Category Archives: Tips

Teach an Old Cat New Tricks

A couple of years ago, I wrote about training my then-kittens to do tricks. Now that they are 3.5 years old cats, I am writing a follow-up post on the success and challenges I have experienced in training them to do additional tricks.

I can’t guarantee that older cats can be trained. The point is to get cats to do something they would already do, except on command. The following instructions will illustrate how to turn random, quirky behaviors into tricks, but are not intended to serve as examples of what all cats could/should be able to do. The key is to use positive reinforcement to encourage them to repeat the desired results.

Say “Hello”

One of my cats, Mr. Knightley, is pretty vocal and meows a lot. One day I decided it would be cool to be able to get him to do it on command. I had to come up with a phrase to associate with the desired behavior. I started with “say hi” but my boyfriend pointed out that could be confusing because it sounded like the other trick, “high five,” especially when I praised him by saying “good hi.” Saying “good hello” is easier and less confusing.

I started the training process by saying “Say hello” to Knightley while I was doing a tricks session. He was not very cooperative but I persisted. Since he is a frequent meower, the chances were good that he would randomly meow after I said “Say hello.” Whenever he meowed after I gave that command, I would shower praise on him and say “good hello” to reinforce the word with the behavior, along with the praise. After a few months, I can get him to meow quite consistently after saying “Say hello.” My boyfriend thought (and still thinks, actually) that I was crazy to try to attempt to train my cat for that trick, but now I have a pretty cool trick to show off.

Stand

This is similar to the “up” trick that I previously trained my cats to do except that I had them stand up higher, rather than just sit up on their haunches. I put the treat high above their heads which caused them to stand up higher to reach for the treat. Eventually, I was able to get them to stand and put their paws up in the air without having to put the treat way up high.

Wave

Until my boyfriend came along, I was only able to get my cats to do tricks when I rewarded them with treats. One night, he got Darcy to give him five with no other incentive than to pet him afterward. This evolved into a trick I now call “wave.” Usually, when I have my cats “gimme five,” they’re sitting. Since my boyfriend was doing impromptu tricks, Darcy would be standing on all fours when he was asked to give five. So he would reach out his paw while his remaining three feet stayed on the ground. When he reached out without a corresponding hand to give five to, we started to call it “wave” and would say “good wave” and pet him to train him to associate the behavior with the word.

Salute

Salute was a combination of stand and wave. In the beginning, we would ask Darcy to stand and not provide any feedback. While he waited for some response from us, he would do a slight downward motion of his paw to get us to acknowledge him. That was when we discovered that this was a new trick, called “salute.” It is friggin’ adorable and is one of my favorite tricks to see Darcy do.

Gimme 10

Mr Darcy has this quirk where he likes to put both paws in the palm of my hand, which I would then kind of lift up and down a few inches. We would often carry on for a few seconds doing this. I was eventually able to turn this into a trick by associating it with the phrase, “Gimme 10.” When he gave me two paws on command, I would pet him and praise him to show how pleased I was.

Say “Good-bye”

One time, as my friends were standing at the door to leave my apartment, Mr Darcy was hanging around them. On a whim, I said, “Say good-bye, Darcy.” He stood up and waved with his right paw! I immediately praised and petted him to provide positive reinforcement. Now, whenever my boyfriend leaves and Mr Darcy is loitering, I would say “Say good-bye” and when Darcy obliged, my boyfriend and I would shower him with praise.

Key points

  • look for behaviors that the cat would do anyway
  • provide positive reinforcement with treats, petting, and/or verbal praise
  • have lots of patience

Trouble in Lego Indiana Jones

Spoiler Alert

You might not want to read this unless you have encountered the crash in the chapter, “Trouble in the Sky” in The Last Crusade in Lego Indiana Jones for Nintendo Wii. Then again, you might want to read this to prevent the game freezing at the point that it froze for me.

I was playing Lego Indiana Jones with my boyfriend and just as we finished the last part of the chapter, the game just froze, and buzzed. It was the part where we had to “scare off” three sets of sea gulls. Because it occurred before the end of the chapter, the game was not saved, and we had to do the chapter over.

I went online to search if anyone else had the same issue in that chapter, to see if it was an issue with my disk. It turned out I was not the only one.

Lego Indiana Jones Issues:

Hello,  that is the very same area the game froze up on my son.  I just bought him this game on Thursday and by Sunday when he reached that area it froze up. We tried shutting the system down and each time it still froze on that same Trouble in the Sky area and it makes a high pitched noise too.  I called Toysrus and they said it must be scratched but it’s not. Anyway I returned the game and they replaced it and so far he’s went past that area and it’s been just fine.

I didn’t know where or when I bought the game nor where the receipt was so exchanging the disk was not an easy option without some receipt-hunting.

My boyfriend and I played the chapter again and changed the order in which we went after the sea gulls, and that seemed to work. The first time when the game crashed, the last set of sea gulls that I went after was found on the cliff. The second time around, we went after the cliff sea gulls second, and the ones on the ship last.

After we successfully completed the chapter, I came across this page: Solution to Trouble in the Sky Freezes.

Use Henry (Indy’s dad) on controller one. Hooray! No horrible bzzzzzz…

Note: Order of the seagulls does not matter. Finishing them off with controller one matters. Possibly Henry has something to do with it too. Just play it safe and finish it with Henry on controller one.

I usually play with controller one and I think I was the one that went after the sea gulls although I don’t remember if I was playing as Henry (update: my boyfriend confirmed that I was playing as Indiana). However, I think when the game crashed, I was the one, as Indiana Jones, that went after the sea gulls on the cliff so perhaps the controller doesn’t matter.

Other than that bug (and another one), the game is fun to play with two players. It is one of those few games where the second player is pretty much an equal, and where multiplayer mode isn’t gimpy compared to single player mode. It actually helped a lot to have another player because it meant I did not have to switch characters as much.

The other bug occurred when we had a character that was riding an elephant, or some big animal, which fell down a ditch and was unable to get out of the ditch or drop out of the game, preventing us from moving on. We had to start that chapter over and avoided the ditch the second time around to complete the chapter.

With Manual Control Comes Great Power and Responsibility

Last week, I got my new camera, the Canon Powershot SD 990 IS, just in time to use it during the weekend. I went with some friends to the Petaluma Pumpkin Patch to check out the pumpkin patch and to (try to) go through the Amazing Corn Maze. I was really looking forward to the photo-taking opportunity because I envisioned a very colorful environment. I particularly wanted to take advantage of the camera’s special color selection mode to highlight the orangeness of the pumpkins.

Alas, when I got home, I was underwhelmed by the results. Some of the photographs did not look very colorful and in fact looked kind of bluish. I could see the photographs in an album in Picasa underneath another album taken by my old camera, Canon Powershot S45, that had much more vibrantly colorful photographs of roses. I was thinking that I would need to return the camera. I was glad that I bought it from Costco, which has a relatively generous 90 day return policy. I then thought maybe I should take some test shots with the same subjects and compare the two cameras when I had time and interesting, colorful subjects.

When I picked up my camera to check on something else, I noticed that the color balance was on Indoor-Tungsten/Incandescent. That would totally explain the weird coloring since incandescent lighting makes things reddish, so to counteract that, the camera would need to add blue. However, if the actual environment isn’t reddish, there is not enough to counteract the bluishness.

I posted examples below to illustrate my point. I double-checked the EXIF data to confirm that it’s not my imagination that I had the wrong setting for white balance.

Guess which one is which.

The second one was the one that was on the Tungsten setting.

That was an important lesson, and a tip that I would like to pass on so that others do not have ruined photographs. I got a camera that gives me a lot of manual control over settings but because I was not careful, I got some disappointing results.

As for the corn maze, three of us were prepared with headlamps, since we were doing the night time version of the maze. We heard a lot of maze goers express their envy of our preparedness, though some were obviously annoyed at the lights shining in their eyes in an otherwise very dark environment. It took quite a while for us to figure things out and we kept ending up in the same spots. When we were 3/4 of the way through, someone gave us the solution, unsolicited. I was kind of annoyed and grateful. It kind of spoiled the experience to know how to get out without effort other than walking, but it was kind of frustrating also to be lost.

Deciding if a High-Speed Memory Card Is Worth It

I just ordered a new digital camera, Canon Powershot SD 990 IS, and wanted to get a memory card to use with it. There are so many storage choices these days, it’s a bit overwhelming. I finally decided on a brand and size, but didn’t know if I should pay extra for the high-speed cards. I looked all over to see if the SD 990 would support it. From my research, not all cameras were capable of writing fast enough to take advantage of the high speeds that some cards offered. Without knowing the camera’s write-speed, I could not know how fast of a card I needed. So I wrote to Canon. I was very surprised to get a quick and detailed response from them. I hadn’t even gotten the product yet and they helped me already. Sorry, I guess I’m just jaded with customer service these days. The following is an excerpt from the email:

Canon does not speed rate digital cameras.  The write speed of the camera is limited by the drive inside the camera.  Using a faster card rated at 12x or 24x speed may not perform any faster than a slower rated card.  If you use a card reader capable of reading at the faster speeds, then you may experience faster downloads from a card reader.

The only features on our cameras that will utilize the high speed rated memory cards are the Continuous Shooting and video recording features. The exact performance increases are not published.  Unless these two feature are of extreme importance to you, you will honestly be wasting your money on a high speed rated memory card.  The memory cards that come packaged with our cameras do not have a speed rating.

I do intend to do continuous shooting and video recording so speed was a factor. I decided to get a card that was in the middle… not standard, but not the fastest either. It would also be nice to have the faster downloads. If speed were to become a big issue, I could buy a faster card in the future, when the price is lower. Besides, I read that it’s better to have multiple cards instead of one big card, in case there are any issues… kind of like “not putting all your eggs in one basket” kind of thing.

I’m so excited. My camera is scheduled to arrive tomorrow. I’m looking forward to getting back into photography and posting photos in my gallery.

Webmaster Tool: Find Sources of 404 Errors

Thanks to Matt Cutts for the heads up on how to use Google Webmaster Tools to get more information on our websites’ 404 File Not Found errors. As the Google Webmaster Central Blog announced: Webmaster Tools shows Crawl error sources.

For those who have not used the diagnostic tools of Webmaster Central, one of the informative features is getting a listing of the urls that resulted in 404 File Not Found errors. Previously, it was an exercise in futily, though, since we did not know where the incorrect link(s) originated. Now, that we know where the sources are, we have a better chance of correcting the links.

When I went to find out what caused my site’s 404 errors, it was pretty enlightening. I found out what appeared to be a hack attempt on my blog. I found some bad urls in the form of takethu.com/blog/page/NUM/?ref=BADSITE.COM. Fortunately, my blog was up-to-date so those urls didn’t do anything malicious nor contain anything bad on the pages. I checked Google’s cache to confirm that there was no spam. However, those results did show up in a Google site search of my blog so I needed to do something to get rid of them. This was what I added in my robots.txt to tell search engines to drop those urls from their indices:

Disallow: /blog/page/*/?ref=*

I love being able to use wildcards in robots.txt. Another nifty tool in Webmaster Tools is “Analyze robots.txt”, which enables testing of robots.txt disallow/allow patterns against actual urls to see if Googlebot will respond to the urls correctly.

Another thing I found was that there was a broken file path for a flash file on my site. Once I found out on what page it occurred, I was able to come up with a solution and fix it.

Thanks to the Google Webmaster Tools team for giving us webmasters such a useful tool.