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November 30, 2011

Fast forward
Posted by Teresa at 05:43 PM * 99 comments

One of the sorrows of keeping hamsters is that their lives are so short. I had a thought a while back that I’ve found consoling: Hamster lives are longer than we think. They just run faster than ours do, as though they’re permanently set on Fast Forward.

Hamsters are overclocked.

Their hearts beat 450 times a minute. They’ve got a 16-18 day gestation period - the shortest of all the mammals. They’re weaned three or four weeks after they’re born, and hit puberty at four or five weeks. A few weeks after that the obligate solitary thing kicks in, and they have to go out into the world and become self-supporting adults.

They do what we do, only faster. You can watch them getting old - slowing down, eyesight deteriorating, fur fading - but still being very much themselves, just like us. Thing is, with them it’s a matter of months.

They die quickly too, most of them. It’s a terrible shock to us, but it’s proportional.

We love them, and miss them when they’re gone. That’s unavoidable. But we shouldn’t mourn so much for the brevity of their lives. They’re not that short. They’re just that fast.

Comments on Fast forward:
#1 ::: FaultyMemory ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 06:00 PM:

Condolences on seeing the end of a long life quickly lived.

#2 ::: Amit Kotwal ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 06:06 PM:

ObSF: "Petals of Rose" by Marc Stiegler

#3 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 06:22 PM:

My ObSF, slightly out of context, is Miles Vorkosigan: "I'm not short, I'm just concentrated."

#4 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 06:23 PM:

Mice are like that, too. (Just, not quite as much.) It caused me to love the ones I had, but choose not to have more of them once the ones I had died.

But I /am/ glad it's a comfort for someone.

#5 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 06:37 PM:

Sympathies, Teresa. Virtual {{{hugs}}} if you'd like them.

#6 ::: DaveKuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 07:12 PM:

Especially if you had a good one with real personality to become attached to. Sympathies.

#7 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 07:19 PM:

Overclocked. And also concentrated, as per OtterB's Vorkosigan quote, because they are so very much themselves.

Does this post mean the Little Dude is gone?

#8 ::: Fred ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 07:37 PM:

Ave, Lucius.

#9 ::: Fred ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 07:40 PM:

Or rather, farewell.

#10 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 07:55 PM:

Sympathies here too. As I understand it, they average the same as most mammals -- about a billion heartbeats.

Or, to reach for the natural quote: "You lived what anybody gets, Bernie. You got a lifetime."

#11 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 08:23 PM:

And now I'm thinking of my late friend Bernie. Damn, but he did get a lifetime.

#12 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 08:38 PM:

Have you lost your current Joyful Rodent? I'm so sorry.

#13 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 08:51 PM:

Not long enough, that one. Ave atque vale, Lucius!

(Rats: two years, maybe more. More than enough time to learn their personalities and get attached.)

#14 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 09:06 PM:

While Lucius is growing old, he's still Teresa's Hammie and was alive and well when she posted this.

#15 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 09:18 PM:

David, #10: The version I like is from S.M. Stirling -- "A man* lives as long as he lives, and not a day more."

* It's a male character saying that, and generally to other men. But he'd be the first to agree that the same applies to a woman... or a hamster.

#16 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 09:18 PM:

"The light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long - and you have burned so very, very brightly."

#17 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 09:19 PM:

I kept zebra finches for a time. Very much the same sort of thing.

#18 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 09:20 PM:

No! Lucius is still alive! He's just very old. And may have diabetic tendencies. Or a kidney infection. (Details.) But this is something I've been thinking about for a long time now.

#19 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 09:24 PM:

Sorry for not realizing quite how elegiac I sounded. Thank you for your kindness. It will be applicable soon enough.

#20 ::: ChrisB ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 09:27 PM:

And how few goths will leave as beautiful a corpse? By which I mean one that would look good stuffed. Not that you probably plan to, of course.

#21 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 09:29 PM:

I know there was something in one of the Lazarus Long stories about relative life lengths, but I don't have copies anymore. Glad to hear Lucius is still with you!

#22 ::: Springtime for Spacers ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 09:37 PM:

I've never been convinced by the notion that elves don't bother much with humans just because of the difference in length of life. They may have plenty of other reasons but, just as we can get to know and become fond of other shorter lived lifeforms, and continue to do so despite the grief of outliving them, I can easily conceive of elves with a succession of human friends.

#23 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 09:58 PM:

Springtime for Spacers @22 Good point. But it's not hard to imagine some elves deciding that pleasure of human company isn't worth the pain of the repeated loss.

Janet Brennan Croft @21 I remember that, too, though not to quote. Lazarus also says something like, "When she died, I stopped wanting to live forever." That, of course, implies greater equality and devotion than one has to a hamster, however beloved.

Which, I suppose, raises the question of whether the elven reaction is to view the humans as fully their equal, and thus tragically short-lived, or view them with affection, but more as pets.

YEMV (Your Elf May Vary)

#24 ::: FaultyMemory ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 10:06 PM:

tnh@18 & 19:

I didn't realize until after I commented that the post could be anything other than elegiac. I fear I've miscast the entire tone of the thread. Oops.

(Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian, and this is not veterinary advice. No diagnosis can be made without seeing the animal. This is not a diagnosis.)

The symptoms you describe could also be consistent with chronic kidney failure, which wouldn't necessarily express lethargy or elevated temperature as a kidney infection might.

#25 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 10:11 PM:

Overclocked? So the guy with the long tufts on his shoulders --- those were cooling fins?

#26 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 10:16 PM:

re #22 I can easily conceive of elves with a succession of human friends.

I believe you're thinking of the Doctor.

#27 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 10:16 PM:

"You must leave her, brother. I was born 2,437 years ago. In that time I've had three wives. The last was Shakiko, a Japanese Princess... When Shakiko died I was shattered. I would save you that pain. Please, let Heather go."

#28 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 10:52 PM:

FaultyMemory #24, Well, ouch, I fell into your misinterpretation too. I'm sure my literalism is sprained. :-)

Teresa #18, #19: Well, good to know he's still going. As you say, soon enough. However interpreted, Death is known for his/her/it's patience.

#29 ::: ctate ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 01:39 AM:

ObSF, "Microcosmic God" by Theodore Sturgeon?

Also, grief stinks however it comes our way.

#30 ::: John D. Berry ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 02:00 AM: mean our fur is going to fade?!

(At the other end of the spectrum, what this reminds me of is "raising John Thomases.")

#31 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 02:35 AM:

My sympathies in advance...

...and the webcomic Shortpacked is currently in a storyline titled "The Death of Snkrs"; Snkrs is one of the hamsters of Amber, who works at Galasso's toy store with most of the rest of the cast. There's other things going on in the storyline, of course - David Willis' comics get incredibly back-story-full - but this one starts here:

(Spoilers: by now it has gotten past the actual death and we're dealing with followups.)


#32 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 02:59 AM:

Glad to hear the current joyful furball is still with you, Teresa. But this:

Thank you for your kindness. It will be applicable soon enough.

This made me go "Ouch." Nothing like a succession of small mammals to teach us how to mourn in advance, or at least to prepare for the inevitable mourning.

Kipling's poem about dogs breaking your heart comes to mind. But at least dogs (and cats) can give you a good couple decades if you're lucky. I wonder what Kipling would have said about rodents. (Maybe he *did* say something, and I just haven't read it yet.)

#33 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 03:02 AM:

Lucius does not live in dread. He may feel himself slowing, but he doesn't know about the stop at the end. May it neither come too soon nor too late, and may it be a gentle end.

#34 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 03:27 AM:

The hamsters grieve that we are so slow, that no single ham sees the entire span of its human's life.

Indeed, until they started organizing their data‡ they didn't realize that we had a lifecycle. They thought we were four (or five—it was hotly disputed±) separate species. They've since pieced together the complete biography and behavioral description of one human, based on observations in a family-owned pet store. Some of their assumptions are incorrect**, but it's broadly accurate§.

They think of us as creatures who walk in wheels rather than running in them.

‡ They do this in pet stores, by the way. At night the air is full of data exchanges among the small mammals*. This makes the turtles testy and the snakes hungry. The fish would be irritated, but they forget how long it's been going on.
± There are no flamewars like hamster flamewars.
** The relationship between food and bedding is just not the same for humans. In particular, though infants may chew on their cuddly toys, teddy bears are not midnight snacks.
§ and controversial±
* There's a colony of bats that has an oral tradition going back generations now, started by one of their number eavesdropping† in a pet store. It's turned into a complex saga of supra-Homeric proportions, but with substantially more sex.
† yes, you did see what I did there

#35 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 03:45 AM:

Every day, on my way to work, I used to pass a veterinary surgery with a name I couldn't help feeling could be seen as insensitive.

Vale Pets.

#36 ::: Chris Lawson ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 03:50 AM:

Dammit Serge, you beat me to that quote.

#37 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 04:03 AM:

Abi, maybe those bats can confer with the bats around Neil's place, especially the Lemon-Scented Sticky Bat. They'd probably get some interesting combined lore going.

#38 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 05:16 AM:

According to Stephen Jay Gould*, most mammals live about a billion heartbeats.

We do a bit better, at 3 billion, and live longer by the calendar than elephants with their bigger, slower hearts.

Bats do well, too.

It's all explained by a Just So story, like the Rhino's skin being all wrinkly after he put it back on that time.

* In one of those books what he wrote.

#39 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 06:22 AM:

tykewriter @ #35 writes: Vale Pets

Ouch. Reminds me of the retirement home in the eponymous Vernor Vinge novel Rainbows End.

#40 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 06:57 AM:

abi @34, thank you for that slightly-dizzying exercise in viewing things from a different perspective

#41 ::: Braxis ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 07:45 AM:

A couple of quotes from Lazarus:

A long time ago a short-lifer proved to me that we all live the same length of time.” He glanced at Minerva; she looked solemnly back. “Because we all live now. She—he—was not asserting that fallacy of Georg Cantor which distorted pre-Libby mathematics so long; uh, he—was asserting a verifiable objective truth. Each individual lives her life in now independently of how others may measure that life in years.


The more thoroughly I learned this— through living day on day with Dora—the happier I was and the more I ached in one corner of my mind with certain knowledge that this could be only a brief time too soon over—and when it was over, I did not marry again for almost a hundred years. Then I did, for Dora taught me to face up to death, too. She was as aware of her own death of the certain briefness of her life, as I was. But she taught me to live now, not to let anything sully today… until at last I got over the sadness of being condemned to live.

Asimov claimed in one of his science essays that all mammals, except for humans, lived for around a billion heartbeats. Humans managed to live for two or three times longer than this calculation would suggest. The lovely graphs and tables here suggest that he wasn't far off the mark,

#42 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 07:53 AM:

abi @34: that was great!

Loss is always a risk associated with love or caring - and much more likely/inevitable in our companions with shorter lifespans*. A little over seven years ago we got two littermate kittens and I was hoping we'd delight in their company for 15 or 20 years. Two years ago, one of them died suddenly while we were travelling (in the car, during a rest break). I spent some time expecting her sister to just drop dead as well, then realised all I could do was cherish the time we had together. That, and be really glad that, early in the morning before setting off on that journey, I'd made the time to give Sundae her usually morning "needy"** time.

*as measured in days/years.

** Definition: I need attention and I need it now.

#43 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 08:06 AM:

(Note that Niall @38 was still in gnome custody when Braxis @41 appeared, which is why we have two ab initio citations of the same factlet in the thread.)

#44 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 08:17 AM:

one of the hamsters of Amber

I believe that my initial interpretation of this phrase may have been incorrect. But it was _awesome_. Sure, it takes them a little longer to scurry the whole length of the Pattern, but...

#45 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 09:24 AM:

This is why I don't keep mice anymore, and I will never have rats or hamsters or gerbils. I can't take it.

Dogs and cats live barely long enough to make the pain of losing them worthwhile. I have a friend who loves Great Danes, which like many large breeds often live less than a decade; I think he's mad.

#46 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 09:36 AM:

I'm reminded of one of Diane Duane cat wizard books-- a human dies and her (sapient) cats are not just grieving but shocked-- it isn't supposed to happen that way.

#47 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 09:48 AM:

Carrie S: Dogs and cats live barely long enough to make the pain of losing them worthwhile.

I beg to differ.

Nine years ago this month, F and I adopted a pair of mature female cats (age estimated at 6-8; bad teeth and morbidly obese but otherwise healthy) from the local Cat and Dog sanctuary.

One of them is still with us. But about a month ago I had to take Frigg to the vet for what proved to be the final time. She was always a high maintenance cat (and a one man cat -- I was her food ape, and she never let anyone forget it); we got her weight down under veterinary guidance, but not in time to prevent her overladen joints from developing severe osteoarthritis in her tail and hindquarters and front left shoulder. About a year ago she became hypertensive and sprang two detached retinas (a common complication of hypertension in cats), but I'd seen it before and got her to the vet in time to save her vision. By this time she was on half a dozen medications and losing weight slowly -- but she'd always been a fussy eater. She un-toilet trained herself some time around August, then the weight loss accelerated.

In her last five days she lost 350 grams (equivalent to a human losing 15% of their body weight in a month) and her personality changed drastically. The vet's tentative diagnosis was colon cancer, and at 15-17 years old and in poor health she was too frail to face surgery. I will confess: I chickened out of staying with her for the final injection. But by then, she was already withdrawn and ignoring the humans fussing around her. I believe the pain killers (for the arthritis) probably kept the cancer from hurting too much until the very end.

I miss her more than my cousin, who died of cancer five years ago. But? We had nearly nine good years together. And when Mafdet (the survivor) finally checks out, we will grieve, and acquire kittens.

#48 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 10:19 AM:

Abi @ 34, may I just express my utter enchantment and delight at both the concepts underlying your comment and the multiply-footnoted execution?

David DeLaney @ 31 & chris @ 44, recently one of my partners dreamed that our gorgeously strong-willed tortoiseshell cat was following our other partner (who is her Person) through various universes in a way compatible with Pattern-based shadow-shifting. We've been joking since then that torties = redheads, though obviously if Amberite cats are fur-coded then tortoiseshell coat must not be caused by X chromosome inactivation.

#49 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 10:25 AM:

Elise @ 37, I could have sworn I'd heard that phrase before, and sure enough - there's a BPAL scent commemorating it.

#50 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 11:17 AM:

Have to agree on the cat-life front. I've had 4, all since reaching (my own) adulthood.

Thalia adopted me when she was 8 weeks old (she was supposed to be my roommate's). We had 16 years together and she was the first being in my life to love me that totally and unconditionally. She got me through pneumonia (I had to get out of bed to feed her and the other cat and therefore I would take my meds and feed myself. She didn't hate it too much when she lost my lap to pregnancy and she was fascinated by the end result. Lost her to kidney disease after much medication and IV fluids.

Alexis, who previously was Madeleine Robins's cat, shared my life when Madeleine and I were roommates. He and Thalia were soulmates. Though he was older and bigger, she bossed him around relentlessly (and he loved it). He came to live with me and Thalia fulltime due to health problems with the humans in Madeleine's household. He was, without a doubt, the sweetest cat I have ever known. Friendly to everyone, large, warm, and cheerful. Lost him only a couple of years after the move, at 16, to colon cancer. Thalia and I both mourned.

Minerva, adopted as a kitten, was a total PITA to me. But when my daughter was born, a year later, it was clear that this was what Minerva had been waiting for. She was my daughter's cat. Taught the kid to crawl (see, I'm sitting here, come pet me . . . oh, you moved, well, I'll move too--now come over here and pet me!), once the kid could talk, Minerva would let her hold onto the tip of her tail and lead her all over the apartment. Stupid, stupid cat--walked into walls when turning corners--clawed and nipped at me . . . but never at the baby. Lost her at 8 to diabetes, my daughter was heartbroken.

Now we have Alex, who came to us at 6ish (adult shelter rescue) and is now 13ish and 2 years into a diagnosis of kidney disease. He's doing very well (knock wood) and we hope to have more years with him, but I am well aware that the average lifespan of a domestic cat is 14 years. He's not a lap cat and doesn't like cuddles, but when he looks at me with that little kittenface (he's not a little kitten but he has this one sweet expression that reminds me of a kitten), I just melt.

8 years was really short.
16 years was somehow even shorter.

#51 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 11:22 AM:

Now I'm wondering if elves live so long because they have very slow metabolisms.

#52 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 11:42 AM:

The Just So story goes that birds and bats live longer than the average mammal their size because flying helps them avoid predators, so it's worth engineering them to live longer.

In this story, humans live longer than a deer of similar mass because we're not liable to be eaten by predators, owing to our tools, or our language, or our culture, use of fire or something else deer don't have.

What have elves got that makes them very unlikely to be eaten by predators?


#53 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 01:51 PM:

Niall McAuley @ 39:

The study of various kinds of scaling in biology is called allometric scaling theory, and it's been somewhat controversial in the last 10 or 15 years. The correlation between heartbeat and lifespan is especially controversial because the data scatters over such a wide range. Here's an article that analyzes the controvery, if you're interested.

#54 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 01:53 PM:
What have elves got that makes them very unlikely to be eaten by predators?

Disdain, arrogance, and magic swords.

#55 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 02:27 PM:

Re #54: And fanatical devotion to the Pope?

#56 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 02:28 PM:

Niall McAuley @ 52:

What have elves got that makes them very unlikely to be eaten by predators?


No, it's not magic, it's the pointy ears. They're like cactus needles and choke on the way down.

Also, there's not a lot of meat on them.
From Gnash Pounder's Traditional Cooking: "Pound for pound, both humans and dwarves will return a richer, juicier and far more tender meat than elves. According to the late Jewel Child-eater, 'Elf-meat is tough and stringy, and the long ropy muscles cling to the bone besides. I never use elf-meat for serious cooking, although the clan elders do enjoy the occasional treat of on-the-bone-jerky.'"

#57 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 02:39 PM:

Re cat lifespans: Cats that stay entirely indoors tend to live longer. My first 2 cats lived to reach 21 and 23. The former simply died in her sleep one day, after having been old and tired for a few years (as in, she had a sleeping pad in the bedroom, and only left it to visit the food and the litterbox); kidney failure got the latter. Of our current older cats, the oldest (age 13) is starting to look like an Old Cat, but the other 2 (ages 11 and 12) both still look to be in the prime of life, and aren't displaying any health problems.

#58 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 02:43 PM:

Our dog Lola is getting very close to the end of her days. She is larger than a hamster but smaller than most dogs; she has lived a good long time, about 19 years now. Still conscious a little bit of the time but unable to stand.

#59 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 02:44 PM:

"So, what are elves good for? "
- Weehawk in Bakshi's 'Wizards'

#60 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 03:40 PM:

abi 34: I can't help thinking this deserves a more elaborate writeup as a story. The ability to take an alien perspective is key, I think, to F&SF writing in particular, but actually to fiction in general, because each of us has only one brain and only one lifetime of experience.

But then I used to write these little vignettes myself. Shorter and less thoughtful than yours, in fact. Like the kid who was raised on a space station visiting a planet for the first time, who commented that he had to pretend the sky was just a really large blue dome to get by, that he grabbed for the nearest fixed object whenever the wind blew, and that, since chicken tasted just like artificial vat protein anyway, he couldn't understand why anyone would put up with such filthy creatures.

Also, this reminded me of something Anne Laurie Logan once told me, which is that cats cannot comprehend why humans, having devised a method of keeping a bowl of water continually refreshed, then pee in the bowl.

tykewriter 35: They split with Ave Atque Pets, and foolishly divided the name. Or perhaps it's a pet sematary.

dcb 42: Loss is always a risk associated with love or caring

The Dark Aphrodite, using the mouth of a friend of mine, once told me (and others; it wasn't just at me) that this is not a risk but a price. "If you love, you will mourn," she said, "because all relationships end in either separation or death. The only ones who escape this are those who die young." Two things about that: one, 'young' means "before anyone you care about dies," and two, hamsters seldom mourn (at least for this cause).

Mary Aileen 51: In a D&D campaign I ran in decades ago, the Elves didn't so much have a slower metabolism as a slower timesense. Raising children was much less of a burden because 20 years or so just wasn't that big a chunk of a ~2000-year lifetime, but if you told a mixed group of Elves and Humans that the entire area they're in would be blown to hell with nuclear weapons at some random point in the next 20 minutes, the Humans would get out in time and the Elves would not.

#61 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 04:33 PM:

#52 ::: Niall McAuley

The version of the Just So story I heard (or possibly amplified on my own) was that anything which makes a creature less likely to be a prey animal increases longevity-- so, flight, intelligence, largeness, armor, poison, living in groups.

#62 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 04:51 PM:

I wonder how, exactly, Harry Turtledove's vampire hamsters (Adventure of the Toxic Spelldump) would function. Given the shortness of hamster lives, predation by the hamster undead must be particularly wearing.

#63 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 04:56 PM:

Springtime for Spacers @22: and, TimeLords....

#64 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 05:52 PM:

Xopher HalfTongue @ 60: Yes, I know. It's why I emphasise enjoying the time Freya and I do have together, giving her her needy time etc.

#65 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 06:03 PM:

dcb, that wasn't so much directed specifically at you as jumping on the word 'risk' to make the larger point. Sorry.

#66 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2011, 07:42 PM:

"It is fearful to love that which is touched by death."

#67 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 12:54 AM:

Xopher @ 60: "If you love, you will mourn," she said, "because all relationships end in either separation or death. The only ones who escape this are those who die young."



#68 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 12:56 AM:

Tykewriter @ 35: Somewhere near where my mother-in-law lives there is an institution which describes itself as an 'Ecole Prive de Beaute'.

#69 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 04:13 AM:

Xopher HalfTongue @65: That's okay. My reply was meant to emphasise my point about making the most of the time you have together, not taking it for granted. After all, what's the point in having cats, for example, if you're not prepared to give them five or ten minutes attention when they need it a couple of times a day?

Too many of my animals have died when I wasn't there, hadn't had a chance to say goodbye (mainly because they were at my parents' house and I was at university or whatever). Now I always say goodbye to my animals before going away - just in case. And if I hadn't given Sundae her "needy" time that last morning (when we were trying to leave the house before 6 am), my lasting memory would be regret and guilt.

#70 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 08:18 AM:

Abi @34, if all their observations are petshop-based, they must imagine that at night when they don't see us, we go running off through the underbrush, finding food and stuffing it in our pockets.

I sometimes wonder whether evolution, which made Syrian hamsters obligate solitaries, made them like being solitary. I'm not sure it did. As long as their territory isn't threatened, they're remarkably amiable, even friendly creatures that can get along with anything except another rodent. Maybe we ease their loneliness.

Niall McAuley @52:

"What have elves got that makes them very unlikely to be eaten by predators?"
I think it was when we were driving through Belgium that Abi told us about some mad epic Ukranian work of LOTR fanfic that's told from the Orcish point of view. It cites the Dead Marshes as proof of elves' evilness: nothing will eat a dead elf.

Fragano @62: Hamsters would make good vampires. They've already got the fangs for it, and I can vouch for their ability to draw blood. It would be interesting to see how cunning and sneaky an evil hamster could become if it had more than a two-year lifespan.

#71 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 08:34 AM:

TNH @70:
if all their observations are petshop-based, they must imagine that at night when they don't see us, we go running off through the underbrush, finding food and stuffing it in our pockets.

I was assuming a certain quantity of household hamsters returned to pet shops, either for breeding or like Lucius was. They could provide some insight into the nighttime habits of the humans. ("They're quiet the whole night! Well, they snore, but you know what I mean. They just lie there.")

The main purpose of the pet shop for hamster science is as an informational clearinghouse. Combine that frequency of recording and analysis with a stable population of humans (thus, a family-owned one) to observe over multiple generations of hamsters, and you can build up a fairly complete picture.

I suspect small-animal vets will also have information streams, albeit patchier ones. But the biggest problem with the model is that most of the hamsters who leave pet shops to collect data on the human world don't return to report. That's an immeasurable loss, which has impoverished hamster scientists enormously.

I think it was when we were driving through Belgium that Abi told us about some mad epic Ukranian work of LOTR fanfic that's told from the Orcish point of view.

It was. The book is The Last Ring-Bearer, by Kiril Yeskov, and I was mistaken if I asserted he's Ukranian. He's Russian.

Must finish it. Got sidetracked by Patrick O'Brian, for all love.

#72 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 08:56 AM:

Teresa @ 70... Hamsters would make good vampires


#73 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 09:09 AM:

Serge @72 Vampsters?


#74 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 09:34 AM:

OttherB... Not hampers?

#75 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 10:19 AM:

TNH @70: They stinks. He can't wash the smell of his hands, my nice hands.

#76 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 10:24 AM:

So Elves are absolutely rank, so nasty that no animal will touch their dead bodies. Why don't people notice? Glamour.

Why is Sméagol immune to elf glamour? Years of possessing the Ring, maybe.

#77 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 11:39 AM:

I am struggling to find the perfect bon mot to address this relevant article. (Read past the picture; feel free to click through to the Daily Fail article. They really published it.)

But the words. They fail me.

#78 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 11:48 AM:

abi @77. Oh, dear.

Having some passing familiarity with research turned into popular press, I suspect the stupidity is the work of journalists and not of the original researchers.

(When we hired some PR people to help us get wider exposure for results of an annual survey, my boss described their first sensationalized pass as "grotesque.")

It's not a stupid piece of research to do. It's stupid to present it as descriptive of humans. The picture is, of course, the last straw.


#79 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 11:55 AM:

abi @ 78: If the Mail has hereby prevented any number of its readers from irresponsibly putting the moves on immature hamsters, surely it has done the world a benefit.

What the perceived need says about its editors' opinion of their core audience is a different question, but the obvious answer is nothing I haven't suspected before.

#80 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 12:12 PM:

Do hamsters mark their territory the way canids and felids do? If so, there's a mechanism for communicating information about humans between hamsters without direct contact. That would be especially useful at the vet, I would think.

#81 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 01:10 PM:

I'm trying to find the report on the actual research, which I saw go by on (IIRC) ScienceDaily a couple days ago; the summary was roughly that sex before the brain's emotional centers completed maturing caused long-lasting changes to some brain structures. (more direct link) I don't see a link to the actual research though (quick trawling of the Neuroscience 2011 site suggests anything beyond abstracts is only available to attendees).

(The test subjects were hamsters. Maybe this is in the wrong thread. :)

#82 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 01:11 PM:

(belay that last, I thought this was in the OT. need moar sleeeep)

#83 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 02:11 PM:

geekosaur #81: While it sounds like a perfectly good experiment, it's a classic example of findings that shouldn't be publicized too widely, because it's preliminary work on a fairly remote animal model, touching on hot-button issues. As we see, that exposes such findings to serious misinterpretation and/or recruitment to various agendas.

First thought: Given that hamsters do have heat with pheromones involved, there should have been a control group which was exposed to females in heat, but not allowed to mate.

Second thought: Human development is known to be anomalously extended compared to other mammals, and for us, sex in adolescence is by no means unusual -- in most societies, not even abnormal. Findings of this type aren't even suggesting potential abnormalities, so much as variations within the existing spectrum of diversity.

#84 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 03:33 PM:

The Daily Mail is the right-wing asshole paper, right? So they probably published this out of malice, not stupidity, though of course there's a law that applies ("any sufficiently advanced stupidity...").

#85 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 03:34 PM:

We recently had a scare with the older of our two cats. She got a horrendous case of fleas, and a cold, and started having problems with hard food (due to tooth loss) all at the same time, and dropped a fair amount of weight in the space of a week. Poor Circe was pretty miserable for awhile until the Advantage killed all the fleas and the baby nose drops helped her clear out her sinuses. Now, we've added soft food to her daily diet, and her pink Buddha belly's coming back, as well as her energy... but it was a shock, suddenly remembering that she's 12 and getting no younger. And although she loves everyone (and you're next!), she's ultimately a Daddy's cat, and my husband had several near-breakdowns wondering if she was going to pull through.

The amount of grief at their loss is directly proportional to the love they bring, and to deny the grief denies the love. That was the mantra that pulled us both through the death of one of our younger cats, a bouncy flouncy floofy orange cat named Tiggar.

#86 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 06:09 PM:

Xopher @84: The Daily Mail is the right-wing asshole paper, right?

Naah, it's just one of them. Nicknamed the "Daily Heil", it lies somewhat to the right of Murdoch's "The Sun" (the Sunday edition of which, "The News of the World", was shut down with extreme prejudice not too long ago for embarrassing the Dirty Digger), but somewhere to the left of the "Daily Express".

"The Daily Telegraph" in contrast is a right-wing broadsheet slightly to the right of "The Times" (note definite article: it is not "The Times of London": it is timeless and universal), both of which are somewhat to the left of "The New York Times".

#87 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 06:10 PM:

Bruce Cohen @80: Do hamsters mark their territory the way canids and felids do? If so, there's a mechanism for communicating information about humans between hamsters without direct contact. That would be especially useful at the vet, I would think.

Well, guinea pigs certainly do. I've got gnawed spots all over the legs of my wood furniture. The usual interpretation is that they're gnawing to wear down their teeth, but I don't buy it. First off, it's usually just a couple of bites. And secondly, they tend to gnaw where others have gnawed, and inexplicably leave other places entirely alone.

I've actually speculated that there is some sort of scent-marking going on. Might be as simple as detecting the unique scent of someone else's saliva. There might also be specialized scent/olfactory glands in the mouth. (Cats and horses certainly have olfactory glands you can see them using when they "gape.")

I also wonder about the gnaw-marks themselves. If you take a really close look, they have a remarkably glyphic character to them. Guinea pigs don't pay much visual attention to anything close or below the level of their eyes. (Their vision is all about detecting predators or the possibility of predators.) But they have exquisitely sensative touch on their lips. (Watching one scratch-and-sniff an interesting scent is hilarious and fascinating.) So I wonder if it is, in addition to chemical communications, some sort of tactile code, like Braille.

And I know for a fact that they pass information around between them; no specific examples come to mind, but there have been numerous times when guinea pig A, who lives over on the south-east side of the room, starts exhibiting behavior previously demonstrated only by guina pig B who lives in the north-west cage. Kinda spooky, actually.

Leaving spoor at the vet's offic would be tricky, but only if you're assuming that they're only in conversation with their own species. Addl'y, the vet's coat and tech's scrubs would make for marvelous chemical bulletin boards, I would think.

#88 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 06:14 PM:

Oh yeah, and rats! One of the things you have to learn to deal with, if you're owned by rats, particularly females, is getting daubed continually with little drops of pee. I get the sense that it's less about marking territory, as with dogs, than it is about ongoing status reporting, as with ants.

#89 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 10:03 PM:

Jay & Lynn did a classic brief overview of which British newspaper is which, but that was in 1987 and not being local I'm not sure how accurate it still is.

#90 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 10:06 PM:

Abi @ 34, that is a thing of beauty. *applause*

#91 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 10:37 PM:

So how would a mad scientist slow down a hamster to make it last longer? Little downers? Refrigerated environment? A small TV set showing bad sitcoms to make time slow down?

#92 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2011, 11:14 PM:

Kip, there are calcium channel blockers that slow down the heart. I was on one for years, before the cardiologists told me no, your heart won't wear out faster because it runs too fast.

I'm sure they wouldn't be approved for hamsters, though.

#93 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2011, 10:08 AM:

Charlie Stross @ 86: We nickname it the "Daily Hate"

#94 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2011, 11:36 AM:

dcb @ #93 The "free" newspaper that is produced by the Daily Mail is apparently known as "The two minute hate", not just because that's how long it takes to read it.

#95 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2011, 03:14 PM:

A.J. Luxton @49 - Yep, they are, and I got to play a tiny part in helping that happen. I was messaging back and forth with Beth of BPAL, talking about I-can't-remember-what, and made an offhand joke about a Lemon Scented Sticky Bat scent. Beth replied that she would make that one in a red-hot minute if Neil gave her permission. I sent back a note that I was actually on my way to Neil's house right then, and did she want me to ask him? Neil said sure, on the condition that the story in full was kept with the perfume sales post.

Spear-carrier to the perfume and literature stars, yup! It's a darn fine gig.

#96 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2011, 01:41 AM:

Glad to hear Lucius is still with us. Too many of my family and friends have lost pets recently. Not to mention human friends and family who have passed away or been seriously ill; there was a spate of that last spring.

Later today will be the funeral of my brother-in-law's mother; she was 95. Not exactly overclocked, but she always complained thatt the "assisted living" home she lived in the last few years was full of old people. She never thought of herself as one. Rest in peace, Eleanor!

#97 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2011, 09:40 AM:

Abi @71: I am blown away. The first fifteen chapters of The Last Ringbearer have been amazing -- an epic piece of worldbuilding, with just enough story to keep the camera moving. Too bad the Tolkien estate are such bastards. Judging from what I've read so far, it arguably should be legal to publish it, but of course the estate won't care about that.

Thank you! I will now do my best to forget it exists, so I can get some work done today.

#98 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2011, 04:13 PM:

Teresa @97:

I am trying to keep my mouth under control, but my lips keep escaping into this smug grin at having supplied you with something you enjoy.

#99 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 05:02 PM:

I decided long ago to have cats in parallel, after taking two kittens to the vet but coming home with only one. As the youngest cat gets to be about 8, another kitten shows up. Right now, my cats are in someone else's custody, but they are 10 and 8, with another 2 year old cat living there, keeping the sequence going. The oldest cat in the household is about 16.

With regards to loving and mourning, do not deny me joy just to save me pain. The price is not one I want to pay.

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