Saturday, May 21, 2022

Coffee and Provocation

All Dogs Are Designer Mutts
If all dogs descended from wolves, than the only pure-breeds are wolves.

A Culture and a Country Founded by Wolves
Italy's wolf population numbers over 3,300.

European Catholic Countries Have Low-cost Abortion and Contraceptives
It's not just Italy that has legal and low-cost abortion and contraceptives. Spain is going to allow girls 16 and over to opt for abortions without parental consent. The mostly-Catholic country has some of the most progressive women's health laws in Europe, including low-cost or free over-the-counter emergency contraception pills, and heavily subsidized abortion. 

Billions of Miles Away and Still Working 
The Voyager 1 spacecraft was launched in 1977 (45 years ago) and is still working, sending back signals from outside the solar system 14.5 billion miles away.  Voyager is now so far from earth it takes light 20 hours and 33 minutes to travel that difference, and it take roughly two days to send a message to Voyager 1 and get a response back. Voyager 1’s twin, Voyager 2, also launched in 1977, is currently 12.1 billion miles from Earth, and also continues to operate.

Killing Rats to Improve  Island Health
When Lord Howe Island, a remote Australian island, completely eradicated its non-native rat and mouse populations, the ecology recovered almost immediately. Today Lord Howe has a diversified ecosystem with fruiting trees, increasing numbers of terrestrial invertebrates, and one of Australia's rarest birds, the flightless woodhen, whose population has quadrupled to 565 in the last three years.

Our Aging Grid Is Not Not Ready for Electric Cars
Texas and California -- to name just two large states -- can barely keep their electrical grids running now during the peak Summer months.  Like many places, these states will need to invest in huge infrastructure upgrades to deal with the massive expansion of electric cars that is right around the corner. Globally, the number of electric vehicles is expected to swell from 7 million to 400 million by 2040, a transition that will result in a 40% increase in electrical demand.

Georgia is an Electric Car Epicenter
South Korean automaker Hyundai is spending $5.5 billion to build a factory for electric vehicle assembly and EV batteries near Savannah, Georgia. The negotiation for the factory, which will bring 8,100 job to Bryan County, Georgia, was shepherded by Georgia Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.  This is the second big electric vehicle plant slated to come to Georgia. Electric truck and van maker Rivian also plans to build a $5 billion factory east of Atlanta, employing as many as 7,500 people.

They Changed the City's Name to Toyota 
Toyota is headquartered in the city of Toyota, Japan which was renamed after the car company in 1959.  The city was originally called Koromo. 

The DDT Superfund Site Off the California Coast
Five decades ago, between 100,000 and 500,000 DDT waste barrels were dumped in 3,000 feet of water off of California's Catalina Island.

Written in Blood
Algeria’s national anthem “Kassaman” was first written by poet Moufdi Zakaria on the wall of his prison cell using his own blood after he was arrested and tortured during the Algerian independence movement. Yes, I once lived in Algeria.

Incentivizing Lies and Penalizing Truth
One reason sensational misinformation and disinformation is so prevalent is that it's free on Facebook and Twitter where it is incentivized by a pay-per-click advertising model, while access to steady but  reliable sources backed by data and cogent analysis is too often behind a pay-up-front paywall.

Great Blue Heron Rookery


This Great Blue Heron rookery has 4-5 nests, and is located high up in the trees on an island in the Monocacy River, about a mile from my house.

Groundhogs on the Edge

Was the Fourth Baby Hawk Tossed Out?

There were four baby Red-shouldered Hawks in this nest at one point. Now, I can only see three, though it's possible the fourth is still in there. Sometimes, if nests become too crowded, a nestling will get forked out of the side by his nest mates.

Brown Thrashers Thrive on Diversity

Brown Thrashers are generally found close to the ground, scouring for berries, seeds, worms, grasshoppers, and even small snakes. A true omnivore, these birds are known to have over 1,000 different song riffs, often lifted from other birds in the hedge.

The Continuing Crisis

Deer Resting in the Tangle

Mourning Doves Have Quite a Lot to Mourn

Between 20 and 70 million Mourning Doves a year are shot in the U.S. — most as target practice prior to duck and geese season. 

The species survives this level of hunting — as well as predation by hawks, falcons, cats, snakes. possums, crows, squirrels, and raccoons — by breeding up to six 2-chick broods a year.

Jewel on the Edge of the Hedge

Eastern Bluebirds like edge, hedge, and fields where they can sit high on dead branches and fence posts to swoop down on small insects and berries.  When courting, Bluebird pairs spin straight up in flight — a real ballet.  Nests are generally located in old woodpecker holes or dedicated Bluebird boxes

Friday, May 20, 2022

Be Grateful at the Pump

Folks in Canada, England, Germany, Norway, etc. are paying more for gasoline than we are. The gas price problem is GLOBAL. Read that last line again; it means it’s not about US politics or production.  Ditto for global supply chains, and rising food prices; it’s happening all over.

Pregnant and Ready to Pop

Lots of fraternal twins with White-tails due to a two-horned uterus that helps prevent entanglement. Not all twins are fraternal — 20-25% of “twin” fawns actually have different fathers.

I Made a New Friend Today

A 5-foot rat snake.

A Reptile Dysfunction

A Crippled Deer in High Grass

Notice the slope of the back. This deer is crippled in front, perhaps due to a congenital issue, a run-in with a fence or predator, or vehicle impact.  Most likely, however, it’s due to a hunter. The crippling ratio of hunting is rarely discussed, but is sobering

At Play in the Field

Groundhogs are fairly solitary marmots, but this time of year you’ll see young ones born in early March tumbling out together.

A Keystone Species

Groundhog holes provide shelter for possums, raccoons, fox, skunks, and the occasional feral cat or snake.

Lady and the Tramp

Peggy Lee was a wonderful singer.

Get Rich by Breeding Dogs!

O.K., the title is a joke. 

But only barely. 

Though show dog breeders may not be getting rich, many show dog people breed dogs to defray their show ring expenses -- payments to professional handlers, payments on motor homes and hotels, veterinary expenses, etc.

With "hobby" expenses of several thousand dollars a year, selling puppies is a significant part of the economic engine driving the show ring model.

The need for uninterrupted puppy sales is one reason the show dog world is so resistant to change.

If show ring folks could not sell their current crop of dogs because an AKC standard had been changed in order to improve canine health, that would be a serious economic hit.

There is another reason breed clubs are resistant to breed standard changes, and an increased focus on canine health issues; it is a negation of their own life and their own expertise. 

What does it say about the breed club, and its breeders, that the dog they claim to love so much is now in such dismal shape?

Dogs are not dying young and in pain because they are committing suicide.

Entire breeds have not been wrecked by accidental vehicle impacts.

No, the story here is quite a bit sadder than that. It is a story about a lot of people with misplaced priorities intentionally breeding dogs, and the horrific results they have achieved despite decades and decades of putative expertise "in the breed."

For these folks to admit that the results achieved have been a collective disaster, has a huge emotional cost attached to it.

They are in the same position as the person who has given this or her entire life to a company only to be fired in humiliation, or the wife who has been married for 25 years who comes home to find her husband in bed with another man. Was the whole thing a joke? A charade? Did this investment of my life mean nothing?

Little wonder that a lot of people are willing to do almost anything not to have to face those questions!

Thursday, May 19, 2022

I Am An Expert at Bird Identification

These, I am certain, are birds.

The First Trick of the Trade is to Learn the Trade

For about $500, any putative dog trainer can own all the equipment ever used to train a dog.

Name one other industry where you can set yourself up, without college, without a two-year apprenticeship, and for less than a set of crappy tires?  

And yet, how many of us know folks who train dogs who have never actually bought a modern ecollar to train with it, or even experiment with it?  

How many express horror at a prong collar, but do not own one, and do not know how to fit one?

If someone has not bothered to get the basic equipment to at least try it out, are they really serious about being a full service dog trainer?

How can they show folks the best way to solve problems if they know only one way or one task or one breed?

People ask me all the time to show them the "tricks of the trade" about various things I know something about.

The first trick, I tell them, is to learn the trade.  

Equipment is part of trade craft. It's not all of it, or even most of it, but it's a simple, physical, visible test of seriousness.  

If you won't drop $500 on a set of basic equipment for yourself, why should anyone drop $500 on you to train their dog?  Why should anyone waste their time and money investing in you, if you won't invest in yourself?

Yes, 98 percent of the tools we use in carpentry boil down to a Skil Saw and a hammer, a pencil and a square.  I can build a house with almost nothing else.  But do I also have 7 other saws, as well as chisels, planes, sanders, calipers, screw guns, nail guns, and caulking tools?  You bet.  Because if I am being hired as a carpenter, it's not for 98 percent of the job -- it's for 100 percent.

Cedar Waxwings Blowing In and Out

Cedar Wawings blow through this area for a few days twice a year as they migrate between their breeding area in southern Canada and their wintering range in the southern US, Central America, and northwest South America.  Not great pictures due to distance, height, and the angle of light.

The Common Mallard Is Underappreciated

Rudd Weatherwax Would Approve

Rudd Weatherwax, the trainer of Lassie, could never could get the original Lassie (Pal) to stop chasing motorcycles and so his owner abandoned him to Weatherwax rather than pay for all those Weatherwax lessons that got the dog to stop barking

Yes, Lassie was abandoned because his famous dog trainer failed him!

Today almost anyone could stop both of Lassie's problem behaviors in short order with a bark collar and an e-collar, and with levels of stimulation so low you would not even be able to feel the "correction" on your own skin.

If we can do that, why would we not do that?

Steve Jobs said that "Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them."


You give people tools because most people are good and smart and will use them properly. The dim and the evil? They will do their business with rock or rope, water bucket and shovel, as they have since the beginning of time.

Removing tools does not stop the bad; it prevents the good and embraces the status-quo.

And in the world of dogs, the status-quo is a million dogs a year being killed or abandoned because their owners could not get them to stop barking or stop chasing motorcycles.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Dogs Are the Real Experts

"There's facts about dogs, and then there's opinions about them. The dogs have the facts, and the humans have the opinions. If you want the facts about the dog, always get them straight from the dog. If you want opinions, get them from humans." 
.    .       .    .           .         .           .   .  . -- J. Allen Boone

Support Positive Dog Training or I'll Beat You!

This is the message of so many in the cult of pure click-and-treat dog training.

Ironic, eh? 

How come these dog trainers do not know a better way to train people?

And why all this division anyway? 

After all, the debate is not whether well-timed rewards work, but whether they are the only thing that works on all things, all the time.

And the answer there, of course, is NO. Well-timed aversives also have their place, which is why most dog trainers remain balanced trainers.

But, to bring it back to the irony, how funny is it that the clicker cultists (a sub-set of the clicker community, it should be said) think whining, barking, lunging, and chain-jerking is the best way to make their point with people?


Clicker Training Does Not Require Empathy

Dog training is not complex, and it does not require psychic abilities.

Of course some people think that must be the case! After all, if they have trained a dog to jump over a low fence, they must have a "gift" and a "special talent" for dog training, right?

Wouldn't that make them "special"?

One of these types wrote in yesterday to claim clicker training required "empathy, sensitivity, patience, excellent observational and mechanical skills, self-awareness, planning, appropriate utilization of canine ethology/canine body language and signals, and a knowledge of nutritional factors".

To which I can only say ..... Ri-i-i-i-ggght!

Clearly this poor soul does not know much about operant conditioning.

If she did, she would know that the best operant conditioners in the world have NO empathy, NO sensitivity, do NO planning, have NO knowledge of canine ethology or body language skills, and do not give a damn about nutritional factors.

And you know why these excellent animal trainers are so cold-hearted?

Because some of the best operant conditioners in the world are machines!

Machines are great at operant conditioning because they have infinite patience and perfect timing.

And here's a thought: they have infinite patience and perfect timing regardless of whether it is rewards-based training or aversion-based training.

This is Skinner 101.

The Skinner reference, of course, is to B.F. Skinner, the father of modern operant conditioning.

And what is one of the best training machines for humans? Skinner points to the slot machine!

Of course, we have progressed beyond Skinner boxes and slot machines. Now we have online tests and even online universities. Click and treat!

I suppose, I should note that there is nothing wrong with empathy provided it is moderated somewhat.

You see, a good dog trainer is not overly emotional, while a bad dog trainer is one that is wearing a little too much on his or her sleeve.

The dog does not need the trainer's "concerns." The dog does not need the trainer's sympathy. The dog simply needs a clear, well-timed consequence or signal. And guess what? Well-designed machines are pretty good at delivering those, while "deeply concerned" arm-flapping humans who assume dog training is all about them, often are not!   : Reposted from May 2010.

The Voice of the Farm

From Birds & People by Mark Cocker, available from Amazon (via way of Futility Closet) comes this little gem:
I was in the Outer Hebrides and I came across an abandoned derelict croft. It had no roof, but very substantial walls and in the gaps between the stonework was a starlings’ nest. I could hear the birds inside, and eventually one of the starlings came to defend its territory. I heard straight away that it wasn’t just the usual rambling song. It started to mimic a Corncrake, a species that is very rare in mainland Britain. It did this bird’s buzzing repetitive song, but then it immediately went into other sounds that seemed familiar and had a strong rhythm to them. As I was listening I was looking around and could see the remnants of farm machinery, including an ancient tractor that had not moved for 20-30 years. I realized this bird was singing the song of some of this machinery. It was singing the song of a mechanical pump that had obviously been active around this farm, and used by the people who had lived here.

I wasn’t listening to the same starling that heard these original sounds. These copied sounds are usually passed on from parents or neighboring birds so that a young bird absorbs and then duplicates them. The strange thing was that I was recording the sounds in what had been somebody’s living room, a place that had obviously been full of the conversations of family life over generations and which had passed into history. Yet the birds had returned and taken it back — claimed this space and these rocks — and were singing their own song. And they were singing the songs that were around when the people were here.

Read a review of the book here.

The mimicry of starlings is rather famous, and Mozart had a pet bird that did classical tunes.

As I noted in a post back in 2009,

Believe it or not, the more than 200 million European Starlings found in North America
today are direct descendants of approximately 100 birds introduced into New York City's Central Park sometime in the early 1890s.

Sturnus vulgaris owes its presence in this hemisphere to an odd little New York City group called the "American Acclimatization Society" which was dedicated to introducing all of the birds mentioned in William Shakespeare's works into Central Park. Previous attempts to introduce Starlings in the Northeast, Midwest and on the West Coast had failed, but the 1890 release was spectacularly successful, as today's massive winter flocks attest.


Canal Turtles are Out in Droves