Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Police: 3 Who Attacked Couple Went to Wrong Home

Police: 3 Who Attacked Couple Went to Wrong Home

Police: 3 Who Attacked Couple Went to Wrong Home

Posted: 12 Mar 2014 11:24 AM PDT

(MADISON, Wis.) — Investigators in Wisconsin say a home invasion in which a man was severely beaten and his pregnant wife was repeatedly sexually assaulted stemmed from a mistake.

Madison police say the attack was spurred by a neighbor’s girlfriend, who hoped to have him robbed. But the suspects instead stumbled into the wrong home in an affluent Madison neighborhood.

A criminal complaint filed Tuesday says the suspects beat the man who lived there with a handgun and assaulted his wife, who was six months pregnant. Both were hospitalized.

Six people have been charged in the attack. Three men face sexual assault charges, and one is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.

Two other men are accused of aiding the attack, and the woman has been charged with conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

At Long Last, Your Company Can Advertise on Airline Barf Bags

Posted: 12 Mar 2014 11:21 AM PDT

Spirit Airlines planes may soon be as overloaded with logos as a NASCAR vehicle. The ultra-low-fare carrier is actively seeking sponsorships on flight attendant aprons, window panels, and even custom-designed air sickness bags.

Spirit Airlines is known in the travel industry for many things: its low-fare, high-fee business model, its constantly expanding list of extra charges confronting passengers (carry-on bags and canned wine, as examples), its crass marketing ploys playing off hot topics ranging from the BP oil spill to the Anthony Weiner sex scandal.

What Spirit is not remotely known for, however, is being particularly classy. The airline’s CEO Ben Baldanza routinely describes his planes as the equivalent of a bus with wings, and proudly refers to his company as the “dollar store of the sky.” Clearly, what’s most important to the airline—and what’s most responsible for making Spirit a consistently profitable operation over the years—is its ability to keep internal costs low, while maximizing so-called ancillary revenues (anything a passenger pays over and above the base fare).

One emerging strategy Spirit is employing to offset costs is the shameless selling of advertisement in every nook and cranny of its planes. A year ago, the Sun Sentinel noted that Spirit had already begun selling advertising on flight attendant aprons and seatback trays, and asked Baldanza what the airline had next in store. “We are actively marketing other surfaces such as napkins, plane exteriors and overhead bins,” Baldanza replied, adding that such arrangements helped allow Spirit to “keep airfares low.”

Last month, it was announced that Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport would become Spirit’s first “plane wrap partner,” with DFW-themed 7-foot high by 75-foot long designs added to both sides of the aircraft timed to promote new Spirit routes to and from the gateway. And now, as the travel site Skift pointed out this week, Spirit is openly courting corporate sponsors to place brands, logos, and messages on far more unusual surfaces.

(MORE: Stealth Celebrity Endorsement: No Money Changing Hands, Just Free Burritos)

Marketers now have their choice of advertising on Styrofoam and plastic cups, in-flight menus, window panels, and yes, air-sickness bags that may be seen or at least “used” by Spirit passengers. In its marketing spiel aimed at potential advertisers, here’s the pitch for space on the barf bag, which grants a company the right to spread one’s message on 150,000 bags per quarter, at a cost of $30,000:

Custom-designed air sick bags are placed in every seat pocket and are taken by passengers for other uses than intended. Position your message in a creative way and you'll spark conversation. Ideal opportunity for a special offer or coupon.

Less ideal: the possibility of consumers subconsciously thinking about vomit every time they come across your company logo.

‘Fast & Furious 7′ to Film in Abu Dhabi in April

Posted: 12 Mar 2014 11:20 AM PDT

(ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates) — Vin Diesel and other members of the “Fast & Furious 7″ cast are heading to the Mideast city of Abu Dhabi after months of uncertainty about the fate of the movie.

Abu Dhabi’s government-backed twofour54 media hub said in a statement Wednesday that shooting in the United Arab Emirates capital is scheduled to take place in April.

Filming of “Fast & Furious 7″ was put on hold in December following the death of star Paul Walker in a car crash.

A crew filmed some helicopter shots, stunt footage and other scenes in Abu Dhabi in November. Cast members including Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges are expected to arrive when filming resumes next month.

GM Offering $500 to Owners of Recalled Vehicles

Posted: 12 Mar 2014 11:19 AM PDT

General Motors is offering $500 discounts for owners of the 1.6 million vehicles the company recalled in February. Instead of repurchasing the vehicles, the company is offering to reduce the price of new or leased GM cars.

The Detroit News reports the company will also pay for owners' towing services, rental, or loaner cars to dealerships. In a March 4 letter to dealers GM said, "To assist dealers in helping customers who are involved in this recall that request assistance, we are announcing a special cash allowance in the amount $500 available when these customers purchase or lease a new 2013/2014/2015 model year Chevrolet, Buick, GMC or Cadillac."

The 2005-7 Chevy Colbalt, 2007 Pontiac G5, and 2003-2006 Saturn Ion are among the models that were recalled in February due to a faulty ignition switch that moves the key unintentionally. The Detroit Free Press reports the company will also reimburse the cost of previous repairs to ignition switches, though replaced switches are not exempt from the recall.

The announcement comes on the heels of federal investigations into the company's recall, which they are alleged to have known about for a decade. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce are examining the company's response to ignition complaints. The Department of Justice is also investigating the ignition issue, which is reportedly linked to 30 accidents and 13 deaths.

[Detroit News]

Inside America’s Most Elite Crossword Puzzle Rivalry

Posted: 12 Mar 2014 11:10 AM PDT

Never in the history of competitive crossword puzzle solving has there been a rivalry like the one between Tyler Hinman and Dan Feyer. So says Will Shortz, crossword editor for the New York Times and director of the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, which concluded its 37th year on Sunday.

In the finals, the three top ranked solvers stood before giant white-board puzzles in front of a crowded room, wearing sound-muffling earphones. They raced to fill in the blanks as announcers made crowd-pleasing jibes about the clues and discussed the merits of beginning in the northeast corner. The competition ended when Feyer, a 36-year-old freelance pianist wearing a black T-shirt and salt-and-pepper beard, finished the final puzzle in 7 minutes and 18 seconds. It was a puzzle crafted for those fluent in crossword grammar and tricks, in which clues like "Salt shakers" (six letters) were meant to yield answers like swells—the shakers being waves on the sea and the salts being seasoned sailors.

2014 Champ Dan Feyer
Donald Christensen / Courtesy of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament

The win was Feyer's fifth in a row, which meant he was one step closer to becoming the colossus of clues, the sultan of solving! It meant that he had finally tied Hinman's record for consecutive wins—one of a dwindling few feathers the 29-year-old game designer had left in his cap since Feyer began his dominating run. "If Dan weren't around, everyone would be oohing and ahhing over Tyler," Shortz says. And the two of them, he says, are in a class of their own, the type who can flawlessly tear through a New York Times Sunday crossword in under four minutes. Most people, Shortz notes, would be “over the moon” if they finished one at all.

Sitting on a bench in San Francisco in a grey hoodie on Tuesday, gym bag in his lap, Hinman calmly remembers how the mood of the tournament changed in 2010, the first year Feyer won. "It was probably the only time in history, in anything, in any competition, that the guy who's the five-time defending national champion is not the favorite," Hinman says. The irony is that Feyer had never really been into crosswords, much less aware of the tournament, until he saw the documentary Wordplay—which followed young Hinman as he won his first title in 2005, before he could legally order a beer to celebrate the victory.

Since dethroning Hinman, Feyer has been the safe bet to take home the winner’s $5,000 check and silver bowl. "I like Tyler a lot personally. He's a great guy. I feel bad that I have usurped him," Feyer says. After five wins in a tournament that attracts upwards of 500 people from most of the states in the U.S., is he confident that he's the best? "Yeah, I would say so," he says. "It's not by a large enough margin that I'm untouchable or anything."

Shortz doesn't sound so sure. "It's possible," he says of Feyer losing the bowl back to Hinman, who finished two minutes after the champion this year.

The yearly championship is conducted over two days, with competitors completing six puzzles in quiet ballroom sessions on Saturday, earning points and quicker times for correct answers while losing points for every mis-lettered square. On Sunday, all the contestants complete a seventh puzzle before it winnows to three finalists, who compete the last round on stage. After making it to the finals and coming in second three of the last four years, Hinman doesn't sound so optimistic about his future chances. "There is that air of invincibility after a while," he says. Unlike Feyer, who has finished in the fastest time for each of his wins, some of Hinman's wins have come when faster solvers made mistakes and he didn't, which is a bit like getting the gold medal after the first person to cross the finish line gets disqualified.

Donald Christensen / Courtesy of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament

Shortz calls the two "polite competitors" and emphasizes that the mood at the tournament, as well as among puzzlers in general, is congenial. Each year, crossword-lovers congregate and debate over whether it's really better to be a "pen guy" rather than a "pencil guy." They discuss the benefits of using mechanical pencils with .7 mm lead versus .9 mm lead ("Some people like .5, but I don't care to engage those people," Hinman jokes.) And they talk training regimens: Hinman has been doing a few puzzles a day. Feyer has been doing up to ten. Some regulars on the circuit have told Shortz they're solving 50.

For puzzle newcomers, Shortz has suggestions: look for fill-in-the-blank clues, which are usually more straightforward; pursue consonants rather than vowels; and if you get stuck, put the puzzle down and come back later. (Those who want to try to puzzles from this year's competition can purchase them here.) Good players, he says, are good spellers and fast reactors who know a little bit about everything. Shortz doesn't have any advice for players like Hinman or Feyer though, who he says have surpassed his solving ability, who can summon esoteric trivia in a moment and shuffle through permutations of a phrase's meaning like a Rolodex. "It's just mind-boggling," Shortz says.

Feyer has already announced that he will retire if he gets eight consecutive wins, which would make him the winningest champion ever. Hinman, meanwhile, will be summoning the courage to try to break that streak. "There was an air of 'he'll be back,'" Hinman says of his fourth-place finish in 2010. "And I sort of have been back. I just haven't been winning. And that's what I need to combat. I need to cultivate my ability on those hard puzzles, and my belief that I can win, because right now, honestly, I don't have that."

If Hinman doesn't get it back, there is always the consolation prize. "I don't think anyone," he says, "has ever been able to lay a better claim to the title of America's second-best crossword solver."

This is an edition of Wednesday Words, a weekly feature on language. For the previous post, click here.

4 Arrested in Slaying of Texas Couple Near Church

Posted: 12 Mar 2014 11:08 AM PDT

(DALLAS) — An East Texas woman, her brother and her parents are charged with carrying out a scheme to kill of the woman’s ex-husband and new wife as both sides were embroiled in a custody dispute over a 5-year-old girl, authorities said Wednesday.

Sheriff’s deputies in Tyler County arrested four people Tuesday night in the parking lot of the church where Nathan and Krystal Maddox were gunned down in January after visiting the girl.

Nathan Maddox’s ex-wife Kristen Westfall; her brother, Cameron; and her parents, Letha and Paul Westfall, all were indicted on charges of engaging in organized criminal activity. They were scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday. Christine R. Brown-Zeto, an attorney for Kristen Westfall, did not immediately return a phone message.

Letha Westfall had custody of the girl, but the Westfall family was fighting Nathan Maddox in court.

Phil Ryan, the chief deputy in Tyler County, said that the custody battle was the likely motive.

“They were worried that Nathan was doing better in his life and might get custody of the little girl,” Ryan said.

Authorities have not charged any of the four with murder, as investigators are still trying to determine who shot the couple, Ryan said.

The couple died in the attack Jan. 18 outside Mount Carmel Baptist Church near Colmesneil, about 110 miles northeast of Houston. Their daughter was inside the church with Letha Westfall, who had brought her for a supervised visit with her father, said Shari Pulliam, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

After the shootings, state authorities placed the girl in a foster home in an undisclosed location, Pulliam said. The girl did not see the shooting, but is aware of the deaths of her father and stepmother, she said.

“We did not know who the shooter was,” Pulliam said. “We were fearful for her life.”

The court battle for custody has continued after the couple’s deaths, with three days of hearings so far.

State authorities want the girl placed in foster care and said they found drug paraphernalia in Letha Westfall’s home, as well as a gun on a nightstand within easy reach of the girl, Pulliam said.

Nathan Maddox’s father, Jim, has since petitioned to become his granddaughter’s primary caregiver. Jim Maddox’s attorney, Ryan Deaton of Lufkin, said Wednesday it had been a struggle to get Nathan Maddox time to visit his daughter.

“No one even knew where he was getting his visits or how those visits were going to go or anything,” Deaton said. “The only people who did know were the Westfalls and my clients. It would have been impossible for anyone else to do this.”

Frack, Rattle and Roll: Did Hydraulic Fracturing Play a Role in Ohio Quakes?

Posted: 12 Mar 2014 11:07 AM PDT

The mystery over the possible connection between hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes deepened on Mar. 10, when the Ohio government ordered a halt to operations at seven oil and gas wells near the Pennsylvania border after two quakes occurred earlier that day. While the quakes in Ohio’s Poland Township were too small to cause damage or injuries—they measured in at 2.6 and 3.0 on the Richter scale—the fact that one of the wells was undergoing fracking at the time of the quakes was enough for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to suspend drilling operations in the area. “The decision was made out of an abundance of caution after analyzing location and magnitude data provided by the U.S. Geological Services” ODNR spokesman Mark Bruce said in an emailed statement.

Other than that, Ohio officials haven’t been saying much about the possible connection of the quakes to fracking operations—and neither has Hilcorp Energy, the Texas-based company operating in the area, which said in a statement that “we are not aware of any evidence to connect our operations to these events.”

It will take more research to know if fracking at those wells directly led to the small quakes, but it’s not impossible. While there is a stronger connection between earthquakes and deep injection wells—where wastewater left over from fracking is disposed of by being piped at high pressures deep underground—there have been a few instances in which the act of fracking itself seems to have made the earth move. (In case you haven’t been paying attention, fracking involves the fracturing of shale rock thousands of feet below the ground, using millions of gallons of water and chemicals, to free up trapped oil and natural gas.) Quakes in British Columbia, England and south-central Oklahoma have been traced back to fracking—and since Ohio officials say there were no disposal wells in the area where the quakes occurred, it’s definitely possible that fracking could have played a role here as well, as retired Columbia University geology professor John Armbruster told the Columbus Dispatch:

It's an area which (before 2011) had no history of earthquakes. It looks very, very suspicious.

What’s definitely suspicious is the astounding increase in earthquake activity in parts of the central and eastern U.S.—the same areas that have taken part in the fracking boom, as this chart from the USGS shows:

Nearly 450 earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 and larger occurred in the region in the four years from 2010-2013, over 100 per year on average, compared to an average rate of 20 earthquakes per year observed from 1970-2000. Last month, Oklahoma was hit by a wave of more than 150 minor earthquakes over the course of a week, including one that had a magnitude of 3.8, and today 10% of the quakes felt in the U.S. occur in the Sooner State. All of this is happening against the backdrop of the fracking revolution. In Ohio, oil production doubled between 2012 and 2013, and natural gas production increased by two and a half times.

The reason fracking itself does not trigger detectable seismic activity all that often is that the forces involved are relatively weak, and the fragile shale rock tends to fracture before it can build up much strain—which is, after all, the point of fracking. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just that it seems to pose less of a risk that deep injection wells, which involve far greater amounts of liquid and which have been known to trigger quakes since the 1960s. Here’s how the USGS put it:

Wastewater injection increases the underground pore pressure, which may, in effect, lubricate nearby faults thereby weakening them. If the pore pressure increases enough, the weakened fault will slip, releasing stored tectonic stress in the form of an earthquake. Even faults that have not moved in millions of years can be made to slip and cause an earthquake if conditions underground are appropriate.

Fracking has boomed across the country, as this excellent map from the Post Carbon Institute shows:

All the wastewater created by those fracked oil and gas wells has to go somewhere—hence the concurrent boom in disposal wells. Ohio has more than 188 such wells, with more being drilled, in part to take wastewater from Pennsylvania fracking after regulators in that state ordered oil and gas companies to stop dumping waste in streams. And while most of the quakes happening in frackland have been small, there have been some bigger ones, including a 5.7 magnitude quake in Nov. 2011 in Prague, Oklahoma that a USGS study this week linked to a disposal well. “The observation that a human-induced earthquake can trigger a cascade of earthquakes, including a larger one, has important implications for reducing the seismic risk from wastewater injection,” the study’s coauthor, USGS seismologist Elizabeth Cochran, said in a statement.

So induced earthquakes are definitely one more reason to worry about the rapid spread of fracking. But like most of the other concerns—potential groundwater contamination, spills and accidents, stress on small town infrastructure—seismic risk should be manageable with the right regulations. The USGS notes that there are some 30,000 wastewater disposal wells around the country, and “very few” seem to have the potential to cause quakes. Geologists know where fault lines are, and if we listen to them, we should be able to ensure that any new wells, whether drilled to get gas and oil or to store wastewater, are well clear of them. But until we do, don’t expect the shaking to stop.

‘Big Bang’ Renewed for 3 More Years

Posted: 12 Mar 2014 11:06 AM PDT

(NEW YORK) — CBS says it’s renewing its hit comedy “The Big Bang Theory” for three more years. The extraordinary three-year deal would carry TV’s most-watched sitcom through the 2016-2017 season, the series’ 10th on the air. “The Big Bang Theory” premiered in September 2007 and has been a ratings smash for virtually its entire run. It has averaged nearly 20 million viewers each week this season. A comedy about science nerds and the people who love them, it stars three-time Emmy-winner Jim Parsons as well as Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting. It airs Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern time.

WATCH: Hippos Rescue Gnu from Crocodile Attack

Posted: 12 Mar 2014 11:04 AM PDT

Based on footage shot in 2012 that appeared on The Daily Mail‘s website this week, photographer Vadim Onishchenko was visiting the Masai Mara game reserve in Kenya when his camera caught a gnu whose internal GPS had lead him into the mouth of a hungry crocodile. The attack was also witnessed by a group of hippos, who decided not to just sit idly by photographing the assault, but to do something about it. Perhaps they were hungry (hungry) for justice?

Whatever the reason, the hippos sprung into action, scaring off the crocodile and ushering the startled gnu to the relative safety of dry land.

Onishchenko caught the whole surprising rescue mission on camera and has a theory as to why the hippos might have leaped to the gnu’s defense. He told MailOnline: “I’ve heard of cases where the animal’s instinct is to protect other species, I think the hippo’s parental instincts took over.”

Still, be careful about getting too close to hippos. Remember the guy who got swallowed by one (and lived to tell the tale)?

MORE: Crazed Pet Cat Holds Family Hostage and Forces Them To Call 911 For Rescue

MORE: Man Swallowed by Hippo, Lives to Write About It

Why That ‘First Kiss’ Video Now Feels Like A Bad First Date

Posted: 12 Mar 2014 10:58 AM PDT

In fairness, we really should have seen this coming.

As it turns out, that video of 20 strangers kissing that has spread to all corners of the internet in the last 48 hours (and racked up more 24 million views on YouTube) is not exactly what it seems to be. Rather than ten pairs of total strangers meeting for the first time and—after a brief interlude of awkward small-talk—passionately losing themselves in each other’s lips, it’s 20 actors, models and musicians who seem just a little confident for the video’s premise.

The viral video, directed by Tatia Pilieva, is actually an advertisement for a clothing company. According to Slate, these are some of the performers in the video:

Models Natalia Bonifacci, Ingrid Schram, and Langley Fox (daughter of actress Mariel Hemingway and sister of model Dree); musicians Z Berg of The Like, Damian Kulash of OK Go, Justin Kennedy of Army Navy, singer Nicole Simone, and singer-actress Soko (who also performed the melancholy indie music that accompanies the short); and actors Karim Saleh, Matthew Carey, Jill Larson,Corby Griesenbeck, Elisabetta Tedla, Luke Cook, and Marianna Palka.

How does this revelation make you feel? Cheated? Frustrated? Completely and utterly disbelieving in the possibility of love at first sight? All are valid, but none should come as a surprise after first watching the video. WREN—the name of the clothing company—is plastered on the opening of the video, and the names of the participants are listed at the video’s conclusion. Anyone with access to Google (or, preferably, IMDb), could look up members of the cast and figure out their vocation.

Then there’s the video itself. Sure, there’s the uncomfortable chit-chat amongst the pairs at the outset, but what follows is an unlikely uniformity. Perhaps with one exception, the pairs all appeared completely absorbed in the experience. You know, like actors do when filming a scene that’s supposed to convey intimacy. Plus they’re all young and rather attractive—if you thought the video’s creators was just pulling random people off the street, the only one fooling you was yourself.

The bigger issue here is that the video (and the hype surrounding it) only adds to the growing phenomenon of things on the internet not being what they appear to be. Yes, this sounds silly because the whole point of the internet is that almost all of it is not what it claims to be, but increasingly that truism has spread to videos. Jimmy Kimmel has been praised and castigated in equal measures thanks to his hoax videos. This is not that. Viewers were not explicitly tricked. These are strangers, and they are kissing—that’s not what’s in dispute.

The problem is that—unlike a girl twerking in her dorm room or a wolf roaming the halls of athlete housing in Sochi—this video presents itself as an exemplar of genuine human emotion. Most people watching want to believe that this is possible for them. They could be one one of those strangers. But most people watching are not models or musicians or actors—the sorts of people who emulate intimacy professionally on a daily basis. They’re people who sit at desks or in classrooms or in homes for most of the day, nearly every day. When they do have the chance to kiss another person, that person is rarely a stranger, and a kiss being so passionate and scored to a flawlessly romantic soundtrack is the exception rather than the rule.

That’s what will upset people the most once they realize the video is an advertisement designed to get them to buy something. They weren’t hoaxed or tricked, they were shown something that presented itself as unique, something that was widely described as beautiful. Now they know that what they watched is no different from what they see every other time they watch a video on the internet or turn on a television.

Here are just a few of the reactions to the revelation on Twitter:


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