EDIT Yikes, this was sitting as a draft on LJ unposted for almost 3 months! Sorry, Tilde!

Tilde died today.

She had aggressive cancer in her neck, and it got to the point where she wasn't able to move around. At 15, she was too old for the major surgery that would be required to remove it, and chances are the fibrosarcoma would come back anyway. We'd known this was coming for a while, though we didn't think it'd be quite this soon.

Tilde was my CNN cat. We got her right after I started working at CNN. She suckered us in at the humane society... cutest, most affectionate, lovable, purring furball you ever saw. Once we got home, though, that was all over. She was like "Thanks for rescuing me. I'll expect my meals promptly at 7. Once in a while I may rub against you. Do not take this as an invitation to pet me or shudder pick me up. Filthy humans."

And that was pretty much how it was for 15 years. She was companionable enough, liked to lie in bed with us, etc. But she was never a lap kitty, never wanted to be held or pet, though the occasional skritch behind the ears was acceptable. Barely.

She was very playful until fairly recently. She loved to chase bird-on-a-stick, or the laser dot, and so on. She used to be an inside cat, but for some reason decided to waltz Matilda after we moved to Cobb. She got along well enough with Cassie, but never cared for any of the animals who arrived later than she - Fozzie, Goose, Maccabee - and especially hated Spare Cat. Though they were at least civil by the end.

Anyway. She was, for all that, a good cat, and we shall miss her terribly. Good-bye, Tilde.

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Marcos goes a-shootin'

As you all know, I am a manly man, a doer of deeds, who constantly seeks out new physical experiences and adventures...


OK, so I don't do anything manlier than home repair, and even then, I'm impressed with myself if I can patch a hole in drywall and not be able to point out the spot where it used to be from 11 yards away1. Nonetheless, somehow I found myself at a shooting range on a Friday night, making holes in a paper silhouette with a Glock 9mm.

This happened courtesy of my friend Eric, who - despite being a skinny computer geek - participates in things like scuba diving and paintball and other (shudder) physical activities. I know, right?

Anyway, I was supposed to go to Jody's company holiday party, but the logistics failed to work out. As we'd already arranged a babysitter in the person of the Right Honorable Thomas Seaver, I called up Eric and suggested a Guys' Night Out. He in turn suggested the gun range as our destination.

This is a new entry in his manly-pastime schedule; he's only been at it for a couple weeks, although has already managed to squeeze in five visits to the range and has purchased his own personal sets of ear and eye protection. It has been on my "to try" list for a while, so I figured, what the heck. Lower barrier to entry than paintball. So off we went.

Now, Eric, as I said, has all of two weeks on me in this sport, but nonetheless decided to pull an Obi-Wan and take charge of my teaching himself. Spoiler Alert: this worked out better than it did for ol' Ben, as I have so far not turned to the dark side or killed anyone, even accidentally. It probably helped that I already knew basic gun safety2.

First impressions: holy crap, is it easy to get in. You just walk up to the counter, hand them your driver's license, and walk away with a gun and ammunition. They didn't do a background check, or even make me listen to a safety lecture!

(Attention, criminals: this is, however, not a recommended way to acquire a gun and ammunition. First, there's that whole surrendering-your-driver's license thing, but beyond that, you're in a building full of people who either have a gun in their hands or several guns within arm's reach. Not a good place to make a run for it.)

So there I was, carrying a real, live gun and a box of bullets. We walked through an airlock-style arrangement of doors designed to keep the lound booms from making it out to where people aren't wearing earmuffs, and there was the range. It's a big, long, concrete room with a row of stalls across the short dimension, each with a clothesline-type arrangement for moving the paper targets out to the desired distance, and red stripes on the floor marking off every 2½ yards. I was going to let Eric go first - the ol' watch-and-learn - but he told me to go for it. Yikes!

We started with a .22-caliber revolver. .22-caliber bullets are relatively small4. They are so small, in fact, that the cylinder holds ten shells instead of six, which I assume is a feature specifically designed for shootouts with the type of smartass who counts their adversary's shots. "Ha-HA!", they cry, leaping out from behind their cover. " You're all out of... " BLAM!

Eric reiterated the Prime Directive of range safety (keep the gun pointed downrange at all times), showed me how to load the gun, and then put me into a basic stance. Having recently watched an episode of Mythbusters that featured shooting stances, I decided to try showing off: "This is called the 'Weaver', right?" "Nope, this is the Isosceles." Smackdown!

Having been given basic instruction by Eric, my thoughts during that first shot went something like this: "OK, pick up the gun, hand on the grip, finger straight out along the barrel. Feet shoulder-width apart, arms out, bent a little at the elbows. Left hand comes up to support the gun. Line up the sights. Pull back the hammer. Move finger onto trigger. Breathe in. Start to breathe out. Give the trigger a gentle squBOOM!eeze?"

It took several seconds for me to remember to finish breathing out. That's how I learned that there's not much travel left in that trigger once the hammer is cocked. I've heard the term "hair-trigger", but now I know what it feels like.

I did all right with my first grouping, but despite the relatively light weight of the gun, my arms got tired fast, and my shots spread out on the target like an expanding cloud. After 50 rounds, I yielded the lane to Eric, who proceeded to show me up. After he'd also shot his way through 50 rounds, we traded the revolver in for a Glock 9mm, a.k.a. "generic TV gun". These shells were a lot bigger, but it still held ten at a time. (Not being a revolver helps.)

The Glock's trigger, unlike the revolver's, was not a mindreader; I definitely had to squeeze with intent to get the gun to fire. So I wasn't so surprised by the timing when it went off. Instead, I was surprised by the very-much-louder boom. And the recoil. And the fact that the spent cartridge went flying up and out as if a tiny kicker had punted it from inside the chamber. You didn't prepare me for that, TV!

I was pleased to see that my shot had poked a hole right through the X in the middle of the silhouette target. My next two, however, were outside of the red zone entirely, in the 9 ring. Eric said that's because the gun surprised me with its power and I was now afraid of it.

Now, if you're going to pick something to be afraid of, guns aren't the worst choice, but it is kind of silly, not to mention counterproductive, to be afraid of the one you yourself are trying to shoot. Eric advised me to relax: "The gun won't hurt you." (This was not entirely true, as I accidentally put a thumb behind the slide on one of my shots. Pro tip: this is not recommended.) So I took a break and centered myself, and likewise centered my next several shots. All together, out of 20 shots aimed at the center from 7½ to 10 yards, 18 were in the red, and 11 of those were in or on the innermost ring. Not bad for a first-timer.

Anyway, after Eric took his shots, we turned our stuff in, paid the bill, washed the dust off our hands and faces, and went to dinner. What I learned: guns are freaking loud, shooting them can in fact be fun, and I don't totally suck at it. Good to know.
  • 1 11 lawns, that is.
  • 2 Source: patter from Penn and Teller's bullet-catching trick.3
  • 3 "Illusion, Michael."
  • 4 ..which just makes the fact that they can kill you even more impressive, I suppose.

Connor the board gamer

(This entry also posted to mightybear; sorry for the duplicate if you follow both!)

Connor's interest in board games extends beyond traditional kids' games and those of his own devising. He seems to have an especial interest in abstract strategy - which makes sense for a Kid Chess kid, but I suspect it also has something to do with wanting to make sure he can beat Chase in everything they play. If so, that strategy is likely to backfire; Chase is better at focusing and will probably be trouncing Connor in such games before too long.

Anyway, we've been playing Othello and Chinese checkers since Connor was younger than Chase is now, but this year has seen an uptick in interest on the board game front. Over the summer we got two 21st-century creations, Qwirkle (basically Scrabble with shapes and colors instead of words) and Pentago (a five-in-a-row game), both of which the kids really like (though Qwirkle takes a little too long for their attention spans).

In the past few weeks, Connor has been going through my collection and asking me to teach them how to play the games he finds interesting. One of the first ones he took down was Monopoly, but we never finished the game we started.1

Then he found Pente, which, as another five-in-a-row game, was more of a hit; our kids have always been fans of Tic-Tac-Toe. Regular readers will recall how Connor beat Mommy at the game when she attempted to prove to him that it was impossible to win against an awake opponent — and then forgot to stay awake.

This week, however, Connor seemed focused on the games of the Far East, otherwise known as "Games Daddy owns and knows the rules to but can't actually play very well".2 On Sunday, we played Chinese chess (xiàng qí), and then last night it was Go. When I mentioned that Go was originally a Chinese game, and they called it wéi qí, Connor said, "So means 'game'!" Smart kid.

Of course, he then asked me what xiàng and wéi mean. I should have expected that — dumb dad.3

Chase likes these games, too, and he and I had a fun game of 6x6 Go last night. But he'd be just as happy playing Uno; Connor is the instigator when it comes to variety. It's not just the abstracts, either; he's a fan of themed games like RoboRally, too. He also likes card games, especially Dominion.

So both of them like their games, and it's nice that I can usually tempt them off the PC or Wii to play something more physical.

Not too physical, though; I'm sure this is a shock, given their parents, but neither kid is much into the sports. We are trying to encourage them to stay fit, though, and Connor is taking the Presidential fitness challenge this semester. After the first session, I asked him how it went, and he said, "Great! I couldn't do a single pull-up! I just hung there until they came and got me down!"

That's my boy!

1I carefully recorded the game state so we could resume it at some point. Which I'm absolutely willing to do . . . if one of them brings it up.

2A category which arguably includes regular western chess, too, but as mediocre as I am at that game, I'm far worse at these.

3For the record, 圍wéi means "surround" or "enclose", so Go is "the Surrounding Game". Things are less clear-cut in the case of Chinese chess, since the word 象 xiàng can mean different things depending on context. The more common meaning and usual answer is "elephant"; besides appearing in the name of the game, it's also what they call the two pieces that correspond to the bishops in western chess - which were called "elephants" in the original game that both versions of chess descend from. So we'll go with "The Elephant Game". What did parents do before the Internet? "Good question, son. Let's drive to the library!" ?

Been a while, I see.

Been letting Jody handle the blogging around here, I guess. Anyway, you might be interested to know that I updated our website to include the last 10 posts to our blogs and photostream at the bottom of the page, making it closer to the one-stop shop for updates I originally wanted it to be.

Weird stuff I do

Anyone else have weird things they do just in their head on a daily basis? There are a couple that I do in a vain attempt to keep my arithmetic skills sharp. (Vain in that I can always do these, but I still manage to be off by an order of magnitude when I have to do a quick calculation for real; Jody calls it "Markie Math").

First there's my Parking Radius. The parking deck at my work has pillars laid out in an approximate grid, with the rows labeled A, B, C . . . as you move away from the building, and the columns numbered 1, 2, 3 ... as you move away from the entrance; so each pillar is labeled e.g. A1, and that theoretically gives you an easy way to remember where you parked. But I have a bad habit of stubbornly failing to remember where I parked on a given day despite that help. To stick the location in my head, I started mentally computing the distance to the pillar from a supposed origin, assuming it were actually a square grid and A=1, B=2, etc. By keeping the coordinates in my head long enough to perform the calculation, I can transfer them out of short-term memory and have a good chance of remembering my spot at the end of the day.

For instance, today I parked near pillar H10, which translates to (x, y) coordinates as (10, 8). By the Pythagorean theorem, its radius is √10² + 8² = √100 + 64 = √164. So I just need to compute the square root of 164 in my head. Closest integer is easy - 12² is 144 and 13² is 169, so it's somewhere between 12 and 13, closer to 13. I try to get one decimal place past that, and figured it was about 12.8; the calculator says 12.80625, so yay. Then I had H10 stuck in my head and knew where my car was at the end of the day.

My other mental math exercise pops up whenever I get behind a car with a Georgia "Share The Road" license plate (bicycle safety campaign). They all have the form RD 1234, and RD is also the abbreviation for Rata Die, a fixed day count used by calendar geeks: it's defined such that RD 1 is January 1st, 1 AD Gregorian¹ and you just count days forward from there without bothering with months and years. (By that reckoning, today is RD 734,254). Anyway, that popped into my head the first time I saw one of those plates, so now I make a game of it: I assume the license plate represents a date (four digits puts you somewhere in years 1-28 AD) and mentally compute which date that is.

Yeah, I'm weird, but given Atlanta rush-hour traffic, it's nice to have something to think about other than how fast I'm not moving.

¹ That is, RD 1 is the day that would have been January 1st, 1 AD, if our modern calendar continued with the modern rules backward in time, uninterrupted by all the nonsense that screwed around with it in real history. That turns out to be January 3rd (a Monday) according to the historical Julian calendar.

Anything can happen in the next half hour!

This post is sort of pseudo-nostalgia, I guess. It concerns something from before I was born that I didn't really know about until this week, but I now find interesting enough to share. :)

Connor had a field trip to the Georgia Aquarium this week, and he was very excited about it. (He's gone before, but it's been a while, and he probably doesn't remember it in detail.) He was especially excited about being able to touch the stingrays (sadly, he didn't get to; they ran out of time). For days leading up to the trip he was talking about stingrays constantly.

I happen to have a song in my iTunes entitled "Stingray", which all the talk motivated me to play for Connor. It features mostly a driving drumbeat and the occasional repeated "Stingray . . . . Stingray!", and is part of an album entitled "100 Greatest TV Themes". But it's one of the few that I didn't actually know before buying the album. It is definitely not from this:

No, I actually remembered that show, a typical Stephen J. Cannell action joint from the 80's about a mysterious favor-trading do-gooder who drove a '65 Stingray and went only by "Ray" (presumably after the car). The music in my possession was different; the title of the track indicated an older show - older even than Ray's car. I had just sort of assumed without really thinking about it too much that it was an earlier version of the same idea, and the 80's version was a remake (or "reimagining").

Not even close.

The song is, in fact, from a Gerry & Sylvia Anderson "Supermarionation" series - the first to be filmed in color, the last one before Thunderbirds took off. Naturally, this being such a show, the title refers to a vehicle - in this case, a super submarine:

Not appearing in the actual title sequence, but present on the iTunes track, are lyrics. I can't imagine why they didn't want to break up that way-too-tense opening with a lounge lizard leisurely crooning thus:

It dives under the sea
Into the world below
Where adventure and mystery
Can always be found

It flies, fearless and free,
Chasing the strangest foe
But despite all adversity
Sails homeward bound!

Maybe they learned their lesson after Fireball XL5?

This led me on a trek through the Internet researching relevant things, so I also learned that one of the main reasons those shows were all about the vehicles, which always featured complicated auto-boarding gadgets, was because they couldn't get the Supermarionettes to walk in anything like a realistic manner. But sitting still doesn't make for very exciting TV. So they're always in elevators or on moving sidewalks or in personal hovercraft...

And that's today's episode of This Week I Learned!

Daddy's little helper

So today I decided to do some yardwork. If you know me at all, you know this is a vanishingly rare thing. Which is a shame, because Connor really likes to help. Sort of.

The task du jour was to pull weeds. This is Connor's favorite activity of all, so he was very excited. He ran downstairs and found his gardening gloves and came out to help me.

"What's a weed?" he asked.

Fortunately, this area of the yard was so far gone that this was an easy question. "If it's green, it's a weed."

So he starts pulling up pinestraw. Whups! Color-blind kid!

"Er, that is, if it's sticking up out of the ground, instead of lying flat, that's a weed."

So I sic him on some ivy that's growing under a tree. He immediately says "I have to go potty!" and runs into the house.

I leave them for him and pull some others while I wait.

Several minutes go by. Finally he pokes his head out the door and asks me if I want some water. "No, thanks!" I call. He says "OK, I'm getting some for me!"

More minutes pass.

He comes out bearing a bottle of water and a slice of wrapped cheese, which he is in the process of unwrapping. Naturally, the cheese falls out and lands on the driveway. Tears ensue.

"No need to cry, buddy. Just pick it up, throw it away, and go get another slice. But this time, why don't you sit down at the table and eat it before you come back out?"

More time passes. Having run out of weeds on that side of the driveway, I pull the ones under the tree that I had earmarked for Connor and move to the other side.

I've now been outside for a half hour and Connor has yet to pull weed one. Finally he emerges, pulling his gloves back on, and runs over to where I am in the island. He starts pulling blades of grass from its border.

"My bad, buddy. Grass is OK. And so are these bushes" - I indicate the azaleas - "but everything else is fair game."

"But Daddy, this isn't a weed, it's a four-leaf clover!"

"In this context, it's a weed."


So he starts pulling clover. "Look, I found a five-leaf clover!" This is very exciting, so he has to run inside and show Mommy.

Mommy at this point expresses some concern that we might run into some poison ivy or oak, which is not unheard of in these parts. She gives me a significant look when Connor scratches his bare leg with his gloved, weed-pulling hand.

So I tell him, "I'm afraid you'll need to put on long pants and sleeves and socks and shoes instead of sandals if you want to help Daddy any more."

"But I don't want to be that hot!"

"OK, well, never mind. Why don't you go inside?"

Mommy suggests he take a bath right away, which he thinks is a good idea, and off he goes.

I think all together he pulled maybe three weeds.

When I was done, I came in, and called my father.

"Dad, I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"For all the help I gave you over the years..."

"I Spy" update

Chase got me good yesterday morning. He decided that the map he found in the backseat was fair game. First he did M, the map itself — but gave it away by saying "I'm holding it!" His next turn, however, he stumped me.

Ispywithmylittleeyesomethingthatstartswith ... D!

After going through the usual suspects — dog, ditch, deck, Daddy, door ... surely he didn't see a deer? ... I was wondering if he knew specific flower types (daisy, daffodil...) when he gave me a hint: it was something on his map.

Rat fink! Well, OK, he's four. I explained that it was not technically fair, but that I would play along. Since I was driving the car and couldn't actually look at the map, it was a bit of a challenge.

I knew he was holding a stylized map of the USA that came with the kid's menu in some restaurant. He knows at least some of his states... "D.C.? Delaware? Dakotas?" Maybe one of those "interesting feature" callout pictures, of a giant peanut in Georgia or Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota... any of those start with D? Couldn't think of one. "Detroit?" Not likely, I didn't think it even had capitals ("Des Moines?"), much less industrial cities of interest...

Finally I had to give up. What had he spied that started with a D?

Why, one of the labels on the compass rose, of course.

What do you mean, which one? The Double-U.


Sharing, pah! Generosity, pah! A Jedi craves not these things!

On the way out of his school, Chase likes to stop by the classrooms of all his former teachers and give them a good-bye hug — he loves them, and the feeling is mutual. Yesterday, Ms. Yasmin gave him a couple gummi worms to go with his hug.

Now on Mondays we pick up Chase's best friend Finn from the school next door, so he was with us for this exchange. Chase ran over to him, gummi worm in each hand, and asked if he wanted one.

All together now: Awwww.

When Finn, quite naturally, replied in the affirmative, this was Chase's response (best friends, remember):

"So go see her!"

... with a thumb jerked back at Yasmin.

Yasmin was kind enough to give a pair to Finn, so it worked out, but Chase and I had a little chat about sharing...