Goodbye, Kyla, I miss you

Two days ago, my cat Kyla died.

It happened with little warning. She was still eating and drinking, but her weight crashed, until in less than a week she was skinny enough I could feel her ribs when I pet her. She would bat at the side of her face with her paw when she ate, as if she were in pain.

That happened once before, and the problem turned out to be an abscessed tooth. I took her to the vet, they removed the tooth, that evening she was clearly feeling better and by week’s end she’d rebounded.

On Friday, I brought her to the vet, expecting the same thing.

She never made it home.

The vet did her lab work and came back with the diagnosis: end-stage, terminal kidney failure.

I first met Kyla on October 6, 2010. I didn’t think I wanted a new kitten. She thought I was wrong.

I’d gone with my partner Zaiah to visit her parents, who had a litter of Tonkinese kittens. Kyla climbed in my lap and snuggled up to me. For the rest of my time there, she stayed with me, always returning to my lap whenever I moved her.

“No,” she said. “You’re my person now. That’s it.”

Zaiah kept telling me “I think you have a kitten now.”

“No, no, no,” I said, “I don’t need a kitten.”

I had a kitten anyway.

Kyla spent the first three years of her life living on my shoulder.

She stayed with me everywhere. She rode around on my shoulder all the time, she slept curled up on top of me. I don’t know what makes cats choose one person over another, but once that choice is made, they’re quite stubborn about it.

No matter what I was doing, she wanted to be a part of it. She was so insistent about this, I even ended up using her as a scale for talking about the sizes of different styles of programmable microcontrollers, after she photobombed a picture I was taking.

She went camping with us (and had a great time).

Whenever I worked on a novel with my co-author Eunice, Kyla could be found, as often as not, curled up on my lap. I had to be careful about what I left on the computer desk, because she had a path she would follow—floor to bed to night stand to desk to lap—when she wanted to curl up with me, and anything in her path would quite likely get knocked to the floor.

On Friday, the vet laid out the news in stark terms: Kyla’s kidneys had failed. I could spend many thousands of dollars on veterinarian ICU and there was a small chance she might rebound briefly, but the odds were against it. Without that, she was unlikely to live through the weekend. Even with the most aggressive intervention, she was still unlikely to live the weekend.

So I made the difficult choice to say goodbye.

It still hasn’t really sunk in. I still catch myself thinking “I wonder where Kyla is—oh.” I’m emotionally wrung out.

Goodbye, Kyla. I was privileged to know you.

#WLAMF no. 24: Kitties can anticipate the future

There is a book called Worry and Nervousness: The Science of Self Mastery. I don’t know a thing about the book or its author, except that its author must not own cats.

How do I know this?

The book makes the claim “man is the only animal that worries.” And anyone who would say such a thing has clearly never lived with a cat.

I have a cat named Liam. He’s generally pretty good-natured, except that he has the unfortunate habit of biting my nose to show me he loves me. I’ve only known him as an adult kitty, and must conclude that at some point when he was a kitten, someone must’ve thought the nose-biting thing was cute as hell and encouraged it.

But Liam is a neurotic kitty, and he worries. Specifically, he worries about his food dish and his water bowl.

He seems to have the capacity to worry about only one of these things at a time; perhaps it is true that man is the only animal that worries about more than one thing at once. A few nights ago, Liam woke me from a sound sleep to tell me something was Very Very Wrong, running back and forth between the bed and his food bowl. I stumbled out of bed all cross and blearly-eyed, to find his dish had only two inches of food left in the bottom of it–scarcely three days’ worth of food! This, naturally, led to something of a panic attack on Liam’s part.

So I filled his food bowl, and went back to dreaming of interviewing shambling horrors or flying an ultralight around the flooded ruins of Old London or whatever the hell I was dreaming about (I have to live inside this head full-time)…

…when Liam woke me once more to tell me something else was Very Very Wrong.

This “something else” turned out to be his water bowl, which was down to a mere three inches or so of water in it–clearly, if you’re a kitty, cause for panic.

Man is the only animal that matters? I beg to differ, sir, and would be pleased to introduce you to a counterexample.

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Conversations with a kitty

This is our cat Beryl. He’s a blue solid Tonkinese, a cat breed that’s made of one part kitty, three parts fearlessness, and sixteen parts love. Tonks are absolutely amazing kitties, with all of the cute adorableness of your standard-issue cat without any of the surly sociopathy.

A couple days ago, I received a package in the mail. On the same day, I went out to buy new printer ink cartridges and came home with a new black and white laser printer, which was cheaper than a set of replacement ink cartridges because capitalism and market efficiencies and invisible guiding hand and Adam Smith LOL.

Anyway, Beryl and I had a conversation that went something like this:

Me: Hey, kitty! Look! I brought you a present! It’s an empty box!

Beryl: OMG you are the BEST. A box! This is amazing! Thank you! Thank you so much! From here I can hide and pounce on Liam all unawares and stuff.

Me: And check this out! I got a new printer, so here’s another empty box.

Beryl: TWO empty boxes? Truly, my cup runneth over. I don’t think I’ve been this happy since…since…since ever! Now I can hop from one box to another. The cunning box-ambush strategies I can devise with TWO boxes will make me the undisputed champion of my domain. You are the greatest. Truly, I mean that. And it’s not just the boxes, it’s also the food preparation. I will remember you in the long years of my reign.

Me: Okay, I need some more space to set up this printer. Here, let me just put this box inside the other box…


Beryl: The hell?

Beryl: You…you just…

Beryl: There is an empty box inside another empty box!

Beryl: You…I…it…

Beryl: How is this even possible? I can hop into a box, and when I get there, there is..another box! Another box, that I can ALSO hop into!

Beryl: I can be inside TWO BOXES AT THE SAME TIME.

Beryl: How did you make this happen?

Beryl: You are like a god. Like. A. God. A god of boxes. You…I never even…it’s just so beautiful!

Beryl: Never in all my life have I imagined such a thing. You have opened my eyes to the Possible, and truly is it more amazing than I had ever dared to hope.

Beryl: Two boxes. TWO boxes. One box inside…inside the other…I’m having a moment.

Me: I’m glad I could make you happy, little buddy.

Beryl: Happy? Happy? Happy is getting the squishy food. Happy is having ONE box to play with. Happy is sitting on your shoulder while you do that thing where you sit in front of that glowing thing and you pretend like you’re a mage and you press buttons and throw frostbolts around and you swear at the goddamn hunter who always pulls aggro and is never where he’s supposed to be and…

Me: You mean play World of Warcraft?

Beryl: Yes, that. Happy is sitting on your shoulder while you do that. But this…this is…

Beryl: If Voluptas, the goddess of bliss born of the union between Cupid and Psyche, had been capable of feeling what I’m feeling right now, the entire story of the world would be rewritten. Temples in her name would stand still as the greatest of all human accomplishments. If you could package what I’m feeling and distribute it, wars would end, ancient rivalries would be forgotten, petty jealousy would be as extinct as the Stegosaurus.

Me: I’m just glad you like your boxes.

Me: Wait, how the hell do you know about Roman mythology? You’re a cat!

Beryl: Can’t talk. Busy playing. In boxes.

A Christmas Kitten

So it came to pass that zaiah and I went camping in Puget Sound for our seventh anniversary last week.

We took the new conversion van, which I traded my 2-seat Honda del Sol for on the spur of the moment a couple of months back. I have always loved little 2-seat sports cars, and on many occasions throughout the years I’ve been informed that this particular taste perhaps isn’t the most practical for a person in polyamorous relationships. zaiah and I were driving past a used-car lot one evening, and saw the van for about the same price as the book value on my car, so we went in with a del Sol and came back with a van.

Anyway, we went camping in Puget Sound because there’s a Tonkinese breeder in that area, and we’d been talking to her about getting a male cat from her to breed with my kitten, Kyla. He was old enough to come home with us the same weekend as our anniversary, so off we went.

The Tonkinese cats she breeds are just beautiful. Anyone who’s never met a Tonk is missing out. They are beautiful, intelligent, fearless cats who are very people-focused. This was what greeted us when we arrived. Our new kitten, Beryl, is the blue solid on zaiah‘s lap.

The first night with us, Beryl insisted on sleeping in bed with us. Under the covers, snuggled up, and purring. He spent most of the night nestled on my legs, preventing me from moving.

Then he moved up to snuggle into my armpit.

When Iwoke up, he crawled onto my lap and refused to let me stand, keeping me stapled to the bed by sitting on my lap and not moving.

zaiah installed hanging cloth shoe shelves in our closet, which we use to store socks and sweaters and so forth.

I should have realized that he was a climber when this became his preferred place to sleep any time we were not in bed.

We are still in the process of finishing our room, which we have been building onto the house for the past several months. The walls have not yet been painted, and the trim and baseboards are not installed yet.

The new bedroom has a ladder up to a loft we’ve constructed, which we’re using as a home office. The ceiling in the bedroom is quite high, so the ladder into the loft (which is bolted to the wall) is twelve feet tall.

Did I mention that the cat is a climber?

zaiah and I were up in the loft one day, getting ready to watch Law & Order on the computer, when we heard a crash and a frantic scrambling down below. The cat was trying to climb the ladder.

“Oh, that’s so cute!” I said. I got my cell phone and took a picture.

Then I went back to the loft.

A second later, the cat was up there with us.

He sprang onto the computer keyboard (starting the movie playing in the process) and then sat on my lap as if to say “I’m here! Aren’t I clever?”

And he is. This is the most talkative, most athletic, most determined, most curious, and most intelligent cat I’ve ever owned. That is a very dangerous combination, as it turns out.

The next night, I woke to the sound of claws scrambling on metal. I grabbed my camera and fired off a bunch of shots as the kitten climbed up into the loft.

As I’m typing this, at this exact moment, the kitten is sitting on my lap. In the loft.

Living with him is going to be…interesting.

Of Puppies, Favorites, and Why I Suck at Monogamy

A couple of nights ago, zaiah and I were feeding puppies.

This is something we do every night. And every afternoon. And every morning. And…well, pretty much all the time, really. They hunger, you see. They have appetites, and their appetites must be sated, else our sanity will be destroyed, its shattered slivers sucked into the maw of the great dark beyond.

On this particular evening, she was making fun of me. Every time I took a puppy into my lap, I said, “You know, I think this one might be my favorite.” And meant it.

We’ve been calling them by the color of their collar. (We debated naming them after computer programming languages–“Here, Java! C’mere, Perl! Good boy, Python!”) but zaiah made the point that we don’t want to give them names which might unduly influence whoever adopts them.

And they are all my favorite puppy.

Purple is absolutely my favorite of the whole bunch of them. She is lovely; we’ve informally started referring to her as “sweet face,” because she has such a nice face. She’s affectionate and loving, nuzzling into you when you hold her. She gazes soulfully into your eyes when you feed her. For the first couple of weeks, she would sing herself to sleep after she ate.

My real favorite, though, is Blue. He’s the largest of the bunch, a gentle giant who is gregarious and outgoing. He responds strongly to people, coming over with his tail wagging whenever anyone walks near. He’s filled with energy and enthusiasm, and joy just radiates out of him.

But my favorite out of all of them would have to be Yellow. He is by far the most playful of the bunch. He enjoys rolling the ball around his pen, which is incredibly cute, and he likes playing with his imaginary friend, which is even more cute. He’s smart and companionable and loves wrestling with people.

When it comes to my favorite puppy of the litter, though, that would have to be Pink. She’s quiet and sweet-tempered, a cuddly and affectionate little girl who loves reaching up to kiss your nose. She is absolutely heart-melting in her trusting devotion to the people around her.

Though, to be honest, I think my favorite might be Green. He’s smart, strong-willed, and opinionated. He bounds around the pen wrestling with his brothers and sisters, and any human who will show him attention–“C’mon! I can take you! Let’s go! Arooorooroo! Isn’t this FUN?”

My favorite puppy would doubtless be Red. She is mercurial, one minute playful and the next minute snuggly. She also loves to gaze into your eyes while she eats, and her favorite thing in the world is to fall asleep with her head on your arm. She’s a master of the game “I’ve Got Your Nose,” which she plays with Blue, Green, Yellow, and any person who gets close enough.

And finally, I’ve saved my favorite puppy for last. Orange is sweet-tempered and loving; she bonds easily with people, to the point that she often prefers scritches and snuggles to food. Ever since the day she was born, one of her favoritest of all things is to snuggle into the crook of your neck and fall asleep there, making contented little noises the whole time.

This is, you see, why I’m rubbish at monogamy. Pick just one? Really? When there is a whole world out there, full of joy and love and life? Why would someone want to do that?

OMG puppies!

As folks who casually read this journal, or anyone anywhere who’s seen my Twitter feed, is no doubt aware, shortly before Christmas we had a litter of standard poodle puppies. zaiah‘s dog Emma had seven teensy little puppies, three brown and four black…and by “teensy little” what I mean is “approximately the size of a monster truck.” To this day, it still boggles my mind, and creeps me out a bit, that she was able to store them all inside her body. (To be fair, though, there’s quite a lot about biology that I find somewhat disconcerting, the less said about that the better.)

I love kittens. I am very happy to have a life through which kittens pass on a regular basis. I do have to admit, however, that it is at least theoretically possible that tiny little puppies might–just possibly might–be even cuter than kittens.

The proud father found the whole thing quite fascinating. He’s actually been a pretty good dad so far, albeit in fairness the bar is set fairly low; in dogs, “being a good father” seems to stop at somewhere around “not eating your own young.”

Newborn puppies are quite possibly among the most helpless forms of multicellular life ever given birth to by this fantastic universe They come factory-equipped with only two abilities, “eating” and “sleeping.” And when I say those are the only two abilities they have from the start, I’m not kidding; “breathing” isn’t a capability installed at the factory (it takes a bit of work to get them to do that when they’re born,” and neither is “peeing” (the mother has to prompt them to do that after they feed–like I said, biology is disconcerting).

However, the sleeping is very sweet. The snuzzle up against whatever warm surface is available and go all limp, and when they sleep, they dream.

They turned out to be rather a lot of work; for the first several days of their lives, they needed to be tended to and to feed every two hours. Since I work from home, it fell largely on me to take care of them; for about three or four days, I set my alarm to go off every two hours on the spot, and slept only in snippets between. In the wild, of course, dogs don’t have human beings to look after them with this kind of diligence; but then again, in the wild, a dog might have a littler of eight or ten pups, two of which survive.

There are lots and lots more pictures and commentary below. Click here to see more pictures of puppies and go ‘Aww!’ a lot. Caution: Management not responsible for diabetic attack.

More on the Mathematics of Sex Toys

I’ve been posting a bit about the Tormentor, a sex toy I’m designing for the sole and nefarious purpose of not letting the user get off. Quick recap in case you haven’t seen the project so far: it’s a vibrator connected to a programmable microcontroller that’s programmed to run the vibrator in random patterns for random lengths of time with random pauses in between, to keep the wearer sexually aroused but without being q-u-i-t-e enough to allow the wearer to come.

Because, yeah, I’m kind of a bastard.

My sweetie lapis_lazuli beta tested the first standalone prototype, the Tormentor version 0.2, and the biggest problem that arose was that the deice was just too damn bulky.

Part of this was the fault of using a 9V battery to run the microcontroller, but part of t was the fact that the Arduino Uno board I’m using is just plain big.

I mentioned this problem to roadknight last time I was in San Francisco, seeing how he’s also a micorocontroller hacker and general mad scientist. He suggested that I use a Teensy USB board in place of the Arduino, and even gave me a spare that he happened to have handy.

The name doesn’t lie.

Size comparison, top to bottom: 9-week-old Tonkinese kitten, Arduino Uno, Teensy USB

The Teensy is certainly that; it was the second-smallest programmable microcontroller in his collection. (The first was an obscure Chinese something something on a flexible board, about the height of a grain of rice and three times that long.)

I’ve started looking into building the Tormentor version 0.3 around a Teensy. It’ll take a bit of work; the Teensy lacks an on-board voltage regulator, for instance. I’m thinking of using a 6.3v lithium battery to drive both the Teensy and the sex toy; I’ll have to cobble together a recharge/regulator circuit of some sort, but it should let me get the finished gadget very, very small indeed.

The Teensy people don’t understand something that Apple does: User experience matters. The Teensy board is unlikely ever to knock over the Arduino as the reigning champ of DIY microcontrollers, even though the Teensy is smaller and has better technical specifications, because the user experience when it comes to programming a Teensy is, to put it bluntly, abysmal.

You don’t get no Arduino-style all-in-one IDE and device programmer, where you can type code into a window and press a button and bam! The device is working! Oh, no. The Teensy requires you to install a gcc compiler, then type your code in a text editor, run it through gcc with make, and then load the resulting hex file onto the board with a loader program. It’s archaic and barbaric, and it brings back memories of my Programming 101 class in college, in which I wrote 8080 assembly on a CDC Cyber 760 mainframe, compiled it to a hax hex file, copied it onto a floppy disk, then ran it on a CP/M machine using a hex loader.

Someone, please kill me now.

There is, though, an Arduino IDE plugin for the Teensy, and though it’s a bit weird and doesn’t run all Arduino code, it looks like it should work for me.

Goodbye to a spark of joy

zaiah calls kittens “little sparks of joy.”

Before I met her, I’d always pretty much thought that a cat was a cat was a cat. I love cats, of course, and I’ve always lived with cats, but I pretty much thought that house cats were very similar to each other. Some are more friendly, some are more surly, but that’s about it.

Her family raises tonkinese show cats, a breed I’d never heard of ’til we started dating. Tonkinese are what happens if you take an ordinary breed of house cat and you install “friendliness” and “joy” dials that go to 11. A middle-of-the-road Tonkinese thinks that you, as a person, are absolutely the most amazing and splendid thing that has ever happen in an amazing and splendid world; particularly friendly tonks are even more affectionate than that.

We often havetonk kittens going through our home. Her family breeds them, then they come to stay with us for a few weeks until they are sent away to whatever family adopts them. For the last several weeks, we have had a small litter of kittens, who went home last week.

Two of the litter arrived with FIP, a corona virus infection that’s often lethal to kittens. We did everything we could to help them survive. One of the kittens made it. One of them didn’t.

For a couple of weeks, the kittens seemed to be improving. They were happy and affectionate and enthusiastic about life; the little girl in the litter never seemed to quite shake her head cold, though. I woke up one morning to find her lying in her carrier, struggling for breath. I took her out and discovered she was very cold. I help her and stroked her for a couple of hours; she nuzzled into my arm, and even purred a bit. Then, suddenly, just like that, she was gone.

I have never really had to deal with death close-up before. I was, and still am, surprised by how much it hurt. zaiah and I buried her a day later. Even when I went inside to get her body, there was still a part of me that expected to find that I’d made some sort of profoundly stupid mistake and that I’d find her playing behind the desk and looking for something to eat, not wrapped up lifeless in a warm towel.

Goodbye, little spark of joy. I didn’t get to know you nearly long enough.