Posts Tagged ‘Cats’

Tiger stripes are math!

September 20, 2011 3 comments

From io9:


As weird as it may seem, one model describes almost all mammal coloration patterns. All it takes to make an animal a certain color is the interaction of a couple of chemicals with the skin. One chemical stimulates melanin, causing darker coloration in the skin and fur of mammals, while another keeps melanin from being produced. These spread outwards through the body of the animal in the same way in every mammal….

The key to the differences in coloration is the fact that the chemicals spread outward in waves at different phases during the gestation period. Some start their move when the embryo is still tiny. Some start when it’s nearly fully grown. If the animal is tiny, no pattern will form, which is why there aren’t a lot of tiger-striped mice out there. If it’s huge, the chemicals jumble outwards and back, interfering with each other until they form a uniform color. This is why there aren’t any tiger-striped elephants.

And tigers? Their chemical waves move out at just the right time to form a series of peaks and valleys that lead to striped patterns on their fur. Leopards, though smaller than tigers, get hit with the waves at an embryonic stage at which they’re a little bigger than the tigers. The waves interfere enough to form spots on their bodies. Giraffes get hit at a bigger stage and form the large brown patches that we see on them.

Also, it depends on the shape and size of the body part, which is why spotted cats have striped tails.  The original report is here:

This is really cool to know, that something as beautiful as the stripes on my beloved cat Tasha are an expression of math and physics, an interference pattern between chemical waves.  And it might explain something about her brother Shadow.  When he was a very small kitten, he had faint stripes of lighter and darker gray, but as he got older, the stripes vanished and he became a solid (and totally gorgeous) dark gray.  Maybe the interference process was still ongoing.

It’s also useful to me as an SF writer and alien-creator to know this.  This specific formula only applies to mammals,  but the original article says that similar math can explain butterfly wings and striped fish.  So maybe if I create some giant alien creature in a future novel or story, I’ll take care not to give it stripes or spots.

Categories: Science Tags: ,

I made it… barely

Yes, I finally made it to New York after another drive of nearly 8 hours’ duration.  It would probably have taken less time if I’d gone with my alternate route via the George Washington Bridge rather than the Google Maps-recommended route through Manhattan.  I decided to avoid the GWB because I’m kind of acrophobic and not comfortable with bridges.  I thought the other route would let me avoid them.  But it wasn’t until too late that I wondered why a particular segment of the route I chose was called the Pulaski Skyway.  Eegh, not fun.  And then there was a similarly forbidding elevated section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway — which I missed at first because Google’s directions were ambiguous for getting onto the Manhattan Bridge from Canal Street (it said “slight right,” but both options, to the upper and lower decks of the bridge, are slight rights), so I went several blocks down Flatbush Avenue before I was fortunate enough to pull up next to a police car at a red light and asked for directions.  I guess there’s no way to avoid bridges in New York City.

Nobody was home at David Mack’s place when I arrived, since I came a day later than planned and Dave was at Comic-Con all day.  So I just parked (eventually), walked to the subway (or the elevated train, here in Queens — more high-up structures, eegh), rode it to Times Square, and walked to the Javits Center to meet Dave.  I was there for like ten minutes before Keith R. A. DeCandido took Dave and me to a meeting with someone who might have work for us.  It was in a nightclub with dim lighting and blaring music, very much not my kind of scene, but the business part of it was promising and I hope something comes of it.  It would be very well-paying for the amount of work involved, and theoretically has the potential to be a recurring thing.  Plus I got to hand out the first of the business cards I had printed up a few days ago for just such an occasion.

After the drive and the nightclub, I was too worn out to keep going, but Dave’s wife Kara was home by then, so I took the subway back and she let me in.  I spent some time getting to know her and the Macks’ two cats, especially their new kitten Freddie (Winifred), who’s adorable and very, very friendly, and spent most of the time on my lap — a nice sensation that I’ve missed getting to experience.  Even their older cat, Mr. Puck, came out to investigate and even let me pet him slightly, which apparently is remarkable because he usually hides from strangers.  Maybe it’s just that I was there at the time of night when he gets frisky.  I had fun watching him chase his tail, something he did entirely within the confines of a cat tree’s “nest.”

After that, I turned in, so I don’t have much to tell yet.  Today will be the first significant amount of time I spend at the con.  I’m not sure what I’ll do all day; Pocket has no booth this year, so I have no “home base.”  Hopefully I’ll talk to various industry people and hand out some more business cards.

And maybe I’ll buy some stuff.  The trip here was more expensive than I’d reckoned on, but by not staying in a hotel I’m still saving hundreds of dollars, so I guess I can justify buying some swag.  While driving to NYC was maybe not the greatest idea, at least it gives me more leeway for accumulating stuff to take home with me.

Categories: Cats, My Fiction Tags: , ,

What we leave behind

My sister is in town to deal with the disposition of our father’s possessions.  We met today at his apartment and had a good talk.  We’re not a close family, for whatever reasons, and she and I have pretty much gone our own ways in life, but this is a time when we pretty much focus on what we have in common, which is our father and and how his passing will affect us.  I’ve been concerned for days that my father wouldn’t last long enough in the hospice for my sister to get here and have her chance to say goodbye, but thankfully, she was able to have her moment of closure as I did.

The possessions that were most precious to our father were his saxophones, and my sister’s had the wonderful idea of donating them to a charity program that helps provide music education to children who would otherwise be unable to get it.  I think my father would have appreciated that very much indeed.  It’s a fine legacy.

She’s also hoping to track down some tapes of my father’s radio days — which are hopefully salvageable from the clutter of his apartment — and donate them to an organization involved with preserving broadcasting history.  Myron Bennett was an important name in the Cincinnati broadcasting and arts scene for over three decades, so his legacy should be preserved.

We also have to deal with the more mundane question of the disposition of his other belongings, and — to put it bluntly — who gets what.  It feels wrong to be going through his stuff and taking it while he’s still breathing, even though for all intents and purposes he’s gone already.  But we have to get his apartment cleared out within the next month, and this is when my sister’s in town, so we both agreed we should make those decisions now.  And she’s the executor, so I guess she’d know.  And at least it’s a way of keeping some of his stuff in the family.  For myself, so far I’ve brought home his Marx Brothers DVD collection as well as The Muppet Movie and the Wallace & Gromit shorts, plus his copy of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline (the book), which I’d been meaning to borrow anyway.  I’ll probably bring home his DVD set of The Prisoner, his favorite show; I’ve been on the fence about whether it was important to me to have it, but it was important to him and I feel it should be kept.   I’ve also appropriated a couple of more practical items, a paper shredder and a folding chair which I hope will be better than the old metal one I’ve been using.  And I acquired his tiny MP3 player, though I’m not sure how well it works.  I’ve been talking on this blog about how I’ve wanted a better MP3 player than the glitchy one included in my cell phone, but I’m not overjoyed to acquire this one under these circumstances.  (And it sucks that I can’t call him up and ask him questions about how it works.  It’ll take me a long time to get used to that absence.)  I might bring home some other household items later.  My sister’s taking some vintage Corningware and wooden candlesticks for nostalgia value, things we grew up with.  I might want to pick out some things for sentimental value myself.

It’s already decided that I get the car; it’s been effectively my car for a couple of years already, and my father had been wanting me to take legal possession of it, and when he was in the hospital I decided I should get around to doing that soon, but I waited too long.  And now it’ll have to be handled by his power-of-attorney.  Hopefully we can get that sorted out soon.

One thing I’m not taking for myself is his huge high-definition flatscreen TV.  It’s simply too big for my needs, and I gather those things are real electricity hogs, so it’d be an unwelcome addition to my electric bill (though his does have an EnergyStar logo, for whatever that’s worth).  Besides, my sister had the marvelous idea of donating it to the retirement community where my father lived out the last…

Good grief, it’s only been eight months since he moved there.  Oh, that’s sad.  When he found the place and was finalizing the deal to move there, he was so enthusiastic about it, so pleased with it as a place to spend his waning years.  But he waned so quickly after that.  He was starting to get involved with the community and had tried putting together a set of sessions where people would get together and he’d guide them to listen to new kinds of music in new ways.  He got really enthusiastic about that, and it was an extension of what he did in the local arts community for half of his life.  But that barely got off the ground before his illness came on him.  Well, at least he had a few final months in a place that made him comfortable.  But it should’ve been much longer.

Just in case this has gotten too depressing, I should mention that, surprisingly enough, I’ve managed to have a very productive week on my novel.  I’m not sure if it’s just because my looming deadline is forcing me to buckle down or if I’m embracing it as a distraction from what’s going on.  But it feels like I’m finally picking up some momentum, and hopefully that will continue.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

A sad kitten story

A little while ago, I decided to walk over to the local organic foods store to restock on chips, and when I got there, I saw there were a couple of people evidently playing with a kitten in the corner of the parking lot.  Once I got closer, though, I saw they weren’t playing.  The little orange tabby had broken its leg and was weak and struggling.  A young woman — whom I later learned was Nadia, an employee of the food store — was trying to give it water from an eyedropper and get it to eat something.  She told me she’d called the SPCA but didn’t know when they’d come.  I told her where the nearby animal hospital was, but she didn’t have a car.  I regretted that I’d walked there instead of driving.

But after a bit, once it became clear there were no other options, I told Nadia I’d jog back home, get a cardboard box,  drive back to the store, and take the kitten to the vet.  I did this, though I was slowed down a bit when I went right to the car and forgot about the box, so I had to re-park and go get one.

By the time I got back to the store, though, that corner of the lot was empty.  I got out and looked around, and another store clerk recognized what I was looking for.  He had the kitten in a box and told me he was fairly sure it was dead.  I took a look at it and couldn’t get any response or feel any breathing or pulse.  I was too late.  Although given how quickly the kitten passed, I would’ve still been too late even if I’d had my car there in the first place.

The clerks were wondering what to do with the body, and I told them they should call animal control or the sanitation department or somebody.  Which reminded me I needed to wash my hands, which they let me do in the store’s washroom.   But when I checked in with them after I did my shopping, the male clerk told me that the kitten’s owner had shown up and claimed the remains.  I didn’t get the whole story, but they’d left the kitten somewhere while going to the nearby Starbuck’s.  I don’t want to rush to judgment without knowing the whole story, but I have to wonder where they would leave a kitten that would end up with it lying in a parking lot with a fatal injury.

Well, best not to dwell on that.  They have a loss to deal with now, a loss I can sympathize with all too well.  I’ve lost too many cats lately, too many in my lifetime, and I was hoping I could help this one.  But by the time I got there, it was already too late.  At least the kitten wasn’t alone at the end.

Categories: Cats Tags:

Pictures from my phone

There was a time, not so long ago, when a title like “Pictures from my phone” would be sheer gibberish, or at best something out of science fiction.  But I’m gradually catching up to the 21st century, technology-wise, and today I bought a microSD card that enables me to copy the photos I’ve taken with my relatively new cell phone and transfer them to my home computer.  And I can then transfer them here, so I’m going to do that just because I can.

(I actually got the card so I can transfer my CDs onto my phone and use it as an MP3 player.  I still need to buy the special headphones that go with its particular type of jack, and I’m annoyed that LG didn’t use a standard headphone jack so I could use a set I already have.  But buying the SD card and the headphones are still cheaper than buying a separate MP3 player.)

First off, an amusing thing I saw up on the corner.  The Friar’s Club building that’s been there for a long time, and all the houses around it, just got demolished to make way for… I have no idea what.  After the last major bit of demolition, I saw this (click to enlarge):

Door to nowhere!!!

A perfectly intact  doorway and wall section (aside from a torn canopy) leading into a pile of rubble… awesome.  I wonder how far you could get inside?  Not that I’d recommend it.  Either you’d be underneath a bunch of unstable debris that might collapse on you, or you might find that this door leads to… The Twilight Zone!

Next, here’s a photo of a couple of cats I saw at the local park a while back:

They sort of followed me from in front as I strolled down the walk — staying ahead of me, with the striped one occasionally stopping and letting me pet her (?) for a bit.  They pretty much maintained this relative distance from each other all the way down the hill.

On a more nostalgic note, here’s just about the last photo ever taken of Shadow:

I have a few seconds of video footage of Shadow on my phone, taken at about the same time, but I’m not sure they’re in a format playable online.  Basically it’s just him sitting there glaring at me, like in the shot above, while I informed him that he was a pussycat.  Which I think he already knew.  But it bore repeating.

That’ll do it for now.  Now that I have the means to transfer photos off my phone, maybe I’ll take more of them.  Don’t expect me to post any Shore Leave photos until after the convention, though, since my laptop is relatively old and doesn’t have a port for the SD card adaptor.  At this point, I can only copy between my phone and my (now-repaired) desktop PC.

Categories: Cats, Uncategorized Tags: , ,

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S2) Reviews: “The Seal”/”Charity”

“The Seal”: An unremarkable tape scene, except that for the first time the mission briefing is on a cassette tape; Jim brings the player with him on a shoulder strap.  (It’s worth noting this was considered cutting-edge technology at the time, and was the inspiration for the Star Trek tricorder.)  As I think I remarked before, it’s odd that cassette tapes were so rarely used on this show even after they became commonplace.

The mission: Industrialist Taggart (Darren McGavin) has purchased a jade statuette which is the stolen royal seal of Kuala Rokat, a nation important to America’s strategic interests in Asia.  His refusal to give it back risks driving the country into the Soviet bloc.  The team must get it out of his possession by any means.  Their plan hinges on Rusty, a ginger tomcat who’s been trained to fetch things.  This is the second episode to feature a cat prominently, the first being last season’s “The Diamond.”  This time, the cat is one of the good guys.  (But really, a plan depending on a cat deigning to follow instructions?  What were they thinking?)

Cinnamon plays reporter to interview Taggart while Jim pretends to be a subcontractor whom Taggart Aviation has been overpaying for his rivets — the perfect bait to make Taggart’s accounting department eager to bend over backward to “help” him.   In this way, he sabotages their computer with a doctored punch card.  He’s also slipped a fake punch card into the phone’s autodialer (the ’60s version of speed dial, where you had to insert a punch card encoded with the number to be dialed) so they’ll reach Barney when they call computer repair.  Willy sneaks in Barney and Rusty inside a replacement computer, then fakes Jim’s signature on the signout sheet to hide the fact that Jim’s still inside.  He couldn’t so easily hand back two security badges, so he uses a gadget to stick two together for several minutes, then reveal the hidden badge shortly after a security alarm has been sounded due to the badge discrepancy.  This little trick gets the poor security guard fired by his mean boss.  Congratulations, IMF!  You’ve just ruined this poor guy’s life!  Now his wife’s going to leave him and he’ll descend into drink and wrap his station wagon around a telephone pole!

Anyway, Taggart spins this whole tale about how the jade seal has been stolen so many times throughout its history that its rightful owner is whoever happens to possess it at the moment.  Conveniently, he concludes that if anyone steals it from him in turn, they’re welcome to it — thus sort of absolving the IMF for the crime they’re in the process of committing.  Cinnamon concocts a legend of a curse that will kill Taggart in six hours if he doesn’t return the seal.  He doesn’t fall for it, but he’s amused enough to let Cinnamon invite in a visiting professor from Kuala Rokat (Rollin in subtle but profoundly unconvincing “Oriental” makeup) to tell him about the curse.  Rollie performs magic tricks to make it seem he has mystical powers (spouting some Orientalist rubbish about how such things are commonplace in the East).  This culminates in Rollin making himself disappear (making a sheet appear to levitate with a helium balloon he somehow smuggled in and inflated silently–huh?) in order to sneak to the vault and pretend to be electrocuted by its door (he’s wearing a special gizmo that protects him from the current).  While the security system is shut down to save him, Barney’s able to drill through the wall and use another balloon to insert a strip of material that emits a harmonic to neutralize the sound detectors once the security system is turned back on.  Interestingly, he uses magnets on one side of the wall to catch the drill dust on the other side, since the vault floor will go off if even a few ounces’ weight lands on it.

Rusty almost ruins the plan by playing with the fishies in Taggart’s fish tank, but is caught in time.  Barney inserts a telescoping rail for Rusty to walk along and sends him instructions through a headset attached to his collar, goading him to retrieve the jade and bring it back.  Naturally, Rusty takes his time.  I wonder how many dozens of tries it took to compile enough bits of footage to make it look like the cat was following instructions.  But eventually Rusty brings the jade out, and Jim and Barney sneak out by switching clothes (at gunpoint) with the paramedics who’ve come in to take the “electrocuted” Rollin to the hospital (serves them right, since they were apparently too unskilled to tell he was faking).  So the day is saved, the team drives off in the stolen ambulance, Rusty gets the last word, and they all have a good laugh at their morally questionable and illegal activities against a US government contractor in the name of some tenuous gain in the mad game of brinksmanship that was the Cold War.  But there was a cat involved, so I guess that makes it okay.


“Charity”: The DVD calls it “Sweet Charity,” but other sources disagree.  Anyway, it’s a weird episode.  The mission this week involves busting a charity scam.  That’s right, not a malicious foreign government or a spy ring or a powerful crime syndicate, just an unhappily married couple, the Hagars, who have bilked various rich people out of their money on the pretense of funding charities.  You really have to wonder why the IMF is being given such a minor case.  I mean, they already know somehow that the Hagars have the stolen money in the form of platinum bars hidden under their pool table.  Why can’t the authorities just arrest them on the basis of that knowledge?  Okay, they’re living on the French-Italian border, but America’s on friendly terms with those countries, so what’s the problem?  (And their home happens to be the same Pasadena location used for Stately Wayne Manor in the ’60s Batman, at least in exteriors.)

Anyway, the plan is very convoluted for such a minor mission.  Cinnamon plays a wealthy recluse (wearing an odd feather swim-cap thing that makes her look like a baby bird or something) who gets acquainted with Erik Hagar (Fritz Weaver) while Jim pretends to be a doctor attracting the attention of the man-hungry Catherine Hagar (Hazel Court).  Willy, as Cinnamon’s chauffeur, “accidentally” damages the grill of Hagar’s car, so Cinnamon has him drive the car into town for repairs.  Hagar lets him have it without question, thus proving himself incredibly trusting for a career con man.

Jim appears to make some mistakes with his cover story, so Catherine catches on that he’s a fake.  However, that’s part of the plan; his real game is to pretend to be someone Erik hired to distract his wife so he could go after Cinnamon (or rather, her millions of dollars).  Catherine is sufficiently smitten with Jim that she tells him to “earn your money.”  Turns out the gigolo biz only paid 300 bucks a weekend back then.

Meanwhile, Barney and Willy are doing the old “cut open the floor from the basement” trick and stealing the platinum from under the pool table, replacing it with an inflatable set of fake platinum bars.   Also meanwhile, Rollin barges in on Erik’s naptime, holds him at gunpoint, and tells him to take off his tie and shoes and lie back on the bed.  Just as it looks like it’s going someplace really disturbing, Rollin sets the blanket on fire to make it look like Erik died in a smoking accident.  As the world’s slowest-burning blanket gives off smoke, Rollin tells Erik that his wife arranged the hit, and Erik pays him off to switch sides.  He then pretends to try to suffocate Jim and Catherine with natural gas, but the branch he’s used to barricade the door is pre-scored so Jim can break through easily enough. Jim convinces Catherine that her husband is out to bump her off for her money, and they need to run away with the platinum first.  She shows him where the (now fake) platinum is, and then trustingly leaves him to take care of moving it to their car so they can run away with it.

But the real platinum is back at the garage where Barney & Willy are fixing Erik’s car — by way of melting down the platinum and molding it into a replacement grille and headlights for the car!  They return it just in time for Erik to see his wife and her gigolo driving away with his ill-booten gotty, so he can drive off in pursuit of them.  Jim gets across the border because his trunk is empty save for a deflated balloon whose resemblance to platinum bars goes unnoticed by the border guard, but Barney arranges to be driving a van that crunches Erik’s grille for the second time today, so that when the guards inspect it, they discover it’s platinum and arrest him for smuggling.

This episode is full of holes.  Aside from the question of why the authorities couldn’t just arrest these guys, or publicize their scam so people wouldn’t be taken in, there’s the question of why this convoluted plan would work.  Okay, they can arrest the guy for having platinum on his car, but what about the subsequent investigation?  There’s no way to prove he knowingly turned his car grille into platinum, since he didn’t, and a warrant for his house will turn up nothing now.

And the Hagars are very unimpressive antagonists.  They’re not hardened killers, not physically dangerous at all (so the whole “If any of your IM Force are caught or killed” line is rather incongruous).  They don’t have some vast organization or Soviet-bloc government protecting them.  They’re just a couple of con artists working alone, and barely functioning as a team at all, since they clearly hate each other and are easy to turn against each other.  And they’re really quite gullible and easily manipulated.  I kind of feel sorry for them, going up against a crack spy team that’s overthrown governments and saved the world from weapons of mass destruction time and time again.  The Hagars are completely out of their league.  And they should’ve been beneath the IMF’s notice.  The very existence of this episode doesn’t make sense.

Categories: Cats, Reviews Tags: , ,


Yesterday, I finally got up to my father’s place for the first time since Shadow passed away.  Up until then, the idea of his loss had been pretty abstract for me, since I haven’t lived under the same roof with the cats for years.  As I expected, it wasn’t until I went into Shadow’s favorite closet and saw he wasn’t there, until I saw his litter box emptied out and packed away, that it finally really hit me that he was gone and I was finally able to start grieving properly.  I spent some time in that closet saying goodbye, and since then I’ve been letting myself be sad, letting it become real to me.

Just a bit before he died, we bought a new case of his special food from the Cat Clinic, and as it happens, Shadow left us just after he’d finished the last can from the old case.  So the new case was never opened.  I’ll be returning it to the clinic when I get the chance.

Categories: Cats Tags: