Relax!

Want to see something amazing? Check this out:

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Yes, that’s Lefty. Asleep. I actually got close enough to take the picture without waking him up!

Admittedly, I did use the phone’s zoom lens, so I wasn’t quite as close as the picture might suggest.

But even so, the fact that I was able to get that close without putting him on high alert is astounding.

Want to see something even more amazing? Sure you do!

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Left to right, that’s Rhubarb, ‘Nuki, Lefty, and Yuki.

I think it’s safe to say that Lefty is now one of the gang.

But the impressive part is that they’re sharing a bed, all asleep.

This is an event of earth-shaking magnitude, probably on a par with total solar eclipses for rarity.

Okay, that’s a bit of hyperbole.

But it’s nice to see Lefty fitting in and learning to take the presence of bipeds–even bipeds with cameras–as nothing to stress out about.

HOF 2020

Winter is coming to an end. As the MLB app on my phone reminds me, the first pre-season games are less than a month away*. It’s unclear from MLB’s website when we’ll get the first broadcast game, but history suggests it’ll be no later than February 23.

* Most of the earliest games–three of the four on February 21–are, as usual, pros versus colleges, but there is one game between two professional teams. Thanks to the Rangers and Royals for starting things off. I’m confident it won’t be a World Series preview and that most of the players won’t make the Opening Day rosters, but it’ll still be official baseball.

A reminder: there’s no World Baseball Classic this year, but there will be one next year, so we’ll get a chunk of press about the qualifying tournaments. Call it extra baseball.

There are still trades and free agent negotiations going on, but it’s not too late to get in on the annual weeping and wailing over your favorite team’s off-season. Any dedicated fan can find something to complain about–and we do.

But if that’s not your style, how about the Hall of Fame voting?

I’ll be honest here: I haven’t been paying that much attention. Last year was all about whether Edgar would make it in. Once he did, I started thinking about other things. Some of them even had nothing to do with baseball.

But I can’t let the voting go completely unremarked.

The big question leading up to the announcement of the results was whether Derek Jeter would be the second player to be elected unanimously.

Fortunately for my equilibrium, he wasn’t. Missed it by one vote. Thank you, anonymous BBWAA member.

To be clear, I consider Jeter absolutely worthy of the Hall of Fame. I felt the same way about Mariano Rivera last year. This is going to be an ongoing issue (though I don’t see any of next year’s candidates making a serious run at a unanimous election). Now that it’s happened once, it will happen again. But I won’t be reconciled to it until a non-Yankee pulls off the feat.

Curt Schilling added another ten percentage points to his total. If he can keep his mouth shut through the presidential elections, he’ll probably be elected next year.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens moved up slightly, but that’s probably more reflective of a smaller pool of voters than a sign of changing opinions. I doubt they’ll squeak over the bar in 2021 or 2022.

Sympathy votes? Of course there were! One each to Rauuuuuuuul, J.J. Putz, Brad Penny, and Adam Dunn. Two each for Cliff Lee and Eric Chavez. Paul Konerko, Jason Giambi, and Alfonso Soriano also collected a few votes. I don’t think those three qualify as sympathy votes–each of them can make at least vaguely legitimate cases for election.

Disappointingly, my prediction that Chone Figgins would totally rock the sympathy vote tally was only correct in the Charlie Brown sense. I think I’ll stop making predictions at the bottom end of the ballot.

Looking at the potential ballot for 2021, I don’t see any sure bets for election. As I noted above, I think Curt Schilling has a good chance. Omar Vizquel should continue to gain votes, but probably not enough to hit 75% that quickly. Manny Ramirez will probably also move up, but there’s no way he’s going to add more than forty percent of the voters in one year.

Kitteh Parteh

Whenever we walk into the kitchen, felines gather in hope of a kitteh parteh. The big rush is in the morning, since that’s when we’re most likely to distribute random treats, but even in the evening, the odds are good that somebody will come in with us.

A typical morning looks like this:
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(Sachiko was a bit late to this particular party, though she did make it before all the goodies were gone.)

The regulars have learned the fine art of prairie-catting.
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Yuki’s hind legs aren’t up to the challenge, but he does stretch his neck upward in a giraffe pose.

‘Nuki is a good prairie-catter, and Sachiko is no slouch either (sorry).
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Lefty is deeply suspicious of the concept. He still insists on receiving his treats with all four feet on the ground as the Ur-Cat intended.
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(That shot makes the kitteh parteh look quite placid and polite. Don’t be fooled: there’s quite a lot of pushing and shoving and demanding of attention. All of which, by the way, Lefty is showing great talent for. He’s got a unique head-bump that involves his full body, and which has been known to send smaller cats flying across the room.)

The true champion of the prairie-catters, however, is Rhubarb, paws up.
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I’m fairly sure that by this time next year, he’ll be levitating to gain extra inches on his competition.

Overlooked

I feel a rant coming on. Bear with me: it’s not political, nor does it have anything to do with television.

Recently, I was talking to an acquaintance about gadgets. He’s, well, let’s say, behind the times, technologically speaking. He’s got a computer, a five-year-old laptop, that he uses two or three times a month, mostly to do banking-related things. He does have a cell phone: it’s a flip-open model with a four line LCD display.

He told me the phone was on its last legs, and he was thinking about getting a smartphone to replace it. “Which would be better for someone like me, an Apple or a Samsung?”

And I realized the only possible answer was “Neither”.

Remember when the first iPhone came out? The idea of a touchscreen in a phone wasn’t exactly new, but the focus on ease of use and a consistent interface was. Learn to use one app–which took about five minutes–and you could use all of them. Granted, it was a limited selection, but that’s beside the point. They were simple and consistent.

Today, not so much. Want to delete something? Do you select it with a tap-and-hold or by tapping a selection indicator? Or do you first have to tap an Edit button, swipe to the left, or swipe right?

Let’s not even consider the number of times Apple has changed the way we get to the Control Center. Or the fact that there are two mutually-conflicting ways to change the font size on an iPhone.

Android is no better, whether you’re talking about “pure” Android or Samsung’s customized version. Has anybody ever figured out exactly how the Back button works?

And Google’s hands-off approach to the apps going into their store means every designer gets to come up with their own interface. Want to turn off the sound effects in that new game? Maybe there’s something in “Settings”. Or “Controls”. Maybe there’s a dedicated “Sound” menu–if you can find it.

There’s no way a rookie can jump in to a modern device and expect to use it without spending hours learning to do the most basic tasks. Be honest here and take a look at your phone. If you were seeing it for the first time, could you figure out how to call someone, hang up at the end of the call, and save the phone number so you could call them again?

I finally told my acquaintance to check into the phones marketed to seniors. They come with a strictly-curated list of apps designed to work together and work consistently. They’re simple and they work. They’re cheap, too.

And the stigma of using one is so great that nobody younger than seventy-five considers them as their first phone.

Bedding Down

Lefty continues to become more comfortable with the other cats. Unlike Rufus, who seems to be something of a loner, Lefty clearly wants to be around others. When Lefty comes downstairs to hang out in the bedroom or kitchen, Rufus visibly relaxes.

So it’s a definite step in the right direction when we find this sort of thing happening.
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One Formerly Feral Fellow, comfortably sandwiched between a pair of Ookis. All the available evidence suggested they’d spent several hours snoozing on the bed together.

Nor is Lefty restricting his bed visits to times when other cats are present.
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Those are, in fact, my shins he’s relaxing between. To the extent that Lefty ever really relaxes, anyway. He’s getting better about it, but he rarely sleeps so soundly that he doesn’t wake up when I point the camera at him. Or even peek into the room.

I’m rather fond of this last shot. My pillow is Rhubarb’s favorite snoozing place, so it was rather a shock to walk into the bedroom the other day and find this:
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“Yours? Don’t be silly, hoomin. This is my sleeping spot now.”

And he kept it for a good hour after that, until the sounds of his dinner in preparation drew him downstairs to the kitchen. At which point, of course, Rhubarb reclaimed the pillow.

More TV Talk

I seem to have survived the holiday season, something I wasn’t sure I’d be willing to make bets on along about December 26.

While survival is gratifying, I am still playing catch up on many of the things I normally do on a more-or-less daily basis. Little things like reading the newspaper and checking on my online news feeds, taking pictures of the cats, and, yeah, watching TV.

Worst Cooks, for example. We managed to watch the first episode of the new season, and it was great fun. Alton’s slightly sadistic sense of humor was exactly the goose the show’s format needed. Telling a competitor “I’m confident this won’t be the worst thing I eat today,” is a great change from the usual focus on the good and bad points of each dish. Sometimes the contestants need a reminder that they’re competing against the members of their own team as well as the other team.

And forcing them to use pressure cookers in the first challenge? Evil genius!

I remain optimistic for this season.

On the other hand, I haven’t gotten to the first episode of the new Kids Baking Championship. As far as I know, there are no changes to the show this season–certainly nothing on the level of a new host–but that’s fine. The current format hasn’t gotten stale, so the show remains on my to-be-watched list.

Doctor Who is still on our schedule, too. We caught the first episode of the new season, only five days late. Naturally, it had to be a cliff-hanger episode, leaving us looking for a timeslot for the second episode. We’ll get there.

I continue to approve of Jodie Whittaker’s take on the Doctor and roll my eyes at the brigades of haters who believe the inclusion of anyone other than straight, white males in the show ruins their childhood.

How can a change now ruin something that happened twenty years ago? Or even just three? Sure, it’s a show about time travel–among other things–but nobody’s editing those episodes they remember fondly.

And if they honestly think Jodie’s Doctor is wildly different than earlier versions, they’re remembering those episodes poorly. “Spyfall, Part One” gave us classic Doctor. The whole business of her reminding her companions about “Rule One” before totally ignoring her own advice could have come straight out of almost any Doctor’s playbook, right back to William Hartnell in 1963.

And one of the key complaints they have about Whittaker’s Doctor, the one that poo-poos her emotional relationship with her companions, is utter hogwash as well. Every Doctor since the 2005 revival has been tightly tied to at least one companion.

Since the reboot, the Doctor has explicitly been written as an outsider looking in. Admiring humanity and wanting to be close to it, but unable to take that last step. Look at the Doctor’s relationships with Rose Tyler, Amy Pond, and Bill Potts. By comparison, Jodie’s attempts to including herself in with her “fam” are weak sauce–or, more accurately, slightly-used dishwater. (I’m looking forward to the inevitable point where the current companions start to leave her. From a writer’s perspective, the way the breakups are handled and whether we’ll get a series with only temporary companions will be fascinating.)

But enough ranting*.

* Okay, a little more. I’m well aware of the complaints about lack of LGBT+ representation and ageism. The difference between the complainers I’m bitching about up above and these is that the former group are looking backward, trying to force a reversion to a show that never was and wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as what we got. The latter group is looking forward, trying to make the show we have better and more in tune with the real world.

One group points to lower ratings and says, “Ha-ha! You’re getting what you deserve! I hope you get canceled soon!” The other group points to lower ratings and says, “Hey, fix this problem and the ratings will go back up, because I and my friends will start watching again.”

I know where my sympathies lie.

Rant over, now for sure.

And, to wrap this up on a good note (pun intended), “Spyfall, Part One” gave us one of the best musical bits in recent Doctor Who memory. Give another listen to the background music at the beginning of the “Going to the Party” scene and tell me it isn’t a dead ringer for every James Bond theme you’ve never heard.

I appreciate a show with a sense of humor.

Portraits in Grey and Silver

This one’s for Jackie. I know she could use something to distract her from the Orioles’ winter maneuverings…

So how about a shot of Sir Rufus looking every inch the regal gentleman that he is?
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Of course he does have his playful side. He’s quite the photobomber, as this shot of Lefty proves.
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Yes, it really is a photo of Lefty, as this enhanced version proves.
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Even the camera prefers to focus on Rufus. Which honestly doesn’t bother Lefty one little bit.

(By the way, all the photos in today’s post are Maggie’s work. I’ve been running in enough circles lately that I haven’t gotten any good shots of the fuzzies. Hopefully that will change soon, but many thanks to Maggie for filling the gap.)

Despite his fondness for the camera, Rufus is still a very sound sleeper. Even the shutter noise can’t awaken him once he’s gotten into deep sleep/power save mode.
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When all is said, though, Rufus’ essence remains his quiet dignity and thoughtful mien.
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(My favorite shot in this batch and one of my all-time favorite shots of Rufus. Handsome under any circumstances, but his shadow sets him off perfectly here.)

Worst Good Eats

Or should that be “Good Eats, Bad Cooks”?

I am thrilled and intrigued.

Which is just what They want, of course. But that’s fair enough. It’s nice to see some evidence of competence from time to time.

What I’m talking about is the upcoming season of Worst Cooks in America.

There are no major changes in the offing. Still sixteen bad cooks competing to improve their skills. Anne Burrell is still the face of the show. And a few minor variations to keep the whole thing from devolving into an unwatchable photocopy of the last half dozen seasons.

But, oh, those minor variations.

Foremost among them: Anne’s competition in training up the contestants this time around is Alton Brown.

This is going to be fascinating to watch.

Alton’s on-screen persona isn’t competitive. Despite the years hosting Cutthroat Kitchen, he still comes across primarily as an educator.

Which is, naturally, what the Worst Cooks participants need.

But will there be room for a few patented Alton historical and scientific digressions? There must be a lot that never makes it to the screen. I’m sure the competitors get plenty of one-on-one coaching from the instructors, and Alton’s methodical approach should be very helpful for whatever subset of the group who are capable of following directions.

But still. Entertaining as it might be to see how the gang takes a discourse on the chemical properties of gluten or the history of saffron, will it help their cooking?

And, given that entertainment is the name of the game here and the overall story arc of the competition between Anne’s and Alton’s cooks, are we going to see a few well-placed items from the Cutthroat Kitchen archives show up? How would Anne’s cooks manage with a corkscrew-shaped skillet?

Even if Alton plays it straight, though, his sense of humor may be the only thing that gets him through the season. And, if this season’s selection of cooks are truly as horrible as in years past, we may all need to play the Alton Drinking Game to survive.

Here’s hoping for a season of golden Brown deliciousness. We’ll find out on Sunday.

Year End Reminders

In this, the final blog post of 2019, I want to remind you of a couple of things.

First, change is inevitable.
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I believe the subject Lefty is discussing with Rhubarb is “If this is the dining room, why aren’t the hoomins giving us food?”

Second, technology advances.
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This shot of Lefty was taken with my work iPhone 11 Pro. Over my shoulder. Without being able to see the subject. (I’ll note that the photo is heavily cropped. Lefty was nowhere near the center of the frame. But it still came out rather nicely.)

And third, some truths are eternal.
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Just as the mound is sixty feet, six inches from the plate, the dining room heat vent is exclusively owned by Sachiko from November to May.

A very happy New Year to one and all. May 2020 be better for you and yours than 2019. See you when the arbitrary astronomical odometer kicks over the tens place.

Happy Merry

Happy Whateverholidayyourecelebrating!

Including, of course, no holiday at all, if that’s what you do.

As I write this, we’re somewhere between kid-stuff and adulting. The gifts are opened, but not yet played with. On the other hand, families have not been called, but the laundry is in the washer.

It’s too early to put the roast in the oven, but the hot cider is brewing. This year, we’re trying a variation on the usual recipe. Instead of a conventional–and thus, boring–navel orange, we’re using a couple of blood oranges. Doesn’t look like it’s going to change the color of the finished cider appreciably, but it smells fantastic.

And, yes, we are making the cider in our Instant Pot. In slow-cooker mode. This doesn’t seem like a recipe that would benefit from pressure cooking. So it’s still going to take four hours. Four hours of filling the house with a delightful scent. And having the cooker summon us when it’s time to give the cider a stir is a nice feature our old slow-cooker lacked.

The cats remain unimpressed, including Lefty, who has several times wandered into the kitchen, shaken his head in disgust over the lack of kitty treats, and disappeared back up the stairs.

We suspect there will be more interest once we start on dinner preparations. Cats do prefer beef to citrus, 999 to one, after all.

We’re determinedly keeping the radio off. We’ve had quite enough Christmas carols, thank you. I’ll admit to a fondness for a rendition that came out a couple of years ago, but which I only discovered last week, Revolution Wonderland. But enough is enough. Pack up the carols along with the inflatable Santas, Nativity dioramas, and giant foam snowflakes. Thanksgiving is going to be late again next year, so I’m looking forward to eleven months of nearly carol-free life.

I think I’ll stop rambling here. Time to go be an adult for a bit, thanking people for their gifts, before I can be a kid again and make some horrible noises with my new saxmonica*.

* Courtesy of Maggie, who shall now have to suffer for her generosity.