UPI NewsTrack Quirks in the News

Sept. 2, 2010 at 5:00 PM
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Researchers seek 'humor' from computers

EVANSTON, Ill., Sept. 2 (UPI) -- An Illinois researcher says his team's controversial government-funded "machine-generated humor" project is a serious attempt to model "human cognitive skills."

Northwestern University computer professor Kristian Hammond said his team's project title, "Computational Creativity: Building a Model of Machine-Generated Humor," probably led to the bad reputation that landed it on Sen. John McCain's list of the Top 100 Most Wasteful Stimulus Projects, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Thursday.

"The title created a flash point for us. There was a little brouhaha, but we are a structurally standard research organization," Hammond said. "The work is pretty innovative."

Hammond said the idea behind the project is to develop search programs that can create "structured queries that lead to interesting, factual juxtapositions of ideas that lead to a humorous outcome ... sometimes."

Hammond said the programs will mimic the way humans create original content.

"We're modeling human cognitive skills on a machine. ... The engineering agenda is to create systems that create new unique content that is illuminating, educational and sometimes funny," Hammond said.


Fla. man detained for cutting dead whale

DELRAY BEACH, Fla., Sept. 2 (UPI) -- A man was detained and questioned in Florida after he was observed mutilating a dead whale on a beach, conservation officials said.

Delray Beach resident Chris Hogan, 60, fishing for blue crab on the shoreline early Thursday, admitted cutting the tail off the 7-foot, 800 pound whale, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.

The whale appeared to be a pygmy or dwarf sperm whale, wildlife officials said.

Mutilating or possessing a federally protected species, even if the animal is dead, is illegal, Lt. Atwell Pride of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission said.

Hogan said he couldn't understand why other people on the beach were yelling at him as he used his fishing knife to cut off the whale's tail.

"The thing was deader than a doornail," he said.

Hogan said he had planned on taking the tail home and eating it.

"I'd probably broil or fry it," he said.


12-acre fire starts when golfer hits rock

IRVINE, Calif., Sept. 2 (UPI) -- California fire officials said a golf course blaze requiring nearly 200 firefighters began as a spark from a golf club hitting a rock.

Firefighters said the 12-acre fire Saturday at Irvine's Shady Canyon Golf Course began when a golfer, who was not identified, clinked his club against a rock while taking a shot from the rough at about noon, OC Weekly reported Thursday.

Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Greg McKeown told the Orange County Register nearly 200 firefighters battled the flames for several hours and the blaze was completely contained by 7:30 p.m.

McKeown said two crews remained at the scene overnight to prevent spot fires.


Man asked 911 for hug, hot cocoa

BEAVERTON, Ore., Sept. 2 (UPI) -- Police in Oregon said a homeless man broke into a fenced-in hot tub and -- after about 10 hours in the water -- called 911 to ask for a hug and hot chocolate.

Beaverton police said Mark Eskelsen used a cellphone to call 911 at about 7:10 a.m. Sunday and initially identified himself as "the sheriff of Washington County," The (Portland) Oregonian reported Thursday.

Eskelsen told the dispatcher he had been in the water for about 10 hours and he did not have any dry towels.

"I just need a hug and a warm cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows in it," Eskelsen told the dispatcher.

Police arrived to find Eskelsen, who admitted he was not the sheriff, naked in the hot tub. He was arrested and charged with second-degree criminal trespass and improper use of the 911 system.

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