Sunday, November 29, 2009

Rocky Mountain National Park

This is the second year in a row that we've taken a hike up to Dream Lake/Lake Haiyaha on Thanksgiving weekend.  Does that make it a tradition?  I'm not big on traditions but I suppose if I have to have one this one isn't so bad.

It looks bleak and cold in the pictures but in reality the sun was out and there were blue skies in places, just not over Hallett Peak.  I didn't even wear mittens and I had to take off my hat for the uphill part.  I took my nicer SLR camera so the pictures came out better than last year.

The trail starts at 9,475' and climbs to 10,240' in 2.1 miles.  We turned around at Lake Haiyaha but you can do a nice long loop if you're up for it.  Unfortunately the trail for the loop is a bit rough even when there's no snow and it looked a bit iffy for not having snowshoes.  The trail we were on was hard snowpack so we only brought the Yax Trax and they were perfect for the conditions.  The hike took about 2 hours including stops for photo shoots and moments of whimsy.

Dream Lake (about a mile from the trailhead, most people stop here)

Hallett Peak

Do I look like I belong in a hiking magazine? A woman from Backpacker magazine stopped us to take photos for the magazine.  The article is about how to use photo editing software to make your photos look nicer, not about hot middle aged women working off their Thanksgiving meals so I guess I won't let it go to my head.  At least for once I wasn't sporting the Crazy Dog Lady look.

View from Lake Haiyaha at 10, 240'.

Proof that there were blue skies


Friday, November 27, 2009

Some Scottish ukulele fun for your Black Friday

For your viewing entertainment-Scottish duo Gus and Fin covering all your favorite tunes on ukuleles.  The Ramones, the Clash, the Cramps, Beck, Kraftwerk, Dick Dale, the Specials, Elton John and the list goes on.  You can check out their You Tube channel and you'll probably find something you like.  I'm warning you though, Jonny and I were up until nearly midnight on Wednesday so maybe don't go there if you have Important Stuff To Do at the moment.  On the other hand this is way more fun than getting trampled to death at Walmart.

In the meantime, I leave you with 'Blitzkrieg Bop' by the Ramones.

Or, a little late for Halloween, Bauhaus' classic 'Bela Lugosi's Dead'.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Not a whole lotta Q's this time around but some nice runs and a fun trial.  Strum did very well as far as his self control issues go and he was running with his brains on which was the main thing I was hoping for.  Lola picked up some much needed Jumpers Q's and a Strategic Time Gamble Q.  I don't enter her in Jumpers that much any more and we'd fallen behind in the number of legs she has.  I wasn't initially planning on shooting for a MEX (DOCNA's big championship title) with her because of the sheer number of legs involved and her starting the venue as a vet on limited runs per day.  But I checked her records and she's closing in on it.  She's got 11/15 Standard legs, 7/10 Jumpers legs and, ahem, 3/10 Gamblers legs.  Not sure if it's doable because of the number of Gamblers legs required, we'll see how it goes.  Her 3 Standard runs were nice but each one had a little glitch here or there.

Strummer only picked up a Strategic Time Gamble Q with a not so very fabulous run.  It's such a stupid class I've decided.  I think I've worked out a way to make it more interesting for me though, maybe some more on that in another post.  His Standard runs had mistakes but they were due to training issues and green dog issues rather than crazy running amok off his head issues.  Joy said he needs more exposure to trials and trial like environments and she's right.  There are 2 drop-in options in indoor arenas for me but I'm watching my funds so we'll see.  I joined a couple of agility clubs so one of the drop-ins is only $4 per run for club members, not too bad, and it's only 20 minutes away at the same venue where the trial was held this past weekend.

His Jumpers runs were so nice but again 1 stupid bar down in each so we're still in Starters Jumpers.  One of his runs came in at 6.66 yps, heh.

Dogwalk contacts were about 50/50, not great.  I think the only A-frame he missed was in the regular Gamblers class because the A-frame was in the gamble and just before the last jump.  It shouldn't matter but apparently it does so we'll have to work that set-up and same for the dogwalk.  I've got some video of both dogs below.  The dogwalk in Standard is interesting, he hesitates on the flat plank just before getting on the down plank and then misses the contact and I've seen him do this in competition before.  It makes me think that he knows he's supposed to do something on that down plank but he's either unsure of what it is or he's not sure how to adjust his stride to make it happen or maybe a little of both.  I've not been able to work on my table/plank set-up in the backyard because that area still has snow but we'll get back to that in the next couple of days when it melts.

If you click on the link for the video it takes you to the Vimeo site and the video screen is larger than watching it on the blog.

Lola video (2 Jumpers runs & Strategic Time Gamble, all Q's):
DOCNA NOV. 2009-LOLA from colliebrains on Vimeo.

Strummer video (2 Jumpers runs, 1 Standard and 1 Strategic Time Gamble):
DOCNA NOV. 2009-STRUMMER from colliebrains on Vimeo.

I put in a slow motion version of his 6.66 yps Jumpers run at the end just because it fit in nicely with the music.

That was our last trial for the year, now it's time to get down to practicing.  Next trial is New Year's weekend, just a few runs with each dog in a USDAA trial.

Monday, November 23, 2009

USDAA Nationals Grand Prix Finals video overlay

Local competitor and instructor Alan Tay posted some great videos of the USDAA Nationals Grand Prix Finals here.  There are individial runs of the top 5 finishers of all height groups as well as Dartfish overlays of the 1-2 finishers and 2-3 finishers.  It's funny, while I was watching the live feed of the finals I was thinking it would be great to see overlays of the runs.  The course map can be seen here.  I was particularly interested in the second half of the course from the #12 tunnel to the end because that was the area with the different handling choices. 

Strummer's instructor, Rob, from last winter's classes was in the Grand Prix Finals and he's convinced that you need running contacts to place but I don't know.  The only place where I saw a dog overtake another dog on the dogwalk was in the 22" class, 1st and 2nd place overlay run and it looked to me like both dogs had stopped contacts that were quick released.  I could be wrong though, if anyone knows those dogs (Juice/Rider) you can set the record straight.  Looked like all the other 1-2 placing dogs had running contacts so it's hard to compare and I suppose maybe that says it all right there but I don't know, could be coincidence.  They certainly help if you have a weak spot somewhere else on the course but do they win the class or place you in the top 5?  I don't know.  If I had a fast dog with nice, fast, safe reliable 2 on/2 off contacts I wouldn't retrain a running contact, even if I was gunning for a spot on the podium at Nationals.  But if I had a new puppy-I don't know, I'd probably shoot for the running but mostly because I think they're way more fun.  My prediction is that we're going to see more running contacts, at least at USDAA Nationals where speed in the finals is so important.

If anybody else has some thoughts from watching the videos please feel free to post.  And huge thanks to Alan for putting these runs together.  It must have taken a lot of work.

I'll have a report on my DOCNA trial later once I get my video put together.

Friday, November 20, 2009

DOCNA trial this weekend

Did somebody say agility?

 I shall dominate the 20" Vet class.

Shhh, nobody tell her she's the only one in the 20" Vet class.

I'm entered in a million classes and the trial is full so it's going to be some long days.  DOCNA has a lot of classes.  Too many classes.  Why did I enter so many?  And I didn't even enter them all.  But it's not like I have to get up early for work on Monday so what the hey.

It's Strum's first shot at the Intern or Advanced classes so we'll see how that goes.  I didn't realize he'd gotten his Strategic Time Gamblers title at the last trial and I'd already emailed the trial secretary to move him up in Standard.  Had to email her again to move him up in Strategic Time Gamblers then realized that I think I can move him up in Traditional Gamblers too even though he has only one leg because DOCNA combines Gamblers classes for your Gamblers title, doesn't matter which class they come from.  But I was too embarrassed to email the secretary a third time and I figure with only one Q he's probably not ready to move up anyway.  I also realized he needs only 1 Jumpers leg to get out of Beginners so hopefully we can pick that up in the first Jumpers class so we don't have to hang around until who knows when for the second one at the end of the day.  I remember running at 7:30 p.m. or so last year.  Ridiculous to think he's still in Baby Jumpers but he keeps knocking one bar.  Argh.

I'm feeling more confident about his contacts for this trial.  I shouldn't say that because now they'll be a disaster but he was so good last trial and he's been doing well at the practice field, nearly 100% on the dogwalk and I think 100% on the A-frame.  I don't do many A-frames and I don't typically practice them on their own so I don't keep proper records of them but I can't remember him missing any lately and he was perfect at his last trial.  Weaves are still a work in progress.  Still not getting those 2x2's at the practice field.  I've got an idea of what to try next but that doesn't help me for tomorrow.  The goal as always is to work on him keeping his head and the same for me.  If we can both keep our brains in focus the agility will follow.  I'm also focusing on my handling, in particular my deceleration cues.  Joy was helping me with this the other day and in my rush to keep up I sometimes forget to slow down where I need to.  Going to try to keep the flailing arm under control too.

Lola will give me whatever Lola feels like giving me and that's fine.  I signed her up for probably too many runs and I may need to pull her, we'll see how she's feeling.  I love running her in DOCNA so I'm looking forward to her runs.

The trial is only 20 minutes away so I can sleep in a bit which will make the long days not so terrible.  Should be nice weather so I can crate outside, at least until the sun goes down and it gets too cold, so Strum will have a chance to relax in the car and his brain will stay in his head.  At least that's the fantasy I'm laboring under.

On a totally different subject here's a video of a guy who's got some crazy mad dog training skilz.  Riding his bike through town and on urban biking/hiking trails with 16 dogs in tow.  I told Jonny we need to get 13 more so I could try this out and he thought that was a fabulous idea.  I'm a little concerned though that this guy isn't carrying any poop bags.  Unless he's also taught them not to poop out on their rides in which case he surely is a dog training genius.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Who else geeked out and watched the Steeplechase/Speed Jumping Finals?

I'm not sure how I come to the point in my life where I spend my Saturday night in front of a computer watching dogs run around an arena but there you go.  I totally get how people like to be there in the stands-the noise and excitement of the crowd cheering, the loud music, the drunken revelry.  It's like the difference between going to see a band live and watching a concert on DVD, believe me, I get it.  But I guess I'm old and cranky because for me it was a huge luxury to sit in my fuzzy slippers and watch from the comfort of home.  Somehow I was less bored than when I was actually there in the stands.  Go figure.  My only complaint was the appalling camera work.  It was zoomed in too close to get a good feeling for the handling and the switch between the different camera angles was jarring and unnecessary.  They did this when they used to show it on t.v. and I can understand why because the average t.v. viewer wants to see the dog.  But I'm supposing most people watching the live feed last night were agility geeks with a different agenda.  Anyway, it was free so I guess I shouldn't look that gift horse too much in the mouth. 

I didn't know very many people running so it was hard to get too excited about the competition aspect of it but it was interesting to see how the different handling options panned out.  I loved seeing the mix win and the other mix come in second and the dude with the Malinois winning the 26" Champ. class.   But the highlight for me was the interview with the junior handler who won the ridiculously competitive 22" Champ. class.  The announcer was asking her about her win and she said something to the effect of it's all about getting out there and having fun with your dog.  It was great to see someone that age competing at the level who gets it.

Watching all that high level competition is inspiring but also a bit depressing.  It feels like I have so far to go and I'm progressing at a snail's pace.  Strum's last couple of lessons have had me feeling like I'm beating my head against the wall.  On the other hand it's good that I'm being challenged.  No point paying for lessons and I do everything right and never learn anything.  But it feels like the list of things to learn is long and I'm at a frustrating platueau in both my training and handling.

On the other hand I took Lola out to the field the other day for a rare practice session.  It was in the low 30's, cloudy with a storm blowing in-perfect agility weather for my dogs-and she was fiesty and full of herself.  She flew around that course hitting all her weaves and contacts, following my every move like the awesome little girly that she is, running with a pure joy that she saves for those times when it's just me and her alone at the field.  It was one of those perfect agility days where I know exactly why it is I love the sport.

Then I went back the next day and tried running Strummer on the same course and I'm in a good mood right now so we won't talk about how that went.  My kingdom for some younger legs and faster reflexes.

This week we had 60's-70's shorts weather, today we have snow.  Biking weather to skiing weather in 24 hours.  But the sun is shining now and the snow is beautiful so I'm going to throw on a fleece and burn off some of Strummer's boundless energy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Race Across the Sky: Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race movie

I went to see this movie last night primarily because Jonny wanted to go.  I had a vague idea that it was about the Leadville 100, wasn't even sure if it was the mountain bike race or the running race.  'It's got lots a beautiful footage of the mountains around Leadville', was all Jonny told me.  I agreed to go because he was excited about it and I didn't put any more thought into it.  And here's where paying attention may have paid off because the last thing I was expecting was 90 minutes of a Lance Armstrong Love Fest.  Ugh, Lance Armstrong, I am not a fan.  That's putting it politely.  Listening to his arrogant blowhard yammering is like extra long creepy vampire fingernails screeching on a blackboard.  I had no idea he'd done Leadville this past summer.  I also had no idea that the bulk of the movie would involve following him and the other top contenders through the race.  I'm also not a fan of watching other people racing or listening to pro racers talk about racing.  Especially 100 mile long bike races that last 7-12 hours with panel discussions with the racers before and after the movie.  It was a long night.  The theater was packed though and there were people outside hoping to buy tickets so I assume it sold out.  I guess this sort of thing appeals to somebody.

There were some good bits to the movie like the scenery.  It was interesting to see the course.  Jonny raced it back in 1995 and 1996 and all this time he's been telling me that it's not a technical course and all this time I've not believed him.  But it turns out it's mostly dirt roads and wide dirt trails with little technical challenge.  It's not to say the race isn't hard.  Leadville sits at 10,200 feet and the race is 100 miles long with a total of 14,000 feet of climbing with some of the climbs going above 11,000 and 12,000 feet, well above treeline.  There's a 4 hour cut-off at the 40 mile mark and if you don't finish in under 12 hours you're not considered an official finisher and don't get your finisher's medal.  So yes, if you finish this race you are entitled to some major bragging rights.  But I can see why the lack of technical challenge makes this race appealing to the likes of Lance Armstrong because he does not have pro level mountain bike skills.  Way back in the day there was a real mountain bike stage race up in Steamboat Springs, 4 days I think.  Lance Armstrong entered it and talked a lot of smack then ended up pulling out after 2 days or so, tail between his legs.  Watching him fall repeatedly and endo into a creek was probably one of the funniest things I've ever witnessed on a t.v. sports program.  Anyway, Leadville suits him perfectly because in addition to the lack of mountain biking skills involved there are long flat stretches where he can employ his road biking tactics and sit on everyone else's wheel and let them pull him along while never doing any work himself, saving his energy for his eventual breakaway just like he does in the Tour de France.  Which is unfortunate because that sort of thing is the antithesis of mountain biking and so boring to watch.  But I digress.

Another highlight of the movie was watching Lance struggling to fix a flat.  He didn't even appear to know how to use a CO2 cartridge.  Hilarious.  Of course there is no team support car following him around to fix his flats for him because, hello, this is not the Tour de France.  He ended up riding the last 7 miles on a flat tire which normally I would consider pretty punk rock but because it's the result of not being able to fix a flat I'd call that just plain sad.

The race does have a lot of interesting stories and the movie would have been more compelling if it had focused more on the normal people and less on the pros/Lance.  They did show a small bit of footage of the regular folk, in particular at the 4 hour/40 mile cutoff.  Some people were thankful to have their misery ended for them while others, like the old guy who'd recently had both knees replaced and trained his butt off to be able to finish the race, burst into tears.  I went up there one year to cheer Jonny on and I have a good story or 2 of things I saw .  My friend and I ended up directing traffic at a race intersection because the fireman had to leave to help somebody on a tandem who was probably having a heart attack.  Then the guy who had ridden back to tell the fireman about the fallen cyclist burst into tears because he was going to miss his finisher's time.  And if you want to see the definition of self-inflicted human misery then go stand at the 85 mile mark.  Try cheering on the racers, they're so miserable that they're not shy about telling you where to go.  Very few happy, loving life smiles at the 85 mile mark.  A few, but not many.

So I guess in summary if you're a Lance Armstrong fan you'll love this movie.  If you're a fan of the average endurance athlete who does not have the advantage of endless training time and performance enhancing drugs then maybe it's not so inspiring or interesting.  At least it wasn't to me.

I heard the movie crowd in Orange County was booing Lance when he came on the screen.  Then some soccer mom who didn't have a clue (thought Lance had won the race 8 times) started yelling at them.  Now that would have been an entertaining evening.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A cautionary tale as we head into winter

This was a new one on me and of course it happened to Cody.  You know that old yarn about the kid licking the flagpole on the cold snowy day and getting his tongue stuck?  Well, somehow Cody managed to get that ball in the photo frozen to his tongue while we were playing in the snow storm 2 weeks ago.  If I was a different sort of person I would have laughed and run for the camera but instead I had a minor panic attack and rushed him into the warmth of the house where the ball fell loose from his tongue in a matter of seconds.  Phew.  But I had to wonder how that story would have ended had we been miles from home or the car at a park or on a trail.  It wasn't even that cold, maybe 30 degrees, and we'd been playing 15 minutes or so.  Now the dogs have been playing with toys in the snow all their lives and Cody is over 11 so I'm putting this down to a freak occurrence but still it's something to think about and I don't think I'll let them have toys for very long in the snow when we're far from a heat source.

In other news I got a call from a recruiter yesterday about an actual job in my actual field which was somewhat shocking and I have to admit to a fair degree of skepticism about a company that resorts to a recruiter for that sort of a job in this economy.  But anyway, after sending the recruiter the normal barrage of reference letters and resume she emailed me back wanting a 2-3 sentence summary of my experience, a couple of  'sizzle statements'.  Anybody out there know how to make a career in Structural Engineering sound 'sizzling'?  Oh the indignity of my life.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Career Opportunities

The ones that never knock? One of the things they suggest you do if you're looking for a job is to blog about your job search. But how do you do that and not cause your readers to want to gouge their eyes out? Unless your readers are only made up of other people looking for jobs and then it turns into a big misery fest. So after today I'm not going to write very much about the job search. There's not much to write about anyway because there simply is no work in my field. While unemployment in Colorado is something over 7% it's more like 16-17% in the construction industry. If you factor out the stimulus/infrastructure projects which don't help me it's probably way worse. I can't hang out a shingle and start my own business because here's the stupid thing about my profession, it's loaded with liability and you don't get paid very well. I can't just take on casual side work, I need liability insurance and I also need to form some sort of corporation to protect my personal assets, such as they are. The cost of the insurance is huge and the fees I can collect on the few small projects that may be available would probably barely cover it. And if I start a corporation then I lose my unemployment and there isn't enough work out there for me to start a business right now, at least not in engineering. Now if I want to go to the Middle East or some war torn place there are plenty of opportunities. Riyadh, Dubai, Afghanistan anyone? They're all booming. I even saw a job in Antarctica working for Raytheon. Can it get any dreamier? I'll bet I could get a house for cheap in Kabol though.

So for now I've come to terms with the notion that I may need to abandon my profession, at least for the next few years if not forever. Hard to let go of 20 years of education and experience but no point in clinging to a dead profession. I'm still looking and applying for things, you never know what sort of opportunity may present itself but I can't sit around waiting for the unemployment to run out. My plan for now is to see if I can take on some pet dog training clients. Not sure what sort of market there is for people who want private training in their homes or on the trails but I can only take on 2 clients per week and still keep my unemployment anyway so it's worth a shot and gives me something productive to do other than hobbies to keep my sanity. If it turns out there's a decent market and I can build up a client base then maybe I turn into a dog trainer for a living. I don't like the idea of hobbies for a job but it's a skill I have and I really enjoy teaching so I guess I give it a go and see what happens. The nice thing about it is that I don't need to go back to school or get any sort of certification. I've looked into it and there are some certifications you can get but I'm not sure they mean anything to the average pet owner. They all look pretty Mickey Mouse anyway except for maybe the CPDT-KA and I'm supposing that if I can pass the licensing exam to be a Professional Engineer that I can pass the dog training exam without busting my brains too heavily. The sample exam they gave on the website was pretty easy anyway. I've substitute taught pet dog training for a friend when she couldn't make her class and she wanted me to take the class over for her permanently but at the time I was too busy. I've also taught math/science on a volunteer basis to people trying to get their GED and that went really well so at least I know I like teaching and I can do it. There's always a learning curve when taking on something like this but I don't feel like the idea is too far-fetched and at this point I have nothing to lose.

I should be back to blogging more regularly. I was surprisingly busy this past month and the trip to Chicago threw a monkey wrench into what little of a schedule that I'd developed for myself. Even the poor dogs have been neglected but we're getting back on track with their exercise/training schedule. They say that looking for a job is a full time job in itself and this is certainly true. The internet and all the information that it makes available is a double-edged sword. And some of those online job applications, especially through the federal government, can take 2 hours to fill out. I've had a few that wanted not only month and year but the actual day for date of employment, degrees, etc. Crazy. Who keeps track of the specific day they were hired for a job 20 years ago? And you want to know how many semester hours I completed for my Bachelor's Degree and my GPA? Really? I've got 20 years of experience, a Master's Degree, a Professional Engineering license and you still need to know the driver's license number of the boy who took me to prom in high school? I wonder what happens in a good economy when any good candidate with half a brain takes a look at these applications and says who wants to work for a place this screwed up? But such is not my luxury now so I've spent the required hours to gather all the goofy information and answer the pages and pages and hours of questions. But I've got a system more or less dialed in now and these things are taking less time so I should be back to the blogging and training.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A small tour of Chicago

I don't usually take pictures of the city during my trips home. For one thing I have a lot of photos that I took back in the day when I lived there. They're film of course and maybe one of these days I'll scan them and share them here but yeah probably not, mostly because I'm not so sure there's anybody interested in them. Anyway, I took a few photos this time around with the point and shoot. I can't go very far from my grandmother's suburban house these days because the main point of my trip is to visit her. But I did manage a trip into the city to my favorite Mexican restaurant, Tecalitlan.

It's on Chicago Ave. between Ashland and Damen and if you're ever visiting Chicago or you live there then you should go. But shhh, don't tell my grandmother I parked her car in that neighborhood. It's not exactly the 'hood, well o.k., maybe a little bit of a dumpy area but it's not that bad and I've never had a problem except for that one time and really nothing bad happened in the end. And if you happen to do a google search and see the thing about the health inspection closure do not fear, they passed their inspection a couple weeks later. Now it is probably even safer to eat there. At least that's what I tell myself.

You can look up at the ceiling and enjoy these views while you're stuffing your face with the world's largest, bestest avocado burrito. If your friend who you haven't seen in months is lucky you'll come up for air every once in a while and ask him what he's been up to. If you're really lucky your friend will be an architect and he'll offer you some work. Now if only Santa will bring me some liability insurance.

The iconic Alcala's Western Wear is across the street and down the block a bit. I'm not sure who wears Western Wear in Chicago but if you're in need of a cowboy hat and chaps this is your place. O.k., maybe I have seen guys in Chicago wearing a cowboy hat and chaps but that's a different neighborhood. It was dark for the photos, thank you Daylight Savings Time.

The lakefront path in Evanston/Northwestern University is only 15 minutes or so away so I go there often on my trips to Wilmette. It's a great place to walk and clear my head and maybe stop at the dog beach for some doggy therapy.

Chicago skyline from the south point at Northwestern University.

Sometimes it's hard to explain the vastness of Lake Michigan to people who've never been there. It may as well be an ocean.

Grosse Point Lighthouse. I'm sure I've been in it and you can go in it too if that kind of thing floats your boat.

I like this shot because to the right you can see the top of the Baha'i Temple in Wilmette peeking up above the trees and the lighthouse to the left. There are only 7 Baha'i Temples in the world and they're all different. Kind of weird that one of them is in my hometown. It's a beautiful, amazing place, one of these days I'll post some pictures of it. Here's a link to a video showing some nice shots of it in the meantime. What did we ever do before Youtube?

That's all I got for now. Maybe one of these years I'll post some of my old photos or even go into the city and take some new ones.

I'm home now, so so happy to be home. You should have seen the greeting I got, especially from Strummer. I thought the poor guy's brain was going to explode.