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.