This is as Good as it’s Going to Get

This is another COVID-19 entry. It’s a long one, and it’s not a very positive entry, because my feelings about it can be summed up thus:

In the United States, the pandemic is as over as it’s going to get. You may or may not feel that the pandemic is “over”, but I don’t believe it’s ever going to get more over than it is now. At least in my lifetime, and maybe in that of anyone alive today.

I’ll talk about why I think this further down, but I want to lead with what this means for us in our day-to-day lives. It means that the world isn’t going to become much more comfortable for you than it is now. Cases may go up and down, extra measures may come and go, but if you’re not comfortable doing things now, the only way you’re going to get more comfortable is by adjusting your own mind. And if you’re convinced that your current comfort levels are warranted, then what you’re comfortable doing now is what you’ll be comfortable doing for the rest of your life.

For example:

  • If you’re not comfortable eating at a restaurant, nothing’s going to change in the future to make you feel more comfortable. More likely I think there will be fewer restrictions on restaurant patrons with respect to masking and vaccinations over time.
  • If you’re not comfortable flying on an airplane, that’s not going to get better either. (From what I’ve read, flying is one of the least-risky group activities, but it’s not surprising that our lizard brains look at flying in a narrow metal cylinder with a couple hundred other people and think “Nope.”)
  • If you’re not comfortable going to work in a group environment – an office, a retail store, a warehouse, or wherever – that’s not going to get any better. (And I bet we’ll see employers start pressuring people to return to in-person work in the next year. Or, at the latest, in 2025 if the Republicans capture the White House and Congress.)
  • If you’re not comfortable going to an art fair, movie, concert, wedding, funeral, or other event where there will be lots of people around, indoor or outdoor, masked or not, don’t expect much to change in these areas either.
  • If you’ve been looking forward to getting to the point where you don’t need to wear a mask to suppress the transmission of COVID, don’t expect the need for that to change either. But don’t be surprised if lots of other people decide that they’ve had it with masks and just stop wearing them unless required to (and also expect requirements for masking to slowly go away over the next few years).

When people talk about “the pandemic being over” or “the pandemic not being over yet”, or “the pandemic ending”, I don’t think things have appreciably changed in the U.S. in the last few months, and I don’t think they’ll appreciably change in the future – ever. There’s never going to be less need for mask wearing, physical distancing, and avoiding crowds or indoor events, until and unless there’s some significant unforeseen development.

I am not an infectious disease expert, so there may certainly be important things I don’t know. But here’s why I feel this way:

  • A little under 60% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. This is likely to continue rising slowly (with a slightly larger bump this month and next as 5-11 year olds get vaxxed), but I think it’s likely that we’ll peak at around 70% vaxxed. I suspect that last 30% will never get vaccinated voluntarily.
  • More importantly, only about 42% of the world population is fully vaxxed, and that also needs to get much, much higher. I bet it will peak at around the same level as the U.S. – around 70% – or possibly a bit higher if more authoritarian governments impose vaccinations requirements than prohibit them.
  • The SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID is never going to go away. Even if we manage to eradicate it among humans – which I doubt we will – it’s likely to survive in animals (such as deer) and retransmit back into humans periodically.
  • The existing COVID vaccines are great at preventing infections and preventing serious symptoms against those with breakthrough infections, but it doesn’t eliminate transmission even among the vaccinated, and I believe we’ll never get to the much-greater-than-90% vaccination rate we need for vaccination to eradicate the virus among humans.

An important caveat is that I believe all of this to be the case assuming there are no unexpected developments. By “unexpected” I mean developments that we either don’t know about or don’t expect will happen. I think we can reasonably expect the world to get to a 70% or slightly higher vaccination rate, but getting to a rate of true herd immunity – above 90% – does not seem like something that’s reasonable to expect.

I think there are reasons for hope among things we could imagine happening, though. Here are some of those unexpected developments which could make a significant impact:

  • Better treatments for COVID symptoms are developed. There are two anti-viral pills which have been announced recently, and hopefully there will be more. This could mitigate the impact of people getting infections to the point that it really is like getting the flu rather than getting a dripping illness (not that the flu is anything to laugh at). It’s not clear to me that this will really move the needle in changing the need for masking, etc., but it might.
  • New, more effective vaccines are developed. I doubt anyone who isn’t researching such vaccines or in close touch with such people has any sense whether this is likely to happen. I’m optimistic that we will create better vaccines, maybe even one which prevents transmission or otherwise significantly reduces the spread of COVID among humans. I think this is the most likely path to returning life to complete pre-pandemic “normal” (for the vaccinated, anyway).
  • We achieve herd immunity levels of vaccination. As I said, I think this is pretty unlikely, but it’s possible.
  • COVID evolves to be basically harmless to humans. There’s a long-standing theory that viruses can evolve in this way, but there seems to be little evidence that this actually happens. (This may be what happened to the 1918 influenza virus.)
  • Humanity evolves immunity to COVID. Seems unlikely, and if it does it might only happen for future generations.

The other wild card is that the virus itself could evolve in various ways. (In a sense Delta has been a boon, because I’ve read that its high transmissibility without being much more deadly than the original virus might be blocking more deadly mutations from taking hold. They can’t replicate and transmit fast enough to beat out Delta.) The really bad mutation, of course, would be one that reliably breaks through the vaccines. Another bad one is that it might become more deadly to the unvaccinated but not substantially worse for the vaccinated.

This brings me to one of the worst parts of all of this, which is the thousands – maybe millions – of people who are unable to be vaccinated. While for people who can’t be vaccinated because of a reaction to something in the vaccine there is some hope that a vaccine might be reformulated to eliminate that problem, for the many others who are immunocompromised such that the vaccine either wouldn’t work for them or might itself be harmful, I don’t see a way forward. This is of course one of the main reasons why we needed to squash the virus through universal vaccination, but as I said I don’t think we’re going to achieve a high enough vax rate to do that, and so the unable-to-be-vaccinated are going to be stuck. While they can mask and physical distance like anyone else – like we did before vaccines – neither of those is a solution, it’s just a stopgap measure, especially in a world where many other people – both vaxxed and unvaxxed – will likely be doing less of both in the future. I expect many tragic stories in the future. We as a society are failing these people because of the shitheads who choose not to get vaccinated.

(This is one reason that I have little sympathy left for people who are unvaccinated by choice, catch COVID, and then die or experience long COVID. They made their choice, and it was the one that basically said fuck everyone else.)

A few days ago the New York Times published this piece which includes interviews with Dr. Bob Wachter, whom I’ve been following on Twitter for his COVID analysis over the last year and a half. He – and the piece’s author – make some points which are similar to my thoughts here. The point that we will likely transition to looking at illness counts rather than case counts as the factor which dictates how we adjust our precautions seems right on to me. Case counts are going to go up and down among the whole population, forever, but more and more of those cases will be vaccinated people testing positive but having no significant illness as a result of the virus. What this means for masking, and testing, and other measures remains to be seen. What exactly happens probably depends on to what extent people are willing to endure those measures. I don’t really have a guess as to what will happen – after all, we put up with an awful lot of security theater nonsense in order to fly.

But I think we’re now at the point where the substantive, enduring measures we can take have been taken, and the next few years will largely be us – as individuals and as groups – deciding what our social structures are going to evolve into.

Personally, I am so, so sick of working from home. But I don’t relish the prospect of wearing a mask for a whole day in the office, either. But at this point, what happens isn’t really up to me.

Memory Lane: Audio Equipment

Earlier this year I finally got rid of something I’d owned for over 30 years, an Aiwa AD-WX808 dual cassette deck.

Growing up my parents – well, really my dad – had a component stereo system with a record player, receiver, and speakers. At some point one of them bought me an all-in-one record player/radio/tape deck which I used through high school. I remember the first LP I bought was the Return of the Jedi soundtrack. And during high school I bought a lot of 45 RPM singles, and a few LPs. As I say occasionally, I wasn’t really into 80s music, so I was more likely to have MTV or a local radio station on in the background than listen to music that I owned. I also had a few Walkman and competing products for playing tapes and listening to the radio, which I used pretty regularly. And at some point we got a boombox which we mostly used downstairs.

All this largely changed in college, when I discovered 60s and 70s rock music. My gateway drug – oddly enough – was Styx, but I soon moved on to The Who and various progressive rock groups. A guy down the hall from me had a boom box with a compact disc player, and I bought a few CDs that year.

That summer – 1988 – I researched and bought my own component stereo system. If I recall correctly, I bought the four components at two now-defunct stores, Lechmere and Tweeter. Tweeter was an audiophile store and they recommended a receiver and speaker set, while at Lechmere I bought a CD player, and the Aiwa tape deck. I shlepped this set back and forth between home in Massachusetts and college in New Orleans every year, first by shipping everything (along with my Macintosh SE) – amazingly nothing ever got damaged – and in 1990 by driving them in my new (to me, it was a 1987 Honda Civic) car. The Aiwa tape deck was great for copying tapes that for some reason I didn’t have on CD, and its recording quality was quite good (or maybe my hearing is just bad, hard to say). The going rate for a component stereo at the time was around $300 per piece, so I probably spent $1,200 on the whole system. Seems kind of ridiculous today, when you can buy a powerful laptop computer for less.

Over the next ten years I bought hundreds of CDs – and custom-built cases to hold them. My car also had a tape deck, and I regularly put together mix tapes to listen to in the car, while I usually listened to whole albums at home. At some point I replaced the CD player with a 5-disc changer. I remember there were also 6-to-12 disc “magazine” models, which were supposedly less reliable. In hindsight I bet that was technically true, but probably not enough to matter.

(My vinyl records from high school didn’t make the transition to the new media era, but there wasn’t much there I missed. I’ve always thought vinyl was a cumbersome and mediocre media format anyway. CDs are a thousand times better.)

At some point I bought a Discman, and an adaptor to be able to use it through the tape player in my car, but portable CD players were pretty clunky and skipped easily (this got better over time, but was never great), so I didn’t use it a lot.

Of course, all this changed again between 2001 and 2003 with the advent of iTunes, iPods, and eventually iPhones. I ripped all my CDs into iTunes – several times as the encoding tech got better, actually. I kept the CD player for a long time, but it didn’t get much use after that. I did buy a new receiver and speakers since the old ones were nearing the end of their lives. Once I bought some Airport base stations for wi-fi in my house, I connected one of them to the receiver and then if I wanted to listen to my music library I would play it from my laptop to the receiver. I also played our television’s sound through the receiver.

In 2009 I bought a new LCD television with much better sound, and then using the receiver for the TV sound was just a pain in the ass. We still used it for the radio, until 2017 or so when Debbi got a Google Home and we started using that instead since it was so convenient. A few years later we bought a HomePod, and the Google Home took an accidental spill onto the floor and never recovered. The HomePod’s radio streaming capabilities were a bit iffy at first but they’ve gotten a lot better.

A few years ago I went through my CDs – which had been sitting in boxes since we moved to our current house in 2011 – and sold over two thirds of them to Rasputin Music, getting quite a bit more cash for them than I’d expected. I kept some by my favorite bands, and have bought a few more since – maybe three or four per year, many of them the spiffy remastered editions of Jethro Tull‘s albums. But usually I just rip them and put them in a bookcase. At time point if I do another purge I assume I’ll just throw them out unless it turns out some of them have significant resale value on eBay. I got rid of one of the custom-built cases, and the other is sitting in the garage holding random crap.

Anyway, I kept the Aiwa tape deck for years, planning to eventually digitize a number of old audiotapes I have, most of them bootleg concert recordings that I bought at the Cape Cod flea market in the late 1980s. In particular, a few Jethro Tull (that name again!) concerts which are quite good. But I never got around to it. I did loan the unit to a friend who wanted to digitize some cassettes that he owned, though. Otherwise it’s mostly sat in a closet, literally gathering dust from the pan of cat litter in the same closet.

Finally I decided that I was just never going to use that unit to perform the digitizing – who knows if it even works anymore? Instead I bought a handheld unit from Amazon which I’ll use sometime (if I can remember where I stored the cassettes), and dropped the Aiwa unit off at the e-waste center.

There’s always some old junk lying around to get rid of. We hang on to things because we think it might still be useful, or because we have fond memories of using it, or because we can’t be bothered to get rid of it. Or all three. But for most things, sooner or later its time comes.

Online Personas

Recently I had a little conundrum about what persona I wanted to present in some online communities I’m in.

When I first got online – around 1989 – this wasn’t really a concern. I mean, it was for some people, I’m sure, but for most people the need and the tools weren’t really there. I didn’t participate in any dial-up BBSes, and on USENET and on mailing lists it was usually the case that your e-mail address and real name were right there in anything you posted. By today’s standards those communities were very small, and safety and privacy was not much of a concern for most people. There were a few communities which developed anonymizing posting systems, but they were in my experience very much the exception.

I had a brief fling with changing my display name on USENET in college to “Night Watchman”, because I was often online late at night posting stuff. It seemed cute at the time, but kind of dumb now.

(I have one friend who to this day refers to me as ‘rawdon@rex’, since ‘rex’ was the name of the machine I posted from in college. Machines in Tulane‘s computer science department were named after Mardi Gras parades.)

I’ve never been shy about posting under my own name, on USENET, on mailing lists, on social media, and on the web, including my journal. The one thing I’ve generally avoided doing is posting my address and phone number. Not that these things are particularly private – I have a listed phone number1 – but I figure that a lot of shenanigans and mayhem are largely because of opportunity and convenience, and I can save myself most of those potential headaches by not making it trivial for people to find me. (Of course I have no idea whether these precautions have had any effect at all.)

People who want to remain anonymous or appear under an alias is much more common today – and often for good reason – but it’s still not really a concern of mine. What triggered the recent conundrum is the growth of services where you only appear under a “handle”, which by convention tends to be short and memorable. The two sites I was interested in were Magic: The Gathering Arena and Twitch, which only show users under their chosen handle. I think this grew out of online video games of the 1990s and 2000s, and a lot of people who were active in those communities have consistent and often (?) memorable handles. I wasn’t active, and so I don’t – and I kind of envy them.

I could have simply used my name ‘MichaelRawdon’, as my handle – and on Twitch I did for a while. The advantage on Twitch is that when I interact with a streamer they could call me by my name. The disadvantage is that almost no one else uses their name as their handle, and so it felt out of place and a little lame. I also wanted both of those to have the same handle, so in the event I interacted with the same people on those platforms they would possibly recognize me.

My first attempt at a distinctive handle was ‘mRawd’, but that didn’t feel right. After several months I hit on the following: My account on Twitter is mrawdon, and I realized I could capitalize it like “MrAwdon”, in theory pronounced like “Mister Awdon”. That felt a little clever and a little more sensical, so that’s what I went with.

It’s worked out… okay. A couple of Twitch streamers end up calling me “Mister”, which is a little odd but at least a name they’re not stumbling over. So I think I’ll stick with it for a while.

(Why didn’t I go with ‘rawdon’? Mainly because it’s already taken on Twitch and on Twitter, and maybe even on Arena. It’s an uncommon name, but common enough that it’s already taken in many online sites.)

I wish Twitch did what Discord does, which is allow you to choose a default handle, but then to customize your display name for each channel. I’d definitely make use of that by having a recognizable handle for Twitch channels who know me from other area (e.g., who I interact with on Twitter, or support on Patreon), but having something else for most streams where they have no reason to know me.

Anyway, maybe too many words about too small a subject. I bet hardly anyone else ever worries about this sort of thing.

1 Kids, ask your parents what a ‘listed phone number’ is.

Lurching Into Autumn

It’s been a little while since I last wrote here. Well, of course I have two or three mostly-written entries which maybe I’ll put up sometime, or maybe I’ll decide they’re kind of dumb since I don’t have the forward progress which made me write them in the first place. We’ll see.

The first half of October has been the Bay Area slowly lurching into Autumn. Some cool weather, then the last two days temps in the 80s, and today it cooled off into the 60s, and tonight we got out first light rain of the season (with a couple more days forecast over the next week). It wasn’t much, but with California in the midst of another terrible drought, anything helps.

We put up our Halloween lights a couple of weeks ago. I picked up a little smiling grim reaper to add to our (honestly rather small) display- I enjoy Target’s assortment of Halloween decor. Other homes in the neighborhood have been putting up lights too, but there are fewer than there were last year. I think we’ll be able to do a closer-to-normal Halloween night for trick-or-treaters this year, though we’ll likely still take some precautions.

Speaking of normal, we’ve been acting a little more normally lately. For most of the pandemic I was doing the grocery shopping, usually going to the store at 2 pm on a Tuesday to avoid the crowds. Now we’re back to going on Sundays after going to the farmer’s market. We’ve also gone out to eat a bit more, though always eating outside, and trying to avoid the craziest times for the crowds. Last night we had an early dinner at Cascal, which was great.

We lost another local restaurant, although this was a branch of a chain, Opa!, which was a place I enjoyed ordering lunch. They’d had a Help Wanted sign up for a while before they closed, so I wonder if they closed because they couldn’t get staff. And today our nearby Starbucks closed at noon due to staffing problems. Hopefully we’ll see businesses raising wages more soon to attract workers. They’ll have to, because I think there’s a worker shortage because of people who have to stay home due to COVID.

We’ve gotten together with friends a couple more times – including a last-minute visit to some friends who brought out their copious selection of gin for us to try. We also bought new patio furniture which we were able to enjoy for a few weeks, but we’ll likely cover it up soon with more rain coming up.

And my nemesis, the sycamore tree that shadows our front yard, is starting to drop its leaves. Which means I’m going to be raking through New Year’s. I do like that tree, though.

So that’s the news here, such as it is. I hope the couple of dozen people who stop by here when I post are doing well.

Memory Lane: Hurricanes

Last week Hurricane Ida slammed the Louisiana gulf coast, New Orleans, several other southern states, and then the eastern seaboard, damaging infrastructure, flooding New York City, and killing dozens. While infrastructural improvements prevented the devastation that Hurricane Katrina wreaked on New Orleans in 2005, I wonder how many more such hurricanes the city can absorb before humans are forced to abandon it.

I don’t have more significant thoughts about it than that, other than those which any climate change forecast could tell you. But I have experienced – or almost experienced – a few hurricanes myself, and thought I’d write about my memories of them.

The first Hurricane I remember was when I was growing up in Newton, MA, because I had to take our Welsh Corgi dog Punkin out for a walk in it. Since she lived from 1976-1988, that likely means it wasn’t Hurricane Belle, but rather Hurricane Gloria in 1985. But I don’t have a strong memory of it other than walking the dog, who I took maybe 3 blocks away to a mailbox (which hasn’t existed in that spot for decades now) and back home again. It was windy, and rainy, and kind of unpleasant to be in, and I mainly waited for Punkin to do her business so we could go back. I don’t even remember if we lost power, and the Wikipedia entry makes it sound like it was just a really strong storm by the time it reached Massachusetts, but not really anything special.

My next hurricane was an even bigger nothing, and I’m not even sure which one it was. My memory is that I was a freshman in college in New Orleans, and that we battoned down the hatches – including many buildings on Tulane University campus boarding up windows – expecting a hurricane to hit overnight. When we woke up the next morning we learned that it had turned at the last minute and hit Texas (Galveston, maybe?) instead. However, this would have been in the fall of 1987 – September or later – and no hurricanes from that season match my memory. The closest one I can find from my 4 years in New Orleans is Jerry in 1989. So it’s likely my memory is faulty.

(I also recall New Orleans getting socked with enough rain in the summer of 1991 to cause St. Charles St. to become a river running from uptown to downtown, and a heck of a lot of flooded-out cars around the city, but that doesn’t match up with any hurricanes, either. Fortunately my apartment had a well-elevated-and-drained driveway so my car was fine. It seems 1991 was the rainiest season in New Orleans on record, and the storm I remember was probably the June 10 one.)

Hurricane number three was a different beast, that being Hurricane Bob in August 1991. Every summer my family would vacation on Cape Cod, with my (divorced) parents each coming down for a week, and my sister and I staying for two weeks. This was the summer between college and graduate school for me, and my plan was to drive up from the Cape on Wednesday and spend the night with my father before driving to Madison, Wisconsin on Thursday. Bob, however, made landfall on Monday, August 19. Overall we were pretty lucky, since our vacation cottage wasn’t damaged, although it did lose power. At one point I walked down to Skaket Beach, a bay side beach which more-or-less faces Boston, and saw the dark clouds of the storm passing in the distance, with a lighter patch which I assume was the eye trailing it. This was during a period where the rain and wind had died down where we were, so I don’t know if the storm was huge and the eye was also huge, or if it was just coincidence.

Anyway, the next morning we walked out to the main road and saw downed trees lying across it as far as the eye could see, so it looked pretty grim for my ability to leave the next day. I don’t remember what we ate that day, but without power it was probably just sandwiches and chips or something.

To my surprise, the next morning all the trees had been chopped up and cleared off the road, so I was able to get out and drive all the way up to Boston. I don’t remember encountering any difficulties at all, and my dad had power and we probably even went out to dinner. And the morning after that I drove off to Madison as planned.

I remember calling my mom sometime later – probably the next Sunday after they’d driven home – and she said the power didn’t get restored until Friday, so I guess it wasn’t much of a vacation for her and my sister. Wikipedia says the Cape got the worst of the wind, but not a lot of rain, so I guess we got off easier than we could have.

And I think that’s it. I haven’t been back to New Orleans since I finished college, and our two trips to Florida (March 2007 and November 2015) have been hurricane-free, and none of my trips to Boston since then have involved hurricanes or their remnants either. As much as I enjoy rain and some wind – and I got both via some pretty big storms in the midwest when I lived there, along with some impressive lightning – I’m fine with having missed the big storms.

So How Are Things?

Having written an entry about how the cats are doing, it feels like I should write one about how I’m doing.

I’m okay. I’m not great.

After a year and a half of working from home I am so done with it. I’ve always felt like I’m an introvert at my core, but I hate not having people and activity around while I’m working. (I’ve always positioned my desk at work so I can look out the door to see people going by in the hallway.) I miss the random conversations we’d have in the office. And I really hate the mixing of my home and work lives, which I’ve always worked to keep sharply separate. Going up to our study and having my work machines there is disspiriting.

I also have bought lunch at the cafeteria at work almost every day since I started at Apple, which I realize is a really privileged thing to do, but figuring out lunch every day is a drag.

Once the vaccines started rolling out we got vaxxed pretty quickly, and I was hopeful that things would return to normal. Apple had tentatively planned a return to the office in early September. Well, it’s now early September and the return has been pushed back to 2022, and that’s not Apple’s fault, it’s a combination of the Delta variant of COVID, and the amazing number of stupid people who are refusing to get vaccinated. And also the slow roll-out of vaccines to the rest of the world (last I read about 25% of the world is fully vaxxed), which will prolong this until we can massively up that number, as unless we develop an even better vaccine, we probably need 90% or more worldwide vaccination to beat this thing. (I think the worldwide vax rate is a greater long-term thread than the antivax shenanigans in the United States, because the opportunities for the virus to mutate are so much greater outside the U.S. That may change, but we’re not nearly there yet.)

Anyway, some things have improved for me. I scheduled a weekly coffee meeting with some of my cow-orkers at the Philz near work – outside, and yes, unmasked. The eight or so of us who have made it (not all at the same time) are fully vaxxed, and I think only one has children who aren’t vaxxed. I’ve been letting parents decide their level of risk tolerance for getting together with others, and by ‘letting’ I mean trying not to put any pressure on them, because they have enough to deal with.

Debbi has been way more cautious than me during the pandemic, so we haven’t been going out to eat, and I’ve done the grocery shopping – usually during the week when it’s quieter – and picking up take-out. Now that we’re vaccinated she’s been doing a few more things: We’ve switched grocery shopping to Sunday after the farmer’s market, and we’ve gone out to eat several times, though only once inside. We’ve also gotten together with friends, both at their house, and having people over for barbecues at ours. We’re masked during our errands, other than eating, of course. We’re not yet ready to fly, and I don’t know when that will happen, the way things are going. I don’t especially relish wearing a mask for 6+ hours to fly to visit family or go to Hawaii anyway.

So it’s been a long road, and it’s been gradually wearing me down. It feels like everything just gets a little bit harder as the pandemic slogs on. Even though I take the occasional time off, I never get away from it all because I can’t actually go away.

Where do we go from here? It seems clear that successful vaccination is the only path out of this, but the vaccination failures means that even if our vaccinations remain effective and there aren’t new variants that get past them, we’re going to be in this situation for quite a while.

I know a few people who are living lives of hermits (or so it seems), and maybe that’s the smart thing to do. But it’s also very, very hard. Probably harder for many people than it is for me, but it’s hard for me too. I understand people flying on vacation, flying to visit family, trying to return their lives to normal. I really want that too, but not enough to loosen my own level of caution more than I have so far.

I try not to think about how much longer this might go on, though. I just hope everyone will get vaccinated so we can shorten that time as much as possible.

What’s He Thinking?

It’s been a few weeks since Sadie passed away, so it’s past time for an update.

Sadie was the bedtime enforcer, so we went to bed late for a few nights after she passed. Simon is also highly interested in bedtime, but he passively-aggressively heads upstairs and waits for us, which doesn’t help at all.

We’ve been trying to give extra attention to her brother Jackson, and it seems to be going well. Of course you never know whether cats know what happened when one of them passes: We’ve never had a cat pass away at home, so it’s not like any of them experienced it directly. Maybe they know the other cat wasn’t feeling well, but maybe the other cat just disappears and doesn’t come back one day. I don’t know. Jackson and Sadie never appeared to be especially close, partly because Jackson is a jerk and something of a bully, but again, who knows what was going through their heads.

But surely he knows that something is different, and probably he recognized that we were sad. So we’ve been giving him extra pets – he enjoys getting pets while we go up the stairs – and trying to give him some extra play time. The best play time has turned out to involve a cheap cube we bought a few months ago. I can play with him with a mouse toy and he’ll go to town in it, especially if I rustle the other side of the fabric. And after a little while the other cats will come over and try playing with him. He plays a little too hard for them, though Simon is game to keep trying for a while. Eventually he runs out of gas and often just curls up in the cube for a while. But it seems like the game that makes him the happiest.

Jackson in the cat cube

Simon and Edison have been more resilient, since they’re both young and have just had a lot of change in their short lives already, so who knows what they think of as normal. Edison went around for a few days looking for Sadie, because I think he liked to hang out near here while he was trying to win her over. And he’s also started sleeping with us from time to time. But those are the main changes. I think Simon wasn’t as affected because he’s so attached to Jackson.

As for us, it’s been a sad time. Sadie is the first cat we’ve owned who lived her whole life since adoption in one house, so the house is full of memories of her, including recent ones since she went so quickly. Debbi misses having her girl kitties in this house which is now full of boys. But she’s been enjoying having Jackson snooze near her during the work day.

I still look a him sometimes and wonder what he’s thinking.

Tower of cats

Remembering Sadie, 2012-2021

This one really hurts: Sadie passed away today. She was not quite 9 years old.

It was very unexpected. We’d noticed last week that she seemed to have lost some weight, and I saw her try to jump up on the kitchen counter and miss. Over the weekend we debated taking her in to the vet, and called on Monday to make an appointment. Our vet is so backed up that we couldn’t get her in until the end of the month (apparently everyone is catching up on vet appointments they’d postponed during the pandemic), so we decided to wait and see. Well, she spent most of the day under our bed, and we noticed she wasn’t eating and was licking her lips a lot. So we arranged to do a drop-off on Tuesday.

The doctor who saw her said that Sadie had several masses in her torso – one quite large – and that she was showing extreme kidney failure. Apparently her kidney numbers actually exceeded their machinery’s ability to measure it. We left her there overnight, expecting to take her to a pet hospital for further examination today.

Instead, our regular doctor – who doesn’t work Monday or Tuesday – called this morning saying she’d seen Sadie had been in on Tuesday. We told her that she was still there, so she checked her out, and after a few calls we decided to put her to sleep. Sadie probably had lymphoma or some other form of cancer, and we felt that treating both that and keeping her alive despite her failing kidneys would probably just lead to her living for only a few more months, likely in discomfort and declining quality-of-life, and that it was probably best to let her go while she was still comfortable. So that’s what we did.

We adopted Sadie and her brother Jackson in November 2012, when Blackjack was in what turned out to be the endgame of his own cancer, and Newton was 18 years old. Both would pass away within 8 months. We didn’t want to be a one-cat household, and we figured Roulette would want some company. As it turned out, Roulette would have been happy being an only cat, but she tolerated Sadie more than Jackson. We also adopted them shortly after my Mom moved to assisted living and I was traveling back to Boston regularly to handle her affairs and clean out her house, so the kittens were a welcome break from that.

They were two of a set of three, but apparently they beat up on their sister a lot in their cage, and the Humane Society staffer said it was probably good for their sister to go to a different household. As a new adoptee, Jackson was bold and adventurous and cuddly, while Sadie was more reserved, and liked to play with toys on her own. Over time she became very affectionate, loving her head rubs and purring easily. Sometimes she liked belly rubs, and if she wasn’t in the mood she’d just get up and leave.

Jackson and Sadie as kittens
This has been my iPhone Lock Screen image for over 8 years

Debbi came up with the name Sadie because as a kitten the marks on the outer edges of Sadie’s eyes gave her a sad expression. She outgrew that and had a naturally bright, inquisitive expression as an adult.

Sadie did her best to become my special kitty, filling the void left by Jefferson’s passing in 2010. I’d been calling Roulette “little girl” for a some time by then, so I started calling Sadie “little miss”. Debbi referred to them as the queen and the princess.

Sadie as a kitten on the cat tree

She loved Newton for the 8 months she knew him, lying with him even after he wrapped her on her head when she went after his tail.

Newton and Sadie
Newton and Sadie

But her signature trait was that she surprisingly grew from a short-haired kitty to a medium-hair cat with pantaloons and a big goofy tail, plus short legs for her body (sort of like Simon has now). Every so often she would spaz out and run around the house, a white mop of fur running down the stairs or jumping on the table by the garage door. Alas, she did not enjoy getting brushed, so we ended up with white hair all over the house. Sometimes I’d play with her with a mouse toy on a couch, and she’d leave tufts of white hair across it.

Floofy Sadie
Floofy Sadie

When I had people over for gaming, she would often hang out with us – sometimes on the table – to keep up with what was going on.

"I'm all in!" - Sadie at our home poker table
“I’m all in!”

She became “the bedtime enforcer”, sitting by the hallway to the stairs or even meowing at us if we stayed up later than we were supposed to. And she’d jump up and tuck us into bed for a few minutes after we turned the light off, before heading off to do whatever she did at night. Sometimes I think she just sat at the foot of the bed or the top of the stairs to guard us against threats.

What's out there?

She was a very well-behaved kitty, using scratching posts rather than furniture (something Simon and Edison have not learned from her). She loved her treats, especially Greenies. And this past year she became my meeting buddy, sitting with me in the library where I take many of my video meetings while working from home. She also liked sleeping in the baskets of clothes on the top shelf of our walk-in closet, and the kittens would sometimes follow her up there.

And, she was a world champion lounger. She would lie down and get comfortable almost anywhere, whether or not she was underfoot.

World champion lounger: Sadie at our wedding in 2015
Sadie at our wedding in 2015

Her last few days were comfortable, I think. She ate through Sunday, and I gave her some extra treats while she ate them. She sat with us in the living room Monday night, sat on the dining table Tuesday morning while Debbi worked, and then went upstairs and sat inside the door to our bedroom before going under the bed. I put her on the bed for a bit and we had a pet-fest, and I got a few final photos of her. We didn’t know this was the last time she’d be home – I’d been holding out hope that she had a couple of rotten teeth that were making her not eat – but we knew there was that chance.

Edison has been trying so hard the last few months to win her over, and unfortunately she just never did more than tolerate the kittens. I’d hoped she’d become motherly towards them, but it wasn’t to be.

The last photo
The last photo

After Roulette passed in March, I figured it would be another 6 years or more before we had to worry about one of our cats reaching the end, so this was quite a shock. Of course we wonder what we could have done, but she and Jackson had a routine physical just a few months ago and there was no sign of this then. The speed with which it happened was also a factor in our decision to let her go.

Like Blackjack, she deserved better than this. I guess we’ve just had a couple of instances of extremely bad luck with our kitties.

But I’m grateful for the time we did have with her. She was a sweet, loving kitty, and brought a special warmth to our household. And I’m gonna miss her a lot, and will always wonder about the moments we’ll miss out having with her.

Goodbye, little miss. My Sadie girl.

Bright eyes
Bright eyes

Normalizing

California ended its mask mandate on Tuesday, meaning that people vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer had to wear a mask in any circumstance, though unvaccinated people are still required to. My guess was that about half of all people would stop wearing masks immediately, and of course since there’s no verification of who’s been vaccinated, there’s no telling whether unmasked people have been vaccinated or not. I and most of my friends and family have been vaxxed, and Santa Clara County has a really high vax rate, but this has to be a terrifying situation for people who can’t get vaccinated.

On Thursday, President Biden signed a law making Juneteenth a federal holiday, observed on Friday since June 19 was on Saturday. I wasn’t even aware of Juneteenth as a meaningful date until a few years ago, and as a middle aged white guy I don’t really have any thoughts about it, except that maybe Congress could have gotten its act together and passed the bill a little sooner than the 11th hour. (The Post Office, for example, was unable to shut down on such short notice.) My personal hope is that it helps to promote and develop racial equality, an a better understanding of how slavery affects the United States to this day. I feel like there are things about this that could have been handled better, but that sort of nuance is beyond the federal government of the modern era, I’m afraid.

Anyway, Apple already gave (took?) Juneteenth as a company holiday, so I already had the day off. I don’t think this was the first year we got it, but it seemed like many of my cow-orkers were unaware of it until I told them. Debbi didn’t have the day off, so I was on my own. I went for a long walk in Byxbee Park before the heat set in, as we were at the tail end of a heat wave (it hit 96°F on Thursday).

Then I watched the last two episodes of The Expanse season 5, so I’m all caught up. The production quality of the show is high and gets better over time, but the story is very… emotionally vacant. Lots of action and suspense and a lot of effort put into scientific accuracy, but the characters are generally pretty flat, and it never feels like it gels as more than a series of events. If the series has a message it seems to be, “Humans are horrible people, and we’ll take our horribleness to the stars with us.” Which is probably not wrong, but doesn’t make for pleasant viewing. There will be one more season and presumably it will be more of the same.

In the afternoon I played Magic with my cow-orker Boris over Spelltable, which is a pretty nifty way to play with real cards over a webcam. We played Modern Horizons 2 sealed deck, which was fun, although I don’t think either of us did anything broken. I used a Logitech C922x Pro camera, which I would rate as merely okay: The image it provided of my playmat from about 16″ away was pretty blurry (but props to Spelltable for still recognizing the cards most of the time). I suspect the issue is not that the camera sucks, but that it’s not really made for this kind of task. I’ll have to see if there’s a better choice. That said, getting the camera set up and getting everything working was pretty easy, especially since I have no experience with this stuff.

Long story short, we had fun and will do it again sometime.

Friday night I picked up dinner from downtown Mountain View. My guess is about half of people not actively eating dinner were masked, including the wait staff where I was picking up. Downtown has gotten crazy busy since even before the pandemic, and closing Castro Street for outdoor seating has just made it even more so. Parking was already tight and is now just nuts. Even if things were back to normal we might be avoiding it on weekend evenings from now on due to the crowds and the parking hassle.

Saturday we had our friends Mo and Chris over to meet the kittens, and this was really the first extended experience the kittens had with new people. As I predicted, Simon watched from 20 feet away for a while, but Edison was much more willing to come check them out. We gave Mo and Chris toys to play with them, which got the kittens engaged, and even Jackson got some good play time in. Sadie came and hung out but didn’t play. Simon is a bit of a fraidy cat, but hopefully he’ll get used to people over the next few months as we have more people over.

Sunday we went to the farmer’s market, where in contrast to Friday I’d say maybe 25% of people were unmasked, fewer than I’d have guessed. Vendors were more likely than shoppers to be unmasked. But if I were there for 5+ hours every Sunday, I’d be ready to ditch the mask, too.

Debbi and I are taking things slowly. We’re not ready to dine indoors at a restaurant yet, or go to a movie theater. We still wear masks inside when we go to stores. I quite enjoyed this take on that:

Lady outside of cvs: Why do you have your mask on still?

Me: It helps me mind my business. You should try it sometime.

There’s a lot of controversy on social media about working in an office vs. working remotely. I personally am looking forward to going back to the office and seeing my colleagues there. I like keeping my home and work lives strictly partitioned.

It’s not time yet, but hopefully soon.

Easing Back In

The prologue to the weekend was getting take-out from Frankie Johnnie & Luigi Too!, one of our favorite restaurants in town, which is closing for the next two years while they rebuild their building and rethink their business model. It was one of the first restaurants I went to when I moved here, and we’d gone regularly enough that several of the staff recognized us, notably the bartender. We’d patronized them regularly through the pandemic, and we’re gonna miss them. I hope they are able to execute their plan and come back in 2023.

Front door of Frankie, Johnnie & Luigi Too!

I took Friday off to have a 4-day weekend. I decided to skip running and instead went to Byxbee Park for a nice walk in the morning. The weather was great, and it was pretty quiet. I love walking there. I did a few chores and then watched a couple episodes of The Expanse, as I slowly catch up on the latest season.

Saturday I did go for a run in the morning, and then made us pancakes and sausages for breakfast. We had a pretty quiet day, although we did do a grocery store run. I also did some work in the yard, mainly fixing a sprinkler leak. There’s some more sprinkler repair we need which might be behind my abilities – or at least beyond my interest in learning. We’ll see.

The main event for the weekend was on Sunday: We drove down to our friends Chad & Camille’s house, where we spent the afternoon and evening with them and other friends Mo and Chris. All of us are safely vaccinated, while C&C’s kids are not yet, but will be soon. But the science says they should be safe since all the rest of us have been vaxxed for a while. So we hung out, used their pool (it was well over 80°F in the afternoon), petted their dogs, and had drinks and dinner. The kids came out for dinner and a post-dinner card game. We stayed until nearly 11 pm, so it was a good time. Hopefully the first of many.

Finally on Monday we had a couple of neighbors over for a barbecue, again in very warm weather. But it was a fine time for all of us.

Debbi and I are both being pretty cautious by some standards – we’re not ready to go to downtown Mountain View and eat at a restaurant, even outside, because it’s so busy down there, even though non-diners are still wearing masks. And I don’t know whether we’ll fly anywhere this year, though maybe things will be looking good by the end of the summer. I have several (vaxxed) friends who have flown in the last few weeks, and no whammies so far. But getting together with friends, we can do.

I know things are pretty rough in much of the rest of the world, but hopefully we’re nearing the end here, and hopefully things will turn around elsewhere soon.

Panoramic view from Byxbee Park
View from Byxbee Park (click for larger image)