Author: Jamie Todd Rubin

Jamie Todd Rubin is a writer. He writes code, fiction, nonfiction, and has been writing on his blog for more than 15 years. His stories and articles have appeared in Analog, Daily Science Fiction, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Apex Magazine, The Daily Beast as well as several anthologies. Jamie lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and three children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.

Upcoming Changes to the Blog Schedule

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I wanted to let you know about some upcoming changes to the blog schedule. Beginning on Tuesday, May 24, 2022, I am going to begin publishing posts here 3 days a week, instead of every day. You expect new post on Tuesdays, Thursday, and Sundays.

May 15th was the 500th consecutive day that I have published new posts here on the blog. There are two main reasons why I am giving up the streak and reverting to a lighter scheduled:

  1. I have started to write fiction again. After more than five years of writer’s block it feels good to be writing again. This fiction writing has created a time conflict. I’ve found the time immediately after my morning walk, when the house is still quiet, to do this writing. It so happens that this was the time that I did the bulk of my blog writing. But the fiction writing is going well and I want to encourage that, so I’m sacrificing some of the blog writing time in its favor.
  2. Writing for the blog nearly every day for the last 500 days is beginning to wear on me. I want it to remain fresh and fun. I want to avoid being too repetitive here. I think cutting back to publishing 3 posts a week will help with that. It gives me more breathing room and more time to think of ideas for things to write about.

This doesn’t mean that there won’t be the occasional Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday that a post will appear. But my goal will be to publish 3 posts a week to lighten my load to that I can focus a little more on some of my other writing.

During the 509 day streak, I wrote 621 posts for a total of 455,000 words. Not bad for a hobby!

I imagine there are many joyous readers right now who think that even three days a week too much of my writing to bear. Those readers can look forward to the days when I post nothing. Of course, every post I’ve ever written (more than 7,100 of them) is still here for people to read. A good starting point for those who want some variety is my curated index to the blog.

Just remember that Wednesday, May 25, 2022 will be the first day in 509 days that there will be no new post published. Don’t worry. There will be a new one on Thursday, and then Sunday, and then Tuesday, etc., etc.

As always, I’m grateful for all my readers here and I hope you’ll stick around, despite the lighter schedule.

Written on Thursday, May 19, 2022.

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Writing Fiction — Again

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Recently I announced the end of my Practically Paperless with Obsidian series. After 30 episodes, I felt it was time to bring that series to a close before it’s practical use ran out. Also, I was getting tired of writing about Obsidian. There is something very meta about writing about a tool I use to write. It is something I have done frequently over the life of this blog when I could be writing other things.

Among those other things that I’ve felt the itch to write is fiction. Back in January 2021, I wrote about my five year struggle with writer’s block–specifically when it comes to fiction writing. When I wrote that piece, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to write fiction again, or if I’d even have the desire to do it. I didn’t mind too much, since I find plenty of enjoyment just writing here on the blog. But lately, the desire to write stories has been creeping back in. With the conclusion of my Practically Paperless series coming up next week, I thought that perhaps I could fill that void with some fiction writing once again.

I grabbed a blank Composition Book from the shelf and jotted down brief notes for three stories that have been thinking about. These notes are little more than a few lines briefly outlining the gist of each story. Yesterday, I picked one of the stories, and began to write–by hand–right there in the Composition Book. I wrote a single page in my semi-legible cursive handwriting. Call it 275 words or so. That was it. But I finished the page with a promise to myself to write some more today. And so, after this post is written, I’ll return to the notebook and add some more words to the story and see how it goes.

I generally don’t outline my stories. I get an idea, I think of how the story will end, and I go from there. But given my past difficulties, I felt I needed a little more guidance, and thus the notes that briefly outline the gist of the stories. The notes provide guidance and direction, but also remind me that there is more to write each day.

I’m writing in the Composition Book to get away from the computer. Most of the fiction writing I have done in the past had been done on computer and so it seemed wise to avoid the familiar when getting back into the swing of things. I decided that for these three stories, I’d write my first drafts in the Composition Book and write subsequent drafts on the computer.

There are no deadlines. I have no thought of whether I’ll send out these stories for submission or not. For now, I’m focused on just getting a draft finished. When I do that, the challenge becomes getting the next draft finished. If I like what I’ve written then maybe I’ll share it with my writer’s group, or a few trusted readers. If not, well, I’ve got a few other ideas to chase down.

I’ve never been a fast fiction writer. My stories emerge slowly and so I have learned to be patient with them. I’m not in any rush, but it would be nice to at least finish a draft. If I could do that, it would be worth a little celebration on my part.

Postscript, May 19: Since writing this post, I’ve worked on the story every morning, except one and I estimate I’ve written about 4,000 words to this point. I think I’m at roughly the halfway mark. It could be that in a week or so, I’ll have complete the first story draft I written in quite a few years. Stay-tuned.

Written on May 14, 2022.

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A Clean House?

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When the girls get home from school, they frequently arrive with their entourage, three or four (or sometimes five) friends, who live in the neighborhood and end up at our house when the school day is over. Every now and then there is a new girl in the mix. Recently, when they arrived home with a girl, I saw her look around the open living room/dining room/kitchen area and exclaim, “Wow! Your house is so clean.”

At first I took this to be sarcasm. Our house rarely seems clean to me. It’s not that it seems messy, just lived in by two busy adults and three kids ranging from five-to-teenager. The couch is often covered with blankets under which can be found crumbs, empty plates, missing remote controls, books, a left sock, a hair brush. One or more Lego pieces can be found on the floor. Tricycles and other conveyances are shoved into corners here and there. The dining room table frequently contains scraps of artwork remains, homework assignments-in-progress, various to-do lists that Kelly makes throughout the day. Even my office gets chaotic. I’ve explained how the coverage of the surface of my desk is a good measure of how busy I am.

So when this friend announced how clean our house was, I smiled, appreciating the sarcasm. But as I listened to her describe her own house, I realized that she wasn’t being sarcastic–she legitimately thought our house was clean.

For some reason, it seems to me that other people’s houses are always cleaner than ours, just as it seems that other people’s houses are better decorated than ours. I don’t know why this is. Maybe I’m just used to seeing our house, used to reminding the kids to pickup things, put things away, or turn off the lights.

I was thinking about this today because when the girls arrived home from school (there were four of them in addition to our two), the house really was clean. It’s a Tuesday (as I write this) and we have cleaners come in every other Tuesday to give the house a good scrubbing. I look forward to those Tuesdays because when the cleaners finish, the house looks clean, feels clean, and smells clean. Usually they come early in the day, just after the kids have gone off to school, but today they didn’t arrive until almost 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The girls arrived home shortly after the clearners left.

I didn’t hear any stray comments about how clean our house was today, even though it was about as clean as it ever gets. I did remind our kids that the cleaners were just here and that they should avoid tearing the house apart before we’ve had some time to enjoy the clean.

The two week period between professional house cleanings is an object lesson in entropy. Without seeming like we are taking any positive action toward disrupting the clean, it steadily falls apart. The couch, which looks pristine when the cleaners leave, doesn’t look quite as pristine the next morning when the kids sit bleary-eyed on its cushions, watching TV. The kitchen counters, which gleam when the cleaners walk out the door have lost their shine a day or two later. The freshly vacuumed carpets downstairs look wan after a week.

Do we have a clean house? We do right now, but it won’t last for long. Ask me again in a week. Or better yet, ask one of the girls’ friends who come over after school–they are more likely to tell you that it is still clean.

Written on May 10, 2022.

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Seasonal Reading

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Purely by accident, it seems, I sometimes fall into the habit of what I call seasonal reading. This occurred to me recently when I took a break from reading a lot of nonfiction to read some mystery novels. On May 7, I started reading A Darkness More Than Night by Michael Connelly, which is book #7 in Connelly’s Harry Bosch series. I read these books for two reasons: pure escapism, and perhaps more importantly, because they are set in L.A. and remind me of the days when I lived there.

These books go quickly. I can put away a fairly lengthy nonfiction book in under a week. Between May 7 and May 10, I finished three of the Bosch books and started a fourth. When I find a writer that I enjoy, I tend to go through all of the books, not always all at once, but eventually. I did this with Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire books, for instance. And I’ve been doing it with the Bosch books more slowly.

Usually, what I do is make a list of all of the books in the series in the order the books were published. And I go through them in order, marking them off as I do. Here, for instance, is the list for the Harry Bosch books:

My list of Bosch books in publication order
My list of Bosch books in publication order

At some point, I wanted to see when I had read the previous books in the Bosch series, so I wandered over to the list of books I’ve read since 1996 and searched for “Connelly.” The result was the following list:

An example of seasonal reading
An example of seasonal reading

As I looked through the list, something rather remarkable struck me. I read my first five Connelly books in May 2020. I had my fill of fiction and moved on to other things. Then, I read three more Connelly books, this time in May 2021. I think you see the pattern. Suddenly, and completely by coincidence, I found myself once again reading Connelly books in May 2022. This is completely unintentional on my part, but it is what I call “seasonal reading.” Something about the season, the timing, pushes me toward a certain type of book.

Sometimes this kind of seasonal reading is driven by a combination of release timing and the butterfly effect of reading. For instance, Craig Johnson’s Longmire books tend to be released in September. I’ll read one, and then want to read more of the same. This seems to happen more with fiction than nonfiction. Still, nonfiction is not immune, especially in the spring.

For instance, in the spring of 2021, I went through a phase of reading more than dozen books on the history of computing. In the spring of 2022, I went through a phase of reading ten or more books on the Second World War and related topics. The spring seems to power these phases, but I am not entirely certain why that is so.

Winter–especially December and January–frequently sees me reading books on Hollywood, celebrity memoirs and biographies. They are a particular guilty pleasure of mine, and I look forward to our time on holiday break reading those books. They are another example of seasonal reading.

These phases peter out on their own eventually. I can never tell when they will fade out, but they always do. For now, well, I just started the next Bosch book, which will be my fourth in as many days. The seasonal reading continues.

Written on May 10, 2022.

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Book Review Requests

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Recently, I have received a spate of book review requests. The fact is that I don’t write book reviews any more, not in a professional sense. I’m not sure I ever did. For a year or two I wrote a book review column for the science fiction magazine InterGalactic Medicine Show, “The Science of Wonder,” where I’d review two books each month. It was fun while it lasted, but I tired of it, mainly because I felt some responsibility to read and review at least some of the books publishers and publicists sent me, as opposed to finding books on my own that interested me and reviewing those instead.

The truth is, I’m not one to go out seeking opinions on what I should read next. If I am being perfectly honest, I cringe a little inside when a friend utters the words, “Hey, you should read…” I am, of course, grateful to my friends’ for their suggestions, but the reality is that I almost never end up reading what they suggest. There are two reasons for this:

  1. I can’t read a book that doesn’t fit my present mood. The butterfly effect of reading is my primary guide for what I read next, and I trust that instinct because it has served me so well over the last quarter century. Of course, if I had to read a book for a job, or for class, I could force myself to do it, but I am no longer in a position where I have to read a book for any reason other than it catches my interest. The mood I am in is much more likely to be served by the butterfly effect of reading, than by a recommendation from someone else.
  2. I maintain a list of books I intend to read based on the butterfly effect I described above. This is usually anywhere from 10-20 books long (1-3 months worth of books), and acts as a kind of safeguard; if the butterfly effect of reading directs me to a book that doesn’t work out for me, I don’t waste time flailing about. Instead, I move to the next book on the list. This means, however, that if I am interested in a book that a friend recommends, it might take me a while before I get to it. Indeed, there has been at least one book that a friend recommended to me, which I finally read twenty years after they recommended it.

I’ve learned these lessons over and over again. Most recently, for instance, a friend recommended Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. The description sounded fascinating and so I picked up the book, but didn’t make it more than a few pages in before I gave up. It had nothing to do with the story or the writing. It just wasn’t what I was in the mood to read. What did I read instead? The butterfly effect of reading led me to United States: Essays, 1952-1992 by Gore Vidal. See what I mean?

All of this is preface to explain why I no longer accept requests to review books. I just don’t want to interrupt the natural flow of my reading with something arbitrary that doesn’t fit into what interests me at the moment. 99.9% of the book review requests I get are for fiction, mostly science fiction or fantasy, and these days, science fiction and fantasy makes up less than 1% of the books that I read.

For many of the books that I do read, I sometimes write reviews or at least post notes about the books here on the blog. But these are books that have come my way via the butterfly effect of reading.

I sometimes wish I could take all of the recommendations my friends provide and read them right away. I’m certain the ability to do so would improve my character and make me a better person. Alas, when it comes to reading, I am flawed in this regard: I don’t want to change. The butterfly effect of reading is a like a drug and I am at its mercy.

Thank goodness for that!

Written on May 9, 2022.

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My Favorite Word Processor

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Writers look fondly upon the tools we use. They recall their favorite typewriters even as the tide of technology pushes them into word processing. When I started to write, the world had already entered the word processing era. The earliest word processor I used was AppleWorks. Then, through high school, I used WordPerfect. In the decades since, I have tried out countless word processors and text editors, many of which I have written about here. But like those writers from the typewriter age, who cast a fond eye back on their Royals and Smith Coronas and Underwoods, my favorite word process was and is Microsoft Word for DOS 5.5.

I’ve made reference to this word processor in a dozen posts here, but I have never really delved into my reasons for why Word for DOS 5.5. remains my favorite. To understand why, you first have to understand my theory of word processors: a good word processor should do 3 things really well:

  1. It should separate the interface from the presentation layer. That is, how it appears on the screen should not be tied to how it appears on paper. Scrivener is a good example of this, where you “compile” manscripts from a source text.
  2. It should eliminate distractions and allow a writer to focus on writing. WYSIWYG seemed like a cool idea at first, but I think it has become too much of a distraction. When writers wrote on typewriters, they weren’t distracted by fonts and formatting. The very limited formatting that could be done on a typewriter was something in its favor.
  3. It should keep things simple.

Microsoft Word for DOS managed to meet all three of these requirements.

A version of Word for DOS 5.5 running in DOSBox on my Mac.
A version of Word for DOS 5.5 running in DOSBox on my Mac.

Through most of college, I used Microsoft Word for DOS 5.5. It was the first word processor I bought with my own money. I used it to write the first stories I ever wrote with the intention of submitting them for publication. I used to to write letters to friends and family (these were the days before email and the Internet). I used it to write papers, and I used it to type up my notes from classes, and print them in a way that made it easy for me to study.

I never spent much time dealing with formatting or fonts. I wrote and I printed. Word’s feature set was fairly robust, but most of it I didn’t need. There was not constant stream of updates to download. The interface was constant, reliable, and as far as I can recall, bug-free. The latter was perhaps a result of the application’s overall simplicity.

Word for DOS ultimately had one major drawback: its file format. I still have most of the files I wrote in Word for DOS 5.5., but they can’t be opened cleanly in modern versions of Microsoft Word. The text can be extracted, but only with some effort. I put in that effort and now my old Word files exist in plain text format.

I’ll admit that nostalgia for simpler software probably plays a part in my looking back on Word for DOS through rose-colored lenses. But that is no different than Isaac Asimov looking back longingly at his Underwood No. 5, or Ray Bradbury turning a ruminative eye back on the coin-operated typewriters he first used in the Los Angeles Public Library.

These days, I do all of my writing in Obsidian, which is not a word processor but rather a text editor. Obsidian is highly customizable and every now and then, I toy with the idea of creating a Word for DOS 5.5. theme that will allow me to feel as if I am writing once again using my old favorite. I hesitate only because I have learned that is a kind of distraction itself: creating a theme when I could be spending my time, you know, actually writing.

Written on May 7, 2022.

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“Daddy, Do You Have a Dictionary?”

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Yesterday, out of the blue, the Littlest Miss, who will be six this summer, came up to me and asked, “Daddy, do you have a dictionary?” I told her that I did and she said she wanted to look at it so that she could look up words. My heart fluttered. Zach and Grace never showed interest in dictionaries, and I’m skeptical that they ever learned how to use one in school. The Littlest Miss told me they had dictionaries in her kindergarten classroom.

I gave her my Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary and she spent 45 minutes in the afternoon looking up words and haltingly reading definitions. I showed her how to use the guide words on the pages to find the words she’s looking for. She picked it up almost at once and proceded to spend the rest of the evening with the dictionary in her lap, looking up words and reading the definitions.

The Littlest Miss discussing a definition in my Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary
The Littlest Miss discussing a definition in my Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary

When I was about her age, I got as a present one year, the Macmillan Dictionary for Children. (My brother, for his present, got the Grease soundtrack album.) The dictionary was a big white book with a red spine. I remember feeling a little disappointed at first. Who wouldn’t? A dictionary compared to the Grease soundtrack? Over time, however, I went through every page of that dictionary. I can’t remember if I tried reading it cover-to-cover or not, but I became so familiar with it I could find a word based on the pictures I saw on a page as flipped through it.

The edition of the Macmillan Dictionary for Children that I had as a 5-year old.
The edition of the Macmillan Dictionary for Children that I had as a 5-year old.

Early in my schooling, we learned how to use dictionaries. We learned how to use the strange symbols in the pronunciation guide to pronounce words. I learned how to use the guide words on the tops of the pages to locate words. Eventually, I began circling the words I looked up. That old dictionary was lost in the intervening decades. Last night I wished I still had it for I would have given it to the Littlest Miss.

Instead, I went online and ordered her a new edition of the Merriam-Webster Children’s Dictionary. When I returned from my early morning walk this morning, it had been delivered, and when the Littlest Miss woke up and got ready for school, I presented her with the weighty tome.

She loved it!

She spent the morning before leaving for school looking up words, and circling the ones she looked up (at my suggestion). She looked at the pictures. She read definitions. She seemed to have a great time doing it. When she got home from school, she saw the dictionary on the couch where she left it and immediately resumed her browsing.

I, of course, am delighted there is finally someone else in the house who appreciates a dictionary. I imagine it won’t be long before I’ll be forced to return to my own dictionary as the Littlest Miss uses bigger and bigger words to express herself. Maybe that will force everyone else in the house to start using a dictionary again, too.

Written on May 3, 2022.

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Reading for the Week of 5/8/2022

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Here is what I read this week. Some of the articles/posts may require a subscription to read them. As you can see, I managed to read a bunch of books this week, but that ate into article reading time, so my article/post reading was way down this week.

Books

Finished

  • A Darkness More Than NIght by Michael Connelly. I needed a break from all of the nonfiction I’d been reading so I decided to continue reading some of Michael Connelly’s “Bosch” series of mysteries.
  • City of Bones by Michael Connelly.
  • Lost Light by Michael Connelly. This is the best of the Bosch books I’ve read so far. Excellent from start to finish.
  • Never Panic Early by Fred Haise. I think it is wonderful that more than 50 years after the first moon landing, the astronauts involved in Apollo are still coming out with memoirs about their experience. Fred Haise, who flew on Apollo 13 and who piloted test landings of the space shuttle Enterprise has a delightful memoir in this book.
  • Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel. I came across this book in my sister’s Goodread’s list. I enjoyed it, although it is not a particularly original time travel story in the tropes that it uses. It is the characters that make the book interesting. In some ways, I was reminded of Lauren Beukes The Shining Girls, although this book wasn’t a murder mystery.

In Progress

Gave Up

  • The Narrows by Michael Connelly. I started the next book in the Bosch series, but after reading three in a row, I’d had my fill, so I gave up on this one and will return to it eventually.

Articles/posts

Any recommendations for books, articles or posts I should read? Let me know in the comments?

Written on May 13-14, 2022.

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Writing Style

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When I started to write with the idea of submitting stories, way back in late 1992, I never thought consciously about style. Instead, I attempted to imitate the styles of those writers who I read regularly. At the time, this was Piers Anthony, whose books I’d been reading since the mid-1980s1. I suppose this is a natural thing for a new writer to do.

In 1993 and 1994 I discovered writers like Barry N. Malzberg and Harlan Ellison, thanks in large part to what I consider to be the best science fiction magazine ever produced, Science Fiction Age, edited by Scott Edelman. I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on books, but fortunately, I attended the University of California, Riverside, where the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy resides. I could checkout books from the library. I read lots of Malzberg and Ellison in those years, and my writing style almost immediately reflected their influence.

Looking back on some of that early writing, it appears almost ridiculous today, an unintended parody. It is like someone who thinks they are good at impressions doing an impression (badly) of a famous person. I remember wondering then if I would ever develop a style of my own. How did these other writers manage ot do it?

Then, in the spring of 1994, I picked up a hardcover copy of Isaac Asimov’s newly published book, I. Asimov: A Memoir. Up to that point, I’d read very little Asimov. I’d read The Caves of Steel twelve or thirteen years earlier, and I knew that he wrote a lot of nonfiction in addition to his fiction. But reading that book was a revelation to me in many ways, one of which was an author’s style. In the case of Asimov, that was an almost deliberate cultivation of no style–that is to say, a style that is virtually invisible. I liked that idea and began to imitate that style in my writing.

Over the next five years or so I immersed myself in Asimov’s writing, both fiction and nonfiction. His writing, more than any others, led me to branch out further and further afield in my reading, which in turn broadened my experience with style. Over that time, without being quite conscious about it, my own style began to take shape, formed the way a stone is shaped over time by water, wind, sand, abrasion, taking bits of each while other parts are chipped and worn away.

Style, however, is an evolving thing. It changes more slowly over time, but it changes nevertheless. Andy Rooney and E. B. White are two other writers that made subtle contributions to my style. At its core, my style aims for the clarity and invisibility of Asimov’s. Whether or not it achieves this is not for me to judge.

There are styles that I admire greatly but that I know I could never really achieve in any way short of parody. Barry Malzberg’s style is one. My second published story, “Hindsight in Neon,” which appeared in Apex Magazine, was a deliberate imitation of Malzberg’s writing, but it was not my style. Harlan Ellison had a style unique to him that I could never reproduce. I love the style that W. P. Kinsella achieves in books like Shoeless Joe. For nonfiction, I am a great admirer of Will Durant’s style of writing, but it is beyond my capabilities as a writer.

Style, by the way, is different from voice, at least in my mind as it applies to fiction writing. Voice is an evocation of character, a setting of the tone of a story. Style is much more like handwriting, distinctive and unique to the person from whose hand is emerges, but separate from the voice and tone of a story.

If you have any doubt that style can’t change, you have only to look at early posts on this blog, from sixteen or seventeen years ago and compare them with more recent posts. The writing I’ve done here began before I’d sold a single story and I think it makes for a good example of how my style has been influenced and changed over time.

Written on April 30-May 1, 2022.

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  1. Mostly books outside his Xanth, series, although I did read the first 8 or 9 of the books in that series at some point.

Deck Work

Spring was slow to arrive here in northern Virginia. In March we had a few days in the 60s and maybe even 70. For spring break, we headed down to Florida and before we left, the morning temperatures were pretty cold. I felt fairly confident that when we returned, mornings in the 30s would be a thing of the past. We did have a few spring-like days, but then it cooled again, and the mornings were cold. As I glance at the upcoming forecast, tomorrow and Friday mornings both have lows in the 30s. In late April.

Ever since we moved into this house three years ago, I look forward to spring. It means we can start using our deck again. We have a large deck that looks over our backyard and into the park that our house backs up to. In the spring of 2020, we obtained some deck furniture, and a 10×10 gazebo for shade and protection from mosquitos in the summer. Since then, we’ve added a table and chairs for eating, and grill for grilling.

I love our deck. After my morning walk, I’ll take my breakfast out on the deck and go through rest of the newspapers that I didn’t finish when I woke up. On Sunday, I’ll read the actual newspapers out there.

Reading the Sunday papers on the deck before I had the gazebo setup this past weekend.
Reading the Sunday papers on the deck before I had the gazebo setup this past weekend.

Sometime, I’ll take my work laptop onto the desk to work. I like reading on the deck. When the weather is particularly good, I’ll even nap on the deck. I’ll head into the gazebo and lay on the couch, close my eyes and drift off to the sounds of birds and insects.

The mosquito netting and cover for the gazebo was somewhat flimsy. It lasted us the 2020 season and 2021. When I took it down last fall, I saw that it was riddled with rips and holes. I tried to find a replacement from the manufacturer, but they only seemed to sell the full kit. So I searched around and found place that sells 10×10 replacement covers and sidings for gazebos. I ordered it and it arrived today.

It worked! It fit our gazebo just fine and had several improvements over the previous version. It took me a little while to get it setup. I picked a fairly windy day to do it, but the deck furniture is now in place, the gazebo is up, and I am hopeful that the spring temperatures will start to feel like spring for a while, before they shift to summer heat and humidity.

Inside the gazebo
Inside the gazebo

I’m looking forward to making use of the deck.

Written on April 27, 2022.

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Ordering the News

folded newspapers
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I like to spend part of my Sunday morning reading the Sunday papers. This is different than the other days of the week that I read the “papers.” On Sunday, I get actual newspapers. Others days I read the papers on my phone.

I subscribe to digital editions of the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal1. On Sundays, I pick up New York Times and Washington Post on my morning walk. When I sit down with a paper, what I do is this. I separate the sections and rearrange their order.

  • I turn to the Metro section of the Post first, and read the obituaries. I’ll skim some of the obits, but I make it rule to read any obituary for someone who lived to at least 100 years old. Those are always fascinating. I pull out the obits from the Times and skim through those as well.
  • Next I read the Metro section in the Post to see what’s happening locally.
  • Next up are the editorials and op-eds. These are part of section A in the Post, but frequently are a separate section in the Times. I pull these two bundles together and read the editorals.
  • I go through the front page of each paper.
  • I go through the Times Book Review
  • Finally, I skim the remainder of both papers to see if there are any features I’m interested in reading.

By the time I’m done, there are pages of the Post and Times mingled together at the foot of the reading chair in my office (or on the deck, if I happen to read the papers out there.)

On the other six days of the week, I find it difficult to reproduce this very convenient way of reading the paper. In the New York Times app, I swear there used to be a way to reorder the “Section” in whatever order you liked, but that no longer exists. Indeed, I can’t find any setting that allows me to customize the order of the news. The same is true for the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal apps.

You’d think, being apps, that it would be easy to allow users to shuffle around the sections of the digital newspaper so that readers could easily read the paper in any order they want to. Why they don’t offer this is beyond my comprehension. One argument may be that the paper is presenting the news, editorially, in a specific order. Fine. That is, after all, what they do in the print editions. But I can still take the print edition apart and arrange it however I like. Why can’t I do this with the digital editions?

Instead, I waste precious times six mornings a week switching and back forth between apps and navigating between sections. First the obituaries in the Post, then the obituaries in the Times, then the Post‘s Metro section. Then the Times editorials, then the Posts editorials. You get the idea.

What would really be nice would be an app that aggregated news from the various digital subscriptions you had, and allowed you to order the news based on category and section. Something, perhaps, akin to Early Bird, but for digital news subscriptions. The app could verify my subscriptions to the Post, Times, and WSJ. I could tell it I want news presented in the following order: Obits, Metro, Editorials, Front Page, Book Reviews, Features. The result would be I’d log into this app and the news articles would be there from all sources, in the proper order, ready for me to read.

Now that would be a useful app.

Written on April 23, 2022.

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  1. I used to subscribe to the L A. Times but gave it up, sadly, to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal. That allows for a more overall balanced picture of the world from what I had before since WSJ doesn’t generally reflect my own views. I do miss the L. A. Times.

A Busy Afternoon

new york times square
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A couple of weeks ago we had an usually busy Saturday afternoon. Specifically: a 4 hour period in which our three kids had to be at five separate events. Zone defense was a must in this situation, but required more than that. It required a game plan. We plotted the plan out the night before.

Things began just before 2 o’clock. Grace had to be at gymnastic practice for her team. That practice runs 2-1/2 hours on Saturdays. At 2:15, Zach had a soccer game. At about 20 minutes to two, I piled Zach and Grace into the minivan and headed to the sports and rec center where Grace has her gymnastics. I dropped her off there and reminded her that I’d be back before four o’clock to pick her up early. She had a birthday party to go to.

From there, Zach and I sped over to a local middle school where his soccer game was being held. Arriving there, I sought out his coach–also a family friend–and asked if he could take Zach home after the game. I had to leave early to transport Grace to a birthday party. Happily, he agreed to take Zach home.

When I finally, reluctantly left the soccer game, Zach’s team was losing 3-1 about 5 minutes into the second half. Zach had just gone in to play keeper.

I raced back to the rec center, found the very last parking spot available in the lot, and then dashed inside to remind Grace that she had to leave early. It was a fifteen minute drive from the rec center to the bounce hall where the party was being held. As part of our careful planning, Kelly had already filled out the waiver forms online. But because I was dropping her off and I was not Kelly, I had to fill them out all over again. Kelly also arranged for the hosts of the party–neighbors who live a few houses up the street from us–to bring Grace home afterward.

I headed back to the car and made the 20 minute drive back to the house. Zach had arrived home twenty minutes earlier. They lost their soccer game, but he played well.

Meanwhile… Around the time that Zach’s soccer game was starting, the Littlest Miss had a birthday party to attend at a nearby park. Kelly took her to the party. They had to leave the party early, however, because at 4:30, the Littlest Miss had a soccer game. As I write this, that soccer game is still in progress and I am missing it because I had all of these other things to attend to.

Both Zach and the Littlest Miss have soccer games tomorrow as well.

After a long week at work, I look forward to relaxing on the weekend. But today, and particularly this afternoon, felt busier and more fragmented than most of my work days.

I don’t ever remember being nearly this busy–in the structured sense–as a kid. My weekends frequently consisted of locating my friends, maybe swimming for a while (we were in Los Angeles, after all), playing capture the flag, and possibly making the long half-mile walk to 7-Eleven for candy and soda. The late afternoons and evenings were frequently filled with pickup touch football in the church parking lot across the street, or basketball games at the local junior high school (hopping the fence, since the gates were locked on the weekends). No calendar was required to make sense of the agenda for the day, and certainly not one that looked like this:

Four busy hours
Four busy hours

Times change, of course, and today, in our neck of the woods, structured days like this are normal. Structured weekend days like this make me yearn for retirement. At least there will be five days a week I can count on for somewhat less structure. Only nine years and counting…

Written on April 23, 2022.

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