Saturday, June 19, 2010

When in doubt, write.

When I started out the day, I had big plans.  Well, maybe not big plans, but I had at least three blog entry ideas in my head, and even a few vague aspirations toward working on the screenplay.  Once I sat down and logged in, however, I ended up wandering.

I read my morning comic strips and checked my e-mail.  I responded to a few messages, and followed enticing links in one which led to the downloading of free ebooks.  The further I wandered, the less inclined I became to write, despite an attempt at an entry about Dreaming of Dior and being an aspiring but somewhat reluctant fashionista.

In the midst of the wandering, there has been reading.  Of an actual paper and ink book.  Having started last night, I am thirteen chapters and eighty-seven pages into WWW:Wake by Robert J. Sawyer.

The story begins with a fifteen year-old American girl living in Canada who has been blind since birth traveling with her mother to Japan to receive a high tech implant behind her left eye.  The implant is supposed to essentially unscramble the mixed signals her brain is getting from her retina.  There is a much more comprehensive and surprisingly not confusing explanation in the book.  Or maybe it makes sense to me because I know a thing or two about dysfunctional eyes.

Meanwhile, a Chinese doctor is faced with the horrifying decisions involved in containing an outbreak of a new strain of bird flu easily transmitted between people so that it does not become a pandemic.

The action taken, while necessary, is potentially an international public relations nightmare, so the Chinese government blocks all communication to and from the outside world ... inspiring a few determined hackers to try to find the reasons and a way through the firewall.  (We're up to three storylines if anyone is counting.)

In chapter thirteen, the author hops the reader across the globe again to California to witness a web cam chat between a chimpanzee in San Diego and an orangutan in Miami.

Laced through these seemingly unconnected narratives is the not quite story of some sort of entity, some sort of being, struggling toward consciousness for the very first time.

While I am certainly intrigued, I am becoming concerned that if there are any more threads to follow, I will end up with a knot rather than finely woven fabric.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


There is no television reception in my house.  There used to be one of those big antennas (antennae?) on the roof, but while it seemed to work okay during the winter, once spring came and the trees leafed out, there was a noticeable decline in clarity.  So when the new roof was put on, the roofers were kind enough to take down the antenna.

I had a pair of not terribly old rabbit ears and even gamely bought one of those digital converter boxes, which was not so much helpful.

While I realize that you are paying for the service and the equipment more than the programming, I cannot bring myself to pay -- what is it these days?  fifty?  seventy-five?  a hundred dollars? a month to have advertising piped into my house.

Besides, the longer I am away from it, the less I miss it.  What am I really missing anyway?  Depressing news?  Celebrity gossip?  Reality television shows about teen pregnancy?  (Although I have to say, I took myself out to lunch today, and got to watch an episode of Julia Child and Friends on the cooking channel, which I very much enjoyed.)  These days, even when I sit down to watch a movie or a television show on dvd, about all I can think about is all of the other things I probably could and should be doing.

Some of those things are practical -- cleaning the house, doing the laundry, cooking a real meal and making sure that I have leftovers to take to work for lunch -- but many of the things are alternative recreational activities which make me happy and which even make my brain work from time to time -- reading, writing, knitting.

Even though I might not get much use out of the television and about the only time I listen to the radio is when it wakes me up in the morning, I do have a host of other technological gadgets of which I am rather fond ... so fond, in fact, that they all have names.

Kristos (because a young Greek man named Kristos does not count as Greek homework) the netbook travels with me most everywhere I go.  Scheherezade the iPod (so named because she was originally acquired for the purpose of listening to audio books -- a pastime which never really panned out) provides an extensive and varied soundtrack for my commute and when I feel the need to drown out ambient noise.

Someone was even generous enough to give me one of those snazzy pens that records sound as you write as well as an image of your handwriting.  Amat-Mamu now comes with me to meetings on a regular basis.  The software which converts the image of writing into text is a bit dodgy (or else I need better and more consistent penmanship), but overall, she is an extremely handy contraption.

There is a bright red wireless mouse who travels with Kristos but does not have a name -- Templeton, perhaps, even though he was a rat -- but there are tiny 4Gb flash drives -- Ceridwen and Belisama -- who do.

Saraswati the Droid is probably my favorite electronic friend (but shhh ... don't tell the others).  She keeps me in touch with the world via phone, text, instant message and e-mail -- the internet in the palm of my hand.  Amazingly, her presence in my life means that I spend a little less time in front of a computer screen.  She can play games, do any number and variety of calculations, tell me which movies are playing where (and show me previews), show me the stars and provide a weather report.  I recently figured out how to employ her as a modem when local WiFi is on the fritz.  I have even heard tell that I could use her to read books, but while sharp, her screen is just not quite big enough to be conducive to reading for long periods of time, and her stature is just a bit too diminutive to hold comfortably in a reading position.

Besides, I still can't quite bring myself to need electricity in some form to read a book.  Or not be able to loan or give a book to a friend once I have read it.

But I might be getting closer.

I have seen a few Kindles from afar, but have never played with one.  The nook almost had me with fancy advertising prior to its release, and the promise of a fifty-dollar gift card with purchase makes my ears perk up every time I hear it.  Still I resist because I stare at a computer screen for a living, and no matter how closely it might imitate ink and paper, an electronic screen is still an electronic screen.

There is the appeal of being able to carry a pile of books -- it is not uncommon that I carry three or four for various reasons -- in a slim device.  I am also trying to teach myself more about various computer programs, and I tend to prefer to do it the old fashioned way -- by reading a manual or using it as a reference.  A lot of these manuals are available at a discount or even free in electronic form, but it is difficult to read a manual on the same screen that I am running the program I am trying to learn.

There was also the nice gentleman I chatted with about the nook he was using who told me that it was easy to use and handy to have.

Then today I discovered that one of my Goodreads friends is actually an author.  Research told me that neither of his books was available in any of the local purveyors of printed words, but that I could download the Kindle version to my PC almost instantly for ninety-nine cents.

Wow.  Ninety-nine cents.  For a fifteen dollar book.  It's not even too much of an investment to keep me from purchasing a paper copy should I get far enough into the electronic version to decide that I want to read the whole thing but not on a computer screen.  There were plenty of other offerings at the same price point or a bit higher, but I dared not browse too far lest I get carried away and end up with a whole library.

The thing is that the ebook is only available for the Kindle (or for Kindle software downloaded to a PC or other compatible device).  So if I had a nook, I would have been out of luck.  I would be willing to guess that there are nook friendly ebooks not available for the Kindle.  I can, however, download both Kindle ereader software and Barnes & Noble ereader software to my PC for free, so both formats are readily accessible.

As a result, I am starting to dream of a tablet PC ... specifically a tablet PC which runs the Android operating system.  No Microsquash (I wonder if that name can get me sued for slander) and even no Mac.  (Although I did have a brief opportunity to play with an iPad not long ago and wouldn't turn my nose up at it if someone gave me one.)  The success of the Droid phones makes me think that the Android operating system is on its way to widespread, mainstream acceptance.

I don't need it to have all of the talents of Kristos, or even Saraswati for that matter.  It probably doesn't even need an internet connection, WiFi or 3G, although if it did, I would probably be more inspired to read blogs and online magazines.  (Okay, okay, I don't need it at all, but this is my daydream, so keep quiet.)  I'm thinking more along the lines of a handheld digital document reader for ebooks, pdfs and the like.

I can see it now -- relaxing on the patio or lounging by the pool, dozens, if not hundreds, of books at my fingertips to satisfy every literary (or not so literary) whim.  And the more I think about it, the more appealing access to online reading on such a device is becoming.  Reading in the bathtub is probably out though, wouldn't you say?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Margarita Chemistry

Last year, a family friend sent a marvelous pitcher from Estes Park Glass Works, and it was almost immediately dubbed the margarita pitcher.

As a result, I started making margaritas.

The first batch was basic and according to a recipe in a book called High Spirits: 1 1/2 ounces tequila, 1/2 an ounce of triple sec, juice from half of a lime and salt for the glass.  I put the liquor, lime juice and a bunch of ice in the blender and hit the button labeled "liquify."


A bit strong, and someone decided to add sugar, but I thought it was just the thing for a Memorial Day barbecue.

One of the leftovers from said barbecue was most of a twelve pack of Minute Maid pink lemonade, so the first experiment was the above recipe, doubled and with a can of pink lemonade.

Even more yum.  And a bit more dangerous as the pink lemonade disguised the taste of the liquor quite effectively.

As spring has been masquerading as summer from time to time this year, the margarita experimentation began a bit earlier.

The first variation attempted this year was substituting the can of lemonade for close to a pound of fresh, rinsed strawberries and a bit of sugar.  (I didn't measure, but it couldn't have been more than about a tablespoon.)  The yum continued.

Next up were peaches.  Not as much of a success, but I think that the real problem was a lack of lime juice.  I think that lime juice is the key to this particular concoction.

Today I tried a can of green tea ginger ale.  This time I had lime juice, and I was back to yum, although I think that it would have turned out better had the ginger ale been thoroughly chilled.  I will have to note that for next time.

Well, the next time I make green tea ginger ale margaritas.

The next experiment is going to involve the sorbet in the freezer.  I have lemon, and I have mango tangerine (I think -- some kind of citrus at any rate).  Sorbet really could do with a bit of liquor to spice things up, wouldn't you agree?

(You'll notice that none of these drinks contain "margarita mix." Do I even want to know what is in "margarita mix"? Other than sugar or high fructose corn syrup or some other close relative, probably not.)

I recommend that margaritas be consumed from a chilled glass and through a bendy straw.

7-3-10 Edit to add: The mango tangerine sorbet margarita experiment was conducted yesterday with great success.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sight to see

There is the cutest little blonde girl in a pink checked sundress sitting a few tables away.

Actually, she is kneeling on the chair, so that she can reach the tabletop where a gentleman I am going to assume is her grandfather  has sliced up a small, decadent chocolate Bundt cake, which she happily began eating with her fingers until a woman I am going to assume is grandmother insisted on a fork.

Now there is a whipped cream topped chocolately looking beverage to accompany the cake.

I just hope that there are big plans for running between the days rain drops and jumping in puddles to burn off all the inevitable, impending sugar rush.