Princess Muse

Monday, August 29, 2011

Musings on the Dawn of a New Era....

Well, it looks like all my natural disasters are done with, so now I'm waiting for the unnatural disasters:  asteroids (although, that might still be a natural disaster), zombie apocalypse or alien invasion.  I'd say "Bring it," but I don't want to tempt fate too much....

Steve Jobs announced that he was resigning from his position as CEO of Apple.  Frankly, I haven't been paying much attention to the news lately, because really, around here, it's all been about earthquakes and hurricanes and power outages and stuff like that.  Umm, living through it (although, thankfully WITH power), so I don't really need to hear the newspeople yapping about it.  So, I'm assuming that Mr. Jobs is resigning due to whatever health issue he's been dealing with for the past few years.

So, this is my love letter to Apple, and by extension, to Mr. Jobs.

I've been a MAC girl since 1995.  I was working on my teaching certificate, and at that time, the elementary and middle schools in Baltimore County used Macs.  Although there's no blue NEXT button on my Mac (see my entry "Musings on Being a Tech Goddess" if you don't know what I'm talking about), I have always found Macs easy to work on.  Straight-forward.  Even logical to the Missy-brain (which, if you know me, you know does not always work on the same logic that the rest of the world seems to use.  I blame PCs.)

My first Mac came bundled with a Newton.  I liked my Newton.  It was, of course, a pre-courser to the Netbooks, and was only black and white (and didn't have Internet capability), but what was handy for me.  I could easily write my drills for my students, print it out on my laser printer (on the acetate transparency) and have it on my overhead projector before classes changed (about 5 minutes).  My students loved my Newton, too.  I remember one day, I knocked off my desk accidentally and several of my students mourned with me.  We all did the happy dance when it came back from Apple with the repaired screen.

Since that first Mac, we've gotten two others, plus 2 iPod Touches, 1 iPod classic, an iPad and my MacBook Pro.  I love them all.  I love iTunes, although I'm not real happy with Apple insisting on taking a bigger cut from Amazon and Barnes and Noble if I want to buy a book on my iPod Touch with my Barnes and Noble app (okay, in reality, I only buy books on my Nook, and I don't foresee ever being without my Nook, but it's the principle of the matter.  I'm sure Apple will say that they have a good reason for insisting on this, and maybe they do, but I am, sometimes, an unreasonable consumer.)

I really like iTunes customer service.  I recently realized that one of the albums/playlists that I purchased last month was missing a song.  I tried to buy it, but iTunes wouldn't let me (probably because it thought I had already purchased it).  So, I sent an email off to iTunes Customer Service asking what I could do about this.  They reviewed the problem, realized that I should have gotten the song and said they'd refund the purchase price of the album and fix it so that it was as if I hadn't purchased the album/playlist.  Very nice about it.  If you get Guy or Grace, tell 'em I said "Hi!"  They were super (and I intend to send an email to them saying so--actually, I sent one, and I intend to send another.  Maybe I'll even make a phone call to a supervisor and say so.  Which reminds me, if you get good service, please make sure you tell them that.  Most of the time, customer service reps only hear about what a horrible job they (or someone else in CS) has done.  It only takes a moment to thank someone and it really makes their day.  Take it from someone who has worked customer service).

The other night, I had a weird dream.  In my dream, I was...somewhere.  Convention, office building, I'm not sure where.  I had my MacBook with me.  I looked  up, and there was Steve Jobs.  I went over to him to tell him how much I enjoyed my Apple products and to wish him good luck in the future.  He looked pleased that I said that and noticed my MacBook.  He had me put on the desk/ledge/whatever and started doing some cool things with it.  I wish I remember what it was, but it was just cool.  So, thank you, Mr. Jobs (and Mr. Wozniak!) for Apple Computers.  Good luck in the future.

No, Apple's not perfect, but I wouldn't trade any of my Apple products for anything.  I can't wait to see what will happen next.

Keep yourself aMused.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Musings on Lessons Learned....

We lost power for about 16 hours--thankfully, the electrical pole stayed upright this time!
The electrical pole stayed upright!

Lessons learned:

1)  Buy batteries when you don't need to have them.  That way you're not fighting everybody else for them.  Same with toilet paper and bottled water.

2)  When there's no power, there's no wifi router.  So even if everything is all charged up, you still can't update Facebook or Blogs.

3)  When there's no power, the FIOS powered land line is out.  Verizon needs to fix this.

4)  Starbucks and McDonald's are your best friends when the power is out, because they offer wifi to their customers.

5)  A smart phone may be a new priority. so I can check the school websites to see if there is school after an event like this.

6)  Eating ice cream for breakfast is acceptable if there's a power outage.

7)  Make sure you know where the battery operated radios and the flashlights are a few days in advance.

8)  Make sure all your laundry is done before you lose power.

9)  Make sure you know where the tea-light candles are.

10)  Make sure you have good neighbors.  You want to have good friends for the "grill-the-freezer" parties.
Fondue is a good power outage dinner.

11)  A battery operated back up sump pump can be an essential.

12)  A deck or two of cards and a handful of dice can keep the doldrums from hitting.

13)  Have car chargers for all your electronics.



The leaving edge of Irene?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Musings on Vactions (sort of)

So, before Irene really gets here (she's knocking on the door right now--it's been raining for a couple of hours and it's a bit breezy, but not bad yet), and before school starts (Monday?  Tuesday?  Who knows at the moment!), time to reflect on the past summer...

Haven't done much this summer.  Mostly, I've sat on the porch and written this blog, read books and generally have done nothing.  I haven't even made it to the pool.

Sometimes you need a summer of nothing.  This is what a summer vacation is supposed to be about.  A time to kick back and rest.  The military sends its personnel on "Rest and Relaxation."  Sometimes, I want to be busy and see the sights and do stuff.  This summer, I wanted to do nothing.

Had a birthday.  Celebrated my mom's birthday.  Wished my friends who have summer birthdays happy birthday.  Birthdays are the best.  Birthdays are a time for friends and family to get together and celebrate.  It's not the presents that matter, it's the friends.  Not that I'm opposed to presents.  I love presents.  I love to just look at the wrapped present and imagine what could be inside.  It's kinda like Schrodinger's Cat.  Until I open the present, it could be anything.

Sometimes a vacation trip is just what I want.  We go to Disney World a lot.  My parents have a time share in Orlando (among other places), and are nice enough to share with us.  I love going down to Orlando.  It gives me a chance to meet up with Arlyn.  Now that I've re-found some of my Florida friends, I hope to meet up with Debi and my cousin Chelle.



Not all vacations have to happen during the summer.  I won a trip to Iceland once.  My credit union was holding a raffle.  They called to tell me that I won on my Birthday.  I was pregnant with Younger Boy, so we couldn't take the trip right away.  We went in April.  It was a 2 night, 3 day trip.  This was one of those times when I packed as much as I could into the limited amount of time.  We went on a City tour of Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon, and a Circle Tour, which took us out to see the Geysir, and Thingvellir National Park.  


Statue of Leifur Eríksson in front of Halgrímskirkja
The Law Rock at Thingvellir National Park

The Geysir

Anyway, I may not have taken any trips, but I've had a great summer.  Now, I'm ready to take on the current school year and all the challenges to come.

(We still have power.  Funny--I'm watching Dr. Who and the Doctor says, "If you all don't prepare for this storm, you will be in terrible danger.  Sometimes synchronicity is pretty funny.)

Stay aMused.



Friday, August 26, 2011

Musings on Battening Down the Hatches

What a week....first, there was an Eathquake (cue Carol King's "I Feel The Earth Move")... then the Gavin DeGraw/Maroon 5/Train concert (OMG!  I channelled my inner 21 year old!), then we had "Meet Your Teacher Day" at the Elementary and Middle School (I was exhausted afterwards), and now we have Hurricane Irene to prepare for....oh, and who knows if we'll have school on Monday....I'm ready to crawl under the bed and not come out for a week!

The worst part about knowing that a major storm is coming is that you don't always know how much you should prepare.  Over-prepare, and you end up with a life time supply of "C" and "D" batteries.  Under-prepare, and you run the risk of not having enough citronella for the Tiki torches.  Trust me, there is nothing worse than not having enough citronella for the Tiki torches.

What's even harder is that the weather forecasters can't tell you exactly how bad it's going to be.  It's not their fault.  There are a lot of factors to consider.  A few miles either way can make a storm a mild annoyance or a catastrophe.

Of course, it doesn't help that very few people actually prepares for eventualities until the last minute.  At the moment, you can't find a "C" or "D" battery to save your soul.  Generators sold out in record time.  Grocery stores have bare shelves where the milk, bread and toilet paper used to be.  I haven't seen people fighting for the *last* of anything, but I'm sure somewhere it'll happen.

Currently, Baltimore County is currently under a Tropical Storm Warning (Friday afternoon).  The worst of the storm is supposed to be Saturday afternoon to Sunday morning.

Don't worry.... I have a USB to cigarette lighter converter....I'll let you know just how bad it is, even if I have to hide in the car......

Stay dry and aMused.....

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Musings on Hurricane Isabel....

I know, it seems like I'm just the Muse of Doom and Gloom, with Hurricane Kate memories and Earthquake postings for the past few days, but my neighbor Kim was a little surprised that I didn't blog about Hurricane Isabel, which was much more of a comedy of errors in a lot of ways.... but I didn't want a blog that went on forever, and since Kate was prompted by a posting on the FSU Facebook page, it didn't seem appropriate....and since we're about to attacked by another "I" Hurricane.....

Now, the true story of Hurricane Isabel can be told.....

In September, 2003, Isabel was a Category 2 Hurricane when she came ashore in North Carolina (much like Irene is supposed to be), but by the time she got to the Baltimore area, she had been downgraded to a Tropical Storm.  While we were extremely lucky, we still had a lot of damage and trouble.

It all started in the late afternoon.  I remember hearing a loud "pop" from the backyard.  One of the trees in the field right behind our next door neighbor's yard had fallen and taken out the electrical pole in my backyard.  I called BGE (Baltimore Gas and Electric) to report the damage.  Not long after, the Fire Department came to assess the damage.

View from Younger Son's room of the downed electrical pole

                                   



Fortunately, the tree fell between our houses, but the Fire Department recommended that we find someplace else to sleep that night.  Thankfully, our neighbors Hal and Kim offered us floor space in their living room.

So, with that settled, we headed down to our other neighbor's home for a Hurricane Party.  The grown-ups stayed upstairs, talking and eating potluck.  The kids went downstairs into the basement and played games. Nick was almost 3 1/2 at this point, and Christopher not even 1, so they stayed mostly with us, although Nick would go downstairs and play for a little while.

Mostly, we got high winds and rain.  It rained so much that Hal and Kim's basement flooded a bit and they had to ask neighbors who face Frederick Road (and therefore still had power), if the could run some extension cords to keep the back-up sump pump going all night.

After the night that we spent at Hal and Kim's, Ken and I went back to our house to assess damage.  We decided that it didn't seem like there was any water damage (other than a little dampness in the basement, I think), we would spend the rest of the Hurricane Recovery time in our own home.

Our street was blocked by a downed Bartlet Pear tree, for which reason I have vowed never to plant one of those suckers.  If it's not hurricane proof, I want no part of it.....Road crews, luckily, cleared it out quickly so that we could get out, although with much of Catonsville without power for the first few days, there wasn't anyplace to really go to....


With no power, we were forced to amuse ourselves the old fashioned way, by hanging out.  We would have nightly Tiki parties.  The kids would run around while we grown-ups sat around and talked about everything and nothing.....

There were so many lines down that it took almost all of a week for BGE to finally get around to repairing our downed line.  In Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia, there were 1,416,000 residences without power (Dept of Commerce Service Assesment)  When the crews finally got to us, we were so happy!
Out of state electrical crew comes to the rescue!
Older Son watching the crew
Watching the electrical crew was the big entertainment of the day

Hopefully, Hurricane Irene will be kinder to us.  She's expected to have an impact on our area on Saturday or Sunday.  School is supposed to start Monday.  Rest assured, I'll let you know how it all happens.


A few more Hurricane tips, courtesy of my friend Arlyn, who still lives in Florida:

With the loss of power, comes the loss of access to ATMs.  Pumps at the gas stations can't work without power, so it's vital that you get money and a full tank of gas before the storm hits.  

Make sure you have food for your pets as well as yourself.

Don't forget to stock up on batteries and flashlights.

A few that I remember:

If you are sheltering in place, make sure you fill those tubs and anything else with water before the storm hits.  Any water that you get from the tap after the storm should probably be boiled--just for safety's sake.

If you have to evacuate, it may be a long time before you get someplace where you'll be able to find available lodgings--remember, everybody in your area will be leaving, too.

Cell phones may not be working.  If the towers go down, it will cause disruptions

Even if you think the power company should've been able to repair your lines faster, don't take out your frustrations on the repair crews.  Yes, they're getting paid well, but some of them are coming from out of state to help out.  Be nice.  Thank them for their hard work.  They're doing the best they can.

Ocean City, Md is facing mandatory evacuations now.....oh, let the fun begin!

Time to go be aMused.....

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Musings on Earthquakes

About a half hour I posted yesterday's blog on Hurricane Kate, we had an earthquake.  Not a very big one, but considering I live on the East Coast of the US, it doesn't have to be very big to become a Big Story.    Heck, even Wolf Blitzer devoted some of his show to it.

Now I know that everybody's experience was a little different, and depending on the kind of building you were in, this quake may have seemed pretty scary.  I lived in Europe while the Red Brigade and the Bader-Meinhoff Gangs were pretty active, so I don't scare easily.  If I seem a little flippant, sorry.

So, what was my first conscious earthquake experience like?  Kinda felt like someone had dropped a quarter into the Magic Fingers machine at a motel.  Really.  By the time I realized that it wasn't one of my kids jumping on the bed next to me, it was almost over.  I didn't even lose a drop of Coke from the can on my nightstand.  Now that would've upset me.  Really.

To put things in a little bit of perspective, the quake yesterday (epicenter in Mineral, Va, which is about 41 miles NW of Richmond) was a 5.8.  The World Series Earthquake (more properly known as the Loma Pietra Earthquake) of 1989 was a 6.9.  (I'm sure you can find video on YouTube.)  The Tokyo Earthquake that hit earlier this year was a 9.0.  A friend of a friend on Facebook linked to an Earthquake Energy Converter, which is pretty cool.  You can check out the amount of joules released and the TNT equivalent.

Here's one thing I love about people... as long as the situation isn't too serious, the jokes start flying.  A friend posted a link to the "13 Best Tweets".  Personal favorite:  "Earthquake made me spill my tea...I'm available for interviews."

Someone else has posted this picture:

I'm not sure who took the picture, or added the words, but I thought it was pretty funny.

Another friend of a friend posted this as her status update on Facebook:
tonight for dinner: tossed salad, shake-n-bake chicken, mixed veggies, and pineapple upside down cake...


(Thanks, Duey)




Another friend found this YouTube video.  I'm not sure what all it means, but it looks cool.






So, here's more information on what to do Before, During and After an Earthquake.




Remember, even in an emergency or a natural disaster, keep a sense of humor and stay aMused.  It really will help make everything a little more bearable.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Musings on Hurricane Season.....

Naturally, being the loyal alum that I am, I have "liked" FSU on Facebook.  Today, there was a posting about someone asking if the University was doing anything (like shutting down) because of Hurricane Irene.  (At the moment, no...Irene is threatening the East Coast and the track of the Hurricane isn't likely to come near Tally.... which is 3+ hours away from the East Coast of Fla.)

Now, the first thing I want to say is:  If the Authorities are telling you to get out of Dodge....GET OUT OF DODGE.  Load up what you can and get out.  There's not a thing in your house that is worth risking your neck over....and I'd sure rather help you re-build than have to come to your funeral.

Now, having said that, let me tell you about the time Hurricane Kate came through Tallahassee.  It was the Fall of '85,  the Friday before Thanksgiving.  My room-mates (Kim, Carol and Meryl) and I, plus Meryl's boyfriend, Steve, were all over at our house.  We were busy getting all the hanging plants taken down and making sure we had enough nonperishable food and water before the storm hit.  We were actually pretty lucky, because Kate was only a Cat 1 Hurricane and she was going to have to travel overland for about an hour before she'd hit Tally.... but still, you don't mess around with Hurricanes (unless they come in tall, frosty glasses....and even then, you gotta be careful!).

We had just gotten all the plants down and in the house (high winds--we didn't want to risk them flying around, ya know?) when Kim and I looked out and realized.... there were more plants hanging from the tree in the front yard.  So, with the winds starting to pick up, the two of us hurried back out to get the 4 or 5 plants still hanging.  Just as we got up to the porch (and almost in the house), the wind tore a branch off the tree and smacked me across the back of the head.  Good thing I'm such a hard head, because it could've hurt pretty bad.  I was able to hop in the shower to get the debris out of my hair.

We lost power about then, but we had flashlights, batteries and candles.  We had a radio going, but soon we lost most of the radio stations.  I don't remember which station we were listening to, but in between the news bulletins and weather updates, they played only one song.  Starship's (I think they had dropped the Jefferson by this point) "We Built This City."  By dawn, I came to loathe that song.  I still can't listen to it without wanting to smash something.  Even thinking about it makes me ill.

We heard several tornadoes and scampered into the hallway, just in case.  Again, we were lucky.  We figured that there must've been about 4 tornadoes that ripped around our street, but even with all the trees around us, none of them fell on our house.

But, mostly I remember the fun we had.  Sure, there was an element of danger, and there was no power, but there were 5 of us sharing the experience.  We played flashlight games with the guys across the street, and cards in the house (probably either Shanghai or Uno), ate and drank whatever we could find in the kitchen, dragged mattresses out to the living room and generally behaved like 20-something year olds generally do.

The other thing I remember is thinking that Meryl had found her special guy.

I don't think we even got a day off from classes, because Kate hit on a Friday and by Monday, roads were cleared enough for classes to be held.  Man....

Just a few safety tips about hurricanestornado and floods.
Rules for playing Shanghai.
If you're more interested in the facts about Hurricane Kate in Tallahassee, google "hurricane Kate tallahassee"  Photo slide shows, articles, stuff like that....
Interested in Hurricane Irene?  If you're reading this near the date this was written, you can go to the Weather Channel.  If you're reading this months or even years later, just google "hurricane Irene 2011."  I'm sure there'll be pages and pages of stuff....
And for my college age friends who are away from home for the first time...make sure you know how your university will let you know about emergencies.....

Stay safe and be aMused....

Monday, August 22, 2011

Musings on Being a Tech Goddess

At least, that's what Ken calls me...

It all began (as almost everything good does) at FSU.  Back in the Days Before Internet, there was PLATO.  PLATO was actually developed at the University of Illinois, but there was a PLATO system in Tallahassee.  Somehow, one of my roommates got involved and the next thing I knew, I was an Author.  There were 3 or 4 levels of logins for PLATO:  Student, Author, (*something*--I think Admin or something like that) and SysOps.  Most of the people I knew were Authors.  Really, they were the ones writing the programs for the Student levels to use.  Most of the Students were Math (*ugh*) Students (*double ugh*).

The PLATO keyboards were pretty much like all keyboards are, with one exception:  there was a blue button with the word "next" on it.  On the screen, there was a command that said "Press NEXT to begin."
Oh, how we used to laugh at the students who would come into the library to do the module.  They'd sit down next to us, stare at the screen, glance at the keyboard, look desperately at us and say, "What?1?"  We'd lean over, point out the BIG BLUE BUTTON and say, "That's the NEXT button."  Then we'd snigger at them for a good five minutes or so.

PLATO was really the precursor for the Internet.  We had logins (mine was elf/crest (which is read as "elf of group crest"), and pennypriddy/banzai (in honor of Buckaroo Banzai), finally, melissa/shelter), "notes" (bulletin boards), and "p-notes" (aka personal notes, or what's known today as email).  In addition we could *term/talk* which was instant messaging.  Did I mention that I had all this in 1984?  Remember when AOL came out with instant messaging?  I was excited until I realized it was just *term/talk*.  Pah...

Every morning, I would sign on and send out a p-note just to wish my friends a good morning.  I started with just 3 or 4, but by the time I was graduated from FSU, I was up to at least 20, including the SysOp, Pete Schow.  (I didn't meet him til '87, but word got to me that his feelings were hurt that he wasn't getting a 'good morning' message. sometime in '86.)

Arlyn and I started a "notes" section....we turned into Story Time.  It was called "Chance" and we had all sorts of people writing a wild story about the Pirates of Plato....I managed to get a print out before I was graduated, Ar....I'll have to see if I can dig it up....

Every now and then, I'd get to meet some of my online friends.  There were some guys who worked in 'Bama on our PLATO system and they came out to Tally.  I came in, signed on and started term/talking with one of them ... Jan (who is a guy, by the way), "said" "Turn to the right and say, 'hi'"  I almost fell out of my chair.....and how he laughed at me.....

Once, the Admins were desperate.  They needed someone to run a group for one of the Chemistry classes. They were so desperate, they were going to bump me up a level and run the group.  I'd been taking the tutorials on TUTOR (the programming language PLATO used).  I couldn't do much, but I could write little programs.  Luckily, somebody came to their senses and someone who knew Chemistry and TUTOR was able to run the group.  But, I was ready.

And, I took a class in PASCAL, which no one uses anymore.  I learned a lot about programming.  I also improved my French.  The instructor was a grad student from some Arab nation.  He spoke pretty good English, but I discovered that I understood him better in French.  Go figure.  My French is now non-existent, and I couldn't program in PASCAL if you put a gun to my head, but I did learn that being a programmer would've make me crazy....


The Programmer’s Blues
by Robert J. Woodhead
(Cleaned up by Dr. Megabyte)
with apologies to Glenn Frye
There’s trouble in the data now, I can feel it in my bones
I had a premonition that I shouldn’t code alone
I had the new DOS loaded but I didn’t think it’d fry
Then everything exploded and 2 weeks work blew sky-high
So, baby, here’s a printout and a keyboard for your hand
And here’s a little floppy, now do it just the way we planned
You debug for 20 days and I’ll pay you 20 grand!
I’m sorry it went down like this, but some chip had to fuse,
It’s the typing of the language
It’s the Programmer’s Blues…
Programmer’s Blues….
Coder’s and the Analyst’s, Hackers and Sysops,
Bad comments and strange bomboffs, and the bugs nobody copped,
No matter if it’s Pascal, Basic or Cobol
You’ve got to carry manuals, there’s no online help at all!
It’s lots of rotten coffee, and lots of lousy food,
Every variable name is dangerous, it might have been pre-used,
It’s the lure of relaxed typing, it’s so easy to be crude!
Perhaps you’ll understand it better when you see my tools,
It’s the ultimate enhancement, it’s the Programmer’s Blues!
Programmer’s Blues…..
You see it in their memos, you read them every day,
They say you have to fix those bugs, but they just don’t go away,
No matter how hard you work, it just won’t run OK,
You bury them in the subroutines, but you know they’re here to stay!
You hope that no one’ll notice them, but they always seem to do,
You beg for Beta testing, maybe one will give a clue,
Down from the office of your manager, you learn the heat’s on you….
Heat’s on you….
It’s a losing proposition, but one you can’t refuse,
It’s the policies of debugging, it’s the Programmer’s Blues….
Programmer’s Blues….

Well, it's getting a little late....go find some way to aMuse yourself....

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Musing on a Little Knowledge

You know the old saying, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing?"....well, sometimes a little knowledge is a funny thing, too.

Cait is going to college today, but this isn't going to be more reminisces about how great college is (we'll save those for another day), but because she's going to MIT, it reminded me of another trip to Boston that I took, and a funny moment in class when I was working on my Master's at Loyola (then College, but now University) in Maryland.

To start in order, there is a little bit of background information I have to give you:  I am of Welsh descent.  Now, my family hasn't been in Wales for many generations (the United States were still just the English Colonies), so we don't speak Welsh, or celebrate St. David's Day (although David is a common name in my family), or really identify as Welsh, but because of the connection, I've always been interested in Wales.  Part of my honeymoon was spent in Wales.

The Welsh language was suppressed for a long time--to the point of near extinction.  It was more often spoken in the northern part of the country, partially, I suspect it's not as populated and is more rural than the southern part.  Today, there is a movement to encourage the Welsh to speak Welsh again, so you can find signs written in Welsh and in English.  So, I've seen Welsh written and I've had enough interest to try to figure out a few things. (Bear with me, this all becomes relevant in a little bit....)

Flash forward to 1995.  I'm taking a Reading class--not a methods class on how to teach Reading, but the point of the class is to remind us about what it was like to not be able to read.  My professor wrote on the board the word "cwm" and asked if there was anyone who knew what that word was.  There was silence and then I raised my hand.  My professor got that look on his face that said, "Yeah, smart ass, you think you know this word, but I know no one does."  But he called on me and said, "So, how do you think it's pronounced?"

"Coomb, " I replied.

His jaw dropped.  "How did you know that?"

I shrugged.  "I'm of Welsh descent and went to Wales on my honeymoon.  I learned that "w" is pronounced like a "double o" in English."

"So, do you know what it means?"  he challenged.

"It's a mountain valley," I replied.

Turns out, that in all the years he'd been teaching this class, no one had ever known what "cwm" was.  A little knowledge.

So, here's where it becomes funny......

Flash forward to 1997 or 8.....I've been teaching for a few years and have become a co-advisor for the National Junior Honor Society chapter in my school.  There's a conference in Boston for advisors, so my co-advisor and I decide to attend.  We decided to drive, because it's only a six hour drive up and it'd be a lot cheaper than flying.  So, we're driving through New Jersey and we see a lot of signs for towns like "Buena Twp"  and "East Vineland Twp."  Now, I've never been to NJ before, never drove through or anything, and I don't think my co-advisor had either.  So, we're passing these signs and wondering what the heck "twp" stands for.  Knowing that "w" can be the "double o" sound, I speculate that maybe there were a lot of Welsh who settled in the area, the word is pronounced "toop" and it means 'town' or 'city'.  (I never actually studied Welsh, you realize.)

Oh no,  It wasn't until we stopped for lunch somewhere in Jersey that I realized that "twp" was just an abbreviation for "township."

Yeah, sometimes a little knowledge is an aMusing thing....

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Musings about Cars

Sadly, I'm not getting a new one anytime soon....but I'm thinking about them....

When I was in high school, I took the Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test.  Despite not understanding the wonder of the combustion engine, I scored in the 95 percentile on the Trade Technical portion--the portion about mechanics.  The only question I remember is "The carburetor is located next to what part of the engine?"  I only got that question right because I was currently taking Driver's Ed.  Now, it's all on computer and I have no idea what is next to what, or even how to change the oil.  All I really know is that you stick the key in the ignition, turn it and the engine comes on.  Gas pedal is for going and brake pedal is for stopping.  I don't even drive a stick-- I had a boyfriend who tried to teach me once, but it was on his new car.   I was petrified of stripping the gears, so after one lesson, I refused to learn anymore.

When I worked for GMAC in Glen Burnie (later, Linthicum), Md., cars were not the topic of discussion in the Break Room. The Orioles, new finance packages Detroit came up with, yes.... cars, not so much.  (This was in the Dark Days, after the Colts had been stolen away by Bob Irsay and before Art Modell brought his team)  When I transferred down to the GMAC office in Raleigh, NC, I learned to be concerned with how GM cars were faring in the various NASCAR races.  First thing the guys would do upon entering the office was head for the Break Room and find a copy of the News & Observer and check the Sports Pages.  If more GM cars were in the standings than Ford, it was a good day.  It was a really good day if a GM was ranked higher than a Ford.

One of my favorite shows is BBC America's Top Gear.  I don't get to watch very much right now, and I haven't seen the History Channel's American version. I love the goofy races they set up:  the race across Sub-Saharan Africa in junkers.... the race from Miami to New Orleans in junkers.... the Demolition Derby in junker RVs... the "who-can-get-there-fastest" races between sports cars, bullet trains, or anything else.  It's such a guy show, if you know what I mean, but it's fun.

My dream car is a Ford Mustang convertible.  Odd, I know, since I'm a Chevy girl at heart (despite driving a Toyota now and a Mazda Protege in the immediate past), but I think that the whole Mustang mystique overshadows the whole Ford thing.  When we went to Oahu a couple of years ago, we only rented a car for one day.  I told Ken I didn't care what kind of car it was, as long as it was a convertible.  When we went down to the parking garage to pick up our car, Christopher (aka Younger Boy) took one look at it and said, "Oh, Mommy, that car's not our style at all."  I laughed and replied, "Oh yes it is, baby.  You just have no idea."  By the end of the day, he was converted.

When I was younger, my dad had a Triumph Spitfire convertible.  Baby blue.  I loved that car.  Daddy didn't drive it very often--not really a practicable car for a family, but when he did, he always took me  and my brother out in it.  Sadly, he had to sell it when we got back from Germany.  My aunt didn't drive stick, so it hadn't been driven in three years and was going to need a lot of work.  I almost cried when the father and son he sold it to came to pick it up... the quintessential Father and Son bonding experience.  My only consolation was that it was going to be loved.  Of course, I almost cried again when my dad told me that if he hadn't had to sell it,  I would've been able to drive it when I learned how to drive.

When I was in college, I wanted to get a Jeep Renegade.  Garnet, with gold pin striping.... cliché, I know, but it would've been like driving around in a little bit of FSU all the time.... sadly, I didn't have a car until I was a Senior, and it was my mom's old Chevy Cavalier hatchback.  With no air conditioning.  You don't know what misery is until you've driven around in Tallahassee, FLA in the summer with no air conditioning.

If I have to get a practical car, my next car will at least have a sun roof.  Or a moon roof.  I'm not sure what the distinction is, but I want one.  And a really good sound system.  Yeah, I'm not real clear on the term practical.  As long as it doesn't break down every five miles, I'm good.  And a compass.  So I know what direction I'm going in.  And air conditioning.

Time to go aMuse myself on the car sites.  Zoom zoom.....


Friday, August 19, 2011

Musings on One Month Anniversaries and Stats

I started sharing my thoughts with y'all one month ago today....and I've become obsessed with Stats....(you know the famous quote about statistics, don't you?  Supposedly from British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, "There are three kinds of lies:  lies, damned lies and statistics.")

Not really statistics, but rather the number of people who come by and read and where they're from....

In my one month, I've had about 200 people come by--hopefully, most of those are repeat readers.  I don't expect a huge following--this isn't a blog dedicated to any one or two topics.  It's really what floats in front of my brain as I sit and start to type.   I know the total views says "279" (at least the last time I looked today), but I didn't realize the first few days that I could have blogger not track how many times I looked at my blog...now I have it set so that it doesn't track me when I check in on this with either my laptop or my iPod.

What's really interesting to me is that I can see what country people who have stumbled onto my blog are currently in.  Germany has checked in twice (Guten tag!  Wie geht es Ihnen?), Norway once (I think that was my friend Siri while she was traveling, but just in case,  God dag!  Takk for at du leser!), Bosnia and Herzegovina once ( I think it was my friend Kati while she was traveling, but .... Bok!  Kako ste?), and India once (hmm... I can't do Hindi characters, but Google Translate shows "How are you?" written phonetically as "Apa kaise haim--with diacritcals that I can't find on my keyboard....sorry!) and once from Romania (Buna zuia!  Ai o zi mare!)

Most people use either Safari or Internet Explorer to view my blog (34% and 33% respectively), with Firefox coming in a respectable 3rd (18%).  7% use Mobile and 5% use Mobile Safari (I wonder what the difference is?) and less than 1% have used Chrome.  As far as Operating Systems (OS), the vast majority use Windows (53%), while 26% use a Mac.  8% have used an iPad (that's probably Ken--thanks, honey!), 6% have looked at this on an iPhone, 5% with an Android based Smart Phone and less than 1% have used an iPod.

My most popular blog was "Musings about Books (in general) and Reading (8 Views), followed by "Musings about Blogs" (6 Views) and Musings about College...." (also 6 Views).  If I were trying to figure what I should blog about, this doesn't help very much, so I guess I'll just continue to write about what ever comes to mind.

Traffic sources come from either my friend Arlyn's blog or from my links on Facebook, although some site "www.jobsforsmartpeople.com" has evidently brought in a few people.  I went to their site, but can't see how anybody has found me from there, unless someone posted about how you can make money using Adsense, but since I haven't set up Adsense, I don't see how that can be....just baffles me.

Of course, what this doesn't tell me is if these are 270 different people, the same person 270 times, or any combinations in between.  And where are these people coming from?

I guess the important thing is that I'm having fun.  If you're reading -- thank you.  I hope you continue to enjoy my random thoughts about whatever strikes my mood.  Otherwise, I guess this'll become a sort of on-line journal for me to look back on someday.

Stay aMused, my friends.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Musings about the Number 42

So, today is Thursday.  I've been waiting for a Thursday to talk about the Number 42.

42 is my second favorite number, which, in a way, is very funny because my first favorite number is 21, and 42 is double 21.  (It's real easy to fall into weird numerology traps, but I'll try to resist.  But I'll probably fail because resistance is useless.) (Oh, and the significance of 21?  July 3, 1965 = 7 X 3 = 21 and 1+9+6+5= 21.... which will also give you .... 42...)

Up until 1981, I had lived a fairly normal existence.  Well, at least as normal as an Army Brat can claim.  Then, in the Fall of '81, I came upon a wholly remarkable book.  It was an odd looking book:  Blue, with a large hitchhiking thumb and a green planet sticking it tongue out and thumbs in it's...ears?  There are a couple of other planets hanging around, but except for the odd colors and stripes they are almost... normal.

The book, of course, is the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.  The book is based on the radio play that first aired on BBC radio (if you want to discover the whens and wherefores, just google...it's all out there.)  This is the series popularly known as a "Trilogy in 5 book"... although Eoin Colfer has written a 6th Book (The six books are:  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe and Everything, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, Mostly Harmless, and And Another Thing...)  In our Freshman year, Arlyn and I found an album of the radio plays and Ken and I have have found the tv show on DVD.  (Arlyn got custody of the album....mainly because I didn't have a record player at the time and she did.)


So, I did a little research (and I do mean little) into reasons why Douglas Adams used the number 42 for his Ultimate Answer to Life, The Universe and Everything.  I read how perhaps it was an homage to Lewis Carroll, who was Very Fond of the Number 42 (I don't know why....do I have to look everything up for you?), to it's the number of lines of text on the average page of a book (I don't know if that's true for eReaders....and no, I'm not going to count it out for you.... at least not today.), but the answer I like the best is because it's just a silly sounding number.  He needed a number and just picked 42.  Now, it's possible that he had read or seen it recently and that's why he picked it out, but really, does there need to be a reason?  Especially in that book?

But, oddly enough, the number 42 does have some weird significance in the world.  Wikipedia has a whole page devoted to the number 42 (although I don't think it's a definitive list, but it's a pretty funny list--although there's a whole math thing that made my eyes glaze over.)  And it seems that 42 is connected to the Weight of the Universe.

The year I turned 42, I declared it to be my Hitchhiker Year.  No, I didn't go around in pajamas, a terry robe with a towel, in search of a decent cuppa..... but I wish I had a Pan-Galactic Gargleblaster.

Well, time to go aMuse myself and read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy again... for more than the 42nd time....

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Musings about Back to School

My boys are not loving me right now.  I keep saying things like "Only 7 more school days until school starts."  I've discussed the need for haircuts (hey, why should I be the only one to get a hair cut?), and school supplies.  I tell my older son he should dig the saxophone out and practice (just a little to remember his fingering).  My husband and I are encouraging the boys to read (for those of you who know my reading habits, how did I end up with children who aren't readers?  And God knows that I would drop everything to read a story to them whenever they asked.  Which goes to prove that the experts don't have all the answers....)

It's Tax Free Week here in Maryland.  Sadly, this only applies to clothing, but I'm not complaining.  Jeans, socks, shirts, jackets, it all adds up and if I can save $6.00 per trip, it's $6.00 more to spend on books for my Nook.

I always have mixed feelings about the End of Summer Vacation.  When I was a kid, I'd be excited because it'd be a chance to really meet kids my age (and in 5th, 7th, 8th, 10th, 11th and 12th grades it meant that I'd get to see some of my friends who didn't live close by).  In college, it meant the start of Football Season--and maybe a chance to beat those hated Gators (sadly, in the four years I was at FSU, we never did manage that....it wasn't until the year after I was graduated that the 'Noles beat the Gators *sigh*).  When I got into the "Real World" and worked at GMAC, the only exciting part about summer was the 3 day 4th of July weekend, or getting the 4th off (there are very good benefits to having a 3rd of July birthday).  Then I got married and went back to school and got my Master's in Education and Summer Vacation became something to look forward to again.  And the start of a new school year was fun again.  Getting caught up on what colleagues did over the summer, what personalities would my students bring?  (Every class, every grade is different.  I've had classes that I've loved, but another teacher has had difficulties with--and vice-versa.  It's all in personal chemistry.)

The boys are finally old enough that I can leave them at home for short amounts of time while I do the shopping.  So, I'm spreading it out over several days, but as long as it all gets done by next week, it's all good.  Trust me, I'd much rather do it this way than have to have the boys with me.  I'd rather have a root canal without anesthesia than have two boys who don't want to be shopping with me.

On that note, a little video blast from commercials long past.....


But, of course, the downside of all this means that we have to go back to regular bedtimes and getting up way too early in the morning.  I have to stop reading book after book.  I have to go shopping for new clothes and supplies.  Sitting on the porch and reading for hours on end are coming to a screeching halt.  Making sure homework is done and put in backpacks so it doesn't get forgotten.  Making lunches.  Older boy is going to Middle School for the first time--and I have to make sure I take that step back so that he can grow and figure out how to get things done himself.  He'll be riding the bus for the first time.  I'm not anxious, not really, it's just that dread of the unknown.  How will things change?  Will we like the changes?  I know everything will be just fine and we'll adapt, but it's the beginning of the Independent Child Growing Into Adulthood--he'll never be my "little" boy anymore and I mourn that loss.  I want him to grow up, really, I do.  (And there are days....)

Well, before I put the cart before the horse and have both boys out of college before they've left grade school, I guess I better go find some way to aMuse myself....

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Musings about Hummingbirds

I have a hummingbird feeder hanging in my front yard, not far from the porch.  I like to sit and watch the hummingbirds come and feed.  I have about 3 who visit regularly:  a male and two females.  I also have wasps and bees who like my feeder.  I may have to get a different type of feeder next year to see if I can cut down on the bees and wasps (it's not the bees who bug me too much, but wasps are just too unpredictable).  Last year, I had a problem with ants climbing the shepherds hook and getting into the sugar water, but this year I got a cup that hooks onto the feeder and keeps them out.

If there are no bees or wasps at the feeder, the hummingbirds like to visit each of the ports on the feeder.  I'm guessing (but I don't know for certain) that it's because the hummingbird can't figure out that they're all connected to the same source of sugar water, and it's making sure it doesn't eat all the "nectar" at once.

I see the females more than the male.  The females chase each other away from the feeder, but they ignore the male for the most part.  Sometimes, the females chirp at each other, talking' smack about whose feeder that is.  They soar and dip as they fly around.  If you didn't realize that hummingbirds are pretty anti-social and territorial, you'd think they were playing with each other.  Sometimes, one will sit on the bush in front of my porch, lying in wait for the other to show up.  Then, in she swoops, chirping as she drives the other off.  They'll fly off for a few minutes, then one of them show back up and the show begins again.  Sometimes, the hummingbird will chad a bee away if it's flying around the feeder, but I notice that they avoid the wasps.  Like I said, wasps are too unpredictable...and they be crazy to boot....

Time to go as the hummingbirds are pretty aMusing....


Monday, August 15, 2011

Musings about Wolf Hall

My book club just read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.  Actually, that's not quite true.  Wolf Hall is the book we were suppose to read for discussion, but I was the only one who completed the book.  Now, to be fair, several members of my book club are undergoing lifestyle changes:  children going off to college, a change in job, things like that.  Several work full time, or have to take college courses for certification purposes.  I'm probably the only who is truly enjoying a lazy summer, sitting on my porch, writing blog entries, watching hummingbirds, listening to my iPod and reading.

There are about 10 of us in my book club.  All of us hold at least a bachelor's degree, and several of us hold an advanced degree.  I'm telling you this so that you understand that we're not dumb.

Despite my first paragraph, I don't really think that lack of time is what kept most of the women in my book club from finishing Wolf Hall.  Rather, it was a lack of interest.  Which is a shame, because the story was fascinating.

For those of you who don't know, Wolf Hall is part of the life of Thomas Cromwell (Oliver Cromwell was the great-great grandson of Thomas' sister, Kat).  The story starts just before Thomas leaves home, the son of a blacksmith in Putney, journeys to mainland Europe to become a soldier and wool merchant, and eventually lawyer, banker and Secretary to Cardinal Wolsey, the Lord Chancellor of England during the reign of Henry VIII.  The book chronicles Henry's desire to set his wife, Katherine of Aragon, aside so that he can marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn; the start of the English Reformation and Thomas Cromwell's Rise to Influence in Henry VIII's court.  The book ends not long after the death of Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England after Cardinal Wolsey and Anne Boleyn's miscarriage of a child after the birth of Elizabeth.  Most of the book encapsulates six or seven years.

Wolf Hall won the Man Booker Prize in 2009.  So, it should be, you know, a really interesting book.  Honestly, although I had a high interest in the subject, I didn't find Ms. Mantel's book that interesting.  From the time I started the book to the time I finished the book was about two weeks, but I read probably 8 or 9 other books while reading Wolf Hall.  Actual reading time was probably closer to 5 days, reading about 100 pages/day.

I think there are three weaknesses to Wolf Hall.  The first is purely a style issue.  Ms. Mantel describes things very sparingly, which is okay, because we are looking back almost 500 years.  Details on how people looked, the exact clothes they wore at any given time, are going to be a little scanty.  However, I felt sometimes like I was reading the action of a television show or movie, like I was listening to someone describing what was happening on a show while I was in another room.  I see this as a weakness, but that's just my opinion.

The second weakness is the listing of the Cast of Characters.  There are almost 100 characters in Wolf Hall, so part of me did appreciate the heads up of Who's Who.  However, sometimes I feel that when an author uses the Cast of Characters, it means that he or she isn't going to take the time to really explain the relationship between the characters.  For example, after Cromwell's wife Liz dies during a summer plague, her sister Johane moves in.  It's apparent that she becomes important to Cromwell, but it's not until close to the end of the book that you realize that there was probably a sexual relationship between them-- but, you're not entirely sure if there was.  In the Cast of Characters, she's only listed as "Johane Williamson, Liz's sister."  Now, I can appreciate not wanting to give away plot details, but it would be nice to have this settled in your mind.

Which brings me to the third, and, in my opinion, the biggest weakness with Wolf Hall: the overuse of the pronoun "he."  Most of the time, Ms. Mantel uses "he" to refer to Cromwell, but in a book where almost 2/3 of the characters are male, it can get a little confusing as to whom "he" refers.  Consider this sentence from near the end of the novel:  "The evening before Fisher is to die, he visits More."  Now, you would be forgiven for thinking that "he" refers to Fisher.  After all, in that sentence, there is one antecedent proper noun:  Fisher.  Therefore, "he" should be replacing Fisher.  This is what I learned in my English classes (Thank  you, Mr. Bailey).  Mr. Bailey evidently was not Ms. Mantel's  English teacher, because "he" actually refers to Cromwell.  It's not until you read several sentences that you realize this (and then you go back because you think maybe you missed something that made that clear.).

So, would I recommend Wolf Hall?  Guardedly, yes.  If you have a strong interest in this time period, if you have a clear understanding of who the major players are (or can photocopy the Cast of Characters), then I think you'll appreciate this book.  There were too many times when I was taken out of the story (meaning that  I was too aware of reading a book), but it was an interesting read, nonetheless.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Musings on Rainy Days and Sundays....

....never get me down (to misquote the old Carpenters' song).

Actually, I love rainy days, especially if it's a Sunday.  Sundays are kick-back days.  Sleep in a little, have breakfast in bed (thanks, sweetie!), and have nothing more planned than reading a book.  Maybe put a movie in the DVD player (although, I love watching the old Black and White movies on ACM).  Popcorn, sliced apples, can of Coca-Cola....yeah, that's the way to spend a Sunday.

Rainy days are like that, too.  Unless it's a work day, if it's raining, you think twice about going out -- do I really need to buy school supplies today?  Kinda gives you a Sunday on another day of the week.

The thing I like the most about rainy days is how everything looks.  The grass seems greener, the red bricks of the houses on my street (we all have red brick ranchers) are darker, the asphalt of the street gets back to black as the dust and dirt from the road is washed away.  There's a huge spider web on the bush at the front of my porch, underneath the awning---but I can see the water droplets in it, making it seem ephemeral and other worldly.

I love the misting rain that you almost can't feel on your skin, but will soak you through in a few minutes.  I've been caught by the sudden downpour that makes you run for the nearest doorway or store.  I've driven in rains so hard you can't see five inches in front of you--actually, you just look for a place to pull over and wait for the rain to pass.  I've danced in the rain a few times, and I've rushed outside just after the rain to see how many worms were called up.  I've splashed in the puddles and laughed with the joy of it.

My dog, Cricket (he died while I was in college--he was a Good Dog!), hated rainy days.  He hated having to go outside and get his paws wet.  It'd be funny to watch him go outside, daintily lifting his paws as if to say "Ew, ew, ew!"

In Florida, sometimes you hate the rain, because it's a hot and humid day, and the rain doesn't cool things off.  As a matter of fact, it makes it steamier.  So bad, sometimes, you can see the steam rising from the ground.

Sometimes, I like to go shopping when it's overcast and light showers are expected, especially to niche stores--because it's not in a mall area, the crowds generally stay away and I can browse and chat with the employees.

When I worked for GMAC, you could tell when there was a storm between our office (in Linthicum, Md) and Detroit....the computers either died on you or they ran really slow--good old satellite dish technology.  Customers used to get really upset, and sometimes got nasty with me.  I understand their frustration--especially if there was no storm in our area, but really, do you think I want to be uncooperative?

I love sitting on my porch on a rainy day--it's where I am right now.  We have an aluminum awning extending over the porch and I've always loved the percussive sound of the rain hitting the aluminum .  I studied in Taxco, Mexico for a few months one summer before my children were born.  We'd get a few storms and the thunder would boom and echo off the mountains.  Made you realize why the Aztecs thought their gods were mad.

I'll admit, I don't live anywhere where I've had a solid month of rain and overcast skies.  Never seriously had to worry about the rivers rising to flood levels and the levees not holding.  Maybe if I did, I'd be less fond of rainy days.

Well, the rain has stopped for now, the sun is peeping out and I can see blue skies...must be time to aMuse myself....maybe with a book, maybe with a good movie.....something black and white....

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Musings about eReaders (and my Nook)

I have friends who can't believe that I have an eReader.  I can't believe my friends can't believe that I have an eReader.  To be specific, I have a Nook.  I love my Nook.

I've had it for about a year and a half, now and I think I've been more than 5 feet away from it 5 times.  (Yes, I'm one of those people who never goes anywhere without a book...)  When I buy a new purse, I check to make sure it's big enough for my Nook (and my two cameras, my iPod  and my cell phone, but that's a story for another day....)

I decided to get an eReader because I'm running out of room in my house for more books.  I have (at a conservative estimate) over 1,000 books.  My Nook can hold 2,000 (more or less) books on the internal hard drive, plus I don't know how many more on SD cards.  Currently, I have 362 books on my Nook.  About 1/3 are books that I've repurchased.  I won't be able to repurchase all of my old books--some are out of print, and it would be expensive for the publishers to convert older books to some form of ePub formatting.  I wish they would, anyway.  I have a lot of books I'd like to put on my Nook.

There are a lot of reasons to get an eReader.  For me, it came down to 2 Big Reasons (and 2 Little Reasons I thought of later):  1) Being able to get rid of some books, (while not having to give up any of my books) and 2) vacation travel.  See, when I travel, I try to anticipate how many books I'm going to need to take with me (and better to take too many than not enough!)  Not a big problem if I'm driving somewhere, or if I'm going to be visiting relatives -- if I run out, I can always run out to a bookstore and get more books.  But, if I'm going on a "Destination Holiday," or flying, then it gets to be trickier.  If I pack too many books, I might not have enough room for souvenirs.  Not enough books and I might run out of things to read. (Although, yes, there isn't a lot of time left over for reading, after journaling about what I've seen, looking at the pictures on the camera and crawling to bed in utter exhaustion.)  It's hard to gauge how many books to bring.  But, with my Nook, I don't have to worry about it anymore.  It's only the size of a trade paperback book, but I can carry all my books with me.  Don't feel like re-reading a book?  No problem.  I can connect with Barnes and Noble and get another book--and keep my feet propped up to relax them.

My Little Reasons for having a Nook are: 1)  I can get a book anytime I want a new one.  No longer do I have to wait for Barnes and Noble to be open.  I don't have to get dressed and rush out to get a book.  If I'm at work and finish up a book, I can get a new one while on a break.  For someone who is a Night Owl and has a hard time falling asleep, this is a godsend, and 2) if I want to compare books while out, at say, book club, I can easily do so. (Okay, so this reason hasn't  happened very often, but that doesn't mean it's not a good reason.  It might happen.  Someday.  Maybe.)

Now, this isn't to say that an eReader is perfect.  I've had a few issues with purchasing books (Hanukkah/Christmas can be a horrible time to try to buy new ebooks--the servers get clogged up with everybody buying new books), and sometimes my Nook decides that I meant to turn two or three pages, instead of one.  But these are, overall, minor problems.  And yes, sometimes I do miss that New Book Smell (which is even better than New Car Smell, in my opinion).  But what is really nice is that I can resize the text--which, with my funny vision is pretty cool.  It's nice to know I won't get eyestrain from trying to read too small print--or have to worry about being able to find a book I want to read in Large Print.

Oh, and why did I get a Nook instead of a Kindle or any other eReader?  I can change the battery myself.  Not that I need to worry about doing this very often, but this way, I don't have to be without my Nook while somebody else swaps out the battery.

Well, time to go aMuse myself with a new book....what shall I read today?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Musings about Beach Books

I know, it's a little late in the Summer to start talking about Beach Books, but there's still more than a month of Summer left to find a few good books (less if you define Summer as the time between when the school year ends and begins)....

(Sadly, Beach lover that I am, I almost never get to go to the Beach.... and especially not the beaches I adore (St. George's Island, Fl, Waikiki Beach, HI, Hilton Head/Myrtle Beach, SC and Nags Head, NC), but I have my beach video (footage I took while at Waikiki and Waikoloa) and I have plans to buy a smallish kiddie pool, which I will fill with play sand and water and create my own beach...if I ever get the basement picked up, I'll put it down there, add a heat lamp, watch the video and viola!  Instant Beach!)

So, what makes a good Beach Book?  For some people, the Summer is when they can read long, heavy-thinking-required books because the pace of their lives slows down enough to let them indulge.  For others, light and frothy is more their speed.  For me, it's somewhere in-between:  I like adventure stories, especially if its a series.

On the light and frothy end of the spectrum, I like the Harlequin Intrigue novels.  Yeah, they're romance novels, but they have a little mystery involved.  The books are usually less than 150 pages long, so they make a quick read.  Favorite authors:  Julie Miller and Dana Marton.

If you want a romance, but maybe a little longer read, I love Julia Quinn and Eloisa James.  They both write Georgian/Regency Era novels and they both have linked novels.  If you want something more contemporary, Susan Elizabeth Phillips has lots of fun books (my favorite is Match Me If You Can) that are (sometimes) loosely linked.  And, of course, you can't go wrong with a Nora Roberts romance.

Still on the light end of the spectrum, but in the fantasy genre is Lisa Shearin's Raine Benares novels.  So far, there are five novels about Raine Benares, a seeker who bonds with the Saghred, a stone of unlimited magical power that a lot of people would like to control.  Magic, (very sexy) Goblins,  Elves, adventure and a bit of intrigue make these some of my favorite books.  Book 6 is supposed to come out in December....

There's also Jim C. Hines' Fairy Tales.  Well, these aren't really fairy tales, but he has picked 3 princesses (Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty) and twisted the source material into 4 fun novels:  The Stepsister Scheme, The Mermaid's Madness, Red Hood's Revenge and The Snow Queen's Shadow.


If you're more into science fiction, Gini Koch has a fun series about the aliens who walk among us.  So far, there are three books about Kitty Katt, marketing manager turned super being hunter and Jeff Martini, alien sex god from Alpha Centauri (or as Kitty puts it in Touched by an Alien "You come from Planet Hunk, sent to Earth to protect and serve.  And make the ladies happy.")  Book 4 is also due in December (oh, it's gonna be a Merry Christmas for me!)  I spent the months of April and May reading and re-reading these books.

There's also Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's trilogy... in 5 books (although Eion Colfer has written an authorized 6th book).  I think it's always great fun to watch Arthur Dent struggle to make sense of Thursdays and an Earth-less Universe.

For urban fantasy, I love Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson novels, and the related Alpha and Omega novels.  Mercy is a auto mechanic in an alt-Washington State.  She's also a part Native American Walker who can shape shift into a coyote.  She grew up with werewolves in Montana and her nearest neighbor is the Alpha (wolf) of the local werewolf pack in the Tri-Cities of Washington State.  She also consorts with the Fae, Vampires and other things that go bump in the night.  Ms. Briggs has also written a lot of other fantasy novels that I really enjoy.

Also in the urban fantasy list, I really like Kim Harrison's Rachel Morgan series.  Imagine a world in which a tomato unwittingly carried a virus that wiped out a good portion of humanity and let the immune witches and Fae come out of hiding.  Also the Vampires and Werewolves.  Add in Demons and you have a grittier  urban fantasy series that kicks butt and takes names.  I love seeing the dynamic between Rachel (a witch) and Trent Kalamack (an Elf).

Another Fantasy/Science Fiction author I love is Lois McMaster Bujold.  I love her Chalion fantasy series (The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, and The Hallowed Hunt)  The first two are linked novels, the third one is set near Chalion, but not in it.  Her science fiction Miles Vorkosigan series is pure adventure, but, sadly, not available as an eBook....

Another alt-universe author I really like is Neil Gaiman.  For a light summer read, I recommend Stardust (a movie was made with Robert de Niro and Michelle Pfieffer).  If you want a little heavier reading, American Gods is excellent--kind of a Battleground:  America between the gods of the Old World and the gods of the modern New World.

For a gritty alt-America (and coming to a theater near you sometime early next year):  Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay) is great.  As soon as I finished, I started re-reading them.

Although I hesitate to recommend George R. R. Martin, his "Song of Ice and Fire" novels are great reads.  My hesitation comes from the fact that the series isn't finished and it was six years between the publication of books 4 and 5. But if you don't mind the uncertainty of when this story will be finished, go ahead and get started.

Not into science fiction or fantasy?  How do you like the Civil War?  If you haven't read Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels, a novel about the Battle of Gettysburg (couple of side notes here:  Michael Shaara was an English professor at Florida State, the Battle of Gettysburg ended on my birthday, a 103 years before my birth, and my great-great-great uncle William was wounded and captured at Gettysburg and sent to Ft. McHenry for a little while).  His son, Jeff (also an FSU graduate!), completed the trilogy (for those of you from the Colonial Heights-Petersburg area, The Last Full Measure details the Battle of the Crater), and has written novels about the Revolutionary War and WWII (I haven't read those, but I probably will....someday).

Michael Shaara also wrote a baseball book, that was turned into a Kevin Costner movie:  For Love of the Game.  I haven't seen the movie, but I love the book.

For more contemporary novels (but not romances or even really "chick-lit"), I like Mary Ann Shaffer's
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  An epistolary novel set at the end of WWII.

Anne Fortier's Juliet is the story of a modern day Juliet Capulet, who is descended from the Juliet.  There's a little intrigue, Misunderstanding between Sisters, and a  Romeo (yeah, descended from the Romeo).  There were a few "it's in the script, dammit" moments, but overall, I liked this book.  Another one I started re-reading as soon as I finished reading it.

Want to impress people by reading the classics?  Baroness Emmuska Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel is great:  intrigue, the French Revolution, derring-do....who can ask for more?  Want a longer book?  Try Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers (then you can tell everyone how the movie panders to modern expectations and the book is much better!)

There are probably a lot more books I could add, but maybe that'll be an entry for another day....maybe for the dead of winter when we wish for the warmth and laziness of Summer.

Stay aMused.....

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Musings about Hair Donation

So, I got my hair cut the other day.....and thanks to Duey (who knows me far too well....), my new hairstyle is cute and sassy......

Now, I grow my hair out every now and then with the idea that I'll donate my hair to make a wig for somebody who needs it. Mostly, I do it because that way I don't have to think about getting my hair cut.  I hate making appointments.   Last time I did this, I donated my hair to Locks of Love.

For some reason, I decided to do a little superficial checking on Locks of Love.  First, I went to the Better Business Bureau, and looked up Locks of Love.  They meet their 20 Standards for Charity Accountability. Then, I googled and found a few websites claiming that Locks of Love is a scam.  Most of the scam complaints center on two things:  1) the wigs (or hair prosthetics) don't necessarily go to kids with cancer; and 2) not all donated hair is used for the wigs/hair prosthetics.

Now, the Locks of Love website states that "most of the children helped by Locks of Love have lost their hair due to a medical condition called alopecia areata, which has no known cause or cure."  The website also states that they "provide hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children....suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis."  So, the outrage that Locks of Love doesn't necessarily make these wigs/hair prosthetics for children who have lost their hair due to chemo is a little self-righteous.  While not meaning to lessen the pain of hair loss due to chemo, typically, hair does grow back within a year.  And even patients with alopecia areata can expect hair to regrow within a few months.

As for the other cause of outrage, I can't get too upset about it.  Sometimes the hair isn't usable because it's been chemically damaged, or damaged by hair dryers.  Gray hair isn't usable (it can't hold the dyes needed to match hair colors).  There may be other reasons why hair isn't usable.  Honestly, if you go for a hair cut, where do you think your hair ends up?  Evidently, Locks of Love will sell some of the pony tails to wigmakers.  I'll bet some of that is because they aren't having wigs made and stored against future need.  From what I read about the manufacture of the kinds of wigs they make, hair prosthetic is the better term.  These prosthetics aren't cheap (one site quoted a figure of $3,000 - $6,000), and the money has to come from somewhere--either cash donations or the sale of the pony tails.  They don't give away every hair prosthetic-- they use a sliding scale to figure out how much you pay.

The New York Times wrote an article about hair donation ("Lather, Rinse, Donate") in 2007.  So, even knowing that my hair may end up being thrown away, I'll probably still donate it.  Surprisingly, there aren't too many hair donation charities:  Lock of Love, Wigs for Kids, and Pantene seem to be the Big Three.



Well, it's time to go be aMused....

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Musings about Getting Lost

My ability to get lost is almost legendary.  I can't read a map to save my life.  Actually, that's not true.  I can read a map.  I can plot out a course.  I can find the best way to get from Point A to Point B.  I can even find interesting things to see while getting to Point B.  However, when it comes to taking that piece of paper and applying to the Real World... yeah, that I can't do.  I even have a hard time following verbal directions.  You can ask Duey.  I went up to Richmond to visit him Saturday and couldn't find the salon he works at, so I whipped out my trusty (but seldom used) cell phone and called him.  "Duey, where am I?"  Took him 5 minutes to get me to turn in the right direction and find him.  When it was time for me to go home, Duey gave me very good directions on how to get back to I -195.  I still got lost.  Drove around in Richmond for a little bit, found Shockoe Bottom, and then Rt. 5.  Drove through Varina before I finally hit I-295 and could get myself back to my parents house. (I kept consoling myself with the thought that by going South, I was heading in the right direction.)

When I got my Toyota Sienna, I called Arlyn to tell her that it had a compass.  Know what she said?  "What good is that going to do you, Missy?"  I replied, "But, now, when I get lost, I can tell you what direction I'm going in."

When I was in junior high (what most people call middle school, now), I lived in West Germany (yeah, that's how old I am.... Germany was two countries).  Twice a year, we would have some sort of fitness day and walk to the local fitness park (it was called a fasanerie, but I'm not sure how that's spelled) and run an obstacle course (hey, we were Army brats.... this is what we do).  And, twice a year, I'd get lost coming back to school.   It was usually the same group of kids.   We'd just wander around until we found something that looked vaguely familiar and then somehow we'd end up back at school.

One time, I had a friend from college visiting DC.  I went down and we had a great time hanging out.  Finally, I had to drag myself back up to Glen Burnie (this was in the days before I got married), so off I went.  Yep, got myself lost trying to find I-95.  Ended up in Southwest DC.  At 2 am.  Not a good time to be lost.  I was stopped at a light and some people were crossing the street.  Next thing I know, there are police officers, with guns out,  running after the pedestrians.  I hunched down in the car and muttered a quick prayer that I'd make it out okay.  Someone was listening, because the light changed and I was able to get out of there before I heard any gun shots.  I also found 95 pretty quick after that.

On our honeymoon, my husband and I went to the UK.  It was a driving trip.  Since Chawton wasn't that far from Heathrow Airport, we decided to drive down and see where Jane Austen lived while she wrote many of her novels.  After we, had a lovely lunch and then it was time to go to Salisbury.  Going from Heathrow to Chawton, I drove and Ken navigated.  No problems getting there.  From Chawton to Salisbury, Ken drove and I navigated.  I think I got us lost three times.  Now, in my defense, I was pretty tired, since I don't sleep well on airplanes.  But, after that day, I did the driving and Ken did the navigating.

Now, at some point, you've probably thought to yourself, Missy, just get a GPS.  You won't have to worry about getting lost.  Yeah, but you see, I kinda like getting lost.  Sometimes you find the coolest things.  A little garden where you don't expect one.  That cool funky store with the bracelets.  The bookstore where you find the book you wanted to read.

I also like to travel off of I-95.  Except for  16 years, I've lived within 10 miles of 95 my whole life.  95 does make my life easy.  When I go down to Florida to visit my dad's family, I know that Florence, SC is about halfway between Jacksonville/Orange Park and my parents' house in Colonial Heights, VA.   I don't stop at South of the Border, but I love to see the billboards.  I remember when 95 wasn't completed in NC and you had to detour onto Rt.1.  We used to stop in Wilson, NC at Parker's and have the best barbecue.   And that's why I like to drive off of 95.  Yeah, it takes longer, but you can find cool places to visit.  I used to go down US 301 and US 1 (which is the same road for a long stretch in VA) to get to my parents' house.  One of my favorite places to drive through is Frog Level, VA.  Who can't love a town called Frog Level?  I don't go down US 1 in VA as much.  My mom is too impatient to see her grandchildren, so I have to hit 95 at Ruther Glen, VA.  A GPS wouldn't let me go down the backroads.  Oh, I know I can tell it to find an alternate route, but it wouldn't be happy.  And then it would talk to me.  And I'd have to talk back to it.  And then we'd have a stony silence as we try not to talk to each other.  No, just better not to have one and save ourselves the aggravation.

Well, I guess I better I'd better go aMuse myself.  Maybe I'll get lost on Google Earth and try to find the fasanarie....