Thursday, August 28, 2014
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
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
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
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
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.
Thursday, August 07, 2014
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.