Kits Moving Toward Adulthood

The kits are moving ever closer to adulthood. At this point, they’re weened and join mom at the dinner table each day. They also don’t run and hide every time they seem me. In fact, they’re downright curious about me at times.

The young adult rabbits join mom for dinner.
The young adult rabbits join mom for dinner.

It’s amazing to see how fast they’re growing. Of course, rabbits don’t grow at nearly the same rate as meat chickens do and the feed a bit more expensive. These rabbits will leave the cage soon and go to a gender segregated cage where they can grow to full size. In the meantime, they love to hop about during the day and play with each other and mom. For the most part, Moonbeam tries to ignore the playfulness, but there are times when she has had enough and does something about it. A grunt or a bit of a nip is usually all it takes to get the youngster back on its best behavior.

Meat rabbits aren’t as tame as you might think, however. Right before I took this picture, Moonbeam took a nip out of my hand. It wasn’t anything serious, but she did draw blood. She was irritated that I reached inside the cage to get the food containers. It isn’t something that happens every day, but it’s important to realize that these animals might look cuddly, can be cuddly, but they’re also animals with a set of instincts that you need to respect. Certainly, Moonbeam got mine. I usually keep the most aggressive rabbits for breeding purposes because they do make better parents and have stronger offspring. Even through several heat waves that might have caused problems for other rabbits, six out of Moonbeam’s eight kits survived without problem (and one of the two that died was a runt that had problems feeding from the outset).

After Moonbeam’s kits leave the cage, I’ll give her a little time to rest, and then breed her again for the fall season. In most years, I normally breed the rabbits twice—once in the spring and again in late summer. Because I lack a heated rabbitry, I never breed the rabbits more than twice to ensure I don’t need to overwinter them. The rabbits that are higher off the ground and have a cozy nest box to live in do just fine, but the larger cages are on the ground and don’t offer enough protection. Let me know about your hare raising experiences at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Web Application Security Breach Commonality

If you follow the trade news for even a few weeks, you begin to see a recurring pattern of security breaches based on web application deficiencies, social engineering attacks, or some other weakness in the security chain. The latest attack that is making the rounds is the IRS security breach. However, I’m not picking on the IRS, you can find security breaches galore in every arena of human endeavor simply by performing the required search. Everyone gets hacked, everyone is embarrassed by it, and everyone lies through their teeth about the methods used for the attack, the severity of the attack, and the likelihood of dire results. The attacks serve to demonstrate a simple principle I’ve written about in HTML5 Programming with JavaScript for Dummies, CSS3 for Dummies, and Security for Web Developers—if someone wants to break your security, they’ll always succeed.

Later analysis of the IRS attack brings out some important issues that you need to consider as part of your development efforts. The first is that you really do need to expend the effort to create the most secure environment possible. Many of the successful attacks use simple methods to obtain the desired result. Training really does help reduce social engineering attacks, updates really do help close security issues that a hacker can use to access your system, good programming practices keep hackers at bay, make applications easier to use, and reduce errors that result in security issues. All of these methods help you remain secure. However, remaining vigilant is important too. Monitoring your application and the libraries, APIs, and microservices on which they depend are all important. Despite protestations to the contrary, the IRS probably could have done more to prevent the breach, or at least mitigate the results of the breach.

A focal point of the analysis for me is that the IRS currently has 363 people working security and a budget of $141.5 million to ensure your data remains safe. The author is a bit harsh and asks whether the IRS Commissioner Koskinen thinks his people are stupid because he keeps making the claim that these hackers are quite skilled. Yet, the hacks used are really quite simple. Breaches happen to every organization at some point, no matter how much money you want to throw at the problem. Organizations get blindsided because hackers attack from a direction that is unexpected in many cases or the organization simply isn’t keeping track of the current threats. Again, I’m not heaping insult on the IRS, simply pointing out a problem that appears common to most of the breaches I read about. What is needed in this case is a frank admission of the facts and a whole lot less in the way of excuses that simply make the organization look weak or stupid anyway.

The IRS, like many organizations, later came back and increased the tally on the number of individuals affected by the breach. This is another common issue. Instead of investigating first and speaking later, many organizations provide numbers at the outset that really aren’t based on solid facts. When an organization has a breach, the public does need to know, but the organization should wait on details until it actually does know what happened.

The application that caused the breach is now dead. It’s a demonstration of a final principle that appears in many of my books. If you really want to keep something secret, then don’t tell anyone about it. Breaches happen when data is made public in some manner. Yes, it’s convenient to access tax information using a web application, but the web application will be breached at some point and then the confidential details will appear in public. Organizations need to weigh convenience against the need to keep data secure. In some cases, security has to win.

The more I read about security breaches, the more convinced I become that they’re unavoidable. The only way to prevent data breaches is to keep the data in a closed system (and even then, a disgruntled employee could still potentially make a copy). Being honest about data breaches, providing the public with solid facts, and ensuring remediation measures are effective are the only ways to control the effects of a data breach. Let me know your thoughts on this issue at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Summer Flowers

Every summer I plant flowers to make the area around the house cheery.  There are flowers in the front, in the back, and in a tire next to my clothes line.  Most of the flowers are arranged and I know the names of the vast majority of them.  Some of the patio favorites are princess feathers, nasturtiums, snap dragons, alyssum, and morning glories. The flowers appear at different levels and mixed with herbs (peppermint in this case) to provide interest:

The flowers are mixed in with herbs and presented at different levels.
The flowers are mixed in with herbs and presented at different levels.

The fairy garden, old shoes, tree trunk, and other elements all help create an interesting mix that provides a feast for the eye. The fairy garden is a gift from a friend. I add new plants to it each year. This year’s flowers are quite nice:

The tiny pink flowers of the fairy garden work well with the figurines.
The tiny pink flowers of the fairy garden work well with the figurines.

One of my favorite flowers in the hanging pots in the back of the house is the morning glories (mixed with nasturtiums in this case):

Mixing the morning glories and nasturtiums provides all day color.
Mixing the morning glories and nasturtiums provides all day color.

The front porch usually has wave petunias mixed with an assortment of other flowers in two pots (one on each side of the porch). The color combinations are interesting this year because one of the mixed in elements are nasturtiums (of three different colors no less):

Wave petunias mixed with other flowers can provide an interesting arrangement.
Wave petunias mixed with other flowers can provide an interesting arrangement.

The other pot uses the same concepts, but with different colored flowers. So you see the same idea on both sides, but the contrasting flowers prove to be quite nice. Both sides actually do have all three colors of nasturtium, but it’s apparently against the rules for all three to bloom at the same time:

Color variations and textures differentiate the two front porch pots.
Color variations and textures differentiate the two front porch pots.

Organization is nice, but sometimes you need a little creative chaos, which is where my tire flowers come into play. I simply sew seeds from a mixed flower packet and enjoy whatever comes up. Sometimes I’m not sure about the names of the flowers. This year I did end up with a sunflower and something interesting called love lies bleeding (the prominent strings of flowers are the love lies bleeding).

Interesting mixes of flowers can be quite pretty.
Interesting mixes of flowers can be quite pretty.

That really long strand in the front is a single flower. Even though some flowers, like the sunflower, attempt to steal the show, it’s important to look everywhere. Some flowers shyly peek out from near the bottom of the tire:

Sometimes the smallest flowers are the prettiest.
Sometimes the smallest flowers are the prettiest.

Of course, there is a lot more to see, but these are some of the highlights of the flowers for this year. The point is that summer lends itself to some beautiful arrays of flowers to please the eye (and sometimes the palette, nasturtiums, among other flowers, are edible). Make sure you plant plenty of posies to keep your heart happy.

 

Freezing Cabbage

Cabbage is one of those items that’s hard to store for the winter months. I know of some people who wrap the cabbage up in newspaper and then store it in their root cellar. In order to make this approach work, you need a cool root cellar—around 40 degrees (or lower) is best. The cabbage can last up to five months when stored this way if the storage meets all the required conditions.

Another way to store cabbage is to pressure can it. I’ve saved the secondary cabbages that come up after you cut off the primary cabbage this way. You can prepare and store the cabbage whole in most cases and it comes out reasonably well. The minute you have to cut the cabbage up, pressure canning starts to lose its appeal because the cabbage gets quite soft (sometimes downright mushy).

It’s also possible to preserve cabbage as sauerkraut—an approach that I highly recommend. Nothing quite matches the taste of homemade sauerkraut. Certainly, nothing you buy in the store will match the fermentation approach that most homemade sauerkraut relies on. Unfortunately, you can only eat so much sauerkraut in a year, even if you love the stuff.

Freezing cabbage is another alternative, but one that is also fraught with problems. I’ve eaten more than my fair share of truly horrid cabbage that has been frozen. If you don’t prepare it right, the mush that you get out of the freezer will not only look unappealing, it’ll taste quite bitter. In fact, about the only thing you can do with it is put it in the compost—it really is quite bad. After years of experimentation, I have come up with a way to freeze cabbage that does produce a palatable result. You can defrost the cabbage made this way and use it for anything that required cooked cabbage—the cabbage will still lack the crispness of fresh, so coleslaw is out of the question. Here are the steps I follow.

  1. Clean the cabbage carefully, removing any damaged leaves.
  2. Cut the cabbage in four to six parts of about a pound each. Don’t cut the cabbage too small. Cut the cabbage in such a way that each piece is still attached to the core. Don’t remove the core.
  3. Heat a pot of water to boiling. Add 2 tablespoons of salt and 1/4 cup of vinegar to the solution. The salt and vinegar improve the taste of the final product by keeping minerals from adhering to the cabbage.
  4. Blanch the cabbage for 2 minutes (timing is critical).
  5. Immediately cool the cabbage with copious amounts of cold water and ice.
  6. Place the cabbage on clean, white towels to dry. Pat or otherwise handle the cabbage as little as possible, but try to get as much of the water off of the cabbage as is possible.
  7. Freeze the cabbage overnight. Don’t wrap it. Separate pieces from each other using waxed paper or aluminum foil (the foil works better, but is a lot more expensive).
  8. The next morning, place the cabbage in the smallest possible freezer bag or, better still, use a vacuum packer such as the Food Saver to store it. Less air is better. When using a vacuum packer, use the lowest possible setting to avoid damaging the cabbage. Using the 8″ rolls works best because you can make the bags as large as needed.

If you’re able to vacuum pack the cabbage, it can last a minimum of a year in the freezer. In fact, you can often keep it in the freezer longer without any sign of frost damage, but longer storage may reduce the quality of the cabbage and affect the nutrients you get from it. Let me know if you have any questions about this technique at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Review of Paper Towns

The movie Paper Towns, like the book Paper Towns (by John Green), is geared toward the teenage market. This review is about the movie, of course, but from what I’ve read online, the book is just as interesting and I may eventually get a copy. The name of the movie comes from the practice that cartographers use to prevent copyright infringement—adding fake towns to a map so that anyone copying it will likely copy the fake town as well (making it easy to prove copyright infringement in court). The term can also refer to planned subdivisions that fail to materialize for various reasons. The idea is one of being completely fake.

The reason the movie is so interesting is that it asks a particular question that few movies bother to ask, “Who am I?” It seems like an obvious question, but many people never ask the question once in their entire lives. They seem to fly through life on autopilot and never quite realize the amazing potential they have. After Margo’s (Cara Delevingne) boyfriend proves untrue to her (and she takes the requisite revenge) she’s faced with the overwhelming sense of being fake—of being made of paper, just like the paper town she inhabits with all the other paper people who go about their daily lives never questioning anything. I’m focusing on this particular point because it’s all too easy to miss in the movie.

It’s important to remember that this is a teen movie, so it contains the splash of nudity and overwhelming concentration of drinking that these movies tend to contain. The message is lost a little because of the emphasis on teen activities that seem like both a waste of time, but also a necessary passage to adulthood. I wouldn’t say that the amount of near nudity and drinking is absurd, but it does get in the way of an otherwise meaningful movie. I think they could have easily toned things down a little and produced an even better movie as a result.

The movie does seem to avoid drugs (at least from what I could tell) and the amount of foul language is kept to a real minimum. I applaud both choices as being in good taste. If the movie had gone down this road to any significant degree, I probably couldn’t recommend it, despite being a great movie otherwise.

Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a movie if it focused on one girl’s realization that she’s going nowhere quite fast and needs to do something about it. As usual, the synopsis for the movie is misleading and the trailer is even worse. Quentin (Nat Wolff) has a major role to play, but it isn’t as Margo’s sidekick. Like Margo, Quentin is stuck in a rut and needs to ask what makes one happy in life. Again, it’s a really important question because everyone knows someone who totally abhors their occupation, lives with a spouse they detest for the kid’s sake, and generally has a really rotten life. Here is a kid who is starting to head down that road, but is intercepted by Margo who gets him to think again. The movie makes the point that life is to be enjoyed, that work really shouldn’t be, and that relationships should be fun.

Most teen movies I’ve seen are truly mind candy and not very good mind candy at that. This movie could easily fall into the mind candy category too if it didn’t ask those important life questions. It really does have something of value to offer the discerning audience. For everyone else, well, there is the semi-nudity and drunken parties to enjoy. If you haven’t seen Paper Towns and would like something to think about for a while, you really do need to see it and be prepared to watch with your mind open and your creativity in gear.  I highly recommend it.

 

Finding and Employing Data Science Tools

Python for Data Science for Dummies introduces you to a number of common libraries used for data science experimentation and discovery. Most of these libraries also figure prominently as part of a data scientist’s toolbox because they provide common functionality needed for every application. It is a great idea for those who are interested in expanding their knowledge in data science and how it can be applied to the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI). You can learn more about some of the basic principles such as applying, developing, leveraging and creating data science projects. However, these libraries are only the tip of the data science toolbox. Because data science is such a new technology, you can find all sorts of tools to perform a wide range of tasks, but there is little standardization and some of these tools are hard to categorize so that you know where they fit within your toolbox. That’s why I was excited to see, The data science ecosystem, the first of a three part series of articles that describe some of the tools available for use in data science projects. If you are interested in finding out more about data science, you might want to check out this data science bootcamp for more information. You can also find the other two parts of the article at:

The problem for people who want to explore data science and machine learning today might not be the lack of tools, but the lack of creativity in using them. In order to explore data science, it’s important to understand that the tools only work when your prepare the data properly, employ the correct algorithm, and define reasonable goals. No matter how hard you try, data science and machine learning can’t provide you with the correct numeric sequences for the next five lottery wins. However, data science can help you locate potential sources of fraud in an organization. The article, Machine learning and the strategic snake oil reserve, sums up what may be the biggest problem with data science today-people expect miracles without putting in the required work. Fortunately, there are new tools on the horizon to make languages, such as Python, and products, such as Hadoop, easier for even the less creative mind to use (see Python and Hadoop project puts data scientists first).

Even with a great imagination, the tools available today may not do the job you want as well as they should because the underlying hardware isn’t capable of performing the required tasks. The process is further hampered by a misuse of the skills that data scientists provide (see You’re hiring the wrong data scientists for details). As a result, you need a large number of specialized tools in order to perform tasks that shouldn’t require them. However, that’s the reason why you need to know about the availability of these tools so that you can produce useful results on today’s hardware with a minimum of fuss. Asking the question, “How would Alan Turing fix A.I.?” helps you understand the complexities of the data science and machine learning environments.

Data science, machine learning, data scientists with even greater skills, and better hardware will keep the momentum going well into the future. As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to move forward and the problem of what to do with all that data becomes even larger, data science will take on a larger role in everyone’s daily life. Count on reading more articles like, Google a step closer to developing machines with human-like intelligence, that describe the proliferation of new hardware and new tools to make the full potential of data science and machine learning a reality. In the meantime, getting the tools you need and exploring the ways in which you can creatively use data science to solve problems is the best way to go for now. Let me know your thoughts on the future of data science at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Chicken Fledging

The chicks are fast becoming pullets. No, they won’t become hens for quite a while yet. People get the idea that chicks become hens immediately, but they go through a pullet stage first. A pullet is a chick that lays smallish eggs and hasn’t moulted for the first time yet. A chick becomes a pullet at between 16 and 24 weeks of age. My chicks are currently 17 weeks old, but they’re of a “heavy” variety, which means that they get larger than most hens do and require more time to grow to size. It will likely be closer to the 24 week end of things before I see the first pullet eggs from them.

However, the first signs that they will soon become pullets are all there. For example, their feathers and wings are now strong enough so they can fly to the top of the run fence and walk along it with relative ease. I saw a couple of them outside the run the other day—calling to their buddies who are still on the inside. Most important of all, they can get back into the run when trouble arrives. It won’t be long and they’ll be walking around outside the run on a regular basis, becoming free range birds. These fledged birds now have the ability to defend themselves a little, run from trouble to some extent, and get into all sorts of trouble.

Another sign that they’re becoming pullets is that their combs and wattles are becoming fuller. They’re also making hen-like sounds now. They still don’t quite talk the talk, but they soon will. The beeping phase that happens between being a chick and being a pullet is coming to an end.

The most important sign is that the pelvis bones are starting to separate. You can check the pelvis bones by holding the chick in your arms with it’s back facing toward you. Calm the bird and give it a good place for its feet so it doesn’t kick. Place your hand on its rear and you’ll feel three prominent bones. These bones will separate when the bird is ready to starting laying eggs.

Pullets like to lay their first eggs in privacy, so expect to see the first eggs late in the day or even when you open the coop first thing in the morning. It’s important to check for eggs more often when your pullets start laying to keep egg eating at bay. Once the pullets begin to lay, I’ll go out every two hours during the day to check the nest box. A pullet can also be quite fussy about her surroundings, so make sure you change the hay in the nest box relatively often. Let me know your thoughts about pullets at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Considering the Dangers of Outdated Canning Information

I am now the proud owner of not one, not two, but three copies of the Ball Blue Book. Of course, the first question anyone should ask is why I own so many copies, given that all three copies are in great shape. The problem is one of outdated information. Science is constantly finding out more about bacteria and the methods used to battle it, so working with old information is dangerous from a number of perspectives.

All of these issues affect how you can food. Consequently, it’s a good idea to keep your canning resources updated to ensure you stay safe. The point was driven home to me again last week when I went to check on the process for canning zucchini. My oldest Ball Blue Book had a perfectly usable recipe for the process. I also found recipes on several sites online, some of which included pictures that looked precisely like the process I had followed in the past. At least one resource talked about another book on my shelf, Putting Food By. However, I became suspicious when a third resource mentioned a potential issue with canning zucchini. Locating the USDA resource online provided the full story. It turns out that the USDA can’t determine a good processing time for zucchini because of the way the squash cooks. So, I froze my zucchini using the process found in all three copies of my Ball Blue Book (a process that hasn’t changed).

After spending some time researching this issue, I’ve come to the conclusion that I really need to recheck those old family recipes of mine to ensure they’re still safe. I also need to spend more time ensuring my resources, such as the Ball Blue Book, are updated regularly. Saving money by canning your own food loses its luster when a family member gets sick or possibly dies due to food contamination. Play it safe—throw that outdated book out and get the latest copy of any resources you use to ensure that you’re using the latest techniques. If in doubt, check additional resources such as the National Center for Home Food Preservation site for additional information or choose not to preserve the food in question. Let me know your thoughts on safe canning techniques at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Download Site for Python

I recently received an e-mail from a reader who had a bad install with Python 3.3.4 on a laptop with 64-bit Windows 7 installed. No matter what the reader did, the installation wouldn’t work. The application would fail with an error stating that pythonw.exe was unable to start and it included an error of 0xc000007b. He had downloaded the code from https://www.python.org/download/releases/3.3.4/, which is the site mentioned on page 25 of Beginning Programming with Python For Dummies. However, downloading a copy from http://continuum.io/downloads#py34 or https://store.continuum.io/cshop/anaconda/ did provide a copy of Python 3.4.3 (not the version 3.3.4 that is used in the book) that does work on his system.

The problem with this solution is that installing a copy from this second site also installs Anaconda—a product that isn’t covered in the book. In order to work with the IDLE examples in the book, you must open a copy of IDLE in the Anaconda\Scripts folder of the Anaconda installation. You’ll likely find this folder in your personal folder of your system. If you do find that you can’t get the copy of the product from the Python download site to work on your system, try this second solution and please let me know about the issue at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. I would strongly encourage you to try the setup found in the book, however, because using Anaconda will cause extra work for you and this book is truly meant to help someone who has little or no programming experience discover the joys of working with Python.

As a side note, I have tried the book’s source code with the latest Python release, 3.4.3 (the book was originally written to use version 3.3.4). All of the source code works on my test system, but I’d love to hear if it works on your system as well. You can obtain this updated version of Python at https://www.python.org/downloads/release/python-343/ or http://continuum.io/downloads#py34 (if you don’t mind installing Anaconda as well).

When using the 3.4.3 version of Python, your screenshots may vary some from those found in the book. All version-specific information will change, so you need to take this change into account as you read. Please let me know if you experience any problems using this updated version on your system. In the meantime, happy reading!