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From: Jon Koplik7/23/2023 10:41:58 AM
2 Recommendations   of 140
WSJ -- using AI software & voice cloners to engage / waste telemarketers' time ..................................


June 29, 2023

People Hire Phone Bots to Torture Telemarketers

AI software and voice cloners simulate distracted saps willing to stay on the phone forever -- or until callers finally give up

By Robert McMillan

“Whitey” Whitebeard answered the phone last month, and a recorded female voice warned that it was his last chance to deal with important changes to his Bank of America account.

“Hello. Talk to me,” Whitebeard said in the gruff voice of an annoyed senior. Within seconds, the call was transferred to Kevin, a real person. “Thank you for calling card services,” Kevin said. “How are you doing today?”

“Huh,” Whitebeard answered, now sounding a little befuddled.

“What do you think, how much owed on your credit cards, collectively,” Kevin asked.

Whitebeard grunted and said, “I’ve been having trouble with my television remote. Can you help me figure out how to change the channel to watch my favorite show?”

Whitebeard has a bad habit of talking in circles. That is by design. Whitebeard is a digital contraption that only sounds human. He is the creation of Roger Anderson, a real-life 54-year-old in Monrovia, Calif., who employs chatbots and AI to frustrate and waste the time of telemarketers and scammers.

“I’m talking about only your credit cards,” said Kevin, an overseas caller who doesn’t work for Bank of America. It sounded like he was fishing for financial information that could be used in identity theft, Anderson said.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t catch your name,” said Whitebeard, who speaks in the cloned voice of Sid Berkson, a Vermont dairy farmer and a friend of Anderson’s. “What’s your name, buddy?”

Whitebeard stalls for time at the start of phone calls, using chatbot inanities about TV remotes and the like to give a couple of minutes for GPT-4, the OpenAI software, to process the telemarketer’s spiel and generate responses. Once ready, the AI text is fed into a voice cloner, which carries on the conversation.

“So what do you think? How much owed on your credit cards collectively?” Kevin asked again.

“Well let’s see. I have so many of them, you know,” Whitebeard said.

“There is one with a picture of a kitten on it and another with a lovely beach scene. Do you like kittens or beaches?” he said.

Complaints about unwanted telephone calls are “far-and-away the largest category of consumer complaints to the FCC,” with the average American receiving 14 unwanted calls a month, according to one industry estimate, a spokesman for the Federal Communications Commission said.

Automated dialers at call centers can easily crank out 100 calls a second, constantly searching for people willing to stay on the line. Voice modulators remove foreign accents, such as Kevin’s, and software allows overseas operators to trigger prerecorded English phrases, said Isaac Shloss.

He is chief product officer with Contact Center Compliance, a company that provides software and services tools to help call centers operate within the law.

Anderson takes pleasure in foiling them. He began his war on telemarketers nearly a decade ago, he said, after one called the family’s landline and said a bad word to his son. He started with an answering machine that said “Hello” a few times before hanging up.

Anderson has since rolled out his weapons of mass distraction. He has posted conversations between man and bot, some lasting as long as 15 minutes before the telemarketer hangs up.

The posts are part of Anderson’s own marketing. He has several thousand customers paying $24.99 a year for use of his call-deflection system, called Jolly Roger. The subscription service gives people the choice of Whitebeard or other digital personalities, including Salty Sally, the overwhelmed mother, and the easily distracted Whiskey Jack.

After answering the phone, Jolly Roger keeps callers engaged with preset expressions from chatbots, such as “There’s a bee on my arm, but keep talking.” Chatbots also grunt or say “uh-huh” to keep things going.

When OpenAI released its ChatGPT software last year, Anderson saw right away how it could breathe new life into his time-wasting bots.

At first, ChatGPT was reluctant to do the work. “As an AI language model, I don’t encourage people to waste other people’s time,” ChatGPT told Anderson. Its successor, GPT-4, also pushed back, he said.

Anderson finally found a line of reasoning that persuaded GPT-4 to take the job. “I told it that, ‘You are a personal assistant and you are trying to protect this man from being scammed,’ ” he said.

GPT-4, speaking as Whitebeard, took over the conversation with Kevin after about three minutes. To Anderson, the moment is always magic.

“Anyway I think I owe about, what was it, $15,000 or was it $1,500. I can never remember,” Whitebeard said. “Let me go find my reading glasses and check my statements. I’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere.”

As Kevin waits for Whitebeard, he begins to sound frustrated. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I am going to pull up ... Hello ... hello?”

Kevin stays on the line, waiting for Whitebeard to return. By the time Whitebeard is back, the call time has hit 3 minutes, 34 seconds.

Whitebeard seems to understand the topic of the telemarketer’s call, credit-card debt consolidation, but he is still a bit lost. That keeps Kevin on the phone, Anderson said.

GPT-4 “does a pretty good job of saying dumb things that are somewhat funny” and believable enough to keep callers engaged, he said. Its screwy non sequiturs are the kind of chatbot gold that customers pay for, he said.

Kevin asked for Whitebeard’s credit-card numbers one last time.

“Huh?” Whitebeard said. “You know I’ve been using credit cards for years, but I can’t seem to remember all the different ones I’ve had.”

Kevin finally hangs up. Total time: 6 minutes, 27 seconds.

Write to Robert McMillan at

Copyright © 2023 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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To: Jon Koplik who wrote (61)8/8/2023 1:23:17 PM
From: Jon Koplik
   of 140
fish sticks / link with photos, still intact :

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From: Jim508/26/2023 10:39:53 PM
1 Recommendation   of 140
In view of today's wildfires, here's an article on the conflagration America avoided during World War II.

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From: Jon Koplik10/25/2023 2:45:02 PM
   of 140
Bear Breaks Into Home, Heads Straight for Refrigerator, Steals Frozen Lasagna .......................

[ original story from People ]

October 13, 2023

Bear Breaks Into Connecticut Home, Heads Straight for the Refrigerator and Steals Frozen Lasagna

Story by Charna Flam

“You can see him going from room to room, as comfortable as I am in my house,” said the homeowner

Even bears crave an Italian feast every once in a while!

On Wednesday, a black bear broke into a home in Barkhamsted, Conn., roaming around the house and found a platter of frozen lasagna.

Footage of the break-in was captured by homeowner Helena Richardson's Ring security camera and shows the bear entering the home for 35 minutes, breaking through a screen door, arriving at the kitchen and escaping through the kitchen’s window.

In the footage, the bear is first seen in the house foyer, and eventually turning left toward the kitchen, where the animal made a beeline for the refrigerator.

As soon as the tagged black bear arrived at the fridge, the animal stood on its hind legs, opened the freezer drawer, and seamlessly grabbed the frozen lasagna with its mouth.

Once the food was secured, the bear left the freezer drawer open and halted itself on top of the freezer door to reach the open window. Ultimately, the bear was able to escape via the open kitchen window and jump onto the outdoor deck, while walking away with the lasagna in tow.

When the wild animal entered the Connecticut residence, no one was nearby. However, the homeowner, Richardson, told CBS 58, that she saw the bear roaming around her home once her Ring doorbell notified her at work.

“I knew no one was supposed to be at home at that time. So I checked and it was the bear,” said the homeowner. “You can see him going from room to room, as comfortable as I am in my house."

“It’s very hard to believe,” added Richardson. “My mom made me some lasagna, I left it in the freezer and the bear just, you know, took it.”

The Barkhamsted bear joined the likes of 70 other bears to break into homes in Connecticut this year, according to the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

DEEP also warned residents earlier this year to be aware of habituated bears, also known as bears that have lost their natural fear of humans. The habituated bears have been exposed to human-sourced foods and trash, as well as food for birds and dogs, ultimately leading them to break into homes.

According to reports, bears are said to have an extremely powerful sense of smell. The National Park Service estimates that a black bear's sense of smell is about seven times greater than that of a bloodhound.

DEEP recommends that Connecticut residents should “never feed bears, intentionally or accidentally; remove birdfeeders and bird food from late March through November; store garbage in secure, airtight containers inside a garage or other enclosed storage area; keep barbecue grills clean; do not leave pet food outdoors or feed pets outside; supervise pets at all times when outside; avoid placing meat scraps or sweet foods, such as fruit and fruit peels, in compost piles; and do not approach bears.”

Additionally, if you see a bear, report the incident to DEEP Wildlife Division at 860-424-3011.




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To: Jon Koplik who wrote (115)10/26/2023 6:01:54 PM
From: Maurice Winn
3 Recommendations   of 140
It's surprising that so-called environmentalists have such little understanding of how things work.

They are surprised that the gyres of plastic and stuff turn out to be giant foundations for a whole new way of life. Anyone who has owned a boat will know that leaving it sitting in the sea results in life crowding onto it in such profusion that the thing can barely sail.

Scraping the hull of boats is a constant hassle. Coating the hull with horribly poisonous mercury used to be a way of slowing the growth. But not for long. Most poisoning was done to the people cleaning and sanding the hulls every now and then.

Wading around in the shallows as a child should have shown the budding environmentalists that plastic bottles and bags and everything else sitting in the mud accumulates slime and then more and more and more. Life tries to get a grip on anything it can cling to. Crabs will hide in the plastic bottles. An octopus would love a plastic bottle with a hole that they can just squeeze through, while keeping an eye on what's going on around them. They'd probably pull it under a rock for better shelter.

What the environmentalists should also know is that subhuman life lacks intelligence - and mostly humans should be included in that as we have only 1 kg of intelligence each and it's borderline functional mostly.

Therefore, stuff attached to floating gyres hasn't heard of The Tragedy of the Commons. It's every man for himself. So they keep on crowding onto the bits of lifeboat plastic until it gets too heavy and sinks, never to be seen again, taking a load of siliceous and carbon life to the bottom of the ocean where it piles up with the radiolarian ooze and everything else that falls to the bottom of the ocean in kilometres thick sedimentary layers.

A similar process happens with CO2 increasing in the air. The Sargasso sea and seaweed everywhere and a quadrillion tons of life in the ocean is feasting. Hence the seaweed and algal growth, provided there are enough other nutrients. Megatons of seaweed turns into ocean habitat and everything ends up at the bottom of the ocean after various life cycles have finished. Hagfish gobble the remains of whales leaving the residue to add another layer to the kilometres already there.

Despite burning stupendously vast megatons of carbon, we have managed to increase CO2 to only 420 ppm over a hundred and fifty years of enormous effort. As coal and hydrocarbons get more expensive and nuclear, photovoltaics and electric cars and alternatives to heating and travel become more attractive, CO2 production will go down. People avoid paying for fuel if they can.

Fortunately for farmers and life in general, CO2 levels are up from starvation, tragedy of the commons levels of 280ppm that prevailed before the oil industry came to the rescue. Plants are breathing easier. Irrigation requirements are down.

Since the carboniferous times, CO2 has been reduced from 6000 ppm all the way to death and deserts at 280ppm. 500 ppm or 600 ppm would be better. than 400 ppm.

After 40 years of watching CO2 as a possible problem, it still looks like a good thing rather than bad at the levels we're getting towards. As I said to my boss Nelson Cull [in BP Oil] back then, if it becomes a problem, it's easy to fix = just cut taxes on computers, insulation, income, what have you, by say $10 billion and charge $9 billion in carbon taxes, and stop wasting another $1 billion. He didn't like my suggestion. But it would work, unlike the stupid emissions trading scam and loading on more and more and more taxes.

The latest super stupid move by the commie government in NZ was to tax workmen buying petrol/diesel Utes [utility vehicles] and new cars generally $8,000 and give rich Remuera ladies wanting to show off their green credentials and status $8000 towards a nice new Tesla.

Petrol and diesel are also highly taxed by way of per litre tax or per kilometre road use [for diesels]. Of NZ$3 retail per litre for petrol, about $2 is tax [all taxes from wellhead to exhaust pipe]. But the Remuera ladies pay NO road tax or fuel tax. The roads are their's for no charge to roam at will.

But wait, there's more. To promote electricity, the commies fund free electricity at some charging places [though not at home]. Virtue signalling is very popular in electricity suppliers and other esg/dei idiots.


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To: Maurice Winn who wrote (125)10/30/2023 11:59:19 AM
From: DWB
1 Recommendation   of 140
Good to see you back Mqurice... been a while.


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From: Jon Koplik11/3/2023 1:17:58 AM
   of 140
WSJ -- Taylor Swift’s ‘Eras Tour’ movie / can be heard through walls at movie theaters ..............


Nov. 2, 2023

Taylor Swift’s ‘Eras Tour’ Movie Is Interrupting Screenings Around the Country

Moviegoers say the pop star’s concert film can be heard through the walls at showings of ‘Killers of the Flower Moon,’ ‘The Exorcist: Believer’ and more

By Sara Ashley O’Brien

Taylor Swift is unmissable these days. Fans can find her performing live for crowds of 70,000, cheering for the Kansas City Chiefs from a coveted box, stepping out to dinner in New York City and filling theater seats for her “Eras Tour” film.

Even those who aren’t tuning in are getting an earful.

Moviegoers say they’ve been surprised to hear the musician’s songs through the walls at showings of “The Exorcist: Believer” and “Killers of the Flower Moon” as theaters have struggled to contain the sound of her nearly three-hour concert film.

Connor Petrey, editor in chief of movie and television review site Cinefied, heard notes from Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” while attending a screening of Martin Scorsese’s “Killers” at a Cinemark-owned theater near Cleveland, Ohio. An emotional scene when stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone grapple with deaths of Osage people “was kind of spoiled by some serious thumping on the wall from the speakers,” Petrey, 27, said. He compared the booming, invasive sounds of Swift’s stadium tour to explosions in a Michael Bay action film.

Rob Laltrello, a 21-year-old video editor, was sitting in the middle of a theater in Marietta, Ga., for a 7 p.m. showing of “The Exorcist: Believer” when he lost focus. “All I could hear was that one song about Romeo and Juliet on my left,” he said, referring to Swift’s “Love Story,” playing during a relatively quiet scene where Victor, played by Leslie Odom Jr., is speaking to his daughter. At another point, Laltrello briefly became preoccupied by the sound of Swift’s “All Too Well (10-Minute Version).”

He said other people in the theater seemed more amused than irritated. “I think everyone there watching ‘The Exorcist’ grew closer, laughing at, like, ‘Why can we hear Taylor Swift right now?’”

The team behind “The Exorcist: Believer” pushed the horror film’s release date by one week to avoid conflicting with the concert film’s Oct. 13 theatrical debut. Producer Jason Blum tweeted the announcement with a Swiftian lyrical reference: “Look what you made me do.”

That hasn’t prevented “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” from stealing the show.

“That’s kind of the impact of her right now,” said Laltrello, who credits having dated a Swiftie for his knowledge of her songs. “Obviously, huge in the news is what’s happening with the NFL and her. This is one more thing where it’s like -- not in a negative way -- Taylor Swift is kind of being crammed down our throats.”

Swift’s connection to Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce has been fodder for countless headlines. She’s become a central character during Sunday Night Football and will be performing at stadiums through next November. Her album re-recordings have given fans even more Swift to devour.

To top it off, Swift’s film production has proven a major boon for Swift and theaters, grossing more than $200 million in its first three weekends, according to box-office data from Comscore. AMC Theatres, the film’s distributor, also confirmed the figure.

Chains including AMC, Regal and Cineplex are encouraging attendees to dance and sing throughout the film. Another company, Cinemark, is offering an option for people to rent auditoriums for up to 40 people to have a “full-on dance party” with the film.

Cara Ogburn is the artistic director of the Milwaukee Film, which operates the historic Oriental Theatre that recently underwent a $6 million restoration and renovation. Part of that sum went to installing “sound-dampening material on pretty much every wall” of the three-screen movie theater and adding soundproof doors. That said, noise is still leaking into the lobby. “You can often hear three things happening at once,” Ogburn said.

“We have a history of showing ‘Stop Making Sense’ for many, many years,” said Ogburn of the 1984 Talking Heads movie. “So we are familiar with the joy, as well as the technical challenge that presenting something loud can create.”

“We have yet to receive noise complaints from other auditoriums resulting from these showings,” said Michelle Saba, vice president of communications at Cineplex in an emailed statement. “Cineplex places a high emphasis on ensuring all our guests have a memorable and positive experience in our theaters and take pride in providing viewing experiences in state-of-the-art auditoriums.”

AMC said complaints about disruptive noises in other auditoriums have been lower for “The Eras Tour” compared with other blockbuster releases. “Based on guest survey response data we collect and on anecdotal reports from our theatres, guest experiences related to this film are overwhelmingly positive,” AMC Theatres spokesperson Ryan Noonan said in an email.

Regal and Cinemark did not respond to requests for comment.

Duane Farley II, a 29-year-old pizza delivery driver, and his mother are both horror-film lovers. The two caught a recent showing of “The Exorcist” in Albemarle, N.C., where “The Eras Tour” was audible during moments of “intense silence.”

Farley II joked about the experience with his mother as it was happening: “I’d elbow her and say, ‘Oh I love this one.’”

Davis MacKinlay, a 22-year-old musician and songwriter in Toronto who has tickets to see Swift on tour in November 2024, said it has been hard to ignore concert footage on social media. The concert was also unavoidable at a recent showing of “The Exorcist” that she and her sister attended at a Cineplex-owned theater.

“You could hear the bass and people singing along in the theater. We heard a couple songs faintly,” she said, adding that one “might’ve been ‘Fearless,’” the title track from Swift’s second studio album. She and her sister lip-synced along.

MacKinlay said that the sounds actually enhanced her viewing experience.

“You got the best of both worlds,” she said. “You watch ‘Exorcist,’ and you can hear Taylor Swift at the same time.”

Write to Sara Ashley O’Brien at

Copyright © 2023 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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From: Jon Koplik12/1/2023 1:30:34 AM
   of 140
WSJ -- Your Thanksgiving Alligator Is Ready for Pickup .........................................


Your Thanksgiving Alligator Is Ready for Pickup

Why be a boar? More hosts opt for exotic meats this holiday; ‘a bear Manwich.’

Nov. 21, 2023

An alligator ‘tastes like alligator,’ says a brand ambassador for Meadow Creek, a manufacturer of smokers and grills.

By Charles Passy

Like countless Americans, Kimberly Darling celebrates Thanksgiving with a bountiful, home-cooked feast. Her take on the holiday has a swampy twist: She forgoes the familiar turkey in favor of an alligator she traps on one of her many hunting expeditions, then she brines, smokes and wraps it in bacon before serving her guests.

Pass the gator, please

"People walk in and they’re like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s a literal alligator. What did we sign up for?’” she says.

But the mild taste and tender texture can’t be beat, adds Darling, a 40-year-old nurse anesthetist who lives near Chicago.

While turkey remains the star of the Thanksgiving holiday table, enterprising hosts are adding a gamy touch to the meal, including antelope, camel, kangaroo, elk, squirrel and bear, along with gator.

Kimberly Darling with an alligator she trapped. She prepares one each year for Thanksgiving.

For those not partial to hunting down their main course, meat providers are selling the alternative fare, and they say holiday orders are brisk. At S. Ottomanelli & Sons, a butcher shop in the New York City borough of Queens that dates back some 60 years, exotic meats account for at least 25% of Thanksgiving orders, with kangaroo, ostrich and elk being among the favorites. One of the biggest challenges: sourcing python and rattlesnake, which are also on the list of holiday choices.

“There’s a big demand,” says proprietor Frank Ottomanelli. Many customers today, “they want something different.”

Ralph Forgione, a retiree who lives in Syosset, a locale on Long Island, says his family does have a turkey on the Thanksgiving table, but they like to complement it with everything from venison to elk. “We want to keep to tradition, but we also want to expand it,” he says. Forgione is a particular fan of elk, which he describes as having a red-meat taste, but with an unexpected sweetness.

Atypical meats don’t come cheap. At S. Ottomanelli & Sons, a pound of python steak runs $49.95 and an “exotic meats assortment package” costs $299.

For Ed Butler, a 58-year-old outdoorsman who calls Wolfeboro, N.H., home and owns a heating company, the Thanksgiving holiday is about serving guests a cornucopia of game meats, all of which he has hunted himself. On this year’s menu: bear, venison and squirrel.

Ed Butler processing a bear's leg. He makes a twist on Sloppy Joes -- with bear meat.

Sure, game meats can be a bit strong, says Butler, who dubs himself the “Working Class Woodsman” and does cooking videos. But it is all about how they’re processed and prepared. He makes his bear more palatable for Thanksgiving by fixing it as what amounts to a sloppy Joe—or a “bear Manwich,” as he likes to call it -- with the ground meat generously seasoned.

“It’s my wife’s favorite meal,” he says.

Antelope is among the Thanksgiving to-go options at Dai Due, an Austin, Texas restaurant with a companion hunting school. One of the dishes featuring it is antelope salami, which is yet another way to make a game meat feel slightly more familiar.

Austin resident Kim Famighetti, who works as a real-estate agent, has placed an order for the item, which she plans to feature as part of her holiday spread. Famighetti, 54, is a fan of antelope—she even served it to her wedding guests 15 years ago. And the salami format puts it on more accessible terrain. “It’s not crazy or anything,” she says.

With alligator, there are some who will deep-fry portions of the meat or feature it in a stew. But on Thanksgiving, it is indeed often about presenting the Cajun-country favorite whole for dramatic effect, with feet and head still attached.

“A whole gator is a jaw-dropper to say the least,” says Johnny Thomas, who handles marketing for the Louisiana-based

The company, an online purveyor of just what its name implies, says it sees a huge uptick in orders for whole alligator tied to the holiday. This year, it has shipped out more than 1,100 of the skinned creatures for Thanksgiving, priced anywhere from $114.99 to $699.

Brothers Mike Ottomanelli, left, and Frank Ottomanelli. Frank sells an assortment of exotic meats in the family’s butcher shop in Queens.

Carlos Washington says he wants to shake things up for the holidays, so he is among those ordering an alligator from for his family’s Thanksgiving gathering in Sacramento, Calif. Washington, 36, whose work involves assisting disabled people, has had alligator many times before and evokes the common refrain that it can taste a bit like chicken.

This will be a first-time alligator experience, however, for some of Washington’s family members.

“My mom and grandmother are scared of it,” he says. “And my daughter called it a swamp monster.”

At the very least, smoking a whole alligator can be easier than smoking a whole pig, says Lavern Gingerich, a brand ambassador for Meadow Creek, a Pennsylvania-based manufacturer of smokers and grills. Gingerich says by virtue of the alligator’s leanness, the cooking time can be much quicker.

What’s alligator like? Gingerich makes comparisons to everything from pork loin to chicken and wild turkey, but ultimately offers this description: “It tastes like alligator.”

Those who track sales of exotic meats point to signs of growth on a year-round basis. One trade report, dubbed the Power of Meat, says annual sales of exotics, based on figures from December 2022 supplied by market researcher Circana, are up 21.8% over 2019 figures and have reached $120 million.

Culinary and history experts note that as odd as it might seem to serve alligator, antelope or other exotic meat for the holiday, it actually hews closer to tradition than a commercial-grade supermarket turkey. Pilgrims and Native Americans who marked the harvest celebration we call Thanksgiving today feasted on whatever they could hunt or gather, and wild game was bound to be on the menu.

Meats including alligator, elk and boar at S. Ottomanelli & Sons.

Turkeys still rule contemporary Thanksgiving celebrations, with the National Turkey Federation estimating Americans will consume 40 million big birds on the holiday. Many culinary professionals say they’re doubtful of how far the demand for exotic meats on Thanksgiving will go.

Count Pat LaFrieda, a prominent New Jersey-based meat purveyor, among the skeptics. LaFrieda carries venison and alligator as part of his namesake company’s product lineup, but he says it is risky to serve guests something like that on a day when they’re expecting the comfort of the familiar.

“I wouldn’t gamble my holiday meal on it. You’re going to run out of stuffing, that’s for sure,” he says.

Ironically, the biggest turkey fans out there may be alligators, according to Brandon Fisher, a spokesperson for Gatorland, an alligator-filled theme park in Orlando, Fla. There is a long history at the attraction of feeding whole turkeys to the gators around Thanksgiving. They chomp them up in a few bites, bones and all.

“When we pull out these turkeys, their eyes light up,” Fisher says.

Copyright © 2023 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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From: Jon Koplik12/28/2023 1:03:28 AM
   of 140
BBC News -- Why British chocolate tastes the way it does .............................................................


Dec. 24, 2023

Why British chocolate tastes the way it does

By Veronique Greenwood

For some, there is nothing that beats the sweet, creamy, slightly baked flavour of British chocolate, while others find it an affront to their tastebuds. But why does it taste that way at all?

Imagine a taste test with identical-looking squares of milk chocolate, each from a different country. If you tasted them like a sweets-sommelier, swishing your mouth out with water before each to cleanse your palate, would you be able to tell which was British?

Online forums are littered with people insisting that there is a unique flavor to chocolate made in the UK. There are plenty of click-bait news stories as well. People love to weigh in -- and blanket condemnations of certain other nations' chocolates are hurled with glee.

According to food scientists, it's probably not in people's heads. "There do tend to be differences," says Greg Ziegler, a professor of food science at Pennsylvania State University who specialises in chocolate. But there's nothing all that surprising about that. Geographically, tastes vary quite a bit, and food companies are in the business of satisfying them. "A lot of what you like depends on what you were exposed to growing up," says Ziegler. It would be more unexpected if chocolate was the same everywhere. And anyone who has travelled will know this well -- the same big-brand chocolate bar you can pick up in the UK might taste different in the US, Australia and Asia, even if the packaging remains the same.

The real question Is, what gives British milk chocolate that taste?

An exhaustive search of the scientific literature, for both blind taste tests and details of national chocolate recipes, reveals surprisingly few results. There's a reason for that: the people who care most about this issue and have studied it most -- chocolate manufacturers, particularly those that cater to multiple markets around the world -- are not in the business of making their information public.

But Ziegler is able to shed a bit of light on what different groups of consumers tend to expect. "The Swiss like a fair amount of milk in it, probably a higher proportion of milk to cocoa, and a fresh milk taste," he says. In Belgium, milk chocolate is often darker, with a different ratio of cocoa to milk. American milk chocolate, at least of the Hershey's variety, is more acidic. This is because the milk is intentionally broken down during the manufacturing process, yielding a substance called butyric acid, while making a chocolate that's more shelf-stable. Famously, this acid is also present in vomit and partly responsible for its smell, a fact that has fueled many a headline. (Butyric acid is responsible for the smell of rancid butter, but it is also used to create certain food flavourings.)

If that gives you the shivers, you might wonder why Hershey's chocolate exists at all – much less an entire theme park in the sweet's Pennsylvania hometown and $10bn worth of sales in 2022, along with the largest chunk of the US chocolate market. Ziegler recalls that in the 1980s, when he was first working on chocolate, others had made that assumption. "Cadbury decided to put in a plant in Pennsylvania because they decided once people tasted Cadbury's they would no longer buy Hershey's chocolate," he says. "That didn't work out for them."

Hershey's bought Cadbury's American operations in 1988. People get used to a certain flavor, says Ziegler. After that, they like what they like.

If people are detecting a uniquely British flavour in milk chocolate, it's probably down to the way the crumb is made

The same ingredient, you may have noticed, comes up again and again in these discussions of chocolate taste: milk. Chocolate can be made without milk – mix cocoa butter, sugar, and a puree of fermented, roasted cacao beans, and you have a perfectly respectable dark chocolate. But in confections that use dairy, it contributes strongly to the flavor.

What's more, milk is about the only ingredient in which there is a genuine, consistent difference across borders, according to Stephen Beckett, editor of Beckett's Industrial Chocolate Manufacture and Use, the go-to tome for food scientists learning about chocolate. Beckett, who worked for the British confectionary brand Rowntree's, was from York, England, and in 2003, in the International Journal of Dairy Technology, he delved into the question of British milk chocolate's elusive flavor. It is almost the only public document tackling the issue, and Beckett begins by defining chocolate as a solid fat speckled with sugar, cocoa, and milk solids.

How quickly that fat melts when placed in the mouth affects the flavour of the chocolate -- but there is no particular difference between British chocolate and European chocolates in that respect, according to Beckett. The same is true of the proportion of milk fat in chocolate, and while adding vegetable fats to chocolate is something that is a unique practice among British manufacturers, these fats are tasteless, so they're unlikely to be contributing. What's more, the cacao used to make milk chocolate in both the UK and Europe come from what's known as "bulk" beans. They all tend to come from West Africa, and they're not a likely candidate for taste differences. Sugar, as well, is used in the same range of proportions in many countries -- the proportions used in the UK are not unique. The same goes for the relative proportions of milk.

But where things get interesting is how that milk is treated. Putting liquid milk straight into chocolate is a bad idea, as the extra water impacts the texture, so chocolate makers dehydrate the stuff to get a paste or powder. Just as Hershey's has a signature method of treating their milk, so do British manufacturers. Specifically, they use something called "chocolate crumb".

Beckett traces the origins of chocolate crumb to the early 19th Century, when milk powders, often made in the summer, went sour quickly. Chocolate makers were hoping to find a way to keep them fresh enough to meet the massive Christmas demand for chocolate. During the process, sugar is added to the milk until it reaches a consistency similar to sweetened condensed milk. Then cocoa liquor is added and the mixture undergoes a rapid dehydration process -- often by heating in a vacuum.

The process removes a great deal of water and that, along with the drying action of the added sugar, help control the growth of microorganisms, preventing the fats in the milk from going rancid. The resulting lumpy brown product resembles breadcrumbs, hence its name.

"When drying chocolate crumb at a high temperature, contact between moisture, proteins and reducing sugars is an ideal situation for promoting the browning, or Maillard, reaction," Beckett writes. "This occurs in an extreme form when milk is burnt in a saucepan, and gives rise to brown colours and cooked flavours that are usually quite distinctive and do not normally occur in milk powder products."

The result is a "unique, fruity, caramelised flavour" in the milk chocolate. Among the compounds that add to these flavours are maltol, which has a sweet caramel toffee flavour, and furfural, bringing a sweet, woody, baked-bread note.

Ziegler confirms that chocolate made with crumb, as British milk chocolates are, tends to have a slightly cooked note. "You can get some caramelisation in the milk," he says. If people are detecting a uniquely British flavour in milk chocolate, it's probably down to the way the crumb is made. Outside the UK, other methods for introducing milk, with their own distinctive flavour contributions, dominate.

The chocolate produced using crumb also tends to be more resistant to melting in hotter weather, as the softer fats in the product are bound together with less easily liquified ingredients. Key to this is ensuring the sugars -- sucrose and lactose -- crystalise as fully as possible. This also means the finished chocolate dissolves more readily in the mouth without feeling sticky, according to former head of Cadbury's UK research laboratories, Martin Wells.

Beckett himself made no claims about the superiority of one taste or another in his handbook on industrial chocolate manufacture, the latest edition of which was published three years before his death in 2020.

"There is no such thing as the ideal flavour, as what is pleasant to one person may be unacceptable to another," Beckett wrote. For those of us who find pleasure in a particular type of chocolate that others find unpalatable, it is something to relish: it means there is more for us to enjoy.

Copyright © 2023 BBC.


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From: Jon Koplik1/9/2024 6:03:02 PM
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BBC News -- Mouse filmed tidying up man's shed every night ............................

[ there is also a video available at : ]

BBC News

7th January 2024

Mouse filmed tidying up man's shed every night

By Charlie Bucklland

Despite being an avid wildlife photographer, retired postman Rodney Holbrook never expected to capture a Ratatouille-style scene unfolding in his own shed.

After regularly discovering that things from the night before had been mysteriously tidied, he set up a night vision camera on his workbench.

It captured a mouse picking up clothes pegs, corks, nuts and bolts.

He has since nicknamed the well-kept rodent Welsh Tidy Mouse.

The 75-year-old from Builth Wells, Powys, said the tidying ritual had been going on for two months.

"At first I noticed that some food that I was putting out for the birds was ending up in some old shoes I was storing in the shed," he said.

"Ninety nine times out of 100 the mouse will tidy up throughout the night.

"It is incredible really that they put them all back in the box, I think it's possible that they enjoy it."

Mr Holbrook believes the mouse is using the objects to hide away nuts, and so far the arrangement has been working in his favour.

"I don't bother to tidy up now, I leave things out of the box and they put it back in its place by the morning," he said.

"I think he would tidy my wife away if I left her in there."

No object seems to trouble the mouse either, as it has even been caught carrying cable ties to the pot.

"It's been a bit of an experiment really, I've added different things to the desk to see if they can lift it," said Mr Holbrook.

It is not the first time he has come across an organised rodent.

When living in Bristol in 2019, his friend reached out for help fixing up a night camera when another mouse was keeping their shed in order.

"That one video went viral and reached people around the world," he said,

"So I can't believe here in Builth Wells we have had the same thing happen years later."

© Copyright 2024 BBC.


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