Friday, December 11, 2009

Talking About Hunger in the USA-

One of the things I admire about both Crunchy Chicken and Sharon Astyk is that they fearlessly charge into discussions that are bound to become difficult and rancorous. Lots of things just plain need to be talked about; regardless of hurt feelings. So they do.

I'm about to do that too. However, I want to start with a disclaimer: I'm not judging anybody here. I'm really not. But we have a problem no one is facing, and we need to face it.

In the last couple weeks Hunger In the USA has gotten a lot of attention, and rightly so. One of the nifty little facts that came out in the NYT was that currently 1/8 of adults are getting food paid for by the government, via what used to be called "the food stamp program"; and 1/4 of our children.

That shocked a lot of people. In truth, I'm pretty angry that people were shocked. We should have been horrified- and aware and doing something about it long before it got to this point. Once again, I'm embarrassed to be a citizen of this country. We let 1/4 of our children grow up in such poverty? Unforgivable. Not a word I use at all lightly.

At the time, Sharon put up a post on the topic; and my comment on it was the second one. My topic here is a little different.

There, I pointed out that quite a few people who are actually hungry- are in situations where their parents or caretakers truly just do not know how to feed them.

What I want to say here - non-judgmentally, remember! - is that many who believe they are hungry- are not. They do not know what real hunger is; in spite of those ubiquitous advertisements with skeletal children in them.

Today the Washington Post has chimed in; and I think without knowing it, they've hit a nail right on the head. There's both an article, and a rather long photo gallery.

These were the photos that set me off. Neither this woman, nor her child, are actually "hungry", in the sense of not having enough to eat. They certainly may be malnourished- but hungry? No.

I do not, in the least, doubt that the woman believes she and her family are hungry, and that she is frantic about the welfare of her children. I would be willing to bet she's entirely sincere, and in no way a "bad person"- quite the contrary. But her problem has been misidentified; and the help being offered her- will not help.

Later in the photo gallery there is another mother- who is skipping meals, so her children can eat. She's skinny. And I'll believe in a second her stomach hurts, and that her children's do too.

There is the crux of why I'm writing about this. One of my myriad ex-girlfriends (ok, 3) fiercely accused me during one of our breakups of being a "problem solver"; a great sin for someone who didn't want her problems solved, she just wanted me to listen to them. (Evidently this is a fairly common source of friction between males and females, but I REALLY don't want to talk about it.)

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima etc. Loathsome as it may be, I really do prefer to come out the other side of a difficulty in an improved state, if possible.

Hunger in the world is actually a major focus of my life. To hear that one out of every four children in my country requires help from outside the family in order to not be hungry sets me going. Big time.

A tried and true way to fail at problem solving is to apply the wrong solution to a problem. For example, like trying to fix a flat tire with a wad of bubble gum. Looks kinda like it might work, if we're lucky. But in fact, it's just truly dumb.

I think we have abundant proof available that we're applying bubble gum to our hungry populace. It isn't going to help; which is by far my biggest objection; and it's insanely expensive, in a time when the country doesn't have a dime to spare. The money could and should be spent so that the recipients of the aid actually get help for their problem.

Problems come in layers, more often than not. The next layer to this particular one is that we know many people on food stamps are not actually hungry- but we don't want to deal with what's really going on. It's embarrassing, from all directions. So, rather than cause some forced blushing- we continue as a nation to pretend: lack of food is the problem; and money is the answer.

Very simply- lack of food is NOT the problem; and money is NOT the answer. Can't get much simpler than that.

The problem is- we refuse to talk about, or deal with, the problem.

If you haven't read the Washington Post article, now would be a good time. Surprise! They actually talk about all this.

I was delighted to discover that; and that others are struggling with it.

Now what?

Once you've discovered your solution to a problem isn't a solution; and the problem isn't what you thought it was - you must, must, must - throw everything out and start over.

What we're doing right now, to continue the flat tire simile, is "hey, maybe if we got the gum hotter, it would work." "hey, maybe if we mixed the gum with gasoline, it would work" "hey, maybe if we put sand in the gum, it would work." "hey, mixing the gum with gasoline almost worked, let's try mixing it with brake fluid instead."

It's painful to throw out a "solution" that you're so deeply invested in. But anything else is almost certain to just add to the "fixing the fix" cycle.

A black hole for the people; and the money.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Blizzard/Schmizzard; Disaster.

We're in the middle of a "blizzard" here, as anyone with any wireless communication device doubtless knows. The weather-casters have orgies for weather like this. "Bitter Cold! Huge Snowfall! ... House High Drifts!" etc., etc.
I do have an immediate complaint; I've never, ever, experienced a blizzard like the ones Laura Ingalls repeatedly describes; in 30+ years of living here. I'm sorry to say it, but I'm pretty sure Laura fudged her climate data.

Yes, it's a serious storm; life threatening; for knuckleheads, greenhorns, and the unlucky. About 20" of snow, we think; it's incredibly hard to measure with the wind moving everything. 25-40 mph winds. Dropping temps, headed for 0°F, with windchills far lower.

But, dang it- I can still see the THWASPCO, quite clearly. No chance, whatsoever, of getting lost enroute. In fact, even at the peak of the storm, I could still see the other side of the valley, 100 yards away. Sigh.

Sharon, over at her new blog address, has already posted a compleat compendium of what to do- when the power goes out- which certainly is usually the most common problem with big storms. I put up a little response in the comments there; mostly, we're snug.

There are, however, other problems storms like this can precipitate.

The cats got up on the table, and ate the butter.

Normally, they're much better behaved. Caught in the act, and ratted out by Smidgen, they were tossed, literally, out the door into a snowdrift. Ha.

In the aftermath of this financial and emotional catastrophe, it developed that the cats were, perhaps, not entirely at fault...

They were hungry. Their dry food feeder was... empty.

We failed them. Sad to say. No wonder the poor dears were breaking laws...

Ok, get the cat food and feed them.




There is no getting out of here for several days, for sure.

As good conscientious preppers, here is fodder for squinty eyes and muttered remonstrations. "You were in town last..." "yeah, well, you emptied the last bag- why wasn't it on the list? ha?"

A failure of the process. A senescent seneschal? A charlatan chatelaine? Forgot your ADD meds didja?

The potential for violence, in a little cabin lost in the snow- is frightening.

So if you don't hear anything from us again-

Either we've all killed each other, or we've been eaten by cats.

A fearsome foreshadowing, surely, of the collapse to come.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

ok, yes, I had an affair too...

I just can't hold it in any more, but YES - I too-

had an affair with Tiger Woods.

There, it's out.

Let the chips fall where they may.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Thanksgiving Gift for You-

Hi folks. With the bird in the oven, I've got a few moments-

So my thoughts turned to all the poor benighted folks out there who are, or just have- peeled chestnuts. Using any of the methods recommended, for centuries.

There's a genuinely NEW way- literally discovered around a year ago.

So, quick, quick- if you haven't already cut your hand and fingers, burned your fingers on hot nuts, or shoved hard, sharp chestnut skins under you fingernails- try this way- and pass it on.

A major boon to humanity, we think. :-)


I'm hoping to get back to regular posts here in the next couple weeks- some aspects of harvest are slowed down; but not all. Tons of stuff going on, besides waiting for the next socio-economic-political shoe to drop on our heads. Dubai, maybe?

In any case. Happy Turkey Day, for those required to indulge today.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Tooth Fairy- a Growth Industry!

Now that we all know economic "growth" is dead- the realization is spreading, and turning up in non-intuitive places.

I tripped over this one (on BBC), and laughed so hard I had to share it with you.

Really perfect Polka Dot Gallows material- you don't know whether to laugh or cry; you just kind of sit there, jaw dropped, and boggle.

It's the only remnant of The Capitalist Dream! Enough money to bury you. Obtained, you hope, by a gambling proposition (insurance: I bet I'll pay less in than they'll pay out)- which you believe you'll win. Although all the calculations of the insurance company say- you won't. Their profits depend on that. Do insurance companies make profits? Do fish have sex in the water?

And if you can zoom your screen a little, and get a good look at the fairy's face- it strikes me as skeptical, with a little secret smirk. Right up front.

That's what they're selling, to a herd never weaned from Disney.

I would like to know, scientifically, how many are buying.




Ok, can't help it, it's raining today so I'm inside reading too much.

And just boggling all over the place at the substitution of polysyllabic incompetence for "thinking".

Started off with a diatribe on the NYT "GreenInc" blog. Not posted yet, so who knows; but I'll repeat it here:

All the critics here are correct; but you’ve fallen into the trap set by the scheme instigators.

You’re fighting fire with logic. Doesn’t actually work, in terms of putting any fires out; it just generates committees.

The real problem is professors. (don’t you just love it when people say ‘the real problem is…’ )

Professors- not known for their broadscale thinking, repeatedly find they have a hammer in their possession. And they get enthusiastic about it.

“Look at this huge beautiful hammer!” they cry- attracting many who got Cs in science in high school, and assume professors know what they’re talking about.

“We have to use this hammer! And your problem looks to me like the perfect nail!”

Except is isn’t a nail, at all. This problem right here is an Allen head bolt, and the hammer is not useful.

But the hammer is big and shiny- and expensive, so there’s loads of money to be made studying it all, and building prototypes.

“Hey, technology is huge these days! We’ll figure out fixes for the problems later!:”

Just like they did for corn ethanol- a direction now abandoned by all not brain dead or deeply invested.

CEOs of power companies; and legislators, really need to ask for a full-scale, long term (500 year) plan and extrapolation. If the process proposers don’t have one- that’s really really good evidence they haven’t thought beyond their big shiny hammer, at all.

Do we have time to waste, and money- on Allen head bolts flattened and mashed beyond extraction by big shiny hammers?

That’s supposed to be rhetorical.


Used to be only ninnys didn't think problems all the way through- but it seems to be a pathway now being taught to PhDs.

The next example, which pushed me over the edge, is from BBC Science.

This professor guy (and not a minor professor, but "the director of the scientific aquaculture programme at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts") is spending huge amount of money working on training aquaculture fish to come back when called, in the ocean; by a specific sound.

Then, see, they could go find some of their own food, and wouldn't always be pooping in the same toilet, but would come back when you wanted to feed- or kill them.

First try didn't work. Predators ate them, as soon as they were allowed to escape from the cage. I'll be darned.

Besides which- gosh, if you've got your fish trained to come and be fed, and the signal is a sound... exactly how long do you think it will take the predators to learn that the sound means- time to come and get fed? Right here?

I think any signal, in any medium, you can use to train your fish will emphatically be intercepted by the predators, immediately.

At first, the fish began to forage outside of the aquadome, moving in and out at the prompt of the sound, just as the researchers had hoped.
"But then we start seeing these bluefish circling our cage. And these are notorious for being ravenous and ruthless hunters," he says.
"Very frustratingly, we went back day after day to find these fish still showing up at the cage, and we couldn't for the life of us call the black sea bass back.
Tagged black sea bass (Scott Lindell)
The tags helped the researchers to identify their bass
"They were scared to death - we went diving, and we could see them amongst the rocks, but nothing was going to make them run that gauntlet between the rocks and the cage when it would put their lives at risk."
And the fish had good reason to be scared.
When the team caught one of the bluefish and slit open its belly, they discovered 12 tiny tags - the fish that they had been attached to had already been digested.
But. Big, hopeful, news coverage on the BBC!! Hey, the funders will love it.
And his answer? Gonna build robotic sheep-dog sharks to keep the little predators away.

What a good idea.


Ok, so the hammer is not working on this machine screw. Maybe if I hit it from the side, with more money...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Norman Borlaug.

I left a comment on the NYT article on Borlaug's passing. Here it is:

The one time I met Dr. Borlaug, I made a complete fool of myself. We'll pass over how.

He was very gracious about it. There was nothing in the least pretentious about the man. But it was awe-ful to be in the same room with him. A large part of that was his complete accessibility. He would listen to you- no matter who you were. Which is the mark of a true scholar.

As an ecologist, I'm quite aware of the shortcomings of the Green Revolution.

He was, too. And it hurt him to have to cope with the sometimes sharp and unfeeling criticisms.

His motivation was simple. And pure. When people are hungry- you feed them. Gandhi had the same thought.

He fed them. Yes, it wasn't perfect, and he knew it. He bought us time; only that, and he knew it. In part, he figured he'd done his part- and now it was up to someone else to take the next steps.

That would be you. And me.

We miss you already. And will for a long time to come.

Norm was a man.

It's too easy to forget that about towering figures, and he was one.

Yes, I know I know I know; many aspects of The Green Revolution have not worked out well, or to the benefit of the common people.

But that truly was not Norm's fault. He was not a great philosopher; not a politician, though he tried consistently to use the weight of the Nobel Peace Prize as a bludgeon on the World Bank officials and other politicians he had to deal with. It wasn't his skill.

His skill was understanding crops, deeply. And need.

Could you stand and see a starving child- with food in your pocket- and not feed the child?

If your answer is yes- either you have never actually been in the presence of utter poverty; or you are subhuman.

Norm saw the poverty- and injustice, and all the rest that goes with living at the bottom of the human pile. His skill was plants. So he gave his life to working for the poor, primarily in that way.

Others saw ways to profit from his work, and often heartlessly derailed it. He hated that; but the starving, dying children still faced him. He never could do nothing.

Down deep, I think he expected others to give as he did; everything, their lives; to deal with the other aspects of the problem of too many people on one limited planet.

He was a farm kid from Iowa. Just a man. Not perfect; but he tried, with everything he had in him.

After I'd made a fool of myself, we eventually found ourselves alone together; for about 4 minutes. We talked about what was next on his schedule; he had rushed to get to the meeting we were at, and had to rush off to another. And another.

(Ok, that was how I made a fool of myself. I had to introduce him to the meeting. And I bungled it, because I was so nervous.)

I said; "They don't really give you much time to sit down, do they?"

"No, they don't." And more slowly again, "No, they don't."

We looked at each other, and he told me silently that he missed his family, and the time to savor life a bit.

Then he pulled himself back up, and went off to the next battle.

People will argue forever, I think, about whether his work alleviated human suffering, or created more.

I can't say. Philosophically, how can you say that it would be better if Person X had simply never existed? Very easy, in the abstract- but could you stand next to X, look him/her in the eyes, and think so?

He knew a simple thing that an astonishing number of humans never learn; people do not exist in the abstract. Each one is real, with pains, hopes, fears, despairs- exactly like your own.

He worked among the people, and knew them, face to face. He could not say; "No, you must not have any children. The world has no room for you."

He thought that decision was not his to make. Perhaps one of those whose lives he saved would in turn hold the answers for what happens next. We can't know.

What we can know is that here was a man who fought with everything he had; every day of his life- for the people of the world- all of them; every last one.

Is there more a person can do?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Proof !!

SciFi writer Larry Niven, in his younger days, proliferated "Finagle's Law", which is basically Murphy's Law (Anything that can go wrong, will.) re-written for geeks.

My recollection is "The perversity of the Universe tends towards a maximum."

I can now add a corollary (that is, in addition to the one I've already added; Greenpa's Law: "Everything can go wrong. Just wait.")

Right now I'm spending a lot of time mowing grass. This is in preparation for our harvest- it's really hard to pick stuff off of bushes when the quackgrass and thistles are taller than the bushes; and it's also great cover for rodents down there. You gotta get rid of the grass. So I mow.

The guineas, you understand, are part of our long-term plan for the grass. A) they eat some. and B) they are phenomenal "watch" animals. If we wind up with sheep, or calves- the guineas should be all over, and will alert the dogs to any intruders. Theoretically.

Anyway. Partly I mow up on the John Deere, using a following flail. And, I mow using the Grillo walking tractor, with the Ferrari sickle bar; 7.5 hp Yanmar diesel, and the best sickle bar ever made. I'm in love. But you still gotta walk; for miles, holding on to a jerking, vibrating noisemaker.

So, it's, like- THIRSTY work. For reasons probably connected with Finagles Law, my JD 70 hp 4WD utility tractor (open, no cab) has NOWHERE to put or hang a water container. Apart from improvised places, which always result in tearing off a signal light on a tree branch, or the metal water container being dropped into the mower. So- no water. Likewise, the Grillo is a water-free zone; you just don't want to be carrying a canteen; it'll beat you to death, and a "camel" pack is a hilarious idea- you'll sweat out twice the water you can carry because it cuts off air circulation on your back, completely.


Having done this a time or two, of course you can plan for work loops that end up somewhere where you can get water. Obviously.

One of them is our 80 year old Aermotor windmill, which pumps all the water for the Little House. When the wind is blowing, of course. But I do usually try to avoid mowing on windless days (which we have plenty of in summer) - because I'll sweat and die.

So- today the wind is blowing, VERY steady; 12 mph from the NNW. A good clear direction; pumps water great.

I get off the tractor, cool it down, turn it off; pull out my earplugs; and walk to the windmill, which is pumping just as steady as can be.

I bend down, pick up the hose from it- and...

The wind dies.

This is ABSOLUTELY reliable. I've been keeping track; for 25 years (we didn't have the windmill for the first 5).

No kidding. In 25 years, here are the data.

No. of times I've taken a drink directly from the pumping mill (or tried to): 264.
No. of times the wind has died when I picked up the hose: 248.
No. of times the wind quit completely, and I gave up: 197.

Fool that I am; today the wind was so steady, I thought I could sneak in a drink.

Nope. Gave up.

Here is the new corollary to Finagle's Law:

The Aermotor Corollary:

If you really need a drink from your windmill, the wind WILL die immediately, and water pumping will cease for as long as you wait for it to restart.

Those are hard data folks.

Somebody IS out to get us.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Hy Ate Us.

So to speak. Readers will have noticed a falling off in posts here- the reality is that we're entering a time of the year which gets busier, and busier, and busier. And with all those long daylight hours- it's just too easy to work long hours.

Plus; Spice stepped in a pothole at the US Post Office a day ago- so her foot is in a soft cast for 3 weeks...

Plus; we have 20 chicks and 35 keets almost ready to get out into the world, and inadequate housing for them again...

Plus; Beelar (oldest son) is moving back in. Not in the usual sense- he's bringing his nice shiny new PhD back with him; and will be entering the family business. Which is a huge huge help; but also means one more person with immediate dibs on my time.

I don't expect I'll quit posting altogether; but until October or so, they'll be erratic. I'm expecting and intending to get more regular again about the blog come fall and winter.

Just so's ya know. Please check back from time to time- I'm not really disappearing.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

High stress-

Yesterday we got both our dogs "fixed". It's traumatic. For me, anyway.

Poor Delilah- looks up at me with those very sad hound-puppy eyes. She hurts- and yesterday she was abandoned to strangers all day. That had never happened in her world before. Today she's mostly just lying down. And looking at me.

Luckily, she had Theodore with her in the same cage all day. They are such buddies- they eat, always, from the same dish; often at the same time. In fact we got two dishes- and regularly kept them both filled. Every day, one dish would be sparkling clean; and one untouched. Then they'd start, together, on the second dish.

Delilah is just over a full year old, and mature for her age. Catahoula mom, Boxer dad. At the vet's, they told us she now weighs 47 lbs. Theodore is less than 4 months; Anatolian mom, probably Australian shepherd dad - he's 49 lbs, and a little taller than Delilah already. Both dogs are nowhere near as hard headed as you'd expect their moms to be; both are very smart and very willing.

But- we got them fixed for 2 reasons- a) the genetics of their offspring would be much less predictable than their own; and b) we want them to stay home, and not get involved in mating battles that can shorten their lives. (Oh, yeah, and c) we had to promise to fix them when we got them from the shelter. That counts. But she still looks at me.)

Genetically, they are like F1 hybrid corn- a cross between two unrelated highly inbred (homozygous) lines. Hybrid vigor is maximized in that situation. But in the next cross, unless you're a geneticist and willing to discard a lot of progeny- the hybrid vigor starts to fall apart, and the pups get unpredictable, in a lot of ways. Not what we need, either.

It's all morally confusing. Theodore is eating and wants to get into my lap. But sweet, grown up, well mannered Delilah- looks at me, all the time.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Beating the heat; and the cold.

Once again, this post is Sharon's fault. She posted a bit a couple days ago about facing a future with highly erratic fuel costs- making your choice of how to heat your home pretty significant. The subject came up because apparently, worry warts are already eagerly worrying about the unpredictable price of next winter's fuel.

In the comments, the idea of putting bubble wrap on your windows as a way to decrease heat loss came up- and it turns out Sharon's family already does this.

I may have a better trick; at any rate it's certainly a different one, useful in other situations.

We cover our windows- very tightly- with "space blankets" during extreme weather- either hot (blanket outside) or cold (blanket inside). (Our definition of extreme- colder than -10°F/-23°C, or hotter than 100°F/38°C.)

We use the very inexpensive ones inside; the ones that are just a piece of mylar with aluminum vapor deposited on one side- those can run as cheap as $2.50 for a 4 foot x 8 foot piece. The ones with a more complex construction and tough fiber reinforcement run around $12, but if it's going to be subject to wind, you'll need it.

The outdoor ones come with grommets installed- you can position them over any window that is letting sunlight into the house (shiny side out!), and drastically cut your heat gain.

The indoor ones are fragile, and tear easily- handling them is a job for an adult, or you'll run through them quickly. Well handled though, one blanket can easily last 5 years. A torn piece can be pretty easily mended with any kind of tape, even Scotch.

What we do is put 1" long pieces of self- adhesive velcro tape on the inside of the window frame. Clean the frame well beforehand; finishing with isopropyl alcohol; this is permanent. We usually put the hook part on the window frame, and the pile on the mylar (less abrasive in storage.)

Then, put the mating pieces to the velcro on top of those in place on the window frames- and expose the adhesive. You need to determine which side of the blanket has the aluminum on it- for two reasons. That's the side you want inside, for best reflection; and - the velcro tape will not stick to the aluminized side- it'll just strip the aluminum off, and you'll have to do it over. (I would know.)

Have a good idea of how your piece is going to fit. (If it needs to be cut, we usually try to cut it after this next step; more efficient; leaving bigger pieces for other windows.) Start in any convenient corner, and press a corner of the blanket onto the sticky tape; leaving a good margin of blanket to cover the window thoroughly, including cracks.

Press it in hard; hold your thumb on it for 30 seconds or so to heat it a little. Then; gently stretch the blanket to the next corner, and repeat. You want the blanket to be stretched quite taught when you are done. The velcro is somewhat forgiving- you don't have to match pile and hooks exactly, so you can increase the stretch when you are re-mounting the blanket on the window. Don't pull it too tight during the initial fitting, or you can pull the bottom velcro off the window frame.

Leave the blanket in place for 24 hours if possible, to allow the adhesive plenty of time to really set up. When removing the blanket, you need to work your fingers in between each pair of velcro tabs- just trying to pull on the blanket to get a tab to let loose is guaranteed to tear the blanket eventually. Find the junction between the hook and the pile pieces with your finger nail, then wiggle your finger between- no stress on any of the components.

This REALLY cuts the heat loss from windows- when we put them up in winter, it feels like standing in front of a stove when it goes up. When the blanket is reasonably taught, it will act to cut convection and conduction losses through the glass, acting as another storm window. It doesn't have to be perfect to make a big difference. If you have a very drafty window, you can increase the effectiveness of the blanket by adding velcro tabs in between the corners, holding it down tighter.

And, of course, it cuts radiative loss by around 80%. You can easily make that 90% if you want to- by using a double layer of mylar.

Another huge benefit- when the space blankets go up- your winter house becomes much brighter inside. It also makes the house feel smaller- which can be cozy in a cold snap. I should point out- here in the Little House, our windows do not have curtains or blinds. We want to see the world- and there's no one to peek in. Doing this on windows with accoutrements is liable to be a little more tricky; but still doable.

We take the blankets down when it's sunny- to let the sun and heat in; and to help prevent cabin fever. It's easy to release the velcro; fold the blanket and put it into a 1 gallon ziplock bag; and keep it next to its window.

For summer- label each bag, and store away with the winter hats and gloves.

I think this is very likely to be more effective than the bubble wrap, which cuts no radiative loss to speak of, and varying amounts of convective and conductive.

Of course- if you use BOTH - you could probably cut your fuel needs drastically!


The other problem with bubble wrap of course, is that 13,341 children were murdered by their parents last year for chronic bubble wrap popping. They just can't help it, it seems. The little kids love to jump on it, and the big kids love to pop it between their fingers. Parents sometimes just snap.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Whole Planet Picnic Time

Typically, time has snuck up on me. Surprise- the Summer Solstice is tonight: 5:45 Coordinated Universal Time- which translates into 45 minutes after midnight here in Minnesota.

I think.

In any case- we're having our Whole Planet Picnic here tonight, Saturday, bonfire and friends.

If you're not familiar with this concept, start off with the link above, and then use the site search tool to look for a bunch of different posts on "planet picnic".

We're still doing it- hope those of you who've participated in the past can again (in spite of the insanely short notice- you could also do it on Sunday, of course, since technically that's the official solstice date...)

Zooming off; have to get some mowing done before it gets hot- we're supposed to hit 85°F today; probably our hottest day of the year so far.




Tuesday, June 16, 2009

And the winnah-

Good job, everybody! No dumb guesses among them; but- ADAM had it right.

I just got finished tearing it down and rebuilding it; and indeed TWO golf cart batteries in one quadrant (it's arranged as 4 batteries in parallel (one quadrant) with two quadrants in series; giving 12 volts; then two halves in series giving 24) were really shot, putting out 3 volts at no load. The other batteries in that quadrant were only putting out 4.5 by now; but probably due to massive over loading; hopefully they'll recover.

Those symptoms mean some battery or cell in the arrangement is dead; and pulling everybody else in the system down with them. About 90% of the time. The other answers folks came up with could yield very similar symptoms- but are going to be much rarer occurrences.

One of the esoteric facts that it helps to know- a "dead" lead acid cell will usually read full high voltage- immediately when a charging current is applied. But- in fact it is not accepting the charge; it's dead. So when a load (greater than the charging current) is applied- it will very quickly drop down to a bad number- like 22V.

When I left the battery bank; after 45 minutes of 28 amps charging from the diesel generator; to try to bring some of the drastically low batteries a little back in line; the computer was reading 26.5 VDC; under a 3 amp load (heat lamp for chicks). Which is really pretty good.

If the bank is fixed (sort of) - in the morning, I will expect it to read around 24.5 or so, before the sun hits the panels. That should mean it'll hold up for a while; though some of the batteries that were pulled way down by the dead cells may prove to be too damaged, in the long run.

The batteries that went bad- were some of the newest. And in the next quadrant; some of the oldest (back to 2001!) are still holding a steady 6.3V; even after working with dead cells in the system. My guess is- the quality had declined.

ALL experts on solar system battery banks say: "NEVER put new batteries into a bank with old batteries! Your new cells will be pulled down to the function level of your worst cells- and their life will be shortened."

Fine. True. But I think those guys are not paying for the 16 golf cart batteries themselves.

I just can't afford to replace the bank, when one battery goes south. If I did; I'd have bought about 4 sets of 16 by now. Instead of which, I've bought about 2.2 (since 1994). Which is a bloody great lot cheaper.

One thing I forgot- when the bank is under stress and out of balance; some of the batteries will wind up using a lot more water than others. I found several cells with the water out of sight below the plates. Naughty. And; my backup distilled water supply was not adequate; I eventually put almost 3 gallons of distilled water into the bank; quite a lot; and I had to go in to town to get it.

Had to; though; the chicks were without heat! If I'd thought a little further, we could have bought extra water at the same time as we got the batteries. Duh.

The revolt of the machines continues, too- my multi-meter; really needed to check the exact status of each battery- worked super until I got the two really dead batteries out, and the new ones in. And then it quit working. And I wanted to do a little more checking; of course. I'm hoping it's just a dead battery. Hm. It DID let me finish the critical work. Maybe it's actually on my side?

And. The diesel backup generator- has a new rattle. Under load; but not when idling.


Monday, June 15, 2009

A little quiz for you all-

In keeping with my revolting machinery- I've got a problem with my greenhouse battery bank.

The greenhouse is powered entirely by solar panels (with diesel backup we rarely use); and of course when off grid, that means a big battery bank. In our case, it's 16 golf cart batteries, hooked up to give nominal 24VDC .

So; here's the problem. We've got chicks in a brooder again, which means a load for a heat lamp all night long. Stressful on the batteries, but well within normal specs.

But- right now, on a sunny day, the voltage on the electric system computer reads 25.6 V - when the sun is shining on the panels. 25-26 volts while charging is good. Actual "full battery" voltage under charge is going to be over 28V. But; if a cloud passes over, and the panels are receiving only partial input- the system voltage (with loads running) drops quickly to: 22.3 V; a very bad number.

Now, I know exactly what that means, and am going to be working on fixing it next time it rains.

But- do YOU know what it means? I think it would be good for you to know. Someday; you may need this information. Allowing the battery bank to continue in this state for very long can drastically harm all the batteries, and cut their capacity and life very seriously.

So. What is the problem? I think I'm going to let answers accumulate for a day before putting them up- so none of your comments will be public until tomorrow. So you can't peek!

Friday, June 12, 2009

"In Transition" movie

The Transition Movement is working on a movie- and it's going to be available from the web for another 36 hours or so-

If you're interested in Transition, but don't know too much about it- this is a really good introduction.

Movie is called In Transition, and runs for 60 minutes. You'll need a fairly fast connection; not for dial-up, I think.

It's aimed at folks who are not up to speed on climate and oil stuff; so you may find yourself going "yeah, yeah, I know that already..." :-)

But- what it does show, that is really heartening- is the huge number of people already doing this; and sticking to it.

It's impressive; and a ray of hope when those are very hard to come by right now.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Whistling girls...

My mother taught me this rhyme-

Whistling girls, and crowing hens
Always come to some bad ends.

She was explaining why she couldn't whistle, when I was around 6, and fiercely trying to learn how.  When she was a kid- any girl that whistled would be faced with that chant from the other school kids.  So girls pretty much didn't.

This is not a post about post feminist posting, however.

It's about crowing hens.  I think we've got one.

You'll remember, if you're following closely, that a while back I was puzzling over the sex of our Dominique bird. 

We'd pretty much decided that it was a she- based on the appearance of two types of chicken eggs in the coop.  The shape is different from the guineas; rounder on both ends; and the texture of the shell is quite different, the guinea eggs having what look like rather large pores scattered about while the chicken eggs look more like smooth porcelain to the naked eye.  We were getting one "big" and one "banty" sized chicken egg, nearly daily; and since we have only 3 chickens, and Kanga is definitely all rooster- the math seemed simple.

Then, two weeks ago- I heard two roosters crowing at the same time.  The math was still the same.  3 chickens.  Two crowing.   And then I saw the Dominique actually crow; several times.  What the hay.

So yesterday we found two new chicken eggs- one definitely banty sized- and with the light brown color we've gotten used to there.  And one much larger- and a darker brown.  

Well; heck.  So DO hens sometimes crow?  Is Silly Sally, the Dominique, actually a cross dressing hen?  Spice wants to rename her/him Saleddie.  We hope Eddie Izzard will approve.
(R-rated language there)

Meanwhile- anybody have experience with crowing hens??  Do they exist?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My machines are revolting.

I've spent the last 4 days in machine hell.  Okay, it's only the 3rd level; but it's still hell.

First- my computer died.  Spent a day trying to fix it myself.  Nope.  So then had to spend a day taking it 130 miles to the nearest Apple store- where, in fact, they fixed it under warranty in 3 hours.  Needed a new internal hard drive.  And they apologized for that.

Then it took a day to re-tune the computer; even with a good backup to restore from, there's still a little stuff here, and there, that's not quite right.

Then, this morning- I tried to shift our cooking back to propane, after a couple days on wood (very chilly right now) - but; the connector is now leaking gas, very noisy, very fast.  I don't see why, yet- but it's unusable.

I could, of course, go back to wood... except; we just had 2" of rain, and it's all wet.  Our normal stash of dry wood had been allowed to get low, for the summer- and we used it all...

So- I need my chainsaw, to cut some more dry wood.  Except- the cap on the oil reservoir leaks like crazy just now.  Need a new one.  Means a trip to town- 30 miles...

I want my coffee.


Even off the grid- we depend on machines.  I will live without my coffee, in June, of course.  But in winter- we really need to own two chain saws.  In case.

Oh, yeah, and Spice had a flat tire on the pickup; and the pickup power steering is out on the left side...  but those are just women's problems.  No biggie.  (nudge nudge, wink wink.)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Problem Is: Men.

Ok, not exactly. But sort of. :-)

The problem I want to discuss here is actually quite complex; ancient; and widely misunderstood. Which means what follows below may seem rambling, and irrelevant from time to time. Hang in there- it all comes together eventually.

There was a really good discussion about the "informal economy" over on Sharon's. Some of it got sidetracked into a little discussion on feminism, and some into problems with nomenclature. I got well tangled up in both of those, and even stirred the pot a bit. So here we are, with a little expansion and pot stirring on my own recognizance.

Sharon's post title was "Reinventing the informal economy", and has loads of thoughts that are well worth pondering. There's little she says there that I would quibble with. Part of the subsequent discussion though got off into definitions and names- and there I have something to add, I think.

Names are important. Really really important. We've all seen what a total disaster "Global Warming" and "Swine Flu" have been. They allow endless attacks and diversions from the parties whose interests are threatened - or excursions into nonsense. The people responsible for those names are, ultimately responsible for a great many human deaths. Sorry- but that's true. People are dying right now (300,000/year, according to one estimate) - because obstruction was facilitated by the bad name. And farmers, and all middlemen, have lost millions because of the idiot repetition of "swine flu" for a human disease.

Could it have been done better? Of course. "Climate Change" is much less open to attack; and "New Flu" would serve headlines perfectly. The Climate Change alternative has been around since the outset- but it was too late, the "journalists" (ha) had already fixated on Global Warming! which sounds sexier. And the CDC tried to implement "Novel influenza A (H1N1)", but again, too late, and in this case that was an idiot alternative, doomed to failure as any marketing wonk could have told them (that, I'll guarantee, is a name chosen by a committee of scientists- with no public relations personnel present.)

Names are important. In the present case, I started off by gratuitously mentioning in the discussion at Sharon's that I'm launching a movement (YOU are invited!) to eradicate the word "consumer". It reduces, actually, to "Hi! I'm an alimentary tract! Holes at both ends! Eat and sh*t, that's my life! And I love it!"

It's a pretty stunning insult, but one we've just accepted without evaluation or protest. At this point, though, I'll be damned if anyone will call me a consumer. Call me "citizen", if necessary to point out my most basic role in the community.

Where does the word come from? From the fantasy world of "economics", which everyone should understand by now is a world of wish fulfilment, rationalization, dream, and nightmare; with no actual basis in any reality. Except we have somehow allowed these self deluded charlatans to become "professors", and establish "departments" in universities. So way back there, they started talking about "producers" and "consumers". And we just accepted it- they must know, right? They're professors!


Which is where "the problem is: men" comes in.

What follows is my own analysis, built up over years of pondering history, human behavior, and anthropology. I think it has a lot to recommend it; though inevitably, some will not like it.

Can we agree that much of the history of Christianity has strayed quite far from anything the founder(s) of the religion intended?

The evidence, I think, is pretty good that original Christian communities were quite egalitarian- and women were included on an equal- power- basis. But that changed.

The most common situation among primal peoples (that word choice, vs "primitive" was explained to me by my friend Jack Gladstone; Blackfeet troubadour and storyteller, and double philosophy and anthropology major...) is that men and women have nearly equal power in the community- but- men's power, and women's power are different, based on different "magic".

I think that in primal situations, equal power of men and women is the situation that will most often win out, in competitions between cultures. Generally- equal partners will compete harder, and contribute more, than any arrangement where one sex is subjugated.

But in settled "civilized" circumstances- other factors may come into play which make that aspect of the culture less compelling. With the rise of the cities- women started to be subjugated more and more- and military power rose in importance.

The trend is older than Christianity; but most visible there, I think. Judaism also shifted in antiquity from a matriarchal system to patriarchal (thank you, oh lord, that you did not make me a woman...! feel free to correct me, Sharon!). And Islam also; while women still have great power in the household; they are allowed no role in larger community concerns. And yes, I'm talking just about Western cultures here- because that's the one most of the readers here live in.

As Christianity moved into the Middle Ages, women's power was stripped from them by the Church- and "women's magic" became a matter of warfare- "wise women"- witches - were systematically eradicated, in very ugly fashion.

About the same time, two new endeavors arose- "universities"- and "history". These arenas, I contend, were launched entirely as men's enterprises- no women allowed. And they dealt solely with men's "magic"; or power, concerns. "History", for most of its course, has been just a list of men's power achievements; wars and governments. "Universities" became machines to train men for power- and to develop new paths to power; that is why kings built and funded them.

Medicine; typically a women's magic in the West, was stolen by men, and installed in the universities. "Doctor", in fact, is not a term originally applied to physicians; but to professors. When barbers sought higher credibility, they stole the term for the respect it conveyed. The theft has been so complete and successful that PhD's now can be heard apologizing that they aren't a "real" doctor, but only a PhD; not even knowing the history of the term themselves.


What does this have to do with the "informal economy" question?

When "economics" was launched, universities were still entirely men's enterprises- and it was so unquestioned as to be unnoticed (by men...)

Consequently; when men first started to think about analyzing how resources move in a culture, and what is important, and what is not- they thought, of course, entirely in terms of men's concerns.

Of course their own parts were the most important- and the bits that had to do with what are traditionally women's enterprises were - not important.

Hence- they named the monetary economy "formal"; and the household economy- "informal" - which means, in case you can't tell- unimportant; negligible; not worth thinking about. And for lack of any alternative analysis- we still call it so today.


Back to anthropology for a moment.

I am one of those who always looks to the primal peoples; the hunter-gatherers; for clues to our present behavior. Homo lived as hunter-gatherers for the great majority of our existence; all species of Homo lived that way- until sapiens. That would mean some 2 million years as hunter-gatherers, and perhaps 15,000 as pastoralists and agriculturalists; even less time as city dwellers. Our genes are full of adaptations for the hunter-gatherer life.

While huge variations in cultural specifics exist among hunter gatherers, there are a few things that stand as reliable generalities.

Men hunt- women gather.
Women bear children. Men don't.
Women run the household, tend the fire- anchored by small children.
Women contribute most of the calories, in small game, vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains.
Men contribute most of the protein, much of the fat, in huge chunks when a kill is made.
Men contribute protection for the family- to the point of cheerfully dying when necessary - to protect - the household.

Now think about that. The household- is worth dying for.

Most of this is generated by the fact that men are never pregnant, nor nursing- thus much more capable of unencumbered hunts or fights. The division quickly becomes a positive-feedback loop, and turns into sexual selection yielding males that are a good deal larger than females, with thicker skins and bigger muscles.

There is one other thing men contribute, but it's less well known outside the inner circles of anthropology; so, another little diversion here.


Men, it turns out, are often jealous of women's power. Women alone create life- and what a huge power that is.

My Anthro 101 prof gleefully told us of a tribe in Africa; where the jealousy was so strong that the men made up a power of their own, to be able to compete better with the women.

When the men reach puberty; part of the coming of age ceremony included inserting a wooden plug in the anus. And the initiate never poops again, in his entire life. Cool, huh! Huge magic!

And it is, of course, a huge lie; you can't not poop. The reality is; the boys learn to go out in the bushes and do it secretly, and they pretend they don't. The women- of course - know all about this. But they pity the men, so they don't publicly expose the lie. They do laugh about it in the Women's House, though. A lot. And many of the men, while they of course know it's all a lie; do believe that they actually have the women fooled. Self-serving delusion- a phenomenon currently on display on Wall Street.


Partly as a result of this ancient inferiority complex, and partly as a matter of biology, the other thing men contribute to their household is- status.

It's been demonstrated in many different species, from domestic chickens on up to humans, that high-status individuals have stronger offspring, and the status passes to them.

For humans, men have for millennia spent great amounts of energy to acquire status. In my own mind, I reduce that goal to - "ostrich feathers". The more ostrich feathers you have; the higher your status- the more successful your offspring.

Ostrich feathers today can easily be read as "money", and "power". Among other things, of course. A Nobel Prize is a really big feather. Etc. Women of course seek status too, and nowadays can seek it in what used to be men's arenas; but I think women have status mechanisms that are solely their own, as well. Female status has also been shown by research to contribute to offspring success.


Back to formal/informal economy. What I hope to have shown by the long discourse above is that this terminology was set up by men- for men's purposes- and to increase the number of ostrich feathers available to men in this arena. The terminology has no other reason for existing- and is not the result of dispassionate investigations into reality.

Over on Sharon's original post, two respondents had excellent suggestions for alternative names; MJ suggested "essential economy", and Leslie suggested "natural". Both of those are true, and correct. However, from my long training in marketing- I can foresee difficulties down the line for both. Briefly- "essential" suggests too strongly (intended or not) that other aspects of the economy are not- and will make enemies. "Natural" - sounds too "green" (intended or not); and you'll lose a good deal of audience there. Let me repeat- they're both absolutely accurate.

Finally!!! My suggestion:

The "informal" economy IS; and should be renamed: "the Primary Economy".

Primary does not necessarily imply more significance- just that it was first. Which is totally undeniable, I think. I also think it unavoidably sounds important; unlike "informal".

That would make the "formal economy" the "Secondary Economy". Built upon the first.

Another brief aside- what is the purpose of the Secondary Economy? Why do people leave the home, to go to work outside? Manifestly- to bring resources back to the household- and put them into the Primary Economy. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that the entire Secondary Economy was created specifically to serve the Primary Economy. I think the nomenclature is appropriate; could be acceptable to many, and far better designates the relationships.

As a humorous addition- the Wall Street wonks refer to the Secondary Economy as "the real economy." You know, the one where people make stuff, and do things. As opposed to what they do on Wall Street, the "financial sector of the economy".

I will propose, in facetious/serious tones, that the "financial sector" of the economy be renamed the "Sandbox Economy". They just push piles of stuff around, from one place to another. Make nothing; do nothing, achieve nothing of tangible value. And squabble. Over ostrich feathers.

One other point in favor of Primary Economy. As many of you already know- the words "economy", "economics", and "ecology" all stem from the same Greek root: oikos.

Which means "home"; or "household"; or "family". I maintain- the household economy, and all its "informal" connections; is the Primary Economy. And should be so designated.


If you like this suggestion- please do start to use the terms, and refer people to this post for an explanation of why. It might go viral, who knows- and it would only be a matter of justice. At this point, as you can probably tell, I find the term "informal" to be actively offensive. And outrageously misleading.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Unreliable, That's What You Are...

You're supposed to be humming that to the tune of "Unforgettable", of course.

I've been away from the farm for a bit, traveling/talking.  Got back a few days ago, to the usual stack of urgencies, old standards and new surprises.

One of the few nice ones was this:

Click the pics for bigger.  The best crop of morels we've had in quite a few years.  I knew they were out there; and all 3 of us (minus any mushroom stomping dogs) went out looking this morning; with just this one basket.  What we have here is the yield from just 2 patches, one grey morels, and one brown (or white and yellow, depending on your vernacular.)

Unreliable; is what they are.  I don't have a clue how to predict the morel yield; it's just wildly variable, from year to year.  We have no shortage of dead elms, ever; so that's not it.  I think I do remember a year when we had nearly so many per tree, but it was decades ago.

So how is this a problem?  There's all this food out there- just screaming to be harvested.  Irritating, disruptive, and pretty much impossible to ignore.  My guess is we'll wind up freezing some.  It's a little hard to dry things here right now- we're off wood fuel for cooking and on propane; and the weather is frequently cool/cloudy.  One mushroomer friend dries his - on the dash of his car.  But I'm a little too afraid of bad plastic stuff in cars- you know, that lovely "new car smell"- which is in fact toxic.

So; work, work, work.  On top of regular chores.  :-)

Then; there's the cat/kitten problem.

Our regular cat is missing in action.  He's been gone for 3 weeks, and we're guessing he's not coming back.  He was (or is) an intact tom, and extraordinarily sweet and well behaved; which is why he was intact; we were thinking about arranging for kittens one day.  But he would, like most toms, take off occasionally; usually for 2-3 days.  He'd come back a little scarred and scabby; but happy.

Not this time.  It's very sad, of course; we'll miss him.  He was part of the family.

We also have mice, however; and we need a cat.  I casually discussed this with Spice a few days ago, basically saying "we'll probably need to think about a replacement eventually..."

The result, one day later:

Two black orphaned kittens.  2 weeks old- a dicey age.  Spice took Smidgen to her end of school picnic, on the teacher's parents' farm- and there the 30 pre-schoolers were confronted with a dead momma cat, and 6 dead kittens.  Shocking, and fascinating, of course.  Spice noticed that 2 of the kittens, cold and very hungry, were in fact still moving slightly...

She proceeded to rescue them, right in front of the kids.  Just like in the movies.  "I'll need a sharp pen knife, and a ball-point pen..."  

Ok, what she actually said was, "I'll need an egg, condensed milk, sugar, water, and some kind of syringe with no needle."  Which was not quite right, but close enough to revive them.

You can buy "kitten formula"; which is wildly expensive, and not quickly available out on the farm.  Or you can make your own.  This formula works for most young mammals; I've used it for baby cottontail rabbits, too; quite successfully.

Actually- condensed milk is not the right thing- you want to use dry milk; it's more digestible.  So; something like this; 1/2 egg yolk (only) counts as "1 part"; then add 3 parts reconstituted dry milk, 1 part cooking oil, and 1/3 part sugar.  Get it into them, somehow.

It's time consuming as all get out.  They need to eat frequently, including in the middle of the night; and kittens this young need help just to pee; you have to massage their tummies.  Their eyes are open; vets give kittens this young a 50-50 chance.  So far, we've been tending them 2 days; and they seem to be doing ok; one coughing a little.

But it's rewarding, too, of course.

Both males.  Probable names, Snowball, and Henri.  Smidgen loves saying "chat noir".


Update, 5/23.  We started giving Snowball, the cougher, a pinhead's worth of antibiotics yesterday- and today he is a good deal more active.  Both still with us; seem to be thriving.

And the morels?  Ha.  Unreliable is right.  Just got back from looking at another 60 or so reasonably appropriate dead elms.  2 of which had appreciable numbers of morels.  My first statistical sample included 10 elms; 2 of which were absolutely loaded, and another 3 of which had moderate crops.  So much for statistical predictions.  Hm.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Guinea Saga 3.1


That, incidentally, is what you ask your subjects to say when you are photographing people; not "cheese".

Works every time.  And some of the resulting photos are good for blackmail.

So far as I have been able to tell, all the guinea experts out there keep saying that distinguishing male from female guinea fowl is just plain hard.

What they come down to is; the males "tend" to be a little bigger than the females.  The males' wattle "tends" to be bigger than the females.  And only the female makes the distinctive "two-note" call, variously described as "buck-wheat!"  "good luck!"  or "come back!"  I'm afraid it sounds to me like "ba- gawwk!"

All of those things seem to be true- but rarely will they let you look at a bird for 10 seconds, at 20 feet, and say "that's a male."  Or female- since they definitely are not ba-gawwking all the time.

There are multiple reasons why you would like to know the sex of your birds; if you're keeping them primarily for eggs, it's simple- the males don't lay any.


Or if you're keeping them for meat- you want to know which are the young males, so you can regulate the sex ratio in the permanent flock.  Etc.

They don't grow a noticeable difference in size of wattle or size of bird, until after you may be wanting to choose some for meat.  And the ba-gawwk is very temporary.  "That one is female!"  you know.  Until you turn your back, and she mixes into the flock, and stops calling.  Plus, the fact that this one is female, does not mean that one is male.

It would just be really nice to be able to tell.

I once did a summer-long formal ethological study of black terns- a circumboreal freshwater marsh nesting species.  I'm also the only person I know who has ever raised common terns to adulthood from the egg; or who has fledged, raised, and released a clutch of chimney swifts.  Point being- I've spent a lot of hours looking intensely at birds.

The more I watch the guineas, and read up on them; the more convinced I am that - nobody has ever spent much time looking at the behavior of these birds.

Lots of people call them "dumb"- and I see no evidence of that whatsoever.  They aren't people- or chickens.  They're guineas, and pretty darn good at it.  Probably better at being guineas than chickens are at being chickens.  If you can follow that.

So- I was saying this to Spice, and discussing what we know and don't, and got her looking for new clues to the guineas too.

And probably because she is NOT a trained bird person- she saw one.  She described it in a silly, unprofessional, girly way- "I think the females have this hump on their back!" - which made no sense at all, to me.

After some weeks of trained, professional observation, I can state- the females have this kinda hump, on their back.  :-)

Here is a bunch of guineas - and as you can see, there's not much to differentiate.

Below is a male.

And here, below, (Fanfare noises)  is a female; showing the "hump".

There is, of course, no "hump" (silly girl, birds don't have humps!)  What you are seeing is that the male folds his wings high; on top of the rump feathers (that's their technical name), so the the rump feathers are concealed;  and the female tucks her wings under the edge of the rump feathers; so the rump feathers fluff up and are - if you're looking- emphasized.

Above is a lavender male, and his purple female mate;

And above here is a pearl male, and his lavender female.  Obvious as all hell, ain't it!  Except, as far as I can tell, nobody has ever noticed it before.  Until Spice did.  I was busy looking at their heads- because that's commonly where gender differences appear.  Spice didn't know any better so the damn fool just looked at the whole bird.


:-)  Smart girl, my Spice.

Next question- yeah?  And how consistent is this?

The answer seems to be- pretty darn consistent.  Depending.  In the morning, when the birds are first let out of the coop- it's 100%.  Really.  At noon, it's around 90%- a few males are holding their wings lower.  And in later afternoon, it starts to look like all the birds may be female.  But if you watch; you'll see some birds shifting their wing position from female to male- and some birds that keep their wings in the female position.

Once you're used to seeing it- it's really obvious; and extremely useful.  Take a look at photo number one up there now- 3 females; 3 males; really obvious; interesting formation.  You can learn to automatically factor in the time of day, state of the birds.  Since seeing this; I'm now of the opinion that when the birds are first released, they do not form pairs immediately, but rather spread out kind of chaotically, with a huge amount of male-male chasing going on.  A few hours later, I see all the birds in male-female pairs.  Female in front when calm; male in front when agitated.  A couple hours later- I see a lot of single sex small groups - 3 females foraging together; 4 males and one female off in a different direction; no chasing or fussing.

I'm kind of longing for a day when I could just take my binoculars, and notebook, and watch them all day; seriously.

Looking at some older movies of the guineas, it seems that before the helmet and wattles appear, they're not showing this sexual variation in wing position; so how useful it is for sexing young birds remains to be seen.

It varies with the time of day.  And age.  I'll bet it varies with the season, too.  We'll see.


Update on the eggs; we're still getting 3-4 new eggs a day; and it seems they are spending more and more time sitting on the nest; today, the eggs have been quite warm when checked, all day.  Yesterday- not so much.  As soon as they are sitting seriously, we're going to swap in a set of fresh eggs; all guineas; and all laid in the coop after the sitting started.  Doing a little selection for laying where it's convenient.  I'm pretty sure some of them are laying in another nest- not in the coop.

It's possible it's our fault they started going "broody".  Somehow I didn't get it that one of the reasons for collecting eggs multiple times a day can be to help interrupt broodiness.  We did, when they first started to lay, collect 3 and 4 times a day.  It was such fun!  Then- of course it got to be a chore.  And we wound up collecting once a day, a couple days in a row.  Why not?

Because- visual cues are known to cause hormonal shifts in birds.  When we collected 3 times a day; mostly the birds were looking at 3 to 6 eggs.  When we collected once a day- for most of the day they were looking at 8-12 eggs.  And that might quite easily be enough to trigger broodiness.  "Full clutch; time to sit!"