November 29, 2016

Last Wild Ocelots In Texas Get New Paths To Safety


One of the rarest and most striking wild cats in the United States is getting a helping hand in South Texas. 

Eighty or fewer ocelots – ornately spotted middle-weight felids resembling undersized, big-eyed jaguars – inhabit the far south of the Lone Star State. Long gone from its former range in Arkansas and Louisiana, and phantom-level scarce in Arizona, the species is making its last stand in the South Texas plains.

But the unique brush country here has become rarer and more fragmented in the face of agriculture and urbanisation, whittling down the ocelots' favoured habitat to perhaps one percent of South Texas. And these days, the cats face another nasty threat: getting squashed on the region's busy highways. Over the past couple of decades, about half of all ocelot mortalities in the state have come as roadkill, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

For such a critically small population, the road deaths are a big problem. In an especially dismal stretch between June 2015 and April 2016, seven ocelots were struck by cars in three adjoining South Texas counties. 

Now, the Texas Department of Transportation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are teaming up to make some of the offending roadways a little more feline-friendly. The agencies are installing a dozen highway underpasses along two highways in the vicinity of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, the most important remaining ocelot stronghold in the state. The crossings, slated to be finished by March 2017 at a price tag of $8 million, will enhance State Highway 106, which cuts through the refuge, and State Highway 100, which borders it (and which saw an ocelot death as recently as April 10 of this year).


"This is new terrain for us, since wildlife crossings have not really been built in ocelot habitat before," said Hilary Swarts, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist studying Laguna Atascosa ocelots, in a press release quoted by the Nature Conservancy. "It will be very interesting to see what our wildlife crossing monitoring program reveals about when and how ocelots and other wildlife use the newly installed crossings."

The underpasses will be broad enough to offer an approaching ocelot an enticing view of the other side, while chain-link fencing will funnel the animals toward the portals. The cats will need the encouragement, according to Swarts. "We can't put up a sign saying, 'Cross here, cross here,'" she told San Antonio's KSAT 12
A stone's throw from the Mexico line, Laguna Atascosa is the region's biggest swath of protected native habitat, and its tangled thorn wood – virtually impenetrable to human beings – makes for the perfect ocelot digs. But things are getting a little crowded for the resident population, which means young cats must brave suboptimal habitat (and those lethal thoroughfares) to find new territory.

The other significant ocelot population in the state lies about 30 miles north of Laguna Atascosa on private ranchland. As Defenders of Wildlife noted in a recent blog post, connecting these two populations – and, ideally, linking them by brushland corridors to Mexican ocelots – may be the only hope for the long-term survival of the species in Texas. Building underpasses is just one part of the solution; restoring thornscrub on either side of the border is just as critical. Public and private collaboration is also essential to expand the cats' habitat.

The South Texas thornscrub also serves as sanctuary for another rare borderland cat: the Gulf Coast jaguarundi. For both animals (not to mention jaguars farther west in New Mexico and Arizona) the future looks bleak if plans to install a wall along the US-Mexico border – which President-elect Donald Trump made one of his defining campaign promises – get the green light.

For Swarts, the ocelot highway deaths have been devastating, but she's hopeful the underpasses will make a difference. "I really take it personally. I'm hoping I won't have to feel that in the future, certainly not at the levels we've seen," she told KSAT 12.

Meanwhile, take a gander at the Laguna Atoscosa National Wildlife Refuge ocelot gallery (which has kitten shots, mind you!) for a unique look at the painted cat doing its thing in the wild subtropical thickets of South Texas.
By Ethan Shaw
With many thanks to Earth Networks

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November 28, 2016

Celebrating George Harrison


 Sadly a short write-up and a short clip.

Fortunately I have a lot more about George on my blog.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame celebrates the legacy of two-time Inductee, George Harrison.       


"Far East Man" is a song written by George Harrison and Ronnie Wood in 1974, recorded by Harrison for his 1974 album Dark Horse, and by Wood for his 1974 album, I've Got My Own Album to Do.


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Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: The Philosopher Who Helped Create the Information Age


When did the information age begin? 

One might point to the winter of 1943, when British engineers started using a room-sized machine dubbed “Colossus,” the world’s first electronic digital programmable computer, to break Nazi codes during the World War II.

Or perhaps it was February 1946, when the U.S. Army unveiled the faster, more flexible Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (aka ENIAC) at the University of Pennsylvania. History buffs may push it back further, perhaps bringing up key 19th-century figures like Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace who pioneered programmable calculating machines in Victorian England.

But we should look back even earlier, to the work of a towering but often overlooked intellect—to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the German philosopher and polymath who died 300 years ago on Nov. 14, 1716. Though you may not have heard of him, he was a man who envisioned the systems and machines that would define the digital revolution.

Something of a prodigy, Leibniz was just 8 when he started reading the books in his father’s library. (His father was a professor of moral philosophy at Leipzig University.) He quickly learned the classics, once boasting that he could recite Virgil’s Aeneid by heart. 

At school, he excelled in logic; by 17 he had defended his master’s thesis, and three years later he had qualified for his doctorate. Leibniz would go on to work as a historian, librarian, legal adviser, and diplomat. He wrote on biology, medicine, geology, theology, psychology, linguistics, and of course philosophy. The king of Prussia, Frederick the Great, described Leibniz as “a whole academy in himself.”

Famously, Leibniz clashed with Isaac Newton over the invention of calculus. Historians now believe that the two men discovered calculus independently, though it’s Leibniz’s elegant and compact notation system, not Newton’s clunkier version, that we use today.

Of course, there was no such thing as “computer science” in Leibniz’s day. But by developing the binary number system, a way of representing numerical information using zeroes and 1s, he became the father of all computer coding. (Computers don’t have to run by manipulating zeroes and 1s—but it’s a lot easier if they do.) 

Leibniz believed that machines, not people, should be crunching numbers and worked on a prototype for a device that could add, subtract, multiply, and divide. He tweaked and improved the design over many years; one of these contraptions looked like a primitive pinball game, with numbers represented by tiny spheres, rolling along grooves and going through gates that open and close. In London, his fellow scientists were so impressed with the device that they elected him to the Royal Society. He designed another machine that could do certain kinds of algebra, and yet another for cracking codes and ciphers.

Leibniz envisioned these machines would be used in accounting, administration, surveying, astronomy, the production of mathematical tables, and more. 

Tedious work that had kept human beings awake far into the night, working by candlelight, could now be mechanized.

Unfortunately, the technology of the day didn’t allow for the precisely machined parts, such as uniform screws, that Leibniz’s devices required. (For instance, as historians later discovered, something as simple as “carrying the one” turns out to be maddeningly difficult to implement in hardware.) Despite 45 years of work and many prototypes, his calculating machine was never fully functional.

But for Leibniz, computation was just the beginning: He believed that all kinds of problems could be reduced to the manipulation of symbols and tackled just as though they were mathematical problems. He imagined a kind of alphabet of human thought, whose symbols could be manipulated according to precise, mechanical rules, the work carried out by devices. He called them “reasoning machines” and envisioned the pursuit we know today as artificial intelligence.

Once the system was perfected, he believed, humanity would have “a new kind of tool, a tool that will increase the power of the mind much more than optical lenses helped our eyes, a tool that will be as far superior to microscopes or telescopes as reason is to vision.” We would weigh arguments, he said, “just as if we had a special kind of balance.” Linguistic barriers between nations would fall, and the new universal language would usher in an era of understanding, peace, and prosperity. (Leibniz was, needless to say, an optimist—he also had ambitions to reunify the Catholic and Protestant churches.)

Leibniz, however, was right in foreseeing the extent to which we would come to see our world in terms of numbers. (Even just a century ago, who would have imagined that creating and manipulating visual images, or recording a symphony, would boil down to processing certain arrangements of zeroes and 1s?) He even worried about “data overload,” as individuals and governments struggled to process, store, and retrieve the vast amounts of data that would soon be generated.

Leibniz never became a household name, and many of his ideas, like the notion of a universal symbolic language, never bore fruit. 

Much of it had to be re-discovered by later thinkers, such as the 19th-century English mathematician and philosopher George Boole, who more fully developed the idea of a logical system based on binary arithmetic. 

(You may have run across his name before: Boolean algebra, Boolean searches, Boolean system.) But, in imagining a world in which machines could be used to supplement or supplant human computation, Leibniz’s way of thinking paved the way for the information age that blossomed 250 years after his death.

By Dan Falk

With many thanks to Slate

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