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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 nidhi.subbaraman@wsj.com

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 .........

A-HED

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 Amazon.com 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 sarah.krouse@wsj.com and Jessica Toonkel at jessica.toonkel@wsj.com

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 .......................................

archive.is

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.

Jon.

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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 ...................

A-HED

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 bob.hagerty@wsj.com

Copyright © 2023 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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From: Jon Koplik5/14/2023 11:51:11 PM
   of 140
 
NJ.com -- 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 NJ.com

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 MLive.com 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 NJ.com.

“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, InsuranceHub.com, 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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From: Jon Koplik6/26/2023 12:09:01 AM
   of 140
 
WSJ -- Furby / The Hit ’90s Toy That Terrorized Parents Is Returning ............................................

June 24, 2023

The Hit ’90s Toy That Terrorized Parents Is Returning to Shelves

Furby, a talking robotic furball, will come with a few changes for a new generation -- and their parents

By Joseph Pisani



Hasbro is hoping millennials who grew up with Furby will buy one for their children.

They terrorized the ears of parents, prompted worries they could take over planes and were banned from an American spy agency for fear they would spill state secrets.

Now Furby, the chatty robotic toy from the late 1990s, is coming back to store shelves.

Hasbro said it is relaunching the toy for a new generation, hoping millennials who grew up with the furballs will buy them for their children. This time, the new Furbys will come with something the ’90s version didn’t have: an off switch.

“Yes, you can shut Furby off,” promised the Amazon.com listing for the toy.

Furby became a sensation after hitting stores in 1998. The toys, which came a dozen years before the iPhone was introduced, sang and talked gibberish in a high-pitched voice. They were hard to find for two Christmases.

“It was one of the biggest toy crazes of all time,” said Jim Silver, editor in chief of TTPM, a toy review site.

A

Walmart manager hands out Furbys to eager shoppers in New Mexico in 1998.

Hospitals and airlines at the time had concerns about Furby, fearing it would interfere with medical equipment or flight plans. The Federal Aviation Administration categorized the toys as portable electronic devices, restricting their use on flights.

Worries that Furby was a recording device led the National Security Agency to ban it. At the Naval Shipyard in Norfolk, Va., personnel were told to take action if they saw the furry robot: “seize it and its owner -- this is a security violation.” (The company behind Furby always said the toy wasn’t a recording device.)

Original Furbys didn’t have an off switch on purpose, to mimic real pets. “In real life you just can’t turn your cat or dog off and on,” an executive for the toy maker told The Wall Street Journal in 1999.

Furby hasn’t really disappeared since its heyday. It was given an update in 2016 and has made appearances in movies. The 2019 Adam Sandler film “Uncut Gems” featured a gold Furby pendant on a gold chain.



The chatty robotic toy has found a second life online.

The cuddly bot has had a second life on social media. “There’s so much Furby content on TikTok,” said Madeleine Buckley, senior editor at review site the Toy Insider. People post videos of themselves powering up their old Furbys on TikTok, where videos with the hashtag #Furby have more than 550 million views.

Toy makers have long brought back toys from the 1970s and ’80s, but are now entering a new decade.

“The ’90s has officially entered retro territory,” said Buckley.

Barney, the purple dinosaur that ruled TV screens in the 1990s, is relaunching as a cartoon. So is Neopets, a computer game launched in 1999. Earlier this year, American Girl released its latest historical doll: ’90s twins from Seattle who wear flannel and whose sold-separately accessories include a desktop computer with floppy disks.

Hasbro said the new Furbys are tweaked for a new generation. They’ll have brighter colors, rainbow colored eyes and put on light shows.

“Be my best friend?” the box says.

Write to Joseph Pisani at joseph.pisani@wsj.com

Copyright © 2023 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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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 ..................................

WSJ

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 robert.mcmillan@wsj.com

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 : hakaimagazine.com

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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.

westofthesunset.blog

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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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