March 12th, 2014
07:44 AM ET

Crowdsourcing Volunteers Comb Satellite Photos For Malaysia Airlines Jet

You - the person now reading this story - can help experts solve the mystery of what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared over the open sea.

In fact, thousands of aspiring good Samaritans are volunteering their time to scour part of the plane's search zone using detailed satellite images posted online by DigitalGlobe, a Colorado firm that owns one of the world's most advanced commercial satellite networks.

So many volunteers have joined the effort that the firm's website - with its pinpoint pictures of everything floating in the ocean - has crashed.

It is a busy week for "crowdsourcing," the Internet phenomenon where information is gathered from John and Jane Q. Public - people like you - and from your social media postings.

"This is a real needle-in-the-haystack problem, except the haystack is in the middle of the ocean," Luke Barrington of DigitalGlobe told CNN affiliate KMGH. "I will ask you to mark anything that looks interesting, any signs of wreckage or life rafts."

DigitalGlobe's satellite photos taken 400 miles above the Gulf of Thailand can capture a detail as small as a home plate. The challenge is finding the manpower to scour 1,235 square miles of such images on one of DigitalGlobe's websites, Tomnod.com - with more pictures to be posted this week from satellites above the Strait of Malacca, said Abby Van Uum, an Edelman publicist retained by DigitalGlobe.

That's where crowdsourcing comes in.

"In many cases, the areas covered are so large, or the things we're looking for are so hard to find, that without the help of hundreds of thousands of people online, we'd never be able to find them," Barrington said.

One volunteer, Mike Seberger, 43, found a fascinating image in a matter of minutes: the silhouette in the ocean has the scale of a Boeing 777-200, the same model of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

For more, visit CNN.com.

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March 7th, 2014
10:07 AM ET

'I Am Not a Sore Loser,' Says Gambler Suing Vegas Casino After Losing $500k

A California man who lost $500,000 at blackjack and pai gow is suing a new Las Vegas casino, alleging he was too drunk to be allowed to gamble over a 17-hour period just before Super Bowl weekend.

Mark A. Johnston of Ventura, California, is claiming he shouldn't have to pay the Downtown Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino the $500,000 debt because employees served him so much alcohol that he suffered a blackout and was unable to remember the losses or even his gambling, the lawsuit alleges.

In an interview Friday with "New Day," Johnston contended he was plied with liquor and victimized in an old-time hustle.

"It's a direct violation of gaming regulations to serve someone who's intoxicated," he argued to Chris Cuomo.

The casino, which opened last November, declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing pending litigation, said spokeswoman Nicole Neal.

Earlier in the week,  Johnston told CNN that he's not being a bad loser.

"I am not a sore loser. I've lost half a million. I've lost 800,000. I've lost a lot of money. This has nothing to do with that," the veteran gambler said. "Obviously I can afford what I lost."

Johnston, 52, a former owner of a Los Angeles car dealership, was standing beside his $250,000 Mercedes-Benz as he insisted his lawsuit was about a bigger issue.

"This is about you almost killing me," Johnston said. "What if I had gone to bed that night, with all those drinks in me, and I threw up on myself and I choked and died?"

Johnston acknowledged some responsibility for his drinking - as many as 20 drinks while gambling over 17 hours on top of about 10 drinks before even stepping into the casino.

"My responsibility is, look, I had some drinks at the airport, on the plane. At some point, that's my responsibility," Johnston said. "The unfortunate part about it for them is, they have a bigger responsibility than I do."

Johnston was referring to how the casino must follow Nevada laws on how complimentary drinks are given to gamblers.

In fact, the Nevada Gaming Control Board is now investigating the Downtown Grand, formerly the Lady Luck Casino, on whether it violated gaming regulations, said Karl Bennison, chief of the board's enforcement division.

Those regulations prohibit casinos from "permitting persons who are visibly intoxicated to participate in gaming activity" and from providing "complimentary service of intoxicating beverages in the casino area to persons who are visibly intoxicated."

"We are investigating this thoroughly," Bennison said. "We are aware of this matter. We'll see if there are regulation violations."

The casino could face a license revocation or fines or both if the violations are substantiated, Bennison said.

Neal, the casino spokeswoman, also declined to comment about the state investigation.

Johnston, a frequent gambler in Las Vegas, had always been a cash player at casinos and was never issued a line of credit more than $25,000. Still, in the past 10 years, he had never drawn on any casino line of credit, the lawsuit said. He worked in real estate and car sales and was the owner of a Mercedes-Benz dealership in west Los Angeles.

During Super Bowl weekend, however, he and a female friend flew from the Burbank, California, airport to Las Vegas, and he had consumed several alcoholic drinks by the time the couple ate dinner at a restaurant run by the Downtown Grand Casino, according to a sequence of events described in the lawsuit.

At dinner, Johnston was visibly drunk, which was also observed by an old friend, a law professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas who joined the pair for dinner.

Johnston was so inebriated that he had no recollection of leaving the restaurant on January 30 or the subsequent 44 hours, when he gambled in the casino and took out markers totaling $500,000.

He lost all that money at the Chinese domino game pai gow and at a private blackjack table during 17 hours of uninterrupted gambling and drinking, until the late afternoon of the following day.

Johnston takes prescribed medication that increases the intoxicating effects of alcohol, and a casino host who invited Johnston to the Downtown Grand was aware of Johnston's use of the medication, the suit alleged.

"Mr. Johnston, an experienced gambler, was dropping chips on the floor, confusing chip colors, and slurring his speech badly, and he was unable to read his cards or set his hands properly," the lawsuit said.

"To her shock, after sleeping for seven to eight hours, (Johnston's female friend) found Mr. Johnston still gambling at the blackjack table, and still heavily intoxicated, late in the afternoon of January 31, 2014," the suit said.

The suit recounts how Johnston took out two lines of credit for $100,000 each in the span of 21 minutes after 2 a.m. on January 31.

By 10:52 a.m., Johnston had taken out a third marker, for $50,000. Almost two hours later, he signed another marker for $250,000, the suit said.

Johnston lost it all. Moreover, the casino allegedly reneged on providing Johnston with a 20% discount on repaying the $500,000, which would have reduced the debt to $400,000, the lawsuit claimed. The casino also allegedly demanded that Johnston repay the $500,000 debt 46 days early, before a March 31 deadline, said the lawsuit, which was filed in February.

In the days after losing the $500,000, Johnston went to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, one of his preferred Las Vegas gaming destinations, but a Downtown Grand representative called the Hard Rock and told them of Johnston's debt, cautioning them about doing business with Johnston and "sullying Mr. Johnston's good name in the process," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit seeks to nullify the gambling losses and seeks compensatory as well as punitive damages "in an amount sufficient to deter the Downtown Grand from similar conduct in the future," the suit said.

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February 3rd, 2014
09:49 AM ET

Cafeteria Manager, Her Boss Put on Paid Leave in Utah School Lunch Uproar

The cafeteria manager and her supervisor at a Utah elementary school have been placed on paid leave while officials investigate how dozens of children had their lunch trays pulled from their hands this week, outraging parents.

"Once our investigation is complete, we will post an update for all concerned," school district spokesman Jason R. Olsen said Friday.

The trays were grabbed from pupils at Uintah Elementary School on Tuesday - before they could even take a bite - because they had negative balances in the accounts used to pay for lunches, school officials acknowledged.

They admit the situation should have been handled differently.

Instead of regular lunches, the students were given fruit and milk.

"We don't ever let kids go without any food entirely," Olsen told CNN affiliate KSL.

Mother Erica Lukes told KSL she was "blindsided" when her daughter, a fifth-grader, described what a school district official told her: "You don't have any money in your account, so you can't get lunch."

Opinion: Could you snatch away a child's lunch?

"There were a lot of tears," Lukes said, "and it was pretty upsetting for them."

Her daughter, Sophia Isom, recounted how she was met by a district nutrition manager who confiscated her school lunch and threw it away, the station reported.

"So she took my lunch away and said, 'Go get a milk,' " the daughter told the affiliate. "I came back and asked, 'What's going on?' Then she handed me an orange. She said, 'You don't have any money in your account, so you can't get lunch.' "

Between 50 and 70 of the school's 550 students had accounts in arrears, Olsen told KSL.

The district said it started notifying parents about negative account balances Monday. But Lukes said she and other parents were never told about the problem.

"Even if they did try to send the word out, you still don't do that to a child," she told KSL. "You don't take a lunch out of their hands."

On Thursday, two state senators visited the school and ate lunch with pupils to demonstrate that no child should go hungry in school, KSL reported.

State Sen. Todd Weiler, a Republican, posted a tweet about his visit: "Best nugget of the Uintah school lunch story: 5th grader were particularly horrified that food was being discarded in 'pizza day'!"

Weiler picked up the $3 lunch tab of state Sen. Jim Dabakis, a Democrat, who joined him. Dabakis said he and Weiler will meet with Senate leaders about legislation to ensure that students are fed in schools, the affiliate reported.

Weiler added that the school employees responsible for the controversy should be fired because they "used (their) power to humiliate and embarrass children," KSL reported.

School officials say they made a mistake.

"This situation could have and should have been handled in a different manner. We apologize," the Salt Lake City School Districtsaid on its Facebook page.

Officials are investigating whether guidelines about notifying parents were followed, the district said.

"We understand the feelings of upset parents and students who say this was an embarrassing and humiliating situation," the district said. "We again apologize and commit to working with parents in rectifying this situation and to ensuring students are never treated in this manner again."

Another post on the school district's Facebook page talks about the importance of ending child hunger.

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January 2nd, 2014
09:43 AM ET

Colorado's Recreational Marijuana Stores Make History

Iraq war veteran Sean Azzariti described his purchase of recreational marijuana - legally - as a historic moment Wednesday.

"It's huge," he said at a marijuana store along a light industrial corridor outside downtown Denver. "It hasn't even sunk in how big this is yet."

Indeed, before the 3D Cannabis Center opened at 8 a.m. MT, more than 100 people were waiting in snowfall and cold under gray skies to be the next buyers of recreational pot under a landmark law voters approved in 2012. The dispensary was one of a handful that opened to lines of waiting people on New Year's Day, with scores more expected statewide in coming months.

Azzariti was selected to be the first buyer at the 3D Cannabis Center because he was a Marine from 2000 to 2006 who now suffers post-traumatic stress disorder after two tours in Iraq. He can't obtain medical marijuana in Colorado because PTSD isn't a qualifying condition for that treatment, he said.

"This is what we worked so hard for the last few years," he said of the voter-approved constitutional amendment that led Colorado to become the first state in the nation to open recreational pot stores to anyone age 21 and older. "It's mind-blowing."

Azzariti, 32, bought an eighth of an ounce of pot, plus chocolate truffles laced with marijuana. Those treats are called "edibles" at the store.

The price: $59.50.

The marijuana alleviates the anxiety and stress that come from PTSD, he said, adding that he'll smoke the pot Wednesday evening.

At several recreational weed stores, buyers waited in line for three or four hours to be a part of opening-day history. Despite the hundreds of people queuing on public sidewalks, no significant problems emerged Wednesday, Denver officials said.

"I want to thank the businesses and consumers alike for acting responsibly and with great accountability today," Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock said in a statement. "Denver is a progressive city, a vibrant city, and it's incumbent on all of us to continue getting this right."

Even three hours after the stores opened, one downtown Denver dispensary had a line of about 100 people outside the front door to the corner. The snow had stopped falling by then, and the gray skies were clearing to blue.

While patrons - young and the old, men and women - waited patiently in line, the demographic at the downtown dispensary tilted more toward 20- and 30-somethings.

When many buyers emerged from the store and nudged through the line, they raised their bags of newly purchased pot above their heads.

People waiting on the sidewalk cheered them.

Even though recreational weed is now legal, some purchasers declined to disclose their last names.

One woman, Dee, who didn't want to use her surname, said she waited in line for almost three hours to buy her cannabis. She and a male companion bought a small amount, she said, just to commemorate the occasion.

"We voted for it, and now it's here," Dee said of the recreational marijuana law. "We just went in and celebrated the new law. It's a new day."

She didn't mind the long wait at the LoDo's Dispensary. "Everybody is cool and mellow and nice. So it's all good," she said.

Some motorists passing the pot shop honked and cheered the queue of buyers, who whooped in return.

One motorist, however, shouted a disparaging remark about the "potheads," and the crowd muttered raspberries in response.

Buyers whiled away the hours in line by talking aloud about the benefits of marijuana as a remedy for hangovers, headaches, sleeplessness and low appetite.

Then a young woman in a passing SUV slowed and interrupted them by asking, "What's going on, guys?"

"Legal pot sale!" a man in line shouted.

"Oh, I need an eighth!" the young woman shouted back excitedly. The car drove on.

In fact, around 11:30 a.m. MT, Don Andrews, whose family owns and runs the dispensary, announced to the waiting people on the sidewalk that he was being forced to limit sales to an eighth of an ounce to each person, though under the new state law, a resident can buy up to an ounce.

The dispensary will close at 7 p.m. MT, but Andrews said he may have to start turning people away at 4 p.m. The line had gone out the front door, down the street and around the corner by 2 p.m. MT, when more than 400 people had made purchases.

In all, Andrews counted buyers from several states and countries. Buyers showed IDs from Vermont, Arizona, Georgia, Oregon, Wyoming, Louisiana - and even Alaska and Hawaii. Other prospective weed buyers came from Canada, Australia and Italy, though the Italian man, 21, walked away because he had to catch a bus for his tour of America.

South of downtown, the Evergreen Apothecary was encountering the same phenomenon: 700 people in line took numbers, but employees said they might not be able to serve all of them by the close of business.

The atmosphere at the dispensaries was clearly celebratory and cheerful. For example, about 10 miles outside of downtown, one man said he had waited in the snow since 2:30 a.m. for the Medicine Man dispensary to open at 8 a.m.

When asked how he felt after making the first sale there, he responded: "I'll feel better in an hour."

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