My Encounter with Richard Simmons

I was sad to hear about Richard Simmons’ passing last Saturday. Growing up in the 80s, I remember seeing him everywhere on TV for a time.

In college I had a roommate named Carmen. One day Carmen came into our dorm room excited and said that Richard Simmons was doing a book signing at the local Walmart and that we needed to go.

Except of course, Carmen decided to dress as his androgynous “Vampire The Gathering” LARP character from New Orleans, Xero.

So not only did we get to meeting Richard Simmons, but Carmen/Xero even kissed him on the cheek. Simmons was gracious about it and played along.

The student newspaper did a story about it. Sadly the article appears to be long gone from their online archive. Carmen would later go on to achieve minor Philly fame dressing as Skeletor and hosting a Karaoke gong show.

(Sorry about the crappy quality of the photo. This was considered a good size when I scanned back in the late 90s. I need to find the print and re-scan it sometime.)

Maker Faire Philadelphia 2024

On April 21 I got to exhibit some of my Lego creations at Maker Faire Philadelphia as part of a Lego fan display. It was at the Cherry Street Pier, which I hadn’t been to before.

I displayed a few of my newer buildings and my model of the Route 15 Girard Ave PCC trolley. I was joined by Dan from SnailLUG and Ben from BioniLUG. (LUG = Lego User Group)

Besides static creations, we also had a mini Great Ball Contraption (GBC) loop using several popular modules.

The GBC is always a big hit, but it can be a pain in the ass to run. We quickly discovered that the 9V Lego power supply we were using wasn’t strong enough to power everything. We switched over some modules to using battery-powered Powered-Up motors, but they’re not great for continuously running displays. They require either running the Powered Up phone app in the foreground or holding down a button on the remote. Plus, you need to keep a supply of fresh batteries on hand.

Several modules also kept jamming. Over the course of the day, the loop got smaller as we removed problematic modules.

Next time I’ll have to investigate alternative power supplies (even if they’re non-Lego). It would also be nice to have some other motorized/robotic Lego creations.

Other booths at the Maker Faire included several maker spaces, 3D printing, robots, beekeepers, model rockets, arts and crafts, lock picking and gaming startups.

A Sad Epilogue

A short, sad epilogue to my tribute to my cat Grover:

While I lived at the apartment complex, there was a girl and her little brother who lived across the way from us. She liked to pet and play with Grover when I took him outside on a leash. I even let her take him out for a short walk without me a couple times. Now that I think about it, she was probably one of the kids that originally pointed out Grover’s litter to me when I was walking home.

After Grover passed away, I remembered her and thought she might want to hear about his passing. Sadly, when I tried to look her up online, I found out she had died suddenly a couple years earlier at the age of nineteen.

The universe really sucks sometimes, doesn’t it?

Remembering Grover

Twenty years ago today I rescued an abandoned newborn kitten. At the time I was living with a girlfriend in an apartment complex in the Philly suburbs, and there were quite a few stray cats living around the complex. I was walking home from work one day and some kids pointed out a hollow tree where one stray cat had given birth to a litter of kittens.

I went to check on the litter the next day. The mother had moved all the kittens but left one black kitten behind. I assumed she would come back for it, but I checked again that evening and it was still there. I figured it wouldn’t survive the night by itself, so I took him home.

We named him Grover, after the Sesame Street character.

After a consultation with a vet, my girlfriend and I started bottle feeding him multiple times a day, including getting up in the middle of the night. Newborn kittens also have problems peeing and pooping on their own, so we had to carefully rub his bottom with a warm damp cotton ball. My girlfriend was a teacher, so she took the kitten with her to school where her students also helped care for him.

I had a few cockatiels at the time. He never tried to hurt them, but they definitely didn’t care for him and they got pretty noisy when he was around them. Eventually, I made the difficult decision to sell the cockatiels rather than stress them out. (I’m sure my neighbors were glad too.)

When Grover got big enough, I got him used to going outside on a leash. Of course, walking a cat isn’t like walking a dog – He mostly led me around the green spaces of the apartment complex. I even took him to Valley Forge Park a few times.

Grover was always very interested in people. He went up to anyone we saw on our walks, especially children. One time we were walking near a playground in the center of the apartment complex when a group of children saw us. They got excited and hurried toward us. Grover then actually ran toward them and got to enjoy all their attention.

One Halloween I was on my way back from work when my girlfriend called me in a panic to say Grover was missing. Shortly afterwards she called again to say she found him. He had slipped out when some trick-or-treaters came to the door and started following them around the complex.

Any time someone came to the door, Grover would go check them out. When the apartment’s maintenance person had to do some work on our shower, Grover just sat on the sink and watched him work.

Grover didn’t need to go in a carrier to the vet. He just chilled out on his leash in my lap in the car. In the waiting room, he would either sit in my lap or walk over to meet other people.

One time he was playing with a toy – a rattling plastic ball with a feather sticking out of it. I took it and rolled it down the hallway and Grover ran after it. Then he picked it up in his mouth and brought it back to me, so I threw it again. Every time he brought it back. I never knew a cat that played fetch before. (I still have that same ball stashed away somewhere.)

Grover could be quite the goofball. Once, I saw him drag a teddy bear (that was almost as big as he was) around the apartment. Another time, the light in the hallway went on in the middle of the night. Startled, I stood up in bed and saw Grover looking up at the light switch. Then he jumped up and turned it back off.

Every summer the strays around the apartment complex would have more kittens. I would catch those kittens and care for them until they were socialized enough to be adopted out. Not only did Grover enjoy playing with all the kittens, but he also groomed and cuddled with them. I don’t know if male cats can have a paternal instinct, but it sure felt like Grover had one.

When my ex and I split up, I got to keep Grover and we moved into a house in the city. I would let Grover out in the backyard while I was gardening, but I never took him out for walks anymore. (I was worried if he got used to walking around the city that he would slip out one day and get hit by a car.)

Grover did enjoy it if I slung him over my shoulder and walked around the house with him up there. He always greeted me at the door when I got home from work, and he always came when I called him.

Another of Grover’s quirks was that he loved to lick my face. It originally started with him kneading my neck when he was little, then gradually transitioned over to licking my cheeks. He would get so into it that I could hold him up in the air, upside down, and he would continue licking me.

Eventually, I remarried and Grover would sometimes lick my wife’s face too.

The years passed and Grover got less active. He didn’t play fetch or lick my face as much as he used to. I started to feel like something was off, and then he started going outside the litter box. The vet suggested he might have arthritis and put him on medication. I think it helped a little.

Then in January of 2019, my wife and I went away for a weekend. We put Grover in a bathroom with a litter pan so he wouldn’t make a mess around the house. When we got home, I found Grover dead in a contorted position in the litter pan. It was honestly one of the most devastating moments of my life. Our best guess is he had a heart attack while using the litter pan (kind of like a feline Elvis).

We had Grover cremated the next day. Later, my wife made me a photo book about Grover and had a glass sculpture made that used some of his ashes.

One day I went back to my old apartment complex to sprinkle some of Grover’s ashes in the tree where I had found him. Unfortunately, the tree was gone so I put the ashes in a nearby tree with a smaller hole in it.

Not a day has gone by where I don’t think about or miss Grover. I wish I got to hug him one last time and tell him goodbye.

I still feel guilty that he died alone cooped up in the bathroom. I’ll always wonder if there was more I could have done to prevent his passing. Were there more tests I should have requested at the vet? If I had been home that weekend, maybe I would have seen him struggling and taken him to the emergency vet.

Regardless, even if he hadn’t passed away that weekend, he probably would have passed away from old age by now. If there was any silver lining to the way Grover left us, it’s that he spared me from ever having to make the painful decision to put him to sleep.

I’ve adopted other cats since then. They’re all fun and interesting in their own ways (some of them even play fetch), but I doubt any other cat I’ll ever own will compare to Grover.

Thanks for all the wonderful memories, my sweet buddy.

First WordPress Post

I created my first personal website in college back in 1996 or so. For most of its existence it was static HTML, except for the some of the photo gallery, which was using an ancient PHP-based gallery that stopped being maintained ages ago and was probably a security risk. I hadn’t updated the site much and mostly posted new photos to Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, etc.

Seeing all the BS these large companies have been doing, I decided it was time to take ownership of my content again. I also want to write about some of my personal projects, rants, etc.

The easiest way was to migrate to WordPress. I procrastinated for a while because I was torn about whether to use WordPress or a static site generator such as Hugo or Jekyll. The simplicity, efficiency and control of a static generator really appealed to me, but I figured a nice web-based UI would lower the barrier for posting new content, especially photos.

No doubt I have some WordPress quirks to work out. It’ll probably be awhile before I migrate everything over here, but this should be a good start. I still plan to post photos to Flickr and Instagram since they have such large audiences.

Maybe eventually I will switch over to a static generator once I figure out a good workflow and UI for managing photos. In the meantime, I had to stop letting perfect be the enemy of good and start updating this site again.