About this blog...

Here you will find information, musings, and pictures about life, the natural world and writing.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Miscellaneous Good Things

It's been a week of good tidings and joy.

* Got a swell review on Shelf Awareness recommending Did Not Survive for holiday shopping. (Scroll way down to Gift Book Roundup.) DNS has had a zillion online reviews (Thank you, dear publicist Maryglenn McCombs!), but this one kicked off more emails to me than any other, ever.

* I'm in my pjs and Murphy-dog is in my lap in this fun guest blog on Marshal Zeringue's site Coffee with a Canine. I'm thinking every author needs a really cute dog.

* This nice review came in from Mystery Mavens Blog.

* Marian Allen gave this blog an award from her blog. Click here for hers.

* AND: our son is arriving tomorrow for the holidays, all the packages are in the mail, and the summary of Zoo Mystery #3 is done for the moment! Let the wild revels begin!

I'm always dressed for Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Human mind/canine mind: just a cute dog story

Murphy is a small, hairy dog with a lot of positive energy. He's good at his guard duties (squirrels, people on the front porch) and friendly otherwise. He's quit chewing up our stuff, and he does tricks. A little dog of many virtues. But being whip-smart was never one of them. "Trainable, but hardly brilliant" is what I've always thought. Turns out he has the same impression of me.

This morning, I was in the bathroom getting my vitamins when he barged in. This is unusual--he's not a morning creature any more than I am. But here he was, full of energy. And he did that "follow me!" thing of wagging his tail while looking over his shoulder at me. I followed him to the dining room. Yesterday, I'd sat on the floor and petted him as we both woke up. I don't usually do that, and I figured he liked it and wanted more of the same. So that's what we did.

A bit later, I was eating breakfast in the dining room and he stood by, staring at the table. So I petted him a little. Then he put both front paws on the empty seat next to me and stared at the table. "Bad dog," I said mildly, and he got down, still staring.

Finally I got it--a little pile of liver bits sat on the table, left over from training last night. He'd spotted or smelled them this morning and, rather than putting his forefeet up on the chair and lunging for it, he'd gone to get me to do it right. He's more of a Good Dog than I realized! And I am presumably a lot dimmer than he realized.

So we played Find, which is a game that consists of "sit/stay" while I sprinkle liver bits all over the house, a game that cannot be played too often in Murphy's mind. I said "Find!" and he raced off to scarf them up.

I blew the morning's Sudoku as well.

Mutual respect? I can only hope.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Portland: Holiday party at Murder by the Book

Join me and other authors for holiday fun of the murderous sort on Sunday, December 12, at 2 PM, at Murder by the Book on Hawthorne.

Here's the scoop!

The Caribou of Christmas

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Book Review: Naming Nature, by Carol Kaesuk Yoon

Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science (2009) is about taxonomy, and kudos to Carol Kaesuk Yoon for tackling the subject with vigor. She sets up contrast between folk taxonomy, finding consistency across a variety of cultures, and compares that with modern scientific taxonomy. This structure is creaky and she overuses certain tropes, especially "the end of fish," but she also provides a tidy history of taxonomy. (Fish aren't really gone, of course. It's just that "fish" fails as a taxon using modern classification.)

She takes us to folk/cultural taxonomy, Linaneus's breakthrough of binomial nomenclature, and the uproar caused by cladists and their DNA analysis.

Those who can tolerate a rather over-amped emphasis on contrasting everyday classification of plants and animals (weeds, pets, fish)with scientific classifications will find many cool ideas about ordering the natural world. For example, certain specific brain lesions impair the ability to identify living things, while the ability to label non-living things remains intact. We are instinctive taxonomists, she proposes, and then asserts that science wrenches this innate sense of the world away from us.

She makes the case that we can no longer understand the natural world without field guides, without interpretation, when we once trusted our own experience. Yoon seems convinced that a layer of science between perception and understanding is a bad thing. She makes a useful, if unsurprising, point that "species" are human categories--nature is not tidy or static, and the scientific definitions fail here and there. She points out that we must live with both viewpoints at the same time--our innate perceptions and the scientific one. For example, dividing human beings into races fails--the boundaries are vague and inconsistent--yet race is a reality of our lives.

The history of science is the history of individuals promoting and resisting change and taxonomy is no different. The low opinion of taxonomists held by other scientists, the deep rifts within the taxonomic community, and the triumph of taxonomy by DNA make for fascinating reading.

Yoon says that we need the experiences in nature to build a personal taxonomy and we need to trust that organization for our own mental health. I wasn't convinced, but I found the history fascinating and recommend the book for that. I have to add, however, that Science (with a capital S) is not well respected in this country. Intuition and emotion seem to carry more credence. Worse, "facts" are often derided as joyless and dull and "experts" as limited know-nothings. My experience (bias?) is that harnessing emotion to the best information available produces far better results on average than simply going with gut feelings. Judging by Naming Nature, Yoon would disagree.

I swim, therefore I am.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Holiday Hippo

I shared my October signing at Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Phoenix with the African writing team Michael Stanley (Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip). They created the excellent Inspector Kubu mysteries set in Botswana. These guys not only have cool South African accents, they have merch! I won a swell hippo tee shirt in the drawing they held. Yeah, I know, I probably shoulda let someone else have it, but there it was and I won and it is very cool and I do love hippos so... See below.

And you can have one your very own self by clicking here.

Kubwa Sana, a hippo I helped hand raise

Can't have too many hippo pictures. This is Snorkle, an elderly lady at Auckland Zoo with her not-at-all-elderly keeper.