## Looking Back: Guinea Pigs

I used to keep guinea pigs. Sometimes I’d have said I used to breed guinea pigs, but truth is, I just kept them. They did the breeding themselves. Despite that I keep today, decades later, learning about them. I had the guinea pigs in the 80s, when nobody knew how to take care of any animal that wasn’t a dog, a cat, or something bred with the intention of being eaten. So here’s an essay about my journey learning some astounding things about guinea pigs. And if you question whether there can, legitimately, be an astounding thing about guinea pigs let me point this out to you: there were no guinea pigs in Zootopia and there was a reason. My essay doesn’t say what it was.

Also here’s an old Statistics Saturday piece about taxonomy and the problems with anything being called a rodent. That’s also fun. Promise.

## Statistics Saturday for the New Year, or December Anyway

First: I have another batch of mathematics comics to talk about, over on the mathematics blog, because Comic Strip Master Command was really enthusiastic about pushing math topics on unsuspecting readers for the last week of 2014.

Second: It’s a new month! That justifies looking back over December 2014 and reviewing what was popular, so it can be more popular, and what countries sent me a lot of readers, and what ones barely did. Again, I don’t understand, but people like it.

It was another very popular month for the blog: 1,251 page views, as WordPress makes it out, which is not quite the Kinks-inflated 1,389 of October but still up from November’s 1,164. The number of unique visitors was down to 626 (from 676 in November and 895 in October), but I suspect that reflects things getting back to normal after the Kinks excitement. That’s a growth in views per visitor, though, from 1.72 to 2.00, which is probably a statistic of its own of some note.

The countries sending me the most readers were the United States (973), Australia (48), Canada (35), the United Kingdom (27), New Zealand (19), Brazil (14), Slovenia (12), and Spain (11), and I admit Slovenia took me by surprise, although, hi guys. I didn’t have you mixed up with Slovakia. Single-reader countries this time around were Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sweden, and Venezuela. Belgium and Finland were single-reader countries last month (but not before that), although I see that New Zealand was last month and suddenly whoever read me then was joined by eighteen fellow countrymen. Hi, gang. My India readership grew from three to four, so that’s something.

The individual pages that got the most readers, and this is counting only 30 or more because there were thirteen that got 25 or more, and twenty that got 20 or more viewers, were:

1. Calm Urged As Comic Strip _The Better Half_ Ends, which I guess shows how passionately people feel about a comic strip I always thought was a worn-down copy of The Lockhorns but somehow came first by a decade. I better not cross their fans anymore.
2. On The Next Thrilling Episode Of Star Trek: The Next Generation, part of that little string I did of captioning a particularly exquisite moment of Next Generation actors in unusually shiny clothes.
3. Little Nemo in Mathmagicland, in which I prematurely suspected Little Nemo’s caretakers of wishing him ill just because I have an irrational prejudice against volatile organic solvents.
4. Statistics Saturday: What Average People Think Are Rodents Versus What Biologists Think Are Rodents, and again, I don’t dispute biologists’ conclusion that guinea pigs are rodents, I’m just saying, if we find out this decade that we were mistaken all along I’m not going to be too surprised.
5. Is That Enough?, some grumbling about Christmas carols and the attempt to make one in the modern era.

There’s no good search term poetry this time around either, although there were a lot of people looking for information on The Better Half (the cartoonist gave it up for his own cartooning projects), as well as these evocative phrases: he gladest was in his fathers. for , unknown to his daughter “conrad” the old baron klugenstein, and alphabet percentages by 8 people workload, as well as mnemonic device for since and sense. For the last, I offer this: stalactites cling from the ceiling, while stalagmites grow from the ground. This won’t help with “since” and “sense”, but at least you’ll have “stalactites” and “stalagmites” worked out, and maybe make some progress on “ceiling” and “ground” too, and that’s something to be proud of as 2015 gets under way.

Finally, general readers might not know this, but WordPress has put in a new statistics page for people who want to study their own sites, and it is awful. Less information, spread out over more space, requiring more clicks: it’s like they read the modern book on redesigning computer stuff so everything about it is noticeably worse.

## Statistics Saturday: What Average People Think Are Rodents Versus What Biologists Think Are Rodents

Animals That Average People Think Are Rodents Animals That Biologists Think Are Rodents
Rats, mice Many things popularly called rats or mice
Squirrels Squirrels, chipmunks
Rabbits Guinea pigs, if you aren’t at least a little bit suspicious of their front paws having four toes while their back have only three. And how they give birth to cubs fully-furred, with open eyes that see perfectly well. Oh, and they get scurvy. If you don’t feel unease about calling something with that slate of anomalies a rodent, fine, guinea pigs are rodents.
Bats
Moles
Beavers
Jackalopes
Skunks, ferrets, otters Capybaras, if we absolutely have to name something else.
Baby raccoons OK, and we’ll give you beavers. Did we say squirrels already?

## Before the Hamster Wheel

So before the hamster wheel were people just trying out, say, putting a lever in their cage and seeing what a hamster made of it? “Look, I can shuffle cedar chips around some.” The inclined plane? Perhaps an Archimedean screw? Or were they thinking of more obviously useful tools, possibly as the first step in training hamsters to do all sorts of light carpentry and home repair, and tried putting in little shovels and rakes? And would a ladder fit in as just a general mechanical device or as a potential hamster tool? If even one hamster living in 1948 had shown some proficiency at using a screwdriver we might be living in a very different world today.

## Genius Hamsters

What do you suppose the hamster community thinks of the person who invented the hamster wheel? It’s not an obvious invention, the way the cat motorcycle, the gerbil paddle steamer, or the wallaroo Quadricycle are. You need to have a vision of wheels alongside rodents, if hamsters are still rodents. They keep finding out different animals aren’t actually rodents. Just last month a report in Nature showed that the horse was definitely not a rodent, following an investigation by biologists who didn’t want to work too hard that day.

The first hamster to make the wheel work was some kind of genius among hamsters, too, though. I imagine hamsters to this day squeak her name when they want to talk sarcastically about the smart one in their group.