15 January 2015

Dogs are smarter than you think

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/13/seattle-dog-rides-bus-public-transit-park-black-lab_n_6463364.htmlSeattle dog rides the bus to the dog park

     The above link is to one of several websites that have a video about Eclipse.

     No, not the horse. 

      Eclipse is a two year old black  Labrador Retriever. She lives in Seattle with her owner, Jeff.

     Jeff and Eclipse take the bus to the local dog park four or five times a week.

     Sometimes, when the bus arrives, Jeff isn't finished with his cigarette. So Eclipse gets aboard without him.

     She knows where her stop is. She watches out the window, and when she sees her stop, she goes to the door and exits the bus.

     I would not be surprised if she can do the return trip on her own, too. 

     When I saw an article in the Seattle Times (13 Jan 15) about her I thought, whoa, this one's going to go viral right now. I was right.

     It tickles me no end that dogs can figure this out. I just wonder how her fare is paid? Heck, were I on that bus, I'd pay her fare just for the delicious treat she's given the world. 

12 January 2015

Can't escape the jerk!

      Quite some time ago, I wrote about Cher, a so called 'trainer" at Bourbon Stables.

     The post was on my word press blog, titled The Jerk

     (I've tried to insert a link to the blog, throughthebridlelightly.wordpress.com. You'll have to type the title  "The Jerk" in the search box.) The link appears to work but you'll have to 'search' for the title. I am still learning my way around Blogger.)

      Cher, it appears, is still a jerk.

      Sue and I thought that once we'd left Bourbon Stables, we'd be done with seeing Cher around anymore.

     Alas, not so. Parasites have a knack for finding where their hosts go, no matter how far they go.

     Three people had used Cher as a riding instructor and horse trainer at Bourbon.   I'd watched how Cher had turned Miko, a lovely filly, from an uncomplicated and happy horse into a nervous wreck. Her owner finally wised up and fired Cher. Miko is back to being a happy horse, now that Cher is no longer "training" her. 

    The two other people were taking lessons from Cher. After watching Cher 'teach' them I had vowed long ago to never, ever take any advice from Cher. If you read "The Jerk", you will see how she treated me. 
   Sue had taken a lesson or three from Cher and was advised by Cher to 'sell Raven because you're never going to get anywhere with him". 

   Thankfully, Sue listened to her own heart and horse and realized Cher was utterly full of it, and fired her. She and Raven have never looked back. Raven, by the way, dislikes Cher. He's the happiest, mellowest of horses but when Cher comes by, he flattens his ears and pinches his nostrils. He says very clearly, Stay Away From Me.

   We've been at New Barn since July. We're all very happy to be there. It's not as fancy as Bourbon, but we can trust that Raven is being better cared for.

   Cher's two clients at Bourbon were A and B.  A and B left Bourbon and brought their horses to New Barn! Raven knew their horses and it seemed to be like the Bourbon stables of old. All the horses were familiar with each other, their owners, and they seemed to fit in very quickly.

   The first thing I knew about Cher finding her parasitized hosts A and B  was when I read an announcement in a locally published horse magazine.

   It said: Cher The Great (I'm adding The Great, but that is most definitely how Cher acts.) has transferred her training/instructing to New Barn. Please contact Cher at number etc/email address etc to arrange for riding instruction and horse training.

   The problem was: Cher didn't bother to ask Linea, New Barn's owner if this was okay with her.

    Linea's been breeding and showing horses forever. She is a certified Horsemaster, having gone through that British school and achieved her certification with the BHS. She's also certified half a dozen ways here in the United States. She's a certified riding instructor/horse trainer. New Barn is HERS. It says so on the sign in front: Linea's Training Stable. She is sole owner of New Barn. She's been in the training/teaching business for at least thirty years.

   The first thing Linea heard of Cher's usurping HER farm/arena was when a friend of hers called and said, "have you retired?" "No, I'm still training and giving lessons, why?" "Well, it says here that Cher is now training and teaching at your barn."


   Yes, really. Linea then goes out to HER ARENA to find A being given a lesson-by Cher. 

    I'll give Linea credit...she didn't toss Cher out on her ear, because A is boarding her horse at the barn. Linea wants to keep her customers. It's not cheap to keep a barn these days, and every client means money coming in to keep it running. I wish, though, that Linea had been more forceful, more "how DARE you"...but, that's Linea. Gentle and a bit wishywashy. 
She doesn't like Cher. But two of her boarders do. So apparently, she's allowing Cher to use her arena for training A and B

    But it chapped her ass, you bet.  I don't know if words were passed, I wish they had.

    For a while, Cher was on her best behavior. She was, I'd reluctantly admitted at the time,  'friendly'. Polite. She would listen to other people talk without interruppting. She became almost likeable. I don't think she's fooled Linea.

   Cher went back to ''teaching" A and B. I use the word 'teaching' with a big box of salt. Cher doesn't 'teach'. She..well, she talks. And talks, and what she says, basically is, you are no good at anything and I am here to fix you. She has two pat phrases: you know how to do this, and why aren't you doing what I told you.
     I don't know if A and B notice that they've been taking lessons from Cher for at least two years and aren't progressing at all.
   This is how a parasite works...keep bleeding the host, sucking sustenance (in this case, money) from the host but delicately, subtlely,  not so badly that the host dies or realizes what is going on. Cher plays her victims like an expert angler plays a fish, always keeping them guessing, always keeping success jussssssssssst a little beyond their reach.

   Cher has turned A and B into helpless babies. She's convinced them that they are no good and that only she can help them. 

    Cher has another trick up her sleeve. When her victim begins to think that she's FINALLY learned to ride, Cher convinces her that no, it's not HER...it's the HORSE that's to blame for inability. How do you fix that? Well, ma'am you buy Another Horse. This horse is no good. I will find you one that is better.  
   The horse that she finds, though, is much much worse. 

    B used to own only one horse, Cisco,  an aged Appaloosa who is the sweetest, kindest horse. B is a novice. Cisco was the best horse in the world for a green rider-kind, gentle, and (unusual for an Appy), level headed and willing to listen and teach. (and yes, I've had experience with Appaloosas).

   In between Bourbon and New Barns, Cher had purchased a green broke five year old Hackney mare.

   Until this past summer, I'd never laid eyes on a Hackney. Now I've seen four of them. They seem ...well, strange. I don't consider them riding horses. Hackneys were bred to be high stepping harness horses. They weren't bred for their personality or willingness to interact with humans. They strike me as hard headed and stubborn, ones more willing to argue than to learn.

     Cher has been looking for a free pasture to keep her Hackney mare because she has no property of her own, and doesn't want to pay $450 a month for board (the going rate, at the moment). I have no idea where her mare is. She is running ads, looking for a new place for her mare that (in not so many words) is free. Her ads claim she is an experienced horseman who will come out to ride at least four times a week. Not once is it said that she is willing to pay for pasture for the horse.

   I have yet to see her train her own horse.That may be because she doesn't own a horse trailer.B does, though.

   Somehow (probably using the same propaganda she used on a wiser Sue), Cher convinced B to 'retire' Cisco. He's old. He's not going to take you anywhere. He's useless. 
 B, you need a new horse. Buy this one: a greenbroke, five year old  Hackney mare. This one is a half sister to Cher's mare. If Cher's mare is stubborn and hard headed, her sister is a firecracker. Hot, hot, hot and a real ball of fire. She shares a pasture with Cisco. Unlike that wonderful old horse, the mare demonstrates a fierce resistance to working with anybody or learn anything.  B takes her into the round pen and the mare races, ears pinned, mad at the world. She's not afraid, she's...aggressive. She hates the saddle. She hates the bridle. The mare is No, No, NO.

    B is a lovely person, but I worry. She's expressed frustration at not being able to get anywhere with her new mare. She's blaming herself. In reality, she has too much horse in the mare. She's not a horse trainer. She's wasted months of her life taking lessons from Cher, who has taught her nothing but that she is unable to ride a horse without Cher. Now she has this lovely horse that is even more unusable. Who can help her? Ta da, riding to the rescue, Cher the Wonder Trainer! 

    Do you see what Cher's accomplished? By convincing B to buy a green horse totally unsuited for her, Cher has assured herself of a steady income, "training" the new mare and "teaching" B to ride it. But that takes time...oh, months and months and MONTHS of paychecks lessons.

   She tried this shit on Sue. It didn't work. 

   In the meantime, once she was at New Barn, taking lessons from Linea, A was beginning to get places with her OTTB mare that she'd never accomplished with Cher. 

    While at Bourbon, I would watch Cher and A in a lesson. Cher would mount A's mare and "show A how it's supposed to look."

    The mare's demeanour would change like THAT. With A aboard, the mare was happy, trusting, listening, obeying. When Cher mounted, the mare would obey, but it was obvious she was merely going through the motions. 
    A's mare's tail was wringing and snapping, her ears were pinned the entire time Cher was aboard. The moment Cher got off and A got aboard, the mare went back to being a calm, easy going horse. We all saw this. A more outspoken woman than I broached the obvious, saying to A,  "haven't you noticed how your mare is so fretful and unhappy with Cher?" A, being a wet dishrag of a person, kindasorta agreed, but kept on with Cher. 

   When I saw Cher in the arena, 'teaching A on her mare, I felt so sad. Right back to square 1, A, right back to square 1. Whatever you learned from Linea has been purged by your return to enabling Cher. For that is what Cher is, an enabler. 

   I am convinced that A's mare was dismayed when Cher came back into her life. She's showing it, too. Formerly a docile, gentle mare, she's becoming rowdy. 

   The girls who clean Linea's barn all have years of experience handling horses, and all have their own. Four of them board their own horses there. (working in lieu of a portion of the board.)

   A's mare has begun charging through the gate when they turn her out. This is BAD MANNERS as well as dangerous for a handler.

   Last week,  I had just turned Raven loose and had exited his paddock. One of the girls had brought A's mare out.

   A's mare dragged the handler through the gate. The second she felt the halter unclipped, she tore it off her head and immediately broke away, bucking and kicking. This wasn't exuberance at being let out. This was something else. This was a mare who had determined that she was going to be Alpha damnit. 

 She'd made one go round in her paddock when she noticed me, standing with my back to Raven's paddock gate. One must go through the mare's paddock in order to get to Raven's. 

   She charged me, bucking, kicking, ears pinned and head tossing.

    I had no where to go...my back was against the gate into Raven's paddock and I was cornered. 

   So I charged A's mare, arms out, yelling and projecting all my energy at the mare. I literally roared. She spun on a dime and raced away, still bucking but running away from me rather than at me. She had her eye on me, though. I gave her the stink eye as I hurried to the gate.

   This is a mare I've known for a few years. She's always been docile and submissive. This raving chestnut lunatic is a new thing to me. 

   I would be lying if I said I wasn't shaken. She continued acting the fool but was on the other side of her paddock. I made it through the mare's gate and said to the girl, what the hell? "She's just started doing that, like, in the last few weeks."

   About the same time as when Cher began coming around...and ''training" A. 

   Now it's bad enough that Cher, like a bad penny, keeps turning up. I've noticed that somehow she manages to show up when Linea isn't there. I wonder if anyone has told her that, seeing as to how she claims to be a horse trainer, she needs to retrain A's mare on how to politely go through a gate.

   It won't be me. Because I've learned that Cher has returned to being her old jerk.

   The entrance to Linea's barn is protected by a gate. One drives up, gets out of your vehicle, opens the gate, gets into the truck,  drives through, gets out, shuts the gate, gets back into the truck, and drives to where you can park. 

   For the most part, the women with horses there are generous and polite. If I am afoot when I see someone drive up to the gate, I go and open it for the person. I shut it behind her. Or, if I'm in my truck and someone else sees this, they do the same for me. If I'm in my truck about to leave, I've opened the gate,  another person getting ready to leave as well, motions or yells that she'll shut the gate behind her. That's just courtesy. That's being good boarders. It's polite. 

   Today I drove up to the gate. There was Cher, walking to the arena. She was about twenty feet from the gate. She stopped-looked me dead in the eye-and kept walking.

   How many times have I opened/shut the gate for her? From now on, never. Ever. 



04 January 2015

The silver lining of white line disease


    It's an education, to watch a horse move (while being ridden). I won't say I'm an expert, far from it. It takes many years to really absorb the gestalt of the motion of a horse. Veterinarians and farriers both need that ability to see a horse move without knowing the horse. I will readily admit that when I massaged, I would ask to have a horse walked/trotted out, but I won't admit that I always knew what I was seeing when I saw it. 

 I will never be the level of a dressage judge, someone who is able to see the most minute of actions, one who seems able to to see the slightest hesitation or disobedience, or the proper collection.

    Such fine discernment is, for the moment, beyond me.

    But I'm learning, and it comes from watching Raven move.

    He's off and on lame these days. The vet diagnosed arthritis in his left fore and he's now on Adequan, a monthly medication that seems to be working.

    But what else seems to be working is Matt The Farrier's work.

   I've written about Raven's hoof woes earlier. We realize, now, that Raven has a case of white line disease, and has had it for a while. Why we didn't see it earlier, I don't know. Maybe because neither Sue nor I had ever seen it before? 
It appears that it's not a bad case. As is usually the case with veterinarians, ours refuses to definitively state it is 'white line'. Matt the Farrier "thinks" it's white line and gave us the recipe for the hoof goop to doctor it. We've talked to other folks who've 'had' white line, they've looked at Raven's feet and scratched their heads and said, "I dunno, it could be, what does the vet say?"

   So we're operating on the assumption that it is white line, and are doctoring accordingly. 

   That stuff WORKS. Again, it's a 60/40 blend of Venice turpentine/iodine, applied to the outside of the hoof no higher than the shoe nails, and on the sole of the hoof. Try not to get it on the frog and for god's sakes DON'T get it on the coronary band.

   It's working, especially in our winter climate of rain and never ending dampness.

   What also is working is Matt's trimming of and building up the crumbling hind feet. He trims out the 'garbage', as he terms it, then applies an epoxy of some sort (god help me, it smells like Bondo, but I know it's not, but it is similar in texture and action). Then he nails on the shoe and we keep Raven in his stall for 24 hours until the bondo (let's call it that) cures and hardens.

   It's working.

   Yesterday we rode bareback, as it was so very cold. Sitting on a nice warm, fuzzy horse keeps you nice and toasty. The other person sits on the mounting block, wrapped up in Raven's blanket. While Sue rode, I watched. (as an aside, a few months ago, she was riding and asked me if she was crouching in the saddle. I said, "I dunno, I was watching Raven". What! You were watching the HORSE?   (laughing))

   I noticed that he is trotting more comfortably now. He's picking his hind feet up now, whereas before, with his too tight shoes, he would drag them. In fact he'd drag his hind feet so much that the hoof wall was burnished from the sand in the arena. He seems to be a lot happier now, now that his hoof angles are being changed, with every trimming, to something more normal.

   I can't help but blame the old farrier. Bless him, he meant well, but...Sue's been using that farrier since 2009. Hence, Raven's feet have been slowly but relentlessly 'forced' to into an unnatural position and form. Again, this isn't malfeasance by the old farrier. 

    If you've ever been foolish enough to attempt to give yourself (or someone else) a haircut, you know that, unless you know what you're doing, you botch the job. You take a little too much hair off here, so you have to take some more off on the other side to balance it, take off a little too much there and before you know it, you or your poor victim is either bald or butchered.

    Like any other craft, farrier is a combination of art and science. Once you've learned it, you don't have to relearn it..but you really do. Science, research and understanding of how hooves grow has mushroomed in the last ten years. We know so much more. There's fads, such as 4 Point Shoeing, or "natural shoeing",  that neglect to understand that a mustang that doesn't grow a fabulous hoof doesn't live long. Domestication has changed the horse in many ways, to include the feet. You cannot expect a horse with a thousand years of domestication behind it to have feet like a mustang. 

   But fads have their place in expanding the entire sphere of understanding. Incorporating new information, i.e. fads, into the base of the science, is what makes for better farrier science.

    Farriers, when they learn and hone their trade, are going to go down a certain path of knowledge, empiricism, and experience. Like the old saying, sometimes you can't teach an old dog new tricks. I was guilty of that close mindedness as a massage therapist. I learned how to massage a horse a certain way, and when I see someone else massaging a horse, I immediately go into Professional Mode, thinking, "Why is he doing it THAT way? I wouldn't have started there, I always start on the brachycephalicus...". I have to stop myself with a mental admonishment...like riding, there's many ways of massaging a horse. The end result is what is important, not how you got there. 

    Did it ever occur to me to go back to school? Why? When I knew my way around a horse so well I could (and did) massage horses in the dark? The idea never occurred to me. Now the point is moot, as I've permanently retired from massaging horses. My shoulders just cannot handle it anymore. I don't have the upper body strength anymore. 

    Even so, I was wrong. Perhaps going back to school after 16 years of massaging would have been beneficial to me and my clients.  I learned this from my decision, at the advanced age of 49, to go back to college to finally get my degree in Biology.

   I was born a biologist, studied biology for the love of it, throughout my life. I absorbed it like a green leaf absorbs sunshine, and have never not loved it. I thought going back to school was merely a formality, merely being able to legally put BS after my name. I thought going back to school could teach me nothing I didn't already know. And yes, much of it was merely refreshing what I already knew. However, biology has exploded in the last twenty years.  I learned a ton of new information, new elucidations of things I'd never thought of. I learned a LOT of Biology that I didn't know I didn't know. 

  Perhaps that was the problem with the old farrier. He'd always trimmed that way. He knew Raven's feet from years of trimming them. He knew his work. He didn't have to relearn how to trim a hoof. Nor, to give him the benefit of the doubt, did he have time or the money to stop working to go back to farrier school. One, there aren't very many farrier schools left. No one is teaching anymore. Two, trimming and shoeing horses is the way he makes his living. Being self-employed is a bitch of a way to live-everything depends on you working. Your bills need paying, your family needs to be housed and fed, everything depends on your working. You don't have the luxury of taking six months off to relearn a few things.

  Hoof trimming/shoeing is an art. A farrier is a combination of barber, sculptor and machinist. In all three fields, one changes the shape or appearance of a substance by removing large parts of it.   

   That's what hoof trimming is. You have to remove parts of the hoof. The hoof has grown back since the last trimming, faithfully traveling the path you gave it when you trimmed it last time.  A little error from the  last trimming is compounded now, because if you take too much off, then you have to balance it on the other side..and there you have it. For better of worse, the hoof is going to grow in the path you've chosen for it. Sometimes that path is the wrong one.

   Shoes must be forced into a shape that approximates the sole of the hoof wall. Steel, being unforgiving, is going to force the hoof to grow to suit the shoe. Thus you have two competing forces: the living biological process of growth meeting the unyielding plate of steel. 


   So it was for Raven. The old farrier could only trim the way he'd taught the hoof to grow, and shoeing it was the capstone of the process. You have to make the shoe fit the hoof.

  Consequently, Raven's feet weren't shod 'correctly'. By the time we realized his hooves were really bad, it was very  late in the game. 

  Where did he pick up white line? Who knows. 

   In a way, perhaps the white line was a blessing in disguise. Seeing hunks of hoof come away with the removal of the shoe is never a good feeling, but by removing the deformed and diseased hoof, it gave Matt the opportunity to begin remodeling the hoof. Artificial hoof (i.e. the bondo) will hold a shoe and still allow the hoof to grow. Bondo doesn't give a damn that the steel shoe is unyielding. It's as artificial as the steel. It allowed the hoof to heal and regenerate.
   Feeding him supplements to improve hoof growth, working him regularly and gently, and keeping his feet as dry as possible, has helped.

   Finally, I'm tickled that I've developed a better eye for how a horse moves. That's the icing on the cake.

02 January 2015

A case against Artificial Intelligence

          Currently, a subset of scientists, geeks and computer experts are working on creating 'artificial intelligence'. AI is literally that: a machine is capable of thinking for itself. Said machine is able to 'think', 'reason', and act autonomously. Some researchers are taking it one step further, where an intelligent machine will be able to create other, intelligent machines...all without the aid or guidance of humans.

     They think this is a great idea. 

     Obviously, they never watched "Terminator". That movie so frightened me that I had nightmares for three days...as a full grown adult.

     Anyone who's ever dealt with a true geek, a true computer nerd, can see that, while they may be brilliant at getting a computer to work for them, they lack a lot of social skills. "Nerd" originally meant a social inept, clumsy, clueless guy who never went on a date, lived with his mother and never ever went out for a sport. He was relentlessly tormented by his male peers and ignored by females. The term 'nerd' still means the same guy, however, now, they have the skills that we lack...that of making a computer work.

    My computer has been in sick bay for the last two weeks. It literally went insane in front of my eyes. It refused to allow me into my own files, it wouldn't boot, then if it did, it booted and shut down, over and over, at an incredible rate. It went insane. If I shut it down, it would start back up. It was maddeningly frustrating.

   This is a machine we're talking about, but there was a certain malevolence in its breakdown. I was incapable of slapping it out of its hysterical fits of madness. I'd had the foresight to keep a backup on an external hard drive, but still...I had no recourse but to take it to a well advertised computer repair bunch with the initials GS. Of course, the bloody machine behaved like a docile lamb for them. Brought it back home, hooked it up...and madness. I did that THREE times.

    The geeks at GS merely cleaned it up. One person was able to partially replicate the problem, and even wrote it down" "Booted up only after five tries. Computer is very slow."

    Hello? I paid this geek to tell me what I already knew? He didn't fix it.

    Once burned, twice shy. This time I took it to a local guy, recommended by two friends, and he fixed it. This time, he had it on his work bench and it went crazy on him.

   He diagnosed it as a failing mother board.

   Now it is back home and I am a couple hundred bucks the poorer, but I am at last able to work again.

    I don't trust it, though. Not again.

    Even though it's just a machine, it was making decisions based on what it was taking from its environment. The fact that the decisions made no rational sense TO ME is exactly the point.

    These geeks are trying to make a computer 'self aware'. That way lies madness, because they have no idea of what that truly means, and what the ramifications are.

    You and I, who love horses and animals, know that horses see things we don't, and react accordingly. We all know there are Horse Eating Monsters out there. To you and me, they look benign and harmless. A plastic shopping bag. An empty garbage pail. Literally anything, that is harmless and useful, can be misconstrued by a horse as something dangerous. 

   What does he do? Bolts. Stampedes. Shies, spooks, panics...runs through fences, jumps out of  moving horse trailers, does anything he possibly can to escape the thing that frightens him. In his fear, he will do things to himself that ultimately become life and limb threatening. 
At the time, though, he is making decisions, ones that make sense to him, ones that are meant to protect himself. 

    The geeks don't see that. To them, a computer is a docile machine, created by their own hands, and 'taught' by them. 

   By making a machine self aware, they are creating 'life'. They are creating an animal, one that will be interested in self protection. It will do things IT wants to do.

    The geeks cannot possibly predict what a self aware, artificially intelligent machine will think is rational behaviour. 

    They didn't watch "Terminator", a movie in which robots-self aware, incredibly intelligent and wired into a vast intelligent network, were acting in their own self interests. That self interest included destroying any biological life on the planet. Humans got in the way. Humans were using up resources the machines needed for reproduction, for resources, everything. 

    What do you think when you go into your tack room and find that rats have chewed a hole into that bag of oats and have not only eaten much of it, but have contaminated the rest of it with urine and feces?

   You do your best to kill the rat. 

    The rat doesn't have any concept of you, your motives, your hygienic standards, anything about you. He knows you are a predator. He also knows that oats are good to eat, and the bags are right here, in a warm, dry barn. You are merely an obstacle, a thing to be avoided, a thing to be wary of.

    You want to kill it because rats are disease carrying rodents that destroy things and breed like..well, like rats.

     Do the geeks truly believe that intelligent, autonomous machines will regard us as anything but rats?

    The geeks won't design the machines to have emotions. A machine will not be able to feel empathy, love, hate, caring, worry, etc. Only a living thing can have emotions. 

     Isaac Asimov was a prolific science writer, of both fact and fiction. I learned a boatload of stuff from his books...everything from physics, chemistry to astronomy and history. He wrote a trilogy of books titled "I, Robot". In it, the self aware, intelligent robots had all been programmed with the '3 Laws of Robotics". They were (I remember only vaguely) 
1. A robot will not harm a human in any way, shape or form.
2. A robot will not allow a human to be harmed in any way, shape of form.
3. A robot will protect itself only if the first two laws will not be broken by it protecting itself.

    Not once have I read of the geeks even knowing of these three Laws, never mind programming their machines to go by them. No, they're developing machines that can go into buildings and seek out humans...and kill them. 

   Not only that, they are making them tiny, and self replicating, so that a swarm of these little killers can enter your home and kill you.

   Even if they don't create such monstrous machines, they haven't considered what a self aware, intelligent computer is capable of when faced with a entirely human situation arises. 

   They don't believe that there is any precedent for self awareness in computers.

   However, it happens every single day. Every day, a computer...or dozens, make decisions based on our actions. Every day, computers-designed and programmed by humans-do things that were NOT intended, were NOT foreseen by the human creator, and make no sense whatsoever to us humans. Many times these errors wreak havoc on our lives. 

    How many times have you heard of someones power being shut off because a computer made a decision based on bad information?  Information that may have been input incorrectly, or a power surge, so infinitesimal and so short lived that humans weren't even aware of it?  How often do you hear of someone receiving a water bill for $1 million 1 hundred dollars for a months use of water, because a computer made an error?

It happens all the time. It happens every day. Computers screw up. Computers make errors, sometimes based on human input, sometimes just...just because. 

   We shrug it off, sometimes we have to go to court to get the idiots in the billing office to understand that we didn't REALLY use over a million dollars worth of water...but it happens.

   These artificial intelligence geeks don't see that. They don't WANT to see it. Being nerds, they've found their own comfortable world, a world where THEY are the masters, and they don't want to see that the world around them is NOT one where 1's and 0's are the sole basis of intelligence.

   Nor can they foretell what a self aware computer will think.

   In the 70's, the movie "2001, A Space Odyssey" was made on the eponymous book written by Arthur C. Clark. Only because I'd read the book beforehand did the movie make even a small bit of sense. Many folks never read the book and the movie was a complete mystery to them.

  At the time, the movie was just too weird. In the years since then, I've come to realize that it was really a horror movie in sci-fi drag.

  The story is of a crew of scientists on their way to explore Titan, one of Saturn's moons. The ship is piloted and managed by a self aware, artificially intelligent computer named HAL 1000, or 'Hal". All but two of the crew are in hibernation, because the trip has taken several years. Even with a big power plant, two trillion miles is one hell of a long way.

   Now I may be making a mistake here, as it's been many years since I saw the film. Perhaps the two awake scientists weren't awake for the max of the trip. Let's say they were in hibernation, too, and got lucky. 

   Because they were the only ones who managed to wake up. The two begin to discover things have gone wrong. The rest of the crew was dead in their cocoons.  The support systems that kept them in hibernation stopped working, and they died without ever waking up. (let's hope). Hal made a mistake. They begin to realize that Hal's gotten sloppy in his duties, this long, long trip, and more things are going wrong.

   They try to report to Earth and discover that the antenna that has been pointed at Earth is now off target.  Now they have no contact with Earth whatsoever.

   They begin to realize that Hal has gone insane. How can a computer go insane? Well, a self aware one has to be living, thinking, dreaming at light speed, unlike us hairy apes who think at biological speeds. That long trip, with nothing to do other than monitor a dozen cocoons, isn't enough work for a computer that thinks. Like a prisoner in solitary confinement, Hal went quietly insane. And he's pissed.

   The scientists realize that they can't say anything to each other. Hal has ears all over the ship. He understands English (and every other language) as well as you and I do. So they repair to a lifeboat to talk things over, knowing he can't hear them in it. They discuss one of them going outside the ship to re-orient the antenna so they can send a message to Earth. 

   However, his red electronic eye can read lips. Hal discovers that the scientists are going to go outside the ship to re-orient the antenna, an act that probably allow them to regain control of the ship. They decide that they will kill Hal.

   One of the scientists suits up and goes outside the ship. He's up on the side of the ship when the antenna dish rotates, hits him, sending him careening into space. 

   Here's horror number one. Can you imagine a worse way to die? You can't swim in space. There's no friction to slow you down, nothing to push against, nothing to brace yourself against. Once you're in motion, you're in motion to stay, going at high clip into space with just the oxygen in your suit. You're going to die. In space, no one can hear you scream. 

   The second terrifying thing that still rings in my mind is the scene where the surviving scientist realizes that Hal has killed the other man and is intent on killing him. He is utterly alone now, two trillion miles from Earth. It's just a question now of how and when Hal is going to kill him. He has to kill Hal first. But this isn't easy to do.Hal is fully aware now that this bug, this human is going to try and kill him. The man, still in the lifeboat, realizes now that he is going to have to make a decision. Do I stay aboard the ship with an insane computer that has already killed eleven people, or do I take my chances and head to Titan in the lifeboat?

   He decides to abandon ship. 

   But to do so, he has to have Hal open the bay doors. He says "Open the bay doors, Hal."
Hal refuses.  In a gentle, almost patronizing tone of voice, Hal says  "I can't do that, Dave."  Hal "knows better" (sic) than Dave what the repercussions of abandoning ship will mean. 

   It's that gentle, masculine voice so jarringly juxtaposed to the things that Hal has done to kill the crew that's scary. This machine has no empathy, no concern about the humans it was built to serve. Hal is in control and knows it.  It is incapable of caring for the well being of a human. Hal is insane, and self protective.

   There is no way Dave can get off the ship without Hal allowing it, and Hal has no intentions of doing it.  
    I won't go on, because the movie gets ever weirder from that point on.

   Now let us go back to the rat in your grain room. While you are cleaning up the spilled oats, you find a pile of torn up paper, hay, etc underneath a forgotten saddle cloth (now you will understand why it's a necessity to keep a clean barn). You pick up the saddle cloth-and there, in a warm bowl, is a nest of baby rats.

   The furry commas look up at you, blinking at the sudden light. One meets your eye and yawns, its minute and perfectly formed forepaws stretched out ahead of it. The rest began squeaking, pushing each other, behaving like minute puppies.

   OK, they're rats. Kill them now.

   Really? What do you mean, you can't? They're RATS. If you don't kill them, they will grow up, reproduce and soon you will be overrun with them.

   Hey, it would be easy. They're helpless, they can't even walk yet.  You have good solid boots on. Stomp on 'em. They're tiny, it would be like stepping on a couple of ...what? OK. 

   Don't be ashamed, I couldn't do it, either. I have no problems trapping and killing an adult rat, but the helpless babies? Not me, sister, not me. I'll have to find a different way of dispatching them. I can't kill them by smashing them. I just can't. 

   That's called compassion. It's called a conscience. It's called mercy.
   These are feelings that will always separate us from machines. 

   There is a truly terrifying science fiction short story titled "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream." Written by Harlan Ellison, it is probably the scariest thing I've ever read, and I wish I hadn't. I've never forgotten it and the lesson it taught me about artificial intelligence.

 We've already seen see how simple computer errors can cascade into tremendously expensive, and even life threatening situations.

   It is insanity to depend on the mercy of a machine that is incapable of it.