Duckling Programming

I would like to take this opportunity to express my fondness for ducklings.

I have established that the place where I work has a lot of water and grass and wildfowl around. It's spring, so there are goslings (who are positively shooting up in size and no mistake) and ducklings and baby coots (cooties?). Well, today I saw a new family of ducklings who must have just hatched. There were about eight of them running around frantically after their mother.

To begin with, anyway. Later in the morning we heard a frantic peeping sound from just outside our office and the mother quacking away as well. It turned out that four of the ducklings had fallen through a pretty narrow grille outside our office and got lost underneath our building!

We managed to rescue three of them but the fourth disappeared into the dark and stopped peeping, so the mummy, who presumably couldn't count, just wandered away, assuming she had all her babies. We spent a while searching but couldn't find the last duckling. We left the grille open so it could at least have a chance of finding its way back to the light and reluctantly went back to work.

Some time later we heard a very faint peeping begin again and went outside to find that the duckling had indeed wandered back and was calling for its mum - who, by this time, was nowhere to be found. My line manager, Julia, picked it up and we carried it around the campus for a while (it was lunchtime by this point) but we couldn't find the family of ducks we were looking for. Instead we brought the duckling back to our office and put it in a big plastic tub Julia happened to have under her desk, with a Jiffy bag for padding. This struck me as a wasted opportunity for some sitcom shenanigans - we should have kept the duckling, and tried to keep it secret from our boss, or something, but I digress.

For a long while the duckling sat in the middle of its tub being very quiet and scared and not moving. We threw it a few bits of bread and gave it a Petri dish full of water but it didn't seem interested. After a while it began peeping periodically, and then it tried to climb out of the tub (and failed), which was heartbreaking. I suggested naming it Jeff but people weren't receptive to the idea.

Soon, as we had hoped, the rest of the family of ducklings wandered past our window again, so we took the duckling out and plonked it in the water just across the lake from its family. It peeped a little bit. Its mum quacked a bit. It peeped some more, and then VWOOSH, sprinted across the top of the lake and rejoined its family. Mission accomplished!

It was a fun adventure, but alas we got absolutely no photos out of it. I did have one final thought though. Isn't the programming on a duckling simple?


And yet... they can walk, and swim, and flap their wings, and recognise other ducks - all things which are astoundingly difficult to program into robots. Isn't that crazy?

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