Pamela Paul Is Reading My Mind

There is an almost perfect bookstore that I wander into every day. The entrance to the store steps down onto an old, beige carpet with spots showing its age. Immediately to the right and left are four floor to ceiling bookcases . Another four smaller bookcases line the wall to the left, with three more on the opposite side of the store. On the right hand side of the store on a single shelf, are the reference books. It’s incredible but this bookstore is like walking to my brain. There are some 200+ volumes by Isaac Asimov, some rare, a few signed. There are signed Ray Bradbury books, a complete used set of Will and Ariel Durant’s Story of Civilization. There is a shelf and a half full of Harlan Ellison books, with at least a dozen signed. Everywhere I look, there are books that I would choose for my own collection. There are even magazines, a complete run of Science Fiction Age and issues from Astounding between 1939-1950. They even have books and magazines with my own stories in them! It is an unusual bookshop in that none of the more than 1,100 books on the shelves are for sale. It is, of course, my office.

This is as close as I can come to describing the feeling I got upon reading Pamela Paul’s wonderful new book, 100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet. Paul is the editor of The New York Times Book Review. She wrote another wonderful book a few years back, My Life With Bob, which detailed her “book of books,” the analog equivalent to the list of books I’ve read since 1996. As the title of her new book suggests, it is a collection of 100 short essays about things we no longer have thanks to the Internet, things that I remember well from the days before the Internet. Paul laments the loss of these things in an engaging fashion that appeals to people of a certain age. Below that age threshold and the reader might be mystified. The 100 things she suggests and the way in which she discusses them is eerily close to what my own list would include. Indeed, while reading the book, I kept thinking to myself, hey, I’ve written about that. I’ve written about that, too. And that.

Let me gives some examples of the 100 things that Paul says we’ve lost to the Internet that I’ve also written about here on the blog. Keep in mind that these are things we have lost to the Internet.

Pamela PaulMe
Chapter 13: The Phone Call.When A Phone Is No Longer A Phone (2021)
Chapter 16: The School LibraryThe Nine Planets by Franklyn M. Branley (2010)
Chapter 21: The Family MealRushing Through Dinner: A Tale of the Twenty-First Century (2021)
Chapter 25: SolitudeQuiet Places (2019)
Chapter 28: Losing Yourself in a ShowWhy I Can’t Watch Movies Anymore (2021)
Chapter 36: The PaperDo Fifth-Graders Still Learn to Read the Newspaper (2019)
Chapter 42: PatienceHave You Seen My Patience (2017)
Chapter 46: Looking Out the WindowThe Evolution of Road Trips (2015)
Chapter 51: Leaving a MessageRetiring My Voicemail (2013) (One thing that I do not lament)
Chapter 53: MapsMap Reading Is a Dying Art (2016)
Chapter 55: Handwritten LettersLetters vs. Email (2018)
Chapter 58: SpellingSpelling Snobs (2021)
Chapter 60: Wondering About the WeatherTalking About the Weather (2021)
Chapter 76: PenmanshipCursive Handwriting (2017)
Chapter 86: Movie TheatersWhy Go To the Movies? (2017)

One of the essays (Chapter 41) was about the Spanish-English Dictionary. It lamented how these are no longer needed, now that Alexa or Siri could translate just about anything for you. I heard that and had to smile because here, beside my desk is a Spanish-English Dictionary sitting atop a copy of Don Quijote de la Mancha. I have been (very slowly) trying to make my way through the book as a way to beef up on my Spanish.

As I read 100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet, I kept finding myself muttering under my breath “Yeessss! Exactly!” It really felt like Pamela Paul was reading my mind. It wasn’t a scary feeling, but a delightful one. She captures each lost thing perfectly, and her descriptions put me in mind of those things that the Internet has taken away. I felt joy and wistfulness at the same time. If my reaction to Paul’s book is any example, I can’t see how it could be anything less than a runaway bestseller–and deservedly so.

Recently, I’ve started to read aloud to the kids. We do it for a short time each evening, as a kind of family activity. The first book they picked was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. However, I’ve made a promise to myself to mix nonfiction into these readings, and I think the next book will be 100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet. I think it will make for lively discussion.

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Ronnie, Reacher and the Babe

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I felt like I was getting a little behind in writing about some of my recent reads, so I thought I’d tackle three of them in a single post: The Boys by Ron Howard and Clint Howard; The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created by Jane Leavy; and Better Off Dead, book 26 in the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child and Andrew Child.

The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family by Ron Howard and Clint Howard

It is rare that I read two really good books in a row. I savor those moments because usually, when I finish a book that I think is fantastic, it is often hard to find one that gives me as much pleasure. It happened recently, however. After finishing Joe Posnanski’s outstanding book, The Baseball 100, I cracked open the new memoir by Ron Howard and Clint Howard, The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family. Actually, “cracking” it open is a figure of speech. I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by the authors, and what I delightful read.

You have to understand that Hollywood memoirs are a guilty pleasure of mine. I’ve read a bunch of these memoirs over the years, sometimes in big gulps. I like the behind-the-scenes stories, I like learning about the process of making films and television shows. So when I saw that Ron and Clint Howard were coming out with a memoir, I was eager to read it. Also, I was a big fan of Happy Days as a kid, and I’ve enjoyed many of the films that Ron Howard has made over the years. I’ve also enjoyed the performances of his brother, Clint, in shows like From the Earth to the Moon and Apollo 13, although he is known for much more than that.

The memoir takes us from Ron Howard’s birth through Happy Days and the beginning of his directing career. What I really liked about it was that it was equal part Hollywood and family. The Howard Boys talked much of their lives growing up, as well as their parent’s aspirations. Their folks were down-to-earth people, which comes across in how Ron Howard seems in his life. But I also enjoyed the behind-the-scene parts, learning how television shows and movies were made as Ron and Clint grew up, and their involvement in popular televisions shows as child actors. There wasn’t much ego in this book, and that is part of what made it such a great read.

The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created by Jane Leavy

The one-two combination of Posnanski’s The Baseball 100 and the Howards’ The Boys makes for a tough act to follow. Joe Posnanski’s book had me back in a baseball mood, and I’d been wanting to read Jane Leavy’s biography of Babe Ruth, The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created for a while. I’m glad I finally got around to it. The book is a phenomenal piece of baseball history, well-researched and covering the Babe’s entire life. I learned more about him than I had ever known before.

Leavy’s approach framed the life of the Babe through a 1927 tour he made with his friend Lou Gehrig arranged by their manager/agent, Christy Walsh. Indeed, as much as the book was a biography of Ruth, it was also a biography of Walsh, who took control of Ruth’s career and finances early in his career, and steered him to financial success, despite Ruth’s wont to spend, spend, spend. Walsh was almost as fascinating as Ruth, a super-agent before such a thing actually existed.

A testament to any author is, having read one book, wanting to read another. I came away from The Big Fella wanting to read more by Jane Leavy. She has written a biography of Mickey Mantle, and one of Sandy Koufax. But I am especially interested in her baseball novel, Squeeze Play.

Better off Dead: Jack Reacher #26 by Lee Child and Andrew Child

I read my first Jack Reacher novel in 2015. It was okay. Fun. A nice break. I read the second Reacher book a year later. Again, fun, but nothing spectacular. Then, in the winter of 2018, I caught a bad case of the flu, despite getting my flu shot, and I ended up in bed for a week. I had just finished reading the 3-volume Autobiography of Mark Twain and was looking for something light, that I could read quickly, under the covers, with a fever. So I picked up Reacher, Book 3. I made it through 4 books that week, and three more the next. By the end of March, I’d gotten through 21 of them. They were fun, escapist, just what I needed. Since then, I’ve continued to read them as they come out.

But I am beginning to think that the end is near. I read the most recent entry in the Jack Reacher series, Better Off Dead in just about a day. I wasn’t impressed. In this one, Reacher ends of in the middle of a potential terrorist attack, and he kicks ass, as he usually does. But it just fell flat too me. It never felt as if he was in any real danger. There was no depth to the story. Even the point of view, back to first person after many novels in the third person, didn’t help.

The older books were much better. I especially liked the books when Reacher was still in the military, and worked with his friends, several who were recurring characters. This one just felt phoned in. At one point in the book, Reacher talks about maybe one day, settling down, getting a house, “But not any time soon,” he says. I think maybe it is time for Jack Reacher to reconsider.

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Upcoming Changes to My Reading List Page

Just a heads-up that over the next couple of days, you may notice some upcoming changes to my reading list page. Among the new features I will be adding over the next several days:

  • A “top” page with a summary table for my reading. The table will have links to individual years. There will still be a link for the full list in case you like (as I do) perusing the whole thing.
  • A “page” for each year with a list of books I read in just that year.
  • A reading FAQ which I will link to from the top page.
  • A “recommendations” page, which will list books that I recommend, collected under various topics and genres.

There will probably be other things, too, eventually. For now, I just wanted to give you a heads-up of the changes in case you notice anything unusual.

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12 Books I’m Looking Forward To, October 28, 2021

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I am pretty far behind pace on my reading this year. I try to read 100 books/year, and as of now, I am 17 books behind. There are a lot of reasons for this. There have been distractions. The kids are getting older and there are a lot more events to attend. I had a busy year at work, which often consumed some of my evenings as well as my days. I’ve read some longer books than usual. I have been writing for the blog every day. For about 2 months I got completely sucked into podcasts. It’s not a big deal, but it is something I notice. Anyway, I was looking at my list of books I’m looking forward to and there are some new ones coming out, and some old ones I’ve been wanting to read. Here are the books that I am looking forward to right now, always with the caveat of the butterfly effect of reading:

Are there books that you are looking forward to? Should I be looking forward to those as well? If so, let me know what they are in the comments.

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300 Consecutive Days of Blog Posts in 2021

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Today, October 27 is the 300th day of the year. Given that I have published at least one post every day this year, that makes for 300 consecutive days of blog posts. I thought that little accomplishment noteworthy enough to mention. Here is a heat map of what those 300 days look like:

In these 300 days, I have published 368 posts. At this rate, I should finish up 2021 with about 440 posts for the year. It is far from the most posts I’ve published in a year, but it is respectable, and if you combine total posts and average word count, it is the best I’ve done in a long time. While it isn’t always easy to think of a post idea and get at least one written each day, it is always fun, and that’s why I keep doing it.

This streak is still pretty far from the 825-day writing streak I had between 2013-2015. But one thing I learned from that streak is that the weight of the streak itself can be a problem. That is why I try to plan ahead here. I generally try to write my posts several days in advance of publishing them. I like to be two or three days ahead if I can. Ideally, I’d like to work up to a week’s buffer. I do work up a buffer if I know I am going to be away, just to take off the pressure. Because I enjoy the writing I do here, I still try to write every day, but the pressure is off if I can’t. Yet another lesson I took from Isaac Asimov, who was often several months ahead of his deadlines for his F&SF science essays.

I also wanted to mention that a few days ago, the blog surpasses the total number of page views and visitors that it received for all of last year. Since traffic peaked in 2015, it has decreased each year since, sometimes by a little, other times by a lot. In part that’s because I haven’t written as much in recent years, and evergreen posts only get you so far. But a few days ago, my numbers for this year surpassed last year, and in a few more days, they will surpass 2019 as well. Right now the blog is on track to have about 24% more traffic than last year. I like to think it is a combination of hard work (posting every day) and fun and interesting posts. More than likely though it is because I am posting new stuff every day, regardless of what it is. Still, since part of my goal was to revitalize the blog, seeing the numbers go up is particularly satisfying and I thank all of my readers for that.

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Best Book in the Last 125 Years

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The New York Times Book Review is celebrating its 125 anniversary. As part of the celebration, they are asking everyone to nominate the best book of the last 125 years. There is no definition of what “best” means. A recent correspondent asked me what I would pick for the best book in the last 125 years. I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that question. I haven’t read nearly enough books to get a sense of the wide variety of what has been published in that time. Even on existing lists I am woefully under-read. Take Modern Library’s Top 100 Nonfiction Books of the 20th Century. Of the 100 books on that list, I have only read 13.

I imagine that some people would pick their favorite book, other people what they think is the “best” book. It is likely that some people will pick books that they haven’t read simply because other people think it is good, or popular. The Bible will get picked a lot but since that book has been around far longer than the last 125 years, I don’t think it will count. There are no real guidelines. Fiction and nonfiction are equally acceptable. The only stipulation is that the book must have been published in the last 125 years–that is, after 1896.

After a fair amount of thought, here is how I replied to my correspondent:

I’d probably blend my definition to include favorite and important. I don’t know if I could settle on one. I’d like to pick Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization, but that is 11 volumes and I’ve read the first six of them so far. Another might be The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams, which just makes the cut, since it was published early in the 20th century. Turing’s Cathedral by George Dyson tells the story of how we got to our modern digital age. Given where the future is headed, The Double Helix by James D. Watson could be the best—if the last 50 years have been about digitalization and the hackers that created our modern digital world, the next 100 or 150 years might be about genetic hackers, the coders of the future. Then again, for pure joy, maybe Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella is the best of the last 125 years. Thing is, for every book I’ve read there are tens of thousands that I haven’t and how many of those might qualify for “best”?

My correspondent suggested Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, which has been on my list for a long time now, but which I haven’t read yet. My correspondent also suggested that maybe the best way to think about it is to play the desert island game–you are stranded and you can only pick one book: what would it be?

That makes things easier, as I have thought about that often. If I could count Will and Ariel Durant’s 11-volume Story of Civilization as one book, then that would be my pick, hands down. With those 11 volumes, I’d never really feel alone. I’d have thousands of figures from across the entire span of human civilization. I could read about their art and science, their culture and religions, their work lives and leisures. It would all be there.

If I had to be one book, however, just one, that is much more difficult. Indeed, if I reimagined the New York Times question, and asked myself “What is the best book I’ve read in the last 25 years–regardless of when it was published?” I’m not sure I could answer it. I suppose I could go through the list of books I have read since 1996–1,110 of them as of this writing, and pick out the best book from each year to get a Top 25. Even from those 25, it would be difficult to whittle the list down to one “best” book. I could make the argument for The Sweet Science by A.J. Liebling–a collection of essays on, of all things, boxing. But the writing! I could make the argument for The Library Book by Susan Orlean because libraries meant so much to me growing up, and this book is about the Los Angeles Public Library, one of which I made enormous use as a teenager. I could make the case for 11/22/63 by Stephen King, still my all-time favorite novel, even ten years after I first read it. Or The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. Or The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Any of these and a dozen others could be my “best” with equally compelling reasons.

I’m probably overthinking all of this. But I take lists like these seriously since I use lists like these for recommendations, and I want to trust the judgments that they contain within their enumerated titles.

If you want to nominate your candidate for best book, head over to the New York Times Book Review and fill out their form. And if you can manage to whittle your list down to a single best book, and care to share, let me know what it is in the comments. I am always looking for the best books to read.

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Practically Paperless with Obsidian, Episode 4: Creating Notes

closeup photo of blue pen tinted spiral notepad placed beside pen die cast car and coffee cup
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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 sat here thinking about the different types of notes I create. I think they fall into 5 general buckets. They are, in order of approximate complexity:

  1. Observations, ideas, lists, etc.
  2. Daily notes
  3. Commonplace notes
  4. Structured notes
  5. MOCs, also known as “Maps of Content”

This list could probably be pared down. For instance, it could be argued that “Daily Notes” are a form a “structured” notes, as we will see, but they serve a special purpose so I call them out separately. There are also note types that don’t appear here, but this serves as a good start. In this post, I will briefly discuss each type of note and how I go about creating it in Obsidian.

Observations, ideas, lists, etc.

Let me be honest: I have yet to find a quicker, more efficient method for jotting down observation, ideas, shopping lists, recipes, etc., than just scribbling them into a notebook. Usually a Field Notes notebook that I carry around in my back pocket at all times. Nothing beats this, at least for me. I don’t think this is something that will change anytime soon. For the better part of 10 years I’ve searched for digital alternatives, tried different apps, but haven’t found any that are as quick or reliable as a pen and notebook. So when I am keeping track of my son’s soccer game score, or noting how low the pressure was on a tire when the “LOW PRES” light comes on, or jotting down blog post ideas, I’m usually jotting this stuff down in a notebook instead of an app.

A recent page from my Field Notes notebook.
A recent page from my Field Notes notebook.

Often times the notes in these notebooks are ephemeral. They are the equivalent of short-term memory. At some point, I’ll decide to move some of the notes to longer-term storage. For the rest, they stay in the notebook, which sits with its companion notebooks on a shelf in my office, where I can flip through them any time I want.

If any of these observations, lists or ideas need to get stored, I’ll move them to a new note, or to an existing note in Obsidian. Take the two blog post ideas on the page above. When I first started using Obsidian in January 2021, I created a note for “post ideas.” In reviewing my Field Notes notebook at the end of the day, I’ll transfer any ideas into the “Possible” section of my note.

My Post Ideas note. I blurred out some of the "possible" ideas to avoid future spoilers.
My Post Ideas note. I blurred out some of the “possible” ideas to avoid future spoilers.

There, I can add other notes to my ideas and flesh the out a bit. For instance for the post idea on re-reading books, I added a note indicating that this is something I’ve already written about before. Eventually, I’ll move that to the “used” section of the note.

Daily notes

As I have mentioned before, take place of the timeline concept that I used in Evernote. They serve as a kind of time-based index for my vault. I have automated the process of creating these notes. Each day, a new note is added to the Daily Notes folder in my vault. The note contains links to the previous and next day’s Daily Note, and a indication of the weather for the day. It automatically pulls in my agenda from my iCloud calendars. In the Today’s Notes section, I manually add any other items of note that I want to reference. Here, for instance, is my Daily Note for Monday, October 25, 2021:

My Daily Note for October 25, 2021

If you want more information on how I’ve automated my daily notes, see:

Keep in mind, this requires some coding and tweaking to make it work for you. But it is also an example of how flexible Obsidian is because it is based on simple text files.

Frequently, one of the first things I do in the morning is pull up my daily note and review what I’ve got going on today. I also usually pull up yesterday’s note along side to see if there were any notes or tasks from yesterday that should carry over into today.

Commonplace notes

One of the most frequent types of notes I’ve found myself creating since starting to use Obsidian is what I call a “commonplace” note. I have a folder in my vault called Commonplace and the notes that go in there are quotes from books, passages I’ve highlighted, things I’ve heard people say, along with my notes or commentary on those things. Here is an example:

Creating a commonplace note is easy:

  1. I press Option-z to create a new Zettelkasten note.
  2. I fill in my template, adding any tags and, if there is one, a source for the note. In the above example, I’ve tagged the note #democracy, and the source points to another note, that represents the book Essays of E. B. White.
  3. I paste or type in the quote or other information I want in the note
  4. Below the quote, I usually add my own notes or comments.
  5. Finally, I drag the note into the Commonplace folder.

I try to keep these notes discrete. If I had a second note on democracy for E. B. White, I’d create a second note. Its Zettelkasten number would be different, but the rest of the title could be the same. That number helps keep the note title unique. (More on titling notes in Episode 6.) By keeping them discrete, I can link them in different ways. For one thing, I will add references to these notes from the source note, and “transclude” them into the source when viewing it in preview mode. Here is the source note for Essays of E. B. White:

You can see that all of my “commonplace” notes for this book show up in this source note. I didn’t have to rekey them in, either. I just used the ! symbol in front of the note link in the source note to display the full linked note when viewing the source note in Preview mode. Here is what the source note looks like in edit mode:

Structured notes

A structured note is one that has a consistent structure from one note to the next. Take for instance notes I create for electronics and appliances we have around the house. For our new microwave oven, for instance, I downloaded the user guide PDF and dragged that PDF into my _attachments folder in my vault. I then created a note based on a template that I use for home electronics. In the note, I included a reference to the PDF user guide. Here is what the structured note looks like in edit mode:

Because I used a “transcluded” note link to the LG Microwave Owner’s Manual PDF, when I view this note in Preview mode, here is how it looks:

I call these notes “structured” because a structured note uses the same template for format from one note of that type to another. Here is a side-by-side example of two “structured” notes for applianaces:

MOCs, or maps of content

One final type of note that I create is what is often called an MOC note, or “map of content.” This is a way to collect links to lots of notes on a single note–a map of content.

Recently, I’ve been reading The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Volume 1 edited by the late Gardner Dozois back in 1983. I frequently take notes as I read, and I’ve been adding notes to my commonplace folder with each story that I finish. In order to tie all of those stories together, I created a source note for the book with links to all of the other notes for the stories. It looks very much like a table of content. To create this note I:

  1. Created a new Zettelkasten note, and gave it a title
  2. Tagged my note
  3. Created a “contents” section
  4. Within the contents section, I created a list of links to notes for each of the stories I’ve read so far.

This note makes it easy to reference all of the notes I’ve made for the stories in the book. If I liked a story, I tag it as “recommended.”

I have other types of MOC notes. One, which I will talk about in a future episode, is what I call my “Form Data” note. This is a single note that has information for everyone in the family that I frequently use in filling out forms: school forms, medical forms, you name it. From that note there are also links to source documents like social security cards, birth certificates, marriage licenses, and more recently, COVID vaccination cards.

Having talked about the different types of notes I create and how I create them, in Episode 5, I’ll focus on “document” notes and talk about my process for converting paper into Obsidian notes. It will be my attempt at recreating my Going Paperless post from April 2012, “My Process for Going Paperless in 10 Minutes a Day” bringing it up to-date to talk about how I go “practically paperless” with Obsidian today. Then in Episode 6, I’ll spend an entire episode talking about how (and why) I title my notes. See you next time!

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A Sunday Road Trip

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When Zach and Grace were younger, we frequently made road trips on weekend days. We’d drive to Shenandoah National Park or Bull Run or Manassas or Warrenton. We’d head to local places like Mount Vernon, or go for hikes around Burke Lake, or state parks in Maryland. We’d find places to eat, wander through shops, take tours. Our trips would fill the better part of a Saturday or Sunday and they were always fun to do.

After the Littlest Miss was born, these weekend adventures slowed, and then mostly stopped. It wasn’t because of the Littlest Miss. Instead, it was because of the increasing number of weekend activities that the other kids had as they got older. Today, a typical weekend is often filled with two-to-three soccer games (one to two for Zach and another one for the Littlest Miss), 2-1/2 hours of gymnastics team practice for Grace, flag football for Zach, girls scouts, and the occasional other things that come up. It makes it hard to get enough time for our road trips. But we managed to get one in yesterday.

Yesterday was Kelly’s birthday and she wanted to go to Middleburg, Virginia, a small town that we’d driven through on a number of occasions, about an hour away from our house. So, after picking up the kids from Sunday school, we hit the road. I had the GPS route us to avoid highways on the way there. Part of the point of the trip was to enjoy the scenery. We departed heading west under overcast skies, but we could see clear skies unrolled in front of us, and by the time we got out of the denser metropolitan D.C. area, the blue skies prevailed. The leaves here are just beginning to yellow, and there were a few places where we caught glimpses of reds and oranges. The drive took us through some horse country, and through rolling hills. It was a nice drive that seemed to fly by.

We arrived in Middleburg, and found street parking and then made our way to the Red Horse Tavern for lunch. The place was busy, but we came just before the real rush. We had a table outside on the patio. It was bright and sunny out there, a little warmed than I had expected, but we had a pleasant lunch. (I had the French Dip special.) From there, we wandered the town for a few hours, dipping into and out of shops that caught Kelly’s eye. There was a small nature hike that took us through the grounds of a private school. There was a Christmas Store that captured Kelly’s attention for a while. There was also a book store, but it turned out to be about the only shop in town that was closed on Sunday.

Just before three o’clock, we headed back to the car for the drive home. We might have stayed longer, but we wanted to try to get Grace home in time for her Girl Scouts meeting at 4 o’clock. We made it just in time.

It was nice to get back out on the road and go somewhere, just the five of us. Maybe, once the fall activities wrap up, we can do this more frequently, like we once used to do.

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Retro Posts, Week of 10/17/2021

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For those who don’t follow along on Twitter or my Facebook page, I post a link to “retro post” once-a-day, selecting from one of the thousands of posts I’ve written here on the blog over the last 15+ years. Here are the retro posts for this week.

You can find last week’s posts here. If you want to see these as they appear each day, you can follow me on Twitter or my Facebook page.

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Special Issues in My Science Fiction Magazine Collection

The premier issue of Science Fiction Age, November 1992
The premier issue of Science Fiction Age, November 1992

I saw the new Dune film the other night. I enjoyed it, although I hadn’t realized that it was going to be a 2-parter. I’m kind of tired of multipart films; it’s too long in between and I lose the continuity of the story. Better to remake Dune as a miniseries anyway, it seems to me. Anyway, seeing the picture reminded me of the book, of course, which I read only once back in 2004. I enjoyed it when I read it, and still have the gist of the story in my head, but much of it faded. In all of the talk of the film, what sometimes get lost is that the story first appeared in the December 1963 issue of Analog Science Fiction, as the opening of a 3-part serial.

This got me thinking: I know I don’t have Dune in my magazine collection, but what special issues do I have? Ones that matter to me?

First, there is the complete run of Science Fiction Age edited by Scott Edelman. This magazine had the good fortune to appear just when I began to write for publication. I submitted quite a few stories to the magazine over the years, but never sold one there. I did, however, have two letters printed in the magazine over its 8 year run, my first foray into fandom. That magazine is still my favorite science fiction magazine. It was a glossy, and had wonderful stories by established writers, as well as new ones. It was that magazine that introduced me to Scott Edelman, Barry N. Malzberg, and Paul Di Filippo, all of whom I’d come to know IRL, as the kids say, many years later.

In it I also discovered many new writers whose stories I greatly admired, among them William Shunn, whose story “Two Paths in the Forest Toulemonde” in the January 1994 issue blew me away. Another was Martha Soukup, whose “In Defense of of Social Contracts” likewise made me realize that s.f. was much more than what I thought it to be. I could go on and on here. I love the magazine, and now and then flip wistfully through its pages, wishing it could have gone on longer than it did.

I’ve written how almost everything I learned about science, I learned from Isaac Asimov. When I say this, I am referring mostly to the 399 monthly essays he wrote for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from November 1958 until his death in 1992. Actually, this monthly science column first began in the January 1958 issue of Venture magazine. After that magazine folder, the series moved to F&SF. In my collection, I have both the January 1958 Venture and the November 1958 F&SF. I wanted them because those essays meant so much to me.

Among the magazines in my collection is a complete run of Astounding Science Fiction from July 1939 through December 1950, covering what if often referred to as the Golden Age of science fiction. (Others consider Galaxy’s run in the 1950s to be the real Golden Age.) I originally obtained these issues while I was writing my Vacation in the Golden Age series. In the set of 1942 issues I obtained, many of the issues were signed by A. E. van Vogt and Jack Williamson. How’s that for luck! However, two issues in my Astounding collection stand out in my mind: the May 1939 and July 1939 issues of Astounding.

The May 1939 issue is not part of my consecutive golden age run. But it contains one of my favorite stories from that time, Lester Del Rey’s “The Day Is Done.” The July 1939 issue is probably more familiar to people. This is often considered to be the opening salvo of the Golden Age. It contains Isaac Asimov’s first story in Astounding. It also contains a lead story by A. E. Van Vogt, “Black Destroyer” with that amazing cover.

One other issue of Astounding that I wanted to call out is the May 1950 issue. This issue is famous not for its fiction, but for its nonfiction essay, “Dianetics” by L. Ron Hubbard. This essay was later turned into a book by the same name, and a whole movement formed from it. Whatever you think of Hubbard and Scientology, he was an incredible writer in his day. One of my favorite reads during my Vacation in the Golden Age was his 3-part serial, “Final Blackout” which debuted in the April 1940 issue of Astounding.

There are other issues in my collection that I enjoy. I have the July 1977 special Harlan Ellison issue of F&SF. I have the premier issue of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. I have others that have meaning to me alone: the March 1972 issue of Analog–the month I was born, to say nothing of the 4 issues of Analog in which my own writing has appeared (2 stories, and 2 guest editorial).

Every now and then I flip through these magazines and marvel at them. I skim the letter columns, look at the ads, and sometimes listen to the pages riffle as I inhale their scents.

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No Swearing in the Pressbox

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Sometimes I argue with people in my head. Not, you understand, that the people are in my head; that’s where the argument takes place. It often happens in the shower. An argument in my head, in the shower, with people that aren’t there. Welcome to my world.

I headed into the shower after wrapping up some email in hopes of figuring out what to write about today. All I could think about, however, was an email I’d received earlier in the day about a “No Swearing” challenge. Let me back up a minute. The Little Man is doing a monthly “etiquette” class this year and we get these weekly emails that are a kind of topical Emily Post for kids. Usually they are interesting and useful. One was on sunglasses etiquette, something that I didn’t even know existed. This week’s was a challenge to kids to stop swearing.

Now, I’m not one to use profanity in normal conversation. This is not because I have any objection to it. It’s just how I grew up. To this day, I don’t think I could use profane language in front of my parents, even when they use it. But I have no objection to it. If I’ve had a few drinks, I’m more likely to use it.

People are funny about profanity. It is one of those unpredictable things. People who I think wouldn’t use it, swear like sailors–which may be unfair to the sailors. Other people object to even mild profanity. For instance, in the first of my stories to appear in Analog Science Fiction (“Take One for the Road”, June 2011), one of the characters uses that opprobrious barnyard term for manure. Once. It’s the only profanity that appears in the story, and it was used because that’s exactly what that particular character would say. I had several objections from readers to my use of that word. Go figure.

There were things in this email, however, that I simply didn’t agree with. Some of it made perfect sense: English is a rich language, one in which remarks can be just as cutting or effective without profanity as with it. I agree with this. This was also Isaac Asimov’s approach. He would rather find a clever way of saying something profane without actually using profanity. This makes sense to me and this is often my approach.

But then, the message goes on to say that swearing often doesn’t make sense. As an example, think of someone saying they are “pissed off.” What does a bladder have to do with being angry, the email asks. Here is where I begin to disagree. As Spock says in Star Trek IV, these are colorful metaphors, and they apply to much more than just profanity. If someone says they were “hammered,” no one is going to think that someone was literally hitting them with a hammer. In my imagined argument in the shower, I asked this person, “Well, if ‘pissed off’ makes no sense, then shouldn’t we take ‘head-over-heels in love’ off the table as well? Or is someone literally head over heels when they are in love?

Profanity is just another form of expression, one that has been increasingly accepted in my lifetime, even if I avoid using it. Also, it is often just a phase that we grow out of. I went through such a phase around 7th grade, where the slang word for the act of reproduction became a part of speech in our day-to-day chatter among friends, as in: “We went to the BLEEPin’ movies and got some BLEEPin’ popcorn.” It was an empty word, like “like” that filled a grammatical void. After hearing myself, I thought my sentences sounded ridiculous and I gave it up. When I first took Spanish in 8th grade, our teacher taught us the profanities so that we wouldn’t use them by mistake. That’s more than I can say of any English teachers I had up to that point.

The email set up a false dichotomy between those who use profanity (poor standard) and those who don’t (high standard) which I simply don’t believe exists.

This is the argument I had in my head while in the shower. When I finally won the argument (in my head) I went to turn off the shower, and then paused. “Oh, shit!” I said.

I couldn’t remember if I had washed my hair or not.

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Fall/Winter Beard Is Underway

We are several weeks into fall now and my fall/winter beard is now underway. I did this for the first time last year, growing it in the fall, and shaving it off just before my birthday in the spring. Living where I do, it is practical given that it helps to keep my face warm on those cold morning walks in the depths of winter. It’s at the stage where it is a little wild in places, and I have to trim here and there to keep it neat. Also, I find myself tugging at it now and then, especially on Teams and Zoom calls for some reason. Anyway, here it is, along with a new haircut I got on Sunday.

Fall/winter beard, October 2021. Plus new haircut.
Fall/winter beard, October 2021. Plus new haircut.

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