Friday, September 28, 2007

In the Annals of Truly Bizarre Dog Behavior

Last night while eating (I emphasize that because with this particular dog, that's an important part of why what follows is so W.E.I.R.D.)...

... Max abruptly ran away at full speed barking his fool head off and trailing a slew of crap behind him.

He ran from one end of the house to the other, crapping and barking the whole way. He appeared to be completely oblivious to the presence of anyone.

We let him outside immediately where he zipped around the backyard, still barking but not crapping, still oblivious to the presence of anyone. We could not catch him. Unfortunately he found a spot to escape and ran off to the front yard. Fortunately he seemed to want to run a perimeter so he came back around the backyard gate that I had opened to get out so I could meet up with him in the front yard. Mind you, at this point, I am not completely oblivious to the fact that I am barefoot and in PJs.

Max ran through the gate still barking like a madman and uncatchable. He ran around the yard and came back to the gate area, where between our gate and the neighbors house there is a space of about a foot where we installed chicken wire to seal up the yard. He didn't see the barrier. He threw himself into it at full speed and literally bounced off of it, leaving behind an impressive dent. He did this at least four times.

Finally he calmed down.
What set it all off is still a mystery.

He looked seriously deranged through it all. And even in the end, his mane was so full of burrs that he was the perfect canine image of the madman with messed up hair. Both ears were firmly attached to his neck. We still haven't successfully removed all of the burrs. They cover his head, ears, neck, feet, belly.... Mr. Field Notes succeeded in detaching his ears from his body.

An obvious trigger for the sudden freak-out would have been Katy making a move for his food. He's very possessive of his food and even if Katy had made a move, which in itself would be surprising, his response would have been to attack her, not tuck tail and run off so scared that he trailed poo. Even so, Katy was not the trigger - she was calmly eating her food when it happened. It was as if a monster so grand and horrifying the likes of which no one has ever seen suddenly appeared out of nowhere to frighten the living daylights out of Max and only Max.

Our vet had no idea about what could be the problem but he suggested we take Max off the Rimadyl he started last week for his arthritis. I don't have any good guesses about what the problem was. He does have a history of subcutaneous cysts, tumor like lumps that are harmless, but now I'm wondering if he has a tumor on or near his amygdala. That would go a long way to explaining his increasingly aggressive behavior.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Clever Art Made From Recycled Things

A sampling of killer art - all made from recycled objects - that I found on

From GeekGear, to the right, a working desk clock made from an old computer circuit board and floppy disc. Sweet. And a steal at under 30 dollars. GeekGear also makes nifty miniature notebooks out of floppy discs.

To the left from KillTaupe, a picture frame made from recycled cans of Squirt soda - perfect to show off the little squirts in your life.

From retrograndma, below, a purse made from a research methods textbook. What a clever idea!

Need an environmentally friendly alternative for a school notebook? Below, check out the notebooks ivylanedesigns makes from cereal and other packaged food boxes.

To the right, Dudley the camera dog, from Artsy.

This is exactly the kind of art that adorned a restaurant called the Friendly Toast in Portsmouth, NH. Seeing these whimsical pups reminds of the ambiance of that place. The decor is really the reason to visit, unless of course you fancy greasy homefries.


And finally, below, an idea I wish I had thought of (because I certainly have lots of the raw materials hanging around) - envelopes made from old calendars.

These ones in particular are made by jessprkle from an old Gorilla Foundation calendar.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

It's Been A While

Earlier today Mr. Field Notes casually mentioned that he thought he had reached an archived page when he checked my blog. Evidently it's been a while (a week) since I last wrote something.

Where has the time gone? I'd say its a toss up between having three different guests stay with us in the past week and working on projects in preparation for the launch of my web-based store. Today was supposed to be the big photo shoot for my inventory but 1/4 the way through the shoot the batteries for the camera died. The back up set was also dead.

While they recharged I imported more video footage (of the dogs playing) onto my laptop. I already had several GBs of the dogs on my laptop when we got back from Japan, but I didn't have enough to fill an entire DVD. Now that I have enough dog footage to burn a DVD, I will. First I've got to edit it! Then I can dump the files so I can make room for the footage I shot in Japan months ago. It's just about the right time to revisit Japan too.

Now that the camera batteries are recharged I could resume the shoot but unfortunately the light has changed enough to make it pointless. Tomorrow morning should be just right.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Your Opinion Wanted Now

I sculpted this little monkey out of black Fimo clay. She can hold one stick of incense in the little pot she holds in front of her belly.

She measures 1.5 inches tall & wide and about 2 inches deep.

Do you think people would buy these little guys?

How much do you think people would pay for them?

I'm thinking about changing the pot to a red heart to make them even cuter. Would that be an improvement?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Strange But True: Males Can Lactate

Strange But True: Males Can Lactate
This article from Scientific American caught my attention today so I'm sharing the link. I'd write my opinion of the topic but I am busy working on another project today!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Alex, The Renowned African Grey Parrot, Dies At 31

From Science Daily:
"Alex, the world renowned African Grey parrot made famous by the ground-breaking cognition and communication research conducted by Brandeis scientist Irene Pepperberg, Ph.D., died at the age of 31 on September 6, 2007."

The obit/press release is well done in the sense that although I am familiar with this remarkable bird's story, I still learned a number of new things!

Read the rest of the story here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Adventure at the Pool

The M-F pool opened its doors for a dog only swim day so of course we had to take our water dog Katy there. She's waded around in the fountains on campus before and splashed around in puddles - even tracking the flow of water down a street to its source - a broken pipe.

But she has not swum anywhere since she left her lakeside home in the mountains when she was 14 weeks old. We thought that if we brought her to the pool that she'd just dive right in. She's a Newfoundland. They are bred for water rescue and have the huge fully webbed paws to prove it.

You can lead a water dog to water but you can't make her get in. She spent the first 20 minutes running around the edges of the pool and was obviously nervous about getting in. We put her in the pool twice but she seemed slightly panicked so Sleyed pulled her out right away.

She watched the other dogs splash around and paid close attention to the retrievers. They were the only ones actually swimming.

She put her paws in a couple of times and stared at the water. We waited with baited breath for the moment she'd go in on her own.

Finally someone accidentally tossed a floating frisbee over and that piqued her interest. She slid in, got spooked, and swam a U-turn back to safety where Sleyed pulled her out again.

He did that maybe 5 more times before she gained enough confidence to JUMP in.

After that it was all over - the NEWFyness took over!

Before we knew it she was jumping in, retrieving the frisbees, and trying to race the retrievers to the toys.

She's a smooth swimmer - very graceful and obviously STRONG.

She's fairly maneuverable too, but the labs definitely had her beat for speed in the water. She's a B-52 bomber and they were the MIGs.

The photographer from our newspaper was there to capture her Newfyness. He got a great dive - the classic limbs fully extended belly flop into the water. So gorgeous!

At one point she posed for him - stood right in front of his camera with her mouth and jowls full of frisbee. She held the pose for several seconds. What a ham.

Here she is hamming it up for me.

I definitely love the Newf.

What?! We have to go home?
Just 1 more dive, PLEASE!!!!

Oh fine - I guess we can go home now. (She got a CHEESEBURGER)

Friday, September 07, 2007

Are Tots Smarter Than Apes?

Are Tots Smarter Than Apes?

NO say some researchers who have tested toddlers and nonhuman apes in the same cognitive tests - such as indicating which container has more raisins in it or retrieving food hidden inside a box. Other researchers say YES, human two year olds are more able to infer the action of another and to use imitation to solve problems.

I haven't read the studies, both published recently in Science, but they sound like the usual findings: One group finds evidence that apes can solve problems by watching someone solve a problem; another groups finds no evidence for it.

So what gives?

I'm always a little suspicious of these experiments for two main reasons.

On one hand is the issue of the nonhuman participants. How old are they? Apes show progressive cognitive development like humans (and for that matter other animals) do, and the apes mature a bit slower. Often the researchers compare the performance of adult great apes to human toddlers. When researchers don't find evidence that tots and apes can solve the same problems, sometimes it is because the two species are not at the same developmental stage.

On the other hand, sometimes researchers test apes who have not grown up in an enriched, human enculturated world. Of course apes can't solve the problems tots can solve if they haven't been exposed daily to the problems and especially the tools and materials of human culture. I suspect this is the reason the researcher mentioned in the press release didn't find that apes could solve the imitation problem. They used apes housed in wildlife sanctuaries in Uganda, Congo, and Indonesia who probably did not spend their early developmental years surrounded by human culture.

I can see why they would conduct these cognition tests (largely of social learning/imitation) with relatively naive apes. If it turns out the naive apes learn by imitation then we'd be able to infer that imitation is something innate to apes, not uniquely human, and that it probably evolved long before apes diverged into the species present now.

A similar sort of experimentation is going on now with dogs and wolves with regard to understanding gesture. Dogs, and puppies, can quickly learn to read human gestures but can wolves? If wolves can't respond correctly to human gestures, such as going to the location of hidden food, then we can infer dogs evolved the ability to read human gesture. It also might mean humans have selectively bred dogs to be responsive to human nonverbal communication.

We'll never know whether wolves and nonhuman apes' cognitive performance is matter of nature or nurture or both unless they are raised in human homes like puppies and babies are.

You can read the press release here.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Exciting Partnership Leads to New Study

I'm assisting the local newspaper with a study they are doing on what community amenities (new high school, city pool, traffic control, new police station, etc) taxpayers might be likely to approve in the future. It's a special series on the cost of community development.

I've been roped into putting up the online version of the study. They are not paying me for my time and expertise. I've done more than just format the online stuff; I've also served as a sounding board/consultant for the logistics of doing research, how to best answer the questions they have, and I imagine when the time comes, the data analysis. Instead, they are allowing me to direct participants to my own research when they finish the online portion of the study. If I manage to get 200 participants (essentially for free) through this route, I'll consider it a success and a fair deal. I really should be compensated monetarily, I think. For certain, if I am asked to do data analysis it won't be for free.

So, I whipped together a brand new study - the next in line for my "research program" on the subject of my dissertation. It's exciting to have another study going live. With any luck I'll find another piece of evidence for my theory, and if not, then I'll have a reason to keep working on the area. In any case, I need to find a subsidiary line of research on a new or related topic on nonverbal behavior.

I'll ask you, dear readers, what questions do you have about nonverbal behavior or body language?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Obesity Linked to Zip Code

Pale skin once signaled wealth. It implied that person didn't work long hours outside engaged in manual labor. While that may still be true in some parts of the world, in the United States tanned skin has come to signal what pale skin once did. A person with tanned skin signals they have the wealth and leisure to travel to sunnier locales, especially during winter.

Weight and wealth go hand in hand too.

But whereas in other parts of the world poverty is associated with an emaciated physique, in the United States it's the opposite. Poor people are fat. That's not just a gut instinct captured for political commentary in a cartoon like the one above - it's born out in the data.

A new study published in the journal Social Science and Medicine found that where one lives is a better predictor of obesity than income or education. The study used telephone interviews of 8,000 people living in the Seattle metro area. "Obesity rates reached 30 percent in the most deprived areas but were only around 5 percent in the most affluent ZIP codes" according the press release of the study.

Why is obesity related to poverty? The author of the press release implies it might be linked to access to healthy foods or opportunities for exercise; i.e. impoverished neighborhoods don't have a Whole Foods down on the corner or tennis courts, walking trails, or pools. Maybe that's part of the problem. Dependence on fast foods, prepared packaged processed foods and soda pop might be another BIG culprit. Apparently the vast majority of people who drink soda drink the fully leaded kind, and with an average of 2 a day, the calories can add up fast. Perhaps soda is the problem. It certainly costs a lot less than milk. Perhaps people working multiple low paying jobs don't have the time to prepare food at home and instead fall back on what's easy and cheap.

What do you think - - Why is obesity linked to property value?

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Photoshop is Fab!

This morning I touched up the watercolor I did of the mediterranean street. I lightened the color which I think brightens the entire scene up considerably. I also got rid of two dog hairs (thanks Katy!) and fixed some of the bleed overs in the purple stone wall and the brown tower.

What a difference, eh?

You can't really see where I've touch up the bleed over, but you can in the larger versions.

I've penciled out the lines for my next watercolor - a Newfy surfing out to rescue someone. Attached to her leg by a rope is a lifesaver ring that trails behind in the wave. It's very cartoony and will have bright colors.

And I am fortunate to find someone who can be a mentor for me in my apps to TT (tenure track) positions at SLACs (small liberal arts colleges). She's agreed to look over my teaching and research statements to help me improve them. I only wish there were more openings! So far I've only seen one that I am excited about. It's at a top ranked small liberal arts college in MN.

Meet the Gorilla Sock "Monkey"

Yesterday I made a sock monkey gorilla while Sleyed sleyed the loom, or maybe he was warping it. In any case, he was in his studio while I was in mine. I started off making a camel sock monkey using one of Katy Newfy's toys as inspiration. Her toy is a Lamiedoodle. I'd take a photo of her camel lamie, but she's slobbered all over it making it look less than photogenic. You can get the idea from this photo I found by googling images of a new one.

So, I set off to sewing. I made the body and limbs first and sewed a little stub of a tail on. When I made the head I realized it was the absolute perfect shape for a gorilla, so the camel, which had a tail, became a gorilla mid way through the project.

Then I sewed on the nose, which I had in reserve from playing around with fabric earlier, so I spose since I had the primate nose already and didn't really feel like making a camel nose to fit on a gorilla's head that it was easy to just turn the little guy into a gorilla. What to do about that tail though??? Monkeys have tails; apes don't! I don't know how many times I have told students that and here I am making an anatomically incorrect gorilla!

When I sewed the ears on I screwed up big time. I made the cut in the wrong place, sewed the ear on in the wrong spot, stepped back and looked - totally asymmetrical in a seriously unappealing way. Her face was also smooshed on one side. Not cute. Well, I suppose if you don't mind that your sock monkey looks like she needs cosmetic surgery or was in some horrific motorcycle accident, I suppose she was cute.

I decided to cut the ear out and reattach it elsewhere. When I did I had to sew up the hole. Her face became even more catawampus. The ear eventually got on in a decent spot, but the poor little 'rilla ended up with a mooshed face on one side. I think she's still pretty cute. She's got some flaws, but hey "imperfections" in this lovingly handmade toy are a testament to her character!