Blog Posts by Eric Pfeiffer

  • ‘Sesame Street’ songs allegedly used in Guantanamo Bay interrogations

    A new documentary alleges that detainees at Guantanamo Bay were "tortured" by being forced to listen to songs from Sesame Street for days on end.

    The Al Jazeera film, "Songs of War," features Christopher Cerf, who has worked as a composer on Sesame Street for more than four decades.

    "My first reaction was this just can't possibly be true," the Grammy and Emmy award-winning composer told Al Jazeera.

    "Of course, I didn't really like the idea that I was helping break down prisoners, but it was much worse when I heard later that they were actually using the music in Guantanamo to actually do deep, long-term interrogations and obviously to inflict enough pain on prisoners so they would talk."

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  • Guitar Pee urinal turns user into a music whiz

    The Guitar Pee urinal (guitarpee.com screencapture Eric Pfeiffer/Yahoo News)

    There's no denying it, this is a clear case of yellow journalism.

    Billboard Brasil has created a new musically interactive urinal that strums guitar chords while someone goes to the bathroom. The Guitar Pee is designed to look like an actual electric guitar and plays a unique set of notes with each use.

    In fact, it even records your musical output. CNET reports that once you've flushed, the urinal generates a personalized number, allowing listeners to stream the user-generated content from the Guitar Pee website.

    The novelty instrument apparently was created as a tie-in with the company's marketing slogan, "Music. We know it comes from everywhere," and will be featured in bars across San Paolo.

    The Guitar Pee is actually not the first attempt to create a more interactive bathroom experience.

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  • Tipping iceberg captured on video by tourist

    A tourist has captured some rare and startling video of an iceberg tipping over. The tourist was traveling on a boat near the Upsala Glacier in Argentina and caught the unexpected moment.

    Writing on YouTube under the name "osibaruch," the tourist says:

    "While we were passing by it with a catamaran, the huge berg lost a part of itself (look at the right side sinking) and then flipped over with a huge roar. In the process of melting this happens all the time, but it is seldom that it is captured on video WHEN it happens..."

    The Upsala Glacier has been melting for a number of years and is often cited as evidence of global climate change. The BBC reports that the glacier, once the largest in South America, has been retreating at a rate of about 600 feet a year. Some scientists say the melting of Upsala is a result of other natural factors and is not primarily connected to climate change.

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  • ‘Cranky’ 3-year-old kicked off Alaska Airlines flight

    An Alaska Airlines flight over Las Vegas (Julie Jacobson/AP)

    Alaska Airlines is defending its decision to remove a 3-year-old from a Memorial Day weekend flight after the child refused to quiet down and wear his seat belt. But the parents of Daniel Yanchuk are taking issue with the airline's description of their son's behavior as a "safety issue."

    "He got a little bit cranky, started screaming, maybe yelling a little bit, crying," the boy's father, Mark Yanchuk, told MSNBC.com.

    "I think they overreacted," Yanchuk added. "I know you get kicked off planes for dangerous situations like not wearing a seat belt or running around or something dangerous. But I didn't see the situation as being dangerous at all."

    Daniel and his family were on the first leg of a flight from Seattle to the Virgin Islands. Mark Yanchuk, who is a computer salesman in Washington State, had also brought along his mother-in-law, wife and other young child on the flight, which was scheduled to stop in Miami before reaching its final destination.

    Alaska Airlines spokesman Paul McElroy said the flight crew did its best to accommodate Daniel but to no avail. After being told to put away his iPad before takeoff, Daniel reportedly began crying and refused to get buckled into his seat belt.

    "Everybody wanted to make this work, just trying to work with the child and get him to sit upright," McElroy told MSNBC.

    "He kept lying down in his seat, his legs were dangling over the arm rest. At one point, we did have the seat belt fastened but because the child was lying down, now the belt was across his neck and the flight attendants were worried that he would begin to choke himself."

    Mark Yanchuk disputes that account, saying he wouldn't have allowed his child to be buckled in that fashion. He blames the situation on being separated from his wife, who was seated in first class with her mother and other child.

    "We certainly regret the inconvenience to this family, but the flight crew in their best judgment did make the necessary decision to direct the family to take another flight," McElroy said.

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  • Illinois state lawmaker has meltdown on House floor: ‘Let my people go!’

    An Illinois state lawmaker lost his temper in dramatic fashion on Tuesday when he screamed and threw papers in the direction of his colleagues on the floor of the state House.

    Republican Mike Bost says he was simply protesting changes made to a proposed pension bill offered by House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Democrat. The bill had recently cleared a House committee and has been endorsed by Gov. Pat Quinn.

    "Total power in one person's hands—not the American way!" Bost screamed from the state House floor.

    As the local CBS Chicago affiliate reported, Bost then threw several papers in the air and attempted to punch them with his fist as they drifted downward.

    "These damn bills that come out here all the damn time, come out here at the last second!" Bost said as he threw the papers on the floor. "I've got to figure out how to vote for my people!"

    Bost and other Republicans are opposed to the structure of the bill, which would raise local property taxes to decrease annual cost-of-living increases for public employees.

    "You should be ashamed of yourselves! I'm sick of it!" Bost said. "Every year! We give power to one person! It was not made that way in the Constitution! He was around when it was written! Now we give him—we've passed rules that stop each one of us! Enough! I feel like somebody trying to be released from Egypt! Let my people go!"

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  • Historic British mansion has 48 rooms but no toilet

    Apethorpe Hall (English Heritage)Fans of the British television drama "Downton Abbey" could live out the drama in a countryside estate of similar stature that has recently gone up for sale.

    Apethorpe Hall, an idyllic British manor with an astounding 48 rooms, has hit the market for what is considered a "bargain" price of 2.5 million pounds (about $3,882,500). There's just one catch: The place doesn't have a bathroom.

    The Daily Mail reports that the house was originally built between 1470 and 1480 by Sir Guy Wolston, then sold to Sir Walter Mildmay. It reportedly stayed in his family for 350 years. In more recent years, the house has been owned by the Catholic Church and Libyan millionaire Wanis Mohammed Burweila.

    Presumably whoever purchases the house, located in Northamptonshire, England, could afford to install a few modern amenities. But as with any historic location, there are bound to be certain restrictions on developing a piece of property first constructed several hundred years ago.

    Along with not having a bathroom, the house comes with a few other catches: an annual $155,300 maintenance bill and a requirement that the hall be open to the public for at least 28 days a year.

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  • Russian millionaire throws paper planes made of money into crowd

    Pavel Durov tosses paper planes made of money from his office (Facebookru.com)Twenty-seven-year-old Russian millionaire Pavel Durov has earned himself plenty of new critics today after it was reported the mogul threw "paper planes" made of money from the windows of his St. Petersburg office into a growing crowd of pedestrians below.

    Durov is the CEO of Vkontakte, or "In Contact," Russia's most popular social networking site and considered that country's equivalent to Facebook.

    RT.com reports that a growing crowd amassed to collect the 5,000-ruble notes, which are worth about $160 each. However, while Durov reportedly appeared amused by the crowd, he stopped throwing the cash planes from his office window after some spectators appeared to turn violent.

    According to RT, Durov took to his Twitter account, writing, "We had to stop soon, though, as people turned into animals."

    Still, Durov apparently neglected to take personal responsibility for the response and even promised that "definitely, more such actions are to follow."

    At the end of the day, Durov, who is worth an estimated $260 million, apparently tossed down only about $2,000 in cash to the crowd.

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  • Volvo’s self-driven car convoy treks 125 miles across Spanish motorway

    Motorists may soon be able to use their cellphones while driving without fear of getting a ticket. In fact, they may be able to take their eyes off the road completely.

    Volvo has successfully completed a public test of a self-driven convoy of cars. A human driver led the convoy of three self-driven vehicles, which mimicked the lead driver's actions through a wireless link.

    "Driving among other road-users is a great milestone in our project. It was truly thrilling," Linda Wahlstroem, project manager for the Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project at Volvo Car Corp., told the BBC. "We covered 200km in one day and the test turned out well. We're really delighted."

    The four vehicles completed a 125-mile voyage across a Spanish roadway traveling at an average speed of 52 mph.

    You can watch a 2011 test video of the SARTRE system:

    The SARTRE test was carried out as part of a European Commission research project. If offered to the public, Volvo says, the self-driving convoys could also allow commuters to "work on their laptops, read a book or sit back and enjoy a relaxed lunch" while traveling.

    Of course, while the technology is exciting (the SARTRE system uses cameras, radar and laser sensors), the net effect would have some of the same drawbacks as public transportation. After all, you'd have to be traveling in the same direction as your convoy leader.

    Still, Volvo says, the "road train" may be a viable future option for motorists and has added value since it would not require the development of new vehicles or roadways.

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  • 6-year-old is youngest National Spelling Bee contestant ever

    Lori Anne Madison is already in the record books, and this year's Scripps National Spelling Bee hasn't even begun. That's because the 6-year-old from Virginia is the youngest person ever to qualify for the competition.

    "She's like a teenager in a 6-year-old body," says her mother, Sorina Madison. "Her brain, she understands things way ahead of her age."

    No one is expecting Madison to win the competition, where she will be competing against kids more than twice her age. But when she correctly spelled the word "vaquero" to win a regional qualifying contest in March, she became one of the 278 exceptional children who will vie for the national spelling title.

    And it turns out Madison's elite skills extend beyond spelling: She recently won major awards in both swimming and math. In fact, she's so talented that when her parents tried to enroll her in a private school for the gifted, they were told that Madison was "just way too smart to accommodate."

    "Once she started reading, that's when people started looking strange at us, in libraries, everywhere," Sorina Madison said. She's actually fluently reading at 2, and at 2 ½ she was reading chapter books."

    However, The Associated Press notes that the one thing Madison hasn't been enjoying is all of the media attention.

    "I want to go back to being a kid and playing with my friends," she said. And as a condition of her interview with the news organization, she made them tag along while she searched for specimens in a local Virginia river.

    "I sort of didn't like it. I asked for no interviews, but the media seems to be disobeying me, and that's why we're looking for snails and water slugs right now."

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  • Skydiver planning world record 120,000-foot jump from space

    This summer, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner will attempt to break the world record for the longest jump, plummeting more than 23 miles from the Earth's stratosphere.

    "I've done a lot of test jumps, so I'm good," Baumgartner confidently told Fox News before adding that he would "probably say a little prayer" before making the jump that could literally make his blood boil if something goes wrong.

    Baumgartner has been preparing with retired Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger, who set the current world record back in 1960 when he made a 102,000-foot jump.

    To prepare for the jump, Baumgartner will breath pure oxygen for nearly an hour to remove nitrogen bubbles from his blood. He will then stay at the peak elevation for three hours, allowing his body to adjust. He will then jump in a pressurized suit that will prevent his blood from boiling at the extremely high elevation.

    And if all goes well, Baumgartner will set another world record during his jump, becoming the first human being to break the speed of sound in a free-fall jump.

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