Thursday, December 29, 2005

Well, Another Mystery Finally Solved

I'm sure this is one that's been burning in the minds of everyone, everywhere, but here now - finally, finally - is explained the meaning behind the three-eyed chimp mascot for DNA Productions (the animation company that does "Jimmie Neutron") who always says, "Hi, I'm Paul!" in the bumper after every episode.

View the entire clip.

I can now rest easier at night...

We Are The Champions - 2 for 3 so far

Of interest to noone but myself, I won both of the two fantasy football league championships I was playing for this weekend.

Tom Brady, QB for the NE Patriots, figured heavily in both wins. In my Public league, he was the final player on my team to play, and my opponent had New England running back Cory Dillon left to go. I was already ahead by about 20 points or so, so all I had to worry about was Dillon scoring 20+ more fantasy points than his QB in the same game - not much cause for concern, unless for some reason Brady went down early in the game and Dillon went wild afterward. Which didn't happen, and the Pats went on to beat the Jets in the final ABC Monday Night Football game 31-21.

But what was interesting was that in my other league championship, the one based on SEC teams, my team was done but my opponent had Tom Brady. I was up by about 25 points going into that final NFL game, so I had to hope Brady didn't score more than 25 fantasy points in the game (which is a combination of points awarded for TD passes thrown or run, plus a figure based on yards passing, with deductions for interceptions thrown in).

So I was pulling for Brady to do just well enough to fend off Dillon in one league, but not too good to make up the deficit in my SEC league. And he didn't, and I ended up winning both games and both league championships.

And next week, I'll be going for the trifecta as I'm in the finals of my local league, the one with my wife and family members and friends. I have 3 QB's to choose from to start, plus two others I could pick up as final week free agents and use: Mark Brunell (Redskins - injured, not sure if he'll play), Kyle Boller (Ravens - on a hot streak, but it's the Ravens...), Jim Sorgi (Colts - will sub most of the game for Peyton Manning), Jamie Martin (Rams - has been hot last couple weeks subbing for injured QB Mark Bulger) or Josh McCown (Cardinals - great receivers, but playing the Colts). You football geeks out there - who would you start?

The Letter from Santa

Back from Christmas vacation to outer Siberia - also known as West Tennessee. Actually this year it was more like outer Sahara, as temps that are normally around Christmas in the 30's and 40's climbed into the 60's and 70's so Santa broke out the shorts and suntan oil this year.

Christmas Eve and Day at home was a typical affair, although I must confess to getting a little tired of the Santa bit - at least, the part where I'm nervous to the point of paranoia that one of the kids is going to get up early and see Santa's already been there, before I've even gone to bed. Or they'll catch me sneaking into their room to leave a present under their little trees.

BrainyBoy's perfectly aware of the realities of the situation, we're fairly certain, but he's in that "let's play it up for the benefit of little sister, and just in case part of it is still real I'm not taking any chances." But the real test is from Tink. And she surely tested us this year....

A couple days before Christmas, she confided in me that she wanted to give Santa a present. She had a tiny, tiny kitten figurine that she was willing to leave in a small ceramic box, along with a note to Santa telling him that she wanted him to have it. Sincerity was written all over her face, and we could tell she truly wanted to give something back to Santa.

What to do? I didn't want to discourage her spirit of giving, nor did I want her to give up the little kitten - which she liked, itself. So Christmas Eve, she dutifully but the figurine in the little box, set it under her tree in her room and taped up the note next to it all.

That night when they were both asleep and Laura was prepping the presents downstairs, "Santa" wrote her a note. In as flowing a script as I could muster (which is difficult since I no longer write anything in cursive except my signature) I penned a heartfelt thank you from St. Nick, a couple of excuses that the kitten might break and she belonged with her momma (another, larger cat figurine). I also mentioned that the kitten needed a lot of love, just like she used to give to Little Bit. Then Santa told her what a wonderful little girl she was, and thanked her again.

Christmas morning they were up at 6am, after they'd been given strict instructions to play in their room until 7. No such luck, so we trudged out of bed to see what Santa brought. She was very excited and proud that Santa had written her a letter, but a little confused as to why. It was something out of her realm of possibilities. She's shown it and bragged about it to all her relatives in West Tennessee this week. I'll try to scan the letter sometime and show all of you.

Who needs the Polar Express when they have me?

UPDATE: Whip me with an reindeer's antler, cause I forgot to mention we had lunch on the way back from West Tennessee with Big Orange Michael at the Rainforest Cafe in Nashville. Read his account of the underwhelming service we had at this premiere (to us) restaurant attraction.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Suessian Christmas Wish

Thing One and Thing Two
Have a nice wish for you
This season and all through the year.
Peace, Love and Joy
To each girl and boy
And not too much wax in your ear!

May your holidays be filled with
childlike joy and wonder!
Merry Christmas
from the Inn of the Last Home
Barry, Laura, BrainyBoy v9.8 & Tink

Last Minute Shopping

Just got back from last minute stocking-shopping for Laura at Target and OfficeMax in the new Turkey Creek shopping center.

It was busy, parking was tight but it was one of the calmest and most pleasant Christmas Eve shopping experiences I've ever had. People were nice, calm...the check-out folks were friendly and wished us Merry Christmas. I was in and out in an hour.

I firmly believe that 90% of the holiday shopping horror stories we hear are myths.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

New Images of Center of the Galaxy

Astronomers Use Laser To Take Clearest Images Of The Center Of The Milky Way
UCLA astronomers and colleagues have taken the first clear picture of the center of our Milky Way galaxy, including the area surrounding the supermassive black hole, using a new laser virtual star at the W.M. Keck observatory in Hawaii.

"Everything is much clearer now," said Andrea Ghez, UCLA professor of physics and astronomy, who headed the research team. "We used a laser to improve the telescope's vision -- a spectacular breakthrough that will help us understand the black hole's environment and physics. It's like getting Lasik surgery for the eyes, and will revolutionize what we can do in astronomy."
This is a great breakthrough in allowing us to peer more closely at our astronomical neighbors than ever before. Here's a sample:

Wait, hang on a second... Did you see that speck? Let me enlarge this section below...

Ok, that's the general area I think. Do you see it?

Hmm...still pretty fuzzy. Let's see if I can get this area right here...

...a little closer and more in focus..

Well, that's getting there. Wow, I think there's really something there in the heart of the galaxy near that giant black hole. Let's see if one more zoom will do the trick. It's right in this area here...

Wait, I think I can just make it out now!!!

Oh, man....they were right all along. How embarrassing...

We Are The Champions - Almost

Ok, taking a quiet moment to brag on myself.

I've played Fantasy Baseball and Football on Yahoo for 5 years now, and never before have I lasted so long in the tournaments.

I'm in three football leagues this fall. One with myself, Laura, my dad, my uncle, my brother and his girlfriend, and several others including some RTB'ers - well, I'm in the semifinals on that one. A win this week and I play in the championship game next week. Unfortunately, Laura came pretty close in her first year playing but didn't quite make it past this week's game. I was lucky to make it in the playoffs, finishing in 5th place but am working my way toward the title.

The second league is a public, anonymous league that you're placed in with 11 other randomly selected players. I finished the season in 1st place and we're playing our finals this week.

The final league is one I've been in for years now, representing the UT Vols with 11 other fans of the SEC teams, one apiece. I finished 3rd in the regular season, and am playing Alabama for the league championship this week as well.

Three leagues, two finals and one semifinal. What a year...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Random Observations and Findings

  • Yahoo! has chosen its Top Sites of the Year. Some that I have seen (and used) are 43 Things (Make a list of 43 things you want to do before you die - here are the 25 I've picked so far), Regret the Error (errors in newspaper publications), and TVObscurities (er,, TV events and shows).

  • The Knoxville News Sentinel has posted online its East Tennessee Portfolio - a spectacular collection of photos taken throughout East Tennessee in the fall and winter.

  • To be added to as the day goes on, so come back for more...

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Cat Tails

He looked fairly pitiful, crawling around on the construction site next door. And something was wrong with his tail...

We'd been in our first house only about 4 months, and had first cat - a white blob of fur named Tas - was scoping out his new surroundings. Being that it was still a new subdivision, the house next door was still under construction. We noticed that every once in a while a black and white furball would prance around and about the beams and drywall, looking for handouts. It was getting cooler, and Halloween was around the corner so when I sat out on the porch carving the pumpkin, up he walked.

*Squeak, squeak*

(squeak, squeak?)

There was something apparently wrong with his little vocal cords, because that's all the meow he could muster. A glottal *garf*. And his tail stuck straight up in the air, all two inches or so of it. We set out some food and water for him, and he obliged us by eating and letting us examine him. Some accident or carniverous encounter had deprived this little kitten of most of his tail, so it stuck straight up like Alfalfa's personality.

As I said, it was nearing Halloween and, concerned about what sometimes happens to black cats around Halloween, we took him in. Tas was wary at first and kept his distance. A trip to the vet got him checked out, fixed, and a tentative determination made of his age, perhaps 6 months. Perhaps more, it was tough to tell because he appeared to be a runt.

We really had no desire for a second cat, the first being enough until we started talking children (a couple years down the road...) We asked around at church to see if anyone was interested in a new kitten, but nobody seemed interested. We had almost decided to give him to the shelter, when, well, he moved on in.

We tried to decide on names, some to fit Tas's moniker (The Dragonlance world, origin of "Inn of the Last Home") and others, but we kept coming back to "Little Bit" because he only had a little bit of a tail. And it stuck - eventually shortening to "LB".

Tas and LB became fast friends, brothers really as their estimated birthdates fell only a month apart or so. Through the years they would fight as only brothers could - LB raised up on his hindquarters, boxing at Tas while his blobbiness looked on disdainfully. Once Tas struck back and LB fell backwards...that was a sight.

They both took to babies and moves very well, adapting as only cats can. While Tas was usually the friendlier of the two, LB preferred to hide in the small corners of the house - under beds, behind dryers, in closets, and lately under Christmas Trees.

He took the occasional adventuresome jaunt outside the house, making a quick escape through the back door to the garage when someone left it open (usually me). Once a couple years ago, in our new house, he got into the garage and moved under the back steps. We had no idea where he'd gone until he finally had had enough of his new digs and pawed on the back door to let him back in.

One slight annoyance was his perpensity to lay on our bed at night. Now, when we're both sleeping that's fine. When we weren't...well, sometimes cats can get in the way. And in the way, and back in the way, and back again until he's tossed out indignantly into the hall and the door closed in his black-smudged face.

Perhaps the fact that he enjoyed coughing up hairballs and last night's dinner on the living room rug was payback for such episodes..

The only illness he or Tas ever had was a urinary tract infection about 5 years ago. Other than that they've both been the picture of perfect indoor cat health.

This last week, I'd noticed he hadn't come running when I fixed their right-before-bedtime meal. Tas would come, but LB would be noticably absent. I'd see him later in the bedroom, but thought little of it. Cats change eating habits at times.

Saturday morning as we were getting up, we noticed he was having trouble breathing. We also recalled he'd not been walking very well lately. In addition, his normal squeaking had little sound to it - mostly just a whisper. Never having cats before myself, I'm not familiar with feline maladies and it had been a while for my wife - we resolved to keep an eye on him and if he contined to have problems the next day, we'd visit the vet.

I picked him up and held him for a few moments, listening to his side to see if I could hear a labored breathing sound - I didn't. He scrambled out of my arms, never having been one to be held for long, and sprawled momentarily on the bathroom floor. Indignant, he mustered some strained meows and retreated to a corner of a closet.

After a day and evening of Saturday activities, the kids were taking baths and I realized I hadn't seen LB at his customary vantage point under the Christmas tree. I went in search of him to check, and looked underneath the back of our bed.

And that's where I found him.

He was laying on his side, his head on the floor. I knew instantly something was very wrong, as that was never a resting position he'd used before. I reached out to scratch him behind the ears, and felt the stiffness in his neck and front legs...


I sat there a moment, looking at the floor. I stood up slowly and went downstairs to tell Laura. We both came back up and she, having found her parent's cat in a similar state some years before, confirmed it.

I wrapped him in a towel, brought his body downstairs and put it in a box. We set the box out in the garage temporarily, and prepared to tell the kids.

Brainboy took the news with tears for a few minutes but was fine later, if pensive. I asked him if he wanted to see LB one last time and he agreed, warily. We went out to the garage, I opened the box and unwrapped part of the towel near the cat's head so we could see his fur and the side of his face. BrainyBoy looked grimly and nodded. He'd seen enough. I asked if he wanted to pet him one last time (through the towel) but he declined. He asked if we might get a new kitten sometime soon, and I said maybe - but we should probably not treat the cats as dies, you get another... but honor his memory for a while by remember he was special and unique and not replaceable. I think he understood.

Tink was unbelieving at first, thinking I was joking. When I told her I wasn't joking, her face fell and she looked thoughtful. I went back downstairs to be with BrainyBoy and soon heard her with Laura, sobbing. I returned upstairs and found her bawling, unable to understand or cope with the brand new emotion of loss she was feeling. She eventually subsided and curled up in our bed to watch TV and go to sleep.

Sometime later, BrainyBoy went up and they hugged, brother and sister comforting each other in their first encounter with sorrow.

Yesterday afternoon I came home at lunchtime and dug a hole in the yard near the side of the house - outside the fence where Ramona the dog romps. I wrapped the box tightly with a trash bag and when they returned home we had a little memorial service and burial. Both kids were all right, though it was cold and dark. BrainyBoy helped me shovel dirt on the grave, and arrange stones around it. We still have to make a marker for him, perhaps this evening.

I told the kids that were were thankful to God that he brought LB in our lives for a while, and that he was happy, warm, well-fed and loved for the time he was here. And that we should love on Tas all the more.

I've never lost a pet before, so the emotions were new to me as well. I still find myself thinking about him, expecting to see a little black and white blur under my feet. Soon the newness will wear off and we'll get used to one cat and one dog.

But I'm glad the little squeaker came into our lives, because it was a fit to this growing family. We'll remember you, Bit. Hope you find the rest of your tail....:)