Deep Dreaming

You’ve heard about Google’s Deep Dream algorithm? If not you can read about it here, but in an overly simplified nutshell, it’s their artificial neural network’s attempt to recognize order and structures in an image. It finds structure where there is none, and things get really, really weird.

The team has released the code so that anyone can upload an image and have Deep Dream work its surreal magic.

I chose a picture I took one morning before hiking Mount Olympus in Utah. The picture faces east toward the Wasatch mountains a short time after the sun had risen above the mountain tops:

The result is an acid trip that is both whimsical and terrifying. It’s an almost carnival atmosphere where creatures of a pretty, yet hauntingly abstract form graze in a psychedelic field below a floating manatee and potato. A gazebo and the mirage of circus tents appear in the distance, and tower reminiscent of a scene from The Dream of Perpetual Motion maintains vigil over the scene. Or not. It’s an artificial neural network’s acid trip. Not mine.

 

A Pharmaceutical Win For Nina

Nina’s History

Nina

It’s been a while since I blogged about my dog, Nina. My last entry about her was not very optimistic. The poor creature had already had 2 knee replacement surgeries, and has shown some slight hip dysplasia symptoms since she was a pup.  She had been through intensive positive punishment training, which helped control extreme behaviors, but the anxiety was ever-present.

She still would lash out at Jack for no reason, with no warning. I know people think that dogs always signal before reacting to a situation. That is simply not true. I’ve dealt with Nina long enough to say with confidence that while she does usually signal, I’ve seen her go from no signs of discomfort to ready to attack with no signaling. At all.

Though operant conditioning helped control the extremes, Nina was still very fearful of new situations. She couldn’t be trusted to meet new people in anything other than a tightly controlled interaction. Interacting with new dogs was a definite no.

In what I thought was a last ditch effort, a friend and dog trainer agreed to take Nina, potentially permanently. The hope was that his better dog handling abilities would provide Nina the environment she needed.

Even that didn’t work.

Giving Meds A Try

I knew that Prozac was an option, but every professional who mentioned it as a possible solution said it should only be the used if all other options had been explored. Since I’m an ‘I can always do better’ type of person, I never really felt like all options had been explored. I could walk her longer. I could work with her on discipline more.

Finally, I decided that it was the right time to give medication a try. As soon as the prozac began to affect her behavior, I began to have my doubts. She wasn’t lashing out at Jack, but whatever ability I had to read her was gone. She didn’t seem to be enjoying anything, but she didn’t seem to be bothered by anything either. It was a stressful transition. I went from usually being able to read her mind to having no idea how a situation would affect her.

Gradually, her happiness returned, but the anxiety and fear aggression issues never did. She’s a different dog now. A little less responsive to commands, slightly less active. A lot more comfortable with her surroundings.

I’ve learned a few things from being Nina’s guardian. The first is that the expression ‘there are no bad dogs, only bad owners‘ is an insult to people who are doing the best they can with a dog that has mental issues. It was coined as a response to the falsehood that a dog is automatically bad if it is a insert-whatever-breed-is-currently-being-villified. A more accurate version of that expression would be: ‘there are no bad dog breeds.‘ Full stop. The end. Yes, dog owners are ultimately responsible for their dogs’ actions. No, a dog acting badly doesn’t mean the owner is a bad person.

The second lesson I learned is that if you are dealing with a troubled dog, don’t rule out medication as an option. It shouldn’t be your first solution. It may not be the right solution. It could be a life saver. For Nina, it was. She is still closely monitored when around new people, but she is much more comfortable with their presence. Conflicts between her and Jack are virtually nonexistent now. Nina is no longer completely terrified of new dogs.

If you’re to the point that you’re seriously considering the heart-breaking ‘e-word’ because your dog is still out of control despite your best efforts, don’t do it before trying medication.

My Greatest Adventure

So this is the song I wrote for Kim. I’ve been checking the mail for a grammy nomination, but haven’t seen anything, yet. There must be some delay at the post office…

Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Kim’s parents for giving her a name that rhymes so easily with “marry me.”

My Greatest Adventure

You are my greatest adventure
I love you. I love you to the moon and back
So would you take my hand in marriage
And make me part of your plans

You are my greatest adventure
I love you. I love you to the moon and back
I want to, I want to be your husband
And give you all that I am

I have to state, we’re gonna see every state
Even if you show up late. I won’t hesitate
We’ll make it all up as we go

You are my greatest adventure
I love you. I love you to the moon and back
So would you take my hand in marriage
And make me part of your plans

So Kimalee
Oh Kimalee
Will you marry me?
Will you marry me?

A Simple Plan

It was a simple plan, really.

Kim knew the ring was almost ready, so if I wanted to surprise her, I had to act quickly. All I needed to do was: lie, evade, or redirect any time that Kim asked if the ring was finished. Sneak over to the jeweler and pick the ring up. Buy a backpack-able guitar. Convince Kim to go on a hike to Dog Lake, even though it’s still a little too early in the season. Hope that enough snow had melted so that the hike wouldn’t be miserable. Convince Kim that I would carry my overnight backpack just as a conditioning exercise…when that fell through, convince my friend Zach to hike up to the lake with a table, chair, wine, and the newly purchased guitar. Write a song. Get over the fact that I’m not a great (or even good) singer.

It worked!

Barely.

My window of opportunity is small. Joe the jeweler is chatty. Guitar Center is packed. Kim was finished running errands by the time I got back home. Quick thinking and a poorly delivered half-truth as to my whereabouts almost derailed the entire thing. “I, um, got bored while you were gone, so I went to Guitar Center to play with some of the toys there.” The best lies are based in truth, perfect. The best liars believe the lie…nah, that ain’t me.

The plan almost fell apart as I test fitted the guitar…should have bought the backpacker, not the traveler model. Zach saved the day.

The hike was miserable from the get go. I’ve been on longer, steeper hikes. I’ve hiked snowed over trails without snowshoes before. But step for step, this was one of the sloggiest hikes I’ve done. Where there was no snow, there was mud. Where there was snow, post-holing knee deep was not uncommon. Kim was not feeling it. Her sunglasses broke and she didn’t have her eye glasses with her. My legs were achy from my Saturday run. “We must be getting close,” was either a statement of wish rather than fact, or it was one of those lies that if repeated long enough eventually becomes the truth. I had no way of informing Zach if we had to bail on the hike, so I absolutely had to get to the lake, even if I had to arrive alone.

The last stretch was the worst – the steepest incline, the deepest, slipperiest snow on the trail. Close enough to the landing site and not wishing to prolong the misery, I tell Kim to just hang out for a couple of minutes while I go check out the lake (and come up with a backup plan). I sprint, post-holing every third or fourth footfall, the last couple hundred yards. I grab the guitar, find Zach in his picture-taking foxhole, tell him we couldn’t finish the hike, and head back down the trail. Instead of just waiting for my return, Kim soldiered on. She wasn’t far behind.

“Why do you have a guitar?”

“Um. Some hippy hiked up here for some solitude. He was unprepared for the snow. He traded this for my pack!”

It was an unconvincing lie. I knew it when I said it. Her disbelieving smile was the reply I expected. Instant rejuvenation. We finished the hike to the lake.

Carefully rehearsed and memorized lyrics. A simple chord progression on the guitar. That’s all I had to do at this point. Well, the song I rehearsed didn’t include restarts and giggles. The song I wrote didn’t include such fine lyrics as “oh, wait. I messed that up” or “let me start this verse again” or “gimme a second to remember this part,” but that’s the song I performed.

Thankfully, she didn’t shriek in horror and run for her life upon hearing my tone deaf vocal treatment and amnesiatic lyrical delivery. She said yes!

See? It was a simple plan, executed without a hitch.

I Would Rather Be Ashes Than Dust

Sometimes it seems nothing in this world is as straight-forward as it should be. I’ve taken Jack London’s Credo as an indisputable quote for a long while now. Apparently the authenticity is up for debate. Regardless, this is a great way to view life:

I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.

(Mostly)

One sentence bugs, though. “I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.” If we’re talking chemotherapy for a cancer that cannot be defeated, I get it. Why go through the agony of that treatment if it will only add to your misery? If we’re talking about eating less salt and less fat, drinking less whiskey and more water, and exercising, that seems like an acceptable tradeoff to me.

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

The air was warm at Mesa Verde National Park. Much warmer than normal for this time of year. Despite that, all of the attractions that were normally closed during the winter remained closed. We didn’t realize that would be the case, but it’s understandable. We also didn’t realize that we were visiting on one of the free weekends. Score! I would have loved to see more of the park while we were there, but what we did get to see was amazing, and you can’t beat free.

The only cliff dwelling opened for our visit was the Spruce Tree House. We arrived just in time for a guided tour. If you ever have the opportunity for a guided tour here, or at any national park, take it. Wandering around the site on our own would have been fine, but I learned a lot more about the structures and the people who build them than I would have if we had gone alone. Our tour leader, park ranger Shawn Duffy, provided a highly entertaining description of life for the people who lived here.

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Ranger Duffy giving us some background before we head to the site.

 

From there, it was an easy walk down to the Spruce Tree House.

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Our tour leader spoke about the practical technology the builders of this society implemented, their potential reasons for moving into the canyons, as well as their probably reasons for leaving the dwellings. All fascinating stuff! He liked to point out that the ‘mystery’ about who these people were was mostly a marketing tool to generate interest as it’s fairly well understood that the modern Hopi are descendants of this culture.

As we toured the site, I tried to imagine what life would have been like for the inhabitants. Climbing the cliffs to reach the farm land above. Gathering wood for fires to keep warm. Retrieving water from the nearby springs. How much of the say was spent working?

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I had heard the word Kiva before, but I didn’t know what one was until this trip. The picture below is a Kiva that no longer has a roof. The small hole in the center is a sipapu, a hole that represents a portal from which their ancestors entered this world.

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The park does allow visitors to enter one of the kivas. I’m assuming that this one was rebuilt for the purpose of giving people an idea of what it’s like in one. The air was cool – many degrees cooler than the outside – and still inside the kiva. Thanks to its natural thermal regulation, it would be a great escape from both the chill of the winter air as well the summer heat.

Kiva in Mesa Verde National Park
The Kiva Descent

 

A view from a kiva
A view from a kiva

 

The pictures below are from the mesa top loop. We visited a few of the more primitive archaeological sites on the loop, and I took some pictures of the canyon and other cliff settlements.

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Square Tower House
Square Tower House

 

Far View Sites Complex
Far View Sites Complex

 

Far View Sites Complex
Far View Sites Complex

Making Thirty-Six Count

Thirty-six…THIRTY-six…THIRTY-SIX…

I’m just getting warmed up.

Things I would like to do before thirty-seven:

Make it to the top of Kings Peak

Run an ‘official’ half-marathon

Train for a full marathon

Log a few overnight hikes

Learn to take better photographs

Photograph stars / star trails in southern Utah

Canoe / kayak / tube / raft somewhere

Take my first international trip

Finish my MBA

Teach an old dog some new tricks

Build a computer

 

A Bittersweet Reunion

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to have a friend, who is also a dog trainer, take Nina to live with him. Nina has moderate-to-severe fear-aggression issues. Practically anything new, whether it’s a person, other animal, or sometimes inanimate object, causes her anxiety. I suspect that she has pain issues that lead to aggression as well.

Sometimes she signals that she is uncomfortable with a situation. Sometimes she doesn’t.

Andrew knows how to handle dogs. He knows Nina. If anyone could have kept her in check, it would have been him. Unfortunately, Nina’s stay in Idaho hasn’t gone well. She regularly has ‘spirited disagreements’ with Andrews dog. She’s snapped on people. She’s lunged at people on walks. Fortunately, none of these instances have been bad, but they could have been.

I’ve done everything I can think of with Nina. She’s had both knees replaced. She takes pain medication. She’s been to a 6 week intensive boot camp to try to solve the problem. It hasn’t.  She might do well in the right home – one that is child free, other animal free, very calm, and in the trust of someone who understands how to deal with fear-aggressive dogs. Someone that good with dogs, but doesn’t have any. Good luck finding that, right?

For the next few weeks, Nina will have to be isolated from other animals when I’m not monitoring her. When she’s interacting with our other animals or anyone other than me, she will have to be muzzled. The margin for error is just too low. It breaks my heart because 9 days out of 10 she is a sweet, sweet dog. It’s that 10th day that causes the issue She’s never attacked me, but I know how to read her and know that she needs space. To me, she’s a sweet dog that has issues. To the world, she is a danger.

I have been an absolute wreck all week long. I know Nina is in pain. I know her fear causes her to lash out. I know that unless managed very carefully, she is a danger to other people and other animals. I have other animals to consider. I hope to one day have children. This is not the environment for Nina. I’m heartbroken over this.

I’m heading out to pick up Nina in just a few minutes. It’s a five and a half hour drive each way. I should be happy to see my sweet Nina again, and part of me will be, but I’m instead dreading what may have to happen next. I’m going to die when I see how excited she is to see me.