Incredible Photos of the Sun

March 2, 2009

magnetic_structures_sunwhole_sunsun_spotsun_surface has a gallery of 21 amazing, astounding, incredible images of your favorite star and mine, the ever-lovin’ Sun.

Click on the samples on the left for lrager images, then go to their site for more!

Their Image #17 showing a coronal mass ejection of a billion tons of matter at millions of kilometers an hour is incredible when you  consider the amount of power on display. It reminds me a Jack Kirby drawing — bursting with the power cosmic. . .!

“The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” – a brief review

January 14, 2009



My taste in prose has always tended toward non-fiction. And I’m much more in tune with work like Ted Kerasote’s excellent Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog than I am with the more sentimental (and just plain dumb) Marley & Me. I mean, John Grogan and his wife are both journalists and yet they seem to have absolutely no interest in educating themselves about dog behavior or finding a suitable trainer for Marley.

Because I’m known in my neighborhood as a ‘dog person’ a friend pressed his copy of Edgar Sawtelle on me with much encouragement. I tried hard to subtract all the hype, the Oprah Book Club selection and the vehemently divisive reviews and forum comments on Amazon. I wanted to read it as if I knew nothing at all about it and had just stumbled across it.

As I read I grew immersed in the world David Wroblewski creates and found that at 560 pages, it went surprisingly quickly. There are insights into both canine and human behavior than anyone with much experience of either will recognize. As a Shakespeare fan, I liked the loose connection with Hamlet.

(Of course, we all know that the bumpkin Will of Stratford-on-Avon didn’t write a word of Shakespeare’s canon; the real author was Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, but that’s a tale for another entry.) 

I loved the dog-centric nature of the book (esp. the parts with Almondine, who is the Ophelia counterpart) and enjoyed the writing style; it seemed one step removed from realism, slightly mythic. 

The ending, which seems to raise the most controversy among readers, didn’t strike me as out of tune with the rest of the work. Perhaps because, due to the parallels with Hamlet, I was expecting a downer ending.

After all, in the play all the major characters are dead by the final curtain having been run over by a truck. (“I could tell you more, but suddenly I am run over by a truck.”—Michael O’Donoghue, “How to Write Good”). 

So don’t let all the hype turn you off, as it nearly did me, Edgar Sawtelle is worth spending time with.

Communicate with your pets telepathically?

November 20, 2008

I’ve posted about Dr. Fox previously and here’s one of his newspaper columns from this past week where he encourages readers to submit their stories of communicating telepathically with their pets. Click on the article thumbnail for a readable version.

Communicate with Your Pets Telepathically?

Telepathy is a term coined by Frederick W.H. Myers in 1882 in an article for the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. Literally the word means “distance feeling.”

Personally, I don’t think that Dr. Fox or the letter writers in this column are guilty of incompetence or fraud. I accept that they truly believe in the accuracy of their impressions. The real question is, is that belief enough for anyone else to accept that their perception is accurate? Their are many possible explanations that do not require telepathy to be real, in order to account for this perception. It could be simply that these pet owners (and Dr. Fox) are engaging in self-deception or wishful thinking.

There’s another category of possible error that should be mentioned: subjective validation. This is, almost definition, the problem with animal telepathy. We only have the person who believes in the telepathic communication reporting that it is taking place.

In 1994 a British dog owner, Pam Smart claimed that her dog Jaytee, a terrier, was able to psychically sense when she was coming home, according to reports of his behavior by her parents. Jaytee achieved world-wide fame when he was featured on the World of the Paranormal TV show and Channel 4’s Absolutely Animals

Four years later the results of a scientific study were released and stated that “Jaytee’s love affair with sitting by the porch has more to do with passing cats, playing children and cars whizzing by.” Their conclusion was that “In all four experiments Jaytee failed to detect accurately when Pam Smart set off to return home.” Here’s a BBC article on the case, Psychic Dog Phenomenon brought back down to Earth.

Dogs can read emotions: Tell me something I don’t already know

October 30, 2008


Dogs are the only animals that can read emotion in faces much like humans, cementing their position as man’s best friend, claim scientists. Research findings suggest that, like an understanding best friend, they can see at a glance if we are happy, sad, pleased or angry.

This comes from a report in Britain’s Telegraph. for the full article go here


How to Communicate with a Dog

July 9, 2008

Dog Trainer Diane Canafax says many people intimidate dogs without even knowing it.

  1. The mistakes made are natural to the way people communicate face-to-face; however, canines, which are ventrally oriented, communicate with body language.
  2. For example, when people meet they look each other in the eye and shake hands or embrace. People take this same approach to meeting dogs, often leaning over to pet them, trying to show affection.
  3. “When you watch dogs, they approach each other from the side or back,” she said. “Direct eye contact is a challenge to them. When a dog leans forward they are insinuating an attack.”

The best way to approach a dog is to turn to the side with a hand outstretched and let the dog approach you, she said.

Physical differences also play into how dogs communicate.

  • Canines, which are more than four times as sensitive to sound than people are, can hear 80 feet away. People on average can only hear at a 20-foot radius, she said.
  • Canafax said when a dog doesn’t respond right away it could be tuning in to something outside of peoples’ hearing range.
  • Because of this yelling at a dog can lead to fear, while a whisper or high pitched “baby-talk” can insight a playful will-do attitude.

Sometimes Canafax will even put her forearms on the ground, copying her dogs “play bow” to get him to come.

“I use it as recall and communicate on their level,” she said. “It works beautifully.”

Dogs have limited “Theory of Mind” from the Telegraph, UK

May 15, 2008

I’m always careful not to needlessly anthropomorphize the dogs I encounter. But clearly the dog owning experience teaches us that they do have emotions, they do think, they dream. . .but how just far can we go along this path? Dogs showing an aversion to inequity?

Read these related posts from the British Telegraph here and see if their conclusions match your own. The comments below the article are also interesting. . .


Animals in the Womb: Amazing Photography by National Geographic

April 2, 2008

These photos of dog embryos in various stages of development are from a series done in 2006 for National Geographic called Animals in the Womb. Here’s a link to a gallery hosted by Der Speigel Online with 12 incredible images: photo gallery.

Please click on the thumbnails below for larger images.




If you have dogs on Long Island or Why Col. Sanders is like Hitler

March 29, 2008

Newsday has a nice piece on living on Long Island with your dog, complete with videos. For the compete article, go here.

Although I have to cringe at reporter Corris Little’s opening line, “For some, dogs are the new kids.” To conflate the roles of parenting human children with being the owner/guardian of a dog is an abuse of language and genetics.

Dogs are not substitute children; children are not replacements for dogs. Anyone who says that they would run into a burning building and rescue their dog first and leave their child behind to die an agonizing death, should be contacted by Child Protective Services immediately for a fitness evaluation.

Can you even imagine such a scenario?

Local TV news reporter: “Mr. Morrison, it looks like your house has been totally destroyed by this spectacular blaze. How do you feel right now?”

Homeowner: “Well, Cyndy, the important thing is I was able to rescue Margarite, our little Chow-Chow.”

Local TV news reporter: “But your wife and three children died horribly in the inferno.”

Homeowner: “Cyndy, a house can be rebuilt. I can always get married again and have more children. But how could I ever replace this sweet little snookums? Here, she wants to give you a kiss. Isn’t that sweet?”

Oh silly me, of course, that’s not what Corris meant at all. What Corris meant to say is that chickens are equal to human children; Col. Sander’s is their Hitler and KFC is their Auschwitz.

What I object to here is the sloppy thinking behind this very wide-spread notion. And I say this as someone who both loves his dogs and considers them a part of our family.

I think it devalues both children and dogs to consider them in the same class of beings. You have absolutely no genetic investment in your dogs, but all of your children carry half your genes. Which is why, genetically, it makes sense for a woman to rescue her children from a disaster and leave her husband behind.

Given how most of our history with canines is the story of utility and horrific abuse, I think it a terrible mistake to swing the pendulum the other way and elevate dogs into “fur kids.”

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

I knew a woman who considered herself a feminist and an intellectual and would substitute the word “Goddess” in place of “God.” When I tried to explain to her that replacing one gendered fantasy figure with another was hardly progress, she told me, “Of course, you can’t understand. You’re a man.” Here all along I had mistakenly thought my brain (and not my specific genitalia) was responsible for any thinking I was likely to do.

My point is simply that words and language do matter and we should be careful about how we label things. And if you don’t agree with me, my personal God, who is presently incarnated as the Duff Beer Man on The Simpsons, will make you chug-a-lug Duff Lite until you do.

OT: As far as feminism goes, I’d align myself more with Camille Paglia than Gloria Steinem. Steinem once compared Paglia to Hitler and her seminal work, Sexual Personae to Mein Kampf. Steinem is also against pornography, transsexualism and so-called ‘snuff films,’ a non-existent genre that allegedly features the torture and actual murder of women on screen.

The term first arose in connection with the Charles Manson ‘family’ murders and in the almost 40 years since not a single actual snuff film has ever been found. But it doesn’t have to exist for Gloria Steinem to oppose it, I guess. Just like the wide spread sexual abuse of children in day care centers and ritual Satanic abuse panics that Steinem was convinced were real in the mid-1980s to early 1990s.

I’ll let the transsexuals defend themselves, but as far as porn goes, Americans spend $2.6 billion to $3.9 billion a year on it, based on Forbes magazine’s 2001 estimate, so that’s a lot of voting with their pocket books going on. (When was the last time you saw a copy of Ms. magazine on a newsstand?).

I was always taught to judge people by what they do, not what they say. And you can’t go far wrong in any field if you simply follow the money.

I wonder if the porn industry is recession-proof in the way that economists traditionally say women’s make-up and children’s toys are? Let’s put those Freakonomics guys to work on that one.

Leather Leashes vs. All Others – Part 1

March 27, 2008

I’ve always found that a six foot leather leash — nothing fancy, but something well made with brass fixings and reinforced stitching — is my favorite, as many times as I’ve used other leashes.

I never thought I would be one of those dog owners with an extendo-leash, the kind that has a hard rubber or plastic shell with a hand grip and a tough woven fabric 16 foot leash like the Flexi Soft Grip Comfort 1 retractable Cord Leash.

I’d see other people using them, or misusing them, barely keeping their dogs under control, and I formed a prejudice against ’em. These people were not ‘managing their dogs.”

It’s a line that has been drilled into my head by my favorite dog trainer, “Manage your dog.” I’m responsible for my dog’s safety and well-being. I should teach her good, polite behaviors and enforce them whenever we are outside or when company arrives. Any failure, any slice of wanton household destruction, any breach of protocol that puts my dog in jeopardy IS MY FAULT because I’m not properly Managing my Dog.

We recently added a new pooch to our permanent pack, Luna, a black female American style Labrador. Huxley, our chocolate Lab will be 6 this year. Our best guess about Luna is that she’s somewhere between 18 months and 2 years. After several months it became clear that her presence was having some effects on Huxley.

There were two noticeable behaviors: he began drinking exclusively from ‘her’ water bowl. And when we made the trip from out side door to our back yard – essentially the width of our one-car garage — he began asserting his independence by wandering down the drive way to pee over by our over-sized Christmas tree.

Next he’d saunter over to our 90 year old neighbor’s house across the street, position himself in the middle of her front lawn, squat and take a huge dump for all the passersby to see. He loves our neighbor Peg and she loves him and he wanted the world to know he was leaving her a brown token of his affection. Worse yet was when he’d lope across Prospect Drive and obliviously put himself in the path of mini-vans & SUVs.

There could not be a more public demonstration of my failure to Manage My Dog. And Huxley, is, by general consensus, a well-trained, polite canine. My analysis: He knows his behavior is transgressive and he persists because I believe it is status-related. She has to go right into the back yard to do her business while I, being senior, have more freedom than her! This independence is a part of Huxley’s character, he’s not your velcro-dog type at all.

But when this recently led to Huxley nearly getting hit by a van, I was totally freaked out, heart pounding, breath coming in short hyperventilating bursts — and resolved to get back to leashing him AT ALL TIMES!

Fortunately, the circumstances were all in our favor that morning. It was broad daylight, I was a few feet behind Huxley with a leash and a treat, yelling his name. The driver clearly saw both of us and slowed to a stop as I rushed passed, yelled jumbled apologies and gratitude over my shoulder, and continued after Huxley.

I was clearly Not Managing My Dog. I was failing spectacularly to Manage My Dog, in fact. This was my well-trained, polite Labrador? The one who never before was adamant about refusing to take that short walk across our drive way in the back yard, the fenced and secure and happy back yard? This starts happening when it becomes clear that Luna is here to stay and not another one of our many foster dogs; clearly her presence must be the triggering factor? Robert Park, author of the terrific Voodoo Science would say my belief engine is going into over drive here.


Disclaimer: I cringe when people anthropomorphize their dogs, but find that it is an impossibility for me to to completely avoid. All such statements should be understood in this context. It helps me to parse my beast’s behavior in terms that I can understand.

This interpretation is my own invention and may or may not correspond with the internal analytics going on in my dog’s brain. That it’s useful for me does not equate with its accuracy for representing Huxley’s thinking. I do think Huxley is thinking. I’m convinced of it.

I’m equally convinced that our mental syntax is so different, canine to primate, that all my interpretations of his internal mental states should be offered only as heavily qualified guesses.


But we talking about leather leashes and extendo-leashes, weren’t we? We now own two extendo-leashes and I’ve learned how to operate them without slicing off my own (or anyone else’s) fingers and extremities or causing blindness to anyone. Yet. These are some of the actual cautions from the packaging. Seriously, you wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end if your dog’s collar came loose and the ribbon and metal clasp were speeding rapidly back to you.

They do certainly give your dog more freedom to explore further away from you. But you have to pay attention and anticipate when you want to draw your dog nearer because she is always more than an arm’s length away. These extendo-leashes can be used properly, even if many people operate them at the far end of the safety spectrum.

But for control and all around functionality give me the dead animal skin every time.

More to Come

The Pet Psychic: $300 an hour for a phone consultation? Sadly, Yes.

March 11, 2008

Robert Todd Carroll, author of the excellent The Skeptic’s Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions and the website, recently posted an expansion of his article on “Animal Quackers” that’s must reading for all dog owners.

Carroll defines an animal quacker as someone “who applies quackery to animals, such as holistic massage therapy for dogs and horses; reiki and therapeutic touch for pets; and acupuncture, aromatherapy, Ayurvedic medicine, homeopathy for animals of all sorts, and either the ability to communicate psychically with pets or to do scientific tests that prove the psychic ability of dogs.”

Read about Sonya Fitzpatrick’s incisive, revealing consultation for the Cleveland Plain Dealers‘ Dog Lady columnist, Monica Collins, plus a good collection of links to the explore the topic further.

Fitzpatrick, a former model with no credentials in animal behavior or nutrition, uses her psychic readings to push her line of pet food, Sonya Fitzpatrick’s Omega Natural and HealthGUARD Dog vitamins, was once visited by St. Francis of Assissi, assures you that via reincarnation your beloved pets can return to you, and can do a psychic reading of your dog from a photograph.

That last part I completely agree with: Sonya’s “reading” whether from an in-person, or in-pet interview, or from a blurry snap shot will have precisely the same accuracy and value. (I’m thinking of a round number here, are you psychic enough to read my mind? Why, yes, you’re absolutely correct: Zero!).

For extra credit, send an email to the Pet Parent’s Network and request the clinical trials that support their claims. Two that I found especially amusing were “Encourages Eye Development” and “Promotes Alertness and Brain Function.” How exactly were these results measured? Oh, and of course, their supplements will boost your dog’s immune system, though I defy you to find a single “nutraceutical” supplement that doesn’t make this specious claim.

” . . .the whole notion of ‘immune-boosting’ is seriously flawed: your immune system isn’t a muscle that you can strengthen by exercise or diet. The only remotely plausible step you can take to strengthen immunity is to get vaccinated.”  

This is from Steven Salzberg’s blog entry, Boost your immune system?Why should you take his word over Sonya Fitzpatrick’s?

Well, Salzberg is a Professor at the University of Maryland studying bioinformatics, genomics, and evolution. He’s also the Director of the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. His Ph.D. is from Harvard University and his bachelor’s and master’s degrees are from Yale University.

Then again, although a handsome guy, Steve was never a model, so Sonya’s one up on him there.

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