Friday, May 29, 2009

My martial arts journey

This is a tough blog post to write, primarily because of an aberration of memory that renders me nearly incapable of holding onto anything other than the most vague impressions of my own life experiences. I don't know why this started or what I can hope to do about it, but I'll attempt to press through it and come up with some kind of vaguely cohesive storyline.

I was something of a bully in my younger years. I'm not proud of it, but that's how it was. I was a fairly large kid and not given to asking nicely or waiting patiently. Why should I wait for the toy when I can knock that kid over and take it right now? Thankfully, this didn't last terribly long. By the time I got to 1st or 2nd grade I was mostly done with it, and got into my "unpopular kid" phase. I wasn't actively picked on too much until middle school, and it got pretty bad at that point. Still, I never defended myself in any meaningful way (aside from one rather bizarre and totally ineffectual "fight" in 7th grade).

I had always been interested in fighting, as most American boys are, and used to play with guns and knives and grenades (all fake, of course) when I was younger. As I got older, I was still interested in weapons and fighting, but my mom never thought I would stick with martial arts, so I never tried it. I played a lot of other sports (poorly) but never really felt like I fit in with the people there. I was always a bit too slow, or clumsy, or nerdy, or whatever. I had a few friends, but they were all better at sports than I was, and even though we shared other interests, I wasn't ever quite cool enough to be a jock. I also wasn't satisfied being a total nerd without any prospects of popularity or dating or whatever else.

Finally, I convinced my mom that I would enjoy martial arts and that I would stick with them. We found a school that taught Hawaiian Kenpo. I really did well. It was the first physical activity where I actually showed significant promise. I really liked the style, too. We learned standard Japanese and Chinese martial arts techniques (kicks, punches, blocks, etc.) but there was also some grappling and some kickboxing involved. It wasn't nearly as in depth as you'd get from studying jiu-jitsu or muay thai specifically, but it was enough to give you at least a decent impression of the different arts. I really enjoyed the stand up fighting, but I seemed to do better at ground fighting. No idea why, I just caught on more quickly.

Fast forward several years. I have continued training pretty consistently through high school, and have even started teaching a number of classes. As I get into my senior year, I get more and more involved in theatre and debate and spend less time at the dojo. I didn't really think about it at the time, but if I had been better about going to classes, I probably could have made even quicker progress. In any case, that was when my sensei, the man who had taught me very nearly everything I knew about martial arts, moved very suddenly to the east coast. Since I hadn't been around very much, I really didn't have any warning. I show up one day and a new teacher is there. The new guy was also pretty great, but he wasn't the same and that really just killed most of my desire to keep training. Couple that with the fact that I was getting ready to go to college and I essentially just stopped going entirely. I was a third degree brown belt at the time, probably 6 months from my first degree black.

In college, I sort of tried to find another school, but I had a lot of other things on my mind. Within the first few months I had found the SCA and shortly after that I started fighting heavy and light, shooting archery, sewing, making armor, etc. I got very busy and the SCA fighting helped me with my desire to keep fighting. I did that for another few years, then sort of faded away from it as I got toward the end of my college career. After graduating, I moved back down to south Denver. I got into an apartment with a friend of mine and we just did normal geeky stuff for a while. After a bit, he and I, both experienced martial artists, and a few other friends of ours who had also studied various arts, decided to get together and start teaching each other what we knew. I had forgotten a lot, but it came back quickly. I concentrated mostly on teaching ground fighting, since I was the only one with much experience at it. it's also easier to practice grappling without punching your friend in the face than it is to practice punching your friend in the face without actually punching him in the face. Does that make sense? Anyway, we did that for a while and were all very pleased. One of the things that became immediately clear was that people who are very good at fighting on their feet can be absolutely terrible at fighting on the ground. It's uncomfortable for them, and they tend to panic and do exactly the wrong thing. They also tend to expend a lot of energy scrambling around and tire themselves out quickly. For this reason alone, I would take any unarmed, one-on-one fight to the ground as quickly as possible. A guy can completely exhaust himself fighting on the ground in a matter of moments, and if you know how to weather that storm and conserve energy, you can really take advantage of his inexperience. So, that was a lot of what we trained. How to maintain good position, a few simple submissions, a few very simple takedowns, etc. It was fun, but it didn't last for very long. We all got busy, several of us got injured, and we eventually stopped.

It was another few years before I decided to start looking for a place to train again. I wasn't really sure what I'd like to learn, but I knew I wanted something practical, where I'd have guys my own size to fight. As a big guy, you really can't learn much if you have to practice on a 14-year old kid or even an average-sized woman. You can practice your techniques and everything, but they will generally always work because your partner simply doesn't have the strength to resist. practicing with another big guy means you have to work for your progress and if you make a technique work it's because you did it properly. So, when I started looking at schools I knew I didn't want one that catered to housewives and their kids (no offense to any housewives) and I didn't want one where the intensity level was something like "Oh hey we're learning some punches today if you feel like punching maybe." I wanted a place where I could train hard and really push myself without being seen as a jerk who was just picking on people. Thankfully, the first place I went, Colorado Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was perfect. As soon as I went in there, I felt the exact vibe I wanted. There's a fine line in a martial arts school between being intense about training and being a cesspool of jerks and morons. Everyone in the school was cool, though. They loved the art, they love training, but I haven't met a single person I wouldn't want to see regularly or even hang out with outside of class. They are all very cool, laid-back and fun while still being interested in serious training. I honestly couldn't have picked a better place to go.

So, in any case, this is where I've ended up. I'm truly loving my new classes and looking forward to each and every one. I'm learning a huge amount already, making friends, and hopefully not making too big of a fool of myself. I'm still a total noob, but I'm feeling like I'm picking things up quickly. The depth and breadth of the knowledge in this art is literally mind-boggling, but I've got great teachers and great guys to train with, so I think I'll make progress.

There you have it. Thanks for slogging through that whole thing.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Beekeepers...take second?

That's right folks, you heard it here first. We weren't the dominant force at the new site that we'd hoped to be. Let me back up a bit. We got an e-mail yesterday stating that the quiz would no longer be held at the Celtic until further notice. Lame. The new manager there just never seemed to like the idea of the trivia and managed to get us ousted after all. So we had to scramble a bit to find another viable Tuesday night trivia place.

Thankfully, Geeks Who Drink didn't let us down. There's another place just up the road that we can go for Tuesday night trivia called Moe's Original BBQ. It's a barbecue restaurant! No, it's a bar! No, it's a concert venue! No, it's a bowling alley! No, it's ALL OF THOSE THINGS AT ONCE! It's a barbecue restaurant set up like a lunch counter, with a bar situated similarly. There's a concert venue in the back and a bowling alley on the other side of the building. How crazy is that? The cool thing is that the prize they gave (second place scored us the same amount we'd been getting for first at the Celtic) can be used to bowl or for food or whatever. Sweet! Here's the website: Moe's Original BBQ

The quizmaster is pretty cool, but he's got nothing on Travis. Thankfully, I was able to get in touch with Travis and hopefully we can get him to come to the new place with us as a shiny new member of the Beekeepers. We'll see. We've got a lot of folks who want to come out and play, and only 6 spots on the team, so we might have to split into Beekeepers Prime and Beekeepers Secundus or something. In any case, rest assured that you will be kept informed through this blog, this window unto the glorious world that is my life. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Holiday weekend? More like shmoliday shmee...ok, I'll stop.

A three day weekend just means more time for glory. If by glory you mean geeking out with your homies, that is. Friday, just to break up the pattern slightly, we had a quiet evening at home. Those are very fun, and we have all too few of them anymore.

Saturday I went to jiu-jitsu again and had a great time. I'm really enjoying it so much. I got my new gi from my instructor and since I am extra-large sized, he only had one that would fit. It happened to be a really nice one, nicer than what they generally give folks. I'm really trying not to ruin it by laundering it incorrectly or anything. I'm desperately afraid that he'll have given me this awesome gi and I'll show up with it shrunken on the left side and all pink or something. After jiu-jitsu, we had our super team game which was a blast as always. It had been three weeks since our last session and I was definitely jonesing for it.

Sunday was a friend's wedding reception, which went very well. I made Deviled Eggs using my food processor and they came out crazy creamy. I think I might have put too much mustard and Miracle Whip in there, but I'll have to see what I think about it for next time. They went like crazy when we actually got to the party, so apparently they weren't too bad. We got to hang out with Becky and Doyle too, which was fantastic. After the reception, we went and saw Star Trek again. That movie just never stops being awesome. I'm imagining this is the last time we'll see it in the theatre, but that's one we'll be buying on blu-ray as soon as possible.

Monday we went to Dave and Jax's place for games and a BBQ, which was slightly messed up because of the torrential downpour nature decided we needed. Thankfully they have a cool balcony with an overhang so it wasn't too bad to grill up some hot dogs and brats. We hung out there for like 5-6 hours and then headed out to dinner at TGI Friday's which was also very fun. I crashed out early, I'm thinking because driving in the rain was really exhausting. There was so much water on the road it took a lot of control to keep the car going where I wanted it.

In any case, it was a very full, very fun weekend. Jenna and I managed to play racquetball a few times which is always a lot of fun. I'm hoping that we can keep doing that when we don't have ballet or jiu-jitsu, or even afterward if we're feeling energetic. We got Antonia groomed today, too, which is a major victory. She looks absolutely ridiculous now, with her entire body shaved very short but her head, tail and legs all still fluffy. She seems happy though, and she's much cleaner and will be easier to take care of. She even smells actively nice for the first time in a long time.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A festival of awesome

Tuesday, as always, was a festival of awesome for the Gentlemen Beekeepers. We got to stay together this time, as there were three teams total. We still won, of course, but the really interesting part was getting to play in the back room. It's like a smoking lounge or something, and it was just much cooler and cozier than playing out in the main area of the bar. We also finished the night with a James Lipton-esque sort of interview thing. For the transcript, head to the Geeks Who Drink Blog. In case you're keeping track, this is indeed our seventh week in a row of getting first place. One week we got first and second place. That's just silly.

Last night, I went to my second jiu-jitsu class. It wasn't as physically tiring as the last class, but there was a lot of focus on technique. I can say that I'm hooked. I really want to keep going, so I plan to go tonight and sign up for something more permanent. I'm still incredibly impressed with the quality of the teachers there. They're very calm, kind and knowledgeable. I'm constantly amazed at how much there is to know about rolling around on the ground. Everything they're teaching is something that could realistically come up in a fight, and knowing multiple options from a given position lets you respond at the appropriate level based on your situation.

That's about it, really. I'll keep you guys informed if anything new comes up.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Clicking for fun and profit

I realize that I've used the term clicker training, given some theory about it and some background about it and will likely be talking your collective ear off about it for a while to come, so I should probably lay out what exactly it is, and what it isn't. Keep in mind that I am no expert. I'm just going to be explaining my understanding of clicker training based on what I've seen and read. My knowledge will hopefully keep growing as I read more and especially once I get my own puppy to work with.

Clicker training is a method of teaching your dog what you want it to do. You associate the click sound with a reinforcer (anything that the dog likes enough to work for) at the beginning, so your dog knows that the click means a treat or a pet or some play is coming. The click also marks the exact moment of your approval. If he's sitting and you click, he knows you like it when he's sitting. This is extremely helpful because reinforcement only works when you reinforce at the exact moment the animal is doing what you want. If a dog sits and you treat a few seconds later after he's already standing, he thinks you like him standing. The click tells the dog that he did something good and a treat is coming. It frees you from having to get a treat into his mouth at the exact right moment. It also lets you teach him the behavior you want before you assign a verbal cue to it. You're clicking and treating for him sitting down without ever having said "sit" to him until he already knows how to do it. This really helps keep the dog from getting confused by your verbal cues, and it prevents you from having to say them over and over again. Once is enough because he's not learning how to sit and learning what "sit" means at the same time. He's learning how to sit, and then associating the sound you make with that action. You can also use physical cues, or even train your dog to do something without a cue from you at all. I was reading one book where the author had taught her dog to close cabinet doors whenever he found them open, and to lower the toilet lid when he saw it up.

Clicker training is also a set of principles, namely that positive punishment (introducing things the dog doesn't like when he does something wrong) and negative reinforcement (taking away things the dog doesn't like when he does something right) hinder learning and slow down progress. It can be used with any animal to teach any behavior that the animal is physically and mentally capable of doing. I've seen videos of people using clicker training to do some amazing things, and all without having to hit the dog, or spray him with water or anything else. You reward him for good behavior and ignore bad behavior. Since a lot of bad behavior is merely an attempt to get attention (parents know this well), they learn that bad behavior doesn't get them what they want, but good behavior does. They stop offering bad behaviors because they learn that they don't gain anything from them.

This differs from classical or Pavlovian conditioning in that the dog is making choices. He chooses to sit when you tell him to, because he knows that he gets what he wants by giving you what you want. It's not like ringing a bell and having him drool involuntarily, it's more like ringing a bell and having him know that means you want him to turn in circles, and then doing so. The dog in clicker training is an agent. He has free will and is choosing to do something, not being turned into a robot or anything creepy.

Some of this is still something I'm working on and curious about. I think that you have to interrupt bad behavior with something good in order to stop something dangerous or destructive (some behaviors are their own reward, like barking and chewing). I'm still doing research, but it seems that you can generally teach a dog not to exhibit a certain behavior by teaching them what you would like them to be doing (being calm and quiet, peeing outside, chewing on appropriate toys)instead of only showing them what you don't want them to be doing (chewing on inappropriate things, barking, peeing in the house) and leaving what you do want a mystery.

Doggie go walkies?

As I'm certain I've mentioned here before, Jenna and I are looking to get a puppy. We've decided on an Autralian Terrier. This is what they look like:

They're pretty small, only about 15-20 pounds (the breed standard says 12-14, but they've grown much bigger than that over the years) and less than a foot to the shoulder. Every description I've found of them says they're one of the calmer, less bark-prone, easier to train terriers out there. That suits me just fine. The fact that they do obedience and agility trials also makes me think they're probably smart enough for me to train one pretty well.

Speaking of training, I've really dug into the world of dog behavior recently. I'm still only on the surface, but I'm trying to learn about several different methods of training, to see what makes sense and how the different philosophies treat similar behavior. I'm extremely interested in clicker training, first off. As soon as I saw the simply amazing things people could get their pets to do without hitting them, yelling at them or intimidating them, I was hooked. I don't like the idea of a 240 pound dude (me, and yes I need to jog or something) standing over a 20-pound dog ready to hit him for something. If he bit my wife or one of our theoretical children, I'd take him down, but short of that, he's a freakin' puppy. What does he know? He knows what I teach him, and his failures are my failures as an owner and as alpha male of my family pack. So that's a lot of why I like the clicker method. it's a subset of operant conditioning, which is differentiated from classical or Pavlovian conditioning in that the animal is making choices to perform behaviors based on reinforcement. Pavlovian conditioning creates a reflexive, involuntary response (salivating the the sound of a bell, for example) which is okay if you want your dog to drool on command, but not if you want him to close the toilet lid if he sees it open (something you can teach with clicker training, since it allows him to make decisions).

I also started looking into Cesar Millan (the Dog Whisperer) and his training philosophy. I've watched some of his show, and the speed with which he fixes problem dogs is astounding. People have worked with these animals for months or years, thinking they'll have to be put down, hearing vets and other trainers say the dog is beyond help, and Cesar swoops in and solves the problem in 10 minutes or so. It is incredibly impressive and makes for very good television. He also deals a lot with very aggressive dogs, which adds excitement and all that to the show. His primary philosophy is that you should be the pack leader of your house. Many people have dogs who think they are the leader and it results in lots of really bad behavior. Part of being the pack leader is having "calm/assertive" energy, and forcing your dog into "calm/submissive" energy. I don't know how the scale actually goes, but I've heard other splits like "excited/dominant" or "excited/aggressive" so there may be more to the scale than I'm aware of. Essentially, you show the dog you're the boss, he does what you say. This is different than training, which is an important distinction. Training is about giving commands or cues and having them followed. This is about the hierarchy within the home. No amount of training will succeed when the dog is the pack leader. Some dogs only misbehave in certain situations, meaning that they listen well when in the home but are extremely aggressive outside the home. This is a similar issue.

Now, for my thoughts: Every dog Cesar works with gets a choke chain, pinch collar or even improvised slip knot collar. Every single one (that I've seen so far anyway, which is like 20), whether their problem is something as simple as spinning around in circles for no reason or whether they are large, aggressive dogs. Personally, I don't like that. I know the pressure from the chain is supposed to represent the teeth of a dominant dog establishing control, and it certainly appears to work, but I just can't get into it. You can tell that he isn't torturing these dogs or choking them out or anything, but I'm still not a fan. While that isn't my favorite thing, there are some great things he does. He is very big on watching what you're rewarding, which is a big thing in clicker training as well. Your dog freaks out, gets excited or angry and you smother him with affection and praise? Guess what you just trained him to do! You're rewarding behavior you don't want, thinking you can reassure your dog with cooing and stroking like you could a person. You can't. Dogs are reassured when their pack leader is calm and strong and in control of the situation. They take emotional cues from you. This is something else Cesar does very well. he projects calm, assertive energy. Projecting energy sounds a bit too much like a hadoken for my tastes, but the principle is solid. Dogs communicate through body language, scent, etc. If you're frightened, your dog knows it. If you're calm and in control, your dog knows that, too. When your dog gets scared or excited or freaked out, the best thing you can do is to be calm and relaxed, not all excited and worried like they are.

So, if there are things I can learn from Cesar, it's that your dog senses and responds to your energy, so you need to be aware of what you're displaying to your dog. Also, like with clicker training, your dog will exhibit the behaviors that you reinforce, whether they're good or bad. I also think that being the clear pack leader is important, and I'm hoping to read some info on how to do that using only positive behavior.

Here's some more info on clicker training, as developed by Karen Pryor. In operant conditioning, there are four categories of response to behavior. You can use positive reinforcement(PR) (introduction of something reinforcing to the environment), negative reinforcement(NR) (taking away something aversive from the environment), positive punishment(PP) (introduction of something aversive to the environment) or negative punishment(NP) (removing something reinforcing from the environment). A reinforcer is something the subject likes, so it could be food, praise, attention, or even something like playing with a favorite toy, or being able to continue forward on a walk. An aversive is something the animal doesn't like, so it could be a slap, a loud noise, or a bad taste. Examples of the four responses are giving a treat or petting (PR), turning off a loud buzzing sound or releasing the pressure on a choke chain (NR), smacking or introducing a bad taste (PP) and taking away a favorite toy, or ceasing play and petting (NP). Clicker training, as defined by Pryor, uses only Positive Reinforcement and Negative Punishment. You're introducing positive things or taking away positive things. This method is used in zoos and aquariums a lot, because you can't very well smack a killer whale when he does something wrong. He'll either swim away or murder you where you stand. For a good explanation of the difference between clicker training and training using a clicker (with positive punishment and negative reinforcement still in the mix), check out this video: Clicker Training vs. Training with a Clicker

Here are some books I'm reading and videos I'm watching, so you know where I'm getting my information. Again, please note that I haven't actually put anything into practice yet, this is based purely on my research.

Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor

The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell

Kikopup on Youtube

Monday, May 18, 2009

Many things

Hello again, everyone. We had another exceptionally busy weekend, as is becoming our habit, but it was still very fun. We had a sushi/movie night on Friday that was really fun, then some jiu-jitsu and house hunting on Saturday. Sunday was our Rifts game, which involved some cleaning and some cooking. More on each of these as we progress.

Friday was awesome. We had 10 people at Samurai Sushi, which was really cool. I didn't think we'd end up with that many making it, but everything worked out. Everyone really seemed to enjoy the food, too. We ended up ordering way too much and all of us had to stuff ourselves to capacity to get it all finished. The food was still super tasty, though. Their teriyaki sauce is really good. It's very thick and sweet. It worked well on beef, chicken and salmon. This trip, I already knew which sushi I liked, though i did find a new tasty roll called the chicago roll. That was super good. other than that, I spent most of my evening trying different entrees to see what I liked best. Really, what I like is a little bit of a lot of different entrees. Tonkatsu and chicken katsu are still very good, the teriyaki meats were all delicious, but I wasn't a big fan of the yakisoba or the yakiniku. There's still plenty that I really enjoy to justify the AYCE meal. I just wish they offered the keystone roll on the AYCE, but I can survive without it. I just need like a dozen pieces of unagi and I'm good to go.

We also saw Star Trek again. Unfortunately, it was late and I was in a sort of sushi coma, so I was fading in and out of consciousness a bit toward the beginning. I went out and got some popcorn and soda (yes, even as full as I was, I managed to pack a bit more in) under the theory that I can't fall asleep while actively eating food. This kept me solid for the rest of the movie, at least. I spent this viewing paying a lot more attention to the actors themselves, watching for subtleties of performance that got lost in the action and story the first time. Everyone really did do an incredible job. This is one of the best sci-fi movies in recent memory, I think. I'd put it up there with Iron Man, even.

Saturday, I woke up early-ish and went to jiu-jitsu class to try it out and see how I liked it. It was really awesome. The guy teaching is freakin' fantastic, very skilled at both the art and at teaching. He's really nice and everything, too. I was a bit worried about getting into a room with that many guys practicing fighting and having some or all of them be jerks who just wanted to flex nuts. There was none of that at all, which is pretty incredible. The workout I got from the class was also pretty amazing. there were several times when I thought I might throw up from exhaustion and we weren't even doing anything that tough. I'm just really not used to moving my body that much, that quickly. It really does take you to a whole different level of working out, beyond what you can do running or biking or anything. it's morel ike swimming, I guess. Your whole body is working all at once. Unfortunately, the goal is that you're supposed to be using as little energy as possible, which means I'm not doing it very well. Still, it's a lot of fun and I think I'll really enjoy it a lot. I'm planning to head back as soon as I can to get some more info and try another class.

After that, we went out house hunting. We found a place we really like. It's as old as I am, but it's a good-sized house on a nice big lot and the layout has so many options for improvements and stuff. There's some work to be done to it, but nothing we can't handle. The back yard is also amazingly well set up for what we'd like to do back there anyway. The whole thing is pretty incredible. I'll post more when we get more info on how it's likely to turn out as far as getting the loan for it.

Sunday, we cleaned the house and then folks came over for our Rifts game. I think the game itself went really well this week. We're working on some issues with the players figuring out the system and all, and getting ourselves working together well. I think we're making very good progress, though.

I made a meatloaf this week. It turned out pretty well, but the texture wasn't as consistent as I'd like. I think it would also work better as two smaller loaves than one giant loaf. It would cook faster, too.

Here's how it went: 2.25 pounds of ground sirloin, with 1 pound of ground chuck. I may go half and half next time, but that may end up being too greasy. I also put in one egg, 1 cup of bread crumbs, some worcestershire sauce, about a cup of diced onions, three cloves of garlic, half a can of tomato sauce (the little 8-oz one) and a few pinches of kosher salt. I tossed in some more generalized italian seasonings, too. I mixed that all up and formed a loaf of it on some wax paper on a cookie sheet. I glazed it with some glaze I made from some ketchup, some chili sauce, the rest of the can of tomato sauce, some worcestershire sauce and some honey. The glaze was very tasty. I finally got to use my probe thermometer! Set it to 155º and let it roll in a 325º oven. It took a while, but came out cooked well.

Here are my thoughts for next time: Maybe more bread crumbs, or ground up croutons (an Alton Brown suggestion) and less onion. I think I'll also cook the onion first before putting it into the meatloaf. It didn't cook well in the mix, and it threw off the texture a bit. As much as I'd like to improve on it, one of my guests did say it was the best meatloaf she'd ever had, and that she had never liked meatloaf before. I think I've gotten that response several times now, actually. It always makes me feel like I'm doing at least pretty well.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Ah, I remember the lazy autumn days of my childhood, when the family would pile into the old station wagon and drive out to the dog fields. If you searched long and hard, you could find some truly phenomenal puppies out there, right off the puppy bush. Those days are long gone now, I fear. If you want to find a dog, you'd better be prepared to spend some time and money in your search.

The first step to picking a dog is deciding on the breed. This covers a large number of the most basic questions, such as size, shedding, energy level, trainability, etc. Once you've narrowed down a few breeds, then you have to start looking at the particulars, such as coat texture (long? short? harsh? soft?), the sound of their bark, life expectancy, how good they are with kids (many behavioral qualities can be significantly altered with training and socialization, but you're never going to trust an unsupervised Bull Mastiff with a toddler), how good they are with other pets, how tolerant they are of temperature extremes, and more. Now you should be getting down to just a few breeds. The next step is to meet some of the dogs. Visit several breeders if you can, and see their full-grown dogs of different ages. See some puppies if possible. Talk to owners. Read stuff on the internet, and check out youtube for videos of the dog in action. You can even borrow breed-specific books from the library more often than not. If you're noticing a pattern here, the pattern is preparation and forethought. Any moron loser freak can go to the puppy store and pick the cute one. In fact, that is precisely how puppy stores stay in business. But it's not the way to pick your new family member. This dog is going to be with you most likely from 10-15 years, maybe longer. They will need regular care and maintenance, they may have medical problems or behavioral problems and you need to know what you're getting into beforehand.

Incidentally, this is also my issue with getting dogs from shelters. I know everyone says it's the only humane thing to do, and if you don't do it, you're a horrible person with evil in your face and they hate you forever and ever and HOW CAN YOU KILL ALL THOSE DOGS YOU BASTARD?! I know. Here's my point: I'm bringing this dog into my home. He's going to be around me and my friends and my children for a very long time. I want to know absolutely as much as I can about him before I make that choice. I want to meet his mom and dad. I want to meet his brothers and sisters. I want to see the full range of possibilities for health and behavior issues within the breed. I want to be as sure as possible that this dog will be a joy to us and we to it from the moment it steps into the house until the moment we bury it in a shoebox in the front yard. At night. With torches. Also some chanting. For me, the worst thing in the world would be for me to take that dog out of the shelter, bring him home, and find out that he's got some major issue and we can't keep him. I don't have it in me to take the dog to the shelter, I don't think. I'm not some moron loser freak who is going to go buy a dog from a puppy store and take it to the shelter when I find out "the dern thing poops!" I'm also not a jerk who is going to mistreat a dog, really screw it up psychologically, and then dump it at the shelter for the next person to take home and realize it's now almost useless in every capacity. I also don't want to get a dog that someone else bought from a puppy mill and then took to the shelter, now having no idea whether the thing has been screened for genetic defects or even properly cared for by a vet. It's a gamble I don't care to take. If you want to get a used dog, that's your choice. For me and my family, I'm going to take every precaution I can think of to make sure we get a dog that we will love and that will love us for as long as we have it in our home. End of that discussion.

Now that you've narrowed it down to one breed, you have a choice to make. Or rather you have a choice to make a choice but you don't have to make a choice if you don't want to choose. All clear, then? Essentially, dogs are a natural product. You can't put in an order for four males, four females, half black half white and all healthy and expect consistent results. If you're dealing with a good breeder, chances are good they've got a line for this litter, and you're at the back. If they get seven males and one female, and they've got three people in line ahead of you who asked for a female, you don't get one from this litter. If you specify sex and color, you could be in for a very long wait. It isn't bad, it's just something to consider. Personally, I like the idea of a neutered male dog. They're very well-behaved, are generally easy to train, and get along well with other dogs and pets. This obviously isn't always the case, but it seems to be common. Really though, the differences between the spayed/neutered sexes isn't all that great. The guys are easier to neuter, and you can do it earlier, I'm told. Really, this is something to ask your breeder. Find out what they suggest. If they suggest anything other than spaying and neutering, find a new breeder. Most good breeders actually have a spay/neuter contract you have to sign when you get the dog. If you don't spay or neuter, they get the dog back and you get a very stern talking to. How they find out if you've done it is entirely a mystery to me, but the fact that they make a point of it is good. If everyone spayed and neutered and bought from a respectable breeder, we wouldn't have dogs in the shelters. See how that works?

Anyhow, now you've picked a breed, a breeder, a sex (maybe) and you're waiting for your puppy to be born and weaned (hee-hee!). What do you do now?

You read. Watch videos. Talk to people. What about? Training. Because there is very little in this world more annoying than an untrained dog. You come home and your dog jumps around and barks and you think it's very cute (and if your dog weighs 5 pounds, it really is very cute) but everyone else who comes to your house thinks your dog is an asshole and you're an even bigger asshole for not teaching him how to behave. If you're going to buy a dog, the dog comes with several fabulous accessories. First, a poop factory. Second, responsibility. You bought a dog, you have a responsibility to the dog to teach it how to behave. A well-trained dog is a happy dog. They want to make you happy, they want your approval and they want the mental and physical exercise that training gives them. You can use any method you like, but what I'm most intrigued by right now is called clicker training. Very interesting, very scientific. Jenna found a lady on youtube who does really well-made instructional videos about it. You can see some of the amazing things that can be taught using the method, and you can also see how much these dogs and their owner love each other. I think potentially the coolest part of it is that you see someone treating a dog like a dog, not like a tiny furry person. Understanding dog psychology is so important for proper training, and so few people do it well.

In any case, here's the main page for kikopup, the dog trainer: kikopup

I'll be doing more research on positive reinforcement/negative punishment techniques for dog training and keeping you all informed about them. Have a good one!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Awesome vs. Awesome

When your trivia team of four splits into two teams of two and still manages to take first and second place, there's something going on. That something is awesomeness.

Last night, there was nobody there for trivia. Almost literally. It was our group and that was it. Eventually, our quizmaster talked several other folks into playing, but none of them finished. It turned out later on that one of the regulars was there too, and he did end up finishing. In any case, we decided to split up just to make some kind of game out of it. AJ and Nate were on one team and Jenna and I were the other. The game was pretty fun, with some interesting rounds and all, but we got totally hosed on the two Audi rounds. Nate and AJ know way more of that stuff than us, and that's where they pulled ahead. They ended up beating us by 15 points, which, with their joker, equates to about 7 answers of either song title or artist on round two. I think they easily got us by that many, if not quite a few more. I did get a few answers, but not very many.

Even though we had to turn on ourselves this week, there was a silver lining. By taking first and second, we ended up $10 ahead of where we would normally be, so that's good. We also proved that even separately, we're still awesome. Third place came in 21 points behind me and Jenna. If we had remained a combined team, we would've scored in the mid-eighties, most likely. That would've put us well above any other team that played last night, as near as I can tell. So, if we hadn't had to split just to have someone to play against, we'd have had a truly impressive score. There's something to be said for that, I suppose.

Anyhow, last night was okay, but certainly not as fun as when we all get to hang out and talk and work together. That's mostly what the evening is about for me anyway, to be honest. Hopefully next week will be better.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A couple days of awesome nestled in the middle of the still pretty awesome

Friday, we went to see Star Trek. If you haven't seen it, your life is dark and hollow. Just so you know.

We've been setting up sort of a pattern the past few weeks, and I'm for it. Tuesday, Jenna and I hang with AJ at trivia as a rule. The past few weeks, we've hung with AJ and Nate. This past week, we hung with AJ, Nate (we call him Super Nate because we have too many Nates) and Charlie. This is a good pattern. Tomorrow, I'm told we'll get to hang with Becky and Nate (different Nate, we call him Doyle) and hopefully AJ, (Super) Nate and Charlie as well. That would put our team at 7, but I don't know that anyone will give us trouble about it. It's not like we haven't been winning without all these extra folks. We'll see, I guess.

Saturday was really fun, too. My dad and I went to our first official IDPA match. We'd been before, but only to look around, not to shoot. It was pretty incredible. They set up 4 scenarios, often very realistic, and you have to complete them quickly, accurately and above all, safely. If you make any kind of mistake in gun handling or anything that could potentially be dangerous to yourself or others, you get sent home. It's very comforting to have guys there who are dedicated 100% to ensuring that the environment is as safe as humanly possible. The scenarios are also really well thought-out and very well-designed. You've got 4 unique and interesting stages every month of every year, all within the rules set up to make sure it's something you can complete safely and effectively. I'm just incredibly impressed with the level of planning, work and dedication these folks have to this sport. I was also amazed at how many people were there this weekend. Close to 70, not counting people just watching. I didn't do terribly well, but my primary goal this weekend was not to be sent home covered in shame. I was successful in that, so I'm not going to let my dismal times get me down too badly.

Later that evening, Jenna and I went out to a nice dinner at a new restaurant. The food was very good, but the environment was a bit too rowdy for our liking. You know when you go into a restaurant and everyone's like talking and laughing and having a good time? That's what was going on here. *Shudders* We had a good meal, but we had to leave fairly quickly. Neither of us is emotionally or physically equipped to deal with that many humans while we're trying to eat.

Sunday was Mother's day, as you ought to know. We went to Johnstown with the intention of helping my sister with her garden, but ended up just sort of hanging out and grilling instead. Not at all bad.

My wife is wonderful and burned a bunch of Good Eats DVDs for me, so I've been watching them all. I love that show so hard. I'm going to attempt something tonight most likely, and I'll let you all know how it goes.

I'm also going to check out the Jiu-Jitsu school tonight. I'm planning on heading over just to take a look, and maybe try to see about taking a class. They offer a week of free classes to new students and next week would be a much better week for me to take more than one class. I was also thinking about krav maga but the only schools in my area seem a bit too oriented on kids and middle-aged women. As much as I like winning, I don't get much satisfaction from beating women and children. Some, just not much. We'll see. If the jiu-jitsu school is lame, I may have to expand my options a bit more. We'll see.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Activity Exploration

Tonight, Jenna and I are going to look into some activities we think we might like to try. She's looking at dance and I'm looking at martial arts. Brazilian jiu-jitsu, specifically. There's a school for BJJ pretty close to where we live and they have classes at times that would work for us pretty well, too. Jenna found a dance school she likes and we're going to go check out that one, too.

I'll keep you all informed.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What's more dominant than dominant? The Gentlemen Beekeepers, that's what.

We won trivia again last night. Not just a win, but a complete and total victory on all levels. We once again won all bonus questions, the internet question and the quiz as a whole, but we also beat our personal best score by a fair margin. The fact that we beat the second place teams (tied again, same team won the dance-off) by something like 30 points is really like gravy. More like chocolate syrup really, because it's so sweet.

Am I gloating? I think I am.

I don't mean to, honestly. I even feel slightly guilty for being on a team that (almost entirely without my input, mind you) continues to win week after week by embarrassing margins. This week we brought in two new players, Charlie and Nate and their addition made the game even more fun, if such a thing is possible. We also helped to expand our knowledge base rather significantly by adding them to the mix.

In any case, thanks to all who participated, and please forgive me my gloating. If we are defeated, I promise to be as humble as my psychology allows.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Awesome weekend!

I have determined that doing thins on Friday night makes me feel like I have an extra day of weekend. Having come to this conclusion, I'm going to try to do something on Fridays as much as possible. I really relish that Sunday morning feeling where it seems like it's Monday but it really isn't.

Speaking of doing things on Friday, we saw Wolverine. I really liked it a lot. Very few complaints from me overall, and a lot of stuff I really enjoyed. Hugh Jackman was great, Ryan Reynolds was great and Liev Schreiber brought a lot of humanity to the Sabertooth character. The only guy I think was cast poorly was Gambit. After everyone begging for him to be in the movies since the first once was announced, I was expecting them to make a really awesome Gambit and they just didn't. He's passable, sure. He just isn't as cool as he could've been. The guy didn't even have a Louisiana accent, for one. I personally find that accent annoying, but it's sort of necessary for Gambit. It's a large part of who he is to me, anyway. In any case, the company was excellent, with Nate, AJ, Derek and Jenny joining Jenna and I for the excursion. We had dinner at the Village Inn before going in as the showtimes we planned on seeing were all sold out.

Saturday was also good. I'm still cranking along on Fallout 3, getting extremely close to having all of the achievements. They're releasing a new expansion that should be really awesome. I finished the Alaskan expansion and am ready to try the Pittsburgh version soon. The newest one actually continues beyond the end of the current game instead of presenting a new adventure before you finish like the other two. It also allows you to progress to level 30 instead of stopping at 20 like you do in the original game. Pretty cool, if you're a great big geek like me.

Saturday afternoon/evening was our supers game, which is always a blast. We're also starting a new campaign with the same group but a different system, so we're all working on characters for that right now. Still very cool. The main story does still seem to be focusing on my character's plot right now, though we're getting much more info on it than I was expecting so soon. Seems like I still have a heck of a lot to know.

Sunday was a lazy day. We slept in, played racquetball, watched some shows, ran some errands and generally just had a grand ol' time. A very nice way to end an otherwise busy weekend.

We did decide that we're going to begin looking for houses in earnest again, for the good it seems to be doing. We're also going to be looking into getting a puppy, which should be very fun. We had a breed in mind for when we have a house, but I think Jenna's sick of waiting for the house to get the puppy. I don't blame her. We've put off a lot of stuff until we get the house and it just isn't happening for us. I'm sort of sick of waiting to really do stuff until we have a house, but I would also feel silly if I started putting a bunch of holes in the wall of the apartment only to turn around and have to take everything down again when we do get a place. Anyhow. I'm also thinking about looking around for a martial arts school near here that I could try out. It really hit me this weekend how much I miss the fighting sports I used to do, and I think getting back into martial arts would be a great way to get myself into shape and back into a more physically active mindset. I don't know. Maybe it won't work at all, but I'm at least going to try it out.