Blog Posts by Eric Pfeiffer

  • Viewing child pornography online not a crime: New York court ruling

    New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveils an anti-child pornography initiative while serving as Attorney General (AP/Bebeto Matthews)In a controversial decision that is already sparking debate around the country, the New York Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday that viewing child pornography online is not a crime.

    "The purposeful viewing of child pornography on the internet is now legal in New York," Senior Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick wrote in a majority decision for the court.

    The decision came after Marist College professor James D. Kent was sentenced to prison in August 2009 after more than 100 images of child pornography were found on his computer's cache.

    Whenever someone views an image online, a copy of the image's data is saved in the computer's memory cache.

    The ruling attempts to distinguish between individuals who see an image of child pornography online versus those who actively download and store such images, MSNBC reports. And in this case, it was ruled that a computer's image cache is not the same as actively choosing to download and save an image.

    "Merely viewing Web images of child pornography does not, absent other proof, constitute either possession or procurement within the meaning of our Penal Law," Ciparick wrote in the decision.

    See a copy of the court's full ruling on the child pornography decision.

    The court said it must be up to the legislature, not the courts, to determine what the appropriate response should be to those viewing images of child pornography without actually storing them. Currently, New York's legislature has no laws deeming such action criminal.

    As The Atlantic Wire notes, under current New York law, "it is illegal to create, possess, distribute, promote or facilitate child pornography." But that leaves out one critical distinction, as Judge Ciparick stated in the court's decision.

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  • 12 sets of twins graduating from just one high-school class

    12 pairs of high-school seniors are about to graduate from one Georgia school. The 24 seniors at Brookwood High in Gwinnett County are a mix of identical and fraternal twins.

    Fox 5 in Atlanta reports that as unusual as the circumstances are, most of the twins themselves find their situation to be perfectly normal.

    "It's actually not as weird as people think it is," said one of the twins, Ashley Rivas-Triana. "Like a lot of people are like, what does it feel like? I just have a sister. It's not like we're some sort of alien species or something,"

    There's even a set of identical twins playing for the school's softball team. Coach Kent Doehrman says when he called one of the girls into the game, both would respond. Courtney and Caroline Erickson offered some solutions, including wearing different colors and ribbons. "Well I'm color blind so that didn't help," Doehrman said.

    Still, it turns out there's an even larger class of twins at Niles West High School. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the Illinois school has 14 sets of twins in its sophomore class alone. The twins there are also a mix of identical and fraternal. Student activities director Jessica Ogulnik gathered the students for a photo. Though, she admits getting them all in place at one time wasn't easy.

    "One day a member of the sophomore class came to me and said 'I'm a twin, and there seems to be a lot of us,'" she told the paper. "It took two tries, but the second time was a charm," she said.

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  • Star Wars attraction creates personalized figurine ‘frozen in carbonite’

    "He should be quite well protected. If he survived the freezing process, that is." ('Star Wars Kinect' was met with a chilly reception by most adult fans of the world's most popular science fiction epic, but an unusual new offering from Disney might help thaw relations with disheartened loyalists.

    Writing on the Disney Parks blog, merchandising manager Steven Miller says at this year's Star Wars Weekends (starting May 18), fans can partake in a "Carbon-Freeze Me" experience, in which they can create a personalized 8-inch replica of the carbonite casing used by Darth Vader to capture Han Solo in "The Empire Strikes Back."

    Several cameras will capture images of the user's likeness, then impose the detailed image onto the 8-inch figurine. The carbonite replica will set you back $99.95 (plus shipping) and takes about four weeks to complete.

    The figure is even designed to hang upright on a wall, much like Jabba the Hutt does with the frozen Han Solo in "Return of the Jedi." But hey, kids, don't get cocky. Unfortunately, the process does not come with a built-in rescue by Princess Leia.

    And if that's not a close enough brush with the dark side of the Force for you, the "American Idol Experience" attraction is conveniently located next door.

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  • South Carolina coroner candidate runs on platform of ‘saving lives’

    Coroner Barron "Saving Lives," (Twitter)It's not unusual for a politician to make promises and then fail to deliver on them. But one local candidate in Lexington, South Carolina, appears to have put a new spin on hyperbole.

    Frank Barron is running to be Lexington's coroner, an elected government position, with the campaign slogan "Saving Lives." But how can someone who helps determine a person's cause of death actually help prevent someone from dying?

    He even has a Facebook page asking people to "like" his campaign sign, which does seem a bit morbid. And Barron's Twitter account profile is a photo of him somberly working the scene of what appears to be a fatal car accident.

    In fairness, Barron's slogan applies to his support for several public initiatives, including the state's seat belt law and a program for teenagers that encourages safe driving practices.

    And the Republican is certainly qualified for the post he is seeking, having served seven times as president of South Carolina's Coroners Association.

    Still, it's hard to deny the irony of such an unusual campaign slogan.

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  • $31.5 million bid for New York apartment denied by building’s co-op board

    A $31.5 million apartment bid by Qatar's prime minister was rejected (AP/Seth Wenig)In today's housing market, good deals are waiting to be had. But for one New York co-op, a $31.5 million bid wasn't even enticing enough to merit an interview with the potential tenant.

    The prospective buyer also happens to be the Prime Minister of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani. He made an offer to purchase and convert two apartments in the co-op belonging to the late heiress Huguette Clark.

    NBC News reports that the apartments cover about 10,000 square feet and are located on the 8th floor of the luxury co-op at 907 Fifth Avenue, at East 72nd Street, on the east side of Central Park.

    And while Clark's estate approved of the sale, the building's co-op reportedly decided against even interviewing the sheik over concerns such a high-profile resident would affect the building's "quiet character." In addition, the board was apparently concerned about the sheik's plans for extensive construction to join the two apartments into one living space.

    As NBC notes, Clark was the "perfect neighbor." At least for those who think the perfect neighbor is someone who is never actually at home. The heiress passed away in 2011 at the age of 104 after spending the past 20 years living in New York City hospitals.

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  • ‘Novo Geek’ aims to assist the functional fan

    A few of the new 'Novo Geek' items on display. Can you spot them? (Anovos Productions/The Novo Geek)

    "Geek culture" is a continually evolving thing. On one hand, many of us have worked next to the office mate who ignores the limits of professional good taste, his desk overflowing with fandom merchandise.

    At the other end of the spectrum, 2011's Miss USA winner Alyssa Campanella declared herself a "history geek," to the amazement of some, and the disdain of others.

    The comedian Patton Oswalt penned an op-ed for Wired magazine last year, going so far as demanding the death of geek culture, saying it has lost its meaning when anyone, including world-famous models, can claim the geek mantle.

    So is there room for the "subtle geek," one who is genuinely into science and science fiction but also not standing out as "that guy" in the workplace? Joe Salcedo of the newly launched Novo Geek says yes. On Monday, his company launched a series of novelty items for properties like Battlestar Galactica (BSG), Star Trek and Dexter.

    "The pie gets even smaller when it comes to spending thousands of dollars. Even within that niche, the fandom is rabid," Salcedo said in a phone interview with Yahoo News.

    What Novo Geek has done is offer a compromise, both in price and visibility. For instance, rather than a life-size BSG replica uniform, you can purchase a notebook modeled after ones used by the characters on the SyFy Channel show.

    "We're reaching out to people from the casual fan to the CEO; people who have their own way of expressing their fandom by using it on a daily basis," Salcedo said.

    For example, their Star Trek ties are made of a cloth that is meant to resemble the fabric of uniform worn on the original series. But the Novo Geek ties actually appear entirely conventional to the non-fan, except for a tiny Federation logo implanted on the bottom of the tie's front. To someone who didn't know better, it might as well just be a designer label. And in some ways, that's exactly what it is.

    "We like to call it, 'pleasantly disrupting your day,' Salcedo said. "The day is long. The days we work are long. But we want to provide that sort of joy. It has a functionality and it has every right to be on your desk."

    Although you still might have to stop and explain your Dexter thumb drive to a curious co-worker.

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  • South Korea seizes capsules containing powdered flesh of dead babies

    A baby in China wears a protective face mask (AP/Kin Cheung)

    The South Korean government revealed Monday that it recently seized thousands of capsules filled with the powdered flesh of dead babies. Reportedly, some people believe the powder has medicinal purposes and was created in northeastern China.

    South Korea has reportedly been reluctant to criticize China directly over the incident, out of fears of creating diplomatic friction with the country. But the process by which the powder is allegedly created is one of the most disturbing stories imaginable.

    According to the Korea Customs Service, the bodies of dead babies are chopped into small pieces and dried on stoves before being turned into powder. The customs officials have refused to say exactly where the babies come from or who is responsible for making the capsules.

    China has already been in the spotlight over activist Chen Guangcheng, whose work involves protesting the government's sterilization and forced abortion policies. It was recently reported that China is working to "soften" its one-child policy slogans, though not the actual policy itself.

    Last year, Chinese officials ordered an investigation into the manufacturing of drugs made from dead fetuses or newborn babies. Nonetheless, South Korean officials said in a statement they have discovered 35 smuggling attempts since last August, during which 17,450 capsules labeled as "stamina boosters" were discovered. Rather than containing any inherent medicinal properties, the capsules are said to contain dangerous bacteria and other harmful, unspecified ingredients.

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  • Austria’s ‘upside down house’ becomes tourist attraction

    The western Austrian village of Terfens has unveiled a house that is literally upside down, both on the inside and out. The house was designed by two Polish architects, Irek Glowacki and Marek Rozhanski, and is meant to be a tourist attraction.

    Click image for more photos

    The house is open for public viewing and includes an upside down garage, children's bedroom and even bathroom.

    Over the years, there have been several fictional portrayals of upside houses, though those usually involved simply placing the items in an otherwise normal house onto the room's ceiling. As you can see from the photos, this is a truly unusual creation, where the actual house itself, including the foundation, appears to be fully turned on its head.

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  • ‘Loch Ness Monster’ ordered to leave Wisconsin river

    A sculpture of the Loch Ness Monster in a Wisconsin river (AP/Eau Claire Leader-Telegram/Dan Reiland)The Loch Ness Monster has finally surfaced—in Wisconsin's Chippewa River. And state officials want it to go.

    To be clear, the object in question is actually a sculpture meant to resemble "Nessie," the mythological creature supposedly navigating a deep body of water in Scotland.

    Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources spokesman Dan Baumann says the sculpture is illegally obstructing the Chippewa and needs to be removed. However, like the origins of the Loch Ness Monster itself, the identity of the sculpture's creator remains a mystery.

    An anonymous reader did contact the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, saying the sculpture would be removed within 10 days. "As much as I would like to leave it there, I don't want the DNR finding out it was me and fining me for it," wrote the anonymous emailer.

    In addition, the owner of a local home-improvement store says the sculpture would make a good fit in some water retention sites on the company's property.

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  • Mysterious origin of Solomon Islands’ dark-skinned blonds revealed

    Two Solomon Islands residents reading a newspaper (AP/Rob Griffith)

    Researchers have discovered a single gene that caused inhabitants of the Solomon Islands to have the unique combination of very dark skin and very blond hair.

    On Thursday, the journal Science reported that a single gene mutation is responsible for the unique pairing. Perhaps most interesting, the findings debunk theories that residents of the Solomon Islands got their blond hair from intermarrying with European explorers.

    "[T]he human characteristic of blond hair arose independently in equatorial Oceania," study researcher Eimear Kenny said in a statement. "That's quite unexpected and fascinating."

    Kenny and fellow researcher Sean Myles gathered saliva samples from 43 blond-haired children and 42 dark-haired children on the island to compare their genes. Myles said the frequency of blond hair is comparable to the numbers found in Europe.

    "They have this very dark skin and bright blond hair. It was mind-blowing," Myles said in a statement. "As a geneticist on the beach watching the kids playing, you count up the frequency of kids with blond hair, and say, 'Wow, it's 5 to 10 percent.'"

    The findings are reportedly a bit of an anomaly, as it is rare for a single physical trait to be traced back to one gene change, according to Live Science.

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