The Year of Bad Beekeeping

I’ve been doing small-scale urban beekeeping for six years now.  I started with a package of bees and a brand new top-bar hive I built myself and kept that line of bees going through multiple splits and swarms for five years. I usually have two hives going, and occasionally three.  There have been a few bumps along the road, but overall I’ve felt pretty successful.  That was until the end of last year when I lost one hive to yellow jackets.  I had taken a couple of splits from the hive to start a hive for a co-worker.  The hive then went ahead and swarmed late in the summer, after already being weakened from a split.  This left the hive to weak to defend itself and yellow jackets finished it off.   That was too bad, but I understood what had happened and still had a good very strong hive going into the winter.  I went ahead and ordered a nuc for the spring, just in case, and because I wanted to see how Russian bees compared to the Beeweaver bees I’d started out with.

 

Unfortunately, mice got into my remaining hive, built a nest and did a lot of damage.   I discovered this in February and got the nest out of there.  The hive wasn’t in the greatest shape, but it had a queen and a little brood. It was too cold for me to thoroughly clean out the hive and fix things, so I just let it be.  A couple of weeks later when we had a warm spell and I went to finish cleaning up the hive only to find the mice had returned and wiped out the remaining bees.  I kicked myself, because I could have taken more steps to mouse-proof the hive and hadn’t.  For the first time in 5 years, I was without any bees. I did have the Russian Nuc coming in the spring, and a beekeeper friend of mine had hives that were ready swarm early, so he gave me a split off one of his hives and I was back in business.

 

I had been using Kenyan top-bar hives since I started.  Last year I experimented with a Tanzanian top-bar Hive.  That hive performed really well and was strong going into winter, but it was the one wiped out by mice in February.  So having now existing colonies I decided to give the standard Langstroth hives a try. These are the standard boxes which are the most commonly used hives here in the US. I’d always avoided them, but I thought it would be good to have the experience of working them.  And if I ended up liking them, it would make things a lot easier could I just buy standard gear and not have to custom build things like I did with the top-bar hives. It also meant I’d have an easier time hiving the nuc I was getting.  So I setup two Langstroth hives.  The split from my friend's hive went into one and the Russian nuc went to the other.   I quickly found I did not like working these hives.  Lifting the boxes was difficult.  They got quite heavy and were glued together with wax and propolis.  Removing frames of comb was also difficult and I always felt like I was crushing a lot of bees in the process.  The Russian nuc never really took off.  The queen didn’t produce much brood and the hive didn’t grow much.   The split from my friend’s hive however took off, quickly filling the hive to capacity, and I think it even swarmed.

 

Unfortunately, a problem that has been a minor annoyance turned into a huge problem.  Small hive beetles infected both hives. I’ve always had problems with these, though they’ve never gotten completely out of hand like they did this time. Last month the Russian hive was overcome.  The maggots (larva) were everywhere and had destroyed the brood nest.  I managed to get the queen and the remaining bees out and into a small nuc, hoping they might survive, but they didn’t make it.  The queen was either killed or left.   I ordered a new queen to try and requeen it, but the weather was really hot and the queen died before ever being released from her cage. and the remaining bees quickly dwindled away.

 

So now I was back down to one hive that seemed to be doing well.  However, it too was suffering from a hive beetle infestation that expanded far more quickly than I would have believed possible.   I found the maggots throughout the hive, and every frame I pulled out saw hundreds of beetles being dislodged.  

 

I think this is a shortcoming of the Langstroth hive. All the wooden frames provide far too many places for these beetles to hide. The populations of beetles never reached these levels in my top-bar hives where there are far fewer places that bees can’t reach.  There were still a lot of bees in the hive, though no brood. The brood nest had been ravaged by the beetle larva.  I found the queen, not even on comb but on the wall of the hive. So I got her into an empty top-bar hive and shook out most of the other bees into it. They seem to be clustering in there and hopefully will start building. It’s a bit late in the summer for them to start from scratch, but I’ll feed them as much as I can hope they recover.

 

I threw out all the comb, which included a lot of honey.  I hated to do so, but it had been slimed by the maggots and I just wanted to get rid of it all. I wish I had a way to burn this mess, but being in the city that wasn’t practical. So I bagged it all up and put in a trash bin, which turned out to be a not great idea. The scent of all this comb and honey attracted the bees and good sized swarm developed around the trash bin .  I was alerted to this when someone came to read the electrical meter and was unable to get anywhere near it because of the mass of bees buzzing around the nearby trash bin.  I moved the trash bin away from that area and burned some damp leaves to produce a loud of smoke which helped disperse the remaining bees.  I removed all the bags of comb and double bagged them, then washed out the trash bin and rinsed all the bags hoping to remove any scent that would attract bees. I don’t think it was completely successful, so I still may have a problem disposing of this stuff as I’m guessing the garbage men probably won’t want to pick up a bin full of bees.  

 

This last year has seen a number of failures and missteps on my part. It leaves me with on colony, that is not in the best condition and may or may not make it. That’s kind of the nature of the game with beekeeping though.  There are a lot of threats to hives these days.  Some of the problems may just be the luck of the draw, and some were caused by inexperience or lack of prompt action on my part.  I’m not giving up yet, but I am definitely returning to Kenyan top-bar hives for my beekeeping from here on out.  I think they do a better job of controlling beetle infestations and are simply easier to inspect and maintain. Some of my problems this year may have been from damage I inflicted while trying to do inspections, or waiting too long to do an inspection because I had difficulty manipulating the frames which let problems get out of hand.  Hopefully my current hive will survive, but if not, I will order new bees for next year and start again.  

Learning to Hate Microsoft All Over Again

I hate Microsoft.

 

There, I said it.  It kind of feels good to do so.

 

The thing is, I don’t want to.  I like WIndows 10 as a desktop operating system.  I like the interface on Windows 10 Phone and think it’s much better than anything Android and iOS have to offer.  The email and calendar apps were great.  Cortana is actually a pretty cool digital assistant that I think actually works better than Google Now or Siri.  That just isn’t enough though.

 

I’m a Microsoft hater from way back.  One of those people that resisted every attempt at progress.  DOS was good enough for what you needed a computer to do, all that Windows crap just wasted resources and got in the way.   It was only there so people too stupid to use a computer could point and click without having to learn anything.  I jumped to Linux early on and was smugly superior in my choice.

 

And I still defend that.  Well, I defend the argument that Linux was technically superior to Windows.  I can’t completely defend my arguments against the GUI and such.  I really wouldn’t be happy having to live my life completely in the command line these days.  I also now realize that blindly resisting any change is ridiculous and that people shouldn’t have to be computer experts to use a computer.  It’s kind of like saying that I still wish we were driving around in Model T’s, or that if you can’t rebuild an engine you have no business driving a car.   But most people never really understood just how difficult it was to get a Windows system up and running and keep it running.  Windows was horribly unreliable.  Installing new hardware was a nightmare, updates were often painful.  And licensing was a confusing crapshoot.  Those were the days when configuring Config.sys and Autoexec.bat were an esoteric art that only complete nerds could grok.  But those nerds were necessary, because no normal person could make that crap work.  So Linux, while also difficult, was more stable, was technically free (though I paid for the convenience of buying physical disks back in the day before broadband) and you didn’t have to worry about if you were running a legal copy of it.  

 

Things changed though.  And about the time that Windows XP hit SP2, I had to admit that the WIndows Desktop was as stable as my Linux systems and a lot easier to use.  It still had it’s issues, but my objections to Windows was becoming more philosophical and less technical.  This trend continued.  I actually thought that Vista was a step in the right direction.  It did a lot to improve hardware management and security, though it also annoyed a lot of people.  When Windows 7 came out, I actually became a fan of Microsoft.  Here was an operating system that just worked, and worked well.  It was stable, had an attractive and usable UI, and was easy to install and manage.   Windows 7 became my preferred operating system and I quit using Linux as desktop OS.  Even though I still had reservations about Microsoft, especially their licensing practices, the ease and convenience of using Windows 7 won me over.

 

Then came Windows 8.  I didn’t hate this the way most people did.  I did however get the feeling that they were basically saying desktop computing was dead and optimizing everything for a tablet interface.  Even so, it was a stable system and you could bypass all the Metro UI stuff and use it just like Windows 7.  They really started to integrate things with the cloud, and pushed people to use a Microsoft Account so you could sync things between different systems.  Lots of people objected to that, feeling that it was an invasion of privacy.  I wasn’t as worried about it.  The world was moving that direction and there are so many advantages to using cloud synced services.  I like being able to access my data from any device, and the better that integrates with the operating system, the easier it makes my digital life.  And unlike Google, Microsoft does not make its primary revenue from selling ads, so it may actually be safer to trust them with your personal data.  Windows 8 Mobile brought a new and awesome interface to phones and tablets as well.  There were many promises of universal apps, programs that would work seamlessly across desktop and mobile devices.   It was a bold vision of digital convergence and I was on board.  

 

It never really materialized though.  Microsoft kept the lid on things so tightly that they didn’t even give most of their developer partners early access to the OS to be able to have any decent applications ready at launch. There was a long list of planned apps.  That wasn’t a big deal to me on the desktop, but it crippled the phone and tablet market.  There was misstep after misstep with Microsoft changing directions and switching development platforms.  This just ended up alienating a lot of developers which meant that quality apps were not getting made for their ecosystem.  And they really made a mess out of the idea of seamlessly moving between devices and systems as well.  They offered Microsoft Accounts with custom domains, then dropped support for that.  Signing up for services became a mess because if you had purchased consumer products with your Microsoft Account, you couldn’t then use it for business services. Trying to manage and merge services across different accounts was a maze of problems and failures.


 

With Windows 10, it looked like a lot of the mistakes that they made with Windows 8 were going to get fixed.  The UI was revamped so that it was sensible on the Desktop.  And really, it’s a pretty great interface.  I like it.  It is stable and performs well.  In another move that I mostly support but which has proved very unpopular, they got a lot more heavy handed with updates.  Updates occasionally do cause problems, but more often, they fix them.  In the connected world of constant security threats, it just doesn’t make sense not to keep up to date with patches. And to defend Microsoft for a moment, they’ve not done a bad job of QA and testing of their patches.  It’s a Herculean task to test updates with so many different configurations and everyone on different versions, sps, and patch levels.  I’m amazed it works at all.  Microsoft would like to get everyone to be pretty much on the same level. It would simplify things and probably increase stability and reliability a lot. But, that’s a whole other discussion.

 

I really had some high hopes that with the new leadership that this time they would get things right.  But they didn’t. Same as before the Universal Windows App platform really hasn’t materialized.  There are a few things out there, but not much.  The Windows Phone platform lags far behind Android and iOS.  If this were just an issue of quantity, that might be forgivable.  But it is also in quality.  WIth so many major apps either missing or hopelessly crippled and unstable, it’s hard to make the argument for Windows Phone despite the superior interface.   And to make matters worse, Microsoft doesn’t even support their own ecosystem. We saw this with things like B&N, that despite a $300 Million investment from Microsoft, never produced a mobile app for Windows.  Microsoft itself though is releasing it’s own apps for Office, SharePoint, Outlook etc first on Android and iOS, quite often months ahead of when they release them for Windows Phone. Apps like Microsoft Health broke support for their newest Band hardware.  And just months after marketing new flagship Lumia models, they stated that mobile wasn’t really their focus, so all of you folks that just paid $700 for our new flagship product, well, sucks to be you.

 

Of course mobile is just one part of the failure. Microsoft is trying to recreate itself as an online services company.  They are pushing their Office365 products heavily.  This is an online suite of services you subscribe to and get access to online storage and office applications for collaboration and sharing.  There are a couple of issues I have with this.  One is that this is moving towards everything being a “service” rather than a product.  I have mixed feelings about.  I’m not completely against the software as a service idea.  I’m not opposed to paying for software and services.  I understand it costs money to develop and deliver this stuff, and I’m willing to pay for good quality products and services that meet my needs.  And that is where it breaks down.  The service is not of good quality.  I have found it completely unreliable.  I have been locked out of editing my own files because they were being edited by another user, even though I was the only user on my subscription and had only accessed them from a single computer.  I’ve also had two different Office365 accounts with custom domains get blacklisted by Microsoft so I couldn’t send email to other Microsoft addresses.   This is Microsoft blacklisting their own mail servers, based on no reason I could see.  At work, the same service has resulted in multiple problems with collaborative editing of documents.  Years have passed with Microsoft failing to deliver on its promises to deliver a reliable sync client to its business customers.  Deadline after deadline has been missed.  If Microsoft was truly innovative and pushing the boundaries of what was possible, I might be more forgiving.  But they aren’t.  Other companies such as Google, Dropbox, Box, SpiderOak, have delivered many of these features for years, and generally in a manner which functions much better than what Microsoft is offering.

 

And now that the services are cloud based you really have no control over when things get updated or how.  As I’ve said earlier, I’m all for keeping things updated.  But a lot of this isn’t just fixing bugs or patching security holes.  Microsoft seems intent on just randomly changing the user interface in seeming random ways.  What I see today may not be what I see tomorrow, or even what my coworker will see.  And don’t become reliant on any particular feature, because it might just go away with little to no notice.  It really feels like anytime a genuinely useful feature sees a  lot of use, Microsoft will inexplicably kill it.  If I was of a more conspiratorial mindset, I’d almost think they were giving us a taste of useful features, then killing them off to drive us to purchasing products from their partners which they must profit from in some way.  And quality issues aside, that is perhaps my biggest issue with the whole software as a service model they are pushing. It no longer feels like any of this is for the benefit of the user. It feels as if everything is orchestrated to extract more and more money and information from us.  Windows 10 promotes apps in it’s menus, trying to drive you to buy things from the Microsoft Store.  It actually will show ads in the lock screen if you don’t turn off some settings.  There are built in identifiers to allow advertisers to track your browsing habits and activity.  Calls to tech support for enterprise level products often end up with them recommending us purchasing 3rd party products to overcome shortcomings of the system.

 

An operating system should be a platform to support the tools and applications I want/need my computer to run.  Not a channel for a company to extract money from me.  My use of an operating system should not be monetized.  Once again, I’d willing pay for my OS.  I always have.  I’ve spent a lot of money buying Windows licenses for all my systems.  It is inexcusable to use my purchases to push marketing to me and to steal my data.  I should have control over what services run on my computer, and a reasonable expectation that features and services won’t just go away or change based on someone else’s whim.  

 

Microsoft is a huge company.  It has deep ties into a lot of enterprises, and it knows how to market to executives.  It will continue to slog along as it always has because it can afford to fail until it gets it right, or more likely, until companies have invested so much into the Microsoft ecosystem that they think they have no other option but to continue down that road.  I for one and tired of the repeated failures, the inability to deliver what they promise, the lack of support for their own products, and the constant forcing of customers down paths they may not want to go.   Microsoft has been in a position for really revolutionize things. They could have focused on delivering a consistent, high quality, cloud connected experience that would span devices and environments.  Instead they introduced a hodge-podge of  of products and services that are often incompatible with themselves.   Microsoft pushes the use of its Edge browser, telling you that you should use it and not IE.  But if you use Office365, which Microsoft also heavily promotes, there are a bunch of features in their that aren’t supported in Edge, requiring the use of IE.  If you were dumb enough to purchase an Office subscription tied to your Microsoft account and now want to purchase an Office365 account, guess what, you can’t use the same ID without losing your previous subscription.  Oh, and if you were fine with the consumer level Office subscription but would like to pay even more to have the privilege of not seeing ads in your outlook, too bad.  You can have one or the other, not both for some inexplicable reason.  And let’s not forget the offer of unlimited OneDrive storage.  That is, until people actually started using it.  Then Microsoft turned around and took that all away, including bonus storage people got for paid subscriptions or buying those ultra-expensive paper weights known as Windows Phones.   Do you see the pattern here?

 

I can’t escape from this mess.   My primary role at work has moved towards supporting this sprawling disaster of a product ecosystem. I like where I work, and am not yet ready to look elsewhere, so for the time being I’m going to have to roll around in the dirt and pretend I like it. However,  personal computers have been switched to Linux.  I’ve canceled my subscriptions to Office365 and Skype. I use an Android phone and refuse to install any Microsoft apps on it.  I’ve had enough and will no longer personally deal with Microsoft.  For the first time in nearly a decade, I’m once again running Linux as my primary OS, and it’s great.  Besides a couple of games, I haven’t found anything that I can’t do on Linux.  And by do on Linux, I mean install a program and start using it.  This isn’t like 10 years ago when I spent my evenings and weekends fighting to configure things to work almost as well as they did under Windows.  This is actually productively using my computer with a minimum of effort.  Linux has come a long way, and while it isn’t perfect, it offers a far more stable, trustworthy, and affordable environment than anything Microsoft is putting out there.

 

A Tale of Two Hives

Two days ago it was officially the first day of spring.  Seasons are a bit unpredictable around these parts,  though I think that could be said for most places nowadays.  It does feel like spring though.  Everything is beginning to sprout and I’m seeing green everywhere.  Still a chance another freeze is on the way, which would not be good for all the young buds, but that also isn’t unusual around here and the plants that survive are hardy.

Of course, for me, the biggest part of spring is the return to beekeeping.  And my two hives here at home have been showing signs of life for weeks now.  My first hive, has been very active, even on days I thought were too cold they were flying out and returning with huge globs of yellow pollen.  The second hive seemed lethargic by comparison, with only a few bees flying, even on warm days.

Not really sure why there is such a difference in performance between these two hives.  They are the result of hive splits, so they should be from similar genetic stock, though there is no way of knowing what locals the queens bred with.  The hives are basically the same design, though the first one is one I built from scratch and is made of heavier wood, while the second one was built from a kit and is a bit lighter, so it may be a matter of insulation.  The first hive also has an entrance pointing southeast and receives a bit more sunlight, especially in the morning than the more directly east pointing entrance on the other hive.  For whatever reasons, the second hive has always seemed to struggle a bit compared to the first.

This year I decided to experiment with a slightly different hive design.  Both hives are Kenyan top bar hives, a little different than the traditional Langstroth hive.  I decided to build a Tanzanian top bar hive this time around.  The only real difference between the two styles is that a Kenyan hive is shaped like an inverted trapezoid, narrower at the base than at the top, and the Tanzanian hive is basically a rectangle.  The Kenyan hive has become the most popular with the top bar beekeeping crowd.  They look a bit cooler, but the only practical thing I’ve heard as to why is that they say the bees aren’t as inclined to attach their comb to the sloping sides of the Kenyan hive as they are to the Tanzanian.  Not having the comb attached to the sides of the hive makes it a lot easier to move it around and inspect the hive.  However, I’ve not heard too many people that have actually tried the Tanzanian hive and have first hand experience with it.  The one person I have read about using them claims he has had no such problems.  I imagine a lot comes down to the bees.  Different colonies will build in different ways.  I get a little attachment in my Kenyan hives now, I doubt it will be much worse in a Tanzanian.   On the plus side, the Tanzanian hive is a little easier to build, since it is essentially just a long rectangular box.   I also made it the right dimensions to accept frames from a standard Langstroth hive.  This allows me to use the more common nucs, and accessories like feeder boards designed for a standard hive.

IMG_20150316_192216

IMG_20150316_192216

Mike, a beekeeping friend of mine that I met in an online beekeeping seminar, came up today to help me move the bees from my lethargic hive into the new hive I’d built.  We moved the old hive and put the new one in its place.  When we opened up the old hive to start moving bees over though, we didn’t find many.  The colony was very weak.  There was a ton of honey, but only a small patch of brood, and most of the bees appeared to be young nurse bees.  I managed to locate the queen and moved the queen and the two small patches of brood over to the new hive, along with a few bars of honey.  The rest of the old comb and honey I harvested.  I wanted to condense the hive down as small as possible to so keep parasites like small hive beetles and wax moths from moving in.  Oddly, there were no beetles or moth larva to be seen though, despite a lot of unguarded honeycomb.  We closed up the hive and I set the old hive right in front of the entrance.  I placed the old bars with the remains of honey comb on them on the old hive and left it for the bees to harvest what they would.  The bees went for the honey, but only a few seemed to be flying in and out of the hive, most of them were going up under the roof.

Bee Harvesting Honey from old bar

Bee Harvesting Honey from old bar

I think the hive has too low of a population to survive, but I’m going to give it a chance.  It does have a laying queen and some brood going, so it may yet bounce back.   The other hive (which I’ve been calling the first hive so far) was doing amazingly well.  It is already filling about 80% of the hive, and there was even brood comb and a queen cell.  I’ve never seen the population of a hive so high so early in the spring.  They may even be preparing to swarm before long.  It’s pretty impressive.  What I should do is simply kill off the queen in the other hive and move a bunch of the brood and eggs (or where I assume there are eggs, my vision is no longer good enough to see bee eggs unaided) from the strong hive along with a lot of worker bees and let them raise a new queen.  I could also just try moving brood over and leaving the queen in place,  though that may not work well if there aren’t enough workers to care for them.

If the hive should fail, I will likely still have a strong enough hive to do a split from it at some point, so I’m not terribly worried.  I also have a third hive out at a friend’s farm.  It did not do well last year, and was near starvation when I checked on it a month or so ago.  I fed them some sugar and need to go check on them again now and see if they are still hanging on.  They live in kind of a green desert, farmland isn’t always the best place for a hive because crops like soybeans don’t provide good forage for them.

The Life of Python

Today I went to see a live broadcast of the final (likely) performance of the Monty Python Troupe. The five living members of the group were performing live at the O2 Theatre in London. It was broadcast live around the world, and I think around 200,000 people were said to be viewing it. It was a funny show, with lots of nostalgia. Considering that Monty Python's Flying Circus started a year before I was born, it is something I can remember from my early childhood. My parents considered it far to risqué for me to watch, but I remember sneaking into the TV room at my grandparents after they had gone to bed and watching grainy broadcasts of it on the PBS station from KC. It would be a long time before I got all of the jokes, but even then I laughed at the silliness and knew it was something special.

It was my first introduction to British humour, and would eventually lead me to the likes Douglas Adams, Steven Fry, Terry Pratchett, Red Dwarf, and many others. It was also one of those shows that would help quickly identify potential friends and groups. If you made a Monty Python reference and they got it, then chances were there was some fertile soil for friendship to grow.

They closed the performance with the song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life", and they asked the audience to sing along, wherever they may be. So I sat in the theatre with a hundred or so people singing and whistling, and watching a couple of thousand of people in a theatre in London doing the same. It was a touching moment, watching these five old men on stage receive such an outpouring of warmth with that song. I couldn't help but stop and think that there were people all over the world singing that same song at the same time. People that maybe had nothing more in common than a love for a relatively obscure group of comedic performers. I've never really been a joiner or someone to identify as part of a group, but I was pretty happy to be part of this one.

I could go on with some pretentious prattle about bringing people together and the beauty of shared experience, but I will save that for another time. For now I will just leave it saying they made a great go of it.

“Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Know what I mean?”

Fair & Balanced = Boring

This weekend I will be starting a new MMO, Wildstar. It's a vaguely sci-fi themed that looks entertaining, even if it isn't exactly groundbreaking. One thing that I did notice was that despite having eight distinct races to choose from, there was no indication that there were any actual differences between them beyond some class limits. A little investigation turned up that this was the case, races were basically entirely cosmetic. I can see the point of doing this, but I think it takes a bit away from the milieu. If I'm playing an 8ft tall living statue or a sentient robot killing machine, I expect to be a bit tougher than a normal human, or a psychotic intelligent squirrel for that matter. But in this game the only difference is in how your character looks.

This isn't really new, it's just the latest expression of a trend that has been developing for years. It's the idea of "Balanced" characters, and I think it is taking a lot of fun out of gaming. It started out as kind of a "different but equal mentality", and it isn't a horrible idea. Whether you are playing an online MMO or an old school pen and paper RPG, it generally isn't much fun in certain characters are significantly more powerful than others. Seeing that certain classes or races can advance more quickly can take some of the fun out of games. In the earlier days of RPGs, this was a bit more common. I remember the first game that I ran, Stormbringer from Chaosium. It was simple, brutal, and completely unbalanced. Certain races were simply superior to others, and certain character paths would result in characters with far more power than their brethren. Like the original Dungeons and Dragons, there was a fair degree of randomness in generating your character. This could also create great disparity between characters as the luck of the dice rolls could make one character the pinnacle of achievement, while another would be a crippled idiot.

In tabletop games with a human gamemaster running the show, this can be somewhat mitigated. Even if certain characters are more powerful than others, good storytelling and roleplaying can keep everyone engaged and maybe even turn a character's weaknesses into interesting plot points. And there can be a lot of differentiation, meaning that while one character may be far better at physical combat, another one might be far more talented at stealth, or magic, or a host of other abilities that will be important at different times. Once again, it is up to the gamemaster to make sure that adventures include opportunities to bring these different skillsets into play, so each character is important to the success of the group and gets some time in the spotlight.

In computer games, this becomes a lot harder to accomplish. There is no human mind behind the action able to adapt the adventure on the fly. It really all comes down to numbers and algorithms. All different race/class combinations are engineered to be able to perform pretty much the same in most situations. The amount of damage a character can dish out and take are calculated and normalized. So much as with the races in Wildstar, character differences become mostly cosmetic. A warrior may swing a sword at his enemies and use his armor to reduce the damage inflicted on him while a wizard tossed fireballs about and deflects incoming attacks with a magical force field, but the end result is the same. Both characters will on the average, do the same amount of damage over time, and be able to last the same amount of time before they are overcome.

It isn't quite as simple as that. Many games still have enough differences that there is some differentiation between characters. A lot of them also have some customizations you can do to change the balance a bit. Maybe you want your warrior to be able to do more damage at the cost of not being quite as tough. Maybe you have a wizard that focuses more on protective magic and can shield himself and his allies from harm at the cost of nuking enemies from across the battleground. But even there, most MMOs, and even a lot of pen and paper games still focus on characters filling a limited number of roles within a group. And as MMOs have become more popular, I think a lot more of this kind of design philosophy has bled over into the pen and paper world.

I don't really know what the answer is. It usually isn't much fun to be in a game where your character is markedly weaker or less effective than many of those around you. But by the same token, if someone is playing a hulking brute, say like an orc, from a culture of savage warriors, you'd think they would have a significant advantage in strength and toughness over something like a gnome. It doesn't feel right to have there be no difference between such markedly different entities. I think games lose a lot when the differences between characters become so minor it really doesn't matter much what you choose to play. Unfortunately, so many gamers have become so focused on the numbers that they really lose sight of the lore behind a setting. If Wildstar did make the Granok (giant living statues) and the Mechari (sentient killer robots) way tougher than the other races, then people would complain that the game wasn't balanced and that people playing those races would have unfair advantages. Of course, they could balance things by having other race/class combinations be more powerful in other ways. Maybe Granok warriors would be the undisputed masters of up close and personal combat, but that doesn't mean that a Chua (think intelligent, psychotic squirrels) spellslinger couldn't run circles around them, shooting the hell out of them with their magic pistols and generally being to fast and agile for the Granok to easily hit.

I'm sure it is really hard to work out that kind of balance, probably easier to make things work pretty much the same behind the scenes and create the illusion that the capabilities are different between characters. Still, I'd really like to see a game where the concept of balance was thrown out. Undoubtedly certain races or classes would be easier to play and more powerful than others. Some characters would be at a real disadvantage and would have to work harder to advance in the game. Some classes and races might only be played by those looking for a challenge, or those more interested in the story than the numbers. It would not be fair. What it might just be though, is interesting.

Free Range

Despite the fact that I don't have children of my own, I've been a big fan of Lenore Skenazy's blog, Free Range Kids. She is a champion of the idea that we have become ridiculously overprotective of our children and that this is likely to have a negative impact on our society. I couldn't agree more. The attitude that we must make our society "risk-free" is crushing innovation and is weakening the fundamental social fabric of our culture.

A lot of the problem has to do with our media and news. Negative stories draw more attention and generate more ratings/hits than positive ones. Every bad thing that happens across the country gets presented as it could have happened right next door. And of course, it could have. But that isn't the same as saying it is likely. Crime rates are lower than they were during the 70's and 80's when I was growing up. Yet the general feeling seems to be that there are sexual predators and violent criminals lurking in every shadow. This has led to entire generations of kids that never get a chance to be independent, to explore neighborhoods and find out what it feels like to strike out on their own adventures.

I recently had a conversation with one of my co-workers who uses his daughter's iPhone so he can track her location at all times. He was also frustrated that he couldn't prevent her from texting with anybody she wanted, or from deleting texts and messages from the phone. Essentially he wanted to be able to know the details of every communication she had, as well as where she was at all times. I can't blame him for this. If I had a teenaged daughter (or son for that matter) I would be very tempted to try and monitor everything she did. I would like to think that I wouldn't do this though. I would like to think that I would be able to develop some trust and allow her/him a bit of freedom. Hopefully I could teach my children how to behave themselves, how to take some basic safeguards, and how to function in the world on their own. I cannot imagine what my childhood would have been like had I never been able to do anything without my parents supervision or knowledge.

I did some things I probably shouldn't have. I took some risks, got into a little trouble here and there. It happens. It was part of the process of growing up, of learning about limits; society's and my own. Ultimately, I think I'm a far better adult because I learned to take some risks as a child. I'm a little worried about what our society will be like after a few generations of kids that never had the opportunity to function on their own grow up and start running the show. In some ways I think I already know. I'm a beekeeper and have tried finding places to put hives. I wanted to put one at the community farm run by the university where I work. I was told it was too risky because there was a school half a mile away. I contacted a nature museum at a local park about placing a hive there and teaching kids about bees and beekeeping. Once again it was deemed too dangerous. Someone might get stung. I understand the risk, and that a sting can potentially be serious. I also know I got stung several times as a kid and that had nothing to do with being near a beekeeper's hives. It was just part of nature.

I see the attitudes at my local neighborhood watch meetings. People are upset that there are children outside without direct parental supervision at all times. I hear people talk about what terrible things could happen, how kids could be molested or abducted. Once again it is hard to argue. It is possible something bad could happen. And the overwhelming tragedy of such horrendous crimes being committed against children makes it easy to look at worst case scenarios and say rather safe than sorry. But the truth is that odds of something happening are extremely low. Most children that are abducted, molested, murdered or otherwise abused are victimized by someone in their family or that they otherwise have social contact with. Stranger danger is extremely rare. The odds of a child being victimized at home, school, or church are way higher than by some random stranger that sees them on the street. Driving a child anywhere in a car is several factors of magnitude more dangerous than letting them walk down the street on their own or text with their friends, yet we still create these horrible bogeymen of what could go wrong if we take our eyes off the kids for a second.

I really feel sorry for kids today. Helicopter parents and silly laws prevent them from just being kids and having fun. They don't get the chance to grow into well adjusted adults and learn how to stand on their own. And I feel sorry for all of us trying to live free under the smothering blanket of risk-aversion and government nannying that is springing from the resulting adults that still live in fear of the bogeyman.

Spring, kind of sort of...

Just over a week ago we had record-breaking cold temps here in the KC area, 6 below zero (F) at the start of March. Today it was nearly 80. Of course, the temp is supposed to drop about 40 degrees tonight and we have a chance of freezing rain and snow, but hey, it's the Midwest and that is just how our weather works. I decided to take the opportunity to do a quick hive inspection. We've had a few warm days lately and I've seen bees flying about. They were bringing back some pale pollen from something, elm trees maybe. So I knew they were alive, but I didn't know how things were going over all. So I popped both the hives open today and did a quick inventory. Both of them seemed to be doing okay. The first hive had a fair amount of honey, and a tiny little patch of brood. The second hive was full of honey, but I found no sign of brood. Both hives seemed to be in good shape, not a lot of dead bees and things looked generally healthy.

The population in both hives looked a little lower than I'm happy with, and I couldn't find the queen in either one. A low population is to be expected after a long hard winter, so nothing out of the ordinary. I just hope the cold weather ends soon and we have a good spring bloom. I also didn't look that hard for the queen. I wanted to keep the inspection quick. The bees were pretty docile and the hives seemed calm, so my guess is the queens are there. I generally look for signs of that the queens are there and laying, like eggs and brood comb, but there wasn't much to see this early in the year.

So far so good. With a bit of luck both hives will emerge hale and sound with the spring and I can go into my 4th year of beekeeping with my two original hives still going. In April I'm picking up another package to have another go of getting a colony started at my friend's farm as well. The one I removed from the wall of his shed absconded and wax moths destroyed the comb remaining.

So Why Am I Here?

Just in case you came here looking for a website other than Chaosengine.org, let me explain why you ended up here.  I’ve had several different websites dedicated to different themes.  That made it simple for people to find what they are looking for, but my rate of posting is pretty low overall, and I simply don’t put enough content out there to justify multiple blogs. Add to that the fact that I’ve had pretty much all of my Wordpress blogs compromised multiple times over the last 6 months, and I’ve just decided it doesn’t make sense to keep trying to maintain all these separate websites.  So, I’m combining most of my content into this one site on what is hopefully a more secure implementation of Wordpress.   Chaosengine seemed the most appropriate domain to act as the master, so welcome.  On the navigation bar you will see links to the subjects that came from other sites, and if you were redirected here from one of my other domains, you will by default only be shown posts for that category.   If you were a registered user on one of the other sites, you will need to re-register here if you want to comment.

The Beekeeping Dude Abides

This is just an update to say that I am still doing okay as a beekeeper, even if I'm doing lousy as a blogger. My two hives are still plugging away. While I have some issues with small hive beetles and some attacks by yellowjackets, so far the bees seem to be holding their own. This is the first year I've really been able to harvest any honey from the hives. In the middle of August each hive probably had at least 20 lbs of honey in it. I harvested about a quarter of that. I'm not trying to get enough to sell, so I took only enough to provide me with honey for awhile, and to allow me to give out some to friends and family. The rest I left to make sure the bees had enough to get through the winter.

I started a third hive on a neighbors farm by removing a colony from the wall of his tool shed and putting them in a hive. The transfer seemed successful and the bees seemed to thrive for a couple of months. They badly cross combed the hive, but I didn't correct this immediately because I thought it best to let them build their strength up. I hadn't checked on them in about three weeks and decided it was time to go fix the cross combing in preparation for autumn. To my dismay I found the hive empty of bees and filled with wax moth larvae. So that is my first loss of a hive. I will have to clean it up well and hope to repopulate it with a captured swarm or a split next spring.

I'll get some pictures and posts up about the happenings this summer soon. This weekend I should be prepping the hives for winter and hopefully my luck will hold up and both hives will survive.

Old School

My working career has been an interesting one.  I've done everything from clean kennels and carpets to working on high tech laser and electron microscopes used in microchip manufacturing.  I spent a lot of time after high school as a convenience store clerk, and even did a stint as a meat cutter.  Mostly though, I have worked in IT.  I never really planned my career path.  I just moved from one job to another as situations evolved.  Sometimes I was trying to get away from a place where I just wasn't happy, other times I was moving towards something better.  Once or twice I had to leave something I liked because circumstances made it prudent. I have always loved computers and technology, so it was no surprise that I ended up working in IT.  I was fortunate enough to start out at a time when you did not need much in the way of credentials, you just had to have a little knowledge and understanding of the esoteric ways of computers and networks.  As I advanced I realized I would need more, so I picked up a couple of degrees along the way.  It wasn’t until I started working at DeVry University (which was still a tech school when I started) that I fell in love with the idea of working in education.  I think it was the first time when I really felt like I was doing something worthwhile.  I loved the academic environment. I had taken the job because I needed to move from Maine to KC so my wife could be closer to her mother, and so I could be closer to my family.  No great deal of thought went into it, but it ended up being a really good match.  I was there for five years, and there were a lot of changes at DeVry during that time.  Ultimately I was not happy with the direction it was going, and staff reductions and changes left me looking to move on.  I did move on, but now had a direction and a goal.  I wanted to work in Academia again, and so I got a MA in Educational Technology (or Teaching and Learning with Technology as my degree says) and started looking for a job at another university.  The University of Kansas was my primary choice.  It was the largest university within commuting distance, had a beautiful campus, and seemed like a good place to spend the rest of my working career.  It took six years and four jobs from time I left DeVry to actually land the job at KU, but I did.

I’ve been here a bit over seven months at this point, and I really like it. I hope this is where I’m able to spend the next twenty to thirty years until I retire.  In my working career, I've never spent over five years at one job, and I hope to overcome that here.  Not that I necessarily hope to be doing exactly the same thing twenty years from now, but I at least hope to be part of the same organization.  One thing that has struck me along the way are those people that have been part of the same company for twenty or thirty years.  A few of them were just too scared of change to make a move, but a lot of them seemed to really believe in what they were doing.  I've seen them at retirement parties and been envious of the respect they've earned.  I've listened to them at meetings as they were able to work through problems with wisdom gained through years of experience.  They had a purpose, and you could tell that what they did was not just a job to them.  There is something really special when you listen to these people talk with others that have been in the organization for a long time.  There is a sense of camaraderie and shared experience that connects them to the institution in a way that transient employees will never understand.  It is much more common for those of my generation and younger, and for those in the technology world to change jobs frequently.  A lot of times that is the only way to improve  your pay and your situation.  But I think there is much that is lost when you never stay in one place long enough to really belong.

I hope twenty years from now I will be able to have some of that connection that comes from being part of something greater.  I want to look back on my career and not feel like I was just passing time until I retired or died, that what I did had some impact on the world.  This seems like a good place to make that happen.

Windows Phone 8: So Close, But Yet So Far

After waiting eagerly for a Windows Phone 8 for over a year, this weekend I ended up buying a Samsung Galaxy S3, an Android. While I still believe the Windows 8 Phone interface is superior in many ways to that on either Android or iOS, I just feel like MS dropped the ball on this product. To start with, I will bring up the lack of Apps. This has been the least important argument I've heard against WP 8. While the other two major platforms both boast hundreds of thousands of Apps, I really don't care. The reality is that most of those apps are redundant, different versions of the same thing, or a whole lot of apps that all do the same thing. The number of Apps isn't that important to me, though the quality of them and the presence, or lack thereof, of certain key apps are. And Microsoft does have a lot of nice apps, most of what I could want is there, or is coming soon. But there are a couple of problems. One of the main things I use my phone for is as an eBook reader, and because I have a Barnes and Noble Nook, most of my eBooks are in the nook format. Now Microsoft has a partnership with B&N, but despite that, there is no Nook app for WP8. They say one is coming, they've been saying that for a while now. I'm sure it will show up eventually. But this is something that really gives me pause about putting my faith in MS. The WP8 phone has been in development for well over a year, and yet at the time of its launch on October 29th, a bunch of key apps are still announced as coming soon, some of them not until next year sometime. Apparently MS wanted to be so secretive about the features of WP8 before the launch they refused to share the SDK with most developers ahead of time. So it wasn't until after the official product launch that a lot of people were given access to the tools to build apps for the platform. Not sure if B&N was given early access or not, but the fact that no eReader from them yet exists, I have to wonder what the hold up was. This just seems like a ridiculous way to launch a platform. The big secret features that were announced during launch turned out to be a kid mode where you could let kids play with your phone without them being able to make calls or delete data, and a data sense feature that monitored your data usage and took steps to reduce it. Those were the features that they couldn't let anybody know about, even those that needed to write software for the phone. So while I'm sure most Apps I want/need will eventually be there, I'm not confident in Microsoft's ability to engage the development community to keep up with the other platforms.

Microsoft also engaged in a partnership with Nokia which produced what was to be the flagship WP8 phone, the Nokia Lumina 920. This looked like an awesome phone to me, and it was the one I really wanted, despite the fact that it did not have an expandable memory slot which I think every phone should, but it had 32GB of memory onboard which should be enough. It had probably the best camera of any smartphone on the market, a beautiful and responsive touch screen (that can be used with gloves on – nice feature when you are on a motorcycle or out in the cold) and some of the Nokia exclusive apps that I was really excited about using. Then they went and made that phone only available at AT&T and no other US carrier. Sure there were other Nokia models, but none of them were as good as the 920. As I have had a couple of bad experiences with AT&T in the past and sworn that I will never do business with that company again, that left me unable to buy the phone that I had been planning on getting for the last several months. Not sure where the blame lies with this one, but limiting the availability of your premier product to the one carrier that is generally considered the worst in terms of customer satisfaction seems like a really bad decision. The other premier model, the HTC 8x comes with only 16GB of Memory, and no expansion slot, which brings me to my next point.

There are four main things I want to use my phone for. Email, reading eBooks, listening to podcasts, and listening to music. For the last couple of years I've been using a Zune player for the last two purposes, and I really like it. The Zune software simply worked better than anything else I've used, including iTunes. Despite it being a great product, the Zune Brand never really took off, and Microsoft has retired it. It is being replaced with Xbox Music which will integrate with WP8. I was really excited about this because it would mean I could keep on having the same music/podcast experience I was used to, but I would have one less device to carry around. I was completely wrong. Xbox music was a huge disappointment. It is probably a great service if you listen to mainstream music and stuff that is available in their catalog. If that is the case your music collection is synced in the cloud and available to you everywhere. That is pretty cool, as long as you have an unlimited data plan, a good signal or wi-fi always available, and no desire to play music from your own offline collection. They are really pushing you towards listening to music from the cloud. I get it, that is the way of the future. But I have a good sized music collection, and most of it is not available on Xbox music. I played with this on my PC and was amazed to find that when you try to search for music on your own computer that they show you results from their online music service before stuff you have stored on your own computer (you can turn this off, but in doing so you pretty much lose the ability to search for anything in their music store which seems like a bad choice for them). When I try to play music from my own collection, it is very hard to sort through because Xbox music ignores what genres I have music labeled as and appears to just randomly assign categories. If the music does not exist in their catalog they make best guesses to things such as genre and artist which are usually completely wrong. I cannot believe they would actually do this. Even though I have tagged all the songs correctly, this information is mostly (but not always) ignored. They also have no way to allow me to rate songs in my collection or generate auto playlists based on certain criteria. The icing on the cake though was when Xbox music interrupted me playing my own music which I bought and paid for and stored on my own drive to play me an add. That was really the final straw for me. I just paid $99 for an operating system (I may post another rant about this later) which was now going to act as a platform to market at me. It was clear that I could not use the built in music service that was supposed to simply work across all my devices and computers. I searched the app store, but there was no basic music player available that would let me manage my own music collection. I don't know if this is just because one hasn't been developed yet, or because Microsoft is deciding to follow in Apple's footsteps and restrict you from providing products that compete with theirs.

I have eagerly awaited the Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 launch for months. I really thought MS was finally getting their act together and were going to produce a unified ecosystem that would support my digital life across multiple platforms. Both have left me with a bad taste in my mouth (I might go into the issues with Windows 8 on the PC in another post). There are still things I like about Windows 8. It was an innovative new interface and I think it would be awesome on a phone or tablet. But Microsoft just can't seem to get it right. Windows 7 may end up being their best achievement. It is a nice stable, full-featured OS on which I could run about any program or service I wanted. It was what pulled me away from Linux and started me down the road to be a MS fanboy. Now though they are trying too hard to become like Apple and creating an ecosystem that they control and can force you to use their apps and do things the way they want. They really could have been a great middle ground between the wide open mess that is Android and the walled and locked down garden which is Apple, but they have decided to throw up some walls topped with barbed wire of their own. I will still have Windows 8 computers in my home because there is no way my wife will switch to linux and I like to game. Right now Windows is the only viable platform for PC gaming. They are also pulling some nice stunts now like making the new DX 11 updates only available on Windows 8 which means in a year or two you will have to run that to play the newest games at their full potential. I'm hopeful that in the next year that may change with companies like Valve rebelling against Microsoft and trying to move their popular Steam service on to linux. I've already removed Windows from one of my computers to be replaced with Kubuntu, and I'm really tempted to do so with my main one, though because I want to keep playing the Secret World, I probably won't. I have moved my email and online docs and storage back to Google Apps and will be using Microsoft products as little as possible from here on out.

So close, but yet so far.

 

 

2011 - 2012 Year in Review

The last year has been quite a ride.  I changed jobs three times in a year, which is unheard of for me.  The first switch came when I decided that it was time for me to move on from the American Academy of Family Physicians where I had been for four years.  It was a good place to work, but there were certain elements there that I just didn't want to deal with anymore.  Add to that the fact that I wanted to work in an education related capacity I ended up taking a job with Greenbush. Greenbush was a very cool organization that worked with special and adult education, as we as acting as a resource for schools throughout eastern Kansas.  I was  doing field service maintaining computer and networks at several small education centers in NE Kansas, including a few prisons.  They worked on a tight budget, and there was always more that needed done than there was time and money to accomplish, but it was a very fulfilling job even though technically it was not near the level of what I had been doing.   I worked with lots of great people and really felt like I was making a difference, even though I did feel like I was being run a bit ragged.

Shortly after I started, the guy that hired me and was my boss was diagnosed with brain cancer and passed away a couple of months later.   That led to some changes in the chain of command that were a bit different, not bad just different.  I was really trying to make some headway against the workload so I could find the time to really try to make some improvements instead of just putting out fires and was slowly but surely making headway.  Unfortunately, my wife lost her job during this time which put us in a real financial crunch since I had taken a considerable pay cut for the job.  Even so I wanted to stick with it.  I had a fair degree of autonomy and got to work with some really dedicated educators.

Even though I hadn't been looking for a job, I was still getting a couple of calls a week from recruiters from my earlier job hunting and someone called with an offer that I just couldn't refuse.  It was a contract position with the USDA, and it came with over a 50% pay increase.  So with a bit of sadness I resigned from Greenbush and went to work for the USDA.

That was quite an experience.  It was everything bad you would think of a stereotypical large government bureaucracy, but worse.  I worked with some great people, but it was almost impossible to get anything accomplished and everyone seemed to work under a cloud.  Over and over I was told by people that if you did something you weren't supposed to that they would fire you on the spot.  Everyone seemed so afraid of taking responsibility for anything or doing anything without express written instruction from above that it was really frustrating and depressing.  I had hired on as a temp contractor, with the hope that it would turn into a more permanent contract position in three months.  The timing was bad though and a major reorg and contract renegotiation hit at that time and everything ended up in the air with no idea of if I would get a permanent position or where it would be.  The money was good, but with no benefits, no stability, and no desire to work there long term, I started looking again.

I did a phone interview with the University of Kansas and thought it went well, but then didn't hear back from them for a couple of months, so I figured it wasn't going to happen.  I had been trying to get a position there for about eight years, and had one job offer that I had turn down because I couldn't take the pay cut, and another situation where they said they were going to make an offer, then the funding for the position fell through and I didn't make it.  A month or so later KU called me back for a face to face interview.  Once again I thought the interview went really well, but I didn't hear back from them, and after another month I reluctantly decided that I just wasn't going to get the call.

Things settled down at work a bit and I did finally get a "permanent" contract position with another company working in a different division at USDA.  It wasn't really what I wanted, but I needed to have an income and the pay was good.  Two weeks later KU called me with an offer, and it was a good one.  I felt kind of bad about leaving the job so soon after getting hired into it, but the overwhelming sense of relief at not having to go back to work at the USDA made my decision clear.  There was no way I was going to turn down a good position at KU.

So now I work at KU where I've wanted to be for several years.  It is a beautiful campus in a nice town, full of all the energy of young adults getting out on their own and starting to find their way in the world.  I have a great boss and my co-workers seem like good folk.  I am doing IT in a major university, which was my career goal when I went for my Master's a few years ago.  Things are looking pretty good at the moment.

 

A Skeptical Look at Natural Beekeeping

As I've previously stated, I've based what I'm doing on the “Natural Beekeeping” movement. This is, of course, an oxymoron, since keeping bees is not natural. The spirit of the movement however, is the same spirit as a lot of natural and organic activities, namely working as much as possible in harmony with nature and looking for ecologically friendly and sustainable methods. That sounds just wonderful in a Disneyesque kind of way, and I'm fine with that.

 

As someone that also calls himself a skeptic I feel that I should acknowledge the fact that much of the Natural Beekeeping Doctrine is based on conjecture and speculation, not hard science. Beliefs about chemical resistant parasites and viruses, the negative effects of pesticides, the dangers of monoculture, transporting hives, and hive design and management are all hotly debated topics that do not have clear, definitive scientific answers.

 

I tend to believe most of what is being said; That over treating of hives with drugs and chemicals ends up creating tougher threats and weaker bees, That the over use of pesticides on our crops and plants poses a danger to the ecosystem, and bees in particular, and that commercial beekeeping practices that seek to maximize honey production by forcing bees to behave in certain ways is bad for the health of the hives. But these are just beliefs based on others' opinions and anecdotes.

 

Overall, the veracity of the claims are of secondary importance to me. I am a beekeeper because I enjoy it, and I will practice beekeeping in a way that brings me the most satisfaction. Much the same reason as I support organic farming and gardening, even though objectively I understand that it isn't always a clear cut fact that it is “better” than large scale commercial farming. It is about community and lifestyle and feeling a connection with something bigger than myself (go ahead with your jokes on that last bit).

 

From things I have read on various forums and websites it seems that there is quite a bit of bad blood between many of the more contemporary beekeepers and the new crop of natural beekeepers. I've not experienced much of this directly, though I have had a couple of people tell me that I'm doing it wrong.

 

Natural beekeepers seem to feel that the traditional beekeepers are greedy villains, interested in exploiting bees to turn a profit, and the environment be damned. Traditional beeks look at the natural beeks as a bunch of hippie dreamers that allow hives to go wild and spread diseases and parasites.

 

It is a shame that more people aren't willing to listen to one another and find some common ground. Colony Collapse Disorder and the plagues of pests that threaten bees should be a clear signal that something is wrong. Whether it is the result of decades of unsustainable practices, or an inevitable change in the environment, bee colonies are in trouble and something needs to be done. The solutions may well be found in natural beekeeping movement, and the old school should really be willing to take a look and see if any of the new (or at least newly popular) methods might have some merit. On the other hand, Those old school beekeepers have a lot of knowledge and experience that only working hives for a long time can bring. We shouldn't immediate dismiss their practices and opinions as wrong. It is relatively easy for me as a hobbyist to say that I'm not going to treat my bees for some disease in the hopes that more disease-resistant bees will evolve from this decision. That isn't such an easy decision for someone whose whole livelihood and ability to support their family depends on the bees continued survival.

 

Sorry for the long rambling post. I've felt that my adherence to the idea of “Natural Beekeeping” was somewhat at odds with the skeptical lens I tend to apply to many other areas of my life. I've always been a bit of a closet tree-hugger, and don't apologize for that fact, but I thought I would at least explain it. I also hate to see such polarization in a community that should be working together towards a common goal. Ultimately it serves no purpose and will only slow down progress towards practical solutions. When you open a conversation with someone by telling them everything they are doing is wrong and insulting them, they aren't going to be terribly receptive to anything else you have to say. A bit of tact and respect can go a long way.

Hanging Out on the Hive

The summer is shaping up to be a long hot one. Very little rain and a lot of days in the 90's, and even some hitting triple digits.  

My last inspection indicated that things were going well with both my hives, new brood and lots of honey. I hope to do another inspection soon, and maybe even harvest some honey if the stores have continued to increase. We are in a severe drought, but despite that fact I still see lots of wildflowers in bloom, so the bees seem to be doing all right with their foraging. Of course, with top bar hives you have to be careful when you do an inspection. In weather this hot the comb is really soft and can fall apart if you disturb it.

The bees like to keep the temperature inside the hive in the mid 90's. The temperature has to be kept in the correct range or development of the brood may be impacted. And too high of temperatures can even cause the comb to melt and collapse. To keep the hive cool during hot summer days large numbers of bees will exit the hive and hang on the outside of the hive. Many may even fan their wings at the entrance to improve ventilation. This called “bearding” and can be an indication of an over crowded hive, but may also mean they are simply too hot.

BeeBeard1

BeeBeard1

My first hive beards frequently, though I rarely see the second one do so. The second hive does have a screened bottom, and even though I keep the cover bottom board installed, I imagine that it still gets more ventilation that way. Its white aluminum roof may also help it stay cooler. Of course, this is give and take, because staying cooler may be good in the middle of the summer, but can make it challenging for the bees to maintain a warm enough temperature in the fall and winter.

There are a lot of bees hanging out under the edge of the roof by the entrances. There are also a lot of bees that hang out under the hive on one end where my lack of carpentry skill have left a gap big enough for bees to pass through. I was originally going to try and fix this, but it seemed that the bees were using it as a second entrance, so I left it be. They could choose to seal it up with propolis, but didn't, so I think it may help provide some ventilation. A spider had built a web in the area and caught a few bees so I removed it.

BeeBeard2

BeeBeard2

I usually let spiders and ants bee, unless I find them inside the hive or they build a web across the entrance. I've wondered if maybe allowing them to coexist with the bees might actually deter other more harmful bugs like wax moths and hive beetles.

Over all both hives seem to to be doing well. If we actually get some rain I can see them really going crazy as everything blooms.

One Year, 2 Hives

It’s the end of May, which means I’ve been doing this for just over a year.  My biggest accomplishment to date is getting two hives through the mildest winter on record.  Not exactly a stunning achievement, but I’m relatively pleased my one starter hive did well enough to split into 2 and both are still buzzing.  

Early inspections this year showed very little honey in either hive.  I did not harvest any from them last year (save about a 2 inch square of honeycomb so I could sample it) and I’m glad I left them plenty of food.  I made a couple of attempts at putting jars of syrup out for them, but this was largely ignored.  With the unseasonably warm weather we had an early bloom of many trees, and the bees were busy stripping the nectar from my willow for several days.

 

Things seemed to be going well and the population in my first hive exploded, quickly doubling in size.  I soon saw queen cells being built and figured a swarm was inevitable.   I don’t really have room for a third hive, so I was just going to let them swarm and contribute to the stock of feral bees in the area.  As long as they didn’t go somewhere that annoyed the neighbors I figured it would be a good thing.    One of my neighbors a couple of houses down had been following my endeavors and asked if he built a hive if he could get some of the bees from me.  I said sure, but do it quick because I think they will swarm in the next few days.  I gave him the plans for the hive I had built and some instructions for the bar size.   The next day when I got home from work he showed up with some strange cross between a Langstroth and a TBH.  He used two rectangular boxes stacked on top of each other, each containing a series of square frames.  He had been exposed to beekeeping in the past and wasn’t sure the TBH was the way to go, so had built something different.  Unfortunately, this meant that I couldn’t just move over a few bars of brood and bees for him but instead we had to perform a rather messy chop job.  We cut comb from the top bars of my hive, cut them down in size so they would fit, and wired them onto his frames with bailing wire.   I made sure that a few queen cells remained in both hives, so ultimately it wouldn’t matter where the queen ended up, though I thought she was most likely still in my hive.

 

When all was said and done I didn’t think he had enough bees in his hive to make it.  He kept the box in  his yard for a few days and I did see bees flying in and out of it, though not a lot.   He then took it out to a friend of his property that has 80 acres, mostly covered with clover, and he tells me the hive is doing really well.  I need to go take a look and see how they are building on his frames.

 

My hives though seemed to have some issues after this.  A couple of weeks later when I checked my bees it appeared the population in both hives had declined, there was no capped brood and no larva that I could see, and very little honey.  This was occurring in both hives,  so it wasn’t simply the result of a poorly executed split.  I made some hard candy and put that in the hives, which the first hive quickly devoured, the second barely touched it.  I kept an eye on them and a couple of weeks later an inspection once again showed no brood cells.  There were more queen cells, but without eggs and larva there was very little chance of rearing a new queen.  I’ve heard theories that they can rob other hives for eggs or larva in an emergency, or that it is even possible for an unfertilized egg to develop into a female with a full set of chromosomes, but the opinions and evidence for these things are mixed.

 

I figured something must have happened to the queens and that the hives were probably doomed.  I know a neighbor two houses to the south of me has been liberally spraying his yard and the one between use with pesticides, and I wondered if the wind had maybe carried enough over to do the hives in.  However on Memorial Day when I did another check I found a good deal of capped honey in both hives, and at least a couple of bars with some capped brood.  I stopped my inspections there, not wanting to disturb them if they were recovering.  My wife spotted what may have been a queen in the second hive, but I never got a clear enough look to be sure.

 

It would appear that both hives are actually doing ok.  After an initial early bloom we had a long dry spell and that may have contributed to low nectar flow and maybe the hives reacted naturally by  stopping laying eggs for a while.  Now the clover and a bunch of wildflowers are blooming in the area they may be ramping back up.  It is also possible the hives are truly queenless and I’m seeing the work of laying workers.  A closer inspection of the eggs should be able to answer if it is a queen or a worker laying them.  My eyesight is beginning to fade  just a bit and I have not yet gotten glasses, so I was unable to get a clear view of the eggs.  My wife took some pictures, so I can review them and see if that reveals anything.   But the bees seem to be going on about their business as normal and or very docile.  I guess only time will tell.

 

The other thing revealed by the inspection was that there were very few Small Hive Beetles in the hives.  I saw one or two in each hive, so the threat is not gone, but the bees seem to be keeping them in check.

Still Alive So Far

Just in case anyone wonders if I've given this up yet, the answer is no.

It's just that there really isn't much for a small scale beekeeper to do over the winter. You pretty much close up the hives (not completely, I leave one entrance open), put a little insulation under the roofs, and sit back and hope they survive the winter. Admittedly, we haven't had much of a winter here. It has been unseasonably warm and almost no snow. Now, in the middle of February we are having a cold snap and there is something of a winter storm on the way, but over all this has been the winter that wasn't. On several of the warm days we've had I've seen the bees flying. The original hive always seems to have a lot of activity going on. The second hive seems a bit more lethargic. That may have to do with location. The first hive gets more sunlight, so it warms up earlier and stays warm longer. I put some sugar in top feeders for both hives in the fall. When I did this in the first hive they ate a lot of it. Then I refilled it for the first hive, and added a feeder to the second hive, and it doesn't appear that either of them touched the sugar after that. I eventually removed the top feeder form the second hive because it interfered with how the roof fit. Last week it was warm enough for the bees to be active for several days in a row so I put out a jar of sugar syrup for them, but neither hive showed any interest. I did witness them returning the hive with thick clumps of pollen on their legs, so they were visiting some kind of blooming plant somewhere, though I have no idea what was blooming in the middle of January. The weather has been so mild that I've seen several plants begin to bud and sprout, but hadn't seen anything in full bloom yet.

So that is where things are. Both hives are still alive so far. We are having a bit of cold weather now, but it has generally been dry which seems to be the most important factor as bees can generally deal with the cold as long as they don't get wet. Apparently Small hive Beetle eggs don't survive low humidity conditions either, so I'm hoping maybe the long dry spell over winter will have done them in, but that's probably too much to ask for. Hopefully they will make it the next month until spring hits. I'm hoping the warm weather followed by this hard freeze hasn't wiped out too many of the early blooming plants and we will have good spring growth to feed them.

I considered the possibility of ordering another package of bees in case neither of my hives survived the winter, but I decided I didn't have the extra money to spend. Also, I don't know that I really have a good place to put a third hive, so if both hives survived then I had a bunch of bees that would need a home. I am planning on building another hive, and a couple of small bait hives or nucs just in case I come up with more bees or an opportunity to place a hive somewhere.

Now I'm just awaiting spring when I can do a more thorough check on the health of the hives and hopefully watch them thrive and grow well into the fall.

Carnival of Triviality

2011 was an odd year for me. I changed jobs, twice and may do so again soon. My wife was unemployed for a long stretch, and even though she is working again, money is tighter than it was. Six weeks into 2012, and things are still so up in the air, but overall I'm getting by and things aren't too bad.

About 5 months ago I decided to have another go at improving my attitude and trying to live my life a little more in the moment. I can't claim that I've been a huge success at this, but I think I'm heading in the right direction. One of the first things I did was to delete my Facebook, Google+ and Twitter accounts. Probably a reason I haven't really blogged as well. The whole social media thing was just getting me down. It really is something of an addiction. Visiting Facebook or Google+ several times a day, but in general coming away feeling irritated when I did so. Truth be told, I don't need to know what is going in the lives of everyone I've ever known on a constant ongoing basis. While there was occasionally something I wanted to know or some good content, most posts fell into one of three different categories.

  1. Pointless post to let everyone know what someone was doing, even if it wasn't that newsworthy.

  1. A post to let me know how much cooler and more interesting somebody's life was than mine.

  1. Religious/Political/Dogmatic statement that someone felt the need to shout to the world.

Add to that all the pointless requests to repost something for some cause or another or to change your icon as if any of that made a difference or actually had an impact on the world, or the barrage of updates from games, spotify, foursquare, or whatever other "Look at Me" app that someone was using, it just seemed the noise to signal ratio was way to high.

I came to regard social media as a Carnival of Triviality, the seedy state fair of the Internet.

It's invasive. You can't escape from it. Everywhere you go on the net now you are encouraged to Like, or Share, or +, or in some way engage in social media. They make it sound like a cool thing to do, share what you are doing with all your friends. But the reality is, none of it is done for our benefit. The point of Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ is not to create wonderful communities where intelligent discourse takes place and people are brought closer together. The purpose of each of these offerings is simply to collect information about us and market at us. People ask what the harm is in that. They ask that aren't getting ads targeted to our tastes better than getting ads which are completely unrelated to our wants and needs. There are two answers I have for that.

First of all, why do we accept the need for adds in the first place. Isn't our private information and channels of communication worth paying for? I would be much happier to see Facebook charge me $5 a month for using their service, than to get it for free and have to be constantly marketed at and have my personal information auctioned off to the highest bidder. Of course I realize this to be a pipe dream and know that very few other people will bother to pay for a service on the web. I've started paying for my primary email accounts so I don't have to deal with adds. I also feel that paying for a service makes me the customer instead of the product, and that is the way I want it.

So, that brings me to my next point. Marketing is damaging to us. It hurts us culturally and economically, and the more specifically targeted those ads are, the greater the danger. Originally advertisement was a fairly innocent thing. A way to let people know about the existence of a product or service. Getting the word out to help businesses attract customers. Of course, the motives have probably always been a bit suspect, but the methods available to deliver the message were weak. Over time though things have changed. Now the methods to deliver a message are strong and constant. We are continuously bombarded by ads every waking moment. Commercials on TV and Radio, billboards and signs along the roads, ads in magazines that have more pages dedicated to advertisements than to content; and now the mother lode of marketing power, The Internet. The purpose of all this is to create desires in people to consume. Every message is telling us to buy more, do more, get more. You can only be fulfilled in life if you have a sexy new car, a sexy new phone, drink that cool new beer, and wear those cool new clothes. It creates desires and the perception of need where none existed before. We squander our wealth on things that serve no purpose, and ignore the things in life that have meaning to pursue trivial goals that leave us unfulfilled. When those messages were just passively presented to us on occasion they could be more easily ignored, but now that they can be streamed to us unceasingly and targeted to us as individuals, the impact is ever greater. These advertisements shape who we want to be and what we want out of life. Deny It if you like, but companies wouldn't spend millions on this stuff if it didn't provide results for them.

I also worry about the amount of information we share. That may sound strange from someone posting on a blog, after all, I'm putting this out for the world to see. However this is a deliberate and conscious decision. I am making a choice of just what I want to reveal. I also pay for the service which hosts this, so I don't have ads or marketers collecting data about those that might come here to read this. Social networking is altogether different. Its insidious nature is that we end up sharing more and more of our lives. Our political and religious views, where and what we eat, who are friends are, how much we drink, what we buy, etc. These things may seem innocent enough, but are they really? There have been many predictions of governments that spy on us, that monitor every aspect of our lives to ensure we behave. And while I still think that is the direction things are going, I'm amazed at the fact that we seem to be rushing to provide all the data ourselves. Is it really so far fetched now to believe that our political views can get us in trouble in a post 9/11 world. We've already seen numerous examples of people being arrested because of a Tweet that someone has decided may be a terrorist threat. And even if the government isn't watching, you can be sure that someone is. How many people have lost their jobs because they've posted something to Facebook that their employer has taken exception to. You never know who will hear what you say and decide they have a problem with it. Banks are starting to look at social media when they evaluate people for loans, insurance companies may decide that your risky/unhealthy lifestyle means you have to pay more. At what point do we decide that our right to have private lives matter?

None of this is to say that online communication and community is all bad. Quite the contrary I've always been fascinated with the concept and participate in a few. There a people that I miss having contact with, distant friends that use Facebook for their primary form of communication. But the ones that really matter I will still find ways to stay in touch with, just as those that are interested in my life will make the effort to seek me out. We will have discussions and share bits of our lives with each other and build relationships that have meaning, not engage in a popularity contest 140 characters at a time.

My friends and my privacy both mean a lot to me, and for that reason I will avoid the carnival.

Small Hive Beetle Confirmed

The entomologists at K-State have confirmed that I do indeed have Small Hive Beetle, one of the first confirmed cases in KS it turns out. The question now is what do I do about it, and after a lot of initial panic, I think the best answer may be “nothing.”

I’ve seen less than a half dozen beetles in each hive, and they’ve always had a bee chasing them.  I’ve seen a couple of larvae, both being wrestled out of the hive by the bees.  I’ve seen no damage to comb or slime from the larva in my inspections.  So, it appears that the bees may well be on top of the situation without my help.  The best thing I can probably do is just quit disturbing the hive, which gives the beetles the opportunity to out maneuver their bee guards and lay eggs in the comb where real harm may be done.  With fall approaching and weather turning colder I’ve already decided it is time to quit opening the hive because I want to give them the chance to seal things up for the winter.    I added a couple of top feeders (little more than plastic bins with some holes drilled in them and attached to a top bar) so I can feed them in the colder weather without opening the hive proper.

At some point I have to decide how dedicated I am to the whole “natural beekeeping” idea.  I’ve already broken down and started using a smoker, though that was a practical decision.  If the bees became hyper agitated whenever I opened the hive and became a threat to the neighbors, my beekeeping activities wouldn’t last long, and hundreds died stinging me (fortunately only about a score penetrated my protective clothing).  So smoke is a tradeoff that keeps things a bit under control.   Some colonies are able to deal with Small Hive Beetle on their own, and the proper thing to do may be to simply let nature take its course.  If my bees can keep them in check then great, if not, it might be better to let them die out rather than perpetuate the problem.  That sounds harsh, but considering how many pests and parasites have been able to take hold in the North American bee population due to poor breeding and   overuse of chemical treatments, it may be the best course of action.

Assuming the hives make it through the winter I may re-evaluate at that point.  I’m still considering the use of beneficial nematodes to feed on the larvae since it doesn’t appear that insects develop resistance to nematodes like they may to insecticides.

Attack of the Beetles

I took advantage of the beautiful weather over Labor Day Weekend to check on the second hive and clean up some of the broken comb from the original split and some cross comb that had been built since.  All in all the hive looks to be in good health, though I am concerned they don't have enough honey stores for the winter.  I'm not experienced enough to say for sure, and the fact that the honeycomb is mixed with brood comb makes it difficult to accurately judge just how much is there.  I'm not terribly worried though because we seem to be having a nice fall bloom of lots of wildflowers now and I see bees returning to the hive with lots of fluffy white pollen on their legs.   I'm also planning on building a top feeder for them so I can easily feed sugar or syrup without actually opening the hive.  This will allow me to feed them regularly as we head into cold weather if I'm concerned they don't have food stores for the winter. The bigger issue at the moment is that I found about a half dozen small beetles running about as I was checking things.  Small Hive Beetle  (SHB) is a relatively new pest to this area, but is has been devastating to hives in some areas where it has taken hold.  Of course, they say that a healthy hive is the best defense against these, and I don't think they are adapted well to cold climates, so my hope is that the Kansas Winter will wipe these things out.

Small Beetle

Small Beetle

I'm not completely sure that these are indeed SHB, they could just be another type of small beetle attracted to the honey in the hive and not pose a major threat, but from the pictures I've looked at, they seem to really resemble SHB.  Fortunately, Kansas State University is an Agricultural School and they offer free insect and plant identification services, with a local county extension just a few miles away.  So tonight I captured a couple of the buggers and will be taking them in for positive identification.

I did not see any evidence of the damage caused by the larva of the beetles, and it may well be that the hive is strong enough to deal with them and the design of the top bar hive doesn't give them good places to hide and breed.  Even so, this is one case where I may resort to chemical pesticides because of the huge slimy mess these things can turn a hive into.  I've been reading that some simple boric acid traps are fairly effective at killing them and do not have a large negative impact on the bees.  The other possibility is that of nematodes.   SHB larva pupate in the soil, so they leave the hive at that stage and burrow in to the dirt.  Some researchers have reported promising results at using certain breeds of nematodes to attack the larva at this point.  If the bees are mostly keeping the beetles under control this might be a chemical free way of giving them an edge in the battle by disrupting the life cycle of the beetles.

Time will tell.