Saturday, 28 March 2009

A question of snowballs


Perusing this week's copy of the New Scientist, I was pleased to note that this excellent magazine is finally turning its attention to some more relevant issues. 

I mean, who really cares about whether Large Hadrons are being successfully Collided and making Bosons which may or may not belong to a Mr Higgs ? 

No, it has taken an eleven year old human reader, one Alix Buttermore, to pose the question that concerns so many of us who live in colder climates. She asks why her small dog - see picture on left - gathers hard, icy "snowballs"on her chest and legs  when walking in the park in the snow. 

In the same section, another reader asks why dogs like jumping into cold ponds, while cats and humans generally do not. 

We shall have to wait a week or two for New Scientist's readers' responses to these two important questions. All I know is that those snowballs are most uncomfortable. Sometimes you get so many you can't walk any more. 

I'll keep you posted on the answers. (Perhaps readers of this blog have their own ideas. If so, you could write to lastword@newscientist.com).

PS The observant amongst you will note that I've had a haircut since Wednesday. I feel like a prematurely shorn sheep.....And I'm certainly not planning on jumping into a cold pond anytime soon.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Windy Wednesday





On the way down, we stopped to admire the view. But we couldn't stay long as we had to go and dig up some sand too.


So here I am in the sand dunes at Balmedie, helping Gail find some suitable material (it wasn't difficult).


Job done, I was allowed a little run on the beach. But the wind kept blowing sand in my eyes.


So I decided to go for a paddle instead. 

All in all a very nice day. I am a lucky chap, aren't I?



Monday, 23 March 2009

Badger patrol


I've just been down South for a few days, on important business.

Some humans think badgers are cute and cuddly. Not so Gail's Dad. To him they are the enemy, ever poised to invade the garden and deface his lovingly nurtured and perfectly manicured lawn. 

So when I visit him in his tidy suburban home in Nottingham, the first thing that happens is I go out and conduct a border patrol. I carefully check the garden perimeter, identifying any potential breaches in security that might lead to incursions by the local Mr Brock and his friends and relatives. At the more vulnerable points, there is barbed wire buried under the hedge (I kid you not) so I have to be careful not to investigate too deeply in the wrong spot. 

Having validated the integrity of the boundaries, I sweep the rest of the garden, using my prime asset, my nose, for evidence of the enemy, and alert Gail's Dad to signs of recent badger presence by rolling enthusiastically on any ground that smells 'interesting'. 

Now as regular readers of this blog will know, I consider myself a gentleman of leisure, not a working dog, and generally expect to be kept in fitting luxury by Gail without undue exertion on my part (especially now that I am a bona fido film star - see Petey's blog). So why make an exception for Gail's Dad? Well first off, he's a very nice man, and even older than me, so deserving of respect. 

And then of course there is the small matter of remuneration offered, a reliable supply of proper meaty bones. YUM!


Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Westie. H et al. (2009)

A post for the scientists…..

About this thesis thingy that’s been keeping Gail busy these last few months (years in fact). It strikes me that she’s been dragging her feet rather when it comes to publishing her research. 

Now I may well be, after Gail, the second most knowledgeable creature on the planet on her subject of ‘anaerobic methane oxidation in soils’. Not only have I patiently watched her hour upon hour sat at her computer writing up all her results, I’ve also helped her with her fieldwork (see picture) and even, occasionally, but don’t tell anyone, assisted in the lab. So I’ve decided to write a review paper on the subject, for open-access online publication. To help both her career and mine.

First let me translate the title into English.  I think ‘How Bugs in Bogs Eat Methane’ sums it up nicely. Gail says this wouldn’t get past her supervisor, but to press on anyway.

Introduction: Methane gas is a Bad Thing because of Global Warming. Bugs (microbes) in boggy soils produce methane. Usually. Everyone knows that. But maybe there’s also some boggy soils which have bugs that eat up methane. Let’s go and have a look at a whole load of bogs and see if we can find any that eat methane.

Methods: With the help of a canine companion, lots of bogs were visited and everyone involved got very dirty digging up soil (great fun!) and taking it back to the lab, where Gail did lots of tests (boring). These experiments seemed to involve attempts to suffocate the bugs in the soil by depriving them of oxygen. (At one point I considered calling in the RSPCA, but apparently you’re allowed to do this sort of thing to single-celled organisms)

Results: Almost all the soils from the bogs were very boring and produced methane, but eventually Gail tested one that wasn’t boring and ‘proved her hypothesis’, i.e. it ate methane. Gail thinks the bugs in this soil must be very clever because they can breathe iron or something rather than oxygen.

Discussion: I guess breathing iron and eating methane would be a cool thing to do if you’re a microbe. I wonder why some soils have these bugs and others don’t. Please give Gail a grant so she can do some more work and find out.

P.S. Should any reader wish to cite this paper in their research, the correct format is:

Westie, H. and Riekie, G.J. (2009). How Bugs in Bogs Eat Methane. JSSDWB*, vol 1, issue 1, pp1-1.

*Journal of the Scientific Society of Dogs with Blogs.


Sunday, 15 March 2009

Beaglemania


Well what an exciting weekend! I met up with the world famous blogging Beagles of Dughallmor, and they were kind enough to show me their favourite place, Roseisle Forest and beach. Just beautiful! And for once Gail remembered  to bring her camera along AND to take some photos too, so today I'll let the pictures do most of the talking.  

Those young beagles can run so much faster than me, so I was a bit slow to realise that there were treats on offer on this walk.... 

But I caught up eventually. It's not like me to miss out on food after all..
At one point I even took the lead, spurred on by the thought of more treats (Gail, take note!) 
And by the end of the walk I was showing those young pups a trick or two...I think they look suitably impressed.
Just a final word for Petey in New York (if he can spare a minute from rehearsals that is).  You may have noticed that your young Rosie here is on a lead. Apparently she'd staged a disappearing act the previous evening- I think she may have been searching for you. 

For more photos, and much else besides, see dughallmorbeagles.blogspot.com

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Male grooming

Perhaps readers could help settle a little dispute we have in this household regarding a suitable grooming regime for the older male (dog) who still wants to impress the ladies.

Me, I favour the rugged approach. Think 'Real Dog'. Untrimmed coat, a little tousled. Mud on the paws and belly. A rich, pungent perfume signifying a close relationship with nature, acquired, perhaps, by a satisfying roll in 'material' left behind by a fox.

Gail seems to think otherwise. Visits to the hairdresser are deemed appropriate. Scissors, showers and shampoo are all involved. I've even recently been threatened with a toothbrush (heaven forbid!) And there seems to be an objection to me riding in the Mini if I'm smelling a certain way.......

Your views, please.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Keeping up standards




There's something very satisfying about watching other folk at work, don't you think? 

Sunday afternoon in Devanha Gardens is car wash time. Gail can be negligent in this department. So I was pleased to see her earlier today, getting busy unravelling the hose,  filling the buckets with soapy water and rolling up her sleeves. 

I like to come out on the street and supervise progress. One has to maintain standards. It's also a good opportunity to meet with the neighbours, who often stop by and give me a friendly pat. 

I've noticed that we often go on an interesting trip shortly after the Mini's been given a good scrub. I really really hope it's to Roseisle to meet the Dughallmor Beagles. I so like looking at the photos on their wonderful blog (www.dughallmorbeagles.blogspot.com). I overheard Gail telling someone about a possible rendezvous and wondering if my dicky heart would cope with the excitement of meeting these four young internet sensations. 

Well I'll have you all know there's plenty of life in the old dog yet....... 

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Notes for posterity?



Do you like the picture on the left? It's the front cover of my 'Blog Book' That's the note book where my amanuensis (Gail so much prefers that title to 'note-taker') records my thoughts for the blog. The book was a present from Diane, herself a well-known local writer, although I'm not sure she's had a go at blogging yet......

Apparently the picture's supposed to look like me. Can you see the resemblance? Me neither.

Anyway, I understand that the notebooks of famous authors can be valuable. So, for the benefit of posterity, here's a page from my book, which future researchers may find useful in their studies.

What do you mean I'm not THAT famous??

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Itchy feet

Physically, my paws are feeling fine, but I'm still suffering from metaphorical itchy feet.

Do you know, I've had a passport for nearly ten years ? (The origin of my vet-phobia, but that's a story for another day). Yes TEN YEARS, but Gail's never once taken me on holiday abroad.

If we can't go to New Zealand - too far apparently - then how about Germany? Courtesy of attending Deutschklasse for about six years, I understand the language, after a fashion. I know a lot about their education system. I'm aware that I'm supposed to sit down when someone says 'Platz'. The fact that I tend to ignore the command is because it's pointless, not because I don't understand. I'm not stupid.

Oh. Gail says I've just reminded her why we can't go to Germany. Apparently they have lot of rules there and they expect people - and dogs - to obey. When a sign says something is 'verboten', it really is. And unlike here in dog-friendly Scotland, the dreaded notice "Hunde an der Leine" is common and not subject to flexible interpretation.

Well is this all true I wonder? Or is Gail just trotting out some well-worn 'towels by the swimming pool' style stereotypes as an excuse to leave me at home, to only dream of all those W├╝rste?