The Astrophysicist and the Napkin

7 Sep

Found this story while going through old files on my computer. I wrote it back in 2012, and it still makes me happy. As this is a rare thing, I thought I’d share.

It began like any other day. I awoke in a fog, the remnants of an equation that promised to unify string theory, or at least solve our current propulsion problems, threatening to dart back into my unconscious. I dragged myself out of bed and into the shower. I spun the dial into the arctic zone, trying to shock my mind into clarity, but only succeeded in shocking my sympathetic nervous system into overdrive.
Shivering uncontrollably, I cut the shower short. It’s not like I had a job where my coworkers cared about my personal hygiene. Actually, considering how my coworkers were all mainframe computers, if they started caring about my personal hygiene, I’d have bigger problems than unwashed hair. Three unknown variables buzzed around my head, but I couldn’t get them to land in the proper order.

I’d already started the coffee maker and the toaster before I noticed anything odd. Those three variables had been joined by a host of integers, all taunting my mental ambiguity with their significance. I grabbed the grocery list off the fridge, intending to ink those little alphanumeric buggers into some sort of permanence, pulled a chair out, and realized said chair already had an occupant.

“Miss Grabau, is it?” the woman said, smiling calmly despite my recent attempt to unseat her.

“Uh, yes.” I said. I then noticed the other chair also had an occupant- a man in a red flannel shirt.

My toast popped up with its usual, and somewhat disturbing, clang. Despite the dark sunglasses they wore, I could tell the pair regarded my modified toaster with mild alarm.

“May I offer you some toast?” I asked.

“No, thank you. But you could offer us a tour of your marvelous lab.” The woman said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I said, turning to retrieve my breakfast before it burned.

“Oh, let’s not play games.” The woman said. “The university may have fired you last year, but you’re still in touch with Dr. Ellis, aren’t you?”

I calculated the probability that the woman was bluffing. It was possible, given that Derrick Ellis was widely regarded in the scientific community as being off his nut, but the hint of danger in her voice led me to err on the side of caution. I kept my mouth shut and pretended to fight the toaster for my precious last slice of bread.

“She’s not going to give it up.” I heard the man say. Even with my back turned, I could feel the heat of the glare he got in response.

“Fine, Miss Grabau. You show me mine, and I’ll show you yours.”

When someone says something like that, it is very difficult not to respond. “What?” I asked.

“You show me where you’ve hidden my computers, and I’ll give you this.” The woman held up a napkin. Scrawled on it was the equation that had been haunting me for weeks, in full and completely balanced.

“Huh. Would you look at that.” I said.

“Now,” said the woman. “About that tour.”

I shoved my now-burned breakfast into my mouth and placed my palm on the concealed switch behind the blender. The wall behind me slid away smoothly. I could hear the soft whirl and hum of my many mechanical coworkers far below.
The pair rose and peered into the darkness. Red flannel shirt man took a step down, his hand groping the wall in search of a light switch. The woman braced herself on the door jamb with her right hand. Her left hand held the napkin loosely, like it was a simple bar sketch rather than the key to my more than twenty years of research. If I reached out now, I could grab it.

So, that’s what I did. I grabbed the napkin, watched the woman spin around and take an involuntary step backward into the stairwell, and removed my hand from the pressure switch. The panel slid back into place silently, just as I had designed it to do.

I could hear the pair scuffling behind the wall. They’d probably find the light switch soon. Then they would walk down the spiral staircase, take in the majesty of my beautiful lab, and have exactly 42 seconds to appreciate what I’d done with their computers.

After all, the toaster wasn’t the only machine I’d modified.


Dallas Developments: Day 69

20 Jul

It’s a typical day here at the Anderson Used Book Emporium and Rabbit Salon (as it’s known on FB, much to the confusion of my neighbors). Alice & Hatter are quietly plotting their escape from the kitchen while Dallas is peacefully knocking books off the lowest shelves in the library. No one has declared war on each other yet today, and the chew toy supplies are holding out.

As it’s a typical day for me, I thought I’d write about Dallas’s typical day. He’s become a creature of habit, and there’s very little that will make him deviate from his schedule. He’s so exact, I’m 83% convinced that he’s hiding a pocketwatch somewhere in that furry white coat.

8:45 am: 1st breakfast request. Like an alarm clock, he’ll get louder if you ignore him. After 9 am, you’re in big trouble.

9:45 am: Playtime. It takes Dallas about an hour to wake up, eat, and get restless. He pulls on his pen to let you know it’s time to unclip it and let him out. He’ll spend next 2 hours still inside his pen, but the doors had better be open.

12 pm: playtime in earnest. Dallas has now finished his breakfast (he’s a grazer now, instead of an oh-my-gosh-you-finally-fed-me gobbler) and his mid-morning naps, and is ready to play. This mostly involves bouncing on the couches and seeing if he can still crawl underneath various pieces of furniture (spoiler alert- he can.)

2 pm: dead bunny flop time. Down to the minute, Dallas will be in position and ready to flop. A bath often precedes this event, but I’ve seen him stop in the middle of a foot and flop. There’s video proof.

2:01- 7 pm: naptime. Nothing disturbs Dallas’s slumber during this time. Not noisy humans, not vacuums, not thunderstorms- nothing. He’ll open one ruby eye, glare at the offender, and go right back to sleep. He also twitches in his sleep. There’s video proof of that too.

7:01 pm: 1st greens request. He’ll ask, but if you feed him now, he won’t touch them. Then he won’t eat them later, because they’ve been sitting out for 3 hours. Instead, he gets a papaya treat, which is probably what he’s really after anyway.

7:02- 10 pm: careful observations. Dallas is awake, and watching every move. He follows feet and sits at gates, just staring. I don’t know what he uses that intelligence for, but it’s probably nothing good. If there’s no interesting activity, he heads into the library to critique (& sometimes devour) a book or two.

10 pm: Dallas loses his mind. The clock strikes 10 and Dallas shifts into Ultra Mode. There are laps around the library, laps around the living room, demands for treats and greens (he gets his greens at 10, and promptly devours them), and generally bunny chaos. He’s shedding now, so he leaves a trail of white fur in his wake. 

11-11:45 pm: bedtime. This is the only unpredictable part of Dallas’s day. At some point after 11, he’ll have had enough. His mischief will escalate and will land him back in his pen. He’s still learning the command “pen,” but the sound of the papaya bag opening is enough to draw him in no matter where he is hiding. Once he’s in his pen and the lights are off, he’s content until the next morning.

For the curious, Alice & Hatter follow the same schedule in their kitchen-based kingdom, but without the mid-afternoon nap. There’s two of them after all. They tag-team on the mischief.

And that’s a typical day at the Anderson Used Book Emporium and Rabbit Salon. I can no longer see any of the rabbits as I type this, but I can hear three faces shoved into three food bowls. Clearly, all stomachs are on schedule. 🙂

Dallas Development: Day 56

7 Jul

It’s been a while since I updated, but it’s mostly good news. Dallas has continued to blossom into a much happier bunny, although his turf war with Hatter continues. He successfully attended BunnyFest a couple of weeks ago, and even survived a nail trim. 

For a better look at where he is now, I thought I’d use his To-Learn list from my first post 8 weeks ago. Here’s what I said then:

Dallas needs to learn:

  • To not spook at unseen things. It makes his behavior unpredictable, and his tendency to bolt in any direction could be dangerous for him in an unsecured environment.
  • To share his space, to an extent. All bunnies need a safe space, where no humans or other animals are allowed. However, a bunny shouldn’t grunt or charge during feeding time. Dallas will have to learn to tolerate hands in his pen at least twice a day.
  • Where his safe space is. It’s perfectly reasonable for a bunny to spook at loud noises or sudden movements- after all, they’re a prey species. It’s what they do. However, Dallas will need to learn where he should run when he gets scared, so that he doesn’t hurt himself.
  • How to let his silly self shine. He looks like he may be a New Zealand White rabbit, which is a breed known for being silly and sociable. If he can learn that it’s OK to play around the humans, he’ll have no trouble finding a forever home.”

Here’s where Dallas is now:

  • Spooking at unseen things: there hasn’t been a Dallas Dash in 7 weeks. If he spooks now, it’s because something real scared him- too many hands, a loud noise, Hatter’s appearance on the horizon, etc. Less things scare him now, as well. He’s a pro at thunderstorms, didn’t bat an ear at my neighbor’s firework display, and loves to listen to a guitar, even when it’s being played badly. He gets along with kids and women, even brand-new faces, but is a bit wary of men. He responds well to papaya-based bribery, though.
  • Food aggression: I spent a lot of time trying to train him out of this one, but the answer ended up bwing pretty simple. Dallas is ALWAYS STARVING in the morning, no matter how much hay he has available. He no longer grunts or charges a human entering his pen out of fear, but he will race you to his bowl. To beat this, I simply give him his 1/2 probios or other treat immediately, and then use hs distraction to fill his bowl unimpeded. It works like a charm, and everyone ends up fed and intact.
  • Where his safe space is: Dallas knows where his box is. He doesn’t know the command to return to his pen (or more likely, he chooses not to know), but he definitely knows how to get there. He doesn’t frantically run for safety anymore, but he’ll make it clear where he’s headed.
  • How to let his personality shine: oh boy, has Dallas learned this. He’s got to be the laziest bunny I’ve ever met. He’s yet to find a spot he won’t nap in. I’ve seen him asleep under the couch, behind the couch, on top of the couch, under the end table, on an armchair, on his box, in his box, on a pile of blankets in a corner, and perhaps most memorably: stretched out with his furry body spanning underneath a bookcase and a writing desk at the same time. Each nap is preceded by a forceful dead bunny flop. If you haven’t seen these, check out the #DallasDevelopments hashtag on instagram. You can hear his flops across the room. When he’s awake, he’s full of adventure and binkies.

I’m not going to lie- I wanted so badly to keep him. He would have been renamed March (to fit with the theme), and he’d live happily ever after in the living room. Unfortunately, it’s not meant to be. He and Hatter just cannot stand the sight of each other, and both boys have lost more than a bit of fluff at the teeth of the other.

So, now’s your chance. This sweet goofy boy can be yours upon approval from the Georgia House Rabbit Society. They get to make the call on his forever home, but here’s what I recommend as a good fit for him:

  • A calm house. Dallas likes kids, but he doesn’t like chaos. He’ll approach new people, but only if they’re on his level and speaking quietly to him.
  • Carpet. Dallas loves soft things to snooze on. He will sometimes put his head on the tile by the fireplace, but he spend 99% of his days on the carpet or on his blankets. He’s very well litter-trained. He’s never had a pee accident here, and he doesn’t chew up carpets.
  • Room to romp. Dallas isn’t a tiny bunny. He’s long and he likes to stretch out. He also likes to run laps when he’s feeling particularly good. He’s probably around 7 lbs in weight.
  • A house that doesn’t need a snuggle bunny. He’ll sometimes sit on the couch with me, especially if he thinks I have food to share, but he’s not a snuggler. He’ll allow petting on his head and ears, and sometimes on his whole body, but he’s the one to ask for it. Otherwise, you’ll get the bunny butt of shame. He likes to be near people and to watch them, but he’s not big on touching.
  • A place in the action. Dallas gets bored, and when Dallas gets bored, he gets crafty. He knows how to break out of his pen when he wants to go exploring. Plenty of playtime and interaction will keep him content when he does have to be contained.
  • Things to chew. Dallas loves to chew. Willow branches are his favorite, but he’ll also tear apart woven hay toys.
  • Papaya. This is a must. Dallas must have his papaya. It’ll be your best friend too- it’s great for bribery and reassuring purposes. Whenever he is objecting to bedtime, I stand in his pen and shake the bag. He’ll appear in the pen within 5 seconds, guaranteed. He also likes barley and apple treats, but doesn’t care for banana.
  • Patience and love. He’s not perfect, and he takes time to warm up. But he’s worth the time you’ll put in with him. Trust me. He and Hatter turned my house into a war zone divided by a narrow hallway, and I still want to keep him.

So that’s the update. Dallas is doing great, and he’s ready to start finding his forever home. Until then, I post pictures and videos on my Instagram: @zombiesandbunnies, and use the hashtag #dallasdevelopments. Sometimes my bunny sitters use the hashtag too, so it’s a good way to see new photos even when I’m out of town. 🙂

Dallas Developments: Day 23

10 Jun

It’s been just over 3 weeks since Dallas arrived, and what a 3 weeks it’s been. There have been territory disputes, arguments with neighbors, disagreements over feeding schedules, two days without central air conditioning, a slew of new faces, and on top of it all- a whole new training program to learn. Despite it all, he’s shown that he is still capable of joy and silliness.

3 weeks ago, Dallas was moody, aggressive, territorial, vocal, and prone to bolting in random directions out of fear.

Today, Dallas is only aggressive when overwhemed, only territorial over his food bowl, much less vocal, and only ever bolts towards his safe space. He’s also far more prone to binkies and dead bunny flops.


Case in point

He’s also far more social. Visitors to his pen are now more likely to get a boop on the foot instead of a nibble on their toes. He’ll accept treats from strangers about 70% of the time, and he’ll eat his prize immediately instead of running off with it. When he’s feeling especially calm, he’ll accept a few nose rubs or ear scritches.

The main hurdle is that Dallas is very in-tune to his environment, and so the key is in calmness and patience. In addition to loud or sudden noises (which all bunnies have problems with), he can read emotions. If I’m on edge about something, so is he. But if I’m relaxed or happy, then he is as well. It’s the same with any person he meets- it doesn’t matter their age or height, it’s all in how they approach him. His future forever home will need to be a calm one, but there doesn’t seem to be a reason it can’t also have kids.

He does like to be around people, and adapts to new faces pretty easily. He had two pet sitters recently, and got along with both. He loves to able to see what’s going on, and he gets moody if I leave the door to his room closed for too long. When he’s out to explore, he pops into my office every 10 minutes or so. He’ll poke around my feet for a moment or two, and then head back out on his patrols of the kitchen and hallway. It’s his way of making sure everything is still OK before resuming his adventures.


Case in point, part 2

In terms of continued work, Dallas is learning how to target this week. For him, his target is touching his nose to my finger. The goal is to be able to use that behavior to distract him from otherwise triggering events. For example, targeting while his bowl is being filled in the morning means he’s not able to lunge or otherwise be territorial. That’s safer for both him and the feeder, and he’ll learn that he doesn’t have to fight to be fed.

Targeting may also help break some of the aggression. When Dallas gets overwhelmed by noise or people, he ether bolts for his box or turns aggressive. If he can be distracted from a spiral into aggression, he can be trained to always go to his box to escape. He may never lose the instinct to react, but he can learn the best way to react.

The BunnyFest for the Georgia House Rabbit Society is coming up on the 26th. Alice and Hatter are signed up for the Hoppy Hour there. While Dallas isn’t up for that (mostly because of his on-going feud with Alice and Hatter), I’m hoping that he’ll be up for at least coming with us. It’ll be a good test of his reaction to a new environment, and maybe even a chance to meet some potential adopters.

(I’ll be sure to bring his box, just in case.)

Remember that you can follow the #DallasDevelopments hashtag on instagram to see more pictures and videos of Dallas in between posts here on the blog.

Dallas Developments: Day #8

26 May

It’s been just over a week, and Dallas is definitely a different bunny than when he arrived. He’s far more settled, he’s harder to spook, and he’s more curious about his environment (which has its positives and negatives, if I’m being honest.) He’s got the clicker all figured out, and he’s responding well to the behavior modification. There are some things he’s still working on, but it’s been a good past few days for him.


An action shot, as he scales my legs to explore the rest of his pen.

It hasn’t been such a good few days for Hatter, however. My goofy little Rex has always happily played the little-brother to his bond Alice’s schemes. He’s the one who gets caught, but gets away with whatever he’s doing with an adorably innocent pose. He’s sweeter than Alice, who is often too busy to stop for mere affection.

Recently, though, he’s decided that he does not approve of Dallas. He’s been marking outside of Dallas’s bedroom whenever he’s out of his pen, and he’s even chased Alice away from the door a few times. He can’t reach Dallas, but they’ll snort at each other if they catch sight of each other through the 3-fence deep barrier. This has meant some restricted play time for Hatter and Alice, as well as more time with the bedroom door closed for Dallas.

If he were a human, I’d say Hatter is suffering from Middle Child Syndrome. Since he’s a rabbit, he’s being territorial, and honestly, a bit of a brat. I rearranged his and Alice’s pen to put their litter box near the front. That’s cut way down on the marking. I also make sure Dallas’s door is closed whenever the Dastardly Duo are out. There’s now a tenuous peace in the house, and all bunnies are happier.

All of this hasn’t impacted Dallas’s training. In fact, it’s brought to light an interesting personality trait: Dallas WANTS to be around people. Whenever his door is opened now, he’ll run right over if he’s not already waiting by it. He doesn’t grunt at anyone entering the room anymore, but he will demand to investigate shoes. He does get testy if those shoes step onto his blankets, however. Petting is more likely to be tolerated, but he’ll let you know when he’s had enough with a grunt and a quick but deliberate hop away. There hasn’t been a Dallas Dash in days.

If it’s been a few hours since he’s seen anyone, his reaction is more excited. He even threw a binky this morning when I arrived with breakfast. Below is a video of him running over to me this afternoon.  Please excuse the baby voice- that’s my own behavior modification project.

We’re still working on some territorial issues, and he’s still guarding his food pretty intently. He’ll take a treat from my hand about half the time, but he immediately runs off with it all of the time.

His biggest test is coming tomorrow. I’m leaving for a week for a family vacation. A good friend of mine, who is a vet tech, is staying at the house with the Terrible Trio. She had a good introduction to Dallas last night. He investigated her shoes, and then spent quite a bit of time inspecting her scrubs while she sat on the floor with him. She’ll keep up the clicker training and stick to his usual routine. I’m hoping that his new social behaviors hold up while I’m gone. If he can adapt to having a new person around easily, it’ll be a huge leap forward for his adoptability.

I’ll post an update next week based on her reports. I’ll also post any photos she sends me on my Instagram: @zombiesandbunnies. Until then, fingers crossed that the Dallas Developments stay as developments.

Dallas Developments: Day #4

22 May

Today was a big day for Dallas. Before going into his room every morning for breakfast, I measure out all his food into separate containers. There’s a cup of his pellets, a tablespoon of the Kaytee Exact blend, and 1/2 a Probios treat (which he may or may not eat, depending on his mood. Alice & Hatter will literally stand on each other to get theirs. Dallas couldn’t care less.) I do this because it gives me three opportunities to pair a click with receiving food, and therefore three more chances for Dallas to learn the connection.

However, when I went into his room today, something was immediately different. Usually Dallas is in his hidey box, staring at me from the far corner of his pen with wary eyes. Today, he was at the front of his pen, in full periscope mode. (For the non-bunny crowd, “periscoping” is when a bunny balances on their hind legs to get a better look at their surroundings. Some call it “prairie-dogging,” because it’s the same behavior.) He knew what was coming, which shows that he’s adjusted to the daily schedule here. That’s a good sign.

Even more exciting, as soon as I hit the first click, he ran to his food bowl and looked back at me. He knew what that click meant- FOOD! I poured in his pellets, and waited for him to get a few bites in. Dallas dives on his food like a football player after a fumble, and it’s best not to try to interfere with that. Then I gave a second click, to signal that the Exact was coming. He didn’t stop eating, but for the first time, he didn’t grunt at me when I put a scoop near his face. He didn’t even flinch- just kept eating whatever he could get his little teeth around. He wasn’t interested in the third click and the Probios treat, but he didn’t grunt or flinch when that was offered either.

Based on this, Dallas has likely learned to associate a click with the arrival of food. He knows to expect food when he hears the click, so he doesn’t feel threatened when it is immediately offered. This is a huge step in his training. It’s not the end of the pairing, as he needs to show the same reaction for a couple more days to be sure that he really understands, but he’s on the right track.

It’s important to note that even though there was a success today, Dallas still has a long way to go before he’s ready to be adopted. When I went into his room this evening, I took a few treat options with me. As you can see in the videos below, he was very social at first. He even put his front paws on me to get at his preferred treat faster. It may be hard to hear in the video, but he got a double click for that, to signal a “jackpot” reward for such a social and trusting behavior. He did take his treat and run off, though, showing that while he’s willing to climb on me to get the treat, he’s not trusting enough to assume I won’t try to steal it back.


A few minutes later, he was at his food bowl. I wanted to see how he’d react to my hand entering his “space,” even after a click. As you can see, he didn’t like it at all. He grunted and lunged at me. While he didn’t make contact, he made it very clear that I wasn’t welcome around him at that moment. That’s a territorial display, and it was a reversal from this morning’s behavior.


In this third video, taken about 10 minutes after the second one, Dallas approaches me again. He even allows a quick few seconds of petting. This is the first time he’s allowed me to touch him, and he got another jackpot reward for that- double clicks and a new Timothy hay twist chew.


I ended the training session at that point, as it’s always good to end on a high note. I closed up his pen, said good night, and turned off the light on my way out the door. We’ll see what tomorrow morning brings. When it comes to Dallas, anything is possible.

Dallas Developments: Day #3

21 May

It’s Saturday, which means cleaning day at the Anderson Used Book Emporium & Rabbit Salon. For Alice & Hatter, this is nothing new. Every Saturday morning, they get fed, they get released from their pen, and then they sit at the edge of the kitchen and supervise me while I clean out the pen. Even though today was the first Saturday in the new house, they stuck to their schedule. Those two are nothing if not punctual.

Dallas, however, was a completely different story. It’s day 3, which means he’s just getting used to the schedule around here. Cleaning day predictably threw him into a tailspin of territorial behavior and general unhappiness. He’s still learning to associate the clicker with a reward, but his mood today meant that he wasn’t interested in any extra pairing sessions, or with having me anywhere near him at all. Instead, I left the door open to his bedroom so he could see me moving around the house, but otherwise let him be. He hung out by the door for a bit a few times, but kept pretty close to the back of his pen most of the day.

As there are no training updates to report, I thought I’d talk a bit more about how clicker training works. Basically, it replaces an actual reward, such as a piece of food, with the sound of a click. The reward and the click are paired together repeatedly until the animal learns to associate the sound of the click with the happiness of getting that reward. Once that’s been learned, the reward is offered less and less often with each click, until just the click is reward enough to reinforce a good behavior. This makes it easier to train an animal, as over-feeding or distraction from another reward isn’t a concern.

Dallas, as a VERY food-motivated bunny, is learning to associate a click with a food reward. He hears a click every time he is given food- breakfast, greens, hay fills, night-night treats, and anything else he is given during the day. If it’s edible, he hears a click before it. He’s starting to get it, but he’ll need a couple more days at least for the lesson to really sink in. Once he starts looking for food every time he hears the click, he’ll be ready to move onto the next step.

Clickers come in all sizes and sounds. I use a small one with a very quiet click, so that it can be hidden in a hand and not startle Dallas. I used it previously on Alice, and it worked very well. The problem now is that she remembers the sound and keeps hanging around the outside of Dallas’s room, waiting for her treats. Hatter didn’t respond well to clicker training at first, and as he didn’t need any behaviors modified, I didn’t pursue it with him. He hangs around with Alice, though, so it’ll be interesting to see if he ever picks up on the connection between click and food.

Here are some pictures of Dallas’s pen. He has the guest bedroom to himself, and has about half the room to play in when his pen is opened. At some point, I’ll run out of other boxes to unpack and will have to tackle setting up that room for human guests. Until then, he seems to think it’s a pretty nice bachelor pad. I agree, now that it’s all clean. 🙂



You can see more pictures on Instagram on the #DallasDevelopments hashtag, or by searching my username- @zombiesandbunnies.


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