Thursday, 31 March 2011


The young and old* scientists bonding on the sofa in Nottingham.

*Human Grandad: research chemist, pharmacist, WW2 RAF pilot, and absolutely best father ever (says Gail). Now in his 90th year.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

My important research on Climate Change

Right folks, gosh this has been hard work. Gail has insisted that I present my canine-related climate research as a scientific paper in the proper format: Title, authors, abstract, methods, results and discussion, conclusion, acknowledgements etc.

OK. Let's have a go:


New and novel methods for detecting the arrival of Spring: a canine perspective

(Yes Bertie, that's very good, now the authors, and don't forget anyone)


The consideration of Spring indications involves a parameterisation of

(NO Bertie, it's just supposed to be a summary..)

You never quite know when Spring is going to arrive and it is all very confusing, as you will see. We present some fascinating data on the behaviour of our humans too....


Hi there, I'm Bertie, let me tell you about myself..

(NO Bertie, you're supposed to introduce the topic that you've been researching!)

Almost all human scientists say that, due to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the Earth is getting warmer and in many parts the the word Spring is coming sooner. In this paper, we consider the issue of how, from a canine perspective, one detects the arrival of Spring, and whether things are changing. 


I just asked all my pals, and analysed the responses. 

(Well Bertie, it doesn't sound very scientific, but I guess it's what you did).


First I would like to point out that most of my respondents ignored the bit about whether Spring is coming earlier or not and just concentrated on how you know that Winter is over.

The initial impression one gains from the data is an alarming picture of dog-blogging 'Mums' casting off their cold weather clothing with gay abandon. Hats, gloves, jackets, wellies, shoes, socks, I did begin to wonder where it would all end. Perhaps predictions for the impact of global warming should contain warnings about lots of middle aged ladies taking their dogs for early morning walks to the park in their underwear. That would be a truly terrifying scenario (especially as so many of them, particularly in the USA, also suffer from Spring allergies).....

Analysing the data in more detail, one notices that whereas humans have focussed on temperature measurements and visual data (flowers blossoming etc.), us dogs pay more attention to sounds and smells. Many of you, rather poetically, provided data on the tweeting of newly returned birds, the baa-ing of lambs, frogs making a 'racket' and the scent of sea air, jasmine, orange blossoms and the like. 

In some respects, one feels that the data was more revealing of the diverse lifestyles of my friends than of changes in weather patterns. It is interesting to discover, for example, that in South Africa the need to put chemicals in the swimming pool is paramount and in Boston Spring is detected by the departure of the Red Sox team truck to Florida. It came as no surprise that George's contribution concerned the first day when one could sit outside at the pub in Shropshire, and Asta welcomed a new season of al fwesco dining in Greenwich Village...

(Bertie, I suggested you stop rambling on and provide some concrete data - a graph perhaps - or else you will never get this published).

My data came from a wide geographical area, as you can see from the graph below:

Finally, it is worth noting that those few of you who actually bothered to address the issue of whether Spring is nowadays earlier or later or changing in any way (well done Toby and Lola) suggested that the difference is that the climate is becoming more extreme. 


This has all been most taxing and I am now going to take a holiday


The arrival of Spring is a very interesting subject and many valuable new insights were gained from investigating the hitherto neglected perspective of 'dogs with blogs'. 

Thank you to all who participated, and especially to Gail who provided help with the graph. Also I would like to thank in advance the editors of the prestigious journals 'Nature' and 'Science', who will surely soon be battling with each other for the honour of publishing this ground breaking study.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Not So Silent Rooms ....

I expect you all want to know what else I got up to during my time at Inshriach House (see previous post) and if I behaved myself.


I went on lots of snowy walks with the humans. 

I am now (almost) always well behaved on walks. Except of course when there are Highland cattle to scare away.

Indoors, I concentrated on looking adorable.

Which worked quite well, especially on Lyn.

This fellow Max joined us on day two. Only problem was, he seemed to be under the impression that he was some kind of a Top Dog. Which of course was JUST NOT TRUE. 

As I told him loud and often. 

We did make friends in the end, after a fashion.  Well, at least for as long Gerry had treats to dish out. 

Talking of dishes, boy, you will not believe how much those humans ate. 

And after dinner we all settled down in the comfy sitting room.
Well I was comfy, anyway...

On Sunday night we listened to Sean read one of his intriguing ghost stories *. The title of the tale was 'The Silence Room'. Was someone trying to make a subtle point about my barking, I later wondered...?

I have to admit I was not the quietest member of the party...

Also, to continue in confessional mode, I did, er, 'dampen' the hall floor a couple of times.

And, I now want to formally apologize to Lyn, for objecting so strongly to her riding in the passenger seat of the Mini. Had I only realized what a fine lap she has, I would most certainly have been gentler on her wrist...

Yes, I must concede that my behavior was not at all times perfect.

However, the fact that the owner of the house will be tucking into a delicious casserole one night this week, made from a freshly killed and very local chicken, has, I want to point out, absolutely nothing to do with me. No, the culprit shall remain nameless.
And you would think that butter wouldn't melt in his mouth....

PS Watch out for my next post, which will be my long awaited important scientific publication on climate change.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Taking centre stage

My South African golden retriever friend Toby has been very busy recently, rehearsing for the part of Sandy in a school performance of 'Annie'.

Now, not wishing to blow my own trumpet, but I believe I can teach young Toby a thing or two about holding centre stage...

Alert readers will have spotted that I am not in my normal living room. No indeed, we have upgraded for the weekend. Do you like my new residence?

There is another dog staying here too, called Max, and we have what are apparently known as 'dominance issues'.

I shall tell you more about this most interesting little holiday* at Inshriach House (near Aviemore) when I return to Aberdeen next week. 

Meanwhile, Gail is saying "You've got to learn, Bertie, that it's not all about you."
But she's wrong about that, isn't she....?

*I have, of course, been continuing to work on my climate paper, in between other stuff..

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Declaring a Royal Wedding-free zone

Whenever you feel you have had enough of reading about William and Kate, or in fact about the antics of any other members of the Royal Family (who, from a strictly scientific perspective, we might consider as a warning against the perils of too narrow a gene pool..... what's that Gail, why ever are you looking at me with raised eyebrows and muttering the words 'pot', 'kettle' and 'black'?) well anyway, please remember you can always find respite from all the monarchist brouhaha by visiting this blog, which I absolutely and faithfully promise will remain a resolutely wedding free zone...

And yes, we have had yet more snow in Scotland this week. It's SO complicated, this arrival of Spring business.
Back to work on my paper...

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Calcutta Cup or Crufts?

It has been a wet weekend in Aberdeen and I have been working hard analyzing the data you all sent in for my scientific paper on climate change.  

By the way, this is my favourite thinking chair.

I have also been thinking about this weekend's two great competitions here in the UK.  Which would you prefer to watch on telly - the Calcutta Cup (the annual England versus Scotland rugby match) or Crufts (the dog show)? 

It seems unfair that wire-haired fox terriers are allowed to compete in one and not the other. After all, which do you think we are best suited to? The contest where you have to trot obediently round a show ring on a short lead and have your very private bits felt by some random judge? Or the one involving participation in loosely regulated mayhem, chasing a funny shaped ball around a big field and biting the other players' ankles. At least I think that's allowed. 'Cos pretty much everything else in rugby is permitted, as far as I can tell. It does strike me as the most tremendous fun.  

I have been advised to steer clear of discussing the subject of which rugby team I supported this afternoon. A sensitive issue for a Scots born dog living in Scotland with an English human....

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Almost a Munro

Morven.  A Deeside hill north of Ballater.  At 2862 ft above sea level, just 138 ft short of a Munro.

Gail, if you could perhaps pile a few more stones on top of the summit cairn for me....

As you can see, although we might have crocuses in the city parks, there are still plenty of patches snow on the higher ground inland.

And my shadow at mid-afternoon is still tall.

What's that Gail?  You want me to put in a couple of photos that don't have me in the foreground?  Really?  Are you sure our friends will be interested?  Well OK.  Just this once, mind.  It was a spectacular view up there in the hazy sunshine last Sunday (although, if I might venture a wee criticism Gail, I don't think the lens on your teeny little camera quite succeeded in capturing the full glory and exhilaration of the wild empty Scottish landscape).

Monday, 7 March 2011

And all I ask is a tall ship...

Did you know it's only a fifteen minute walk from our house to the Aberdeen harbour?  I haven't been down there before, 'cos there's a big road in the way, with scary noisy lorries. But I had an urge to go and have a nose around and Gail finally agreed that we could go.

OK, I'll be honest with you, it's been a long hard winter here in Scotland and I've been fantasizing about stowing away on one of the boats, so that I might perhaps visit some of my blogging friends in far off lands (as Gail is too mean to pay for the air fare). A good plan don't you think?

One problem with the harbour, I find out, is that it's hard to get close to the ships due to 'security'. The only car ferry that runs from Aberdeen was blocked off behind a big fence.  But anyway, as it goes to the Northern Isles (Orkney and Shetland) and I don't have any friends who live there, I didn't see any point in trying to sneak aboard.

Further down the quay, we found an open gate and I ventured inside, reckoning that on a quiet Saturday afternoon no-one would object.  It would have been so easy to jump on to  this orange vessel, but Gail told me it was an oil field supply boat, and that she doesn't think any of my pals live aboard a North Sea platform either.

In fact I was disappointed to discover that most of the boats in the harbour were something to do with the North Sea oil industry. (I had been picturing myself on a luxury liner...)

We did see a vessel which appeared to be shipping timber. Perhaps this one was headed somewhere exotic?  But it was so huge, I couldn't figure a way to bounce on board.

On the opposite side, I spotted some small fishing boats, but Gail said that fishermen were having a hard time enough as it is at the moment, what with fish stocks being so low, and all the European quotas to deal with, and I probably wouldn't be a welcome addition to the crew.

Finally we came across these funny orange capsule things.  Well I can tell you, when I learned that anyone who goes out to the North Sea has to do special survival training in case the ship or oil rig sinks, and that you might end up bobbing around in 30 ft waves in one of these little craft, I decided once and for all to stay true to my terrier instincts and keep to dry land.

Sorry, bloggie friends across the water, but as the great Rabbie Burns said:

'The best laid schemes o' mice an' men, Gang aft agley',

We'll have to rely on communicating in cyberspace!

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Fine weather, fresh air, friendship, freedom, fun and frolics

Thank you friends for all your fascinating comments to my last post, providing so much invaluable  - and in some cases yes, highly novel - data for my big scientific project! Please, if you didn't already tell me about your 'canine indicators of Spring', there is still opportunity.

Meanwhile, I have been enjoying some leisure time in Glen Dye with my pal Jake. We have heard about a golden retriever who was bitten by an adder in these parts, but all we saw was sheep. The hill in the background with the nipple on top (a well known Aberdeenshire landmark) is Clachnaben. 

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The Bouncing Boffin Springs into Action!

Blogging friends,

I know that many of you have been lying awake at night and thinking "oh, I do wonder when Bertie Boffin is going to resume his excellent and so very informative series of science lectures. We were most enlightened by his unique take on thermodynamics, geology and quantum physics last Autumn and are hungry for more".

Well, now that I have been officially confirmed by Mayor Frankie Furter in my position as 'Scientific Advisor' to Blogville (an honour which surely confers an added layer of authority and credibility to my youthful pronouncements), I feel duty bound to redouble my efforts at educating the canine community in all matters scientific....

Spring has finally arrived in Aberdeen (yes really!) and this has set my mind to thinking about the contentious topic of Climate Change.

I have been reviewing the available literature on this subject, and have arrived at the conclusion that important gaps in the data still need to be filled, and that we as a community can contribute.

Now, I hesitate to criticise my fellow scientists, but I do feel that, when considering the issue of warmth and cold, humans have persisted with too limited an approach, focussed on measuring temperature changes in terms of degrees Centrigrade and Fahrenheit.  I propose to broaden the analysis of climatic conditions by considering possible dog-relevant alternatives. This is where YOU come in:

All I'm asking is that you leave a comment on this post, to tell me about your own personal indicator* that Spring is in the air. Southern hemisphere friends will have to think back a few months. Also please tell me whether, according to this indicator, Spring in your part of the world is arriving earlier or later than it used to. To complete my database, I will also need to have some idea of where you live.

Later in March, when I have gathered sufficient new data and had time to perform a detailed analysis, I shall present my conclusions in a paper, which I hope to submit to a peer-reviewed journal for publication. As is the fashion in science these days, all those who have made even the smallest contribution to the paper (e.g. by leaving a comment) will be listed as a co-author.

I am highly optimistic that, given the global reach of the dog blogosphere, this collaborative research project will be truly groundbreaking.

It will without a doubt be novel!

*Examples of indicators could be: the first day I venture out without my winter jacket, or, the last day my human positively enjoys the warm feeling in their hands when picking up my poop. And please remember, top level science requires creativity! 
PS The more data points the better the analysis, so please also encourage all your friends to participate!