Japanese fooled in poodle scam

Thousands of Japanese have been swindled in a scam in which they were sold Australian and British sheep and told they were poodles.

Flocks of sheep were imported to Japan and then sold by a company called Poodles as Pets, marketed as fashionable accessories, available at $1,600 each.

That is a snip compared to a real poodle which retails for twice that much in Japan.

The scam was uncovered when Japanese moviestar Maiko Kawamaki went on a talk-show and wondered why her new pet would not bark or eat dog food.

She was crestfallen when told it was a sheep.

Then hundreds of other women got in touch with police to say they feared their new “poodle” was also a sheep.

One couple said they became suspicious when they took their “dog” to have its claws trimmed and were told it had hooves.

Japanese police believe there could be 2,000 people affected by the scam, which operated in Sapporo and capitalised on the fact that sheep are rare in Japan, so many do not know what they look like.

“We launched an investigation after we were made aware that a company were selling sheep as poodles,” Japanese police said, the The Sun reported.

“Sadly we think there is more than one company operating in this way.

“The sheep are believed to have been imported from overseas – Britain, Australia.”

Many of the sheep have now been donated to zoos and farms.

China aims to further tame Web

China (Reuters) — Chinese President Hu Jintao on Monday launched a campaign to rid the country’s sprawling Internet of “unhealthy” content and make it a springboard for Communist Party doctrine, state television reported.
With Hu presiding, the Communist Party Politburo — its 24-member inner council — discussed cleaning up the Internet, state television reported. The meeting promised to place the often unruly medium more firmly under propaganda controls.
“Development and administration of Internet culture must stick to the direction of socialist advanced culture, adhere to correct propaganda guidance,” said a summary of the meeting read on the news broadcast.
“Internet cultural units must conscientiously take on the responsibility of encouraging development of a system of core socialist values.”
The meeting was far from the first time China has sought to rein in the Internet. In January, Hu made a similar call to “purify” it, and there have been many such calls before.
But the announcement indicated that Hu wants ever tighter controls as he braces for a series of political hurdles and seeks to govern a generation of young Chinese for whom Mao Zedong’s socialist revolution is a hazy history lesson.
“Consolidate the guiding status of Marxism in the ideological sphere,” the party meeting urged, calling for more Marxist education on the Internet.
The Communist Party is preparing for a congress later this year that is set to give Hu another five-year term and open the way for him to choose eventual successors. In 2008, Beijing hosts the Olympic Games, when the party’s economic achievements will be on display, along with its political and media controls.
In 2006, China’s Internet users grew by 26 million, or 23.4 percent, year on year, to reach 137 million, Chinese authorities have estimated.
That lucrative market has attracted big investors such as Google and Yahoo. They have been criticized by some rights groups for bowing to China’s censors.
The one-party government already wields a vast system of filters and censorship that blocks the majority of users from sites offering uncensored opinion and news. But even in China, news of official misdeeds and dissident opinion has been able to travel fast through online bulletin boards and blogs.
Authorities have also launched repeated crackdowns on pornography and salacious content. The latest campaign against porn and “rumor-spreading” was announced earlier this month.
The meeting also announced that schools and sports groups would be encouraged to use healthy competition as a way to shape youth, the report said.
“Sports plays an irreplaceable role in the formation of young people’s thinking and character, mental development and aesthetic formation,” the meeting declared.

Please don’t stare at the chimps in the zoo


Belgium’s Antwerp Zoo has posted a sign outside the chimp house asking visitors not to stare at the animals. Apparently, continued interaction with humans, through direct eye contact for example, is distracting one particular chimp named Cheeta from bonding with the others. From the Associated Press:
(Zoo spokeswoman Ilse Segers) said that Cheetah’s continued interaction with humans was “delaying the social integration of the animal in the group,” and isolating the ape from the others.

A sign posted on the glass enclosure requests onlookers not to stare at the apes. “Look away when an animal seeks to make contact with you, or take a step back,” said the sign. “Some individuals are more interested with visitors than their own kind.”

Chimps More Evolved Than Humans

By Jeanna Bryner
LiveScience Staff Writer
posted: 17 April 2007
09:36 am ET

Since the human-chimp split about 6 million years ago, chimpanzee genes can be said to have evolved more than human genes, a new study suggests.

The results, detailed online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, contradict the conventional wisdom that humans are the result of a high degree of genetic selection, evidenced by our relatively large brains, cognitive abilities and bi-pedalism.

Jianzhi Zhang of the University of Michigan and his colleagues analyzed strings of DNA from nearly 14,000 protein-coding genes shared by chimps and humans. They looked for differences gene by gene and whether they caused changes in the generated proteins.

Genes act as instructions that organisms use to make proteins and thus are integral to carrying out biological functions, such as transporting oxygen to the body’s cells. Different versions of the same gene are called alleles.

Changes in DNA that affect the making of proteins are considered functional changes, while “silent” changes do not affect the proteins. “If we see an excess of functional changes (compared to silent changes) the inference is these functional changes occurred because they were positively selected, because they were useful in some way to the organism,” said study team member Margaret Bakewell, also of UM.

Bakewell, Zhang and a colleague found that substantially more genes in chimps evolved in ways that were beneficial than was the case with human genes.

The results could be due to the fact that over the long term humans have had a smaller effective population size compared with chimps.

“Although there are now many more humans than chimps, in the past, human populations were much smaller, and may have been fragmented into even smaller groups,” Bakewell told LiveScience. So random events would play a more dominant role than natural selection in humans.

Here is why: Under the process of natural selection, gene variants that are beneficial get selected for and become more common in a population over time. But genetic drift, a random process in which chance “decides” which alleles survive, also occurs. In smaller populations, a fortuitous break for one or two alleles can have a disproportionately greater impact on the overall genes of that population compared with a larger one.

Chance events could also explain why the scientists found more gene variants that were either neutral and had no functional impact or negative changes that are involved in diseases.

There is still much to learn, the scientists say, about human and chimp evolution. “There are possibly a lot of differences between human and chimps that we don’t know about, [perhaps] because there are differences in chimps that nobody has studied; a lot of studies tend to focus on humans,” Bakewell said.

Designing Japanese home products with a difference

By Kaori Shoji
Monday, April 16, 2007
International Herald Tribune

TOKYO: The designer and architect Shuwa Tei says that the very first home product he bought was a hot dog maker, when he was 6. Young as he was, Tei had a hankering to “eat a good-looking hot dog” and decided that for this end, he must first get the right appliance.

Having glimpsed one in a local church bazaar, he immediately pitched a presentation to his parents, who like truly good clients, recognized artistic appeal when they saw it. Tei got his hot dog maker but then was at a loss: the only sausages at home were small, rinky Japanese ones, not the fat juicy frankfurters that went into “good-looking” hot dogs. Tei had his first lesson in home product design: “Having the right equipment isn’t enough. One must think of the project in its totality. The home, the décor, what was in the fridge – all these things had to form a harmonious whole,” he said.
Tei still thinks in those terms. For him, interior design, exterior architecture and product design occupy the same space, instead of being compartmentalized into separate disciplines. “When you’re designing a kitchen product, you have to think of what the kitchen looks like, how it functions, how the product fits into the scheme,” he said. “This is difficult because in Japan, kitchens are often afterthoughts of architects who have little idea of how kitchens should be.”
Tei, who said he would have been a chef had he not become a designer, compares his product designs to Japanese course meals called kaiseki. “There should be different flavors and textures, varying notes on the palate. And in the end, all these elements will gather to form one overall impression. But like kaiseki meals, I want my designs to be light, easy on the eye but not always easy to fathom. Satiation is one of the things I try to avoid,” he said.
Tei directs the home product brand Amadana (the name is taken from a Tokyo lacquer-artisan district of 300 years ago) in addition to working on various architectural and interior design projects, like the much-acclaimed Hotel Claska, United Cinemas Toyosu Theater and the Burberry Blue Label shop (all in Tokyo) with his company Intentionallies. Amadana products are unlike anything the Japanese consumer has seen before – subtly blending wood, leather, metals and acrylic glass to achieve an effect that is neither nostalagic nor futuristic.
“I hope they’ll become classics of the future,” said Tei. “Something that will remain, not for its durability but for the way the designs grow on you over time, in a way that’s subtly but perceptively pleasing.” Indeed, Amadana products are light to the touch and pleasant to behold (and importantly, they’re also reasonably priced) – distinctive but never in-your-face. “I don’t think everyone will get it, but then I’m not aiming for mass appeal. I just want to keep things loosely defined, and hope that those who do get it will get the ambiguity and find it attractive.”
In a sense, Tei’s stance is quintessentially Japanese. Historically, the radicals of the Japanese art world had always avoided the obviously progressive or revolutionary, preferring to make their statements through the seemingly mundane or with shades of nuance.
Often compared to Tei is another maverick in home product design: Naoto Fukasawa, who has collaborated with Muji, an appliance, home products and clothing company.
Muji (whose original corporate slogan was “all value, no frills”) and Fukasawa have popularized the importance of the ordinary; not exactly a less is more aesthetic, but discerning what is necessary and leaving it at that. Fukasawa’s hit product is the wall-hanging CD player. It is about the size of a piece of toast and fits into any niche; it is operated by tugging a cord and has just one tiny dial (for volume). Fukasawa has repeatedly said that ordinariness, or normality, is a state in which the Japanese (designers and users alike) excel, but one that’s in danger of being elbowed out by excessive/obsessive design.
The consumer analyst Midori Itoh said: “It’s true, there’s a consumer awareness that hasn’t been there before. People are starting to care what a home appliance looks like and, in many cases, willing to pay the extra cash for good designs.” They’re also picking up design magazines like “d,” run by the designer-cum-shop owner Kenmei Nagaoka, who assembles tight, readable articles on all things design, from architecture and suitcases to the package on a chocolate bar. Tokyo’s eclectic boutiques, called “select shops,” display designer kettles next to summer dresses and DVD players.

Itoh added that this trend is natural: “Design is the next big industry. It’s not about making things that work anymore. It’s about making things that look better than the competitor, and presenting them to customers inside a chic, attractive space.”
Tei takes that a step further. “Certainly it’s important for a product to look good but what constitutes good?” he asked. “I prefer looser, vague terms like ‘sort of good.’ And when I do the designs, I ultimately aim to please just one person, myself. I have no obsessions, and my standards of good and bad are always undefined. So, that simplifies the process. If I try to satisfy everyone, the whole thing becomes a lot more complicated.”

Google MyMaps Smashes Mash-ups

GigaOm: http://gigaom.com/2007/04/04/google-mymaps/

Google is announcing a new service, My Maps, that allows anyone to create their own Google Maps-based mashups, reports The Wall Street Journal. Essentially, anyone can go in and plot all the great Thai restaurants in San Francisco, and save it as SF Thai Food Maps. You can also attach YouTube videos to these maps. Think map mashups for dummies! Microsoft already offers a similar feature with its stellar and constantly improving Live Search Maps service.

The consequences of Google’s announcement could be quite dire for a gaggle of map mashup start-ups including Platial, Frappr, Flagr and Plazes, to name a few — that have raised millions of dollars in venture capital.

Some use the Google Maps API as an underpinning for their offering. They now face the prospect of competing with Google, which also controls the API. However, a quick review of Google’s new service gives upstarts an edge on user friendliness, even though on their blog, Google claims even caveman can do it.

Google’s announcement shows that social mapping and geo-tagging are now a big enough opportunity for the company to take seriously. It also points to a larger trend – location-based services and how they are increasingly becoming part of information aggregation and sorting technologies.

Google, like its peers, is realizing that in the future when digital content explodes exponentially, context will become more important. Especially, when it comes to local search. MyMaps are a quick way to provide some context. It will only be a matter of time before these Google-hosted map mash-ups start showing up next to local search results.

Yahoo was the first search company to realize that people-powered search was a way for it to deliver more relevant and contextual information. Google My Maps is a tip-of-the-hat to people: after all if the machine could build these cool mash-ups, Google wouldn’t have had to launch My Maps.

PS: We couldn’t help but notice the name of this new offering – My Maps – just like My Yahoo! Is it the start of Yahoofication of Google?

Woman dropped on head alleges ‘negligent dancing’

CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) — A woman is suing her dance partner, claiming he dropped her on her head after flipping her into the air at an office party.

Lacey Hindman, 22, was a victim of “negligent dancing,” says her lawyer, David M. Baum.

In the suit, Hindman claims that during a party at a Chicago bar and restaurant in April 2006, David Prange grabbed her by the forearms and tossed her in the air, and then she crashed to the wood floor.

“I was in the air, over him,” Hindman said. “I fell hard enough you could hear the impact of me hitting the floor over the sound from the jukebox.”

Hindman said in the suit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, that she suffered a fractured skull and brain injuries. She is seeking damages for medical bills and lost wages for time missed from work.

Hindman worked for Prange’s wife, Kate Prange, at Shop Girl, a women’s boutique.

There was no immediate response to a call seeking comment from David Prange on Tuesday.