Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Dog Days of August

Now we're in for it.

I guess life was too quiet around the Cynic household. So we went and got a puppy.

Around 9 months ago, we finally had to have Tasha put down. On the dog front, that left us with Boris, who I've described before:
Unfortunately, as Boris got older, we discovered a minor problem - he's an idiot. Dumb as a bag of hammers. This might partly be due to a badly-healed skull-fracture that the vet discovered, which also led to his nose curving ever-so-slightly to the right. It might be due to the fact that Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are known to be a little vague. Or it might just be that he doesn't even have two brain cells to rub together....

Boris is both moose and squirrel rolled into one dust-covered package. He's lazy - he doesn't just sit, he'll lie down, or he'll lean against a wall. Some stray atom of thought will roll through the dark recesses of his skull, and he'll go bounding down the hall, running into walls, and either skid to a stop in the living room or ram, full-speed, into some piece of furniture. And then he'll stand there, looking around confused, because whatever phantom had momentarily interested him has apparently vanished into thin air.

Boris is also extremely friendly. He loves other dogs, people, cats, birds - anything that moves is his friend. We have hopes that a burglar breaks into our house while Tasha is still around, because left to his own devices, Boris will lick their faces and show them where we store the good china and the big TV.
Now, you can see where this might be an issue when one of our primary reasons for owning a dog is in place of paying for a burglar alarm, right? The Trophy Wife was pretty happy with answering the door when she had a giant ball of throbbing death growling at her side: it was a little off-putting to salesmen and Jehovah's Witnesses, and gave her a good reason to end the visit quickly.

We can't even get Boris to bark at the door on a regular basis when somebody knocks. We've gotten one bark out of him, once or twice, but so far, only when it's been somebody we expected and knew already. So that hasn't been completely successful.

So yesterday, we took a firm grip on our sanity, and calmly threw it out of the car. Ran over it a few times, and proceeded to the Animal Welfare folks to get another dog.

Now, I've always said that if we got a dog, I wanted a puppy. And for the perfectly logical reason: I like puppies. But, in talking to the wife, we realized that neither of us particularly wanted to housetrain another dog. Plus, Boris wouldn't be much of a mentor for a houseplant, much less a puppy. So we agreed that an older dog might be a good idea.

Unfortunately, our options were limited: with our menagerie, it needed to be a dog who could stand to be around cats, and, in fact, other dogs. Preferably not a biter, and definitely not one trained to fight (yes, we still have issues with that here in New Mexico: we were one of the last two states to outlaw that particularly reprehensible "sport"). So when we narrowed down our choices, none of them were particularly housebroken, and we realized that training a younger dog to poop outside would be easier than breaking a bad habit in an older beast.

So we ended up with a 5-month-old male, Rocky (in keeping with our Bullwinkle-themed canine history): in human terms, not really a baby, but just pre-adolescent. Twenty-three pounds of excitable labrador-and-something. He loves Boris, isn't sure about the cats yet, doesn't run around barking madly, and sincerely wants to be close to people.

There are, of course, the usual puppy challenges: he wants to chew on things, we've only had one accident so far, and we have to separate the dogs to keep Boris from eating the puppy food. (Oh, and Rocky did not appreciate his first bath. But he also didn't melt or explode, so he recovered quickly.)

Of course, at seven, with most of his life spent around a relatively placid older dog, Boris is not at all sure about this bouncing bundle of energy. But overall, they're getting along quite well.

Things ought to be interesting for a while. I believe there's an ancient Chinese curse to that effect.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mr. Telephone Man

Well, we went and did it.

The Trophy Wife hasn't traditionally been rough on phones, but her's developed a small crack in the casing some time ago, and has been getting a little crotchety lately. So on Thursday, when it didn't ring the first time I called her, and then just completely dropped the call the second time, we knew it was time to get a new one.

But somewhere along the line, we lost our minds, broke down and upgraded to a Smart Phone. And since the Wookie Son had come along for the ride (it being mid-afternoon, so he was awake), he, too, ended up with an upgraded phone.

So they've spent the last two days pecking and swiping and learning all about their damned little gadgets with the adorable two-thumbed, slide-out keyboards and the touchscreens and all the various apps.

I have a phone. That's it off to the right. You know what it does? It calls people. That's all it does; it has a low-res screen (which shows phone numbers just fine, though), and it doesn't even have a camera. I'm OK with that.

That phone is the Sanyo SCP 7050. It's five years old, and still going strong - how many people do you know with a 5-year-old cell phone who aren't cursing about it? Rubberized case, military specs for durability and waterproofing; you can drop this one on the pavement (and I have), run over it with a truck, drop it in water, and it still keeps working.

You know why they stopped making this phone? Because nobody was buying new ones to replace the ones they broke: to kill this bastard, you have to put a stake through its heart, and then burn the remains, soak them with holy water, and bury them at the crossroads at midnight. And even as you're doing that, it might just ring.

Christ, people don't seem to have a problem getting hold of me as it is. Why should I want to make it easier for them? Hell, most of the time, I don't even want to talk to the people who call me anyway. Why use would I have for a phone that can call people, email them, connect to Twitter, and find them on Facebook?

So there it is. My wife and son now have phones that are officially smarter than I am. And I don't have a problem with this.

At least I didn't have to crack out the instruction manual to figure out how to answer when somebody calls. ("Oh, you have to swipe the green phone icon sideways, not just tap it. OK!")

Saturday, August 11, 2012

<i>We must code</i>

Blogger recently did a redesign on its pages, and a lot of people don't appreciate it.

The spacing has gone weird, it likes to reset your font at random, and sometimes the background color will just do whatever the hell it wants. The problem is, I'm willing to bet, that you're working in "Compose" (that little button in the upper left, assuming you have the standard layout).

See, I have a little (very little) training in coding. And damn, but I wish I'd kept it up - in 1999, I could have made a ton of money just correcting a programming error in COBOL.

If you're having weird formatting issues, open that post, and click the button in the upper left labelled "HTML." What's probably going to happen is that a lot of crap that you've never seen before will suddenly appear in the middle of your post.

I know you don't care, but HTML stands for "HyperText Markup Language." It's just the commands that tell your computer how to do things on the internet. It's not usually scary, until you let a machine try to do it.

Because they use a program to put the HTML in the middle of your text. And one of the things that the program does is set your format for every paragraph (the font style, the font size, everything). And if you go back to something you've already written to change a few words, the program wants to reset the format again.

And sometimes, when you throw in a space it doesn't think is necessary, it'll throw some invisible symbol in there (usually starting with an ampersand and ending with a semicolon). You normally can't see those, but they exist.

And sometimes, there's so much unnecessary crap there that you can only barely find your text, hiding between various commands that have no real excuse for existing.

It's automated. Like any machine, it does exactly what it's been told to do, and doesn't vary in the slightest. So you just have to cut proto-Siri out of the equation. Here's what you do. And don't worry if you have no experience with computer code: we're going to start slow and work you up to it.

First, just accept the standard font and background. You can mess with those later when you're more comfortable with it. So, the first thing you need to do is to click the HTML button again. You're about to take a few (very few) tentative steps into the wonderful world of computer code.

Now, every HTML command gets bracketed by "greater than" and "less than" signs. That tells the computer to sit up and pay attention, because you're talking to it, by god!

So, for example, to tell it to put things into italics, you type <i>. That "i" tells it italics. (Exchange it for a "b" and you've just told it to bold the next bunch of letters.)

An important thing to remember at this point is that, just like in the Sorcerer's Apprentice, if you tell your computer to do something, it will keep doing it until it dies. So every command you open, you have to close. And in this case, that means that once you've told it to italicize something, you have to tell it to stop, usually with the same command, only preceded by a slash (so </i>). Think of the slash as you, telling your computer "stop, you bastard!"

In fact, once you've done it for a while, you'll discover that a lot of programming involves counting commands and seeing which one you didn't shut down. (Or counting parentheses and seeing which one you didn't close.)

The next thing you'll notice is that HTML doesn't like paragraphs. Everything you type ends up in one big block of text. To fix that, we have another command. We'll call it "break" (programmers like easy-to-remember commands, by the way.) It looks like this: <br/>

You'll notice that the slash is at the end. This one isn't paired up with a second command. It just inserts a break (what us old guys would call a "carriage return" - those of you too young to have used a typewriter... fuck you. You'll be old soon, too).

Me, I like double-spacing between paragraphs. So I end up typing <br/><br/> at the end of every paragraph.
Pro-tip: just to make it easy on you, after you enter the breaks (<br/>), hit "enter" and make a new paragraph (which the HTML will just ignore): it'll make it easier to edit your work later.
Now, there's just two more things to show you tonight.

The first is the hyperlink. It's a jump to a new web page. It goes like this: <a href="">

Now, inside those quotes, you'd put the address for whatever webpage you were interested in. If, for example, you were writing for a particularly slow audience and wanted to steer them to the Google homepage, you'd type <a href="">Google</a>

(Notice that the closing command was just "/a" - the first part of the command is the important part. Everything else is just details, giving it the specifics of what you want it to do).

And because we like to quote our sources sometimes, it's cool to be able to set them off from the stuff we wrote, perhaps slightly indented. To do this, you'd use the command <blockquote> at the beginning of the quote, and </blockquote> at the end. (Personally, I like to italicize those as well, which looks like this: <blockquote><i>quote goes here</i></blockquote>

To be honest, you don't have to get them in the exact order, either. I do, because it's easier to look at it and say "OK, I opened italics here, and closed them here. The hyperlink starts here and ends here." Like I said, if you get into any detailed coding, it's a good idea to have a simple system to follow.

So, to recap, if you type the following commands, you'll get the following results.

<i>Italics</i> gets you Italics

<b>Boldface</b> gets you Boldface

<a href="">Google</a> gets you a link to the Google homepage

If you need to set off a quote from the rest of your text, you use <blockquote>The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.</blockquote>, which gets you this:
The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
And just so you know, you don't have to put breaks either before or after a blockquote. It already double-spaces on both sides of it.

Once you're comfortable with that, you can move on to more advanced commands. Which you can learn about by going to Google and asking for "HTML for background colors" (or whatever it is you want to change). But start slow: wait until you're comfortable with what you're doing right now.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Be careful what you wish for

Well, the Republicans have really gone and done it this time. In frantically trying to find a replacement for the Kenyan Devil-baby Usurper currently ensconced in the White House (oh, how ironic that term is now!), they seem to have all-but-nominated someone who is exactly like Obama.

Or, to be more accurate, someone who is exactly like the Obama that they see in their feverish hallucinations of a Destroyed America.

And I'm not talking about the fact that Mitt passed a healthcare plan in Massachusetts that Obamacare was modeled after. That would be too easy.

The frothing paste-eaters on the right like to claim, for example, that Barack and Michelle Obama are arrogant. (Google arrogant Obama - go ahead. I can wait.)

Of course, in this case, "arrogant" translates to "they're black and aren't ashamed of it!" So perhaps, by their extremely low standards, it's true.

Mittens and his wife Rafalka Ann actually fit the dictionary definition of the word "arrogant," rather than some racist dog-whistle. Mitt doesn't just fail to understand how ordinary people live, act and react, he just doesn't care.

And let's be honest. You don't get much more arrogant than referring to the common rabble as "you people."

Every time Obama visits another country or talks with a foreign leader, the right wing treats us to a strange, twisted version of reality, where Obama has been accused of going on an "apology tour" or "bowing to foreign dictators."

So, enter Mittens and His Worldwide Embarrassment Tour. What do we get?

Well, he went to England, where one of his manservants made a blatantly racist remark before he could be taken out back and strangled. Then Romney himself insulted the British people for being unprepared for the Olympics, leading, eventually, to a worldwide tour of fuckups and stumbles.

(I apologize for the ad - MSNBC has stronger mojo than I do.)

The right wing whispers conspiratorially that Obama is running some sort of "shadow government" that will lead to the "socialist transformation of America" because Obama doesn't explain every single move he makes, every hour of every day.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney hides every detail of his life and the policies he plans to put in place if elected, on the fascinating theory that if he lets you know, you might point out a flaw or two.

Overall, Mitt has decided that the best road to the once-again-White House will be to campaign, not as a viable candidate, but as a not-Obama: he has nothing on his own, but he isn't the black guy.

A policy which might win him Mississippi and Alabama, but isn't likely to get him the gold.