Border Collie on acid.
Observations by and for the vaguely disenchanted.
Risking the wrath of the whatever
from high atop the thing.
Pixie, the strange, insane, dog-like creature:
1. Communicates telepathically with her masters from deep space, the Dark Overlords of the Universe;
2. Really likes having her butt scratched.
"Ah. Familiar that pose is."
If you live in the greater Pittsburgh area and, like me, rank the experience of taking your dogs to the groomer just above getting a root canal, you're in luck.
Just call the lovely Shauna Caudill, a certified groomer and owner of Bow WOW! Mobile Bath and Grooming, and she'll bring her spiffy specialized vehicle to your home and work her magic.
To be honest, taking the shelties to the groomer was never a problem, other than spending a week trying to get all the fur out of the interior of the car.
But Pixie the Shih Tzu (Klingon for "small, insane, dog-like creature) was another story. Within five minutes of leaving the groomer's, Cindy received a call telling her to return asap and retrieve the wee beastie. They couldn't handle her. I imagined it went something like this:
Our experience with Shauna was decidedly different:
Sassy is ready for her close-up.
Before Shauna, Pixie looked like a rabid tribble with legs.
Shauna abandoned a successful but unsatisfying career and decided to take a chance and do what she truly loves. Her drive and dedication are estimable, and her skills are obvious.
We've already scheduled our next appointment.
Granddaughter Joelle all tired out after a fun day with her cousins.
Granddaughter Joelle gives me the look I get from most young ladies...
Just a couple buds hanging out on the couch.
It took an hour, mild sedation, three Milk Bones, my beard trimmer, two adults and an oven mitt, but we finally trimmed the hair around the eyes of the small, dog-like creature (aka Pixie the Shih Tzu).
In the depressing gloom and cold of mid-winter, February 2 is an important day, and I'm not talking about some farcical ceremony involving a large rodent or steroid-enhanced millionaires giving each other concussions.
Had they lived...
Eva Cassidy would have been 51...
(YouTube video: Eva Cassidy, "Fields of Gold")
My dog Beanie would have been 20...
And my dad, Raymond Francis Barkes, would have been 90. Here he is with my son Doug, watching airplanes at the Allegheny County Airport in 1977. It's a sobering thought that I'm six years older than my father was when this photo was taken. He died in October, 1994.
I'm sad they're no longer here, but I'm glad they were in my life.
I haven't "lost" them; they're with me all the time. And memories are like fine wine. They improve with age.
Riley has visions of sugarplums dancing in his head.
Sassy knows the fat guy with the beard
will give her cookies.
And maybe Santa will, too!
Merry Christmas from Kevin, Cindy,
and all the furry minions.
We said goodbye to Lucy (Lady Lucia) today, less than two months from her 16th birthday.
Since March 4- when she developed focal seizures- our schedule was pretty much dictated by her.
When Lucy decided it was time to wake up, we woke up. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've slept past 6:30 am in the past ten months.
The household schedule was arranged so that someone was always around at 9 am and 9 pm to administer her seizure medication. And we never left her alone for more than four hours.
From 7 pm to about 10 pm, her place was on the living room couch, where she'd watch tv and snooze. When she thought it was time to go to bed, we went to bed. And the next day, we'd do it all over again.
Things changed on Sunday. She didn't want to eat, and was only mildly interested in the cheese in which we wrapped her drugs. She spent the entire day under my desk. Her occasional excursions to survey the back yard stopped.
Yesterday she stopped drinking water and making her bathroom trips.
This morning, she woke us up at 4:30 am. I took her downstairs and put her out in the yard with the other dogs. Instead of her usual morning constitutional- walking the perimeter of the yard, inspecting the fence- she laid down in the snow at the end of the patio and didn't move. She didn't even correct the Shih Tzu puppy when the little one started barking at her and licking her face.
I picked her up and brought her inside. She sat stoically next to my chair, her old, cloudy eyes unfocused and yet looking at something. I said her name, softly. She wagged her tail, but her gaze remained steady.
I'd seen that intent, focused stare before, and my heart sank. She was concentrating on the next place, her destination. And it was time.
She was quiet during the car ride. She wagged her tail when the lady in the white coat entered the room.
She gave us sloppy kisses. Her mom held her close, and, with a relieved sigh, we felt her leave.
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.
Sassy and Riley want me to tell the Shih Tzu puppy she's not really a Chinese Sheltie, but we're not going to break it to her until she's a bit older...
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.
Gee, 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.
Vaya con Dios, pequeño mapache.
Pixie, the six-month old small, Ewokish, dog-like creature my wife rescued a few months ago, encounters snow for the first time.
The shelties teach her that it tastes good.
(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 here.
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 plucking.
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.
Today is Mutt's Day, a celebration of mixed-breed canines.
Here's one the greatest ones I've ever known.
(YouTube video: Bunny Dash)
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 cheese-and-phenobarbital treat.
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".
From the Wikipedia article on the show:
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 AP Stylebook.
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. Update: During the third season, the show became available on the CBS website.
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.
And, the regular cast includes a dog:
Categories: Amy Acker, CBS, Computers, Dogs, Edward Snowden, Enrico Colantoni, George Orwell, Google, Internet, James Clapper, Jay O. Sanders, Jim Caviezel, Kevin Chapman, Michael Emerson, NSA, Paige Turco, Peggy Noonan, Person of Interest, PRISM, Ron Wyden, Science Fiction, Signs of the Apocalypse, Taraji P. Henson, Technology, Terrorism, The Machine, TV, Video, YouTube
When you're a Sheltie and over 15 years old, your primary responsibility is making certain you get enough rest. Even on Monday morning, Lucy has it covered.
The very bright full moon, shining through a small opening in the bedroom blinds, has convinced our oldest dog that it's time to get get up.
And when the alpha female says it's time to get up, it's time to get up...
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.