Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Context for Lemurs

Finding that Holmes was too absorbed for conversation, I had tossed aside the barren paper, and leaning back in my chair I fell into a brown study. Suddenly my companion's voice broke in upon my thoughts:

"You are right, Watson," said he. "It does seem a most preposterous way of settling a dispute."

"Most preposterous!" I exclaimed, and then suddenly realizing how he had echoed the inmost thought of my soul, I sat up in my chair and stared at him in blank amazement.
- from "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

(Illustration by Sidney Paget)

In the passage quoted above, Sherlock Holmes demonstrates his ability to deduce Watson's train of thought from a combination of physical observation and knowledge of his subject (Watson). On the next page of the story, Holmes details the steps that led Watson from looking at a portrait to reflecting on the folly of war.

Similarly, in his original script for the Star Trek episode "The City at the Edge of Forever," Harlan Ellison writes of a couple being so in tune with each other that if the man complains in the morning that his shoes are too tight, and there is no further mention of the shoes all day, the man will still understand if that evening the woman says, "Maybe we can loosen them a little."

This is a game I play with my beloved husband fairly often. Our 28 years of mutual history give us a huge backlog of personal and pop culture references to draw on in conversation, stuff I know he knows, and that he knows I know (and that I know he knows that I...stop that!). So if he says the word "thing," and I then mention a certain episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, John knows that I was thinking of the robot Mrs. Mudd saying "thing...thing...thing" in the Star Trek episode "I, Mudd," guest starring Roger C. Carmel, who was not the same Star Trek guest star who played the real estate agent in the Dick Van Dyke episode with the boulder in the basement. (That particular actor was Cyrano Jones on Star Trek, not Harry Mudd, but the characters are somewhat similar.) Yes, I can present John with the end result of a fairly convoluted chain of thought, and more often than not he knows how I got there. Yay, John!

Okay, that's the game. But what, you ask, has this to do with lemurs? You promised us lemurs!

Yes, I did. I alluded to lemurs earlier today, in a comment thread on By the Way. John Scalzi, in response to something Paul Little (of CarnivAOL fame) said, mildly suggested that it might be better if people spoke out against the banner ads in comments to entries that were actually about banner ads, rather than in every single entry of his, be it about Athena, romantic love or the planet Venus. (Come to think of it, those three blog topics can be seen as an interesting train of thought on Scalzi's part - two mythical goddesses, both associated with love (although Athena is more properly associated with wisdom). And would it be wise to address the question of whether people should write about banner ads in every comments thread? (That's debatable.)

But I digress. That's part of the point, isn't it?

Anyway, in the thread about whether it's not merely permitted, but actually a Good Thing, to post an angry and sarcastic comment to every single By the Way entry, regardless of how irrelevant it is to the subject at hand, I posted the following comment:

I would just like to take this opportunity to speak out about lemurs. I'm in favor of them, no matter what anybody says.

(a little obscure, I know.)

Comment from mavarin - 11/30/05 5:14 PM

Judith Heartsong, bless her, followed this up with

let's hear it for lemurs.
Comment from judithheartsong - 11/30/05 6:47 PM

Several other people also came out in favor of lemurs:

Oh, and Lemurs are cool!
Comment from astaryth - 11/30/05 8:13 PM

I love, "So, in essence, you are asking for more respect from us than AOL will give back to us. " and the Lemur comment! HA!

Comment from psychfun - 12/1/05 12:46 AM

oh yeah, go lemurs!
Comment from aiibrat - 12/1/05 1:37 AM

Now, I'm genuinely pleased that other people like lemurs, or profess that they do. They're interesting animals, small, furry "prosimians" that were isolated ages ago in Madagascar and neighboring islands, and consequently developed along a very different evolutionary path from the rest of the primates. They're really cute, and they really need protection. Quite a few lemur species have died out already because of humans.

But that's not really why I mentioned them. I was playing my little game, and wondering what people would make of my comment.

So what the heck was I talking about?

Well, it might help if I post the following passage from So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams, in which Arthur Dent is flying (or trying to) outside Fenchurch's Islington flat:

He swung down sharply, nearly catching himself a nasty crack on the jaw with the doorstep and tumbled through the air, so suddenly stunned with what a profoundly stupid thing he had just done that he completely forgot the bit about hitting the ground and didn't.

A nice trick, he thought to himself, if you can do it.

The ground was hanging menacingly above his head.

He tried not to think about the ground, what an extraordinarily big thing it was and how much it would hurt him if it decided to stop hanging there and suddenly fell on him. He tried to think nice thoughts about lemurs instead, which was exactly the right thing to do because he couldn't at that moment remember precisely what a lemur was, if it was one of those things that sweep in great majestic herds across the plains of wherever it was or if that was wildebeests, so it was a tricky kind of thing to think nice thoughts about without simply resorting to an icky sort of general well-disposedness towards things, and all this kept his mind well occupied while his body tried to adjust to the fact that it wasn't touching anything.

See, according to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books, the secret to flying ("throw yourself at the ground and miss") is largely predicated on distraction. When Arthur is busy working out what a lemur is, he's too distracted by this irrelevant thought to worry about hitting the ground, so he doesn't.

So why did I speak out for lemurs, in a thread about banner ads? Have you figured it out yet?

It's simply this. When John Scalzi is writing about his daughter or the planet Venus, a comment about banner ads is a distraction, and irrelevant to the subject at hand. People can do it anyway if they want, and there's a school of thought that says that they should. But the fact remains that there's little or no logical connection between the planet Venus and banner ads, other than John Scalzi's contract with AOL.

So, if people like to post distracting banner ads protests in threads about other subjects, I figure it's only fair that I post a distracting comment on another subject in a thread about banner ads. Lemurs seem like the perfect distraction, not just because of Arthur Dent, but also because they're unusual animals with an odd name. Also, I thought it would be nice if my satirical distraction was positive and cheerful, rather than negative and angry. Thus: lemurs. If someone happens to be intrigued enough to find out more about lemurs, that's gravy.

And no, they don't sweep majestically across the plains.

Plus, I'm glad to say my worst case scenario didn't happen. I was a little worried that people would confuse lemurs with lemmings, and think I was criticizing some faction or other in the banner ads controversy. No, I wasn't calling anyone a lemur (or a lemming), and apparently nobody thought that I was.

Go, lemurs! Good night!


Lemur photos courtesy of the Smithsonian National Zoological Park / FONZ website.

Flip Your Wig!

Sarah noticed the other night that one of the games in John's stack of vintage games (as featured in my Monday Photo Shoot entry) was a "The Beatles Flip Your Wig" game (Milton Bradley, 1964). She wanted to know more about it.

Well, first of all, there are no wigs involved, and the only flipping involved is in turning over cards. Fair enough: the Beatles didn't have wigs, either.

The game is for two to four players. Each player games a game token depicting one of the Beatles, either John, Paul, George or Ringo. Whichever Beatle represents you, that's the one whose cards you are trying to collect to win the game.

There are two stacks of cards: Beatles cards and Flip Your Wig cards. The yellow Beatles cards include a picture of each Beatle, and each Beatle's signature. The Flip Your Wig cards feature each Beatle's instrument, some Hit Record cards, and I forget what else, if anything.

You roll the dice and go around and around the board, getting and losing cards along the way. Whoever is the first to gets his or her own Beatle's face, instrument, and autograph, plus a hit record, wins.

This appears to be a game of pure chance, with nothing much to recommend it other than the Beatles' iconography. But I'm still glad John and I hung on to this - not since 1964, but since our Rockarama days. In better shape than ours, this game sells for around $145 now. We probably paid $25 to $40 for it, back in the early 1980s.

Having relieved some curiosity, and having gotten through an entire posting without mentioning any drama, I now depart to work on my lemur entry.


BoardGameGeek's Beatles Flip Your Wig Game Page

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Mostly Links and Sunsets

Well, I found out why I wasn't getting all my FeedBlitz alerts. AOL had put two of their emails in my spam folder. Thanks, AOL. I'll add FeedBlitz to my address book so that I won't have that trouble again. As best I can tell, everything I'd signed up for was present and accounted for, including My Feelings Are Real, the one AOL Journal I put in there as a test (and because my AOL Alerts aren't working for Maryanne's journal, despite my taking it off the alerts list and then adding it back in).

The only caveat is that the results aren't up-to-the-minute. If you posted at 11:30 PM and I get the email at midnight, that entry from half an hour ago may take an extra day to reach me. I understand that Bloglines isn't up-to-the-minute either, though. If you want to be totally on top of what your friend may have written five minutes ago on Blogspot, you're just going to have to click on the link at the most likely time of day.

Now, I need your help with a decision. Patick's Place hits my email as a snippet and link, thus:

There are 2 new entries in "Patrick's Place"

The Eyes Have It

Found this over at Charley's " Courage :"

You have the eyes of a hawk. You're very much aware

about your surroundings and the...

Read the whole entry »

Are Banner Ads Effective?

While AOL's decision to place banner ads and the resulting firestorm among their bloggers is getting some national press, such as this article from...

Read the whole entry »

Other blogs hit my email as whole entries. If I subscribed to 20 blogs this way instead of just eight so far, that would make a heck of a long email! But Patrick has his feed set to be "truncated," so it's just a blurb and a link. I like that. If I hadn't already seen these entries, I would have clicked on them. Well, the second one, anyway.

This is a preference that apparently can only be set by the person whose blog it is, not the subscriber. If the blogger isn't registered with FeedBlitz, people can subscribe anyway, but they'll always get the whole entry.

So. Do you see where I'm going with this?

Here's the question. If you were to subscribe to Outpost via FeedBlitz, would you want the whole thing, or a snippet and a link? Let me know, 'kay?


Winter has come to the Old Pueblo, however temporarily. Sunday it only got up to 58 degrees, and seemed colder because of wind. Monday morning it got down to 28 degrees, with a high that afternoon of 58. That probably doesn't sound impressive to all you Back Easters, but by Tucson's standards it's remarkably cold.

It only snows about once every three years here, I estimate - and by that standard, snow is overdue. It hasn't snowed so far this year, either, so I have nothing to show you to prove how cold it was yesterday. So here are a couple of sunset pictures instead. That's my answer to everything, isn't it?

This first one is more evidence that Tucson sunsets produce cool colors in directions other than west. This is looking north, obviously. I love it when the Catalinas turn pinky-orange!

Fifteen minutes later, the pinky-orange was in the sky, but no longer on the mountains.

And here's my view of the west, from near the house.

I wanted to do some more blogging tips tonight, mention entries by Shelly (who has written a bunch of helpful and/or interesting postings recently over on Presto Speaks!) and Carly (with her current series of grief management), point you at several very long lists of ex-AOL blogs, and do other great stuff I don't remember now. But I think I'll just look up the URLs and leave it at that. I love how people have pulled together here all over the new Blogspot subdivision of J-Land, helping each other figure out links and photos and templates, how to repost old AOL-J entries, how to compensate for not having AOL Alerts, blogging tools, link exchanges and so on. Way to go, people!

Speaking of links, I know I have some changes and additions to catch up on here. Will you do me a favor in the meantime? Please check the Outpost sidebar for your link or links. If anything is outdated, missing, or just plain wrong, please let me know and I'll fix it.


Next time: Flip Your Wig!

Monday, November 28, 2005

That's Mâvarin to Me

Carly suggested on Saturday night that it might be a good idea for me to explain to you all just how much all this Mâvarin stuff means to me. (She said it much more nicely than that, though.) Sounds like a good idea. Okay, I'll try.

Imagine that there was just one thing you wanted to accomplish in your lifetime, one passion that mattered to you more than any other. I'm not talking about religion or spirituality here, true love or parenthood, or even peace of mind. I mean a vocation, a particular expression of who you are and what talents you have, the one thing you were put on Earth to do that no one else can do in your place. It's the thing you think about every morning, every night. By high school it was already firmly established in your mind and soul; and now, decades later, it's even more a part of you. You've tended it all these years, a garden in your heart. You've planted the seeds, pulled the weeds, and worried about the amount of fertilizer heaped upon it. And now that it's finally in bloom, you're afraid that people won't understand, and will blithely pass it by.

That's what Mâvarin is to me.

As I walk down the hall at night, as I lie down and get ready to say my prayers, as I try to go to sleep, I think of Rani and Crel, Del and Fayubi and the rest. A notebook lies on the bathroom floor, its printed pages covered with notes and edits and corrections. Every time I pass a decent jewelry kiosk at the mall, not a peddler of crass "bling" but a maker of custom necklaces and rings and bracelets, I'm tempted to commission a necklace of the Sun and River.

Yes, I'm obsessed.

an early Mâvarin map.
An early map of Mâvarin by Susan Keeter, or possibly by me. That's certainly my handwriting in the ocean. A bad photocopy of this is all I have.

Mâvarin has been part of my life for about 31 years now, ever since I first wrote about Rani in the beech tree. In case you don't know, it's the name of the fictional country where the bulk of the action takes place in Heirs of
Mâvarin and its sequel, Mages of Mâvarin. They are my two favorite books in all the world - not the greatest books ever written, of course, but the ones I love the most.

So where can you buy them? You can't. Not yet, anyway.

See, here's the basic problem: I originally sent the first book around to publishers and agents before it was ready. Now I'm gunshy about sending it out again. And the second book is still a magnificent mess, longer (can you believe it?) than any Harry Potter book.

I finally finished a complete draft of Heirs in 1989, fifteen years after I started work on what was originally called The Tengrim Sword. By then, Chapter One was probably on its fiftieth draft (at least), and Chapter 16 was a first draft. Right after that I got sidetracked with Doctor Who and Quantum Leap fandom, so it wasn't until about 1993 that I finally got the manuscript together and started submitting it to publishers. The submission package was usually a couple of chapters, a synopsis and a cover letter.

And I started getting rejections.

Back when A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by a few dozen publishers in 1960-1962, there were still dozens of individual U.S. book publishers to do the rejecting. It was a terrible thing, one of the best children's / young adult books ever written being rejected like that, over and over. But it did finally sell, after an almost-chance meeting at a party. These days, after many mergers, there are about five major publishers left, some owned from overseas, all of them having dozens of imprints each (such as Ace Books, Boulevard Books and so on). Most of the handful of imprints that publish fantasy take only agented submissions, and I don't have an agent.

Furthermore, I already submitted the first novel to these same publishers, back in 1993-1997. The last time I did it, the rejected chapters were in my mailbox exactly seven days after I dropped them off at the post office. I tried to console myself with the theory that it was rejected because I taped the address to the envelope, badly, complete with a human hair stuck underneath the tape. Maybe it was rejected because the envelope looked unprofessional! Yeah, that's it, I told myself.

This unlikely supposition didn't help. I was fresh out of major publishers. The book has not gone out to a single editor since that day. But I have sent queries to some agents since then, with hilariously negative results. One form rejection said the agency was not surrently accepting screenplays!

So who's left? Minor publishers? I'd really rather not. Vanity and subsidy publishers, that make the author pay to get the book printed? Never! This isn't Night Travels of the Elven Vampire. What, then? It looks as if I've already played my last card.

Ah, but here's my ace in a hole.

a tengem.  Art by Sherlock, copyright 2004. Since that soul-crushing one week turnaround in 1997, I've rewritten Heirs of Mâvarin in a major way. I've reimagined both the psychology and the physical characteristics of tengremen (Mâvarin's only species of monsters), making them much more interesting to read about. Have you ever tried to imagine what goes through the mind of a horse as it grazes, or of a wolf as it hunts? Now imagine that it's an intelligent wolf-horse (etc.) that used to be human. Sometimes it can still think like one, but other times its rational mind is buried in instinct. The result is that some of my characters are much more interesting than before, more unpredictable, and more dangerous.

Bottom line: Heirs of Mâvarin is at least twice as good a book as it was in 1997. It's even got a sequel coming right behind it, if I can get through all the needed rewrites and edits.

I'm told that if a book has been substantially rewitten, it's considered appropriate to sent it out again to the same publishers, with a note to that effect. In theory, I can send it to Tor or DAW a second time.

Consider also what's happened in the fantasy book market since 1977. Six books about an adolescent wizard named Harry are famous around the world, and have spawned a series of successful films. The most important fantasy novel of all time, The Lord of the Rings, has had a resurgence of interest since Peter Jackson and friends adapted it for the big screen. And now the first volume of another seminal fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia, has been adapted for Disney, and is coming soon to a theater near now.

But heck, I'll settle for selling the Mâvarin novels just as books - for now. The big screen adaptation came come later. ;)

So why haven't I sent it out yet? Well, I've got one last proofread to finish. I'm on page 105 of that, about a third of the way through.

But I've been using the "final proofread" excuse for months, if not years. Why haven't I finished it by now, and sent out my synopsis, chapters and cover letter?

Well, I'm scared. If my cover letter and synopsis don't intrigue a first reader at one of the few publishing houses open to me, no senior editor is likely to read Heirs of Mâvarin. It doesn't matter that I think it's a damn good book, or that friends who have read the newest draft (aside from minor edits) all agree with me on that. If nobody with the power to give me a book contract is sufficiently impressed to get past page one, it won't matter how good page 171 is.

This is one reason why I'm posting the first two chapters of Heirs of
Mâvarin in serial form, over on Messages from Mâvarin. I want some idea whether other people, who don't already love the book, are pulled in by those all-important first few pages.

I know that people who don't like the fantasy genre won't like my opening chapter. I accept that.

But how about those of you who do?

Here are the links:

Heirs of Mâvarin


Comments and Mind Games

We've seen recently how lack of comments on a blog or journal can cause stress, anxiety, and even depression. Just two nights ago I was in freak-out mode myself, half-convinced that nobody was reading my fiction, despite my VIVI award for fiction-slash-poetry. My reason for this supposition? Hardly anyone ever comments in my all-fiction blog, Messages from Mâvarin, which has been in existence for nearly a year and a half. And aside from a nice plug or two from Becky on her old AOL Journal last year, nobody but me has ever linked to Messages - that is, until Carly did so this weekend. Thanks, Carly!

But sometimes a comment that does come in can produce a freak-out of its own. What do you make of this?

are you serious?

Posted by Neil Coan to Messages from Mâvarin at 11/28/2005 08:53:47 AM

My first reaction: "Are you serious? Do you actually expect anyone to like this dreck?"

My second reaction: "Are you serious in your threat to curl up and die if nobody comments?"

My third reaction: hang on, this might not even be attached to one of the Heirs of Mâvarin serial entries. Maybe this means, "Are you serious? Are you literally claiming to have had an 18th Century Pirate as a house guest?"

So I clicked on the link. The comment was attached to "Meet Joshua Wander, Part Nine," originally posted January 1st, 2005. There was nothing unusual about this particular installment in my VIVI-nominated serial (Best Entry or Series of Entries) - except that it already had a comment. It was a one-word, much appreciated comment from Becky:

Anonymous said...
Excellent! -B

So maybe "Neal Coan" (one letter off the name of the host of NPR's Talk of the Nation, another source of freakishness considering I emailed that program today) was asking Becky if she seriously thought it was excellent.

Still no closer to a definitive explanation of the comment, I clicked on the name Neal Coan for his Blogger profile:

This Account is Closed.

We are sorry but this account is no longer active.

So whatever Neal was trying to communicate, he evidently was so abashed by his utter failure to do so that he closed his account. Or something. ;) Maybe he asked someone else today whether he or she was serious - and that someone seriously retaliated.


(One more entry coming tonight.)

The Letter G - Again!

Your Monday Photo Shoot: Snap a picture of something beginning with the letter "G." Because I don't think the letter "G" gets nearly as much attention as it should.

Hey, John S., did you know that I just wrote a letter G-themed entry five days ago? Those were all intangible G-words, though. This time it's all concrete objects (well, tangible, anyway). I didn't even resort to terms that start with the word Green!

Garlic and Ground Ginger

Games, including
Game of the States and
Go to the Head of the Class

Gelatin (or Gelatin Dessert)
(look past brand names)

(who may or may not be half human
on his mother's side)

Garen Gunk Glocher? No, that's going too far.

(back later with another entry)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Another Sermon from the Cheesemaker

From The Life of Brian:
[Jesus is preaching the Sermon on the Mount, but some of the people toward the back can't quite hear what he's saying.]
Spectator I: I think it was "Blessed are the cheesemakers."
Mrs. Gregory: Aha, what's so special about the cheesemakers?
Gregory: Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.

I use "cheesemaker" to describe myself because I'm very serious about trying to be a peacemaker, but don't want to set myself up as a paragon. I'm just a cheesemaker. Here I go again, churning out more cheese.

I had an interesting day today. It was full of friendship, crises, mild stress, and more ethical choices than I normally run into in a week. Let me tell you about it.

Act One: Church

Before church this morning I rushed into my office and, while checking my email, quickly scanned a sermon by one of our priests. I've had the thing for four weeks, but hadn't yet turned the hard copy into an electronic one. So I put it on my scanner it this morning, in the hope that later I would be able to save the file both as a jpg or something and as a Word file. I needed to do both, because this particular priest does a lot of underlining and hand-edits on his printouts. When I do OCR (Optical Character Recognition - cheap software trying to "read" the words), the poor thing gets confused by all those underlines and hashmarks and squiggles and handwritten words. I have to type what it's supposed to be, and clean it all up in Word when the OCR is done.

So anyway, I had this old sermon I was rushing to get into the computer, because I was afraid the priest would be there today and want his sermon back. I should have done it before, but I'd put it off, first because of the dead phone line in my office, which resulted in my computer and my scanner being in different rooms; and later because, well, it's a lot of work, and I was busy! By this morning, I didn't have time to do the OCR and corrections. But I did what I could, stuffed the sermon in my purse, and went to church.

It turned out that this particular priest will be back next week. (He's semi-retired.) So I have more time to do this right. Whew!

See, I was already feeling guilty, because I've been a slacker on the church web site lately. I think I didn't get the first half of the announcements typed and uploaded until Wednesday, and the second half until Thursday. I still haven't gotten the Advent Bazaar flyer posted. Bad Karen. No biscuit!

But when I got to church, did anyone complain? They did not. Two different people told me that because of my notice about making egg sandwiches for the Casa Maria soup kitchen, three people who Googled Casa Maria saw that announcement, and drove all the way from nearby Vail, AZ to help make sandwiches on Friday. Good thing that notice was in the Wednesday batch. Had it been in the Thursday announcements, it might not have hit Google in time.

So I got away with those two things for now, but I need to do better.

Then came the real moral dilemmas of the morning.

1. At the end of Mass, the Sunday School kids came up and sang two verses of O Come O Come Emmanuel. They were so cute! I know Father John wanted me to take pictures of them, so I obliged. But I was also mindful of the AOL Guidelines that another John S. mentioned a few months ago, that one shouldn't post pictures of other people's kids without parental permission, especially if you identify where predators can find them, such as at a particular school. Or St. Michael's, I suppose. So, since I was serving as Mass anyway, and was therefore sitting behind the kids, I took pictures of them from behind. The photo has no identifying features for anyone to use to get to these children. Did I do the right thing? Should I post this picture? I'm not sure, but here it is.

2. About a month ago, two 23-year-old volunteers for a humanitarian group called No More Deaths were arrested by the Border Patrol for driving sick, dehydrated illegal border crossers to a Tucson hospital, on a doctor's advice. No More Deaths provides water and first aid to try to reduce the horrendous, ever-growing number of deaths in the Arizona desert each year, often in cooperation with the Border Patrol. But this time, two people were brought up on federal charges, and could go to prison for 15 years.

The pro bono lawyer for this group was at our church today. The stand the group is making is that it should never be illegal to give humanitarian aid, to provide succor to suffering people in an attempt to prevent needless death. Now understand, these border crossers would have been deported after their hospital stay anyway. Nobody from No More Deaths was trying to smuggle anyone. They were just trying to save lives.

So anyway, the lawyer handed out lawn signs after church. I ageed to take one, but I didn't promise to put it on my lawn, saying only that I would talk to my husband about it. (John's stance is that he wants to know more about the specific situation from an unbiased source, before putting up the sign). But to be honest, I'm a little afraid to display the sign on our lawn. I agree with it, absolutely, but the border problem is a very divisive issue around here, with a lot of kneejerk sentiment and thinly-veiled prejudice. If I display this thing, will a neighbor take it away? Will I be harrassed? Or will nothing happen at all?

I'm such a coward sometimes. I hate confrontations and ill-will. I have no problem at all telling you guys all about this, because I can explain the situation. I've even written about this problem before. But a lawn sign has to be its own explanation, and I'm not sure it's up to the task.

Act Two: Eva

My 100-year-old friend Eva is in the hospital. She wants to go home, even if it means checking herself out against medical advice. My friend Kevin and I are trying to convince her to stay in the hospital, long enough for arrangements to be made to get her in assisted living. See, she's been talking care if herself, by herself, in a small apartment, without even a grab bar in her bathtub. The doctors want her in the relatively safe situation of assisted living, where she'll get physical therapy, and theoretically more of the right kinds of food (ask Chuck how likely this is), and have someone nearby if her blood pressure gets dangerously low again and she collapses, or breaks a hip or whatever. But Eva doesn't want to hang around the hospital waiting for all that to happen. A retired nurse, Eva figures she has a pretty good handle on her own condition and care, and anyway, she's not trying to live forever.

So is she right or wrong here? Kevin and I both think she should wait it out at the hospital. But it's her decision. Should she be able to make an informed decision to go home to her apartment, and take her chances? Yes. Should she choose to do that? Probably not. But why not? It's not as if she's at risk of dying young here. and the telephone's in easy reach of the places she's likely to be.

Act Three: AOL Crises Du Jour

I wrote this earlier tonight in someone's AOL Journal, in response to someone feeling deserted by us, um, deserters.

Okay, I'm going to say this again. I've said it in Musings, I've said it in Outpost, and I've said it in comments elsewhere. But apparently, many people haven't gotten the word yet, or don't quite believe it:

1. Those of us who have started blogging elsewhere, by and large, have not deserted everyone else. We have not betrayed you, we don't wish you ill, we're not going to stop reading your words because of a banner ad. (I haven't cancelled a single AOL Alert since moving my primary blogging venue off AOL.) Yes, there are a few extremists who have said and done nasty things, on both sides of the issue. Don't be fooled. They don't speak for the rest of us.

2. We have not left the community. We've only moved across the street, to the complex that doesn't have a neon billboard on the front lawn. We don't have some of the amenities we were used to in the old place, but we're learning that there's a lot of stuff we can do here that the old landlord didn't allow. And we haven't had the same problems with burst pipes, broken air conditioning, and a landlord that doesn't listen to us. Come visit us any time! We're only a few steps away, and we're always delighted to see you. We still love you, and we still care what's going on in your lives.

3. Some people may slip back to AOL, because it's easier and familiar. I've been tempted myself, but something always happens to convince me that I'm going to be on Blogspot for the long haul. I've been kind of a fence-sitter. I still occasionally post to
Musings, to tell you what I'm up to elsewhere, and to try to reach people who haven't seriously considered reading any blogs off AOL. What are you afraid of? It's only us, and it's only the Internet! No need to be angry or hurt. It was never you we were angry with, and we hope you're not angry with us! We're all J-Land, even now, even if the URL has changed.

You can find me here: (occasionally)
http://outmavarin.blogspot. com (once or twice a day)

One thing I left out of the above note of reassurance is that a lot of people are behind in reading everyone's journals, because they've been busy getting everything set up in the new digs. This is a temporary problem that should clear itself soon.

The other thing that happened was that a good friend's feelings were hurt, because she thought I was avoiding her AOL Journal. In truth, it was all due to a glitch in the AOL Alerts, and my not being on top of my reading of everyone's blogs. I still need to add a lot of them to Bloglines, since it looks as though FeedBlitz isn't doing the job. Anyway, I was able to reassure my friend, and all was smiles by the end of the day.

May that be true for all of us!


Saturday, November 26, 2005

More of the Same, Plus a Pitiful Plea from Insecure Me

Cross-posted from Musings, 'cause I can't stand to abandon it completely:

I just thought I'd bring you up to date with a little promo of what I've been reading and writing this past week.

1. The AOL banners controversy rages on.

Despite my frequent homilies about how this should not be a battle between factions of journalers, those who stay and those who go, there are still rather extreme expressions of anger here and there, many of them directed at the wrong people. This situation is not the fault of any journaler, John or Joe, or even the advertisers. This is a decision that AOL's execs made.

People are legitimately angry for a whole host of reasons, some of them going back months or years; and other people legitimately don't see what all the fuss is about. Some people are so convinced that their point of view is the only one that they feel the need to attack anyone who disagrees. There's probably a fair bit of natural aggressiveness in some cases, seizing on the opportunity to wreak havoc.

The result is that the same little battles between journalers, and factions of journalers, that have always been part of J-Land, now have a new excuse to exist. Is this community? Is this the spirit of J-Land? I don't think so, but that kind of useless, destructive behavior has always existed, and will continue to exist.

It's up to the rest of us to maintain the positive qualities of the J-Land legacy, on and off AOL itself. Remember, as I keep saying, and many others keep saying, it's only a web address. An interesting journal or blog is no less so if it does or does not have .aol or .blogspot (or something else) in the name.

2. AOL's Spin Doctor:

I read three very similar articles this week in the semi-mainstream press (led by The Washington Post) about the journal ads controversy. I'm not going to bother with links; I'm sure you can find them easily, and probably have already done so. What strikes me about all three is that they reported a claim from an AOL press liaison that only "several dozen" people had complained. None of the articles even suggested that this number might be understated. Shame on them! I saw a listing today of nearly 70 ex-AOL blogs, and I know for a fact that the list is incompete. Add to that all the people who complained but did not actually leave, and it adds up to a heck of a lot more than 36 people. I'd love to know what the real numbers are. It still sounds like a tiny number compared to the many thousands of AOL Journals in existence, but there are two mitigating factors: 1) many of those journals, probably at least half, are abandoned or largely inactive, and 2) it is a truism in p.r. generally that for everyone who bothers to complain about anything to a company, there are probably ten others who are griping in private to friends and family.

Another source, a bit more accurately, says that less than a hundred people actually left:

The Jason Calacanis Weblog

3. Am I Playing To An Empty House?

This being Saturday night, I've posted my latest fiction entry over on Messages from Mâvarin: Heirs of Mâvarin, Chapter One, Part Three. (Rats. I just went to the trouble of putting in the accents in the AOL version of this entry, only to take them out again because of AOL's nonstandard characters glitch.) Messages has been my fiction-only blog since June, 2004, so it continues to be the logical place to post my fiction entries.

I used to cross-post them to Musings, but I cannot, will not do so while this accent glitch continues. Chances are excellent that I will never post fiction on AOL again. What a sad end to my brief co-reign as the VIVI winner for best fiction/poetry journal! I can't even add the graphic for that to my sidebar there, because to do so would mean losing my remaining properly-spelled use of the word Mâvarin. Drat.

some of my characters. Anyway, the point of this rant is that I would be grateful if you would continue to read my fiction anyway, on the same blog where it's always been--even if it does have blogspot in the URL. And if you do, please leave me a comment, will you? I'm currently serializing the first two chapters of my first novel, my best, most polished piece of fiction to date, thirty years in the making, literally my life's work. If nobody cares enough to even read it, I may just curl up and die. And you don't want that, do you? Well, do you?


Friday, November 25, 2005

A Few Explanations

Explanation of a Sunset

John and I got home from the hardware store and Safeway just as sunset started to fade. I carried in the three bags o' stuff, ran into my office for my camera, and pushed past John, who was standing in my way, complaining, to get outside before it all faded. It was already too late, really, but here's the best of what I got.

The first shot looks out onto Wilmot, and the second was taken in front of my house. I then walked to the end of the block in the other direction, as the colors started to fade from the sky. What I saw when I got there was barely worth photographing.

The third I took as I returned from my little walk. There was almost no color left in the sky by then, and what there was lurked between houses, a tiny patch of orange. But I kind of liked the gray wisps of dusky cloud that superceded the orange and purple ones.

An Explanation About Disneyland

A number of people commented about Disneyland after my last entry. Since some of you seem to be unaware of my abiding interest in the place, I think perhaps an explanation is in order.

I grew up in Manlius, NY, a very, very long way from Disneyland. Walt Disney World did not exist yet. I'd never been west of Colorado and Wisconsin, having been to those two states when I was three years old. (Yes, I do remember the Yellowstone trip, a little bit; but I think they're memories of memories rather than anything definite.) But I did watch Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, a show that promoted The Happiest Place on Earth every week. So when my parents went to California without Steve and me in 1968, I was terribly jealous.

My dad was in California to speak at a conference on continuing education, but he and Mom also got to Disneyland while they were out there. I know this because they brought me back a map of the place. I remember that the map was brown. I displayed it on my bedroom wall for years afterward. My favorite thing on it was the Carousel of Progress. I had actually seen that attraction, back at the New York World's Fair, and loved it. I longed to see it again, and was delighted that Disneyland had it.

It's long gone now, of course. Here is the building it was in:

And here is a banner on the front of that same building, commemorating that bygone attraction, as part of Disneyland's 50th Anniversary. It was one of many banners celebrating the Tomorrowland-That-Was, or, I should say, the Tomorrowlands That Were. This area of Disneyland has been changed more than any other over the years, as Imagineers tried to stay ahead of reality. (The original Tomorrowland looked ahead to 1986!) For 1998 they gave up, and did a rather ugly retro-future instead.

How do I know all this? Simple. I'm a fan of Disneyland. No, I didn't get there on that family trip Out West when I was three, or with my parents in 1968, or even in 1972, when my mom decided to take us to Europe instead of Califonia with her saved-up earnings. (Just as well, really.) But I've been there lots of times since then, starting around 1977 or 1978.

The first Disney park I finally got to was Walt Disney World, in 1976. That was the year of my parents' divorce. My mom moved to Cape Canaveral (and then to Satellite Beach, and eventually to Melbourne). I went with her for the summer. WDW was only an hour away on the Bee Line, a toll road that gets a little scary during torrential downpours. But on that first trip there was very little rain. I loved the Magic Kingdom immensely. I did my best to visit Walt Disney World on every trip to my mom's after that. In 1986, John and I bought a five day pass, and photographed the same Magic Kingdom and Epcot attractions over and over with different kinds of film.

I finally got to Disneyland - I think! - during my mom's brief residence in San Bernardino in the late 1970s. My next trip to Disneyland was with John in 1986, as we drove around the country, on and off Route 66. We saw Chubby Checker perform in the Fantasyland Theater. I visited Disneyland again as a travel agent in 1988, as part of Anaheim Tag Days. I also went there with the twins and Tommy in the mid-1990s. Beyond that, the roster of Disneyland trips is a little fuzzy. John and I definitely got there in 1998, for the grand reopening of the badly-redesigned Tomorrowland; and again to celebrate the fake millenium on January 1st, 2000; yet again for the 4th of July, 2003; and most recently this past Labor Day. Here is how the place looked in September:

Now we want to go for Christmas. This has nothing to do with chidren (we have none), and everything to do with us. John's been going to Disneyland since 1959 or 1960. He loves the whole history and nostalgia of the place, and so do I, along with all the cool effects of a Space Mountain or an Indiana Jones Adventure. Even the effects of the older rides can be wonderful.

The Internet is full of info about Disneyland, not just the official site and tour companies, but also fans sites such as Mice Age, Yesterland, Mouse Planet and so on. There are even sites dedicated to individual attractions. I don't get to any of them very often, but John does. So we know that this is the final year of the Christmas redress of the Haunted Mansion, titled Haunted Mansion Holiday, starring Jack Skellington of The Nightmare Before Christmas. We haven't seen it before, so this is our last chance. There's also a Santa-themed area where the ranch / petting zoo was, and the alternative nighttime version of Space Mountain should be running by now. So even though we were just there in September, there are new things we want to see - and this is the time to do it.

An Explanation About Blog-Related Sites

I wasted most of today blogging, instead of working on the first novel's final edit as I'd planned. I set up my profile on BlogExplosion, claimed Outpost on BlogShares, read comments, edited and uploaded photos (which failed, a couple of times), tweaked my template yet again, wrote two entries, and surfed with BlogExplosion. What is BlogExplosion, you ask? It's one of several sites that rewards you for looking at other people's blogs by sending other people to yours. A timer counts down the thirty seconds minimum time you have to spend on each blog, but you can stay longer if something interests you. Two viewings earns one visit to your blog by someone else. Most people barely glance, and click away as soon as they can, but there's always a chance that you'll find a new reader this way. It also exposes you to the larger blogosphere, so you can see what's out there and what the possibilities are. Sure is time-consuming, though.

BlogShares is a little weirder than that. It treats blogs as stocks, which you buy and sell using Blogdollars. The values go up and down based on the buying and selling of shares, and on the number of links to and from each blog. The bad news is that the site mostly ignores LiveJournal, and only covers AOL Journals if you specifically direct them to the journal for a listing. The good news is that Blogspot blogs get on there automatically. When I visited today, for the first time in three months, Outpost Mâvarin was already there. The word Mâvarin was mangled, with a character glitch worthy of AOL, but at least it was listed.

Enough. It's 10:43 PM, and I've barely accomplished anything today that didn't involve blogging. I'll talk to you later.


P.S. Patrick had an outstanding entry today, answering a set of questions about AOL "deserters." Read it. The underlying assumption in the questions was that high-profile bloggers who left AOL somehow betrayed and hurt the people left behind. Here we go again!

None for Me, Thanks!

Husband John and I are still trying to figure out what we want for Christmas - a few individual gifts, one big present from us to us, or some combination thereof. Are we going back to Disneyland, to see Haunted Mansion Holiday before it's gone forever, and to say hello to Santa and goodbye to the pre-Jack Sparrow version of Pirates of the Caribbean? Is that enough of a Christmas expenditure, without adding non-Disney gifts? And if we go, will it be at Christmas itself, or before or after? And what happens to my Christmas cooking plans?

Even before Thanksgiving, this place was getting busy.

Or maybe, as John semi-suggested, we should get a big screen/flat screen/high-def tv and call it Christmas. We've been looking at the things for months, possibly years, and watching the prices come down.

"Do you really, really, really want it that badly?" I asked John on the way to Marie Callendar's.

"I don't know," was his honest answer. "I really really want it, but I'm not sure I really really really want it. And there's nothing wrong with the tv we have now."

With all these questions on our minds, and with John's sensible belief that we have too much "stuff" as it is, we're "really really really" not ready to shop today. We've never been interested in the post-Thanksgiving shopping ritual, anyway. We'll be going to the hardware store later for tar remover and shelf paper, John informs me; but that's not Christmas shopping. The tar remover is for the top of the dryer, and the shelf paper is for under the sink, where the mice have been.

I feel a little weird about all those sales I saw advertised for this morning, maybe even a tad guilty that I'm not maximizing my savings. But it's not savings if I don't really need to buy these things at all. So until John and I figure it out, the rest of you will just have to support the retail portion of the economy with little or no help from the Blochers. You don't mind, do you?


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Rainbows and Other Musical Questions

Weekend Assignment #87: Answer one or more of the following musical conundrums:

1. Who let the dogs out?
2. Why do fools fall in love?
3. If birds can fly over the rainbow, why then, oh why, can't I?
4. Do you hear what I hear?
5. How do you solve a problem like Maria?
6. How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?
7. Listen, do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell?
8. How long has this been going on?
9. I want to know, have you ever seen the rain? (Alternately: Why does it always rain on me?)
10. Does anybody really know what time it is?

(Yes, you can have silly answers. In fact, I encourage them!)

Extra Credit: Pose your own musical question.

1. The roofers and the appraiser, through the side gate. Only one dog, though. Tuffy was a good dog. When the roofers did it, Tuffy turned up at the front door a few minutes later.

2. These things are integral to the human condition: being a fool, and falling in love.

4. Probably not, unless you're listening to a tv commercial for Dentyne mints.

5. Marry her off to a rich widower with a musical family. Hey, it worked once.

6. By skipping ahead to dessert? I don't know the reference.

7. Not particularly, and no, I don't promise not to tell. I would need to know more than this to make such a promise. However, I won't reveal the secrets behind the book Do You Want to Know a Secret? by L.R.E. King.

8. Depends on what "this" is.

9. ...coming down on a sunny day? Yes. Yes, I have. That's where rainbows come from.

10. Time, time, time. See what's become of me?

And speaking of rainbows:

3. First off, let's quote this song correctly, shall we?

Birds fly over the rainbow.
Why then, oh why can't I?

If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can't I?

Second, John, your question is based on a false premise. Birds can't fly over the rainbow. Rainbows are generally too high for that, and second, the refraction of light is unlikely to produce the same effect as the birds reach that portion of the sky. Therefore, since the premise is false, the entire question, as posed by Scalzi, has a truth value of False.

Okay, but, what if it were true? What if we posit a universe in which birds can indeed fly over the rainbow? That's the logical exptrapolation of this question. So, if we're in the false universe in which birds fly over the rainbow, then why, oh why, can't I?

This also has a negative truth value. Clearly, I can fly over the rainbow, if and only if my name is Dorothy, and my house gets picked up by a tornado, carried to Oz, and dropped on a witch.

See? I run rings around you logically!


Extra Credit:

1. Send me a postcard, drop me a line, stating point of view:
Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four?

2. Did you have to treat me oh so bad? All I do is hang my head and moan.

3. Isn't it good? Norwegian wood.

4. If I fell in love with you, would you promise to be true, and help me understand?

5. How could I dance with another, when I saw her standing there?

6. Would you believe in a love at first sight?

7. What do you see when you turn out the light?

What do I do when my love is away?

How do I feel at the end of the day?

10. I'm looking through you - where did you go? I thought I knew you - what did I know?


The Wizard of Oz materials from the DVD box set, copyright MGM.
The Beatles Anthology CD cover copyright Apple Corps, EMI.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Grudges, Grief and Other G-Words

Y'know, I was a lot less sleepy when I decided on the "hook" for tonight's entry. Now I'm not sure I have the energy to do it properly--but I'll give it a shot!

This message is brought to you by the letter G.


I would like to think that I never hold a grudge, but it just isn't true. There are people I will never feel comfortable with again, because they hurt my feelings so badly, once upon a time, many years ago:
  • One sentence I wrote in a message board entry on Prodigy in 1991 or 1992 destroyed a friendship I had with another Leaper.

  • Later, a best friend's drunken rudeness one night when I was particularly lonely and vulnerable resulted in our not being best friends any more.

  • Someone I'd only met once was very unpleasant to me at work one day, during my second week on the job. Ever since then I've been a little nervous in her presence - even though she's been consistently nice to me, and even though I'm not quite sure she's the person who said that hurtful thing!

  • I love their commercials, but I've refused to patronize Jack in the Box for well over a decade, ever since their St. Mary's location made me wait half an hour for a fork with which to eat the salad they'd sold me. (Long story - remind me to tell it sometime!)

  • And I haven't voluntarily bought gas at Exxon since the Exxon Valdez spill.

Yeah, I hold grudges. Heck, I even hold grudges against myself. There are a few things I said as a kid that I deeply regret, even though nobody else remembers that I said them, and my memories of the incidents seem rather far-fetched now. Did my mom really burst into tears with a hearty "boo-hoo-hoo" when I said I hoped that if she died, my next mommy would be even better, and the one after that better still?

Despite all this, I'm generally pretty good at forgiving people. I can understand why the leaper was upset by what I wrote, why the best friend didn't want me over that night. My grudges about them have little to do with anger and everything to do with self-defense, trying not to get hurt again. If either person turned up at my door tonight or tomorrow - 4 AM, 10 AM, whenever - I would invite her in, and offer her some hot tea and pie.

So how does all this apply to the present situation?

Well, really, as I look back, the people I've forgiven over the years have generally been people who apologized. AOL hasn't apologized. Scalzi and Joe have apologized, bless 'em, but that doesn't help much. They aren't the ones who made the bad decisions, who chose to go with the banner ads, who pretended to the press that hardly anyone complained, and that competitors' blogs all have banner ads. It's kind of hard to forgive someone while their misbehavior continues, without acknowledgment or apology. I think I could manage to forgive AOL anyway, see the other side of the story, accept America Online as a tapestry of good and bad qualities and move on, if the company would just refrain from annoying me for a while. But as with the P* Leaper, as with the ex-best friend, I will never be fully comfortable again. And that's a shame.


I think there's something wonky about my grief process. I've heard about the five stages of grief, but that process never seems to quite apply to me. When my mom died, my primary reaction was relief. I'm not even sure I cried, except before the fact, the evening of the Thanksgiving horror show, and in the ER waiting room that December, as I watched for the ambulance to arrive, 24 hours before she died. And yet here I am: three years later, I still dream about her at night.

Last week, as friends took their AOL Journals private with no readers, and started up on Blogspot instead; as a lively community of bloggers fractured, seemingly forever; I knew we were all grieving for what we'd lost. And yet, after the first day or two, I haven't been terribly depressed or angry or upset about all this. I've been driven, yes, setting this up, and trying to find the right words to help people set aside their anger and reconnect as a community instead of dividing into armed camps. I've thought about returning to AOL-J Land, as others have, if only AOL would throw me a bone, putting on that stupid disclaimer below the banner ad, and making it possible to spell the word Mâvarin correctly again. Is this bargaining? Or is it just me doing what I usually do, trying to be a cheesemaker (peacemaker)?

The thing is, though, that we've recovered remarkably quickly, up to a point. I was worried I'd be back down to a readership of five, but that didn't happen. I was worried that the extreme AOL loyalists and extreme AOL detractors would, in combination with the mere change of address, manage to destroy any lingering sense of community. That hasn't happened, either. Oh, yes, I've seen some mean and bitter things said on both sides, but most of J-Land seems to realize that the problem is not, and should not be, between one blogger/journaler and another. Blogspot addresses are turning up on AOL-J sidebars now, and vice-versa. That's as it should be.

Still, there is a lingering sense of loss. We grieve for the relatively carefree days when the biggest controversies were over who deserved a VIVI award, when Musings and Ellipsis and (sometimes)photoblog and the rest were still our relatively angst-free private domains.

Over on Ellipsis...Suddenly Carly, the eponymous Carly is planning a five part series on grief management next week, to help us work through all this, and any other grief from which we may be suffering. Click here to read her introductory entry, and to post your questions on the subject. Then join her next week for the series itself.


I hesitate to mention this, because John will probably express his disapproval, but I've been eating my way through the many possibilities of "pumpkin anything." So far, I've had that pumpkin Clif bar and pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread. I have big plans to eat pumpkin seeds and pumpkin ice cream between now and Christmas. I shouldn't be doing this, but maybe by the end of the year (or sooner!) I'll be tired of the flavor, and more apt to settle down with a more healthy diet.

Today I got a triple dose: restaurant-made pumpkin pie, homemade pumpkin bundt cake, and terrible store-bought pumpkin tarts.

And yes, I had a little bit of Scalzi's favorite, too: pecan pie.

I had only a small wedge of the bundt cake, which was a mistake. I took that little piece home to eat later, so by the time I discovered how extremely good it was, it was too late to have any more. (Just as well, I suppose.) The pumpkin tart, on the other hand, was a lot of bad pie crust, a big smear of icing, and a little bit of tasteless pumpkin filling in between. It was tiny, but even so I didn't eat the whole tart.

All this was part of our department's pre-Thanksgiving pot luck. The company sprang for a Honey-Baked Ham, a huge expense (have you priced those things lately?) and much appreciated. I bought cranberry-orange relish for the occasion, which one of my favorite people at Safeway got from the deli department for me after midnight last night. The guy in the cubicle next to mine brought his own version of fruit salad, oriental style. There was lots of other stuff, store-bought, homemade, or somewhere in between. Yum.

Under the terms of the Blocher-Blocher holiday treaty, I either cook for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but not both. Tomorrow we go to Marie Callendar's. For Christmas, well, I'm not sure yet. Maybe I'll cook as planned, or maybe we'll go to Disneyland.


"In the beginning, I misunderstood,
But now I've got it, the word is good."
--The Beatles, The Word

Things are looking up. I got my first notice from FeedBlitz about an hour ago. I think it will make a fine substitute for AOL Alerts, but only for blogs that syndicate their feeds on this service. "Huh? What does that mean?" you may be asking yourself, but really, it's painless. You just go to and follow the instructions, and people will be able to sign up to get an email when you post - or once a day if you post more than once that day and set it up that way. The only semi-tricky thing is that you need to go to your template and find a spot on your sidebar, and paste in the code that FeedBlitz gives you.

And if you don't want to bother with that, there's always Bloglines. But I think I'm going to like this better.

Yes, there are lots of cool things you get do with these blogs, some of which aren't possible on an AOL Journal. Take a look at Steven's newly-redesigned layout for (sometimes)photoblog, now at Isn't that nice? And he designed that template himself! Also see Shelly's Cyber Chocolate - it's choco-full of fun stuff on the sidebar and elsewhere. You may not want to go all-out like that, but just seeing what's possible can be inspirational.

So as we start the Thanksgiving weekend, I think we have a lot to be thankful for after all. We've discovered that there's life after AOL, and that we can invite our friends on new adventures in the bigger blogosphere, and most of them will be happy to come along. Those of us who made the move are learning HTML, and maybe even css. We're starting to feel good about our accomplishments, as we learn techie stuff we never had to know until now. And most of us are about to have a nice little chunk of time off, during which we'll be able to play with Blogger, and learn our way around some more.

As I said: Good.



Tuesday, November 22, 2005

One Week After Black Tuesday: Temptation

Spotted at Dillard's last weekend:

Look, it's Darth Vader, malevolent enforcer of an evil empire!

And he's a nutcracker! Yes, he's evil - but he's cute! And useful, too, if you happen to like nuts.

And check out some of his brother nutcrackers. Doesn't the Father Christmas (front left) look like he belongs on South Park? And how about the guy behind him? Could that be Homer Simpson in disguise? Okay, maybe not.

Evil, cute and useful are all terms that might be applied to AOL these days, depending on who's talking. In the week since Black Tuesday, I've read a number of posts and comments bemoaning
  • the fact that Blogger isn't as easy to use as the AOL-J client,

  • the lack of AOL Alerts or the equivalent for non-AOL blogs, and

  • (mostly from me) the problem of fitting a large photo onto a Blogspot page without the sidebar going south to the bottom of the page.

People liked the look of their AOL journals, and they liked that their readers knew where to find them. Those comforts were lost if they switched to another blogging service.

On the other hand, the tradeoffs required to blog on AOL can be substantial. The About Me area is too small, and the template (the basic setup of the journal) has extremely limited options. Sometimes those AOL Alerts we miss so much don't work, especially for comments and for formerly-private journals. I still don't know when some of you are posting now! (I really need to get everyone onto my Bloglines list.) Plus there's the whole TOS issue.

And that's before the traumas of the past week: the infamous banner ads, the glitches that made it difficult to post at all, the accent problem and so on.

On balance, a lot of people decided last week (and before that!) that it wasn't worth it any more. Others decided it was still worth it, no question. And the rest of us have been stuck somewhere in between.

And now AOL ups the ante a little bit.

Today Editor Joe announced in Magic Smoke the following improvements to the AOL-J software over the next several months:

(adapted from Joe's list)
  • Rostering: managing private journal permissions from your Buddy List.

  • Tagging: a way to label entries by category. This is already possible on LiveJournal and through Technorati.

  • Mobile blogging: posting much more than text from phone

  • Skins: a way to choose the look of a journal, and ultimately customize much more than can be done now.

  • Draft Posts: The ability to save a draft of an entry before posting. If this means being able to see it the way it will be before it's actually posted, it will be a boon to people who write in MS Word, or who are prone to typos.

  • Shared Journals: the ability to have two or more people post to the same journal.

And then in the entry after that, Joe posted a picture of an new header for the journals, which should be online by tomorrow morning. It includes a disclaimer, right under the banner ad. In rather small print, it says, "Ads are not an endorsement by the blog author." Plus the header has been rearranged slightly, with a little more white space between the ad and the journal itself. Hey, it helps. A bit. It also helps that at the same time as this change, there's supposed to be a fix (this time for sure?) to all the nagging problems with accessing journals and saving entries.

So. Are you tempted to go back?

Would you think less of me if I said I was, at least a little bit?



On the other hand, AOL got a string error when they tried to install that update, and had to "back it out." Will they ever get past all the bugs?

******Update #2*******

Patrick has found a painless equivalent for AOL Alerts, called FeedBlitz. Unlike Bloglines, it sends you email notices of new postings. Check out the "subscribe" thingy on my sidebar, right under the Technorati links.

Sleepytime Tips

I was going to do a second entry tonight, with more blogging tips and a hilarious essay (which I haven't written) about the Vivi awards jpg I tried to make myself before Patrick sent me the real one, presumably designed by Gregg. But it's after 3 AM, so I'm doing the short version:

Shelly has a nice page of blogging resources. Check it out!

One tip in particular that Shelly mentioned to me tonight is that you should save your Blogger template in WordPad (or, as I do, with Netscape Composer) before experimenting on it. That way, if it all goes terribly wrong, you can paste it back into the Edit Your Template screen, and get things back the way they were. If you email the template to yourself, then it's available to you wherever you are, at least in the short term.

Alternatively, you can experiment in a "test blog," not meant for public viewing, and copy that into your real blog when you're happy with it.

Here are those Vivi graphics, with very little of the humorous commentary I'd hoped for:

So, are you reading my award-winning fiction?
The real graphic

Oh, that.
My lame attempt.

bigger, not better.

Bigger, but not better. I couldn't fit in the Co- part.

Thanks for the graphic, guys!


Oh, and I was going to make a few random observations about The Beatles:

1. An iPod playing The Beatles is the single best tool I've found for getting me through a lot of data entry when I'm really tired. That and Diet Mountain Dew, Code Red. I went through all the Beatles stuff on my iPod last night and today, twice. So tonight I added Help! and the White Album.

2. I find it almost impossible to be depressed while listening Beatles music. That was not an issue today, but it sometimes is. I get by with a little help from JPG & R!

Good night!


Remembering Remco Pocketbook Dolls

Your Monday Photo Shoot: Let us see your collection of whatever it is you collect. Thimbles, NASCAR collectables, Star Trek figurines -- what it is, let's see those tchotchkes!

I could have posted this much earlier in the evening, but I had to go to sleep for four hours first. That's as much sleep as I got, total, Sunday night. Onward.

What collections have I not shown you guys already? You've seen my L'Engle collection (well, parts of it) and our tiki mug collection, and even our swizzle stick collection, albeit not in close-up. I've shown you my 1960s Barbie dolls, and my crystals, mostly inherited from Mom, which I don't care about at all otherwise. I've told you about John's Star Trek collection, but it's all in boxes, so I can't show it to you. I've mentioned my Harlan Ellison collection and my collection of children's books, but neither is all in one place to be photographed easily. Ditto with my trolls. The Quantum Leap stuff is mostly paper, not visually interesting; and the DVDs are all over the place, and not interesting to look at, only to watch.

(See, this is why I leave Musings up and running! I want you to be able to see all that stuff, despite the banner ads.)

I know! I'll show you my Remco Pocketbook Dolls! These are all from the early to mid-1960s.

Jan is still my fave.

I think my mom gave me my original Jan doll (long gone, of course) in 1963. She's still my favorite of the group. Got to love that face!

the big kids who wave.

Here are the main three, Heidi, Jan and Spunky. Heidi was the franchise character. Jan was "A Heidi Japanese Playmate." Spunky came third, I think. This is where I really wish this Blogger template allowed for bigger photos, but we'll just have to limp along for now.

The deal with each of these dolls is that "SHE WAVES HER HAND." What that really means is, you press the button in her tummy, and the right arm goes up. This is not terribly diverting, but in 1963 it was probably cutting edge. Besides, the dolls were cute, especially Jan.

The other three dolls in this second photo are Remco Finger Ding dolls. The idea is to stick your childish fingers into the doll's hollow tights, and walk it around. There were Monkees Finger Dings later on.

There were also Beatles Remco dolls, in 1964, but they weren't Finger Dings and they didn't have that waving action. They go for big bucks now. We had some pass through our hands back in our Rockarama days, but they were always too valuable to snarf for ourselves.

Jan has some interesting clothing choices.

Jan had a number of Japanese-flavored outfits available. I don't think I had any of them for my Jan doll in 1963, but I got a bunch on eBay in the 1990s. The Jan herself was a gift from John, purchased from an antique mall that has since shut down.

The younger ones.

Here are some ancillary dolls and accessories. Yes, Heidi had her own plane! She also had a motorcycle, a hot dog stand, and a house, but I don't have any of those. The clothes in the NRFP package are for Heidi and Jan and Spunky. The little kids crew of Remco Pocketbook Dolls are, from left, Little Brother Herbie, Li'l Friend Pip, and Little Sister Hildy.

The doll on the left is a Winking Heidi. Press the tummy and her eyelids move. I don't remember offhand what the doll on the far right is called, but she's a growing up doll. She's not like infamous Growing Up Skipper in the chest development department, though. She just gets taller. Also, she wears a wig for some reason.

Heidi has lots of clothes, furniture, etc.

Heidi had lots of clothes. Here are some of them. I have another whole little box somewhere. And look! I've got the kitchen set! Très moderne!

That's enough for now.