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Weather Channel nixes smooth jazz

Atlanta -- U.S. cable network the Weather Channel has announced an end to the smooth jazz playing in the background of its "Local on the 8s" segments.

Geoffrey Darby, who joined the network as executive vice president of programming in February, said the segments will now feature soft rock songs instead of the smooth jazz that has accompanied the local weather segments for years, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Friday.

"I think we've been doing an injustice to our viewers playing, for the lack of a better word, elevator music on the segments for all these years," Darby said.

Old monkey dead at Utah zoo

Salt Lake City -- Officials at Utah's Hogle Zoo said a capuchin monkey thought to be among the world's oldest has died from cancer in its jaw.

Zoo spokeswoman Holly Braithwaite said the monkey, Jocco, died in its sleep June 13 and a sign has been placed at the monkey's habitat to inform "his friends," The Salt Lake Tribune reported Friday.

The spokeswoman said Jocco may have been as old as 45, but there is some dispute about its age due to the zoo's practice of naming dominant males "Jocco" in the 1960s.

"So, whenever one would die, the next one would become Jocco," she said.

Braithwaite said the naming practice makes it difficult to pinpoint the monkey's age at the time of its death..

Columnists name Palin 'Sitting Duck'

Ventura, Calif. -- Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has been selected as winner of the 2009 Sitting Duck Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists announced Friday.

The award is given annually to the person who provides the best material for columnists facing deadlines. Palin, who became a national political figure overnight last year when Sen. John McCain selected her as his running mate, beat out former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

"Being a prominent jerk or cretin is often a thankless job," said the society's current president, Samantha Bennett of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "This is our way of saying thanks for the low-hanging fruit."

Billy Mays remembered in hometown

Pittsburgh -- Co-workers Friday praised infomercial pitchman Billy Mays as he was buried in his hometown of McKees Rocks, Pa.

Jerry Spanola, who worked as a pitchman with Mays, said the infomercial star's death Sunday at the age of 50 sent a shockwave through the industry, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Friday.

"He totally shut down the business when it happened," Spanola said. "Pitchmen are always talking. The morning Billy died, he rendered that business speechless."

Pitchman Jeremy Parker, who worked with Mays five years earlier, used Friday's burial to reiterate Mays' impact on the field of infomercials.

Genetically modified vines avoid virus

Aachen, Germany -- Genetic engineering could make grapevines immune to a common virus that now results in smaller grapes and crop loss, German scientists said.

Modified plants have produced antibodies against Grapevine fanleaf virus, caused by the vine louse, or rust mite, researchers at the Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology, in Aachen, said.

"These antibodies 'recognize' the viruses and prevent them from spreading in the plant and causing damage," said Dr. Stefan Schillberg, a lead researcher at the institute.

Researchers introduced the antibody gene into soil bacteria, known as agrobacteria, which then acted as a transport to the vine, Schillberg said in a release Friday.

Butterfly offers lessons in climate change

Oxford, England -- The reintroduction of the Large Blue butterfly to Britain offers lessons in helping plants and animals threatened by climate change, scientists said.

The Large Blue, whose scientific name is Maculinea arion, was successfully reintroduced 25 years ago after becoming extinct in 1979, scientists at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research said in a release Friday.

Large Blues imported from Sweden were aided by the creation of small heat-shielded habitats, which could give today's threatened species more time to adapt or migrate to regions better suited to them, Jeremy A.

Thomas, a researcher from Oxford University, wrote in the current issue of Science magazine.

Divorce rate rises after Calgary Stampede

Calgary, Alberta -- Canada's annual Calgary Stampede got under way Friday as divorce consultants prepared for their own surge in unhappy couples after the 10-day event.

Billed as the world's biggest outdoor rodeo event, the Alberta city goes into party mode, which Karen Stewart, founder of Fairway Divorce Solutions, told Sun Media leads to a lot of infidelity.

"It's the sexual undertones, the alcohol, the letting loose," she said.

"Thousands of beautiful men and women come out of the woodwork at Stampede and people look incredibly sexy when you put them in a cowboy hat."

She said she sees as much as a 40 percent jump in the number of people filing for divorce in the weeks after the stampede.

Real estate goes through roof in China

Beijing -- Real estate prices in major cities in China have suddenly gone from bust to boom, a leading real estate expert said.

"The bidders have gone irrational," said Pan Shiyi, chairman of SOHO China, a large property investment company.

In one instance, a land parcel in Beijing was taken off the market 15 months ago due to a lack of interest, the China Daily reported. But this week, the same parcel broke a record for a single-parcel price, selling for $585 million, the newspaper said.

"We used to talk about monthly price growth, but recently, it's more about daily change," a broker with Homelink told the newspaper.

Real estate goes through roof in China

Beijing -- Real estate prices in major cities in China have suddenly gone from bust to boom, a leading real estate expert said.

"The bidders have gone irrational," said Pan Shiyi, chairman of SOHO China, a large property investment company.

In one instance, a land parcel in Beijing was taken off the market 15 months ago due to a lack of interest, the China Daily reported. But this week, the same parcel broke a record for a single-parcel price, selling for $585 million, the newspaper said.

"We used to talk about monthly price growth, but recently, it's more about daily change," a broker with Homelink told the newspaper.

Pig blimp floated, then swine flew

Barrie, Ontario -- A Canadian radio station north of Toronto is offering a $1,000 reward for a pig blimp that slipped its tether and began floating toward the nation's capital.

The mishap occurred Wednesday during Canada Day celebrations at a lakeside park, the Toronto Sun reported.

Red-faced promotions staff of Rock 95 FM watched helplessly as the pink helium-filled blimp soared aloft and away, the report said.

Station manager Doug Bingley said he posted the reward as he was saddened by the loss.

"I love that pig," he told the Sun.

As a precaution, he said he contacted the federal Transport Canada agency to alert them of possible hazards to aircraft, but was assured there wouldn't be a problem.