• Farewell Copernicat: A Remembrance

    Farewell, Copernicus

    Andrew and I are sad to announce that the beloved Kitten Copernicus—better known as Copernicat to many—died suddenly early Friday morning January 20, 2012, at the emergency vet’s. He was our 2.5-year-old Norwegian Forest Cat who loved nothing better than to be as close to me as possible and to lick my nose—when he wasn’t busy trying to realize his ambitions of becoming Top Cat or running around the neighbourhood being admired (or envied, in the case of the foxes). He was Co-PURRRRRRR-ni-cat by name and purr-laden by nature.

    He was amazingly stunning with his cinnamon-striped colouring and matching amber eyes. Andrew picked him out special for me, making us travel all the way to Wales to bring him and his brother Galileo home. Many people have met him by visiting our house, seen pictures of him, or heard me scolding him or being exasperated when he tried to cuddle up on my lap or in front of my keyboard while I was occupied. He knew his name and would usually come home when I called “Co-purrrr-ni-cussss” in my special way out into the neighbourhood.

    Although fairly young, he had a well-developed unique personality. He was the first cat I’d ever heard whine like a dog (thankfully, we mostly trained him out of it) or chirp like a bird. He wasn’t the amazing explorer or the fantastic hunter like his brother, but he was smart and certainly held his own, on the ground and in the trees. He was incredibly sprawly. We thought he was confused about his species (bird, dog, person?), because he would lie on his back, completely stretched out. It seemed so uncatlike.

    We had some scares along the way. His brother Galileo was the first to be lost, not long after we brought them home, gone for over a week. Last January, Copernicus didn’t come home one afternoon or one evening, despite calling for him. This was unusual, as both cats have been trained to come back when called and when it’s dark. Many days later, I was out walking outside, calling for him, when I heard a faint meowing. I eventually tracked it down to a garage. He’d somehow managed to get himself locked into one of the garages arranged in rows across from our house. We didn’t know whose it was, so I was pushing water on a Tupperware™ lid under the crack and food the same way.

    When we eventually freed him, he started rapidly losing weight and we had our first big health scare. He dropped several kilograms very rapidly and completely stopped eating. We had to give him a different kind of cat food for every meal. Something about it wasn’t tasting right to him and he’d eat one and then not want to eat it again. Between a Friday when we took him to the vet and the Monday we returned for blood tests, he became severely jaundiced. It turned out he had some kind of bacterial liver infection. He recovered rapidly with antibiotics and soon regained his lost weight and then some in order to continue his adventures as wannabe Top Cat.

    He was destined not to recover from this January’s crisis. He was at the vet’s with his brother on Tuesday for his annual check-up and vaccinations. He was a tad listless but basically OK. After returning from the vet’s, he was listless for the next several days, not eating and drinking very little. I thought it was either a cat flu (Kitty 2 had been ill some months back) or a reaction to the vaccination. On Thursday evening, he seemed perkier. He was sprawling out, purring, and bright-eyed. He spent most of the evening cuddled up with me on the bed as I worked, before he went downstairs to jump up on the couch. Around 01:30, just as we were about to go to sleep, we heard anguished, almost human, cries from downstairs. Copernicus was obviously in pain. He was panting rapidly, with his mouth open, and a bit of drool and, alarmingly, his back legs wouldn’t properly support him. We rushed off as quickly as possible by taxi to closest emergency vet service. We left him there to be given antibiotics, intravenous fluids to combat the mild dehydration, and pain relief.

    We know now, although we didn’t then, that it was actually very serious. He had a blood clot in the artery where it splits off to nourish his back legs and tail. This was likely caused by an enlarged left heart chamber. He had not previously had heart problems or any sign of heart problems, but the breed, like Maine Coons and Ragdolls, shares a disposition to a particular type of heart problem. The prognosis for cats with blood clots is not good, even if they receive appropriate and quick medical attention. He apparently died not long after we left, without us, and without us saying “goodbye”.

    If I had to admit it, he was my favourite of our four cats. The sudden loss leaves a big hole in our lives, for he was much loved and will be greatly missed. I hope he has the outdoors, someone to go for walks with, and love wherever he is now, even if only in our memories.

    Copernicus 2011
    Image: The first picture we ever saw of Copernicus. This is the one that made Andrew pick Copernicus out special for me. He’s about 6 weeks old.

    Photo of Copernicus in our back garden
    Image: Copernicus poses in our back garden. This is my favourite picture of him, as you can see his full body, his face, and his eyes. It was the lock screen on my iPad. November, 2009. He’s about 5 months old.

    Photo of Copernicus and Galileo on the bed
    Image: Copernicus and Galileo. Two brothers together on our bed. January, 2010. They’re about 6 months old.

    Photo of Copernicus posing on the grass
    Image: Copernicus posing in the grass behind our house. He’s huge, isn’t he, but so strikingly attractive. September, 2010. He’s 1.25 years old.

    Photo of Copernicus cuddled with Kitty 1 and Kitty 2
    Image: Copernicus cuddled up with Kitty 1 and Kitty 2 for a change, being Mr. Nice Cat. November, 2010. Just shy of 1.3 years old.

    Photo of Copernicus and Galileo sprawled on the couch together
    Image: Copernicus and Galileo sprawled out together on the couch. February, 2011. This will be after the great liver scare. He’s just over 1.5 years old.

    Photo of a sprawling Copernicus
    Image: Copernicus loved to sprawl. Here he’s sprawling on our bed and I caught him with the iPhone camera. June, 2011. He’s just shy of 2 years old.

    Photo of Copernicus and Galileo on front paving stones
    Image: Copernicus and Galileo on the former very ugly front paving stones. August, 2011. They’re 2 years old. This is the most recent picture we have of him.

    All photos: Michelle A. Hoyle under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Generic license
    (except 6-week kitten picture that is ©2009 by Jeanette Hughes of Normagikatt.)

  • Personality as Revealed by Tweet Cloud

    Screenshot of a Wordle word cloud of Michelle's most commonly tweeted words
    Credit: Wordle by Michelle A. Hoyle under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Generic license
    Image: Michelle’s tweet cloud. Most used words: thanks, RT, good, learning and marking.

    Niall Sclater posted an article on his blog yesterday about personality and tweet clouds.  Inspired, I ran used Wordle of my top used words. TweeetStats, like many text analysis tools, uses a stop list, removing common words like “and”, “the”, “a”, etc. TweetStats gave me the option of additionally removing the names of people to whom I was replying, so terms like “@psychemedia” and “@AJCann” have also been excluded. It could use some better stemming. “Courses” and “course” appear as separate entries, as do “game” and “games”.

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  • Walking with Cats

    Photo of Copernicus stretched out on a green lawn nearby
    Credit: Photo by Michelle A. Hoyle under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Generic license
    Image: Copernicus lying on a local nearby lawn.

    Galileo and Copernicus, two Norwegian Forest Cats, came to live with us late last year as kittens.  They love the outdoors and will spend hours outside on their own, coming back periodically for attention and food.  This is unlike our older two cats, Kitty 1 and Kitty 2.  They’ll go outside, but often only if we accompany them.  Otherwise, the older cats are happy to be hanging out in the house where we are.    Local residents of Lee Green (Lewisham) were startled today to see me out walking Galileo and Copernicus.  More accurately, I was walking, and they were bounding behind or in front of me.  They’re incredibly well behaved.  Their penchant for following us is a bit of a problem when we’re going shopping or taking the train.  We often find ourselves being tailed and need to scoop up a cat and return him to the house.  Still, I’d rather have it this way.  It’s much more interesting.

  • Defying Gravity: Life Changes

    Flying high image

    Defying Gravity

    Something has changed within me
    Something is not the same
    I’m through with playing by the rules
    Of someone else’s game
    Too late for second-guessing
    Too late to go back to sleep
    It’s time to trust my instincts
    Close my eyes and leap

    It’s time to try
    Defying gravity
    I think I’ll try
    Defying gravity
    And you can’t pull me down…

    Lyrics from Defying Gravity, out of the musical Wicked.
    Lyrics and music by Stephen Schwartz
    Photo by Recovering Sick Soul
    Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License
  • [German Giant. Not!]

    I studied four semesters of German at university and then I lived in Switzerland for three years. I almost didn’t learn any German at all while living in Switzerland, because I was too shy to speak German with people I’d see more than once and people always wanted to practice their English on me. I never really lost my intention to improve my grasp of the language, though. To facilitate being successful at improving and retaining my German, I purchased the CD versions of beginning/intermediate German using the Rosetta Stone. This software presents everything in the target language, using audio, video, and text. It’s supposed to simulate the way people learned their first language. I actually quite like it, even though it’s a little on the expensive side.
    I’ve had “improving my German” on my list of goals in LifeBalance for over a year. My goal was to do at least an hour a week. Since purchasing Rosetta Stone in November of 2003, I’ve completed two entire units at level one, comprising 22 total lessons, and I’m a quarter of the way through a third unit. Given that each lesson takes about an hour and I’ve had at least 54 weeks, I obviously haven’t been very successful at doing the hour a week. I’d like to improve my consistency at working on my German and then expand my skills to being able to read things at a Reader’s Digest level.
    See more progress on: improve my German

  • [Powerbook Power!]

    I love my PowerBook. I have a 17″ 1-GHz G4 AlBook. This isn’t my first PowerBook either. I have an old 333-MHz G3 “Lombard” in a bookshelf acting as a file server and remote connection box. There’s an even older PowerBook 1400 also floating around. As you might guess, I’ve been laptop-empowered for a number of years now (it’s almost ten!) where I don’t have a desktop computer. It’s very convenient being able to take your life with you on the go, especially when your life involves multiple areas: web development, university-level teaching, and Ph.D. research.
    My only complaint about PowerBooks is the chips in them are usually well behind the desktop in terms of power. Apple’s just released a speedbumped PowerBook, but it’s still only a G4 chip and 1.6 GHz at that (OK, it’s faster than mine, but still!). Compare that with the desktop G5 offerings or even the dual G4 towers. My two-year-old PowerBook is only a little above the minimum specification for playing World of Warcraft. (-: So, as you might gather, this isn’t much of a complaint. My Lombard stood me in good stead for all three of my spheres in life for just over three years. This one will probably go that long too. I’m not sorry about the investment in the least, even though laptops are more expensive. Go for it!
    Do strongly consider buying AppleCare for your laptop. The only things you can cheaply replace in them are memory and hard drives. Everything else costs big bucks if it has a problem. AppleCare is expensive, but it’s worldwide coverage and good peace of mind. I’ve never been sorry about AppleCare on a portable product.

  • [Fifty Fabulous Book Binges]

    I’ve seen many people profess a goal this year to read at least 50 books. Given that I read incessantly, I don’t think I should have any trouble reading 50 books in 2005. Even discounting juvenile literature, which tends to be shorter and easier to digest, I still believe I’ll be able to make 50 books in the first six months.
    “How do I do it?”, you ask. I usually read an hour or so before going to sleep. Combining this with a high reading speed, you can knock through books at a good clip. I also like to read in the bathtub. I often take a book with me there and read for an hour, at least once a week. Finally, I have many books in electronic form, courtesy of Project Gutenberg and Baen’s WebScriptions project. This means I can carry many books easily with me on my handheld to read on planes, trains, and buses, and while waiting in line.
    Oh yes, I also listen to unabridged audio books. I belong to Audible and I download two unabridged books a month to listen to on my iPod. I find it very soothing to have someone read me to sleep (remember that from when you were very young?). I set the iPod to “sleep” in 30 minutes and pick up in an audio book at the point I last remember hearing. This is usually a very slow way to get through a book as I often fall asleep within five or ten minutes of starting.
    I plough through more of an audiobook while working on my 10 000 steps goal. I do 4- and 6-kilometre walks along the Brighton seaside. To do the 6-kilometre walk and return home gives me about 8500 steps and takes just over an hour. Many unabridged audio books I choose will fit into 8-12 hours. If I’m walking every day, like I should, in theory I can listen to one audiobook in under two weeks.
    Step up to the plate. See if you can make 50 books this year or match my list.

  • [Whoah! Water! Migraine Madness Mopped!]

    There’s a book called Running On Empty: Meditations for Indispensable Women. I know all about “running on empty.” At one point in my life, I was working fulltime plus for a small, struggling web development agency, teaching part-time to supplement the poor income from the first job, and trying to work part-time on a Ph.D. That’s a lot of time. I was running so far below empty on the gauge that, not only was I on the verge of total burnout, I had stressed and over-worked myself into frequent migraines. Migraines and I were no strangers, as I first met them in my early 20s. This, however, was on a mammoth scale. I was regularly enduring migraines resistant to painkillers up to fifteen days a month. While the magnitude of the pain and frequency fit in well my personal philosophy of, “If you’re going to do it, do it 250%”, I was in a constant spiral of trying to catch up and then working myself into a migraine. Add stress and repeat, as required.
    I am not going to say that by simply drinking 8 glasses (2 litres) of water a day I miraculously cured my migraines and other ills of my life. That would not be the honest truth. However, I had read many articles on migraines and more than one suggested that, for many people, migraines were often induced by a combination of co-occurring factors. Stress, implicated in so many things, was obviously one factor. Another one was dehydration. Most people simply do not drink enough or drink things, like coffee, which are actually diuretics, causing a loss of water.

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  • [Feynman Is Fine]

    Apple Computer's Think Different Poster Featuring Richard Feynman1
    Although I’m terrible at mathematics and physics, after I read books about the physicist Richard P. Feynman, I wished I could be more like him if I didn’t exactly aspire to be Richard Feynman. Feynman came to public light for many people as he was very much involved in the investigation of the Challenger shuttle disaster in 1986, eventually solving the riddle of what went wrong. Unfortunately, NASA will have to solve their own mysteries in future as Feynman died of abdominal cancer in 1988.

    What I found most intriguing about Feynman was how he looked at the world and problems in it. Somehow he had a completely different approach from most people, which enabled him to solve problems. Once you understood how he looked at a particular problem, often the solution was also very evident to you, or so recollections seemed to say in the various books and articles I’ve read previously about Feynman. I, too, fervently wish to “Think Different” and I am envious of his highly superior problem solving abilities.

    In addition to being able to solve problems, Feynman was also quite well known for his ability to teach. I’m not sure if he truly loved teaching or if it was just something he felt strongly compelled to do. He did do a fair bit of it, which is something I share in common with him. The following quotation, on a web page with excerpts of Feynman’s thoughts on teaching, illustrates his dedication:

    “I don’t believe I can really do without teaching. The reason is, I have to have something so that when I don’t have any ideas and I’m not getting anywhere I can say to myself, “At least I’m living; at least I’m doing something; I am making some contribution” — it’s just psychological.”

    – Richard Feynman (as quoted in Druzdel 1995).2

    As I later discovered, this is classic Feynman in rhythm and philosophy. Nowhere is his down-to-earth manner of thinking and communicating more apparent than in his various collections of anecdotes, such as Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman!, What Do You Care What Other People Think?, and The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. The first two I read years ago and are very approachable recollections mostly in his own words of events and people in Feynman’s life. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out is my latest Audible audio book (unabridged) and it is very much like Feynman sitting across the table from me, recounting his adventures in science and teaching.

    He thought different, he was a curious character, and he thought he should teach: Feynman’s my hero!


    1. Photo is of Apple’s Think Different Feynman poster. Original poster is copyrighted by Apple Computers, Inc.

    2. Druzdel, Marek (1995) “Richard Feynman on Teaching” [online]. Available from: http://www.pitt.edu/~druzdzel/feynman.html [Accessed 2 October 2004].

    Further Information

    • “Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard P. Feynman, Edward Hutchings, and Ralph Leighton: Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
    • What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard P. Feynman and Ralph Leighton: Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
    • The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman by Richard P. Feynman and Jeffrey Robbins: Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

    Disclosure: Amazon links have a referrrer program link in them that generates revenue for an international discussion-based virtual community to which I belong. Your cost is not affected.

  • [Ein Enquiries]

    In a relatively short span of time, I had several people ask me for solutions to various technical problems they were having. Reflecting on it, I realized that this has been happening for years, particularly in some of the online communities where I hang my hat. While it’s great for the person asking the question to get an immediate personal response, it’s not so good for me as it takes me time to research or doublecheck the answer and then write it up for them. Also, all of the answers are, in this way, “read once.” It occurred to me that I’d be better served by documenting some of the questions and answers, for my own benefit and the benfit of others. Thus, I’m proud to announce the birth of Ask Ein, a new repository for Q & A. Topics will likely cover Macintosh and Palm applications, UNIX server administration, and web application development.
    At the moment, I don’t have a way for people to submit questions. I’ve been creating the entries based on questions people have asked me elsewhere. I think I’ll stick to that format for a bit and then experiment with specialized forms or specialized stories where people can submit their questions in the form of a story comment. As with everything I am doing, there is much scope for improvement, but feel free to explore.