30 April 2010

Ernie's Last Race

Ernie (MBJ's Profit) 16 February 1998 - 30 April 2010

Over the last couple of days, Ernie's meds have been less and less effective at controlling his pain. This morning we decided he'd had enough, and took him to the vet for the last time. We are hurting now, but he's not.

29 April 2010

A Mouse in Our House

A couple of mice, actually. Tuffy found one the other day that had fallen into the kitchen trash can and couldn't get out. (It wasn't this particular mouse. She took a picture, but I can't find it at the moment. It looked very much like this one.) She took it across the street to the park and let it go. A benevolent death sentence, most likely, since all kinds of bad things can happen to a mouse released in an unfamiliar place, but somehow it doesn't seem as heartless as dispatching it on the spot, even if a quick, painless demise would probably be more merciful in the long run. Anyway, the same thing happened a couple of days later. Different mouse, presumably. Our empty kitchen trash can is apparently a pretty good mousetrap. Or maybe we have a population of particularly clumsy mice.

I don't mind mice. In fact, I'm rather fond of them. I trapped and released a lot of them, back in my days as a zoologist. Not house mice so much as deer mice, harvest mice, pocket mice, meadow mice, that kind of thing, but the same general idea. Still, they're not very tidy, so I'd rather not have them in the house.

In Michigan we had mice invade the house every year when the weather turned cold. It was just an annual thing. You could hardly blame them, Michigan winters being what they are. One year, when Tuffy was about three, this happened to coincide with the state of Michigan filming some of the kids at her day care center for a series of public service announcements about normal child development. Since they wanted an example of a child of about three putting words into short sentences, the film crew needed a child who would talk. The daycare staff pointed them towards our relentlessly verbal daughter. The resulting PSA included a clip of Tuffy exclaiming, "In our house!"

We later got a videotape of the whole session, including the conversation from which this clip was extracted. Tuffy was explaining, at great length, about how we had mice "in our house! In my room!" She even recounted how one of the dogs caught a mouse. And ate it.

I'm glad they didn't turn us over to protective services.

Eventually, snap traps and peanut butter got the mice out of our house in Lansing. I guess we should do the same thing here.

28 April 2010

Calf's Foot Jelly

As a young and impressionable child I remember reading a story in which the main character (Pollyanna?) visited a neighbor with a gift of calf's foot jelly. I remember not knowing what calf's foot jelly might be, but thinking it sounded disgusting. It never occurred to me that I might one day be in a position to be the recipient of such a gift.

Last weekend an old friend and her daughter came by the house for a visit. I think I first met this woman when we were in kindergarten, long ago and far away. We sat next to each other in Mr. Vincent's class in sixth grade. We reconnected last year because of a high school reunion neither of us attended, when we discovered we have lived about 10 miles apart for the past 13 years or so. I've really enjoyed getting reacquainted. Her life and experience has been very different from mine, but we're still interested in a lot of the same things. She's exactly the person I would've expected the girl I once knew to grow up to be. I would've liked her even if we weren't already friends. Her daughter is a kick. We had a beautiful sunny afternoon to sit out on the back deck and catch up.

Which left me thinking about calf's foot jelly. After they left, I finally looked it up. According to Gourmet Britain ("your guide to the best of British gourmet food"), Calf's / Calves Foot Jelly is "a jelly made by making a stock that includes a calf's foot. This naturally sets when cold, and from Norman to Victorian times used to be popular as nourishment for invalids. The Normans considered it as a treat in normal life, flavouring it with pepper and saffron, or perhaps red wine, then decorating it with laurel leaves - then serving it at banquets." They add that "The calf's feet will probably have to be ordered."

I don't feel like an invalid. I'm hardly ever sick (if I could apply my knuckles to my wooden skull, I would be doing it now). Still, it seems like a visit with me must be like making a charitable visit to a sick neighbor, or a frail, elderly relative. Our visitors come in, we sit down, and we talk. If Scarecrow's not busy painting the new siding on the house we might remember to offer something to drink, or brownies if I managed to wheedle Tuffy into making some. That's pretty much it. We don't go any place or do anything. We just talk. I'm sure I find this way more entertaining than somebody who actually has life.

Still, if someone is willing to do this for me, I'm grateful. I try not to pounce on them and talk them to death, although I admit I'm still working on that. it's wonderful to talk to a real live person.

As long as they don't bring calf's foot jelly. I still think it sounds disgusting.

19 April 2010

Better Than Nothing

Seems everybody has been going through old pictures lately.

I found this old picture of The Better Than Nothing String Band, taken at a Greyhound Pets, Inc. fundraiser, I think in 2004.

The guy on the right is Brian, a GPI volunteer from BC who was fascinated by Scarecrow's octave mandolin. After checking it out, he picked up Scarecrow's guitar and sat in with us for a while. I wish I could remember his last name.

Lots of strings: fiddle, banjo, guitar, octave mandolin, mandola, mandolin, mountain dulcimer... I think that's about it. And Scarecrow's big shiny red mother-of-toilet-seat triple-row button accordion.

No audio. Probably just as well. We probably didn't sound as good as I remember, and as I remember, we didn't sound all that good. But it was fun. And we were Better Than Nothing.

16 April 2010

The Done Thing

Being quadriplegic creates some unexpectedly perplexing questions of etiquette. I never anticipated being quadriplegic, of course, but even if I had, I could never have anticipated how awkward it would make the most basic social interactions.

Like shaking hands.

I'm always momentarily horrified when I see someone approaching me with their hand outstretched. I don't want to be unfriendly or rude, but no way can I extend my arm and manage a normal handshake. Even a fist bump is beyond me. My usual response is an awkward smile and a shrug, as I mumble something about how "I can't... ", leaving the other person standing there with their hand stuck out, looking awkward.

I visited the Rehab Medicine Dr. the other day. You've got to figure he sees more than his share of quadriplegics, so he must know what to do in this situation, right? His solution was to walk up, reach into my lap, and shake my fist. It felt kind of... weird... but that's one approach, I guess. I can't really see sticking out my fist as best I can and expecting anyone else to know what to do with it. I wouldn't, if it was me.

That was probably the most interesting thing about the visit with the Rehab Medicine guy. I didn't really expect him to have much to offer, but I guess it's worth checking in from time to time. He's a really nice guy, and he is good about working through my laundry list of symptoms and making suggestions. Mostly he told me to do what I  already know I need to do: arrange for backup/respite care, get a lift, make sure I periodically shift my weight off of proto-pressure sores, change the control on my wheelchair so I can get out of the house. Somehow, hearing someone else say it does not make it seem less overwhelming. I always hope that one of these appointments will just fix everything, and even though I know this is an unreasonable expectation, I'm always mildly disappointed when it doesn't.

Still, the Rehab Medicine guy spent an hour with us ("us" being me and Scarecrow, not the Royal "us") and gave it his best shot. On the way out, he reached in my lap and shook my fist again. It still felt... weird.

Some people, when they realize I'm not going to be able to do anything with their outstretched hand, manage to gracefully resolve the situation by patting me on the shoulder. That's OK. It's actually nice.

15 April 2010

Word Rage

I try not to be a word Nazi. I realize language evolves; usage of existing words changes, new words come into common use, others fall out of favor. I know that happens. Most of the time, I think it's interesting. It's just, occasionally, I run across something that sends me over the top.

I can't seem to help it. I scratched out a living as a writer for 20-some years. Admittedly, it wasn't art. I have no literary pretensions. Most of the time I was writing software documentation; user manuals and online help. In the unlikely event that anybody ever reads a System Administrator Guide, they aren't left thinking, "Wow, that's really a good manual." That's not the point. Tech writing may not require an extensive vocabulary, but the words you do use matter.

Like every other writer I know, I have my own personal list of word or grammar things that set my teeth on edge. "Access", for example, is not a verb. Neither is "Author." I know both have become common usage. They still offend me. "Data" is plural. "Utilize" is not the same as "use." Jargon makes me itch.

Every place I ever worked, the marketing department eventually stopped sending me copy to review. I guess they got tired of having me ask why you'd want to say software is "seamless" when software never has seams, or pointing out that "mission-critical", in the military sense, means if this doesn't work somebody dies. Don't you think it's a tad overblown when you're talking about software? Or editing a product overview because the super-condensed summary of what the product does is not exactly true. Marketing jargon makes me crazy.

The other day I started thinking about a word I've seen a lot lately:


Seems like it's everywhere, usually in the context of making money from a web page. It has such a marketing-y, jargon-y sound that I figured some marketing writer must've invented it because they thought it sounded cool even though you could use regular words to say the same thing. As I was working myself up to a truly tumultuous (if totally pointless) uproar, I tried to confirm that reputable dictionaries contained no such word. Imagine my surprise and annoyance when I found the following:

n Entry: mon·e·tize
Pronunciation: \ˈmä-nə-ˌtīz also ˈmə-\
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): mon·e·tized; mon·e·tiz·ing
Etymology: Latin moneta
Date: circa 1879

1 : to coin into money; also : to establish as legal tender

2 : to purchase (public or private debt) and thereby free for other uses moneys that would have been devoted to debt service

3 : to utilize (something of value) as a source of profit

— mon·e·tiz·able\-ˌtī-zə-bəl\ adjective
— mon·e·ti·za·tion \ˌmä-nə-tə-ˈzā-shən also ˌmə-\ noun
Merriam-Webster seems to think it's a real word. False alarm, I guess.

Well, shoot.

I still don't like it.

-- Mme. Crabbypants

13 April 2010

Are We Through Yet?

The NPR spring pledge drive is still going on.

And on. And on.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm totally behind the concept of listener-supported radio. I've pledged to KUOW every year since we moved to Seattle, and belonged to WKAR in Lansing before that. I wake up to it. I listen to Morning Edition in the car on the way to work, and All Things Considered on the way home. I look forward to The Swing Years and Beyond on Saturday nights. We've got KUOW coffee mugs, and Scarecrow uses KUOW bags at the grocery store. We've got the T-shirts. I even listen during the pledge drives. The interminable pledge drives.

I used to read the newspaper. All of it. Every day. The LA Times. The Oregonian. The Lansing State Journal. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, until its recent unfortunate demise. I love newspapers. I would probably read one still if turning pages hadn't become such an exhausting wrestling match and if the Seattle Times hadn't pissed me off by endorsing Dubya for president. I no longer get the news from a newspaper.

I don't get the news from TV. I don't have a TV. I haven't lived in a house with a TV since I moved out of my parents' house when I was 19, back in 1536. I even raised a TV-free child.

There's the Internet, but like most people I only read websites that agree with me. Left to my own devices, I would get a very biased picture of what's going on in the world. I need a source of news that will inflict information on me that I wouldn't seek out on my own, stuff I may not like but I ought to know.

That leaves radio.

So I listen to NPR even during the pledge drives. The interminable pledge drives.

08 April 2010

Sheer Perversity

Sometimes I think perversity has been the dominant force in my life.

As a kid in 4-H, I raised beef cattle because my mom said they were too big, and I wouldn't be able to handle them. I majored in zoology in college, because a biology teacher in high school said my test scores "weren't bad... for a girl." I went into genetics because everybody said the class would kill me, and I specialized in population genetics because of its emphasis on quantitative analysis, when math has never been my long suit. I got started in tech writing when I applied for a job for which I was totally unqualified, and I got it.

Tell me I can't do something, and I'm all over it. Conversely, tell me I should do something, and it ain't gonna happen. Uphill and into the wind all the way, that's me. Stupid, I know, but there it is.

So this morning, when I started thinking I should come up with a blog post because I hadn't written anything for a couple of days, I thought... should? Should? Nah. I don't think so.

05 April 2010

Sugar Buzz

Occasionally I find myself starting a blog post just to see what's on my mind. The obvious risk in doing this is that I will find that there is, in fact, absolutely nothing on my mind. I might revisit the events of the last couple of days. Nothin' there. I review what might be coming up in the next couple of days. Nope, nothing there, either. Books read? Movies watched? News? Weather? No help. It is possible, although unlikely, that I won't even have anything to whine about. There may not be anything on my mind at all. It may be totally empty. It could happen.

More likely I'm so preoccupied with the trivialities of my insignificant day-to-day existence that the problem is not that there's nothing on my mind, but that there is a lot of stuff on my mind, none of which is very interesting. Scarecrow needs to ship the camera I sold on eBay. We need to stop by the vet's to pick up a refill for Ernie's meds. I need to encourage (read: nag) Tuffy to follow up on her efforts to secure gainful employment for the summer. I still need to implement a plan for emergency/respite care. Wonder if there are any good sales on Easter candy? Sometimes I bore even myself.

I wonder if we really finished all those jellybeans?

02 April 2010

Can You Hear Me Now?

If you want to use voice recognition software, you need a microphone. Counting the one that arrived two days ago, I'm on my fifth.

The problem has never been the accuracy of voice recognition, although that is better with a better microphone. It's more a matter of comfort and convenience, which can be a big deal if you use it all day every day.

My first microphone was the one that came with the Dragon NaturallySpeaking software. I pretty much immediately replaced it with a similar, but higher-quality, wired headset. It worked fine and was comfortable enough, I had to take it off every time I wanted to leave my computer. More accurately, I had to have someone else take it off for me. And every time I put it back on, I had to adjust the position of the microphone. More accurately, I had to have someone adjust the position of the microphone for me. If that's the only choice, that's what you do, but it's kind of a pain in the butt.

Imagine my excitement when I found a wireless microphone that was accurate enough to use for voice recognition. I could leave my computer without having to be untangled from my headset. The Bluetooth connection was not as reliable as one might wish, but I was willing to deal. And there was still the issue of microphone position, but since I wasn't putting it on and taking it off as often, it wasn't as much of an annoyance.

The latest version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking came with a special offer on a different style of Bluetooth headset. The price was right, so I gave it a try. Accuracy was fine and the Bluetooth connection was much more reliable, although this was probably due more to an updated driver for the Bluetooth adapter than to the new headset. The problem this time was the earpiece. If it was in exactly the right spot, it was comfortable, stable, and kept the microphone in the right place. Getting the earpiece in the right spot, however, required that the ambient temperature, relative humidity, phase of the moon, and traffic on I-5 all be exactly right. And you had to recite a special incantation. And I had to be careful not to move my head too much. Most of the time it would start to sag after a while, recognition would get less and less accurate, and eventually it would fall off entirely, wind up on the floor, where it was in danger of being flattened by my power chair. This wouldn't have been a problem if I could reach up and adjust it when it got loose, but I can't. I started looking around for something else.

My latest attempt to attain microphone nirvana isn't a headset at all. It's a microphone on a cable that plugs in to the USB port of my laptop. No Bluetooth, so there's one less layer of technology, which is always good. It doesn't seem like the cable would be able to keep the microphone where you put it, but so far so good. Accuracy seems to be at least as good as any of the headsets, even though the microphone is not always in exactly the same position relative to my mouth. I can move my head without being afraid I'm going to dislodge the darned headset, which, by the end of the day, is a lot easier on my neck. I can move away from my computer without having to be untangled first.

I think it'll do until the next new toy comes along.