Archive for the ‘Wildlife Interface’ Category

Your Daily Heebie-Jeebies

October 15, 2013 - 11:45 am 6 Comments

Spider lives inside woman’s ear for five days.

I would name mine Carl and take him to stare at the light above the sign at Arby’s, and howl at the sky in terror and awe.

Idle Musing

February 19, 2013 - 11:20 pm 10 Comments

Having just rescued a daddy long-legs from drowning in the shower, and my general track record on spider-friendliness and rescuing and making pets out of the eight-legged little buggers, it’s going to be deeply ironic if LabRat and I are wrong on this whole atheism thing and it turns out spiders are god’s indicator of evil – those who squish on sight earn brownie points sort of thing.

Oh well. I wouldn’t want to share heaven with a bunch of arachnophobes* anyway.

*Spellcheck felt this should be Anglophobes. I don’t know why that tickled my funnybone so hard but I’ve been snickering for five minutes straight.

Situation Normal

April 28, 2012 - 11:43 pm Comments Off on Situation Normal

Don't Try This At Home

January 25, 2012 - 7:01 pm Comments Off on Don't Try This At Home

Via Chas, a story of a fellow who planned to live off the land for a year in Scotland. In a battle of man vs. wild, winter won and he is presumed to have died of hypothermia. (His body was not found for weeks so it’s difficult to tell.)

OK, couple of home lessons beyond just “don’t do that, are you retarded” for those of us in the audience who are of an independent, outdoors-loving bent who find survival skills useful and interesting to know.

1. The vast majority of survival courses and training aren’t oriented to “living off the land”, they’re oriented to surviving for timespans of a week or less. All sorts of things become problems over longer time periods, because our bodies cannot handle certain kinds of stressors indefinitely, partiuclarly persistent calorie deficit and especially acute shortage of protein and fat.

2. While it is correct to observe that we evolved as hunter-gatherers and that there are societies of hunter-gatherers all over the world and in all climes and locales, it is important to realize that physically, we evolved in savannahs where hypothermia isn’t really a problem. We are not designed for, say, northern European winters. While the evidence for the capability of humans surviving in Scotland is present in the Scottish, it’s also important to realize two other things.

3. When we arrived in places like Scotland, we did so with all sorts of pre-existing cultural knowledge and technology that rendered us better able to adapt to things like Scottish winters. When we arrived, the landscape was also vastly different; we became primarily agrarian long ago and the land now reflects that reality.

4. Humans evolved as hunter-gatherers and later succeeded in environments they were not physically designed for because they are, at core, a group-living species. All of our life history revolves around it. A group of humans can divide and pool labor to get more fuel, more shelter, more water, more care for the sick and injured, and more vigilance and defense from danger in a way a lone human just can’t compensate for. If you plan to survive off the land, you’d better bring some friends if you’re planning to do it all that long. Even Bear Grylls doesn’t really travel alone.

General Filler #4908

October 11, 2011 - 10:22 pm Comments Off on General Filler #4908

This is my favorite antelope ever.

Attack Debriefing

October 5, 2011 - 12:15 pm Comments Off on Attack Debriefing

No, not a surprise attempt to get someone’s unmentionables off. Yesterday, war were declared. Today, war is waged. As planned, some hours after dark with a distinct chill in the air to aid in calming the enemy, kit was gathered.

What? What do you mean “other stuff?” That’s the whole kit, totally serious promise. Why are you looking at me like that? Fine. Here.

Anyway, Mr. or Ms. Nitpicky, primary ordinance was prepped for drop:

And deployed.

Primary ordinance was left on target for approximately an hour. On cautious lifting of the bucket, no angry combatants emerged, but it was discovered either by enemy action or friendly incompetence, the main entrance had been partially to entirely blocked- either they barricaded in, or I managed to get a clump of wet dirt and such froze to a chunk of dry ice and plugged it, leaving us uncertain how much stoppit-gas was actually delivered. Command decision was made to clear the blockage if possible. Support decision was that command was fuckin’ nuts and would be way over there. The entrance was cleared, said wet earth having frozen into a conveniently removable plug-shape, and the system was brought back on line with more careful arrangement.

Weapons hot… er, cold? Active. We’ll go with active. Weapons active another 45 minutes, followed by cautious peek and verification of non-plugged entrance. No combatants on site, and vapors clearly visible drifting into the hole. But the henchmen were still wicked toasted and, um, yeah. that happened. Fire out with minimal federal intervention, the cinderblock was used to cap the hole and compacted down into the ground a bit to make sure.

The following morning has offered up a mixed bag of results. Enemy combatants have been detected around the battle zone, and thus far in the day approximately thirty have been dispatched using a combination of small arms fire and hand to hand techniques. Clearly this number leaves us well short of the aforementioned Husnock goal. On the positive side, however, there remains the possibility that these combatants were simply out of HQ on bivouac for the night, as uncapping the main entrance and cautious observation have revealed no enemy either exiting, or entering. Additionally, individual mop-up engagements conducted with the Soldier Held Oblong Vespid ELiminator (S.H.O.V.EL) did not trigger any response from HQ. These are promising signs, considering how little it took to achieve such a large response yesterday.

While still uncertain regarding the high number of lingering enemy combatants, further research has indicated that multiple entrances are unlikely, but that hive size can be surprisingly larger than expected with some instances reaching as much as four feet deep. As this has been a largely ignored section of terrain until the puppies started re-purposing it as the Prime Pooping Area, onset of enemy activity is not precisely known, and thus we can make relatively little informed decision about the size of the opposing force.

The solution: Do it again, only harder.

Primary weapons will be redeployed tonight with more attention paid to not blocking the entrance. Cap will be applied and the entire system will run overnight. We will continue to eliminate individual combatants on sight as possible. Further updates as events warrant.


October 4, 2011 - 10:15 pm Comments Off on Hmmm.

That could’ve gone better, if I’m honest. After action report to follow.

War Were Declared*

October 4, 2011 - 1:20 pm Comments Off on War Were Declared*

This morning at zero-something-precoffee, a vicious attack was launched on the peace loving** inhabitants of the Nerd Ranch. A despicable enemy with a daily kos-like collective, only with more spine, came forth and deliberately and willfully inflicted pain in an attempt to incite terror and despondency within the good people of this land. As this is not a major news conglomerate, let me provide actual details. After many days, possibly even weeks, of peaceful co-habitation, a den of burrowing wasps launched their own version of Pearl Harbor, and swarmed, attacking puppies, Kang, and LabRat. The cause of the attack is unknown. Be advised that the Nerd Ranch will not tolerate such acts of aggression, and in the years to follow, response delivered to this colony will be likened unto that which befell the Husnock.

The casualties:

Wonderboy*** received at least one sting to the muzzle, evident in the now mostly gone swelling on the right side of the picture. Kang received a couple square on the top of her muzzle during the initial defense and subsequent counter-offensive. LabRat refuses to give comfort or aid to the enemy by documenting her wounds, but received somewhere between 8 and 12 stings, mostly in the scalp but also one to the boob that she really refused to have documented as comfort and aid to the enemy. Enemy psychological operations were marginally successful as wasp clusters working vigorously between Wonderboy’s shoulders combined with his natural sangfroid created a plausible impression of having been stung into submission while the fact of the matter was that natural Akita puppy coat is thick enough to withstand multiple wasp-hits without issue. As a credit to his breed, he was exceptionally stoic for a six week old about the process of removing the stinger from his muzzle, two small cactus needles obtained during retreat, a bayonet tip, a shark’s tooth, and a meager handful of buckshot. Wondergirl thought she saw a wasp near her face and screamed for a half hour. She has been assigned extra PT until she hardens up, as she was not actually stung. Simply put, this attack is bullshit and will not be tolerated. This hive will be destroyed.

The enemy:

Recon reports elevated activity during the daylight hours. Internet recon, always the most reliable of sources, and basic knowledge of local bugs, indicate that as temperatures drop below today’s already chilly state as night falls, activity will dwindle and enemy combatants will return to barracks. Suggested methods of attack from the internet are as follows:

1) Fire
2) Napalm
3) Fire
4) More fire and some ghetto-rigged bottle trap
5) Napalm and fire
7) Fire

These are all fine and good options (except number six. That’s for pussies.), and I do like fire quite a bit. However, when you absolutely positively have to kill every motherfucker around, accept no substitutes.

I’m going to use science.

Those of you not already fleeing for bunkers, high ground, NORAD, or booking a flight on Virgin Galactic****, I’m going to gloat in advance***** and brag about how this will go down. The simple plan would be to just pour a gallon of diesel fuel in that conveniently funnel-shaped hole in the ground, but that will be smelly, and cover things the puppies will put in their mouths with toxic diesel fuel. Instead, late this evening I will make a trip to the grocery store. As it is a well known fact that living creatures need to breathe (a few counterexamples on display and duly lampooned notwithstanding), my goal is to deny my enemies that particular skill. With such a neat funnel shape, and a headquarters entirely below entrance level, don’t you find it rather fascinating the way carbon dioxide is heavier than regular mixed atmosphere? And isn’t it just marvelous the way dry ice sublimates directly from a very cold brick into such heavier than air gas? Oh, gravity and chemistry. What can’t we kill with you?

Assault is scheduled for full-dark plus 3-4 hours. Equipment loadout is one (1) pound dry ice, 1 (one) metal bucket, narrow lip suitable for light ground penetration, and one (uno) cinder block.

By god, by dawn Tank****** will be avenged.

*title source
**Stop laughing.
***We’re still working on a permanent name. At this pace, that might be it.
****A good friend has described my method of problem solving as using a bazooka to pick low-hanging fruit. I say if it’s stupid and it works, it ain’t stupid.
*****…and thus pre-doom my attack
******Wonderboy’s name was finalized during the drafting of this post. In addition to the obvious connotation of heavily armored mobile stuff-smasher, it fits his role in a geek family too. Welcome to the Nerd Ranch, Tank.

Critter of the Day

October 3, 2011 - 6:02 pm Comments Off on Critter of the Day

Image behind the cut because Stingray* didn’t want the damn thing staring at him until it scrolled off the front page. Meet Cyclosomia truncata. (more…)

Talking to Dolphins

September 19, 2011 - 6:34 pm Comments Off on Talking to Dolphins

Interesting article here on a cetacean researcher working on the problem of dolphin-human communication.

It’s especially interesting in that the researcher seems to have an extremely solid grounding in the traditional principles of ethology rather than having a fluffier approach- part of her research involves creating and indexing a massive database of video footage of dolphins engaging in specific behaviors in specific contexts- and that she seems to be approaching the ways dolphins already communicate with each other with an eye to breaking down its exact mechanics in a way humans can understand and dissect for what is relevant to them, rather than focusing on object-symbol associations exclusively.

To me, the real meat of the matter is distilled from the following excerpt:

Up to now, dolphins have shown themselves to be adept at responding to human prompts, with food as a reward for performing a task. “It’s rare that we ask dolphins to seek something from us,” Dr. Herzing said.

But if she is right, the dolphins will seek to communicate with humans, and the reward will be social interaction itself, with dolphins and humans perhaps developing a crude vocabulary for objects and actions. …..

“The key is going to be coming up with a system in which the dolphins want to communicate,” said Stan Kuczaj, director of the Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Laboratory at the University of Southern Mississippi. “If they don’t care, it won’t work.”

Dr. Kuczaj developed an early two-way communication system while working at a captive lab in Orlando in the late 1980s. The system relied on visual symbols, not sound, and used a large stationary keyboard that proved to be too cumbersome.

But he says that the effort gave him confidence that such a system could work and that Dr. Herzing is “definitely the closest to getting there.”

and highlighted by this quote from the end of the article:

And while other researchers praise her work, they point out that of dolphin-human communication has often fallen short of expectations.

“It depends on what you mean by communicate,” Dr. Kuczaj said. “I can communicate with my dog, too. But do I have conversations with my dog? Well, if I do they’re very one-sided.

We already communicate with animals. Anyone that owns a domestic animal more complex than a goldfish communicates with it on a fairly regular basis whether they’re aware of it or not, sometimes quite elaborately as tends to be the case with dogs and horses. In order for animal-human communication to take place, both parties must first realize that there’s enough going on behind the eyes of the other to make communication a possibility, and second have enough common interest for there to be something relevant at hand to communicate.

Someone with a pet dog may only cover ground like meeting basic needs, accepting or rejecting requests, and things like “someone’s at the door”; someone who hunts with their dog might pass a lot more information, like “I can smell something alive over here”, or “I can see something crouching over there”, or “trail’s gone cold”, or “keep working”, and likewise for people doing any more advanced work with a dog, like search and rescue or livestock herding. It’s not a conversation as such, but it is ongoing communication for mutual ends.

The problem of communicating with a cetacean isn’t actually the intelligence of the cetacean; we already know that many cetaceans, dolphins included, are extremely intelligent and socially complex in a way we can at least somewhat relate to, and that they suspect the same of us. We have that figured out with apes and to a lesser extent parrots, which is why all the language experiments that have yielded interesting results have come from them.

The problem is that they are large seagoing predators, and we are small terrestrial omnivores, and our points of common experience exist almost solely in that social interaction. We can teach a dolphin to punch symbols to get fish or a bellyrub, but we can teach many other critters we know to be less complex and less intelligent to do the same thing, because operant conditioning works. At the end of the day all that serves is to reinforce what we already know, and to bore the dolphin, whose social life and communication are far richer and more interesting to it with members of their own species.

A domestic animal like a dog, or for that matter a captive ape, is interested in us because we almost completely define their existence; what humans think and want is relevant to them because we have control over almost every aspect of their lives. If they’re bright enough to understand that, the motive to humor humans, and to make real attempts to communicate things to them or try to understand communications from them, is built-in.

What Dr. Herzig is proposing is to attempt to communicate with wild dolphins that don’t depend on humans based on no other draw but being interesting as other intelligent creatures- playing on sheer curiosity plus a serious attempt to understand dolphin communication as much on their terms as on human terms. In order to have a conversation you have to have something to talk about; if she can actually manage that the results stand to be potentially far more interesting than anything else we’ve yet tried.