Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2004

Google saved Australian hostage

An Australian journalist kidnapped in Iraq was freed after his captors checked the popular internet search engine Google to confirm his identity.

John Martinkus was seized in Baghdad on Saturday, the first Australian held hostage in Iraq since the US-led invasion.

But his captors agreed to release him after they were convinced he was not working for the CIA or a US contractor.

He was reported to be making his way home to Australia on Tuesday.

His executive producer at Australia’s SBS network, Mike Carey, said Google probably saved freelance journalist Martinkus.

“They Googled him and then went onto a web site – either his own or his book publisher’s web site, I don’t know which one – and saw that he was who he was, and that was instrumental in letting him go, I think, or swinging their decision,” he told AP news agency.

Martinkus told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he was snatched at gunpoint from outside a hotel close to Australia’s embassy in Baghdad by Sunni Muslims, and that they had threatened to kill him.

“I told them what I was doing (and that) I wasn’t armed,” he said.

Asked how he coped, he said: “I just kept talking.”

Tuesday, Sep. 28, 2004

Diana DeGarmo Charity Lunch Nets $10,099

The winner of an eBay auction for lunch with “American Idol” runner-up Diana DeGarmo said he bid $10,099 for the prize hoping the singer could lend some star power to his nonprofit organization.

Greg Halpern, 46, of Illinois placed the highest of 55 bids for the auction, which ended Friday night and benefits the Partnership Against Child Abuse.

Halpern said he wanted to bring attention to his group, People for Ultimate Kindness Toward All Living Creatures on Earth, which helps people and agencies find grant money so they can solve problems such as obesity and abuse.

Halpern said he’d like to speak with DeGarmo to gauge her interest in getting involved in his organization, although he would probably give the lunch to someone more deserving.

“Maybe what I’ll do, I’ll keep that lunch intact, schedule a date and go find an abused child that loves singing and would appreciate that lunch. That could be a lifetime opportunity,” Halpern said.

Under the auction rules, up to four people can attend the lunch.

DeGarmo, from Snellville, finished second in the popular Fox television singing competition earlier this year.

Saturday, Sep. 25, 2004

Dogs Trained to Smell Bladder Cancer in Urine

Man’s best friend could also be a lifesaver in the fight against cancer.

Scientists said Friday dogs can be used to detect bladder cancer by smelling urine.

There is already anecdotal evidence of dogs alerting their unsuspecting owners of skin cancer by persistently sniffing suspicious moles which were later diagnosed as malignant.

Now, in research published in the British Medical Journal, scientists have shown dogs can identify bladder cancer by detecting chemicals in urine emitted by cancerous cells.

“Dogs can be trained to detect some odor characteristics for bladder cancer,” Dr Carolyn Willis, of Amersham Hospital in Buckingham in central England, said in an interview.

Cancer cells are thought to give off organic compounds with distinctive odors that dogs can detect even in very small quantities.

Willis and her colleagues trained six dogs of varying breeds and ages to identify urine samples from 36 bladder cancer patients among 108 healthy volunteers.

Each dog did nine tests which involved selecting the urine from a cancer patient from six other samples by lying down next to it.

The dogs had an average success rate of 41 percent, which Willis said is significant because it would have been 14 percent by chance alone.

During the training phase of the study, the dogs consistently identified a urine sample from a healthy control patient as cancerous. Further tests confirmed the volunteer did in fact have the disease.

Willis believes dogs could play an important role in helping scientists identify the compounds emitted by cancerous cells, which could then be used to develop better tests.

“The principal aim is to use the dogs to help us find specific markers for cancer,” she said.

“A lot of our research will be geared toward trying to decide what it is the dog has picked up in the bladder cancer samples.”

Bladder cancer is the ninth most common cancer worldwide with 330,000 new cases each year and more than 130,000 deaths, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France. Smoking is a leading risk factor for bladder cancer.

Willis and her team also plan to use dogs’ smelling ability to help them identify markers for other types of cancer.

Thursday, Sep. 23, 2004

Woman scores another lottery win

The fairy godmother of Kilmarnock has struck again.

An unemployed cleaner on Tuesday became the sixth person from Kilmarnock to win a seven-figure sum in the national lottery, making the southern Scottish town the luckiest place in Britain, according to lottery organizer Camelot. Rosemary Ferguson, 51, picked up a cheque for 2.2 million pounds or about $5 million Cdn in Saturday’s draw.

Just two months ago, former ice cream saleswoman Georgina McIlvanney, 74, scooped $2.8 million Cdn on the lottery.

Kilmarnock, with a population of about 43,000, has the highest number of lottery millionaires per capita in Britain. The lottery paid out nearly $29 million Cdn to its residents last year alone, a spokesman for Camelot said.

Asked the secret of winning the lottery, the spokesman said: “Move to Kilmarnock.”

Sniffer rats to help rescue teams

Sniffer rats, equipped with radios, could soon be helping to locate earthquake survivors buried in the collapsed buildings.

Scientists say rats have an exquisitely sensitive sense of smell and can crawl just about anywhere, reports New Scientist.

In a project funded by the Pentagon, University of Florida scientists first identified the neural signals rats generate when they have found a scent that they are looking for.

Each rat had electrodes permanently implanted in three areas of the brain.

Trained rats were set to forage for their target smell, while the electrodes allowed researchers to identify the brainwave patterns associated with finding that smell.

In real life rescues, signals from the rat’s brain would be relayed to a radio transmitter pack strapped to the animal’s back.

Rescuers would be able to follow the rat’s position by tracking these signals.

Scientists are developing software that will recognise the ‘aha!’ moment when the rat has found its target, so rescuers will know where to start digging.

The scientists hope to create a working system within nine months and rescue teams have already welcomed the idea.

“It would be absolutely fantastic,” says Julie Ryan of International Rescue Corps in Scotland. “A rat could get into areas and spaces we couldn’t get to. And a rat would try to get out if it didn’t feel safe.”

Cinemas host mothers and babies

A Mexican cinema chain is to offer film showings for mothers and babies.

MovieMom will be launched at all of the 15 Cinemex cinemas in Mexico City, says the La Cronica de Hoy.

Mothers who take their babies to the cinema will get nappies, baby food and a toy for their babies to play with while they watch the movie.

The temperature in the each cinema will be programmed for the comfort of the babies.

Some lights will be left on in case mothers need to use the cinema’s baby changing tables, located on each side.

A Cinemex spokesperson said: “MovieMom will be a permanent part of our services. It will help those mothers who don’t have babysitters and love the movies.”

World record hopefuls pull off runway stunt for charity

A team of staff at Marshall’s Aerospace in Cambridge have dragged one of their aircraft a mile along a runway for charity – and think they may have broken a world record at the same time.

The 24 employees were taking part in the fourth annual “plane pull” relay race, in which four teams from Marshall’s compete against another four from RAF Wyton – dragging a Cessna 172 aeroplane behind them.

The teams of six people each drag the plane a quarter of a mile before passing it on – and are sponsored for their efforts. They raised a combined total of almost £3,300 for Macmillan Cancer Relief.

But the Marshall’s teams, who won the relay race, covered the mile in only seven minutes and seven seconds and now believe they may have set a new world record – although no inspectors from the Guinness Book of Records were there to witness it.

Terry Holloway, of Marshall’s, said: “We do a lot of work for Macmillan over the course of the year and the race is now part of our annual calendar.

“They do a fabulous job in the local area, and employees and management are eager to support them.”

Tuesday, Sep. 16, 2003

People throng to witness milk oozing from ‘miracle tree’

People are thronging to witness a reported miracle of “milk oozing” from a neem tree in Saramedu on the outskirts of Coimbatore on Monday, police said.

As the word spread that milk was reportedly oozing from the top of a tree near a Ganesh temple, a large number of people made a beeline to witness it, they said.

When some people started applying turmeric, vermilion and holy ash and offered flowers to the tree, a few over-enthusiastic devotees even constructed a temporary thatched shed for the benefit of people and made a make-shift temple, they added.

Monday, Sep. 8, 2003

Pastor lives on billboard to raise money for charity

A local pastor has made a temporary home 25 feet above the street in a fund-raising effort for children in Africa.

Brian Henley, a children’s pastor at Mount Hope Church, began his weeklong stay atop a billboard near Interstate 96 in Lansing on Sunday. His goal is to raise $100,000 toward food, AIDS awareness, education and building schools and orphanages for children in Africa.

“Here in the U.S., we’re born into privilege,” Henley told the Lansing State Journal for a Monday story. “Over there, they don’t have a choice. There’s AIDS, hunger; so many things affect the kids.”

Henley is part of a statewide fund-raising effort by five children’s pastors from the Assemblies of God-Michigan District. Each pastor is spending the week at a different site, such as a billboard or on a roof.

Henley’s billboard features his picture and a telephone number that people may call to make a donation.

“I know this is what God told me to do,” Henley said. “We have a great community in Lansing, and I think people will jump behind us.”

Henley, 25, lives in Lansing with his wife, Kasha, and their daughter, Jordyn, 3, and son, Gabriel, 1. He said he wanted to raise money by doing something that hadn’t been done and involved risk.

“The risk for me is just a portion of the sacrifice African children make every day,” he said.

Members of Mount Hope Church will support Henley by bringing him food every day and providing nightly security at the billboard. Henley’s billboard is equipped with a 14-foot-square platform, where he has a tent, a portable toilet and a small refrigerator to store water.

“I was a little bit nervous, but I know God’s protecting him,” Kasha Henley said. “He’ll definitely be roughing it.

Saturday, Aug. 23, 2003

kids can play

A Neglected park in one of Newcastle’s most deprived areas has been transformed into a state-of-the-art playground with the help of a 60,000 cash windfall. The site in the Lower Milehouse estate – home to no more than a rusty climbing frame just months ago – has been transformed into a children’s den bursting at the brim with play equipment.

Its now a full featured playground targetted at primary school kids. The money for the project came from a number of different organisations.

Grandmother Anne Malam, treasurer of the Lower Milehouse Tenant Management Organisation (TMO), said: “My two grandchildren come here every day. They love it and I have real problems trying to get them to leave. Before this came along young ones had to play on the streets because there was nowhere else. This was a much-needed play area and we are so happy we have it.”

Friday, Aug. 22, 2003

Bike back in time

Do it the old-fashioned way: bike, have ice cream, enjoy, relax.

Bluffton (USA) is one of those towns which city center hasn’t changed too much in the last 100 years. It’s easy to get around. And back in the days the way to get around was to walk or to bike. Back in the days the way to stay cool in summer wasn’t air-conditioning, it was an ice cream social.

Babbie Guscio, a well known fund-raiser organizer in Bluffton, came up with the idea of letting people experience that again. For fun. Just to relax.

“It’s just a nice little 21/2-mile jaunt around town,” Guscio said. “At the turn of the century – the 20th century – life was at a much slower pace than it is now. I just wanted to give people a chance to take a breath – a before-Labor Day treat. I just want them to relax a couple of hours and discover Bluffton and what we have to offer.”

Participants can bike around town, have some ice cream and enjoy entertainment provided by Beth and Jeff Corry, participants in the upcoming May River Theatre’s production of “Too Marvelous”.

Bike repairmen from the new Bluffton business Sports Addiction will set up shop at the Heyward House to perform free bike maintenance or minor repairs. The bike-path advocacy group Greater Bluffton Pathways will give away free children’s helmets to anyone who needs them.

The fee is old fashioned as well: $5 per person.

Thursday, Aug. 21, 2003

Hey, it’s just kickball !

Kickball. That’s for kid’s right?

Wrong.

The World Adult Kickball Association has more than 10,000 members.

Turned off by increasingly competitive recreational softball or other team sports, many adults are considering kickball a creative, low-key way to unwind.

In Washington DC, at the foot of the Washington Monument, this Saturday the fifth-annual Founders Cup world kickball championship were held.

Hundreds have gathered to play and heckle, their orange, yellow, black and red team T-shirts brightening the overcast August day.

Apart from being fun and non-competitive the low demand on athletic skills is another draw to the game.

“You can be the kid who got picked last in kickball in grade school and still be good here,” said Sara Slusarski, 26

In fact, the game is so non-competitive that a favorite on-field admonition is “Hey, it’s just kickball.”

Volunteers kept the games on course.

Inside Good News Blog