1 January 2019 – Long Letter Follows

1 January, 2019 | | 1 Comment

Still aint’n dead.  Missed most of the last year – slept right through it.  Will work on updating this more often – a genuine, shiny new year’s resolution.  Hey, I’ve got to have something to fail at, right?

Be well, stay safe, think positive thoughts about the end of the current administration.  The watchword for 2019 is HOPE.

Oh, and be nice to each other while I’m away.  Your fellow humans are going through a lot right now.

Bide.  And hope.

Suppressed Memories and Other Tales: Counting

31 May, 2018 | | No Comment

A long, long time ago, by which I mean ‘before Facebook,’ we had some kids.  These days, those kids are all teenagers, but that wasn’t always the case!  They were young, even like unto babies, and SOBUMD and I were completely new at parenting.  (These days we’re such old hats at parenting that we run seminars.  And by seminars, I mean about recreational alcoholism.)

But the point is that there are stories that were missed, because we were too freaked out to write them down, fill in the little embellishments, add the filigree, and post them, and also because we weren’t blogging at the time.  Also, blogging wasn’t much of a thing back then, but that’s less of an excuse.  And so, I’m going to try to add a few True Tales From the Crypt of Early Parenthood.

We will begin with Counting.

One day, when the kids were small, we had a playdate with friends who had small kids as well.  By small, think 4 or 5 or so.  My kids were running around with blocks and singing songs.  Their kids were running around with balls and singing songs.  We and our friends were sitting around with drinks and talking about how tired we were.  We got on the topic of knowing their numbers and how much fun it is to watch them struggle with the digits, and I had to go open my big mouth and show how smart the Human Tape Recorder was.  “Hey, come over here and show how you count to ten!”  (Our friends were also techies, just so that’s understood.)

HTR:  “Sure!  0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, C, D, E, F, 10!”

They were duly impressed.  Having learned to count in hexadecimal before learning basic math is probably why she hasn’t scored less than a 97% on any given math test.  (She’s now in college studying math that would Einstein barf.)

Suddenly, a voice from the din:  “Hey, I know!  Let’s sing the Counting Song!”

All the kids decided this was a wonderful thing, since it seemed all the kids knew the counting song.  “You know the counting song?”



And with no further prompting and no accompaniment required, the other kids started singing:  “Well, there’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 wheels on a Big Rig!  And they’re Rolling, rolling, rolling; Rolling, rolling, rolling…”

They trailed off.  My kids looked at them like they’d just sprouted an extra head and some kind of a 4-headed, country-truck-song-singing quadruped had just landed on the carpet.  “THAT’s not the counting song!” said mine, with the indignant authority of a 5-year old who knows her numbers.  “Ours goes like this:”

And just before they started to sing, I realized what the counting song was.  Too late.

“I take one, one, one ’cause you left me
And two, two, two for my family
And three, three, three for my heartache
And four, four, four for my headache
And five, five, five for my lonely
And six, six, six for my sorrow
And seven, seven – no tomorrow
And eight, eight, I forget what eight was for
But nine, nine, nine for a lost god
And ten, ten, ten, ten for everything, everything, everything, everything!”

I was torn between proud and horrified, and settled for a kind of horrible pride.  Our friends allowed as how that was the funniest thing they’d ever heard, really, but oh look at the time, we need to be going, let’s pack it up guys.  For reasons that were never made entirely clear, there were no further playdates.  I’m sure it went down in our permanent record somewhere.

So, let this be a lesson to all you young parents – if you don’t teach your kids about numbers, the Violent Femmes will.  I leave you with both songs, so you can do your own side-by-side comparison.  Or, teach your kids to count.  But not in Hex.

(Trout Fishing in America)


(Violent Femmes)


In Defense of the Final Frontier

10 February, 2018 | | 1 Comment

A friend pointed out to me an article by a Luddite, who derides the recent SpaceX launch as frippery, Elon Musk as a modern-day Louis XVI, and the entire idea of space exploration as something humanity shouldn’t be allowed to play with until we clean up our room.

After some consideration, I’m not going to link to the article.  I’m sure you can find it if you go looking.  I disagree with the author completely.

His main point is that since the space program hasn’t ended war, poverty, or famine, it’s worthless.

The 1969 moon landing didn’t end the Vietnam War.  That’s true. Also true is that space programs like the International Space Station (ISS) foster cooperation between governments, helping to build mutual understanding as a result of international cooperation among nations. So far, more than 63 nations have worked together on the ISS. That kind of visible, public teamwork among potentially rival nations may not end the current wars, but can help prevent the next one.

Investment in the Apollo Moon exploration program in the 1960s also correlates with the level of technical education later attained by students, suggesting that the program’s high public profile positively influenced the level of US technical education. Having a visible space exploration program encourages young people to pursue STEM fields. So far, more than 43 million students from 49 countries have participated in experiments and activities associated with the ISS – building a generation of scientists and engineers who could help with the world hunger problems the author describes.

The assertion that “nothing of substantial worth was gifted to humanity as a result” of the space program is patently false. Even aside from the intangible truth that new knowledge has inherent value to humankind, there are thousands of examples of terrestrial benefits of the space program.

Healthcare is a great place to start.  Do you worry about osteoporosis? Prolia, a prescription drug to treat it, was developed in space. How about laser eye surgery? The technology now commonly used to track a patient’s eye and precisely direct the laser scalpel came from the space program.

Have an inoperable tumor? The robotics that have made inoperable tumors operable, with a robot arm capable of performing surgery inside an MRI machine, came from the space program. For that matter, MRI technology itself was based on innovations from the space program as well.

Do you drive? Goodyear improved the strength and durability of their radial tires in 1976, after developing a material for NASA to parachute the Vikings to a soft landing on the Martian surface.

Firefighters wear a lot of gear when they run into your burning building to save you. A lot of that gear – from the breathing system, face mask, frame, and harness; to the air bottle itself, which is made of an aluminum composite material developed by NASA for use on rocket casings – was initially developed for the space program.

Better baby food. Better solar panels. Better food safety systems – solutions for growing crops in space have lead to solutions for mold prevention on Earth.  Safer bridges, cars, and roller coasters because of structural analysis software built for the space program. Memory foam, in your helmets as well as for your heinie.  UV sunglasses. The camera on your cell phone.  Portable cordless vacuums, god help me. Custom-fitted exoskeletons to help paraplegics walk, derived from space robotic systems. Implantable heart monitors and LED?based anti?cancer therapy.  Water purification technology built for space exploration now purifies millions of cubic meters of water every day, in hundreds of towns.

The author of this article is so myopically focused on the trees of poverty and famine that he misses the forest of humanity’s impending overpopulation crisis.  “If Elon Musk wanted to do something spectacular, he’d have given the money to the poor instead of a spaceship to nowhere.” He offers no concrete solutions for *how* Musk should have used his money to alleviate poverty. “Give the money to the poor” is a child’s answer. Part of the importance of the launch was the cost – SpaceX spent $90 million (OK, plus the cost of Musk’s car), which is about $300 million cheaper than anyone else can do it.  There are an estimated 43.1 million Americans living in poverty (or were, in 2015, per the Census Bureau’s estimates).  At $90 million, Musk could have given each of them enough money to cover a cup of coffee at Starbucks, which would have impacted their lives… Not at all.

Stephen Hawking said that “to confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.” Elon Musk’s Telsa Roadster has people looking at the stars again, and I think that’s a very good use of his money.

Well-Oiled Machines

10 February, 2018 | | No Comment

If this were a food blog, I’d be telling you about the wings we made for dinner last night while we watched the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics.  Luckily for you, it’s not, and I won’t, save to say they were awesome, if not actually historic.

History and awesomeness, though, were on our minds as we watched the people, pageantry, and parades at PyeongChang last night.  Athletes from Russia, without the Russian flag.  History.  Athletes from North Korea, marching side-by-side with their South Korean teammates, under a unified Korean flag.  History.  And, to the delight of the entire world, a well-oiled skier from Tonga, carrying a Tongan flag, shirtless despite the 28-degree weather.  Awesome.

Pita Taufatofua, a Tongan martial artist turned skier, will be only the 72nd person to compete in back-to-back summer and winter Olympics.  Mind you, 5 of those people have done that multiple times – Japan’s Seiko Hashimoto seems to hold the record for back-to-back Olympic games at 7, starting with the winter games in 1984 and participating in every subsequent summer and winter Olympics through 1996.  Terry McHugh of Ireland did it four times, from 1996-2002, as did Jaqueline Mourão of Brazil, from 2004-2010.

If the World’s Favorite Oiled Tongan makes it to Tokyo in 2020, as he’s said he hopes to, he will be one of only 15 people to have participated in 3 Olympics in a row.  He seems to be a bit of a nut, but I suspect you might have to be to compete at that level.  This is a guy who understands that he doesn’t need a medal at these games – he’s already won.

Speaking of winning, I am considering setting my sights on the Olympics as well.  Since I really don’t look that good in coconut oil, I’m researching curling – and I think I may have found my people!  They are – mostly – slow-moving, overweight, white people.  I could do this!  Some of the athletes at PyeongChang this year are older than I am.  Mind you, they’re setting records for it, but still – my dreams of Olympic glory needn’t fade yet.

Speaking of well-oiled machines, the dizzying, dazzling drone display was pretty damned impressive.  That was probably the best commercial for Intel that I’ve ever seen.  Between that and the fireworks, this Opening Ceremony was a clear and solid answer to the theatrical and technical masterpiece that was Beijing ten years ago.

On with the games!



How to Kill Your Cat

12 January, 2018 | | 1 Comment

I was going to float the title topic a little more softly than that, but let’s face it – some times, the kitty needs to go.  As an old and dear friend reminded me today, sometimes waiting, no matter how much we’d like to, can be an act of selfishness at a time when selflessness is most called for.

I am famous, or perhaps infamous, in some circles for driving a car with a license plate that reads HORCRUX.  In the unlikely event that you’re a complete muggle or have simply been under a rock for several years, a horcrux (from Harry Potter) is an object, living or inert, into which you hide a part of your own soul, thus making you harder to kill – like Westley in the Princess Bride, you wouldn’t be all the way dead, you’d only be *mostly* dead.

I’ve come to the conclusion that horcruxes are real.  Unlike the world of Harry Potter, though, you don’t have to commit murder to create one.  You just need a pet.

Our pets gradually siphon off pieces of our souls; this is why we bond with them as we do, and this is why it hurts so much to let them go – we’re killing a part of ourselves with them, even as we do them the last piece of kindness that we can.

So, that’s the bad news.  The good news, though, is that it turns out that our souls are modeled after our livers.  They regenerate on their own, with just a bit of time and care.  It’s like a liver for your spirit.  They grow back, in time.  Imagine if geese had souls – we could have spiritual foie gras!

But enough about all that.  I want to talk about logistics.  Here’s what happened:

Professor Flitwick (hey, there’s a reason my analogies are mostly Harry Potter references) came to us at 7 years old, quick on his feet and with a firm understanding that the top of the refrigerator was a good place to hang out – he could reach it in one jump, without effort.  At 17 years old, he started considering the litter box “optional” – but never did his business outside line of sight of the box.  The basement being a semi-functional free-fire zone anyway, we got by.  For 2 more years.

This past November, the business moved upstairs.  By Christmas, the business had reached every room in the house, and the Christmas tree.  He was starting to have trouble with the stairs, and he couldn’t jump on things.  He didn’t seem to be in pain, but quality of life – his and ours – was degrading quickly.  Last week, we knew it was time.

Pro Tip:  Do Not Google “How to kill your cat at home.”

Since the last time we had to make this call was more than 19 years ago, I was a little out of practice, so I did what everyone does:  I Googled “how to kill your cat at home.”  The Internet is really, really great.  It is a wealth of knowledge, the collective hive mind of some of the greatest and some of the most deranged humans on the planet.  I found hundreds of ways to ensure exsanguination, and dozens of ways to ensure your beloved Mitzie stayed dead once she took the big dirt nap.  (I confess I was surprised how many people read Pet Sematary as an instruction manual.)  Regardless, the real question was quickly noted to be “how do you prevent suffering,” and there were two answers.  One involved firearms and a locale conducive to their discharge, and the other was “get a professional.”

Since we have no firearms at the moment, nor do we live near a locale conducive to their discharge, I started researching professionals.  Since Prof. Flitwick had hated going to the vet for his entire life, finding someone who could come to the house was paramount.  It was also really damn expensive.

I called around 8 places, at least 5 of whom said no, but recommended a group called Lap of Love.  They’re pros – preventing suffering is what they do and why they do it.  The pricing model, though, was a factor:  the first $325 kills the cat, but it’s another $125 to *remove* the cat.  So, the bargain price means you need to dispose of the remains yourself.

Now, I’m told they have this problem in the winter in Maine, too.  It was 12 degrees Fahrenheit out there, and it had been for weeks.  I’m not burying this animal in the backyard without dynamite.  In Maine, they put the inconveniently demised on ice (ha ha) for a few months and have a bunch of burial ceremonies in April and May, when the ground thaws out.

Pro Tip:  Do Not Suggest to Your Spouse that you use Your FoodSaver™ Vacuum Sealer to Store Your Dead Cat Until the Ground Thaws.

I considered several options in rapid succession, some involving transporting a dead cat over state lines, some involving my FoodSaver™ Vacuum Sealer and the downstairs freezer, and some involving what can only be described as “a lot of alcohol.”  Since the last thing I wanted was to deal with Pet Sematary II:  The Icebox Cometh, I wrote the check for the extra and got on with it.

The getting on with it, if you find yourself in a similar situation, was as hopeful, unstressful, and positive as possible.  The people at Lap of Love could not have been nicer, easier to work with, more respectful of Flitwick and our family, or more decent human beings.  Dr. Nora came to our house at the appointed hour, sat with us for a while, talked us through everything, and ensured that Flitwick left us painlessly and full of treats.

She mentioned, and several of the people I’d called had said the same, that 19 years for a full-blood Bengal cat is unusual in itself – many mentioned that whatever we’d been doing, he’d had at least 2 years that most of his breed don’t see.  Since they’d been a pretty good 2 years, we were glad of that.

Pro Tip:  Unless You Already Have a “Songs of Euthanasia” Playlist, Leave the Music Off 

I was careful with one thing:  There was no music playing.  I once broke up with a girlfriend with the radio on – bad idea.  I cannot hear that song without having very vivid flashbacks.  I would spare you that reminder.  Just imagine remembering the time we put Ol’ Barney down every time Ed Sheeran’s Shape Of You comes on.  “I’m in love with your bod-ahhhhhhh….”  It would be horrible.  Don’t do it.

So, we bid the Professor a fond farewell as best we could, and he left with his warm soft blanket and many pieces of our souls to take with him, presumably to use as cat toys in Bast’s infinite backyard.  Like my liver, my soul is regenerating itself – and, like my liver, it will take some time.  Knowing we did well by him in the end doesn’t make it any easier – but it does, really.  I’m not gonna lie, not having to clean the damn floors every day helps, too.

But I’ll miss the furry little bastard.