Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Cats Purr Purr-posefully

This study cracks me up. When a cat is catting around you in the morning, it is usually because they are hungry, and they want you to feed them. If you get up and feed them, you have just encouraged them to bother you. YOU train the cat to bother you! The Qatteri Cat knows I won’t get up and feed him until I am ready. With me, he will purr, but he settles down and waits for me to get up – and feed him. LOL, I guess he has me trained, too.

From today’s BBC News:

Cat owners may have suspected as much, but it seems our feline friends have found a way to manipulate us humans.

Researchers at the University of Sussex have discovered that cats use a “soliciting purr” to overpower their owners and garner attention and food.

Unlike regular purring, this sound incorporates a “cry”, with a similar frequency to a human baby’s.

The team said cats have “tapped into” a human bias – producing a sound that humans find very difficult to ignore.

Dr Karen McComb, the lead author of the study that was published in the journal Current Biology, said the research was inspired by her own cat, Pepo.

“He would wake me up in the morning with this insistent purr that was really rather annoying,” Dr McComb told BBC News.

“After a little bit of investigation, I discovered that there are other cat owners who are similarly bombarded early in the morning.”

While miaowing might get a cat expelled from the bedroom, Dr McComb said that this pestering purr often convinced beleaguered pet lovers to get up and fill their cat’s bowl.
To find out why, her team had to train cat owners to make recordings of their own cats’ vocal tactics – recording both their “soliciting purrs” and regular, “non-soliciting” purrs.
“When we played the recordings to human volunteers, even those people with no experience of cats found the soliciting purrs more urgent and less pleasant,” said Dr McComb.

How annoying?

She and her team also asked the volunteers to rate the different purrs – giving them a score based on how urgent and pleasant they perceived them to be.

“We could then relate the scores back to the specific purrs,” explained Dr McComb. “The key thing (that made the purrs more unpleasant and difficult to ignore) was the relative level of this embedded high-frequency sound.”

“When an animal vocalises, the vocal folds (or cords) held across the stream of air snap shut at a particular frequency,” explained Dr McComb. The perceived pitch of that sound depends on the size, length and tension of the vocal folds.

“But cats are able to produce a low frequency purr by activating the muscles of their vocal folds – stimulating them to vibrate,” explained Dr McComb.

Since each of these sounds is produced by a different mechanism, cats are able to embed a high-pitched cry in an otherwise relaxing purr.

“How urgent and unpleasant the purr is seems to depend on how much energy the cat puts into producing that cry,” said Dr McComb.

Previous studies have found similarities between a domestic cat’s cry and the cry of a human baby – a sound that humans are highly sensitive to.

Dr McComb said that the cry occurs at a low level in cats’ normal purring. “But we think that (they) learn to dramatically exaggerate it when it proves effective in generating a response from humans.”

She added that the trait seemed to most often develop in cats that have a one-on-one relationship with their owners.

“Obviously we don’t know what’s going on inside their minds,” said Dr McComb. “But they learn how to do this, and then they do it quite deliberately.”

So how does Dr McComb feel about Pepo now she knows he has been manipulating her all these years?

“He’s been the inspiration for this whole study, so I’ll forgive him – credit where credit’s due.”

November 22, 2009 Posted by | Experiment, Family Issues, Living Conditions, Pets, Relationships | Leave a comment

Cooling Down in Qatar

I quilt. I quilt for hours. In my quilting room, I stream National Public Radio from KUOW in Seattle, and when they say the temperature is 49°F and there are high winds expected, I almost feel cold.

So when I say it is cooling down in Qatar, it is a little tongue-in-cheek. I’m the Alaska girl, remember? We went sleeveless if it got up to 65°F; 70°+ was a heatwave.

Now that it is “cooling down”, the temperatures at night are just under 70°F.

I’m still running the A/C; looking forward to the days when I can turn it off. But, compared to the searing heat of summer, this is heaven. 🙂

November 22, 2009 Posted by | Doha, ExPat Life, Humor, Living Conditions, Qatar, Seattle, Uncategorized, Weather | Leave a comment

“You’re Such a Good Driver”

Twice in the last two weeks, friends riding with me have said “You’re such a good driver.” You’d think I would be flattered, but instead, it makes me aware of how much I have adapted to driving conditions in Doha. The truth is, I am pretty good. The truth is, that’s not a good thing.

Doha is smaller than Kuwait. The trick in Doha is to know which roads are closed, (that is usually in the newspaper,) and to have two or three routes to get to the same place. The trick is to know where the lanes are going to go wonky with all the people needing to make a left turn, and at the same time, how to avoid the mandatory left turn lane that can catch you by surprise.

The trick is to yield to the bigger vehicle, especially if he is a cement truck, crane, or similar very heavy vehicle, unless you think you can quickly get ahead of them so you won’t have to go 15 km/hr for the next thirty miles. The trick is to avoid being behind a truck loaded with not-secured concrete blocks. The trick is to know that new cameras are going up all the time – have you noticed? Even the locals are slowing down, so I am guessing that the fines here are being imposed across the board.

Last week, I even saw a policeman pull a truck over for an illegal left turn – he turned from the lane next to the legal turn lane – he got pulled over. I don’t know if he got a citation, but he got a talking to. He seemed to be listening respectfully. I was shocked. There are times you will see three lanes turn left, only one of which is the legal left turn lane. It’s so common, you take it for granted. But things seem to be changing.

I have also caught myself doing some things I would never ever think of doing in the US. I needed to use a cash machine, and all the parking spaces were filled. I gave it 5 seconds thought, parked my car behind two cars right by the cash machine, and prayed no one would need to move while I was getting my money. Unfortunately – no one did. My bad behavior was positively reinforced.

The other night, picking up food on the way home, I begged some workers to let me park in a marked “no parking” spot so I could pick up my food.

“Bas hamsa deqiqa” I smiled as I ran to pick up my food, which, fortunately was ready and I paid, ran back out, tipped a little for the spot and drove off.

These are things I would never never never do in the United States. I do it here because it makes my life easier and because . . . everybody else does it.

I can still hear my Mother’s voice saying “and if everyone were jumping off a bridge, would you do that?” That’s what mother’s say. I probably said it myself. And here I am, knowing I shouldn’t do it, and doing it.

When I first got here, a woman was taking me shopping and as we got to the roundabouts, she said “You’ve just got to commit!” and she would whirl through the roundabout with seconds to spare. An Iranian friend got us from the airport to the Diplomatic Club once in 17 minutes in peak night-time traffic. It was easier for me to watch the clock than to watch her drive; she didn’t even look left when she entered the roundabouts. And she got us across town in 17 minutes. I still wonder at that accomplishment, and feel myself, at the same time, quaking in my boots at her confidence.

So I wonder if my admiring friends feel the same way, if I have become so used to local driving that I am adapting dare-devil tactics in my driving as well as in my parking?

I shudder at the re-education I will have to undergo when I return to the US for good.

November 22, 2009 Posted by | Adventure, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Safety | 6 Comments