Saturday, July 29, 2006

This is Unreal

You know how, when you are approaching an accident on the freeway, you tell yourself that you aren't going to rubberneck. Checking out the carnage is for the less civilized folks. You're better than that. You're just going to keep on driving, eyes on your own lane, and not try to figure out who hit what and how much their insurance premiums are going to go up because of it. Then, when you finally get up to the scene of the accident, you can't help taking just a little peek, and the foot eases off the accelerator just a little and you find yourself thinking, "So that's what happens when a Geo Metro and a Hummer collide."

That is what happened to me with "Who Wants to Be a Superhero." I don't watch reality TV. I might have caught half an episode of the first Survivor before I decided this is beyond lowbrow entertainment and my life is too short for that. I got two thirds of the way through the episode of The Apprentice where they were doing an ad campaign for the Star Wars video game and DVD before the interpersonal politics became so bad that not even Star Wars could keep me watching. The whole premise of Who Wants to Be a Superhero was utterly offensive to me as a fangirl (see previous rant on the subject, below). Stan Lee was selling out fanboys and fangirls everywhere to reinforce the stereotypes of us as immature and out of touch with, of all the irony, reality. Part of me wanted to reach through the television, grab him by the mustache and the aviator glasses and yell, "You've been to Comic Con. You've seen us. You know we aren't like that! Why are you doing this to us?"

I TiVoed the first episode of WWTBASuperhero anyway. Might as well see what I'm railing against. You know what? As much as I hate to admit it, the show isn't half bad. If you can get past the superhero campiness, the first episode was an oddly compelling hour of television. At least in the first hour, it wasn't the typical reality show bit of strategic alliances and backstabbing. The challenge of the week wasn't "who can be subjected to the most disgusting thing without losing their lunch." The show, at this early date at least, seems focused less on being a superhero than on being a decent human being--a rare thing in reality TV, from what I hear.

The challenge set up for the first episode was ostensibly who could pull the "Superman in a phone booth" the fastest (for a program done by the former head of Marvel, all the superhero references seem to be to DC comics characters). Contestants were supposed to change from their streetclothes into their superhero costumes without being seen, then run to a designated finish line. But Stan Lee pulled something that anyone who has ever picked up more than two issues of a comic book could have seen straight through (thus giving us, the audience, a nice reveal as to who are real fanboys and fangirls, and who are in it to be Reality TV Stars). An 9-ish-year-old actress was positioned just shy of the designated finish line, crying that she was lost and couldn't find her mommy. We'll overlook the fact that she was not at all convincing. The unstated but transparent goal of the exercise was to see who would consider helping a lost child more important than winning a contest for a TV show. Some of them did, and those that weren't were called on the carpet (or illuminated cubes, rather--I gotta get me some of those) to explain their inaction. That turned into more groveling than actual explanation, but still, it was nice to see win-at-any-cost be detrimental to one's success rather than essential. I'm eager to see if that ethic continues through the rest of the show. Yes, I will be TiVoing the next episode.

This is a show where you have to just accept a lot of things that some people might find a little odd (e.g. a woman wearing crullers as a belt). My version of reality is heavy on the comics and sci-fi, so I can just run with guys in tights. If you are the type of person who could see a person in a full-body Yoda costume walking down the street in June and your only thought is "he's too tall for Yoda," you'll have a leg up watching the show. Everyone else, set your TiVo, revel in the campiness, realize these people are not normal human beings, and get ready to have your faith in the general decency of humanity (if not, necessarily, the decency of humanity's wardrobe) renewed.

I'll check back as the show progresses.

Dang Homophones!

Seems a misunderstanding about homophones (those words that are pronounced the same but spelled differently, as you will recall from between snickers in your grade-school English classes) got Apple in a bit of hot water among the online tech community. An article in The Chicago Tribune about iPods breaking included the following paragraph:
An Apple spokeswoman, Natalie Kerris, said iPods have a failure rate of less than 5 percent, which she said is "fairly low" compared with other consumer electronics. "The vast majority of our customers are extremely happy with their iPods," she said, adding that an iPod is designed to last four years.

After the bruhaha began, Ms. Kerris pointed out that what she had in fact said was an iPod is designed to last "for years." What a difference a U makes.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

On the Menu

Tonight's dinner is chicken fried rice, or as I prefer to call it, "use up all the odds and ends in the crisper before the vegetables revolt and declare the refrigerator The Sovereign State of Whirlpoolvania."

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


I think we've officially stretched the definition of "reality" to the point of meaninglessness when this is classified as a "reality show."

For the benefit of those who won't click the link, the new show is called "Who Wants to Be a Superhero." From the website:

Each contestant begins with an original idea for a superhero, a self-made costume, and their best superhero mojo. From thousands of hopefuls, Stan Lee chooses 11 lucky finalists who move together into a secret lair. There they will begin their transformations — and their competition for the opportunity to become real-life superheroes. Over the course of the series, they will test their mettle, try to overcome their limitations, and do what it takes to prove that they truly are super.

The finalists will leave their former lives behind and become their brainchild heroes, all under Stan Lee's watchful eye. Each week, our aspiring heroes will be challenged with competitions designed to test their true natures. No one will be asked to perform feats of impossible strength; our superheroes will be tested for courage, integrity, self-sacrifice, compassion, and resourcefulness — all traits that every true superhero must possess.

In the end, only one aspiring superhero will have the inner strength and nobility to open the gates to comic-book immortality. The winner of this six-week competition will walk away with their character immortalized in a new comic book developed with Stan Lee. And that's not all — the winning character will also appear in an original SCI FI Channel movie!

As someone who has gone out in public, not on Halloween, dressed as a character from a comic book, I would like to say that actual fanboys and fangirls have a much better grasp on the concept of reality than this.

Mystery plant

Out weeding the flower beds recently, I stumbled upon a mystery plant in the middle of my hostas. I've been pulling up all kinds of odd weeds that I can't identify, so another mystery plant, in and of itself, is not that unusual. What is unusual is that this one bears an uncanny resemblance to something in the cucumber/pumpkin/melon family: broad-leafed vines complete with light orange blossoms. Odd thing is, I have not planted anything in the cucumber/pumpkin/melon family there or anywhere on my property. I'm granting it a reprieve from being weeded just so I can see what comes out at the end.

Monday, July 24, 2006


A doormat seen in a mail-order catalog I received today:

"Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit. Look who's here."

Thursday, July 20, 2006

For the "Duh" File

Headline from the Associated Press:  Farmers use bull semen to inseminate cows

No kidding.  Maybe the AP expected farmers to use tofu?

Monday, July 17, 2006


The tree service came out today to fix our little tree problem, outlined earlier, and while they had the chainsaws fired up, they took out two other trees that threatened to cause problems in the future. Two maples, an ash and an apple tree are now nothing more than a small pile of firewood and a second Volkswagen-sized pile of mulch. Four trees look like a whole lot more tree when they are vertical and not put through a wood chipper.

And, since the crew did such a great job, I'll put in a shameless plug for Dolce's Tree Service.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Marmota Watch '06

We now have woodchucks, plural. Woodrow and a friend/girlfriend/offspring were out snacking in the grass yesterday. I suspected additional marmota when I saw fresh dirt at the opening of the woodchuck den, as if Woodrow was remodeling the place. Now we know for sure. They're still not chucking any wood though, and it would be nice if they would, since I still have to have half a maple tree next to my deck. We're on the tree service's schedule.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Saga of Pilling a Cat, Part VII: Final Pill

With all the fuss Chakaal put up getting to the vet at the start of our little adventure, I fully expected her to give me better source material by the end of her course of meds. Tonight was her final pill, and other than her attempted run for the border when we tried to reposition her on the bathroom rug, it was entirely uneventful.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Saga of Pilling a Cat, Part VI: Fifth Pill

After last night's fiasco, Chakaal calmed down a bit. We caught her unaware, and managed to get the pill down her throat on the first try. She tried to puke it up, but failed.

Saga of Pilling a Cat, Part V: Fourth Pill

I knew this had been too easy. For three days, she just sat down and took her pills. It's Day Four, and she's figured us out. As soon as she heard the unmistakable sounds of the humans preparing to turn in for the night, she started to nonchalantly saunter toward the relative protection of under the stairwell. She might have succeeded right there, except that her sauntering path took her through the kitchen, where one of the humans was doing the dishes. Her escape stymied, she resorted to refusing to swallow. Three times, we tried, with feline positions ranging from cradled in arms to pinned to floor. We would have tried a fourth time, but the third attempt reduced the pill to powder. We're pretty sure some managed to get into the cat. As for the rest, the hallway carpet is going to have nice, healthy intestines.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Saga of Pilling a Cat, Part IV: Third Pill

Since Chakaal wised up to the carrier trick so fast, I doubted we could get past the second pill before she caught on. We got a reprieve of at least one day. We descended on her in the bathroom, same time and place as before, and though she did not particularly like being confined and forced to swallow a pill, she did not try to make a break for it. We are now halfway through her course of meds, and still managing with minimal fuss. It is most certainly a two-person job, though.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Saga of Pilling a Cat, Part III: Second Day, Second Pill

Friday night, and it was time to work the second pill down her. Did I mention that, even split, these are about the size of a Tic Tac? For a cat, that's huge.

We decided on a slightly more friendly approach than Thursday night's throw-your-body-on-the-cat method of restraint. We caught her in her usual evening haunt of the bathroom rug, and I picked her up. We were so surprised at getting the pill down her on the first try that we followed her around for several minutes to make absolutely sure she wasn't just waiting to spit it out. We've had a cat do that before. Months after we finally had to put him down, we were still finding little pills he had managed to spit out after we thought for sure he had swallowed.

Pilling A Cat, Part II: First Pill

Thursday night, after Chakaal had calmed from her little adventure getting to the vet, we started her course of medication. The vet had conveniently pre-split the pills so we just had to give Chakaal half a pill once a day.

Just. Ha. Nonetheless, we are all in favor of trying the easy way first, and I still had half a can of moist cat food left from the afternoon's adventure. We portioned it out among the three cats, since we can't give moist food to one without giving it to all, and strategically hid the split pill inside the dish we gave to Chakaal. As semi-expected, Chakaal cleaned her plate and left the pill sitting next to it. For the fourth time in a day, I found myself holding her down against her will. Emp. Peng., being more adept at these things, takes point in the cat medicating process and deals with getting the pill into the mouth and down the throat. I provide moral support and bodily restraint. Half of the pill got in, and we declared that good enough for the first try.

Saga of Pilling the Cat, Part I: Getting to the Vet

One of the cats had to go to the vet this week, after we noticed some concerning matter in the litterbox. We narrowed down the culprit to Chakaal after noticing she was showing other signs of intestinal distress or possibly worms. Too bad for us that Chakaal is the most clever of the three cats.

None of our cats like going to the vet, and will run and hide when they see the kitty carrier. Standard operating procedure is to start gradually closing off potential hiding places, starting with under the bed, since that is, by virtue of being the most inaccessible to humans, their preferred hiding place. Before they know it, they are corralled into a room with nowhere to hide. Then we break out the carrier.

Apparently, at less than two years old, Chakaal has caught on to this plan. When I shut the drawers on the bed pedestal, she gave a big "we'll see about that" to the humans and proceeded to open the drawer herself and crawl behind it. No problem. I've lured cats out from under the bed before. I pulled the drawer out and got the pouch of kitty treats. The cats always flock to kitty treats. Soon, I had a second cat at my heels meowing for the treats, and one under the bed who was having none of it. Even when I put the treat morsel under there with her and sat back, she just pawed at it.

Plan B: catnip. Chakaal is a certified nip fiend. I plucked a sprig from the stand outside--they like it fresh--and waved it at her tantalizingly from just outside the drawer opening. Nothing. Even brushing her fur with the nip had no effect. Clearly, she had figured out that the more I wanted her out from under the bed, the less she would want to be out from under the bed.

On to Plan C: the food. Chakaal reliably comes from anywhere in the house when she hears the sound of the scoop in the kitty kibble. I have never made so much noise putting out dry cat food in my life. No dice. She had, however, taken advantage of my brief absence to get the sprig of catnip further in and was contentedly chewing.

After a quick call to the vet to tell them we were running late, it was on to Plan D: Friskies. They get moist food as a treat now and again, and all three know the distinctive clink of the cat dishes coming out of the cupboard. It is the most effective dinner bell one can imagine. In a split, I had two cats clamoring for the moist food. Unfortunately, these were the two that can't stand being in the same room without fighting, and not the one I wanted. After separating the other two out and giving them each a token bit, I took a dish into the bedroom to pull the old "move it a fraction of an inch away between bites trick." That worked right up until the dish got to the edge of the drawer, then Chakaal took a tactical retreat. On the second attempt, I actually managed to lure her completely out from the drawer, grab her, and get her into the bathroom. The wiley one managed to escape when she spotted and took advantage of the one flaw in my plan, namely that I had to open the bathroom door to go get the carrier. Back to square one.

There is no Plan E. With the other two cats, there isn't even a need for a Plan B, much less C-D. Chakaal had figured out what was coming, and she was not going to fall for the moist food gambit twice. Having exhausted all forms of lure and bribery, we were down to forcible removal. Fortunately for me, even if the cat outwits me, I still have the advantage in reach and overall mass. Given another half hour and removal of drawer rails so she has nothing to wedge her body between, that is enough to drag a cat bodily out, over loud objections.

We were almost an hour late for her appointment, and the extra wait for the appointment slot of a pet being even more obstinate did not convince her that things would go a lot easier if she just came out willingly and on time. $35 of poop analysis later, it turns out she has some mild intestinal inflammation, probably caused by eating something that is not officially sanctioned as edible for cats. It is nothing to worry about, but the vet prescribed a six-day course of oral medication to be certain it clears up.

Anyone who has ever given a cat a pill will recognize going through at least fourteen parts of these step-by-step instructions for giving a cat a pill. This is why we eventually moved to giving Felix his medication by transdermal gel.

Stay tuned for Part II, in which we actually start giving Chakaal a pill.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Recommended Reading

The Ten Commandments of cell phones.
I would like to add #11: 
If thine call is dropped, thou shalt wait until thou is in an area with better reception 
to resume thine call, or thine call shall surely be dropped again, and there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth by the recipient.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

At Least The Cats Aren't Completely Useless

Stumbling toward the coffeemaker this morning, I passed something in the hallway that bore a striking resemblance to a cat toy, although I didn't remember giving them one with that particular configuration. Leaning closer--holyfreakin' mother of pearl! One or more of the cats had found a new toy, all right. However, the toys I get for them don't normally have paws and a tail. Lucky for us, after they got and killed the mouse, they skipped the offering of the prey to the owners and just left it where it lay. Now, having swept it up and chucked it outside as a warning to other mice, I just have to hope it was a loner.

You are cordially invited my new blog, Household Hacks, where our motto is "better living through tinkering." Household Hacks is full of hints, tips, and easy projects for the domestic sphere.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Return of the Penguin

After a whirlwind trip visiting family, in which I saw five airports in as many days, I am back and can confidently report the secret to good airline service in economy class: combine a small aircraft with a flight attendant who doesn't want to be on it.

Our last leg of the trip was out of Chicago's O'Hare airport, on a regional jet only slightly larger than a turboprop. Between an aircraft shortage and a lightning storm, flights were running about two hours late and the airline was scraping bottom to cobble together flight crews who could still legally work. By the time we got the aircraft loaded, it was apparent that there are few things worse than the wrath of a flight attendant forced to take the 1:30 a.m. flight to Columbus, Ohio. Fortunately, that wrath was directed at the airline, not the passengers, and took the form of clearing out the galley of "snacks available for purchase."