The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Saturday, February 15, 2014
Food / Drink ... Technology ...

I haven’t been doing any deep thinking of late, just trying to survive a nasty winter season. But here are a few random, petty thoughts and observations that I wanted to share:

Why we call Chickens “chicken”

I was reading a recent article in Scientific American about chicken intelligence. Scientists are interested in animal intelligence, and some recent studies by Carolynn L. Smith indicate that the common chicken, which most people are familiar with as the white stuff inside their crispy KFC delights or sandwich spread or Sunday roast, isn’t as ‘bird-brained’ as we once thought. Despite their reputation as really stupid creatures, these ungamely game birds are showing some real thinking and problem solving abilities in scientific tests and observations (I had never been a fan of chickens myself, beyond what they could put on my dinner plate; nevertheless, as a vegetarian for the past 25 years, I’ve given them a break despite my low impression of them).

One thing that the SciAm authors note is that male chickens can be very wily in their use of vocalizations. Chickens don’t exactly use a symbolic language like we do, but they do have a variety of different noises (beyond the usual cluck-cluck and rooster crow) that mean something to other chickens. They have a peculiar noise that most of us aren’t familiar with, which they use when they see danger approaching — e.g. a hungry hawk circling above them. Mostly these noises are made by males (roosters) to warn a hen and her brood to find cover or shelter ASAP (especially if the hen is part of the cock’s harem; he’s not quite as interested if his own progeny aren’t at stake). Of course we are talking about chickens in their natural element here, out in the forests or grasslands, and not in some poultry factory or barnyard. Perhaps their reputation for stupid behavior is because of the fact that we mostly see chickens in the prisons that we humans create for them, and not in their home environment. Put a human being in an imprisoned, unnatural and exploitative environment, and she or he will probably act pretty stupidly too.

So back to that warning noise: there is another interesting context where competitive male chickens use this noise to get a leg up on a rival rooster, so as to gain pecking-order rights in the chicken community. If a rooster is out in the bushes alone, he won’t make a peep when a hawk appears; he just runs toward whatever he can find for shelter. Ditto if he’s with another male or female who has a good shot at hiding. But, suppose we have a rooster already under a bush or in a patch of thick weeds, and suddenly he spies a predator in the sky. At the same time, another male is out in the open, pecking away at something, oblivious to the threat. Chicken researchers have observed instances where the hidden rooster waits for the right moment, and then emits a warning scream — and the effect of this scream will be more to help the hawk lunge his talons upon the fellow chicken, and not to help him get out of the way. Some feathers scatter, there’s a bit of a ruckus, the hawk has his Sunday dinner, and it’s “thanks, hawk, for moving me up on the pecking order”. If anyone suspects the hidden roster’s true motivations, he could say “well hey, I was just trying to help the poor schlub, right? Talk about “frenemies”!!

[OK, once again, chickens can’t really talk. But if they are so smart, they can give each other dirty looks. And in response, the crafty rooster could put on that look that says “what? I was trying to help him!”]

I find this somewhat craven. These roosters use dirty tricks instead of facing their rivals head-on. And thus, chickens are a cowardly creature that really deserve to be called . . . chicken! In sum, chickens may be smart, but they aren’t one of nature’s more noble creations. (But then again, maybe that’s because they’re a bit too much like us . . . )

Pudding-Like Oatmeal

My culinary discovery for the week: how to make really creamy oatmeal that goes down almost as nicely as a rich pudding dessert. Just put a 1/3 cup of whole oats into a blender or coffee bean grinder, then mix the resulting powder with a spoon or two of oat bran. Then add water and cook as normal, stirring to keep the pot surface from burning the stuff. The results have a smooth pudding-like mouth feel, even though the taste is still plain old oatmeal. If you want it to be more like pudding, mix in some milk and honey or maple syrup. Then you really do have oat pudding! And I’m sure it’s delicious.

Predicting the weather

This is one of those snowy winters where pessimism is rewarded. When the weather people start talking about snow, you can bet that it’s going to be worse than they predict, especially if the forecast is for more than a day away. That’s been our pattern all winter. If they at first say 1 to 3 then it will be 6; 3 to 6 will be at least 8; and over 6 and you get pretty quickly over 10 inches, maybe more than a foot. So, think negative — unless you are a kid who enjoys this stuff (as I once did), or a skier. Then I guess this cold and snowy trend is a matter of positive thinking.

Good news from the uber skeptic – back to Scientific American:

I’m not much of a fan of Michael Shermer, but I still gaze thru his monthly column in SciAm. This month, he actually posted some good news about humankind. A recent study and book by political scientists Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan conclude that non-violent mass movements or campaigns historically have a higher success rate than violent actions such as war, police state oppression, and terrorism. And the trend allegedly is getting better with time.

Interesting, however, that Mr. Shermer, skeptic that he is, didn’t ask why there still seem to be so many wars, oppressive governments and terrorism incidents in modern times. And why the non-violent Arab Spring movement seems to have collapsed back into armed conflict.

Back to culinary topics:

I had a shot of Chartreuse green liquor after dinner yesterday, a little treat to celebrate my getting thru a nasty, snowy week. They call this stuff “green fire” because of its 100 proof alcohol kick. But remember, Chartreuse was invented and is still made by the monks of the semi-hermitic Carthusian religious order in France. “Chartreuse” is a French twist on “charter house”, which is what the Carthusians call their monasteries, in honor of the Chartreuse mountains in France.

The great thing about Chartreuse (especially the hi-test green version) is that you can almost taste the mountain forests when you sip it. You sense mint, grass, pine, and all kinds of other wild herbs and spices mixed in. You can almost imagine yourself alone except for your fellow (silent) brothers or sisters out in that forest. If you sip it slowly and appreciatively, it’s a five-second taste of the monastic life — without actually having to get up at 3 am in the freezing cold and then work your butt off all day, breaking only to attend prayer offices and do nothing much else, except try to hold in your consternation about trying to get along with a bunch of other people who aren’t always on your wavelength, but who you are stuck with for the rest of your life. Or as long as you can take it, all for the sake of prayer and contemplation. And providing the world with a great liquor!

And finally – a computer tip for Windows 8.1 users who like old software:

So OK, I now have a desktop with Windows 8.1 (and might get a Windows tablet later on this year). As an old geezer, I’m going thru lots of consternation in getting used to it. BUT, 8.1 is pretty good about running old software . . . so don’t throw out all those old CD disks with your favorite applications from the past. The biggest problem I had was getting an old MS application called “Works 2000” to work on 8.1. My initial installation attempt went pretty badly; some components worked, other stuff didn’t, and various functions were MIA from the 8.1 apps page and the Works 2000 intro screen.

To be honest, the only components from Works that I really wanted were the map program (“Streets and Trips”) and encyclopedia (Encarta); the other stuff on Works (like the calendar, the money manager, and the cheezy “creative image” maker) really is outmoded. As to maps and reference information, sure, you can get up-to-date maps and encyclopedia articles on-line at the touch of a key or two; by comparison, my Works maps and encyclopedia articles are over 10 years old. Nonetheless, maps and encyclopedias still have lots of good info that doesn’t change all that quickly. E.g. if you need a short summary on Kant or John Stuart Mills, or to find a street a few towns away, 10 year old software can still do the job. And I still find these applications more user-friendly than most map or information web sites (e.g. the map application has a handy and flexible way to measure distances within the map).

So, if you pop a W2000 disk 1 in on an 8.1 machine and go thru the usual load procedure, it won’t come out too good. Encarta and Streets and Trips both failed. But if you install the Works components separately according to these instructions from MS, things turn out better. But there are a few added steps that you need with Windows 8.1. Go to Files Explorer, open up the file list for the software installation disk, and find the “.exe” file that installs the program (the MS article tells you its name and on which disk it is located). Before you click on this “.exe” file to start installing the Works program component on your computer, do a right click on it and a choice box opens up. One of the choices on the list is “Troubleshoot compatibility”. Win 8.1 can actually figure out that Works 2000 software would work better with XP, and will thus set up a virtual environment to run the installer based on XP — so long as you trigger this utility by clicking on the “Troubleshoot” option.

After you do that click, a box opens saying, in effect, “OK, we will run this executable program using XP”. It also prompts you to start the Works installation program before you do anything else, to see if the executable file that installs your old software really works under XP. So go back to the Works installation screen and click the “start installation” button. Things actually do start installing. But while the installation is happening, be sure to go back to the 8.1 box and confirm that the XP fix was the right thing to do (click the box saying YES, this was the right solution, versus the one saying No, it didn’t work). Otherwise the software installation may hang-up, even though it seemed to get started just fine. Once you satisfy the 8.1 system that things are honky-dory, Works 2000 seems happy to do its thing just as intended.

So now I can run the Encarta 2000 encyclopedia and use the Street and Trips maps. But it’s still as clunky as ever; because you have to first put either the Encarta CD disk or the map disk in the optical drive (which a lot of new computers don’t come with anymore!). That’s the only way to make these applications run. Same as it was back in the year 2000. Hey, this is old software designed for an earlier time in home computing history, after all. Still, I think it’s nice to be able to keep it around. The old stuff still has some tricks that the new stuff didn’t pick up.

Or so an old geezer like me, trying to hang by on using old tricks that the new generation isn’t quite up to speed with yet, would like to think!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:29 pm      

  1. Jim, I agree with you that chickens likely are dumb.

    [COMMENT: To recap what I said here, with all due respect: I agree with the researcher that chickens are relatively smart. But they aren’t very noble, have little in the way of loyalty or moral sense.]

    Yet, I find myself thinking that our idea of “dumb” may be very subjective. As I read your post, I found myself thinking that although animals don’t “talk” (but various sounds that animals may make could be considered a way of “talking”) they certainly communicate with each other; and that communication holds whether the animal is dumb or smart; the difference seems to be how much the animals is able to communicate. This thought led me to think about what seems an obvious point – that nonverbal communication is much older than verbal communication – in both non-human animals and humans. Maybe, when it comes to communication, we ought to consider first the non-verbal. When one thinks of it, non-verbal communication in humans is so very important.

    The little experience I have actually had when it comes to chickens, particularly roosters has to do with the ones we had as children. We had a “free range” coop of chickens in our backyard when I was young (although no one talked of “free range” then). We even had a rooster. The point of our having this coop of chickens was for eggs for the family. The rooster got to the point where it became so aggressive that each time one of us kids passed the coop, it would boldly come flying out, talons first, attacking us. I for one became very frightened of this bird. I guess he figured we were somehow going to harm his hens, or maybe his progeny. (And yes, indeed, we were going to eat the eggs the hens laid.) It did not take too long before my mother was making soup of that rooster. I remember how glad I was eating that soup, knowing that I would not anymore be attacked by the ferocious talons and beak of that rooster.

    As to the weather: It amazes me how quickly the talk of “earth warming” has disappeared; now we are hearing talk of a “mini-cooling” of the earth. Makes me wonder, “which is it, fellas?” There definitely is no doubt that this has been a terrible winter in a great many places in the world; we happen to have our own version of getting smacked by Mother Nature; other areas of the world have been smacked in other ways. In the end I think it’s a matter of balance: Nature, one way or the other, balances things out.

    Shifting gears with you: While I have always tho’t, and still steadfastly do, (and thus agree with the study) that the non-violent way is the seriously *real* way to achieve something, I find myself wondering just what has happened to so many places on this earth. The number of people being killed and wounded in wars, genocide, and various other violent actions seems astronomical. Yet, this last week I saw a program that had an episode based in Viet Nam; the country was lush with growth and beauty. While that may just be the places and areas the producers chose to show, it made me think of some 40 to 50 years ago when that war destroyed so many lives and places. I find myself wondering (or maybe hoping for a way to find some positive effect from the merciless violence) if the violent destruction of life and property is the forerunning of future growth and evolution. While my memory is foggy I think of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin with his idea that war somehow was the growing process of the evolution of the earth, the world, mankind, etc. I put this in my own words, not his; but I think that was his idea.

    Re Chartreuse: I too have often tho’t of the strangeness of monks (almost always monks, not nuns) making liquors of some sort. In a strange way, it seems to me, that these monks contribute to the alcohol addictions in the world. I wonder what they would say and/or think if they considered the making of liquors from such a standpoint.

    As to the “computer tip for Windows 8.l”: As I read it, I have no clue of most of what you are talking about there. I simply am “talkless” or “communication-less” when it comes to this topic. I am sure your hints will be most helpful to someone who knows how to “speak computer”; sadly (or maybe not sadly) I know nothing of this topic.

    Perhaps the violence in the world will lead to some positive evolution that we may be unable to see. One evolutionary trend may be the fact that humans are beginning to realize that animals have their very effective ways of communication, and it would behoove us to learn these ways of communication for our own benefit(s). MCS

    Comment by Mary — February 16, 2014 @ 2:31 pm

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