Spinny Tries to Define Where He Stands in the Grand Scheme of Things

Today I encountered a lot of distressing vitriol and religion-based ranting on, of all places, LinkedIn. Several prominent business leaders have put up posts talking about why they feel diversity and inclusion are good for business—of course in the context of the recent SCOTUS ruling affirming the right to same-sex marriage. Predictably, there were many comments—unprofessional and sometimes outright ISIS/Taliban-level scary—spewing many tired and long-discredited tropes about why all this is horrible and evil and we’re all doooooooooooomed.™

The one bright spot in all of this sad commentary on how screwed-up religion has made some people was being engaged (after my own pro-Constitution comment) by a religious business owner from Europe. He was respectful and constructive and asked me some really damned good questions. He not only wanted to understand how I viewed the world, he was honestly concerned about how my stance affirming the rights of freedom and liberty differed from total anarchy.

I was more than happy to sit down and try to quantify where I’m coming from in those terms and, after I wrote and replied, I realized my little missive might be a useful thing to share here in the off-chance you actually care about how I see the Life, the Universe, and Everything. Here goes….

Hi again, Marco!

Thank you for your thoughtful questions. I will do my best to make sense.

My worldview is that the Universe is a wonderful, magical place filled with wonders we will probably never fully understand. I’m fully aware there probably exist entities, cultures, phenomena and whatever that we cannot even imagine, much less comprehend. I would never, for example, presume to declare there could never possibly be such a thing as a “god.” I simply am not qualified to say that, nor is it possible to prove a negative. On the other hand, before such a declaration can be acceptable to me it must be accompanied by empirical, solid evidence that can be independently verified. All the claims made thus far in human history related to such beings have failed to meet that requirement, so I do not accept them. I am still a good, kind and loving person who does good in the world, gives to charity, and I raised three wonderful, happy children who are now successful and productive citizens. I am happy, I am disgustingly happily married, and my life is a wonderful thing. There are no holes, nothing is lacking. I have no need of any sort of religious influence in my life.

On the idea of anarchy. Every law ever passed in human history is a threat of violence to take away a freedom. Every single one, there are no exceptions. That being said, I accept the necessity of trampling on personal freedom for the good of an orderly-functioning society. That I can walk the streets without fear of violence, and live without the fear of my property being taken from me, such things I recognize and their value to society can be shown through rational, logical argument without any need for resorting to the supernatural. In such cases the needs of the many outweigh the rights of the one. I accept that. Beyond that, though, no, the government has no standing to interfere with the freedom of personal choice. Doing things such as trying to prevent gay people from getting married serves no justifiable purpose, only religious ones. Since every religion is a personal choice, and no one has the right or authority to force religious restrictions on non-believers, such laws are tyranny and cannot be allowed to exist.

America is, first and foremost, a land of individual freedom and liberty. I served, and fought, for over 23 years in the US military to defend that freedom and liberty and I will not permit anyone to take it away from me, or from any other American. The US Constitution is the law of our land and was set into place, among other reasons, specifically to prevent religious dogma from overtaking the rule of secular law. The evils of religious interference in European governments (such as the Church of England’s influence) was part of why our nation was founded in the first place.

I have no problem with religion, or with people of faith, so long as they do not seek to push that faith onto anyone else by force (which is what passing laws is).

That pretty much sums it up. Hope I made sense.

Best,
Mark

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You Need to Understand Something: This Time the SCOTUS Got it Right

This is the law of our land, not some religious text.

This, not some religious text, is the law of our land.

I see a disturbing trend in various angry commentary across social media, and the two main themes that disturb me are both unfortunate and false.

In the one case, although our government has demonstrated an alarming disregard for Constitutional principles, especially over the past couple of decades, the people invoking that document negatively in this case have it backwards: the SCOTUS upheld both letter and intent of the law of the land by being a check and balance against a tyrannical and clearly unconstitutional attempt at suppressing freedom. Whatever their past faults, this time they did their proper job. Religious-based tyranny is still tyranny and our system of government is specifically designed to protect us from such.

In the other case, the idea there exists some “higher law” handed down without recourse from a divine being that somehow supersedes Constitutional law and that can be enforced on an unwilling populace is again absolutely contrary to the values upon which this nation was founded. You are more than welcome to adopt such a set of laws for yourself, to follow them as you see fit, even to indoctrinate your children accordingly, without fear of the government attacking you for doing so. That is what “religious freedom” means. You are not, however, permitted to force others to conform to, follow, or even show respect for what you believe in. They are as free as you are to follow their own “inner voice” regardless of what you—or your religious beliefs—dictate. That is also what “religious freedom” means. The idea that the behavior of others somehow infringes your right to live according to your personal beliefs is unsupportable by fact, and the idea that you may infringe their right to live free of your beliefs is similarly unsupportable.

From a business perspective: cutting yourself off from a numerous (and often prosperous) demographic might feel pleasing to you from a personal belief standpoint, but it’s just bad business no matter how you slice it. I’ll gladly take their coin, please send them to me.

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A Freedom- and Liberty-Loving Spinny Speaks Out

This is my country.

This is my country.

The thing that stumps me right now is how any American can be unhappy about today’s SCOTUS decision striking down bans agains same-sex marriages, regardless of how they feel about homosexuality itself. I’m not going to flat out say you’re in the wrong, but I don’t understand you.

The decision struck down obviously unconstitutional laws that were taking away a part of Americans’ freedom. Okay, so you think gay people are going to Hell, and they disgust you. Fine. So what? Why should they—or anyone else who doesn’t share your beliefs—care?

Gay people are still Americans, still free to engage in the “pursuit of happiness” and they probably don’t agree with your beliefs. Why does your opinion get to be enshrined in a law that stifles them? They do not care how you feel about them, nor should they have to. They have every single right to live their lives as they see fit that you enjoy, including whom to marry if they so choose. That’s not a matter of opinion, it simply is. There is plenty of legal documentation explaining the matter if you don’t get it.

There has been a lot of dodging around the intent of the Constitution in past years by various administrations—quite a lot, in fact. It’s alarming. But, in this case, they got it right. Two men or two women getting married in no way affects you, your faith, or your church. None of those agencies holds any control or authority to force their agenda onto those who do not share in those beliefs, nor do you. Any attempt to do so is automatically, by definition, un-American. Unlike religious texts, we know where the Constitution came from, who wrote it and why—and (also unlike religious texts) it does, indeed carry the force of law in this country.

As people of whatever flavor of faith (or no faith at all), you are free to live according to whatever extra sets of rules you choose to accept. As Americans you don’t get to expect to be able to force those rules onto others and it seems to me you should be cheerfully applauding whenever such attempts are thwarted. Please don’t tell me you only support freedom and liberty to act in ways that meet your approval? I’d hate to think that of you.

Today’s decision represents the casting away of something shameful and un-American that was in direct violation of both letter and spirit of the bedrocks of freedom and liberty upon which this great nation was founded. Let’s all be happy about that, even if you can’t bring yourself to be happy about anything else in this case.

U-S-A!

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Interesting Malware Spam Attempt

My spam filter caught this email attempt to get malware into my computer but, in the off chance yours doesn’t, I figured I’d share what I encountered so you’d be forewarned.

The subject line of the email was “are you serious?”

The text that followed was typically inarticulate and generic:

I tried to contact your company by emailing to the contact us.
I got a reply telling me to suck.
I have googled your email address.
I am attaching you the email exchange that happened and the swearing.
Please let me know what to do.

There was indeed a Microsoft Word document attached called “email_exchange.doc” which, of course is suspicious as it gets. One never opens any sort of attachment from a source you don’t know and trust, and Microsoft Office documents are hotbeds of malware delivery. Out of curiosity I opened this one in a raw code editor (don’t try this at home) and verified that yes, indeed, there was no actual text but quite a bit of code.

Just reiterating an important rule: NEVER OPEN EMAIL ATTACHMENTS FROM A SOURCE YOU DO NOT KNOW AND TRUST. For that matter, be suspicious of all attachments because you cannot know whether the email is being spoofed to look like it came from a normally-trusted sender. If you really must engage the sender, respond and ask them to re-send the information in plain text as part of the email itself, or otherwise strike up a dialogue where they can satisfy you the attachment is legitimate and safe. In most cases, if this is an email “out of the blue,” you are safe in simply deleting it and forgetting you ever saw it.

It’s a jungle out there!

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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Your Southern Heritage? You’re the Ones Who Threw it Away.

So, today I break from the status quo and dip into controversial waters. No mediator Spinny, today, sorry; I have an axe to grind. As someone who “escaped the South” certain current events have me riled.

I’ve stayed largely quiet on the recent tragic events on South Carolina and the resulting backlash against the “Rebel Flag” (which actually has multiple names and was used in various ways but today I’m talking about a symbol that has grown beyond historical fact). First thing, my objective opinion about the flag, itself….

I am a fan of military combat simulations and wargames. From an historical perspective I find the military history, strategy and tactics, and even the historical insignia used by past military entities to be of interest and even entertaining. I have no problem divorcing the historical reality of a Rebel Army assault accompanied by the “Stars ‘n’ Bars” or even a Luftwaffe aircraft sporting a swastika from the ugly political and social realities of what the governments behind those military units were guilty of. It’s easy for me to say, I was raised white and middle-class and don’t have a proverbial dog in the hunt when it comes to standing up to bigotry and oppression.

So. Where does that leave me? For my part, when I am being objective I do not believe that historical entities that are based on the cultures where certain symbols were adopted should today somehow abandon that history. I didn’t agree with Germany banning combat flight simulator games where the Luftwaffe aircraft sported swastikas, and I do not support the cries for southern governmental agencies to trash the flags based on their history, stained though it was.

That being said, I also have zero sympathy right now for the dilemma those southern agencies are in, nor do I have any to spare for the people screaming how that flag is part of their heritage and demands respect. No, none at all. Want to know why? It’s your fault the current backlash found the target it has, and you deserve every unpleasant moment of the firestorm you have helped set the pyre for. You’ve pissed away the legitimacy of your heritage for generations now, and it’s far too late to pretend you care about it now.

Do I have your attention? Good. Now I’ll elaborate further.

The “Stars and Bars” flag that has become such a lightning rod is, as I mentioned, only one flavor of the Confederacy. I’ve seen the historical breakdown of all the variants, the places the various ones were used, and all of that. Know what? You can prattle about history all day long, but in the end a flag is a symbol, and that one particular symbol is one you have let become co-opted and taken away from you. Yes, you pissed its significance away.

How?

Every time some redneck wearing that symbol on a T-shirt spewed racial slurs, every time someone donned sheets and/or burned a cross while that flag was being waved, every time some militant racist asshole posted a selfie while festooned with guns and ammo and that symbol in a white supremacist or otherwise racist context…those were your opportunities to save that symbol’s reputation. Those were your opportunities to intervene, to make those people understand their behavior under that symbol was intolerable, to quell established attitudes and to educate your peers that the suppression of black people was not in the plus column in the ledger of Southern heritage and they needed to let that go and embrace equality for all.

I don’t think I need to belabor the fact that in a large part that cleansing has not happened. From “Joe Redneck” at the corner bar to the genteel members of governments, the active and concerted efforts to press that message have been, shall we say, absent. It doesn’t “play well to the base,” or other such nonsense. So, instead, children have been raised to consider blacks as inferior, “hate groups” continue to flourish while spewing white supremacist rhetoric, and the larger government institutions have failed to demonstrate decisive leadership in cleansing that legacy. And all the while, that one, problematic flag has cropped up as a symbol of these failures, time and time again.

You let that symbol be co-opted by people with an agenda of racism and hate. You had the opportunity, time and time again, to protect that symbol of the heritage you now claim to cherish, and you failed. Now it has been indelibly soiled by the blood of innocents killed in the name of racism and hate, with that symbol figuring prominently in the lead-up to the act itself, and you have only yourselves to blame. It is now far, far too late to pretend you value that heritage; the proverbial ship has sailed. Where were you before things came to this pass?

Yes, I think the current backlash and banning of that particular flag is going too far, but I don’t place as much value on symbols as others do and I totally get where the people who do are coming from. I personally feel they aren’t nearly as out of line as the ones now claiming to want to protect their heritage when up this point all they’ve done is let it be dragged through the blood and dirt while they stood idly by—or even participated.

You are reaping what you’ve sown, sons and daughters of Dixie. I wish you the best of it. Bon appetit.

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Operation Solar Spinland

solar-panels-in-sun-with-blue-sky1

Ever since my wife and I bought our present house and I set up my 3D Animation Studio here, we’ve wanted to be on renewable energy to the greatest extent possible. Sure, we’ve done things like paying a little extra to insure a percentage of our share of the grid comes from, say, hydro generation, and I host my online work via Green Geeks, a company that offsets its power consumption by 300% through wind power, but I’ve personally wanted to do more. Since consumer grade wind power isn’t yet viable in a mostly residential setting, the only real choice right now is solar.

One of the first remodeling jobs we did on this place was to replace the roof. No, I don’t mean the shingles, I mean the roof itself—the house was built in 1946 and still had the original cedar shakes under the existing asphalt shingles. We had the whole thing stripped to the bare rafters and rebuilt from sturdy-grade plywood on up so that it would be strong enough to support an eventual PV array. That was in 2007. In all the time since then the economics of a serious solar installation simply hadn’t caught up with financial reality, so we waited.

The time has come. The technology has advanced to the point where solar panels now cost a mere 50% of what they did just a year ago. That’s a big jump, and tipped the scales in favor of pulling the proverbial trigger on this dream. We spent a lot of time searching out the company we wanted to use: they had to be local, experienced and reliable with a good reputation I could check on, and offer what I considered a fair market price for a medium-to-large array using state of the art components. I don’t automatically go with the lowest bidder—in fact usually such a bid has me wondering what corners they would cut.

After a period of poring over site surveys and bids we decided on CNY Solar to do our array. They’re from the local area (in Canestota), the array they proposed impressed me the most both in terms of using new technology, expected output and cost, and we did some checking with previous customers and got good reviews of their product and service.

On the technical side we’re going with a SolarEdge inverter and SolarWorld 280 watt panels, totaling enough to generate an expected output of 5.6kw. Even with some minor tree shading and winter’s long shadows and snow we expect to realize over 91% of our annual power consumption from this array, aggregated over the whole year. In the sunny times we’ll be generating a lot of surplus which will go back into our utility bill as credits we can then draw on in the winter when output goes down. Bear in mind, we are already somewhat energy frugal so our consumption may not be typical. You’ll need to crunch your own annual numbers.

We elected not to go with a battery storage option, both for initial cost and because such battery rigs haven’t yet satisfied me with performance and longevity. That is all going to change, and soon. Enter Tesla’s Powerwall. Everything we’ve put up with to date regarding energy supply and utility companies is about to change forever. By the time I’ve paid off the loan balance for the existing array I expect this new technology to be fully on my radar, and I will be revisiting that no-battery decision. If the product lives up to the hype it might be possible eventually to go entirely off the grid. All in good time.

And that’s part of the master plan to evolve Spinland to become self-sufficient some day. I’ll be adding photos of the installation process as things move along.

Keepin' it legal. Of course the local government has to step in for their cut.

Keepin’ it legal. Of course the local government has to step in for their cut.

They had fun backing that wide work trailer up our narrow driveway.

They had fun backing that wide work trailer up our narrow driveway.

Hefty trailer needs a hefty truck to pull it.

Hefty trailer needs a hefty truck to pull it.

First solar array mounts going in.

First solar array mounts going in.

Part of the fearless crew!

Part of the fearless crew!

Safety first! Everyone goes up clipped to a harness.

Safety first! Everyone goes up clipped to a harness.

The high-tech power inverter from SolarEdge.

The high-tech power inverter from SolarEdge.

The crazy-quilt power panel they're dealing with. They think the right hand one was the original. This house has some quirks we haven't gotten to ironing out yet.

The crazy-quilt power panel they’re dealing with (no, it’s not normally exposed like that). They think the right hand one was the original. This house has some quirks we haven’t gotten to ironing out yet.

More progress on the first array mounts.

More progress on the first array mounts.

While the southern exposure of the garage will be the largest part of the array, there will be two other sections. This is the one on the southern exposure of the front roof, between the dormers.

While the southern exposure of the garage will be the largest part of the array, there will be two other sections. This is the one on the southern exposure of the front roof, between the dormers.

And this is the final section, rounding out the roughly two dozen panels. This is going up on the southern and eastern exposures of the main dormer.

And this is the final section, rounding out the roughly two dozen panels. This is going up on the southern and eastern exposures of the main dormer.

A closer look at some of the array mounts. Wiring starting to go in.

A closer look at some of the array mounts. Wiring starting to go in.

Here's the inverter with the cover off, right after the tech wired it into my network for the online diagnostic app.

Here’s the inverter with the cover off, right after the tech wired it into my network for the online diagnostic app.

Panels going up! Section 1.

Panels going up! Section 1.

Panels going up! Section 2.

Panels going up! Section 2.

Panels going up! Section 3.

Panels going up! Section 3.

All systems go!

All systems go!

Update: the system has been online now for 24 hours. During that time the weather has been terrible: grey, lots of rain, very little sun at all. It’s pouring out even as I type this. Given that handicap I still decided to take the generated output and extrapolate as though we’re doomed to suffer a full 30 consecutive days of the same weather. I then compared that expected bad-weather output to our power consumption from last June. Here’s what the numbers say:

The numbers don't lie

The numbers don’t lie

Even in near-worst-case weather we’ll be getting over 68% of our power from the array. Yes, Virginia, those are good numbers. Can’t wait to see the sun come out and the utility company having to start buying power from me instead of the other way around.

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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Golf Brings a Lesson in Strategic Thinking

golfsilhouette

I played in my first actual golf tournament this weekend. I’ve been a beer league guy for years but this was my first experience in a really competitive environment with real USGA rules in place and all the trimmings. I’m happy to say that my partner and I finished in the money with a tie for sixth place against guys who are scratch golfers. I bought a nice golf shirt (emblazoned with my golf club’s logo) with my winnings and I will treasure it.

While I’m at it, here’s a huge shout out to my home course, Crestwood Golf Club. Steve and Barb are amazing and IMNSDHO run the best damned golf club in Central New York.

The scoring format was straightforward: a bogey was worth one point, a par two, a birdie four, and an eagle or ace six. You were given a point quota based on your handicap and, once you reached that quota, every point you earned counted as a plus.

My handicap is somewhere north of silly. I make no apologies for that. I consider a double bogey a respectable score and a bogey is an event to celebrate. This weekend, however, the pressure was on to make bogeys or better because a double or worse counted for nothing.

How did that translate into strategic thinking? Let’s explore that, and how it helped me brainstorm working within my abilities to score.

Looking at a typical par four hole, you are facing somewhere between 420 and 370 yards for most courses. Now, if you’re not a long hitter (that’s me) you are probably going to get only around 160 to 180 yards off the tee even with your driver. Well, guess what? You are over a third of the way there! You can relax and let yourself take a smooth swing with no need to kill the ball. Even with a mis-hit that goes maybe 140-150 yards you are well on your way. Far better to have a mediocre hit that’s in play than to try to swing for the hills and end up with a ball out of play.

Now you have a very relaxed second shot: just get it to around 100 yards or less off the green, no need to tense up and try to reach on your second shot. That’s for the guys who hit better than we do, and we’re here to be strategic. You relax, and take a mid or short iron that you can hit reliably to get you inside that magic zone, and you’re golden.

Now is when you try to hit the green, one over regulation. In this paradigm you’re not trying to match pro level play, you’re trying to score points. You should easily be within wedge range, which gives you a low-pressure shot to the green. Close to the hole is nice, but you are going to let yourself be happy with anywhere on the green in three (or four for a par 5).

Voila. Now you work to lag your first putt close enough to give yourself a decent chance at bogey. Sometimes you’ll drain it for a par and those are amazingly fun, but you are okay if it doesn’t drop. Take your point and be happy.

And that’s golf for us mere mortals who can’t hit a five wood 200+ yards. In the end it’s not about flashy heroics, it’s about making the low pressure but high percentage shots that give you a good chance to score a point. Sometimes you will do really well and open yourself up for a chance at par or better, but that’s gravy and not your normal goal. If you strive for that level and it’s not your normal, you are going to over-exert, over-swing, and end up doing worse in the long run.

Is there a metaphor here for how you perform in other arenas? I think so. In life, business, golf, and otherwise, I think it boils down to playing to your strengths and not over-reaching into high-risk zones where you are usually going to spin your wheels with little or no payoff. Yes, there is some magic to be made by venturing outside your comfort zone, but you need to understand the potential payoff, the realistic odds of a successful shot, and the odds of your overall plan working out before you choose a club and swing it.

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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Goodbye, little Zippy. I already miss you so much.

He came into our lives like a little grey tornado. Anne was still working as a Vet Tech at the Paris Hill Cat Hospital, and we were looking to add a new kitteh to our family. The Hospital had gotten in a barn litter to be adopted out, and I went up one evening to meet Anne at work and pick one of them. I don’t even remember exactly what made our pick stand out from the litter, but I do remember the first time we saw each other, when he rolled over and showed me his belly. I was immediately smitten.

Anne and I had a good-natured debate on the way home as to what to call our new little fur ball. My ideas were kind of bombastic and lame while Anne’s were, as usual, much more practical from the standpoint of what we’d be hollering every day at meal time. I’m not sure exactly when “Zippy” came up but I do know it was one of her inputs.

We got home, placed the carrier in the living room of the little apartment we had at the time, and opened the door. A grey streak flew out into the room and, without pausing for an instant, grabbed a toy mouse in his path and then proceeded to tear up the room with mouse in tow. Another of the crazy antics I remember was he’d leap to the top of the scratching post, paws outstretched, then swing himself Tarzan style around the top of it and let go to fly into an arc in some other direction.

Okay, Zippy, then.

Over the next few years he just grew on us even more. He would watch TV with us, alternating between batting at the moving images on the screen and darting behind the set to see what was back there. He adapted well to our existing cats and from the start showed a high degree of social aptitude and intelligence.

More years passed, we moved a couple of times, and Zippy grew from the crazy youngster into an adult, then became the elder statesman, and eventually moved into the cranky curmudgeon role as our cat population evolved.

When I began working from home full time Zippy took it upon himself to be my Trusty Helper. He’d patiently wait for me to get my morning coffee, then curl up in my lap and purr and head-butt me as I’d slowly wake up while reading the day’s email on my tablet. If I were working downstairs on the couch he’d periodically hop onto the sofa and let me know it was time to put the laptop away and snuggle with him for a while. In my office he’d jump up onto my desk (though in later years that became difficult and he’d bat my leg for me to pick him up). There he’d curl up in a good spot and rest his head on my left hand while I continued to work with my right. Some of the pictures in the slideshow above are from his “helping” me work.

I indulged him, because I knew he wouldn’t be around forever and work was only work. How I cling to those memories now.

His collapse came quickly. That is both fortunate and tragic.

Just two days ago he was behaving normally, “helping” me and everything. Then came yesterday morning when he didn’t come down the stairs for breakfast or his morning coffee snuggle. I found him at the top of the stairs. He came down halfway and then just stopped and cried.

I brought him down the rest of the way and took him to his food but he wouldn’t eat. I did a couple of morning things and then went to find him, and discovered him in the living room sitting in a large puddle of clear vomit. He didn’t even move to get out of it.

Looking back now with hindsight, some part of me knew right then things had gone horribly wrong but the rest of me went into fix things mode. I cancelled my appointments for the day, scored an appointment at Paris Hill, then took him in.

For this first visit things didn’t go terribly amiss. He was still presenting reasonably well, just dehydrated and a little weak. They did blood work, tried to get a urine sample (but his dehydration prevented that), gave him some subcutaneous fluids, and prescribed a supply of medicine to mitigate the vomiting.

When we got home things went downhill fast. The first major red flag was when he came out of the carrier and began to have trouble walking. Then he went back to the carrier and clearly wanted back in. To give some context, our cats hate those carriers. This was not a comfortable-feeling behavioral change.

Over the next several hours I tried to coax him out of the carrier, but no dice. Around that time I discovered a pile of feces under the coffee table and realized he was unable even to make it to a litter box. Now I was more worried than ever. He would eat some canned food, but wouldn’t touch water, and wouldn’t have anything to do with the litter box I brought over.

I knew things had gone really wrong. I set him up with the cat carrier near the sofa, a litter box and water bowl in easy reach, and settled down for a long night on the sofa keeping an eye on him. I dozed now and then, but I knew he was having difficulty. He would stir and move around in the carrier, cry out as though in some pain, and was clearly having difficulty getting comfortable.

I finally got up for good around 5:00 this morning, then made what arrangements I could at that early hour to cancel the day’s appointments. Time seemed to drag forever until I could take him back for the Hospital’s 8:00 opening time. I didn’t have an appointment but I was beyond caring about that.

When I got there, of course it was a very busy day compounded by having only one doctor in that day. Whatever. I told them I’d wait as long as I needed to. Let me say right here and now that the staff of Paris Hill Cat Hospital went above and beyond in the cause of helping me and Zippy. They were understaffed, busy as hell, yet they never balked at accommodating me. At one point Anne (who is in Europe on vacation right now) wanted to ask some questions of the doctor, but they have limited cell phone access from there because of roaming costs. The staff didn’t blink and arranged things so Anne and the doctor could talk directly. That was just one aspect of their awesome help.

This is where I make a “long story short” because most of the related time was spent waiting and fretting. The doctor examined Zippy, very thoroughly, and made several astute observations based on his behavior. Between that and some indicators on the blood work from the previous day she already knew what was up but was very careful not to dash my hopes until she knew beyond any doubt. I know now that her exam told her he already had seriously wrong things going on in his abdomen. She advised a chest X-Ray before sending me to Ithaca (a two hour drive) for ultrasound checks. Those came back with bad news: growth in his lungs consistent with tumors. She already knew his abdomen was a problem so this was just a sign the suspected cancer had grown beyond any help. There was clearly no need for the ultrasound.

We agreed it was best to have the X-rays evaluated by a specialist, and they could transmit them and get the results while I waited. We went that route, and the confirmation came back with the heaviness of Zippy’s death knell. It was theoretically possible to prolong his life for maybe a few months of intensive treatment and discomfort, and he was already in bad shape.

No. It was time to let go.

Thanks to the magic of modern technology I was able to bring Anne into the room virtually via FaceTime on my iPad, and so to that extent we were all together at the end. Before Zippy’s pain meds kicked in and took him mentally out of things he wanted to be in my lap and to rest his head on my arm one last time. I took multiple pictures of that, the last pictures of him alive, and I will cherish them.

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Goodbye Zippy. You were the best. I love you and I miss you.

Daddy

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Welcome to the Nail Creek Beer Club!

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If you’ve gone to the Nail Creek Pub & Brewery a few times you’ve probably heard of (the owner) Chris Talgo’s version of a “Beer Club.” In general, as these things tend to work, as you have various brews at the pub you record them via some logging system. When you reach a certain number (in Nail Creek’s case it’s 100) you’re rewarded in various ways for your patronage.

Nail Creek’s beer logging system has been, in all honesty, a mess. It consists of a large binder stuffed to the gills with a gazillion sheets of loose leaf paper. Good luck finding your particular sheet before it’s time for another round! Some time back Chris and I talked about automating that process so it’d be not only way cooler but loads more convenient to use. His vision was a data-driven graphical user interface you could interact with using a touch screen.

Hmm. Sounds like an app, doesn’t it?

Well, I personally don’t do traditional “mobile apps.” I do web-based data visualization and interactive display interfaces, and my customers are usually government, military or related businesses. No problem! Chris’s needs were right in my wheelhouse, and I’m already long since equipped with stable and secure hosting platforms. No need for an app download, conforming to various “app store” requirements, or trying to support multiple operating system versions. We recently pulled the proverbial trigger to make a web-app-based modernized logging system a reality.

The fruits of our collaboration are now currently in open beta and Nail Creek enthusiasts are encouraged to check it out and have some fun. Eventually the system will be locked down so you have to be in Nail Creek in order to log a beer, but for now you are on the honor system. The interface is designed for mobile touch screens but will work well on a computer (though, unless you’re bringing a laptop into the pub, what are you doing logging beers on a computer, hmm?). We also recognize there will be an intensive ramping-up period while patrons begin transferring their old data into the new system, and you are encouraged to do so. Eventually built-in safeguards will trigger an alert if someone appears to be entering too many events in a short period of time but that’s turned off for now.

There is no password. Again, we are treating patrons like adults so all you need is your unique user ID (created when you set up an account) to get in. Play nice, please.

As part of the next phase Chris plans to install tablets at various points in the pub so patrons can use them instead of their phones if desired.

Here is the link:

http://nailcreek.sudstracker.com/

You can save it to your mobile’s home page (the system will auto-generate a nice Nail Creek icon just like an app; the method varies according to your browser and operating system. On most iOS and Android systems you’ll get a nice little prompt to help). We welcome user comments and feedback. Please respond here in comments, send via the Spinland Studios contact form, or send a tweet to @nailcreek.

If you own or manage a bar or pub and think something like this could work for you, please contact me so we can talk about it.

Enjoy!

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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Apple Watch: What’s it For, Really?

Okay, so I’ve had this somewhat spendy bauble for about a week now. When I landed a very lucrative consulting gig late last year I decided my congratulatory self-gift would be pre-ordering an Apple Watch when they became available. I make no apologies for being a fan of Apple products: their quality control, attention to detail and hand-tailored hardware/software integration provide my Studio with technology that “just works” and saves me tons of time otherwise wasted in the “care and feeding” of my IT infrastructure. YMMV but in my experience the alternatives didn’t work out and, since I switched, things have been great. I will continue to vote for them with my dollars (and watch the value of the AAPL stock in my retirement portfolio continue to bloom).

When poring over the options I did a little head-scratching. What kind to get? The larger screen was a no-brainer: even my laptop has a 17″ screen. I am addicted to as much screen real estate as I can get. I am, however, also no fashionista and “fashion statements” impel me to give a disgusted eye-roll. I finally took the most straightforward approach from my perspective: the black (okay: “Space Grey”) aluminum watch with the black sport band. Not only one of the less spendy options, but I believe you can never go wrong with basic black. And there it was.

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Okay, two paragraphs of babble and a flashy picture, and I still haven’t answered the question: what does it DO?

The simple answer is it removes the necessity for taking your phone out of your pocket for several common actions, much less walking around holding the thing. No, you can’t take a selfie with it, but you can use it to remotely control your phone camera so that selfie doesn’t have to involve holding your phone stiff-armed. So, what else? Instead of trying to wax eloquent let me just illustrate some use cases that have come up for me. Full disclosure: I own a business and my office phone is forwarded to my iPhone. I do a LOT of business via that connection and some of this stuff might not be as useful to you.

First off: driving. I’ll start with the biggest (to me): I despise those Borg-like bluetooth earpiece things. I think they are goofy looking, and I haven’t even had mine on the charger in years. I used to keep my iPhone propped in a cup holder so I could see the caller ID and decide whether that were a call or text worth pulling over for, addressing as soon as I got to my destination, or simply dealing with later. Now I can just glance at my wrist to see—and if I need to take it I can do so right then, Dick Tracy style. It’s a hands-free phone device that I can accept.

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Same thing for email, texts and other alerts. I get a light wrist tap and at the next light a quick glance at my wrist tells me what I need to know so I can plan how, when (or whether) to address an event. I can even reply to texts by dictating a quick reply (even if it’s just “I’ll get back to you in a few” and, no, I don’t actually read a whole text unless I’m stopped) and the interface is so simple I can respond by touch and my eyes never leave the road apart from that first quick glance to see the ID. Tell me you never look at your radio to change channels while driving and I’ll listen to potential objections.

There is a host of apps that connect the Watch to the iPhone. The main interface has something called “glances” that present you a quick flick-through list of the more useful ones after just a single swipe up: weather is one for me, being a golfer. I have two predictive radar map apps each of which is on a “glance” so that now I don’t have to haul out my phone to check the coming rain.

Speaking of golfing: I used to carry around a dedicated GPS golfing device; no longer. My iPhone has a very good golfing app but, as is the case with any smart phone of any make or model, running the GPS full-time drains the battery like a maniac on a binge. In addition, (here it comes again) carrying the phone in my pocket and hauling it out before each shot is a real pain. Well, my GPS app is Watch capable. That means I just leave the iPhone in a pocket of my golf bag (which is where every phone on a golf course belongs—with the ringer off) attached to a spare battery pack and use the Watch to check distances to hazards and green with a glance at my wrist and a finger flick.

That mapping power translates to non-golfing use, as well. Maps is right there and you can dictate a location and get turn-by-turn spoken directions all from your wrist. Siri is fully functional via the Watch—though for some search results you’re told you need to use Handoff and check your phone. There’s only so much the screen can hold.

Battery life? Not a problem at all and I am using Hell out of this thing. On one memorable day there was 37% left at the end of the day when I put it back on the charger; most days it never gets below 50%. Since I almost never go anywhere on business (which is the main reason I go out) without my laptop, the USB Watch charging cable means I could always juice it up on the go if for some weird reason I had to.

In general, I’m finding this thing useful as Hell. I’ve never been a “watch guy” and my trusty old Timex usually sits in the basket with my car keys until I go somewhere. Now I find myself putting on the Watch first thing in the morning and wearing it all day. It’s become that useful to me.

Do I need it? Of course not. It’s about convenience, even a little increased efficiency. Taken to the extreme your phone itself is just a convenience: you could always travel across town (or the country) to communicate with someone. The Watch is just another step in that direction, and I’m digging it.

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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