An Update on the Kits

The kits continue to grow. They’re starting to become more cautious. However, most important of all, they can get in and out of the nest box whenever they like. Instead of seeing out of the nest box (unless I sneak up on them), I normally see them peering out at me from the next box.

 

Four of the kits look out from the nest box.
The kits peer out from the nest box at me most of the time now.

This is a natural behavior. The kits will run for safety most of the time until they get a bit older. Of course, there always has to be an exception to the rule. One of the kits just ignores me and continues to do whatever he feels like doing at the moment.

 

One kit stays outside the nest box with its mother.
One kit always seems to have a mind of its own.

The kits are now starting to eat solid food. I see Moonbeam go into the nest box at times, so I think she still feeds them a little, but the kits are starting to consume more food on their own. This means that I need to keep a watch on both food and water in the cage to ensure that the doe and her kits have enough to eat. The doe won’t hog the food, but she doesn’t encourage the kits to eat either. Everyone seems to fend for themselves when it comes to rabbits.

Play is becoming a lot more important for the kits as well. There is a shelf in the cage and the kits will often jump on top of it. They seem to like looking down on the others in the cage. Only one kit can fit on the self at a time, so I was a bit surprised to find three of them up there the other day piled on top of each other. The bottom kit must have felt quite a burden. All these views of playtime come surreptitiously—I must peer at them from a distance and without them seeing me. Otherwise, into the nest box they go (well, except for the brave kit who really doesn’t care about hiding from anyone).

Overheating is a real issue at times. The kits could remain cool by staying outside of the nest box. However, during the heat of the day I often find them piled on top of each other in the next box. Because the kits are almost weaned and able to eat solid food, I now move them around and get them out of the nest box on warmer days. On some days I put an insert into the nest box so they can’t get inside and instead stay outside where it’s cooler. In times past, I’ve actually lost kits to heat simply because they insist on piling on top of each other.

In a few more weeks I’ll sex the kits and move the boys to one cage and the girls to another so they have a place to continue growing without the potential for inbreeding. Males can start breeding in as little as 14 weeks—females become fertile in about 16 to 18 weeks. It’s essential that you separate the rabbits before this time or you can end up with some unfortunate results (mothers made pregnant by their sons). Inbreeding can produce all sorts of terrible behaviors. In the meantime, the kits can look forward to spending a bit more time with mom. Let me know your thoughts about the growing stages of kits at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Review of Jamie Collins’ Mystical Adventures: Ninelands

There aren’t as many gentle books today as young readers really need. Most of the books out there today seem determined to teach the young reader about all of the ills of life. In doing so, they often rob the child of his or her childhood. Jamie Collins’ Mystical Adventures: Ninelands (Volume 1) is a gentle story, meant to nourish the young reader’s creativity and provide good entertainment. It’s a delightful story that ties together many childhood characters: Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, and Tooth Fairy. The idea is that all of these characters are elves and somehow associated with Ninelands. Santa actually appears twice in the book and the latter mention adds to the Santa Claus saga. It’s the kind of story that builds a little on what the reader already knows and then adds to it.

The book is theoretically targeted toward the middle school reader and probably hits the mark from a reading grade level. However, this really isn’t the sort of story a middle school reader would enjoy reading—it isn’t a Harry Potter type story (except that both stories involve the use of magic). For example, the protagonists never really go on any sort of adventure or do anything of note except to explore (with help the help of their mentor) this new place. Yes, there is an attack, but the Alvar patrol (the equivalent of the Ninelands military) thwarts the attack, so the characters really aren’t in any danger. Ninelands will appeal more to a younger, early grade school, reader. The manner in which the book is written, the topics discussed, and the overall tone will make a younger reader feel an almost parental comfort during the reading of the story. It’s a story that offers security—throughout the story the author describes the various security measures in place to keep the characters safe.

This is a fanciful book and exceptionally creative. Characters travel around on spoons and within beams of light. They have snake guardians and magic crystals for communication and other needs. Even though the descriptive text lags terribly for the first quarter of the book, the remainder of the book more than makes up for any deficit. A reader is immersed in a world of wonder—of plants that play games and cats that talk. The one glaring omission is a good description of the main character, Jamie. The book never tells the reader what Jamie looks like to any real degree, so it’s hard to draw a mental image of him.

There are also mentions of things that don’t really get used in the book. The problem is that they’re more distracting than helpful in moving the story along. For example, Jamie plays with a dough boy, but the dough boy is never explained and the reader is left wondering precisely how the dough boy comes into play. The dough boy simply is there, probably a product of magic, but the book never says that this is the case, even at the end when the dough boy makes another appearance. Introducing an object, such as the dough boy, should help move the story along in some way.

The children do make a couple of decisions on their own, such as exploring the attic. Still, everything is immersed in an authoritarian environment. Children are constantly reminded of the rules and they always agree to follow them. Little goes on of an adventurous sort and the well behaved children never really do anything on their own. It’s a world that a younger child would enjoy, but an older child would find constraining to an extreme. Even the clown-like mentor, Minkel, takes on an authoritarian air for much of the book (despite spending a considerable amount of time dancing, which also makes him hard to take seriously).

Believability is stretched a little when Mike and Abby, Jamie’s friends, are told they’ll perform a subordinate role to their friend and they simply accept it without so much as a groan. In fact, they seem quite delighted to help their friend. Younger children love to exist in this sort of world, where there is no selfishness and everyone agrees with everyone else. It’s a supportive kind of view that doesn’t exist in the real world. A book for a middle school reader would be more realistic—Mike and Abby would complain, at least a little, and Jamie would complain a bit more about having to allow his little sister, Megan, help.

Some elements of the book do become annoying. The children spend so much time giving high fives and thumbs up in some areas of the book that it’s hard to believe they get anything accomplished. There is nary a frown mentioned in the book, but people are constantly grinning, smiling, and laughing. It is an exceptionally supportive kind of a book, but in some regards, the author goes too far and it’s easy for the reader to become distracted. In some respects, the book needs to feel a little more natural—a little more like the real world—in order to be believable.

There are some areas of the book where there is also a lot of repetition. The plot slows down to a crawl and sometimes stops altogether. The children stop to gawk at some new attraction and Minkel tells them about it, even if the children haven’t asked anything yet. Then come the rules, more rules, and still more rules beyond that. The children always agree to follow the rules, even if they’ve heard the same rules for the tenth time. Again, it’s the sort of environment that a younger child would enjoy, but I can hear a middle school reader screaming in frustration at some points in the book.

Is Ninelands a good book? Actually, it’s a really good book if you’re in the lower grades of grade school and have someone to read it to you. The fanciful world is quite appealing and I can see younger children getting quite caught up in it. After the first quarter of the book, the level of description really is quite good and I can see it helping the younger reader create mental images of what this wonderful world must be like. I really like the fact that this book doesn’t repeat the same tired vistas found in many other books—there are surprises and new things to explore. It’s the sort of book that a younger child will want read more than once because you really can’t get everything out of the text with just one reading. If you have a younger reader, you really do want to explore Ninelands because it’s fascinating place to visit.

 

Applauding the Death of ActiveX – Maybe

I still remember when Microsoft first introduced ActiveX in 1996. The technology was supposed to greatly simplify web applications. I even wrote ActiveX from the Ground Up to provide simplified technical information on using ActiveX (the book helped a lot of people, but some developers were looking for something a bit more technical). The idea was to extend Microsoft’s Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) technology to the Internet to make it possible to reuse code and to allow applications to share data.

The problems with ActiveX are many. The simplest of these problems is that ActiveX only works with Internet Explorer and only on Windows and Macintosh systems. The limitation means that ActiveX really doesn’t have a place with modern application development where everything has to run everywhere. However, even with this limitation, ActiveX is a security nightmare because it’s literally an invitation for anyone with any sort of code writing savvy at all to invade your system. Because these controls have complete access to your system (they don’t run in a sandbox), a hacker exploiting them can literally do anything and get by with it. Even Microsoft spent a good deal of time telling you how to protect yourself from the security issues that come with ActiveX control use. In short, using ActiveX controls are a truly horrid idea.

That’s why I’m pleased to mention that ActiveX will soon be dead—at least, from the perspective of new browser development. The new Edge browser won’t include any form of ActiveX support. Unfortunately, Internet Explorer (IE) will continue to hang around for quite a while, which means that a lot of old browsers out there will continue to represent a potential and potent security risk. On the desktop, IE11 has about 27.22 percent of the market share, IE8 13.58 percent, IE9 6.76 percent, and IE10 5.55 percent, for a total of 53.11 percent of the market. There is a high chance that someone out there has ActiveX running and that ActiveX control is causing everyone else woe.

Unfortunately, Edge won’t be available for Windows 7 and older versions of Windows, so you know that those older versions of Internet Explorer will hang around forever. Given the security risk that ActiveX represents, you’d think Microsoft would want to save itself some trouble and make Edge available for everyone. Consequently, even though ActiveX is eventually going to go away, don’t look for it to die immediately. Let me know your thoughts on Edge, ActiveX, and the potential problems with older versions of IE at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Cooling Your Animals in Summer

Now that the summer weather is truly come to stay, I’ve turned my attention more fully to keeping my animals cool. I’ve talked about this issue before as part of my Keeping Your Animals Healthy in Hot Weather post. However, over the years I’ve learned a few more tricks of the trade. The first is to keep the house at the same temperature as the outside as long as practical and rely on ceiling fans as much as possible. The approach saves money, of course, and makes my house more environmentally friendly as well, but it also seems to spare my animals some level of shock. This is especially the case with my dogs, who must go outside at various times during the day. I was actually finding that my dogs weren’t doing as well as they could when they got back in from outside and I think it was due to the shock of temperature change they felt.

Of course, I also run my business out of the house, which means computers generating lots of heat and not liking to be overly hot. All of my computers have temperature sensors that monitor motherboard and chip temperatures as needed. I actually found that most systems today can run in higher temperatures as long as you keep the air circulated in the room. So, I now keep my house between 75 and 80 on hot days and rely on ceiling fans to keep the air circulating in my office. Because the office is where I’m generating the most heat, I monitor the temperature there, rather than the dining room (which contains the air conditioner thermostat). An office temperature of 80 can actually equate to a house temperature of about 75, which is quite comfortable. I adjust the thermostat as needed to keep the office at 80, rather than trying to keep the rest of the house at a specific temperature.

Everyone gets shade during the summer months. However, I’ve been smart in the way I’ve provided shade. The shade is at the back of the cages and coop. The shade elements (mostly trees), hang slightly over the cages, coop, and run area. The front of the cages and coop are left as open as is possible so any breeze whatsoever can help keep the animals cool. Even so, I must still bring some of the rabbits in during really hot days and the chickens get their bucket of cooling water (they wade in it). It’s absolutely essential that the animals all have clean, cool water to drink, which means going out to change the water several times each day. I usually go out three times daily to check on everyone and make sure they’re doing well.

The cats are always the easiest to please. Smucker still loves to sleep in the bathtub on hot summer days. Sugar Plum likes the floor in the other bathroom. I tend to leave them alone except for the checks I make on them.

Animals still need hugs during the summer months and they still need play time. I’ve been getting out at 5:00 to ensure that I take care of these needs when it’s still cool. During the day I leave the animals completely alone and do everything I can to help them rest comfortably. Making sure you keep track of your animals and address their needs is one certain way to keep them around longer and to enjoy your time with them more. Let me know your thoughts about keeping animals cool at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Security = Scrutiny

There is a myth among administrators and developers that it’s possible to keep a machine free of viruses, adware, Trojans, and other forms of malware simply by disconnecting it from the Internet. I’m showing my age (yet again), but machines were being infected with all sorts of malware long before the Internet became any sort of connectivity solution for any system. At one time it was floppy disks that were the culprit, but all sorts of other avenues of attack present themselves. To dismiss things like evil USB drives that take over systems, even systems not connected to the Internet, is akin to closing your eyes and hoping an opponent doesn’t choose to hit you while you’re not looking. After all, it wouldn’t be fair. However, whoever said that life was fair or that anyone involved in security plays by the rules? If you want to keep your systems free of malware, then you need to be alert and scrutinize them continually.

Let’s look at this issue another way. If you refused to do anything about the burglar rummaging around on the first floor while you listened in your bedroom on the second floor, the police would think you’re pretty odd. More importantly, you’d have a really hard time getting any sort of sympathy or empathy from them. After all, if you just let a burglar take your things while you blithely refuse to acknowledge the burglar’s presence, whose fault is that? (Getting bonked on the back of the head while you are looking is another story.) That’s why you need to monitor your systems, even if they aren’t connected to the Internet. Someone wants to ruin your day and they’re not playing around. Hackers are dead serious about grabbing every bit of usable data on your system and using it to make your life truly terrible. Your misery makes them sublimely happy. Really, take my word for it.

The reason I’m discussing this issue is that I’m still seeing stories like, “Chinese hacker group among first to target networks isolated from Internet.” So, what about all those networks that were hacked before the Internet became a connectivity solution? Hackers have been taking networks down for a considerable time period and it doesn’t take an Internet connection to do it. The story is an interesting one because the technique used demonstrates that hackers don’t have to be particularly good at their profession to break into many networks. It’s also alarming because some of the networks targeted were contractors for the US military.

There is no tool, software, connection method, or secret incantation that can protect your system from determined hackers. I’ve said this in every writing about security. Yes, you can use a number of tools to make it more difficult to get through and to dissuade someone who truly isn’t all that determined. Unfortunately, no matter how high you make the walls of your server fortress, the hacker can always go just a bit further to climb them. Headlines such as “Advanced Attackers go Undetected for a Median of 229 Days; Only One-Third of Organizations Identify Breaches on Their Own” tell me that most organizations could do more to scrutinize their networks. Every writing I read about informed security is that you can’t trust anyone or anything when you’re responsible for security, yet organizations continue to ignore that burglar on the first floor.

There is the question of whether it’s possible to detect and handle every threat. The answer is that it isn’t. Truly gifted hackers will blindside you can cause terrifying damage to your systems every time. Monitoring can mitigate the damage and help you recover more quickly, but the fact is that it’s definitely possible to do better. Let me know your thoughts about security at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Missing Python for Data Science for Dummies Companion Files

For all those long suffering readers who have been missing the companion files for Python for Data Science for Dummies, they’re finally available at http://www.dummies.com/store/product/Python-for-Data-Science-For-Dummies.productCd-1118844181,descCd-DOWNLOAD.html. All you need to do is click the Click to Download link on the page. I’m truly sorry you needed to wait so long. Thank you to everyone who noticed the missing files and also the incorrect link in the book, which now appears in the book errata. Please let me know if you have any problems locating the files or downloading them at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Discerning Where the Internet of Things (IoT) Really Fits

A number of people have written to ask me about the Internet of Things (IoT) and where it really fits into the technology picture. The current problem with this technology is that it’s so new that people really don’t know where it fits. As with most new technologies, you can find all sorts of uses that simply don’t fit. These uses will eventually die because there isn’t any pressing need to have them. I write about these sorts of uses in the article, What The Internet of Things Is Not. Of course, it’s possible to avoid this particular phase of a technology by asking a simple question, “Is there a pressing need that this solution answers?” Where there is no need, there is also no solution required.

The question I addressed in, What is the Internet of Things? remains. The technology elements are there to create some phenomenal solutions to pressing problems. That’s why I was interested to see a recent ComputerWorld article that describes industrial uses for IoT. No, it’s not as sexy as using IoT to monitor your microwave popcorn so it gets done, but not too done. However, these are the sorts of applications that keep a technology around and also help improve it. The industrial setting will present legitimate questions for IoT to answer. Interestingly enough, you’ll likely benefit from these sorts of industrial uses by not seeing them. That’s right! By making industrial processes more reliable and predictable, they begin to disappear from view. All you really see is the cost savings when it comes to buying products and services.

The IoT is here to stay, that much is certain. However, every year will see major changes to IoT until the technology becomes more stable. At that point, the true killer applications for the technology will begin to appear and everyone will begin seeing the true potential for this technology. For now, what you see is interesting applications—some will survive, many won’t. Let me know your thoughts about IoT at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Mock Chick Fights

The chicks continue to grow. Unlike meat chickens, however, they grow at a glacially slow pace at times. This growing period is important to the chicks because they’re building strength, stamina, and skills. Part of this process involves mock fights.

The fights really are mock. If you watch them long enough, you see that the birds barely touch each other and they don’t actually use their talons. (I tried getting a picture for you, but would those hens cooperate? I think not!) What it looks like is that the two chicks fly up and touch beaks—a sort of a kiss. They use their wings as well, but not with nearly the same ferocity as used in a real fight. Unfortunately, while this skill will help with some animals (see Possum’s Surprise for details), it doesn’t do anything to help the chicken when it comes to hawks, weasels, raccoons, and other odd assorted animals. When the fight is over, it’s not uncommon to see the birds pile on top of each other somewhere in the run to rest for a while.

The mock fights do build strength and stamina. However, they serve the important purpose of helping to establish the pecking order and to also create a bond between hens. The pecking order is essential because only one hen can lead. The lead hen right now is Violet, but she could lose her place at any time to a worth adversary. As the chicks grow older, the mock fights will become real fights that could become a problem, except for the order established by the lead hen. She settles the disputes in the coop.

Bonding between hens is essential. It’s important though not to confuse chicken bonding with human bonding. Yes, laying hens are smarter than meat chickens, but they aren’t all that smart. You can teach them certain behaviors, but they work mainly on instinct. The lead hen can only lead because the rest of the hens are bonded to her and are willing to be led by the strongest and most knowledgeable hen in the coop. When you see hens outside the coop, the lead hen is normally there to establish the route they take and the other hens cluster around her. The act of bonding makes it less likely that a predator will get all of the hens—just the unfortunate hen that is attacked first.

The chicks are using their new found camaraderie to make a place for themselves in the coop. I noticed the other day that the other hens don’t try to get at all the food dishes any longer. The chicks have taken the smallest dish for themselves. The older hens will try to come around at times, but the chicks have started to gang up on the hens and chase them away from their food. At some point, it’s inevitable that there will be more real fights in the coop as the chicks establish themselves more fully in the pecking order.

I doubt that the Buff Orpingtons will attempt to gain much status. They’re gregarious birds that don’t appear to care about much except getting their fair share of the food. The new Americaunas will probably fight for some level of status with the existing Americaunas and the one remaining Buff Orpington. However, the Barred Plymouth Rock seems to show the kind of aggression needed to eventually take on Violet. I don’t see it happening until sometime next year though.

Watching your chicks carefully is important. You need to know that they’re adjusting to their new lives in the coop and that they’re healthy. Mock fights are an important part of the growing process and you shouldn’t try to stop it. Actually, some of them are hysterical. Two of the chicks engaged in a mock fight this morning, lost their footing, and rolled down to the bottom of the run. Just a bit dazed, they got up, fell into a heap, and then promptly fell asleep with the rest of the chicks around them. Let me know your thoughts on mock fights at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Getting Your Python for Data Science for Dummies Extras

The process of discovering how to use Python to perform data science tasks begins when you get your copy of Python for Data Science for Dummies. Luca and I spent a good deal of time making your data science learning experience easier and even fun. However, it only starts there. Like many of my other books, you can also find online content for Python for Data Science for Dummies in these forms:

I always want to hear your questions about my books. Be sure to write me about them at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy your Python for Data Science for Dummies reading experience. Thank you for your continued support.


20 July 2015: Updated to show correct link for the companion files.

 

Using Pass Versus Continue in Python

A number of people have asked me about the discussion of the pass and continue clauses on page 140 of Beginning Programming with Python For Dummies. The example on that page is confusing a lot of people. Most people assume that when the example prints its output, the w should not appear as part of the output—as if the pass and continue clauses work precisely the same.

If you look at the second sentence of the first paragraph on page 140, you see that it tells you that pass and continue work almost the same way, except that the pass clause allows completion of the code in the if block in which it appears. This distinction is important. The continue clause is immediate, the pass clause isn’t. So, yes, you can achieve different results using pass or continue.

However, both clauses work in the same way in that they stop execution of the current loop and continue with the next loop. The difference is when they stop execution of the current loop and it all hinges on the if statement block.

Enough people have written about this particular example that I want to be sure there is no confusion about the difference between pass and continue. Please let me know if you have any additional questions about these two clauses at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.