Apr. 29, 2012: Perfection

Well, sports fans, in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s baseball season. And if you haven’t been watching some of the early clashes to start the year, you’ve got some catching up to do. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the new owners of Albert Pujols’ contract, also own the third-worst record in baseball: 7-14. No one expected them to trail their division rivals, the Texas Rangers (16-5), by nine games at this point in the season. Apparently spending $254 million to acquire Pujols, arguably the best player of this generation, hasn’t helped the franchise. We’re not yet a month into the season, and the Angels have already released veteran Bobby Abreu from the team, calling up prospect Mike Trout in the hope that shaking up the team chemistry a bit will catalyze success. But Pujols is undoubtedly the bigger story, as the $254 million dollar man is hitting only .226 with no home runs, four RBIs, and a paltry .310 slugging percentage through 21 games. Those are numbers you expect from a mediocre catcher, not the man widely hailed as the game’s greatest. Perhaps Pujols just needs time to adjust to the challenges of a new league, but after tremendous pre-season hype, Angels fans are tired of waiting for Albert to be King Albert again.

It ought to be noted that Pujols’ former clan, the St. Louis Cardinals, holds a 14-7 record, along with a four game division lead over the Cincinnati Reds. Pujols wasn’t the only one who departed after the Cardinals’ World Series win last year; he joined longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan and manager Tony La Russa, both of whom retired at the end of 2011, in bidding farewell. But while the team has an entirely new look, the redbirds are still winning. The Angels still aren’t.

Boston shares some of Los Angeles’ woes. After the Red Sox’s historic collapse to miss the playoffs last season, allegations that players were drinking alcohol in the clubhouse instead of supporting their team during late-season games, and the firing of manager Terry Francona, who broke the mythic “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004 by leading the Sox to their first World Series in 86 years (and repeated the feat in 2007), Boston holds claim to last place in the American League East. While a six-game winning streak has pulled the Red Sox to a not-so-shameful 10-10 record, the 4-10 start sickened many fans who hoped that new manager Bobby Valentine could bring a sense of calm to the team. And so far, Valentine’s idea of “calm” has been making off-the-cuff complaints about his players to the media. So much for that.

If there’s been one big winner so far this year, it’s little-known Chicago White Sox pitcher Philip Humber, who gained a lot more fame on April 21 when he threw the 21st perfect game in major league history against Seattle. The 29-year-old Humber holds a record of only 12-11 in the major leagues, but he will be forever remembered alongside such legends as Cy Young, Don Larsen, and Sandy Koufax on the very short list of players to accomplish pitching’s greatest feat. For now, though, Humber can focus on a far more important personal matter: the arrival of his first child.

In the technology world, Google is at the center of a rash of controversies this week. First, critics have been less than enthralled with the new Google Drive, the cloud storage release that is somewhat stingy with the hard drive space allotted to users and rather sketchy in its Terms of Service. Overall, many analysts say that this system compares well against its competitors, but it is hardly the sort of overwhelmingly advantageous product that would pull established users away from Microsoft SkyDrive and the like. Given that Google making a surprisingly late entry into the cloud storage game, they needed a monumental release with Google Drive in order to really shake up the marketplace. At this point, that simply doesn’t seem to be the case.

But while Google Drive could go the way of the long-dead Google Wave without hurting the company, the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) antitrust case against Google could prove substantially more hazardous. The key issue in the case is whether Google abused its power as the leading internet search engine by systematically manipulating search results to lower the rankings of competitors. On Thursday, the FTC hired prominent litigator Beth A. Wilkinson, an apparent sign that the government is preparing to battle the internet giant in court, particularly since the FTC has only taken on an outside litigator twice in the last ten years. Wilkinson is no stranger to high-profile cases: as a former Justice department prosecutor, her biggest claim to fame is the successful prosecution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Google has also been in hot water with privacy activists over its Street View project, which was intended to collect data on Wi-Fi networks for use in location-aware services but inadvertently also captured a slew of private E-mail messages, passwords, and so forth from insecure networks. Last week, Google finally released a full version of the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) report on their activities in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The FCC fined Google $25,000 for “deliberately delaying and impeding” the investigation, but ultimately concluded that no illegal activity took place in the Street View project itself.

Still others are incensed about the problems surrounding the new Android platform, Ice Cream Sandwich. Last year, Google started rolling out updates to its Nexus S phones, which unexpectedly caused those phones to experience serious errors ranging from occasional freezes to complete meltdowns. The update, naturally, was quickly pulled. While its successor, the Galaxy Nexus, also received a timely update to Ice Cream Sandwich that was largely error-free, it has fallen well behind in updates since that point. According to Google engineer Jean-Baptiste Queru, “Writing the software doesn’t mean that Google can deploy it immediately, there are operator approvals for devices that are sold and/or supported by operators.”

Well, even if Google doesn’t know how to update its phones, at least it can still Zerg rush.

Speaking of phone troubles, Nokia is getting slammed, as Samsung leapt to #1 in global phone sales for the first quarter of 2012, according to market research firm Strategy Analytics. The news comes while Samsung and second-place company Apple are embroiled in 50 separate patent suits spanning ten countries around the globe. The legal battle between Apple and Samsung started a year ago, when Apple sued Samsung for “the look and feel” of its iPad and iPhone for use in other mobile devices. Samsung responded with countersuits, including action in South Korea, Japan, and Germany, and the number of suits has only grown further since then.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has seen its newest phone gather praise from a surprising source: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who said that “Just for looks and beauty, I definitely favor the Windows 7 phone over Android. I’m kind of shocked on every screen — much more beautiful than the same apps on Android and iPhone.” He later curtailed his comments by saying that the iPhone is still his favorite, but it’s hard to ignore the earlier comments, given the source. This may be due, in part, to Microsoft’s recent underwriting of app developer costs. While app developers often spend anywhere from $60,000-$600,000 to build software for Windows Phones, Microsoft has been footing the bill for many of them, giving companies much more incentive to work toward earlier Windows releases.

Nonetheless, the iPhone remains the ruler of the roost in the eyes of many. In particular, Apple’s success has hurt that of prepaid mobile carriers such as MetroPCS and Leap Wireless, which don’t offer the popular phone among its packages. While mobile carriers have been popular among younger consumers and low-income families that don’t want to go through hassles like credit checks, the popularity of the iPhone itself has been overpowering. MetroPCS, for instance, gained 132,000 customers in the first quarter of 2012, missing earlier projections of 350,000 by a wide margin despite the industry as a whole increasing its promotional pricing, rebates, and other attractive deals for consumers.

We also have some unique news to report. Last week, Robert Ward, a meteorite collector, found two pieces of a rare meteorite in Lotus, California, following a meteor shower that resulted in a sonic boom. The coin-sized chunk of carbonaceous chondrite, which was likely around the size of a minivan when it entered the earth’s atmosphere, landed between a baseball field and a park at the edge of the town. Reports indicate that “[i]t exploded with about one-third of the force of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in World War II and was seen from Sacramento and California to Las Vegas and parts of northern Nevada.” Scientists estimate that showers of similar magnitude happen about once a year, but they generally occur over the ocean or uninhabited areas.

Our animal companions have also brought us some entertainment this week. Several flights in New York’s LaGuardia Airport were delayed on Thursday when a 14-month-old puppy escaped from its crate prior to baggage loading. Byrdie, a 30-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback, frolicked around the runway for about 20 minutes while authorities tried in vain to collar her, failing despite the use of 11 trucks to try to corner the pooch. Eventually, authorities tracked down her owner, Austin Varner, who was on the plane that Byrdie was supposed to have boarded. As Varner said, “She was just standing there. She didn’t want to come to them. But she came right to me, and we got her.” Then there’s Darcy, the dairy cow in Brush, Colorado who escaped from her pen and wandered into the local McDonald’s drive-thru. Authorities contacted Darcy’s owners, the Winn family, so that she could be taken back home, but not before several amused customers snapped photos of the comedic event. The Winns have since joked that she wasn’t placing any orders, but that she just wanted to visit her former relatives.

Apparently a sandwich can save your life. That’s what James Hobbs of Great Britain learned after having his throat slashed during an altercation in January 2011. After picking up the doner kebab as a snack, Hobbs went to the home of his neighbor, Jamie Edney, and accused Edney of having an affair with his girlfriend. Edney had come to the door with a knife, and after a brief fight, Hobbs collapsed with a five-inch knife wound in his throat that missed his windpipe and jugular vein by millimeters. Hobbs ultimately used the sandwich as a makeshift bandage until a relative located a towel to take its place. While Hobbs lost six-and-a-half pints of blood from the wound, the sandwich bandage bought paramedics enough time to get him to the hospital for treatment. On Tuesday, Edney was convicted of grievous bodily harm with intent to wound, and Judge Michael Longman sentenced him to five years in prison. Longman noted that Edney did not start the fight, but that he chose to answer the door holding a knife, which “was asking for trouble.” He also indicated that the five-year sentence was the minimum possible for that offense.

The Kyrgyzstan “Eternal Flame,” which honors the soldiers who fought in World War II, was extinguished last week by an incensed power company. Apparently the government was over three years late in paying a $9,400 gas bill, and the company finally decided to shut off services. The government hopes to have the flame re-lit by May 9, the day that most countries from the former Soviet Union traditionally celebrate victory over the Nazi regime.

In France, Philippe Croizon and his partner Arnaud Chassery have announced plans to circle the globe by swimming the channels connecting landmasses. Croizon has already swum the English Channel, widely considered one of the most difficult swims in the world. The pair intend to swim four channels connecting five continents, although the approximate 45 hours they expect to take swimming 52 miles still pales in comparison to Benoit Lecomte’s 73-day swim across the Atlantic Ocean in 1998. But what really sets this challenge apart is the fact that Croizon has no arms or legs. At the age of 26, he suffered a powerful electrical shock, and doctors were subsequently forced to amputate all four of his limbs. Croizon says his goal is that “two little people like us, two little men, we’re going to be able to build a bridge between the continents.”

Of course, criminals always end up capping our odd news sections. In Bremerton, Washington, a “polite” burglar called a victim’s cousin mere hours after robbing the home, crying and asking to return to exchange some of the items he stole with his own possessions, which he mistakenly left at the scene. Apparently the only thing that the burglar, Shane Jackman, asked was that the homeowners not report the initial crime to the police. According to reports, Jackman fled the home when confronted by homeowner Travis Foreman, a former Marine who was holding a gun and commanded Jackman to leave. Jackman reported said “Yes, sir!” before fleeing, accidentally leaving several items in his haste, including documents identifying him by name. Naturally, when he returned to exchange the goods, he was greeted by the local police. Even as he was arrested, though, Jackman remained polite, apologizing profusely to the residents as he was hauled away.

Finally, John Ernest Cross of Clark Fork, Idaho is facing felony assault charges for allegedly ordering about another man at gunpoint. And what was his demand? To moonwalk.

…Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?

Other articles of interest:
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Smartphone games face new competition from social apps, says report
Wii U info bonanza: Day one downloads, leaked Rayman trailer
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale: Sony’s Version of Super Smash Bros Promises a Fight Fest
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Y! Big Story: What the brain tells us
Space shuttle Enterprise races along the NYC skyline
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Republicans Decry Obama Campaign Video
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Jailed for $280: The Return of Debtors’ Prisons
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