The Halting Problem.


You know you’re asking for it.When you turn down the kittens, because everybody and their dog adopts kittens. When you seek out the battered one-eared guys with pumpkin breath and rotten teeth and FIV, the old bruisers who’ve spent their lives on the street because who else is gonna give them a home? Even when you get lucky— when the stray on your doorstep is only a few months old and completely healthy, not so much as a flea on the fur and her whole life stretching out before her— even then you know you’re asking for it, because the very best-case scenario only lasts a couple of decades before her parts wear out and she grinds painfully to a halt in a random accumulation of system failures.You know, and you do it anyway. Because you’re a dumb mammal with an easily-hacked brain, and if you don’t step up who else will?

It was Chip, this time. I called it back when Banana died, I said Chip would probably be next to go. And I can’t really complain, because we thought he was going to die back in 2011. But here it is, almost the end of 2013, and the patchy little fuzzbot was alive right up to 3:30 yesterday afternoon. He’d be alive right now if we hadn’t killed him, although the vet says he wouldn’t be enjoying it.

You really hope they’re not lying to you when they say things like that. You wonder how they even know.

I didn’t even know his name at first. He was just this weird hostile cat who’d sneak in from outside, bolt through my living room and down the hall, and hide under my bed. I called him Puffy Patchy White Cat, with that poetic and lyrical imagination for which I have become so renowned.

Puffy Patchy White Cat hated my guts. He’d shoot past me en route to his underbed fort, and he’d hiss and spit whenever I bent down to look at him under there. He just wanted the territory. I have no idea why. How many children lie awake at night, fearful of predatory monsters beneath the bed? I lived that dream. I would fall asleep to the growls and hisses of some misanthropic furball just the other side of the mattress, lurking and fuming for reasons I could not fathom.

This went on for months before his Human finally showed up at my door, looking to dump him. Told me that Puffy Patchy White Cat’s name was “Chip”, and that he’d be at the Humane Society within 24 hours if nobody was willing to take him. What could I say? The fuzzbot was already spending half his time at the Accursed Apartment; I was going to see him incarcerated, maybe killed, just because he wanted to claw my eyes out?

The day after I said yes I saw Chip’s Human rolling a dolly full of personal effects  past my living room window. Chip ran in his wake, mewing piteously: what’s going on where are you taking all my stuff where are we going what’s happening why won’t you talk to me? That two-legged asshole never slowed, never looked back. The service elevator closed behind him and Chip was alone.

He spent that night, like all the others, under my bed. For once he didn’t growl, didn’t hiss, didn’t make a sound.

By the next day he had decided I was his bestest friend. I went into the kitchen and he jumped up on the fridge, started bonking me with that trademark head-butt that is the hallmark of slutty cats everywhere, but which Chip somehow made his own. I fed him. Banana shrugged and made room for another bowl in the house.

In the years since, Chip worked unceasingly to win the title of Toronto’s Priciest Cat. Unused to playing with others, suddenly absorbed into a 5-cat household, he peed chronically and expensively on a succession of carpets and towels. The insides of his ears sprouted clusters of grotesque, blueberry-like growths filled with a bloody, tar-like substance that blocked off the canal and provoked a series of infections that smelled like cheese. We had them surgically removed. They grew back. We took him out to a secret government lab in Lake Scugog, spent a couple thousand dollars having his ears lasered clean of tumors. Called him “Miracle Ears” when he came back with perfect pink shells where all that corruption used to be. Groaned when it reappeared yet again, six months later.

A few years back, when he inexplicably went off his food, we spent three grand exploring a lump in his abdomen that the vet said was consistent with cancer. (It turned out to be gas.) He also had chronic tachycardia, which translated into a lifetime prescription for pricey little blue pills called Atenolol.

He would shriek like a banshee at 3a.m. At first he did this in response to one of BOG’s (admittedly unwarranted) attacks— but after a few iterations where we responded by ganging up on BOG in Chip’s defense, he figured out how to use that.  He would walk into whatever room BOG was minding his own business in, let out a shriek to wake the dead, and sit back waiting for BOG to take the fall. (It was much scarier when those two fought for real: they’d grapple in complete silence, no yowls no hisses, just a ball of teeth and claws and flying fur rolling down the stairs, locked together in combat.)

He was affectionate, although he tried to hide it. He would excel at being standoffish during the day (except for the usual refrigerator bonks at dinnertime). Late at night, though—after lights-out— he’d creep slowly onto the bed, edge along the mattress to the headboard, and sprawl across the head of whoever happened to be closest. Sometimes we’d wake up from the sound of the purring; other times we’d wake up suffocating, our mouths draped in fur. Either way we kept ourselves still so as not to startle him, but it wasn’t really necessary. Once Chip segued into Hat Mode, it would take an earthquake to dislodge him.

And who can forget the time he swiped the contact lens right off my eyeball with a single claw?

We’ve known for a while that he was living on borrowed time. Back during one of his endless savings-depleting trips to the vet the tests came back positive for both FIV and feline leukemia; the vet was bracing us for death in mere days, back then. But that was 2011, and ever since he weathered whatever misfortune that fucked-up physiology inflicted upon him. We’d forgotten how mortal he was. Even over the past couple of weeks, when he went off his food and started losing weight— when he turned his nose up at Wellness Brand, and flaked tuna, and the hypoallergenic stuff that costs the GNP of a Latin-American country for a single can— I wasn’t too worried. There he goes again, I thought. Another of his dumb attention-hogging false alarms. We’ll pillage the pones’s college fund and pay another few grand and buy our way out of it the way we always have. Dumb cat. He’d always pulled through before after all, always beaten the odds; and for the first time ever, his ears were actually improving.

So we took him to the vet, and his nictitating membrane was dead white. And suddenly I noticed that his nose— normally bright pink— that was white, too. And the blood tests came back, and his RBC count was about an eighth of what it should have been.

He was suffocating, right down at the cellular level. His resp rate was already elevated, trying to compensate— as if breathing faster could make any difference when there was so little pigment left inside to grab O­2 no matter how much tidal volume ramped up. Chip’s marrow had died, his bones had hollowed out like a bird’s while we’d been busy not noticing.

Days, the vet said. And it won’t be an easy death, it’ll be horrible. He’ll die slowly, gasping for breath. A sensation of drowning that persists no matter how much air you take into your lungs.

So yesterday, we saved him the trouble. It wasn’t as peaceful a death as we’d been promised. The sedative did the opposite of what it was supposed to, started freaking him out and  waking him up. I restrained his spastic struggles for a while and then let him go, followed him as he groaned and staggered across the room into a dark little toilet cubby that might afford him the comfort of close quarters, at least. Scooped him up there and just kept him company in the dark, until the vet came down with a dose of some new drug that please god wouldn’t fuck up the same way the last one did. His eyes were bright right up until they closed. We buried him out back, just a little ways down the garden from Banana, wrapped up in my very last Jethro Tull t-shirt (Rock Island: not one of their best albums, but great cover art). We buried him with a spray-bottle of pet-stain remover that we won’t be needing any more.

And entropy wins again, and now the universe is a little less complex, a little poorer. There are a billion other cats out there, and thousands more being born every day. It’s good that things die— I keep telling myself this— because immortality would deny hope to all those other creatures who need a home, only to find there is no room at the inn. But there are so many degrees of freedom, even in such a small furry head. So many different ways the synapses can wire up, so many different manifestations of that unique wiring.  There are a million other fuzzbots, a million other bright-eyed puffy patchy white cats, but there will never be another Chip. That part of the universe is over now, and as always, I can’t help but miss it.

Goodbye, you dumb troublesome expensive cat. You were worth every penny, and so very much more.



chip09  chip06








PS: Those photos not taken by we here at the Magic Bungalow— which is to say, most of the best ones on display here—  are courtesy of Rebecca Springett.




This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Sunday November 17 2013at 03:11 pm , filed under eulogy . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

46 Responses to “The Halting Problem.”

  1. We salute you, Chip of the scabrous ears. Oh furry beast, fan of butter, dexterous claw swiper. We will always remember you.

    Hugs to all four humans left behind.

  2. So sorry for your loss…

  3. Sounds like you gave that part of the universe a hell of a home, though. Condolences; it’s always hard.

  4. I am so sorry. It’s been a month since our ancient Angelina (24!!!) had to be put down, she’d started failing, then couldn’t get up.

    They’re all just little furry gobs of love that get a piece of our heart. But we also get a bit of theirs, so it’s a trade. We miss them terribly.


  5. Salut, Chip. May the Ceiling Cat guide your electrons throughout the cosmos.

  6. Dagnammit. So sorry for your loss. Those are some adorable pics…
    I feel there is another feline in your future though, so hang tight. They do seem to just… well, find you.

    Btw… if by some small chance you outlive me, you’re *SO* writing my eulogy.

  7. I’m sorry for the loss. The narrative goes on.

  8. aw fuck.

  9. As always, your eulogies for your fuzzbots are genuine, and still decent reading even though the events are sad.

    I have a soft spot for the more scrappy characters that need homes. I ended up adopting two turtles from a reptile rescue, both have deformed shells; one of which has the most severe case from improper care/ diet.

    It’s good to see someone else willing to take in the special cases everyone else seems to pass by. Thank you for giving this guy a decent life while he was in your company.

  10. Good bye Chip…

  11. So sorry for your loss.
    It was two weeks ago to the day I had to bury my Seren(Dipi)ty, the sole surviving escapee from a cat genocide at a farm, the survivor of one (expensively treated) cancer and other lesser ailments and the proud bearer of a total of five extra toes.

    Chip was fortunate to have such a good, caring home for the tail end of his life sausage. You’re fortunate to have had him in your family.
    Thank you for sharing his story with the Internets.

  12. “So, Ms Lessing, how are you finding your new quarters?”
    (angry mumbling)
    “I beg you pardon?”
    “But Ms Lessing, all the cats that you ever owned are here! even Il Magnifico, his missing leg restored!”
    “Yes, but they are so well behaved. Oh well, I guess that’s what being in Heaven all those years dose to you, right?”
    “Ms Lessing, has anybody ever told you how difficult you are?”
    “Often, in colorful language.”
    “Look, I may be able to do something. We have a very difficult cat, affectionate but fussy, has been abandoned by the first owner, has been looked after by a science fiction writer in Canada, he’s really on his last legs, poor thing. Would you like…?”
    “You sure his owner won’t mind?”
    “He’s not sentimental. Trust me on this. I mean, his blog is called “No moods, Ads or Cutesy Fucking Icons.”
    “Oh that’ll be young Peter!”
    “A man after your own heart I bet.”
    “Ok, if that cat really needs a new home.”
    “Thought so.” (whistles)
    “Thank you, Mr Lucifer. Now if you can think of some little stray cats…”

  13. So sorry… Chip was lucky to have found such a great home.

  14. Great pics, cute cat. Sweet and sad story. I’m glad you all had each other.

  15. Beautifully written. I lost my Parsley this year, brought it all back. A small, angry cat permanently on the verge of calling Customer Services. Man oh man. I will have to get another rescue cat when I move… lovely piece of writing. Commiserations.

  16. I’m really sorry to hear this. I still remember you calling out “Chip the Cat!” at regular intervals. And those head bonks. And how surprisingly silky he was. I’m happy to hear that he was a stealth cuddler, too. Sometimes those stealth cuddles are the best.

  17. And throughout all this, Peter still attended the Hand Eye Society’s WordPlay event where he sat on a panel, cracked jokes, and affably chatted with his admirers.

    Thanks for showing up, and really sorry to hear about Chip (even if such events are inevitable).

  18. Seems Chip had a great home in and to the end.

    Fare thee well.

  19. So long Chip, and welcome to all the fish.

  20. I’ve been through this with two cats. You did the humane thing. I always figure that when we take on a pet we make a difficult bargain: Chances are good, pet, that I will outlive you. It is one of the worst contracts you can make. But that is the bargain. I’m sorry for your loss. Thanks for introducing me to Chip.

  21. I am sorry to hear of this development.

  22. The only downside to having pets, other than the aggravation, inconvenience and expense: the guarantee of mourning.
    Wouldn’t be worth it except the alternative is not having them.

    Bad cess to the human shitstain who at least provided you and Chip with each other. He did one good thing with his useless self, even if it was by accident.

  23. Lost my glorious, vain, magnificent bastard of a fuzz buddy not so long ago myself.

    Much love, Mr. Watts.

  24. I don’t understand a person who wouldn’t turn a cat that lacerated his eyeball into a pair of mittens. Or a helicopter.

    However, I do understand the sadness the passing of a familiar vertebrate might bring.

    because immortality would deny hope to all those other creatures who need a home, only to find there is no room at the inn

    Heh. You never heard of terminal boredom, duels or deathmatches?

  25. You were a lucky sod! I sniggered and enjoyed your misfortunes as you shared the story of life with Chip. And teared up at the end when you had to let him go. Imagine life as one of the poor slobs who don’t get sucked in by a fuzzy critter. You are one great human.

  26. Condolences Peter. It sounds like you and Chip were both lucky to find each other. Thanks for writing this, it reminds me to give my elderly furball an extra hug and headbutt.

  27. Condolences. It’s always hard to lose the little furbeasts. Yours are as lucky to have you as you are to have them. But Christ, it hurts when they go.

  28. Goodness I’m so sorry for your loss. I went through something similar over three years with my Maggiecat whose lungs were rebelling against her. Although the steroids kept her breathing, they were taking her sight and her kidneys and her fur. She was beautiful up until the end back in July and it looks like Chip was, too.

    So sorry for your loss, but what you did was the right thing, and poor Chip couldn’t have had a better home.

  29. My condolences. I’m glad that you two got to meet each other and spend time with each other in life.

  30. I didn’t cry until the last three paragraphs; I held it together. Now I’m bawling. Such a beautiful little angel you had there; I know it hurts, but you gave him such a good life. You’re a fucking good person, Peter Watts.

  31. Thankyou for sharing this!


    Sorry for your loss.

    RIP Chip!

  32. Ken Kennedy,
    You cry because someone else’s cat is pining for the fjords?

    Protip: it’s a dead cat. Not a dead baby. And not even your own dead cat.

    Seems to me Dr. Watts is pretty good at this writing thing. Or you’re overly emotional.

  33. You write extremely moving obituaries. I always have to cry.

    You should be given the title ‘Speaker of the Dead’

    Not that i particularly like the books (anymore) but i still think the concept is extremely powerful.

    Sorry for your loss.

  34. Y.,

    I wouldn’t go as far as harming the critter, but it would certainly put a damper on my affection for the beast.

    Still, attempts to make you look like a pirate aside, that sounds like an animal with personality. They do get deep in there.

  35. Condolences, Herr Watts. Losing an animal is always hard.

    We scooped up a year or two ago two fostered strays that were brought in a little late to be properly socialized. Not quite as impossible to enhome elsewhere as some of yours, but certainly likely to keep taking up foster-home space for the rest of forever.

  36. Much sympathy Peter. We share their lives for such a short time. You are such a good person to take in those “hard” cases that need homes so very badly. My husband and I have had to make this awful decision too many times as well. Love to you and yours, and a heartfelt goodbye to Chip.

  37. Fuck, sorry. This always fucking hurts.

  38. Still, attempts to make you look like a pirate aside, that sounds like an animal with personality. They do get deep in there.

    People with borderline PD can also have quite a ‘personality’. And the way they adapt to fit while still continuing to be giantbatshit crazy..

    Best way to stay in touch with them is a spotter scope. The crazy can’t reach you if you keep your distance.

  39. Y.:
    Ken Kennedy,
    You cry because someone else’s cat is pining for the fjords?

    Protip: it’s a dead cat. Not a dead baby. And not even your own dead cat.

    Seems to me Dr. Watts is pretty good at this writing thing. Or you’re overly emotional.

    What makes a dead baby more “important”, more worthy of emotional investment, than a cat? (I assume from your previous writings that you don’t buy into the whole human lives are sacred because the Sky Fairy gave us souls shtick.) Do you really think taxonomy is more important than familiarity when it comes to emotional attachment?

    Whether a creature is the same species as you doesn’t matter a good goddamn; what matters is the effect they had on your own life, the size of the hole they leave behind. I’ve been more affected by the loss of these dumb furry things more than by the loss of family members I’ve known my whole life, simply because they were more a part of my life, day in and day out. Their absence is more keenly felt. It’s a straightforward reflection of personal impact, and in that sense it’s perfectly empirical.

    What I’m apparently good at, when it comes to “this writing thing”, is telling people enough about my dead cat to let them feel they knew him a little— or perhaps, just reminding them of some of the things they’ve seen in their own mammalian buddies over the years. It makes far more adaptive sense to feel the loss of someone who’s made an impact than it does to feel the loss of someone you’ve never met and know nothing about. The fact that you happen to belong to the same species as me doesn’t mean I’ll grieve more over your death than I have over Chip’s or Banana’s. Nor should it.

    You think we should feel the death of a fellow human more keenly than the death of a cat? Then show us humans who don’t act like complete dicks. Or at least show us someone being a dick in service of a substantive point.

  40. (preamble deleted at request of poster)

    It makes far more adaptive sense to feel the loss of someone who’s made an impact than it does to feel the loss of someone you’ve never met and know nothing about.

    However, this modern tendency of having cats instead of children is not adaptive. I know that having children is tough, but for me, an adept person who chooses the easy life of success and leisure instead of the other seems dickish.

    He’s declaring that he doesn’t care about the future at all – he is not going to pass on his genes, he’s not to going to teach his children to love knowledge, to respect the right of others and demand the same respect from others. We know that intelligence is quite heritable, and that it’s critical for modern civilization, yet the solution to masses of people ‘giving up’ is to import immigrants, who in some cases like Africa come from societies that are chaotic and violent for a very specific reason – the same reason why middle ages were chaotic and violent in Europe.

    Meanwhile people who have no clue about anything keep having children and fail to even socialize them properly, apart from buying them an xbox or two and sending them to schools which suck.

    Then show us humans who don’t act like complete dicks.

    There are a few people who are like that. You for example, though flushing your genes down the toilet does seem a little dick-ish from you. I at least hope it doesn’t make you feel virtuous.

    Or at least show us someone being a dick in service of a substantive point.

    Hmm. Razib Khan? He gets called nasty names and stuff but I always get the impression from him that he cares about science more than not offending people. And even though a lot of scientists are dicks, if they stick to the method, they are helping others.

    Greg Cochran is a dick, definitevely. He considers transsexuals ‘crazy’. As a specialist in genetics, he should be aware of how complex the mind is and that mismatches might happen. Yet he posted on his blog something to the tune that they’re crazy – even though transsexuality and disordered thinking are rarely comorbid.

    The book he wrote with Harpending is enormously important. It turned over the conventional wisdom that agriculture and civilization made evolution ‘stop’ or ‘slow down’. Science shows the opposite- civilization, agriculture, all of that sped up the evolutionary process.

    The books is controversial, because it’s implications are rather ..severe and can’t even be discussed in polite society. Some of their claims are likely in error, but the gist of it – overturning the assumption that civilization somehow causes ‘devolution’ and so on by eliminating natural selection is important.,000_Year_Explosion

    So there you have it – a dick who made a rather substantive point by co-writing a book on it.
    Pity few people read it, but then, one can’t read books which
    Guardian reviewers of course skimmed entirely around the central theme of the book. I’ll quote one blogger on this:

    First, racists (of all colors and ethnicity) will be able to use the data of population genetics to support their twisted views on those they demonize. One race treating another as less than human is a historical fact, just as specific tribes treating non-members as less than human is the default position of homo sapiens.

    The second danger is more insidious. For those who adhere most assiduously to Politically Correct-thinking and for that large body of followers for whom PC-thinking is more a posture than a coherent philosophy, the idea that different human populations could have different biological endowments is anathema. The thought-police will need to redouble their efforts to prevent dangerous thoughts in so far as the evidence continues to show that population genetics is a real discipline which is discovering real differences.


    Edward Snowden. He was kind of a dick there, bummed passwords from a dozen co-workers who have now paid the price for their stupidity. On the other hand….

    You. You’re often a dick and I’d say what you do has a point. You write fiction that makes people think, makes them curious, it teaches them biology. I always recommend the Rifters trilogy to readers I meet, especially to the more depressive ones.


    There’s some private individuals I know of who are doing good things. My former scout troop leader, even though these days I don’t have much to say to him because catholicism. A certain businessman who I met through online gaming who volunteers for the Mankind project, which is a sort of organisation that aims to bring young men together with old men so some advice can be given, and dispenses with all the usual posturing men instinctively engage in.

    Some of the good teachers I had – they weren’t dicks. They were smart men who could have earned 3x times their wage in the private sector but instead engaged in teaching teenagers.

  41. There’s an error in the previous post

    You’re often a dick and I’d say what you do has a point.

    Should read ‘sometimes’.

  42. @Y:

    “However, this modern tendency of having cats instead of children is not adaptive.”

    Would be if the right people had kids / slowed down on having them. Population slowdown, especially in the face of “Look at me! I’m rich, despotic and now immortal” seems like an adaptation even if it flies in the face of “jungle” thinking version of mass scattering genes.

  43. whoever:

    “However, this modern tendency of having cats instead of children is not adaptive.”

    Would be if the right people had kids / slowed down on having them. Population slowdown, especially in the face of “Look at me! I’m rich, despotic and now immortal” seems like an adaptation even if it flies in the face of “jungle” thinking version of mass scattering genes.

    But who would choose the right people? The problem is world is full of stupid people and statistically speaking, they’re the least likely ones to use birth control effectively. And they also make the best swing voters ..

    Liberal democracies can’t do more than make popping out children an economically risky proposition, however, opposition to even such eminently sensible measures comes from both Christians and leftists.

    Such measures are politically suicidal in most countries.

    Polynesian societies on small islands had actually adopted various forms of population control. One I heard of involved sending young men on especially risky long sea voyages. Others involved infanticide.


  44. Agree. Not suggesting re-enactment of The Nursemaid’s Tale and similar. Idiocracy pretty much summed it up at the start of the film much like you suggest. The Moscovite anti-gay movement is perversely due to an attempt to keep Russians in the majority: have more babies is the supposed message. Stupid is, thankfully and regrettably at the same time, not just a Western thing.

  45. Wasn’t that book called the Handmaid’s Tale actually?

    . Stupid is, thankfully and regrettably at the same time, not just a Western thing.

    Sadly, the Western thing, particularily in Germany and such countries is sub-replacement fertility especially among professionals – that is the people who are going to be most needed in the future. As intelligence is quite heritable.. we ought to start working on some sort of technofix for that.

  46. Y.,

    In fact, people are already working on a technofix for not enough very smart people..

    Couple that to this Crispr techinque..

    And to what Bethe said about von Neumann..

    I always thought Von Neumann’s brain indicated that he was from another species, an evolution beyond man,