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July 2011

Happy 50th Birthday IBM Selectric

Images Before there was Watson - and all the other computers in between - there was the IBM Selectric. I received one of these bohemeths as a high school graduation gift, in the charming beige color pictured on the left, and I was thrilled. The amazing thing about this typewriter were  the little golf-ball thing-ies (yes, "golf ball thing-ies" is a technical term) which allowed you to change the font, italics, and more. It was really a precursor to the word-processor. And that's not to mention that you could type with dizzying speed, compared to the old manual typewriters.

The Selectric weighed far more than the laptop I am typing on now and could probably do about .0000000001 of what this computer can accomplish. But boy was it state of the art when it came out in the early 1960s. I wonder what technology we'll be using when we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the MacBook Pro?

Bad Writing

Snoopy-typing--large-msg-11526220357 Today is the final day I have to review the manuscript. It must be returned to the publisher by tomorrow, via overnight mail. As I was busy trying to smooth out awkward transitions and improve the clarity of some sentences, an announcement of the winner of this year's bad fiction contest arrived in my inbox. Formally called the "Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest," the prize recognizes really bad writing. This year's sentence winner was the shortest in the award's 29-year history. Are you ready? It's really bad. OK, here goes:

"Cheryl's mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories."

Composed by an associate professor of curriculum and instruction at the U of Wisconsin, that is an impressive offering of truly appalling writing.


Introduction, book OK, they are technically not "galleys," which is a publishing term referring to the proofs of a book for review and proof-reading. What I received from the publisher on Friday, via overnight shipping, is something called "First Pass." I asked my agent what was the difference between "galleys" and "first pass," and she says for my purposes, nothing. What was once set by printers is now computer generated.

The point is, and I do have one, that the manuscript now really looks like a book! It is set in type, it has page numbers, a dedication, acknowledgments, a copyright, end notes, and a couple of hundred pages of text. I have to take the next few days to read it carefully, check for errors (happily, a proof-reader reviews it at the same time) and make small additions and corrections. At each stage from here on out, changes become more expensive.

I gotta say - it's pretty exciting. It's completely different than seeing the book on a computer screen or even printed out from a computer screen. It's actually happening!

Sons: Listen To Your Mother!

Unknown We moms try not to let the phrase "I told you so" escape from our lips too often. But Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, 102, the mother of embattled media executive Rupert Murdoch, has every right. The Daily Beast reports that more than 40 years ago, when Murdoch bought the now infamous and defunct News of the World, his mother warned him not to do it. "It nearly killed me," Mrs. Murdoch reportedly told Julie Browning, the author of A Winning Streak: The Murdochs. "I think the invasion of people's privacy is the worst thing because from that comes so much more," she told the author. "I think privacy is anybody's right."  

 Browning writes that Rupert dismissed her concerns, telling his mother that "there are tens of thousands of people living in London and around England who have nothing in their lives practically and they want this sort of thing."

Uh huh. How's that working out for you, Rupert? This may have to be the beginning of a recurrent blog sub-theme. Boys, listen to your mother!

There Goes The Last Book Store

Images-1 My home town had a charming, independent book store. The folks who worked there were well-read and happy to make recommendations. What they didn't have in stock they could get in a day or two. It always hosted book signings for local authors. But about five years ago - was it more? - it went the way of so many independent books stores, and closed its doors. I still pass the storefront frequently and it has yet to find a new tenant.

The nearest remaining book store was a Borders in a neighboring town. It survived the first Images round of closings of Borders branches, but now that the company is liquidating, it too, will shut down - possibly as early as this week. That store was roomy, and a good place to hang out and browse. 

It has long been clear which way the wind is blowing for book stores large and small, but it's hard to quantify the loss. Browsing online is not the same thing as browsing through tables and stacks of books. Nor does it offer that camaraderie of shopping and hanging out with fellow readers. That said, if I am going to be honest, I buy a lot more books now that I have a Kindle - I'm paying less but I'm buying more. I read a book review and the next minute I am downloading a book. I've also ordered a lot of hardcover and paperback books at Amazon. So I am clearly part of the problem that has lead to the demise of the stores I purport to love so well.

Sigh. I'm conflicted. 


Good, Old-Fashioned Fun

Images This week and the next, The Weatherman and I are hosting two girls who are part of a summer scholarship program in our town. The two attend a not-so-great high school in the Bronx, but both have shown academic promise. They are up here for a month, studying Shakespeare, writing, computer programming, getting college guidance, and also getting a taste of suburban life.

One girl, "I," is back for her 3rd summer with us; the other, "S" is new to the program. They are both great girls - smart, well-mannered, and up for new experiences. Every host family approaches the experience a little differently (some take their students to ball games, restaurants, etc.), but I am an old-school Mom. After a full day of school and activities (the program provides swimming lessons, tennis lessons, local college tours and more), I think the girls should come home, have a snack, do their homework, have dinner, and then hang with the family. It's really hot, they are absorbing a lot of new things, and they are tired, since they get up at 6:15 a.m. every morning to get to school.

So last night after dinner, we played a board game, and I forgot how much fun it could be. "I" had never played "Scattergories" before; "S" had. The Weatherman doesn't generally like these games, so I was surprised when after a few rounds,  I suggested wrapping it up, he joined the girls in asking if we could keep playing. There were lots of laughs, some good natured arguing over whether the answers made the grade and promises of a rematch.

It is fun to have teenagers in the house again (albeit briefly) - it's been a long time when I could tell anyone it was bedtime and they actually listened.

The End of Books

Images Obviously I am a bit sensitive about this topic, but it seems that everywhere I turn, there is another dire prediction about the end of books. Bill Keller, the executive editor at the NY Times, is the latest to point out that the sale of print books in the U.S. has been in steady decline since 2005. He then (in a quasi-tongue-in-cheek way) says that at least this demise will put an end to "the annoying fact that everyone who works for me is either writing one or wants to."    

Another recent piece in the NYT described a six-week course given to people who want to be in publishing - and pay $6990 for the privilege! Professionals who visit the classes describe their industry as "a roller coaster," noting that the ebook revolution has upended traditional publishing. (This reminded me of the dark warning of my agent, saying that authors do not do very well on ebook sales. Note to self: check publishing contract.)

Sigh. I still believe that people will always read books - no matter what the format - because human beings love stories. It's how we make sense of the world. I hope I'm not naive. 



Images "Usually it's the guys who are 6"2" who pass out, and that's before we even put in the needle." So said the kind nurse this morning, as I sat with my head between my knees, trying to combat the dizziness. Let me say in my defense that I have very low blood pressure, which makes me light-headed, and I had to fast before the blood test, and it is very hot out. Still, I wish I didn't humiliate myself at every medical procedure. Anyway, it was just a check-up and it's over. But my hat is off to nurses today - kind, competent, and patient with this patient.

When the Cats Are Away....

Cats_playing The mice will play. But what happens when the people are away? Do the cats play? Around here, all signs point to yes.

We have found that we can leave Lawson and Maddy unattended for about 3 nights - that is, we can leave enough dry food and a clean litter box and they are fine. Upwards of that, though, we have a lady come in and refresh their food bowls and attend to their box every few days. But what actually goes on when they are on their own? And do they have a sense of time?

Addressing the last question first, I have researched this online and never gotten a firm answer. Can my kitties tell the difference between when I go to the grocery store for a few hours and when I go to the Mountains for 10 days? Judging from their behavior, Lawson has some sense of time and Maddy has none. Lawson associates suitcases with departure, and also sulks for awhile upon my return. One of his favorite acts after I get back from a long absence is to come over to me, but when I try to pet him, backs off a few feet, just to let me know he is not pleased. He does this a few times before he deigns to allow me to resume petting him. Maddy seems oblivious to both departures and arrivals.

Except....last night, Maddy was everywhere she was NOT supposed to be. I'd look over and she would be walking across the top of my dresser, or sitting on top of the television set, and worse - scratching my newly recovered sofa. All of these behaviors get her yelled at mightily when I'm around. I wonder if she is just partying like a teenager when there is no one keeping an eye on her. It seems to take her awhile to remember that the sheriff is back in town. 



One Of The Best Vacations Ever

Hammock o Lake Champlain This morning I am driving home from the Adirondacks to Westchester. Hopefully, when I am barreling down Route 87, I will be able to preserve the feeling of well-being that came from 10 days in upstate New York. First of all, the weather was spectacular nearly the whole time. The scenery was gorgeous. I spent time with people I love. I was out on the water constantly - kayaking on several lakes and, yesterday, on Lake Champlain. Also went on a terrific boat tour of Raquette Lake. There was lots of hiking, sleeping, reading and oh, yes, plentiful eating. 

Back to real life. I may have to make this hammock photo - scene of a brief Sunday afternoon siesta - my screen saver for awhile. That's Lake Champlain in the background. Ah, summer. 

The Adirondack Museum

Summer in the Adirondacks is all about the outdoors, but there is always time for a great history museum. Check out these scenes from the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake:

First, how about this view from where we had our picnic lunch?:

Even prettier flowers and blue mt lake
That's Blue Mountain Lake in the background. Here is a view of the small outdoor lake at the museum:

Lake at museum
Here are two of the many exhibits: an Adirondack cottage, and the bobsled that two local men raced to win the gold medal at the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid:

Adirondack cottage Bob sled

There's much more but that has to wait for another blog. My favorite is the logging exhibit.

A Week In Adirondacks

Vacation! Up in the beautiful Adirondacks for the week, and the scenes speak much better than I can about the region. Here are a few shots taken from Whiteface Mountain. The day that The Weatherman, The Boy and I were up there, visibility was 40 miles.

Whiteface view
Here is a view of Lake Placid:

Whiteface better view lake placid
And one of the Weatherman's favorite features: the observatory:

Whiteface observatory
Stay tuned tomorrow for more upstate New York scenery....

Mother-Son Quote of The Week

Images "A mother's love for the child of her body differs esstentially from all other affections, and burns with so steady and clear a flame that it appears like the one unchangeable thing in this earthly mutable life, so that when she is no longer present it is still a light to our steps and a consolation."

-W.H. Hudson (1841-1922)