Friday, May 29, 2020

on the audio

So just now I spent an hour talking about Tolkien into a microphone, with prompts from an interviewer. I hadn't done that since I was on the radio a dozen years ago. This wasn't for the radio, but you may be able to hear it soon. I said a couple things that surprised even me, but much of it was trying to put some basic concepts about Tolkien across. We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

it's been punishingly hot

the last couple of days, and Tybalt is trying out various spots on the floor to spread himself out over. Maia prefers to curl up like a pill bug on one spot on the upstairs landing.

As for me, this is the kind of weather that would normally send me out to spend the afternoon reading in the public library, which at least has air conditioning. That's out now, so I must stay home and wait for the time when opening the windows will offer relief instead of increased intensity.

The most refreshing thing I did was watch a recording of the Great Performances broadcast of the LA Philharmonic's centennial concert. All three living music directors, past and present (Dudamel, Salonen, Mehta), each conducted a piece and then all three conducted together in a new work for three orchestras, very spectral. It's by Daniel Bjarnason, another one of those striking musicians from Iceland. Ah, Iceland. Sounds really good about now.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

a little bit online

This week the UK National Theatre's online offering is a several-years-old production of A Streetcar Named Desire, with a vocally unrecognizable Gillian Anderson as Blanche. I started to watch it, not because I really wanted to see Streetcar again (I saw it in Ashland in 1977), than because it's Great Literature to which I thought I should give myself Renewed Exposure.

But I was forcibly reminded of the fact that one sits through moderately tedious plays on stage because it's not really practical to leave, and besides you paid all that money to be there. Whereas on the small screen at home it's got to be better than that. I first got tired and quit during the long initial dialogue between Blanche and Stella, because it was so stagy. I decided to come back and press on, but when Stanley comes in, he's the only one of them who sounds like a human being, and I didn't want to risk getting too sympathetic to Stanley, so I quit again.

Today there was a fund-raising webcast by the Berkeley Symphony, and since I had an e-mail notification and (a not unimportant point) I remembered it was on, I tuned in. Several sheltering musicians played unaccompanied solo pieces, usually by Bach, which transfers well to the viola and even the clarinet. I liked best the one by the associate concertmaster, who not only was crisp but who injected a bit of jazz into his playing, very well injected I thought. Conclusion, video from the symphony's last live concert of the finale of Beethoven's Fifth, introduced by the music director as hopeful and encouraging music. Let's see that it is.

Friday, May 22, 2020

one works, the other doesn't

Given how content I am to hole up with B. and the cats, with just e-mail and blogs and an occasional phone chat with my brother to sustain me socially, I was surprised at how satisfying my latest web-based meeting was yesterday. Because it went smoothly and because it was populated with a group of actual friends (as opposed to just friendly acquaintances, like the library committee), it filled a socializing hole in my being I hadn't realized I was missing. In lieu of meeting annually in person, we're going to try meeting monthly online for a while. I think this will work.

The weekly grocery shopping, though, couldn't have been more stressful while still coming to an eventual successful conclusion. We'd tried to turn to online ordering and pickup from the store back at the start of April, but gave up because no slots were available. This week we looked again and they were. So we placed our order, which allowed specification of substitutions, with a pickup time of noon today. The instructions said, when your time arrives, drive to the store, park in one of the designated spaces, phone the number on its sign. Seemed easy.

The first crash came when the phone call produced only an intercept. When I went inside to inquire, the first thing I was asked - the first thing every store employee asked me during the day's saga - was, had we received the e-mail confirming the pickup was ready? No, but there was nothing in the instructions saying to wait for such an e-mail. I was told they were running way behind, partly because of the holiday weekend, but then why were they offering time slots they knew they couldn't fulfill? How late they'd be they couldn't say at that point, but when I tried again after dinner, a shifty manager whose stories kept changing finally settled on "sometime that evening." At about 9:15 the e-mail came. But why they couldn't have sent out a delay message or two with an ETA was not clear, nor was the utter and complete lack of interest of every employee in the fact that the dedicated phone number didn't work. Also unencouraging was the several-times-observed tendency of store employees to pull down their masks in order to talk, which rather misses the point of having one. Given that I couldn't reach the store even on its regular phone number (ring, ring), I probably spent more time in breathable risk by conducting this ideally no-contact pickup service than I would have had I done the shopping myself. Maybe we'll try this again next week, with no holiday and a longer prep span. Maybe.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

another web meeting platform

It's called WebEx, and it's what a different meeting of mine was on today. Since by now I have a microphone, if still no camera on my desktop (and I'm not planning on getting one), I could sign in hard-wired without suffering through my tablet on wifi. I'd found Zoom's interface to be cramped on the tablet, so it's not fair to compare that to WebEx on the (much larger) desktop, but I did figure out how to work the commands, and the tile display got all 11 other people in the meeting on one screen, even the others who had no video (who'd mostly telephoned in), so their displays were blank.

Video displays were pretty good on WebEx, but sound was variable. People who came through loud and clear on incidental remarks suddenly started fading in and out or getting caught in transmission stutter when they had the floor and spoke at length. But most of what they said came through.

The curious thing was that, unlike with Zoom, I had no visual display for myself (even though there'd be nothing on it), and, even more curiously, I could not hear myself on the headphones, though others assured me they could hear me. However, if there's any measurable delay in sound transmission, which there probably is, even a fraction of a second, it would be best not to hear yourself, as to hear yourself speaking live on even a small delay is a good way to make you trip up on your words. It did mean, though, that there was no way to tell if I was emitting background noise or (unlikely as it'd be in the circumstances) feedback.

Anyway, now we know the microphone works, both in itself and in persuading the computer and the meeting software to go along with it, that's the important part. So now I can go ahead in planning the matter that I bought it for.

and ... a dog

This is the most enjoyable classical lockdown video I've heard recently: members of the Peninsula Symphony, one of our local volunteer orchestras - who'd already done the slow movement of the Second - in a less than polished but quite bang-up energetic and sizzling performance of a cut-down chamber instrumentation of the first movement of Beethoven's Eighth Symphony. The retransition section (from about 4.45 to 5.40) in particular is quite wonderfully well done.

And ... look underneath the flute from about 3.25 to 4.15 (go full-screen for this), and you'll have a little visual treat.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

not an expert

As I recall, it was my friend the late Kate Yule who once wrote an article trying to figure out how good a cook she was. I found that I identified precisely with her predicament, so I think I'm on the same level.

What Kate said was, on the one hand there's people who manage to burn a pot of water, don't know what to do with an egg, or find "heat in microwave for 2 minutes" to be a challenge worthy of their mettle (and sometimes take a weird pride in all this). Next to them, people like Kate or I are whizzes, experts, virtuosi.

On the other hand, there's professional chefs. Next to them, we're fumblers, complete beginners.

Somewhere, there's a level of everyday mastery, basic competence and understanding of how the things you do work, but without artistry or complex technique. Put it this way: the kinds of recipes that Julia Child wrote, I'd find very difficult or unnecessarily time-consuming. (My goal in cooking is to have dinner, not to spend time in the kitchen.) But the kind of recipes you see on the backs of packages, or that get published in local newspapers (food columns in major papers are another matter), those are easy and I get a lot of ideas from them.

Same is true with computers and electronics. I have a basic end-user's knowledge of how things work and go together, supplemented - as with cooking - with some hard-earned experience when things didn't go right. That was enough to make me my mother's computer guru, a status true of a lot of children my age. On the other hand, I know professional techies socially, and most of the time when they speak of their jobs I can't even figure out what they're talking about.

Where does that leave me, then? Willing to dive in to deal with certain situations, but always ready to stop when I run up against the limits of my knowledge. Recently I heard it said that I think I know more than I do, and that really hurt, because knowing how much I know and asking for help when matters get beyond there is one thing I always do. For instance I was once tasked with replacing the fill valve in a toilet tank. I figured I could do that myself, and I did. But when the ancient flex water pipe started to leak when I reattached it, I stopped, re-closed the valves, and called a plumber. That I knew I couldn't deal with, and I wasn't too proud to admit it immediately. Something similar happened with B's monitor, where neither the instructions nor the unit's behavior was clear to me, though it was up and working when I was done, if with fragility.

Driving. I'm not a particularly good driver, but I'm competent. I can drive a stick shift, which most people today can't, but that's because I was trained at it at an early stage. What I am really good at is road navigation. I know that not because I feel skilled at it, but because it feels easy, because a vast number of people seem completely helpless at it, and because real experts don't intimidate me as they do in the above fields.

Typing. As a professional secretary, which I temped at for a while, I was no better than moderate. But I was a pretty fast and accurate copy-typist until my hands wore out.

Sports. That's a good case, because (when I could still do active sports) I divided them into two groups: those I was minimally competent at (though never any more than that) and those I couldn't do at all. That's a fundamental distinction not often-enough made. Anything requiring hitting a moving ball with an implement, forget it: tennis, softball, or anything else of either ilk, I'm laughably bad at, like the person who can't boil water. I couldn't hit the ball at all, or make it go anywhere if I accidentally did. But with hand (or foot) is another matter: I could dribble and shoot a soccer ball or basketball in the prescribed manners, so long as there was nobody trying to prevent me. In a game, there always is, so I was of no use in those. My best game of that sort was volleyball, where the opposing players all have to stay on the other side of the net. I also found a knack for golf, where there's an implement but the ball stays still until you hit it. I think I could have developed into a fairly decent amateur if I'd had more of a taste for the game, but I'm not much of a game-player at all, even sedentary ones. I limit myself these days to computer playing of klondike solitaire (at which I think I'm good, because I've heard people say they never win games, whereas I often do) and the occasional tetris (at which I've never gotten above level 10, which is not considered very high by expert standards).

So my question is, does this make sense to you? How do you parse it, and where do you sit on the scale?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020


Three packages were delivered yesterday.

1) B's newer and bigger monitor. Her old one stopped working for a while a few days ago. Power was on, screen was working, nothing wrong with the data connection, but the display was blank. It started up again later, but in any case it's difficult to do her job with big complex displays that fall off the edge of the monitor. (They have bigger monitors in the office.) It's my job in this house to install things like this. It was rather puzzling: I'd never seen what it called an HDMI data cable before, and was worried as to whether B's computer would have a port for it. It did, right next to the VGA port. The monitor's instructions weren't clear as to whether it required a VGA cable also. Turned out it did, and a good thing I didn't take out the one from the old monitor, because there wasn't one in the package, though the parts list said there was. Then I had to figure out where the control is to change the screen resolution display. Gaah.

2) A pulse oximeter. Put your finger in the little clamp and it measures your blood oxygen saturation. Obviously useful in the current crisis. I'd ordered this some time ago when the seller claimed they were still available. Then the package was somehow delayed in shipping, or so the seller's messages said. A check with the shipper's site revealed the truth: they were still waiting for the package to show up. Apparently more had been sold than the seller then had. Under those circumstances, I'm surprised it came as early as it did. (We've both used it: we're fine for now.)

3) A microphone, to plug into my computer's sound input jack. If I'd had this last weekend, I might have been able to join the John Garth interview session on Zoom without all that trouble. I'll get to test it later this week with another meeting, this time on WebEx, and at least I won't be forced to rely on my tablet, or the telephone with no incoming video.
But none of that is what I bought the microphone for. What I did buy it for will come up later.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

John Garth on Zoom

In a covid-free world, John Garth would probably have given his talk on his upcoming book, The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: The Places that Inspired Middle-earth, sponsored by the Wade Center, at the Wade Center, and I wouldn't have been able to be there. Instead, it was webcast, and by signing up in advance, 60 people from all over were able to listen in.

Unfortunately, it was on Zoom, which I hadn't known before I tried signing in on my desktop, which then had to download and install Zoom while interviewer Laura Schmidt, the archivist at Wade, was giving her introduction. All spectators were automatically muted both for sound and video, but that didn't prevent Zoom from acting in its usual manner. Strange thing about Zoom is that, while you don't have to click on "Start Video" to see the existing video, you do have to click on "Join Audio" in order to hear. And it refused to do that because it couldn't find a microphone on my computer for the very good reason that I don't have one. I had to hastily fetch my tablet, which I already had Zoom installed on, and join the meeting again there, in order to hear a blessed word. But not all of them, because as before it stuttered a lot and I missed much.

One thing was clear: that despite the book's title, it is not a travelogue of "the places that inspired" as previous books by the likes of Robert Blackham and Matthew Lyons have been. And indeed, I was pleased to see that Garth is at pains to avoid what he delicately calls "erring on the side of credulity" of these works. The problem, Garth says, is that if you see a place and are reminded of invented places in Tolkien, you tend to think that if Tolkien saw it too it must have inspired those places. This is most often obvious nonsense, chronologically impossible, and most importantly diminishes the fiction by making fictional place A a simple encoding of real place B.

In fact, as Garth says, Tolkien was a great synthesizer who merged and reconciled loads of even contradictory inspirations; this is true of all his sources, not just geographical, and from the excerpts read from this book, the author is taking a similar approach that he took to Tolkien's early inspirations in his book Tolkien and the Great War. This is less a book about the real places than it is about what was going on in Tolkien's mind that the real places operated as the merest seeds for. Most of the research took place in Tolkien's papers and in written period material rather than out on the ground.

I'm hoping, then, that we may see an end to such inane ideas as that a couple of stacks in Birmingham were the "real" original of The Two Towers, and indeed there's an appendix specifically dealing with such debunking. If I had been going to ask a question (questions were submitted by chat), it would have been whether he was dealing with that, but I didn't have to.

The bulk of the book, it emerges, is divided into chapters by the type of place dealt with: the sea, the mountains, rivers and waterlands, forests, warscapes, craftscapes, and, yes, towers. Plus beginning discussions including Tolkien's early attempts to transmute England directly into his fiction, and on geographic inspirations from outside England.

Well, I'm looking forward to getting this large-format and well-illustrated volume. Tolkien and the Great War is a monument in Tolkien studies, and I expect this one to be as well.

Friday, May 15, 2020

electronic glitch

I had my first Zoom meeting for work (library committee) yesterday. It did not go well. Video was fine, though figuring out how to tile the images on my little tablet screen (where it works quite differently than on a full-sized screen) was difficult. But the audio was terrible. About a quarter of the time, in bursts, it worked fine, but the rest of the time it stuttered so badly I could not make out what was being said. Probably a combination of wifi problems (our internet connection tends to wilt in the heat) and my underpowered Galaxy tablet.

The meeting overlapped with Claire Chase's marathon webcast recital of new music for flute, but that's OK, since the first hour of it filled up my appetite for that sort of music anyway. And I missed a chunk of it when the signal froze. But the fact that I was willing to watch that much of it, and was captivated by the performance, was a good sign in itself, as this is the first concert, as opposed to a recording of a specific piece, that I've watched online.

I was attracted to the first hour by the opening piece, Steve Reich's Vermont Counterpoint for 1 live flute and 10 recorded ones (which the performer is supposed to record beforehand). It's a typical chunk of cascading minimalism, and I already knew I liked it. Chase kept switching among different size flutes, which I don't recall the performer doing when I once heard this work live, so perhaps it's up to the performer which line is live and which are recorded.

The other two were works that Chase commissioned in 2013 as the beginning of a long sequence of commissions which the marathon was chiefly designed to celebrate.

I liked Pessoa by Marcos Balter, which similarly is for 1 live and 5 recorded, only these are all bass flutes. The swirling lines of the spooky, cavernous sounds made for an eerie and arresting effect. Luciform for (regular) flute and electronics by Mario Diaz de Leon was spikier. The flute played jagged phrases or soothing lines over wavering or fluctuating electronic chords. Sometimes the electronics turned jagged and drowned out the flute. Occasionally I looked around wondering if a cell phone was ringing.

A brief premiere piece at the end, by someone whose name I didn't get due to the signal freeze, consisted of Chase reciting a Gertrude-Stein-like rhythmic poem interspersed with breathing its words into her flute mouthpiece.

If the recording is online, it's not on the webcast site, but you can find Chase playing all three of the main works on YouTube.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

another useless historical project

The news has not been encouraging. At least my county's health officer is holding the line on shutdowns, which means that when I do have to go out, I'm less likely to encounter people in general or ones with the virus in particular. We're not adopting the goofy rules of other counties, such as semi-opening restaurants. If customers must wear masks when they're not eating, then it's not safe for them to take them off to eat. So I wouldn't go. But that's no help to me if I run into other people who did go. So we're still holing up.

In the meantime, I was browsing through a book on British constitutional history - yes, I know, light reading - and came across the Act of Settlement of 1701. I'd known about this decree on the succession of the throne, still mostly intact today, but this account brought it to renewed attention. William and Mary not having had any children, and the children of their heir, the future Queen Anne, having all died young (too common a thing back then), it was clear that any more successors were going to have to come from further off on the family tree. But where?

Experience with Mary and Anne's father, King James VII & II,* had taught Parliament not to have any more Catholic monarchs. (Actually, what it should have taught them was not to have any more monarchs like King James - or his father, King Charles I of having-his-head-cut-off fame.) And most of the other living members of the family, who were all descended from daughters who'd been married off to continental princes, were Catholics, many of them (like King James) personal converts. The one Protestant line was the family of Sophia, dowager duchess of Hanover, who was King James's first cousin. So the Act of Settlement settled the succession on her. In the end, Sophia predeceased Anne, so it was her son, Mary and Anne's second cousin, who succeeded as George I, the first Hanoverian king.

But it seemed to me that the book I was reading was vague or misleading on its description of the family tree, so I decided to figure it out: how many people with a better claim genealogically got passed over to settle the crown on Sophia? I couldn't produce an exact number, because of the shifting cast of babies being born and, often, dying; lack of date information on a few people; and I had to decide whether to exclude children of morganatic marriages (I did, since those were passed over anyway, Catholic or not). The number I came up with was forty. That's a lot of relatives to exclude. If you were to jump that far down the current line of succession, you'd find yourself with the grandchildren of the Queen's cousin, the Duke of Kent.

Mary and Anne, and William (who besides being Mary's husband was also her first cousin), had had another aunt with children, Henrietta, Duchess of Orleans. She was dead, but one of her daughters, the Queen of Sardinia, was alive and had four juvenile children. That's five. The rest were all descended from James's late aunt, Elizabeth, sometime Queen of Bohemia. Only two of the youngest of her children were still living in 1701, but two of the elder children had left seven and twenty-seven (!) children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren(!) respectively, and they were all Catholics. The living child of the elder of these, by the way, was the second wife of the same Duke of Orleans whose first wife had been Aunt Henrietta, and her son, thus also on the list, became the Duke of Orleans who was the subject of the best biography by W.H. Lewis (C.S. Lewis's brother), The Scandalous Regent. (He became regent for his first cousin twice removed on his father's side, the young Louis XV.)

Of the two surviving children of Elizabeth, one was a Cistercian abbess, so she was out. She was also a painter, and here's a portrait she painted of her younger sister Sophia in pseudo-Native-American getup, at the age of 13 or so, Sophia being the one on whose family the succession to the British crown fell.

*That's the kind of cognomen you get when you're simultaneously king of Scotland and England, separately.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020


I saw an article (it went behind a paywall when I tried to look at it again) about networking in the absence of in-person networking events. That suits me fine, because I always hated anything promoted as a networking event, and I was always very bad at it.

Networking by computer feels less distasteful, but that still doesn't mean I know how to do it. The author specifically recommends using LinkedIn.

Well, that's interesting, because years ago, before the heyday of Facebook and before I learned to be wary of social networks, a friend recommended I join LinkedIn, so I did.

But I then had no idea what I was supposed to do with it. I got a lot of "please add me to your network" emails from people I knew, but I ignored them because I didn't know what to do with them.

Gradually they stopped and I heard no more from LinkedIn for years. But then a year ago I wished to contact a stranger for professional purposes - on a colleague's recommendation I wanted to offer her a writing assignment - and the only contact info I could find for her was a LinkedIn profile. So I dusted off my account and sent her a message.

All went well with that, eventually (she doesn't check LinkedIn very often), but somehow this managed to reactivate my account, and I'm getting "please add me to your network" emails again, this time from a somewhat more exotic collection of friends.

For instance, I just got one from a very old friend (I first met her 40 years ago, gaaah), whose peripatetic life I haven't always been able to follow but who is now a professor of ecopsychology at a Buddhist university, how's that for having friends who do something different? I looked her up with that specification (her name is not rare), and here she is on video talking about how mentally healthy it is just to get outside from time to time. At this moment that's particularly good advice.

By now I've learned to go ahead and add these people to my network, so I suppose I can keep track of where they are, but I still have absolutely no idea what else to do with a LinkedIn account. Any advice?

Tuesday, May 12, 2020


A rather different story on my reading list about a mysterious phone conversation reminds me of a traumatic event of my early/mid-childhood - I must have been about 4 or 5 - that probably explains my anxiety about using the telephone.

Instead of speaking with my grandfather first and then putting me on the phone to say a few words, my parents decided it was time for me to initiate the conversation. But I was still too young to dial the number, so they did that and then handed me the phone while it was still ringing at the other end.

The ensuing typical grandfather-and-grandson conversation had proceeded for some time before any incongruities in the exchanges penetrated my trusting and juvenile brain.

I was talking to somebody else's grandfather. My parents had misdialed the number. "Hello, Grandpa, it's [very common first name in my generation]" just happened to be a greeting this guy would also expect to hear.

That's one reason that, for instance, if I get an answering message that doesn't identify the party by name, I'm still apt to hastily terminate the call, check the number carefully and call again.

2) You'd think in these days of stored numbers that wouldn't happen. But I still get a lot of calls whose callers take a long time to grasp that they've dialed the wrong number, no matter how puzzled or frosty my replies to their cryptic (to me) friendly greetings.

2a) It never happens to me when I call the number; I'm just terrified that it will.

3) I'm trapped in another kind of phone hell because I can only communicate with this investment through my broker. My broker sends me a form, I call to ask a question about it, my broker says she'll call the company. Three hours later, she calls back. The company thinks I have an old form. I say I don't think so, since it says "Rev. 12.19" on it - also I'm thinking it's unlikely an entire major option has disappeared in five months. She says she'll call them back. Four hours later, I'm still waiting. By now it's the end of the day.

4) E-mail exchange with a colleague with whom I hadn't communicated in several months includes him saying, "Now my entire life seems to be spent on video calls." Apart from the Easter one with B. to her family, I haven't had one of those yet. My first solo attempt comes with a committee meeting in two days. I tremble.

5) I still haven't found my cell phone.

Monday, May 11, 2020


I suppose I ought to be spending my leisure reading time, like at meals (yes, B. and I sit opposite each other at dinner, each busily reading away: this is what happens when introverted bookworms mate), on some of the new books on Tolkien that have been coming in; but I have to spend so much of my other time on Tolkien that I've been putting them off.

Right now, for instance, I'm reading The Collapse of the Third Republic by William L. Shirer, one of the fat historical volumes I inherited from my father. I read this book, this very copy, when it was new around 1969, when one would think I was too young for thousand-page historical tomes, even ones for popular readership. And it's true that I retain little from that reading, so not being an expert on French history some of this is coming as new to me. The more so as Shirer deems it necessary to back up through the entire 70-year history of the Third Republic to explain why it collapsed in 1940.

For instance, here's an anecdote that would sound goofier in any other telling than Shirer's dead-serious portentous style. In the 1880s the Third Republic was not stable or established. Remember that both Republics #1 and #2 had quickly mutated into Empires, and nobody expected better of this one. An anti-republican general with pretentions to glory (yes, a real guy) spectacularly won a parliamentary by-election in Paris over united republic-supporting opposition. As the news emerged, his followers gathered in the streets, expecting him to lead them in a march on the government offices to stage a coup. (And the government took this seriously: they were cowering under their desks.)

But the general, being French, decided to spend a few hours dallying with his mistress first. By the time he arrived, all his followers had given up and gone home.

[Interruption from cat. I am just a pathway between the table behind me and the floor in front of me.]

A few dozen pages and a few decades later, we're introduced to a rising politician named Pierre Laval. In the personality sketch, we're told that Laval "remained devoted [to his wife] to his dying day." That would be the day in 1945 that he was executed for treason, wouldn't it? But Shirer is going to keep that little nugget of information to himself for a while from those readers who don't already know it, is he? Sneaky bugger.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

it's not Mother's Day

Not for us; we're both orphans now, and for several years. *sob*

Yes, we miss our mothers. It's tough to read ads saying do this or that for your Mom, and I can't.

Biggest accomplishment of the day: I submitted my paper. On the new electronic submission system, and it actually worked, yay. Last thing I did to the file before submitting it: changed the font size to 12 and double-spaced it. I don't mind submitting it like that, but I can't write that way.

After my computer glasses and my pocket calendar last week, what's missing this week is: my cell phone. I have vague recollections of putting it on a shelf somewhere, but it's not on any of the likely shelves. Another good reason for not giving up my land line. And another reason: I've been invited to be interviewed on a podcast, and damned if I want the sound quality to be as awful as many of the other guests (so no Skype or Zoom either), and damned if I'm going to spend half an hour talking on a cell phone.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

to be continued

We're still carrying on in the lockdown period, but I think the cats - who never went outside even before - are going a little stir-crazy. Tybalt has taken literally to bouncing off the walls - he'll run at an angle, and jump up on the wall to take off in a different direction - and he gets more insistent on playtime, meowing loudly until we acquiesce. Unfortunately, as his most active times coincide with my sleepiest, things don't always go as he wants.

It's also beginning to get warmer, lovely time to be cooped up inside, and not much better broiling outside, and the cats are reacting to that too; Tybalt lying stretched out in the manner of "the cat was thiiiis long" jokes, while Maia curls up like a pill bug.

Our nephew is still doing our weekly shopping, plagued by intermittent shortages: eggs one week, cooked chicken meat the next, frozen desserts (!), toilet paper still going on. This may have to continue for some time. I'm very concerned about premature re-openings, and here is Mr Drum explaining why. And our leadership: he has something to say about that too; the thought that there are still people prepared to vote for this guy astounds me; if you don't like the current alternatives, get another one, or just stay home, which is what you're expecting the opponents who don't like the alternatives to do.

In the meantime, there's rough times for the economy, but there are ways to mitigate the suffering for individuals, if the government is willing to do it, without sacrificing lives in a pandemic, though some claim willingness to pay that price, at least in the form of other people's lives. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has just now given up on the remaining dregs of its season, which I was expecting to happen, just not quite this fast. Sweet Tomatoes/Souplantation, the last self-service buffet restaurant that was really good (there were some not so good) has announced its permanent closure; I'll miss their clam chowder. One of the local orchestras has just sent out a patron survey asking nervously what it would take to get us back in the concert hall, and what substitutes we'd otherwise accept. My answers will not thrill them: no amount of social-distance cautioning will get me in the concert hall while the virus thrives; it'll have to go away on its own (possible: the 1918 pandemic eventually did) or a reliable vaccine be available, and another chart from Mr Drum explains why: concerts and theater are up in the upper right with restaurants and weddings. I'm keeping my contacts in the lower left and trying to minimize those.

In the meantime, I'm reading, and writing, and more on that later ...

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

quasigrecian thoughts

1. How about that, I've finished writing the paper I was working on. I didn't expect it to be done that quickly. That is to say, it's a complete text with no more gaps or notes to myself to move this or write that here. It's still over a month before the deadline, so I'll let it marinate for a few days before reviewing it and checking the e-mails from the editor I submitted the proposal to, to see how much I covered of what she wanted.

2. B's nephew and niece from the distant east unexpectedly sent us some cloth masks. They're the slip-the-loops-over-the-ears kind, which is much easier to put on than the tie-the-strings-behind-the-head kind B's sister already provided, but less comfortable to wear. Niece must have made them from leftovers from one of her theme parties, because the fabric pattern depicts the Tardis. I'm willing to wear this so long as nobody beards me with Dr. Who trivia questions. Who played the first Doctor? I don't remember his name offhand. Who plays the current Doctor? I don't remember her name either. Who was your first Doctor? Peter Cushing; does he even count?

3. Joe Biden says, "[The accusations] aren't true. This never happened." Maybe it didn't, but that's exactly what Brett Kavanaugh said, so it doesn't carry conviction. Here's something that only recently came to my attention: Five years ago, Jon Stewart ran a piece openly accusing Biden of being a groper of women: not in an explicitly sexual way, but with an "uncomfortable tendency to invade the personal space of women in his vicinity." Five years ago! The most trusted political commentator in liberal America! At the height of his powers! Why didn't anyone, no matter how maliciously, bring this up during the primaries? It may not be too late to do anything about it now, but it would be ... difficult.
Still, anyone - anyone! - minded to abandon Biden for Trump - Trump! - because of this has their sense of appropriateness completely backwards.

4. Oh, relax. More good music over Zoom, in the form of Beethoven slow movements. The Second Symphony. The Op. 130 string quartet.

5. Meme time: A band that begins with an L, and not a classical one either. Lindisfarne.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

performers, ay!

I've mentioned before having felt disappointed with some performance videos created under social-distancing quarantine conditions. This one, though, is just great. And it's my favorite number from my favorite Sondheim, so ...

Monday, May 4, 2020

cheery day

Yes, it's being a cheery day, and that despite the fact that (as often) I didn't get much sleep. I used my waking hours to make enormous progress on the paper I'm currently writing, and digging through one of my stack of documents cubbyholes, in (successful) search for some old paperwork I needed for the scholarly paper, also revealed that that's where I absently stuffed my computer glasses that I'd been wondering for most of the last week what had become of them. Working on the computer with my nose up against the screen, so that I could see what I was doing, was getting old. I'd presumed that Tybalt, who enjoys rampaging around my desk, which is where I usually leave the glasses, had knocked them off into an inaccessible corner somewhere.

Other cheery discoveries of the weekend:

How to cut up bone-in chicken thighs: When I make jambalaya, I usually buy a couple deboned, skinless chicken thighs, cut them up, and brown the meat with the sausage before cooking the stew. But last week the store had no boneless thighs, so I bought a couple bone-in ones. I don't find cutting up uncooked chicken very easy when it's bone-in, though. So here's what I did: par-broiled the meat. For 20 minutes instead of the usual 30 that I take when cooking them as a separate item. That made the meat cooked enough to cut easily, but still left some pink. I dropped it in the pot as the sausage was finishing up, and it browned fine without overcooking. And now I have bits of chicken skin in the jambalaya, which is actually appealing.

How to defrost your freezer: our freezer builds up ice on the bottom, and I've never been able to get it to stop permanently. Usually I partially defrost it every couple months, enough to be able to chip away the ice. But that's inadvisable when the freezer is packed because of isolation. So it occurred to me to try a hair dryer. I blew the hot air at the edge of the ice for a minute, chipped a bit off, tried again. After just a couple rounds, the knife suddenly lifted up the entire block of ice from the freezer bottom. That had never happened before. I put it down, removed everything from on top of it, and picked the block up again with the knife and a dish towel. Moved it over to the sink, where it didn't fit. Ran water long enough to chop the block in half, which made it small enough to fit in the sink. Left it there to melt on its own.

In both cases, I think I'll do it this way on purpose from now on.

Sunday, May 3, 2020


It's official: Mythcon this summer, the one at which I'm to be scholar guest of honor, has been postponed to next year. The Mythopoeic Society's board of directors met yesterday (online, I presume; in my day as a director, the meetings were usually conference phone calls) and did the deed; the con chair had alerted me this was going to happen. I'd already expressed my preference for a postponement over an online event (though we could have an online event too; it just wouldn't be Mythcon).

With the big local summer music festival, Music@Menlo, having also last week postponed itself to next year, that wipes out the last public events on my calendar until the end of September. We'll see what happens then, but I'm not hopeful. What frightens me is not the postponements, but the protests demanding the re-opening of society. I can understand the frustration: the initial closings were just for a few weeks, but nothing was then said about what conditions would constitute an "all-clear." It seemed to me that this would take months, not weeks, but nobody was saying either so or not; I wrote a post back on March 16, just as the shutdowns were starting, expressing my own bafflement over that.

But slowly those questions have been answered, and some people are determined to defy them, some of them bearing guns. Oh, that kind of person. Well, they frighten me a lot more than quarantine does, and indeed I may have to quarantine myself all the more firmly now that they're around. Because during the hushed period of April, if I did have to go out, I could at least count on not running into anybody. But if people resume gathering in crowds, how am I to maintain my distance? Because so far, at least, the virus is still around. It might withdraw over the summer, but that has to happen first. Remember that you wear a cloth mask, not to protect yourself, but to protect other people from you. If others aren't wearing them, what price one's own safety? Even if that's enough: airlines are requiring that everyone wear masks, but that doesn't reassure me, not to mention that wearing a mask for the hours on end required by this isn't appealing. But that's OK; both my flying trips this summer, Mythcon and another conference which already postponed itself two months ago, are out, and I have nowhere to go for a while.


I do, however, have social media in my future. My library committee plans to meet on Zoom next week, and my scholars' group has opted for WebEx the week after that. There's no camera on my desk computer (or B's), but my tablet has one, so I loaded the apps onto it, and my brother - who's been teaching law school classes on Zoom for half a term now - and I tested it out yesterday. It appears to have bandwidth problems on such a low-powered device, let's just say that. Going into another room in search of a stronger WiFi signal, I found Maia lounging on the floor, so the cat made a cameo appearance on Zoom. I'm less pleased with my own appearance: I tend to hold the tablet close and below, so my face fills the screen and, even though I keep my beard short, it makes me look like Fidel Castro. I started calling my brother Raúl.

I attempted to watch a play whose production had been moved to Zoom. I didn't watch it on Zoom: the recording had been put on Vimeo. But I didn't last long: the tinny and stuttering sound quality and the awkwardness of the group video display might be tolerable for a meeting, but a play is for entertainment, and this got in the way of my appreciation.

I had more luck with a more standard stage recording, the National Theatre's Twelfth Night last week. (This week they're doing the Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, but I have no taste for Frankenstein right now.) For this production, they figured that since Olivia has abjured men, her servants should all be women, so the play had characters named Fabia and Malvolia. Malvolia? Still, the performer (Tamsin Greig) did a great depiction, and I count this a good production of my favorite Shakespeare comedy.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

alternative universe III

Oh, it's about time for another monthly list of concerts I'm not attending because they're canceled.

Thursday, May 7: San Francisco Symphony, Davies
On my series, because otherwise I'm not sure I'd want to sit through the same Nicola Benedetti playing the same Marsalis Violin Concerto that I heard last summer at Cabrillo again. Maybe I would have shown up at intermission just to hear the Symphony from the New World instead. Some pieces I do enjoy hearing again.

Friday, May 8: Music at Menlo, St. Bede's Church
This was going to be their latest off-season theme concert, this one on "The Soul of the Americas." Lisa Irontongue had already reamed them out for programming no women and saving a lot of space for pseudo Latin American music by Copland and Gershwin. So how I was going to review this thing after that, I don't know. Now I don't have to.

Saturday, May 9: Symphony Silicon Valley, California Theatre, San Jose
Mixing the Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra, definitely one of his more interesting works, with the Brahms Violin Concerto and, oh well, the Haffner Symphony (by all odds my least favorite Mozart symphony), made for an interesting program.

Wednesday, May 13: New Century Chamber Orchestra, Bing Concert Hall, Stanford
A potpourri program with a lot of odd stuff, including Arvo Pärt's Fratres, pieces I don't know by both Philip Glass and Michael Nyman, a movement fro Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man, and an arrangement for strings of both Mars and Jupiter from Holst's The Planets, what an odd concept. I was looking forward to this one.

Thursday, May 14: San Francisco Symphony, Davies
I was thinking of scoring an extra ticket to this, because it looked so appealing. MTT conducts, Yuja plays the Brahms First Concerto, bang and crash. Also, the Sibelius Fifth, and after what MTT could do with subtler Sibelius works, I was expecting to be amazed by this tub-thumper.

Friday, May 15: Peninsula Symphony, San Mateo PAC
I was considering this as an alternative for a Daily Journal review from the NCCO. But I'm not sure why: the Dvorak Cello Concerto and Tchaikovsky's Fourth are pretty basic and often-heard stuff.

Saturday, May 16: Chamber Music Silicon Valley
I was up to review this for SFCV, but the page had already disappeared from CMSV's flaky website before the cancellations came out. I remember that this was going to include a chamber-music arrangement of a Beethoven symphony, and they were going to survey their audience to determine which symphony. Hey, how about the Ninth?

Sunday, May 17: St Lawrence String Quartet, Bing Concert Hall, Stanford
Or was it this concert I was going to review? I can no longer be certain. Oh, another Golijov commission. The last time they tried to play one of these, he didn't get the piece finished before the concert, and I got to review what sounded like the fragmentary sketch it was. And a Haydn, and, omg, the Amy Beach Piano Quintet, must we?

Sunday, May 31: Masterworks Chorale, Grace Lutheran Church, Palo Alto
Another possibility for a DJ review, and this one B. would like. It's an American song program with Copland's Old American Songs, excerpts from West Side Story, and more.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

grim anniversary

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the day, also a Thursday, that President Nixon (as appalling a concept in its day as "President Trump" is today) announced on national tv the invasion of Cambodia. Nixon had promised to wind the Vietnam War down; now he was expanding it to another country.

Unsurprisingly, protests followed. And on Monday the 4th, the National Guard decided it would be a good idea to respond to those protests by shooting random students at Kent State.

Just to remind you that things were rather bad, fifty years ago.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

19 years later ...

we're still disputing over Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. To a correspondent who noted some bad scenes (Arwen disappearing in the second film; Faramir; Frodo deserting Sam for Gollum) and some good ones (the death of Boromir; Sam's "Don't go where I can't follow"; the Grey Havens), and who also said "the book is still on the shelf," I wrote:

Your examples of the problems in Jackson are good, but I see them as examples of a broader malaise. So this is going to be long ...

The Faramir and Gollum examples demonstrate Jackson’s lack of understanding of Tolkien, a quite elementary lack. In the commentary, Jackson and Boyens say that if the Ring is so tempting, they can’t understand why Faramir wouldn’t be tempted, so they wrote his temptation in. Unfortunately, having done so, they couldn’t come up with a reason for him to change his mind. This and the Gollum example are but two of many, many cases where Jackson derails the story because he doesn’t understand why Tolkien wrote it that way, only to have to drag it back onto the rails by force to keep the movie from departing too far from the book.

So why did Tolkien write an untempted Faramir? Because Faramir himself says, “I am wise enough to know there are some perils from which a man must flee.” Jackson thinks the Ring can’t be perilous unless everyone’s faunching for it. But look: our heroes are fighting a desperate war they’re likely to lose. Here’s a weapon that could win the war for them. That’s why Boromir wants it, originally: he thinks it would be insane not to use it. But despite its value as a weapon, those most capable of using it repulse from it with a shudder. Doesn’t that show its danger more than repeating the already-shown scenes of temptation would?

The Arwen example is even sadder, because that’s a case of Jackson trying to rewrite the book to his own preference and then losing his nerve. Arwen is Warrior Princess in the FR movie to make her a more prominent character and to fold in Glorfindel, whose acts are essential but who’s too much of a cameo character for a movie. As you say, that’s understandable. But the viewer reaction to the pre-release news that this would be done was (rather unfairly, I think) so negative that, in the subsequent films, they jerked Arwen back onto Tolkien’s course. When I met Boyens at the movie-preview panel at Mythcon in 2001, just before FR was released, the one thing she wanted to say to me, knowing that I had been critical of the trailers, was, “Arwen never leaves Rivendell.” I was nonplused by this, partly because I hadn’t been part of that particular argument, but mostly because Arwen leaving or not leaving Rivendell wasn’t the point: how Boyens and Jackson wrote the story was the point. And they wrote it very badly.

Partly because this made it another example of the story leaving the rails and then being jerked inexplicably back on to them; partly because it shows they didn’t understand the storytelling reasons Arwen is kept in the background (to show there’s more to Aragorn than you obviously see), and partly because the Ford scene is rewritten so that Frodo doesn’t challenge the Riders. Arwen does everything for him while hauling Frodo around like a sack of potatoes. It completely denies Frodo any agency in his own story, and the same thing happens in one of the most praised scenes, Sam carrying Frodo up the slopes of Mount Doom. The book specifies that Sam carries Frodo piggyback, like a hobbit child. In the movie, he slings a nearly-comatose Frodo over his shoulders like a sack of potatoes.

Further, I disagree with much of what you consider praiseworthy. Jackson can do dramatic, both in plot and in visuals (the latter with Howe and Lee to design for him, which they did well). But he can’t do beauty, and he can’t do joy. His elven-lands are wretched, Lorien worse than Rivendell: dark and dank, in no way beautiful. Only the design of Galadriel redeems it. And those key scenes you praise, particularly the latter two, in Jackson’s hands come across as rather gay. They aren’t in Tolkien. Jackson has no understanding of Tolkien, he can’t see how those scenes would function if they weren’t gay, so that’s what he assimilates them to.

However, all this is minor compared to the discussion of the major premise. To a charge that "the movie ruined the book," I consider “the book is still on the shelf” a deeply imperceptive, unfairly dismissive, and intellectually dishonest argument.

The “book on the shelf” isn’t doing anyone any good until someone takes it down and reads it. A novel only lives when it’s being encountered by a reader, the same way that music only lives if someone is playing or listening to it. And the reader’s mind is as essential to that process as is the text of the book. Surely you’ve had the experience of disliking a book at one reading and loving it at another, either because of increased maturity or just because of, to use the pop term, the space your head is in at the moment.

Well, if the reader’s head is full of the movie, and they don’t want it to be, that affects the reading experience. It can, depending on circumstances, ruin the book for that reader. And if the movie is universally known, then the ruination can be widespread. Don’t say that the reader should just put the movie out of their mind. Movies are vivid and memorable experiences, or they wouldn’t be so popular. Few people are so iron-minded to be able to put movies they’ve recently seen out of mind, especially not while reading the novel that the movie is based on. And having the book be a tie-in edition with the movie’s pictures on the cover doesn’t help either.

Monday, April 27, 2020

useful tools for useless projects

Maybe the project won't be so useless after all, but it seems like an enormous amount of work for doubtful gain. I've had a drawer-full of - now that they're all neatly stacked I can measure the stacks, and there's over 350 of them, gadzooks - 3.5 floppy disks for, judging by the latest dates on the files, some 15 years now, and I've finally finished going through them all, slipping them into a portable drive attached by USB to my computer, reading the directories, and saving the files I might need that I never transferred over to my hard drive before.

Why I had so many disks relates to computer-management history it would be tedious to get into, but I was relieved to find many of the disks empty, which means - I think - that I copied and deleted the files onto a hard drive at some earlier point. But why I didn't cross off and discard the disks at that point I don't know.

Next problem. Many of the text files are in WordStar, a word processing program I used up until some time in the early 2000s. Many of the WordStar files are easily readable as text files in notepad.exe (which is what Windows insists on using if they have a .txt extension anyway). There are WS-specific tags, like HTML tags but not the same, which I can deal with; looking at the files I even begin to remember the codes. Some files have formatting kibble at the beginning and end which can be ignored. It's the ones that are text-justified that I have to worry about, and that includes most of the files I used for Mythprint, especially when we were still using raw WS files for layout before 1987. WS's method for justifying was to substitute some high-value code for the last character of each word to indicate the amount of space to be left; this turns the file into a translated-into-Lower-Slobbovian gibberish that reads like this:
C.S® Lewió apologizeä yearó lateò foò thå <169>needlesó  obscurity<170¾ iî hió firsô booë oæ proså fiction¬ Thå  Pilgrim'ó Regress®
It'd be possible to figure out the intended characters painfully one by one, especially if you wrote the file as I did that one. But I'd prefer to convert the files.

That means finding a file conversion program. And after reading too many web pages with cryptic or unfollowable instructions, that direct you to download this from some unspecified place, and then use it to get that, and then extract something else from it and place it in some unspecified directory and what not, I was willing to pay $95 for a program if I could actually just download it and it worked.

And it does. So if you're in need of file conversion, I can happily recommend such a program by the title of FileMerlin. (Auspicious name.) It has a free demo version that downloads without a fuss, but which introduces typos into the output so they're not usable as final copy, but that does mean you can test the program as many times as you want before you buy it. And when you do buy it, there's no additional download: it just disables the typo feature. The interface is a little box allowing file-manager searches for the input file and output location, and to specify the program format of both files, and there you are.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

the man who shot but thought it didn't count

Relaxation time was spent watching a couple of classic James Stewart movies, both of which I'd seen before: It's a Wonderful Life and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. But this time I was paying closer attention than before and noticed some of those plot problems that have become a favorite spotting point of mine in old classic movies.

In It's a Wonderful Life they were pretty minor:
1. The biggest one was that, once Clarence plunges George into the alternate universe in which he doesn't exist, George spends too much time baffled by his non-existence to really seem to be learning the lesson that this is what his non-existence leads to.
2. During the big flashback, there's a mention of the Depression having been in the past, although if you calculate the timeline this seems to be taking place about 1935.
3. At the end, when all George's friends, however poor, are contributing to paying his debt, the biggest cheer comes with a wire from his wealthy businessman friend Sam Wainwright, who offers him a line of credit for over 3 times the total amount. If I were one of the poor contributors, this would make me feel kind of superfluous. I'd be relieved for George, but I wouldn't feel like cheering.

The problem with The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance comes near the end.
First, context. The punchline of this movie is a big gulp of irony. We're told that Rance (Stewart) has built his entire successful political career out of being the man who shot Liberty Valance, but it turns out he wasn't the man who shot Liberty Valance, Tom (John Wayne) was - a man so without honor in his own country that the newspapermen in his own town have never heard of him even on the occasion of his death. (Seems a little improbable.)
But - and here's the problem - except for that line on the train at the very end, we never see Rance being fêted for that part. When Rance's ally Peabody nominates him for convention delegate, he doesn't say anything about Rance's supposed feat. It's the slick politician supporting the opposing candidate who does so, and his position is to criticize Rance for tossing aside the rule of law to shoot a man in a gunfight. There's no honor here.
And there had been none at the gunfight either. When Liberty falls, everyone gathers around his body while Rance, unaccompanied and unnoticed by anybody, staggers across the street.
In response to the politician criticizing him, Rance decides he's worthless and leaves the election meeting. It's then that Tom tells him that, no, he shot Liberty Valance from a hiding place. And that makes it OK? Rance goes back to the meeting and wins the seat. But even if he didn't fire the fatal shot (this should come to mind from a famous piece of Firefly dialogue - SIMON: I never shot anyone before. BOOK: I was there, son. I'm fair sure you haven't shot anyone yet.), he tried to. He took up Liberty's challenge and risked his life. So either credit or demerit for courage, if not for action, should be his.
Lastly, we've been told and shown throughout that Tom is the one man not afraid of Liberty. But since Liberty controls the town in a reign of terror - everything from strong-arm stagecoach robbery to stealing punters' dinners from under their noses - why hasn't anyone been after Tom to do something about this before?

Saturday, April 25, 2020

non-review of non-concert

Despite the complete torpedoing of my concert-reviewing jobs due to the virus, I've managed to achieve a publication in that area. Having received e-mails from some of the ensembles in my Daily Journal coverage area describing what they're doing in the absence of public performances, I thought a rundown of all the major local groups would be useful. I proposed it to my editor, and the result is up today.

I give the Peninsula Symphony points for being most active, with its YouTube channel (featuring a delightful media-based Beethoven performance which the editors embedded in the article). And the Redwood Symphony gets honors for being most realistic, not even being sure if next season will be on yet, while also being the slowest to update its website. (It still listed the June concert as being on as I wrote; I had to enquire of them specifically to find out what was going on.)

Thursday, April 23, 2020

urgent household tasks

The last piece for Tolkien Studies, an essay of over 8,000 words, came in today, and it became my turn to go over it for editing. It took me 5 hours, and it would have been a lot faster, I said, if I hadn't been interrupted for urgent household tasks. So what were they?

First, the smoke detector in B's office began chirping. Battery needed to be changed. I had to get a stepstool to reach it, and then I discovered that we were out of 9-volt batteries, unless one unwrapped battery counted. It was sticky, which could just be something that had spilled on it, or it could be the battery had gotten old and was leaking. Only way to tell would be to wash it off and see if it comes back, but there's no time for that. So I'll have to go out and get new batteries. No time for that right now.

It was a break in B's work day, so time for our daily constitutional, an essential in these sheltering times, as it's the only thing to force us out. As usual, we walked to the lizard house (the one where lizards like to gather on the bricks) and back, half an hour. Soon it was time to feed the cats. This coincides with B's daily conference call at work, and either she feeds the cats beforehand or I do it, because otherwise they'll give her no peace during the call.

Unless I hastened, which is bad when you're editing, there remained no time to get back to the article before it was time to make dinner. So I made dinner. Ravioli: boiled. Spinach: sauteed with margarine and garlic. Pasta sauce: dry-roast some pine nuts on the stovetop. Cut their cooking with olive oil. Add some herb seasoning mix. All three dishes done at once. Serve, eat. Finish off the first of the last two pints of Three Twins Mint Confetti for dessert.

Then, out to buy batteries. Drive to nearby drug store. While seated in car, put on cloth mask (made by B's sister) and disposable rubber gloves. Enter store (nearly deserted: good), buy batteries in a flash, return to car, remove mask and gloves, drive home. Wash hands.

Great trouble trying to install battery in smoke detector, until I figure out it needs to go in the opposite way from what the embossed instructions say. Get it in. Test the alarm: it works. Reinstall it. Put stepstool away (underneath teddy bear on B's side of the bed). Wash hands again. Return to computer.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020


The sad news came last weekend that Three Twins Ice Cream has ceased business. On top of an already precarious financial situation, the virus proved to be just too much. It's a shame, because they had my business: this brand has been my favorite ice cream since I first tried it, my eye caught by the unusual name in my grocer's freezer case. (The owner is a twin, and once shared an apartment with his twin brother and the brother's wife, who is also a twin: hence three twins.)

What I particularly like, or liked, about it is that it's an ice cream that's more ice than cream, instead of the other way around as most brands are. There are a few others of the kind: Graeter's in Cincinnati, but that's too far away in space; Old Uncle Gaylord's, but that closed decades ago and is too far away in time. And, of course, like all good ice creams of any kind, its mint chip (which they call Mint Confetti) is colored white, not green.

That is my favorite flavor of ice cream, but I was also particularly fond of Three Twins' Mexican Chocolate (with a hint of cinnamon in it), and they had a lot of other good flavors, plus the most unusual Dad's Cardamom. I only had that once; it was really interesting, and I'm glad I had it, but I don't really need to do that again.

It wasn't until today that I got down to the grocer's, and I wasn't expecting to find any left in the case, but there was. I scored the last two pints of Mint Confetti plus a mocha. I'm not going to save it up: this'll be my dessert for the next few days, and after that I'll dream of it, as I still do of Old Uncle Gaylord.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A 30-day song challenge

John Scalzi did this, putting all the songs in one heap. I'm not going to embed the songs, as he did: just provide links. But here they are.

1. A song you like with a color in the title.
Yes, it's old. So am I.

2. A song you like with a number in the title.
Bloodthirsty folk music.

3. A song the reminds you of summertime.
Epic, graphic, and the first thing that I thought of.

4. A song that reminds you of someone you’d rather forget.
I'd rather not explain this one.

5. A song that needs to be played loud.
My idea of what needs to be played loud is different from other people's.

6. A song that makes you want to dance.
Also has a color (the same color) in the title, but it's here because I once actually did waltz to this song, and it was one of the most lovely terpsichorean experiences I've ever had.

7. A song to drive to.
If I want to drive to music, it has to be as long as the drive. I found it: this is the very same performance from the previous week's Proms that showed up on the BBC's Radio 3 one day in 2005 just as I set out from Chester, where I was staying, to Great Haywood - an hour away - and lasted exactly as long as the drive did. Magical.

8. A song about drugs or alcohol.
Ask me for one of those, you're gonna get this. Sorry.

9. A song that makes you happy.
The guy behind this was a lot less famous when this was released than he is now. Regardless, I have never seen a musical performance more sheerly full of joy.

10. A song that makes you sad.
Of course it's sad! It's about dead cats, isn't it?

11. A song you never get tired of.
Of all the catchy songs this guy has written, I think this one is the catchiest.

12. A song from your pre-teen years.
This was my favorite song by my favorite recording artist when I was eight years old, so help me.

13. A song you like from the 70s.
There is one actual rock band from the 70s that I really like, and this is one of their better songs. By the way, the actual singing doesn't begin until three minutes in. That's three, count 'em, three.

14. A song you’d love to be played at your wedding.
Actually, I made a tape of this writing/composing team's collected love songs to play at our wedding reception. This is one of the most beautiful, though not the most romantic.

15. A song you like that’s a cover by another artist.
"Like," eh? OK. Believe it or not, I had never heard, or even heard of, this quite famous pop song until I picked up a CD with the cover version by this rather unexpected and esoteric - but well-known to me - performer.

16. A song that’s a classic favorite.
"Classic," eh? OK. This one is by the opera composer Jake Heggie. And it's a favorite, thanks also to the lyrics by Gavin Geoffrey Dillard.

17. A song you’d sing a duet with someone on karaoke.
See no. 14: this was also on that tape, and is merely one of the more unusual numbers. I have sung this one with B, not on karaoke but with her at the piano.

18. A song from the year you were born.
After a despairing search through a list of the pop hits of that miserable annum for something I could tolerate, I remembered that this wonderful show was first produced the same year.

19. A song that makes you think about life.
This song pretty much described my life back when it was a current hit. As the saying goes, things get better.

20. A song that has many meanings for you.
I don't know what this song's meanings are (except for the outright riddle, which is pretty obvious), but it certainly has plenty.

21. A song you like with a person’s name in the title.
Boy, is this 40-year-old song ever obsolete. I think the author would like to bury it at the bottom of the Mohole, but once you release a recording it doesn't work that way.

22. A song that moves you forward.
I'm not sure what that means, but I find this tremendously energetic.

23. A song you think everyone should listen to.
That's an awfully forbidding description, but I can say modestly of this song that it's not only a good song, but it has something important to say about the human experience.

24. A song by a band you wish were still together.
This would also require them all to be alive, which I also wish. (I did get a kick out of the wholly amateur video by other people.)

25. A song you like by an artist no longer living.
Well, several we've already had meet this criterion, but how about one by someone I knew personally? Leigh Ann Hussey wrote this, sang it, and played the violin in it too. This is my favorite from her repertoire.

26. A song that makes you want to fall in love.
This album was on my regular playlist at the time I met B.

27. A song that breaks your heart.
I associate this one with being isolated far from home at the age of 11. There was a record player out there, and this was one of the records.

28. A song by an artist whose voice you love.
Of all the great women of folk, it's gotta be Maddy.

29. A song you remember from your childhood.
This was my very first favorite song: we're talking age 3 or 4.

30. A song that reminds you of yourself.
No such animal.

Monday, April 20, 2020

but without bicycle

This is less of a milestone than it looks, because it's been several years since I rode my bicycle. Various aspects of health and aging have caused that to drop off the slowly dwindling list of things that I do. What just happened, though, was a formal acknowledgment of that: we put it up on a neighborhood list, and yesterday someone came and took it away, and my helmet too.

A bike was my regular transport vehicle in childhood, but I stopped riding in early adulthood. Not feasible as a method to commute to work, less time to do it recreationally, and living in small apartments I had no real place to keep a bike. It was much later on, probably when I was close to 40, that I bought the bicycle I had up until now. It was the first bicycle I had with touring handlebars since child-size ones; when I got my first adult-sized bike, as far as I could see those curled-under racing handlebars were the only ones being sold. I always hated them, but I couldn't get anything else.

That touring bike did me a lot of service, especially after I got a hatchback car which the bike would (barely) fit inside with the back seat down. Since I was never a distance rider, this meant I could take the bike to places I wanted to ride around in. There's a scale of travel at which a car is too large and clumsy (and it won't go off-road anyway), and walking is too slow and wearying, so a bike is perfect.

Having been transported by car it took me: from a park-and-ride lot a couple miles to the Portuguese festival, avoiding the extortionary parking fees there (I did this more than once); to old town Willow Glen, where B. and I rode around the narrow streets looking at the marvelous old houses; up to the Santa Cruz mountains, where I rode downhill on a half-trail half-road that I'd wanted to explore for 40 years; to the Napa Valley, where I rode around exploring the sites that Le Guin turned into the villages of the Kesh in Always Coming Home.

Those were all grand expeditions, but that phase is over, so it's best to hand the tools on.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

ways of making you laugh

If your sense of humor is anything like mine, this will amuse you and take your mind off sitting at home all day.

Last summer, B. and I went to see the touring production of The Play That Goes Wrong, a farce in which a troupe of incompetent actors puts on another play. And though the play-within was an uninteresting murder mystery, we found the result diverting and funny. Here's a typical sampling, taken from the Royal Variety Performance by the original London cast:

But that's not all. The creators of this have applied the concept to better plays. Here's some assorted bits, in irregular order, from Peter Pan Goes Wrong:

and a TV production of A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong:

And the stars, in character, announcing an equally silly award-winner:
There's more, but this seems to be where the inspiration ran out. As the guy in the last clip says of sequels ... But I enjoyed all of these.

Saturday, April 18, 2020


1. I'm embarking on a long-deferred project: examining all my old 3.5" floppy disks (itself already an obsolete term then, inherited from when they were 8 inches across and actually floppy) for files worth saving onto a more useful medium. True that discarding a whole file drawer full of the things will give me needed storage space, but why I'm doing this now is for revelation at a later date. I bought a portable USB-plug drive, and all went well until the metal cover of one of the disks stripped off while I was ejecting it. Now the cover is stuck in there, and the sites I've consulted say it'd be best to give up and get a new drive. They cost $20, which is not horrific, but it's a nuisance, and I'm suffering the feeling of researchus interruptus.

2. Having observed that all 6 Hugo Short Story finalists from this year are available online, I figured I'd read them. They couldn't be easier to get, and they're all short.

After reading them, though, I think I'll pass. Two revenge fantasies in which a subject person massacres her oppressors is two too many for me. Two stories I couldn't follow at all; one of them appears to be a metaphor, but I could not figure out for what. One uses an unusual storytelling conceit I've liked better every other time I've seen it. Which leaves one that I found both comprehensible and tolerable, but I didn't think it was very good. I'm not here to condemn these stories, just to indicate my own lack of affinity. If this is the state of contemporary SF, it's not for me.

3. Oh, look, an article on two fantasy authors so obscure that, as far as I can tell, even Doug Anderson hasn't blogged on them.

4. He seems to have dropped off a few days ago, but for a while John Rateliff was giving a day-by-day blog account of what he'd be doing on the trip to Egypt he'd be taking right now if he were taking it. I think that a marvelous way to pass the time if it doesn't merely fill you with regret.

5. We received our stimulus checks. They were both automatically deposited in B's bank account, because that's what we have on file as the destination for our IRS refunds. I'm almost sorry we didn't get paper checks with DT's signature in the memo field, because then I could have written a choice verb or two before his name before depositing it. (You can write whatever you want in the memo field.)

6. I started to watch the National Theatre's stage production of Treasure Island, but I didn't get very far, not finding it any more captivating than I did the novel in childhood. I got even less far with Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, due to the impression that nothing much was happening. Why does the Phantom keep walking Christine back and forth along the catwalk? The music was not good enough to compensate for this.

Friday, April 17, 2020

playing the thing

I was groggy for most of the day yesterday, my innocent sleep having been untimely ripp'd out of the even tenor of its way by a cat licking my hair, as he (this is Tybalt) is ever wont to do.

I managed, however, to get through my fourth video play of the shutdown and the second Shakespeare. Although I enjoy listening to recordings of music while working at the computer, I don't like having full concerts that way. I pay attention at concerts, and I find that difficult at a screen. Plays are much easier to attend to, but they have to be both to my taste - I have no desire, for instance, to watch a currently advertised A Doll's House, Part 2, because I never even liked Part 1 - and well-performed.

The best-performed of the four was the Syracuse Stage production of Amadeus that I reported on two weeks ago. The excellent acting riveted my attention throughout, despite the author having eviscerated the ending in his last revision.

Then I watched the National Theatre Live production of One Man Two Guvnors starring James Corden, which was a little bit too much of a farce even for me. (No longer available.)

Then, on to Shakespeare. I saw that the American Shakespeare Center, of Staunton, Virginia, is selling tickets for online videos of all the plays in their current season, so I picked Much Ado About Nothing. Benedick and Don John were both played by women, but their voices and presentations were such that you'd hardly have guessed. Though there were a few clever bits (the best being the purportedly lame Don John giving a gleeful hop and skip when exiting after succeeding at fooling Claudio and Don Pedro over Hero), I found the performance overall competent but uninspiring. Since that's the same reaction I had when at Staunton in person three years ago for their Romeo and Juliet, I don't think it was an artifact of the video. At times I found myself wishing I was watching the Joss Whedon film version instead, and that's not a reaction I've ever had to Much Ado live on stage.

Lastly, Hamlet from Shakespeare's Globe in London. This also had a lot of cross-casting, much more conspicuous in the performance than with Much Ado. Hamlet was a woman,* who shouted hoarsely throughout the play, for much of it wearing smeared clown makeup for some unfathomable but doubtlessly symbolic reason. The stabbing of Polonius was almost off-handed, and so was forcing Claudius to drink the poison. Horatio and Laertes were also women, the latter so physically small as to be unable to contain the character's fury in Act IV. Rosencrantz seemed over twice Hamlet's age, and Guildenstern spoke only in sign language, though nobody else made more than a token effort to reciprocate. Ophelia was a man, and not a very feminine-looking one either. However, the sight of him in a dress, or of him not trying very hard to depict madness, was not as disconcerting as, hard upon Ophelia's funeral, having this distinctive-looking fellow reappear on stage in the form of Osric. By far the best performance was James Garnon as Claudius, and that's notable, because Claudius is the role in Hamlet most often performed badly. But Garnon's reactions in the early part of the play, and his speeches in the later part, especially the asides, were brilliant and compelling. He was less menacing than exasperated. If you want to watch this, and it's worth it for Claudius, it's still available for free till Sunday on their YouTube channel.

*Michelle Terry, whom I later learned is the theater's artistic director, which explains why there was nobody to tell her that, gender fluidity or not, this was bad casting.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Easter parade

In a normal year, B's family would have been gathering at niece T's house for Easter dinner. So this year, at 2 PM, just about the time we'd be sitting down, came my introduction to Zoom in the form of a family gathering online, with a lot more people than would have been likely to get to T's house, relatives from all over the state and four others, including two states on the opposite coast.

Our instrument was B's iPad, which turns out to show only nine frames in panel mode, making the participants look like the Brady Bunch. There were more of us than that, so the alternative was to show one frame at a time, automatically switching depending on who was talking. This doesn't always work, as one person might be silently turning the camera around to show off the view, while everybody else exclaims in delight. The event lasted an hour, and was at least an opportunity for family social chatter.

Afterwards, since we were already fully dressed for the camera, we went out to take a walk down the neighborhood. It was a warm afternoon, and a Sunday, and Easter to boot, so there was a whole Easter parade of people taking their constitutionals: walkers, dog-walkers, bikers, small kids on skateboards with handlebars. Everyone was very good about keeping physical distance, even the occasional car drivers. Our initial goal was to get as far as a certain house with a brick frame around its front lawn, on which lizards like to sun themselves on warm days. We call it the lizard house. Today was a four-lizard day, a good number. The house also turned out to have a cat in the front window, which we hadn't seen before.

At another house, we saw a very eager small dog up against its front window, so we knew what its name was: How Much. (How Much is that doggie in the window. To be added to all the other famous lyrical animals, like Olive, the other reindeer.)

Off to make dinner: B's favorite meatloaf, plus a surfeit of brussel sprouts mislaid from last week's grocery delivery.

Saturday, April 11, 2020


Topic questions:
1) How do you import text in MS-Word from one file to another file with a different page format? If you import it with formatting, it overrides the page format of the new document. If you import it without formatting, it loses things like italics and paragraph formatting. How do I preserve the latter without overriding the former?
2) How do you tell it not to print page numbers on particular individual pages, like the beginning of chapters, or to put them in the footer instead of the header?

I learned desktop computer layout in 1987 on a wonderful program called Ventura Desktop Publisher, which was a pure layout program of supreme flexibility. You'd set up your page and then drop text files from your word processor (in those days I used WordStar) into it. Then you could move them around and add headers and box illos or whatever. Page numbers, too, were handled entirely separately from the text files. You could edit the text in Ventura as well, but it wasn't designed for that, and I used that function only for touchup. (Fixing awkward page breaks, widows and orphans, that sort of thing.) Otherwise it preserved the text as you'd written it in the word processor; italics and paragraph formatting were taken from there. All the later issues of Mythprint under my editorship were prepared that way.

When Ventura went obsolete and we had to do everything in MS-Word, I gave up on layout, because Word was poorly designed for it, as Ventura was not designed for word-processing, and I couldn't figure out how to do it. I reverted to plain text documents, with nothing fancy except maybe a bold-faced centered header, indented quotes, or footnotes which it does handle well.

More recently I've prepared a couple booklets, including last year's Mythcon program schedule, in Word, but those were single files written in the format I intended to finish with, and with no page numbers. I'm trying to do a more complex booklet now, made up of existing documents, and it's a struggle.

Friday, April 10, 2020

household crisis averted

Our kitchen light went out, fortunately during the daytime when it was possible to see to replace it. It's a halogen lamp, which is what makes this more than a "screw the light bulb in, end of story" problem.

The news struck dread, for though it's been some nine years since the last time it needed replacing, that event is seared into memory. Fortunately, again, that means I remember how we solved it.

Past experiences included 1) learning the hard way never ever to touch the contacts at the end of the bulb, because skin oil will kill the contacts; 2) trying unsuccessfully to squeeze the bulb into the brackets while standing on the top of a stepstool; 3) in the process, dropping more than one bulb on the floor, resulting in its breaking, and having to go out and buy another, and since they cost at least $5, that's a serious dent; 4) eventually determining that if you push this bracket (this one, not the other one) out just so, you can barely squeeze the bulb into place.

All that went through my mind, and having found that we actually had an extra bulb in our supplies closet, so I didn't even have to go out into virus-world and buy one, and lo, the replacement was done in a jiffy. Bright light revealed by contrast just how worn down the old bulb already was, and indeed its glass tube was coated inside with soot, which is not conducive to illumination.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

why is this night exactly the same as all the other nights?

Because we're stuck at home and didn't go anywhere today.

Nevertheless, this night (last night as I write) was the first night of Pesach, "Passover" to you, and since the friends-and-(their)-family seder I usually attend is obviously not on this year, I could only commemorate the occasion by making matzo ball soup - the usual first main course in our custom - for dinner, along with the "comfort broccoli" whose recipe I recently learned, a variant on the roasted broccoli I've made before.

Going through the whole seder ritual for just two would have been a little obtuse - it needs a festive gathering - and yes, there are online seders you can attend; a mailing list I'm on sent a long list of them. But I've attended large and impersonal seders full of strangers before, and even in person that doesn't cut it either. It's about being surrounded by people you know and love. In my own family, the center of it was my grandmother, the only one of us who really was at home with hosting a gathering and cooking a big meal. Her matzo ball soup and sponge cake were exquisite, and so was the pleasure with which she served them. The gathering lost its heart when she died, and that was some 35 years ago. I miss her.

(RIP Ruth (Rashe) Sadovsky Bratman Gumbin Battinus, 1909-1984)

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

the reorganized library of Tolkien

Noted scholar John D. Rateliff has reorganized his Tolkien library - books by him and the ever-increasing number of books about him - and so have I, so since I just finished the main pass through the papers for this year's Tolkien Studies, for which I consulted that library heavily, I might as well tell about it.

I did this a few months ago, prior to plunging in to serious editing work on this year's Tolkien Studies, because I was dissatisfied with how things were physically arranged in earlier years.

I have two particularly heavy-duty uses for my Tolkien collection, both annual: 1) to check facts, quotations, and citations in submissions to the journal; 2) to organize and access books being covered in "The Year's Work in Tolkien Studies."

In the bookcase nearest my desk, to which I can just reach over and grab things, I've now devoted the shelf at arm-level to the standard Tolkien library: the designated editions of his principal works, with "The History of Middle-earth" volumes tucked up in the back corner lying on their sides, and the most common and useful reference works, like the Scull & Hammond Companion & Guide and Foster's Complete Guide to Middle-earth (which I'm always checking to remember whether a character's name has an accent mark or not).

In the other bookcase, the bulk of the literature on Tolkien. No longer in the special classification system I developed, since I found it too hard to remember where a given book was, they're all arranged by name of author or editor now. And, to save room, on their sides in piles separated by letter of the alphabet.

Back on the first bookcase, similar shelvings of the extra-small and extra-large volumes. And, upright in neat order, the series: Tolkien Studies, Hither Shore, Lembas Extra, the Walking Tree books, Mythlore since it converted to digest format (all the old bedsheet issues are in a drawer in a filing cabinet).

Up against that bookcase is a wooden device forming little open cubes about 12 inches wide, which I've long used for special projects. I'm now devoting two of those to new Tolkien-related publications. One contains the books for the current Year's Work, and as we're just finishing that up, I've just finished distributing its former contents of 2017 books to their proper permanent shelves, and filled it up with the 2018 books that were overflowing the other cube, which has newer material awaiting review or their turn at the YW.

In another bookcase, over near the door, is the remaining miscellaneous primary source material: different editions, translations, Tolkien's obscurer academic works. I used to have all of Tolkien's books over there, until I got tired having to get up and go over there to get books I was constantly consulting. Some overflow from over here will have to go over there now; I need to think about that. Also there: my Le Guin collection.

John lists a number of books he's recently acquired or moved. Some of them are not so new, and some of those I had to look up to remember them. I'm relieved that all but one have already crossed my field of view, and I've put the last on the next batch of books to order.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020


B. uncovered a couple of old dust masks and I used one when I went out. It had one rubberized band around the back so it was easy enough to put on. And except for a tendency to shift up into my eyes it was easy enough to wear. They're supposed to be single-use masks, but we don't have a supply, so I used it for more than that. Just tried to be careful about how I touched it.

We do, however, have a supply of rubber gloves. I bought a box at the pharmacy some time ago for medical purposes, but they turned out to be too small for me, so I bought another at a hardware store (the kind intended for painters, etc.) I gave B. the first box, since she has smaller hands, and I took the second. This has been great, not just at the grocers but when I needed to pump gas, and since having the smell of fuel on your hands is a constant problem there, I may continue using the gloves for that after this is all over.

Then our nephew's grocery delivery* included another bag in the form of a care package from his mother, which included chocolate Easter bunnies and ... a pair of homemade fabric masks. I looked at these and wasn't sure how to tie it. It had two loose strings dangling from either side. I thought you were supposed to tie the two on each side together with a permanent knot and loop it behind your ear, because I've seen masks with rubberized bands that work that way, but that would require careful calibration of string length to keep it from falling off, and I didn't think I could do that without help. Turns out, B. explained, that you tie the pairs on opposite sides together behind your head with a shoelace knot, and untie it when taking the mask off, which is still difficult but much less so than the other idea.

We tried wearing these while taking a walk yesterday. We looked like a pair of Butch Cassidy-era train bandits. Which adequately explains why some people of color say they won’t wear homemade face masks. In the midst of adversity, another example of white privilege, sigh.

*I forgot, when posting on that, to mention specifically that his equally estimable wife accompanied him, which is why I wrote "them" when writing of the delivery.