Tag Archive | personal

A look at the latest Apple Remote

Apple Remotes. Left to right: 1st Generation, 2nd Generation, 3rd Generation, and 4th Generation

In late April Apple announced (along with other products) a new remote for its Apple TV set top box. I was so impressed with the redesign, and pleased with the fact that it was compatible with my older Apple TV, that I ordered the remote as soon as it came out.

That last sentence could just as truthfully been written as, "I was so tired of the inadequencies of the 3rd general Apple Remote…"

I’ve been using the 4th generation remote for about a month and a half now, and the short version of my review is: this is so much better than the previous remote!

For some background, pictured above are all four generations of Apple Remote, and yes those are all mine. The first one (the white plastic one on the left in the picture) was introduced back in 2005 and looks an awful lot like the iPad Shuffle of that time. I did not own an Apple TV back when the first generation remote came out–no one did, because the first Apple TV was introduced until two years later. This original remote was meant to control media playback on an iMac and other Mac computers the at the time. When the first Apple TV came out, this remote also worked with it.

The second generation remote was released in 2009. The aluminum body of the remote resembles the iPod Nano of the same year. The most obvious functional difference is the Pause/Resume button was moved out of the click wheel, and the center button of the click wheel became a Select button that you could click or double-click like a mouse or touchpad.

The third generation was released in 2015 and doesn’t look like it belongs in the same product line at all. Take a moment to look at all four in the picture. Three of them have as the largest control a circle control with several functions, and some other buttons below. Not the third generation. The entire area about the buttons in a single touch surface. You can swipe with a finger or thumb and you can click. And while that gives you generally speaking most of the functions of the click wheel (moving the cursor of selection indicator on the screen of the device you are control up, down, left, or right and selecting things), it’s actually a not nearly as convenient.

I admit, watching the device being demoed on screen, I thought the touch surface as a brilliant choice. In practice at home, it wasn’t. With the previous remote, if you had a long list to scroll through on your screen, you could just hold down the part of the click wheel and the list would start moving on the screen. With the third generation you had to swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

But the real annoying thing for both myself and my husband was that it is extremely easy to pick up the remote wrong. You can not tell be feel the difference between the touch surface above the buttons, and the non-touch surface below. You don’t know how many times one of us was swiping on the control and nothing was happening. And yes, it could be argued that if you just looked at the buttons you could tell which was the right direction, it just didn’t work out.

This latter might be about the way my husband and I both process information, but even glancing at it always took me a few seconds before I noticed that the word "Menu" was upside down when I was holding it wrong.

A few years after releasing the third generation remote, Apple released a very slightly modified version that added the raised right ring you can see on the menu button above which they thought would solve the problem. I didn’t get around to upgrading my old Apple TV to one that came with the third generation remote until after they introduced the white ring, and so I can say from experience that the white ring was not enough.

A lot of reviews I read of the third generation also complained about how easy it is, since half the surface of the remote is a touch pad, to accidentally click or swipe while you are watching something, can be annoying. I never experienced that because I only pick up the any remote when I want to change something, and I always immediately set it down again. Some people keep the remote in their hand the entire time they are watching something, and those or the folks I assume kept doing the accidental swipes and such.

The fourth generation brought back the circular control. The center bit of the control is a touch surface. You can swipe and click with it just like the larger touch surface of the third generation, but it’s a lot harder to do it inadvertently while you’re casually holding the device. The outer rim is a clever combination of touch surface and the four directional buttons of the second generation. You can click, or you can run your thumb around it to control movement of the onscreen cursor.

They added a Mute button, which is quite handy, and they replaces the Menu button’s name with a back arrow, which I think is a more intuitive representation of what the Menu button does. It doesn’t make a menu appear, it takes you back to whatever you were looking at before. They also added the little Power/Wake-up button, and they moved the Sire button off the main surface of the remote to the edge.

I should mention at this point that when Apple released the third generation remote, they renamed it Siri Remote. And I understand why they did that. The previous two generations didn’t have a microphone built in that you could use for voice controls. But it’s really just the next two generations of the Apple Remote.

The controls on the fourth generation are much easier to use. It is noticeably larger and feels much more solid in the hand. If I do happen to grab it with the end that ought to be pointing at the TV pointing back and myself, I can immediately tell because the round click wheel/touch surface feel nothing at all like the smooth aluminum of the wrong end. It is in every way a superior design.

I learned an interesting thing about myself while reading other people’s reviews of the remote. Many of those reviews mentioned that the placement of the Siri button on the right edge of the remote meant it was less convenient for lefties, since if you are holding the remote in your right hand, it is easy to press the Siri button with your thumb, but if holding it in your left hand it’s a slightly more awkward reach with the index finger.

I’m a left-handed remoter!

I always hold any TV-type remote in my left hand, and have never thought twice about it. Technically I’m ambidextrous, and my usually joke about that is, "Which means my handwriting is equally illegible no matter which hand I’m writing with." When I draw or paint I switch the drawing instrument from one hand to the other. Sometimes it’s because the angle is better in one hand or the other, but I’ve also learned over the years the sides of the brain that control each hand are better at different art tasks.

On the other hand, I was very strongly a left-footed soccer player back in the day, while much better as a right-handed basketball player than left.

Anyway, I had never noticed that I always use remotes left-handed before this. I even experiments after realizing, and it just feels completely wrong to put the remote in the right hand. It wants to transfer the remote to the other hand right away every time!

But, back to the review: it is a nice redesign. I’m really glad I upgraded. And I just have to say to the person I read online who claimed that it’s a "$79 remote that feels like a $39 remote" — have you actually bought any remotes that sell for ~40 bucks? Because I have, and they are cheap pieces of plastic that FEEL cheap and the have a tendency to peel and crack on the underside.

This solid aluminum remote feels nothing like that.

Don’t Roll the Dice if You Can’t Pay the Price — or, some writing lessons from a 1960 heist film


A group of friends and I have been having a weekly movie night during quarantine. Each of us have nominated some movies, we put them into a rotation in a shared spreadsheet, and each Sunday night we all cue up the movie to stream or otherwise watch together and we text each other comments while we watch, then talk about it afterward. This last Sunday the movie was The Thomas Crown Affair /(the 1999 remake/).

There were at least two of us in the group old enough that we remember watching the 1968 version starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. So while we were contrasting the newer version versus our recollection of the original, a young friend in the group mentioned that the 1960 version of Ocean’s Eleven was awful compared to the newer version. I started to get affronted, but fortunately before I typed anything my second thoughts pointed out that I haven’t watched the old version since I was about fourteen years old.

And I honestly couldn’t say whether I would agree with 14-year-old me about the merits of the movie.

So, since it was available to stream for free on one of the services I subscribe to, I watch the 1960 version of Ocean’s Eleven that night.

Short review: I still really enjoyed it. However, I completely understood why younger viewers would not enjoy it at all. It was a great reminder that no creative work stands in isolation.

More detailed review: One of the film’s greatest weaknesses is that there is virtually no character development. As more than one contemporary review pointed out, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop — also known as the Rat Pack — aren’t playing fictional characters unique to this movie, but rather just playing the personas that each had become associated with over the course of several movies and other performances over the years before the release of this film.

Cesar Romero–who was never considered part of the Rat Pack–is essentially playing the same character he played in a large number of movies before this. And much less famous members of the cast (Richard Benedict, Norman Fell, Hank Henry, Robert Foul,, Richard Conte, and Henry Silva to name a few) were all playing a type of character that they were frequently cast as. So for a vast portion of the 1960 audience of the film, the script didn’t have to do any work to establish the characters—the audience knew what to expect when they saw the actor walk into frame.

A further example of this is the recurring gag during the first half of the movie. For no apparent reason, Sinatra’s Danny Ocean keeps doing or prompting others to do things that greatly upset the mastermind of the operation, Mr. Acebos /(played by Akim Tamiroff/). Nothing about this sub-plot ever contributes to the end of the film, let alone moving forward any part of the plot. Tamiroff was an exceedingly well regarded actor who had been nominated for an Oscar a few times in his early career, but by the late fifties he was often cast in roles like this one of a easily excitably, overly worried character. His main role in those sorts of files was the be the easily wound up character who was unnecessarily worried about the ability of the main character to do whatever he was supposed to do for the plot.

Slight digression at this point, Tamiroff was an Armenian-American who was never able to shed his accent, and thus enjoyed a 60-some year career in Ho0llywood being cast as virtually every ethnicity except Armenian. The character he played in 1940′ The Great McGinty is often cited as the inspiration of the character of Boris Badenoff in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons.

Another big shortcoming of the movie for modern audiences is the heist itself. The way that Danny Ocean’s eleven comrades go about stealing millions in cash from five casinos simultaneously is not even slightly as intricate or clever as the plots of later caper films such as The Hot Rock or either version of The Thomas Crown Affair or even any single episode of the television series Leverage.

But, to defend the movie (which made a tidy profit for the studios at the time), one doesn’t have to ignore all of those deficits. Rather, one should ask what sort of story was it trying to tell?

First, even though it usually presented as a stand-alone movie, that wasn’t at all how the movie executives (nor most of the audience) perceived it. If you were a studio making movies at that time, you didn’t cast Sinatra, Martin, Davis, Lawford, et al, to portray a new and unique character. You cast them to play a particular type of character they had become famous for. Similarly, if you were an audience member going to the theatre to see this film, you were expecting those actors to deliver a certain kind of entertainment.

Second–and possibly most important–this film is not part of the modern genre of caper film. The title itself foreshadows the ending. Early in the film Sammy Davis, Jr. sings a song called "Ee Oh Eleven." The song is about a person who is trying to claw their way out of a less than advantaged background, and almost reaches financial success, but life is a crap-shoot, and the character rolls an eleven, losing everything he had amassed. And that is the clue that was meant to tell audiences what was coming. The title appears to refer to Danny Ocean and his ten army buddies who, as a gang of eleven, are going to do the impossible. But the eleven in the title actually refers to that moment in a game of Craps where the person rolling the dice rolls an eleven and loses everything.

While I was looking things up about the film to make sure I remembered all the details of its release and so forth correctly, I happened upon a quote from a contemporary review of the movie: "In the end, it is just an amoral tale told for laughs."

I think the reviewer who wrote the line thought that it was a scathing rebuke of the film. But when I read the line, my thought was, "Yeah? So?" Because an amoral tale simply told for laughs sounds like a quite wonderful way to spend an evening. We don’t usually come to stories and other works of art hoping for a deeply profound life-changing exploration of a erudite philosophical question.

We just want something that makes us laugh and feel entertained. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Weekend Update 5/1/2021: Astronauts, Unhinged pundits, Crazed substitute teachers, and how I accidentally quit smoking 26 years ago

Good speed, Michael Collins

Time for a post where I either talk about news that broke after I composed this week’s Friday Five or new developments in stories linked previously, or something I want to say about a story linked previously.

I posted two different stories about the death of Apollo 11 Command Module Pilot, Michael Collins, already. When Apollo 11 became the first human mission to land on the moon, I was an eight-year-old science and sci fi geek living in the central Rockies region of the U.S. and I was glued to every news cast about it. Yesterday I find this re-posted story on NPR that includes a 1988 interview with Collins which I found really interesting: ‘Fresh Air’ Remembers Apollo 11 Astronaut Michael Collins

Moving on…

You may have seen the video or pictures of this sweet moment that were being shared on social media Thursday and Friday: Joe Stops to Pick Flower for Jill Biden on Their Way to Ga. Rally and to Visit Jimmy and Rosalynn Carte – While en route to Georgia, the president shared a brief moment with his wife, stopping to pick her a dandelion before they boarded Marine One

While all of us normal humans saw a man plucking a flower from the lawn to hand to his wife, a gesture that men who are in love with their wives have been known to do spontaneously for centuries, the people at Fox and Newsmax saw something else. And while this headline uses the work ‘mock’ I think a better description is that they came unhinged at the sight: Fox & Newsmax Hosts Mock Joe Biden’s ‘Sweet’ Dandelion Moment with Jill — One Claims it Was ‘Planted’

One of the so-called pundits claimed that Joe had murdered the flower because he plucked it "before it had bloomed." And how does he know that it was before it had bloomed? Why, because it was in that downy stage where one can blow on it and send its seeds flying. In case you don’t know how flowers work (which clearly this guy doesn’t) the downy seed stage happens long after the flower blooms. The whole point of that downy seed stage is to spread the seeds that have been created by the flower blooming and getting pollinated.

But then the unhinged Fox host goes on to claim that blowing those seeds causes other people to get asthma. Um, no, again, that isn’t how asthma works nor is it the seeds that are even the issue. Many asthma sufferers have attacks triggered by high pollen count. That downy part of the dandelion is not pollen. Those are seeds. Very different things.

The latter charge is particularly eye-roll-inducing because just a few moments before the same producer and accused Joe of effectively committing dandelion abortion… but the flowers can’t reproduce without exchanging the very pollen that the pundit has mistaken the seeds for and which he says it is a crime to spread in the air.

Ooooo, boy!

Speaking of unhinged people…

Kansas Lawmaker Arrested For Assaulting Student After Long Day Of Yelling At Teens About God This is just a wild and terrifying story. The assualt, by the way, is that the teacher grabbed a student by both shoulders, declared that he was delivering god’s wrath, kneed the kid in the testicles, and then yelled at the rest of the class inviting any other students who wanted to to come up and kick the same kid in the balls, too.

This is after hours of this substitute teacher yelling hysterically (and all being recorded and uploaded to the internet by astounded kids) about god and how important it is that they make babies and don’t let kids wind up in foster care with lesbian mothers. It’s just unreal.

And now he’s claiming that it was all staged. But the kid who got kneed in the groin isn’t going along with the story. And if you watch any of the videos it seems fairly clear that the teacher and lawmaker is not acting.

Let’s move one…

Yesterday I linked to the story about the FDA kinda sorta moving forward with possibly making a statement about eventually banning menthol in cigarettes: FDA says it will ban menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars – The agency has long faced calls to act on menthol cigarettes, which are disproportionately smoked by Black Americans and teens just starting to use tobacco

People have been lobbying the FDA to ban menthol cigarettes for many years. So it is a little irritating that 8 years after officially studying the question, their new major announcement is that they will publish a policy sometime soonish proposing the ban… and begin yet another public comment period.

I am illustrating this section of the post with a picture of a pack of Newport brand menthol cigarettes for a reason. Those used to be my favorites. Yes, until I quit 26 years ago, I not only smoked cigarettes, but I smoked menthols.

You may ask why people have been asking the FDA to ban the menthol cigarettes? Well, the answer is essentially the same if you asked me why, back in the day, I preferred menthols. Menthol is not more dangerous than the ordinary ingredients in tobacco smoke on its own, but want menthol does (besides added a cool tingly taste) is it numbs nerve endings. The reason that one of the more popular brands of menthol cigarettes is named Kool is because that numbing effect and the taste create an illusion that the smoke you are inhaling in these cigarettes is less hot (and therefore less burning) than ordinary cigarettes.

So smoking menthols mean that you are less likely to cough or feel a burning sensation and so forth. Some studies have indicated that people who smoke menthol cigarettes smoke more cigarettes per day than those that don’t, and everyone suspects it’s that numbing/cooling effect the menthol has that leads to that.

There are other studies that show that regular menthol smokers, if they can’t get a menthol cigarette during a particular time period, smoke less. And there are also studies that indicate not being able to get menthols at all would increase the number of people who decide to quite each year by the tens of thousands.

And given how deadly smoking is, that would be a good thing.

But the main reason I wanted to write about this ban is because it’s a great excuse to tell you how I accidentally quit smoking 26 years ago.

That’s write, I didn’t mean to quit smoking (even though I really knew that I should)…

How did that happen, you ask? Well, I got this really, really awful case of bronchitis. My doctor prescribed a seven-day course of the antibiotic Zithromax, and by day five the bronchitis seemed to be letting up, but about three days after the last pill, the bronchitis came back with a vengeance.

So my doctor prescribed a ten-day course of clarithromycin, another antibiotic. After several days on the clarithromycin the worst of the symptoms of the bronchitis let up, but I still had a wheeze in my lungs and shortness of breath. Mostly I just wasn’t keeping myself awake all night coughing. And again, a couple of days after the the last tablet, the symptoms got worse, again.

So, after taking another x-ray and some more tests to confirm that it was a bacterial infection of my bronchial tubes, the doctor prescribed augmentin. Augmentin is a combination of the very old, basic antibiotic amoxicillin, plus clavulanate potassium – which is a substance that neutralizes the most common mechanisms that some drug-resistant bacteria deploy.

After just four days of that ten-day regime, the cough had faded away, the wheezing was almost entirely gone, the shortness of breath was gone, and my fever had dropped down to low-grade. I kept taking the pills until they were gone, but I felt so much better.

And it was around this time, when I still had four or five days of the third antibiotic to go, that I realized I couldn’t find my open pack of cigarettes. I searched and searched. My late husband suggested I just pull a fresh pack out of the carton, or take one of his (except he smoked Marlboro Reds – no menthol, so no thanks).

For whatever reason, I was feeling extra stubborn. I was sure that I had more than half a pack of cigarettes somewhere that I had just smoked from, right? Ray asked, "When did you have your last cigarette?" And I started to say, "Oh, it must have been a couple hours ago? I think…? I was at my desk…"

So I went up to the computer room and started looking more thoroughly around the desk. Back then, I kept a pile mail that needed attending to on the desk. Items were added as they came in, and periodically I’d go through it, pay bills that were coming due, and so forth. Inside the pile, beneath seven days worth of new incoming mail, I found the open pack of cigarettes.

I pulled out a cigarette, put it in my mouth, and reached for the lighter.

And then I thought, "This means it has been seven days since my last cigarette." I had been too busy cough and wheezing and choking and being miserable with the bronchitis for the nicotine craving to rise to the surface. I walked downstairs, told Ray where I had found the pack and what that meant. I put the cigarette back in the pack. "I went seven days without smoking and never even noticed. Let’s see if I can go eight."

For the next couple weeks I said a variant of that to myself each day. "I’ve gone eight days, let’s see if I can do nine," and so on.

Sometime in the mid-twenties I just stopped counting days.

There is a coda to add. For years every time I caught a cold, even a mild head cold, it would turn into bronchitis and I’ve have to take antibiotics. At least three times every winter I’d get bronchitis. It was about three years after I quit smoking before I realized that in all that time, I hadn’t had a cold turn into bronchitis.

This is not to say that I have never had bronchitis again, but now it is, at most every other year or so, and even then, it’s only if I have a severe cold or the flu that goes on for a week or more. So, in case the danger of cancer (and watching a number of my loved ones die of smoking-related illnesses over the years) wasn’t enough reason to quit, I’m happy that I’m not constantly getting that painful choking cough in the middle of the night several times a year.

So, yeah, speaking from personal experience: anything that will help more people quit smoking is a good thing!

If Good Days Start With Coffee, Then Bad Days…

I mentioned in an earlier post that one of the presents my husband got me for Christmas was a replacement coffee maker, since the heating plate on the one I have been using for years was rusting out. I have only been using the coffee maker for about a month, so I was a little surprised after making the a new pot of coffee on Monday that the clean light was flashing on the maker. Which means that as soon as I finished drinking the coffee, I needed to clean everything out, load up the reservoir with a blend of vinegar and water and run a clean cycle.

Since that took a while late in the afternoon, I didn’t make a second pot of coffee.

My usual routine is to make a fresh pot of coffee on Monday morning, then after I drink the first pot, I make a second pot in the afternoon. I only drink about half of the second pot. Then usually on Tuesday morning I heat up the leftover from the previous day in the microwave until I finish it off, then I make a second pot which is usually consumed that day.

So I’ve used to having some coffee I can drink first thing on at least two days a week so I don’t have to try to make a new pot without already having some caffeine in my brain. I got through the rest of Monday by drinking a couple of cans of a brand of Cold Brew I sometimes mix with the homebrewed coffee to make a kind of mocha.

Even though I knew what had happened Monday afternoon, I was a bit shocked when I came into the kitchen Tuesday morning that the carafe was completely empty. I put some coffee beans in the grinder, then went back to my desk to boot up the work computer. There were several urgent messages awaiting me, so I started working on various things.

During a break between urgent calls from various co-worker, I headed into the kitchen to get some coffee. Except there wasn’t coffee. There were just fresh ground beans waiting to be put into the filter basket. I hadn’t remembered to come back and do the next part of the process. So I put the gounds into a filter.

And because there were a lot of alert sounds coming from the work phone, I headed back to the computer to deal with the follow up questions. By the time there was a break, I was developing a caffeine-deprivation headache. So I headed into the kitchen again…

…I had put the grounds into a fresh filter and put the filter into the coffeemaker, but I hadn’t put any water in the reservoir, let along turned the coffee maker on.

I didn’t get the coffeemaker actually going until about noon.

So it wasn’t exactly the best day.

Maybe Wednesday will go better…

I guess I’ll find out!

Adventures in Memories of the Poorly Educated

While discussing with my husband the middle bit of my review of episode four of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier I was reminded of this truly bizarre argument I was involved in during college. The setting: a freshman level World History class at a Community College in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. in 1980. Several students in the class were adamant that the instructor (and those of us who sided with him) were absolutely incorrect to say that the Spanish Civil War was not a portion of the U.S. Civil War that spilled over into Mexico. And why in the world would we think that it happened in Europe?

Sadly, it was not the dumbest thing I ever heard a college or university student argue over the course of my academic career…

Confessions of an old white-bearded blogger

Old man yells are cloud, "I will not succumb to the cultural devolution you call progress!"

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that the most recent Friday Five was an almost unreadable mess. The reason is kind of a funny (infuriating) story.

I logged out of my work computer on Friday evening sometime around 6pm, as I often do, then switched to my Macbook Pro to start working on the usual Friday Five post. As usual I started by going through my list of bookmarked news stories for a bit to get an idea of which ones I definitely wanted to include.

I took a break to sort laundry and discuss dinner plans with my husband. Then I took the laundry down to the laundry room and got it started, came back up, assembled a burrito from the massive pile of burrito fixin’s my husband had made for our lunch and scarfed it down. Then I swapped the laundry from the washers to the dryers, and sat back down to actually type up the Friday Five in HTML in a text editor.

Around 9pm Pacific Time, while I was in the middle of working on the Friday Five Wordpess.com killed the Classic Editor (in the background; I didn’t find out until I was finished typing and went to set up metatags and such), which is what I was used to using… And even though the new Block Editor has a Block that is called "Classic" if you put HTML in there, it publishes it the way that last Friday’s post turned out.

Between working on the post, dinner, and dealing with the laundry, by the time I was ready to publish the post, it was my usual bedtime, and the editor I was using disappeared. I don’t want to explain all the hoops I had to go through to salvage my HTML code which suddenly just vanished, and then try to get the web site to let me publish it. I just reached a point where I said, "Screw it! The HTML publishes fine of Dreamwidth, but you can click on the links at WordPress and they work; it just looks horrible." And I went to bed.

Here’s the thing: I’m old. I’ve been publishing stuff to the web since the 1990s, but I really started in the late 1980s writing help files for a small software company in SGML, which is an ancestor of both HTML and XML. So I type HTML tags really fast. It’s all muscle memory. I don’t think "less-than sign space a space href equals sign quotation mark" to type the beginning of a hyperlink referenece, I just think "link" and my fingers type out <a href=" almost faster than I can say the word "link" out loud.

In part that’s because I learned to type on old manual typewriters before the advent of electric typewriters or personal computers, so I type at about 105 words per minute on modern keyboards. It’s just a thing.

The new WordPress editor does offer a Markdown block element, and if I type Markdown in to that, it works fine. The problem on Friday was that I already had the entire post ready to go in HTML, and retyping the whole thing in Markdown would have taken more time. There ought to be an option with any Web publishing tool to publish HTML. But stupidity, apparently, reigns.

Some folks will ask why I haven’t been typing the Friday Five posts in Markdown before this, because "everyone uses Markdown now" and the whole point of Markdown is that it is fewer keystrokes than HTML and the raw text is even easier for a human who doesn’t know anything about coding or the Web to parse. I know! A few years ago I was pulled aside at work to help with a side project one of the vice presidents was working on, and they wanted to do the help in Markdown. I reviewed John Gruber’s web page of the syntax, opened up my favorite plain text editor, and I wrote help in Markdown. Because the help was fairly simple there wasn’t much of a learning curve. And while, yeah, Markdown is a lot fewer keystrokes, that one project wasn’t enough to get Markdown into muscle memory. I have to think about the Markdown syntax, as simple as it is, to write this blog post.

I know HTML well enough that I don’t have to think to type it. And yes, that means that right now I still can type <a href=" as fast or nearly as fast as I can think, "Uh, let’s see, the link text goes in the square brackets while the link goes in ordinary parenthesis, I think?"

It won’t be long before I’m not pausing to remember what to type for the less often used things, but it’s a new habit I need to learn. And like most humans I am lazy. I’d rather keep using the thing I already know than to get as good at the new thing as I already am with the old thing.

So this is that part where you imagine me as Grandpa Simpson shouting at a cloud.

But writing this post has been good practice for the next Friday Five.

Stephen Colbert: Now’s Not The Time To Fix America’s Gun Problem, Says GOP In Familiar Refrain Now's Not The Time To Fix America's Gun Problem, Says GOP In Familiar Refrain

Socially acceptable chemical dependence in the morning

“I just love the smell of socially acceptable chemical dependence in the morning.”

“I just love the smell of socially acceptable chemical dependence in the morning.”

Today I am drinking coffee made from the very last beans out of the last bag of the many types of Holiday Blend/Christmas Blend I purchased during this last holiday season. I opened the first bag of holiday blend coffee a day or two before Thanksgiving, and I have been working my way through them—without making coffee from any of the bags of non-holiday blend beans in my pantry—ever sense. I am not certain, but I think this year might be the latest I have gone into the year still trying to use up those Jingle Janglin’ Java Beans. I know I usually make it into at least mid-February.

One thing that is different this year is that I have adopted the habit of placing the coffee carafe and all other machine-washable bits of the coffee maker into the dishwasher on Sunday. Then make a couple of pots of tea for my caffeine intake that day. Also, Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) fell close to the last day of Thanksgiving that it can, so I had one less week than I do most years to get through the bulk of the holiday blend coffee. Therefore, I shouldn’t be surprised that it took several extra weeks to use up the holiday coffee this year.

But that isn’t my only coffee problem.

I have so, so many bags of non-holiday coffee beans. Partway through the holiday season I finally realized that there were at least three times as many bags of the non-holiday blends hiding on the shelf behind the holiday blends than I thought. And it really confused me for a moment. Then I realized what happened.

My favorite coffee, bar none, is Wings of the Morning Kona Coffee from Ka `Io Farms. Which is usually carried by Central Market (and which I originally discovered at Ballard Market back when we lived only four blocks away from that store). But the availability is kind of seasonal. It seems every year (but not at the same time of year), the bags of Wings of the Morning vanish from the store shelf for about three or four months. And the last time I found some on the shelf was in either late August or early September.

It’s a more expensive coffee than most of those I drink, so I save it as kind of a special treat. I have also often stretched the Wings of the Morning supply by mixing the beans with Lowry’s Dark Hawaiian Blend, which still tastes really good, but makes me feel less guilty about the cost per cup of the coffee.

Anyway, the reason I have so much extra coffee in the pantry is that every time I went to Central Market hoping to find Wings of the Morning, but found that spot empty, I would buy one or two bags of some of the other coffees they sell there. Of the stores I regularly shop at, Central Market has the widest selection of coffees from different roasting companies. And once in that some period Ballinger Thriftway had the Lowry’s coffees on sale really discounted, so I bought two bags that week.

Which all adds up to a whole lot of coffee beans in my pantry.

When I noticed, mid-December, just how much more coffee there was in the pantry than I thought, I added a new item to the Shopping List on my phone: “DO NOT BUY COFFEE.” So, unless, by chance, Wings of the Morning suddenly appears in the store in the next few months, I’m not going to be buying any new coffee. Because it will clearly take that long to make a significant dent in the coffee in the pantry.

And before anyone suggests that I used that as an excuse to drink extra: I drink, on average, one and a half pots of coffee per day all by myself. I really don’t think I need to increase my intake.

Otherwise, I might vibrate myself into another dimension.

When the lightning burns, the wolfsbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright – or, more of why I love sf/f

I have been trying to write a review of the sixth book in the Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire, and realized that I couldn’t really talk about it without talking about the rest of the series, and I had somehow neglected to write about the previous book when I read it last year, so I need to talk about it before I jump into the latest. So, this will be a review of the fifth book. For reference, I wrote about the first three novellas in this series here. And then I wrote about the fourth book (which left me sobbing uncontrollably), here.

I should preface this with this statement: before I read the first book in this series I was predisposed to love them, as the author had explained on a panel at a sci fi convention I attended, that the inspiration for the first story was her own reading of tales (when she was a child herself) in which a child or group of children were transported to a magical world where they faced danger, monsters, and adventure but managed to save that world… and then were forced to go back home and just be ordinary kids again!

And I definitely loved the first book in the series, as well as the next several sequels.

The fourth book, In An Absent Dream was—for me—the most devastating, but the first three had been pretty moving.

When the first teasers for the fifth book came out, I must admit I had mixed feelings. The first book had introduced us to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a refuge for those children who were not happy to be sent back to mundania after having slipped through the shadows into another world. Among the children we met in the first book were the twin sisters Jack and Jill, who had been to a world of horrors. And they had turned out to be central to the mystery of the first book. The second book in the series is a prequel to the first, and tells the story of how Jack and Jill (or Jacqueline and Jillian as they were known by their parents) went to that world, had their adventure, and come home.

It was clear from both the announced title of the fifth book and its official summary that we were going to be treated to yet another adventure involving Jack and Jill. And while I had enjoyed the first and second book in the series, there had been a whole lot of other characters introduced in the first and third books whose stories I really wanted to learn more of. So giving yet one more book to Jack and Jill, who had already had two books, seemed like it was giving the shaft to some of the other characters.

On the other hand, the magical world that Jack and Jill had traveled to, known as The Moors, was based on the old Universal Horror movies of the 1930s and 1940s. And I loved those particular movies, which had contributed quite a bit to how much I had loved the second book in the series, Down Among the Sticks and Bones. So I wasn’t really complaining about getting to spend more time there.

McGuire has explained several times that the series is set up thusly: odd-numbered books will be set at the school and involve groups of children who have already had at least one magical adventure on their own working together to solve a problem, while even-numbered books will be straight up Portal Fantasies where we see one or more children going to one of the magical worlds for the first time, and how that transforms them.

So. Come Tumbling Down begins with Jack unexpectedly coming back to Eleanor West’s school after taking her deranged sister back to the Moors and needing help. Several characters accompany Jack and her resurrected girlfriend, Alexis, back to the Moors to try to stop Jill from doing something truly horrible that will (among other things) cause great harm to her sister, Jack. Not to mention cause a lot of other bad things to happen to the mostly innocent bystanders trying to live their lives on The Moors.

It is clear right away that something is very wrong. Jack and Alexis explain the situation, and beg some of the students of Eleanor West’s school to come back with them to The Moors to stop Jill’s evil plan, because Jack can’t do it without them. A couple of the other wayward children we met in earlier books, as well as at least one we haven’t seen before this book answer Jack’s call and go back with her to the Moors.

We get to see aspects of this world that weren’t covered in Down Among the Sticks and Bones, which is cool. But as the rest of the quest unfolded I had a bit of a problem. Most of the characters that Jack persuaded to come back weren’t actually needed to complete the quest. Honestly, exactly one, and only that one and only for one specific task of the characters that Jack begged to come back with her did anything that actually contributed to solving the problem. All of the other actions that contributed to the solution were performed by Jack on her own. So most of the characters (including one who paid a very significant price) were not needed after all. Their only purpose in the plot was to get hurt (or worse) to create some tension, and not actually to contribute to the final solution.

It can be argued that Jack didn’t know that when she pled her case early in the book… but the author should have known that, and should have structured the story somewhat differently.

Mind you, I enjoyed the quest, its solution, and the new things we learned about the Moors. I just think the author dropped the ball at a couple of points in the plot, is what I’m saying.

However, the over all story—most importantly the explicit revelation that what some people call a monster can actually be the hero of the tale—was very entertaining and quite good. So like every other story I’ve read by this author, by the end despite some things not going the way I thought, I was still left mostly happy with that tale and looking forward to the next story in the series.

But it didn’t feel either as tight nor as poignant as the fourth book. And maybe I should just accept that sometimes an author hits their stride on every single aspect of a book in an incredible way, and other times they only hit it on say three out of five major components.

I mean, I liked the book. I went back to reread it and enjoyed it the second time. And as soon as I knew their was another book in the series coming out I preordered it. Which means, I guess, that I’m saying some of the books in this series are Incredible and Stupendous, and others are merely Really Good.

And that’s okay.

Coffee vs reality – and silly habits

“May your coffee kick in before reality does.”

“May your coffee kick in before reality does.”

Way, way, way back before my first husband died in 1997, every holiday season we would pick up some bags of Holiday Blend coffee beans. It so happened that my late-husband didn’t like Starbucks’ Christmas Blend, so that wasn’t one of the blends we would pick up each year. He died in November of ’97, a couple weeks before what I usually think of as the beginning of the holiday season, so I felt a particularly irrational need to make sure I picked up his two favorite blends… which meant that I was on the lookout for the holiday coffees. And I wound up, I believe, with his two favorites plus Starbucks and one other that I hadn’t heard of before. And thus began my new tradition of picking up as many Holiday/Christmas Blend coffees as I could each year—which I have blogged about many times before.

As of this morning, these are the blends I have completely finished off…

I’ve long resigned myself to the fact that there are so many of these blends available that I will be drinking Christmas Blend coffee well into February. One reason being that I am the only coffee drinker in the household. Michael, unlike my first husband, doesn’t like coffee. At all. Which I usually think of as simply meaning more for me, but it does mean that this particular tradition is mostly just a me thing.

These are the blends I have yet to finish off.

I have been picking up Starbucks Thanksgiving Blend as part of this for a few years. I usually start drinking the Thanksgiving Blend some number of days before Thanksgiving, and usually finish it off fairly early in December. Since U.S. Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November, sometimes that means there as many as 8 days of November before December starts. So I’m used to finishing off the Thanksgiving blend by early December at the latest. Therefore I was feeling a little weird when I realized I was almost two weeks into December and hadn’t quite finished off the Thanksgiving Blend. Part of that issue was that there were only four days of November left after Thanksgiving. But also, in the last year I’ve gotten into the habit of not making coffee on Sundays. I make a pot or two of tea and use the opportunity of not making coffee for a day to run the carafe and other parts of the coffee maker through the dishwasher.

I was also feeling as if the coffee wasn’t tasting right. With the current pandemic, any times things don’t taste as you expect there is a fear that you’ve caught the virus, but it wasn’t all food—just coffee. I finally remembered that last summer the coffee was tasting too strong, so I had turned the dial on my fancy grinder that determines how much coffee is ground up on a single push of the button a few notches. Which means I was using few beans per pot. But it had tasted right then.

There are (marketing) studies out there that people want stronger, darker coffee during cold weather than during warm weather. Which is why many of the coffee roasting companies use darker roasts in their holiday blends, for instance. But that doesn’t effect the strength of the coffee. So I turned the dial up a couple of notches for the next pot of coffee. It was better, but still not right. Then I turned it up a few more notches, and I’ve been liking how the coffee tastes since.

If it takes me two more months to finish off all the Holiday Blends, I guess I’ll just have to live with it!

Another stable orbit around our star… and my New Year’s wish for you

“Happy New Year”

“Happy New Year”

“Whew! Another stable orbit around our star! Happy New Year!”

“Whew! Another stable orbit around our star! Happy New Year!”

For many years now my final post of the year has been my New Year’s Wish for everyone who reads it and/or anyone who needs it. And I never know what it is going to be until I sit down to write it. This year is one of the most difficult ones to think about, because as I said in my previous post, not everyone made it through the year. Thinking about that brings tears to my eyes and also makes me really angry. And my new year’s wishes have always before been in one way or another about hope and empowerment.

“It's OK if all you did this year was just SURVIVE.”

“It’s OK if all you did this year was just SURVIVE.”

When I say that thinking of all the people who have died needlessly this year it brings tears to my eyes, well, sometimes that all that happens. But I’ve found myself frequently not just tearing up, but breaking down into full sobbing. And as one of my best friends once observed, it is really hard to feel empowered when you are crying your eyes out. Then I found the image/meme on the right. “It’s OK if all you did this year was just SURVIVE.” I think I need to embrace that notion.

Alvin McEwen opined this week that it’s okay to feel exhausted by the year, and that it’s okay to be angry—because despite being exhausted we aren’t totally beaten down, and our anger is righteous anger. (If, by the way, you don’t follow Alvin’s blog, Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters you should check it out! He’s doing good work there.) He’s right. It’s okay if all we’ve done is survive. Because the first step in fighting back against the darkness is to be here, ready to fight.

And as I finished that sentence, I finally figured out what this year’s wish is:

Be hope.

Don’t look to others for hope. Be hope.

There have been times when other people gave you hope. Now it’s time to pay it forward. Be hope.

You can be the hope that changes the world. Show up. Remember that exhaustion, and be kind when necessary. Harness that righteous anger, and be resolute and unyielding when it is called for.

Be hope.

Even when you are afraid, be hope.

“Happy New Year 2021”

“Happy New Year 2021”

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