Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Robot Cat Wakes Up

I was once asked how to respond when someone sends you a novel manuscript that is... not good.  That is, in fact, double plus ungood. 

My suggestion was: "Have you considered self-publishing; I hear it is a wave of the future."

Yes, I do in fact have a point. 

What should you say when some-one fundamentally unsuited to owning a cat asks you what kind of cat they should get? "I think you should get a robot cat; I hear they are the wave of the future."

The as-yet-unnamed robot cat is shown in his post guarding the candy bowl.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


There is, apparently, a sl... sexy Halloween costume version of just about everything.

 Including, I kid you not, "sexy vet nurse". 

Yeah, this makes Pet Vet Barbie look positively puritan.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Will bake for appliances

Hopefully tonight I will get a friend's cast off TV. In return they will get chocolate cat, cinnamon fox, and custard snail biscuits.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cat 'n' Bat Cookies

Getting ready for Halloween with chocolate cookies.

I am a better psychologist than I am a baker, honest.

Actually the bear-shaped sugar cookies I made yesterday were better than this... but I didn't have my new camera then.

OK Go, with dogs....

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Do You Know These Cats?

If so, I may have found your photo CD on the side of the road in the Chicago suburbs.  Drop me an email and I can either post you the CD or email the files. 

BTW, cute cats :)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Where have all the cowboys gone?

First, there was the story that nobody could figure out how to contain a heavily pregnant heifer at a fair in California without using lethal force (It's called a rope, people).  Then the news that a bunch of people at the Royal Adelaide Show (Australia) standing in a hot tent with lots of cows could not work out why their eyes were all itchy.  (It's called cow pee.  Cow pee + heat = ammonia).
To quote the singer Paula Cole: where have all the cowboys (and girls) gone?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Why do dogs wear collars, but cats don't?

One reasons that is often given for collarless cats is that cats just won't wear collars.  Is this really true?  A recent study suggests three out of four cats will wear a collar, and most cats exceeded their owners estimates when it came to collar acceptance. 

Despite my prediction that pet collars may eventually become obsolete with the improvement of microchip technology, they are currently the best method for ensuring that you get your lost pet back.  They also signal to anyone who comes across you cats that it is not feral or 'up for grabs' for them to adopt. 

I think that, if we are honest, the use of collars for dogs only is just a tradition--and reflects the archaic notion of the cats as a lower value animal kept more for pest control than as a companion.  And it is about time that animals were valued and cared for in a way that reflects their current role, not some notion from the agrarian past. 

Even indoor cats can get out, and may be in more distress when they do.  So it might be time to consider a collar and tag to help your cat find his or her way home. Just make sure it fits loosely enough to slide two finger underneath it, and has a break-away feature in case it gets caught on something.

And ignore that initial offended look, most cats will quickly get used to their new fashion accessory....

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Animal Welfare and the Case of Red Riding Hood

Recently a video emerged of a young girl killing small puppies by throwing them in a river.  The response was intense and predictable.  Because animal abuse is is evil, it stands to reason that the people who do it are monsters. The comments on news articles include judgments like "put her behind bars" and "inherent sadism, cruelty and disregard for life will remain unchanged".  Celebrity condemnations of the girl came from the likes of Twilight star actor Kellan Lutz.

In order to rescue the girl from the severe hostility a story that the puppies were recovered from the river and lived was apparently faked by family and neighbors. Because you don't totally give up on a teen girl even when she does something this bad--you try to help her learn it was wrong, and learn how she should behave towards vulnerable animals. Our approach to animal cruelty as a moral stain leaves us with little choice but to condemn the guilty, often as congenitally abnormal and deserving of cruelty themselves.  By separating out a certain group (abusers) and saying they deserve all they get, they should receive no sympathy--we are delivering exactly the wrong lesson to people who have the same attitude to animals.

If forced to choose between puppies and children, most communities will choose their children and defend that choice. But this is a false dilemma. The child that hurts animals is also a victim in need of help. They should be offered compassionate correction, hope, and the option of changing their ways and being again fully embraced by their local and digital community.  For those who condemn her acts and then attack her are displaying a rank hypocrisy that should not be accepted. "Sick Bitch" a commenter says, oblivious of the innate nonsense of denigrating the girl by comparing her to a being of low value... a dog.

We need to teach the animal abusing child what it feels like to look at cruel acts and be horrified, not what is feels like to be abused (a feeling that many of them will already be far too familiar with).  We need to be part of a cycle of compassion, not participate in a cycle of abuse.

Animal abuse is harmful to animals, and to abusers, and to the community.  It is a public health issue like drunk driving or smoking, not a subjective "moral" health issue like promiscuity or swearing. Only by managing to condemn the act without utterly demonising the perpetrator will we encourage people to see the early signs of trouble in themselves, their children and others around them--and to intervene to help and correct these aberrations.  Only then are we likely to make more headway in developing compassionate, non-violent, and inclusive communities in which both animals and people and nurtured and protected.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Good Sherpherd is not a Robot

Traditionally the person who cares for stock is the epitome of the careful and caring working.  The good shepherd watches his flock at night, the cowboy carries the weak calf on his own back.  But a recent blog post, Workers, robots and progress in the food industry, seems to me to be making a rather different argument:

1) Farm and slaughterhouse work is undesirable because it is long hours or hard manual labor.
2) Therefore we use immigrant labor, often including illegal immigrants who may be underpaid and unfairly exploited.
3) It might be better if we use robots.

I can follow this argument from the point of view of a current farmer responding to immediate pressures.  But as a person who is able to step back a bit from the melee of making a living in the current economic climate, I disagree with it at every step.  This is not just because I can "afford to be unpragmatic".  But because our society should, and must, do better than this.

1) Farm and slaughterhouse work is important and we need to find a way to reflect this in the working conditions and pay.   
2) Whether the worker is a citizen, an immigrant or even an illegal immigrant they must be treated the same. 
3) Robots are ultimately tools not replacements for people.  The robot should allow that human care to be freed up from repetitive tasks but skilled human supervision should be available at all times.

Raising animals, moving animals and killing animals is a task that must be carried out mindfully by caring, skilled humans--including the direct involvement of the owner (or their proxy, the manager) of the animals or the facility.  If a workplace has become so intolerable that the owners will not willingly spend a lot of time there, and no human could be reasonably expected to do the job, the answer is not to replace them with a robot. 

A farm or slaughterhouse not fit for workers is not fit for animals either.  It should not be patched with technology, but fixed with the intelligent application of ethics, psychology, business expertise and technology. In some cases this is not, I can clearly see, an easy task.  But any step that excuses the lack of skilled stockmen in the raising, transport and killing of animals is only going to delay and impede progress to the real solution.

A good shepherd may choose to use an augur to distribute feed, a web cam to watch by night or robotics to milk a cow or collect an egg.   The one who watches, who cares, who moves and  who kills an animal must be a stockperson who cares about that animals--but to appropriately care for any animal you must also care about that animal.  That is why the good shepherd is not a robot.

I do not think we have arrived at a place where it would be easier to teach a robot to care, than teach a person to.  I do not think we have arrived at a place where we cannot hire and train caring people, where we cannot oversee and guide their work so that it retains that quality.  And if we have, then it lends legitimacy to the demands of those who question whether we should farm animals at all. I can, will and do defend the good shepherds, the good farmers, the humane slaughterhouse.  But if an industry in solidarity demands that the consumer choose between the bad shepherd (or the shepherd who is not clearly good) or no shepherd at all, they may be surprised by the outcome.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Open Source WTF

I recently received an spammy email about a new open source veterinary journal called Veterinary Science Development.  I am, in general, supportive of open source.  Ever since I stopped working for large universities the sheer inaccessibility of most recent research reports has become very clear to me. However in the course of reading the email my skepticism kicked in, big time.

"...Publication in our journals means that your research articles will be available for free access online being immediately citable...."


"...All research articles published by PAGEPress are subject to a rigorous peer review...."


"Open access publishing does have its costs. Since PAGEPress does not have subscription charges for its research content it can defray publishing costs from the Article Processing Charges (APC)."

Wait.  What?

"This is because PAGEPress believes that the interests of the scientific community can best be served by an immediate, worldwide, unlimited, open access to the full text of research articles."

That's fine for the 'scientific community'.  But what about us poor schlobs who are trying to pay the bills, get tenure, or live on the meagre salaries of full time scientists?  Why are we paying for this?

"The Article Processing Charge for publication of each article in our journal is EUR 500,00 for Original Articles, Rapid Communications and Review Articles. Editorials, Case Histories and Letters are entitled for a 50% discount."

Yeah, you just lost me.  If I have a paper that will hold up to 'rigorous peer review' why in holy heck would I pay someone to publish it?

"Veterinary Science Development (eISSN 2038-9701) is a new Open Access, online-only, peer-reviewed journal published by PAGEPress, Pavia, Italy."

Okay, so I go to the website and see their idea of a good rigorous source for a definition of Veterinary Medicine is Wikipedia.  Uh-huh.  I searched the editorial team for someone with a postgraduate degree or DVM, and didn't find one.  I didn't find any kind of typical editorial board at all--that is a board made up of scientists in the field the journal addresses.

So essentially this seems to me to be a veterinary journal with no veterinarians on the editorial board and no impact factor or established readership asking people for US$1000 just to submit, and a further $600 to be published.  It's like vanity publishing, but they can refuse to publish the work and still keep most of the money!

Pull the other one, mate.  It's got bells on.