Huge squirrel population chomps crops, driving farmers nuts
By DAVID SHARP
Sunday, September 16
There’s a bumper crop of squirrels in New England, and the frenetic critters are frustrating farmers by chomping their way through apple orchards, pumpkin patches and corn fields.
The varmints are fattening themselves for winter while destroying the crops with bite marks.
Robert Randall, who has a 60-acre orchard in Standish, Maine, said he’s never seen anything like it.
“They’re eating the pumpkins. They’re eating the apples. They’re raising some hell this year. It’s the worst I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Evidence of the squirrel population explosion is plain to see along New England’s highways, where the critters are becoming roadkill.
Last year, there was a bumper crop of acorns and other food that contributed to a larger-than-normal squirrel population this summer across the region, said Rob Calvert, wildlife biologist from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.
This summer, there’s not as much food, so the squirrels are looking for nutrition wherever they can find it, including farms, Calvert said.
New England is home to both red and gray squirrels. Known for their bushy tails, the rodents are a common sight in city parks and backyards, and people enjoy watching their frenetic movements.
They eat everything from beechnuts and acorns to berries and seeds.
And, apparently, apples, peaches, high-bush blueberries, pumpkins and gourds. In New Hampshire, squirrels have been raiding corn fields, dragging away ears.
“It is crazy. You see squirrel tails everywhere,” said Greg Sweetser, who has a boutique apple orchard in Cumberland Center, Maine. In the past, he said, squirrels have sometimes nibbled on apples that had fallen to the ground. But this season they’re skittering into the trees, scurrying to and fro, and making their mark.
Oftentimes, the squirrels will take a single bite, then move on.
But a single bite is all it takes to ruin fruit.
In Vermont, where the harvest is just beginning in earnest, farmers are keeping a watchful eye because rodent damage has been a growing problem for its apple producers, said Eric Boire, the president of the Vermont Tree Fruit Growers Association.
The good news for farmers is that boom years for both acorns and squirrels are uncommon. Thus, it’s likely that populations will return to normal soon.
The fact that squirrels are hustling to find food, and getting run over in prodigious numbers on highways, suggests the culling already has begun, Calvert said.
As hungry as the squirrels are, it’s unlikely that they’ll inflict massive economic damage.
“Every year in farming, there’s something that we’re dealing with,” said Margie Hansel, an owner of Hansel’s orchard in North Yarmouth, Maine. “It is what it is. It’s part of farming. You expect to have something like this happen every once in a while.”
Study reveals: Over 80 percent of employees spend half an hour a day searching for information
More than a third need an average of one hour a day to sort through email
Email Usage InfographicCupertino, September 17, 2018 – As a recent study by the OTRS Group shows, employees spend a large part of their working time on administrative activities without being able to devote themselves to their core tasks: 82 percent use half an hour of their workday to search for the information they need to accomplish their work. Over 23 percent of those surveyed need more than two hours a day.
Specifically, email seems to distract workers from their actual tasks: Over 32 percent indicate that they need an average of an hour a day to sort their email.
The most difficult factors are the following:
Because of the amount of email, other tasks are repeatedly pushed back or even forgotten (28 percent).
It takes a long time to find an email to reply to (26 percent).
Emails are sent to too many recipients for whom the information is not relevant (24 percent).
When asked about the greatest related mishap in their everyday work, the largest portion of respondents (20 percent) confirmed that they had already sent an email to the wrong recipient or recipient group.
As the study also shows, it is not only email that can cost a lot of time and prevent employees from working efficiently, but also IT problems: over 22 percent indicate that they lose one to two hours per day due to this.
“As the survey shows, employees spend a great deal of time on administrative tasks, limiting their productivity on their main tasks. This also has a negative impact on employee satisfaction,” says André Mindermann, CEO and co-founder of OTRS AG. “This is where ticket systems help the employees of all industries to structure and prioritize communication processes so that they remain efficient in their field of activity.”
More information on how OTRS helps companies save time and money on administrative tasks can be found here.
For information and tips on improving email management, click here.
About OTRS AG
OTRS AG is the manufacturer and the world’s largest provider of the service management suite, OTRS and offers flexible solutions for process and communication management to companies of all sizes, saving them time and money. Among its customers are Lufthansa, Airbus, IBM, Porsche, Siemens, Bayer Pharma AG, BSI (Federal Office for Security in Information Technology), Max Planck Institute, Toyota, Huawei, Hapag Lloyd and Banco do Brazil (Bank of Brazil). More than 170,000 companies worldwide use OTRS, including over 40 percent of the DAX 30 companies. OTRS is available in 38 languages. The company consists of OTRS AG and its six subsidiaries OTRS Inc. (USA), OTRS S.A. de C.V. (Mexico), OTRS Asia Pte. Ltd. (Singapore), OTRS Asia Ltd. (Hong Kong) and OTRS do Brasil Soluções Ltda. (Brazil) and OTRS Magyarország Kft. (Hungary). OTRS AG is listed on the basic board of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. For more information, see www.otrs.com.
Romance writer accused of killing spouse penned how-to essay
Wednesday, September 12
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A woman accused of gunning down her chef husband is a self-published romance writer who once penned an essay titled “How to Murder Your Husband.”
Nancy Crampton Brophy, 68, published the 700-word treatise in 2011 on the website See Jane Publish, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported .
“As a romantic suspense writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about murder and, consequently, about police procedure,” she wrote. “”After all, if the murder is supposed to set me free, I certainly don’t want to spend any time in jail.”
She has also written such titles as “The Wrong Husband,” a 2015 novel about a woman who escapes an abusive spouse during a shipwreck in the Mediterranean and falls in love with one of the men sent to find her.
Crampton Brophy was arrested last week on a preliminary charge of domestic violence murder in the death of her husband of 27 years, Daniel Brophy, at the Oregon Culinary Institute early on June 2. He was a well-liked instructor there, and the killing baffled many.
Crampton Brophy announced the death of her husband on Facebook a day after the killing, saying she was “struggling to make sense of everything right now.” Her attorney, Jane Claus, declined to comment to The Associated Press on Wednesday about the charge or her client’s writing.
The affidavit filed by police in support of her arrest remains under seal, so many details of the case have yet to be divulged. Authorities have not publicly suggested a possible motive for the killing.
In her 2011 essay, Crampton Brophy discussed several potential motivations for wanting to kill a spouse, including infidelity, abuse or greed.
“Divorce is expensive, and do you really want to split your possessions?” she wrote in a section about financial motives.
“I find it is easier to wish people dead than to actually kill them,” she wrote. “I don’t want to worry about blood and brains splattered on my walls. And really, I’m not good at remembering lies.
“But the thing I know about murder is that every one of us have it in him/her when pushed far enough.”
The post is no longer public, but archived versions are available online.
Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com
Digitizing the vast ‘dark data’ in museum fossil collections
September 17, 2018
Professor of Paleontology and Director of the University of California Museum of Paleontology, University of California, Berkeley
Charles Marshall receives funding from the National Science Foundation.
University of California provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
The great museums of the world harbor a secret: They’re home to millions upon millions of natural history specimens that almost never see the light of day. They lie hidden from public view, typically housed behind or above the public exhibit halls, or in off-site buildings.
What’s on public display represents only the tiniest fraction of the wealth of knowledge under the stewardship of each museum. Beyond fossils, museums are the repositories for what we know of the world’s living species, as well as much of our own cultural history.
For paleontologists, biologists and anthropologists, museums are like the historians’ archives. And like most archives – think of those housed in the Vatican or in the Library of Congress – each museum typically holds many unique specimens, the only data we have on the species they represent.
The uniqueness of each museum collection means that scientists routinely make pilgrimages worldwide to visit them. It also means that the loss of a collection, as in the recent heart-wrenching fire in Rio de Janeiro, represents an irreplaceable loss of knowledge. It’s akin to the loss of family history when a family elder passes away. In Rio, these losses included one-of-a-kind dinosaurs, perhaps the oldest human remains ever found in South America, and the only audio recordings and documents of indigenous languages, including many that no longer have native speakers. Things we once knew, we know no longer; things we might have known can no longer be known.
But now digital technologies – including the internet, interoperable databases and rapid imaging techniques – make it possible to electronically aggregate museum data. Researchers, including a multi-institutional team I am leading, are laying the foundation for the coherent use of these millions of specimens. Across the globe, teams are working to bring these “dark data” – currently inaccessible via the web – into the digital light.
What’s hidden away in drawers and boxes
Paleontologists often describe the fossil record as incomplete. But for some groups the fossil record can be remarkably good. In many cases, there are plenty of previously collected specimens in museums to help scientists answer their research questions. The issue is how accessible – or not – they are.
The sheer size of fossil collections, and the fact that most of their contents were collected before the invention of computers and the internet, make it very difficult to aggregate the data associated with museum specimens. From a digital point of view, most of the world’s fossil collections represent “dark data.” The fact that large portions of existing museum collections are not computerized also means that lost treasures are waiting to be rediscovered within museums themselves.
High-resolution photos are an important part of the digitization process. Smithsonian Institution, CC BY-NC-SA
With the vision and investment of funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the United States, numerous museums are collaborating to digitally bring together their data from key parts of the fossil record. The University of California Museum of Paleontology at Berkeley, where I work, is one of 10 museums now aggregating some of their fossil data. Together through our digitized collections, we are working to understand how major environmental changes have affected marine ecosystems on the eastern coast of the Pacific Ocean, from Chile to Alaska, over the last 66 million years.
The digitization process itself includes adding the specimen’s collection data into the museum computer system if it hasn’t already been entered: its species identification, where it was found, and the age of the rocks it was found in. Then, we digitize the geographic location of where the specimen was collected, and take digital images that can be accessed via the web.
The Integrated Digitized Biocollections (iDigBio) site hosts all the major museum digitization efforts in the United States funded by the current NSF initiative that began in 2011.
Significantly, the cost of digitally aggregating the fossil data online, including the tens of thousands of images, is remarkably small compared with the cost it took to collect the fossils in the first place. It’s also less than the expense of maintaining the physical security and accessibility of these priceless resources – a cost that those supposed to be responsible for the museum in Rio apparently were not willing to cover, with disastrous consequences.
Digitized data can help answer research questions
Our group, called EPICC for Eastern Pacific Invertebrate Communities of the Cenozoic, quantified just how much “dark data” are present in our joint collections. We found that our 10 museums contain fossils from 23 times the number of collection sites in California, Oregon and Washington than are currently documented in a leading online electronic database of the paleontological scientific literature, the Paleobiology Database.
EPICC is using our newly digitized data to piece together a richer understanding of past ecological response to environmental change. We want to test ideas relevant to long- and short-term climate change. How did life recover from the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs? How did changes in ocean temperature drive marine ecosystem change, including those associated with the isolation of the cooler Pacific Ocean from the warmer Caribbean Sea when the land bridge at Panama first formed?
To answer these questions, all the relevant fossil data, drawn from many museums, needs to be easily accessible online to enable large-scale synthesis of those data. Digitization enables paleontologists to see the forest as a whole, rather than just as a myriad number of individual trees.
In some cases – such as records of past languages or the collection data associated with individual specimens – digital records help protect these invaluable resources. But, typically, the actual specimens remain crucial to understanding past change. Researchers often still need to make key measurements directly on the specimens themselves.
For example, Berkeley Ph.D. student Emily Orzechowski is using specimens being aggregated by the EPICC project to test the idea that the ocean off the Californian coast will become cooler with global climate change. Climate models predict increased global warming will lead to stronger winds down the coast, which will increase the coastal upwelling that brings frigid waters from the deep ocean to the surface – the cause of San Francisco’s famous summer fogs.
The test she’s using relies on mapping the distributions of huge numbers of fossils. She’s measuring subtle differences in the oxygen and carbon isotopes found in fossil clam and snail shells that date to the last interglacial period of Earth’s history about 120,000 years ago, when the west coast was warmer than it is today. Access to the real-life fossils is crucial in this kind of research.
Understanding response to past change is not just restricted to fossils. For example, nearly a century ago the director of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Joseph Grinnell at the University of California, Berkeley, undertook systematic collections of mammals and birds across California. Subsequently, the museum re-surveyed those precise localities, discovering major changes in the distribution of many species, including loss of many bird species in the Mojave Desert.
A key aspect of this work has been comparison of the DNA from the almost hundred-year-old museum specimens with DNA of animals alive today. The comparison revealed serious fragmentation of populations, and led to the identification of genetic changes in response to environmental change. Having the specimens is crucial to this kind of project.
This digital revolution is not just restricted to fossils and paleontology. It pertains to all museums collections. Curators and researchers are enormously excited by the power to be gained as the museum collections of the world – from fossils to specimens from live-caught organisms – become accessible through the nascent digitization of our invaluable collections.
Comment: Chris Crawford
What data is being recorded in your efforts? I would expect, of course, that different kinds of specimens have different dimensions recorded, but surely every specimen has, at the least, a photograph. This raises questions about the nature of such photographs. What resolutions are provided? For most fossils, a resolution down to 100 microns should be sufficient, but for butterflies, say, we could well need resolutions ten times higher. How do you address these matters?
Chemical compositions and DNA are even more problematic. Clearly you cannot yet afford to provide data on chemical analysis, much less DNA, for every specimen. How do you address this issue? Have you set up a huge database with lots of blank spaces to be filled in upon request?
Can you even define a set of parameters that you are confident would tell a remote researcher everything that an on-site researcher could determine?
Israeli music scene jolted by international boycott movement
By JOSEF FEDERMAN
Monday, September 10
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s Meteor Festival was meant to bring together indie groups from around the world in what organizers billed as a Woodstock-like “cutting edge musical journey that surpasses borders and distorts time and space.”
Instead, some 20 acts, including headliner Lana Del Rey, withdrew at the last minute amid apparent pressure from a Palestinian-led international boycott campaign.
The cancellations turned the weekend festival, held in the bucolic setting of an Israeli kibbutz, into the latest battleground between Israel and the boycott movement that says it seeks to end Israeli rule over Palestinians.
Campaign organizers claimed success, saying it reflects growing opposition to Israeli government policies among international millennials.
“The fact that these artists are canceling is showing just how different the younger generation is viewing Israel,” said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian analyst who supports the movement known as BDS.
The campaign, founded in 2005, calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli businesses, cultural institutions and universities.
BDS says it seeks to end Israel’s occupation of lands captured in the 1967 Mideast war and what it describes as discrimination against Israel’s Arab minority. It calls for the “right of return” for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to homes their ancestors fled or were expelled from in the 1948 war over Israel’s creation.
The campaign compares itself to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and its nonviolent message has resonated with audiences around the world.
Israel says the campaign masks a deeper aim of delegitimizing or even destroying the country.
Although BDS says it’s pushed some companies and investment funds to curtail their activities in Israel, its economic impact appears to be modest. Israel’s high-tech economy is humming along, making it an attractive base for corporate giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft and others. World leaders visit regularly to promote business ties.
Culture and academia have been easier targets. Virtually any artist who plans to perform in Israel these days can expect to come under pressure on social media to cancel.
A growing list of performers, including Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman and singer Lorde, have canceled appearances in Israel in recent months out of concern over Israeli policies.
Del Rey joined that list on Aug. 31 when she announced that she was withdrawing from the Meteor Festival after an intense BDS lobbying campaign. In a statement on Twitter, the Grammy-nominated singer said she was “postponing” until she could perform for both Israeli and Palestinian audiences.
Other no-shows included “of Montreal,” a popular indie band that previously performed in Israel.
“Now is not the time for escapism and celebrations,” it said on Facebook. “Now is the time for activism and protests against Israeli apartheid, Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the human rights atrocities being carried out every day in Gaza by Israeli forces.”
It is difficult to quantify the impact of BDS pressure.
Del Rey did not explicitly endorse the boycott message, and Portman said outright that she does not support BDS. Del Rey and several artists who skipped the Meteor Festival did not respond to interview requests.
Meanwhile, numerous A-listers, including Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Justin Timberlake and Justin Bieber, have performed in Israel in recent years. Later this month some of the world’s top DJs are expected to converge on Tel Aviv for the DGTL festival. Last year, the Australian musician Nick Cave accused the boycott movement of trying to “bully” artists who played in Israel.
Still, the movement’s inroads have raised alarm in Israel.
Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs spends millions of dollars fighting BDS and has banned some activists from entering the country. Israel and its supporters also run outreach programs on U.S. college campuses in the battle for hearts and minds.
This comes at a time when opinion polls indicate waning support for Israel among American millennials.
A survey by the Pew Research Center earlier this year found that 32 percent of Americans under the age of 30 sympathize more with Israel, compared with 23 percent who sympathized more with the Palestinians. The poll found that older Americans are much more sympathetic to Israel.
The numbers are not surprising.
Opinion polls indicate that American millennials tend to be more liberal than their parents on issues ranging from race to same-sex marriage to immigration. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close ties with President Donald Trump, his alliance with conservative evangelical Christians and a nationalistic agenda that includes a Jewish nation state law widely seen as sidelining Arabs all risk alienating younger liberals.
In the case of the Meteor Festival, Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry said a “small minority” of musicians backed out, arguing that they had fallen prey “to the incitement and hate-filled agenda of the Israel boycott movement.”
Festival organizers argued that music should unite people and that BDS “insanely politicized our event.”
The Jerusalem Post newspaper, which opposes BDS, said Del Rey’s cancellation should be a wake-up call for those in Israel trying to play down the potential dangers posed by the campaign.
“Artists like Del Rey and Lorde, and DJs like Leon Vynehall and Python are followed by millions of impressionable fans who are totally ignorant of the complexities and nuances of the Middle East,” it wrote in an editorial. “The only thing they know is that their favorite artist is more sympathetic to Palestinians than to Israelis.”
In the end, thousands of people attended the Meteor Festival.
Many camped out under the stars, and fans enjoyed an eclectic mix of dozens of artists over three days. Media critics gave it warm reviews, barely mentioning the BDS issue.
“There was a good atmosphere and people enjoyed themselves. They were excited about the artists who were coming and didn’t notice that much who was missing,” said Nitzan Amitay, 25, a volunteer festival organizer.
Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement, said the campaign against Meteor had succeeded “beyond expectations,” estimating that roughly 40 percent of international artists pulled out. He said fans of such bands are a natural audience for his message.
“The common denominator is younger fans that are more progressive and liberal,” he said.
BDS now has its sights on a more high-profile target — the Eurovision Song Contest. Israel is expected to host the hugely popular event next year, and last week dozens of European artists, led by former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, signed a letter calling for the contest to be moved to another country.
“If Eurovision is hosted by Israel, and this is still quite uncertain, it would art-wash Israel’s regime of occupation and apartheid,” Barghouti said.