This Place Is Bugged

Mar. 11, 2009
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While working on a Pentagon contract in January, University of California researchers announced their success at rigging a live flower beetle with electrodes and a radio receiver to enable scientists to control the insect's flight remotely. Pulses sent to the bug's muscles and optic lobes can command it to take off, turn left or right, or hover, according to a report in MIT Technology Review, and the insect's relatively large size—up to 4 inches in length—would also enable it to carry a camera, giving the beetle military uses such as surveillance or search and rescue. The researchers admired the native flight-control ability of the beetle so much that they abandoned the idea of developing robot beetles, which would require trying to mimic nature.

 Least Competent Criminals

 Recurring Themes: (1) In February, David Hampton, 23, was charged in Charlotte County, Fla., with robbing a BP gas station. Hampton became the latest robber to run out of gas in his getaway car. This case is particularly egregious, however, because minutes earlier he had obviously been present at a gas station. (2) In Marseille, France, in January, a 21-year-old man became the latest bank burglar with an ambitious plan and a mediocre sense of direction, as he drilled through the outside wall of a branch of Banque Populaire but missed the room with the safe deposit boxes and wound up instead in a restroom.

 Surreal Scene

 Allahmanamjad Barbel, 21, sought help in February at the police station in Barnstable, Mass., after his sister playfully put handcuffs on him at a birthday party and couldn't get them off. Police removed them and then, after running his name through the computer, discovered several outstanding warrants and immediately re-cuffed him.

 The Entrepreneurial Spirit

  • A coin-operated, self-service, dog-washing machine ("self" meaning the dog's owner, not the dog) has been introduced in a half-dozen carwashes in the United States, at $10 for 10 minutes, according to a January report on one such franchise in Stuart, Fla. The "K9000" is a 3-foot-high, walk-in shower area with an open top, six separate wash cycles, conditioner and flea-and-tick options, and adjustable water pressure and dryer settings.
  • At Mannerspielplatz ("Men's Playground") near Kassel, Germany, testosterone-fueled office workers can get in touch with their "inner ditch-digger" (according to a January Wired magazine report) and frolic all day long on 29-ton backhoes, 32-ton front-end loaders, jackhammers and various other big, loud machinery for an admission fee of about $280 a day. At the Men's Playground, the owner said, "We fulfill men's dreams." 

 Why They Go Postal

 An official of the National Association of Letter Carriers in Buffalo, N.Y., said in February that it would challenge the Postal Service's threatened suspension of a carrier who was using sidewalks to get from house to house this winter instead of walking across ice-packed, snow-covered yards. Cutting across yards is required by Postal Service rules in order to speed up deliveries.

 Weird Biology

 "Reproduction is no fun if you're a squid," said a biologist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, referring particularly to the deep-sea squid. Finding a mate a mile down in the pitch-dark setting of the ocean is hard enough, but the combination of small males fearful of being eaten and females whose reception of sperm involves being stabbed makes the insemination process especially traumatic. Sperm deposits can be extensive and burdensome to the female and are delivered by the reckless slashing of the skin by the male. In fact, according to a December report in Germany's Der Spiegel, in the darkness the male sometimes misses the female altogether and inseminates himself.

 Fine Points of the Law

 Drug trafficking is a capital offense in Malaysia, and it appeared that one man would face this fate after being spotted by a police officer with a car full of drugs. However, the man has an identical twin brother who was also arrested and, in February, Kuala Lumpur High Court Judge Zaharah Ibrahim ruled that because it was impossible to know which one had actually possessed the drugs, both had to go free.

 Leading Economic Indicators

 People With Too Much Money: In January, at Tokyo's first fish auction of 2009, the upscale Kyubey restaurant and the moderately priced Itamae Sushi dining chain jointly purchased a single, 280-pound bluefin tuna for the equivalent of about $104,000. Kyubey said it would cut its half into slivers priced at about $22 each, while the popular Itamae planned to offer tinier, more affordable slivers.

  2009 Chuck Shepherd


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