If you encounter a really difficult problem and have used every inductive and deductive technique at your disposal to discover the answer to the problem but to no avail, the only recourse is to use the scientific method. The purpose of the scientific method is to make certain that Nature hasn’t made you think you know something that you don’t know. The scientific method starts with keeping a notebook. In the notebook you must write down everything you do to solve the problem. If you don’t write everything down you are more than likely to get confused and forget what you know and what you don’t know, what you have done and what you have yet to do. If you do not write everything down in your notebook you are almost guaranteed to become baffled.

The scientific method involves six steps that must be taken in order:

  • State the problem
  • Formulate hypotheses about the cause of the problem
  • Formulate experiments that test the hypotheses
  • Predict the results of the experiments
  • Observe the results of the experiments
  • Formulate conclusions based on the results of the experiments

Perhaps the most critical skill necessary to use the scientific method is to state the problem using no more than you absolutely know about it. For example; Why does the heart stop beating? This may sound stupid but the question is logical and correct. It presumes you know only that the heart was beating and then it stopped. An incorrect stating of the problem might be; Why does too much fat in the diet make the heart stop beating? This statement of the problem implies that you know that too much fat in the diet will make the heart stop beating.

If the problem statement is limited to only what you know, that the heart was beating then it stopped, you can formulate a number of different hypotheses that could be tested and many more that you probably cannot design experiments to test. One of the testable hypotheses might be that feeding too much fat to pigs for two years will cause the heart to stop before the pigs reach the end of their normal life span. However, this would be a poor hypothesis because it is likely that the type of fat or the ratio of different fats is what is important. The ART of the scientific method is stating a hypothesis that can be tested with the proper experiment or series of experiments. Since in this example we presumably can’t use humans to test the hypotheses we have to start by identifying a suitable animal model and do the experiments necessary to provide evidence that the model is suitable or cite the work of others who have done those experiments. Another potential problem is the actual cause of the lack of a heartbeat. Can too much of a specific type of fat, for example cholesterol, cause a blockage in one of the coronary arteries? How much cholesterol in the diet does it take to cause the blockage? Is there a threshold level for cholesterol circulating in the blood that will result in an infarction, a piece of the blockage that breaks away, is carried downstream and completely obstructs the artery? Does a coronary artery infarction always result in death? Is the location of the infarct in a particular coronary artery important?

What is called for is a very specific hypothesis that can be tested experimentally. For example: Will feeding a diet containing 25% animal origin cholesterol in an otherwise balanced diet for 16 weeks result in higher than normal blood cholesterol levels and the accumulation of fat deposits in the left anterior coronary artery of year old pigs but not in year old pigs fed exactly the same diet without the added animal origin cholesterol?

A major advantage of formulating a testable hypothesis is that the actual experiment can never be a failure. If feeding some appropriate number of pigs, the 25% animal origin cholesterol diet for 16 weeks does not result in the accumulation of fat deposits in that specific artery you have added to the body of knowledge, even with a negative result. You can still draw a valid conclusion from the experiment. Of course you might be able to repeat the same identical experiment in a different breed of pig and get a different result.

Now you are poised to do what all good scientists do. Formulate other hypotheses and design experiments to test them and those results will lead to other hypotheses. Most remarkably the end result of this exercise is that there is no end. As each hypothesis is tested more hypotheses come to mind and more experiments must be devised to test them. As hypotheses are tested and confirmed or eliminated their number increases exponentially. Parkinson’s law was an adage applied to the untrammeled growth of bureaucracies; “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. Robert M. Pirsig in his bestselling book, Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has suggested a Parkinsonian-like law that says; “The number of rational hypotheses that can explain any given phenomenon is infinite.” Pirsig suggests that, if true, this law is “… a catastrophic logical disproof of the general validity of all scientific method”.

My own experience was that successfully crafted hypotheses and experiments resulted in ideas for more grant proposals, to secure more funds, to conduct more experiments, to learn more and more about less and less. I concluded there was no absolutely final answer to the ultimate problem because new questions to be answered kept arising. But the journey was so much fun!

First let’s talk about the thyroid gland. Dogs and cats have a divided thyroid gland located on either side of the trachea just below the larynx. Humans usually have just one gland more or less the shape of a butterfly. Some individual humans, dogs and cats can have ancillary thyroid tissue, usually small amounts, located along the trachea and airways. These are termed ectopic thyroid tissue and in some cases can maintain thyroid function if it is necessary to remove the thyroid gland surgically.


The thyroid gland is responsible for, or plays an important role in, many normal body functions. These include the regulation of body temperature, metabolism of fats and carbohydrates, weight control (both loss and gain), heart rate and cardiac output, normal function of the nervous system, growth and brain development in young animals, reproduction, muscle tone, and the condition of the skin and hair. So if the thyroid gland is not functioning normally we can expect changes in these functions and those changes result in symptoms or signs of the disease.


Thyroid disease is manifest as either low or absent thyroid activity (hypothyroidism) or excess thyroid activity (hyperthyroidism).


Signs of hypothyroidism include; weight gain, lethargy, generalized weakness, mental dullness, alopecia (loss of hair that can be generalized or in spots), excessive shedding, poor new hair growth, dry and/or dull hair coat, excessive scaling of the skin, recurring skin infections, and the inability to tolerate cold. In rare cases the animal may have seizures, a head tilt and infertility.


Signs of hyperthyroidism are, as one might expect, the opposite. There is a generalized increase in metabolism resulting in loss of weight despite an increased appetite. There is a general unkempt appearance and poor body condition. The animal may vomit and have diarrhea and frequently will be seen drinking water. This results in increased urine production. Some animals will have difficulty breathing and compensate with rapid shallow breathing. There is usually a rapid heart rate sometimes accompanied by so-called “gallop rhythm” a type of abnormal beat. The animals are usually hyperactive, and often the thyroid gland is enlarged.


Hypothyroidism is most common in middle-aged medium to large breeds of dogs. The condition is rare in cats. It is more commonly found in middle-aged dogs four to ten years of age. Anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that neutered males and females are at higher risk than intact animals. This condition is most commonly the result of inflammation of the thyroid gland or a decrease in active thyroid tissue from unknown cause(s). The condition can also occur as a result of treatment with the sulfa drug trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole. In very rare cases iodine deficiency in dogs can result in hypothyroidism but commercially prepared dog and cat foods all contain adequate levels of iodine. The treatment for this condition is replacement therapy with levothyroxine or another type of thyroid replacement.


The diagnosis of hypothyroidism usually requires laboratory testing that includes a complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis. Your veterinarian may be able to make an initial diagnosis based on the results of these tests, but it might be necessary to measure the levels of T3 and T4 and other endocrine lab tests. Your veterinarian may also recommend X-ray studies to check for other associated abnormalities.


Hyperthyroidism is the result of overproduction of thyroxin by the thyroid gland usually the result of a thyroid gland tumor. It can also be an aftermath of inappropriate overmedication for hypothyroidism. It is rare in dogs but can occur. It is most commonly diagnosed in older cats usually about thirteen years old or older. Less than five percent of cats with hyperthyroidism are under ten years of age. In addition to a thyroid tumor hyperthyroidism can also be the result of congenital disease, iodine deficiency or the result of inappropriate therapy. Sometimes it is impossible to identify the cause.


The diagnosis of hyperthyroidism is often initiated by palpation of an enlarge thyroid gland during a physical exam and documentation of clinical signs suggesting this disease. This will usually lead your veterinarian to measure a thyroid profile that includes T3, T4, Free T4 and TSH in the blood. If the T4 is higher than normal the diagnosis is confirmed however some early cases demonstrate T4 and the other hormone levels in the normal range. The performance of a T3 suppression test might be indicated and can produce a diagnosis. If the T3 suppression test results are still equivocal and if hyperthyroidism is still suspected further tests including nuclear isotope imaging may be necessary to arrive at a diagnosis.


There are three types of treatment for hyperthyroidism; life long oral anti-thyroid medications, surgical removal of affected thyroid glands and treatment with radioactive iodine. Tapazole (methimazole) is a specific anti-thyroid medication. This is a treatment that must be continued for the rest of the life of the animal unless surgical removal or radioactive iodine removal are indicated. Sometimes Tapazole treatment is used prior to surgery or radioactive iodine therapy to reduce thyroid hormone levels into the normal range to reduce the risk of surgery or radioactive isotope therapy. It is also indicated when the animal has congestive heart failure resulting from the hyperactive thyroid. Side effects from Tapazole include depression, vomiting, appetite loss and more seriously blood abnormalities. If surgical removal is the choice of therapy the surgeon must be very careful to avoid damage to the parathyroid glands. Removal or injury to these glands will result in significant problems.


As always if you suspect your animal has thyroid disease consult your veterinarian.

Here I am in Granada, Spain looking for all I can find about the life, times and places of a remarkable man Samuel ibn Nagrela who was given the honorific Ha Nagid, the Prince. Ibn Nagrela was a rabbi, the chief advisor to two Caliphs of Granada, General-in-Chief of the second Caliph’s armies, intellectual, scientist, scholar and was fluent in Aramaic, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Latino the early form of Spanish. He was also a poet who wrote classic poems in Arabic and Hebrew and some of them survived until today and have been translated into English. That’s how I first heard about this remarkable man, who I intend to be the hero of my next novel.

Ibn Nagrela helped design the first construction of what became, over centuries, the Alhambra. In his day the fortress and palace only occupied the tip of the hilltop promontory it now covers. I found this bit of information by purchasing two books from the bookstore on site since I couldn’t gain admission.

There was a long snaking line to purchase entrance tickets to get into the site. The line didn’t move because the site is limited to 350 people at any one time and the tickets are timed during the day. Because of Santa Semana, the week before Easter,  a national holiday, all tickets were sold out. I was counted among the clueless that didn’t know it was necessary to purchase tickets on-line in advance if you want to get in. It is currently sold out until April 5th  many days late and many dollars short, the story of my life.

I was able to discern some of the original fortress construction, those portions constructed with rocks and mortar only. The structure has been repaired, rebuilt, remodeled and newly constructed many times in the last 990 years since ibn Nagrela’s time.  The bricks on the right from the Moorish period, the bricks on the left are much later probably from the Christian period. The original stones were probably covered with some sort of plaster.Alhambra, original const. 2


Not the wheel my friend, the honor must be reserved for glass. In 1922 archeologists exploring the tomb of Tutankhamen discovered a piece of jewelry with a glass centerpiece carved into the form of a scarab beetle. The glass may have originated about ten thousand years ago when some natural event, possibly a lightening strike, heated high silicon dioxide containing sand to more than 500 degrees Fahrenheit thus forming a layer of glass in the North African desert.

During the Roman Empire glassmakers discovered ways to make glass stronger and less cloudy. They used their processes to create glass vessels, wine cups and even windows. It wasn’t until the fall of Constantinople, in the early thirteenth century, that the next major glass advance took place. A small group of Turkish glassmakers made their way to Venice where they built furnaces capable of generating heat close to 1,000 degrees and further developed the art and craft of glass blowing. They were isolated to the island of Murano where the risk of accidental fires from their furnaces could be controlled. In that small community the artisans competed and collaborated with each other experimenting with many different combinations of silicon dioxide and other materials. Eventually one Angelo Barovier burned seaweed to produce ash with a high content of potassium oxide and manganese. He added this ash to molten glass and developed glass significantly more transparent than anything produced previously.

During the mid-thirteenth century scribes were copying religious manuscripts in rooms with dim light. An inventive soul discovered that curved chunks of glass positioned over the writing being copied would magnify that writing. It wasn’t long until glassmakers in Northern Italy were producing small disks with a center bulge and placing two of them side by side in a frame to fit the face, thus inventing “disks for the eyes”, the first spectacles.

For many years only monastic scholars used these spectacles even though a significant percentage of people were farsighted. It wasn’t until the printing press made printed material available for the masses that the farsighted population discovered they needed help to read. Not long after Gutenberg’s breakthrough thousands of spectacle makers were in business throughout Europe and new uses for the slightly convex lenses were soon discovered.

In 1590 Hans and Zacharias Janssen, father and son, living in the Netherlands, looked through two stacked lenses and invented the microscope. The microscope required almost three generations to move from a curiosity to producing important scientific discoveries but Zacharias also developed the telescope. At the same time several others had the idea for using the lenses to construct a telescope but Hans Lippershey was the first to obtain the patent. Within a year Galileo modified Lippershey’s design to achieve magnification ten times normal vision and in 1610 he observed and reported that moons were orbiting Jupiter.

Lenses were essential to the development of photography. Glass coated with phosphor and bombarded with electrons created television. But before those developments, in 1887, the physicist Charles Vernon Boys decided he needed a thin fiber of glass as a balance arm to measure the effects of very small physical forces. He built a crossbow and lightweight bolts for it. He then attached the end of a glass rod to a bolt with sealing wax, heated the glass rod and fired off the bolt. This produced a thread of glass almost ninety feet long. He was overjoyed to discover that his glass fibers were stronger than an equivalent-sized strand of steel. This discovery brought us fiberglass and all its myriad uses, including circuit boards. The ability to manufacture transparent glass fibers resulted in the development of fiber optics. Today it is possible to take a “selfie” through the glass lens of our cell phone, store and manipulate the image using fiberglass circuit boards, transmit the image via fiber optic cables and view the image on a glass screen. By the way, the “selfie” was first used by artists including Rembrandt, van Gogh, da Vinci and many others, but not until the invention of the mirror. It’s all about superheated then cooled silicon dioxide my friends!

My hiking boots settled an inch deep into the too green grass. Grey-brown water oozed up around the cleated soles and settled into my fourteen-inch-long footprints. Charlize was off-leash, heeling. I looked back to see paw prints left by her seventy-five pounds also filling. We were making our way across the lawn of the Pacific Sands resort to the beach entrance.

We were just north of the Long Beach region of the Pacific Rim National Park, a rain forest that receives well over a hundred inches of rain a year. Alexis, Charlize and I were there to check out the highly touted, by both of my sons and their spouses, Tofino, Vancouver Island, B.C. We arrived just after dark the previous evening after traversing fifty plus miles of winding narrow road through a steady rain. We understand that during this time of year steady rain is a given. We checked in and settled in our room finding yellow rain slickers hanging in the closet, supplied as part of the accommodations. As denizens of the northwest we came prepared but the thoughtfulness was appreciated.

The next morning we took our first walk on the crescent-shaped beach, pausing to gaze at the large grey-green breakers and half-dozen surfers in wet suits taking advantage. The high water mark of the beach teemed with washed ashore logs, a few too large for us to understand how they arrived on this beach and from whence they originated.

This photo gives some idea of the size of this log, a cedar I presume but identifying it for certain is outside my area of expertise.












This log was buried in the sand, too large to be floated any further.












The Northwest rain forest is what it is, eerily quiet, overgrown, squishy and green, very green. This one didn’t appear, to our uneducated eyes, much different than the most northwest rain forest of Washington’s Pacific coast, but no doubt it is. The visitor center wasn’t open to learn the differences. It was a pleasant two-night, three-day respite but take the ferry from Tsawwassen to Nanaimo’s Duke Point rather than to the Swartz Bay destination. It’s a half-hour longer on the boat but well over an hour less driving and far fewer traffic lights to try the patience.

Most Common Pet Poison

According to the records of the Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) of the ASPCA human prescription medications top the list of potential toxins most commonly ingested by pets for the seventh year in a row. The APCC handled more than 167,000 cases in 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are currently available, and 26,407 of those cases (about 16%) were from owners whose pets snatched and gobbled medications prescribed for family members.

Dogs and cats explore the world with their mouths, similar to small children. Unlike small children our pets are strong enough and agile enough to locate and secure pill containers then chew through them to consume the contents. Dogs are especially attracted to containers they observe their owners handling on a daily basis. Notice Fido watching you the next time you take your pills. What happens if you drop one, do you retrieve it faster than your pet?

Over-the-counter medications, including herbal and other natural supplements are also potential toxicants. Toxicity is all about dose per size and many natural products are innocuous in doses appropriate for adults but can be toxic for smaller pets. These products resulted in more calls in 2014 than in previous years (about 25,000 calls) and there are over 6,900 different products that comprise this category.

The Dog Squad

The sun fought its way through the cloud cover as I waited for the traffic to clear. I crossed Greenwood Avenue and made my way to the event entitled “Join the Dog Squad” at Phinney Books in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood of Seattle. I held the door to the book store open for a customer accompanied by her long-haired Dachshund then entered the small shop already crowded with book lovers and their dogs. I was there to talk about and read from my book “Travels With Charlize”.

Tracy Weber who lives in Phinney Ridge with her husband Marc and their German shepherd Tasha organized the event publicized as an opportunity to bring your dog to an event to meet and hear writers who write about dogs. She is the owner of Whole Life Yoga and the author of the award-winning Downward Dog Mysteries series.

Tracy reading










Tracy Weber reading from “Karma’s a Killer”.

Laura T. Coffey is a writer, editor and producer for TODAY.com and an award-winning journalist. She has written and edited hundreds of high-profile human-interest stories and now her first book, “My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts” is a book filled with eye-catching photos of animals of a certain age rescued by caregivers who care and stories that tug.

Laura reading










Laura Coffey talking about how “My Old Dog” came to happen.

Waverly Fitzgerald and Curt Colbert are writers of considerable experience and a long history supporting and encouraging each other and their work. Their collaboration as Waverly Curtis was born when Curt came to one of their regular weekly meetings with an idea for a novel featuring a talking Chihuahua. The result was a collaboration on five novels and one novella in the “Barking Detective” series in which a talking Chihuahua helps his owner solve mysteries.

Waverly & Curt reading










Waverly Curtis are doing their act, reading from the pages of “Silence of the Chihuahuas”.

The audience, including the dogs was attentive and we had a great question and answer session following out four presentations and yes, we even sold some books.

Five authors










Five authors answering questions and below are the well-behaved dogs and their people waiting for the event to get started.

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