Reading for the Week of 5/22/2022

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Here is what I read this week. Some of the articles/posts may require a subscription to read them. Once again, my article/blog reading was down this week because of my book reading and my renewed focus on fiction writing.

Books

Finished

  • The Age of Voltaire: The Story of Civilization, Volume 9 by Will and Ariel Durant.
  • This Old Man: All In Pieces by Roger Angell. With Angell’s recent passing, I felt compelled to go back and read his writing. I started with this recent memoir, which I had read once before when it first came out. I ordered a bunch of Angell’s books and plan on continuing to go through them.
  • The Dogs of Christmas by W. Bruce Cameron. This one requires some explanation. Each weekday morning, I sit with Grace and we read together. She picks the book. Back in January, she picked out this book, and it took us five months to get through the entire thing, 20 minutes at a time each morning. Since I read the whole thing, I felt that it was okay for me to add it the list of books I have read since 1996.

In Progress

  • The Summer Game by Roger Angell. This was Angell’s first baseball book, the book made up of the baseball pieces he wrote for The New Yorker beginning in 1962.
  • The Bend at the End of the Road by Barry N. Malzberg. A collection of critical essays on science fiction by a master of the form. Some of these I read in the magazines they were originally published in, but I’m now going through the entire collection as an exercise in admiration of the essay form.

Gave Up

  • Rousseau and Revolution by Will and Ariel Durant. I was looking forward to this 10th volume in Will Durant’s Story of Civilization. It is the volume that won the Pulitzer prize. But having just read the previous two volumes (nearly 2,000 pages combined) I was ready for something else, and decided to set this one aside for now. I’ll return to it again in the future.

Articles/posts

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

Written on May 28, 2022.

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The 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant Closes Its Doors

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When I lived in Los Angeles, one of my favorite restaurants was the 94th Aero Squadron at Van Nuys airport. Yesterday, I learned through the Valley Relics group on Facebook that 94th Aero Squadron has closed its doors after 49 years in the community.

The restaurant was themed after Eddie Rickenbacker’s 94th Aero Squadron in the First World War. There were old airplanes on the outside. Inside was a rustic restaurant decorated in the fashion of the late 1910s with music of the era piped in. Best of all–for me–was that the restaurant looked out onto runway 16L of Van Nuys airport, one of the busiest general aviation airports in the country. I would sit by the window as a kid, watching the planes take off and land, and wishing that I was flying them.

I can’t remember the first time I ate at 94th Aero Squadron, but I know that I was not yet 13 years old. They had good food, and an amazing Sunday brunch that I recall attending on several occasions. 94th Aero Squadron had a banquet area, and both me and my brother’s bar mitzvah receptions were held at the restaurant.

I spent at least one Thanksgiving dinner at 94th Aero Squadron when my mom was out of town with my sister. My dad, my brother and I ate a turkey dinner there, and then went to see Rocky IV in the movie theater.

For either homecoming or prom, I went to 94th Aero Squadron for dinner with my date and some friends. On September 7, 1994–the day I interviewed at the company that I am still with today–I went to 94th Aero Squadron for dinner after a full day of interviews in Santa Monica.

But the single best meal I ever had at 94th Aero Squadron was on April 3, 2000. On that day, I passed my check ride, and received my license as a private pilot. To celebrate, I went flying for the first time as a licensed pilot, and then, retired to 94th Aero Squadron for dinner. Sitting at a table by the windows, watching planes take off and land, I could remember the times, fifteen years earlier, when I watched longingly from those windows, wishing I could be flying the planes. Now I finally was.

It is sad to see the restaurant closing, but I will always treasure the great times I had there. It was a one-of-kind place to be.

Written on May 19, 2022.

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Practically Paperless, Episode 30: Managing Projects in Obsidian

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Welcome to my blog series, “Practically Paperless with Obsidian.” For an overview of this series, please see Episode 0: Series Overview.

I thought I would wrap up this series with a demonstration of how I use Obsidian to manage software projects I work on. In my day job, I make software and manage software projects. Aside from writing code now and then, most of what I do is make notes — notes on requirements, design, procurement, technical notes, lots and lots of meeting notes. Until about 2018 or so, I filled composition book after composition book with these project-related notes. Here is a stack of notebooks from about 2015-2018.

Project notebooks I filled between 2015-2018.
Project notebooks I filled between 2015-2018.

From 2019-2020, I started taking notes on computer, using Mathematica (believe it or not!) because I liked their self-contained Jupyter-style notebooks. When I moved to Obsidian in January 2021, I started keeping my project notes there and have been doing so ever since.

Theory of project management: Keep it simple

I am not a project manager by training. I sort of fell into the role from the work I’d done on software. It turned out that I had a skill for managing projects–or so I have been told. Over the decades I have taken a few courses in project management. Most of the books I’ve read on project management have been worthless. But there have been three books that heavily influenced how I manage projects today; they are not, strictly speaking, project management book, but they are the best books on project management I’ve ever read.

Project management courses I’ve taken and those books that are about project management that I have read focus on things like budgets and schedules, Gaant charts, and requirements, and all kinds of tools and services that you can use to manage your project. What most impressed me about the unconventional books I’ve read on project management–those linked to above that are not strictly speaking about project management–is that (a) they focus on the practical aspects of managing projects; and (b) they are about great big projects that were carried off before all of our fancy tools and services existed.

Indeed, it seems to me that the primary tool of the best project managers is the notes that they take, in whatever form they collect them.

So my theory of project management attempts to keep things simple:

  1. Take good notes
  2. Link them appropriately
  3. Be able to find what you need quickly

This has served me well. Just as the pandemic started, in January 2020, I began a big software project involving lots of departments and dozens of people. Because of them pandemic, the entire project–which lasted about 16 months–was done remotely. We never had an in-person meeting, from our kickoff meeting, through 33 requirements meetings, dozens of design meetings, countless hours of co-programming sessions, testing, product demontrations, training sessions, rollout, and post-rollout support. I started the project a year before I started using Obsidian, but as soon as Obsidian began working for me, I moved all of my project notes into Obsidian and it made things much easier for me.

My ingredients for managing projects in Obsidian

Here are the ingredients that make it possible for me to manage projects in Obsidian. I’ll go into each of these in a little more detail below.

  • A template for meeting notes
  • A template for technical notes
  • A note that I use as a map of content (MOC) for the entire project
  • Templater plug-in
  • Quick Add plug-in
  • Dataview plug-in

Template for meeting notes

I have a fairly simple template for meeting notes. It looks as follows:

My meeting notes template
My meeting notes template

The template is designed to work with the Templater and Quick Add plug-ins to make it quick and easy to create a new project-related note. The “project” line in the metadata section presents me with a list of my currently active projects so that I can select the project in question.

You may note that Project is listed twice, once in the frontmatter and once below. The second listing is so that I can link directly to the project MOC. This link is a kind of backup in case something goes wrong with the dataview plug-in and I still want to see the relationships between my notes.

Below is an example of what a completed meeting note looks like:

An annotated meeting note based on my template
An annotated meeting note based on my template

Template for technical notes

In addition to a template for meetings (and calls) I have a template for technical notes. This one is a lot simpler, and just allows me to create a hard link to the project to which the technical note is related. Here is what the template looks like:

My technical note template
My technical note template

These technical notes can be anything. They can be fleeting notes that I’ve jotted down when trying to optimize some code. They can be my notes on a review of some documentation. They can be a simple outline of tasks I have to try to complete that week, or an outline for a briefing that I have to give.

Plug-ins

I make heavy use of the following plug-ins to speed up the creation of my project notes:

  • Templater plug-in
  • Quick Add plug-in
  • Dataview plug-in

For the first two, I use them almost identically to how I use them to manage my writing in Obsidian. Rather than be repetitive here, I’d urge you to check out Episode 25 where I go into great detail on how I configure templates to work with the templater and quick-add plug-ins.

Tying the project together: My project map of content

It is helpful as a project manager to have all of the information I need at hand. I do this in Obsidian by creating a single map of content note for each of my projects. I follow the same format for each of my project MOC notes. Here is an example of a project MOC from a project I am actively working:

A project MOC note
A project MOC note

Here are the sections that make up this MOC keyed to the numbers in red in the image above:

  1. Frontmatter: this is used to aggregate all of my projects at a 50,000 foot view so I can see the status of everything at a glance.
  2. Administrative: this section contains links to administrative information: charge codes for projects, status reports for our project management office, etc.
  3. Project documents: links to any documents produced for the project. Here you can see links that point to documents on Confluence, as well as Excel (on Office 365) and a PDF (also on Office 365).
  4. Presentations: I end up giving lots of presentations over the life of a project, and I link them all in this section. I’ve lost track of the number of times that someone can’t make a meeting, but asks for the presentation later. This makes it easy to find.
  5. Meetings: this is a dataview that lists all of my meeting/call notes. It lists them in order from newest to oldest, along with the title of the meeting or call (which also links to that note in Obsidian) and finally, what type it was, a meeting or a call.
  6. Technical Notes: You can’t see it in this view, but below the Meeting Notes section is a section called “Technical Notes” which is another dataview that lists all of my technical notes related to the project, in the same order as the meeting notes.

Other Tools

As far as notes go, this shows pretty much everything I use for managing the project. But it isn’t the entire picture. We use Jira to create tasks and track the tasks in sprints and releases. I have created macros that makes it easy to convert my Obsidian markdown to Jira markdown. I also frequently link to Jira issues in my Obsidian notes. Ultimately, everything is tied together, and I can find what I need quickly.

Envoi

That is, as they say, a wrap. I want to thank everyone who has read and commented on these posts over the last nine months. I hope that folks have found them useful. The series isn’t going anywhere, and will be here on the blog for people to reference for the foreseeable future.

I will be here, too, although I will be writing about other things. You can stick around for that if you want, but I understand if you were just here for the series. In the free time I have now that the series is completed, I plan on getting back into some fiction writing, which I used to do quite a bit of, until I had a bout of writer’s block. That block seems to finally have passed, and I’ve nearly completed the first draft of a new story–my first in more than five years. The first draft was written in a notebook, but the next draft will be written in Obsidian, of course.

Prev: Episode 29: Filling Out Forms

Written on May 23, 2022.

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Falling Behind

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I have been falling behind on my writing here on the blog. In some ways, this is a good thing. There are only so many hours in a day, as much as I wish that weren’t true. The hour or so I spent writing posts and doing other tasks on the blog (responding to comments, etc.) is an hour that I am not spending time with the kids, or reading, or doing other kinds of writing.

I generally try to write two posts each day, storing one up for future use, and building a backlog to protect against those days where I don’t have the time or inclination to write. I had built up a backlog of just about 3 weeks worth of posts. As I write this one, my backlog is down to five days (six, if you count this one). Why have I fallen so far behind?

First, I’ve been busy with family-related events. Kelly was away for two weekends for different events and that meant I was home with all three kids the first weekend, taking them to their various activies, some of which overlapped, making for a busy afternoon.

Second, I have been reading more. I’d fallen something like 7 or 8 books behind the pace required to read 100 books this year. Recently, however, I’ve managed to close the gap, getting through 9 books in the first 16 days of May so far. Not all of these are short books, either. Today, for instance, I just finished reading The Age of Louis XIV by Will and Ariel Durant, the 8th book in their Story of Civilization series–and that tome weighs in at about 800 pages.

Third, I have started to write some fiction again, after a very long time away from that endeavor. I’m writing longhand, working in a Composition Book, and I’ve found the perfect time to get some writing in. I’m up each day around 5:30am or so. I’m usually out for my morning walk (about 2-1/2 miles) by 5:50am — I try to align my walks closely with sunrise — and I’m back at the house at 6:30am. Everyone is still asleep, and no one else gets up until 7am. That means I haev 30 minutes of silence in which to write. I’m writing longhand so I write more slowly than when I type, but I find I like writing at my desk in the morning before everyone is awake. It has been going well.

That morning time between 6:30 – 7:30am is when I was doing the bulk of my blog writing, and the fiction writing has clearly squeezed some of the blog writing out of that time block. I’m writing this post, for instance, at 6:30pm, while waiting for dinner to arrive.

I suppose that with all of the things I try to do, I will always be falling behind somewhere. I’ve come to accept that. I’ve been good about blog writing for a long time. Meanwhile, I fell behind in reading and fiction writing. Now I am catching up in those areas and have fallen behind here. Such is the day with a finite number of hours, minutes, and seconds.

All of this does mean that I’ll be cutting back here on the blog a bit–from posting every day to posting three days a week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday) beginning tomorrow. On the plus side, I am just a few scenes short of completing the first short story I’ve written in more than five years.

Written on May 16, 23, 2022.

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Books on My Grandfather’s Shelf

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When I was young we would sometimes head to my grandparent’s house and spend the night. They had a guest bedroom that my brother and I would sleep in. A shelf mounted above the bed contained a bunch of books. The books on that shelf rarely changed. There was probably a time when I knew them all. They all seemed mysterious to me, but even so, I would occasionally pull one down to look at it, curious lad that I was.

A few of these books still stick in my memory. There was an old book on the automobile and the workings of a standard automobile engine. I’d guess the book was published in the 1940s or 1950s. My grandfather was a mechanic. With three of his brothers, he owned and operated a service station in the Bronx. I assumed the book was related to the business. I was curious about how cars worked and I remember skimming that book several times. I wish I could remember the title.

Also on the shelf was an omnibus edition of George Burns’ books. I can’t remember which of his books were included in that edition, but I remember skimming through that book as well. A lot of this skimming was done at night when I was supposed to be asleep, and I remember having to suppress laughter while reading that book. Decades later, I came across used copies of a few of George Burns’ books in the Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood. I read those books with delight, and remembered the days when I would read Burns on the sly.

My grandfather had a copy of The Sensuous Dirty Old Man by Dr. “A”. I didn’t know it at the time, but Dr. “A” was Isaac Asimov. I never read the book, but I remember seeing it there on the shelf among the other books. I eventually inherited the book and it is part of my rather extensive collection of Asimov books.

There were two other books on the shelf that stand out in my memory. One of them was Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. I always wanted to read that book (attracted by the word “future”), but I never did. I imagine it would be dated today, and yet I am tempted to read it still.

The other book was The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough. I did not know it was by McCullough; I looked that up just now. This one caught my eye because I liked the name of it. It sounded interesting, but again, I never read it. I remember it being a fairly thick book, and I have always been attracted to really big books.

Written on May 17, 2022.

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Reading for the Week of 5/15/2022

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Here is what I read this week. Some of the articles/posts may require a subscription to read them. I was heavily focused on book reading this week and so my article reading is down again.

Books

Finished

In Progress

  • The Age of Voltaire: The Story of Civilization, Volume 9 by Will and Ariel Durant. After making my way through this series intermittantly over the last few decades, I’ve decided I want to finish it up this spring. After The Age of Louis XIV, I was particularly excited for The Age of Voltaire because the book is centered around the 18th century debate between science and religion, which is a fascinating debate.

Articles/posts

Rest in Peace, Roger Angell

I spent this morning reading obituaries of Roger Angell, who died yesterday at 101. For those who don’t have the joy of knowing who Roger Angell is or what he did: He was the son of Katherine Seargant Angell White, first fiction editor of The New Yorker; we was the stepson of E. B. White; he was a longtime fiction editor for The New Yorker. And he was one of the greatest baseball writers who ever lived. Read a few of the obituaries below to get a sense of him. It will be well worth the time.

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

Written on May 21, 2022.

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Hungry Eyes

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I stopped by the local Subway restaurant yesterday to grab a sandwich for lunch. I go through phases where I’ll eat the same lunch every day for weeks on end. In the colder months that lunch often consists of a bowl of soup. Then there is a favorite of mine that I never tire of, peanut butter and jelly. Yesterday, however, I was craving something different.

As I walked down the sidewalk toward the front door of the shop, I noticed a woman with two small children curled up to her. When I approached she turned to me. From the look in her eyes, I was certain she was going to ask for money and I immediately felt bad because I rarely carry cash these days. But she didn’t ask for money. In a pleading tone, she said, “Could you get a small sandwich for my kids? They really need to eat something.”

I could see the hunger in their eyes, and without hesitation, I said, “Of course. What would you like me to get them?”

“They’ll eat anything,” she said.

I went into the Subway. There was a line, and as I waited, I kept turning toward the windows. The two kids–I’d guess 3 years old and 2 years old–had their faces pressed against the glass watching me. I smiled at them and they smiled back.

The woman had asked for a small sandwich. When it was my turn, I ordered my usual, and then ordered a footlong turkey and cheese sandwich. I had them cut the turkey sandwhich in two and wrap the halves separately. I picked up 2 chocolate milks and asked for two chocolate chip cookies. When I came out of the store, I handed the bag to the mother. The kids seemed suddenly happy and excited. The woman told the kids to say thank you, but I waved them off, telling them to enjoy the food and to take care. I headed back to my car.

On the short drive home, I felt rattled. Maybe I’d done something nice for someone, but I didn’t feel good about the situation. I was happy to pay for the food, but upset by the fact that these kids were clearly hungry. The lunch I got them was a temporary bandaid. I know that far too many people go hungry every day, but the pleading I saw in the mother’s eyes got to me. She didn’t ask for anything for herself, just her kids. It occurred to me that I should have asked her if she needed something to eat, too.

For the rest of the day I was bothered by this encounter. I felt a terrible sense of guilt. Our kids don’t worry about where their next meal is coming from. That very morning, I’d just paid the balance of our upcoming trip to Ireland this summer and didn’t think much of it.

And those two kids on the sidewalk were hungry and grateful for a small sandwich, milk, and a cookie.

Written on May 12, 2022.

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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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