Can you smell the logic?

I was petting a cat this week. She was smiling and arching her back and obviously enjoying being alive. Then she suddenly turned and started licking herself, after which she repositioned her neck back under my hand. I realized then that cats don’t “decide” to clean themselves. How do they keep track of which spot needs cleaning? Now? A cat’s skin must have some distributed chemical mechanism that causes particular areas to itch on some approximate schedule.

Seventeen years ago my new bride and I were exploring the lush gardens in what was once the moat of Fort Hamilton. The sound of one of Bermuda’s famous mopeds echoed against the stone, and I thought there was a bee in my ear. I ran away skelter-legged in panic, leaving my bride behind.

Just now I foamed a wasp nest on our deck stairs. I could feel every molecule of this morning’s coffee, and I was going to explode, but I completed the foaming. I explained to my wife (same bride) that I didn’t think bees got angry. I figure they don’t decide that it’s time to return to the nest and remember where it was. They must have some hardware clock that tells them to crave the smell of home, and they must simply follow a chemical gradient to get there. They buzz around helter-skelter and turn mostly in the direction in which the chemical smell is strongest. The foam was interfering with that, and they were panicked.

Robin looked at me and asked, “Why do you have to understand the behavior of everything? Can you smell the logic?”

About Stearns

Howard Stearns works at High Fidelity, Inc., creating the metaverse. Mr. Stearns has a quarter century experience in systems engineering, applications consulting, and management of advanced software technologies. He was the technical lead of University of Wisconsin's Croquet project, an ambitious project convened by computing pioneer Alan Kay to transform collaboration through 3D graphics and real-time, persistent shared spaces. The CAD integration products Mr. Stearns created for expert system pioneer ICAD set the market standard through IPO and acquisition by Oracle. The embedded systems he wrote helped transform the industrial diamond market. In the early 2000s, Mr. Stearns was named Technology Strategist for Curl, the only startup founded by WWW pioneer Tim Berners-Lee. An expert on programming languages and operating systems, Mr. Stearns created the Eclipse commercial Common Lisp programming implementation. Mr. Stearns has two degrees from M.I.T., and has directed family businesses in early childhood education and publishing.


  1. Hmm, can one ever become sated of finding out new stuff? From an evolutionary standpoint, a certain amount of curiosity is good for opening up new food sources I guess, but is that an urge that ever goes away?

  2. One evening last summer, Dear Wife and I were entertaining dinner guests on our back porch, when I noticed some hornets about. A little inspection revealed that there was a small hornet’s nest affixed to the underside of the table, right by where I was sitting.

    The dinner had not yet been served. So, I suggested that either I kill the damn insects using a horrible aerosol poison that I had purchased for that very purpose, or that we leave the insects alone for the time being, and take our meal inside.

    Well, my guest Lynn is a longtime organic gardner and didn’t like the idea of spraying pesticides right where we would be eating, and her date Tom didn’t like the idea of yielding to insects. They concocted some kind of plan, as I recall, that involved putting vinegar or ammonia or some such into a spritzer bottle.

    Long story short, in a surfeit of politeness I yielded to the cockamamy plan of my guests & got stung in the middle of my back just as I took my first bite of dinner. This is not a new lesson: when dealing with hornets, try not to piss them off. Ignore them or kill them, but don’t fuck with their heads using some spritzer.

    For more on the mind of bees and things like unto bees, one should of course consult that sublime work “Bees, or, The Floating Point Error”, to be found within the pages of Cheap Complex Devices, a novella easily found in its free entirety on this very site.

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