Archive for March, 2009

Requiem for a Cat

March 18, 2009

She was left on the doorstep of my wife’s vet, estimated two days old. By rights, she should have been put down then. The world doesn’t need another cat. Instead, my wife took her in, hand fed her, and raised here with our dogs – six golden retrievers. It started out well. She’d play with the dogs, ambushing them and clawing on their legs, while they walked along, wondering what the extra weight was. She’d cuddle in our laps. As she got older, her true colors showed. She was a tuxedo, black with white markings (including a white muStache), and they have personality problems. She was raised without feline companionship, and that presumably warped her even more.

As an adult, Stasch was standoffish with everyone but my wife. Sometimes she’d let me pet her, but it was like she was on a timer – three minutes, and she’d hiss and claw and mock bite and jump down. She hated the dogs, who were bewildered and just wanted to retrieve her. She spent most of her time under things. This went on for seventeen years.

Recently, she stopped using her litter box, or at least, used it only when she felt like it, and took to hiding out in my office. I’d give her a skritch, and she’d hiss, so that was normal. Today she turned up with a mass in her abdomen. Cancer.

We had already decided against heroic measures, so as I write this, she is being put to sleep. She had a good innings, and was well cared for, and was showered with more affection than she returned.

Goodbye, Stasche.

Health Care and Taxes

March 15, 2009

Just finished assembling my aged mother-in-law’s taxes. Her health is OK, for a mid-90’s cancer survivor. What depresses me every year is how convoluted, nay Byzantine, our health system is. She’s lucky. Her retirement plan covers most of her costs, but the sheer number of bits and pieces of bills and reports and is just horrifying, and the original costs, before plan coverage, is beyond horror. She lived and worked at a time when it was still possible to be employed at the same firm for years, and so has good coverage.* Today’s part-time, downsized, RIF’d, no-benefits workforce is out of luck, and living on the edge of the abyss. Anyone who isn’t for a single-payer system, and universal coverage, simply does not, cannot, or will not understand the situation for millions of Americans. I’d be willing to pay a whole lot more in taxes to avoid her situation.

*Correction. Her retirement plan/health care got killed when BofA took over SeaFirst. Her husband had excellent coverage through GE, which still protects her.

Systems Theory

March 14, 2009

My main passion is Systems Science, sometimes called General Systems Theory, or Complexity Theory, or the Theory of Complex Adaptive Systems. It’s the study of how things fit together, and we don’t really care what those things are.

Systems Science is sometimes set in opposition to Cartesian Analytics — Rene Descartes’ invention for understanding problems by breaking them down into their component parts. It originally grew out of biology, where people studied, say frogs, by breaking them down (they called it dissecting) into livers and spleens and things and studying each in turn. This is a tremendously powerful technique, and has driven most of our advances in science since, well, science. The trouble is, when you do that, you lose a certain frogginess. You no longer have a frog, you have a plate of giblets, because a frog exhibits behavior that no single organ does. Systems Science calls collections of interacting things like this a system, and it’s these systems, and their emergent behaviors, that form the basis of our studies.

Of course, we are not limited to biology. Consider an automobile. What’s the purpose of an automobile? To get you from here to there. There are other possible purposes — storage, romance, many things — but we’ll just consider this one. So, the systems scientist says, what part of the automobile gets you from here to there? The answer, of course, is “all of it”. An engine isn’t any use without wheels, and you actually need five wheels to be useful (one at each corner, and one in front of the driver). Even the caveman transport in the old BC comic needed two parts, a wheel and an axle.

Next time, we’ll talk about boundaries and hierarchy in systems.

Mission Statement

March 7, 2009

This blog is a place where I can put my ideas on my hobbies and interests out for comment, where I can post any works of fiction I feel inspired to create, and where I can archive thoughts for later tracking and reworking. Comments are invited, but not necessary, since I’m talking primarily to me (maybe I should change the name to narcissistblog). Writings might include descriptions of what’s happening in my day, not because y’all out there in the blogosphere would be interested (trust me on this), but because I need the practice. Posting will be less than daily, but more than infrequent.

Why am I using up precious bandwidth and not doing it on the privacy of my own hard drive or in a leatherbound "dear diary"? Because I want to be able to do this from anywhere, and it’s a first experiment in using the cloud. Besides, as Sera says, dear diaries are stupid.

For those of you who are not into systems science, my userpic is a ‘glider’. It’s from John Conway’s "Game of Life".

Be advised I am parsimonious in my friending. 

Hello, World

March 5, 2009

It’s about time I got connected to the blogosphere. I don’t have a red cape, or a balloon, but hopefully I can add value to the world wide conversation.