Next, Google Street View heads for the Amazon River

If you were to come up with a list of places you’re unlikely to stumble across Google’s Street View trike snapping 360 degree panoramics, the banks of the Amazon would surely be pretty close to the top. Yet that’s precisely where the search behemoth’s imaging team is currently focusing its attention. Starting off with a 50 km stretch of the Rio Negro River, the team plans to document life in some our world’s most remote and richly biodiverse regions – visiting local communities, going inside village buildings and floating up and down the waterways to offer virtual visitors a unique insight into the wonders of the Amazon.

Often described as the lungs of the planet, the lush Amazon rainforest has been disappearing at a frighteningly rapid rate at the hands of mankind. Now thanks to Google, much of this immensely important region of the world is about to be saved – albeit digitally. Accepting an invite from the locals, Google’s Brazil and U.S. Street View teams have joined members of the Google Earth Outreach program to share their image collection expertise with non-profit conservation organization Amazonas Sustainable Foundation (FAS).

While in the area, the now-familiar Street View will be seen trundling down the narrow dirt paths that join villages and will capture images of the river, surrounding forests and adjacent river communities. Building interiors will also host an image capture tripod to give us all a sense of what it’s like to live and work in such communities. The teams will also mount the vehicle on a boat and record all-around views of the great river as it floats gently downstream, which will then be stitched together to produce 360 degree panoramas.

On completion of the project, Google will leave behind some technical equipment to allow FAS members to continue their work, and give them the means to share their way of life with the rest of the world.

Rock on!

Mother’s deathbed request leads FBI to son on run for 36 years

It was the deathbed request from the mother of a longtime fugitive that finally led the FBI to William Walter Asher III.

For 36 years, Asher had been on the run — ever since he escaped from a prison camp in 1975 rather than serve time for a deadly robbery.

But last week, federal agents caught up to him. He had changed his name, worked for a trucking company and lived with a woman who had no idea about his criminal past…

For years, it seemed that the FBI would never nab Asher.
In 1966, he and three accomplices robbed a San Francisco bar, shooting and then beating the bartender to death, authorities said.

Asher was 20 at the time…He was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The file would have closed there. But eight years into his sentence, Asher escaped from a prison in El Dorado County, California — aided by a female accomplice…

In 2005, shortly before she died, Asher’s mother asked relatives to get in touch with her son. “She asked various family members to assist her in using the ‘secret’ number to call ‘Billy,'” the FBI said. Agents had been tipped off about the conversation by a source.

Armed with that information, agents scoured phone records of people who they believed may have helped fulfill the mother’s request.

They found two phone calls made to a home in Salida, California, to a man named Garry Donald Webb. The calls had been made two days before the mother died…

Authorities placed the home under surveillance. They also kept a watch on a trucking business where he was said to work.

On Friday, agents saw Asher leaving the home and confronted him.

“After some initial discussion Asher admitted his true identity,” the FBI said.

Which illustrates more than anything else is that “unidentified sources” – someone who expected payment and got it – is still one of the most important constituents of modern police work.

Mom forces boy to wear sign proclaiming him a “THIEF”

An Australian woman has been accused of child cruelty after she forced her young son to sit in public wearing a sign that read: “Do not trust me. I will steal from you as I am a thief.”

The boy, believed to be aged 10, was forced to wear the sign and a pair of Shrek ears in a busy park in the northern Queensland town of Townsville while his family ate lunch nearby.

The treatment of the child prompted outrage among other families in the park, who accused the woman of publicly humiliating him.

Diane Mayers was so disturbed that she called the child safety hotline. “The boy just kept his head down and was staring at the ground,” she told the Townsville Bulletin. “The parents had gone to all the trouble of printing two copies of the sign – one for the back and one for the front – and laminating them. A lot of work had gone in to it.

“A lot of people walked past and were laughing at him, including boys who would have been his age…”

However, the boy’s mother, who has not been named, has defended her actions, saying they were a last resort intended to shame him into giving up stealing. “We’ve had a process over the last three years of him shoplifting and stealing whatever he can get his hands on,” she said.

I have taken him to the police station, had the police officers take him around, shown him a paddy wagon [police van], shown him all the cells, shown him the process of being charged.”

Nothing had so far worked, she said..

I don’t know what to say. Not a lot of detail and I wonder if this sort of public embarrassment achieves anything this side of gratification for the parents.

One of my most striking childhood memories is of a poor kid in 2nd grade whose mom was so outraged when she learned the teachers weren’t allowed corporal punishment – she came to school and beat him with a yardstick to show everyone how it should be done.

Sooner after, she took him out of public school and sent him to the nearest Catholic school where he could be “properly” disciplined. I always wondered how he ended up.

Banned film about Save the Children charity gets rare airing

Corporate headquarters in Westport, Connecticut

A 1969 documentary by Ken Loach, made for and later banned by Save the Children, has been shown to an audience of critics and colleagues in London. The untitled film will have its public premiere on 1 September and forms part of a major retrospective of the British director’s work at BFI Southbank.

The film took a critical view of the charity’s work in the UK and Kenya that its backers felt subverted its aims.

“There was a showing and not much was said,” the 75-year-old Loach remembers. “People left the room, and then we heard from the lawyers.”

The 53-minute film was co-funded by Save the Children, then celebrating its 50th anniversary, and London Weekend Television. “We assumed LWT would support the independence of a critical eye,” said Loach on Monday. “But they just backed away.”

As a result, the piece was consigned to the British Film Institute’s National Archive “and the key thrown away”.

That’s the version the Brits get to deal with. During my years in performing arts in among other places – Fairfield County in Connecticut – there were several happenings like this in the same time period.

One involved staff from Save the Children quitting their world headquarters over the “cost of doing business” which had a surprisingly smaller percentage of charity donations than perceived actually passing through to the children supposedly being saved. I knew a few of those folks and they worked for salaries considered nothing more than standard for the market. Yet, the managers of the charity took big chunks for themselves. Perhaps that’s changed?

Of course, films can be strange beasts. I saw the first cut of “Carry it On” and Joan Baez liked to have a fit on the spot with so much portrayed of her hubby, David, walking away from pacifism after he spent serious time in prison with folks from mean streets. The version that made it to nicey-nicey film festivals had lots of changes.

Higgs boson may be as mythical as all the other gods

Scientists chasing a particle they believe may have played a vital role in creation of the universe indicated…they were coming to accept it might not exist after all. But they stressed that if the so-called Higgs boson turns out to have been a mirage, the way would be open for advances into territory dubbed “new physics” to try to answer one of the great mysteries of the cosmos.

The CERN research center, whose giant Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has been the focus of the search, said it had reported to a conference in Mumbai that possible signs of the Higgs noted last month were now seen as less significant.

A number of scientists from the center went on to make comments that raised the possibility that the mystery particle might not exist…

CERN’s statement said new results, which updated findings that caused excitement at another scientific gathering in Grenoble last month, “show that the elusive Higgs particle, if it exists, is running out of places to hide…”

Under what is known as the Standard Model of physics, the boson, which was named after British physicist Peter Higgs, is posited as having been the agent that gave mass and energy to matter just after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. As a result, flying debris from that primeval explosion could come together as stars, planets and galaxies…

For some scientists, the Higgs remains the simplest explanation of how matter got mass. It remains unclear what could replace it as an explanation. “We know something is missing, we simply don’t quite know what this new something might be,” wrote CERN blogger Pauline Gagnon. “There are many models out there; we simply need to be nudged in the right direction,” added Gagnon, an experimental physicist.

Slowly, carefully, perceptibly – knowledge advances. Quantitative steps lead to qualitative changes. It’s just that we all want to be in on the discoveries.

Prehistoric mummies from South Uist a puzzle of body parts

DNA tests on British prehistoric mummies revealed they were made of body parts from several different people, arranged to look like one person. The four bodies discovered in 2001 on South Uist, in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides were the first evidence in Britain of deliberate mummification.

It is thought the body parts may have come from people in the same families.

Sheffield University’s Prof Mike Parker Pearson said the mummies had not been buried straight after preservation…

Recent tests on the remains carried out by the University of Manchester, show that the “female burial”, previously identified as such because of the pelvis of the skeleton, was in fact a composite. It was made up of three different people, and some parts, such as the skull, were male.

Radiocarbon dating and stable isotope analysis showed that the male mummy was also a composite.

Prof Parker Pearson, an expert in the Bronze Age and burial rituals has a theory about why the mummies were put together this way.

These could be kinship components, they are putting lineages together, the mixing up of different people’s body parts seems to be a deliberate act,” he said…

Archaeologists found the mummies in the foundations of a row of unusual Bronze Age terraced roundhouses. But after being radiocarbon dated, all were found to have died between 300 and 500 years before the houses were built, meaning they had been kept above ground for some time by their descendants.

In order for the bodies to have been found as articulated skeletons as they were, rather than piles of bones, some soft tissue preservation had to have taken place.

My kin.