News of the Weird

Jan. 25, 2010
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Virtually Real Money

In December, a prominent online game player who goes by the name of Buzz Erik Lightyear won an auction for the ownership of a virtual space station in a game called Planet Calypso. Lightyear paid 3.3 million Project Entropia Dollars (PEDs), which at various points entered the game’s economy at an actual out-of-pocket cost of 10 cents per PED. Thus, Lightyear paid $330,000 in real money for digital representations of cool-looking structures. Lightyear can now charge other PED-seeking players who shop and hunt for valuables on the popular space station. Lightyear said he is confident that he will eventually earn back his investment.

Least Competent Criminals

World's Laziest Bank Robbers: (1) In December in Cardiff (Wales) Crown Court, James Snell was sentenced to 10 years in prison for aiding a bank robbery. Snell made it easy for authorities to capture him and the rest of the crew, as they made a getaway in Snell’s car, which has a personalized license plate that reads “J4MES.” (2) Mark McAvinew, 52, was arrested in Kansas City, Mo., in December after allegedly robbing the Metcalf Bank and fleeing in an A.M. Heating & Cooling company van (a business he co-owns). (3) In November, Christopher Walker was sentenced to two years in jail for robbing a Lloyds TSB Bank in Birmingham, England. He was caught within minutes of the robbery, as witnesses saw him flee the bank to his home across the street.

Rethinking the Safe House

Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to be dangerous for blundering insurgents. In January, 14 suspected Taliban terrorists accidentally blew themselves up in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province while riding a bus carrying bombs to an intended target. And in Karachi, Pakistan, two days later, eight suspected terrorists accidentally blew themselves up while handling bombs in their "safe house."

Cutting-Edge Research

(1) In December, University of London math professor Simon Blackburn published a formula to determine whether a driver has enough room to parallel park within a given space. By inputting such measurements as a car's wheelbase and the radius of its turning circle, a driver can calculate an exact, when-to-turn steering instruction. (2) A December National Public Radio report noted that fake houseflies have begun appearing in urinals around the world based on research showing that men are more likely to aim at the flies, thus leaving the area surrounding the urinal cleaner.

Great Art!

  • In December, Portuguese dancer Rita Marcalo, seeking to raise public awareness of the tragedy of epilepsy (which has afflicted her for 20 years), performed a 24-hour show at a theater in West Yorkshire, England, in which she attempted to trigger an epileptic seizure on stage. She had stopped taking medication beforehand and continually stared into flashing strobe lights, but was unable to trigger a seizure. However, she will continue the quest in the second part of her project (which has been funded by an Arts Council grant). This time she will attempt the feat in front of cameras, hoping to capture a seizure for a subsequent video production.
  • Scottish sculptor Kevin Harman was fined the equivalent of about $325 in November for vandalizing the Collective Gallery in Edinburgh by smashing a metal scaffolding pole through a gallery window. Harman insisted that the incident was actually "art," in that it was part of a video for a project at the Edinburgh College of Art and that he had immediately paid to replace the window. The gallery’s management, however, did not view the incident as "art," and later pressed charges. According to London's The Guardian, Harman said that the fine didn’t bother him so much as the fact that gallery management insulted his art by calling it vandalism.

Police Blotter

(1) Clovis, N.M., Nov. 21: "The (grandmother), who said she relied on a walker for mobility, said the (son-in-law) had come into the bathroom while she was using it and had grabbed and twisted her nose until she could hear the bones and cartilage cracking. The man was arrested." (2) Apple Valley, Minn., Oct. 13: "Officers responded to a report that a man was sitting on the curb in front of his house talking to himself. When officers arrived they found a very intoxicated man who wanted officers to drive him to Washington, D.C., so that he could discuss the country's military involvement in the Middle East with President Obama."

People With Issues

(1) Prominent eastern Idaho prosecuting attorney Blake Hall, 56, was fired in November (and he also resigned from his position with the Republican National Committee) after his conviction for stalking an ex-girlfriend. Evidence at trial revealed that Hall had been tossing used condoms onto the woman’s lawn—a total of 19 condoms were collected on 10 different days. (2) Truck driver Yuuki Oshima, 22, was arrested in Chiba, Japan, in December after allegedly urinating through the mail slot of a woman's apartment door. Oshima told police that he was frustrated, apparently too shy to approach the woman and admit that he was "crazy" about her.

2010 Chuck Shepherd


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