Showing posts with label IRL. Show all posts
Showing posts with label IRL. Show all posts

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Welcome to The Cat's Old Apartment

Many years ago, I rented an apartment in West Seneca. It was far too expensive and way too small. While it wasn't awful, it was really marginal. It had a kitchen, living room, two bedrooms, a bathroom and a sitting area in an enclosed porch. The porch looked out on to the back of another house, so I didn't use it.

It was all unremarkable until I bought a cat. I hated the place but boy did that cat love the old apartment.

The first remarkable thing that happen was the cat could walk into rooms and vanish. She was Siamese so she was pretty vocal, even when not visible. Once she vanished, I could hear her but never find her until she chose to reappear. It was baffling. After a while, I got used to it.

One day while washing dishes, I opened a cupboard. The cupboard was annoying, it was a massive wooden structure 2-3 feet deep, yet opening the doors revealed that there was only about 12 inches of space to put things. I had assumed that the pipework was taking up the rest of the space. In any event, the cat entered the bottom cupboard. I bent over to grab her and guess what?

She wasn't there. I opened all of the cupboards and drawers as if there was a chance I was mistaken about her entering the only open door. I could hear her meowing, happily, but no cat in sight.

Then I heard it. Swish, clank. Meow! Swish, swish, clank! Meow.

I almost bolted from the apartment.

Instead, I grabbed a chair, a cup of coffee and sat down. I could hear the cat moving, sometimes from within the cupboard. But other times, the sound was coming from the bathroom or the bedroom, which was on the other side of the wall. Her movements were punctuated with that odd swish-clank! noise.

Three cups of coffee later, the cat reappeared from the cupboard I saw her enter. I noticed a small hole in the back of the cupboard, just big enough for a determined cat to enter. On closer inspection, I noticed many small holes, often no more than an inch or two in diameter in the back of each cupboard. Very odd. 

The next day, I armed myself with a flashlight, paper, pencil and a ruler. A map like the one below was the result. This map is not to scale, it is more a schematic and from memory.


The first thing I noticed when mapping the old apartment was that if a door could open, it would often block another doorway. Annoying. Item 2, room dimensions didn't make sense relative to the exterior size of the house. And the cupboard was disturbingly disproportional to the room and interior storage space.

There was obviously a space behind it. Looking in the various holes revealed something disquieting. There were ropes, chains and pieces of cloth. 

If I was the bolting kind, I would have been gone at this point.

With a little experimentation, I was able to determine the function of this odd cupboard. It was physically dominating in the room, obviously hiding a space behind it. Aside from the small holes, no bigger than a couple of inches, there were no larger openings. Nothing on the walls behind it nor the attic above or the apartment below. Violently opening or closing the cupboard doors caused air to enter the holes and made the fabric, ropes and chains swing noisily. It was meant to distract.

But distract from what?

In my bedroom, the cat had taken a liking to the closet. It turns out there was a secret passage way from the closet of one bedroom to the closet of the other bedroom. It was about 7 feet long. In bedroom two, there was an odd grill, which looked like a heater vent. Except, there was no central heat in this apartment. I had a gas heater awkwardly placed in the kitchen, nearly blocking bedroom 2's doorway. It turns out this grate could be pushed upwards to allow access to the bathroom.

In the bathroom, across from this grate was an inset shelf, no more than 3 inches deep. Pushing it allowed access to the large space labeled with a question mark. This area was about 10 by 10 and painted jet black. Or so it seemed. I entered the area without a light and as my eyes adapted, I noticed the shapes standing along the wall. And they were looking at me. 

This time I did bolt.

When I worked up the courage to reenter the apartment, the cat was happily playing in this space so I had to go back in there. With a baseball bat and a very bright flashlight.

Someone had painted the walls with odd blue, pink, purple and mauve lines. They were not even and sometimes broken lines. At about head level, there were white ovals. Only the floor and ceiling were actually black. These shapes looked like people standing against the wall. How creepy.

In this space, I noticed two ladders. One went up and one went down. One lead to the basement and another lead upwards to a crawl space. It was horribly filthy and the wooden catwalk was only about 18 inches wide. I decided not to try my luck.

Later that evening, while sitting in the living room, I took a good look at the old fireplace. It had been sealed up years ago and was now a rather small but nice bookshelf. That matched the shelf in the bathroom. I pushed it and it slid back to reveal another space.

This area was a crawlspace with a ladder to one side, again with the odd paint job, which also covered a window. When a window's glass is painted over, the creep factor climbs by 101. I climbed up the ladder and noticed the same 18" crawlway leading back to the bathroom. This was no an attic of any kind, it was a catwalk above the ceilings. I could see that the area above the cupboard was sealed up with thick wood planks. Some odd bumps might have been the chains and ropes.

I have no idea what all of this was for. Maybe someday I will tell what my landlady said about the apartment and my friend's theories. But not at night. I don't want to think about it.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

A funny very short

Molly’s husband asked if they had a thermometer because he wasn’t feeling well. Her initial answer was, “I am feeding two babies because I am their mother, not yours. I am not the keeper of thermometers so you need to go look in the bathroom.”
Several minutes later, her husband comes back down stairs and asks, “Do we really need three thermometers?”
She turned to see him with a glass thermometer in his mouth and replies “You have one in three chance of wanting me to answer."
Molly is now officially the keeper of thermometers in her house.

Destiny evolution to 2 - No love for hunters

I've been plowing through my json file for G+.

Back in May of 2015, my son was playing Destiny with me. He was 9 or 10. In the middle of a mission, he stopped and climbed into my lap. I asked him what was wrong.

"I need a hug."
"Are you a Titan?"
"Yes."

I gave him a hug. He asked why it matter if he was Titan. I told him: "No hugs for Hunters."


I uploaded a crude screenshot of his Titan and my Hunter to the Destiny Community page in G+. This started my long time habit of heckling hunters in that community. 

Now, heckling is all in good fun and I suspect that Bungie had some fun with me and my son. Here is a screencut from Destiny 2. 


What are the chances? 


The Almost Ugly, Unicorn Princess Story

Nothing is ever perfect, until it is.

Within the first 24 hours of dating my wife, I did something unusual that has been a part of our lives ever since: I read a book to my wife. It was a passage from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. It doesn’t matter what page or passage, it was the one I meant, and it wasn’t a thing I intended to do. Nothing is so perfect, but it left a mark on us that still exists today.
Fast forward many years. My wife brought three wonderful children into this world and I made damn sure that I read to them as I did her. Reading is incredibly powerful. It requires no money, no power, no station or status but it can enrich a mind in ways that exceed all of those things.
I read to my kids and I still read to them even though they can do it for themselves. I read to my wife and I read for myself. And sometimes, a tiny bit of magic can come from such a simply pleasure.
My daughter was born with a hemangioma. It was a strange, tumor-like structure on the bridge of her nose, about the size of a golf ball. Most of the time, they are very benign. Often, hemangiomas do not require any treatment at all.
However my daughter, Cat’s hemangioma was different. Located on the bridge of her nose, there was the danger that it could affect the development of her eyes. Cruelly, this would not be direct damage to her eyes but a subtle impingement on her visual perception. Her brain would learn that something prevented sight in that space between her eyes and compensate by ignoring input from that area. If it wasn’t removed, she could have a large blind spot that her brain learned not to see. If that happened, there was a chance her sight would be destroyed.
All that and it was unsightly. Having a child with a tumor on the face has the side effect of pulling every a-hole out of the woodwork to point, stare and lecture.
As I mentioned before, hemangioma are structures that typically require no treatment. It turned out that our insurance didn’t want to treat it at all. My wife fought an epic campaign to make them understand why it was so critical to have this one, special case treated. She found the best doctor. She worked with him to get the best treatment while battling the insurance company into submission. Our daughter had the best care, from the best people at every step of the way. No BS. My wife, Jennifer really did it all.
At the time, I was doing the best I could to provide. I would work like a dog, come home and did the things that needed to be done. I did my part, the best I could. My place was to support. And I made damn sure that if the kids wanted a bedtime story, they would get it no matter how tired or frustrated I was.
I read The Hobbit in a sing-song voice. I read Watership Down because of the bunnies on the cover. I read The Last Unicorn over and over again as it was my wife’s favorite. Stupid, nerdy stories that were age inappropriate; but they put my family in magical, far-away places.
At the end of the day, Cat’s hemangioma was excised but she was not left unmarked by it. On the bridge of her nose was a scar. And it was more than a red splotch. To this day, she calls her scar “her marker”.
A couple of months after the her treatment, I found Catherine playing with two neighborhood girls. There seemed to be a small row happening on our front lawn. The girls were dressed as princesses, complete with copious amounts of make-up. It was comical, except my daughter standing between the other girls armed with a red permanent marker. The other girls looked very concerned.
“What are you doing,” I asked.
“Playing Princesses…. Unicorn Princesses,” Cat answered.
“Unicorn Princesses?”
“Yes, we all need markers”
“For what?”
“To be Unicorns.”
I took the marker away and Cat blew her stack. It was obviously nap time, but I had this niggling feeling that this was somehow my fault.
After a nap, I asked her what a “Unicorn Princess” was. Surprisingly, shockingly, she explained that Unicorn Princesses were princesses that had a red marker on their foreheads where their horn used to be. If the other girls wanted to be Unicorn Princesses, they needed the same marker she had. Otherwise, they would simply be plain-old princesses.
Oh boy, it was my fault. And then some. I was so lucky I happened on the scene when I did. Otherwise I would be explaining a livid, semi-permanent, red mark to two sets of parents. That would be a very ugly conversation, indeed.
That night, situation defused, I read to my wife The Last Unicorn. I started where the trouble and the magic began:
“Molly smoothed the strange hair, and Schmendrick noticed on the forehead, above and between the closed eyes, a small, raised mark, darker than the rest of the skin. It was neither a scar nor a bruise. It looked like a flower.”
I can’t think of any other words that would be so perfect.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Map Inspiration at the Burchfield Penney

I found the greatest art installation at the Burchfield Penney. It is a giant iron book, engraved with images and maps.

Click the images to enlarge.






Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Observing The Can’t of Thieves

I ran into an interesting gaming scenario and real life teaching experience with my daughter, at the laundromat of all places. Rogues, thieves and con men are pretty much all the same. They have been for centuries. Techniques never change but the goods and the goals do. The good ones are never spotted, but the bad one stand out.
In real life and in gaming, we tend to gloss over the foolish ones while imagining the dangerous ones are around every corner. The only difference between the two is a poor spot check.
Two guys came in to the laundromat and instantly set off my spidey sense. Not in a physical way, but they were clearly up to no good. I called my daughter close and asked her to observe them.
I had her text me her thoughts about them. Silent communication, whether gestures or texting works to the advantage of the user, no matter the setting or year.
  1. They were loud and swore around kids, like they wanted to be tough.
  2. The looked the same. Bald and wearing straw hats. Sneakers but no socks. Shorts and T-shirts. Sunglasses, worn on the hat by one and around the neck by the other. 
  3. They were not identically dressed, but very similar.
  4. They made eye contact while speaking everyone, except children. They ignored children.
  5. They looked in all the machines.
  6. They said not so nice things, but smiled the whole time.
  7. They went into the kids play area, the bathroom and peeked in the office.
  8. They never stopped moving or talking.
I wasn’t just me, these two stood out to my 10 year old.
They waited until the attendant hung up a sign saying “Back in 20 minutes” then loudly proclaimed that they lost $4.25 in one of the machines and wanted to speak to the owner. My daughter thought it was funny that he put 17 quarters in a machine but didn’t notice it wasn't working. It was also odd that the price was 5 bucks. I shrugged and asked her to keep watching.
When the attendant came back from break, Guy Number One asked if she was the owner and explained the problem. She offered to pull the coin box from the offending machine and refund the his money. Oddly, the coin box was empty. Guy Number Two took over and “The Owner” desperately searched for the offending machine.
What they missed was the attendant had empted the coin boxes before her break. They were not going to find any machine full of “their money”. Having failed, the men switched places and roles to create confusion.
The game continued for a while, until it was clear the tactic wasn’t working.
A loud conversation about going next door for Chinese food started. Number One suggested lunch and Number Two shouted it down since he was once refunded for receiving bad Chinese food at a restaurant.
A challenge was offered and accepted. They asked the attendant if the place next door was any good and she offered an opinion, but they hardly listened.
The two men left, but this time switching roles. Number One, the one who proposed the restaurant, loudly proclaimed he would not stand for bad food. Guess what was going to happen next door?
Pick a century, any century. Con men of every era use the same tactics. Han Solo, Sawyer from Lost and The Grey Mouser all pretty much operate the same underneath the hood.
Here are the tools of the trade:
  • Work in groups.
  • Have a cover story ready.
  • Have a backup plan, hopefully one that matches a cover story.
  • Be outwardly friendly, but forcefully offended and easily aggrieved.
  • Look tough, but back down with grace if necessary.
  • Use respect. Use more than the normal amount of respect to elevate the self-esteem of the mark.
  • Dress neatly with flash and style, but be similar to your associates so physical descriptions are easily confused.
  • Appear to trust other people, so they will extend the same level of trust.  
  • Case the joint, the whole place not just the obvious areas.
  • Look for treasure everywhere. Anything worth anything at all is treasure.
  • Never ask for the whole enchilada, ask for less. This way you can haggle with a mark to part them from their money.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

For future reference – US Census Microdata

The other day, took the kids to the Niagara Aquarium.
On our way home, desperate for bathroom, we stopped at the Tuscarora Reservation. Inside, there is a tiny museum with awesome maps. 

Snapping pictures of them does no justice. They are gorgeous prints. I found out that they are from the 1892 Census.

Looking around online, I found this website with the actual images. The Integrated Public Use Microdata Series website is not just information on the US Census, it is data on individuals. What an excellent historical document.
I am pretty sure they didn’t think of someone pulling maps from the public documents, but what a wonderful resource for history and art.