Sunday, January 31, 2010

UKI Birthday Fun Match

SUMMARY: A good time was had by all.
Compared to a regular agility weekend, it was SO much nicer to (a) not have to pack nearly as much, (b) sleep until 6:30 rather than 4:00 a.m., (c) drive half an hour rather than 2 hours, (d) watch the sun rise and the full moon sink (wanted photos but didn't want to stop. Regretting that decision.), (d) be done with 4 runs by noon.

I'm not the best person to comment on the styles of courses; course design doesn't interest me at all; I just like the challenge of how I'm going to get myself and my dogs through in the most efficient way possible, and it doesn't really matter what the specific challenges are. I must say that nothing I saw today looked out of the range of possibility for a USDAA trial (in terms of odd turns or weird positions or that ilk). But all the courses were run on a very small rings; they might have been 70x70 (rather than 100+ square), but I'm thinking they were maybe even smaller than that.

Java Agility has a permanent fenced location set up in one corner of the Swiss Park ("available for rental! Banquet hall!") in Newark. I have no idea what the Swiss part is all about, but the building was pretty cool.

Fun matches are useless for us to work on anything that dogs do only in competition; despite my best efforts, they know it's not real--e.g., Tika did every one of her contacts perfectly. In fact, Tika just kind of glided through the courses, OK, this is fun but not REALLY serious.

Standard agility ("agility") was your basic numbered course with all obstacles but no table. Jumpers is jumpers-with-weaves, different from USDAA but same as for AKC and international. Gamblers has an interesting variation; someone said it's sort of a combination of AKC FAST and USDAA gamblers; I'm not familiar with FAST so dunno. The gamble always has an option of going over the line to do it but for fewer points, which is nice.

Their Speed Stakes is just a Jumpers course like USDAA (no weaves) but set up for speed like a Steeplechase would be. We finished with that and both dogs loved it; Tika even got excited enough once she caught on to what kind of course it was that she zoomed in and grabbed my feet at the end, which is normally an only-at-trials behavior.

Boost knocked bars but her contacts and weaves were lovely. I was trying to concentrate more on having her keep moving out ahead of me and taking obstacles rather than checking in before every one. We had some success with that, but still a ways to go.

Tika waits her turn. (This is my 4/52 in my 52 Weeks For Dogs photo group.)

On the way home, the lighting was so interesting (sunny but muted by faint cloudiness) that I stopped and took photos. These are the mountains east of Newark rising above the NUMMI plant (New united motors), a joint venture between GM and Toyota for the last quarter century that employs 5500 people--until GM announced that they're pulling out, and Toyota isn't going to keep it running by themselves, so in 2 months it's shut-down and outawork.
It's amazing what you can see while standing at a freeway overpass in the business/industrial part of town on a spur-of-the-moment stop to take photos of the mountains.
Marsh grasses surrounding a reflective pond.

Purple flowers (duh!).

Bird of Paradise

These guys cracked me up. It was clear they were talking about the neighbors.

But when they took off, pure grace.

Seagulls may be the rats o'the sea, but they sure do look nice against a bright blue sky.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

It Was Like a Fairy Tale Come True

SUMMARY: ...except the magic was the power of space flight and each hero's success was in coming back alive.

When I was born, no manmade object--let alone a human--had ever gone up into space. It wasn't until I was nearly two that the first satellite, Russia's Sputnik, woke the world to the realization that we had crossed a threshold: Before, we were a species locked to the ground, to a single planet, with the universe beyond our thin layer of atmosphere forbidden to us. And then, now, we stepped into a reality in which Infinity and Beyond were suddenly within our reach.

(Telstar was about the size of one of those inflatable exercise balls--34 inches across. Wikipedia photo source.)

My first recollections of our conquest of The Darkness Beyond were twofold: First, standing in the darkened driveway of our apartment complex with my parents and the neighbors, standing, eager, waiting, eyes heavenward, straining to see the tiny speck of light of Telstar on its scheduled pass across the heavens. I was six, and I knew from the excitement around me that something magical had happened.

(Wikipedia photo source.)
And, second, we knew all about the Mercury capsules, tiny tin cans barely big enough for a human, barely popping into space and dropping back to the sea, whence they were plucked by helicopter from the waters and deposited on the deck of a military vessel nearby. These were always suspenseful--would they burn up on reentry? Would they find that tiny speck in the ocean? The first American into space reached that goal for a mere 15 minutes the year I turned 5. Nine months later, the first American ever--and almost the first human ever--orbited Earth...a mere 3 times over a four-hour period. We must have seen these on TV (we had a TV in our house by then), because when my parents gifted me with a tiny plastic Mercury space capsule and bright orange helicopter with a skyhook dangling from a string, I knew all about how they were used. I loved that toy.(Wikimedia image source.)

This was my world as a child: Space travel was a miracle and our first steps into space were tiny, halting, fragile, risky things.

We watched every rocket launch on TV--and every one played out on TV for hours, broadcast live. We watched the countdown-- "T minus two hours and counting" said the man in the background--and sometimes you could see activity on the ground or watch the astronaut (with Gemini, two astronauts; with Apollo, finally, three) make his way into the tiny capsule. "T minus 10 seconds...9...8...7..." and I'd feel my heart rise with the rocket as it ponderously rose, ever so slowly, amazingly slowly for the tremendous power and fury of the fires and smoke erupting from its base, finally, magically, into the air, and the cameras watched it, the light of its rocket flickering, flickering, growing ever smaller, until it was out of sight.

A miracle. Every flight had simulations broadcast so that you could see what the rocket stages were doing as they separated, how the capsule maneuvered in space. And then, always at the end, that terrifying, burning, racing plunge into the sea, with no control; they dropped from orbit and fell, a flaming stone, through the atmosphere to the water below.

Forty years ago today--I was thirteen--men walked on the moon. Everyone talked about it. Everyone watched the broadcasts coming back live--Live!--from another planet. Astounding, just...astounding. The solar system now seemed within our reach, it felt like there was nowhere we couldn't go, places we couldn't explore, resources we couldn't find: Now--we could do it all! And yet, for all that we could land on the moon under control, and leave its surface again, back home to Earth and there was still that uncontrolled plummet to the vast, cold sea. (Wikipedia image source.)

I was fully an adult--out of college, married, owned my first home and then my second, before that changed. We watched the launch of the first space shuttle on TV, all of us, waiting to see whether it would even fly. And then, two days later, the suspenseful time as it descended from orbit back through the atmosphere and those dreadful minutes of silence where communication was impossible--

And, by all the Gods, it came through! We might have cheered when we heard the astronaut's voices as radio contact was reestablished. And then we waited with bated breath, begging silently, fists clenched, waiting to see whether it was possible for it to actually land again, under control, on the ground, safely and predictably. Then Lo!, it did! And I cried from the joy of it.

(Wikipedia photo source)

Not long after that, as we who remembered how it had been sat around the TV for yet another blast-off, still as astounding as it had always been, my youngest sister (9 years younger), wandered into the living room, said, "Oh, another rocket launch," and wandered out again. And that was the first I truly realized that the magic of it all was lost to those who hadn't grown up with it, for whom space flight was a matter of fact, shuttles landing under a pilot's control an everyday occurrence.

I hope that, within my lifetime, we will find the magic again and find our way out to our moon, our neighboring planets, and their moons. Because it seems so sad that we should be imprisoned here, on a single planet, our little castle with nowhere to go if it should burn, when we have had the magic in our hands and shown that we could use it. I hope.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Groaning In So Many Ways

SUMMARY: Waking up to dogs, groceries, and death, and groaning in a major way at the very end.

I love waking up in the morning with my dogs. It's one of the few times of the day when they'll snuggle, and they're [mostly] so gentle at that time. Boost might stretch out while I'm stroking her face or her tummy, eyes closing blissfully. Tika for some reason will curl up right against my body until I'm fully awake, then move to where I can barely reach her with my fingertips and glare at me reproachfully if I don't pet her. She particularly likes having her face rubbed--I put my palm over her eyes, one thumb near one ear, middle finger near the other, and push and rub, and she presses her head into my hand and moves it around to get everything rubbed--or she wants her ears massaged, and leans into it, groaning. Ahhhh! That's the life.

Today was Michael Jackson's memorial service. Apparently millions of people, literally, tried to get tickets to be in the actual stadium for the 2-hour performance/service, and the whole thing was broadcast live over TV and radio. I groaned. Sad celebrity death, very talented but very odd man. Only 50. There have been four major untimely deaths in my lifetime that I remember clearly as being media circuses during and after, with worldwide outpouring of grief and dismay and coverage that went on for weeks afterward: John F. Kennedy (at 46), Elvis Presley (only 42), Princess Di (a mere 36), and now Michael Jackson, the old man in the crowd at 50, which, darn it, is younger than I am, and I still think of myself as young. Well--young enough.

I decided to hit the grocery stores, since there seemed to be a huge number of people (judging by their FaceBook entries) glued to the TV for the service. I tried to be efficient in 2 ways:

(1) First, I tried to pay to get my groceries delivered so I wouldn't have to drive 5 minutes to the store, go up and down the aisles, stand in line, and drive back. Would've probably taken 45 minutes for this trip. My past experience has been that it takes as long or longer to order online as to just find the stuff in the store, but every year or 2 I decide to try it again.

First, the interface wouldn't work with my browser. Took a while to figure that out, let's say 10 minutes. Switched to another browser.

Search for dairy. There, search for nonfat milk. There, scroll through the choices, of which there are a couple dozen, to find mine. Faster than going directly to the shelf where I always get my milk and popping it into the cart? Maybe not. AND I can't check the "use by date" but have to rely on their shopper to get me the freshest bottle. Search for "whole wheat sourdough bread". Only one choice comes up, no photo. Not sure it's the one I usually get. Waffle about whether to select it, but OK. Want some small bananas. Have to choose between regular and organic. have to type a note in a separate window saying "please choose really really small ones" except I apparently have only about 20 characters for "custom order info," so have to experiment with phrasing.

Am I saving time? OK, half an hour into this event, I've got 7 things in my shopping cart and I'm not done yet. Groaannnnn! Abandon ship!

(2) Drive to the store--Lucky's is next to my bank, so that's where I end up. Fill my cart halfway within about 10 minutes. There's only one checkout line open with 3 people standing in it, so I go to the self-checkout lanes, all of which are open. Figure it'll be faster, right?

To ensure that you aren't cheating, you swipe the item and then MUST put it onto the bagging area shelf, where it weighs it to be sure you're not sneaking in some unpaid extras. So what happens when I put my own shopping bag onto the shelf? Error! Clerk has to come clear it. I foolishly don't put all 4 bags onto the shelf to sit there and wait, so the clerk has to clear it again and then again when I add more of my own bags. Doh!

Next, you have to put each item onto the shelf before swiping the next one. So, sure, you can pick up 4 small items, but you must swipe, set it down, wait for acknowledgment, swipe, set it down, wait, etc. Not efficient. And you can't just put the big items like boxes of soda back into your cart; it won't progress until they're on the shelf with everything else.

Thirdly, for produce, you have to find the info in the database. Bananas are easy, they come up as "common items" on the first screen. But the cantaloupe? The clerk has to come tell me that it's under "melon", not under "cantaloupe." I have to search for Kiwi, then type in how many I've got. And so on.

Then I have to rearrange everything in the bags because I couldn't bag them in the most effective combinations while scanning them. Then into the cart. Not efficient. I groaned when the clerk had to come over to do special processing when I wanted to write a check; OK, I said to her, I guess this wasn't the wisest thing to do with this many items.

By the time I'm done with my 30 items or so, the one open checkout lane has processed probably 4 or 5 people. OK, I love the self-checkout for half a dozen or fewer items, but from now on, with more than that, it's the regular check-out lane.

Usually I take the merle girls with me when I go to the bank or shopping, and then we walk for 10 or 15 minutes in that area for something new to scratch and sniff. Today I didn't because it was a tad warm and I wasn't sure there'd be shade. There wasn't, and it took me long enough that I'm glad they stayed home. Dogs were happy to see me; annoyed that I then sat down at my computer again.

And now, I just wanted to share with you what some dogs have to put up with to get their four square meals a day, because it made my morning when I read it in the paper: Don't say I didn't warn you about the groaning.(Source: July 7 2009 strip at

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Do I Ever Learn? And Tika's Foot Fetish

SUMMARY: Say the dog's name, not "come". And watch those feet.

How long have I been doing agility? How long does it take things to sink in?

At the NAF USDAA trial in June, I reported the following incidents with Tika: the Standard on a place where I knew there was an off-course possibility, I yelled "Come!" and when she wasn't coming, I yelled "Come!" louder and she still went off course. I know better than that! Especially after telling my teammates during the walk-through to use their dogs' names!

...then, in the Jumpers course, where I knew there was an off-course possibility, I yelled "Come" really loudly and then when she didn't, I yelled "Come!" even louder and she still went off course.

But here's the worst part. While looking for a post about when Tika first grabbed my feet in competition, I found this from April of 2003:
...P3 gamblers: Dag nabbit--[Jake] carried out *too* far and didn't come in when I said "come come come come COME!"

As for an actual post about when Tika first grabbed my foot in competition and I took a head dive because it came out of the must have been during the couple of months immediately preceding and following Remington's death, because there are no mentions of it before that (and she was just starting to compete then, anyway), but lots of mentions after that. You can read one typical post from June, 2003.

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