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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Distributing Strawberries Evenly

Do you ever think that we get so bogged down in our ability to count things that we forget they might not all be of equal value or of the same size? When I am working on a project, sometimes I assess my progress by the number of files I have completed. But if some of the files are in the megabytes and some in kilobytes, is it any wonder that the assessment is not all that useful? The same principle apparently holds for the equitable distribution of strawberries, as Bow reminded me this morning.

I had six strawberries, which I hoped to divide equally among Sword, Bow and me. I meticulously counted them out, and then I went over to Bow's side to see what he would ask for first, his big bunch of grapes, or his small, but equitable allotment of strawberries.

Bow took my hand and spelled: "Again you get more."

I knew he must be talking about the strawberries, because he clearly got more grapes than I did, as I didn't get any. "But Bow, we have the same number. I have two and you have two."

Bow spelled: "Yours are big."

I looked at them. They were bigger! I really didn't intend to cheat Bow. I had been too busy counting to notice anything else. "Do you want to switch?" I asked.


We switched, and he immediately asked to eat the strawberries first.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bow asks for his ball

This morning, Bow and Lawrence were outside in the outer pen, and Lawrence was reading to Bow about King David. Suddenly Bow went to the door, indicating he wanted to go inside. Lawrence went inside with him, and Bow took him straight to the glass and spelled: "I want to play with my ball."

"Do you want to play with your ball outside?" Lawrence asked.

"Yes," Bow spelled. "Outside."

Lawrence brought the brown basketball for Bow to play with outside. We're not sure what made Bow think of his ball just then. This is an unusual incident, because usually when Bow is outside he enjoys playing with what is there, and he never takes someone back in just to ask for another toy.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bow's New Bench

Yesterday was Sword's birthday, and I spent the day with her, and Lawrence stayed with Bow. While I was out, Bow got a present, too. His new outdoor bench was installed.

In the outer pens, ever since the pen system was erected, we had a black metal glider, on which Bow, and whoever was with him, used to sit and swing. The glider was originally intended to be part of the furniture at Orchard House, before there even was a pen system.

 Bow liked the glider, but he also enjoyed trying to take it apart and damage it. Bow's enjoyment of all objects is essentially destructive. He's the kind of consumer who longs to consume the product in its entirety, until nothing is left. As far as Bow is concerned, a product left unconsumed is a product not fully used.

Little by little, parts of the glider began to drop off. A decorative pattern welded onto the back rest, shaped like flowers, was broken off and might have been used as a knife, had it not been confiscated. The lower grill, which is part of the seat, was chewed on until part of it jutted up, and I ended up with a hole in the bottom of my pants every time I sat there. I had to take a towel with me to sit there, and Bow resented the towels and wanted to bite them. One day the frame of the glider broke. That was about three weeks ago.

I set out in search of a metal bench to replace the glider. I realized that moving parts were just an invitation for destructive behavior, so I wanted something simple: a welded metal bench as strong as the pen itself. I thought I had seen such a thing at the local feed store, but my memory was from last year. This year all they had were benches that came in flat boxes and had to be put together with bolts. Anything we could put together Bow could easily take apart. The Do It Center had nothing better. Everything available was mass produced and arrived dissassembled.

I began to search the flea markets, hoping to find a sturdy bench produced before the industrial age. In front of one flea market, I saw a bench that looked just right. It was all metal, welded together, painted black, with a backplate with a floral design, and it looked like something no one could take apart. I tried to lift it, to see how heavy it was, and then I realized it was bolted to the cement in front of the store. It wasn't for sale. It belonged to the city. That's when I noticed that this city had such benches every block or so, all up and down its main street.

I stopped by at the city hall to ask who had made the benches. They directed me to the local florist's shop, where the welder's name and phone number were divulged to me. And that's how I came to order Bow his own made-to-order bench, which was delivered yesterday, and bolted to the cement of his outer pen. It's supposed to be indestructible, but if this proves to be an exaggeration, I will know where to go for repairs.

The welder is a kind man who understood Bow's need to fiddle with things and make them move, so he added, at no extra charge, some nonfunctional moving parts, metal nuts that ate like a baby's beads on a stroller or high chair. You can move them up and down, and nothing happens.

Bow watched the work proceed from indoors, and when he was finally allowed access to the bench, he threw himself at it, trying every which way to dislodge it, but to no avail. He then proceeded to use it for a series of gymnastic maneuvers. Later, when Lawrence asked him what he thought of his new bench, Bow spelled: "I like it."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Grandma's house

I am planning a trip to visit my mother at the end of the month. The last time I visited there was in 2005, with Sword and Bow. Sword celebrated her sixth birthday there.  Bow had to be carried by me throughout the house, as it would not be wise to let him loose. At night, while Sword stayed with my mother, Bow and I went to a motel room, where, to work off all that pent up energy from being carried all day, Bow would leap from one bed to the other, over and over and over again, before he would settle down
to sleep. Amazingly, the motel room did not sustain any damage from serving as Bow's play gym.

This time, Lawrence will stay with Bow, and I will fly with Sword to my mother's place for a long weekend. We will sleep in her guestroom, and I won't have a chimp on my back. The load will be lighter, but something will be missing, too.

This morning, Bow took my hand and spelled: "It's not good that Mommy will go to grandma's house without Bow." He would like to come, too.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Where did the chopstick go?

When I turned on the older touchscreen yesterday, the calibration seemed to have fixed itself by some mysterious means. You could touch the letters in the center of each colored square, and it would register. So I left the chopstick in Bow's possession and went to work on the computer in the adjoining pen. I hadn't looked away for more than five minutes, and the next time I looked, there was no chopstick. I went back in with Bow and, after searching visually throughout the pen, I asked him: "Where's the chopstick?"

" ש-ם" he spelled. That means "there".

"Where?" I asked. He gestured vaguely at one of the doors to the pen. I went all around the outer perimeter of Bow's pen, to see if he had placed the chopstick outside the pen by passing it through the openings in the grid. There was no chopstick.

For a short while, I actually believed he had swallowed it. But when a whole day passed and it did not appear in his stool, I came to the conclusion that this theory was unlikely to be correct.

This morning, when I turned on the computer, Bow gesticulated toward it, as if asking to use it. "But where's the chopstick?" I asked.

"Mommy remembers so much," he spelled.

"What did you do with it, Bow? Did you eat it?"


"Well, then where is the chopstick?"

He spelled: "It fell in the hole."

At this point I tend to believe him. He must have dropped it down the drain at the center of the pen.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Telling on Bow; Calibrating the Touchscreen

Yesterday, while Lawrence was watching him, Bow dripped on the way to the potty. When I came in to talk to Lawrence, Bow put his hand over Lawrence's mouth, as if to say: "Don't tell." Later, there was another dripping incident, and Bow asked Lawrence not to tell me, by spelling it out on the glass. When all that failed, Bow spelled out at lunch: "Lawrence is bad."

"Why is he bad?"

Bow spelled: "Because he told you."

Yesterday afternoon was the first time Bow tried out the other touchscreen, the one that was donated to us, after having been used in a bar to advertise liquor. It was supposed to be very tough, as it was meant to stand up to the assaults of inebriated customers, but in fact the screen is a bit scratched up. I would not trust Bow with it in direct contact, but it works well with a chopstick. The screen is bigger than on our other Project Bow computer, and Tracey helped me select a lower reslution display, which makes the keys for the letters appear much bigger. This makes using this touchscreen easier. There's just one problem: it's not calibrated correctly.

Lawrence told me that at first Bow was very interested in the new computer and used it a lot, but he only selected random letters, and after a while he lost interest.

This morning, after breakfast, Bow gesticulated toward the big, hulking computer. (It's on a stand, and Bow has to use it standing up.) "What do you want, Bow?" I asked.

He took me to the glass and spelled out: "To play with the computer."

I gave him the chopstick, and he started pointing with it. Every time he hit the screen, it made a kind of beeping sound. (The other one doesn't do this.) Then I noticed that the touch was not registering in the right place. Bow was pointing at letters, but the computer was registering the touch between the letters.

"Bow, it's not calibrated correctly," I said, taking the chopstick from him and demonstrating. "You have to hit it to the right of the letter, like this, see?"

But Bow lost interest again. I think we will need to recalibrate.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Reviving the Old Touchscreen: Seeking Out Disabled Volunteers

When I told Lawrence yesterday what Bow had said, that he did not want the man who cannot read, because using the computer is hard, Lawrence jumped in and said that Bow had already told him that! So Bow has communicated with each of us independently on this issue.

I've been thinking a lot about what it would mean to have someone who cannot read working with Bow. This is actually the same principle that applies in our bilingual proofs: that Bow knows something the person with him does not. It is a way to dispel the notion that there is cuing, and to lay to rest the accusation of "Clever Hans" once and for all.

In order to get to work with Bow, the man who cannot read will have to meet all the other criteria for being a caretaker. He will need to pass medical tests. He will have to have recommendation letters. Since he served in the military, I will want a letter from his commanding officer. Hopefully, the letter will mention both his abilities and his disabilities, so that I can have documentation to prove that this man cannot read.

Of course, he has to be really motivated to be able to work with Bow. One can't build up all one's hopes on a single candidate for a volunteer position. It occurred to me yesterday that if it doesn't work out with this particular volunteer, we might seek out blind candidates. A person who cannot see would be the same as an illiterate, as far as pointing at the glass is concerned. Bow would have to use the touchscreen to communicate.

However, blindness is a kind of physical disability, and I'm concerned for the safety of a potential blind volunteer. Would a blind volunteer be able to stand up to Bow, if he can't see the visual cues for aggression?

This is all taking on an ironic turn, as just recently I have been rebuked by a potential applicant on the matter of being unfair to the disabled. The person was very interested in the position, so I sent a Medical Report form to be filled out by a physician. The Medical Report Form has three parts: physical check up, lab tests against communicable diseases, and a medical history. The form also asks about prescription medicines taken. The potential applicant told me I was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I wrote back to say that the law does not apply, as this is not a job. There is no salary. It is a volunteer opportunity.

My feeling about it, though, was that I'm really not being unfair. Working with Bow is dangerous. You have to be physically fit and mentally alert, or he may injure you. It's for the volunteers' safety, as well as Bow's, that we want to know about their physical condition.

Do I have a bias against the disabled? No, I don't. I'm only interested in what each person can contribute, and I think I give everyone a chance. At this juncture, quite unexpectedly, I am beginning to see that certain kinds of disability, such as dyslexia or blindness, might actually serve as an advantage in getting Bow to use his touchscreen.

Yesterday, Tracey, the computer guy, revived the older touchscreen that was donated to us. It now has an operating system and has Bow's program loaded. We have two touchscreens and all we need now is a really good motivation for Bow to use them!

Monday, July 5, 2010


Sword had a friend sleep over for the fourth of July. Bow was excited about the guest. We had watermelon  and cheese cake for dessert, both of them among his favorite foods. Bow was happy.

The girls did not sleep much all  night. In the morning, Bow complained: "Why didn't they try to sleep?"

I asked: "Did they disturb you, Bow?"

He said: "I heard them laughing." The pen is on the opposite side of the house from Sword's room, but chimpanzees have good hearing.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Earning a Living

Will Bow ever earn his own living? It is something we hope for when we raise our children. Someday, when they are adults and we can no longer be there for them, they need to be able to make a living on their own.

If Bow is always confined, then how can he do that? Even I am finding it difficult, though  not impossible, to earn money when trapped in the pens. There are ways, however. One can work as an independent contractor writing copy, sorting through morphemes, tagging words in a corpus. You can get paid for work you do without ever leaving the house. However, you do have to have a house. They want a physical address. A P.O. Box won't do. They want a social security number. They want proof that you exist and are human and have residency somewhere. They want you to fill  out tax forms, and they want a copy of your passport. How is Bow going to produce all those things? You can't get paid without them.

Maybe after I am gone, Bow and the guy who can't read can work together. Bow will do the part that requires literacy, and the other guy will do the things that only a human can do: prove that he exists!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Literacy and Illiteracy

It's not easy to find someone who can work with Bow. It has to be someone who has good social skills, can relate well to children and animals, is motivated to try, will work for peanuts or for free, and is not afraid to stand up to bullying by Bow. Oh, and there is one other requirement, one that just recently was brought to my attention: they have to be able to read.

It's funny, but I never actually posted that requirement in any of my ads, taking for granted that in this day and age, all human applicants would be literate. Interns have to have a college degree. Caretakers have to have a high school diploma or equivalent. But I never stated in so many words that they must be able to read.

Lawrence told me yesterday that he knows of a man who would be just perfect for Project Bow, except for one small problem.  This man is excellent with animals. He has trained dogs in the military. More recently, there was one dog whose behavior was so unruly that no one could handle him, but this man took him in and had him very well behaved in no time at all. He loves children and is kind and considerate. He is willing to work for room and board. There's just one problem: he can't read or write. How would Bow talk to him?

Bow spells on the glass to get his message across. If a caretaker can't read, how will he know what Bow said?

This morning, Bow said to me: "Mommy, don't talk to the guy who can't read."

"Why?" I asked.

"It's too hard to write on the computer," Bow spelled.

Come to think of it, maybe an illiterate volunteer is exactly what we need! If he can't read, then Bow will have to use the text-to-speech program to communicate with him!