The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

September 27, 2013

Why Cats are So Difficult to Shop For

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 12:35 am

Anyone got a can opener?

Depending on who you ask, cats are either the first or second most popular type of pet in America.  Although there are more dog-owning households than cat-owning households in America (a survey taken in 2007-2008 showed 45.6 million dog owners compared to 38.6 million households with cats,) the population of cats outnumbers the number of dogs by a considerable margin (the same survey estimated a population of 93.6 million cats compared to 77.6 million dogs.)  Even  taking in to account the crazy cat ladies that might be throwing off the average, households with cats tend to have more of them than households with dogs do.  It’s not hard to see why cats are so popular (among other things, they’re cute, they don’t take up a lot of space, and it’s fun to post videos of them on YouTube)  but in terms of interactivity, they generally fall quite a bit behind dogs.  Typically when cats aren’t either dragging dead and/or somewhat dead things into the house or trying to get you to feed them for the eleventh time today, they are lying around somewhere doing little of consequence.  Trying to take a cat out for a walk tends to be an exercise in futility, and half the time you can’t even get them to chase a catnip-infused mouse on a string (an activity which, at least according to the packaging the thing came in, cats are supposed to find irresistible.)

Because of this, people rarely seem to bother bringing their cats out in public.  Every once in a while you might see a cat or two on a leash somewhere, but you pretty much never see said cats actually enjoying (or even doing much more than merely tolerating) the experience.  On the other hand, in the mind of a dog there are few things that are quite as exciting as the daily walk with its many sights and smells.  Imola and Minardi, my parents’ two Beagles, will jump up and down with excitement rivaled only by that of feeding time if there is even a hint that a leash may be forthcoming.  Under the same circumstances, most cats would run off and go hide behind the couch.  Kaiya, my friend’s cat, is one of the rare ones that will actually tolerate a lot of the stuff most cats will shy away from.   My friend raised Kaiya from a very early age, having bottle fed her as a kitten after she was orphaned.  Because of this, Kaiya has been trained far more than a lot of the cats I’ve dealt with, and tends to be generally be calmer and more tolerant of things than most cats.  Naturally she still has her personality quirks and does occasionally like to misbehave, but what cat doesn’t?

One of the interesting things about modern pet stores is that many of them permit (and in some cases even encourage) people to bring their pets along with them.  Naturally, quite a few people take advantage of this, and on a good day you can see quite a few dogs.  Cats, on the other hand, tend to be in short supply, although you do see them every so often (not that I make a habit out of hanging out in pet stores, especially given the fact that I don’t currently have any pets of my own.)  Nonetheless, being bored last Saturday, we decided to take Kaiya over to the pet store just to let her wander around a bit, and possibly try out some new (and completely redundant) pet beds.

As I’ve noted above, the best case scenario for bringing a cat in public seems to be somewhere around tolerance.  I’m sure if you looked hard enough you could probably find someone who can manage to get their cat to tap dance in the middle of the rodent aisle while wearing an adorable little tuxedo or something like that, but any cat trained that well is probably going to be too busy making movies and signing eight-figure cat food endorsement deals to be hanging out in a random pet store in Bellevue.  Kaiya has been brought to the pet store on a number of occasions now, and on the times I’ve been along for the ride, her response seems to be somewhere between indifference and mild interest (at least until the ADD kicks in.)

Among other hobbies (or whatever the cat equivalent thereof happens to be,) Kaiya seems to be something of a connoisseur of beds.  Having at some point appropriated just about all of the beds in the house for napping purposes (after all, if you’re sleeping eighteen hours a day you want to make sure you’re comfortable during that time,)  she seems to have a particular inordinate fondness for fleece blankets bordering on some sort of odd fixation.  Given the large quantity of pet beds on offer at this store, we figured we might be able to find one to her liking.  She didn’t seem to care too much for this one.

This one came across a little bit better, but not much.  Mostly she seemed to be interested in just hanging out in the cart, which had been conveniently lined with a fleece blanket to provide a nice little spot to ride in.  Based on experience with previous trips to the pet store, we knew that Kaiya would jump back into the little child seat in the shopping cart if given the opportunity to do so.  Naturally, I thought this might be an interesting thing to record.  It took a couple of tries to get it, but eventually she figured it out again.

Then again, if I was a cat, I certainly wouldn’t complain too much about getting carted around the store in (relative) luxury while sitting and watching the world go by.  Actually, if I was a cat, I’d probably complain anyway, because that’s generally what cats tend to do most of the time.

Here we see Kaiya watching the action (from a safe distance, of course) in the small dog petsitting area.  It’s just as adorable (and just as loud) as it looks.

Anyone notice that nobody ever seems to have “Beware of Cat” signs?  You’d think anyone who’s dealt with cats long enough might consider something like that…

With plenty of cat beds still to go and not much time (or attention span, for that matter) remaining, we decided it would be a good idea to try out several at once.

Here’s how that worked out.  I’d call it an action shot, but there isn’t exactly a whole lot of action going on here.  In the end, none of the pet beds in the store seemed to be much to her liking, so we opted for a few cat treats and called it good.  One thing I did notice from this is that bringing a cat to the pet store seems to attract a lot of attention from random bystanders, most likely because you don’t see many of them (at least not compared to dogs, which seem to be a dime a dozen in the store on any given day.)  This is, of course, because most cats in this type of situation would probably bolt from the cart and hide underneath the first conveniently inaccessible shelf they could find the minute they got into the store.  Not sure I’d want to try it with a cat of my own though, unless I was really certain of what I was doing.

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September 14, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Summer in Light of its Expected Departure

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 11:44 pm

Technically, Summer isn’t over just yet, but as it always does, it certainly seems to be headed in that direction.  Labor Day has passed, the kids have all headed back to school, the Halloween stuff is starting to show up in the stores, and it probably wouldn’t take much looking to start finding  Christmas stuff if you were so inclined.  Granted, the weather hasn’t turned the corner quite yet.  Sure, there were some pretty good thunderstorms here last week, but that kind of intense weather is unusual for this area during any time of the year, so we just chalked it up as an anomaly and moved on.  The period of several weeks that falls in between Labor Day and the Autumnal Equinox has always been something of an anomaly.  Technically it’s still Summer, and usually the weather reflects this, but at the same time it doesn’t quite feel that way.  Naturally, if you’re back in school at this point, you’re too busy with that to pay much attention.  On the other hand, if you’re in a position where you have the flexibility to actually use the time for something, it’s a good time to take a trip and avoid some of the Summer crowds while still having some decent weather.

But no matter what you end up doing with the last couple of weeks of Summer, the fact remains that it’s impossible to avoid the fact that Fall is on the way, and it will be here sooner than you think.  You try not to pay too much attention to the ever earlier sunsets, the subtle changes of the leaves on the trees or the big crateloads of pumpkins beginning to show up in the grocery stores, but they’re there.  Even though it was less than three months ago, the Fourth of July feels far more distant than that.  Before you know it the leaves will all be on the ground, the rain will come back for its annual nine-month climatic residency, and then finally the end of Daylight Savings Time arrives, at which point it starts getting dark before you can leave the office in the evenings, just to make the point that this stuff is going to be hanging around for a while.  The arrival of Fall is pretty much inevitable, and Nature makes no pretense of being subtle about any of it.

Since the departure of Summer and arrival of Fall is unavoidable (unless you happen to have the means to do the whole snowbird thing and go somewhere nice and sunny for the Winter), which I certainly don’t,) about all you can do is just go along with the whole thing.  Nonetheless, as the Summer wanes, it always seems to be a time for contemplation and looking back.  It is common to look back at the Summer and ask yourself if you made effective use of the limited amount of summertime you’ve been allocated.  Naturally, it’s up to each person to decide for themselves what the answer to that question is.  Although some people will have regrets about not having done as much as they would have liked to do during the Summer, I believe there are few people who  can truly say that their Summer has been wasted.  I suppose if you spent three much on the couch playing video games than you probably didn’t make effective use of your time, but I suspect most people managed to at least make it out of the house every once in a while.  I suspect that a significant portion of them managed to spend some quality time on outdoor activities during that period as well.  In the end, a lot of them may not have done as much as they would have liked to, but I’m sure they at least did something.

In my case, even though I spent a good portion of the Summer working long hours at work and generally didn’t get to do as much as I would have liked, when I look back at what I did do during the Summer, it actually turns out to be quite a bit of stuff.  In addition to the usual stuff (like the annual Disneyland trip, PAX, and the standard holidays) me and my friends managed to do a number of things on the weekends.  We made no less than three different trips to the various zoos to be found in the area (Point Defiance, Northwest Trek and Woodland Park) at various times, we attended a number of fairs and festivals of various shapes and sizes, and we generally did a fair bit of not sitting around the house when the circumstances permitted.  Of course, no matter what we actually did accomplish over the course of the Summer, there will always be a sense that you could have done more.  I find it’s best to just not dwell on this too much.  After all, even if it seems far away by now, Summer will be back eventually.  In the meantime, it’s getting to be just about time to start thinking about the upcoming Holidays and planning a Winter getaway (although in my case there isn’t much planning left to do; I’ve got most of it figured out already.)  Winter is on the way, and there isn’t much we can do besides possibly get out of the way for a bit, but at least I’m fortunate that I do have that option.

In the meantime as Fall approaches and brings early sunsets, cold rainy weather and a general sense of decline along with it, the best we can do sometimes is just play along with it, and realize that even this time of year does come with its own unique set of simple pleasures, even if they might be a bit tough to spot between the piles of dead leaves and chilly winds at times.  And even if we do have to slog through the Fall, Winter and Spring to get there, eventually Summer will find its way back.  Sure Summer may seem to be a finite resource (especially in a place like this), but at least it’s a renewable one.

September 5, 2013

Just a Little Bit of Pixie Dust…

Filed under: travel, Wanderings — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:21 am

Even though I have been known to make occasional attempts to pass myself off as being a mature responsible adult in recent years, to be perfectly honest I’ve never really been all that good at it.  Sure I’ve managed to tick off a reasonable number of the items on the big checklist, but there’s still quite a few that I haven’t figured out yet, and a few of them I’ve never been all that inclined to really bother with.  As you’ve probably noticed if you’ve been reading this Blog for any length of time, one of the items in the “not going to bother growing up” category would be my little Disney habit.  Since my first trip to Disneyland as an adult back in early 2006, I’ve taken seven more trips to Disneyland for 3-5 days at a time (with another trip with my friends coming up next month), one trip to Disney World,  and I’ve now had an Annual Pass since 2011.

Naturally, this has led some people to ask just what it is that keeps me going back there so often.  And while I’m not sure I could truly answer that question, I generally tell them that it’s a nice convenient place to get away from things for a bit.  Getting there takes only about a 2-hour flight from here (and it’s reasonably easy to find cheap flights from here to LAX if you do a bit of looking and planning ahead.)  If I’m traveling with my friends, generally we don’t need a hotel since their parents own a condo about 25 miles away from the parks where they generously let us stay when we take our trips down.  This means that if we have annual passes to the parks (which are admittedly a fairly significant upfront cost,) we can generally do a trip to the parks for not much more than the cost of flights, a rental car and food.  Not that it will be a particularly relaxing getaway (it doesn’t matter how easy you’re taking it, there’s still no such thing as a relaxing Disneyland vacation)  but it will still provide plenty of opportunity to get away from things for a bit, and plenty to take your mind off of whatever it needs to be taken off of at the time.  And no matter when you go, it still seems like there’s always something new to see, be it a new show, a new ride (or a change to an existing ride) or even on occasion something as big as an entirely new land.  On the flip side, there’s also a good chance that for one reason or another you’re going to end up missing out on something along the way too (the trip me and my friend took in April happened to coincide with an unplanned closure of Space Mountain, and this trip saw both the Matterhorn and Big Thunder Mountain closed for various reasons.)  Naturally, this can be a disappointment, but if you know how to plan around things it generally shouldn’t end up being too big a deal.

Of course, if you happen to be making what you expect to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Disneyland, chances are your plans are going to be a lot different from they would be if you happen to be an annual passholder that makes several visits a year.  Gradually you learn the little tricks and the shortcuts  to get around things and out of the long lines.  We happen to be firm believers in going through the gift shops to get around crowds on Main Street and along other paths; it saves time, gets you out of the sun (which turned out to be a significant issue on our most recent trip, where temperatures reached well into the Nineties with high humidity) and only occasionally results in ill-advised impulse buys.  You also start to figure out where the best places to eat (and possibly save a few bucks) are, both inside and outside of the parks.  And you also start to learn other tricks to make things easier (for example, if you have a tendency to bring ridiculous props into the parks to take silly ride photos, it’s a good idea to rent a locker to store stuff in.)  Even though I’ve been coming to the parks for years now, this really feels like the first trip where I’ve really felt like we knew what we were doing.  I think I know the freeways around Los Angeles well enough now that I can (mostly) find my way around without needing to use the GPS on my phone, we were doing a good job of staying out of crowds, long lines and the sun, we weren’t really under any pressure to do anything, and (most of) our ride photos turned out reasonably well.  Unfortunately, we did have some problems with the excessive heat (who wouldn’t?) that did put as crimp on our plans for a couple of days, but that pretty much seems to come with the territory when you go down there during the Summer months.  We probably should have learned our lesson last year when we went in August, but apparently this time around the temperatures were well above average for this time of year, and the heat index was close to 106 degrees when the humidity is factored in.  I’m guessing things should be a little more tolerable when we go back in October, but with the way things are going these days, who knows?  Anyway, regardless of the ups and downs it was still an enjoyable trip with good company, and perhaps most importantly, it provided a nice little excuse to forget about work for a bit.

Oh, and another of the little traditions I’ve developed on our Disneyland trips is one of making up random Disney facts out of thin air and posting them over on my Facebook wall.  To bring this post to a close, here is a sampling of some of our Disneyland Facts that are Not True from the most recent trip:

  • Anyone who has been visiting Disneyland for long enough knows that the old Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland was replaced in 1979 by the much more thrilling Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, but few people know that the creation of BTMRR was prompted by an accidental discovery of a significant deposit of rare earth minerals underneath Nature’s Wonderland in 1975. As the ride was being built, a small but productive mining operation was commenced several hundred feet below the attraction, and continues to this day. For most of the past year the ride has been closed, ostensibly to facilitate a replacement of the tracks, but in addition to the work above ground, an exploratory shaft is currently being dug toward the Matterhorn in hopes of finding even larger deposits.
  • Although the Haunted Mansion is advertised to have 999 Happy Haunts, in reality Disney’s internal standards allow for a variance of plus or minus two percent on any given day to account for scheduling conflicts or other issues that might arise. Although they do manage an exact count of 999 on most days, the Mansion can be considered to be operating normally with as few as 980 Happy Haunts or as many as 1,019. On March 14th 2009, a mishap in scheduling resulted in a record 1,143 Happy Haunts in the Mansion for a short time before the ride was brought down to rectify the problem.
  • In July of 2009, the Captain Jack Sparrow animatronic in the final scene of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride suffered a major malfunction. Rather than risk extended downtime to the ride during the busiest part of the year to make repairs, Disney hired Johnny Depp to replace the broken animatronic in the ride for three days. He did such a good job of staying in character that the ruse was not discovered until several weeks later by Disneyphiles reviewing YouTube videos of the ride and noticing discrepancies in the motions compared to the existing figure.
  • Although it is rarely seen by park guests, there is in fact an alternate path on the Indiana Jones Adventure ride that does not lead you to the Gates of Doom. Naturally, you get there by not looking into the Eye of Mara, which is nearly impossible to get 12 tourists on a ride car to cooperate on at once. If you are fortunate enough to reach this alternate path there will not be untold riches or eternal youth, but you may get free t-shirts, snacks, Disney gift cards or possibly even free admission to the park. Naturally, the ride is considerably shorter than normal along this alternate path.

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