Thursday, May 31, 2007


The Dreaded Writer's Bio

Have you ever been asked to write a short biography? Maybe an artist's bio, or a writer's bio, to go with some event or publication or presentation you're making? This drives me nuts on so many levels. First of all, who cares? Who cares who I am and what I've done in the past? Can't my work just speak for itself?

My writers' group had a public reading in May and I was asked to write the Dreaded Writer's Bio. I refused. Yes, it was snotty of me, and completely not kind to the MC. She took it well and introduced me as someone who didn't want a big introduction. Part of my squeamishness about being introduced with a bio is that I'm always introducing myself during presentations at work. I'll just say my name and my title and launch into my topic and people can judge for themselves whether I know what I'm talking about. My other problem with writing a bio is that each audience is different and I can't divine what each wants to know about me. Do they care about my education, my accomplishments, my interests, my family? It's complicated and a four to five sentence bio doesn't do anyone's life justice, so why bother?

On the other hand - and there's always another hand, isn't there? - I enjoy reading author and artist bios. Even if they are only a few sentences. The bio, along with the work itself, always lead me to more questions about the artist or writer, which I think is a good thing. It means I'm interested.

Maybe it's just that I have difficulty with self-promotion. It seems so self-serving. (Well, duh, that's what it's supposed to be!) But, as a kid I was taught not to be boastful, and writing a bio feels a hair's breadth away from boasting.

So, then, Dear Readers, have you ever been in the position of writing a bio? What do you think of the experience? How do you get through it? What do you want to know about your favorite artists and writers?

P.S. And, yes, I did write the bio for this blog, but I felt the way I've just described while doing it.

P.P.S. I suggested to the writers in my group that next year we trade names and we'll write each other's biographies, rather than do it ourselves.

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No Peeking

So, I got a flat tire this past weekend. Not unexpected, really. It was the only tire we hadn't replaced in the last year or so and I kept having to fill it with air (as opposed to oatmeal, I suppose). My husband kindly took the rim into our local repair place and we waited a couple of days for the appropriate tire to come in. This afternoon, I drove the car to the shop and left it so the tire could be attached. When I picked up the car, I immediately checked the sound system. I had made note of where I had left off on my CD before dropping off the car and wanted to see if the repairman had turned it on while he had it. I automatically switched on my CD and didn't hear anything. That should've been my first clue. The sound had been turned down. When I turned it up, the song playing was two songs previous to the one I had left it on.

I felt like someone had been visiting my house, asked to use the bathroom, and while there, had searched through my medicine cabinet. My medicine cabinet, by the way, is quite boring. Lots of vitamins & supplements, an old prescription for Vicadin from when I had my root canal (I took one, maybe two, and hated the way it made me feel), deodorant, shaving cream, mouth guards (also from the root canal), not much else.

The CD I had on in the car was Dave Matthews Band's "Busted Stuff." I wonder if the repairman liked it, or maybe thought I had simpy taste in music. He did turn it down. At least he didn't switch disks.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Weather & Stuff

Memorial Day was gorgeous, so much so, with its balmy temperature, light wind, and limited mosquitos, that I spent most of it sitting outside with relatives. I started knitting a washcloth out of hemp yarn. My mother-in-law heard a mourning dove coo toward evening and said that we should expect rain by morning. My father-in-law said that weather radar didn't show rain. The next morning, it rained, proving that the mourning dove was more effective than the weather radar. Today we got more rain, on again-off again, at one point a thunderous downpour. We've needed it.

Memorial Day didn't feel like a Monday - more like a Sunday - but Monday it was. I added a bit to my latest short story upon waking and it was enough to make me feel productive. Monday holidays tend to throw the whole week off. Next week should be even worse for confusing my calendar. I'm taking three days off. My goal is to finish the story I'm working on, maybe start the next (although I'm not pushing it), and do some yard work. We'll see. It depends on the weather.

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Department of Homeland Insecurity

The Centers for Disease Control have been trying to find people who sat on a couple of flights taken by a man who has a resistant form of tuberculosis. The man's name was put on the Department of Homeland Security's no-fly list, yet he got through airports with nary a problem. Can anyone give me an example of the no-fly list actually working? I've heard of all the innocent people put on the list by mistake, plus this newest incident of a person on the list who wasn't caught, but I've not ever heard of the list catching someone who is a terrorist or other threat.

Addendum (May 31, 2007): Surely you've heard by now that the TB guy's father-in-law works for the CDC studying, get this, TUBERCULOSIS! A fiction writer could not have written this situation into a novel without being laughed at for its unbelievability. What are the chances this is sheer irony and TB guy never had any contact ever with the TB lab? And, yes, TB guy has a name. It's Andrew Speaker.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Amazing Instrument

Eldest Son found a video of this incredible musical instrument on YouTube. It's called Fantastica Instrumentacao and it has me wondering whether it's real, or some incredible manipulation of camera work and spot-on sound track. If it's real, who'd a thunk you could get this much control out of rubber balls?

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Sunday, May 27, 2007


Does This Make Sense?

My daughter and I saw a commercial for a local business this morning. In explaining the location of the business, the commercial pointed out that the business was located near another local business. Does this make sense to you? Inadvertently marketing another business while advertising your own? I'm pretty sure the two businesses didn't go half-sies on the commercial. Honestly, what are they thinking? To fix the situation, they need to come up with a different (non-business) landmark or make their own store stand out in some way.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007


I Know This Isn't Really News . . . .

I watched a couple of videos on VH1 this morning - don't ask which ones, I don't remember - and here's what I noticed. The video by the male artist featured a woman that was nude, sort of dancing like strippers do. The guy was in his grubby clothes, singing. The video by the female artist featured that female artist in a shorty, black sexy outfit with black fishnet stockings. Okay, then, the woman always has to be sexy, no matter what her role is in the video, but the guy gets to show up in his cruddy clothes and not some skimpy outfit? What's the deal with that? Why can't the woman show up in the grubbies for a change?

Addendum (May 27, 2007): I saw the videos again this morning. The male one was Rocco DeLuca and the Burden; the female one was Rihanna.

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Friday, May 25, 2007


Whatever Happened to the Offspring?

The Offspring's album "Conspiracy of One" travels in my car's CD changer. I hadn't listened to it in a while, so did so this morning. I got to wondering whatever happened to the band. I haven't heard any new music from them in a while and thought maybe they'd faded from the spotlight, gone on to other things. A quick internet search brought me to their official website. Apparently, they're touring in Japan this summer. It looks like their last album, a greatest hits compilation, was released in 2005, so it's been a while since they've done anything new. But, hey, they're alive, they're around, they're circulating. And that's a good thing.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Music Tests

Not sure how I first found these tests, but they are quite challenging. Tonometric, a website created by Jake Mandell, features three tests to check your musical abilities. There's an Adaptive Pitch test, a Rhythm test and a Tonedeaf test. In the Adaptive Pitch test, you are allowed to replay the pitches, which I didn't realize the first time I took it. The Rhythm test is not about finding duplicate grooves, but about listening for exact rhythms - each crash of the cymbal, each tap of the bass drum, etc. It also allows for replays, but only so many per test. Both of these are things I wish I had known before starting the test. The Tonedeaf test does not allow for any replays, so you've got to listen carefully the first time. I didn't do so well on the Rhythm and Adaptive Pitch tests the first time through. Eventually, I'll get around to retaking them and see if I can improve my scores.

Good luck on the challenge, Musical Grasshoppers!

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Watch the NOS

Young Son Number Two went to the store the other day with a friend and both brought back bottles of the drink you see here. Son offered me a sip and, before I took one, I examined the label. This is NOS, a "High Performance Energy Drink." Anytime I see a drink like this, I want to know what they've put in it. This one has Taurine, L-Carnitine, Caffeine, Inositol, and Panax Ginseng, plus the requisite carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup and a variety of other ingredients. I was a little leary of Son drinking such, especially with all of the added supplements. I grew more leary when I read the warning on the back of the bottle: "Not recommended for children, pregnant women or people sensitive to caffeine." By looking at the second picture above, is it obvious to you that there's a warning on this bottle? If my camera would've allowed it, I would have given you a close-up, so you could see that the warning looks pretty much like the rest of the text with only two lines setting it off from everything else. "Product of Canada" and the "Cash Refund" lines are actually more prominent on the bottle.

I showed Son how to read the labels and told him that the manufacturers left off the age of the children who were not supposed to drink this and warned him that he shouldn't make a habit of buying the stuff.

When my husband saw the bottle, he practically shot off like a rocket, but for a very different reason. You see, he recognized the bottle and the word NOS as mimicking the Nitrous Oxide tanks used for adding extra power to engines. Nitrous Oxide is also laughing gas. People (kids!) have used it to get high. It is no accident that NOS Energy Drink looks just like a bottle of Nitrous Oxide - the logo for the drink is taken directly from Holley Performance Products, a company that sells Nitrous Oxide for engines.

Not having any experience with Nitrous Oxide for engines, I had no frame of reference for the NOS Energy Drink. Once my husband pointed it out to me, I thought, Holy Crap! This company is encouraging the confusion between an energy drink and the use of Nitrous Oxide as a drug. Of course, they'll swear up and down that that's not what they're doing, but who are they marketing this drink to? Not old fuddy-duddies like me. They're aiming for a younger audience, one that wants more power in their engines and wants to live on the edge. If someone offered our son a bottle of Nitrous Oxide at a party, he might just think it's the NOS Energy Drink and try it. That, my dears, is irresponsible and dangerous marketing.

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Monday, May 21, 2007


Visible / Invisible

The newest issue of Wired Magazine (15.06) has two articles that deal with polar opposites of the same issue - online privacy. One of the articles is called "The Visible Man" (page 74) and talks about Hasan Elahi, who ended up on one of the American government's terrorist watch lists. In order to prove his innocence, he has decided to make his life an open book, posting photos of himself and his whereabouts, along with his debit card receipts, online in a continuous effort to allow the Feds to track his life. He even runs around with a GPS tracking unit in his pocket so they can map his location.

The other article (page 160), called ******* (okay, they are really dots, but I can't get that to show up here - it's supposed to simulate how passwords are seen when entered on a computer), is about Linkin Park's lead singer, Chester Charlie Bennington, and how his email password was stolen by a fan, who used the info in his emails to torment him and his wife. The fan, a woman named Devon Townsend, was caught. She worked for Sandia National Laboratories, "one of the Department of Energy's three nuclear weapons research facilities" (page 164). Scary, huh? Someone a little unhinged working in a nuclear facility. Her reason for messing with Bennington? She had about a half-hour's worth of work to do a day and stalked Bennington out of boredom. The whole incident has understandably scared the pants off Bennington, who has learned not to use his middle name as his password.

The articles taken together prove that navigating privacy issues on the internet is no easy task. On the one hand is a guy who is letting it all hang out; on the other is a guy who started out trusting his fans, but was taken advantage of and now wants some of his invisibility back. What's interesting is that boredom plays a factor in both cases. The woman bored with her job felt compelled to engage in stalking behavior to alleviate that boredom. In The Visible Man's situation, he's attempting to encourage a sense of boredom about his life in order to throw off any remote suspicions that he'll do something wrong.

To be visible online, or not to be visible? It's a conundrum that's going to take a while to shake out.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007


Stumbleupon & Writing

Do you ever get bored with the internet? I do. It's all stuff all the time. Overwhelming really. So overwhelming, in fact, that I tend to get into ruts and look at the same sorts of things all the time. When the itch of boredom gets to me, I start flailing around looking for new blogs or aggregation sites to read. While checking out Pi's blog, I stumbled upon Stumbleupon and did a wee bit of a search. When I don't know what topic to search, I default to Dave Matthews Band, just to see who else has this interest. If this doesn't net me anything interesting, and it often doesn't, I look for writing sites. Stumbleupon had a nice selection of those, which I present to you here:

There's an essay by Kurt Vonnegut on How to Write with Style . . .

Paul Brians' Common Errors in English, which links to a page of errors for reference (lay & lie are always tripping me up) . . .

One Sentence: True stories, told in one sentence (you can submit your own) . . .

and One Word, which is a site that gives you a word and you have 60 seconds to write about it. Good for shutting off the critic and getting down to the business of writing.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007


FtTP - Buble + Setzer + Aguilera + Stefani

I've mentioned portions of this Frankensteining the Talent Pool combination before, but I've expanded it and added a fourth. Michael Buble was on Oprah the other day and he looks like he's having a blast while singing. Brian Setzer displays the same sort of joy in performing. Combine these two with Gwen Stefani (who has performed with Setzer before) and Christiana Aguilera (think of her '40s inspired song & video "Candyman") and we'd have a winning combination.

Addendum (May 20, 2007): How's about we add Rod Stewart to this mix? We'd have a PBS pledge week special for sure.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007


Ooh, Goody! I've Been Tagged!

Kim, over at the Knit Whimsies blog, has tagged me. It's my first meme ever. The theme of the meme (how's that for a rhyme?) is to list 8 random things about me. Then I'm supposed to tag 8 more people. That last bit may be hard, but here goes with the

8 Random Things About Me . . .

1. I love birds, but free birds, not captive ones, so I won't ever own a bird as a pet.
2. I once gave myself an acupunture treatment - at the direction of a naturopath - to liven up the dead area around my C-section scar. It worked.
3. It is my greatest desire to be musical in some way and my goal is to eventually write a song.
4. When I was in middle school, I had a friend who was the oldest girl among three siblings. Her middle sibling was a boy and her youngest sibling was a girl. I thought that was the best arrangement for children because each was in a special place - oldest girl - middle only boy - youngest girl. I wished for that arrangement of children and I got it - only in the boy, girl, boy version.
5. I was taught not to talk back to anyone and, consequently, openly and verbally disagreeing with someone is something I have great trouble doing.
6. That whole free bird thing? That's the reason I like cats instead of dogs. I don't want to control animals and dogs won't listen to me anyway.
7. Almost every work day for lunch I eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Mostly because they travel well.
8. I've kept a daily calendar journal since 1996 and hope they will be useful when I go down in history. (Is "going down in history" a euphemism for dying? If so, eek! Not to worry. I'm not dying until I'm at least 97.)

As for that tagging part, I don't know too many people who read this blog who also have their own blogs, so I'm going to tag

Rianna - who can answer in the comments section.

I'm also tagging

Kevin at Copyrightings
Erich at Dangerous Intersection

although I can't be sure that they check in here. The two people I would tag, Kim and Joanne, have already been tagged, so it'd be kind of silly for me to tag them again.

I'm dreadful at tagging because I read a bunch of giganto blogs that don't take comments. Sheesh! I do enjoy the memes, though.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Shall We Train Him?

Introducing Rotten Spotty. First on the throne, then in the sink. He actually did this in this particular order. I think it wouldn't take much to teach him how to go and then wash up afterwards. Flushing might be a bit of a challenge, however.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007


The Futurist

Over lunch today, I finished reading a novel called "The Futurist" by James P. Othmer. I very much enjoyed the cynicism Othmer used to portray his main character Yates - no first name, just Yates. Yates is a futurist, one of those trendy trendspotters who are all the rage right now. A cheerleader for the corporate world, showing businesses how to get people to spend money by tapping into our deepest desires. Only the cynicism and the crassness of this work finally gets to Yates and he muddles through a crisis that becomes a mystery. Othmer does an excellent job of keeping to his theme - right down to the final words of the book. His theme is the future, and specifically, telling the future. Nostradamus plays a part. According to Othmer's bio on his website, he used to work at an advertising agency. This, of course, begs the questions, "Did he turn into Yates while working there? Is "The Futurist" somewhat autobiographical?" In a larger sense, the book has me wondering whether we put too much stock in futurists in general, in their findings about trends, in their boxing us up and labeling us with catchy names. It's certainly going to make me look askance at what futurists do in the future.

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Monday, May 14, 2007


Wool Expo

Yesterday, for Mother's Day, the whole famn damily (another example of our family language) went to a Wool Expo in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. It was held at the Washington County Fairgrounds. There were llamas and sheep and rabbits, as well as fiber arts vendors, in abundance. My children bought me some cute, handpainted Joint Venture knitting needles ("made in Russia from Birch and Maple" - "distributed by Peace Fleece") that were all the rage at the Expo. Practically all of the vendors were selling them. My kids also got me two skeins of yarn. I found myself a set of 5 bamboo double-pointed needles that were a steal at $5 for the set.

We visited this Expo years and years ago with the extended family. Our kids were wee ones; our youngest may have been in a stroller. Our daughter, who has a memory like a steel trap, actually didn't remember this event, until we headed over to watch the border collies demonstrate how they round up sheep. That she had a vague memory of. It's quite an amazing feat, with the border collie owners telling us that it takes about 4 years to get a good working dog to effectively work with the sheep. Some people wonder whether the sheep are trained, but three kids were asked to come out and try to pen the sheep without a border collie, just to prove how difficult a task it is. They gave it their best shot, but were unsuccessful until the border collie was called out. The herding instinct displayed by these dogs was fascinating and one of them had a heckuva time letting the others work without her.

A good day was had by all, but I couldn't look at the llamas without thinking of the Llama Song.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007


The Greening & The Purpling

This past week in Minnesota, we have quite suddenly experienced the greening . . .

. . . and the purpling of our trees and shrubs. Looks and smells like heaven.

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Knitting Goal Achieved

I've done it. Completed my first pair of socks. They're not too bad, but I ran into a couple of problems. They aren't quite the same size. One seems to be a bit smaller around than the other. The other inconsistency is in the toe. You can't see it here, but one of the toe seams runs vertically over the toes; the other runs the proper horizontal way. This is what happens when you don't follow the directions and choose to use 4 double-pointed needles rather than the 5 the pattern actually calls for. Still, they're not bad for a rookie.

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Friday, May 11, 2007


Co-op Apartments

There was a story on Minnesota Public Radio this morning about people getting thrown out of their apartments in the Twin Cities even though their rent was paid in full and on time. Turns out that the down-turn in the housing market, along with subprime loans, is making it difficult for the landlords to make their payments and they're getting foreclosure notices. The law says that if a landlord is getting foreclosed upon, he/she must give tenants notice so that they have enought time to move. Of course, many of them don't, so renters are getting a slappy surprise when they're put out on the street. This got me to thinking . . . . Can apartment buildings be owned in a co-op fashion, with the renters owning the property? Has this sort of thing been done before? (And I don't mean a condo situation. I'm thinking more along the lines of a co-op health food store.)

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Go away for a day and come back with loads to talk about. The hubby and I went to a concert in Minneapolis last night. It was at The Cedar Cultural Center - The Cedar for short. The headliner was Andy McKee, with Antoine Dufour and Jeff Schmidt also playing sets. Andy and Antoine play guitar in a complicated picking and percussive style. Jeff does the same thing with bass, if you can believe it. He plays a five-string right-handed guitar with his left hand. Fabulous, and he was quite chatty, too.

The CandyRat record label sponsored the concert. While Andy and Antoine are both on the label, Jeff isn't, but he did tell us how CandyRat got its name. When the label's owner was looking for a name, he had one in mind and went online to register it as a domain name. The name he wanted was taken, but the domain name registration site gave him a list of random alternatives. CandyRat was one of them, et voila! A record label was born.

Watching Antoine, I swore he had six fingers on his strumming hand - not really - he's just that good. I especially like his song "Toi et Moi," which he wrote for his wife. Andy, whose videos have reached number one status on YouTube in the last half-year or so, played his arrangement of Toto's song "Africa." This was an eighties song, in case you missed it. Very cool rendition. He told us that he just had a chance to meet Toto after they had seen his video of the song on YouTube.

This was a phenomenal concert from another standpoint: the audience. The Cedar is an intimate little place. Seating consists of folding chairs on an open, gym-like floor, with a low stage up front. We sat in the third row. Everyone was extraordinarily respectful of the musicians. There were no lyrics to any of the songs, just pure, complicated music, and that's what we were all there for - not to scream, or be seen, or to jabber on our cell phones telling people about the cool concert we were attending. Even Jeff noticed our demeanor and he said we were too quiet! That's when some audience members started lobbing him questions, which he obligingly answered. And, get this, the whole experience was ours for only $15 per ticket, plus the gas money it took us to drive to the Cities. What a bargain.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Beautiful Day

It's a gorgeous day in Minnesota. Eighty-some degrees, sunny, no bugs to speak of . . . the perfect day for taking a nap in a hammock. Not gonna do that, though. Don't have a hammock. Going on a motorcycle ride with the husband. Perfect day for that, too.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Family Language

Neil Gaiman totally started this, but he doesn't know it. I was reading his journal a few days ago and saw him pictured in his beekeeping outfit with a person he called "Birdchick." He's also got a Web Elf. I was thinking, how cute - being a writer, he's so creative that he renames everyone he knows with an imaginative nickname. My train of thought continued . . . . It dawned on me that we have loads of nicknames for our kids, along with all sorts of verbal oddities that the outside world would not get. In short, we have a family language, which has been created over the years we have shared rubbing shoulders in the same household. We have inside jokes based on our shared experiences, and movie scenes we regularly quote (i.e. "Let me fix you some eggs, Margie" from Fargo, or "Is that the machine that goes ping?" from The Meaning of Life). I pondered our family language for more examples:

The hubby loves to purposely mispronounce words. He says "red-eye" for "ready" when we are trying to leave the house. He says "cha (say the "ch" as you would in church)-mo (long "o")-mi (short "i")-lee" for chamomile. He does this with lots of other words, as well.

Some of the nicknames we have for our kids: Doodle, Dude, Daughter, Man About Town (or Boy About School), Young Son #1, Young Son #2, Bubby, and Buddy. Those are just the nicknames not based upon their names, but in the sake of privacy for them, I won't be revealing the name-based ones here. We each also have an opposite-sex name for the fun of it.

Young Son #2 calls me Mammy and his father Pappy. He does it with a twang, too. The daughter calls me Bob, which is how Mom comes out when she has a cold. (That's my opposite-sex name.)

The hubby calls me Lovin' Spouseful or wifey; to the latter I reply with husbandy. Of course, we're also full of the Honey, Baby, Sugarcakes, Sweetie names, too. Sometimes, hubby says, "Submit to me, woman!" in a joking manner and I give him a withering look and sometimes an "eff-you" with a smile. He says, "Okay."

When someones says, "Hey, I quacked!" we all know exactly what that means. This was something started in the extended family. Whenever someone has to get up from their chair and wants their seat saved for when they return, they say, "Quack, quack, seat back!" which has shortened to "Quack!"

We go really crazy over our kitties with the special family language. Rosalyn, the gray old kitty, is called Roz, Grumpy Old Lady, Cranky Old Lady, or simply Old Lady. Inky, who is white with black spots (and would have been called Rorscharch after the ink-blot tests if hubby had had his way) is called Rotten Spotty. It's a name my brother coined. Our white kitty was originally called Snowball, then Schmutz, and now goes primarily by Stinky. She is the sweetest cat ever, and we call her that often, too - "The Sweetest Cat Ever." Roz likes to meow at us in a grumpy way and I meow right back. Stinky says "brrrt, brrrt" to us and we "brrrt, brrrt" back. I like to call the kitties my puppies or babies. When we want the kitties to come running, we don't say, "Here, kitty kitty kitty." We make a pss, pss, pss noise. When the kitties start acting crazy and running all over the house (especially Stinky), we say they have brain worm.

Okay, you probably get the picture. Family language: it's worth a college thesis. If you're so inclined, feel free to share an example of your own.

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Monday, May 07, 2007


Books That Make You Mad

Ever read a book that makes you mad? I've recently read two that have raised my ire, but for different reasons.

The first was "Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything" by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams. In the interest of full disclosure, I did not finish reading this book because it made me so mad. First, I slogged through the intro, which seemed to be a repetition of stuff I'd already read elsewhere, i.e. the Internet is making us collaborate more; everyone needs to become more transparent, blah, blah, blah. To be fair, I figured that the book had to start somewhere and had to assume that many readers would be new to its ideas, so I kept going. After the authors launched into how great the current generation is, how so much more creative it is than previous generations, I put the book down. This notion of comparing generations and how great one is in relation to another boils my blood. I wanted to scream, "Who do you think invented the internet and everything that led up to it? Don't you think that was just as creative as what the current generation is doing with new tech tools?" Honestly, I simply can't abide by these judgemental attitudes. It's why I can't stand the term "Greatest Generation" in reference to Depression/WWII folks, or the term "slackers" in reference to Gen-Xers. I don't mind an analysis of generations based upon shared experiences, or short-hand, non-judgemental names, such as Boomers or Millennials, just don't slay entire generations with negative assessments. If anyone has read this book and had a different opinion, please share. Maybe I'll give it another shot.

The second book that made me mad was Nicholson Baker's "Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper." Working in a museum as I do, I have an incredible fondness for bound volumes of our local newspapers. Leafing through these books, which date back to 1892, is pure joy. Baker's book shows how, with the Library of Congress at the helm, libraries have wholesale ditched their collections of bound volumes of newspapers in favor of microfilming. (Round two is here with the current push toward digitization.) In order to easily microfilm these newspapers, the bindings have to be removed. Libraries, including the Library of Congress (LOC), submitted entire runs of our nation's newspapers to this disbinding. Once this was done, the libraries, finding space ever at a premium, decided to sell or destroy the disbound newspapers, rather than box and store the originals. The Library of Congress has even done this with books. All of this should make us furious. The Library of Congress is supposed to be saving the nation's history, not gutting it for the latest fad in reproduction. Their claim has always been that microfilm is a suitable substitute for newspapers that are crumbling to dust. It is not, for numerous reasons laid out in Baker's book, and the vast majority of newspapers are not crumbling to dust. Trust me, I know. I can still use the 1892 newspaper. It's a bit more delicate than later editions, but still very readable and hardly crumbling to dust or anything else.

The Library of Congress has a requirement that authors must submit a hardcopy of their books when they register for copyright. If the LOC is merely going to slice and film, I'd be tempted as an author to send them a little note with my registration, saying that I'm not going to waste money on giving them a hardcopy being as how they don't want it anyway, and offer to provide a digital copy.

Baker's book is excellent in that it makes me mad in an appropriate, how-can-I-change-the-system way. It goes into all sorts of details about the construction of paper (Did you know that mummy wrappings were used at one time in U.S. paper production?), the chemistry of paper, the political and financial maneuverings of certain high-level LOC officials, and raises questions about what we deem important enough to save. Obviously, I highly recommend this book. It will make you mad and it should.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007


What I Don't Aspire To

I discovered something that I don't aspire to today. I was in the toy aisle of Wal-Mart with Young Son #2 and saw wrestling action figures. You know, I can honestly say that I don't EVER want anyone to make an action figure using me as a model.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007


More on Magical Thinking

The promised long post:

Erich Vieth, of the Dangerous Intersection blog, posted about his “trip to the neighborhood psychic store” with his daughters recently. His posts are always quite thoughtful, and this one is no different; however, this particular post left me feeling as though the only enlightened people on earth are those who don’t fall for all that woo-woo stuff like tarot readings, astrology, psychic readings, aura photography, Reiki, and etc. Well, okay . . . .

Let’s just start at the beginning, shall we? I have long been interested in the various woo-woo aspects of life. In elementary school I was checking books out of the library on ESP and my brother and I would conduct tests, one sending thoughts, the other trying to receive them. The results were inconclusive.

My dad, a man who has a chemistry degree, was forever watching programs on the Loch Ness monster and Big Foot and alien encounters. As Catholics, my mom and her mother were equally entranced with the woo-woo. (If you believe in transubstantiation, and a man literally rising from the dead, I think you’re a shoe-in for woo-woo belief.) There was a crystal ball in the house that my sister and I used to try to read. Never could get that thing to work. There was also a deck of cards in the game closet with a witch tending a cauldron and fortune-type sayings on the other side. I now have these cards at my desk.

In high school I went through my astrology phase. I still have the first astrology book that I bought; it’s all marked up with my chart and the charts of friends. I also sprung for an “official” astrology reading, a print-out showing the planets in their various houses and the conjunctions between the planets at the time of my birth. It’s from the American Astrological Association and, if I remember correctly, it cost me the unholy sum of $11 (it was definitely under $20), which was a lot of money for a broke high schooler. During my high school Research Paper class, I wrote a paper called “Astrology and Eleanor Roosevelt: Do They Stand on Common Ground?” Why did I pair Eleanor Roosevelt with astrology? She and I share the same birthday.

Since that time I’ve dabbled in other forms of the woo-woo: aura reading, feng shui, angel readings, Chinese astrology, looking for signs from the universe, meditation, the power of positive thought, reflexology, homeopathy, acupuncture (you might quibble that this is not woo-woo, but come on . . . stick a bunch of needles in your skin and get well?), numerology, dream interpretation, Reiki, and tarot readings. I own two tarot decks and made myself a pack of angel cards. I’ve discovered that a great-aunt, my great-grandmother’s sister, read crystal ball, the very one I had played with as a kid.

This is where I’ve come from, a life filled with magical thinking. And it continues, sometimes in ways that are out of my control . . . .

This past year, two women entered the museum where I work and asked if they could find an obituary. That’s not out of the ordinary, as we assist people with genealogy and obits are a great source of family info. I asked for a name and date, so I could find what they were looking for. One of the women was a little evasive at first. She said she didn’t know a full name or date. All she had was a first name. Finding an obituary using just a first name is almost impossible, and I indicated as much. The other woman, a younger sister of the first, started explaining what had led to their request. It seems that the older woman’s three-year-old son was seeing someone, a woman with a damaged face, and this woman, who had told the boy her first name, was directing him to follow her out of the house. No one else could see this woman. Sometimes the boy indicated that the apparition was in the house. Other times, she was outside beckoning him into the street.

The boy’s mother was a bit sheepish in describing the boy’s behavior. Whenever he mentioned the woman’s name, she would try not to lead him on in conversation and she never brought up the woman’s name herself. She didn’t want to encourage something that was a figment of his imagination. Unfortunately, her son kept seeing the apparition and was doing whatever he could to get out of the house in order to be with her. Extra locks were put on the door to keep the boy in, but the situation wasn’t resolving itself, so the women decided to try to find answers. They wondered, because of the apparition’s damaged face, if there had been some sort of accident involving a woman with this particular first name.

Deep breath. Now, at this point I could have told the woman that I thought she was full of it and left it at that. I’ve never experienced ghosts or apparitions and am completely neutral as to their existence. That means that while I’ve never seen a ghost, I’m not going to deride someone else for claiming to have done so. Regardless of whether this apparition was real, it was obvious that this boy was seeing something and it was having very real consequences, so I decided I would do what I could, all the while thinking this was going to be like finding a needle in a haystack.

I entered the first name and our county into the state’s death database and came up with three hits, which was strange in and of itself. Only three people with this first name had ever died in our county? No way. Of the three, one was quite young. With death date in hand, I went to the newspapers and found the obit. Turns out this woman had died in a car accident that had killed several other people in a spot not far from where the mother and son lived. Coincidentally, she had the same last name as the mother and son, was the same age when she died as the mother standing before me, and had a young son with the same first initial as the boy now seeing her.

The eerie, prickly feeling that overcame me at the time still comes over me today when I think about it. I don’t know how to explain this situation and I don’t even want to try. It simply is what it is.

It’s very easy to think of people who believe in magical thinking (like me) as crazy, overly-susceptible crackpots. We aren’t living in the real world. By golly, if it can’t be proven with a double-blind test, why it simply isn’t so! Unfortunately, a good share of life is subjective and difficult to explain. We cannot drag that three-year-old into a laboratory and prove what he is or isn’t seeing. (By the way, since when has life ever mimicked a laboratory setting, except in a laboratory?) That doesn’t mean his visions weren’t having an effect; they were. It doesn’t mean that somehow we’re “falling” for something when we believe such things. Most of the people I know who believe in or have experienced the woo-woo, are not extreme about it. We chalk such things up to the “Very Interesting” category of life and fit them into our personal schemas without having a need to have them fully explained. My husband once had an out-of-body experience and he is extraordinarily skeptical about most woo-woo phenomena.

Those who attack the world view of magical thinkers are trying to negate some very personal experiences. That disdain is not useful, even if some of us go off the deep end periodically. (What happens when you force someone to let go of something? They hang on tighter, right?)

Rather than approach these various woo-woo subjects as things that must be explicitly proven or chucked as utter hogwash, why not question the origins of them? For example, Ben, who posted this comment on Erich’s Vieth’s post, said, “Why are there only 12 zodiac signs, and how the heck can even ONE person have the EXACT SAME horoscope as me, let along 1/12 of the population?” Why, indeed? Why are there twelve months in a year? Why are there twelve signs in the Chinese zodiac? Why are there twelve inches to a foot? Why are there two twelve-hour segments in a full day? Why is the number twelve so important to measurement in human history?

As for the veracity of astrology, I think the origins of the system have some pretty solid roots. The sun and moon have an effect on earthly life; why is it such a stretch to believe that the other planets in our Solar System might also affect us? Isn’t it amazing to think that our ancestors recognized these effects (in fact, they were probably much more guided by them than we are) and codified them into a system to show us our similarities? Even if the predictive functions are useless, this is something worth noting.

Tarot cards as a future-divining tool are derided in Erich’s post, yet they have another purpose. They can be used by an individual to tap inner resources in solving a sticky problem. That’s how I use them, anyway. In addition, they are fascinating artifacts from the standpoint of the artwork and the use of archetypes. Once again, here is something of intense complexity developed by our forbearers.

I can’t go without mentioning the Akashic Records, which were also brought up in Erich’s post. I’ve talked about this before, but for those who don’t know, the Akashic Records are supposedly the record of all thoughts, words, and deeds of life written in the ether. Don’t ask me where this ether is kept, or how this stuff gets recorded, but someone imagined this thing they called “Akashic Records” and, I’m telling you, if the Internet isn’t the best example of making this idea real, I don’t know what is.

Ultimately, looking at the origins of the woo-woo will lead us to wondering why human beings are driven to magical thinking. On an evolutionary level, there was probably some advantage to our species in doing so, but don’t ask me to prove that. I don’t have my laboratory or double-blind studies set up.

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Friday, May 04, 2007


Talk Show Question #2

Here's another soft-ball question for you while I'm working on something a bit more lengthy:

If you could be a GUEST on a talk show, which talk show would you choose? Why would you be a guest on this show?

I'd pick Oprah's show hands down for this one. I'd be on for something I had written. Oprah's got the kiss of life for writers. The other show that ranks up there for the same reason is Talking Volumes on Minnesota Public Radio. Either one, or both, hey, I'm not picky.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007


FTTP - Joss Stone + Corinne Bailey Rae

A Frankensteining the Talent Pool idea came to me yesterday after hearing Corinne Bailey Rae on the radio:

Corinne Bailey Rae + Joss Stone

Don't quite know why. Both are from the UK, both have been described as soulful singers. Maybe it's nothing more than that.

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Talk Show Question #1

Here's a question for you:

If you could be in the audience of a talk show, which talk show would you choose?

If you're feeling philosophical about it, you can expound about the whys and wherefores of your choice.

For me, if I'd choose either The Daily Show or Ellen; The Daily Show for the wit, Ellen because she seems fun and she dances.

Your turn!

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