Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Shut Down- from Antares...

As old readers here know, I have a team of visiting anthropologists - from Antares - camping out in my attic.  Periodically they offer insights into human behavior, from their very uninvolved perspective.  A bit baffling sometimes, but sometimes, perhaps, useful.  When I can understand them, through their guffaws and giggles.  Just the word "economics" for example, tends to make them start choking on their own tentacles.

The USA is currently "shut down", as virtually every human on the planet is sharply aware.  In remote villages in India, the community hunkers in front of their one satellite TV, and watches the latest noise from our politicians, who have locked antlers.


Looks exciting, of course, but when the antlers actually lock (which does happen) the inevitable result is death, for both combatants.  Either via predators, or starvation.  And we are, currently - locked.

One of the primary results of this political deadlock is a vast irruption of "explanations", via all media.  A veritable pundit super-volcano has appeared, drowning the media in lucid, logical lists - of each pundit's pre-existing beliefs.  My Antarean friends have actually reached saturation in their normally insatiable sense of humor- they're getting tired of it.  And not that this will make any difference to H. sap, of course, (since we never listen), but they decided to take pity on me, at least, and explain it all.

So here it is; in case you want to understand.  Warning: the outlook isn't good.

"History!!" the Antarean leader chortles.  "Humans are almost the only species in the known Universe that keeps track of their past; and then not only ignores it- but constantly talks about ignoring it!  You even have a running contest in smart sayings by smart thinkers on how humans ignore it!"

The Antareans, however, dissect human history, constantly.  You have a breakdown in "democratic government"?  Maybe- it would be good to look at the entire history of "democracy" - how it came about, how it has failed before- and what preceded it, in human history.

Any good academic could turn this discussion into a 5,000 page tome.  None of us really have time for that, though; so I'm going to cut to the chase.

The Antarean anthropologists point out that before "democracy", there were two competitive forms of human government; monarchy or some authoritarian variant; and tribal councils.  Authoritarian governments quickly began to dominate the world stage, since it's quite easy for a King to say "Your sons will fight in my army; now." and enforce that; but it's rather difficult for tribal council governments to sustain armies and wars.

Tribes often require that large decisions be made by - unanimous consent.  They talk; until all tribe members publicly agree- "Ok; we'll do that."  It's understood that some members do not like this action, spoke against it, and still think it's a bad idea- but nonetheless, agree that the tribe will take this action- because no decision, and no action, and deadlock; would all be far more destructive.  If the disagreement is too deep- the safety valve is understood to be that the tribe will split.  You're free to go do it your way- on the other side of the mountains.

Authoritarian governments forbid splitting, and punish it with death.  No, you may not leave; we're all in this together.  Great way to keep your army working.

As the human population increased, however, the tribal groups simply ran out of places to go to; nearly all government by unanimous consent was replaced by authoritarian governments- which became intolerably abusive.  Power corrupts, etc.  So "democracy" was born- able to make decisions by "majority" vote, with modest variations on how you define majority.

Now, all you have to do to get a workable decision is convince a majority.  49% don't agree this is a good idea?  Tough.  We're doing it anyway.  So very much faster than weeks of discussion.   When true democracy became too slow, "representative republics" were developed; a kind of hybrid authoritarian-democracy; still involving a periodic vote.

Segue to "the tyranny of the majority"; followed by "checks and balances" as in the USA Constitution, designed to ensure "minority rights".

It's taken a while for the revised system to hit the wall - but that's what it's done.  Because in all cases, "majority rule" requires that the minority acquiesce to decisions they disagree with.  For 200 years; that was our tradition; you lost the election?  Win the next one; meanwhile, we're one country.

But what we stopped doing was the long tribal councils- where all voices were truly listened to, and respected- and the acquiescence of the minority was formally sought, and acknowledged.  Little by little, the resentment has built- until we now have a minority that refuses to be governed; and also refuses to even listen to the majority's arguments- truly; locked antlers.

All governments require the consent of the governed.  That is what we have lost.

And what sobers my Antarean friends up is, they don't see how we're going to get it back.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Autumn Fires

I lit the fire in the wood cookstove today.  Almost certainly, it will stay lit, until some time next May.

It's our third cookstove; I'm getting around to writing a review about it; soon; now that we've lived with if for 2 full winters and all the rest of the seasons.

This has been a very strange weather year.  Cold, dry, then floods, then over-hot and drought- now we've shifted into- normal weather for the Autumnal Equinox; cool, windy, cloudy- rainy.  Looks consistent enough to move the propane stove out, and we need the heat for comfort, when each night is dropping into the 40s°F.

I found poetry running through my brain, as it tends to when seasons shift.  In this case, a bit that used to be part of all children's education in the English speaking world: Sing a song of seasons! Something bright in all!  Flowers in the summer, Fires in the fall!

Robert Louis Stevenson, A Child's Garden of Verses.  I looked it up, thinking to comment on how spectacularly short he'd made that lovely poem; and discovered- it wasn't quite that short.  Of course.  At least one of my poetry professors would have railed at RLS for not chopping everything but that last bit; it works on its own.  Here in its entirety:

     Autumn Fires

   In the other gardens
   And all up the vale,
   From the autumn bonfires
   See the smoke trail!

   Pleasant summer over
   And all the summer flowers,
   The red fire blazes,
   The grey smoke towers.

   Sing a song of seasons!
   Something bright in all!
   Flowers in the summer,
   Fires in the fall!

It still made sense when I was a kid- we raked up the leaves, and everyone on the block burned them, in the street.  Not exactly bonfires- but still community- the fires were tended carefully; children watched; parents watched, talked; a marshmallow or two would get toasted.

Now of course leaf burning is banned- everywhere I know of.  Yes, it made a lot of smoke.  But.  Something else now gone.  And for me, the "fires in the fall" now are in the stove.  Still a rite of passage; but changed.

Changes.  We've lost two very dear people this past week; both unexpected; both far too soon.

Here's one of my own- for them.

     Forty eight  9/28/96

   Walking my paths

   There was one last

   ready to drop

   fat and sweet
   as any blueberry ever

   simple to pick it
   simple to savor

   rain cleared blue sky above
   wind, bright leaves

   so why was it so painful
   just knowing
   that you love blueberries

   can you comprehend
   the pleasure it would have been

   for me to share
   one blueberry
   with you?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A small lesson from the climate change front.

My tongue hurts.

Because?  Well, because blackberries (the berry kind) don't grow in Minnesota; it's too cold.  We have black raspberries, red raspberries, lotsa other berries, but the true blackberry- nope.  They're all over Wisconsin (the southern half) and Iowa (the southern half) - but - none of my neighbors know what a blackberry is.

Which I've usually been very thankful for.  Raspberry vines/canes are thorny- but blackberry vines will tear your shirt, your jeans, and your skin, bigtime.  I've fought through blackberry tangles enough in other places that I'd rather not have them around.

But.  Now- they're here.  Seed dropped by birds, most likely- and they've been getting established near the Little House for a couple of years.  Almost fruited last year- but the drought really kept anything from happening.  This year is wet- and so-

Looks yummy, huh?  And there are tons of them.  Could be making two pies a day.

They're wild- but they're big.  Like 3 times as big as our wild black raspberries ever get- so; very tempting.  My hand, which takes an XL glove.

I've been feeling fatalistic about it- if the birds are dropping seed- they'll drop more next year.  If the plants are surviving - then, they'll survive.  So.  Might as well enjoy this luscious free wild fruit, right?  Of course!  Going to lose the fight to keep them out anyway.  I go out in the morning, pick 5 or 6 handfuls and inhale them for breakfast.  And lunch.  And dinner.  Why wouldn't you?

Now it's been years since I've eaten many blackberries.  They are a bit seedy- but you just crunch up the seeds, and it becomes part of the whole "sweet/sour/juicy/crunchy/wild berry" mouth experience.

And, I'm sure I knew this as a kid, in Indiana and Ohio- but I'd forgotten.


I know this for a fact; because- one of the crunchies got to me before I crunched it- and bit me on the tip of my tongue- hard.

I spit him out- but not fast enough, and my tongue still hurts.

I'm still shoveling them in.  But I do now, usually, give the various critters also enjoying the berries just a little time to scurry out and away, before inhaling.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Yep, they knew.

TEPCO knew about water flow two years ago

That's the headline today on NHK.

"A spokesperson for Tokyo Electric Power Company says the company has known for the past 2 years that a massive amount of groundwater was flowing beneath the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

"Masayuki Ono said on Friday that TEPCO experts estimated hundreds of tons of the water could reach the ocean daily.

"Ono said the estimate was based on rough records of groundwater that TEPCO workers had collected.

"Until last month, TEPCO officials had denied the possibility that contaminated groundwater was leaking into the ocean.

"Ono said he is unable to explain why it took two years to disclose this fact.
Aug. 10, 2013 - Updated 07:48 UTC"

The URL, which will only work for a few hours:

In case you missed it- I told you here I knew this- 2 years ago.  How?  Based on published information about where what kinds of radioactive materials were found.  Tinkerbelle does not go about creating Cesium 137 just for the fun of it- it had to come from someplace.  There is no "well, we're not sure" possible.

The greater question, still unasked by the media- why are our own nuclear scientists silent on this point?  I'm not one; I'm an evolutionary ecologist, which means with some training in chemistry and geology and weather.  But- the physicist in your university has to have known this- or is an idiot, take your pick.

What else do we know?  Three reactors have melted entirely through their containers, and are likely to be still melting their way to the earth's core- or will as soon as they quit pumping sea water in to cool - and leak.

And?  "Plausible deniability" is obsolete.  "Implausible deniability" is now quite adequate for government purposes.  Other world governments will back you up.

Monday, July 8, 2013

You've got to tell them... Soylent is made from... FOOD!!

Hi everybody.  Still here; still intending to blog more; but reality is against us.  Our part of Minnesota is officially a "disaster area", because of the stuck jet streams; 20 inches of rain in May and June, much of it torrential.  We have secondary bridges and roads out in many places- and no idea when, or even if, they'll be repaired.  We're doing better than many of our neighbors, though.  If they took the risks and planted their crops very early, they may be ok; if they decided to wait- they may get no crop at all; too wet to work the fields for too long.

Besides being overwhelmed with regular work, which is always late and difficult, blogging requires some kind of enthusiasm on my part.  And it's not that there's a lack of things to talk about- it's that there are too many.  And too often, discussion of things like the situation in Egypt just seems futile.  Nothing we say here will have any useful point to it.  It seems.

What finally got me off my figurative fanny today was this stunning bit of insanity.  Watch the video first; and beware of the Golem-Sucks advertising:

Ok, got that?  The 24 year old software engineer has figured out a way to rid the food system of waste, and help out with hunger in the impoverished regions of the world.  It's easy!  Just put it all into powder with a 20 year shelf life!  Why didn't we think of this before??

The stunningly insane part is- how easily he has the entire world press going right along with him.  Not surprisingly, they have a nice, logical set of arguments in favor of powdered food; take a look at them here on their crowdfunding site (the project has ended- alas you can no longer contribute here; but they did raise just under $800,000...)  An end to waste!  No more shopping, or cooking, or washing dishes!  Cool- has to save tons of energy, right?

Well, no.  How did we get to a place were NONE of the journalists covering this (so far as I can see) are familiar with the concept of "embodied energy"?  You have powdered protein here?  Um- where did it come from?  The store, obviously!

This is typical of the "answers" to global problems offered by "young software engineers".  The mind boggles.  It's the kind of analysis any systems thinker - um - thinks about, instantly.  Doing some digging, it did not really take me too long to find a reliable list of Soylent ingredients.  (Incidentally- many of us already know the name, "soylent"- hm; is there a trademark/copyright/IP conflict here?  Already contentious.  You never know what the courts will say, but personally- I would bet that name is "occupied".)

Ok; the list of ingredients:

Maltodextrin (carbs) (made from - corn, or wheat!)
Oat Powder (carbs, fiber, protein, fat) (made from- oats!)
Whey Isolate (protein) (made from - milk!)
Grapeseed Oil (fat)  (made from - grapes!)
Potassium Gluconate  (made from - sugar!)
Salt (sodium)
Magnesium Gluconate  (made from - sugar!)
Monosodium Phosphate
Calcium Carbonate  (limestone!)
Methylsulfonylmethane (Sulfur)  (actually; sulfur added to - natural gas?)
Creatine  (made from - meat!)
Powdered Soy Lecithin  (made from - soybeans!)
Choline Bitartrate (made from - something like sugar!)
Ferrous Gluconate (Iron)  (made from - sugar!)
Various vitamin and mineral supplements

Do you begin to understand?  Leaving aside the glaring suppositions that a) we truly know all our nutritional requirements, and b) this is all of them; exactly where are the energy savings; if instead of humans directly consuming corn, wheat, oats, milk, meat, etc, etc, etc, - we still have to grow all those crops; then reduce the simple components to powder?  Powdering, I assure you, requires a great deal of energy input; as do all separation/ purification processes.  And- are we going to now grow grapes for their seed oils?  What do we do with the rest of the grape?  I'll bet they start using palm oil soon; much more available.

The kid is able to buy the powdered ingredients for cheap right now- because they are indeed all manufactured as part of industrial food processes, and "by products" of animal feed or brewing or cheese making.  So- ask yourself; how does it scale up?  Way, way, up: in order to make any difference to anything, according to their own arguments.  Demand for the powdered components would skyrocket- and so would the prices.

Soon - just as is the case right now with quinoa, the farmers growing the crops would be selling them to the wealthy for their powders, and be unable to afford, once again, to feed themselves from their own crops.

I have to say; this is obvious; and we know this.  And yet- the Polka Dot Gallows paths we're on continue to thrive.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Polka Dot Feet.

Crazy year.  Like you weren't aware.  This is just to add to your list of how crazy.

Mom And Son Accused Of Stealing Gopher Feet.

Well.  Ok, nearly $5,000.00 worth of frozen gopher feet.  Pocket gophers, to be exact; if you ever wondered where the pockets are; they're right there in the photo- and they use them to carry seeds and roots back to the tunnels; seriously destructive.

This, incidentally, is right in my backyard; no, I don't know these folks (whew!) but it would easily be possible; Preston is a town we are in and out of all the time.

And, I have to sympathize with the victim- we have gopher wars here constantly; they're tree killers.  The bounty on their front claws is a slight remuneration for the trouble of catching them.

On the other hand, I've got personal experience with professional gopher trappers; we tried to get some to help us out.  But.  They like to leave a few untrapped; for seed.  Gophers are their crop- no, they don't want them wiped out.  The bounty can help when it pays the local kids a few extra bucks for going after them- but the pros just give the illusion of control.  And cost money.

Still here; in between downpours; the work year on the farm is goofed up by the late, late winter, followed immediately by summer; spring lasted about 3 days, I think.  Overworked.

Oh, and- are you aware- they year is half over, this Friday?  Summer solstice.  Yep, we'll have the bonfire/picnic, and I'd love it if you join us on your own places around the world.  But it's all kind of last minute/out of breath/ on the fly this year.

I'll be back!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Crazy as a bedbug.

I've been stymied for days for an acceptable non-review topic here- most of the world is simply too utterly derailed to bear closer scrutiny.  I doubt any of us need more depressing information.

So I was delighted today when the NYT published a bedbug story- complete with deranged scientists.

Some of it is actually good news you can use.  Turns out, an ancient "folk" remedy for bedbugs (which have been exploding in US cities- and motels-) not only works; it works extremely well.  The leaves of some bean plants (list not included) have microscopic hooks on the underside that happen to be just the right size, shape, and strength - to capture and immobilize bed bugs.

   "Generations of Eastern European housewives doing battle against bedbugs spread bean leaves around the floor of an infested room at night. In the morning, the leaves would be covered with bedbugs that had somehow been trapped there. The leaves, and the pests, were collected and burned — by the pound, in extreme infestations."

Sounds good to me!  

The "deranged" scientists crack is from me- because the piece reports their "surprise" that a piece of traditional wisdom - works : pah; only a "folk remedy!" - you know; like aspirin, digitalis, quinine...

Scoffing at ancient wisdom is in fact a proven piece of idiocy.  Isn't it time we stop being surprised that our ancestors were smarter than mud?

Then; their first thought is "cool, we'll make an improved version of these micro hooks!" - only to discover that- (after ONE iteration) their hooks don't work as well as the bean leaf hooks; which, duh; are the result of probably 20,000,000 iterations via annual evolutionary processes.

Good polka dot gallows stuff.  If you're in the mood.

Though I have to admit- I find this a little depressing...   : -)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

How do you know who to believe?

  That's a topic that has come up here before; and it's one of the enduring problems of human existence. How do you know who is telling you the truth- when two or three or more opinions all clash, and claim expertise?  (Read Part 1, and Part 2, if you want to get the whole thing.)

  There's an excellent case in point today, from the NYT: Weapons experts raise doubts about Iron Dome.

   One of my deep secrets, I've actually been involved in technical discussions on the possibilities for "anti-missile" weapons since Reagan launched Star Wars.  I know a little about it- one thing being, you have to go a long, long, way to find any academic scientist who thinks shooting one missile with another is ever- EVER going to work.  From physicists to statisticians- they'll show you graphs and charts on why it's just plain not possible.

  The crux of the NYT article- multiple real experts say they can find little to no evidence that the Israeli "Iron Dome" missile defense worked.  Maybe not at all.  Ever.

   If you're interested- read the story.  Then think about this: who says what; and where is the "vested interest"?

  It turns out this way; the people claiming "it worked!" are either the makers, who are pocketing huge profits, and want more; or the soldiers shooting them- who humanly want to believe they're doing some good (but no, they didn't see it happen, of course; and they've been extensively coached by the makers); or the politicians who are appropriating the dollars.  They have multiple reasons.

   The people claiming "it didn't work" - are pretty uniformly genuine experts in their field, who don't work for the missile manufacturers.  And who aren't getting paid to stick their necks out.  Oh- and the police in Israel; who report far more damage on the ground than the military thinks should be possible.

   Besides the "facts" presented: yes; you have to comprehend the human motivations working behind the scenes.  They're always there.

Rats! AND - Fukushima.

Boy, I tell ya, the blogging just doesn't get any better than when two of your topics suddenly merge.

The BBC news feed today is carrying this story; about rats and Fukushima; simultaneously.

Did you know?  That the power was cut to the crippled nuclear power plants at Fukushima a couple of days ago?  It barely hit the news- but, yes; it was a problem; the power loss meant all the old nuclear fuel waste in the "storage pools" - wasn't getting any cooling.  Yes, if that continues long enough, the water will evaporate, and the rods melt- eventually with the potential for going "critical."  It's really not a good thing.  But why clutter up the news?

   You didn't hear about the fish they caught in the bay off the Fukusima plant a couple days ago either- the one more than 7,000 times more radioactive than the limits for consumption.  A record, in fact, for radio-cesium contamination.  Which biologically- could only happen if the nukes are still very actively leaking extreme radioactivity into the bay, every day.  Which TEPCO denies, and no one else is inspecting.  We'd rather not know.

   Cesium from the original disaster could not be that hot, two years out.  The real puzzle, to me- your friendly local Physics professors - KNOW this- and remain silent.  I don't like that fact very much.

  The rat?  Chewed through some electrical connections, and got fried- and shut down the power.

 Murphy's Laws are the reason why nuclear power cannot be made safe enough.  And here we are.  I will bet you the farm- if any engineer ever included specs on rat-proofing nuclear power plants- it was long ago, and long forgotten- and nobody in Japan was worrying about rats in the wires.  And they should have been.

   Happy Spring!  We hit -1°F last night here; with about 10 inches of hard packed frozen snow to fight through.  Keep it in mind- "global warming" does not mean "uniform"- it means bigger storms and weather excursions.  There's still nothing between us here on the Iowa-Minnesota border and - the North Pole.  Nothing to stop polar air from wandering down here, when it's in the mood.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Why Old Lumberjacks Don't Have All Their Fingers.

   This is a parable I've thought about putting here for years.  It's my own, I think.  And- I just conducted a nice proof of it; so it's highly relevant.

   My excuse for dropping off for a few days (this time) - I got bitten by a cat; on the hand.

  Bitten hard, is the thing, and right on the ball of the index finger; down to bone, maybe.  Dumb, huh?

  Cripes.  I'm a trained animal behaviorist, and have been handling cats- including in highly difficult circumstances; literally for decades.  So why did I allow myself to get bitten?  Same reason why Old Lumberjacks Don't Have All Their Fingers.

   There's a real reason- and it's not all that obvious.  It's a really good thing to keep in mind.  Since I made the parable up, at least 25 years ago, you'd think I'd remember- but the fact that I didn't- is actually a proof of the parable- and "a warning to those who would be warned", in the words of the Thousand And One Nights.

  Cat bites are no joke; don't get bitten.  The Mayo Clinic hand surgeons recently published the information that 30% of the cat bite patients they see- wind up hospitalized, for an average of 3.2 days.  I'm on two antibiotics, after the emergency room visit.

   The Parable Of The Old Lumberjacks And Their Missing Fingers

   Young lumberjacks are not dumb.  When they get into the business, they look to their seniors to learn how to do the job.  It's known to be dangerous; deadly, indeed.  People die every year doing this.  Trees are massive, and gravity is absolutely unforgiving.

   Old lumberjacks are, frequently, missing a finger or two; or some pieces of fingers.  Young lumberjacks see this instantly.  They ask the old lumberjacks how it happened - and why.

   The old lumberjacks are universally just a bit embarrassed about it.

   "Got careless."

   "Why?  How did you let that happen?"  Puzzlement.

   "Well.  It was late; the end of the day.  Had this one job left; then I could go home."

   A pause occurs.  And a sigh.

  "I broke a rule.  Knew I shouldn't.  But it was just this little quick thing- thought I could get away with it.  Stuck my hand where I shouldn't.  There's a damn good reason for the rules.  Broke one- here I am.  Paid for it."

  The young lumberjack, in awe of the expertise of the old lumberjack, is nonetheless just a tad scornful of anyone stupid enough to break work rules like "don't put your hand in danger".  "Man, I'm NEVER going to break a rule!",  they swear to themselves, and they mean it.

   And?  They don't.  Break rules.  They are very, very careful- and never, ever, break a rule; or put their body parts in danger.  The image of those missing fingers is extremely durable- and forceful.  Why would you ever take a risk like that?

   And?  They don't get hurt.

   Year after year.

   And there, my dears, is the problem.

   Year after year- the young lumberjack works safely.  No injuries; good hard work done.  Year after year, the rules keep him safe.  And; little by little; insidiously, inevitably, he begins to believe - that it is never going to happen to him.  The years add weight to that belief that it is almost humanly impossible to ignore.  "I'm careful.  Always.  I don't take risks."

   Then, years later: it's late.  One last thing to do.  It'll just take a fraction of a second to do this... I've never had an accident... just this once...

  And.  Whammo.  Missing fingers.

  It's a trap our own brains and humanity set for us.  Be warned, those who would take warning.


  So why did I get a cat bite on the hand?  Um.  It was late... I've been handling difficult cats for flipping decades... never had a real bite... used gloves when medicating...

  : - )  My other excuse is, I'd had to manhandle this cat's father a few days prior- he sneaked into the root cellar behind me, and I needed him out, so I could close it, and he was evading me... it was late...  And the father is a big, tough, originally semi-feral intact tom, who has never been a lap cat.  I was quite rude about it; dragged him out from under a shelf by one hind leg, picked him up... and the tom was extremely polite about it all, and very careful of me; claws fully retracted at all times in spite of it all.  I had reason to expect him to be polite, actually, we have a great relationship.

  So this half-grown cat, potentially in training to be an inside-outside cat (one lap cat can be nice, yes?) had been naughty, and knew it; up on the table, grabbed a chicken bone, while I was upstairs singing to Smidgen... I was trying to move him out the door, he evaded, I grabbed- and he BIT.

  Dumb, dumb, dumb- and expensive.  And I so knew better.

  Just call me Sven.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Rat Control: Review.

   Something I neglected to say in my Prelude to Rats; I will never sell you the things I'm reviewing; or use the blog as a way to make commissions on sales.

   Because?  Inevitably, such reviews will become warped in the direction of sales.  No matter how pure the original intent.  So; I won't go there.  I will give you a link to the manufacturer, who may very well have an internet sales operation; but you should always be aware that the same item is often available at a discount elsewhere.  Up to you.  I will not be getting anything out of it from makers or sellers.

   Not to make you dangle any longer, this Review is mostly of an "electronic" rodent trap; the Rat Zapper; with a fair amount of extra rat biology and rat trapping information.

   Link in a minute.  Pay attention first.

  An "electronic" rodent trap??  Isn't an electric rat trap like snake oil; a silly con?  (Like those "ultrasonic rodent repellers" - which are a con.)  And what the heck for; what's wrong with the classic cheap rat traps that have worked for centuries?  (Search "rat trap", click "images" if you want an education on varieties.)

   They weren't working.  I investigated the electronic frontiers out of desperation.  I read 30 reviews of the Rat Zapper, on 5 sites; finally finding a couple which indicated genuine knowledge- of rats.  They said it worked; so- in hopelessness, despair, distress; anguish, agony, torment, misery, wretchedness; discouragement, disheartenment (the entire thesaurus entry for desperation); I tried it.

   It works.  Day 1; 3 dead rats.  Day 2; 2 dead rats.  Etc.  With every other trap system I had tried (many, including crazy ones) my best success rates were 1 rat per 4 days, for 3 rats total, perhaps, then tapering to 0.  The rats learned; new trap system needed; repeat.  The Rat Zapper seems to prevent rats from learning- a genuinely spectacular achievement.

   Ok; here's the link; and this is the right time to point out - companies/markets/technologies change -always.  This one has changed its name, in the 10 months since I bought one, and has shifted its business practices considerably; they're now "Raticator".  I still tend to call it the Zapper.  I have hopes their quality has not gone downhill.  At the time I first searched for this kind of trap, the Rat Zapper was my top search result.  There are multiple competitors in the electronic rodent trap business; I have not tried any of the others.  Primarily because this one has been working. 

   Oh, and, Sharon, I'm terrifically sorry I suggested you had rats.  It wasn't you.  It's The Crunchy Chicken; of course!  Mea culpa, mea culpa.  Crunchy - let me know if this helps!

   My expertise: I can claim to be an unusually expert mammal trapper.  I've trapped literally dozens of species, for science, both live and kill traps.  Much of my science trapping was tightly targeted; I knew what I was trying to trap, and eventually caught little else.  I'm good at it.  I also, in the early days here on the farm, trapped for fur, meat, and money.  I successfully trapped raccoons (not too hard), grey fox (harder) and red fox (extremely demanding).  We ate a lot of raccoon back then.  Tastes like lamb, done right; I recommend it.

  I know both traps and mammals; there are still people at the U who think I was/am a Mammalogist.  I wasn't- I worked with mammals as tools to study evolution.  I did research on birds, too.

My Rating :
   Ok, I can probably use your suggestions on the rating system.  I went with the 4 out of 5 stars on the theory that this is pretty common, and easily understood.  Yes; I recommend the thing I'm reviewing.  But there are some details you need to know; it's not perfect.  The stars work ok?  And yes; I'm fussy- you won't see 5 stars from me very often; so 4 is really pretty darn good.

   Basics:  I use the larger trap model; which is powered by 4 alkaline D cells.  It does get mice as effectively as it gets rats.  I currently have no rats; but mice keep breeding, and reappear often.  I currently think I have no mice in the house- for the first time in decades.  Heard one last week; got it. The rats can/will reinvade someday, too.  The batteries are good for a very long time; and there is an LED indicator if they're low.  

   It kills by electric shock.  Ergo- it's dangerous to small children, and kittens.  But- it kills so quickly, that (I think!) the rodent has no time to emit alarm pheromones; so the next rodent to approach the trap is not afraid of it.  (Blood, per se, scares very few mammals- it's the alarm chemicals that do it.)  That is a factor particularly with rats- rats are smart; and co-evolved with humans.  Even a powerful snap trap frequently does not kill instantly- then not only the trap, but the immediate area around the trap may warn the next rodent.  With the Rat Zapper (ok, Raticator), a killed rat shuts the trap off (so it doesn't just waste batteries on a zapping a corpse.)  The other rats will just walk over the killed one, to steal the bait.  Dead rat, bait gone = you still have rats.  Useful.

   My Story: I started keeping poultry here on this farm only in 2008.  A 4 year track record with the birds is not that long.  But- we've been growing various tree crops, including a bunch of nuts, for over 2 decades.  Harvesting, storing.  The nuts mean rodents; and that means I've been tracking rodents very carefully for a long time.  

   Our first line of defense against rodents is cats.  We now have 3 separate populations of cats on the farm; widely separated.  They do a pretty good job, and police around the buildings where we provide some food, and water.  But- cats inside the poultry house- not going to work, and that's where the rats were hiding from them.

  In spite of the availability of spilled crops for 20 years, and cats catching what was available, I never saw a single rat on the farm- until we built a poultry house to over-winter the guineas and chickens.  And yes, I had traps out that would have caught one or two if we had; not just mouse traps that they would walk away from.  In some years, we've had 13-lined ground squirrels become problems, and sometimes chipmunks.  Trap setting was done only in response to damage/losses; never a rat appeared; more than 20 years.  I did know my neighbors (nearest 1/2 mile) have always had rats.  They're corn/bean/cow farmers.  Spilled grain.  Farmers around the world have had rats living with them for at  least 10,000 years; always.

    For the first 2 years we had poultry, they were housed outside in chicken tractor type situations; yes, even in the Minnesota winter.  This wasn't by intention.  We started building a sod poultry house... not really knowing what we were doing, but trying to save money...  With the walls about 3 feet high on the highest side, the guineas and chickens started walking on the walls; foraging among the lamb's quarters growing around the disturbed site- and digging.  It became clear - if closed in for the winter, the chickens, in particular, would peck the walls to dust; unless we prevented them with some kind of hard surface.  Not economic.  Back to drawing board, except it was really too late for construction that year.  So; we tried to keep the birds warm all winter with blankets.  Froze the combs off a couple roosters, I'm afraid.

  When we got a real building up; I noticed rodents starting to dig a bit- inside it, coming up through the dirt floor, I thought - within 5 months.  I thought they were pocket gophers; which I'm very familiar with, since we have to control them in the trees, and I could see them working right outside the building.  (Note: if you're building a poultry house; give it a rat-proof floor; somehow.)

  So I set a trap in the tunnels- inside the building- for a pocket gopher.  This required a fair amount of care, because if a chicken stuck a foot in, and tripped it; it would break the leg, or worse.

   I caught a rat.  A big, mature, male rat.  I was astounded, and had my eyes opened.  And I immediately re-set the gopher trap in the same tunnel - which works great for gophers.  Two days later; I caught a wad of rat hair.  Never another rat with that kind of trap or set.  Educated the rats; a bad idea.  Never, never, educate your rats; you will pay for it.

  I'm not sure which rat I have here; likely the brown rat; but be aware there are multiple species, and it may help to know which one you have.  I've seen rats in Hawaii, running along the telephone lines between houses, that would be too big to fit in a Raticator... even though the Raticator can kill a rat only halfway inside quite effectively.   

   How did the rats find the poultry house, which is a 1/2 mile from the nearest farm population?  I think the answer is "all the ways there are".  Remember they're co-evolved with us; and humans have kept chickens literally for thousands of years.  And wherever there are chickens- there's rat food.  I'm pretty sure rats have evolved to be sensitive to sounds (rooster crowing?) and smells (chicken manure is stinky) - and they learn to explore in any direction where chickens might be.  Getting back-yard chickens?  You WILL have rats, someday.  100% guaranteed.  It's been known even to scientists since 2006 that rats "smell in stereo"; and it only takes them 50 milliseconds to know which direction to move in.  

  I set up heavy boxes inside the building, about 18 inches by 2 feet, with a concrete block on top to keep the birds from knocking it over, and either getting hurt or just messing up the rat trap inside.   Regular big mean snap trap.  Caught 3 rats, juveniles, over 3 weeks.  Changed the type of trap; caught 2 more, over 2 weeks.  Not catching any big adults; and obviously there were adults breeding here.

  At this point someone is saying "Why not rat poison?"  The answer is "poultry", and "dogs" and "cats."  All of them can wind up dead if they eat rat poison- and if a poisoned rat dies on the surface, where cats and dogs can get at it- they can die from secondary poisoning.  It's not terribly likely.  But- do you realize how much money is invested in 2 years of feed, vets, and training for a good farm dog?  Thousands, easily.  Not a risk you want to take if you can avoid it.  But- stay tuned on the poison topic.

   Using poison inside a poultry house; where I hoped we'd eventually be rearing chicks; would be a high risk procedure.  One spill of pellets; one dead juvenile rat in a corner, escaping notice until the birds peck and get access to stomach contents; etc; and you wind up losing the thing you're trying to protect.

  In fact I had not exhausted the basic trap repertoire.  I changed baits; from basic peanut butter to bacon; to bacon/peanut butter mixed; to more exotic nuts and nut mixtures; anise.  I shifted from basic mouse/gopher practice where human scent is of no concern whatever, to fancier fox-trapping practices; using de-scented gloves to handle traps.  That's really time consuming.  I tried several of the "modern" rat traps, which I already owned for attempts at red squirrels in nut crops.  I'm not going to present them all here; there are many, and they increase daily.  The type pictured is  
more effective than most, and has some advantages over the age-old snap trap (its action is very fast, for one thing).  But; after catching 3 more juveniles, it too stopped working.
   Though they are terribly inhumane, I tried a "glue trap".  (The animals struggle horribly, but usually do not die- you have to kill them.  Desperate measures, and yes, this is literally war.)  I'd had reservations about it working in the first place, and they were quickly proved correct; the glue is rapidly inactivated by dirt and dust in the poultry house environment.  It's also very easy for a rat to put one foot on a glue trap; then escape, becoming educated.  

  This was the point where I started looking for an electronic trap; a good 3 months into the rat war.  The rats were costing me a huge amount of time and money- food consumed, newly hatched chicks murdered, eggs eaten, setting hens rousted.  At least, the rats didn't touch the guinea eggs; apparently they're too hard for them to crack.  But something had to give.

  I was actually considering my trick of last-resort for pocket gophers; a 20 gauge shotgun.  Sounds crazy; trying to shoot a burrowing rodent, right?  But for the occasional un-trappable gopher; it's faster than anything else; likely only takes 30-40 minutes.  You find the active burrow; open it; set up a chair down-wind and out of the sun at least 15 feet away, aim the gun- and wait.  Without moving; at all.  Keep the gun on the hole, safety off, finger on trigger.  When you see the head; pull the trigger.  Not that easy, in fact; but far faster than 3 weeks of tending traps which never catch anything, while the gopher kills another tree every 3 days.

  Using a shotgun inside a poultry house however- was not an attractive idea to me; for so many reasons.

   Specifics: The "Raticator" is not cheap.  First, it cost me 2 hours of online research, looking at models, reading all the reviews, filtering, then looking for somewhere to buy it I could be reasonably sure would actually send me one in a sane amount of time.  Then it cost ~ $50.00, including shipping.  Did I mention how expensive the rats are?

   The maker's and sellers' "product descriptions" are all the same- designed to sell, and to me, uniformly uncommunicative.  I learned a lot of things about the trap - only after I had used it.  Call me silly; but I would love to know what I'm really getting into ahead of time.  Yes, I could re-write their product descriptions so they would do much better at preparing the users, not harm sales, and improve user success and satisfaction.

   Missing Info #1: this thing is not waterproof.  If you're going to use it "outside"; it needs to be in a strict protection device of some kind; getting it wet will destroy the electronic sensors/controls.  Guess what?  Inside a poultry house is pretty much an "outside" kind of world.  The birds will sit on top of anything you put in the house; and poop on it.  They'll knock it over, peck at it, and try to eat it.  I had that figured out; but in trying to use the same protective boxes I'd been using for the other traps, it quickly turned out they were inadequate; the rats would burrow under it; throw dirt in it- tip it over; and getting it placed was too difficult.

  Fact: a major portion of the design criteria for any animal trap consists of getting/allowing/enticing the animal to position itself so the trap will trap it.  Out of the box, the Raticator would work very well for mice (too big for them to knock it over); or for rats in a clean house or warehouse environment.  In the dirty poultry house; no way.  (I don't care how clean your poultry house is; it's too dirty.)

   Yes, I'd seen this when ordering my trap in the first place; hadn't quite comprehended, now I had to go back and buy one; the "Rat's Nest" (now re-named "Gimme Shelter", and I don't want to know why).  It's a plastic box specifically designed to provide water (and dirt) protection.

  Missing Part #1 - that cost an additional $15 (just a tad exorbitant) plus another 4 day wait.  After receiving my $15 + 4 days plastic box, I realized I could have made my own- just as effective, just as waterproof, with a $2 plastic shoe/bread box, and a sharp knife.  The one provided is not very strong; in fact mine is already cracked on the top-bottom junction.  

  It does, however, work.  Inside the box, the trap is safe from most wetness, and the size is such that it can be pretty easily positioned for the convenience of the rodents.

   Missing Info #2 - it doesn't weigh enough to stay put, though, in any environment containing chickens, dogs, cats, or strong winds.  In order to make it function; I had to put a substantial chunk of firewood on top of it, stabilized by blocking it against the building wall, so birds could hop on, off, and investigate, without displacing it.  Without that- they'd have tossed it all across the room in minutes.

   Operating- I believe in at least following the maker's instructions, to start with.  They recommend baiting it with 3 pieces of dry dog food (no more); and leaving it in place, not turned on, for 3 days, before setting it to kill.  Basically; you're establishing a new rat-feeding station, and the rats learn- free dog food.  Check it daily; replace the dog food when they take it.  The rats are used to your scent being connected with free chicken food already; that shouldn't be a factor- yet.  I followed their instructions.

   Missing Info #3 - the gizmo comes with two LED indicators on top.  A green one, which tells you "it's working, batteries ok"; and a red one, which if it's flashing tells you "dead rodent inside."

   The first time I turned it on, I was waiting/looking for that green LED to turn on.  I had my eye right above it- looking - and that turned out to be a mistake.  There's a pause while electronics boot and circuits charge before the light turns on, then - ow.  It's overpowered; and I had a hard green dot burned into my retina for about 20 minutes.  Now I kind of hold it at arm's length, and observe from a distance. The green LED turns itself off after about 10 seconds; why waste the energy?

   I like the LEDs; apart from that.  There's a flashing mode that indicates weak batteries, or some other fault; and in all the 40 some dead rodents so far, the flashing red has only been mistaken twice; in both cases not for a rat, but a deer mouse which somehow tripped it without getting electrocuted.  For the rats; 100%; flashing red LED= dead rat; regardless of size.  The red light is bright enough it's easily visible through the plastic box.

  On Day 1 of operation; having invested so much time and money, I was of course eager to see if/how/when it worked.  I turned it on during my morning feed/water visit, added 3 bits of dog food since they were gone, and checked it on my way in for lunch at noon- dead rat; 1/2 grown juvenile male.  Re-set; checked mid afternoon- dead rat; nestling female.  Re-set; checked at sundown closing up- dead rat; fully mature male.  Big.

  Folks- that's just impressive as all-get-out.  

   Re-set; next morning; dead rat, juvenile female - and the 3 pieces of dog food were gone; meaning her siblings had climbed over, not indulged in any cannibalism this time, and taken the food.  The trap is not capable of multiple catches; you have to reset it.

   In the next week; averaged 1 rat/day.  2nd week; 1 rat/ two days.  3rd week; 1 rat / 3 days.  The rat population was dropping fast, therefore the longer times between kills.

  Though I'm not a rodent rookie, that was roughly 4 times as many rats as I ever imagined I had- all living under and among my poultry, and consuming my poultry feed constantly.  The feed losses had accelerated so slowly I hadn't quite noticed; but now, suddenly - I was needing less than half the feed.  Saving lots of money.  (The feed bags, of course; had always always been stored inside a metal trash can; mouse tight.  Obviously.)

   Missing Info #4: the trap gets dirty after a while.  Ok; that was actually in some of the reviews, and if you look very carefully in the manufacturer's information, you can find this out- but - you really do need to know this, particularly because the need can be unpredictable.

   The thing works by providing a shock, via metal plates on the floor of the trap.  Frequently, during any kind of death, mammals strongly tend to empty their bladder.  If you're unlucky; and hit a big rat with a full bladder; this can mean a lot of urine on your trap plates, which can dry to provide a hard to see film- which is an electrical conductor.  If the plates are shorting - it can't work.  If it's been a while since you cleaned it (process below) and you get a "false positive" indicator; flashing red, no dead rodent; chances are high you need to clean it.

   Remember that it's not water proof?  Oh, and, sticking your hand in it while there are batteries installed - is a big no-no.  This is a tool for adults.  It's not that hard to clean; but you have to pay real attention to the instructions; and it takes about 12 hours before you have a functioning trap again.  Prepare a bath for water not more than 1 inch deep; use luke warm water with a very slight amount of dish soap- and a bit of vinegar.  Soak for an hour, at least; swish a little, then- rinse - not more than 1" deep remember; get the top wet and you'll likely kill it; then carefully air dry overnight.  The construction of the thing is hard plastic; you can't use heat to dry it.  I've done this twice; it works.

  Yes, it's a bit of a pain in the neck; but compared to all other methods of getting rats; it's still the best.

   Disposal - is easy, just dump the dead rat out; make sure there's bait replaced, re-set.  Since there's no poison involved- we fed the dead rodents to the cats.  And quickly discovered who our best rodent-killer mama cats were; one in particular leaped on any newly available rat carcass, and hurried it off into a corner where her kittens attacked it instantly.  The cats who were casual about it- got little; and guess which kittens get a bit of extra care now and then.

  Missing Info #5 - The zapper did not get the last rats in the colony.

   Rats are not only smart; they are authentically co-evolved with Homo sapiens; which means if we could just outsmart them using our big brains, they'd all be dead long ago.  They've evolved ways around our brain; one of them being - extreme suspicion.

  The zapper quickly caught and killed nearly 30 rats.  Being a trained mammalogist, of course I was recording the age, gender, size of all the dead rats; and what was consistently missing was - Big Mamma.  I never captured a big mature female; and there had to be at least 1, because I sure caught a ton of little ones.  I have a strong suspicion that bit of fur I captured in the gopher trap- may have been off Big Mamma's backside- and the experience triggered "maximum suspicion" in her.  For everything in her world.  I hope it gave her nightmares; but it also made her extremely difficult to catch.

  When the trap stopped catching rats, and no big female was on the dead lists, I started paying strict attention again to the signs of activity in the poultry house; yes indeed, the rat burrows were active; dirt moved, new tunnels being dug.  So; I tried all the tricks; moved the zapper to new locations - changed baits - was careful about human scent - and the rats started burying the trap in chicken litter, expressing their contempt.

  So.  Yes; in the end; I used poison.  Very, very, very, very, carefully; and in full accordance with the law, which is a good idea from many perspectives.

   By law, rodent poison used around livestock and children has to be enclosed in a "tamper resistant" "station".  What my farm supply store stocks is the Tom Cat brand; manufacturer here, with many suppliers.  I already had a couple on hand, used in the crop processing area.  Carefully; moved one into the poultry house, and weighted it down so the chickens would not/could not move it.  An advantage here is that you don't have to touch it again for a week- allowing suspicions to go down - particularly if foolish young rats go freely in, and out (and die somewhere else).  

  Results; I did have 2 rats die on the surface; where chickens might eventually have pecked them.  I was watching closely, and removed them before that could happen.  One big rat died with just its head out of the burrow - another male.  Then a week later - the rat holes I closed and burrows I collapsed - remained closed and collapsed.  And the bait in the poison station was no longer disappearing.  (The poisoned rats are disposed of quadruple wrapped in plastic and buried by bulldozer in the public landfill.  Burying them on the farm is not reasonable; the farm dogs dig.)

  Since I had to resort to poison eventually anyway - why bother with the electronic trap?  Because it's still safer, and any way to avoid poison is good.  If I'd had to kill those nearly 30 rats with poison; the probability that a few of them would have wandered outside the poultry house; and wound up poisoning a dog or cat - gets to be seriously high.  Bad risk; to be avoided if at all possible.  I think it's possible the zapper might have gotten all the rats; if I hadn't already educated some of them to be in "exceptionally suspicious" mode.  And- next time I'm in this situation; I think after 5 rat kills; I'll turn the trap off, and make it a rat feeder again, for 4 days.  Then turn it back on.  Several days of free food should alleviate some suspicion.

  Options not resorted to: gas, and "water traps" that drown the catch.  Sulfur dioxide bombs are available for use on pocket gophers - but in fact they don't work very well, and I would have had to evacuate the poultry for a week; an extreme option.  Drowning traps for rats are large- require a lot of maintenance really, are disgusting to empty, and also give no guarantee of getting the suspicious ones.

  Business opportunities/improvements - Getting into the rat trap business is not recommended; the competition is fierce, and driven more by "cheap" than by "value".  The improvements/options I would love to see, and would pay for, in an electronic mouse trap are primarily water related.  It would help enormously if the electronics could be waterproof.  Encased in epoxy, maybe?  And; if the bottom, which will always need to be cleaned - could just come off for cleaning.  I know; electrical connections need to be maintained.  Still; not impossible.  And third; if a serious weight could be added to the bottom, to make the whole thing a bit less movable.  Those could be options; the trap as it exists is extremely well suited for use indoors, in attics and warehouses; where rain is not a concern, nor puppies etc.

  One last reminder- not at all compatible with small children.  The shock kills big rats; instantly; what it would do to a curious toddler we do not want to find out.  Likewise, any small curious kitten (or kitten-sized pet) is at risk.

  So - there ya go.  Review #1.  What did I forget?  I know you'll tell me.  : -)

  And; policy - I'll insert your fixes into this review, rather than post updates.  Better if we keep all the rats in one trap, I think.  Like the refrigerator posts - there are about 8 so far.  Messy!

  Ok, next post, likely to be a good short rant, on something not reviewable.  This is hard work- but - I hope - worth your time.

Addendum: 6/23/13.  Our poultry house is still rat-free.  For now.  But the rats remain my mind, and likely yours, if you've had the problem ever.  Today's Washington Post has an article about the rat problems in Baltimore.  I have to admit- it ends primarily noting the broad adaptability of - humans.  We may be more adaptable than the rats.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Prelude To Rats, In B Major.

  Why would I want to be minor?  Well, then.

  I'm not really trying to string you along here; I'm just trying to get into this "reviews" stuff clearly.

  My aim is to be - useful.  My experience with many, many, reviews is that they are not.

  One of my readers, who goes by Lynx, helped push me in this direction.  His entire comment is available below this recent post.  I recommend it, if you have the time.  A few excerpts:

   'Well, I just got finished reading your entire blog, Greenpa. Yes, I read it from start to finish. I've really enjoyed reading it. I have to say, I'm a bit sad at how few posts you have lately, compared to when you first started.

   "Anyways, I have a couple questions regarding "green living"...

   "I know incandescent light bulbs are being phased out. I do not care for CFLs. What do you think are the best type of lighting, and why? Halogens? LEDs? Incandescent? Beeswax candles? I'm a fan of Solartubs, but they don't work very well when it's dark, and when it gets dark at 4:00 pm I like other sources of light.

   "Do you have any books or authors to recommend for reading on sustainable living? Like for tree crops, cattle, sheep, guineas, etc. Not asking for any deep searching, just some of the things that you've read and have been helpful. :)

   "What do you think of strawbale houses? Earthbag? Earthship? Cob? Log? What kind of foundation does your house have? does it have a basement cellar? or is your only cellar the one away from the house?"

   Lynx goes on quite a lot longer, but I was already cracking up at this point.  And I'm assuming that- although framing all these questions was very time consuming for Lynx- it was intended as humor, with a little point to it, right along.  Thanx, Lynx, I needed the laugh.  :-)

   Most people who feel able to hand out a little advice on anything, sooner or later run into the neophyte enthusiast who seriously asks "I'm ready!  I'm ready!  Just -please tell me everything you know!"

   They're serious.  And have absolutely no idea what they're asking.  How long it would take.  Or how completely unprepared they are to comprehend you, should you attempt to actually download.

   On the other hand- and seriously - the kind of expertise that Lynx was asking for (honored you asked) is truly priceless, and hard to come by.  Advice is very, very cheap.  Good, thorough, advice is very, very, difficult to find.

  My intent here, is to provide you with good - tested - advice.  And to clearly label the parts where "I don't really know this bit"; and to clearly identify trouble areas.

   That means- a fairly long, involved discussion.  Which people these days often loathe, and/or avoid.  Just gimmee the sound-bite, dude.

   Which I can also comprehend.  Get to the freaking point!  I find myself snarling, often enough.

   So; the format I hope to follow (and I've got a dozen tools in mind already) is - I'll start off with the simple rating; good/bad/etc.  Then details; including my experiences.  Then - alternatives.  Then - caveats.  Then - and I'm very serious about this - business opportunities.  Looking for a business?  I'll have suggestions for specific improvements.  We'll talk.

  And hopefully, you can pick through it to find what you need- at your own speed.  But expect it to be long.

  Rats, in fact, are a really big topic.  I could write a book.  I'll try not to.

  Tomorrow, I seriously hope; we've got Winter Storm Warnings up; should be inside.

  And, incidentally, I'll still talk about other stuff; this is not going to become "all reviews, all the time."

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Well. How Rude!

So it turns out my first review will be of Google's "AdSense".  Not rats.  Or, maybe it is rats.  You know, the nifty way Google offers (repeatedly) for bloggers to make a few pennies with easy-peasy advertising on their blogs?

Now this blog here is what you'd call a "middling" performer, at the moment.  Far from the top (though way back in the early days, when I was posting daily, and visiting other bloggers, and doing the whole megillah, I did get up into the top 2% on Technorati for a while) - but also very far from the bottom.  (Hm; actually; just checked Technorati for the first time in years; this blog is ranked 56,258* - out of 1,322,165 blogs they monitor.  Last time I did math; that puts me in the top 5%, right now- yes?  That includes a lot of dead blogs, of course.)

I expected signing up to prostitute myself would be very simple and straightforward- that's certainly what Google led me to believe.  Take a look at their basic pitch, a little video (I think they borrowed the Geico gecko - cute, huh?) about 1 minute long.  Sounds simple, no?

So I bit the bullet.  Filled in all the blanks with all the information.  Clicked all the boxes.  And?

They turned me down!  Rudely; in fact.  They didn't just say "Sorry, but we are not able to open an AdSense account with you at the moment."; no, they informed me, in one sentence, that "this account has been disapproved."

I think they need an expert in communication, somewhere to tell them that "cannot approve" and "disapprove" are not identical messages.  They disapprove of me.  Oh yeahhh!?  Well, I disapprove of YOU.  So there!

; - )

And- surprise- friendly, local, Google, our warm internet buddy, has gone Big Biz- and they can't really be bothered with... um... customers, I guess.  I got NO feedback on - why.  Just (twice) this rude and truly exceptionally uncommunicative email:

   "Thank you for your interest in Google AdSense. After reviewing your
application, our specialists have found that it does not meet our program
criteria. Therefore, we are unable to accept you into our program.

   "We have certain policies in place that we believe will help ensure the
effectiveness of Google ads for our publishers as well as for our
advertisers. We review all publishers, and we reserve the right to decline
any application. As we grow, we may find that we are able to expand our
program to more web publishers with a wider variety of web content.

   "Please note that we may not be able to respond to inquiries regarding the
specific reasons for our decision. Thank you for your understanding.


   "The Google AdSense Team"

I'm wounded.   Not only did they turn my offer of self-prostitution down- they can't be bothered to tell me why!  Not a hint.  Well; except that it's my fault, and they disapprove.  I don't meet their criteria?

You know- you could have saved my time- and yours - by stating your criteria; in a format I could comprehend.  Gotta say - you didn't.  And you didn't inform me after the event, either.   Not, in my book, sound business practice.  I'm informing the Wall Street Journal.  Look for Google stock to start dropping tomorrow.

And; my specialists think your specialists are a bunch of self-inflated nincompoops.

Basically, I'm laughing about this; of course.  At most, I expected to be earning a pittance.  But more seriously- I read all their stuff; so far as I can tell from reading their official information there is no reason why I wouldn't fit right in.  Hey; no porn here, right?  You don't even see an f word in the comments here, more than twice a year.  Exactly what is there here for Great Google to disapprove?  He whimpered.  I am clueless.  Again.  Naturallee.

Rude, rude, rude.

Just too hard to concentrate on rats today with this kind of insult lurking about in my hindbrain.

So; Review: Google AdSense:  Two Thumbs Down.

And a neener-neener.

(and I'm sure some "specialist" at Google will remark "Wow, talk about biting the hand that feeds you!" - since the host of this blog is, um Blogger; which is now owned by Google...  except, guys - manifestly, you aren't feeding me...)


   * Update, next day; today my Technorati rating jumped up over - 10,000 blogs.  2/21 - 46,521.  To give you and idea how all this works.  : - )

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Coming attractions...

I was serious about becoming more active here again.  In the past two days, though; looking around the world and the web, I haven't been hit by anything I thought made sense to place here.

There's no shortage of news, idiocies, absurdities, and horrors, of course.  It's just that I'm not at all fond of "small talk", and I don't watch horror movies for entertainment.

We all have enough blather to wade through daily; and enough unavoidable awfulness.  I'd rather you came here for something useful.

And, I do want to maintain this assemblage of interesting folks; I appreciate your faithfulness; and we all need all the friends we can find.

So- I have two slight changes to this blog to announce today.  Both designed to make me write more; and hopefully provide you (and others) with something useful.

I'm going to start writing "reviews" - of specific products.  And I've launched the process to "monetize" the blog; i.e. Google will start placing ads in the sidebar.

Hey, I can use the pennies- and it will increase my motivation to write, just a tad.

And- one of the things I've discovered, in my long forays into off-grid, sustainable, self reliance, and resilience is; it's incredibly difficult to get good advice about this technology or that.

It's incredibly easy to find "advice" - and enthusiastic reviews, of almost anything.  And often conflicting negatives.  Sorting those out, however; is a bear.

What is lacking; I think; is what I can offer; long experience.  I'll only be writing about stuff I've done- for a long time, under may circumstances.  Ergo- I think I may actually have a clue as to how it will work out for other folks.

I even know where I'm going to start- with a rat trap.  Sharon, over on Casaubon's Book, recently mentioned that she (of all people!) has rats in her poultry building; and is struggling with the problem.  (At least, I have a definite memory of her saying that - last fall.  I can't find the post... but...  I have a clear picture of the surrounding text...  of course, I do occasionally remember as fact things I only dreamed...  um, Sharon?)

If I only dreamed that Sharon has rats, I have an excuse.  I had rats.  In the poultry house we overwinter guineas and chickens in.  We had them for a year... and I struggled to get rid of them.  But notice; I now use the past tense.  We had rats.   I actually managed to eradicate them.  It wasn't easy; and a specific trap was a part of the solution.

Sounds trivial- but it was a major disaster; and it's quite a common one.  If you intend to keep poultry- you WILL have to deal with rats some day.  If you don't- they'll not only eat your feed; and gnaw the cages to bits; they'll eat the eggs, and eat any chicks.  Making it all a waste of time; and very expensive.

So.  I intend to write reviews in very serious detail; with experiences on the subject over weeks, months, and when possible years.  As you've likely noticed, a huge number of enthusiastic "back to the land" advice articles start out with; "We got our new (expensive whatever) a whole week ago- and we LOVE it!  You must get one/them too!  You'll get rich; just like us!"  And you never hear from them again.  I hope to avoid that.

I've taken the first steps; applied to Google.  When that's all in place- you'll find out everything I know about rats.

Just one teaser/hint; I figure we saved at least $80 on cat food, feeding dead (non-toxic) rats to our cat mommas last summer...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Polka Dot Gallows for Valentines Day...

You guys may recall my periodic posts "from the Polka Dot Gallows" - referring to bits of current news that are particularly bizarre - if viewed from any sane standpoint.  (Description of concept in this post.)

I have one for you today.

From one of my favorite news sources; the Japanese Public Television newsfeed, NHK.  I love them.  They just blurt out all this... truth.

But then, as truth is wont to do- it disappears.  Their links vanish in a few hours.  If you hurry; this one will get you to their video of this event; but here, in any case, is the story:

"Sheep form heart shape in Valentines Day event"

  "Japanese tourists have watched a flock of sheep make a heart shape in a Valentines' Day event at a ranch near Tokyo.

 "The event took place on Thursday at Mother Farm in Chiba Prefecture. The farm has about 600 sheep.

  "Ranchers had placed feed in a heart shape on a pasture in preparation for the event.

  "Sheep were released on a hillside and rushed to the food, forming a heart around a man and woman chosen from among the visitors.

  "The woman said she was overwhelmed to see so many sheep, but that she felt reassured and amused because she was with her boyfriend."

Feb. 14, 2013 - Updated 11:10 UTC (20:10 JST)

  Hard to get more romantic than that.  : - )

  Spice, my dear- we've got seven sheep- a little thin, but I could probably manage...  for you.

 ( If you-all really want some nice mush, for Valentines, I'll have to send you to Sharon.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Update on Wisdom's Chick.

  So, I said "stay tuned" regarding Wisdom's chick- the one that survived the tsunami in 2011.

  Here's the info!  Basically - the survivor survived.

  A friend of mine got in touch with the folks who know, and sent me the personal email replies from Bruce Peterjohn; who is the Chief of the US Geological Survey bird banding projects, at Patuxent, MD.

  Here's the thing; no one can say for sure if Wisdom's chick is alive; because the albatrosses at Midway are purely wild, of course.  And the natural thing for albatross young to do is - leave.

 For 3 to 5 years; they stay out at sea; may never touch land, and do not come home.  Some scientists think they sleep - while flying.  So - who could know?  There's no money for radio tracking- and in any case, putting a tracker on a bird of this kind will decrease its chances of survival; it's a drag on the animal.

  What is known is: Wisdom's chick fledged successfully; was banded, so it can be identified if seen in the future; and successfully left the nest, to join the other young of the year, as they launch into the world together.

    None of that was a given; many chicks do not survive even to fledge; the hazards facing them are numerous; all the time, every day.   Lead paint from WW II - plastic trash - frigate birds - there are no guarantees.

  In the wild world- it really doesn't get any better than this; Wisdom and her mate kept this chick alive through a tsunami that killed thousands of other albatross chicks; fed and protected it successfully it for months so it grew to maturity; whereupon it - launched.  On its own.  On to the next step in its life.

  It's really all any parent can do.

  Peterjohn points out that re-identifying this chick will always be a long shot; there are 200,000 breeding pairs of Laysan albatrosses on Midway; plus an uncertain (but huge) number of unmated birds.  Mated pairs are strongly faithful to their nest site; they come back to the same place, year after year - so Wisdom is relatively easy to spot each year (Particularly since they nest right next to one of the buildings...)

  And while Wisdom's chick would be expected to return to Midway (most chicks return to their birthplace- though it's not 100%) - there's really no way to know where the chick might nest.

  It would definitely be a needle-in-the-haystack kind of search; but; the chick is banded.  So...

  In the process of digging around for the info; I discovered that Wisdom now has her own Facebook page; and you can become her friend, if you like.  Also that Pete Leary, the man on the spot who provides almost all the photos of Wisdom- has a Facebook Page, and a blog, and regularly puts up photos of what's going on there; like the aftermath of the tsunami.

  My recommendation to you - by all means "Friend" Wisdom - and any of the other wonderful people involved in all this.  We can all use a bit of good news, these days.

  And; stick around; folks; I'm working seriously on re-activating my writing here.  No, really!

  : - )

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wisdom update.

There's more than one way to take that, of course.  But in this case, I mean Wisdom, the albatross.

You may remember my bit from 2011, when I was searching for a little good news.  Since the steady diet of bad/iffy news is certainly bad for everyone's mental and physical health.  We're kind of in the same place, these days, aren't we?

  Wisdom is back in the news; now estimated to be 62 years old; the oldest known wild bird in the world; she has a brand new chick, which she and her mate are tending carefully.
Wisdom & Mate

"After returning from foraging at sea on November 29, 2012, Wisdom (left) attempts to nudge her mate off the nest for her turn at incubating the couple's egg. 
Photos by Pete Leary/USFWS."

  It's truly wonderful to know we share the planet with her.  One thing the WaPo points out, that wasn't clear before; in her lifetime; she's likely flown at least 3 million miles since she was first banded.  Quite a few more details, and contacts with the USGS, who is doing the work, here.

    Kind of oddly, I thought, this rather breathless story in the Washington Post missed the story from after the 2011 tsunami.  It washed over Midway; drowning a lot of albatross chicks; but not Wisdom's.

  Then; shortly after I read this heartening bit about a great survivor- news of a new Pacific tsunami hit the ether.  The Solomons are a long ways from Midway, though.  At the moment, I think the waves have probably reached and passed Midway, and though deadly in the Solomons, they will likely have attenuated to minor proportions at Midway.

Stay tuned.