June 02, 2007
Freckles the ferret to world: 'I will survive' — Family pet narrowly escapes death in washing machine
If you could understand ferretspeak those would be the sentiments of the 9-month-old pet of the Foutz family of Roanoke, Virginia.
Long story short: On May 21 Freckles (above and below, in pictures taken last Tuesday, May 29 at his home) spent 35 minutes in the Foutzes' washing machine — while it was on — before being rescued just before the machine went into what would have almost certainly been — for Freckles — a deadly spin cycle.
Doug Doughty's story about one tough critter appeared in yesterday's Roanoke Times, and follows.
- Ferret Makes a Clean Getaway
Freckles the ferret has been known to get into things, but a run-in with the washing machine almost cost him his life.
Freckles, the Foutzes' fearless ferret.
Try repeating that quickly a few times.
Freckles, a 9-month-old male ferret belonging to the Foutz family of Cotton Hill, is a tongue twister and much more.
On May 21, Freckles spent 35 minutes in the Foutzes' washing machine and lived to have somebody else tell his story.
Andrea Foutz, the mother of two and wife of former Cave Spring High School football coach Ben Foutz, doesn't know when she'll be able to do laundry again.
On the morning in question, she had put one load of dark-colored laundry into the washing machine before heading to her children's bedrooms in search of any stray garments.
Freckles did not have a history with the washing machine, but he was known to wander.
"He goes everywhere," she said. "He opens closet doors, he burrows, he gets into [son] Zachary's dresser drawers, even though the drawers are closed. We let him out for an hour, he gets tired, he crawls up in the dresser and sleeps."
One of Freckles' favorite pastimes is to collect flip-flops from the various Foutz closets and stack them under Zachary's bed.
"I put the clothes in, went downstairs and put the kids on the bus, and I sat down to work on the computer," Andrea Foutz said. "About 8 o'clock, Ben came down and said, 'You know, this is really funny, but I haven't seen Freckles.'
"I thought, 'That's weird because he follows us everywhere.' "
The Foutzes have a gate that keeps Freckles upstairs and away from their dog, Abby, a wire-haired fox terrier.
"We don't let them out at the same time because, technically, Abby is bred to hunt vermin," Foutz said.
Are ferrets considered vermin?
"I don't know," she said, "but they look enough like them."
Freckles not only follows family members around the house, but has been known to come running when his name is called. When Foutz went upstairs to intensify the search, she heard a click that the washing machine makes when it switches to the spin cycle.
"It stopped and, all of a sudden, I got that feeling of, 'Oh, my God,' " she said.
She opened the washing machine door and there was Freckles, pale as could be and gasping for air.
"I caught him right before the spin cycle, or else I don't think he would have made it," she said. "I just started screaming, 'Ben, Ben.' "
Ben Foutz would concede that the rest of the family is more attached to Freckles than he is.
"I've grown more attached to him," he said. "Financially and otherwise.
"I thought he was a goner. I was ready to take him downstairs [for disposal], but Andrea just felt so terrible that I wrapped him in a towel and pushed on his chest with two fingers. I don't know if you'd call that CPR or not."
Within minutes they were in the car and headed for the Roanoke Animal Hospital.
"Ben wanted me to give him mouth-to-mouth on the way there," Andrea Foutz said. "I told him, 'I'm not doing that.' So we called the vet, said we were on the way, and they said to hold him upside down to get the water out of his lungs."
It turns out, Dr. Mark Finkler was on site. Finkler is known nationally for his work with ferrets and has lectured on the topic at Virginia Tech.
When Freckles "came in, it was hypothermic, it was having trouble breathing, its heart rate was slow," Finkler said. "There was a good chance this fellow was going to die. On X-rays, his lungs didn't look so good."
Once hospitalized, Freckles was put on oxygen and given intravenous feeding. He was transferred to an emergency unit overnight, but was home within 36 hours, although IV tracks were still visible one week later.
The obvious question is, how did Freckles not drown?
"Well, that's a miracle," Finkler said. "I guess front-end loaders are low volume as far as the amount of water they use."
Freckles also must have demonstrated some impressive leaping ability to jump into the washer.
"One thing I told the Foutzes when things were looking really bleak was, 'Cats have nine lives, but ferrets have 10,'" he said. "I really believe that. They have survived things where I would have thought a dog or cat would not have survived.
"They're very curious creatures. We had one ferret brought in here who got his head too close to the vacuum-sweeper hose. They've come through some pretty dire circumstances."
Finkler, who observed patient-physician protocol and sought permission from the Foutzes before granting an interview, had photos taken and expects Freckles to be the topic of a future lecture.
Can you say, "Freckles, the Foutzes' famous ferret?"
Andrea Foutz said she feared that animal-rights groups might frown on Freckles' story and expressed hope that a newspaper account might have a positive "spin."
Better for Freckles, there was no spin at all.
After the deluge: Don't buy that beachfront property just yet...
"Wondering whether you'll own beachfront property once the last ice sheet melts? This site uses NASA topographical data to show how coastlines will look with each meter of sea level rise," wrote Lucas Graves in the March 2007 issue of Wired magazine.
Above, The Netherlands and Denmark after a 7 meter rise.
BehindTheMedspeak: The brain of a synaesthete
An article in the May 24, 2007 Economist on new research into the strange world of synaesthesia featured an image of a synaesthete's brain (above) obtained using a technique called diffusion-tensor imaging.
The story follows.
- Synaesthesia: Too well connected
Why certain people see words in colour
Some people have a more complicated sensory life than others. Most taste tuna only when they eat it. A few, though, taste it when they hear a particular word, such as “castanet”. Others link the colour red with the letter “S” or make some other inappropriate connection between stimulus and response. Such people are known as synaesthetes, and the phenomenon of synaesthesia has puzzled brain scientists since it was recognised over a century ago.
Most researchers in the field suspect synaesthesia is caused by crossed wires in synaesthetes' brains, but until recently they have had no way to check this hypothesis. However, the development of a technique called diffusion-tensor imaging has changed that. And Romke Rouw and Steven Scholte at the University of Amsterdam have just applied it to the brains of 18 women (the sex more likely to experience synaesthesia) who have the most common form of the condition. This is called grapheme-colour synaesthesia. It is a tendency to see letters and numbers in colour.
Diffusion-tensor imaging measures the direction of movement of water molecules. Since the filaments that connect distant nerve cells are surrounded by fatty sheaths which restrict the movement of water, such molecules tend to move along a filament rather than out of it. The upshot is that the technique can detect bundles of such filaments running from one part of the brain to another.
Dr Rouw and Dr Scholte chose grapheme-colour synaesthesia to study for two reasons. One was that it is common. The other was because there is a specific hypothesis as to its cause. Earlier brain-scanning studies have shown that the part of the brain which identifies word shape is in an area called the fusiform gyrus. This is next to an area known as V4, which identifies colour. Both light up simultaneously in traditional scanners when someone is experiencing grapheme-colour synaesthesia, so an inappropriate link between them is an obvious thing to look for.
As the two researchers report in the latest edition of Nature Neuroscience, diffusion-tensor imaging did, indeed, show strong connections between these two areas in the brains of the synaesthetes when they slid into the scanner and viewed colour-evoking letters and numbers. Other unusual connections showed up too, suggesting the phenomenon is more complex than had been appreciated. By contrast, the brains of 18 non-synaesthetes matched with the volunteers by age and sex showed no such strong connections.
And the revelations went further. Certain types of grapheme-colour synaesthetes have more connectivity than others. As part of the study, Dr Rouw asked her volunteers to fill out questionnaires about how they experience their colour sensations. Some reported seeing colour projected on to whatever word or number they were shown. Members of this group are known as “projectors”. Others, known as “associators”, reported colour only in their mind's eye. Although both groups of synaesthetes had much more connectivity than non-synaesthetes, projectors had noticeably more again than associators.
Dr Rouw and Dr Scholte are not yet sure what form the stronger connections take. They could be the result of more filaments than normal connecting the areas in question. Or the filaments might be broader than normal. Or the fatty coatings of the filaments might be thicker, which would amplify the signal passing along them as well as keeping water molecules on the straight-and-narrow.
How synaesthesia starts (in other words, how the connections become so strong) is also unclear. There is evidence of a genetic component but, as Dr Rouw points out, learning must be involved as well. People are not born with the concept of the letter “A”. And they certainly are not born with a bright-red, cherry-coloured “A”—however much it feels, as synaesthetes insist, as though they were.
Here's the abstract of the Nature Neuroscience paper.
- Increased structural connectivity in grapheme-color synesthesia
Diffusion tensor imaging allowed us to validate for the first time the hypothesis that hyperconnectivity causes the added sensations in synesthesia. Grapheme-color synesthetes (n = 18), who experience specific colors with particular letters or numbers (for example, 'R is sky blue'), showed greater anisotropic diffusion compared with matched controls. Greater anisotropic diffusion indicates more coherent white matter. Anisotropy furthermore differentiated subtypes of grapheme-color synesthesia. Greater connectivity in the inferior temporal cortex was particularly strong for synesthetes who see synesthetic color in the outside world ('projectors') as compared with synesthetes who see the color in their 'mind's eye' only ('associators'). In contrast, greater connectivity (as compared with non-synesthetes) in the superior parietal or frontal cortex did not differentiate between subtypes of synesthesia. In conclusion, we found evidence that increased structural connectivity is associated with the presence of grapheme-color synesthesia, and has a role in the subjective nature of synesthetic color experience.
"The Mind of a Mnemonist."
Speaking Lost & Found Tag
From the website:
- Lost & Found Sound Tag
Ensures luggage doesn't get lost by letting you record a 20-second message with important information like phone number, address or hotel name for fast identification.
The bold color and shape are easy to identify in a carousel of similar suitcases.
Three batteries included.
2-1/4" x 3".
MorphWorld: Cal Ripken, Jr. into Lex Luthor*
*As played by Kevin Spacey (below)
What is it?
Answer here this time tomorrow.
Virtual Paper Squirrel
Under Shelf Rap Wrack
Wait a minute, that's not right....
Aw, the heck with it — from the website:
- Under Shelf Wrap Rack
Under Shelf Wrap Rack keeps aluminum wrap, plastic wrap and wax paper rolls organized in one convenient location.
Compact design is small enough to fit beneath cabinet, cupboard and pantry shelves.
Eliminate clutter in a jiffy and find wrap in seconds.
12-1/2" x 12-1/2" x 5-1/4".
Think outside the kitchen space with this puppy — plenty of alternative uses wherever shelves and suitable flat surfaces are to be found.