer rates could not have happened so soon after women quit taking hormones.

But the current study showed that, in fact, it did.

Within two years of quitting, breast cancer risk for women who had been taking hormones was the same as that for women who never took them. Mammogram rates were nearly identical in both groups of women.

This is another one of those times when I feel like shouting about medical idiots who devote their careers to finding magic bullets. They believe all the crap fed into their heads by Pharmcos.

A healthy dose of skepticism coupled with constantly staying in touch with peer-reviewed research is turning this disaster around.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 5, 2009 at 6:00 am

Posted in Health, Science

Tagged with , , , , ,

He spotted Madoff as a crook nine years ago – SEC did nothing!

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The financial analyst who nine years ago discovered Bernard Madoff’s multi-billion dollar alleged fraud scheme today lambasted US securities officials who ignored his warnings, calling for a shakeup of the US securities and exchange commission’s structure.

Harry Markopolos, a Massachusetts financial analyst who since 2000 several times sought to alert the SEC to Madoff’s fraud, told a House of Representatives committee that the agency should replace its lawyer-heavy enforcement staff with senior securities professionals who have years of industry experience and can understand cutting-edge financial instruments used by hedge fund traders.

That’s putting what he had to say about SEC lawyers – politely.

Markopolos discovered Madoff’s alleged malfeasance in May 2000, after he became suspicious of his years-long record of success in all market conditions. Markopolos said it took him about five minutes perusing Madoff’s marketing materials to suspect fraud, and another roughly four hours to develop mathematical models to prove it. He eventually delivered a detailed case to securities regulators in Boston and followed up several times over the next eight years as he continued to gather evidence. He said that important SEC officials in New York and Boston brushed his reports aside.

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Written by Ed Campbell

February 5, 2009 at 2:00 am

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