Saturday, December 22, 2007

More on the Rowling interview on Pottercast

I promised I'd talk more about Pottercast's interview of J.K. Rowling, part 1 of which was available last Tuesday.

It was fun. They pretended to be embroiled in yet another heated discussion of whether or not Helga Hufflepuff caused the house-elf enslavement by inviting a bunch of the creatures to Hogwarts for their own safety. John and Sue were going at it and Melissa decided to finally put the matter to rest by dialing a secret phone number. A female British voice answered and reciting the supposed Hogwarts phone system's outgoing message. After going through a couple of other departments, Melissa finally got Jo on the line. It was very well-done and rather cute.

The discussion with Jo was entirely too short. A normal Pottercast is at least 1 hour, this one was about 45 min. and the above intro took at least 8 of that. I'm looking forward to the rest of the interview.

The best part of the show so far was just getting to hear Jo talking and laughing with the Pottercast trio. She's got a very good sense of humor in person, just as she does in her books. She was calling the Harry Potter Encyclopedia she planns to write "The Scottish Book." While I didn't really understand the joke, I still found it funny. It was nice to hear her talk (the last fan interview was shared with fans in written form only) and it made me hope and wish she will update her website more regularly now that the series is over, and made me more interested to read whatever else she may write in the future.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Squeaky movie better than I thought it would be

My son has wanted to see the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie since he first heard of it's existence. He's had every line of the movie trailer memorized for weeks.

He begged me to take him and his friend, and somehow I couldn't get my husband, who had originally been enthusiastic about the movie, to take him, so I ended up going.

I thought it would be horrible. Really stupid.

But it wasn't actually that bad.

I thought the plot started out very cute. The chipmunks were singing and stuffing nuts into a hollow spot in a tree trunk. Suddenly the tree was cut down -- it was a Christmas tree. It was netted up, loaded onto a truck, and taken to the big city. Some city with no snow.

The tree was put in the lobby of an office building and the chipmunks decide to make a run for it, and end up in the basket of the main character, Dave. Dave is down on his luck, having pitched a song he wrote to the recording company and been refused. In frustrated retaliation, he grabs a basket of goodies and jumps in the elevator. The chipmunks climb aboard and he unwittingly takes them home.

After they trash his place, he finds out they can talk and then kicks them out. But he lets them back in when he finds out they can sing. He writes them a song and tries to get the record producer to listen. Add to all of this a romantic relationship that he's also frustrated by, and we're off on a cute story of how a self-centered man opens his heart and his home and becomes Daddy to the 3 chipmunks.

It's all live action, with CG chipmunks that are very convincing. Not quite real looking but since they talk, you don't expect them to look exactly like chipmunks. They certainly don't allow you to be distracted by the special effects, you just forget that they aren't real.

The story wasn't nearly as stupid as I thought, it was funny but also heartwarming, and I managed to get out of the theater without a wad of gum stuck to any part of my clothing. All in all, a positive experience.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Author Speaks

It's finally happening. JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, is finally giving an interview to a fansite. Why is this significant? Because fans, real, hard-core fans, know to ask such questions as who took over as Headmaster/mistress of Hogwarts, how did Dumbledore know what happened at Godric's Hollow when Harry's parents were killed, who did Cho Chang end up marrying -- questions most reporters don't ask.

So what am I doing here? I need to go listen to the podcast. More comments when I'm done listening.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Google vs. Wikipedia

Probably the two most-commonly-used websites by members of my family, including me, are now going to compete against each other. Or maybe there's room for both.

Google is a search engine, and a source for ad revenue. It's also a verb. I actually said this the other day: "Go to YouTube and Google [whatever it was I was talking about searching for]." I couldn't believe it. You Google things at Google, and while YouTube features a search field, you don't Google there. But it's become a verb meaning search, in general, in a surprisingly short time.

Wikipedia is an online, user-written encyclopedia. Schools usually won't let you use this as a source (though they often let you use other web pages; this is a subject I need to table till another time), but you can often get surprisingly accurate and complete information from Wikipedia. Users correct and add to what other users write. The problem comes when controversial topics arise, or when someone has something to gain, like winning an election. Then false information is sometimes posted. But since you're supposed to cite references when you write an article on Wikipedia, it should be mostly accurate.

In our family, we've found Wikipedia helpful mostly for pop culture information. Want to know all about how the Nancy Drew series were not written by a woman named Carolyn Keene, like I believed when I was growing up? Check out Wikipedia. Want to know all of the titles of every episode of the TV show NCIS? Check out Wikipedia. Want to know about all of the times characters or items from one Pixar movie have a cameo on another Pixar movie? Check out Wikipedia.

I already use these two sites side-by-side. I have an extension in Firefox called Googlepedia. When I use Google to search, the search results come up on the left-hand side, and the best match Wikipedia article comes up on the right-hand side. Sometimes the match is very far off (usually when I'm searching using several terms) and sometimes it's exactly what I'm looking for. There's definitely room for both of them in this world.

The Google encyclopedia will be different from Wikipedia. First, each article will be authored by a person with a name, and no one else can edit it, though they can review and comment on it, I guess. So, you'll have to wade through a bunch of comments to see if the info in the article is true or not. That could be a good thing or a bad thing. Second, there will be ads. In fact, authors of articles will receive a substantial portion of the ad revenue for an article. Again, that could be a good thing or a bad thing.

I would guess that there will be room for both of these things. I hope so, anyway. I like them both, and I don't really want either of them to go away.

Friday, December 14, 2007

reviews of a book we may never get to read

So, all of the Harry Potter books are done, finished, written, published.

The author wants to do something special to thank some of the people who helped her create and publish them. So she writes 5 Wizarding Fairy Tales and has them published in a special volume -- actually 7 special volumes -- that are actually handwritten by her and put together with handmade binding.

So, 6 special people are each given a copy of the book. As far as I know, these people have not been named. I figure someone at Bloomsbury, Arther Levine of Scholastic, and her daughter Jessica are among those who received a copy, but as Mr. Owl said, "The world may never know."

The 7th book was auctioned off, with proceeds going to charity.

To sum up, so far, what we've got is the world's most popular author wrote something original that millions of people would pay to buy a copy of (money that could go to charity) and instead only one copy will actually be available at any price.

So, they held the auction, and the winning bidder was . . .

I didn't know a website could buy a book. It's very strange. But it gets stranger.

Before I go on I must note that, if you click on the links below in this post, you will see SPOILERS! If you don't want to know what happens in these stories, on the off-chance that you might someday get to buy a copy for yourself, don't click on the links! You have been WARNED!

Because now Amazon is putting up high-resolution photos and [SPOILER WARNING] reviews of the book. As of this writing, they've written reviews of 2 of the 5 stories. Assuming that one of the remaining three is the tale of the three brothers and the Deathly Hallows items that is featured in her most recent Harry Potter novel, there are still 2 stories we know virtually nothing about.

I couldn't help myself. I read the reviews. It's like when I was a kid and I was given the opportunity to eat appitizers before dinner. And I'd fill up on all those yummy things, and then I wouldn't want to eat the even yummier dinner food. That's what I've done here. I've read the "reviews", which amounts to a well-written summary of the ENTIRE STORY, including the ending, and now I know the ending and it won't be nearly as exciting if Jo takes pity on us poor readers and decides to published a mass market version of this book.

I have to say this is one of the strangest siguations I've ever encountered. A website that sells books managed to spoil one for me, but it's one I might never get to read, so I don't know whether to be grateful or to grumble about it.

James Potter and the Hall of Elders' Crossing

Sometime in November of this year, a website appeared containing a teaser about a story with the title James Potter and the Hall of Elders' Crossing. The graphics were very Harry Potter-ish and there was even speculation that this might be advertising a new novel by the beloved author J.K. Rowling.

However, I turned out to be a rather ambitious fan fiction story by an American fan of the books. He originally wrote it for his children, and, being a web designer, decided to publish it for the world to read.

Once you get past the passwords (you can find out what the passwords are by checking out the article about the website on Wikipedia), you can read each chapter in PDF format. A new chapter goes up each day, starting December 1st, until the last chapter on December 21st.

I've been reading it, though I'm over a week behind now. It's okay. There are new characters and some old favorites. You can tell right off it was written by an American, and one who doesn't have the same sense of humor as J. K. Rowling. He's got some things confused, or maybe he just thinks things should be different at Hogwarts. Students of all different levels seem to be in classes with one another, instead of first years sharing classes only with other first years, for example.

But what I really think he's got wrong is he's brought back Cedric Diggory as a ghost. I thought that sounded like something that wouldn't happen in the Harry Potter universe, and my son confirmed it for me.

He was reading over my shoulder one day and caught enough words to see the identity of the ghost. He immediately said "Cedric wasn't afraid to die!" He understands the author's "rule" that you only become a ghost if you don't wish to pass on, either you are afraid of the great beyond or you want to stay here and haunt the living, as is the case with Moaning Myrtle. Cedric, brave Hufflepuff Triwizard champion that he was, does not fall into that category. I tried to find a quote from Rowling to reallyh confirm this -- I'm sure I remember her saying that Cedric wouldn't be coming back as a ghost -- but I couldn't find one.

It's fun to read about James -- Harry's son, not his father -- and his first year at Hogwarts, but it's not really how I envisioned it, somehow. Reading it did, more than anything, make me want to write my own Harry Potter fan fiction.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Father Tim is back!

If you don't know him, let me introduce you. Father Timothy Kavanaugh, of Mitford, North Carolina, is the main character in the Mitford Books by Jan Karon.

When we first meet him, in At Home in Mitford, he is about to turn 60. He is an Episcopalian priest in a small mountain town.

So what are the books about? They're about life. They're about the members of this small community and their trials, tribulations and triumphs, their loves, their losses, their lives. And even the food they eat. So many specific kinds of food are mentioned that the author eventually wrote a cookbook featuring the recipes for Esther Bolick's famous orange marmalade cake, Miss Sadie's apple pie, and Puny's cornbread, among others.

Early on in the first book, Father Tim meets Dooley Barlowe, a young boy who's had a hard life. Oldest of 5 siblings, his mother's alcoholism and father's desertion has led to the siblings being scattered hither and yon. Father Time agrees to take care of Dooley and enters into what eventually becomes a permanent parental relationship with this precious and spunky young person. A big part of the series revolves around the search for the other siblings, as well as a romance for Father Tim. Many lives are changed and we learn that life is not boring in this small town.

But the series ended with A Light from Heaven. There was a feeling of closure, and also of life still going on. You closed the book and you didn't want to say good-bye. Fortunately, the Mitford books are of the type that you can enjoy re-reading them, two or even three or four times.

I knew there was a second series planned called The Father Tim novels, but I thought it was going to be about his childhood. And it is, but the adult Father Tim we all know and love is in there, too. I'm only about one-quarter of the way through Home to Holly Springs, but I am very much enjoying the way we see Father Tim in the present alongside flashbacks to his childhood, growing up in a small Mississippi town called Holly Springs.

These books are in your library. If you haven't read them, you will enjoy them. I think there is something for everyone, men, women, those who love mystery (there's a bit of mystery and suspense sprinkled in), those who love romance, those who love books with great characters that are true to life.

And if you have read them, or are looking for a gift for someone who is a fan of these series, check out the cookbook mentioned above, or A Mitford Bedside Companion or A Continual Feast, Father Tim's notebook where he jots down quotes he finds meaningful. And there are even some children's books by the same author, picture books with beautiful illustrations, including at least one about Violet the cat. Whichever you choose, you're sure to enjoy your stay in Mitford.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


They're making robots in Japan.

The link will take you to a news story about some robots. You should watch both of the video clips, because they are apparently two (or maybe 3, or 4) completely different robots.

The one is a pair of identical robots called Asimo (Japanese for "legs"). They work in conjunction with one another and the video shows them serving drinks from a serving cart. They need a special customized tray to be able to move the drinks without dropping them, and the drinks have spill-proof tops like you get when you get coffee from a take-out coffee place.

The other set look like aliens. At least, their faces do, they have those big eyes you see on aliens. They don't seem to be the same as the others. These are doing even more imaginative and less useful tasks than the Honda ones. One of them plays the violin. The other looks like a girl robot. She doesn't have legs and the bottom part of her is made to look like she is wearing a floor-length skirt. She talks (in Japanese, so I don't know what she says) and then apparently signs her name on a card that is given to her.

I think they are making a big mistake. Though my husband might actually find a need for a robot that will bring him a drink (he's always asking me to pour him something to drink), I'd much prefer a robot that could do laundry, load (and unload) the dishwasher, make the kids' lunches, pick up stray socks, empty the trash, wash windows, bring me the phone, take my empty drink glass to the kitchen, etc. They've succeeded in making a mass-marketable robot that will vacuum your house, clean your pool, even clean your gutters. When are we going to get Rosie? I could use a robot housekeeper much more than I need a robot who can play the violin.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Elm Creek Quilt books

These books are a real treat. I haven't read all of them yet, but I just finished The Christmas Quilt, a nice short little novel just right for the season.

But let me back up and describe the series as a whole.

Each one has a bit of a mystery, or at least some suspense. You either find out some bit of the past that was previously unknown, or you are drawn along by the story, worried about how it will turn out. Frequently both.

The author has woven the modern world with the past in a very interesting way, so the books satisfy our yearning for something a bit old fashioned, but seem new and exciting at the same time.

The stories center around an older woman named Sylvia who returns to her childhood home after 50 years' absence. She intends to sell it and move back to wherever she's been living for the past 50 years -- she only comes back when they can't find another heir. But a younger woman in the town, Sarah, convinces her to start a quilt camp. The first book gives the reader a glimpse at why Sylvia has been gone so long and develops the relationship between the two women.

Subsequent novels deal with the past residents of Elm Creek Manor, Sylvia's family and ancestors, and the on-going relationships of it's current residents, who form a new kind of family, those not all related by blood but by a common bond of friendship and love.

I want to point out that I am not a quilter. Never made a quilte in my life. You don't have to be a quilter to enjoy these books. The small amount of quilting lingo that you'll need to understand to enjoy these books is woven into the story (Sarah, the younger main character, is a novice quilter at the beginning, so we learn along with her).

These books are like spending an evening with a close group of friends. They contain something for everything -- a bit of history, suspense and a bit of mystery, romance, friendship, family, and love.

If you're looking for a gift for a woman in your life, these might be a great choice. There are two volumes (An Elm Creek Quilts Sampler and An Elm Creek Quilts Album, in that order) that each contain 3 of the novels, so you might want to look for those if you're buying for someone who hasn't read any of them. There are also a couple of books with patterns in them, for the quilter on your list who has already read the books.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

May 2008 will be Movie Month

On May 16th, we will travel back to Narnia and meet Prince Caspian, the second in the series of movies based on the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis.

Then, one week later, we'll travel back in time to 1957 and accompany Indiana Jones on one last crusade.

We don't go see movies in the theaters very often. Usually it's not worth the price. And when we saw Ratatouille, I left the theater with a big wad of bright yellow bubble gum stuck to the back of my pants. So I'm not sure I'm "into" the movie theater scene anymore. I prefer getting my movies by mail and watching them snuggled up in my bed.

But these movies have long been anticipated. We really enjoyed the first Narnia movie and I have fond memories of the first 3 Indiana Jones movies, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. My kids have only seen them on video (actually, my younger son hasn't seen them at all) and they are very excited about this new one. So we're looking forward to May 2008.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

old-fashioned remedies

I just heard on the news that they actually did a scientific study that proved that honey soothes children's coughs better than cough medicine. Oh, the amazing advances of modern science!

My mother used to give me a special, wonderfully-tasting spoonful of something warm and sweet when I had a sore throat. I know it wasn't just honey, it wasn't as thick in consistency. She heated it up, but she mixed it with something, too. Sounds like she was on the right track.

My favorite cough drops when I was a kid were honey-flavored.

Honey is mentioned in the Bible and other ancient literature. As early as the story of the migration of the family of Israel to Egypt -- they send a gift, including honey from their native land, to appease those they were hoping could give them some food. Later, when the Israelites went back to the Promised Land, they described it as a "land flowing with milk and honey."

I guess we've always known of the value of honey. Apparently, modern Science has finally acknowledged this fact.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

This video goes along with my "history-of-the-internet" post from before. It is hilarious, though you need to watch out for a bit of "language." This is what it was like to connect online before IE 4.0.

Winter weather

They're doing it again. They've been talking for days about it. It's coming. It's coming.

By "they" I mean the people on the news, and by "It" I mean the first snowstorm of the year.

They've been saying it would start at dusk today (Sunday), but we woke up this morning and it was snowing. We thought it would stop. I guess it probably did -- we went to church and it wasn't snowing there. But church is at a lower elevation and it's frequently snowing at our house and not snowing at church. When we got home, it was still snowing, or snowing again -- enough to cover the sidewalk.

Last night my husband said they predicted we'd get anywhere from 7 to 12 inches. Everyone thinks school will be closed. And it's supposed to be windy so the snow will drift and blow and make everyone miserable.

The worst part is that it's garbage night. So there will be garbage cans amongst the snowbanks. What fun!

I want to move south and I want to do it NOW.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Check Mii Out

The ingenuity of the creators of the Nintendo Wii game console continues to amaze and delight me. We had to pay above the going price to get ours from some guy on eBay, after spending many hours on the phone to all local stores that sell Wii's asking every day if they had any in stock. I was frustrated at not being able to get one, but I am glad we finally did.

The thing that is a new is a feature called Check Mii Out. I've always thought the feature on the Wii where you can make your own Mii is really fun. You can make one that looks like yourself, but we quickly realized we could make ones that look like our favorite characters. There doesn't seem to be a limit to how many you can make; I think we have over 100 of them. And they play on your team (or the other team) when you play Wii Sports. So, we have Mom batting and Severus Snape pitching. And Mario and Link, and whenever a friend comes over, we let him make one representing himself. It's very cool.

So now, with this new feature, you can share your Mii with the world. Right on the Wii, you can go to a channel where you can upload your creation, and see those others have uploaded. The only limitation is that you can only give them initials, not names (my son theorizes this is to keep people from being able to use inappropriate words). So, HP for Harry Potter, either LV (Lord Voldemort) or TR (Tom Riddle) for the boy wizard's evil nemesis. We've seen quite a few HPs, and I personally think my Voldie is the best. Snape is popular as well, and I'm not the only one who dressed him in Slytherin green even though he always seems to wear black.

Other popular ones are JC (Jesus Christ) and MJ (Michael Jackson -- someone did a great job capturing the Gloved One's hollowed-out cheekbones). People are getting creative and making non-human characters -- Storm Troopers and Ewoks. I tried my hand at Snoopy after seeing CB (Charlie Brown) and PP (Peppermint Patty). It was hard to get Snoopy's ears right, though. I thought I did a good job with Dobby (Harry Potter's house-elf friend).

One great feature is that you can download other people's Mii's onto your machine. You can't edit them once you've got them, but you can get them.

My kids, even my 16-year-old boy, have had a great time with this feature. It's frustrating that you can only use initials and not names, but then it's sometimes fun to try and guess who they might be.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Random Thoughts about the Internet, Take 2

When I started the post below, it was by way of introduction to some thoughts about how the internet has changed over the years. But I got side-tracked ranting about how Blogger won't work right, and forgot. So now I'm back.

I got my first computer in 1991. I'd used computers before, I even had my brother's old Leading Edge computer (no kidding, this computer had 2 5-/4-inche floppy drives, NO hard drive, and 256K of RAM. 256K. Not Mb, K. Just think of that for a minute).

Anyway, my first computer: Made by NCR, a company famous for making cash registers (I believe NCR stands for National Cash Register). It had a 40 Mb hard drive. It had one 5-1/4-inch floppy drive and one 3.5-inch floppy drive.

The first thing we had to do with it was install DOS. Remember DOS? Then we also installed the following: Windows 3.1, a mouse, and a dial-up modem. Computers didn't come with these things back then. To install something like Windows you had to insert a floppy disk, run the setup program, and wait for it to tell you when to switch disks. After going through a stack of 2-6 disks, your application would be ready to run.

You typed "WIN" at the DOS prompt to get into Windows. (I still remember 3-year-old Dan trying to type WIN into the search field at the library's card catalog computer and being frustrated when it didn't work.)

I remember when Windows 95 came out. They said it was a whole new way of computing, and I guess it was because people don't use DOS anymore. Now computers just start and boot right into Windows and you don't have to mess with DOS-type commands. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

My brother had moved to Colorado and I wanted to be able to email him. He had email at the college he was attending. So I did what most people did in 1992 if they wanted email access at their home: I signed up for Compu-Serve. It was the only way to do it, or at least, the least expensive. There was this thing called Prodigy, but Compu-Serve was cheaper so I went with that.

There was a graphical interface but you had to pay for it. But you could use a sort of DOS version for free (there was still a monthly fee, $7 or $9 a month, but you didn't have to pay for the application unless you got the graphical interface, so I chose the DOS version). There was a section, including email, that you could use for an unlimited time period, and there was another section (including forums) that you had to pay extra (by the hour, after a certain number of hours were used) to use.

So I did email, and I got involved (a bit) in a homeschooling forum. I remember downloading a whole long list of homeschooling vendors, going to the post office and buying pre-stamped postcards, and mailing out requests for catalogs. There were no websites then, this was the only way to buy homeschooling materials.

Then one day a disk came in the mail from this company I'd never heard of before, called America Online. From reading the marketing material that came with the disk, I could tell it was something like Compu-Serve, but I didn't know what it was, really.

I put it in the disk, and it automatically installed this wonderful software. In about 15 minutes I had a new userID ("Meli") and a free month of service. I had access to all of the forums and didn't have to worry about whether I was in a "free" area or a "pay" area. It all came for the same price, though there was a monthly limit of how many hours you got.

AOL brought the internet to the masses. People don't realize that, but it's really true. Before AOL, internet was something engineers used at work. No one had it at home and most people didn't know what it was or how to use it. AOL changed all that, and brought content people wanted to pay an extra monthly fee to have.

But it was still limited. You had 20 hours a month, I think. After that, you paid extra per hour, sort of like going over your minute plan on your cell phone. Then one day they decided to change it to unlimited. They changed the price (it had been $9.95, it went to about $20 a month), but for that price you got all the hours you could use.

There was one big catch: they didn't have enough phone lines for everyone to connect. This was still the days of dial-up, that horrible screaching noise of the modem dialing and talking to the computer on the other end. You had a phone line plugged into the back of your computer and you couldn't make a phone call while you were online (we had a 2nd phone line just for the computer fir a little while).

Suddenly everyone wanted to connect all the time and most people got a busy signal, all the time. You could connect during the daytime, but not during what the TV networks call Primetime. So I'd connect in the morning and download all of my email. Being home during the day was one of the reasons we didn't just cancel our service -- most people who tried to connect only in the evenings never got through.

Finally, AOL got more phone lines. Other ISPs started up. We switched to a local internet provider and suddenly we had "real" internet, with a browser and an email client, like it is now. Except it was still dialup.

Finally, we got broadband. Hooray! We could finally enjoy the internet! I remember there was a website for kids, based on the TV show Blue's Clues. On Dial-up, you'd get an animation of Blue chasing a ball around the screen, which was supposed to keep you interested while you waited for the real game to download. And waited. And waited. Eventually, the kid would lose interest. We never really played that game till we had broadband.

It's amazing to think how far all of this technology has come, all within the short lifetime of my 16-year-old son. Now we have all this web 2.0 stuff that I don't really see the point of. The web is very different than it used to be.

Random Thoughts about the Internet

This old computer in my kitchen is starting to be a problem. With the last update, Firefox has ceased to function on this computer. You can boot it up and go to a website, and somewhere between loading the first page and about the 10th mouse click you make, it hangs. Stops letting you do anything. Ceases to function. Bummer.

So, I installed Opera. Opera, as I found out when I was looking to help my impatient husband find a browser that would load quickly, has the smallest footprint of any of the most-commonly-used browsers. That means that it requires the least system memory and it loads fast. So I thought it would be a good choice for this old Dell.

And so far, it is, except it doesn't seem to agree with Blogger. Yesterday, I was writing the post about the Nesbit books, and it stopped letting me edit. I just couldn't type. I could save. I could go to another web page. The browser hadn't crashed, it just wouldn't let me type anymore.  Thank goodness for the automatic save feature in Blogger; I had all of what I'd already typed.

So, I tried again this morning. I was able to type the rest of the post. But one of the paragraphs (the one I was in the middle of when it stopped working yesterday) won't wrap around. At first, the words went way, way over there >>>, under the sidebar and continuing on in a strange color against the far right background. I inserted a bunch of force-returns and managed to get that fixed, but the lines are still off. Some places refuse to let me edit them. I put my cursor at the end of the line, hit delete and it deletes the first character on the next line. I move my cursor down to the beginning of the next line and hit backspace and it brings me back up to the previous line, but then when I type there it either moves me back down or types on top of the existing letters, so that what I type replaces text already there.

Hopefully I'll be able to fix it when I have access to another computer.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

E. Nesbit

I am currently enjoying two books by British children's author E. Nesbit. The books are not well-known, if they ever were, but they should be.

The main character of The Story of the Treasure Seekers is one of the all-time favorites of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. Based on her recommendation, I sought out this book via inter-library loan, as my local library didn't have a copy. And I enjoyed it immensely. It, and the sequel with the not-very-intriguing title of The Wouldbegoods, are laugh-out-loud funny. I recommend them to children and anyone who has ever been a child.

What is so great about them is the characterization. The characters literally leap off the page. You get to know them well and you grow to love them and care what happens to them.

Another obscure book by the same author is The House of Arden. Sounds like an old fashioned romance novel, doesn't it? The kind 
with a big mansion located on a windswept moor where the heroine 
becomes stranded and meets a dark, handsome and mysterious gentleman. 
But that's not what happens in this book. It's about two children who find 
they have inhearited a run-down castle and must find a treasure to be 
able to afford to restore 
the castle to its former glory. 
These children actually go back in time, have exciting adventures, and 
meet some famous people (great 
book to read if you want to study British history). 

I think Mrs. Nesbit's books are excellent, even if some of their titles sound strange to our modern ears. My children have noticed the following signs that these books were written over 100 years ago: different money (it's British money, but old fashioned British money, not the same as they have today), gas lights, house help, various types of horse-drawn carriages, differences in education and food (cold mutton was not a particular favorite, but roasted rabbit was a treat worthy of spending their own money to purchase). And we've had difficulty understanding various pop culture references (a good lesson in gaining meaning from context). One of the things the books prove is that, though many things have changed since they were written, people stay pretty much the same.

You may have heard of some of Mrs. Nesbit's more well-known books, such as Five Children and It. I urge you to look for some of these not-so-well-known works. You will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Home brewed Iced Tea

I found out recently that I'm right on the cutting edge of a trend. Imagine that!

I went to this little coffee shop called Mocha Lisa's Cafe. They also have Iced Tea there. I can't drink coffee (it gives me heartburn) and I don't generally like warm beverages anyway, so I ordered iced tea and watched how they made it.

They made it almost exactly how I make it at home. That's how I knew I was part of this trend!

Here's how they made it: They brewed hot tea, using my choice from a whole tray full of different flavored teas. I picked Apricot/Peach flavor. The only difference from how I make tea at home was that they didn't use a tea bag, but used some sort of thing similar to a coffee filter to put the loose tea leaves in.

After they had the hot tea, they poured it over ice and served it to me.

Here's what I do at home: I make one cup of tea. Often I do it in an oversized cup that I know will hold up to hot liquids. Then I add sweetener and, often, a little fruit juice. I buy Kern's Apricot Nectar and put in several tablespoons of that per cup of tea. Then I just add ice and stir, that's why I start with an oversized cup.

I'm a label-reader and I've found that iced tea mix is not nearly as good for you as regular tea. Even Lipton tea bags that are meant for iced tea don't have nearly the amount of antioxidants that regular tea has. That's why I add the fruit juice rather than buy flavored tea bags. The flavored ones don't have the large quantity of antioxidants, either.

So, that's a great an inexpensive way to make your own healthy and tasty iced tea, and save money versus the cost of buying it at an expensive coffee or tea shop where they make it the same way.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

why I hate movie theaters

I am facing a decision for which I don't have a good option.

We want to see the new Harry Potter movie, and I can't decide which theater.

We have a nice little inexpensive theater nearby that we've seen quite a number of movies at. The last time was for Ratatouille. All went well till I went to get up after the movie. I thought the bottom of my shorts were caught on something, till I put my hand down to find out what it was.

It was bubble gum. Bright yellow (I discovered the color later) bubble gum, which had, while I'd been sitting there, been warmed up by my body heat and was stretching between my behind (clothed in my favorite shorts) and the theater seat. I managed to get a glob of it off into my hand, but much of it was still attached to my shorts. I went out and showed it to the woman who was ripping tickets in the lobby.

She couldn't be bothered to lower the cell phone from her ear, though she did indicate she was listening to me. She didn't, however, seem to think the theater owed me anything, even an apology. She grudgingly offered that I might speak to the manager, though she did not offer to point him out to me, and she firmly stated she didn't think he would do anything for me.

I vowed never to set foot in that theater again, despite the low cost compared to the other local theaters.

So, today I made some phone calls, attempting to find out how much one of the mall theaters was going to set me back. I called Regal cinemas, the local number, but was connected with "1-800-FANDANGO" where I was immediately subjected to, of all things, a commercial! After listening to the commercial, I was given options to say movie names or other things. This sort of menuing system where you actually talk gives me the willies. It did offer to let me type in a zip code, but when I did so, "I'm sorry, I didn't get that," so I was forced to talk. It wouldn't tell me individual ticket prices but told me the total price for one adult and one child including all sorts of fees because I was buying over the phone. Unfortunately, my husband made a loud noise in the background just as they said the price and I couldn't get it to go back so I never did get a price, though it wouldn't have been the price I'd have paid if I went there in person anyway.

So, do I go to the horribly commercial theater that even has commercials on its phone line or do I go to the theater with the gum on the seats? If it was just me, I'd wait for the DVD, but my son really wants to see this movie, and it's going to be over 90 again tomorrow, so an afternoon in a cool movie theater sounds great to me. But I'm bringing a flashlight and checking the seats before I sit down.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Nancy Drew is a fraud

I've just found out that I've been being lied to all my life. I'm so disillusioned I don't think I'll ever get over it.

Carolyn Keene, whom I've always known as the author of the Nancy Drew series, which I grew up reading and enjoying, doesn't exist. No, I don't mean that a person with another name wrote under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene. It's worse than that. Several people actually wrote the various books, and they just made up the name Carolyn Keene as the author. The same syndicate perpetrated a similar fraud with the Hardy Boys and, of all things, The Bobbsey Twins.

But it gets worse. Not only were these books written almost by committee, but they were continuously revised as time went on. First Nancy drove a blue roadster. Later versions took out such antiquated terms as roadster and rumble seat and running boards, and Nancy then drove the blue convertible I remember from my childhood. Later still, apparently, she drove a mustang. I have no idea how much changed over time, but this article seems to indicate quite a lot was changed to make the characters feel modern to each generation of new readers and socially acceptable as well. The age at which Nancy's mother had died changed over the years, and it seems characters were added or dropped as the whim of the head of the syndicate dictated.

I'm highly disappointed by all of this. It's probably old news to everyone else, but I feel like I've been betrayed by a very good friend.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Smoking car and the blue screen of death, all within the same hour

Okay, so I wasn't there when the van started to smoke. My husband called me from church, it started smoking as he entered the parking lot. "You're going to have to come pick me up later," he tells me.

Great. Just great.

Then for the second time today the Compaq came out with the blue screen of death. It happens mostly when my youngest is using it. Though he's convinced it's not always the same thing that causes it, or brings it on or whatever. I know I've had it happen to me when I was using Firefox. Last time was when I tried to load the wonderfully crisp and clear high-definition trailer for the next Harry Potter movie in a resolution equal to the screen res. of my laptop. I got to see about 1/3 of it before it crashed.

:::::sigh::::: At least I'm not the car mechanic in this house, but I am the computer mechanic. I need to open the case and remove one of the RAM cards or chips or whatever they're called (some mechanic I am, huh?) and see how the computer works with only one. If it works and doesn't crash, then we switch. If it crashes right away, and consistently keeps doing that, I guess I've found the culprit, but no, it could be the chip or the (again with the I-don't-know-what-it's-called problem) place where the chip connects to the motherboard. So I need to move the same chip to the other seating or connector or whatever it's called and try it again, then for good measure I should try both connectors with the other chip just for the sake of knowing for sure. If it's one of the chips, which I dearly hope, I then go online and find out which exact kind of chip I need to buy to replace it, upgrading to twice as much RAM as possible, and my 5 year old Compaq will hopefully then be good as new (though I should really try to get rid of some of the dust inside it while I'm at it). If it's not the chip, then it's the motherboard and we get to have a bonfire in the back yard. No, not really, they can be toxic I guess, so it'll join it's older siblings in the computer graveyard in the basement, though I might take the hard drive out first.

We already have (shh!) more working computers in the house than the number of people who live here, and as we speak a cheap used laptop is slowly chugging its way here via parcel post, so I suppose we don't technically have to replace this computer right away, but we're going to have lots of fights over the remaining 2 computers that have sufficient system resources to run most of the programs we generally use. Sounds like we're going to have a lot of fun here in the next few weeks!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

and so it begins . . .

. . . just like that, almost innocently, small, pretty flakes floating down. Just barely a dusting covering any surface that we'd previously cleared of the three to four inches of snow that's fallen in the past month or so.

The last forecast for my county said we'll get between 20 and 30 inches. I'm trying to look out and remember what my yard looks like, because I don't think I'll be seeing it for awhile.


I spoke too soon


Second to the highly insulting snowstorm-on-my-birthday that I spoke of before is snowstorm-on-Valentine's-Day. Ugh. They're saying we could get 24-36 inches. I guess when people less than a 3 hours' drive from here got over 11 feet and still expect more, I shouldn't complain, but still, there it is.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

There but for the grace of God . . .

We live in what we refer to as "upstate NY". Just a couple of counties over from Oswego county, really. And we've been really blessed this year (from the perspective of this non-snow-lover). We have less than 6 inches on the ground, and that's the most we've had all year.

Here's a link if you want to see what our "neighbors" to the west are dealing with. Every time I hear about it I thank God again that it didn't happen to us.

One article I read referred to it as an "unreal" amount of snow. 8-10 FEET in one week, can you imagine? I can't believe roofs aren't caving in all over the place out there.

Just so you know, we haven't always been blessed. I remember -- I think it was 1993, or it may have been 1994. We had at least 3 12-inch snow storms in February. We'd had storms before then, but I remember those three because my husband took a week-long missions trip to Mexico. They closed the airport right after their plane took off in the first of the 3 February storms. We just barely got out of the driveway without getting stuck, taking him to the airport. Then I had to find someone to plow the driveway and wait at a friend's house while it was plowed -- with a toddler in tow. Then another storm on Wed. -- I had to leave the toddler alone in the house while I went outside and shoveled the sidewalk and cleaned off and moved the cars around out of the way of the plow guy. Then there was the 3rd storm, my husband's plane was the first one in after they re-opened the airport (no it hadn't been closed for the whole week). We lost a whole station wagon that week, we didn't see it again till April. And that wasn't the end. We had 2-1/2 feet of snow in March, all at once. I remember it took the plow guy almost 2 hours to plow the driveway. The dog couldn't go anywhere but the driveway anymore, it was too deep for her to walk. We didn't see the ground until about 5 days before Memorial Day that year. I built a snowman in April.

Then there was the year we got 27 inches of snow on my birthday. What an insult. Most towns around us got about 8-10 inches that day, we just lucked out with 2 feet more. We lost our sidewalk that time -- gave up shoveling it till spring.

So I think we're due for a reprieve. I'm just thrilled to be getting it. I should probably keep my mouth closed, Winter's not over yet.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Value of a Human Life

I found two news stories this morning that were interesting affirmations that we, even in our technology-saturated society, still value life.

Click here to read about how this couple rescued their frozen embryos from Katrina's flood waters and are now about to give birth.

And this story makes me feel old. I remember the controversy surrounding the first "test-tube baby". We were afraid science would engineer life instead of allowing God to be in control. But it's turned out, and I think most would agree, that God has used this technology to allow couples to become parents and the value of life has ultimately been affirmed. Now, the first baby born from this technology has become a parent herself. Click here to read the happy news.