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 browsing...it 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.