Shaking dogs: It’s Physics!

There are lots of neat slow-motion videos of dogs shaking. But this one is probably the best. Why? Because it features David Hu, a mechanical engineer from Georgia Tech, who explains his research on shaking dogs AND how that research can be applied to all sorts of things ranging from solar panels, to cameras, to planetary rovers (OMG, this pun just made itself 😀 ).

The video is 2 minutes long. Don’t let the mouse in the first frame deceive you, it’s about dogs. It really is full of adorable shaking dogs.


This is a great example of scientific research with applications that wouldn’t, at least immediately, come to mind for most of us.

To some people, research on dogs seems wasteful.

But, research on canine health has resulted in huge improvements human health and human medicine. And David Hu’s research on shaking dogs, a topic that at first glance seems whimsical and even silly, could someday help us humans explore other planets.

Shaking dog

Thanks buddy!

Reentry after an extended​ RV trip: Do turtles get homesick?

At 22 I was finishing up my undergraduate degree and itching to see the world. I needed to get off the Canadian Prairies, away from Saskatoon where I was going to school, and escape any and all things related to farming. So, I bought a good pair of shoes, a backpack, and a plane ticket and was off to eat my way across Europe.

chocolate-croissant-illyI devoured curry and toured the Tower of London, nibbled Pain au Chocolat after climbing the Eiffel Tower, picnicked with a grey-eyed man on the Piazza San Marco and then we strolled arm in arm along Venice’s canals. I gorged on goulash and spaetzle before retiring to Budapest’s Roman Baths, snacked on Sachertorte after seeing The Magic Flute at the Vienna Volksoper, and drank beer under Munich’s Glockenspiel. And, I wallowed in homesickness as powerful as it was unexpected. I would never have predicted that the best part of that trip would be returning home.

Johannes Hofer combined the Greek words for homeward journey, ‘nostos,’ and ache, ‘algos,’ to give us ‘nostalgia,’ which originally meant, quite literally, ‘homesickness.’ He coined the term to describe an illness rampant among Swiss mercenary soldiers in France who were incapacitated by a melancholic yearning for their mountain homes.

My travels always ended with nostalgia, until now.

If it weren’t for the brutal facts that winter is coming, and that I need to, eventually, show up at work to get money for gas, beer, groceries, and campground fees, I would have happily kept on trucking. Not for a single second did I ache for home.

Milo and I in our travel trailer—like turtles, our home was always with us. And I realized that, for me, home is where the puppy is.

Black and tan german shepherd laying at an open door

Dump Station Diaries

I understand the urge to squeeze every possible moment out of a weekend camping. Lots of families roll into a campground on Friday night and check out at the last possible minute on Sunday.

That’s a lot of people leaving at the same time. The last stop for most RVers before heading home is the park dump station, which means that around checkout time on Sunday there is always, always, a line. If there are ten RV’s in front of you, you’ll be hanging out, at the sewer, for an hour waiting your turn.

There’s a difference between knowing something and really knowing something. You really know about the campground sewer bottleneck once you’ve been stuck in it. The last time I was in a bathroom line this long was when I went to see The Who.

a curved driveway in a field of green grass and pine trees, with three white travel trailers hooked up to family trucks.

You can’t see the whole line because it is curved, it is longer than it looks here, my truck is the blue one pulling the Sportsmen.


For me it wasn’t actually that bad –I just gave Milo a chew toy, pulled out a book, and put on some music. There weren’t any fires I needed to put out.

But, some of those vehicles were full of tired families. That had to be a long, long wait for those parents of colicky babies and sunburned kids who wouldn’t stay on their side of the bench seat and whose bladders were filling up as the minutes ticked by.

So, here’s a piece of advice. If check out time is 11 AM, don’t show up at the dump station between 10 and noon on a Sunday. While you have to be out of your campsite by 11, you can stay in the park all day. Why not leave the site and have a picnic lunch before hitting the dump station?

I don’t really care about the line, this is just some friendly advice for families. I could see the will to live gradually seep out of parents as they waited to deal with their kids’ sewage, for the second time, and that is no way to end a camping trip.

 

 

MacGregor Point Provincial Park: Yurts and how to say “Hi” to Milo

The two women were striding through the campground, their walking sticks swinging. When Milo caught their eye they swung around to say hello. “Here we go,” I thought as I prepared myself to politely keep them at bay. So many, too many, people feel entitled to walk right up and pet Milo, and he is not cool with that sort of direct approach. But to my pleasant surprise, these women knew exactly how to charm my boy: ignore him entirely and chat with me.

The short one said, “I’m Teresa. You can remember that because everyone knows Mother Teresa. Although,” she chuckled, “I am no mother.”

And the tall one swept a hand out to the side, “I’m Helen,” and sweeping it back to her chest continued, “Helen of Troy.”

I guess they’d been tent camping together every summer for forever but being in their 70’s tents were not as comfortable as they once were. So, Teresa and Helen were spending the week in one of MacGregor Point Provincial Park’s yurts.

They invited Milo and me to check out the wonders of yurt living. Their yurt was clean and spacious with comfortable beds, electricity, and a heater. It also had a covered deck and a propane barbeque, a good one. The place was nice enough to keep even a picky neatnik happy.

good lightI had Milo in a sit-stay while we chatted and they told me they would be happy to meet him if they could. So, I invited Milo to say hello. By this time he was feeling left out, and he immediately walked up and sniffed their pant legs while they continued to ignore him. When he started poking at their hands with his gigantic nose they gave him a nice chin rub and thanked him for being such a good dog. Well, that got him prancing around with smiles and doggy wiggles, and after that, they were all good friends. For the rest of the week, whenever Milo caught sight or scent of Teresa or Helen, his ears perked up, and he insisted that we go over and say hello.

Milo gets to choose who he greets. If you want him to choose you, you have to play it cool and let him make the first move. If you play your cards right, you just might end up with a first-rate doggy friend!

 

MacGregor Point Provincial Park: Beautiful sunsets​ over Lake Huron

Milo and I spent a week at MacGregor Point Provincial Park. It was the last stop of our trip.

setting sun over lake huron

Some quick facts:

  • The campgrounds are about as close to perfect as I’ve seen on this trip with sites carved into shady little nooks and crannies in the forest.
  • The park store is well stocked and sells ice cream—I can report that mint chocolate chip, black cherry, and vanilla praline are all tasty.
  • MacGregor has excellent hiking paths through the forest and along the shore of Lake Huron.
  • The evening views at Sunset Point are spectacular. Milo and I walked there every night.

sunset silouette

 

Who’s got four paws and a CKC Novice Rally Obedience Title?

THIS GUY!

12

 

We arrived early and got a good spot in the corner. This is where we hung out between runs, and where Milo rested while I walked the courses and chatted with the other hoomins.

boy's home

Milo, chilling out between runs.

 

Can you believe that he earned all this bling? I might have to make a quilt or something.bling c

 

And here is my angel from heaven barely resisting tearing off this his ribbons.

bling a

I am very proud of my boy! ❤

 

It takes me longer to hitch up my RV when someone is watching: On the psychology of being a solo woman traveller

An audience can make anyone nervous. When I was in school, I had no trouble solving math problems with a pencil and paper, but when the teacher asked me to work one on the blackboard, my brain turned into pudding. I suffered from stage fright, and the fear of looking stupid in front of other people made it nearly impossible to think.

girls can't what?But, in addition to this everyday kind of stage fright, people can face extra challenges doing their best work. Psychologists have identified  Stereotype Threat as one of those challenges.  Stereotype Threat can occur when a person is performing a task that has the potential to reinforce negative stereotypes about their group.

When triggered, Stereotype Threat makes people perform less well than they would have otherwise. And sadly, it is very easy to trigger. Being the only member of your group in a room or filling out a survey that asks about your gender before taking a test can do it.

I hypothesize that when people watch me hitch up my trailer, I screw up more than usual because, in addition to stage fright, I experience stereotype threat.

Hooking up a trailer is a gendered activity (it is associated with men), and people seem to expect women to be bad at it.

In my three months of camping

  • I never saw another woman do this task.
  • Women and men often expressed surprise when they saw me doing this task. I got questions like “Did you level it yourself?”
  • Men walking by regularly offered to help me.
  • Women walking by never offered to help me.
  • Some women walking by offered to go get their husbands so their husbands could help me.
  • Sometimes people just stared at me while I hitched my trailer up.

Granted, some of them could have been wondering about a person doing this on their own; another set of eyes would have made it easier. But, I strongly suspect that people would have been less fascinated by a guy doing this on his own than by a woman doing it on her own.

When people watched me hitch up my trailer I felt very aware of being a woman. In fact, the only time on this trip when I felt so conscious of identifying as a woman was when an obnoxious drunk guy stumbled onto my campsite and started giving me grief. I need to thank my German Shepherd, Milo, for his support in that situation.

Hitching up my trailer in front of an audience seems like a ‘perfect’ situation for stereotype threat to do its thing.

It’s weird that it took me months to figure this out because I study women and minorities in science and engineering, and in that context stereotype threat is A. Big. Deal.

And I wish I’d noticed this sooner because there are things a person can do to protect themselves (and the people around them) from experiencing stereotype threat.

I could have:

  • spent some time on a women RVers facebook group to remind myself that even though I didn’t see them, there are lots of women who can do this chore
  • reminded myself of women who had exemplary mechanical abilities
  • reminded myself that I was actually really good at this task
  • reminded myself that everyone has trouble attaching the weight distribution bars sometimes.

Research shows that all of these things could have helped me reduce my experience of Stereotype Threat, and that would have made being a solo woman RVer more fun!

Michele Mouton

What would champion French Rally Driver Michele Mouton do?

Here’s a link explaining how you can reduce the effects Stereotype Threat. Some of the advice is about how to help ourselves, and some of it is about how to protect the people around us–great information for parents, teachers, managers, and anyone who loves someone who might be hurt by Stereotype Threat.

And, here’s a link to an article about the 10 most successful women race car drivers ever. 

From now on when I hitch up my trailer, and someone is watching I’ll ask myself WWMMD? What would Michele Mouton do?