Saturday, August 27, 2016

shape categorization is hard.

The whole house has been reading the Temeraire novels by Naomi Novik, and they're quite consistently delightful: the world is one where the Napoleonic Wars are underway, but everyone has air forces made of dragons. I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around the size of the big dragons, though, which are sort of...mansion-sized.

I've been working with Leela on her ridiculous Cujo Mode she gets when she's on leash now. I'm glad we got a couple months' grace, and now the technique is to train her so the command Watch turns her attention to me--reinforced with chicken hot dog, which is a serious escalation in treat awesomeness--then when she alerts and starts heading toward Cujo Mode, I interrupt her as early as possible with Watch and hot dog slices, and eventually she makes the connections, and when she starts to alert, she looks at me instead. This has started happening, which makes walks less stressful.

I've been observing her responses to cats more carefully. She's essentially non-reactive to cats that are seated or lying down: sometimes curious, sometimes not, but low-energy regardless. We know that she's compelled to go grab hold of anything with a tail (I folded up a cardboard rat once to experiment with this). I finally noticed that she only gets amped up and tries to chase after a cat that is standing or walking. And she met a live pet rat once and found it pretty confusing. So the question is:

Does my dog's bred-for-work little brain think that cats up on all four feet are just really big rodents?

Monday, August 22, 2016

the wheel of the year.

I'm a few weeks back at work now, after a long medical leave. We got Leela on my first day away, so I've been sitting in my home office, having a pretty good transition back, but generally skeptical of this thing where I work all day instead of napping with my dog and taking her places on off-leash walks.

Work is quite a bit better; my old manager left right before I came back, and the new one is wiser, and as a result I am learning stuff again, which is fabulous. About half of it is stuff I want to know, even.

There's a concept in organizations called the Peter Principle. I first encountered this as a kid, where it was listed as "a person rises to the level of their incompetence," which never made any sense to me; but books and the Internet have since explained it. It suffers from imprecise language, even as English goes, and would be better phrased as "a person rises just past the level of their competence." Someone does a sequence of jobs well, or well enough to get by, until finally they get promoted to a role where they cannot perform well at all. No one wants to take responsibility for promoting the wrong person, especially if everyone involved is white men, so a person can just flounder along for years and years, in a job they have no hope of succeeding at. This is how good engineers wind up as bad executives.

I've been cranking away at some fantastic fiction books, but I've had a much harder time finding narrative non-fiction that holds my interest. I ended up with an overflow of emotionally-demanding psychology books, plus the ongoing projects A People's History of the United States and Anti-Intellectualism In American Life. Cubed and NeuroTribes are fine books, but they're not holding my attention quite fully. I started re-reading The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000 and I plan to finish it this time, but it's a bit more academic, though nothing like The Horse, the Wheel, and Language.

Things change, other things change more slowly. That's one of our functions as parents, maybe: the children change so fast that they can't see us changing more slowly, and that's close enough to real that we can be stable references points for them to stumble blindly into, forget about entirely, hang clothing on, or use for support, depending on the moment.

Thursday, August 4, 2016


[This is an old post from Chile, and I don't know why I never published it. Looks like I started writing it on August 25, 2010.]

Occasionally a student gets a little huffy that I don't remember her name. (It's always a girl, I assume because I'm a cute guy and being huffy is what 15-year old girls do. Anna says it's because they all have crushes on me.) They also complain that I have an easier time remembering the boys. I explain that not only do I have 270 students, who I see an hour a week or less, but there are fewer boys (about 5:1 in my classes), and they have a wider variety of names. Most of my girls (black hair and dark brown eyes, with a handful of exceptions) are named:


Karina (3 in one class)
Camila (4 in one class)

Javiera (3 in one class)

María José
María Paz





And Helen and Hellen get annoyed when I pronounce their names wrong.

Monday, August 1, 2016

back on the farm

We're just back from a week with my parents on Cape Cod. I've been lucky to have been going there my whole life, and it's interesting to see it from other perspectives that don't have decades of memories behind them. We rented our own place, and the rental agency wanted to give me piles of tourist literature. We always used to have it around when I was a kid, because when it's pouring rain out and you have 3 young children in a small 2-bedroom cottage with no privacy and no Internet--what's up, 1985?--you want a comprehensive list of every straw you can desperately grasp at. So we went several times to Sealand of Cape Cod, which I thought I might have glimpsed in the damning documentary Blackfish, though I don't think they kept orcas. We did see dolphins, seals, and sea lions every year, though I found the latter two indistinguishable until I moved to California, which, elephant seals notwithstanding, is mostly sea lions.

The niece I'm used to thinking of as "my younger niece" is now almost 14, and since her title was taken nearly 6 years ago, I may re-brand her as "Brunhilde," which I'm sure she'll find hilarious once she learns who Brunhilde is. She definitely will not roll her eyes yet again and text "omg Uncle Chris is so weird" to my wife.

(Funny enough, she does have a living-memory ancestor named "Borghild." Great-great-aunt, I think.)

It's summer, which means even more things are growing. Oranges ripen in winter, which I never bothered to learn until I had an orange tree, but the rest of the food on the estate comes in summer. (Even in California, at sea level apple season is not in August.) I can't really tell you when pomegranates are ripe, because we can't figure it out, and anyway the opossums eat them.

Anna fertilized and calculated proper watering for everything, and I worked the irrigation system and the compost bin.
  • Both peach trees, the big gnarled one out back and the spunky little gnarled one on the driveway that seems like it should be dead, put out a wealth of fruit this year. Per Anna's suggestion, we stripped them both, and dried most of it. It turns out that peaches are mostly water and maybe 15 pounds of whole fruit became a few pounds of dried fruit. It's now a long way toward all gone.
    • The opossums when gonzo on the peaches, and good for them. Pretty funny to pick lots of good-looking peaches only to discover the skyward-facing half has been eaten out.
  • The plum tree took the year off again, but has very kindly continued leafing and providing shade.
  • The pluot is our real success story, with pounds and pounds of amazing fruit that is easily twice the size of our first year, and better tasting. 
    • It's still too much of a pain in the ass to process and save, though: it's very hard to separate the flesh from either the skin or the pit. (I have blanched, X-ed, cold-watered, warm-watered, pared, and food-milled in every combination. It all sucks.)
    • I'm not too sorry we can't save them, because I did get some dried last year, but the raw fruit is already so sweet that the concentrated sugar of the dried stuff literally hurt my teeth.
  • The apple tree is going gangbusters, but in addition to the normal variability of a tree's fruit year to year, the opossums like it, so.
  • Anna pruned the fig tree heavily, and in response it is...bigger than it's ever been. Possibly not with more figs, but Figpocalypse 2016 is gonna be a thing and you will hear about it.
    • (I have not finished the dried whole figs from last year, though I have some prosciutto ready to help me out.)
My garage may be held together by inertia and termite excrement, but the trees are all good!