Monday, September 7, 2009

Duck Becomes a Swan

Just like the fairy tale, "Duckie" may actually be a swan. She's about three weeks old now, slightly bigger than an adult duck and still has her down and a few pen feathers.

She has a fuzzy toy duck and a toy sheep she likes playing with, and she pecks at the duck when it makes duck noises. She may be cleaning the duck. Her favorite pillow is a fuzzy toy dog.

We think Duckie is a tundra swan. Her bill, coloring, size and calls fit the profile. However, we are keeping an open mind until someone who really knows geese and swans can tell us what we have.

We've been calling our gosling Duckie after Dr. Drake on the NCIS TV series. However, we are thinking about changing it to something like Sinbad and maybe keep Duckie as her nickname. (What do you think?)

Duckie took her first swim a few days ago to my surprise. I took her out for a walk and filled up a shallow litter box for her to bathe in. But when I sat her in it she totally freaked out and promptly jumped out of the box.

The next day, we went for a walk and passed the litter box I had emptied the water out of, but she pecked at it like she wanted me to fill it. While I was pouring water into the pan, she jumped into a nearby water tub from which the dogs had been drinking.

She flipped water on herself and swam around while yaking up a storm. Then she dove under the water and swam around and around, kicking with her flipper feet.

Duckie is getting a bit better at catching her own grasshoppers, but she prefers just pecking in the dirt and snacking on tender greens. She also loves the occasional romaine lettuce leaf.

Since we are going through a lot of newspaper and Timothy Hay, we are checking into a diaper harness. Diaper a goose? It does sound a bit daft, but some people say it really works and makes ducks and geese ideal indoor pets. The Goose's Mother carries harnesses and diaper holders at

So, it appears I was a bit hasty when I said that ducks are not good house pets. At least to a degree. You don't want to just grab a wild duckling or gosling away from it's mother. I don't believe you can actually house break them like a dog. They also won't use a litter box like a cat (although we have a goat that did). The diaper harness is a great solution, but it does take a bit more attention than changing a litter box.

A pet of any kind is a commitment. Ducks and geese may live up to 40 years and that is a big commitment. On the plus side, ducks and geese are supposedly allergy free and don't get diseases common in other pets.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Duck Duck Goose

Did you know that toes look like fat juicy grub worms, and fingers look like tasty grasshoppers? Well, they do if you're a baby goose!

Beth brought us an orphaned gosling that she found in Fort Worth this week. First, she made sure that it wasn't just separated from it's mother before bringing it in. The gosling had a small abscess at the beak root, but the vet said that since it wasn't affecting her eating habits or activity to just leave it alone and it will take care of itself.

We are feeding Goosie a diet of 50/50 birdseed and grit, grass, grasshoppers, and crickets. She gets really excited when we bring in the grasshoppers! However, it sure is hard catching the little buggers. Maybe a butterfly net would help?

We keep calling her a "she", but we really don't know for sure. How do you determine sex in a gosling? I don't guess it really matters at this point anyway. We'll just keep her well fed and happy.

A veterinary technician told us that Goosie (formerly called Duckie) was a goose instead of a duck. She said that you can tell because the bill and feet are different. The tech has raised a lot of ducks, so she was a great person to ask.

A baby goose is a lot like a puppy. Both require a lot of attention, they yelp (or quack) a lot at when they can't see you, and neither come house broken! Small dogs or cats make good house pets. Ducks and geese? Not so much.

A lot of people pick one up for a pet after seeing a movie with baby chicks or ducks in it. Easter is a holiday that sells truckloads of bunnies, chicks, and ducklings. Hamsters are the big thing this season with the new G4 movie and its fuzzy little talking spies.

Goosie was probably someone's pet, since she is so people friendly. She may have either escaped, or someone got tired of her and just let her go. Domesticated animals don't make the transition to the wild that easily and many don't survive. That's true for dogs, cats and other pets, too. It's always better to find another people home for a pet or to take it to an animal rescue group that will know what to do.

Little Goosie is happy and healthy now. She has a little cardboard scratching pad she likes to sleep on when she's not sleeping on the grass we bring in for her. Now all I have to do is find those grasshoppers that got under the bed!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

GPS for Treasure and Fun

If you want to add an extra dimension of fun to your travels or everyday routine, try a little GPS treasure hunting, or geocaching. When you find a cache, you take an item, leave an item, and sign the cache's logbook. There are caches close to just about everyone and the whole family can get involved.

The two things you need for a successful search are a GPS and cache coordinates. The main website for finding coordinates and clues for caches nearby and all over the world is ( You can make a printout of the cache information and maps to take with you in your adventure.

If you don't want to use printouts but still want to play, you can get a GPS that handles paperless geocaching. One excellent example is the Garmin Oregon 400t (pictured here). The Oregon is my favorite GPS yet for geocaching. It comes preloaded with topographic maps for all of the United States or Europe. Road maps can be accessed with an optional micro-sd card. The newer Garmin 550t has the added benefit of a 3.2 megapixel camera. (

The Oregon is a high-end GPS, but caches can be found with a GPS that costs under $100. I started my adventures with a GPS utility on a Pocket PC. On the low end, I used a Garmin Etrex Legend. If you have a GPS-enabled phone, you may already have what you need to start your adventure. Groundspeak even has a new iPhone geocaching application.

On a recent trip to Baltimore, I decided to see if there was a cache I could pick up nearby. The cache had to be within walking distance, since I didn't have a car. I popped over to, entered my hotel's address, and downloaded the results directly to my Oregon. The closest coordinates took my wife and I a few blocks over to the Inner Harbor where we found a big cache.

What did we find? A Hello Kitty watch for my wife and a fallen soldier memorial trackable tag (Pfc. Sam W. Huff) for me. There were probably about 100 items, but we liked these the best. We left some Colombian coffee, a Disney Hero card, and an Eagles Football card.

Now, it's your turn to go over to and start your adventure. Who knows what you will find!

Monday, August 10, 2009

X-Prize Goal Over 100 MPG

Automakers say they are struggling to get the improved gas mileage the government demands. If this is true, how can there be 90 teams that say their production designs will get over 100 mpg?

Visit any car dealership in 2009 and salesmen brag about how many cars they have that get over 20 mpg. Some models may even get gas mileage in the 30s. Ooh, wow.

My 2002 PT Cruiser gets over 30 mpg and a Ford Escort Sport I had got over 40 mpg over 10 years ago. So, car makers haven't been able to make any improvements and have even gone backwards in the last 7 years?

The big automakers are struggling to grasp the idea of an electric car because the concept is so new. Well, no it isn't. I remember seeing an electric car at a fair in the 1960s called the Mars III. It was about the size of a Corolla with an electric motor under the hood and a bunch of lead batteries in the trunk. Almost 50 years later and there hasn't been very much progress for electric production cars. Was it just technology issues or kickbacks to the automakers from the petroleum industry that hampered the progress?

Some independent companies have come up with production electric cars. However, most of these are really meant for short hops away from the house charging plug, making them not very practical for most of us, especially in Texas. I have a 160 mile round trip just for work each day.

Size is another issue. One way to boost gas mileage or the electric equivalent is to create little cracker boxes like the Smart car. You can almost get two small people in one of these and maybe a couple of bags of groceries.

Hybrids like the Honda InSite and the Toyota Prius have made the most headway. However, the Prius only uses electric when it is in city style driving. That's good from an urban pollution point of view when you have a lot of idling or low speed driving. However, most of my driving is on the highway, so there is very little benefit for commuters like me.

The hybrids and pseudo-hybrids still only get you mileage in the 40s, so there has to be a better solution. The Progressive Automobile X-Prize organizers and participants agree.

While many of the teams competing in the X-Prize have concentrated on dinky vehicles like the Smart car or smaller, others have gone for a futuristic design. The latter are pretty exciting, but what really caught my eye was one participant that uses a full-size 1960s car design.

Enertia Motors' biodiesel electric entry has a 1960s Avanti (see picture above) with a Kabota diesel engine and an electric charging system. The car is classic and big enough for real people. But this is where it gets interesting. Their entry is designed to get 100 miles on a single charge and then go over 100 mpg on biodiesel or diesel you get at the pump. Now you are talking practical green.

All of the entrants have been tasked with achieving over 100 mpg equivalent in whatever power they choose. They also have been told that their design must be able to go into mass production to even compete.

Some other full-size cars include the Avion, the Tesla Roadster, and the Poulsen Hybrid. The X-Prize winner will be announced in 2010, but you can check out these and other innovative 100+ mpg car designs at (Photo by Enertia Motors)

Saturday, August 8, 2009


I was actually hoping for a conference in Orlando (Micky Mouse and pixie dust) when I got the news that we were going to Baltimore. So, what's to do in Baltimore? Well, actually there was quite a bit.

For one thing, we were lucky enough to have the conference in a hotel on the inner harbor just in time to board two tall sailing ships in the visiting ships program. One was a Brazilian ship and the other had an all-girl crew. Is that great or what?

The Cisne Branco, or "White Swan", was a beautiful ship with a fun crew. They had a great band that played festive music and kept everyone happy.

The Unicorn was part of the Sisters Under Sail program and crewed by all young women. The program helps girls learn teamwork, responsibility, self-reliance and improve self-esteem.

A third tall ship, the USS Constellation, is a permanent fixture of Baltimore and gives you the feel of boarding a ship from the 1800s with a crew in period sailor uniforms. You feel the ship move and the boards creak. You may even get to feel what it was like to be part of the crew - load a cannon, pull the cord and ***BOOM***.

Aside from ships, there was plenty of crabs and other seafood. Another highlight were singing fudge men at the Fudge Factory. (Maybe they were the Fudge Man Group?) But more on this another time! (Photo by Mike Sessums)