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(Crisp photography/Thinkstock)
(Crisp photography/Thinkstock)

Does the flat Netherlands need a mountain? Add to ...

Dutch peak envy?

“The Netherlands is famous for being an extremely flat country,” says Der Spiegel. “But now a Dutch journalist has attracted attention with a proposal for constructing an artificial mountain in the country – and some people are taking the idea seriously. Journalist Thijs Zonneveld became a household name in the Netherlands overnight with a short column that looked like something written to fill a slow summer news day. But his idea to build a 2,000-metre peak appears to have caught the public’s imagination. Zonneveld, a sports writer, wrote a few days later that, while the suggestion had initially been ‘ een grap’ – a joke – it had since turned into much more. ‘I have dreamed of having a mountain in Holland since I was 15,’ he says. ‘I drew mountains on our map.’ The Dutch, says Zonneveld, are ‘obsessed’ with mountains. ‘We spend all of our vacations there. We drive to Germany, France and Switzerland.’ … [I] stands to reason that the Dutch would also pay to use a mountain in their own country.”

A superhuman effort

“Chile has turned to the powers of a psychic to find the bodies of 17 people still missing after a military plane crash near the remote Robinson Crusoe Island in the Pacific Ocean,” reports Agence France-Presse. “ ‘We are working with a person who is on one of the [search]boats,’ Defence Minister Andres Allamand told national Chilean TV in response to a question of whether a medium was taking part in recovery efforts. ‘Not only are we using all of our technological capabilities, but also all the human and superhuman abilities that may exist,’ he said.”

Security had a big decade

“Before 9/11,” says The Washington Post, “Americans did not worry so much about random acts of terrorism, but now they find comfort in knowing that more than a million security guards – double the number in the nation’s work force a decade ago – patrol shopping malls and power plants and work through the night to protect public spaces. Falken Industries … saw opportunity in the country’s new anxiety. In just eight years, it ballooned from zero to 150 guards, blanketing government buildings, embassies and corporate sites in Washington and its suburbs with guards trained for every conceivable disaster. The company protects bowling alleys and jewellery stores with the same kind of attention it gives its top-secret government customers.”

Mooo? That’s a tank

“Tanks could soon get night-time invisibility thanks to a cloaking device that masks their infrared signature,” reports BBC News. “Developed by BAE Systems, the Adaptiv technology allows vehicles to mimic the temperature of their surroundings. It can also make a tank look like other objects, such as a cow or car, when seen through heat-sensitive scopes. … The high-tech camouflage uses hexagonal panels or pixels made of a material that can change temperature very quickly. About 1,000 pixel panels, each of which is 14 centimetres across, are needed to cover a small tank. The panels are driven by on-board thermal cameras that constantly image the ambient temperature of the tank’s surroundings.”

Making robot airheads

“Chat bots” – robots programmed to mimic human conversation patterns – were recently featured on National Public Radio. The host, Robert Siegel, asked a Cornell University professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering: “How far away do you think you are from a truly convincing spontaneous-reacting computer?” Hod Lipson replied: “I think we’re getting closer. We’ve seen computers play chess and beat grand masters. We’ve seen computers drive a car across a desert. But interestingly, playing chess is easy, but having a conversation about nothing is really difficult for a computer. And that seems to be the ultimate test of intelligence, and so I think we’re getting closer but we still have a long ways to go.”

Some are making hay

– “What’s expected to be the smallest hay crop [in Colorado]in more than a century has boosted the demand for – and therefore the price of – hay, creating a good-news-bad-news situation that touches everyone from hay producers and cattle growers to grocery shoppers when they pick up a gallon of milk or pint of ice cream,” reports The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction, Colo. “… The price of alfalfa hay in Colorado jumped from $130 [U.S.]a ton in January to $180 in July. … Alfalfa hay was selling for $125 a ton at this time last year.”

– “About 90 per cent of the timothy hay grown in Kittitas County [Wash.]is shipped overseas, with importers mostly from Japan selecting bales largely based on colour,” reports The Seattle Times. “… It means $35-million to $38-million [U.S.]is paid to the farmers, and an additional $80-million or so pumped into the economy as the farmers then spend money on everything from equipment to labour. … At a time when some wonder what the United States can export other than movies and video games, the exporting of timothy hay is an amazing success story. … Horse and dairy-cow owners in this state do buy some of the timothy, but for the most part, they’re priced out.”

Thought du jour

“They are not free who drag their chains after them.”

- French proverb

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