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News of the Weird 8/9/18

By the Editors at Andrews McMeel

Suspicions Confirmed Among the gazillion other products and services available from Amazon is the behemoth’s facial recognition software, Rekognition, marketed as providing extremely accurate facial analysis. But when the American Civil Liberties Union gave it a go, the results were startling. Using Rekognition, the ACLU scanned photos of every current member of the U.S. House and Senate and came up with 28 matches to a mug shot database of people who had been arrested for crimes. The ACLU announced its findings July 26 and admitted it used Amazon’s default settings, to which Amazon responded, “While 80 percent confidence is an acceptable threshold for photos of hot dogs, chairs, animals or other social media use cases,” Amazon would advise customers to set the threshold at 95 percent or higher for law enforcement. The ACLU told NPR that the legislators who were falsely matched were men, women, Republicans and Democrats of all ages. However, the software did misidentify people of color at a higher rate.

Weird Science You thought you were old? You’re just a twinkle in a nematode’s eye. Russian scientists have revived two ancient, frozen roundworms, or nematodes, from samples collected in Siberian permafrost, The Siberian Times reported on July 26. The worms, which were found in cores taken from 30 meters and 3.5 meters deep, are believed to be female and 41,700 and 32,000 years old, respectively. After collecting the samples, scientists slowly thawed out the worms, which eventually started eating and moving. Scientists from the Institute of Physico-Chemical and Biological Problems of Soil Science in Moscow believe the nematodes have some adaptive mechanisms that may be of scientific importance.

Florida. Need We Say More? During a July 23 debate among mayoral candidates in Key West, Florida, Sloan Bashinsky, a perennial contender, took a minute to answer a call from God. “Hello? What? God?” Bashinsky said, speaking into his cellphone. According to FLKeys News, it wasn’t the first time he’s heard from a higher power: “I have said every time I ran, I ran because God told me to run,” Bashinsky explained. “I think anyone who wants this job is insane.” Bashinsky has a law degree from Vanderbilt University and was once among the island’s homeless. He joins six other candidates on the ticket.

Sign of the Times Just after midnight on July 22, a couple in Palo Alto, California, were awakened in their bedroom by a 17-year-old burglar with a garment obscuring his face. Instead of demanding money or jewelry, though, the intruder asked for their Wi-Fi password. According to the Sacramento Bee, the homeowner forced the teen out of the home and called police, who tracked him down a block away and arrested him for felony residential burglary. Police later determined it wasn’t the teen’s first attempt at connectivity. Less than an hour earlier that night, a prowler had summoned a woman from her home to ask for access to her Wi-Fi network also. She told him to go away, and he rode off on a bicycle — which she realized the next day he had stolen from her backyard. She called police, who recovered the bike near where they had arrested the teen.

Bright Ideas Jeffrey Jacobs, 37, thought he had a great thing going. Last year, when a tree fell on his White Plains, New York, home, he told the owner of a tree service (and big hockey fan) that he was the owner of the NHL’s Boston Bruins, reported The Hour. Impressed, the tree service owner sent a crew in the midst of a storm, then billed the actual club owner, 78-year-old Jeremy Jacobs, $5,100 for the service. Police in nearby Wilton, Connecticut, heard about the deception when they received a call in May from security officials at a company chaired by the Bruins’ owner. The story sounded familiar: In November, Jacobs had been pulled over in Wilton, and he told officers he owned the Bruins in an effort to get out of the ticket. On July 20, Jacobs was pulled over for using his phone while driving in Poughkeepsie, New York, sent back to Wilton and charged with criminal impersonation.

•Diamonds are SO 20th century. In Japan, Warp Space is offering newlyweds the chance to make their union universal with wedding plaques launched into space. According to United Press International, the startup company, founded by faculty members from the University of Tsukuba, will print a titanium plate with the names of the betrothed and put it, along with a few hundred other plaques, in one of a series of small cubes to be released into space from the International Space Station. Astronauts will memorialize the launching by taking photographs, which will then be sent to the newlyweds. The service costs $270.

Awesome! Painesville (Ohio) Municipal Court Judge Michael Cicconetti has a reputation for serving up unusual sentences, and he delivered again on July 24 when 18-year-old Bayley Toth appeared in his courtroom. Toth was convicted of two misdemeanor criminal mischief charges for toppling a portable toilet at Painesville Township Park in June, among other things. Cicconetti sentenced him to 120 days in jail, but suspended it in lieu of Toth shoveling … manure at the Lake County Fair. “You act like an animal, you’re going to take care of animals,” Cicconetti told Toth. The News-Herald reported Toth will also have to perform 40 hours of community service and pay restitution for damage to the park.