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Tag: reality

Fireworks silenced after complaints they were too loud — in a video game

A temporary Independence Day fireworks celebration in the online game Watch Dogs 2 was silenced on July 4 due to concerns that they were too loud.

At least one player said they were scaring their dog.

The fireworks had been added to the game as part of a temporary update that was scheduled to stay in effect from June 29 through July 10.

But the bangs were turned off on July 4 after the company caved in to complaints that they were annoying.

Too bad we can’t do that in real life.

This story — reported in Kotaku.com — has several layers of absurdity. We’ll just point out a few of them.

First, as you might be asking yourself, if the game noises are so bothersome, why don’t players just mute their devices?

Or why don’t they just not play, as in turning off the whole game? The answer to that one is probably that they are so hopelessly addicted to it that the idea doesn’t even occur to them.

Beyond that, though, there’s something weird about people launching a campaign to silence the turn-off-able fireworks in a virtual game when, in real life, there has never been much of a sustained effort to silence the non turn-off-able ones.

Could it be that some of us have become more concerned about the quality of their virtual lives than the quality of their real ones?

In any event, the protesting gamers took to Twitter, where they described the sounds of the fireworks as “completely obnoxious,” “f—ing annoying” and scary to dogs.

WD2Ubisoft, the maker of Watch Dogs 2, initially defended the fireworks, stating on a Reddit forum thread that “While you may find them loud in-game, they are really loud in real life too! The sound carries over the water and you can hear them all over the Bay!”

On the Fourth, though, Ubisoft announced it was silencing the fireworks.

“The people have spoken and we have carried out their will! There was an annoying bug that snuck into our Independence Day Event that made the sound effects from the fireworks noticeable from everywhere on the map. They have been turned off as to avoid any further noise complaints,” a company representative noted on Reddit.

(We’d suggest watching no more than the first two minutes of the video above, which is plenty of time to get the idea.)

” … When you’re playing the game at night for hours and can’t escape the popping no matter where you are, that’s not a positive experience for the player,” a representative admitted. “It’s not possible to rush a fix for this so we made a tough choice to remove them. The heart says no but the ear drums say yes.”

If only the promoters of real fireworks could get that message. Dogs everywhere — and more than a few real life humans — would appreciate it.

The robot dog: An idea whose time never came and (we hope) never will

wowweerobotics

Can we go ahead and bury the robot dog, once and for all?

It was an inane idea from the get go — thinking that Americans or people from any other reasonable country would want a pet with batteries.

The robot dog is the antithesis of dog — a soul-less collection of moving metal parts that, while it may obey your every command; while it may not pee, poop, drool or shed; while it might even make you laugh; isn’t ever going to lead to any sort of real bond.

cybieIf someone truly loves their robot dog, well, they most likely have become a robot, too, having let technology, and all the ease and superficiality it offers, write a new script for their lives.

I suspect the same is true as well of those who came up with and developed the idea.

A robot dog is to dog what a light bulb is to the sun.

Turn it on, turn it off. You might be seeing a harsh and glaring light, but you are not seeing “the” light. Only dogs can provide that.

It’s not surprising that robot dogs are burning out.

It is surprising that an Australian researcher recently suggested that robotic dogs could begin replacing real dogs as pets in the world’s largest cities in as little as 35 years.

Jean-Loup Rault, writing in the journal, Frontiers in Veterinary Science, says burgeoning populations in big cities won’t leave much room for man’s best friend in the future — and he predicts that living, breathing dogs will disappear as digital technologies “revolutionize” the human-animal relationship.

Rault is wrong, and here’s why.

Dog robotTrue, robots are on the rise. We will increasingly rely on them, or something close, to wash our dishes, vacuum our floors and do all those other tasks that take up time we could spend online, or, better yet, actually living life.

But we will never really connect with them — not even sex robots.

Anyone who does, probably should see a psychiatrist or, if they only want to pretend someone is listening to them, a robot psychiatrist.

Even in a world increasingly falling in love with material things, and increasingly falling in love with technology, and increasingly finding its social life on the Internet, the rise and fall of the robot dog shows us that — even when we can predict and control something’s every move, and put it in the closet when we tire of it — a mechanical canine just can’t compete with the real thing.

Dogs — though technology has messed with them (always with bad results) — are the antidote, I think, to technological overload. They are the cure. They keep life real. They lead to real bonds, real emotions, happiness and pain.

Overall, they soothe us, while technology often does the opposite.

Anyone who thinks a robot dog is going to lower their blood pressure, as dogs do, provide eye contact that stirs the soul, or be comforting to play with or pet is caught up in self-delusion.

What is hoped for by companies that make such devices, or provide us with Internet-based fantasies, or come up with ideas like pet rocks and the Tamagotchie, is that we all find self-delusion a happier place to be, and stay there, and spend our money there.

aibo_robot_dogSo I’m glad the obituary has been written for Sony’s “Aibo,” the best known robot dog.

Production ended eight years ago, and the Japanese company stopped servicing the robots last year.

Sony introduced the Aibo in 1999, and by 2006 had only sold 150,000 “units.” according to the New York Times.

Given it was not providing much profit, the company decided to put Aibo down.

Despite that, and the failure of many of the robotic/digital pets that preceded and followed it, Jean-Loup Rault, on the faculty at the Animal Welfare Science Centre at the University of Melbourne, suspects they have a future.

“Pet ownership in its current form is likely unsustainable in a growing, urbanized population. Digital technologies have quickly revolutionized human communication and social relationships,” he says.

“We are possibly witnessing the dawn of a new era, the digital revolution with likely effects on pet ownership, similar to the industrial revolution which replaced animal power for petrol and electrical engines.”

He points to the popularity, or at least former popularity, of devices like the Tamagotchie, and Paro, a robotic baby seal used by medical professionals, and Aibo, which never really became popular at all. He points to games and apps that allow people to keep fake farm animals. He points to the movie, “Her,” in which a man falls in love with his computer’s operating system.

“Robots can without doubt trigger human emotions,” he concludes, perhaps a little too quickly.

phonedogAnd robotic pets, he says, are just so much easier — especially in “situations where live pets are undesirable (e.g., old or allergic people).”

“The pace of artificial pet development, and underlying research, remains in its infancy with much to be discovered,” he notes. “At present, artificial pets can be described as mediocre substitutes for live counterparts. Yet, quick technological progress is to be expected …”

He concludes with a quote from Nikola Tesla: “Let the future tell the truth.”

I, for one, am not willing to do that. I don’t trust the future one bit, or those who are trying to take us there too quickly — and at the expense of what is pure and real and true.

Much more than the future, I put my trust, and faith, in dog. Real dog.

Why you won’t be seeing the Kardashians on dog sleds this season

Kim-and-Khloe-Kardashian-5When a front woman for the Kardashians emailed the owner of a dog sled adventure company in Montana, asking him to arrange a half-day trip for Khloe, Kim and eight other cast members — all while being filmed by 20 or so crew members — he quoted a price.

It would be $390 per sledder, or $3,900 total, Jason Matthews, the owner of Bozeman-based Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures, told her in an email.

Ashley Warner, the production release coordinator for “Keeeping Up with the Kardashians,” emailed back, suggesting — rather than cash — “an exposure trade out.” The publicity Matthews’ company would receive being on the reality show was worth at least that much, she told him.

Matthews responded to her email saying, in effect, that kind of math didn’t fly in Montana, and requesting payment in advance.

The email exchange continued after that, with the Kardashian representative continuing to talk about a “trade” and explaining the value of “exposure” and Matthews — who has never seen the show — insisting on payment in the form of currency he was familiar with.

At one point, when his message seemed to not be getting through, he made a comment reflecting his own reality: “Look,” he wrote, ” my dogs don’t eat trade.”

The discussion continued until he was sent a confidentiality agreement. He declined to fill it out, saying “I’m not going to sign this until you agree to pay my rate.'”

Warner stopped emailing after that, and Matthews assumed the Kardashian sled ride was off.

On Sunday, Matthews heard the Kardashians had been in a car accident near Bozeman on Saturday. Their car slid off a road and into a ditch. No one was injured and no citations were issued. But it was still very dramatic, Khloe said the next day, when she was interviewed at the Oscars.

“We were in Montana, hit some black ice, car spun out of control, like a big rig got ice all over our car … It was really scary … but we’re all good, all safe, thank God.”

The Kardashians, while they didn’t get their dog sled adventure, did get some skiing in while visiting Montana.

Matthews, after learning of their misfortune — and that no one was injured —  got on Facebook and wrote a post titled “Montana Karmic Justice.” explaining his experience with the family’s representatives, LastBestNews.com reported.

In it, he said he didn’t feel the $3,900 fee he was going to charge was exorbitant, considering that — at least according to what he read on the Internet — the family is being paid $60 million this season. He said he was glad they never showed up.

His Facebook post was shared widely, bringing him and his company some major (you guessed it) exposure — all while steering clear of the Kardashians.

And you can’t put a price on that.

The dog, the fish, and our need to go “awww”

Here’s a video that has been posted and reposted to YouTube in recent days, showing a shiba inu (or is it a golden retriever?) in Thailand (or is it Taiwan?) trying to save (or bury?) a fish out of water.

Yes, we humans are at it again. We all think we know — despite the lack of any factual foundation, despite living on the opposite side of the planet, despite being of another species, despite our inability to get straight what few facts there are — what this dog is doing, and why he’s doing it.

How do we know? Because we’re humans, dammit.

On its surface, through human eyes, it seems a most touching scene — as if the dog, by splashing water on the lifeless fish, and nudging it with his nose, is trying to revive it. (All this, we’d note, as humans stand by idly, giggling and taking video.)

And maybe that’s exactly what he’s doing.

But we do not know that.

We don’t know that, and yet, in our vanity, we are willing to express our interpretation as indisputable fact — whether we are the original observer, a watcher of the video, or a blogger in search of hits.

“This Dog Trying To Save A Fish Will Make You Say Aww” reports BuzzFeed

“Kindest Dog Ever Tries to Save Fishes by Splashing them with Water!” says the Inquisitr.

I’ve bemoaned this phenomenon before, and will bemoan it again — because it’s a little presumptious, and a little vain, to proclaim we know what’s motivating the behavior of animals. And it’s a little disingenuous of us to to let ourselves be moved to tears based on a rash, and possibly erroneous, interpetration.

It’s as if we don’t want to let facts or reason get in the way of our “awwwws,” or when something is going viral.

The video, and snippets thereof, have been posted on YouTube by dozens, all it seems in the last couple of days.

One of those post reads, “In the city of Phetchaburi in Thailand, a dog discovered the fish out of the water and unconscious on the pavement. It will try not to let them die by spraying water with its snout. Besides the fish are few puddles. The dog will then sprinkle the fish, as if he wished they would not die. Touching!”

The original poster of the video, or at least someone claiming to be such, explained on LiveLeak “Hello we took this video on a short trip to asia. The dog here … hangs out at the docks (and) is trying to keep the fish alive. He understands they need water to live and it made me a little sad inside.”

(A short trip to Asia? Could they be less specific?)

Others who have posted the video say it happened in Taiwan. Some describe the dog as a golden retriever; others suspect it’s a shiba inu, but they all agree the dog is engaged in a valiant rescue effort.

Some of those commenting on YouTube are pointing out that may not be the case:

“Sorry to burst your bubble but.. the Dog isn’t trying to save the fish. He think’s he is burying it. He’s using the water to bury it but doesn’t realize that water is not dirt, and hence he cannot successfully do the job properly. Canines are not intellectual enough to know that a fish needs water to breathe or survive.”

Others — caught up in the “awwww” of it all — refuse to accept that theory, or even consider it: “He is trying to save the fish,” asserts one. “He’s nudging it with his nose at 0:39. He’s trying to get the fish to move again and doesn’t understand why it won’t.”

There’s nothing wrong with speculation — as long as we admit it’s speculation, and don’t get too carried away by it.

Here’s mine. Assuming this dog is a regular at the wharf, maybe he discovered one day that he could revive dying fish by splashing them with water, and maybe he remembers that. Maybe he is trying to get them to move again. Maybe that’s because death saddens him, or maybe it’s because they’re more fun to play with when they’re flopping around.

Most of us are taught — in school, and in training for careers — to avoid using the word “maybe,” as it could maybe make us appear uncertain and plagued by self-doubt, the sort of person who would flip flop.

Not to splash water in your face, but I think, just maybe, that’s a mistake.

Pet Rescue Saga: How I single-handedly saved hundreds of pets from being crushed

petrescuesaga

I rescued dozens, possibly hundreds, of pets from certain death the other night.

But before you call me a hero, or saint, you should know I only did it on Facebook, and only in a video game.

Pet Rescue Saga is the popular new puzzle game, downloaded more than 150 million times and playable on Facebook and through apps. It’s free, at first,  but then, like a drug dealer who has handed out samples to get new clients hooked, it starts charging you to play more, or play more effectively, or to reach greater highs.

The game comes from King.com, the makers of Candy Crush Saga, which is similar and reportedly equally addictive.

When invitations to play Pet Rescue Saga first started showing up on my Facebook page, I wrongly assumed — given most of my Facebook friends are die-hard, do-gooding animal lovers — that it was a game that somehow was related to, or benefited, animal welfare causes.

It’s not, and it doesn’t.

There might be some unintentional similarities to the real world of animal rescue, such as walls being put up in front of you, and things piling up faster than you can handle them. But “Pet Rescue Saga” isn’t about rescuing pets in the animal welfare sense of the word. It’s mainly about busting blocks, and then more blocks, and then more blocks, by clicking on them to ensure that the “adorable” little pets atop them don’t get squished.

Given video games have a reputation for catering to our basest instincts — chopping off heads, running people over in cars and the like —  I had hopes, especially when Facebook friends kept inviting me to play, that this one might actually be about a noble pursuit, or might even be educational.

No such luck. What it teaches us about pet rescue is that we can save animals by matching two or more blocks of the same color.

Still, I ended up spending an hour playing it on Facebook, which annoyingly notified me to “share” every time I passed some friend’s record, before it got to the point where further play would require an investment of money. (That — having to fork up some money — generally prevents and/or cures any addictions to which I might fall victim.)

There are hundreds of levels of the game, and the higher you go (or the more you spend) the more tools you get to “save pets” — like sizzling rockets, hammers and exploding bombs.

In playing it, one becomes so focused on the blocks that he forgets about the animals. The endangered animals really seem a well-contrived afterthought, as if the gamemakers thought putting pets in need of rescue atop the stacks of blocks — as opposed to pots of gold or damsels in distress — might give it some relevance, or, pet rescue being a popular cause, add to its popularity.

“Wait! Don’t forget about the animals! ” says a review of the game on gamezebo.com. “Some levels of Pet Rescue Saga have dogs, pigs, and pigeons trapped on stacks of blocks, or wedged in columns. When you successfully clear away blocks, said animals drop safely to the ground. However, since many levels of Pet Rescue Saga scroll vertically, the animals on tall columns are in constant danger of getting squished on the top of the screen. Nothing ruins your day like the anguished squeal of a piglet.”

Squishing aside, it’s nice to see a game that’s seemingly about rescuing and saving, as opposed to killing and maiming.

It would be much nicer to see a game that was really about rescuing and saving animals, or that really taught compassion, or at least tried to.

I’m not necessarily saying the makers and marketers of the game are trying to capitalize on tender-hearted pet lovers, or that they mislead people to think the game might have some legitimate connection to the actual world of animal rescue.

But, after playing the game, I did start receiving emails from the gamemaker — far too many emails — with subject lines like: “Pets in danger. Help them now!” Clicking on the link in the email took me directly to the game’s Facebook app.

I don’t keep up much anymore with the latest developments in video games. So I don’t know if phony altruism is the latest video game trend: Bust up the blocks and find a cure for cancer. Bust up the blocks to feed the starving children.

Maybe there are some truly altruistic video games out there. The Game Show Network came close to that last month when it introduced Pet Pals Slots, a limited-edition game on Facebook. It earmarked a portion of money made from gameplay in November — up to $30,000 — to go to Best Friends Animal Society, providing food, medical care and shelter for animals at the organization’s Utah sanctuary. In other words, while playing a mostly mindless game, those who played Pet Pals Slots, at least in a way, were saving pets.

Video games, with exceptions, are rarely educational, and I don’t really expect them to serve as our moral compass. (More often they seem aimed at sending that compass haywire.)

And of course they’re not obligated to share the wealth they make with any deserving causes they borrow their themes from.

But how cool would it be to see — in addition to less squishing — more of that?

John Steinbeck didn’t sleep here

Two journalists, each independently seeking to chart the course John Steinbeck took 50 years ago with his poodle Charley — including figuring out where he slept when — have come to the conclusion that the highly respected author may have taken some liberties with the facts in his classic work of non-fiction.

It’s not stop-the-presses stuff, especially these days, when fuzzily defined terms like “creative non-fiction” and “literary journalism” have taken on enough heft to become college courses.

Like it or not composite characters, re-created dialogue and tampering with timelines have become fairly common practices in non-fiction (though not in my book). But 50 years ago, when “Travels With Charley” was written — five years before Truman Capote’s groundbreaking “non-fiction novel” (his term), “In Cold Blood” — the practice probably would have been given the far less literary label of “making shit up.”

If Steinbeck borrowed from his fiction writing toolbox — and he was primarily a novelist — to craft “Travels With Charley,” he could, on one hand, be viewed as a pioneer. In reality, though, storytellers, even those bound by the tighter confines of non-fiction, have been leaving out the boring stuff and juicing up the truth for centuries.

To Jeff Woodburn, though, who counts Steinbeck among his literary heroes, his discovery that Steinbeck might have made stuff up — and definitely left stuff out — was disheartening.

Woodburn, a New Hampshire-based freelance writer, pitched the idea of writing about Steinbeck’s travels through the state — from Shelburn, west to Lancaster — to the editor of New Hampshire magazine. The editor, being a Steinbeck fan too, liked it. Woodburn set out to retrace the 30-mile route and learn more about the places, and maybe even some of the people, Steinbeck encountered in New Hamsphire.

As Steinbeck recounts it in “Travels With Charley,” on his way to the top of Maine, he drove up a farm road in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, bought some eggs from a farmer and asked permission of him to camp beside the stream on his farm. Later, the farmer visited his camper and they drank coffee, laced with “a good dollop of twenty-one year old applejack.” They talked about Kruschev, and how, that week, he had used his shoe to pound a table during a UN meeting, and whether we should attack the Russians before they attacked us.

When the farmer eventually took his leave, Steinbeck and Charley went to sleep in the camper, parked alongside the stream, according to the book.

Woodburn couldn’t find the farmer, or even the farm. He came up with three possibilities, but none of them panned out. “I really wanted to find him, because he seemed so wise,” he said. When all his research led nowhere, Woodburn began to think that the farmer didn’t actually exist, or that he was a composite of different people Steinbeck met in New England.

Later Woodburn learned that, in reality, on the night in question — Sept. 25,  1960 — Steinbeck apparently slept here:

 

That’s the Spalding Inn, a luxurious spot in its day, and still moderately fancy, with white tableclothes, well-manicured gardens, orchards and magnificent mountain views. In 1960, it was popular with well-heeled New Yorkers seeking country getaways.

The inn is never mentioned in “Travels With Charley.” Then again Steinbeck admittedly glossed over some of his other stops — Deerfield, Mass., to visit his son in school, and Chicago, where he reunited with his wife at the Ambassador Hotel. “In my travels it was pleasant and good,” he wrote of the latter stop, “in writing, it would contribute only a disunity.”

Woodburn, though his initial retracing of Steinbeck’s route didn’t merit enough for a story, continued to keep a file on Steinbeck, and check out leads when they arose. When he came across a Facebook page about growing up in Lancaster, he put out a query, seeking anyone who remembered meeting Steinbeck 50 years ago.

A local woman responded, saying her mother had met Steinbeck when he stayed at the Spalding Inn, in Whitefield. Woodburn, who worked washing dishes at the inn as a teenager, went to the family that owned it, and they confirmed that Steinbeck was a guest around the time in question.  

“It seems as this is where he spend the night,” Woodburn told me over the weekend when Ace and I met him at the inn. “Enough people have said it, that I feel comfortable saying he spent the night here.”

Woodburn, whose piece on Steinbeck’s travels through the state will appear in New Hampshire magazine’s November issue, said he was told Steinbeck went to dinner at the inn, but was refused service because he wasn’t wearing the required jacket and tie. Upon learning who he was, they supplied him with proper attire.

Other than having dinner, Steinbeck did little socializing while at the inn, and it’s doubtful that Charley, his poodle, actually slept inside. More likely, he spent the night alone in the camper.

To Woodburn, who is a third generation New Hampshirite, finding that Steinbeck might have been less that totally honest was disturbing.

“I’m a big fan of Steinbeck. I’m very troubled that he didn’t tell the truth,” he said.

To blogger Bill Steigerwald, who is retracing Steinbeck’s route for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, discrepancies between the book and reality — and he’s found a few — don’t diminish the esteem he holds for the writer.

Steigerwald, who we met on a ferry boat as we crossed the Long Island Sound the same day Steinbeck did — 50 years later — tried a couple of weeks ago to find the “ghost cabins” along the Connecticut River that Steinbeck slept outside of on his way back through New Hampshire

Steinbeck wrote that, although its signs said “open” and “vacancy,” no one was around when he walked into the office 50 years ago. So he and Charley, according to the book, slept in the camper on the lot.

As it turns out, and as both Woodburn and Steigerwald have confirmed, the “ghost cabins” did exist, and were known as Whip O’Will. Today, they’ve been replaced by the Beaver Trails RV Park, and Munce’s Convenience store. Next to that is the Happy Star Chinese restaurant. And across the street live Mike and Sallie Beattie, whose family once owned the Whip O’Will property.

During its conversion to an RV park, the new owners took down the six cabins and offered one (that’s it above) to the Beattie’s, who had it moved across the street so they could use it for storage.

Steigerwald buys the ghost cabin account, but he has serious doubts about the New Hampshire farmer — since that’s apparently the same night Steinbeck apparently stayed at the Spalding Inn.

“It’s clear evidence — and further proof, considering what I and others already know and anyone who reads ‘Travels With Charley’ with a critical eye should suspect — that the book is not nonfiction but a creative mix of fiction and nonfiction,” Steigerwald wrote on his blog, Travels Without Charley.

Woodburn, while less forgiving, also notes that Steinbeck gave some hints that the book wasn’t a straighforward account of the journey. “It’s easy to confuse reality with romance,” he said. “I think he gave signs that he was making stuff up.”

As Steinbeck himself noted, reality is in the eye of the beholder:

“What I set down here is true until someone else passes that way and rearranges the world in his own style,” Steinbeck wrote. “In literary criticism the critic has no choice but to make over the victim of his attention into something the size and shape of himself.”

I bounced the issue of a professor-friend, a teacher of creative non-fiction writing, who pointed out that the term didn’t exist until around the 1980’s, when the National Endowment for the Arts saw it as a way to give non-fiction writers a chance to win literature fellowships.

Though the term is fairly modern, the practice is not, he agreed.

“There’s been a long and wondrous and centuries-long tradition of made-up non-fiction in literature (the Victorians were particularly good at it), and not even just a few changes of detail.

“Steinbeck was a novelist, not a journalist. If his fibs were limited to whether he stayed in a hotel or not, that’s pretty remarkable restraint,” he added. “It’s not my personal standard for writing nonfiction, but many writers have had worst standards (paging Mr. Capote). It seems a silly thing to lie about, really.”

Accordion-playing dog fails to impress

I wasn’t personally tuned in, but it seems Pup, the accordion-playing pooch vying to win the NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” competition, failed to make much of an impression last night.

Maybe he was overwhelmed by the bright lights, the big stage and the huge Hollywood crowd, but Pup only tugged a couple of times on the elastic strap attached to the accordion, and once it snapped out of his mouth, he stayed away from the accordion altogether.

After Pup balked, the act turned into a solo — basically his owner, Ed,  singing and strumming “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”

Pup failed to live up to the expectations of the judges, and his owner, Ed, from Oakhurst, California — and anyone else who saw his impressive audition tape (above).

“If Pup had continued we may have had a sensation on our hands, but we’re never going to know,” said judge Piers Morgan, who “X-ed” the act early on.

“We had some problems,” Ed explained afterward.

Pup’s on air performance — a bit painful to watch — is included in the video below.