Archives for the month of: March, 2014
Miss Tichenor Kitty indulged me by sitting for a portrait on the Friday afternoon before spring break.

Miss Tichenor Kitty indulged me by sitting for a portrait on the Friday afternoon before spring break. The corner of her left eye appears red from a wound from fighting or getting scratched by a branch or thorn.

Miss Tichenor Kitty came out a third day in a row this afternoon, which must mean winter is officially over here on the Plains. The life of a feral cat must be quite a challenge, though I imagine those on college campuses must have it better than others.

Yesterday she scampered out of the bushes outside Tichenor Hall, and the sound back in the leaves suggested she was fleeing from another animal. My first concern for outdoor creatures in semiurban settings (beyond exposure to the elements) is that they might cross paths with abusive and sadistic humans, perhaps mean kids or those who became mean adults when they got older.

But feral cats have to contend with rivals and predators. They are, after all, part of a wild ecosystem. Much as I’d love to take in Miss Tichenor Kitty, feral cats who were never socialized to human contact as kittens don’t stand much of a chance of learning to live inside a house. Household noises like the sound of a bag of food opening tend to register as harsh noises to be avoided, whereas your typical housecat would take the arrival of a new bag of kibble as cause for celebration.

Feral cats and stray or abandoned house cats are pretty easy to distinguish. As noted by Alley Cat Allies, a nonprofit that opposes capturing and killing feral cats, the key is knowing their differences in appearance and behavior. Here are the main differences, according to ACA:

  • Socialization to humans: Strays will approach people, houses, porches or cars. Ferals will not approach and will usually seek hiding places to avoid people.
  • Socialization to other cats: Strays usually live alone and are not part of a group. Ferals may belong to a colony of feral cats.
  • Body language: Strays walk and move like housecats. They walk with their tail up in a “question mark” shape, which indicates curiosity and friendliness. Ferals keep low to the ground and often crawl and crouch. When they sit, they keep low and protect their bodies with their tail.
  • Vocalization: Strays may be vocal, meow, or answer your voice by meowing in response. Ferals do not meow, beg or purr in humans’ presence. Miss Tichenor Kitty made more of a high-pitched mew than a meow when I talked to her, but not quite a meow.
  • Physical appearance: Strays usually look dirty or disheveled. Ferals usually have a clean, well-kept coat and may have scars from fighting. Male ferals tend to have a spiky coat from high testosterone levels if they have not been neutered and may have “stud tail,” which is hair loss, greasiness or bumps at the base of the tail caused by hormones.
  • Ears: Ferals that have been captured, neutered and released back to their home turf will be missing the tip of one ear; this is a marking that capture-neuter-release programs use to show that a cat has already been neutered. Strays usually will have both eartips intact if they were neutered when they were pets. They may have an eartip missing if they were captured, neutered and released.

What can you do to help stray or feral cats?
Alley Cat Allies has great advice for how you can help these animals.

If they’re feral and neutered (signified by their lack of the tip of one ear), leave them alone to live with their colony or at least be kind and friendly to them and do what you can to help them survive in the wild since they most likely can’t become house pets. That means watching to see if they’re a healthy weight, a sign that they’re being helped already. If they’re not, you can leave food and water out for them. If you encounter a scared stray cat, do what you can to help them be adopted into a home (or adopt them yourself).

If you encounter a calm stray cat, find them a good home.

One kind of feral cat can be prepared for adoption: feral kittens can be socialized for adoption.

One of the greatest things about blogging on WordPress.com is that it costs nothing unless you want to buy a preminum theme or extra storage space in the cloud. One pitfall is that its architecture is set up to really, really like using single jpegs, tiffs, docs and the like but it doesn’t work with folders full of files. That’s problematic for SoundSlides creators. Solution: Post about your SoundSlide and link to Google Drive.

A turn-of-the-century mp3 player.

A turn-of-the-century mp3 player.

Of course, if you’re a student or university employee, you have space available on your drive. But I’ve never played with that space and I’m much more of a storytelling and journalism guy than a tech guy, so even with a lot of coaching I was about to tear my hair out. But I know that the folks at Google make it ridiculously simple to do things that would have required all-nighters and copious quantities of caffeine to produce back when I was an undergrad. And as it happens, Fortunately, I ran across this great post over at the Journo Tech blog called “Using Google Drive as a Web Host.”

Really, this is a brilliant solution. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and I get to keep all my hair now. As a sample, I’ve posted a quick-and-dirty slideshow I created using SoundSlides to merge photos of magazine covers from a research project about a magazine I’ve come to think of as the antebellum South’s version of The Economist: De Bow’s Review. It’s nothing fancy: just 11 photos of covers of the magazine from just before the Civil War. I shot the photos at the Special Collections and Archives section at Ralph B. Draughon Library at Auburn University last summer for an article that’s just been published this week by American Journalism. As for the music, a scratchy turn-of-the-twentieth-century recording of the Neapolitan Trio performing Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home,” that one’s used under Creative Commons License. I obtained it at Free Music Archive, which is an outstanding resource for historical music that is so old it has passed out of copyright and into the public domain. Word to my students: You can get into big legal trouble if you violate copyright. There are so many who have pirated downloaded music that it’s hard for the recording industry to keep up with all of them, so its default position often seems to be to simply give up. But as a content creator online, you are MUCH more visible to them. As in, when you link to their stuff, it’s like Frodo putting on the One Ring and attracting the gaze of Sauron. So be careful what you use, because you might get a cease-and-desist letter (at best) or a hefty bill (at worst).

If you’re interested in Old South journalism history, you might want to give it a look here. It’s titled “Brave Old Spaniards and Indolent Mexicans: J. Ross Browne, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, and the Social Construction of Off-Whiteness in the 1860s.

Just a side note to my brothers and sisters in the world of journalism and mass communication history: Soundslides is not that complicated to master. You could easily record your own narration about your research project to accompany the slides, or you can tuck the information that would go into your narration down into the captions and let the music serve to create a feel for the time period. Yeah, I know. If you’re like me, you have a stack of papers to grade and a research agenda to pursue. But multimedia has power to make what we do accessible to people who might otherwise not pay much attention.

Miss Tichenor Kitty has re-emerged after an unusually harsh winter.

Miss Tichenor Kitty approached after I talked to her, but no closer than a few feet. She likes people, but she’s still wary of them.

I am greatly relieved by the return of Miss Tichenor Kitty, a young cat I’ve seen from time to time outside Tichenor Hall, the location of my office at Auburn University. It’s been an unusually harsh winter for East Alabama, with several hard freezes and temperatures that sank into the single digits more nights than I’d care to remember. A student told me she usually sees her out on the front steps of Tichenor Hall just before class. Guess I’ve been in the wrong place at the wrong time to see her.

Thing is, I’m used to seeing her on the other side of the building and late at night.

Why’s that? Well, once it heats up into the 90s in the spring and summer, I usually push my workouts to late at night. Campus is a great place for a run, and Tichenor is a good place to stop on the way back home after running out two miles from my home to the western edge of campus. Miss Tichenor Kitty is one of the late-night characters I’ve encountered, and on more than one occasion I’ve seen bowls of food and water laid out for her. She’s shy and wary, as a feral cat tends to be, and she seems to be a member of one of the colonies of feral cats on campus; you can tell them from their tipped ears that they have been captured, neutered, and returned to the wild.

Wariness improves their ability to survive, I guess. The first time I saw her, maybe a year and a half ago, she let me no closer than 12 feet away and maintained a constant bubble of space between us. Guess I’m not a stranger anymore to her; she let me within three feet before she activated the force field.

Anyway, it’s great to see her again. Maybe this is a sign that spring is really here. She’s a pretty cool creature to have as a substitute for a groundhog.

Big Bill Morganfield listens to a student's question March 3 at Auburn University's Harbert College of Business, where he discussed the music business with several dozen students, professors and blues fans from the Auburn community.

Big Bill Morganfield listens to a student’s question March 3 at Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business, where he discussed the music business with several dozen students, professors and blues fans from the Auburn community.

Big Bill Morganfield isn’t just any bluesman. He’s the son of Muddy Waters, aka McKinley Morganfield, and an Auburn University alumnus.* And he’s well aware that as much as the blues is an art form and a yearning, it’s a business.

That business includes using the tools of the Web and Web 2.0  to reach out. I sat in on his rap session with business students, professors from a variety of disciplines, and blues lovers from the Auburn community tonight at Auburn’s Harbert College of Business. His main messages were about loving what you do, protecting your ability to continue making money off doing it, and being genuine in all phases of your work.

You have to have a good team to work with. That includes the sidemen he picks out, the lawyer who protects his intellectual property rights (he said he’d looked at so many Digital Millennium Copyright Act cease-and-desist forms that he couldn’t even count them anymore), and a publicist.

His communication effort includes a pretty killer website where he controls the narrative about himself, keeps people up to date on what he’s up to, and sells his own music for download or ordering for delivery via snail mail. And he told me after his speaking gig tonight, as he walked out of the building while I finished up some tweets about him, that his publicist had sold him on the power of social media.

Of course, you have to have content that’s worth promoting. Morganfield knows this.

“A lot of people make the mistake of chasing after the dollars,” he said. “When you do that, if they’re blowing away from you and you go after them, you’re only going to get a few. What you want to do is go after the dollars blowing toward you. The way to do that is to get so good, they have to pay you.”

One last note: The last time I bought a blues album was just last summer, but I must admit it could now be classified as an oldie: John Lee Hooker’s “The Healer.” The last one before that was Ali Farkha Toure and Ry Cooder’s collaboration “Talking Timbuktu.” Before that, it was probably R. L. Burnside’s “A Ass Pocket of Whiskey.” But I’m certain the next one will be by Big Bill Morganfield.

*I’m proud to say he got his bachelor’s from Auburn in communication, though I can’t claim to have played a part in that since 1) I wasn’t here then and 2) I don’t think the journalism program and the communication program had yet merged. It’s also very cool that he got a bachelor’s degree in English from the Tuskegee Institute, just down the road a good piece.

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