Relativistic Vibrissae

Is it just me, or do Watanuki’s whiskers appear to have been designed by M. C. Escher?

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(For the best effect, display the picture full-screen and position your nose approximately three inches from your monitor. That’s the view ‘Nuki prefers to give me when I’m trying to go to sleep.)

Darn Near Homeopathy

One has to give strat-o-matic points for trying to help.

Need that MLB fix to get you through these days of social distancing? If you go to http://www.strat-o-matic.com/2020-season-simulation/ you’ll find the 2020 MLB season being played out.

Well, sorta.

It’s all simulated, of course. Which means we’re not going to get the wild surprises that come from real baseball. Players are going to perform at their career norms plus or minus an algorithmically-defined range. Teams will play at their cumulative skill level, more or less. How well will the algorithms replicate particularly bad managerial blunders, umpires’ missed calls, and Mother Nature’s interjections? I’m betting we can forget about unexpected player synergies and random callups that miraculously work out.

Still, it’s baseball of a sort. Just not, unfortunately, a helpful sort for me.

I mean, it’s great to see that the Mariners finally won a game Monday. (As I write this after Tuesday’s games are in the books, the Ms are 1-5. Nor are the other teams I follow doing much better. The Giants are 0-5. The Mets and Orioles are both 2-3.)

But I’d be saying the same thing if all of those records were reversed.

Stats and box scores don’t engage me emotionally. I need to hear the sounds of the game. See what’s happening. Sure, I can see in the box score or recap that Joe Schlabotnik went 0-4 again. But I can’t really appreciate the agony unless I see him complete the golden sombrero by swinging at a pitch a foot over his head.

Just the way my brain works.

I can’t watch delayed games either. I’m thankful to the various broadcasters for replaying classic games, but they don’t scratch that baseball itch for me. If I know my cheering isn’t going to affect the outcome, I don’t get engaged.

Yes, I’m aware that when I scream “Come on, Joe, get into one!” at the TV, he can’t hear me. But I’m firmly convinced that it helps his performance, nevertheless.

None of this is to say that rebroadcasts don’t have their uses. I sometimes turn them on while I’m writing; as I’ve said before, the rhythms of the game help me get into the flow and turn out better prose. (As it happens, I’ve got a replay of the Mariners/Red Sox game from last March 31 playing as I write this.) I sometimes put a game on while I’m reading in bed: I turned on a repeat of the 2012 World Series Sunday afternoon and let it run while Lefty warmed my shins.

In either case, though, I don’t watch the game. I just let the sounds fill the room. It makes the itch tolerable, without actually curing it.

Sooner or later, games will resume. Maybe next month, perhaps mid-summer, or surely by next spring. Whenever that is, it’ll be about damn time.

Understand, I’m not calling for a resumption of play before it’s safe. I’m just saying that placebos only get you so far. Sometimes you need actual medicine.

(Update after Wednesday’s results came in: The Mariners have now lost two games to the Twins by a combined score of 20-0. The Mets have fallen to 2-4. The Giants are no longer winless. And the Orioles have made it to .500! How long has it been since we could say that this late in the season?

It’s interesting. Amusing, even. Maybe it would help if the results weren’t all posted at once. As long as you’re simulating the season, simulating the schedule shouldn’t be a big stretch. Better yet, put up the results inning by inning so we can follow the games as they unfold. The added realism would go a long way to enhancing my emotional involvement.)

The Hardest Words

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The hardest words are “It’s time”. They always come too soon.

There’s a Rufus-sized hole in the universe today. Not in our hearts, because he’ll always be there, but in my office, the upstairs hall, and most especially the library, aka “Rufus’ and Lefty’s Room”.

Grief bombs abound. The “Rufus Inside” sign on the library door. His food bowls waiting in the kitchen. The way he always bravely placed himself to defend Lefty from the evil vacuum cleaner.

It came on so quickly. He was, to all appearances, fine last month when he had his annual vet visit. Even a week ago, he seemed his normal, snuggly self.

And then he refused to eat. Never a good sign.

We don’t, and won’t, know the full cause. Massive kidney failure linked with, or perhaps caused by, something gastrointestinal.

When we visited him at the vet yesterday evening, he seemed restless and only intermittently lucid. By this morning, he wasn’t tracking at all, and was clearly looking for a way out.

We said goodbye and let him go.

He never got to meet Dad, not in a cuddles and skritches way, but they would have loved each other. Hopefully they’re hanging out now, with Rufus shamelessly extorting tummy rubs.

We had three and half wonderful years with Rufus after he moved inside from the catio, and all those years getting to know him as one of the Backyard Bunch. Wouldn’t change a minute of it, up until the last few days.

We’ll miss you, Buddy. Always and forever.

 

Errata

I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong. I’m not eager to do it, and I’m certainly not going to go out of my way to announce every little misstatement. But some errors are so egregious that they can’t be allowed to stand.

On July 4, 2017, I said “It’s also probably the simplest recipe I’ll ever post here.”

What was I thinking? That recipe has three ingredients and five steps! A simpler one was inevitable.

You ready for a really simple recipe? I’m not going to claim this one can’t be beat–I’ve learned that lesson–but I can’t think how.

Normally, at this point I’d give credit to the originator of the recipe and explain how we’ve modified it. But in this case, variations are all over the Internet and very few of them are credited. If you want to trace the history, please let me know what you learn.

Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs – Don’t use breast meat: it gets dry and doesn’t soak up flavor well.
  • One jar, bottle, or other container of salsa – Whatever variety appeals. Chunky and smooth both work well. Just check the ingredient list before you buy: an unexpectedly high bell pepper concentration can ruin an otherwise delightful salsa.

Steps

  1. Dump the chicken in your slow cooker.
  2. Slop the salsa on top of the chicken.
  3. Cook on Low for 8-9 hours.

The salsa cooks down and combines with the chicken juices to produce a rich liquid that tastes great over rice, and leftovers work well as a chili base. Be aware, however, that the mingling and cooking does reduce the spiciness. If you prefer some kick in your chicken, a mild salsa is not your friend.

The chicken itself can go into the rice along with the salsa liquid, or anchor a burrito. It makes great sandwiches–try it with some pickled carrots or onions–and stuffs into baked potatoes well (don’t forget to add some bacon as well).

This is, by the way, one of those recipes that reheats well in an Instant Pot: pressure cook on low for zero minutes, shut off the cooker, and vent the pressure manually.

There you go: a mindless recipe for taxing times.

And, rest assured that if I find a two-ingredient, two-step recipe, I’ll let you all know.

Making Do With Uncertainty

It’s the uncertainty that gets me. I’ve seen “the foreseeable future” and “until at least” so much I’ve started mentally adding them to everything I read.

“Thank you for your order of three hundred twenty seven rolls of toilet paper. Your expected delivery date is until at least May 20. We hope you enjoy your toilet paper for the foreseeable future.”

Not that we’re actually hoarding toilet paper. We’ve got enough for a couple of weeks, and if we can’t get more when that runs out, we’ll cope. Paper towels. Newspaper. Too bad Sears doesn’t publish a mail order catalog anymore–though I suppose if they did, it would be on glossy paper, rendering useless for the traditional repurposing.

I sort of understand why people feel compelled to horde toilet paper in a crisis. It has so many uses beyond the obvious. And it’s not like it spoils. You can get away with buying a six month supply–or a six year supply, for that matter.

But other aisles in the supermarket are just as empty, and some of those make no sense to me at all? Why are people hoarding bread? How much bread do you need for two weeks of isolation? And how are you going to keep it from spoiling? I mean, sure, you can freeze it, but if your freezer is full of bread, where are you going to put the other perishables?

(For the record, we generally go through three loaves of bread in two weeks’ dinners. And another not-quite-one-loaf of sandwich bread for those peanut butter and something-or-other lunches. Which seems like a lot, now that I’ve written it down, but even if everyone else shopping at our local supermarket goes through that much, it shouldn’t amount to enough to totally empty the shelves.)

Other uncertainties.

Perhaps you’ve heard that most of the Bay Area is under a “Shelter in Place” order. Everyone is supposed to stay home as much as possible. Don’t go out unless you’re going to one of the essential businesses.

Reasonable, but “essential” is a rather ambiguous term. Apparently that category includes restaurants, but only for take-out. I’ve been told by fairly reliable sources that it includes businesses that help make it possible for people to work from home. But if that’s true, why will Apple not be able to reopen its stores in the affected counties until the order is lifted*?

* Which will not be until at least April 7. See? As I said, it keeps sneaking in!

Hardware stores are apparently essential. I guess that makes sense. As long as you’re stuck at home, you might as well do some of those little jobs around the house you’ve been putting off. Replace that faucet, those cracked electrical outlet plates, and the leaky toilet in the mother-in-law unit*. In a rare sign of good planning by a government, plumbers, electricians, and other such professionals are still able to come to our homes to repair the repairs we botch. Assuming we’re willing to let them in, of course.

* Haven’t you heard? Every home in the Bay Area has a MiL unit now. Not for our mothers-in-law; we rent ’em out. That’s how we solved the housing crisis.

Come to think of it, we’re being told to remain at least six feet away from other people if we have to go out. How’s that going to work at the grocery store or the doctor’s office?

Medical professionals are, of course, remaining open, but the public is being asked to cancel any non-urgent or non-essential appointments. More ambiguity. As it happens, I had an appointment yesterday to have blood drawn for some lab work. So I called the lab to ask if I should come in.

“It’s entirely up to you,” I was told. “We’re open, but you have to decide if it can wait.”

Hardly a decision I really want to make in the absence of professional advice, but in the spirit of coping, I did go and have a hole poked in my arm.

However, I decided to wait on the test results before deciding if I should cancel my appointment next week to discuss the results. If everything is normal, why risk the exposure of a face to face visit?

It may not be at the “London during the Blitz” level of making do, but it seems appropriate to this era.

Just In Time

Lefty’s incorporation into the family–and indoctrination into the family obsessions–continues. Just in time for the most important element to be put on hold for a couple of weeks.

A few days ago, he joined me on the bed for a while. I was watching the Mariners beat the Padres, and Lefty seemed to be watching the action with curiosity and perhaps even a hint of approval. I took advantage of the opportunity to let him get a closer acquaintance with The Game.

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He was intrigued and gave the ball a good sniff, but declined to demonstrate whatever pitching prowess he might have.

And, as soon as the game ended, he pointed out that there are–at least in his estimation–some things more important.

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Subtle, he’s not.

I got the point, however, and began preparing the feline’s evening repast.

Time Out

Google I/O has been canceled for this year, for health reasons. Well, the in-person version has been canceled, anyway. Google plans to have some form of streaming conference instead. Interesting notion. Shouldn’t be a problem for presentations–I’ve always thought the keynote address worked better as a live stream than a butts-in-seats show–but people are going to miss the opportunity to get their hands actual devices.

And now Apple is under pressure to do the same for WWDC. Last I heard–Tuesday mid-morning–it was still on, but with Santa Clara County banning large gatherings, Apple may not be able to go ahead even if they want to.

Does anyone else find it amusing that we’re being asked to tune in via computers and smartphones to find out how the big names are going to make our computers and smartphones obsolete?

Given the current difficulties in getting hardware from Asia, I’d like to see Apple and Google (and even Microsoft* and Amazon) take a step back. Don’t release new hardware this year**. Concentrate on improving what’s already out there.

* Much as I’m intrigued by the Surface Duo and Surface Neo, and despite my difficulties with delayed gratification, I have to admit that my life won’t be measurably worse if I don’t get to play with them this year.

** It’s too late to make the same plea to Samsung. The S20 is out.

Hold off the Pixel 4a devices. And we don’t really need huge bunches of new Chromebooks. Ditto for Apple. Using part shortages as an excuse to jack up the price of an iPhone 12 would be tacky. And, while I’d love to see a new MacMini–preferably at a lower price point–I haven’t been holding my breath for it.

Give us Android 11 if you must. Ditto for iOS and iPadOS 14, as well as MacOS Catalina+1. And the next iteration of Windows 10.

Take some of the people off the hardware side, let it sit for a while, and put those people to work on usability. Hook them up (online, naturally) with people who have not been using your products every day for the last five years. Find out where the pain points are in getting started with [insert your OS here]. Do a deep dive into your update process (I’m looking at you, Microsoft). Amazon, take a good look at your pricing model and honestly answer (if only to yourself) whether it’s sustainable: is it bringing in enough to pay writers, actors, and other content producers enough that they can continue to write, act, and lay salable eggs?

Then bring out new hardware next year.

It’ll never happen, of course. The industry is too tied into “new hardware every year is the only way to keep people interested” and “as long as we make a profit while I’m alive, who cares what happens when I’m not?”

But dreaming about it keeps my mind occupied while I build a disease-proof plastic bubble around the house.

Comfy?

Rufus is an incredible camera slut. I’m convinced he can hear the sound of a smartphone sending power to the camera, because the instant I launch the app–on either of my phones–he wakes up and comes rushing over to make sure I get plenty of shots of his good side.

That means candid photographs of him are hard to come by. Not quite “scarce as Rufus teeth,” but close.

But I finally managed to get a shot of him in his favorite sleeping spot in something approximating his usual sleeping position.

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Note the dangling tail and hind paw.

Note the gracefully curled front paw.

Note the small light next to his cheek. That’s called a “power button” and it can be used to turn off a computer.

Did I mention that the computer in question is the main file server for the house?

Of course he’s stepped on the button. Several times. He’s a cat isn’t he? If he isn’t causing trouble while looking cute and innocent, he’s failing to fulfill his duties as a feline and as the instructor of Lefty’s ongoing class in proper interactions with bipeds.

Legacies

Some legacies are solider than others.

I got a lot of things from my father. The need to write is all him. My love of baseball, reading, and music are partly from him (though my sense of rhythm is definitely from the other side of the family.)

Then there are more tangible things. I’ve got a box of notepads harvested from his desks*. A pile of flash drives, several outdated but still useful computers, and the collected writings of H. Allen Smith.

* Dad was and I am a hoarder. I look at my mother’s ability to throw out a magazine after she reads it with awe: my default is to save it in case I need it for something.

And The Bug.

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We didn’t get The Bug new; if memory serves, it was about ten years old when it joined the family. And it was and is a family member. The default car when we were going anywhere. The car my sister and I learned to drive in. In later years, through one of those magical shifts of perception, it became Dad’s Car.

And when Dad died, there really wasn’t any question that The Bug was going to stay in the family.

My mother and sister didn’t need it. Nor, really, did I, but I certainly had more use for it than they did. And we all agreed that it was not going to be sold.

Maggie and I spent an eon or so clearing out enough of the garage to make space for The Bug. Maybe not quite that long, though it certainly felt that way–but on the other hand, there’s still more cleaning to do out there so we can use the garage for more than just parking cars.

But The Bug is here and has a place to stay, safe from assaults by the weather, the local wildlife, and neighbors who don’t believe in speed limits.

There have been some changes.

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The steering wheel cover is new. The wheel gets amazingly hot in summer; I still don’t understand why Dad didn’t have a cover. “Not part of the original look,” is my best guess.

And, of course, the plates are new. I don’t think Dad would have entirely approved of them. On one hand, I’m sure he would have found the classic yellow on black style much more appropriate than modern plates. On the other hand, personalized plates were never his scene and misspelled words annoyed him as much as a misused apostrophe bugs me.

Some things aren’t going to change. The Bug’s radio doesn’t work. Rather than get it fixed or replaced, Dad just kept a battery powered speaker and a portable CD player–later replaced with his MP3 player–in the car. I’ve upgraded the speaker to a Bluetooth model so I can play music and ballgames from my phone, but the concept is the same. (Dad’s MP3 player–still loaded with ragtime music–and speaker are on my desk as I write this.)

There are still no seatbelts for backseat passengers, nor will there be. I may eventually get the more prominent dents removed, but I’m in no hurry to do so. I’m not planning to remove any of the outdated parking stickers from the windows–though I’ll probably add a few decorative stickers or magnets. Eventually.

Yes, of course I drive The Bug. Manual transmission and all–that’s one of those bicycle skills, the kind you never forget. My cow-orkers have been insanely jealous since the first time I parked it in the lot. They haven’t seen the new plates yet–they just arrived last week–but when they do, I expect a sharp rise in the number of threats to steal it.

Nor are customers immune to The Bug’s charm. I found this under the windshield wiper recently.

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Dad would have approved.

Three Faces

Kaja!* is a very articulate lady. Not (usually) very verbal, but a Grand Mistress of body language.

* Legal paperwork doesn’t include the exclamation point in her name, but when I told her I was working on a post featuring her, she was quite explicit in telling me how it should be spelled. Point(s) taken.

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This is, of course, Impatience. Also, as Maggie so eloquently titled the photo, “Feed Us Already, Hoomin!”

Contrary to rumor, Impatience is not actually her resting face–although there are elements of it, certainly.

Then there’s Smug.

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Even though Kokoro and Rhubarb were in the room, Kaja! secured the best cave for herself. Cushioned floor, slightly elevated for the best sight lines. It’s highly coveted turf.

And then there’s–

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–uh, actually, I’m not sure what this is. When I took the picture, I was sure it was Boredom, but on further review, I’m not as certain.

There’s definitely an air of laughter, incompatible with Boredom, especially at the cosmic level of achievement Kaja! can attain.

Perhaps it’s an emotion of her own invention.

Or maybe she’s just trying to freak me out. I wouldn’t put it past her.