I’m Back

And I’m back. Did–no, on second thought, I won’t ask if you missed me. If you did, I’ll be mortified at denying you the pleasure of my company for two weeks. And if you didn’t, you’ll be mortified at having to admit it. So let’s just not go there and save us all the embarrassment.

Taking the time off was definitely the right move. Not having to fit blogging around a work training schedule, holidays, and family time simplified my life enormously. I’m still on a training (read that as “variable”) schedule, but everything else has settled down enough that I think I can get back to blogging on the usual Tuesday/Thursday/Friday plan. I’ll worry about possible changes to the blog posts once I’m done with training and have a more predictable work schedule.

No, I didn’t get much fiction writing done over the break. But I’m ready to get back to that as well. As soon as this post goes up, I’m starting the second draft of Demirep. Unlike many authors, I enjoy revising. Finishing a first draft is a rush, but sometimes the actual writing is a slog. Rewriting is almost always easier, because I know where I’m going and how I’m getting there. Fewer false trails means faster, more enjoyable writing.

Moving on.

There’s progress on the Bay BridgeTransbay Transit Center. The repair plan has been made and approved. Not a whole of detail has been released yet–it sounds like there will be more after the Transbay Joint Powers Authority board meets on Thursday–but the gist is that steel plates will be attached on the upper and lower surfaces of the vulnerable beams.

Standard disclaimer: I’m not a structural engineer. That said, the fact that the plan calls for reinforcements to be added to both the Fremont Street and First Street beams suggests to me that the tests found nothing wrong with the metal–that the problem is more likely to be design or construction. I’m looking forward to hearing more, including the estimated date for reopening the Transit Center, which will depend in large part on how long it takes to find a source for the reinforcement plates.

Moving on again.

Actual employment that requires leaving the house does mean I’ll have less time for television. That may be a problem come baseball season–though, as I’ve said before, I find having a ballgame on in the background helps my writing–but at this time of year, it’s arguably a good thing. Yes, the latest seasons of Worst Cooks in America and Kids Baking Challenge* started this week, the former on Sundays at 9:00 and midnight Eastern, the latter on Mondays at the same time. Which is, by the way, very nice scheduling for those of us on the West Coast: 6pm and 9pm fit very nicely around dinner and bedtime. (As usual, those of you in other time zones get the awkward scheduling.)

* Shouldn’t that be “Kids'” with an apostrophe? It’s a competition for, i.e. belonging to multiple kids.

But I’m having doubts about WCiA. It’s a cooking show, supposedly. But it seems as though each season we see less cooking, and the antics of the competitors are getting more predictable. Both, IMNSHO, are the result of competitors being chosen for their personality traits, rather than their willingness to actually learn to cook.

We’ve got the wacky ones. We’ve got the one with a crippling lack of self-confidence. The annoying fan of one of the instructor chefs. The one whose mother still cooks all his meals. The model (and, goddess help us, we’ve got two models and a bodybuilder this season). The one who thinks sugar is a universal ingredient and the one who thinks the same of capsaicin. And, of course, the one who thinks her cooking is just fine and doesn’t understand why her relatives forced her to go on the show.

The producers think this will lead to wacky hijinks. The point they’re forgetting is that arguments aren’t story. Nobody wants to see watch people snapping and snarling at each other. We want to see the contestants successes and, yes, the failures that don’t threaten to fill the set with flames. It’s their growth as cooks that’s the story.

Last season the show spent so much time on personality clashes that the cooking seemed halfhearted. Even in the finale, the cooking competition seemed muted and the food wasn’t up to the standard set in previous years. If this season goes down the same path, I won’t be watching. Which would free up an hour a week for writing. Hmm.

KBC, on the other hand, is still a delight. The kids all have their quirks, but they’re not extremely exaggerated stereotypes. They’ve clearly all been working hard at their craft for years, they’re thrilled to be on the show, and they understand that stuff happens–forgotten ingredients, knife cuts, and bad days–and has to be dealt with.

And it’s obvious they’ve studied the show’s earlier seasons. They know what’s coming, and it was charming to see them literally fleeing in terror when the twist arrived in yesterday’s episode. And yes, though we’ve seen it before, it’s still nice to see them pitch in to help each other finish when time is short.

That’s an hour of potential writing time I’m going to sacrifice willingly every week.

Floof Face Friday

It’s important for me to remember that all the fuzzies need attention. I can’t allow myself to get caught up in over-posting the latest arrivals. Though anyone who’s followed the blog for a while knows I’m not always good at following that rule. Sachiko got a disproportionate amount of attention until Rufus came along, and he got more than his fair share until Lefty arrived.

In an attempt, however fleeting it might be, to redress the balance, I’ve chosen to devote today’s post to Yuki. And the fact that he tried to climb into my lap and demand pettings yesterday had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Without further ado, please enjoy this installment of Floof Face Friday.

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Call this face “Inquistive”. Also known as “What the heck are they doing now?”

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It’s not uncommon for “Inquisitive” to be followed by “Regal”. Yuki is above such mundane matters as humans wielding cameras. Ignore the blob of goo in the corner of his right eye. Yuki is also above such mundanities as grooming himself for his closeup.

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“Reproachful Irritation” is the face he presents when his grooming is interrupted.

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And “Sleepy Ire” is what Yuki displays when awakened from slumber by the camera’s infrared focusing light.

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Then, of course, we have “How Can You Resist Those Big Yellow Eyes?” which is also known as “I Can Haz Pettins Nao?”

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And finally, there’s this one. It’s either “There’s a Bug On the Ceiling” or “Chin Skritch Time”. Yuki’s facial enunciation isn’t always perfectly clear.

Two Left Paws

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that Lefty had accidentally tipped over his condo. Now that I’ve had a chance to review the footage, I’m not so sure it was an accident.

It looks to me like he really put his back into it. And is it just my imagination, or does he have a satisfied expression on his face after the second flip?

Maybe it was an accident. Or maybe it was encroaching cabin fever. After all, he’s been in the cage for more than a month. His nightly interaction with Rufus and the occasional brief visit from the other cats will only go so far for entertainment value.

Regardless of the cause of the Great Condo Flip, Lefty settled down after that. For about a week and a half.

Christmas Eve morning, he had a little accident with the litter box. No, not that kind. He’s been very well-mannered about using it. This kind:

That was unquestionably an accident. Just look at his bereft expression as he hunts through the debris. Not quite as grim a disaster as the California wildfires, but Lefty was only able to rescue one toy: his ball*.

His favorite catnip lemon turned up later, safely hidden in the condo. There was much rejoicing.

Alas, less than two hours later, a second disaster struck.

Despite Lefty’s best efforts, the ball remained in his water bowl until we came upstairs and discovered the wreckage, some four hours later.

Clearly, something had to be done.

Lefty’s Christmas present was a broadening of his horizons.

(No, he didn’t have to wait until that late in the day to receive his gift. We opened the door several hours earlier, but he wanted to be sure it wasn’t some kind of trick, so he kept it under surveillance.) I find it significant that his first action outside the cage was to examine the tools we use to clean the litter box.

He’s now spending most of his time under the futon, but he’s still going back to the cage to use the box and eat.

Relations with Rufus are largely cordial but wary. There’s a certain amount of jockeying for dominance–Lefty’s gotten a slap or two upside his head, but pushed back by stealing some of Rufus’ food–but we haven’t seen any sign of full-blown fighting, or even much in the way of foul language.

We’re still discussing the next steps. Whatever we decide, he’ll have plenty of time to grow accustomed to having the freedom of the library before we stress him with anything new.

But it’s progress. A Merry Christmas, indeed.

Merry You-Know-What

The tree is up, the heat is on, and the cats are gathering.

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Yup, must be Christmas time.

No matter where you fall on the scale* between “Christmas? What’s that?” and “Woo-hoo! Best day of the year! More celebration!” I hope you’ll have a good day, secure in the knowledge that 2018 is nearly over.

* I’m aware there’s at least one more dimension to the scale–the religious one. But (a) representing a three-dimensional graph in words is grammatically incomprehensible and (b) If two thousand years of scholarship hasn’t come up with glib captions everyone can agree adequately summarize the religious extremes, I’m not fool enough to try.

Stay warm, stay dry, and stay safe.

The Christmas Spirit

A quick bit of bookkeeping: in order to reduce the craziness of starting a new job smack in the middle of the holiday season, I’m going to take a couple of weeks off from the blog. There will be Friday posts tomorrow, the twenty-eighth, and the fourth. Regular posts will resume the week of the seventh.

Moving on.

Diana Rowland is the author of one of my favorite series. It wouldn’t be stretching the truth at all to say the books are among my influences. Certainly, they’re a reminder that urban fantasy doesn’t have to have vampires.

Now she’s also one of my heroes.

The Washington Post has most of the story. But if you can’t or won’t read it there, the thumbnail version is that one of her neighbors took offense to her Christmas display–the same display, it should be noted, that she’s had for the past several years–a group of three dragons, festively decorated with Santa hats and garlands. The neighbor sent Ms. Rowland an anonymous note informing her that the dragons were inappropriate for Christmas, and that it was leading the neighborhood to suspect her of demon worship.

I have to wonder: if the dragons had been part of a full-blown nativity scene, replacing the usual sheep, cows, and/or camels, would the anonymous letter writer have been more concerned, or less?

Ms. Rowland did what any sensible person would do: tweeted the letter and added two more dragons to the display.

No, that’s not the heroic part.

Of course the story went viral. How could it not? Offers of additional dragons poured in, some in the form of cash to buy dragons, some as offers to ship pre-paid dragons to Louisiana*.

* How do you tell the difference between a gator and a dragon? If you don’t know the answer, be very cautious about making purchases that involve the phrase “an arm and a leg”.

Here’s the heroic part–and, surprisingly, the part of the story the Post missed.

Rather than escalate the fight further, she declined all the offers and asked that would-be donors instead make a contribution to charity. Not a particular charity. Not a specific amount. Not in her name. Just the charity of their choice.

Apparently, many of the people making donations are doing it in the name of the “Dragon Army,” which is, IMNSHO, a delightful way of exceeding expectations. Well done, Internet. The only way to improve on that scenario? Buy one of her books.

Change Is A-Coming

The end of an era is the beginning of a new era.

I’ve been doing this full-time writer thing for almost six years. Despite what you might think, that was never the plan.

In my latest newsletter*, I said “Everything takes longer than planned.” That was true of getting Like Herding Cats out the door. And it’s true of the plan for launching my writing career.

* Are you subscribed to the newsletter? If not, why not? You could be reading exclusive first draft excerpts from Like Herding Cats, and blog-like rambles on the publishing industry and my place in it. How can you not want to read my extended metaphor of the querying process as a theatrical audition? Millions of authors singing, dancing, and doing Hamlet’s soliloquy for your pleasure! Ahem. Pardon me. And if you’re not already signed up, please click that link over in the sidebar.

See, the original idea was to take six months to focus on writing. Learn to string words together in pleasing ways. (Pleasing to me and to others. The latter is much harder than the former.) Develop the habit of writing. (The jokes about procrastinating writers are funny because there is a certain amount of truth behind the stereotype–which is why we tend to get defensive when non-writers tell them.)

And after six months, I’d start looking for a job, because, despite what Kokoro might tell you, cat food doesn’t just magically appear in the bowl. I never figured it would take five years to land a paycheck. But somehow, that’s what happened.

I haven’t started the job yet; I’m still doing paperwork. I don’t know what my hours will be, so I can’t gauge the impact on the blog. But I can make some contingency plans. If I wind up working or commuting Tuesday and/or Thursday mornings, I won’t be blogging at those times. Ideally, I’ll change the schedule* and blog other days or times. Not so ideally–and it’s a possibility since I will unquestionably have less time to write–I may have to make the hard decisions.

* Friday cat-or-other-critter posts are always written and posted ahead of time, so I don’t expect any change to those. You’re welcome.

If it comes down to a choice between blogging and writing novels, I’m going to pick the novels.

It’s all well and good to say that this blog is building platform–attracting followers who’ll buy my books–but if I never write the books, it doesn’t matter how many followers I’ve got. I won’t stop blogging about things unrelated to felines. But if I have to cut back the frequency, I will.

With that said, let’s move on. You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned who my new employer is. That was intentional. The job is in the technology sector. I plan to continue my usual snark about Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and anyone who believes the Internet of Things is a good idea. My employer may fall into one of those categories. Or not. This might be disinformation.

But I want to be absolutely clear that anything I say here is my own opinion, completely uninfluenced by questions of employment or sanity.

Welcome to the new era, in which I’m less worried about waking up to find that somebody has supplemented their diet with my toes. Hopefully, that’ll make for a more cheerful blog, the political environment notwithstanding.

Change is good. In well-controlled, carefully measured doses.

One Step Forward, One Step Sideways

Lefty is starting to feel more comfortable. He’s spending more time sitting on top of his condo, grooming–at least when there are no humans around.

Let one of us come into the room, and he reverts to his “Lurker in the Shadows” persona.
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But even there, he’s less obnoxious about it. He no longer flees at the first sight or sound of humanity, and if he accidentally comes out of hiding while we’re around, he looks us over carefully–especially if we’re interacting with one of the other cats–before ducking for cover.

Which is not to say that progress has been smooth or without issues.
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To be fair, we’re almost certain toppling the condo was an accident. The video* suggests he was trying a Parkata Felis maneuver, flipping from “bowling pin” atop the condo to “fuzzy donut” inside it without occupying any of the space between.

* Unfortunately, it’s not ready for posting. I have to pull the recordings off the camera in batches, and that one is still pending.

It didn’t quite come off: he appears to have gotten a toenail snagged in the carpet around the top of the condo.

No harm done, as far as we can see, and he split his time between the milk crate (as seen in the photo above) and the condo*.

* Well-known fact: cats are liquid, assuming the shape of whatever vessel they’re placed in. A curved floor is no problem at all.

While his stare can be unnerving, we find it reassuring to know he’s keeping his eye on us. (Sorry.)

Flat As a Basketball

Really, Steph?

I can’t believe we’re talking about this.

Yeah, the whole moon landing contretemps. First Stephen Curry says he doesn’t believe men have been to the moon. Then he gets all coy. Then he claims it was a lesson in critical thinking and information literacy.

Sorry, Steph, I’m not buying any of it. I don’t care whether you’re a conspiracy theorist or not. But no matter how you look at it, this was a stupid move.

If you really believe the moon landings were faked, then claiming otherwise in the face of the outcry makes you look credulous and wishy-washy.

On the other hand, if it was a joke that got taken seriously, doubling down on it with the Intelligent Design/Climate Change “just asking questions” defense makes you look stupid as well as credulous.

And on the gripping hand, if you intended this as a lesson in critical thinking from the beginning–and a not so covert swipe at the current U.S. government–this was completely the wrong way to go about it.

As we’ve seen on a daily basis since 2016, nobody pays attention to the corrections. Telling the “kids out there that hang on every word that we say” not to believe what they hear is about as pointless as a cat on a linoleum floor trying to bury the evidence of excretory malfeasance.

If they even hear the lesson–and many of them won’t, because it’s not sexy enough to get the same play in the media as the original statement–they’re not going to go to the trouble. The lesson they hear over and over in school, at home, and from their peers is “believe what the boss says”. Believe your teacher, unless he contradicts your priest. Believe the president, unless he contradicts your father.

Don’t look it up. Nobody likes a smart ass.

No, I don’t have a fix. But neither does Steph.

Oversight

How about a rant about product delivery that has nothing to do with Amazon? What’s more, it’s not about UPS, FedEx, or OnTrac! Pardon me while I put on my old fart pants, because I’m talking about newspaper delivery.

Back in the dim reaches of prehistory, delivery in residential areas was mostly done by kids on bikes. Up in the early morning hours to get the papers delivered before school. The technique you see in vintage movies, where the delivery boy flings the paper at the front door without slowing down was actually more common than you might believe.

I have to wonder if it’s even still legal for kids to deliver papers. It’s certainly frowned upon, in the same way that society frowns on letting them go out to play by themselves. But I digress.

Today, delivery is done by those old enough to drive. Some things don’t change, though. Our carrier, at least, flings the paper out of the car window without slowing down.

And it mostly works. Usually the paper arrives while I’m getting dressed and checking my email–just in time for me to read it while I eat breakfast. It’s almost always in a bag, rarely in a puddle, and hardly ever missing sections.

When things do go wrong, though–well, that’s why I’m ranting.

There are two papers around here, the San Francisco Chronicle and the East Bay Times. The latter is small and, IMNSHO, overly click-baitish. So we get the Chron. Except, of course, when the carrier goofs and gives us the wrong paper. That happens about once a month.

So we call the Chron and talk to their friendly robot in charge of delivery problems. No, I’m not being snide about an underpaid human. The whole process is automated, right down to the fake typing noises after the computer says, “Let me look that up for you.”

Not once have we actually gotten the paper redelivered when we’ve been given a Times instead of a Chron. I’m guess that’s because the Chron doesn’t have a “I got the wrong paper” option, just “Did you get your paper? Please answer yes or no.” So I suspect what happens when we say we didn’t is that Chron’s robot passes the word to the delivery person, who says to himself, “I remember tossing it into their driveway. They’re trying to scam an extra paper.” Why we’d want a second Chron, I can’t imagine, but I doubt logic really enters into this process.

Then we got a laser printed flier from the delivery service–or more likely, from the actual delivery person–that advised us to call them instead of the paper.

So that’s what we did the next time we got a Times. Wound up talking to an answering machine and were actually able to say, “Hey, we got the wrong paper today!” Wonder of wonders, a couple of hours later, we found a Chron outside.

Problem solved, right? Well…

That business about not calling the Chron rubs me the wrong way. It smacks of an attempt to cover up their goof. I’m sure the delivery contract specifies a service level agreement: papers to be delivered by a particular time, with no more than such-and-so many errors per month.

If we don’t call the Chron, those missed and incorrect deliveries might not be counted. There’s no incentive for the delivery service to improve their process*. There’s no accountability, no oversight.

* Nor, for that matter, is there any way for us to get a credit from the Chron if the paper never does show up.

We’ve decided to call both numbers. What’s the worst that happens? We might get two newspapers. Oh, the horror. But at least we’re doing our part to ensure that the situation doesn’t get any worse.

The analogy with the current state of the American political system is left as an exercise for the reader.

(Mostly) Quiet Moments

A few quick updates on the gang.

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Kokoro will take any opportunity to sprawl on my lap, even if it means sharing with Rhubarb. Since the weather turned colder and wetter, she’s been even more enthusiastic. The weird thing, though, is that the colder the weather, the more she melts.

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‘Nuki needs his toenails clipped and he’s got no qualms about using that fact when he demands attention. He hasn’t quite figured out that his threats would have more gravitas if they didn’t include those cute pink toebeans.

Lefty continues to be cautious about bipeds. He spends most of the time in his condo, and if we catch him outside, usually retreats immediately.


However, he’s realized that once we turn off the light, we rarely come back into the room. So he’s often at the food bowl before we even finish closing the door. His fastest time from light off to nose-in-bowl is three seconds, although the average is closer to six.

When humans aren’t involved, Lefty seems to be a rather mellow fellow.  At this point, he’s met most of the others, at least briefly, and Rufus spends every night and most of the days with him.  And so far, all the encounters have been peaceful.  No threats issued from between the bars in either direction.

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But Lefty takes relaxation almost to Rufusian levels.  Most cats I know would be uncomfortable in this situation. Not Lefty. He glanced out of the condo when Rufus climbed on top of the cage, then went back to sleep.

Two formerly feral fellows sharing a peaceful moment. What could be better?

(Lefty does love that poor catnip lemon, by the way. He’s all but disemboweled it and keeps it close to the condo at all times. But oddly, the pumpkin doesn’t get much love. He’ll play with it occasionally, but he always comes back to the lemon.)