Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Story of Josh, the Diabetic Wonder Dog

Josh, 2009, originally uploaded by chrisfreeland2002.

We adopted Josh from the St. Louis City Pound in the fall of 2000.  The Pound was a bleak place, a kill shelter, which is why we decided to adopt from there.  He was in a crate with his litter mates, all cute fuzzballs from their German Shepherd/Chow mix.  I initially picked up one of the tan females, but Chris noticed a little guy who had woken up, all black with tan spots on his eyes and legs.  That was it, he was ours.

We got him because our other dog, Samantha, was part Corgi and she really needed something to herd besides us.  She loved having a puppy and kept him in line.  Right from the start he was always just a happy dog…he didn't think he was a person trapped in a dog's body, like Sam, he was just a dog with a big goofy grin & a pretty tail (we called him "Fluffy Britches" because of how the fur on his haunches looked like fuzzy pants).  Actually, I was afraid he was a little mentally challenged because one summer when I was painting our dining room I looked over and he was drinking paint out of the tray.  His nose & all the fur around his mouth were buttercream yellow.  It was actually pretty funny, and after a little wretching session outside he was fine.

He loved to fetch his toys, especially tennis balls when he was younger.  We'd throw them from our front room into our kitchen (yep, throwing balls & dogs running in the house, all fine with us) and he'd scramble to go get it.  After a couple of tosses he'd take his ball & go lay in the corner, a not-too-subtle notice that play time was over.

In December 2008 Sam was diagnosed with cancer.  She had surgery to remove the tumor from her colon and while she was having surgery, Josh started getting sick.  We took him to the vet and he was diagnosed as diabetic.  We had no idea how we were going to care for a diabetic dog.  We had both started traveling between 25-50% of our time for work and it just didn't seem possible that we could manage twice daily insulin shots to keep him well.  We decided, since neither one of us was traveling the rest of December, to just see how it went and decide next steps in 2009.  

He responded well to the insulin and we figured out how to make it all work, mostly due to having a fantastic neighbor/friend/dog sitter, Jamie, who could give him shots when we traveled.  Amazingly, we gave him more than 1,700 shots and never missed a single one.  Not one.  Sometimes we couldn't give him his shot if he hadn't eaten, because the insulin had to be given with food to be effective, but we were there to try.

He slowly went blind due to the diabetes.  We never gave him much credit in the brains department (see the paint incident above), but he had total mastery of our house, yard, and neighborhood while almost completely blind.  I was impressed at how a blind dog could get around on his own - he knew where all the furniture was, where the steps were, and would even feel his way around with a front paw if he wasn't entirely sure he was at the steps to our deck.  He decided on his own one evening that he was no longer going to go up our steep stairs to the second floor, so he quite happily continued on as a first floor dog.  When we'd go upstairs he took it as his opportunity to get up on the couch.  

And then a wacky, amazing thing happened on New Year's Eve 2010-2011.  Josh had never liked sirens or thunderstorms; he would always howl when ambulances went by, or when the tornado tests would go off the first Monday of every month.  On NYE, quite unexpectedly, the tornado sirens started up and didn't stop.  We watched the weather and sure enough, there were tornadoes heading in from the west (the ones that ended up doing severe damage across parts of St. Louis).  I had been taking pictures of our house ahead of our annual NYE party, so I flipped the switch over to video & grabbed a clip of him howling along with the sirens.  Because it was a really unusual time of year for tornadoes, I uploaded the video to YouTube and filed a CNN iReport bit with the video.  Later that afternoon I got a call from a CNN producer, who wanted to use my video of Josh in an on-air segment and web reports.  Sure enough, the next day our dog was on CNN!  It is really, really trippy to watch the talking heads on tv talk about your dog.  Josh was unaffected by his meteoric rise to stardom, though he did start demanding only steak and red M&Ms for dinner.  He continued to howl at sirens and thunderstorms even though he was never broadcast again.  Here's the video from YouTube, the CNN video is here:

This year his health started to decline.  His blood sugar was less evenly regulated, and he started to slow down.  We knew we were getting close to the end, and that he would let us know when it was time.  That day was today.  I was at home this morning, luckily, for an inspection of our apartment building next door.  After the inspection I came over to let the dogs out before going in to work.  I was gathering my stuff when I heard our other dogs barking in a sharp, alarmed way, and I went outside to find Josh on his side having a seizure.  He had had a bad episode about 2 months ago while we were out of town, and had spent a couple of days in the hospital, but had rebounded back.  I should mention that these were not hypoglycemic incidents (the "Shelby, drink your juice!" Steel Magnolia kinds of things that all diabetics go through) but full-on seizures.  I knew today was different - I could just tell.  I put the other dogs away and took him to our vet.  After careful consideration with our vet, the absolutely wonderful folks at Kingsbury Animal Hospital, and after a call with Chris, who was traveling, we made the decision to end his suffering.  He went peacefully and without pain, just after 1pm today.

It's always sad when you lose a pet, even (especially?) when you know it's coming.  I didn't expect it would be today, but I also wasn't unprepared for it.  I take comfort in knowing we did an amazing job keeping him happy and healthy in the 3 1/2 years he was diabetic, and that we were able to help him reach an advanced age in spite of his ailments.  He gave us nothing but love, and we did the same for him.  I'm going to miss him like crazy.

And as our neighbor Sharon said, thunderstorms will never be the same.

More photos of the handsome guy at Flickr:

Friday, February 10, 2012

Finnish sauna & ice hole swimming at Kuusijärvi, Vantaa

I never expected that my job would take me to a frozen lake in Finland, surrounded by coworkers from across Europe and the former Soviet Union, the lone American bobbing in a hole cut in the ice. Intentionally. And for fun.

I came to Helsinki for a BHL-Europe partner meeting. It's February, and daily peak temperatures hover around -15C. We've had a 700m walk from the hotel to the (charming & hospitable) meeting room each day, and everyone has commented how brutally cold it is outside.

The group and I were invited by Evgeniy Meyke, a technology developer & collaborator for the Biodiversity Heritage Library who happens to live outside Helsinki, to experience a traditional Finnish sauna followed by quick swims in freezing water. My thought: Well, when in Finland... I'm unlikely to make this trip again, so might as well embrace the craziness of it all and do it - a once in a lifetime chance.

Flash forward to this afternoon and we're riding on a bus headed 30 minutes north of Helsinki to Kuusijärvi, Vantaa, now officially the furthest point North I've ever been. We had 5 guys & 1 gal participating, and the wife of one of the men who wanted to come along to take pictures & fish us out if needed. We got off the bus in the middle of a snow-encrusted country forest (read: the middle of nowhere) and met Evginey at the entrance to the outdoor recreation area. It was just past 4:30pm and the sun was making a slow descent. Lovely. And cold.

So the whole thing goes down like this: You pay your 10euro at the main house, and grab a pair of the motley assortment of waterproof shoes available. Men & women split up into separate locker rooms and change into swimsuits. In most Finnish saunas you go in without clothing, but this is a public sauna and so you wear a suit. You throw on your shoes, grab your towel, and walk out into the open air, which by this time is well below the balmy -15C we had during days in the city.

You start off by warming up in the smoke sauna. In this particular setting there are 4 cabins. Each has a little entry room where you take off your shoes and drop off your towel, then walk into the main room of the sauna. There are two rows of wood seating in an L-shape around a brick oven heaped with coals. The room fits 8-10 people. And like in every other sauna, you sit there & stew. You throw water on the coals which produces steam and releases an intense blast of heat, and so you get all toasty & sweaty. You do that as long as you can stand (usually less than 10 minutes for the non-Finns) and then you put your shoes back on & head back out into the open air.

Now this is what was amazing: It felt absolutely wonderful to be standing outside, drenched in sweat, in below freezing cold air. And then you walk down to the water (maybe 15m). And here's where it gets crazy.

There's a square hole cut in the thick ice on the lake. There are wooden steps leading down into the water. The top step and the hand rails are covered in ice. You kick off your shoes and start walking down the steps, while your hands and feet freeze to the ice on the steps and rails. And then you walk into the ice cold water and submerge yourself up to your neck.

My first trip in, I stayed in for maybe 3 seconds and then hurried back up the stairs. The Finns behind me were a little annoyed that I barely even made it into the water before jumping out, because I was in their way. It's a psychological thing - your brain is yelling "Get out of the water, you stupid American!"

In reality, the water is warmer than the air outside. But, yeah, it's COLD, and goes against everything we've ever learned about getting out on frozen lakes in the US. So then you walk up the stairs, your skin sticking to the stairs (i
f you'll notice on the picture with this post, I'm about to put my hand on a freezing pile of ice), jam your frozen feet into your frozen shoes, and once again marvel that you're standing outside, dripping wet, this time from cold water, and yet you feel completely comfortable. Being the manly men we were, we hooted & hollered about our achievement and stood in the snow to snap some pictures. Larissa, our female partner in the polar bear plunge, seems to have intentionally dodged the camera, but she was there, hooting & hollering along with us. By this time my hair & beard had started to ice.

And then you walk back to the sauna and do the whole bloody routine again as many times as you can tolerate. On my second attempt I cleared my mind and stayed in the water for probably 10-15 seconds, paddled a bit, and got out. 3rd time out I just walked around the outside of the cabin and didn't take a dip. 4th time out we bypassed the water & headed inside to shower and change. Normally your sauna excursion ends with warm tea or beer in the cafe the house runs, but we had a dinner back in Helsinki to attend. I felt calm, my skin felt great, and when we reached the restaurant I was starving. Luckily dinner was Nepalese - rich, warm & delicious.

Will I do it again? Probably not, unfortunately, because I doubt I'll be back in Finland again in the winter. But WOULD I do it again? Absolutely! It's a crazy, marvelous experience that makes you feel totally invigorated - your heart's pumping, your blood's circulating, and every nasty toxin your body has been storing up has been magically wicked away from your skin by the alternating heat/cold. I'm now 6 hours from my last trip to the water and I still feel great.

I don't know that there's any global truths to be learned here, or that I can wrap this up so that it all comes together in some meaningful way. I traveled out to the Finnish countryside with co-workers who have become great friends, sat in a hot room & swam in a frozen lake. Insane! But I enjoyed the heck out of it, and if you ever get the chance I would highly recommend it.

Here's a video someone posted to YouTube, showing a dip in the same spot & steps...but without 6" of ice!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mark Akers' Memorial Service

Mark Akers’ Memorial Service

January 28, 2012

Prelude: Closer Walk with Thee and other music

Opening Music: How Great Thou Art

Dave Brinker, Piano & Flute, Fred Isom, Vocals

Welcoming Remarks

We are gathered here today to celebrate the life of Mark Akers. My name is Chris Freeland, and I am a neighbor of Mark & Sharon’s. In his final weeks Mark asked that I officiate his service, and with the agreement of his family, I do so with honor.

Mark Lyn Akers was born on March 29, 1954, in Belgrade and passed away Friday, January 20, 2012, at his home in St. Louis. Mark is survived by his wife Sharon, his father Lindell, his brother Kim and Kim’s wife Sandra, his son Sean and Sean’s wife Tara, and his grandchildren Aniya and Ezra, whom Mark liked to call EZ, and his beloved dogs Roxy and Murphy.


The obituary that ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described Mark as an “all-around great guy.” I think that’s fitting, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who disagreed that Mark was an all-around great guy. He had a strong moral compass. He knew what was right.

That helped him in his job as a lawyer and a Prosecuting Attorney. Lawyers don’t always get a lot of respect, but Mark approached his job with a guiding sense of honor and integrity. For Mark being a lawyer wasn’t about ego or personal gain. He was driven by doing what was right for his clients, and helping people as best he could.

But there was much more to Mark than just his job. Spend an afternoon around Mark and you quickly experienced his passion for sports. He loved to be outside, playing tennis or golf, just as much as he loved watching Mizzou football or the Cards win the World Series on his enormous TV. We liked to joke with Mark that his TV was bigger than he was. You knew that if his team was on, he could be reliably found basking in its soft glow. Mark was an especially enthusiastic viewer, providing more colorful commentary than the pros on TV, and he certainly knew more than the umpires and referees who could have benefitted from Mark’s counsel. And, if the dogs were hiding, you knew Mark was sharing his opinion, loudly, with the television.

Mark’s true passion was his well-honed art of conversation. He especially liked to talk about history, politics, movies, or whatever headline was making news that day. Mark never turned down an opportunity to give you his opinion or his view on any topic. He’d start with:

Well, guys, I’ll tell you…


Ok, you see, it’s like this…

And he’d be off.

What you might not know about Mark was that he was a terrific dancer. He could really move. One of our favorite nights, one he mentioned often, was at a friend’s wedding. They had a great reception with a really good band, playing everything from Motown to disco to country. Mark and Sharon barely took a break from the dancefloor. We all had a wonderful time that night, and Mark said he danced so much his knees hurt for the next two days.

Mark had many great qualities, but the two that I most admired were his sense of humor and his courage, both of which Mark put to good use throughout the years. I met Mark after his kidney transplant, a gift of life from his brother, Kim, and I never once heard him complain about his health. His sense of humor and his courage got him through the tough times, and made everyone around him assured that it was all going to be okay. Even these past few months, when he was suffering from the effects of chemo, we’d call over to the house and ask how he was doing and he’d say “Well, I’m doing okay today.”

Mark did okay because he had a large community of people behind him. His family and friends here and abroad, his neighbors in the city who all supported him. His son Sean and daughter-in-law Tara, and his friend Charlie Williams, a true “angel of mercy” who stayed with Mark during his last weeks. And of course, his wife, Sharon. In one of our last talks Mark described their relationship as “probably unusual-looking from the outside,” but it worked. Mark was loved, and he knew it.

In Mark’s final days, he said he was ready. On Thursday, he told his family, “One day more.”

Mark was on heavy medication throughout his last day, Friday, but according to Sharon around 6pm he became alert and talkative. He said clearly, “I don’t know how to get there.” His brother Kim told him, “You get into your big Lincoln, turn on the heated seats, put on Martina McBride, and tool on down the highway.” And Mark said “Yes, that’s the way.” And that’s how he went, later that night.

Mark passed the way he wanted: at home, peacefully, without pain, surrounded by his family, with his dogs at his side, in a house that he loved in an extended community that loved him. We should all be so lucky. And we were lucky, for knowing Mark. We are all the better for having had him in our lives.

Remembrance of Mark: Clay Loomis

Moment of Reflection: Amazing Grace

Closing Reading:

In his final weeks Mark and I talked about the readings he wanted presented at this service. We talked about traditional biblical passages, but none of those felt right to Mark. There was one poem he wanted read during the service here, as it was one of his personal favorites. It is Invictus, by William Ernest Henley.

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Closing Prayer:

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, we’ve gathered together to celebrate Mark Akers and we now give him to your eternal keeping. Help his family find comfort in the days and weeks ahead. Let them know that Mark is at peace and has rejoined the family who went before him.

As a closing to this ceremony, let us now recite the words that you taught us to pray so long ago:

Our Father who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us,

and lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory, for ever.


Closing Music: I’ll Fly Away

Gravesite Service

Mark asked that I close here with the final passage from another of his favorite poems, Song of Myself, from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. It is non-traditional, like Mark, and perfectly fitting. Let’s bow our heads for a moment of personal prayer, and a reading of the passage Mark chose.

I bequeth myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,

If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,

But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,

And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,

Missing me one place search another,

I stop some where waiting for you.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

BHL and Linked Data at ALA Midwinter

At the next-to-last minute I was invited on a panel at the American Library Association Midwinter meeting this weekend in Dallas, TX. Awesome, gives me an opportunity to talk about BHL's experience assigning DOIs to legacy literature, and I want to demonstrate CrossRef's Linked Data integration for DOIs:

Press Release:

Tech info:

The DOI I'm demo'ing is associated with "The amoebae living in man; a zoological monograph" because that's a great title!
It's online at BHL at:
And its DOI is: 10.5962/bhl.title.10172

I've used Disco & Marbles and am getting nowhere fast.

The irony that I'm giving a talk on Linked Data & am a Tech Director and am asking this is not lost on me. I'm also not too proud to admit gaps in my knowledge and to reach out for assistance when needed. Basically just interested in retrieving some RDF for the DOI, grab a screenshot of the response. Anyone interested in helping out and getting mad props at ALA, on Twitter, on Slideshare, and everywhere else I blab on about?

***UPDATE 20 Jan 2012***
I found it surprising that everyone (4ppl) err'd out, so I send a support question to CrossRef. Turns out their API had a bug! They weren't returning results for DOIs assigned to books that don't have an ISBN, and much of BHL is ISBN-less. Bowker is the ISBN registration agency in the US and we pose too much of a weird case for them, have never been able to move further on assigning ISBN's to legacy content, and probably won't. Anyway, they were glad we pointed out this anomaly and they'll have a fix out early next week. Glad I asked, rather than assuming it was me & giving up. Thanks to all who provided input & assistance: @asaletourneau, @cajunjoel, @rdmpage. And my talk is online at: