Monday, December 30, 2013

The Shadowing Gig

As my studying frenzy for finals was winding down, I sent an email to a specialist vet that I had met earlier in the year. She wasn't able to take on a shadow when I met her, but I figured with the three-week winter break coming up, my schedule was more flexible, and perhaps hers was now as well. She was very pleased to have me join her and her techs!

Her practice is located outside of Eugene, about 45 miles south of where I am in Oregon. I've been driving down there as often as practical and spending the day at her practice. I have friends who commute far more than an hour each way every day so I can hardly whine about this small investment of time and gas. I in fact view it as an investment, one that is necessary for my vet school applications.

The vet has been extremely kind, allowing me to follow them into exam rooms and to observe procedures. She introduces me to every single client, hardly necessary but a demonstration of how professional she is, and she even invites me to feel lumps and look under the scope when there is something particularly unusual or interesting to feel or see. Her techs have been equally helpful.

These shadow gigs are purely volunteer situations. They have to be approached realistically--the purpose is exposure. You won't learn how to be a vet by shadowing. But you can learn plenty of interesting things by observing and asking questions when you can. I think I've mentioned before that I have many, many more questions than I end up asking. The vets and techs have jobs to do, after all. They can't spend every moment talking to you. You have to high-grade your questions and ask them at appropriate times.

I remain very interested in the universe of problems that surround diet and disease--some diseases can be improved by diet, some diets can cause disease. Shadowing with this vet, a dermatological specialist, is allowing me to explore some of that universe a little more. By far the greatest number of her clients have dermatological problems caused by allergic reactions. Diet may not be important at all. But it comes up often enough to satisfy me for now.

This vet also gave me some important information about vet schools in general. Some of them utilize problem-based or case-based programs instead of formal, sequential lectures. Some schools have replaced their entire program with problem-based learning, others have replaced only the third or fourth years with it. Case-based learning is used in other industries as well and there is a ton of information about its usefulness; scholarly studies of the method suggest that it greatly improves problem-solving skills. But it has its pros and cons. One of the big cons is that most of the schools that use this method assign you to a cohort, a small group that goes through the cases together. If you get assigned to a shitty group, you are fubared with no recourse. This will certainly be a factor in deciding which schools I will apply to. Right now I'm considering five schools; the list may expand or contract and even change as I sort out my various criteria.

This Friday will be my last day with this vet. I'm ready for classes to start again but I've really enjoyed looking over her shoulder.


It's been nice and quiet here at Circusk9 these past couple of weeks but the learning frenzy will start up again next Monday. I still have to pick up one more textbook and a special notebook for my anatomy lab. I've signed up for French and the second term of Biochem as well as Animal Physiology and Comparative Anatomy.

Today's accomplishment: I bought a new recliner. I have a perfectly functional, nearly new recliner...but it was too narrow for both me and Mimi to fit in it side by side. Yes, that's right. I bought a new piece of furniture to accommodate my dog!

If you are a dog person, you are probably thinking, of course, makes perfect sense. Dog people buy cars specifically for their dogs. If you aren't a dog person, you probably think I'm crazy.

I like window shopping in furniture stores but picking out one thing from the clutter of the dozens of little pseudo-rooms can be frustrating--too many choices can be paralyzing. Fortunately, there were some really ghastly pieces in the store that I went to; they were quickly eliminated from further consideration. Some of these chairs are effectively folding beds; the realization that some people may spend more time in their recliner than in their real bed makes me shudder. I managed to quickly hone in on a nice leather chair that was on sale. Plenty wide enough for me and a little fox terrier.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Never Miss an Opportunity to Pee

Just checked my final grades--I made an A in Biochem! That was the only class in which I didn't have a solid A going into the final. I am so relieved. I thought that I did really well on the final exam but those kinds of feelings can be tricky. When you leave an exam thinking that you did really well, it either means you did really well or you buggered things up so badly you can't even recognize how poorly you performed. On the other hand, I studied myself blind for that exam. For the final, we were allowed to bring a notecard which we had to get from the prof in advance. Here is one side of my notecard (the scan got clipped but you get the idea):

Clicking on these low-res images brings them up in all their original res glory.
Keep in mind that these are just the items that I chose not to commit to memory. There were many other bits and bobs that I felt that I knew well enough that I didn't need to put them on the card. The notecard was 5x8 inches so there was a substantial amount of real estate available; I only used half of the other side. Still, I spent days working out a compact notation system for the things that I wanted to put on there.

I ended up with 500.50 points out of 500 in Animal Genetics and scored 103% on the final. I kind of tanked on the second exam in Genetics with a score of 90% so doing well on the final plus the extra credit points I racked up throughout the term really helped me. I've long had a personal philosophy that included the tenet "never miss an opportunity to pee". I'll have to add to the list "never pass up a chance for extra credit points".

French and Animal Nutrition were in the bag before I even started preparing for the final exams and projects. Those were my As to lose, in other words. By luck I got a great partner for my final French oral exam. We had to have a 45 minute conversation with each other while the instructor listened but we could chose from among 12 different topics--she gave us the list in advance. My partner was amenable to practicing and we put in almost 4 hours of practice for that 45 minutes. So of course we did well. He has the craziest sense of humor, very dry, and always surprised me with some new joke or twist even when we were traveling through familiar conversational territory. You know you are advancing in a language when you can tell and laugh at jokes. Prof complimented me on my variety of conversational segues and bridges. I was very pleased that she noticed because I had in fact been deliberately working on learning and using those types of phrases. Things like "So, Andrew, tell me..." or "Well, I think that ..." or "And then what?" or "That's neat/strange/interesting/too bad!" or "Really?". We all use these kinds of phrases all the time in conversation. They are what make language flow and feel natural. If you can use them in a second language, you sound more natural.

All in all, a successful term. I may only have a couple more terms left before I have taken all the classes that I might need. The plan is moving along!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Coming Back to Earth

My brain is starting to firm up again. Studying for finals was rather consuming in both time and energy. In some ways, the snow was a good thing. I couldn't get out of my driveway for at least two days so there wasn't much else to do but study. My last final was Wednesday night (biochem). Walking out of the exam room was anticlimactic but I felt lighter and very much less stressed than I had for the previous few days!

The biochem prof put an extra credit question on the final: draw a picture of your TA for four points. Not only is that a generous set of points, I figured that artistic ability wasn't an expectation, that simply drawing anything at all, even a stick figure, would suffice. I made a minimal effort, drawing the head of my TA (she has a distinctive face). I found out later that some people drew these elaborate scenes, for example, their TA dressed in robes, standing on clouds and holding a glucose molecule with flames shooting out of it (and that person in particular probably should have spent more time on his exam and less on the drawing). But some people didn't draw anything at all! That was four free points they threw away.

When I was getting settled in the exam room for my Animal Nutrition final, my first thought was, who the hell are all these people? Most days there were around 50 of us in lecture. But there were more than 90 registered for the course, and while they couldn't be bothered to show up to lecture, they dragged themselves into the final. Almost every day, the instructor gave informal pop quizzes (show of hands only, nothing graded) and she put those questions on exams nearly verbatim. Besides the fact that college education in the US is expensive (and I happen to know that quite a few of these young people work so they surely have some vague idea of the cost of things), there is sort of the larger issue of the need or desire to learn the material. I can only shake my head.

There are any number of strategies for studying and taking exams. My primary preparation method is grinding through all material that has been made available to me. Biochem prof videotaped the final exam review. I didn't have any burning questions and didn't attend the review session itself but I watched the tape online. Animal Genetics prof didn't assign anything directly out of the textbook, which was in fact listed as optional, but quite a few of the homework problems were drawn from solved problems in the text. I worked all of the problems in the text, checking methodology and solutions before tackling the homework that had to be turned in, and read the text for good measure. But as I listen to other students in the classes talk amongst themselves, it's clear that they are not using any of these resources. Again with the head-shaking.

Things are starting to return to normal. I'm giving the house a thorough deep cleaning--the squalor was starting to really annoy me. In addition to usual cleaning tasks, this means I'm taking light fixtures apart to wash the glass parts, oiling the kitchen cabinets, tightening up wobbly chairs, wiping down walls and baseboards and vacuuming all sorts of crevices and crannies where dog hair tumbleweeds lurk. I'm tackling a room a day.

Today the snow has at last melted enough that I was able to take the dogs out for a walk. Since in these parts nobody shovels sidewalks and the cities don't plow side streets, the super cold temps turned all the fluffy snow into compact ice pretty quickly. It was far too cold for Harry in particular (it got down to 3 F here one night and 8 F the following one). There's no way I'm going to take him out in that kind of weather. Following our very long walk this morning, they are all blissfully crashed out in their chosen napping spots--Mimi in an open crate at my feet (she's never more than a couple feet from me, ever), Harry over by the gas stove, and Azza back in the bedroom.

Things will be pretty quiet here at CircusK9 for the next three weeks. I'm working on arranging more volunteer/shadow opportunities, and am going to try to get a job or research position for next term. I might have something lined up for the spring term already but that's months away. I'm thinking about posting brief reviews of books that particularly piqued my interest just to keep the writing part of my brain active.

As a side note, for those of you that know me personally (I'm pretty sure based on the stats that I have a couple of regular readers that stumbled on the blog by accident), I have FaceTime and Skype. Email me to get that info if you want it.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Winter Sunshine

It's going to be extremely cold the next couple of nights--a blanket of snow and a clear sky will combine to create perfect conditions for any heat left in the ground to radiate up, up, and away. It may get down to 7 F tonight! That's pipe-freezing weather for areas like this which don't normally experience such temps. I've done what I can to protect the house.

But that clear sky means the next two days will be beautiful, sunny days. It's still damned cold, below freezing, but the sunlight is flooding into the back door. The entire pack has stretched out on a blanket for a nap (can't have them laying on the floor, they are all too delicate for that).

Harry grew up in Salt Lake City (he was born in Provo). He's seen his share of snow. I used to take him snowshoeing with me! He's a hardy little guy. And this morning he was trying to hop around in the snow and run with the other dogs. He managed to have some fun for a few minutes. But I'm afraid his age is catching up to his intentions. His left front leg "froze" up, wouldn't bend. It was almost like he was having a spasm in that leg. I picked him up, wiped all the snow off his paws, and set him inside so he could warm up. He's fine now but I shoveled off the back porch so he wouldn't have to walk in snow at all if he didn't want to.

Friday, December 06, 2013


My driveway and car:

I was supposed to turn in my French portfolio today and I have one class that was meeting for a review for the final. Not sure either of those events will be happening--I'm not sure I can get out of my driveway, much less to campus.

It's not the snow per se, it's the fact that it rarely snows here. No snow plows for the streets. I think they put sand/grit down on the main roads but little bitty neighborhoods like mine? Nope. Nobody has snow shovels or proper tools for moving snow around. I don't even have any decent snow boots/shoes.

But as predicted, Azza decided this snow is the most fun evah!!

As I write this, she's curled up in front of the gas fire on the bed next to Harry, recharging for her next foray outside.


Even though it was forecasted, I didn't really expect to wake up this morning to this:

Yesterday it was 17 F when I left for school--too cold for bike riding, at least for me. It's warmer this morning with the snow, 30 F, but I'd say this is an equal damper--my bike has street tires (not skinny racing ones but normal street tires). Heck, the Honda Fit is a mighty little car but I suspect it's little tires aren't up to the roads either, at least at the moment. I know it's slippery because Harry fell over while trying to pee. Thankfully, I don't have to be on campus until around noon.

The terriers have seen snow--no big deal. Azza is most emphatically not happy about this. She hugs the house in the slightly less snowy part under the eaves, trying to figure out where the heck this stuff is coming from. I'll bet that she gets into it later though--racing around and snowplowing it up. Funny, though, because she is relatively indifferent to rain. Maybe snow smells different to her.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Ur-Dogs and Study Breaks

It isn't that my creative juices are at a low ebb, but that all my creativity is being channeled into finishing this term up. Rants about millenials can only be taken so far before they become parodies of themselves.

When the last study marathon is over (next week), I'd like to say that I will sleep for a week. But if the dogs don't let me be for more than a couple of hours now, they certainly won't do so when I'm home all day.

Time for a study break. Harry is giving me his best "come hither and tug with me" eye and Mimi is impatiently waiting for any twitch of my body that might indicate that I will grab some toys and play.

I wrote a short paper for my animal genetics class on genetic data used to examine dog evolution (when, where, how often). I had quite a bit of fun poking holes in "origin myths" which nearly all breeds have and which are rarely based in anything more than fantasy. The second part of my paper dealt with so-called "village dogs" which some researchers believe are some sort of ur-dog, ancient and pure (another origin myth!). Since I have a village dog (Azza), I included a picture of her in the paper. My own interpretation of the village dog genetic data (I happen to know what eigenvalue analysis is and how to interpret data displayed in those terms) suggested that village dogs are more hybridized than, say, a smooth fox terrier, not less. It was fun debunking ur-dog theories too.

Here's a picture of my very own village dog.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Lest you are starting to think I'm a total asshole (starting?), here's a pic of my good deed for the day.

I have mentioned before that I'm volunteering at a wildlife rehab center. I got an email last night from one of the volunteers in charge of supplies, stating that they needed more hay, and could anyone come up with some?

I happen to live behind a farm and ranch supply and was in fact planning to drop by there this morning to get a package of cedar shavings (to cover some muddy spots in the yard). One of the best rules for life: asking is free. So I walked in, said I was a volunteer at Chintimini, and that the facility needed hay or straw to use for bedding for some of the outdoor rehab enclosures, and did they have any moldy, wet, or unsellable bales that they would be willing to donate? We only needed two. It took the manager all of 30 seconds to say, well, no, he didn't have any unsellable bales but he'd be happy to give me two bales of straw. Woohoo!

I buy my dog food there (I've switched over to Taste of the Wild lamb and sweet potato recipe) so they may have also recognized me as a regular customer. Either way, it was still nice of the guy.

I had them loaded into the mighty Honda Fit (the guy who loaded them expressed some doubt that the two bales would fit, but I told him, this is a Honda--it holds way more than you think it does!) and promptly drove them out to the facility. The morning shift leader and I woman-handled the bales out of my car and onto wheeled carts and duly installed them in a storage shed.

Good thing one of the other items on my list today was a visit to the local car wash. It took three cycles of the vacuum to clean all the hay out, and I had even planned ahead, in expectation of success, and covered the interior with a tarp!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Get Off My Lawn!

I'm surrounded by young people whose habits confuse and surprise me.

The campus uniform is a hoodie worn with shorts, tights, or jeans (which apparently must be low-rise for both sexes and skin-tight for the females). A hoodie is an impractical item of clothing in nearly every situation you can dream up. Heavy, bulky, and totally unsuited for a wet climate. Is the hoodie a statement of rejection of common sense? A signifier that the wearer refuses to accept reality in preference for his/her/its own construct thereof?

Water bottles have been required gear for self-proclaimed greenies for many years. But the latest craze here, mainly among girls, is glass water bottles. Huge Ball-brand jars with screw-top lids with holes lined with O-rings through which a straw is inserted. These items are inexplicably made for this purpose. The glass water bottle fits right in with the hoodie: heavy and impractical. What happens when you drop it, and you will most certainly drop it.

Unwashed hair also seems to be required. I am talking about hair that hasn't seen water or soap in days. Greasy, dull hair plastered to skulls, necks, and cheeks. It's gross and I can't help wondering if the rest of their bodies have seen soap or water either. Some of my classmates apparently wash their hair no more than once a week. You might think it was a public statement, a rejection of the bloated personal care product industry, which IMO is a perfectly fine industry to reject, but many of the women put on makeup every day (on a face surrounded by greasy, lanky hair) and most of the men shave every day. They are clearly not rejecting the superficial trappings of cleanliness, and personal care, just the actual cleanliness itself.

Admittedly the sample population is pretty biased. OSU seems to contain a student population who for the most part has never left Oregon, much less traveled outside the US. In French class today, I had a conversation with two new partners. One guy had visited Paris with his high school class for three days (I thought, at last I can chat with someone who has done some traveling--most of the class has not left the US). I asked him about the restaurants he visited--because Paris, and France in general, is of course known for its varied and interesting cuisines. The only restaurant he could recall was McDonalds. In Paris. FFS.

Yes, yes, I was just as annoying when I was 20. I went through a punk phase, shaved my head or let my hair grow a bit and shaved patterns in it, wore clothing unsuited to the setting and weather. I lived in a radical vegetarian, clothing-optional coop for nearly two years as an undergrad. But wearing hoodies in the rain and carrying fucking glass jars around all day long are not experimenting with social norms or boundaries. They just seem silly.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Jesus Action Figure

My brain is totally fried with French and biochem--big exam in the latter on Friday. But I wanted to get this post up while it was fresh in my mind.

I'm volunteering at the large animal hospital here at the university. It's only a four-week gig, and only for 5 hours a week. The opportunities are reserved for members of the pre-vet club, and even then the slots are assigned via lottery. I got lucky and got in this semester.

On one of the info sheets was an explicit request for us to not post anything on social media about specific clients in the hospital. So this post will be light on details in order to respect that.

A very sick animal was brought in on Monday. She was so sick that it wasn't clear if she would survive the time it took for the initial evaluation, the development of a treatment plan, the suggestion of the same to the owners, their approval/amendment of the plan, then implementation of the plan. While all of that necessary administrative wrangling was going on, this animal was visibly sinking before our eyes.

I spent nearly all of my two hours on Monday with the doctor and students working on this animal. I watched them get her set up in a pen; by the time I left, both she and the enclosure were bristling with tubes and bags of fluids.

When I got there on Tuesday, I went straight to her pen.

And sitting on the treatment table was a Jesus Action Figure, still in its original plastic packaging. The package was scratched and grubby, and had clearly been tied and taped to more than one cage.

The implication was clear. If supernatural intervention were at all real, this animal would be a good test case.

I later found out that the vet hospital (the large and small animal parts are all in the same building) has three Jesus and one Buddha action figures, all reserved for those ICU patients who are not expected to make it. When a patient is particularly critical, it might get two Jesuses or a Jesus and a Buddha.

I don't think that a plastic doll has magical powers, and I am an atheist so I don't think Jesus has magical powers, but I think that I understand the sentiments at work here. The doctors and students always walk a line between patient care and demands or restrictions of the owner, between curing and only being able to reduce pain. They are making decisions based on science and technology but they are moral and emotional beings. It can be exhausting, walking this tightrope. Jesus Action Figure represents comic relief, albeit a bit on the dark side. The doll is symbolic of the subtext that the care that they give, the tests they can run, the drugs they can administer, will make a difference.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Achieving Satori

Skills that your dog learns in one context can often be useful in another, often in unexpected ways.

In Dhahran, me and P and M regularly walked our dogs together in the evenings. I've written before about our efforts to find empty houses with good yards so we could let the dogs run around and be crazy. The best houses were the ones with the water still turned on. Even better were the ones with a hose attached to the spigot. It was nasty, reclaimed water but the dogs were most appreciative of a chance to get a drink.

Over the course of a hot summer, P taught Azza how to drink from a hose. This was a rather laborious process starting with convincing Azza not to be afraid of the hose. By the time we left Dhahran, P could pick up a hose and Azza would stand in line for her turn.

My first satori moment occurred this weekend when I was hosing Mimi and Azza off after they had gleefully played in the leaves for half an hour. They were covered head to toe in mud. The path of least resistance for dealing with that is to hose them off outside then towel them off inside on the mat by the back door. I realized as I was rinsing mud off Azza's neck and legs that not only was she willing to let me do this, she even came when I called, standing there with a running hose in my hand. I don't think that even P could have predicted this back when she decided that Azza needed to learn how to drink from a hose.

My friend DSL came to visit me here in Oregon in September. She was goofing around with Azza and, noting that Azza uses her paws to request attention, starting casually playing a "give me your paw" game. She switched around her hands and asked for one or the other paw. Nothing formal with a clicker but DSL played this several times with Azza during her visit. Azza really took to this game. I decided to make it a little more formal so we now have the "give me your paw-give me your other paw" game. The satori moment? When we play this game, it can completely deflect one of Azza's meltdowns. The moment she gets worried about something, I call her over to play a few rounds of this. It takes a lot of concentration on her part because she has to completely shift her center of balance to give me alternate paws in quick succession. By the time we are done, she's forgotten all about whatever it was that set her off. Another unpredicted outcome of the original game.

Dogs are amazing learners. Azza isn't special--lots of dogs can apply a skill learned in one context to another. What's neat about this is that sometimes we get to learn new things too.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Catching My Breath and Navel-Gazing

This has been a particularly challenging week. I started a new volunteer gig, the second one I have going at the moment, and I had two tough exams ("second midterms" which is a bizarre nomenclature but it seems to be the way it's done here).

I've been surviving this week on pretty minimal rations--you might call it a form of comfort food. I won't starve, but it's not very pretty. Basically, I cut up a chicken thigh or two (I can get a package of 10 or 12 for just a few dollars at the local store), boil that with some pasta, toss in some fresh veg like broccoli or snow peas, and when it's done, mix it with a can of stewed tomatoes. Of course I add things like salt and pepper and perhaps a dash of olive oil, but that's the basic idea. I can make this dish in less than 20 minutes, eat it in less than 5 minutes, wash up and get right back to studying. The second variant of my quick comfort food is to make a bit of rice or pasta, usually steaming some spinach or other greens with the rice, and add that to a package of "salmon". It comes in a foil pouch and looks like tuna. We aren't talking salmon steak, of course, but the taste is decent. I douse that mess with homemade garlic-dill-ginger-balsamic vinaigrette. Same process: make it all in 20 minutes, scarf it down in five. I either eat standing over the sink or I sit at the table and study. Either way, I'm under the watchful eye of CircusK9 because no matter how plain or hurried, food is food is potential treats falling on their heads.

I've distilled my exam prep into a fixed process. I recap the lecture slides, notes taken during lecture, and the text info (one of my classes has no textbook) into handwritten summaries made on plain white paper in pencil. These take quite a bit of time to prepare--for my genetics exam on Thursday, I had to process a huge amount of material and ended up with fifteen pages of handwritten notes. I then read these notes over several times, at least half a dozen times before an exam, over a period of at least a day, and I often repeat them orally while pacing around the house, to the great distress of the dogs--they don't like the pacing or the orating.

This might seem to be an odd way to study but it takes advantage of two aspects of my personal learning modes. First, the very process of summarizing all those sources forces me to think more deeply about the important points and themes. I write the major ideas out using my own words and notations, making them more "comfortable." And second, this process creates succinct fodder for my eidetic memory. I don't have a perfect photographic memory, but it's pretty darned close. I've had this ability since I was quite young but didn't learn how to explicitly use it until I was in grad school. I can recall images of things but my recall tends to be more reliable with text, or rather, an image of text. (If I don't explicitly manage the eidetic capture, it tends to be a bit random, which leads to clutter.) My mental "photograph" of each page combined with the effort I spent in writing everything out helps fix all of the important bits into my brain.

I'm sitting here now full of organic carrots from the Department of Crop and Soil Science worker bees, part of a meal which for once involved no boiling of carbs. The students from that department grow all sorts of vegetables and put them out every Friday morning in a self-serve "market" in one of the buildings on campus. I shared the leftovers with the dogs, who all love carrots.

I've got a lot of homework to finish over the weekend, as well as starting the prep for my big biochem exam next Friday, the house is a mess, and I have a metric ton of leaves that need to be raked up. Tonight's my best opportunity to
basically do nothing. I'd better get back to it.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Old Man Harry

Harry had some teeth pulled and the rest cleaned and polished Wednesday. It took him a full 24 hours to fully recover from the anesthesia. He was in a lot of pain so I got some tramadol for him yesterday afternoon. He's feeling much better now--better living through chemistry.

He's had a recurring soft tissue injury on the inside of his front left shoulder, and some perplexing GI issues. He's been on antibiotics for the last week for the latter, and will remain on them for another two weeks following the dental surgery. That should take care of any lingering GI problems. And his two days of rimadyl and tramadol, plus two weeks of NO TUGGING will sort out his shoulder, at least for a while.

No tugging for two weeks--for a dog that lives to play, that's going to be tough going. As I type this, he's pulled his favorite toy from the basket and is standing in front of me squeaking it repeatedly while looking at me coyly. He's such an irrepressible little bugger!

The cool part of this is that the doc that did his dental surgery was one of the vets that I shadowed with. She let me watch, even help a little bit, during his entire procedure, which fortuitously took place after I finished class for the day. She took the time to show me all the xrays and to discuss the various tools that she was using. It was extremely exciting.

You'd think it would be much more distressing to see my little guy stretched out belly up on the table, intubated, a wad of gauze in his throat to keep the rinse water and blood from going down. One of his molars had to come out--it was a very large tooth with a reasonably healthy root but that wouldn't have been the case for long--the xray showed a cavity between the tooth and bone. She had to cut that enormous tooth into three pieces to get it out. He also lost all of the little teeth in his lower jaw between his canines.

During the surgery, the entire field of view telescoped down to his mouth--it becomes a mouth and the teeth become a dental problem to be solved. I was of course aware that it was Harry but for most of the gory affair, I wasn't thinking, oh, this is Harry.

For sure, I turned right back into the worried owner when I called yesterday and said, he needs stronger pain meds. But for those couple of hours, old man Harry was a fairly routine dental surgery.

Oh, and Harry most emphatically does not like dog kibble gruel (I ran some through the food processor). I have to soak the kibble to make it soft (for two weeks! he's got some gaping holes in his mouth) but it still has to look and feel more or less like kibble. For some reason, I expected him to be less discriminating.

Party With the Merlins

I'm volunteering once a week at a wildlife rescue center located north of Corvallis--diversity of animal experience and all that, you know. I don't have much interest in working with "exotics" as a vet. Still, it gives me a chance to learn more about wildlife management issues as well as see how a large, successful, animal-focused non-profit is organized (tons of volunteers, for starters).

For various reasons, the center mainly handles birds, and among those, birds of prey are very common (eagles, owls, vultures, hawks, etc.). Winter is the slow season but there is a continual trickle of birds arriving each week, many with cat- or car-inflicted injuries. Spring and summer are when the cute mammal babies show up. Still, the center currently has some non-avian species in rehab: five squirrels and a frog. The principal goal is to release the animals back into the wild as soon as possible. Injuries are repaired and special diets are fed to get the animals back up to a normal weight. Animals are weighed and monitored at least twice daily (all by volunteers). Birds with wing injuries are allowed to heal in small cages, then moved into larger flight cages to ensure they can fly normally. Some animals have to be euthanized but at least it's done humanely. Contact with the animals is supposed to be minimal to make sure they don't get used to humans.

This week I got introduced to the procedures for taking care of the animals outside in the larger enclosures. The most memorable part was going into the merlin falcon cage to clean it up.

There were two of them in the enclosure. I avoided making eye contact with them and focused instead on the mess they had made. Birds of prey like falcons are fed chicks; the owls get mice. The chicks are frozen. We thaw them, clip the skin on their inner thighs and insert a bit of raw chicken cut from a commercial cut (to make them more enticing), sprinkle them with some supplement, and lay the chicks out on a stump for the birds' dining pleasure. The two merlins are fed five chicks a day.

There were two chicks left on the stump that they didn't eat. Those had to be collected and put in a "scrap bucket" in the fridge to be fed to the turkey vultures.

Then there was the rest of the cage--the remains of the party were everywhere. Chick feet sticking up from the gravel. Chick heads and wings scattered around. Chick guts hanging off one of the platforms, even stuck in the wire mesh. I had to pick all of that up (mental note: when assigned the outback cages in the future, bring gloves!). I had to hose off the party platform and some other favorite perches (birds shit everywhere). And I had to do this with two rather unsettled merlins in the cage with me.

It was an interesting way to begin the morning.

Another of the tasks of the morning volunteer crew is to check the 12 live mouse traps placed in the main building. They are baited with cat food, rodent pellets, sunflower seeds, and other mouse-tastic treats. Even though the center maintains a caged mouse colony in one of barns (for the owls), wild mice are returned to the wild. And that particular morning, there was a tiny brown mouse in one of the traps. So I carefully carried the cage out to the back of the property and let the little guy disappear in the weeds. He'll probably be back.

There is an interesting contrast at work here. The moral issues surrounding animal care are complicated.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Hey! Let Me Give a Public Demonstration of My Scientific Illiteracy!

I like to walk the dogs up and around a modest hill near my own neighborhood. It's the high rent district with McMansions going for around half a million each. They are clustered cheek to jowl on top of this hill. The kindest thing I can say is that most have nice landscaping which Harry likes to pee on. There is very little traffic and it's a safe, quiet, and scenic place to make our walks--the views across the valley are really nice.

I live in the Willamette Valley which contains several large river systems that ultimately drain more or less northwards into the Columbia River. The valley is filled with various types of volcanic sediment that have been reworked by these rivers for the past 30 million years or so. Grape vines like volcanic soil which is why there are so many vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Turns out trees and seed crops like it too. No active volcanoes are present in the Willamette Valley, but the topographic highs dotted around mark the former location of older volcanoes; some are still fairly substantial. The active volcanoes are to the west in the Cascade Range (volcanoes align in chains because they form on top of subduction zones and they tend to move landwards as the subducting plate advances with geologic time). So the hill that I walk the dogs up and around is one of these former volcanoes, long past its glory days.

Back in the summer, one of the homeowners on the north side of the hill started this major excavation project in his front yard between the house and the road. He was doing the work himself and was renting equipment like the backhoe so it took a really long time for it to get done. Our walking routes didn't take us past his house every day but over time I watched this enormous pit form in front of his house. It was roughly the size of a regulation swimming pool, squarish, and about 10 feet deep, with a level bottom. The pit sat for a few weeks until a bunch of flexible tubing, perhaps half an inch inner diameter, began to appear on the bottom. The tubing was laid out in a back and forth pattern. That sat for a few more weeks. Then the hole was filled, extra topsoil was laid down, and the only thing left now is a muddy brown expanse in front of the house. I was always curious as to the purpose of this effort and expense and mess and disruption. Possible theories: a swimming pool or a new form of septic drainage system. But the real purpose of the project never would have occurred to me in 30 million years because, well, I know a little bit about science. And physics. And basic mathematics.

For the very first time this morning, I saw the guy who lives in that house. He looked to be in his mid-twenties. Had a toddler with him. I asked him what the project in his yard was for, and he said, "oh, I put in a geothermal heat pump."

Wow. Just, wow. Where do you even start? Because it is physically impossible for whatever he built to function as planned. Where do you start?

1. Geothermal heat pumps require convection of hot water in the subsurface to exchange heat with water in tubes or pipes that you put in the ground. The most common systems are vertical since the pipes of the exchange system need to be positioned within the water table where the hot water is circulating.

2. The average geothermal gradient of the Willamette Valley is around 30 deg C per kilometer (I found this via Google; didn't need access to a fancy technical library). His 10-foot deep hole? At best, the temperature difference between the top to the bottom of the pit will be around 0.08 deg C (again, I don't even need to know any conversion factors except that 10 feet is around 2.5 meters). It is probably much less since that average geothermal gradient is based on data taken in the valley proper where the sediments are thickest, and this guy lives on a crystalline-rock-cored hill with a thin veneer of sediments.

3. Further, a little bit of research turned up the interesting fact that heat flow in the Willamette Valley is regionally conductive, not convective. In other words, the reworked volcanic sediments have a lot of clay, which reduces the ability of fluids to move around in those sediments. There isn't even any warm water circulating beneath the Willamette Valley that a geothermal heat pump could tap into. Sure, understanding the difference between conduction and convection in the context of regional heat flow requires some technical understanding--but that's my very point. If this clown was going to spend all that time and money, you'd think he would take half an hour to understand the basic physics of the matter.

4. A heat pump requires a temperature difference between the cold water entering and the warm water exiting and in most places on earth, this requires a vertical orientation as I mentioned above. However, this guy laid all his pipes on the same horizontal plane. The temperature differential of his "system" will be zero. Cold water will go in....and cold water will come out.

5. But let's say that perhaps we are in a magical corner of the Willamette Valley and there is a warm body of water circulating in this area. Hate to break this to him, but there are no water wells on the small hill, nor at its base, nor in the farms in the immediate area (the location of water wells is publicly available information). Even if the magical warm, circulating water was there, it's pretty damned deep. This guy would never be able to reach it from the hill. Ten feet? Laughable.

And in fact, I did laugh at him. He paused and said, "you don't think it will work?" I looked at him for a second, most of the above whirling around in my head, and I said, "I know it won't work." The dogs and I continued on our walk.

I'm so worked up I had to make a new tag for this post: science. Maybe I should change it "the lack of knowledge of science" but that sort of contradicts the point of a tag.

The failures of the American public school system are coming home to roost. Can't teach four years of math and physics in high school--it's too hard. Can't have the precious children read full texts anymore--takes too long. Can't give tests that evaluate critical thinking because those can't be scored by a computer. We are doomed.

**Update: I'd be remiss if I didn't add this. As two of you have pointed out, my neighbor was almost certainly installing a closed-loop ground-source heat pump (also see here). He won't be eligible for a tax exemption because he didn't use a state-approved contractor but he no doubt saved a lot of money by doing the installation himself. As TW noted, the pipes need to be below frost level. Temp data from around that depth from reasonably nearby water wells vary considerably so while we might reasonably infer that 10 feet is below the freezing depth (it doesn't get that cold here), the temp at that depth may not be high enough for the system to work effectively. From the videos and diagrams I could find from local contractors, I don't believe that the density of his pipe system is sufficient; it looked to be about half of what is normally installed. This is not an "off the grid" solution. It is renewable in the sense that the heat exchange part is "free" but it still requires a fairly extensive arrangement of pumps (which run off electricity) attached to the grid (to move the fluid) and in the house (to move the air). There is further some questions about whether heat pumps are economical for residential applications (see this very interesting article). The heat-pump or heat-exchange technology is fairly advanced and appears to be most successful in larger, industrial applications. For example, I found that OSU installed heat exchangers in the mechanical rooms of some buildings to heat the water used in the bathrooms in those buildings. These are air-coupled, not ground-coupled and the temperature differentials they are dealing with are much larger than those available to my neighbor.

Finally, I didn't talk about this much in my rant but my neighbor dug a 100-foot long, 10-foot deep hole downslope from his home. The upper edge of the pit was about 8 feet from the foundation of the house. The long axis of the pit paralleled the long axis of his house. He filled the pit with the very disturbed dirt that he removed from it. When the earthquake comes, his home could very well be damaged because that disturbed soil will behave very differently to the gravitational acceleration than the undisturbed soil around it.

As my friend DW said, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."

Friday, November 01, 2013

Outrunning the Bear

I've now gotten back all four of the exams that I took these past few days...and I slam-dunked them all. No perfect scores because I am a rather imperfect being, although I got pretty close.

So that animal genetics exam that I thought I did poorly on? I felt very time-pressured while taking it and was sure that caused me to make errors. But I shouldn't make such pronouncements without any data. I made the highest score in the class! The instructor told me that he expected no less of me (he and I have talked several times in his office about vet careers and such so he knows about my past; good grief, I'm a woman with a past), which was nice of him, I suppose, but way to put the pressure on. Because too many people failed to get any points on three questions, the instructor is curving every score up 8 points--I happened to get full or partial credit on those three questions so my final curved score will be more than 100%. Go figure.

The biochem exam was by far the most difficult of the four but as I was taking it, I felt that I was managing my time well and that I at least addressed the main components of every question. The instructor of this very large course curves every exam individually, so to excel you only need to do better than the mean of the scores for that particular exam (put another way, to escape a bear, you only need to run faster than your friend, not necessarily faster than the bear). I made 90% which put me firmly into A territory with the curve. Now 90% is technically a weak A if the scores are graded on traditional bins but the cutoff for an A on this exam was around 83 so a 90 is respectable; I ran quite a bit faster than most of the rest of the class. One guy made 102 (there was an extra credit question); he ran faster than the bear for sure but that doesn't matter when there's a curve.

I nailed my French exam. I still make stupid mistakes like forget to add "s" to plural adjectives or use the 3rd person plural for a verb when I meant to use the 3rd person singular; my most common mistake is to use de when it is not needed and omit it when it is required. Fucking de. What a sneaky little article. But Madame Denis is a generous grader and seems pleased with my creative writing attempts (we had four short creative writing questions on the exam along with the usual fill-in-the-blank and dictation). She liked my "love with dry bread" story, putting smiley faces in my notebook along with some comments (why does that make me feel like a six-year-old who just got two gold stars for coloring nicely?).

I had a bit of a tiff with my animal nutrition instructor about the wording of one question and the answer I chose versus the answer she marked as correct in the exam key. She is not a very good instructor although I think she knows the material very well. I won't get into the pedantic details of why she sucks in the classroom, but let's say that my years of experience with such matters gives me a bit of a platform from which to offer an opinion. Anyway, perhaps my snit-o-gram made her rethink that particular problem because she announced in class today that she would give credit to anyone who selected the other answer, the one I argued was in fact correct given the parameters she laid out in the question. I had already earned a very good score so those additional few points were hardly going to change my grade, but you gotta pick your battles and I felt that one was worth picking.

The effort I put into studying for the exams was tremendous and it was well rewarded. But there is no rest for the wicked. Well, okay, I am taking tonight off. The wicked will have one study-free night. I'll be doing my monthly accounts and budget instead. I've already started drinking some very fine local craft beer. Tasty!

My Saturday will start early with my second skype call to the two French students I'm assigned to talk with (I get a twofer because Thomas, a friend of Guillaume who was assigned as my partner, ended up without a partner and he really wanted to be involved). Then I have homework assignments and extra credit reports and the next round of exams to get ready for. And dogs to walk and play with. The usual quotidian drama.

I'm still fairly bemused by this whole student thing. I'm enjoying it, certainly. I'm learning tons of new and challenging concepts. I'm very slowly starting to get to know a few people here and there. I can see that there is a reasonable number of very smart young people in all of my classes, but sadly not much has changed in 30 years--most of the young people filling up the seats in the classrooms seem far more interested in parties, football games, and drinking. In the end, I suppose that's good for both me and the bear.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Winter Sunshine

This is living in the moment.

I know Harry looks really...diminished. He may be old but he knows where the best napping spots are.

Where's Mimi? She's curled up on top of a puffy pad in a crate by my feet, her favorite place to keep an eye on me when I'm studying.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Four Big Exams in Four Days

Thursday, Friday, Monday, Tuesday. My brain is going to explode.

The dogs are driving me nuts because they, walks, attention. I shave a bit here and there out of my studying but it isn't enough for them. I keep telling them, quality over quantity. We try to live in the moment at CircusK9 (when we can) and when I spend time with them, they get 100% of my energy and attention.

I did poorly on the Friday exam--sometimes it's hard for me to stop considering all possible hypotheses when I read complex questions, and simply plug in the numbers the prof wants. I have been rewarded for doing the former for 20 years--all that operant conditioning can't be jettisoned in a day. Of course the latter isn't realistic at all out in any real world you might choose, but it's what is required in an exam covering three weeks of very complex material that must be completed in 50 minutes or less.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Learning French

French class is an interesting counterpoint to the heavy science classes that I'm taking. I get to use a different part of my brain. While I know that the brain isn't a muscle, it appears to be the case that using more of your brain allows you to use more of your brain.

The instructor has us regularly engage in small-group conversations, submit original creative writing assignments, and read texts and watch videos and song. There are some pretty sharp young people in the class, but it's painfully obvious that to use the vocabulary of a foreign language, you need to have a reasonable vocabulary in your own language. For example, I wanted to use "poor people" in one of my writing assignments but in the same sentence I had already described an individual as "neither rich nor poor". Even if I was writing in English, I wouldn't use "poor" twice. But I happen to know other words to describe "poor people": needy, destitute, and so forth. And French has a wonderful word for the destitute: misereux. It's frustrating that some of the students don't seem to have much of a vocabulary at all, in any language. It's hard to have conversations with them.

Our writing assignments have been a small source of stress to me. You might find this surprising since I write here fairly often. But there's a process, you see. I don't write here until I have something to say (it might be stupid or boring, but that's not the point). The blog doesn't have due dates so I can mull over ideas until one appeals to me. And I wouldn't really characterize the blog as creative writing, which I define as mostly fiction. I embellish and combine true events for effect, and I try to use language creatively, but what I write here is not created out of whole cloth. Turns out that's pretty difficult to do on command! I've managed the first three assignments okay, writing about a yeti chasing a boy and his dog off a mountain, a "fairy tale" about a widow selecting someone to marry using the moral "il veut mieux du pain sec avec amour que des poulets avec cris" (translated exactly, it means "it is better to have dry bread with love than chickens with drama/crisis") which I found on the internet, and a greatly abbreviated recounting of our grand trip to Burgundy a couple of years ago.

The instructor has also arranged for us to Skype with French students at an engineering university outside of Paris. We have to have at least two one-hour conversations with our partner then write up our experience and what we learned as another writing assignment (thankfully, not another creative writing effort). Half of each conversation is to be in French and half in English since the French students want to improve their proficiency. I've had one conversation with my partner so far--it was interesting and rather challenging. His English is much better than my French.

I was asking him about the sports he liked to play (rugby, an oddly British choice) and the job he expected to have when he finished university. One of his first questions to me (in French), was how Americans viewed the French people. I had to laugh. Not only was that so typically French, a complete and honest answer was far beyond my ability to provide in French. I gave it my best shot though.

Even though these activities take time nearly every day to prepare and complete, they are fun and help me clear my mind for the rest of my studies.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Pack Dynamics: Harry and Azza

I keep a pretty close eye on Azza when she's around Harry. I no longer fear her going Cujo without warning, but she's young and rambunctious and still mostly made up of crazy, flailing legs and tail. But he does a pretty good job on his own, growling at her when she gets too close. There's no question that she understands that special rules apply to him and around him. But I'll probably never completely relax my vigilance. Dogs are animals, after all.

I've posted before how tempting the forbidden is--how the very restrictions on Azza when she's around Harry make him all that more fascinating to her.

He's been sleeping a lot these days, particularly in the mornings. Why should he get out of bed when all I'm doing is taking a shower? Not much chance of breakfast (they've already had it), treats, a walk, or play, so it's perfectly logical from Harry's perspective to sleep in for a while.

Since Azza has been showing signs of having a couple more neurons than before, she's been allowed the privilege of being loose when I'm in the shower (I used to crate her if I couldn't see her).

This morning, I got out of the shower and went to check on what Azza was up to. She wasn't in the front room by the stove. No, I found her in the bedroom.

She had (apparently rather quietly) gathered a selection of toys (rubber ball, plush squeaky) on the bed along with her favorite nylabone, and was curled up next to Harry, quietly chewing her plastic bone. He was sound asleep, tucked into his fleece nest in the same position he'd been in when I got up, just the tip of his nose sticking out.

Was she there to keep an eye on the fragile elder of the pack? Is that anthropomorphizing too much? Whatever motivated her, it gives me warm fuzzies to know that she chose to keep him company.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Eyeballs on the Blog

I usually put some effort into selecting post titles. On web devices, that is usually all that you see, so I want them to be relevant, and funny if possible.

Well, I got 40 views of my "First Day of School" post--and I know perfectly well that it was because of the title. I only have about 15 regular readers (no potential for ad revenues for CircusK9). It certainly wasn't because that was a brilliant bit of writing either.

Here is where the problems of the unexamined Google search arise. I guess some people type in a search term then click any link instead of examining it for its suitability. But you can pretty much assume from the name of my blog that it isn't a mommy blog nor is it about politics or gender issues or human rights or freeze peach.

Still, I suppose I should be happy with the exposure, even if it is accidental. Perhaps I'll pick up one or two more regulars as a result!

Larry, Moe, and Azza--A Visual Aid

Yeah, I know you can tell that it took me all of five minutes to make this.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Larry, Moe, and Azza

I should be studying. But the house was a mess and it was making me quite twitchy. I folded laundry. I dusted. I vacuumed, even under the bed, and I mopped.

Azza was sulking in the kitchen as I was finishing up the floors. It was past their dinner time and all the animals were getting restless. I came in with the mop to rinse it one more time...and Azza panicked. She tried to shoot out of the kitchen, slipped on the wet floor, and in her attempt to right herself, she landed in the water bowl. Of course, she kept flailing, flipping the bowl over and spreading the puddle across the floor.

She at last made it to the relative safety of the dog beds in the living room where she's still curled up nursing her wounded pride.

The Three Stooges could not have pulled off better slapstick.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Becoming an Oregonian

These days, most cities and towns, even wide spots in the road, have some sort of coffee shop. But Oregon has some particularly good ones, local companies trying to set themselves apart from the bloated, megaglobal chains like Starbucks. Oregon also has a lot of drive-thru coffee shops, usually with two-sided access.

I don't have many choices with my routes between home and Corvallis so I drive up and down the same road quite often. The grocery store I use is on this road. And so is a drive-thru kiosk of one of the local coffee companies. This chain has maybe four kiosks in the area, so it is particularly small. They open this particular shop every day at 4am, hoping to entice early morning truck and commuter traffic coming into Corvallis from points west. The owner must pay his baristas well. The same bright, young girl has been working at this particular shop since I arrived in the area back in April.

I am trying to stick to a budget and drinking coffee out is rather a luxury. For the price of a small latte, I can buy a box of 20 teabags--almost three weeks' worth. For the price of two small lattes, I can buy a pound of ground coffee, enough to make at home for months. It's hard to justify spending so much money on one cup of coffee. But I don't have an espresso machine at home and I quite like the taste of fancy coffee. Every so often, I simply have to get a small mocha on my way into to campus in the morning.

I must drink coffee and tea and eat chocolate in moderation; too much caffeine triggers migraines for me, so no matter where I get it, my caffeine intake is strictly measured and limited. Still, a small cup of fancy coffee is within my daily caffeine allowance!

I probably visit this particular shop on average one or two times every couple of weeks. That's not a lot, certainly it's not a daily occurrence nor is it predictable as I could fancy a fancy coffee just about any day of the week. And as I said, the same young woman is always the barista when I go there. I always order the same thing, a 12 ounce mocha (with no sugar), the perfect combination of warmth, coffee, and chocolate.

This morning I decided was a good morning for fancy coffee. Heavy fog developed at dawn and it was damp and chilly. So on my way to school, I pulled off the main road to the coffee shop. I had to wait behind one car. I was listening to some jazz on the radio (Louis Armstrong) to pass the time. When the car left, I pulled up, rolled down the window, and the young woman leaned out, smiled, and said, "small mocha?". I said, yes, and she handed me the mocha already made up. I laughed and said, did you make this just now? She smiled again and said, yes, I saw you through the windows. I tipped her extra, of course!

This must be a rite of passage for becoming an Oregonian. You find a favorite coffee shop, become a regular, and after a while, the baristas don't ask you what you want. They start making up your order when they see you arrive!

I would offer up the second piece of evidence for my possible increasing Oregonian-ness. It's only a few minutes more of driving to go from "my" coffee kiosk to the parking lot on the edge of campus that I use, not enough time to even get started on that mocha. I park, unload my bike, put on my backpack, grab the coffee, and pedal across campus to my first class holding my coffee in one hand. I rarely spill a drop.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

College Campuses

There is a religious zealot (xtian, of course) standing up on a ledge outside the library ranting about how all of us are going to hell and how gays are not real men. He's drawn quite a crowd. Some of the hecklers are rather clever but the zealot won't be deterred.

This being a college campus, there's another guy, a student, standing on a ledge a few feet away, echoing the xtian's ravings about his judgmental xtian god with rants about Arceus being the only true Pokemon god. Since I'm not up on Pokemon subculture, I can't comment on the veracity of this statement, but it's pretty damned funny nonetheless.

And behind the two ranters are a group of students who recently formed a new campus club, Humans versus Zombies. They are holding up hastily lettered posters claiming "Free Hugs!" and they are making good on that, hugging one and all who want one.

Christian bigots, role-playing game geeks, and free hugs. What an interesting place to be!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Musings on Sleeping CircusK9

I'm spending the weekend studying biochem and animal genetics, with a bit of French thrown in. I'm pretty much caught up with animal nutrition at the moment. When I add up the hours I spend in class and the hours I spend studying each day, it comes out to far more than I spent going to work these past few years.

The dogs are not happy about this new arrangement.

Harry has been nursing a soft-tissue injury in his left shoulder for a couple of weeks so our normal walking and play schedule have been even further restricted. But he's been showing signs of improvement the past few days so this morning I decided we needed to make our regular trip to the Bald Mountain recreation area for our trail hike.

I've talked about our walks there before. We cover around 3 miles, a little over half of that on single-track dirt trails. The trails are moderate in difficulty (tree roots, embedded rocks, erosion barriers, sections that are rather steep, etc.) but they are well maintained, marked, and used by a lot of people. The dogs love their weekend trail walk--so many more smells and sounds than the usual neighborhood outing. All three of them come back nice and tired.

Here is a picture I took of them this morning as they settled in for their post-walk nap. Azza methodically gathered all of the loose toys into/around the tiny dog bed then curled up in it. She prefers the little bed, which is quite amusing--she barely fits into it. Once he was comfortable, I covered Harry with a blanket because he's old and deserves a little extra TLC.

A tired dog is a happy dog! A tired dog is a good dog who will let me study uninterrupted for the next three hours.

And here's a pic of HellBeast's new puffy bed. I may not be that fond of him but there's no reason he shouldn't have a warm napping place too.

On the bright side, I at last managed to train HB to stay near my feet at night so he can sleep on the bed with the rest of CircusK9 (Mimi and Harry are NOT at all interested in sharing their bed space with an annoying cat). As you may know, cats triple their mass when they sleep so not only did I have to train him to stay at the foot but I had to train him to stay to one side so I wouldn't have to continually shove him aside to make room for me. I think we've achieved mutually acceptable compromises all around (he sleeps near Azza so she had to be willing to put up with that). He likes to crawl under the topmost blanket so he stays warm, Azza can snug up to him if she chooses, and I can put my cold feet near him when I need to. Certainly worth a nice, puffy cat bed for his perch.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Herd Immunity

I'm recovering swiftly from my head cold (Advil and a tipple of whiskey: too bad I can't patent that). Typical rhino virus, probably. Thank goodness it wasn't flu or, dog forbid, the dreaded norovirus.

Germs are everywhere on campus. I know that makes me sound like some crazy Chicken Little but consider: I use computers in the library often; then there's door handles to buildings, classrooms, restrooms; and coffee cups or dropped pens handed to you by someone else; and the list is pretty much endless. I wash my hands often, and always after using the library computers, but sometimes that just isn't enough.

Biochemistry, which I'm taking this quarter, is one of the largest undergraduate classes at OSU with around 400 registrants. The largest class is the second term of biochem with well over 400 (numbers probably swollen by those trying to improve their poor grades from their first attempt).

Close your eyes and imagine 400 people crammed into an overheated auditorium, seats still warm from some other large class that vacated them minutes before. People are sneezing, coughing, laughing, spraying germs willy-nilly. Hand washing is hardly going to help in this situation.

I did my part for herd immunity today and got my flu shot at a clinic offered by student health services. I'm a delicate flower, bruise like a damned peach when poked with a needle, even the tiny ones they use for the flu vax. My arm is sore and I'm sure I'll feel like shit this weekend. But I'd rather suffer mildly now than suffer horribly later.

The clinic was for all university folks: staff, students, faculty. The woman who took my info form looked at me, made a judgement about my status based on my age which she inferred from my appearance, and only after looking at my form and seeing the student ID, not the faculty insurance info, said in surprise, "oh, you're a student!" This has happened nearly every time I have had to claim a "student benefit". I'm okay with being a regular challenge to people's preconceptions but it does make me feel a bit old.

The flu vax clinic was packed, and the nurse who jabbed me told me it had been nonstop since they started up at 10 am this morning (I went in near the end of the day). They are offering a second one in a couple of weeks. One of the student health center employees was out on the student union quad dressed in a giant syringe costume (yeah, it was as weird as you think). They even offered me candy and a "I got a flu shot" sticker as I was leaving (I eschewed the former, took the latter). They are certainly doing their part to attract as many students as possible (faculty and staff are likely to be much more compliant since their health insurance plans cover the cost of the shot; I had to pay $15, or rather, had $15 put on my OSU account which I'll have to pay at the end of the quarter). The syringe guy did have to compete for attention with the lube-tasting event also taking place on the quad (yeah, that kind of lube; I'm all for open discussions about safe sex on a college campus).

Let's hear it for herd immunity.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Better Living Through Chemistry

Nighttime is always the hardest when you have a cold or the flu. I currently have a head cold which thankfully is starting to weaken. Still, I spent the weekend tossing blankets on and off. Mimi completely lost patience with me and decided to sleep next to Harry for a change. Even with three pillows, I had problems breathing and kept waking up snorfling and sneezing.

But I realized that I wasn't using all of the tools at my disposal. Last night, I took an Advil cold and sinus caplet (I love me some ibuprofen but taking it on its own for more than a couple of days upsets my stomach) then leisurely drank a pinky finger of whiskey on a couple of ice cubes while finishing up homework.

I slept like a baby.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Thai Curry Butternut Squash Soup

The weather was absolutely gorgeous this weekend: clear blue skies, gentle breeze, temps around 70 F. It started out a bit chilly in the mornings with some fog but that burned off quickly enough.

Changing weather with changing seasons makes me think about big pots of beans and roasted root vegetables and other post-harvest foods.

I've got a nasty head cold and that makes me think of spicy foods.

Put those together and you get Thai Curry Butternut Squash Soup. As I've mentioned here before, I believe that limes and red Thai curry paste, and fresh ginger when it's available, should be staples in any adventurous cook's kitchen. They are strong components of this nice alternative to the butternut soup standard.

I used this basic recipe that I found on this blog, but as usual I made some changes. Here is her recipe:

Thai Curry Butternut Squash Soup
Yield: serves 4
Total Time: 1 hour

3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 sweet onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons red curry paste
3 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
4 cups uncooked butternut squash (1-inch) cubes
1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
1 lime, juiced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup torn fresh cilantro for serving
1/3 cup chopped roasted peanuts for serving

Heat a large pot over medium-low heat and add coconut oil. Once it's melted, add in the onions and the garlic with a pinch of salt and stir. Cook until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add in the ginger and curry paste and stir until it is incorporated. Cook the curry and onion mixture for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in the stock and add the squash cubes. Cover the pot and increase the heat to medium. Cook until the squash is soft, about 20 minutes.

Once the squash is soft, turn off the heat and very carefully pour the entire mixture into a blender. Blend until the soup is smooth and pureed. Pour it back into the pot and turn the heat on to medium low. Add in the coconut milk, lime juice, salt and pepper, and stir. Cover and cook the soup for 10 minutes until it's completely warm. Taste and season additionally if desired. Serve the soup with a garnish of torn cilantro and crushed peanuts.

[adapted from the cooking light recipe shortcuts magazine (page 18), out until november]

First, I used olive oil instead of coconut oil (which is solid at room temperature). I don't care for the taste of coconut oil and wasn't going to buy a container of it just for this dish.

Second, I eschewed the cilantro and peanut garnish, mainly because I forgot to buy cilantro at the store yesterday.

Third, I added the garlic with the ginger and red curry paste. Garlic will get bitter when overcooked and if you add it at the beginning when you are cooking the onion, it will get overcooked very quickly. I also first smashed then coarsely diced the garlic cloves. Smashing them brings out more of the flavor, in my opinion. It makes it easier to peel them too.

Fourth, as an experiment, I cut up the two butternuts into eights or thereabout, cleaned out the seeds, tossed the squash chunks in a plastic bag with olive oil, and roasted them in the oven for about an hour at 350F. I don't know if this changed the flavor substantially since my head is too full of snot to detect something this subtle (all I can taste is the curry paste and lime, really). But I figured it couldn't hurt. As a side note, this pre-roasting didn't affect the total cooking time significantly.

Finally, I used about twice as much red curry paste as the recipe calls for. You will need to determine what level of spiciness you prefer. I also squeezed in two limes, not one. The acidity of the lime juice perfectly meshes the sweet, creamy coconut milk and the bright spice notes of the red curry.

The soup is smooth and warm and spicy, perfect with a piece of hearty, seedy bread. The rain is moving back in tonight--I'm ready!

Friday, October 04, 2013


There was ice on my car windshield this morning. Ice! No wonder Mimi, who is convinced that she'll melt in the rain or its close cousin, wet grass, was reluctant to take that final pee before I left for class. Wet, icy grass must seem to her the ultimate insult to injury.

I'm sitting here wrapped ankles to ears in a lavender fleece robe. I didn't even bother to unpack it when I was in Dhahran. But my throat is scratchy, it's going to be another cold night, it's the end of the first week of classes, and it just felt right to pull the robe out of the closet and put it on.

Because of all of the above, I'm feeling a bit curmudgeonly at the moment. So I think I'll blow off some steam with a rant. They don't come along too often so I ask your forbearance.

If I can smell your Glade Plug-Ins/air freshener/scented candles from the street outside your house, you are doing it wrong. You've managed to destroy the smell receptors in the noses of every creature living in your home; why are you assaulting passers-by as well?

The much-discussed millenials don't seem to have much of a grasp on the concept of planning for the future. This morning before French class, I was talking to one. He seems like a nice enough young man. He's in the Marine Corps reserves. Plans for after college? Try to get into the Marine Corps. But they are dumping nearly 30% of their current numbers. I said, what's your plan B? He said, the Army. You baby boomers have your children, that is, me and my peers, to look after you. My generation? We are fucking doomed.

The pre-vet undergraduate population is dominantly female (sort of like those feral cat colonies), and I mean 75-80% female. They seem to fall into three main types.

Here I must make a small digression. The following observations aren't very nice and purists can certainly accuse me of judging on appearance, etc. My rant. Get your own or leave a comment.

The first type is the cute girl who was in the popular set in her small town high school. She wears a bit too much makeup and likes flashy, cheap jewelry and often colors her hair, which is usually straight. She is usually thin. She may even be sporty at least in dress. This type will glom onto any males present but in the absence of that, as in the pre-vet undergrad community, she will sit next to others of her type, usually in groups of at least 3-4.

The second type is the large (by which I mean obese) girl who may have also been somewhat popular in her small town high school simply by virtue of her being loud and obvious. She rarely wears makeup, may also color her hair in weird shades of red and black (in an attempt to be edgy), and dresses in hoodies and jeans no matter the occasion. This type nearly always flocks together. Some of these women are so large that they can't sit in adjacent seats in the classrooms. That's kind of sad.

As an aside, may I say that overweight women really shouldn't wear low-rise pants? There's no way those pants are comfortable for them.

The third type is the quiet, plain girl. Some of them are smart and some of them are not. They also tend to wear minimal makeup. They dress plainly and usually don't color their hair. They often sit in pairs or by themselves.

The proportions of these three types seems to be about equal.

That's pretty much all I have to offer on that particular topic. There must be some social/cultural factors that cause these three types to select a pre-vet program in equal numbers. I'm sure there is a master's thesis in there somewhere. I have other goals to pursue at the moment.

Moving on, I also must wonder how some undergrads think that taking certain core sciences classes two, three, even FOUR times, in an attempt to pass them is okay. All of those attempts show up on their transcripts. Vet schools have orders of magnitude more applicants than they have slots for. Chances are good that they notice this sort of thing.

Plurals are made by adding an s to the end of the word. That's all, just a simple s. True, English is a language of exceptions (the linguistic offspring of the cultural melting pot). However, if you follow this rule, you'll be okay more often than you will be if you use the construction apostrophe-s ('s) to make a plural. Apostrophe-s is used to denote possession. If you use apostrophe-s to make a plural, you are pretty much always wrong (there are, of course, exceptions).

Fewer and less. Gack. I throw things when I hear these two misused. It's becoming a daily occurrence. Fewer refers to things you can count. "Fewer people were at the mall"--you can count people. Less most often refers to qualities. "It was less hot today than yesterday" (which is weird as you'd probably say "it wasn't as hot today as yesterday" but you get the idea). You can't count "hot"--that doesn't make any sense. However, you also say "ten is less than twenty". Even though ten is a number, in this example it is a general quality. If I said "he has ten fewer books than Uncle Bob" then I'm using ten as an adjective to modify a countable noun, and in that case fewer is the right choice. Can you count the things you are talking about? Use fewer. Please.

I've heard and read a few rants about the overuse and misuse of "literally". I've been trying to purge it from my own vocabulary for some time. But I've noticed that "actually" is taking its place. Listen to any media stream. Count how many times people say "actually". Most of the time it adds nothing to the idea being expressed. "He was actually going to the mall with less people." Jeebus on a cracker. Not to be a grammar nazi but it would be nice if we could all try to keep up a working relationship with our mother tongue. Otherwise, public discourse will end up sounding like the babbling of infants.

Had enough? So have I.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Feral Cats: "No More Kittens For You"

I spent almost 5 hours on Sunday morning volunteering at a spay and neuter event organized by the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon. During those 5 hours, I saw 82 feral cats in all imaginable colors and physical conditions. More than half were under 6 months. More than half were female. The average weight of the animals was 4 to 5 lbs (small). Many were covered with feces and urine from their panicked thrashing in the traps/cages. About half a dozen were under 8 weeks of age--they still got spayed or neutered anyway. There were large 8- and 9-pound toms, survivors and fighters ("no more kittens for you!" we'd cry out).

Of the 82 cats, one was euthanized and one had already been spayed but had a very large abdominal hernia that got fixed. That means that 80 cats total were desexed in just under five hours. There were three vets doing the spays and one doing the neuters; all were from clinics in the area. The FCCO has experienced workers who managed the order in which the animals were sent into the surgical truck so that the spay vets went from one cat to the next with sometimes only a minute or two between. Cat neuters (and dog neuters, usually) are done without sutures and even in a regular clinic they usually can be done in under 2 minutes. Shave, clean, slice open, squeeze, cut, tie a knot, push the cord back in, bam, you're done. Next! The spays are far more complicated but let's do some math: assume 60 female cats spayed in a total of 300 minutes; with three going at the same time, it comes out to about 15 minutes per cat.

There were volunteers who managed the trap distribution, intake, and reservations; all of this was set up many days before the event itself. The traps containing the cats were brought in by the people who fed or lived near the feral colonies. An FCCO worker was in one end of the surgical truck, isolated from the rest of us except for a small window. She did the initial ID and pre-op sedation (she jabbed them through the cages--she was really fast!). She then passed the cats through the window into the main part of the truck. The next set of volunteers (vet techs from local clinics) did ear clipping, flea treatment, ear mite treatment, aging, sexing, weighing, vaccinations, and pre-op shaving and cleaning. I was the medical recorder: I wrote down all of the data for each cat, logging what was done to it, making sure everything that was supposed to be done was indeed done, and noting any additional issues or observations. I also folded towels, drew vaccines, and tried to stay out of the way. There were volunteers who removed empty cages for cleaning, volunteers who transported cats from the surgical truck to the recovery area, and even more volunteers there who checked on the cats every few minutes. (The cats will stay in the cages for 24 hours and are then released back to their colonies.) There were volunteers manning an autoclave who cleaned and returned surgical instruments to the spay area every hour or so.

It was an impressive assembly line from top to bottom.

I asked one of the FCCO people if any studies had been done to determine if spay/neuter/vaxing prolonged the life of the feral cats, and she said, who would fund such a study? Still, a reasonable person could reasonably assume that these efforts must have some positive effect: reduced competition for resources, reduced incidence of disease, etc. Even so, I was surprised at her answer. For an organization that relies entirely on private donations, they surely have a better answer than that to give to their major donors!

The experience was sad and somehow uplifting at the same time. It was sad to see so many small, dirty, skinny cats passing from hand to hand, but the hands were caring and respectful.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Artist's Model?

I drove up to Portland on Sunday with the dogs to visit Anne and her dogs. She and I spent the morning at the open air market down by the river. Lots of very cool crafts as well as an assortment of kitschy junk to be found.

Despite having three large boxes of shipping-wrapped pictures and other art items in the back room that I haven't had the energy to do anything with, and despite chanting "no more artwork!" as we wandered around, I simply had to purchase this print (I got the cheap frame for it later):

I think you can see why!

The artist is Thomas Rude.

Baby, It's Cold Outside

No, not really that cold, but fall/winter weather has at last arrived in northwestern Oregon after what seemed to be an interminable hot, dry summer. It's been cool and rainy for a few days now.

The small propane gas stove that is the source of heat in the house has started up after months of idling. Even so, I've had to haul out extra blankets for us all.

Here's a photo of Azza and Harry napping in front of the stove, the warmest spot in the house. I know pink isn't the manliest of colors but it suits Harry well.

It seems that I can't get enough pics of sleeping dogs. There's something so relaxing about watching them nap.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

First Day of School

As a child, I always looked forward to the first day of school. Simply making the annual trip to buy school supplies the week or so beforehand was enough to send me over the edge with excitement.

Well, it's that time of year again. I'm can't say I'm beside myself with anticipation, but I am looking forward to returning to class on Monday.

I've got a full schedule this quarter: French, Biochemistry (a pre-vet weedout class, I've been told), Animal Nutrition, and Animal Breeding and Genetics. While the latter two are focused on industrial applications, I'm sure I'll learn valuable things.

Because of my interest in spending a year outside of the US during vet school and perhaps even an international internship after vet school, I intend to keep up with the French. Being reasonably fluent in another language will help me with these goals. I took a placement exam earlier this summer and tested out at the third-year level. However, I felt my conversational skills are far weaker than my grammar and vocabulary so I am starting a three-quarter second-year sequence for the language.

Textbooks are rather pricey, as science texts have always been, but I buy used ones if I can, as I always have done. I am perfectly willing to search through dozens of used books until I find one that looks least used. Sort of sad, really, because that means its prior owner didn't use it--didn't do readings or homework, didn't flip back and forth through chapters to study for an exam, didn't regularly cart it around in a backpack. A textbook that has been used to learn and explore looks pretty beat by the end of 10 or 12 weeks. Plus I write in books. Always have. All kinds of books. (While I like ebooks, I find not being able to jot notes and thoughts in the margins to be a bit frustrating.)

Going to university is quite expensive and it didn't make sense to me 30 years ago and doesn't make sense to me now that someone would waste time and money (somebody's money, not likely to be their own, and everybody else's time) by not going to class or even trying to learn something. But I suppose that even when I was 20 I was already a curmudgeon.

The campus this summer was rather underpopulated. I've been down there a couple of times in the past week or so to get my textbooks and supplies (how exciting! school supplies!) and the influx of thousands of painfully young men and women is a bit overwhelming.

But I'm ready. I've got notebooks for each class. I've got plenty of lead for my beloved mechanical pencils. I printed color coded schedules. I also downloaded my schedule to my various Apple devices. I printed a campus map highlighting the buildings that I need to be in this quarter. I even broke down and bought a student parking pass (they were offering a year-long deal if purchased online). I had my bike tuned up. I even bought two pairs of pants (new school clothes!) to wear instead of jeans (they are really jeans but they are colored). Laugh at me all you want. I am ready for the first day of school.

Happy Birthday, Mimi!

Quicksilver Let's Play House was born on September 1, 2005. Mimi turned 8 yrs old this month.

Like most females of a certain age, she has a couple of grey eyebrow hairs that stick straight out from her face.

But she's hardly begun to slow down or calm down, rising each morning as feisty and stubborn as a terrier should be.

She remains the undisputed queen bee of CircusK9.

Happy birthday, Mimi!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Getting Experience 5

This past week I drove down to Eugene to spend a day with an internal medicine veterinarian at a specialist referral clinic. She finished up with her clients and procedures early so I also got to observe a gall bladder removal surgery performed by a surgical specialist (more on that in a later post).

There is an odd, diffuse tension between specialists and general vets, which we can call GPs (for general practitioners). There are certainly differences in how these two groups of vets operate. I've been asking questions of both groups to try to understand this.

I've heard specialists dismiss what GPs do as not much more than giving vaccinations, treating fleas, and doing spays/neuters. Of course, those things do indeed form the bulk of the activities I've seen at the clinic that I have been shadowing at...because those things constitute the most basic forms of companion animal health care. It's not the activities themselves that the specialists get sniffy about, but the daily and somewhat unvarying repetition of these activities.

I asked one of the young vets in my shadow clinic why she was a GP. She said that she had intended to become an anaesthesia specialist, but while in vet school, she married and decided that going straight into practice instead of spending several more years in internships and residencies suited her and her family life better. Not a ringing endorsement of the GP track but certainly understandable.

I asked an eye specialist what the pros and cons were of her specialty. One of the cons was obvious: a specialist needs to be located in or near an urban area in order to have sufficient density of clients to make a living. But she also said that not getting to know her patients well was a con. She only sees them for special ailments and doesn't typically see multiple animals from the same client across years the way a GP in an established clinic might. A pro for her was that she simply loved what she did.

I am probably too old to become a specialist given the minimum 4-6 years of additional training beyond vet school required for most of them. However, it is interesting to explore these aspects of veterinary practice.

Saturday, September 21, 2013


Boodle, the companion of my friend Moya in Dhahran, died a couple of days ago. His big, loving heart couldn't keep beating for him any longer.

He and Moya were one of my first private training experiments, and a highly successful one at that.

Boodle and Moya were our regular walking companions. Boodle and Harry made up the grumpy old man contingent, mostly content to watch the pummeling and racing from the sidelines.

Boodle and Moya were part of my agility "regulars". It took a lot of hot dogs and a bit of pushing, but he did learn to enjoy tunnels!

The jump chute challenge.

Going in!

Coming out! He is so pleased with himself!

Boodle loved digging deep, pointless holes in cool, damp sand, usually in Penny's backyard.

He guarded the communal water spigot.

Mr B barked at the gardeners up until the very end.

He will be missed.