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Companies put price on friendship

By chuck shepherd

"Whoever said, 'Money can't buy you friends' clearly hasn't been on the Internet recently," wrote The New York Times in April, pointing to various social media support services that create online superstars by augmenting one's Facebook "friends," Twitter "followers" and Instagram "likes." The reporter described how, by paying a company $5, for example, he immediately acquired 4,000 "friends," and had he splurged for $3,700, could have had a million on his Instagram photo account. Such services have been around for two years, but earlier, cruder versions (sometimes, just unmonitored email addresses) are now sophisticated "bots" - groups of computer code created on algorithm farms in India and elsewhere - that "behave" on social media with original messaging (often "drivel," wrote the Times) as if they were real people.

The entrepreneurial spirit

n In April, Haagen-Dazs announced it will introduce two new ice creams (thankfully, only in Japan): carrot orange (with bits of pulp and peel) and tomato cherry (made from tomato paste).

n A South Wales ice cream maker ("Lick Me I'm Delicious") announced in April that it has perfected an ice cream containing about 25mg of Viagra per scoop (though it is not yet generally available).

n In January, London's Daily Telegraph found three British companies in competition to sell deodorant supposedly made especially for women's breasts.

Science fair

n China's Chengdu Commercial Daily reported in March that Liu Yougang, 23, finally had surgery to remove that whistle he had swallowed when he was 9. He had been experiencing worsened breathing - and had been making "shrill whistle sounds" nightly after falling asleep.

n London's Daily Star featured Sarah Beal, 43, of Arley, Warwickshire, England, in a March story demonstrating her skin condition in which writing words on her skin makes it puff up for about an hour before it recedes. It is referred to by doctors as the "Etch A Sketch condition" (formally, dermatographia), and despite occasional pain, she described it as "cool" and a "party trick."

n Cornell University graduate student Michael Smith, disappointed at the paucity of research on the pain of honeybee stings, decided to evaluate the stings himself (but in line with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975 on safe self-experimentation). Smith's protocols required five stings a day on various body locations for 38 days - at least three on each of 25 body areas. The worst, according to his pain index, were the nostril (9.0) and the upper lip (8.7).

Leading economic indicators

n While Medicare continues to be among the most costly federal services, and U.S. doctors continue to drop out of the program because of paltry fees for some procedures, other specialists are rewarded with such outsized compensation that almost 4,000 physicians were paid $1 million or more for 2012 and about 350 of those totaled nearly $1.5 billion, according to Medicare records released in April 2014. Ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen of West Palm Beach, Fla., took in more than $20 million and treated 645 Medicare patients with a total of 37,000 injectable doses of Lucentis (a much more expensive drug than the popularly regarded equivalent, Avastin), according to Business Insider. (In fact, taxpayers could have saved more than $11 million with Avastin on Melgen's billings alone, according to an April Washington Post analysis.)

n Visitors to the New York City office of Clear Channel radio station group chairman Bob Pittman are greeted exotically as they step off the elevator by a "tunnel" of "fine mist." However, a spokeswoman told a New York Post reporter in March that it "isn't for cooling or humidifying," but to impress advertisers, in that Clear Channel knows how to project the advertiser's logo against the mist. (Clear Channel, the Post reported, is $21 billion in debt and has laid off "thousands" of employees.)

Least competent criminals

An unnamed "gangland" bomber was killed in March in Dublin, Ireland, when the payload exploded prematurely. The detonation occurred on the morning of March 30, which marked the daylight saving time change in Ireland, and police concluded that, most likely, the bomber had forgotten to set the timer ahead that morning, which would have given him up to 60 more minutes to plant the bomb and leave. (In 1999, two Palestinians, operating on West Bank time, but carrying bombs to the Israeli cities Haifa and Tiberius, which had already advanced their clocks that morning, were blown up - along with only one bystander instead of the dozens or hundreds planned for.)

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