books


27
Aug 21

Downstream from here

It rained this afternoon. Less than 20 minutes of the wet stuff fell from the sky. Something between a trace and a measurable amount. Just long enough to make me stay at the office a few minutes more, you understand. I rode out this randomly appearing rain cloud with purpose, doing a computer networking test that I learned earlier in the day on an extra classroom.

By the time that chore was done the rain was gone. And the little creek that runs alongside the building looked like this.

There’s something about the limestone that’s all around the place that slows drainage. If the water can’t go into the soil it just rolls to wherever the terrain wants it to and, here, that means Spanker’s Branch and down into the underground system just after that last shot. In an appropriate number of hours or days I’ll be using this same water to clean up after dinner.

It’s comforting, really, knowing there is a cycle to this, and we have integrated a system into it.

Saying a thing like that, about the dishes, is just one short step from trying to assign a story to that particular bit of water. The happy bubbles, and all of that. At which point you’re simply anthrophomorizing dihydrogen monoxide.

“What’s this ‘you’ stuff, pal?”

You’re right. You’re right. Not one among you has ever wondered about the hopes and dreams of the water you use while doing the dishes. That is the most ambitious part of the water that comes into our house. How else to explain how it gets on the countertops, the cabinets, my shirt, under the dish drainer and everything else?

I got some under the drainer this evening. No idea how that happened.

We’re hitting the books again before the weekend begins. We’re looking at a few of the interesting bits from one of my grandfather’s magazines, the January 1954 edition of Popular Science. We started this particular magazine a few weeks ago now, and you can see the first ads if you click that previous link. Click the image below and you can enjoy the next nine photos and bring yourself great worth and merriment.

But if Popular Science doesn’t interest you, you can see the rest of the things I’ve digitized from my grandfather’s collection. There are textbooks, a school notebook and a few Reader’s Digests, so far. It’s a lot of fun.

Just like your weekend. Unless you’re getting rained on. Watch out for Ida.

I’m taking next week off here, but we’ll be back for more fun of this sort the following week. See you on Labor Day!


24
Aug 21

A podcast, a new setup, and a new book

Want to record something? I spent most of my evening re-building my audio recording gear. I put in a new mixer, plugged in the old Sennheiser MD 421-II microphone — a classic when I got it in 2003 or thereabouts — and played with audio drives and test checks ’til my heart’s content, or at least until dinner time.

Much later in the evening I figured out all the issues and everything is solved. I started adding new sound effects to my setup, just because I made cool musical-sounding sounds (please forgive the technical term) that were burning a hole in my hard drive.

I tested a new acoustic foam treatment. This should kill all of the echoing sound in a quiet room. It should also be small enough to move and store away. My current setup is clunky, but works. Except for those times when it is liable to fall on my head in the middle of an interview. Clearly, I’m in the R&D phase for new styles.

All of this, any of this, is better than how I spent my free time last night, rearranging a closet.

My office closet is a process. It isn’t clean, mind you, but it’s one tiny little step closer. One very small step. You can step into my storage closet now, around the many neatly stacked boxes and bins, is what I’m saying.

Now I need a better writing chair, because my 12-year-old office desk chair has done just about all it can. After that, perhaps some LED lights for atmosphere. This home office is starting to come together, or it will in many more months.

This is a podcast I recorded last week. We’ve rolled it out today in honor of Women’s Equality Day, which is observed this Thursday.

I saw Women’s Equality Day coming up on the calendar and found the appropriate faculty member. The stars lined up: an important day, interesting topic, and an especially impressive scholar to talk about equality, the 19th Amendment, where we are culturally in this long march. Only the professor begged off. Too busy. But, she said, you might try this person, or that person. And both of those people have equally impressive biographies. Ultimately, Dean Deborah Widiss agreed to take me on. So I talked with three brilliant female scholars about what this interview should cover. I asked some students about it. And I talked to some other thoughtful women, as well. Eventually, I distilled all of that down to this 20-minute conversation.

Women’s Equality Day, and the 101st anniversary of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing American women the right to vote, is on Thursday. Listen to this before then.

I finally started Bruce Catton’s The Coming Fury. It’s the first volume in the author’s trilogy, the Centennial History of the Civil War. This installment delves into the social, economic and political causes of the war and runs through the year prior to the First Battle of Bull Run.

We’re just getting started. This is the beginning of the second section of the first chapter, 12 pages in, and he’s already set his tone. A modern eye could mistakenly project this tension onto their own time. That’s more about the writing than the history.

It’s no wonder people hold this work in such high regard. Kirkus’ unsigned 1961 review called it “history at its best.” No small compliment. Every sentence is declarative. Every statement is pure and thorough. Any of them could be a thesis statement. It is confident and declarative in every phrase, at every turn. Young writers could learn a great deal just studying the sentence structure Catton uses. It makes for wonderful reading.


20
Aug 21

Reading our way into the weekend

We had freshmen in the building today. First year students, the direct admits, came in and heard from the dean. He determined very quickly that we are all old. They don’t know who David Letterman is. He’s been off CBS for six years, which is a long time, but he still has his longform interview show on Netflix.

It reminded me of the time I used a photo of Dan Rather to set up a key point in a classroom lecture and none of the students knew who he was. I’d anticipated that. It was just a picture of Rather at a lectern. So I had a second image of the longtime news anchor. He was there at the desk, a graphic box over his shoulder, the CBS bug in the corner. No one knew who he was. He’d been off the air for a little over two years at that point.

Time moves quickly, but it also helps if people are familiar with the character in the first place. Somehow, it’s harder to imagine people being unfamiliar with Letterman.

Anyway, the dean offered a top ten list, but said it wasn’t funny. It wasn’t, but it was useful, and hopefully some of it will stick for them.

This evening there was a grad student welcome program. The day in between is already a blur of meetings and seeing familiar faces for the first time in a long time.

It’s always fun when people come back, until you lose track of how many miniature reunions you’ve had. In a few days I’ll ask a student, not for the first time, about their summer. The week is over, the semester is here, but first …

Let’s do a little reading. This is from one of my grandfather’s magazines, the January 1954 edition of Popular Science. We’re looking at a few of the ads from the thing. We started this particular magazine last week and you can see the first five ads if you click that previous link. Click the image below and you can see the next six advertisements of worth and merriment.

If Popular Science doesn’t interest you, you can see the rest of the things I’ve digitized from my grandfather’s collection. There are textbooks, a school notebook and a few Reader’s Digests, so far. It’s a lot of fun.

At this rate we’ll be reading this Popular Science for several weeks, so there’s a lot of fun yet to come.

Just like your weekend, I hope. Big plans? Little plans? No plans?

We’ve got the same plans. Good, now-traditional, staying safely removed from people, bike riding, book reading plans.


17
Aug 21

Shoo, fly

My lovely bride — who is as strong as they come and smarter than she realizes — and I have a joke in our house. Whenever there is an insect she asks me to handle the situation.

We all have things we don’t want to do, so this is fine. I say, make sure people you spend your time with have complimentary tastes and services. Not everyone should be scared of, say, clowns, to the point of immobility. Someone present should be able to handle the situation.

But that’s not really what this is. She lets me address the insect and that lets me let the critter outside, or meet it’s untimely fate, and then we make a joke about how I saved her life. From the millipede, or whatever we are dealing with.

Well, today was no millipede. And after I’d returned from a long and fruitful day at the office we were chatting as people do and in the middle of the conversation she says, “Oh, I need a very thin piece of cardboard.” I produce something from the recycling stack in the garage and ask her why. “I trapped the world’s largest house fly under a plastic bowl and you need to slide the cardboard under it to carry it outside.”

OK, not a problem. Paperboard, bowl, we’ve all been there. The flooring that the insect was on was dark, so I couldn’t see it properly until I got outside to notice we had trapped and were releasing a female Tabanus atratus.

Look at that scissoring mouth! And why are we finding horseflies indoors?

She flew off to do horsefly things. We sat outside, for some reason, and I was thinking about how they use their six piercing mouth parts and — this part is unnecessarily gross, apologies — the sponge-like labrum used to lap up blood.

Horseflies don’t often bite people. But you don’t want to be bitten by a horsefly.

Back to my evening reading selection. I’m about to wrap this up.

It’s been a fine read. Again, it’s like an in-depth Wikipedia entry on a given subject from the period. Most of the chapters are about 20-something pages. It’s a great overview. And I have found things in Lord’s book that will prompt me to look for more thorough accounts, but other subjects I’ve read the 20 or 30 pages and felt like I had enough for now.

What was fun this evening was reading a bit about this particular moment in the American culture … through the lens of a 1960s writer.

Riding bikes! Swimming! Smoking! Pants! You knew how that had evolved, but it’s a treat to see little anecdotes like that which help to spell out how it could be liberating and befuddling. It all really stands out, 110 years-and-more later, of course, but just imagine being in the moment. Or consider that the next time something is different compared to the things to which you’ve long been accustomed. Makes you wonder what the social mores will be like in another five generations.


13
Aug 21

Listen to some music, read some books

Just a week ago yesterday I mentioned Nanci Griffith here. She figured into one of my first blog posts. Back then I said “God Bless Nanci Griffith.” I’ve been listening to her for a long time, about a quarter of a century. This evening it was announced that she’d passed away.

God bless Nanci Griffith; he blessed us with her.

The Flyer, looking back, has a certain mid-century weariness that is overcome by the un-replaceable mid-century optimism she put into so much of her work. It was a wonderful entrance to her folkabilly style.

“These Days in an Open Book” sticks with you.

And there are parts of “Grafton Street” that can haunt you. Indeed, I can hear every important note perfectly well in my mind, even now.

She produced 19 records over the course of her career, which spanned most of my life until her health turned a few years ago. It’s an impressive body of work from a gifted storyteller. The nature of the entertainment industry, of course, is such that an artist’s work never leaves us, thankfully. What a gift it is to have all of this to return to.

I’m not ready to listen to them again just now — one day soon, I hope — but you should definitely try them out.

The planned event for the day was the return to the books section. We made it back there in just a shade under two years. That’s a perfectly average turnaround time, if you ask me. Perfectly average if you are Voyager 1 and you are in between Jupiter and Saturn.

This section of the site is a casual study of some of my grandfather’s books. I didn’t have the good fortune to meet him, but I know him from family stories and some of his things that I’ve inherited. Like a giant box of periodicals I rescued. So, today, we’re beginning a look at an issue of “Popular Science,” January 1954. Click the image to see the first five ads I’ve selected.

At this rate, it’ll take a while, and that’s the point. If Popular Science isn’t your speed, you can see the rest of the things I’ve digitized from my grandfather’s collection. There are textbooks, a school notebook and a few Reader’s Digests, so far. It’s a lot of fun.

And fun is what you’re supposed to have over a weekend. I hope that’s what you have in store for you. Come back and tell me about it on Monday, won’t you?