taken on May 30, 2018
(for photography buffs: Nikon D5100, ISO 400, 400 mm, f/6.3 1/800)
enjoy the views
July 20, 2018
taken on May 30, 2018
(for photography buffs: Nikon D5100, ISO 400, 400 mm, f/6.3 1/800)
enjoy the views
July 20, 2018
I often take my puppy and my camera to a play group. I took this series of photos on a sunny afternoon not long ago. Let me introduce the cast of characters:
Olive, a Golden Retriever, is a puppy and submissive to everyone. She is timid but loves to play. Beta, a white Shepard is 6 or 7 years old and tends to be aloof. She will occasionally deign to play, but it takes her a while to warm up to other dogs. When she is nervous she acts fierce – she likes to raise her lips in a ferocious looking snarl.
Beatle (my dog) is the black Shepard. She’s almost 7 months old and has recently started acting like the teenager that she is. The final member of this group is Charlie a friendly, cannon ball of an English lab. He loves to play, loves people, loves bowling over dogs, loves life.
In the first photo, above, Olive and Beta are being introduced. Olive is terrified of Beta. How do I know she is terrified? Notice the stiffness in her front legs and the worried expression in her eyes. Also, the tongue lick is a sign of anxiety and she has lowered her ears in puppy appeasement language.
She is probably worried because Beta is also uncomfortable. Notice Beta’s ruff and the way she is leaning in for the sniff. She doesn’t want to get too close. She is evaluating the situation. Also note the loose leash on Beta. Her person is ready to intervene if necessary, but a tight leash increases the tension so it’s better to leave it loose. Olive is free, so if she needs to retreat she can.
Next Beatle noses her way in-between them. Beta’s ruff is still up and the puppy Olive still looks worried. She is looking away from both Beta and Beatle. Beatle is coming in low, another submissive gesture and her ears are down. She is look straight at Beta which can be aggressive and rude between dogs. Perhaps this is why she is coming in low. She and Beta are friends. Beatle ignores Beta’s raised rough and snarls. She will lick Beta’s lip even as Beta snarls or growls. I don’t know if Beatle wanted to break up the tension between Olive and Beta or if she just wanted Beta’s attention. Same thing I guess.
Charlie, the lab in back, is the group peacemaker. He is totally relaxed. Whenever there are squabbles he runs between whoever is making a ruckus. It’s pretty amazing to see. He will deliberately push his was in between the two dogs. The first couple times I saw it I thought it was a coincidence, but it has happened often enough I’m sure it is deliberate.
Now, Olive and Beta are making progress. Beta still looks unsure, but Olive is looking much more relaxed. She still has her ears down and her head is lower than Beta’s, but her mouth is relaxed and her tongue is out in a smile. Beta, on the other hand, is looking at Olive from the corner of her eye and her mouth is tense in a way Olive’s isn’t. Still, they are making progress.
More time passed. Now look at them.
In the this photo they both look relaxed and happy, tongues are out in happy grins. Olive is still looking submissive which is probably reassuring to Beta. Its clear from both their postures that they are now easy with each other.
You probably also noticed all the leashes dragging and all the people close by. This is a structured puppy play group. A couple of the dogs, ok, just mine, Beatle, gets overexcited sometimes and I have to step in and have her take a break. Sometimes its easier to catch whoever she is chasing instead of Beatle. So we leave leashes on. Most of them are slippery non-tangle leashes.
In the above photo it’s about time to intervene.When Beatle gets this intense she needs a time-out, although Olive doesn’t seem to care. Olive looks loose and relaxed and her tongue is out in a smile. (Compare this tongue with the one in the first photo.)
Notice how relaxed Olive is, then look at Beatle’s ears which are upright. In itself that’s not a big deal, but her head is low and her whole manner is focused intently on Olive. I wouldn’t worry, except I saw her once go into prey drive. She didn’t hurt the other dog, but her demeanor was scary-intense and the other dog was terrified. So, I keep a close eye on her. This is a new behavior for her. I’m hoping its a short stage.
This is how she usually is:
That’s the word in dog land.
Thanks for reading,
July 14, 2018
Check out Beatle as a pup (ignore the name changes. It took a while to settle on the spelling)
neither are these:
Shellac has a long history. It was known as far back as the Vedic period in India around 3,000 years ago when it was used as a medicine as well as a dye. In later years it became a popular finish known for its durability and ease of use. In the West it was used as a finish as early as the mid 17th Century.
All this usefulness comes from a tiny bug. Shellac is made from the resinous secretion of microscopic bugs collectively known as lac bugs. (For those entomologists among us, lac bugs are from the coccoidea family and include Laccifer lacca, Carteria lacca and Tachardia lacca.) The process of making shellac starts with these microscopic creatures.
It begins when huge numbers of lac bugs colonize branches of host trees. Lac bugs are most common in India and Thailand where many different types of trees host the bug. Those trees include members of the soapberry, pea, buckthorn and mulberry families. It takes about 100,000 lac bugs to make 500 g of shellac flakes. In fact, the word “lac” comes from the Sanskrit word “lakh” which means 100,000.
The lac bugs feed on the tree, sucking sap into their proboscis and then secreting the resinous lac. The males fertilize the females and then fly away, while the females never develop wings. Instead they lay around 1000 eggs each and continue eating and secreting lac until they die. During this process the lac builds up on the branches, ultimately covering both the female bugs and the eggs.
The secreted lac hardens, protecting the eggs from predators. Unfortunately for the lac bug, it attracts humans. Once the branches are thick with resin the branches are harvested as sticklac.
Sticklac refers to the entire branch that is coated with the resin of the lac bug. Workers cut the resin coated branches then crush and sift the sticklac to remove dirt and bug parts. It is then washed to further remove impurities. From this point the lac is called seedlac.
Seedlac comes in a variety of colors depending on the type of host tree as well as the species of lac bug. The color of the lac can be dissolved away in water. It is removed and used as dye or left in the seedlac to give color to the final product. After repeated washings the seedlac is laid out to dry. To turn the seedlac into shellac it is treated with either heat or solvent.
Traditionally the lac is heated in cloth tubes which can be as long as 40’. The tubes are held over a fire in sections to heat the seedlac. As it melts a worker twists the cloth tube which acts as a sieve, further cleaning and purifying the lac as it passes through the fabric. If the worker wants to make button lac then the hot lac is scraped from the cloth and dropped onto a hard surface where it forms into little puddles of button lac. These can be stamped with a makers mark and left to harden.
If shellac flakes are preferred the shellac is stretched into thin sheets while still warm. Then the sheet is cooled until brittle. When made by hand a worker molds the sheet and then stands in front of a fire while the shellac dries. The dried sheet is then broken into small pieces.
The same process can also be done using steam and hydraulic presses. The heating process keeps the wax in the shellac. To make de-waxed shellac such as that used by woodworkers, the lac is dissolved in a solution (usually industrial alcohol) and then filtered. The alcohol is evaporated and recovered and the shellac is pressed into sheets and then broken into flakes. This process allows the manufacturer to control the amount of wax in the shellac. The wax itself can then be reclaimed from the process and used for polishing.
Shellac and de-waxed shellac can both be used as a finish. If the shellac is being used as a sealer, it’s best to use the de-waxed shellac as some finishes don’t adhere well to the wax. If the shellac is going to be the final finish either will do. In either case it makes for a beautiful finish.
Thanks for reading,
June 27, 2018
If you enjoyed this post check out my woodworking website at
or yoiu might like my photography at
Genetic modification is easy. Perhaps you’ve done it yourself. Are you a gardener? Do you save seeds? If you chose seeds only from the best plants you are modifying the genetics of succeeding generations. This sort of selective breeding has been going on for centuries. It takes generations, but over time plants and animals can be radically changed. Those changes, if they are hereditary, occur in the genes.
Oh, that hardly counts, you might be thinking. It’s slow and is a natural process. I’ll grant you slow, but not natural. Look at teacup puppies and black roses. Think about racing horses whose legs are so thin they break. Natural selection favors those who survive. Artificial selection ignores survivability, in favor of traits that please humans.
Still, that’s generally not what people mean when they talk of GMOs. In popular usage GMO stands for organisms whose genetics have been modified through introduction of genes from a different species. In this sense wolf – dog hybrids are GMOs. But that still isn’t what people usually mean. Rather they mean laboratory introduced genetics.
For example, a gene from a specific species of fish might be added to a tomato plant to make the tomato more cold tolerant. This raises images of fishy tomatoes, but lets think about what a gene is, starting with DNA.
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a long thin molecule shaped in the famous double helix. The helix is made of base pairs of nucleotides held together by hydrogen atoms. The order of those pairs determines how they interact with surrounding molecules. A certain sequence will make a particular type of protein which in turn interacts with certain molecules to create a specific effect.
A segment of base pairs with a specific purpose is a gene. That’s all it is. It can be a section of DNA with a few base pairs up to hundreds of pairs. It’s as if a long piece of string was divided into different colors. Each color segment has a purpose. If you can figure out what the purpose is, you can, in theory, manipulate it.
You will not find a “cold tolerant gene.” What you will find is a section of base pairs which interact with other molecules to create a specific protein. That protein in turn interacts with other molecules in some way which results in greater tolerance for cold. Perhaps it helps in the creation of fat. Or maybe it strengthens cell walls to protect against freezing. In any event, it all starts with the gene and it’s ability to create a specific protein.
The scientist will pluck a specific segment from the fish DNA and introduce it into the tomato. Rather than having a tomato with little fish swimming inside it, you have a tomato with the ability to create a new protein.
GMOs have been around for decades and the research has shown no indication of any related health problems. However, politically and economically I worry about monopolies by giant companies who patent food (look into Monsanto, for instance). But that’s a topic for another post.
This brings us to the newest tool in the GMO business called CRISPR. CRISPR is a revolutionary method which allows for specific gene targeting. Previously, creating GMOs was a comparatively clumsy process. For example, a harmless bacteria might be altered with the addition of a chosen gene, then that bacteria would infect the plant, carrying with it the new gene.
CRISPR makes it possible to literally cut and paste specific genes. A section of DNA can be cut out and / or replaced with a new section. The technique is comparatively easy and cheap. Although it’s only been around for a few years, CRISPR is already being widely used. It is popular for traditional GMOs and as well as in industry, but increasingly CRISPR is being used on people. China was the first, beginning with non-viable human embryos. More recently studies have begun on cancer patients. Although it is too early to know what the results will be, this clearly marks a change in our ability to manipulate our own genetics.
On the one hand, it could be possible to cure genetic diseases, on the other hand, it’s equally possible to create “designer babies.” The question is: are we as a species wise enough to take evolution into our own hands?
Thanks for reading,
June 12, 2018
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Chickens are wonderful animals. I don’t know why. They wander around muttering and scratching in the grass looking for bugs. They usually flock together but sometimes someone (usually Big Red, top of the pecking order) heads off on her own.
I used to let them out to wander the property. But, I have a puppy now.
So they stay in.
I decided to clip their wings to keep them in their coop area. It seemed the safest thing to do. I was afraid it would be hard, but it is much easier than trimming Beatle’s toenails.
The hardest part was catching the birds (that and remembering who I had done.) All you do is spread out their wing and trim the flight feathers. The chickens don’t seem to care (or notice for that matter once the indignity of being held is over) and now I can watch them worry free.
Happy chickens. Happy me. (Disappointed Beatle).
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When I was a kid, in the 60’s, we got a puppy and did what everyone at the time did. We taught her to sit, and, training complete, threw her outside. She came in again when she was old enough not to mess in the house, but she mostly lived outside. Of course, we kids mostly lived outside as well, in that semi-feral way rural kids sometimes do. We played in the stream and cornfields and our various dogs joined us or not as they pleased. It was idyllic for all – except those who got hit by a car or got lost or got into fights with other dogs.… But we all knew bad things happened and, after all, they were just dogs. (Don’t judge too harshly, remember, this was also in the days before cars had seat belts. It was different then.)
Today the idea of treating a dog like that horrifies me (as does the image of three rambunctious girls crawling around the back of the VW bug as my mother yelled at us to settle down so she could drive).
When I got a puppy a few months ago I made sure I had a crate, a collar, leash & chew toys. She got her shots, and her vaccines and I enrolled in puppy classes (and I drove home wearing my seat belt).
How times change. For one thing, Beadle is not going to wander the world (or the house for that matter) while I’m working. And that brings me at long, rambling, last, to crate training.
A crate can be a dog’s safe place, or it can be the nightmare spot where she is locked away for hours.
You have to work to make it a safe place, especially if she will be locked in it for hours.
First – don’t leave her in the crate too long. If she has to pee or poop in it, not only will it distress her (dogs don’t like to soil the nest), but it will make house training difficult if not impossible later on. Second, make sure the crate is big enough for her to turn around comfortably and is in a quiet spot with plenty of fresh air and water.
Introduce your dog to the crate slowly by playing games. Toss a treat in, then call your pup back to you for another treat. In and right back out. Do this several times, then close the door behind her, open it immediately and call her out. Do that several times. Repeat as often as you can during the day (½ a dozen times, say).
As she gets comfortable in the crate increase the time the door is closed. Close it and toss in treats for a few seconds then let her out. You can also hide treats in the crate so when she goes in randomly she will find something.
When she can be in the crate happily slowly increase the time. Make sure not to let her out when she cries. Wait for her to be quiet. At first you may need to wait until she stops just long enough to catch her breath for the next howl. Quick, jump in and open the door. Do this as a training session. Be deliberate about it – and consistent. Whatever you do make sure you don’t come to her after she has been crying for ten minutes (or 2 hours). You have just taught her that persistence works.
Of course, you also need to be sure she isn’t crying for a reason. If she cries in the night she may need to go out. If she sounds hysterical or is in a panic you should go to her. It’s a hard call sometimes to know the difference between a temper tantrum and a panic attack. Usually it is a temper tantrum, but if she is panicking in her crate you need to start training all over again.
If you can figure out why she panicked that’s great, but you may not be able to. Was it a scary noise? Is she too hot or cold? Was she just alone too long? Hopefully, you can find and remedy the cause. However, regardless of the reason, once she has the negative association with the crate you need to start over with your training, going more slowly than before. Use super positive treats, play with her in the crate, give her a massage, whatever works. Slowly, slowly, work your way to closing the door and to longer stays.
Puppies take a lot of time (Beadle wants all of it)! But, it is worth the time and effort to make the crate a safe space. I’m writing this in my room with Beadle in her crate beside me. She was wandering around getting into trouble and I kept getting distracted. So, I chased her around for a while (“stop teasing the cat”, “put that sock down”, “get out of the trash”).
Then I had a brilliant thought! Her crate, just what I’m writing about! (I can be a bit slow sometimes). I said: “Beadle, go to bed.” She trotted into her crate, whined once in a half hearted way (just for show) and lay down. Ahh, peace and quiet.
The crate isn’t punishment. I put Beadle in because she was out of control, but I did it matter-of-factly and I tossed in a treat as she went. It has become her safe place, just as I hoped. She often sleeps in her crate while we are around. Don’t get me wrong, she still has to be dragged into it from time to time, but once in she settles right down (usually). Training her to do so was definitely time well spent!
Thanks for reading,
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I didn’t write for a month. I’ve been lamenting my writing block, trying to figure out how to break through. I decided to examine it more closely.
I sat down in my favorite chair with coffee close to hand. Then Beadle started bothering the cat, so I told her to get down, and removed the cat to a higher perch. I settled back down and picked up my pen. Beadle pranced over to the couch and started chewing. I put down the pen.
That was 20 minutes ago and we’re back from a short walk. It would have been longer but Beadle found something nasty to eat and by the time I convinced her to drop it (i.e. pried her jaws open) my hands were so slimy I was disgusted and came home.
I washed my hands and picked up my pen. Beadle settled down with her squeaky toy. I wrote a sentence (squeak, squeak). Beadle dropped her toy and scratched her ear, tags jangled. I sighed and tried to remember the end of the sentence.
I think I figured out where April went.
Beadle went to the window to bark at a robin. I resisted screaming. Instead, I put Beadle in her crate. She curled up quietly with her bone.
Bye bye writing block.
Thanks for reading,
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Some families collect travel magnets or beer steins. My family collects “signs of spring,” evidence that winter has come to an end. One of my favorite signs is the call of Spring Peeper frogs. In March or April their loud peeps are a promise of warmer weather. This raises the question: How do frogs, with their fragile skin, survive freezing weather?
It turns out there are several methods. Aquatic frogs hibernate at the bottom of a pond. Some terrestrial frogs in warmer climates dig below the frost line to hibernate. But others, like the Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) and the Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica) simply freeze in place. Literally.
In the fall Peepers and other “freeze tolerant” frogs nestle into leaf mold. As ice crystals touch their skin the skin begins to freeze. This triggers the frog’s liver to make glucose (sugars).
As the frog gets colder the ice on its skin draws water from inside the cells of the internal organs. If this were to continue the cells would become completely dehydrated, in which case they would collapse and die (taking the frog with them).
Fortunately for frogs, ice formation triggers the release of glucose into the bloodstream where it flows into the cells that were previously filled with water. The cells become filled with a thick syrup of glucose which prevents both freezing and dehydration within the cells. So, the water only freezes in the frog’s body cavity and between the skin and muscle. In other words, the water freezes safely in the areas between the cells rather than inside them.
As the frog continues to freeze its lungs stop pumping, its heart stops beating and blood ceases to flow. The frog is essentially dead. Only it isn’t. It’s frozen. Wood Frogs (the most widely studied) are able to survive with up to 65-70% of their body frozen solid.
Compare this to humans. When we get frost bite ice sucks water out of our cells. Without glucose to give the cells structure they simply collapse and die. Once dead they can’t be revived. If enough cells die you can too (so don’t forget your hat!)
With these frogs, their glucose filled cells are severely dehydrated, but not enough to collapse completely, allowing the cells (and the frog) to survive. It isn’t quite as simple as this, since urea (a waste product in the frog’s urine) and several specialized proteins, also act as an antifreeze outside the cells, but these processes are less well understood.
When the weather warms the frog begins defrosting. Over the course of a day, it slowly recovers its heartbeat and begins to breath. Eventually it’s muscles thaw out and it can move normally.
Frogs are able to go through this freeze – thaw cycle throughout the winter without any ill effects, sometimes staying frozen for a month or more between thaws. Some scientists speculate that the thawing part of the cycle allows for the production of more glucose and so is necessary for survival.
Eventually the weather warms enough for the frogs to thaw completely and hop away. They begin their mating calls, that wonderful cacophony of peeps and croaks that reminds the rest of us that spring has arrived.
Thanks for reading,
March 27, 2018
great video below:
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Beadle is now 12 weeks old and I’ve gone from hating puppies to thinking they’re kind of cute. In other words, she is now sleeping through the night.
In the past month she has gone through many changes (the most important to my mind being that increased bladder control). She has gone from 13 to 20 pounds, adult fur is starting to replace her puppy fluff, she is becoming more coordinated and – praise the lord – she is howling less.
I still need to keep a constant eye on her. She is having fewer accidents in the house (I’m learning), but her chewing is increasing. We have been boarding a lovely Cattle Dog and the two of them have been keeping each other entertained and more or less out of trouble (and sometimes into double trouble).
Dixie is 11 months old and larger than Beadle, but is a bit timid. Beadle would love to be all over her all the time, but Dixie lets her know when she has had enough. Dixie’s visit was great timing for Beadle.
It is essential for young dogs to have positive interactions with other dogs (and with humans) between the ages of 2-12 weeks. This is their main socialization period and what they learn here will stay with them throughout their life. Watching Beadle and Dixie play together I could see them switching from chaser to “chasee.” Sometimes one would be the aggressor and sometimes the other.
If either one got too aggressive the other would give a “correction.” Dixie would give a fierce growl with her lips pulled back, and perhaps charge Beadle. Beadle was less subtle and would charge first, flashing her teeth. Neither one ever offered to go further. I did separate them occasionally – if there was a toy involved or if they were in a corner or some place they couldn’t easily move apart.
It’s easy to tell play from correction if you know what to look for. In the first photo Dixie is smiling, her mouth and eyes are relaxed, her ears are forward but not rigid.
In the second photo Dixie’s lips are pulled back, her head is down and she is slightly crouched. You can also see that Beadle is getting the message. Her ears look concerned, and she is hunched away from Dixie.
We tend to think dogs are born knowing how to communicate with each other. In a way that is true, but they need to learn to be polite just like kids do. When Beadle gets overstimulated she looses control and gets too rough. My response is to put her in her crate for a time out. Dixie’s response is to tell her to back off. In either case before long everyone is playing happily together again.
Who doesn’t love a happy dog!
Thanks for reading,
March 14, 2018
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I’m sick of winter.
It’s the right time of year for that statement. It’s early March and I’m ready for signs of spring. Unfortunately, we’re expecting up to a foot of snow tomorrow. It’s the right time of year for that as well.
I want green, but it looks like I’ll have to wait. So, I thought I’d write about the Polar Vortex. If the weather is going to be nasty, might as well know something about it.
The first thing to know is that weather (remember the difference between weather and climate) is created by air movement. Air moves around due to changes in temperature and pressure. The sun is hotter at the equator than at the poles. That temperature gradient alone would tend to move air in a North – South direction, but because of the earth’s rotation the air is also pushed in an East – West direction. This, along with the temperature difference between land and ocean, changes in terrain and a myriad of other factors causes air to flow in all directions in vaguely typical patterns. The jet streams, for example are generalized air flow patterns, so are the polar vortices.
A Polar Vortex is an area of low pressure centered over each Pole. The vortices are always there, but they strengthen and weaken depending on the temperate differences between the cold, dry polar air and the warm, moist air coming from the Gulf jet stream. The Polar Vortices are stronger in the winter and weaker in the summer. Whatever the season, the vortex is banded with a rapidly moving jet stream. When the vortex is strong the jet stream remains tightly bound around the pole, but when the difference in the temperature between interacting air masses is great, the jet stream can dip South (North in the case of the Antarctic) bringing the cold polar air with it.
Since the strength of the vortex is temperature dependent it is inevitable that climate change will have an impact. This year we had several weeks of temperatures well below zero. It hit 30 below at one point. I think that’s the coldest I’ve ever experienced. While no specific weather event is “caused” by climate change I think it’s safe to say our winters are altering.
Now I’m going to go out and walk along the edge of the field where the snow has melted. Today I’ll pretend it’s spring.
I’ll get my snowshoes back out tomorrow.
Thanks for reading,
March 6, 2018
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