Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lions and tigers and bears...

I can't figure out how to post pictures here without one stacking on top of another. I'm sure there's a way, but I don't have the proper motivation or technical savvy to accomplish it. Instead, I put our San Diego vacation photos up on Facebook. You should be able to browse through them even if you aren't a Facebook member. The snapshots feature an assortment of animals, including me and Serafin! Take a look here:

The photos are laid out chronologically, beginning with our visit to the Wild Animal Park, which ends with a swimming duck. Our San Diego Zoo visit starts with the orangutan photos and concludes with a shot of a tree wallaby. We took the remaining pictures at Balboa Park.

The Wild Animal Park admission includes a tram ride, which, honestly, wasn't very impressive. The animals are so far off in the distance that you don't get a great view unless they happen to be situated nearby. Even with my small pair of binoculars, I couldn't see much of significance on the ride. We caught some closer views while walking around the Park and looking at the individual exhibits. You'll notice that there's a lion lying right at the plexiglass in the first two photos. We got lucky with those. He sauntered up to the glass just as we were standing there. When we were at the elephant exhibit, a special tour group came to feed them, so we also got to see the pachyderms a little closer than expected. That's the thing. You can take advantage of photo caravan rides or insider tours if you pay $70 and up per person. Getting up close and personal doesn't come cheap. Then again, we had some chance encounters of our own without paying anything extra. In addition to the lion and elephants, the meerkats popped out of their burrow while we were peering over the edge of their enclosure.

I hadn't been to the San Diego Zoo since I was about 5 years old. I don't have any memories of it, but I've seen pictures of me standing by a Zoo sign and next to a petting zoo goat. The biggest draw for me this time around was the pandas. You have to wait in a separate line within the Zoo just to see them, but the line inches along steadily. Once you make it into the panda space, there's a zookeeper on a microphone giving background information, telling visitors not to make loud noises or talk above a whisper, and nudging folks to keep the line moving. In terms of somewhat closer views, we saw the following: an orangutan right behind a plexiglass wall, a snow leopard pacing the edge of its cage, a giant anteater walking back and forth in front of its enclosure, and a giraffe leaning down to investigate a group of people.

Balboa Park is so expansive that we didn't get to see everything. There are a number of museums, but we decided to go to only one: the Museum of Man. Other than that, the Japanese Friendship Garden happened to be closed on Mondays, which was the day we were there. Had we researched these things beforehand, we could also have caught a concert at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, which houses one of the world's largest outdoor pipe organs. In lieu of the free concert they offer on Sundays, I took a picture of Serafin on the stage.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Serafin and I flew to San Diego on Christmas Day for a short trip. We stayed at a bed-and-breakfast-type place (a.k.a. guest house) adorned with Victorian furniture. Neither of us is particularly interested in old houses or the Victorian era, but it was cheaper to stay there than in a downtown hotel. Our room contained a couple of antique wardrobes that you open with a skeleton key, and the wooden bed frame creaked whenever you climbed in or out of it. The only thing missing was a clawfoot bathtub. We did, however, have a flat screen TV to keep us connected to the modern world and distracted from thoughts that the house could be haunted. All in all, the place had a lot of character and was a nice change from the typical hotel experience. Take a better look at our room here:

Soon, I'll try to post pictures from our visits to the Wild Animal Park and San Diego Zoo.

Friday, December 18, 2009

My little bluebird

Here's the newest little member of my collection: a 1938 Hermes Featherweight. Isn't it gorgeous? I still can't get over how small it is, but at the same time I love that it has a metal chassis and a sturdy feel. Its case measures about 11 inches long x 11 inches wide x 2 3/8 inches high, to give you an idea of exactly how tiny it is. The original color was some sort of drab olive green, I think. Well, who cares, because this new coat of paint makes it look pretty darn spiffy. Dean Jones in Louisville, KY, is responsible for cleaning, tuning, and painting this one for me. He's a top-notch typewriter guy, and I'd recommend him to anyone looking to acquire a working, useable machine.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

That's the ticket

I use red BART tickets. It's one of the few perks of being visually impaired, and I gladly take it because my commute to work in San Francisco would otherwise cost a regular price of $3.90 each way. Red tickets cut my train fare by a little more than half, so it's definitely a good thing.

One of my coworkers once asked if I ever get stopped by BART workers because I don't look like I have a disability. Ah, that truly is the story of my life—but no, I've never been stopped. That's the funny thing about these tickets. You're supposed to have a specially issued transit ID (which I do carry in my wallet) in order to legitimately use them. Oddly enough, you don't seem to need the ID when buying the tickets. It makes me wonder how many sinister types have caught on to this fact and are unlawfully purchasing and using them.

Anyway, I've never been asked to show my ID in my travels, except for the couple of times when my ticket got demagnetized and I had no choice but to talk to an agent. On one of those occasions, the agent seemed sort of baffled, saying, "You're disabled?" Honestly, I do not need to justify myself to these people; I think they're supposed to ask to see your transit ID and leave it at that. My coworker pointed out that people have a lot of hidden disabilities these days, and it's true. I think various medical and learning diagnoses can qualify you to use the red tickets, although I don't know all of the specifics. Still, my incident with that ticket agent always crosses my mind whenever I enter or exit a BART gate. I feel somehow like I'm going to be accosted even though I'm not doing anything wrong. I've never been "quick on my feet," but I sometimes rewind that moment, revising my response. Instead of telling the agent straight out that I'm legally blind, my mind's version says something like, "You don't look stupid, and yet you are." That would probably get me in trouble in real life.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Phantom blogging

Composed on a 1938 Hermes Featherweight (photo to be posted soon).

With this entry, I'm making a last-ditch attempt to get something in the blog for this month. You can read my explanation above. I've been meaning to post a picture of the latest—and littlest—addition to my collection: a Hermes Featherweight. It's the second machine I've acquired from Dean Jones in Louisville, KY; the first was my Smith-Corona Sterling. Dean cleaned and tuned up the Featherweight, and he also gave it a brand new paint job in midnight blue (my color choice). Now that I've set up a sufficient level of anticipation, I hope you will return to check it out.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dog training—positively

Do even a shallow level of research on dog training and you'll discover that there is an alternative to old-fashioned, punitive methods: training based on positive reinforcement that does no harm to the animal. Compulsive methods of training tell you to jerk your dog to make him walk nicely or stop lunging, for example. However, take some time to read and learn and you'll realize that there are clear benefits to using positive methods that far outweigh the use of fear, force, and intimidation. One of the best outcomes is that you won't damage the relationship between you and your pet.

My papillon Misti lives in Hawaii with my mother. I had to leave her behind when I moved to Boston nine years ago, but I'm glad that she's made a good companion for Mom. We took Misti to obedience training when she was a puppy. The methods we were taught were a mix of traditional and positive, but thankfully we never used anything as punitive as a choke collar, prong collar, or shock collar. The idea of using such items on a 5- or 6-pound toy dog like Misti is downright barbaric. After reading various publications on dog behavior and training over the years, I've come to believe that these sorts of "tools" shouldn't be used on a canine of any size.

Unfortunately, there are trainers out there who do use and advocate old school training techniques, which probably makes it difficult for people to understand or be aware of the fact that there's a different and better way of doing things. Furthermore, there are a lot of impatient dog owners out there who want a quick fix to their pets' behavior issues and decide that harsh methods will do the trick. (They're really not that effective, and they can actually exacerbate the problems.) I took a psychology class on learning and behavior in college. The course was helpful to me as an introduction to the basic principles involved in how animals operate. I wish all dog trainers were required to take such classes and be certified as behaviorists, but unfortunately I'm fairly certain that that's not the case.

In her book Positive Perspectives: Love Your Dog, Train Your Dog, Pat Miller writes: "Traditional training methods have often relied on human logic to teach dogs how to behave, by punishing the dog for 'bad' behavior. But to our dogs, behavior is neither good nor bad; they are just doing what dogs do, driven by instinct and governed by the consequences of their actions." Herein lies the problem. Most people don't understand dog behavior and how they learn. They follow general concepts, such as the misguided notion that they need to dominate their dogs and act as the alpha. There's a common misconception that Pat Miller discusses in her book. The scenario goes something like this: You come home and discover that your kitchen trash can has been overturned and the contents are strewn everywhere. You are furious. Your dog, clearly the culprit in the midst of the mess, looks so darned guilty. He obviously knows he did something wrong. Why else would he look like he knows he's responsible? Well, he's afraid—not guilty. You are mad, and he is trying to appease you and escape your anger. A lot of people might decide to punish their dog on the spot. The poor dog in that case has no idea why he's being reprimanded because he rifled through the garbage earlier in the day. "Behaviorists agree," Miller writes, "that a reward or punishment must be delivered in close time-proximity, preferably one second or less, to the behavior you are trying to increase or decrease."

Clicker training is a method I've used that gives a dog a clear indication of behaviors you like and want to continue. It tells the dog specifically what you want by pairing a reward for a behavior with a "click" you make with a small device called a clicker. If the dog offers a behavior you don't want, you don't reward it and that behavior eventually disappears. It's a completely positive method that many trainers use. (Dolphin trainers employ this type of training, but they use a whistle instead of a clicker because it's easier for the animals to hear if they're underwater.) This is only a nutshell summary of the method, and there are obviously other components and aspects of positive training that I haven't gone into here. This post would take far too long for me to compose if I were to try to make it comprehensive, and many of the resources you can find do a far better job than I ever could of explaining the various ideas and techniques related to positive training.

The bottom line is that I hope any dog lovers who are reading this—and who don't know much about it—will familiarize themselves with training that's based on positive methods. There are lots of great books out there, but a couple in my collection are The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson and The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D. Additionally, I maintain a subscription to The Whole Dog Journal, which is a solid resource on training and other useful information, and I'm a faithful viewer of It's Me or the Dog with trainer Victoria Stilwell. Please take the time to learn for yourself what I'm talking about. If you train smarter and not harder, you'll be happier and so will your dog.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Shedding some light on cone dystrophy

The other day I met a woman who has cone dystrophy, the same eye condition I've had my entire life. The condition affects the cone cells in the retina, impacting a person's central vision, color vision, and sensitivity to bright lights. My brothers and I are the only ones in our family with cone dystrophy, and I've never met anyone else who has it. In my case, my vision is approximately 20/200 in the right eye and 20/125 in the left with glasses or contacts. I have difficulty seeing out in bright sunlight, and my color vision is somewhat compromised so that I can't distinguish various shades and hues. Here are some examples of what this means for me: I can't drive; I'm generally unable to read menus posted up high and above a cashier's head at restaurants; I often can't figure out what color something is when I'm shopping for clothes; and I'm very nearsighted to the point of having to read regular print very closely. I do, however, get around pretty well on foot without the use of any aids, and most people can't tell simply by looking at me that I'm visually impaired.

Ketra, the woman I met, was a member of the jury panel for this year's Insights, an annual exhibition of works by blind and visually impaired artists that is presented by the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired (the organization where I work in San Francisco). Unlike me, Ketra only began to experience diminished vision later in life. Similarly, though, we both have a full field of vision, meaning that our peripheral vision isn't hindered. It was interesting to meet someone outside of my family who knows what cone dystrophy is and to chat with her about our shared condition. The next day I did a routine Google search on cone dystrophy; I do one every once in a while to see if there's anything new. Lo and behold, there's an article out there from the University of Michigan's Kellogg Eye Center called Understanding Cone Dystrophy that you can read via the link below, if you're at all inclined:

It clearly explains the condition, which I was so excited about that I promptly emailed the link to my family, as well as to Ketra. In our conversation, Ketra mentioned that there's next to no research being done on cone dystrophy. For the most part, it's true. After all, the article says that cone dystrophy affects about 1 in 30,000 people in the United States so it's not terribly common. But this figure, along with a document such as the one published by the University of Michigan, is something I never had while growing up and not fully understanding my eye disorder. It turns out that one of the article's authors, Dr. John Heckenlively, was the doctor who my family visited at UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute when I was 4 years old. He conducted eye exams on all five of us and wrote up a report 28 years ago. So, there apparently has been some research done on our relatively obscure eye condition since then. Yes, it's been quite a long time coming, but I think it's progress nonetheless. And I'm really glad to see it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Weighing in

I'm a petite person. At 5 feet, 2 inches tall and 110 pounds at my heaviest, I am thin. I've always been skinny — some might say too skinny — but I attribute this to my genes and metabolism. And it's really not as great as you might think.

When I was younger, I could stuff myself silly and not put on any pounds. My family went on a cruise once, and I dedicated my days to eating as much as possible, only to find little impact at the end of the journey. I had hoped to gain some weight so that I might look more "normal." I hated it when people pointed on how skinny I was, as if I was starving myself on purpose to achieve my slight build. I hate it to this day because, years later, people still make these kinds of comments. Seriously, what can I do? Change my bone structure? It has always struck me as funny how some people think it's perfectly acceptable to tell someone that they're ridiculously thin, but they wouldn't dare tell someone else that they're too darned fat. Yes, some people actually do deprive themselves in order to maintain some sort of unnatural figure, but that was never the case for me. No matter how hard I tried, I honestly couldn't reach any level of average weight. It came to a point where I asked my pediatrician and a subsequent doctor how I could get heavier.

Now that I'm in my early 30s, I can't get away with unchecked eating in the same manner that I did when I was a kid. In my own proportional way, I do notice the effects of scarfing down unhealthy meals or overeating; it tends to linger around my mid-section, making it sort of round and doughy. There's no overwhelming change to my appearance, but this kind of subtle result is, in a way, more of a problem than your average person's weight gain issues. Weight gain is supposed to be your body's way of telling you that you need to exercise and/or change what or how much you're eating. When you have a freakish distortion of this indicator, you can become complacent. Paired with my dislike of physical activity, it's a bad combination. I freely admit that I'm out of shape. I know I don't exercise nearly as much as I should, and I have a penchant for junk food and snacking. When it comes right down to it, I have just as much difficulty finding the motivation to change my bad habits and increase my activity level as others might have trying to shed extra pounds and adjust their own lifestyles. I know I probably won't get much sympathy from those who constantly struggle with their weight, but I also know that being on the lighter end of the scale has its own difficulties.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A new way of writing

The following entry is the product of my 1966 Olivetti-Underwood Lettera 32, which you can see to the right.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Today I am a typecaster

Typed on a 1946 Smith-Corona Sterling with Speedline chassis