Friday, March 13, 2015

Do Animals Think?

I have been learning about the inner minds of animals. Pet owners intuitively know that their animals think and feel, but this question has nonetheless been dogging mankind for centuries. However, intuition doesn't have a place in the scientific literature of our time. Scientists need concrete, measurable results, so they have had to step back and try to determine ways to communicate with animals.

I stumbled upon the research of Dr. Irene Pepperberg who has been working with grey parrots for most of her career. Dr. Pepperberg devised a method for communicating and teaching a grey parrot named Alex. The following video is nothing short of amazing.

What do you think about animals? Has this scientist convinced you? Has Alex?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Running and Kenken

Lumosity is a company that sells subscriptions to a host of games intended to challenge the customer's mind, memory, attention, and more. I admit that it's fun and challenging, and I get a kick out of trying to best my high scores. But Lumosity has got me wondering what else is out there that can do essentially the same thing.

Any challenge is good for you, be it mental or physical. Seriously, challenge yourself. Like, right now.

For the physical side of things, I'm training for a marathon which is admittedly a lot more running than I'm used to, but it's okay. I'm currently in Florida, so I chose a marathon that was convenient to me and my schedule. I run nearly everyday, and have already done my big run of 24.5 miles to break in my body. My next big run will be the marathon itself.

For the mental, I like Kenken, so I go to and try to solve a small puzzle as fast as possible. If you've never done Kenken, it's great! I prefer it to Sudoku because it involves basic arithmetic as well as the spatial part of the puzzle solving. In a 6x6 grid, for example, you have to fill in every row and column with the numbers 1 through 6. You'll notice that the grid is also sectioned off with thick bold lines. In each section, you'll see a number and an arithmetic sign. This is shorthand for "using all the hidden numbers in this section AND the given sign, calculate the given number." So if a box of two hidden numbers has "12X" written in it, you can deduce that these numbers are "4,3" or "6,2".

So I'm going to take my own advice and solve a kenken puzzle right now, then go for a run. I hope you do something like it too!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Magnificent Molly


Molly was flying. One moment, she was on the ground, and the next, she was shooting through the air. The wind whipped around Molly's body, and her clothes fluttered. Her hair was everywhere.

Then she started coming back down. Fast.

Molly didn't know what to do. She curled into a ball and screamed all the way down.

Then, right before she would have become a flatter version of herself, she stopped. She hovered above the ground, still shaped like a ball, and stuck her head up. Then she reached down with one leg, then the other. She was standing again.

"Huh," said Molly.

She picked up a rock and hurled it into the air. It disappeared. Molly didn't know what to think of that either, but her thoughts started to form themselves into a few ideas. She could fly, or at least jump really high, float, and was strong enough to throw a rock really far away. Molly wondered if anyone else could do this stuff.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

To Life


The boy woke up before everyone else, snuck downstairs, and started the coffee machine. He got out a cup, took down some day old bread, and got out some butter. Then he waited for the coffee to be done.

The boy didn't really drink coffee, but he made it every morning. He thought it smelled like happiness.

The coffee pot spit and sputtered. The sides sweated a little bit while the coffee dripped out. The boy took out a knife and put some butter on his bread. His nose started to wiggle, and he took a bite of his bread.

The boy treated mornings like a determined turtle. He watched them creep by. Instead of lying in bed like his siblings, he got up and paid attention to how a morning breathed life into the day, slow and steady, plodding slowly in the same direction.

Pretty soon, his mom would be up. She would come into the kitchen with half closed eyes and rub his head. She'd yawn and thank him for the coffee. She'd take the cup he set out, fill it halfway, and take a small sip. Then she'd sit in the chair next to him and ask him if he'd had any dreams.

In time, his siblings would tumble down the hallway and get out the cereal. They'd be quiet until someone got mad at something or the bus was close or they'd forgotten to do a homework. But for the moment, the boy still had this turtle of a morning to himself, the coffee bubbling and popping, bringing the house slowly to life.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Compare and Contrast

In a few weeks, I'll be presenting a paper on the evolution of animals in children's sci-fi/fantasy literature. As a result, I've been reading up on animal consciousness and paying close attention to how animals and people are portrayed in the media.

I stumbled upon these videos and compared the two. You'll notice that whoever posted the video about the dog made a judgment about the intelligence of the dog, while the poster of the prank left it up for the viewer to decide. Take a close look at how both canines and humans act in each video and then make your own judgments about their/our intelligence.


What similarities do you notice? What differences?

If I've learned anything in writing this paper, it's that we've got a long way to go in understanding what's going on in animals' heads. Or another person's head for that matter!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Ask a Wacky Question

I surf the internet. I click on link after link and go wherever the tide takes me. Usually, it's just news item after news item, but today I stumbled upon something entirely different: a website called Stack Exchange devoted to answering any question you can think of. Any question? you ask. Any question, I reply.

Like this one: Are flying plants possible?

It was kind of hard to resist clicking, to be honest. The question itself presupposes that someone has an answer. And they did. There were pages and pages of responses. Some were scientific; all were on topic. They took the question extremely seriously, and the answers felt both conversational and textbookish, a tough balance. It felt like I had landed on a foreign planet where weird things were happening, and an ordinary alien had to break it down for me.

You should check it out, ask questions, participate with comments. It's the coolest new site I've landed on in years.

Mad Mazes

When I was a kid, a found a book called Mad Mazes. I only recall about a dozen or so mazes (perhaps there were more), but what was different about these was that they had weird rules. They went well beyond just tracing a pencil through a complicated map of turns and deadends. You had to think your way through them.

Well, the author Robert Abbott is still making mazes and puzzles, though he's focusing more on board games these days. I discovered that many of his mazes are on his website Logic Mazes and provide some free entertainment for the maze enthusiast. (You have to be patient with his mazes. I had to solve several of them in roundabout ways. :))

Give your brain a workout. Click on the easy mazes and work your way up. It's an education in new ways of thinking.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Turnip Sees a Storm


Turnip was sitting and reading comics. He wasn't moving a muscle except to move his eyes and turn the pages. He didn't the mind the pain in his rump from sitting so long. The comics were all that mattered.

In this one, the hero was called The Raisin. He got his superpowers one day when he got zapped by lightning near a raisin factory. After that, he fought crime with his squishiness and wrinkles. The Raisin had just confronted his archnemesis, The Grape, and the two were rolling around on the floor fighting. Every time The Raisin punched The Grape, his fists broke the skin and got wet with sticky grape juice. That Grape was one nasty guy.

Turnip turned the page and then BOOM. He jumped. Rain had started to come down outside, and Turnip hadn't even noticed. Now, as he looked outside, he saw the lightning streak across the sky, seeming never to end. Because of his comic, he'd always been fascinated with lightning.

For the first time that day, Turnip closed his comic. He got up and opened the door. BOOM. Another hit. Even though he was only wearing a t-shirt and shorts, Turnip entered the storm.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Pan-Popped Kernels


In the land of Popcorn, kernels are like people. The big ones go to work, and the little ones go to school. It's a lot like our world, except when they get really excited, they pop. And then the clowns come and eat them up.

Okay, so it's not really like our world, but it's close enough. Our story is about a little kernel named Billy McFlapper who was always trying to get his friends to pop. He made joke after joke at home and at school, and he always got someone to pop. One time it was his little sister (he felt kind of bad about that... but not too bad), and another time it was his third grade teacher. The principal was so mad about that one that she popped too. After that, Billy had to homeschool.

One day, Billy's mom gave him a book of mythological stories. He opened the book and read about Pan. Not the Pan of our world, mind you, the half goat satyr who goes around playing a pipe. No, Billy read about Pan, the evil god of the underworld who could make kernels pop not with laughter but with frying oil. Ooo! He shivered and closed the book.

Billy missed school. He missed running around with the boys, causing problems, making the gym teacher pop (there always seemed to be another gym teacher, though). He looked out the window and sighed. Homeschool was boring.

Down below, he saw a clown walking by. The clown had lots of balloons of different shapes and sizes. Billy yelled to his mom if he could go down and pick one out, and she said yes. So Billy grabbed some change and ran outside.

"Mr. Clown, Mr. Clown!" he said. The clown stopped and turned around.

"Ah, yes. A little girl." He smiled.

"I am not a girl," Billy insisted. "I'm a boy kernel."

"Ah, yes. A little boy," the clown said. "My mistake. Might I interest you in a balloon?"

Billy looked at the balloons. "How much for that one?" he asked, pointing at one shaped like a jewel.

"Ah, yes. The jewel. It's free of charge if you can do something for me."

"Like what?" Billy asked, skeptical.

"Ah, yes, well, it has to do with a little trip to visit Pan."

Billy stopped and stared at the clown. "Pan? As in, god of the frying oil? That's all fake stuff from a long time ago. I just read about it."

"Ah, yes. Very well. Have it your way. You can buy any of the other balloons for a dollar, but the jewel is unavailable."

Billy started to walk away, but the clown had him thinking. Was Pan real after all?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Space Gorilla


It was quiet up in space. Real quiet. It was so quiet you didn't really think anything was going to happen, least of all bumping into a gorilla.

A gorilla! Talk about losing your milkshake. I mean that literally. I became a casualty of my own silly space hankerings. My buddy had laughed when he saw me mixing what amounted to a poor astronaut's milkshake in one corner of our ship. "Too much sugar," he said. "It could come back to haunt you." Well, it was a little late for that.

Whoever said "Don't cry over spilled milk" never barfed up a milkshake in space. As it floated in the air, I made eye contact with the simian across the way. He grimaced and shook his head.

"Hey, nimrod," he said, "You going to keep puking or are we going to get down to business?" He lifted up his service kit and motioned to the outside of the shuttle. I nodded, accidentally hitting some of the floating puke with my helmet. "Alright then. Forget about cleaning that up. Come on." He floated toward the escape hatch, deftly maneuvering the tight space.

I swear, you never get used to seeing that.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Squishy Grass


The little girl ran out of the house and onto the grass. It was soft and wet, a sensation she liked to feel in her feet. People didn't walk enough barefoot, she thought, or if they did, they rarely thought about it. Feet were like hands, could hold like hands and were sensitive like hands. She wiggled her toes, and they squished in the morning dew.

She scrunched her toes some more, then ran back inside. Her mother was making breakfast - cereal in a bowl - and talking on the phone.

"Christina. Goodness. Your feet are disgusting." Her mother looked her over. "Take a seat, and eat your breakfast." She placed the bowl on the table and motioned for Christina to sit and eat. Her little brother was already at the table, playing with a blob of something. She both wanted to know and didn't. Knowing everything had its price.

"Guys, hurry up, now. You're already running a few minutes late," the mother said. Then she paused, like a bubble appeared above her head reading "Hmmm..." "Christina, let's drop off your brother first today. I think we can figure out something else for you today." She twisted the blinds halfway down to dim the light, then grabbed her keys. She seemed to be looking for something else.

Christina's brother finished first, left everything on the table, and ran to get his backpack. Christina took one more bite, then cleared the table. The day starts slowly, she mused, and then it gets really, really fast. For once, she thought, I wish the day itself would feel like those quiet, squishy moments in the grass.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015



The alien looked all over the town. Crouched high on top of a telephone pole, the alien was about the size of a squirrel but as intelligent as a team of physicists. Evolution had been kind to it.

The alien made some bird calls, and all the dogs in the neighborhood started howling. Hard-to-listen-to howls. The alien chuckled with its three mouths and two stomachs. This was too much fun.

Sleepy humans left their homes to see why their dogs were barking. People that didn't own dogs came outside to complain. "Get your dog to be quiet!" they yelled. But the dogowners couldn't. The dogs wouldn't be still.

One by one, the humans took their pets into their homes. Yes, the alien thought. Just as I imagined it. Taking over this planet would be easy as palooppy pie.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Hee ha!


The little boy thought he was pretty funny.

Using a glue stick, crazy glue, stapler, and tape, Jelly made sure his brother's bed couldn't be unmade. And his brother was in it!

But that was just part one of his master plan. Part two was soup.

It was hard work sneaking around the house, not making noise and not laughing. But Jelly was up to the challenge. He was getting even with his brother for pranking him last week. Hee ha! Jelly had waited until his brother's defenses were down. Yes! Tonight was the night.

Jelly went to the kitchen and made a bowl of cold soup. He had considered hot, but even that seemed a little too mean. He was just trying to get even, not start an all-out war.

Jelly snuck back to the room and gently placed the bowl of soup on his brother's chest. Hee ha! Oh, man. He wished he could be here when he woke up!

The last part of the plan was the broom. Jelly needed to clean up everywhere he had stepped and then go back and wear his sister's shoes to and from his brother's bed. The perfect payback! Not only would he get even with his brother, but his sister would take the fall! Hee ha!

As Jelly was quietly sweeping near his brother's bed, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned and found... his brother!!! But if his brother was out of bed, then who was in his bed?

Cousin John John! Oh no! He had forgotten that John John had taken his brother's bed tonight. Jelly's brother reached over, took off the soup, and gently started undoing the staples and tape. He left the glue alone. He didn't have to yell or get Jelly in trouble. Jelly was going to have enough trouble explaining why the sheets were spotted with glue.

Hee ha!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Nick Needs a Towel!


All the kids were standing in a circle. The music was on, and they were dancing.

Oh, it was fun to dance. They didn't really know what they were doing, of course. But the music was bouncy, and they were feeling it. Jump, laugh, spin, twist. This was awesome!

Then a phone rang. It was the house phone, so Jen yelled to her mother. "Mom!! The phone is ringing! Do you want me to answer it?" She knew her mom didn't like yelling, but it was easier than turning the music down and telling everybody to be still.

Her mom didn't reply, so Jen took the phone into the next room. "Hello?"

"Jen, great. I need you to grab me a towel." It was Jen's older brother Nick. He was in high school.

"You're in the bathroom?"

"Yeah, exactly. There aren't any towels in here."

"Okay, be right there."

So Jen went into the next room with her friends and turned the music down. "Listen up, everybody! Remember when Nick scared us last Halloween? Well, it's payback time. Follow me."

Jen led everyone to the laundry room where her big dog Rowdy's dog food was. "Grab a handful."

Then she went upstairs, went into the linen closet and grabbed a towel, then headed down the bathroom. "Shhhh, everyone. When he opens the door, it's go time."

Jen knocked on the door. Nick opened it in his underwear, which were wet, and Jen yelled, "Now!" All the kids started throwing dog food at Nick who retreated from the door saying, "What? Ow? Jenny, what is this? Ow!"

All the kids then laughed and ran down the hall. "I'll get you and your friends, Jenny-girl! Just you want and see!!" Nick yelled from the bathroom. Jen and her friends high fived one another going down the stairs.

Back in the bathroom, Nick was laughing too. What an awesome little sister, he thought. Wait till my friends hear about this. Then he started to pick up the dog food, bit by bit.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Boy in the Poster


A boy was walking along the street, holding his mother's hand like she had asked, when he spied a building made of glass. He let go of her hand and put both of his on the glass. It was an absolute no-no, but he had a good reason for it. He saw another little boy who looked exactly like him on the other side of the glass.

It wasn't a reflection. When he jumped up and down and waved his hands and yelled and pounded, the other boy merely watched. His mother by now had reached down to hold his hand again, and he asked her, "Mom, don't you think that boy looks like me?" The mother looked to where he was pointing and said, "Whatever do you mean, child? That's only a blank poster."

The boy looked back at the building and saw that his mother was right. There was a poster on the glass building, and when he went to either side of the poster, he didn't see anyone inside. But when he again resumed his position in front of it, there was the other boy looking at him from the other side.

His mother was tugging at his hand, tired of the game. "Come along, son," she said. "We've got things to do." So the boy grasped her hand and continued down the street. But when he looked back, he saw the little boy in the poster, the one who looked just like him, standing against the window now, waving goodbye.

Wherein I Write and You Read

Dear Reader,

We don't know each other, but in time, we will.

If you have ever been to a bookstore, you already know the going rate for a hardback picturebook. If you have ever been to a library, you know your options for picturebooks appear endless. And if you have ever gone head first into the world of stories and tales and fables and biographies and art that make up the picturebook world, you know you're dealing with a lot of authors, a lot of illustrators, and a whole bunch of ideas.

Then there's me.

I want to tell stories, but the market is saturated with picturebook writers right now. So what I envision here is a space where I can tell simple stories about ANYTHING. It's that simple. If you are so inclined, you get to pass on the stories to your loved ones. Read them verbatim, tell them from memory, whatever. If you want to influence the next stories, post a word or two in the comments section. I'll do my best to incorporate them into the next tale. If you want to see more of one particular character, then tell me. Dream it up. A hippo named Frank? An ant that dreams of making it to the moon? A gobster forest? A polka-dotted feeling? It doesn't have to make sense. Just pile it on like pancakes, and let's see what happens.

Are you excited? I'm excited. So let's make some stories.

Intrepidly yours,