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News Quirks 03.02.05 

Curses, Foiled Again Police investigating a robbery in Euless, Texas, found a wallet that the suspect left on the store counter after taking $200 from the cash drawer. A detective notified Joseph Fahnbulleh, 22, that someone had found his wallet and that he could claim it at the police station. When he showed up, officers arrested him.

- Swedish police reported that someone broke into a hospital cafeteria in Karishamn. The thief fled after failing to find anything of value but left behind his false teeth with his social security number engraved in them. Using dental records, investigators identified the 43-year-old suspect, who confessed when confronted with the evidence.

- A sheriff's deputy tried to pull over Jerry Wayne Till for speeding outside Monroe, Louisiana, but Till drove away. After leading deputies on a high-speed chase, Till abandoned his vehicle and ran into the woods. While deputies were searching for him, Till called the sheriff's office from his cell phone to report that he was lost. A nearby resident who heard Till crying for help guided deputies to him.

People, Who Needs People? University of Florida scientists extracted 25,000 neural cells from the brain of a rat embryo to create a "live computation device" and taught it to fly an F-22 fighter jet simulator. "When we first hooked them up, the plane crashed all the time," said Thomas DeMarse, 37, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, who developed the technique. "But over time, the neural network slowly adapts as the brain learns to control the pitch and roll of the aircraft." DeMarse pointed out that his research could lead to scientists building living elements into traditional computers.

- Japanese researchers announced that they have transformed a robotic device used at construction sites into a master of Japanese traditional dance as a first step toward using the robot as a guardian of cultural heritage. The slow-paced dance is rapidly losing ground in 21st-century Japan, according to Katsushi Ikeuchi, an engineering professor at Tokyo University, who recorded the movements of a human dance master, then programmed the 5-foot-tall robot to replicate them. "It was very difficult," Ikeuchi pointed out. "The robot can easily flip just by imitating human moves."

- A Japanese software designer introduced a robot programmed to chat with lonely old people to keep them from going senile. The 18-inch Snuggling Ifbot, which sells for $5600, comes dressed in an astronaut suit with a glowing face and has the conversational ability of a 5-year-old, the language level its programmer said is needed to stimulate the brains of senior citizens. "By talking with this robot," said Takao Ohsuga of Dream Supply, which developed Snuggling Ifbot's software, "seniors who are often alone can stimulate their brains and avoid becoming forgetful." Ohsuga added that work is under way to program the robot to speak English to teach the language to Japanese children.

United I Stand Mayor L. Douglas Wilder of Richmond, Virgiinia, ordered metal detectors removed from City Hall as a cost-cutting measure, then announced that a team of eight to 10 bodyguards was being assigned to protect him. Although the switch from metal detectors will save $200,000, the security officers will be responsible only for the mayor's safety, not that of other City Hall workers.

Persistence Pays A Bank of America branch in Prince George's County, Maryland, had been robbed so many times that it stopped letting customers inside, directing them to the drive-up teller or the automated teller machine. The precautions failed to deter one robber. "There were two tellers inside of the bank," police Cpl. Diane Richardson said. "One of the tellers left to run over to the drugstore, and as she was walking back, a suspect wearing dark clothing produced a gun and forced her inside the bank."

Friends Through Thick and Thin Brendan Walsh, 27, pleaded guilty in a British court to repeatedly stabbing a long-lost friend, Noel Duff. Walsh and Duff had been close in school but lost touch until Walsh traced Duff using the "Friends Reunited" website. After introducing Duff to his sister, Walsh mistakenly believed that Duff had attacked her, prompting him to stab Duff seven times in a drunken rage. Walsh immediately became full of remorse and called an ambulance. "The victim is no longer angry at you," Judge David Paget told Walsh, who was cleared of attempted murder, "and the remarkable fact is that (he) even gave evidence on your behalf and said he would like to be friends with you again."

Homeland Insecurity After two bomb threats at Bridgeton, New Jersey's Broad Street School, the Salem County Sheriff's Department conducted a training exercise at the school for bomb-sniffing dogs but left behind a stick of dynamite. "They have to put something out there for the dog to find," Cumberland County Sheriff Michael Barruzza explained after a kindergarten teacher found the fuseless dynamite in her classroom, and the school was evacuated. School superintendent H. Victor Gilson said the sheriff's department wasn't to blame; instead, he insisted that the incident was the fault of a 15-year-old student who made the bomb threats, which prompted the training exercise.

My Bad Washington state troopers arrested Theresa M. Wilson, 43, after they said she overtook a vehicle and rammed it three times, pushing it partially off the road. She explained that she thought the car belonged to her ex-boyfriend, whom she had found with another woman. "We have an innocent party minding his own business, and next thing you know, you have some wild woman trying to run him off the road," Trooper Garvin March said, attributing the attack to mistaken identity and "an anger-management issue on her part."

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Roland Sweet

Roland Sweet is the author of the syndicated column "News Quirks," which appears weekly in Seven Days.


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