Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Schrödinger's cat

An explanation of Schrodinger's cat experiment from 
Here's Schrödinger's (theoretical) experiment: We place a living cat into a steel chamber, along with a device containing a vial of hydrocyanic acid. There is, in the chamber, a very small amount of a radioactive substance. If even a single atom of the substance decays during the test period, a relay mechanism will trip a hammer, which will, in turn, break the vial and kill the cat. The observer cannot know whether or not an atom of the substance has decayed, and consequently, cannot know whether the vial has been broken, the hydrocyanic acid released, and the cat killed. Since we cannot know, the cat is both dead and alive according to quantum law, in a superposition of states. It is only when we break open the box and learn the condition of the cat that the superposition is lost, and the cat becomes one or the other (dead or alive). This situation is sometimes called quantum indeterminacy or the observer's paradox: the observation or measurement itself affects an outcome, so that it can never be known what the outcome would have been if it were not observed.
Why am I dredging up quantum indeterminacy or the observer's paradox again? You (whoever you are) may have recalled me posting about having my cat of 17 years euthanized back in July. A few weeks later, we received a call from the vet that I we could pick up her ashes. I numbly drove to the vet and waited as the same assistant who had put the IV to administer the drug to end my cat's life went and retrieved a small cardboard box housing the container with her ashes.

I drove home with the box and opened it at home. Inside was a small wooden box with its lid sealed with screws. My children asked me if Bailey was inside the box. I explained that after she died, they had cremated her and the box contained her ashes.

The original plan had been to scatter her ashes somewhere around the yard. But part of me wasn't too keen on the idea. Bailey had spent a bulk of her time at our house sleeping inside our bedroom. I don't think she ever actually went out in the yard. She'd been an outdoors cat years ago when I'd lived alone in a house in a different neighborhood. But I doubt if the current occupants would have been thrilled to have me show up and ask if I could scatter her ashes in their yard because my cat used to play their.

Then my wife suggested we could just bury the box with her ashes in a flower bed outside. It seemed like a reasonable option. In the meantime I placed the box on my dresser in the bedroom where she'd spent her final years. And it has remained there.

I still walk into the bedroom and expect to see Bailey curled up in her cat bed under the chair or on the bed. Occasionally I'll see a dark article of clothing at the end of the bed and think for a moment it is her.  And I have started noticing black cat imagery like the photo at the top of this post that I snapped while walking by an local art gallery.

My daughter took the death of Bailey the hardest. She told me she missed Bailey and wanted her to come back. This led to many discussions about life and death and questions about what happens to people and animals after they die. I tried to put a positive spin on it and say that our energy or spirit lives on and is reborn in other living things. It sounded good. But it prompted more questions about ghosts and spirits that I deflected with "there are no such thing as ghosts."

One day my daughter told me that she had been down in our basement playroom and she had heard Bailey meowing.  She thought it was the ghost of Bailey. Then she said she hoped Bailey came back as a kitten to live with us again.

I dismissed it. But several days later, I went downstairs to look for something in the family room next to the playroom and I distinctly thought I heard a cat meowing. It was brief and familiar.

I didn't say anything to my wife or children about it. It could have been anything. The washer and dryer are down there and they always make sounds. Or it could have been one of our living cats meowing near a heat vent upstairs.

But made me think of Bailey's remains in the box on my dresser in our bedroom. And the box reminded me of Schrodinger's experiment with a cat in a box and the line: "It is only when we break open the box and learn the condition of the cat that the superposition is lost, and the cat becomes one or the other (dead or alive)."

Maybe as long as the box remains sealed on my dresser, the possibility that Bailey's spirit is with us remains intact. Because once we open the box we lose all doubt whether she is dead or alive. Who am I to mess with quantum indeterminacy?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What ya gonna blog about it?

Bless Amazon. Despite all of their mega corporation faults, they have provided many HBO series classics for free on Amazon Prime. And you can download and watch them. I am on season six of The Sopranos, the series that made New Jersey crime families seem like regular Joe's (regular Joe's that cut people's heads off, cheated on their wives, set fire to horses and stole indiscriminately).

I guess I'd seen all of The Sopranos episodes over the years, but nothing beats binge watching six years of a classic to maintain continuity. The thing I've always hated about watching a series on HBO or Showtime is that you never seem to be able to catch them from the beginning unless you DVR them or watch them on demand. So I think I originally watched The Sopranos in fits and starts and out of order.

Tony Soprano is my favorite character. He goes from being a lovable, teddy bear kind of a guy to a raging sociopath in a second flat. He can be caring and kind one minute and beating an employee's head in with a telephone the next. You gotta love this guy.

But the thing about Tony is that they peel away the stereotyped Mafia boss and show you a middle class New Jersey guy who has a big house in the suburbs, a wife, two kids and the normal problems of a a regular guy. He even sees a therapist to try and resolve issues with his mother. The only difference is that Tony makes all of his money illegally and now and then has somebody whacked.

I have no idea whether The Sopranos depicts a realistic view of organized crime families. All I know is that the plots and the writing was genius. I loved hating all the characters. Though the dream sequences got a bit out there. One dream Tony had was kind of like a scene from Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  In it were all of these people Tony either killed, had killed or caused to commit suicide (which seemed to happen to most of his mistresses). It got even freakier when Annette Bening shows up and makes a reference to Bugsy Segal (she starred as Bugsy Segal's mistress in the movie Bugsy).

But that's one of the things I loved about The Sopranos. They wove complicated plots that connected from season to season. It was kind of like watching Lost, only it made sense in the end.

Sadly James Fandolfini who played Tony Soprano died last year so we'll likely never see a Sopranos reunion film or new series. So you can just forgitaboutit.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Damn, I missed my blogiversary

On August 4, 2004, I made my first blog post protesting that I wasn't a rabid Elvis fan despite the fact I called myself Tim-Elvis. Now, a decade and more than a thousand posts later, I am still here. Not that "here" has any significance on the Web. Here could be anywhere and everywhere on the Web.

But I digress (something that hasn't changed in ten years).

I no longer call myself Tim-Elvis. I am simply Time now. And Time goes on, slipping, slipping into the future.

A lot has happened in ten years. But since I try to keep my personal life out of my blog life, not much of it was chronicled in Dizgraceland. Just so you know, though, in ten years I got married, had two children, moved three times and have lived in three different houses. And in ten years I lost my mother and my cat that I had seven years before I started blogging.

In ten years, I'm still in the same job. But I have had three different offices and three different bosses.

In ten years, I've lost 50 pounds which I've more or less kept off give or take a few pounds here and there. I've also ran, walked and hobbled in five 5K runs. In ten years I have yet learned to like exercising even though I do it every day.

In ten years, I've kept all of my hair except for the stuff the barber cuts off. My hair has gone from brown to pretty much gray. I've sported a beard pretty much all of the ten years as well, largely because the few times I've gone clean shaven I've frightened my children.

In ten years I have watched technology expand beyond my comprehension. I went from a desktap to a laptop to a tablet to a smartphone (with a few years wasted playing brickbreaker on evolving Blackberries). I now watch my smart television controlled by my tablet while working on my laptop and periodically checking my smartphone.

I don't own a pair of Google glasses.

In the ten years that I've stuck with Blogger, I've also dabbled with Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterist, Instagram, Tumblr, Get Glue, Linkedin, Vine, Youtube, Flickr and Google +.  And I don't feel any more social than I did ten years ago.

In ten years, of the more than a thousand posts I've made, the most popular have been one about a lame book I read about how to be successful on social media by using a few key words; and a post about whether clams are really happy. The ironic part about the social media post was that I was making fun of the guys stupid book and observations and if you judged success by the number of hits I got on the post, he was right. I haven't a clue why people are so interested in why clams are happy.

In ten years, I've encountered many virtual friends through my blog (and a few virtual enemies). In the hayday of my blog (I think I peaked in 2006) I had a whole list of people who commented on a regular basis. Now the comments are few and far between. I attribute this not to my blog's lack of interesting topics (I still blindly believe I'm coughing up pearls), but to the cycle of life in general for most people. It takes a certain amount of energy to follow a blog, and it takes even more energy to comment. So I don't take it personally.

Blog communities mirror real communities. People come and go into your life brought by various whims and circumstances. And for those of you who have stopped by over the last decade, I thank you and wish you well as you navigate real life and the virtual one created in the cloud of the vastly expanding Internet.

And though my ten year blogiversary would have been a great opportunity to announce my retirement from Dizgraceland, I don't have any inclination to stop.

After all, it doesn't cost me (or you) anything but time.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Blogging from the heart

I started a blog post last week on the topic of knowing (i.e. the more people know about something, the less they will like it). And the more I wrote, the less I liked it. Because it didn't have heart. I was writing in a formulaic way without really caring. I was posting just to be posting and creating a "next blog" worthy post. So I deleted it.

This is one reason I don't post every day (other than having a life). It is too easy to fall into the trap of cranking things out just to be cranking them out. I might as well be working. Because if you don't really care about what you are writing, neither will the reader.

Not that I really write to be read. I write to try and figure out life, or at least organize my thoughts about it.

And speaking of trying to figure out life, one of the great challenges I find in being a parent is trying to answer my children's questions about difficult subjects like death, god and Legos. I try desperately to give them honest answers without projecting any stifling believe systems onto them. Because when I was growing up, I was never presented with any options when it came to death, god or Legos (which hadn't really been available when I was a kid).

I was raised a Christian Scientist and was told that we were neither born nor would we die, if (and it was a pretty big if) we had enough faith. I apparently didn't because my parakeets and hamsters kept biting the dust despite my prayers. I stayed a Christian Scientist until I was about 16 and gathered enough courage to tell my mother I didn't really believe any of it. Regardless, it was years before I went to a doctor (if you know nothing about Christian Scientists, one of their main beliefs is that the only medicine you need is's a wonder I lived beyond age 10).

So, having been force fed religion as a child, I don't want to force feed my lack of faith to my children. Nor do I want them to waste a great deal of time handling snakes or speaking in tongues. Now that both of my kids are in school, the subject of god comes up more and more as they interact with classmates who go to church.  My son is taking more of a strict atheist stand whereas my daughter seems torn.

And with the recent death of my mother and my cat, my children are perplexed as to what happens to us after we die. The platitudes of "going to a better place" or "being at peace" fall flat without the religious back story of heaven and hell. And despite my total lack of faith in any religion, I struggle with the concept that death is the end. I realize that this is largely due to my age, but I have always tried to hold onto some hope that we could walk through a tunnel into the light of a totally secular afterlife. And I fantasize that it is like staying at an all-inclusive resort where you really don't have to tip and they don't try to sell you a timeshare.

But how can any of us speak with any certainty about what happens after you die? There is only one way to find out and then, unless you believe in psychics, there is no way to tell anyone about it.

It is not so much that I care about losing my physical self when I die. I become less and less enamored with it the older I get. It's my consciousness that I cling to. It's my sense of self. It's the me that I've known since I was old enough to be aware. It's the I that only I truly know. Honestly, I don't want to become one with the universe. I kind of like just feeling unique, even if I'm not. I don't like the idea of being a drop of rain falling into a river or the ocean, even if it does make me part of something bigger.

Kind of a selfish spiritual point of view, I know. But I'm betting I'm not the only one who has felt that way. After all, why did the Egyptians go to such great lengths to preserve their bodies after they died? And why did the Pharohs build the pyramids if it wasn't about this need to be recognized as an individual?

Still they died. And their bodies, if not their memories. hang out in museums no matter where their spirits (if such things exist) ended up.

I do believe this was one of my longest digressions yet. But at least it came from the heart.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Next Blog Zone

Call me the eternal optimist, but I thought I'd click on blogger's "next blog" button and find something entertaining and once again all I could find were an endless series of blogs that hadn't been updated since 2010. And most of them began with either an apology for not posting for awhile or a resolution that they were going to commit to posting at least once a week. What added insult to injury to all of this was that some of the dead blogs had hundreds of followers. I have 27 and I've been posting for ten years consistently.

The only up-to-date blog I found seemed to be an ongoing essay on archetypes that held me riveted for at least a paragraph.

This is a perfect example of why the Web needs a good purge. If you give up on your blogging, at least have the decency to pick up after yourself and delete your failure.

Maybe they should require a license before you are allowed to start a blog. First no one under 30 should be allowed to have one.  Anyone under 30 should simply be handed a My Little Pony Diary and sent on their merry way to write in it. Anyone over 30 should then have to take a test to get a license to blog. Questions could include:

1) Can you translate this sentence:
f u cn knw h2 read dis thN u cnt B trusted 2rite a blog. u nd 2B abL 2rite n en.
(If the person can translate it, then they aren't qualified to write a blog because they spend too much time texting and are contributing to the demise of the English language.)
2) Do you plan to use your blog for showcasing your poetry?
(If the answer is yes, than the person would be denied a blog because I really don't like poetry, especially amateur poetry)
3) Do you plan to use your blog to document the day to day life of you, your family, your pets, your plants or your hobbies or your shopping or eating habits?
(If the answer is yes, than the person definitely wouldn't be allowed to blog for obvious reasons).
4) Have you ever included a end of year newsletter in any card you have sent out during the holidays?
(If the answer is yes, a blog license is denied)
5) Do you plan to blog about any religious topic or a cult you are involved in? (If the answer is yes, the applicant is told to go to hell.)
6) Will you use your blog to get back at someone or some thing you believe has wronged you in some way at some time in your pitiful life?
(Say no, or go. Blogging ain't for hating. It's for a reasonable amount of appreciating.)
7) Do you plan to use your blog to sell something?
(See question 4.)
8) Can you actually commit to posting on your blog at least once a month without apologizing about not posting, committing to writing in your blog regularly or reposting some inspirational quote you found on Facebook?
(If the answer is yes, than you get your blog license).
I think this would weed out the riffraff from the blogging world and make the "Next Blog" button a bit more fruitful.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Death of a friend

In August, it would have been 17 years since I adopted my cat Bailey. I first met her in a small pet shop in a strip mall in Shoreline. The local PAWs occasionally would put kittens in the store for adoption. She was this tiny spec of a kitten. They had named her Beta. I changed it to Bailey because she actually seemed to be more of a dark chocolate color than black and reminded me of Bailey's Irish Creme.

I had an older cat at the time named Cuervo. He was an orange tabby who I'd also adopted from PAWs. He took to Bailey quickly and they played together.

Bailey slept upstairs with me in the early years. She had this incredibly loud purr for such a tiny little thing. And she liked to sleep up near my face. In a half asleep state I accidently brushed her away from my face one night and her claws gripped onto my arm to prevent her from falling out of the bed. I woke scratched and bloody.

Cuervo died within a few years of me bringing Bailey home. He died of kidney failure after I found him bleeding out of the nose outside my house. I rushed him to the vet and he died overnight. I buried him in the backyard of my Shoreline house.

Bailey became the lady of the house. She never grew very big. She was always as light as a feather. I would sweep her up and hold her in one hand, then cradle her in my arms like a baby. She always had this serious expression on her face.

She was a hunter. She would bring in mice, moles and one time even a snake. She also defended her territory. One time I watched out the patio door as she chased a large cat through the yard and leaped up to swat his butt as he vaulted over the fence.

She was an outdoor cat for much or her early life. She used a cat door and came and went as she pleased. At night she would sit with me in my easy chair as I watched television. She was my companion for many years as I lived alone.

When I married and combined households, Bailey had to deal with two other cats that never did like her. When we moved Bailey became an indoor cat and spent much of her time shut away in our upstairs bedroom to keep her from being attacked by the other two cats.

The same was true when we moved yet again to our current house.

I am ashamed to say that I stopped giving Bailey much attention after we had children. I fed her and cleaned her litter box, but my focus was on our children.  The cats became more of a irritation than the babies they had been to both my wife and I.

Still at our current house, Bailey never seemed to change. It wasn't until I did the calculation that I realized how old she was getting. She slowed down and slept most of the time, but she still was able to jump up on the bed and run from the other cats as need be.

In the past few months I noticed that her hair was getting matted as if she wasn't grooming any more. I just attributed it to old age. Then I noticed her eating less and less and drinking more and more water. She lost energy and no longer seemed to be able to make it up on the bed.

We took her to the vet thinking it was old age. The blood and urine tests indicated kidney failure.

She was pitifully weak for the last few days while we waited for the results of the lab tests. I sat with her and stroked her matted fur, murmuring apologies.

And on Friday evening, I held her for the last time as the vet euthanized her.  It was the first time I have ever had to have a pet put to sleep and I am wracked with guilt and remorse.  I am ashamed of the emotional neglect I am guilty of.  And the ultimate pain was holding her while her life slipped away, telling myself it was to free her of the pain.

One of the hardest parts of this has been trying to explain death to my children. My daughter particular has taken it hard and has been telling me how much she misses Bailey and asks where she has gone now that she has died. I have no good answer. Not being a religious person, I don't have a strong believe in an afterlife. I'd like to think that she is in a better place. But I fight with the rationalization that humans have created the belief in an afterlife soon after they were faced with the reality that everything dies. Belief in an afterlife helps stave off the sobering reality that we all end.

I did tell my daughter what I told Bailey in her final moments, that she would always be in my heart. And perhaps that is where the better place lies.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Immortal posts

All of the blog experts say that you need to post on a fairly regular basis to boost your blog traffic. I have not found this to be particularly true. My blog traffic stays pretty consistent at 80 to 100 page views a day whether I post or not. This is largely due to people surfing for random things and landing on some of my archive posts from 2006. Or it is due to whatever Internet trick spammers are using that directs people to my blog from Russian and Turkish Web pages.

The beauty of this is that I get the false feeling of security that about a 100 people a day read my blog regardless of whether I post or not. Shoot since I've posted well over a 1000 posts in the almost ten years I've been blogging, I could die today and I'd still be getting hits on my blog for decades to come.

For some reason it reminds me of the speed of light (which I learned in 4th grade was 186,000 miles per second). Why does the possibility of my blog posts reaching people years after I'm dead remind me of the speed of light, you ask? Because the light we see from stars at night has had to travel so far (even at 186,000 miles per second) that we don't see it until years after it left its source. We are in fact seeing many stars now that died long ago. But their light is just reaching us.

A stretch, I admit, but fascinating never the less (at least to me). So as long as Google doesn't go belly up and dump all of their servers, my posts could very well drift through the Internet forever. So my blog, in a sense, makes me immortal.

This is kind of scary when you think of the volumes of crap floating around in cyberspace that in essence will never go away. I mean, it's not all quality material like I produce. I wonder if at some point the expanding universe of data on the Web will explode or implode like a reverse big bang theory. What will happen to all of the videos of cats on trampolines and foodie posts about Denny's Baja Moons Over My Hammy? Could they mutate into something worse than Facebook or, gasp, Twitter?

Maybe it's time that someone figured out a way to give it all a big flush and send all of the crap on the Web to a treatment center somewhere in the cloud. Then we can all start from scratch. I call this theory, Blog Rasa.

A man has to dream.