Friday, December 23, 2011

Have a Holly Jolly Whatever

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Harvest Moon

I actually took this photo at the September full moon, but liked it so much I thought I'd share.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I Can't Stop! I Can't Stop!

I can't stop knitting these felted dog toys! Here I've finished 8, and #9 is on the needles already.

It all started with the kit from Bully Woolies, which I picked up at a local yarn shop's going-out-of-business sale. (Rest in peace, The Stitching Mantis. We all miss you.) I opened the kit, realized that the yarn inside was my very favorite felting yarn (Lamb's Pride), and went to work.

These are knitted in halves on size 10 ½ DPNs; you knit the first half from middle to top, pick up stitches for the botton half, and leave a giant buttonhole in the bottom half as you knit. Everything shrinks a bit when you felt it, but you can still get the squeaker and stuffing inside. Stitch it closed and voila!

The original toys made from the kit are the orange-and-green one and the fuchsia-and-blue one. The rest come from leftover yarn in my stash. I bought bags of squeakers on eBay. If you're looking for a quick charity knitting project or a fundraiser, need to whittle down your stash or get rid of some leftovers, or even just like the idea of making your own dog toys for just pennies using leftover yarn from other projects... well, here's a project for you. Bully Woolies has kits for other felted toys, including cat toys, on its website — or ask your friend Google to help you find some free designs.

Once I've made even a small dent in my Lamb's Pride stash, I'm planning to try the pattern with other good felting yarns, such as Cascade 200 and Kureyon. I knew I'd saved all those leftovers for something! Watch for the next batch to appear on this blog once they're done.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Clam Before the Storm

Nope, that's not a typo. It really is damp and sticky here, as we wait for Tropical Storm Irene to pass through. Yesterday dawned lovely and cool with high clouds, but as the day progressed, it just got stickier and stickier as the pre-Irene humidity rose and the pressure sank.

All the dogs at the Lakes Region trial yesterday were off, acting weird. They were probably responding to the changes in air pressure. Dinah was so interested in everything BUT the trial at hand that she ignored me the entire day. Aliens had kidnapped my dog and left me with a deaf one with ADD. I ended up having to excuse us from the ring because we were getting exactly nowhere. Better luck some other day.

We went to bed in the sticky air last night. What's worse: someone hit a skunk near our house last night, so all of the front rooms were scented with eau de pepe-le-pew. It hadn't completely dissipated by the time we closed the windows.

Now the rains are coming...

The backyard will be fine in any case. 
The big winds aren't scheduled to get here until this afternoon. We're prepared. The generator is gassed up, and we have dog food and beer. We have a sump pump if the rain water doesn't drain into the pond quickly enough. We lose power here so often in the winter that we're just glad we don't have to worry about not having heat if it happens during this storm. As long as the trees make it through, everything here should be okay.

(I do kinda hope my office building, which is more or less in the direct path of the storm, is closed tomorrow.)

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Meditations on an Old Dog

My friend Ann, who has taken in more than one needy geriatric dog and who has spent whole lifetimes with others, has always said that old dogs are like old shoes. They don't ask for much. They're just comfortable to have around. They bring a quiet joy all their own.

I tend to think of them as Velveteen Rabbits — they might be old, slow, and lumpy with half their fur loved off, but they just grow more beautiful every day in the eyes of those who live with them and love them. Of course, old dogs have been "real" all along, but their slow march toward mortality lends them a more spiritual quality somehow. It seems as though they're closer to being at one with the Universe.

All three of my boys are seniors now. Charlie turned 14 on May 17. Badger's 9th birthday occurred on January 8. Famous Seamus celebrates his 9th birthday on November 2. It hardly seems possible that so much time has flown by. Only Dinah (who turns 6 this coming November) is still on the early side of her prime, and even then, The Princess isn't a baby any more. Maybe we have to start calling her The Queen instead.

It wasn't so long ago (or was it?) that I referred to Charlie as "the puppy." All through Duncan's and Doogie's long lives, he remained the baby of the family. When Doogie, the last of the "old guard," shuffled over the Rainbow Bridge at age almost-16, Charlie was still only 6 years old. He had established himself as Lord of the Realm many years before, and he ruled over all of the newcomers with a benevolent, but firm, paw. Little puppies gravitated to him, and he graciously instructed each one in the fine art of excavation. Many of my friends' yards sport (or sported) holes resulting from Charlie's famous tutorials on Dirt Appreciation.

The only thing Charlie likes better than dirt is water. At our old Beardie Bounces in NH, our hostess would make especially sure to have a kiddie pool filled with water for Charlie, no matter what the weather forecast.

These days, Charlie just grows more beautiful with time. His shaggy brown coat is thinner now, and he has lost a significant portion of the muscle mass that he had when he was younger. His hearing has taken on that selective quality that prevents him from hearing you calling him, but he can still pick up the sound of a sandwich being unwrapped from half a mile away. As old dogs do, he spends a lot of time seeking comfort, nudging for head rubs and samples of lunch. He does appear to spend some more time sleeping, but he still prefers to be outdoors, barking at the wild turkeys to get off his lawn and working on his latest tunnel.

Charlie's breeder still hears from some of his siblings' owners, but many of us have fallen out of touch with one another over the years. We do know that sister Bennet-J went off to the Bridge a couple of years ago, and that brother Tristan joined her in November. Brother Benny in California is still going strong, and so is sister Lucie in Nebraska. We don't know about the other three, but we hope that they're all still around and still running their respective households.

This week, Charlie suffered a bout of Old Dog Vestibular Disease (details on my Shaggy Dog Stories blog). He improves just a little every day; his nystagmus (twitching eyeballs) is essentially gone, his head tilt seems better, he can get up and down stairs, and he's getting stronger. He is starting to eat dog food again -- still mostly canned, but with some kibbles added in. Earlier in the week, the only thing he'd eat was canned Vienna sausages. He still sleeps a lot -- mostly in front of the bedroom box fan -- but he was a world class napper before the ODVD.

So many members of the Class of '97 (and earlier) have gone across the Bridge of late that it's about all I can do not to crush his creaky old bones to my chest and beg him never to go. I'm almost afraid that I'll leave someone off the list. Daisy went, and then Charlie's best brown buddy George, and Jubie, and Ghost... too many. Too sad.

Charlie, George, and Duncan the Wonder Dog with me, all those years ago
Charlie's dad Jamie made 15, and his mom Taylor almost did. We can't know -- and don't think about -- how much more time we'll have with the old man, but we're mighty glad that he dodged the bullet this time.

Motivation for the Day

Sunday, July 24, 2011

How to Be the Best at Practically Everything

Okay, I admit it. I've neglected this blog like an unloved houseplant. Instead of noisily observing my "6th blogiversary" with 24 hours of tweets and a full-press publicity blitz, I... wait, what was I doing? This blog turned 6 sometime in June, and even I missed it. But hey, vote for me for something! I feel as though I'm behind in my campaigning.

Not that I don't have a huge variety of excuses to apply. Here's the short list of things that have been going on since mid-March:
  • I finally healed up completely from spinal surgery and have been just fine ever since. There's a new dimple on the back of my neck, but otherwise, everything is business as usual.
  • Dinah and I are working through my handling foibles and ring nerves, but we've managed to finish two APDT Rally titles: RL1X and RL2. We have one leg toward the RL2X. I'm busy scanning the horizon for local AKC trials we can enter, since we've vastly improved our honor-exercise work for RE.
  • I finished up my first project at work and helped finish another one. 
  • Charlie turned 14. 14!
  • Greg is working on a CD of his piano improvisations.
  • It feels as though I've been working 8 days a week for a while now, between the upcoming National Specialty, website clients, my day job, and training classes. Sometime I'd just like to take a long vacation (more than a week, even) and just RELAX.  I'm thinking about Hawaii next January; my birthday seems like a good time to go someplace sunny.
  • The socks I've been knitting are in suspended animation until it gets cool enough again to pick them up without sticking to them.

I intend (in my mythical spare time) to send this blog to Blog Rehab and make a nicer skin for it. I'm tired of looking at this one. (hey, it was the first Blogger skin I made all my own self. It's time to move on, though.)

In the meantime, Dog Show Newbie and Shaggy Dog Stories have both been moving right along. If you'd like to enter a drawing for a Kong Squiggles dog toy, go visit Shaggy Dog Stories while this blog is in rehab.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hacked! A Tale of Woe

Just having a birthday at the end of January is crappy enough, but this year's birthday took the All-Time Super Grand Prize for Suckiness. For once, that honor didn't have anything to do with the terrible stinkin' winter weather or the fact that many restaurants close on Mondays during the off season. The most productive thing I did all day (outside of work) was to reorganize the home office desks (found stuff I'd been missing for months!). I didn't even bother buying my own birthday gift. All that pales next to the sheer aggravation that took place online that day.

This year's birthday began with some puzzling notifications in my email box. The first emails came from Yahoo, with timestamps of around 6:30 AM. "Hey, we noticed that you just changed your password. Did you mean to do that?" I hadn't changed my password -- I was still asleep at 6:30, and only just got up at 7.

I tried to log in to Yahoo, and received a "wrong password" response. I changed my email password, logged in, and found that all of the messages had been deleted from my inbox and folders. Next stop was Yahoo's help, where I contacted Yahoo, explained that I had probably been hacked, and specified when I last saw my inbox intact. Yahoo sent a canned email response, but also quickly restored everything to the state it had been when I saw it on the previous night.

The same thing had happened with my Gmail account. Someone had hacked into it, changed the password, and deleted all of the emails and folders. As it turns out, Google does not restore deleted messages from backup. Everything I had in that account -- including all of the stuff I'd been working on for Shaggy Dog Stories promotions -- was gone forever. At least the account was mine again when I changed the password.

Next, I received notification that my Facebook account had been disabled. I tried logging into that, and failed. My password had been changed there, too.

Then the calls and emails started coming. "Are you OK? Where are you?" Confused, I answered "I'm at home. Why?" Some of my friends forwarded this to me...
I'm writing this with tears in my eyes, I came down here to Wales Uk for a short vacation unfortunately i was mugged at the park of the hotel where we stayed,all cash,credit card and cell was stolen from me but luckily i still have my life and passport.i've been to the embassy and the Police here but they're not helping issues at all and my flight leaves today but am having problems settling the hotel bills, and the hotel manager won't let me leave until we settle the bills,i'm freaked out at the moment.wondering if you could help me  with a quick loan,i can pay you back once i get home.

Apparently this email had gone out to everyone I ever met -- the sister and stepmother of my high-school boyfriend, whom I hadn't seen or spoken to since approximately 1981, my favorite headhunter, a couple of former bosses, several Yahoo email lists, Greg, a high-school classmate on a business trip to Dallas... well, pretty much everybody. Many people realized that I have dear friends in Wales, so they believed the story -- at least for a moment. One person, with whom I had exchanged a couple of casual emails once when she was looking for a puppy, sent me back a "How dare you?" email. Apparently she thought I had some nerve to be emailing her for money. I had to explain that I'd been hacked -- had to explain it over and over and over again. I even had to set that as my status on LinkedIn, since I couldn't get into Facebook.

The more astute among my friends and acquaintances -- including many fellow writers and most of my former editors -- figured that something was afoot, since I hadn't lost my ability to use punctuation overnight. (Even my text messages use proper spelling, capitalization, and punctuation.) The originating email address was my3seadog@yahoo (a new account that looked like my Yahoo email, only with letters omitted). Same with saltyshepdog@gmail.

My friend and former co-worker Joel, who had also been pinged through Facebook chat by someone pretending to be me, pretended to play along. Here's what he sent back to the impostor:
Karen, I just checked email and saw your horrible message. Did you get the help you needed? If not, please give me a call at ###-###-#### and we'll work something out.
"Bizarro Me" wasted no time in getting back to the fish s/he had apparently hooked:
Glad to hear back from you.i wish i could call you but i don't have access to phone or any place i can get phone to receive call. It has really been embarrassing for me $1,850 USD. will cover all my expenses but i will appreciate whatsoever you can afford to wire right now, I promise to refund it to you as soon as I arrive home. You can wire it to my name from a western union outlet around. Here are the details you need to get it to me

Address:-2 Park Street Cardiff South Wales United Kingdom CF101ET

I still have my passport so I can use it as identification once you are done,  kindly e-mail me the western union confirmation Number MTCN ..let me know if you are heading to the western union now?

(2 Park Street in Cardiff appears to be the address of the local courthouse, according to Google Maps.)

Joel and I both called Western Union to report the situation. Western Union's security people informed us that these crooks were well-known in the UK, and although they were outside the reach of the USA, they were known to law enforcement across the pond. Also, a recipient of wired funds could show up with a fake ID anywhere to a Western Union office anywhere in the country to claim the money -- so a bogus address really didn't matter. The tracking number simply allows people to see when the funds are available to be picked up. Apparently criminals love Western Union wire transfers because they're so trusting. The security folks put a stop on any transactions involving my name, but there were no guarantees that the local constabulary could immediately show up and arrest someone who could be anywhere in the country, and who wouldn't appear unless real money had been wired. Joel asked whether the criminals would accept PayPal -- but no. PayPal is too secure.

Meanwhile, "Bizarro Me" insisted that "my" cell phone had been taken, but the laptop had not -- hence the ability to send emails and Facebook messages, but nothing that could positively identify "me." Apparently there were no other phones anywhere in Wales, and "I" was mighty insistent about an inability to call. (Apparently Skype was also a no-go.)

In the meantime, Facebook could not have been less helpful. All support emails are automated; I didn't exchange messages with a single human being. No one answers the phones, even the ones listed at They don't even take voicemail messages. All I received were multiple copies of the same "Your account has been disabled because you were scamming Facebook" email.

Joel reported that "Bizarro Me" was positively salivating at the chance to reap some reward, and kept emailing him every few minutes asking where the money was. Joel replied that his wife was out at the bank getting money, and he would send it as soon as she got home. Eventually, he tired of the emails and told the crook that instead of getting the money for me, she had wired it to a friend of hers who had also been "stranded in Wales." "Bizarro Me" began to squeak for "any money at all," but Joel cut "me" off. Apparently "Bizarro Me" has no sense of irony.

It took me over three weeks of wading through canned responses to get my Facebook account restored. Even after watching "The Social Network" and reading that the company is buying the old "Sun Quentin" campus in Menlo Park, I'm astonished to see that any human beings work there at all. Until the day my account was finally restored, I had never actually made contact with any.

To this day, I'm not entirely sure how the hackers made their attack, but my theory is that they invaded Facebook first. Facebook gets hacked all the time -- presumably by bored sixth-graders -- but the company robots have no conception of network security. Once inside, the hackers were able to send chat messages to all 1400-plus of my Facebook friends and gain access to the email addresses I had configured in my profile. From there, they were able to access the online address books for those emails, and send the infamous "tears in my eyes" email to everyone on the planet before deleting all of the email messages in my inbox.

I've been online since about 1986 or 87 (not counting a CompuServe account I'd had a year or so before that) and had never been hacked, never had a virus, never succumbed to a phishing scheme... nothing. Most of my computers have been Macs. This doesn't insulate you completely from the world of bad intentions, but most hackers are still too lazy to write viruses for Mac OS. I used to enjoy getting PC viruses in my email inbox on the UNIX boxes at work; this allowed me to read the scripts in the virus files and marvel at the sheer chutzpah of people who really should take up better hobbies. (I hear stamp collecting is very popular, as is model railroading.)

Here are some things I've learned from the experience. I hope you never need to find them helpful.
  • Change your passwords. If you don't want to do it even once a year, at least make them hard to guess. Adding numbers no longer makes things more complicated; you'll want to throw in some punctuation and/or symbols, too. If you'll have trouble remembering them, write them down on paper and keep the paper in a secure place, or use a utility like 1Password. Make up special passwords for your bank account and credit card accounts, and don't use those with anything else, even other bank accounts. Most Facebook hackers just want quick/insecure money, but don't be bait for the real identity thieves, either.
  • Don't use an online email account (such as Yahoo, Gmail, or Hotmail) with social networking sites. There are hackers who "specialize" in hacking those accounts. Use the email address that comes with your broadband Internet (cable or DSL), or get an email account from an honest-to-goodness ISP.
  • If you value the information in your online email accounts, then save it offline. Yahoo will bail you out if something goes wrong. Google figures that you're on your own.
  • Don't use online address books, except secured ones like MobileMe. Use the ones stored on your computer instead. It takes 2 more seconds per email, but you won't have to spend days cleaning up after an attack.
  • Facebook and other social networking sites are all about interconnection. Make only the connections you will actually find useful. Don't click on links to videos or other messages that appear in your feed; go to YouTube (or whatever) and search for the video if you want to see it. Remember: the more capital letters, OMGs, exclamation points, or .info domains you see, the more likely the link is to be bogus -- if not evil.
  • Delete games, polls, etc. that you're no longer using.You never know who will come across a dead poll with loads of contacts in it, and decide to make use of it.
  • Ignore invites for games you don't want to play or friend requests from people whom you don't know, or who are perfect strangers who have no photos and no other friends.

I hope this lengthy tale of woe prevents the same thing from happening to you. My sin was laziness. It won't happen again.

By the way, if you are ever robbed while traveling and need help, the staff at a decent hotel will never hold you hostage -- and they will let you use the hotel phone to call for help.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sound the Trumpets!

Well, okay, maybe a kazoo or two. It's just that these socks have been on the needles for so many months that I wasn't sure I'd ever get to the point where I could announce they were done.

These are the now-famous (if only for their longevity in my list of works in progress) K1C2 Crock-o-Dye socks in the Grape colorway, using the Yankee Knitter "Classic Socks for the Whole Family" pattern. They're lovely close up, and quite soft. I can't wait to put them on!

If you haven't tried Crock-o-Dye, you should. The hint of silk in the yarn results in lovely color variation, and I saw no pooling or any other unwanted effects. The only thing I'd advise is to be a little careful while knitting this yarn -- it splits easily, and the plies are more loosely wound than they appear. This can create a few looser-looking stitches at edges unless you're vigilant.

I had spinal surgery in mid-February, and was forbidden to use the computer for the first few weeks of recovery. Even now, I can only use one for a few hours per day, or my muscles will start screaming at me. I can't drive, can't work (boo hoo), can't lift stuff, can't sit in the hot tub... I've filled in the time with (you guessed it) knitting! I've finished these socks, started another pair, and have the first cuff of a third pair in the wings. I also wound the yarn for a fourth pair last night. At least I can claim to be productive in one area of life these days.

In spite of my stay-at-home status, Fran and I attended the NETA Spa Knit-and-Spin event in Freeport a couple of weekends ago. We had a good time -- stayed in a nearby hotel, had a chance to hold court in the hotel lobby with a nice random bunch of other knitters, and had some great food at a couple of local restaurants. We were both very bad in the vendor area (I was very, very bad) - but that's what going to SPA is for. I like to sample the yarn offerings from local spinners and dyers -- and I've finally grown picky enough so I can leave anything I don't absolutely love. If I can't throw it in the washer, I might still buy it -- but not with the same enthusiasm I'll show for an equally lovely superwash.

I haven't forgotten about the long story of Why My Birthday Sucked Donkey Dong, but that's a tale for another time.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me

...and thanks to "Robot Chicken."

Long, sordid story to follow.