Archive | May, 2011

>Conversations With A Cat

31 May

>Rannie is allowed on my desk; after nearly twenty years of various cats napping on or behind the monitor, how could I not. However, I often eat breakfast in front of the screen and Ms. Rannie struggles mightily with her impulses, staring at the plate like a fashion model eying a box of chocolates. Often one stealthy paw will start to reach out, closer, closer, while she darts glances at me to see if I’m paying attention.

Me (putting a hand out to block, which of course she smooths on): “Anh! Rannie, no.”

Rannie: “Wuhrmiiiooow!” [Aw, c’mon, you haven’t even touched that stuff for the last fifteen seconds!]

Me: “No, Rannie, that’s my breakfast. You already had yours.”

Rannie (pushing harder against my hand): “Wrmiiieeeeeee!” [It was kibble. Eww. Want yours!]

Me (now pushing hard enough she’s about to have to leap off the desk): “No! Curried eggs are not for cats!”

Rannie (as she jumps down and does a 180): “Riaaaow!” [Bird’s eggs! It’s exactly what cats should eat!]

Me: “Cat, prove me your kind invented even the frying pan, let alone cooking, and you’re on.”

Rannie (jumping gracefully back onto the desk, attention on my plate): “Mmmmroooo!” [That’s your job, monkey-girl. Eggses! WANT!]

Rinse, lather, repeat. I’ve tried growling at her but she just looks at me like I’ve gone loopy.

Meanwhile, Huck spent the morning alternating between:

A) Rolling on his back, grabbing at his own tail, which (of course) flips the other way. He follows, looking like a giant woolyworm trying to flip right side up, faster and faster until he springs up, looking surprised.

B) Hunting Rannie as if she was some kind of oversize, pointy-eared tortoiseshell piney squirrel. (The pineys have non-bushy tails; poor things look like one of their parents went and married a rat!) She runs from this, of course, and Huck has to give chase. (If I could train him to go after stag or fox, I’d get rich!)

C) Plopping down in the middle of the floor and gazing regally around at his domain. He is serenely confident that, as the only male in the house, he is In Charge. I’ve tried explaining to him that it doesn’t work that way even for an all-cat population, but he won’t believe me.*

If they both hunted my breakfast, I would probably lose out every morning. As it is, I can count on him to help distract her.
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*I’m not even sure I do. Based on the behavior of strays in my old neighborhood, while small, matrilocal communities do form, with the Best Mommy in charge — oldest with the most offspring — the toms had their own range and hierarchy. A wandering knight would show up, adopt the little cat-community in the back yard and fight off all comers, but they tended to patrol the far marches most of the time. The tom’s range might include multiple little households, some of which hunted and played outside the area the tom claimed. This arrangement doesn’t have a “boss” of either gender in total control of the whole thing. Complicated, though it does make character motivations in C. J. Cherryh’s “Chanur” books easier to follow.

>Monday, Paid Holiday

31 May

>Sunday was Memorial Day; today’s just the semi-official start of summer.
Tam points out that Monday actually was Memorial day; I didn’t pay enough attention when I did my homework. This means I did my memorializing on the wrong day, too.

I goofed off: slept in, had a nice bath — well, semi-nice, the tub at Roseholme is on the short and shallow side (I’d install a big clawfoot tub in the basement if I could figure out how to fit it in).

Then I Actually Got Some Things Done, like trim mowing with the weedwhacker, laundry and replacing the lamps and rectifier/regulator on my motorscooter (more work than you’d think, since the windscreen and top of the “headset” (instrument panel in the handlebars) have to come off to do the headlight and instrument lights — I seem to have been shipped two less than I needed, so I left off the high beam and fuel gauge lamps — and swapping out the regulator requires taking out the battery and removing a sturdy bracket, which mounts the starting solenoid and regulator. Installed the new battery strap (hooray! I’ve had to use little bungee cords instead for years) and a fancy chrome headlight surround for pretty. Also the old one was loose.

Took the scooter around the block and it was okay; ran by Locally Grown Gardens and found the shift linkage (looooong cables, this being a classic scooter: you twist the left grip to shift) felt a little stiff. But not too bad, so I made a run to Kroger for cat litter and other necessities. (Linkage loosened up but I may take the headset apart again and check things are properly arranged.)

Not too bad, though a guy turned in after me at the parking lot and squealed his brakes when I slowed more abruptly than he expected. –My fault, he wasn’t signalling and I foolishly took him at his word. I have some relearning to do, all the habits and reflexes that improve the odds on two wheels in a four-wheel world; there are 2152 miles on the Chetak and this year accounts for about two of them.

Returned from the Market and started charcoal for a feast: burgers, roasted corn, salad, chocolate milk. Charbroiled burgers on toasted rye, with coarse Dijon, chili sauce and thin slices of tomato and onion: heaven! The roasted corn-on-the-cob (cleaned, buttered and grilled in its own dampened shuck) was ambrosia and an herb salad with plenty of carrots and red bell pepper capped it off. Ate too much and watched Bill Maher play true to type — a horse’s patoot — in an old Max Headroom episode.

Not too bad for a day off, even if I did manage to get possibly a bit too much sun on my face: suncreened everywhere but, confident my facial moisturizer had an adequate SPF. It doesn’t.

>Music: Stu Brown Gets It

30 May

>Hi. I’m Roberta X and I’m a fan of Raymond Scott.

–So are you, probably, if you ever enjoyed animated shorts (no, no, not that kind, the movies); his work is used so extensively (in everything from Bugs Bunny to The Oblongs) that you can’t avoid it. Given his success at doing what his 1930s bosses claimed was impossible, writing music most people liked the first time they heard it, you wouldn’t want to. (Even Rush quotes a Scott tune).

The best examples of his pre-electronic work are his own recordings of his band. An awful lot of his compositions* deliberately quote natural sounds — a ticking clock, seagulls and buoys, an auctioneer, steam engines at least twice — and it’s not an easy feat. Other times, he’s creating the sounds of things more fantastical: dancing wooden Indians (yes, cigar-store statues of Native Americans, who certainly ought to get a night off now and then), water bubbling in a cannibal’s pot, ghosts celebrating New Years Eve. This stuff is hard to play; you can get all the notes right, be right on the beat, and still miss the sound.

Otherhandedly, the recordings Scott supervised are decades old; most precede magnetic tape. The noise floor is high and the dynamic range limited. Transient response is slow and tends to “grit.” Oh, they are excellent work for the day and have been remastered with affection and respect, eminently listenable.

–But there’ve been few modern recordings that capture the elusive Raymond Scott sound; the man drove his musicians remorselessly, knowing precisely what he was after. Technical excellence will take you a long way but it’s not enough alone.

With that for background, I’m very pleased to tell you that Stu Brown’s Raymond Scott Project gets there. Maybe it’s just Edison’s 90%/10% formula or the plain willingness to play it until their eyes bleed. Maybe they’re just that much better. But for whatever reason, here’s a band that knows what live steam sounds like, that doesn’t flinch from dancing mummies, and got it all down in digital storage.

Majorly recommended.
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* Composed, according to those who were there, on the the band itself, not on paper. This is a little rough on the musicians but Scott’s notion was that, at least until the composition had taken final form, a written score got in the way, causing all involved to defer to the map instead of the territory, the abstract symbols rather than the real sound. When a Julliard grad says that, he’s not expressing a mere quirk or whim and the results he got prove him out.

>She’s Baaaack!

30 May

>Have I mentioned Planet Karen has gone active again, with new work that reminds me of Eisner? Forsooth. And she’s even dreamed up the most terrifying crossover imaginable!

Enjoy.

(Also, if I could pick anyone to illustrate I Work On A Starship? Her. Mind you, I still want Robb Allen to do the cover graphics.) Link

>Decoration Day

30 May

>It’s Memorial Day, Dad. My birthday was yesterday; Mom’s was a week ago, the same day you died. I drove by your gravesite today, too sleepy to stop, and thought again of you.

You didn’t fall in uniform but I think you fell in battle, fighting your balky, unreliable body and a mind gone hazy in patches, so much so you did your best to be affable to visitors, even your kids; hid the worry away for only Mom to see. We knew you were still in there, the agile, quick-witted Dad; still there, looking out, stuck.

Mom says she made you morels the night before you died. One good thing, one last joy; she says you did enjoy the treat, too, present in the moment.

You slipped away before you left, a little at a time. We’d spoke the week before and you were….distant. Friendly but as if talking into a wind, facing a too-bright sunset, unsure who it was on the other end of the line. I missed you then.

I miss you now. Did I ever really know you? I knew my Dad: bigger than life, looming over the horizon of my life. Maybe that’s all of their parents children ever know. By the time we meet as peers, we’re not who we were.

But Dad? You are remembered. All of you I ever knew, from the Daddy who guided my steps to the father whose steps I guided: the memories are still there.

That much is left.

Tomorrow, I’ll stop by.

(My Dad served in the U.S. Naval Reserve, originally in the gunpowder section of a battleship turret, where he hurt his back pretty badly. Ended up his hitch as ship’s librarian and — as near as I can figure — studying for radioman. When I was little, he said it was “a powder room accident,” and wouldn’t explain. I thought he’d slipped in the shower! Of course, he also claimed the job of the USNR was to collect, sort and safely store the nation’s reserve supply of bellybuttons and darned near had me convinced, too.)

>No, No, NO! Indy 500 Trivia

29 May

>It is, dag-gone it, the Marmon Wasp, not the “Mormon” Wasp.

While I am entirely sure that the LDS church has found within its ranks a statistically-likely number of race car drivers and designers, that pointy-tailed car was from Marmon. They’re still around.

Driver Ray Harroun was the Motor Speedway’s first solo entry; all other cars had riding mechanics and to accomodate safety worries (OMG! He has no one to nag him!), he had a rearview mirror installed. Commonly credited as the first user, almost certainly the first race car driver to use one…but idea had been written up in a tech magazine some years before. So he’s not the inventor.

I don’t so much mind it when they get the latter wong; it’s a debatable point. But sheesh, it sure does grate to hear talking heads and J. Random Strangers refer to The Mormon Wasp. (Just exactly how likely is it that any Mormon, ever, would call a yellow-and-black, stinger-tailed car anything but a bee, anyhow? C’mon, people, how hard is this? Have you not seen any Utah iconography?)

>Dream? Nightmare?

28 May

>I have got to get more sleep — otherwise things like this happen when I sit down to write:

It’s Too Early For This
When I walked into the control room, John M—-, the Star Pilot for this Jump, had a steaming mug sitting on the console in front of him and was methodically dunking what I took to be a teabag. It didn’t seem to have a tag on the end of the string but the sodden lump on the other end of the string was about the right size and color.

The Jump Co-ordinator and Preset Tech were staring at him in horror, their eyes following each slow dunk as if hypnotized.

John lifted the teabag a little higher and it twisted at the end of the string, suddenly no teabag at all, curling up towards his hand to reveal bright, mad-looking eyes and a tiny mouth filled with sharp teeth. “Oh, no you don’t” he exclaimed, hastily returning it to the hot water. He looked over at the producer. “There’s nothing like the smell of a wet mouse in the morning,” he said, as if that were explanation enough.

Lifting the creature back out of the mug, he gave it a narrow look. “That ought to learn you,” he told it. “Now stay…out…of…my…lunch!” On the last word, he flipped it toward the door, narrowly missing me. It landed in the hallway, bounced once, and tore off down the hall like — well, like a mouse who’d just been waterboarded and wanted to get as far away as possible, as quickly as possible.

And people wonder why I avoid the early shift!

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It’s only a nightmare. The mouse problem in the Tech Core has never been that bad.

Plus, you can’t have open containers in the Jump Bridge, especially not when Lupine is bumping her way in and out of normal spacetime.