Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Hatfields and McCoys in Romania?



I flicked past the new Hatfields and McCoys mini-series on the History Channel and instantly rejected it as Kevin Costner crap when I could tell it was not filmed in either West Virginia or Kentucky or Virginia or Tennessee, or even on the East Coast of the United States.

It was strange country.  Those were not our mountains or our forests.  Could it be California?  North-central Oregon?

Nope.  Romania.  They filmed the Hatfields and McCoys in Romania and thought no one would notice.  Morons.  Idiots.  Pretenders.  Fantasists.  Hollywood nincompoops.  Time wasters.  Traitors.   Accountants.  Zombies.

History Channel?  Yeah right.

Pour me some more Kentucky Vodka and tell me again about how we fought the Civil War because Lincoln wanted to hunt down our kin, the vampires.  

That movie's ready for the History Channel too, no doubt.


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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Thorndike's Cat Box



B.F. Skinner's work was not quite as original as some would have you believe.

For example, Skinner's theory of operant conditioning was built on the ideas of Edward Thorndike who studied cats and devised an experiment in which he used a "puzzle box" (the progenitor of a "Skinner Box") with latches to test the idea that a cat could learn if rewarded or punished.

Thorndike subsequently published his "Law of Effect” which states that any behavior that is followed by pleasant consequences is likely to be repeated, and any behavior followed by unpleasant consequences is likely to be stopped or avoided.

Genius or obvious? I will let others decided, but suffice it to say that Edward Thorndike, like B.F. Skinner, believed that all animals learned alike (albeit at different speeds).

According to Thorndike, cats did not learn by watching other cats, nor did moving a cat's paws into place to trip a switch help -- everything had to be done by accident because cats had no insight, and only if an accidental behavior resulted in a reward would it be more likely to be repeated a bit faster the next time around.  All learning was incremental, and all animals learned the same way.

Of course, all creatures do not learn the same way as anyone with open eyes can attest.  For example, right now you are learning about Thorndike's cat box. A cat cannot read, and neither can a dog or a pigeon.  No matter how long you put a dog, cat, or pigeon in front of a computer screen with sentences running into paragraphs about Thorndike's cat box, they are not going to learn a new idea from the symbols.  So, contrary to what Thorndike thought, not all animals learn exactly alike and many animals do have insight, even if that may not be quickly self-evident with cats.

Another point is that Thorndike's "puzzle box" for cats was both coercive and rewarding.  As a general rule, cats hate being jammed into tight boxes with no obvious way out.  By taking a hungy cat and making it uncomfortable, Thorndike increased the chance that the cat would meow, scratch, paw and present with various kinds of distressed behaviors as it tried to get out.   If the cat managed to flip the lever on the door of the box, it not only got out, but it was rewarded with food as well.

Was hunger and a desire for food driving the cat to learn or was it aversion to being in a confined space, or was it both?

Both, very clearly -- a cat will work to get out of a very small confined space even if it is not hungry and no food is presented at all.

The point being made here is a simple one:  in the first version of a "Skinner Box," i.e. a "Thorndike Puzzle Box," a low-level but persistent irritating aversive was at work, and that aversive alone was probably as strong as any food reward.

Thorndike saw that, which is why Thorndike's "Law of Effect" has two sides, not just one.
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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

5,000 Blog Posts Later

This blog has more than 5,000 posts on it now, but back when it had only 3,000 posts I gave an email "interview" with the folks over at PawTalk.net.  I had forgotten about that interview, but stumbled across it last weekend, and I append it below as a way of avoiding having to write something new at the end of a long day.

Since this interview was given, the blog and web site have received more traffic, and we are now approaching 3.5 million visits, and we occasionally get tapped as a "top pet blogger" for whatever that's worth (so far, absolutely zero).  

As you can tell, I am a bit wary about plumping for dogs in general, or terriers in particular.  There are simply too many dogs in rescue to encourage people who need a cat, and deserve a goldfish, to go out and get a puppy. Please think before you buy or acquire!

A special thanks to the regular readers of this blog, and those who have cross-posted links or mentioned this blog in a positive light at one time or another.
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What is Terrierman.com and how did its creation come about?
Terrierman is a site devoted to working terriers. It's been around for about eight years now. There was an earlier version of the site, so total time on the web is about 9 years. So far as I know, it's the only site in the world devoted to giving basic instruction on working terriers. The main site itself is several hundred pages, and the related blog -- added about four years ago -- is almost 3,000 posts, not all of them on dogs.

Were you always a dog lover?
I'm not sure I'm a dog lover. I like dogs, defend dogs, and respect dogs, but I have no illusions about dogs -- they can be a real pain in the ass. That said, I have always had dogs, and they are a big part of my life. I think I have always done right by my dogs.

I've had terriers since I was five years old -- 45 years -- but I have only been hunting with terriers for about 10 years. People get into dogs for different reasons. I am not a dog trainer, though I have trained dogs, and I am not a show dog person, though I have done that too.

What I appreciated about dogs is the fact that dogs see the world differently than we humans do. The partnership between human and dogs is one of the most ancient of partnerships, and through it you can learn a lot about people and nature. They are a door to quite a lot.

Explain to our readers what a working terrier is and why you created a page entirely devoted to one.
A working terrier is a dog that goes underground after fox, groundhogs, raccoon, badger, possum, or any other animal that dens underground. If you are ratting with a terrier, you do not have a working terrier -- you have a "sporting" terrier. A true working terrier goes underground, and it is dug from the earth with shovel and digging bar. Most dens in North American are two to four feet deep, and the dog is located underground by sound, or (in modern times) by an electronic locating collar. In North America, groundhogs are generally dispatched (by the human, not the dog) as an agricultural nuisance and pest, but fox and raccoon are generally released unharmed.

The main web site itself was created to help preserve terrier work and to offer tips and advice to novice diggers so that the dogs did not get seriously injured.

Briefly summarize the sections on your page (Hunting, Quarry, Health Care)
The section on hunting is a basic how-to for those interested in hunting with terriers, with pages on what is needed in a dog, equipment, how to use a locator collar, how to handle quarry at the end of the dig, and how to locate farms, and where animals are likely to be located on those farms.

The health care section details the basic veterinary kit every working dog owner should have in his or her vehicle, and gives tips on how to get antibiotics and use them so you do not waste money on unnecessary veterinary runs for minor problems. Flea and tick remedies are given, as well as a basic advice on how to vaccinate your dogs yourself, how to closes small cuts, how to release a dog from a trap, and the dangers of skunk toxic shock, which only occurs when dogs are skunked underground.
An Articles section includes a pictorial history of terrier work, as well as a guide to how terrier work was done in the Middle Ages, and several articles on the how Kennel Club theorists have managed to wreck nearly every working dog brought into their fold. Also included are detailed statistics on the size and measurement of working terriers in North America.

The section on Earthdog work is a simple instructional piece on the basics of artificial den work as practiced by the American Kennel Club, the American Working Terrier Association, and the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America.

RatDog is the oldest part of the web site, and is devoted to ratting with terriers.

The Books section gives some detailed book reviews, and some very abbreviated ones, as well as ordering information for some of the harder-to-find tomes.

The section on Quarry gives a good life-story for every type of animal we dig on here in the U.S. -- Groundhog, Raccoon, Red Fox, Gray Fox, Badger and Possum.

"The Daily Dose" is the blog, which has one to four posts a day. I generally have at least one dog post a day, but these are leavened with information on wildlife, conservation, veterinary tips, a little humor, and some politics, as the mood strikes me. In the last two years, the blog has had over two million visitors from over 200 countries.

Can you offer some tips on how to care for terriers?
As a general rule, terriers are a lot of dog in a small package, but there are many kinds of terriers, and no one rule holds true for all of them. The term itself is much abused -- a "Russian Terrier" is not a terrier, for example, and neither is a "Tibetan" terrier. An Airedale is mostly Otter Hound!
Most of the Kennel Club terriers are breeds created for the show ring and never really worked, and almost no Kennel Club terrier is found working in the field anymore. Most true working terriers are dogs that are not registered with the Kennel Club -- Jack Russell terriers, Patterdale terriers, and Fell Terriers.

The main thing with a terrier, as with all dogs, is to put a collar on the dog, and to attach a leash to the collar. Loose dogs spell trouble, and that is particularly true for terriers. No dog except a fat dog is truly ugly, and every fat dog is hideous. Weight control is portion control. The trick here is simple: only one person in a house should ever feed the dog, and if you cannot easily feel a rib, the dog needs to lose weight.

As for other tips that will save dog owners thousands of dollars over the life of a dog, see the blog or the web site; they are their for free. If someone wants to get those tips in a more organized way, buy a copy of American Working Terriers here .

Tell me about the book, American Working Terriers.
The book was not made to make money -- it was made to get more people out into the field, and to keep the dogs safe when working underground. Almost no one digs on the dogs in the U.S., and those that do are generally new to the sport, and their enthusiasm exceeds their capacity. A dog should not have to die because an overly enthusiastic new digger does not know how to use a locator collar, does not know how to treat a dog that has been skunked underground, and does not know how to handle things at the end of the dig. So, to put a point on it, the book is written on behalf of the dogs.

Your blog, The Daily Dose, has had more than 1 million viewers in the last two years. Tell me about the blog and what makes it so successful.
Success is relative. The blog makes no money, and there are a lot of blogs that are far more popular. I suppose it has done well for a one-person effort focused on obscure issues, however. 

I think anything of value is built slowly, one day at a time. You build a castle by cutting one stone at a time, and you write a blog or a book the same way -- a couple of paragraphs or a few pages a day. The trick is discipline and consistency.

If you are writing a blog, I think it's important to not make it about you. Sure, it's important to have a voice, or a point of view, but let's face it -- no one is interested in what anyone else had for breakfast!
I write about a small raft of topics, and I keep coming back to those topics in a fairly reliable way so that people know what to expect. Everything I write is sourced and linked, so that over time people trust that I am not going to spout too much nonsense. It's important for readers to be able to trust a writer or narrator, but that trust has to be earned through research and clear thinking, both of which look suspiciously like work.

What are the worst things about terriers? 
They bark a lot. They do not take commands very well. A working terrier cannot be trusted around a pet parrot, hamster, rabbit, chicken or cat. The breed, of course matters quite a lot. If people are looking for a pet terrier, I recommend a Cairn Terrier, or a West Highland White Terrier, or perhaps a Welsh Terrier. These dogs are sufficiently far from their working roots that they make decent pets. Stay away from Scotties, which are loaded with health problems, and the hair dresser dogs like Silkies or the dogs with very small gene pools like Glens and Dandies. The best terrier, in my opinion, is a mixed-breed rescue terrier. Go to PetFinder.com and click through what it available, and you will probably be the winner for having done so.

Do you recommend terriers as pets and why or why not? 
Terriers are simply a kind of dog, and most dogs are oversold. If you don't believe that, check out how many dogs are in rescue at any given time. Millions! The first question to ask yourself is this: Do you really want a dog at all? If you will not consider getting a rescue dog, or a semi-adult dog that was groomed for a show career before some minor fault popped up, then you do not want a dog at all. You want a puppy, and what you need is a cat. 

Dogs are a lot of work. They will determine when you get up in the morning, when you come home at night, what house you live in, and maybe where you go on vacation. They are an obligation that can last anywhere from 7 years (for a giant breed) to 15 years (for a terrier). So, no, I never recommend anyone get a dog. I want people to know that a dog will pee on the carpet, crap in the living room, dig up the flowers, and howl on a Sunday morning. I want people to know a dog will hump their leg, and eat its own vomit, and maybe do both things in front of your dinner guests. I have no romance when it comes to dogs. I want people who get a dog to do so eyes wide open.

As for terriers, they are a little smaller than some dogs, which means a smaller crate and a little less food, but the cost at the vet is about the same, and the dogs will bark your ear off. Most terriers are very friendly things, but remember that terriers are also bred to bite small animals that make high-pitched noises and have jerky movements. That describes a lot of very small children. I point that out as a not-too-subtle caution for folks with children under the age of six or seven. A terrier might not be the dog for you, and a working terrier breed is certainly not.
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Monday, May 28, 2012

Digging on the Dogs

First hole was right next to the river.


Gideon guards a bolt hole.


This was wet ground on top, but surprisingly dry a foot or two down.



Dug on three groundhogs. A large one bolted up inside a tree and out a hole at the end of a branch. The last picture is Mountain pinging on it just before the camera  batteries died.

The next hole had two inside (young ones newly out on their own), and Gideon did the finding there.

All in all a quick day, which was a mercy as it was over over 90 degrees.
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Looking for Jack's Collar


This post recycled from Veteran's Day 2007.

The area in which I live, hunt, and go to work is steeped in history. I live about a mile from the Pentagon, on part of what used to be the old Lord Fairfax estate (Fairfax started the first fox hunt in the U.S.), and just a 15-minute drive down the river from Mr. Vernon, George Washington's old home.

Arlington Cemetery, the former estate of Civil War General Robert E. Lee, is a congenial walk down the bike path, while at lunch I can walk to the White House or the Vietnam Veteran's memorial.

The sign, pictured above, is near Frederick, Maryland on the edge of one of the locations I hunt -- an 1,800 acre tract bound by farm fields. The sign notes that this immediate area was part of the Antietam Campaign of the Civil War -- the most vicious campaign of a very violent and bloody period in American history.

The sign does not mention Jack at all.

Jack was a brown and white Pit Bull terrier that learned to understand the bugle calls of his regiment, the 102nd Pennsylvania Infantry, which was largely composed of volunteer firemen from Pittsburgh.

After every Civil War battle of his regiment, Jack would search out the dead and wounded -- a trick he repeated across Virginia and Maryland.

Jack was wounded at the battle of Malvern Hill, but recovered and was captured by Confederates at Savage's Station.

The dog managed to escape and he survived the battle of Antietam on Sept 17, 1862, in which over 23,000 were killed, missing or wounded.

Jack's was severely wounded at Fredericksburg three months later, but was nursed him back to health. Then, at Salem Church, he was again taken prisoner by the Confederates. The value of the dog was such, however, that he was exchanged for a prisoner at Belle Isle six months later.

Jack stayed with his regiment through the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Campaigns and the Siege of Petersburg.

On the evening of Dec. 23, 1864, Jack disappeared from his regiment, which was on furlough at Frederick, Maryland just four miles from where this sign (top picture) is located.

Though an entire regiment looked for the dog, and even offered a substantial award, he simply vanished, and was never seen or heard from again.

It could be that Jack was stolen or murdered for his new collar, which was emblazed with silver and which cost (at the time) the astounding price of $75.

Or perhaps Jack succumbed to a bullet, poison, trap, or some other wayward thing, and simply expired ignominiously on hallowed ground -- his silver collar waiting to be dug up by a lucky groundhog hunter.


The original "Jack" circa 1863 or 1864. This dog looks very much like today's Pit Bull Terrier..

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Jack Rabbit Drive Video



I found a pretty amazing video of an old Jack Rabbit drive in Kansas in 1934Click on this  link and then hunt through the thumnails at the left.  Should be the second one in the third row. 

Yes, it's worth taking the trouble to see it.

As the web site of the Kansas State Historical Society notes:
Jackrabbit drives in western Kansas were viewed as a battle of survival between farmers and the rabbits during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl in the mid 1930s. Record-setting summer temperatures of the 1930s along with blowing topsoil and drought made it difficult to grow crops. Farmers received low prices for those crops that were produced. In addition, western Kansas in the mid-1930s was plagued with hoards of Lepus californicus melanotis, black-tailed jackrabbits. These jackrabbits were migratory and ate green plants and their roots. Adults were capable of producing three to eight offspring every 32 days. Reminiscent of the grasshoppers 60 years earlier, the rabbits ate everything in their path. Thus, the few farmers who eeked out crops had to cope with the rabbits demolishing their livelihood.

Kansans had hunted rabbits for meat and sport from the territorial period, and newspapers in the 1890s carried articles on a coursing meet (hunting rabbits with dogs) in Chase County. In earlier years rabbits had been a blessing in western Kansas, providing meat for the new settlers.

The warm weather of the early 1930s coupled with the lack of rainfall eliminated many of the natural conditions that killed young rabbits. By 1935 the Wichita Beacon estimated there were 8,000,000 rabbits in 30 western Kansas counties. The worst years were 1934 and 1935. Desperate farmers called them "Hoover hogs" after the U.S. President Herbert Hoover who was generally blamed for the Great Depression. The rabbits were eating what few crops had survived, depriving cattle of badly needed feed.

Several counties tried offering bounties of one to four cents per rabbit, but Hodgeman County stopped paying bounties at 44,000 rabbits when the cost became more than the county could bear. Strapped farmers couldn't afford to waste precious ammunition shooting them.

Drives to control the rabbit population were tried as early as the turn of the century, so the idea was not a new one in the 1930s. Drives were often held on Sunday afternoons in the late winter or early spring, with February and March being the most popular months. Drives were advertised in newspapers and on handbills in neighboring counties. Several county commissions purchased fencing. Other groups such as county farm bureaus, chambers of commerce, and local newspapers lent support.

The size of a drive varied from covering one or two sections of land to massive efforts covering several square miles. The largest successful drive was near Dighton in Lane county and involved 10,000 people in an area eight miles square. It was estimated that this drive netted 35,000 rabbits.

At the beginning of a drive, people lined up about every 20 to 30 feet along the four sides of a square and made noise as they walked. Often there were two lines on each side with women and children behind the front line in cars and trucks blowing horns, pounding on pans, or anything else to scare rabbits ahead.

A fenced area in the center was the object of the drive. The size of the enclosure varied from about 75 feet square to as large as 40 acres. People closed in toward it, coming closer together all the time. By the time they reached the enclosure, people were shoulder to shoulder, blocking all possible paths of escape for the rabbits. At the end of most drives, he rabbits were clubbed to death in the fenced enclosure. Firearms were strictly forbidden, lest participants injure each other.

Stories about the drives appeared in regional newspapers in the Midwest, and it caused an outrage as many people thought the rabbits were being hunted for sport rather than population control. Farmers emphasized the destruction the rabbits were causing to their crops and livestock. Eastern Kansas residents, who had no jackrabbit problems, were among the critics, prompting some farmers to propose that the rabbits be driven to the eastern part of the state.

The farmers tried to ship live rabbits to eastern states, but Ohio game and wildlife officials realized how destructive jackrabbits were and canceled their order. Residents of western Kansas rounded up about 1,200 live rabbits to ship to Indiana; the press in Kansas City, Omaha, and Denver as well as the Pathé newsreel company covered this attempt.

Cattlemen estimated that feed for 200,000 cattle was saved by these attempts to control the jackrabbit. The remains of the rabbits were used as feed for other animals. Relatively few were eaten by humans because of the fear of a disease known as "rabbit fever," introduced into the rabbit population earlier in the 1930s. Some rabbit pelts were sold for about three cents each.

Rabbit drives were a means by which farmers could directly improve their economic condition, which was being attacked by a variety of destructive forces in the mid-1930s. Though gruesome by today's standards, the drives fostered a sense of community as farm families struggled to survive during the worst years of the Dust Bowl and the Depression.

By the way, the American Jack Rabbit is not a rabbit at all, but a hare.

Read the links below to see how the land and the wildlife got so out of balance.
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Friday, May 25, 2012

Coffee and Provocation


  • The Salukis stayed out.
    An international team of scientists analyzing data on the genetic make-up of modern-day dogs has discovered that 
    Basenjis, Salukis and Dingoes have a differing genetic signature than most other dogs, not because of some unique direct heritage to ancient dogs, but because these animals "were not part of the 19th Century Victorian-initiated Kennel Clubs" that blended lineages to create most of the breeds we know today.  The scientists also note that their study also suggests that "keeping dogs as pets only began 2,000 years ago, and that until very recently, the vast majority of dogs were used to do specific jobs."  Hat tip to Walter H. for the link!

  • Winter time bomb for the East Coast and Midwest.
    Warm weather all winter means 
    ticks will be out early and in astounding numbers. You can expect the incidence of Lyme to soar. The good new is that prevention works (wash your dog with flea and tick shampoo every week) and Lyme is pretty easy and cheap to fix and no you don't need to see a vet.  More about that here.

  • Police K-9 Magazine.
    A nice simple article on 
    E-collar basics which defines a "working level" as when "the sensation is significant enough that the dog will pay attention to it and work to make it stop, but it is not so overwhelming that it actually detracts from the dog’s ability to problem-solve."  No, for training purposes you do NOT turn the collar up to twelve.  Try two or three.

  • Are a lot of dead deer good for birds?
    Maybe. The point has been 
    made before and is made again in an op-ed in The New York Times by Daniel Cristol, professor of biology at William and Mary. Of course, blaming deer for a decline in some migratory bird populations is a little too facile.  As I have noted in the past, the main factor is neo-tropical forest loss, loss of migratory resting spots, and forest fragmentation leading to a massive rise in cowbirds, raccoons, possums, crows, and other meso-preadots.  Ironically, the simplest solution for both deer and meso-predator reduction may be more coyotes.

  • How did the chicken conquer the world? 
    One cluck at a time starting 10,000 years ago in central Asia.  The precipitating event may not have been dinner, but entertainment, i.e. cock fighting. The Athenian general Themistocles is said to have stopped by the side of the road around 5,000 B.C. and pointed to two roosters fighting: “Behold, these do not fight for their household gods, for the monuments of their ancestors, for glory, for liberty or the safety of their children, but only because one will not give way to the other.” Read the Smithsonian article; it's a winner!

  • Miles Davis turned to Nancy Reagan and said... 
    Sorry, you are going to 
    have to read the whole thing.

  • Tea Party official attacks public lands deer hunting.
    Wisconsin's deer trustee says, "Public game management is the last bastion of communism." This fellow just happens to own a 200-acre shoot-the-fed-deer place. In his world, hunting would only be for the rich and a dead deer would be guaranteed meat, same as a stocked lake for children.  Sure, and why not bring back the monarchy while we are at it and replace public parks with Disney Land as well?

  • 50 things to do before you are twelve.
    A great idea and a hat tip to Chas at Southern Rockies Nature Blog for pointing to it.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Digging on the Dogs

Tyler and Josh of K-9 Connection a few weeks ago with Mountain in hand in front of a big pile of downed timber that had a groundhog at home underneath it.  Nothing accounted for on this day, but the dogs probably bolted the first one that we found.  I have taken so many off this farm in the last three or four years that there are not as many to be found as there once were!
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Where's the Dog?



That's a 10-foot snake in Australia with a 14-pound Maltese inside.
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Coyote Den?


This was a very big den pipe. It has clearly been used, but just as clearly it's not in service at the moment.

This den is located near permanent water (about 100 yards from a river) and I think it might be a coyote den despite the horizontal lay of the entrance.  This entrance is larger than the fox dens I have dug on in the past, and the hole stayed big as far down as I could see or feel.  This is a hard-dirt area, so erosion is not much of a factor.

I remember this den from a few year back, and it was not as big a bore hole back then and held fox.  Something has clearly enlarged it, and used it rather heavily.
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Training the Elephant in the Year 2212



How to Write Good



This first set of rules was written by Frank L. Visco and originally published in the June 1986 issue of Writers' Digest.

  1. Avoid Alliteration. Always.
  2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
  3. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They’re old hat.)
  4. Employ the vernacular.
  5. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
  6. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
  7. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
  8. Contractions aren’t necessary.
  9. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
  10. One should never generalize.
  11. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
  12. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
  13. Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
  14. Profanity sucks.
  15. Be more or less specific.
  16. Understatement is always best.
  17. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
  18. One word sentences? Eliminate.
  19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
  20. The passive voice is to be avoided.
  21. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
  22. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
  23. Who needs rhetorical questions?

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Training a Dog to Stay Away from Horses



Horses can be very good dogs trainers. One well-timed "click" and this dog got the message.

This is not the safest way to to stock-break a dog to horses, but it's certainly the oldest way.
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Mosquitoes and Dogs and Limburger Cheese

Blast from the Past


This picture is from over 30 years ago, and shows Cambrian Right Stuff, my folks' Welsh terrier as a puppy and Barney, my very well-behaved mutt terrier.  Barney was picked up as a stray and went to college with me.  The dog was a stone genius.
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When B.F. Skinner Became a Joke

 


William F. Buckley begins an interview of B.F. Skinner by noting that Skinner has "just written a book announcing that we will have to do away with individual freedoms and throw away the 'superstition' of the dignity of man."

B.F. Skinner himself is right there and does not deny that this is his thesis in Beyond Freedom and Dignity.

Of course, by this time Skinner was on the fast track to becoming a punchline.

Overly-lauded for training pigeons, rats and a few chickens to do a few simple tricks in the 1930s, his ego had swollen to the size of a Macy's Parade float, and he began to over-generalize and pontificate on things he knew absolutely nothing about, writing a Utopian novel (Walden II) shortly after WWII, and then capping that with Beyond Freedom and Dignity in 1971.

And the result? Behaviorism became a bit of a joke.

Where did Skinner go wrong? Right at the beginning. Skinner decided, based on his work with pigeons, rats and chickens, that all animals were little more than empty boxes with external inputs. According to Skinner, living things were simply a fleshy response system to stimuli. Since every animal is little more than an empty black box, no animal should be given credit or blame for choices and behaviors, as no animal has real free will or real choice. According to Skinner, animals are simply automatons programmed by outside stimuli.

Of course this is not entirely true, as anyone who has worked with instinctive traits knows, but by the mid-1960s Skinner did not really care if it was entirely true. What did it matter that his provocative-sounding pseudo-scientific statements about human behavior were not backed up by actual science? Skinner's work was now in the philosophy and fiction sections of the book stores -- that was what he was selling!

 Beyond Freedom and Dignity was one of Skinner's last bits of prattle, and it was effectively eviscerated by Noam Chomsky who noted in The New York Review of Books ( December 30, 1971) that: 


Skinner's science of human behavior, being quite vacuous, is as congenial to the libertarian as to the fascist. If certain of his remarks suggest one or another interpretation, these, it must be stressed, do not follow from his "science" any more than their opposites do. I think it would be more accurate to regard Skinner's Beyond Freedom and Dignity as a kind of Rorschach test. 


Chomsky goes on to note that Skinner offers no evidence to support his Olympian pronouncements about people, nor does he even bother to try to ground his claims in science. 


Claims... must be evaluated according to the evidence presented for them. In the present instance, this is a simple task, since no evidence is presented, as will become clear when we turn to more specific examples. In fact, the question of evidence is beside the point, since the claims dissolve into triviality or incoherence under analysis. 


Chomsky goes on to note that "behavioralism" had already become somewhat of a joke, with almost everyone moving to separate themselves from the Utopian ramblings of Skinner who, by now, had inflated mere trivia to significance, even as he waved off all true science such as as physics, chemistry, and molecular biology: 


It is important to bear in mind that Skinner's strictures do not define the practice of behavioral science. In fact, those who call themselves "behavioral scientists" or even "behaviorists" vary widely in the kinds of theoretical constructions that they are willing to admit. W. V. O. Quine, who on other occasions has attempted to work within Skinner's framework, goes so far as to define "behaviorism" simply as the insistence that conjectures and conclusions must eventually be verified by observations. As he points out, any reasonable person is a "behaviorist" in this sense. Quine's proposal signifies the demise of behaviorism as a substantive point of view, which is just as well. Whatever function "behaviorism" may have served in the past, it has become nothing more than a set of arbitrary restrictions on "legitimate" theory construction, and there is no reason why someone who investigates man and society should accept the kind of intellectual shackles that physical scientists would surely not tolerate and that condemn any intellectual pursuit to insignificance. 


And so, in the end, Skinner became a caricature of himself -- an ego-besotted egg-head who fell in love with his own reflection; a man who codified a few important points about training rats and pigeons, but who then tried to blow those points up into a unifying truth for man that eclipsed all other truths, and with himself as the God Head deserving (of course) a three-volume autobiography.


The result was almost a cartoon. As Chomsky notes


Skinner confuses "science" with terminology. He apparently believes that if he rephrases commonplace "mentalistic" expressions with terminology derived from the laboratory study of behavior, but deprived of whatever content this terminology has within this discipline, then he has achieved a scientific analysis of behavior. It would be hard to conceive of a more striking failure to comprehend even the rudiments of scientific thinking. 


Bingo. Wrapping a few simple ideas in words devoid of common-place meaning is not science, it's nonsense. 

Yes, under the nonsense there may actually be some substance (timing, consequences, consistency), but when stripped down to simple terms, how often do we we that find that the prize inside is quite a bit smaller than the box in which it was delivered? 

And so it is with Skinner. 

 His work in the 1930s with rats and pigeons was important and illuminating, but what came out of it was something less than a unifying truth for all mankind.  In the end, Skinner was less science than science fiction; less prize inside and more designer box.



Monday, May 21, 2012

Digging on the Dogs

Gideon staked out.

Mountain slides in.

Mountain staked at possible bolt hole.

Bolted this groundhog up a tree.  Left for another day.  Yes, the dogs do teach them to climb.


This one did not get away.  Dead on a branch and Mountain leaping.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Happy Birthday Pete Townsend, Age 67



Baba O' Riley, circa 1971.
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Coffee and Provocation



They're bombing Guam with mice that have little parachutes. Killer mice on a mission from God.

Meanwhile on Guam, the Jack Russell terriers are still on patrol to make sure no one leaves alive.  Wet work like God intends it to be done.

The Nelson Mandella Stadium in South Africa is the only poison-free stadium in the world.  How do they do it?  They use hawks and falcons to keep the birds away. They use mechanical traps for the rats, and they use bats and bat boxes for the bugs as well as Cape Wagtails. Africa leads the way!

Yes, there are working English Bulldogs. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar.

Dog bite insurance paid out $497 million in the U.S. in 2011

Chimpanzees use spears to hunt other monkeys, but only because they cannot find the right sized ammo for their guns. A small note of prudent skepticism: "However, they did not photograph the behaviour, or capture it on film." 

Apparently Florida is too crowded for native wildife. Even the endangered ones

Facebook avoids $16 billion in taxes using the Double Irish and the Dutch Sandwich.  If you think that's the lumhc time menu at your local bar, then you know Reason One this country is going broke.  And this is legal tax avoidance.  As Congressman Bernie Sanders recently noted, "Congress does not regulate Wall Street, Wall Street regulates Congress."

Curt Schilling, the Red Sox player and right-wing defender of less taxes and smaller government ripped off Rhode Island taxpayers for $75 million in loan guarantees for a video game company that never hired the people that it said it would.  Now you know Reason Two this country is going broke.

The IRS does such a crappy job of collecting taxes that owed that the "tax gap" is over three trillion dollars a decade and rising.  Now you know Reason Three this country is going broke.

Where do your direct mail charity dollars go?  Mostly to pay for more direct mail as CNN notes.  I have said this before, and noted that the Humane Society of the U.S. is a paricularly slipperty fish with about 75 percent of every direct mail dollar going to fund more direct mail packages (i.e. forests cut down and then tossed into landfills as waste paper). 

Si Habla Pict?  Not yet, but maybe in a few years when the Rosetta Stone language course comes out.

Liars for hire and every trick in the book.

Coffee drinking is linked to a longer lifeActually it only seems longer if you never sleep.

Pamphleteering that changed the world:  The name "Pakistan" comes from a 1933 pamphlet entitled "Now or Never" written by Choudhary Rahmat Ali, an activist who wanted to create a Muslim homeland in South Asia. It is an acronym for "the five Northern parts of India" which were primarily Muslim: Punjab, Afghan Province, Kashmir, Sind, and Baluchistan. The "i" was added to make a pronouncable name.

A lightbulb that lasts more than 20 years and uses very little energy already exists, and will go on sale later this year.

Find somthing you like on this blog?   Pass it on, tell the world on Facebook, put the blog in your Google Reader or subscribe to the feed.
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Friday, May 18, 2012

Tell Me About Nanny Dogs Again

Torturing Horses for Rosettes

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Apparently large numbers of Tennessee Walking Horses are tortured and beaten in order to make them produce the high-stepping gait that wins championships.

The unnatural movements required from this type of show horse is not about horses at all, of course, but about about human affectation and ribbon-chasing.  


Misery for the animals is simply "collateral damage" on the way to winning a rosette, same as it is for so many breeds in the world of show dogs.

Of course we are told it's only the "unscrupulous" who do these kinds of things.

And who tells us this? The people who go to horse and dog shows themselves, and who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the abusers, and who have spent years, if not decades in silence.
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Replacement Teeth for Dogs and People

Click to enlarge.  Source.
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Your dog has replacement puppy teeth, same as you have replacement baby teeth.

But did you ever think about where those "replacement teeth" come from and how they rotate into position? I never did.

As the cut-away human skull, above, suggests, it's all a bit terrifying. This picture was taken by photographer Stefan Schäfer at the Hunterian Museum in London.
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This Man is Very, Very Dangerous

 

WATCH THIS ONE AND SHARE WITH EVERYONE. 

This man is speaking a very, very dangerous truth.
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Falconry Training

A mere hawk is not enough.
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Cat Training

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Coffee and Provocation


Coffee Table Dog Crate:
A pretty good idea if you ask me.

Hunting Mountain Lions with a Frying Pan:
This is the way we roll in America.  But only because the dogs are shit.  Oh, and by the way, the Mountain Lion had rabies.  Yes, that too is the way we roll.  What a country.

Coyotes Are Evolving Fast:
In 200 years the coyote has come East, gotten 50% larger than his Western brethren, and today they exist in startling numbers.

Who You Calling a Neanderthal?
Were dogs the competitive edge for Neanderthals?  Some say.  It's a theory, anyway.

It's Science Damn It!
Rouslan Krechetnikov and Hans Mayer at the University of California at Santa Barbara investigated the science of coffee spillage and discovered that coffee sloshes back and forth for maximum spillage in the average coffee mug.

Mummify Your Dog?
Yes, there's a company that does that now.

Being Batman:
It's all about the utility belt.  "Worn from shoulder to hip, it carries your smart phone, keys, mp3 player, camera, glasses, snack, wallet – even a water bottle."

A Basic Freedom... A Basic Good



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When Puppies Fall From the Sky



This puppy might be a week old; it's not eight weeks old for sure.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Genetics of Trainability?



From the Big Book of the Obvious comes this chapter, which first appears in Applied Animal Behavior Science of June 2011

Based on an on-line survey of 5,733 dog owners that spoke German (yes, this is what passes for science these days), the authors grouped 98 breeds of dogs by averaging their scores in terms of trainability, boldness, calmness and dog sociability.
We found that two of the behaviour traits (trainability and boldness) significantly differed both among the conventional and the genetic breed groups.

Using the conventional classification we revealed that Herding dogs were more trainable than Hounds, Working dogs, Toy dogs and Non-sporting dogs; Sporting dogs were also more trainable than Nonsporting dogs.

In parallel, Terriers were bolder than Hounds and Herding dogs.

Regarding genetic relatedness, breeds with ancient Asian or African origin (Ancient breeds) were less
trainable than breeds in the Herding/sighthound cluster and the Hunting breeds.

Breeds in the Mastiff/terrier cluster were bolder than the Ancient breeds, the breeds in the Herding/sighthound cluster and the Hunting breeds.

The thigh-slapper for me was this line:  "The classification of breeds according to historical function was based on the internationally recognized system of the American Kennel Club." 

Right.  This is a bit like saying:  "We asked a rodeo clown how to grade cuts of beef." 

So what are we to make of this "study"?  Not much. 

It is really not a study of dogs at all, but of dogs as seen by their biased owners, with the results viewed through the prism of a Kennel Club rating scheme.

Does that mean it is wrong?  No, of course not.  But the study does not tell us much, does it?  What was the question this study was crafted to answer?   It does not appear there was one.  Instead, the authors crafted a questionnaire, ran the answers to the questionnaire through a computer in order to extrude some numbers and data clustering, then slapped the label of "science" on the whole thing.  

Weak knowledge of dogs on the front end, combined with weak thinking about the questions to be answered in the middle, and the end result is trifling answers cranked out the back end.
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Saturday, May 12, 2012