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Stranger than fiction

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Curses, foiled again

A clerk at a variety store in Biddeford, Maine, told police a robber threatened to "blow her head off," took several hundred dollars and then crossed the road to a pizza restaurant. There, according to WLBZ-TV, police found Mary Gorsuch, 48, who matched the clerk's description and was already on probation for armed robbery, waiting for a pepperoni pizza she had ordered.

A pizza delivery driver alerted police after he spotted a man carrying laptop computers through a broken window at a computer store in Anchorage, Alaska. The Anchorage Daily News reported that cops chased the fleeing car until it crashed into a concrete pole and then arrested Peter Enmon, 44. Police said most of the stolen laptops were being repaired and were unusable.

Setting the example

An arbitrator ruled that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is responsible for ensuring fair treatment of workers, willfully violated the Fair Labor Standards Act. "The case before me, in my view, demonstrates action that went beyond mere negligence," Steven M. Wolf wrote, declaring that the agency's practice of offering compensatory time off instead of overtime pay amounted to "forced volunteering."

A 13-year search by Washington state environmental regulators to find the source of pollution of a creek near Vancouver Lake ended at their own office building. The Columbian newspaper reported the sewer line from the Vancouver building that houses the Washington state Department of Ecology regional offices, as well as those of the Department of Fish and Game and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was mistakenly connected to a storm drain instead of the municipal sewer main. Agency director Jay J. Manning called the discovery "embarrassing and upsetting."

Mensa rejects

Three men in Vietnam's Tay Ninh province were trying to saw through a 105mm shell left over from the Vietnam War when it exploded. All three died. "The poor men wanted to sell the metal for money," police official Nguyen Minh Kha told Agence France-Presse. "They could not escape the sudden blast."

Three men were hospitalized from injuries suffered during a fire in Fort Dodge, Iowa, that started, Assistant Fire Chief Doug Ostbloom said, when someone dropped a cigarette, then used a lighter to look for it under a couch. The flame from the lighter ignited the couch. The Des Moines Register noted two people in the house spent 10 minutes trying to extinguish the fire before it engulfed the house, and they decided to call for help.

Germ-free drinking

Britain's National Health Service warned that hospital patients were drinking disinfectant hand gel from dispensers as a cheap way to get drunk. The Daily Telegraph reported that the gel, which is used to reduce hospital-acquired infections such as MRSA, contains nearly twice as much alcohol as whisky. It is supposedly undrinkable because of the addition of bitter-tasting Bitrex, but authorities said addicts simply "drink through" the taste.

Tech to the rescue

British scientists created a robot they claimed is the first machine to make scientific discoveries independently. Without any input from humans, the robot, dubbed Adam, formed a hypothesis on the genetics of baker's yeast and then tested its predictions. The result was a series of "simple but useful" discoveries, according to findings published in the journal Science. The Financial Times reported the team of computer scientists and biologists at Aberystwyth and Cambridge universities also just completed a successor robot, called Eve, to work with Adam to find new drugs to treat tropical diseases, such as malaria.

American scientists looking to cure malaria came up with a ray gun that kills mosquitoes. The laser-operated device uses technology developed under the Stars Wars anti-missile program to lock onto the airborne insects by detecting the audio frequency generated by the beating of their wings. A computer triggers the laser beam, which burns off the wings, causing the smoking carcass to fall to the ground. The astrophysicists, whose work is backed by Bill Gates, speculated that the lasers could shield villages from mosquitoes or be fired at the swarming insects from patrolling drone aircraft.

Researchers believe they've solved the problem of exploding bats. When the mammals fly too close to giant wind turbines, they get caught in a vortex of low pressure created by turbine blades, which can spin at more than 125 mph at the tip. The sudden pressure change causes the bats' lungs to explode. The Washington Times reported that a study conducted at wind facilities in Pennsylvania and West Virginia found that simply shutting down the turbines during low wind periods can reduce fatalities by more than 90 percent.

Backed by the Anglo-Dutch conglomerate Unilever, Italian entrepreneur Claudio Torghele, 56, invented a vending machine that bakes fresh pizza in less than three minutes. The "Let's Pizza" machine uses infra-red rays and technology developed at the University of Bologna to knead flour and water into dough, spread it with tomato sauce and a choice of four toppings — cheese, bacon, ham and fresh vegetables — and cook it. The pizzas sell for less than $5. "This is not just a vending machine," Torghele said. "It's a mini-pizzeria. It has windows where you can watch the pizza-making process."

The hot item at this year's Adult Entertainment Expo was an interactive sex device that synchronizes online porn with a belt-driven orifice. According to Agence France-Presse, RealTouch, which claims to have been "developed and tested by a former NASA engineer," fits in a man's lap and connects to a computer with a USB cable. A heating element brings the entire mechanism close to 98.6 degrees, while a reservoir keeps the entire unit moist while in action. "You watch the action on a screen, and a signal is sent to the box to simulate what is happening," product manager Brett Drysdale said. RealTouch sells for $150.

Helping hand

The Washington state senate passed a measure that would pay prison inmates who qualify for early release but have no place to live between $440 and $500 in rental vouchers.

Dil-don't?

Britain's National Health Service held a sexual health workshop for teenage mothers at which those who attended received a souvenir 6-inch rubber penis.

Police arrested three people at a bachelorette party in Wichita, Kan., during a disturbance that began when one of them threw a 5-foot inflatable penis at an officer's horse.

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