Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Flying Horses.

Once upon a time, prior to 1878, people genuinely didn't know how horses ran. Actually, they didn't know how any quadropeds ran. This might seem a little silly, but it's actually quite difficult to tell what all the legs are doing when an animal is moving very fast. Without the ability to slow things down, you had to take a guess. Painters depicting horses in motion tended to show the most dramatic and obvious part of the gait, and so running horses were generally painted with all four legs extended, like this 1828 painting by Charles Bentley:

All that changed in 1878 when photographer Eadweard Muybridge (who had a strange addiction to vowels) was called in to settle a debate on what exactly horses did with their feet while trotting and galloping, and how many feet they had off the ground at any given time. Muybridge, a pioneer in motion pictures, took high-speed photographs of a horse running. The result was a beautiful and extremely famous frame-by-frame depiction of the gallop.

Note that the only time all four feet are off the ground is when they are all under the horse. The rest of the time, at least one foot is touching down. The above depicted fully extended portion of the gate did not exist. This was rather widely publicized, and from then on horses in art were depicted running properly. This is a John Sanderson-Wells painting from sometime after 1895:

When I go to antique stores, I like spotting the pre-1878 flying horse paintings.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Monday, October 28, 2013


I recently acquired the book How to Find Flower Fairies by Cicely May Barker. It's a gorgeous pop-up book instructing children on the best ways to find signs of fairies outside.

We also just finished watching three seasons of "River Monsters" with Jeremy Wade.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hamster vs World

I acquired Wheatley the hamster a few months ago. He came with a typical name, typical story, and typically tiny cage.

I plugged his cage into my collection of modular tube cages because that's basically the point of owning a hamster, right? He was very happy until a couple of weeks ago when he discovered he could push a certain plug out of the top of one of the cages.

After several days of intense searching I failed to find any trace of Wheatley. There was no signs of nesting, no poo, and no hamster tracks in the dust under the furniture. I assumed he had been eaten by one of the many predators in the house shortly after his escape.

So we were very surprised indeed when he turned up on the kitchen counter a week later in perfect health.

I ended up grabbing a small pod from the tube cage complex and setting it down in front of him. Wheatley climbed in immediately, and was plugged back into his cage system with minimal fuss. I still have no idea where he was for that week, how he avoided being devoured, or how he got onto the counter.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Totally Unspecial Needs

My less-than-two-years-younger brother is autistic. Now that he is in his late 20's and enough random people have pointed it out, my parents have very nearly excepted that he might have Aspergers Syndrome. Meanwhile, people who have any familiarity with the condition basically have him pegged within five minutes of meeting him. I personally have been trying to convince them for well over a decade, which means I get to do the "I told you so" dance every time this happens in my presence.

He had a fairly difficult childhood, a fact that I was very aware of. However, as far back as I could remember I only ever heard my parents talk about how wonderful he was. My 4 or 5 year old brain could never fathom why they were constantly singing the praises of someone who was clearly a total screw-up.

They also had completely different standards of behavior for him than they did for my sister and I, meaning he constantly got away with shit that earned us epic punishments. My sister was old enough to figure out that what sounded to me like bragging was attached to the end of statements like "Sure he just got expelled from preschool, but..." While she just resented the unfair treatment, I developed a deep-seated and mostly subconscious resentment of my brother. I didn't realize any of this until we were in high school, and my relationship with my brother had suffered for years because of it.

My parents never got me or my brother diagnosed with anything because they said they didn't want us to have "labels". If you had a "label", people would treat you differently. No shit. If I had been told from the beginning that my brother had something wrong with him, I would have understood why he was treated differently and the constant gushing about him would have made sense. Instead, my kindergarten self could only conclude that they must like him better.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Gastric-Brooding Frog

The gastric-brooding frog was a small species of frog that lived in Australia until it went extinct in the 1980's. This was a unique frog with an incredibly unusual method of caring for its young. Normal frogs lay their eggs in water, where they hatch into tadpoles that eventually metamorphose into little froggies. Fish, turtles, birds, and many other animals consider frog eggs and tadpoles to be quite tasty, so most never make it to the terrestrial stage. The gastric-brooding for, however, has solved this problem by swallowing its eggs and letting them hatch, swim, and metamorphose inside its stomach.
When the little tadpoles have become frogs, the parent urps them up and sends them off to live their lives.

Can you imagine swallowing your baby and barfing up a teenager years later?

Sunday, June 2, 2013


Awesomedog has an unusual ability to open damned near anything. He can work zippers and buckles, certain types of doorknobs, and those airtight vault containers made for pet food.

Anything remotely edible inside a plastic container or with a plastic lid is fair game, but Awesomedog doesn't like to chew on metal or glass. For years, anything with a metal lid was considered safe. However, Awesomedog views the world as one giant food puzzle toy. Garbage cans, refrigerators, and jam jars rank alongside Kongs, Buster Cubes, and TreatStiks. The day Awesomedog learned to chew the lids off liquor bottles, I found him passed out on the couch with an empty bottle of Bailey's.

Fortunately there was only an inch left before he drained the bottle, but we now keep the liquor locked up because Awesomedog has yet to figure out how keys work.

Monday, May 13, 2013


At daycare one day, I noticed one of my first graders looking distraught.

Sometimes it's hard not to laugh.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

White dog.

I like to walk my dogs in a local nature preserve. Despite the clearly posted leash laws at every entrance, people still like to walk their dogs off-leash here. This is obnoxious at beast, and dangerous at worst. Most of these people have no control over their dogs, who love to harass/annoy/fight leashed dogs. I carry various methods of warding off larger and potentially dangerous dogs, and I normally ask people to call their dogs or inform them that I am not friendly.

While I do everything possible to prevent larger dogs from making contact with mine, I sometimes let the little ones take their chances.

Sometimes it's really muddy out there.

I try to warn them, but even "My dog will eat your dog!" doesn't seem to get the message across. I sort of hope that arriving with a white dog and leaving with a brown one will help them see one of the many benefits of leashes, but that's probably too much to ask.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Video Project.

When Pirate! and I were in high school, we did a lot of video projects. For a history class we planned to film a skit involving horses.

We didn't have very long to do the project, and scheduling worked out such that we ended up filming the day before the project was due. It was a half-day at school, so we got out at noon with plenty of time to film and edit. Our chosen location was a 45-minute drive away through a bunch of farmland. Pirate! drove her parents' Oldsmobile, fully equipped with Broadway musical soundtracks on cassette.

We found out later that the timing chain snapped at 45mph and chewed up the entire inside of the car. At the time all we knew was that the car made a horrible noise and sprayed mangled parts all over the road. This was before cell phones were common, and we had to walk a couple of miles to an agricultural building to find a payphone.

By the time we had walked to a payphone, called for a tow truck and walked back to the car, most of the afternoon was already gone. While waiting for the tow truck, we realized that there was no way we were going to get our project done on time, so instead we filmed the Best Excuse Ever.

We turned it in the next day and got a week extension on our project.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Little Dogs.

We go to the designated off-leash dog beach regularly so that Awesomedog can chase the tennis ball to his heart's content. This happens pretty much every time we go.

Does it look like that big dog just wandered over to 'say hi' and Tinydog snapped at it totally unprovoked? Somebody obviously doesn't read dog body language very well. Let me show you what you missed.

A dog with good manners would have picked up on Tinydog's desire to be left alone already.

At this point the other dog is either deliberately ignoring Tinydog's attempts to communicate, or just has no idea how to read a dog that small.

The oncoming dog is moving in a straight line with ears and tail standing up, this is not a friendly hello, it's an "I'm gonna check you out and there's nothing you can do about it."

So neither Tinydog, myself, or the other dog are surprised when this happens:

My chihuahua is not Cujo. He is not vicious, and he is not attacking unprovoked. He actually has pretty good manners, and he only snaps at other dogs when they ignore every single lesser attempt to communicate that he wants some space.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


Recently I have been trying to find an underlying cause for my many bizarre medical issues. I started with my internist.

The specialists were a huge waste of time. 

But they basically all said the same thing.

The lesson I have learned is that a specialist is someone who says "All of your symptoms that fall within the realm of my specialty are completely common and mundane and I see those every day, but your other symptoms are fascinating. Let me refer you to someone who will not give a fuck."

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


The other day, while I was working in my office, a Harris hawk tried to fly through the window to eat my birds.

The resulting birdsplosion scattered cockatiels across the room. Everyone took off in panicked flight, except Tiny Green Bird.

She's not easily intimidated.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Tortie Hellion meows when you touch her.

Every. Single. Time.

Tortie Hellion is almost five years old. The novelty hasn't worn off yet.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


My lineolated parakeet talks.

But only when I can hear him.

Sometimes he talks for other people now, but for a while there he did a good job of convincing people that I was crazy.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Awesomedog loves tennis balls because they make a squoosh sound when he bites them very hard. It's a perfect combination of two of his favorite activities: biting stuff and making noise.

Kong makes squeaky tennis balls. Once in a while I let him have one as a special treat. A squeaky tennis ball only survives about 15 minutes of nonstop compulsive squeaking before it gives out.

Awesomedog has some obsessive-compulsive tendencies, this is why he is not allowed to play with laser pointers or flashlights. One of the things that sets off his OCD is things that make noise. Tennis balls and squeaky toys are definitely high on the list, but sometimes he'll settle for anything that makes noise. Loose cabinet doors are a favorite.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Anti-Pamphlet Society

At my university there was an area in front of the bookstore that was almost always populated by multiple people handing out pamphlets/leaflets/handbills/flyers of one sort or another.

On any given day you could join a dozen clubs, donate to multiple worthy causes, attend a handful of free concerts, and possibly have your vote swayed. Some friends and I printed up dozens of pamphlets detailing the evils of handing out pamphlets, and then made everyone's day a little more surreal by standing outside the bookstore and handing them out.

Most people would walk the gauntlet of pamphleteers and collect their leaflets, then read them as they walked away. This meant that people had gotten a good distance away before the hypocrisy of our message finally dawned on them. Sometimes they came back.

Sometimes it was hard to stay in character.