Do Cats Love Water?

None of our cats drinks water the same way. Simon prefers to drink from the toilet. Max likes to drink from the sink — and from the faucet, if it’s running. Nemo drinks from the “kitty fountain” we bought for the spoiled brats. So does Toto, but apparently she doesn’t know how to do it right. Every time she uses the fountain, she comes away with a wet head.

Despite her wet head, Toto has nothing on this cat, who may be the world’s most inefficient drinker:

That’s Kris’ favorite video lately. She can watch it over and over, laughing the whole time. She shows it to friends and family. I admit it’s funny stuff. But there are other cats who are goofy with water. For example, here’s a cat just hanging around in the bathtub:

Here’s a cat content to lounge in a sink full of water:

Here’s a cat in the shower!

And as a cat, what do you do when you’re done playing in the water? You have your human give you a blow-dry, of course:

Cats are so goofy…

1000 Days of Doubt

I think I’ve figured out one reason writing this book is so tough for me. It’s because I’m wracked by self-doubt.

This self-doubt isn’t new. I’ve been struggling with it for years, and it’s just become more acute since I started Get Rich Slowly. I never set out to be a personal finance expert. In fact, I’m sort of the opposite of an expert. I’m an average guy who’s made a lot of mistakes. Sure, I’ve turned things around and that’s what I blog about, but I struggle with the idea that people expect me to know more than I do (or have more training than I do).

And so every day at Get Rich Slowly, I brace myself for failure. A part of me thinks, “This is the day. Today everyone will realize that I don’t know what I’m talking about, that I’m just a regular joe.” I wake up every morning expecting to find tons of negative comments about whatever it is I’ve written. (Or whatever my guest writers have written.)

For over three years — for over a thousand days — I’ve wrestled with daily doubt.

Kris has tried to talk some sense into me. So has Lauren, my wellness coach. “You don’t claim to be anything but a regular guy,” they say. “Nobody expects you to be an expert.”

Lauren tries to trace my thought process. “Did the blog collapse today? Yesterday? At any time over the past three years? Why should today be any different? How can you look at a thousand days of success and still expect to fail?”

I don’t know, but every day I do. I think that today will be the day that I fail.

“And if you do fail today, so what?” she asks.

Anyhow, the thousand days of doubt at the blog is one beast. I understand it. I know that it rears its ugly head every night before I go to bed, and that I tackle it head on every morning when I check to be sure everything’s okay. It’s a daily cycle — one that I know by heart.

But the book…the book takes this doubt and fear of failure to whole new levels. At least with the blog, I get immediate feedback. If I say something stupid, people let me know. If I stumble on something that resonates with readers, I can see it right away. I’m able to make constant course corrections. Not so with the book.

As I write it, my audience for the manuscript is small: Kris, my editor, two tech reviewers, and occasional folk that I let read a chapter for whatever reason. This is a tiny tiny sample size. And they’re looking at work I did days or weeks (or months!) ago. I have no chance to make course corrections.

And so every day I sit down to write the book, I drown in doubt:

  • Does money really bring happiness? What if I have my facts wrong?
  • Should I really be defining S.M.A.R.T. goals, or does everybody know them?
  • Should I include a detailed budget, or is it okay to cover the general idea?
  • Am I giving too much detail about frugality? Not enough?
  • What the hell should I write about banking?

It’s true that I’m proud of a few chapters (happiness, which required a lot of research; debt, which summarizes my philosophy on the subject and contains lots of useful resources; income, which came out much better than I’d planned), but I also loathe a few, as well (frugality, which is so damn big!; banking, which started fine, but which seems incoherent to me now).

Every day, my stomach is tied in knots as I start to write. Will I do this subject justice? Have I included enough useful tips for the readers? There’s so much to cover — what if I leave out the wrong stuff?

In the end, I have to trust my editor. She’s been awesome so far, and she provides an excellent sounding board. She puts up with my neurotic angst (as does Kris, who is earning a million wife points through this whole process). And I have to admit to myself:

I’m doing the best I can considering the circumstances.

What more could I possibly do? If my best isn’t good enough, there’s nothing that can be done, right? So, if I’m doing my best, why worry? But I know that tomorrow I’ll wake again filled with doubt.

Face-Off with a Deadly Predator

True to my word, I’m here to bring you another story of animal intelligence. Lisa sent me a story of animal semi-intelligence yesterday, but this one’s more what I have in mind when I think of the subject. It’s all about a National Geographic photographer coming face-to-face with a deadly predator:

I love stories about inter-species communication, and there’s no doubt that’s what’s occurring here. The best part, though, is when other animals consider humans the stupid ones.

Cats Cats Cats. And More Cats.

So, I suspect most of you have already seen this fun YouTube clip of the ninja cat who seems to move without moving (if you get my drift):

Well, here’s a follow-up that shows the same cat’s ninja secrets:

It’s been a while since I gave an update on my own feline companions. Let’s examine each in turn:

Simon
Simon Loves Kris' Lap

Simon has become a mellow lug. He’s about seven now, and though he still enjoys Outside, he’d almost prefer to stay in most days. He’s quite fond the clothes basket. In fact, Kris has created a basket of clothes just for Simon. She even washes them once they get too furry. Simon loves cereal milk. That cat is spoiled.

Max
Max is Very Serious

Max, however, is convinced that he’s meant to live Outside. He comes in to say “hello”, but then he wants right back out. He even stays out many nights. I’m paranoid that he’s going to get run over. We have a very low traffic street, but Max takes unnecessary risks. He doesn’t look before crossing — which he does often — but just darts across. Max loves human food of all sorts. That cat is spoiled.

Nemo
Nemo

I used to think Nemo was lame. In fact, I still think he’s pretty lame. But I’ve decided that I’m underestimating him. He’s a much better hunter than I give him credit for, that’s for sure. He’s kind of a jerk, too, though. For whatever reason, he’s decided that the best thing in the world is to beat up Max. We came down one morning last week to discover tufts of grey fur floating around the floor. But Nemo’s favorite thing is to curl in Kris’ lap while she watches Edwardian costume dramas. That cat is spoiled.

Toto
Toto and TS

Toto is basically a giant hairball. She licks herself constantly, which she has to do because she’s always shedding. I’m surprised she has any fur left. She spends most of her day on the bed when we let her, which isn’t often because she throws up a hairball once or twice a week. Toto’s favorite thing in the whole world are the three “greenies” cat snacks that Kris gives her before bed every night. Then we turn out the lights and she cuddles up between us, purring like crazy. That cat is spoiled.

And that, my friends, is all the cat news I can spare. Now I need to get back to writing my book!

Is There a Generation Gap in Saving?

I’m old-school: I went to the bank to make a deposit today. (I make most of my deposits in person, inside the branch.) While I waited, I chatted with the teller, whom I know from many previous visits. “I’m writing a book about money,” I told him. “What’s the one thing you wish you could tell people about banking?”

Save!” he said. He told me there’s a huge generation gap between savers and spenders. “The people who save are generally older. They don’t look like they have money, but they do. They’ve got a ton in their savings account and they chase the best CD rates. But the reason they have money is because they didn’t spend it when they were younger. They’ve been able to let it grow.”

“And that’s not what kids today are doing?” I asked.

“No way,” he said. “The young people I see spend all their money. They’re trying to impress their friends. They buy all this new stuff. Their bank balances are always low. They’re not going to have money saved like the older generation does.”

Then he gave me another great example. “There are people who come in here and you can see why they have money. You look at their account history, and the only thing that comes out is the big stuff, like their mortgage or their utilities. There aren’t a lot of $5 or $6 transactions.”

I laughed and said, “I’ll bet most people have tons of little stuff.”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “It’s all little stuff. But it’s that little stuff that kills you. That’s what will make it so you don’t have anything saved when you’re older.”

Before I left, I asked him if he had any tips or tricks I should put in my chapter on banking. We talked about a couple of ideas, and then he came up with something moderately clever (though it applies to just a few people): “If you’re going to overdraw your account,” he said. “Do it all at once.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, let me give you an example. The other day, a lady called me to complain about overdraft fees. She’d been hit with a bunch of them at the same time. But when I looked at her transactions, I couldn’t believe it. She’d gone to the same grocery store four times on the same day, so she was hit with four overdraft fees. If she’d just gone once, she’d still have overdrawn her account — but only once.”

The teller also mentioned that nobody seems to know their bank balance anymore. “They don’t use a check register,” he said, “so they have to call to ask how much they have. But the problem is that what we show you have and what you actually have can be two very different things. It can take up to a week for some transactions to show up. You should track your spending, and not just trust what the ATM says.”

I thanked the teller — who looks like he’s 25, by the way — and left.

I wonder if it’s true that there’s a generation gap in saving. Has the older generation always saved? Or did they start out trying to impress their friends, too? I feel like I’m at a middle point, moving from the “spend to impress” mode of operating to a “who cares what other people think?” way of life. The latter is more liberating and it helps my bank balance.

I’m going to try to find time to interview my neighbor for my book’s banking chapter. I think she’s a manager at a nearby bank. I’d be curious to see what advice she has for people. But really, it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of fancy things you can do with a bank account. As long as you’re saving, you’ve shopped around for a good account, and you’re not afraid to ask to have fees waived, I think you’re golden!

Workaholic

Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a lazy young man who did a whole lot of nothing. And loved it. He did as little work as possible, and spent his free time doing even less.

Then one day that young man grew up to find that he actually enjoyed doing some kinds of work. So he worked. And then he worked some more. In time he found that he was no longer lazy, but something of a workaholic. In fact, at times he didn’t know how to relax.

That young man is me, of course. After experiencing both ends of the spectrum, I’m pleased to report that after 40+ years of life, I’ve finally come to appreciate balance. That doesn’t help me much right now, though. At the moment, I’m in one of the most intense work periods of my life!

All I can say is that I’m grateful for how understanding Kris has been over the past month. She’s essentially resigned herself to the fact that I eat, breathe, and sleep The Book. I do my best to take a day or two off every week, but even then I’m not really In the Moment. I’m thinking about The Book. And when I’m actually working? Well, I got up at 5:30 this morning, thought about The Book for an hour or so, was at my office writing by 7am, and now it’s 9pm and I’m heading home.

The sad thing is that despite this mad level of productivity, I’m unsatisfied with what I’ve produced. Kris and Michael tell me it’s good, but I’m not convinced. I wish I had a month for each chapter, not a week. I don’t feel it’s possible to produce quality at this pace.

Still, I’m doing the best I can. And my editor is great. I have to put my faith in her, trusting that she won’t steer me wrong.

Mostly, though, I keep reminding myself that this will be all done by New Year. When it’s over, I’ll be able to return to that life of balance once again: walking, reading, writing, and spending time with friends.

Sounds wonderful.

Animal Intelligence

I keep meaning to use the new Foldedspace as a replacement for the dormant (defunct?) Animal Intelligence, but never seem to make the time to do it. Let’s remedy that situation starting today, shall we?

A little background
I believe that the birds and beasts are smarter than most people credit, that they’re capable of leading rich emotional lives.

I do not believe that animals possess human intelligence. That is not to say that humans are smarter (though this may be true), but that each type of animal has its own thought processes, its own means of evaluating the world. Comparing intelligence across species is a tricky thing.

A couple of important notes:

  • I am not a vegetarian.
  • I am not an animal-rights activist.

Though I respect both camps, these are not choices I have made for myself. (Though I toy with the idea of vegetarianism.) How do I reconcile my personal choices with my belief that animals are intelligent? I don’t. Cognitive dissonance, my friend, cognitive dissonance. (And an uncomfortable thing it is, too, especially each January when my wife and I hold our annual Ham Feast.)

Anyhow — I love animals and stories about them. Not just about their intelligence, but about their stupidity and their playfulness and their malevolence, too. And while I used to share those at Animal Intelligence, I’m going to start sharing them here at Foldedspace instead.

Two stories
First up, the November issue of National Geographic contains the following photograph of grieving chimps:

This photo by Monica Szczupider shows Dorothy, a nearly 50-year-old chimpanzee being wheeled for burial while her friends and companions watch on. Szczupider told National Geographic:

Her presence, and loss, was palpable, and resonated throughout the group. The management at Sanaga-Yong opted to let Dorothy’s chimpanzee family witness her burial, so that perhaps they would understand, in their own capacity, that Dorothy would not return. Some chimps displayed aggression while others barked in frustration. But perhaps the most stunning reaction was a recurring, almost tangible silence. If one knows chimpanzees, then one knows that [they] are not [usually] silent creatures.

The second story I want to share today is an old article from the UK Guardian that notes the more humans study dolphins, the brighter they turn out ot be. I love the opening anecdote:

At the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, Kelly the dolphin has built up quite a reputation. All the dolphins at the institute are trained to hold onto any litter that falls into their pools until they see a trainer, when they can trade the litter for fish. In this way, the dolphins help to keep their pools clean.

Kelly has taken this task one step further. When people drop paper into the water she hides it under a rock at the bottom of the pool. The next time a trainer passes, she goes down to the rock and tears off a piece of paper to give to the trainer. After a fish reward, she goes back down, tears off another piece of paper, gets another fish, and so on. This behaviour is interesting because it shows that Kelly has a sense of the future and delays gratification. She has realised that a big piece of paper gets the same reward as a small piece and so delivers only small pieces to keep the extra food coming. She has, in effect, trained the humans.

Her cunning has not stopped there. One day, when a gull flew into her pool, she grabbed it, waited for the trainers and then gave it to them. It was a large bird and so the trainers gave her lots of fish. This seemed to give Kelly a new idea. The next time she was fed, instead of eating the last fish, she took it to the bottom of the pool and hid it under the rock where she had been hiding the paper. When no trainers were present, she brought the fish to the surface and used it to lure the gulls, which she would catch to get even more fish. After mastering this lucrative strategy, she taught her calf, who taught other calves, and so gull-baiting has become a hot game among the dolphins.

This is actually a fantastic article on the current state of research into dolphin intelligence. I’ve bookmarked it for future reference. I particularly like the bit about how dolphins are able to watch television (which is apparently more difficult than it sounds). This fact is followed by the droll line, “Of course, an understanding of TV is of little use in the wild.” Hahaha.

That’s it for this installment of Animal Intelligence. If you find any great animal stories, please pass them along.