Thursday, August 28, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The Hardy Boys and the Search for the Squeaky Baritone

Cheating today: this post originally went a few Augusts ago, but I'm stealing it because I don't have time to write a new one this week.
The Davies Memorial Library in the town where I grew up was and remains a sort of time capsule. It resides in the space above the town offices and post office, the top floor in a smallish old building with creaky wood floors. Most of the time the big green wooden front door that brings you directly into the library is locked, so instead you go in by way of the more or less modernized offices downstairs, past the sounds of printers and phones and people talking, and then up, up into a hushed and dusty space where the years have stopped in their tracks. It smells like fragrant old wood, like an old violin case, and the mustiness of old books. Huge old paneled windows let in slanted sunlight, the disturbed dust floating in the light, making the rays seem like a physical thing. In the main room, there is a fireplace and off-limits horsehair stuffed furniture, and a glass case filled with antiquities. An iron spiral staircase disappears into what I now guess is an attic; when I was little, I used to have nightmares about what was at the top of those stairs, behind the closed door.

Most of the children's section resides in a few built-in wooden bookcases against one wall, with stairs built beneath so even the shortest patrons can reach. There are some new books by now, I suppose, but at least when I was little, they mostly dated back years. Decades. While other kids were reading The Babysitters Club and Judy Blume and whatever else was popular in the late eighties and early nineties, we read boys' adventure stories from early in the century, and the Bobbsey Twins, the Happy Hollisters, L. Frank Baum, Thornton Burgess, Tom Swift, and the original Hardy Boys books: brown bound volumes with crackly yellowed pages. We'd collect a stack of books, and then Mom or I would write the titles and authors down carefully in the notebook on the desk. There were no punch cards or a full-time librarian or anything like that: the library works on an honor system, and you just write down a list of what you've got, and bring 'em back when you're done.

Although most of us were (and are!) voracious readers in our own right, Mom read many of these books aloud to us. She was a master of reading aloud: all the characters had unique voices, mannerisms; some had quirky accents. Her voice would rise in excitement at some points, or drop to a secretive near-whisper. She made those books come alive. We liked the slang in the Hardy Boys books, and repeated it ourselves. "Good night!" we'd exclaim. "Aww, nuts..." "Gee, that's swell!"

When we later came across the remade versions from the sixties and later, we were appalled and disgusted. In many cases, they shared nothing with the original books but the titles. They were tamer; more PC, I suppose, but not nearly as much fun.

After all these years, I've forgotten almost all details of the books. But there was one in particular I'd been wanting to find again at some point. I had the vague impression that there was diving involved in some way, but that's all. And one of the characters was a fellow named Mr. Perry. Mom gave him a high-pitched, rather querulous voice that stood out from all the others. And then...about halfway through the book, she read something he said, and then stopped short. She blinked, and then read slowly (I paraphrase, and probably confabulate), "he boomed in his hearty baritone voice." And then she cracked up. And we cracked up. Even the younger kids who may not have understood the discrepancy couldn't have helped laughing once Mom started. Her laughter was contagious: she'd laugh until she was breathless, and tears streamed down her cheeks.

I can't actually recall if she changed his voice or just left it--with the mismatched adjectives creeping in here and there, to our amusement. But it inadvertently turned a minor character and a not particularly spectacular book into a memorable one. When my little brother got an orange kitten at around that time, he instantly named it--Mr. Perry.

(As a side note, when Mr. Perry was a few months old, he went after a toad. Toads secrete a poison--it's about their only defense--and it made him foam at the mouth and otherwise sick. He was rushed to the vet, and in the process of examination he was discovered to be a she. Ben renamed her Peri Ozma, Ozma being of course after the princess in L. Frank Baum's Oz books. Meanwhile, many of the little kids got the impression that licking a toad could cause one to change sex. Oh dear....)

I know the Mr. Perry book was nothing special, but I've still been wanting to track it down. Every few years I'd wander around the internet hoping someone had a detailed enough synopsis that I'd be able to figure out it. And it has finally happened. Thanks to various wikis, I've identified it as The Secret Warning. Not only that, but there's a company reprinting the original series, so I can get a new copy. It's on my list. I don't expect much of it, reading it as an adult and without the circumstances surrounding the first reading. But at least I'll have the satisfaction of having solved a long-standing mystery.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Learning to Draw

Well, I did it: I ordered a book (some seem to believe it to be *the* book) on learning to draw: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards.

Years ago, Mom went through the early portion of this book with us kids, but I don't think I was more than ten or so at the time. It's been awhile. About all I remember is drawing birds, and even then, my younger brother (now a graphic design professional and an artist in fact) was so obviously so much better than me I hard a hard time even trying.

I don't really fancy myself an artist, but there are times when I wish I had the ability to sketch ideas visually as well as verbally. I'm also just curious to see what it does to the way I perceive the world around me, what details I notice and retain. Seeing more clearly is as much a benefit for writing as it is for drawing and painting.

I'm looking forward to this little adventure!

What about you? Do you ever draw or paint? What do you feel you get out of it? What do you like best? What do you find challenging or frustrating?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Desiccated

Here's how stupid-smart I was as a kid: at about the age of five, I remember finding a little package of silica gel beads.

I figured out how to get it open. Those little beads looked like candy, so I ate them, though they really didn't have any taste, which was disappointing.

I then paused to read the label, and noted the DO NOT EAT. (Pretty sure the package I found as a kid didn't have the confusing quotation marks.) I could read well enough to understand. So I took the package to Mom and explained what I'd just done.

I don't remember what she ended up doing. Just made me drink some extra fluids for the next little bit, I think. And probably laughed at me after I'd gone to bed.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Bounty

Slightly over-sunny shot of some of the things coming out of my garden these days: Anaheim peppers, yellow squash, alien spaceship squash (AKA patty pan), bell peppers, lemon cucumbers, and assorted tomatoes. Not pictured: about a zillion other tomatoes, eggplant.

I'm finally getting to the point where I need to start freezing or canning some of the tomatoes. It took a bit, because OH MAN I love tomatoes! I've been cooking a few to go with eggs in the morning, making tomato salads with nothing but tomato, a little sweet onion, salt and olive oil (LOTS of tomato salads), eating them plain, adding to sautéed vegetables at dinner. It's nice to finally have leftovers.

Tomato varieties definitely invited back to the party next year:

  • Sungold cherry tomatoes (in fact, I might need two, because I never seem to have enough--these are incredibly sweet and firm and flavorful!)
  • Cascade tomatoes, because they ripened before all else, have a nice compact bush, and have been crazy productive. Great salad tomatoes, these.

Tomato varieties which *may* come back:

  • Heinz paste tomatoes. They've been really productive, and the tomatoes are nicely meaty (not very seeded or juicy), which should work well for sauce...but I haven't tried yet.
  • Black Prince. These are cool looking, and really tasty...but they've also been very prone to cracking, which makes me sad.

Tomato variety to which I'll bid adieu:

  • Yellow pear. I really wanted to love these, but compared to the Sungolds, they're mushy and bland. The Sungolds are kind of mind-blowing, so it's not really a fair competition, but so it goes.

I need to decide what to do with all those peppers, too! It might be a good time to buy a bunch of tomatillos (or use up some greenish tomatoes) and make me a big pot o' something resembling chili verde.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Shiny New Word Machine


There's no way to show you how pretty this screen is, so instead of even trying, here's a lousy flash-ridden camera phone shot...

This week, after a research and shopping frenzy which rivaled that of my hypothetical toaster shopper, I purchased a new MacBook Pro Retina 13". Honestly, there's nothing wrong with the "old" mid-2010 MacBook Pro it replaces, but I've been trying to do more writing directly on the computer (traitorous, I know, but it's a skill I need to develop), and frequently this writing takes place away from home, so the light weight and superb battery life of the new models appealed. Also, my sister wants to buy my older one, so I had additional incentive to upgrade. Also, Apple just updated the MacBook Pro line with a minor processor spec bump and Best Buy had the previous generation discounted, plus I had a 10% off coupon, plus a friend had a student coupon she wasn't using.

So I jumped.

I went into all this more or less planning to buy a MacBook Air. The 11.6" model in particular is so, so very portable: not much bigger than an iPad + bluetooth keyboard (neither of which I have), easy to slip into a purse. But then I saw that high-density Retina screen--something no Air has as of this date. Most of the advertising rhetoric surrounding Retina seems to be aimed at photographers and other visual artists, but let me tell you, it makes text a thing of beauty: smooth, solid black. Considering I'm prone to headaches after long days of screen staring, Retina was love at first sight.

There's supposed to be a MacBook Air on the horizon with a Retina screen, and I debated waiting to see how that panned out, but three things (on top of a good price) changed my mind:

  • I use dual monitors at work, and LOVE this setup: it lets me easily compare similar documents, or put reference material up on one while writing/working in another, etc., etc., etc. For editing, I'd like to have this option eventually. There are some kludgy ways to attach multiple screens to the Air, but it's not really advised. The Pro, on the other hand, has plenty of ports for making this happen, including full-sized HDMI out, plus two Thunderbolt 2 ports.
  • There's no telling how much the Retina Air will cost, and it's a totally new model for Apple and may have some kinks to work out.
  • My sister's elderly netbook is on its last legs, and she is pretty eager to get my old one NOW.

So I went to Best Buy, dithered around for about thirty minutes before getting up the nerve to ask one of the sales associates to get the box from the back, and committed.

Thanks to Apple's Migration Assistant, pretty much all I had to do to set up the new system was to press a few buttons, watch a couple more episodes of "The Closer" while the two computers did a mind meld thingie, and boom: it was as if my old computer's brain had been transplanted into a new, sleek body: a body with a GORGEOUS screen and NINE FLIPPIN' HOURS OF BATTERY LIFE.

Granted, I haven't tested that battery life to the extreme, but based on usage so far, I have no reason to doubt it.

I've spent a good amount of time in Scrivener these last few days, and I'm really pleased that I don't have to zoom in nearly as much as usual: fonts are clearer even at small sizes, so I can work with more text on the screen at a time. I can also switch to scaled resolutions (1440x900 or 1680x1050) to fit even more. These resolutions aren't *quite* as perfect as the "Best for Retina" looks-like-1280x800, but still clearer than the old screen.

It's also a good pound lighter than the old system, which matters. Much slimmer as well, making it easy to slip into a bag. No built-in optical drive, but I don't use one all that often.

And have I mentioned the screen?

So yeah, so far, I'm quite happy with it. I shall call it Donald, because Donald is a good name for a Mac, and we shall write many, many stories together.


Old and new...

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Personal Computer History

I've been reminiscing on tech gone by lately, since I'm kind of sort of in the research stages for a new laptop. I was one of the first generation to grow up with computers in the schools, though what we had was a far cry from what kids have these days. Fancy touch tablets would have BLOWN OUR MINDS.

What I remember most clearly from early grade school days: old Apple computers with green text on a black screen (Apple IIs?). We didn't get much time with them, but did have one class where we were given a sheet with a list of commands (to make the cursor draw a line left, up, right, down). If we entered the entire tedious list correctly, we could draw something as exciting as--a circle! Whoa. And yet, it really was amazing to see a bunch of tiny steps accumulate to become tangible. A good lesson for a kid.

Later, our first home computer was a secondhand IBM PC/XT with two 5 1/4" floppy drives and no hard drive. It had GAMES. Granted, most of the games were very limited shareware text based adventures written in BASIC, but even so. Best of all, because everything was so simple and limited back then, even we as dopey kids figured out how to get into the code and change it. "You are now entering baby at the time's room. A fat, drooling creature stares at you balefully from a four-legged cage in the right corner. Naked miniature plastic corpses litter the floor. What do you want to do?"

We also had Hack, which is now Nethack, which is still perhaps the best dungeon adventure game of all time, and which I still haven't ever beaten. I always seem to end up starving or turned to dust just before the good part. Argh. But this does mean I still play it now and then, and thus my gaming hardware requirements are, shall we say, modest.

We had assorted other secondhand computers over the years, though none that really stick in my head like that first one. I remember games like International Bridge Contractors, and a Winter Olympics game (WinterG) we played for days straight. I also remember composing music of a sort--somewhere one of my brothers still has "Munchkin Dance," which was our crowning achievement. If I ever track it down...I'll link to it. Electronic random weirdness. We were ahead of our time.

The first computer I ever purchased with my own money was a Pentium 90 with 8MB(!) of RAM and a 1GB(!) hard drive, running Windows 95. Just to contrast, my current phone has 2 GIGABYTES of RAM and 32GB of storage space, plus an extra 16GB on a card the size of a fingernail.

But that computer was my first connection to the Internet (via dial-up, of course). It was so new to me, I remember typing random words and brands .com just to see what (if anything) came up. And later, I was able to talk to Mom all the way back in Vermont using ICQ (remember that?). At the time, I was stationed in Germany, and being instantly able to see what she was typing halfway across the world was pretty incredible.

I experienced my first laptop during a project in Germany: it was at least two inches thick, had a tiny screen that lagged behind anything actually typed, and must have weighed ten pounds. And I fell in love. The whole idea of a self-contained computer you could carry around (sort of) just enchanted me. I've *mostly* had laptops ever since, despite the drawbacks. They've come a long way, baby. It's a little ridiculous how I'm now fretting over whether a system weighs under three pounds or closer to four, and if I can afford a Super Duper Ridiculously High Resolution screen or just one a mere gazillion times better than anything I could have imagined all those years ago.

I'm pretty sure any of them can handle Nethack.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Pop Pop Fizz Fizz

No, I'm not talking about antacid. I'm talking about that most glorious of all summer kid activities: burning holes in stuff with a magnifying glass.

For many of you, just reading those words immediately brought to mind the odor of scorched leaves, burned paper, and charred twigs. You were instantly swept back to days when you spent hours crouched in a sandy driveway or a corner of the back yard, practically holding your breath as you focused that tiny spot of light and waited, struggling to keep your hands steady until you were sure the darkness behind the light wasn't caused by your dazzled eyes, but by real, honest to goodness teeny tiny almost-fire. SO COOL. You bickered with friends and siblings for a turn holding the glass, or shoved bits of grass and stone and orange peel at the glass bearer and said, "Hey, see what happens with this!"

I'm not alone in this, am I?

We, being the aspiring little pyromaniacs most children tend to be, also took on slightly more daring materials. As one example, does anyone remember those dirt-cheap rolls of caps you could buy for cap guns: long rolls of red and white paper layered with a tiny dot of gun powder every inch or so? We rarely had actual functioning cap guns, so mostly we used those caps in other ways. We had a back room in the basement where the chest freezer lived. It was musty and damp and cold year 'round, and it had a bare cement floor. I remember sitting back there with my brothers, taking turns with a roll of caps and a hammer (and oh, it makes my fingers hurt just remembering--I was not always accurate with that foolish hammer). We'd tear off about six caps, lay the strip of paper out flat, and hammer each one. BANG, BANG, BANG. Mesmerizing....

Anyway, of COURSE at some point one of us had the bright idea of using the magnifying glasses on the caps. It was a little bit anticlimactic: you got a bigger pop using a hammer. But the not knowing exactly when it was going to go off...that added an element of excitement that was hard to ignore. You'd focus the beam of light, and sit there blinking and cringing, knowing it was going to snap-fizz, but not just when.

The MOST EXCITING thing we ever burned, though, isn't quite what you'd expect. We were sitting around one day in...well, I guess it had to have been early November. One of us had the idea of burning holes in some of the little mini boxes from our Halloween candies. Mostly this wasn't that more than a time-passer. But then, we made a discovery: for some reason--something in the geometry, maybe, or something about the ink used--when you used the magnifying glass on mini Milk Duds boxes, instead of just ending up with little browned holes in the sides, they would suddenly burst into flame.

Which makes their name rather ironic, if you think about it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Fun to Say, East vs. West

The other day at work we got to talking about how many confusing yet fun to say derived-from-Native-American-languages names there are for things around here: towns, bodies of water, etc. I mentioned that New England also has a fair share of such names, and gave a few examples.

On the way home, the two states started trying to one-up one another in my head. Something like this:

Vermont: Queechee.
Washington: I'll see your Queechee and raise you a Snohomish.
Vermont: Oh, yeah? Memphramagog--beat that!
Washington: Ummm...Skookumchuck?
Vermont: Gar. Ompompanoosuc!
Washington: Sequim. Pronounced SKWIM. So there.
Vermont: Passumpsic.
Washington: Ooh. How about Puyallup?
Vermont: Winooski. Winooski, Winooski, Winooski!
Washington: Nisqually. I could do this all day.
Vermont: In my defense, Washington is a lot bigger.
New Hampshire: PEMIGAWASSETT!!
Washington: Geshundheit.

What are some fun town or water names near you?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Just Go To Bed Already

It has come to my attention that my approach to writing often shares similarities with a bratty child's attitude toward bed time.

"I can't go to bed--I need a drink of water first!"
"I can't go to bed--I forgot to brush my teeth!"
"I can't go to bed--I need to go potty!"
"I can't go to bed--I need the nightlight on!"
"I can't go to bed--I don't have my bear!"
"I can't go to bed--I want my *other* bear!

Etc. It's almost the same with writing.

"I'm going to write LOTS, but I can't write in the morning/evening."
"I'm going to write LOTS, but I need x pen/pencil/notebook, and I can't find it."
"I'm going to write LOTS, but I need to be in the mood."
"I'm going to write LOTS, but I don't like what I wrote yesterday, so I should take a break."
"I'm going to write LOTS, but I need x gadget, which I don't already own, so first I'll waste days researching it."
"I'm going to write LOTS, just as soon as I have a day off."

There's always some reason to stall. It's childish and silly and it needs to stop.

Maybe I can try bribing myself with star stickers on a calendar. As I recall, that used to be all that was needed to induce good behavior, once upon a time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why I'm Ditching the Scale

I'm annoyed with myself.

At the beginning of the year, I was in pretty decent shape. I was doing a ton of walking, and sticking with an eating plan that helped me feel better (physically and emotionally): tons of vegetables of all sorts, some fruit, meat/chicken/fish, eggs, nuts. Very little sugar. Occasionally beans and rice. And I mostly cut dairy, since last summer I tried a month without it as an experiment and found I'm actually somewhat sensitive to it. Don't get me wrong, I cannot and will not ever completely give up ice cream and cheese, but it does make my heart race and causes congestion, so it's a trade-off. I also discovered long ago that even if bread *weren't* fairly empty calories, I'm better off without it generally speaking because it makes me sleepy and stupid for several hours afterward.

So I was eating lots of big salads, fresh omelets with plenty of vegetables, grilled steak with vegetables, roast chicken with vegetables, broiled fish with vegetables, vegetables with vegetables. You get the picture.

But I fell off the wagon somewhere along the line--Easter, maybe--and I've never gotten back. Thankfully I'm only up a few pounds, but I've been bouncing from sugar high to sugar high and I haven't been walking and I just feel...blah. Time to get back on track.

I do want to lose about fifteen pounds. Seems like I always do. And that's part of the goal this time. However, I've decided to do something a little different this time around: I'm putting the scale away, at least for awhile.

Why? Well, mostly because I'm weak willed and I know how it affects me:
If the scale is up for a given day/week: "Man, nothing I do matters. I might as well cheat."
If the scale is down for a given day/week: "Wow, I'm doing great! I deserve a little cheat."

I think putting it away for a time will help keep me honest. I'm more likely to err on the side of caution as far as eating habits go if I'm not seeing the numbers, I won't be emotionally tormented by daily fluctuations, and even if I don't see the number I hope for at the end of the experiment, at least I'll only be supremely bummed once.

So...the scale is going in the closet until my birthday in mid-October. And I'm stocking up on vegetables, polishing up the FitBit, and pulling out my walking shoes again. 'Cause I'm the boss and I said so.