Saturday, January 16, 2010

Don't let your cats watch you play Portal... can have ... UNFORTUNATE ... consequences:

No cats were harmed in the linking of this post ... but, well, I can't say that for the photography.

-the Centaur

P.S. The cat is not mine :-), but I do like playing Portal. For those that don't get the joke, Portal is a game in which players have a "hole gun" that can create a magic portal on a wall that the player can jump through, unless the player is a cat. My buddy Gordon hooked me up with this meme.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Worst. Vacation. Ever. - Till now.  

Ten days off to write! No trips, no vacations, no distractions. Just me and writing ... but: The "Terminator" version of the common cold. Car repairing turned car totaling and car shopping during hard raining. Cat fights and cat urine. And a desperate scramble to catch up in National Novel Writing Month turning what I love ... writing ... into a chore.

And then my wife came back Saturday night.

That was great, but things didn't get better right away. See #3 above, cat urine: our incompletely housetrained Gabby the Cat decided to urinate on a big soft squishy pillow to either
  • (a) reduce his insecurity by marking his protector's stuff with his scent (the official story as told by everybody's favorite cat books)
  • (b) show his irritation at his protector locking him in a room (what I strongly suspect based on my study of animal cognition, which might be summed up as saying "just because they can't talk doesn't mean they're completely unaware idiots")
... just as I had run a full load of laundry in the washer and thus couldn't wash it right away, just as I had to run to the airport so I had no time to dispose of it properly, and just in time for the heater to kick in and propagate the smell through the entire house by the time we got back.

Stepping through the door was ... an unpleasant moment.

But we persevered. We went out for a late dinner and talked about ... hell, everything. We crashed early, I got up at the ass-crack of dawn, fed the cats, went to church, put everything in the hands of God, and went back and slept till noon. By the time we awoke, it was clear that the pillow was the source of the smell and the tarps-plus-blankets wash-immediately-if-soiled solution was working to protect our home as we transition street cat to house-and-yard cat. We had a lovely lunch at our favorite restaurant (Aqui) and test-drove a hybrid (a Prius). Everything, once again, became OK, and it seemed like all the nastiness of that awful ten days rattling around the house mostly with myself, a virus and three irritated cats was at last over.

So: yesterday: 2094 words. Today: 2583 words. As of this moment, I am officially caught up on where I "should have been" for Nano, and I'm on track to finish by tomorrow. And we even have a plan to save our obstraperous little cat, who is mellowing out now that he has two people to entertain him (and to separate the cats from each other so they have time to mellow).

Best of all, my best friend is home.

-the Centaur
P.S. Thanks, God.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

My Name is Gabby  

gabby the cat
Once we were traveling the neighborhood late and found a small and collarless cat alone by the sidewalk. Near him, on the lawn, half crouched another cat lay, who froze then turned tail, disappearing in the cold night. Know that the stray cat well our passions read; it yet survives, became not some lifeless thing, but found hands that pet him and hearts that fed. And upon this doorstep these thoughts we hear:
My name is Gabby, Cat of Cats. Listen to my purrs, ye mighty tall people, and despair of anything but bringing me home and giving me can food and vaccinations!
Nothing else remains of that stray cat, all ribcage and scared, but a full belly and warm and level purrs that stretch far away.

-the Centaur, after Shelley.
gabby the cat



Thursday, November 05, 2009

Data Mining for Satisfying the Finicky  

graycatSo we have cats. Three, currently - Caesar, a rescue cat, Lenora, a shelter cat and Gabby, a stray cat - out of a lifetime population of five, including Nero, the brother of the rescue cat, who disappeared (probably eaten by coyotes), and Graycat, another stray cat, pictured, who we unfortunately had to have executed by the state (because only I could handle him, using gloves, and we were afraid he was going to come knife us in our sleep).

So the three remaining cats are somewhat finicky. There are foods they will love, foods they will grudgingly eat, food they will eat but puke up, and food they will (quite literally) try to bury as if it is crap. So I've been meaning for a long time to keep up a diary of the food choices and their reactions to find out what we can feed them.

Data mining researchers claim that getting high-quality input data is the hardest part of a machine learning problem, so I started off with some exploratory data collection in Excel. After letting (thoroughly washed!) cans pile up for a week in two bins, I entered these into a spreadsheet and started to figure out how the data should be represented. I ended up with these columns:
  • Brand: Fancy Feast, Nutro, etc.
  • Type: Regular, Max Cat Gourmet Classics, etc.
  • Flavor: Savory Salmon Feast, White Meat Chicken Florentine with Garden Greens, etc.
  • Consistency: Flaked, Pate, Grilled, etc.
  • Target: Adult or Kitten
  • Package: Can, Tray or Packet
  • Ratings: +1 or -1
This may seem overkill, but the goal would be to learn which brands, flavors and consistencies the cats like (hint: they do not like anything Grilled or Chunked) so I didn't want to leave anything out.

After collecting this data, I started to analyze it. First I sorted the data. Then I eliminated duplicates and added a Servings, AggregateRating and Average column, summing up the Ratings into the Aggregate so that if something got two +1 and one -1 rating it would get 3 Servings and a AggregateRating of 2. This I used to compute an Average, which I used to resort the table to see which brands worked best.

The problem is, this Average wasn't that meaningful. One vote for a flavor isn't as meaningful as three, because the cats aren't consistent. This is the inverse of the Law of Large Numbers: you need many ratings to generate a meaningful result in the presence of noise.

I decided to set the number of ratings I cared about at 3, based on anecdotal comments by Roger Schank, my thesis advisor's thesis advisor - who reportedly said you need to visit a restaurant three times to give it a fair rating, because a restaurant could have one off day or great day and you needed at least 3 ratings to get an idea of their consistency.

At first I decided to track this using a smoothed average, AggregateRatings / (Servings + 3), but this depressed the all-positive and all-negative scores more than I liked - that kind of smoothing function works only well if you have very large ranges of values. So I chose a simpler max-based approach of AggregateRatings / Max(Servings, 3), so that one serving would get a 33% positive or negative rating but three or more could max it out to 100% if they were consistent.

That enabled me to make some findings, but then I realized I'm an idiot. I'd picked up the smoothed average idea from Empirical Methods for Artificial Intelligence, a book any serious computer scientist should read. And I'd edited my data in the spreadsheet so I could compute that average. But what I should have been thinking about was The Pragmatic Programmer, specifically the tips Keep Knowledge In Plain Text and Use Source Control.

Why Keep Knowledge In Plain Text? The cats aren't just finicky; their tastes change, especially if you overfeed them one thing. So the date at which a cat turns on food is important. By entering it into Excel, I first had to have a computer on hand, which encouraged to let the cans pile up; so I lost both the date information and some of the rating information - a coarse grained +1/-1 rather than "Ate Instantly"/"Ate Completely"/"Left Unfinished"/"Refused or Puked Up"/"Tried to Bury". A superior strategy would have been a pen-and-paper notebook where I recorded the cans a few hours after they were eaten. This could be entered into a text file a few days later, and if it is tab or comma separated Excel could easily import it. Then, with that data, I could even have applied other techniques from Empirical Methods for Artificial Intelligence, like using a sliding time-series window to ensure I'm analyzing the cat's current tastes.

And why Use Source Control? Because I edited my Excel file, dummy, not even versioned with v1 v2 v3 like I do with documents. So I actually entered this data in two phases and some of the temporal information I could have recovered has been lost.

So I'm going to improve my procedures going forward. Nevertheless, I did get some nice preliminary data, which jibes well with the observations Sandi and I had made informally. I'm going to hold judgment until I have more data, but so far Fancy Feast is the best brand, and Cod, Sole and Shrimp Feast and Savory Salmon Feast are the winningest flavors. Newman's Own Organics and Halo Spot's Stew were the worst brands - the cats refused to even touch them - which is odd, because Newman's Own makes great human food (try Newman O's) and Halo makes great dry food the cats love.

More results as the votes continue to trickle in...
-the Centaur

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

monorail squirrel  

Ah, LOLcats. They ease the pain...

a squirrel on a fence rail

... and turn random pictures taken out my window into found art.

-the Centaur

P.S. Confused? Look here.

Pictured: a squirrel outside my window, resting to beat the heat.



Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Never get in a boxing match with a cat..."  

"... they're incredibly fast, especially with multiple jabs." - John Garrison

Bwah hah ha. Watch to the end if you can. Link for those for whom embedding won't work. On the other hand, if you don't think the Internet should be used exclusively for pictures of cats, there's always Edison Hate Future.

-the Centaur



Monday, September 15, 2008

OMG: LOLcats can has upgrade  


Wow. Tigers are more impressive than they appear on the pictures on my current calendar. I want this as a poster on my wall.

-the Centaur



Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Marauder, Captured...  

... on film at least:
tailless lizard
Fortunately we have a tiger to keep us safe...



Sunday, May 18, 2008

You're a Tiger  

You're a tiger.
You hide
in the tall grass.

You're a tiger!
You hide
in the tall grass.

I scritch behind your ear
and you fidget for me
Can't I see
you have important work to do?

Go now,
defend our home
from the flitting birds

and the tiny lizard
tailless marauder
you bring home again and again
held delicately in your jaws.

-the Centaur

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

sheltercat.distance(nero) < epsilon
&& !prize.equals(cigar)

The short story: the shelter cat wasn't Nero.

The long story: after Nero went on walkabout, Sandi and I visited the nearest shelter in the hopes of finding him. Once there, we found that the shelters encourage you to visit frequently, to try other nearby shelters, and to post missing pictures of your cat in your neighborhood - on the principle that people who look for their cats find their cats and those who don't, uh, really don't. In the end, I put in a notice at Pet Harbor, a lost and found animal search engine that periodically scans nearby shelters and mails you if it finds any matches for your pet.

SO ... I got the mail about the "Name UNKNOWN" shelter cat that looked darn like Nero early, early Thursday morning, too late to change the stack of appointments I had for the day. I left my knee therapy appointment at approximately 5:45 ... and headed on 101 South towards the San Jose Animal Care Center. Yes, 101 South through San Jose. Officially teh suck (which is itself defined as "something so bad it's between explosive diarrhea and traffic in San Jose on 101"). Average travel time 11 minutes? Ha! I normally avoid that road like the plague, but there were no good options that I knew of or anyone could give me that didn't involve more detouring than the traffic would save. I left at 5:45ish. I arrived at 6:55. Shelter closed at 7. You do the math.

When I arrived I found shelter visits officially stopped at 6:30, but they let me go inspect that specific cat. It was found a great distance away, freaked out, possibly feral; and when they took me to the cage the cat was hiding in a smaller blue sub-cage with dark glass. The blue box, I was told, was because the cat was probably feral; and the dark glass was because he was freaked. "And I'm not authorized to open the cage," the attendant said, "and I'm sure not sticking my fingers in there. You shouldn't either." Even with a light, I couldn't see the cat; but he didn't come when called. "If that was your cat he'd be crying to get out of there," the attendadnt said. "But come back and the vets can put up a net and we can take a look at him."

I left, but I was already sure it wasn't Nero. The cat was caught so far away. It was likely feral. It didn't come when called. And the box was small: the cat looked like Nero in the photo, absent scale, but if it was the same blue box then Nero was almost twice that cat's size. So I was doubtful. But people who look for their cats, find their cats, more oftent than not. So I went back, this afternoon, with the benefit of time and daylight, and sadly looked through frosted glass at the white forehead of a tiny little cat who was clearly not Nero.

Close, but no cigar. Better luck next time...

-the Centaur



Thursday, September 13, 2007

My name is UNKNOWN  

I just posted the last known picture of Nero ... or was it?

My name is UNKNOWN.
I am a black and white Domestic Shorthair.
My age is unknown.
I have been at the shelter since Sep 12, 2007.
This information is 2 hours old.

Same white paws, same white blaze, same big black fuzzy butt.

Here's hoping...

I think I have a shelter visit to make tomorrow.
-the Centaur



Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Last Known  

The last known picture of Nero, Saturday, August 11, 2007, 3:04pm.

Miss my miss my miss my cat.
Miss my miss my miss my cat.
Miss my miss my miss my cat.
Please. Come. Back.

(sung to the tune of The Fuzzy Fuzzy Cat Song).

If you're out there, big guy, please come home.
-the Centaur



Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Eaten By Coyotes  

I don't know that Nero was eaten by coyotes. I only know that our big black fuzzy cat went out around the hour of the wolf Thursday morning, August 21, and never returned.

What happened to Nero is unknown, and thus open to infinite possibilities. Everything we know about his departure can be expressed in "didn'ts": We didn't see him leave. We didn't see him return. He didn't come in through the cat door. He didn't come for the food I left for him Thursday morning. When I left for work he didn't prowl out of the little outdoor den he'd fashioned under the bushes. When Sandi got up he didn't come in. He didn't turn up when she went looking in the neighbord. She didn't see his broken body hit by a car. He didn't return that afternoon, that evening, or the next. He didn't have a collar, having thrown three in two months. He didn't have a microchip. We didn't find him in further walks through the neighborhood. We didn't find his chewed up remains in a walk through the hills. We didn't find him in the county's online listings of found pets. I didn't see him in any of the cages when I toured the shelter. I didn't see a match in any of the dead-on-arrival listings at the pound.

Of all the reasons that Nero might have disappeared, why coyotes? Why not assume he got hit by a car (where was the body?) or taken in by a nearby family (at 3 in the morning?) or simply ran off (without his food bowl, suitcase or favorite collection of toys?). If he could have simply fallen off a fence and died, or gotten into a fight with another cat and was holed up nursing his wounds, or could have been killed by a dog, or have had a heart attack or seizure?

Well, I could say that coyotes are one of the few species whose habitation has expanded with the growth of human population, because humans have killed the larger predators that keep them in check, because they get along better with humans than wolves, oh, and because idiots feed them, emboldening them to move into human territory where they can feed off garbage and stray pets. Attacks on dogs are more often reported because cats rarely survive; coyotes have been reported to feed off feral cat colonies and, later, on the food that humans were putting out for feral cats. Coyotes have known to scale walls to attack pets, to use advanced techological devices for more difficult kills (that's a joke), and even to steal purses from unwary women (surprisingly, that's NOT a joke) .

But the real reason I suspect Wile E. is that in the past three weeks we've been hearing coyotes in the hills behind our house, right around the same time frame that Nero goes out in the middle of the night. Sometimes it is just one; other times it's a howling cacophony. Our home is only one street away from the hills, and jackrabbits have been bold enough to enter our yard and try to eat the dry cracked twigs we pass off as our grass, so a predator might follow prey down into our area (or Nero might have followed a rabbit back into danger). And recently as a week ago, Nero came in, worried and shaken, not wearing his collar, as if he'd been through some great trauma, like a catfight or a coyote attack. He wasn't scared of going outside, though, so we didn't make the connection; I just assumed he'd gotten his collar caught on something, and had had to fight to take it off. But he disappeared in the night, right around the time the coyotes how.

The other explanations don't seem to hold water. Of course, if he'd been hit by a car and someone threw him in a Dumpster, or if he'd been eaten by a dog, there would be no trace; but Nero's actually somewhat suspicious of both cars and dogs so I'm not so worried about that. We have some suspicion that a neighborhood girl who was sweet on Nero finally coaxed him to go home with her: she once tried to argue that Nero was a stray even though my wife was standing there telling her the cat was ours; however, it stretches my imagination to think she would have taken Nero in the middle of the night. Sometimes cats who are injured go off to a quiet place to heal or die; but the last time that cats in this area started vanishing, it was eventually traced to a fox that was preying on them. Perhaps the fox is back. Perhaps the fox has been eaten by the coyotes, which at up to 45 pounds weigh in at three times as much as Nero's fighting weight, and which, for smaller prey, adopt a catlike stalking behavior, pouncing on their victims and subduing them rapidly with long, sharp, teeth.

Odds are actually good that Nero will return. Published studies indicate over half of cat owners that lose their cats see them return: that number isn't as good as dog owners, over two thirds of which are reunited with Rover. Information by our local animal shelter indicate, however, that over 90% of pet owners that get to the point of reporting their pet loss never see their pet again, unless they were microchipped and/or collared (see the note about thrown collars earlier). That doesn't jibe with the published stats, probably because the pet owners who see their cats return immediately don't get around to going to the shelter. Certainly in Sandi's experience she's had cats disappear from anywhere from two to eleven days, and her mother has similar experiences. So we haven't given up hope yet; I personally plan on waiting a month. But I had this nasty, sinking premonition the morning he didn't show up for his food, which has happened before; and this makes me wonder if there was some noise during the night when he was taken, some awful caterwauling that penetrated only my subconscious as I slept, leaving me waking up with no sure rational knowledge but a deep emotional foreboding quickly crystalized into an irrational certainty that's hard to shake.

What hurts about this most was is Nero's surly, irritable nature. Unlike the dogs that I've owned, or Nero's brother Caesar, Nero was neither giving of love nor unconditional: he was moody, wanted his alone time, and was most likely to want to be with you when he was working to get fed. But that surliness made the affection he showed stand out even more. He'd come pester you when you were sitting on the toilet, or demand to be petted when you were brushing your teeth. He'd hop up into your car as you were packing to go to work, or hop in and take a ride when you came home. When he saw you Nero would meyow surlily at you, kicking his head back in an inhuman but completely recognizable gesture of greeting; then in the middle of the night he'd come and sit on your chest and nuzzle you as you scratched behind his ears or on his nose. He was a surly, burly cat, so you could really tell when he liked you.

No, I lie. He didn't do all these things just any abstract you. He did these things primarily to me me. He was nice to Sandi, and could be warm to other people, but we bonded with each other rapidly and completely. Even his annoyances were endearing - lifting up to as if to open a doorknob, shoving his way into the broken bathroom door and letting the cold in while you showered, hitting you with an oddly concerned "mrowr" (sounds like "meringue") that for all in the world seemed like he was saying, "you damn fools, what are you doing in all that water? Can't you see it's made all your fur come off?"

Sandi and I traded off imagined dialogues with the cats, her speaking to them and me filling in the responses: "Poor little monkey!"/"I'm not a monkey." and "He's a good dog!"/"I'm not a dog." Sandi developed her own doggerel songs - "he's Nero, he's Nero, he's big he's heavy he's large." - and I did the same - "Neurotic. Neronic!", "Nero, Nero, you're my hero!", and so on. Some of those lines seem creepy now. The last thing I did for him was pick him up and give him a big hug, saying, "I'll hug him and squeeze him until there's not a breath left in his body." And when I left and didn't see him, I cried after him, as I often did, "He's Nero, he's Nero, the tasty and lovable treat." / "What?!" It started a month back as a joke. It doesn't sound so fucking funny now. I'd gotten to the point that I'd sing "fuzzy, fuzzy, fuzzy cat" when I'd hop on 85 south when leaving Google. Now I still do the same thing as I leave, then catch myself and grow angry enough to punch a wall. Good thing I'm usually driving when it happens, but still.

Once when I heard the coyotes out a few nights after Nero was lost, I picked up my baseball bat and strolled through the neighborhood, walking with it like a cane as cars passed, swinging it grimly while alone. The outdoorsmen among you, who know what even a moderately sized wild animal can do to even an adult human, might think that this was foolish bravado on my part, but what you probably don't know is that I know the dangers better than most, think about them more frequently than most, and went out that night prompted by anger but acting on a deliberate, premeditated strategy of my own that I adopted long before I came to befriend Nero. Whether I came back or not, anything smaller than a Bengal Tiger that I met on the path would have run in fear of humans for the rest of its life.

Which might make you think I have a death wish, or a hatred of coyotes. I don't, on either count. I'm glad I chose to live in the green hills of Santa Teresa, a place where the biosphere is still functioning and alive, unlike the dead land and canned parks of the cities surrounding the Bay itself. I regret that the active life around us apparently claimed Nero's life, and would act to repel the coyotes from our homes; but not from our hills. Animals should fear humans, but as long as they do, they can coexist with us. I regret that letting Nero out apparently claimed his life, and will act to microchip Caesar and make sure he wears his collar, but will still let him out. Pets should be protected, but as long as it is reasonably safe, they should have some freedom.

Life is risk; and I'm glad Nero got to spend his last few months in a place where he was treated well and got to experience the outside. His story was a sad one: his original owners reportedly got on drugs and planned to release Nero and Caesar to the wild when they lost their home, which sounds good except for the bit that they were taken from their parents too early, are completely domesticated, and for all practical purposes can't hunt. One of our bridesmaids took them in, and after many months bouncing between closets and spare bedrooms of foster owners, all of which had too many cats already, we took them in and had them shipped out to us. They were traumatized by the flight, but Sandi had a plan to acclimate them which worked beautifully, and other than a little conditioning on my part to reduce the areas in which they might fear me (picking him up outside but not taking him in; putting him in the car but not taking him to the vet, etc), they needed very little training.

Nero in this sense was unearned, a gift from God: unlike the vast investment of a child or the lesser investment of a kitten, I got him full-formed, the living embodiment of my prayers for a cat. My image of the ideal cat was derived from a friend's cat in college, a black cat with a white blaze. Over time that image evolved in my notebooks to Cleopatra, a robotic black cat in many respects to Nero except for gender, appetite and processing power. When Nero arrived I was so caught up in making the fragile, frightened, surly beast warm up to life that I didn't even notice the similarities to my fictional robotic pet; by the time I did notice, Nero had eclipsed Cleopatra and had captured my imagination all his own.

What a cat. I loved his glossy black fur, his rich white throat, his fuzzy, gentle paws. His right eye went cloudy in a scrap with some unknown opponent, and he'd frequently be covered with little nicks and scratches from battle that he'd let me scratch at until a tiny little tuft of fur would come off. He loved rolling in the dirt, and was slow about cleaning himself - until you got on the computer, at which point he'd show his love of your lap, then the spacebar key, then hop up on the glass surface of the table and plop down so you couldn't see the lowest lines of whatever you were writing on the monitor.

Nero's dead and he's never coming back. When does an irrational certainty become real? Never. If he died how I think he died, I'll never know, and I have no feasible actions that can cast light on this. Only a suspicious fear, an irrational certainty, that only time can prove to be either a sound judgement (if he stays gone) or a borrowed bit of trouble (if he returns). I imagine that he'll come back, bruised as if from a fight, that we'll rush him to the vet and find that he's fine; Sandi imagines he'll come home, chipper, as if nothing has transpired. "What? What are you crying about? And where's my can food?" Anything is possible; Sandi's had a cat gone eleven days. My uncle had a dog gone for over a month. Nero's gone, but he could be back any minute. Really. He could.

In the mornings I still drive off, thinking I'll see him come out of his little outdoor den, or see him run over to hide by the olive tree in the front yard. In the even ings I still drive home expecting to see him sitting in the driveway. At night Caesar still looks off in the distance, expecting him to come in the door when he goes out (to maintain cat parity) or to join him for a nice bit of C-A-N food. At bedtime I still open the door and call his name late at night, expecting him to come home. In the middle of the night I think I'll still wake up and hear him hop on the bed, feel him crawl up on top of me, feel him stretch out a paw to touch my cheek, and hear him, under the scritching of my fingers under his chin, give off his soft, endearing, almost cooing purr.

Nero was a surly, burly cat, so I could really tell that he liked me. Or, as Sandi frequently said, watching our interactions, "He loves you." After all the traveling I'd done in July I'd been thinking I should spend more time with the cats. In August, I'd started to do it, and the last thing I did for Nero was pick him up and give him a big old hug. If I had a choice on what note our friendship could go out on, that would be it.

In the ten months I had him, Nero fast became the favorite pet I ever owned. I'll miss him. And I pray to God that he proves me wrong and returns safely home.

Nero: born 2000, missing in action 2007.

If you're reading this, Nero, please call Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh or someone else in the animal language research community immediately.

Then come home.
-the Centaur



Sorry for your loss. It never really stops hurting, does it. When I was little, I asked my grandma if pets went to heaven. She said " Yes Diane, otherwise it wouldn't be heaven, would it." and grandma never lied.
# posted by Anonymous Diane U : 1:16 AM
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Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Fuzzy Fuzzy Cat Song  

If you don't enjoy mildly cute stories about my cats, you can stop reading now. If you do enjoy mildly cute stories about my cats, you should read this for comic relief, for reasons that will become clear later.

SO ANYWAY ... shortly after my wife and I got the cats, I started singing a bit of nonsense verse at them: "fuzzy, fuzzy, fuzzy cat." This developed a melody and my wife picked it up too. Now it's a whole song. Most of the effect is lost if you can't hear it sung, but I suspect you would regret hearing me sing it more than you would regret just reading the lyrics (which you would probably also regret).

Nonetheless, I present the lyrics here anyways:

Fuz-zy, fuz-zy, fuzzy cat.
Fuz-zy, fuz-zy, fuzzy cat.
Fuz-zy, fuz-zy, fuzzy cat.
Fuzzy. Fuzzy. Cat.

Sur-ly, bur-ly, surly cat.
Sur-ly, sur-ly, burly cat.
Bur-ly, sur-ly, surly cat.
Surly. Burly. Cat.

Scare-dy, frai-dy, scaredy cat.
Scare-dy, scar-edy, fraidy cat.
Frai-dy, scare-dy, scaredy cat.
Scaredy. Fraidy. Cat.

Doot doot doot doot doop de doo.
Doot doot doot doot doop de doo.
Doot doot doot doot doop de doo.
Doot. Doop. Doo.

Fuz-zy, fuz-zy, fuzzy cat.
Sur-ly, bur-ly, surly cat.
Scare-dy, frai-dy, scaredy cat.
Fuzzy. Fuzzy. Cats.

The judges will also accept "doop doop doop doop doo de doo" for the third verse. We're still trying to place the melody - where it came from, or where it was adapted from, where The. Odd. Pauses. in the last line came from. Regardless, if you hate pet stories, this was probably enough to make you puke.

If so, this was for you. You know who you are.
-the Centaur



Thursday, June 21, 2007

White Foamy Vomit  

SO recently I found out I have arthritis in my right knee, a tiny patch the size of a dime right under the patella, which is not as bad as it seems, since the dull pain (whenever I kneel, sit wrong, or climb stairs too fast) is not caused by a torn ACL or meniscal tear or anything else requiring immediate surgery, but is instead something that can be palliated by slight changes of behavior - changing my sitting posture, using a elliptical machine instead of running, and so on. But I want to return to karate and backflips or even just pain-free climbing of stairs, so that makes it even more critical that I follow the active part of the treatment - the exercises prescribed by my doctor and physical therapist.

My doctor had recommended them when I first reported the pain, and we shoehorned the exercises into the already-running program of physical therapy for my shoulder (which had been injured while I was babying my then-broken opposite forearm). After he got the writeup on the MRI (not the MRI images themselves, of course, since the imaging lab failed to send them, even though I'd specifically confirmed that they could, and even though I helpfully reminded them when I arrived how imporant it was) I say, after he got the report of the MRI specifying "trochlear chondral degeneration," the doctor RE-prescribed the physical therapy, which in turn led to the physical therapist fleshing out my treatment and adding at-home exercises.

ALL OF WHICH is a roundabout way of explaining why I was so intent on finishing my exercises that night, stretching my straitened leg with a giant red elastic called a Theraband, two sets of fifteen repetitions each, in all four directions of the compass, so hard to fit in my packed day (or in our cramped house) but so crucial to my recovery that I was still standing there at one-fifty in the morning, before my shower, in my skivvies, in the foyer, obsessively finishing my repetitions in the only time I could find in the only place I could find, when I heard a small cough outside the front door.

I had expected a scratch at the door: one of the cats was outside. We were in that phase of the night where we had cat parity: if one cat came in, the other would go out. Currently manning guard duty on the front lawn was Caesar, our scaredy fraidy cat, and after checking the peephole to make sure Luigi the Thud wasn't making the little coughing sound I was hearing outside the door, I cautiously opened it, to find Caesar sitting there, his back to the door, not scratching to get in, but apparently coughing up a hairball.

Sandi, my wife, asked who was out and what was going on, and I told her. At that moment Caesar hacked up something fierce, a big scratchy bleeech sound, horking up ... nothing. Absolutely nothink. And then he came inside. I closed the door and looked down to see him trying to hack something up again.

A dollop of white foamy vomit the size of a quarter fell to the Persian rug in the hall - the last remnant of my Mom's superabundant gift of Persian rugs for our Atlanta home that now no longer fit in our California hovel, now landing zone for Caesar's gift, which was white, foamy, and clearly empty of all particulates, like a little mound of sea foam or shaving cream.

Caesar stumbled away from it, a little drunkenly. I went to wipe it up and Caesar skittishly darted off, then stopped and began to edge towards the OTHER piled Persian rugs that Mom wanted us to ship back to her since we couldn't use them. I stopped him and corraled him to the hardwoods of the great room, where he horked again - more white foamy vomit, with interest, maybe thirty-five cents worth this time. By this time Sandi had tentatively identified the phenomenon as dry heaves, but the foam was peculiar and disturbing and unlike anything in either of our experiences. It lay flat and sickly on the floor, unlike the beefy little cat-food burritos Caesar used to hork up before we got his food tuned right. Caesar and his brother Nero are both rescue cats, and at first we needed to do a lot of tuning.

But tuning was over, and we'd never seen him coming in from the outside, skittish and scared, foam and a little grass and sticks coating his mouth like a lopside moustache, little body shaking, almost convulsing, as he tried to throw up ... nothing. Nothing but white foamy vomit, now close to a dollar in change. "What should we do?" Sandi asked, following him around.

I looked at the vomit. I remembered Lady, a dog from my childhood that died of poisoning. "Oh, we're taking him to the vet."

"I have a cage ready to go in my room," Sandi said - Nero, our surly burly cat, has conjunctivitis in his left eye, and had been shuttled back and forth to the vet frequently. "I'll call the vet and see if they can recommend an emergency hospital."

I got rags and cleaned up as much vomit as I could, then changed back into the clothes I'd just taken off prior to my workout and intended shower. Sandi brought out the cage, and I retrieved Caesar. He was really convulsing, but when I picked him up he stopped and started fighting. I carried him to the cage and plopped him down in front of it, not shoving him in but stopping him when he tried to run away. After a minute or so I pushed gently and in he went.

Sandi by now had been referred to an animal hospital. "Do you know where Oakridge is?" she asked.

A light bulb went off behind my eyes. "Ask her if there's a Starbucks nearby."

"Across the street. On Blossom Hill. No, Santa Teresa."

Curious - there's no Starbucks there on Santa Teresa. But there is one on Blossom Hill, right next to Oakridge Mall and an animal clinic. Close enough. "Alright. I know where it is."

Sandi was already at the car with the cat carrier, and, flustered, I helped her and ran back inside to get my jacket. Thoughts of my dying father - and the time my uncle was cross with me because he thought me too slow fetching a spare oxygen cylinder - flashed through my head, and I seized the coat, leapt into the car, and with Sandi and Caesar - but without the name of the emergency animal clinic or Sandi's phone which held its number - drove out into the night.

Oakridge Mall is less than fifteen minutes from our home, and we drove quickly but not recklessly, trying to not further disturb Caesar. He'd stopped vomiting, but took a dump in the cage the moment the car got rolling, and then became so ominously quiet we feared he was dead. As the mall hove up, I started thinking about the curiosity discrepancy in the street names and asked Sandi if she remembered the name of the clinic. "No," she said slowly, "I thought you knew where it was."

"I do, or I think I do, but there's something weird about their directions. Can you call them back?"

"No," she said simply, "When you said you knew where it was ... I left my phone."

I let out my breath and said nothing. It made me very angry, but there was nothing to be done about it and expressing my anger would not help the situation. Part of my anger was self-directed: I'd claimed knowledge of our destination and had assumed responsibility for navigating, and was about to be proved wrong, with a possibly-poisoned, possibly-dying cat at stake. Another part of me was angry at the very idea that someone would leave their cellular phone behind in an emergency. Sure, I've done it, left my keys or phone or directions or watch just when I needed it, but at that moment I wasn't reminded of those occasions: I was just reminded of a fair number of earlier relationships with women who made it a habit to not bring phone, keys, or even a watch. At that moment I all I could think of was that in that crisis I was the only one who could tell the time, call for help or even get back inside the house. Perhaps Sandi felt similarly about not being able to rely upon my claims about my sense of direction; after all, I asked some pretty darn specific questions and sure sounded like I knew where we were going, even though I didn't. Regardless, fuming would not help; only finding the hospital would.

The mall appeared. The road mentioned in the directions did as well, sans a Starbucks or a visible animal clinic. Worried, we circled the mall, hoping the road came out at the other end. There we found a Starbucks cattycorner from an animal clinic - with all its lights off. Sandi ran in and checked - they were as closed as the rest of the mall at two-fifteen in the morning. Proved wrong, I was. Even more worried, still fuming, we drove around the mall, and found the road mentioned in the directions again. We carefully looked at all the shopping moons around the main mall planetoid, and were about to drive away when, just as we turned back onto Santa Teresa, we saw it, wedged in a minimall just off the main road they had mentioned, but without the aforementioned Starbucks in sight.

Fine. We were here for help, not coffee.

The sign on the door was confusing and hard to read and implied that they should be closed, but the clinic was nevertheless open, lit and friendly and they let us in right away. The night nurse took Caesar and handed us a pile of forms. When we'd finished killing that tree we walked down to exam room three where the nurse was still trying to coax Caesar out of his cage. Eventually, we did, and the now oddly passive cat weighed in several pounds less than when we rescued him, a tribute (we hoped) to his now-frequent outdoor exercise and not a part of a larger problem.

The nurse left to go get the vet, and we trashed the foul-smelling bedding material and comforted our cat, who continued to try burrowing into the crook of Sandi's arms whenever she petted him.

"We can't see him at all," I said, echoing the vet that we had first brought them to out here.

"No, he's completely invisible," Sandi said, petting him, letting him nose his way into her jacket until his head was covered. Never mind that his whole body was still visible: cats think they are invisible when their heads are covered, as Caesar's brother Nero proves whenever he hides behind a two inch tree and peeks out around it with one clouded eye ... big black furry butt clearly visible..

Eventually Caesar perked up and we let him roam the room; after a few minutes looking for an exit, he hid under the owners' bench and I positioned myself by the vet door he was watching, making sure he didn't bolt.

The vet arrived. She was kindly and darkhaired, with a slightly condescending manner you took as reassurance and not as insult. After inspecting Caesar's mouth and squeezing his abdomen, the vet gave us the good news.

"This is always scary the first time it happens," she said. "The first thing we look for with this kind of vomit is burn marks in the mouth - this reaction can happen if he had been electrocuted, biting down on a cord and trying to throw up an irritant that's not there. The next thing would be some kind of gastrointestinal distress, but I'm squeezing his abdomen fairly hard right now and he's not complaining. So that leaves ingestion - he probably bit down on a spider or bee and threw it right back up, and then spent the next hour trying to puke up the rest, except, again, nothing was there."

The vet's condescending manner and a few quiet snide remarks by the vet staff we weren't intended to overhear made me feel foolish. "So ... did we do the right thing by bringing him in?"

The vet looked at me. "If you were convulsing and threw up twelve times in fifteen minutes, what would you want someone to do for you?"

"Take me to the emergency room."

"Exactly. We'll give him a shot of Benadryl, and you take him home. If anything else goes wrong, call me; otherwise, I think you'll be all right."

So we settled up the hefty but not unreasonable bill, collected Caesar, and drove back into the night. We all felt better, and by the next evening Caesar was eating like a tiger and feeling fit to form. But the thing in hindsight that really strikes me is that throughout the whole ordeal, from the noise at the front door to the palliative antihistamine shot, even when I was kneeling by the door to keep Caesar from bolting, my knee and its newly discovered arthritis didn't bother me, even though it was my knee exercises that had put me next to the front door so I could hear his pitiful little cough.

Amazing what a little perspective will do for pain.
-the Centaur



Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I once doted on things other than cats  

Curie, the large, gentle, wolflike dog that was my companion through the end of high school, all of college and the start of graduate school.

Much missed.
-the Centaur



Saturday, June 02, 2007

They're All Over Your Blog  

From a real conversation: Question: "Did I tell you I got two cats?" Answer: "They're all over your blog." Sigh. It's true: I have indeed become a disgusting cat person. Come here for topics of interest? Have some pet pictures instead!

And at least two or three upcoming blog entries are also about Nero and Caesar. There's no escaping it. "Seriously, man! Can't you talk about something else? For the love of Pete, show us something other than pet pictures!"

Well, OK; on December 17th, 2006, at 8:20pm I got Nicole running again - Nicole being the intelligent system I built for my Ph.D thesis. Nicole now runs on a Windows laptop (she's formerly a Unix-only program) and just five minutes ago scanning my archives I found a screen shot taken back in December the moment I got Nicole's memory inspector running again:

I'm so happy.... wait, are you saying that counts as a pet picture TOO? Curses.
-the Centaur



Thursday, April 26, 2007

He's Doing It Again  

They say cats don't come when called.

But they do.

They say you can't herd cats.

But you can.

They say dogs are man's best friend.

Well, until you get a dog, there's Nero.

(And Caesar too, though he's too fraidy to snatch a picture of when outside).

-the Centaur



Wednesday, March 21, 2007

My Bestest Cat Story, Evah (So Far)  

So my lovely wife Sandi and I often take walks at night, which causes a problem when we've let the cats out. Caesar (our smaller Holstein-cow fraidy cat) and Nero (our larger black-with-white-blaze surly cat) like going O-U-T-S-I-D-E, but if we're walking they tend to follow us, which is dangerous in a neighborhood full of dogs.

SO one night this week we let the cats out the back door, hoping that the normal "beg to be let out back, prowl the back yard, walk the fence, prowl the front yard, beg to be let in front, beg for some C-A-N food, beg to be let out back, repeat" cycle would spin in our favor. No such luck: we were no more than two houses down when Nero leapt out of a bush and began stalking us.

He's done it before, and we've tried to let him follow us before, only to have to pick him up and carry him back when a dog owner turned a corner ahead of us. But we decided to chance it, taking a shortcut that curved round the block back to our house rather than our long route, hoping that at the end of the walk he would want some I-N-S-I-D-E.

Hoping to keep him close, we called Nero, and surprisingly, he came, speeding up to walk with us, sometimes booking it forward to weave between our feet, some times hanging back and playing it cool, never more than twenty feet behind. We made it to the end of the street, then the charming walkway, and then the back side of the street, all with no problems, even when we passed houses that we knew housed dogs.

And then we turned the corner onto our cross street, and saw, crossing right at the intersection leading to our home, a woman with a huge Great Dane. It came to her ribs, head as large as Nero, and she walked right up to the bushes in front of our neighbor's house to let him sniff.

Hoping to pick him up, we called Nero, and thankfully, he stopped, allowing Sandi to pick him up while I calmed him. After a moment I crossed the street to get a better angle, and saw that the lady had taken the Great Dane up our street and out of view. Relieved, we put Nero down and hoped to hurry back to our home, and he booked forward as well, no doubt thinking the same thing.

Then the Great Dane lady returned, having immediately doubled back.

Hoping to avert catastrophe, we told Nero to stop, as if he could understand us, and shockingly, HE DID. We walked up next to him, and he just stood there, looking down the street as the Great Dane looked back at him, never moving while Dane's owner looked at us in acknowledgement and took her charge down the cross street, away from us and out of view with finality.

So we resumed. Nero followed us, weaving through our feet as we turned the same corner where the Great Dane had just stood. We were both shocked. I was raised to believe that you could never herd cats, and yet we had; Sandi, with far more cat experience, pointed out we would have been lucky to get that behavior from a trained dog, much less a new adoptive cat with a rough past, who strolled right up to our front door and darted in quickly without letting his brother out, allowing us to resume our walk.

And that made me think: despite his difficult past and surly demeanor, Nero IS a really good cat, calm and agreeable, easy to pick up, even calm at the vet. Caesar, while skittish, is similarly easy to deal with. Frankly, I don't know how we lucked out. But we did.

Thanks again, God!
-the Centaur



Be Healed  

A little over two years ago, I broke my arm in a karate match...

... and received a metal plate in my arm.

A little over six months later they decided that the bone wasn't healing.

SO, a little under two weeks ago, I went under the knife to have a bone graft to repair my unhealed arm.

A little under six days later I decided to ask for a blessing from the local priest at the end of mass, as is the custom at our church.

The bandages came off yesterday, and the doctor pronounced me healed. Not a little bit better, not improving, not ready to go in three months as expected or six months if they had to replate it, but healed. Apparently my Atlanta doctor had used a suture to hold a chip of bone in place during the healing process; over time the suture began to dig into the healing bone, clouding up the X-rays and leaving a gap in the CAT scan and overall creating the impression that my arm was much more messed up than it was. My California doctor found the suture, removed it, and probed the bone repeatedly with a scapel to confirm its solidity: as far as he can tell the bone is solid and ready to go.

No replating. No bone graft. Not even a waiting period. Just completely healed.

Now, I'm somewhat skeptical about miracles, which is to say, I'm somewhat a believer too. I of course understand that this is a broken bone that healed, which happens every day, and I have of course heard the old saw that miracles are in the eye of the beholder: to a believer, a sequence of events is credited to God as a miracle; to an unbeliever, that sequence explains the event away. I might complain that that old saw is nonsense, that it presumes there are no supernatural miracles that contravene known natural law like raising the dead, and presumes an ad-hoc explanation after the fact should be considered just as "scientific" as a predictive model developed before the data rolled in. But deep down I know it is just a broken bone after all, which happens every day.

But science or blessing or both, one thing I do know is, I'm grateful about how it turned out. Thanks to all the efforts of my doctors, the support of my wife, the prayers of my friends, and most of all...

...Thanks, God.

-the Centaur

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this is freaking amazing. it's very simply incredible to me that, all that time we were so worried that you weren't healing as you should have been (and you were doing everything right), you actually were healing - we just couldn't see it. crazy.
congrats. build up that strength again. i'll be ready for you...
# posted by Blogger the andy fossett rock supreme : 6:49 AM
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Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Well, after more than two years since my initial break, I finally bit the bullet and went back under the knife, and am now recuperating:

Ever since we found out my broken arm wasn't healing on schedule, my doctors and I have been playing a waiting game, trying every noninvasive technique we could to spark healing. To no avail; a disgusting lack of progress indeed.

Well, wait no more: the docs opened me up, cleaned up the site where the bone wasn't healing, and closed me up again. Hopefully this will help. Time will tell, as will future X-rays:

More news as it happens. Flash.

-the Centaur

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Looks like Sandi's keeping you comfortable. Good! Get well soon!
# posted by Blogger Gordon : 4:56 AM
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