Wednesday, August 31, 2005

I feel like crap

My kitty (Dr. Bombay, but we just call him Kitty) is dying. It's my fault, because I failed to recognize a potentially life-threatening illness (renal failure) soon enough to do something about it. But in truth, cats are very good at masking their symptoms--he would be the third cat I've had who died suddenly without giving me much warning. But I feel rotten because there were warning signs--I just didn't put them together into the realization that he was seriously ill until he really acted seriously ill. By that time it was obviously too late, and I had lost several days time when they may have been able to get Kitty's kidneys functioning again.

I think the biggest problem I had in realizing he was really ill was that he's only seven years old. My previous cats made it to 13 before they died. In fact, I keep looking for signs of illness from our older cat (Battlecat--she's at least 10, maybe older but Mark can't remember when he first got her). But she's fine--in fact she has seemed more chipper and sprightly than ever over the past few days, leading me to wonder if she's been sucking the lifeforce out of Kitty ... OK, I jest. But Kitty was the one I expected to have around for a while longer. If he's no better by the end of the day I think we're going to say goodbye ...

Damn I feel rotten.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

I'm sure there was a point in here somewhere

I'm usually a big fan of what some think of as "morgue humor," or jokes made in the midst of disaster and misfortune. But I'm not really feeling that way about all the unfortunate folks in Hurricane Katrina's wake. Not only are some people dead and others left with absolutely nothing, but life is just plain going to suck for almost everyone in the "huge" affected area for a long time. What the hell are all these people going to do? I feel crappy about it, honestly.

But I've gotta say, the one thing guaranteed to get me really misty is a photo of some bedraggled survivor clutching his or her little dog. I really identify with the folks clinging to their pooches. I saw one photo somewhere of a guy sitting out on the roof of his flooded house with his dog. I could imagine myself in that situation---the helicopter is hovering overhead and I'm saying "What? I can't take the dogs with me? OK, thanks, we'll just stay here, then ..." Through the course of Katrina I have often thought: "Are the dogs OK? Is someone saving the dogs?" When Hurricane Floyd came through North Carolina, many evacuees left behind their cats, dogs and livestock, some tethered in yards or confined in pens, barns or houses where they couldn't escape the floodwaters. Fortunately, many were rescued and either reunited with their families or adopted out to new homes. (Tons--literally--of hogs died, however, and I still get sad when I see some of the pictures of desperately swimming hogs.)

Anyway, the point is, I feel badly for the folks on the gulf coast. And their dogs, cats, piggies, horsies ...

Only a week left for those white shoes, ladies!

I forgot to mention a very important thing: We finished painting the damn house on Sunday. Now what are we going to do?

Actually, I've got plenty going on. This weekend is another 3-day agility trial here in Durham, and as always I'm a little nervous. But happy and excited--agility is just so much fun. Even when I screw up. Anyway, if you've got nothing better to do and want to see weirdos like me with our amazing dogs, drop by here Saturday, Sunday or Monday.

And did I mention that we're going back to Ecuador next year? We only have a week last time, so were going to take two weeks this time. I already can't wait, and I'm planning it all right now.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Open letter to the guy who just called me ...

Dear you,

I realize that you are not an "office guy." You work out "in the field" with salt-of-the-earth people who work hard to bring us our milk and honey. You help them do that more efficiently, and that is good. But I urge you to get over your fear of this confusing newfangled thing called "voice mail."

Sometimes we office people are actually allowed to vacate out seats--a field guy like you may be able to appreciate that we occasionally look forward to it. My boss, being a very busy woman who must interact and assist people throughout our building, often must vacate her seat for hours at a time. That means, of course, that she's not there to answer her phone. Many years ago someone recognized that people like her could use a simple and efficient means of collecting messages from people like you, who don't have time to keep calling back in hopes of finding a person like her back at her desk. The resulting modern voice mail is system is so simple that it requires little input from someone like you beyond speaking when the little voice tells you to. It is not an evil spirit. It will not steal your soul.

Your fear of modern electronic communications systems affects me directly because you seem to believe the most efficient means of contacting my boss when she is unavailable is to immediately call me. Although we do occasionally have lunch together, I do not have a psychic connection with my boss. I don't know where she is, when she will be back or what answer she would most likely give to your question. And despite your distrust of higfalutin' contraptions like voice mail, I assure you it's a far more effective and dependable way of reaching my boss than asking me to tell her to call you. You see, not being a secretary, I don't think like a secretary. When someone calls or stops by my office looking for someone else, the first response to pop into my head is "How the fuck should I know where so-and-so is?" When they say "Well, can you tell her that such-and-such is looking for her?" my mouth says "sure" but my brain says "whatever" and goes back to what it was doing before. If I remember, I'll pass on the message. I usually don't remember. It's not because I'm stupid, I just don't give a fuck.

In summary: please use the damn voice mail and leave me alone, you dumb fart.

Thanks and have a pleasant day!

Friday, August 26, 2005

We're not all freaks ...

So Mr. Pants pointed me toward an article in Slate about dog sports, specifically agility. It's kind of cool to see an article on the topic at geeky news site, but what's not so cool is that a lot of the article is complete bullshit.

First off, the tone of the article seems to be "So you want to be a world-champion agility competitor?" This really gives a skewed view of what agility is about for most people. All but a few of the people I know in agility just want to do something fun with their dogs and are happy with the little wins we achieve at local and regional trials. The few who are aiming for national competition put in quite a bit of money and time--which is what the article implies are necessary for everyone. Not so at all. It's not cheap, and you do have to take a lot of classes and build some training time into your schedule, but you don't have to pay world-class trainer Stuart Mah $75 an hour just to make it into master's level competition. (BTW, he is excellent--he's one of the people you'll see if you ever catch agility competition on TV).

But even worse is this sentence: "The bad news: If you haven't been training Fido since he was a wee pup, you've likely already blown it." That's absolutely incorrect. I didn't start Lucy in agility until she was six years old. In fact, she didn't even take a basic obedience class until she was one year old, and even then we almost failed it because she seemed very put out by the idea that I would make her do such boring and stupid things. But she's sheer joy out on an agility course. I'm the one who needs more work, since 95% of the problems one runs into in competition are handler errors. Getting your dog to do each obstacle correctly is fairly easy compared to getting yourself to learn to read a course and come up with a strategy for it, and then successfully communicate it all to your dog on the fly in actual competition. Our worst problem is that I'm usually slightly out of position at crucial moments, which translates to Lucy as confusion about which obstacle she's supposed to take next. I'm pissed that my mother didn't give me handler training as a toddler ...

What really ticks me off about this myth that you have to start a dog in training at 49 days is that it perpetuates the belief that you have to go to a breeder and pay a lot of money for a (probably highly inbred) puppy from champion lines. My friend Diane has tons of titles--in flyball, agility and herding--on a mutt who was adopted and returned twice to a shelter before she got him. And he's just an all-around great dog who's happy to keep the sofa warm when he's not out playing sports (i.e., he doesn't drive her crazy with obsessive-compulsive energy).

But the really horrible, horrible thing was this bit on "evaluating" puppies (from a "trainer" named Mirabelle Wrist): "To test the puppy's pain threshold, spread the front paws and press a fingernail into the sensitive flesh between; ideally, the dog can withstand this for four or five seconds. To evaluate trainability, hold your dog supine for a few moments. If she overcomes the embarrassment and returns to you, she'll be a willing, forgiving student." I cringe every time I hear or read someone perpetuating barbaric methods of training or "evaluation." Why on earth do you need to know how much pain your puppy can withstand? Proper (and civilized) agility training does not involve inflicting pain on a dog. And why would you need to see if a dog will "forgive" you as a measure of "trainability?" What are you planning to do to the poor dog? If you use positive, reward-based training methods--as every trainer should--your dog won't ever need to forgive you. So is this woman beating her dogs to get them to do agility?

And finally a more minor quibble: to "illustrate" the article, the author linked to a page of photos that contains a few examples of bad ways to teach the obstacles. The worst: The first photo shows someone training an A-frame by luring a leashed dog over the obstacle. This is not only dangerous--if the dog freaks out and bails over the other side, you could end up dangling him by the collar--but there are much better ways to introduce a dog to contact obstacles. They also show a handler teaching weaves by luring the dog in and out between the poles. This method usually results in slow weaving, clumsy footwork and a dog who is dependent on the guidance of the handler to complete the weaves. The channel method is better for getting a dog to do fast, independent weaves.

Yeah, OK, so I am a bit of a freak, really ...

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Travel tip of the day ...

I was looking back over the stuff I wrote in my little moleskine on our trip to Ecuador way back in the spring, and I came across a travel tip I had noted:
"Don't put your passport into the seat-back pocket. You may forget it when they take you off the plane because it's broken. Then they may clean the plane overnight and throw your passport away."
This actually happened to a guy on our flight. Something was busted on the plane and they put us up in miami overnight. The next day when we all got back on the plane, he expected to find his passport still there and didn't. He went to Ecuador anyway (he was an Ecuadoran with US citizenship). They probably let him in--they didn't seem all that uptight about stuff--but we don't know for sure ...

Oh No ...

I don't like chain e-mails--you know, the ones where you're asked to send the thing on to 10 people, etc. My mom loves them. So now she's sent one I'll feel kind of crappy for ignoring: apparently my little grand-niece, who's somewhere around 5 or 6 years old (yes, I'm a crummy great-aunt and can't remember her exact age), is doing a little chain-mail project for school. I've been asked to participate. Here's the message:
Sounds like my Great Grandaughter has a school project and Mom is under the gun. A helpful hand would be appreciated. Mary

Sorry, guys, it's quick and for a kid's school project! (and you are the ones I thought might follow through) This is for a science fair project. If you could do this I would appreciate it! DON'T ASK, JUST PLAY! Copy and paste this letter into a new email (PLEASE do NOT hit "Forward"), then read the list of names. If your first name is on the list, put a star * next to it. If not, then add your first name (in alphabetical order, put no star.) Send it to ten people and send it
back to the person who sent it to you.

Put your name in the subject box! You'll see what happens - it's kind
of cool! Please keep this going. Don't MESS it up, please. (I edited out the list of names)

Well poop. I'd rather just tell the kid the results of this experiment: you end up annoying the heck out of a lot of people, many of who will decline to participate, especially as the degrees of separation increase between you and the eventual recipients. The chain will either die out or become an international pain-in the ass.

But it's my grand-niece. She's cute. I don't want to be the one who rains on her little e-mail parade. But my mother has already sent the e-mail to pretty much everyone who feels some sort of familial obligation to participate, which leaves me with a list of e-mail contacts who are completely unaware of the cuteness of my grand-niece. They will be annoyed with me. But, as long as I fulfill my end of the bargain and complete my link of the chain, I really don't care what the recipients do. They can break it and I have still done my part. So I'm soliciting volunteers--if you, dear reader, will consent to receive a chain e-mail with which you are at liberty to do with what you will, please let me know. Put "bunchofpants" together with "@gmail.com" and you will reach me. Pretty please with sugar on top?

UPDATE: So jenn h.'s comment (see comments) prompted me to e-mail my dear mom and ask if my niece specifically indicated that the "kid" mentioned in the e-mail was my grand-niece and sending her a link to the snopes pages on the topic. I think her reply was a little snippy, to paraphrase: "so don't do it then." I would like to gently make the point to her that chain e-mails are always stupid and a pain in the ass, but she will imterpret that as me being just a grouchy person who hates fun. I think she really enjoys chain e-mails and anything I say against them is evidence that I amd just a difficult person.

Monday, August 22, 2005

And there was much rejoicing ....

Praise be to Georg, who has saved my soul. Until I found time to catch up with his blog this morning, I was wandering in the dark, spiritually speaking. I had not yet heard the word of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But now the scales have fallen from my eyes, and I have found the true path of faith. I might even buy a T-shirt.

And how was your weekend? I got to spend ours in the withering, humid, buggy North carolina heat ... yep, you guessed it, painting my house orange! But the cool thini that if it doesn't rain, we should be able to finish up next weekend. When it's done I plan to offer up a small dish of grated parmesan in thanks to the almighty Flying Spaghetti Monster for giving me the strenght to endure.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Grrr ....

Damn I'm in a crappy mood today. So best keep it short and snappy: Mondo Mundo. On the Radio. Tomorrow (i.e. Saturday). 1-3 pm Eastern. 88.7 if you're local. WXDU.org if you're not. If my mood doesn't improve I may have to play 2 hours of qawwali to mellow myself out.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Saturday night fights ...

So I heard it on the grapevine that there is a "fight club" in Raleigh. Which is, in itself pretty damn lame. I mean nothing says "bunch of losers" like some unimaginiative dipshits who feel the need to imitate a work of fiction in an effort to find some sort of meaning in their lives ... or whatever the hell they think they are going to get, besides the shit beaten out of them.

But the really, really damn lame thing about it is that not only is there a $5 cover charge, but people are advised to wear a poncho if they don't want to "get splatter all over their clothes." So we've got people going to an event in which the object is to get the crap beaten out of yourself, but they don't want to get their clothes dirty? What the hell is up with that? And who is collecting all these $5 covers if the event takes place underneath a bridge (the Boylan Ave. railroad overpass)? Or maybe this fight club has corporate sponsorship from Norfolk Southern ... hmm, maybe they can get Budweiser to provide logo ponchos ...

BTW, if you want to be lame, it's at 3 am Saturday, but I don't know if that really means 3 am Saturday (meaning the 3 am that comes after Friday night), or if it should really say 3 am Sunday (being the 3 am that follows a Saturday night, which according to Elton John, is alright for fighting ...)

I heart Bernd das Brot ... I think

Check him out. (Link via sockenbär, via groc's photostream. More about Bernd Das Brot here)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Oh, hello ...

bizzi

It seems I've been running around playing with dogs and taking photos for the last four days, and neglecting my virtual life on this here bloggy thing. Sorry. I won't do the whole recap of my eventful weekend, except to say that I was at a flyball tournament, it was rather hot and humid (and by that I mean downright torrid) and I'm going through another "need a new dog" phase.

I pass through this phase every now and then, when I meet a dog or two who need homes. Take Bizzi for example, pictured above, who is being fostered by my friend Diane. She's a very sweet little dog with a nice athletic build (she's about the same size as Lucy--about 15 inches high at the withers and around 20 lbs.). She'd probably be a super agility dog, once she's all trained up. But her previous owner apparently didn't take her anywhere or let her meet people, and she's very timid. She warmed up to me a little after I fed her treats and sweet-talked her (at first she wouldn't even take a treat out of my hand--she'd just sniff it and skulk behind Diane's legs). By the end of the weekend, she would creep up on me when I wasn't looking to see if there were any more bits of cheese forthcoming. I could even get her to sit or lie down for a treat (Diane has been doing a bit of training with her.)

At Diane's house, where Bizzi has become comfortable, she's a very playful and active dog. Diane has three other dogs, all the size of small horses, and Bizzi gets along well with them. She seemed to like other dogs and didn't mind them walking right up to her--only the people scared her. It would take time, patience and energy to get Bizzi ready for training, but she would be so worth it. Unfortunately, there is a no-new-dogs-until-one-of-the-cats-dies moratorium in place at our house, so I don't think Bizzi will be coming home with me. But if anyone needs a very sweet little dog ...

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Radio tonight ...

... 801- pm, 88.7 FM if you're local, wxdu.org if you're not.

Have a mint ...


pouffy mints
Originally uploaded by bunchofpants.

Now that I've read the latest Harry Potter twice, gone back and read the rest, and then read Half Blood Prince yet again, I'm feeling a bit lost ... How do I get back to Hogwarts? I bought a book of musings and ponderings by HP fans called The Plot Thickens: Harry Potter Investigated by Fans for Fans, but it's only semi-satisfying. There are some interesting essays (one of my favorites was written by a 13-year-old, who wondered whether JKR used the color pink to symbolize duplicity or hidden secrets. She makes some interesting points--good work for a kid).

I guess I need to get myself back to my regular reading routine, i.e. not Harry Potter, but it's hard to tear my head away from HP--it's that compelling. People who haven't reads HP are often mystified as to what could possibly interest adults in a childrens book, but then again I always wonder what motivated people to love Star Trek to the point that they'll dress up in bizarre costumes and travel around to conventions ... actually, Harry Potter has answered that for me. I've already wondered which character I'd dress up as if the need arose. I'm quite fond of Professor McGonagall, although I'd consider Nymphadora Tonks.

Meanwhile, anyone got a suggestion for a good book? I usually prefer non-fiction.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Mr. Pants is good!


DSCF7759_x
Originally uploaded by Mr. Gomez.

I just had to blog Mr. Pants' photo because it's so cool. So bask in its coolness, everyone.

Better than I expected


hole in the wall
Originally uploaded by bunchofpants.

So the weekend wasn't as bad as I was thinking it was going to be. We painted all day Saturday, which was a drag, but then Saturday night we went on an adventure of sorts, eating at a completely unknown-quantity Salvadoran place (El Guanaco on Geer St.) with the folks next door. Our neighbor Paul is a teacher, and one of his students said her aunt owned a restaurant, so we decided to check it out. It seemed dicey at first--the facade of the place shows no windows, so we had no idea what we would be walking into. The decor was in the neo-half-finished-basement style, complete with lots of pool tables and a very loud jukebox, and we were the only gringos there. Sometimes that's a good sign if you're looking for good, authentic food, and indeed it was great food. I had pupusas, which were awesome. It was a cheap meal, too.

Then we went out for drinks at the new Tyler's in the American Tobacco complex. It's a fine place to have a beer--they have a huge selection--but the decor and environment felt a little generic. Nonetheless I'm sure we'll go back because Paul's friend Spencer is the manager and Spencer is a really good guy. Besides, we will need to try the food at some point because we're getting sick of going to the same old restaurants all the time.

The very best part of the weekend came on Sunday, because Paul and Traci actually cam over and helped us paint our house. They said they had nothing better to do ... I can think of lots of better things to do, but I kept my mouth shut because I was thrilled at someone had actually offered to help paint. They were a huge help, too--the end of this project is now in sight! And we have the best neighbors evah!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Weekends are no fun anymore ...

So if the weather holds out (forecast calls for chances of scattered thundershowers Saturday and Sunday evenings), I can look forward to a weekend of more painting. At this point I'm figuring that the front of the house looks really good--my slow and careful work paid off ... maybe I should just slap the paint on what's left and not worry about how it looks. The problem is that when I get out there and start painting, I can't stand the thought of having any drips or thin spots, and unless you take your time you get both.

Maybe we'll be done by the time the latest Harry Potter movie comes out ... one reviewer got to see an early rough screening and says it's his favorite so far.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

He's eeeevil ...

I love stumbling across wacko stuff on the internets by accident. Like this analysis of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone that sets out to prove that HP/SS is a satanist book. The biggest bone of contention seems to be the "contact with the supernatural world" that takes place in HP, which is apparently a sure sign of satanism. Um ... or maybe christianity? Because when the category of popular supernatural beliefs pops up, "God" is right there at the top of my list (with his good buddy The Holy Ghost--a concept I never really understood even when I went to Sunday school regularly. What exactly does The Holy Ghost do, anyway?)

But that's not the biggest problem I have with the piece. I'm actually more bugged by the fact that dude didn't really read the book very closely:

Harry is totally dumbfounded with the news that he is a Wizard, but he has to get free of the physical clutches of Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. They have Harry on a boat headed for nowhere and they had every intention of keeping Harry from ever attending Hogwarts School. However, Harry receives supernatural assistance. A very huge man suddenly appears on the boat, out of nowhere, and forcibly removes Harry from the clutches of Uncle Vernon. His name turns out to be Hagrid, and he is the groundskeeper of Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft.

Harry et al. were actually in a shack on a rock out in the sea when the "huge man" (Hagrid) comes to get him. But I guess I understand, because I sort of skimmed dude's article, too, looking for the really funny bits. Like this one:
G. "Uncle Vernon made another funny noise, like a mouse being trodden on." [p. 47] Remember Adolf Hitler, the most famous Black Magick wizard in modern history? He depicted Jews as Rats in his Propaganda Machinery, convincing the Germans they should extermination the "vermin".
Apparently Hitler's being a "Black Magick wizard" needs no further explanation, but it was news to me ...

And of course, don't forget the whole homosexuality sublot in Harry Potter! Those of you inexperienced in spotting the subtleties of the satanist propaganda machine may have missed it:
When I was first researching Harry Potter, I examined several pro-Potter websites. The author of one of the articles said that one of the probable developments she felt would occur in the latter books was the advent of homosexuality in the story theme. She said such activity was only hinted at in the first books. With this thought in mind, you will better understand this sentence.

"Professor Flitwick [Charms teacher] put the class into pairs to practice [levitating]. Harry's partner was Seamus Finnigan (which was a relief, because Neville had been trying to catch his eye)." [p. 171] We shall see if homosexuality does develop in any of the last three books, because in the first three, this is the only possible reference to it.
Ooh, just wait until Chamber of Secrets when Hermione gets into a little scuffle with Milicent Bulstrode and they have to be pulled apart!

Harry Potter really seems to get the wacko christians' undies into a bundie. There's a whole page about how evil the books are at the same site, including reviews of the books up to Goblet of Fire. So why did they stop? I mean, they've had several years since Order of The Phoenix came out ... did Harry Hotter suddenly stop being evil? Or maybe the devil got the web site proprietors for dissing his boy Harry ...

Monday, August 01, 2005

A beautiful rainy weekend!

I was so happy that this weekend was gray and damp. We really needed some rain and a break from the heat. But more importantly, it gave me an opportunity to sit around and read a lot because exterior house painting is not advisable when it is raining or about to rain. I did a little painting on Saturday, but I wasn't feeling well and when I started getting downright nauseated I stopped. Sunday was even better because it kept spitting rain on and off all day, so after taking the dogs for a nice long walk I pretty much played the layabout all day. It was wonderful.

I'm re-re-re-reading all the Harry Potter Books (in reverse order), plus trying to keep up with the flabbergastingly huge amount of discussion on one of the HP fan lists. (I found one where just about everyone uses not just whole words, but entire sentences complete with subjects and verbs. Lots of misplaced modifiers, of course, but we try not to get too picky ...) There a few things that get a little tiresome about the HP list I'm on (and from what I've seen of the others, all of them). For one thing, there are the "shippers," who seem to care most of all about who's going to end up with whom (i.e., the relationships, hence the name "shippers.") For example, one recent post lamented the fact that Neville didn't seem likely to hook up with anyone. Several people actually went to the trouble of replying to the post ... meanwhile I'm thinking who the hell cares? As far as I can tell, the only purpose of the love-interest side stories is that any story about teenagers would fall completely flat if you didn't show them having crushes on each other and whatnot. In fact, I suspect the reason JKR pulled the really clumsy and formulaic hero-on-a-mission-dumps-his-girlfriend-because-he's-got-to-go-it-alone scene between Ginny and Harry at the end of HBP is because there's just going to be too much going on in the next book without having to write in the complications of Harry having a girlfriend. In other words, it doesn't really matter who hooks up with who (OK, I can predict a Harry-and-Ginny-hug-and-kiss scene in the end when Harry vanquishes Voldemort once and for all, but otherwise, it's just not important.)

Another thing that can be a little annoying on the list are all the people who are going to great lengths to come up with reasons that Dumbledore (Ok, spoiler here folks!) can't be dead. Of course he's dead!! It's the classic hero-must-lose-his-mentor-and-be-on-his-own storyline. Dumbledore had to die, otherwise we would have had yet another book in which Harry is a pupil and Dumbledore a teacher. At some point Harry has to kick some evil wizard ass once and for all, and since the next book is the last, he needs to be getting on with it. (BTW, I've heard at least one prediction that Harry will die at the end of Book 7. I don't think so--there's going to be lots of dying, but not by Harry. Maybe he'll get his hand cut off by a light saber but ... oh, wait, wrong hero ...)

But as I mentioned before, the big question is Severus Snape: Good or Evil? JKR called him a "truly horrid person" or something like that in on of the interviews, but then Sirius (or was it McGonagall? I pretty sure it was Sirius) said in Order Of the Phoenix that the world is not divided into good people and Death Eaters. Anyway, I'm seriously leaning right now toward the "Snape is good" camp.

But there's no way in hell that Harry is a horcrux, okay?