Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Howling Demon Cat

A few months ago, my cat started to howl. And continued to howl.  And howl.  Days. Nights. Mornings.

This was not a pleasant little kitty howl. This was a demons-from-the-ninth-circle-of-hell howl. I work at home, so the howling (and lack of sleep) quickly started to affect my work.

My cat has had serious health problems in the past, so I was worried that the howling was a sign of pain or distress. But after my vet gave the little demon a clean bill of health, I began to do some research on the Internet.

I found that howling is quite common in older cats, and there are various theories as to why. (My vet shrugged his shoulders and said, "Some cats do that.")

None of the websites I found offered a good solution.

I'm a strong believer in behavioral conditioning, so I decided to take direct action. I bought a laundry "squirt bottle" that could shoot a stream of water about 20 feet. And I began a methodical program to squirt the cat every time he howled.

Operation Squirt seemed to be working. There was a significant decrease in howling for the first two days. But on the third day, my cat developed a new behavior... he would come to the door of whatever room I was in, howl loudly, and run.

And so began Operation You Can Run But You Can't Hide!

I determined that whenever the demon cat howled, wherever he was, whatever time of day or night, I would chase him down and squirt him. For several days, the tides tilted back and forth.  Each time he howled, I chased him through the house, knocking over furniture, tripping over the dog (an innocent bystander in the escalating war), but eventual squirting him.  But he continued to howl and run.

In our final skirmish, the cat came to my office door and emitted a particularly loud, long, and grating howl... almost like issuing a challenge. I grabbed the squirt bottle and chased him down the hall to the bedroom, where he immediately ran behind the headboard of the bed. I slid my arm behind the bed and began firing, only stopping when the bottle was half empty.

Satisfied that the cat had finally learned his lesson, I walked up the hallway toward my office, only to be startled by another howl. I turned and saw the cat, following behind me. Drenched, glaring at me, tail twitching angrily... and howling. I realized I was defeated.

The next few weeks saw a variety of new battle plans:

Operation Shaker Can. A can filled with pebbles was vigorously shaken each time the cat howled. Other than sounding like a demented marimba band, this had no effect.

Operation Cold Shoulder.  On the advice of cat experts, I tried giving my cat lots of attention when he was quiet, but ignoring him whenever he howled.  Clearly the cat experts have never tried to work while a cat howled continuously at the door of their office. 

Operation Nerf Darts. I dug out my old Nerf dart gun, and fired a foam dart at the cat each time he howled.  A  pattern was quickly established. The cat would howl. I would shoot him with a Nerf dart, which he would play with for about two minutes. He would then come back and howl again, demanding a fresh Nerf dart. I have about thirty darts, but I ran out of ammunition before the cat ran out of patience with this new game.

Operation Solitary Confinement. When the cat howled, he got locked in the garage until he stopped howling. Who would have guessed that a cat could howl continuously for eight hours? I eventually stood at the door to the garage until he paused for breath, so I could let him in and declare victory. The cat just smirked at me as he walked back into the house, tail swaying regally.

Things were looking bleak when I realized that I had committed the classic animal training mistake... I was clearly the source of all the deterrent efforts. I had made each campaign into a game or competition between the cat and me... and the demon cat was clearly the stronger competitor!

To win I had to change the strategy. I had to make "the environment" provide the deterrent.

I quickly assembled the parts I would need for Operation Siren:

Batteries. A 110-decibel siren. A lo-o-o-ong wire, and a push-button control.

I placed the siren in the hallway, and ran the wire to my office (where the button would be close at hand), and waited.

Within a few minutes, I heard the familiar screeching howl. I pressed the button and held it for three seconds. A 110-decibel siren is about as loud as a chain saw. Three seconds seemed like forever. But when I released the button, there was silence. No siren. And no howling.

I cautiously went to my office door and looked down the hallway. The demon cat was standing there, absolutely still, eyes wide, hair standing on end. As soon as he saw me, he ran to me. I turned and walked back into my office... smiling.

I kept the button near at hand for the first few days, threading the wire into my office, the kitchen, the bedroom, or wherever I happened to be.

Fortunately, the cat is somewhat ignorant about electrical appliances, and never made the connection between the button and the siren. (I had considered a wireless remote as the next step if the battle escalated.)

It was surprising how fast the resistance crumbled once the cat realized he could not escape Operation Siren. He howled less and less, and after a few days he stopped completely.

Now, weeks later, he still howls on occasion - briefly and quietly, once every few days.  I sometimes squirt him or shoot him with a Nerf dart. There's a nostalgic feel to these incidents, like two soldiers from opposite sides meeting on the battlefield, years after the war.

But The Siren stands as a silent sentinel, should the howling demon cat ever decide to challenge me again.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Stop-motion graffiti animation: "Big Bang Big Boom"

The origins and evolution of life, in ten minutes of amazing stop-frame animation. This is an amazing video!

BIG BANG BIG BOOM - the new wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

Monday, July 05, 2010

4th of July on the San Francisco Bay

We spent the 4th of July with our friends Paul Dines and Marina O'Neill of SF Bay Adventures, on their beautiful new schooner the Freda B.  In addition to lots of good food, plenty to drink, and a fun crowd, we got an "up close and personal" view of the Sausalito fireworks display.  In fact, we may have gotten a bit too close, as you can hear on the video.

I came away with a souvenir of my adventure...  a fragment of a firework that hit me in the head and bounced to the deck.  With the smell of powder, the drifting smoke and the falling embers, all that was missing were some deck guns to return fire! 

We'll have to join Paul and Marina for one of their SF Bay Pirate Adventures!

Find 4th of July Celebrations in major cities across the United States!