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Monday December 22nd 2014

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News of the Weird 9/12/13

by Chuck Shepherd

Happiness Is a Clean Toilet Beginning in 2011, about three dozen people in Tokyo have been meeting every Sunday morning at 6 a.m. on a mission to scrub down, one by one, the city’s grungiest public rest rooms. “By 7:30,” according to an Associated Press reporter who witnessed an outing in August, the team had left behind a “gleaming public toilet, looking as good as the day it was installed.” Explained the hygiene- intense Satoshi Oda (during the week, a computer programmer), the mission is “for our own good”—work that leader Masayuki Magome compares to the training that Buddhist monks receive to find peace. (In fact, to fulfill the group’s motto, “Clean thyself by cleaning cubicles,” the scouring must be done with bare hands.) A squad supporter spoke of a sad, growing apprehension that the younger generation no longer shares the Japanese cultural conviction that rest rooms should always be clean and safe.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit Researchers at the University of Tokyo have developed a mirror that makes a person appear happy even when not. A built-in camera tracks facial features in real time, then tweaks the image to turn up the corners of the mouth and to create the beginnings of a smile in the eyes. Of what practical use would such a mirror be? Other Japanese researchers, according to a Slate.com report in August, believe that happy-face mirrors in retail stores would improve shoppers’ dispositions and lead to more sales.

Leading Economic Indicators In July, following sustained criticism, Thomson Reuters business information company suspended an advance-release service for the crucial monthly “consumer confidence index” that has been known to signal stock markets to abruptly “buy” (driving up prices) or “sell” (sending them lower). The University of Michigan prepares and distributes the index promptly at 10 a.m. Eastern time on its release date, but Thomson Reuters offers two advance peeks. It pays the school about $1 million a year to see the index at 9:55 a.m., to share with its best customers. The suspended program gave an even earlier tip-off—at 9:54:58—and high-frequency trading firms paid $6,000 more a month for those two seconds, which allowed their computer robots to execute hundreds of thousands of trades before other professional traders had access to the index.

• First-World Problems: Self-indulgent New York City parents have been hiring “play-date” coaches for their preschool youngsters, apparently out of fear that the kids’ skill set for just having fun might not impress admissions officers at the city’s elite private schools. The CEO of one consulting outfit told the New York Post in July that $400 an hour gets expert monitoring of a 4-year-old in small groups, evaluating, for example, how the child colors in a book, shares the crayons, holds a pencil and follows the rules of Simon Says.

• An unidentified school in the West Coast Conference recently self-reported a violation of controversial NCAA rules that restrict privileges for student-athletes, ordering a member of its women’s golf team to pay back $20 after she washed her car using a hose (and water) belonging to the school but which were not available to other students. (A University of Portland coach said he heard about the violation at a conference meeting, and Yahoo Sports, seeking confirmation, reported that an NCAA spokesman soft-pedaled the illegality, calling the school’s action a “miscommunication.”)