MonthApril 2008

the xbox trick

The one bit of our sprawlingly complicated TV setup that can’t be manipulated via remote control is the turning on and off of our XBox, which we use for watching DVDs. We have to actually get off the couch to turn it on and off. One night whilst lamenting this burden, Leslie had the epiphany that we could train Sous to do it. You know, she’s five months old now, she should be pulling her weight around the house.

It turns out it was pretty easy to do with the clicker… I just had to glue a piece of a plastic easter egg to the switch so she could hit it with her nose. There have been calls for internet video of the feat, and we’ve finally gotten around to it. So, by popular request:

[qt:/images/sous_xbox.mov 480 376]

austin: still cool

We just returned yesterday from a five-day mini-vacation to Austin. Leslie had to be there for work shortly after a trip to Boston, so instead of flying all the way back, she arrived a few days early and I joined her. We got in on a Thursday, rendezvoused with the Hall clan at Lisa and Eric’s place (Leslie’s parents were kind enough to drive down for a couple of nights), then crashed at my parents’ place.

Friday we kicked off with a shopping trip to Central Market for dinner supplies. That place stands up to any grocery store the Bay Area has to offer. The choices are broad, the atmosphere is pleasant, and it’s uncrowded (so take that, Berkeley Bowl!). I guess Austin probably couldn’t beat a Berkeley or SF farmer’s market for freshness, but there was plenty of trucked in Cali produce that I’d be happy to settle for. After stopping back at the house to make the guacamole and start the chicken brining, we embarked on a fantasy house-shopping tour of neighborhoods in Austin.

It was a blast–there are lots of areas near central Austin I’d just never visited before, and the parts I had have changed quite a bit. We’re pretty convinced that if we move back, we’d like a place in the “core” of the city, which to us means roughly in the box drawn by Mopac on the West, 45th on the North, I35 on the East, and Oltorf on the South. Of course, we also explored east of 35, which is developing fast. I don’t have the Austin geography chops to name all the neighborhoods we looked at, but we liked a lot of what we saw. There are plenty of houses all over this area in the 2-bedroom-cottage style we’d probably be looking at, though in parts there is an additional 3-story house tacked on the back of them.  It will be a deep rabbit hole to explore when the time comes.

Friday night we cooked dinner for my parents and Leslie’s parents, which was fun. Saturday we went out to explore the Hill Country, stopping by Pedernales Falls, a winery (not great), and then we met up with my parents in Johnson City for the “wildflower festival,” the highlight of which was the Kettle corn and $2.50 pints of Fireman’s #4, an excellent local beer. That night we ate at a great Japanese place, Uchi. We saw the chef on Iron Chef America and couldn’t resist making a reservation. I hit a party later that night at an old friend’s house with a bunch of old HS friends… it was quite a trip.

Leslie’s job responsibilities kicked in on Sunday afternoon, so we struck out in the morning after a great brunch with my parents at East Side Cafe. We took a stroll around campus (the Master Plan of covering all of central Austin with red-tile roofs continues apace), and then we explored downtown near the river, which is awash in new development. The skyline has changed substantially in the last 3 years, and I think there are several more sky-scrapers going up now. The new city hall looks cool, and Palmer Auditorium has been knocked down and tastefully redone.

Monday I amused myself, grabbing a Don Juan breakfast taco from Juan in a Million for a late breakfast, then mooched the AC at various bookstores. Here’s the taco, for those who don’t know of its glory (it took three supplementary tortillas for me to finish):

don juan taco

Finally, I returned to Yoga Yoga for an Ashtanga class with my old teacher, who, bless her soul, still remembers me. Exhausted, I bought a classy dinner of 32 oz fresh squeezed OJ, a smoked turkey leg, and a spinach salad from the nearby second location of Central Market and retired with Leslie. Overall, the trip kicked ass. I don’t see any real competitors to Austin at this point for our Adult Landing Pad. The timing of our return? Well, who knows.  But first, I do need to finish at Berkeley, so BACK TO WORK.

cruising through spring

I figure I’ve left the profane Obama ad up at the top long enough, so a quick update on life and puppyness: Yesterday was our first day with Sous’s pen taken down, and overall it went great. Leslie is mixing up frozen kongs for her every morning now, so she quite happily munched on breakfast in her crate for an hour and a half while we ate breakfast and prepared for the day. Walking on loose leash is really getting good now that we have started using a Gentle Leader head collar. It really only goes into action once or twice per walk, or if she feels like lunging at another dog or friendly person to greet them. Whenever she spontaneously decides to fall into a heel, we give her pieces of kibble, so she tends to naturally hang out there a lot of the time.
I’ve just finished reading Jean Donaldson’s Culture Clash, which is basically a rant against traditional dog training and a plea and explanation for more humane and realistic training and behavior modification. Even after reading Ian Dunbar’s Before and After Getting Your Puppy, which gives you basically the same philosophy in a more practical package but without explaining “why?”, I was very impressed by her viewpoint. There is so much magical thinking that goes on with dog training, and the more I banish it, the more success I feel like I have. Her book inspired us to tackle a few of the remaining nagging behaviors that we’ve been ignoring. For example, Sous pretty much hates grooming and gets very squirmy when we brush her. We’d half-heartedly tried to fix it by feeding her treats during the process, but our consistency wasn’t great. Yesterday we tried giving her one brush stroke, then giving her a piece of kibble, then another stroke, then another piece. Sure enough, by the hundredth stroke or so, she was happily standing there collecting food while she got brushed. This process counter-conditions grooming to be something she likes, and you are supposed to slowly ramp down the rate she gets food until she stands for a whole grooming session for one treat at the end. We’ll see.

On the more fun side of things, we’re in the process of training her to turn on our DVD player (which can’t be done with a remote control). We used the clicker and have managed to pretty reliably get her to go turn it on and off from a foot or two away with her nose. The next step is adding more distance so that she’ll eventually jump off the couch and do it. At that point I’ll be sure to post a video :)

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