30.7.08

Imponderables

Remember last year when I asked about a strange Roman numeral? We'd found it as the issue number for a magazine we subscribe to here at MPOW.

This week, we got a magazine's Issue 15. Problem is, so was last month's. We kinda expect Vol 1, Issue 1 to be followed by Vol 1, Issue 2. Maybe this publication's taking a mulligan?

28.7.08

Notable Quotes

Ok, so not so much of a quote as a series of statements:

    What do Quakers say?
      There is something sacred in all people.
      All people are equal before God.
      Religion is about the whole of life.
      We meet in stillness to discover a deeper sense of God's presence.
      True religion leads to respect for the earth and all life upon it.
      Each person is unique, precious, a child of God.

27.7.08

Let us now over-praise [vendor]

Cam posted about eBay feedback (or "karma", as Thing Two puts it). She points out the overuse of Great and Best Ever and multiple exclamation points, ending "If you were an eBayer, what kind of feedback would you want: the gushing kind, or my prosaic praise?"

I commented that I do not leave five stars on Amazon unless the service is truly outstanding, and I've had vendors complain. As a matter of fact, several send follow-up e-mails demanding (!!!!!) "five/five" reviews. Uh, no. That's like a student doing B work but insisting that the only appropriate grade is an A+.

There was one vendor that made communication difficult, would not respond to my actual query (where was my item and why hadn't it be expedited as requested?) for several back-and-forths, and ultimately we had to go to Alibris and get a refund. Because I couldn't figure out how to leave negative feedback on the Alibris site, I'm doing it publicly, here.

The point is, it's inflating your "karma" to insist on FIVE STARS!!!!!!!!, particularly if the service isn't, well, exceptional. I've left five stars for vendors that treat the item with incredible care, that respond quickly to the order and generally take care of me; for those that simply acknowledge the order and ship with ordinary wrapping, four stars are appropriate. I've left feedback saying that pencil markings do not make a book "Near New", and that a book in its original wrapper (a good thing) was better than "Near New". Depends on the purchase, and the vendor. I've read customer comments and I think that purchasers are trying to help the vendor sell more. Admirable, no? Not if their comments are ultimately meaningless ("Best CD ever!!!!!!!!" should go on the band's site, not a second-hand vendor's; "Most incredible book I've read yet!!!!!!!!!" really has nothing to do with the bookstore but is valuable to the author).

Can you, my readers, resolve to not inflate your comments, to leave fair and honest appraisals of on-line vendors? Buck the inflationary trend. How can that possibly hurt?

Come for the fireworks, stay for the funny

I've been to Montreal several times before and always enjoyed myself. One of the interesting things about it is that during the summer there is this air of Constant Festival going on. Not quite like Edinburgh and its Festival, but a number of far more concentrated ones. For example, while we were there, the Lanaudinaire Festival was going on as was the Fantasia Film Festival and the Festival des Nuits d'Afrique and the Francofolies were setting up.

We decided to go for L'International des Feux Loto-Quebec (Loto-Quebec's International Fireworks), Australia night. This was Howard & Son's "Evolution" program, synchronized to music that had "evolved" from its original source (eg, a symphonic version of Metallica's Nothing Else Matters). Wow. For 30 minutes I saw some of the best fireworks I've ever seen (for a complete report, go here). Some highlights: the red glow that accompanied the Light My Fire section (and I usually hate The Doors), the Helter Skelter sequence that seemed chaotic enough to match the music, a golden wall of shimmering lights (don't know the music to that one), the red hearts exploding every time Plant sang the words "Whole Lotta Love" and the finale, One, where the effects started softly, near the water, and grew higher and more powerful as the song built.

When we'd bought the tickets for the fireworks, we hadn't really thought about what else would be going on. Just our luck that just pour rire (Just for Laughs) was also going on - and mostly on the street our auberge was on! I noticed that Craig Ferguson was headlining a night of stand-up while we were there, and so another night out was planned.

I have to say, Ferguson was very, very funny. I'd seen his White House Correspondent's Dinner gig, but not his show, and this convinced me that maybe I should be taping him at night! After his intro (which savaged Tom Cruise: "Twelve feet of crazy in a four-foot man", among other comments), it was clear that the other stand-ups had a lot to live up to. Successes: Steve Byrne ("I'm Irish/Korean, which makes me Cauc-asian"), Craig Hill in his Kilt de Cuir (pronounced "queer", for those of you that don't parlez francais), Glenn Foster (his customer service rant was priceless) and Mike Birbiglia (I dare anyone to be funnier about a tumor on the bladder!). OK: Bob Arno (it went on too long, and how funny is pickpocketing, really?). Near misses: Elvira Kirt (although I loved her line "I'm Eastern European. We don't do nice. We barely do pleasant!"). Could totally live without: Bruce Bruce and Craig Robinson. For better, more comprehensive reviews, go here and here.

Just one question/quibble: at the end of the evening, during the tribute to All Things Scotland, there were bagpipes. Ok, I expected that. What I didn't expect was for them to be playing "The Music of the Night"... I've heard the massed bagpipes at the end of the Edinburgh Tattoo do "Memory" so, here's my question: what does it say about the music of Andrew Lloyd-Webber that it can so easily be translated to the one instrument that everyone agrees sounds like a cat's tail being stepped on? Anyone?

23.7.08

An embarassment of riches

One of the things I love about going away is the opportunity to visit other bookstores, to see what's getting a lot of play in other cities/countries and to pick up stuff that just isn't readily available in my neck of the woods.

Robertson Davies is one example. I love his stuff, and when his biography was released I was so disappointed that it wasn't going to be released in the US for a number of months. Thing One called a Toronto bookstore and had it delivered in time to become a Christmas present (NB: this was before the proliferation of Amazon and other on-line bookstores). Now, I know that the new biography (Master in Mosiac, by Val Ross) has already been released (albeit with a different title), and that I could just go on-line and order it myself. Still, it's so much more satisfying to go into a bookstore and purchase it. Which I did.

Along with these gems:

At the Going Down of the Sun, The Pure in Heart and The Risk of Darkness by Susan Hill (and seriously, why is Ms. Hill so unknown here in the US?)
Nothing to Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes (not available for another 6 weeks here!)
The Acadians: A People's Story of Exile and Triumph by Dean W. Jobb and The Acadians: in Search of a Homeland by James Laxer (because I find the whole Acadian exile and culture so fascinating)
The Roar of the Butterflies by Reginald Hill (why didn't anyone tell me he had a new, non-Pascoe/Dalziel out?)

And because I can't wait, I also got these from Mystery Guild...
Careless in Red by Elizabeth George and Scared to Live by Stephen Booth

Of course, I still have 52 books left in my Summer Reading Challenge...

22.7.08

Miss me?

I've been out of the country on vacation... blogging will resume soon!

In the meantime, check out the archives or some of the Friends/Fun/Daily Reads I list.

16.7.08

Imponderables

We've ordered a large number of used books for the collection at MPOW, mostly through Amazon and Alibris. I carefully requested non-ex libris (library copies) and books in Very Good or higher condition. Mostly, we've gotten great editions of works our faculty requested.

However, every now and then... I just returned a Very Good copy with "slight wear on the dj [dust jacket]". What wasn't mentioned is the indelible ink on the dust jacket flaps, the red pen comments throughout and the pencil annotations. Very Good? Really???.

Clearly, we have different expectations of that phrase.

15.7.08

Annotated Webclutter

Way overdue, but here goes...
  • My friend Nancy recently posted about a site, Easily Amazed, and the new "sister site", Rituals for Healthy Living. As I try to declutter both my work and personal life, I'm finding that ritual does play a real role for me, be it morning exercize, Meeting, or simply clearing my desk each evening. As in all things, YMMV but if you're looking for places to start, these sites are a great help.
  • Along those lines, I've been noticing that I've flagged a number of blog posts about the joys of unplugging, or going slower into all this online life stuff:
    • Too Productive (My Simpler Life): What would happen today if you let those times of waiting, those "unproductive" times nurture you?

    • Blogging/Tweeting/Reading Funk Abatement (Will Richardson): I did manage a Tweet about this a couple of days ago, something along the lines of “how long has it been since you totally turned off for a week?” I got about 30 replies. Most couldn’t remember when. Many were wistful of such an occurrence. So yeah, learning can happen 24/7/365 these days. Don’t have to be connected to do it though. No news there I know, just a friendly reminder to myself.

    • A Slow Community Movement (Nancy White): Have we been “communitied” to death? Has the abundance of choice, the speed with which commercial ventures have yet again jumped on to the “community” bandwagon anesthetized us to what “being together” as a community really is in our lives?

    • I'm a Second Life widow (Cam): I mean it: as much as I once loved my cyber-life, today I think that for 50 cents I'd chuck it all, sell the computers, and become someone who just checks eBay and web-based email at the public library a couple times a week.

    • Instant Messaging for Introverts (Internet Scout Project):IMing and Twitter aren't for everyone, and believe-it-or-not, it's not just about taking a curmudgeonly luddite stance — there actually are valid, practical reasons for always being marked AWAY (or, indeed, never installing an IM client at all).

    • Doug also ponders the meaning of all this connectiveness, and potential over connectedness: Well, I think I have a life. It doesn't include watching much TV, playing golf, or doing as much volunteer work as I should. While Ken and I both have four kids, the LWW and I are empty nesters. (Whew!) So can we gauge by the amount of time we spend on line if we need to "get a life?"
  • Asking the Wrong Questions pointed me to an article about books that have outlived their audience. This got me thinking about the series books I loved as a child that barely leave the shelves here at MPOW: The Saturdays (Enright), Little Women (Alcott), Misty of Chincoteague (Henry), Anne of Green Gables (Montgomery), Little House on the Prairie (Wilder), etc. Have these books outlived their audience? What will happen to Harry Potter (which many peers already report as "not flying off the shelves"), and other currently hot reads?
  • On the other hand, the Atlantic Monthly article Is Google making us stupid? has created a lot of discussion. I think that we're creating a generation of non-readers with all our technoschooling, but as long as books can create "buzz" (midnight release party for Breaking Dawn, anyone?), there's hope. It's a question of creating time and space to read, and accepting that sometimes, you have to work hard.
  • The summer, two friends from MPOW are getting married. This is two of around six weddings the school can celebrate. One of the things that makes these two stand out is that until recently, neither of my colleagues could marry legally - now they are, in Massachusetts. Quakers have great guidelines for weddings and marriage vows. I wish other states were more enlightened and allowed all couples to marry (after all, most of the objections are based in religious reasons, and don't we have a separation of church and state here?).

14.7.08

Get over yourselves

(this post was started on June 24... just made it out of draft today!)

As I was checking my usual websites this morning, I came across this story about people not liking iPhones:
Most people either love or hate the iPhone's touch screen, and based on a report on the LA Times, women with long fingernails are among the haters. Why? Well, since the iPhone's touchscreen only responds to electrical charges emitted by your bare fingertips, women with long nails are left out in the cold. A woman interviewed for the article went so far as to suggest Apple was being misogynistic because it did not include a stylus for women and didn't consider womens' fingers and nails when designing the phone.


Uh, no, not necessarily. I've seen the iPhone, and it's cool. But needed? Not really. And my animosity stems less from my nailed (or nailless) state but from the whole "boys-with-toys" ethos. At Thing Two's birthday party this year, there was one iPhone and one iPhoney and the guys flocked around it trying to prove that, well, I'm not sure what they were trying to prove. It's all part of that whole guy-based mentality that I don't quite get.

What I do get is that people with iPhones, Crackberries, etc. are far more likely to spend time on them than with real people - even if real people are in front of them. At far too many meetings I've seen people glance down at their device and then either excuse themselves or deal with the incoming message/URGENT PROBLEM than with the meeting. My thought? Either get rid of the device, or get rid of the meeting. Don't insult us by making it clear that we're less important than what's going on outside.

It goes to my whole "log off/log out/don't always be ON" argument.

And I suspect that the people that have these things are also huge Twits. I'm sorry, but Twitter is yet another way to be less productive and more annoying. Doug's done a long post about Twitiquette, so 'nuf said.

12.7.08

Primus inter pares

I've been pondering the ways in which all good relationships are alike and the ways in which they differ. It seems to me that the three essential qualities are: kindness, honesty and loyalty. The best relationships, be they professional, personal or impersonal, combine these in some way that benefits both parties.

Yesterday I mentioned this to a friend (along with my "I'm decluttering all the bad relationships" project). Her response? "yeah, you know, you're right." She then went on to muse that kindness is undervalued in daily life and in our relationships.

She's right. Of those three essentials, kindness is perhaps paramount (possibly because through kindness, the other two follow?). Kindness can be those Little Things, or it can be that Huge Kind Act that blows you away. Which ever it is, it does make relationships work better.

I've been thinking about this since our breakfast chat, and I've been thinking about the ways in which I have been more - or less - kind to the people in my life. I suspect this musing will stay with me tomorrow during Meeting, and over the next few months as I work on ways to be kinder, in small and large ways, to those around me.

Imponderables

Sign in Home Depot:

Annuals not included in our one-year plant guarantee

9.7.08

D'ya think anyone else will notice?

Just like the report on the 2000 recount in Florida (made possible via the Freedom of Information Act), this year's New Hampshire recount is sure to make headlines everyone. Not.

Dontcha just love politics?

8.7.08

Ethical Dilemma

A few weeks ago I attended Montreal Meeting. One of the messages was from a man whose brother had died several years ago, and this man had helped raise his nephew. The nephew was now in Stockholm and was about to marry - he wanted his uncle there. Sounds easy, right? Well, this man had read an op-ed about how we have our ethical obligations wrong: rather than feeling obligations to our fellow humans, we needed to have more of an obligation to the earth.

In other words, we don't need to attend funerals, weddings, reunions, etc., we need to be better stewards of the earth and lessen our "carbon footprint" and damage to our environment.

A part of me has been silently fuming about this since. Now, I don't deny that there is more that we can do to take care of the environment, and that too many of us take natural resources for granted. But... is his not going to the wedding, an event that means a lot to his nephew, in essence saying that his obligation to the earth is greater than his obligation to his family really the message he wants to send? The airline that flies from Canada to Sweden is not going to cancel its flights because one man decides to stay home. I say "go", because we have an equal obligation to both - buy carbon credits (which are, I think, a scam) if that will assuage your conscience. But go.

There are trade-offs we can, and should, make. Driving slower, for example. Better mileage, use less gas. Recycling. Not buying bottled water. Buying, and using, cloth grocery bags. Shopping less. ALA should change its rules to allow for far more virtual participation, so that not every one on a committee needs to attend two conferences a year - much of the work I do in committees can easily be done on-line, asynchronously. The UN has raised the temperature in its building to 77; more businesses, more houses can do the same.

But sometimes our obligation is to family and to others. Last weekend I traveled to Boston for a meeting of a foundation that my family runs. Now, this isn't one of the great, well-known, well-endowed charitable foundations. As a matter of fact, it's pretty small and it's closing down in a couple of years. But to many of the small charities it helps fund (like this one), the work we do is huge. I'm sure the Trustees could conduct business via conference call, with interested family members dialing in to kibitz as well. Would that be as effective? Would advocacy for new causes (triple negative breast cancer research, for example) happen? Probably not. So I feel comfortable balancing the ethical obligations to earth and humans when I attend the quarterly meetings.

Yes, we do need to do more to care for the earth. But neglecting our family, our fellow humans, in order to do so? Not sure I can do that. Can you?

7.7.08

Next up, the better mousetrap

Did you know that July 7 is the anniversary of sliced bread?

Well, now you do.

Notable Quotes

What level of hell am I in if Gangster's Paradise is played as muzak?
Me, to Thing One during

6.7.08

Notes from Mt. Bookpile

Children's/Young Adult
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie, Wow. Doesn't matter if you're a YA or an A, just read it. Funny and poignant, and a great new "coming of age" story.
  • Mister B. Gone Clive Barker, Just enough horror to entice a MS student.
  • The Sign of the Qin L G Bass, Chinese mythology, a Monkey saga, and martial arts - what's not to love?
  • Don't Call Me Ishmael Michael Gerard Bauer, Difficult to pinpoint what I liked about this, but I did and will recommend it to my MS students
  • Twinkle and Chubbins L. Frank Baum Non-Oz stories; only for Baumians
  • Nick of Time Ted Bell, Not sure I bought the time-travel bits, but the incursion of the Nazis onto the Channel Islands is something that most Americans don't know enough about.
  • A Tough Nut to Crack Tom Birdseye, Yawn
  • Being Kevin Brooks, Another entry in the "if I'm not human, what am I and who made me?" genre
  • The Crooked Little Path, Thornton W. Burgess Why more people don't read Burgess' work, I don't know - his animal characters really are up there with the likes of Toad, Frog and Rabbit
  • Dragon's Keep Janet Lee Carey, Town menaced by dragons... cursed princess... you guess the rest
  • Rover Saves Christmas Roddy Doyle, Doyle's contribution to the Christmas saga was meh, but his intended audience will probably like it
  • I Am Not Joey Pigza Jack Gantos, Nicely done book about change, or not.
  • Deep and Dark and Dangerous Mary Hahn, Not scary enough.
  • Shug Jenny Han, Good, in a been there, read that way.
  • The Cricket Winter Felice Holman, Lonely child learns to communicate with a cricket
  • 1609 Elizabeth Massie, Mediocre historical fiction about an era few students in the North study
  • Zoo School Laurie Miller Hornik, Very much for younger students.
  • Borrowers Aloft Mary Norton, It's a pity that more don't read past the opening book in this series
  • My Brother's Keeper Mary Pope Osborne, I can see why the Dear America series is so popular in Lower Schools!
  • Keeping Score Linda Sue Park, If only this had been about the Red Sox... still, that aside, good YA historical fiction
  • Keeping You a Secret and Grl2grl Julie Anne Peters, Good additions to any GLBTQ collection
  • The Young Man and the Sea Rodman Philbrick, Probably not what the author intended, but I saw this as almost a companion to Sensible Kate
  • The Battle of the Labyrinth, Rick Riordan, Already reviewed
  • Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, Gary D. Schmidt OW! I get it - you've got An Important Message To Impart in your books. Less heavy handed, please?
  • The Innocent's Story , Nicky Singer What if, when you die, you can enter the minds of people around you? What if you might be able to change future events as a result?
  • Eggs Jerry Spinelli, Not impressed
  • The House of Djinn Suzanne Fisher Staples, I don't know why, but it's difficult for me to like the Staples' oeuvre. I just kept feeling that in other hands, I'd have liked the book more...
  • Girls in Love and Girls Under Pressure, Jacqueline Wilson Very much long the lines of Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging... not something I'll necessarily buy for MPOW but if you've got overwhelming outcry for "more", then this is a good series.
  • The Pit Dragon Trilogy (Dragon's Blood, Heart's Blood and A Sending of Dragons), Jane Yolen Book Two made me cry; the rest were good dragon stories that I have to say I like better than the Pern series.
  • Story of a Girl, Sara Zarr another cautionary tale, a la Good Girls
  • Elsewhere, Gabrielle Zevin Another book about what happens when you die, this time told from a 15-year-old's perspective as she ages backwards, Elsewhere.
Fiction/Literature
  • The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Sherman Alexie, Alexie's work won't sit well with the PC police, but his is a great voice and if he can't tell the Indian's story, who can?
  • People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks, I tried hard to like this, but despite an interesting premise and some good historical research, I just didn't.
  • Monkeys, A relatively quiet book where you're not quite sure somethings actually going on, until you're past it and realize that a lot happened.
Mystery
  • A Cure for All Diseases and Who Guards a Prince Reginald Hill, The former is the latest Dalziel/Pascoe and a great addition to the series, the latter is a one-off that I highly recommend to all mystery lovers
  • The Body in the Gallery Katherine Hall Page Too cute, too cozy, and wrapped up too quickly
  • A Foreign Affair Caro Peacock, Any time I hear "remarkable" or "stunning" debut, I'm automatically skeptical... in this case, it's a decent debut with a not-so-interesting mystery told with tons of Historical Atmosphere
  • The Chameleon's Shadow, Minette Walters I really liked the book and the characters, although the mystery really wasn't (to me) much of a mystery.
Reference
Sci-Fi/Fantasy
  • Un Lun Dun China Mieville Not quite as enjoyable as Neverwhere, but a good addition to the "alternate world" genre
  • Bad Monkeys, Matt Ruff, Guess I'm just not clever enough to read this, as I didn't get the "layers of reality" or feel the need to re-read.
Total removed from Mt. Bookpile this quarter: 46 books (NB: most are children's/YA, not weighty tomes)
New books added to Mt. Bookpile this quarter: 2
Net loss: 10

5.7.08

Definition needed

I just read one of the many (like, over 40) ARCs I got at ALA, The Hunger Games. I then reviewed it on GoodReads and saw a review by Fairrosa. This led to a discussion about what constitutes a "dystopia", and whether it actually is a sub-genre of sci-fi/fantasy (or, as I've now heard it called, Future or Speculative Fiction).

My response was
Now I'm pondering the meaning of "dystopia". I'm not sure that bleak is necessarily a part of it, but I've always included things like "vague sense of menace" and "dictatorial rule" (be it theological, ideological or by machine). Sooo... Planet of the Apes would go into my definition. As would England, England (which has some very funny moments).

And, I'd have to say "yes" to Gathering Blue and Messenger - the society is closed, somewhat primitive, and there's that sense of menace from something/someone. I'll even throw in City of Ember for the same reasons.

As for them stacking up to 1984 or Brave New World, I think that's because Orwell and Huxley were writing in response to what they saw as real menaces in their real world, whereas these newer (and aimed at a younger audience) books are simply what C.S. Lewis might term a "supposal".

Also added to the list? The Giver, The Lottery and The Children of Men. I know that's a very small list, and that there are many, many others that should be on there. However, I mention them to raise the questions Fairrosa asked: what is a dystopian novel? how do we define it? and is it a sub-genre unto itself?

Things you didn't know about me

I hate heights. Seriously - even a stepstool is a bit much for my delicate system. Just ask Thing One or Thing Two.

Until last year, heights were just about the one thing you could be sure I'd be nervous about. There are things I don't like, or just will refuse to do (sing in public, eat insects, join the polar bear club, for example), but really hate? Just heights.

Until last year, that is. Now lightning has joined the club. I used to love lying in bed watching the pretty light show, but no longer. I tend to flinch when I see the flash, and if the storm goes on long enough (or heavy enough), I'll get nervous.

This morning, at about 3:30am, we had a storm and The Boys and I were snuggling close. Then came a flash - not a short one, but a long, sustained one. I counted to see how close, but no thunder ever came. For the next 15-20 minutes, there were several of these flashes: more like bright lights at a theatre flickering to tell patrons to return to their seats than regular lightning flashes. I never heard thunder, so they must have been pretty far south of me.

Still, I couldn't get back to sleep.

4.7.08

3.7.08

I hate leaving home...



Home isn't just where the heart is, it's where The Boys are. I know it's important for me to leave the house: for work, for shopping, for conferences, for friends. But I really, really hate it.

The good part about leaving is the Coming Back. No matter that someone stands not three feet away from me and screams, at the top of their lungs, that I'm an evil, horrible person... no matter that someone claims I'm trying to ruin their life and am hostile to them... no matter that years of trying to be a good friend to someone and to help them were wasted because they never cared about being friends... no matter what the problem or hurt or anything, The Boys are there to love me and purr at me.

No matter how messed up my system is because of a change to my usual routine (something that's really a problem when you have CFS), there's such incredible healing when I bury my nose in their fur and they snuggle close.