Sunday, July 28, 2013

So is it “Duck Tape” or “Duct Tape”?

Taking my love of linguistics to the sublime
The proper way to refer to this universal fix-all actually sparked an argument on Home Improvement between Tim the Tool Man and his wife Jill. Unfortunately I can’t remember the outcome.

But here’s the surprising truth: “Duck Tape” is the more historically accurate.
Olive drab, cloth-backed tape was developed by Johnson & Johnson during WWII as a way to waterproof ammo cans. GIs called it “duck tape,” as in water rolling off a duck’s back.

After the war, however, it quickly found other uses - mainly, sealing heating ducts. Johnson & Johnson obliged by turning it out in its now most recognizable silver color.  Thus it became primarily known as “duct tape.”
So while “duck tape” refers to its original purpose, “duct tape” more accurately describes its current use. But the product is still evolving. In fact, it’s gone all crazy boutique on us. So what will we eventually call this waterproof decorator tape? Designer Duck?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

No, You May NOT borrow My Book!

Fatal flaws of e-readers
My husband finished The Kite Runner and asked if we had anything else by Khaled Hosseini. We do. That is, I do. It’s on my Nexus tablet - along with the next book I’m ready to read and most everything else to do with my day-to-day life.  So, no. You can’t take my tablet when a moment of reading time occurs, and that includes the bathroom, Mister!

It’s a drawback that never occurred to me when I begged for this all-purpose tablet last Christmas. I was thinking small, light and portable. Just drop it in my purse for instant access to books, Facebook, emails, Google searches, and local mapping. It was a lifesaver during the ensuing months of travel prior to my sister’s death.
The Nook
Since then it’s become my constant downstairs companion (as opposed to this elaborate Dell PC set-up upstairs). Now I can keep up with FB and/or catapult Angry Birds while sitting with my husband. It’s good to be together even though he’s playing his own games on his laptop, or watching a show I don’t care about, or we’re trying to get through another painfully predictable Astros game.

But the problem remains: how do you share an ebook? You can’t. Major problem.
Swapping books is an inherent part of my reading existence.  My BFF and I are always loaning books to each other. My husband and I have even read the same book at once using different markers. And a whole new set of authors opened up to us when our daughter bequeathed a box of novels retired by her tailgate reading club. (Those are books passed from car to car in the school parking lot. It’s what mothers do since they have to come so early to grab a spot of shade.) Simply put, books were made for sharing. Being exposed to others’ literary likes expands your world exponentially.

My Nexus 7

There are other less serious inconveniences, like when the tablet needs recharging.  If you want to continue using it, you must sit crimped over next to a plugin. The cords are very short. Forget whacking pigs with birds in that position. Also – when I went to open a book I’d already finished, it wouldn’t let me. The only action permitted was a visit to to buy something else. So not only can you not share an ebook, you can’t even go back over it yourself. Since an ebook costs more than a used hardcopy, I find this extremely upsetting.

Ebooks are great as far as they go. And I’ll never part with my tablet. But be careful not to download anything you’d want to share or even review. Good old ink on paper is still the best way to go.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Who’s Your Author?

Or: What’s in a pseudonym?

Well, she didn’t do it for sales, that’s for sure. My idol J. K. Rowling assumed the nom de plume of Robert Galbraith to publish The Cuckoo’s Calling. Why? In her own words: “To publish without hype or expectation.” She was trying something new – a detective novel. She wanted to see how it would stand on its own merits. But when the ID leaked? Whoa. Sales shot up 500,000%. So that’s what’s in a name, folks.
And she’s hardly the first. Used to be that a woman author had to use men’s names to be taken seriously. Take Harper Lee, George Elliot, and Isak Dinesen for instance. Even the iconic Nora Roberts has written as J. D. Robb.

But it works both ways. Jennifer Wilde, author of such sizzling romances as Love’s Tender Fury, is in truth Tom E. Huff, a man and a Texan, for heaven’s sake.
In other odd twists, Stephen King has written as Richard Bachman; Isaac Asimov as Paul French; and Michael Crichton as John Lange. Two of my favorite thriller scribes, David Hagberg and Sean Flannery, are one and the same. So…why toss aside such sterling credentials?

To switch genres, expand marketing potential, and/or publish more than one book a year. It keeps unusually prolific writers like Stephen King from diluting his own brand.
But for me, this was the most startling discovery: Anne Rice aka Anne Rampling was born Howard Allen O’Brien. Seriously.

Would I use a pseudonym? I was certainly going to. A man’s name, of course. Bruner Moore. But then one of my many, many cousins exclaimed, “Don’t you dare ditch our family name!” Never mind that “Odle” is such an oddity. So far there’s no prob...I’m a lo-o-o-ng way from getting famous. But you'll note my revised covers read "Mary Odle Fagan."

Sunday, July 21, 2013

And the Mountains Echoed

Another gripping saga by Khaled Hosseini

As with his previous bestsellers, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, this novel is masterfully and beautifully written. The scope of Mountains is far broader, however; taking us through overlapping tales of his characters from Afghanistan to France, Greek islands, and San Francisco.

It’s a sad story, as it must be in a setting of poverty and war. Yet even in this landscape of wrenching loss, sacrifice and love we are immediately captivated by his sensory descriptions and the inner lives of his characters.

It begins with an arduous trek across the desert - a father pulling his toddler daughter in a wagon while his son, too devoted to be left behind, defiantly tags along. When they finally reach Kabul, the boy discovers that the trip is to sell his beloved little sister to a wealthy, childless couple.
What follows is a series of stories within a story, spanning three generations and multiple continents. I did find it somewhat disconcerting to jump from one intimate point of view to another. On the other hand, I was happy to gain such in-depth knowledge of each principle character. It helped make the ending that much more uplifting. Still, I wouldn’t rate this work as highly as the previous two. Perhaps it was a mite TOO sweeping.

Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, and moved to the United States in 1980. His first novel, The Kite Runner, was an international bestseller, published in thirty-eight countries. In 2006 he was named a goodwill envoy to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. He lives in northern California.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Courtesy of a king: a STAR TREK theme park coming in 2014

The location, however, poses a bit of a problem

When King Abdullah II of Jordan was a mere prince studying in the United States, he became such a flaming fan of Star Trek he even managed to score a part as an extra on Star Trek Voyager.  As king, he took it a step further by investing $1.5 billion and 183 acres in the city of Aqaba to develop a theme park. So with all Abdullah’s hard work plus the commitment of CBS and Paramount, this looks promising indeed. (For instance, The National reports that the Space-Flight Adventure ride will be created under license from CBS Consumer Products.)

The resort will include luxury hotels, Klingon restaurants, theaters, rides, and a strong element of Jordanian history and culture as “a crossroads of civilisations,” per a spokesman.
The catch, of course, is getting there. But if you do, you might find some things from other notable movies, like Petra, featured as the Canyon of the Crescent Moon in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

So where did the future king appear on Star Trek? As an unnamed, uncredited sciences ensign in a corridor aboard the U.S.S. Voyager.  He’s barely glimpsed talking with fellow ensign Harry Kim, who is abruptly pulled away by Neelix.  That was in 1996 in Voyager’s second season, Episode VOY 135, “Investigations.” Here’s the video clip. Don’t blink.
Abdullah’s father King Hussein died in 1999. Ascending the throne at age 37, he was no longer able to indulge his fandom so directly. But he is now in a unique position to indulge the fantasies of fellow Trekkies everywhere. If we can get there.

Here’s to peace in the Middle East, folks.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

They’re Ba-a-a-a-a-a-ck!

Twinkies: The Snack Cake, the Urban Legend, the Sweetest Comeback Ever

It was marked on my calendar: July 15, 2013.

I was prepared to be in the Walmart parking lot playing cards with multitudes of other Twinkie die-hards when the truck pulled in.
I wasn’t prepared to see this display on the 13th when I dropped by to grab a prescription. OMG.

A manager and a stock boy elbowed each other when I whipped out my Samsung and snapped a photo. I heard them tell another customer that this was all they’d been able to get. By the time I’d seized a box and pocketed my phone, a crowd was gathering. More clicks and flashes. More boxes snatched. Happily, by the time the all-hands page came over the PA, I was safely in the check-out line.

So what happened? “A surprise appearance,” KTLA in Los Angeles called it. Out there the iconic treats were on the shelves by Friday, three days ahead of the official relaunch. No other explanation seems forthcoming.
This redux comes courtesy of private equity firms Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Co who acquired Hostess after the bankruptcy late last year. It’s now known as Hostess Brands LLC.

Why is this important to me? Twinkies, as much as I like them, were never a staple of my diet even in childhood. Mother would never have permitted it. A quick glance at the ingredients will explain why. It’s just that Twinkies and the rest of the Hostess line are quintessential Americana. And I have this insane weakness for fluffy cream fillings.
Speaking of ingredients, any truth to the urban legend that chemicals used in production give Twinkies an indefinite shelf life?  Nope. Despite the Spam-like longevity referenced in Die Hard, WALL-E, Zombieland, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and Family Guy, it would never pass muster on MythBusters. True, Twinkies lasted a relatively long time because they are made without dairy products. But 26 days was max. And according to a Hostess official quoted in the New York Times back in 2000, "Twinkie is on the shelf no more than 7 to 10 days.”  

Now, however, the spongy yellow cakes can last up to 45 days. Huh? How? Sorry, that’s proprietary info, per Hostess spokeswoman Hannah Arnold. And here’s more food for thought: The New York Post reported last week that some of the products will be delivered frozen so retailers can stamp their own expiration dates on the cakes. Right.
So, keeping moderation in mind, WELCOME BACK, TWINKIE!

Friday, July 12, 2013

P. D. James Brings a Proper British Mystery into the Mobile WiFi Age

Deathless prose? Yes! But…uh…is there a story here?

“I have never seen a display of flowing, rare verbiage as this author uses!” enthused my BFF. She produced a hardcover copy of The Murder Room and placed it on the white cloth between our warm spinach salads, a specialty of Perry’s Italian Grille. “She has such an extraordinary command of the English language!”
I’m not much for dark, brooding explorations of murder, but knowing my appreciation of British lit in general and language skills in particular, my friend pressed me to borrow it. And so I did. And she was right.

Listen to this description of a piece of Nash art: “Here was a prelapsarian landscape re-created in tranquility and painted in a style which, for all its diversity and originality, was strongly traditional.” (Pg. 26)
I read on, soaking up such breathless phrases as “suspicious fluency,” “spurious conviviality,” “abhorrence of muddle,” until I suddenly got to wondering: Is anything actually happening here?

There was. It snuck up on me whilst I perused the exquisite scene-setting, mood-evoking narrative. It took until Page 117, but it happened. Mrs. Clutton, a bit banged up when a speeding car clips her bicycle on a lonely road, runs unsteadily toward an exploding garage fire. In the same paragraph she sees: “The arm, stuck out of the open car door as stiff as the arm of a scarecrow, had once been flesh, muscle and veins and warm pulsing blood, but was no longer.” Oh, now we’re getting somewhere! Somebody call Bones at the Jeffersonian.
This is, I discovered, an Adam Dalgliesh mystery. Number 12, to be precise. Known by his associates as simply AD, he is the quintessential Scotland Yard detective. And the game’s afoot.

The story revolves around a small private museum specializing in the inter-war years, and the three siblings at odds about running the place. The murder room is one its features. Mrs. Clutton, BTW, is the caretaker who lives in an adjoining cottage.  

P. D. James is well qualified to write this elegantly expressed gore. She spent thirty years in various departments of the British Civil Service, including the Police and Criminal Law Departments of Great Britain's Home Office. She has served as a magistrate and as a governor of the BBC. Most of her twenty (and counting) novels have been filmed and broadcast in the United States and elsewhere. She lives in London and Oxford.

So am I a fan? I am. When I finished the book at 3:13 this morning, I went right online and ordered Cover Her Face, AD #1.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Romance of Tall Ships

The Elissa

An item in the local news grabbed my attention today. According to the Galveston Historical Foundation the 1877 Tall Ship Elissa, anchored in Galveston, is preparing to sail next spring. Following orientation on July 20th, the volunteer crew will have the rare opportunity to learn to sail and maintain this beautiful square-rigged sailing ship.

This is exciting enough by itself. I’ve seen the graceful old girl any number of times while tooling along Harborside Drive. She was even among the Tall Ships to sail into New York harbor as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebration in 1976. But it also took me back to another Tall Ship experience. Way, way back.

Anyone here remember a movie called Windjammer? Probably not. First, it came out in 1958 before most of you were born. Second, it was the only film to be shot in the widescreen Cinemiracle process, which could only be shown at specially equipped cinemas. Such a theater existed in Detroit where I lived at the time, so I and my classmates were privileged to see it.  Given a seven-track stereophonic musical score by Morton Gould, its performance by the Boston Pops under Arthur Fiedler, and a deeply curved screen (100 by 40 feet) making it real enough to drown, it was a privilege indeed.

The Christian Radich
Windjammer is a documentary of the Norwegian school ship Christian Radich. With a crew of boys aged 11 to 13, it sets out from Oslo, crosses the Atlantic to the Caribbean, New York City, Portsmouth, and back home to Norway. Along the way they encounter Germany’s school ship, Pamir, and we are granted a glimpse into their program also.  

It’s no wonder our fascination with these magnificent vessels never dies. What could be more awesome than an enormous, ornately carved prow, towering masts, and billowing sails? From Roman trimarans to the Black Pearl, it never gets old.

Rigging the Elissa

Sunday, July 7, 2013

DiY Kiddie Stories

(You may not want to try this at home)

Heaven knows why, but recently I got to thinking of the stories I used to make with my granddaughters. You know how it works. The kids give you the characters, (one, I remember, was a pink pony named Sundaymorny) and you run with it. Occasionally you pause for more input: “Puffing and panting, they finally slowed. Yes, it looked like they’d outrun the orange-spotted monster. They trudged to the top of the next hill hoping to find water and shade on the other side. But suddenly they stopped in horror. Oh, no! It was_________(okay, girls. What do they see?)”

We’ve probably all been reduced to this at some point. Stuck in traffic with no books in sight. Surrounded by shelves of books they just don’t want at the moment. Or during the winter holidays years back when daughter and son/law had to be at Best Buy from 5:00 AM to 8:00 PM. We elected to keep the girls at night rather than match that schedule. Both girls being avid readers, we ran short pretty fast. To fully appreciate this, you must understand that the roof of our house is supported by bookcases.

Anyway, I just stumbled onto the Editor’s Note section of mental_floss, my magazine of choice during a de-frag, and found someone else’s account of this experience. He begins:
“Like many 2-year-olds, my son, Henry, is obsessed with superheroes. Every night, he insists on a story that includes them all. The stories I tell are horrible.” Once, he says, the superheroes were desperate for a Cobb salad, but didn’t know how to make one. Here Henry took charge, marching them all to the library to look up a recipe. Then it’s off to the grocery store; then back to make the salad. Afterward they’re all very tired and take naps.

Of course superpowers come into play. Superman flies to the highest shelf to snag a cookbook, Spiderman uses his Spidey sense to locate the produce aisle, etc. So mission accomplished. Henry’s happy.

It can either be exhausting or get-carried-away fun. Either way, I’d love to hear YOUR stories!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Things you never knew about hamburgers, and never cared to ask

I grabbed this from the Kitchen Daily site, featured on AOL’s news feed. Seemed appropriate for the day. But special kudos to fellow blogger Jahnavi Foster who posted the entire text of the Declaration of Independence on her Facebook page this morning. Believe me, that’s both more informative and appetizing than the following:
1.     Who invented hamburgers? Probably Genghis Khan. His horsemen would store flat patties made from meat scraps underneath their saddles, and after a day of battle the patty would be tenderized and ready to be eaten raw. Eeeuww. 
2.     The first hamburger on a bun could be attributed to Oscar Weber Bilby from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who served grilled Angus meat patties on homemade yeast buns at his Fourth of July cookout in the summer of 1891.

3.     For most historians, the real hamburger story starts with the establishment of White Castle, the first hamburger chain, in 1916.
4.     White Castle custom creation, a spatula made from saw-blade steel perfect for flattening patties, which is currently housed in a temperature-proof glass case at the Ohio State Historical Society. Can you believe we revere our hamburgers that much?
6.     It takes approximately 15 seconds to assemble a Big Mac. Don't believe it? You can watch the YouTube video here.
Okay, folks. Fire up the grill and have a great Fourth!

The famous White Castle spatula





Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Long-lost Pearl S. Buck novel due out in October

Monday’s (July 1, 2013) Houston Chronicle stunned me with the news that a lost manuscript of one of my all-time favorite authors has surfaced. Then I got to thinking that since Buck was such a prodigious writer, there just might be more!

The title, The Eternal Wonder, was written in Vermont and turned up – of all places – in a storage locker in Texas. Buck’s son, Edgar Walsh, has no idea how it ended up there, but is now able to confirm that it was indeed her last novel, written in her late 70s when she knew she was dying of lung cancer. The disease eventually took her on March 6, 1973, in Danby, Vermont.

Most folks around my age got to know her from The Good Earth, required reading in high school Lit classes at the time. Then there was some flap in the late 60s about it being “licentious” (huh?) and it was probably pulled from school reading lists. But it was a profound, memorable read that’s stayed with me over the years. The great novels tend to do that. A couple of years ago I happened onto a 1945 first edition Portrait of a Marriage, a work I hadn’t even heard of, at an indie book store where I was doing a signing. It’s now one of my special treasures.
Pearl S. Buck was born on June 26, 1892, in Hillsboro, West Virginia. Her parents, Southern Presbyterian missionaries, moved to China when she was 3 months old. She lived there most her life, until 1934.  In 1930, she published her first novel, East Wind, West Wind. Her next novel, The Good Earth, earned her a Pulitzer Prize in 1932. In 1938, Buck became the first American female Nobel laureate.

As well as a writing career, she launched the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, which focused on women’s and minority’s rights in both America and China, and the adoption of mixed-race children.
Being the preeminent American writer of Chinese village life did not wear well with The Cultural Revolution. The new Communist leadership denounced her as an "American cultural imperialist" and forbid her from returning to China as planned with the Richard Nixon visit in 1972. Buck was heartbroken.

But I for one will be eagerly awaiting The Eternal Wonder which will be published by Open Road Media in both digital and hard copy versions. The only blurb in the Chronicle reads: “(The story) follows a brilliant young man named Randolph Colfax through his adolescence and education to a romance with a beautiful Chinese girl and Paris and New York.”
Good enough. I’ll buy it!

Monday, July 1, 2013

The frustrating truth behind CTRL+ALT+DELETE

Would you believe it was invented in 5 Minutes and kept as an industry secret for over 10 years?
Hey guys, remember this? It was known by people my age as the dreaded Blue Screen of Death. It meant a reboot lasting long enough for an extended trip to the break room. That failing, as it usually did, you called the IT Dept. and got on their waiting list. In short, work came to a screeching halt for the better part of the day.

It was my recent connectivity probs that got me on this kick.  With plenty of time to read, I was immediately drawn to an article by Virginia Hughes in my favorite mag mental_floss. In it I learned that back in 1981 an IBM programmer named David Bradley, one of an elite group of 12 engineers, was racing to match RadioShack and Apple who already had PCs on the market.
The group’s pet peeve was the restarts prompted by each coding glitch. It automatically initiated multiple memory tests that were very tedious and time-consuming. And some days it occurred every five minutes.
 After five months of this, Bradley, in a fit of pique, created CTRL+ALT+DEL. It involved all of 5 minutes, and he was off to the next 100 items on his to-do list. Bradley chose those particular keys because with the DEL clear across the keyboard from the others, it was doubtful they’d ever be struck together by mistake. It was never intended as a shortcut for customers. It was just for him and his fellow coders for whom every second counted.

Not until 1990 when Microsoft’s Windows soared to dominance did this neat little trick enter the pop lexicon. As PCs all over the country crashed with the infamous “blue screen of death,” the quick-fix spreading wildly by word of mouth was soon hailed by journalists as “the three-finger salute.”
Okay, so we still get The Blue Screen of Death. But now it comes with instructions.