Boat made of plastic bottles to voyage across the Pacific

Imagine collecting thousands of empty plastic bottles, lashing them together to make a boat and sailing the thing from California to Australia, a journey of 11,000 miles through treacherous seas.

You’d have to be crazy, or trying to make a point. David de Rothschild is trying to make a point.

De Rothschild hopes his one-of-a-kind vessel, now being built on a San Francisco pier, will boost recycling of plastic bottles, which he says are a symbol of global waste. Except for the masts, which are metal, everything on the 60-foot catamaran is made from recycled plastic.

“It’s all sail power,” he said. “The idea is to put no kind of pollution back into the atmosphere, or into our oceans for that matter, so everything on the boat will be composted. Everything will be recycled. Even the vessel is going to end up being recycled when we finish.”

De Rothschild’s vessel, scheduled to set sail from San Francisco in April, is called the Plastiki. Its name is an homage of sorts to Thor Heyerdahl, the fabled Norwegian explorer who in 1947 sailed 4,300 miles across the Pacific on the Kon-Tiki, a raft made from balsa wood.

RTFA. Recycling plastic is a trip in and of itself. Building trades use 2×4’s made from recycled plastic and wall modules that used to be styrofoam cups. One of our shopping bags used to be plastic bottles.

The homage to Thor Heyerdahl is fitting for folks who don’t mind living parts of their lives in simpler, more traditional fashion. Especially when just a little bit of cyberhardware makes it possible. 🙂

Will “iNews” bring newspaper readers back?

A big newspaper company wants to give you news the way Burger King makes hamburgers: your way. MediaNews Group, the nation’s fourth-largest newspaper chain, said it would test a customized newspaper service this summer at The Los Angeles Daily News, one of the 54 dailies owned by the company.

The service, which allows readers to pick and choose only the stories that interest them, is among the many maneuvers that newspapers across the country are making to respond to the changes the Internet has wrought on their businesses…

But MediaNews’s experiment, which it has named “individuated news” — it has trademarked the phrase — or “I-news,” for short, has an old media twist: dead trees and a new piece of hardware for your home.

“I-News is really about choice,” said Peter Vandevanter, vice president for targeted products at MediaNews. “We’ll let the reader decide what they want to read and on what platform.”

MediaNews has been working with a technology company — Vandevanter would not say which one — to develop a proprietary printer for a reader’s home. It would receive and print a subscriber’s customized newspaper — with targeted advertising.

It is unclear if subscribers will pay extra for the printer, or if it will be part of the subscription fee. “The business model doesn’t have the finishing touches on it,” Vandevanter said.

On the Web, at various journalism blogs and news sites, the idea was greeted with skepticism and even ridicule.

I would be excited – if I was witnessing this, say, at the NY World’s Fair in 1939.

YouTube cuts off music videos to UK

YouTube, said it will block all music videos to British users – sort of about now – after it was unable to reach a rights deal with the main songwriters’ collection society.

The world’s largest video sharing site said PRS for Music, a British collection society that collects royalties on behalf of nearly 50,000 composers, was asking it to pay “many, many times” more than the previous licensing agreement that has expired.

“The costs are simply prohibitive for us — under PRS’s proposed terms, we would lose significant amounts of money with every playback,” the company said in a blog on Monday.

The move is the latest sign of the tension between YouTube and the music industry and also indicates the video site’s resolve to keep operating costs under control as it strives to generate meaningful profits for Google…

But PRS disputed YouTube’s version of events and said: “We were shocked and disappointed…blah, blah…”

I don’t know if this will ever get interesting – other than suits vs. suits. Meanwhile, YouTube/music fans in the UK get screwed.

Have smartphone, can travel


Most BlackBerry owners, for example, know they can improve their Interstate IQ by using the navigation function of their smartphones, and people with a Web browser on their phone can check out World Traffic Cams to see if there is congestion at the Lincoln Tunnel before heading into New York.

Indeed, our love affair with cellphones is increasingly being coupled with our love affair with the automobile, spawning applications — some silly, some sublime — that drivers can download to their mobile handsets for little or no money.

On the practical side, there are programs that help with the more mundane aspects of automobile ownership. One free application for the iPhone, for example, tries to demystify repair bills. Tap in the make and model of your vehicle along with what ails it and RepairPal spits out estimated parts and labor costs. It does not include diagnostic fees and taxes, but it does offer a list of nearby repair shops with customer ratings, should you want to comparison shop.

Conversely, on the pure fun side, there’s Dynolicious. Using the same kind of technology that enables a Nintendo Wii game controller to follow your gestures, this $12.99 application uses an iPhone’s built-in accelerometer to gauge 0-to-60 times (to within 0.08 of a second) and other performance characteristics, including lateral G-forces. Like competing programs such as g-tac pro ($19.99), Dynolicious will also let you assess your vehicle’s top speed, but to get precise results you’ll need to secure the phone in a cradle…

Continue reading

Saudi judge orders 40 lashes for elderly woman

A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced a 75-year-old Syrian woman to 40 lashes, four months imprisonment and deportation from the kingdom for having two unrelated men in her house.

According to the Saudi daily newspaper Al-Watan, troubles for the woman, Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi, began last year when a member of the religious police entered her house in the city of Al-Chamli and found her with two unrelated men, “Fahd” and “Hadian.”

Fahd told the policeman that he had the right to be there, because Sawadi had breast-fed him as a baby and was therefore considered to be a son to her in Islam, according to Al-Watan. Fahd, 24, added that his friend Hadian was escorting him as he delivered bread for the elderly woman. The policeman then arrested both men.

Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islam called Wahhabism and punishes unrelated men and women who are caught mingling.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, feared by many Saudis, is made up of several thousand religious policemen charged with duties such as enforcing dress codes, prayer times and segregation of the sexes. Under Saudi law, women face many restrictions, including a strict dress code and a ban on driving. Women also need to have a man’s permission to travel…

It’s made everybody angry because this is like a grandmother,” Saudi women’s rights activist Wajeha Al-Huwaider told CNN. “Forty lashes — how can she handle that pain? You cannot justify it.”

“This is the problem with the religious police,” added Al-Huwaider, “watching people and thinking they’re bad all the time. It has nothing to do with religion. It’s all about control. And the more you spread fear among people, the more you control them. It’s giving a bad reputation to the country.”

The problem recurs with theocracies. It is endemic among the superstitious and ignorant.

Generally, the worst offenders are the most convinced that the writings in one book are the sole guide to life on Earth. Often they will not admit to other people having written the bloody book in the first place. It’s inspired writ.

Like there was an emissary from the spirit world who carried the manuscript to be copied.

Truck stop dentist feels no pain

Yes, this also is the truckstop voted to have the best restrooms

You may not have the answer for how to thrive in a lousy economy. I may not have the answer for how to thrive in a lousy economy. But the truck stop dentist figured it out a long time ago.

“When your dental practice is in a truck stop, you don’t have a lot of patients coming in for their six-month cleanings,” said Dr. Thomas P. Roemer. “You have people walking in holding their jaws in pain. Treatment is not optional — they need to see a dentist, and they need to see me now.”

Dr. Roemer’s one-man dental office is inside the Iowa 80 Truckstop, at Exit 284 of Interstate 80, near the small town of Walcott. The complex proclaims itself to be the world’s largest truck stop, and if you’ve never been there — well, the truck stop itself is probably a story for another time. Suffice it to say that the establishment is spread over 200 acres, that it features its own movie theater, a 300-seat restaurant with a 50-foot salad bar, the Super Truck Showroom (more than 75,000 truck-related items for sale, festooned with enough gleaming chrome to make you reach for your sunglasses).

These desperate economic times highlight the importance of individual inventiveness and ingenuity — and a dentist has to be beyond ingenious to gaze upon an Iowa truck stop and figure out: A fellow could make himself a pretty nice living in there.

RTFA. Fun – and we all might learn a thing or two about being an entreprenuer.

All they wanted was a final pizza before leaving for Iraq

Mark Quinsey and Cengiz Azimkar
Daylife/Reuters Pictures

The British soldiers who were killed in Northern Ireland over the weekend had already packed their bags for Afghanistan and changed into desert uniforms when they were shot, said a top British military officer.

“Some of them decided to order a final takeaway pizza before they departed,” Brigadier George Norton said from the base where they were killed. “It was then that the brutal attack took place. They were off duty, they were unarmed and they were dressed in desert combats to deploy overseas.”

Two men with automatic rifles shot the soldiers as the pizzas arrived, authorities said. Two other soldiers and the two pizza deliverymen were seriously wounded.

The Ministry of Defence identified them Monday as Cengiz Azimkar, 21, and Mark Quinsey, 23.

The two soldiers are the first British troops to be killed in the province in more than 12 years, the Ministry of Defense confirmed, and the shooting has sparked fears of a return to the sectarian violence that Northern Ireland suffered for two decades before that.

And that’s what “helter-skelter” is all about. Whether the murderers were nationalists in their own mind or not. Whether they belonged to a tiny Republican sect or were agents provocateur on behalf of a Unionist gang is irrelevant.

The assassins deserve full punishment for their crime.

Obama to let health institute decide day-to-day policy on stem cells

President Barack Obama will lift his predecessor’s restriction on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research on Monday and will give the National Institutes of Health four months to come up with new rules on the issue.

Obama will not lay out guidelines himself but will let the NIH decide when it is ethical and legal to pay for embryonic stem cell research, science adviser Dr. Harold Varmus said.

Researchers and advocates have been invited to a White House ceremony at which Obama will make the announcement, said Melody Barnes, director of Obama’s domestic policy council. He will also sign a pledge to “restore scientific integrity in governmental decision making,” Barnes said.

“And the president believes that it’s particularly important to sign this memorandum so that we can put science and technology back at the heart of achieving a broad range of national goals.”

Former President George W. Bush was accused by scientists and politicians of injecting politics and sometimes religion into scientific decisions regarding not only stem cells, but climate change policy, energy policy and contraceptive policy.

Barnes said scrapping the restriction on federal funding imposed by Bush would help to create jobs and strengthen national security.

So fracking overdue it’s barely worth saying.

How’s this for an earthshaking precedent in American politics? Letting scientists lead the way for policy on science – instead of religious nutballs and political opportunists.

Phew! I don’t know if my heart can take the strain.

Texas man witnessed the execution of his father’s killer; now he’ll watch his son’s killer die

When an ex-con killed his father during a bizarre robbery 20 years ago, Brad Humphreys thought he would never again feel such pain.

“We thought the ultimate bad had happened,” Brad said. “Boy, it sure wasn’t. There is something worse.”

Twelve years after his father’s death, Brad received a frantic, heart-wrenching phone call from his ex-wife, Lois Humphreys, about their youngest son:

Mike’s friend just called to offer his condolences. He said Mike was killed last night.

Desperate to find out if the news was true, Brad called hospitals and police departments and, finally, the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office. A worker there confirmed that the office had his 20-year-old son’s body.

The pain of your child dying is so severe I can’t describe it,” Brad said. “I can’t begin to put it into words.”

Sitting in his Arlington home with his wife, Carol, Brad talked about how two random acts of violence have reshaped his life. Brad buried his father and his son, sat through two death penalty trials and watched the execution of the man who killed his father.

On Tuesday, if all goes as scheduled, Brad will watch the execution of James Edward Martinez, the man who killed his son in 2000.

Prison officials said they cannot recall an incident in which a victim has witnessed two executions for two unrelated murders.

A long sad journey. Worse than anything most of us will ever endure. RTFA.

Withdrawal from Iraq to start with 12,000 troops

Daylife/AP Photo

The number of troops in Iraq will drop by 12,000 over the next six months, the U.S. military says.

Two brigade combat teams and their support units will redeploy without being replaced, reducing the number of combat teams in Iraq from 14 to 12, the statement said. An additional 4,000 British troops will also be transferred from Iraq without replacement, the statement said…

“You all know about a week ago, the president outlined some milestones and some definitions of [our] mission as we operate with regards to the security agreement,” Coalition spokesman Maj. Gen. David Perkins told reporters Sunday at a Baghdad, Iraq, news conference with an Iraqi government spokesman. “That agreement has all U.S. forces withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011. That is still our goal, and that is what we are working toward.”

Obama said the troops remaining in Iraq would take on an advisory role in training and equipping Iraqi forces, supporting civilian operations in Iraq, and conducting targeted counterterrorism missions.

This month marks the sixth anniversary of the Invasion of Iraq.