Tuesday, May 29

Efficiency Has Whiskers

Waking 20 minutes before the alarm is set to go off is definitely an old person thing to do. That surreal 5 or 6 seconds melting from sleep into wakefulness is an oddly supernatural experience. I never know who I am, where I am or what is going on. It would be alarming except for the fact that everything is so fuzzy and numb. This is also about the time Ellie darts from her dog house to the side gate to bark dutifully at neighbors who are walking their dogs.

I don't know what a dog feels like when it is waking up. It is difficult to tell by observation alone if they wake in a momentary mental fog like I do...or if they are instantly in control of their advanced, primal senses - you know, 'fight or flight'.

Recently I read that a certain type of African rat is an expert land-mine detector. They weigh about 6 lbs. (which is creepy because that means cat-sized rat)- but this saves them from tripping the mine. It only takes around 10 minutes to train them to food stimuli, as long as the food reward is a bite of banana. Training them to respond to chemicals inherent to explosives takes a little longer, but is light-years faster than training a dog. They live about 8 or 9 years, so it's a good return on the investment. This was truly thought-provoking to me.

Years ago, Leiland had a pet rat James aptly named 'Cedrick'. I saw him wake up from a deep, happy rat sleep many times. He was obviously totally and wickedly alert in a flash. Leiland fashioned a maze that he could change the route in for a 5th grade science fair experiment. Cedrick performed swimmingly at first, nonplussed by any altered route - he succeeded in reaching the bait at the finish in blinding speed time after time. That is, until he got annoyed. Then he just shot vertically like a bat out of hell straight over the 14" maze wall and hid under the couch for a while.

I could easily visualize whatever this African rat must be like, with little collar and leash (presumably a very generous leash) out in front of his handler in the trademark staccato-snuffling peculiar to rodents. The article said they are 100% business-like in their search, quickly alerting to the deadly site by scratching furiously on the spot and then bolting back for a bite of banana. The rat quickly returns to his search without prodding and appears to have a 70 - 80% accuracy.

Is this not hugely ironic to anyone else? In a world of extreme complexities and magical technology, there really IS a "Mighty Mouse" to save the day! The same creature we associate with all kinds of negativity ~ oh, let's say the sweeping annihilation of black plague in the 1300's and characteristics like "dirty" and "conniving" is now possibly the fastest and most efficient method by which we can safely eradicate the great world tragedy that is abandoned land-mines.

If only applying a rat and a banana to other issues could also do the trick. Always waking up fully alert probably has its draw-backs, anyway.

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