Balance

I try to keep my posts fair and balanced. In that spirit, here’s a shot of Tuxie doing his fence-walking act.
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The really impressive part–which I entirely failed to photograph–was him walking across the gate a couple of body lengths behind him.

In a different sort of balance, here’s a shot of Rhubarb, who hasn’t gotten much coverage lately.
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The quizzical expression on his face is the result of me, Maggie, Kokoro, and Yuki all coming into the room at the same time. Rhubarb is wondering exactly what he did that warranted so much attention.

(And yes, this post is late. No excuses: I just plain forgot to prepare it last night. My apologies.)

Progress

I’m a pantser.

No, no, not that. Get your minds out of elementary school.

There are two approaches to writing, at least when it comes to fiction: Pantsers and Plotters.

Plotters plan their books in excruciating detail. Before they write one word of the story, they’ve created backstories for all the characters; outlined the entire plot, chapter by chapter; and know the final word count–within reasonable limits, of course, say plus or minus 250 words. Pantsers have no idea where they’re going; they just start writing.

That’s a generalization, of course, and like all such, it’s only semi-accurate. Most writers will admit that it’s more of a spectrum than a dichotomy. But more often than not, they’ll still place themselves at one or the other end of the spectrum.

So, yeah, I’m up there at the “pantser” end. I do plan. But rarely more than a chapter ahead. Usually as I approach the end of a chapter, I start to get some hints about what’s going to happen in the next one.

But not always, and that’s a problem. Like this: My daily goal for first drafts is 500 words. I don’t expect them to be good words, and I don’t get upset if I write less. It’s just a way to remind myself that words need to hit the virtual page. Those of you who know about my obsessive counting behavior may be surprised to hear that I don’t track my daily word count. I just check it at the end of the day and pat myself on the back if I’ve met my goal.

That said, some things are memorable. My best day ever was 3,300 words. Of course, the next day I only managed 450–quite possibly the worst day in which I actually got any words written. That may be why I don’t feel compelled to track the daily results: even my subconscious knows that it all averages out.

But back to the main thread. This week has been unusually productive so far: 1,200 words on Monday, 1,400 Tuesday, and 1,500 Wednesday. Each of those has been my best day since October.

Which is great and all, but it is a problem because the week isn’t over. If today or Friday–or, worse yet, both–continue the trend, I’m going to hit the end of my current plan by the end of the week.

And I have no idea what’s going to happen next.

That means I’m facing an indeterminate period of staring at the screen and nagging my characters to do something. I’ll probably have to force them to do something stupid–something they’ll hate me for and that I know will be cut in a later draft because it’s totally out of character for them–just to get the action rolling again.

But while progress on The As-Yet-Nameless Project is about to stop, The RagTime Traveler continues to move ahead.

Back in December I said “Reviews are critical to a book’s success”? In particular, professional reviews are what bookstores and libraries use in deciding what books to buy. And TRTT just got its first professional review.

Kirkus Reviews is one of the major sources of reviews* used by booksellers and librarians. A good review there can only help.

* Per the New York Times, the others are Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal.

And yes, it’s a good review. They say it’s “…filled with warmth and wonder and interesting music trivia…”

Ahh… Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Suddenly, I’m less perturbed by Nameless’ approaching dead end.

SAST 3

More short notes, not because I have a short attention span*, but because I’ve collected a few items that just don’t warrant a whole post to themselves.

* Well, no shorter than usual, anyway. Yes, the flu is mostly gone. Despite the ongoing coughs, my lungs are still inside my chest, rather than splattered across the keyboard, and my temperature has been normal for more than a week.

Last June, NASA announced the discovery of a small asteroid, 2016 HO3, which orbits the sun on a path that keeps it near the Earth. Near in astrophysical terms, that is: it never gets closer than about thirty-eight times as far away as the moon.

The animation at that link is a little deceptive. It seems to show the asteroid orbiting Earth, but if I’m reading the story correctly, that’s not really true. It’s on a separate orbit around the sun, but because it’s sometimes closer to the sun than we are and sometimes further, it appears to be circling us.

What I find most interesting about 2016 HO3, though, is that I’m starting to see tweets suggesting that it’s existence means that Earth should no longer be considered a planet.

You remember the fuss a few years ago when the IAU redefined the word “planet” and demoted Pluto to a “dwarf planet”? If you don’t, pick up a copy of How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown–actually, pick up a copy even if you do remember; it’s an entertaining read–to refresh your memory.

Part of the new definition is that to be a planet, a celestial body has to “clear the neighborhood” around its orbit, meaning that in the late stages of planet formation, it should either sweep up the smaller bodies near its orbit, incorporating them into itself; capture them as satellites; or shove them into orbits away from its own.

However, such neighborhood clearance is never perfect. The presence of 2016 HO3 is not going to get Earth demoted to “dwarf planet”. Sorry, Pluto-lovers.

Moving on.

A story out of Maine has been popular with those who feel strongly about grammar and punctuation. There’s a good writeup at Quartz; briefly, a court based its ruling on the lack of an Oxford comma.

Long-time readers know I love me some Oxford comma. But, happy as I am to see the question get some judicial notice, I’m well aware that one court decision isn’t going to make any difference. The AP isn’t going to change its stance on the use of commas. Neither is Maine’s style guide for legislation. But I can–and will–dream.

And finally.

One of the proposals being considered for speeding up baseball games is to start extra innings with men on base. I was dubious when I first heard about the notion. After seeing it in “action” last night, I’m completely revolted.

Yeah, it shortened the game. In an aesthetically impoverished way that sucked all of the joy out of what should have been a thrilling conclusion to the Netherlands/Puerto Rico World Baseball Classic game.

Consider how both halves of the eleventh inning started. Runners were plopped down on first and second. The first batter laid down a sacrifice bunt. The second batter was intentionally walked–yes, that same intentional walk that MLB is killing off this year because it’s boring. That brings it down to one less-than-thrilling question: will the next batter hit into a double play, or manage a sacrifice fly.

Sure, there are other possible outcomes. Never assume the double play–the throw to first could go sailing into the seats. The batter could get a base hit, even a grand slam. He could strike out. But those are all low-probability events.

Where’s the fun in watching where the strategic choices are so constrained that neither manager could justify a different approach?

If Commissioner Manfred forces this rule change down our throats next year, as seems likely, I predict a major dropoff in attendance.

Integration 2

We’re still working on giving Rufus the freedom of the house. He’s making progress, but it’s slow.

Part of it is on Rufus; he seems to have the idea that we don’t want him to leave his room. When we leave the door open, he waits until we’re not around, and then he sneaks out. As soon as he sees one of us–or even hears us approaching–he retreats to his turf.

We can’t even lure him out of the room to accept cuddles in the hall. He’ll come right up to the door, flop down a careful half-inch inside the room, and roll onto his back for a tummy rub. I’ve started carrying him one Rufus-length outside the door for pettings. He’s accepting it, but it’s too soon to know whether there will be any long-term benefit.

And Rufus is going further on his exploratory expeditions than he did early on. We’ve found him (briefly) in the front hall, two floors away from his safe space. So there’s hope.

The biggest part of Rufus’ failure to integrate, however, is named “Watanuki”. Or, as we’re calling him more and more often, “Mr. Asshole”.

‘Nuki misses no opportunity to steal Rufus’ catnip toys, hunt for scraps of food in his bowls, use his litter box, and generally take every chance he can to invade Rufus’ personal space.

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Note the “Will you get this schmuck out of here?” look on Rufus’ face and ‘Nuki’s “I’m not touching you. I’m not touching you.” expression.

We haven’t seen much in the way of violence, barring the occasional nose-bop, but the political slogan shouting has gotten heated at times.

I suspect the eventual outcome will involve somebody taking a claw to the ear or nose, before they both back down and negotiate a settlement.

Another Failure Mode

Oh, goody! A whole ‘nother way the Internet of Things is getting security wrong.

Last month, security researcher Charles Henderson wrote about his experience trading in his car.

Briefly, both he and the dealer wiped all of his personal information out of the car–phone book, garage door opener, list of authorized devices. And yet, months later, the car still showed up in the app on his phone.

It’s not that the dealer and the manufacturer were unaware of security. Henderson makes it clear that they took the correct steps. But the focus of the team that designed and built the app and integrated it with the car’s systems was obviously on the “first owner” scenario, and not enough attention was paid to the possibility that someone might want to sell their car.

And it’s not just auto makers who have that problem. Henderson mentions another researcher who purchased a used home automation hub and found that doing a factory reset only wiped the configuration on the device itself; it didn’t touch the cloud-based configuration which included, among other things, the list of devices authorized to control the hub.

Right: even after wiping the device, the original owner would still have had access to every light bulb, every thermostat, and every door lock connected to the hub.

Still feeling cheerful about your Amazon Echo or Google Home giving you voice control over your house? After all, you’re not planning to sell that device, are you? No? Well, what if something goes wrong and you have to send it in for service? Are you certain you’re going to get the same device back? How confident are you that your original device won’t wind up being refurbished and resold?

Let’s face it: this isn’t a new problem, and we should have seen it coming. How many stories have you seen in the newspaper about someone buying a used computer and finding porn on the hard drive? Henderson notes that early smartphones lacked a way to wipe them for resale, and it was only after many well-publicized tales of people buying used phones for nefarious purposes that a wipe command was added.

Nor is there a good solution. Even if every new IoT device was designed with security as the first consideration, there are still millions of gadgets out there that have no security and no way to upgrade them to add it. In many cases, the company that made them isn’t even in business any more.

SAST 3

I seem to be fever-free, which is nice. My attention span has improved. I haven’t gotten lost in mid-sentence in almost two days!

The cough is still distracting, however. Writing is a race to get words on the page before I drape my lungs over the keyboard.

Sorry about that image. But it is the only way to accurately describe the sensation.

So, another day of short notes, as I write a bit, cough a bit, lather, rinse, repeat.

Daylight Savings Time, how I loathe thee.

It’s not the lost hour of sleep Saturday night. It’s not the next several days of disrupted sleep. It’s not even the need to reset the non-Internet-connected clocks*–or the confusion to the Backyard Bunch, who are suddenly getting their dinner an hour earlier according to their stomachs.

* The stove. The microwave. The thermostat. The answering machine. The car. Half-a-dozen wall and table clocks. Hey, I just gained two wall outlets by unplugging a clock radio instead of resetting it!

No, what really pisses me off is that I’m suddenly getting up before sunrise again. I like having daylight when I stagger upstairs to say good morning to Rufus and take my first look at e-mail. Why should I have to turn on a light for that?

Mr. Trump, if you want to boost your approval rating, do away with Daylight Savings Time. That’s something both parties and the independents can get behind.

I’ve been following “Jim’s Random Notes” for several years. It’s an interesting mix of computer, wood carving, and cycling geekery. A post last week, North Dakota Mexican Food, amused the heck out of me.

You’ve played the game where one person recreates a drawing based on somebody’s description of the original, right? An NDMF is the culinary equivalent: someone describes a dish, and someone else thinks “Hey, that sounds interesting. Let me see what I can do.”

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t have a NDMF experience? I can think of three right off the top of my head:

  • The Mexican restaurant that thought fajitas were a stew.
  • The diner whose barbeque sauce was red-eye gravy with a couple of chili flakes.
  • The Mexican restaurant that served Saltine crackers instead of chips.

Maybe the Internet will make the NDMF less common. But really, it’s never been particularly hard to find a cookbook…

Moving on.

Google and Apple have been in the news around here lately over their new campuses. Most of the press has been positive, but I’ve noticed they’re both taking a ding in the letter columns because neither company has included housing in their developments.

Excuse me? Yeah, OK, finding housing in the Bay Area can suck. You don’t have to tell me horror stories about extended commutes, thanks; I’ve got plenty of my own.

But do we really want to return to the days of the company town, where your boss owns the factory, the house you live in, the store you shop at, the air you breathe, the booze you drink, and everything else?

Aside from anything else, if the company owns your apartment, it’s a five minute walk from your office, and they own the phone you’re required to carry, are you ever going to get any down time? Or are you going to be unofficially (or officially!) on call twenty-four/seven/three-sixty-five?

I think it would have been wonderful if Apple and Google had included some subsidized affordable housing for non-employees in their construction. Didn’t happen, but would have been great. But captive housing for employees? Bad idea.

Moving on.

Let’s wrap this up with a positive note. I write a lot–a hell of a lot, actually–about useless gadgets full of security holes and loaded with disappointment.

So it’s a real pleasure to write about a gadget that looks like it does exactly what it’s designed to do without putting your money and privacy at risk.

Take a look at the Fidget Cube.

Pretty slick, huh? Everybody fidgets differently, and the Fidget Cube is designed to offer fidgeting options for anyone.

I’ve carried a fingering stone in my pocket for decades. I’ll turn it around in my hand or rub the smooth side with my thumb when I’m on a phone call. Much less distracting than fiddling with the phone cord and quieter than tapping my pen on the desk.

The Fidget Cube’s got me covered with a smooth curve for rubbing on one side. A trackball for spinning. A joystick for sliding.

And several other goodies that I might never use, but somebody else will find addictive. Click-wheels. Toggle switches. Push-buttons. Spinners.

And it looks to be solid enough to stand up to a pocket full of keys, nail clippers, and thumb drives.

Would it replace my rock? Maybe not; it’s hard to top the appeal of a natural object shaped by wind and water. But who says it needs to replace the rock? Why not try some two-handed fidgeting?

Flap

Whenever Maggie fills the bird feeders (affectionately known as the Cat Entertainment Devices), we get swarms of the feathered noisemakers.

I’m not a bird person, so I only recognize three types:
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Jays

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Doves
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Little Twitter Birds

Life is even simpler for Sachiko.
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She calls them all “ek-ek-ek-ek [tail swish]”. As best I can tell–and why doesn’t Google Translate handle Cat/English?–that means “Lemme outta here, Daddy! I’ll moidelize da bums!” ¬†Approximately.

You might think that MM and Tuxie would spend most of their time in the yard, watching and drooling. You would be half right.
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To be fair, MM does spend time keeping an eye on the avian activity.
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It’s not a very aggressive eye, but it is an eye.
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Note the orange little twitter bird at the silver feeder and the gray one at the red feeder, which is almost directly above MM’s head.

Based on our observations of MM’s interactions with the birds, we’re fairly sure that she, like me, has three names for them. About three-quarters of them are “Meh. Too much work.” Two-thirds of the remainder are “Missed it by that much.” And the remaining eight percent?

“See? I don’t need hoomins to feed me.”

SAST 2

That’s Short Attention Span Theater, by the way.

So the highly-anticipated battle for sidewalk dominance between the Wild Turkeys and the Jehovah’s Witnesses fizzled out. Tension was building nicely, with the two groups staring at each other across the intersection. And then the turkeys turned into chickens.

No, not literally. I may be coughing and feverish, but the fever isn’t that high.

The birds dressed their ranks, forming into four files of five birds behind their leader… You know, I’m not even convincing myself here. Actually, the whole flock milled around for a few minutes, then made a sharp right turn into a side street, avoiding conflict entirely.

Just as well. Had the turkeys not backed down, things would have gotten messy. Call it a victory for moral principle (you do know that Jehovah’s Witnesses are conscientious objectors, right?)

Also not happening: despite all the coughs I’ve left under my pillow, the Lung Fairy hasn’t left me a cent. Maybe I should try putting my head under the pillow?

No, the brain reboot hasn’t happened either. You might have guessed.

I did watch some baseball Tuesday. I hadn’t expected it to be educational. Foul balls flying into the seats have been part of the game since its beginning, but with bats–and fragments of shattered bats–finding the seats more often, there’s a good argument for putting up protective netting.

Turns out the Japanese have come up with an approach that satisfies both fans seeking protection and fans who prefer the traditional mode. There’s netting running dugout to dugout, giving protection to fans in the highest risk area. But there are also seats in front of the netting: seats that come with a helmet, a glove, and a warning card describing the risks of sitting in the section.

Try that in the US and half the helmets would be broken and three-quarters of the gloves stolen by the All-Star Break.

In the sections beyond the netting, where there’s typically more time to react to a foul ball, the ushers are equipped with whistles, which they blow when a ball is headed toward their section. Imagine the lawsuits arguing that either the whistle wasn’t blown soon enough, or that the constant whistle blowing ruins fans’ enjoyment of the game.

A shame, really. That’s the kind of compromise I could support.

What I can’t support is the term “extra bases” for a double. I heard that a lot Tuesday. A double isn’t extra bases. At most, it’s extra base. Singular. And even that’s arguable.

Do the math, people. Yeah, right. I did the math for you. Blame any errors on my cough syrup.

Anyway.

According to MLB’s statistics, there were 42,276 hits during the 2016 regular season. 27,539 of those, just over 65%, were singles. So yes, singles were arguably the default hit, and a double would be “extra base”.

But there’s another way to look at it, one just as valid. Throw in the 8,254 doubles, 5,610 home runs, and 873 triples, and we find that the average hit in 2016 was worth a smidge over 1.6 bases. So that double? Yeah.

“Looks like an extra four-tenths of a base for Ortiz.”

Sure, it sounds a little odd. But we’ll get used to it, and it does far less violence to the English language than awarding multiple extra bases to a guy who’s clearly not even going to try to stretch his line drive off the wall into a triple.

SAST

Just so you know, I’m part of the majority these days. Specifically, the majority of people who had their flu shots this winter. Turns out this is one of those years where the vaccine was significantly less effective than we all hoped–according to my doctor, sixty percent of those who got their shots also got the flu.

On the bright side, that means forty percent didn’t get it. I regard you lucky minority with envy.

I tell you this not because I’m advocating against flu shots. Quite the contrary. I’m well aware that some years are better than others, and we just drew the short straw this time around. I’ll get my shot next year, and the year after, and so on until medicine comes up with something better. Hell, I’d get my shot even if I knew 40% was the best it could do. It’d be worth it to have a shot at being in that group.

Nor am I telling you this because I’m looking for sympathy or because I’m announcing a temporary suspension of civil libertiesthe blog. Posts will continue. They just may not be hugely coherent.

Yeah, go ahead and get it out of your system. “How can we tell the difference?” I know there’s at least one wiseass out there thinking exactly that. I’m going to ignore you with dignity.

Right now my attention span compares unfavorably to Sachiko’s. She’s seamlessly shifting between watching birds at the feeder and sleeping in front of the heat vent. That’s about one and a half more things than I can do right now. And I can’t even blame it on drugs. No, this is all on my body, too busy diverting resources to the battle against the viral invader to spare anything for linear thought.

Look, it’s so bad, I can’t even turn on a ball game until I finish the blog post. If I were to turn it on, I’d bounce back and forth between the computer and the game, appreciating neither and–

Excuse me. I was watching a flock of turkeys walking up the street. They’re about to collide with a crew of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This should be interesting. My money’s on the birds winning right of way.

Unless the Witnesses make a fort out of their copies of The Watchtower. Then maybe they can stand off the birds by hiding inside and playing loud music. “All Along the Watchtower,” maybe? Hendrix version, naturally. Turkeys, being contrary souls, would probably prefer the original Dylan version.

Where was I?

Oh, right. Who needs coherency anyway? Other than laser manufacturers, that is. An incoherent laser is just a power-hungry flashlight.

Sorry. I’ll shut up and go watch some baseball now. See you Thursday when I just might have finished rebooting my brain.

And You Thought Herding Them Was Hard

03-1The weather is warming and, far more important, drying out. And that means that Tuxie is once again spending most afternoons flaked out on top of Cape Odd.

03-2Uh…

Have you noticed that even when MM is taking it easy, she never really sleeps? She’s always on the alert, defending her territory against all invaders.

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Oh, for crying out loud, guys!

Make up your minds, already! I’m trying to write a blog post here.

Look, our deal is that we supply the krunchiez, and you pose for the pictures, right? Right.

So–

What?

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Now you’re just doing it to annoy me.

Cats.

Wait’ll you see what I add to the food bowl tonight!

(Note to blog readers: It’s probably going to be some scraps of leftover cheese. What kind of lunatic did you think I was?)