Amusing Monday: Amazing drones bring us new stories to tell

Unmanned aircraft, commonly known as drones, are taking over the world. At least it seems that way. If you don’t believe me, search for “drone” on YouTube. You’ll find amateur aviation specialists — and a variety of professionals — demonstrating what drones can do. Some of the things are pretty amusing.

I’ll mention some water-related drone stories below, but the first video on this page shows a hawk attacking a drone owned and operated by Christopher Schmidt, a 30-year-old software developer. I think Chris did a nice job of protecting the bird by throttling down the props on his Phantom FC40 quadcopter. The final result is a great up-close view of an angry bird, well deserving of a place in “Amusing Monday.”

Chris was using the drone to get images of changing leaves in Magazine Beach Park in Cambridge, Mass., last Wednesday, when he saw a bird circling a good distance away. The circling continued as the bird moved closer to the drone.

“Overall,” he told me in an email, “I was surprised by how quickly he moved from 400 feet away to on top of the quad. When he was very nearby, my initial thought was, ‘Okay, stay still, so he can avoid it’ — which obviously didn’t work out for me.”

Christopher Schmidt with his Phantom drone. Photo courtesy of Christopher Schmidt.
Christopher Schmidt with his Phantom drone.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Schmidt.

He said he saw no evidence beforehand that the bird was upset or likely to attack. Over the six months he owned the drone, nothing like that had happened, except for a few crows squawking at the aircraft. After he posted the video, he learned from bird experts that immature red tail hawks have not yet learned to hunt efficiently, so they may attack anything that moves.

As the hawk attacked, Chris cut power to the props, which caused the quad to drop. The bird hit the chopper and it flipped. Chris was unable to recover the flight, still worried about the bird, though he powered back up at the end.

“If I had done nothing,” he wrote, “I expect the quadcopter would have done the flip (which it did) and immediately recover — possibly losing about
10 feet of altitude. My fear in that case was that the hawk would still
see it as a threat and come back a second time. Well, really, it was
about a half second, so I was not really thinking that much through it.

“I still would do the same thing if I had to do it all over, even if it might have put the quadcopter at less risk.”

The hawk appeared to be fine after the attack. Photo courtesy of Christopher Schmidt
The hawk appeared to be fine after the attack.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Schmidt

As it turns out, the quad sustained almost no damage from falling out of the sky and hitting the ground, except for a slightly bent landing gear. And the hawk was no worse for wear.

Lots of media have been using the footage that Chris took. Based on a suggestion from a coworker, he is donating any money raised from YouTube ads to the American Audubon Society. Thanks to Gene Bullock of Kitsap Audobon for alerting me to this video.

OK, so what are some other odd things that drones can do? How about helping out with an ALS ice bucket challenge? In the second video, Austin Hill of Spark Aerial uses a massive DJI S1000 Octocopter to lift a bucket of ice water and pour it rather slowly on his head.

I’ve shown you videos of the Flyboard®, an apparatus developed in France by Franky Zapata. See Amusing Monday, Oct. 15, 2012. Martin Schumacher goes one better by using a DJI Phantom and GoPro Hero 3 to shoot an up-close demonstration video around Saint-Tropez in Southeast France.

It was only a matter of time before someone got the idea to use a drone for fishing — no matter how inefficient that might be. Check out this 7-minute video by NightFlyer (the action starts about 5 minutes in) or this shorter 1.5-minute video by RYOT. Both these guys now have fish stories to tell. But, after all that work, even they would admit that the fish they caught are rather amusing.

On a more serious note, there are many legal issues related to drones, which are not yet approved by the Federal Aviation Administration for commercial use, and there are many concerns related to privacy. People also are raising questions about whether drones should ever be used for hunting or fishing. Michael R. Shea tackles the subject for “Field and Stream” magazine.

If sportsmen are thinking about using drones, game wardens are not far behind, as they consider how drones might be used to catch poachers. “National Geographic” looks at the use of drones in high-seas fisheries enforcement.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington vetoed a bill that would have limited the use of drones by law enforcement. He then set up a task force to look at the entire subject. A representative of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said in one task force meeting that there could be applications for enforcement and research by the agency. The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Task Force is expected to make recommendations before next year’s legislative session.

Amusing Monday: Studies that tickle the funny bone

Did you know that if you eat dinner with an overweight person, you are likely to eat more food. But if you eat with a slim person, you are likely to eat less?

Did you know that if you swear out loud after stubbing your toe or striking your finger with a hammer, that your swearing can actually reduce your perception of the pain?

Did you know that if you watch a funny movie with a group of friends, the movie will seem funnier than if you watch the movie alone? That may seem obvious, since people tend to react to each other. But did you know that the same movie can seem funnier even if your friends are watching the movie somewhere else, such as a place where you cannot see or hear them?

These are apparently the findings of real scientific studies, as reported by “Seriously, Science?” a blog on Discover magazine’s website. Finding such oddly revealing — and sometimes seemingly silly — research studies was the idea of Meredith Carpenter and Lillian Fritz-Laylin, two biologists who studied at the University of California, Berkeley. The blog was originally titled “NCBI ROFL,” for National Clearinghouse for Biotechnology Information – Rolling on the Floor Laughing.

The blog originally had more of a satiric edge, poking fun at some of the research topics. (Sex and bodily functions are frequent themes.) We are left to wonder who is coming up with these ideas — and who is paying to carry out this research.

Like most satires, “Seriously, Science?” looks for the humorous side of the work, generally ignoring any real value the studies may have.

“Some studies that sound funny do have a valid purpose in a specific field that may not be obvious to an outsider looking in,” Carpenter told Kim Carollo, a reporter for ABC News.

Fritz-Laylin recalled a research project designed to find out what happens to the human foot if it gets run over by a car.

“They took a bunch of feet from cadavers, put them in shoes and rolled over them,” Fritz-Laylin told Carollo. “It’s useful to find out about that, but it’s mind-boggling to imagine them setting it up.”

The video on this page shows Carpenter and Fritz-Laylin in a five-minute talk for Ignite, which has the motto, “Enlighten us, but make it quick.” We see them here in 2011 putting on a slide show describing 20 of their favorite research findings.

If you’d like to read more about the three studies mentioned at the top: 1) Dining with heavyweights, 2) swearing at pain and 3) watching comedies

On a related note, the Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded a couple weeks ago (Sept. 18) at Harvard University. The 10 prizes in various fields are deemed to be the best research that “makes people laugh and then think,” as outlined by the website “Improbable Research.” The website contains ongoing reports of humorous and oddball studies, including some rather elaborate discussions as only real scientists can do. The Ig Nobel prize is a play on the word ignoble, which means either humble or dishonorable.

You can read about this year’s winners of the Ig Nobel Prizes on the Winners Page. The second video on this blog entry, though long, is rather amusing, as many of the Ig Nobel Prize winners explain the importance of their research. The presenters of the awards are none other than genuine Nobel Laureates who have come to enjoy the fun. Here is a quick description of the various projects:

PHYSICS: Researchers measured the amount of friction between a shoe and a banana skin, and between a banana skin and the floor, when a person steps on a banana skin that’s on the floor.

PSYCHOLOGY: Researchers amassed evidence showing that people who habitually stay up late are, on average, more self-admiring, more manipulative, and more psychopathic than early-risers.

PUBLIC HEALTH: Researchers investigated whether it is mentally hazardous for a human being to own a cat.

BIOLOGY: Researchers carefully documented that when dogs defecate and urinate, they prefer to align their body axis with Earth’s north-south geomagnetic field lines.

ART: Researchers measured the relative pain people suffer while looking at an ugly painting, compared to a pretty painting, while being shot in the hand by a powerful laser beam.

ECONOMICS: The prize went to the Italian government’s National Institute of Statistics, which proudly stepped up to fulfill a European Union mandate requiring each country to increase the official size of its national economy by including revenues from prostitution, illegal drug sales, smuggling, and all other unlawful financial transactions between willing participants.

MEDICINE: Researchers promoted a method of treating “uncontrollable” nosebleeds with nasal packing, using strips of cured pork.

ARCTIC SCIENCE: Researchers tested the reactions of reindeer when confronted by humans disguised as polar bears.

NUTRITION: The title of the research paper speaks for itself: “Characterization of Lactic Acid Bacteria Isolated from Infant Faeces as Potential Probiotic Starter Cultures for Fermented Sausages.”

If you find these amusing, you can read about previous Ig Nobel Prize winners on the Winners Page, following this year’s winners.

Killer whales expected to head south any day now

UPDATE, Oct. 4
Orca Network reported a brief appearance of J pod this week near San Juan Island: “On Wednesday, October 1, J pod plus L87 Onyx and a few K pod members shuffled in small groups spread out up and down the west side of San Juan Island for over eight hours, then returned around midnight and continued vocalizing near the Lime Kiln hydrophones for another few hours.”
—–

As chum salmon swim back to their home streams in Puget Sound this fall, three killer whale pods — the Southern Residents — can be expected to follow, making their way south along the eastern shoreline of the Kitsap Peninsula.

Whale viewing locations by Orca Network. Click on image to view Google map.
Whale viewing locations by Orca Network. Click on image to view Google map.

These forays into Central and South Puget Sound could begin any day now and continue until the chum runs decline in November or December. The Southern Residents, which typically hang out in the San Juan Islands in summer, have not been spotted for several days, so they are likely somewhere in the ocean at the moment, according to Howard Garrett of Orca Network.

This year, Orca Network has created a map of good viewing sites to help people look for whales from shore. As the orcas move south into Puget Sound, Orca Network’s Facebook page becomes abuzz with killer whale sightings. Observers can use the information to search for the whales from shore.

From my experience, it takes a bit of luck to find the orcas, because they are constantly moving. But the search can be fun if you consider it an adventure and don’t get too disappointed if you don’t find the whales right away.

Howie said expanding the network to include more land-based observers can help researchers track whale movements and occasionally go out to pick up samples of their fecal material or food left over from their foraging, helpful in expanding our knowledge about what they are eating.

Whale reports may be called in to Orca Network’s toll-free number: (866)-ORCANET, emailed to info@orcanetwork.org, or posted on Facebook, www.facebook.com/OrcaNetwork.

The new Viewpoints Map shows locations where killer whales have been sighted in the past, or else they lie along a known route of their travels.

I told Howie about a few good viewing locations in Kitsap County, based on my experiences, and he said he would welcome ideas from others as well.

“It’s a work in progress,” Howie said. “They just need to be locations that are public and accessible.” If you know of a good whale-watching spot, you can contact Howie or his wife Susan Berta by email, info@orcanetwork.org.

If offering a location for the map, please give a clear description of the site and state whether you have seen whales from that location or just believe it would work based on the view of the water.

Some people have expressed concern that real-time reports of whale movements may encourage boaters to go out and follow the orcas in Puget Sound, disturbing their feeding behavior at a critical time of year. But Howie says Orca Network has increased its reporting through the years and has not heard of many problems.

“It seems like a potential problem that never really happens,” he said.

Winter weather and rougher seas makes it difficult to find the whales from the water, Howie noted. As in summer, boaters are required by federal regulation to avoid interfering with their travels. See the “Be Whale Wise” website.

When reporting whale sightings to Orca Network, observers are asked to list the species, location, time, direction of travel and approximate number of animals. When reporting killer whales, the number of adult males with towering dorsal fins should be noted. Also report any behaviors, such as breaching, spy-hopping or feeding. Good photographs are especially valuable.

Sighting reports can be found on the Orca Network website, Facebook page or Twitter feed. One can also sign up for email alerts from the website, which includes reports of recent sightings as well as archives going back to 2001. The site also tracks news and research developments.

As Howard stated in a news release:

“We are very fortunate to live in a place where we can look out from nearby shorelines and see those majestic black fins parting the waters. We are thankful for the hundreds of citizens who report sightings each year, providing valuable data to help in recovery efforts for the endangered Southern Resident orcas.”

Orcas Dyes

Can we escape water fights in Puget Sound?

“Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.”

This quote kept running through my mind as I completed the eighth part of our series “Taking the Pulse of Puget Sound.” The latest installment, published in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun, is about water resources.

Craig Greshman of Gresham Well Drilling drills a new well on Virginia Point in Poulsbo. Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall
Craig Greshman of Gresham Well Drilling drills a new well on Virginia Point in Poulsbo.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

It seems from my interviews that we should have enough water in the Puget Sound region to serve the needs of people while maintaining streamflows for fish and other aquatic organisms. It’s all about managing the resource, as I describe in the story.

What isn’t so clear to me is what we need to do about water rights, and this is where the real hangup can come in. People, governments and developers are allowed to reserve vast amounts of water for various uses, then they simply need to “use it or lose it.” That does not encourage conservation.

Water rights are considered a property right. Even if the Legislature had a plan for clearing up all the conflicts, it would not be easy. So far, the courts have been fairly strong in upholding individual water rights, even when the needs of society call for a new direction.

We’ve all encountered belligerent people who speak out loudly about their property rights. They’ll say, “This is my property, and I’ll be damned if I will have the government telling me what I can and cannot do with my property.”

Well, I’m sorry. But that battle is over. Zoning laws have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Reasonable restrictions can be imposed on the use of property to protect the rights of the neighbors and the entire community.

But water rights are fairly entrenched and inflexible. It may be in the best interest of a community if a farmer could find ways to grow his crops with less water and share the surplus with a growing population. But is it fair to expect the farmer to give away his water rights for free, or should he be paid a sizable amount of money to set free the water he is holding hostage? Maybe he will need that water in the future, given the uncertainties of climate change.

And then there is the groundwater-permit exemptions for single family homes, allowing withdrawal of up to 5,000 gallons per day of water from a well — even though most families use only a few hundred gallons a day. In addition, the courts have ruled that farmers may use an unlimited amount of groundwater for watering livestock. All these water rights are recorded on the books, competing with other water rights — including instream flows to protect water in the streams for fish and other aquatic creatures.

Such water rights can be issued until there is no water left to appropriate or until there is a real water shortage and people generally agree that an adjudication is necessary. That’s when the courts begin to sort out who is using what water and for how long, trying to resolve the tangled claims and conflicts. While it may seem like the most reasonable solution, the adjudication process involves historical evidence and legal rulings that never seem to end. Such an adjudication has been underway in the Yakima basin for 40 years, according to the Department of Ecology website.

While water supplies in the Puget Sound region seem to be generally adequate for years to come, it is unlikely that people and governments will find a way to share this precious resource, setting the stage for ongoing legal battles.

“Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.”

While this quote is commonly attributed to Mark Twain, there is no evidence he ever said it. See the blog entry by Michael Doyle of McClatchy Newspapers. Trying to prove that Twain never said it, however, is virtually impossible. It reminds me of the effort it may take to prove that one of our ancestors put his water rights to “beneficial use,” thus guaranteeing a quantity of water for all time.

Click on image to download the complete graphic
Click on image to download the complete graphic (PDF 2.8 mb).

Amusing Monday: New worlds explored with GoPro

The GoPro action camera is the force behind hundreds of amazing videos. Thanks to this unique camera, we have raced across the land, soared into the sky and dove beneath the waves.

We have not only followed people closely as they’ve undertaken wild adventures, we have traveled with a variety of animals through their natural habitats. One of my favorite videos, shown first on this page, includes some of the best animal shots taken by many photographers and compiled by the producers of Tastes Like Pizza.

The GoPro is no longer the only compact, rugged and mountable high-definition camera around, but the name has become synonymous with the type of videos I’d like to highlight today. The history of the GoPro was the subject of an interesting “60 Minutes” segment, in which Anderson Cooper mentions that the GoPro has been used again and again to capture video for the television program.

If it’s action shots you like, check out the second video, a compilation by GoPro, created as a promotion for its Hero3 camera. If you’re like me, you will be intrigued by the time-lapse photos in this video and transfixed by the action shots.

How about some more great animal shots? Of course, all these videos should be viewed full-screen:

Jellyfish Lake: Photographer Nana Trongratanawong of Bangkok, Thailand, shot this amazing video in a lake in Palau. She used different music in the video she posted on her website.

Humpback whales: Drone photographer Justin Edwards captures some amazing shots of a young humpback whale and its mom swimming off the coast of Maui in February of this year. About halfway through, you can see the baby riding on its mom’s back.

Shark Riders: Free divers Roberta Mancino and Mark Healey create a dreamlike video that tells a story of becoming one with the ocean and its creatures.

Teaching a pelican to fly: After a storm, a young pelican was found stranded on a beach in Tanzania>The staff of the nearby Greystroke Mahale resort adopted the animal, named him “Big Bird” and reminded him how to fly. With a GoPro attached to his beak, the pelican investigated the waters, then swooped back around to the beach where the flight instructors were waiting.

Amusing Monday: Images from the deep sea

The fish below is known as a fangtooth, a tropical fish found in the ocean up to 16,000 feet deep. Upon second glance, you will see a human eye and a chin and realize that you are looking at a very nice painting on a human head.

Anoplogaster cornuta, Fangtooth. Make up by Helena Jordana Skuhrovcov, Prague, Czech Republic. Photograph: Helena Dufková Photo courtesy of Bloom Association/LUSH
Anoplogaster cornuta, Fangtooth. Make up by Helena Jordana Skuhrovcov, Prague, Czech Republic. Photograph: Helena Dufková // Photo courtesy of Bloom Association/LUSH

The artist is Helena Jordana Skuhrovcov of the Czech Republic. She is one of several body painters who have joined the protest against deep-sea bottom trawling in Europe, a campaign sponsored by LUSH cosmetics and Bloom Association, a marine conservation group.

Each of the artists involved in the project has painted a different deep-sea creature to raise awareness about life in the deep ocean and to call upon European governments to ban deep-sea bottom trawling.

States a press release from the two organizations:

“The deep ocean is the largest habitat on the planet – teeming with all kinds of unique marine life including corals and sponges that live for hundreds to thousands of years. But deep-sea bottom trawlers are destroying them, dragging giant weighted nets, cables and steel plates more than 2 tonnes each across the ocean floor to catch a small number of low value fish…

“A successful ban would represent a momentous historical milestone in the fight to protect our deep ocean from unnecessary destruction. Deep-sea bottom trawling is a capital-intensive, fuel-greedy, subsidy-dependent fishing method that fails to yield positive economic results while destroying the natural habitat of European seas.”

Paragorgia, Bubblegum Coral. Make up by Maeva Coree, Paris, France. Photograph: Alexandre Faraci Photo courtesy of Bloom Assocation/LUSH
Paragorgia, Bubblegum Coral. Make up by Maeva Coree, Paris, France. Photograph: Alexandre Faraci // Photo courtesy of Bloom Assocation/LUSH

The Bloom Association’s website contains a gallery of 16 of these body paintings of deep sea creatures, although The Guardian’s gallery of the same paintings seems a little easier to navigate.

The video below shows some of the artists painting their models during a tour of Europe earlier this month. It drives home the theme of the anti-trawling campaign, which has been joined by numerous celebrities, as shown in a “gallery of support.”

Thanks to Fred Felleman for calling my attention to this interesting artwork. And, no, I’m not confused about the day of the week; I just had too much going on yesterday to focus on “Amusing Monday.”

Amusing Monday: Avast there! Shiver me … what?

This Friday, Sept. 19, has been designated Talk Like a Pirate Day. Rather than burning itself out, as one might expect of such a crazy holiday, the event seems to grow bigger each year. For many people, it’s about dressing up and having some fun in the month before Halloween.

Ol’ Chumbucket (aka John Bauer) decided to shiver his skull and crossbones this year by joining the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS, as you can see in the first video on this page.

We can thank Mr. Baur and his longtime friend Mark Summers, known as Cap’n Slappy, for starting this unusual event. In the beginning, they were just a couple guys goofing around with pirate talk until they came up with an idea for a national holiday.

The two, along with some friends, celebrated “Talk Like a Pirate Day” for several years until they informed humor columnist Dave Barry about it. He wrote a column and gave the event some national credibility. It took off, capturing the imaginations of people around the world, as described in on the official webpage of Talk Like a Pirate Day.

The webpage also includes a map of events scheduled for this Friday. On the Kitsap Peninsula, for example, Kiana Lodge near Suquamish will feature pirate fun and games from 5 to 9 p.m. As described on the Kiana Lodge website, “Gnaw on turkey legs, dig for treasures, and do your best pirate impersonation, all in celebration of International Talk Like A Pirate Day.”

The nearby Clearwater Casino also is joining in the fun with giveaways and a costume contest with prizes up to $750. See the casino’s website for details.

While speaking of giveaways, Krispy Kreme donuts has a nice offer. Talk like a pirate on Friday and get a free donut. If you come in dressed like a pirate, you will get a free dozen donuts. Read the fine print on the Krispy Kreme website to see what qualifies as appropriate pirate attire. (Swords and knives do not count.)

By the way, I still enjoy the official song of “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” shown here.

Also worth mentioning for “Amusing Monday” is a comic strip by Doug Savage, who will be featuring a pirate theme all week in his strip “Savage Chickens.” This link also takes you to last year’s cartoons featuring this theme.

Amusing Monday: See Walter. See Walter run.

When I’m on vacation, I usually offer a blog entry from my “Best of Amusing Monday” series.

But this time I want to show you a video that has gone viral on YouTube —which means you may have already seen it. If not, I hope you are amused by this dog, Walter, who keeps running and running, apparently with some destination in mind. As viewers, we’re not sure where Walter is going until he gets there, but we’re with him all the way. His final landing is quite appropriate for this blog.

Another video of Walter, a Labrador retriver, seems to show his path from a different vantage point. The location is Siracuse on the island of Sicily, Italy.

By the way, I’m curious if anyone understands the reference in my headline, “See Walter. See Walter Run.” Can you name the original children’s book that included another dog that became famous?

Celebrating freedom for the Elwha River

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Elwha Prigge

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I want to recognize the Kitsap Sun’s editorial cartoonist Milt Priggee for capturing the feeling of the moment last week when the final piece of a dam on the Elwha River was blown up. See Water Ways, Aug. 27, 2014.

The video below was recorded on that same day by Anne Shaffer of the Coastal Watershed Institute while snorkeling in a kelp bed in western Freshwater Bay, not far from where the Elwha River flows into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Watching this video and the large number of herring gives me a feeling of optimism, although I recognize there is no scientific basis for this. Someone please tell me the herring are doing better.

“We couldn’t think of a better place to be the day the last dam went down,” Anne said in an email to members of her listserv.

The Coastal Watershed Institute has been monitoring the nearshore area, where the Elwha River has been dramatically transforming the delta. Sediment, unleashed by dam removal, pours out of the Elwha and builds up in the estuary.

Tom Roorda, an aerial photographer, has been documenting the transformation with thousands of pictures he has taken over the past several years.

Tom Roorda of Roorda Aerial photography captured this image showing the ongoing buildup of sediment at the mouth of the Elwha River. Photo by Tom Roorda
Tom Roorda of Roorda Aerial photography captured this image showing the ongoing buildup of sediment at the mouth of the Elwha River. // Photo by Tom Roorda

Amusing Monday: Crack appears in Mexican desert

For this week, let’s call it “Amazing Monday.” When I first saw this video, I thought it was a fake animation for a science fiction film. But it turns out that it could be the answer to a troubling riddle: What is dryer than a desert?

The crack might also be the result of erosion from either an underground or surface channel following an unusually heavy rain. Despite the attention in Mexican and U.S. news outlets, I have been unable to find a good explanation.

The crack is said to be about three-fourths mile long and up to 25 feet deep. Some nice close-in photos were posted on the website of Excelsior, a daily newspaper based in Mexico City. They show people standing next to the giant fissure. (When watching the video, it’s worth blowing it up to full screen.)

In a Washington Post story last week, reporter Joshua Partlow quoted a geologist at the University of Sonora as saying the crack was probably caused by pumping groundwater for irrigation:

“The chair of the geology department at the University of Sonora, in the northern Mexican state where this ‘topographic accident’ emerged, said that the fissure was likely caused by sucking out groundwater for irrigation to the point the surface collapsed.

“‘This is no cause for alarm,’ Inocente Guadalupe Espinoza Maldonado said. ‘These are normal manifestations of the destabilization of the ground.’”

I think the geologist’s comments were meant to quell fear and speculation that started running wild when the crack first opened. While it may not be cause for alarm, I can’t believe that a crack this size — which has cut off more than one roadway — can be considered a good thing. Nevertheless, it is fascinating, and I’d like to learn more about it.