Monday, November 19, 2007

Pod-cast induced rants...

As I listen to pod-casts...
  • We have a strange idea of what it is to be rich...our houses got more expensive, as did oil and gold and fuel and food...didn't the dollar just fall? Measuring the cost of living via consumer electronics is silly! I can't eat my iPod (not that I haven't tried).
  • Yelling at China about how they "rig" their currency strikes me as disingenuous. You only need to have one multi-course dinner for two with a lot of beer for $3 in Beijing to realize that no adjustment in currency is going to undo the huge cost of labor advantage that China has. The RMB could go up 50% and we wouldn't get our factories back.
  • Countries don't "rig" their currencies with willpower (ask South America). China has earned the right to do whatever they want with their currency by having about a gajillion billion trillion dollars in reserve. Having them release that reserve would be a lot worse than the "low" price of their currency is now. China does what they do via market muscle - if they didn't have the muscle to back it up, they'd get taken apart by speculators.
The deteriorating domestic opinion of our relationship with China is what worries me most. I think there's only two ways forward: the Chinese population consuming more, fueling growth and balancing trade deficits (and destroying the environment, plus they are not trending toward increased consumption) or we could have a trade war that would remove the largest potential upside for our local economy (exports to other growing economies) while making everything more expensive at the same time. Plus, who would we borrow money from?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Devil Puppy!

This year for Halloween CC dressed up as "Devil Puppy".

Here you can see her trying very hard to be good and not eat her costume. (But it's so tasty!)

Nala says: I do not trust Devil Puppy at all.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Furniture and Curtains

We have furniture!

These are a few pieces from the bedroom set. The bedroom was prety spotless when it was delivered, but no more.

Lori's parents came to visit and helped us put in the other set of curtains that my mother made - here they are in the new dining room. The room is not really that red, but with the sun setting the photo is a bit over-exposed. We also have new dining room furniture.

The sideboard and it's contents, mostly weddign leftovers.

Nala also got some furniture for her sun room...she likes to sleep on the chairs!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Honey, I zapped the Sox...

So I was watching Wakefield pitch knuckle balls in a scoreless game when I hit the cable TV wire with a dog toy while playing fetch. Sparks flew and the circuit blew...turns out that the junction box near the cable TV wires is held in by what might generously be described as metal clips (tinfoil seems more accurate) and the impact of the Kong flying ring with the cable TV wires next door bent a clip into a screw terminal, shorting the whole circuit.

Half an hour later, after finding the problem, unwelding the clip from the screw terminal and bending it back into place, we turned everything back on to discover Cleveland up 7. Apparently the clip wasn't the only thing that suffered a melt-down. :-(

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Houston, we have FIOS

No matter how grumpy I was with Verizon I was about the complete slurry they made out of my order, I just can't stay angry while connected to the Internet with 2 Mbs of upload. (Compare to less than 400 Kbs with Comcast.) For my work we use CVS, and CVS has the design flaw^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H charming property of uploading everything and letting the server do the real work - it is thus really sluggish on asymmetric home connections, and is a lot more usable with FIOS.

We also have a new DVR, sort of. Comcast and Verizon use the same dual-tuner Motorola DVR (I think it's the 6412), but the software is different. A comparison of the two (this is with Verizon's newly revised software):
  • The layout and navigation of the Verizon DVR is a lot simpler. It's still not Tivo, but it's a lot closer.
  • The Comcast software was a bit of a mess to use - it had a way of changing channels on you surprisingly, or asking you if you wanted to change channels in ways where the right answer wasn't obvious. The Verizon DVR will be a lot less surprising.
  • On the other hand, the Comcast DVR provided access to both tuners for TV wasn't easy to do, but you could have "history" on two shows at once. (This wasn't real useful - the Comcast DVR's tendency to drop live TV for recordings without warning means you lost your history a lot.)
  • While the Verizon DVR doesn't provide both tuners for live TV "browsing" (a feature that's confusing at both), it also seems to lose your recording history after just about any operation, which is a bit annoying.
Overall I think for anyone who's not a programming nerd, the Verizon DVR provides a better interface - it comes closer to the princple of "least astonishment."

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

This Blog Has Gone to the Dogs...

...which I think is indicative of how much time we spend on the dog and how little we have to work on the house these days.

We don't know what breeds CC is (she's clearly a mix of something and, um, something else), and I think I don't want to know. There are breed specific behaviors and I'd be tempted to attribute at least some of her actions to genetics if I knew.

Now that is theoretically fine, since some of her actions probably are genetic, but in practice dogs learn, and they learn in ways we might not expect. It's easy for us to say "Rover is doing X because he's a Y" but perhaps Rover learned to do X...perhaps we taught him without realizing it.

CC had a behavior that I finally figured out (which says more about how stupid I am about dogs than about her behavior): she would dig a little in the lawn, grab a big chunk of grass in her mouth, and run like hell.

I finally realized, it's not somethign she's predisposed to, it's something she learned. Normally digging would involve trying to bury something, or digging in its own right (a 'play' behavior, one part of a normal sequence of behaviors taken out of sequence). I don't know if she learned it from her previous home and we reinforced it, or she learned it from us, but our attempt to stop this behavior (by moving toward her to reclaim the hole, yelling at her, or chasing her to attempt to get control of her) all reward what she's done. She figured out that the best way to ask her human friends to play a nice game of chase was to dig, eat the lawn, or both.

We have figured out something that does stop the behavior almost immediately: Lori and I say nothing, don't react, and simply walk into the house, closing the door behind us. She immediately drops what she's doing and comes to the door.

The moral of the story (besides "CC is bad for the lawn") is that social recognition is enough of a positive reward to encourage behaviors, and being told "no" is probably more fun than being told nothing. (And being chased after is really, really fun!) As we've internalized this (I would not have thought before getting a dog that yelling "no" at it would be a reward) it's changed how we manage problem behaviors, and helped us get CC under control.

As a final thought: sometimes dogs become anxious in the dog park, sometimes with merit, sometimes just because. The humans (owners and otherwise) almost always react the same way: "you poor thing", comfort the smaller, more fearful dog. But what is that smaller dog really learning? In mathematical terms...

big dog + anxiety = affection

Hrm...accidental operant conditioning...that's probably not what we want to teach our dogs.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Alpha Rolls, Treats, and the Dog-Cat Relations

In my previous post I admitted that Lori alpha rolled CC a few times and that it had a positive impact on her behavior. Looking back on that, I must admit I have some mixed feelings. My favorite dog-training book is "The Other End of the Leash" by Dr. Patricia McConnell, and I am sure she woudn't approve of an alpha roll or anything else you might see on the "Dog Whisperer."

Did it work? I think it's hard to say, but two things are clear:
  • The immediate effect was to modify CC's behavior in a significant and positive way - we saw reduced jumping and much more response to command instruction (that is, when Lori asked CC to sit, she was more likely to sit).
  • I don't believe it will have any long term effect -- I think the only value of what happened is that perhaps it created a window of more subdued behavior during which we can use extinguishing and lure-reward (that is, ignoring CC when she jumps and treating her when she sits).
  • The situation was our fault - lure-reward and extinguishing could have been adequate had we acted much sooner. The reason we couldn't apply it in the more extreme case was logistical: CC is big enough and has sharp enough claws that if we ignore her and she persists in jumping, we can get scratched pretty badly.
If you look up Cesar Milan on Wikipedia you'll find that a lot of heavy-weight academic behaviorists are pretty unhappy about what he glamorizes on national television. I don't agree with all of their criticism, but I do agree with one: what he does is complex and very sensitive to timing, amount of force, and very careful reading of the dog's behavior. If you use lure-reward training, the worst thing that happens is your dog gets fat. But try what Cesar Milan does without his particular natural aptitude for dogs and you're likely to make the dog a lot worse, and possibly get injured in the process. I can only hope there aren't too many "amateur Cesars" out there trying to mimic bites with their hands and issuing corrections that are too harsh, at the wrong time, and for the wrong reasons.

(On the other hand, I think that the Dog Whisperer does contain some reasonable advice - increasing the time of CC's walks has done more to curb bad behavior than anything else, and we have realized how much our mental state and body language affect her behavior.)

As for the dog and cat, the situation continues to be problematic. Nala is quite nervous about CC and is easily scared off by a bark. Furthermore, she prefers to try to get by the dog when we are not watching, which means that a dog-cat chase tends to break out just when we think that we don't need to be paying attention. (Turns out that we need to be paying attention all the time.)

To try to improve things, we moved the dog's crate away from the door to the room with the cat's litter box, so the cat wouldn't have to approach the dog so closely to get in. This seems to be helping - the cat goes down there more often and doesn't seem to hesitate, and the dog barks at her less.

CC will respond to a verbal correction or a command -- if I am trying to keep the dog away from the cat what seems to work best includes:
  • Early detection. If I catch CC watching the cat and give her alternate instructions, she will virtually always comply. Once she is up and going after the cat, she tunes us out.
  • Blocking - it's not necessary to touch the dog to get her not to chase the cat. Putting a leg into the space she wants to go to, blocking her, will cause her to stop motion in that direction.
  • Stay - she'll hold a stay (in response to a flat "stop" hand out) and keep her eyes following me if requested.
  • I've actually found the "Cesar Milan ssh" noise works really well - it doesn't make her more stressed, or raise her excitement, anxiety or aggression level, but she always notices it and refocuses on me. The noise Cesar Milan makes strikes me as consistent with Dr. McConnell's research on the effect of frequency and duration on animal behavior. "ssssh" definitely gets better results than "no", I think because of the difference in pitch.
My hope in the long term is that with enough practice (I'll sit on the stairs and feed the cat while dog watches - the dog gets a treat if she stays calm during the exercise) I can break the cycle of dog-chases cat.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Bob Vila would not chase the cat

We just finished our second week of puppy-kindergarten with CC. It's been a transitional time for her behavior, and what we see in class illustrates it pretty well.

When it comes to demonstrating the things she's "supposed" to be learning (sit, lie down, watch me, come here, etc.) CC is the star. If the trainer needs someone to demo a trick, she's good for it. She is very motivated (especially for treats) and a very fast learner. She had learned most of her homework after one day last week.

But...when you stop working with her and ignore her, that's when things go down-hill rapidly. She'll bark and jump up and generally instigate until you pay attention to her. Looking back, it's clear to me that these behaviors are my fault - I taught them to her. When we first got her, for the first few weeks, her behavior was just totally unmanageable. She wasn't listening to us at all, so we felt like we had no control of the situation. I got fed up with it and decided that, no matter how long it took, I would teach her to reliably sit, lie down, and stay.

I work at home, so I have access to her all the time, and it turns out that "how long" was only a few days. She's really smart and figures out what you want her to do for a reward in no time. But, with such success with "training behaviors", I would use training as a way to keep her busy when she was bored, and that evolved into training her when she "asked" to be trained by barking, jumping, and generally being bad until we paid attention to her. So essentially I trained her to bug us for attention.

I'd been struggling to understand this last week - one of the reasons I think the behavior wasn't more clear is that this is also the week that Lori decided to deal with domination-related jumping. When Lori first got CC, her reaction was to give her a big hug and go "I love you so much" and crawl around on the ground with her. If you watch the Dog Whisperer you can see how this can amplify behavioral problems by a combination of not establishing dominance (e.g. letting the dog jump on Lori), rewarding bad behavior, and exciting the dog all at once.

This week Lori tried something different - she came home and CC ran to her. Lori said sit and the CC ignored her and jumped up. At that point instead of just backing away, Lori scruffed her and pinned her down. After a few applications, CC has stopped the dominance jumping (she'll still jump up to get attention, but I think you can tell by how she jumps what her intention is) and obeys commands much more readily when Lori issues them.

In the process of all of this, CC had a period of trying to dominate me. I'm not sure what her dog-logic was, exactly, perhaps something like "I can't be number 3, I have to be at leaset number 2 in the house". So intermingled with bad behavior for attention we've also had a reorganization of our pack, which led to some confusing behaviors. I think we're past the worst of the dominance behavior though, so we'll see how the next week goes.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

I went to the vet to get tutored!

While Lori and I were on vacation we boarded CC at the local vet, and neutered her. She got her stitches out today. (And despite all of this vet-related trauma she still loves the car and thinks the vet is a dog park. She has a very optimistic personality.)

Just when her fur had grown back, they shaved it off again!

"What? You brought the dog back??"

This is how I learned that an unsupervised dog who likes the dig, left in the back yard with the sprinkler on, is not a good idea.

We had started to crate-train CC before her trip to the vet, but after a week of boarding she was pretty much used to it. This works out well for us...the sun-room isn't air conditioned, so we didn't have a good place to keep her when we wanted to go out and it was hot out.

"I'm in jail!"

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Step 1 - Cut a Hole in the Wall

Ami came down to visit last week, which means housing destruction. We installed a pass-through panel. Basically this is a set of plugs for professional audio and Ethernet that run from one side of the wall to the other. This will allow me to close my studio door while recording audio in the rest of the house (the hard wood floor makes a nice sound room) and also pass Ethernet from the cable model in the living room to the computers in the office.

Here's the hole we cut in the drywall. A view of the living room.

Here is the panel's back, and Ami wiring it. The office is in total chaos - CC rewired it slightly, but that'll be a story for another post.

The final result.

Raining Cats And Dogs

Life with cat and dog remains a bit of a three-ring circus.

CC likes to hang out in the family room. She'll play with a rope or another toy while we hang out, but unfortunately her favorite toy is, well, Nala.

Nala likes to sleep on the chair in the family room and refuses to give up territory (probably good). Even though we've made a few cat-only rooms (using hooks to keep the door cracked) the cat will follow the dog around, watching from the other side of the room, until the dog comes over to play, at which point Nala hisses and swats and acts in a quite un-lady-like manner. (We got that cat tree to give Nala more high places to stay, but she just stays in the ground and instigates.)

CC is a little bigger than we planned for a dog - 40 lbs and growing. She can hold a regulation frisbee in her mouth easily, but doesn't really know how to play games with it. We're working on the basics first (stay, down, come, don't torment the cat, even if she started it).

A rare moment of peace in the living room - everybody's sleeping!

It's a cat in a box!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Puppy Puppy Puppy Puppy Puppy Puppy

Meet Cecelia!

She's a 7 month old, - she looks like a Golden Retriever to me, but the family that helped us with the adoption think maybe there is some Border Collie in her.

She loves to play and has boundless energy - if we could harness puppy power we wouldn't need foreign oil.

Lori helping her find dinner.

Nala is taking the situation pretty well, considering that her home has been invaded by a 30 lb 7 month old dog. We're keeping them separated and CC on a leash while they meet each other.

A meeting of minds. We bought a child-proofing gate - once we're letting CC roam the house we'll partition areas off so the cat can have a sanctuary.

Why am I in kitty jail? (Actually there are a dozen ways Nala can get over, under and around the fence.)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Curtains and Bushes

Lori's parents came down to DC this week for Zemer Chai's "Shalom y Esperanza" concert. Whenever they visit, serious work gets done on the house.

My mother made us curtains last fall as part of our redoing the living room. Finally this weekend we put them up!

Lori's parents also did a lot of work in the garden...unfortunately the bushes in front of the house died in the hot dry weather last summer. We bought two Azalia's and two Japanese Holly and put them in. That monster next to the car is the left over stump from a dead bush that we had to dig out. It's about a foot in diameter and ways more than you can imagine.

We also put some herbs into the backyard garden. Unlike our last herb garden (which actually did pretty well), we're watering it. We have rabbits in the back yard so there may not be much left for us.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Studio "Gear" I Like

I am a big fan of the virtualization of recording studios...that is, more and more the effects/sounds we had to use thing for are now available via software. I don't have a lot of boxes in my project studio, and having moved it 4 times now I like it that way.

I am not advocating for the virtualization of instruments...I think the feel and response of a
real instrument is necessary for the musician to create a real performance. I use drum machines because it's what I have, not because I think they could ever come close to the performance of a real drummer. But when it comes to processing gear, I think software is great. Whatever the real box does, you can create that in software, and doing so is driving down the cost of processing such that hobbyists like myself can have processing that would have only been found in big expensive studios a decade or two ago.

With that in mind, my favorite plugin (audio processing software for ProTools) is Trash. Trash destroys sound. Trash is a simulator not for whole guitar amps, but for all of the parts of a guitar amp, each individually tweakable, and it just sounds great. Back at WBRU, Steve and I used to use an old beat-up guitar amp to make a sound effect we just couldn't get any other way. Trash is the first distortion/amp modeler I've played with that can capture that, well, whatever it is.

Trash also has a wonderful feature that you don't find in real amps: it can act separately on three frequency bands. For example, when processing drums you can use different settings on the kick, snare, and hihat, each of which tends to live in its own frequency area. This lets you have that fat destroyed snare sound, crispy fried simple sound, and still leave the kick drum relatively unprocessed (so it doesn't get muddy). On vocals you can fuzz out the midrange but keep the high-end a little bit clean so you can hear what's going on.

I just said a drum machine can't replace a real drummer. Absolutely true. But drum machines are also their own things...I think electronica gets a hypnotic sound from the use of drum machines, loops, and computers. So sometimes I want a drum machine, and Rebirth is my favorite. Sadly Rebirth is out of production (sad because it was never ported to OS X, so while it will run on a PPC Mac under Classic or on Windows, its days for the Mac community are numbered).

Propellerhead Software did something that I think is really great: they posted Rebirth for free...a lot of software that is end-of-lifed simply ends up lost...the company puts the master code on a DVD-ROM for backup, and then the engineers who all worked on it move on to other jobs and eventually no one knows (1) where the code is or (2) how to build it. What a me the best thign would have been if Propellerhead had posted the source code (I would gladly port ReBirth to OS X for free), but it's their software and we're lucky just to have the CD-ROM image.

Rebirth is a simulation of the 808, 909 and 303 drum machines, plus you can plug in free sound modules. To hear what Rebirth sounds like (oh lord, another plug) take a listen to track 3 - "
Min Hameitzar" from Ami's album here. That drum loop is the Rebirth 909 simulation with a plug-in module (Orbit, I think but I'm not sure.)

Even more fun is Rebirth + Trash + Beat Detective. (Beat Detective is a ProTools feature that lets you cut up drum loops and apply "feel" to them, moving the beats a little bit.) Start with Rebirth, program a loop, use Beat Detective to loosen it up a bit, then Trash to beat the hell out of it...I wouldn't describe the result as comparable to a real drummer, but it's not a bad sound.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Shameless Plug

We're going down to Norfolk this weekend for an Amichai Margolis Band gig...there's some audio on Ami's myspace page.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Return of the Studio

Progress! With the floors down we could finally start moving furniture into the living room and unpack all of our stuff. For about six months we've had all of our books, games and display items still in boxes in a huge pile. Here are some pics of the living room and family room starting to take shape.

That area witih CDs and DVDs below the front door used to be entirely buried in boxes.

About half of our packed stuff was in the family room and the other half was in the back of my studio (the part you don't see in any of the pictures). Unfortunately which half was where was pretty random. So by the time we got the books unpacked, my studio looked like this:

I then have had time to clear that mess out too - the studio is almost entirely accessible.

So much more floor space is freed up, it's like having a whole second room.

Of course, no blog post would be complete without the obligatory cute cat picture. Nala only stands on all-tube preamps.