21 December 2007

Guest review: There's an Octopus Under my Bed!

At a recent family outing to see the Litterbugs exhibit and admire my sons' projects therein at the Art Alias gallery in Indianapolis' Fountain Square neighborhood, we stumbled upon a small section of art books. One caught my son's avid eye: There's an Octopus Under My Bed! by Donald Ross and Dean Blase. I checked it out with himn and was impressed by the nuclear-bright colors, graffiti-artist style, and swaggering bravado of the fantastical animal characters. Even the main character, in bemoaning his fears, is putting them out there in a really proud way. We took the book home to read over and over again, and I invited E, a 7 year old boy, to provide a guest review that follows.

Q: What do you think of this book?
A: I like the tale of the story, the way Elijah adventures with all these animals and finds a new friend. And his lost friend isn't really lost.
Q: What about the artwork?
A: Its neat, the way the colors blend and shine.
Q: Do you think you could draw like this?
A: It isn't drawing.
Q: Oh, is it painting?
A: No. Yes. It is like both of those. Its neat.
Q: Was it hard to read?
A: No, but I had to think more about it. My brain was quieter after.

17 December 2007

Shikasta by Doris Lessing

Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing wrote Shikasta and she really should have been drinking more coffee; the book put me to sleep. The book follows a vague kind of fellow whose mission is alluded to as one of salvation for the residents of a colony planet of his homeworld; however I couldn't really get interested in whether the planet was saved or not.

25 November 2007

Monument circle tree lighting

On Friday, we went to the 'tree lighting' ceremony at Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis. The monument is neither a tree nor a light. Discuss.

24 November 2007

Politics & Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse

Politics & Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse offers a neat-o gift to consider for those hard-to-shop for folks this year. A veteran bookstore staffer will personally select a book based on the reader's profile, which you provide. The costs include the book and postage for delivery - that's it - with no charge for their service or the gift wrapping. Thanks Mia for the tip. Reading; share and enjoy!

And if you're more interested in odd gifts, try a squaremelon.

16 November 2007

Travel diaries: Search Engine Marketing with the AMA

I traveled to Chicago earlier this month for work and attended a American Marketing Association 'Hot Topic' seminar: Search Engine Marketing. It was very informative, and filled my head full of useful tools and website info which will be immediately applicable at work. It was one of the best conferences I've been to in terms of the ratio of chair time to applicability of content. Following are some jotted-down notes I made of things that were of most interest.

The conference covered at its core the search engine bots - how they work, and why, and how to play nicely with them. The bots have an affinity for certain web elements - attractive hot spots that call out to them for attention. Similarly, there are certain chilling items that will drive the bots away. Fortunately, the bots' activities are based on some sound statistical linguistic processing algorithims - at least for now - and it is not arduous nor unethical to work to improve one's search engine ranking through applying some knowledge of how they work to one's own site.

A 'hot spot' for the search engine bots is the page title, which is often underutilized for marketing, or used to promote the company branding instead of the specific offering being made on the page. Title pages should be reflective of the conversion activity on the page, either related to the product or the action. I just finished Chris Anderson's The Long Tail and one of his key points there was that as the technicality and specificity of the search query increases, the frequency of searchers at that index point drops but the propensity to convert is much higher. For example, someone searching for 'external hard drive' is likely to be part of a large crowd searching for just that term who are less inclined to buy - they may be just browsing. But someone searching for 301110U - the sku of a LaCie 500GB external firewire drive - is likely to be part of a much smaller group of searchers who are ready to buy immediately. The following article is useful on this topic: Web Page Title Tags by SEOLogic

Another hot spot for the bots is the keywords; in designing a site for SEO, more technical keywords are recommended: use product SKUs where available. I ran into this myself today, when searching for a new firewire drive with which to start taking advantage of the new time machine feature of Leopard - in hunting down where I would buy from, I found it easiest to narrow down to a sku at the manufacturer's website and then check out distributors offering that SKU. Websites featuring SKUs fared well in this effort; those without became difficult to find. (Frys.com take note - checking out my product sku for my new LaCie 500GB Firewire drive dropped me onto the Leappad Disney Princess Stories. Uh, no, that's not what I wanted!)

The last hot spot of interest is the anchor text. As anchor text is highly interesting to the googlebot, monitoring this is essential for a comprehensive strategy of SEM. For example, googling 'click here' at this time will display a link to Adobe's pdf reader foremost, because that anchor text is so often used to direct people to the site. Check out how many times the phrase "click here" shows up on your website, and change that to be more useful text in order to improve your site's search engine placement. More importantly, in the web world, 'click here' is analagous to the ums in a spoken presentation - just wasteful filler.

A series of tools were reviewed, as follows:

  • One of the reviewed tools was the Neat-o tool for checking backlinks from We Build Web Pages, including a display of the anchor text used for the backlinking.

  • A historically useful tool is the Waybackmachine at archive.org - useful when evaluating paid ad spend options, to see who has previously been in that ad spot at which you're looking. For fun and kicks, compare the first incarnation of Blogger with today's current blogger homepage.

  • Another interesting tool was Alexa.org's site comparison tool. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to do very much for sites not in the top 100,000. But if you have one of those Goliaths, check it out.

  • A Googleite presented also regarding Google's tools for webmasters. I found that pretty darned interesting, in terms of what tools are out there and what they can do for you. Check out the webmaster tools for inbound link checking to your site.

  • Some new cool search tools are showing up, including Yahoo!'s mindset and Become.com. These provide for differentiated search results depending on the stated frame of mind of the searcher: checking out "Ethiopia", where a pal of mind is heading this week, allows you to differentiate between shopping and research type results. One complaint I have is that there are many more dimensions to a concept than just these two variables, but in beta mode that's all that is available.

  • A variety of keyword popularity tools are available at inventory.overture.com, wordtracker.com and keyworddiscovery.com.

Finally on the web, each page should have a call-to-action, somewhere, and the effectiveness of these should be measured and tracked. I don't advocate overcommercialization, but as one of the presenters pointed out, you are investing in your web site to do something - educate, advocate, profit, or whatever - so that should be more than an afterthought on the site.

One thing that seasoned marketers will have to wrap their heads around is the idea that the IT functions relating to marketing need to get a few cycles of brain time. If not properly set up and maintained, a web site's results can't be measured, won't convert properly nor will the site be represented in its optimal position in the search engines. So, whether you like IS or not, it is time to make friends with your local IS department geek and find the resources to do what needs doing - otherwise the effect of the dollars spent on web advertising will be diminished. This includes checking that multiple domains reroute via 301 redirects to the preferred domain and ensuring that each page of content can be accessed directly by http: string; if it can't be accessed due to technical restrictions, it can't be indexed.

Websites offer a direct-to-customer communications path from the corporate Marketing department for the first time since Moses got the message from the burning bush. Cutting through the clutter offers wonderful opportunities to increase revenues profitably by serving customers what they need when they need it.

11 November 2007

The cheapest best bath remodeling item

My mom recommended this neat item as a way of adding about 3 inches in depth of water to my tub. Check it out for yourself: the Deep Water Bath accessory from better-sleep.com costs less than $5 and turns a regular old bathtub into a soaking tub. Serenity now, here I come!

Seven on Sunday

I am having a rainy Sunday at home, enjoying the day with the family. So here's a new meme to consider: Sunday Seven - 7 things to do on a quiet Sunday.

  • Building a pagoda.

  • To Beowulf, or not to Beowulf: deciding whether to go see a movie next weekend.
  • Bidding on elliptical trainers

  • Listening to podcasts of Top Gear

  • Updgrading to Leopard

  • Reviewing charter school information

  • Playing Boggle (I won!)

  • Hung some photos up that have been asking to be hung for a while.

02 November 2007

Travel diaries: vos es hic

Yesterday I attended a way-cool lecture at the Field Museum in Chicago which blended high-tech electronic visualization with one of my favorite subjects, Ancient Roman history. Forma Urbis: Mapping Ancient Rome concerned a collection of map fragments from the Capitolini Museum of Rome, which had been digitally scanned over a period of 25 labor intensive days - working around the clock - by some admirable Stanford uber-geeks.

For the uninitiated (and the project management oriented) the project charter was thus: put together an 1800 year old puzzle. The puzzle portrayed a ground plan of the central urban area of Rome as of about 203-211 A.D. and was inititally not a puzzle at all; it was 150 beautiful marble slabs affixed to a wall of the Templum Pacis of Ancient Rome. (Sadly, the fragment reading voc es hic - you are here - has not been found.) the ancient temple wall, serendipitously survived to modern times via its inclusion as a wall in the structure of the Church of Saints Cosma e Damian which was founded approximately 530 A.D. How did it turn from slabs into a puzzle? It fell off the wall, and shattered. Oh, and like many of my sons' puzzles, a few pieces are missing. Actually more than a few - only 15% of the pieces are collected which provides slightly over 1100 pieces with which to work. Some sketches of missing pieces exist, drawn by scholars and others who handled and preserved the piece over the years. For scholarship, the value of the map is immense - it provides archeologists and historians with detailed info about where certain structures existed , how big they were and what features they had.

The lectors included Dr. Laura Ferrea, Dr. Robert Meneghini and Dr. David Koller. Dr. Ferrea was an evocative speaker in detailing the context of the map and the museum's role in preservation; unfortunately, her translator did not seem to do her justice. For example, he rendered what I heard as "the equestrian statue of marcus Aurelius would have been encountered by visitors to the plaza as they ascended the staircase shown here," as "Here are some pictures of the plaza." I'm not sure why the translator worked in this manner. The next speaker, Dr. Meneghini, offered detailed descriptions of some of the buildings portrayed in the map. One very interesting detail he offered was graphic renderings of the view of the buildings and temples of Ancient Rome as they were used during medieval times, showing, for example, 2 room thatched homes made from marble harvested from the temples and ruins, pleasantly situated in the open spaces of the temples, allowing free roam for livestock through the colonnaded walkways of the ruins during the 10th century. aside from this presentation, I can't recall having seen any such renderings anywhere else.

My favorite part of the presentation was the last speaker's portion, who reviewed the project he had been part of to scan and digitally manipulate the images of the map fragments in an attempt to situate some of the pieces whose location within the overall map was unknown. The images of the pieces are hosted at Stanford's Digital Forma Urbis Project Site, available for users of any skill level to twiddle with the puzzle and try to identify new matches. Dr. Koller reviewed the techniques he and the team used to find matches, including 1) using the map design on the front of the pieces, 2) using the marble veining and coloration and 3) using the edge fracture patterns. Using these methods and statistical analysis of hand coded topographical features of the images, the team was able to match an additional 1% of the pieces which had for past centuries had their position in the overall puzzle unknown. Very impressive! Not so impressive - a lack of support by the image viewer for Mac users. Boo, hiss! I do wonder also if the Stanford team was able to confirm the placement of any of the previously assessed pieces, though he didn't cover that in the lecture.

I did identify one interesting book which I may add to my stack for later reading: Rome: Profile of a city by Richard Krautheimer.

(Photograph courtesy of Prof. Rodriguez-Almeida.)

21 October 2007

Machiavelli in a Skirt

I recently vacationed in a wonderful little parcel of forestland here in the Hoosier heartland and it put me in the mood for a read through Stardust by Neil Gaiman. Unlike most of his books, Stardust slipped by me unnoticed when first published, so I had the unusual pleasure of seeing the movie before reading it.

I liked the movie quite well (see my Stardust movie review: but am delighted that I like the book better. In summary, the book and the movie are like to varied novels of the same subject and time; almost like reading fanfic by the original author, if that makes any sense. Gaiman himself said, "it's astonishingly faithful to the spirit of the book" and I have to agree that it was, without being redundant of the book, which was quite a trick to pull off for what I think was his first-ever adapted book.

In the book, the slave-girl Una comes off as much more of a mover and shaker than she does in the movie, where she only seems moved and shaken upon. And that's a pity; for she was one of the most marvelous of Gaiman's female creations, even better than the redoubtable Aunts of Anansi Boys. As the various plot threads came together in the book - in a way the movie bypasses - her subtle, subtle role as a shaper of the politics of Faerie and superlative schemer come to light. Only Morgaine of the Mists of Avalon has struck me in memory as more of a Machiavellian Faerie. On the other hand, the Captain Shakespeare's character was considerably more watery in the book; I much enjoyed the conflicts in the man as played by De Niro in the movie, and the interactions between he and his crew.

One pleasure I had in the reading was to get a peek into Gaiman's writing process, via his prologue that revealed that the story of Stormhold and Faerie was originally just a backdrop for a book he'd envisioned of the inhabitants of Wall, the faux-normal town at the edge of Faerie. I will look for this story to appear eventually, and hope to read more of this fascinating concept. Also, I'd love to get my paws on the Gaiman-and-Vess graphic novel adaptation to share with my sons.

09 October 2007

Lincoln, Lincoln I've been thinkin'

Reading about the American hero Abraham Lincoln in Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, I'm struck by the complexity of his character. And that leads me to wonder: What is a good person? Lincoln was by no means immune to faults; he campaigned to elect Zachary Taylor, a slaveholder, to the presidency, and did a few other questionable things. Was emancipation a political expediency? His relationship to Mary Todd was at some points judged callous. At no time, however, am I inclined to consider him less than a hero of the republic. The vast accomplishments of his presidency, his grace in dealing with morally repugnant choices and his clear vision of the rightness of the American Union subsume all his faults. But, for us ordinary mortals, what faults are subsumable? Is it proportional to the greatness of our deeds?

In any case, the overriding trait of Lincoln's that Goodwin focuses upon is his magnanimity, and consistent adherence to an ethical standard that permitted him to be generous in forgiving past faults in order to align people to his future vision. Quite an interesting read to get so close to such a man as Lincoln by seeing him from the perspective of his peers. Kind of an in situ analysis, vs. the more archeological-style museum pieces that some paeans of Lincoln turn out to be.

15 September 2007


1491; New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann

This book offered many intriguing alternatives for interpreting the historical record of the American continents prior to the European migrations. The author proceeds methodically through the evidence and accounts of the first explorer and adventurers, all the while acknowledging the flaws in the evidence - that we are trying to construct a cohesive vision of a culture from the fragmentary, biased and unsympathetic eyes of the invading forces. Even so, the author is able to provide solid evidence for a few hypothesis: first, that the native populations were not passive recipients of the changes to their world; in many cases, they were active strategists and solid players in allying or fighting with the Europeans they met. And second, most profoundly, that disease was the key factor in the tragic loss of life on a scale unprecedented in human populations.

In sum, I had a few take aways -

  • The native populations of the Americas were decimated not through superior technologies or through supposed cultural superiority of the invaders, but through disease exacerbated by a genetic vulnerability to disease and lack of knowledge of how to treat disease

  • Other cultures, for example African and Asian groups, which encountered European expansion did not experience the same loss of life that the native populations of the Americas experienced, nor did they have the disease factor to contend with

  • The native populations of the Americas had a sophisticated and long history of agriculture and settlement; thus, peoples arriving post-disease-impact entered an environment in which a large amount of work had already been done to prepare the environment

  • If the Mongolian invasions in Europe had been coincident with outbreaks of Bubonic plague, as the European invasions in the Americas coincided with outbreaks of Smallpox, I'd probably be blogging in Mongolian. θæNks, Genghis.

Atlantic Review article

Thanks Mom for bringing the book to my attention after attending Charles Mann's lecture and book signing at the Field Museum.

And hey: this is one of the last items in my list for a challenge from November 2006: From the Stacks Winter Challenge. I'm rather pleased that now I've finished 3 of the 5 books for the challenge.

13 September 2007


Kushiel's Justice
by Jacqueline Carey is a book for a reader who isn't afraid to be challenged by the author. Carey has constructed a rich alternative history/fantasy book with a pantheon based on the traditional Judeo-Christian theology. If that isn't enough for you, various characters have unusual predilictions - and not just the bad guys either.

I found the book's concepts intriguing - is there a recursive problem in having a son of the son of god? - and the characterizations deft and engaging. I loved the heroine Phèdre in the initial 3 books of the series, and her infrequent presence in these 3 books has been too little a view of her adventures. Imriel is developing nicely as a hero with a conflicted background: son of traitors, adopted by the heroes of the realm and rescued from abuse and certain death. He overcomes these epic beginnings with a cynical yet hopeful outlook, trying to find out for himself who he is whilst all around him roles are offered to him. Overall, I'd recommend the book but be warned about the content for certain sections.

21 August 2007


I have to thank (and curse) my friend Zantor for letting me know about George R.R. Martin's wonderful series, A Song of Ice and Fire.In anticipation of the next book in the series coming out... sometime... I'm re-reading the series to refresh my memory of events and characters. Additionally, since I've been reading info on some wonderful fan sites such as Tower of the Hand and others speculating as to how certain plot points will resolve, my re-read is letting me explore some of the theories that have been put out and see if they have a solid basis. This whole series is engaging enough - and I am frustrated while trying to wait patiently for the next book - that I am scouring the internet for tidbits of the future book in the series, such as a Prologue from the POV of Varamyr.

The first book sets the stage for the rest of the series in detailing a conflict that spans a continent and dribbles out to the rest of this fantasy world of Westeros as well; the basic plot line is that while kings and highborn lords scheme over the kingdom's leadership, a far greater threat than any of them pose to one another is rising in the icelands to the North. Oblivious, they scheme against one another in a massive waste of resources and lives, typical of war. While the kingdom fragments, a young woman comes of age and into her destiny as the daughter of a deposed king, eager to return to the land of her birth and claim the throne for herself.

I'm off to read A Clash of Kings next.

19 August 2007

Wonders never cease: a great movie

I saw the movie Stardust this weekend, based on Carl's recommendation from his blog, Stainless Steel Droppings. What a great movie and escape from the world for a few hours. The casting - Michelle Pfeffer (in a role reminiscent, to me, somehow, of Lady Hawk), Robert DeNiro as a ship's captain and closet effeminate - and the supporting roles are marvelously done.

More info:

  • Neil Gaiman's site info on Stardust
    Wikipedia says...
    And some truth from Gaiman: "Adults deserve good fairy tales, too"

    I recommend this movie, and now I'm on a quest to get the book. :) I can't recall ever having seen a movie before reading the associated book, and I'm curious as to how this will turn out.
  • 18 August 2007

    A beast with good taste in literature

    Parenting Beyond Belief by Dale McGowan (which I got from the library, but now will own since the dog chewed off half the front cover and I'll by the library a replacement). It is a collection or essays for atheist parents discussing how to raise ethical children without religious structure. I picked it up because I was wondering how to deal with the whole Santa Claus issue (who does visit our house every year), and it provides some good advice on that - in this case, to encourage critical thinking by responding to requests from the child about Santa ("How does he come in when we don't have a chimney?") with Socratic questions that further encourage the development and growth of critical thinking skills. ("Getting in without a chimney does seem tough. What do you think happens?"). The question-and-answer process can lead the child to a gentle discovery of the truth rather than an abrupt disillusionment.

    The book also discusses death and how to discuss death from an atheist perspective. Additional essayists are represented who cover the topics of morals, and the motivation to be good from the position that there is no afterlife.

    One interesting tool referenced in this book was the Belief-O-Matic at Beliefnet.com note the legal disclaimer from their site: "Warning: Belief-O-Matic™ assumes no legal liability for the ultimate fate of your soul."

    16 August 2007

    Facebook | Eva Lyford

    Surprise! I have a Facebook page. I also took a personality quiz. This is the third time I've taken a Briggs-Meyer type evaluation and each time the results are different.

    Click to view my Personality Profile page

    07 August 2007

    Nothing but Nets

    I detest mosquitos.

    My friend Carol's 8th grade nephew Patrick is raising money to provide for mosquito nets to provide for Ugandans needing to prevent the spread of malaria. National Geographic had an excellent article on this terrible disease recently: Bedlam in the Blood. Want to help?


    1. Go to website - www.nothingbutnets.net/ ---
    2. Go to "find a netraising team"
    3. Type in "nice save 21228"

    05 August 2007

    Blogthings. Fun and useless.

    Your Vocabulary Score: A+

    Congratulations on your multifarious vocabulary!
    You must be quite an erudite person.

    You Are Pecan Pie Soda

    Sweet, but totally nuts

    Thanks to BookGal for letting me know Blogthings are out there... way out there!

    29 July 2007

    Z is for Zorro

    I loved tales of Zorro as a child and admit that even today I'm interested in this American Robin Hood story. Zorro by Isabelle Allende does a wonderful updating of the story, injecting much more intrigue and gadgetry than I recall from earlier versions. Featured on NPR recently in Zorro comes to life, the story led me to look further into the story than I had before. Was Zorro a real person? No, but there were some people who may have inspired the original author and creator, Johnston McCulley.

    For those who know me and ask, I have to mention that if you want a good fencing scene in the movies, I'd look beyond Zorro movies (which are not bad) to The Princess Bride, which has some excellent fencing scenes and better jokes, too.

    15 July 2007

    Free Endangered Species Ringtones - Center for Biological Diversity

    Free Endangered Species Ringtones from the Center for Biological Diversity.

    Is that a frog in your pocket or is your phone ringing? I read about this in Newsweek and have so far been using the Gila Woodpecker calls for my ringtone. Share and enjoy!

    14 July 2007

    Old friends

    Return of Agamemnon

    I recently read The Orestia by
    (in English translation) and was happy to encounter so many familar old friends. Cassandra's unheeded prophesies... Agamemnon's incautious homecoming... Orestes' heroic obedience to Apollo... All these were familiar to me, yet musty and not easily recalled in my memory. The refresher was well worth the short time investment. So much of our literature today has at its underpinnings the classic conflicts and accomplishments of the heroes and villans in the pages of the ancient masters. For example, it was interesting for me to ponder House Atredies' struggles in the Dune series by Frank Herbert in light of my fresh reading of the tetralogy and understanding of the struggles of House Atreus, or to consider Athena and Apollo's courtroom demeanor in the trial of Orestes vs. what you might see on the show Law and Order. For more deep questions, check out the Penguin reading guide.

    Wikipedia's Aeschylus article has great info on the author. Got a few hours? Take a read from Questia's ebook . My recommendation: read the play first, not the author's/translators notes and foreword. Read those supplementary materials later, and don't let them get in your way en route to getting to the story itself.

    07 July 2007

    Word geeks

    What's the difference between a geek and a nerd? A geek, I've heard, is someone who is or becomes socially inept due to extreme focus on an area of expertise. A nerd, OTOH, is someone who gains social ineptitude without a corresponding benefit of expertise. A freak? I have no idea of how to define that. I might retitle the book "Word Nerds" - however, I admit the author's title of Word Freaks does catch the eye (and scores better in scrabble, too). Thanks to my friend N for the gift of the book! This isn't one I would have chosen for myself, but was a great read - in other words, the perfect gift book.

    Stefan Fatsis has documented his deep-dive into the obscure world of competitive scrabble playing. Reading of anyone put to self-imposed extremes is always interesting; check out Robert Kurson's Shadow Divers for a more life-threatening example. But reading of people putting themselves to such extremes in order to find a WWII sub is one thing; to read of people doing such for no other purpose than to get a high score ... well, it had to be a good story to keep my attention.

    The profiles of the other players - and, also, of Stefan himself as a player - are engaging and interesting. I spent part of the book hoping the worst cases would find some help for themselves and maybe give up the scrabble game; by the end of the book, I was rooting for them to win.

    17 June 2007

    Saving skeptics from sarcasm

    I love it when a novelist explains their inspirations and reasons for composing a particular piece; often, the background can be just as engaging as the story that results from the inspiration. This is exactly the case with Tan's latest book, inspired during a rainstorm shelter at a library collection of automatic writings, where she encounters some references to Bibi Chen. When I further learned that this inspiration was entirely false, I had a good laugh at myself. Kudos to Tan for pulling one over on me.

    Saving Fish from Drowning is a wonderful tale entwined with mysticism, human idiosyncrasy, adventure and even a bit of schadenfreude. If you've never read Tan's books, I wouldn't start here (instead try The Bonesetter's Daughter first).

  • The NPR Interview about the book with Amy Tan: 'Saving Fish From Drowning': A New Direction for Tan

  • Wikipedia on Automatic Writing

    P.S. Apologies for the delay in posts; I was thrown for a loop by a problem with integrating google code into the blogger template, and that took time. Anything that takes time nowadays eats into my blogging time. I hope to get back to a more regular schedule soon.
  • 02 June 2007

    Cool gadget recommendation for June gift giving

    A new acquaintance Imet showed me a very cool gadget Thursday: Brookstone digital photo keychain Neat-o! I love gadgets. (oh, and to answer some questions I got: yes, Virginia, it does work with a Mac!)

    19 May 2007

    IndyPaws | Where Pets Connect

    IndyPaws | Where Pets Connect. My dear Perlie made it to the big time - the newspaper. Both dogs were featured in a recent full-page ad promoting the IndyPaws site. Hoorah! Also look for her best pal and nemesis, Beauregard.

    And, if you like dogs and are in the Indy Area, check out the Indy Humane Society's available dogs listing.

    Fruits for sale!

    "For there is no friend like a sister,
    In calm or stormy weather,
    To cheer one on the tedious way,
    To fetch one if one goes astray,
    To lift one if one totters down,
    To strengthen whilst one stands."

    Goblin market by Christina Rossetti is a lovely little primer with whimsical and delicate imagery and delightful wordplays and usages. After struggling to make it through a tedious introduction by Germaine Greer in the 1975 edition I obtained, I finally skipped ahead to the actual poetry and enjoyed it well.

    The poem moves jauntily through a plot of a gormless sister driven by her desires to commerce with the goblins, and her sister's beatific and careful efforts to redeem her. To my dear friends and their daughters - take a chance with this book, have you the chance to do so.

    For beautifully colored imaghes and further analysis, see
    Rates of (Ex)Change: The Goblin Market and Voodoo Accounting by Helen Pilinovsky

    08 May 2007

    LibriVox Catalog Pages: iPod Fodder

    LibriVox - how cool is this? I consume audiobooks whenever I get bored with NPR on my commute, and via Project Gutenberg I found out about this effort, which provides free audio recordings of out-of-copyright books for general consumption. PG Wodehouse, Aesop, Viking stories, Wollenstonecraft, Poe... I'm delighted! I wonder if they might have some from my classics challenge...? Or maybe I shouldn't tempt myself by looking. OTOH, it is the literature I'm after - not necessarily the page turning. So by that measure listening to a book is as good as any method. Though I truly love a good read better than a good listen.

    06 May 2007


    Thanks pal Lili for a reference to a fun INTELLIGENCE TEST I got a 27, and am really stumped by 3 B M (S H T R) - post if you know the answer!

    28 April 2007

    Poor little rich girl? Again?

    Alas, I expected so much more from Margaret Atwood. The Blind Assassin is one of her least satisfying works to date, and normally I love her writing.

    I'll start with the positive: as a vision of the first 1/2 of the 20th century, this novel seems historically interesting and does engage the reader with accounts of the depression and of the effects of the world wars on the Canadian citizenry; as an American, fairly familiar with the stateside history of that time, the novel was of interest as a contrast to the conditions citizens in the U.S. faced. And it did keep me interested until the end; the novel wasn't so bad that I gave up on it.

    On the negative side, the main character, Iris, failed to evoke any sympathy from me. Why should she? While she's self-involved with certain activities (to avoid mentioning a plot spoiler here), her sister, a minor, is being molested by her ape of a husband without her knowledge. The character begs for pity through accounts of improper media attention, or fears of such, and complaints about an arranged marriage. (For a more poingnant tale of arranged marriage, I'd recommend Amy Tan's The Bonesetter's Daughter.) She lives a life of uneventfulness and without benefit to anyone, and seems to have only had a brief period of any significance to anyone. Iris exemplifies, as a fictional character, T.S. Eliot's terrible lines of ennui and discontent with the living of a meaningless life.

    07 March 2007

    100 books meme

    I got tagged with a meme, thanks to Chris at Chris-book-a-rama (by the way Chris, welcome to the bookaholic webring!)

    Look at the list of books below: *Bold the ones you’ve read* Italicize the ones you want to read* Leave blank the ones that you aren’t interested in. If you are reading this (and haven't participated yet), tag, you’re it!

    1. The DaVinci Code (Dan Brown)
    2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
    3. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
    4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
    5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
    6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
    7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
    8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
    9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
    10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry) (just bought it)
    11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
    12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
    13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
    14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
    15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
    16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)
    17. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
    18 The Stand (Stephen King)
    19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
    20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
    21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)
    22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
    23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
    24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
    25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
    26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
    27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
    28. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
    29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
    30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
    31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
    32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
    33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
    34. 1984 (George Orwell)
    35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
    36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
    37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
    38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
    39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
    40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
    41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
    42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
    43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
    44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
    45. The Bible
    46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
    47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
    48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
    49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
    50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
    51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
    52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
    53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
    54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
    55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
    56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
    57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
    58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
    59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
    60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger)
    61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
    62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
    63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
    64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
    65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
    66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
    67. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Ann Brashares)
    68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
    69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
    70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
    71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
    72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
    73. Shogun (James Clavell)
    74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
    75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
    76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
    77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
    78. The World According to Garp (John Irving)
    79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
    80. Charlotte's Web (E.B. White)
    81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
    82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
    83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
    84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
    85. Emma (Jane Austen)
    86. Watership Down(Richard Adams)
    87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
    88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
    89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
    90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
    91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
    92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
    93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
    94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
    95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
    96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
    97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
    98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
    99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
    100. Ulysses (James Joyce)

    17 February 2007

    Oooh! Mr. Kotter! Mr. Kotter!

    I so loved Frank McCourt's series about his childhood that I thought I would dip into Teacher Man: A Memoir, his memoir about teaching. It was an enjoyable read,featuring the same irascable, endearing Frank as was familiar to me before, and showing how the scrawny boy muddles his way through adulthood, just as the rest of us do.

    McCourt's tale of life as a muddler while leading a classroom offers an interesting contrast; few such dedicated muddlers can manage to arrive on time for 8 am classes. McCourt doesn't deny or justify his muddling, or in any way apologize for it; similarly to Angela's Ashes or 'Tis he lays out the circumstances of his life without obligating the reader emotionally. This lack of obligation instead results in a purer response; when he isn't asking for your sympathy, he earns it.

    Strangely enough, muddling through his days as a teacher McCourt gradually finds himself successful as a teacher. Many parts of the story read like they were left over bits from an episode of Welcome Back, Kotter. His story gives hope to all muddlers, that having a good heart and keeping with a job day after day might make one good at it.

    04 February 2007


    Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier
    is an engaging story from the perspective of Will Cooper, a nonagenarian frontiersman of the late 19th and early 20th century. I just loved reading this book, engaging with this retired rapscallion and reading his reflective, moderated tale of excesses and reflection. There is a love story in the tale, of his ardent pursuit of the nearly unattainable Claire, and the twisted complications of their relationship. There is a story here about father-son relationships (or, fathers-son) and how the obligations of child to parent are borne beyond death. There is a place story here too, of how love for and understanding of a place - and one's sense of home in it - can drive one to places and positions that to outsiders seem insensible.

    Comedy and tragedy in this novel are subtle and genuine. Comic moments arrive so quietly as to fade at times, in Bear's discussion of his romantic troubles, Will's mediation of tribal disputes, and the ineptitude of government representatves to the Nation in handling translators. Tragedy is also blurred and unfocused; the specific tragedies of an unfortunately gelded horse lead to a chain of unfortunate events and relationship ruptures. The miseries of the Cherokee in facing their relocation and the smallpox epidemic are seen aslant from the narrator, too dismal and dismaying to encompass head-on.

    Will's zest for his mission in life, to create a stable place for his people, creates a nobility in this otherwise roguish character. His yearning and romantic idealization of Claire transform a lusty crush into something of more profound moment. In such a way the author reveals the thin margin that separates the mundane from the divine, and the routine from the extraordinary in a way that separates himself from the run-of-the mill storytellers available on any bookshelf. I highly recommend this novel.

    30 January 2007

    Seasonal residence in the real world

    I finished The Autumn Castle by Kim Wilkins yesterday, and gave myself a day to think about it before posting. This was an interesting read, however not an enthralling one; the characters seemed 3-dimensional but also somewhat forced. The blithe faerie queen, the noble, self-denying beau, the wounded heiress - all great elements for some medieval epic but somehow lessened, grayed out, and smeared in a modern setting. The depiction of the artist's lives in the book represents not any reality of the artists I've known and lived with, but instead some abstracted idea of what kind of idealized life an artist might lead.

    The evil genius in the story is the stand-out hideous Mandy Z. From his name to his fascination with his sculptor's grotesque materials, he is altogether ridiculous and pitiful and frightening and utterly, utterly weird. I found myself engaged enough in the telling of his tale to stay focused through the book. He seems unfortunately realistic in the modern age.

    I lost faith at times with the book in certain simple ways that the characters are led in the narrative into danger; the protagonist, Christine Starlight, for example, confronts Mandy Z. at one point without any reinforcements, to bad effect. Another character lives for days within reach of a final clue that will resolve decades of struggle for her, and in spite of her sensitivity the author never has her notice the clues, until nearly too late. Such dramatic issues seem jarring, like watching the heroes split up in a B movie, when you're urging them to stick together for safety.

    Kim Wilkins provides an interesting bit of writing talking about her inspiration for the book and progress on its writing also.

    21 January 2007

    I should have just picked up a harlequin romance

    I just finished Dark Angels by Karleen Koen. I love historical fiction, but not this book. The narration slipped incautiously between a half dozen characters, leaving no sense of suspense as any surprise planned was revealed well in advance of the action. The author violated a cardinal rule of my writing teacher in high school; "Don't tell; show." Throughout the book, the characters are spelled out in excruciatingly obvious tones and rapidly became unsympathetic. The character whose presence I most enjoyed was Jerusalem Syalor, and she is hardly consistent from one section to the next, starting out pictured as a superstitious rustic and transmorphing without explaination into an otherworldly wise woman and savior.

    The primary message of the book, if any, is faithlessness. Reflecting upon this, I would have much better enjoyed being faithful to my dear old Lincoln (as related via Kearns) than I enjoyed this brief diversion in English/French history.

    12 January 2007

    Sturdy writing in Fragile Things

    I once again finished an impulse read, instead of focusing on my challenge books. I'm starting to pick up the pace on Team however, so I don't feel guilty. And Gaiman's writing is like the light to the moth for me; I just love the way he spins out a story.

    Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman is a delightful cascade of both poetry and prose; and, as is rare with some authors, the poetry is neither contrived nor sloppy. Two stories in particular call out for attention: The Problem of Susan and The Monarch of the Glen. In Problem, Gaiman gives us a sample of all that is best about fan fiction, and spins out a tale of Susan, and how she spends her post-Narnia years. It is touchingly reverent and explains once of the difficulties I always had with Susan in the tales, wondering if she was a stand in for Judas, or if she was a placeholder for the non-believer. Gaiman handles her story with what feels like an accurate representation of how her life might have played out (with, I warn you, some elements unsuitable to the younger reader) and also adds in his own careful contribution of what life might be like for an old, proud woman who has experienced some extraordinary times.

    Monarch, OTOH, concerns an character who is in most way's Susan's opposite: the wonderful, deep-unto-caverns shadow from American Gods which is a dear favorite of mine. If you like Norse mythology or Beowulf, and admire Gaiman's Arachne-like skill at weaving together the old folklores with a modern consciousness, you *must* read this. I am a wide reader about all things Norse, and even so was surprised and delighted to be introduced to a Hulder in the story, which was entirely new to me; and her character is so dear and touching, that even her scornful disappointment with Shadow is a monument of pitifulness. Bonus points to Gaiman for developing the character of Mr. Alice, from Keepsakes and Treasures, further in this story, also. (And after reading this, I was dying to know if the anonymous aide in Monarch was the same narrator as in Keepsakes; he is.)

    As for the poetry, I delight in a well written verse but tend to most enjoy haiku and limericks; nothing too long and self-centered. Gaiman's poems twist and play with a theme delightfully and spin out a yarn until the threads remain, scintillating and microscopic for examination. Look closely at Locks, a poem about a father reading Goldilocks to his daughter, and it seems as though you can witness the scene, the bright young child tormenting her father with interruptions, the father enjoying the banter in spite of his attempts to keep the story moving, all while he ruminates over the different perspective he brings to the story from the vanatage point of age.

    Check out Gaiman's audio excerpt on his website, the author's reading of his introduction.

    04 January 2007

    A great object relation theory

    The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness by Stephen Levy was a quick, tumbling read through the iPod's meteoric rise to popularity interspersed with reflections on how some of the iPod's design paradigms have influenced social discourse today.

    I was reflecting upon Levy's book over Christmas when opening some gifts; some of the packaging reflected more of an Applesque esthetic, for example the iRobot Roomba; the minor set up instructions were clear out of the box and the packaging was inviting and easy to work with. OTOH, some items like my new pedometer were cryogentically sealed in hdpe plastique and required a hacksaw, sock, and a vacuum cleaner to remove from the encasement, a'la a certain User Friendly comic strip I heard about recently. Setting the darned pedometer up took longer than the walk I was trying to track with it. Back in the day when I first started using an Apple IIe, the idea that the intuitive interface, helpful - nay, cheerful - attitude, and user-centered design of the product might percolate into mainstream consciousness was addled fantasy. A couple of million iPod sales later, it seems to have become a reality, and Stephen Levy is positioning himself to chronicle the event.

    One exciting option Levy introduced into his book is that he's published the chapters in no particular order, and each can stand on its own; in fact, different publication runs of his book may have the chapters in a different order. First of all, my sympathies for his printing company - having some experience in that industry I can imagine all too well how much paper was wasted perfecting this scheme. Second, don't choose this as your book club's assigned reading unless you create a syllabus too. Finally, I admire that, with this publication tactic, Levy's pushing the shuffle concept Apple incorporated into the iPod to yet another logical conclusion. I wonder how long it will be until another author takes up the challenge of creating a shuffleable book? Will this lead to a new format of novel, similar to the imabic pentameter's relation to free verse? Artists often do their best work when their are constraints on them. I'm imagining now a re-read of Asimov's End of Eternity, with the chapters out of order. It could work quite well.

    So - back to Levy. I'd recommend this book to folks interested in trend analysis, social dynamics, and the relationship of technology to this axes of change. If you're looking for a detailed technical history of the iPod's development or a user guide, look elsewhere. Levy does incorporate some discussion of this detail, but more so as to elucidate the design process and guidelines and esthetic involved.

    03 January 2007

    Reading without needing to

    Rembrandt - Holy familyHeir to books such as Janet Tamaro's So That's What They're For!, Kirsten Berggen has provided a chatty, friendly and well-informed book in Working without Weaning that covers a plethora of topics from starting out breastfeeding right all the way up to, as you'd expect, weaning. The target market for this book is the "working mother," the mom who works away from home for pay. However, there is much wisdom in the book that is clearly useful to any mother working with a compressed schedule and a long to-do list (and really, what mother isn't?). The author's use of the collective widom and experiences of many other mothers contributes greatly to the universality of the advice offered. This is the first breastfeeding book I've read since I weaned by son (like I alluded to in the title, I don't *need* this book, so don't call me with congrats or anything), and I would highly recommend it to any breastfeeding and working mom as a great reference. Kirsten (henceforth "the author") is also a great friend, and her career switch to focus on lactation consultancy is admirable. I debated what tone I should take in reviewing her book - because as a a friend it is easy just to take a rah-rah tone - but as a friend I felt I owed her my complete feedback, and since I've written some in this area too (How to bottle-feed the breastfed baby) it seemed like a good use of my time. kirsten

    Her knowledge of breastfeeding is thorough and well informed by a scientific perspective; as a reader, I greatly appreciated the clearly written references to scientific bases for recommendations that are made. Her review and discussion of pumps and pumping routines are the best I've read, even after having read very many. She gives honest input on a number of different practices - such as using another person's pump as a hand-me-down - which conventional authorities tend to ignore, and thus not serve mothers very well. Further, she includes many references to resources on the internet for mothers to extend their knowledge further on a topic, or find specific advice for a special situation.

    Berggren's thoughtful commentary on sleep issues and managing nighttime with a baby is very useful, including discussions of The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley as well her experience with Dr. Ferber's oft-lambasted approach. Her advice to find an option that works well for you, while describing a variety of solutions, is a no-nonsense, open minded approach to an issue which avoids bringing overly heated and useless emotive discussion to bear, and is of great merit. The placement of a sleep section in a breastfeeding book will come as no surprise to those of us moms who have BTDT. Also, her unique perspective on "the freezer-stash trap" was new to me, and offers a logical analysis as to why some mothers end up with supply difficulties when using milk they'd pumped previously and frozen, and how to handle this situation successfully.

    Unfortunately, the author perpetuates a myth of childrearing: that breastfed babies are harder to care for at daycare. While some daycare providers do in fact find breastfed babies to be more difficult, many also find them to be easier. The author's statements on this seem to be based more on the true experiences of many working women in dealing with care providers who had difficulty, rather than on a factual evaluation of the care parameters of such babies or on any statistical analysis of daycare centers. No doubt many women have had difficulty working with persons caring for their breastfed babies, but similarly many women reported that their babies did much better on formula than they did breastfeeding. In neither case should these experiential comments be taken as representative of all babies in all situations. An argument can easily be made that breastfed babies are in fact easier to care for in daycare, because the baby is more likely to be healthy (less likely to suffer from diarrhea, ear infections, respiratory tract infections, or menengitis), less likely to have skin conditions, such as eczema, that require special treatments and have less smelly diapers. See Breastfeeding and Child Care at USbreastfeeding.org for further detail.

    Finally, on a minor editorial note, it appears that some editor went a bit wild with search-and-replace as a multitude of expected references to "restroom" were missing, replaced by a blank space. The average reader will certainly be able to interpolate the missing term, but a harried new mom suffering from lack of sleep may find this a bit jarring. I don't expect this was from an heightened sense of propriety, as the references to 'breast' are profligate. kirsten

    Expect to see this book gifted to moms-to-be at baby showers and by coworkers; certainly, if you expect a baby gift from me don't be surprised to see this. Hopefully it will also find its side by the pump in a lactation room in your workplace too.