Here We Go Again

A quick question before I get into the main post. This is directed to those of you who have rear window wipers on your cars.

See, we had our first rain of the year yesterday, and noticed that only one driver out of a couple of dozen had turned on their rear window wipers.

So the question is, why not? Do the rear wipers not work? Do you forget they’re there? Do you just not care you can’t see anything in your rearview mirror? (The way many people change lanes these days makes me wonder if they even have rearview mirrors.)

Or is there an explanation I haven’t thought of?

Moving on.

Here we go again. The latest call for technology to rethink the book comes from David Pierce over at Wired. He might charge me with oversimplification, but I’m not seeing anything in his piece that differs from any of the “print is boring, we need to jazz it up” opinions we’ve gotten since the dawn of ebooks.

Mr. Pierce has a few more examples than we’ve seen before, because people keep experimenting, but it’s still the same idea: “books don’t have to consist only of hundreds of pages set in a row.”

Let’s skip the question of what a “book” is. Whether you consider something delivered as a series of tweets, something that allows readers to text with the characters, or something that comes with a musical soundtrack to be a book is beside the point. And yes, I’m including audiobooks as “maybe they’re books, maybe they’re not” here because they’re one of the earliest and most enduring approaches to “jazzing up the book”.

The critical problem with the idea of evolving the book is that people want books to remain books. Mr. Pierce himself points out that what made the Kindle popular was its replication of the reading experience. No pop-ups, no advertisements, no distractions from the act of moving the writer’s words into the reader’s brain. As a reader, you get to choose when to read, where to read, how fast to read, and how you react to what you read.

It’s about control. The more multimedia features you add to a “book,” the more you take control of the experience away from the reader. Add pictures, and you control the reader’s mental image. Add audio and video and you increase that control. Constrain the delivery options, and you limit the ability to decide where and when to read.

I have no problem with experiments in new ways of delivering stories–provided they don’t turn into advertisements–but any claim that such experiments will lead to the replacement of books-as-we-know-them should be regarded with great dubiety.

What I do see happening with books is that publishers will find ways to increase the reader’s control–and successful publishers will use those techniques.

A case in point: I recently purchased an ebook collection of short stories, the complete set of stories about a single character. In the foreword, the author notes that, while she would prefer people to read them in the order they were written, she recognizes that many people would prefer them in order of their internal chronology.

In a printed book, the author and editor would get to decide. If the reader prefers the other option, it means tedious flipping back to the table of contents, then flipping forward to the next story. But an ebook can be built to support both options. In this case, turning the pages as usual gives the “as written” story order, but at the end of each story there’s a link to go directly to the next story in internal chronological order. Either way, it’s a single click/tap/page turn to go to next story. At the reader’s discretion.

Convenience features, ideas to make the act of reading as we already know it more pleasant, are the future of books. Multimedia, text messages, and other bolt-on features are the future of something else.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year. If you bought an extended service plan on 2017, it has now expired, and the full cost of all repairs or replacements will have to be paid out of pocket. Regrettably, the Office of Chronological Mismanagement is no longer offering service plans of any sort. So enjoy 2018 while it still has that new car smell. Soon enough we’ll have to break out the duct tape and patch it up.

In any case, we had a very pleasant end to 2017 and beginning of 2018. You may have gotten the impression from my posts that this family likes fireworks–and that would be a correct impression. We go to New Year’s Eve and Fourth of July fireworks shows whenever we can.

Last year, we caught the show in Berkeley, but this year there wasn’t one. Nor, as far as I could tell, was there one anywhere in the East Bay. All the municipalities were very quiet about it; we don’t know if the lack of shows was due to financial problems, fire worries, security concerns, a lack of desire to compete with San Francisco’s show, or something even less sensical.

But regardless of the reasons, we had a firework gap that needed to be filled. We’ve always steered clear of San Francisco’s show, figuring it would be an enormous hassle, with an impossible parking situation, horrible crowds, and hours-long delays getting out of the city. Turned out we were wrong.

I won’t tell you exactly where we were. For one thing, the parking garage we found will be closing before the end of 2018, and for another, if all of the readers of this blog showed up in our spot this coming December 31, it would…well, okay, nobody would know the difference. But why take the chance of the post going viral? I’ll just say we were south of the Ferry Building and north of the Bay Bridge and let it go at that.

We arrived around noon–far earlier than we needed to–and had our choice of parking spots in the garage. With apologies to those of you north of Eureka or east of Carson City or Phoenix for sounding like I’m gloating, the temperature, even as midnight approached, was in the fifties with scattered high clouds and exactly three drops of rain. The city of San Francisco had kindly provided large planter boxes with cement walls that made excellent seats. And once we got through the line to pay for parking, our time from the garage onto the Bay Bridge was no more than twenty minutes. In rush hour, that same part of the drive frequently stretches to an hour or more.

If there was one downside to the day, it was that few businesses were open near the Embarcadero, and those that were closed early. I believe that, with the exception of a few restaurants, nothing was open past seven. Was it because NYE was a Sunday? Or is it standard for New Year’s Eve? Memo to San Francisco: encourage more vendors to show up and stay open later. It’ll bring more people into the city earlier in the day, they’ll spend more money, improving both vendor profits and city tax and parking revenue. Just a thought. And next time we do it, we’ll bring books, a deck of cards, or something else entertaining.

Because, yes, there will be a next time. The show was wonderful. If not the best ever, right up there at the top of the list. Yes, the hearts were all lazy, lying on their sides and all but a few of the smiley faces were significantly distorted, but those mishaps just added humor to the show. There was a good mix of high and low bursts, some effects we hadn’t seen before, and a clear–and spectacular–finale.

Consider this an open invitation to blog readers: if you’re freezing your tails off again in December 2018, come to San Francisco. We can hang out together and watch the show. I won’t promise you it’ll be as warm as it was Sunday, but I think it’s safe to promise it’ll be warmer than Times Square.

Christmas Gift

A couple of weeks ago we got home late after a games night.

Rufus had gotten tired of waiting for his dinner, and came down to the kitchen to see what the delay was. In our absence, he investigated the empty cans from the previous couple of nights’ feedings.
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That wasn’t the first time he’s spent time in the kitchen and dining room, but it was almost certainly the longest sojourn, and the first in which he didn’t slink around under the furniture trying to avoid notice.

Once he saw us start preparing his food, he returned to his usual haunts upstairs. But apparently he’s reached a new plateau in his general comfort level.

He visited the kitchen and dining room a couple of times over the following week, and then while Maggie and I were exchanging gifts Christmas morning, he strolled downstairs again and took possession of the catnip rug.
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That’s the designated stoner zone: there are catnip toys all over the house, but the bare herb gets distributed on that rug.

Anyway, Rufus hung out on the rug for the better part of an hour before an opportunity arose. Or rather, before I arose.
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A well-cushioned chair, nicely warmed by a biped’s rear end: what’s not to like?

I’m not sure how long he stayed in my chair, because I left the room first, but it was a significant length of time.

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Upstairs is still Rufus’ home turf, but the staircase doesn’t seem quite so long and forbidding as it once did. I forsee a new era of exploration, colonization, and diplomacy of the “swift paw to the top of the head” variety.

Of Course They Are

Jodie Whittaker has made her debut as The Doctor and, contrary to the warnings of the closed-minded, the world has not come to an end. Not even on television.

Her appearance in the Christmas special is short: she’s got a grand total of one line–two words–but that’s as expected. A Doctor’s last episode is always about the outgoing version, which is as it should be. Before taking off in “radically new directions,” it makes sense to look back at where you’ve been.

From that perspective, by the way, it was an excellent episode, looking back all the way to the first Doctor, and touching several major points in between Numbers One and Twelve. That it also gave the scriptwriter an opportunity to point out how The Doctor’s attitudes toward women, non-whites, and the LBGTEtc communities have changed since 1963. One suspects many of the people objecting to a female Doctor are more in accord with the first Doctor’s sentiments than the twelfth.

Despite the brevity of Ms. Whittaker’s appearance, the doomsayers are already declaring her run a failure. The kindest such remarks I’ve seen are along the lines of “If you suddenly turn into a woman, the first words out of your mouth are going to be ‘What the hell?’ and not ‘Oh, brilliant!'”

I say “kindest” because that comment puts the burden of disapproval on the scriptwriter and not the actress, but rest assured there are plenty of complaints aimed at her.

But I want to talk about that complaint, because it highlights just how desperate the naysayers are to discredit Ms. Whittaker and everyone associated with the show.

Consider:

  • Time Lords changing sex when they regenerate is canon. One has to look no further than Missy for proof, but there have been others. Whether you as a viewer like the fact, it’s part of the universe. And so, while it might not be at the top of a regenerating Time Lord’s mind, it’s a possibility they all live with.
  • The Doctor is at least 1,500 years old. He’s been everywhere and everywhen. He’s burnt out and so far beyond bored he can’t even see it from where he’s standing. Now he’s got a chance to try something radically different. You think he’s going to complain? And let’s face it: a willingness to try new things and see the universe from different perspectives has been one of The Doctor’s core values since that first Doctor.
  • Historically, The Doctor has been somewhat manic immediately after regeneration with all the over-the-top enthusiasm that implies. And let’s not forget that nearly every Doctor has been convinced he’s the best and most attractive incarnation yet. Hell, it’s a running joke that whenever two Doctors meet, nearly the first words out of the earlier one’s mouth are a complaint about how he doesn’t like what the newer one has done with the body. So of course she’s going to approve of the new look and be eager to get on with it–even if she doesn’t know what “it” is yet. Because that’s what The Doctor does.
  • Finally, remember what I said last week about the Last Jedi haters? Same thing applies here. The people who create the show are the only ones who get to decide where the story goes. If you don’t want to go there, you have the option of staying home. If enough people stay home, the show will be canceled (or, in the case of a cash cow like Doctor Who, more likely the creators will be replaced). Okay, end of rant.

And here we are with a new Doctor, an exploding TARDIS, and a fall from high altitude without a parachute. Brilliant!

Hot Cider

I had a lovely Christmas, thanks, and I hope yours was as pleasant as mine.

We slept late–one of the advantages of not having small children in the house–and waited until the caffeine was ready before we opened gifts. I’d like to be able to say we opened them slowly and with due appreciation, but…We’ve been bludgeoning adulthood into submission for enough years that we’re not about to go grown-up now.

We stayed in our jammies all day, talked to family on the phone, watched one of our favorite Christmas movies*, had a nice dinner, gave the Backyard Bunch gooshy fud instead of the usual Kitty Krunchiez, and largely ignored whatever’s was going on in the outside world.

* It’s got its flaws, but it’s also got some of the most quotable lines ever.

Oh, yeah. We also tried a new spiced cider recipe. Since it was wildly successful, I’ll pass along our modified version. For those of you stuck in colder realms, it’s the perfect drink to accompany watching someone else shovel snow.

Credit where credit is due: the original recipe comes from Christine Gallary at The Kitchn. We’ve merely tweaked it slightly and adjusted it for a smaller crockpot.

Hardware and Ingredients

  • A 3-quart slow cooker
  • A tea infuser, small cheesecloth bag, or other similar device for confining spices
  • 1/2 gallon of apple cider. Not the alcoholic stuff (much as we love that) and not the sparkling stuff either. If you can’t get cider, get juice–preferably unfiltered. The important thing is to check the ingredients. If there’s anything other than apple juice listed, put it back on the shelf.
  • 1 baseball-sized orange. Maybe a little bigger, but don’t get up into anything suitable for softball. And no, you can’t substitute a couple of those little clementines that are so popular this time of year. The ratio of flesh to peel and pith is all wrong. Cut it into quarter-inch slices and discard the ends and any other pieces that don’t have much flesh.
  • 3 cinnamon sticks.
  • 1/2 tablespoon of whole cloves
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of whole peppercorns
  • A few pieces of crystallized ginger (yes, a very precise measurement), cut into half-inch squares.

Instructions

  1. Pour the cider into the crockpot. Hardest thing you’ll do all day.
  2. Toss in the ginger, orange, and cinnamon. Gently: don’t splash.
  3. Restrain the cloves and peppercorns into a single packet and drop it in.
  4. Put the lid on the cooker, set it on Low, and leave it alone for two hours.
  5. Stir. Make sure to shove the orange slices under the surface of the liquid. They’ll float back up, but it helps distribute the flavor if they’re damp on both surfaces.
  6. Leave it alone for another couple of hours.
  7. Ladle it into thick-walled mugs and enjoy.

Note: You will get bits of orange and ginger in your mug. Don’t sweat it, just drink around them. Or eat them. Your choice. Mopping up the spills after you try to pour the contents of a hot crockpot through a filter into another pot just isn’t worth the effort.

Last Jedi

As with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, two years ago, I don’t see much point in doing a formal review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Not to put too fine a point on it, if you’re planning to see it, you probably already have, and if you’re not planning on going, nothing I could say is likely to convince you.

Even so, I’ve got some thoughts. I’ll try to avoid significant spoilers, but no promises.

First up, Porgs. There weren’t nearly as many of them as I expected, and that’s a good thing. I, like many others, assumed they were strictly an opportunity to sell plush figures, but now we’re hearing that there was a practical reason to include them: apparently it was easier to digitally superimpose a cute, cuddly alien bird over the local puffins than it would have been to digitally erase the real birds.

Fair enough. But if there were puffins invading the Millennium Falcon set, that doesn’t speak well for the production staff’s attention to security and animal welfare. (In other words, adding Porgs to the later on-ship sequences was strictly a marketing decision. In a movie that was already more than two and a half hours long, did we really need Porg reaction shots during a space battle? From a storytelling perspective, I’d argue not.)

We finally saw ships’ shields doing some good. Not in the X-Wing fighters, of course. I’ve already made my feelings known about that. But if they work so well on the good guys’ larger ships, why don’t the bad guys invest in a few shields? Well, it would have made the early “bombing run” scenes rather different. (And, by the way, bombs? In space? Where there’s no gravity to drop them? They were clearly falling, not traveling under some kind of on-board engine.)

I could ramble for a while about light speed engines and regular engines apparently using different fuel–which seems possible, but kind of unlikely–but I’ll spare you.

“Hey, there’s a planet right over there where we can hide out.” (Not only do we see it on screen, but it’s apparently close enough that they don’t need to use the light speed engines to get there.) “They’ll never think to look for us there.” Okay…why not? Like I said, it’s right over there.

Final thoughts. There’s a movement afoot to petition Disney to declare Last Jedi non-canon.

No. That’s not how it works.

“Hey, The Two Towers sucks. It’s slow, nothing really happens. I’m going to petition the Tolkien estate to have it removed from the Lord of the Rings canon.

Everyone’s free to dislike a work of art, but the only ones who get to decide whether it’s canon are the creators.

Don’t like Last Jedi because it “destroys your childhood”? Fine. Don’t see it again. Don’t go see the next movie either, because you probably won’t like it either.

Don’t like it because of the way it treats characters from the original trilogy? Tough noogies. Time moves on, people change. And creatively-speaking, you can’t keep telling the same story over and over.

Again, vote with your dollars. If you don’t like what Disney is doing with Star Wars, don’t buy the merchandise, don’t see the movies.

But forget about trying to turn Last Jedi into expensive fan fiction, because that’s not your decision.

And, bottom line, the movie works on its own merits. Despite the nits I’ve picked (and the ones I could have but didn’t), it still holds together as a story. Yes, it left a lot of questions unanswered, but that’s what happens when you create a series: you have to leave something for the sequels.

I’ll let you all in on a writers’ secret: There are no beginnings and ends. Every book, every movie, and every other narrative is the middle of something. As a writer, you get to decide where to start telling the story, but it’s not really the beginning. You also get to decide where to stop, but it’s not really the end.

As middles go, Last Jedi is a pretty decent one.

All the News

Kind of a strange news day yesterday.

It started with the Amtrak train derailment in the Seattle area. Nothing inherently weird about the story itself–sad, depressing, and dispiriting, yes, but not weird. What was odd was that the first mention of it I saw was a tweet linking to a news report on an Irish newspaper’s website.

I have mixed feelings about what Robert Heinlein described as “the unhealthy habit of wallowing in the troubles of five billion strangers.” “Think globally, act locally” is appropriate in many cases–climate change springs immediately to mind–but are we really better off as a species when we can find out about every disaster, no matter how small, anywhere in the world? Maybe if the small triumphs were as widely reported as the failures.

But I digress. My original point was that I find it fascinating that not only does news travel so quickly, but so does news about the news. Taken by itself, I find that cause for a certain amount of optimism: it shows that transparency has never been a more attainable goal.

A couple of thoughts about the accident, as long as we’re on the subject. It’s laudable that Amtrak took steps to move their passenger service onto tracks not used by freight service. In theory, sharing tracks shouldn’t be a problem. In practice, the revenue generated by hauling freight has resulted in those trains being given absolute priority. The result has been ever-increasing unreliability in the passenger service, which results in lower ridership, which widens the income gap, and around we go in a spiral that makes it harder and harder to sustain the passenger side of the business.

So there’s that. But the fact that the accident occurred on the very first run over those new tracks suggests strongly that driver training was inadequate. Combine that with American railroads’ persistent unwillingness or inability to adopt train control safety technology that’s been in use everywhere else in the world for decades, and an accident of this severity seems inevitable.

It’s almost enough to make one start thinking in terms of conspiracy theories. Emphasis on “almost”.

Anyway, back to the news.

We also had an unusual example of synchronicity here in the Bay Area. Sunday night, a Richmond police officer began walking around a San Francisco hotel. He was allegedly talking about spirits for some time before he fired half a dozen shots, apparently into the walls. Eventually, he surrendered to the San Francisco police.

Then, apparently to balance the scales in some kind of karmic sense, on Monday a San Francisco police officer pulled into a parking lot in Richmond and shot himself. According to the Chron, he was under investigation, and he was being pursued by a Richmond police officer.

The timing of the two incidents is, of course, coincidental, but they did add a bit of surreality to the day.

One Step…

We had an unprecedented event last weekend.
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Rufus jumped up onto the bed without encouragement, and while it was already occupied by cats and humans. He’s been on the bed before, but only when it was empty or when one of us put him there for easier pettings.

So this was a big step forward.

He stayed there for several hours, using my leg as a pillow while he slept.

Even more impressively, he hung around after I got up.
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And went back to sleep, despite Mr. Thugbutt’s presence.
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Of course, he hasn’t returned since, preferring to return to his usual haunt:
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That’s the back of the futon in his room (formerly known as the library).

But overall, we’re pleased. It’s nice to see him try something new from time to time.