24 July 2008
23 July 2008
Dakar Rallies Scrabble Contenders
By Piers Edwards
BBC News, Dakar
Yet for Ndongo Sylla, his home nation is just another word that can be rearranged in different ways - whether that be 'agneles' (lambed), 'glanees' (gleaned), 'langees' (nappies) or 'sanglee' (strapped).
Sylla, 29, is that Senegalese rarity - a world champion - whose titles have come in Scrabble, a board game where competitors score points by forming words from individual lettered tiles.
Scrabble champion Ndongo Sylla is an advisor to the Senegalese president
He is competing in the 37th Francophone Scrabble World Championships, which are taking place in Senegal this week.
Some 600 competitors have travelled from 21 countries to the capital, Dakar, where they face the task of beating the hosts.
In 2000, Ndongo Sylla and his partner, Arona Gaye, became the first Africans to take a world title when they won the Pairs section.
Since then, Senegal's standing has improved to the point where it took three of the four titles on offer at last year's world championships in Canada - not bad for a country with a 40% literacy rate.
To say Scrabble is taken seriously in Senegal is an understatement.
The Sports Ministry now gives it the same importance as football, and has declared the championships - which have their own song - a national priority.
"When your CV says you are a world Scrabble champion, that can be impressive for potential employers," Sylla says.
"I first met Wade in 2000 in Paris where I was studying economics", he adds. "I was Senegal's Scrabble champion and said I would soon be a world champion, and Wade said he would give me full support if I was. The next month, I did win."
"Since then, Wade has done plenty for Scrabble which is now at the forefront of Senegalese sport", says Sylla.
In fact, the game is the West African nation's most successful - with Senegal boasting nine world titles.
Scrabble is a religion here. Nowhere else in the world can you find such excitement and dedication to the game.
French World Champion, Antonin Michel
And nothing has been left to chance as they host the championships, with the local players even undergoing a 10-day training camp.
President Wade believes Senegal's successes in beating the French at their own language reveals the nation's untapped potential - although France's sole reigning world champion is keen to address that.
"Incredibly, I was the only non-Senegalese to win in Quebec last year," says 31-year-old Antonin Michel.
"So I have huge pressure on my shoulders. But I'm pretty confident that six or seven of us can compete with the Senegalese.
"It's fairly simple why they are so good", says Michel.
"Scrabble is a religion here. Nowhere else in the world can you find such excitement and dedication to the game. After all, this is the first place where I have seen street vendors selling Scrabble."
So perhaps it is unsurprising that the championships are being televised.
But since games are played in near silence as participants decide how to best use their letters, Scrabble is an awful spectator sport - which might explain why the devoted competitors greatly outnumber spectators.
Top players learn about 50, 000 words
"We live in St Martin in the Caribbean, close to Guadeloupe and Martinique, and we have come over with people from both islands," says Dr Ribeau, an elderly French expatriate.
"The championships are a great way to meet Francophones from all over the world."
Guinea's Moussa Diasso agrees. "I love Scrabble because it's a game where I can improve my French," he says, adding that he hopes to raise Scrabble's profile back in his home country.
Having travelled from Africa, Europe and North America, the competitors are not just united by their love of Scrabble - which they take extremely seriously - but also by a shared desire to travel and meet people.
Master the dictionary
Of course, they also want to demonstrate their mastery of French, and the leading players go to mind-boggling lengths to finish on top.
"To be a world champion, you need to master 98-99% of the dictionary," says Michel. "I'm learning the words themselves, not their meanings, so that I can play any word during matches. Players like me master 50,000 words."
To put that into context, a university professor's vocabulary is believed to extend to around 15,000 words.
Yet Francophone Scrabble players must now also know various words from the Senegalese dialect, Wolof, with 14 words having made it into the game's official dictionary - such as 'thiof' (a local fish) and 'xalam' (lute).
"It gives us pride to see our Wolof words accepted," says Sylla.
It may also give the Senegalese an edge over their international rivals.
22 July 2008
NEW YORK (AP) -- The old song had it right: Breaking up is hard to do. But a free new phone service called Slydial might make it easier to get through that and other awkward moments -- without actually having to talk to anyone.
A new service lets you leave a cell-phone voice message without -- horrors! -- actually talking to someone.
Slydial lets you connect directly with another person's cell phone voice mail, bypassing the traditional ringing process that often results -- sometimes disastrously -- with someone picking up on the other end.
Users call (267) SLY-DIAL from either a cell phone or a landline, and are prompted to enter another person's cell phone number.
After playing a short advertisement -- unless users pay a subscription fee or 15 cents per call to skip ads -- Slydial puts callers directly into their target's voice mail.
Recipients should then get a voice mail notification, and sometimes they will see a caller's number show up as a missed call, too.
Gavin Macomber, co-founder of MobileSphere Ltd., the Boston-based communications company behind Slydial, thinks it can be useful not only in the dating scene, but also in the hectic business world.
"Everybody has gone through the scenario where they've called somebody and just hoped they got voice mail so they didn't have to have a conversation," he said.
Indeed, Nora Rubinoff, 45, who runs an administrative support company, At Your Service Cincinnati Ltd., has found Slydial helpful both for business and personal situations. She has left reminder messages for people one of her clients intends to interview.
And when her husband travels to a different time zone for work, she can leave him a Slydial message without disturbing him at an odd time of day, she said.
"It's been really handy," she said.
Macomber said the idea for Slydial came up while MobileSphere developed the voice mail routing component of a service meant to lower the cost of international roaming on cell phones.
The company rolled out a private test phase of Slydial in March, and has added about 5,000 users since then. The service opened to the general public in a "beta" testing phase on Monday.
The ability to call straight into someone's voice mail is not new. Most major cell phone carriers offer subscribers the option of sending voice messages to other people, but usually only to customers of the same wireless company. What's different here is that Slydial makes it possible to do it with any major wireless carrier's customer.
There are constraints to this service. It can only be used in the U.S. right now, and generally won't work with prepaid cell phones. Also, sly dialers must have the caller ID feature activated on their phones, which Macomber said is meant, in part, to prevent people from using it to harass people undetected.It's also not always super sly. Several test calls between cell phones made the recipient's phone emit an abbreviated ring before leading to voice mail. That might make people think the person on the other end really wanted to speak -- and could result in a quick call back. Horror of horrors: A real conversation might ensue after all.
18 July 2008
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - An internal affairs report says a Daytona Beach police officer demanded free coffee and tea from a Starbucks and threatened employees with slower emergency response times if they refused.
Lt. Major Garvin, a 15-year veteran, was fired July 8. According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Chief Mike Chitwood says Garvin recently failed a polygraph test that he insisted on taking.
The coffeehouse's employees claim that since June 2007, Garvin had visited the store as many as six times a night while on duty. Besides demanding free drinks, workers complained that Garvin also cut in front of paying customers.
A telephone listing for Garvin could not be found.
17 July 2008
16 July 2008
A Michigan man wore a T-shirt that said "World's Greatest Dad" when he went to have sex with someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl, officials tell the Detroit Free Press.
Daniel Allen Everett "allegedly engaged in graphic sexual conversation with an undercover agent and propositioned the agent, who was posing as a 14-year-old girl, to meet him for sex," prosecutors say in a statement issued Tuesday. "This afternoon, Everett was arrested in Novi where he is alleged to have appeared to meet the minor for sex. He was arrested wearing a T-shirt with the words, 'Worlds Greatest Dad' on the front, a sad reminder that Internet predators come from all walks of life."
Everett, a 33-year-old who chatted online as "danmichelle2004," was charged yesterday with child sexual abuse and using the Internet to attempt sexual abuse.
Prosecutors tell the Free Press, a fellow Gannett publication, that they don't know if he has any children.
this morning the talent agency next door is auditioning little children.
as i unlocked the door to our office, a girl was reading her script: "mother, i want to go to the mountains to see grandfather. i want to smell the fresh air."
then her mom said, GET IT TOGETHER YOU DON'T KNOW YOUR LINES.
it's going to be a great show, i can tell.
15 July 2008
11 July 2008
did you ever try and do your work.... on PAINKILLERS?
i am at work and stoned out of my mind on painkillers to kill my horrendous crushing headaches.
guess what? i'm not getting a whole lot done.
man.... this is a really comfortable chair.
09 July 2008
Seventy-four-year-old Elfriede Dumont invites me into her back garden.
Small and neat, there are little fir trees dotted around the lawn, tubs of flowers on the terrace and rows of firewood stacked neatly by the fence.
Rabbit owners in Witten and Dortmund are worried about their pets
"One morning, when I came out to feed my rabbits, I was surprised to see that the hutch door was open," recalls Elfriede.
"I looked inside and saw Rocco just lying there. His head was missing. A little later I found Felina in the bushes. She'd been killed, too. I just cannot understand why."
Rocco and Felina are among the 30 pet rabbits killed in the towns of Witten and Dortmund since last summer.
Many of the rabbits have been decapitated and the blood drained from their bodies.
It is one of the most shocking cases of animal cruelty that Germans can remember.
"I would never expect something to happen here," says Elfriede's granddaughter, Sabrina.
"This place is so quiet. You can leave your car open and everything's fine. Yet there are people who murder rabbits!"
Sabrina tells me about another incident. She says dead rabbits were discovered in the sandpit of a local school.
"The rabbits were there without any heads and the children found them in the morning while playing in the playground. That's even more horrible than finding them in your own garden."
Down at the police station, officer Volker Schuette shows me disturbing photographs of headless pet rabbits. A gruesome pattern is emerging.
Elfriede Dumont cannot understand the motive for killing her pets
"It's always the same," Officer Schuette explains. "Detectives find the rabbit lying dead in a hutch. An unknown person has cut off the head and drained off the blood in a box or a bottle. So we find no blood and no head."
Police fear the attacker could switch from killing rabbits to killing people.
They have set up a special task force to try to track down the killer.
They are examining rabbit torsos for possible traces of DNA and they have questioned 300 people. But police admit they still have no idea who is decapitating the rabbits and why.
It is also unclear how the killer has been locating his victims.
Most of the beheaded pets were hidden from public view, locked away in back yards or back gardens.
It has raised the possibility that the killer has been using satellite images on the internet to find houses with rabbit hutches.
Police admit they have no idea who might be carrying out the crimes
On the edge of Witten, rabbit owner Julia Perkun unlocks her new rabbit pen.
She has installed so many locks and latches, it is like a Fort Knox for rabbits.
Inside the enclosure, Julia introduces me to her 13 rabbits which are scurrying across the straw and nibbling at their vegetable breakfast.
Among them are fluffy white Reebok, and Samson, who has big brown ears right down to the ground.
Julia says she chose this remote spot in a forest to keep her rabbits, so that they would be well hidden from the rabbit killer. She asks me not to reveal the exact location.
"This place isn't visible from the street," says Julia, "and I try not to tell anyone where this place is. People know that I have rabbits, but I don't tell anyone where this place is, so I hope my rabbits are safe."
Fear is driving German rabbit-owners to hide their pets away in the woods, like Julia, or in their garages, or in cellars.The pet rabbits of the Ruhr Valley are being forced to go to ground, while the killer is still at large.
free tix to avenue q last night - in the fourth row!
and tonight i was planning on a quiet night at home.
but then i was just offered a ticket to the sold-out show in prospect park tonight! feist and juana molina! you probably all know feist from ipod commercials and such, but here's a cool bio of juana molina.
08 July 2008
BERLIN (AFP) - A desperate German woman finally called emergency services to rescue her after a friend visited her and talked for 30 hours straight, authorities said Tuesday.
A police spokesman in the western city of Speyer confirmed reports about the case, in which the guest rambled on about personal problems and became increasingly intoxicated until the 48-year-old dialed the emergency hotline.
"After an unbelievable 30 hours and failed attempts to encourage the guest to leave last Saturday, the woman did not know what else to do but to call an ambulance," the police said.
When the paramedics refused to carry the guest out of the apartment, the woman called the police, who picked up the friend and drove her home.
The spokesman said the guest would face no criminal charges.
07 July 2008
that statement may be anathema to some new yorkers. some of those same people are even my friends!
but for certain routes, buses fill the gaps in subway service. from 34th and broadway to 34th and 1st ave is way too far to walk given my cane-laden existence. so i take the bus to physical therapy.
and today, i got a taste of why my friends hate the bus.
mid-queue, a man with a patch over one side of his glasses screamed AAAHHHHHRRRR in a somewhat pirate-like manner and yelled at some shoppers who had bumped into him. if you've ever stood in the shadow of the enormous macy's at 34th street, you'll understand that a little jostling at the intersection is inevitable. saying it's crowded there is like saying lots of people live in india. it's an understatement.
not all folks with patches are pirates, and not all folks with patches are insane. but this man was pushing the envelope on the latter.
later, on the bus, he looked at a woman chatting on her cell phone, pointed a shaky, wizened finger and began to scream.
TURN THAT OFF RIGHT NOW! DO YOU SEE THE RULES? IT SAYS NO RADIOS! THAT PHONE EMITS MICROWAVES!
YOU ARE KILLING US ALL!
now that i think about it, i've seen much crazier people at far more regular intervals in and out of the subway. so i would say it's unfair to blame the bus system for my encounter with this aged urban pirate.
our friends at improv everywhere are at it again!