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Tag: environment

Technology run amok … Yuk!

roombapoop

Nature tends to run its own course, just as technology that attempts to control nature tends to run its.

The results, when unforeseen possibilities are thrown into the mix, aren’t always pretty.

The depiction above is by one Jesse Newton, showing what happened on a recent night when nature ran its course, via his dog Evie, and then his trusty Roomba, programmed to clean up all the hair Evie sheds, ran its.

That zig-zagging, curly-cued brown trail recreates the stained path the Roomba left in the Newton’s living room in Arkansas after rolling through a pile of Evie’s poop.

evieEvie is house-broken — programmed, if you will, to take care of those things when the Newton family lets her out each night before bed.

But on this night, somebody forgot to do that.

As everyone slept — Jesse, wife Kelly and son Evan — the robot vacuum did what it is programmed to do every night between midnight and 1:30 a.m.: Roll all across every inch of the living room floor sucking up any debris in its path.

The results were disastrous, Jesse noted in a now-viral Facebook post that warns other Roomba/dog owners of a possibility they might not have envisioned:

“… Poop over every conceivable surface within its reach, resulting in a home that closely resembles a Jackson Pollock poop painting. It will be on your floorboards. It will be on your furniture legs. It will be on your carpets. It will be on your rugs. It will be on your kids’ toy boxes. If it’s near the floor, it will have poop on it. Those awesome wheels, which have a checkered surface for better traction, left 25-foot poop trails all over the house.”

What had happened during the night came to his attention when his young son traipsed through the living room and crawled into bed with him the next morning.

newtonsJesse — and he deserves husband of the year honors for this — let his wife continue sleeping.

He gave his son a bath and put him back to bed, then he spent the next three hours cleaning, including shampooing the carpet.

Kelly Newton says she awoke to the smell of “every cleaning product we own” and knew “something epic had taken place.”

Later, Jesse disassembled the Roomba, cleaning its parts and reassembling it, only to find it didn’t work anymore.

Jesse said he called the store where he had purchased the $400 robot, Hammacher Schlemmer, and it promised to replace it.

I’ve railed before about rushing into new technologies that promise to give us control over nature, wrote a whole book on it, in fact. Those pushing such innovations and rushing them onto the market — most often for the profit they might lead to — often don’t take the time to envision all the little things, and big things, that could go wrong.

That haste can lead to far worse things than a stinky mess and a three-hour clean-up.

We can laugh at this one, as Jesse Newton has admirably managed to do.

But, beneath all the mess, there’s a moral to the story — one that, as we turn to robots for more than vacuuming our floors, we might want to slow down and figure out.

(Photos: Jesse Newton / Facebook)

Wolfdog: A treasure among the trash

He goes by the nickname “Wolfdog.” Lives in Alabama’s great outdoors. And he spends most of his time, along with his dog, Bandit, picking trash — copious amounts of trash — out of the waterways.

It’s not a job. He doesn’t get paid. He says he does it out of his love for the planet and its wildlife.

“I’m not asking anybody for anything. I’m not a charity case. I ain’t a bum. I’m not a mooch,” says 55-year-old Cliff Skees. “But I do care about the environment. I care about wildlife. I care about human beings, but human beings, they take one look at me and they say, ‘Well, he’s just a piece of trash, you know.’

“Maybe I am. But then again, maybe I ain’t. I can look myself in the mirror and say I’m trying.”

We’ll go so far — despite the hard times he’s gone through in life — to cast a vote for “ain’t.”

And to point out that, most likely, a lot of those people who see him as “trash” are the same ones who so casually discard it, cluttering the waterways around Mobile, Alabama.

Skees is an unpolished gem, first discovered four years ago by Ben Raines, an environmental reporter for the Mobile Press-Register.

At the time, Skees was living the woods and was commonly seen with Bandit, gathering garbage from the shores from a canoe with these words painted on the side, “Be a critter, please don’t litter.”

Raines wrote a story back then about the man and his mission. He followed along as Skees — and Bandit, too — scooped up trash from the water and returned it to their base, where 140 bags full of garbage, stacked and numbered, sat.

“It was a startling sight, and a testament to just how trashy we Alabamians are, for even with that much trash picked up, so much more remained along the river banks,” Raines wrote.

Recently, Raines ran into him again — and found out that, while Skees’ mission remained the same, his situation has improved somewhat. You can read that second story here.

After the first story appeared, someone donated a pontoon boat to Skees, and he turned it into his base of operations.

Raines happened upon Wolfdog and Bandit again last week at a boat ramp on Chickasabouge Creek.

“They both looked prosperous and had a certain spring in their collective step. I immediately had the feeling some good fortune had come their way,” Raines wrote.

“Mr. Ben!” Wolfdog shouted, “You’ve got to see my rig. Things are different these days.”

bandit

Wolfdog then showed off the houseboat he had fashioned from the pontoon boat — one complete with solar panels, an electric motor, and other features that he fashioned out of recycled materials and some “backwoods hillbilly ingenuity.”

“The woodwork is top notch. Glossy marine varnish shines from every surface. There’s a bed, a table, a propane stove and several small windows. The framing for the insulated walls is aluminum, to better resist rotting. Everywhere you look, the craftsmanship is meticulous,” Raines reported.

An anonymous donor gave Skees the old 1979 pontoon boat after the first article appeared, apparently to support his one-man cleanup mission.

While friends donated items to the houseboat project, Skees receives no support for his efforts to keep the waterways clean — except that which Bandit supplies. When they are out in the canoe, Bandit will leap off to collect cups and plastic bottles in his mouth.

Wolfdog says he hopes to set a Guinness World Record for picking up trash, and he still dreams of finding some support from the local environmental groups.

“I can’t get nobody to help me. That’s what breaks my heart the worst. I can’t even get a thank you,” Wolfdog said. “I think they look at me and they see trash…

“I won’t give up. Get discouraged sometimes. But my best work, the best of my work, don’t come nowhere close to what I leave behind … There’s just no comparison. No comparison. Not nowhere close.”

Skees says it was on his first canoe ride that he fell in love with the solace of canoeing.

That trip is also when, seeing trash in the water, cleaning it up began his calling.

“For certain for sure,” he said. “There aren’t enough words in my vocabulary to talk about it.”

If you are interested in helping Wolfdog and Bandit with their mission, contact Raines at braines@al.com.

(Photo courtesy of Wolfdog)

Fireworks: Do we really need the bang?

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There are only two possible explanations for this stand I am about to take:

One, I have come around to my dog’s way of thinking on the matter of fireworks, which is that they are to be feared, freaked out by, and avoided at all costs, even if it means hiding in the bathtub.

Two, I have become a certifiable old fart.

Oh wait, there’s a third possibility: Maybe it’s a combination of the two.

I am speaking here of the entire gamut of fireworks, from big sanctioned municipal events to small backyard displays to solo performances by those who feel the need to mindlessly fire a gun into the air while intoxicated.

With New Year’s behind us, and the Fourth of July ahead, I pose the question: Do we really need any of it? And, if so, is it possible to have the spectacle without the noise?

There’s a town in Italy, called Collecchio, that has reportedly introduced legislation requiring people to use “silent fireworks” out of respect to animals, for whom the noise causes some serious stress.

That’s an idea worth importing.

Other than a reference on a travel website, I couldn’t find a lot of information about the proposal on the Internet. Then again, on the Internet, good and quiet ideas tend to get buried by loud, stupid and flashy ones.

Nor could I find any truly “silent” fireworks. There are a few videos on YouTube that claim to feature “silent” or “quiet” fireworks, but the companies behind them seem to be promising more than they are delivering.

In the UK, this past November, Birmingham Botanical Gardens offered a silent fireworks show they promised would be “ideal for the little ones,” but it was followed by complaints from parents who said they were forced to leave because the loud noises frightened their children, according to a BBC report.

Why is it society has been able to come up with the technology to put silencers on guns, but not on fireworks?

Fireworks have been an American tradition for more than 200 years, and any voice calling for putting a muzzle on them — much like any voice calling for gun control — is likely to be blasted as unpatriotic.

For dogs, they are more than just annoying. They confuse and stress out many dogs, often leading them to run away, sometimes getting hit by cars in the process. They have negative effects on birds and other animals, too, not to mention air quality and all the injuries to humans the do-it-yourself variety cause.

But the spectacle, and the tenuous link to patriotism, somehow rate as more important than all that.

Even in an age of heightened fears over terrorists, we still feel the need to see and hear the rockets red glare and the bombs bursting in air. We need to see and hear what is, in effect, a re-creation of war.

Fireworks displays are like Donald Trump — big and loud and in your face, full of bangs, booms and bombast, a spewing spectacle that prides itself in being outrageous and pushing the limits.

I would not mind in the least if they both went away. But neither is likely to, even though there are quieter, saner alternatives.

Laser light shows are one, but they don’t seem to have wowed us like traditional fireworks displays.

When an air pollution control district in California offered three towns $10,000 to call off their fireworks shows and replace them with laser light shows in 2012, none of the towns accepted the offer.

“You can’t have a Fourth of July show with just light beams,” one fair official said. “It would have been two minutes and the kids would have been done and gone.”

Another California town, Morro Bay, tried a light show in 2009 — due to predictions of a foggy night — but says it won’t do it again.

“It was like a bad Pink Floyd concert,” one official said.

I’m not sure there is such a thing as silent fireworks or, for that matter, such a thing as a bad Pink Floyd concert. But both my dog and I — while not being so brash as to suggest celebrating peace instead of war — cast a vote for quieter celebrations.

Here’s a not entirely quiet example, from a company that provides “quiet” fireworks for weddings and other events:

(Photo: Freestockphotos.biz)

Oddball: How a dog saved the little penguins

Take a vulnerable colony of tiny penguins, throw in some villainous foxes intent on killing them all, and top it off with a heroic dog who comes to the rescue, and you’ve got a plot line that might make Walt Disney himself jump out of his grave (or freezer if you believe that tall tale).

This tale is based on a true one, though — how the little penguins of Middle Island, off the coast of Australia, saw their population drop from more than 800 to less than five before a local farmer suggested a dog on the island could keep the foxes away.

It may be a feelgood movie now — and how could it not be given it features penguins (everybody’s favorite animal) and dogs (everybody’s favorite animal) — but the story, when first widely publicized, was a nightmarish one.

Little-PenguinIn October of 2004, 180 penguins were found dead on the island, just off the coast of Victoria.

The penguins had already all but disappeared from Australia’s mainland by then. Once common along Australia’s southern coast, the flightless birds began diminishing in number after red foxes were imported for sport hunting in the 19th century.

Before long, the only surviving little penguins– once known as fairly penguins — were to be found on islands.

In the late 1990’s, tidal patterns and increasing sedimentation began to make small and uninhabited Middle Island accessible from the shore, and the foxes took advantage of the island’s easy prey — even when those seeking to preserve the penguins experimented with various solutions, including building shelters for the birds on the island.

The 2004 incident, labeled a “massacre” by the local press, led to some serious consideration of a solution that had been proposed by a local chicken farmer.

The farmer, who goes by the name Swampy Marsh, had offered to send one of his Maremma dogs to the island to protect the birds.

Named for the region northwest of Rome where they originated, the dogs were bred to live among livestock. While vigilant and territorial, they are generally amiable toward people they know and the animals they are trained to protect.

In 2006, the first Maremma, named Oddball, was sent to the island. Since then Middle Island’s penguin population has rebounded to 150, and not one has been lost to a fox, according to a New York Times article last month.

Oddball is retired now, and six other dogs have taken over patrolling the island, including the most recent two, Eudy and Tula.

The dogs operate in the penguin’s breeding season, usually from October to March, during which they spend five or six days a week on the island.

Even when the dogs are not there, their lingering scent of them is enough to keep the foxes away — even though the penguins have quite a scent of their own.

“Penguins don’t smell particularly nice,” Peter Abbott, manager of tourism services for the Warrnambool City Council, told the Times. “They look cute and cuddly, but they smell like dead fish.” The dogs are taught to defend the penguins as they commonly do with other kind of livestock.

abbotteudyandtula

Local groups managing the project recently raised more than $18,000 online to buy and train two new Maremma pups, and the new movie has given their efforts a boost.

The movie focuses on Oddball, portraying her as a mischievous sort who spent most of her time trying to stay one step ahead of the local dogcatcher. Then she is given a mission — protecting the penguins — redeeming herself and saving the colony.

The real Oddball is 14 now, and spends most of her time under Marsh’s house — not to avoid celebrity seekers, but because she likes it there.

“She comes out when she wants to,” Marsh said.

(Photos: Penguin photo from animalspot.net; Photo of Peter Abbott with Eudy and Tula on Middle Island by Rob Gunstone / Queensland Country Life)

Where can a poop bag go to biodegrade?

landfill

Using “biodegradable” dog poop bags may ease our guilt, but the way we commonly dispose of them isn’t really doing the environment any favors.

That’s because most of them will end up in a landfill — the one place they are least likely to biodegrade.

Recognizing that, the Federal Trade Commission has warned 20 manufacturers of “biodegradable” dog waste bags that their marketing claims of being environmentally-friendly may be deceptive.

Apparently, even if a bag would biodegrade in a compost heap, or on a sidewalk, that doesn’t happen in your typical landfill — they being, after all, places intended primarily to be home to the unbiodegradable.

“Most waste bags … end up in landfills where no plastic biodegrades in anywhere close to one year, if it biodegrades at all,” the FTC said in a press release .

The warning letters were sent after examining the companies’ environmental claims on their websites and in other media, the FTC said.

“Consumers looking to buy environmentally friendly products should not have to guess whether the claims made are accurate,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “It is therefore critical for the FTC to ensure that these claims are not misleading, to protect both consumers and honest competitors.”

The press release leaves two things unclear. For one, are there any dog doo bags that do, in due time, biodregrade in landfills? Or do the companies that didn’t receive the letter simply avoid calling themselves green, or otherwise qualify the claim enough to avoid scrutiny?

If some bags do work better than others, the FTC doesn’t tell us. It declines to identify the 20 companies that were sent warning letters.

Calling a product “biodegradable,” without qualification, generally means the product will completely break down into its natural components within one year after disposal. Calling the bags “compostable” is also deceptive, and potentially unsafe, the FTC says. Dog waste is generally not safe to compost at home, and while there are some facilities that compost dog waste, they are few and far between.

The FTC advised the companies to review their marketing materials and contact agency staff to tell them how they intend to revise or remove the claims, or explain why they won’t.

“To say your product is ‘degradable’ or ‘biodegradable,’ without qualification, you need competent and reliable scientific evidence that it will degrade in most landfills within the claimed time period or, if you don’t specify a time period, within one year,” the letter says.

“For your dog waste bags, you need competent and reliable scientific evidence that the entire product will completely break down and return to nature — in other words, decompose into elements found in nature — within a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal. To describe your product as biodegradable, you must have evidence that a substantial majority of consumers won’t dispose of them in a landfill or incineration facility since materials thrown away in that fashion don’t biodegrade.”

One-time landfill provides backdrop for photographer’s portraits of throwaway dogs

johnstone

Once a week, Meredith College art professor Shannon Johnstone takes a homeless dog for a walk to the top of what used to be a landfill.

The Raleigh area landfill has a new life now, as a park.

The dogs she photographs there are still waiting for one.

They all come from the Wake County Animal Center, where, after being abandoned or surrendered, they’ve been living anywhere from a couple of weeks to more than a year.

The park, located atop a 470-foot peak formed from 20 year’s worth of Raleigh’s trash, serves as a scenic backdrop, but also, for Johnstone,  as a metaphor.

Johnstone has photographed 66 “landfill dogs” so far — either on her climb up or atop the hill, according to a column in the Raleigh  News & Observer.

Shot at what’s now one of the highest points in Wake County, the pictures of throwaway dogs playing atop a hill made from other things people threw away are sometimes haunting, sometimes hopeful, sometimes a little of both.

Some of the dogs she photographed have found homes right away; others remained at the animal shelter. Five have died.

johsntone2Johnstone, 40, has degrees from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and she’s on a yearlong sabbatical from Meredith.

Johnstone has photographed shelter dogs before. While she declined to name the city, one project she was involved in photographed animals before, during and after euthanasia.

She said the idea for the current project came from Wake County’s former environmental director, who envisioned dozens of dogs at the park.

Instead Johnstone brings them there one at a time, and doesn’t remove their leashes (except later with Photoshop).

Landfill Dogs, according to its website, is a project with three overlapping components: fine art photographs, adoption promotions, and environmental advocacy.

The project  was made possible by a year-long sabbatical granted by Meredith College’s Environmental Sustainability Initiative, and with cooperation from the staff and volunteers at Wake County Animal Center.

(Top photo by Shannon Johnstone; bottom photo by Corey Lowenstein / News & Observer)

 

Human poop poses problem for Berlin dogs

biodegradable pet waste bagsThe health hazards that unscooped dog waste in public places can pose to humans has been well-established, well-documented and well-hollered-about.

So — yucky as it is — it’s only right to share some news that shows the reverse side of the equation can be true, too.

According to a report from the German newspaper Tagesspiegel, dogs in Berlin are being sickened by human feces left in some public parks frequented by drug users.

Veterinarians say they’ve seen an increase in such poisonings.

Dogs who ingest the waste show symptoms that include shaking, dehydration and difficulty walking. Tests on dogs have found heroin and other illegal drugs present in their systems.

Vets say most cases took place in parks the city’s Treptow and Kreuzberg areas, where drug users are known to gather, especially at night.

Berlin-based veterinarian Reinhold Sassnau told Tagesspiegel that the poisonings are rarely fatal. Most dogs recover if they quickly receive treatment, which includes inducing vomiting. Otherwise, prolonged treatment might be required.

Just something to keep in mind next time you (or your dog) step in a  pile of dog poop (or is it?) at the park.