Attention CSI fans – check out Finland!

Police in Finland believe they have caught a car thief from a DNA sample taken from a mosquito they noticed inside an abandoned vehicle.

Finding the car in Seinaejoki, north of Helsinki, police saw that the mosquito had recently sucked blood and decided to send the insect for analysis. The DNA found from laboratory tests matched a man on the police register.

The suspect denies stealing the car and says he was just hitch-hiking a lift with a man.

Sakari Palomaeki, the police inspector in charge of the case, said it was the first time Finnish police had used an insect to solve a crime.

“It is not easy to find a small mosquito in a car, this just shows how thorough the crime scene investigation was,” he added.

Now, I wonder if the mosquito in the case belongs to Dexter? Is that obscure enough?

Are the new RFID passport cards and driver’s licenses truly secure?

Starting this summer, Americans will need passports to travel to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean–unless they have passport cards or one of the enhanced driver’s licenses that the states of Washington and New York have begun to issue.

Valid only for trips by land and sea, these new forms of identification are a convenient, inexpensive option for people who don’t need to travel by plane. U.S. passport cards, which were introduced in July, cost about half as much as a full passport, and the extra cost of getting an enhanced driver’s license rather than a regular one is even lower. Enhanced licenses have been available in Washington since January 2008 and in New York since September; other border states, including Michi­gan, Vermont, and Arizona, intend to offer them as well.

But not everyone is convinced that the new IDs are a good idea. The passport card and the enhanced licenses contain radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, which are microchips fitted with antennas. An RFID reader can radio a query to the tag, causing it to return the data it contains–in this case, an identification number that lets customs agents retrieve information about the cardholder from a government database.

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Apple will be just fine without Steve Jobs

Daylife/Reuters Pictures

Let’s say Steve Jobs retires next year. So what?

I’m one of those in the lonely camp that doesn’t believe Jobs is Apple and Apple is Jobs. Or that when he disengages from Apple the wheels must necessarily fall off.

Jobs bought Pixar in 1986, and while he wasn’t nearly as closely involved with it as he has been at Apple, he assembled a team that helped the company thrive even after it was sold to Disney two years back. Since then, Pixar delivered the Oscar winning “Ratatouille” as well as “Wall-E” (Nos. 144 and 34, respectively, on IMDB’s list).

If Jobs hasn’t done the same at Apple, he’s failed at one of the key tasks of a great CEO. I don’t think that’s his style. Yet this week, the media once again turned the spotlight onto Jobs’ health after the company said he won’t appear at MacWorld, that Apple is essentially snuffing what has become a tedious knockoff of a Galaxy Quest convention. Any other company, and it would have ended at the headline.

But Apple isn’t any other company. It’s Apple. Therefore Jobs must be dying. Therefore the stock loses $6.6 billion in two hours.

One day we’ll all look back on this and shake our heads. Rarely has so much attention been paid to the health of an individual who was not the head of state or a religion. What if Jobs is fine, and just wanted no part of the obscene gadget fetishism, which tech conferences in general have become, when millions were losing their jobs and homes? Isn’t that kind of the opposite of dying?

I’ve known a few company-meisters who performed similar magic for their company. Including one who died tragically young in a road accident. With no exceptions the firms carried on and prospered.

They were bright enough – as is Jobs – to hire and advance staff capable of running the firm on their own.

Photo-Voltaic power generation reaches grid parity for the first time

First Solar appears to have reached an important and, for many solar companies, elusive target: grid parity, or the point where photovoltaic electricity is as cheap as conventional electric power.

Pacific Crest analyst Mark Bachman ran some calculations on First Solar’s 12.6 megawatt solar system for Sempra Generation, a subsidiary of California utility Sempra Energy. Instead of focusing on the cost per watt, which Bachman said investors have put too much emphasis on, he looked at the cost per kilowatt-hour.

Bachman priced the Sempra plant at 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour, which is below the U.S. grid parity price of 9 cents per kilowatt-hour. First Solar’s plant didn’t rely on subsidies, he notes.

The industry leaders will be those companies that can deliver electricity at or below grid parity pricing without the aid of subsidies while also delivering superior return to shareholders. Currently, only First Solar can claim these achievements, in our view.

Other companies are also pushing for the grid-parity goal. Greentech Media reported that Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rodgers said: “that power from crystalline silicon solar panels will be cheaper than coal power by 2012 when transmissions lines, utility bureaucracy and other factors are added in. ‘We are zeroing in on parity,’ Rodgers said. ‘We’re going to match PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric) by 2012. Within a couple of years, the price of solar will be just as cheap.’ “

Bravo. The best news I’ve heard since Election Day.

Nine headless bodies found in Mexico

Gangsters might consider using the pyramids for human sacrifice

Police found nine human heads and nine headless bodies in the Mexican state of Guerrero on Sunday, and some of the remains were of soldiers.

The heads were found in Chilpancingo, the state’s capital, and the bodies were found at a different location in Chilpancingo, officials said. Information on whether the heads belonged to the bodies wasn’t available.

Police identified eight soldiers and one high-ranking former police officer among the victims, Zeferino Torre-Blanca, governor of Guerrero told CNN on Sunday…

Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said this month that organized-crime killings climbed to 5,376 in 2008, more than double the 2,477 such deaths in 2007.

On Friday, the United States and Mexico pledged to beef up efforts in the war against drugs.

Well, I guess we can breathe a sigh of relief, now.

Research Confirms: Most People upon Orders Will Inflict Pain

Stanley Milgram, the Guy Who Got the Ball Rolling

Nearly 50 years after one of the most controversial behavioral experiments in history, a social psychologist has found that people are still just as willing to administer what they believe are painful electric shocks to others when urged on by an authority figure.

Jerry M. Burger, PhD, replicated one of the famous obedience experiments of the late Stanley Milgram, PhD, and found that compliance rates in the replication were only slightly lower than those found by Milgram. And, like Milgram, he found no difference in the rates of obedience between men and women.

Burger’s findings are reported in the January issue of American Psychologist. The issue includes a special section reflecting on Milgram’s work 24 years after his death on Dec. 20, 1984, and analyzing Burger’s study.

People learning about Milgram’s work often wonder whether results would be any different today,” said Burger, a professor at Santa Clara University. “Many point to the lessons of the Holocaust and argue that there is greater societal awareness of the dangers of blind obedience. But what I found is the same situational factors that affected obedience in Milgram’s experiments still operate today.”

I started not to blog this, figuring that most people would already be aware of Milgram’s work.  Then I thought, “Is that really true?”  Finally, I decided that it would be good in any case to affirm that somebody is still interested in the questions that Milgram raised. Yet, I can’t help despair that most people will look in the mirror and say, “Not me” instead of “What would I do?”

Where is the bailout money going? Our lips are sealed.

Elizabeth Warren, head of Oversight of TARP for Congress
Daylife/AP Photo by Charles Dharapak

It’s something any bank would demand to know before handing out a loan: Where’s the money going? But after receiving billions in aid from U.S. taxpayers, the nation’s largest banks say they can’t track exactly how they’re spending the money or they simply refuse to discuss it.

“We’ve lent some of it. We’ve not lent some of it. We’ve not given any accounting of, ‘Here’s how we’re doing it,'” said Thomas Kelly, a spokesman for JPMorgan Chase, which received $25 billion in emergency bailout money. “We have not disclosed that to the public. We’re declining to.”

The Associated Press contacted 21 banks that received at least $1 billion in government money and asked four questions: How much has been spent? What was it spent on? How much is being held in savings, and what’s the plan for the rest?

None of the banks provided specific answers.

“We’re not providing dollar-in, dollar-out tracking,” said Barry Koling, a spokesman for Atlanta, Ga.-based SunTrust Banks Inc., which got $3.5 billion in taxpayer dollars.

Some banks said they simply didn’t know where the money was going.

The FDIC maintains a list of who got how much. That’s about it. Implicit in the process is that if you don’t take the money – and you get in trouble later on – you missed your sole opportunity for assistance.

Some federal banking regulations require non-cooperation with oversight and public questioning. Banks aren’t even allowed to say if there is a regulation forbidding them to discuss a specific topic!

Cable repairs almost underway in Mideast

A robotic submarine searched beneath the Mediterranean on Sunday for damaged communications cables, two days after Web and telephone access was knocked out for much of the Middle East.

Telecommunication providers from Cairo to Dubai continued Sunday to scramble to reroute voice and data traffic through potentially costly detours in Asia and North America after the lines running under the Mediterranean Sea were damaged Friday.

Internet access was largely knocked out for two days in at least six countries that were affected — Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Yemen.

It is the second time this year that trans-Mediterranean cables to Europe have been severed. The earlier cut, in late January, was apparently caused by a ship’s anchor.

The crew released a robotic submarine named “Hector” to search for two of the three damaged cables, which are owned by a consortium that includes the Paris-based telecommunications giant. Once found, the cable ends will be pulled to the surface and repaired on deck — a process that could take several days.

“We have to fix the cable fiber by fiber, and it’s a very huge cable,” Aymard said. He said the company hopes to have the first line fixed by Thursday.

Ouch. There is no easy way to do this, folks. Hope you stay current!

Death of “Fang Fang” sparks mourning in Rongshui in south China

Mourners gathered in a remote south China county on Saturday to mourn a French woman who had sponsored local education for ten years – recently died in a fire.

Francoise Grenot-Wang, aged 59, died in a fire in her wooden house on Dec. 9, in the Miao Autonomous County of Rongshui in south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Madame Grenot-Wang gave herself the Chinese name “Fang Fang”. She arrived at the small county in 1997 as a guide of French organization Doctors Without Borders. She found the children, especially girls, lacked education and decided to stay.

During the ten years, 5,775 school-age children had received her help and more than 15 million yuan (about 2.2 million U.S. dollars) had been donated to build new schools and buy books with the efforts of Fang Fang, said the local authorities.

Her projects will continue.