Dispatches > Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Issue: "Rita: Strike 2," Oct. 1, 2005

Super(static)man's secret power

This was not the way Frank Clewer wanted to discover his super power. The Australian man's choice to wear a woolen shirt under a synthetic nylon jacket created a static electricity charge so powerful that as he went about town, he scorched the floor of his car, melted pieces of a plastic floor, and even set a carpet ablaze. Mr. Clewer, whose static-charged garments forced firefighters to evacuate a building, said he didn't realize the rubbing of the shirt and jacket were creating a charge until he was back in his car (scorching the floor mats). He returned to the building and received help from firefighters who tested the charge on his garments. The result astounded the firefighters: Mr. Clewer's clothes were packing a 40,000-volt charge of static electricity. A bit more power and his clothes would have burst into flames.

Happy, but German

Starting Nov. 1, Germany will be telling its citizens to wipe the grins off their faces when going in for a passport photo. That's because Germany's new biometric scanners pick up facial features best when the face has a neutral expression. "A broad smile, however nice it may be, is therefore unacceptable," Germany's Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Chunk of change

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Almost 40,000 pounds of Kansas spilled on an Alabama interstate. A truck carrying more than $800,000 worth of Kansas quarters from Philadelphia to Birmingham caught fire on I-59 northeast of its destination, spilling its load everywhere and forcing the highway to partially shut down for 12 hours. Officials brought in front-end loaders and other heavy equipment to scoop the millions of quarters from the road and load them in buckets.

If granny can do it...

A Nebraska grandmother who figured she'd rather jump from an airplane than break a promise to her grandson successfully completed a tandem skydive at the age of 85. "Everything worked, and I hit the ground running," Thelma Tillery of Kearney said. "And that's about as good as you can get, I guess." After her experience, Ms. Tillery recommended sky diving and said she wouldn't hesitate to do it again, though she added a caveat: "Not tomorrow."

Fighting the flab

An elephant a long, long way from home in Alaska will at least have something to do this winter. Zoo officials in Anchorage have devised a 16,000-pound treadmill for Maggie, an isolated elephant at the Anchorage zoo. Zookeepers partnered with an Idaho company to study mining equipment and modern people-sized treadmills to create the massive exercise machine. Officials say they hope to keep Maggie from getting fat during the long, cold winter.

Newport's beasts

Newport Beach's newest vandal is protected by law. Sea lions have invaded the wealthy California town, but citizens have no recourse against the marauding beasts that have broken windows and sunk a boat. A 1972 endangered species law protects the animals from harm or harassment-even if they swarm boats and yachts to soak in the sun.

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