Thoughts Gallery August 2003
August 1
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Japan Software Guru Doesn't Envy Bill Gates Riches
He could have been as rich as Bill Gates, but Ken Sakamura says he's fine earning enough to lead an "ordinary life." For in the world of computers the obscure Japanese engineer stands in the top rank along with Gates, having developed an operating system that is more widely used than even Microsoft Corp's Windows. Sakamura's system, TRON, is used to run items ranging from digital cameras to car engines, just as Windows operates personal computers. 
       What sets the two systems apart -- and the fortunes of Sakamura and Gates -- is that while Windows must be bought from Microsoft, TRON is distributed free of charge. Had Sakamura decided to charge even one cent to each user of TRON, he would easily be a dollar billionaire by now, possibly even rivaling Gates, reputed to be the world's richest man with a fortune estimated at $43 billion by Forbes magazine. "I'm the engineer type, not a businessman," says Sakamura, 51, a professor at the University of Tokyo who developed the software nearly 20 years ago. "I think Mr Gates is more of a businessman," he laughs, adding that he is happy with the salary paid by the school. "As long as I'm leading an ordinary life, I have no problems." According to a Tokyo University official, the annual salaries of its professors, excluding bonuses and allowances, range from seven to 10 million yen ($59-85,000). TRON is an "embedded" operating system running inside microprocessors, which control electronic devices ranging from mobile phones to fax machines and even kitchen appliances. Sakamura estimates that it is used in some three to four billion such appliances around the world, far outnumbering Windows, which controls an estimated 150 million computers.
       When it was first revealed in 1984, TRON, which can be modified for use on personal computers, was hailed in Japan as a homemade software which could break the dominance of Microsoft and free Japanese computer firms the burden of paying for the basic software. But the dream was shattered in 1989 when the United States threatened to designate TRON as an unfair trade barrier under the Super 301 trade law when it learned of plans by the Japanese government to use the software for computers in schools.
       While Washington in the end did not name TRON as a trade barrier, the Japanese government abandoned the plan and many computer firms severed ties with TRON, fearful of angering the United States, their biggest market. Sakamura said he was puzzled by the initial U.S. move and disappointed at the ensuing reaction of Japanese firms, but it allowed him to concentrate on the original aim of developing TRON for use on microprocessors rather than on computers. "I didn't have time to feel angry or sad. I had to get on with working on digital cameras and mobile phones," Sakamura told Reuters in an interview, adding that he was not worried about TRON's future as he was confident of its technological strengths. "The reason why it was not used for personal computers was not a technical one, it was a political one."
       Computer engineers say TRON, which stands for "the real-time operating system nucleus," excels in quickness, or performing tasks real-time, and is free of the "freezing" that is a bugbear of personal computer users. "We've become used to our computers freezing maybe once a day, but you can't have a mobile phone freezing in the middle of a conversation," said Masayuki Makino, a manager in charge of developing software for mobile phones at NEC Corp (6701.T). Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T), which uses TRON to control car engines, said the software is also ideal from a cost standpoint because it is an "open source," like Linux (news - web sites). That means the codes making up a program can be obtained free of charge, allowing engineers to modify it according to their needs, like a chef improvising on an original recipe.
       "We're fortunate that there was something which met our needs regarding both cost and quality," a Toyota spokeswoman said.
Nearly 15 years after it faded into oblivion in the world of personal computers, TRON now boasts a share of around 60 percent as the operating system for microprocessors. Holding a TRON microprocessor chip the size of a pinhead between his fingers, Sakamura said the market for such instruments and related businesses will grow to around 80 trillion yen in 10 years. But he insists he has no regrets about not making money from his invention, and has no hard feelings toward Gates. "It's not good to charge people for using something which is like a social infrastructure. It also inhibits the development of the computer industry. The very basic infrastructure should be free," he said. "But Mr Gates is free to do whatever he wants, as we live in a world of capitalism." Asked about the operating system inside his own computer, Sakamura smiles broadly. "TRON, of course. I don't use Windows." ($1=117.93 Yen) 
August 2
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  Nationwide, there were 4,685 megawatts of land-based wind installed by the end of 2002. California produced 1,822 megawatts; Texas, 1096; and Iowa, 423. In contrast, Massachusetts currently produces 1 megawatt. If Cape Wind's plan becomes a reality, that number would jump to 420 megawatts. Among The Cape Codder's findings arising from its cross country tour, five stand out:
* Developers of land-based wind farms pay royalty fees, whether they build on private or public lands. In contrast, under current law, Cape Wind would not have to pay governments for developing turbines in Nantucket Shoal.
* So far, most communities that host land-based wind turbines appear pleased with the number of jobs the farms create and the tax dollars they generate, some of which go to support public education.
* Aesthetics are not a big issue on land, mainly because communities that host wind farms are familiar with other industries that impact the landscape, mainly oil.
* Plant managers have learned to work around the variability of wind.
* Many communities have determined that wind is worth the extra cost in electric bills because of the environmental benefits and other economic ripple effects.
       A turbine's footprint is a quarter of an acre of land. If farmers planted corn, they wouldn't get close to the $4,000 they derive from leasing agreements. Nor do the turbines disrupt their farming operations; owners can plant right up to the base. The beauty and bounty of wind turbines have been recognized beyond McCamey. Mike Sloan, executive director of the Texas Wind Coalition, points to wind farms cropping up all over West Texas. "It is so dry, there is so little going on," he said. People raise sheep and cows, he added, but it takes 100 to 500 acres for each animal compared to about an acre per animal in kinder country. In contrast, a single wind turbine can net a landowner at least $2,000 a year, with total current royalties paying all landowners about $60 million a year.
August 3
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 Fourteen-year-old female polar bear, named 'Pelusa' stands in her cage in the Mendoza Zoo, 1100 kilometers northwest of Buenos Aires. Normally white, Pelusa turned violet after veterinarians administered a medicine to treat her for a skin condition. Her veterinarians said her coat should turn normal again within a month.
August 4
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Brian Appel, chairman and chief executive officer of Changing World Technologies (CWT), holds up a glass vial containing oil produced from turkey products in the company's Philadelphia plant. The CWT plant uses the first commercially successful application of thermal processing to convert organic waste such as tires, plastics, raw sewage, plant and animal waste into clean fuel, potentially solving some of the Earth's gravest environmental challenges and reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
August 5
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 Mummy : The mummified body of Thai Buddhist monk Dang Piyasilo, or "Loung Pordaeng", is displayed at Wat Khunaram on Samui island. 
August  6
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 'You can cruise for women; we'll cruise for men,' quips Carson Kressley, the flamboyant fashion consultant on cable television channel Bravo's new smash hit, 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,' to his straight companion. It is a message not lost on advertisers, who are taking a closer look at reaching the gay and lesbian market with a batch of summer programs highlighting gay-versus-straight themes.
August 7
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Fuel Crunch Leads to Rent-A-Corpse Scam
Two Zimbabwean mortuary workers have been arrested on charges they rented out corpses to motorists to enable them to take advantage of special fuel preferences given to hearses. Zimbabwe's state-owned Herald newspaper reported that a mortician and an assistant at a public hospital were arrested and would soon appear in court on charges of violating dead bodies. The two are accused of running a racket under which they sold fake burial orders to motorists who then took the corpses and transported them to service stations. That allowed them to jump long queues to fill their tanks. After buying the fuel they returned the bodies in their coffins to the mortuary, the newspaper said. Zimbabwe has suffered a serious fuel shortage since November when a barter deal with Libya for the supply of nearly 70 percent of its needs collapsed. 
August 8
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It's interesting to see the freedom of speech being erroded in the chaos of protecting people and a country.
The Secret Service is studying a pro-Bush cartoon in the Los Angeles Times, showing the president with a gun to his head, as a possible threat, U.S. officials said. Cartoonist Michael Ramirez said the drawing, which ran in Sunday's paper, was only meant to call attention to the unjust 'political assassination' of Bush over his Iraq policy. The background of the drawing is a cityscape labeled 'Iraq.' 
August 9
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Saw the new movie SWAT this evening, I would have to give it a 8 out of 10, although almost patriotic at times, and the script didn't have too much originality in the end it was entertaining. 
Iomega Corporation, a global leader in data storage, announced a new 1.5 GB digital capture technology (DCT) platform designed for a new generation of digital entertainment products, including camcorders and portable video players, as well as portable PCs and smart handheld devices. The DCT cartridge, which is about the size of a half-dollar coin, weighs only 9 grams and employs a stainless steel cartridge designed to protect digital content from data loss. The product is expected to come to market in the second quarter of 2004 as new devices using the technology are released.
August 10
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Finished some more window screens and yard work today, Sunday's always seem to be catchup day to keep the grass under control. The storm that blew threw over the weekend gave us some much need rain and managed to keep the day below *100, and the electricity managed to stay on the entire weekend.
A Hindu with his body pierced by sharp objects marches in a religious celebration in the southern Indian city of Madras. The celebration is held to commemorate the birth of the Hindu god Murugan, the son of Lord Shiva. Devotees subject themselves to painful rituals during the festival, in a demonstration of faith and penance.
August 11
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Saw the movie American Wedding this evening.  It was overall amusing, though some part slowed down in the attempt to mimic plotlines from the previos movies in the sequel. I would have to give it a 6.0 out of 10.
Aerial view of a maze cut into a 10,000 square metre maize field in Germany. British farmer Tom Pearcy has done the same with farm in York, and plans to open the attraction to the public.
August 12
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Legendary Dog-Eating Catfish Dies
BERLIN - A giant catfish that ate a dog and terrorized a German lake for years has washed up dead, but the legend of "Kuno the Killer" lives on. A gardener discovered the carcass of a five-foot-long catfish weighing 77 pounds this week, a spokesman for the western city of Moenchengladbach said. Kuno became a local celebrity in 2001 when he sprang from the waters of the Volksgarten park lake to swallow a Dachshund puppy whole. He evaded repeated attempts to capture him.  "He was our Loch Ness monster," said Uwe Heil, member of "Kuno's Friends," a local rock band named after the fish. Several fishermen identified the carcass as Kuno, but doubts linger. "That's not the Kuno we know," said Leon Cornelius, another member of "Kuno's Friends." He said he had seen several huge catfish in the lake. Low water levels and a summer heat wave probably killed the catfish, among the biggest found in Germany. The northern city of Bremen plans to stuff it and put in a museum. 
August 13
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Remember the guy who got on a plane with a bomb built into his shoe and tried to light it? His trial is over. How much of this Judge's comments did you hear on TV?
U.S. District Court Judge William Young made the following statement in sentencing "shoe bomber" Richard Reid to prison. It is noteworthy, and deserves to be remembered far longer than he predicts. I commend it to you and to anyone you might wish to forward it to.
       January 30, 2003 United States vs. Reid. Judge Young: Mr. Richard C. Reid, hearken now to the sentence the Court imposes upon you. On counts 1, 5 and 6 the Court sentences you to life in prison in the custody of the United States Attorney General. On counts 2, 3, 4 and 7, the Court sentences you to 20 years in prison on each count, the sentence on each count to run consecutive with the other. That's 80 years. On count 8 the Court sentences you to the mandatory 30 years consecutive to the 80 years just imposed. The Court imposes upon you each of the eight counts a fine of $250,000 for the aggregate fine of $2 million. The Court accepts the government's recommendation with respect to restitution and orders restitution in the amount of $298.17 to Andre Bousquet and $5,784 to American Airlines. The Court imposes upon you the $800 special assessment. The Court imposes upon you five years supervised release simply because the law requires it. But the life sentences are real life sentences so I need go no further.
       This is the sentence that is provided for by our statutes. It is a fair and just sentence. It is a righteous sentence. Let me explain this to you. We are not afraid of any of your terrorist co-conspirators, Mr. Reid. We are Americans. We have been through the fire before. There is all too much war talk here. And I say that to everyone with the utmost respect. Here in this court, where we deal with individuals as individuals, and care for individuals as individuals, as human beings we reach out for justice, you are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist. You are not a soldier in any war. You are a terrorist. To give you that reference, to call you a soldier gives you far too much stature.  Whether it is the officers of government who do it or your attorney who does it, or that happens to be your view, you are a terrorist. And we do not negotiate with terrorists. We do not treaty with terrorists. We do not sign documents with terrorists. We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice.  So war talk is way out of line in this court. You are a big fellow. But you are not that big. You're no warrior. I know warriors. You are a terrorist. A species of criminal guilty of multiple attempted murders.
       In a very real sense Trooper Santigo had it right when you first were taken off that plane and into custody and you wondered where the press and where the TV crews were and he said you're no big deal. You're no big deal. What your counsel, what your able counsel and what the equally able United States attorneys have grappled with and what I have as honestly as I know how tried to grapple with, is why you did something so horrific. What was it that led you here to this courtroom today? I have listened respectfully to what you have to say. And I ask you to search your heart and ask yourself what sort of unfathomable hate led you to do what you are guilty and admit you are guilty of doing. And I have an answer for you. It may not satisfy you. But as I search this entire record it comes as close to understanding as I know.  It seems to me you hate the one thing that is most precious. You hate our freedom. Our individual freedom. Our individual freedom to live as we choose, to come and go as we choose, to believe or not believe as we individually choose.
       Here, in this society, the very winds carry freedom. They carry it everywhere from sea to shining sea. It is because we prize individual freedom so much that you are here in this beautiful courtroom. So that everyone can see, truly see that justice is administered fairly, individually, and discretely.  It is for freedom's sake that your lawyers are striving so vigorously on your behalf and have filed appeals, will go on in their representation of you before other judges. We are about it. Because we all know that the way we treat you, Mr. Reid, is the measure of our own liberties.
       Make no mistake though. It is yet true that we will bear any burden, pay any price, to preserve our freedoms.  Look around this courtroom. Mark it well. The world is not going to long remember what you or I say here. Day after tomorrow it will be forgotten. But this, however, will long endure. Here in this courtroom and courtrooms all across America, the American people will gather to see that justice, individual justice, justice, not war, individual justice is in fact being done. The very President of the United States through his officers will have to come into courtrooms and lay out evidence on which specific matters can be judged, and juries of citizens will gather to sit and judge that evidence democratically, to mold and shape and refine our sense of justice.
       See that flag, Mr. Reid? That's the flag of the United States of America. That flag will fly there long after this is all forgotten.  That flag stands for freedom. You know it always will. Custody Mr. Officer. Stand him down.
August 14
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Do you honestly think that the government would admit if it was an act of terrorism.  Well maybe this is a good training exercise for those would be terrorist of how our electrical system interoperates.
Massive Blackout Hits Northeast Cities 
NEW YORK - A massive power blackout hit U.S. and Canadian cities Thursday, closing nuclear power plants in Ohio and New York state, driving workers in New York City and Toronto into the streets, and shutting subways in blistering heat.  New York Gov. George Pataki declared a state of emergency and said officials thought the cause of the blackout was "a possible transmission problem from Canada to the U.S." There was no sign of terrorism, officials in New York and Washington said.  New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said it was likely the blackout started in the Niagara Falls area and quickly spread.  "It was probably a natural occurrence which disrupted the power system up there and it apparently for reasons we don't know cascaded down through New York state over into Connecticut, as far south as New Jersey and as far west as Ohio. A senior law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the FBI had determined the blackout was a "natural occurrence" and there was no evidence of terrorism, and that the Homeland Security Department agreed. 
       In New York, the blackout affected subways, elevators and airports, including John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. Thousands of people streamed into the streets of lower Manhattan in 90-degree heat.  In Toronto, Canada's largest city, workers also fled their buildings after the blackout hit shortly after 4 p.m. EDT. There also were widespread outages in Ottawa, the capital. Traffic lights were out throughout downtown Cleveland and other major cities, creating havoc at the beginning of rush hour. There were reports of outages in northern New Jersey and in several Vermont towns. In Connecticut, Metro-North Railroad service was knocked out. Lights flickered at state government buildings in Hartford. 
       Every prison in New York state reported a loss of power and switched to backup generators, said James Flateau, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections. In Albany, N.Y., several people were trapped in elevators in Empire State Plaza, but most had been freed by 5 p.m. People in New York City lined up 10 deep or more at pay phones, with cell phone service disrupted in some areas. Mike Saltzman, a spokesman for New York Power Authority, a state-owned utility in White Plains, N.Y., said its two largest hydroelectric plants, including Niagara Falls and St. Lawrence-FDR, were operating. He said he did not know the status of 18 other smaller plants. 
       The blackouts rivaled those in the West on Aug. 11, 1996, when heat, sagging power lines and unusually high demand for electricity caused an outage that affected 4 million customers in nine states, one of the most severe outages in U.S. history.  A blackout in New York City in 1977 left some 9 million people without electricity for up to 25 hours. "There is no evidence of any terrorism at this point," said Michael Sheehan, deputy commissioner for terrorism of New York City's Police Department. "We've talked to Washington and there are rumors, but none of them pans out." Top New York police officers gathered at the department's operations center downtown where the focus was on the ramifications of the blackout rather than its cause. "We're more concerned about getting the traffic lights running and making sure the city is OK than what caused it," a police spokesman said at the center. 
       In Cleveland, Olga Kropko, a University Hospitals labor and delivery nurse, said the hospital was using its back-up generators and had limited power. "Everyone is very hot because the air conditioning is off," she said. "Our laboring moms are suffering." Police in Mansfield, Ohio, spread into the streets to keep traffic flowing. "A lot of officers are out there trying to make sure nobody gets hurt, to try to cut down on the accidents," said jail officer Randi Allen. Bloomberg, on CNN, described New Yorkers as calm. He advised people to go home, open windows and drink liquids. "The good news is that in New York City, while we have lost all the power, Con Ed's facilities have shut down properly, which we have programmed them to do," he said. "We don't know when Con Ed can power up again but clearly it will take some time."  Four nuclear power reactors two in New York and two in Ohio reported they were shut down because of the loss of off-site power, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Bethesda, Md. They were the two Indian Point reactors in New York state, and the Perry and Fermi nuclear power plants in Ohio. 
       The North American Electric Reliability Council, an industry group responsible for monitoring the integrity of the system, said the power outages were "widespread and appear to be centered around Lake Erie, although they are affecting the entire eastern interconnection." 
"We do not know the cause at present but will continue to evaluate the situation," said Ellen Vancko, speaking for the council. The Federal Aviation Administration instituted airport ground stops at Cleveland, Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark, N.J. That meant planes from other cities heading to those four airports could not take off. However, air traffic control facilities had backup power, and planes already in the air could land at those airports, said Laura Brown, speaking for the FAA. At the Homeland Security Department, spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said federal officials were still gathering information and had not determined a cause. The department "is working with state and local officials and the energy sector to determine the cause of the outage as well as what response measures may be needed to be taken," he said. He said everyone should "listen and heed the advice of the local authorities." 
August 15
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 18-month-old Talea sits on a leaf of a water lily at the public garden Palmengarten in Frankfurt Germany. High temperatures in the last weeks have helped the water lilies to grow larger than average
August 16
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 This evening I was one of 6 guys in a theatre to watch the movie Uptown Girls.  Amid the talking and bickering of the room full of highschool and college girls, one managed to see a film.  Overall I would have to give the movie a 2 out of 10, more money should have been spent on developing out the script more, and less of the various party scenes of the movie.
A remote control jet helicopter made by ChopperCam hovers over a soy field during an experiment at South Farms on the UIUC campus, in Urbana, Ill.. Dr. Lei Tian, an associate professor of agricultural engineering, hopes to use the remote camera to map soy fields for variability of growing conditions. The helicopter uses a digital camera in remote-controlled pod (white sphere) to photograph growingconditions at heights of 300 to 600 feet.
August 17
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Spent the day relaxing and running errands most of the day.  Managed to gather up more supplies for window screens and random house accessories.
Cashiers Diapered to Avoid Breaks?
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Supermarket cashiers in Argentina are being forced to wear diapers to keep them from taking toilet breaks at work, a union says. Female cashiers in western Mendoza province must wear adult diapers in case "cold, nerves, pressure or stress" provoke incontinence, union official Jorge Cordova told local news agency Diarios y Noticias. Cordova refused to name the supermarket, but he did say the chain is backed by foreign capital, said Sandra Varela, Mendoza's labor subsecretary. "The truth is, it's difficult to imagine a line of 20 adult cashiers wearing diapers for eight hours," said Varela, who is investigating the matter. "In seventeen years as a labor lawyer, I've never heard anything like this before," she added. 
August 18
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The weekly ritual of the grass mowing continues, need to just get some nice bamboo grass and let it grow up and now have to worry about it being 1" to tall and not blending in with the neighbors grass.  Spent a few hours today putting new insulation into the upper attic areas.  Here's a picture of Kris and I before we headed up into the 110* heat wave to play in the insulation.
Dog Gives Flasher His Come-Uppance
ZAGREB - A drunken Croat flasher got more excitement than he bargained for when he pushed his penis through a woman's fence and her dog bit it, local newspapers said. The visibly drunk man was walking down the street and started swearing and shouting at the woman for no reason. He then shoved his penis through her fence, unaware her dog was on the other side, police said. The bitten man himself reported the incident to the police. The 36-year-old was taken to hospital with light injuries but later sent home. He will be charged with "insulting the moral feelings of citizens" and "violation of public order." 
August 19
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Black Church Offers Money to Lure Whites
NEW ORLEANS, La. - A black Baptist minister looking to diversify his church wants to pay white people to attend his sermons. For the month of August, whites who go to Greenwood Acres Full Gospel Baptist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana, will get $5 an hour on Sundays and $10 an hour on Thursdays, Bishop Fred Caldwell told Reuters on Thursday. Caldwell said his 5,000-member church has been almost exclusively black since it was founded in 1958, which he thinks was not the way Jesus wanted it. "The most segregated hour in America, depending on the time zone, is 11 o'clock Sunday morning," he said. Caldwell first announced the offer in his sermon on Sunday, telling the congregation the money would come out of his own pocket, not church coffers. Supportive members have offered to help pay. So far, he said, the church has gotten more than 100 phone calls from whites wanting to attend, with many offering to forgo the money. The motives of those who want the cash are not questioned, Caldwell said. "Jesus said that we're to fish for men," he said. "I'm just using money to fish with." Caldwell said his budget is limited to several thousand dollars and for now the offer will go only to whites. Hispanics, Asians and other ethnic groups will have to wait. "I'm only paying for white folks in August," Caldwell said. "We'll probably move on to other ethnic groups from there." 
August 20
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California Town Hires 500 Goats
MILL VALLEY, Calif. - Mill Valley's newest 500 employees work cheap, start early, stay late and never gripe about where their office is located. That's because the employees are all goats. Mill Valley hired the four-legged firefighters to gobble up tinder-dry brush and grass on four acres at the Edgewood Reservoir. "These are working goats," said Fire Battalion Chief Greg Moore, lauding the herd that went to work Tuesday. "They are environmentally friendly." The black, white and brown spotted goats will take 21 days to 30 days to eat the area clear of French broom, acacia, blackberry and dry grass that are a combustible fire hazard. Moore, who runs the Vegetation Management Program, said different methods have been used to reduce the threat of fire. The goats are being tried for the first time, in part because they don't produce any air pollution. The last two years the department did controlled burns. "I believe a prescribed burn is the least expensive and good for the soil," said Moore. "But in this location, the goats were the best alternative." The service, provided by Living Systems Land Management of Santa Cruz, will cost $4,000 to $5,000 depending on how long the goats stay and how much they eat. 
August 21
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States Try to Control Noxious Hogweed
McKEAN, Pa. - Giant hogweed is far prettier and far nastier than its name. Likened to Queen Anne's lace on steroids and in the same plant family as carrots, the invasive species is unusual among plants because it can cause second-degree chemical burns. It has taken root in a handful of states, including Pennsylvania, which has a heavy concentration in Erie County. Because of the danger it poses, Pennsylvania has established an eradication program and a hogweed hot line for reporting sightings. Hogweed is also on the noxious weed list maintained by the United States Department of Agriculture and Pennsylvania, meaning it's against the law to grow, sell or distribute it.
       Northwestern Pennsylvania is considered to have the greatest number of hogweed plants of any of the areas where the weed has turned up. Hundreds of sites have been documented around Erie alone. It's also been found in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Washington. Connecticut and Massachusetts each confirmed hogweed findings in at least 14 towns, as of July. "We suspect that we have a lot more," said Steven Antunes-Kenyon, an environmental analyst with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. That's prompted the state to begin a public awareness campaign. The Pennsylvania program is led by Mike Zeller, an inspector with the state Department of Agriculture, and his partner Jason Fuller. On a recent morning, Fuller located a massive specimen growing against an elm tree along a field in Erie County, between McKean and Edinboro. With a machete, Zeller lopped off some small elm branches to get at the hogweed. After he chopped it, Fuller doused it with a powerful chemical concoction of weed killer. Using commercial weed killers, Zeller said, is "like shooting bullets at Superman." 
       The specimen, well over 10 feet tall, had a green and purple- splotched hollow main stock about 3 inches in diameter. Green leaves up to several feet long grew from the stalk, which was topped with an umbrella-like spray of small white flowers. Margaret Corbin, an avid gardener in Erie County, fell for hogweed more than a decade ago. She saw it growing along a yard and asked the homeowners if she could have some. They didn't know where it came from, but told her she was welcome to it.
       Several years later, her small plants had grown and spread. Corbin thinned them, getting their watery sap on her leg as she chopped. Two days later, the area was red and blistered, prompting her to seek medical treatment and learn more about hogweed. She also destroyed her plants and advises people against getting too close. "It's just pretty nasty stuff," Corbin said. A photo of her red and blistered leg appears in the state's hogweed awareness brochure. "If you just bump against it, you're probably (not going to have a reaction)," said Alan Tasker, the national program manager for noxious weeds for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. "But if you get the sap on you, it will definitely trigger the photosensitivity."
       The sap causes a change in human skin, effectively turning the affected area into a receptor that gathers the sun's energy and reduces resistance to sunburn, Zeller said. Exposure to sunlight causes the affected area to blister sometimes up to several years.
       Zeller has been burned nine times, once so badly that he had a brownish-purple scar that lasted three years. Anyone exposed to the sap should immediately wash with soap and water and shield the area from sunlight for at least two weeks, he said. No one is certain why hogweed is so prevalent around Erie. Zeller said some of it apparently was brought over by people of Eastern European descent from the Caucasus Mountain area, where it's native. Tasker said Erie's climate may help hogweed do well. "It loves the cold," Zeller said. "It's the first plant up in spring and the last down in the fall." Zeller, however, doesn't think hogweed is spreading. "More people are becoming aware of what it is and are reporting it," he said. The goal is to rid Pennsylvania of it, hopefully in several years. "No plants (will) go to flower that we know of. We just attack and attack and attack," he said. 

August 22
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Model Airplane Enthusiasts Claim Record
LONDON - It didn't fly high and it didn't fly swiftly, but The Spirit of Butts Farm made it all the way from Canada to Ireland with a few drops of fuel to spare, a group of model airplane enthusiasts say. They are hoping for a distance record for the flight of 38 hours, 23 minutes over 1,888.3 miles by a model plane that weighed just 11 pounds when it took off from Newfoundland. For Dave Brown, who was at the controls for Monday's landing at Marrin Beach in County Galway, it was a great moment. "A great cheer went up when we saw it, and four minutes later I landed it in the field. It was so thrilling," Brown said in a telephone interview.
       The balsa wood-and-mylar plane was designed by retired engineer Maynard Hill, 77, of Silver Spring, Md. He launched it from Cape Spear, Newfoundland, on Saturday night. The nearly 6-foot-long craft was packed with instruments that sent telemetry back to mission control and helped guide the plane. Once in sight of the Irish coast, the plane came back under human control for landing. Brown, president of American Academy of Model Aeronautics, said he flew to Ireland to handle the landing. Hill kept in touch by telephone from Newfoundland. "At one point our instruments began telling us the aircraft was inexplicably dipping up and down 100 feet at a time, and then we lost contact of it," he said. "We thought it only had fuel for 37 hours and we were saying that if it gets there it would get there by pure will, and by God it did. "There was even about a shot-glass of gasoline left in the tank." About 50 spectators met the aircraft.
       If the flight is certified by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, it could set world records for distance traveled by a model airplane and duration of flight.
The federation's assistant secretary-general, Thierry Montigneaux, said from Lausanne, Switzerland, that the modelers had seven days to give notice of their record claims and 120 days to submit a dossier of evidence. Joe Dible, president of the Model Aeronautics Council of Ireland, said he notified the federation by e-mail. He was at the field where The Spirit of Butts Farm landed. "It's very exciting for me, and it was an unbelievable achievement," Dible said. Brown said when Maynard first mentioned 10 years ago his plan to fly a model plane across the Atlantic, "I have to admit that at first I thought he was daffy. "But I've since learnt that he is not the kind of guy you tell he can't do something to," Brown said. 
August 23
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Austrian extreme parachutist Felix Baumgartner is seen during a practise flight, in this undated handout photo. Baumgartner crossed the strait between England and France in freefall from an altitude of 10,000 meters, (32,000 feet). With a carbon fiber wing fixed on his back, he flew the 35 km (22 miles) from Dover, southern England, to Calais, northern France, landing there with a parachute. He is the first person to cross the channel unaided, in free fall.
August 24
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 A young woman walks past padlocks locked to a wrought iron fence in Pecs, Hungary. The city of Pecs is fighting a losing battle against padlocks which lovers are secretly clamping on statues and gates all over the city center as symbols of their enduring affection.
August 25
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 The home of the Lake Harriet Elf, housed in the base of a hollowed out ash tree, is shown. It has enchanted Twin Citians ever since the 6-inch wooden door appeared eight years ago just off a walking path around the popular lake in Minneapolis. It's occupant, Mr. Little Guy, receives letters, pens, flowers, notes and coins, to name a few things, which children leave him. Four-year-old Shira Rabkin wanted to ask just the right questions, so she thought long and hard.
"Dear Mr. Little Guy," she finally scrawled in big letters across a sheet of paper. "Do you like mints?" After some more pondering, she added, "and going to Camp Snoopy? Love, Shira."
       Mr. Little Guy was nowhere in sight this early August evening, so Shira stuffed her letter behind his door at the base of a hollowed out ash tree. It's always open, and always full of letters, pens, flowers and coins.  The elusive elf has enchanted Twin Citians ever since the 6-inch wooden door appeared eight years ago, just off a walking path around popular Lake Harriet. Double takes led to messages, and messages to answers and somehow Mr. Little Guy keeps up, responding to the queries in typed notes half the size of business cards.
       Some of his notes are left in the tree for children to find; others, if he has an address, are mailed. So many children visit that a patch of grass once leading to Mr. Little Guy's door is now powdery dirt. A flower bed bordered by stone surrounds one side of the tree. Shira is headed to kindergarten, and she's a big believer. But parents are smitten, too. "I think it's darling," said Susan Scofield, Shira's mother. "I think it's magical." Said Shira's dad, Jeff Rabkin: "The really amazing thing is that here it is, in a public space all this time, and it hasn't been debated before the City Council! Nobody has chopped the tree down!"
       Dave West and his son, Oliver, recently peddled their bikes over to the elf's house. Oliver wanted to know how Mr. Little Guy survives and posed several theories. The 8-year-old figured there must be a bedroom and kitchen behind the brown door. Maybe even a long ladder running along the inside. "A minnow could feed him for a week," he declared. In an interview, the local man behind Mr. Little Guy said he gets 1,500 notes a year and answers all of them himself. While that give-and-take fuels his creative side, it's not so easy to do with a wife and young daughter, said "Thom," who spoke on condition of anonymity. But he always responds, with a childlike directness of his own. "dear bobby," says one response, typed in Mr. Little Guy's preferred lowercase. "i am taller than my younger brother and shorter than my older brother. i am fifty-one. i like soccer but i love elfball. i played yesterday, with a bunch of elves."
       It can be a big chore being Mr. Little Guy. He said he never meant his little house to attract so many youngsters it was just a secret place for him and his family, at first. His wife originally spotted the tree opening and thought it would make a great place for an elf family. Another elf house has recently sprung up in the neighborhood, about 30 yards away. It has a wooden frame and roof and a tiny door that sits next to a tree. Mr. Little Guy isn't sure who it belongs to, but he doesn't mind having a new neighbor who is also reaching out to children.
       Mr. Little Guy almost lost his house once, when someone marked the tree with a big red X, indicating it should be chopped down. City workers declared it a prank, however, and saved the tree. That was a rare show of cynicism about the elf. Most press reports tell of his good deeds and the fun he has around the lake, without revealing much about his life, what he looks like or when he might be seen. And that's just fine with Mr. Little Guy. Any attention, he said, should be focused on his young friends. "I don't know that all kids think they have somebody in their corner, so Mr. Little Guy is just a guy that's in their corner," he said. "It's all about being affirmative. Every letter finishes with `i believe in you.'" 
August 26
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This evening was a sad day.  I had to put one of my cats to sleep.  Returned home from work to discover her sitting in a daze on the counter.  So after having one of Erin's friends check out the cat we wisked her off to the cat hospital.  Only to discover that she had feline leukemia.  So after euthanizing Ms. Kitty we had to get Oz tested also.  Fortunately she tested negative, although he will be lonely without his friend to play with throughout the day.
August 27
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 Caprice the Greyhound is seen in a convertible car wearing sunglasses as her owner Oliver Luik drives in Munich. The special sunglasses which protect dog's eyes from the wind and the sun and are available in three different sizes. 
Man, 102, Seeks Wife for Good Times
ROME - Active 102-year-old Italian looking for love and marriage. Promises can still deliver the goods. Centenarian Salvatore Bordino, a father of five who is an avid clay-pigeon shooter, can't understand why he is having trouble finding wife number three. "I have a house, a pension and I can carry out all my manly duties," Bordino, who lives on his own in the southern Italian region of Calabria, told online newspaper Il Nuovo. "I'm looking for a beautiful woman, who is in the best of health. I still haven't called it a day on certain activities." 
August 28
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Cowgirl Reeves Dies at 101 After Fall from Horse
Legendary Texas cowgirl Connie Reeves, whose motto was "Always saddle your own horse" and who taught more than 30,000 girls to ride, has died at age 101 after being thrown from her favorite mount, officials at her ranch said. Reeves died of cardiac arrest on Sunday at a San Antonio hospital about 10 days after being thrown from her favorite horse Dr Pepper, according to Waldemar Camp for Girls, a ranch about 70 miles northwest of San Antonio where Reeves taught riding. "Texas lost one of its treasures today. A legendary woman with the strength and character as big as the state she lived in for almost 102 years," the camp said on its Web site.Reeves taught riding for more than 70 years. Along with lessons on horsemanship, Reeves taught self-reliance -- hence her motto: "Always saddle your own horse."
       Reeves was the oldest living member of the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, located in Fort Worth, Texas. At the age of 100, she saddled her own horse and rode in a parade when the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame opened its new building in Fort Worth. Reeves was born in Eagle Pass, Texas, near the Mexican border, in September 1901 and she was on the back of a horse before she learned to walk. She had her first horse by the age of five and quickly mastered the English and western styles of riding.
       She went to the University of Texas law school in the early 1920s for three years but her chance of being one of the first and youngest women lawyers in the United States was cut off by the Great Depression. Reeves became a high school teacher and a teacher of horse riding after leaving law school. In 1936, Reeves started her work as a horse riding instructor at Waldemar Camp. She worked there for nearly 70 years, and. in 1942, she married the camp's head wrangler.
       In a recent speech, Reeves said she would gladly leave the skyscrapers, pollution and financial markets to people living in big cities. "Leave the wide open spaces and free fresh air to the West, where one can take an early morning gallop across dew-drenched fields, lie down to sleep beneath the star-twinkling sky, only to be awakened by the crowing of a lone rooster in the far distance," Reeves said. 
August 29
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Thai Man Dies While Laughing in Sleep
BANGKOK, Thailand - An ice-cream truck driver in Thailand died while laughing in his sleep, a newspaper reported. Damnoen Saen-um, 52, laughed for about two minutes on Wednesday and then stopped breathing, The Nation said, quoting officials. The newspaper said Damnoen's wife tried to wake him up but he kept laughing. An autopsy suggested that he might have had a heart attack, The Nation quoted a doctor as saying. "I have never seen a case like this. But it is possible that a person could have heart seizure while laughing or crying too hard in their sleep," said Dr. Somchai Chakrabhand, deputy director-general of the Mental Health Department, according to The Nation. The incident occurred in Phrae province, 300 miles north of Bangkok. 
August 30
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Drove in to Houston for Labor Day weekend to visit my parents and siblings. Seems that the rain followed us the whole drive over.  Saw the movie Seabiscuit this evening.  I don't really like horse-racing, however after seeing this movie my feeling have changed, the acting and story was good. Although the opening character introduction scenes seemed a bit on the far side.  Overall I would give the movie a 7.5 out of 10. The movie is supposedly a true story of a bicycle repairman, who made his fortune introducing the automobile to Californians. How someone could really get away with a half-blind ex-boxer and not notice it is beyond me.  Sunglasses weren't that popular then to not be able to see someone's eyes.  It was interesting to see all the historical references to the Great Depression in an attempt to remind our generation what 25% unemployement can do to a society.
Mars, bottom left, is seen with the Moon from Haebaru in Okinawa prefecture, southern Japan. Mars is closer to Earth this month than at any time in many years; it won't be as close again until Aug. 28, 2287.
August 31
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After a relaxful day of constrant rain and drizzle Erin and I returned to Austin. Nothing like returning home from a weekend of rain to discover that the rain hardly hit our section of town and the grass is wilting from the heat of the day.
Japanese companies are preparing to lauch a robot suit which helps the disabled or aged to walk. This file photo shows a university student demonstrating a prototype.