Sunday, April 20, 2008

Today is the Day

Every year at roughly this time, the farm store here in town runs its equivalent of an office pool. Staff and customers place bets as to the exact date and time when the mountain of plowed snow in their parking lot melts completely into a puddle.

The farm store snow still has a long way to go before it hits the dirt, but today -- after four successive days of warm and sunny weather -- the last filthy remnants of snow in our yard finally disappeared. I've been so deathly freakin' sick of winter that I feel as though I've won the office pool myself.

The dogs have been celebrating the advent of spring in their own fashion. They've started new holes in the mud in the dog yard, for which I'll have to buy more rocks and topsoil. They have also been more vocal about getting me to join in the fun outside, too. I throw the ball for Dinah several times a day, and that always precipitates a game of chase between Herself and one of the boys. This morning, Dinah and Seamus had such a great time playing chase and wrestling in the mud that I entirely forgot to rush back into the house for the camera. They were just too much fun to watch.

This is the time when installing a doggie door proves to be a smart move. The pups are in and out and in and out and in and out all day long. I want to say that I love the new metal storm doggie door, but it hasn't weathered the season as well as one would hope, given the outrageous price I paid for a custom-sized, custom-installed specimen.

Lowe's is like some of the guys I've dated in the distant past. They'll charm the pants off you, vowing that their customer service people will never sleep again until you can honestly say that everything is just plain frickin' wonderful with the product.

Once you say yes, and they have you where they want you, they'll install the thing, call once to see if you're happy, and grin while cashing your check. However, if anything goes wrong after that -- warranty or no warranty -- they dematerialize. I can't believe that the customer service people are on lunch break 24x7, but it sure seems that way.

Our door is beautiful, and the installation seemed to go pretty well. However, neither the doggie door nor the storm door close properly any more. They clicked into place perfectly for the first month or so, but now I can push or pull with all my might on the door and it just won't close. Calls to Lowe's return the equivalent of, "Of course I still love you, baby, but can't you see I'm busy right now? We'll get together soon, I promise." I've heard that before. The least they could have done was kiss me first.

Lots of Music News

Greg, who is sitting in the office as I write, reports that the new NYC venue for the recording of the Sax Quartet looks good, and the recording engineer is a good one. The producer didn't give a date yet, but it looks as though it will happen within the next couple of months.

One of the members of the New Hudson Sax Quartet just emailed him that he's coming to Bowdoin next week with another new music ensemble. Greg plans to go up there with the score of Louis, Louis and go over it with the group.

The Man has been busy with a new piece that has captured his attention and energies of late. Its working title is Thouros and Phosphoros, and it's based on the story of the same name from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Before he mentioned the project to me, Greg had had no idea how much I love Ovid's poetry in general and the Metamorphoses in particular. One of my "someday" projects is a collaboration with an artist friend of mine to produce a story based on the tale of Philemon and Baucis from the same work.

Busier Than a One-Legged Man in a Butt-Kicking Contest

I used to have a boss at Digital (in one of my many incarnations there) who used that phrase every time things got a little hectic around the office, and it never failed to crack me up. I still can't borrow it myself without giggling just a little.

Anyway, it sure describes things around the homestead right about now. Work's pretty steady and gaining in momentum, plus the Web site stuff is beginning to take off. I still maintain all of the sites I ever did, plus I've taken on two new sites and a redesign for one friend of mine, and a brandy-new site for a mutual friend of ours. Not to mention the fact that both Greg's and my sites are in dire need of a redesign that brings them out of the 1990s. My site, while still a useful resource that gets a lot of hits from information seekers, isn't exactly the type of site that cries out, "Look at me -- I'm a Web design expert!".

I've also picked up yet another CGC testing gig since my last post. I knew that I would be testing for another POC graduating class in Kittery next month and for NEOESR in June. Since then, I've also been asked to test at the Meet the Breeds event in Scarborough on June 8. It's all good; we can never have too many Canine Good Citizens out there.

Hey, Get a First Life!

Yeah, that was my first reaction too when hearing about Second Life® for the first time. The tech press ragged on SLTM mercilessly for attracting more fringe-y, parents'-basement-dwelling gamer types who like to dress up as Teenage Mutant Ninja Kittycats and fewer legitimate businesses into its virtual world. CSI and The Office featured it in episodes, and of course the Office character who was into SL was Dwight K. Schrute.

None of that made the concept all that attractive for me. After having spent many years as a historical re-enactor with some of the biggest, whiniest get-a-lifers on the planet, entering a virtual world for more of the same just sounded to me like another online dungeon game without even the fun of whacking the heads off some monsters (or get-a-lifers) and pillaging their lairs.

I even scoffed when the company I work for started investing time, people, and resources into SL. "Nice work if you can get it," I snickered. "We oughta make a mint offa that."

And then one day a few weeks ago, something just came over me. The company was offering a virtual meeting and presentation by an author whose latest book happened to be about a topic I need to understand. Maybe it was the chance to learn something, a lure that works on me much in the same way a piece of leftover steak works on Seamus. Maybe it was the chance to look at scenery that didn't have friggin' dirty snow all over it.

Anyway, next thing you know, this happened...

Greg came upstairs into the office, saw what I was up to, and confessed that he'd been into SL for a few months already. He'd wanted me to join him there, but didn't quite know how I'd take the concept. Actually, he did -- and he didn't want to hear all the delightfully witty things I'd have had to say on the subject.

Ob-la-di, ob-la-da. In a couple of days, they have built (well, rented) a Home Sweet Home, with a couple of dogs running in the yard...

...of Tip Corbett and Kate Welsh... (Because we couldn't get the names Desmond and Molly Jones from the registration server)

Happy ever after in the marketplace, I've just been bowled completely over by the amount of time, effort, enthusiasm, and just plain creativity have been poured into my company's "islands" in the virtual world. So much so, in fact, that I've taken the basic classes offered by my company with an aim of becoming a trainer myself. I've been able to get to know some fellow employees whom I wouldn't have met otherwise, and I've discovered what a great virtual community my company has. Folks like me who work from home without any real company interaction will be able to feel a part of the community again.

IBM likes the idea so much that it has just inked a deal with Linden Labs to run the SL software on its own private grid to create its own separate interactive employee community. IBM just might be the kind of "legitimate business" that the tech press hasn't managed to rag on. I've also had occasion to meet a number of small online business owners and some mighty talented artists and musicians who might not be making enough money in SL to retire, but who have found another creative outlet in which to shine.

Greg, who had one of his BU professors recommend SL to him, is a member of a bunch of classical music groups and is learning scripting and animation. He's happily picking up virtual Rothko paintings for the walls. At least we can afford one there!

Turns out my sister-in-law joined SL before either of us did, and we're trying to get my sister involved, too. I'm not denying that it isn't a huge time-sink to keep up on things in two worlds, and heaven knows I didn't need another excuse to spend time on the computer -- but we spend our downtime interacting in ways we don't do when we're watching TV. (Oh, and my virtual self has three dogs -- one of which is a rehome -- and Greg's has a cat.)

If you're ever in the virtual neighborhood, drop one of us a note. It would be a hoot to hang out with people whom we know in RL. Okay, so we won't be able to whack the heads off any get-a-lifers and take their bags of stale Cheetos, but just being in the world can work its own strong magic on us -- and that's more attractive than Cheetos anytime.

Trademark Stuff: Second Life is a registered trademark of Linden Lab. SL is a trademark of Linden Lab. This is how my editors always have me use trademarks in my day job, so I hope Linden's copyright folks are okay with it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Continuing Soggy Saga of Spring

Spring has finally decided to stick around this latitude for a while, albeit grudgingly. The sun seems reluctant to show its face for very long at a stretch, for fear of frightening us natives who haven't seen it since forever. "Ooh! What is that big yellow ball in sky? Run! Run before we get used to being warm and cheerful!"

I can tell it's spring because our backyard, which used to look like some of the Siberian scenes in Doctor Zhivago, now looks more like the Okefenokee Swamp without the gators. We have an actual pond here on the property, but the visiting ducks always seem to prefer swimming around in the temporary lakes of snow-melt we have out there. Here are a couple of the current visitors...

Dinah thinks I'm putting her on when I tell her, "Look! Duckies!". She knows from ducks, after all. She loves herding the Indian Runners around at Suzanne White's place on the occasions we've had to go up there. To her, real ducks don't swim or fly. They walk everywhere, preferably with her able assistance. When the wild ducks outside announce their presence with a chorus of quacks, she stiffens to attention and is ready to get to work. Those tourist-creatures out in the yard are of no interest to her, though. They only sound like real ducks.

The pups have been celebrating the advent of Mud Season, all right...

I've been remiss at cleaning up in the dog yard because most of it is under water; the dogs have to get their yeah-yeahs out in the remaining dry space, or out with me someplace else. All of the toys and bones that Dinah and Seamus hid in the snowbanks are now languishing out in the water. I'll need to put on some boots, collect the things to dry, and hope I don't lose my footwear to the mud while I'm doing it.

Yes You Can

Thanks to Sue and Judy, I received my AKC Canine Good Citizen evaluator's credentials a few weeks back. You may now call me Evaluator #35219.

I decided to go for it because I've met so many people (particularly in our breed club, but elsewhere, too) with sweet, lovely dogs. The owners shake their heads sadly and say, "But we don't show or trial. My dog could never do that." The CGC is really within reach of any dog/owner team with even a passing mastery of some very basic obedience skills of the type every dog and owner should know. My campaign slogan for the CGC would probably be "Yes You Can."

After the ink dried on my newly-minted credentials, Sue asked me to come and evaluate one of her CGC classes for Reigning Cats and Dogs. She reassured me that they were all wonderful teams, and would make it very easy for a noob like me to get started.

Of course, Sue was absolutely right. I evaluated seven student teams from her class (plus our friend Rayleen from POC and her Skye Terrier puppy). All of the dogs were puppies or teenagers except for the lovely Great Dane, who at 3 was the senior member of the assemblage. I felt terrible for the Husky's owner when the little guy decided he'd rather wrestle than pay attention, but hey... he's only a puppy. Sue and I encouraged her to try him again at POC's June match. He'll be a couple of months older by then, and every month brings big changes to a puppy.

It was genuinely touching to see the expressions of relief, disbelief, and delight on the faces of those folks who passed. Yes They Can!

I worked fairly hard to keep them from discovering that I was every bit as nervous as they were, but it did involve taking some extra time to let people breathe and puppies settle. I ran seriously overtime, but Sue came up with a great idea: Let the waiting students from her next class come in to watch the test. They'd get to see what the CGC was all about, and maybe they'd want to sign up for Sue's next CGC class.

The distraction level grew about 400% by then, but that was a very good thing -- much truer to real life. We had several well-behaved dogs, two little children, a couple of rattly paper bags, plus Sue and the other two volunteers whom I shanghaied into helping: Greg, sporting a cane I got from Freecycle and a book he dropped at intervals and my friend Jay (one of Sue's former students), who jogged around the room during the distraction exercise.

Sue followed up later with a very sweet note thanking me for testing, and saying that she and Rayleen had received numerous compliments about the test and how I handled each team. That makes me happy. All I really wanted was to let them know that they could do everything on the test, and they did. Sue prepared them well. All I did was reaffirm that with sheets of carbonless paper.

Now that the tests are over and the paperwork is done, I'm already receiving requests to do the tests at other venues. I'm testing on two successive weekends in June already. When they asked me if I could come and test, I said... wait for it.. Yes I Can.

(Apologies to Senator Obama, but it was just too good to pass up.)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

This Blog Post is Brought to You By the Number 4 and the Letter S

S is for Seamus

Please forgive me if I start this post with a little brag on Almost Famous Seamus. The little guy and I spent last weekend at an APDT rally trial at Monadnock Canine Academy in NH. Since we weren't crashing over out there, we had to get up at four-frickin'-thirty in the morning each morning in order to make it there by 8 AM. Seamus, being the non-fan of car rides that he is, whined the whole way up and the whole way back.

In spite of that, the Famous One managed to qualify 4 out of 4 times, with two 4th-place finished in his class. (His lucky number for the weekend must have been 4, eh?) Since the RL1X title requires 10 qualifying legs, we're still collecting the set. Last weekend's legs bring our total up to 7. One more trial and we could conceivably finish this year!

This trial was a first for Monadnock, and indeed for NH. It was the first APDT trial held north of Massachusetts. The facility was beautiful, with a huge room for the ring and great flooring. We had a separate crating room with tables and chairs for the humans, and the food was excellent. They even had shopping available! The shelter's pet supply store was open both days and carried lots of great collars, toys, food, treats, books, and even whole bean coffee.

My friend Sissy came with both her Akitas and her 16-year-old daughter in tow. Axle, the male, appears to have re-injured a knee that has already had an ACL repair. He wasn't able to compete in the trial, but Kuma, the female, did and finished her RL1 title. Sissy will probably tale her on to RL2. Kuma has an AKC RE, so she won't have any problems with going off-lead.

You can guess what our next challenge will be when we finish the RL1X, though. I hope we can conquer off-lead work without too many choruses of "Seeeeaaaaaammmmuuusssss!" echoing around the rally-roo ring.

"S" is For...

My friend Jane lives out in Encinitas, CA, so we're lucky if we get to see each other once a year at the Beardie National Specialty. She called me up recently. Turns out she's serving as chair of the nominating committee for the national club, and was wondering whether I'd be interested in taking over the spot of the corresponding secretary. The current secretary is leaving the office to take over as president.

I don't know what came over me, but I told her I'd do it. My term begins in July, and I get to serve a maximum of two terms (I think). Someone must have seen the "S" on my forehead and thought it stood for Secretary.

Now, if that isn't enough madness for one person, I was also elected to the Board of my local kennel club. I'm glad to help, really, but I wish all of the former Board members could have stayed on the Board as well.

"S" also stands for Steward. One of the local chief stewards recruited me to help out at her local kennel club's show this year. Since I won't be entering Dinah (less than zero chance of a major there), this frees me up to work in the ring at more of the local shows. A couple of the chief stewards trained me last year and I stewarded our kennel club's fall match, but this show will be the first time I fly solo. I've been promised a ring next to an experience steward and my very own set of rocks! (A steward needs rocks to act as paperweights when stewarding outdoors on windy days. Since I've passed the initiation and been accepted into the fraternity, I will be presented with my own set of bone-shaped cut stone paperweights. Woo hoo!)

4 Trips to NYC for The Man

Any time now, the 21st Century Masterworks volume that contains Greg's Water Suite should be available. ERM had said that the collection would be out by the end of March, but they're still a few volumes behind in their release schedule. The Man should still be out on iTunes sometime this year, though.

June seems to be the big month for Greg this year. Not only is he getting two pieces played in NYC, but the recording session for the Sax Quartet finally seems to be happening, and will happen in June. Since Town Hall is no longer an option for the recording, the producer had to find a studio somewhere else in the city. One has been found, but I don't know which one just yet.

4-lorn-Looking Half-Finished Knitting Projects

With everything else that's been going on, I've been lucky to steal a minute here and two minutes there to get some knitting done. I did manage to finish the latest watch cap for Greg - this one in navy blue Bernat Softee Chunky. (I know, I know, knitting with cheap-ass Wally World yarn and all... but the cap had to be made of something lighter than wool that would stand up to abuse and hot water washloads, yet be denser than cotton yarn, yet be cooler than wool yarn... )

I started an "idiot knitting" project on the side in my negative spare time. Although knitting twisted rib watch caps is pretty close to idiot knitting, the very dark navy I used for the last one made the stitches harder to see, and reduced the project's "idiot knitting" quotient.

"S" is also for Second Life, but more on that in another post. I have to go see what's 4 Supper.