Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Yesterday was a busy day at the animal shelter. Mondays are always busy, just because we have animals building up over the weekend and everyone comes to reclaim them on Monday, but there were a lot of adoptions as well. I think the Christmas season makes a lot of people want to adopt a pet as a sort of "Christmas present."

Just make sure your wife/husband/other recipient WANTS a cat or dog (or white rat, or goat, or pig, or gerbil) around the house. They're not like most other presents that you can toss in the back of the closet or return if you don't want them. And a toaster is a toaster, but a lot of people only like a certain color or type of dog or cat, and the gift-giver might not know which. For example, I really like heelers, but I don't like shi tzus. "But they're both smaller dogs!" someone might say. Yeah, well, heelers are cute and shi tzus aren't.

I learned an interesting lesson yesterday as well. We had a giant husky come in, and they're usually very confident dogs. However, as I walked this one to the front desk to get a collar for him, then to his cage, he would every now and then flatten himself on the floor, stubbornly refusing to move. Dogs do this frequently when they're nervous , but there's a lot of dogs to take care of and we don't always have time to nicely persuade them to move. It took some impatient tugging on the leash to get this husky to move, but I finally got him to his cage. I stepped him through the door, but it wasn't until he turned around and ran into the cage door that I had just shut that I realized he was blind.

His eyes looked perfectly normal, but as I jerked my hand towards his face, stopping an inch short, he didn't even blink or flinch. (And his owners came in that afternoon to pick him up and confirmed it.) Well, that explained the nervousness and flattening himself on the floor while I was walking him--he had no idea where he was going, or if he was about to hit something.

I said it was a lesson to me, and the lesson was this: sometimes people may frusterate you (refusing to move, pulling the wrong way on the leash, etc.) and it MAY just be out of contrariness, but sometimes they may have a legitimate reason (like the blind dog). Sometimes you just don't know the reason, so don't be too quick to judge.

Friday, December 15, 2006

It's 2 AM and I'm wondering what I'm doing posting to my blog, but after you've been staying up to 2 or 3 AM for several days, what's another 20 minutes? At least I'll sleep in my bed tonight, unlike last night--rather than go home at 3 AM only to come back for a 9:30 AM class, I used my backpack as a pillow, threw my coat over me, and slept under the desk in my research lab. I slept through the janitor emptying the trash, the network guy resetting a switch in our lab, and my advisor coming through, waking up 5 minutes before class started.

Why the late hours? Today was the last day of Fall semester, meaning that final projects were due, and I slid my last one under my teacher's door ten minutes ago. Now, I just have my two finals to take; one Monday, and one Tuesday. After that, I'm free for the Christmas break!

Desperate to get away from school for a few hours, I went by the animal shelter, where I got pressed into giving vaccination shots to a group (covey? conglomeration? herd?) of cats. These were the cats that were getting moved from "strays" to "adoption," and we had to bring them up to date on their health records. I've given a shot once or twice before, but this was my first time doing it en masse. And I only shot myself once while doing it.

We also had an interesting conversation about decapitation. Two police officers from different towns stopped by at the same time, both dropping off stray dogs; and they, the shelter director (an ex-cop), and the shelter supervisor (an otherwise no-nonsense lady with a soft spot for cats) starting discussing procedures when an animal was brought in that had attacked someone. Animals that attack humans have to be checked for rabies, and since they're scheduled for euthanasia anyway, you can do two things.

One, you can keep them for 10 days, watching for signs of rabies, then have a vet come by to check them before euthanizing them. Two, you can immediately euthanize them, cut off their head, and send it to the state lab for the brain to be analyzed for rabies. It's a trade-off: in the first method, you have to use up resources taking care of a dog that will be euthanized anyway; in the second, you have to...well, cut off their head. It's not a job for everyone.

The shelter director was saying that he was always willing to do the job (decapitation) himself, he never forced one of the shelter employees to do it if they were unwilling. He was going on about how hard it was, and how few people had the ability to do it, and the shelter supervisor was laughing because she and I had decapitated a cat only a few days earlier.

"Are you squeamish?" she had asked me, walking past.

Be careful how you answer that question. Next thing I knew, I was hold a dead, stiff cat (it had been in the cooler) while she wielded a giant pair of pruning shears. It was surprisingly clean and simple, one snip and it was done, and there was no blood since the cat was a cool 42 degrees.

Well, enough about decapitation. Back on the school note, I left a program running on my work computer that is supposedly trying to figure out a good equation for guessing movie ratings. Netflix is offering a million dollar prize to anyone who can develop a program that recommends movies better than theirs, and I chose that problem as my semester-project in my machine learning class.

I don't have any expectations of winning, or even coming close--and the final report of the project was the one I already turned in--but the problem is intriguing and I want to leave my program running a few days longer, to see how it fares. We'll see. If I get around to it, I'll try to post a high-level description of my approach. Not that it's interesting to anyone but me, but hey! it's my blog!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Yesterday Child and I went to a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert. It was amazing--hearing them on CD is great, but hearing them live, with the lasers, and lights, and sound system, is just awesome. Of course, at times I was more interested in analyzing the patterns the smoke made in the lasers, or how the lasers had been carefully aimed to only hit the ceiling or the balcony floor, but that's just me.

Sitting in my car in the parking lot, waiting for them to open the doors, Child and I were watching people go by. Surprisingly, there were quite a few "old" people (I put "old" in quotes because now that I'm a quarter-century old, I'm almost in that category). There was one older couple all dressed up in formal attire, and me and Child started wondering what type of orchestra they thought they were going to see. We could picture them looking at the crowds as they walked inside, and the wife saying to the husband, "My goodness, dear, isn't it wonderful to see so many young people taking an interest in the arts? But they really must work on dressing properly to attend an orchestra."

Then when the guy got on stage at the beginning and screamed, "Are you ready to rock, Salt Lake?!" the old couple would look at each other, the beginnings of doubt in their eyes, screaming "young folk" surrounding them, lasers starting to flash, and the husband would whisper to the wife, "Maybe it's interpretive."

On our way there, we stopped at Burger King so I could get some food, and Child could get a hamburger without meat. (I gave the Burger King employee who gave us our food permission to mock Child after we left.) As we were pulling out of the parking lot, I was scanning the heavy traffic, waiting for a break so I could dash into it, when all of a sudden this thing stabs me in the side of the face.

Child claims she was trying to feed me the french fry, but I think she was trying to kill us. Regardless, she found my sudden reaction mildy amusing, laughing all the way to the Events Center, although I deny all claims that I gave a manly shout. She's just lucky I didn't slam down the accelerator and swerve in front of a semi or something.

Plus, she was killed that night in the online game of Werewolf we were both participating in, so....ha.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

My birthday was yesterday, and it was awesome. First, Child made me crepes for breakfast, and they were delicious. Not only that, but there were enough that I was able to eat the leftovers for lunch.

After breakfast, I went to a writing meeting, and it was hilarious. One story had the two characters named "Grey Gull" and "Scuttling Crab", and one girl (who, in her defense, read the story early in morning while still half-asleep), though it was a story about a crab and a sea gull. It made her comments a little surrealistic, but we finally figured the misconception out.

After the writing meeting, I went to the animal shelter. It was fun, as usual, especially since I've been there so long that I'm pretty much just another employee. We had a guy come in to get his dog, which had been maced and picked up by a police officer. The guy held out his hand for his dog to sniff and said, "Hey Chance, it's me! Chance? Don't you know me?" His dog showed no recognition, but I pointed out that after being maced, his dog might take a day or two to get his smell back. (Reminds me of a short story I read once, where a man was assasinated--killed by his two dobermans when he got back from vacation, after someone injected him with a drug that changed his smell.)

I also confirmed what I've always guessed: I hate washing cat dishes. I normally only deal with the dogs, but since one of the inmate workers had gotten "rolled up" ("with handcuffs and everything!" another inmate told me) the previous day, they were a little short on dishwashers. Let me tell you, washing food dishes is bad enough, but 70-odd litterboxes are worse. :)

We also have a record-high three pregnant dogs. The shelter manager mentioned that she had been thinking of taking one of them home before we found out it was pregnant, and I told that if she did, she'd end up with 8 or 9 guard dogs instead of just one. Anyway, we're going to have a heck of a lot of puppies really soon...

Later that evening, Child blindfolded me and drove me to a top-secret location, where she had set up an amazing dinner complete with candle, christmas lights, and of course mistletoe. There was lasagna, breadsticks, and especially hot chocolate, which was good since it was an outside dinner (she warned me ahead of time to dress veeeeerrrryyyy warm). She also got me the Serenity movie and the Firefly series, which I love, and gave me a massage (she gives amazing massages!). I think my favorite present, though, was the letter she wrote to me.

So it turned out to be the best birthday ever, and I still get cherry cream pie tonight at my family's house!