Tuesday, August 26, 2014

August 26

Neat - on this day in history, women in the United States finally gained suffrage, and in 1973, August 26 was named Women's Equality Day.  This is also Geraldine Ferraro's birthday, which is almost too perfect.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Last night as I got ready for bed, I took the new laptop upstairs with me (amazing what a not-five-year-old computer has in battery life! actual wirelessness!) and poked around the music widget.  Of course, to set up my own playlists requires making some part of myself visible on Teh Intarwebs and potentially even spending MONEY, things my friends and family know to be anathema to my strong luddite spirit, but I did learn you can noodle good tunes out of the thing gratis and without sign-in.  And so, as naturally I would, I chose Bowie for the maiden tune-age (if you don’t count this …), and enjoyed "Where Are We Now" while the tub filled.

The widget suggested OMD after that (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark), which was okay, but I didn’t stick that suggested tune through to the end.  For the bath, the not-exactly-obvious choice of Symphony X’s Paradise Lost, which I haven’t actually picked up yet.  I’m an inveterate non-purchaser of music; I still have all my old cassettes, and the other half of my music collection is on CD.  Though there are MP3s somewhere in my world, it’s only because digital copies came with a CD or perhaps two, but I have no idea how to cope with them, and nope I’ve never owned an MP3 player.

So, as you might guess, there is actually very little music in my life, which is a pity, because I do love music, and can be carried away under its currents or on its waves just as much as anyone.  I listen to the radio at work – the “we play anything” station which I have to assume has ben xeroxed across the nation just like all the other themes, which have less and less differentiation for my ears the older I get – and NPR or a sadly limited array of rarely-changed CDs in the car.

In many ways, I am staunch about radio music.  I grew up on FM and even mom’s AM, and the idea of not controlling 100% of the music in my life still appeals, particularly the more I realize how few people have that experience anymore.  Tunes come up which I like or that bring back memories, things I know I’d never take the effort to purchase for myself if I did control my entire musical experience, and I enjoy the surprises.  Tunes I hate come up, too, of course – it took me a full day to get “Put Me In, Coach” out of my head earlier this week, and a more detestable track is as difficult to imagine as it is undesirable to try.  But the bad makes the good more fun, and the idea of never ever having to hear anything I don’t want to exhausts me even in concept.

I used to have a great little stereo, purchased at the original Circuit City store in all the world, with my dad, who bought me The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” to go with it.  I lived downtown then, in a de-lux apartment in the sky overlooking a courtyard often used for weddings, and so during my two summers in this home – and owing to the turn-of-the-millennium time period I lived there – I was often treated, through my many many huge open windows, to The Electric Slide and (even *I* shudder) The Macarena.  I didn’t try to out-blast these celebrations, but I will state that my defense tended to be attempts to at least drown out these sounds within my own walls, with this cute little stereo that had a slot-machine game in its digital display.

Some of the most powerful memories of reading in my entire life have me ensconsed in my grandmother’s big antique chair near the front door in my big, light, airy flat, with David Bowie’s “Hours” and Fiona Apple’s “Tidal” on random, mixing it up together as I re-read the Kristin Lavransdatter series from a used hardback copy I bought, with onion skin pages and warmth and light surrounding me in the atmospheric aura of that music.

I remember that reading of Lavransdatter all the time.  The novels were originally given to me by my aunt L., when I was about nineteen.  I enjoyed but was slightly puzzled by them at that age, found them dense and a little bit strange, but I was definitely drawn in.  Definitely a seminal experience in histfic – for me, or for anyone – and by age thirty I wanted to rediscover and reassess them.  And the experience was so immersive, with music surrounding the hours (hah) spent in Norway, cold or jealous or fiercely maternal, or ageing toward heaven.  This, too, of all the re-run reads of my lifetime, was an illustration of how a nineteen-year-old virgin’s experience of literature is so different from that of a woman who’s been through marriage and divorce, and learned a little about guilt and turned toward hope and faith.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with being a nineteen-year-old girl, but the reading when I was older was far more involving and enjoyable.

And it was so wrapped up in music.

Mr. X has always placed a very high premium on music – and, of course, it was thinking of him that got me playng SymX last night.  I bought their “Odyssey” years back, before one of the three abortive times he was supposed to come home, and the acoustic stretch of one piece, where he sings of twenty years gone and missing the rolling hills of Ithaca (and his love) still cuts me about as deep as The Brandenberg Concerto on Wendy Carlos’ “Switched On Bach”, or a certain very old punk track called “Code Blue” do for other reasons.

It may be the very extent to which music gets to me emotionally that gives me the excuse to avoid prioritizing it and collecting it.  It may just be my laziness in repairing the CD trays on that cute old stereo (I do still have – and which would play the radio just fine, or even those cassettes of mine).  Come to it, I have an array of turntables and receivers curated and in care, from my brother, my teenage years, my mom and dad.  Their turntable is a beautiful 70s state of the art piece with shining aluminum buttons on a wooden cabinet, which I suspect set them back quite a bit 40 years back and would turn many a collector green.  I have space for them all to be hooked up.  Indeed, I think my brother’s still is, from the one time I set it up in order to listen to the cassette (seriously, in 2003 the church was still using that technology) of our dad’s memorial, which I was going to burn onto CD for the family.  That didn’t happen.  But mom got the CDs a couple or three years ago.  And I’ve never listened to the tape but that one time.  Never listened to the CD at all.

The more I think about this, the more sense it makes to set up one or more of these stereophonic antiques, as I’m throwing a party somewhat soon.  (SHHHHH – don’t tell my mom!  It’s for her 75th!)  One more item to add to the list – eine kleine tag musik, for an afternoon do.

The tune that brought on this post, and all these memories and plans, is "Where Are We Now", in which you can hear both the age of Bowie’s voice, the tiny roughness of his vocal chords not born of sounding edgy, but of being a man past sixty.  It came on last night, and I carried out a bunch of CDs to the Prius this morning – Next Day, of course (listened to "Where Are We Now" twice before I got out of my car and came in to the office), the Fiona, and even some Adele.

Whether I’ll ever get music into my life outside the transistor at the desk and the player in the car – ahh, if only Mr. X were around to encourage me!  But I can see putting on a bit of background before the birthday surprises (maybe even something mom would LIKE – Southern Culture on the Skids leaps nimbly to mind).

(By the way, no actual vid here, just this image and the track, which is beautiful.)

I love music.  I miss music.  I’m even a little afraid of its power.

That’s got to recommend reassessing its place, and my use of it, in my life and home.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Nomen"cluster" ...

When we were wee young things and Beloved Ex and I first met, there was a little problem with what to call him.  He was in a band, we met at a venue, and when he got off stage and chatted with me, he said his name was Denny James (it was the 80s, but even then I teased him for this – and the cheesiness of the stage name was very much intentional … as well as a dodge of his real surname, which is sumptuously Hungarian and, by American standards, needlessly filled with bewildering consonants).  When he gave me his phone number (even in the 80s, kids, a girl did the safe thing, and didn’t hand out her digits), he revised his name to Jim.  And explained that his actual name is Dennis James, but he never, ever went by Dennis.  Nor even Denny.  So Jim.

It was a bit of a trial by fire-by-any-other-name, but he was THAT cute, so I smiled something about my dad not using his first name either, and put his phone number away.

Then I called him, and – hesitantly – asked the lady who answered the phone (his grandmother) for Jim.

“Oh, you mean Jimmy??”

I failed to hang up ... but it was a close one.

When the man you end up marrying comes by something like eight possible epithets during the first five minutes of acquaintance, and one of his names is a forbidding serving of quite marvelous consonantal excess:  you gain something of a tolerance for naming conventions’ flexibility in a hurry.  (Eventually, you also hyphenate your last name, because as much as I actually quite LIKED my married surname, explaining it forever became exhausting in a hurry.  “Major is fine.  Just call me Diane Major.  It’s fine.  Really.”)

So for me to reach my fill line on variables with naming takes a bit of a pot-ful, and I have REACHED my limit on varying names for things at work.

It’s not so much an issue of “Do we call it Robert or Bob or Rob or Robbie or Bobby or Mack or Jack or Bill or Pubert?” as it is of the intricacies of reporting.

When delivering a complex piece of Excel year-over-year budget and performance data, it MATTERS – beyond belief, apparently, in the Wild West of “hey let’s set up this report” – whether a piece of information has extra words in it or not.  It MATTERS when someone teaches me, “I know the name looks like it should be Total X Blurp-de-Blurp, but what it really should be is Total LABOR X Blurp-de-Blurp - don’t use the one that just says TOTAL."

And so I use the Total Labor blurp-de-blurp column, and … well, now we have a whole herd of kittens to corral.  Because everybody’s having ‘em.

As to kitten herding, well.  I’m accustomed to different things!  At home, with Gossie being the wise and agreeable boy he is, I find it quite winsomely, if not hilariously, easy to herd cats.  Or cat, anyway.  He’s learned that if he doesn’t shoot out the bedroom door when mom’s done dressing, and (instead of scooping him or chasing him) stands behind him relative *to* said door, he’s liable to get locked in the bedroom, momma will forget him, and that means no pettin’s.  So he shoots out the door with little more than a positional hint, which is the perfect pet-person piece of successful communication.

See, because I’m not mucking up the message with my own personal spin.  I know what works for him, I “tell” him what he understands (positionally speaking), and he responds wonderfully, because he is a great little dude and he’s trained me right.  Everybody’s happy.

Meanwhile, Bobby or Roberta or whatever my column header’s names should be, end up being delivered wrong, because – well, we can’t change column headers to match the source data.  So Diane (or Artemis, perhaps, if you prefer the Greek) goes soft in the head inputting the wrong data, and nothing good gets done.

Fortunately for all, Diane (or Cynthia … or Selene … ?) is willing to bite a bullet and have a MEETING, if one miraculously becomes necessary (for the term meeting, my mental definition all but precludes this descriptor … but sometimes, you have to at least bring people together!).  And so, requests for translations and guidance and greater wisdom and experience have gone out.  Whatchawannabet the tree will bear fruit?  It’s early days yet (even at something like eight months now on my job!).  But I’m going to speak this vernacular yet, cuss its blessit and dark and impenetrable heart.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Cough Meds

You know your cold medicine is working when you sing, "Where do I put mom's birthday present, where do I put mom's birthday present, where do I put mom's birthday preSENT?  Upstairs in the guest room" to the tune of What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor.

You also know you are a member of my family and know songs like this thanks to that one ex-uncle you had ...

Like Going to a Movie in the Daytime

You know that disorientation you get when you go to a matinee, and after a couple or three hours in the dark, inhabiting another world, you come outside and are confused that it is still light ...

I took a two and a half hour nap earlier, and just now put Penelope back in her yard.  Apparently, it rained today.  As if cough meds and daytime sleep don't muck up the brain quite enough!

Publishing Ghetto?

Tom Williams has a very good post indeed about writing a novel about a main character who happens to be gay, and the effect that has had on its publication.  It's a somewhat sad, eye-opening piece - particularly when you think about the literal legalities imposed upon human feeling.

I am either reading a “gay book” for gay people, which has to emphasise gay sexual behaviour or I am reading a “straight book” (or “book”) where everyone seems much happier if nobody is gay at all. (Often there’s a minor character who’s gay, so everyone else can demonstrate how liberal they are.)

I've had some conflict about the fact that The Ax and the Vase suffers precisely the opposite problem - while one of my major supporting characters is gay (or bisexual), he's presented as a pretty awful guy.  Further, there's no ethnic diversity at all in Ax, and I'm highly aware of the problematic nature of historical fiction and pretending no people of color were to be found anywhere in Europe before the 20th century.  I'm also aware of the disservice it does to history (and audiences) to trot out the old "but it wouldn't be natural to insert diversity in this story" excuse.  And, at the risk of getting cyclical, I'm also wary of the tendency to do exactly that and ending up with a Magical Black Person/Noble Savage stereotype.  And so on until the dragon eats its own tail.

I find Tom's observations far more useful than my white liberal internal conflict, so recommend the first link here by FAR over the second.  But we all experience the presence of our (potential) audiences, and that's always worth giving some thought.


Some sort of respiratory crud has got me down, but today is the day for a particular report, so I've been on my work cell, waiting for the last person's contribution.  Deadline for this was Friday, and my boss is sending the report out by noon, and my body is killing me wanting sleep - but I want to be sure he has what he needs.  It's just unfortunate I can't provide that last piece.

On the other hand, I have a fully functional laptop to do this work on.

I'm actually good for cold meds, but have to go to the corner store at some point today because the tub decided to stop draining, and ... ew.  But that situation can't wait, so I'll give the last reporting person till the boss's stated drop-dead of noon, give it a few minutes after that, go get some Drano, and the come home, pour it down, and finally hurl myself back into the bed.

What is it with me and plumbing when I get sick??  Last year I had nasty bronchitis and the downstairs bathroom STILL hasn't been rebuilt.  (Pipe burst.)  Now I have a cold and the drain won't drain.

Ahh, a 64-year-old house is an adventure.

Sunday, August 17, 2014


I haven't linked Unleaded Fuel for Writers in too long.  So let's go there.  Day Al-Mohamed shared this great infographic of the ultimate writers' retreat ... who's going with me?

Helena P. Shrader on the English History Authors blog takes a look at the Seven Deadly Sins ... and what they say about who were most preoccupied with them ...

History Extra takes a look into Richard III's rib bone.  The science of how we determined the culinary history of his life FASCINATES me.  Yet the indicators of luxury upon his accession are definitely telling.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

New Laptop

The new budget laptop is in my hands - and on my lap - and one of my first strong impressions of it has to do with the latter.  I looked at several options, though did not do the sort of exhaustive research ignorance of technology has sometimes led me to in the past.  The final deciding factor in going with the one I have now was this:  It weighs about four and two thirds pounds, where the other one in final consideration was five and a third.

All other factors, very nearly literally, being equal to me, I found the prospect of a significant weight reduction (*and*, indeed, the fact that this also does not run hot) almost irresistibly worthwhile.

And, with less than an hour's experience to date (I went out to supper tonight with my oldest friend, The Elfin One! hurrah!), so far, I have to say, so good.  A very light laptop feels like a significant improvement.

The second thing I notice is that Windows 8.1 isn't so bad.  I have contemplated new hardware over the past few years, and word on 8 was so awful I am pleased so far not to find this OS entirely distracting.  New hardware does always have something of the overexcited puppy about it, and I've already customized some of its more unnecessary "personality" away, but the experience doesn't come across as either dauntingly (even wantonly, if some of the first reactions against 8 were at the beginning) unfamiliar.

I'm a Virginian* and a half about change, but I can also live with improvement.  And, right now, a 15.6" screen with beautiful resolution, as compared to a 5-year-old one running on Safe Mode, doesn't look too much like a step down.

More posts to come as I get configured into something more comfortable.  Hope you will stay tuned!


The test song for the speakers (my Broads will know why ...):


*How many Virginians does it take to change a light bulb?


One to do the actual changing of the bulb.  Two more to stand off to one side tsk-tsk-ing and reminiscing about how much better the old bulb was, and how things will never be lit the same.  And two more to write the history of the original bulb with Civil War site maps of its illumination range and citations of events under its light.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


Caroline Lawrence provides some concrete and intriguing thoughts on power napping, at The History Girls blog.

The Rags of Time has a post about the twenty minute ship - an example of the importance of the center of gravity!

On the other side of the longevity coin, The History Blog provides a characteristically charming post about the world's longest-living eel, one hundred fifty-five years old!  Over a century and a half in a well - Baby Jessica, don't eat your heart out ...

Back at The History Girls, the bi-genred, ambi-scritacious, Lithist-Girlboy Book-Trans-Genre Michelle Lovric discusses moonlighting as a murderess!