Chuck Shepherd Thursday, January 23, 2014 0

Edward Teller, the famous theoretical physicist known as the “father of the hydrogen bomb” for his work on the World War II-era Manhattan Project, died in 2003. His daughter Rene told The Free Press of Kinston, N.C., in November that she had recently discovered two of her father’s mementos at a thrift shop near Kinston: awards Teller had won at tractor pull competitions. “He’d show up at major tractor pulls” riding just a Cub Cadet mower, Rene said, and “leave the competition in the dust.” Teller’s secret, she said, was using “nuclear fusion-based engines,” which sponsors ultimately had to ban.


The Entrepreneurial Spirit

— “It will be sort of my unique factor,” said Lucy Luckayanko, describing her $3,000 eyeball jewelry implant from New York City’s Park Avenue Laser Vision. The implant involved the insertion of a piece of platinum between the sclera (the white part of the eye) and the clear conjunctiva. Actually, said the shop’s medical director, Dr. Emil Chynn, to WNEW-TV in November, it’s “pretty safe.”

— Japan’s “cat cafes” allow diners to caress house kittens that roam the facilities. Similar eateries feature owls (the Fukurou Sabou in Tokyo, Owl Family in Osaka). The owls can’t be caressed and are easily spooked by excessive noise.

— Liu Pengfei’s Five Loaves and Two Fish restaurant in Fuzhou, China, is losing money rapidly in spite of its overflowing crowds. According to a December China Daily report, Pengfui allows customers to pay whatever amount they want to for the food. They must also wash out their bowls. “I want to continue,” he said, “as I believe the feeling of trust is contagious.”


The Kingdom

— According to a Wired story, biologist Theodore Pietsch described the sex life of the anglerfish as: “Boy meets girl, boy bites girl, boy’s mouth fuses to girl’s body, boy lives the rest of his life attached to girl, sharing her blood and supplying her with sperm.” Because the ocean floor is so dark it’s hard to detect mates, only 1 percent of males ever hook up with females. The rest starve to death as virgins.

— Marlene Zuk of the University of Minnesota described the mating mechanics of damselflies, crickets and cockroaches for The New York Times in November, 2013. The damselfly male’s penis is a Swiss Army knife-like contraption, which it must be to access the female’s well-hidden eggs. The cricket easily produces sperm, but then awaits its draining through a “long stem for several minutes” to achieve fertilization. Cockroaches, Professor Zuk wrote, mate by “blind trust” as they hook up back-to-back.

— Nirmala Toppo, 14, is the one to call if wild elephants overrun your village in India’s Orissa and Jharkhand states, which are still home to hundreds of marauding pachyderms. In June, she emptied a herd of 11 elephants out of the industrial city of Rourkela. Said Toppo: “First I pray and then talk to the herd. I tell them this is not your home. You should return where you belong.” Somehow, the elephants follow her for miles, according to an October BBC News dispatch.


Cutting-Edge Science

University of British Columbia researchers tried to judge whether the blocking of dopamine D4 receptors can reduce the urge to gamble in subjects other than human beings. They claimed to have devised a procedure that works on the dopamine receptors of rats, and especially those with a gambling problem. Researchers used a slot machine-like device that dispenses sugar pellets to the rats. The researchers claimed they offered rats “measured risks” and determined that rats are more likely to take risks immediately after a close loss (just as people are).


Medical Marvels

Seven years ago, Michael Spann, now 29, suddenly doubled over in pain; felt as if he “got hit in the head with a sledgehammer”; and began crying blood. Despite consultations with doctors, including two visits with extensive lab work at the venerable Cleveland Clinic, the Antioch, Tenn., man told Nashville’s The Tennessean in October that he is resigned to an “idiopathic condition,” which is a term that indicates a disease without an apparent cause. Spann’s main wish now is just to hold a job. He fears that fellow workers and customers will not react well to the sight of a man bleeding from the eyes. The incidents occur once every few days.



The daunting problems that faced the launch of the website in October were merely indicative of the federal government’s snail-like pace at integrating digital innovations common to everyday America. A December New York Times report revealed that The Federal Register (the daily journal of the U.S. government) still receives original content from some agencies on virtually obsolete 3.5-inch floppy disks. Its work-order authorizations from some agencies come on disks hand-delivered inside the Washington Beltway by courier. Contractors can be frustrated; they must sometimes downgrade to interface with their government clients.


Least Competent Criminals

A 23-year-old woman was arrested in Crestview, Fla., for shoplifting a toy from an adult store before she inquired about a job there. She professed her innocence until she was shown the surveillance video. When she saw it, police reported, she said, “Oh, my God. Look at what I’m doing … I’m gonna cry.”


Readers’ Choice

In October, an Ohio judge turned down a petition by Donald Miller Jr., in which he asked to be ruled “alive.” “You’re still deceased as far as the law is concerned,” probate judge Allan Davis told him. State law required challenges to the declaration of death obtained by Miller’s wife in 1994 to be filed within three years. Said Davis, “I don’t know where that leaves you.”


A News of the Weird Classic (July 2009)

Hundreds of Los Angeles’ down-and-out live not underneath freeways but inside their concrete structures, according to a June (2009) Los Angeles Times report. The largest such “home” is a gymnasium-sized cavern under the Interstate 10 freeway in the suburb of Baldwin Park. That space is nearly inaccessible; to get to it, one must squeeze through a rusty grating, traverse a narrow ledge and descend a ladder to reach “a vast, vault-like netherworld, strewn with garbage and syringes.” Toys and rattles and a cat carcass are visible on an upper platform. Authorities fear the area; every few years, state officials try to seal the entrance. The homeless quickly unseal it as soon as the officials leave.