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From: Jon Koplik2/7/2023 11:39:51 PM
1 Recommendation   of 140
SFGate -- woodpeckers stash 700 pounds of acorns in walls of (human) house ...............................

Feb. 6, 2023

Bay Area pest control company removes 700 pounds of acorns from Airbnb

By Amanda Bartlett

Nick Castro of Nick's Extreme Pest Control found 700 pounds of acorns inside a Glen Ellen Airbnb last month. The culprit? A couple of woodpeckers.

Nick Castro thought he had seen it all.

The founder of Nick’s Extreme Pest Control in Santa Rosa has been in his line of work for more than 20 years, and during that time, he’s encountered all kinds of critters, from bats, raccoons and skunks to cockroaches, wasps and scorpions.

But the most unusual job of his career came last month, when he got a call to check out an Airbnb in Glen Ellen.

“There were some worms that appeared to be coming out of the wall, and the worms looked like maggots,” Castro told SFGATE by phone. “Everybody kind of thought there was a dead animal inside the wall.”

When he and his team arrived at the two-story home, they used a drywall knife to cut into the living room wall and take a look at what was inside. To his surprise, they didn’t find an animal, but instead, a seemingly unending barrage of acorns, which were piled up all the way up to the attic and proceeded to fall out of the wall cavity in a steady stream.

“It was unreal,” Castro said. “We see weird stuff all the time, but I’d never seen anything like this.”

Nick Castro of Nick's Extreme Pest Control found 700 pounds of acorns inside a Glen Ellen Airbnb last month. The culprit? A couple of woodpeckers.

Castro measured 700 pounds of acorns, to be exact. And there weren’t maggots but mealworms lurking inside of them. The culprit? A couple of woodpeckers who had been poking holes in the chimney stack to stash their food for future meals, only to have their hard-earned snacks fall into the empty wall cavity where they couldn’t retrieve them.

Castro said he had to cut open four different holes in the walls to remove the sheer number of acorns, which were covered in fiberglass insulation and filled eight 40-gallon garbage bags up to the brim. The process took hours, and from there, the acorns were loaded into a van and hauled off to the dump.

He may have felt a twinge of guilt after disposing of the birds' hard work, but he had to hand it to them. "They were pretty creative," he said.

Nick Castro of Nick's Extreme Pest Control found 700 pounds of acorns inside a Glen Ellen Airbnb last month. The culprit? A couple of woodpeckers.

While Castro was wrapping up the job, something caught his eye overhead. It was the woodpeckers, fluttering around, trying to access their food supply from the ventilation portholes along the rooftop.

“That’s how we knew exactly what they were doing,” he said.

Castro believes in coming up with nonlethal strategies in his pest control work. He sealed off the structure so the birds couldn’t get back in and encouraged the homeowner to install vinyl siding to prevent any further damage to the property.

“He said he hasn’t heard any pecking since,” Castro said.

© 2023 Hearst Communications, Inc.


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From: Jon Koplik3/3/2023 5:13:21 PM
   of 140
WSJ -- The Worst NFL Team to Play for Is …..........................................


March 2, 2023

The Worst NFL Team to Play for Is …

A new survey of NFL players presents an unusually revealing look inside how franchises worth billions of dollars are still rankled by problems -- and found the Washington Commanders had the worst workplace conditions

By Andrew Beaton

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Washington Commanders have faced controversies over their name, their workplace culture and ownership. Now they have been tagged as the worst team in the NFL to play for­ -- and that’s according to the players themselves.

Washington’s football team, which owner Dan Snyder is exploring selling, ranked last in a new survey conducted by the NFL Players Association that rated teams in eight categories, including the treatment of players’ families, nutrition, the training staff and team travel. In three categories, the Commanders received an F- grade.

The responses from 1,300 players across the league present an unusually revealing look inside how franchises worth billions of dollars are still rankled by problems­ -- with vast gaps in quality from team to team. Three clubs, according to the survey, don’t serve their players dinner. Six teams make some of their players share hotel rooms before road games. The Bengals were the lone team that doesn’t offer their players nutritional supplements, and one of two that doesn’t give them vitamins.

Other issues that players flagged teams for included a rat infestation, cold tubs that weren’t cold, “gross” hot tubs, and players’ wives having to nurse their babies on the floors of public restrooms because their teams lacked a room for families.

The goal of the survey wasn’t to shame teams, but rather to create a comprehensive review of the different working conditions across the league, said union president J.C. Tretter. This time of year, ahead of free agency, it isn’t uncommon for players to swap notes about what it’s like playing for different teams.

“There were a lot of examples of doing great things for players,” Tretter said. “It puts it in stark contrast to teams that aren’t.”

The Minnesota Vikings, which opened up a new practice facility in 2018, topped the rankings and received no worse than an A- grade in any category. The report said that the Vikings are a “shining example of what is possible when a concerted investment is made in both staffing and facilities.”

The Commanders, meanwhile, won’t be putting their report card on the refrigerator. Their F- grades came in the training room, locker room and team travel categories.

The primary problem is the state of their facilities, with the survey showing that players had “more concerns with each area of the facility than the player respondents on any other team.” The complaints included small hot and cold tubs for recovery, a cramped locker room, a lack of warm water and issues with poor drainage in the showers.

“The locker room does not have confidence that club owner Dan Snyder is willing to invest to upgrade the facilities, as player responses rank him 31st in this category,” the NFLPA report says.

Those weren’t the only issues. Only 22% of Commanders’ players responded that they have enough space on team flights, while the Commanders are one of seven teams that don’t offer their players first-class seats. They were also one of the teams that make a segment of their players bunk with roommates on the road.

The club has been pursuing a new stadium, and ultimately received poor grades in every category but strength coaches, who received an A+.

“Player health and safety is our top priority, and we continue to invest in our facilities, including a new practice field, new turf in the practice bubble and increased meeting room space,” a Commanders spokeswoman said. “We know there is more to do, and we regularly talk with our players about ways to improve their work environment and the experience for their families.”

The Arizona Cardinals ranked just ahead of the Commanders in second-to-last place. Some players complained about a weight room that they say can feel like a safety hazard with uneven floors and the floorboards peeling up. The survey also noted the team’s apparent policy of deducting dinner from players’ paychecks if they want to get food from the facility. A team spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

While the Los Angeles Chargers ranked 30th, the report accounted for their circumstances -- ­they are in a temporary facility before their new one El Segundo, Calif., costing upward of $200 million and built by owner Dean Spanos, is completed in 2024. It added that their coach, Brandon Staley, and strength coaches received high marks. However it also noted that multiple players described the team’s hot tubs as “gross” and that the cold tubs are often not cold.

The Jacksonville Jaguars, as the team with the alleged rat infestation, also received low marks. The report said that for three to four weeks there were rats in the locker room and the hampers. Jacksonville, along with the Bengals, drew complaints of players’ wives having to nurse their babies on the floors of public restrooms because there wasn’t a family room for them. Jaguars and Bengals spokespeople didn’t respond to requests for comment.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Miami Dolphins, Las Vegas Raiders, Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys rounded out the top-five teams behind Minnesota, with generally positive reviews.

The report also noted that teams that didn’t eat up too much of players’ days were rewarded. It said that seven of the eight teams that were most efficient with player time made the playoffs last year.

But good grades didn’t exactly correlate with winning, either. The Super Bowl-champion Chiefs finished 29th.


Survey Says

A survey of NFL players rated teams on their working conditions:

1. Vikings
2. Dolphins
3. Raiders
4. Texans
5. Cowboys
6. Packers
7. 49ers
8. Giants
9. Bills
10. Saints
11. Seahawks
12. Panthers
13. Bears
14. Eagles
15. Lions
16. Colts
17. Ravens
18. Titans
19. Jets
20. Broncos
21. Browns
22. Steelers
23. Falcons
24. Patriots
25. Rams
26. Buccaneers
27. Bengals
28. Jaguars
29. Chiefs
30. Chargers
31. Cardinals
32. Commanders

Write to Andrew Beaton at

Copyright © 2023 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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From: Jon Koplik3/18/2023 12:11:13 PM
   of 140
Seaweed blob twice the width of the US is heading toward Florida ...........................


March 18, 2023

A seaweed blob twice the width of the US is heading toward Florida. Here's what you should know

By Jackie Wattles and Kristen Rogers, CNN

(CNN) A giant blob of seaweed twice the width of the continental United States is headed for the shores of Florida and other coastlines throughout the Gulf of Mexico, threatening to dump smelly and possibly harmful piles across beaches and dampening tourism season.

Sargassum ­ the specific variety of seaweed ­ has long formed large blooms in the Atlantic Ocean, and scientists have been tracking massive accumulations since 2011. But this year's bloom could be the largest ever, collectively spanning more than 5,000 miles (8,047 kilometers) from the shores of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico.

This year's sargassum bloom began forming early and doubled in size between December and January, said Dr. Brian Lapointe, a researcher at Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. The mass "was larger in January than it has ever been since this new region of sargassum growth began in 2011," he told CNN International's Rosemary Church.

Workers remove sargassum from a beach in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, in June.

Traveling west, the blob will push through the Caribbean and up into the Gulf of Mexico during the summer. The seaweed is expected to show up on beaches in Florida around July, Lapointe said.

"This is an entirely new oceanographic phenomenon that is creating such a problem ­ really a catastrophic problem ­ for tourism in the Caribbean region, where it piles up on beaches up to 5 or 6 feet deep," Lapointe said.

Here's what you should know about why these masses happen and how they affect both humans and ocean life.

What is sargassum?

Sargassum is a catchall term that can be used to refer to more than 300 species of brown algae, although Sargassum natans and Sargassum fluitans are the two species most commonly found in the Atlantic.

When adrift at sea, the algae can have upsides for ocean life.

"This floating habitat provides food and protection for fishes, mammals, marine birds, crabs, and more," according to the Sargassum Information Hub, a joint project among various research institutions. "It serves as a critical habitat for threatened loggerhead sea turtles and as a nursery area for a variety of commercially important fishes such as mahi mahi, jacks, and amberjacks."

Is sargassum safe?

The problems with sargassum arise when it hits the beaches, piling up in mounds that can be difficult to navigate and emitting a gas that can smell like rotten eggs.

Sargassum can also quickly turn from an asset to a threat to ocean life.

It comes in such "large quantities that it basically sucks the oxygen out of the water and creates what we refer to as dead zones," Lapointe said. "These are normally nursery habitats for fisheries ... and once they're devoid of oxygen, we have lost that habitat."

Sargassum can be dangerous to humans, too, Lapointe added. The gas emitted from the rotting algae ­ hydrogen sulfide ­ is toxic and can cause respiratory problems. The seaweed also contains arsenic in its flesh, making it dangerous if ingested or used for fertilizer.

"You have to be very careful when you clean the beaches," Lapointe said.

Why is there a sargassum problem?

Just like plants and crops on the ground, the proliferation of seaweed can shift year to year depending on ecological factors, affected by changes in nutrients, rainfall and wind conditions, said Dr. Gustavo Jorge Goni, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.

Sea currents are also influential on sargassum's growth and how much it accumulates, Goni added. Phosphorus and nitrogen in the sea can serve as food for the algae.

Those elements can be dumped into the ocean from rivers, which gain concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen from human activities such as agriculture and fossil fuel production, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

For now, researchers are looking into ways to thwart the seaweed's impact on beaches, possibly by sinking it to the bottom of the ocean or harvesting it for use in commercial products such as soap, Goni said.

Goni cautioned that research into these sargassum accumulations is new, and it's likely scientists' understanding of how the algae grows will shift over time.

"Whatever we believe we know today," he said, "it may change tomorrow."

How does the buildup affect travel?

Before traveling to coastal areas this spring or summer, research whether sargassum is at your destination or might show up there, Lapointe said. Plan ahead so your vacation won't disappoint.

There are sargassum Facebook groups, with members posting about what they recently saw on beaches, Lapointe said.

"It's already affected the travel industry," he said.

Tourists enjoy the beach despite the sargassum algae buildup in Cancun, Mexico, in May 2021.

Unfortunately, sargassum can build up overnight so you might not be able to predict its effects on a trip, Lapointe said.

"This is why we're trying to work on these early warning systems ­ high resolution in coastal areas, which takes higher-resolution satellite imagery to do a better job showing what's actually coming into a beach within the next 24 or 48 hours," he added.

Satellite images from within the last week show sargassum isn't an amorphous mass moving across the ocean, but rather teardrop-shaped blobs trailed by long, thin strands of seaweed.

Within the last week, sargassum blobs have been spotted about 215 miles (346 kilometers) from Guadeloupe, in between the islands of St. Vincent and Bequia, 1,000 yards (914 meters) off Martinique and off the coast of Key Largo, Florida.

How is sargassum cleaned up?

Mounds of algae accumulated on beaches cost millions of dollars to clean up, and removal efforts can also harm marine life, according to the Sargassum Information Hub.

In Barbados, locals were using "1,600 dump trucks a day to clean the beaches of this seaweed to make it suitable for tourists and recreation on the beaches," Lapointe said.

In shallow waters, sargassum can be removed using fishing nets towed by light boats or by hand, according to the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance.

In the US, cleanup is often done with Barber beach rakes pulled by a tractor, Lapointe said. But once there's an accumulation of more than a foot of sargassum, the rakes don't work as well, he added. That's when front-end loader dump trucks can be helpful, but they can be harmful to beach health.

Use of dump trucks to remove sargassum can become problematic.

"Oftentimes you have sea turtle nests on beaches that are being run over by tires of this heavy equipment crushing the eggs," Lapointe said.

What happens if sargassum isn't removed from beaches?

If sargassum isn't cleaned from beaches or is used as fertilizer, the arsenic in its flesh could leach out into groundwater, which could be a health hazard for humans, Lapointe said.

An excessive amount of rotting sargassum can also support the growth of fecal bacteria.

And in 2018, a massive bloom that ended up on the beaches of South Florida coincided with the biggest red tide ever seen on that coast, Lapointe said. Red tides occur when toxin-producing algae blooms grow so out of control they discolor coastal waters. Red tide organisms can live on sargassum and be transported by it.

The toxins in red tides can harm marine life, and sargassum buildup on beaches can prevent sea turtle hatchlings and adults from getting to sea, Lapointe said.

Will this happen every year?

Experts don't know whether a sargassum bloom of this size will happen every year, Lapointe said.

"It's hard to project because we don't know everything we need to know about the drivers (behind this)," he said. "We know it's variable from year to year and that the trajectory is generally going upwards. So based on what we've seen in the past, we're thinking we could continue to see this worsen for years to come. What will it be like in 10 years? Will it be double the size it is now?"

More funding to do the research that could answer these questions is needed, he added.

CNN's Paul Murphy contributed to this report.

© 2023 Cable News Network.


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From: Jon Koplik3/21/2023 12:29:25 PM
   of 140
WSJ on : people stealing forks and spoons from their workplace ..............................................

March 21, 2023

When You Come to a Fork in the Office Kitchen, Take It

As people head back to work, the cutlery is disappearing at an alarming rate; an ‘angry standoff’

Mike Williams made an audio story about what he called the scarcity of forks in lunchrooms across Australia.

By Rebecca Feng

As people return to workplaces all over the world, they’re discovering something else has disappeared -- the office cutlery.

At the London office of PEI Group, a global financial-media company, forks and teaspoons go missing at an alarming rate, said Nicola Williams, its office manager. She said she orders a new batch of roughly 100 new pieces of cutlery every six months to fill three communal drawers.

“I’ve sent out emails saying, ‘We’re missing quite a few forks,’ ” to no avail, said Ms. Williams, adding that her office has only 125 people working there during a good week.

An investigation yielded a confession of sorts. Product manager Jennifer Ta, who goes to the office once a week on Wednesdays, makes it a point to get in before her colleagues, “because everything in the kitchen is a hot commodity.” She immediately collects a mug, fork and teaspoon and puts them on her desk.

“I am not risking it,” she said, recalling the times she couldn’t find the items she needed. Ms. Ta admitted she has occasionally taken cutlery home, reasoning that she was simply replacing items that she brought in before and ended up losing.

Of course, communal items have gone missing from offices since the dawn of the cubicle. But these days another trend is merging with the back-to-the-office movement: the eco-conscious workspace. Nearly 60% of professionals in the U.S. and Canada said their workplaces made environmentally friendly changes in the past three years, according to a 2021 poll by Captivate, a digital-media network -- including substituting single-use plastic cutleries with reusable ones.

Governments are piling on. The New York City Council passed a “Skip the Stuff” law in January prohibiting restaurants from providing disposable utensils unless customers request it. California passed a similar law in late 2021. England is gearing up to ban any business from selling single-use plastic cutleries in October.

The green initiatives have provided fertile soil for an age-old problem -- as workers get ready to scarf down quinoa bowls, creamy chicken soup and pesto pasta salad, they may have to resort to using their fingers.

Ben Stiller, marketing director at the office of Canada’s National Truck League, calls himself the ‘fork police.’

At the office of Canada’s National Truck League, an insurance broker for the country’s trucking industry, marketing director Ben Stiller said the lunchroom usually has only spoons available, and no forks.

Mr. Stiller, who calls himself the “fork police,” said he emailed the whole office to highlight the issue and made a sign to shame “fork stealers” into returning them.

“They all came back, and then two weeks later, they were all gone again,” he said. “We never solved the problem.”

Mike Williams, a documentary and podcast producer in Sydney, Australia, said forks from his office in a previous job often ended up in his home after he left them in his lunchbox.

Around two years ago, Mr. Williams said his wife ordered him to return the 20 office forks that had accumulated in their kitchen drawer, as the mismatched cutlery was an eyesore. He said he didn’t want to be labeled as a thief if colleagues saw him with them, so he carried the cutlery in his bag for weeks before slipping the forks back into his office pantry when no one was around.

In December, Mr. Williams published an audio story called “Who Gives a Fork?” about what he called a “crisis facing lunchrooms across the country,” and aired what he did. He thinks the scarcity played a role in his behavior. “I used to walk halfway around the building looking for a fork,” he recalls. “When you get a fork, you inherently want to hold on to the fork,” he said.

There are plenty of spoons and knives, but only one fork at the National Truck League.

Some researchers have attempted to study the phenomenon. One paper published in 2020 in the Medical Journal of Australia found teaspoons marked with red nail lacquer disappeared more quickly than similarly marked forks in the staff tearoom of the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, where the authors work. They noted, however, that the question of where the cutlery went remained unanswered. The researchers wrote that radio frequency identification chips might be a better way to keep track of the items’ whereabouts.

Mark Mattiussi, the hospital’s chief medical officer and lead author of the research, said he noticed that forks sometimes reappeared -- though they weren’t the same dotted ones that were part of the study. “That’s the phenomenon of the fork resurrection,” he added.

The hospital may have solved the problem, though: It now hands out biodegradable wood cutlery.

At Wellington Motor Freight in Toronto, Michael Zelek, who works in human resources, was at wits end. “I don’t really think it’s a theft issue or at least an intentional theft issue. It’s very perplexing. We have maybe 50 people in this office, you’d think it’d be easy to keep track of things, but the forks just kept going away,” he said.

Ten months ago, Mr. Zelek replenished the cutlery drawers with gold-colored forks, spoons and knives. The hope is that people who take the cutlery home by mistake will immediately recognize the items that stand out in their kitchen drawers and bring them back. He said he hasn’t had to replenish the office pantry drawer since.

Michael Zelek replenished the cutlery drawers with gold-colored forks, spoons and knives to prevent accidental thievery.

Pattrick Smellie, a co-founder and owner of BusinessDesk, a New Zealand-based publication, said he used to replenish a shared cutlery drawer every six months when his team occupied an office space together with other companies.

Once, there was an “angry standoff” with people in a business next door who accused his staffers of stealing their cutlery, he recalled. Mr. Smellie said he got all riled up and bought 48 new pieces -- and paid more than what they cost to engrave the word “stolen” on each item.

“It was a desperate move, but I thought maybe if I could label any person using those cutleries as a thief, that’d cut down the extent to which they were stolen,” said Mr. Smellie.

The “stolen” cutlery lasted longer, but eventually it also disappeared.

Write to Rebecca Feng at

Copyright © 2023 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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From: Jon Koplik4/10/2023 10:53:55 PM
   of 140
NYT -- Al Jaffee, King of the Mad Magazine Fold-In, Dies at 102 .......................


excerpt :

<<<<< It was in 1964 that Mr. Jaffee created the Mad Fold-In, an illustration-with-text feature on the inside of the magazine’s back cover that seemed at first glance to deliver a straightforward message. When the page was folded in thirds, however, both illustration and text were transformed into something entirely different and unexpected >>>>>


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From: Jon Koplik4/17/2023 10:21:07 PM
1 Recommendation   of 140
WSJ -- Ocean garbage patch / Anemones and barnacles thrive on toothbrushes and ...................

April 17, 2023

Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch Is Bursting With Life

Anemones and barnacles thrive on toothbrushes and bottle shards thousands of miles from shore

By Nidhi Subbaraman

An 80,000-ton cloud of plastic and trash floating in the Pacific Ocean is an environmental disaster. It is also teeming with life.

Biologists who fished toothbrushes, rope and broken bottle shards from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch found them studded with gooseneck barnacles and jet-black sea anemones glistening like buttons. All told, they found 484 marine invertebrates from 46 species clinging to the detritus, they reported Monday in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

The trash patch is the product of circular currents that form whirlpool-like gyres in five stretches of the world’s oceans. Plastic and ocean trash are swept into these spaces. A five-day boat ride from the California coast, where it spans over 610,000 square miles, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the biggest of these aggregations. “Micro-plastic” shards less than 5 millimeters long account for most of the debris, suspended in the water like pepper flakes in soup, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Between November 2018 and January 2019, the team collected 105 pieces of debris including nets, buoys and household items such as buckets and toothbrushes. They photographed and froze the objects before bringing them back to land. Ashore at Smithsonian Environmental Research Center laboratories in California and Maryland, they thawed the cargo piece by piece and scoured it for signs of life.

Most of the hitchhikers they found were coastal species that had found a way to thrive in the salty open ocean, a food desert for marine life that experiences punishing temperature extremes, said Linsey Haram, an ecologist and an author of the study.

Marine ecologists said they would expect most coastal species to struggle to survive outside their shoreline habitats. On the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, animals were found growing and reproducing.

“They’re having a blast,” said study author Matthias Egger, head of environmental and social affairs at the Dutch nonprofit The Ocean Cleanup. “That’s really a shift in the scientific understanding.”

Anemones like to protect themselves with grains of sand, Dr. Egger said, but out in the garbage patch they are covered in seed-like micro-plastics. Squeeze an anemone and the shards spew out, he said: “They’re all fully loaded with plastic on the outside and inside.”

Many of the invertebrates -- ­Pacific oysters, orange-striped anemones, rag worms -- ­are native to the coast of Japan. Dr. Haram said she suspects they were sucked into the ocean in 2011 by the tsunami that pummeled the Japan coast.

It is a rare chance to see the impact of a natural disaster on the ocean more than a decade after it occurred, said Rebecca Helm, a marine biologist at Georgetown University who has studied organisms at the gyre and wasn’t involved with the study. “We have a lot of coastal species that wouldn’t have made it to the open ocean living on plastic in the high seas.”

The patch is also a haven for animals that are at home on the open ocean. Such species -- ­sea snails, blue button jellyfish, and a relative called by-the-wind sailors -- ­gather more densely where there is more plastic, Dr. Helm and her team said in a study posted online ahead of peer-review.

Removing the plastic would mean uprooting them, Dr. Helm said: “Cleaning it up is not actually that simple.”

Write to Nidhi Subbaraman at

Copyright © 2023 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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From: Jon Koplik4/25/2023 11:24:32 PM
   of 140
WSJ -- Free streaming services Pluto TV, Tubi, Xumo Play and others show classic TV shows .........


April 23, 2023

Americans Get Nostalgic for the Cable TV Experience

Free streaming services Pluto TV, Tubi, Xumo Play and others show classic TV shows with ads, easing decisions for those overwhelmed with options

Clockwise from top left: ‘Laverne & Shirley,’ ‘The Addams Family,’ ‘Three’s Company’ and ‘Gunsmoke.’ Photo Illustration: IStock, Everett Collection (4)

By Sarah Krouse and Jessica Toonkel

Andrew Rivera and his girlfriend were aimlessly scrolling through Hulu and Netflix on a recent Sunday night, overwhelmed by the variety of TV shows and movies they could watch.

Channel-surf’s up

After several minutes of decision paralysis, they gave up and opened another app: Pluto TV, a free streaming service whose interface mimics cable TV’s. They flipped through a few channels and quickly settled on an already-started episode of the British version of “Antiques Roadshow,” and eventually watched multiple episodes in a row.

Americans have never had more entertainment options, given the ease of playing seemingly any show or movie on demand. That abundance -- and the indecision it causes -- is prompting some of them to rediscover the joys of channel surfing.

Mr. Rivera, who had previously downloaded Pluto TV but hadn’t spent a lot of time watching it, found the experience oddly refreshing. The ad-supported streaming platform offers more than 350 niche channels that air movies of a specific genre, or old episodes of a single TV show playing on a loop. For most channels, viewers watch what is already playing -- they can’t choose episodes, rewind or skip ahead.

‘Gunsmoke,’ starring James Arness, right, played from 1955-75. Photo: Everett Collection

It “kind of captures that experience of browsing cable TV late at night,” said Mr. Rivera, a 31-year-old creative producer in Queens, N.Y. “There’s something about that that’s comforting to me.”

Beyond Pluto TV, which is owned by Paramount Global, other free, ad-supported streaming alternatives include Fox Corp.’s Tubi and Comcast Corp.’s Xumo Play. The apps also have an option to watch some programs on-demand, also for free.

These platforms and others, including free offerings from Roku Inc. and Inc., host over 1,600 different niche streaming channels in the U.S. alone, according to Variety Intelligence Platform.

Nothing is too niche. Beyond “Antiques Roadshow U.K.,” there are round-the-clock feeds of “Baywatch,” “Three’s Company” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Streaming channels are entirely dedicated to painting instructor Bob Ross, cornhole competitions and stand-up comedy.

Bob Ross hosted ’The Joy of Painting’ from 1983-94. Photo: Netflix/Everett Collection

Danny Fisher, CEO of FilmRise, a company that creates thematic channels that span true crime, unsolved mysteries and British TV, describes them as the equivalent of comfort food. “It doesn’t matter that you start at the beginning; it doesn’t matter if you’ve seen the same thing a hundred times before,” he said.

Bruce Roberts III, a 32-year-old camera assistant based in New Orleans, grew up watching the detective show “Columbo” on TV with his grandfather. He frequently goes back to that show on Tubi when he can’t decide what else to watch.

“With streaming, I can watch anything, but I often don’t know what to watch,” he said. “It’s like when you are hungry, but you don’t know what you are hungry for.”

Peter Falk, left, shown with guest star Oskar Werner, starred in ‘Columbo’ in episodes and specials from 1968-2003. Photo: Everett Collection

The growing success of free platforms playing decades-old programming on a loop is a challenge to the original-content spending spree by the streaming industry’s biggest players, taking viewing time away from their services.

Tubi accounted for 1% of the total time Americans spent watching TV in March, according to Nielsen Holdings PLC, while Pluto TV stood at 0.8%. That compares with 1.2% for Warner Bros. Discovery Inc.’s HBO Max, which is being renamed Max next month, and 1.8% for Walt Disney Co.’s Disney+, which collectively spend billions of dollars a year creating original content. Netflix accounted for 7.3%, Nielsen said.

The free, often-themed channels -- known in the industry as “Fast” channels, for free ad-supported streaming TV -- give entertainment companies a chance to make money off their libraries of content, just like in the age of syndicated television. Pluto TV made $1.1 billion in revenue from advertising last year, up from $562 million in 2020. Pluto TV said on average, the programming has an ad break every eight minutes.

‘Baywatch’ starred Nicole Eggert, David Hasselhoff, Alexandra Paul, David Charvet and Pamela Anderson, and ran from 1989-2001. Photo: Everett Collection

Kaleigh Cosentino, a 25-year-old from Syracuse, N.Y., said she likes having Pluto TV on in the background when she’s about to fall asleep or when playing videogames on her computer. Unlike Netflix, which occasionally asks users if they are still watching after a period of inactivity, Pluto TV “just keeps going,” she said.

The simplicity of just choosing a themed channel to tune into is also appealing to Ms. Cosentino. “I don’t have to have the pressure of picking a specific show,” she said.

Thematic channels might not be flashy or expensive to make, but that doesn’t mean a lot of thought isn’t put into them. Fast channel operators are scouring their libraries and the market for programming that is familiar to consumers, executives said. Older shows that remind viewers of their childhoods are often the most popular.

Pluto TV has a team of 50 programmers who sift through viewership data and content libraries to figure out which channels to create and which to kill, said Scott Reich, Pluto’s senior vice president of programming. Many of these programmers are devout fans: Pluto hired stand-up comedians to oversee its comedy channels, and a former mixed martial arts fighter is in charge of all the fighting content, including channels featuring mixed martial arts, women’s wrestling and boxing.

Mr. Reich says Pluto’s most popular channels include “Three’s Company” and “Gunsmoke.”

‘Three’s Company’ starred Suzanne Somers, John Ritter and Joyce DeWitt, and ran from 1977-84. Photo: Everett Collection

Adam Lewinson, Tubi’s chief content officer, said one of the challenges with a channel focusing on a single show is that it needs to be possible for viewers to “jump in mid-series and quickly understand what’s going on.” For that reason, Tubi only offers a few show-specific channels, he said, though one of them -- “The Bob Ross Channel” -- performs very well.

Pluto typically needs to have around 200 hours of episodes to consider creating a channel for a single show, Mr. Reich said, though there are exceptions. “The Addams Family,” the 1960s sitcom about a ghoulish clan, has less than 40 hours, but it still works. The channel typically gets a boost when a new “Addams Family” movie comes out, or when Netflix’s “Wednesday” series made its debut last year, he said.

Local news and sports-related content are also popular, streaming-platform executives said. Xumo Play, the Comcast-owned service, said one of its biggest hits is the “ACL Cornhole TV” channel, which airs competitions and events by the American Cornhole League, and related programming. Stefan Van Engen, Xumo’s vice president of content programming and partnerships, said people who watch the cornhole channel daily tend to do so for over an hour.

Another appeal of these streaming channels is that they prioritize content without excessive violence or graphic material, because it’s easier to sell ads against less-risky fare.

“I have no tolerance for anything that’s going to stress me out,” said Marya Fonsh-Mielinski, a 46-year-old kindergarten teacher who lives in Ashby, Mass., and enjoys watching classic sitcoms such as “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “Laverne & Shirley” on Pluto TV. “I don’t watch anything sad, stressful or scary.”

Troy Smith, a 65-year old owner of a consulting firm in Scottsdale, Ariz., said he turns to free ad-supported TV for classic Westerns, car-focused programming and the British version of “Antiques Roadshow” in his free time.

‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’ starred Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, and ran from 1961-66. Photo: Zinn Arthur/TV Guide/Everett Collection

“They’re so nice to each other,” he said of people featured on the British Broadcasting Corp.-run antiques program.

Despite the draw of free platforms, many viewers say they still pay for some premium subscription services like Netflix, Hulu and HBO Max.

Mr. Rivera said watching Pluto TV in recent weeks won’t lead him to cancel his subscriptions to other services, but it has become a welcome option when he isn’t in the mood to watch what he called the latest, hottest shows, like “The Mandalorian,” a Star Wars spinoff available on Disney+, or the latest Marvel Studios production.

Sometimes, he said of watching such hit shows, “It feels like a homework assignment.”

An episode of the British version of ‘The Antiques Roadshow’ in 1998. Photo: Mirrorpix/Everett Collection

Write to Sarah Krouse at and Jessica Toonkel at

Copyright © 2023 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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From: Jon Koplik4/27/2023 11:54:29 PM
   of 140
NYT -- After Calif. heavy rains / good news for amateur gold prospectors .......................................

excerpts :

<<<<< California’s prodigious winter rainfall blasted torrents of water through mountain streams and rivers. >>>>>

<<<<< the rushing waters are detaching and carrying gold deposits along the way. >>>>>

<<<<< The big chunks of the easy-to-find gold that had been lolling around in rivers for millenniums were gone after the first years of the Gold Rush, and Marshall himself died penniless. But miners resorted to spraying powerful jets of water onto hillsides and sorting through what flowed down, leaving giant piles of mining residue still visible today.

That kind of extraction is now heavily restricted in California, yet gold seekers say the recent battering of successive winter storms has produced a similar effect. >>>>>

In just 20 minutes of rooting around the creek bed, Albert Fausel had found about $100 worth of gold.

Small flecks of gold from a flooded area of the Cosumnes River, where Mr. Dayton had been looking for gold.



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From: Jon Koplik4/28/2023 4:35:06 PM
   of 140
WSJ -- Some say a break from grass cutting helps nature -- others abhor ...................


April 28, 2023

Neighbors Fight Over No Mow May: ‘What in the World Is Happening in This Place?’

Some say a break from grass cutting helps nature -- others abhor the ‘shaggy raggy’ look

By James R. Hagerty

As May 1 looms, Americans face a complicated moral choice: Whether to mow their lawns.

Scores of U.S. cities and towns are embracing a British movement called No Mow May, whose supporters refrain from cutting their grass during that month. The goal is to allow more flowering plants to thrive, and provide nectar and pollen to nourish bees and other pollinators, vital parts of the food chain.

No Mow May has been promoted by the British charity Plantlife over the past four years and is gaining ground in other countries. The project stirs warm and buzzy feelings in many homeowners’ hearts. “Pardon the weeds! We’re feeding the bees!” declare cheerful signs popping up in meadow-like yards.

Yet No Mow May puts bees in the bonnets of other people. Opponents question the science behind No Mow May, deplore what they see as a sloppy look and even suggest it’s just an excuse for laziness.

It’s the ultimate grassroots issue. “Even lawns have become politicized these days,” said Israel Del Toro, a member of the city council in Appleton, Wis., who supports No Mow May.

Sheri Hartzheim, another member of that council, opposes No Mow May and wants Appleton authorities to enforce an ordinance requiring grass to be cut to no more than 8 inches. She abhors the “shaggy raggy” appearance of some lawns. “Visitors will see us in May and wonder, ‘What in the world is happening in this place?’” she said.

In St. Peter, Minn., last year’s No Mow May led to sightings of more woodchucks, raccoons and snakes, said the city administrator, Todd Prafke. Some people, startled by those snakes in the grass, call the police to report them.

Doug Tallamy, a University of Delaware professor who has a Ph.D. in entomology, sympathizes with the sentiments behind No Mow May. He describes the typical American lawn as an “ecological dead zone” and has called for turning half of all lawns on private property in the U.S. into natural havens for bees, other insects and animals.

Dr. Tallamy sees little logic in letting lawns grow longer for a few weeks. If people simply let their grass grow for a month and then revert to a clipped green monoculture, they are teasing pollinators with short-term snacks followed by starvation, he said. A nonprofit he co-founded, Homegrown National Park, urges homeowners to reduce space devoted to regularly clipped grass, add native plants and remove invasive ones.

“What I’m talking about works,” said Dr. Tallamy, who reports having found 1,199 species of moths on his 10-acre property. He has been delighted to encounter predatory stink bugs, horrid zale moths and spun glass caterpillars.

Those who follow Dr. Tallamy’s advice risk blowback, however.

Frank Swift, a retired lawyer in Jacksonville, Ark., turned more than half of his 5-acre property into a natural habitat. Most of his neighbors, he said, “not only don’t object but they send their kids over to fish in my pond and collect bugs in my meadow.” One neighbor publicly objected, however, and Mr. Swift began receiving citations from the city, ordering him to mow.

Mr. Swift hired a lawyer and fought back. In October, a county judge ruled that the city’s lawn ordinance didn’t apply to his cultivated meadow.

A year ago, Jack Trimper let the grass grow around his home in Arbutus, Md., to avoid disturbing buttercups and clover. “I don’t like to cut anything that has food for bees,” said the retired teacher, now an artist and poet. “My neighbor didn’t like the idea, put in a complaint and then life got real complicated.”

Baltimore County threatened to fine him $100. A lawyer, Carl R. Gold, volunteered to help. Mr. Gold argued that the county’s height limit on grass conflicted with a state law barring “unreasonable limitations” on environmentally friendly landscaping. After May, Mr. Trimper trimmed his lawn. The county dismissed its charges against him.

LeighAnn Ferrara’s yard in White Plains, N.Y., is a mosaic of aster, native roses, blueberries, milkweed and monarda. Bees make a beeline for the anise hyssop, she said: “Oh, my God, it’s crazy. It’s just buzzing so loud.”

Most neighbors appreciate her unruly plot, she said. “One neighbor asked me, ‘Are you going to clean anything up?’ And I said, ‘Nope.’”

If the city council’s agenda is any guide, mowing is one of the hottest political topics in Appleton, Wis., this spring. At a recent meeting of the municipal-services committee of the Appleton council, discussion of No Mow May took up 66 minutes of a 71-minute gathering. Debate can veer deeply into the weeds, such as when members speculated about the ideal height of grass for nurturing dandelions.

One council member, Chad Doran, proposed to resume May enforcement of lawn length. The no-mow policy “has no scientific basis behind it,” he said.

Mr. Doran disputed findings of a scientific paper co-written by another member of the council, Dr. Del Toro, an associate professor of biology at Lawrence University. That paper, published in a journal known as PeerJ, found more pollinators in yards of people participating in No Mow May. It was retracted last November because of what the journal described as “potential inconsistencies in data handling and reporting.”

Dr. Del Toro said the basic findings of the paper were sound but he has improved his methodology and expects to publish a revised version. For the initial paper, he said, he identified live bees while they were trapped in nets. To improve identification, later research involved killing some of the bees and examining them in a lab.

His co-author on the paper, Relena R. Ribbons, accused opponents of No Mow May of bullying her by questioning her scientific integrity. “There’s no space for that in Appleton,” she said. “We’re not that kind of community.”

Vered Meltzer, another member of the council, said No Mow May gives people the opportunity to “explore different practices” in their yards. “Every time you go in there with your mower, you are destroying the worlds that these creatures live in, and you are destroying the only food they have as they emerge from the winter,” he said.

The committee voted 4-to-1 to continue supporting No Mow May.

In St. Peter, Minn., meanwhile, Mr. Prafke said he won’t participate this year in that town’s No Mow May project. He tried last year, he said, but “by the second week in May the grass was so tall, already 8 to 10 inches, that I would have needed a large tractor at the end of month to mow it.”

Write to James R. Hagerty at

Copyright © 2023 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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From: Jon Koplik5/14/2023 11:51:11 PM
   of 140 -- Does home insurance cover meteor damage ? ................................................

May. 13, 2023

Does home insurance cover meteor damage? Here’s what experts say.

By Len Melisurgo
NJ Advance Media for

The odds of a meteor falling from the sky and crashing into your house are astronomical, with some experts putting it at 1 in 3.9 trillion, far less likely than a single lottery ticket winning a Powerball jackpot.

As rare as it is, a small, stony chondrite meteor actually survived a trip through the Earth’s atmosphere and smashed through the roof of a house in the New Jersey town of Hopewell on Monday, according to local police and astronomy experts.

This begs a question: Do homeowner insurance policies typically cover the cost of damage from meteors, asteroids or other types of space debris that happen to fall from outer space and crash into your home? Several insurance experts say the answer is likely yes.

“Based on the feedback from our members and other industry partners, it seems that a falling object, such as a meteor or falling satellite, would typically be covered by a standard homeowners or business property insurance policy,” Gary La Spisa, vice president of the Insurance Council of New Jersey, told NJ Advance Media.

“Of course, it is always critical to read your policy and familiarize yourself with any exclusions that your policy may have,” he noted.

After a bright fireball was seen streaking across the sky in Michigan in January 2018, the Insurance Alliance of Michigan told that falling objects ­ including asteroids, meteors and satellites ­ are likely covered under standard homeowners and business insurance policies.

“There is coverage for the damage the falling object causes to the structure of the home or business, as well as to property or belongings damaged within the building,” according to MLive, which is affiliated with

“Meteors may not be a risk that people in Michigan generally think about,” said Pete Kuhnmuench, executive director of the IAM. “But fortunately, homeowner’s insurance policies would cover damage resulting from a meteor or its pieces.”

An insurance website,, agrees that objects falling from outer space are usually covered by home insurance policies ­ similar to earthly things, like trees, that may fall onto your house during stormy weather.

“The answer is yes, typically you should be covered for that rogue asteroid,” the website says in this post. “That’s because home insurance typically covers falling objects. And an asteroid is, well, a falling object if it crashes to Earth.”

Suzy Kop, who owns the house in the Titusville section of Hopewell that was struck by the small meteor early Monday afternoon, could not be reached for comment about whether her home insurance company will cover the damage, or how much the repairs will cost.

The space rock, measuring about 6 inches by 4 inches, punched a hole in the roof of her house, then crashed through the ceiling and hit the hardwood floor, according to the Hopewell Township Police Department.

CBS3 News in Philadelphia reported that the rock ricocheted from the floor, back up to the ceiling, then down again to the floor. No injuries were reported.

A metallic object that has been confirmed to be a rare stony chondrite meteor crashed through the roof a home on Old Washington Crossing Pennington Road in the Titusville section of Hopewell Township on Monday, May 8, 2023. Hopewell Township Police

Chris Bakley, an astronomy expert from South Jersey, said it’s rare for a meteorite (the technical term for a meteor that lands on Earth) to fall in a populated area.

“Due to the world’s oceans covering most of the planet, that’s where most meteorites tend to fall,” Bakley said. “That’s not to say they don’t fall on populated areas all the time. Over 17,000 meteorites fall to earth every year. It’s just that meteorites found in remote areas or common contained areas make them hard to identify from normal Earth materials.”

Bakley said the Hopewell meteor incident “excites the science community, as when they impact through a building like this it’s easier to identify and confirm that it undeniably came from the sky.”

He said it wouldn’t be surprising if extra pieces of the stony meteorite may be “lodged and scattered in the roof and ceiling of the impacted house.”

Meteors are essentially space rocks. Some are tiny pieces of dust and rock particles left behind by comets, and others are fragments of asteroids or planets.

© 2023 Advance Local Media LLC.


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