Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Deer Prudence

I found a baby deer in a stump hole. I was messing around in my yard this morning, cussing Tropical Depression Beryl for not raining enough to even wet the ground under the pinecones I was picking up, cussing the deer for eating the Baptisia alba I'm trying to grow next to a stump by the birdbathtub. Over the sound of my own muttering I heard a non-bird noise among the morning chirping, tweeting, and cooing. "Blehhhhh!" I can only recognize a few of those birds, the quail and the doves and the blue jays, but I know an unhappy baby deer when I hear one. I walked down my path behind the house and heard him one more time to my right. It was pretty thick woods that way so I went inside and put on my briar britches and boots and got my camera and phone.

I can't believe I found the stump hole with the deer in it. He didn't make another sound after I started actually looking for him. I just happened along from the right direction and spied the white insides of his ears.

That hole was deep. I wasn't sure what to do. I don't like to mess with animals. Who am I to disrupt the survival of the fittest? But I didn't think his mama really meant for him to be in there. It might be ok to just help him out. I needed a second opinion. So I took his picture with my iPhone and texted it to my mother. I was so close to my house I was still on WiFi. Then I got my mother on the phone. She looked at the picture and thought that deer was real cute and she wanted to come look at him. I said he wasn't going anywhere, come on over. I marked his location with my GPS Logger app and went back to the house to get a long sleeved shirt in case I had to lie down on the ground and reach down in that hole.

Mama showed up real fast. We went out there with our iPhone cameras and assessed the situation. "You need to get him out. His mama can't help him out of there," said my mama.

"OK. Here, shoot video with my phone," I said. "I got HD."

So I reached down in that hole that was as deep as my arms are long and lifted Prudence right out of there. He was very light. I've made loaves of bread that weighed more than that. I put him down on the ground but he got right up and scampered a few feet and settled down under the ferns and chinquapins.

Mama and I finished taking his picture and walked back to the house, trusting his mama would come feed him before too long. It was the time of day when deer lie in the shade, chew their cuds and wait for dusk. He didn't cry. He just happily waited. I went about my business of going to the farmer's market for a 29 lb box of peaches.

Around 5:00 my aunt came over to get some garden hoses. Mama'd shown her the pictures on her phone. My aunt was sorry she missed seeing the deer so I showed her the stump hole. She allowed as it was a lot deeper than it looked in pictures. There was no sign of the fawn though. He'd probably gone off with his mama like they do.

Stump holes like this occur when fire burns the roots of a tree right out from under the stump. This tree had been cut down 10 to 50 years ago. One or many of our prescribed fires got the roots burning and they just burned right out from under the heart of the stump. The resinous heart of longleaf won't rot, bugs won't eat it, and if it catches fire it puts itself out with it's own coals, but the sapwood of the roots can fully combust. (Indian dugout canoes made of longleaf pine logs took advantage of this. They filled a log with coals and let it burn until it went out. They scraped away the carbonized wood and burned it some more. Repeat.) Sometimes stump holes have tiny obscure openings above ground, making them the favorite overwintering spot for Eastern Diamondback Rattlenakes. It's not true that they spend the winter in gopher holes. Sometimes they go in there, but according to the man that radio tagged a whole bunch of them and found where they were in the winter they like stump holes the best.

I set my flash to ON and stuck my phone down in the deer-free hole and took a picture. I thought it was kind of a nice hole.

Dry, with a sandy bottom. Small, north-facing entrance. Like something from a feature in Fox Den Monthly. When I pulled up the phone picture on my oversized computer screen I noticed something that looks distinctly like a bone in there. Turkey leg? I think some carnivores have enjoyed that den. Poor deer probably didn't find it comforting to lie there on the remains of another prey animal.

I wonder if Deer Prudence's mama ate the wild indigo? It's supposed to be poisonous to livestock in large quantities. (FDA confirms, other plant websites, and whacko herbalist sites.) Maybe that's why she left her fawn for too long. She had "ocular effects" and couldn't find her way back. If she did I guess it wore off. Maybe she'll stop eating my ornamental native shrubbery now.

Monday, May 21, 2012

I want a robot elephant

Here's a nice video montage from the IEEE Robot Show. Notice they dropped the "baby" from the throwable robot moniker. My blog is still in second place in the Google search results for "throwable baby" after the IEEE Spectrum.

I spontaneously started to cry when Robonaut came on camera. I am way too sensitive.

I was thinking about robots this week when I was trying to move some stobs from the woods to my yard for decoration and utility. (Apparently "stob" is not a common word outside the South. In my case I mean the heart wood left over after the sapwood burns or rots off a longleaf stump or log. Stobs are what rosin comes from.  My mother, aunt and I share a common affliction where we think these things are artistic and we collect them from the woods and put them in our yards. Whenever men come here with backhoes and trucks and trailers they routinely run over them with no regard for their decorative or protective nature, so I suspect it's not a shared aesthetic.) The Forestry Commission's bulldozer drove right over my septic tank, breaking the stob I had there to stop people driving on my septic tank. I got a new, taller stob to put in front of the septic tank and moved the other one behind it. I also got a tall stob to put next to the gopher hole to try to keep anybody from driving over that. The weight distribution of the steel tracks worked out alright on my 1000 gallon reinforced concrete septic tank, but the gopher burrow would've been totally collapsed. I managed to get these out of the woods by myself with chains and a pickup truck and only lifting one side at a time. I liked the hole in the one stump but I broke it with the chain.

I want a mobile robot to do heavy lifting. They have humanoids, dog-style robots, and snakey robots to search earthquake rubble for survivors, but where is the elephant robot? I guess machinery makers think this need is met with the assortment of loaders they already make.

(Photos from 2005 Hurricane Wilma cleanup in Broward County, FL. That Manitou operator was incredible. I could watch him all day. He routinely got that thing up on two wheels -- side, front, he didn't care.)

But I want something more personal that I can use where I don't have a road, without trashing native ground cover. I'd like it to be able to lift and hold construction materials, like the end of a center beam when I'm building a roof. I want an elephant! It should operate on voice commands, like a real elephant, so I can use it by myself. It could use an iOS app. I know they are working on some automation like that at Georgia Tech (This app works with non-spoken cues, like sip and puff, only using a magnet in a tongue stud and a special roof-of-your-mouth retainer like the one I still wear every night to keep my teeth straight.) Next step is to take it out of the handicapped lab and let it help the able bodied. (I'm starting to think being an introvert is a legitimate handicap though. It sure makes you unemployable.)

The rumors are that Apple is working on a TV that will work on voice commands like Siri instead of with a hardware remote. Well that's a good start. Now make that work with my electric elephant! I might be too sensitive to even have a robot assistant though. I would feel so bad if it got rusty or if I broke it. Still, better than a real live thing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Puttin' Out Fires

I forgot to put this video on my blog. It's old news now. The stumps burned for 6 days but they are out now and the wiregrass is green already.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Not Qualified to Rate the Internet

I have reached a new low. Last August I applied for a job as an internet rater for Lionbridge. It sounded like a good gig for me. Stay home, look at the internet all day, form opinions, get paid! It's what I was doing already, only for money!

I got an email a few weeks ago saying they had openings. There was an Excel spreadsheet attached asking how many friends I had on different social networking sites. I returned that and got an email with non-disclosure agreements and explanation that the job is for 10 hours a week at $13.50/hr as a 1099 contractor. I'd have to pay self-employment tax on all of it. It was a terrible contract. I never would have signed it back in the '90s when I made almost 5 times that much as a 1099 contractor. Required to use Firefox. Gross. But whatever, times have changed, so I agreed to it and sent it back. Next step is a 5 day, two part test. They send you a 160 page set of Guidelines to study and use to take the test. Most people take 8 to 10 hours to take this test. I read the questions on the first part, read the guidelines, studied it closely. Took my iPad to bed with the PDF of the Guidelines on it and read the whole thing through. Next day went through the questions again and turned in my answers. I passed. I got to go to the next part.

I kind of consistently flunked the sample test every time I took it. But they showed the right answers and I tried to get my head around their logic. I watched some training videos with a man leading a webinar. I started to realize that all of this was designed by and for a very low common denominator. They use Wikipedia as the last word in all research. He said stuff that was just wrong, like, "Dali, the famous architect, has a museum in Florida that would be internationally vital." What? Dali wasn't an architect, not ever, not even. He was an artist. He didn't DESIGN the museum. It's just where some rich woman bought a lot of his work and hung it on the wall in the same place. I realized that I was up against the same old rocket scientist problem.

Rocket scientists are not just rocket scientists because they're GREAT at rocket science. It's because they can't do the stuff that's supposed to be so easy that just any dope can do it.

Even my step-sister in South Carolina sent me the Huffington Post article that is being relinked all over the place saying there are 5,057 janitors with PhDs. I'd like to know the SUBJECT of their PhD. They give PhDs in some pretty useless shit. Janitoring is pretty good work for an intellectual, though. I used to be the janitor when I shared a common lobby, bathrooms and kitchen space with a mechanical engineering firm. Since I was the only woman I decided it was easier to have it be my job to wipe their piss off the floor instead of just moaning about it every day. I got a break on my rent to clean the office once a week, plus whenever the filth bothered me. It was fine because I could use the cleaners that don't have chemicals I don't like. I'm good at cleaning. I notice dirt and want it gone. But I couldn't be a normal janitor that has to use terrible toxic cleaners.

What's a bad job for an intellectual is one where the people in charge are less competent than you and your job is to tell them they're wrong. I'm not thinking of just myself here, but one of my friends with a PhD in usability research who has been let go from some of the same companies I have. He even got an "insubordination" reason on one termination the day after he told the CEO of an internet startup, "You know what? Barbara was right." It's the Intellectual Dilemma, as illustrated below.
I kind of like the original article better than the HuffPo one. It has a table of how many people in different jobs have college degrees. I think I am better suited to be a carpenter (7% have degrees) than a customer service rep (22% have degrees). I've lost a job as a customer service rep. But I'm living in a house I carpentered. I think that says something. Kind of says the same thing I said two blogs ago, it's not HAVING a degree that matters as much as WHAT degree and from WHERE. And how well can you compromise your standards to keep your job?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Only YOU can prevent wildfires!

So you know these PSAs for the US Forest Service with Sam Elliot doing the tag line at the end? Whenever I find myself trying to put out a wildfire that line just plays over and over in my head. Only YOU... WHACK! WHACK! can prevent... WHACK WHACK wildfires!

It's quite motivational, even if it is ironic (the ads imply people start fires, not put them out.) It's like Sam Elliot is personally encouraging me to stop this fire from burning all the way to Florida.

But yesterday the fire was too much. "Only You" was not going to rake out a fire almost a mile around. The Georgia Forestry Commission had to come with machinery and plow a line around the fire to contain it.

We had some big thunderstorms on Sunday and about 1/4" of rain. Monday afternoon about 5:00 pm lightning struck a full grown longleaf pine tree, maybe 80 feet tall or better. It started a fire at the base of the tree and started the top of the tree burning in the middle. I believe this tree had red heart disease, a fungal condition that makes them have a soft center. Red cockaded woodpeckers depend on this for ease of nest cavity excavation. So we don't think of it as a problem. But it was yesterday.

Looks like a soft chewy center that burned well
The decapitated tree that started the fire.
The strike went into the ground here. Often this happens and no fire occurs.
Not sure if this one was from the fire up high dropping fiery cinders on the ground
or if this was a second source.
Here's the top of the tree after if fell. Some of it is lodged in nearby trees.
Here you can see the inside of the tree up high and the corresponding chunks on the ground that came out
The tree on fire was about half a mile from the ancestral home where I was putting the wheels back on the farm truck. I heard the strike, but didn't know it was on our place. I had a little visit with my mama  and my old college roommate called my cell phone. I only talk to her about once every 6 months so we just chatted away until my phone was at 20% battery level. Then I told her I had to go and I headed home. I saw smoke as I turned the corner onto the highway. It could be from somewhere else. Lots of people burn stuff around here. But when I got into my driveway I could see flames. I was shaking with adrenaline when I called my mother on my dying cell phone and asked her to call the Forest Service and then get in the truck and go see what was happening on her side of the fire.

I rushed into the house and took off the nylon field britches I was wearing and put on heavy cotton jeans. I put on a full brimmed hat, socks and hiking shoes, slapped on my safety glasses and went to get gloves and a rake. While I was getting ready I called more people to see if anybody could come help me. My aunt Jano said she'd come. I was still shaking, but by the time I got all geared up I was pretty calm. I started putting out fire at about 6:30. "Only YOU can prevent wildfires."

After I was red faced and breathless my aunt got here. First thing she said was, "We need to call the Forestry Service." I explained that Mama should have done that and my phone battery was dead, but she should call them to be sure they were coming. I hooked hoses together to cool a very hot line of fire that was heading towards my shed. While I was hosing the fire I heard a loud WHOOMP and saw my power transformer pole lurch violently. Crap. No power, no pump, no more water. Jano finished on the phone and headed off with her rake across the burned firelane to the other side of the fire to see if she could stop it crossing the next fire lane.

Looking up the power line right of way from my transformer up towards the road.
Snag down on the power lines. We like dead trees in the woods for the woodpeckers.
Often the power company cuts them when they are close to the lines.
It's been a few years since they cleared my right of way.
That tree is STILL on fire. I don't mean in this picture,
I mean as I'm writing this over 24 hours after I took this picture.
It's not on the power lines anymore though.
I put down the hose and ran in the house and turned off the computers and switched off the beeping uninterruptible power supply on my network equipment and shut down my main computer. I grabbed my phone charger out of the wall, snatched all the plugs out of the UPS running my computers and plugged in the phone charger and phone. Then I raced back outside to commence whacking fire with the rake. "Only YOU can prevent wildfires."

The way that works is to get on the already burned side of the fire and whack out the advancing line with the flat side of the rake. Glowing pine straw was warming up my pants and shoes. The briars were tugging at the rake. I was breathing too much hot smoke. Pine smoke has a distinct smell. It's kind of a good smell. I'm not going to say it's good for you, but I'm pretty sure it's got antibiotic properties. At any rate it's not nearly as bad for you as a house on fire with who knows what kind of nasty chemical byproducts. Also, I fully endorse New Balance Country Walkers all leather waterproof shoes for this kind of emergency.

I was putting out a little 20 foot line of fire by my driveway for a second time when the Forestry Commission truck got here. It is a big impressive truck.

I showed him where he could park to unload his machine, a bulldozer fitted with a V shaped blade and a disc plow behind. He asked me what I wanted him to do. He said they had instructions to never plow here. There was a very strongly worded letter on the wall of his office from my uncle to that effect. I told him that since my uncle died about 5 years ago he could disregard that. Nobody is left but us old ladies and our bulldozer doesn't run anymore. So he got on the machine and started turning native groundcover into bare dirt in a 8 foot wide path all the way around that fire.

Georgia Forestry Service bulldozer and disc plow
Was woods, now it's dirt.
I put the last of the fire out behind my shed. Then I was able to relax enough to go in the house and see if I had enough charge on the phone to call the power company and take some pictures. Indeed I did.

The Forestry Service man finished and loaded up about the time the power company man got here. It was getting pretty dark. He had to use a flashlight to see to cut the tree off the power lines with a chainsaw. When he cut it the wires sprang back up in the air. Seemed dangerous to me. All of it was highly mechanized. Men come with a lot of machinery. Since I was too filthy to go in my house I stood in the woods with my camera with night mode. I couldn't take a shower until they got my power on to make the pump and water heater work. The power company truck has a remote controlled spotlight on the front bumper that can shine all the way down the power line so the man up in the cherry picker can see if he's pulled the wire tight enough. That was so cool. I want one!

They spliced in some new sections of wire with some cool chinese finger puzzle sort of butt splices where all they have to do is jam the thing in there. No crimping! They had a motorized bollard on the back of the truck to pull a rope through a pulley on the pole that pulled the wire up from the ground to the man in the cherry picker. It was fun to watch them work from a safe distance. I had a head lamp on my head with a red LED for astronomy. I kept that on so they would know where I was and not run over me. After they got it hooked back up and disentangled themselves from their safety harnesses they were ready to go. I followed their trucks up to road to close the gate behind them. They went to the other side of the highway to pull a shotgun breaker to reenergize my wires.

As I walked back to the house I stopped to see if the plow had cut my phone line. Without my DSL I'm kind of lost. I didn't see any cables, but I did see a little snake. He had a head no bigger than his body, and he was proportioned all wrong. He ended far too abruptly. There should have been more than 6" to that little snake. He had dirt stuck to the termination of his body and seemed unconcerned about being tailless. He wiggled away in the light of my LED flashlight. I didn't have any more camera batteries to take his picture. I hoped he wasn't a snake at all. We have legless lizards that can lose a tail and grow a new one no problem. I needed to confirm with my field guide to be sure, but I hoped that's what he was. Today with my phone charged up and my field guide in hand I found the cut-off piece of him and decided he was indeed an Eastern Glass Lizard. He'll be fine.

All the plants and animals will probably be fine. There were lots of gopher holes out there for animals to duck into to escape the fire. Birds have time to build new nests and start a new clutch of eggs. That ground cover evolved in fire. Wiregrass and bracken fern will be green again in a week. I bet I can get new fiddleheads to eat! I saw deer tracks in the freshly plowed dirt this morning.
A lot of the trees and bushes weren't burned up, just the leaves had been turned this color.
It was like the woods had been digitally post processed to look like "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou."
15 acres burned in total. The fire started a quarter mile from my house and came straight towards it. If I had been home I would have smelled smoke sooner and caught it when it was much smaller. But at least I was close! What if I'd been out of town? Lightning has started two fires near my house in 5 years and I have been here to put it out both times. I consider that very fortunate. 

I used my Logger app on my iPhone to map the line the Forestry guy plowed.
Plugged it into Google Earth and made it a polygon to calculate the area.
(Copy and paste in a website for that.) I got 15.2 acres.
Mark from the Forestry Commission came back today to measure it for his report.
His Garmin GPSII told him 16 acres.
That fire burned an hour and a half before I found it. There was smoke all over the highway and nobody driving by called 911. I guess Georgia has trained people to expect smoke from prescribed fires. Too bad they don't realize that nobody in their right mind would intentionally set their woods on fire in peak bird nesting season in the middle of a drought. Mark from the Forestry Commission says motorists only call if they see flames. That would have happened soon enough.

Lady Longleaf Lesson: Charge your phone every night!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

How Important Is Your Background?

Scott Thompson, the CEO of Yahoo is in trouble for lying on his resumé. He said he has a degree in computer science but it's really accounting. The first few articles I looked at left out what I think is even more important -- what school? I looked it up and found he went to Stonehill College. "Stonehill is a selective Catholic college located near Boston on a beautiful 375-acre campus in Easton, Massachusetts."

Yeah, I'm not thinking that's actually an accredited engineering school. Bragging you're an engineer from a liberal arts school is kind of like bragging about your culinary skills from being a line cook at Waffle House. His college does let some of their students go to Notre Dame for the last few years and then they call themselves engineers. That's really not the same thing. You can't have an engineering culture in a school that outsources engineering.
"And that’s really the background that I have and it started back in my college days, and I think that’s really the wonderful part thing of being an engineer is you think that way." Thomson goes on to say, "And we love hiring very bright engineers because we're asking them to do what they do best."
This is as close as I got to Catholicism at Georgia Tech. That's the top of my head at the bottom. We had a steady stream of evangelists on campus telling us knowledge was evil. We just laughed and went to math class where we knew true suffering.
Just for the record I don't have an engineering degree either and I brag about thinking like an engineer all the time. But I was an engineering major for three years and then changed my major to something HARDER, at a real engineering school. I met some of the smartest people I will ever encounter in my life. I miss that most of all.

One of the co-founders of Waffle House actually went to Georgia Tech. So did Jimmy Carter before he got accepted into the Naval Academy. Dr. Clough, the head of the Smithsonian, went to Tech and he was a bona-fide civil engineer before he got into administration. I used a paper with him as a co-author in my Coastal Geology class. My major professor, Dr. Patronis, also taught Gil Amelio, CEO Emeritus of National Semiconductor and Apple. I knew these but I looked them up to double check.

I scanned down the list in Wikipedia and saw a name of somebody I knew personally when I was 18 years old. As a sensitive person that rattled me. I was a little sister in the fraternity of J. Paul Raines, the CEO of GameStop! I worked on the Ramblin' Reck with him! GameStop turned me down for a technical writer job last year in Austin! Those bastards! Don't they KNOW WHO I AM?!

Actually I can't even look at LinkedIn for that reason. So many of my old friends from Tech are executives at big important companies now. Hell, my old lab partner OWNS Baker Audio now, the first company I worked for as a contractor after I graduated. I used to get A's on lab reports and he got B's. (To be fair he taught me how to work an oscilloscope, I was just good at the write up.) The only reason I got that first job at all was because Joe was still in school. It took him two years longer to graduate than me. By the time he got out I'd moved on to another contracting gig and he took the next opportunity to come up at Baker Audio. And now he owns it. And I haven't worked in anything related to audio and acoustics, my major course of study, since 1990.

So what's the point? Career success may have less to do with your educational background and more to do with ambition and the ability to get along with others and not be a highly sensitive hermit who can't tolerate stupid people.

Did I mention I knew J. Paul because he was my fraternity brother? That's a great way to learn to get along with people and work as a team. That background was probably as important in making him a CEO as his industrial engineering classes. Unfortunately there are no skills to be gleaned by a girl hanging around a fraternity. I already knew how to get along with guys. I had a brother and two male cousins. It's girls I couldn't fathom. I really wish somebody, like my aunts who were all in sororities at that other school in Georgia, had told me what they were. They could have prepared me for rush and talked my dad into paying for me to join. I was just looking at it practically. The 5 tiny sororities didn't build Ramblin Recks, they didn't have band parties, the houses weren't big enough for you to live there. I just didn't see the point. The 30+ fraternities had big houses like dorms, and kitchens that served meals and they threw big fun parties and welded up elaborate contraptions for the Ramblin Reck parade at Homecoming. I wanted to do THAT!

I mostly wrote this up today because one of my readers told me yesterday that he gets angry when he reads complaints that people can't get good technical employees when I can't get a job. He's concerned about there not being enough women in the STEM fields. I'm just useless for that I'm afraid. I researched this whole thing berating myself for not doing a better job of planning and implementing a career the way all these other people did. I had the same opportunities they did, the same classes for chrissakes! And now they are WAY up at the top of the career ladder. This is how I think. It doesn't occur to me that all the people in that list of important Georgia Tech alumni are men and I'm not one. I just don't think about being a woman as anything special. It's possible that's my main problem. But I have so many other flaws I have a hard time blaming the one I can't do anything about. THAT is how an engineer thinks.

(After I finished this I had to go find a picture to break this up. In 2010 I shot a bunch of pictures of my college newspaper to put on Facebook to tease my friends that used to write movie reviews for me. This cartoon seemed to fit the topic. After I pasted it in I thought, "Wonder what ever happened to Ergun Akleman? He was SO TALENTED!" so I googled him. FOR FUCK'S SAKE, Ergun! He's a goddam professor at Texas A&M. Professional cartoonist, of course, because, look, and thanks to his PhD from Georgia Tech he's also a computer graphics researcher. I have to get in bed and weep now.)