Reinforcement Schedule

The friend with whom I am staying in Howard Lake has a downstairs apartment. It reminds me of being in the lower level of a split level house. There are some nice, large windows in every room. Despite that, her cell phone reception is terrible, and she has no wifi. I rely on the unlimited data plan I have on my phone for it to function, but service is intermittent and I often have to go outside to get emails and phone calls.

Sometimes, in the morning as I sit in her living room, I have no difficulty sending and receiving texts and calls. Then, out of nowhere, I have to move really close to the windows for it to work. At other times, I have good reception between the sofa and the kitchen. Then, inexplicably, that area doesn’t work, either, but holding the phone high above my head helps, sometimes.

I realized the other day how silly I must look using my phone as I wave my arms and move around and outside the apartment, and it dawned on me that my phone has me on a variable-ratio reinforcement schedule, like BF Skinner demonstrated using pigeons in the 1960’s. Pigeons were taught to press a metal bar to get food pellets, and were then subjected to random reinforcement, in which food was delivered randomly, and there was no way for the birds to figure out what they had to do to get the food. They tried their hardest, though, developing odd behaviors they thought were associated with food delivery. Some developed odd head movements. Others turned around three times, because that is what they were doing when the food was delivered. Skinner used this research to explain the development of superstitious beliefs and behaviors, as well as gambling addiction.

I leave for home tomorrow, and there I know I can feel more in control than I do here. Besides, my shoulder is getting sore holding my phone above my head so much.

What motivates you? Do you have any superstitions or know anyone who is superstitious? Any technology horror stories?

The Rush Is Over

Today’s post comes from Ben.

The spring rush is over, at least on our farm. If you’ve got dairy cattle, it’s right into cutting hay and getting that first crop off. But here, we’re just cutting grass over and over again.

All the crops are out of the ground, they just need some heat to grow. Soybeans don’t grow quite as fast as corn, so even though I could see them coming, it takes a while to see the rows. That first field which had crusted and I finally dragged? It helped; they’re looking OK.

The last thing to plant was 2 acres of corn for a neighbor that he uses as a food plot so the deer are closer to his hunting stands. The next day my brother Ernie was out and we got extra seed cleaned out of the corn planter and got the power washer out and he washed the planter off and hosed off the back of my tractor and his tractor. The backs get very dirty; like your car back window, all the dust collects there. (Maybe that’s only us on gravel roads?) And the back is where the hydraulic hoses plug in, so it’s oily and attracts dust. I parked the planter back in the corner of the shed for next spring.

Next day we pulled the drill out, cleaned out the left-over seed, (We save extra seed for next year) and got the drill washed up and put away. I removed the cameras and cables and will work on getting them installed on the baler next.

We discovered that one tractor STILL has an oil leak. He fixed it last week; cost $1058. I’m hoping the repair guy just didn’t get something tight and it’s not a totally new issue.

And then I was cutting grass and the mower died. Just quit. No dash light, no hour meter, nothing. Well, that’s weird. I tried a few things (including the battery connections) and got nothing. Called John Deere and asked them to come and get the mower AND to come back for the tractor. The mower guy showed up; he changed a fuse and got it running, but it made noises. It made bad, expensive sounding noises. Sixteen years ago, when I was up for the college job, I had three goals if I got the job: New lawn mower, trade in grain drill, and there was a third thing I’ve forgotten, but I got them all.

We have a smaller, older mower and we got that out and running and I went back to cutting grass. Then I drove into a hole and got stuck. Harrumph. I was kinda fed up with the day by that point and I just went to the house and pouted.

Next day, I got a call my knee surgery has been postponed to August 1; need to get over all this other stuff first. (And I’m getting better. Kidney stone is gone, I’m almost walking unassisted again, cellulitis on my foot is cleared up, and PT is going well.) but we don’t want to risk any infections. I get that, but I’m still discouraged. Then I discovered one of the older tractors, a 2 cylinder John Deere 630, the crankcase is full of gas. Man ‘0 man; is there a black cloud over the house??

Sounds like just a shut off valve on the tank leaks, and the fuel leaks into the crankcase. Not the end of the tractor, just needs a fix.

I was pouty again. Went back to bed and figured I needed to just start this day over. Felt better after the nap.

Got the mower out of the hole and cut more grass. Next day made a deal on a different lawn mower.

The neighbors, Dave and Parm, have brought out some cattle.

The bulk oil truck came and refilled the oil containers. Still haven’t seen the price on that.

100 gallons engine oil on the left. 120 gallons trans / hydraulic oil on the right. Will last a couple years.

Kelly has been doing many of the chores while I deal with…. “all this”. 
I do chores because they need to be done; and I need to get through them in order to get on with something else. For Kelly, it’s a nice diversion from work and she enjoys being out there and spending time with the critters. My suggestions for more efficiency, “like I do it” are not always welcome. It’s nice we’ve figured out this difference and I wonder why it took 32 years of marriage to realize it.

Sadly, we’re out of the duckling business. It was quick. Friday morning there was 9 when we got them penned up. Saturday morning there was 8. Sunday morning there was 3 and we noticed them going outside the fence and wandering several feet from momma, who stayed inside the fence. We didn’t expect them to leave her so soon. And maybe she’s a first time Mom and didn’t have the hang of it all yet. Kelly created a smaller pen made of wire with smaller holes the duckling couldn’t get through. And Monday morning, they were all gone and the mom was out too. So, we’re thinking maybe owl? Never seen a hawk come down and the dogs wouldn’t have gone into the pen to get them. I’ve said, the real world is a cruel place. This was sure a learning opportunity.



Today’s post is from Clyde

I have been sketching from old photos, which has been interesting. Learned a few things, had some catharsis, wasted some time. Made me think about all the places I have lived.

1. Sebeka, in home my parents built, still standing, much changed. (44-45)

2. Superior National Forest, dozen miles north of Isabella, a shack torn down long long ago. (45-48)

3. Two Harbors, the farm. All buildings now gone. (48-63)

4. Chicago, dormitory. (63-64)

5. Chicago, apartment in old house. (64)

6. Minneapolis, apartment building very near U hospital, replaced by medical building. (65)

7. Minneapolis, apartment building, now I-35W. (65)

8. Minneapolis, apartment in old house, now I-35W. (65-66)

9. St. Paul, apartment building, Marshall Ave. east of Snelling. (66)

10. Minneapolis, Prospect Part, apartment in old house. (66-68)

11. Lindstrom, apartment in old house. (68-69)

12. Two Harbors, house on North Shore, header photo. (69-97)

13. North Mankato, century-old house, which we updated. (97-07)

14. Mankato. association home, worst place for us to live. (07-10)

15. Mankato, current apartment, from which I think I need to move.

Is 15 above the average for 77 years?

This is our house, or shack, over my shoulder, north of Isabella. I was an industrious thumb-sucker until age 4.5 when I announced I was done. And I was. My father and uncle, back from the war and a angry at the world, my uncle having spent more than two years in a stalag, took jobs in a logging camp. This was a trial for my mother, the bugs, the dirt, the cold in the winter. And her mother with twin teenage boys lived next door; my grandmother was my mother’s trial in life. It was a trial for me, but I have no memory of it. My uncle’s two daughters were nasty to me, have been nasty and miserable all their lives. I never crawled because they would not let me. Are they still alive? No idea.

This was the farmhouse, again behind me. It was not a promising place, but my father rebuilt, wired, plumbed, added on. Re-sided, with asbestos siding in fact. But it was at the upper reaches of poverty, which never seemed that way at all. There is a hint of the poverty and my mother’s frugality, if you look carefully.

How many places have you lived? Any stand out for you?


The other day, when we were talking about ads, I had the tv on for a bit in the afternoon and I looked up just in time to see a young woman sporting a pair of jeans that were definitely flared at the ankle.  I actually backed up the ad to confirm I had seen it correctly.  Not only were the jeans flared out but the word “flare” actually flashed across the screen.  After fifty years it was a little hard to believe that flare jeans have become retro.

I called YA to confirm that flare jeans are “in” but she was very quick (and very vehement) in pointing out that it’s just a little flare that is in, not the huge wide flare jeans that were popular back in the 70s.  I remember the outfit that I put together for the first day back of sophomore year in high school.  Wide faded flare jeans with a “Make Love Not War” sweatshirt and a watch with a huge white wristband.  I thought I was the cat’s meow.  During the time that flared jeans were popular, I altered a few of mine by slitting open the leg and expanding the flare with bright patterned material.  All the rage!

YA tried to get me to promise not to purchase any flare jeans for myself.  She said “just keep your seventies memories to yourself.”  I’m pretty sure I should be insulted but I can’t quite figure out how.

Anything you’d like to come around again?  Or not?

Spoiler Alert

Husband is single handedly taking on puppy duty while I am in Minnesota this week. He told me he napped a lot Monday after I left, and then went to a local pet store, where he said he spent a small fortune on things for the dog.

Kyrill is the sweetest little fellow, but is only 4 months old and having teething issues. I have found puppy baby teeth on the floor. He wants to chew everything. He also wants to be close to us and play constantly. It is hard to get things done, especially if you are his only caretaker. Husband told me he bought all sorts of interesting chewy things and toys for Kyrill to keep hm busy. Husband said his plan was working well. I can only imagine the clutter of dog toys on the living room floor. Our home is certainly dog centric, and I suppose you could say we have a very spoiled puppy. Husband was the same with our children. I remember getting after him to stop constantly playing with our son and daughter when they were little, and to let them figure out how to entertain themselves so they didn’t expect an adult to play with them all the time. Of course, they rarely chewed up the furniture or the electrical cords.

As an only child, I always resented comments from people that I “must” be spoiled since I had no siblings. I didn’t get everything I wanted, and I had to entertain myself quite a bit, and I guess that is why I expected our children to do the same. I know I can’t expect that of the puppy. I am grateful that Husband is cheerfully being a single dog parent this week, even if it means that when I return, I will have a dog with definite expectations for me.

How do you like to “spoil” people and other creatures? What expectations have your animals had of you?

Nap Time

Our grandson is 4, and is at that stage where, if he takes an afternoon nap, he can’t go to sleep for the night until after 10:00, and if he doesn’t nap, he is a real pill until bedtime.

When Son and his family visited over Memorial Day weekend, we put on a vinyl recording of Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester narrated by Meryl Streep, with music by The Chieftains, for grandson to listen to one afternoon. Son listened to the same recording when he was a small boy, usually at bedtime. I was tickled to find Son and Grandson sound asleep on the sofa shortly after starting the recording. They didn’t even get to the part where the Tailor sets free the mice that Simpkin, the naughty cat, had imprisoned under the tea cups, before they dozed off. I have always liked Simpkin. Grandson was so tired after traveling to us that the nap didn’t interfere with his usual bedtime.

What helps you sleep? Who is your favorite Beatix Potter character? What do you remember about naps as a child?

Toilet Paper Math

I’m always confused by the array of claims on the packages as I walk down the toilet paper aisle, with enticements that I can really get a great deal if I only buy so and so’s product. “18 of these rolls = 82 smaller rolls” announces one Charmin package, while the next Charmin package claims “24 = 108”, and yet another insists that “12 = 48”. Cottonelle, on the other hand, goes for broke claiming that 12 Family Mega rolls = 128 regular rolls.

I just can’t get the math to work. I have taken enough statistics classes to know how to lie with numbers, but I just can’t figure out how the companies arrive at these claims. I wonder if they used another product quality as an enticement? “This package will fit under your bathroom sink and leave enough room for the iron and boxes of tissues and cleaning products” or “These rolls will fit in your toilet paper dispenser without getting stuck because they aren’t too big in diameter.” Now, those are claims that resonate!

What advertising gimmicks are you susceptible to? How good are you at doing math in your head? What are your favorite or least favorite ads or commercials?

Crop Update

Today’s post comes from Ben

Crops are in. Finished up Monday, Memorial day. Just had a few acres left so I got to run the big tractor myself. Of course with Bailey; she never misses a ride. Got a flat tire on the digger, won’t be too hard to get off and fixed.

I went up to plant and had Kelly meet me later with more seed. There was a little confusion about where she was meeting me. All my fields have numbers and I have maps of the fields in the tractors and a photo of the map on my phone. And she knows I was going up the road to start planting, but I would be ‘Above the barn’ when I was ready for seed. I texted her something about meeting me at the gates, which, I knew was a pretty vague statement as there are gates all over the farm and the one I meant hadn’t exactly been a gate for 15 years, so I shouldn’t have even called it that. To add to the confusion, the FSA office numbers the fields one way, and the Co-op has decided to number them a different way. So, I have two maps to keep track of who’s calling what field what number. Anyway, we found each other. Here’s the last pass of beans to plant.

Corn is all emerged, soybeans are coming. I’m worried about the first field I planted because we got a hard rain after that and it really crusted over. Some beans were coming up, but the fields planted a week later look about the same as this one. I finally made the decision to drag that first field. Last week I mentioned how I like to drag them, but I knew these beans would be coming and I wouldn’t want to risk breaking them off with the drag. Well, it seemed like less than 50% had emerged, so if dragging it breaks up the crust and the rest emerge, I’d be ahead, right? We’ll see what happens or if I need to replant.

Now’s the time we’re watching all the fields closely to be sure everything is emerging. If there’s any issues and we need to replant, it needs to happen as soon as possible. It’s already late for most crops. The Co-op has been out scouting for weeds in order to  know what to treat for. I’m looking at germination and seed placement in the corn. At the rate I plant corn, a planting population of 35,000 seeds per acre (determined by which gears I install on the planter- to adjust the speed of the row units), in 30” rows, there should be a plant about every 6”. And if there’s not, why not? Did the seed not germinate? Did the planter miss it or drop a double at the next place? Seed placement and germination are critically important to the final yield. In the perfect world, all the kernels would emerge within 36 hours of each other. A kernel that comes out 4 days later than its neighbors will be behind all year and will not make as much grain as the others. There are examples of flagging and marking the plants from emergence to harvest, and the plants that come out later never amount to as much as the rest. It’s fascinating! Next week I’ll measure out 17’6” (that’s 1/1000ths of an acre) and count the plants to get final stand populations.

Remember, the corn grows out of the kernel, which remains in the ground. Soybeans, the seed comes up as it emerges. I just geek out over all this!

GDU’s are 487 to date, +71 over normal. Won’t be gaining many this coming week… rather cool forecast.

Oats is growing well and the rows are filling in.

Had another oil leak, this one in a hose in the tractor. All I could tell was it was dripping underneath. And if I got down there, not sure I’d be able to get back up. And you can’t see anything anyway. I called John Deere and a nice mechanic named ‘Cutter’ came and fixed it. A hose for the power steering. From the hydraulic pump in the rear of the tractor, under the cab, up the dash to the steering wheel. He pulled up the cab floor and removed a lot of other stuff to get it done. Haven’t seen the bill yet. Somewhere between $100 and $10,000 I predict.

I have two, 250 gallon bulk oil containers: One holds hydraulic oil and one holds 15W40 engine oil. I just ordered another 100 gallons of hydraulic oil. That will last me a couple years. Didn’t ask the price of that either. It just is what it is.

Chicks are really enjoying being outside. Ducks are still hanging in there although one of the black ones has a sore foot. And there’s one of the creamy white ones trying to hook up with a female mallard. She already has a mate and he dutifully tries to chase the other guy off. This creamy one, he does have a mate; she’s sitting on the nest. Hmmm, little inter-breeding going on there in the first place. Wonder if he’ll be a good father?

We have ducklings! Mama (one of the mama’s. It seems to be a community nest) was out in the yard with 9 ducklings this morning. Kelly had a good idea to just put her in the pen with the chicks.
The kids are so small they can get through the holes in the snow fence for now, but they also won’t go too far from momma, so they should be OK. This protects them from dogs, Or falling in a hole, or whatever momma might get into. So we’ll see.

Meanwhile there’s STILL a white duck and brown duck sitting on a nest so I don’t know what’s up or who’s hatching next.

There was a dead raccoon in the field the other day. Turkey vultures were circling. And the next day, a dead turkey vulture was there. They may be vultures, but they’re not cannibals. Which reminds me of a joke. Two actually. Two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other, “Does this taste funny to you?”.


Cowboy Poetry

We were in Medora, ND last weekend to hike in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It was a busy weekend in Medora, as the 36th Annual Dakota Cowboy Poetry Gathering was being held in the community center. We didn’t attend this year, but we did several years ago. Cowboy poets, singers, and musicians perform, and lots of poetry is read aloud.

There are many cowboy poetry events all across the western US from, ND to CO to TX. All the poets we saw in Medora were or had been working cowboys, and their poetry reflected their experiences working cattle and being out on the range. The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV seems to be the most famous, and was started in 1985 after Willie Nelson got funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Themes for cowboy poetry include ranch work, cowboy values and practices, western landscape, references to the past, and issues with modern , urban life. Most cowboy poetry rhymes. There is very little free verse. Here is a classic example by an anonymous poet:

Oh, music springs under the galloping hoofs,
Out on the plains;
Where mile after mile drops behind with a smile,
And to-morrow seems always to tempt and beguile,—
Out on the plains.

Oh, where are the traces of yesterday’s ride?
There to the north;
Where alfalfa and sage sigh themselves into sleep,
Where the buttes loom up suddenly, startling and steep,—
There to the north.

Oh, rest not my pony, there’s youth in my heart,
Out on the plains;
And the wind sings a wild song to rob me of care,
And there’s room here to live and to love and to dare,—
Out on the plains.

Another example by an anonymous poet.

The bawl of a steer
To a cowboy’s ear
Is music of sweetest strain;
And the yelping notes
Of the gray coyotes
To him are a glad refrain.

And his jolly songs
Speed him along
As he thinks of the little gal
With golden hair
Who is waiting there
At the bars of the home corral.

For a kingly crown
In the noisy town
His saddle he wouldn’t change;
No life so free
As the life we see
‘Way out on the Yaso range.

His eyes are bright
And his heart as light
As the smoke of his cigarette;
There’s never a care
For his soul to bear,
No trouble to make him fret.

The rapid beat
Of his bronco’s feet,
On the sod as he speeds along,
Keeps living time
To the ringing rhyme
Of his rollicking cowboy’s song.

Hike it, cowboys,
For the range away
On the back of a bronc of steel,
With a careless flirt
Of the raw-hide quirt
And the dig of a roweled heel.

The winds may blow
And the thunder growl
Or the breeze may safely moan;
A cowboy’s life
Is a royal life,
His saddle his kingly throne.

Saddle up, boys,
For the work is play
When love’s in the cowboy’s eyes,
When his heart is light
As the clouds of white
That swim in the summer skies.

What are some of your favorite poems? Do you like rhyme or free verse? What topics would you write about if you wrote poetry about your job or profession?

Dismal Failure

In late March-early April, Husband and I started our pepper and tomato plants. I knew we would be gone most of April, so I made sure that the timer on the grow lights was functioning well, and we only went down to water and thin seedlings. I often feel tied down by the garden. A friend came to water when we were gone.

Most years, I would check on the plants obsessively, making sure everything was perfect for the plants. We pride ourselves on being successful gardeners. Well, this year it didn’t happen.

The peppers were pretty pathetic this year. We grew five kinds, mostly sweet varieties, and they just wouldn’t grow. We have enough of them to have a variety, but they are so short and puny!

I had to buy San Marzano paste tomato plants because the ones I started just died after germination. The Brandy Boys are good, as Husband fertilized them as they were languishing in the backyard as we hardened them preparatory to planting.

I always dismissed claims that you should talk to your plants, but this year makes me think I can’t travel in April or May just so I can cosset my seedlings.

What is your most dismal failure? What is your experience starting seedlings or growing a garden? What ties you down?

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