Everything there is to say about the creation and use of tools by rooks


Animal researchers were surprised in the last couple years to learn that rooks will make and use tools. Here I mean humans who research animals. The animals researching people were surprised that this was surprising. I don’t know what the people who research animals who research people were surprised by. I can’t take all that much surprise, not in a single sentence.

The thing to remember here is that the rooks are birds. These are variant models of the crow, with a moonroof and power aelerons, not the chess pieces. These are often confused, what with how surprising and confusing a time it’s been. Also with how many of them are members of the International Federation of Chess-Playing Animals, an organization that’s properly known in French by basically the same words in a different order. In the wild, rooks actually don’t depend much on rooks. They play much more on bishops, which leaves them vulnerable to badgers, who like the little horseys. “How are we losing to you?” cry out the rooks. “You call them `little horseys’!” Chess is, as the immortal plumber says, a game of deep strategy.

The thing I don’t know is how anybody can be the least surprised by animals making and using tools. Yes, we used to think humans were the only people who made and used tools. But that came to an end with the historic ruling in 1996 that animal researchers — again, the humans doing the researching of animals — were allowed to sometimes look at the animals they were researching. It made for exciting times in the animal-research (by humans) journals. Top-tier journals published breakthroughs like “Kangaroos not actually large mice”, “Mother opossum just, like, wearing a coat of babies”, “Mice not actually tiny kangaroos”, “Is that red squirrel yelling at me?”, “Medium-Size kangaroos or mice just nature being difficult”, and “Look how happy this mouse is eating raw pasta!”.

Today we should understand that basically any animal that can get one will use tools. The only unique part about humans is when we get a tool we’ll feel guilty for not filling out the warranty registration. In our defense, filling it out requires dealing with a web site, and those haven’t been any good since 2012. Also they want to be allowed to send you push notifications, so that anytime, day or night, you might be interrupted a fast-breaking update on the biscuit-joiner situation. It’s a great way to get out of a dull conversation, yes. “I’m sorry, I have to take this, it’s Milwaukee Sawzall telling me about a clamp meter” is a socially acceptable pass out of any interaction. “It’s of much greater precision!” will get you out of the next conversation, too.

Meanwhile we see animal tool use all over the place. Nearly two-thirds of all Craftsman tools sold in the 2010s were bought by tree-dwelling mammals of 18 inches or less in length. Nearly the whole world’s supply of rotary sanders have been obtained by squirrels. We don’t know what they’re doing with them, but we do notice the red squirrels spending less time yelling and more time rubbing their paws together while grinning. And this all does help us distinguish the smaller squirrels from chipmunks, who prefer belt sanders. See a Miter saw in the wild? There’s a badger no more than 25 feet away. Nobody knows how raccoons got wood routers, but it is why they’re just everywhere on the Wood Internet.

And animals have done much to give us tools. The inclined plane, for example, was nothing more than an incline before sea turtles thought to match it to the plane. They didn’t even realize they were creating a useful tool. They just hoped to advance to being sea-saw turtles, and did. The monkey wrench, as you’d expect from the name, was not invented by a monkey. It was a team of four monkeys working long hours for a period of ten years, at the end of which they had produced the works of Shakespeare, which they had been reading during breaks. Nobody knows how wrenches got into the matter.

Having said all that, now I’m wondering whether the animal researchers were confused between the chess rooks and the bird rooks. Wouldn’t it be just like life if they had meant to study the chess pieces and got onto birds by mistake?

Minor Update on the Closing


So about that hardware store that’s closing. They’re still closing. But as I understand it they’re busy enough at the closing sale that they’re taking on employees who, I guess, know they’re even more temporary than usual.

But also apparently they’re figuring they can keep the store open through Christmas Eve. And now I’m all delighted thinking of them holding the place open, minutes before 5 pm in that dark-of-winter cheery seasonal gloom, watching the last couple people rush in saying, “I need something for my mother! Do you have any billhooks left?” And they have, but it’s not returnable. Just saying.

(Also, billhooks are great. I do not know that I have seen my love happier than when using our closing-sale billhook to hack down dead rose bush branches. If you want one, I know a place that’s open through the 24th. A billhook is a thing you can get from a hardware store. Well, I can. I know a place.)

Craftiness


I’d like to talk about craft hobbies. It’s not much, but it’s the best idea I had this week. These come in a couple of varieties. One of the most satisfying is the hobby of joining things to other things. This is a particularly fun thing to do since when you’re done you have fewer things around. This saves valuable inventory space in your home, car, office, or bag-of-holding. It may make the joined object more unwieldy, but who pays attention to wieldiness? With everything that’s going on in the world these days? Wieldiness of household items can’t possibly rank below the loss of confidence that the Price Is Right producers could cheat contestants by changing the “actual retail price” of prizes whenever those things are shown on a computer monitor rather than revealed by sliding away a panel to show a fixed sign. So somewhere in the fourth dozen of things to worry about.

You can make a craft by taking two or more things and affixing them to one another. Or prefix them, if you like, as long as you’ve taken care to get the order of them correct. You could suffix them too, if you dare. It all depends on the level of confidence you have in your fixing abilities. So I’m still on the “affix” level. I have hopes of prefixing something, someday, but I know I’m all talk on this issue. The things I might prefix other things to know it, also.

There are many ways to join things together. You can use glue, for example. Or epoxy. It’s hard for the newcomer to understand the differences between glue and epoxy. Fan web sites won’t clear things up at all because adhesive-substance fans want you to know that you don’t appreciate adhesion correctly. The important difference is that glue won’t finish setting until you’ve accidentally broken the thing apart testing to see if the glue has set. Meanwhile, epoxy will set before you’ve managed to fit together the things you wanted to stick together. Evaluate which would better serve your object-adhesion needs, and then use whatever you had already anyway.

If adhesive semi-fluid goos aren’t your thing I don’t know that we can still be friends. I’ll try to overlook it. We have bigger problems right now. Anyway, you can make things adhere to one another by other techniques. You could use nails. The big advantage of nails is that you get to take the thing you’re dealing with and drive a thin shard of metal into it while hitting it repeatedly with a separate heavy chunk of lever-mounted metal. OK, I’m starting to see why someone might turn away from adhesive semi-fluid goos. The drawback of nails is that if you handle the thing enough the nails will slip loose and some chunk of your craft project will fall down and I just bet it’s onto your toe. If this hasn’t happened, try handling your project some more. Wear shoes, if you have shoes that aren’t horrible mistakes.

A screw is a good way to affix something to another thing in a way that it won’t come loose. This is because the screw has the mechanical advantage that … uhm … and the thing with the threads … something … friction for the thingy. But you have to get the screw into the thing somehow. This is a good excuse to apply a power tool to your project. If you haven’t got a power tool, this could be the excuse you need to get a power tool. Probably a screwdriver. The power tool gives you the chance to press the power button and hear the thing whirring around some. This can be so soothing you don’t even need the tranquility of completing a project.

You might want your thing painted. You can paint it before affixing things together, or after, or both. If you paint before affixing things together this will keep the glue or whatever from working quite right. If you paint after affixing then there’ll be little cracks and crevices that never get painted to look right. If you do both, then you can have the flaws of both in your project. Choose the aggravating and unavoidable flaws that work for your neuroses.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose another six points over the course of the day, but it doesn’t trust any of those points. “How can we believe that’s structurally stable, anyway?” asked the index. It’s a good question. We have no answer.

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The End Of The Tree


“It’s not fair,” our pet rabbit said, as he stood up on his hindpaws and rattled at the pen. To make clear how much fair it was not he grabbed the horizontal bar of the cage and shook it around, which made a little noise, but as far as showing inanimate objects who’s boss is nothing like when he shakes pieces of shredded newspaper around.

I kept taking ornaments off the Christmas tree. “Don’t worry. We’re just keeping you in reserve.”

He said, “I’m totally ready! I could finish that tree off in two minutes. Maybe eighteen, tops. Give me five minutes with it.”

The pet rabbit flops out and watches, closely, the Christmas tree, just in case it does anything that involves not getting eaten.
Our pet rabbit spent a month sitting at the edge of his pen and staring hopefully at the Christmas tree.

Continue reading “The End Of The Tree”

Some Ways That I Act Like A Guy


I don’t participate in most traditional guy behaviors. This is because most traditional guy behaviors are bottomlessly terrible. The generic formula for making a guy behavior is to find something which might be interesting or exciting and do so much of it that it’s awful, which is how we get hot-sauce-drinking-contests, World War I, soccer riots, and pieces of furniture set on fire and shoved into the streets. Guys are pretty much the male dolphins of civilized society, which is why we shouldn’t have anything to do with them. But there are some guy behaviors which are not terrible to the point of cruelty, and I partake in some of them.

The commonest is bringing in the groceries. It’s very important that I bring the groceries inside with as few trips as possible. My love is amused to see how I’ll hang shopping bags all the way up and down my arms, and maybe loop a couple around my legs, and hang two or three lighter bags from each ear, and if I could get away with it I’d hold one in my mouth too. Sometimes I’ve bought an unnecessary Chapstik or roll of Necco wafers so I could stuff them in my nose just so I can bring in more stuff on the one trip. The saddest thing I can do is get up to the door and realize I’m surrounded by a protective layer of grocery bags reaching up to the second-floor windows, because that means I have to set something down to fit through the door, which I forgot to open so I have to kick it in and repair the frame afterwards. But, boy, if I can get it all in in one trip and fall over into a titanic sprawling mass of packs of frozen French fries and cans of condensed milk that roll through the dining room, into the living room, and come to a rest under our pet rabbit, whose ears are perked up to full attention over this collapse, then I am happy.

Less common but at least as satisfying is hardware stores. I feel a wonderful sense of place when I’m in a hardware store, for whatever reason, and I would let my father mention here how hilarious this is except when I asked him to write something about it he started laughing hysterically and he’s barely stopped to take breaths, much less to get his composure enough to write anything, since, and it’s been eighteen days now. I am not your traditionally handy person. Would you believe that I have attempted to change a flat tire and, after having got the car jacked up not nearly enough to do this but finding myself unable to either lift it higher or let it get back to the ground again, I’ve abandoned my car in the intersection where the flat tire became un-ignorable and taken the bus home, on three separate occasions? Sure you would, and it doesn’t even matter that nothing all that much like this has never happened to me, because it makes too much sense that this is the sort of thing that should, and you know that too.

But set me in a hardware store, where I have absolutely no business being and no ability to identify anything past “this is probably not a wrench”, and I feel this wonderful inner peace. I think it’s the sense of a world of potential all organized into little grey boxes of metal and plastic parts, surrounded by tools that for some reason aren’t in alphabetical order. Or it’s getting to occasionally overhear people talking about “joists”. I’m not sure what a joist is but I know they are subjects of legitimate discussion when in hardware stores, and that reassures me. Life may be chaos and a struggle for comprehension, but for a little while, there’s cylinders of steel or iron or aluminum of something and gaskets of some kind of plastic or whatnot, and people walking around casually hefting things that are probably not wrenches and they have plans to make joists of things and maybe fix the doorframe. It’s perfect.

You know, I suspect I’d be happier if I could get the groceries in without any trips, but I haven’t worked out the details of that just yet.

Pliers, Sure, I Know Plenty of People Regretting their Wanton Plier Purchases


We’ve needed a crescent wrench from time to time. Not too often, I’d say about as often as most people need a crescent wrench. The thing is we haven’t had one, and that’s forced us to non-crescent alternatives, such as using pliers, smacking the thing we needed to wrench with a small blob of a mysterious putty-like substance (which does nothing but feels good, and uses up some of that mysterious putty-like substance), or in extreme cases, lying down in the street and waiting for traffic to run us over rather than deal with the wrench problem.

Anyway, my beloved was at the hardware store and, having had enough of this, bought a three-pack of wrenches: one medium, one large, and one chipotle extra-crispy. And now is worried that we have too many crescent wrenches. “Fear not,” I said, “nobody has ever woken in the middle of the night and cried out `We are ruined! We have too many crescent wrenches!”’ So that’s largely settled the matter.

Except. How the heck do I know something like that? The world is big and complicated and all the more so when you’re trying to get to sleep. How can I fairly claim that nobody has been so busy with crescent wrenches that it hasn’t destroyed other, non-wrench-based, aspects of their lives? I feel like I’ve been cheating to speak with such confidence.

Cheesey Developments


Some good news out of the cooking world: the two-piece rotary cheese grater has been rated the most kitchen-y implement of them all, for the seventh year running. According to an article I read on the subject, you can’t even pick it up without feeling like you’re a master of the cooking arts, even if you aren’t doing so well remembering how to get the little box-like end folded over the cylindrical part and the plate that pushes down into the box and aaargh.

Winner of the title “least kitchen-y implement” this year is the lawn roller, which dethroned longtime favorite, the offended scowl.