Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Belated Christmas

This year Mr. K and I were to spend Christmas with his family. We haven't probably since the first Christmas we were married and so it was long over due. As per my earlier post, things didn't go quite as planned, but we still got to spend some Christmas time with his mom, one sister and her two girls. Since my parents are only about six hours North of us, they drove down to visit on Saturday.
They arrived around supper time and Mr. K had some chicken chilly made. One of our friends was also over visiting with her black Lab guide dog named Schacka who is one of the tiniest Labs I've ever seen. She's even smaller than Jetta. We have a great evening eating and chatting and then the next day Mom, Dad, Mr. K and I went to the newly built Cosco to get a membership and check it out. We then went to a local theatre to see the third Hobbit movie. I liked it, but it was a bit too visual. The fight scenes were a bit drawn out for me because after ten minutes of yelling, crashing and more yelling, it kind of gets boring. However, I'm glad we saw it. We finished the day off with a tasty steak supper.
The next day we went to one of mine and Mr. K's favorite breakfast spots. The restaurant used to be a Big Boy that the owner has converted into a very busy place. The food is excellent and you get a lot for your money. I always go home with leftovers. We did a bit more shopping, finding me an outfit for my placement that starts in January; no more jeans for me.
We then went back to our place and picked up Roscoe, Hermione and Otis and met our friend, her son and their two dogs for an off leash run which our dogs desperately needed. Just past their apartment complex there is a wooded area that people go to and let their dogs off leash. We saw a few other groups of people with their dogs, but everyone is really respectful and the dogs were all friendly.
The sun was shining and although it was just below freezing, it was really pleasant in the sun. We played fetch with the dogs at first-something that not all guide dog schools allow-then began walking the parameter of the field. Shaka was the fastest out of the dogs, she was like a little bullet Nala did her best to keep up and made sure that she was always the one to find the Kong that we had thrown. Mr. K didn't come because he was needing a nap so I hesitated to let Otis off leash. He does come back to the whistle, but he seems to just listen better to Mr. K. However, we moved away from the edge of the wooded area and he was able to run too. Hermione was right on the heels of the big dogs and running circles around me. Our friend's son has a little mixed breed of some sort named Bella who only weighs 5.2 pounds, so she stayed on an extend leash to ensure she didn't run off. She wasn't to be left out though. She raced back and forth on the leash, barking at all of the other dogs. Once she realized they weren't even remotely interested in eating her, she happily trotted along, every once in a while racing to the end of her leash and back.
We were out for probably an hour and it was so nice just to be outside in the fresh air. After our play date everyone headed home for supper-two Leggers and four alike.
My parents are leaving this morning and are just stopping in to say good-bye. It was really nice having them here and having a belated Christmas celebration.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

My iPhone Experience: Tracking On or Off?

For those of you with working eyeballs, this post may be a bit boring for you, but if you are someone who uses Voice Over on your phone, this post may be interesting to you; unless you are a Tech genius...then this post will be equally as boring.
As I mentioned before, probably a million times, I am one of the least technologically advanced person in the world. Most everything I know is self taught an although this is probably a slower process, I think it means that the information that I do figure out sticks better than if I had someone show or teach me. That said, sometimes I wish I could find tutorials or "how to" articles that were aimed at the average tech person like me. When I decided that I wanted to use my phone's map functions, I spent literally hours scouring the internet for material that would help me, but all I could find were websites designed to tell non-Voice Over users how to use the map and GPS functions )which is not the same) or tell Tech savvy people who use Voice Over how to program stuff. I'm neither of these and I refuse to think that I'm the only blind or visually impaired person in the world who doesn't fit into these categories.
So, in light of this, and because someone in the comments pointed out to me that I should write this, I'm going to try to the best of my ability to explain how a non-tech user works the map with Voice Over.
I've decided to break these posts into separate posts otherwise it would be so long that people would stop reading. Consequently, I'm going to address the "tracking" feature of the phone first; since that was the feature I was having the hardest time finding information for.
I will first start out by saying that I love and hate this feature. Basically, the feature is great and does its job which I love, but I couldn't figure out a way to shut it off once I arrived at my destination. But, let me start from the beginning and I'll get back to this.
From what I can figure, the tracking feature does exactly that, tracks where you are. It seems to be pretty accurate as well. It kept telling me I would arrive at my destination in 200 feet when I was already standing in my home, but all GPS systems have a small discrepancy when it comes to being spot on. Apparently, it's a security thing.
The nice thing is that tracking  is not a difficult feature to find either. It is on the first screen you come to when you open up the map. It is a button that you will run into if you move through the entire screen. However, do not turn it on unless you really really want it or need it or have someone with working eyeballs around to shut it off because once it's on it's difficult to shut it off. I won't say impossible because I'm sure some tech genius could figure it out, but I even shut the phone down and when I turned it back on the tracking was still running. The problem with this is that once it's running it's impossible to get the phone, when you are in the maps, to do anything else. You can message, answer the phone, make a call, but if you go back into the maps screen you are stuck in this never ending list of streets and places around you. Great if you are trying to see what's around you, but not so great when you need the map to go back to its starting screen so you can put in a new address. Also, this revolving screen of streets/places is really vague. I think it's an interactive map that is probably great for sighted people, but it is a pain for us blind folk. I had to walk around my condo for two hours with the my phone announcing that I would arrive in 400 feet until someone could shut tracking off for me. It eats up your battery and it's kind of annoying.
However, if you are out walking and you think you may be lost, go to Maps and on the first screen where you can enter an address and the "directions" button is, there will be a button that says "tracking" when you move over it. It will also announce if the tracking is on or off. Switch it on, probably by just double tapping, and you will be relieved when the phone tells you what street you are standing on. You may have to hit "directions" once tracking is switched on for the map to tell you where you are. I can't remember what I did-I think that is what I did-but I am not going to risk turning the tracking on right now because it, as I've been saying, won't shut off. I could see this being a good tool to get to know an area you are unfamiliar with. You could walk around with tracking set to "on" and every time you turned on to a new street the phone would tell you what the street was called. It also announces what address you are standing near to. That said, remember that the GPS is slightly off so if it tells you you are standing at 200 Blah Blah street and that is where you want to go, don't be surprised if you go in and it's not 200 Blah Blah street. You may have to go a few doors down.   You can also turn on the phone's voice navigation  to verbally announce directions as you move about. You can do that by the phone's
1. settings (Not the map's settings. Go to your phone's settings).
2. maps
3. and scroll until you hear "navigation's voice volume." (On my phone model I just had to flick to the right twice).
Under the heading "navigation's voice volume" you will have four options.
1. no voice
2. low volume
3. normal volume
4. loud volume.
These are technically buttons, but the phone probably won't tell you that. Mine didn't. If you double tap the option you want, "normal volume" for example, that will be selected. Your phone should announce the next time you move over the option that it is selected. This is especially important if you want to make sure your navigation voice is on. If the "no voice" option is elected, you obviously will not have the navigation voice turned on. This is still a viable option as Voice Over will still talk to you. At least, mine did.
The navigation voice acted more as alerts, kind of the way a GPS system does when driving, whereas you can use Voice Over to navigate the map's options as well as direction steps. I honestly used the Voice Over more than the navigation voice since I had to double check directions a few times. Not to mention, I could feel my phone vibrate when the navigation voice made an announcement, but I often couldn't hear it if I was on a busier and hence louder street.
So, there you have it. My not so brief description of my experience with the tracking feature on the Imaps on my phone as well as the navigation voice. I'm not sure that my explanation was very clear or succinct, but hopefully someone finds some value in it.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Naughty or Nice?

From this title this post could really be about a few of my creatures: Hermione mostly, but today it's about Kira. She is just as much of a character as any of the dogs. Let me tell you about what she's been up to and you can decide for yourself if Kira has been naughty or nice.
First, let's start with the decorating of our Christmas tree.
As I mentioned before, we were late in getting our tree up this year, but nevertheless, it went up. It's one of those pre-lit trees that already had one row of busted branches on the bottom from Rufio making himself at home there last year. Considering how playful and interactive Kira is, I had a sneaking suspicion that our tree may fall victim to her antics and so opted to leave the breakable ornaments off of the tree this year. It's a good thing I did because our tree has received a royal thrashing.
The night that we decorated all of the animals, including our little black bandet (Kira), were all milling about, trying to figure out what was going on. I think Otis was the first to steal one of the shatter proof Christmas balls off of a bottom branch and chase it around the living room, but that was the only thieving the dogs did. Kira, on the other paw, just couldn't stay away from or out of the tree. She was whacking ornaments off just as quickly as I put them on. I finally figured out that if I bent the branch a bit and pushed the ball further back, she had a harder time making off with the decorations. When she realized that her ground efforts had been thwarted, she kicked her assault up a notch.
She climbed into the tree. I mean, in to it.
There she was, half way up, tucked smack in the center attacking shiny lights and ornaments alike from the inside. And, that was just the beginning.
There hasn't been a morning that I haven't come down to let the dogs out and haven't found rogue Christmas ornaments scattered around the living room floor. She even made off with the star from the top of the tree which I found tucked in the back corner of the living room. How on earth did she get the star?
Aside from her Christmas tree murder, she also stole a credit card off of Mr. K's desk and has added it to the items that have disappeared. Maybe she's holding it for safe keeping? Or until we promise to buy her more toys?
If the Christmas tree wasn't enough, she hopped up on top of the hope chest where our TV is and was deciding whether or not those ornaments were worth her time. either the little village was boring or she realized I was paying attention because after I said
"Kira? What are you doing?"" She meowed at me and jumped down, leaving the village undisturbed.
We're not sure what was up with her last night, but at about 2 in the morning she started racing around the house, carrying the little bear in her mouth that she stole from me, meowing at the top of her lungs. How she managed to carry the bear and yell at the same time, we're not sure, but she did it. Mr. K was privy to her little performance because he happened to get up to use the bathroom and there she was, running and yelling.
Maybe she heard Santa Paws and she was telling him where to drop off the big present?
She is still none too happy with us when we go to bed at night. Putting the scratching post by the bedroom door has helped to keep her from tearing up the carpet too badly, but if it gets shifted at all, she will go back to scratching up the carpet. It's the only spot she digs at and only when we go to bed. She also likes to hook her paw under the door and pull as hard as she can to try to get in.
We let her in last night, seeing how it was Christmas Eve. She burrowed under the covers for a few minutes, purred her little head off and then started hopping about. So, I let her out. I thought she may have ben worn out since she and Otis chased each other around the house for like 45 minutes, but not so much.
She really is quite an animated and affectionate cat, who may have a bit of an identity crisis from living with so many dogs. She's also certainly been a naughty kitty, but she must have been more nice than naughty because Santa Paws dropped off a box for her that she gets to open when her grandparents come to visit this weekend.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas: 2014

Christmas has gone a little wonky over here just as I sat down to type this post. Originally, we were supposed to go to Mr. K's sister's house for the night this afternoon, but the stomach flu is running rampant through their house. So, we won't be going. Mr. K's mom is still going to come see us and we'll send presents back with her for our nieces and nephews, but the stomach flu can stay far far away.
Mr. K and I are going to spend the evening watching Christmas movies and eating our own little turkey. It's not quite the same, but life happens.
My parents will be here on Saturday for a few days and we'll do Christmas with them then.
So from our furry family to yours-non-furry or furry-Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Hermione: A Champion Sniffer Dog?

I've always thought that Hermione has the aptitude for working. In fact, I have always thought that if I could figure out some way to channel her boundless amounts of energy she'd appreciate it. I think I'd appreciate it. I'm probably emoting on to her, but whenever we've done basic obedience stuff she's seemed bored and if I'm being completely honest, I am too. Maybe she's bored because I'm bored or maybe I just think she is because I am. Again, in all honesty, basic obedience is really something I should work on with her, but that's for another post. Because of her boundless energy I had thought of getting her into some classes, but I just couldn't figure out what. Once upon a time I had contemplated Rally O, but I just think she needs a quicker paced activity. Agility would be perfect for her, but I've yet to figure out how I would do that with her as a blind person and I've also yet to find a trainer willing to take us on. I haven't completely given up on the idea, but that may be a challenge I tackle later on.
I then turned my attention to fly ball, but getting on a team has proven difficult. She does have a prey drive and will chase thrown objects, but her return with sed object would be something we'd have to work on. Not completely out of the question, but an activity where I'd have to find a team willing to let us join.
That brings me to my next idea: nose work.
Nose work was something I had started with her a while back, but felt like I was hitting a wall. I know how to teach a dog how to sit/stay/down Etc, but teaching a dog to sniff? All of my dog experience has been to teach a dog not to sniff. So, although she seemed to like it, I sort of gave up because I didn't know how to progress through the training. Again, it was something I had sort of put on the back burner, at least until today. I think Hermione has decided for herself what she wants to do.
A few nights ago Mr. K and I finally managed to put our tree up and get the rest of the decorations out. It was a really nice evening and although it was delayed due to my crazy class schedule, I am tickled that we did decorate. Along with decorating comes boxes and containers that house decorations. We don't have a basement in this place, but do have a storage unit in a shared basement and that is where we had our Christmas stuff stored. Since our decorations are going to be up for such a short time we left the big rubber made bin tucked away in the living room until the time when we will re-fill it and bring it back down.
This morning I made my coffee and decided to sit in the living room a while to drink it. As I sat there Hermione was doing her "I'm excited about something and you better come see" dance. She squawks and prances about until I finally get off my butt to go and investigate what is so exciting. At first I thought she was wanting a rogue Christmas ornament that Kira had knocked off of the tree. (More about Kira the Christmas Kitty in another post). I found the ornament and put it back on the tree. However, the dancing did not stop.
I went over to where Hermione was carrying on and told her to "show me." She went to the bin and did a little squeak. I couldn't understand what she could possibly want out of there. The only things left in there were empty boxes and some glass ornaments we had opted not to hang on the tree to ensure they did not get broken from Kira flinging them off of the tree. I lifted the lid of the bin to show Hermione that there wasn't anything interesting in there. She nearly leapt into the bin she was so excited. With her front paws hooked over the edge and her back paws scrabbling on the floor, trying to give her more leverage to get into the box, she insisted by squawking again that something was in there.
So, I stuck my hand in and searched about, thoroughly convinced that she was being ridiculous.
As I fished around in the bin, my hand struck something soft and plush feeling. definitely not an empty ornament box. I seized the object and yanked it out, much to Hermione's delight.
The object causing such a fuss was this little plush bone that I had been given at a Petsmart grand opening. It had been one of Hermione's favorites, but I assumed it had been thrown out when we moved because it wasn't really high quality and there was a tiny hole in the side of it where someone had started pulling the stuffing out.
How on earth did she know that this little stuffed toy was buried in the depths of a rubber made bin with empty cardboard boxes piled on top of it?
If she can sniff out a little stuffed toy, I'm thinking she can sniff out odors in a nose work trial.
Now that I know that she actually does use her sniffer, and quite effectively, I'm going to have to find a way to actually train her in nose work and not flake out this time.
Oh Hermione. She never ceases to surprise me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Nala and I Go Adventuring: Part 101

Okay, we haven't gone adventuring 101 times, or perhaps we have, but I'm assuming that I will be using this title a lot and not remember what number I'm on...so we're starting at 101, Okay?
The last couple of weeks have been a blur. A blur of school work, classes and tooth pain. I had an infected wisdom tooth for over a week and then it was pulled which resulted in more pain, albeit different, for another week. All of this on top of trying to complete final assignments, exams and presentations. I wasn't sure I'd make it, but with only one exam left and the pain pretty much gone, I think I'll be okay.
With the tooth problems and having so much work to do, I really haven't been very active. My mini exercise routine fell by the way side because I just couldn't do it due to both physical and time constraints and I found myself in the sitting on lying down position a lot. I've been getting antsy the last couple of days as the pain has subsided and the assignments were getting checked off of my "to do" list. Ever since finding out where my placement is going to be I've been devising plans on how I'm going to get there.
Initially, I thought I'd take the door to door service, but started thinking that I should look for other options for a few reasons. First, that option was going to cost me sixteen dollars a week which adds up. If I took public transit it would only cost three dollars a week. Second, that really doesn't give Nala and I a chance to work together. I enjoy walking and working with her. So, I scratched that option off of the list. I'm not saying it's completely out. If there's some terrible weather forecasted then I will probably opt for that option, but otherwise, we are going to take the bus; especially since it's only three miles away and I used to walk that to work in Scotland. Maybe when the weather turns nice, we'll walk.
When I first looked up the bus route I was concerned because it said that I needed to take two buses to my placement. I am not a huge fan of buses. The longer you are on them, the more likely you are to get lost somewhere. At least living here the majority of the buses talk. However, I really didn't want to take two buses. After examining the route further though, I realized that the second bus only went three stops before I would have to get off. It seemed silly so I decided that I would take one bus and walk from the terminal to the placement. Then, I started thinking "how am I going to do that? I don't know where I'm going."
I looked up the directions on Google walking directions, but I was still concerned about how I would know when to turn into the agency's parking lot. Mr. K had brought it to my attention that my iPhone would give me step by step directions. So, yesterday I spent some time researching how this function worked, but there really wasn't a lot of information. Most of the stuff I found applied to the phone when not using the screen reading software and the stuff I did find about the screen reader was all this advanced stuff that I had no idea what it meant. It certainly wasn't applicable to what I wanted to know. So, after getting completely frustrated, I grabbed a handful of treats, suited up Nala and set my phone's map to return to my home address. I didn't turn the map on until much later.
I started by patterning Nala to my front door. We live in condos which really look like townhouses to me and so finding the right door can be tricky. I wrapped a hair tie around the handle so that if she took me to the wrong door I would know instantly and wouldn't reward her for picking the wrong place. After I thought she had an idea of where we needed to end up at, we headed out.
We took a route we've walked before, but eventually turned down a street we've never walked before.   Lala was excited, but I could tell she thought I was wrong in asking her to go this way. (My auto correct won't let me spell Nala's name properly). I wasn't though. I was trying to find a circular route that would land us back at our complex, but when I switched the map on, it told me to turn around and go back the way I came. I knew my street wasn't a dead end, but I couldn't figure out how far I needed to go to find the street that would meet up with my street. In order to not confuse Nala, I turned around and we walked back the way we came. We were out for about twenty minutes and I was really impressed by her skill.
She crossed all streets dead straight on, she found curbs and paused confidently which made me comfortable; especially on the streets we had never been down before. She walked across grassy boulevards when I asked her to and found the sidewalk on the other side. At one corner she was a bit confused because it is a corner we have gone many directions before. She found the curb straight ahead of us and when I asked her to go right she thought I wanted her to find the cross walk button. So, she found that instead. I praised her because I probably will want that pole one day. Then I tried to proceed and she found the other curb and the pole that allows me to push the button to cross that street. It would seem that Nala's theory is "safety first." I tried again, making smaller hand signals and she got it. We were off again.
Back on our street I was worried I wouldn't know when to tell her to turn into our driveway. As we walked along I heard a few cars up ahead turn right and I wondered if that was our parking lot. As we got closer a giant truck was backing down the driveway. I waited for it to go and then asked Nala to turn right. She hesitated, but a car that had turned in earlier had sounded like our neighbor's junker, or at least I told myself it did, and I insisted that she turn. She went, albeit slowly and I second guessed myself, but as we walked further into the driveway my phone made some kind of crazy alert noise. If the phone was accurate, I had [picked the right driveway. You never know how accurate these things are and so I encouraged Nala to "find home."
She took me to a curb and then a door. I checked and there wasn't a hair tie. Had we turned too soon? I turned us around and said gently "no, find home." She took off like a shot, took a hard right into the place next door and charged up to the door.
There was a hair tie.
Party and treat time.
Our little trip out was great for a few reasons. First, it accomplished my goal of figuring out how to work my phone's map function better. I still need some work, but I'm excited that I even tried. I hate technology and just a year ago I probably wouldn't have tried it. Second, it reminded me of just how well NNala and I work together. This dog can never retire. And, last but not least, it gave us some much needed leg stretching. We weren't out for long, but we walk fast and it felt really good to just "vrrrrrm" along with her. In fact, the speed in combination with my lack of exercise lately and some steep hills we climbed made my legs a wee bit sore this morning. (Must do this more often).
So, there you have it. Our adventure with a functional purpose..
Mission accomplished.