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Seat belts for pets

A poll of New Jersey voters indicates 45 per cent support a bill requiring pets to be restrained during car trips, with 40 per cent opposed, says United Press International. The legislation, before the state assembly, would require pets to be in restraints or crates during the journey. "The measure would carry a $20 fine for violations ad could lead to animal-cruelty charges bearing fines of up to $1,000. Assemblywoman Grace Spencer, the bill's sponsor, said police in East Brunswick, N.J., believe an unrestrained dog may have contributed to an incident leading to the deaths of two pedestrians."

Ain't heard nothing yet

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"Robots and humans will soon be living in harmony," says the New Scientist. "A singing robot is being taught to improvise jazz duets with a human in a project that researchers hope will shed light on the nature of consciousness. Antonio Chella at the University of Palermo, Italy, is working with a Telenoid robot developed by the Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratory in Japan. To start with, the Telenoid will be trained to mimic the movements and simple sounds made by a human singer, as well as associate parts of music with different emotional states. [Prof.] Chella then plans to see if the robot can use these associations to improvise – choosing movements and vocalizations that complement its human duet partner. Intelligence is often defined as the ability to find connections between existing entities. … But [Prof.]Chella suggests a conscious organism should be able to introduce novel connections … that, in essence, is the idea behind improvisation."

Too few fish in the sea?

"Fewer than 100 mature cod are left in the North Sea, owing to decades of overfishing, government experts have found," reports The Sunday Times of London. "An analysis of catches at North Sea ports across Europe in 2011 found not a single cod over the age of 13. Mature cod can live for up to 25 years and reach [1.8 metres long]. Scientists say the reduced life expectancy of cod is lowering birth rates and accelerating the fall in stocks. Cod become more fertile as they get older, so the scarcity of older fish is particularly serious."

Lawyer versus gator

"A stunned Steve Gustafson thought only of saving his 'best friend' from the jaws of a seven-foot alligator carrying away his terrier for a quick meal," reports The Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel. The 66-year-old grandfather and retired corporate lawyer was trimming his oak tree while the gator lurked in a quiet pond nearby. Bounce, a butterfly-chasing West Highland terrier, was at the water's edge when [Mr.] Gustafson heard a bloodcurdling yelp. He looked out and watched the gator swimming away, with Bounce's shoulder and collar in its grasp. A screaming [Mr.] Gustafson scrambled to the water's edge and took a running leap. After a frenzied struggle with the gator, he rescued Bounce. "For whatever reason, I don't know, I just yelled 'You're not going to get her!' and just leaped on the gator … just like you do some silly belly flop in a pool," he said. "The only difference was, I landed on top of a gator."

Raccoons in Berlin

"A species first imported from the United States in the 1930s," reports the Los Angeles Times, "Germany's raccoon population is exploding and encroaching on the human environment more than ever before. … In the German capital, raccoons once confined to forested margins now make regular appearances in the city proper, including one that popped up in busy Alexanderplatz, a square full of tourists and shoppers. Overturned trash cans on leafy residential streets attest to nocturnal forages. This month, to the bewilderment of other passengers, two raccoons boarded a subway train."

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Thought du jour

"It is possible to be a great scoundrel without ever doing anything that is forbidden."

Hermann Hesse

German-Swiss author (1877-1962)

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