Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: My Year in Review

If you thought I was dropping the blogging ball last year, you should have waited until this year because you guys, I only wrote like 25 posts this year including this one. Ok, I mean, last year I wrote over 100 posts, so maybe I just need to learn to pace myself a little better.

Now it's New Year’s Eve, and that means it’s time to get drunk. That’s going to be easier for me this year than it has been in subsequent years, because I’m back in Chamonix, where hard liquor flows right out of the taps. Not really, but sometimes I think it might as well.

Again, this hasn’t been a super eventful year, but it’s been more eventful than the previous. Let’s take a look at some of the things I’ve been up to this year, in no particular order.

I Quit Rescuing Cats

Nothing against the cats, but being involved in the cat rescue was becoming more trouble than it was worth. Would you believe that many people who become involved in animal rescue don’t have the best people skills? It’s true. Plus, my duties with the cat rescue continued to expand more and more – well, I say that, but in fact they didn’t because I know how to say “No.” But once I’ve made it clear that “No” is always going to be the answer, don’t keep asking me again and again in hopes you’re going to wear me down and get a “Yes.” Not cool.

Also not effective, unless your goal is to make me all stabby.

I Got Another Cat

Yeah, I know I did this last year, too. But I swear this will be the last new cat, honest.
But I’ll tell you what, this new cat is the nicest cat I have. It doesn’t bite, doesn’t scratch my furniture and doesn’t howl incessantly.

Her name is Penny, and she even knows how to use the computer.

By all rights, I should get rid of the other shitty cats and just keep this one.

I Went to My Tenth College Reunion

The three of you who are still following along at home will know that I went to my tenth college reunion back in June. Yep, I may be getting old, but I’m not getting any more mature, as those of you who read the post will have surmised.  

I Read a Bunch of Books

I was going to keep track of how many books I read this year so I could wow you three by listing them all, but I stopped counting sometime in November. Suffice it to say that my reading list this year included more than 25 classics such as “When You and Your Mother Can’t Be Friends,” by Victoria Secunda, “It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single” by Sara Eckel and “How to Be a Woman” by Caitlin Moran. My favorite book I read this year was “Scriber” by Ben S. Dobson and even though I enjoyed it immensely, I hesitate to buy another of his books because he’s wearing a fedora in his Amazon author photo.

I Joined a Writer’s Group and Started Writing a Book for Realsies

I only have about 17,000 words so far, which was not, for the record, enough to impress the last guy I dated, but that’s okay, because when I say “dated” I mean I went out with him four times. He should be proud – that’s a full two to three more dates than most guys get.

The group, Morgantown Writer’s Group, is great, and they really seem like my work-in-progress, which is both a surprise and not a surprise, if that makes sense. 17,000 words may not be a lot (it’s about 30-35 pages), and it isn’t enough to fulfill my 2014 New Year’s Resolution of writing a whole book this year, but it’s 17,000 more words than I had 365 days ago and it fills me with a perhaps misguided confidence in my ability to finish a manuscript for once in my life.

I Spent Christmas in England

I spent Christmas with my friend Sarah, who lives in Brighton. I had a blast, and I will probably return next Christmas if I can afford it and she will let me. Yes, I could spend the holidays bickering with my family as is traditional, but that’s actually optional. I can tell it is because Christmas was almost a week ago and God hasn’t stricken me down yet. Of course, He’s probably just real busy not existing, as Lisa Simpson would say.

And I Returned to France

I’m back in France for an extended visit, and I didn’t tell a lot of people I was coming, so it’s been great seeing everyone’s looks of surprise, delight, and occasionally, horror upon seeing me again. Lots of my Facebook friends are freaking out right now, too, because I didn’t tell them I was going to be spending time in France even though I never actually speak to any of them in real life. If you want me to tell you what I’ve got going on, you might want to pick up the phone once in a while, guys.

So that’s my year in review. Here’s hoping 2015 is even better, for all of us. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fun Friday Facts #98: What Do Cats See?

As an owner of cats, I spend my fair share of time idly wondering how these little creatures that live in the world see me and my home. What do I look like to my cats? Do they think I’m just a big, dumb cat? Do the words I say when I talk to my cats sound the same to them as their howling and chirping sounds to me? Why does Max sit in the other room and make noises that alarm my guests? Finally, I decided to investigate.

According to Dr. John Bradshaw, author of “Cat Sense,” my cats may not exactly think of me as though I was another cat, but cats do interact with humans exactly the way they interact with other cats. When cats knead, purr, or rub up against your leg, they’re demonstrating the same behavior they used to get affection from their mothers as kittens -- and when you pet the cat, you’re basically responding the same way Mama Cat did when she groomed her little babies. Unlike dogs, for example, domestic cats have not evolved a specific set of behaviors with which to interact with humans, probably because they haven’t been bred for specific purposes like dogs have. This leads scientists like Bradshaw to conclude that cats don’t really see humans as different from themselves, although I don’t know about that because I’ve never seen my cats ask each other for treats.   

Though to be fair, they probably would if they had thumbs.

As for how my cats actually see physically see me, well, they do it with their eyes. Ha.
Live Science reports that cats have a much wider field of peripheral vision – about 200 degrees to our 180s degrees. Cats are also nearsighted, and can only clearly see objects within about 20 feet. That means they can probably see my face, which is something I’ve always wondered.

As you may be aware, cats have great night vision, thanks to their large corneas, elliptical eye shape, but also because of their tapetum, a layer of reflective tissue that directs a larger amount of light to the retina. Cats have between six and eight times more light-sensitive rod cells than humans, which help them to more easily perceive the spirits of the restless dead I mean see in the dark. The tapetum in cat’s eyes may allow them to see different wavelengths of light, so that ghosts stand out more sharply against the nighttime shadows. Cats can also spot motion in the dark far more easily than humans.

Cats can’t see all of the colors that we can, since we have more color-sensitive cone cells in our eyes. Humans, as you’re aware, can see a range of shades of green, red and blue. Cats, however, may only see blues and grays, although the results of a study published earlier this year in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggest that cats can see colors on the UV spectrum that humans can’t see.

Human eyes don’t allow a lot of UV light to reach the retina, a fact that scientists credit for our unusually sharp vision. Cats’ eyes, on the other hand, are sensitive to UV light, and can presumably see brilliant patterns and colors on objects like birds’ wings, flower petals, and sheets of paper. This, the study authors speculate, may be why cats love paper and, presumably, cardboard boxes so much. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Fun Friday Facts #97: RIP Frank and Louie

It is with a heavy heart tonight that I must deliver some sad news – Frank and Louie, the world’s oldest two-faced cat, has died at the age of 15. His owner, Martha Stevens of Worcester, MA, euthanized him after learning that he had been stricken with cancer and was probably suffering. At age 12, Frank and Louie was named the world’s oldest surviving Janus cat, as two-faced cats are called, and awarded a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Despite appearances, Frank and Louie was only one cat. He suffered from a condition known as diprosopus, or cranial duplication, characterized by the duplication of facial features. Unlike conjoined twinning, which occurs when two embryos fail to separate completely, diprosopus occurs due to a genetic mutation that results in excessive widening of the face and duplication of facial features. Like other Janus cats, Frank and Louie had two working eyes, a central, non-working, weird-looking eye, two mouths and two noses. Unlike some animals born with diprosopus, Frank and Louie had only one esophagus and trachea, a fact which contributed to his survival. 

In fact, Frank and Louie is the only two-faced cat known to have survived to adulthood; most kittens born with two faces die within a few days. Many of them are unable to suckle. Some probably suffer from brain or other internal abnormalities, since the cranial duplication can also cause duplication of some or all of the brain and other parts of the head and neck. Even those who are able to feed and suffer no internal deformities often suffer the same fate as Ditto, a two-faced pig born in Iowa. Though Ditto survived to adulthood, he contracted aspiration pneumonia after literally inhaling food whilst breathing and eating at the same time through his duplicate snouts.

When Frank and Louie was born, veterinarians told his owner that he wouldn’t live long. But she didn’t give up on the little freak of nature, tube-feeding him for the first three months of his life until he was finally able to eat and drink on his own. Frank and Louie was reportedly friendly, and his owner says she would be happy to have another cat with two faces.

Diprosopus is different from polycephaly, the condition of having more than one head. Humans can be born with two faces, but like kittens, they don’t tend to live long after birth if they are born alive at all. Most die within a few hours of birth. A girl, Lali Singh, was born with diprosopus in India in 2008, but lived for only two months, making her one of the longest-surviving babies with the condition. She possessed two complete faces, and suffered from cleft palate, which made it difficult for her to eat. She was admitted to the hospital – over the protests of her extended family and village leader, who believed she was the incarnation of the Hindu god Durga – to be treated for vomiting and dehydration. Though she initially improved under medical care, she died suddenly of a heart attack on her two-month birthday.

A second baby, or pair of babies, depending on how you look at it, Faith Daisy and Hope Alice Howie, was born in Australia in 2014. Faith and Hope demonstrated not only complete facial duplication, but also complete duplication of the brain, with two brains attached to a single brain stem. The babies even cried and slept at different times, which brings a whole new meaning to “don’t wake the baby.” That’s not a joke – the parents told The Sydney Morning Herald, “Sometimes Faith will cry and wake Hope up, who then looks sideways as if to say, ‘Thanks for that.’” Faith and Hope passed away after just 19 days.

While most children born with diprosopus don’t live long, one little boy in Missouri has defied the odds. Tres Johnson, who was born with a milder form of the condition that left him with two eyes, two noses, and one mouth, just celebrated his 10th birthday. He has suffered from epilepsy from the age of four months, and experiences about 120 seizures per day. He has to be resuscitated four to six times weekly, and has died in his mother’s arms twice. TWICE. Excuse me while I go and add “only have one face” to my Gratitude List.