In the Dark, Monday. 11-21-16

We spent too much time in the dark today, and I had to switch to Plan B for today’s work.

A Plan B Morning

The rain stopped sometime last night and the sun was bright when I opened my eyes a little before ten. (My normal bedtime is around 2 AM.) I headed for the computer only to see that the power was out. When we called PG&E we learned we’d get our power back around 2 PM. No hot tea for me in the morning!

Since I couldn’t use the computer or the phones, I decided to go to the gym earlier than usual and get my workout done so I could blog on the computer when I’m normally at the gym in the late afternoon.

My Reading Notes

At the gym, I almost finished reading Secrets in the Grave by Karen Ann Hopkins. It’s a detective mystery set in Amish country. I continued reading it while I ate my cold cereal after arriving home. The power came back on just in time for me to have that cup of hot tea I’d missed. I also wanted to finish my book, since I was 88% into it. I like to get the mystery resolved when I’m that close to the end.

Although there were a couple of surprises at the end, I was pretty sure who the culprit was by about a third of the way through the book. I suspected another culprit of foul deeds. The author was good at giving the reader just enough clues to figure out who the villains were while saving some unexpected twists for the end. The only thing I found annoying as I read was not immediately catching the changing voice. If you read it, remember that after the prologue the chapters are named for the character who is speaking.

One Last (I Hope) Power Outage for the Day

As I was finishing my dessert tonight while watching the news there was a crackling “Poof,” and it went dark and quiet again, except for the beeping of my battery backup. It was then I remembered that most of our emergency lighting is at the other house in Templeton. I did find a few candles and one light was hooked up to the battery backup in my office, so we managed. Time to bring those emergency supplies where they will be most needed. As I post this I’m hoping the power will stay on through the night. I will make sure I have a flashlight with me at all times.

The power was only off for about half an hour this time. I’d only had time to find and light the candles, recline in my chair, and open my Kindle before the lights and sound came on again.  As I post this I’m hoping the power will stay on through the night. I will make sure I have a flashlight with me at all times.

UPDATE: I’m now much better prepared for any future power outage. Here’s what I bought to keep light in my life when the power goes out.

Birth of a Book on Vimeo

Here’s your chance to see a physical book being printed and bound. Enjoy.

Birth of a Book on Vimeo on Vimeo

via Birth of a Book on Vimeo.

An Open BookIn the video  below you will see a book being printed. I hope they hang on to a few of these old presses. You never know when we might need to go back to them. Even though it seems all writing is being done digitally with books able to be printed on demand, we all know that computers and electronics are almost ephemeral.

The Kindle or Nook or iPad you have today may be obsolete tomorrow. What will you read if the power supply is interrupted for more than a week? In a real disaster, books can even be burned to keep you warm.

Of course, preserving the presses isn’t enough. We need to also have a few people who remember how to use them. We’d need the materials for printing and binding. Otherwise, we might find ourselves someday in  world with no books.


Do We Want a Future Of Instant Connections and Without Email?

Do we really want to do away with email in intra-company communications and replace it with instant communication?

I used to work in this office occasionally back in the 1970’s, in the days before computers were on every desk and hardly anyone used the Internet for anything. You walked over to someone to speak to him personally and you used the phone to talk to someone outside the store. It worked.

Barbara Gago envisions a completely different business environment to evolve by the next decade. She sees email being dead on a business network and being replaced with instant communication and video communication on enterprise social networks.

She sees more people working at home on their computers, making an office environment unnecessary. I can go along with that. I can also understand that a company CEO or manager might want to communicate by video with employees rather than calling everyone to be physically at a meeting. That saves time and energy for everyone involved.

What I’d personally find difficult is the instantaneous nature of this proposed network communication. If it doesn’t come by email, how does it come? Instant messaging? Will it be a constant barrage of dings on the computer screen as different people in the organization decide they have something important to say that must be said immediately? I can’t see all those interruptions encouraging productivity, since they break concentration as employees try to perform tasks. Nothing makes me crazier now when I’m trying to write or calculate or work in Quickbooks than hearing a ringing phone (that’s probably a sales person) or the ding of someone instant messaging me just to say “Hi.”

Another thing I don’t like about instant communication is that it allows little time to think over what one will say before sending or responding to the message. I’m guessing much will be said that would not be said if one had to walk to someone’s desk to say it, or even make a call. Each of us thinks what we have to say is important. The question I have is whether it’s all important enough to interrupt someone with, or whether it could wait until that someone is ready to check email during the next hour. Everything important is not necessarily urgent.

What do you think?

My Flip Camcorder Died This Week

I’m having to ween myself from taking video everywhere since my Flip camcorder died this week. I’m looking for a replacement. Any suggestions?

Shadow of Me and My Flip Camcorder in Action on a Walk Together
Shadow of Me and My Flip Camcorder in Action on a Walk Together

My Flip has gone almost everywhere with me for over a year. It has walked with me and recorded my conversations with people and the words of speakers at events. Just four days ago I used it to tape a pair of birds courting. Then, later in the day, I wanted to tape them in a different place and my Flip wouldn’t turn on. There was no friendly electronic chirp when I pressed the power button, but I was sure the batteries weren’t drained. Here I was, all ready to go for a photo walk, and my trusty Flip was incapacitated.  I haven’t walked without my Flip in so long I almost didn’t go.

On the walk, I regretted no one would hear the brook or the birdsong but me. Instead of being able to scan the tree with the broken branch so my blog readers could see it all connected, I had to break it into three separate pictures that didn’t really do the same job. When I passed the horses, I couldn’t get their conversation on tape. I almost felt I’d lost part of myself. For sure I lost an important tool.

So today I decided to see if there was any way to resurrect it. I called Flip tech support, hoping, I guess, for a miracle. After an hour with chat at the end of which my messages no longer went through, I called. I worked with phone support, who reminded me my camera was no longer under warranty. I did know that, but I’d hoped my camera would outlive its warranty. We tried deleting everything from the Flip and updating the software. We tried jumpstarting it plugged into the computer. Nothing worked. It was truly dead, after only about 14 months of use.  It’s now back in the box it came in.

My Flip Camcorder in the Box It Came In
My Flip Camcorder in the Box It Came In

Now I must replace it, since I’m supposed to be the videographer for an event in mid-April. I’ve spent  a good part of today reading reviews on line. Though I love my Flip, I really am hoping to get something that will last a bit longer. If you, my readers, have a suggestion for a simple to use and easy to carry camcorder, I’d love your suggestions. I prefer something that does not rely completely on a rechargeable battery pack that can give out in the middle of an event.

Meanwhile, I will have to rediscover traveling with only a still camera. Or learn to operate its video features — if I could only find the my English version of the manual.

Fun with Microsoft Customer Service

I share my adventures with getting what I thought was a simple, non technical question answered at the Microsoft Store on line.

A couple of days ago I decided it was time to stop stalling and buy the software I needed to start overhauling my web site, since the software I started with has been obsolete for a couple of years, at least.  I’m not a programmer, so back in 1996 I built my site with FrontPage. It has since been superseded by Expression Web, so I went on line to the Microsoft Store to buy it. I just wasn’t sure if my owning FrontPage 2002 qualified me to buy the upgrade version instead of the full version. This was what was on their web site:

“You must be a licensed user of one of the following products to be
eligible for this upgrade version:
* Any Microsoft Expression product
* Any Adobe Creative Suite
* Any Microsoft Office product”

As best I knew, by 2002 FrontPage was considered part of Office, though I had bought my copy separately. When I installed it, it went into the Office folder by default, and the label on my installation disk said “The Microsoft Office Web Site Creation and Management Solution.” That was good enough for me, but I always like to double check before assuming anything will work on a computer unless it’s spelled out. I didn’t want to spend $80 and then discover I should have bought the full version. So before making the purchase, I called the Microsoft Store to ask the person answering the phone there to confirm having FrontPage installed qualified me for the upgrade version. I told her what I just told you. She didn’t know. She put me on hold to ask someone, and they didn’t know either, so I was transferred to another number. She was very kind and stayed on the line with me until the person at that number picked up.

The person at the call routing Department connected me to yet another number, and the person at that number said the department that could answer my question was closed until the next day. So yesterday I called the number he had given me, and the person there referred me to another number, who then referred me back to someone at the department I had  just talked to who then transferred me back to the Microsoft Store. The person who answered there, different that the person who originally sent me chasing wild geese, didn’t know off the top of her head, either, so she put me on hold. When she came back she said the product qualified and she took my order. She said she had searched Bing for the answer and found it.

When I got the usual customer service survey from Microsoft, I filled it out and added quite a bit in the comments section and got an email back requesting more information. I suggested that if they had spelled out what the qualifying Office products were on the web site in the first place, it would have saved a lot of people a lot of time. It never occurred to me that I had asked a difficult question. I had assumed that those in the store would have known enough about Microsoft Products to have the answer in their heads. At least two people had told me they didn’t think the product qualified. Perhaps no one wanted to be held accountable for the answer they gave me. But it did make me wonder if all the people who man phones in various customer service departments are lost when there is no script to follow. Perhaps each department’s focus is so narrow or the personnel so new that they can’t remember products that have not been supported for three years enough to know that they were once a part of one of Microsoft’s most popular and used products.

Never Mind the Paper Trail! Have You Googled Yourself Lately?

…what you say on line tends to stay there. I try never to say anything I would be ashamed of if anyone I knew read it. I can see that when you start down the social networking road your name does get out there and stays out there

A few days ago I got an email indicating I needed to approve a comment on the Squidoo lens I wrote about the death of my daughter, Sarah. When saw I the comment and who sent it, I was floored. It was from a friend I’d lost track of for a few years — a close friend. Both of us had moved and begun new lives, and that tends to make people busy and disinclined to keep up with people they rarely see. The urgent tasks in the present tend to blur the past a bit, for better or worse. Although there was no last name, I knew that those comments could only have come from my friend Dianne. But I couldn’t figure out how she found that lens about Sarah out of the blue. She hadn’t even known about Sarah’s death until she read it.

I was able to answer Dianne back through Squidoo, and I asked her how she ever found me and the lens. She replied that she had looked me up on Google. We have exchanged a few emails since then, but I was curious as to what Google had revealed to her. Tonight I finally had a few minutes and thought I’d take a peak. Amazing! So far I’m on page six of at least 15 link pages where my name is mentioned. I would expect to see my name on my blogs, web sites, and social networking profiles, but I was quite surprised to see the other places my name appeared — so far. I found that one statement I made was quoted on several sites. One article from my web site was quoted and credited, but with no link back to my web site.  It was also  summarized on a Chinese web site. I had forgotten about all the comments I had left on other people’s blogs. I even found myself listed in the county records as the informant of my mother’s death, since I was with her to the end and did report her death. Just now on page eight I filled out a form that appeared to give me a chance to correct company information on a directory listing. When I hit preview, I discovered it was a come-on to get you to pay for an upgraded listing. Boo! On page nine the listings start to be mostly  really not me or repeats.

What I discovered is what many have already said —  what you say on line tends to stay there. I try never to say anything I would be ashamed of if anyone I knew read it. I can see that when you start down the social networking road your name does get out there and stays out there. I suppose I also have a paper trail, but most of what I write is no longer on paper.

Is This What Might Replace Paper Picture Books?

What might be lost in the move from paper to digital picture books? Or will digital books improve the the experience of reading?

Cover, Paul Revere's Ride
Cover, Paul Revere's Ride

As you all know, I love picture books. So when I got this link for a digital picture book, I had to check it out. (The link is at the end, since I want you to finish this before you click. ) It heralds the possibilities of moving books from paper to digital form — possibilities for word play, matching, watching, and story telling. Young readers will be able to read not only left to right, but also see words moving right to left and up and down. Words can appear and disappear, or letters can glide into a word. Both pictures and words can move in any direction (often off the screen, so there’s a lot of scrolling to keep up with.) The producer of this book (Can I call him/her  an author?) points out that paper picture books are limited to only one dimension, and are unidirectional and static. The producer tells us that two things can remain in the move to digital books:  The reader reads and the reader controls the story. By controlling the story, I assume we’re talking about turning pages or clicking buttons.

So is the digital book better? I’m asking my self what the difference is between such a digital book and an animated story with subtitles. Picture book artists such as Thomas Locker, Ruth Heller, Patricia Polacco and too many more to mention offer not only a story, but a rich visual experience that would not seem to lend itself as easily to animation as maybe the work of someone who is simply bold and colorful. I would think it difficult for the subtle tones  of work done in oils to come through as intensely in digital form as on paper.  So I believe these digital picture books might rob young readers of a more desirable artistic experience.

As to the multi-directional feature,  it seems to me that this sort of reading is not good preparation for learning reading fluency and developing the necessary skill of reading from left to right. I think reading from left to right is a good thing — especially for the young picture book crowd. Some of the multi-dimensional effects gave me a headache as pictures zoomed in and out. I guess, though, that today’s children are used to that.

kingwhorainedOne virtue of these books is supposed to be that they offer opportunities for word play, matching, and watching. I think paper picture books can match that. Check out Marvin Terban’s books on word play. Or try The King Who Rained by Fred Gwynne (This link enlarges the image at left.) It’s full of illustrated homophones that will promote a chuckle. (It can be found with other concept books here.) As to matching, you don’t really need a story. There are already many games in boxed or digital form that offer that. As to watching, that’s also been done very well on paper. Go back to one of my older blogs and read the review of Over the Steamy Swamp. In that book, every one is watching and being watched.  Another book that involves watching is Rosy’s Walk by Pat Hutchins. It’s humor and irony will have young readers chuckling as they watch the fox watch the hen.

The last proposed advantage of the digital book is story telling. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean. Any decent paper picture book tells a story, though some are definitely better than others. If the idea is that it encourages a child to tell a story, there are books that do that, as well. A good example is Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola. This wordless picture book follows a woman from the moment she gets out of bed, hungry for pancakes, until she finally eats them at a neighbor’s house. We watch her put on her apron, begin mixing ingredients, gather eggs, milk the cow, churn the butter, go out and buy syrup, walk home with dreams of mixing and cooking and  eating the pancakes, and arrive back to find her cat and dog have spilled the milk and broken the eggs. As she thinks of the pancakes she dreamed of, flying away from the platter, she smells her neighbor cooking some and decides to go and visit. Have your child “read” you this story if he’s not a reader yet, or write the story to go with the pictures if he’s learning to put his thoughts on paper. It requires imagination to “read” this book.

I suppose though, that the main reason I prefer paper is that paper encourages a child to linger over the pictures to appreciate the details, anticipate what comes next, and maybe even discuss the book with the person who might be reading it to him. Digital books, at least in this example, encourage speed and constant moving to keep up with the action. Although the producer says the child controls the story by clicking the “next” button, I imagine the child is in the habit of clicking next as soon as he finishes a screen, rather than lingering. So which is the most interactive experience? Clicking the button  or actually turning physical pages. Watching a screen and clicking, or talking to a real person who may be reading the book to you and discussing it as you go along. I’ll take the book, preferably on the mom’s lap with the child or children cuddling up to her as she leads them on an imaginative journey.

And now that link you’ve been waiting for to see the book.

Are Books Important — or Just Stories?

I personally will always want books — not just stories.

Just read a blog by my fellow bookseller, Bookavore , based on another blog by Clay Shirky. Bookavore wonders if  “Society doesn’t need books.  What we need are stories.”

It’s not my profession as a bookseller that makes me think we will always need books. In the rush to put everything in digital form, we make a lot of assumptions. One of them is that we will always have electricity. One look at the newspaper I still subscribe to lets me know that there is dissension all over the globe. Our diplomats fly from one trouble spot to another trying to make peace in places that may be about to acquire nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. Our computers and phones keep us connected to people throughout the world and we stay aware of the impending threats. However, when we are willing to get rid of books, we make the assumption that no one ever will push the button and that terrorists will never be able to knock out our communication systems.

Where would we get our stories should we be subject to cyber terrorism? I suppose we’d all have some to tell. And maybe we’d all be trying so hard to survive we wouldn’t need just stories.  We might actually need information in hard copies to read for our survival. If we did have some time on our hands, it might be handy to have access to books to entertain, inspire, and give us hope.

Even if we continue to have relative peace, our digital communication is often interrupted. Phone lines go down — especially in more rural areas. Where I live, a good wind following a good rain, or even a  bird on the wires above, can knock out our power for hours or even days. During those times, books are treasured companions.

When reading a beautifully illustrated book to a child, nothing beats sitting on the sofa with a physical book on one’s lap and children cuddled up on both sides to share the view. I can’t see a Kindle really replacing that. They will probably improve them in time, but I doubt if they will feel like books in the hand. Touching an icon is not the same at all as turning a genuine page and getting a glimpse of the next one.

Books also connect me to those who preceded me in history. Many biographies and journals will never be published in digital form — especially those now out of print. The authors of these live on in physical books, which will continue to be read by those who are interested in them. Though it’s easy for anyone to publish digitally today, this only started a few short years ago. Some writers from the past will only be found in books.

I will always want books — not just stories.

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