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January 30, 2002
One reason to dislike poodles
Poodles make hopeless watchdogs. They don't bark: they ponce. If a burglar comes through a window, the poodle will investigate, but only to determine if the visitor is their manicurist. Security experts regard this as "insufficient."
When it comes to defending their owner's property, the poodle's major tactic is to look delicate. Security experts also regard this as "insufficient." In the presence of a burglar, poodles are capable of behaving in a huffy, haughty manner, as if to say "I'm doing my meditation, so this interruption is not timely. I'm trying to work through my chakras, so please go away."
Experts often point to this to explain the high crime rate at known poodle residences.
May 23, 2002
On the sudden demise of a mouse
The mice started arriving about a month ago. Initially they were shy and wary and respectful. If I came into the kitchen, they'd immediately scurry away. Usually with an apologetic expression on their frightened little faces.
Over time, however, they developed more confidence. I'd come in late at night to find them having food fights on the kitchen bench. When they saw me, they didn't scurry away. All of a sudden, there was a conspicuous lack of scurrying away. And the apologetic expressions became a thing of the past. Instead, they tried to involve me in their food fights. Aim was taken. Food was thrown.
In retrospect, it was a mistake to look shocked. Especially with a cornflake on my nose. I should've realised they were testing me. I should've been stronger. If only I'd been angry then, perhaps I could have averted a nasty situation later on.
One night they set up little speakers, and got themselves a mouse DJ, and had a rave. The DJ was a house mouse, playing house music. The other mice were wearing silly sunglasses and flourescent day-glo outfits and dancing. "Hang on a minute," I thought, "this is my house." Without any kind of consultation, my house had become their house, and now I was being kept awake by a drum machine and high pitched squeaks of "everybody in da house." And they hadn't even invited me. It all seemed too much. So I went out to complain.
More aim was taken. More food was thrown.
It was simply getting out of hand. Being invaded by hungry mice in the winter was one thing, but being invaded by brazen party mice was quite another. So Guan-Ji went out and bought some mousetraps. And not just normal mousetraps, either. He went out and bought some special not very good mousetraps. Mousetraps that require vigorous jumping up and down on to trigger. Mousetraps that aren't very good at catching mice. Mousetraps which, in other words, do nothing.
For the last month the kitchen has been lined with armed and dangerous mousetraps, which were far more dangerous to the people present than to the mice. Guan-Ji put one of them right next to the stove, so if you were cooking, you had to be very careful about where you put your hand down. You'd find yourself leaning in the wrong direction, waiting for the snap.
But, even worse, not catching any mice also meant that we were achieving the wrong goal. Instead of killing them, we were encouraging them. It no longer seemed surprising that they were having food fights. After all, we were giving them ammunition.
After a whole month of this mousetrap fiasco, I tried a different approach. Instead of putting food on the metal trigger of the trap, I just scattered cake all over it. As a result, we have one less mouse.
But ... can this be expressed mathematically?
Oh, sure. No problem.
At t (yesterday), we had an unknown quantity of mice x.
So at t + 1, the number of mice is now x - 1.
Quod erat demonstrandum. One less mouse in da house.
Even so, the algebra here disguises a kind of sadness. That little guy was kind of fun to have around. And killing him seemed harsh punishment, especially for a first offence. In retrospect, I should've just hidden the cornflakes and confiscated his drum machine. Or I could've got some silly sunglasses and a day-glo outfit, and joined in.
May 24, 2002
Latest statistics on the mouse front
x - 2
August 4, 2002
How to tell if you have annoyed your dragon
La Chica and I are standing in the kitchen, having a chat, and suddenly she turns pale. I've never seen a Spanish person do that, so for a moment it was a wonderful new experience. But she kept pointing to something behind me, which got me somewhat suspicious. This is, after all, an ancient trick of getting people to turn round. And I wasn't about to fall for a trick as old as my car. But then La Chica fell to the floor in a cold faint, so I figured she wouldn't noticed if I did get fooled. So I turned around.
Behind me was a rat. A fairly enormous rat.
Actually, I'm being modest. It was the biggest rat I've ever seen. Put it this way: I have an eight year old nephew who's tall for his age. The rat, however, was bigger than my nephew.
It was a Really Big Rat.
And seeing it in my kitchen immediately made me wonder what the hell I was supposed to do. Run away? Attack it with a broom? Offer cheese and biscuits? Climb rapidly up to the roof, wrap myself in a Japanese flag, and jump off?
Well, I find that a fun, natural response is screaming and yelling. And when the appeal of that starts to wane, quaking and trembling is a wonderful substitute.
I've spent the last few hours in a dithering panic. I've been keeping the door to the kitchen firmly closed at all times. I'm going to wear shoes to bed. And my shopping list has changed from apples and echinacea to hobnailed boots and a suit of armour. I'm also thinking about picking up a truckload or two of rat poison, a couple of shotguns and a nuclear weapon. Something that says, firmly and politely, "the houses at the other end of the street are much nicer."
August 5, 2002
Dragon annoyed: dragon send rat
I have a splitting headache. This is, thankfully, a very rare occurence. I blame the rat, though.
Fortunately, rat sightings have also been rare. On the night it appeared, I saw it twice, but since then there's been no evidence of a continued rodent presence. I may not have to move out after all.
The second time I saw the rat was very late at night in the front hall. I "just happened" to be carrying a long wooden stick. "You never know," I thought to myself, "perhaps there'll be a chance to smack it in the head." I arrived in the front hall and heard some very unusual sounds. I also spotted where those sounds were coming from. An enormous rat was at the other end of a hall. It was trying to get out through the front door. Incredibly, foolishly, we had left the front door closed.
I glanced down at the stick. In the actual presence of the rat, it no longer seemed like a Mighty Weapon of Rodent Doom. As I weighed it in my hands I realised that it was a suspiciously light stick. It was long, but absurdly featherweight. Then I realised that I had armed myself with a balsa wood stick.
Suddenly, the concept of trying to kill an enormous rat with a single well aimed blow seemed like an amazingly stupid idea.
At this exact moment the rat realised that the only way out of the front hall was at my end. A millisecond or two later I noticed how wonderfully decisive rats are. They're really most impressive in this regard. But further thoughts in this or any other direction were curtailed by the sight of a high-speed rat coming straight at me.
I'm standing in my hallway clutching a balsa wood stick and a rat is charging me.
It wasn't really how I'd planned to spend the evening.
And if you're wondering how hard it is to hit a rat on the head with a flimsy bit of balsa wood, let me tell you this: it's extremely hard. Especially when, at the exact moment the rat is running past you, you're eight feet in the air, and still climbing.
So I learnt something tonight. I learnt that close proximity to a high-speed rat triggers an automatic response. Whether you like it or not, you succumb to a tremendous, involuntary desire to pole vault.
At the same instant the rat disappeared behind a couch, I reached the top of my arc. I had survived near contact with mankind's ancient enemy, but was soon to meet a floor. I made one spectacular jump to nowhere, and I've still got the headache to prove it.
September 25, 2002
Yackandandah: march of the lone echidna
Yackandandah is in north eastern Victoria. It has a population of about 700, a figure which, as far as I know, doesn't include wildlife.
Yesterday, for reasons that have remained a mystery, an echidna walked all the way up the main street.
A brief note for those people who don't know what an echidna is. It's a kind of Australian hedgehog. It's a little bigger, and a lot shyer.
The echidna's main survival strategy is to get out of the way. It goes through life hoping to be left alone. To help it achieve this aim it moves quietly and looks incredibly well-armoured. It has long, sharp quills, and a body that will happily curl up until an attacker dies of boredom.
The irony is that nothing in Australia poses a serious threat to it. With one possible exception: traffic. Luckily, Yackandandah is a comparative stranger to traffic. Its main street stretches from a stone bridge to the Post Office, a distance of several hundred yards. And the echidna walked this distance in the middle of the road. It walked past the bakery, the newsagent, and both pubs.
And no one noticed.
Until it got to the Post Office, when Darkling, one of the local residents, spotted it. He decided that it'd lost its mind, and needed help. He also came to the conclusion that having a confused echidna wander around the main street was dangerous. Dangerous to the echidna, that is.
Darkling therefore sprang into action. He tried to convince the echidna that a nearby garden was a more desirable place. The echidna didn't believe him. Yackandandah became the scene of:
Darkling vs. A Confused Echidna
Darkling's first tried using his foot to gently guide the echidna in the direction of the gate. The echidna immediately adopted its main defensive strategy. It curled up into a ball, and looked pointy.
"Right," said Darkling, and tried to think of another approach.
At this point another local arrived. She'd just finished work, and she worked as a gardener. She had every kind of gardening tool with her. "Do you have a sack?" asked Darkling. "Yes I do," said the gardener, "and I'm going to be very interested to see what you do with it."
Armed with a sack, Darkling approached the echidna again. The sack offered considerable protection from the quills, but that's all it did.
"Right," said Darkling, and looked around for more inspiration.
"Do you have a shovel?" he asked of the gardener. "Yes I do," said the gardener, "but I'll stand by with the sack, just in case."
Darkling then tried to get the shovel under the echidna's feet. The echidna responded by planting its feet firmly on the pavement, and refused to be budged.
By this time, Darkling was starting to become a trifle annoyed. So he doubled his effort. He redoubled his already doubled effort, and then he redoubled that. Then he added the first number he thought of, and multiplied it by a factor of pi.
It all added up to a lot of effort. Seconds ticked by. Minutes ticked by. He eventually succeeded in getting the shovel under the echidna's feet. He hoisted the echidna a few inches into the air, and the echidna responded by immediately falling off.
"Nice try," said the gardener. "You nearly had him there."
The battle continued, and eventually Darkling finally got the echidna through the gate. It was no longer in danger from cars, and could now explore a lovely garden.
Which, of course, it didn't do. Instead, it scurried forward and leant against a highly visible spot of wall. It completely ignored the parts of the garden it could hide in, and pretended to be invisible. It sat in the most conspicuous place available until everyone got bored and wandered away.
"Maybe that's how they express gratitude," said the gardener, holding the empty sack.
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