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Monday, June 27, 2011

Amsterdam fights for your right to smoke pot

The proposed ban on allowing foreigners to purchase cannabis will increase crime, Amsterdam officials say.

Amsterdam coffee shop marijuana 06 23 2011
A Spanish tourist smokes a joint in front of the Bulldog coffee shop in the red light district of Amsterdam on Dec. 8, 2008. (Anoek de Groot/AFP/Getty Images)

AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands — The city of Amsterdam is preparing to fight for tourists' right to party.

The capital's town council, backed by the tourist board and local campaigners, is opposing a new law proposed by the Dutch government that would ban foreigners from frequenting the city's cannabis-serving coffee shops by 2012.

(Read: Genetically modified pot fetches 10x regular price)

“If tourists are denied access to coffee shops, illegal sales and drug dealing on the streets of Amsterdam will increase,” warned Mayor Eberhard van der Laan. “Amsterdam does not want to facilitate soft drug use by tourists, but to help those who wish to use drugs to do so as responsibly as possible.”

(Watch: Legalizing pot in Mexico to combat violence & Front lines of Mexico's drug war)

Van der Laan is consulting with the center-right national government to convince it, “that these measures will be counter-productive for Amsterdam,” said City Hall spokeswoman Iris Resheef.

In May, the lower house of parliament voted to back a bill that will oblige The Netherlands' 400 coffee shops to become member-only clubs. Only Dutch citizens will be able to obtain a so-called “weed pass” allowing them to enter.

The measure came after appeals from smaller towns along the country's southern and eastern frontiers that have complained about an influx of rowdy, drug-seeking youths from Belgium, Germany and France.

The bill still needs to pass the upper house of the Dutch parliament and may face a legal challenge from campaigners who say it infringes on the country's constitution by discriminating against foreigners.

“We recognize that there are problems in cities on the border with drug trafficking and so on, but we don't have that here,” said Machteld Ligtvoet, head of communications at the Amsterdam tourist board. “It offers a solution to a problem that we do not have.”

Amsterdam, a city of about 700,000 people, welcomes 4 million tourists every year. About one quarter of them visit one of the city's 223 coffee shops. For many, kicking back with a joint has become an integral part of any visit to Amsterdam, alongside the canals, flower market and art treasures.

“We didn't come here specifically for the coffee shops, but it was definitely a factor,” said Aaron, 27, from Austin, Texas. “We've done the Rembrandts and the Van Goghs, we've done all the hot spots, but its just fun to smoke a joint.”

“Honestly you can only see so many museums and this is a nice alternative,” added his companion Elizabeth, 22, as the pair emerged from a downtown coffee shop called The Jungle. “It's not the only thing here, but it's certainly a draw.”

The coffee shops' clientele are a mixed bag. There are cannabis connoisseurs who know their Acapulco Gold from their White Widow, respectable middle-aged travelers reliving a youthful flirtation with the weed or indulging in some giggly experimentation, and boozed-up bachelor parties taking a toke before resuming their wide-eyed tour of the red-light district.

“I love my place,” said coffee shop owner Marc Jacobs. “We have people from all around the world, they drop in for a joint, to have a laugh and a nice time. Everybody gets along and we've never have any trouble.”

Jacobs opened his coffee shop, The Rookies, in 1992 among the theaters and cafes of the Liedseplein district of central Amsterdam.

Now a board member of the nationwide Cannabis Retailers Association, he warns that the new law will have a disastrous impact on a sector that, he says, directly contributes 110 million euro ($155 million) to the tax authorities in addition to attracting tourists to the city.

However, Jacobs said the economic consequences are a secondary concern. The real fear is that the new law will push the trade of cannabis back onto the streets.

“I think the Dutch politicians have forgotten why we have coffee shops in the first place. That was for health care first of all to keep the cannabis away from hard drugs and the safety on the streets,” he said.

City officials agree. Mayor Van der Laan has warned that Amsterdam does not have the resources to cope with the expected increase in street crime and health problems that could stem from the marijuana trade going underground.

“The moment it is sold illegally you'll have the danger that people will be cheated and robbed. They will start to offer hard drugs with it. We are really worried that it will lead to an increase in crime,” said Ligtvoet, from the tourist board.

The government, however, seems to be standing firm. While Amsterdam's coffee shops, legalized prostitution and thriving gay scene are viewed abroad as symbols of Dutch permissiveness, the capital's liberal attitudes are often out of step with more conservative thinking in the wider country.

Recent elections have shifted Dutch politics to the right and the government is targeting the coffee shops as part of a law and order campaign that's particularly tough on crime associated with foreigners.

“The current open-door policy of coffee shops should be terminated and that the fight against organised drugs-related crime is intensified,” said a recent statement from the Ministry of Security and Justice. “The cabinet expects that closure of coffee shops to foreign drugs tourists will ensure that they no longer travel to the Netherlands to purchase and consume cannabis. After all, many of them can use the illegal markets available in their immediate surroundings."

(More: Morocco: Cannabis fields torched)

Stay a Night in a Bridge Made from Reclaimed Wood, Built Over a River-to-Be

by Alex Davies, Paris, France

All Images Courtesy of Observatorium

Looking at the bridge, you wonder what it's doing there. It sits on dry, flat land. It doesn't connect anything to anything else. And its zig-zagging shape doesn't exactly scream practicality. That's because this is no ordinary bridge: it's also a hostel, a picnic site and an art project. And while the surrounding land is dry for the moment, it won't stay that way: a river is scheduled to arrive in 2020.


"Waiting for the River", a 2010 project by Rotterdam-based art group Observatorium, was part of that year's Emscherkunst, an annual arts festival in Germany's Ruhr region. The now awaited water has run here before: the Emscher River, a tributary of the Rhine, was used as an open waste canal in the 19th century and is now biologically dead.

But a project, in planning since the early 1990s, is aiming to rehabilitate the river and the once heavily industrial region. The river will be cleaned and re-naturalized to its former course, sometime in the next ten years. That's the raison d'etre of Waiting for the River, which Observatorium designed to encourage people to explore the area and learn about the project.

Observatorium describes the bridge as somewhere in the "gray area between art and architecture." Stretching 125 feet and made from wooden planks recovered from the Rotterdam port, it included sleeping and eating areas. Visitors were invited to spend a full 24 hours at the site, to fully appreciate what is there now, and imagine what things will look like in a decade.

Originally meant to be temporary, the bridge was in place from May through September 2010. But if you missed your chance to visit, don't worry: it was so popular that Observatorium has decided to rebuild it, permanently, in 2013. So if you stick around long enough, you may even be the first to fish off the side.




UFOs spotted over London?

A video of bright disc-shaped objects dashing through the blue skies over central London has been posted on YouTube.

The footage was filmed near the BBC Radio 1 building in Great Portland Street, and shows specks of white light flying at high altitude over the capital.

A larger object then emerges from behind a cloud before vanishing moments later.

The YouTube user who posted the clip online wrote: "Right – took over a week to get it ... but finally managed to get these critters on camera on a clear day, and even get a close-up.

"It seems to be attracting quite a crowd now when they appear. Can anyone explain what on earth these lights are please?"

A separate video posted by the same user, alymc01, is believed to have been shot from inside the offices of a visual effects company called The Mill. The firm creates special effects for the film industry.

New animation depicts next Mars rover in action

This artist concept features NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or present ability to sustain microbial life. Curiosity is being tested in preparation for launch in the fall of 2011. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

( -- Although NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will not leave Earth until late this year nor land on Mars until August 2012, anyone can watch those dramatic events now in a new animation of the mission.

The full, 11-minute animation, shows sequences such as the spacecraft separating from its near Earth and the mission's rover, Curiosity, zapping rocks with a laser and examining samples of powdered rock on Mars. A shorter, narrated version is also available below.

Curiosity's landing will use a different method than any previous Mars landing, with the rover suspended on tethers from a rocket-backpack "sky crane."

The new animation combines detailed views of the with scenes of real places on Mars, based on stereo images taken by earlier missions.

"It is a treat for the 2,000 or more people who have worked on the Mars during the past eight years to watch these action scenes of the hardware the project has developed and assembled," said Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Pete Theisinger at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "The animation also provides an exciting view of this mission for any fan of adventure and exploration."

Provided by JPL/NASA (news : web)

Hand-hacking lets you pluck strings like a musical pro


Video: Hand-hacking helps budding musicians

WANT to learn a musical instrument, but can't find the time to practise? A device now under development can take control of your hand and teach you how to play a tune. No spirits of dead musicians are involved.

PossessedHand, being developed jointly by the University of Tokyo, Japan, and Sony Computer Science Laboratories, also in Tokyo, electrically stimulates the muscles in the forearm that move your fingers. A belt worn around that part of the subject's arm contains 28 electrode pads, which flex the joints between the three bones of each finger and the two bones of the thumb, and provide two wrist movements. Users were able to sense the movement of their hands that this produced, even with their eyes closed. "The user's fingers are controlled without the user's mind," explains Emi Tamaki of the University of Tokyo, who led the research.

Devices that stimulate people's fingers have been made before, but they used electrodes embedded in the skin, which are invasive, or glove-like devices that make it hard to manipulate an object. Tamaki claims that her device is far more comfortable. "The electric stimulations are similar to low-frequency massage stimulations that are commonly used," she says.

Having successfully hijacked a hand, the researchers tried to teach it how to play the koto, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument. Koto players wear different picks on three fingers, but pluck the strings with all five fingertips, so each finger produces a distinctive sound. A koto score tells players which fingers should be moved and when, and from this Tamaki and her team were able to generate instructions telling their device how and when to stimulate the wearer's muscles.

PossessedHand does not generate enough force to pluck the koto strings, but it could help novice players by teaching them the correct finger movements. Tamaki and her team found that two beginner players made a total of four timing errors when using PossessedHand, compared with 13 when playing unassisted. After prompting from the device, the players also made one less mistake about which finger to use.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the players found it unsettling to have the device move their hand by itself. "I felt like my body was hacked," said one. Tamaki is confident that people will get used to the idea once they see how useful it can be: "We believe convenient technology will overcome a feeling of fear."

As well as helping would-be musicians, PossessedHand could be used to rehabilitate people who have suffered a stroke or other injury that impairs muscle control. Therapists already use electrical muscle stimulation to help these people, but existing non-invasive devices can only achieve crude movements such as contracting the entire arm.

Henrik Gollee, who researches rehabilitation devices at the University of Glasgow, UK, says PossessedHand could help patients train a wider range of movements. "I was surprised by the level of fine movement they can actually achieve," he says.

Simon Holland, director of the Music Computing Lab at the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK, points out that there is a big difference between learning to play one song and being a competent musician. "You might learn a fingering and be able to reproduce that performance, without necessarily being able to perform simple variants," he says.

Perform This Way (Parody of "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga)

The guy who has sold more than 12 million albums with his humorous parodies and original songs is back with this new parody video of Lady Gaga’s “Perform this Way”. I’m just hoping that Lady Gaga doesn’t take inspiration from these crazy ass costumes and don’t fret it’s just Weird AI’s face with another woman’s body, thought I’d warn before you watch the video because it cannot be unseen.

Published on Jun 20, 2011 by alyankovicVEVO

Music video by "Weird Al" Yankovic performing Perform This Way (Parody of "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga). (C) 2011 Volcano Entertainment III, LLC, a unit of Sony Music Entertainment

Incredible Tree Climbing Dog

Uploaded by FunnyADay on Jun 21, 2011

The little guy is trained better than any puppy I know.

Treasure Hunters Find $500k Ring at Atocha Wreck

A crew from Mel Fisher's Treasures found the 10-karat emerald piece on Thursday

By Janie Campbell

Treasure Hunters Find $500k Ring at Wreck

Sharon Wiley/ Mel Fisher Treasures via the Florida Keys News Bureau /HO

An ancient gold ring with a rectangular cut emerald found Thursday is believed to have come from the Nuestra Señora de Atocha.


The famed Atocha shipwreck site in the Florida Keys coughed up another treasure Thursday when salvagers said they discovered a 10-karat emerald ring initially valued at $500,000.

A crew with historic salvagers Mel Fisher's Treasures found the ornately carved gold ring while searching for the long-lost sterncastle of the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha, which sank off the Keys during a hurricane in 1622.

The ring was found with two silver spoons and two other silver-encrusted artifacts about 35 miles west of Key West, within 300 feet of where a gold rosary and gold bar were found in April.

"It is exciting because we are moving into virgin territory, an area of the Atocha Trail that has never been worked," said vessel captain Andy Matroci in a statement.

Fisher's Treasures has been working the Atocha site since 1969, hauling up approximately $450 million in silver, gold, and emeralds after the wreck and its "mother lode" was first discovered in 1985.

An infamous eight-year legal battle over the treasure with the government ensued before the Supreme Court ultimately ruled in Fisher's favor.

The sterncastle of the Atocha has yet to be found, most likely having been scatered by a second hurricane that hit the area shortly after the ship was driven into a reef in the Dry Tortugas, according to Fisher's website.

The crew of Mel Fisher's Treasures believe that a second major treasure cache is hidden within the missing sterncastle, probably having been stored in the captain's quarters of the ship for safekeeping.

A spokeswoman has said the company will have the ring appraised by an independent party.

Captain America, @#$% Yeah

Um, is it me, or does this new Captain America trailer kick an unholy amount of ass? Maybe it's because I just suffered through Green Lantern, or maybe its because I'm terrified of having watch Transformers 3 next week, but at this moment, in this trailer, Cap here looks like the greatest goddamned movie ever. I'm more excited for Cap now than I was for Thor, and I was pretty fucking excited for Thor. Now call me crazy, but I think Captain America here has one significant advantage over Green Lantern already; it stars a guy who acts like a hero -- even before he gets his powers -- which is someone I don't mind watching for 105 minutes.A "hero" is a pretty good thing for a superhero movie to have, I think. It's a bold claim, I know, but I stand by it.

Google to Nevada: Let Our Cars Drive Themselves



Google to Nevada: Let Our Cars Drive Themselves

Google's self-driving cars may soon hit the road in Nevada if a pair of bills get through the state legislature.

The bills would make Nevada the first state to legalize self-driving cars on public roads, the New York Times reports. One bill would amend electric vehicle laws to allow registration and licensing of autonomous automobiles. The other is an exemption to the state's ban on texting while driving, allowing cell phone use from the driver's seat while the car drives itself.

Google, which revealed last year that it's been testing self-driving cars, is quietly lobbying for the bills, which are likely to get a vote before the legislative session ends in June. Last month, Google lobbyist David Goldwater argued to Nevada lawmakers that self-driving cars are safer and more fuel-efficient, while promoting economic development. It's not clear why the search giant has targeted Nevada, but my guess is that Google likes the state's vast stretches of open road and its proximity to California, where Google is based.

Although self-driving cars aren't yet street legal in the United States, Google already took the liberty of testing its six-car fleet in California, with a backup driver behind the wheel and another Google employee monitoring the system in the passenger seat. The cars use roof-mounted video cameras, radar and a laser range finder to detect surrounding traffic, and they've covered 140,000 miles without incident, except for one case where Google's car got bumped from behind. Google claims that self-driving cars could cut automobile accidents in half.

Even if Nevada lawmakers approve of both bills, don't expect to safely fall asleep at the wheel anytime soon. A Google spokesman told the Times that the project is still very much in its testing phases.

Star Wars Blueprints Coming This Fall


J. W. Rinzler wrote two amazing books about the making of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back and this fall he’s releasing a book of Star Wars Blueprints. The book will be an oversided limited edition featuring over 200 blueprints including The Millennium Falcon, Droids (including R2-D2), The Y-wing and the X-wing starfighters, The Rebel Blockade Runner, The Cantina, The Death Star, The Ewok forest, the battle of Hoth, and more.

“The unsung heroes of the art departments are the draftsmen, who drew in collaboration with their art department heads, but who also added their own ideas,” said Rinzler. “Their blueprints have an attribute that concept art lacks-a sense of the real. It’s been an amazing adventure to bring these blueprints to light after all these years.”

You can preview the book at its official site, and they’ve also released a trailer:

First Packaging-Free, Zero-Waste Grocery Store In US Coming To Austin, Texas

by Rachel Cernansky, Boulder, Colorado

bulk food store photo
Image: bcmom via flickr

It's gotten harder and harder over the years to avoid excess packaging when shopping for everyday items, but plans are in the works for a store in Austin (also the home of Whole Foods) that will specialize in local and organic ingredients, but more importantly, will eliminate all packaging from the store. If it succeeds and the bulk trend catches on, the environmental footprint—petroleum consumption and transportation emissions specifically—of our country's grocery runs could be slashed pretty quickly.

In.gredients plans to become the country's very first "package-free, zero waste grocery store." GOOD describes the store in this fitting and awesome way: "It's as if the specialty bulk food section rebelled and took over the rest of a traditional grocery store."

GOOD outlines the benefits of bulk food in numbers:

Americans add 570 million pounds of food packaging to their landfills each day, while pre-packaged foods force consumers to buy more than they need, stuffing their bellies and their trash bins: 27 percent of food brought into U.S. kitchens ends up getting tossed out.

A lot of supermarkets now do have bulk food sections for dry goods, but they're obviously a minor part of a much larger store that specializes in bulk packaging. And buying liquids in bulk is not even an option.

Bringing Bulk-Purchasing Back
There used to be stores around the country that had bulk supplies and allowed you to bring refillable containers for those more difficult-to-buy-in-bulk items, like liquid soap and laundry detergent, but those stores have closed, or at least stopped providing the bulk option, one by one. Whole Foods does have a small section for bulk liquid soaps and other small stores likely do as well (feel free to share info about any such stores in the comments below), but again, these sections are all dwarfed by aisles and aisles of plastic bottles and excess packaging.

As long as bulk the alternative and doesn't dominate the store, it's not going to influence people's buying habits—and eliminate waste—on a large scale.

Reducing the Waste Stream
Here are some more numbers for you: about 50 percent of plastic waste in the U.S. is said to come from packaging and containers. According to the EPA, about 31 percent of all municipal solid waste in the U.S. was containers and packaging in 2008. That's 76,760 thousand tons—and less than half of that gets recycled.

Eliminating the option for packaging completely at the store means also eliminating a huge chunk of our nation's waste stream in one easy step.

If a store like In.gredients succeeds, will it push big brands to start providing bulk options in chain stores, and those chain stores to accept and promote those options? It'll be huge if we reach a point where you can bring a refillable bottle into Walmart or Target and fill it with shampoo or laundry detergent, and leave the store carrying all your groceries with no more packaging than you entered with.

In.gredients co-founder Christian Lane said in a press release: "Truth be told, what's normal in the grocery business isn't healthy for consumers or the environment... In addition to the unhealthiness associated with common food processing, nearly all the food we buy in the grocery store is packaged, leaving us no choice but to continue buying packaged food that's not always reusable or recyclable."

This is all, however, only once In.gredients raises the funds it needs to launch, which it is trying to do at

More on the benefits of buying in bulk:
Unpackaged: A Success Story
6 Best Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint at the Grocery Store
Save Money on Organic Food: Join a Natural Foods Co-op
Incredible Bulk