The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

What dogs can do that chimps can't

We've bred wolves for 40,000 years to have social intelligence, which makes them better than chimps and cats at understanding us:

[Duke Canine Center student Evan] MacLean stands near a wall with the dog on a slack leash, while a female graduate student sits on a chair in the center of the room. She sets two opaque red cups upside down on the floor, one on each side of her. Then, as [the dog] Napoleon watches intently, a third graduate student enters the room. She places the dog’s tennis ball under one of the cups and pretends to place it under the other, obscuring her motions with a small black board so the terrier isn’t sure which cup contains the ball. If this were a shell game, the dog would have a fifty-fifty shot of picking the right cup. But the seated graduate student gives him a hand, or, more precisely, a finger. She points to the cup on her right, and when MacLean lets go of the leash, Napoleon runs over to it and retrieves his ball. Over several trials, the dog always goes for the cup that is pointed out. Even when the seated student merely gazes at the correct cup, Napoleon gets the message.

This may seem like a simple test, and, indeed, even one-year-old children pass it. But our closest relatives, chimpanzees, fail miserably. They ignore the human helper, pick cups at random, and rarely score above chance. Brian Hare’s lab has become famous for spotting this difference. Napoleon has performed more than just a neat cognitive trick. He has displayed a more complex skill related to the development of theory of mind in children. He wasn’t just clued into the pointing student’s attention; he had shown behavior consistent with understanding her intention. He showed that he realized that the student wanted to show him something, that she had a desire.

It may not have taken 40,000 years for dogs to develop this skill, by the way. The Russian silver foxes are only a few dozen generations away from wild foxes, and they also have similar cognitive characteristics.

Chicago city council voting today to ban puppy mills

First-term Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza introduced an ordinance last month that would require pet stores to get dogs and cats from city pounds and shelters. The council will vote on it today:

“This ordinance cuts off the pipeline of animals coming into our city from the horrendous puppy mill industry and opens up a new opportunity for animals already in shelters who need a loving home to be adopted into,” Mendoza said.

It would, however, affect 16 businesses across the city, including Pocket Puppies in Lincoln Park, which sells small dogs at $850 to $4,000 a pup. Store owner Lane Boron said the ordinance would put him out of business or force him into the suburbs, but not curtail the operation of inhumane puppy mills.

“I opened my business, because I knew there were abuses in my business, eight years ago,” said Boron, who said he has sold puppies to celebrities and aldermen. “I wanted to make sure that my dogs were humanely sourced.”

In one of life's coincidences, I went to high school and college with Lane, and we served on the Student Judiciary Board together. I don't wish him ill, and I sympathize that the ordinance would affect his business negatively, to say the least.

That said, I fully support the ordinance. I generally oppose dog breeding, especially for designer dogs like Lane sells, when so many mutts need homes. The ordinance may not be the way to fix the problem of unwanted dogs and cats, either. But it might help.

Update: The ordinance passed 49-1.

About this blog (v 4.2)

Parker, 14 weeksI'm David Braverman, this is my blog, and Parker is my 7½-year-old mutt. I last updated this About... page in September 2011, more than 1,300 posts back, so it's time for a refresh.

The Daily Parker is about:

  • Parker, my dog, whom I adopted on 1 September 2006.
  • Politics. I'm a moderate-lefty by international standards, which makes me a radical left-winger in today's United States.
  • The weather. I've operated a weather website for more than 13 years. That site deals with raw data and objective observations. Many weather posts also touch politics, given the political implications of addressing climate change, though happily we no longer have to do so under a president beholden to the oil industry.
  • Chicago (the greatest city in North America), and sometimes London, San Francisco, and the rest of the world.
  • Photography. I took tens of thousands of photos as a kid, then drifted away from making art until early 2011 when I finally got the first digital camera I've ever had whose photos were as good as film. That got me reading more, practicing more, and throwing more photos on the blog. In my initial burst of enthusiasm I posted a photo every day. I've pulled back from that a bit—it takes about 30 minutes to prep and post one of those puppies—but I'm still shooting and still learning.

I also write a lot of software, and will occasionally post about technology as well. I work for 10th Magnitude, a startup software consultancy in Chicago, I've got more than 20 years experience writing the stuff, and I continue to own a micro-sized software company. (I have an online resume, if you're curious.) I see a lot of code, and since I often get called in to projects in crisis, I see a lot of bad code, some of which may appear here.

I strive to write about these and other things with fluency and concision. "Fast, good, cheap: pick two" applies to writing as much as to any other creative process (cf: software). I hope to find an appropriate balance between the three, as streams of consciousness and literacy have always struggled against each other since the first blog twenty years ago.

If you like what you see here, you'll probably also like Andrew Sullivan, James Fallows, Josh Marshall, and Bruce Schneier. Even if you don't like my politics, you probably agree that everyone ought to read Strunk and White, and you probably have an opinion about the Oxford comma—punctuation de rigeur in my opinion.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you continue to enjoy The Daily Parker.

It's Monday? The 25th?

Wow, this weekend was busier than I anticipated.

You know what's coming. Links!

Only a few more hours before I leave for the weekend. Time to jam on the billables...

Chicago Marathon 2013

This is one of the best parts of living in Lincoln Park:

After watching one group of runners go up Stockton Drive, I can catch them going the other way down Clark. Even Parker gets into the action—sort of:

We had perfect running weather today, 12°C with light winds and plenty of sun. Kenyan Dennis Kimetto set a new course record at 2:03:45, which is just about 3 minutes per kilometer.

Got some exercise, anyway

After lunch I thought Parker and I could pop around to my second-favorite bar in Chicago, Bucktown Pub, which is about 3 km away. It's a little warm (31°C), so by the time we got there, I was looking forward to cooling off with air conditioning and a gin & tonic.

We left home around 1:15 and got there at 2.

They open at 3.

Oops.

I will now take a shower, and Parker has installed himself directly below the air conditioner.

Andrew Sullivan loses a friend

The journalist and blogger's beagle Daisy died today at the age of 15. I'm getting sniffly just posting this:

This was not like waiting for someone to die; it was a positive act to end a life – out of mercy and kindness, to be sure – but nonetheless a positive act to end a life so intensely dear to me for a decade and a half. That’s still sinking in. The power of it. But as we laid her on the table for the final injection, she appeared as serene as she has ever been. I crouched down to look in her cloudy eyes and talk to her, and suddenly, her little head jolted a little, and it was over.

I couldn’t leave her. But equally the sight of her inert and lifeless – for some reason the tongue hanging far out of her mouth disfigured her for me – was too much to bear. I kissed her and stroked her, buried my face in her shoulders, and Aaron wept over her. And then we walked home, hand in hand. As we reached the front door, we could hear Eddy howling inside.

Her bed is still there; and the bowl; and the diapers – pointless now. I hung her collar up on the wall and looked out at the bay. The room is strange. She has been in it every day for fifteen and a half years, waiting for me.

Now, I wait, emptied, for her.

Read the whole thread. Make sure you have tissue handy.