Friday, September 26, 2008

The Armadillo Journal, Volume 1, Issue 2: Rejecting assumptions, continued

Ok, ok, ok. I'm really crummy at this. I should have tried to kill him when I had the chance. Oh, wait a minute. I'm crummy at that too. Well, here it is, several weeks later, and I've rocked up just about every possible access point along the ledge (amazing how many I found), from level three to level two and from level two to level one. I've crawled around under the deck to see if there are tunnels from level two to level one that open out into the yard somewhere that I can't easily see. I've inspected every inch of the greenhouse space under the deck, where the summer pots get stored until spring. No stopping the little devil. The only reason it has taken this long for me to come to my senses and reexamine all my assumptions is that most nights, he doesn't deign to visit my yard. Actually I'm quite grateful for this, but it does make the accumulation of evidence a rather slow process.

Yesterday, however, with all but certainty (3 standard deviations if this were amenable to a confidence interval), I concluded that he isn't actually coming up from the ledge. There's just no evidence to suggest that he is (no trails in any place that provides even a hint of reasonable access). So, what were all the assumptions?

  1. Armadillos don't climb rock walls
  2. Armadillos don't climb fences
  3. The perimeter fence is secure
  4. Where he went out of the yard indicates where he came into the yard
  5. It is in fact an armadillo that we're dealing with here

So, I'm sticking with one and two. I thoroughly examined five because if it were a raccoon, I wouldn't be pursuing any of this. They are impossible to keep out. But I actually have seen the armadillo in the yard at least 4 times. So at the moment, I think assumption five is ok. I decided this afternoon to reexamine assumptions three and four. So I really went after the perimeter fence to be sure that there are no burrows under it and no tunnels from one side to the other that might come up well inside the yard, maybe under a rock or a pot or something. And what do you think I found?

A hole. Another place where the underpinning of tighter wire (about 2"x 2") that goes from the bottom board of each fence panel, into the ground, had been pushed up and into the yard, and the ground had been dug out under the bent wire, just enough to squeeze something, maybe something the size of an armadillo, through. It was behind a nice big lemongrass clump, up by the corner of the yard, by the driveway, where lots of shrubs grow and it's moderately shady, under a crepe myrtle tree. I don't know though. It's not that big of a hole. I need to fix it, obviously, but I sort of worry that if an armadillo really can get through that hole, what's keeping them from just coming right through the fence? It's one of those wire fences made from the wire with 4" square openings. My 5 year old cat squeezes through the 4" square openings. Now, she's long and thin, and has to carefully maneuver to do it (head first, then right front paw, then left front paw, then body, then back legs). If she tries to go through with head and paw together, it doesn't work. I just don't think an armadillo has the flexibility or the agility (I hesitate to say, the brains) to do it.

So, I plug up this hole tonight and see what happens next.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Armadillo Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1, Fall 2008

The armadillo is a creature of habit and it’s blind and practically deaf. What does that leave? Smell. It has a very strong sense of smell. It follows edges of things (because it’s blind) and it follows scents it picks up, of things to eat, and of where it’s been and where it’s safe to go again.

That’s the theory.

The perimeter fence is secure. The rock plug in the hole discovered over the weekend is undisturbed. All gates closed. No other point of entry exists — except the cliff face. Armadillos do not climb cliffs. Again, that’s the theory.

Ah, but when the facts rip your theory to shreds sort of like an armadillo rips a nicely tended garden to shreds, or a wire fence to shreds, well, you need to reexamine your theory.

This morning I got a really lucky break in the quest to stop one part of the garden from destroying another part of the garden. When I went out this morning to see how my theory was holding up, I was greeted immediately with the evidence: it wasn’t. There, right by the front porch, was not only a torturous path of dug-up garden soil, but the armadillo himself, wantonly having at it. Muddy-clawed, silver-backed, snout sniffing the air, there he was. I resisted my first instinct, which was to kill him. “We could do that, but it would be wrong,” I said to myself, picturing Nixon all over again. Actually, I instantly recognized that I had about as much chance of success killing him as I had of scoring a free-throw in a Laker’s game. And for whatever reason, I guess my stars and planets are aligned or something, I instantly recognized that I had right here the absolute best source of information about where he was coming in, because it was 7:00 and way past his bedtime and he was going to be headed out any moment now, especially since only a few seconds after I spotted him, he smelled me and kitty. Kitty confronted him — sort of. She was curious at best, but not hostile. He got the message though. He scooted through the garden ground covers, but as I did not wish to frighten him, I wanted him to take a leisurely route out of the garden, not the emergency escape hatch, I didn’t follow closely or make loud noises. I just watched what he did. (By the way, in that moment, I realized I could do this research scientist thing I have been contemplating, so long as it is in the service of a practical goal.)

Well, he slipped easily over the first ledge taking one of the three routes down that I had identified over the weekend as probable routes up from level two. Check. He hung out on level two for a minute, going first in one direction along the edge of the cliff face, then in the other. Check. He made no attempt to go into any of the caverns under the ledge, suggesting that none of them is his daytime abode. Check. But then he surprised me. He headed for the edge. He seemed to be searching, not digging, but sniffing the ground, zigging a little, then he quickly slipped over the edge of level two to level three right below the bird bath bed, and was gone. The fence stops at the edge of level two because the cliff face to level three is fairly daunting, too daunting, we thought, for an armadillo or even a deer to scale. Well, I think we have to rethink that. There may be a place. I have to go check later, examine where he went down from the path below that level to see what the chances are that he could have come up that way. Dennis says no way. I’m thinking, at this point, way.

One of the first tenets of science is that when you have carefully examined and rejected all the likely explanations for a phenomenon, the unlikely, and even the seemingly impossible, have to be examined next. There’s a hole in the theory, and we have to figure out what the hole is and fix it.

Stay tuned.

Image credit: Photo taken by Mike6158, turned up in Google search "armadillo jump texas" on page 5, near the bottom. Although Google image search shows the original context of the photo, the site, called Photography on the Net, does not actually show the image. I think one has to be a member and be logged in, even to see a member profile (that's why I can't show anymore than Mike's username, above -- I can't learn anything about him without being a member), let alone an image. The Armadillo Journal needs a proper credit line for images, so I'm going to get Dennis to draw me an armadillo. This tacky photo credit is temporary, I promise! It'll be better next time.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

New semester, new approach to studying

Fall semester got underway about 10 days ago and I'm only taking one class this semester. This leaves plenty of time for other things, like mornings spent gardening, watching birds, watching butterflies, outsmarting armadillos (you'd think that would not be much of a challenge, but you'd be wrong). And yesterday I completed discussions with all three of my committee members about what I did over the summer and where I am now. All three seemed to agree that slowing down was a good idea (at least I think they all agree on that). The fact that I mainly got comfortable with not knowing what I want to write about, rather than finding a topic over the summer came as no surprise. I guess it takes how long it takes.

I also recognized something that was rather surprising: I think I have been looking for a topic in the wrong place. Not just copyright-wrong, but library-wrong. As much as I have tried to convince myself that the dissertation can be just a big paper, and not necessarily related to what I want to do for the next 10-15 years, I don't buy it. As such, I really do have to accept that for me a dissertation topic is a choice about what I want to do for the next 10-15 years, not just what I want to study for two years. What I was finding for most of my topics was that I didn't think I could handle them (sustain interest in them) for two years. If that's true, I sure can't handle them for 10-15.

So I came up with a different approach. I decided to put aside even imagining that I am in a PhD program, trying to come up with a topic, and instead imagine that I am taking some time off to figure out what I want to spend the next 10-15 years doing. In this time off I am taking a statistics class and still working 10 hours/week at the library, but compared to full time student, this is not a stretch to imagine that I'm taking time off to contemplate my future. Of course, I also have to put aside the fact that I thought I had already figured that out. That's what I am doing in iSchool, right? I'm getting a PhD in information studies. But I was defining that rather narrowly, it seems. I was taking as my subject matter, Libraries. Libraries and the future. Libraries and the digital environment. Libraries and preservation and access. Libraries and orphan works, public domain, fair use. Whatever. It was all focused on Libraries.

Two years in the iSchool may not have clarified for me what I want to do for the next phase of my life, but it has clarified for me what I don't want to do. I don't want to try to affect Libraries. They are what they are, and they are going to be what they are going to be. They'll be fine.

So, I start with, not a clean slate, but a slate with a question on the top: "You have, let's say, 15 years to accomplish one more thing in your life. Based on what you've done so far and knowing a lot more about your strengths and weaknesses than you did when you first chose a career as a teacher (1970) and then as a lawyer (1986), and trained carefully for each of them, and rode them where they took you, what do you want to do next?" That's the question I'm going to concentrate on answering this semester. Maybe I won't have an answer by December, but at some point I will know the answer. Then, I'll see whether there's a way to pursue that that makes a PhD in information studies make sense. I am inspired by Lance Hayden's path through all of this. His subject was one of great interest to him personally (surveillance) and he managed to find a way to look at it through an information policy/content analysis lens (discussion of red-light camera surveillance analyzed for use of metaphor).

That's several bridges to cross down the road, however. Add to those two, the bridge of the PhD being valuable enough to me personally and to my achievement in my next career to make the bureaucratic aspects worth enduring. Lots of pieces to fit together here over the next couple of months. But I'm not in a hurry anymore. Now that I fully appreciate the gravity of what I'm deciding, I am going to take my time. I took two years off, bought a 32' full-keeled ocean-going sailboat (a Westsail) and sailed around the gulf and the carribbean to decide about what my second career would be. Two years! Why should it take me less time to figure this one out?

Ah, there's a rare butterfly hanging out in my garden today, a White Angled-Sulphur. He's been around about a week. I snapped his picture, above, a couple of days ago. I have time for this. This is the life.