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Friday, October 31, 2008

Mind Your Manners … Your Waiter is Watching
Servers dish about discourteous customers -- and how they take their revenge
By Andrea Pyenson
for MSN City Guides

(© Digital Vision -- AGE Fotostock)
Waiters inspect glasses, tableware before customers arrive. Quality-checking the details is among waiters' many (underappreciated) roles.

We set out to examine customer service in the restaurant business -- from the servers' perspective. It wasn't easy to find people willing to talk to a reporter on the record, because saying anything negative about customers could hurt their business. In the end, we were able to find three people willing to talk -- though two are no longer in the business.

What we learned was eye-opening. We had not known -- or considered -- for example, that waiters and waitresses are usually watching and evaluating the behavior of their customers as carefully as their customers are evaluating them. Keeping that in mind puts a whole new twist on the dining experience.

When you go out to dinner, leave the pretentious act at home. Don't snap your fingers to get your server's attention, talk down to him or yell. Waiters really hate that (wouldn't you?). And they have ways of getting back at you. Those stories about waiters spitting in people's food ... well, they're not just stories.

In July 2008, Steve Dublanica, a former waiter in suburban New York City, published "Waiter Rant," an insider's look at the restaurant world that grew out of his blog of the same name ( The book was published anonymously, though Dublanica has since been 'outed.' But he will not reveal the names of the restaurants where he worked or any of the people who worked with him. (Dublanica stopped waiting tables a couple of months before the book was published.)

When Dublanica started working as a waiter it was supposed to be temporary -- something to do between careers. He began blogging to deal with his frustration, both with himself and the job.

In his experience, Dublanica says roughly 80 percent of diners are pleasant and treat servers respectfully. It's the other 20 percent who are the problem. "It's not so much what they do, it's their attitude," he says. "They look at anyone in a service position as a loser. It drives waiters insane."

That 20 percent, he continues, thinks they can say and do anything. "I've had people yell at me... say I sounded too gay [he's not]. That's when waiters spit in your food." Though he concedes, "I didn't work with a lot of spitters," nor was he one himself. Dublanica preferred much more "elegant revenge" -- like telling customers their credit cards had been declined or seating them near the restrooms.

Kirsten Amman has been waitressing part-time in Boston restaurants for 10 years, first to help put herself through college, and later to supplement low-paying jobs in publishing. Now she divides her time between public relations and waiting tables. "I really enjoy the experience of taking care of people in my station," she says. But she doesn't really enjoy customers who "have a sense of entitlement about their experience."

(Amy Braga)
For Kirsten Amman (here seen feigning impatience while pretending to take a customer's order), just “rolling with it” is part of the job.

Like Dublanica, Amman maintains a Weblog. Unlike him, Amman started her blog (titled to chronicle her social experiment exploring whether blondes really do have more fun. Working in a restaurant is the perfect environment to test her theories as Amman changes her hair color from her natural light brown through various shades of blonde. During these hair transitions, stories of her restaurant life make their way into her posts. Amman has never felt the need to be anonymous or obscure the names of her employers on her site, but, she says, "I try to be tactful; I try not to just bitch."

Toro, the wildly popular tapas restaurant where Amman currently works in Boston's hip South End, does not take reservations. It is usually crowded, with considerable waits for tables. "People tend to get drunk because the waits are so long," she says. "Guys tend to get really emboldened by alcohol... decide to hit on the waitress. Being flirtatious is part of the job. But when every time you go to the table you're met with sexual innuendo, it can get annoying." Amman says it is also annoying to have to deal with that behavior all night then receive a mere 13 percent tip (15-20 percent is customary). "But you have to roll with the punches."

Though one of Amman's former managers calls her "one of the best servers I have ever seen," she has been accused of being rude, and one customer recently stopped on his way out of the restaurant to tell her she was the worst waitress he had ever had (but he left a 20 percent tip). Amman says this caught her off guard because there had been no obvious signs that the table was unhappy with her service, though she describes that particular customer as "entitled" and says they "might have felt weirdly rushed" by the restaurant's style -- small plates that come out of the kitchen one after another, as quickly as they are ready.

As a hostess and maître d' at some of New York's hottest restaurants, Abbe Diaz, author of "PX This," was physically threatened and verbally abused. "Customers threatened to slap me, called me all sorts of names, denigrated my gender, race [Asian] and age," she says.

(© Corbis)
Some like it hot. A waiter grabs plates of food from the kitchen.

Diaz, a freelance commercial artist and designer/dressmaker who labored in the restaurant industry for about 20 years, worked for some of the city's top chefs and most well-known restaurateurs. She frequently welcomed marquee-name guests. During the years she worked as a hostess and maître d', she kept a diary in which she vented all her frustration -- and named names.

She published the diary in 2004 as a book titled "PX This." (PX is restaurant-speak for "personne extraordinaire," indicating a guest who should receive special treatment.) She kept her book plans a secret from everyone while they were in the works and left her last restaurant job a few months before it was published. When the book came out, she posted a blog to help market it (; now the blog also serves as a forum for people who still work in the restaurant business.

Diaz admits that some of her most extreme experiences likely occurred because the "over-hyped" restaurants where she worked come "with lots of anticipation built in." Customers at these establishments tended to have very high expectations and were inclined to "raise their voice and scream" if they did not get what they wanted.

But common sense should dictate that there is no excuse for that kind of behavior -- high expectations or not. And it doesn't really get anybody anywhere. To Amman, it's simple: "Treat people waiting on you the way you want to be treated. Be patient, be kind, be laid back. It is special to go out to dinner. Act that way."

And if common courtesy isn't a powerful enough motivator, Dublanica reminds us, "We're watching you like hawks." Nobody wants to worry about what extra ingredients might be in their soup or whether their credit card is going to be 'rejected' at the end of their meal ...

Spider eats bird
Thursday, October 23, 2008
© The Cairns Post

Les Martin, the Tableland retiree who snapped the picture of the spider eating a bird.

THESE amazing images of a mammoth spider devouring a bird were taken in the backyard of an Atherton property, west of Cairns.

And the images, which are being cirulated via email worldwide, are real, according to wildlife experts.

See all the photos of the spider eating the bird

The photos, believed to have been taken earlier this week, show the spider clenching its legs around a lifeless bird trapped in a web.

Joel Shakespeare, the head spider keeper at NSW's Australian Reptile Park, told ninemsn that the spider was a Golden Orb Weaver.

"Normally they prey on large insects, it's unusual to see one eating a bird," he said.

Mr Shakepeare told ninemsn he had seen golden orb weaver spiders as big as a human hand but the northern species in tropical areas were known to grow larger.

Mr Shakespeare said the bird, a Chestnut-breasted Mannikin which appears frozen in an angel-like pose in the pictures, is likely to have flown into the web and got caught.

"It wouldn`t eat the whole bird," he told ninemsn.

"It uses its venom to break down the bird for eating and what it leaves is a food parcel," he said.

Queensland Museum's Greg Czechura is reported ninemsn as saying cases of the Golden Orb Weaver eating small birds were "well known but rare".

"It builds a very strong web," he told ninemsn.

But he said the spider would not have attacked until the bird weakened due to its struggle to free its wings.

"The more they struggle, the more tangled up and exhausted they get and they go into stress."

"If a spider gets a bird, it`s a very lucky spider," Mr Czechura said.

On a Whim, Woman Buys Foreclosed Home and Gives It Back to Owner
The Associated Press

DALLAS — A Texas woman went to a housing auction distraught about the prospect of watching strangers bid on her foreclosed home.

Then one of those strangers bought it back for her.

Now Tracy Orr can return to her Pottsboro home, making payments to the woman who unexpectedly and impulsively bought it for her.

"It means so much to all of us," Orr told Dallas television station WFAA. "It's not just a house."

Marilyn Mock said she was acting on instinct on Saturday when she decided to buy a house she had never seen for a woman she had never met. Mock was at the foreclosure auction to help her 27-year-old son bid on a house when she struck up a conversation with Orr, who was crying about losing her home.

Orr had bought the house for $80,000 in 2004 but fell behind on the payments. She lost her job a month after taking out the loan, and earlier this year she lost the house. On the spot, Mock decided to buy it, eventually bidding $30,000.

"She didn't even know if I had a job or was a nut case," Orr said in a story for Wednesday's online edition of The Dallas Morning News. "She didn't even see a picture of the house."

Mock told a crying Orr she could stay in the house, making payments to her instead of a bank.

"She needed help. That was it," Mock told the newspaper. "I just happened to be there and anybody else would have done the same thing."

Orr said she hopes others will do as Mock did.

"More than my house, she gave me something inside, and that's more important than material or financial things," she said.

The two are waiting on final approval from Fannie Mae before visiting the home.

Mock's son also got a home at the auction.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Historic Colt pistol sells for $920,000 in Maine
Previous owner from Montana says revolver passed down through family
The Associated Press

FAIRFIELD, Maine - The sale price of a historic Colt Walker pistol has broken a record for all guns made by the company, an auctioneer in Maine said.

An anonymous bidder paid $920,000 on Tuesday for the .44-caliber revolver, said officials from the James D. Julia auction house. It was made for U.S. marshals in the 1840s and its previous owner said he never fired it.

The price included a buyer's fee of $120,000 charged by the auctioneer.

Julia was also the auctioneer for the previous Colt record of $480,000.

The gun was an heirloom passed down from John McBride's great-great-uncle. The 80-year-old from Montana said some of the money will be used to buy land in that state.

Hero dog risks life to save kittens from fire
Leo refuses to leave burning building, is found guarding litter amid smoke

SYDNEY - A dog was hailed as a hero on Sunday after it risked its life to save a litter of newborn kittens from a house fire, rescuers said.

In a case which gives the lie to the saying about "fighting like cats and dogs," the terrier cross named Leo had to be revived with oxygen and heart massage after his ordeal. Fire broke out overnight at the house in Australia's southern city of Melbourne, where he was guarding the kittens.

Firefighters who revived Leo said he refused to leave the building and was found by them alongside the litter of kittens, despite thick smoke.

"Leo wouldn't leave the kittens and it nearly cost him his life," fire service Commander Ken Brown told reporters.

The four kittens also survived the fire and on Sunday Leo, whom firefighters nicknamed Smoky, was again back at the house.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Online divorcee jailed after killing virtual hubby
By Mari Yamaguchi,
Associated Press

TOKYO: A 43-year-old Japanese woman whose sudden divorce in a virtual game world made her so angry that she killed her online husband's digital persona has been arrested on suspicion of hacking, police said Thursday.

The woman, who is jailed on suspicion of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data, used his identification and password to log onto popular interactive game "Maple Story" to carry out the virtual murder in mid-May, a police official in northern Sapporo said on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

"I was suddenly divorced, without a word of warning. That made me so angry," the official quoted her as telling investigators and admitting the allegations.

The woman had not plotted any revenge in the real world, the official said.

She has not yet been formally charged, but if convicted could face a prison term of up to five years or a fine up to $5,000.

Players in "Maple Story" raise and manipulate digital images called "avatars" that represent themselves, while engaging in relationships, social activities and fighting against monsters and other obstacles.

The woman used login information she got from the 33-year-old office worker when their characters were happily married, and killed the character. The man complained to police when he discovered that his beloved online avatar was dead.

Beyonce would like to be known as "Sasha Fierce"

Just like the "Seinfeld" episode where George wanted everyone to call him "T-Bone," Beyonce Knowles would like to be known by a bold new name.

The R&B singer has christened herself "Sasha Fierce" for her new double album, "I Am ... Sasha Fierce," due in U.S. stores on November 18, and has released a lengthy justification for the comical moniker.

"I have someone else that takes over when it's time for me to work and when I'm on stage, this alter ego that I've created that kind of protects me and who I really am," the former Destiny's Child frontwoman said in a statement.

"Sasha Fierce is the fun, more sensual, more aggressive, more outspoken side and more glamorous side that comes out when I'm working and when I'm on the stage."

Additionally, she has set up a cryptic MySpace page ( that gives a "lucky person" the opportunity to receive a personal message and a gift bag valued at $500.

As George found out, nicknames usually do not work when they are self-bestowed. His colleagues thought he should be called Koko the monkey. In real life, rapper Eminem had better luck with his alter ego "Slim Shady," which he said came to him while he was on the toilet.

Beyonce released her previous solo album, "B'Day," to coincide with her 25th birthday in September 2006. It debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. pop chart and yielded the No. 1 single "Irreplaceable."

"I Am ... Sasha Fierce" will be distributed by Columbia Records.

(Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

Even Metallica fans think the music's too loud
Yahoo! Tech

Has the ritualistic cranking up of the volume of music tracks finally reached a tipping point? Now many of the fans of heavy metal outfit Metallica are complaining that the band's latest effort, Death Magnetic, is too simply loud. And yes, that's a bad thing.

I last wrote about the loudness issue in June 2007, where I outlined the common complaints about audio tracks that have been bothering audiophiles for decades. To recap: The problem stems from pushing the overall audio levels on a track as high as possible. While volume is increased, variation is diminished. This means that while a track is nice and loud, its details are lost. After all, in a digital track, there's only so much room for data in the finite number of bits available on a CD, so something has to go. But no one wants to have a song that's less loud than the next band on the rack... and so the cycle continues.

Now the disappointment has spread into the once-unassailable world of heavy metal, a genre where there's historically been no such thing as too loud. Metallica fans across the web are complaining, loudly, about the levels on Death Magnetic, saying the new album is so loud you "can't hear the details of the music" with one critique saying it is "barely listenable." An online petition has even turned up asking the band to remix the album at a lower overall volume.

In a recent interview with Blender magazine, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich addressed Web critics by saying that, "... there's nothing up with the sound quality. It's 2008, and that's how we make records. [Producer] Rick Rubin's whole thing is to try and get it to sound lively, to get it to sound loud, to get it to sound exciting, to get it to jump out of the speakers."

He also adds that on the Web, people become more vocal, especially when it comes to negative viewpoints. "The Internet gives everybody a voice, and the Internet has a tendency to give the complainers a louder voice," says Ulrich. "Part of being in Metallica is that there's always somebody who's got a problem with something that you're doing."

The Wall Street Journal has helpfully offered an interactive system where you can see and (more importantly) hear, head to head, what the fuss is all about. Twenty years ago, the music thrashed as furiously as anything and it's so loud I turned down my PC's audio to get it to a comfortable level. Today's track is absurdly loud right from the start, and you can easily hear how mushy the bass and drums sound. They may as well be static.

Despite all of the complaints, Metallica's Death Magnetic currently reigns at the top of The Billboard Charts. But who's to blame for all of the noise? Guns N' Roses, if the Journal is to be believed, was the first to start cranking up the audio, back in 1987. Bands have been on a quest to one-up each other ever since.

Now it seems like we're reaching the limits of big audio, lest every song devolve into a buzzing puddle of gruel. But bands keep trying, mixers push back the best they can... and consumers get caught in the crossfire.

Read the full tale here.

Another report frets that MP3 players are deafening listeners
Yahoo! Tech

Every couple of months researchers sound the alarm that listening to your MP3 player with headphones at high volumes is going to strike you stone cold deaf. The problem is serious enough that Apple even added volume-limiting technology to its iPod line in 2006, so nervous parents can keep the maximum volume their kids can experience to a less dangerous level.

Now a new study appears to offer more cause for concern than ever, saying that listening to an MP3 player at high volume for only five hours a week -- or an hour each workday -- can do permanent damage to your hearing.

The study comes from Europe's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks, which estimates that up to 10 million European of MP3 player listeners are at risk of permanent hearing loss due to high listening levels. As portable music players continue to be popular and inexpensive gift items, this is a risk that is only going to increase over the next few years. In fact, the risks are likely to increase as audio quality from mobile music players keeps getting better, since better audio may encourage people to listen longer.

The (arguably) good news: While the damage is cumulative and gets worse over time, it doesn't reach critical levels until you've kept up the five-hours-a-week listening for a full five years.

In Europe, music players are currently limited legally to a maximum volume of 100 decibels, but the study notes that 89 decibels is the cutoff point above which damage could occur. To my knowledge, there are no similar rules in place in the U.S. EU activists are now working to lower that maximum.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Surprising Expiration Dates
by Real Simple Magazine

A handy, who-knew guide to 77 foods, beauty products, and household goods


Certain items in your house practically scream "toss me" when their prime has passed. That mysterious extra white layer on the Cheddar? A sure sign it needs to be put out of its misery. Chunky milk? Down the drain it goes.

But what about that jar of olives or Maraschino cherries that has resided in your refrigerator since before the birth of your kindergartner? Or the innumerable nonedibles lurking deep within your cabinets and closets: stockpiled shampoo and toothpaste, seldom-used silver polish? How do you know when their primes have passed?

With help from experts and product manufacturers, Real Simple has compiled a guide to expiration dates. These dates are offered as a rough guideline. The shelf lives of most products depend upon how you treat them. Edibles, unless otherwise indicated, should be stored in a cool, dry place. (With any food, of course, use common sense.) Household cleaners also do best in a dry place with a stable temperature. After the dates shown, beauty and cleaning products are probably still safe but may be less effective.


Unopened: 4 months.

Brown sugar
Indefinite shelf life, stored in a moistureproof container in a cool, dry place.

Chocolate (Hershey bar)
1 year from production date

Coffee, canned ground
Unopened: 2 years
Opened: 1 month refrigerated

Coffee, gourmet
Beans: 3 weeks in paper bag, longer in vacuum-seal bag (After this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume.)
Ground: 1 week in sealed container

Coffee, instant
Unopened: Up to 2 years
Opened: Up to 1 month

Diet soda (and soft drinks in plastic bottles)
Unopened: 3 months from "best by" date.
Opened: Doesn't spoil, but taste is affected.

Dried pasta
12 months

Frozen dinners
Unopened: 12 to 18 months

Frozen vegetables
Unopened: 18 to 24 months
Opened: 1 month

Indefinite shelf life

Juice, bottled (apple or cranberry)
Unopened: 8 months from production date
Opened: 7 to 10 days

Unopened: 1 year (After this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume.)
Opened or used: 4 to 6 months (After this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume.)

Maple syrup, real or imitation
1 year

Maraschino cherries
Unopened: 3 to 4 years
Opened: 2 weeks at room temperature; 6 months refrigerated

Unopened: 40 weeks
Opened: 3 months

Unopened: Indefinitely
Opened: 2 to 3 months from “purchase by” date (After this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume.)

2 years (After this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume.)

Olives, jarred (green with pimento)
Unopened: 3 years
Opened: 3 months

Olive oil
2 years from manufacture date (After this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume.)

Unopened: 1 to 2 years unless frozen or refrigerated
Opened: 1 to 2 weeks in airtight container

Peanut butter, natural
9 months

Peanut butter, processed (Jif)
Unopened: 2 years
Opened: 6 months; refrigerate after 3 months

Unopened: 18 months
Opened: No conclusive data. Discard if slippery or excessively soft.

Protein bars (PowerBars)

Unopened: 10 to 12 months. Check "best by" date on the package.

Rice, white
2 years from date on box or date of purchase

Salad dressing, bottled
Unopened: 12 months after "best by" date
Opened: 9 months refrigerated

Soda, regular
Unopened: In cans or glass bottles, 9 months from "best by" date
Opened: Doesn't spoil, but taste is affected

Steak sauce
33 months (After this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume.)

5 years, stored in a cool, dry place

Tea bags (Lipton)
Use within 2 years of opening the package

Tuna, canned
Unopened: 1 year from purchase date
Opened: 3 to 4 days, not stored in can

Soy sauce, bottled
Unopened: 2 years
Opened: 3 months (After this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume.)

42 months

Wine (red, white)
Unopened: 3 years from vintage date; 20 to 100 years for fine wines
Opened: 1 week refrigerated and corked

Worcestershire sauce
Unopened: 5 to 10 years (After this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume.)
Opened: 2 years

Household Products

Air freshener, aerosol
2 years

Antifreeze, premixed
1 to 5 years

Antifreeze, concentrate

Batteries, alkaline
7 years

Batteries, lithium
10 years

3 to 6 months

Dish detergent, liquid or powdered
1 year

Fire extinguisher, rechargeable
Service or replace every 6 years

Fire extinguisher, nonrechargeable
12 years

Laundry detergent, liquid or powdered
Unopened: 9 months to 1 year
Opened: 6 months

Metal polish (silver, copper, brass)
At least 3 years

Miracle Gro, liquid
Opened: 3 to 8 years

Miracle Gro, liquid, water-soluble

Motor oil
Unopened: 2 to 5 years
Opened: 3 months

Mr. Clean
2 years

Unopened: Up to 10 years
Opened: 2 to 5 years

Spray paint
2 to 3 years

2 years

Wood polish (Pledge)
2 years

Beauty Products
All dates are from the manufacture date, which is either displayed on the packaging or can be obtained by calling the manufacturer's customer-service number.

Bar soap
18 months to 3 years

Bath gel, body wash
3 years

Bath oil
1 year

Body bleaches and depilatories
Unopened: 2 years
Used: 6 months

Body lotion
3 years

2 to 3 years

Unopened: 2 years
Used: 1 to 2 years
For antiperspirants, see expiration date

Eye cream
Unopened: 3 years
Used: 1 year

Face lotion
With SPF, see expiration date. All others, at least 3 years

Foundation, oil-based
2 years

Foundation, water-based
3 years

Hair gel
2 to 3 years

Hair spray
2 to 3 years

Lip balm
Unopened: 5 years
Used: 1 to 5 years

2 years

Unopened: 2 years
Used: 3 to 4 months

Three years from manufacture date

Nail polish
1 year

Nail-polish remover
Lasts indefinitely

1 to 2 years

Rubbing alcohol
At least 3 years

2 to 3 years

Shaving cream
2 years or more

Tooth-whitening strips
13 months

Wash'n Dri moist wipes
Unopened: 2 years
Opened: Good until dried out

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Scholar Claims to Find 1,000-Year-Old Jewish Capital
The Associated Press

excavation of an 11th-12th century house made of hard-burnt bricks in Itil, a Silk Road city that served as the Khazar capital, south of Moscow.

MOSCOW — A Russian archaeologist says he has found the lost capital of the Khazars, a powerful nation that adopted Judaism as its official religion more than 1,000 years ago, only to disappear leaving little trace of its culture.

Dmitry Vasilyev, a professor at Astrakhan State University, said his nine-year excavation near the Caspian Sea has finally unearthed the foundations of a triangular fortress of flamed brick, along with modest yurt-shaped dwellings, and he believes these are part of what was once Itil, the Khazar capital.

By law Khazars could use flamed bricks only in the capital, Vasilyev said. The general location of the city on the Silk Road was confirmed in medieval chronicles by Arab, Jewish and European authors.

"The discovery of the capital of Eastern Europe's first feudal state is of great significance," he told The Associated Press. "We should view it as part of Russian history."

Kevin Brook, the American author of "The Jews of Khazaria," e-mailed Wednesday that he has followed the Itil dig over the years, and even though it has yielded no Jewish artifacts, "Now I'm as confident as the archaeological team is that they've truly found the long-lost city,

The Khazars were a Turkic tribe that roamed the steppes from Northern China to the Black Sea. Between the 7th and 10th centuries they conquered huge swaths of what is now southern Russia and Ukraine, the Caucasus Mountains and Central Asia as far as the Aral Sea.

Itil, about 800 miles south of Moscow, had a population of up to 60,000 and occupied 0.8 square miles of marshy plains southwest of the Russian Caspian Sea port of Astrakhan, Vasilyev said.

It lay at a major junction of the Silk Road, the trade route between Europe and China, which "helped Khazars amass giant profits," he said.

The Khazar empire was once a regional superpower, and Vasilyev said his team has found "luxurious collections" of well-preserved ceramics that help identify cultural ties of the Khazar state with Europe, the Byzantine Empire and even Northern Africa. They also found armor, wooden kitchenware, glass lamps and cups, jewelry and vessels for transporting precious balms dating back to the eighth and ninth centuries, he said.

But a scholar in Israel, while calling the excavations interesting, said the challenge was to find Khazar inscriptions.

"If they found a few buildings, or remains of buildings, that's interesting but does not make a big difference," said Dr. Simon Kraiz, an expert on Eastern European Jewry at Haifa University. "If they found Khazar writings, that would be very important."

Vasilyev says no Jewish artifacts have been found at the site, and in general, most of what is known about the Khazars comes from chroniclers from other, sometimes competing cultures and empires.

"We know a lot about them, and yet we know almost nothing: Jews wrote about them, and so did Russians, Georgians, and Armenians, to name a few," said Kraiz. "But from the Khazars themselves we have nearly nothing."

The Khazars' ruling dynasty and nobility converted to Judaism sometime in the 8th or 9th centuries. Vasilyev said the limited number of Jewish religious artifacts such as mezuzas and Stars of David found at other Khazar sites prove that ordinary Khazars preferred traditional beliefs such as shamanism, or newly introduced religions including Islam.

Yevgeny Satanovsky, director of the Middle Eastern Institute in Moscow, said he believes the Khazar elite chose Judaism out of political expediency — to remain independent of neighboring Muslim and Christian states. "They embraced Judaism because they wanted to remain neutral, like Switzerland these days," he said.

In particular, he said, the Khazars opposed the Arab advance into the Caucasus Mountains and were instrumental in containing a Muslim push toward eastern Europe. He compared their role in eastern Europe to that of the French knights who defeated Arab forces at the Battle of Tours in France in 732.

The Khazars succeeded in holding off the Arabs, but a young, expanding Russian state vanquished the Khazar empire in the late 10th century. Medieval Russian epic poems mention Russian warriors fighting the "Jewish Giant."

"In many ways, Russia is a successor of the Khazar state," Vasilyev said.

He said his dig revealed traces of a large fire that was probably caused by the Russian conquest. He said Itil was rebuilt following the fall of the Khazar empire, when ethnic Khazars were slowly assimilated by Turkic-speaking tribes, Tatars and Mongols, who inhabited the city until it was flooded by the rising Caspian Sea around the 14th century.

The study of the Khazar empire was discouraged in the Soviet Union. The dictator Josef Stalin, in particular, detested the idea that a Jewish empire had come before Russia's own. He ordered references to Khazar history removed from textbooks because they "disproved his theory of Russian statehood," Satanovsky said.

Only now are Russian scholars free to explore Khazar culture. The Itil excavations have been sponsored by the Russian-Jewish Congress, a nonprofit organization that supports cultural projects in Russia.

"Khazar studies are just beginning," Satanovsky said.

Ancient Skeleton May Be Britain's First Tuberculosis Victim

Sarah Mitchell/University of York
The skeleton, dating to A.D. 302, bears evidence of tuberculosis and would one of the earliest known cases in Britain.

The skeleton of a man discovered in a shallow grave on what is now a college campus in England could belong to one of Britain's earliest victims of tuberculosis.

Radiocarbon dating suggests the man died in the fourth century, around A.D. 302, when Romans ruled the region. He was interred in a shallow scoop in a flexed position, on his right side.

The man, aged 26 to 35 years old, suffered from iron deficiency anemia during childhood and at 5-foot, 4-inches, was shorter than average for Roman males.

The first known case of TB in Britain is from the Iron Age (300 B.C.), but cases in the Roman period are fairly rare, and largely confined to the southern half of England.

TB is most frequent from the 12th century A.D. in England when people were living in urban environments. So the skeleton may provide crucial evidence for the origin and development of the disease in this country.

The burial site

The remains were discovered during archaeological investigations earlier this year on the site of the University of York's expansion at Heslington East.

Archaeologists unearthed the skeleton close to the perimeter of the remains of a late-Roman, high-status masonry building discovered on the site, close to the route of an old Roman road between York and Barton-on-Humber.

The burial site is on part of the campus that will not be built on. The University is developing plans for community archaeology and education visits once the investigations are complete.

Detailed analysis of the skeleton by Malin Holst of York Osteoarchaeology Ltd., commissioned by University of York to do the work, revealed that a likely cause of death was tuberculosis. A report on the analysis was made public this week.

"Severe destruction of the vertebrae in the lower spine, as well as fusion of the sacrum to the pelvis suggests a diagnosis of gastrointestinal tuberculosis, which is currently being tested using DNA analysis," Holst wrote in her report. "It is likely that the severity of the infection would have proved fatal."

About TB

Gastrointestinal TB is caused by the Mycobacterium bovis bacterium. It can enter the body when we eat meat or milk from infected cattle, and then make its way to the gut.

Today, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which infects people via their airways, is more common. One third of the world's population is currently infected with M. tuberculosis.

The disease affected the man's spine and pelvis. It is possible that the man had contracted the disease as a child from infected meat or milk from cattle, but the infection also could have been inhaled into the lungs, she said.

The disease then lay dormant until adulthood when the secondary phase of the disease took its toll.

"This was a remarkable find and detailed study of this skeleton will provide us with important clues about the emergence of tuberculosis in late-Roman Britain, but also information about what life was like in York more than 1,500 years ago," said Heslington East Fieldwork Officer Cath Neal, of the university's department of archaeology.

"A burial such as this, close to living quarters, is unusual for this period when most burials were in formal cemeteries," she said. "It is possible that the man was buried here because the tuberculosis infection was so rare at the time, and people were reluctant to transport the body any distance."

The details

"There were signs of muscular trauma and strong muscle attachments indicating that the individual undertook repeated physical activity while he was in good health," Holst said. "There was some intensive wear and chipping on his front teeth which may have been the result of repeated or habitual activity. There was evidence for infection of the bone in both lower limbs but this appeared to be healing at death."

The investigation of the remains is ongoing.

Charlotte Roberts of Durham University and Terry Brown at Manchester University are studying DNA from the skeleton as part of National Environmental Research Council funded research into the origin, evolution and spread of the bacteria that causes TB in Britain and parts of Europe.

Locals Fear Giant Catfish Develop Taste for Live Humans After Feeding on Corpses in River Grave
Online SUN

A giant catfish in Cambodia.

A fearsome fish has started killing people after feeding on human corpses, scientists fear.

They reckon that a huge type of catfish, called a goonch, may have developed a taste for flesh in an Indian river where bodies are dumped after funerals.

Locals have believed for years that a mysterious monster lurks in the water. But they think it has moved on from scavenging to snatching unwary bathers who venture into the Great Kali, which flows along the India-Nepal border.

The extraordinary creature has been investigated by biologist Jeremy Wade for a TV documentary to be shown in Britain.

“The locals have told me of a theory that this monster has grown extra large on a diet of partially burnt corpses,” Wade said. “It has perhaps got this taste for flesh by feasting on remains of funeral pyres. There will be a few freak individuals that grow bigger than the other ones and if you throw in extra food, they will grow even bigger.”

Wade discounted theories that crocodiles could be responsible for the carnage before turning his attention to goonches — among the world’s biggest freshwater fish.

He caught one which tipped the scales at 161 lbs and was nearly 6 feet long — a world record weight and far bigger than any landed before.

“If that got hold of you, there’d be no getting away,” he said.

* Click here to see a picture of a goonch and to read more at the Sun.

New Species of Bacteria Found in Ancient Roman Tombs
Live Science

Talk about secrets of the crypt: Two newly discovered species of bacteria have been found on the walls of ancient Roman tombs.

Bacteria often grow on the walls of underground tombs, causing decay and damaging these archaeological sites.

Scientists in Italy found the two new microbes while studying decayed surfaces in the Catacombs of Saint Callistus in Rome.

The Catacombs of Saint Callistus are part of a massive underground graveyard that covers 37 acres. The tombs, named after Pope Saint Callistus I, were built at the end of the second century. More than 30 popes and martyrs are buried in the catacombs.

The new bacteria, part of the Kribbella genus first discovered in 1999, were isolated from whitish-gray patinas, or coatings, on surfaces in the catacombs. They have been named Kribbella catacumbae and Kribbella sancticallisti.

The discovery is detailed in the September issue of the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Mircobiology.

By studying the bacteria, researchers hope to develop ways to keep the microbes from destroying the catacombs and other heritage sites.

The new species could also help shed light on the evolution of microbes.

"The special conditions in the catacombs have allowed unique species to evolve," said Clara Urzi of the University of Messina in Italy. "In fact, the two different Kribbella species we discovered were taken from two sites very close to each other; this shows that even small changes in the micro-environment can lead bacteria to evolve separately."

Ancient Egyptian Skulls Dug Out of English Garden
The Associated Press

LONDON — Two ancient Egyptian skulls unearthed in a yard in England have been returned to their native country. And the mystery of how they got from the hot sands of Egypt to the rainy north of England has been solved, investigators said Tuesday.

The first skull was discovered by homeowner Matthew McClelland as he did some gardening at his home in the northern city of Manchester a year ago. He called authorities, and they discovered a second skull.

An analysis by an Oxford University expert confirmed the skulls were a little more than 2,000 years old.

Investigators learned they had been buried in the yard by Carl Bracey, a doctor who sold the house to McClelland two years before the skulls were discovered.

Bracey said he bought the skulls as a teenager on a family trip to Egypt. But he buried them years later when his wife said she didn't want them around any longer.

The skulls were repatriated to Egypt a few weeks ago. Manchester police said Tuesday that no criminal charges are expected.

Experts believe tomb raiders initially unearthed the artifacts.

An Egyptian embassy official, who declined to be quoted by name because he is not authorized to do so, said Tuesday the skulls are going to undergo restoration work and may go on public display sometime in the future.

Tomb of Real 'Gladiator' Found in Rome
The Associated Press

Oct. 16: Text extolling Marcus Nonius Macrinus, a Roman general who inspired Russell Crowe's character in 'Gladiator,' north of Rome.

Italian archaeologists have discovered the tomb of the ancient Roman hero said to have inspired the character played by Russell Crowe in the film "Gladiator."

Daniela Rossi, an archaeologist based in Rome, said the discovery of the monumental marble tomb of Marcus Nonius Macrinus, including a large inscription bearing his name, was "an exceptional find."

She said it was "the most important ancient Roman monument to come to light for twenty or thirty years."

The tomb is on the banks of the Tiber near the via Flaminia, north of Rome. Cristiano Ranieri, who led the archeological team at the site, said the tomb had long ago collapsed into the mud but its columns, roof and decorations were intact. Some parts of the tomb had slipped into the river, but had been recovered.

Marcus Nonius Macrinus, born in Brescia in northern Italy, was a general and consul who led military campaigns for Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor from 161 AD to 180 AD.

He became part of the Emperor's inner circle and one of his favorites, serving as proconsul in Asia.

Click here for more photos.

Vast 'City of the Dead' Found Underneath Rome
The Associated Press

ROME — Workers renovating a rugby stadium have uncovered a vast complex of tombs beneath Rome that mimic the houses, blocks and streets of a real city, officials said Thursday as they unveiled a series of new finds here.

Culture Ministry officials said that medieval pottery shards in the city of the dead, or necropolis, show the area may have been inhabited by the living during the Dark Ages after being used for centuries for burials during the Roman period.

It is not yet clear who was buried in the ancient cemetery, but archaeologists at the still partially excavated site believe at least some of the dead were freed slaves of Greek origin.

"It's a matter of a few weeks to discover what is down there," said archaeologist Marina Piranomonte. "But it's something big; it looks like a neighborhood."

A separate dig in the north of the city has turned up the tomb of a nobleman who led Rome's legions in the second century A.D.

The mausoleum was covered in mud during a flood of the river Tiber, which collapsed most of the monument but helped preserve exquisite decorations, marble columns and inscriptions from plunderers and the ravages of time.

Writings at the site led experts to identify the tomb as belonging to Marcus Nonius Macrinus, one of the closest aides and generals of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius during his campaigns against Germanic tribes in Northern Europe.

Other spectacular discoveries were also unveiled at the news conference at the Culture Ministry.

Archaeologists restoring the imperial residences on the Palatine Hill, in the heart of ancient Rome, believe they have discovered the underground passageway in which the despotic Emperor Caligula was murdered by his own guards.

The hill, which his honeycombed with ruins of palaces and villas, has also yielded frescoes and black-and-white mosaics in the first century B.C. home of a patrician, the ministry said in a statement.

Separately, experts working in Castel di Guido on the outskirts of Rome have enlarged their dig at a previously known complex of country villas owned by Rome's rich and powerful, uncovering fountains, baths and a cistern, the statement said.

Archaeologists will keep working at the digs to make them accessible to visitors. Officials plan to build a museum next to Macrinus' tomb, which will also offer a virtual reconstruction of the site.

Click here to read how Macrinus partly inspired Russell Crowe's character in 'Gladiator.'

After 30-Year Friendship, Two Women Shocked to Learn They Are Sisters
Online SUN

Two British women who have known each other 30 years were stunned to discover they are sisters.

Deborah Day was adopted when she was two months old — separating her from big sister Marilyn Morris.

They met again as teenagers working in a supermarket and became friends — but had no idea they were related.

They lost touch again but the truth finally came to light when their oldest sister Sally Griffiths launched a search for her lost family.

At a reunion Deborah, 44, and Marilyn, 45, were shocked to discover they were more than friends.

They live within a mile of each other in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, and even send their children to the same school.

“When we worked together we realized we were similar,” Day said. “But I never imagined Marilyn was my sister. We’ve got years of catching up to do and we’re enjoying every minute.”

Marilyn added: “Debbie and I look so alike. It’s wonderful because we have such a great family now. All our children are friends.”

* Click here to read more from The Sun.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

`Porno' proves a five-letter word for movie's ads
The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Kevin Smith made a movie with such a bothersome title he cannot even place ads for it in some places.

Some newspaper, TV and outdoor ads for Smith's comedy "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" have been rejected because of their content or the five-letter word that ends the title, said Gary Faber, head of marketing for the Weinstein Co., which is releasing the film.

Among those refusing to carry ads are about 15 newspapers and several TV stations and cable channels, Faber said. Commercials for the film during Los Angeles Dodgers games on Fox Sports were dropped at the team's request after some viewers complained, said Dodgers spokesman Josh Rawitch.

One complaint came from a man watching a game in September with his young son, who did not understand a suicide-squeeze bunt the Dodgers tried, Rawitch said.

"He was explaining to his son what a squeeze bunt was. Commercial break, the ad comes on, and the kid asks, `Dad, what does porno mean?'" Rawitch said. "Dodgers baseball has always been about family, and we've always been sensitive to the type of advertising that runs on our games."

The city of Philadelphia refused "Zack and Miri" posters at bus stops. Similar posters at Boston bus stops have drawn complaints from a child-development expert who said they are inappropriate for children.

Smith found it ironic that the posters have been a problem. Some playfully risque ads with images of "Zack and Miri" stars Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks were forbidden by the Motion Picture Association of America, which called the ads "highly sexually suggestive and not suitable for general audiences."

So Weinstein came up with posters using stick figures to represent the actors.

"The whole idea was, our hands were so tied on all previous entries we'd given them that this ad was meant to be the innocuous one that would get approved everywhere," Smith said.

Rina Cutler, Philadelphia deputy mayor for transportation, said the stick-figure posters were cute and clever but unacceptable for bus shelters where schoolchildren would see the word "porno."

"If they want to call the movie `Zack and Miri,' that's fine, but Zack and Miri cannot make a porno on my bus shelters," Cutler said.

Opening Oct. 31, "Zack and Miri" features Rogen and Banks as platonic best buddies and roommates who decide to make their own skin flick to dig themselves out of debt.

Diane Levin, an education professor specializing in child development at Boston's Wheelock College, said the posters at city bus stops send a message to children that working in the porn industry is an acceptable occupation.

"It's drawing attention to a movie which is mainstreaming and normalizing pornography, saying if you need money, this is what you do," said Levin, co-author of "So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids."

The stick-figure images are especially appealing to youngsters, since "stick figures are something for children," she said.

Weinstein marketing boss Faber countered: "It's a comedy. It's a joke. We're not advertising a porno. It's not a porno. The word `porno,' it's not supposed to turn you on. It's supposed to make you laugh."

The ratings board of the MPAA initially slapped "Zack and Miri" with an NC-17 rating, a box-office kiss of death because audiences view such films as explicit adult-only flicks. Smith appealed and talked the film down to an R rating.

Faber said the company has been able to place its ads in most of the outlets it has approached. For newspapers that rejected them because of the word "porno," Weinstein might play around with variations that exclude the title, he said.

The company developed a version of the stick-figure poster without the film's name, bearing the slogan, "Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks made a movie so outrageous that we can't even tell you the title."

Last Titanic survivor sells mementoes to pay for care: report
The Associated Press
2 hours, 51 minutes ago

Millvina Dean, the last remaining survivor of the Titanic disaster, seen here in 2002, is auctioning mementoes from the doomed liner to pay for her hursing home fees, a newspaper has said.
(AFP/File/Gerry Penny)

LONDON (AFP) - The last remaining survivor of the Titanic disaster is auctioning mementoes from the doomed liner to pay for her hursing home fees, a newspaper said Thursday.

Millvina Dean was only two months old when the Titanic struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage and sank in 1912, but now at the age of 96 she is struggling to make ends meet and hopes to make 3,000 pounds (3,845 euros, 5,171 dollars) from the sale.

Personal items going under the hammer include a 100-year-old suitcase filled with clothes given to her family by the people of New York after they arrived there following the catastrophe.

Dean has lived in a nursing home for the last two years.

"I was hoping to be here for two weeks after breaking my hip but I developed an infection and have been here for two years. I am not able to live in my home any more," she told the Southern Daily Echo newspaper.

"I am selling it all now because I have to pay these nursing home fees and am selling anything that I think might fetch some money," she added. "The fees are quite expensive. The more money I can get from the auction the better."

Some 1,500 passengers and crew aboard the Titanic died when the White Star Line luxury ship sank in the frigid northern Atlantic ocean on its way from Southampton to New York.

Dean's family were emigrating to Kansas aboard the doomed liner. She was the youngest survivor, rescued along with her baby brother and mother Eva, although her father died.

In all, some 700 people survived the sinking, one of the worst maritime disasters ever. Their numbers have dwindled over the decades, leaving only Dean left after fellow Briton Barbara Joyce Dainton died last year.

The auction of her belongings will be held on Saturday at Henry Aldridge and Son auctioneers in the town of Devizes, southwest England.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008 is teen's new name
The girl changes her legal name to protest animal dissections in schools
The Associated Press

ASHEVILLE, N.C. - A 19-year-old Asheville teenager said she legally changed her name to to protest animal dissections in schools.

The Asheville Citizen-Times reported that Asheville High graduate Jennifer Thornburg now wants to be called Cutout. Her new legal name is the Web address for an anti-dissection page of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' site.

The teenager said she began opposing dissections in middle school, after a class assignment to dissect a chicken wing made her uncomfortable. She helped create a policy at her high school that allows students who object to dissections to complete an alternative assignment.

She is now an intern for PETA. She said most of her family members still call her Jennifer.

Ringo Starr: No more fan mail
The Associated Press

LONDON (AP) -- Ringo Starr doesn't want to hear from you. If you do write, your letter will end up in the trash. That's the message from Richard Starkey, aka Ringo Starr. After 45 years of stardom, he doesn't want to spend any more time answering mail or sending signed photos back to fans.

The fan fatigue led the former Beatles drummer to post a sometimes angry sounding short video clip on his Web site telling fans that any mail sent to him after Oct. 20 will not be read or answered. British television stations broadcast the video on Tuesday.

"It's going to be tossed," he says on the video. "I'm warning you with peace and love, I have too much to do. So no more fan mail. Thank you, thank you. And no objects to be signed. Nothing. Anyway, peace and love, peace and love."

The drummer and singer did not elaborate on the reason behind his decision to cut off a major point of contact with his many fans.

Starr, 68, has maintained a very active touring and recording schedule in recent years, drawing large crowds for performances with his All-Starr band.

The band plays a mix of old Beatles hits, Starr's many solo offerings, and other classics from the 1960s and 1970s. Starr usually serves as front man, though he sometimes plays the drums.

But he has angered longtime fans in Liverpool by telling interviewers that he does not miss his native city. Vandals there beheaded a topiary sculpture of Starr earlier this year — he was the only one of the four Beatles whose likeness was desecrated.

The good-natured drummer, who also enjoyed a brief acting career after star turns in Beatles' films "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!," guest starred on a 1991 episode of "The Simpsons" in which he is shown scrupulously answering every piece of fan mail that comes his way.

"They took the time to write to me, and I don't care if it takes 20 years, I'm going to answer every one of them," Starr says on the show.

In his mail, he finds a package from Marge Simpson that contains a portrait she painted of him back in the Beatles heyday. He puts it on his wall and writes back to tell her — a few decades late — how much he likes her painting.

Army blocks soldier from bringing puppy back
By Frederic J. Frommer,
Associated Press Writer

In this photo provided by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Army Sgt. Gwen Beberg of Minneapolis, is seen with Rachet, a puppy she and another solider rescued from a burning trash pile in Iraq. Defense Department rules prohibit soldiers in the U.S. Central Command from adopting pets. Now almost 10,000 people have signed an online petition urging the Army to let Beberg bring the puppy home.
(AP Photo/SPCA)

WASHINGTON - More than 10,000 people have signed an online petition urging the Army to let an Iraqi puppy come home with a Minnesota soldier, who fears that "Ratchet" could be killed if left behind.

"I just want my puppy home," Sgt. Gwen Beberg of Minneapolis wrote to her mother in an e-mail Sunday from Iraq, soon after she was separated from the dog following a transfer. "I miss my dog horribly." Beberg, 28, is scheduled to return to the U.S. next month.

Ratchet's defenders are ratcheting up their efforts to save him. On Monday, the program coordinator for Operation Baghdad Pups, which is run by Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International, left for a trip to the Middle East to try to get the puppy to the U.S.

And last week, Beberg's congressman, Democrat Keith Ellison, wrote to the Army urging it to review the case.

Beberg and another soldier rescued the puppy from a burning pile of trash back in May. Defense Department rules prohibit soldiers in the U.S. Central Command, which includes Iraq, from adopting pets, but exceptions have been made. Operation Baghdad Pups says it has gotten 50 dogs and six cats transferred to the U.S. in the last eight months.

"I'm coping reasonably well because I refuse to believe that Ratchet has been hurt," Beberg wrote in the e-mail to her mother, Patricia Beberg. "If I find out that he was killed though — well, we just won't entertain that possibility."

The mother said her daughter sent another e-mail saying that she confirmed that the dog was still alive and doing OK.

Operation Baghdad Pups' program coordinator, Terry Crisp, is scheduled to arrive in Baghdad on Wednesday. Crisp said the adopted dogs left behind face death on Iraqi streets.

She said Iraqis view dogs and cats as nuisances and carriers of disease, and U.S. soldiers have rescued many of them from abuse.


On the Web:

Ratchet petition:

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Facebook Boycott Called as Millions Blast New Design
By Juan Carlos Perez,
IDG News Service

A Facebook group formed for those opposed to the site's new design is nearing 2.7 million supporters, and the leaders are organizing a two-day boycott to bring their point across.

The group, called "1,000,000 against the new Facebook layout," has greatly exceeded the expectations in its title and is encouraging its supporters to stay off Facebook during the weekend of Oct. 18 and Oct. 19.

It's not the only Facebook group created to protest the new design, which, according to Facebook, has now become the default for almost all of its members. Another group called "Petition Against the New Facebook" has more than 1.6 million backers, while the group "I hate the new Facebook" has 1.5 million supporters.

It's likely that there is a lot of overlap among these groups' supporters, but if the largest group contains all of those opposed to the new design, that's still a significant number of unhappy members. Facebook has 100 million active users.

Facebook has been monitoring these groups, tracking the complaints and reaching out to some of the leaders, a spokeswoman for the company said. Facebook is receptive to feedback from its members, values their enthusiasm for the site and is taking their suggestions into account for future design improvements, she said.

Jessica Fishbein, a high school teacher who is one of the administrators of the group with more than 2.6 million backers, begs to differ. "Facebook, which normally cared about the feedback of people, just made this decision, didn't really care what the users thought and isn't really responding to feedback," she said in an interview. "People are very upset."

Fishbein said that neither she nor the group's other administrator had been contacted by Facebook, although Fishbein has written to the company with links and information about the group and asking for help. She said she and her fellow administrator had to oust the group's creator after he tried to profit from its massive popularity for commercial reasons. Indeed, they haven't been able to scrub his commercial pitch from the group description, despite asking Facebook for help, she said.

Fishbein, like many redesign critics, dislikes the new tabbed interface because she feels it forces people to do too much clicking around to see and find things. She preferred the more consolidated look and feel of the old design. She also finds the overall effect of the new design to be "very in-your-face," whereas the previous layout was, in her view, less strident and more discreet.

Fishbein realizes that Facebook is unlikely to revert to its old design, but she feels the company could earn a lot of points with its members if it acknowledges the main criticisms and makes modifications.

"The goal is to send a strong signal to Facebook. For every person that takes the time to join this group, there are more out there who are upset," said Fishbein, who has been a Facebook user for about two years and is administrator of another group devoted to ending hate speech.

Fishbein said it would be good to give members the option to toggle back and forth between the old and new interfaces, as it did for about two months between July and September. However, the Facebook spokeswoman said that this is unfeasible for technical reasons. It would make it complicated and cumbersome for Facebook and for developers who create applications for the site, she said.

Since early this year, Facebook tried to keep its members informed about its redesign plans and asked for input via a section on the site called Facebook Profiles Preview. The company has said it took into account feedback from members when developing the redesign.

Among Facebook's goals with the new design were to reduce the clutter of members' profile pages and restore the social network's clean and organized layout. The company also wanted to make the site's activity feed features more prominent and easier to use.

To these ends, the redesign redistributed profile components to different tabs and increased the prominence of the Wall feature, where members and their friends can post comments, broadcast action updates and post links and photos, among other things.

Members interested in learning more about the new design and sending Facebook feedback on it can do so via the site's Help section. The Facebook Profiles Preview page is also still active, the spokeswoman said.

Facebook is no stranger to complaints. When first introduced, the activity feed feature was blasted by users as violating their privacy, as was the Beacon ad program that broadcast actions made outside of the site by Facebook's users to their friends. With this redesign, some external developers complained that the redesigned profile page would steal visibility from their applications.

Say Cheese: 12 Photos That Should Never Have Been Posted Online
By Dan Tynan,
PC World

What were they thinking? These 12 folks lost their jobs, reputations or their freedom after dumb photos they put up on the Web came to light.

You know the old cliche, a picture is worth a thousand words? Turns out that pictures have been deeply undervalued: A single photo can cost you your reputation, your job, even your freedom -- if you post it online.

Teachers, principals, firefighters, mayors, university presidents and everyday people have all discovered the dark side of putting the wrong photos and videos on social networking sites. Sometimes they paid the price in embarrassment. An unlucky handful lost their jobs or landed in jail.

The results aren't pretty, but they are sometimes hilarious. Here's our dirty dozen -- 12 pictures their owners probably wish they could take back.

1. Hey Kevin, Tinker Bell wants her outfit back

It's bad enough to dress up like you're about to slip a dollar under some toothless child's pillow. But former intern Kevin Colvin made it much worse by asking his boss at Anglo Irish Bank if he could take time off for a "family emergency in New York," then flitting off to a Halloween party dressed like a refugee from "Peter Pan." Putting the faerie pix on his Facebook profile was the finishing touch. After his boss found the pictures, he responded by attaching the photo in question and blind-copied the entire office. Colvin lost his internship and what was left of his reputation when the e-mail messages went flying across the Internet; at least he got to keep the wand.

2. Quick, call 911 -- My pants are on fire

Now that an ex-beauty queen is running for the VP slot, life may be easier for hot mommas who also happen to be office holders. It will be too late to help Carmen Kontur-Gronquist, though. The former mayor of Arlington, Ore., got in hot water with her constituents after a family member posted photos to her MySpace profile showing off her, umm, political assets in the town firehouse (where she worked as an executive secretary). Amazingly, the town of 500 voted to recall her from office shortly after the photos went public. Maybe they were afraid people would start setting fires, just to see what she was wearing when she showed up.

3. Muscle bound or muscle brained?

What is it about firehouses that makes people want to take off their clothes? In this case, Boston fireman Alberto Arroyo got in trouble for stripping down to take part in a body-building competition last May. (He finished eighth in the 2008 Pro Natural American Championships, by the way.) There's nothing wrong with firefighters showing off their muscles, but Arroyo made the mistake of competing two weeks after he'd filed for permanent disability status due to back injuries. Apparently his injuries enabled him to lift barbells but prevented him from inspecting buildings for code violations. After his bosses saw video of Arroyo competing on YouTube, they decided to give him plenty of spare time to work on his pecs.

4. Vending machine leads tennis teen, 40-love

British tennis phenoms Naomi Broady and David Rice are no longer feeling the love from the U.K.'s Lawn Tennis Association. The LTA nixed its sponsorship of the teens in October 2007 after discovering photos of Broady and Rice on social networking site Bebo showing them drunk, getting intimate with condom dispensers in public restrooms and otherwise displaying "a lack of discipline." According to theYorkshire Evening Post, "Naomi's Bebo profile showed her out on the town, with her legs wrapped round a toilet vending machine." No doubt trying to coax it to return the correct change.

5. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum

What do you do with a drunken pirate? Throw her in the brig -- or, if you're Millersville University, deny her a teaching degree. That's what happened to Stacey Snyder, a then-27-year-old student teacher who posted a self portrait to her MySpace page under the caption "drunk pirate," even though it was not clear from the photo exactly what liquid was in her plastic cup. The Pennsylvania-based university decided the picture was "unprofessional" enough to rescind Snyder's degree, just days before it was to be awarded in May 2006. Snyder sued the university in federal court, claiming it violated her First Amendment rights (not to mention, of course, her Right to Paaaaar-tay). As of publication date of this story, that suit is still active.

6. Moronic at any speed

Quick, what's more stupid -- driving 140 mph or filming yourself while driving 140 mph? How about filming yourself driving 140 mph and then posting the evidence on YouTube? That was only the tip of the dunce-berg for 23-year-old Andrew Kellett of Leeds, England. He posted more than 80 videos of himself driving recklessly, stealing gasoline, using drugs and engaging in sundry other illegal activities under the name "Mrchimp2007." Last July, a city magistrate who'd had enough of this monkey business gave Kellett two years probation and ordered him to stop posting videos of his dirty deeds (though some are still available online). "Kellett must be in the running to be Britain's Dumbest Criminal," said Leeds City Councilor Les Carter. "If more criminals were as obliging, the city would be even safer."

7. Where there's smoke, there's ire

Sometimes posting a photo of someone else is enough to get you in trouble. In March 2005 Central High student Eliazar Velasquez snapped shots of principal Elaine Almagno having a smoke on school grounds and posted them to his Web site. He then distributed fliers throughout the Providence-based school, urging students to visit the site. Though it was Almagno who got caught breaking Rhode Island's ban on smoking near schools, it was the sophomore who got suspended. But not for long; after the story hit the news wires, Velasquez's suspension was lifted. Our advice to Almagno? Two words: Nicotine patch.

8. No nudes is good nudes

Here are two quick rules of thumb. If you're going to teach art to high schoolers, try not to post nude photos of yourself online. And if you must teach art and pose in the nude, don't do it in Texas. Tamara Hoover found this out the hard way in May 2006, when she was forced to leave her teaching position at Austin High School after students discovered semi-nude pix of the 31-year-old on Flickr. Perhaps it was the photos of a nude Hoover wearing a spiked dog collar that set school administrators into a tizzy, or perhaps it was simply because the photos were taken by Hoover's gay lover.

9. Nice, err, pom poms

As Texas is to nude art teachers, Illinois is to scantily clad cheerleading coaches. In April 2007, 25-year-old Natosha Shaw was temporarily stripped of her pom poms when parents at Waukegan High discovered sexy photos on Shaw's MySpace profile. Parents claimed the aspiring dancer/model was also "inexperienced, incompetent and immature" as well as under dressed. But Shaw, who's also an executive assistant to an Illinois state congressman, was ultimately given a second chance. Apparently it's OK to train teenage girls to perform in front of crowds wearing skimpy outfits, so long as you don't do it on MySpace. Shouldn't the parents be more worried that she doesn't know how to spell "Natasha"?

10. Then we ordered another bottle of tequila, and when I woke up one of my kidneys was missing

It was a vacation she'd probably rather forget. When Janet Dudley-Eshbach, president of Salisbury University in Maryland, created an album of her family's trip to Mexico on Facebook in October 2007, she didn't expect a local TV station to broadcast the photos to the world, or to have a Wikipedia entry covering the mini-scandal. The problem wasn't the photos so much as the captions, like the one for this picture: "I ended up having to beat off the Mexicans because they were constantly flirting with my daughter." (We believe she meant with a stick.) Or the photo of a tapir, a piglike mammal, with an arrow pointing to its outsized manhood. The 53-year-old educator was forced to apologize for conduct unbecoming a university president -- and to endure a painful lesson on how not to use Facebook's privacy settings.

11. Yesterday, spring break; Tomorrow, prison break

What's a Halloween costume cost? For college junior Joshua Lipton, it was two years of his life. In October 2006, the Bryant University student was charged with drunk driving after causing a three-car crash that left one Providence woman in critical condition. Two weeks later he showed up for a Halloween party dressed as "Jail Bird," photos of which made it onto Facebook. That didn't sit very well with the judge in the case, who called the picture "a defense attorney's worst nightmare" and sentenced Lipton to two years in prison. The good news: The Department of Corrections didn't have to issue Lipton a new jumpsuit -- he already had his own.

12. I'm a PC, she's a Mac, and you're unemployed

Michael Hanscom did not pose nude on Flickr, attack the locals with a stick on his trip to Mexico, or dress up like the Fairy Princess while calling in sick. His crime? In October 2003, the Microsoft temp posted photos of Macintosh G5s being unloaded on the Redmond campus to his blog with the title "Even Microsoft wants G5s." And that was enough to get him canned from his job in Microsoft's print shop for an alleged "security violation." Apparently, the world's largest developer of software for the Mac (besides Apple) didn't want anyone to know that some of its employees use Macs. (Thanks for Michael Hanscom for use of the photo.)