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shameless pleading





May 2014

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi


Whaddaya mean May? I distinctly said to wake me in April. This is an outrage.

But wait! Look over there! A kitty! Apparently reading Slashdot. Odd. Anyhoo, this is Marley, one of the famous Garage Kittens from about eight years ago, now all growed up and permanently ensconced on my desk. Seriously. All the other cats wander around the house, find new favorite spots, look out the window, chase mice in the kitchen, but not Marley. Marley has a job: sitting on my desk, and he takes it very, very seriously. Marley never moves. Marley is bolted to my desk.

Marley on the desk.

Actually, Marley does sometimes wander off to eat, repel invaders, and so forth, and sometimes Marley will be standing on the couch or a table when he senses that I am about to walk past, headed for the desk. Marley waits until the last possible moment and then quickly leaps toward the desk so that he sails across my path, clearing me by mere inches. Actually, that’s on a good day. On a bad day, he either slams into my arm or misjudges the distance and lands on the floor.

Marley, incidentally, is discouraged from going out in the hall because he has a record of attempting to leap from the hall table to the banister above the stairwell and overshooting the mark. Marley apparently cannot fly, and is very lucky the stairs are thickly carpeted.

But mostly Marley just sits on my desk. Staring at me. For hours at a time. Staring at my face. Sitting or lying next to the keyboard, staring at my face without blinking or moving a muscle. I know he does this because he likes me (at least I hope that’s it). Occasionally he’ll make his signature noise, which is the sort of chirping trill usually associated with songbirds. (Marley can also say one word — “Hi” —  very clearly. This cat ain’t normal.) Every so often he’ll reach out verrrry slowly and tap me on the nose if he senses I’m not paying attention. Apparently I’m supposed to stare at him all day, too. If I finally can’t take it anymore and stand up and gently carry Marley over to the nice soft couch where the other kitties snooze, he flies back to his spot on the desk before I get back to my chair. I sit down and there he is, staring at me, now with a hurt expression on his kitty-cat face. Then I have to watch a half-hour of Maru videos with him to cheer him up. Marley loves Maru. He’s also the only cat I’ve known who really enjoys watching TV; he’s endlessly fascinated by Mister Ed.

Marley is not a small cat, and I’m always surprised by how heavy he is, a fact that suddenly became important about two weeks ago. I have a smaller writing desk behind my big desk, where I sometimes type on my laptop. I’ve been dragging this little desk around since 1969, so it has considerable sentimental value. But its real attraction lately has been that if I’m typing on it with my laptop, there’s no room for Marley. He has to stay on the big desk behind me. This understandably frustrates him, and he occasionally leans over and taps me on the shoulder to get me to turn around and pet him a little.

So one evening two weeks ago, I’m typing away at my little desk when Marley realizes he’s been patient long enough and decides to leap from the big desk to the little one, apparently planning to land in my coffee cup. Unfortunately, I picked the exact moment of Marley’s takeoff to swivel in my chair towards the big desk, and  Marley hit the side of my head going full tilt. He must have had a good bit of momentum, because I felt like I’d been beaned with a fur-covered bowling ball. Wow.

Marley was all right as far as I could tell, but I sure wasn’t. The entire side of my head was numb, I had a splitting headache, and my vision (he had hit me close to my good eye) was blurred for the next few days.

Gus, world's smartest cat.

And that, children, is why Daddy wears a football helmet at his desk. In our next episode, you’ll meet Gus, the inventor of Cat Chow Hockey and food-snatcher extraordinaire. Gus can also actually fly.

Onward. I mentioned a few years ago that a kind reader had sent me a reconditioned IBM/Lenovo ThinkPad T60 laptop, which I love (especially because I nuked Windows and installed Linux on it). One part I hadn’t loved was its rather dim screen, which was probably due to the fact that the computer was made sometime around 2007. I replaced the screen after a few months, but it didn’t make that much difference. Well I replaced it again last week with a higher-resolution glossy screen ($49) and, more importantly, installed a new inverter ($10), and boy howdy, it’s a bright, crisp, thing of beauty. Since it already had the best keyboard ever made, I’m thrilled. I’ve never understood, by the way, why everyone is in love with MacBooks. Those keyboards are truly awful. T-series ThinkPad keyboards are solid and quietly clicky and just plain awesome.

I was surprised, when I first tackled the task, how easy it is to replace a screen on one of these things. (Apple, no doubt, probably makes it harder on their stuff. They love non-standard bits.) The only tricky part is the ten or so tiny screws you have to deal with. When I installed a new screen the first time that was just a minor annoyance. This time I got halfway through the job and realized I that had a major problem. The intervening years of multiple sclerosis have made my hands shake constantly and I can’t use my left hand at all for this sort of thing, so what should have taken 30 minutes took me more than two hours. Marley must have sensed a disturbance in the fabric of the universe near me (or maybe it was the constant swearing), so he spent the time over on the nice soft couch.

OK, what else? Philip Roth called John le Carre’s novel A Perfect Spy “the best English novel since the war,” and it is a truly fine  book. While it is “about” spies, there is very little spying in it, no gunplay, car chases or cliffhangers. It’s about friendship, family, and maybe fate. Le Carre, whose father was a famous con-man and an associate of the Kray Twins, has said that it’s in large part autobiographical. It’s a haunting and beautifully written book, and you should read it. The BBC made a series from it, as they did with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but I haven’t seen it.

We have seen most of the first season of Orphan Black, which is a bit dizzying but riveting. Parts of it strain plausibility (even aside from the central premise), but the characters are engaging and it certainly beats The Americans on FX, which may be the most witless, annoying spy drama ever made. Quick, Boris, put on wig! Moose and Squirrel are comink!

We watched Orphan Black, by the way, with a free trial of Amazon Prime and a Roku 3 I bought for $70 or so on sale after Christmas. We have the world’s slowest joke-DSL net connection, and had tried a basic Roku a couple of years ago, but took it back because the picture on our aging large-but-not-huge LCD TV was so awful. So we were genuinely shocked when the Roku 3 produced a full-screen tack-sharp 1080p picture. Netflix Instant looks great.

So here’s May, there was no April, and I’ll try to do better next time. To be honest, there are days I feel bad enough that I wish I didn’t have to get out of bed. But just living in the country is a full-time job, so I can’t. The real problem is that even the things I can still do (like walking) I can only do very slowly and it drives me nuts. It also takes me much longer, for various reasons (vision problems, crushing fatigue, mental acuity, eye-hand coordination), to write these columns than it did four or five years ago. I’ve considered packing it in, but that would (a) be incredibly depressing, (b) mean I’d be even broker than I am, and (c) shaft the folks who have ponied up for email subscriptions. So there you have it — the best way to ensure the continuation of this little circus is to subscribe or otherwise contribute, as so many of you wonderful people have. So please consider subscribing. And then subscribe, already.

And now, on with the show….

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