Saturday, February 20, 2010

Philly area school used webcams to spy on students

A school district in Pennsylvania spied on students through web cameras installed on laptops provided by the district, according to a class action lawsuit filed this week. Lower Merion school district, in a well-heeled suburb of Philadelphia, provided 2,300 high-school students with Mac laptops last autumn in what its superintendent, Christopher McGinley, described as an effort to establish a "mobile, 21st-century learning environment".

The scheme was funded with $720,000 (£468,000) in state grants and other sources. The students were not allowed to install video games and other software, and were barred from "commercial, illegal, unethical and inappropriate" use.

The district retained remote control of the built-in webcams installed on the computers – and used them to capture images of the students, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court this week.

Legitimate usage.

The ruse was revealed when Blake Robbins, a student at Harriton high school, was hauled into the assistant principal Lindy Matsko's office, shown a photograph taken on the laptop in his home and disciplined for "improper behaviour". According to Robbins, Matsko said the school had retained the ability to activate the laptop webcams remotely, at any time. Backed by his parents, Robbins filed a lawsuit on behalf of all students provided with laptops by the school.

The suit claims a violation of the privacy and civil rights of the students and their families and accuses officials of violating electronic communications laws by spying on them through "indiscriminate use of an ability to remotely activate the webcams incorporated into each laptop".

It claims that since the laptops were used by students and their friends and family at home, images of "compromising or embarrassing positions, including ... in various states of undress" have been captured. A school district spokesman, Douglas Young, did not return a call seeking comment, but said the district was investigating. "We're taking it very seriously," he said.

Swiss prostitutes will shock you back to life

Brothel owners in the Lugano Switzerland area say electric shock treatment to restart customer's hearts is needed because so many elderly customers are using their services.

The most recent victim was a pensioner, thought to be having fun with the help of anti-impotence medication.

His death followed a series of other incidents, some fatal, in which heart attacks have claimed brothel customers in the area. The owner of one sex club said: "Having customers die on us isn't exactly good publicity".

There are now 38 sex clubs and brothel in the Lugano area. And more are planned in order to accommodate the thousands of customers who pour over the border from Italy, where brothels are illegal. Around 80 per cent of the men who pay for sex in the area are thought to be Italian.

Local health experts are said to have backed the plans to stock defibrillators in sex clubs and brothels. Defibrillators work by delivering a controlled electric shock to the heart to restore a normal heartbeat, after it has stopped.

The agony of defeat week

Patty Hearst is 56 today

UPDATED: Penis tree has been circumsized

A penis-shaped tree in the backyard of a Tempe home has now been taken down. The man who owns the property says his friends played a prank on him by carving the tree into the shape of a penis.

Some of the man's neighbors reportedly filed complaints with the City of Tempe after the tree began attracting the attention of curious onlookers. Local tourists have recently been clogging the normally quiet streets of this suburban neighborhood near Baseline Road and the Loop 101 freeway. City officials contacted the homeowner who agreed to remove the tree.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Other gay skaters opened the door for Johnny Weir

Although Johnny Weir declines to discuss his sexuality, it doesn't require the world's best detective to figure out he is gay. He has been criticized heavily for his flamboyant mannerisms and costumes. Many critics seem to be obsessed with Weir's sexuality. Others are critical because he has chosen not to out himself.

The sport has not been kind to gay skaters. In fact the reaction has almost been homophobic in an effort to counter the male figure skating stereotype. I remember Matthew Hall who for a short time skated at the same club as my daughter. He won a bronze at the 1989 Canadian Championships and came out in 1992. I distinctly remember Skate Canada distancing themselves from Hall because the skating establishment felt he presented a poor image of the sport. Other skaters such as John Currie and Toller Cranston did not really come out until the end of the competitive skating careers. In reaction, skaters such as Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko emphasized a macho image and athletic style in the 1990s.

Cybill Shepard turned 60

Gold for whining goes to... British reporters

This from the Calgary Herald and I couldn't have said it any better:

If there was a gold medal for premature Winter Olympic whining, the British would be perennial occupants of the middle podium.

Right on schedule, that would be the fourth of 17 event days, U.K. scribes have written off the Vancouver Olympics as a "worst-ever" Games in the making, an "abomination" for causing the death of a luger and an organizational "fiasco" for slow buses and venue meltdowns.

Don't take it personally, Vancouver. The boys of former Fleet Street took mere days to write off Calgary in 1988 before it went on to earn the International Olympic Committee's "best-ever Games" seal of approval.

You think waiting a minute for most of the four-legged Olympic cauldron to rise out of the B.C. Place floor was a disaster? Well, you can only image how the Brits frothed when a giant inflatable mountain range popped like a balloon in a blustery wind just an hour before the opening ceremonies in Calgary.

That was just the beginning. They belittled the ATCO trailer media village, bemoaned their lost laundry and, yes, jeered when snow had to be trucked in to bolster cross-country trails in Canmore. All in the first week.

Vanoc was putting on a brave face to the outbreak of hostile international media reaction, which is spreading into a foreign frenzy pile-on. "Is this the worst beginning of a Games ever?" one journalist baited officials yesterday. And, pray tell, what answer was he expecting? Yes?

There's no obvious explanation for why London reporters are the most caustic of the contingent, having elevated Vancouver-bashing into an unofficial Olympic sport.

Perhaps they're dreadfully bored. After all, the BBC alone has more personnel at the Games than the kingdom's entire 52-member sports team. There's also dispiriting news that bookies back home predict the U.K. will experience a medal shutout in Vancouver, with only an outside shot at the curling podium.

Sadly for them, this time they have no sports hero like the one they giddily covered in Calgary. You should have seen those hard-nosed scribes swarming a clown on skis, that being lovable British ski jumper Eddie the Eagle, in 1988.

Even so, the coverage this time is decidedly edgier and the shots cheaper. Guardian columnist Martin Samuel went over-the-top postal in his attack in the aftermath of the luge fatality. "Canada wanted to Own The Podium," he snarled. "This morning they can put their Maple Leaf stamp on something more instantly tangible: The nondescript little box carrying the lifeless body of Nodar Kumaritashvili back to his home in Bakuriani, Georgia." Good grief.

Other U.K reporters predict financial disaster for Vancouver, a defensive move given that London's 2012 Summer Olympics are already $1.8-billion over budget.

They complain of heavy-handed customs officials and no-nonsense security, which is a tad rich for a future Games host where police will have the right to enter homes without a warrant and Olympic officials can storm residences or enterprises near Games venues to search for protest material. Then, of course, there's Britain's greatest invention for preserving public safety -- the new shatterproof beer pint glass.

It's also instructive to put all the hysterical fretting at Vancouver's warm weather into context. The temperature at 2014 Winter Olympic host Sochi, Russia, will reach 11 C degrees today and 13 C degrees tomorrow.

Sigh. This silly war of trans-Atlantic words will continue if British journalists continue their campaign to maliciously malign a Games that is barely 100 hours old.

Perhaps it's a genetic disposition. After all, Utrecht University in the Netherlands recently found 40 per cent of British men suffer from a premature tendency which, unfortunately for them and their partners, is medically defined as an inability to last more than a minute in bed.

Oops, sorry. Now that is a cheap shot.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why the blue lines on the ski hills

I'm sure just about everyone watching the downhill skiing has been wondering what's with those blue lines. Here is the scoop.

The two vertical blue lines are intended to give skiers a clear path down the mountain. It's a safety issue. Much like with pre-schoolers and coloring books, there is no penalty for going outside the lines. However, downhill skiers can't stray too far outside because the guide is flush with the limited number of control gates that competitors must pass through. Staying in the middle isn't necessarily the best path.

There are also horizontal lines stretching across the course. Those exist to provide depth perception to the racers. Ever stepped into a snowbank that was a lot deeper than it looked? Now try going downhill at 90 mph and doing the same thing.

Lines are painted before the race by an official wearing a backpack spray tanker. Why blue? Because it pops and looks better than red.

Canadian curler is pregnant

Kristie Moore who is an alternate on Canada's curling team happens to be 5½ months pregnant, making her just the third athlete known to be with child during Olympic competition. Ninety years ago, Swedish figure skater Magda Julin won a gold medal at the Antwerp Games while in her first trimester and Germany’s Diana Sartor took fourth in the skeleton in 2006.

Though she is showing (as evidenced in the picture above), Moore says that her pregnancy has not affected her ability to deliver rocks ... yet. "[In] the eighth month or so, that might be an issue," she said.

Moore found out about her pregnancy weeks before team officials invited her to join Team Canada as an alternate. When she divulged her secret, the team was more than supportive. Said team leader Cheryl Bernard, "she is young and fit. There's no reason we'll have any problems, and she'll be out there."

Barring unforeseen problems with the other four members of the team, it's unlikely Moore will see any Olympic action. Moore has said that although she'd like to get out on the ice, doing so would mean having to play at the expense of someone else's injury.


The agony of defeat week

Four years of grueling training for this?

Canada 8, Norway 0

Hard to gauge if this team has improved over the 2006 team that went to Turin. That team opened to preliminary round with a 7-2 win over Italy. That was followed by a 5-1 win over Germany. After those two games, Canada only scored 3 more goals and were shut out three times. Let's see how Team Canada does against the Swiss who shut them out 2-0 in Turin.

The agony of defeat week

Hump Day Hottie - Olympic edition

Canadian cross skier Ashleigh McIvor

NBC's Today Show does a feature on Canadian hockey

The NBC piece portrays Canada's passion for hockey as a cultural quirk. Although the Vancouver Olympics is using hockey as its showcase event, NBC coverage largely is ignoring games not involving Team USA.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Woman hired hitman to kill fortune teller because of a failed ‘love spell’

A woman hired a hitman to kill a fortune teller - because of a failed "love spell". Tanya Nelson, 45, watched as Phillipe Zamora stabbed Jade Smith and the psychic's daughter Anita, 23. Nelson stole jewellery and cash from the bodies. The wounds on the victims' faces were painted white to try to hide the injuries, a jury heard.

Nelson had asked Smith - known as Miss Ha - to use her mystic powers to force her lover to return. It didn't work. Smith, 57, later wrote to Nelson to say she couldn't change reality.

Zamora broke into Smith's home in Santa Ana, California, to carry out the killings in April 2005. He admits murder and faces a minimum 50 years' jail.

Nelson, also called Phuong Thao Nguyen, faces the death penalty if convicted. The trial continues at Orange County Superior Court in California.

Fellow Canadians we have to stop saying we’re sorry!

So there is grumbling from some quarters that the Vancouver Olympics haven’t been perfect. Big deal! The big beefs are weather and transportation.

Vancouver is experiencing the mildest January on record. Weather is a factor in every Olympic and guess what – you can’t go anything about it. No one has invented a mechanism for redirecting frigid Arctic air. If they knew how to, I happen to know where they can find a lot of hot air that needs chilling. In the meantime, how often do you get to wear shorts at a Winter Olympics.

Every Olympics also have some transportation issues. As I recall the Atlanta Olympics was a nightmare. Let’s face it you typically will have some problems when you have to transport a whole lot of people quickly around an already congested city. Usually the bugs are worked out after a couple of days. A lot of buses have been crapping out. Organizers said Monday that 100 new buses had been ordered to replace vehicles leased from California (the engine were probably made by Pontiac) that appeared to be having mechanical issues.

Some in the international press have labeled the ‘Own the Podium’ program as arrogant nationalism and contrary to the Olympic spirit. Not true. The program was aimed to provide enough funding to athletes so that we wouldn’t be embarrassed on the world stage as we were in 1976 and 1988. Nonetheless, our funding pales compared to some countries. The program was also intended to encourage Canadian athletes to believe in themselves. If you want to see arrogance, trying checking out an NBA game some time soon.

Over the weekend several American friends kindly reported back to me that the opening ceremony was boring. It wasn’t like Beijing two years ago. Well no apologies from me that we didn’t spend $0.5 billion on a 3 hour show. We didn’t have a thousand drummers (likely prisoners chained together) wearing diapers. We didn’t have dissidents picked up and jailed for the duration of the games. We just had a very low key, Canadian production that highlighted Canadian heritage and culture. I thought it was moving. If you didn’t like it then you could have switched to that culturally-challenged karaoke show, American Idol. Now that is entertainment. If you couldn’t appreciate that inspirational performance of “We Are More” by Shane Koyczan well that’s just too bad. I’m not sorry.

Worst outfits in Vancouver go to...

the Norwegian curling squad.

Tree in the shape of a body part that rhymes with Phoenix

We may 'Own the Podium', but we aren't on it much

Okay so we own the podium, but I thought we were supposed to be on it more. As of last night, 48 medals handed out and we only had won 4. Seems like just about every other Olympic – our athletes crash and burn, some moral victories and a lot of 5th to 16th finishes. Take figure skating last night. Canadian pairs champions Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison have won bronze at the 2008 Worlds but were extremely shaky to finish 6th. Then there is Jeremy Wotherspoon who has dominated the long track speed skating for over a decade. He is a 12 time World Cup Overall Champion. But last night he finished 9th in his best event. In fact, his only Olympic medal was a silver in 1988.

Maybe I’m being typically Canadian by allowing my pessimism to show. Afterall , at the Beijing Olympics we went several days before winning a medal and 9 days before striking gold. At home, the commentators were working overtime filling the papers with doom and gloom yet we finished with 18 medals and 14th overall. We’ve got hockey and curling just starting. Kristina Groves has only been in one race so far and it wasn’t her specialty. Clara Hughes is still the best in the world at 5,000 m. We have strong contenders in bobsled and cross country skiing. In figure skating Joannie Rochette and dance team Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have not been known to choke in international competition.

It is just day 5.

The agony of defeat week

Monday, February 15, 2010

Nice hand job

Matt Groening is 56 today

Knack lead singer Doug Fieger dead at 57

Doug Fieger, lead singer of rock group the Knack, died at 57 after a battle with cancer, his brother Geoffrey confirmed today. Get the Knack, the album that featured “My Sharona,” spent six weeks at No. 1 in 1979. Sharona was real. She was Sharona Alperin, Fieger’s 16-year-old girlfriend, who also landed on the single’s cover, and who (like every member of the Knack) is Jewish. Today she is a real estate agent in Los Angeles.

The hit single was perhaps best immortalized (or at least revitalized) via a hilarious impromptu gas station dance party in 1994’s Reality Bites.

The agony of defeat week

NBC thinks Michael J. Fox ran across Canada

Not surprising NBC doesn't know much about Canada or Canadian. Watch this clip as the Today Show crew tries to guess who will light the torch. Katie Couric (kidding) suggests that Betty Fox, mother of the late Terry Fox would be a good choice. Problem is Meredith calls Terry “Michael”. Whomever was in the control booth had a photo up of Terry until Meridith called Terry Michael and replaced the photo of Terry with Michael J. Fox!

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Ranger fan that proposes on big screen gets shutout

A hockey-rink Romeo used today's Rangers game to pop the big question -- only to see his would-be bride storm out in front of thousands booing fans.

"Melissa, will you be my Blueshirt bride? Love, Nick," read the message on the scoreboard.

The Bergen Record newspaper in New Jersey says two Garden sources claim it was all a stunt for Valentine's Day, although stadium officials thought the proposal was real when they put it on the big screen.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mug Shot of the Week

Rogers can solve your Toronto Maple Leaf anxiety issues

Man smashes 29 TVs at Walmart

Spring Training isn't quite here yet, but a man at a Georgia Walmart decided to get into the swing of things by taking a baseball bat and smashing 29 TVs before he was arrested for second degree criminal damage. For those who need to blow steam at Walmarts, maybe it's better to take a few whacks at the wiffle ball display.

Silent Bob too fat to fly?

Film director Kevin Smith tweeted that Southwest Airlines kicked him off a flight. Yes, it was purportedly because of his weight. Southwest's Twitter rep apologized (as did the VP of Customer Relations) once the incident took Twitter by storm. Smith took the opportunity to point out that the prompt apology was only because of his fame, and the same exact thing happens arbitrarily to other passengers who also shop in the plus-size section.

Every so often Southwest Airlines arbitrarily and incorrectly decides that someone is too fat to fly in a single seat. These are people who have regularly flown Southwest in the past and can fit themselves in one seat without a problem.

A couple of years ago a 23-year-old college student, Kyla Ebbert hit all the talk shows complaining about how she was escorted off a Southwest Airlines flight two months earlier because a flight attendant thought her outfit was inappropriate.

The agony of defeat week

Florence Henderson is a birthday girl (76th time)

Canada crushes Slovakia 18-0

It was an embarrassing win that will further fuel critics who don’t believe the women’s game is competitive enough to be part of the Winter Games. One of my stealth reporters was able to video a skill competition involving the top female hockey players in Slovakia.

UPDATE: As one of the readers point out. Slovakia knows about blowouts since they were on the other end of a 82-0 game last year. Womens hockey has some issues to work out.

Happy Valentines Day

Statue of the Week