We’re Number One! We’re Number One!

Some great news this week – the joint SRUC and University of Edinburgh submission to the UK’s Research Excellence Framework was ranked as number one (in research power) in the UK for agriculture and veterinary sciences. There’s a lot of very happy and excited people here this morning let me say.

Check out the press release here!

And now have a picture of a kitten 🙂

Sponsored by Samsung, Naturally
Athena Had No 4* Ranked Papers, But Neither Did I . . .

The Year in Review

FluffySciences is now just over a year old! It feels much older for some reason. We average 13 views a day and July was the biggest month. Most people find us on google by searching ‘FluffyScience Blog’ so if that’s you, come like us on Facebook and never get lost again!

(One person found us by googling “i want a small fluffy animal which is easy to look after and id tame what would you recommend“. The answer to that question is really “No animal is really easy to look after, they all require the appropriate food, shelter, care, etc., and I would do a considerable amount of research prior to buying or adopting any animal. With that being said, with a little bit of financial outlay fish can be extremely rewarding (you must get an appropriate tank though, no bowls), and if you can devote the space to them guinea pigs are very fun.”)

The most popular tag is the companion animals tag, with Athena following along behind. I’m surprised at how popular Chronicles of Athena is! I will try to keep it up.

The most popular post, interestingly enough, was Badger Fortnight: TB which totalled 183 visitors. Followed by The Black Dog at 178 and Ritual Slaughter & Animal Welfare at 150. This is quite gratifying as they were all posts which took a lot of work – and all posts which are talking about real animal welfare science. In fact all the posts which broke 100 visitors were what I would consider to be animal welfare science posts. That’s encouraging, even if they are more difficult to write!

We usually get about 4 comments per month – and I’d love to hear more about what you think and what you want from the blog. So do comment, do like us on Facebook, and I wish you all a very happy festive season. We’ll be back after Hogmanay with more.

Chronicles of Athena – 20 Weeks

This is our last week in this flat. The last mesmerising spin in the washing machine, the last few flirtations with the bathtub (I’m tempted to have a bath at some point and see what she does, but I also don’t want to be scarred for life).

After discovering late last week that she could jump onto the counters we’ve been having an ongoing debate about whether the counter tops are an appropriate place for kittens to be. On the one hand, Athena thinks it is a very interesting place where pens and odds bits and bobs are kept because we’re in the process of moving house and nothing gets put away any more. On the other hand, I think it is a place where kittens might burn themselves if they happen to stray onto the hob. Also that whole hygiene thing. It’s problematic. Athena, however, has discovered I have a new talent: I can read her mind. As she prepares to jump onto the counter, her bum wiggling, her ears pricked forward, and I tell her ‘no’, she is continually astounded that I know what she’s about to do and complains bitterly.

A week of this and she’s learned she’s not supposed to be on the counter, but also that she has the length of time it takes me to cross the living room to get to her. This is both hilarious and frustrating.

But Athena also saw snow for the first time in her life – which possibly fried her little brain. She wanted badly to try and catch it, but also to hide from it, so she slept well that night. When we move to the new flat, I’m tempted to take her to the garden in her harness. We’ll see.


Athena sees the snow

Games and Animals

I’ve been an avid gamer for the better part of my lifetime now and part of what I love about the hobby is how a good game can test you in situations you might not experience. This is, after all, why baby animals play – to test themselves and learn about themselves.

I think gaming can be a great tool for looking at empathy as well, and a game floated across my internet desk quite recently that I absolutely loved: Cat Petting Simulator 2014

The game’s premise is simple – interact with and stroke a cat. Through a text based interface you think about how you approach a cat, stroke the cat, and interact with it. It’s a funny game and I thought the escalation of the interactions was really clever. To that end I emailed the lovely Neongrey who made the game and asked her some questions.

What was your goal in creating the game?

I had a few, really. In part– it’s a bit of a silly extrapolation of something I do with friends online all the time. You know, if they’re feeling down or whatever, I would offer to pet [my] cat for them, and I would really go and hunt down one of my cats and pet them and tell them what happened– usually lots of purring. I hate seeing people feel badly, and I hate feeling like there’s nothing I can do about it, so this is my attempt to do that on a slightly more thorough scale. Sometimes there are people who need to pet cats that I don’t know about! Or I’m at work, and *I* need to pet a cat.

Did you think the game might be educational?

Not educational so much– more like therapeutic, really. I mean I wanted no part of the ‘aloof cat who hates you and wants to claw you’ cariacture; it would go against my intent of wanting the game to feel nice. Not that I much like that stereotype in the first place– as anyone who’s had a particularly affectionate cat will know, yes, absolutely, they can care about you beyond just where the food’s coming from.

Did you think about cat behaviour while making the game?

You know, I joke about how every pet in the game was playtested on a real cat, but it’s not a joke, really. Most of the game was written literally by petting her in the requisite manner and noting down her reactions.
There’s a bit more to it than that, too, though, insofar as measuring her reactions. From the ending score, you can see the bulk of the work is done through an affection meter. This is, you know, basically random. Every time you get a prompt there’ll be something with the potential for a better affection gain than other options, but luck plays a role. It’s not flawless but Twine isn’t the best medium to write AI in, so it was a decent kludge to represent the cat having her own ideas about what she likes.
[Ed note – LOVE this element of the game, which inadvertently alludes to the inherent random nature of decision making]
There’s not a lot of indication as to which she’ll like best– I hint at it a bit in some options, for careful readers– but again, it’s really hard sometimes to tell what a cat will like best, even when you know her, so that there’s a certain air of mystery is perfectly intentional.
I’ll also call attention to the belly pets. In the score menu, I do joke about the so-called ‘deadly belly trap’ but as I’m sure you gathered by now, it wouldn’t really further my intentions to have you clawed up by a cat– about the darkest emotion I try and convey in the game is ‘fond irritation’. So in all cases, the simulated cat does exactly what the real Cassie does– when she’s done with you petting her belly, she’ll push your hand away, and you’ll stop for the moment because you’re not a jerk.
Thing too is petting the belly is *wildly* random. Some options might give you no affection gain, if you’re unlucky, but only petting the belly can *reduce* affection. And I think that’s fair. But also too, it’s got the highest potential gain for affection. It’s quite intentional that the only way to get the elusive ending 6 is to give her cheeks and ears (the game begins with a mandatory back pet) a quick pet and then concentrate entirely on the belly. If you’re lucky– or she’s in exactly the right mood, as the case may be– you’ll get to pick her up and walk around with her a bit and she’ll cuddle right up to you.
Meanwhile the only way to get the “worst” (you still got to pet a cat, so it can’t be that bad) is if you bore her. And you bore her by entirely skipping out on petting a location entirely. You have to pet her back/sides, cheeks/chest, ears, and belly at least once each for her to not hop away up onto the cat tree and lick her butt in your general direction. I think a lot of people are getting that ending because they’re avoiding the belly entirely.

I love the game, is there anything else you’d like to say?

I mean I think it’s important to note that this is by no means an attempt to represent all cats– it doesn’t even represent both my cats. Maddie, who makes a cameo in one of the endings, certainly wouldn’t act the way Cassie does here; she’s much more aloof, except when she decides she’s not.
But, I mean, the whole game mandates two specific conceits: a) the cat loves you, and b) she wants to be petted. And everything sort of falls out from there. I’ve been kind of overwhelmed by the response; there’s a lot of people who, you know, it seems like something like this is exactly what they needed. And I’m happy, and honoured, and you know, a bit surprised, that I can be the one to give that to them.
If you join our MOOC early next year I’m thinking of a short optional exercise surrounding the game so you can get a head start by exploring it and the different options.

Chronicles of Athena – 19 Weeks

The Christmas season is upon us and it is the time of year where the scientist is lured to the drinking hole and spends much of the day trying to insulate herself from noises and strong smells. In other words, t’is the season to imbibe.

It was at one such gathering of scientists that we raised the possibility of agility training Athena, based on a video that’s been doing the rounds on Facebook. I was asked if Athena is food-motivated, which made me laugh. My morning routine now involves doing my teeth and checking my emails in the kitchen so Athena will pause to eat instead of running about like a lunatic.

So should I start agility training Athena any time soon, here’s what I think the ranking of her motivations looks like:

  1. Cuddles. Everything and anything will be stopped for the possibility of cuddles.
  2. Play that involves hunting.
  3. Those little Whiskas treat thingies, preferably if she can hunt them.
  4. Ear scratches.
  5. Mr Ducky and Mr Chicken in a non-hunting capacity
  6. Hunting people from underneath the bed.
  7. Dry food (which has the little Whiskas treats in it)
  8. Climbing shelves
  9. Knocking things off shelves
  10. Wet food (not fish).

I think between Mr Ducky and myself we could get Athena round an agility course -until she decided she was bored and needed to paw at someone for affection.

The Fashionable Scientist

Science, being the awesome beast it is, recently landed a ten year old probe on a comet. My laptop is three years old and it’s already beginning to groan and whine.

But you’ve probably heard and seen the commotion over one of the scientist’s shirt, which was a gaudy, loud, and featured many half clad ladies on it. On Twitter, a wit said this:


And thus began a Twitter storm of epic proportions as ever. On the one side, those who (rightly) feel that the posit03ion of women in STEM fields is a tenuous one and needs direct action, the other those who (rightly) feel that what a scientist wears has little to do with their achievements or even their attitudes to other people.

I was asked by some of my friends what I felt about the issue being both a scientist and a dyed in the wool feminist.

Before I commit my words to the internet it’s important to recognise that my opinions on this are based on my own ethics, my own experiences and they might not necessarily reflect that of all feminists, all women or all scientists – but I also believe my opinion is the right one, hence the fact it’s mine (hey – this is pretty much exactly like animal welfare ethics!)

I think it’s a storm in a teacup. The guy wore a dumb shirt, a woman rolled her eyes, and suddenly we’re onto the death threats. Why is this the default position of the internet? I think it’s sad that the guy was reduced to tears in his apology, I think it’s horrific the tweeter’s life was threatened for pointing out a very real problem. It is frankly ridiculous to say that a shirt overshadowed the accomplishment of the human race. Humans are more than capable of carrying two or more issues in their heads at one time.

Really the only person who address this with any degree of clarity was my guiding light, Hadley Freeman. In her style column she says:

There are so many signifiers of sexism in the world and the science world that to attack a man for his shirt feels a little bit like fussing at a leaky tap when the whole house is under a tidal wave . . .  There is a difference – and I concede, the difference may be fuzzy in some cases – between enjoying the weird fantasy-world depiction of women, and seeing actual women as sex objects. Taylor has the right to wear whatever pig-ugly shirt he likes, and people have the right to be outraged by it. But when that outrage leads to a grown man weeping on TV, perhaps we all need to ask if this outrage is proportionate. My God, I’m a fashion bitch and even I don’t want to make anyone cry over my comments about their clothes.


But as it’s the run up to Christmas, there is a silver lining. My wonderful STEM field compatriot has her HauteDog Couture shop on Etsy. We’ve decided at our next meet up we’ll wear dresses made of that shirt material. HauteDog Couture is amazing. Check it out.