Monday, December 22, 2008

DIY Realistic Paper Animal Sculptures

Japan is famous for paper, but did you also know Japan produces some of the coolest patterns for making your own paper sculptures? I didn't until I found a kit to make a mountain gorilla in a nifty store in Japan. Today I stumbled on a website, sponsored by Yamaha (as in Yamaha Motors) that offers the patterns and instructions for FREE! All you need to do is download the PDFs, print, cut and assemble.

Gorillas, ring-tailed lemurs, okapi, sloths, even bugs.

Don't like animals? No problem - they've got patterns for engines and whole motorcycles too.

I love what the company has to say about why they're doing this:
"All work and no play would make for a very dull company in any area of business, but when your products deliver as much excitement as ours, it seems only right to support them with an equally exciting range of entertainment options."

For "Rare Animals of the World" pattern choices click here.
For a full list of the patterns, including Christmas ones like sleighs and reindeer, click here.

What a perfect craft project to team up on with a bored 10-year old!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Perfect Snow Dog Day!

We have more snow now than I have ever seen here before. We must have 18 inches piled high on our back porch roof and every morning there has been more! The dogs are living it up. They beg and cry to go outside to play in the snow. Then they come inside.. after an eternity.. and then ten minutes later, literally, they are at the back door asking to go out again. Crazy newfs! They really, really love snow. This afternoon they actually begged and cried for me to throw snowballs at them. Katy loves to try to catch them in the air and Yuki just wants to have them hit her face. I drenched her in snow and she kept coming at me asking for more. If only I had time to post some video. Until then, here's Katy newfing it up.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Unusual Finding: Elephants live longer in wild than zoos

More often than not, a life in captivity is associated with longevity. Not so for elephants.

A new study has found that wild elephants outlive their captive counterparts — dramatically so.
Researchers found that the life span for wild African elephants in Kenya's Amboseli National Park is about 56 years. However for elephants kept in European zoos it was just 17 years.

As for the more endangered Asian elephants, wild elephants In Myanmar (formerly Burma) live about 42 years compared with Asian elephants in European zoos who live only 20 years.

According to the researcher, Georgia Mason of the University of Guelph in Canada, there are about 1,200 elephants in zoos. Half live in European zoos. The research involved primarily female elephants because they make up 80 percent of the zoo population.

Asked why captive elephants don't live as long, she noted that zoos usually lack large grazing areas and the elephants are often either alone or with only one or two other elephants that are unrelated. This marks a significant difference compared with elephant lifestyles in the wild where they roam large grassy areas and live in groups of 8-12 relatives.

In addition to the shorter lifespan in captivity, zoo elephants also have a 2-3 times higher infant mortality rate. Mason isn't sure why.

I have to admit that although I love going to zoos to see the monkeys and apes, who often have good enough habitats that I don't leave with a sick taste in my mouth, I have a totally different experience viewing some other animals. The big cats, bears and elephants are among the worst kept critters in zoos in my observation. Their habitats never seem to be adequate for maintaining their mental health, let alone their physical health. I think it's just their greater need to roam that is responsible. Perhaps primates can much more easily adapt to a more sedentary life.

Heartaches are heroes when their pockets are full

One of the classic studies from Evolutionary Psychology, one that gets mentioned in all the textbooks and is known to all students of the field, perfectly illustrates a line from the Rosanne Cash song Seven Year Ache: Heartaches are heroes when their pockets are full.

It's best known as the "Burger King study." The researcher, John Marshall Townsend, an anthropology professor at Syracuse University, dressed the same man in two different ways. One was a Burger King uniform, and the other was a white shirt with nice tie and watch and a navy blazer. He had women look a photo of the man and evaluate to what extent they would: like to have coffee with him, date him, have 'uncommitted sex' with him (a favorite question of EP), have a serious involvement with him, have a serious sexual relationship, and marry him (another favorite EP question). Unsurprisingly, women across the board rated the nicely dressed man higher.

Perhaps a better song and line to pair with it is ZZ Top's Sharp Dressed Man: Every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp-dressed man.

The real question then becomes why? Why do women prefer a sharp-dressed man. Ah, sure, women want a good provider. But why? The answer depends on who you ask. Ask an evolutionary psychologist and they'll tell you it's because ancestral women who chose men to mate with who showed signs of status and wealth left more offspring than women who were indifferent to wealth. Ask a member of the "Flat Earth Society," what some evolutionary psychologists call women's studies departments, and they'll say it's because women learn to prefer wealthy men because that's what our culture values. I say it's what our culture values for a good reason: Those values helped us thrive as a species.

The need for women to prefer wealthy men has a lot, I think, to do with the ecological conditions women have customarily faced, namely, lower status. Another significant one is having babies that are metabolically costly and also incredibly difficult to care for, compared to other species. Human babies are basically born before they should be. They come out of the womb much less developed and far more dependent on mom than other primate babies, including other great apes, who also have very dependent babies. Human babies require significantly more care and that is made a lot easier with the help of another parent who can provide food, shelter and protection. The higher status the helper, the better fed the baby and the more likely to survive. That's how the theory goes.

There are some feminist evolutionary psychologists who doubt whether that helper actually was a male sexual partner. The other helper (or helpers most likely) could have been a mother, grandmother or other females raising babies cooperatively.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Not for feint of heart: The Guinea Worm

Former President Jimmy Carter's charitable foundation announced today that it looks like the eradication of the guinea worm parasite may soon become the second infection to be eliminated from the world. Smallpox was the first.

I still wouldn't drink the water yet in Mali.

People catch guinea worm from drinking water infected with the parasite, a worm. It grows under people's skin and over the course of a year, the worm can grow 3 feet long. Wow! And, GROSS! Like the bot fly larvae I learned about when I visited Belize years ago, the guinea worm slowly erupts from the skin, literally, growing right out of your arm, leg, foot. Evidently it causes much pain and debilitation but is not usually fatal.

There is no cure or even treatment for the parasite. The only thing you can do is prevent it, or live with it, waiting for it to emerge completely. Ew.

The map below from The Carter Center shows the extent of the parasite.

It all just reminds me how very fortunate we are to have clean, safe drinking water — something lacking in many parts of the world. Even in places like Tunisia, Belize and Guatemala, which were all fairly well developed for tourism, I drank bottled water which was expensive. In Guatemala we figured out pretty quickly that beer was actually cheaper.

You can learn more about the guinea worm and how it's being eradicated here.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Pygmy tarsier, a monkey that defies categorization, not extinct afterall!

With a tail like a rat, sticky fingers like a gecko, frog-like legs, a head that rotates all the way around like an owl, bat-like ears and the plump face of a baby, the tarsier definitely counts among the most bizarre animals on earth. And it's also a primate! The smallest kind of tarsier was believed to be extinct until it was found last month on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

Sometimes called the world's smallest monkey, the pygmy tarsier is neither a monkey nor even the smallest primate. The tiny dwarf lemur of Madagascar gets that honor. And, primatologists say the tarsier falls somewhere between the prosimians (lemurs, busbabies) and monkeys on the evolutionary scale. They are not quite monkeys, but not quite prosimians either. They have qualities of both. One classification system puts them with monkeys, another with prosimians, but yet another gives them a category all their own. I like that one best. A unique creature should gets its own special spot.

Tarsier traits in common with lemurs, busbabies and other prosimians:
  • grooming claw: This is a sharp nail, usually just one on each hand or foot, and often only on the hands or the feet. It's used for keeping clean.
  • bicornate uterus: Rather one pouch for growing babies, these guy have a uterus that is V shaped, providing two pouches. This makes it much easier to have more than one baby at a time, though like monkeys, tarsiers usually one have one baby at a time.
  • two pairs of nipples: Only the top set is functional. The other is vestigial and doesn't produce milk.
  • small body size: Prosimians tend to be noticeably smaller than monkeys and apes.
  • nocturnal: Tarsiers are creatures of the night. They have the large eyes to prove it too.
Tarsier traits in common with monkeys:
  • no tapetum: The tapetum is a layer of the eye that reflects light. It helps nocturnal animals see better in the dark by amplifying light. When animal eyes glow at night when light hits them, it is the tapetum you're seeing. Monkeys, apes, and tarsiers don't have a tapetum. Tarsiers lack a tapetum even though they are nocturnal which suggests that tarsiers may have once been diurnal and became nocturnal in response to some change in their ecology, for example, the addition of new predators or competitors. They now occupy the same ecological niche that owls do.
  • dry nose: Monkeys and apes belong to the group called 'haplorhines' as opposed to the 'strepsirhines' or wet-nosed primates (the prosimians). Tarsiers have dry noses.
  • central fovea: The part of the eye's retina used for high-acuity and color vision.
  • reduced olfactory bulbs: A part of the brain specialized for processing scent. Prosimians communicate with smelly secretions much more than monkeys do. Scent isn't totally irrelevant for monkeys and apes, it's just that visual and vocal communication take precedence. Perhaps this is because at night, when most prosimians are active, it is either impossible to communicate visually or downright dangerous to communicate out loud. Singals may not be seen through the dark of night or may be heard by predators. It's much more stealthy to communicate with scent.
  • flexible upper lip: This greater freedom of movement, due to more as well as more complex muscles, allows monkeys and apes to make facial expressions. This is one of the big reasons why people see reflections of humanity in their primate relatives. The look of joy, boredom, anger and more can all be seen displayed on the faces of monkeys, tarsiers included.
Anthropologist Sharon Gursky-Doyen of Texas A&M University found the presumed lost species in the mountains of Sulawesi Island. It hadn't been spotted in the wild for 80 years.

"They always look like they have a perpetual smile on their face, which adds to the attraction," she said in an interview. To me, they look almost exactly like Furbees, that fuzzy, robotic toy that was insanely popular about a decade ago. I think even my grandma had one.

The cute yet enigmatic little primate, neither monkey nor proto-monkey, weighs a mere 2 ounces and eats mostly insects. They are also known to eat snakes.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Can mothers choose the sex of their baby?

It's a well-known fact that among many species it's the male that determines the sex of offspring. But, the mother can also influence the sex of the child. How is this possible?

Maternal condition and environmental quality can alter the chances of whether a mother will conceive and give birth to son or daughter. Mothers in top physical condition, who are well-fed or high status (and thus have choice access to resources), tend to have more sons. Under poor environmental conditions (such as an area with lots of pollution) or poor maternal condition, mothers tend to have more daughters.

From an evolutionary standpoint it actually makes a lot of sense. Among most animals, males compete intensely with each for the right to mate with a female. The stronger, bigger, taller and generally more fit male wins while the losers sulk off, sometimes never getting to mate. Many males are left out of the mating game altogether, which means having a male is risky. In contrast, most females do eventually get to mate. Having a son is riskier than having a daughter, unless of course, you are likely to have a son that is well-fed and likely to be dominant and exert control over the area's resources. If not, then it's much safer to invest in daughters because even poorly nourished daughters in less than ideal condition can still mate.

This idea is known in evolutionary biology as the Trivers-Willard hypothesis.

What's really cool is there is actually a good amount of evidence for it. The effect has been demonstrated in birds, insects, fish, ungulates, mammals — and even people.

Dr. Elissa Cameron of the Mammal Research Institute in South Africa put the results of 1,000 different studies of the theory through a statistical procedure called a meta-analysis. It's a fancy way of combining the results of lots of studies, some of which found evidence in support of the theory and some that didn't, so that we can determine what the data shows overall. She found that mothers who were in better physical condition at the time of conception were more likely to have sons.

No one knows for sure what the exact mechanism is. XY embryos are more fragile, less likely to work out, but no one knows what the physiological mechanism is exactly. It could have to do with the level of body fat and diet affecting how much glucose is present at the time of conception, or it could be the level of testosterone. Some people think it may be corticosteroids (stress hormones) that play a role. Either way, researchers think the mother's body either chooses certain eggs to develop, rejects sperm carrying X or Y chromosomes, or prevents eggs fertilized by those sperm to implant on a condition-dependent basis.

If you ask me, I think it's beyond cool that mothers can actually influence the sex of their child.

For amusement only, you can take an online test that tells you whether you'll have a boy or girl. The questions take into account personality factors and don't ask the right questions, so you have to take the results with a grain of salt.

If I were designing a test, I'd ask a bunch of questions about diet, weight, physical activity, socioeconomic status, living environment, and a few behavior questions that get at to what extent you actually act dominant. I think it would be a really neat study if years down the road participants were asked if they went on to have a boy or girl. That way, you could see how well the test predicts what it purports to, i.e. whether it's valid.

Here's the for fun only test: Baby sex test

There are other theories under development, including one with a working hypothesis that beautiful people tend to have more daughters.

And here's a study for more reading:

    Increased levels of air pollution and a decrease in the human and mouse male-to-female ratio in São Paulo, Brazil. Fertility and Sterility, 87(1), 230 - 232
    Lichtenfels et al

Friday, November 28, 2008

Why oh why do I not get a discount?!

The evil, nasty Apple people tempted me with a promotional email touting all kinds of big sales today only so I opened it, naturally. I have money to burn, er, spend on two of my favorite guys and tech gear is a sure winner for pressies.

I found exactly what I wanted and both were on really great sales. I could even get free engraving on one and have my choice of colors. Perfect. The other pressie would actually be for me in a way.. LOL.. because it would mean Mr. Field Notes and I could work side by side instead of in separate offices. Awesome! And FREE SHIPPING! Next day shipping! Perfect.

So I put the items in the cart and went to save it for later. Just a few hours while I make sure this is really something I can afford right now. The decision hangs on the outcome of a VIP test I need to take. So I click to save the cart, enter my password and then vamoooose bye bye sale discount.

What the?!

So, if you're a frequent, loyal customer who keeps a registered account then you don't get your discount? Grrrrrrr. Bye bye buy.

I guess I'll just erase the cookies and refill the shopping cart later.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Little Y makes it through surgery

Youngster Yuckster made it through surgery last week. She got spayed Wednesday and has been doing really well ever since. She got her bark back around Friday but has continued to be much quieter than usual. She's got stitches that dissolve and didn't go home with those awful plastic 'Elizabethan' collars. Apparently she showed no signs of self-mutilation her doc said. I was skeptical so we kept a close eye on her which was made easier by us being on vacation.

We still worked from home a bit here and there. Me more so than Mr. Field Notes. Some vacation! Orders, including several large ones, continued to roll in so I found myself working almost non-stop. Then I got a nasty case of food poisoning that shut me down completely. I think that's what it was. We ordered a pizza after we finished painting the kitchen and the next morning I was sick and Mr. Field Notes felt bad too. We decided to take care of the kitchen while Yuki was out for her surgery since it would be impossible to do it with her around.

Katy's a good dog, a very very good dog, so it was easy to work around her while we painted. She just lounged on her couch while we painted around her. She seemed to have missed her little sister. She would go over to look out the window and cry. She'd lay around bored. But, we give her a new toy I had been saving so she could play with something new unmolested by little Yuckstart. She had a good time but now of course, it's Yuki's toy.

Yuki's stitches look good. There's just a little bit of oozing that we're keeping an eye on, and fortunately the 5 hours she spent home alone while we were back at work this morning went well. Her stitches look even better than they did yesterday.

And, more noticeably, her bark is back so she must be feeling better. She's still not allowed to play, wrestle or go on walks, but we still make sure she has plenty of stuff to chew on. Her latest fascination is the toilet paper. Today she ran off ten feet of it before I caught up with her.
What a nut.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Those crazy newfs!

I think they have actually become each others BFF.
The proof is in the picture pudding.

Chair Share
Just recently they've agreed to participate in the Chair Share Program. Katy is a rather wide load and likes to sit in the big comfy chair with her snout draped over the back so she can rest and relax while traffic and walkers pass by. Yuki likes to do the same. Not until today have they both occupied the chair for longer than 20 seconds. Today the stayed nearly twenty minutes!

Traffic Spotting is Thrilling
It must be, anyway, judging by the length of time they spent just staring out the window. They do this at least once a day, every day.

Baby Sister Adores Katy
I had always hoped that Katy and Dear Old Mr. Max would become like two snug little bugs in a rug, but that never happened. Yuki and Katy really do get along really well. They sit next to each other, sleep near each other and Yuki goes crying wild whenever Katy leaves the house for a walk. She has to sit in my lap and get hugs after 15-20 minutes of being without big sister. Except for one incident, Katy has always gotten along well with Yuki. One time Yuki got up in Katy's face when Katy was either relaxing or enjoying some tasty morsel. Katy munched little Yuki's nose so hard it left a bloody gash that left a noticeable scar. Other than that, Killer K has been amazingly gentle and patient with her young annoyance.

Miss Put Upon Katy
That's Katy's pout face. We see it when she is really disgusted with the unequal and unfair treatment she receives. She put up with so much annoyance and so little compensation. She shared the chair for a long time — a really long time in dog years — and she didn't even get a cheeseburger for her trouble. The injustice!

Monday, November 17, 2008

New Holiday Cards & Tags

A custom request I got through etsy inspired me to whip up some new designs for holiday cards and tags. I really love how the design of the snowflake cards turned out. It's just clip art laid over squares I made with rounded corners. The color scheme is one Godiva used a few years ago.

I am a big fan of the turquoise, red and white combination and I hope others are too!

I have one set of 10 cards listed for sale now. Just like the other paper I make, they are seed embedded and can be planted in the spring. Call it the no waste Christmas card that is also a gift!

The other card is a holly card that I colorized in Photoshop. Colorizing a black and white image turned out to be both easy and enjoyable. I haven't listed it yet, but I'm planning to. It's also plantable. I'm thinking about offering the option of customizing it with a family name under the "Happy Holidays" part, something like "Happy Holidays from the Stewart family."

And finally, I made some penguin and polar bear tags. They are more 'cute' than I usually do, so for those who want more 'grown up' tags, I've got the snowflakes design on some other tags that will be available soon.

In the meantime, get your paws on these tags while you still can!

Christmas Holly Card: Click here.
Holidays Card set of 10: Click here.
Penguin & Polar Bear tags: Click here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sisterhood is Powerful: Lessons from Gelada & Hamadryas Baboons

Living along the cliffs of highland Ethiopia is a fascinating species of baboon called the Gelada baboon. They are magnificent creatures and stand apart from the rest of the primates due to their chests. They are bare and bright red.

Both males and females of the so-called bleeding heart baboon have hourglass shaped areas of bare, red skin on their chests. Female geladas, upon reaching sexual maturity, develop blister-like bumps around the edges of these skin patches.

They swell and change color from whitish to red in conjunction with the female's estrous cycle. They are an obvious indicator of fertility, somewhat like the fleshy rump patches of other baboons, chimps and bonobos.

Because gelada baboons spend most of their day sitting on their behinds munching grasses, they don't signal ovulation on their rears like many other primates do. What good is a hidden signal? So it's displayed where it can be seen — on their chests. Some evolutionary psychologist think something similar drove the evolution of human female sexual signals. Instead of sporting swollen labia like chimps and bonobos do when they ovulate, human females have a much more subtle signal in the form of a different pair of red lips. The ones on our faces. It's a much more subtle signal. No wonder men find women mysterious!

Gelada baboons live alongside steep cliffs. At night, they climb down the rocks to sleep, safely away from predators. They huddle together for warmth. Nights in the mountains of Ethiopia are chilly. Males and female have evolved thick fur to cope with the conditions. Males have especially thick hair concentrated around their heads, neck and chest. They look very much like lions. It is said that Ethiopian warriors use their manes in traditional costumes.

Their unusual appearance and striking presence is one thing, but perhaps the most interesting aspect of these primates is their social structure. It is one of the most complex among primates and is often cited as a model for understanding what the social structure of ancestral humans might have been like.

Gelada baboon social structure is also especially interesting because it contrasts sharply with a closely related species of baboon — the hamadryas baboon. Both species of baboon live in Ethiopia in the highlands in groups of hundreds of individuals. Bands upwards of 400 have been spotted in one place, but they recognize only the few who live in their troop and especially their harem. Harems are formed of 2 to 8 females, their young and one dominant male. Sometimes harems are referred to as OMUs or one male units to differentiate their social system from that of human harems, but the concept is basically the same. Often, gelada and hamadryas baboon harems have a hanger-on or follower male who is too young, too inexperienced, or too low ranking to acquire his own harem. And that's where some of the stark differences between the two species can be seen.

Hamadryas males actively herd their females using visual and vocal threats. Sometimes they bite. A nip to the back of the neck corrects wayward females who may be intent on defecting to another harem or joining up with a follower male. It can get vicious and stressful from a female's point of view. Hamadryas follower males also try to steal the females — even females that are juveniles not yet mature enough to reproduce. They kidnap the youngsters
and guard them until they are old enough to mate with. They do take good care of their young charges by grooming them, helping them up and down cliffs, and watching out for other signs of danger.

Gelada females, in contrast, have much more relaxed lives. Males don't herd them or try to abscond with them or their babies. They live lives characterized more by sisterly bonds than domestic abuse. Gelada females enjoy very tight bonds with other females in their group, spending most of their grooming time on each other. In contrast, their hamadryas counterparts focus most of their grooming on 'the boss.'

Why do gelada and hamadryas females live such different social lives?
The answer is actually remarkably simple: Gelada females are family. Hamadryas females are totally unrelated to each other. Kinship is a powerful determinant of behavior among primates.

Why are gelada females all related to one another?
At sexual maturity, when juveniles complete puberty and become capable of reproduction, they must leave their natal troop, their birth troop, to avoid inbreeding. Among geladas, it's the males who leave. For hamadryas, it's the females who leave. When they join new troops, they find themselves living with unrelated females who are more interested in the dominant male than each other. For gelada females it's just the opposite.

Are the bonds of sisterhood powerful deterrents for male violence? I think the story of the gelada and hamadryas baboons suggests so.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Army of the 12 Monkeys: Monkey of the Month Club on sale now

Introducing the much loved 2008 Monkey of the Month Club felted OrnaMonkey ornament set.

All year long I release one unique monkey species into the wild. A mandrill, a few lemurs, a macaque, a capuchin, a langur or two, two tamarins, the monogamous titi monkey, and maybe a rare uakari or saki monkey round out the twelve.

Normal enrollments in the club fetch the member one monkey per month. This particular one gets the member ALL of the monkeys at once. This saves a lot on the cost of shipping and makes it possible for you to give them as a gift set for Christmas or spread them out among monkey-loving friends, family and teachers. You could hog them all to yourself. They are just that cute!

Each monkey comes with a bio-blurb so you can learn what makes each monkey unique among primates.

Recommended uses: Hang on a tree, in a window, pinned or hung on a bag, backpack or hung from door knobs, even your rear view mirror. This is one set of monkeys you'll love all year long.

And, because the felt used in the OrnaMonkeys is "eco-spun" felt made from recycled plastic bottles, you can feel good about supporting the use of recycled materials. The purchase of anything from me helps me to make charitable contributions each year to conservation organizations. I donate to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and the Jane Goodall Institute. Both work to increase the amount of land set aside for conservation. This helps not only the primates that live there, but all the other species as well. They even help people living near the monkeys and apes by providing employment in the parks, funding local schools and helping families begun small businesses that use the area's natural resources sustainably.

Photos show many of the monkeys that are part of the set. This set gives you a 40% savings compared with buying the monkeys individually. Click on any of the photos for more details.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Water dog sets sail on "Good Ship Washbasket"

The young Yuki must be dreaming of an open sea. With a face this cute, you'd spoil her rotten too. Why can't they stay young longer?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Spoil your dog: Extravagant dog toys.

People these days spoil their dogs like their kids, making them truly part of the family. Toys are a big part of that. But like new babies and toddlers, dogs often take the most pleasure in the cheapest toys. Rag towels, cardboard rolls from the used up TP, empty soda bottles, and the classic — plentiful, free — sticks. Our big Katy loves to play with rocks too.

The one store bought (and sometimes homemade) toy they both absolutely flip for is squeaky toys. The smaller the better. They stuff them into their cavernous mouths, leaving their jowls fully inflated and then run from one end of the house to the other, squeaking the toy rhythmically the whole time. Dollar store squeaky dog toys are usually money well spent. But sometimes their teeth puncture the plastic quickly, deflating all the excitement. I have yet to find a supply of good, loud, cheap bulk squeakers. If/when I do, I'll buy them and stuff old socks with them. They both love taking socks out of the clothes basket so it would be a perfect combination. The only thing better would be couple of ragged, torn old towel ends hanging out from both ends.

If you're not on a tight budget like everyone else in America (the world?) you can splurge on these extravagant toys I found today while trying to find an example of a small, cheap squeaky toy for Big K. The third one is a bit ridiculous, but I can actually see people buying it.

Toy 1: The Poor Dog's Extravagance: Corded Puli Dog Plush Squeaky Toy — a toy that looks like a Portuguese water dog, complete with realistic black dreadlocks and Rastafarian collar.

Toy 2: Middle of the Road Splurge: Premium O'Drools, Super Slobber Brew — a 'beer bottle' for your dog that squeaks.

Toy 3: Champagne and Caviar: The Sleepover Suitcase Giftbox
Inside a Louis Vuitton-esque suitcase lies a plush terry robe ($25 extra will get you a giant breed sized one), a squeaker toy "Bark Street Journal" newspaper, an embroidered plush squeaky toy passport, a yellow plush NYC-style taxi cab that squeaks, a stylish ceramic food dish, organic turkey and parmesan bone-shaped cookies, and a luxurious chocolate brown throw blanket. Only $150 to provide retail therapy for your dog's first night away from home.

Monday, November 10, 2008

$850 for a stuffed chicken? Yes, for real. Welcome to Japan.

Wow! Does it taste like gold?

Only in Japan could you expect to order a piece of meat that costs that much.

When I was there a little over a year ago we went to a marvelous department store, Takashimaya, the store selling poultry gold. Think Harrods, but more extravagant. Saks Fifth Avenue on steroids.

The super upscale department store in Tokyo made headlines today for taking advance orders for chickens stuffed with foie gras, black truffles, sausage and chestnuts.

They are asking 84,000 yen for them (around $850).

Japanese companies — like those in the US and every other first world economy hit hard by the worldwide financial crisis — expect a recession and have turned away from appealing to middle class buyers to instead grab those who still have loads of cash.

This is definitely one way to go about that!

It took a little searching around, but I found Takashimaya's online page where the $850 chicken is being sold. You can see it here. You can get a taste of the flavor of an extravagant Japanese Christmas here. Japanese go gaga over Christmas. It's clearly not a Christian tradition anymore. It is a worldwide commercial phenom.

Takashimaya has numerous floors. The bottom floor is a food court full of the most expensive food imaginable, much of it packaged to be given as a gift. To show your admiration for someone, you go out of your way to get them a really, really splashy gift — like a melon. I remember seeing huge melons there, all exquisitely displayed to showcase their perfection.

Costly, especially useless, gifts are the epitome of something evolutionary types call costly signaling.

The higher the cost and the more difficult it is to fake, the more likely the effort is an honest one. Nearly anyone can buy a fake Rolex or fake Fendi purse at a place like Times Square or Shibuya, but few can give a Kobe beef steak or $180 cantaloupes from Takashiyama.

I blew some money on fancy toothpicks for my dad while I was there. I couldn't afford anything else!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Exciting Discovery: Gas prices temperature map.

Whoever invented the site is a megagenius. The content is all user generated which results in a temperature style map to display the price per gallon of gasoline around the country. The map is updated daily. At the site, you can zoom in to view your county, and in some cases, your city. Like google maps, you can click to drag to a new location. You can also search by zip code to find what is the current price of gas by gas station in your city.

It's really interesting that the map resembles, in some really obvious ways, the electoral map of the recent election. There are also some stark differences. Speaking of electoral maps, this site has them going all the way back to the time of George Washington, when there weren't even really parties yet. It's interesting looking back through history that the last time there was a true third party candidate it was 1912. And, the South for the most part went to Democrats until 1964 when the southern states went to Republican Barry Goldwater instead of Democrat Lyndon Johnson and stayed that way until even now, with the exception of Jimmy Carter who was from Georgia. I'd guess Goldwater was also from the south, but wikipedia says he's from the same state as this year's loser.

So there you go, two great databases — one gas prices and the other history of electoral votes — presented visually. I love well-organized and presented visual data.

Now, if anyone can explain why the highest gas prices are concentrated along the west coast and in New England, regions that are Democratic strongholds, I'd love to hear your theories. I've got some ideas, but I'd love to hear what you think!

The same thing goes for the South, why was it Democratic and then suddenly went Republican? I have no theories there, so I'd be especially interested to hear what you think.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Baby Chimp Cares for 2 Orphan Tiger Cubs

My dad forwarded an email to me that I couldn't resist sharing this way.

Apparently, during hurricane Hannah, two baby tigers were born at "TIGERS, The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species" in South Carolina. Their mother was too stressed, they said, so they separated the cubs and humans began caring for them — that is — until 2-yr-old chimp Anjana stepped in.

She feeds the babies milk with a bottle, lies with them, plays with them and in other ways acts as a surrogate mother.

But wait a second, aren't chimps notoriously really aggressive?

Yes, they hunt and kill monkeys to eat. They beat each other up as part of dominance struggles, and they stalk other chimp groups and kill them gang warfare style.

They are also very affectionate and as far as parenting goes, tend to be very attentive caregivers. Like humans, mama chimps differ in parenting styles and attentiveness. First time chimp mothers often don't seem to know what they're doing. They hold and carry the baby wrong. Fail to respond to cries. Accidentally sit on the babies - you name it. But, chimps who have babysitting practice, seem to get it. They are more attentive, more patient and also less likely to use aggressive ways of disciplining their babies.

For example, some mama chimps bite their babies during weening to get the babies to stop whining and begging to nurse. Others lay their chest down on the ground or cover their chest with their arms — a much more gentle solution to the problem.

Young chimps are fascinated by babies. Older siblings seek out their younger siblings to play with and practice parenting skills by babysitting them. And, evidence such as this case along with many others like it, suggest that chimps (like other apes like gorillas and humans) don't seem to care what species the baby is.

Koko, the gorilla who was taught sign language at an early age, had a pet kitten that she treated like a baby.

Of course, both of these young apes grew up learning from humans so that has something to do with it. Wild gorillas and wild chimps would never even have the chance to care for another species, but there are a few scattered reports I recall of juveniles accidentally coming across babies of other species. The reports indicate the instinct seems to be one more of curiosity than of murder.

**** Say it isn't so...

Unsurprisingly, the chimp in this case appears to lack upper teeth, something that is not normal at this age. They may very well have been pulled, a practice routine with chimps used in show business. It makes them less dangerous to work with as they grow older and stronger.

Googling this TIGERS place, and reading their website, makes it clear to me that it is very much like other fake animal sanctuaries that skirt the line of legality and ethics. Rather than being places of genuine research and sanctuary, they are in actuality roadside zoos and excuses to keep exotic animals as pets where laws prohibit it. They are not a non-profit organization. They don't list what percent or even exactly to whom they make charitable donations for conservation. At best, they merely educate people that wild animals can be trained to do extraordinary things.

In my opinion, they are scumbags who exploit animals.

The TIGERS website has a page where they advertise the animals have appeared in commercials. "One of the series of commercials that our animal actors have starred in recently is for Schweppes Tonic Water," they proudly say.

Don't bother looking at their website to learn more about animals or even conservation, you won't find it. You'll find more educational value in reading one paragraph of a description of the felt monkeys I make and sell on etsy.

In any case, I'm glad you're reading this and hope you found value to it. You can probably guess that I'm pretty passionate about this stuff. I don't often come right out and call people scumbags, but when I do, I mean it.

Thanks for listening, and please do chime in with comments.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Rainman: Does rain cause autism?

Of course not, but the results of a study recently published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine seem to indicate an association between autism and rain.

Specifically, the rate of childhood autism is higher in counties in California, Oregon, and Washington with greater precipitation.

According to the study's co-author, Sean Nicholson, who is not a psychologist but rather a public policy analyst, Washington counties west of the Cascade Mountains, get four times as much precipitation and had autism rates twice as high as those in the drier east.

The research made headlines in papers across the country, including our small community's newspaper. It makes sense too, if rain doubles the chance of autism, you'd think that's important information people should know about.

While the results of this study are interesting, it needs to be put into proper context. First of all, this is another case of correlation research. Two things being associated does not mean one caused the other.

Another cause for concern with this type of research finding is how it is that we're looking at incidence rates, not raw numbers. And this kind of number (rates) is very difficult for to keep in perspective.

If the rate of autism is doubled in rainy counties, what do suppose is the risk of any one individual developing autism in that county compared with one in a drier county? Twice as high, you'd say. But — you'd be wrong. Why? In absolute terms, about 1 in 150 people has autism. If the rate doubles, that means 2 in 150 people has autism. So, the rate of autism goes from 0.6% to 1.3% which is a lot, lot smaller than the 100% increase that gets reported.

Dang it. So much for statistical literacy.

Lately I've been paying a lot more attention to this issue since I received a special supplement to a peer-reviewed academic journal I subscribe to. The supplement, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, features a long article written by a team of very critical scientists who argue that the way health statistics are presented, oftentimes with the complicity of medical doctors, does an enormous disservice to the public and in some cases does actual harm by leading people (and doctors themselves) to make bad medical care decisions.

I'm only 3 pages into the tome, but I'm finding it very interesting and it has certainly helped me to put studies like this Rain + Autism one into proper context.

I'm not sure what public policy decision the autism study authors would make, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were downright idiotic.

Here's some evidence to support my hunch. They had presented early results from this data before as part of the Johnson Graduate School of Management's "Research Paper Series" which I'd bet is not a peer-reviewed journal. This is what they had to say about it (edited for brevity, and bolded to point out where the authors false make causal claims where the data is merely correlational):

"Autism ... one of the current theories concerning the condition is that early childhood television viewing serves as ... a trigger. Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey, we... show... consistent with the television as trigger hypothesis, that county autism rates are also positively related to the percentage of households that subscribe to cable television. Our precipitation tests indicate that just under forty percent of autism diagnoses... is the result of television watching due to precipitation, while our cable tests indicate that approximately seventeen percent of the growth in autism... is due to the growth of cable television. These findings are consistent with early childhood television viewing being an important trigger for autism."

Now that an apparently respectable peer-reviewed journal has published this autism + rain link piffle, I'm left scratching my head and hoping that people don't monkey around and take this crap seriously.

Rain and TV viewing do not cause autism!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Words and an Unforgetable Image

I just don't think I can add anything to what's already been said about what happened yesterday, but this was certainly memorable.

Get your urban news at DimeWars.Com

I don't know who said this originally, but it has also made an impression:

Rosa Parks sat so
Martin Luther King, Jr. could stand so
Barack Obama could run so
we could fly.

Maybe in my lifetime I'll see a female U.S. President too.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Light Blue Leaf Card Bundle

Flame orange berries and gorgeous red dogwood tree leaves created the perfect backdrop for a set of light baby blue leaf cards I recently made.

Usually I don't make quite so many leaf cards all in the same color range, but I made too much pulp for one project and had others lined up so I had to think of something to use the pulp for. It had been a while since I made leaf cards and with the leaves changing color all around, I couldn't resist going whole hog on a bunch of them.

I ended up with 7 full sized cards and seven miniature cards that would be great gift tags. Sycamore, maple, oak, ginkgo and other leaves from trees that grow in my neighborhood grace the fronts of all of them. I collect the leaves on walks with the newfs.

Almost all of the cards bear a natural stain from the leaves too, something that doesn't always happen but I think it's wonderful when it does.

Click any of the pictures or here for a more complete description of them.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Dia des los Muertos

The Mexican celebration of ancestors, Dia des los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a day set aside to remember the dead. It coincides with All Saints Day, November 1 and All Souls Day, November 2. Like most other holidays, this one comes and goes in our house much like the others, which is to say, without any sort of fanfare.

But, this particular one reminds me of a store in Portsmouth, NH that had the best Dia Des los Muertos paraphernalia — three foot tall handpainted porcelain skeleton dolls. Freakin' awesome ones. I always wanted one because they were wicked cool works of art, but they were also prohibitively expensive.

Apparently, the traditional thing to do is to visit the graves of ones ancestors and leave candles, food, drinks (like tequila and mezcal), and other things to entice the dead. Supposedly on this day, the spirits of the dead can come back from 'the beyond' for a visit if the living show them the way with petals of the cempazúchitl, an orange marigold flower. The petals point them in the direction from the grave to the house.

I've collected a lot of marigolds for my card making, but I seriously doubt even if I wanted to, that I would have enough to stretch all the way to the graves of any of my ancestors. Instead., I'll just send a shout out to 'the beyond' for some uncles who died from brain tumors and a maternal grandmother who always made me hot chocolate when I stopped by to warm up on the way home from school.

WallExpress on etsy makes the best 'sugar skull' art. That's one of her sold items above.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Players Wanted for TEAM Newfoundland!

A recent trip to the new dog park in town revealed that newfoundlands have a knack for football. It helps that they can wrap their enormous mouths around pigskin without any difficulty. They can run out for long passes, and they can force fumbles. With a few more players, we could have a formidable team.

Because I'm not beefy, I've decided to stay on the sidelines and coach. On offense, Katy will be wide receiver. Her speed and ability to go deep for passes is an asset. Mr. Field Notes will quarterback. Besides his great arm, he's a quick thinker who also has a deep knowledge of his wide receiver's psychology. And Yuki — if we can convince her to be on our side and not the opposing team — will make an awesome tight end. On defense, Katy will made a great linebacker. She's huge and can tackle anyone. Yuki would make a great cornerback. Her job would be to force incomplete passes either by swatting the ball away from the receiver or by catching the pass herself. She already shows natural skill and drive in that direction.

So, that's our team in the making. Wanna play?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mountain Gorillas in Peril

A renegade Congolese army general and his rebel followers have taken over parts of the enormous central African country that is home to the world's rare mountain gorilla.

Even though our country's economy appears to be in a downward spiral and wars are being fought in the name of terror containment in two fronts and are spilling over into previously uninvolved countries, this lesser known problem has me worried too. It's escalated in recent days and the fate of the mountain gorilla is at stake.

The rebels have used the Virunga National Park, set aside to protect the mountain gorillas and their habitat, as a base in the past. But this time, they've actually taken over the park headquarters and booted out all of the rangers, who like other Congolese citizens, have fled with everything they own on their backs to try to stay alive another day.

Left behind are some 200 mountain gorillas now left with no protection. Why is this significant? Without anyone around to stop them, the rebels can shoot gorillas and eat them as bushmeat. This has happened in the past and could easily start happening again. What also happens is that mothers with babies are shot and the babies are stolen to sell on the black market. That money buys more weapons, making it harder to stop them. They also chop down trees to make charcoal, which is used for heat for shelter and food.

It's a really ugly situation brewing in the Congo. The park is a World Heritage Site and is home to the highest level of biodiversity in Africa.

According to an old AP story, hippos in the Congo are also on the verge of being wiped out with more than 400 killed last year, mostly for food. It's estimated that only 900 hippos are left, a massive decrease from the 22,000 reported there in 1998.
The UN has peace keepers around the Congo, and it is in fact their largest single mission, yet it, as always, appears to do little good. Since the on-again-off again civil war erupted in the Congo in 1998, more than 5 million people have been killed. Not many people are employed as park rangers, so the figure that 110 of them have died in their line of work in the last decade is sobering.

Poachers and deforestation have wreaked havoc in the Virunga National Park for more than a decade. Occasionally it spills across the border to Rwanda, making the Rwandan side of the Virunga park a dangerous place too. The situation in Rwanda has improved tremendously since the end of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Even so, that conflict saw millions of refugees spill across the border to Congo, sometimes right through the park, burning and looting along the way. Some say it marked the beginning of an era of unrest, lawlessness and clashes between militias and myriad rebel groups in the Congo.

It all reminds me that as long as Africa continues to be impoverished, there's little hope. And, very little research getting done on primates there. It's my hope however, that people can shift away from mining nonrenewable resources like coal, oil and minerals in order to provide for their families and instead find alternative means of income that are based on environmentally sustainable endeavors. Rwanda, bolstered by a president in favor of conservation, has managed to build mountain gorilla tourism so well that it is the country's third largest source of foreign revenue. Gorillas are a source of pride for the people, contributing to a positive image of the country.

Perhaps in time, this could happen in the Congo too.

You can get daily updates on the Congo situation by visiting the Virunga National Park's staff blog:

Here's a park ranger talking about the Virunga National Park and his work there. It's really interesting.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I finally made Plantable Christmas Cards!

It took a custom order request to finally get me around to making them, but I finally created plantable Christmas (or holiday or Hanukkuh if you prefer) cards.

The doves on the fronts of the cards are plantable and will grow flowers when planted properly. Instructions are printed in the backs of the cards, which are also 100% recycle paper, albeit not the fancy handmade kind.

I've decided to sell them in sets of 10 since it keeps the cost down and means people can still get a good number of them for those very special people they wish to send them to.

The message on the front and inside can be customized as can the color of the doves and the type of seeds they include.

They are for sale now, so if you like them you can order them in advance of the holiday rush. Clicking on any of the pictures will take you to the right place!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Your Caption Wanted!

I just don't know what to say about this moment captured.
Maybe you can come up with a good caption for it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A peek at peak leaf peeping time in NH

The afternoon sunlight came pouring in through the sheer curtains of our front window causing me to peek outside where I caught a glimpse of the vivid orange leaves on my neighbor's dogwood tree. Just past it I can see the flame orange leaves on a tree across the street. That can only mean one thing: It's peek leaf peeping time here! Scratch that — it also means I'm just more than a tad homesick for my old NH stomping grounds.

Fall was the absolute best, best time of year there. And it only lasted about 2 weeks.
I'm kidding, but it sure did appear out of nowhere and then disappear just as suddenly.

It meant the summer humidity that made life miserable was gone. The cool temperatures made way for simmering pots of clam 'chowdah.' Mr. Field Notes made some last night which made me recall one night in NH when he drove down to the local gas station to buy the all essential missing ingredient for clam chowder. He took his package of bacon to the cashier to pay for it and all she said was something along the lines of, "Making chowdah huh." There if you were buying bacon, and only bacon, in the fall, it could mean only one thing.

We lived in the NH woods, more or less, and there were all kinds of little roads lined with trees and stone fences to travel down. I fondly remember one huge tree on a hill next to a stone monument that was on the way to campus. It always lit up an unbelievable golden orange color like nothing I had ever seen. When I went back for my preliminary dissertation defense, I had to see that tree. It wasn't peak season, but the tree was still gorgeous.

At this time of year back there the weather channel would always cover the progression of prime leaf peeping zones so you could anticipate exactly what weekend it was going to be the best. As a transplant from the West I thought it was pretty weird that people would make that big a deal out of it. But after the first fall it became obvious.

Today, if I were in NH with Mr. Field Notes, we would've driven into Portsmouth or maybe down to Exeter to walk around and take in the sights. We'd go to Bob's Clam Hut and get Fish 'n' Chips for lunch then maybe go for a drive up through Maine along the coast and then head back for lobster ravioli dinner at Café Mediterraneo. Or, we'd just take the dingbat dogs for a country drive along Bay Road out to Durham Point. Clam chowder for din-din.

It's just not quite the same here.