Tech Talk 6 – the final pre-amble?

We are just about to begin with the new tech and solutions! (There is one more small piece of back story). Hopefully you will see that all that time we spent in the weeds of minute detail about piracy, devices, and content management pays off here. I think that anyone would be able to hear about the new tech and say “wow, that is cool”. But without a vision of how YOU might be able to use new tech, without knowing how it could help you streamline your set-up, increase your productivity, and solve problems you are having or may soon have, it is all just a bunch of shiny new toys.

For the next few episodes, I am going to be talking a fair amount about the pending release of iOS5, iCloud, and a little bit about the new Mac OS “Lion”. The vast majority of technical and factual data comes from the WWDC 2011 keynote speech.

The final back story. Cloud computing has been around for quite some time. The basic tech behind cloud computing is not terribly complicated and has been in use since at least the beginning of personal and enterprise computing, if not much earlier. Basically, you are accessing your data on a remote server from a different location. That is the core, and should sound familiar to most computer users (and probably not too exciting). What makes modern cloud computing exciting, and iCloud in particular, is the further integration of automated procedures, Push technology, and the ability to access your personal data in the cloud from a wider selection of devices wirelessly.

Apple’s first big attempt at marketing this tech to the individual user was a thing called MobileMe. I was extremely underwhelmed by MobileMe. It was very limited and, with few exceptions, only duplicated capability that many users already had. It would sync your email across multiple computers/devices wirelessly. Most power users had already solved this issue long before by switching from POP email delivery to IMAP. It could wirelessly sync your calendar across multiple devices as well, which many of us still had to do via a USB cord. But, at that time (as with today) you had to plug your iPods and iPhones directly into your computer for updates often enough that needing to sync via a cord was not a huge drawback. It would sync your address book also, but this was just like with the calendar – not too useful for most people since we had to use the cord and link directly to the computer regularly.

It could potentially solve some problems for cross platform users – people who worked on Apple and Microsoft systems. But, none of this really worked. I tried it briefly and found it more hassle than it was worth. My boss (also known as Dad) was a cross platform user at this time and I set him up. But there were endless problems. Every time he would sync (when that worked – about 30% of the time – it would simply hang or crash the device(s)) he would end up with multiple copies of data. Instead of syncing, he would end up with sometimes as many as 6 instances of the same events. The same held true with contacts. Every sync ended up duplicating either new entries or the whole address book. My pop has over 2,000 individual entries in his address book. When those begin to duplicate, things get out of control quickly.

That tech was so bad, it took me more than a week to even figure out how to fully unsubscribe, turn it off and remove it. I would follow the procedures, and the next day, it was BACK! I would finally get it off of the computer, and it would reappear on his iPhone. This was a tech support Gordian Knot. Apple has admitted that MobileMe was less than successful. But they knew that they were onto something and they kept at it.

Enter Lion, iOS5, and iCloud!

Tech Talk 5 – Clever Title!

I was excited when the iPad was released. This seemed like a device that would allow me to go on the road without my laptop, and still have a reasonably sized screen for doing work, reading and writing email, surfing the web, and watching my shows. It would also be a huge advantage in terms of books. I am not just a TV addict. I go on the road with 4-20 paper books also. That is a cumbersome load. (We will pick this thread back up in the books/podcasts edition.)

After the initial wave of ravenous excitement died down, I went into the store to play with them. I do like the Apple stores, but my biggest complaint with them is that you cannot try out the devices in anything remotely like real world circumstances. Very few people spend their time computing standing up at a high bench. Even fewer people use their iPads standing up with the device laid out flat on a high table. But at least you can get your hands on the devices and check them out. I was concerned about not having a keyboard, but found that I could actually type wicked fast on the iPad and was able to use 8-10 fingers to type instead of the 4-6 I use on the traditional keyboard. But I did recognize that it was unlikely I would duplicate those speeds while seated, or in any other position besides standing with the device laid out flat on a table of appropriate height.

I was very disappointed with the hard disk capacity of the first wave of iPads. As much freedom as the device offered, the limitations of how much data it could carry were significant. (Research what that was 30 GB?). Looking into work-arounds, I discovered that there really were not any. There was no way to hook a first Gen iPad into an external storage drive for the purposes of data/content management. You had to either purchase new material on the iPad through the iTunes store (or other online vendor) or move content to and from the device from your computer over the USB connector. If you do maintain your own server, I imagine that you could access that server on the iPad over the web, but the device did not have any kind of file management system that would allow you to move content around that way – you would have to have your iTunes library active on the server and move content via iTunes.

The iPad 2 does have a bigger drive, but still not really big enough (for my needs) to be the only computer I take on the road. They did release an adapter cord, Apple 30 pin connector to female USB receptor, and many of us thought that this would be the ticket. I envisioned getting the iPad2, the usb connector, and a small, rugged, highly portable, 1TB storage drive that takes power from the host device instead of a separate power cord. That would allow me to go on the road with a minimal setup for at least 3 months without needing another storage drive or computer (except for iPad software and security updates, but we will revisit that aspect in just a bit).

1 TB is also imperfect for me, but it beats the heck out of 30 or 120 GB. But, early reports revealed two key problems: the iPad does not have enough power to be able to also supply power to such a device, and the file management system was still non-existent even when using a powered external drive over the USB connector. The connector was released as a means to move pictures from digital cameras to the iPad. In that scenario, you use iPhoto to access the drive. That file system is built into iPhoto – similar to how there is some file management built into iTunes that allows you to move data through the iTunes interface. But something like the “Finder” in Apple or “Windows Explorer” in Microsoft just isn’t there on the iPad.

Tech Talk 4 – Get what you paid for?

The model I briefly outlined in the last episode is kinda how I run my TV life now. The big difference is that I don’t have my archive online. I know I could manage that, but I don’t want to build my own server and develop the security and port protocols and have to maintain a physical, “always-on” server somewhere. There are pre-existing online backup solutions, but media alone, not pics and documents – I am already pushing 2 TBs, and that will only grow. That ain’t cheap for me to pay for online storage.

Instead, I try to imagine how long I will be gone, what I may be in the mood for, what I might want to have as fall back, comfort-food TV/audiobooks/music. If it is a short enough trip, I load 150 Gigs or so onto my laptop from my archive, and manage content to and from the iPhone just off the laptop. On longer trips, I bring a storage drive along. This works, but it is bulky. To travel with this set-up, I have to bring: laptop, laptop charger, powerstrip, backup drive, firewire, backup drive power block, my iPhone, and maybe also my iPod in case there are power issues (or 24 hours of airline travel) and I need another source for media, and a few iPod cords and wall chargers.

As I am carting this load around our globe, I am thinking about Apple. I bought most of this stuff from the iTunes store. Almost all of it is still in the store available for sale. It is sitting there ready to be downloaded and I already paid for it. I have personal experience and have heard other well-documented stories that Apple allows you to re-download up to your entire purchase history once a year. They don’t advertise this. Not every apple tech even knew it was the policy (at least up to 2008 or so). This was limited. If I had a corrupted file and effectively lost one episode of a show I purchased a Season Pass for on iTunes, I had to re-download the whole series. They could not give me a one episode download as that was not on my receipt. Imperfect, but at least they honored my purchase and provided replacement data. (This also had an impact on my desire to create my own portable storage system as a more immediate means of dealing with these issues.)

I appreciated the support from Apple in replacing a few damaged files, but it just got me thinking. Why do I have to store all this crap and carry it around? Why do I have to email you a request and wait for you to analyze the issue before I can get my stuff? I can see my entire purchase history in my iTunes account online. Why can’t I re-download BSG when I want to watch that instead of carrying it around with me on an external drive?

A great example of corporate fighting and odd ownership rights – I have purchased all 7 seasons of Buffy, the one season of Firefly, the Serenity movie, (those three in both dvd and iTunes formats), Dr Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog, and Commentary the Musical from the iTunes store. I am doing a Buffy re-watch right now on my laptop and iPhone and taking notes for some future blogging. But I can’t watch Angel this way. Angel is not in the iTunes store. I did buy all 5 seasons of Angel on DVD, but those are still in India. Angel was available for streaming on Netflix (and hopefully still is), but I suspended my Netflix account a while ago. I will probably re-activate it to do an Angel re-watch next (and re-watch Slings and Arrows while the account is active) or see if anyone will lend me the disks. But I can’t really watch on my iPhone over netflix. It works, but not everywhere I like to sit in this house has a wireless signal. I am lucky enough to still be on an unlimited data plan with AT&T (they quit offering those once they realized that iPhone use exploded) but even that gives you a choppy stream – not really worth watching.

But this all seems to get cumbersome and ludicrous to me. I have access to watch Comcast shows online through their xfinity program. Since we have almost all the paid channels on our account in PA at RAI headquarters, i can follow HBO and Showtime and some other good cable network shows. I have paid for the complete series of several shows on the DVD format. I have paid for many many complete series in the iTunes store. I had Netflix. I check out Hulu. And still I can’t get all the content I want and can’t get it to all the devices I would like to use to watch said content, and I can’t watch what is available from wherever I would like. I can’t even access all the digital material I have already paid for and downloaded without access to my storage drives.

Isn’t there a better way? Isn’t that way already here? As it turns out, the answers are, “Yes” and “Sort of”.

But, there are a few more pieces of the puzzle before we get to the new solutions.

Tech Talk 3 – Where’s the bytes?

I started to see what I believe will be the shape of future media delivery. I don’t know if we will ever get rid of the traditional TV telecast. Enough people will probably still want to watch the local/global news and sports in the traditional manner, some folks wanna watch Law and Order, commercials and all, and zone out, and we may not need to get rid of one method of consuming these media items in order to expand and create new methods. I believe that “in the future”, every aired episode (we will get to “new” content later) of every show, every movie, every song, etc, will all be available to everyone one earth on any device they want, at any time. (I don’t add “who can access the internet” because making that happen is another piece of the puzzle – not forcing people to use it, but making sure that there is a relatively simple and inexpensive way they could if they wanted.) Of course, for some kind of fee depending on the system. More on the shape of this aspect a bit later.

I don’t know exactly what form this will take, and who we would pay or subscribe with, but it seems really silly that we can’t say, “Honey, tonight what do you say we watch Andromeda? I really liked that show but I missed a bunch in the middle and I missed the conclusion too. I always wanted to go back and watch it from the start.” Then march over to the TV or computer, scroll to Andromeda, select season 1 ep 1, have already paid your subscription fee, or authorize payment for download, then begin watching. (Or Dallas if you are dying to know why anyone cares who shot JR. Insert your own inner passion.) We are closer to this now, but still a ways off.

I picked this example because minus the “Honey” part, this is a ripped from the details of my life account. I want to watch Andromeda. I liked the show. Not all the eps were super, and they had more one-off or ‘throw away’ eps than I care for. But I liked the large strokes of the show. The concept was great, and there were several engaging long term story arcs. But I never got to see it all.

Now you can’t pay to download it from anywhere legally. They aren’t making any more of the DVDs. You can’t even get the disks from netflix. They aren’t on Hulu. They aren’t in the Comcast OnDemand back catalog. They aren’t on Sci-Fi. You can find dvds for sale online, but new/good condition complete series sets are pretty pricey. Piecing the series together from several different vendors, one season, or partial season, at a time turns out to cost about the same.

This may be good for a few weird collectors (weirder than me anyway ;)), but I can’t understand why the people involved in making the show would not be interested in continuing to generate residual income from their work. I don’t want to pay some guy named Fortinbras on ebay 800 bucks to (hopefully) receive a bunch of dvds that I don’t really want anyway and then be limited to watching on my laptop, or spending a week with handbrake converting the dvds into iPhone compatible mp4s (that look too low res when I do watch on the laptop). But I would happily pay the going rate at the iTunes store, 25-45 bucks a season depending on release date and quality. They give me two versions if HD is available and my computer sorts out which is the best version for which device. I don’t have to rip two different copies from the dvd in handbrake to have max res on two different devices, give them distinctive names like btvs.313.pod.mp4 and btvs.313.lap.mp4.

On demand creation of physical products from digital media is extremely simple and cost effective. I won’t let this crawl too far here, but it is a great time to mention books. There will be a separate but related story on books, bookstores, ebooks, podcasts, podiobooks, podcast novelists, and the crossover success stories of a few folks who turned their free podio books into actual print book deals. On demand printing has been available in the book industry for years now. It is not the cheapest option, or the most profitable for an author, but it is possible and one way to generate income off of your work. We will discuss some of the better options that have been developed for book publishing when we get to the podio/audio/ebook story. But for TV and movies, Print On Demand is a fine business model for anyone seeking dvds of old shows. There is not much in the way of stock you need to keep around. Blank cases, disks, label making equipment, a printer and paper for the booklets – everything else is just digital info. There is even less stock needed and probably more profit potential in running On Demand paid downloads.

I know that the tech is there. The tech has been there. This kind of tech has only gotten better and easier over the years. The things I discovered about pirate groups and how they run demonstrate that it can not only be be easily done, it is being done right now and has been for years. The way things are, avid, dedicated, willing to pay, potential consumers get what they want whenever they want it, and because it is illegal and free, no one gets paid, and occasionally, someone goes to jail or pays a fine. The way things could be, anyone could get whatever they wanted to watch or hear, legally, from any country whenever they wanted, and pay for it, and the creators and the industry continue to make residual money, no one goes to jail, and everyone can find out who shot JR. (It was Alex!) (I just made that up. I hope there isn’t an ‘Alex’ on Dallas, and I really hope Alex did not shoot JR. I don’t truck with spoilers.)

Tech Talk

Note: I did start this in September. Some things have already come to pass, but I am not going to re-edit this to change all the tenses and deal with time shift. The info is still good despite any potential time-based grammar difficulties…

I want to talk about some of the new technology Apple has recently released, the new releases in the pipe for this Fall, how those will help solve many of my recurring problems (and probably some of yours too), and how this adds one more layer to the  (largely untapped) capability modern technology has made possible, and a few ways we could use this technology.

To be able to really describe what is coming and how it will help, first, I will tell you about how I use media and how that has changed over just the past 5 years. Along the way, we will talk about international copyright law and piracy, and a few other things. It is about twice the length of the recent doggy tales serial and I plan to use a similar format. Probably 10 episodes, covering around two pages each, but with more text and less pics in each post. And we will close with the new Apple tech, what it can do, what it might also do, and what it could do. Also, a few thoughts on additional ways to expand the use of this technology to allow greater access, flexibility, portability, and back-up solutions to everyone.

We will come back to this point, but let us take a moment to clarify two terms that we use somewhat interchangeably in common speech, but that do have distinct meanings in this context: Storage and Backup. To keep it simple and easy to visualize, we will use traditional bound paper books as an example. The bookcase in your home is a place for storing your books. You can access any book on the case any time you are co-located with the bookcase. If you have two copies of the same book and both copies are on the bookcase, you do not really have a backup copy, you have two stored copies. To get from storage to backup, you need to have the second copy of the book stored at a different physical location, as distant from the original storage site as possible. Now that you have two copies stored in different locations, you have achieved Backup.

Let us begin.

The two constants in my shifting media equation are both hard disk space. The space on my iPhone (29.3 GB), and the space on my laptop (320 GB – which has to hold all the software, all the core documents I may need from 7 different businesses, lots of past project details, several website backups, tons of photos, and my changing media).

As a quick example of how this works in practice, I have been mostly on the road since   mid April. I brought my 2 TB firewire 800 external storage drive along. This has been awesome to have as I have purchased at least 6 audiobooks, a few movies, and several TV episodes (Friday Night Lights Season 5 for example) in that time. Having the storage  drive along has allowed me access to my media archive, given me the ability to store newly purchased content, and the freedom to delete new content from my laptop and iPhone to free up hard disk space for different material without losing a local copy I can access at will. Since it is my media archive, I can load any of my shows, movies, books, podcasts, and so forth, back onto my laptop and then the iPhone, also at will.

The thing is that I love TV, but I don’t watch TV like a lot of people do. I hate commercials with a passion. I don’t do laugh tracks. I am not into the procedurals. I don’t want the dialog dumbed down to reach a wider audience (see above: “I am not into procedurals”). I don’t want a story-of-the week kinda show. The only exception I can think of is Star Trek The Next Generation, and even with this show, my favorites are the 4 or 5 part story arcs.  I want a good, long plot. I like characters, but you can’t win me on characters alone. A good story makes up for many other deficiencies. Friday Night Lights is a great example of this aspect. I love that show, but I do not like very many of the characters. On the other hand, characters alone can’t pull me in, you gotta have something for them to do. Ideally, I want you to have already built a world and then invite me in to play. I want a 5-7 season show with a continuous narrative. While I do critique poorly done finales, I am not so fussed about how a show ends, as long as it was a good ride.

I made a transition around 2006 to life without an actual TV. Several things happened at one time and this morphed my TV experience. I was living with friends in Northern Virginia (NOVA), working in their small business run basically from home. I got an 80 GB iPod classic (the biggest one they had at they time), and I discovered that one could purchase TV shows from the iTunes store and watch them on a computer or iPod. These have no commercials. If you buy a whole season or a whole series, you don’t have to wait a week in between eps and a summer or more between seasons.

If I have an hour or two in my day to watch some TV, I don’t want to have to scroll through what is on at that time and hope I find something passable. I want to spend that time watching a show I like and am to some extent invested in. I want to follow that arc out to the end. Tevo, DVRs, and OnDemand helped, but I don’t really have a home (or TV) to set that stuff up. Netflix can be great, but it has its own very broad though still limited collection, and it is dependent upon a decent internet connection maintained for the duration of your viewing experience and may or may not really work in every other country. With the iPod and my iTunes store TV show downloads, my TV was now portable and largely internet free. In line at the DMV for two hours? Watch a few eps of the West Wing and learn something about how the different branches of our government actually work on the day-to-day and maybe even get a little inspired about politics again, or at least balance out your rage with the inefficiency of your local government experience. I felt like this was technology made just for me!

I was heavily into three new shows at that time (2006 in NOVA) – Lost, BSG, and Friday Night Lights. I did not have a very good place to watch actual TV at home, and whenever possible, I prefer to be outside. I watched BSG on Fridays at some dude’s house. And I watched Lost and Friday Night Lights the day (or sometimes a few days) after they aired when the new eps were released in the iTunes store. The laptop I had at that time had terrible battery performance, and I was not smart enough to know that one could simply replace the poorly performing battery with a new one. (Though I had a Dell and this was around the time of the exploding replacement batteries.) I watched a lot of TV sitting outside in the evenings with that iPod in my hand, eyes glued to the action on the beautiful 1 ½” x 2” screen.

This is a different story that we won’t really get into here, but not long after, I decided to move to India and start a few companies with my friend Ram. For two years in India, I continued watching TV on my laptop and my iPod. I was able to do more laptop than iPod viewing while in India, but access to content was a problem. I did bring a lot with me. I had: the Gilmore Girls DVDs through season 5, My So Called Life, all of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly on DVD, the first few seasons of Lost on DVD/iTunes, a few seasons of BSG on DVD/iTunes, a few seasons of Friday Night Lights on iTunes, 10-15 movies on DVD – I had stock. But access to new content and new eps of currently running shows was a problem. We shall make a quick detour to talk about the global media industry (music, TV, movies). This is actually relevant to several aspects of the larger discussion and to my particular issues with new advances in tech.

In Between Posts

I swear, i was having such a good day.

This is not the start of the tech series, just more filler. I have not abandoned that project, but even for me, sometimes life has other plans for how we get to spend our time.

The first 9-10 pages are solid, the next 2-3 are close, and i need to do some more on the conclusion. I could have begun releasing it on schedule, but i don’t like to do that – release some before the whole is finished. What if something in the conclusion needs some more supporting evidence? Or if i decide that the beginning is too tedious (even for my writing style) which it probably is, and decide to trim some fat?

Lucas and i are back in PA to handle some life admin. It was a good day knocking down the chores, for a while.

There we are on our quick walk around the block. I have the headphones in because i am not in the mood to chat with random folks today. I had another really upsetting encounter with one of my neighbors just being kind of a general “bitca” and it made me mad. I had even put the leash on Lucas to avoid this kind of thing. But these people don’t feel that they need much of an excuse i guess. I was not at all polite, but remained semi-calm and completely non-violent, so that’s a plus.

I need a little something both angrier and more triumphant (i am starting with Nazi Mind Reader and then just lettin’ it play through – you gotta make your own call – warning – RPG’s MC is unafraid of the big-boy words).

I would love to renew my driver’s license online, but there is no security on the PA DMV website. (Hackers have fun!) So there may be a money order in my future and the security of the US mail. Given that i can’t do it online, i may go in to get a new pic as well since i have about 40 pounds less hair these days. Actually kinda surprised that was not a requirement.

I still can’t find some of the physical records i left up here as everything has been moved around. I need to find those receipts, or pay $535 bucks i don’t have (that i have already paid once) to the IRS by the 22nd.

I am not so sure that yesterday was the right time to re-quit smoking after all. No, it is going to be OK – deep breaths, count to 5 million…

Wrap it Up

Fox! The magic dog.
The Mighty Fox!

*I can’t believe i did not use any pictures of Fox in the story. It was the immediate bond and friendship between Fox and Lucas that brought my friends and I together.

Writing, editing, selecting pics, working on the layouts, and releasing this story over the past week has given me even more time to consider things. I don’t really have any sweeping conclusions, but there are a few things that come up that we might file in the Lessons Learned folder.

Change the things you can. Part of the reason i was able to not pass my frustration on to the dogs and the crazy lady was that i did have a grasp on how much of this scenario was not only my fault but my creation. I failed to tighten Mickey’s collar. I should have already purchased a better leash for training Mickey. I should have used the extra 6′ straight leash that i keep in the back of my car and not messed with the retracty leash. I should never have brought them to this place. There are lots of other places i could have taken them (like to the other end of their normal Holmes Run route). Whenever i get mad at something like this, a scene from Half Baked (scene probably not suitable for all viewers) comes to the front of my mind and helps me smile, relax, and deal. It is a quick subtle moment, but jumped off the screen at me from the first viewing.

Thurgood: So, you wanna get together?

Mary Jane: Okay. Sure. When?

Thurgood: How ’bout right now? Just meet me at the place you dropped us off at.

Mary Jane: Okay. Can you give me half an hour?

Thurgood: Yeah, half an hour’s cool.

Mary Jane: Great.

Thurgood: All right. Okay.

Mary Jane: I’ll see you there.

Thurgood: (voiceover – internal narration) The date couldn’t have come at a worse time.

end scene

I did this to myself. There is no point in getting mad at the dogs. There is a little point, but no purpose or benefit to getting mad at the crazy lady. There is not even a point in getting mad with myself. Keep the good parts and try to learn from the rest.

*It has been 6 or 7 days since the incidents described and we have made more progress. I checked the maps and found a better place to park to access  the Shark Walk Trail without having to use the pool parking lot. I quit using the retracy leash and am using my spare 6′ straight leash on Mickey. If i need three leashes, M+M get the straight leashes and i put Lucas on the retracty thing, and everything is working out nicely.

I gave the boys a few nights off of the rigid schedule. They continue to perform well. Last night i took all three dogs on a shortened version of the nightly training walk and all three boys walked calmly in single file off leash all the way from the beach back to the house. There were so good i wanted to slaughter them a goat.

__

Any thoughts on the serialized release of this story vs. releasing it all at once as one long tale?

I did enjoy serializing it. While i wrote the whole thing at one time (August 27th), looking for how and where to chop it up (since it was not originally written as a serial), thinking about the layouts and which and how many pics to include, all gave me a chance to think more about how this information is presented. It also gave me a new window to view my own words. As stand alone chapters, each piece actually had its own character and central motif. Without doing it this way, there would have been far fewer pictures.

Thanks for reading. I may do a few more of my highly rigid reader polls to see what you folks might be interested in reading about next.

Stephen King is coming up soon.

I am taking notes (not meticulous) on a Buffy re-watch and will want to write about that.

I am excited about several current and pending tech issues and will write more on that. (Despite first appearances, i think iCloud is actually going to solve many of my problems!)

I don’t think any of the iCloud promo stuff will give you the level of detail that you will find here. I know, not a one-click solution. But downloading the podcast of this beats all the streaming versions i did find links to. I am directing you to the WWDC 2011, first video at the top of the list. Much of what i am excited about (including and beyond iCloud) is in this presentation.

(Free Tip: Watching the World Wide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) every year is part of how i stay tech savvy. I started doing this in 2006, a few years before transitioning to Apple, and just dreamed and drooled over better made products and hardware and software that has actually been designed to work together.)

I am still toying with creating some kind of “Things i like” feature to collect lists and brief descriptions of podcasts, tech tricks, books and more.

There are some related brief essays about how i/we use/consume media.

And i am open to suggestions of other things not yet mentioned…

Moron Training

Part 5 of 5

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Let us pause for a moment. I imagine some of you, probably all the dog people and probably all the parents too, have a handle on the shape of this thing already. If you have not formed a picture in your mind of those brief moments yet, I invite you to do so now. Sure, I have not described the area, the lady, the dogs, the car, or me – but you have enough detail for this purpose:
One man, with two dogs, obviously in the middle of training them (whether or not this guy is a “dog trainer” or just a guy training dogs, there can be no question about the activity), in fact, actively engaged in an exercise at that moment and one that involves taking the dogs off leash in a parking lot and getting them into the car. Picture the moment. I hear her voice one beat after I get the boys off leash and at the moment I am turning to Mickey to invite him into the car. This is the moment she chooses to yell across the parking lot at a stranger.

My first dog, George
My first dog, George

If you just can’t relate to dogs, let me give you an analogy. Imagine you are teaching your child how to ride a bike the first time after taking off the training wheels. There you are in the driveway or the street in front of your house, your kid is on the bike, you have your hand on the seat to steady everything, the kid starts to peddle as you jog behind, hand on seat. The instant you let go, your arm still outstretched, your hand ready to react and provide support if needed. The minute your child is free and riding on their own – someone calls to you, “Excuse me, are you a biking instructor?” This is not a moment in time where you want to be distracted. And, you would not want to hire someone to teach kids about bike riding who would be so easily distracted at such an important moment in time.

Mighty Guthrey
Mighty Guthrey

Suffice it to say that without hearing anything else at all I can guarantee you at least three things: She has a dog. She believes there is a problem with her dog’s behavior. She is the real problem.
I admit to you. I was not in the best of spirits. I am covered I sweat. It has been a frustrating afternoon: 20 minutes of driving and looking for a place to go, facing the challenges of this new and less than ideal environment way ahead of my training schedule (this is really an advanced scenario that I would not have attempted “on purpose” for at least a month if not more), my failure to purchase a new straight 8’ or 12’ leash for Mickey. I have managed (with difficulty) to keep the frustration internal and not feed that to the dogs and we did have some very nice times. Their performance at the end of the walk with the sitting absolutely still while this woman accosted us really was raising my mood. That was just fantastic work on their part. They were watching me and smiling.

Big G
Big G

But I did not want to talk to this rude woman. One or two very minuscule amounts of courtesy or situational awareness would have changed this whole encounter for me, but if she possessed any of those traits, the conversation would probably have been unnecessary.
If this is how you behave towards a stranger from whom you are seeking (free) advice, I can only imagine what you are inadvertently teaching your dog(s). I cannot imagine what a “walk” or other exercise time might be like with you as the pack master. And while I am thinking these thoughts and feeling this frustration mixed with pride and admiration for the boys, there is also a layer of sadness.

Guthrey and Lucas
Guthrey and Lucas

I love dogs. I love talking about dogs. Without dogs, I would not only be naturally more lonely on the day to day, I would have very little motivation to ever meet a total stranger and become fantastic life long friends (and one day live together in their house). I love training dogs and talking about training dogs. I am not sayin’ I was in any kind of zone to sit down and chat for an hour, but with just a little care taken, I would have been super pleased to meet and talk with this lady, and to help her.

Guthrey and Lucas 2
Guthrey and Lucas 2

She started speaking rapidly but in a broken fashion something about ‘how do you control your dogs’ without really managing to provide any useful details.
Me: You know in most cases, whatever else is going on, getting enough exercise will fix it.
Lady: Really? Exercise? Well mine gets plenty of that, it is the barking. She barks at everything constantly.
Me: See the thing about the exercise is th-
Lady: (interrupting) The wind, things outside, noises inside, the phone, the radio, the tv, the dishwasher …
(and on and on – the only new info in this string of words – we could have guessed – it is a small dog. One of those really tiny ones. Not freak show tiny. Just one of those little puff ball kinds that I always want to punt!)
Me: (I don’t remember now exactly. I had been getting ready and moving towards the driver’s door preparing to flee.) Ya you are right, those guys do bark a lot, almost all of them. Sorry I can’t help with that. Have a good day.
End scene.

Guthrey and Lucas with their pal Josie
Guthrey and Lucas with their pal Josie

Even in my state of mind in the moment, I was still willing to stay for a few minutes, probably no more than 5 and hopefully much less, but I was willing. I was going to explain to her about regular exercise and the way you can use a walk to teach a dog things and they start to like it and then it is easier to teach them how to do things at home because now they care about you in a different way and you have become the pack master and they are willing to and excited to engage with you.
But most folks with tiny dogs never do anything like this and that is why their animals are little tyrannical terrors in their homes. Noisy, all over everything, and usually impossible to talk to. Owners think – “you know, I want a dog but I want something cute and tiny so it can’t pull me down and I don’t even have to walk it. It can get all its exercise at home! Guess what? That has consequences.

Glamour Shotz
Glamour Shotz

I would not have put it quite like that in talking with this woman, but I am fairly certain that her description of a day-in-the-life of her dog would be some recognizable form of the scenario I described above. It is sad. I generally do not like and actively avoid small dogs, but it is really not their fault. There are several exceptions – little dogs I know that have good people who interact with them and teach them stuff. All dogs are similar and want similar stuff. The only badly behaved dogs I have ever met (regardless of size) did not have good pack masters.

Lucas endures the Bear Hat.
Lucas endures the Bear Hat.

As I drive away, there are many thoughts flying through my mind quickly. Why even bother chasing me down across a parking lot to ask me about dog training if you are completely uninterested in letting me say any words? That one recurs. But more than anything else, what impulse was it that made her take an action? What motivated her?
Did she just want to complain to someone who has dogs that hers are a bit out of control? Did she just want to talk? Did she think I may have some secret knowledge? Did she really want to know, but has one of those kinds of brains where she may not even realize that I was trying to help her until next week, or never?

...and the outfit
...and the outfit

Now sure, there are many things I could have done differently and done much better, done with more compassion and empathy. I can see that. I could see it then too. I could have done more listening. I could have opened it up more sympathetic shrink/bartender style with a “why don’t you just start at the beginning and tell me all about it?” But recall, she was on my nerves a bit and my suspicion was that the scenario was going to play out in this pattern no matter what. I was not trying to lay the foundations of a lasting true friendship here. I wanted to get back home to Lucas who was all alone for over an hour now (something he is not generally asked to endure). I wanted to get away from the crazy lady who was running me down in the parking lot.

But, no one gets out alive...
But, no one gets out alive...

So that is my story. You have glanced through a window and seen some of my dog training methods and philosophy. You learn a little bit about two of my newest packmates. And you got to meet the crazy lady. A few final thoughts next time.

Why I hate your leash

Part 4 of 5 (Baby Birthing Blogtastic Extra Release! Go Karen Go!)

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Here we get to some of the nitty gritty. I shall attempt to answer your question, “So Mr Dog Man. What’s so bad about my beloved retracto leash thingy?” Yesterday (August 26th) I took the afternoon shift for all the dogs while my friends were out doing some things. I took Lucas to a “new” place (call it the Shark Walk) we found that he likes. He will walk about a mile at the Shark Walk instead of the 50-200 yards he clocks at Holmes Run. We had a good time and after I got Lucas settled back at the house, I loaded M+M into the car and took them to their spot. But there is some construction happening and we could not get there.

Max 1
Max post feast

I went to a very nearby alternate and got turned around and could not find the entrance. (I had only been there once before.) I ended up going to Lucas’s new place with them. This was not ideal. We had now been in the car for about 20 minutes. Shark Walk has a parking lot by a large pool and rec complex with basketball courts and tennis courts. The path goes right by the pool house and pool on one side and the backyards of people’s homes on the other. So right out of the car there is no fun time or play time or run time (which is what they are used to). Dogs used to a 3 minute drive to freedom have now been in the car for 20, and they have to get on leash and stay in very good control through the parking lot (safety) and down about 200 yards of path under observation by homeowners and pool members and employees. AND – they have never been here before. It is a NEW PLACE!

Mickey 2
You are about to talk about me aren't you?

Mickey was so excited, he fell getting out of the car. (He is fine.) I got them leashed and it was a bit of a struggle to keep them under control. They did not do too terrible all things considered, but it was harder than it needed to be and part of that is simple equipment. In keeping with our existing training efforts, I established an “inside” and kept them both together on that side. Mickey really wanted to go. He was not in the mood for heeling or group slow walk. I have always found it easier to teach dogs to heel off leash than on. It is not an easy on-leash skill. Off leash it is simple and fun. They do what they want and simply stay behind you. I think (after doing this with lots of dogs over the years) that to ask this of them when they are on leash seems both insulting and arbitrary. They are already on the leash. You have called them in close and they are staying close. I imagine the conversation goes something like this:
Mickey: Why are we arguing over 4 inches?
Me: Because you begin with your nose 4 inches in front of me, then it quickly becomes 14 and soon you are past me and I am forgotten.
Mickey: sheepishly looks away as if to track the progress of a butterfly.
Me: Also, we are walking with your brother. He is heeling. Then you quit heeling (or never quite start heeling). And he sees you are in front of me. That may not be permitted! So he pulls up ahead of me and tries to get his nose ahead of your nose. You guys play that game and you might as well be in your own world for all you focus on what I have to say at that time.
Mickey: Were you saying something?

Mickey 1
Preparing to feast!

To teach dogs to heel on leash with two at the same time is hard. It is harder when their collars are very loose. You need to hold the leash as close to the collar as you can with your arm mostly straight and slightly behind you. It is not the most comfortable position. But if you let your arm hang straight, that would put the dog’s neck/collar near your leg, leaving their whole head in front of you.

Arm straight down - not good for training
Arm straight down - not good for training

Especially in the beginning, you cannot allow this. (Recall from a previous entry – the key element of “heel” is the dogs actively giving the “point” position to me. In dog world if you don’t stay out front, you are not point. The key to me is not that I be first, but that they follow me without testing the line and trying to take back the point. (For most this is not actually “bad” behavior, but a fun game.))

Arm straight (with dog!) - see how you cannot keep a dog behind you from this position
Arm straight (with dog!) - see how you cannot keep a dog behind you from this position

Once they get it, you can relax a little about exactly where a good comfortable heel is for you and your pals, but you can’t get there until they learn the basics. Mickey has a long head and a long nose. To keep his nose behind me, I have to hold my arm back pretty far, which is awkward.

Arm further back - easier to keep dog behind you
Arm further back - easier to keep dog behind you

Now, I have that damn retracto leash thingy. This is an incredibly bulky block of plastic around the size of your basic mass market paperback book. And it is kinda long. Instead of the simplicity of holding the proper point on a straight leash, I have to figure out how to hold this blocky clunk of crap and maintain the proper distance for Mickey. These things seem to me to be designed to work on dogs (like Mickey) that like to stay out front. They do not seem to have been designed to remotely deal with the possibility that the dog may sometimes be behind you. This is always a weird and uncomfortable position for them. Now it is for me too.

*From my early days of dog training, i have generally trained two dogs at one time. I have experimented with many methods. While you do have to adapt to new dogs, i have a basic set of programs and practices that work well. Even with two dogs, i prefer to keep both leashes in one hand. This has a few advantages. It is naturally easier to keep both dogs on the same side (inside) if both leashes are in one hand on that side. You do lose some of the physical advantage of one leash one dog one hand, but time has shown me that these are not battles won with strength. And to that extent that strength is required, you probably don’t have enough to overpower your dog anyway (i never have).

How can you do this with the retracty leash thingy?
How can you do this with the retracty leash thingy?

Luckily I do have Max on Luc’s leash, but it is surprisingly hard to use both leashes at the same time. Normally, during an on leash heel exercise, I hold the leash near the collar and sort of ball the excess in my hand. The excess in my hand keeps slipping out against the plastic of the retracto thingy. I try just holding the retracto leash instead of its handle, but it is definitely not designed for that. It is nearly impossible to get a grip on those and I am in week two of healing a very deep cut on my right hand from the friction burn I got when one of these went through my hand.
I simply am unable to keep them in a proper heel. I end up in an even more awkward and uncomfortable position (for all of us) holding Max back with Luc’s leash and holding Mickey’s collar and sort of holding the blocky end of the retracto thingy under my arm.
We get past the main “action” zone of pool people and resume a more normal walk. I keep Mickey on leash, but give him the release command that he may go ahead now. I get Max off leash and release him as well. Because this is a new place and they just did a hard thing, I give them freedom to explore and switch sides and have fun. Soon we are past everyone and just in the woods. I let Mickey go free as well. They run and have a great time and once we turn around,  after a mile or so, they are easier to corral on the way back.

Max 2
Relaxing on the deck

Then we get back to the leash area, and soon enough to the “Heel” zone and it is just as hard as it was on the way out. Max was doing fine, but I simply cold not find a way to keep Mickey behind me. I went back to holding him by the collar. We got to the car and both boys did a perfect sit and stay. I got the leashes off, the car unlocked, and the back door open when a lady calls out “Excuse me” – pretty loud and insistent. A quick scan of the area makes it clear that she is talking to me. I turn back to the dogs, still in a perfect sit and stay even with this lady approaching and the car door open. I get Mickey in and Max waits patiently. “Excuse me. Are you a dog trainer?” She yells and keeps coming. She is still across the lot maybe about 5 car lengths away. I raise my hand in a palm up “hold” symbol and look at her and hold her gaze with mine, and say to her “Wait.” She does. I get Max in the car and she begins to approach again. “Excuse me. Are you a dog trainer?”
I continue to ignore her as I open the passenger door and insert the keys to lower the windows for the guys. Once I have them set, I turn to deal with her.

Stay Tuned for the thrilling conclusion! Part 5

More on Training

Part 3 of 5

Part 1

Part 2

Now that Lucas walks differently it is very difficult to walk all three dogs together as one solo biped. Mickey and Lucas are the tortoise and the hare. Right now I would have to leash Mickey on a retracto, leash Lucas on his straight leash (just to ensure that he actually comes along instead of laying down in the middle of the path) and let Max be free. And that is not good enough. If I took them to a new place, I could leave Lucas off leash, but Mickey and Max would both have to go on leash and they are extra difficult to control in new places. The excitement of new smells and their natural games and vying to be first can short circuit the work we do. I can usually calm Max down quickly and get him to heel. But if Mickey starts to pull ahead, then Max will want to at least catch up if not pass him and I am forgotten.

Nita, Abigail, and Lucas at Rock City!
Where can you go with a well trained dog? Nita, Abigail, and Lucas at Rock City!

As an intermediary step I established a new training pattern for M+M on our evening walks. Because their normal walk, Holmes Run, is associated with fun and play, I try to limit the amount of training we do down there. I want that place to stay fun for them. The walks around the neighborhood are perfect for training though. They know that these are shorter walks. Until I began this program, they knew they would stay on the leashes the whole time and have limited freedom. They know the area so it is not filled with the excitement of NEW PLACE.

Lucas and Pappy have a nap
You get invited to the best parties.

I start the session inside the house making them sit and stay to get leashed up and making them wait there together until the official release command “OK”. I keep them contained as we go out the door. I bring them in close as we get to the end of the driveway and then make them stay together and stand there a moment – doing nothin’ – just waiting. I keep them still as I move around them to keep me on the “outside” – closer to the cars on the road, and them on the “inside” – between me and the houses. I keep them close for a few feet then release them with an “OK”. If they behave well (as they are doing most nights), I call them back in before the second driveway, make them sit and stay, remove Max’s leash (I am using Luc’s straight leash on Max for this), make them stay another moment, then give the release command.

Lucas with the Girls
All the girls wanna take you to the mountains.

They get better every night. The past two nights I have been able to keep Max off leash for the whole walk and with very minimal instruction, he stays “inside”. Mickey is doing well, I think he would actually get all this quicker than Max, but he is harder to train because he takes constant vigilance and he prefers a greater distance between himself and the pack (and I am doing this after 8:30pm and it is dark (though of course I have my headlamp on! Best tool for so many things, but I believe indispensable for dog walking at night. I use this model and it has totally paid for itself. )). There are lots of things you can teach multiple dogs simultaneously, but the details of off leash work require an almost one-on-one level of attention in the beginning. Once Max has it, I will begin with Mickey.

Lucas in the morning
You get lots of love!

One more random piece of the training program. We change sides of the street together. There is no willy nilly street crossing. The first night they were a bit shocked at this news, but they got used to it and it is fine now. If they just wander towards the other side, I call them back. If they leave it alone, then we move on. If they both try it or if one tries often (and nicely) I get everyone together, make them stay still as I move around them to reposition myself between the cars on the road and the dogs and we re-establish order. There is a new “inside” but the rules are the same.

Lucas in his tent
You may gather a few accessories...

This was a little complex for them at first, but they got it quickly through repetition and consistency. Last night (August 26th) no one even asked to switch sides. This probably sounds rather anal, and it probably is. (I do try and use my crazy for the forces of Good.) But, like all my dog training tactics, there is a reason and a point to it. Some of it comes back to numbers. The more dogs you have to walk at one time, the more control you need.

Guthrey and Memphis - litter mates
Guthrey: "He's about to slander me again." Memphis: "We should have pulled him into the street."

Some of it is safety. (Two six month old hound dog pups I raised have pulled me down and dragged me across parking lots (and I mean fully layed out on the ground busted chin being pulled on my stomach/side/back by the leashes I still hold), through gardens, almost out into the street.) Another practical application is simply about “will” and leadership. I (anyone in charge of a dog) need the animal to have faith in me and in my decisions and requests/commands. It really is about helping them get more freedom not about me gaining control. I need the confidence in them and our bond to be able to let them run free – which is what we all want in the end.

Lucas with food
And the room service is pretty good.

But they are getting it and they like it. The plan worked out. Max quickly figured out that learning a few rules and following them and staying off leash is much better than walking on leash and being pulled and fussed at the whole time. Now the walk is almost all pure fun. The better Max gets, the more attention I can pay to Mickey and he has a better time too. There is a nice grassy area and a sandy beach and a lake near the end of this circuit and on “good nights” everybody gets to party. Those two guys run and chase and smash each other. When Max gets tired, I chase Mickey. Even here in the play, I am teaching Mickey. I use my voice to help set-up the perimeter of our “play area” and he abides by this quickly.

Guthrey at Tennesse Williams House
Guthrey at Tennessee Williams' House

Stay Tuned…Part 4

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