Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Shit Shovel

Dedicated.  Ancient. Used every day.

If you write about dogs and wildlife, not all of the crap comes from the dogs. Show ring pretenders will show up, along with instant experts, animal rights vegans, bible-thumpers, food-faddists, wanna be dog fighters, price-gouging veterinarians, animal hoarders, puppy peddlers, left wing kooks, right wing kooks, gun nuts, paranoids, alternative medicine quacks, anti-science cranks, racists, and Luddites.  

Of course, their opposite shows up as well; genuine people who are right-sized and always learning, who put the dogs first and the work first, who never let theory trump experience, who are selling nothing and giving away quite a lot. America is full of such people, even if they are often overlooked because they are not loud, demanding and self-seeking.  

Remember the good and look for it.  It is almost always there.

Simple Saturday Chores

fresh from the dryer
smelling sweet

it pleases me

uh oh another storm coming
better be alert

I love this shot
Howie's tail is too long for him to sit properly
so he has to sit "side saddle" if you will
and to keep from toppling
he sticks out a leg
making him a tripod
Justice is in front in her "spot"

High Noon
stand off

but I HAD to dig at the rug!
didn't you hear the thunder?
another tripod shot

I've gone to the dogs lately
spending days, 
the summer?
 cocooned in my home

puttering, performing simple chores
reading, sewing, painting,
always purging of course
love it - all of it
love the company I keep
unconditional love
(with a bit of neurosis thrown in)

read until 5 am this morning
watched the sunrise peek through 
as I drifted off to sleep
back up at 10 am
as Justice hollered at the base of the stairs
demanding attention

steaming cups of coffee,
warm homemade muffin,
crisp pink lady apple

sliced egg sandwich
using grandma's vintage slicer
a little butter - even less mayo
pepper, a whisper of salt
on potato bread 

a nap is necessary
on the couch
with both my pals 
fighting for position
Howie always wins



Because... Science!

Friday, August 30, 2013

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Structures like this are the ultimate in hubris. Do we think this will stand forever? Do we consider what happens when it fails? Built by the lowest bidder, it sits as a target for terror in war or peace.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Weekend reading

I'm looking forward to a seeing Shane and Alex this weekend. We'll be looking after Jamie too so having the two boys here together will be wonderful. I hope you're doing something you love over the next few days.

My simple living masterclass at the Brisbane Writers' Festival is booked out now, it's on next Friday. If you read my blog and have booked a place, please introduce yourself

The Population Dynamics of Distemper in Wildlife

Canine distemper is the most common and population-limiting of the viral diseases commonly found in wildlife.

It often sweeps through wild fur bearer populations, such as fox, raccoon, skunk and coyote, leaving behind the stiff carcasses of dead animals who commonly have their lips pulled back in the rictus of a snarl.

Distemper seems to have a particularly devastating effect on raccoon populations, and outbreaks are very common in late Winter and Spring.

While some distemper-related mortality occurs every year, major population crashes are highly correlated to densities, suggesting that in the wild large distemper epidemics may be related to an overshoot of carrying capacity in terms of either food or shelter.

In the Eastern U.S. distemper-related raccoon population crashes seem to occur every four to seven years, depending on food conditions and weather.

Across the U.S., the raccoon population is now somewhere between 15 and about 20 times larger than it was in the 1930s. One reason for this is that the raccoon has dramatically expanded its range northward and westward, across the Plains, across the Rocky Mountains, and up into Canada (where the raccoon is not a native animal). In addition, a deep decline in raccoon trapping, combined with a rise in more fragmented forests bordering houses and cornfields, means that ideal raccoon forage and shelter conditions now exist over much of North America.

Wild North American animals, such as fox, skunk, coyote, wolf, mink, badger and raccoon have very little natural immunity to distemper. The disease itself has varying levels of mortality, ranging from about 50 percent in raccoons to about 90 percent in mink.

Distemper is transmitted from wild animal to wild animal by saliva and urine, and also from occasional contact with the urine or saliva of domestic or feral dogs that have the disease. Along the west coast, sea lions are now coming into contact with distemper -- probably carried to them through raccoon and fox populations patrolling the tidal zone.

Wild animals infected with distemper will present with a wide variety of symptoms, many of which can be very similar to rabies. For example, an animal with distemper will be lethargic, have swollen eyelids, and may have white milky discharge coming from its eyes. The animal will very often have a runny nose and an emaciated look, and will frequently have unkempt fur. At the end stage of distemper, an animal may may also have diarrhea and convulsions, and wander around in daylight with a dazed look. Epileptic-like seizures are not uncommon, and neither are convulsions of the jaw or spasms and rigidity in the back legs.

Death in the wild is not a fun thing, and distemper is a very common and very cruel way for a wild animal to die -- as is rabies and mange, two other population-control diseases common to the Eastern United States.

Though there is no absolute cure for distemper, biologists agree that reducing raccoon population densities through humane hunting and trapping can help reduce the depth of epidemics by relieving the biological stress that occurs when raccoon populations overshoot their carrying capacity in an area (a carrying capacity that may change very rapidly with crop shifts from corn to soy and from soy to oats).

Distemper used to be a major killer of domestics dogs, and it still is among those who do not inoculate litters. That said, beginning in the late 1950s, the prevalence of low-cost distemper vaccines has dramatically improved dog mortality, not only in the U.S., but across the world.

A too-rarely told story is that the creation of this miraculous distemper vaccine came about because of organized fox hunters, and involved not only fox hunters funding the basic research to create the vaccine, but also the use of fox hounds, fox and ferret to create the attenuated virus itself. >> Click here for the rest of that story.

And In the End...

The line is from the movie "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," and it is both funny and a comfort. 

All of us struggle, endlessly, with the rumble of life. It is not always alright.  But it is rarely the end, and in time things tend to right themselves and we stumble forward, away from the apocalypse.  

When you are at the bottom of the hill, remember that you may have coasted a long time to get there. Wait for the change. But when the change comes, remember it may also come with a lot of peddling to move upwards!  You coast to go down. You peddle to go up!


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Giveaway - Changing Gears

I had the pleasure of meeting Greg Foyster and Sophie Chishkovsky last year when they cycled from Melbourne, via Tasmania, to North Queensland. It was a 6,500 km trip. Greg, is a writer by profession, and he has written a book about the trip called Changing Gears. I was asked to read it a couple of months ago and that is something I hesitate to do if I know the author. I get a bit anxious about

Fox: The Cat-like Canid

Here are a few pictures from the game camera in the yard. Fox come by almost every night, but this time I also got the neighbor's cat.

You can see that a fox and a cat are about the same size. They are also built very much the same, as fox bones are much lighter than their normal canid counterparts. Unlike most dogs, which hunt in packs, fox are solitary hunters, like cats, and like cats they mostly eat mice and other "meals for one".

The two fox you see here are not hunting, but scavenging. I think this is a vixen and her female semi-adult kit from earlier in the year; what I call a "satellite vixen" as she may stay around when the older female pairs up, while the dog fox in the same litter will be driven out to find their own territory. Fox are so dense on the ground around here, however, that territories seem to overlap -- we have some tension between Vulpes in the front yard at times!

Time and Truck

With groundhog hood ornament.

Same truck later. Mother Nature creeps.

The World Arcs Towards Good

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." - Martin Luther King

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Plague Groundhogs

The Moscow Times reports that a 15-year old boy has died after eating a barbecued groundhog infected with the bubonic plague.

Now over 100 people, including 19 doctors who were in contact with the boy over the last few days, are in quarantine and are undergoing preventative treatment.

As I have noted on this blog in the past, Tarvag, or Mongolian groundhogs, are the natural host for the black rat flea that carries the Yersinia pestis bacterium that causes bubonic plague.

Tarvag were targeted for extermination in the old Soviet Union as a means of bubonic plague prevention, but the Kyrgyz authorities stopped the poisoning in 1982 due to its costs.

Now, a mass extermination of groundhogs will be carried out in the Sary-Dzhaz region of Kyrgyzstan, and epidemiologists will try to determine how far the plague has spread within the native marmot population.

Plague is nothing new to the United States.  Or, at least, it's nothing new since Chinese illegal immigrants first brought it to the west coast just before the San Francisco Earthquake of 1907

Now plague is endemic to the Prairie Dog towns of the American west, even as it has disappeared in much of the rest of the world due to the rise of the Brown Rat which has, conveniently, displaced the less aggressive Black Rat over much of the globe.

No more plastic shopping bags

Recently, The Guardian ran an article about single-use plastic bags and the proposal that people will be charged for them in New York City. Ireland started charging in 2002 and have subsequently reduced the use of plastic bags by 90 percent. Here in Australia, we have towns and cities where individual shops and supermarkets charge if you don't bring your own bags and have to use plastic. In my

Caesar, the Dog Who Was Placed in Front of Royalty

On a sunny morning in May of 1910, the funeral procession for the late Edward VII, son of Queen Victoria, made its way from Westminster. 

A small terrier, his leash held by a kilted Highland soldier, led the cortege, with international dignitaries following up behind.

The dog was Caesar, born Caesar of Notts in 1898, and sired by Cackler of Notts from the  kennels of Kathleen, Duchess of Newcastle.  The dog had been given to King Edward VII by Lord Dudley in 1902 to replace the King's earlier dog, Jack, also a terrier, which had died choking on food.

In life, Caesar had been the constant companion of Edward VII and wore an ornate collar made by Faberge that read:  “I am Caesar. I belong to the King.”

The year of the King's death, a children's book about Caesar was hastily published, entitled "Where's Master?" and with the authorship attributed to the small dog himself.

If you go to Edward's grave in St George’s Chapel, the marble figure of Caesar can be seen curled up at the foot of the King's tomb.

But this is not where Caesar himself is buried. After the death of Edward, the dog went to live with Queen Alexandra at Marlborough House in London, where the dog died on April 18, 1914.  The little terrier was buried on the grounds, and given a marble headstone, complete with picture.


Looking for a Dog? Get Your Priorities In Order!

If your first inclination when purchasing a dog is to buy an all-breed book and begin flipping through the pages, you are already making a mistake.

The goal of all-breed books is to fill your mind with a romantic ideal of a brand-name dog.

The danger in doing this is that once you get this picture locked in your head, you have already "chosen your breed," which means you have rejected healthy non-pedigree dogs without even considering them.

It also means you have probably chosen a canine registry.

With breed and "registration papers" occupying the first and second slots in your priority list, gender and coat color typically fill slots three and four.

That means health and temperament fall to level five and six.

No wonder so many people end up with unhealthy dogs!

Remember that all-breed books are the dog market equivalent of a sales brochure; they offer lovely pictures and descriptive puffery, but they are not Consumers Report. You would not buy a car based on a sales brochure. Why are you buying a dog this way?

Oh, You're a Dog Trainer?

The Bull Asian elephant Ramprasad and his mahout, Su-Mir, drag a 2-ton log 1.8 miles out of the forest.  Watch what this elephant climbs over!  It's easy to forget that animal training is not new, and was not invented at PetSmart!

Monday, August 26, 2013

George Carlin Points Out the Obvious

"The sanctity of life doesn’t seem to apply to cancer cells, does it? You rarely see a bumper sticker that says: “Save the tumors.” Or “I brake for advanced melanoma.” No, viruses, mold, mildew, maggots, fungus, weeds, E. Coli bacteria, the crabs. Nothing sacred about those things. So at best the sanctity of life is kind of a selective thing. We get to choose which forms of life we feel are sacred, and we get to kill the rest. Pretty neat deal, huh? You know how we got it? We made the whole fucking thing up!"  . . . . .  - George Carlin

Farmer's cheese and biscuits/crackers

If you have extra milk in the fridge, or can get some, particularly if it's non-homogenised, or better still, raw milk, this is an easy and quick cheese to make. I used the delicious local Maleny milk. The one I have right now is homogenised, but it still suits my purpose. Both these recipe are quick and easy. The cheese will take you about 30 minutes altogether, but you're only actively

A "Pavlov Poke" to End Self-rewarding Behavior?

Suppose a human was engaged in destructive, but self-rewarding, behavior such as compulsively going to Facebook when they should be working or doing something more productive?

How would you change that behavior?
In an earlier post, I noted that a few mild shocks, right at the beginning of teen drinking, might change a life.

Imagine if, when you were sixteen years old, you had been shocked just as you reached out to touch that first can of purloined beer.

Would you have reached for a second? A third? Would you have ever drunk a six pack?

And if you had not, would you have done better in school? Would you have married a different girl or gotten a different job?

Would three or four well-timed shocks have changed the entire trajectory of your life?


Now, two MIT researchers, Robert Morris and Dan McDuff, have turned that idea to combating compulsive Facebook use, another self-rewarding behavior that can border on addiction.

Using monitoring software and a capacitor, a computer was created that would give the user a mild shock whenever Facebook was checked too often or for too long -- something the researchers call a "Pavlov Poke."

Did the shocks work?

Yes, of course. In fact, they worked so well that the MIT post-doc lab rats that devised this experiment, and who did not really want to quit Facebook, decided to change the experiment!

Sadly, we found the shocks so aversive, we removed the device pretty quickly after installing it. Anecdotally, however, I did notice a significant, though temporary, reduction in my Facebook usage.

They then programmed their machines to respond to Facebook overuse by posting a job to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service, paying a random stranger to call them up and brow-beat them. They then recorded some of the results.

So do well-timed
aversive consequences work?


The difference between an annoying phone call and a mild electric shock, of course, is that the shock is physical and immediate and cannot be ignored by sending the message to voice mail. 

"Phone call" training is likely to cost both the trainee and trainer more time, and also result in more "slippage" as the truly Facebook-addicted will find more ways to manipulate the system rather than actually change their behavior. To escape all consequences for "Facebook cheating," after all, all you had to do was take the phone off the hook!

This experiment would have been a little more interesting if the computer had been programmed to send a warning beep 15 seconds before the screen went blank, or if had been programmed to build up "credits" for time away from Facebook that could later be cashed in for a longer session.

Of course, the simplest way to quite Facebook entirely is to fence it off -- to close your account.  And if the goal is to limit time spent on Facebook, the simplest fix is a computer-enforced routine that only allows Facebook to be activated for a set session, say 30 minutes a day, between a set time period, say 7-10 pm.  While "Edison medicine" can work well, and quickly, to train behavior, it is best used when the rules are well understood, and when more signaling is going on than appears to have been built into this little exercise.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


Lined up like departing aircraft

Snoozing the day away

Open eyes long enough to say "shoo I'm sleeping"

Storm coming in, more opportunity for Howie 
to chew holes in curtains and tablecloths

The last storm 's tablecloth chew

I love this tablecloth and kept turning 
the bad sides to the back.
Now there IS no good side

But those eyes

one blue
one brown 

say I'm sorry

As I shot the pic of the tablecloth just now
 Howie went and hid under the table
checking his penis..
Yeah he does that too when anxious

Such a guy

Have a good week my friends
with special shout outs to all my teacher pals.
I salute you!


Terriers of Two Sizes

A small working terrier is infinitely more useful than a large one.

Lookalike Sodas

Knockoff sodas, 79 cents for two liters. Dr. Bob (the name of one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous) is clearly a knockoff of Dr. Pepper, while "Mountain Shoutin'" is clearly a knock off of Mountain Dew.  Austin gets to experiment to see if there is actually any difference in taste.

Working at home

Decluttering Challenge

This is the final week of the decluttering challenge and it's gone really well. Today I'm freeing myself of more clothes, shoes and old magazines. There is a wonderful thread with 130 posts at the forum about this challenge. The challenge will finish at the end of this week but it's not too late to join. Imagine what you could do in a week!

- - - ♥ - - -

I made

At White's Ferry & Lillypons

Leesburg is the center of Virginia horse country. Just down the road is White's Ferry, which crosses the Potomac to Maryland near where I hunt.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Strange Values

Old apple crates, varnished, being sold in an antique store in Frederick, Maryland, for $28 a piece. 

Just down the road, peach crates in use at a real orchard.  No varnish, no drama.

Heading past the orchard and down the River Road, I have my son stop so I can point out this mansion with PLASTIC palm trees in its front yard.  

Yes, this is a weird town with weird people with weird values.

A Visit to Lucketts

Anyone know what the sixth item down is?  I didn't until I read the tag.