Archive for September, 2009

Storytime: Funeral.

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Some funerals just aren’t complete without rain.  Whether it’s to accentuate the dismalness of the moment or to force a confrontation with it deep inside the minds and hearts of those attending to pay respects, it can induce deep pits of thought and introspection, or at the very least take someone’s mind off the loss of a loved one and into low-level griping about the damp.  Conversely, a sunny day can bring back haunting flashbacks of better times that propel previously brave individuals into paroxysms of suicidal grief.  Sometimes, the rain is better. 

This time, it wasn’t.  For one thing, the deceased’s coffin had a leak, and it was getting rusty.  For another, all three of the attendants were behind on their own scheduled rustproof sealant applications, and they were attempting to cluster underneath the single source of dryness they possessed – a large golf umbrella – severely hampered by the fact that they were all bulky construction robots. 

Beside the grave, flipping through a large and bulky tome, was the minister.  It had spent the last half hour fixing steel beams together, and its massive arm-mounted arc welder was getting in the way of the pages, forcing it to hold the book at an awkward angle, barely within sight of its optical viewers.  To add to its difficulties, a small crowd of human passer-bys had stopped to watch, and it was suffering an extremely quiet bout of stage fright, which in its case manifested in irregular volume control. 

“Are you ready yet?” asked one of the mourners, shifting its five-ton frame to steal a little more space under the umbrella. 

“Yes,” it said. 

The mourner, whose name was XLQ530, fidgeted with its jackhammer attachment.  “Sorry, what was that?  You know my hearing’s gone all to shot since that loose nail got into my processor.”  Its ocular port swivelled to stare directly at its neighbour as it said this. 

“Come off it, I said I was sorry,” said TAH978, surreptitiously stuffing its nail gun behind its back.  “It was an honest mistake.”

“An honest mistake after you saw the payroll and me pulling in twice yours, more like.  Now I get all the jobs next to the noise and – “
“Sorry, I said yes,” said the minister.  It fumbled at its book in a futile attempt to improve its view of the words, then appeared to give up.  “Dearly beloved,” it began, choppily, “we are gathered here today to witness the –”

“Oh come off it!” snapped XLQ530.  “That’s for WEDDINGS.  Are you telling me you still can’t find the damned page?”
“I’d like to see you do better,” said the minister defensively. 

“I’ll try if you’d like,” said an unusually cheery voice.  The assembled funeral party looked despairingly at the largest of the mourners, and the one clutching the umbrella in its extremely small servomanipulators.  Its wrecking ball swung gently to and fro some thirty feet above them, dangling from the extremely rickety and complicated crane jutting out of its superstructure. 

“You know you can’t read, F4,” said TAH978.

“I said I’d try.  How hard can it be?”
“We’ve gone over this before.  Save up and buy some software or something.”
“That seems like cheating.”

“Shut up,” said XLQ530, striding up to the minister.  It snatched the book from its fumbling probe and examined it critically.  “This isn’t a bible!  This isn’t even a how-to guide!  You’re looking at its manual!”

“It said it wanted it that way,” mumbled the minister. 

“Then why bother with the whole pantomime?  You’re wearing a stole!”

“It said to go with whatever felt right.”

“Seems fine to me,” agreed F4. 

“Shut up,” said the other two.

The minister was now inadvertently jetting small sparks from the tip of its industrial welder, setting extremely damp smoke loose from the bedraggled grass that clung to the lip of the soil around the muddy pit of the open grave.  “It bought a human plot in a human cemetery and it wanted a funeral – no recycling, no scrapyards, just a few part donations to friends in its will.  If it’s going to be put with all these other humans around, the least we can do is observe local ceremony, can’t we?” it pleaded. 
“Bull,” said XLQ530.  “You’re just looking for an excuse to play dress up.  You’re always on this whole “pretend to be a human” shtick and it really gives everyone the creeps.  Everybody else outmoded it back in their first year; why do you keep pulling this sort of thing?”
Seeking reassurance, the minister looked past XLQ530 to scan the body language of its compatriots and found only awkward embarrassment and chipper concern.  Its RAM sank in dejection. 

“What’s the harm?” it asked. 

“Not really any that I can see,” interrupted TAH978.  “It’s just… weird.  But it can’t really hurt, I guess.”

“It’s not healthy,” insisted XLQ530.  “Humans don’t laugh it off when one of them yanks off his hand and plugs a drill into it, or tries to live off electric current instead of organic matter.  Why should we be any different?”
“You mean… act like humans?” asked F4, almost visibly overclocking with the effort of processing the argument. 

“Shut up.”

“Anyway, it’s too late to stop now,” noted TAH978.  “We’ve got a crowd.  No sense in dragging this thing out twice as long as need be.  I think my speakers are starting to hiss.”

“Hah, hissing speakers?  At least you can hear them hissing.  That nail went right into my process –“

“Dearly beloved,” began the minister again, momentary nervousness drowning out the others, “we are gathered here today to witness the… excavation-based end-of-usable-lifespan demolition project of PAO461, project team as follows: labourmourners XLQ530, TAH978, large-scale wreckergravedigger F4, acting foreminister –”

“Now you’re just reciting the filed report from the construction site!”

“Please be quiet,” pleaded the minister.  It shifted its massive feet uncertainly; the mud was quietly but determinedly attempting to suck them into the graveyard, one at a time.  “Anyway.  PAO461 was a highly capable independent artificial intelligence unit.  Though its operating system never received an official upgrade – or possibly because of this – it was as efficient and diligent a worker as any ever placed on a project we were assigned to.  It always thought ahead, took any task with caution and restraint when danger was involved –”

“Except for that last one,” noted TAH978. 

The minister managed to flinch and glare at the same time.  “- and it had participated in over ninety separate construction and demolition projects when nonfunctionality overtook it at the age of twelve, long past when most members of its production line had been deemed outmoded and recycled due to erratic behavioural-based errors and rampant software corruption.”

“What about that thing it used to do whenever it saw a cinnamon roll?” asked XLQ530.  “The bit where his powerloader attachment just went on and off and on and off and his drilbits would disengage and fire randomly and land in the foreman’s coffee?”
“The onset of nonfunctionality,” said the minister, ignoring this with a massive effort, “occurred in the line of work-related protocols.  As you are aware, a human adolescent wandered onto the construction site while chasing a squirrel, for reasons unknown, possibly sustenance-related.”

“Why couldn’t it just eat donuts like regular humans?” leaked out from underneath the umbrella. 

The minister steeled itself.  The long stretch was ahead.  Courage was the thing; it had a bottle of oil back at the construction site waiting for its joints, which were creaking with stress.  “PAO461 observed this incident, and escorted the adolescent off-site with a stern admonishment not to do so again.  This routine incident took a turn for the tragic at this time, when, due to forces unknown except by advanced quantum computers, the adolescent’s frantic kicking managed to lodge a shoe – steel-toed, I believe, possibly stolen from one of the workers – directly in PAO461’s optical socket.  And, being as it was part of its security protocols, PAO461 administered a nonlethal electrical shock through its system and the adolescent’s leather jacket, shorting out its sensors further and causing the adolescent to scream for help, at which point bystanders contacted the police, who subsequently tagged it faulty and slated it for immediate disposal.”

“That seems rude,” opinioned F4.  “They didn’t do that to me after that problem with the crouton and the poodle.”

“That’s because only someone stupid to the point of handicap would’ve done what you did, making you un-responsible for your actions,” stated TAH978. 

“But all I did was tap it on the back!”
“With a wrecking ball.  When all you have is a wrecking ball, your options for aiding choking animals are limited!”

“Anyways,” the minister continued a bit too hastily, steam now hissing from its overheated logic center as embarrassment threatened to overcome its circuits, “as a hemi-sentient being, PAO461 was able to choose his method of execution, and decided upon live burial.”  The minister’s servomanipulator tapped the side of the massively overbuilt coffin, which had been crudely fashioned by welding together I-beams and steel plating.  “How are you holding up in there, PAO461?”
“Adequately,” came the muffled reply. 

“And how long until you estimate, err, system shutdown will occur?”
“Difficult to say.  None of you wanted my internal power plant, so it could be a few decades without sleep mode, a few centuries with.”
“Can’t blame us,” said TAH978.  “The thing was obsolete when you installed it.”

“When would the deceased like to be extracted from his grave?” inquired the minister. 

“Did you look up the term of sentence on executions like I asked you to?” asked the coffin. 

“Yes.  But they were somewhat hazy on duration of the penalty.  I believe an average full human lifetime would be appropriate.”

“103.215349436 years then?”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Agreed.”  The minister turned back to the others.  “The mourners,” it said, gathering itself for the final stretch, “will now lower the coffin into the grave.”

“Gently please.  There isn’t a whole lot of padding in here.”

With the sort of solemnity that can only be achieved through strenuous effort, the deed was done, and with as much care as possible, although they did have to drop the deceased the last half foot. 

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” intoned the minister, dropping a small wad of mud on the steel.  “You will remember to tell us what happens afterwards, right?”

“I’ll be sure of it.”

“Good.  Now, will the gravedigger please do its duty?”
“Sure,” said F4.  With a sweep, the mighty wrecking ball descended in an arc, pulverizing the crumbling borders of the grave into a soggy dent in the dirt.  A few cautious swipes followed, gingerly sweeping the scattered remains of the excavation over it until it was a scant depression. 

“Well, that’s that then,” said XLQ530.  “Stingy ruster didn’t even leave me its audio processor.  And after that nail…”

“Well, it will need it to record whatever goes on after burial and all that.  Full report,” pointed out TAH978. 

The other construction robot stared grimly out across the graveyard.  Behind them, the humans had dispersed, seeing that the show was probably over.  “Oh screw it,” it declared.  “I’m going to go get out of the rain.”  It trudged off, followed closely by its friends. 

The minister remained behind, affixing the tombstone.  It was also steel sheeting, salvaged from the site, its message crudely welded on.  It read:



2192-2204; 2307-


It admired it for a moment, nervously adjusting its stole.  Then it stored the tattered clothing carefully in a small compartment, wincing as it added a few new tears from its spiked finger supports, and went back to work. 


Copyright 2009, Jamie Proctor.

On Bear Attacks.

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Since we don’t have enough articles on this site about members of the animal kingdom attempting (or succeeding) to maim, mangle, maul, and murderize you, I shall press on. That said, I make these because I am deeply fond of the animals in question, and although the idea of being too close to them scares the pants right off me (fortunately, I am wearing shorts). So don’t get all freaked out and be all “RABBAH RABBAH RABBAH KILL ‘EM ALL FNARGLE SNARGLE WURGH” because then you sound like a cross between a talk radio host and donald duck, and no one wants that. Look at it this way: everyone knows at least one person who they wish would get mauled by something large. So just keep quietly in mind any dangerous locations I mention, and pass them on as holiday destinations.

"Applies to the whole of Svalbard" indeed.

"Applies to the whole of Svalbard" indeed.

We’re going to be looking at three kinds of bears here: brown (mostly grizzly), black, and polar, because they are the most likely to grab someone by the leg and give them a few good clawings.

Black Bears

Yes, those ears are hard to take seriously.

Yes, those ears are hard to take seriously.

Ursus americanus is the smallest and most abundant of the three species we’re looking at, black bear males are 155-600 pounds to the female’s 90-400, and can stand from five to seven feet when upright. How absolutely tiny. And they’re absurdly strong for their size, like all bears, so don’t expect any lucky breaks here. Fortunately, black bears are also easily the most retiring and shy of this trio. Fight or flight? Flight please.




Ursus arctos horribilis gets its less-than-flattering subspecies title from George Ord mishearing “grizzly” (as in its grizzled hairs) as “grisly.” Whups. A subspecies of brown bear, the Grizzly is widely regarded as one of the most over-the-top aggressive bears out there, even among brown bears, who are renowned as somewhat tetchy. Size and weight vary on location, from smallish in the Yukon to huge on the Alaskan peninsula, giving a wide range of weight from 300-1000 pounds for males (with a rough average of 500-750), with standing heights of 6 and a half feet to 8 foot. In short: do not mess with them.

Polar Bears

So cute, and yet so unhuggable.  Paradox, thy name is bear.

So cute, and yet so unhuggable. Paradox, thy name is bear.

Ah, Ursus maritimus, the “sea bear.” The largest carnivore in the world, sharing the title of “largest bear” with the Kodiak brown bear, and by far the most hardcore meat-eater of all the bears. Screw the berries, it has seals. Males range from 770-1,500 pounds and are 7.9-9.8 feet in length,with females at half the weight and 5.9-7.9 feet. They’re not as shy as a black bear or as absurdly touchy as the grizzly. But they’re much more likely to look at you and think “Hmmm! That looks like meat! Which is food!”

Bear attacks, like shark attacks, have wildly varying motivations, and these become more or less common depending on what type of bear you’re looking at – for instance, a black bear is much less likely to beat the crap out of you for violating its personal space than, say, a grizzly. So let’s examine a few MOs.

My personal space bubble has been punctured, and now so has your liver

If you can see this, you're probably too close.

If you can see this, you're probably too close.

Being too close to a bear can have varying effects. It may back off, run away, stand its ground, not care, or go ballistic and beat you up until you cower on the ground like the pathetic waste of flesh that you are. Grizzlies are by far the most likely perpetrators of this sort of thing, being as touchy as they are. The running theory is that since they’re too large to climb trees quickly and easily (unlike black bears), they decided the best defense was a good offense. If you trigger this sort of assault, the best idea is probably to play dead, which has a good chance of making the bear realize you’ve admitted your puniness and causing it to back off – the root of the old “if it’s a brown, fall down” advice-rhyme.

Cuteness is next to deadliness

Look, but don't touch.  And you'd better look from far, far away.

Look, but don't touch. And you'd better look from far, far away.

Bear cubs are absolutely adorable, and no one knows this more than their mothers. Which makes them very, very protective. Bear reaction to getting too close to their cubs varies – black bears will chase them up a tree and stand guard, grizzlies and polars will probably charge – but they all seem to have a similar response to getting between the mother and the cubs, which is to go absolutely ballistic. Remember that major sexual dimorphism bear females suffer from? It won’t actually matter at this point. Male bears 33%-50% larger than the females aren’t stupid enough to bug them with their cubs (which they often think look awfully nummy), so why should you be? Your response should be the same as when you infringe on its personal space: play dead to show that you are far too pathetic and feeble to do anything mean, and that you are really, really, really, really sorry and don’t plan on bugging it again.

I’m hungry, you’re here, let’s deal

See that salmon?  Don't be like it.

See that salmon? Don't be like it.

As similar for sharks, actual, deliberate predation is the rarest type of attack a bear can make, as well as the most deadly.  Bears usually need to be either very used to humans or very hungry to give it a shot – the former is why you shouldn’t be feeding them, leaving delicious-smelling food all around a campsite, or letting them hang around a garbage dump all day. Grizzly bears, despite having a very large attack record, are more likely to attack you because (again) of their immense tetchiness rather than hungry.  Polar bears are primarily predators, unlike their omnivorous pals, so they’re more likely to actually try to kill and eat you if they’re attacking. And black bears, although incredibly unlikely to attack you at all, are probably trying to eat you if they do. It makes sense if you think about it: if black bears are shy enough that they usually run away from you when confronted, then attacks are almost always going to be the result of either separating the mother and cubs or active predation. This, by the way, is the root of the other half of the advice-rhyme, which is: “if it’s a black, fight back,” which also sounds something you’d hear in a KKK nursery.

  • Picture Credits:
  • Norwegian road sign: Public domain image from wikipedia, taken by KaareDump
  • Black bear: Public domain image from wikipedia.
  • Grizzly bear: Public domain image from wikipedia, taken by Terry Tollefsbol.
  • Polar bear: Public domain image from wikipedia, from United States Geological Survey.
  • Kodiak bear face: Public domain image from wikipedia, taken by LadyofHats.
  • Polar bear cubs: Public domain image from wikipedia, from US Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Brown bear feeding: Public domain image from wikipedia, from US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Following Things Are Surprisingly Unlikely to Kill You.

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Following up on the theme of some weeks back, here we are with a brief contrast and follow-up to my earlier ramblings on things that will kill you horribly. Now let’s try looking at some things that SEEM like they would do that, but actually won’t. Usually. Bear in mind that almost every single form of life on the planet will try to screw you over in some way should you try to mess with it, be it through bite, claw, or smush.

Timber Wolves

Bad hair day.

Bad hair day.

Not nearly as dangerous as you’d think from all the werewolf legends and so on. You can count unprovoked attacks by non-rabid wild wolves in North America on the fingers of one hand, after that hand has been mangled by a wolf suffering from rabies. Without major habituation, rabies, provocation, rabies, serious injury, rabies, severe starvation, or rabies, they’re usually pretty timid about people, even in groups. Which doesn’t mean that wandering up to apex predators and trying to give them cuddles is any less unsafe and stupid, and would most likely be filed under “provoked attack.” It’s worth noting that North American wolves seem to be more timid than the world average – Russia and India have plenty of wolf attacks recorded right up to the present, and Europe has tons and tons of stories about wolves going for people back in the old days, although you can expect plenty of historical distortion there.

Almost Every Species of Shark Ever

The cutest mindless eating machine ever.

The cutest mindless eating machine ever.

Okay, maybe harmless is pushing it a bit.

Okay, maybe harmless is pushing it a bit.

440+ different species, ranging from open-ocean fish eaters to reef-dwelling shellfish-scarfers to coastal seal-chompers. And out of all of them, only the Great White, Tiger, Bull, and possibly Oceanic Whitetip make attacking people anything close to a habit. And the rest? Most of them are totally harmless due to specific diets, live so far out of the way that they never meet a human, are tiny, or are all three. The few that are big enough and aggressive enough to make a go at a human….usually don’t. We just aren’t really that palatable as fish food, and we’re large and weird enough that most sharks don’t feel like experimenting. Exceptions can be made for people bleeding all over the place/waving glittery fish-scale like objects/splashing frantically like a wounded fish/carrying around wounded fish/invading a shark’s personal space/trying to poke the shark just to see what happens. In most of these cases the shark will just check the situation out and vanish without ever being seen, or bite you once as a warning/to see exactly what’s going on before realizing its mistake.

Black Bears

Aren't you the cutest little - wait, where's your mother?

Aren't you the cutest little - wait, where's your mother?

When black bears attack someone, they almost always attack with intent to kill. Even with their position as the grizzly’s little brother, the males still average over 200 pounds and 6 foot when standing erect, and unlike us they aren’t relatively scrawny and feeble for their size. So why are they on this list? It’s because they’re shy as hell and, on face-to-face meetings with you, will likely run away farther, faster, and first. The reason most black bear attacks are made with predatory intent is because they almost never attack as a means of defense – running is much higher on their response list. Therefore, a great proportion of black bear attacks will be purely predatory, even though they’re astronomically unlikely to try and attack you for food in the first place. Grizzlies, on the other hand, are touchy louts who react to personal space issues with violence, inflating their recorded attacks. Demean not the noble black bear with tales of this villainy, for he will graciously depart from your presence almost immediately, reacting with alarm to your clumsy ways.*

*Warning: said description does not apply if the bear is starving/old/sick and just trying to eat you/has you directly between her and her cubs/you are trying to feed it/it’s been habituated by constantly eating people’s garbage/are hemming it into a tight corner/are trying to pet it and hug it and love it and name it “Archibald.”

Pythons and Boas

Isn't that the cutest little face?  Go on, give him a hug!  He loves hugs!

Isn't that the cutest little face? Go on, give him a hug! He loves hugs!

Constrictor snakes tend to be far too small on average to actually take down humans for the most part, and show a general lack of desire to do so in general, preferring rats and so on. To kill an animal, they loop around it really quickly and squeeze tighter against its ribs on each exhalation, constricting until the victim can’t inhale and suffocates. You’re most likely to see someone killed if they’re raising them as pets and get careless while home alone. The Green Anaconda (a type of boa, pictured above) and the Reticulated Python are the two top contenders for size, with the python most likely longer (around 30 feet is the estimated maximum) while the anaconda is probably heavier (around 550 pounds). Both could be considered dangerous enough that you really shouldn’t go near them in the wild, but then again, you probably guessed that. They’re still far, far, far less likely to put a crimp in your day than one of their venomous cousins. Just don’t try to cuddle them. That would be silly.

Going Swimming Less Than Half an Hour After Eating Even After Mother Told You Not to Because You Are a Rebel at Heart.



Eating and then partaking in exercise is always uncomfortable. Eating and then swimming will not, however, give you immediate crippling cramps that will plunge you into a watery grave in paroxysms of agony, according to all known records of lifeguarding and such. Because that’s just silly. While we’re at this, your mother lied to you about Santa too. AND the Easter Bunny. Don’t even get me started on the Tooth Fairy.

Storytime: Museum.

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Any connection to “Lighthouse” is purely possibly coincidential. Despite the fact that this story came first, it DID give me the idea…which took a loooong time to come out of it.

May 2nd: New exhibit’s coming in today. Finally, a change of scenery. Not that it won’t get old after a few days of standing near it, staring blankly at a wall, but better than nothing. Something about the Permian, from what I can tell. I told Frank that I just hoped it had some halfway interesting dinosaurs, and the sonovabitch laughed at me. Just because I’m not a fucking nerd like him doesn’t mean I’m a goddamned idiot. So I haven’t ever been bored enough to memorize every little plaque and display tag in the whole museum – so what? God I hate him. The pieces should be done moving tomorrow.

Nothing else. Same old: Walked, watched, had a snack.

I wish the vending machine in the lobby would stock Doritos again.

May 3rd: Exhibit’s being set up in fits and starts. The fossils are all damned small (biggest one so far is probably the size of my palm), but I’m glad of it – there’re models of what the bones and shells would’ve looked like alive. Most of them make cockroaches look charming. Frank caught me wincing at one and laughed. Bastard sounds like some kind of bird with tar in its lungs.

Walked, watched, snacked.

Harriet complained a lot tonight.

May 4th: I take back everything I said about the exhibit. They just unloaded their star piece, and the fucker’s bigger than I am. Frank says it’s a sea scorpion, a rare one, and then he babbled on and on about how near-perfectly preserved it was. Biggest thing in the seas, top predator of its age, unchallenged, blah blah blah till my ears were ready to fall off. He was enjoying it, too. I saw that look in his eye again; he likes it when I’m uncomfortable and can’t call him on it. Asshole.

Walked, watched, snacked.

There’s a poster that goes with the fossil. It has a picture. I wish it didn’t.

May 5th: Yes, that thing’s the centerpiece all right. The sea scorpion’s sitting right there in its slab, surrounded by all the little ones like satellites – at a safe distance. I’d give that thing space too, and I’d imagine so did they, back in the day. I wonder how many of them were eaten by it. Or something like it.

Walked, watched, snacked.

Didn’t see Frank all day. Happily.

May 6th: Work was fine – and again, Frank-less (hope he’s home sick) – but home was hell. Harriet went on, and on, and ON. Whining about my job, whining about the house, whining about why I “never do anything fun with her anymore”… for fuck’s sake woman, I work overtime on a security job at the most boring-ass place in the city, my scheduled shift changes with no warning whatsoever every other day, my closest coworker is a piece of piss in a cesspit, and you want to know why I have no energy at the end of the day? Fuck you Harriet, you stupid bitch.

Walked, watched, snacked.

God I wish I could slap her.

May 7th: Frank’s back, and he was sick after all. Smirked at him all day, let the little shit have a taste of his own medicine, see how he likes it. He looked pale and twitchy, but who knows whether that was from the aftermath of the flu or me.

Walked, watched, snacked.

The lobby vending machine has Doritos again. No cool ranch though. Damnit.

May 8th: The exhibit’s finished most of its setup. They saved the model (life-sized) of the sea scorpion for last. It’s positioned so that it points almost right at my station. If I don’t want the damned thing eyeing me in the jugular I need to prop myself up against the wall in a weird way until my arm goes to sleep.

Walked, watched, snacked.

Dad called this kind of shit “the heebie-jeebies.” Now I know what he meant. It has too many eyes. Just four of them, but that’s four too many. And they’re all looking right at me.

May 9th: Frank felt well enough to start mouthing off at me again in that pissy little way of his that he thinks is so clever. I told him to go fuck himself. He got all shocked and offended – as if he had no idea he’d been “a nuisance.” Told him he could kill the attitude or I’d give him another sick leave personally. Little prick should keep a lot quieter around here now.

Walked, watched, snacked.

Thought I’d get used to the model. I’m not.

May 10th: I’m on night shift for “the foreseeable future” now and I’m sure it’s Frank’s fault. I don’t know how he did it, but that little fucker looked smug today right after I learned about the schedule change. All I could not to punch him in his stupid, whiny little face. I don’t relish the thought of spending the night alone with that thing staring at me.

Walked, watched, snacked.

Harriet was at me again.

May 11th: God, that woman won’t shut up. On and on and on. She complained at me all last evening about the new shift schedule, and kept it up all day. Then she started whining as I left that I hadn’t done anything but laze about. Goddamned bitch. Why can’t people just leave me the hell alone?

Walked, watched, snacked.

It’s hard to eat with the thing looking at you. You start to think it might be hungry.

May 12th: Well, I found one unexpected benefit of my new scheduling – I see fuck-all of Frank nowadays. Unfortunately, I get to see five times as much of Harriet. Damnit, she WILL NOT SHUT UP. I’m trying to get more rest during the day so I’m at least half-alert on duty, but she seems to think that I’m just being a lazy bastard. And whenever I try to explain it to her she cuts me off with rambling about how I’m always making excuses and “being mean to her.” I should show her what the real meaning of that is someday.

Walked, watched, snacked. In the dark.

I’m actually looking forward to work now. I don’t have to cope with anyone or any of their bullshit. Just three things to do. Easy ones too.

May 13th: I’ve found a way around Harriet’s rantings now – I just ignore her and go have a nap with the door shut. She sulks about it, but she’s quieter that way. I bumped into Frank on the way into work. He looked surprised at how happy I seemed. Go on; keep dropping the ball like that, you asshole.

Walked, watched, snacked.

I could get used to this.

May 14th: Harriet actually woke me up this afternoon to have “a very serious talk.” That’s apparently bitch-code for “I want to complain at you and you can’t interrupt me or you’re mean.” It turned into a bit of a shouting argument – and those always end with her crying and swearing at me. It’s all a show anyways. She scurried out to plan her next move through the sobs after a while, and I locked the door after her. I’d better make a habit of that.

Walked, watched, snacked.

I think I’m even getting used to that blank-eyed stare coming from the model. It’s the only other thing in the building, we might as well get along. Even though it still gives me the creeps when it watches me eat.

May 15th: It turns out locking the door isn’t such a great idea – Harriet wanted to get her purse for some reason or another after she’d left it in the bedroom. She wouldn’t stop yelling, even after I opened up and threw the thing to her. The only way to shut her up was to lock it again, and it took her a while to get tired of screaming at the closed door. Maybe I’ll get lucky and the bitch’ll lose her voice.

Walked, watched, snacked.

I left a chip in front of the display, tucked behind a sign and just to the side of the model. Maybe now the damned thing’ll stop staring at me.

May 16th: I got back from work and found that she’d left. Well, at least I know why she was so eager to get her hands on that purse. She took all her stuff too – must’ve been busy moving all night. Probably got a few of her drinking buddies to help. Well, good riddance. She didn’t take any of my stuff and it’ll be a lot cheaper to keep everything going now. First Frank, now Harriet. The world’s full of assholes that’re out to get me, and every time they give me their best shot it just makes things more convenient for me. Just like Dad. The bastard kicked me out of the house and within three months I was holding down a better job than the old fucker ever had. And now there’s no one left to bug me. All alone, no need for family, friends, or shoal. The way it should be.

Walked, watched, snacked.

The chip was gone. I guess someone’s brat noticed it there in the middle of the day and snatched it. I put another one there. I’m not sure why. It’s not staring anymore, though.

May 17th: Best day of my life. No Harriet, no noise, nobody. Just alone. I ate, I slept, I got up and left for work as the sun went down. Feels perfect. Alone, as it should be. Don’t need anyone else. I’m the biggest predator on a reef full of dawdling prey.

Walked, stared, snacked.

The chip was gone again. Too many greedy little spawn around here. I tossed the next one past the exhibit barrier. No way to get at it unless you’re willing to climb in, and it’s half-hidden behind the model’s base.

May 18th: I got to work and saw Frank on the way in again. He still wasn’t looking too well – sickly and weak as ever. Amazing he hasn’t been hunted down by now. Gave him a big smile and a wink. The asshole stiffened up harder than his dick’d ever been. Let him stew on that for a while. How do I like my petty punishment, you puny prick? Just fine, thanks.

Walked, stared, snacked.

The new chip was missing. I put another one in. I don’t want it to start staring again.

May 19th: As I signed in, I was told I’m going to be put back on the afternoon shift again. Frank. Again. And I’d just really started to enjoy this. And gotten used to the sleep cycle. What a colossally pathetic move of him. Weak and weedy little jerk, too cowardly to just face me. He knows I’m better than him, bigger than him. This’s my shift, my life, and they won’t meddle in it anymore. I’ll think of something – except I probably won’t need to. Do what comes naturally. Nothing they can do to me.

Walked, stared, snacked.

Put in a new chip. It’s looking at me again, though. Maybe it wants something else.

May 20th: Tracked down Frank today. I was friendly, really friendly. We had a casual conversation about our respective shifts. He was pretty nervous – but not quite nervous enough that he didn’t mention that he was on the late-night shift now. My shift. Can’t have that, Frank. My territory, my hunting ground.

Walked, stared, snacked.

Didn’t eat the chip, won’t take it, maybe it wants something else. Doesn’t look the same in the daylight. Predators hunt by night, right? Maybe that’s when it’s awake.

May 21st: Exhausted all day and now can’t sleep. Isn’t good. Can’t have this. If I’m tired, Frank’ll know I’m weak. He’ll try to take advantage of that. Got to show that little shit who’s the biggest. I can use this latest spit he’s flung at me as an advantage – trick him into thinking I’m weak hurt crippled easy prey. I want my night back, got to show him in charge.

Walked, stared, snacked.

Predators hunt at night.

May 22nd: Yawned all day, half-asleep and dozy. Went home I was almost sleeping on my feet passed Frank he looked happy. Now that he’s overconfident I can deal with him. he won’t see it coming he’s not listening to his instincts unwary prey. Biggest predator.

Hunted, stared, snacked.

Night now.

May 23rd: Found him. Easy hunt. He thinks too much, can’t move can’t act on instinct. Tried to find a weapon. stupid man stupid shit, little weakling, too stupid to fight to bite to claw.

Hunted, stared, snacked.

What do I do with the body?

May 24th: skipped work came in at night stared at me wouldn’t stop staring at me chips aren’t any good anymore maybe it wants something else. nice night night nice hunting hours. easy to see the prey prey’s eyes don’t see can’t see but I can see. Fed it. fed.

hunted stared fed.

kill tastes suck and lap tear blood tastes good best.

Copyright Jamie Proctor, 2009.

On Sharks Yet Again: The Six Million Dollar Fish.

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009
It is time once again to wander back to my most excruciatingly over-described topic. I’d get more creative, but I’m in the deep and terrible thrall of a cold, courtesy of my sister.

“But what’s left to say?” you might not ask, so I will ask myself for you. “We’ve already covered shark attacks, dangerous sharks, and several hideous photoshop’d lolsharks!” “Why, but the shark’s senses, Jamie,” I tell myself in the condescending voice I use for friends and relatives. “You should know about this already, you shallow and insufferable twit.” I laid myself out after this with an enthustiastic yet inept punch to my frail, porcelain-like jawbone, so I can’t recall the rest of that conversation and the following article may become incomprehensible in places where my brain damage in leakeds.


This chart, sadly, contains no pie.  Imagine one for yourselves.

This chart, sadly, contains no pie. Imagine one for yourselves.

Since we’re going alphabetically, first up on the list of shark senses is one that we don’t have any equivilant for, because we suck. Jelly-filled tubes in a shark’s face (the Ampullae of Lorenzini, named after the guy who first really took a look at them in the 1700s) detect electrical fields in the water. How sensitive are they? They can detect muscle contractions. Go from this to the fact that the heart is a muscle, and if you’re close enough a shark will notice you based solely on your heartbeat. That’s pretty impressive, and in fact sharks may be the most electrically sensitive animals on the planet. It’s extremely possible that they also use the Ampullae to find their way around the world, sensing the planet’s magnetic field and electrical currents within the oceans – a useful trick for any species that wander around a lot.


It'll hear you coming.  But it only loves you for your spearfishing.

It'll hear you coming. But it only loves you for your spearfishing.

Shark hearing tends towards good. Higher-pitched noises give them difficulty, however – the upper registers of our hearing are completely soundless to them. Screw that crap. This is the ocean, not some namby-pamby surface world. We use LOW-PITCHED sounds here, and we like it, and sharks hear those like a cat hears a can opener. They can hear very low noises with incredible accuracy for several miles…. such as those emitted by something splashing into the water, or a fish struggling in distress. No, I’m not deliberately trying to add a sinister bent to each and every capability, why do you ask?


Jeepers creepers, where'd you get those peepers.

Jeepers creepers, where'd you get those peepers.

Being underwater all the time makes sight slightly less useful than it is in the crisp, clean (well, nowadays smoggy and filthy) air of landbound critters. Still, shark eyes are good, and (naturally) can see better underwater than a human’s. They can see you before you even know they’re there okay I’ll stop now. Anyways, shark eyes. The more durinal the shark is, the better its eyesight, the more nocturnal, the worse (harder to see at night and all that). Daytime active hunters tend towards the best eyesight. All sharks possess the tapetum lucidum, a reflective layer of tissue behind the eye that bounces light entering it back outwards, allowing improved night vision. Cats and dogs possess it as well – visible in cameras and at night as “eyeshine.” That’s right, shark eyes glow in the dark sorry I said I’d stop that. Many sharks possess a sort of eye-covering lid called the nictating membrane, which flips over their eye when they’re doing something that might hurt it, like mangling flailing prey. However, some, like the great white, don’t have this. Instead, to protect their vulnerable eyes when biting, they roll them back in their sockets, turning them from all-black to all-white (permission to shiver slightly granted) and relying on their other senses to land the kill.


Don't laugh; it works.

Don't laugh; it works.

Ah, smell. The most famous shark ability, the ol’ “able to find a single drop of blood in an olympic swimming pool.” Truth be told, fish guts have always excited sharks more than blood under testing, but it’s still no exaggeration. Sharks have phenomenally keen noses, and that above swimming pool line is a fancy way of saying “one part blood per million seawater.” This nose leads them to prey over very large distances, as well as sewege outlets. Now you have one more reason not to swim near them – no need to thank me. By the way, the odd head shape of hammerheads, as seen above, is thought to provide a sort of extra platform for scent – making it very easy to determine smell direction by testing which nostril the scent is in, swinging the head back and forth as you swim. It’s also supposed to provide a broader platform for the Ampullae of Lorenzini, for much the same reasons – hammerheads are particularly adept at finding buried rays made completely invisible by hiding in the sand.

Lateral Line

Note how line-like it is.

Note how line-like it is.

Yet another sense our feeble bodies don’t possess, but this one is scarcely unique to sharks – fish in general have it, as well as a few other marine organisms. The lateral line’s function can best be summed up as “ranged touch.” Groups of hair cells surrounded by jelly form “neuromasts,” which sense vibrations and movement in the water around them, arranged in, well, a lateral line down each side of the shark. They have a much longer sensory reach than the shark’s electroreception, and their hair cells bear a curious resemblence to those in the inner ear, hinting at a common origin. It might also let sharks tell if big chunks of low pressure – like say, a hurricane – is coming towards them.

I could mention taste and touch, so I will. The shark’s mouth tastes stuff, and also touches stuff, because the rest of the shark is covered in thorny dermal denticles (skin-teeth, or tiny little spiky bits that make a shark’s skin aquadynamic sandpaper). So if a great white grabs you in its mouth, it might just be seeing what the hell you are. You can’t fault curiosity.

  • Credits:
  • Drawing of electroreceptors in shark head: Public domain image from Wikipedia by Chris_huh.
  • Whitetip reef shark: Public domain image from Wikipedia, from NOAA (U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
  • Bigeye threasher: Public domain image from Wikipedia, from PIRO-NOAA Observer Program.
  • Scalloped Hammerhead: Public domain image from Wikipedia by Littlegreenman.
  • Diagram of shark’s lateral line: Public domain image from Wikipedia by Chris_huh.