January 30, 2006

bye-bye, aibo

what's the next best thing to having a dog? for some, it is a cat, for others, it's having a robot dog. but no more -- the new york times reports:

For Sony's Robotic Aibo, It's the Last Year of the Dog

There was sad news last week for enthusiasts of the Aibo Entertainment Robot from Sony: the doglike machine, which walks, barks and recognizes speech, is being put to sleep, the company said.

The Aibo, which was introduced in 1999, is being discontinued as part of Sony's move to improve its financial position.[...] With little marketing or promotion, the Aibo robot garnered a cultlike following around the world. Its programmed actions include barking, pushing a ball and lifting its leg, and it can "learn," becoming more adept at behaviors over time. Using different software stored on memory sticks, Aibo also gives the illusion of development by becoming able to perform different age-appropriate tasks.

Aibos from the latest litter speak 1,000 words and can understand more than 100, including some in Spanish. A videocamera in the robot's head can wirelessly relay images to a laptop, allowing owners to see the world from a dog's point of view.

Aibos cost about $2,000, and the company will continue to sell them on its Web site (www.sonystyle.com) until its inventory is depleted; it will then supply spare parts for another seven years (or 49 dog years). To date, 150,000 Aibos have been sold throughout the world.

[...] Many owners regard their possessions as more than just a piece of plastic coupled to motors and processors. For some, the machines have taken on a life of their own. "I love them, they're great," said Craig Lee, a technical support specialist at a Chicago insurance company, who owns 40 Aibos. "I think of them as dogs."
exchange your 40 aibos for a real dog and you'll be delighted with the difference.

January 29, 2006

happy year of the dog!


the chinese new year begins today, and it is a year of the dog:

People born in the Year of the Dog possess the best traits of human nature. They have a deep sense of loyalty, are honest, and inspire other people's confidence because they know how to keep secrets. But Dog People are somewhat selfish, terribly stubborn, and eccentric. They care little for wealth, yet somehow always seem to have money. They can be cold emotionally and sometimes distant at parties. They can find fault with many things and are noted for their sharp tongues. Dog people make good leaders. They are compatible with those born in the Years of the Horse, Tiger, and Rabbit.
the picture above shows an ad in today's new york times. ABC carpet is reaching out for asian american customers. there is also an article in the style section -- you know, that's the one with all the wedding announcements -- about the year of the dog.

The reason many Chinese (and half-Chinese) couples are choosing Dog wedding dates over Rooster ones traces back to the solar calendar. The Year of the Rooster, which began on Feb. 9, 2005, and ended yesterday, did not contain a lichun, or beginning of spring. (Lichun usually falls on Feb. 4, the halfway point between the winter and summer solstices.) A year without a lichun is called a "widow year" or "blind year," explained Theodora Lau, the author of "The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes" (HarperCollins, 2005). "The thinking is that if you get married in a blind year, you didn't look at what you were doing, and you could get divorced next year."

Many couples, both tradition-minded and modern, took notice, postponing wedding plans last year. (According to articles in the Asian press, would-be brides and bridegrooms in China shunned the Rooster in large numbers, often leaving wedding-related businesses there with empty reception halls.)

The Year of the Dog, which will end Feb. 17, 2007, will span two lichun, Ms. Lau said. "It's very lucky to see spring in the beginning of the year and in the end. A lot of people would love to get married in a double-spring year."[...]

Johnson Lau, owner of Highlight Studio Wedding Center, a Chinatown wedding planner, said his business has recovered from the 20 percent dip in bookings he experienced last year. "We've already booked 50 for this coming year," he said.
well, one of my friends is getting married in the summer. she's a dog person with a capital d and she will love the idea that it is the year of the dog and considered an extra-lucky year.

need to know more about the year of the dog? google it. (by the way, the verb google still hasn't made it into webster's online dictionary. strange.)

January 26, 2006

truthiness hits the couch

so you thought that the american dialect society was off in choosing thruthiness as their word of the year? the word would not really catch on? well, along came james frey, "the man who conned oprah".

let's look at some recent headlines:
  • Oprah strikes a blow for truthiness [msnbc.com, 1/26/06]
  • The truthiness hurts [Chicago Tribune, 1/16/06]
  • Truthiness 101: From Frey to Alito [The New York Times, 1/22/06]
here's an excerpt from the chicago tribune's article:
Just as a media uproar erupts over fabrications in James Frey's best-selling memoir about his drug habit, along comes a new word that fits the situation perfectly. Truthiness is the invention of Stephen Colbert, host of the nightly Colbert Report (that's Col-bear Re-pore, for the unrefined) on Comedy Central. The show is a dead-on parody of smug and self-absorbed cable news commentators whose opinions aren't always constrained by facts.

Colbert used the word "truthiness" to describe an impression of truth not necessarily constrained by those pesky little facts, which can just get in the way. The more formal definition, provided by the American Dialect Society: "the quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts."

That pretty much sums up the controversy over Frey's "A Million Little Pieces." The pesky little facts of his own life have intruded on his truthiness. Badgered by the investigative Web site The Smoking Gun, Frey acknowledged last week that his tale of violence, addiction and recovery is not all fact.

Frey said he made up "a handful" of details. His critics say there's no evidence that he spent three months in jail, registered 0.36 on a blood alcohol test, or was charged with felony DUI after striking a police officer with his car, to name just a few of the very, very many disputed points. All of that is irrelevant, Frey protests, because it is the essence of the story that matters.

In other words, the truthiness.

It's what Frey's publishers, Anchor Books and Doubleday, were talking about when they said they stand behind the book because the embellishments are outweighed by "the power of the overall reading experience." [...] So where's the harm?
in the meantime, oprah winfrey has become less supportive of mr. frey. yesterday, she confronted him and his publisher in her talk show. video dog has clips from the show. it made for a "remarkable moment of television". in an editorial, the new york times writes:
In a remarkable moment of television, Ms. Winfrey did what we have so often waited for public figures to do: she admitted openly that she had made a mistake in supporting Mr. Frey. Then she did her best to force him, and Ms. Talese [the publisher], to admit the extent of his deception and the publisher's failure. [...] Ms. Winfrey gave the audience, including us, what it was hoping for: a demand to hear the truth.
and yet, truthiness is here to stay.

"a valentine to 'big, dopey, playful galumphs'"

i'm ususally wary of bestselling books with a dog on the title. dogs can compensate for anything, including lame stories and bad writing. in today's new york times, dinitia smith argues that this one is different:
Why this dog and no other? Why has "Marley & Me," the story of an overly friendly, wildly energetic, highly dysfunctional yellow Labrador retriever, spent the last three months on the best-seller lists, climbing to the No. 2 spot on the forthcoming New York Times hardcover nonfiction list?

Marley was, in a way, a dog who loved too much. He would hurl himself through screen doors to get to Mr. Grogan or his wife, Jenny Vogt. When they locked him in a metal dog crate, he separated the steel bars.

"It looked like the Jaws of Life had pulled it open," Mr. Grogan said. Marley flung drool on guests. He stole Ms. Vogt's underwear. He ate her jewelry. Thunderstorms gave him anxiety attacks, and then he would chew through things, mattresses, the couch.

But "Marley & Me" is not just a book about a dog. In fact, it is a love story, of Mr. Grogan and his wife, a young married couple contemplating having a family. "We were young," the book begins, irresistibly. "We were in love." Ms. Vogt was nervous about caring for a baby and thought a dog "would be good practice," Mr. Grogan writes. A breeder offered them a discount on a puppy. "The little guy's on clearance," Ms. Vogt begged her husband as Marley somersaulted into their laps, gnawed on their fingers and clawed his way up to lick their faces.

in her review for the new york times book magazine in october 2005 janet maslin wrote that it is a book "with intense but narrow appeal, strictly limited to anyone who has ever had, known or wanted a dog." there are quite a few of us -- dinita smith's article is #2 on the nyt's list of the most frequently e-mailed articles today. [update: when at 7.49 p.m. it had climbed to the top of the list, leaving an article about oprah winfrey's change of mind regarding james frey's so-called memoir behind] more from maslin's review:

Mr. Grogan knew the workings of Marley's mind. He makes that abundantly clear in "Marley and Me," a very funny valentine to all those four-legged "big, dopey, playful galumphs that seemed to love life with a passion not often seen in this world." [...] Only occasionally does "Marley and Me" contrive sitcom-ready situations. It's hard to believe that the author, even in the most amorous mood, could have mistaken Marley's warm breath for his wife's until he smelled Milk-Bone biscuits. And the image of a man being slurped on a moving toboggan by a pesky dog is too cartoonishly good to be true - unless the reader realizes how much universal Lab behavior is immortalized here.
i haven't read the book yet, but anything that inspires the juxtaposition of "valentine" and "galumph" has my vote.


the wonderful word galumph is an invention by lewis carroll "perhaps with some reminiscence of gallop, triumphant" (OED), who first used it in 1872 in "into the looking glass",

He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
its orginal meaning was "to march on exultingly with irregular bounding movements", now it is used more to express "to gallop heavily; to bound or move clumsily or noisily". the word was quickly picked up by the punch and other magazines. the oxford english dictionary lists the following quotes, among others.
  • 1891 Harper's Mag. Aug. 378/2 He [a dog] became a.. playful, gracefully galumphing, and most affectionate monster.
  • 1930 C. MACKENZIE April Fools xii. 271 Viola..had slept through the stifled cries of her parents beneath the bedclothes when Beyle [sc. a bull-dog] was galumphing round their room
  • 1965 S. RAVEN Friends in Low Places vi. 129 In the hall was a galumphing lass with a lot of jerseys and a po face
you can see that dogs made the list of galumphing creatures quite early, but the use of the word as a noun seems to be more recent -- it's not listed as a noun in the OED yet. (valentine, on the other hand, is listed as a noun and a verb, "of birds: To greet with song, to sing, at mating time", related to "St. Valentine's Day", a day to commemorate two italian saints, "freq. mentioned with reference to the choosing of sweethearts or the mating of birds" since chaucer (OED).

January 21, 2006

snow beard

sunrise reflected in a dog's black coat. how cool is that? note the nicks in each of her ears, it almost looks like it was done on purpose (actually, they are results from dog bites that occured in the dog shelter).

[picture courtesy of ihp]

dog appreciation

recently, the new york times and other media reported a study according to which dogs can be trained to sniff cancer - or rather certain chemical substances produced by tumors - in breath samples:

In the small world of people who train dogs to sniff cancer, a little-known Northern California clinic has made a big claim: that it has trained five dogs - three Labradors and two Portuguese water dogs - to detect lung cancer in the breath of cancer sufferers with 99 percent accuracy.

The study was based on well-established concepts. It has been known since the 80's that tumors exude tiny amounts of alkanes and benzene derivatives not found in healthy tissue.

Other researchers have shown that dogs, whose noses can pick up odors in the low parts-per-billion range, can be trained to detect skin cancers or react differently to dried urine from healthy people and those with bladder cancer, but never with such remarkable consistency. [...]

The clinic collected breath samples in plastic tubes filled with polypropylene wool from 55 people just after biopsies found lung cancer and from 31 patients with breast cancer, as well as from 83 healthy volunteers.

The tubes were numbered, and then placed in plastic boxes and presented to the dogs, five at a time. If the dog smelled cancer, it was supposed to sit.

For breath from lung cancer patients, Mr. McCulloch reported, the dogs correctly sat 564 times and incorrectly 10 times. (By adjusting for other factors, the researchers determined the accuracy rate at 99 percent.)

For the breath from healthy patients, they sat 4 times and did not sit 708 times.

Experts who read the study raised various objections: The smells of chemotherapy or smoking would be clues, they said. Or the healthy breath samples could have been collected in a different room on different days. Or the dogs could pick up subtle cues - like the tiny, unintentional movements of observers picked up by Clever Hans, the 19th-century "counting horse," as he neared a correct answer. But Mr. McCulloch said cancer patients who had begun chemotherapy were excluded, smokers were included in both groups and the breath samples were collected in the same rooms on the same days. The tubes were numbered elsewhere, he said, and the only assistant who knew which samples were cancerous was out of the room while the dogs were working. [new york times, 1/17/06]

fascinating stuff. it makes you appreciate the powerful nose of a dog. today the new york times has an editorial on the subject:

What the Nose Knows

How well do you know your dog? The answer is, not nearly as well as your dog knows you. Given the right incentives, humans can certainly be perceptive enough. But most dog lovers discover, sooner or later, that dogs have an alertness to the behavioral signs of their owners that humans rarely equal. And that's nothing. Scientists have recently discovered that dogs can distinguish, with almost unerring accuracy, between breath samples from people with lung cancer and from people without. The dogs have to be trained to do it, of course. But the fact that they can do it at all is remarkable. There aren't enough biscuits in the world to teach a human to smell at such an extraordinary level of subtlety.

This news will give pause to almost anyone who lives with a dog. Just what a dog "knows" is hard to say, because the human idea of "knowing" is so closely related to the ability to express what you know. Even trained cancer-sniffing dogs express their knowledge - their distinction between samples - only by sitting or not sitting. But this is what always happens. We tend to forget the extraordinary powers of the animals we live with simply because we live with them. We tend to humanize them, which means, if nothing else, that we tend to reduce them - in terms of their sensory powers - to our muddling level. We can barely take in the fact that when a dog comes up and sniffs us, it is really giving us a nasal M.R.I.

Not that this will change the dynamic of our relations with man's best friend. For a while - remembering the cancer-sniffing dogs - some of us will wonder when we see our pets cock their heads, "What are you looking at?" But time will pass, and humans will be humans, and we will forget, at our end of the leash, that the beast we are walking with may already know things about us that we will discover only too late.

a - non-verbal- tribute to dog noses can be found on flickr.

January 18, 2006

move me if you can

once in a while a dog bed cover has to be washed. (the best dog beds in the world can be purchased here, by the way.) it's difficult for brandy to accept that a bed without a cover is off limits. now, a bed with only half a cover, that's a whole different story....


mission accomplished. cover changed. dog still unmoved.

January 15, 2006

celebrities love red wine, white teeth, and tiny dogs

usa today reports that every presenter at the 62nd golden globe ceremony (which takes place tomorrow) will receive "goodies" worth more than $37,000 - not bad for a 3 minute introduction. the products are chosen by in style magazine and the hollywood foreign press association. the gifts are "contained in a custom wicker ottoman"and include:

  • An Australian wine adventure package with first-class Qantas airfare and accommodation at Rosemount Estate, where guests will create their own wine: $16,000.
  • Brite Smile teeth whitening: $1,100 (useful after all that red wine)
  • A sitting with portrait photographer Judy Host: $5,000
  • Ehrlooms diamond pendant: $2,700
  • Ferre travel bag: $650
  • Godiva chocolates: $125
and there's also something for the presenters' canine companions:
  • Janet Lee dog tote: $400.
  • and a $500 gift certificate for clothing from jackrocketwear ("a couture dog clothing line") and doggie spa products
judging from the style of the dog-related "goodies", one may conclude that actors will smith and jada pinket smith, who share their home with 4 rottweilers, and jake gyllenhaal, who has a shepherd mix (and a puggle), will not be among the presenters.

January 09, 2006

belated christmas greetings from new mexico

nativity scene in st. francis church in santa fe. note the sheep-sized chihuahua.

nothing but the truthiness

the members of the american dialect society have voted - their word of the year is truthiness:
In its 16th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted truthiness as the word of the year. First heard on the Colbert Report, a satirical mock news show on the Comedy Channel, truthiness refers to the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true. As Stephen Colbert put it, “I don’t trust books. They’re all fact, no heart.”
click here for a detailed report on the vote - which includes the following categories:
  • "Most Useful" (podcast - word of the year according to the new oxford american dictionary),
  • "Most Creative" (whale tail - the appearance of thong underwear above the waistband),
  • "Most Unnecessary" (K Fed - husband of britney spears),
  • "Most Outrageous" (crotch fruit - children),
  • "Most Euphemistic" (internal nutrition - force-feeding prisoners against their will),
  • "Most Likely to Succeed" (sudoku), and
  • "Least Likely to Succeed" (pope-squatting - registering a domain name speculating it may be the name the new pope chooses).
a special category this year was:
  • "Best Tom Cruise-Related Word” (jump the couch - exhibit strange or frenetic behavior, not restricted to appearances on oprah).
looks like linguists also watch oprah. i doubt if tom cruise actually deserves a category of his own, but of the words and phrases listed, i like "jump the couch" best.

January 05, 2006


ever heard of "skijoring"? the new york times today has an article about it:

FOUR years ago Carin Offerman clipped on a pair of cross-country skis, tethered herself to her giant schnauzer, Raven, and braced for a ride that would change her life. Her 70-pound dog started running, and Ms. Offerman felt the line go tight as she rocketed down the snowy trail.

Ms. Offerman, 57, an independent investor from Minneapolis, had read about skijoring, a Nordic sport, which involves tying a dog to the skier for increased speed and power. "My dog and I were both in need of exercise in the winter months, and skijoring looked like a great fit," she said.

Before the snow melted, Ms. Offerman was taking Raven out on local trails several times a week for a workout, which she says is equally good for both of them. "After an hour of skijoring I'd come home sweaty and exhausted," she said, "and Raven would go to curl up by the fireplace for a long nap."

b Skijoring
(pronounced skee-JOAR-ing) has long been practiced in Alaska and Scandinavia, where sled-dog sports are part of the local culture. But in the last five years it has gained momentum in places like Vermont, upstate New York, Michigan, Colorado and Minnesota and now has a following among thousands of recreational skiers and their dogs, said Tim White, the president of the International Federation of Sleddog Sports, in Minnesota. Cross-country ski areas have opened hundreds of miles of trails to skiers and their pets, and new skijoring clubs, equipment makers, races, instructional clinics and Web sites cater to the converts. [...]

A cousin sport to dog sledding, skijoring uses a 6- to 10-foot towline to tether a skier to one or more dogs wearing chest harnesses. The dog runs and pulls, and the human skis behind. To maximize speed and preserve the dog's energy on long treks, skiers provide some of the power by striding and pushing off with their poles. Some dogs may need training to run straight down trails rather than in circles around their owner's ankles. An experienced canine-human pair can reach speeds of 15 miles an hour or more, Mr. White said.

Speed is part of the attraction. But skijorers also like the exercise and the camaraderie with the family pet. And for those who already own a dog and cross-country gear skijoring is a relatively inexpensive pursuit.

The equipment is designed and made by small companies like Perry Greene Outfitters, in Waldoboro, Me., which sells the basic waist belt, towline and dog harness for $65 at www.mainely-dogs.com.

according to webster's dictionary, the word skijoring (or its more scandinavian looking variant skiöring) is a modification of norwegian skikjøring, from ski + kjøring "driving", related to old norse keyra "to drive" (and perhaps to sanksrit javate "he hurries on"). it denotes "a winter sport in which a person wearing skis is drawn over snow or ice by a horse or vehicle". no mentioning of a dog.

January 01, 2006

happy new year!

it's not quite the year of the dog yet, perhaps that's why this one is hesitant about joining the festivities...