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News Quirks 10.18.06 

Curses, Foiled Again Police investigating a series of auto thefts in a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia, identified Shylo Kujawski as their prime suspect because he has "Grand Theft Auto" tattooed prominently on his back. They arrested him after setting up a stakeout when he started to drive away in a stolen car. Police said that Kujawski previously tried to steal another car, but he accidentally disabled it with the owner's steering wheel lock.

Drinking-Class Heroes Brewing beer can clean polluted water, according to researchers at Japan's Kobe Pharmaceutical University. Tests found that beer bran, a byproduct of the brewing process, adsorbed benzene and trichloroethylene, both hazardous organic compounds found in chemical and industrial wastewater, more efficiently than current filtering methods and up to 100 times cheaper.

On the Lam Ngo Thanh Tam, 51, a convicted robber who escaped from a Vietnamese jail after serving two years of a 4-year sentence, eluded authorities for the past 20 years by joining the police force in Dak Nong province. In 2003, Tam was promoted to police chief of Dak Ru commune, according to the newspaper An Ninh Thu Do (Capital Security), which reported that he also joined the ruling Communist Party and was elected to the Dak Ru People's Council in 2004 for a 5-year term.

Artificial Intelligence Computer scientists at Stanford University are developing a robot that can use a hammer and a screwdriver to assemble an Ikea bookshelf, clean up after a party, load a dishwasher, and take out the trash. According to the Wall Street Journal, the research team is focusing on systems that will consistently recognize standard doorknobs and is building robot hands to open doors. "The dream," project leader Andrew Ng said, "is to put a robot in every home."

* University of Florida engineering student Gregory Garcia created a robotic cart, known as B.O.S.S., for Battery Operated Smart Servant, that follows shoppers around supermarkets, slows down when needed so items can be placed in it and avoids bumping into other shoppers. "The immediate thing that jumped to my mind was all those times as a kid when my sister would accidentally hit me with a cart," Garcia said. "It seems like the public would really want this since everybody shops."

* The South Korean government introduced a sentry robot capable of detecting and killing intruders along the heavily fortified border with North Korea. "The Intelligent Surveillance and Guard Robot has surveillance, tracking, firing and voice-recognition systems built into a single unit," said Lee Jae-hoon, deputy minister of commerce, industry and energy.

Water Lite Jana, whose website ( touts it as "no-calorie water," sells for $43.20 for 24 bottles, plus shipping and handling.

Target Practice Drivers give more room to bicyclists who aren't wearing safety helmets, according to a study by Ian Walker, a member of the psychology department at Britain's University of Bath. Walker rode a bicycle fitted with a computer and an ultrasonic distance sensor and recorded data from more than 2500 passing vehicles, half the time wearing a helmet and half the time bare-headed. Drivers passed an average of 3.3 inches closer when he wore the helmet. Declaring that his findings suggest "wearing a helmet might make a collision more likely in the first place," Walker noted that he was struck twice while wearing the helmet, once by a bus and once by a truck.

* Police in Greenville, S.C., reported that a bicyclist who was hit by a car was waiting in the road for an ambulance to treat his injuries when a second car hit him. Lance Cpl. Kathy Hiles of the Highway Patrol noted that the bicyclist, whose name was not released, was not wearing a helmet.

Que Sera Sera Michael J. Feisel, 31, admitted setting his wife's bed on fire as she and their three children slept, then sitting downstairs drinking beer and waiting for their screams, according to police in Lansford, Pa., who said that Feisel told them he initially planned to rescue his family, but then "decided to just let whatever happens happen."

Glass Teat Television soothes children more than their mothers do, according to an Italian study measuring pain among children being injected by hypodermic needles. The researchers took blood samples from children ages 7 to 12, offering TV as a distraction to some. Those watching TV reported less pain than those not watching TV, but they also reported half the pain as those being soothed by their mothers. Children whose mothers who didn't try to soothe them while they watched TV reported one-third the pain. "The power of television is strong, and it can be harmful for children if it is stronger than the force made by the mother to distract children," said the study's chief author, neonatologist and pediatrician Dr. Carlo Bellieni of the University of Siena. "I believe that this power must be controlled and reduced."

Will of God (For Now) The First Baptist Church of Watertown, N.Y., dismissed Mary Lambert after she had taught Sunday school there for 54 years, explaining that it had adopted a more literal interpretation of the Bible that prohibits women from teaching men and says "she must be silent" (I Timothy 2:12). The Rev. Timothy (no relation) LaBouf, who also serves on the Watertown City Council, said his stance did not apply to his civic duties in Watertown, whose city manager is a woman. "I believe that a woman can perform any job and fulfill any responsibility that she desires to," LaBouf said, so long as it's outside the church.

Voodoo Follies Pierre Carrenard, who was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend's mother and a dog, explained that a shrine police found in his apartment made of panties belonging to the ex-girlfriend "was a sort of spell to control her spirit."

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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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