Christmas Catten, Part 3: Attack Catten

Yesterday, Queenie stopped avoiding Tony and started being hostile to him instead. Tony would sometimes stand and resist, and sometimes beat a hasty (though strategic) retreat.

Today, some sort of thaw has developed. Queenie is still chasing Tony around the house, and there’s still an aggressive component, a “This is me showing you who’s Boss” component, but they are both obviously enjoying themselves, and Tony sometimes seeks Queenie out, to be chased.

And this morning, large-but-timid Orange Cat Malley came into the living room, to sit in the periphery, as he tends to do, and Tony surprised him by running across the coffee table, jumping past him, and landing behind him with sort of a “Ta Da!”, totally cutting off his escape route through the hallway.

Malley retreated “in some confusion,” as they used to say, and didn’t leave the bedroom until nine o’clock that night.

Next exciting Catten entry is here.

(Post #15 of 16 Posts in 16 Days)

Christmas Catten, Part 2: Free-Range Catten

When I got up early on Thursday morning after Tony the catten’s first night here, he was still huddled in his cage. I went over to the cage and talked to him softly and petted him some more, and right then and there he stretched and said, “Well, I can’t stay in this cage all the time,” and hasn’t looked back since.

For most of Thursday or Friday, if you wanted to find Tony, the first place to look was on top of one of the cat trees, especially the top of the highest one.

I promised more about that crazy wobbly gait of his. Who knows what’s going on, there? Some deficit from birth, or from the poison, or his illness a month ago? When he’s standing or walking, he seems relatively weak and unstable, but then he’ll run around the house, or leap from the cat tree to the chair, and he seems perfectly normal.

Sean says that he’s known another cat that wobbled exactly like this, also super-friendly: “You’d be petting him and he’d just wobble all the time. Didn’t stop him from being a great cat, though.”

The adult cats are still mostly sulking in the bedroom, but on Friday they started being more likely to be seen behaving normally. Queenie had the most direct interaction with Tony, but primarily they just avoided each other.

Tony’s biggest adventure on Friday was the Pursuit of (and by) the Roomba. I’ve posted pictures of this and other Tony exploits in the Gallery of Stopped Time.

Next exciting Catten entry is here.

(Post #14 of 16 Posts in 16 Days)

The Little Christmas Catten That Wasn’t

I have mentioned before in this space the perils of visiting my Mother-in-Law, Virginia, who is active in cat rescue. And yet, Sylvia and I went over to her house twice this month, to visit with her and Phil, and her son Bill and his son Alan. And (and this is going to totally blow you away), there were cats available for adoption there!

Big cats, little cats. I had been fooling around with this little kitten which was in a cage, but had also noticed this odd little catten (4 to 5 months old). You really couldn’t help but notice him, because: (a) He was incredibly friendly, and (b) He seemed to have The Staggers or something — he would just sway as he walked around, or as you petted him, all the time purring. More about this later.

I still had no designs on this cat; I want to make that clear. It was The Woman who tempted me: “Aw, Tom, look at the kitty! Can’t we take him home?”

I put up a staunch, but ultimately futile resistance: “Sure, I don’t mind.”

Virginia filled us in with his story, which is something along these lines: he had been poisoned by the men at an auto shop of some description, and Virginia found out about it somehow, perhaps because one of the guys there ratted them out; that part of the story isn’t clear. But he got the litter of kittens to her, super-young, and she was raising them fine, but then she took them in to be neutered (the problem being that people who are adopting cats want a super-young one, and Virginia won’t let them go without neutering them first), and the thing is, the vet will neuter at 1.5 pounds for males and 2.0 pounds for females, but they don’t get their first shots until somewhat after that, and this time, the kittens rolled snake eyes: while they were at the vet’s, they caught the incredibly evil Cat Fever, also known as Infectious Enteritis, also known as Feline Panleukopenia — it’s death on kittens.

And indeed, all of little Tony’s siblings (the catten’s name is Tony) started dropping like flies. Virginia took Tony into the office of a lady vet that she knows, and asked, “What’s your success rate with kittens and Pan Leuk?” “Well, zero.” “Do you mind trying to save this one? I’ve got a feeling about him.” “Ok, but I offer you no hope.” “That’s fine.”

After two days, the vet had to fly off to Hawaii, but her dad is also a vet, so Tony was transferred there. Later, Virginia learned that she called from Hawaii: “Dad, how’s the little cat with FP doing?” “Well, he’s stomping around his cage, dragging his IV around, and meowing like hell. Actually, he’s doing fine!”

The other story about this catten that Virginia told me was that when he was younger, and she would be vacuuming, all of the other cats would run away from the vacuum, but he would leap up on it and ride it — “He’s got the heart of a lion, that one!”

We were planning to have Virginia bring him over on Christmas, but then we thought that we wouldn’t be able to pay proper attention to him while opening presents, and also the carpet cleaners were coming on Tuesday, so he’d have to be in a cage, and in the end we put off bringing him over until Wednesday.

He strutted around our living room happily while Virginia was there, and let me put him in my lap and pet him, but about five minutes after she left, he said, “I’m just going to wait in the cage until Virginia comes back, OK?” And then he just really didn’t want to come out of there. If I went over to the cage, and talked to him softly, then he would purr loudly, and if I petted him, same thing, but if I took him out of the cage (something that I only tried every three hours or so), he would allow himself to be petted for a short time, and then take off for the cage.

The adult cats have stopped by to hiss at him and then bravely run away; this did not make him feel any more secure, I’d imagine.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s exciting sequel, featuring pictures!

(Post #13 of 16 Posts in 16 Days)

Epson PictureMate Personal Photo Lab

…at least, that’s what Epson’s marketing department calls it. I call it a PictureMate Photo Printer.

But I will say this, it’s incredibly reasonably priced, and it does the one thing that it does extremely well.

The “one thing that is does” is to print a 4×6 photo, either from your camera’s media card (it seems to accept pretty much all of them) or from your computer, over a USB cable.

I read somewhere, but haven’t attempted to double-check, that the printer uses dye sublimation, which is an extremely good process. The box claims that the prints produced are archival quality, expected to last 200 years when stored in photo albums.

The prints are astonishingly good; perhaps they are just very slightly darker than they appear on my screen, but heck, I can control the brightness of my screen, and I have the thing floored to ‘brightest screen ever’, so they could have perfect fidelity for all I know. They’re certainly light-years better than the crappy prints produced by Wal-Mart, when I tried them once. I ordered some prints from Kodak’s Ofoto service once, and these seem to be pretty much exact equivalents (“as good as Kodak”: pretty darn good), but I have to locate the Ofoto prints to be sure.

The only complaint that I have about it is one that is also true of a larger Epson printer I own: every time, the first time that you want to print from the Macintosh’s iPhoto program after you have started the program, you have to be sure to remember to run Page Setup and select the Printer and Page Size, and then when you print the first picture you may need to reselect the Printer, and you’ll need to select the Fine quality. It never seems to remember these settings. But that’s easy for me to remember to do, and you only have to do that ritual once after starting the program, and I’m telling you, the prints are super-good!

The price is right, too: $130 from Amazon for the printer itself. As for the paper and ink costs, they are interestingly sold together in ink/paper multi-packs. If you buy the 270-print packs, the incremental cost per picture is only 24 cents.

Sylvia has been hounding me, over the years, to print out some of the pictures that I’ve taken, or that she has taken, and with the old printer, I always put her off, because it was expensive and/or tedious. The new printer makes it super, super-easy, and the results are terrific — my mother-in-law Virginia was astonished when I told her that the print that she was looking at had been printed on a computer printer. To my untutored eye, they’re indistinguishable from photo lab prints.

I may try to scan in a print from the printer, and let you compare it to the digital original, but it’s not really fair, because then the scanner may be adding noise, and you’ll think that the PictureMate is less good than it is. If I can find some Wal-Mart and Ofoto prints of the same shot, then I could scan all three of them in; that would be a fair bake-off, since all of them would have had to survive the scanner.

(Post #11 of 16 Posts in 16 Days)

Canon EOS Rebel XT SLR and Canon Speedlite 580EX

Recently, my boss, Ron Traver, threw a party for the Network Management Software group and the Testing group, and as often happens nowadays, people sent e-mails to everybody afterwards, containing their digital photographs. I have been using a 3 megapixel piece of Canon consumer garbage, and it certainly does have compactness on its side, but I was absolutely blown away by the pictures that my friend and co-worker Ravi Govil came up with using the 8 megapixel Canon EOS Rebel XT SLR, and I remembered that my buddy, Industry Figure Jeff Lorenzini, has had the predecessor to this same camera for years, and really liked it.

It was a tight race between the Canon Rebel XT and the Nikon digital D70 (Industry Figure Chris Gibson has the latter, and sings its praises, especially the adaptive focusing over multiple shots: if the subject is moving toward you, the camera notices that), but in the end, I knew more people who were using the Canon, and more importantly, forgot to actually consider the Nikon.

Jeff Lorenzini advised me to spare no expense in purchasing an add-on flash, and for this I will be eternally grateful. The big additional flash gives you all kinds of control over how you’d like the picture to be lit. The camera is smart about the flash, and will close its shutter early if need be, so that your subject is basically never washed out. And finally, and most importantly, with an articulated flash, you can aim it independently, perhaps bouncing it off the ceiling, so that your subjects aren’t being blinded by your freaking camera flash.

For example, look at this picture of Tiger Lily below. Now, I’ve got all manner of pictures of this cat squinting its eyes closed, but this is the first time that I’ve been able to get anything like a nice natural shot. And look how nicely she is in focus, and how the background, in contrast, is de-emphasized by blurriness.

Click on the picture if you want to be absolutely blown away by the detail. I say that if you look closely, you can see my body reflected in her eyes.

And again, here below is skittish cat Queenie. I have lots and lots of photos of her either squinting unhappily or staring at me with suspicious green eyes, but with the Canon SLR and Speedlite combination, and with the flash pointed at the ceiling, I’ve literally filled up a 256 Mb flash memory card with pictures of this cat, without rattling her in the slightest. (Don’t be misled by her sad-eyed stare; this is just her natural look. She can be purring and looking at you with the sad eyes. Chris Gibson speculates that perhaps she can see something about you: “Oh, you’re going to die soon; that’s sad.”)

As before, you can click on the picture to see the amazing level of detail actually captured by the camera.

The camera comes with fully-automatic autofocus, autoexposure mode, and also many variant modes that give you anything from slightly more control to absolute total control. It is sold either naked (with no lens) or with an EF-S image stabilizing lens that goes from near-macro to mild-zoom levels, without actually eliminating the need for high-end users to purchase macro and long zoom lenses. So far, I have had no such need.

(Post #10 of 16 Posts in 16 Days)

The Little Stockpot That Saved Christmas (Stew)

My lovely wife, Sylvia, had volunteered us to host Christmas, and to make the Christmas Stew for my in-laws.

Now, you might or might not be surprised to hear this, but even though we’re 50 years old, we didn’t know how to make a stew. However, a few quick phone calls, web searches, look-ups in the recipe books and we were ready to go…except that we didn’t have a stew pot.

“Geez, Tom, can’t we just use one of our existing big pots?” My spouse demanded, and who among us can say that she didn’t have a point?

“No, well, honey, they say that you should have a Dutch Oven,” I countered, and scuttled off to the nearest Great Indoors to purchase an All-Clad 8 Qt. Stainless Steel Stockpot, $258.00 US.

“WOOF!” I can hear you say, if you’ve never bought All-Clad. “A quarter of a thousand dollars for a stew pot???” And once again, who wouldn’t say that you had a hell of a point? I won’t even tell you about the same pot in their Copper Core line, which will set you back a cool $400 before you’ve had Stew One.

But this All-Clad cookware, they’ve got the bonded triple-alloy bottoms; they’re supposed to conduct heat like nobody’s business! At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Yeah, but my cheap pot still gets hot, all right.” This is true, up to a point, but your lame inferior pot conducts heat unevenly, and develops soul- and stew-destoying hot spots, whereas, supposedly, mine would not. And we were feeling Uncertain about the stew; we could use every advantage.

The big day arrived, and all was going well. Then, at virtually the last minute, but what was in fact the final half-hour, I added the vegetables, and decided that the stew needed some more water, too. “Looks like it needs some more water,” was about how I sized up the situation, if I remember correctly.

But, after I had added the vegetables and the water, the stew, which had been bubbling merrily, looked sullen and withdrawn. “Time to kick it up a notch — Bam!” I didn’t say, as I turned the fire “temporarily” up from simmer to nuclear furnace.

My Good Work in the kitchen complete, I wandered off and essentially contemplated my naval for about 25 minutes. Then, sensing that the time to serve stew had almost arrived, I meandered back to the kitchen, and, seeing the stove setting, swore like a sailor: “Bork! Dole!”, I cried (and if those weren’t the exact words that I used, well, at least plenty of the actual words did have four letters).

I cranked the dial down to warm, lifted the lid, and started stirring cautiously: maybe there was an unburnt top layer that could be salvaged. But what’s this? Total, absolute, and complete non-burnage! It was 100% OK! At five servings, that was a solid (say) $20 worth of stew saved right there! And (as Sean pointed out), after another dozen meals saved, the thing will have paid for itself!

Everybody said that the stew was great, and in fact, we all had just a terrific time — it was the first time that Sean and grandparents Virginia and Phil had been together for a while.

Long live All-Clad!

(Post #9 of 16 Posts in 16 Days)

‘…Wait, What Was That Reribbal Nonsense?’

It’s like this: I’m kind of a traditionalist. I believe in the Old Ways. They’re solid. They’ve got the weight of History and Tradition. So, if I’m going to tell you this story, I’m going to have to start it with one of the Classic Forms:

“So, I’d had a couple of drinks…”

Yeah, I know.

…about two or three weeks ago, and then felt like peacefully snoozing on the sofa. Several hours later, my lovely wife, Sylvia, returned from a night out with the girls, and I welcomed her and chatted with her amiably for a short time. And then, I thought: “Why not clear away my wine glass, and a few other dishes, from the coffee table? Why not get my ungainly carcass off the sofa, so that my Beloved has a place to sit down?”

For me, it was but the work of a moment to translate this thought into Action: I leapt from the sofa, gazelle-like, daintily grasped the wine glass in my hand, and headed for the kitchen…

Except that as I stood up, I suddenly conceived a new plan, to wit: I would allow all the blood to drain from my face, and then collapse like a sack of coals — and believe me, there was a larger-than-usual bump as my ribs hit the arm of the (otherwise) overstuffed armchair on the way down. Didn’t break the wine glass. Didn’t even let go of it. Carefully cradled it in my hand as I fell.

Sylvia was looking at me with Undisguised Alarm. A terse colloquy ensued:
“Are you all right?” “…No!”

In fact, I hurt like hell. You know how, when you’ve suffered a sudden injury, there’s this moment where you’re waiting to see which way the thing is trending? Because for the first 30 seconds or so, I really thought that I was heading south. “Oh, whoa, I may have totally screwed myself up,” I mused, if mused is the word I want.

But gradually things calmed down a bit, and I started laughing. This didn’t reassure Sylvia as much as you might have imagined. “What’s so funny?” “Well, you know how the doctor prescribed all these new medicines recently?” “Yeah…” “Well, one of them says, ‘Hey, careful with alcohol and this medication.’ And another one says, ‘Hey, really don’t stand up suddenly while taking this medication.’ ”

The last was the Big One. If you take medication to lower your blood pressure, especially for the first several weeks that you’re on it, you need to be careful when standing up, especially if you’ve been lying down. You have to first sit up, wait three seconds, and then stand up.

And indeed, you might have asked yourself, in the past, “Why do people even have high blood pressure? I mean, if it’s so bad for longevity, wouldn’t it just be evolved out?”

And part of the answer is, “Well, high blood pressure is good, if you’re a little overweight, and you don’t want to pass out if you suddenly jump up, perhaps because There’s a Tiger!”

So I called my sadistic Physical Therapists, to tell them that I wouldn’t be coming in (I was Seriously Screwed Up: two days after the injury, I actually went to meet John to walk wearing only one shoe, because I couldn’t face putting on the other one just immediately right in a row like that). And the darned Physical Therapists said, “No, you should just come in, because did you know, we’re Physical Therapists, and you’ve had an injury, and it’s sort of What We Do!”

Sigh.

I’m way better now, though I’m told that I’ve probably popped an intercostal junction between a rib and its adjoining cartilage (no broken ribs as such, though). I know all about this, because I had an intercostal separation when I was about 17, while climbing, and after two years of pain I went to see a doctor, and he said, “Yeah, you’ve got this thing, and there’s really nothing that we do for that: you just live in pain for several years, and then it slowly gets better.” And, as it turns out, that’s still the Standard of Care.

Sigh. Ow.

(Post #7 of 16 Posts in 16 Days)

‘This One’s Due for Rebackal (and Reribbal, Surprisingly)’

So, when we last checked in on Our Hero (that’s me!), he had bravely suffered a diagnosis of BB (Bad Back), leading to WDFWWTF (Wacky Dropped Foot When Walking Too Fast). One of the things that my doctor had prescribed was Physical Therapy, so I’ve been going to professional Sadists three times a week for the last many weeks, now.

Just about every other time that I would go, they would teach me a new exercise, and my first response to the new exercise was, “Hey, this one’s not so hard!” This happened every time.

My minder, Tamara, would watch me do the exercise a few times (just long enough for me to get the false confidence), and then she would universally announce, “You’re doing it wrong. Don’t [as it might be] raise your unsupported hip that much. Try to keep it level with the other hip.” (Me: “Arrrrrggh!”) “There, that’s better, just like that!”

After about a month of this, I figured out that I was instinctively doing things the Easy Way, but that that is not The Point of Exercise; no, the point of exercise is to do things the Hard Way. So now, when she teaches me a new exercise, I ask myself, “Is it miserable? No? What, then, am I doing wrong?”

I’m like her Star Pupil, now.

(Post #6 of 16 Posts in 16 Days)