New Cave

The fuzzies have a new lair. To nobody’s surprise, Watanuki tried it out as soon as it was unpacked.
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He must have found it satisfactory because he didn’t waste any time getting back inside when we put it in its permanent location.
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No, he didn’t ride upstairs in it, but I think he might have tried if we hadn’t waited until he was distracted by food.

‘Nuki’s infatuation with it lasted all of a day and half before he went back to sleeping on the bed.

Which just gave others a chance to try it out.
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Yes, the TV Cave has the Rufus Seal of Approval.

Transit Talk

Shall we start with some good news? I think we should.

Word from the engineers studying the Transbay Transit Center beam cracks is that they’ve ruled out a design flaw as the cause of the problem. That means once the cracked beams are repaired (or, presumably, replaced) we should get decades of use out of the terminal.

Granted, we still don’t know what the underlying problem is or how long repairs will take. In theory, we’ll know the answer to the first question by the end of November–but don’t forget the difference between theory and practice. And, although the engineers are already planning repair procedures based on a variety of likely scenarios, implementing those plans could still take months.

But let’s focus on the positives here. Based on what we know now, unlike the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch, the TTC’s problem seems to be limited in scope and unlikely to recur. That’s a big win.

To be fair, however, all is not sweetness and light in TTC-Land. The San Francisco County Transportation Authority–an alias for the city’s district supervisors–voted to withhold tax money that had been slated to go toward the next phase of the Transit Center*. The SFCTA is also calling for an investigation of the whole project and the Joint Powers Authority, which currently oversees the TTC.

* Laying new railroad tracks to bring Caltrain into the Transit Center.

An extended delay could permanently derail the train project (sorry). That would make the TTC a mindbogglingly expensive bus-only project.

Stay tuned to see how this one plays out.

Meanwhile, BART is taking steps to ensure that we don’t lack for expensive transit projects to worry about. They’re about to present plans for a second connection between San Francisco and the East Bay.

I hesitate to call it a second Transbay Tube, as early reports suggest it could be an above-ground project associated with one of the existing auto bridges.

According to the Chron, construction wouldn’t even start for another decade, which does make me wonder if we’re going to get a reprise of the Bay Bridge’s extended design and implementation. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to see them rush in and give us something half-assed.

Still, ten years of planning should produce plenty of blog fodder. That’s a good thing, I think.

And one final Bay Area transportation note. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is considering a plan to do away with toll booths.

No, that doesn’t mean doing away with tolls. Don’t be silly.

The goal would be to go to all-electronic toll collection, something that’s already been done on about 20% of the country’s bridges and tunnels.

There are some good arguments around cost savings and safety to be made in favor of the change, but there are also some unanswered questions to be dealt with.

Most notably, in a region as heavily dependent on tourism as the Bay Area, how does electronic collection work for someone driving a rental car? I hope the MTC isn’t figuring that Uber and Lyft are going to put Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise out of business any time soon.

I also wonder just how much support the MTC will have for some of the ideas they’re considering under an all-electronic toll regime. Congestion pricing is never popular, but I could see it happening.

But implementing tolls on traffic in both directions seems like a plan designed for failure. If you thought the gas tax caused a major upset, just wait until voters hear that a round trip across the Bay Bridge is going to cost $15.

BART had better hurry up with that second Bay crossing. When the price tag for driving hits two or three times what transit costs, we might actually get a few drivers off the road. (Yeah, I know. That’s my optimistic side speaking.)

Confusion To the Enemy

For the past several days, the sports section of the Chron has been full of articles about a pending game between the Giants and the 49ers. This has engendered a certain amount of confusion.

Clarification for those of you who don’t do sportsball of any sort: San Francisco’s football team is the 49ers. San Francisco’s baseball team is the Giants. Some little town on the East Coast also has a football team named the Giants.

I have to wonder, though, who would come out on top in a game between the two San Francisco teams. The 49ers are rather woeful this season. Maybe they’d be better in a sport where the opponent isn’t allowed to leap on the guy with the ball. On the other hand, the SF Giants were rather woeful themselves. I’d suggest they try another sport as well, but given their injury-prone ways, offering them a free concussion with every play seems unnecessarily cruel.

(For the record, the NY Giants aren’t looking so hot either. But they did manage to be just a little bit better than the 49ers and improve their record to 2-7.)

Anyway, it’s fortunate for my ability to track events of national importance that there aren’t many of this sort of cross-sport name collision. The Cardinals play football in Arizona and baseball in St. Louis, which must make for some interesting scheduling in September and October. That’s about it for active conflicts, though.

Historically, the Washington Senators switched from baseball to hockey when they moved to Ottawa. A complete change of, well, everything, was probably a wise decision, given that it took them two decades to move, leaving D.C. in 1972 and not settling in Canada until 1992. Moving sucks, but that’s no reason to stretch out the process interminably*.

* Hint, hint, Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders.

There’s surprisingly little confusion between baseball’s Kansas City Royals and basketball’s Sacramento Kings. That may owe more to the latter team’s ongoing irrelevance–they haven’t made the playoffs since the 2005/06 season, haven’t made it past the first round since 2003/04, and haven’t won a championship since 1950/51.

The real winner in the confusion game, though, has to be the thinly-disguised triple-sport team. They play basketball in Atlanta as the “Hawks,” hockey as the “Blackhawks” in Chicago, and football in Seattle as the “Seahawks”. And yes, it does engender a little confusion when headline writers refer to the later two as the “‘Hawks”. It’s easy to overlook that leading apostrophe.

Fringe Benefit

If recent posts have given you the impression that Watanuki is being more of an asshole than usual, you’ve gotten the right message.

Unfortunately, Rufus has been the main recipient of Mr. Knuckles’s counter-social behavior. As a result, he’s been spending time in Maggie’s office.

See, that’s Kaja’s territory.
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She rules the room with an iron paw and steel claws, only barely hidden beneath the velvet fur. More importantly, ‘Nuki isn’t allowed in there.

There’s been some hissing and some aggrieved looks, but by and large, it’s been peaceful.
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Not all catnip and sunlight, but relatively peaceful. From Rufus’ perspective, it’s much quieter than the rest of the house.

As a fringe benefit, Rufus has also been establishing better relations with Kokoro, who’s been spending time in Maggie’s office for much longer than he has.
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They’re not best buddies, but they’re coexisting nicely.

And cutely.
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Cheery News

I said on Tuesday that I wanted to save today for some cheerier news. That news is that I’ve finished the revisions to Like Herding Cats.

Actually, to be totally honest, I haven’t quite finished. I’ve got one chapter to go, so–barring a total computer meltdown*–I will finish today.

* I really, really hope I didn’t just jinx myself…But what are the odds of four different computers dropping dead at the same time? No, don’t answer that; I’m happier not knowing.

Finishing the book doesn’t mean you’ll be able to read it soon, unfortunately. As I’ve said before, publishing is a glacially-slow business. Let me run through the next steps for anyone who’s curious.

I’m still not interested in self-publishing. That means I’m looking for a so-called “traditional publisher”.

Some of you may be wondering “What about Poisoned Pen?” Well, see, PPP is a mystery publisher. LHC isn’t a mystery. So, even if PPP wanted to publish everything I wrote, they wouldn’t be a good fit in this case. Publishing isn’t just about printing the physical book and formatting the ebook. Just to give one example, publicity and marketing (two different things, though there is some overlap) require genre-specific knowledge, and PPP doesn’t have that knowledge for the sort of fantasy I write.

While some publishers, especially smaller presses, will accept submissions directly from authors, many require–or at least strongly prefer–agented submissions.

So I need an agent.

Finding an agent is like getting an acting job. You have to audition. A lot. Agents get literally hundreds of applications (“queries”) every week. How many are they likely to accept? Depends who you ask, but I’d be surprised if the average was as high as a dozen a year.

Why so few? It’s not because they’re looking for a surefire bestseller. There isn’t such a critter. They’re looking for a book they think they can sell. Or, in many cases, they’re looking for an author they think they can sell. Because they don’t want to just sell one book, they want to sell lots of books. A good author/agent relationship lasts a lifetime.

Which means agents are justifiably picky. And authors have to sell their books multiple times. First with a query letter that introduces the book and the author. It needs to make the book sound appealing enough for the agent to look at the first few pages. Those first few pages need to be interesting enough for the agent to ask the writer for more–sometimes the whole book, sometimes just a larger sample.

This is not a speedy process. A good agent is going to prioritize their current clients over prospective ones, so their query reading time is limited. Most agents need a month or more to respond, and then, if they’ve requested more of the book, they’ll need more months to read that.

That’s grossly undersimplified, but you get the idea. In the best of all possible worlds, LHC might take six months to find me an agent*. In a not-so-good world, it could be a year to eighteen months.

* In the worst of all possible worlds, it won’t find an agent at all. Splat Squad didn’t, and neither did Lord Peter. If one of them had, I wouldn’t be sending LHC out looking.

But let’s be optimistic. I find an agent, and then I can look forward to LHC hitting the shelves, right?

Nope. First, the agent is probably going to recommend another revision. No book is perfect, just like no software is free of bugs. The agent will want me to tweak LHC to make it better (which includes, but isn’t limited to, making it more salable.)

And then the agent has to sell the book to a publisher. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that process takes time. After all, it’s very much like querying an agent.

Let’s be optimistic here as well, and figure it takes six months. Might be more–or never–but it probably won’t be less (there are plenty of stories of agents not selling the book that convinced them to sign an author until years after they’ve established a successful career with other books.)

So now we’re a year out–end of 2019–but we’ve got a book deal. Surprise! We’re still not close to publication. The publisher is going to want a round of revisions. No book is perfect, right? Right. And the publication process takes time as well.

Contracts are being signed right now for books to be published in late 2020.

Sure, PPP did it a lot faster with TRTT. There were reasons to accelerate the process, reasons that wouldn’t apply to LHC.

Bottom line, if everything breaks perfectly, you’ll be getting a copy of LHC for Christmas in 2021. And by that time, I should have three or more additional books going through the sell/revise/publish process.

Someone out there is undoubtedly reading this and saying “How is this cheery news?”

The old saying is “You can’t win if you don’t play the game.” I’m playing the game. Finishing the book and sending it out on query is a win. Small, perhaps, but any victory is cheery.

Good News / Bad News

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I’ve got bad news and good news.

The bad news is that it’s too late to get a cool sticker like the one at the top of the post–the rare, three-word special edition.

The good news is that there’s still time to get the regular edition, which is almost as rare. It doesn’t have that third word, but that third word is the least important of the three.

Go exercise your franchise. It’s the Right Thing To Do.


Okay, so you’ve voted. Now what?

I’m going to dump some depressing news on you here, because I want to get it all out of the way at once and save Thursday for something cheerier.

The message is this: even if there’s a massive blue wave that give Democrats control of both the House and the Senate, we don’t win anything.

Don’t get me wrong. Taking control of Congress is a necessary step to repairing the damage done to the country over the last two years (and the fifty years before that). But in itself, it’s not enough to fix anything. At most it’ll prevent more damage.

Because, while Congress can block a judicial or cabinet nomination, it can’t make nominations. Suppose Kavanaugh gets hit by a bus. A Democrat-controlled Senate can block whatever conservative candidate the White House picks–and hand the Republicans another talking point about obstructionist Democrats–but they can’t offer a liberal candidate.

A Democratic Congress can pass laws, but can’t force the president to sign them. There’s no way to get enough Democratic congresscritters to establish a veto-proof supermajority in both houses. Not in 2018, anyway.

Nor, and let’s be brutally honest here, would a two-thirds majority in both houses do any good. The modern use of a signing statement to, in essence, say “This law doesn’t apply to me,” gives the White House an out, as does the option of simply ignoring any inconvenient legislation. Remember the Russian sanctions of 2017?

Don’t forget, as well, that newly-elected representatives don’t take their seats until January. That still leaves the current administration a couple of months to rush through as much legislation as they can.

As I said, flipping Congress is a necessary step. But it’s a holding action. This is the beginning of a long, hard fight, not the end. See you at the polls in 2020, 2022, 2024,…

There’s Always One

As Thanksgiving approaches, the neighborhood gang is out in force.

They do it every year; a kind of ongoing, silent (usually) demonstration of solidarity with their domesticated brethren.
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Not everyone is with the program, though. Did you notice Tom? Here’s a better look as they continued down the street.
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Yeah, up there at the top of the picture. There’s always one guy who goes his own way.

Maybe Tom is in a world of his own. Maybe he figures he’s got enough problems of his own, staying out of the jaws of the local coyotes; who cares what happens to a bunch of domestic turkeys he’s never met? Or maybe he’s a Wild Supremacist, actively promoting the elimination of lesser sub-species.

Regardless of his motivations, he does eventually join back up with the rest of the gang.
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At which point, of course, they all give him the ol’ hairy eyeball and break the silence of the march. As best I can tell–I’ve forgotten most of the Turkeyish I learned in school–the commentary boils down to something like, “Geez, Tom, you are such an effin’ turkey!”

To which Tom, of course, replies maturely, “Takes one to know one, guys.”

SAST 12

Welcome to the twelfth production of Short Attention Span Theater. This installment is brought to you, not by hay fever and inconveniently draped felines, but by Like Herding Cats. I’m deeply enmeshed in what I hope will be the final revision, and don’t want to take the time to develop complete thoughts about much of anything right now.

Act One: Apple introduced new hardware earlier this week. No, not iPhones; that was back in September. The latest goodies-to-be are a new MacBook Air, a new iPad Pro, and a new Mac Mini.

I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about the laptop and tablet. I’ve never used a MacBook of any sort, and while the iPad Pro sounds like a nice bit of gear, it’s way to rich for my wallet–and massively overpowered for my tablet needs.

That said, I do appreciate Apple replacing the iPad Pro’s Lightening Port with a USB-C port. One less bit of proprietary gear, and more access to existing third-party hardware.

As for the Mini, I’ve got mixed feelings there. I’ve got an original Mac Mini around here someplace. It’s not in use because its power supply has wandered off, but it was a nice piece of kit in its day. I’m glad to see Apple hasn’t killed off the line, but I’m sad to see that they’re changing its emphasis.

The original point of the Mini was to bring in non-Apple users. As such, it was cheap. Cheap to the point of almost entirely forgoing the usual Apple markup. It seems, however, that Apple has decided the Mini has attracted all the Windows users it’s going to, and so they’ve decided to make it a more “professional” machine.

In case you didn’t realize it, in the tech industry, the word professional means “more expensive”. As such, the price has gone up $300. It’s still a good deal for the price, but it’s not as good a deal as it used to be.

Act Two: Our darling president’s latest threatpromise has been getting a lot of press, as usual. No, not that one. No, not that one either. I mean the one about wiping out birthright citizenship.

All the hysterical responses to the effect of “He can’t do that! It’s unconstitutional!” are missing the point.

First of all, “unconstitutional” is what the Supreme Court says it is. If you believe the current lineup of justices is a threat to abortion rights, why would you think they’d be any less of a threat to citizenship?

Secondly, Trump doesn’t care whether he can “do it”. It’s a distraction. Just the latest of many. When was the last time you saw any news about Russian interference in the upcoming election?

Third, nobody can actually stop him from issuing a proclamationan executive order. He may well go ahead and do it, on the theory that even if it doesn’t squeeze past the Supreme Court, it’ll be tied up there for months, leaving everyone scared–the administration’s preferred mental state–and providing the Republicans with the chance to spin the battle as “Democrats are soft on immigration.”

Third-and-a-halfth, if there is an executive order, you can be sure it’ll be written to exclude children whose parents are from countries that aren’t on Trump’s shit list. Because there’s nothing the administration would like better than than to divide the opposition by carving out a block of people who are going to feel like they dodged a bullet. Those are the ones who’ll be shouting the loudest about how Trump’s not such a bad guy after all…

Act Three: We end this production on a cheerier note.

The Austin Lounge Lizards are still doing their thing, thirty-eight years down the road (only eighteen years less than the Rolling Stones!)

Maggie and I went to last night’s show at the Freight and Salvage* in Berkeley. The band’s had a line-up change since the last time we saw them, which suggests that it’s been too long since we last went to one of their shows. It happens. The current group seems solid, though.

* Temporarily renamed the “Fright and Savage”. Though we were disappointed to see that the e and l on their neon sigh were left uncovered.

Granted, there were a few rough edges here and there, but to be fair, it’s probably been two decades or more since some of those songs were on their setlist.

The Lizards have tried out a number of things over the years–you can get damn stale doing the same thing over and over (Rolling Stones, anyone?)–including flirtations with folk, gospel, rap, and a few other styles that are currently eluding me.

The current experiment is with medleys, pairing (and sometimes tripling and quadling) selections from their back catalog with songs from across the rock and roll era–all in their inimitable bluegrass style. By and large, it works. I didn’t know the world needed a bluegrass rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep,” but now that we have one, I’m convinced we’re all better for the experience. (For the record, “Creep” goes very nicely with “Shallow End of the Gene Pool,” an instrumental take on The Stones’ “Paint It, Black,” and The Doors’ “When You’re Strange.”)

The current California mini-tour hits Winters tonight, Felton tomorrow, Culver City on Saturday, and winds up with an Election Night show in Houston, TX. Yeah, I know Houston isn’t in California–and thank all the deities for that–but that’s the Lizards for you. If you can make one of the shows, do it. Show some support for an American icon.

Winter Is Still Coming

And so another MLB season comes to its end.

But before we look ahead to the long, dark, cold winter* that lies ahead, let’s look back. All the way back to April, when I made my annual playoff predictions.

* Disclaimer: Thanks to climate change and your local geography and climatology, some or all of those characteristics may not apply.

What with one thing and another, last year’s review got rather shorted. This year, I aim to do better.

Let’s start with the first set of predictions: the teams that I expected to make the playoffs. My overall average for the years I’ve been making predictions is right around 50%. That’s actually pretty good, considering that random chance would put the odds for any one pick around 33%. Did I improve my average this year?

Well, in the American League, I picked the Yankees, White Sox, Astros, Rays, and Athletics. The correct teams: Yankees, Indians, Astros, Red Sox, and Athletics. Three out of five! Note that, had I gone with differently colored socks, my feet would have been just as warm, and I’d have made four out of five.

As for the senior circuit, I called out the Mets, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Braves, and Pirates. Reality offered up the Braves, Brewers, Dodgers, Cubs, and Rockies. Um. Two out of five.

Hitting .500 would be a fabulous job on the diamond. Record setting, in fact. Out in Prognostication Land, it’s not so hot. Better than chance, but it’s not going to do much for my position when it comes time to negotiate my contract for next season. On the bright side, my record this year didn’t ruin my lifetime average.

As for my playoff prediction, well…

Let’s not wallow in depressing matters. I picked the Astros over the Braves in seven games. The actual World Series teams were…wait for it…the Red Sox and Dodgers, two teams I completely failed to pick to make the playoffs.

Nor did it go to seven games. A bare five–though we could make a case for six, since we did get nine extra innings in Game Three. Still not seven, though.

And no, onward. Winter is coming. Anyone got any great new ideas for how to fill the baseball-free void which lies ahead?

Winter Is Coming

And no, I’m not talking George R.R. Martin.

We are seeing the first signs of winter’s approach. Specifically, cats hogging the heat registers.
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Rhubarb’s been doing it for years. He’s got the technique down: block the entire vent so no heat escapes his fur.

Since the overnight temperatures dropped to a glacial 55 degrees or so, he’s been at one vent or another most mornings. Never mind that it’s a good ten degrees warmer inside. Everyone knows it’s the psychological effect of the cold outdoors that does it.

Sachiko doesn’t quite have the details sorted.
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Maybe it’s because she’s younger and hasn’t worked out all of the ramifications.

Or perhaps she just doesn’t feel the cold in her bones as much as her older brother.

But regardless, she knows her extremities get colder than her torso, and she’s figured out what to do to avoid a frostbitten tail.
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Anyone want some nicely toasted caudal vertebrae? Just the thing for breakfast on a pre-winter morning. Sachiko thinks so. Or maybe she’s just grooming. I don’t think her tail is any shorter today than yesterday.