7 Things Having a Dog Teaches You

1. Dogs tell you a lot about your family.

Because dogs learn to see the family that takes care of them as their pack, you can learn a great deal about family dynamics from them. For example, our dog Annie is submissive and deferential to everyone in the family, with the exception of my niece Mary.

Annie, who’s part Border Collie, tries to herd Mary into various corners of our apartment when Mary visits. Thanks to Annie, then, we know definitively that Mary is lowest in the family pecking order and that if we’re ever attacked by a large jungle cat, she’ll probably have to be sacrificed.

(Truthfully, that was already our plan vis-à-vis jungle cat attack, but Annie made us feel more justified in it.)

2. Dogs keep you level.

It’s difficult to get too down on yourself when, every time you return home, you’re greeted by a couple a creatures who are totally thrilled to see you.

Likewise, it tough to get too full of yourself when you’re standing on the sidewalk waiting for a squatting creature to squeeze off a grumpy, knowing you’re going to pick up what’s being evacuated.

3. Dogs are like children.

They they need to be fed, they need attention, they poop unexpectedly, and they cry when they aren’t getting what they need. They are almost totally dependent on you.

Having successfully had a couple of dogs for a couple of years, and having not accidentally killed either of them, I’m pretty confident that I could take care of an infant for up to 48 hours without incident.

4. Dogs are not like children.

Turns out that when going for a walk with a dog wearing a diaper in a stroller while dragging a naked two year-old on a leash behind you, you might get some dirty looks from people. You might also get arrested and be told by counsel not to write anything else about the incident.

5. Dogs create empathy.

Looking at my pooches, with their soulful eyes and pleasantly swinging tails, and thinking about how sad I’d be if anything happened to them, has made me empathize with all living creatures. Like cows, which also have soulful eyes.

So now, if I want to eat a steak, I’ve got to first think about the cow from which it came committing a bunch of violent crimes, being tried a jury of its peers, and then being summarily executed. That way, my having a delicious steak is actually an act of deterrence against future bovine-perpetrated violence and I get to feel like I’m tough on crime.

6. Dogs can change size. But only when you’re not looking.

The amount of destruction a dog can create is wildly disproportionate to what their size and the amount of time they’ve been left alone suggests would be possible. Therefore, Occam’s razor tells us that as the door to one’s apartment closes, all dogs turn into mastiffs.

(I’m also working on a theory about secret opposable thumbs.)

7. Dogs teach you about sharing.

Occasionally Otis, our terrier, ends up with something Annie, our mutant Border Collie-Dachshund mix, wants, like a particular toy or spot on the couch. When Annie notices this untenable state of affairs, she’ll run to the front door barking, giving Otis the universal signal for “There’s someone strange here and we may have to bite/lick them!”

Otis, not being the brightest bulb in the chandelier, will dutifully spring from his spot and charge to the door, whereupon Annie reverses field and claims whatever it was that Otis had. Otis will remain at the door for several minutes before realizing he’s been bamboozled.

Learning from this, when my wife has the remote control or the good spot on the couch, I’ll say something like, “Honey, did you leave the stove on? I smell something burning,” or point to the window and yell “Bearshark! Bearshark!” Then I take her spot when she gets up. She’s a good sport about it and I’m a quick healer so the bruises don’t last too long.

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7 Things Having a Dog Teaches You

Camping Tips – Tents: Your Best Friend, Your Worst Enemy

No piece of camping equipment has turned more people into incoherent obscenity spewing rage monsters than the tent.

Frustrating though they may be, however, they’re an absolutely necessary part of the camping experience. (For one thing, camping without a tent isn’t camping at all. It’s a “wilderness experience,” and too many of those and you turn into one of those people who wears a bandanna on their head all the time and gets a backpack with a built in canteen, and who wants to be that guy?)

Having considerable experience with tents of all shapes and sizes, I’m here to help. Let’s walk through the process together.

1. Selecting a Tent – When browsing the store, be it a specialty camping store or a Wal-Mart, all of the options can be a bit daunting. A-frame, dome, cabin, and other types, all with their own advantages and pitfalls. In the end, your selection should come down to two things, weight and size.

Here’s a rule of thumb as to whether or not you should care how much your tent weighs: If a cooler is prominently involved in your camping plans, go nuts. Compared to that case of beer you’re probably also bringing, no tent’s going to feel that heavy.

If you’re more ambitious and plan on hiking to your campsite with gear, look for the cheapest one with a smiling backpacker on the the box. Then spend the extra 50 bucks for the one lighter than that one. Your back will appreciate it.

The more common tent buying mistake has to do with getting the size wrong. Remember that when a tent says it’s for three people, that’s not including gear. Or largish sleeping bags. Or any presumption of personal space. In fact, where it says the number of people it’s for just add the words, “assuming the availability of a sufficient amount of Crisco and biblical familiarity among the occupants.” (It’s for this reason that two-man tents can not legally be sold in Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and the territory of Guam.)

So, if you’re planing on four in your tent, get a six-man. For six, an eight-person. For two, a three-person. (Even you’re planning on going camping with your significant other, get the three-person. Even newlyweds occasionally need a break.)

2. Establish Dominance – Once you’ve got the proper tent, you can’t just stash it in a closet and expect it to be ready to go when you need it. Tents can be very difficult to deal with if they sense weakness.

The day after buying a new tent, I like to throw it in the passenger seat of the car and go on a drive to some isolate area, saying thing under my breath like, “Maybe I should have gone with A-frame…” Every couple of minutes I’ll glance over at the tent and quickly look away, while chewing worryingly at my lip.

Eventually, I’ll pull over at a secluded spot, tell the tent “If that’s going to be your attitude, this just isn’t going to work,” toss it out of the car, and drive off. Don’t worry, I circle back in a couple of minutes and pick it up. Its will is usually broken by then, and I’m not cruel.

3. Setting it Up – So you’re at your campsite, getting ready to set your new tent up for the first time. Before doing that, it’s important to build a nice fire. (For fire building tips, see this.) Once the you’ve got your fire going, you can proceed.

Now get out the tent instructions. Throw them in the fire. They would have only caused you pain.

That tent instructions are spectacularly useless is actually by design.

A quick history lesson: In 1959 the National Camping Association, nearly bankrupted by America’s new love of television, signed a lucrative deal with B.F. Skinner’s Society of Behavioral Psychologists. In return for the funding, the NCA agreed to make all tent instructions part of a decades long experiment on relationship stressors in wilderness environments. As part of the research, every first year psychology graduate student must do at least two months of field work hiding outside popular camp grounds with nothing but a pair of binoculars, a clip board, and a ghillie suit, taking notes on people struggling with their camp set up.

The best method, then, for tent setup is trial and error. If after the first attempt your tent looks like an arthritic porcupine with a pituitary condition, you probably didn’t do it right. But you have learned what not to do next time!

Keep at it! And if, after darkness has fallen, your kids are audibly yawning, and your significant other is cataloging your flaws, and you’re on your 15th attempt and the last tent pole that’s clearly supposed to go in that grommet there won’t reach dammit, well, there’s no shame in sleeping in one’s car.

Happy camping!

Camping Tips – Tents: Your Best Friend, Your Worst Enemy

Canoeing Tips: Partner Communication

When you’re on the water in a tandem canoe, the other person in the boat is the most important person in your world.

In fast water, you’re at their mercy and they are at yours. You both have distinct responsibilities (which vary depending if you’re in the front or the back of the boat) but if you aren’t coordinating your actions, you’re both going to get wet. Because of this, the relationship between you and your partner is a complicated one in which communication is vital.

Partnerships grow over time, as you each get better at anticipating the actions and responses of the other. At the highest and most zen-like level, an experienced pair will make it down a rapid with nary a word uttered between them. Those of us who aren’t at that level, however, develop a system of shorthand to coordinate our reactions while we’re under the intense pressure of making it through a rapid in one piece.

Because there isn’t always time to express full thoughts, each utterance between partners can have a variety of meanings depending on the situation and what’s gone before it. Fascinatingly, it doesn’t take long at all before even novice partners can understand each other’s intent in just a couple of syllables.

Let’s take a look at an example.

You’re in the back of the boat in the middle of a difficult class III rapid. Your partner has less experience than you do and seems a touch overwhelmed. The canoe has already hit a couple of tricky rocks which you were able to recover from. You see a submerged rock coming up on the right that could be trouble, but aren’t sure if your partner has seen it. You shout out “2 o’clock!” the rock’s location.

In this situation, “2 o’clock” could mean any one of the following:

1.  “I’m sure you’re already aware that there is a dangerous rock coming up on the right, but thought I’d shout out its location just in case. Better safe than sorry. I trust you to make the right decision about how to get us out of its path.”

2.  “Perhaps you could execute a cross-draw, or similar stroke, that would move us out of the way of this rock I’ve just identified to you. You’re doing your best and I’m sure you would have seen it in time, but I’m a bit paranoid. Thanks.”

3.  “Even if you don’t see it, trust me that there is a rock at 2 o’clock. Don’t think, just move your ass.”

4.  “Hey, look. It’s another goddam rock we’re going to run into. If I didn’t need your feeble contributions to get down the rest of this rapid I would beat you to death with the paddle I’m holding confident that not a jury in the world would convict me you worthless and blind sack of flesh.”

Part of the beauty of partner communication is that after your partner navigates you both flawlessly around the rock in question, your shout of “2 o’clock” retroactively means:

“I have complete and total faith in you and am only speaking to make myself feel better, such a master of the river you are.”

It won’t take long before both you and your partner excel in the art of on water communication. In short order you’ll be able to alert each other to danger using only your eyebrows and dismissive exhalations.

Good paddling!

Next time: Choosing where to poop

Canoeing Tips: Partner Communication

7 Secrets of Web 2.0

1. Every time you click the “thumbs up” icon on someone’s Facebook post, Roger Ebert is paid 3.5 cents.

2. The creators of Twitter are obsessive James Ellroy fans, and started the service out of a desire to see more people write with the same brevity and idiosyncratic approach to grammar as their idol.

3. 43 percent of all blog posts about marketing are made of pieces from surplus Seth Godin posts.

4. 16 percent of all photos on flickr are self-portraits. 67 percent of those are ill-advised.

5. Even in face-to-face conversation, Guy Kawasaki never utters more than 140 characters before waiting for a reply. If the person he’s talking to does not quickly respond, Mr. Kawasaki switches topics, leading to some awkward cocktail party moments.

6. The term “Web 2.0” was started as a code O’Reilly Media employees could use when, during meetings with clients, they really needed to use the bathroom.

7. You do not want to know the origin of the term “The Long Tail.” (Shudder.)

7 Secrets of Web 2.0