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News Quirks 

Curses, Foiled Again After reporting the theft of video games, a compact disc player, camera equipment, clothing and a video camera from her car in Idaho Falls, Idaho, a woman received a videotaped message from the thief demanding a $3000 ransom for her video games. The victim was unable to comply because the masked thief forgot to include instructions for delivering the money. "We're not dealing with brain surgeons here," police Lt. Joe Cawley observed.

* Police said Keith Allen Sturgill, 35, tried to rob a fast-food restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, but had to wait because the safe was on a timer. When the restaurant's phone and an employee's cell phone rang at the same time, Sturgill shouted that he'd shoot anyone who answered. His loud voice activated the employee's Bluetooth, however, and her caller heard the robber yelling in the background and notified police.

* After die-hard Baltimore Ravens fan Ron Stach, 41, vowed to remain on the roof of a city bar until his team won a game, he attracted media attention as the "Goof on the Roof." For the next two weeks, local television showed him sharing drinks with fellow Ravens fans and boasting of spending hundreds of dollars on Ravens memorabilia. The publicity caught the attention of Stach's ex-wife, who alerted authorities of an outstanding warrant for failing to pay more than $34,000 in child support. "I tell you what," bar owner Darren Petty said after police arrested Stach. "Any goof who wants to go on this roof, we're going to do a background check from now on."

No Sweat A Swedish real-estate firm announced plans to heat its new office building with the body heat from a quarter million rail commuters. Pointing out that body heat already warms Stockholm's central train station, which sits below the site of the proposed 43,000-square-foot building, the real estate firm Jernhusen said that instead of venting the surplus body heat, it would spend $31,200 to install "a few pumps and pipes" to redirect it and provide as much as 15 percent of the new building's heating capacity.

Expect the Unexpected Fire destroyed a fire station in Pickering, Mo., and burned at least $100,000 worth of fire trucks and equipment, according to officials, who blamed the blaze on a propane space heater.

* Sixteen Polish military officers returning from a flight-safety conference in Warsaw perished when their plane crashed while landing at an airstrip in Miroslawiec. Polish news media declared the crash one of the worst military disasters in more than three decades.

* Hector "Big Weasel" Marroquin, 51, a self-proclaimed former Los Angeles gang member who ran an anti-gun organization that received $1.5 million from the city to reduce gun and gang violence, received an eight-year prison sentence for selling assault weapons during an undercover sting.

Homeland Insecurity The FBI was forced to curtail wiretaps intended to deter terrorist attacks because telephone companies discontinued service after the agency repeatedly failed to pay its bills on time, according to the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General. Its audit found that more than half the 990 telecommunications surveillance payments made by five FBI field divisions were late, resulting in "lost evidence, including an instance where delivery of intercept information required by a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act order was halted due to untimely payment." One field division had $66,000 in unpaid bills, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine told the Washington Times. Michael German, national security policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, pointed out the phone companies, who claimed "they were just being 'good patriots' when they allowed the government to spy on us without warrants, are more than willing to pull the plug on national security investigations when the government falls behind on its bills."

Head Games Rhode Island's Department of Health fined Rhode Island Hospital $50,000 after doctors performed brain surgery on the wrong side of a patient's head for the third time in one year.

Worth Less Than U.S. Dollars (So Far) Hoping to end chronic cash shortages amid rampant inflation, Zimbabwe's central bank issued a $10 million bill. The banknote is worth US$5 on the black market in Harare, the capital, where a hamburger at an ordinary café costs 15 million Zimbabwe dollars. Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono conceded that issuing the higher denomination bill might tempt businesses to raise the price of scarce goods in the country, where the official inflation rate is 25,000 percent, although independent financial institutions insist it's really closer to 150,000 percent.

It's a Virtual World After All Two South Korean firms have developed a robot that can clean a house and guard it. KTF, which provided wireless-phone technology, and Yujin Robot, which developed the hardware and software, said owners of the Iclebo could use their wireless phone keypads to control it to vacuum the home and program it to send an alarm signal to the phone when it detects a break-in. The companies plan to sell the robot for $546.

* The Japanese robot maker Kokoro Company Ltd. unveiled a robot for training dental students. Kokoro official Tatsuo Matsuzaki explained the 5-foot-3 robot, named "Simroid," can listen to instructions and react to pain from dental drills by saying "it hurts" or moving its eyes or hands. Simroid, which resembles an attractive young woman, also has a sensor in the breast area to detect when it has been touched inappropriately.

* Japan's Secom Co. introduced its My Spoon feeding robot, which uses a spoon-and-fork-fitted swiveling arm to help elderly or disabled people eat without human assistance. "It's all about empowering people to help themselves," developer Shigehisa Kobayashi said, noting the Tokyo-based company has sold 300 of the robots at $3500 each.

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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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