One Cat, Two Cat

Saturday we took Blackjack and Newton in to the vet.

For Newton it was a 3-month blood test, to see how he’s been doing on his range of medications. The outcome was that all his numbers are basically the same as last time, no better no worse, which is good news, I guess. Except that his white blood cell count was elevated, which probably indicates some kind of infection. So he’s on a round of antibiotics (yay, another twice-daily medication to give him) for a week and a half, and then we’ll have him retested. On the bright side, he’s up to 7-1/2 pounds, from a low of 5-1/2 when he was hospitalized.

For Blackjack, Debbi wanted him to get a physical since he hasn’t been getting the full work-up at his clinic for his cancer treatments. Our regular vet looked him and said he looks really good. He’s at around 13-1/2 pounds, which is a pretty good weight for him. His Horner’s syndrome receded as quickly as it arrived, and he’s jumping around more than six months ago. So maybe he’ll be with us a while yet.

The unfortunate punctuation to this trip is that Newton peed in the carrier on the way home, getting himself all wet. Plus he’s been having problems staying in the litter box when he pees. It’s a vexing problem. I have a couple other ideas of things to try, if our latest trick (puppy training pads) doesn’t work.

Unfortunately I wonder whether Newton is reaching the point where he’s living too long. It’s nice having him around, but he’s gradually becoming no-longer-the-same-cat-I’ve-known, and I wonder if he’s really still happy. But he’s still eating, he still prowls around the house at night, and he’s been enjoying the brushing I’ve been giving him recently. So it’s not time yet.

No news about Roulette this time around. I think she just slept on the couch the whole time the four of us were gone. I imagine she briefly cackled “The whole house is mi-i-ine!” after we left – and then fell asleep.

Choosing an RSS Reader

Ever since the Safari browser for Mac OS X added support for viewing syndication feeds (e.g. RSS and Atom) I’ve been a voracious user of the feature. I follow literally dozens of blogs via feeds, and dozens of webcomics as well.

Sadly, syndication support is going away in Safari 6.0 (which is the version that comes with OS X Mountain Lion), and that means following feeds will require turning to a third-party app. So I’ve been looking into various apps to decide which one works best for me.

(Apparently the Firefox browser also supports syndication, but I didn’t really want to switch to another browser. Also, since syndication support was IMO the killer feature in Safari, I’ll be more open to considering other browsers in the future once it’s gone. I used to use Camino from time to time, but pretty much stopped once Safari gained syndication support. On the other hand, bookmark syncing is also very important to me, so maybe I won’t switch.)

I started out with a fairly specific set of requirements. For example, I wanted not to use Google Reader, mainly because I limit my use of Google products since I don’t really trust them to use data they collect from me responsibly. (I am pretty suspicious of any large company which is mainly supported by advertising, actually.) But my requirements morphed as I looked around, and what I ended up with doesn’t entirely resemble what I started out looking for. For instance, the synchronization ability of Google Reader (to keep my feeds synchronized on multiple machines) was just too good to pass up, so I ended up going with that, as it has become a de facto standard.

(I had originally hoped I could find an app which would sync via Dropbox, e.g. by keeping its data file in Dropbox, but I couldn’t find an app that would support that. So Google Reader it is.)

My ultimate requirements were as follows:

  1. I wanted an OS X client, as I consume most of my web content on that platform. An iOS client would be nice, but was not required. Indeed, I haven’t even looked at iOS clients so far.
  2. I wanted to be able to organize my feeds hierarchically in the manner that I prefer.
  3. I wanted a reasonably robust UI experience, and of course an app that would work and not crash frequently.

This last one was the trick, because it seems like most of the syndication readers for OS X basically suck. Many of them have pretty dire reviews in the Mac App Store regarding stability and features. I didn’t want to spend $5 here and $7 there trying out various readers which didn’t seem reasonably promising to start with.

I ended up trying three: NetNewsWire, Reeder, and Cappuccino.

And the winner was… NetNewsWire.

Without going into detail, the big reason for choosing that app was that its UI was just much more robust and configurable than the others. Both Reeder and Cappuccino were limited in allowing me to organize my feeds, to configure their UI, and even just to make fonts smaller. Their workflows (where to click, how to mark articles as already-read, etc.) also didn’t quite work for me. Now, Reeder in particular seems to be quite popular, so perhaps I’m in the minority there, but overall I liked NetNewsWire the best. (Some folks have told me that Reeder seems better suited for use on iOS, so if I ever decide to start consuming feeds there I’ll give it a try.)

NetNewsWire was originally developed by Brent Simmons, whose blog by coincidence I’ve been reading for a while anyway, though it’s now owned by Black Pixel (which also has an interesting blog,).

Some things I like about NetNewsWire:

  1. It uses a clever hack to support hierarchical folders. I wish it didn’t have to use a clever hack, but I infer (from my experience with other readers) that Google Reader doesn’t natively support hierarchical folders.
  2. I can sort the items in the folders chronologically, so I can read them from oldest-to-newest. (I don’t think Safari supported this, actually. Or maybe I never discovered it.)
  3. It supports several configurations of the main window: Three-column master-detail (“Widescreen View”, common in other readers), master-detail with the article list above the main reading view (“Traditional View”, but since vertical real estate is more valuable than horizontal real estate, not my choice), and a simple master-detail with feeds on the left, and when you select a folder all the articles for all feeds appear on the right (“Combined View”).

    The Combined View was actually the killer feature that made me choose NNW. The other two readers didn’t seem to support it.

Traditional View

Widescreen View

Combined View

Choosing the Combined View

The thing I miss the most moving from Safari so far is that NetNewsWire (unsurprisingly) doesn’t support the Safari AdBlock extension, which means that feeds that contain ads show those ads when I’m viewing them. That’s a bummer, but not a backbreaker. I did set NetNewsWire to “Open Links in Default Web Browser” so I don’t have to view the ads when going to pages from a feed.

The other thing I miss is that in Safari I was able to mix feed bookmarks with web page bookmarks, which was useful for reading webcomics since some of them don’t have feeds (such as Blip, whose feed has always been broken, and newspaper comics from Comics Kingdom). This isn’t a failing of NNW specifically, but rather is the nature of syndication reader generally – they don’t replace web browsers.

I also find that NNW is a little light on shortcut keys (for example, renaming an item in my feed list requires choosing a menu item, which is annoying cumbersome). I could probably wire up additional shortcuts in System Preferences, but haven’t looked at doing so yet.

Overall I think NetNewsWire will be a pretty good solution. NetNewsWire is free-but-ad-supported, but I’ll probably purchase it (it costs $14.95) in order to support the developers (and because I really hate ads).

By the way, if you don’t want to use Google Reader, then NNW doesn’t force you to do so (many other readers seem to require a Google Reader account). How you sync your feed lists among your devices in that case is an exercise left to the reader, however (I haven’t looked at how it might be done, but I imagine it involved some import/export magic to something like Dropbox).

Oh, if it looks good to you, then you will need to download it from the web site as it isn’t available in the Mac App Store (at time of writing, anyway). It appears to have an auto-update facility, though, which is nice because I have a terrible track record at updating apps that don’t tell me when a new version is available!

Life-Changing Events

Since my last entry, a lot has happened.

After I came home, my sister Katy substituted for me taking care of Mom. She went to a meeting they had at the rehab center the Tuesday after I left to discuss Mom’s future. There was concern that she shouldn’t be living at home by herself – especially in the large, multi-story house she has – and so Katy spent a good chunk of the next week finding a senior living center for her to move to, and then getting her there.

Katy and I kept in touch pretty regularly during this week, and she did a fantastic job (probably a better one than I would have). She and her boyfriend brought some furniture over to Mom’s new place, then she brought Mom over this past Tuesday, and the next day brought her cat Maggie over to join her. Then on Thursday she went home, completely exhausted, I think.

My part in all this is that I’m going to be taking over responsibility for managing Mom’s finances, mainly for paying her bills. Consequently, I’m going to be flying back again next month to get a handle on all that. I imagine it will involve a lot of phone calls, driving around with Mom to (for instance) get me added to her bank account, and so on. But hopefully I can knock most or all of it out in my planned trip.

On the bright side, Mom is fully on board with all of these changes. I think her house really had become just too big for her, and she looked forward to moving somewhere new and somewhere with people around for her to see daily. The facility sounds really nice, and I look forward to seeing it. Plus, Mom’s recovery from her knee replacement surgery sounds like it’s proceeding normally, with no surprises along the way.

There are many questions we have yet to tackle, but we’re focused on getting the urgent items finished first (well, I am – Katy’s already done her part), and then we’ll think about everything else.

I wish there had been more warning about all this, but it is what it is.

Journey’s End

I’m back home from my two-week excursion back east to help my Mom while she’s recovering from her surgery. It’s really good to be home.

It was a little sad to go, though. It seems that every time I travel I get stressed out preparing to go, and then it takes me a while to settle in, but by the time I have to leave I’ve gotten used to things there. I got used to living in Mom’s house by myself, by going to visit Mom every day, and particularly by hanging out with her cat Maggie, who had really become friendly with me by the end of this past week.

Thursday especially I went for ice cream at J.P. Licks in Newton Center (their mint chip is really yummy), and then walked around the area feeling melancholy: The place has changed a lot since I lived in the area back in high school: J.P. Licks has moved in since Brigham’s closed, there’s a book store in town now, and so forth. Bill’s Pizzeria is still there, though (and larger than ever). It’s recognizably the same place, but quite different. Sort of like me.

I got a lot done this past week, around the house. I trimmed a bunch of vines and weeds and cleared up the paths to the house. But I was especially pleased that I managed to unclog the shower drain, which has been that way for many years. I suspect it was hair clogging it up (though I wondered if it might have been an errant cat toy), and I wondered if it had desiccated enough to be fixable at last. So I poured a bottle of Drano down, and it seemed like it was a little better. So I got another bottle, and sure enough another round did the trick. The next morning I was happy to take a shower without water pooling up around my ankles. A long-vexing challenge vanquished at last!

Mom is doing well. I think she’s starting to go a little stir crazy, as she’s walking around the rehab center more, enjoying going down to the patio on her floor, and enjoying her physical therapy. We don’t yet know when she’ll be going home, though. My sister and I are trying to figure out what sort of support she’ll need when she comes home until her knee is fully healed.

But after two weeks away from my home and my own family I was happy to head back. I got out right ahead of a nasty heat wave, but the flight home was uneventful. Debbi and I were very happy to see each other, and we went over to Half Moon Bay today to spend some time together.

I’m glad I went, and I got a lot done for Mom, but it was time to come back.

Martin Orford Retired

I recently downloaded Martin Orford‘s two solo albums, Popular Music and Classical Songs and The Old Road, having enjoyed his work with IQ and Jadis in the past. Listening to them recently, I wondered when he might have a new one coming out, as I knew he’d left both bands.

A quick Web search reveals that he won’t have a new one coming out, because he’s retired:

This is the story of an artist who did something extraordinary and rather unique in the rock business: he retired.

In 2009, Martin Orford, one of Britain’s most respected keyboard players and founding member of IQ, decided to end his career in music. A few short months after he left the band, he played his final solo concert, making it very clear that he never would return to either studio or stage.

It was not the lack of new ideas or fading love for music that forced Orford to leave it all behind, but an enemy he couldnt beat: the Internet.

According to him, illegal downloading was the ‘beginning of the end’ for the music scene so he decided to make his stand – If people wouldn’t pay for music anymore, there would be just one way to teach them: don’t produce the music.

Quite a pity. I suspect we’ll see an upheaval in artists of all sorts who aren’t willing to put up with the changes in the marketplace (both legal and illegal) and retire – or, more quietly, never start their careers to begin with. For myself, I’m just sad that it means artists I enjoy (or might enjoy) will stop producing work.

By the way, I have no guilt over downloading Orford’s two albums: I downloaded them from iTunes, so I legitimately paid to get them.

You should, too. They’re quite good.

Edit: Here’s an interview with Orford about leaving the music business. One quote: “But I absolutely refuse to work with the Internet; as far as I am concerned it’s the worst invention in the history of mankind, and I consider it to be my natural enemy.”

Everything Takes a Little Longer

While I’ve been staying at my Mom’s house, I feel like I’ve been perpetually late. Everything takes longer than I expect, or at least it did for the first week. This was partly because I didn’t know where things are kept around the house (which I haven’t lived in for over 20 years, and didn’t have anyone here to ask), and partly because there’s been a lot of cleaning and organizing to do.

Here’s the best story of things taking too long:

So I decide to do some laundry. Turns out I’d do lots of laundry during my stay, but this was the first time. Dirty laundry sits in a basket in the second floor hall, while the washer and dryer are in the (unfinished) basement. So:

  1. I go upstairs, get the laundry basket, and come downstairs.
  2. I open the door to the basement, and – oh, ick! There are cobwebs at the top of the stairs! And, it turns out, all along the path to the laundry! Most of them are a little higher than my Mom is tall, but I’m taller than she is. So I put down the basket, grab some paper towels, and spend 15 minutes clearing away cobwebs. And then wash my hands.
  3. So I take the laundry downstairs. At this point I had the impression (which turned out to be wrong) that due to her bad knee Mom hadn’t used the laundry for a while, so I decide to run the washer empty for one cycle to clean it out.
  4. Once that’s done, I separate out the colors from the basket and run them through the washer. I don’t have enough whites to do yet, so I take the basket back upstairs.
  5. When that finishes, I put the colors in the dryer, but I can’t get it to start. Once upon a time there was only one power outlet in the laundry room, and you had to switch plugs to use each one. Now there’s a power strip, and everything seems to be working. Eventually I figure out that I hadn’t closed the door all the way, and I start the dryer.
  6. When the dryer’s done, I go to get them, and realize that I don’t have a basket to bring them up in. I don’t think Mom separates whites and colors. So I go upstairs and hunt around for a while to find another basket. Eventually I find one, so I bring them upstairs.
  7. I fold the laundry, and bring it and the now-empty basket upstairs and put them away.

That was the silliest one – especially because of the “ick” factor of cleaning out the cobwebs – but there have been plenty more:

Sorting through sheets to find a set for my bed. This motivated me to get the linen closet cleaned up and organized.

Taking out the trash, then looking all over the place to figure out where the garbage bags live.

Cleaning out the toilets, which both really needed it.

Looking for paper towels, which live in an unexpected place.

Going through the kitchen to see what ingredients were on hand to bake cookies (which I took down when visiting Debbi’s family on Wednesday), and what utensils were available. (I ended up buying a new cookie sheet and a container to hold them.)

Looking for canvas bags to bring stuff down to visit Debbi’s family. Turns out they’re at the top of the stairs to the basement, but this was the day before I had my laundry adventure above.

Turning on the TV and being confronted with a screen that said, “Press MENU to watch Verizon FiOS, or turn off your television.” Pressing MENU did nothing, and I couldn’t figure it out. Eventually I unplugged both the TV and the cable box, and rebooted them, and then it worked fine.

By this past weekend I’d gotten into the routine of pretty much everything I do regularly, but it took several days. And I never did get to the point that I’m eating many meals at home (which means figuring out where to eat out when not meeting up with someone for dinner). So that takes time, too.

It’s been an interesting time. This must be what it’s like for people who house-sit for other people regularly, a week of getting oriented to each new house.

That’s Entertainment

So most of my trip east has involved visiting Mom, taking care of Mom’s house (including doing a lot of cleaning and organizing), and working. But outside of that, I’ve been trying to keep myself entertained – mainly because otherwise I’d just be sitting in this big house by myself.

I eventually figured out that the NPR station to listen to here is WGBH, but once they finish the morning newscast I don’t find the rest of the programming that interesting. Plus, I’m spending a fair bit of time in the car, so I wanted to find a music station to listen to. Unfortunately, it seems like almost all of the music radio in Boston sucks: Faceless pop music, and endless classic rock stations playing stuff I’d listened to hundreds of times before. Very oddly, one station has a program hosted by Alice Cooper, who I’d always associated with hard rock bordering on metal, but after an hour of listening to his show I don’t think I’d heard a song harder than Boston (the epitome of AOR).

What I really wanted was a station playing current rock music, which I’m out of touch with. I eventually settled on WBOS (a.k.a. “Radio Ninety-Two Nine“), which isn’t quite what I wanted, but does play some current releases. Unfortunately they seem pretty stuck in 90s rock, with the usual assortment of bands with singers with lousy voices (R.E.M., Green Day), or who wouldn’t know a melody if it bit them on the ass (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam). Still, it’s the best I’ve found. I even heard a song that I liked enough to download from iTunes! (“Some Nights” by Fun. I’m a sucker for vocal harmonies. Alas the rest of the album isn’t more of the same, so I grabbed only the one track.)

A big part of my distracting myself has been visiting Debbi’s family: Her sisters, her brother-in-law, and their kids (and two dogs!). They have a house on the beach on the south shore, and I drove down each of the last two Sundays and on Independence Day. I got to swim in the ocean, and we all had dinner together. I contributed some food, too, since I didn’t want to just mooch off of them. It was a lot of fun.

I’ve also had dinner with Dad a few times. And Saturday we drove for my annual pilgrimage to one of the larger comics shops in the area, Web Head Enterprises in Wakefield, where I found a bunch of stuff. There was a huge accident on the freeway on the way back, so we took the longer route through Waltham where we went to The Outer Limits, where I found some more stuff.

Thursday night I got together with my friend Bruce for dinner in the North End, and this week I hope to have dinner with my friend Charley as well. It beats sitting around the house (after I’m tired of cleaning).

What’s fallen by the wayside compared to an actual vacation has been reading: I read most of a book on the flight out (mostly waiting to board due to the 2-1/2 hour delay), but only about 60 pages since. Ah well!

And the Red Sox certainly haven’t been entertaining me, as they’re having a pretty weak year.

But watching them beats silence when the sun goes down and I’m all alone in the house. All-Star Game tomorrow!

Away-From-Home Care

This summer has not been turning out as originally planned. The reason is that my mom had knee replacement surgery a little over week ago, so last Saturday I flew out to stay at her place and do anything she needed me to do while she’s recovering.

I spent last week setting up my laptop to be able to work remotely. Not only did I not want to take a bunch of vacation time, but I anticipated that there would be long stretches where I wouldn’t be very busy and I’d want to work to keep me occupied. In the end, it didn’t exactly work out as planned, but it’s worked out okay.

I took the Friday night red-eye from San Francisco to Boston. My flight left over 2 hours late – it’s always fun to not take off until after midnight! – and Boston was at the end of a heat wave when I arrived, so I nearly melted when I got off the plane. I took the subway out to my dad’s place and we had lunch. Then we dropped my bags off at my mom’s house and went to see her at the hospital.

Well, more accurately we picked her up from the hospital and took her to a rehab facility, where she’s been since. I’d wondered if a rehab facility had been in the cards, but didn’t find out until Friday. Getting her there was a bit tricky – I guess most people get transported there in an ambulance, so having us show up in a car was unusual. But she got to her room and got safely settled in. I then came home and picked her up a bunch of clothes and a bunch of books and brought them over to her.

Mom’s surgery – which occurred before I arrived – went very well, from everything I’ve been told, and as the week’s gone on she’s gotten brighter and more cheerful. I think she was really hurting before the surgery, and though she’s still working on walking, I think she feels a lot better afterwards. I’ve been going over to visit her every day, and I’ve been doing her laundry (the center doesn’t have good laundry service), as well as doing things like bringing her mail, and taking care of her cat (Maggie, who I think really misses her). What’s going to happen going forward is still uncertain – it basically depends on how quickly her rehab progresses. Although I met her physical therapist today and she says it’s going quite well.

My routine otherwise has involved getting Dunkin Donuts for breakfast (their coffee is as good as ever, but their donuts kind of suck now; I’ve switched to muffins instead), working in the morning, getting lunch, working some more, then visiting mom, and then working until quitting time. Being 3 hours ahead of my cow-orkers is really strange. Working remotely is, well, not what I prefer. My internet connection is okay, but not great, and working on a laptop is a pain in the ass with the smaller screen and less powerful processor. But I’m getting some stuff done.

Staying at mom’s house by myself is kind of weird. It’s a big old house in the suburbs, so at night it’s dark and quiet, and all I have is Maggie to keep me company. (To be fair, Maggie has been fairly affectionate, and mews at me when she feels it’s time for me to go to bed.)

When not working or visiting mom, I’ve been keeping myself occupied. I’ve been doing a bunch of cleaning around the house, as I think mom was having trouble keeping up with it because of the pain in her knee prior to her surgery. And for a few days everything I tried to do took three times as long because of various factors (cleaning out cobwebs in the basement to get to the laundry, figuring out where the garbage bags are, etc). So I feel like I’m constantly running late. But it’s getting better.

Debbi and I both miss each other a lot – this will be the longest we’ve been separated since we started dating! It’s also thrown a wrench into our summer plans (which included starting to look at getting kittens this month). But, y’gotta do what y’gotta do, and I do feel like I’m doing some good here. It’s not as critical as I’d expected when I first made plans, but it’s still useful, and mom appreciates having me visit and take care of things at home, I think.

More details in the coming days.