Archives for February 2012

Happy Snow Dog

I know I promised a proper post1, but I’m still in pain and anyway this seemed more fun to share with you:

  1. I will make good on the posting thing, but aside from the actual difficulty of typing out a post because of the pain I’m also waiting to be out of the limbo state I’m in before I detail it out. Thanks much to everyone for the comment love on my last post. Sorry I didn’t respond to everyone. (I’ll get to it at some point along with the other bazillion things I’m behind on.)

An Update!

I’m posting! This is worthy of mention because I’ve sort of not been doing that. But since no one ever comments on blogs anymore unless it’s someone popular or famous I wouldn’t know if anyone actually cared. I miss when people commented, but I admit I am guilty of the read-and-move-on thing, though I try not to be. However, that new fad where people just reply via Twitter or some other social network will never be one I’ll take up. (It’s a pet peeve of mine, if I wasn’t being blunt enough for you.)

I would blame the not really posting on the burnout from a year of daily posting, which is fair as I haven’t even wanted to read blogs since that’s been completed but I’ll get to that in a bit. I could also blame the not posting on having my time taken up by the massive amount of schoolwork being thrust upon me, but I haven’t been procrastinating on my work and it’s been quite manageable. Okay, I’ve procrastinated a little, but I’ve been surprisingly productive aside from that.

No, actually my lack of presence has been less amusing and completely out of my control. You might recall a brief mention of my ongoing pain issues that stemmed from a stiff neck. Well, that was three weeks ago and I’m still basically in agony and it’s not exclusive to my neck. As it is my hands are really bothering me and it is difficult to type, so I’ll save the meat of all the pain stuff for another post. I’m just slightly better after visiting a chiropractor yesterday, so while I may not necessarily be on the mend I’m hoping things will become more manageable and I can sit at my computer without wanting to sob piteously.

Anyway, my literal non-presence has left me quite a backlog of Internet-related things to catch up on. I am not even going to pretend that I will read all forty bajillion updates that everyone I follow has had. But it does seem that while I was ignoring all the goings-on everyone was suddenly bitten by the blogging bug and started updating more frequently (or, in some cases, period) and at least half of those people have relocated their web-presence. I just went through my sidebar and got rid of all the dead links and updated anyone with a new link, but that is merely a fraction of my RSS reader.

My back and hands are letting me know that I need to be finishing this up.

“Oh, Internet”

MyHarto says: “This began as my Anti-SOPA song…but turned into so much more…” It’s beyond awesome, if you ask me.

Online Courses

Nearly all of my post-undergraduate work has been in the form of online courses. This is by necessity as I do not live close enough to any school with the degree program I’m pursuing and I’ve used up any reserve ability to relocate at least two moves ago. In other words, it’s not by choice because I have a few issues with the setup of online courses and in the simplest words you might say “I don’t like them.” This isn’t exactly a warning, though you’re welcome to take it as such, but rather I’m feeling an urgent desire to vent.

I despise busywork. I don’t mind doing work. Even a lot of work doesn’t faze me. But if that work does not actively teach me something or showcase my own understanding of the course material then I find little point in doing it. Unfortunately, the foundation of almost any online course is discussion posts. The idea is that these “discussions” are the equivalent of what happens in a real classroom situation. This is misleading because (a.) this assumes that not only does every physical class have discussions but that every student participates equally in them and (b.) there isn’t any actual talking in discussion posts.

Taking each point individually, first even in the classes where discussions occurred they were never the foundation of my learning experience. Possibly this is because I could usually be found tucked away in a back corner (with the pretext of keeping my guide dog safe from being trod upon) where I very pointedly tried to not draw attention to myself. Even when classroom participation was necessary by design, such as Sign Language, I mostly found it embarrassing to be singled out. Furthermore, I can assure you that a good number of my undergraduate classes were little more than the professor standing at the front of the room, droning on. I took a course once where the prof actually read the textbook to us each class. (I am not joking.) So, the assumption that writing an answer to a posed question and/or replying to another student’s answer is the same is patently wrong.

Which brings me to my other point. Discussion posts in an online class are little more than further mandatory reading in what is already a very text-laden environment. Generally they take the form of a question, which doesn’t merely require a response but a “high quality” answer. I don’t know why, but every professor emphasizes the need for this — generally with caps — because without fail 95% of the class doesn’t bother with following this demand. “High quality” here means that the answer should be a critical response that is thorough, well-written, and above all else is properly cited. That means that you need to dig through the class materials (e.g., the textbook) to find the answer and then go find an outside source to back up your own words. (I must have missed those days when I had to have a journal article handy in a physical classroom.) But your grade is also dependent on replying to other students’ responses with an equally critical response as your own answer. I find this to be the most trying aspect of any online class because, as I said, only 5% of your fellow classmates actually bother to follow the instructions. Unfortunately, merely following directions does not make them intelligent and you’re likely to find that they have supplied the most illogical conclusion imaginable to the question. So, finding an answer that you can reply to that will assure you receive credit can be not only time consuming but a major test of your personal zen. What little amount discussions serve to showcase your understanding of the material to the professor is overwhelmed with the chore of teaching your fellow classmates without insulting them.

The fundamental issue with online classes is that I find they boil down to this: the instructor posts his/her notes, gives various assignments to complete and some exams to take. That is not teaching. At best that is facilitating my own learning. Even when the instructor is present and participating in the learning environment by giving timely feedback and encouraging “discussions” the student is still the driving force in this method of learning. More often than not in my experience the instructor does not do this and I’m left wondering why I can’t just CLEP my way through my degree.

Along with these inescapable constants, I also have a recurring issue with online courses that I’ve never dealt with in a physical class: grading without recourse. By that I mean the professor gives absolutely no wiggle room with grading — and any grade given is final. Under the best circumstances I find this type of grading unfair. In my experience this revelation is usually sprung upon the students — it’s not in the syllabus but noted after the first wave of assignments/tests/etc. are graded. I’m not a fan of pass/fail grading systems nor do I like not having a means to debate the worth of my work, but I can respect a professor’s use of such methods if s/he is upfront about it from the beginning. I know what to expect then and I can prepare myself accordingly (read: set myself up for the bitter disappointment of not getting my A). When the announcement is an afterthought, it puts me in a vulnerable position within the class because now every point has become that much more valuable. This is even more of a problem if the professor is also one that does not grade things in a timely manner and/or eschews providing feedback.

Also, if you couldn’t tell, online classes make me incredibly passive-aggressive.

Cottleston Pie

Initially, I set out to write this incredibly serious post about public image and the burden it can present as a guide dog team and I had what you might call writer’s block. I knew where the issue stemmed from and all the points I wanted to highlight and yet I couldn’t get much written beyond the title and a paragraph that I wrote and erased more times than I care to admit. Eventually I decided distance would be beneficial and I promptly began procrastinating on the post for something like a month. This worked out beautifully because when I returned to the post I immediately knew what the issue was: I’m partnered with Uschi now and this is not the issue I think of most readily with her. So, this is not a post about public image, which I may well write one of these days but at present there are 100 other draft posts that are vying for that same opportunity. This is a post about Winnie-the-Pooh.

Portrait of Uschi and me on a white background; Uschi standing on her head in front of meOkay, no it’s not. Though, the title is a reference to A.A. Milne’s character. (Albeit I generally think of The Muppet Show as Rowlf is quite famous for singing it.) Rather this is about how Uschi is not anything remotely close to serious and is far more often times the living embodiment of a “fluffy brain.” If Uschi had a theme song, it would be “Cottleston Pie.” (Mine, if you’re curious, is probably the “Cupcake Song.”) Now let me assure you, she does have quite a lot of brain and I’m almost entirely certain she is not full of stuffing. Nevertheless she has moments where I sincerely debate these things as fact. For visual proof, please note the photographs in this post. They are some of my most favorite shots of her because of how adequately they showcase my goofy partner.

In controlled situations I truly do not mind the fact that my guide dog is less a working assistance dog and more closely resembles the Nutty Professor. And by “controlled” I mean any time I am not working with her in public, entertaining house guests, or trying to get anything that could be loosely categorized as productive done. I’m highly amused by her. I was quite adamant when I retired my previous guide dog that I wanted the school to provide me with her duplicate sans health issues. I’m just as positive that they thought I said this with tongue firmly in cheek and what I actually meant was “I want a dog who can keep pace with me, but is small in stature so as not to overpower me and has personality to spare.” So, that’s what I got.

I’ve seen a fair few handlers that have mellow dogs and most of them seem quite happy with this. Call me a snob if you will, but I don’t get the appeal of mellow dogs. I don’t really know why, but for want of words to fill out this post I’ll postulate that it stems from my childhood. We always had at least one pet dog while I was growing up. Unfortunately, most of those were senior citizens and excepting when they were either actively working at creating awesome amounts of poop or physically generating said poop they were little more than furry space heaters. Don’t get me wrong, I loved them to bits, but they were not Frisbee catchers or ball chasers or known for trying to stand on their heads. And if any of them were, I was too young at the time to commit this to memory.

Uschi is also a space heater, but that’s the only similarity with my childhood pets. Even in this she separates herself from the pack because her heat output is such that I’m convinced only the fires of Hades can outperform her. At 70 pounds, she’s a tiny thing as shepherds go and like all things that are packaged in a small way she is inherently good. To Uschi, or so my theory goes, “good” means “excessive amounts of energy” which when witnessed is quite impossible to differentiate from what most functioning brains would define as “crazy.” Sometimes this is exhibited by trotting around the house in a very convincing imitation of a dressage horse. Other times she’ll eschew such formality and instead use the length of my house as a racetrack. My personal favorite is when she is so bursting with excitement that she is only capable of processing that she’s very thirsty and so she flits about the house dribbling the entire contents of her water bowl.

Literally and without a drop of hyperbole, she has the most pronounced difference in demeanor when in and out of harness of any guide dog. Not just my girls, but of any guide I have ever known in my entire life. It’s been a year now and I still find myself shocked and amazed that this wild child of a dog actually has the ability to focus and be calm and, you know, work as a guide dog. Oh, and it’s worth stressing this fact: she’s an excellent guide.

Except for when she’s not.

Uschi on a brown background rolling around on her backThree guesses when that is — and the first two don’t count. Right. That whole “crazy” thing. You see sometimes she just can’t help herself and that goofy personality just slips out. Thankfully, a good number of these times have been situations where I’m mostly embarrassed in front of a friend or family member, like when instead of just getting into my friend’s car she literally hurled herself across me and into his lap! More concerning is when her “fluffy brain” turns the most random things into nothing short of intense distraction. Yesterday for instance she spent no less than five minutes completely entranced by one of the garbage cans in my driveway. She actually lunged at it — and very nearly sent me into cardiac arrest because I had no clue what she was reacting to at first. Granted that’s a random example even for her, but sometimes I swear she’s having an incredibly vivid hallucination while she’s supposed to be, well, guiding me. So far this hasn’t caused me anything but temporary confusion at why we’ve stopped for no reason other than for my partner to sit down and observe some elusive thing only she can see. I almost would prefer her wild and intermittent animal distraction. Actually, no. This is at least mildly entertaining and that day in the park was so very not. I used to say that Dolly had a “fifteen minute or two block rule” that was basically her version of needing a cup of coffee in the morning; she needed those minutes or that length of a walk to actually wake up enough to realize she was not asleep and really working. Uschi, on the other hand, is like a three-year-old in her own imaginary play land and sometimes she forgets that the play land is in her mind and it takes over completely. Last year I used that same description save for that she was a two-year-old . . . I’m not sure how long I can justify her childlike (mis)behavior based on age alone. Especially since I don’t think her actual age has anything whatsoever to do with the inner-workings of her stuffing-filled brain. If I had to give a reason, I would say that while her brain may not actually be full of stuff and fluff, it has a specific capacity to hold information that is only rivaled by its ability to be completely overwhelmed by, for lack of a better word, fun. Essentially, she gets carried away with herself and no amount of discipline and obedience is able to fully overcome it.

Let me assuage your fears: her bouts of absentmindedness during work are infrequent. Though, I’m torn between mind-numbing paranoia that one day she’ll fully commit to her Mr. Hyde side and havoc beyond imagining will ensue. However, she is not only almost always spot on when in harness, but she’s shown an amazing ability to stay on her job when other crazy things have happened, like a cat spazzing out on her in a bookstore. So, while the potential exists that she’s going to royally embarrass me in front of more than a few close friends, I’m not wary of her ability to keep me safe even if she is possibly certifiable. Also, and I can’t stress this enough, she proves on a daily basis to be tons more entertaining than my television was all of last year.

This post was written as part of the sixth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. This edition’s theme is “Obstacles” and further information can be found here on the founder’s blog.