Ex-battery Hen Adoption

Everyone I meet seems to think I live in the outback as soon as I mention I live in Ipswich City. I really have no way to hide the fact I sort of do live on a (very small) farm, as we have started keeping chickens as a source of eggs (and an entertainment option if you are me). I think as soon as you start keeping livestock, you’re a farmer.

We originally bought in four hens from a local rural supplier. As we never had cared for chickens before, we decided to get a copy of Jackie French’s Chook Book (which has turned out to be a great first guide). The book discussed the possibility of sourcing ex-battery chickens (the poor souls who lay cage eggs you buy in the supermarket) as a way to also get hens and treat battery chickens to a second lease on life. As dedicated animal lovers, we immediately took the opportunity. We received four additional hens on Sunday from a local ex-battery hen adoption program (called Homes for Hens).

As animal lovers, we always try to buy free-range everything (where it is available in the uncultured location that is Ipswich), and we have always used free-range eggs. I always knew cage eggs were come by under depressing conditions for the hens forced to lay them; I’d never given it much further though. The adoption program really made it clear just how poorly battery hens are treated.

The hens, when in the battery, are given roughly an A4 sheet area to live on. This as it turns out does not provide enough room for the hens to stretch their wings, an important part of a chicken’s self-care. They are exposed to continuous fluorescent lighting 24x7x365 to break their normal cycle of egg laying, forcing them to lay more eggs than is natural. Shortly after being born, battery hens have their beaks trimmed; unlike clipping a human fingernail, clipping a hen’s beak cuts through nerves causing a great deal of pain. The beak never grows back. Cutting the beak makes it difficult for the hens to eat. They constantly peck each other due to being packed so closely together, perpetuating the need to cut their beaks. They are given only a wire cage (wire on all sides) to live in and the limited size means their feathers are rubbed off, and the constant light causes the hens to put all their nutrients into egg laying rather than growing feathers, bones and other parts normal in chickens. Because cages are open at the bottom, they expel their waste onto the chickens below (cages are stacked one on top of another in long rows). After a year of this terrible ordeal, the hens are treated to slaughter (male chickens born in this system are killed by gassing or some other disturbing method as soon as they are born). This is hardly a just way to treat chickens that have gone through so much.

Below I have some photos of our initial chickens compared to our adopted ex-battery hens. The poor ex-battery hens are emaciated. They were never treated with respect. They have trouble doing normal chicken activities (like foraging and finding food and water on their own). I am disgusted this is allowed to happen in Australia. The EU is phasing out caged egg farming by the end of the year.

An ex-battery hen
Healthy chicken

If you purchase cage eggs, you should feel extreme guilt. These inhumane farming practices are perpetuated by your decision to buy cage eggs over free-range eggs. You cannot tell me you cannot find the extra dollar to buy free-range eggs when 11 million hens are suffering in Australia to satisfy your need. For each cage egg you buy, a helpless, voiceless, innocent animal has suffered for 30 hours.

The solution is simple: buy free-range eggs. While the farming practices here are not free-range in the exact same sense we at home operate free range, but the hens are treated with infinitely more dignity and are not treated to the same horrors as their unfortunate caged counterparts. If you have enough room, you really should investigate if keeping a few chickens yourself is a possibility.

With a lot of TLC, I am expecting we will be able to rehabilitate these chickens and allow them to have a long, happier life.

On Submitting my Thesis

Eight months of painstaking work is nearly over. 51,000 words and 213 pages later, I am submitting my thesis A Framework for Managing Multiple Vendors in an Outsourcing Arrangement for examination at QUT. While I am (very openly) excited at the near completion of my second qualification (this thesis is for my honours degree), I think it is important to keep things in check.

So what did 32 weeks of hard work teach me? A lot, and that’s outside of what I learnt about IT multivendor outsourcing. While research has been an exhausting, stressful and exciting experience, I think there is a lot to learn from the experience before saying all is done and dusted.

The first thing I learnt is that you must always have a “Plan B” (and Plan C wouldn’t go astray either) research. Given the size and complexity of everything, it’s important to have a second way out. I must admit I’m not great at this: it’s often either my way works or it’s time to start a yelling match (always at my Mac that probably did nothing to deserve that kind of treatment). The one thing I’m going to take away from this is have someone else there to help you find Plan B; in my case it was my supervisors that did that. I’m thankful they had a Plan A and Plan B all along (I suspect they were both probably planned up to Plan X though).

Secondly, never trust Word. While I respect what Microsoft does in developing and supporting a gigantic, feature-packed office suite, Word’s performance and reliability starts to break down at around a 100-page document. When you’re working for hours on end on a 200+ page document, the last thing you want is a crash. I learnt that the best thing to do is create a template with all the layout, styles and bits and bobs you want, and then use it as a pseudo-template. Do things in bits (chapters for me, that is how serious things get). Save frequently. Backup often. Version. Just always do one thing: don’t trust your computer not to crash.

Some of the other things I learnt were small but valuable lessons. I really should know these things by now, but who has time to try and remember these sorts of things?

  • Have a plan and keep a journal. Do this from the beginning.
  • Ask for help (this is one of my biggest issues).
  • Use mind maps. A lot of them.
  • If something isn’t right the first time, iterate.
  • Know when to stop writing (this is a hard problem).
  • Don’t trust EndNote or any of the academic databases to get citations right automatically.
  • Get someone else to do your printing and binding (using Officeworks saved me a lot of time!).

The last thing I want to do is thank every single person who helped me. I must thank my supervisors or their support and interest in the project. Thanks to QUT for the scholarship that made it all possible. I want to thank every participant and supporter of the project for their ability to make things happen (especially data for the research). Thanks to my family that had to listen to constant complaining, put up without seeing me surface from my desk for hours at a time and for being there to provide much needed support. For my manager and co-workers at Tech-Knowledge, thanks for providing support in terms of study time off and for having someone to vent to. To my friends who were keen supporters of me, thanks for being supportive and hilarious at the same time. Every single person’s support was invaluable and I doubt I’d have gotten this far without you all!

The Lost & Found USB

I recently picked up a great deal at a VIP sale at The Good Guys Ipswich: a 4GB Verbatim flash drive for A$3 each. Given there was a limit of five, I took advantage of the deal and bought my limit of five. I’m pretty happy with that deal (seeing I just returned from my local supermarket where the same drive was selling for A$27!); now just to find a use for all of them…

A specimen of the amazing A$3 USB deal

Given I have so many now, I’m getting into the habit of carrying one with me everywhere (you’re likely rolling your eyes now: USB sticks are so 2005). But they don’t rely on the Internet and every computer has a USB port these days. That makes a USB drive a must have tool. I’m also running PortableApps on the drive. It’s a great way to have important applications configured my way wherever I go, plus a good way to carry work from machine to machine at university without having to continually log in and out of Dropbox.

Carrying this USB drive with me everywhere got me thinking – What if I lost it? USB drives are small (admittedly the Verbatim ones are a bit of a chunky monkey, but A$3 is a steal anyway you look at it). I’ve already dropped one in the car (luckily I knew about it that time). What would happen if I lost my USB drive with all my important files and apps?

Appealing to the belief that most people are at least a little altruistic, I decided I would put together a short text file providing my name and return/contact details at the top-level folder (the root for the technically inclined) on the drive (and a thank you to the person for finding it). It is a quick way to identify a drive as yours and have it returned quickly (rather than having it stolen).

I uploaded a template text file that I used for my lost USB drive notice over here. Just populate it how you like and copy it to the top level directory of your USB drive. It is simple. You can add or remove entries in the contact details section to you liking (for example, I don’t include the Facebook entry on the version I use).

Hopefully this simple solution will save your USB drive from being lost for eternity at some point in its life. But lets hope it never comes to your USB drive being lost.

Clean a dirty iPad 2 Smart Cover with an eraser

If you are anything like me, your Smart Cover is a saviour for your investment into the Apple tablet; without it, my screen would likely already be damaged in some way or another. My fluorescent green Smart Cover, while a great protector and feature of my iPad, it really does take a beating. My iPad floats around in my bag with all of the other things I happen to take to uni (folders, Livescribe books, textbooks and sometimes my MacBook Pro). This leads it to collect all sorts of grime on the Smart Cover’s polyurethane front.

I have no real idea of what to do to clean it up – it had become quite unclean in the few short weeks I have actually had it. I was sitting at my desk when I was holding on to a rubber (or an eraser, depending on who you are and where you are from) when the idea struck me  – why not use the eraser? I wasn’t sure it was going to work, but after a few moments, all the gunk that had built up over the life of the cover came off easily. See the image below (sorry it isn’t amazing; my iPhone and desk lamp don’t like each other much). Note this approach may not work for permanent marks like those made by biro and marker pens, but works for general everyday grime.

The iPad Smart Cover can be cleaned with an eraser. The dirty areas are in the red squared. The clean panels are on the right.

But it just goes to show the best solutions are the simplest ones.

‘De-Papering’ My Life

I am ‘one of those people’ who does take the environment seriously. I try very hard to reduce energy usage with all of the devices I use (I run the screen brightness on my Mac, iPhone and netbook ridiculously low, and even try to drive in a way that saves as much fuel as possible). I am pretty successful in this area, and I do make other environmentally friendly actions, but one area I always have trouble is with reducing paper usage. I recently read a well put together article on Lifehacker about removing paper from and digitising your life. The post goes to great details on how to digitise a lot of different media types. But there is a fundamental problem. People aren’t set-up or prepared to take the step into a fully digital world. There are a few areas where I can see issues that make going paperless farther from a reality than we would like to think.

Billing and Accounts

I know very well that most companies (especially mobile phone carriers) would like you to do all your billing and payments online. While I think this is nice, they miss a fundamental issue: redundancy and information availability. They are asking you to solely rely on them. Is this fair given how sneaky and unreliable they are most of the time? Most of your account information is on there, and let me tell you, is it important. I recently changed my rateplan for my iPhone (increase, I make a lot of phone calls these days), and they needed all sorts of information, most of which I had no real way of knowing. Thank goodness I had bought my last bill with me. While it still took a while to change (the system crashed on the poor trainee who was serving me), the fact that the bill had this information was invaluable. Beyond that, online systems are wont to fail, resulting in payment and account use issues, which is far from optimal for mission-critical uses. Yes they charge extra for a paper bill, and then extra for paying that bill by EFTPOS at Australia Post, but really, at least I have a backup copy, and something I can rely on if the system breaks.

University

University introduces a whole new area for paper consumption. Most of the content is delivered electronically (PowerPoints for lectures, Word documents for tutorial work), but there is always a need to make notes on these. Studying fully electronically is difficult, as is fitting a computer (even a netbook) on one of the myriad types of lecture desks to make notes with. Enter the Livescribe Pulse pen. This expensive little piece of equipment impresses everyone (except me, the price makes me want to run away and live in a cave), and does a great job in recording what I write and the lecture audio, but the books are massive, with huge amounts of paper (so maybe they are value for money, but A$40 is still steep for 4 books). Then academic staff insist on bringing in handouts, on paper. Then come the 65 page assignments for Business Analysis. Printed. Bound. Handed in in a cardboard envelope. With another piece of paper attached. Then there is the the marking sheet that comes back too. Do this a couple of times, and paper (and printing) becomes expensive. While some of my assignments are electronic, it would help if they were all electronic. While I go to a tech-focused university, the ways of old are still too embedded to make the transition. I hope tablets (yes, iPad style) and things like this can fix this problem up.

The workplace

This is the killer. Businesses still rely heavily on paper. I think we can attribute this to business culture, and the attachment Baby Boomers and Gen X have to it (yes, I am Gen Y; let the generational disagreement begin!) You can never replace the paper proposal, the paper invoice or the paper meeting handouts in this environment. Collaboration is also often very spontaneous, and you aren’t necessarily in front of your workstation. Out comes the paper and pen, and notes are made. Then your desk gets cluttered with paper, but at least you have the notes you need to remember things and to do your work. This creativity is difficult to create with the fixed-location workstations of the workplace today, but tablet technologies may provide a way forward.

These are just three of the ridiculous number of areas where paper is too deeply embedded and process too reliant on paper to enable a quick transition to a fully digital world. All we can do is try our best with what we have, and hope that technology catches up.