Hopeless

I complain a lot* about work preventing me from watching baseball.

* In the real world. I try not to bitch at those of you I only communicate with electronically. But sometimes I gotta.

Sunday, for the first time ever, I was grateful to work for making it impossible for me to watch the Mariners’ play.

It’s no secret that the Mariners can’t win against Houston, at least not since the Astros switched to the American League. Even when Houston sucked, they could count on picking up ten or so wins against hapless Seattle. This season has been no exception: with two games against Houston remaining, the Mariners have an astonishing 1-16 record.

And it all came to a head Sunday night in Texas.

After three innings–three!–the Mariners were down 13-0. (Remember that number. It’s significant.) The Astros added another eight runs before the game was over.

The most frustrating part of the whole affair? Seattle managed exactly one hit and no walks. That’s right. Had it not been for Shed Long’s second major league home run, the Mariners would have been on the losing end of a perfect game.

Sure, if he hadn’t hit it, things might have gone differently. That’s not the point. By the time Long put the Ms on the board, those fans unlucky enough to watch the game had seen ten batters accomplish nothing. And after Long’s hit, the fans watched another seventeen batters do nothing worthwhile.

That’s frustration, concentrated, bottled, and ready for sale. Not that you could find any buyers, but that’s beside the point.

You can’t hope for a rally if nobody gets on base. You need some kind of a tag to attach your dreams to.

A little while back, Jackie talked about doing the math. No amount of math could have helped this one. Sure, the Mariners would only have needed five grand slams to tie the game and force extra innings (where History suggests they would have lost anyway, this being Houston), but you can’t even hope for a grand slam when your batters are whiffing like Little Leaguers.

Yes, the Astros beat Jackie’s Orioles 23-2 earlier this season. But the Os managed six hits in that game. Six! And three walks. That’s nine base runners. An average of one an inning. Enough to build a dream on.

I’m not trying to one-down the Orioles here. Their current record (46-98) leaves plenty of room for depression. And both teams have had some good times this year.

Remember back in April when the Mariners looked like the best team in baseball? And remember those two glorious days in June, the 28th and 29th, when the Orioles set a major league record by beating the Indians 13-0* twice in a row? Wonderful days, those.

* Like I said, thirteen has significance.

But past glories only sustain you so long. Optimism needs a cause.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not having a religious crisis. I’m still watching all the games my work schedule permits. I’ll still be watching the Ms next season.

It’s just…I’d like to be able to say “Just wait until next year!”

Come on, guys. You’ve got seventeen games left–including three against the Orioles. Show me something. Something I can use to pin a little hope on.

Hope that I’ll be watching “Because victories!” not “Because baseball!”

Chicken!

Why didn’t anybody tell me?

Long-time readers know of my love of Alton Brown and his TV shows. Some may even recall my sorrow three years ago when Cutthroat Kitchen went off the air.

At the time, Alton was talking up his plans for a Good Eats successor. It was supposed to be an online-only show and would tackle subjects the original wasn’t allowed to address.

As best I can tell, that show never happened.

And then. A couple of days ago, Maggie and I were watching Kids Baking Challenge and a little blurb popped up in the corner of the screen. This is something Food Network does with great regularity, and it never fails to annoy me. Normally I do my best to ignore such mini-ads, but this one caught my eye. “Up Next: Good Eats Reloaded

Picture my face with exclamation points replacing my eyes.

On second thought, don’t. That’s a rather creepy image. But you get the idea.

It turns out that Food Network has been running these shows for the past year or so, and I completely missed it. They’re not new content either. They’re reworked and updated versions of some of the original Good Eats episodes.

We’ve seen two of them so far (or most of two of them: Sling’s DVR functionality has issues). Updates on broth are well and good, but the updated pasta show may be useful, given the amount of noodles we go through.

But the really good news is the reason Food Network moved Good Eats Reloaded to a better time slot: Good Eats: The Return is coming. Three weeks from today, in fact. Not quite close enough to set the DVR, but near enough to smell the garlic.

The blurb on Food Network’s website sounds a lot like what Alton was talking about for the never-happened online-only show.

I can’t wait. Well, I can–I have too–but I can’t wait patiently.

To celebrate, I’m going to do something I haven’t done for a while: post a recipe.

As with most recipes I post, it’s not a family recipe or something original. Credit where credit is due: this is stolen and modified from Sara Welch’s Slow Cooker Whole Chicken as posted on “Dinner at the Zoo”.

We’re suckers for crockpot cookery, especially recipes that require very little actual effort. If we can throw some stuff together, turn on the pot, and go to work, we’re in. When we saw this one claimed a five minute prep time, we had to try it.

And, of course, we had to tweak it a bit to our tastes.

Ingredients

  • One five pound whole chicken. Note: a bird this size fits almost perfectly into a three quart slow cooker.
  • Your favorite spice rub. Sara’s suggested mix is tasty, and does largely replicate the flavor of a store-bought rotisserie chicken. But it does require a minute–maybe even ninety seconds–to assemble. We’ve had good results with commercial BBQ rubs. Laziness FTW!
  • 4-6 small potatoes, washed. Keep ’em whole; you don’t want them to cook too quickly.

Steps

  1. Spray the inside of the cooker with cooking spray.
  2. Place the potatoes on the bottom of the cooker. They’re going to serve as your rack so the chicken doesn’t get submerged in its own juices. Soggy chicken is no fun.
  3. Rub your spice mix all over the bird. Be generous. And don’t forget to rub some inside the body cavity.
  4. Put the chicken into the pot on top of the potatoes, put on the lid, and turn the cooker on on High.
  5. After one hour, turn the cooker down to Low.
  6. Ignore it for at least five hours. We’ve gone as long as ten without harm to the result. Be safe: if you’re not letting it cook all day, use a meat thermometer to confirm the thickest part of the thigh has hit at least 165.
  7. Crispy skin is a must. Put the chicken in a baking dish and shove it under your broiler for five minutes.

Yes, you do serve the potatoes too. Why wouldn’t you? They’ve soaked up plenty of chickeny goodness. And save the liquid that’s accumulated at the bottom of the cooker. It freezes well and makes a great base for soups and stews.

Inconvenient Sleepers

My apologies for the late post. I’m blaming it on the schedule change, so it’ll probably happen occasionally until I settle into the new Wednesday/Friday reality.

It’s a well-known fact that cats cannot sleep unless they’re in a location that inconveniences a human.

Rhubarb is a master of the technique.
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My pillow is a comfy perch, but the fact that it’s my pillow is what makes it possible for him to sleep so soundly.

Yuki hasn’t attained Rhubarb’s level of mastery, but he makes up for it with creativity.

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Not only has he blocked access to the entire width of Maggie’s pillow, but he’s done it in a way that emphasizes his cuteness. Who could bear to disturb him? Well, anybody who finds the chance to rub a fuzzy kitty tummy irresistible. But that’s fine with Yuki. He’ll enjoy the cuddles and then go back to sleep. Win/win!

Parenthetically, Rhubarb doesn’t believe he knows all there is to be known about inconvenient sleeping. He’ll steal a good trick from time to time.

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Which doesn’t mean he fully masters the techniques on his first attempt. Maggie’s pillow? Check. Full length? Check. Inverted and asleep? Oops.

Our household Grand Master of Inconvenient Sleeping, however, is ‘Nuki.

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That rug scrap hadn’t been in the house for more than a day before he proclaimed it his favorite sleeping spot. It’s got a comfy deep pile, sunlight for most of the afternoon, and a convenient water bowl.

But its main attraction is that it’s directly in front of the kitchen sink. Now that’s inconvenience! ‘Nuki sleeps more deeply there than anywhere else–I’d never have gotten a shot of him with both eyes closed on a mere pillow.

The End of an Era

The mystique has come to an end.

According to multiple reports, Android will no longer have sweet-themed release names.

If this is true, Pie is a good way to go out, but it’s an interesting decision on Google’s part. Not only do they lose a wildly popular bit of their brand, but the stated reasons for making the decision don’t quite add up.

It’s a rare corporate decision that can’t be revisited. Change your logo and lose sales? Change it again to something closer to the original. Refocus on a new target market and take a bath? Bring back an old corporate spokesperson to re-engage with the original buyers (anyone remember when Snap, Crackle, and Pop vanished, only to return?)

But this is a decision Google can’t take back. If, a year from now, they announce that Android R will be named “Rice Pudding,” then retroactively the “Android Q” move will seem like a ploy to get free advertising from the media. Nor would (ahem) sugar-coating the news by claiming that Q was named Quisp (or Quince, or anything else really) within the company improve the look.

Why are they doing this? I’ve seen two claimed reasons.

The media focuses on the name rather than the new features. So? As long as users use the OS and manufacturers license the Google apps, do you think Google really cares whether the free advertising focuses on the name or the spiffy new Back button functionality?

People complained that the names weren’t inclusive enough. People switch phones for a lot of reasons, but I really doubt Google was losing business to iOS over the code names. But if I’m wrong about that, Google could improve the naming process. The company is already in the spotlight over diversity issues; improving representation in the group that chooses Android names would fall right in line with their efforts to do more improve representation throughout the company.

Of course, the reports could be wrong. Android Q will be out next month, possibly as soon as next week. Maybe we’ll find out that it’s actually named Quinoa–hey, if you can make rice pudding, why not a sweet quinoa-based cake?

Portraits

Today’s post is for all of Rufus’ fans who were disappointed that he didn’t appear in last week’s post.

Here’s my current favorite picture of the devilishly handsome silver and grey gentleman.

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The pensive expression; the extended tail; and the capper, that silly brick-colored nose, combine for a portrait that captures Rufus’ essence very nicely.

(The tail, by the way, is Kokoro’s. I’m not sure where Lefty was at the time, but he’s atypically absent.)

Moving on.

As a special bonus, enjoy this peek at–and from–one of my god-fuzzies.

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Patience continues to work Teh Kyute, as she has since she was a handful of fur. Her “Who, me?” act needs some work, though. Sticking one’s head out of the back of the stereo cabinet diminishes one’s credibility when trying to deny responsibility for turning off the music…

Jackpot!

We all have a level of risk we’re comfortable with.

I’m okay spending ten bucks a week on the microscopic chance of winning one of the lotteries operated and widely promoted by the government. You may feel the same, you may not.

I’m also fine with investing months of my life on the even smaller possibility of hitting it big as a writer*. I know some of you think that’s an insane gamble.

* To be clear, the goal is getting my books published so people can read them and making enough money that publishers will continue to buy them. Cracking the best-seller lists and making oodles of dough is what Corporate America calls a “stretch goal”.

The point is not that I’m crazy. The point is that there are some games I won’t play, but plenty of other people do.

Case in point: the ransomware game. Now there’s one with high odds.

Sure, you might go a lifetime online and never get infected. If you stick with well-known companies that don’t run ads on their websites, you’ve got a good chance. Mind you, you need to go directly to their sites, not look them up on your search engine of choice. And, really, does anybody stick with just two or three websites?

Okay, yes, there are search engines that don’t show ads. And entertaining websites that don’t show ads and never get hacked. You might get lucky.

But ransomware is on the rise. It’s the attacks on cities that’s getting most of the media attention, because that’s something new and different. Newsworthy, by definition. But attacks on individuals haven’t stopped, and–anecdotally–are becoming more common as well.

Which shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s a great moneymaker. As with spam, all you need is one success to cover the cost of thousands or even millions of attacks. And, also as with spam, you don’t just get one victim forking over the cash (or Bitcoin).

Your profit goes up even further if you don’t actually respond to anyone who pays up. Why maintain the infrastructure to send out decryption software and keys? It’s not like a brick and mortar company, whose victimscustomers have to be able to find them. You’re hunting down your own customersvictims and not giving them a choice about doing business with you.

So, yeah, the odds in the ransomware game suck.

Install anti-virus and anti-malware software from a reputable company. Even better if it includes a browser plugin that highlights links known to be unsafe. Make sure to keep it up to date. Install a pop-up blocker as well–many attacks are made via windows that pop-up behind your main window and do their work before you even realize they’re there.

And keep multiple backups of anything you can’t stand to lose. (I keep my writing in Dropbox which backs up continuously and keeps thirty days of history so if I had to, I could go back to an older, uninfected version of every chapter of every book. I also run an hourly backup from my main computer to a second computer in another room and a daily backup to a third machine in another state. It’s not a perfect system, but there’s that level of risk thing again.)

Back up, back up, back up. (Haven’t I said that recently?)

We all have our own comfort level with risk, but I don’t know anyone who wants to hit the ransomware jackpot enough to play the game.

Further Changes

No Rufus today. Sorry, Jackie.

But I got a new picture of Lefty that I just had to share. Unquestionably my newest and favoritist photo of the Formerly Feral Fellow so far.

Observe:

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He’s still a little nervous about the camera, but he really did let me get within arm’s reach while I was pointing it at him. And better, he looks almost relaxed about it.

No, seriously. Take a closer look; I ask you, is this the face of a worried cat?

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And since you’re not here, I answer for you, “No”.

Cautious, yes. Worried, no.

Makes me want to rub his nose and scritch behind his ears.

We’re not at that point yet, if ever. But we’re a heck of a lot closer than we were even a week ago.

That’s our Lefty: putting the “Formerly” in the “FFF”.

Changing Times

I try to get the Tuesday and Thursday blog posts up around 9:30 or 10:00. You may have noticed that this one is late. You may also have noticed that it’s not the first one to be late over the past several months.

There are a number of reasons for the recurrent delays, but the big one is time.

Let me be clear here: I have plenty of time for writing. The catch is that it mostly comes in small chunks–half an hour here, an hour there–on an irregular basis.

I’m fortunate. I can write just about anywhere. I don’t need any particular conditions, as long as there’s room to set up my computer (or, as at present, when I’m doing a pen-and-paper rewrite, my clipboard). I don’t need specific kinds of music or lighting, and I don’t have any writing rituals that can’t be performed in public.

That flexibility is great. But. What I don’t have is much control. I like routines, especially when it comes to writing. They help me be productive as soon as I sit down to work. Without the organization, it can take me ten or fifteen minutes to get my brain into writing mode and producing words that I don’t immediately erase.

If I’ve got three or four hours, fifteen minutes isn’t a big deal. It is important if all I’ve got is half an hour. In a normal week, I may get two four hour blocks of time I can devote to writing.

An additional data point: a typical blog post takes me around three hours to write.

I think you can see where I’m going.

If I spend my large blocks of writing time on blog posts, I don’t get much novel writing done. And if I dedicate the time to novels, the blogs are late, uninteresting, or poorly written–or worse, some combination of all three.

So I’m taking control and changing things to allow me to establish some routines. Agency! (It’s good practice for letting my characters show some agency of their own, right? Right.)

A historical digression: when I started this blog, I wrote five posts a week. Amazing what you can do when you can set your own schedule and establish your own routines. Then, six months in, I cut back to two posts a week, not counting the Friday Critter Posts. That change was specifically to give me more time for the novels-then-in-progress.

So there’s precedent for what I’m announcing today.

Effective immediately, I’ll be posting twice a week. Friday Critter Posts will continue unchanged, but the non-critter posts will be limited to Wednesdays. (Well, this week you get your post on Tuesday–late–to smooth the transition.) Nor am I going to stress out about the timing. If it’s Wednesday morning, great. Wednesday evening, fine. Tuesday? Sure, why not? Thursday? Okay. It’s all mid-week and everything is awesome.

And with this change in place, I can finally finish rewriting Chapter 15 of Demirep and move on to Chapter 16, where Things Happen. (Yes, Smartipants, Things Happen in Chapter 15 too, but Fifteen is low-key, catch-your-breath time, before my protagonist takes charge of her destiny in Sixteen.)

Anyway.

See you all Friday.

With Age Comes…

Sachiko is no longer the twenty-four hour nuclear-propelled hellion she was when she was a kitten.

She’ll be the first to tell you that she’s a big kitty now. And she is–goodness, I just realized she’s approaching her fifth birthday!

Not a huge kitteh, but a bit on the plump side, and a significant armload.

With increasing age comes an increased desire to snooze.

Of course, as a cat, she’s required to pick a spot that will inconvenience the bipeds.

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The bathroom doorway is a fine choice. Convenient to the litter box, handy to the food bowls come dinner time, and a high traffic area for the hoomins.