A Rite of Passage

It took a lot longer than we expected, but Lefty may have confirmed the “Formerly” in his title of “Formerly Feral Fellow”.

Mind you, he’s not exactly happy about it.

Downright grumpy, in fact.

But an apparently incongruous emotional reaction to a life-changing event is far from uncommon.

It’s been more than a year since I wrote “someday soon he will wear it again“. I’m pretty sure that fourteen months isn’t “soon” by the standards of anyone with a lifespan shorter than your average sequoia.

But, yes.

He is once again wearing a collar.

As of this writing, he’s had it on for four days–it helps that this was intended to be his permanent collar, rather than an extremely weak “test collar”–but after a few unsuccessful attempts to persuade Emeraldas to help him take it off, he hasn’t mustered any strong objections.

And, yes, it does have bling.

I’ll skip the jokes about him being the star of our family and/or the bell [sic] of the ball.

He is Awesome Kitty, though, and we’re delighted that he seems to have accepted that the Well-Dressed Cat-About-the-House wears bling.

Welcome home, Lefty, welcome home.

Worth a Chuckle?

I recently stumbled across a website that purports to show last years 100 most popular searches on Bing.

According to ahrefs.com, the top five searches are “google”, “youtube”, “facebook”, “gmail”, and “amazon”*.

* I am, by the way, using the worldwide search numbers. The order of the results changes a little if you limit the searches to the U.S., but not enough to invalidate any conclusions we might draw.

My first reaction was to laugh. Bing, as is well known, is owned by Microsoft; that people are using Microsoft’s search engine to find Google–or any other search engine–is ironically delicious.

Except.

There’s a nagging question here. Are people really searching for Google? Or are they just too lazy to type “.com”? I can kind of understand that: we’re an increasingly mouse-or-tap-oriented society. If you’re in the habit of using your computer’s touchscreen or trackpad, omitting the “.com” saves you four keystrokes and only costs you one tap.

Still, with that much love for Google, wouldn’t you think more people would be setting bookmarks for the Big G? That would reduce it to two taps with no typing. Better yet, setting Google as the browser’s home page would cut the effort to zero (beyond opening the browser, of course).

That would, however, imply people actually know how to use their software. Given that the tenth most popular search on Bing is “bing”, that may be overly optimistic.

The picture is, if anything, even worse on Google. Would you believe that “google” is the fourth most popular search on Google (again, according to ahrefs.com)*. “youtube” and “gmail” (both Google properties) are Numbers One and Five, respectively, despite the fact that both are no more than two clicks away* once you make it to Google.

* There’s a link directly to Gmail at the top of the Google search page, and to get to YouTube all you have to do is click the square made up of nine dots, then click YouTube.

Perhaps the only good news here is that “bing” didn’t make the Top 100 on Google. Though I suppose that’s really only good news for Google: if people actually wanted to use Bing, the evidence suggests they’d be searching for it on Google. Poor Microsoft.

Don’t think I’m making fun of people who don’t know how to use their computers. Okay, maybe I am a bit. But really, I’m pointing an accusatory finger at Microsoft and Google (as well as Mozilla, Apple, Vivaldi, Brave, and all the other browser makers out there.)

In the course of making the Web both indispensable and synonymous with “the Internet”, the companies that enable the technology have forgotten that software is like a language: nobody is born knowing how to speak “World Wide Web”; it has to be learned. And instead of teaching it, they’ve found ways to make learning unnecessary.

Today’s web browsers and search engines are the equivalent of a restaurant menu with no text, just pictures of the dishes on order. Point to what you want and it’ll be served on a tray.

And you won’t even get fries with that.

Pairings

Feline pairings are volatile.

Lefty and Rhubarb, for example. They rarely fight–both are generally mellow fellows–but neither do they seek out each other’s company.

And yet, sometimes they find themselves thrown together by circumstances.

Circumstances such as “This stair has the best view in the house.”

It was an amicable meeting, and lasted about five minutes before they were both called away on urgent business elsewhere, Rhubarb to check his food bowl and Lefty to collect some lap time.

Other pairings are longer term.

(Ignore that thuggish photobomber in the background.)

Emeraldas and Lefty are frequently found in proximity.

Unsurprising, really. They started along the path to Indoor Cathood together–though Lefty made the transition indoors well before Em–and neither is entirely convinced they’ve been fixed.

Like many couples, they bicker: who gets to sit on which chair in the dining room, who gets first dibs on the gooshy fud, or who is going to wash who’s ears first.

Nevertheless, they’re more often found together than apart, and intertwined tails are not uncommon.

An Interesting Idea

Hmm.

Apparently, Quebec has given up on the carrot and is ready to try the stick. According to news reports, the roughly 13% of the province’s population that haven’t gotten at least one shot will have to pay a tax penalty.

It’s obvious that appeals to common sense have gone as far as they’re going to. And incentive programs have probably reached their limits as well. One can only offer so many lotteries, after all, and anyone who might be lured in by cash payments, offers of food and beverages, or merchandise promoting local sports franchises has probably succumbed to said temptation.

Although, as the BBC notes, this isn’t the first attempt to force the unvaccinated to pay–they cite a monthly fine in Greece and Singapore’s refusal to pay for health care for the unvaccinated–it does seem to be an approach that few politicians of any stripe are willing to propose.

So, kudos to Quebec for trying something a little different. Some details remain to be worked out, of course. The size of the tax bill hasn’t been set–one wonders if it’ll be a flat amount, a flat percentage, or some kind of graduated number based on age, income, or political affiliation–and I doubt whether there’s any agreement yet over whether refunds are possible if people do get vaccinated after paying up. Or, for that matter, whether a cut-off date has been set yet, or if there’s still time for people to get their shots and avoid the charge.

Any such plan in the U.S. would inevitably allow for medical and religious exemptions–making it entirely useless–and then be tied up in the courts for years anyway. Plenty of well-known anti-vaxxers north of the border; will Quebec’s plan run afoul of them?

All that said, I’d love to see a similar plan tried in a region with a much lower vaccinated percentage*. Any brave state politicians want to give it a shot?

* As of a couple of days ago, less than half of the populations of Mississippi, Alabama, Wyoming, and Idaho were fully vaccinated. For that matter, Quebec is doing better than any U.S. state: Vermont had the highest vaccination rate at 78.21%, slightly behind Quebec’s 78.32% rate.

There must be ways to make it slightly less of a political suicide pill. Plenty of states have taxes that are only imposed on certain people: gas taxes to pay for road repair, property taxes to pay for schools, and so forth. Maybe some states could make a non-vaccination tax fly by making it conditional: you only pay the tax–with the funds being earmarked to go to state hospitals–if you’re unvaccinated and are hospitalized for COVID-19.

Nah, never going to work in the U.S. But I look forward to hearing how it goes over in Quebec–and whether it actually raises the vaccination rate.

Too Much of a Good Thing

A couple of weeks ago, I was commending Kokoro for her generosity.

Let it be noted that one can be too generous.

Case in point:

Sure, it was a friendly gesture to share her heat pad with Rhubarb. But when Watanuki got involved…

Let’s just say that ‘Nuki hasn’t internalized the meaning of the word “share”.

No heat for Rhubarb, and Kokoro is so far away, she’s teetering on the brink of falling off the futon.

But at least the crew is being amicable about the whole thing. The futon has, it seems, been unanimously declared “neutral territory: open to all” in the same way our bed has.

Still, Kokoro needs the heat on her joints more than anyone else.

A Complete Waste of Time

I believe I’ve mentioned once or twice* that my whole family loves fireworks. Why else would we freeze our hind ends sitting for hours on a cement planter on December 31 or a stretch of suburban tundra on July 4?

* Okay, considerably more often than that.

So these last couple of years have been tough. Granted, not the only way they’ve been tough and certainly not the toughest, but still.

And the workarounds have been, well, pitiful. Seattle, I’m looking at you here.

Historically, Seattle has had a fireworks display set off from the Space Needle, and it’s usually been a good show. Perhaps not world class, but well up in the ranks of civic displays.

Since a show was a no-go for 12/31/20, the city commissioned a “virtual” show. By which, they meant “Computer animated graphics added to actual footage of the Space Needle.” It kinda, sorta worked. Arguably better than nothing, anyhow. Some of the animations were entertaining. But somebody forgot that a big part of the fireworks experience is auditory. Way too much generic popular music (with Seattle ties, of course) and a notable shortage of “Boom!”

This year, there was an actual show. Nobody could attend in person, of course, so the city made a big deal about enhancing the display for TV. Much hype about the “first ever” augmented reality fireworks display.

Feh. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

And in this case, there was a big asterisk after the “can”. The computer graphics were definitely a step down in quality from the previous year’s offering. Worse, they frequently covered the actual fireworks. If you’re trying to enhance something, you don’t hide it, you emphasize it. And again, no “Boom!”, but plenty of instantly forgettable pop. (Sorry.) Not even some decent champagne could save this mess.

Even worse: the TV channel’s commentators desperately trying to sound enthusiastic about what they’d just seen.

We started flipping channels afterward, desperately trying to find something to eradicate the memory. Mixed results, obviously.

We spent a few minutes on the Nashville NYE Super Spreader Event–hundreds of sweaty, underdressed people, with not a mask in sight–before we found a channel showing fireworks displays from around the world.

And very interesting it was. Thank you, NBC News!

The show from Russia looked like it was probably excellent–fireworks blasting over onion domes is always aesthetically pleasing–but the poor image quality detracted greatly. I’m fairly certain it wasn’t an official Soviet broadcast, but a low-resolution cell phone recording, probably smuggled out via the Internet.

Oddly, neither India nor Pakistan came off well. Both looked like someone’s backyard display. The Greek show spent far too much time showing off the Parthenon and much too little showing the actual fireworks.

Hong Kong, fortunately, gave an excellent show, combining real fireworks with simulated displays on skyscrapers. Not, I don’t think, computer animated, but video projections. The displays were well synchronized, and it worked beautifully.

The real winner, though? Sydney, Australia. A massive display all around the harbor, combined with “The 1812 Overture” gave plenty of “Boom!” with lots of sparkle.

Hopefully we’ll get real fireworks here in the Bay Area (and Seattle!) this coming NYE. But if not, I know where I’m getting my fix, and it ain’t gonna be any kind of faked or “enhanced” display.

Insert Annual Blessing Here

The new year is supposed to be a time of change. Hanging a new calendar. Making resolutions to improve oneself.

What we often forget is that it’s also a time to renew the old.

“Auld Lang Syne” is, after all, a reminder to cherish what’s behind us–those who have passed, those places we won’t visit again–and drink to their memories. It’s not an invocation of what’s coming.

So take a moment today for your own auld lang syne. So what if it’s a day late. Even a few days, weeks, or months don’t matter. As long as you keep those memories, they’ll keep you.

New Years is also a time to renew traditions. That song is one, certainly, but so are spending time with friends and making new friends.

There are personal traditions as well. Our original Backyard Bowl is long gone, but Maggie continues to put out food every day. That’s a tradition that goes back to at least 2013.

Meet G’aw.

He’s the most reliable visitor to the current Backyard Bowl; most days he’s waiting when Maggie takes the food out.

We continue our tradition of naming visitors by appearance. He’s Grey tabby and white, but that’s unwieldy for daily use, and the acronym is unpronounceable, even to one who grew up reading science fiction about aliens whose names generally lacked vowels. So, one quick apostrophization, and “G’aw” he has become.

Let me clear: we have no plans to lure him inside. Indeed, we continue to make plans so as to not lure him indoors, or even into the catio.

He’s acceptably friendly: he says hello from a cautious distance; waits for Maggie to come inside before approaching the bowl; and hangs around in the yard when he’s done eating, but quickly abandons even the best patches of sun if he hears us come outside. That’s about right.

Old tradition, new friend.

Happy New Year. May it be better than the last one; indeed, as the old-and-possibly-faux Irish proverb has it, may it be better than you deserve. Because really, at this point, I don’t think there’s anybody reading this blog who deserves the kind of years we’ve been getting lately.

Inevitably

What is it about me and Christmas?

It wasn’t all that long ago that I was gifted with kidney stones.

This year, Christmas began with a headache and mild nausea. A couple of Ibuprofen took care of the first, and breakfast largely resolved the latter. The lassitude and general unwillingness to move I blamed on “weekend” and “interrupted sleep due to pre-Christmas work schedules.” All went well until late evening, when the shivers started.

A couple of minutes, I could have blamed on the not-so-great insulation in our walls–nighttime temperatures around here have been in the low forties lately–but when they go on for the larger part of an hour, one has to admit to sickness. In any year that didn’t begin with “202”, I’d have said “seasonal flu” and retired to my bed. Not this decade, of course.

Sunday, I skipped breakfast–a once-every-half-decade-or-so event–because the thought of anything with any sugar in it made me a bit green around the gills. Fortunately, the chills had stopped, because finding my way to a testing center* while shivering violently would have been problematic. Pre-emptively called out sick to work for my Monday shift, ate a small dinner with no dessert, and basically fell asleep, rousing only to feed felines.

* Big “thank you”s to the person who recommended that testing center and to the staff who explained how to work the system so they could take me as a walk-in.

Felt much more functional on Monday. Got the results in the afternoon and, no surprise, they were positive*. So, despite being almost back to normal–as I write this on Tuesday, I’ve got a sore throat and am intermittently sneezy; at this rate of improvement, I should feel fine by the end of the week–I’m sidelined for an indefinite period.

* For the record, Maggie got tested on Tuesday, despite being largely asymptomatic, and we expect to get official word of her status sometime today.

Naturally, this has been playing out against the backdrop of the CDC’s new recommendation for shorter quarantines. Will they be adopted by my corporate masters? Or, more importantly, by my cow-orkers? They really ought to have some say in the matter.

Because, frankly, it’s only a matter of time before COVID-19 nails them too–as several people have said, it’s a minor miracle it took this long for me to get it–and I fully support what I assume is their desire to put it off as long as possible.

Regardless, the weirdest thing about the whole experience so far has been how normal it’s felt, and how matter-of-fact everybody has been about it.

“Hey, I’ve contracted a potentially life-threatening disease, and I might have given it to you, too.” “Don’t sweat it. Get lots of rest and feel better.”

I mean, yes, I’m fully vaxxed and boostered. It’s probably omicron*.

* The next person who tells me that omicron’s comparatively mild symptoms mean the end of COVID-19 is near is getting smacked across the face. The next variant could have omicron’s breakthrough infection abilities with symptoms as severe (or even worse) than the original strain. And the next person who refuses to get vaccinated because “omicron isn’t so bad” gets a baseball bat to the head–if you’re not vaccinated, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get omicron, rather than some other variant when your number comes up.

But still.

It’s not that people seem numb. It’s just, COVID-19 has become normal. A part of daily life.

And it’s putting me off balance. I expected to feel more alarm.

All Scrooging Aside…

Or is that “Grinching”?

I did, just yesterday, hear a Christmas song I enjoyed: Jethro Tull’s interpretation of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”.

Why did I enjoy it? Partly because it was instrumental, so I didn’t have to deal with the lyrics and partly because it was a heavily jazz-influenced interpretation–remember what I was saying about doing something different?

Mostly, though, it was because I’d never heard it. At all, much less seventy-‘leven times this week.

Anyway, as the post title has it, you’re not here today to listen to me rant about music. I know what you really want.

A rare moment of amity, no doubt seasonally inspired.

Kokoro isn’t exactly known for sharing, but lately she has been allowing Rhubarb to join her on the heat pad. The weather has been chilly, and nobody wants cold toe beans, so kudos to Ms. Kokopoof for her contribution to familial harmony.

A Musical “Bah, Humbug!”

Apparently “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is the hot song this year. I’ve heard at least five different versions of it.

Which, well…As Christmas songs go, it’s one of the better ones. It’s not promoting consumer greed, hyping any particular religion, or wallowing in tears (“Last Christmas,” I’m looking at you).

But like any much-covered song, the versions run together in memory. C’mon, folks, if you’re not going to bring something new to the song, don’t bother. And no, putting it in a different key so it fits in your vocal range doesn’t count. Tweak the lyrics. Try a different style, or unique instrumentation.

As for the rest of the Christmas playlist, I stand by the post’s subject line.

Remember, I’m trapped in Retail Hell: I have to listen to this stuff all day, every day. And thanks to COVID-19, I can’t even fall back on Odysseus’ solution: wax in my ears would be doable, but I can’t read lips through a mask.

At this point, with three shopping days left until Christmas, I’m firmly convinced that those references to “sleighing” in “Jingle Bells” are typos. Without question, it’s actually a “slaying” song. And probably references all the fun things you can do with an axe.

As for “The Little Drummer Boy,” why do people keep singing this one? Forget the old joke about the last thing any new mother wants is somebody whamming on a drum near her sleeping offspring; the song represents everything that’s wrong about Christmas songs: the message is that if you don’t give something you’re nothing–with a healthy side dish of “them what has, gets”.

TLDB is my slaying song: next time it comes on the store speakers, I will, in the immortal words of Douglas Adams, go straight to the audio system with a very large axe and give it a reprogramming it’ll never forget.

To be fair, much of my ire with Christmas songs is due to overexposure. Which puts the blame on whatever marketing person builds the playlists. This is definitely one area where diversity doesn’t even get lip service.

Insert your own rant about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa here. I’m resigned to it being Christmas 24/7 for another four days; I just want a little–or, better yet, a lot–more variety.

There must be some Christmas raps–original ones, not just covers of existing tunes–and hip-hop celebrations of the season. Where are the Spanish-language songs, original or translation? I haven’t heard one yet.

Ah, well. Here’s hoping for a “Silent Night” as covered by John Cage.