Published Sunday, November 17, 2013 @ 11:04 AM EST
Son Douglas and granddaughter Joelle enjoy a quiet Sunday morning.
WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday released
its first smartphone app, a free program that allows consumers to
measure the broadband speed they are getting on their mobile devices and
to determine whether it is as fast as wireless companies say.
wonder what else it can do?
A group of eleventh graders from Homestead High School, Homestead, PA,
in the fall of 1969. Believe it or not, I'm one of them.
This past Friday, November 15, marked the start of my 23rd year of
residence here at Dr. Barkes' 3-D House of Shedding Fur and Domestic
Bliss, which has, since those halcyon days of the early 90s, sheltered
scores of fish, eleven dogs, four cats, and three pairs of children,
grandchildren, and spouses. And that's just the interior.
Positioned as we are next a wooded area bordering a 3,000 acre county
park, there's an endless parade of indigenous fauna. They effortlessly
ignore the fence surrounding the back yard as they go about their daily
routines. Some actively reside within its confines. I see deer almost
daily, and groundhogs, rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, and skunks from
April through November.
Surprisingly, I had never encountered a raccoon until last week. It did
not end well.
The dogs were frantically barking at the far end of the yard. They had
the poor little fella surrounded.
When you see a raccoon during the day, there's something amiss. This guy
was, fortunately, sitting quietly and not responding to the two adult
shelties and one shih tzu puppy surrounding him. I got the dogs back
into the house and quickly checked them out. They had no bite marks or
scratches, which was a relief. While they all are current on their
rabies vaccinations, they would still have had to be quarantined if they
had been bitten. Relieved, I called the township and within ten minutes
a personable South Park police officer arrived.
"This doesn't look good," the officer said as we approached the animal.
"A healthy raccoon would run away from us." He picked up a fallen branch
and gently poked the raccoon in the side. No reaction. The officer
sighed, took out his can of pepper spray, and delivered a short blast.
The raccoon slowly turned his back to us, but otherwise didn't move.
"Do you have a couple plastic garbage bags and a shovel?" he asked. I
nodded. "Please get them."
I walked back up the yard. Halfway to the house, I heard the discharge.
I returned and the officer bagged the small, inert form. It was clean
shot at point blank range. The little guy hadn't felt a thing.
It was a series of firsts: first raccoon, first police officer in the
back yard, first firearm on the property. The first, and, I sincerely
hope, the last.
(Originally published on October 28, 2009. Hard to believe it's been
five years- and I still miss her.)
I've written a half-dozen eulogies for pets and friends over the years.
It's the first anniversary of Beanie's death, and I find I still can't
write one for her.
Perhaps it's because she's still here. There are three pictures of her
on the wall in front of my desk. A box with her vet records sits next to
the filing cabinet. Her ashes are in a drawer less than two feet from me.
Ours wasn't a verbal relationship, anyway. We spent hours walking the
paths in South Park. We'd share a white pizza with bacon on the living
room floor and listen to '70s music. I'd fall asleep on the floor and
wake up with her beside me, the thump of her tail welcoming me to
consciousness before my eyes had focused.
I won't recount the details of those instances in the past year when I
felt something warm at my feet and looked down to see an empty floor. Or
felt a wet nose and warm breath on my ear as I drove past the paths we
walked in the park, despite the car's empty back seat. Or the dreams of
her walking on a leaf-covered trail, not looking back, pausing
occasionally to allow me to catch up.
When it's time for me to join her, our ashes will be commingled and
scattered in the woods next to that trail. Then it will be someone
else's chore to produce the appropriate words.
We'll have other things to occupy us, and all the time we didn't have
Published Thursday, September 19, 2013 @ 6:02 AM EDT
I was in the middle of trying to figure out why a recursive function
wasn't recursing, when my wife called me upstairs.
She was in the living room, holding a ball of matted fur. With eyes. And
a tail, wagging. Furiously.
One of her son's clients was going into a personal care home. The woman
had suffered a stroke a week after adopting the Shih Tzu puppy Cindy
cradled in her arms. An older Shih Tzu the infirm woman owned had found
a new home, but this four-month old had not been so fortunate.
"They haven't been able to find anyone to take her," my wife said.
"And if this sweet, innocent puppy that looks like something you
fished out of the sink trap in the bathroom goes to the pound, it will
be on your head, you heartless bastard."
To be fair, she didn't actually say that. That was the part of my brain
that had just clubbed insensate the other part- the one saying "Swell.
You now have three Shetland Sheepdogs, two cats, and a mutant Ewok."
I named her Pixie, after the mythical creatures who are, according to
Wikipedia, "generally benign, mischievous, short of stature and
attractively childlike." Insert your David Spade joke here.
We got her in to the nearest vet office, and the report was better than
expected; 7 pounds, 7 ounces; good health aside from an umbilical hernia
that will be corrected when she's spayed; a few fleas; some sores from
her scratching off bows some idiot groomer had glued to her head;
and incredibly matted hair. Until her grooming appointment, I've been
using my beard trimmer- it's battery powered, and makes less
puppy-scaring noise- to remove the worst areas.
I'm just afraid that once we get all the hair removed, we'll discover
she's really a guinea pig.
The three Shelties think she's a puppy. We believe this because Lucy,
the 15-year-old queen of the household, just sat there when Pixie got in
her face and started aggressively smelling the older dog.
The cats... well, they don't know what the hell she is. Pixie's three
pounds lighter and several inches smaller than Pumpkin, the "evil" cat
who does not like changes in the environment. The feline watched
intently as I trimmed the puppy yesterday morning. I got the impression
Pumpkin thought I was engaged in the moral equivalent of chicken
So, the cat and the puppy will remain under enhanced surveillance.
Especially between mealtimes.
Pixie surveys the area.
Riley watches as Pixie explores the back yard.
Riley demonstrates the mien and posture of a true herding dog. Pixie,
not so much.
It's probably because 15-year-old Lucy's vision, hearing, and sense of
smell aren't what they used to be, but I like to think she doesn't mind
sharing the yard with the bunny that lives in the tallgrass stand. After
the rabbit ran away, Lucy took no notice; she just continued her twice
daily inspection of the back yard and reported in that everything was
fine, and that it was time for me to carry her upstairs to watch
television on the couch, and to wait for her 9 pm
In light of the Edward Snowden/NSA scandal, CBS' science fiction series Person
of Interest now more closely resembles a reality show:
While not quite as memorable as "Space... the final frontier," the
series' opening voice over provides a pretty good summary of the premise:
"You are being watched. The government has a secret system: a machine
that spies on you every hour of every day. I designed the machine to
detect acts of terror, but it sees everything... violent crimes
involving ordinary people. The government considers these people
'irrelevant'. We don't. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret.
You'll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number's up...
we'll find you".
John Reese (Jim Caviezel), a former Green Beret and CIA field officer,
is living as a derelict in New York City after the death of the woman he
loves, and is presumed dead. He is approached by Harold Finch (Michael
Emerson), a reclusive billionaire computer genius who is living under an
assumed identity. Finch explains that after September 11, 2001, he built
a computer system for the government that uses information gleaned from
omnipresent surveillance to predict future terrorist attacks. However,
Finch discovered that the computer was predicting ordinary crimes as
well. The government is not interested in these results, but Finch is
determined to stop the predicted crimes. He hires Reese to conduct
surveillance and intervene as needed, using his repertoire of skills
gained in the military and the CIA. Through a back door built into the
system, Finch receives the Social Security number of someone who will be
involved in an imminent crime, at which point he contacts Reese. Without
knowing what the crime will be, when it will occur, or even if the
person they were alerted to is a victim or perpetrator, Reese and Finch
must try to stop the crime from occurring.
They are helped by NYPD Detectives Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman), a
corrupt officer whom Reese coerces into helping them, and Joss Carter
(Taraji P. Henson), who in early episodes investigates Reese for his
vigilante activities. Although Reese arranges for Carter and Fusco to be
partners in the NYPD early in the first season, neither learns that the
other is also working with Finch and Reese until season two.
Periodically, the team also enlists the aid of Zoe Morgan (Paige Turco),
a professional "fixer" who applies her skills to particularly difficult
tasks. The series features several subplots. One significant story arc
involves "HR", an organization of corrupt NYPD officers in league with
budding mob boss Carl Elias (Enrico Colantoni); in the course of this
arc Fusco is forced to go undercover. Another important storyline
revolves around Root (Amy Acker), a psychopathic female hacker who is
determined to gain access to the Machine; she asserts the device is
actually God, and that she has been summoned by "her."
Ah, The Machine...
The Machine is a mass surveillance computer system programmed to monitor
and analyze data from surveillance cameras, electronic communications,
and audio input throughout the world. From this data, the Machine
accurately predicts violent acts. Under control of the U.S. Government,
its stated purpose is the identification of terrorist and their planned
assaults. However, the Machine detects future violent acts of all kinds,
not just terrorism. Unknown to Finch, his partner, Nathan Ingram,
installed a routine called "Contingency" prior to delivering the system
to the government. The covert software causes the machine to also act on
non-terrorist crime. Finch is appalled that Ingram has the data sent
directly to him. After Finch fails to prevent Ingram's
computer-predicted murder, he further modifies the system so that
"irrelevant" non-terrorism data is transmitted to him in the form of
social security numbers, via coded messages over a public telephone.
Over the course of each episode, the viewer periodically sees events as
a Machine-generated on-screen display of data about a character or
characters: identification, activities, records, and more may be
displayed. The viewer also sees a Machine-generated perspective as it
monitors New York. Commercial flights are outlined by green triangles,
red concentric circles indicate no-fly zones around tall buildings, and
dashed boxes mark individual people. The Machine classifies the people
it watches by color-coding the boxes: white for no threat or an
irrelevant threat; red for perceived threats to the Machine,
red-and-white for individuals predicted to be violent; and yellow for
people who know about the machine, including Finch, Reese, Ingram,
Corwin and Root. The white-boxed "irrelevant threat" targets include the
Persons of Interest that Reese and Finch assist.
As the series progressed, a wider governmental conspiracy emerged. Known
as "The Program", it revolves around the development and utilization of
the Machine. Apparently led by a mysterious figure known only as
"Control", an unnamed official (Jay O. Sanders) from the Office of
Special Counsel begins eliminating key personnel who are aware of the
Machine's existence by deploying teams of Intelligence Support Activity
(ISA) operatives who believe they are acting to eliminate perceived
terrorist threats on the recommendation of a department known as
"Research". The members of the elimination teams are classified by the
Machine using a blue box.
Person's producers have hinted the third season of the hit
series, which moves to a new day and slot (Tuesdays at 10 pm, premiering
on September 24) will attempt to be more, er, science fiction-y. Like
all television shows, Person does have some reality-bending
elements, but the suspension of disbelief level required is remarkably
low. The bad guys are still lousy shots, and the key characters make
miraculous recoveries from concussions, lethal injections and various
forms of physical trauma, often before the show's end credits roll. But
hey, it's episodic broadcast television, right?
Where the show excels is in production values and technical accuracy.
While Mr. Finch's technology boasts features which are a couple software
releases in the future, the indulgences can be forgiven. The show's
cellular phone networks, computers, and other devices work at blinding
speed. But when you have to shoehorn a rich narrative into 40 minutes of
actual episode time, you really don't want to watch systems execute
communication protocol negotiations in real time; trust me.
Particularly impressive is the effort the show puts into elements that
have perhaps a second or two of screen time. Thanks to high definition
and digital video recording, I've been able to freeze frame some of the
monitor shots- and it's obvious these guys have some real-world Unix and
TCP/IP knowledge. A one-second blip of a phony newspaper article reveals
someone actually wrote a faux news story and, apparently, follows The
Other one-hour drama series spend eight days or less to film an episode. Person
of Interest spends nine and a half, with more camera coverage,
extensive location shooting, and substantial post-production work.
They spend money on this show, and it's all up on the screen. The
episodes have a decided theatrical motion picture feel.
So... when planning your television viewing for the upcoming season,
give Person a shot. Like certain other Warner Brothers shows, the
studio hasn't made it available for free, on-demand viewing- you have to
buy the DVDs or download the show from iTunes.
Just type CBS Person of Interest into Google and you'll find hundreds of
useful fan sites and video clips from key episodes.
One caveat- the series is produced by J.J. Abrams of Lost fame,
which means there's a chance that at some point the whole thing could
take a sharp turn into stupidity. But, based on the first two seasons,
it's worth the risk.
Kaiser, a 30 month old German Shepherd canine officer for the Plymouth,
Massachusetts Police Department, was euthanized last Friday due to the
ravaging effects of severe liver and kidney disease.
Kaiser's handler, Jamie LeBretton, had announced last Wednesday that his
partner had retired from the force that day. He sadly noted a ceremony
at Angel View Pet Cemetery would follow Kaiser's final trip to the Court
Street Animal Hospital.
Kaiser was met by a silent, respectful group of his fellow officers, who
stood at attention and saluted him as he followed his partner and friend.
"I feel privileged to have had a front row seat to witness his bravery
and heroic actions while serving the people of Plymouth and my brothers
and sisters in blue," Officer LeBretton said. "Although his career was
short-lived, he made a huge impact that will never be forgotten."
The Plymouth Police Department depends upon contributions from the
public to operate and maintain its K-9 unit. Please consider making a
donation online here, or send a check to:
Plymouth Police Working Dog Foundation 20 Long Pond Road Plymouth
MA 02360 Attn: Marc Higgins
The fidelity of a Dog is a precious gift, demanding no less binding
moral responsibilities than the friendship of a Human Being. The bond
with a True Dog is as lasting as the ties of this Earth will ever be. -Konrad
Each morning, like clockwork, they board the subway, off to begin their
daily routine amidst the hustle and bustle of the city.
But these aren't just any daily commuters. These are stray dogs who live
in the outskirts of Moscow Russia and commute on the underground trains
to and from the city centre in search of food scraps.
Then after a hard day scavenging and begging on the streets, they hop
back on the train and return to the suburbs where they spend the night.
Experts studying the dogs, who usually choose the quietest carriages at
the front and back of the train, say they even work together to make
sure they get off at the right stop – after learning to judge the length
of time they need to spend on the train.
Scientists believe this phenomenon began after the Soviet Union
collapsed in the 1990s, and Russia’s new capitalists moved industrial
complexes from the city centre to the suburbs.
Dr Andrei Poiarkov, of the Moscow Ecology and Evolution Institute, said:
"These complexes were used by homeless dogs as shelters, so the dogs had
to move together with their houses. Because the best scavenging for food
is in the city centre, the dogs had to learn how to travel on the subway
– to get to the centre in the morning, then back home in the evening,
just like people."
Dr Poiarkov told how the dogs like to play during their daily commute.
He said: "They jump on the train seconds before the doors shut, risking
their tails getting jammed. They do it for fun. And sometimes they fall
asleep and get off at the wrong stop."
The dogs have also amazingly learned to use traffic lights to cross the
road safely, said Dr Poiarkov. And they use cunning tactics to obtain
tasty morsels of shawarma, a kebab-like snack popular in Moscow.
With children the dogs "play cute" by putting their heads on youngsters’
knees and staring pleadingly into their eyes to win sympathy – and
Dr Poiarkov added: "Dogs are surprisingly good psychologists."
No matter how bad your Monday morning is, odds are you didn't have to
wade through belly-deep snow in order to pee. There's about five inches
of snow out there now and it's still coming down. Late March snows
really aren't that unusual, and we get an average of 1.5" in April. And
on May 9, 1966, we got 3.1 inches. So quit complaining.
...that I had seven consecutive hours of sleep last night.
Since she started phenobarbital therapy for her focal seizures a little
over a week ago, Lucy, our 15-year-old Sheltie, has had disrupted sleep
patterns. Her active hours have been 2-4 pm and- unfortunately- 2-4 am.
Because of her drug-induced confusion and ataxia, we had to make certain
we were awake when she was so that she wouldn't injure herself.
She finally appears to be acclimating to the drug. She was more active
yesterday, more alert, and she actually barked at me to let her out.
Last night we took all the dogs up to the bedroom and gated them in. I
settled Lucy on the floor and she was out in under a minute. I followed
When the alarm went off this morning, she was in the exact position I
had left her. As I crawled out of bed, she sat up, looked at me, and
wagged her tail.
The normal morning constitutional followed- a trip outside, breakfast,
another trip outside- then upstairs to spend the day with Cindy while I
went to work.
The downside? Well, aside from this brief update, that's all I got for
today. The sleep deprivation had fuzzed my brain as much as hers, and
I'm finally sharp enough to jump back into a major programming effort.
It's not unusual for me to wake up to discover Pumpkin, our 16-year-old
black cat, asleep on my back.
But at 2:30 this morning, she wasn't sleeping. She was yelling in my ear
while simultaneously embedding a single claw in my right arm.
Not enough to draw blood, but it certainly got my attention.
Once I sat up in bed and found my glasses, I saw her at the bedroom
door. She yelled at me again, circled twice, then disappeared. I heard
her bounding down the steps and into the kitchen.
I followed her and discovered our 15-year-old Sheltie, Lucy, lying next
to the door leading to the cellar, beneath the child gate we put
there to keep her from attempting to navigate the steps.
Lucy developed focal seizures this past Monday, and the phenobarbital
that controls her condition has also knocked her for a loop. Until she
becomes acclimated to the drug, the medication-induced ataxia has turned
her into a friendly little Scottish drunk.
My guess is she decided she needed to go out, headed for the steps,and
didn't notice the gate. When it fell on her, she decided she'd just lie
there and sleep it off.
The stairs weren't blocked, so Pumpkin could have made it to the litter
box with no problem. No ulterior motive- there's no doubt she knew her
friend was in trouble and determined she needed someone with opposable
thumbs to handle the situation.
Once I extricated Lucy and took her down to my office to spend the
remainder of the night, Pumpkin positioned herself on a shelf under my
desk unit, where she could watch the dog's inert form. She moved only
when Lucy got up and started wandering around. The cat would sit down in
front of Lucy, halting her progress. The dog would then lie down, give
Pumpkin a wet kiss on the face and then pass out again.
I'm a definite dog person. But I have to admit, I'm starting to become
rather impressed by felines as well.
The first day of seizure-inhibiting phenobarbital treatment really
zonked her out, and she's still kinda stoned and shaky, but Lucy ate all
her breakfast, had a long drink of water, did her business, and made her
daily inspection of the back yard.
I'm not sure she even realized it snowed last night but hey, haven't we
all had mornings like that?
The other two dogs and the two cats spent the night with me in my
office. Lucy was the only one who really got any sleep. The lesser
mammals are now all unconscious under my desk, while I have to spend the
next eight to ten hours writing a MacroSPITBOL function definition to
create, name, and populate multiple table structures at runtime.
Published Tuesday, February 26, 2013 @ 1:27 PM EST
I imagine our Shelties all would have Scottish accents if they could speak, and Lucy, the oldest,
would sound just like Deborah Kerr in the original Casino Royale.
They should just create a "Best Quentin Tarantino Film" category and be done with it.
How can you not like an Oscars show with two Captain Kirks?
I wish Spielberg had won best director. How great would it have been for him to talk too
long and to have the Jaws music start..
The Pope's tweets come from an Apple device, which is kind of funny when you think about it...
Since I'm not a fan, I was a bit apprehensive about Seth McFarland hosting the Oscars.
His performance reminded me of Calvin Trillin's suggested state motto for New Jersey: "Not as bad as you
might have expected."
"Why Seth MacFarlane's Oscars were mean spirited and misogynistic, coming up next after our
review of the worst dressed women." -@Crutnacker
Totally unrelated: It turns out Person of Interest is more of a documentary...
Published Saturday, January 26, 2013 @ 7:55 AM EST
I like dogs in snow pictures. Here Riley and Sassy try to figure out why
I'm pointing that flashy clicky thing at them instead of rolling in the
three and a half inches we got from yesterday's clipper system.
I let the dogs out Friday night and about a minute later heard them
I ran out to the back yard, but couldn't see them; the sound was coming
from behind a stand of seven foot tallgrass that obscured my view. As I
got nearer, I saw a flash of brown and white, much larger than a
Sheltie, headed directly at me at high speed.
I started turning to get out of the way, but wasn't fast enough- the doe
collided with me at full speed. Strictly on the basis of mass, I should
have been the winner- but she was going full tilt bozo and delivered a
substantial if glancing blow as she shot past me and bounded over the
I was spun in a vector and at a velocity totally inappropriate for
someone of my age and decrepitude. To my credit, I somehow managed to
stay on my feet. My immediate feeling was relief (my body had not yet
determined the precise location and intensity of the pain it was going
to begin relentlessly transmitting to my brain).
Then I looked down.
There stood three Shetland sheepdogs with expressions ranging from pity
to disgust. I could almost hear their disparaging comments concerning my
absymal herding abilities. "We chased it right to you, Dad. You're
bigger! You have opposable thumbs! You let it go right by you! We were
looking forward to something other than dry kibble!"
The ring of pain pulsing around my pelvic girdle can be numbed with
NSAIDs. But it's going to take a lot of pizza crusts slipped under the
table to regain my true alpha standing with the rest of the pack.
Published Tuesday, September 04, 2012 @ 1:14 PM EDT
Michelle's Cinnamon Mist "Misty" August 23, 1999 -
September 4, 2012
One of the greatest gifts we receive from dogs is the tenderness they
evoke in us. The disappointments of life, the injustices, the battering
events that are beyond our control, and the betrayals we endure, from
those we befriended and loved, can make us cynical and turn our hearts
into flint– on which only the matches of anger and bitterness can be
struck into flame. By their delight in being with us, the reliable
sunniness of their disposition, the joy they bring to playtime, the
curiosity with which they embrace each new experience, dogs can melt
cynicism, and sweeten the bitter heart.
No matter how close we are to another person, few human relationships
are as free from strife, disagreement, and frustration as is the
relationship you have with a good dog. Few human beings give of
themselves to another as a dog gives of itself. I also suspect that we
cherish dogs because their unblemished souls make us wish- consciously
or unconsciously- that we were as innocent as they are, and make us
yearn for a place where innocence is universal and where the meanness,
the betrayals, and the cruelties of this world are unknown.
Dogs' lives are short, too short, but you know that going in. You know
the pain is coming, you're going to lose a dog, and there's going to be
great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with her, never fail to
share her joy or delight in her innocence, because you can't support the
illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion. There's such beauty
in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love while always
aware that it comes with an unbearable price. Maybe loving dogs is a way
we do penance for all the other illusions we allow ourselves and the
mistakes we make because of those illusions.
When you have dogs, you witness their uncomplaining acceptance of
suffering, their bright desire to make the most of life in spite of the
limitations of age and disease, their calm awareness of the approaching
end when their final hours come. They accept death with a grace that I
hope I will one day be brave enough to muster. -Dean Koontz