Archive for January, 2019

The Jamea Road has been closed to traffic for weeks, leaving Greg Broughton’s farm isolated from markets and suppliers. Photo: SUPPLIEDThe shire has received much needed funding support following the damage created by ongoing rain around the region.

Both the state and federal governments came on board with funding last week, after months of rallying from local primary producers and the council.

Both the state and commonwealth are contributing to the state natural disaster relief and recovery arrangement.

“Natural disasters can have an enormous impact on our economy and can cripple local businesses and communities,” federal member for Parkes, Mark Coulton said.

One family who understand that statement are the Broughtons who have had their road closed for almost six months.

Primary producers Greg and Kate Broughton, on Jamea Road in Dandaloo have had up to 3.5 kilometres of road under water at one time since the April rainfall.

“The biggest thing for us is the road has been closed since April and Narromine Shire Council have no money to fix the road,” Mrs Broughtonsaid.

“We can’t get stock in, although we can try and walk them in, we can’t get fuel in, we haven’t been able to spray [crops]. We can’t even get a plane in because we can’t get a fuel truck to them.”

Mrs Broughton said although the damage the rain has done to the farm is bad, the biggest issue is their road.

“We’re just trying to support council to fix the road. The council said it’ll be $560,000 to fix it and they don’t have that in their budget,” she said.

“The road is the biggest headache, getting the road fixed would make our lives so much easier.”

The Broughton’s prayers may have been answered as the funding announced last week includes funding for councils.

Both Mr Coulton and member for Narromine and deputy premier Troy Grant announced assistance for local governments, primary producers, not-for-profit organisations and people whose belongings or homes have been damaged.

For the damage to be measured, however, the rain has to stop. Which isn’t the case this week as almost 100mms is predicted and it’s not welcomed at the Broughton’s place.

“It definitely wouldn’t do us any good, but we’re in the same boat as any one else,” Mrs Broughtonsaid.

“Fingers crossed we’re on the lower end of this rain.”

Farms have been inundated with floodwater at Dandaloo in the Narromine Shire. Photo: SUPPLIED

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We’re guessing this chicken is of the rock ‘n’ roll variety. Photo: Jonathan Carroll Birdbrains they may be. But don’t underestimate the humble chook when it comes to having an ear for music. Dem birds have rhythm. They will move to music – but only if the rhythm is right.

And their genre of choice? The fast-paced bossa nova, according to University of New England animal behaviourist Gisela Kaplan.

When played the Brazilian beats, young chicks ran towards the sound at full pace. Their tweets were ones of happiness: sounds usually associated with finding food or being reunited with their family group.

When played the smooth, continuous legato sounds they became very chilled out. So much so they basically sat still on the spot.

The study’s control measure was white noise – sounds not dissimilar to what the chicks would have heard in the egg before they hatched. Curiously, this sound wasn’t greeted with much enthusiasm: the birds’ response was to crouch or walk away slowly. Some even made cheeps of slight alarm.

“They clearly discriminate between different rhythm and have entirely different responses to it vocally as well as in motion,” Professor Kaplan said. “You can clearly see and hear the difference.”

Working with Italian colleagues at the universities of Trieste and Trento, the chicks for the study were selected because they had hatched from artificially incubated eggs. This was to ensure they were a “clean slate” and had not been exposed to the rhythmic heartbeat or pulse rate of their mother as she sat on the nest.

The hatchlings were exposed to the music at between one to three days old while on a type of treadmill which could record and measure their movement.

The birds’ responses revealed both an innate understanding of rhythm and a capacity to discriminate between different types of rhythm.

Professor Kaplan said she was still to establish what it was about bossa nova music that appealed to the chicks, though she said it appeared the young birds preferred rhythm over melody.

While it may sound like an obscure piece of knowledge to establish, it could shed some evolutionary light on where auditory discrimination of rhythm began in vertebrates.

Rhythm is also a basic ingredient for language, so the findings presented at the CogEvo conference in Italy in July could potentially have implications for vocal learning, including in humans.

“It’s really very exciting, pioneer work,” Professor Kaplan said.

Until relatively recently, recognising and appreciating rhythm was thought to be a trait unique to humans. Not even great apes have been found to hold the knack.

“In the animal world, it’s extremely rare. Only in birds and perhaps some dolphins and whales do we see this,” Professor Kaplan said.  

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Nope. That’s not where that is. Photo: The RegisterOnline map services have made for some very memorable gaffes, from Apple Maps’ disastrous directions that sent people through rivers and into deserts, to the Google Maps error that led workers to demolish the wrong house. Not to be outdone, Microsoft’s Bing Maps was recently found to have misplaced an entire city.

When someone at IT industry news site The Register tried to locate Melbourne on Microsoft’s Bing Maps last week, the Victorian capital wasn’t even displayed in the correct hemisphere, showing up in the North Pacific Ocean just off the east coast of Japan. Microsoft has lost Melbourne. https://t.co/9TELlqlGj4— Simon Sharwood (@ssharwood) August 21, 2016

The error, it seemed, was that Melbourne was being placed according to the co-ordinates 37.813610, 144.963100, which would be correct if not for the fact that Bing was placing it in the northern hemisphere instead of the southern.

On Twitter, Ricky Brundritt, senior program manager for Bing Maps, said the issue had been rectified. Of some concern, however, was that he also said the error was due to incomplete data pulled from Wikipedia, that invaluable online resource that any person can edit. @ssharwood This issue has been fixed. Missing negative sign in Wikipedia data.— Ricky Brundritt (@rbrundritt) August 22, 2016

Does this mean that anyone could go into Wikipedia, mess with some numbers and throw the whole of Bing Maps upside down?

Yes and no. Brunditt went on to explain that information from Wikipedia was “mainly” pulled to provide descriptions of towns and places on the site, not location data. In this case the entries had somehow resulted in a duplicate entry from Melbourne that placed it on the wrong side of the world.

Wikipedia data wasn’t used at all in developer APIs, Brunditt said, so if you were using an app or device that relied on Bing Maps data it hopefully wouldn’t direct you to Melbourne via Fukushima.

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Russia’s RATAN-600 radio telescope, which detected the signals in May 2015. Photo: Wikimedia Commons A graph showing the signal spike, which came from the direction of star HD 164595. Photo: Bursov et al via centauri-dreams.org

“Strong signals”, potentially linked to alien life, have been picked up by a radio telescope operating in a remote corner of Russia.

The signal spikes have been linked to a 6.3-billion-year-old star, known as HD164595, found in the Hercules constellation about 95 light years from Earth. The star is known to have at least one planet and possibly more.

The signals were picked up by the Russian radio telescope Ratan-600 near Zelenchukskaya in May last year.

But before you get too excited about meeting the new neighbours, consider this.

While there is a slim chance the signals detected could be from an extraterrestrial source, it is more likely that the radio signals were the result of earthly interference.

“It looks to me like a storm in a teacup at the moment, it could be absolutely anything,” said CSIRO astrophysicist Lisa Harvey-Smith.

Dr Harvey-Smith, the project scientist on the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder project, said interference can include “radio noise” from aeroplanes and satellites or even if a star or galaxy varies its brightness.

“It’s very common that we see things like this where they go brighter than fainter,” Dr Harvey-Smith said.

However the revelation is not being dismissed and has been referred to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) in Mountain View, California, for investigation.

Stars and galaxies emit light at certain radio frequencies and radio telescopes monitor a wide band. SETI concentrates on things occurring outside these radio frequencies because that’s where the unusual activity occurs.

“It’s probably not anything but I’m glad that SETI is paying attention and will take a look at it,” said ANU astrophysicist Dr Brad Tucker.

Scientists need to establish exactly where on the radio spectrum the noise emanated from. If it came from a broad chunk then it could originate from another stellar source.

However if the signal’s origin can be pinpointed to a narrow band, then things get interesting as there is a slim chance it could come from intelligent life.

Operational since 1974, the Russian radio telescope Ratan-600’s main task is to monitor solar activity. The discovery was made in May 2015 but it only came to light on the weekend after Italian Claudio Maccone from Turin University attended a presentation outlining the discovery and shared the information with Centauri Dreams science writer Paul Gilster.  

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One of the most interesting new abilities you can earn is the power to hack anything remotely. Separate processing lines for ‘augs’ and ‘naturals’ in a Prague train station.

If you’re taking direct action, you’ll find combat much slicker and more open this time around.

Prague is a beautifully-realised city, but an oppressive place for augs.

In 2011 Deus Ex: Human Revolution reinvigorated the storied cyberpunk series with a game full of conspiracy, intrigue and player choice, and while the story has been significantly narrowed for the sequel, Mankind Divided, the game has otherwise been strengthened and enhanced across the board.

If you’re not familiar, Deus Ex is all about transhumanism and the integration of technology with human biology. In the game’s universe this integration is often shown to be a double-edged sword, both in a narrative and a gameplay sense.

While your player character has the ability to extend their physical and mental capabilities with “augments”, so too do many of the enemies you’ll face. The situation has also meant brand new forms of crime, from terrorist attacks to people having expensive augments forcibly removed for sale on the black market. And, of course, there’s government and Illuminati forces working behind the scenes to leverage the technology for their own advantage.

Following the events of Human Revolution, when mechanically-augmented humans around the world were hacked and became violent, “augs” are no longer considered fashionable but are feared, shunned and treated like second class citizens. Mankind Divided touches on the parallels between this and contemporary racism and xenophobia, but — thankfully, given the holes in the metaphor — doesn’t delve too deep.

Not only does the game look and sound better, having stepped up a console generation since last time, but its systems are more complex and its world more believable this time around too. The backbone that made the last game so great is still very much there — this is still an experience all about exploration and crafting solutions to open-ended problems on the fly — but it’s much more polished.

You won’t be travelling the world or exposing a whole series of international conspiracies in this one though, as the story is much more restrained. After a series of terror attacks are pinned on aug activists, you take control of returning superhuman protagonist Adam Jensen to get to the bottom of it.

Gameplay is again a mix of stealth, hacking, exploration and combat — in whatever quantities you like — using Jensen’s augments which range from blades that extend from your arms to pheromones that can be deployed to socially manipulate people into compliance. Each ability will open up your options in surprising ways, and as you progress it’s great fun to return to previous areas and see what new havoc you can wreak, new areas you can creep into or different conversations you can have.

Smartly, Mankind Divided avoids the sequel trope of resetting your character’s abilities to zero at the start of the game. Instead, Jensen discovers a set of mysterious “experimental” augments hidden inside his own body. These new abilities are powerful, but his body can’t produce enough power to use them all, at least at first. You need to weigh up the abilities you want and those you’re happy to block off permanently as you go.

Other new additions, like a refined cover system and real-time gun modification, really sell the idea that your experience is a direct result of your choices. Those who favour a direct approach will find combat much improved, and shooting your way out of every situation is a viable strategy now (although it can’t match the satisfaction of sneaking through an area undetected or bluffing your way through, so guns were always still a last resort for me). Also improved from the last game: every problem, boss battles included, can be solved in a large variety of ways, so you never feel as though you made the “wrong” choice by strengthening one trait over another.

As always, exploration is greatly encouraged and often well rewarded. If you want you can run from main mission to main mission to get through the story as quickly as possible, but you’d be missing the most interesting parts of the game.

The city of Prague, where much of Mankind Divided takes place, is a huge, sprawling hub filled with people to talk to, hidden areas to find and apartments to break into. Not only will conversing with its inhabitants and finding ways to explore all its alleys and rooftops give you more options to complete your missions, but it will give you access to multi-part, legitimately interesting side-quests you could otherwise have missed entirely.

It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole several hours long between main story missions— be it investigating a drug lab or finding a way to put a stop to an extorsion ring — and the side mission design is so good it’s crazy to think some people won’t see them at all.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

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