Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Surreal Life

Part of my day job is acting as a copy-editor for our company's online magazine, e-Shop Talk. It makes me sound like I'm one of several editors, but the reality is I'm it. I'm not only a copy-editor, I'm the chief editor and one of the contributing writers. Wednesday mornings I've set aside time in my schedule to deal with these duties. Today was particularly grueling. Lots of articles to edit, coupled with a few writers who forgot what punctuation and grammar were, made my morning busy, and miserable.

The reason I'm miserable is that I'm a coward, and a hack. Compared to real professional writers and editors, I'm just not up to par. I'm a wannabe when it comes to writing, and I know it, so I hate editing others. The trouble is that some of them are worse than me. How do you tell your fellow hacks that they suck more that you do? It's not pretty. In any case, after a near non-stop four hour "sit and edit" fest in front of my computer, I finally got a reprieve. I could stand up and take a break.

Let me tell you something about my desk. For better or worse, when our department moved I volunteered to be in the crappy spot. It guaranteed (at the time) that I'd pretty much be left alone. I like that sort of thing when I'm working so it seemed like it would be a good thing. Now I share the space with two other people. So much for a good thing.

My workspace doesn't have much light. The only window is on the other side of the room, blocked by a cubicle divider. The overhead lamps need to be replaced so the only real light I get is from the CRT screen and the small fluorescent light attached to my desk.

After four hours I needed to see some sunshine. I needed to see the outside. I needed variety. There's a door right behind my desk that leads to one of the entranceways for my building. It's a small 4'x6' vestibule with a glass door on one side, leading out, two doors on either side (one leads to my department, the other to a stairway). There's another door, opposite the outside door, but it doesn't count. It's closet.

Anyway, I got up from my desk and went into the entranceway. The air outside was cold, and made the glass feel cold as well. The sky was clear and blue. Everything looked crisp and bright. The shock between sitting in the dark, enclosed space of my desk, and the glass door leading to the bright outdoors left me feeling like I was in an airlock. I consciously knew there was air on the other side of the door, but I couldn't help but wonder if I should find a space suit to put on. It was an amazing, and surreal experience.

So what did I do? I turned right around, returned to my desk, and started blogging about it.

I'm pathetic.

Monday, January 29, 2007

I'm Robert Heinlein

Funny, I always thought I was John Newman. According to Paul Kienits, though, if I were a sci-fi writer, I'd be Robert Heinlien.

That's so sad to me. I've never been a fan of Heinlein.

I am:
Robert A. Heinlein
Beginning with technological action stories and progressing to epics with religious overtones, this take-no-prisoners writer racked up some huge sales numbers.

Which science fiction writer are you?

I, Smarty Pants

I got to be the cool know-it-all student in my chemistry class the other day. We're talking about the different kinds of materials, conductors, semi-conductors, polymers, nanomers, and the like.

Anway, the question came up, "What chemical process in the body that has to do with polymers?"

"They're all over the place," I answered.

"True, but what's the most important?" he continued.

"Probably protein synthesis," I replied.

"That's right! Amino acid production."

So, I got to be the smarty pants, even up against some students prepping for pharmacy and med school.

How fun is that?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

In which all is made right.

I've got a chemistry teacher! What a concept. Pay tuition for a class and actually get a teacher to . . . well . . . teach you stuff!

Here's what happened. There were two Chem 1220 classes being taught at roughly the same time. Right after the semester started, there were so many people dropping from each class that the powers that be decided to combine the classes. They just didn't bother telling any of the students.

My original professor got dropped in favor of my new one. He was supposed to come down to our classroom (which was just down the hall, it turns out) and let us know what had happened. When he got there, he looked at us and thought, "This looks like a class that has a teacher. I'll have to check on this." Later, when some of us complained, they finally put a notice on the door that our classroom had changed.

None of us knew until a week after the fact.

The difficult part is the new professor had already prepped his class for a quiz covering two different chapters they had reviewed from the previous semester. We were just so elated that we actually had a teacher you could have stuck dynamite in our shorts and we wouldn't have minded. The teacher decided to postpone the quiz until the following week (tomorrow) so we could review. All was right with the world.

Until reality sunk in.

I've been pouring over two chapters of material this last weekend. It's not been fun. While most of it I had already gone over a year earlier, there are some things here that I don't remember covering (like exceptions to the electron "octet rule" when it comes to predicting molecular structures). Without a teacher in front of me to ask about it, it's been kind of confusing. I don't like confusing. Confusing makes me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

In any case, there is some light in all this. While we're going to be having 15 different quizzes, five of them get dropped. Guess which quiz will be my first one. Oh, and that "high school" issue? Gone. No graded homework.

Now I feel like I'm actually back in college.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Not Good.

School's been interesting so far. We've had three classes so far, and the professor has only showed up to one of them. The first one. The class I blogged about earlier, where we discussed the coming semester for twenty minutes and then went home.

If I were in still back in high school, this might have been a good thing. I was so bored in high school that any excuse to not see the teacher would have been a good one. Trouble is I'm not in high school anymore. (Some of my younger classmates act like they still are, but that's the subject for the future.) I actually care if I learn something and get a good grade. Amazing what growing up and having to pay your own tuition does for you, doesn't it?

I'd like to transfer to a different section, but I'm facing a few problems. The last day to add classes was five days ago. There's not another class I can transfer to that fits my schedule, anyway. That's why I chose this section in the first place; it fit my schedule. I'm thinking about signing up for the online course, but I've heard that web classes are really hard and, again, the last day to add was five days ago.

In all my time at various colleges and universities, I've never run into this situation before. I'm not even sure who to contact about it. The head of the Chemistry department, I suppose. I don't like complaining, but then again I spent a lot of money on tuition and books. I should get something out of that, don't you think?

I'm not the only one that's upset about it, though. I've got the rest of the class, as well. I'm a little concerned, though. Only about half of us showed up last night. I'm wondering if the other half knew something we didn't. The only good excuse we could come up with for the teacher was that he was either injured, or dead. If that's the case, and we were complaining about him, it would make me feel like a dirt-bag. Then again, I'm getting old enough to have made peace with my inner dirt-bag, so I don't feel so bad about complaining.

This is not good. Not good at all.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Back to School

Last Tuesday I started back to school. I'm retaking that Chemistry course I've talked with you about, before. It's a night course, two nights a week. I can't say that our first class was much of a class. It was basically twenty minutes talking about what we would be doing, and then breaking. I expect it to be that way with day courses, but when you're supposed to be meeting for two hours, twenty minutes is a pretty early time to let out. Oh, well. I wasn't feeling too good so I'm alright with it.

I did run into one thing I'm not happy about, though. I have to buy a new text book. Normally a text book change in a subject like chemistry isn't such a big deal. Just use the last edition and you'll be fine. The trouble is the professor is giving us specific graded assignments out of it. I feel like I'm back in high school. Now I get to dump another $150.00 on a second general chemistry book.

So much for saving money.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Bad Dog

All the talk and hope about our new beagle took a terrible turn this weekend. When we first met him he was friendly enough, but after we picked him up and brought him home, things started getting ugly.

His first night was ruff (sic), but we expected that. He had just gotten "fixed" that morning and he couldn't have felt very good. He absolutely hated the dog crate we have, though. He wouldn’t go in at first, and then he just whined and howled most of the night. He settled down after awhile, but I woke up with a splitting headache later on, and he started whining again when he saw me come out. I gave up and let him out, petting him and sitting with him in the living room for a while before going back to bed. When My Lovely Wife (MLW) got up later on, he had claimed one of the plush chairs in the living room. Neither of us were thrilled, but we knew this was going to be an adjustment period for everyone, including the dog. MLW and I don't like the idea of sharing our furniture with animals. Well, not the cushy recliners anyway. The sofa’s okay. We prefer to get pet’s their own furniture.

As the days went on, things just kept getting more and more weird. He'd be resting happily or playing fetch with us and then suddenly he'd get jump around crazily, like a junkie on speed, bark a bit, and then go do something else. It was as if a switch turned on in his brain, and then turned back off moments later.

He also started getting aggressive with our kids. We had been told he wasn't food aggressive, but our experiences made us think otherwise. He started getting more and more aggressive in trying to steal food from our littlest ones, and even nipped at my middle daughter when she wouldn't let him have an apple she was eating. Who knew dogs liked apples?

MLW gave him some food and then started pulling on his ears a bit, and he seemed fine, although he has his nose buried in the food dish. When she put her hand in front of his eyes though, he growled and lashed out at her. Sure signs of food aggression if you ask me.

What sadder is that my eldest daughter, Violin Girl, had initially created the best relationship with him. She trained him and treated him and he started following her around for the rest of the day. The next day, though, he started getting aggressive with her. She saw that he'd gone downstairs. From the top of the stairs she called to him, trying to get him to come back up. He started growling and barking at her, really raising a fuss. After she left his field of view, though, we got him to come back upstairs and he seemed perfectly happy, wagging his tail the whole way.

My youngest daughter, the Munchkin, had the worst time. She used to run and play with our previous dog for as long as we'd let them. They were the best of friends. When she tried to pet the beagle, though, while he was eating, this dog growled at nipped at her. From that time on it was all she could do to avoid contact with him, she was so scared. I just hope this hasn't put her off all dogs.

That was, of course, the last straw. As much as I wanted to be patient, and believe most dogs can be trained if handled well, I wasn't going to take a risk with my children's well-being. The dog had to go.

We called the rescue service and told them we had to return him. To their credit they took the dog back and completely refunded our adoption fees. They apologized profusely, although I don't really hold them at fault. The dog didn't act like this at all when he was at the kennel. Even when we first met him there was no clue that this kind of behavior would manifest itself.

If that wasn't enough, though, there was another incident on the way back to the kennel. Violin Girl called me on my cell phone and told me the story.

My wife and the other girls were taking the dog back in our van. Violin Girl sat nearest the dog, for obvious reasons. When she noticed that the plastic cone he was wearing (remember the surgery?) was coming off, and he was chewing on it, she reached down to fix it. As soon as she got a hold of the collar he reached up and bit her, hard. He didn't break the skin, so I don’t know how much he intended to hurt her, but he wouldn't let go either. Violin girl immediately grabbed the scruff of his neck and pushed him down to the floor of the car (a maneuver we learned from Barbara Woodhouse, the famous dog trainer), trying to get him to let go. He wouldn't. Violin girl shook his neck as best she could without hurting her captured hand (a submission move that adult dogs use on puppies), and he finally let go, but when she removed her hand he turned and bit her arm, as well. Then he went back to being happy and wagging as if nothing had happened at all.

Violin girl is okay. She got shaken up a bit, but her coat absorbed most of the second bite and so she's physically unharmed. I'm not sure this dog wasn't mentally deranged. I've done some reading on dogs of late and this kind of behavior is one of the signs of schizophrenia in dogs. I don't suppose I'll ever find out exactly why the dog behaved so badly, though.

All I know for sure is that the dog is no longer in my house and my wife and daughters are safe. In fact, I'm really proud of Violin Girl. She handled herself well in a ruff (sic) situation. She didn't panic; she just did what needed to be done. I sent her a "pic" message after hearing about all of this showing a picture of a "thumbs up" and told her she did a good job. I told her she was my hero.

Why? Because she is.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

New Dog

In spite of our recent pet trials, it looks like it's time for the Newman's to get a new dog. Over the holidays we visited several shelters, and even put our name on some lists to adopt some of the dogs we met, but no dice. Everything we had looked at, in terms of animal adoption, fell through.

I'm a big believer in animal adoption. There are so many good animals out there, and already-trained adult animals, that would be so good in a home, and just can't be with their former owners for some reason.

The puppy mills don't do us any favors either. They keep breeding, and in-breeding, dogs to make various pure-bred strains available. In many cases the buyers abandon them for one reason or another, and so there are still way too many dogs out there. Many pure-bred dog owners fail to get their dogs "fixed" in the hopes of breeding them later, only to have them get out and create a litter of mixed breed dogs with some neighbor's dog, exacerbating the problem. Most of these would-be breeders really don't have the ability, or mindset, to pull of a good breeding program, but that doesn't stop them from dreaming about it.

Don't get me wrong. I've personally always wanted a beagle. I like their temperament. They're a great balance between "independent curious confidence" and social adeptness. They're normally great with kids, too. As a father of four that's a big deal for me. I'm not willing to go to a dog breeder and pay hundreds of dollars just to get a pure-bred beagle, though. I'd just as soon hit the shelters and adopt a dog from there.

Many people look down on mixed breeds, for some reason. They don't think they're as "good" or something. They think they might have some indefinable problem because they're a mix. Interestingly enough, the opposite is true. Pure-bred dogs can be in-bred a lot, and can suffer from all kinds of well documented medical issues, including heart problems, digestive disorders, and retardation. Mixed breeds are more genetically sound, and tend to be healthier and live longer because of it.

Even the beagle isn't free of these problems. One of the big problems beagles face is a form dwarfism that results in bowed legs, and heart problems. I'm willing to deal with that, but the chances of me getting a pure-bred beagle through a shelter are pretty slim, anyway.

Or so I thought.

I was checking the web, on a whim, and found a beagle rescue site. There was an adult beagle up for adoption through a pet rescue service about 70 miles from my house. I called them. I sent them emails. Yes, the dog was good with kids. Yes, he was still up for adoption. Wanting to verify the "good with kids" thing, we set up an appointment and my family and I went out to meet the dog.

The kennel they rented space from was a bit hard to find but, eventually we made it and made it on time. We got to meet and play with "Bugsy" in a small fenced in area. Being a beagle, and finding all kinds of new smells in this yard, he flittered between us and following his nose. He didn't respond to his name, but the woman at the kennel told me they weren't sure that was his name. The rescues probably gave it to him when he came in. He would respond to "dog" and "boy," though. Even though his nose took him all over, he'd come running back as soon as we yelled "Come here, boy!"

He passed all the "kid safe" tests, as well. He didn't protest when we pulled on his ears or tail, manhandling him a bit.

He did protest a bit when we tried to leave, though. He's definitely a beagle. Their distinctive baying howl can't be mistaken for anything else. On a whim, I decided to try an experiment. I turned around and used my command voice. "Quiet," I said, and he shut up. I reward him with a, "What a good dog!" and turned around. After taking a few steps he called after us again. "Quiet," I turned and repeated. Again he followed my command, sitting down and closing his mouth. "What a good dog!"

I think he will be a good dog for us. He needed to be "fixed" before we could take him home, but I got the call this morning. He's ready. We can pick him up today. I really think this will be a good fit for my family.

Now he just needs a new name.