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Blogging Break Due to RSI

You’ve probably noticed I haven’t been blogging much lately. Now I’m also barely emailing, tweeting, or otherwise using the computer when not absolutely necessary.

I’ve developed pain and swelling in all the joints of my arms, especially my right hand and wrist. Just a couple of minutes mousing or typing — even with an improved ergonomic set-up — immediately flares my symptoms.

As I rely on the computer for communicating when my voice doesn’t work — I’ve been using it as an assistive communication device for years with my PCAs — as well as for all my work, information, recreation, and most of my social life, it’s really important to me not to lose access to the computer completely. Also, now that I’m having RSI symptoms even when I haven’t touched the mouse or keyboard for hours, I’m quite scared about developing a new disability and set of limitations.

I’m making an appointment with a hand specialist and have ordered a new mouse and keyboard. Meanwhile, I plan to rest my hands as much as I can stand without going out of my mind from boredom and computer withdrawal.

Other things are in the works, which I hope to get to when my upper extremities are doing better. I have even penned my first blog post by hand (a book review for my other blog), which I hope someone else will be typing for me.

Ciao for now, brown cows.
-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD/hindrance dog


Hackers Have Gotten Smarter: Some Tips for What to Look For

And in other inexplicable computer news, this post got published with NO CONTENT, and without me hitting the “publish” button. Argh! (Deep breaths. Deep breaths.)

Here are some things the hacker did that made it harder for me to clean up the mess and that tricked some people into clicking the link:

1. They did it during the night. At 4:30 EDT, when I was asleep. Not that it took them more than 20 minutes to email all 1000 people in my address book, but if I had started getting those bounces when I was awake, I’d have realized something was up sooner.

2. This one is key: They only put in five or six addresses per email. The main reason to do this is because AOL has bulk mailing policies to prevent spamming. If you email more than ten people in one email, it can trip it. If you email many people in a few emails, it will trip it. So, AOL didn’t shut down my account and stop them.

3. Putting only a few addresses in an email also tricked some people who received the email into thinking it was legit, because we are used to spam emails having very long To: lines. Someone even said, “I clicked on the link because it was from you and there were only a few people it was sent to.”

4. They put a different subject line in every post, so I couldn’t just email everyone and say, “If you got an email that says “blah blah blah,” delete it. (I also didn’t want to email everyone because then I would be bulk mailing, AOL would shut down my account, and I would again have over 400 bounces to delete.)

5. They put a signature line in. Not my signature, but every email had some sort of random quote in the signature field, so it looked more authentic, if I was the kind of person who quoted people in my signatures (which I’m not, but a lot of people do).

Moral of the story, kids:

If you get an email with a link, and basically no info as to what the link is about, do not click the link! Email the person whose account it is from to find out if it’s legit or if they’ve been hacked.

This is particularly true for anyone you have not heard from in a long, long time. Someone you interact with frequently, you know what they have in their signature line and you know what they’re involved with. It’s easier to spot a hijacked email. If you get an email from out of the blue from someone you haven’t interacted with for a long time, that is a big red flag right there.

When in doubt, DON’T CLICK ON THE LINK. It doesn’t matter if it’s from someone you know. That’s why hackers steal others’ accounts!

– Sharon

P.S. If you get another fishy email from me, please tell me. There still seems to be the occasional fishy thing happening, and I can’t tell if it’s just delays in certain emails being process, or if my account has been breached again.

My Email Was Hacked; Don’t Open Weird Link

Hi all,

Just a quick head’s up. If you got an email from me during the night (around 4:30 AM ET) with a strange subject line and weird link, DO NOT OPEN IT. My AOL account was hacked. I’ve changed my security settings and am deleting the 400+ bounced emails now and replying to concerned replies. I apologize to anyone this has inconvenienced and hope nobody clicked the link.

If you get any other suspicious emails from me, please tell me, because it means I haven’t fixed the problem (but I think I have.) I regret, again, that this occurred.

I’ve tried to put the word out on FB, Twitter, and to the list-servs I’m on. I don’t want to email everyone in my address book to warn them, because then it’ll be like going through it all again! But please do spread the word to anyone you know is in my address book, if you should happen to be in contact.



Barnum’s Current Job: “Furnace”

Here in rural New England (and I hear, in some of the cities, too), we got whomped by a big snow storm Saturday night. We’re not used to getting one-and-a-half or two feet of very wet, heavy snow in October. That’s a bit much! A lot of trees came down, and with them, the electric and phone lines.

We lost phone and power (which means heat, water, and electric) Saturday night. We have a generator now, but yesterday Betsy tried to get gas, and the roads were impassable due to trees being down everywhere, so we didn’t hook up the generator (and seal off the part of the house next to it, so I don’t get gas fumes) till tonight. We have five hours of generator use tonight. That is how I am able to use the computer and internet. We also have a heater. We need to shut it off in about an hour-and-a-half. We got phone service back this evening, which was thrilling.

I’ve blogged before about the ice storm of December 2008, and how traumatic that was for me. This time it’s much less traumatic because we were much more prepared. I also have more help this time, and Betsy’s here, and I am not unable to move or speak, like last time. There have been some moments of fear and sadness and anxiety, but overall, it’s been not too bad.

Barnum has been great! Gadget was never much of a snuggler, but Barnum prefers to spend most of his time hogging my bed. That works well when I am looking for body heat. He is a little furnace! I have particularly been able to put into action the skill I taught for him pressing up against me and laying his head on me. I taught that to help me when I’m feeling agitated, but it turns out it works well for maximizing body heat, too.

He is, however, extremely bored. We haven’t been able to do much training, and he hasn’t been getting as many walks as usual. When I let him outside, he gets the zoomies, and races around and around the yard. When we do train, he is extremely eager!

This has interrupted my ability to keep track of, and do activism for, the 99-percent movement. However, I’ll do what I can when life returns to (more) normal again.

Hope you all are well.

– Sharon, Gadget (I did not like being on furnace duty!), and Barnum, SDiT and producer of body heat

Happy New Year!

Tonight (Wednesday night), is the first night of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana. I’m actually doing something for Rosh Hashana, which is a big deal. It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve done anything for a holiday, and it’s been even longer since I’ve done anything I felt good about for a holiday, especially a Jewish holiday. Especially one of the High Holy Days.

I’m getting together, by phone, with some of my friends and fellow students from my Nonviolent Communication (NVC) class. I’ve pulled together some poems and some ideas of things to discuss, and sent out a transliteration of the shechianu (in both the masculine and feminine). I’m actually looking forward to it!

It’s really nice to have this glimmer of joy. I appreciate that even though I’ve been so sick lately and experiencing so much grief (this is a hard time of year for me — a lot of bad things happened to me in October through December), I can still find some happiness and a sense of meaning.

If you want to read some of the wonderful poems we’ll be using for our gathering, here they are:

A sweet New Year to all.

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT


Good, Clean Fun: Compulsion-Free Bath

I’ve written before about how I train my dogs to enjoy baths. I used treats, including “bobbing for biscuits” to make baths more enjoyable. With training, both Jersey and Gadget were accustomed to get in the shower with me and even to help with the rinsing aspect of the job by lying down in the water.

They both had frequent baths because any time we went somewhere that involved a chemical exposure — to a store, a doctor’s appointment, or anywhere we were around people — it was necessary for me to shower and change my clothes when I got home, and to bathe my dog, as well. The chemical residues in their hair was no more tolerable for me than those on my own skin, hair, or clothing.

However, I must admit that Jersey and Gadget didn’t so much enjoy baths as put up with them. They enjoyed the treats that I used to make bath time more pleasant, but they still didn’t relish the overall experience. And while there was no struggle and physical force involved, there was an element of psychological compulsion. They were not offering behaviors; they were complying with cues because they knew there really was no other option.

Until today, I thought that bathing Barnum was always going to be more difficult and unpleasant than training Jersey or Gadget. Barnum is not one to submit just because I am the human and I say so. He had several baths when he was a little puppy, and they were far from fun and relaxing for anyone involved. The problem was that we did not have the opportunity to build up slowly and positively to happy bath experiences.

Barnum had been shampooed repeatedly, and recently, with scented dog shampoo before we brought him home. The fragrance chemicals made me very sick, so we had to wash him often. Further, because I was doing my best to “super-socialize” him in his first 16 weeks of life, he went to a lot of smelly places (including puppy kindergarten) that required post-adventure scrub-downs.

Barnum After His First Bath, First Night Home

Barnum recovers from his first bath after his looong trip.

[Photo description: Barnum as a tiny puppy, at eight-and-a-half weeks old, still damp from his first bath. He sits at the entrance to his crate, looking a little dazed. He is black with ringlets of fur, with the characteristic big paws and slightly cloudy eyes of a young puppy. Sharon’s hand is in front of his mouth, feeding him a morsel. Her hand is almost as big as his head!]

It took months of bathing to get the scented shampoo out of his coat. In fact, it was not until we gave him his first severe haircut and cut off all the hair that had absorbed the scented stuff that I could put my face to his without sore throats, headaches, coughing, and my face turning beet-red.

Inevitably, these baths were stressful affairs. I was being made sick by the increased offgassing of the fumes when his hair got wet. I had to wear gloves and a carbon filter mask during the process, and we tried to make it as quick as possible. I tried to bribe and/or sooth him with treats, but he was having none of it. He didn’t want cheese or hot dogs or broccoli, he wanted out. Barnum was completely pissed off about being bathed against his will, and he kicked, flailed, scratched, and shrieked the whole time.

So, that was the background I had to work with to train Barnum that baths were actually terrific fun. I doubted I’d ever succeed. Between the numerous negative experiences I had to counteract and the fact that we didn’t get a lot of bathing practice, I thought we were at a severe disadvantage.

I was wrong. The fact that Barnum had few baths while I’ve been training him to enjoy being in the tub has meant that I wasn’t working against myself.

I mentioned in one of my “toilet training” posts that I started with tossing treats into the tub whenever Barnum followed me into the bathroom. The first unexpected hurdle was, well, literally a hurdle: Barnum couldn’t figure out how to jump in the tub.

He used to know how to jump in the tub, so I think it was more of a “mental block” than anything — an approach/avoidance conflict. He wanted the treats in the tub, but he was anxious about being in the tub. I spent a couple of weeks — many, many sessions — simply shaping him to jump in the tub: one paw on, two paws on, hind foot raised, etc. Finally, he learned to jump in the tub, and I clicked/treated for jumping in and out, attaching the cues to the behaviors as we went.

I faded the c/t from jumping out pretty quickly and focused on c/t for being in the tub. I treated it mostly like the shaping exercise for “Go to Mat” in Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels. I lured the beginning of a sit, and from there, shaped for sitting and then lying down. Over time I shaped for longer periods of lying down and for relaxed body posture while lying down.

Sometimes, instead of clicking (operant conditioning), I used classical conditioning — just tossing treats between his paws while he was lying down so he could stay relaxed and simply associate being in the tub with happy things. Eventually, whenever I went into that bathroom, he’d jump in the tub and wait to be clicked. Soon, he began offering behaviors: Being in the tub not good enough? What if I sit? What if I down?

Once he was truly relaxed lying in the tub for extended periods, I started adding elements that he’d associate with baths, such as the ventilation fan being on, grabbing the hose (hand-held shower), opening and shutting the drain, rubbing him all over with my hand (but no soap or water) to mimic being shampooed, and moving the shower head over his body (without the water turned on).

These environmental cues were mostly visual, auditory, or tactile — my body position as I leaned over him to rub him; the sound of the metal shower hose clanging against the fiberglass tub, etc. I clicked for staying in position and staying relaxed, and also continued to toss treats without clicking just to add classical conditioning to the mix. Also, sometimes it was too hard to perform this physically exhausting maneuvers and also time my clicks properly, so it was easier just to toss treats or use a verbal marker.

Finally, I started adding water. The way I’d want to add water — and the way I’d suggest to anyone else — is to let a tiny dribble into the tub of lukewarm water. Unfortunately, my faucet is very strange. It’s a knob, and you adjust the temperature by how far you turn it (turn it a little, and the water is cold; turn it all the way, and it’s scorching). But, unless you want very cold water, there is no way to start with a trickle, then work up to a stream, then full-blast. Since ice-cold water can be quite aversive, this was a challenge to train.

So, I would turn the knob just enough for the sound of water to start, and turn it off again before any water actually hit the tub. Or sometimes, after it was off, a dribble would come in. It took several sessions for Barnum to stay truly relaxed at the sound of the water starting.

Eventually, I was able to get water going in the hose and spray it at the drain, so it wasn’t hitting him, and he was okay with that. But we had not yet gotten to the point where he would stay, relaxed in the tub, lying down, beyond his front paws getting wet. I thought we still had a long way to go.

This is a dog who refuses to walk through puddles. He likes to drink water from the garden hose, and he will run into the pond and moving streams, but he really does not like to get his feet wet unless it’s part of some fun activity. Even on scorching-hot days, he refuses to wade in the kiddie pool in the yard.

Then, a few days ago, Betsy and I were tick-checking Barnum, and we saw something we thought might be a flea running through his hair. We didn’t find any evidence of flea bites or flea dirt, but we decided we better bathe him, just to be on the safe side. Also, he really needed a bath.

I got together the treats and went and sat in the bathroom. Even though I’d tried so hard to simulate all the “forerunners to bath” cues in our training — getting the dog shampoo, turning on the fan, taking off my pants, etc., Barnum knew it was bath time! I was surprised. He is so sensitive to environmental cues; he’s really quite a genius at it.

But I just stayed calm and ignored him, and eventually he decided, “Hey, maybe this is a training session!” So he hopped into the tub! I said the cue while he was in the air, clicked and treated when he was in the tub, and we did a few more cued “in-and-outs.”

He sat, he downed, I kept c/t (I actually was using a verbal marker — not enough hands to hold a clicker) for the things we usually did. I stoppered the tub, I turned on the water, pointing the spray away from him. He stayed in the tub!

“Well,” I thought, “I’ll just see how far I can take this until Betsy gets here to help.”

I started spraying his lower legs, figuring that would be less likely to trigger a jump out of the tub than if I went for his back or butt or head. He stayed in the tub, eagerly participating in this “training session.” Soon, I had all of his legs, including feet, sprayed down and was moving up to his belly.

I yelled for Betsy and she came in. “He doesn’t know it’s a bath!” I told her. “He thinks this is a training session! Don’t let on that it’s a bath!”

We did the entire bath without any holding, demanding, gripping, or body blocking! He was smiling and enjoying himself. It was completely unlike any other dog bathing experience I’ve had. There were two times he decided the training session was going in a way he didn’t like, and he jumped out (soaking the floor). We just waited.

He paced and dithered. He wanted to keep getting the treats! He wanted the training to continue, but now the tub was half-full of water. Yet, training won out, and he — on his own — jumped back into the water. This happened twice! I did not touch him or cue him until he had already decided he wanted back in.

It was the fastest bath we’ve ever done! The most remarkable part of it, for me, was observing his body language. His tail was up and sometimes gently wagging. His head was up. His mouth was relaxed and smiley. His eyes were sparkling. He did not have that slumped, defeated look I have come to associate with any dog in a tub. He actually started playing in the water near the end — scratching at the tub drain (which I discouraged) and bobbing for treats, sticking his nose under the stream of water.

One of the youtube channels I subscribe to is MultiAnimalCrackers. She clicker trains her own dogs, horses, donkeys, and other animals. She says all the animals are trained “at liberty,” which means that they offer behaviors willingly; they are never forced to do a behavior they don’t want to. Bathing Barnum “at liberty,” though it did mean a soaking-wet floor from the two times he jumped out and we had to wait for him to decide to jump back in, was a remarkable experience.

I’ll post a photo essay separately of Barnum in the bathtub, just for kicks.

It’s only been a decade. I think I’m starting to get this clicker training thing now.

Give me liberty, or and give me bath!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (mooo!), and Barnum, sparkling clean SDiT

P.S. I am a finalist in today’s 5 Minute Fiction challenge again. I told you I was addicted! It’s a great group of finalist stories this time. I like them all. Please read, enjoy, and vote! (Preferably for me, but whichever one you like best, really.)

Video: Pivot Left with Wheelchair

Barnum and I have been making tremendous progress in his training. All of a sudden, his learning has accelerated, and several skills are coming together. It’s very exciting.

One of the challenges we’ve had all along is keeping him in position when I turn left.* He generally works/walks on my left, so when I turn left, I am turning into him. His (very natural) response has been to backup — to avoid getting hit — and wait until I am perpendicular to him, when he will then step forward until he is eventually parallel to me again.

The problem is that I don’t want him perpendicular to me at all, ever, unless I have specifically cued that behavior. I want my service dog parallel to me, at my side, for several reasons:

  1. When he’s wearing a pack with items I want to access, it will be easiest to do so if he is at my side.
  2. Service dogs should be as unobtrusive as possible. We already take up a lot of space because I am a large person in a large powerchair with an oxygen holder on the back, and he is a big dog. When we add the pack, we’ll take up even more space. If his butt is sticking out, we’ll take up unnecessary room.
  3. He is most likely to get bumped into by a person or shopping cart or other things, or to back up, himself, into store displays, people, or other objects if he is not lined up next to me, where I can better protect him and shield him with my body/chair.

I didn’t have a problem teaching Jersey or Gadget to turn left, because with both of them I started with a four-wheeled mobility scooter. It had a very long base — as long as they were. So, when turning left, they were forced to stay parallel to me; there was nowhere else to go. Turning right was trickier — that is when they usually swung wide. I taught them right turns by using natural barriers — walls — and making right turns with the dog between me and the wall.

When I switched from a scooter to a powerchair with Gadget, he already knew how to move correctly with me, and it was never a problem to apply what he knew of walking with a scooter to walking with a chair. I didn’t have to do any retraining.

I’ve tried using natural barriers with Barnum to teach left turns, but there really aren’t many available. There are no accessible outdoor structures (like the garage I used to teach Jersey and Gadget, when I lived elsewhere), and in my home, there are very few walls or pieces of furniture that provide enough room for making turns.

I came up with a new way. I used the method that many trainers use for teaching hind-end awareness or for heeling training — having the dog place their front paws on a thick book or low stool, and then clicking them for taking steps with their hind legs. Eventually, they learn to pivot.

Barnum and I have been doing this pivot training for a few months, though not very frequently. Since one of the first shaped skills I taught him was to scratch his nails on a filing board, it took a while to extinguish scratching the book. Another issue we had to contend with is my problem with spatial awareness and cognitive mapping.

I’ve never had a good sense of direction, and the multiple insults to my brain from chemical injury and neurological pathogens hasn’t helped matters any. There are several posts I want to write about how brain injury affects my life, especially my two most important and beloved activities — dog training and writing — and this is one example. Before Barnum and I did a session, I had to cue him to walk with me in his “service dog walk” to figure out which way his butt should swing. I’d find a landmark in the room and circle my finger again and again in the direction I wanted his butt to spin in relation to that landmark. I didn’t want to accidentally shape him to spin right! Sometimes I just wasn’t mentally with-it enough to train this behavior.

Even after I’d captured and reinforced hind-foot steps to the left, he was pivoting without any seeming awareness that he was, or that that was what he was being clicked for. I think he has just recently become aware that his hind-end movement is what earns the treats.

The video below (which has no sound, except clicking, so it is not captioned), shows how the skill is now coming together. First I give him a few practice clicks spinning on the book, and then I slowly join him in the exercise, trying to click for him moving his hind feet when I move my chair — or even just to catch up and put himself parallel to my chair.

We still have a ways to go. The pivoting is not a default yet, but he’s incorporating the movement more often when we do “working walk” than he used to.

For those who are wondering about a cue — I did not attach a cue to this behavior. The cue will simply be my chair turning left.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum (left, left, left, right left) SDiT

* This discussion pertains to “working walk” or “service dog walk,” not just simple loose-leash walking. If we are going for a casual walk, for recreation, he doesn’t have to stay in position. What I call “working walk” requires Barnum to be at my side, parallel, and giving me brief eye contact at least every three seconds, but usually more like every other second at minimum while moving, and more sustained eye contact when we’re stationary. Most people would think of what we’re doing as “heel,” as I used to. However, “heel” is actually a precision drill-team-like movement, used for obedience competitions. There aren’t many real-world applications to “heel,” especially because it can’t be maintained for long periods; it’s too demanding.

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