Sheepdog guardians keep this colony of Fairy Penguins safe


Click to enlargeJJ Harrison

They’ve been our best friends for centuries, and in more recent years, dogs have proved they can also be our allies in conservation, from sniffing out endangered species to fighting wildlife crime. One place where they’ve notched up a major conservation victory is on a small island off the Australian coast, where a colony of tiny penguins has been brought back from the brink – a success story that’s now inspired a multimillion-dollar movie that opens in the country this week.

Middle Island, a rocky outcrop off the coast of Victoria, is best known for its avian inhabitants: it’s home to a colony of the world’s smallest penguins. Just 33 centimetres tall (13 inches), the little penguin – or fairy penguin, if you prefer (of course you do!) – tips the scales at only around one kilogram.

While the birds spend most of their lives at sea, they do come ashore when breeding season rolls round – and that’s where Middle Island’s residents began running into trouble. The few hundred metres that separate the island from the mainland are not much of an obstacle for hungry foxes who proved quite capable of crossing the distance at low tide for the promise of an easy penguin meal.

With the predators picking off the defenceless birds, populations began to plummet dangerously: by 2005, what was once a colony numbering in the hundreds had been left with fewer than ten survivors.

Enter “Oddball”. The maremma sheepdog was initially bought by a mainland farmer whose chickens were being targeted by the very same enemy. “I used to spend my nights up with a rifle shooting foxes. One night I noticed the neighbour’s dog barking and the light went on in my head. I realised he was barking at the same thing I was trying to shoot,” the farmer, Allan Marsh, told ABC last year.

Marsh decided to get a dog of his own, and Oddball soon proved to be a pro at keeping foxes away from the farm. After a series of fortunate events, the sheepdog ended up on Middle Island, where wildlife officials hoped her chicken-guarding skills could work to keep the penguins safe too

Oddball first set paw on Middle Island in 2006, when the penguin colony was on the verge of total collapse. Since then, other maremmas have followed in her footsteps, and the Middle Island Maremma Project has proved a major conservation success. Fox attacks have stopped entirely and penguin numbers have been recovering, with around 180 birds at last count.


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Conservation success + dogs = enough to make my heart happy for quite a spell.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Brick-laying robot can build the structure of a full-sized house in two days

As robots get smarter, cheaper and more versatile, they’re taking on a growing number of challenges – and bricklaying can now be added to the list. Engineers in Perth, Australia, have created a fully working house-building machine that can create the brick framework of a property in just two days, working about 20 times faster than a human bricklayer.

Named Hadrian (after Hadrian’s Wall in the UK), the robot has a top laying speed of 1,000 bricks per hour, which works out as the equivalent of about 150 homes a year. Of course there’s no need for the machine to sleep, eat or take tea breaks either, giving it another advantage over manual laborers…

“The Hadrian reduces the overall construction time of a standard home by approximately six weeks,” Fastbrick Robotics CEO Mike Pivac told Gizmag. “Due to the high level of accuracy we achieve, most other components like kitchens and bathrooms and roof trusses can be manufactured in parallel and simply fitted as soon as the bricklaying is completed…”

“The machine will fill the void that exists due to shrinking numbers of available bricklayers, whose average age is now nearly 50 in Australia,” he says. “[Hadrian] should attract young people back to bricklaying, as robotics is seen as an attractive technology.”

Surely beats the crap out of the romance of making adobes. 🙂

How a cancer-fake hustler fooled folks – with lots of helpers


Belle Gibson, founder of The Whole Pantry app, and son Oliviersaid the caption at news.com.au

Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin has a powerful post up about the news that Belle Gibson, a popular young Australian wellness blogger, has admitted to lying about having cancer. Gibson had convinced many people that she had “cured her terminal brain cancer by avoiding gluten and sugar,” as Jardin puts it — a claim that deserves to be treated with about as much merit as a report of a unicorn sighting. Gibson had used her story to help drum up her media profile and push her nutrition app, the Whole Pantry (the planned Apple Watch version of which disappeared from the app store about a month ago).

As Jardin, who has herself battled breast cancer, points out, we’ve entered the mass-shaming part of the story, with the predictable torrents of internet anger. It’s an understandable response, but it leaves out the complicity of many media outlets that should have known better.

Because sure, Gibson was embraced by many of the usual suspects — small health and wellness blogs with shaky-at-best understandings of science and bones to pick with processed foods and “Western medicine” — but a bigger part of the reason she was able to carve out a successful niche in the wellness world was that that mainstream outlets, particularly in her native Australia, offered her fawning coverage.

“The Whole Pantry founder inspires in the face of terminal cancer,” enthused a headline on news.com.au, a major outlet. “The Whole Pantry came out of Gibson’s determination not to be crushed by her illness and to find a way to help people like herself,” wrote the IT columnist at another. “The 25-year-old has turned her cancer diagnosis into a positive, believe it or not,” gushed an Australian Yahoo! TV host. Australian Women’s Health called her a “health game changer.” Thanks in part to all this attention, Gibson was able to expand her popularity to the States. As Jardin points out, Cosmopolitan even gave her a Fun Fearless Female award in the social media category.

It’s not reasonable to expect every single employee at every single outlet to be completely up to date on all the latest nutritional science, of course. But outlets do have at least some responsibility to not mislead their audiences. Gibson’s claims were, on their face, so outlandish that offering them a megaphone did real harm to readers and viewers: not just by encouraging them to follow a charlatan, but by potentially nudging them away from real, established treatments for diseases that can frequently be fatal. Gibson’s a liar, but she was only able to become a successful liar because so many people amplified her story without checking it first.

Bringing the question back to one we often confront: money-making journalism – the real deal – professionals who don’t do the rigorous fact-checking that is supposed to be required. Part incompetence; but, part laziness.

A PR release drops into your email inbox. Written well enough, the journalist and editor do their bit of tidying up and off it goes. I realize they’re conditioned by a fawning relationship with government and corporate overlords; but, that ain’t good enough. Cripes, at least look around, ask around online.

Suspending kids for using marijuana leads to more – not less – pot use

Suspending kids from school for using marijuana is likely to lead to more — not less — pot use among their classmates, a new study finds.

Counseling was found to be a much more effective means of combating marijuana use. And while enforcement of anti-drug policies is a key factor in whether teens use marijuana, the way schools respond to policy violators matters greatly.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Washington and in Australia, compared drug policies at schools in Washington state and Victoria, Australia, to determine how they impacted student marijuana use.

The results startled researchers: Students attending schools with suspension policies for illicit drug use were 1.6 times more likely than their peers at schools without such policies to use marijuana in the next year — and that was the case with the student body as a whole, not just those who were suspended

By contrast, the study found that students attending schools with policies of referring pot-using students to a school counselor were almost 50 percent less likely to use marijuana. Other ways of responding to policy violators — sending them to educational programs, referring them to a school counselor or nurse, expelling them or calling the police — were found to have no significant impact on marijuana use…

The researchers were initially most interested in teens’ use of alcohol and cigarettes, Catalano said. But after Washington legalized recreational marijuana use for adults in 2012, researchers decided to take a closer look at the data to determine how legalization might influence students in Washington versus their counterparts in Australia, where pot remains illegal…

Of course, the same applies to alcohol, cigarettes, unneeded stimulants – and watching reality TV.

Combine tiny house living with hybrid transportation


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Torquay landscaper James Lawler has given himself room to move — on the back of his Toyota Prius…Made primarily using scraps scavenged from the tip, the miniature house set Mr Lawler back $150 and took just over a week to complete.

The abode sports a tin roof with a chimney, a stained-glass window and a letter box displaying the car’s registration plate.

“There’s a lot of boring camper vans out there. I thought this would be a little bit more quaint and Australiana with a rusted tin roof,” Mr Lawler said…

…Mr Lawler said the extension had served its intended purpose well.

It provided a stylish place to sleep at the Meredith Music Festival in Victoria earlier this month while his fellow campers were forced to rough it in tents.

“It’s quite well insulated in there. It’s more comfortable than a tent,” he said.

After completing the 100km round trip to the festival, Mr Lawler was fined by local police.

He disputes the vehicle is unroadworthy but said his “quirky little caravan” was worth the minor upset.

I especially like the load straps holding the tiny house onto his Prius.🙂

The largest vessel the world has ever seen – is a factory

The Prelude
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Climbing onto the largest vessel the world has ever seen brings you into a realm where everything is on a bewilderingly vast scale and ambition knows no bounds.

Prelude is a staggering 488 meters long and the best way to grasp what this means is by comparison with something more familiar.

Four football pitches placed end-to-end would not quite match this vessel’s length – and if you could lay the 301 meters of the Eiffel Tower alongside it, or the 443 meters of the Empire State Building, they wouldn’t do so either.

In terms of sheer volume, Prelude is mind-boggling too: if you took six of the world’s largest aircraft carriers, and measured the total amount of water they displaced, that would just about be the same as with this one gigantic vessel.

Under construction for the energy giant Shell, the dimensions of the platform are striking in their own right – but also as evidence of the sheer determination of the oil and gas industry to open up new sources of fuel…

Prelude…pioneers a new way of getting gas from beneath the ocean floor to the consumers willing to pay for it.

Until now, gas collected from offshore wells has had to be piped to land to be processed and then liquefied ready for export…Usually, this means building a huge facility onshore which can purify the gas and then chill it so that it becomes a liquid – what’s known as liquefied natural gas or LNG – making it 600 times smaller in volume and therefore far easier to transport by ship.

And LNG is in hot demand – especially in Asia, with China and Japan among the energy-hungry markets.

To exploit the Prelude gas field more than 100 miles off the northwest coast of Australia, Shell has opted to bypass the step of bringing the gas ashore, instead developing a system which will do the job of liquefaction at sea.

Hence Prelude will become the world’s first floating LNG plant – or FLNG in the terminology of the industry.

RTFA for the economics behind the decision – because, push comes to shove, there is no other primary reason for the construction of this behemoth. Optimizing profit is the name of the only game Shell plays.

Australia tweeted #illridewithyou – and traveled in solidarity with Muslims

#illridewithyou

Against a backdrop of fear and uncertainty following the hostage taking in Sydney, thousands of ordinary Australians turned to social media to spread a message of unprecedented tolerance and solidarity.

Trending worldwide, the #illridewithyou hashtag was a response to a number of Muslim listeners who called Australian radio stations to say they were scared to travel in public as the siege unfolded.

Users offered to ride on public transport with anyone feeling intimidated. They posted their travel plans and invited others to get in touch if they were going the same way and wanted a companion.

Police stormed the Lindt cafe in the central business district, bringing an end to a day-long standoff with gunman Man Haron Monis. There is still uncertainty about his motive for taking up to 30 people prisoner.

But the sight of hostages being forced to hold a black flag bearing the shahada, the basic Islamic creed – “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God” – in the window of the cafe seemed enough to make innocent people concerned about a backlash if they wore Muslim dress in public.

There is little wonder that Australian Muslims are scared. As research has shown, terrorist attacks and events seen to be “the fault of Muslims” have been shown to catalyse a sharp increase in the number of Islamophobic attacks perpetrated against Muslims going about their everyday lives…

All this might make the popularity of the #illridewithyou hashtag surprising. But what really underpins this social media phenomenon is the fact that ordinary people are not only aware but are prepared to do something about the Islamophobia that ordinary Muslims face in the current climate…

In the world of bigots you don’t even need to be Muslim to be lynched. You simply have to “look” like a Muslim or “dress” like a Muslim. The first person I recall being murdered by a bigot right after 9/11 was a Sikh in Arizona. Reality didn’t matter in the least. The distance between Sikh and Muslim beliefs includes centuries and are nations wide. Meaningless to a narrow-minded fool.

I mentioned this response to the siege in Sydney to my wife and her first recollection was folks in a software company she deals with in much of her IT work. They’re in Georgia. After 9/11, folks throughout their company made it a point to travel together with many of their fellow workers, Indian, Pakistani, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist – everywhere – to act as an additional shield against the bigots and fools who wanted to kill a Muslim ar at least some kind of non-Christian foreigner.

$100,000 goes unclaimed — judge awards it to janitor who turned it in

An Australian magistrate ruled that a janitor in Sydney can keep most of the $100,000 in Australian currency he found while cleaning the bathroom of a television station in Sydney. The ruling came three years after Chamindu Amarsinghe found the money in a sanitary bin.

“There was too much to count,” Amarsinghe told an Australian news team. “I thought someone was playing a prank on me. But when I touched the notes, all yellow and green, I realized it was real money.”

I just thought, ‘That’s not my money, so I can’t take it away. I don’t know what the hell this money is doing here.'” He added, “Someone could have put it there and planned to come back for it. I didn’t want them to come back for it and find it gone and them come after me.

Despite criminal investigations and charges into the money’s origins, little is known of where it came from and no owner has come forward to claim the cash. Unable to determine where the money came from, Magistrate Michael Smith felt it was best left in the hands of the man who found it, saying “There’s no reason why such honesty should go unrewarded.”

Amarsinghe has moved to New Zealand where he is studying for a career in information technology…”I just want to spend my life in a normal way, find a job in IT and carry out that dream,” he said. “I’m really, really lucky. I’m not going to waste it.”

Although unsure what he’ll do with the money, Amarsinghe plans to donate a portion of it to the disabled and a portion to a Buddhist temple outside of Melbourne.

Bravo. Truly a pleasure to read of an honest man – and sensible.

Reminds me of a Palestinian I worked with in a factory back East. He hit the lottery in Palestine and used the money to bring his family to the United States where he studied and qualified for a solid industrial trade. Had enough money left over to send his daughters to college.