Cleaning My Keyboard

For years, I’ve been using a Das mechanical keyboard. I like the feel and sound of mechanical keyboards. But, man, they can get dirty. This is what my keyboard looked like last night after years of pounding, and years of eating over my keyboard while I work:

After I took that photo, I proceeded to remove all of the keys from the keyboard, including the ones that have stabilizers, like the space bar, and shift keys. I took all of those keys and tossed them into a bowl of warm water, and then dropped a couple Efferent tablets in the bowl and let it sit overnight. Meanwhile, I had this staring at me on my desk:

I took a brush and gently brushed loose as much of that gunk as I could. Once I’d loosened it, I used a vacuum to suck out the desk and crumbs and other accumulated detritus of the last several years. I then carefully cleaned the frame of the keyboard with a damp microfiber cloth.

This morning, I removed the keys from the bowl, dried them, and then went through the painstaking process of putting them back on the keyboard (the only time I regretted having a 100+ key keyboard). I gave it a final dusting, and when it was all done, here is what the finished product looked like:

Best of all, the keyboard still worked! I didn’t break anything. Indeed, I typed up this post using the keyboard not long after I finished cleaning it as an inaugural test to make sure it still worked.

It is so nice to have a clean keyboard. It is almost like having a brand new keyboard. I have been looking for excuses to type things today just to use it. It wasn’t particularly fun cleaning it, but fortunately, I only have to do this ever couple of years.

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Reading While Walking

book bookstore close up college
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

On some mornings, while out on my walk, I see a fellow walking his two dogs. He’s got their leashes in one hand, and in the other, he always has something to read. Sometimes it is a folded magazine, sometimes a newspaper, but occasionally, he has a book open in one hand as he did this morning. In each case, he is reading while walking. This is something I greatly admire and approve of.

I used to read while I walked. Prior to 2013, I could often be seen with a book in my hand just about anywhere I went. Standing in lines at the grocery store, I’d pull out whatever it was I was reading, and read to pass the time in the line. I’d go for walks with aa book in my hands, occasionally raising my eyes above the page to make sure I didn’t step off a sidewalk and get squashed by a car.

This started back when I was 11 or 12 years old. I would walk from my house to the local branch of the Los Angeles Public Library–about a mile away–spend a few hours (especially in the heat of the summer) wander through the air conditioned stacks, picking out three books, and then finally, reluctantly, checking out and heading back into the heat. I couldn’t wait to get home to start reading so I’d start as soon as I left the library. I tuck two of the books under my arms, and read the third. It distracted me from the heat of the day. I imagine I passed people along the way, and probably was an amusing sight, but I don’t remember. The book carried me away.

Later, I’d read in doctor’s offices, or walking between classes on campus. I’d read while eating my lunch. If I was a passenger in a car, I’d read while driving, overcoming a bit of nausea it sometimes occasioned. I’d read early in the mornings when I arrived at work at 5:30a.

Beginning in 2013, I started using Audible, and found that I could have someone read to me while I did these things, thus freeing up my need to train my eyes between two primary targets. Since then, I rarely read a book while walking, but am almost always listening to a book throughout the day, in what might otherwise be idle or mundane moments: morning walks, emptying the dishwasher, folding laundry, driving the kids to a sports activity.

Still, when I see this fellow in the mornings, walking is dogs with one hand and holding a folded paperback with the other, a smile always on his face, I sometimes miss the days when I went wandering about with a physical book in my hand.

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Cold Mornings

ice river photography
Photo by riciardus on Pexels.com

I like cold mornings better than hot ones. There is something depressing about heading out for a 6 am walk in the summer, and emerging into thick, humid air. The air sucks energy. It makes me feel sleepier, and makes a 2-1/2 mile walk seem like a bad idea. Cold mornings, on the other hand, are invigorating. There is a crispness in the air does does more to wake me up than caffeine ever could. The cold air keeps me moving at a good clip so that the 2-1/2 miles zips by in but the blink of an eye.

Cold mornings usually mean more color than hot mornings. In the fall, there are the leaves and fall colors abound. In the cold of winters, the muted colors of summer seem bright and clear in freezing air. Everything looks crisp, and if there is snow on the ground, even browns look bright against the white background. More clothing means more color as well. People wear bright vests, jackets, gloves, hats. The population becomes as riotous as the trees when the air gets colder.

Cold mornings smell good, too. There is the smell of burning wood, which can be seen in the trails of smoke emerging from fireplace after fireplace. There is the not unpleasant odor of decay as the fallen leaves give up their remaining nutrients to the wild. Cold mornings also sound better than hot ones. Cold mornings are often silent. Sounds may include the few remaining birds who are late on their migrations. Or the crackling and popping of wood in the fireplace. Hot morning mean listening to the drone of air conditioners, and the clatter of early morning lawn mowers, the mowing taking place early to avoid the heat of the sun.

On cold mornings, I like warm breakfasts: oatmeals, bacon and eggs, a toasted bagel. On hot mornings I often don’t want to eat. Ice cream sounds appealing but inappropriate for hot morning breakfasts. I’ve never been a coffee or tea drinker, but both seem wonderful on cold mornings, and terrible on hot ones.

Cold mornings mean layering on clothing to stay warm enough to be comfortable in the cold. I have different level of attire for different temperatures. When the mercury drops below 50 F, I wear pants instead of shorts. At 45 F, I’ll put a vest on with a sweatshirt, instead of just the sweatshirt alone. At 30 F, I’ll opt for wool coat. No matter how cold it is out, I always return to the house feeling too hot. On cold mornings, I can always remove layers to cool off once in the warmth of the house. On hot mornings, there are only so many layers to remove before I resort to cold showers to aid in cooling.

Cold mornings can’t be appreciated without living through hot mornings, just as spring can’t be truly appreciated without living through winter. This is one of the main reasons I left Los Angeles almost 20 years ago to return to the east coast. A cold morning in L.A. was temperatures in the 50s, which doesn’t even constitute pants weather for me today. Much to the amusement of Kelly, I wear shorts until the temperatures dip below 50 F.

I have only been to one place in the world where I found weather that I might happily enjoy all year round, and that was on the island off Kauai in Hawaii. And even there, I think I’d need at least an annual vacation of a few weeks just to enjoy cold mornings for a while.

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Retro Posts, Week of 11/7/2021

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Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

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. My general rule is not to link to anything I’ve written in the last 365 days. This week, I decided to post things I wrote from last year (2020), but more than 365 days in the past.

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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Fall Colors

We are in the peak of the fall season here in northern Virginia. Colors are riotous. Leaves are equally abundant in trees on the ground. Temperatures have fallen and the smell of the first burning firewood is in the air, whips of smoke from chimneys curling into the early morning sky around the neighborhood. Here’s a look a some of the color I’ve spotted on my morning walks recently.

fall colors at the park

I love this part of fall, a few weeks before Thanksgiving, which in turn is just a few weeks ahead of our holiday break. The year seems to speed up at this time of year, like a comet accelerating as it whips around the sun. Before you know it, 2021 will be in the rearview mirror.

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You Better Promise Me We’ll Be Back In Time

first fifteen lives of harry august cover

On the first date I went on with my wife of 13+ years, I was reading The Best Time Travel Stories of All Time edited by Barry N. Malzberg. I’ve always enjoyed time travel stories. I’ve always wanted to write one, but they are difficult to write because the obvious time travel tropes have been done over and over again. I particularly enjoy those time travel stories that find an original twist. So I was pleasantly surprised when I sat down a few days ago to read The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North.

This was a terrific time travel story with a unique twist: certain people, when they die, reset back to the beginning of their life, but retaining all of their memories. They are then able to communicate with others like them by passing messages to the future (via carvings in stone, or hidden messages in plain sight); and they can communicate with the past by telling people about the future when they are “reborn.” This was also just a plain enjoyable spy-versus-spy story, well executed, and with a satisfying ending that stayed within the limits of the rules of the universe as setup by Claire North.

A big part of what delighted me about this book is that these types of time travel stories–one that have an original twist, that is well-executed–seem so rare to me. In reading The First Fifteen Lives… two books with fairly similar ideas came to mind. The first was Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut, in which through some strange universe gymnastics, everyone jumps from 2001 to 1991, and then has to relive the decade, making all of the same decisions as they originally did. The other book I was reminded of was Robert J. Sawyer’s Flashforward, in which everyone passes out at the same instant and each person has a brief vision of the future.

There are other time travel stories I’ve enjoyed. My personal favorite (and still one of my favorite novels period) is Stephen King’s 11/26/63. The novelty there is that when you go back in time, you reset everything to the exact date and time in 1958. So if you back in time and make changes, those changes will propagate to the future and stick–until you go back in time again, and everything is reset. You could be gone 20 years, but only 2 minutes passes in the present.

Another favorite of mine is one that Barry Malzberg mentions in The Best Time Travel Stories of All Time, but is too long to reprint there: Up the Line by Robert Silverberg. This is the time travel story to end all time travel stories and the ending is about as brilliant as one can get in a time travel story.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger had an original twist to it, traveling through time being a kind of genetic disease. Pete Hamill’s Forever, though not strictly time travel had time travel tropes in that the main character could not die, but as the title suggests, lives forever, so long as he never leaves the island of Manhattan. He spends centuries there.

Two fun time travel novels include The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman, and Time Traveler’s Never Die by Jack McDevitt. Connie Willis has done several time travel novels, but my favorite of hers and one of the better time travel novels I’ve read is Blackout / All Clear. Bonus points for all of the World War II era history.

Sometime I will try writing a time travel story of my own. But not until I return from the future and can be sure that my idea is still unique and not overused.

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Books That Reduced Me To Tears

rhythm of war cover

Kelly saw me sitting in the office on Monday, tears streaming down my face. “What’s wrong?” she asked. I hesitated. I was a little embarrassed and not sure how to respond. Finally, I said, “It’s this book I’m reading.” The book in question was Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson, book four of THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE. Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the book and are planning to: the scene I’d just finished was one that involved Teft and Moash toward the end of the book. If you’ve read it, you know the scene I’m talking about.

I finished the book on Monday. As it turned out, those tears were the first of many that I shed, some sad, some happy, in the last 200 pages of that 1,200 page long book. In fact, I can’t remember crying as much as I did in the last 200 pages of the book than in the last 20 years of my life. To me, that says a lot about the story. Set aside the genre, the writing style, the writing itself. If a story can draw those emotions from a reader, well, there’s something there. I wish I could tell a story that well.

There are writers that are good with endings, they can stick the landings. Others not so much. I’ve heard readers complain about Stephen King’s endings, although I don’t mind them. The end of 11/22/63 always brings me to tears (“How we danced!”). And I should know. I’ve read the book 7 times. The same is true for the end of Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov, which I have read at least 5 times1, although for slightly different reasons. As Janet Asimov wrote in I. Asimov, “Forward the Foundation was hard on him, because in killing Hari Seldon, he was killing himself.”

It takes skill to build up a story to the point where readers care enough about the characters that they affect them emotionally. Thinking back over the stories that I have written and published, there is only one that, upon re-reading, has the potential of doing this to me: “Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown.” The ending of this story gets me on the rare occasions that I re-read it. I did something right in this story. I’d like to be able to find that again.

I began reading THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE last November, and raced through the first three books (more than 3,000 pages total) before 2020 was over. Then I moved onto other things, before I decided last week to try to catch up and read Rhythm of War. When I finished, of course, I wanted to read book 5, but as far as I can tell, the next book in the series isn’t due to be released until sometime in 2023. Probably late 2023.

It’s always difficult to finish a good book and find another good one. I struggled, as I often do after finished a good read. I finally settled on The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North. By the time you are reading this, I should have finished that book.

I find it amazing that words on a page can produce these emotions. Screenwriters, actors, directors, and musicians combine their talents on screen and on stage to produce moving stories, but there, you have images and music to manipulate your emotions. With a book, it’s just you and the words on the page. I think that’s what I love so much about being a writer. How can I make someone feel with just words on a page? It is also what is perhaps the most intimidating thing about being a writer, at least for me.

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  1. I say “at least” because I read it at least once before I started keeping a list of everything I’ve read in 1996.

The COVID Vaccine and the Fire Drill

manual red fire alarm system
Photo by Nothing Ahead on Pexels.com

On Monday, both of our girls, ages 5 and 10, finally received the first dose of their COVID vaccines. It was like a weight off of my shoulders. They both bore the injection stoically, if a little nervously. They arrived home with band-aided arms, and smiles on their faces at the thought of getting some McDonald’s shakes for being so brave. The Littlest Miss, age 5, precocious as she is, came to me later to ask about the vaccine.

“Now that I got the COVID shot, I can’t get COVID, right?” she asked.

“It’s very, very unlikely,” I told her.

“And the vaccine might make me not feel good for a day?”

“It depends,” I said, “Everyone reacts a little differently. Most likely, you’ll just have a sore arm.”

She thought about this for a moment, and then asked, “How come if the vaccine is supposed to prevent COVID, it makes me not feel good?”

I considered this for a moment. Then I remembered that she’d recently had a fire drill at school. “You know how you just had a fire drill at school?” She nodded. “What do you do during the fire drill?”

“We line up and then the teacher takes us outside,” she said.

“And why do you do that?”

“So we know what to do if there is a real fire,” she said.

“Was there a real fire during the fire drill?”

“No,” the Littlest Miss said, “it was just practice.”

“Well,” I said, “that’s what your body is doing with the COVID vaccine. It is practicing–learning really–how to fight off COVID if it gets into your body. The vaccine teachers your body what COVID looks like so your body knows how to fight it. When your body fights something, it does things like raise your temperature to make it uncomfortable for the viruses and other things it fights to survive. But when it raises your temperature, it also makes you feel yucky for a day or so. So the vaccine makes your body react the way you do in a fire drill. It’s practice. This way, if your body ever sees COVID–just like if you see a real fire–it knows how to put out that fire so that it doesn’t hurt you.”

“But how come I have to get two shots?” she asked.

“Well, do you have only one fire drill at school?”

“No. We have a lot of them. We also have lockdown drills and earthquake drills.”

“And each time you get better at what to do. And that’s what the vaccines do–they make your body better at fighting COVID.”

“Okay,” the Littlest Miss said. She seemed satisfied. “Now, can get you get me a Happy Meal with chicken nuggets, apple slices, and a TOY? Also, a chocolate shake? Please?”

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Practically Paperless with Obsidian, Episode 6: Tips for Naming Notes

person writing on paper using yellow and black pen
Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

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

Despite everything, I end up with a lot of notes. In the past, this was because I scanned just about all the paper I got into Evernote. Most of that went unused. With Obsidian, I am trying to be better, scanning only those documents that I think I’ll need. That eliminates a lot of notes. But I keep a lot of other notes in Obsidian that I never kept in Evernote–my reading notes, for instance. Naming names, therefore, becomes an important part of being able to pull those notes up quickly. In this week’s episode, I’ll talk about how I name my notes in Obsidian.

In 2013, I wrote a post on How I Title My Notes in Evernote as part of my Going Paperless series. Some of those tips are replicated here with additional context and lessons I’ve learned.

What are my requirements?

This is a question I often ask myself when using a tool or trying to improve a process. What is it that I need to be able to do? What are my requirements? In thinking about the kinds of notes I take and how I use Obsidian, here are some of the requirements I found for myself. Others may vary, but this work for me.

  • I want to be able to create notes quickly, sometimes without worry too much about a title.
  • I want to have some amount of consistency in how I refer to my notes
  • I want to avoid redundant in information contained in the note, where practical
  • I want to be able to find notes quickly, when I need them

Tip #1: I prefix all my notes with a Zettelkasten number

In Episode 2, I touched briefly on how I use a Zettelkasten prefix in my note titles. Here, I will explain why this works for me and how this meets some of my requirements.

Zettelkasten is a method of naming and organizing notes. I don’t use the pure Zettelkasten process, but I do use a prefix number for my note. The goal of the prefix is to make a note title unique. To do this, I have enabled the Zettlekasten prefixer core plug-in in Obsidian:

This plug-in comes with Obsidian and does not have to be added separately through the community plug-ins. Here is how I have configured my Zettelkasten prefix:

  • New file location: this is where any new notes I create go initially. I left this blank, meaning they go into the top-level of my vault. I generally move them manually after I create them.
  • Template file location: I like having a simple template created for all of my new notes. This is location of that template. Templates are just markdown files and can contain anything a markdown file has. Mine is pretty basic, containing a line for me to add tags.
  • Zettel ID format: this is the format of the number. As you can see, I use a YYYMMDDHHmm format. I do this because it is easy for me to change later. I’ll discuss that more below.

I’ve done one other thing to make this easy to use. I added a hotkey for creating a new Zettelkasten note in Obsidian. I bound the hotkey to the “Create new Zettelkasten note” function as follows:

Now, whenever I hit Option-z on my Mac, a new Zettelkasten note is created based on my template.

Having a Zettelksaten prefix on my notes has several advantages for me:

  • I can create a note quickly with a template and not worry about giving it a complete title. This is useful for quick notes that I want to jot down without spending time thinking about a title. I can always come back to them later.
  • Because the Zettelkasten prefix is based on the current date/time, I have a built in way for searching notes by date in the title. If I wanted to search for all notes created in October 2021, for instance, I could search for “file: 202110” and quickly see all of the notes created that month:
  • This provides me with a quick way of changing the date of the note to match the date of a document. Let’s say I have a document dated November 2, 2021. When I used Evernote, I would often go in and change the Create Date of the note to match the date on the document. That way, when I wanted to search for the document by date, it would come up matching the date on the document itself. But this was cumbersome to do in Evernote. In Obsidian every note is just a file in the file system. I could go and change the create date of the file, but I don’t want to do this because that is also useful information. Instead, I’ll modify the Zettelkasten number to match the date of the document. In this way, I have access to several dates:
    • Create date: the date the note was created
    • Modified date: the date the note was updated
    • Last viewed: the date the note was last viewed
    • Zettelkasten prefix: the date of the document associated with a note.

Tip #2: Keep note titles as succinct as possible

After the Zettelkasten prefix, I add the note title itself. I try to keep these titles as succinct as possible. You can see in the search results image above that my titles try to uniquely define the note in fewest number of words. For instance:

  • COVID Vaccination Card – Jamie
  • The Baseball 100
  • Articles I’ve read

When I create these titles, I try to think of how I might need to locate them in the future. What words would I search for? Well, if I needed to find my COVID vaccination card, searching for “COVID vaccination” will get me close enough so that I have only a few notes to wade through to find the one I’m looking for. If I wanted to search for my notes on the book The Baseball 100, searching for “The Baseball 100” will get me that note, among a few others.

The goal is to be able to quickly find the note in question. I don’t mind if a search turns up more than one note, so long as the title in the results is distinct enough to make it easy for me to pick out among the others.

Tip #3: Be consistent in how I title my notes

It might be problematic if I named similar notes in different ways. A note titled “Jamie’s COVID card” and another called “COVID vaccination for Zach” are not consistent. Searching for COVID might bring up both notes, but searching for “vaccination” would only bring up one. So I try to name similar types of notes similarly.

I find this to be most tricky with my reading notes. That’s where my note titling tends to get inconsistent, although I am trying to improve.


By putting a little thought into how I name my notes, I find that I have a lot more flexibility when it comes to searching for notes. And speaking of searching for notes, Episodes 7-11 will focus on searching for notes in Obsidian. These episodes will tie together much of what I have already written and begin to demonstrate some of the power of Obsidian and how I think it just as useful as Evernote when it comes to locating notes that I have stored there.

See you back here next week.

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Let’s Get Rid of Daylight Saving Time

person touching black two bell alarm clock
Photo by Stas Knop on Pexels.com

It is that time of year when one article after another is calling for an end to daylight saving time. I thought to add my voice to the mix. When I was younger, I liked daylight saving time in the spring, because it meant I could stay out later. I also slept in later so that the sun was usually up when I woke up. Now, in middle age, daylight saving time is just one more annoyance that I have to deal with. Our computers, iPhones, and iPads update the time automatically. But there are four clocks in the house that have to be manually updated twice a year. Plus the microwave and the range. And the clocks in the cars. When daylight saving time starts or ends there is always confusion. The kids get up too early or too late. Everyone is off for a few days. I can only imagine what this does to productivity. It seems time to end this practice.

If we are going to end daylight saving time, I think we should go all-in and eliminate all confusion about time across the globe. Why note eliminate time zones while we are at it? We could use Greenwich Mean Time as the standard. Midnight GMT means midnight all over the world. If it happens to be mid-day where you live, we’d still call it midnight, or 12 a.m. The fact that it is light or dark really doesn’t matter. You can say it is “midnight”, but still say it is day time. “Midnight” in this sense, becomes like the word “dial” when referring to making a phone call. Dial originally referred to the control that opened a circuit on a phone line. It has a new meaning today. So would “midnight.”

It would mean a shift in thinking about when things happen. I currently get up around 6 am local time. If we eliminated time zones, I’d generally wake up around 11 am GMT. I’d start work around 1 pm GMT. 1pm for me, would be right after breakfast.

But let’s go a step further. Time was originally divided into segments that made for easy calculations in days before computers could readily handle such calculation. A day was divided into 24 segments because 24 has a lot of factors to it. I’d suggest we move to a metric form of time. A day might be divided into 10 deci-days, each of which would be the equivalent of 2 and 24 minutes. We could further divide a day into centi-days, each of which would be about 14 minutes and 24 seconds. And, of course, we could divide further into milli-days, each of which would be 1.4 minutes. For the purposes of scheduling, I don’t think we’d need to get more granular than that. What we think of as one hour would be equal to about 4.16 centi-days. 3 centi-days would be a little less than 8 hours, a standard workday.

We could rework the years as well, but that would require reworking the day again. I should have started with the year, but I’m off today, thanks to the extra hour of sleep I got last night, and I can no longer think straight. So maybe we should start with daylight saving time, and consider it a win. At the very least, it would prevent people from making the egregious error of referring to it as daylight savings time.

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A Home For My Field Notes

I was doing some holiday shopping and decided to add myself to the list. I bought myself an early present: a home for my Field Notes notebooks: their archival wooden box. Here is what the home looks like, inside and out:

I’ve organized the notebooks inside the box by date, which is convenient for me. The box came with enough dividers to get me through 2026. I put a few unused notebooks in here to fill up the space in the meantime. Those are just a handful off all of the unused notebooks I have on hand. Likely, I already have enough to last me a lifetime. Even so, I just renewed my annual subscription to Field Notes for the 7th year in a row. My shelf of notebooks now looks like this (left side and right–I couldn’t get both in a single image. You can see my note Field Notes box in the center between my reference books and my old typewriter.

I also ordered myself a couple of Field Notes t-shirts, as well as their 2022 Work Station calendar (which I had a search for elsewhere last year because they’d already sold out). Those should be arriving sometime next week. Among these things, I also picked up some gifts for friends and family. Notebooks, like book, often make great gifts for people.

It’s nice to have a home for these notebooks, at least for the ones that I have already filled up. At the rate I use them, that home should last a few more years before it become full and I have to seek out another one.

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Retro Posts, Week of 10/31/2021

elvis presley digital wallpaper
Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

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 might notice a theme for the first half of the week. It being November, I thought some retro-posts on NaNoWriMo were in order.

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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