Monday, December 21, 2009

Around 2.30PM on Saturday, December 19, during a historic snowstorm, residents at the intersection of 14th and U Streets NW started throwing snowballs at passing Hummers.

One of the cars pelted was driven by a plainclothes police officer identified only as Det. Baylor. Baylor got out of his car and brandished his gun at the crowd.'s Dan Hayes was on the scene, capturing the tense confrontation between police and citizens who chanted "Don't bring a gun to a snowball fight!"

Approximately 5 minutes; harsh language throughout.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Rare tree cut from UW arboretum

Someone has cut down a rare Chinese tree at the Washington Park Arboretum and it might be sitting in someone's living room decorated with ornaments.

David Zuckerman, horticultural supervisor for University of Washington Botanic Gardens, said the 15-year-old keteleeria tree is estimated to be worth $10,400.

"There are so many places in the city where there are Christmas trees for sale. If you want to go to a tree farm, you can do that, but not on parks or botanical gardens," said Zuckerman.

He added that it's illegal to cut trees from the arboretum.

The keteleeria tree stood about seven to eight feet tall, but all that's left is the stump.

"In with the saw and out with the truck I guess," said Zuckerman.

The arboretum received two keteleeria trees in 1998 from a Chinese sister institution that had grown them from seeds. Zuckerman said "there could be a hotel sitting where trees like this once grew."

The second tree isn't growing as well as the one that was stolen, but Zuckerman said even the tree cut down was pretty young and spindly compared to the noble and Douglas firs most people want for Christmas trees.


Labels: , ,

Merry Christmas

Labels: ,

The Muppets: Ringing of the Bells... (1;26)

Labels: , ,

Questions Arise Over Red Light Cameras

Lakeland city vehicles seen apparently violating law, but not cited.

Video from Lakeland's red light cameras doesn't show what three Ledger journalists witnessed in person - city of Lakeland vehicles turning right on red without properly stopping.

No citations were issued in those incidents, according to city records. And video requested from the times when the incidents occurred did not show the vehicles going through the intersection.

The failure to issue citations in those instances reignites questions about whether the red light camera system, installed at five Lakeland intersections in June, is used evenly in enforcing violations and whether city of Lakeland vehicles might be held to a different standard than other drivers.

Here's what happened in the two incidents in question:

Two Ledger photographers were recording unrelated video at North Florida Avenue and Memorial Boulevard when they observed a city vehicle and other cars rolling through a red light at the intersection about 12:20 p.m. July 31.

On Aug. 4, a Ledger reporter saw a Lakeland police car and a Lakeland Electric vehicle turn right on red without stopping at the same intersection about 12:30 p.m.

None of the vehicles were using emergency lights.

A Ledger reporter Thursday asked the red light camera operator, American Traffic Solutions of Arizona, about what was observed. A company representative took the questions but did not respond with answers after subsequent phone calls and an e-mail.

The company installed and operates the cameras under a contract with the city. It sends video of instances that appear to be violations to the Lakeland Police Department, which reviews the video and decides whether citations should be issued.

The company is responsible for mailing citations and collecting the money. The city operates a review process through which vehicle owners can appeal.

As of Dec. 2, 16,619 citations had been issued since the cameras started being used June 1.

The city, which owns 1,116 vehicles, has received two citations. One was for a Lakeland police car and one was for a Lakeland Fire Department vehicle, city spokesman Kevin Cook said. The drivers cited were required to pay their own fines.

Six other citations involved Lakeland police cars answering emergency calls, and those were dismissed.

Cook said he doesn't think the two citations issued to city vehicles - far less than 1 percent of the total - is suspicious.

"To me, it doesn't seem weird because we instill in our employees that there are cameras out there and you will pay for it if you get caught," he said. "It doesn't take much to find that there have been 150 stories in the newspaper and on the news that they are out here."

The Ledger attempted for months to get video from the intersection where the reporter and photographers observed what appeared to be violations by city vehicles.

Numerous public records requests in August and September were initially denied by ATS, the camera company. ATS then charged The Ledger $250 for a copy of video footage it said was taken between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on each of the two days requested, July 31 and Aug. 4.

The video received raised more questions than it answered.

"There were no violations captured on 7/31/09 at N. Florida Ave.," Mary Jo Hopper, ATS's client services liaison, wrote to The Ledger in October. As a result, no video footage was sent by the camera to ATS. Cameras are programmed to send footage only if it includes possible violations, according to ATS.

In the August incident, ATS sent a CD that compiled 124 video clips recorded throughout the day and forwarded by the camera to the company for review.

The cameras capture 12-second video clips if sensors detect what are suspected to be violations. Those clips are sent to ATS for a first review before they are forwarded to the city for the final say.

But the clips received by The Ledger contained no time or date stamps to show what day or time the footage was shot, and the video showed both day and night scenes, which does not match The Ledger's records request.

The video also showed multiple video clips of the same infraction recorded at different time intervals.

The company has provided no explanation of the footage or the apparent differences between what was requested and what was received.

Also, The Ledger asked an ATS spokesperson whether it was unusual for such a low number of citations to be issued to city vehicles.

The company did not respond to that question or to requests for numbers of city vehicles cited in other cities where it has cameras.

Lakeland Mayor Buddy Fletcher and others at the city have been adamant in saying the cameras were installed to improve safety and not to generate money.

Drivers have been cited for nearly $2.1 million in red light violations as of Wednesday, and the city had collected $1.2 million in violations, Cook said.

The city has not spent any of the money collected. It sits in a bank account until two lawsuits against the city and the camera company have been resolved, he said.

City Manager Doug Thomas recently said money from red light cameras will go, at least in part, to help offset potential budget cuts at the Police Department.

The lawsuits filed against the city allege the cameras violate state traffic laws and laws governing how courts operate.

More county-owned than city-owned vehicles have been cited using the cameras. Eight citations have gone to the Polk County Sheriff's Office and three to county vehicles from other departments.

County employees are required to pay their own fines.

The Sheriff's Office requires that and adds stricter guidelines, said Chief Gary Hester, including a letter of guidance put into personnel files.

Of the sheriff's employees cited, six were detectives, one a court process server and one a worker driving an animal control vehicle, he said. One of the detectives, who was cited in September, received the notification too late, which voided the fine under the city's ordinance.

But that didn't mean the detective didn't have to pay up. Hester gave the detective two options: Give $125 to a charity or be suspended without pay for $125 of time. The detective opted for the donation.

"The whole purpose was equal discipline," Hester said. "I don't want that person to slide because of a technicality.

"It's dangerous to run red lights. And it's dangerous for cops to run red lights."


Labels: , ,

Extreme scootering....

Labels: , ,

Record industry faces liability over `infringement'

Chet Baker was a leading jazz musician in the 1950s, playing trumpet and providing vocals. Baker died in 1988, yet he is about to add a new claim to fame as the lead plaintiff in possibly the largest copyright infringement case in Canadian history. His estate, which still owns the copyright in more than 50 of his works, is part of a massive class-action lawsuit that has been underway for the past year.

The infringer has effectively already admitted owing at least $50 million and the full claim could exceed $6 billion. If the dollars don't shock, the target of the lawsuit undoubtedly will: The defendants in the case are Warner Music Canada, Sony BMG Music Canada, EMI Music Canada, and Universal Music Canada, the four primary members of the Canadian Recording Industry Association.

The CRIA members were hit with the lawsuit in October 2008 after artists decided to turn to the courts following decades of frustration with the rampant infringement.

The claims arise from a longstanding practice of the recording industry in Canada, described in the lawsuit as "exploit now, pay later if at all." It involves the use of works that are often included in compilation CDs (ie. the top dance tracks of 2009) or live recordings. The record labels create, press, distribute and sell the CDs, but do not obtain the necessary copyright licences.

Instead, the names of the songs on the CDs are placed on a "pending list," which signifies that approval and payment is pending. The pending list dates back to the late 1980s, when Canada changed its copyright law by replacing a compulsory licence with the need for specific authorization for each use. It is perhaps better characterized as a copyright infringement admission list, however, since for each use of the work, the record label openly admits that it has not obtained copyright permission and not paid any royalty or fee.

Over the years, the size of the pending list has grown dramatically, now containing more than 300,000 songs.

From Beyonce to Bruce Springsteen, the artists waiting for payment are far from obscure, as thousands of Canadian and foreign artists have seen their copyrights used without permission and payment.

It is difficult to understand why the industry has been so reluctant to pay its bills. Some works may be in the public domain or belong to a copyright owner difficult to ascertain or locate, yet the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Bruce Cockburn, Sloan, or the Watchmen are not hidden from view.

The more likely reason is that the record labels have had little motivation to pay up. As the balance has grown, David Basskin, the president and CEO of the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency Ltd., notes in his affidavit that "the record labels have devoted insufficient resources for identifying and paying the owners of musical works on the pending lists." The CRIA members now face the prospect of far greater liability.

The class action seeks the option of statutory damages for each infringement. At $20,000 per infringement, potential liability exceeds $6 billion.

These numbers may sound outrageous, yet they are based on the same rules that led the recording industry to claim a single file sharer is liable for millions in damages.

After years of claiming Canadian consumers disrespect copyright, the irony of having the recording industry face a massive lawsuit will not be lost on anyone, least of all the artists still waiting to be paid. Indeed, they are also seeking punitive damages, arguing "the conduct of the defendant record companies is aggravated by their strict and unremitting approach to the enforcement of their copyright interests against consumers."


Labels: ,

The REAL king of the jungle

Here's a jungle trial the pampered celebs on I'm A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here might want to try. Leave Ant and Dec behind and go to one of the most remote locations on earth, somewhere it would take a rescue team a good week to reach you - should you be able to contact them.

Then smash your satnav and throw away all your food apart from 2lb of salt. Now walk for two months, surviving on no more than your wits and what you can forage from the dried-out land and parched riverbeds. No takers? Thought not.

While the Z-listers of I'm A Celeb have been whining away in their cosy jungle camp, protected from the sun and rain by canopies the cameras do not show - with a medic nearby should one of the poor darlings break a fingernail - one man has been doing it for real.

He hasn't been in a national park like the celebs, but in the Amazon - the land of the pit viper and the jaguar, the narco-terrorist and the piranha. There, the bush tucker is you.

Former British Army captain Ed Stafford, 33, is well on the way to becoming the first man in history to walk from the source of the Amazon in the mountains of Peru to its mouth in Brazil. And he's not doing it in the hope of achieving notoriety, nor is he being paid handsomely for his efforts. No, he's doing it out of a sense of adventure - for the sheer derring-do.

He is 612 days in - and looking to finish next August. If he achieves his aim, it will be a stupendous achievement, right up there with Hillary's ascent of Everest and the conquerors of the poles.

The challenges he faces are monumental. So monumental, in fact, that Arctic explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes has written to Ed to warn him that the stage in front of him - the deep Brazilian jungle - will be 'difficult'. You can take it that this is something of an understatement, given that it comes from a man who once sawed off his own fingers after they became frostbitten.

Ironically - for someone taking on such a serious expedition - Ed's nickname would not be out of place on I'm A Celebrity. In the Army he was known as 'Spice Girl', a moniker earned when he attended the officers' mess one day in a pair of jeans that were considered 'too trendy'.

He doesn't look much like a Spice Girl. In fact, he looks pretty much as you'd expect - nay, hope - him to be: 6ft 1in, lean as a whippet and with a look of dogged determination in his eye. The sort that made the Zulus think twice at Rorke's Drift.

His average day would kill most people. Up at dawn, he walks for around eight hours, until 3pm. At this stage of the journey he will be lucky to have covered 7km in that time. This is jungle, real jungle - and you pay for every step with willsapping swings of the machete.

It's like clearing the thickest hedge you could imagine for a whole working day. Only this hedge is filled with razor grass - which is pretty much as the name implies, grass that will cut exposed flesh to ribbons - huge thorns and spines on trees sharp enough to go straight through a carelessly placed hand, deadly snakes, poisonous

spiders and foot-long centipedes so venomous that they can blister your skin with a touch. Oh, and the odd man-eating big cat. Specifically, jaguars.

It's 40 degrees in the shade, 100 per cent humidity - and water is scarce because this is the dry season. In some places, it's impossible to walk close to the river - and he might be a jungle mile inland. If he's lucky, he will find a stream or plants he can cut to drink from. If not, he goes thirsty.

Once he makes camp, he gathers firewood and - if there's water - he washes. Sometimes he might catch a few spiny piranhas to eat. But if he doesn't, he goes hungry. If you offered him one of the celebs' witchetty grubs, he'd regard it as a rare treat.

Has he been near death? Regularly. Sometimes daily. Only last week he was cutting his way through the jungle when he saw a movement. It was a deadly pit viper, ready to strike. Ed backed off. Luckily, so did the snake.

At dusk, he climbs into a hammock surrounded by mosquito nets. It's a sanctuary where he can read, write and try to sleep, although he's compelled to take sleeping pills, despite his exhaustion; the deafening noise of the jungle, the buzzing insects and the cries of monkeys, birds and animals - as well as the sauna-like temperatures - mean he would have no hope of rest otherwise.

Should he want to go to the loo at night, then he can tread only in the immediate area of his tiny camp. When the sun goes down, the jungle teems with deadly poisonous snakes. He has lived like this day after day, night after night, for nearly two years. And it will continue for at least another eight months.

I have a great appreciation of what Ed is facing, as last year I met him for part of his walk through the Peruvian stretch of the jungle.

In my time with him I was nearly swept away by a raging river, caught an all-over rash that made me look as though I'd been grilled, had one pair of shoes disintegrate on my feet, narrowly avoided being bitten by a snake, even more narrowly avoided sitting on a Poison Dart Frog, got lost, was accused by suspicious locals of trying to steal children's eyes and, oh yes, was taken hostage by 20 shotgunwielding villagers.

I also reached the point of physical collapse and my left knee has never been the same since. How long was I with Ed in the jungle? Three days. And that was the easy bit.

He and his guides are the fittest men I've ever met. I thought I was no slouch until I walked with them. I exercise hard three times a week and walk an average of 15 miles on a Saturday with the dog on the Sussex Downs.

But it's no preparation at all. By the end of a 12-hour slog on my third day, I was literally screaming in pain as we drove ourselves forward on a logging track of sucking mud to make a village before nightfall.

That was when we were taken prisoner. We'd come into a large village, but the guides went in first and came out to warn us that the chief was drunk.

We had no other options, so we went in anyway.

The chief's reception was far from welcoming and he threatened to throw us into the jungle in nothing more than the clothes we stood up in. Which was when the armed men appeared.

At the end of the hardest exercise I'd ever done in my life - 12 hours of crawling, climbing and chasing through the sodden jungle - here I was bargaining in my appalling Spanish for my life. Or rather, Ed was bargaining for me - in his rather better version of the language.

After a lot of discussion, we were marched to a shack and told not to move. Our fate would be decided by morning.

Luckily, Ed took control of the situation and approached the gunmen with some packets of cigarettes. After 20 minutes chatting to him - without the benefit of the chief's intervention - they were laughing and joking like old friends.

Ed then explained how sometimes the locals put on an act of aggression as a bargaining position to get money out of you. How do you know when they're serious, though?

'You don't,' he said with a shrug. He obviously made some impression because the next morning the chief made himself scarce while the rest of the village waved us away.

Ed seems a natural-born leader - and the guides told me they thought he was a very tough guy. That, from people raised in unimaginable poverty, who face more challenges in a day than most of us do in a lifetime, is some compliment. One of them has stayed with him all the way from Peru into Brazil - and is still travelling with him now.

Every day brings a new challenge. In the next 'difficult' bit, Ed explains, there will be no villagers to negotiate with, no gunmen to talk round, but water is a constant problem - either too little of it or, when the rains come, too much.

Food? He has £4 to his name after his recession-hit sponsors withdrew. When he reaches a town, he can't afford provisions to take with him into the jungle. He is already starving and expects to starve more. He was 14st 7lb when he started. The last time he weighed himself in a jungle town he had lost two stone - but he knows he has lost more since then.

His satnav is broken and even if he had enough money for guides, he wouldn't be able to get them anyway for this section of his expedition.

The locals are too scared of jaguars

to go into the jungle. The big cats find pickings lean in the dry season and a juicy explorer would be a welcome addition to their diet. Ed is, of course, unarmed. A gun might give protection from the wildlife, but it would guarantee hostility from the people.

'I am scared of the next part,' he tells me via satellite link. 'We've already been on the point of collapse through malnutrition and dehydration- - and it looks like we're in for much more of the same.'

When Ed says he's scared, you know its something worth being scared about. After all, this is someone who has worked as a security consultant in Afghanistan, where he was once detailed to guard a polling station.

Unfortunately, the militia weren't too keen on the election taking place and the station was overrun by 500 screaming tribesmen firing assault rifles into the air.

Ed had to barricade himself and his men in a storeroom while the place was ransacked. He described that as 'a bit of a laugh', so you can imagine that it takes quite a bit to frighten him.

Is the jungle as hard as Afghanistan? Totally different, he says. 'Afghanistan gave me nightmares for weeks afterwards. The jungle I love. Still, recently I've had nightmares about the bombs going off again. It's my default position when I get tired.'

He admits, too, that the mental demands are taking their toll. Two years' dependency on Nytol sleeping pills isn't doing his body any good - and the sheer length of the trip would test anyone's resolve.

When the rainy season finally arrives, he will be pushed inland, as

the river floods to miles wide. He will come into contact with remote tribes who are living the same way they did when Portuguese colonists arrived.

In Peru he encountered people who had never seen a white man. Here he may meet those who have never even heard of one. It's Ed and his guide with that bag of salt (for preserving fish) versus the most hostile territory on earth.

His only back-up is his friends and family. His mother is looking to sell her house to support him. That's how much she believes in what he's doing.

The trip is a pure challenge. There's no artificial degree of difficulty to it; he's not trying to be the first man up Everest in a gorilla suit playing a banjo - he's trying to walk the Amazon, the cauldron of heat, disease and hostility.

It's something that would have appealed to the Victorians in the great age of British exploration; if Ed comes out alive he will deserve a place alongside Scott, Livingstone and Shackleton - something he's very proud of.

'It's good to stand in the long and distinguished line of British nutters who think its clever to put themselves through hell to achieve something that no one else ever has,' he says.

Will he succeed? Probably. After all, he's proved that running out of funds won't stop him, and physical hardship won't beat him.

If the Amazon wants to remain unconquered then it's going to have to kill Ed Stafford first - something it seems more than prepared to try.

He'll finish in August, if things go smoothly. My guess is that they won't. If Ed doesn't get home before next Christmas, he will at least have one consolation - he'll have missed the next series of I'm A Celebrity. . .


Labels: , ,

The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers


Labels: , , ,

Time to make the donuts....

Labels: , ,

22 million horsepower.

NASA and industry partners lit up the Utah sky on Sept. 10, 2009, with the initial full scale, full-duration test firing of the first motor for the Ares I rocket. ATK Space Systems conducted the successful stationary firing of the five-segment solid development motor 1, or DM-1. ATK Space Systems, a division of Alliant Techsystems of Brigham City, Utah, is the prime contractor for the Ares I first stage. Engineers will use the measurements gathered from the test to evaluate thrust, roll control, acoustics and motor vibrations. This data will provide valuable information as NASA develops the Ares I and Ares V vehicles. Another ground test is planned for summer 2010.

Skip to ~1;36 if you're impatient like me.

Labels: , ,

Might want to rethink your ad campaign.

Labels: , ,

Excellent ride video from

Following my BFF through the Dragon from killboy on Vimeo.

Labels: , ,