Friday, November 29, 2013

The Silent (Unthinking, Well-Educated) Majority

“Both the allegiance and socialization processes cause the educated to believe that what America does is right. Public opinion polls show the nonthinking results. In late spring 1966, just before the United States began bombing Hanoi and Haiphong in North Vietnam, Americans split 50-50 as to whether we should bomb these targets. After the bombing began, 85 percent favored the bombing while only 15 percent opposed. The sudden shift was the result, not the cause, of the government’s decision to bomb. The same allegiance and socialization processes operated again when policy changed in the opposite direction. In 1968, war sentiment was waning; but 51 percent of Americans opposed a bombing halt, partly because the United States was still bombing North Vietnam. A month later, after President Johnson announced a bombing halt, 71 percent favored the halt. Thus, 23 percent of our citizens changed their minds within a month, mirroring the shift in government policy. This swaying of thought by policy affects attitudes on issues ranging from our space program to environmental policy and shows the so-called “silent majority” to be an unthinking majority as well. Educated people are overrepresented among these straws in the wind.” [Emphasis added. —CWJ]

Excerpt from: James W. Loewen. “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” 2nd. edition. Perseus, 2010-09-16. iBooks.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Screech Owl Cam’ Attic Views Added

I’ve added live views from the attic camera to the Eastern Screech Owl Nest Box Cam’ main page. (If you don’t see the “attic” views listed among the other views, you may need to reload the page a time or two to get a current version of the page.)

Since we’re currently waiting for the hatching of the first egg (literally any hour now, if last year’s first egg time-to-hatch period is representative) the attic view provides an additional chance of getting the first look at the hatching or hatchling, assuming Mme. Owl isn't sitting on the eggs during the entire hatching process (usually she would be, so there’s nothing to see, but the relatively high temperatures in the nest box on recent afternoons means that she doesn't have to incubate continuously, and that creates opportunities to see the eggs and, soon, the hatchlings).

I hope you find it interesting.

BTW, attic views from 12 hours ago are not currently available, because the camera software hasn’t yet accumulated 12 hours of images from the attic. Once it has done so, I’ll add that viewing option.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Return of The Screech Owl Nest Box Cam’

With my thanks to everyone who helped make it possible, I’d like to announce that Chris’ Eastern Screech Owl Nest Box Cam’ is back from the dead and has even returned to its old home.

To the best of my knowledge, the first egg has not yet hatched (I’m guessing it will tomorrow), so, while I couldn’t share two weeks of brooding, I will be able to share all four weeks of owlet raising.

Tell your friends.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Owl Cam' Situation Report

Friday morning, I spoke about the owl cam' situation with a very pleasant member of the staff of the President's Office at the The University of Texas at Austin. The person knew exactly who I was from the start of the conversation, so the owl cam' must, as they confirmed, be getting some attention in the President's Office. I asked about the status of the situation, but learned only that the matter was being discussed (or words to that effect).

I brought up the issue that, while I have no desire to cause them problems, or rush them, there's nothing I can do about the schedule on which the screech owls are operating, and I'm expecting the first egg to hatch this coming Wednesday, possibly sooner. Since that marks the beginning of the most interesting and educational phase of nesting, and the one I'm confident people look forward to the most, I asked that that time constraint be factored into their considerations. That issue was duly noted, and I offered to assist them in any way I could. It was suggested that I might hear from them that afternoon (I assumed that would be a request for further information, rather than a resolution), but that didn't happen. No gripe there; they made no promise, best laid plans and so on....

Perhaps Monday.

Regrettably, I think the folks involved in the discussion/decision have never had the opportunity to see the screech owl cam' site. Therefore, I wonder what opinions they've formed about it, and how those might be feeding into the discussion. The copies of the site in the Internet Archive would be indispensable if that were the problem, but I've seen those copies and they look terrible for reasons I have yet to nail down (missing style sheets and graphics seem to be part of the problem - but why weren't those archived along with everything else?). If they could see the site, rather than working, I suspect, in something of a vacuum, I can't help but wonder if they'd have an easier time reaching their decision. In this matter, however, I've entered the realm of speculation, since I know nothing about the nature of the decision making process that's underway.

BTW, readers who clearly have some experience with environments like mine, have asked whether the site was forced down due to central IT technical issues, excessive network use, inappropriate use of University resources, or use of University time to run the site. All good questions. The answers are, respectively: no, the site is hosted independent of our central IT resources; no, our networking team—of which I was a member for many years—watches for excessive host bandwidth utilization and may be depended upon to contact those people whose hosts approach the top of the charts, and I was not contacted; no, the screech owl cam' site conforms with all versions of our Acceptable Use Policy that I have seen (that's why, among other things, my links to books on Amazon are links uncontaminated by Amazon's profit sharing scheme, so I make no money whatsoever when someone buys one of them); and, finally, no, I don't use University time to run the site - all of the data is gathered and archived by my home computer (and other hardware there), so, in practice, I have to be at home to process it to produce the daily image galleries, write updates, perform routine maintenance, etc.

In fact, the site was forced down by a manager who promised me from day one that there would never be any problem with my continuing to host it on my office computer—something I'd already been doing for eleven years, so you may be certain I made a point of raising that issue—who watched the cam' last year, was aware that it was already running this year, and who is even taking an ongoing loan of a screech owl nest box from me. What's good for that goose is, evidently, all that matters to it in this world.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Screech Owl Cam’ Returns to Disappeared

The web server hosting the screech owl cam’ is non-responsive again, so we’re right back where we were yesterday.

Screech Owl Cam’ Host Returns, But Not The Cam’

The web server used by my eastern screech owl cam’ has returned without explanation. However, I remain locked-out of the machine, and therefore cannot make the cam’ operational. Make of that what you will. It may mean nothing except that someone remembered that the machine has other important roles, like sending training reminders to campus researchers (just one of my many valuable services). (I was wondering how long it would take them to remember that obvious fact. On the other hand, that may not have anything to do with whatever’s going on.)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Screech Owl Cam’ Once Disabled, Now Disappeared

An email received last night alerted me to a new development regarding my disabled eastern screech owl cam’: it has now been disappeared, as well. Where there was a web server still offering the content accumulated over the last 13 years (and the embarassment of days old “live” images from this year), now there is nothing at all. And still not a word of communication from whoever is responsible. A lot can be read into this development, but it's hard to know what would or wouldn't be correct.

If you’d like to see the cam’ return, I still think the best approach is a polite email request to the Office of the President of The University of Texas at Austin. I'm certain that the Office of the President had nothing to do with any of this (so direct no anger there), nor do I think anyone there would approve of it, and there’s no place in UT Austin more able to cut through whatever nonsense is going on.

Let’s just hope they’re able to do so before the eggs start hatching around the middle of this month. For a lot of people that’s the most exciting single part of the two month nesting process, and, of course, it marks the start of the best educational opportunity: watching each owlet develop over just four weeks from something that fit into a seven-tenths of an ounce egg, born blind and too weak to hold up it’s own head, into a well organized pile of feathers filled with energy and curiosity.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

What I Told BaggyWrinkle About the Owl Cam’

Reader/viewer BaggyWrinkle asked a good question about encouraging the restoration of the owl nest box cam’ in a comment about my previous post. I replied, but neither the comment nor the reply are displayed by default by Blogger (maybe that can be fixed, but I haven’t found the right setting). So, let me take this opportunity to hang a lantern on my reply to BaggyWrinkle.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Screech Owl Cam’ is Down

My ability to update my eastern screech owl nest box camera web site was disabled around 10:15 AM this morning, and my access to the relevant machine also disabled, for reasons that have not been communicated to me. While the machine’s web server is still operating, there is no way to update the pages there to communicate this situation to viewers. Posting here is the best I can manage.

To the cam’s many viewers in homes, offices and classrooms around the world, I apologize. Until now, the cam’ has been running for 13 years from the computer on my desk at The University of Texas at Austin as my very own educational outreach program. There is no precedent for this site shutdown or loss of access.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Egg no. 1 of 2013

The first egg of 2013 was laid sometime this morning, about five weeks ahead of last year’s schedule. Expect the Nest Box Cam’ page to be fully updated later today.

Also, I’ve seen Chris Cooley’s work on the new “Owl Nest Box” app for iPhone and (and, new for this year, iPad). It’s looking good, but work is still underway. Regrettably, quickly making last year’s app available on the App Store is out-of-the-question due to Apple administrative policy, although it will still work for those who already have a copy.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Owl Cam’ Goes Live for Pre-Nesting Activity

Owl Cam’ viewers can now witness the current pre-nesting behavior. With an owl consistently spending the day in the nest box, I’ve fired-up the nest box cam’, even though nesting may still be some weeks away, and have modestly improved the main page, primarily with the simple addition of the small, five minute, time-lapse movie from 12 hours earlier (it sits directly beneath the current five minute time-lapse movie). With an owl spending the day in the box, and various courtship activities taking place primarily in the hours after sunset, there will almost always be something to watch (with a bit of continued luck).

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How Owls Turn Their Heads Without Tearing Arteries

Thanks to Ruth F. for this article on an aspect of vertebrate physiology that I'd never even considered: How Owls Spin Their Heads Without Tearing Arteries.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Hum… Try, Try Again

The microphone in the nest box has been a source of maddening frustration ever since I installed it years ago. The problem has been a humming noise that comes and goes on a period ranging from hours to months, thereby making systematic debugging of the setup impossible. At its worst, the hum drowns out virtually all of the sounds the mic is supposed to be capturing in the nest box, and, more than once in the last few months, the hum has even included what I assume to be the banter of an AM radio station.

I've suspected every part of the system at one time or another (including the video portion, since degradation of the picture often accompanied the hum), tried more things to get rid of it than I care to remember or recount (including some very good suggestions from readers – thanks for those, by the way), and every time it goes away and I think I've finally solved the problem, it's back again in hours, days, weeks, or months.

Saturday afternoon/night I made yet another attempt to solve the problem. The AM radio station experiences, and subsequent reading about crystal radios, started me wondering about pretty much the only unshielded wiring in the side camera compartment that houses the microphone: the five or six foot length of cable permanently attached to the mic itself. Needing only about one foot of that cable to reach from the mic to the audio/video modem, the rest of the mic's cable is wound into a tight little bundle to keep it out of the way. Wondering if that was functioning as a radio antenna, I decided to try a cheap trick to shield it: wrapping it with aluminum foil and grounding the foil. For good measure—and because I'm guessing, rather than engineering, my way through this problem—I even grounded the springs that suspend the microphone.

So far, the hum is gone, which would be very satisfying if past experience didn't suggest that this "success" could be a mere coincidence, and that the infernal hum could come back at any time, possibly after spending months lulling me into a false sense of accomplishment. Anyway, slightly more than 24 hours into this experiment, so far, so good. Fingers crossed that the problem stays fixed. (Remember: guessing, not engineering, so superstition fits right in. And, yes, I am ashamed of that, but wish me luck, anyway.)

Owl Reaction

This attempt to banish the infernal hum seemed like a quick and simple operation that I could accomplish in maybe thirty minutes. So, when I finally found the energy to tackle it late Saturday afternoon, I thought I'd have the box reassembled and back in the tree before dark. My estimate was only off by about two or three hours.

That meant that the latter stages of the work (including some unrelated maintenance work that I noticed the need for while I had the box down) was supervised by a pair of screech owls that didn't think highly of my efforts. Nonetheless, they got on with the business of calling to each other and meeting on a limb of the nest box tree, in standard mating season protocol. Whether they've mated yet, I have no way of knowing. However, if the egg gestation period is a month, then they should be mating any time now. (Since it's been a relatively warm winter, they might even be ahead of their usual schedule.)

Readers suffering from some of the more extreme forms of boredom can watch the video above, which consists of several fragments of what my system automatically recorded while I was working on the box, muttering to myself, blinding the camera with my head lamp, making terrible noises with aluminum foil, and talking to my feathered critics. (The criticism starts after about twenty seconds.) My calls of "pretty bird(s)" are how I always call for my owls (seldom works) or respond to any owl calls directed at me. Once upon a time, I'd try to emulate their calls, but I gave that up when I learned from Fred Gehlbach that the reason such calls get results from the owls is because they think there's a rival in their territory, a prospect that forces them to show-up to defend their home turf, and causes them significant stress. Since then, I've used my own call of "pretty bird" as a way of identifying myself to the owls. Whether having me around is good, bad, or insignificant, they can decide for themselves, but at least they have a way of knowing what and who they're dealing with.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Keeping Squirrels out of Owl Nest Boxes

I've been lucky this year and had no problems with squirrels in my screech owl nest box. Significantly, I think I know why.

Upper-left: Screech owl nest box in gray.
Middle: Fox squirrel nest box in green.

Though I've seen fox squirrels taking an interest in my squirrel nest box at various times, for lack of built-in video cameras or other instrumentation, I remained unclear as to what, if anything, was going on in there. However, lately, I've seen a good sized female relaxing on the horizontal board that serves the double-purpose of being a stand-off from the tree limb that keeps the nest box hanging vertically from a non-vertical limb, and as a walkway from the tree trunk to the entry hole in the bottom of the box. Around these parts, it's the right time of year for a fox squirrel to have her winter pups (well fed, as I expect my bird feeder ensures, a fox squirrel can produce three litters a year). Taking the afternoon air on that horizontal board, Mme. Squirrel could easily listen to her pups’ activity in the nest, while keeping an eye on everything going on around her, and from a position of complete safety, so it’s a good arrangement for her.

It’s gratifying to see the squirrel box serving its intended purpose, but I’ve also come to a reasonable degree of confidence that it’s serving an additional role: keeping other squirrels out of the screech owl nest box. The way it does this is very simple: fox squirrel territoriality. While they may tolerate each other to varying degrees in foraging encounters, they do not seem willing to allow other fox squirrels to setup a nest in the tree that holds their own nest. (Perhaps in really enormous trees there’s room for “my side; your side”-style compromise, but around here, even when a tree contains multiple squirrel nests, they all seem to be property of the same squirrel or matriarchal family group.) So, having an established squirrel nest more-or-less next door to the screech owl nest box ensures that it has a squirrel preventing all other squirrels from moving in, and you could not ask for a better, or more devoted, defense than squirrel self-interest.

So, if you've been having a problem with squirrels in your screech owl nest box, perhaps building and installing a squirrel nest box (similar dimensions to a screech owl box, but with an entry hole in a rear corner of the floor, and, perhaps, multiple internal levels) nearby is worth trying. And please report your results back here.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Best Screech Owl Photo I Never Showed You

Readers with long memories may recall my mentioning that I'd setup an experiment during the last week of my 2012 screech owl nesting. The experiment was a home-brew motion sensitive trigger for my digital SLR camera, with trigger and SLR mounted such that they could catch the adults as they flew back and forth from the nest box. (You can see the sensor in the photos; it's the white plastic thing with the exposed pale wood behind it, mounted under the owlet rail. The clamp on the bottom edge of the nest box is providing mechanical isolation for the cable running to/from the motion sensor. Yeah, it was a kludge, but you have to get real-world experience before you can know how to finalize a design.) The experiment worked, albeit with a host of first-time-in-the-field problems that meant the experiment lasted only part of one night. Nonetheless, it was worth nearly being killed by a folding ladder with a very poor sense of timing about when it should fold, the frustration of having to cancel the experiment after a matter of hours, etc., because it produced the photo below.

Delivering a june bug to the nest box.
May 23, 2012, 10:47 PM CDT.

This photo shows the delivery of a june bug, probably Rhizotrogus majalis. And I believe it answers my question about the more-or-less round, white food items that I've seen, via the internal infrared camera, delivered year after year, but which I’ve never been able to identify. The beetles roll-up, to the extent that they can, into a defensive shape, and their shells reflect near-infrared light well, so they appear white in such illumination. Combine that with the low-resolution of standard-definition closed circuit video cameras, and there’s not much to go on in terms of making a species identification. However, combine this high-res, color external shot with the internal shots that followed, and the mystery is solved, at long last.

The motion-trigger experiment produced some other photos of interest, too. I’d intended to post all of them sequentially with commentary, but since I keep failing to do that, I’ve started with my favorite, and will take it from there.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Mme. Owl Spends the Day in the Next Box

Mme. Owl, in a move that I hope has nothing to do with impending eggs (it’d be about 10 weeks too early for eggs around here), spent the entire day of January 2nd, 2013, in the nest box, starting at 6:28 AM CST and ending at 6:01 PM CST. The movie below shows all of the portions that triggered automatic recording. (In future, I will allow movement in more of the nest box to trigger recording.)

January 2nd, 2013, 6:28 AM to 6:01 PM CST
706 MB MPEG-4 movie, of 47:47 duration.

If impending eggs aren’t the source of this daytime stay, it may be that one of the several construction sites up the block disturbed or destroyed her normal daytime roost, forcing her to seek alternate, but safe and familiar, accommodations.

The perch in the nest box continues to be a well-liked feature, as you can see, though I wonder if an adult screech owl would prefer that it was another half inch, or thereabouts, further from the far wall, to allow ample room for tail feathers, etc. With the floor of the box only measuring 8" x 10" (which is larger than the 8" x 8" usually recommended), I wanted to try the perch experiment, but keep it out of the way of normal owl business as much as I guessed was possible. However, the years have proved it is popular enough with adults and owlets alike that allotting it more space might be appropriate. And it's not merely a perch for the adults, or a climbing target for the owlets; both adults and owlets will hide beneath it when they feel threatened. It might provide very little protection, but it seems clear that any protection is immediately recognized as better than none.