Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sanders vs. Trump

Yesterday I met a man who was a Donald Trump fan.

I asked why.

He said he likes the fact that Trump is a businessman.

I said, Trump has bankrupted three companies yet managed to make millions for himself while destroying his employees’ pensions.

He said that’s just because laws allow it.  And he thinks that if elected, Trump would change the laws.

I asked why.

He said that Trump is already rich and therefore doesn’t need those laws any more.

I said Trump reminds me of Johnny Rocco in Key Largo.  What does Johnny Rocco want?  Johnny Rocco wants MORE.

He said, “Be nice, now.”

So, I asked if the race were down to Donald Trump vs Bernie Sanders, who would get his vote?

He said that was a difficult choice, but probably Trump.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Pope is Coming

The Pope is coming! The Pope is coming!  And some of it fell on my city.

I admire and respect this Pope, even though I’m not Catholic.  But he’s not a rock star.  I don’t understand the magic of being in the crowd when he speaks.

I live in the green zone.  That means that buses won’t be running through my neighborhood when his eminence is here. If I drive a car out of the zone, I will not be allowed to drive back into the zone until after the Pope leaves.  I am permitted to walk or bike out of the zone and return. Some of my neighbors are leaving town for the duration.

We’re told that at least 1.5 million people will be here to see him.  These people are paying $1000 a night to stay in hotels that are walking distance from where the Pope will speak.  These people will eat in restaurants.  The restaurants are trying to figure out how they will get food with the driving restrictions.  Same for the grocery stores.  Some exceptions will be figured out.  Right now, it looks like chaos will rule.  

It’s even worse for people who live in the black and red zones. These are zones where the Pope will actually be.

At this point, I don’t care if he can do the loaves and fishes magic.  I have an artificial hip, so it is unlikely I’ll be able to get through the metal detectors to hear him.  Besides, it will probably be easier to hear him from home on the internet.  In which case, why doesn’t he stay home, too?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Barnes and Noble's Mistake

In 1978, I wrote a picture book story: Ladybugs for Loretta.  My friend Francie illustrated it.  Because our only publication option was print (ebooks hadn’t been invented yet) we decided to limit the colors to black and red.  That meant two pieces of art for each drawing and two passes through the press.  We printed 1500 copies.  We split the stack. And we sold them.

A few years ago, we had an offer from a small press to bring our book back into print, but with only black and white illustrations.  We turned them down

A few months ago, Francie emailed me – she had used her watercolor magic on all the old illustrations.  Would I please drop everything and make ebooks?

I did some minor edits to the text.

She sent me scans of all the colored art.  

I used my word processor to create both doc and pdf files.  These days, that’s easy. Just click Publish to PDF.

I uploaded the PDF to Amazon.  Voila – we had a published book.

Amazon has a print-on-demand division. I sent them the PDF and a cover graphic.  Now we had the print book we’d always intended, which full color illustrations on every page.

But, we were missing part of our audience – in other words, we wanted to expand our market.

Barnes and Noble has an ebook reader called Nook that is supposed to be at least as good as Amazon’s Kindle.

I tried to upload the pdf file to Barnes and Noble. They don’t accept pdf files.  

I tried to upload the doc file.  It was over 20 megabytes.  They don’t accept files bigger than 20 megabytes.

I tried using BN’s online book creator tool.  I got about halfway through the process and the website said I had exceeded my size allowance.  Plus, their book creator is flow style, which means that art and text are not necessarily on the same page.

In order to get Ladybugs for Loretta onto Barnes and Noble’s Nook platform, I went back to the pdf, made screen cuts, reduced their size, reduced their color density and reduced their pixel count.  Finally the file was less than 20 megabytes.  I uploaded it.

But the result is that the Nook book is lower quality than the Amazon book.

BN is already number 2 in the market.  They don’t need to be number 2 in quality as well.  I hope they figure this out soon.  I’ll be happy to upload a quality file to replace the current minimalistic one.

Friday, August 7, 2015

My Summer Vacation

This summer I reverted to elementary school.

I met up with a couple of women who were my friends in 3rd grade nearly 60 years ago.  Anne brought jacks, and Alison reminded us of the rules.

 I was the only one who remembered how to use stilts, which were readily available at a museum we visited.

Then we made chocolate cupcakes,

 and went for a walk on the beach where we picked up rocks and put them into our pockets.

Anne also let me cuddle her toy rabbit (sorry no photo.)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Bee Count 2015

Guest Blog by Jean Lorrah

Many people have discussed the disappearance of honeybees across the North American continent. It is noticeable even in cities, as long as there are yards, lawns, gardens, parks, or even window boxes. For the past several years there have been fewer bees than usual.

In the summer of 2014 I decided to count honeybees on my daily walks with my dogs. I noticed Mother Nature putting big bumblebees to work pollinating the blossoms, as well as tiny sweat bees, flies, and even wasps. That summer I counted every honeybee I saw on my walks from the first one I spotted late in May to the last one before the first frost in late October--and for that entire time I counted 63 honeybees. A sad accounting.

But of course one year means nothing, so as soon as I saw my first honeybee in 2015, I began counting again. At first I thought this year would be worse than last, because not only were there no honeybees to be seen, but a new kind of big bumbler moved into our area--bees that look exactly like the big bumblers, and move in the same clumsy way, but are about half their size (still bigger than honeybees).

It was a few days into June before I saw Honeybee #1. A couple days later I saw Honeybee #2, then it was #3 and #4 on the same day--and suddenly I was seeing from four to ten bees every day! The count advanced rapidly, and by late June passed last year's count for the entire summer.

I continued counting with rising hope that whatever had caused the hive collapse might be over, and by early July my count reached 174. Approaching triple the number of bees in 2014, with three months to go.

And then the rains came, over a week of storms, torrential rains with flooding, and damaging winds. That sequence was followed by a blistering heat wave.

My bee count stopped. Since the first storms almost a month ago, I have not seen a single honeybee. The heat broke last week, giving us several lovely days with highs in the 80s before it began getting hot again yesterday, but still no bees have appeared. Actually, not even the big bumblers or their smaller cousins are back, and the wasps, flies, and sweat bees have been pollinating the proliferation of flowers we have this time of year.

So I don't know what is happening. Perhaps the honeybees collected so much pollen before the storms drove them to shelter in their hives that they are still busy processing. I'd like to think that, and I will continue to keep an eye out for their re-emergence.

Monday, July 27, 2015

COPY CAT 2 -- Blue

Guest post by Jean Lorrah

Blue started out life as a feral kitten, one of three born to a mother cat who risked bringing them to my friend Lois Ruiz' house to eat the food she put out for them. Lois tried to catch the kittens, but they were too frightened and too fast for her, so all she could do was put food out. Eventually two of the kittens were hit by cars, but Mama Cat continued to bring the third for food.

Then one day Lois saw neighborhood kids dragging something down the street--the surviving kitten! They had a wire twisted around her neck and tied to a rope, and would have killed the poor little thing if Lois had not grabbed them, threatened them with a report of animal cruelty, and taken the kitten away from them. So the one remaining kitten, now named Blue, was finally safe, and Mama Cat disappeared back into the wild.

Blue had cuts on her neck, but otherwise was not injured. However, the experience did nothing to increase her trust in human beings. Lois tended to her wounds and turned her loose in her house, where there were four other highly domesticated and friendly cats.

Blue grew up skittish and distrustful, but slowly accepted Lois as her person and would even sometimes come to me and let me pet her if I didn't visit with a dog in tow. If Lois had not died, Blue would have been set for life. Sadly, though, Lois unexpectedly suffered a stroke while in the hospital for a broken pelvis. I already had her dog, Fancy, at my house. Lois' oldest cat, Elmer, died within days of her death; her daughter Kay took the larger cats, and I took poor little Blue.

I put Blue in my bedroom, where she hid under the bed during the day. At that time (two years ago) I was crating my dogs at night anyway, so nothing changed for them except that the bedroom door was closed at night. Dudley and Splotch, though, were baffled at being shut out. But Blue needed attention: during the night she came up on the bed and slept with me.
Blue is a small gray cat, only seven pounds, long and lean when she stretches out. She has gold eyes, and a rather long nose that gives her face a distinct triangular shape. She and I spent the nights together for two years, with the dogs, Fancy and Bianca, joining us when I felt it was no longer necessary to crate them. Blue already knew Fancy, and soon made friends with Bianca. For weeks Blue never left the bedroom, even during the day when the door was open. The main reason for her reticence was Splotch, the only one of my menagerie who did not welcome her. He was not happy at no longer being the youngest cat, and I could not keep him from bullying Blue, who is half his size. So Dudley took it upon himself to teach Blue cat martial arts, which gave her confidence just as such training does for many people. She began venturing out of the bedroom, at least into the spare bedroom or across the hall into the bathroom. As time passed she would stay in the hall, and even occasionally stray into the kitchen. That was how things stood until Dudley died last month. Like all cats, Dudley had particular places he liked to sit or lie. I told you last week about Splotch taking his place on the TV table. Well, Blue chose one of his other favorite places, the bottom shelf of one of the living room bookcases, where he would sit for hours like a knickknack. Within days, I began to see Blue sitting in that spot. Also, Blue began to play. Dudley and Splotch were both playful cats, separately and together, but Blue was solemn, cautious, quiet, sitting under the rocking chair and watching the others play. But now she began chasing sunbeams and imaginary mice! Then one day I was at my desk in the office, concentrating on something on the computer. Slowly I realized that a gray cat was on my lap, having quietly invaded while I was not paying attention, just the way Dudley used to do. Sure enough it was Blue, on her first visit to my office--but not her last. She now follows me in as Dudley did. As I write this she is sitting between the keyboard and the screen, another of Dudley's favorite places, telling me I've been at this too long, and the animals need some attention. One of Dudley's annoying traits (yes, he had some) was to knock things off the table when he wanted my attention. This morning I was putting allergy medicine in Fancy's eyes when Blue jumped up on the table and meowed for attention. I didn't stop what I was doing to pet her, as I usually do to encourage her to assert herself--and, BOP! She very deliberately knocked a box of tissues onto the floor! I'm not sure exactly what is happening, except that Blue is coming into her own in ways that suggest she is using what she learned from Dudley. She now prowls the whole house, and demands more and more cuddling. She still hasn't forgiven Splotch, but this morning I saw something that just might get him into her good graces if he keeps it up. Splotch approached Blue again, and she held her ground and growled at him as usual. And then Splotch began to go through the cat martial arts opening ceremony. Blue stared at him and stopped growling. No, she didn't accept the invitation--but she simply walked away. I hope Splotch has realized that the techniques Dudley taught both younger cats could be the means of bringing them together. Perhaps one day soon Blue will accept Splotch's invitation to engage safely under the rules of cat martial arts, and they will find their way to friendship. Whatever happens, Dudley's legacy lingers in this house in the actions of the two younger cats he raised. As for Blue, it's almost as if what he taught her is now giving her the courage to come out of her shell and have a more meaningful life.

Monday, July 20, 2015

COPY CAT 1 -- Splotch

Guest post by Jean Lorrah

It's only a month since my Zen cat, Dudley, died, but in that time the behavior of my other two cats has changed. 

The cat that Dudley adopted, Splotch, is still somewhat bewildered. At eight years old, Splotch is a big, strong, beautiful animal, sweet to people but a bully to dogs and other cats. He is quite vocal, with an unusual gravelly meow. 

He is a certified therapy cat, but doesn't have the patience Dudley had. Every time he meets a new dog in the program, he is not satisfied until he boxes that dog's ears. No claws come out, but he has to show each dog that he's the boss. After that he's happy to be friends. 

Splotch came to us as a half-grown kitten, so he probably can hardly remember life without Dudley--and of course Dudley was his parent figure, mentor, and tutor all his life. He was used to Dudley going away with me and not coming home for days at a time when we traveled, and later when he had to stay overnight or longer at the animal hospital. Splotch was secure--Dudley always came home to him. 

But when this time Dudley didn't come home from the vet's within a few days, Splotch started looking for him, quickly realizing that he was not hiding inside the house. It was out in the garage that Dudley taught Splotch to hunt mice and crickets. 

One of Dudley's favorite parts of the garage was the loft, which is low enough for a cat to jump into from the top of the car. Splotch always preferred staying on the car roof while Dudley napped in the loft. There were occasions through the years when either Dudley fell so sound asleep up there that he didn't hear me calling, or else he just didn't want to come down and come inside when Splotch did. So in his hunt for Dudley, Splotch insisted on going out to the garage. 

It was a busy day, and I had to open the garage door a couple of times to get at tools and gardening equipment. Around dinner time I realized I hadn't seen Splotch for hours, and wondered if he had gotten out sometime during the day. 

Normally when he gets outside, Splotch goes to the south side of the house and huddles under the bushes either until I come looking for him or until twilight, when he comes up on the porch and cries to be let in. However, twice over the years Splotch has disappeared completely, only to return drunk as the proverbial skunk. He loves and responds to catnip, so I've never been sure whether there is a patch of catnip back in the woods, or if perhaps someone is growing some wacky weed. 

The last time Splotch got into whatever it is was last summer, when he didn't come home at twilight, or when I gave the dogs their bedtime walk. Worried about him, I didn't sleep well, so when the dogs alerted me after midnight I went outside--and sure enough I heard Splotch calling from two houses down the street. 

I keep a light on my driveway, and my neighbors light their front yard, so I could see Splotch approaching. He strolled in a devil-may-care way under their trees--but every few steps he would LEAP into the air, four or five feet high. Then he would stroll a few more feet and LEAP again. Oh, my, but he was intoxicated! But he finally made his way home, and slept off his hangover. 

So when I couldn't find him the day he went looking for Dudley, I wondered if he had decided to go off and find something to make him feel better. If he had, I knew he would come home, but at bedtime I decided to check the garage once again. This time when I called him he answered--from Dudley's hiding place in the loft. 

He came down, came inside, and wanted lap time. At 14 pounds, Splotch is quite a lapful! It was clear Splotch had finally accepted that Dudley was gone, and he both needed comforting and wanted to comfort me. Since then he has been trying to figure out his new place in the house. 

Dudley was a floor cat, and now I frequently find Splotch sleeping in Dudley's favorite spots on the floor instead of his own favorites on the couch, the back of my chair, and the top of the bookcase. One evening I was watching television when Splotch did something he had never done before: he jumped up on top of the cable box and began attacking the TV screen, trying to catch some horses running through the picture! 

That was an argument I had had with Dudley a hundred times, especially during the Olympics when he always tried to catch divers or figure skaters. Then he would sit on the cable box with his tail hanging in front of the electric eye, so I couldn't change the channel--which Splotch now proceeded to do. And finally Dudley would settle down among the wires between the cable box and DVR and the wall, where Splotch finished off that evening. He had never, ever been up on the TV table before. 

 Splotch apparently decided the TV table was no fun, as he has not gone back there since. He has also repented refusing to make friends with Blue, and keeps approaching her to no avail. I hope she will make up with him as he works out that he is now senior cat in our house, and it's time to grow up.