a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: January 2014

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Movies Viewed 2010-2013

SUMMARY: One of my hobbies

(Updates after original post are in blue.)

I've been meaning to do this every year for many years, but somehow don't get around to it.

Thought of it just now, so here are the lists of movies I saw in theaters from 2010-2013. FWIW.

(I have several movies noted as "?" which means that, for example, I have a receipt for popcorn but no ticket stub to match that date. I saw some films that aren't on the list, so I think those must be the ??s. On the other hand, quite a few of these I had to look up on IMDB as I couldn't remember what they were about, and even had to watch the trailers for some to remind me.)

Listed in approximately the order in which I saw them.

*(nn)* were nominated for the Academy Awards best picture & for which year.

2010 (35 films)
?? (can't find ticket, don't remember)
Blind Side
Crazy HEart
Tooth Fairy
Shutter Island
Ghost Writer
???another one I didn't note--likely Alice in Wonderland (w/Johnny Depp)
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
How to Train Your Dragon
Iron Man 2
Robin Hood
*(10)* Toy Story 3D
Prince of Persia
Despicable Me
*(10)* The Kids are All Right
*(10)* ???another no note -- likely was ** Inception
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
??another no note
The Town
*(10)*The SOcial Network
Let Me In
It's Kind of Funny
Fair Game
Tangled 3-D
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Morning Glory
Tron Legacy
*(10)* The Fighter
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The King's Speech

(Other *(10)* nominees I didn't see: 127 Hours, Black Swan, Winter's Bone)

2011 (30 films)
Rabbit Hole
*(10)* True Grit
Green Hornet
Jane Eyre
?? didn't note
Le Compte D'Ory (Met. Opera in movie theater)
Water for Elephants
*(11)* ?? another unknown -- likely ** Midnight In Paris
Kung Fu Panda
?? no note
Green Lantern
Horrible Bosses
Cowboys & Aliens
Captain America: The First Avenger
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
The Debt
*(11)* The Help
*(11)* Moneyball
Tower Heist
J Edgar
*(11)* The Descendants
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
The Artist
Tinker Taylor Solider Spy

(Other *(11)* I didn't see: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Tree of Life)

2012 (33 films)
My Week with Marilyn
*(11)* Hugo
"Missme 4-D" ?(can't read my writing)
The Adventures of TinTin
The Muppets
*(11)* War Horse
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Hunger Games
John Carter of Mars
Iron Lady
Mirror Mirror
The Avengers
The Avengers (again)
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Amazing Spider-Man
Dark Knight trilogy (3 movies one night)
*(12)* Beasts of the Southern Wild
Hope Springs
Robot & Frank
Bourne Legacy
Cloud Atlas
Wreck It Ralph
*(12)* Lincoln
*(12)* Life of Pi
*(12)* Argo
*(12)* Silver Lining Playbook
Anna Karenina
The Hobbit
Hyde Park

(Other *(12)* nominations I didn't see: Django Unchained, Amour)

2013 (46 films)
The Impossible
*(12)* Zero Dark Thirty
*(12)* Les Miserables
Warm Bodies
Jack the Giant Killer
Side Effects
The Great and Powerful Oz
Jurassic Park
Iron Man 3
The Great Gatsby
Star Trek Darkness
Man of Steel
White House Down
What Maisie Knew
Now You see Me
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Much Ado About Nothing
The Internship
Monsters U
The Wolverine
The Way Way Back
Despicable Me 2
We're The Millers
Lone Ranger
The Butler
Closed Circuit
??? no note
Museum Hours
*(13)* Gravity
*(13)* Captain Phillips
Catching Fire
*(13)* 12 Years a Slave
Ender's Game
Thor Dark World
*(13)* Nebraska
*(13)* Philomena
Saving Mr. Banks
Hobbit Desolation
*(13)* American Hustle
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

2014 [only listing the nominees I've seen in January for completeness]
*(13)* Her
*(13)* The Wolf of Wall Street
*(13)* Dallas Buyers Club

(Yay, I've seen all the 2013 nominees!)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Training or Not, Motivated or Not

SUMMARY: Musings after class night.

I find, on a day-to-day basis, that I am less than enthused about practicing agility, honing my skills, focusing on Boost's needs, doing the physical workouts that we need to do to be in optimal condition, and so on.

And then I get to class. And I am inspired by the lights and the colors and the enthusiasm and the thrills of doing the sometimes-challenging courses that come up, and I think:

Yes! I *DO* want to go home and:

  • Do WINDSPRINTS every day so that I'm running at times other than on class night and on competition weekends.
  • Work on SERPENTINE handling, all the little exercises that instructors have given us to improve, and doing them 100 times in all kinds of combinations, as advised, so that she and I both feel more comfortable with them.
  • LEARN how to do that dang k-turn...  I have the examples and exercises from class, need to practice by myself and with a dog.
  • RELEARN to do blind crosses--I did them instinctively when I first started classes in 1995, but they were trained out of me because you have to take your eye off your dog and that's a no-no.... but there are so many times when a front cross means a 270-degree turn (or more than 180 anyway), which is harder on my knees and back, especially considering that I'm really not that coordinated anyway.
  • FOCUS on Boost doing jumps without knocking bars.
  • REPEAT REPEAT REPEAT having Boost keep running on focusing on obstacles rather than on me.
And so on and so on.
And here it is, the following evening, and I'm thinking--it's cold, it's dark, it's been a heavy thinking day at work, I want to go to bed.

And so it goes. If only I could remember the feeling of wanting to do those things at times outside of class. Like back not too many years ago when I used to do a lot of practice with the dogs, full-bore, almost every day. 

Meanwhile, I think I'll check my emails and, probably, go to my nice warm bed again.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


SUMMARY: Cool thing!

I won a fitbit in an agility friend's fitness participation raffle! It's the Fitbit Flex, and there's a lot about it that I like.

That's it, next to my big black watch. Did my friend pick the perfect teal color for me, or what?

It looks imposing here, but it's soft, light, and flexible, and I don't even notice that I'm wearing it. That's good, because I've been sleeping in it, and THAT's because it tracks how restless or awake I am during the night, and tells me how many hours I actually slept. Very cool.

It also tracks numbers of steps taken, minutes of very active movement, and floors climbed (a "floor" is another way of saying 10 feet gain in elevation). It translates that into miles walked and calories burned.  I can view the current daily numbers on the wristband display. Also, it connects to the fitbit web site, where my dashboard syncs with the wristband to get the current data and displays my goals, accomplishments, and so on. It apparently also can help you track food eaten; my friend uses hers for that, but I don't.

So far--after 5 days--I'm liking it. It has been much more accurate in step counting than the brand new pedometer that I bought a couple of months ago, which adds so many imaginary steps to my count that I really have no idea how much I've walked.

I don't much like the clasp, which is very hard to fasten. (Not that, not only do the online reviews almost all agree with me, but there are lots of complaints about people losing their fitbits because they pop open when they brush against things and the people didn't notice). I hope they change it in future versions.

The only time that it seems to have failed me is yesterday.

Yesterday morning I did the usual various things around the house, then drove in to my client site, walked through the parking garage and down a long corridor to a meeting, sat in the meeting for an hour with a little bit of getting up and moving around, walked back to my car, drove to my dentist's office, walked into the office to check in, walked back outside. At that point, it said that I had walked about 1.4 miles, or about 2800 steps. Perfectly reasonable.

Because I was early for the dentist, I went for a walk. Walked 35 minutes briskly without stopping, and at that point I hit 3 miles (6000 steps). So far so good.

Then I drove home, walked around the yard (not a big yard) to pick up poop, threw the toy for the dogs a few times and played a little tug, watered the potted plants along the back wall of the house. Fed the dogs dinner, drove out to the movie theater, parked at the far side of the parking lot (maybe a couple hundred feet from the theater entrance). Walked to the theater to check the line for the movie, walked back to my car to get my stuff. Back to the theater, sat on a chair in line for 45 minutes until my friend showed up.

Walked my stuff back to the car and rejoined my friend in line. Stood there talking for 15 minutes, then walked into the theater, which was right off the lobby. Got a seat, walked out to the lobby to buy food (no waiting in line), back into the theater, back out to the girls' room (across the hall from the theater door), back into the theater. After the movie, walked back out to my car, drove home. Walked into the house, greeted the dogs a bit and threw a toy for Boost, sat down.

Fitbit now said that I had walked 10,000 steps (5 miles) for the day. There is NO WAY that that minimal activity added up to two miles, if 35 minutes of very brisk walking was only 1.6 miles.

So maybe it does track bumpy road bounces. Dunno.  Dang California's crumbling freeways. Anyway, something to watch for and figure out so that I'm aware of what's going on.

But I love having the info on my computer, I love its general accuracy, how easy it is to view the data throughout the day on my wrist, how comfortable it is to wear. AND I've found that I know lots of other people with fitbits. You can become "fitbit friends", which means that  their weekly totals of steps taken are then displayed on your dashboard, nifty for cross-motivation and for pushing to make your goals.

My current goals--I'm starting low-ish--are to walk 5 miles a day (first 3 days I aimed at 3 miles, but I made that easily, so I upped it) and climb 20 stories (still pretty easy, but I'm still pretty out of shape).

Fitbit, I'm sure, will be glad to help me. It's already flirting with me: After I recharged it for the first time, it displayed "LOVEU." Isn't that sweet?

Context Is Everything

SUMMARY: Even newspaper-fetching dogs really don't generalize well

One thing that I've heard trainers say repeatedly through the years is that dogs do not generalize well. Maybe he sits perfectly every time you say "Sit" in the kitchen, but not when you move to the living room. So you practice in the living room and then he'll sit there or in the kitchen, but not when you go into the bedroom. So you practice there until he gets it, but he won't sit out on the back porch. So you practice all those places until he's good at it, but then he won't do it when out in the yard.  Then maybe he sits on command in the yard every morning when you got outside to practice, but not if the wind is blowing. Or the neighbor is using a leaf blower. Or you're wearing sunglasses and a hat. So you practice all these things, but then won't sit in the same place in the same yard after dark.

It's not surprising that he won't then sit on command when he goes to the park or into a stranger's house.

In agility, dogs might go over your PVC jumps with no problems, but the first time that they encounter solid wood-winged jumps at the Nationals, they don't know what to do. Or your weave poles are plain white, and the first time they encounter striped ones, they pop out left and right. (Or the poles are randomly striped. Or one leans slightly to the left.) Or the first time they run on dirt. Or the first time you go to a particular new site. Or when the judge wears a big floppy hat.

Dogs DO place an amazing emphasis on context; this is why you have to practice everything that's important to you everywhere every time under every circumstance that you can think of before you can claim that the dog really understands the command independent of the context in which it's uttered. (Oh, by the way, does you dog understand the command when someone else gives it?) As you do something a thousand, 2 thousand times in dozens of different places and circumstances, the dog gets better and better at generalizing -- meaning this human noise means the same thing no matter what the rest of the world looks, smells, or sounds like.

Which brings me to this.

Every morning for almost 9 years, Boost has gone out to the end of the driveway and brought in the newspaper. Rain or wind or shine; dark or light; plastic bags or uncovered paper; gigantic ad-filled sunday edition or 20-page Tuesday edition; at the very end of the driveway, up towards the cars, over under the shrub, closer to the sidewalk; squirrels or cats (a momentary distraction only); garbage trucks or neighbors (of some concern, but not too terrifying any more). Doesn't matter.

First thing in the morning, I let the dogs out back. Then, if I don't immediately go to the front door after she comes in, she sits in the front hall and waits for me. SOOOO predictable.

As I approach the front door, she's dancing and barking with excitement. I stand in the front doorway and send her with "Go get the newspaper!" and she blasts out of the house, down the steps, around the corner, down the driveway, finds the paper and comes happily back, carries the paper all the way into the kitchen, drops it on the dog bed next to my chair, and waits for her treat. Sometimes for various reasons I step all the way out on the porch as she heads down the driveway and close the door behind me. When she comes back with the paper, she holds it until I open the door and then proceeds as normal.

Boost DIVES for the paper, her rear feet in the air and her tail flying forward at the abrupt pounce!

She is perfect at it and she loves it.

Sure, we're out of town from time to time, so maybe 20 times a year she doesn't actually go out and get the newspaper, but over all, I calculate that she has done this about 3,100 times in her life.

The other morning, for the first time in many years, I got dressed and took the dogs for a walk immediately after I got up--no breakfast, no newspaper fetch.  On the way home from the walk, as we arrived at our driveway, the paper was still sitting there. I unclipped her leash and said, "Get the newspaper!" Mass confusion--she darted this way and that, trying to figure out what it was that I wanted her to do or get.

So I called her back to me and we walked to the top of the driveway near the house, and I again said, "Get the newspaper!" I tried not to laugh--she was SO eager to get SOMETHING but she just simply did not understand WHAT I was asking. She headed towards the paper a couple of times and then veered away again, bouncing back and forth in that frenzied demonstration of "come on come on come on me want job me want do job ME NOT UNDERSTAND JOB!"

I repeated the command several times and finally she saw paper, identified paper, picked up paper, ran up steps toward door--dropped paper halfway there and waited for me to open the door and let her in. The paper stayed on the front step.

 I knew immediately what had happened: We had practiced doing this 3,100 times with exactly the same situation: She's in the house, I step out through the door, then I send her from there. No wonder she does *that* perfectly. But we've never practiced sending her from other places at other times of the day or with me in different locations.

Dog brains are so strange. Good thing they're cute.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

At the Groomer's

SUMMARY: Actually at home in our driveway.

I am not a dedicated dog bather or brusher. Dogs usually get rinsed down with the hose if they're muddy. Bathed only if they get into something particularly awful (I typed "offal" originally, probably apt) that won't rinse off. They often get hosed down on warm days when they're exercising heavily (e.g., agility). But that's it--their coats remain pretty clean; dirt brushes off.

I live with hair everywhere when they're shedding, which sometimes seems like "always." When they look too scraggly, I'll spend half an hour brushing them, but my excuse is that, with my current knees and back, it's not comfortable for me to do much more than that. And it barely makes a dent, despite the pile of fur that can accrue.

I found out just a couple of weeks back that Tika's foster mom has started a mobile dog-grooming business, Campi's Mobile Pet Services (she has a facebook page but not a regular web site yet).

Since I hadn't seen her in ages and my dogs' coats were just too embedded with an overstock of fur, I decided, what the heck, and made an appointment for her to groom my dogs.

So, yesterday evening, the Merle Girls had their first pro groomings EVAH!

Tika, of course was absolutely delighted to see Gina again. (I took a video but it didn't turn out well, so here's a frame from that.)

I had no idea how they'd react to the grooming--being held in a standing position on the grooming table, and bathed, and blow-dried, and brushed enthusiastically...

But they were both absolute angels! No struggling or fighting or complaining... mostly... Didn't much like the part about getting wet, but didn't struggle much, either. Just looked SOOOO pathetic while wet, hoping for mercy or a quick death.

Tika looks like a hefty dog with her puffy coat, but when she's wet, you can see (a) how slender she really is and (b) all the tan in her coat that's usually mostly hidden by the black and gray tips!

I stood around, feeding them treats regularly, and Gina was so calm and in control that I think it made them calmer, too.

The blow-drying went very well indeed. Both dogs even seemed to enjoy parts of it, and you could see their coats becoming beautiful right before your eyes. That is, if your eyes weren't blinded by the fur flurries coming out of Tika's coat and coating everything, leaving a 6-inch carpet of fur on the floor that floated up with every movement.

I don't exaggerate much. Should've taken photos of THAT. Gina had to stop twice during Tika's drying/brushing and vacuum the whole floor.

Here are two Boost blow-dry shots.

And the results--don't know whether you can see it, but to me, these look like entirely new dogs. And they are SOOOO soft! And their coats are so even (no random attempts at shedding sticking out everywhere).  But the event tired us all out, too, and we slept well last night.

Please don't ever do this to us again.


Thursday, January 02, 2014

Another Hike

SUMMARY: January 2, with friends.

This time, from the Mendoza Ranch entrance to Coyote Lake-Harvey Bear Ranch County Park. I'd never been there before, and the day was lovely--somewhat chilly air but sunny, looking to be a record high for this date (upper 60s (~20C)).

A friend organized this, including 8 people and 10 dogs (2 Whippets, 2 Border Collies, one Great Pyrenees puppy who was bigger than any of the adult dogs, and a slew of Aussies). I thought I'd get a photo of everyone at some point, but I had to turn around after 45 minutes to be able to make a noon meeting. Then I realized that I didn't even have a photo of myself, so I set up the little camera on the little Gorillapod, and voila. (I think that's Loma Prieta peak again, towards the right in the farthest range; saw it from the north in yesterday's photo.)

Tika stayed home, which made me sad every time I thought about it. However, after yesterday, I knew that she wouldn't be able to keep up with a herd of younger, healthier people and dogs. She doesn't seem to mind so much when I take Boost somewhere in the car, but boy, try to take Boost for a walk out the front door without her, and look out world!

It was a bit hazy, but still the views were nice enough looking across the Gilroy area. And, sure, it was a weekday rather than a weekend, but in the 3 hours I was there, I saw only one biker and only one other hiker.

Looking pretty much due west, with the trail wrapping out around the grassy slope.

Looking northwest from another spot.

Looking mostly south towards southern Gilroy and Hollister. Still a lot of farm land here.

Lines! Probably cattle trails; the ranch still hosts tons of yellow-white cattle. We saw only one up close, and she and Boost eyed each other suspiciously as we walked by. (But you can see how dry things still are. The lack of rain is becoming an omnipresent topic of discussion here.)

I almost missed my meeting anyway. Got back to the car and discovered that my camera was no longer in my pocket. The last place I remembered having it was at a pair of memorial benches where I sat to give Boost a drink, and it had been a bit uncomfortable so I reached back and adjusted it a little. Those benches had to be at least half a mile from the parking lot, maybe more. I confirmed for sure that the camera wasn't in my pack or other pockets, and looked for my friend's cell phone number but didn't find it, so was in a bit of a panic. Put Boost's leash back on and headed towards the trail to go back.

Now, here's the good luck-- I commented to the park folks (who had just finished working on repairing a water valve by the gate) that the reason I came back early was to leave for a meeting and now I don't have my camera, just to ask them how far back they thought the benches were--and the ranger had a truck, and offered to race back and look for it. Off he went in a cloud of dust, came back the same way in probably a lot less than 5 minutes, and I was on my way! Had I gotten back 5 minutes later, the crew would've been gone and I'd have had to go back for the camera myself. Whew! I was a little late as a result, but all's good.

Two days in a row of hiking with some uphill after so much time off was a little much (even though it was only about 4.5 miles today with mild ups & downs)--the muscle in my right front thigh is sore, and ditto for my left ankle front,  I noticed after my post-meeting nap. So I bagged on class for Boost for tonight and I promise not to go hiking tomorrow. Maybe just a short walk.  Generally feeling good, though; it is SO nice to be back out in the hills!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

New Year's Morning Hike

SUMMARY: Two aging, out-of-condition gals and a border collie.

With my foot injury followed by my back misery, I've not gone hiking up a hill in several months. Therefore, neither have the Merle Girls.

Tika with her heart disease, arthritis, meds, and out-of-condition body (any or all of the above; not sure which is the largest contributing factor) has been doing barely OK on our daily walks on the flat now that I'm up to 2 or more miles a day.

I wasn't sure whether she could make it up Coyote Peak at Santa Teresa Park at all, let alone the additional miles that we'd usually hike to get there.  So we started in the parking lot a third of the way up the mountain--so only 600 feet to climb instead of 1000--and started the 1-mile trip up.

It looks so close from the parking lot.

In the shade, the cold chilled through to the bone, so I began all bundled up.

I estimated that temps sat in the low 40s (4.4C-ish) until I noticed some of the leaves along the trail. Yes, that's frost.

We left the parking lot about 8:30.

I let Tika take her sweet time and sniff at anything that she wanted to sniff at. She did quite a bit of it.

Time changes all things.  What's wrong with the following photo? Hint: There's only one dog forging ahead and keeping tension on the leash. For many years, this view has always included two.

Tika stayed alongside or lagged a bit, her leash hanging loose. A clear sign for Tika that all is not perfect.

California's 2013 has been the driest year on record since they started keeping track in the 1800s.  And not just by a little bit, either.  For example, San Jose's rainfall for the year was about 4 inches, which is only about half of the previous driest year on record--and about a quarter of an average year's rainfall. And the long-range forecast has no precipitation, either. The hills, which are normally green at this time of year, aren't.

This pond partway up Coyote Peak should be full at this time of year, but it's bone dry.

It's a little scary.

Dry, dry, dry grass everywhere.

We paused at one trail junction for a little drinkie and rest. The peak's antennas tease us ahead.

Boost was pretty sure that something interesting was hiding in these rocks. She streeeeeeetched and streeeetched.

And here we are, at the summit! Yay!

They really shouldn't let people go into our parks unless they can pass a test in which (a) they can identify a garbage can and (b) they can explain what it's used for.

Spread along the ground here: Two sandwich wrappers, one empty chip bag, one candy bar wrapper, several water bottle caps. Makes me crazy. So I picked all that up and tossed it.

Now let's move on to the second bench. How unfortunate--a gorgeous view, a beautiful park, well-maintained trails, and not a garbage can in sight  just when someone wants to throw in a banana peel or a snack bag!  (And I'm sure that it would have been far too onerous for them to carry them down in whatever conveyance they used to carry up the items when they still had actual food in them.)

We actually got to the top about 9:25 (indicated by the time on my photos); I just forgot to take the watch shot. So about an hour to do a mile and 600 feet up. Not a great time, but I did want to let Tika set the pace. In fact, there were two places going up where she just kept churning those slow legs and I had to ask her to wait while I let the burning in my thighs subside. Definitely out of condition for uphill.

Looking west, Loma Prieta Peak with its radio towers rises on the south end of this range and Mount Umunhum with its controversial historic radar tower on the north end.

The traditional photo with Mount Hamilton, to the east, behind us. It surprised me immensely to discover that the bench on which I planned to perch my camera no longer existed, so I had to use a rock, meaning that we are about 30 feet to the left of the shrub by which we normally perch for this photo.

Heading back downhill. Quite a bit warmer in the sun, although the chill kept the edge off the temperature. I unzipped and took off the mittens, but the fleece stayed on.

Off towards the left in the distance is a flat open area--looks like a light-colored line about an inch wide here. That is, I believe, Martial Cottle Park, which is the 300-plus-acre park being developed behind my house. Wave to me!

Merle Girls

And here we are, back in the parking lot, and it's time to drop off the girls at home and head for my first party of the day--don't even need to change or shower, as it's a post-marathon party at a friend's house, come as you are after the race!

Later--a nap (I did wake up early, after all), THEN shower and change and head to the 2nd party of the day, up in the hills. I took both cameras, just in case something like this happened while I was there--and it did.

What a lovely day it has been, filled with activity, beautiful views, good friends, and wonderful food, most of which I successfully avoided eating (soon to be told: The DietBet story).

Happy New Year to all.