ARE YOU SURE? REALLY? 100,000 HITS? ME? WOW … THANKS GUYS!

100,000 HITS

A few hours ago while we were stuck in traffic on Route 95, I hit two major milestones: 600 followers and 100,000 hits. On the same day — entirely coincidentally. I wrote this post a couple of days ago . I knew the 100,000 would happen this week. (The 600 followers was a total surprise.)

When I started blogging, I wasn’t sure why. A year and a half later, I still couldn’t tell you why. I still don’t know. The simplest explanation is the truest: I enjoy it. I love writing and having people read it. Having an audience is a huge gift. Writers really need readers. Anyone who says they write for themselves is lying … to themselves, if not everyone else. Fortunately, readers need writers. Together we have a wonderful synergy.

I mustn’t forget photography. I’ve been taking pictures almost as long as I’ve been writing. Posting my favorites — not to mention Garry’s photos and other members of the family — really beats out slide shows after dinner or emailing them to people who may or may not even open the attachment. Finally, I get feedback. Somebody out there likes me!

I’m not as good a photographer as many of you. Some of you who follow me — I can’t figure out why. I’m flattered, of course, but you are so much better than me. Despite all the years this has been my hobby, I’m still a babe in the woods with Photoshop. I never seem to get the beautiful “finish” the rest of you get. Part of it is equipment. Lenses to be more exact. I don’t have the great glass I would like. I wish I could throw money at it, but not now. I live in hope of miracles.

Where does hope live? Where is the place we live when life’s not treating us well? When things are going wrong and if you stop and think about it, your brain turns to jelly and you can’t form a coherent thought? When the magnitude of the problems in your life exceed your capacity to process?

Me? I read, write and make pictures. I read your posts, look at your pictures. Sometimes I comment, often I read, look, smile and leave a “like” behind, kind of a calling card to say “Hey, I was here!” I wish I could spend more time on your sites but I run out of time. This blogging thing … it really chews up the hours and days.

I started small. I posted something once in a while and then didn’t post anything for a while, then started putting a few things up now and then. Then … oh, I don’t know. I just got into it. There was no epiphany, no revelation. One day, I just felt I should write, post a picture. The next day, I felt that way again, so I did and then more than once a day.

It was the presidential election that sucked me into the maelström with a vengeance. Talk about lively. The Internet wasn’t merely buzzing. It was screaming. People who normally wouldn’t get involved were out there, giving their opinions on every public forum. The cyber world was wild and I got a share of the action. I doubt I’ll ever post numbers as high as I did in October and November 2012. Crazy numbers, crazy time.

It’s easy to blog when there’s huge controversy everywhere, gigantic hurricanes washing away the right coast of the U.S. It’s harder now. There is always a horrible political thing going on but I find myself writing about my smaller world. Sometimes, it’s about how my little world intersects with the great big world. That’s when politics become deeply personal.

The road, as J.R.R. Tolkien says, goes on and on … back to the point where it began.

And so it does. There’s no starting point, no inherent end. I write, I take pictures and will do that as long as I can. Eventually, after the New Year, I’ll have to stop. For a while. Hopefully not too long a while, but I know it will happen. I hope you folks will remember me and come back to visit now and then.

Meanwhile, it’s been a Hell of a ride. I remember when I got my first 5,000 hits and thought “Wow! 5,000! Never thought this would happen!” and the numbers kept marching upward. A couple of months ago, it became obvious I would cross over the 100,000 mark — a biggie. So … what next?

I never had a plan for my site. 100,000 hits was never a goal. I never told myself if I get “this many followers” or “that many hits,” I will know I’m successful. I consider myself successful because running this site gives me so much pleasure and I don’t want to stop. There are popular blogs that baffle me (why?) and wonderful blogs that fall by the wayside. You can take you best guess at figuring out (1) what constitutes success and (2) why it comes to some, but not others equally or more deserving. Some of is luck, stumbling onto a topic that catches peoples’ attention. And getting noticed by people who help promote you. And I suspect much of it is persistence — posting interesting material often so everyone knows they can always find new stuff on your site.

I never had a goal. I still don’t. I love writing and photography. I enjoy meeting people from all over the world. Learning how their lives are the same and different from mine. Chatting through comments. Getting new ideas. It is the stuff you guys say, in comments and on your own sites, that triggers what I write. You feed my imagination, inspire my muse. And challenge me to be better.

Thanks. Everyone. Really thank you. Truly you are the wind beneath my wings.

Daily Prompt: Mix Tape Masterpiece – ANIMUSIC RESONANT CHAMBER

You make a new friend. Make them a mix tape (or playlist, for the younger folks) that tells them who you are through song.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us MUSIC. And here it is. Animusic is music made visual. If music can be seen as well as heard, ANIMUSIC makes it so! Enjoy! I own several of their DVRs and they are wonderful. You can visit their website and see what’s available. The kind of music varies from classical to hard rock to “hard-to-describe,” but all of it has the same ability to let you actually see music, every note. If you don’t normally like music, you might like this because it isn’t like anything else.

See on Scoop.it – In and About the News

I published this a while back, but I thought it deserved another appearance, especially since it’s such a perfect match with today’s prompt.

I find this piece of music haunting and sometimes, I play it over and over again and can’t get it out of my mind. There’s something about it. Turn up your speakers, then watch, listen and be awestruck!

Click on the graphic (above) to see the entire production.

Animusic specializes in the 3D visualization of MIDI-based music. Founded by Wayne Lytle, it was originally called Visual Music. It became Animusic in 1995.

The company is famous for its futuristic computer animations in which the music actually drives the animation so that what you see and the music precisely correspond. This is as close to “visual music” as you can come.

Although other musical animation productions exists, there are differences. The models for Animusic are created first, then are programmed to do what the music “tells them.” Instruments appear to be playing themselves …  instruments that could never exist yet somehow seem entirely plausible. Many people, on first seeing an Animusic production ask if the instrument or instruments really exist. I thought it was real … strange and remarkable, but real. They are startlingly realistic. Sometimes very funny, too.

See also on www.youtube.com

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Prompts for the Promptless: 502 Shining Lights

Selcouth-NK

In the midst of one of the more difficult weeks of my life, with all of the Sturm und drang, agonizing and fear, two strangely marvelous and marvelously strange events occurred.

First, because kindness and generosity are always a marvel, a gift never to be underestimated or ignored, my kind readers have rallied around — along with my oldest and best-loved friends — to make me remember that there is always a reason to go on with life.

To accentuate the amazingness, rediscovering how people you’ve met through an electronic, completely magical medium, can show they care, are real people, even though they are too far to come and personally offer a hug … I tipped over the big 500 number and stand at 502 WordPress followers.

That’s amazing. Hard to believe it’s real. More than 500 people like my pictures and my writing — and me — enough to subscribe to this little blog. It’s awesome, marvelous, and strangely wonderful!

I hope the months to come won’t take me away from this remarkable connection to so many people I have come to cherish as a virtual family. I know there will be a break at some point, at least for a while — but I hope it won’t be for too long … and won’t happen for a while yet.

There’s a third thing. It may not sound so marvelous but it means more than I have words to say. A simple thing … a bouquet of flowers from my husband. Bright and shining on top of the cold woodstove on the fireplace mantel. Reminding me that I am, despite how crazy, broken and difficult I am, I am nonetheless loved.

Thank you. All of you. From the bottom of my imperfect heart.

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Hello? Can you hear me? — I love progress!

Progress. I love progress and am strongly in favor of it, especially when we are progressing backwards. Kind of like technological time travel as gradually, by adding more and better high-tech devices, stuff that used to be simple and problem-free becomes much more complicated, difficult and expensive. The techno-version of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

iphone-whiteLet us travel together back in time to the halcyon days of yore. Not so long ago … the 1970s and 1980s. Even the 1990s.

Remember? We could make telephone calls without worrying whether or not the person on the other end could hear us. Without wondering if we would be able to understand them. That was so cool, wasn’t it? You didn’t have to shout into the phone, wasting half the call yelling “Hello? Are you there? Can you hear me? You’re breaking up. Can you hear me? Hello?”

You could have an entire conversation, from the beginning to end without getting disconnected, losing the signal, running out of battery. Getting dumped out by your carrier. Nobody said “What” even once! Unimaginable, isn’t it? I grew up and in my entire childhood, I do not remember ever having to ask “Can you hear me?” We could always hear. Sometimes, a long distance call had an echo, but you called the operator and they put the call through, no charge. No problem.

We’ve come a long way, my friends A long and winding road.

The other night, my husband and I watched — for the umpteenth time — Meet Me In St. Louis. It’s the old Judy Garland musical. Vincent Minnelli directed it. Great movie, one of our favorites. Terrific songs, Margaret O’Brien about as cute as a kid can be. Nostalgia on the hoof.

The story is set in 1904 when the World’s Fair was coming to St. Louis and telephones in private homes were still the hot new technology. A long distance call from a far away city was a very big deal. Early in the story, the oldest sister Rose gets a long-distance call from New York.

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The phone rings.

* * *

Rose Smith: Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?

Warren Sheffield: Yes, I can hear you. (Pause)

Rose Smith: What did you say, Warren?

Warren Sheffield: Nothing. I was waiting for you to talk

Rose Smith: Oh. Well, did you want to discuss anything in particular?

Warren Sheffield: What?

Rose Smith: I said, was there anything special you wanted to ask me

Warren Sheffield: I can’t hear you, Rose

Rose Smith: That’s funny. I can hear you plainly

Warren Sheffield: Isn’t this great? Here I am in New York and there you are in St. Louis and it’s just like you’re in the next room.

Rose Smith: What was that?

* * *

The next day my friend called.

Me: Hello? Hello? Cherrie?

Cherrie: (Faintly) Hello? I’m in New York … (something I can’t understand) … signal.

Me: Bad signal?

Cherrie: No signal.

Me: How are you?

Cherrie: Tired. Running around.

Me: Miss you.

Cherrie: Miss you too. Having trouble getting a signal here.

Me: We watched “Meet Me In St. Louis” last night. Remember the phone call from New York? We’ve gone back there. Worse. THEY had a better connection.

Cherrie: (Laughter.) You’re right.” (More laughter.)

Me: I don’t think this is progress. (Long pause.) Cherrie? Hello? Are you there? No, you aren’t there.

(Click. Sigh. Pause. Ring. Ring.)

Me: Cherrie?

Cherrie: Can you hear me?

Me: I can hear you, can you hear ME?

Cherrie: Hello? Hello? (Pause, faint sounds.) Is this better?

Me: Yes. A bit.

Cherrie: I turned my head and lost the signal. Boy, was that perfect timing or what?

Me: We couldn’t have done it better if we’d scripted it.

Cherrie: I’ll call you when I get back. I think I’m  losing … (Silence.)

* * *

As I said, I love progress. I most particularly love how advanced technology has made everything so much better. And easier.

FUNNY, FAST, WITTY AND SURPRISING — DOUBLE WHAMMY, Gretchen Archer

Double Dip, the second Davis Way mystery by Gretchen Archer, is due for publication in January 2014. This seems like an optimum time to review the Double Whammy again. I’ve had the honor to be one of the editors on the next book, so I can not longer be objective. It’s become person. But — if it weren’t wonderful, I wouldn’t have gotten involved.

Double Whammy is good. Double Dip is great. Fast, funny, witty and complex, it continues the Davis Way story. I can’t review it yet. It’s too early, but I will tell you that I loved it. Really loved it. It’s delicious, a confection of a mystery. Gretchen Archer is an author who could go big. So check out Double Whammy and get ready for the next one.

DOUBLE WHAMMY

Davis Way used to be a cop in Pine Apple, Alabama. Her name sounds like a road and the name of the town looks misspelled, but really, that’s her name and Pine Apple is indeed the town from which she hails. She used to be married. To Eddie. Twice. It didn’t work out the first time and it’s hard to figure why she married him a second time.

In the course of the second divorce from her first-and-second husband — she refers to him as her ex-ex — Davis and Eddie behaved badly. Badly enough to get her fired from the force by her father and for 2-way retraining orders to get slapped on Davis and her ex-ex. The juicy details of what happened are never given. I rather hope future books will flush out that piece of history.

After a very long search for some kind of job, she is hired by a Biloxi casino, purportedly to discover how someone(s) is beating the machines to collect the jackpot on their Double Whammy Poker slot machines. The terms of her employment are murky. From the get-go, Davis is sure that there’s something seriously awry with the entire setup but she needs the job. She needs the paycheck.

It’s hard to do your job when you aren’t sure what your job is. Harder still when nobody is who or what they appear, including Davis herself. Davis gets in deeper and deeper until she is about to be swallowed by the crime she is investigating. Eventually, with help from unexpected parties, she extracts herself from the quagmire that threatens to keep her in prison for a very long time. And she finds love. Her own double whammy.

I liked it. The book is funny, fast-paced, witty and ironic. The biggest problems for me were occasional narrative leaps and missing transitions. I found myself backing up and rereading to make sure I hadn’t missed something. But that’s quibbling.

A bit too much humor derives from Davis displaying a dopiness that’s out of character. She comes from a small town, but she’s no hick. She has degrees in Computer Science and Criminology. There’s not a dumb bone in her body. She has the makings of a strong female character and that’s rare enough in the world of mystery writing.

Dble Whammy-NK-03

The plot is complicated, but I like Davis Way. She’s observant, creative, dedicated and brave. She has a lot of heart. The book is uneven but Gretchen Archer has a fresh voice I’d like hear again.

As a first novel, Double Whammy is ambitious and well-realized. She has created a strong main character and a story with plenty of action. She handles a complex plot, a whole bunch of characters, a love story and accompanying back stories and still manages to tie up the ends. That’s an amazing accomplishment for a new author. I’m convinced as Ms. Archer gains skill at her craft, her characters will grow and mature too.

dblWhammyAudibleIt’s a good book — fast-paced, lively and charming. It leaves plenty of room for character development and future stories. When there are more books in the series, I will read them. I’m expecting great things from Gretchen Archer.

She has been compared to Janet Evanovich (Stephanie Plum). There are similarities in their writing styles, but that’s where the resemblance ends. Davis Way is potentially a very strong character. She isn’t just funny. She has depth. Computer expert and criminologist, she’s been brought up by a police chief father. She knows how to handle weapons and has the instincts of a real detective. I hope the author develops these qualities.

Davis could be a terrific sleuth.

Double Whammy is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle. At a $2.99 introductory price on Kindle, it’s priced to sell. It’s more than worth the price. It is also available from Audible.com.

About the Author

Gretchen Archer is a Tennessee housewife who began writing when her daughters, seeking higher educations, ran off and left her. She lives on Lookout Mountain with her husband, son and a Yorkie named Bently. Double Whammy is her first Davis Way mystery and her first novel. But look for more, coming soon!!

Weekly Writing Challenge: A Fine Recipe for Baked Me

Note: This is a complicated recipe. Full preparation may take decades. Patience is required.

Part I: 

Mix three scant cups of child abuse and sexual molestation. Combine carefully (do not over-beat) with a double handful of art, literature and music. Add a tablespoon each cumin, garlic, salt, pepper. Omit sugar. This recipe does not call for sweetening.

Add thousands of library books, and hundreds of hours deep in the stacks of the New York public library. Add orange juice until a soft batter is formed. Mix gently but thoroughly until you can no longer tell fact from fiction. Cover and refrigerate for a decade or so.

I'm in the middle, Mom and my sister Ann are on the right. Code Red.

I’m in the middle, Mom and my sister Ann are on the right. Code Red.

Part II:

Add a handful of excellent LSD, half a pound of finely ground marijuana to 20 years of education and a bachelor’s degree. Include one Steinway grand piano, an erudite husband, a bunch of wonderful, loving and supportive friends, one crazy college radio station and an old typewriter with glass sides.

NOTE: Keep track of the future husband over there (the quiet, handsome one). You’ll need him later.

Add yeast. Knead several times. Cover, then put aside in a warm place to rise. Add a baby, catastrophic medical bills, a broken spine, a husband with kidney cancer and a heart attack. For spice, use two mortgages, car payments and a career in publishing. Don’t forget a couple of fantastic women friends.

Part III:

Put all the ingredients in a big greased bowl and knead until smooth. Put aside for a separate rising. Pack everything and move it to the city of Jerusalem. That’s pretty far away, so pack carefully.

86 Derech Hevron, Jerusalem, Israel

Now, add one stupid, mean, and abusive husband, a couple of terribly confused stepchildren, the aforementioned son, 60 hour work weeks and a heaping dose of new technology. Put them to cook in a city full of magic and ghosts of ages past. Add a rounded tablespoon of mysticism, a few ancient artifacts discovered along the road.

Part IV:

Remove Mother and aunt, reserving enough cash to get back to the U.S.A. Don’t forget the rest of the recipe! It’s still rising. Check your fridge.

Defrost future husband. Warm to room temperature, then heat up with lots of cuddling, hugs, encouragement and faith. Grab that risen dough from refrigerator. Knead thoroughly. Build a teepee, then separate batter into four pieces.

Braid each loaf and bake at 400 degrees until each loaf is golden, suitable for a feast.

Photo: Debbie Stone

Photo: Debbie Stone

Serving Suggestions:

Sprinkle with dog hair and oak pollen, nest in a new career and top with a dollop of joy.

Ignore spinal calcification (it’ll still taste great, but you’ll have to eat sitting down). Be sure to remove two large malignant breasts (they can ruin the feast) while retaining a spicy sense of humor. Serve warm.

For the Promptless – Monomyth: The Cardinal and the Cat

My journey to find knowledge started when I was very young and has not ended. It will end when I do, at which point whatever knowledge I’ve sought will be mine at last. Until then, there have been many strange stops along my heroic quest. This was one.

My intrepid husband, professional journalist and seeker of truth in his own way, was working weekends that decade. This meant that whatever stuff happened on Sunday was his beat. This week, the old church of St. Mary, less than a block from our condo in Roxbury, was where Cardinal Bishop Bernard Law would be presiding.

CardinalBernardLaw3

It’s a big deal for any Catholic church when a Prince of the Church holds Mass. Even though I’m not Catholic, I have plenty of friends who are or were. And we lived spitting distance from a grand old cathedral, though it was desperately poor and in urgent need of repairs to … everything. What didn’t need to be repaired?

Roxbury, an almost entirely Black neighborhood that had once been a Jewish neighborhood and had been redlined by brigands in the guise of real estate developers, was where we lived. We had been among the first two or three upper middle class mixed race couples to choose to live in Roxbury. Aside from hoping it would start to charge the way the neighborhood was viewed by the media and the people of Boston, it was a great location and a wonderful place to live.

Rumors to the contrary, it was not crime central. You could leave your car unlocked on the street and no one would touch it. I know this because my neighbor had tried desperately to have his two cars stolen, even going so far as to leave them open with the keys in the ignition for three weeks. Nope, not a chance. The problem was that Roxbury and Dorchester were where car thieves left cars they had stolen in tonier neighborhoods, like Beacon Hill.  It was not where they went to steal them because many of them had roots in the neighborhood and eagle-eyed granny was probably watching the street.

People watched out for each other in Roxbury. I never had better neighbors. I never felt safer or more loved.

That day, the day Cardinal Law was visiting the church down the street, Garry called.

“I was telling Bernie (Cardinal Law, if you please) that you lived in Israel and are really interested in religion and stuff.”

“Uh huh.”

“So he’ll be dropping by for a visit.”

“When?”

“I think he’s on the front steps. Yup, there he is. Gotta run. Love you. Have a great day.”

BING BONG said the doorbell.

I looked at me. At least I was wearing clothing. The house was almost acceptable. Thanks for all the warning, Gar, I thought. Showtime!

And in swept His Grace, His Eminence, wearing  his red skull-cap and clothed in his long, black wool cloak. Impressive.

Big Guy stretched. Our Somali cat — the best cat in the world and certainly the absolutely smartest, sweetest and gentlest — was also our meeter and greeter.

Big Guy

Big Guy

I offered the Cardinal the best seat in the house, the blue velvet wing chair by the bay window. Big Guy promptly joined him. We chatted for almost an hour. Israel, the church, whether there was any hope that St. Mary’s would get some funds to repair and upgrade before it was too late. The neighborhood. A hint of church politics. Although Bernard Cardinal Law was ultimately blamed for the long-standing and terribly wrong policy of the Church in hiding the misdeeds of child-molesting clerics, this was years before that story came to light.

The man I met was wonderfully intelligent, friendly, witty and a real pleasure to spend time around, probably why Garry — no Catholic he — was very fond of him and considered him a personal friend.

Eventually, it was time for the Cardinal to depart and when he stood up, and Big Guy finally left his cozy spot on the warm lap of the region’s reigning Catholic cleric, I realized the Cardinal was absolutely coated in cat hair.

Oh my. Exactly what does one say?

“Wait a minute, your Eminence. Let me get the pet hair sticky roller and see if I can get some of that hair off your long black cape?” I was pretty sure that the cloak needed something a lot more oomph than a lint roller. This was going to need some firepower beyond my limited means.

So I shut up. Wincing with foreknowledge, having gained in wisdom though not what I had hoped for, we parted and as he and his retinue swept out my door … I pondered how life’s journey takes strange side roads, unexpected twists and turns. This was one.

“Meow?” questioned Big Guy. Clearly he liked the Cardinal and it had been mutual. I believe Big Guy came away from the experience with some special, secret understanding of Truth. I, on the other hand, felt obliged to call my husband and warn him that Cardinal Law was dressed in more than he realized.

“Oops,” said Garry, master of understatement.

“Yup,” said I, equally downplaying the difficulties that would arise from the incident. I had wrangled with Big Guy’s fur. I knew how bad it would be.

Garry_72_01Some weeks later, when Garry, in the course of work, again encountered the good Cardinal, he called my husband to the side for a private word. The other reporters were stunned! What scoop was Garry Armstrong, ace reporter, getting from which they were excluded? Rumors ran rampant. Armstrong was getting the goods and they were out in the cold. Mumble, mumble, grouse, complain, grr.

“Armstrong,” murmured the Cardinal.

“Yes sir?”

“You owe me. That was one gigantic dry cleaning bill!”

“Yes sir, Your Eminence,” Garry agreed. “Been there myself.”

“I bet you have!” said Bernard Cardinal Law. And the two men shook hands.

When the other reporters gathered round and wanted to know what private, inside information Garry had, he just smiled.

“I’ll never tell,” he said. “Never.”

But now … YOU know. The truth has finally come out.

Good Writing, Weak Plot – Anonymous Sources, by Mary Louise Kelly

Anonymous Sources - By Mary Louise Kelly

Gallery Books - Publication Date:  June 18, 2013

I wanted to love the book, but I didn’t. Considering the experience of the author, I expected more. And better.

The main character, Alexandra James, is a newspaper reporter. As is the author. I’m married to a reporter, so I’m familiar with the realities of the news business. Ms. Kelly is at home in that world and does a good job painting the landscape. It’s the best part of her novel.

Mary Louise Kelly, a veteran reporter who is the prototype for her fictional protagonist, brings a very impressive resume to this first novel. Her extensive experience in reporting the secret world of spies and security raised my expectations. Indeed, she has created a very attractive character in Alexandra James, the intrepid young reporter.

Although this is Ms. Kelly’s first novel, she is a writer. Her prose is elegant and smooth. She knows the places about which she writes and describes them with assurance and authority. We live in the Boston area where much of the action takes place; she never hits a false note — a refreshing change from many other books I’ve read. She captures dialogue well. Conversations sound natural. Her descriptive abilities extend to people. I feel I’d recognize her characters if I met them on the street. Her comfort with the tools of the trade, the techniques of her profession and the requirements of the job are spot on.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for plot and character development. I believed Alexandra James, the reporter. I didn’t believe Alexandra James, the person, the woman. Her motives seemed phony. They didn’t jibe with her credentials. How could she be so savvy and smart, but so naïve she couldn’t see a blatantly fake CIA shill when he was literally staring her in the face? The plot was driven by the central character’s ability to miss the obvious and do stupid stuff. Worse, she created the most blatant stereotyped Muslim extremists I’ve seen outside a Tom Clancy novel — that’s not a compliment. Her upper class Brits are caricatures, an embarrassing collection of clichés. Considering her real world experience, I find this puzzling.

To move the plot forward, Ms. Kelly drops clues. Heavy, unsubtle clues, they land with a bang, not a whimper. Wham, here’s a clue for you. Did you get that? No? Well, here (crash!) is another, right on your instep so you can’t possibly miss it. Ouch.

If the quality of the plot was even close to the quality of prose, it would have been a great mystery (thriller?). As it was, it was readable and mediocre. The end was rushed, as if she’d hit a deadline and had to wrap it up before they wrenched the manuscript from her hands.

Featuring cardboard characters and a brilliant heroine too dumb to take minimal precautions when she knows her life is in danger, I didn’t buy it. I liked Alexandra and hoped through the entire book she would become real to me. The potential was there. Protagonists with a secret, troubled past are de rigueur these days, but this protagonist’s dark secrets were contrived and rang false. It did nothing for the story or the character.

I hope Ms. Kelly steps back, does some thinking, and rebuilds her protagonist. Alexandra James could be a strong female character in a genre dominated by smart, macho guys, but dopey, troubled women. I’m rooting for the author and her protagonist. Mary Louise Kelly has the talent to do it right. Whether or not she will realize her potential we will have to wait and see.

If this is the first of a series — assuming the book sells well enough to generate interest in future books — Ms. Kelly needs to give us a story that keeps us guessing. Allows us to be surprised, maybe even shocked. Mysteries needs to be … well … mysterious. Thrillers should thrill us. Anonymous Sources was neither mysterious nor thrilling. The author needs to trust readers to follow clues and make discoveries without giving everything away up front.

The novel drops a lot of stitches. For example, her good (best?) friend Jess is introduced with considerable fanfare but plays no role in the story. There are no details of how the murders were carried out. What exactly happened? How did Thom Carlyle exit that window? It’s not easy to lift a full-grown man — dead weight — and push him through a small window single-handed. The bad guys are faceless and bodiless. Tall? Strong? Other than being Pakistani, you know close to nothing.

Who was behind the plot? Merely naming an organization without humanizing it isn’t enough. Scary bad guys are as important as heroes. The abrasive relationship between the protagonists and antagonists is critical to character and plot building. There was essentially no interaction between the good guys and bad guys and the book suffered for it.

Mary Louise Kelly is talented. She writes excellent description and believable dialogue. She has the makings of a fine storyteller, but she needs a much better thought out plot and characters. She surely has enough anecdotal material for dozens of books. Her skill with words is obvious.

Here’s to her next — better – novel.

Anonymous Sources is available from Amazon and other sellers as a hardcover and in Kindle format.

Prompts for the Promptless: Episode 3 : Catch That Running Gag!

PromptlessEP3

Ball Gag lay in the dark at the bottom of the closet amidst the rubble of discarded sex toys. He fondly remembered the good old days when The Master and Mistress used him and all his friends to play exciting games every night. Sunk in nostalgia, Ball Gag remembered the crack of the whip, the moans, the screams, the foul language. Those were great days.

Then came the babies and the jobs. PTA and late hours at work. Master and Mistress were tired and busy and they no longer came to The Closet to play with all the toys.

Ball Gag wondered if he were actually getting rusty from disuse. The idea so appalled him, that he began to shiver, which made him rattle and set up a noisy clamor as the various chains, clamps, and other metal things banged against one another. Ball Gag tried to move and surprised himself.

“I can move!” he thought. “How can I do this?”

He realized — to his amazement — he had eyes and could see. From his little round body, itty bitty arms and teeny tiny legs clothed in pointy shoes had sprouted.

“FREEDOM!” he cried and began to throw himself at the closet door. It gave way easily and he found himself in the master bedroom. Light streamed in from the windows, covered by … what? Fluffy lace?

Repelled by the sight of so much light and fluff, Ball Gag … at first hesitantly, then with more sureness in his steps … marched to the hallway.  His leather straps scraped along the floor, but apparently no one was home to hear the racket. He tucked up his tiny arms and legs and rolled clackety-clack down the stairs, clambered out the mail slot and onto the front walk.

FREEDOM!” he screamed again and began to run.

That was when the cops spotted him.

“Catch him!” they cried, talking to each other and calling into the precinct on their radios. “It’s a running gag!!”

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Screams in the Night: The Rise and Fall of Windows 8

When Windows 8 was initially released, my first thought was “You’re kidding. Surely they don’t expect me to use that!” Yes, they really did. They seemed to be of the opinion that the future of computers would be touchscreens all the way. Which made me wonder if anyone at Microsoft had actually tried using a vertical touchscreen. Not a tablet or a tiny laptop, but a real, full-size 24″ high-definition touchscreen on a desktop. Because I sure had and it was not a happy experience.

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Touch screen is for tablets, not desktops — or even laptops.

I actually bought a big touchscreen PC more than two years ago. What a waste of money! Forget software issues. Software was not an issue. The concept itself is hopelessly flawed.

I bet you need a real world example, just so you know I’m not making this up or displaying uninformed prejudice against new technology. If you know me at all, you know I love new technology. I embrace technology. But I abhor “upgrades” that make things that were easy difficult. It’s just a way to grab more money from our already depleted wallets. More exercise for the credit card.

Following are a few good reasons and a possibly entertaining anecdote to explain why, if the future is going to be all touchscreen, I’m saying “no thanks.”

Upon installing and activating my exciting new 24″ touchscreen all-in-one desktop computer, I discovered:

1) Every time a mosquito landed on the screen, it reconfigured my computer. What a MESS. And a little spider crawling across? Oh my god! We live in the country. Yes, Virginia. There are ants, spiders, mosquitoes and other icky things. No avoiding them, not out here in the woods.

Sidebar: Huh?

As the shades of the evening drew on, I retired from my office and went to the living room to join my husband on the reclining love seat. There, with our smelly hounds and our popcorn, we settled down to watch a movie or a few TV shows. Eventually we noticed there was extremely loud heavy metal music playing. I thought my granddaughter, who lives downstairs, had friends over and I didn’t want to rain on her parade, so we patiently waited for the noise to subside. When she appeared at the top of the stairs asking us to turn down the music, I said … huh?

My computer had found a music channel. A heavy metal music channel. It had, apparently with the help of a music-loving insect friend, selected the channel, turned it up to full volume and was blasting it through the house. OriginalJPG

When I looked at the monitor, there were (literally) dozens of windows open. Such a busy little bug. And all my preferences had been changed. AND SAVED! Who knew our six or eight-legged friends were so computer savvy? I sprayed the office for things that crawl, fly and scurry, and grumped off to watch something on television, which is where I had begun. It happened again the following day, only this time, I knew from whence the problem originated and promptly went to deal with it.

The offending crawler, a small flying thing smaller than a mosquito, but bigger than a fruit fly, was sitting on my monitor, laughing at me. I swear he was laughing. I sought in vain for some way to reduce the sensitivity of the monitor or better, turn it off completely. It wouldn’t have mattered what software was being used. It was the touch sensitivity that was the issue, not the software. A very big strike against touch screens. Actually, I think it was a foul ball, double play, side out sort of strike if you catch my drift.

More Good Reasons to Not Get a Touchscreen on Your Next Computer

2) The physical position required to use a vertically positioned touch screen is total hell on wrists already suffering from carpal tunnel. We are talking SERIOUS pain, nothing minor. Every time I made any attempt to use it, I had to grit my teeth. I had to cut my fingernails all the way to the quick because I didn’t want scratches all over my monitor. I got the scratches anyhow.

3) Nothing I want to do works well with fingers. It is slow, imprecise, essentially useless. I am not going to use my fingers to work in Photoshop. I’m not going to finger edit a manuscript. If I wanted to draw, I’d use a precision tablet, not my index finger thank you. I couldn’t figure out under what circumstances touch sensitivity would be an advantage. There was not one single computer activity that could be done better with my fingers than a mouse. Not one. So exactly why was this “the way of the future?” Whose future? Not mine!

4) FINGERPRINTS. It’s taken me a very LONG time to get the screen clean again. It’s amazing how determined fingerprints can be. I still haven’t gotten it completely clean, but it’s closer each time I find a new lens cleaning formula and give it a try.

5) Fingers are much slower than a mouse. I can scroll. I can move all around, up down and sideways with a mouse quickly and precisely. About the ONLY thing I could do precisely with my finger was close a window. Press X. THAT I could do.

6) I finally disabled the touch input functionality. I spent an entire day searching for the menu until finally, at long last, I found it. After it stopped being a touch screen, life improved.

Win8 start screen

Then out came Windows 8. I almost broke a tooth I was so aggravated.

I do have a Kindle. Touch works fine on it, though I yearn for a way to scroll that doesn’t involve a finger and a real keyboard rather than poking one key at a time. Some of us actually know how to touch-type. We don’t type with our thumbs or index fingers. Ponder that.

So now I hear that “Windows Blue” (not its real name) is going to replace Windows 8 and will address issues we ignorant clods (AKA “users”) have with Windows 8. I do hope, among many other things, that they make it less ugly. I know usability is the big issue, but aesthetics matter when this dreadful, inelegant block of crayon colors is in my face day after day. If this isn’t the least attractive design ever put on a computer monitor, I don’t know what is. It would offend a first grader and I’m assured they like primary colors.

I live in hope of a better Windows operating system, a system designed for actually getting tasks done and the ability to do it all without having to relearn how to use my 4 computers. I live in hope.

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Related articles

Charge! Address the Mess!

My world runs on rechargeable batteries.

Three laptops, two Kindles, two cellphones, six cameras, four mouses (mice have fur and make squeaky noises, mouses attach to your computer), wireless keyboards, GPS, various clocks, flashlights, who-knows-how-many remote controls, electric razors, tooth cleaning machines, and a mind-numbing array of miscellaneous devices I can’t remember off-hand. To keep the world running, Other than those things that run on AAA and AA rechargeable batteries, everything else uses some kind of proprietary battery. I do not understand why camera makers feel obliged to use a different battery for each camera model. Surely they could design at least all cameras of one type to use the same battery.

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I don’t always realize how dependent we are on batteries and chargers until I’m packing for vacation. Half a carry-on bag is entirely allocated to chargers and wires. And that’s just for items we use while traveling: laptop accessories,  Kindles, cell phones, mouses, portable speakers, cameras and accessories. Laptops and cameras have their own cases … but there’s never enough room for the chargers.

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I used to pack all the chargers and wires carefully, all coiled and tied to avoid tangling. One day, I gave up. Now I shove the chargers and wires in a bag and untangle as needed.

At home, I have to keep track of what needs charging and which chargers they use. There are so many I finally was unable to remember which batteries went with which gadget. I really had to address the mess.

The floor of my office is covered with wires and power strips. I’m afraid to walk anywhere because I might step on something fragile.

I did what I do best: research. There are solutions. Not all power strips are the same, and there’s a whole new generation designed to address exactly the problems we all have with too many chargers and power supplies. Some of them are quite pricey, some more affordable. It’s still cheaper to buy a generic strip at Walmart or Target. But you may actually wind up with more usable space if you pay a bit more and get a strip designed to accommodate various sizes and shapes.

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These deal with the problem of oddly shaped and variously sized chargers and power supplies, both strips and as wall sockets.

Let’s start with the Belkin Pivot Surge Protectors. These are available in a 3 versions: a 6-outlet wall mounted version, plus 2 corded versions (6 and 8 foot).

There is extra space between sockets and most also pivot and rotate to let you use all the outlets without waste. Belkin products are usually high quality and they are well-known for their surge protectors. Of course, you may or may not actually need surge protection, but most of these units include it.

I put surge protectors on computers and printers. Battery chargers are cheap and easy to replace and anyway, surges aren’t my problem. Power outages are more likely to be the problem, but a surge protector is no help with that.

Lightning is a problem. Surge protectors are useless against lightning.

We’ve been hit by lightning on three occasions. The first strike was on a utility pole in front of the house. It took out two computers and a printer. The second took down a tree, but no equipment. The third strike killed the well pump which is more than 450 feet underground. That’s how I learned that lightning can strike underground. Apparently the combination of electricity, metal, and water is very attractive to lightning. Well pumps are expensive and not necessarily covered by home insurance.

Lightening is incredibly powerful. Anything plugged in when lightning strikes will get fried. The only thing that will protect against lightning is having your equipment physically unplugged when it strikes. Just a bit of advice from someone who has learned her lesson the hard way.

Insurance will replace equipment, but no one will replace lost data. For that you need a backup on a separate drive.

Prices for the Belkin surge protectors (on Amazon) range from about $18 for the wall-mounted unit, to $25 for the 12-outlet unit with an 8-foot cord, to $27 for the 8-outlet surge protector with a 6-foot cord. The 8-outlet is a very different design and lets you rotate the outlets so that you can use all of the outlets regardless of the size or shape of the chargers or power supplies you want to plug in.

The design of the 8-outlet unit spreads the outlets along a round, wand-like strip that lets you configure the sockets to fit a wide variety of variously sized and shaped chargers and power supplies.

Quite a bit of creativity has gone into some of the designs. By the way, all of these are available on Amazon.

The creative solutions don’t end here. The Kensington 62634 SmartSockets 6-Outlet 16 Foot Cord Table Top Circular Color Coded Power Strip and Surge Protector looks like an electrified lazy Susan. Designed to put in the middle of a conference table so participants can all plug their laptops in at the same time, you could as easily use it on the floor.

It’s rather pricey at more than $40, but it is very cool and if you need a table top strip, this is probably a good choice.

For 25% less, Quirky makes something similar. The white Quirky Pivot Power 6 Outlet Flexible Surge Protector Power Strip costs a couple of dollars less than the identical unit in black. I have no idea why.

Though not cheap, it is not as expensive as the Kensington or Belkin units, nor as fancy. The sockets rotate, but don’t swivel. If you can live without swiveling and color coding, you can get one of these for just under $30. Exactly what will work for you, whether or not any of these will be right for you, depends on the shape of the space you have and how many devices and chargers you have.

If, like me, your charger problem extends into your kitchen and bathroom, there are wall-mounted units for that let you rotate outlets.

360 Electrical 36035-W 4-Outlet Rotating Surge Protector

You can keep your electric razor and water pic plugged in and still have somewhere to attach the hair dryer or curling iron. And if, like my husband, you want to play the radio while you do your daily ablutions, you have a plug for that too. At about $15, it’s a real problem-solver. There are other versions made for kitchen appliances that come with more outlets in some fascinating shapes.

My personal favorite and what consider the most power strip for the least money is Ideative’s Socket Sense 6-Outlet Expandable Surge Protector, 3-Foot Cord. It’s simple and costs just $15. You can set the spacing as needed. Since the equipment in our life keeps changing, I’m attracted by a strip that I can adapt to changing requirements. I have two of them and need one more.

Ideative Socket Sense 6-Outlet Expandable Surge Protector, 3-foot Cord

Ideative’s strips are comparatively simple. No rotating or color coding outlets, but you can make the space between outlets larger or smaller, so most things should fit easily. The sockets are angled to make it easier to plug stuff in.

There are more. Tripp Lite makes a series of high voltage surge protecting traditional strips that have as many as 24 outlets.

They are expensive and much higher tech than I need, but it depends on what you need … and the size of your budget, because those babies cost upwards of $50 apiece.

Below is a cord splitter, one alternative to a strip. I have one in my office and it has the advantage that any size device will fit into any plug. These are also sometimes called hubs and may include special sockets for charging USB devices, or hooking up phone lines. I also have a hub like this on my desk that gives me an extra five USB outlets. Just be aware that not every device operates properly through a hub; some devices need to be plugged directly into the computer.

Civilization probably wouldn’t survive the loss of electricity, but until the world as we know it comes to an end, at the very least we can make life a little easier. All you need is willingness to do the research … and a credit card. With some credit on it.

Like so many problems in life, if you throw money at it, you can make it to go away. More or less.

 

Daily Prompt: The Little Things – Music to My Ears

The issues of the world … the problems between our government and the governed, hostility between nations. Terrifying and potentially calamitous environmental and economic crises everywhere you look. Bombarded by the woes of humankind and a myriad of looming catastrophes. Besieged by forces over which we have no control.

Indeed we have little control over many things. Our destinies lie in the hands of other people, Fate and God. Tossed hither and yon by the winds of chance, buffeted by challenges that seem unconquerable, we can take comfort in small joys, little things, simple gifts.

I didn’t expect acquiring an uncomplicated, modestly priced, nice-sounding CD player would present a major challenge. How hard could it be to buy something on which to play music as I fall asleep at night? It has been a while since we had the wherewithal to play music without complicated reconfiguration of speakers and various connected computerized equipment. I know MP3 players are all the rage, but I don’t want to use a teeny tiny device I can barely see and which requires either auxiliary speakers or earphones. I want music to fill the room. And I want it to be a simple thing. Put the CD in, press play. Music!

It turned out to be a lot more difficult to satisfy my criteria than I imagined possible. If I was willing to spend a lot of money — much more than I have — I could get something amazing. But I’m not looking for a stereo system. I’m sure Bose equipment is terrific, but it’s way beyond our budget. All I wanted was something simple. With a nice sound. At a reasonable price.

I actually found it. Sometimes, you get lucky.

Meet the PHILCO AM and FM Clock Radio with CD Player

Searching for my simple solution to playing CDs in the bedroom without buying a full stereo setup I finally saw this odd old-fashioned clock radio with a CD player built into it. I was about to give up, and there it was: this amazing retro style radio and CD player designed to look like an old Philco television set.

Philco CD player

The Amazon reviews were all five stars. You don’t see that very often. Like never. Usually someone has a complaint. Not for this, though. With a price just under $50 and a size that would fit on the shelf behind my bed, it looked to be exactly what I wanted. I could drift into slumber to my favorite Beethoven string quartets.

I remained skeptical. Too often I’ve been seduced by great reviews only to be disappointed.

In a strange happy moment, I got exactly what I sought. The reviews were dead on. It’s an amazing little unit. Wonderful rich, big sound. It fits on top of the headboard bookcase. It’s got a vintage look I like. It’s heavy for its size, has a solid feel, not flimsy or plasticky. I like it so much I got a second one for the living room. In theory our DVD player plays CDs, but it’s not a simple “pop the CD in and voilà music” sort of DVD player. It’s a very fine DVD player, but it’s got dozens of functions I have yet to figure out and in which I have no interest at all.

Philco Clock Radio CD

I am strongly in favor of simplicity. Easy to use stuff get used. The more complicated the equipment, the more likely it is to become a dust catcher, another great idea that didn’t work out.

And so we welcomed music back into our lives after a long absence. Surprisingly, radio reception is good too, remarkable for this area renowned for poor reception.

It is a small thing, but I smile every time I look at it. I sigh with contentment every night when I wrap myself in music. Sweet dreams guaranteed. For just under $50. Life is good.

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ANIMUSIC — Resonant Chamber

See on Scoop.itIn and About the News

I published this a while back, but I thought it deserved another appearance. I find the music haunting. There’s just something about it. It is amazing and beautiful. Turn up your speakers, then watch, listen and be awestruck!

Click on the graphic (above) to see the entire production.

Animusic specializes in the 3D visualization of MIDI-based music. Founded by Wayne Lytle, it was originally called Visual Music. It became Animusic in 1995.

The company is famous for its futuristic computer animations in which the music actually drives the animation so that the visual and the music precisely correspond. This is as close to “seeing music” as you can come.

Although other musical animation productions exists, there are differences. The models for Animusic are created first, then are programmed to do what the music “tells them.” Instruments appear to be playing themselves …  instruments that could never exist yet somehow seem entirely plausible. Many people, on first seeing an Animusic production ask if the instrument or instruments really exist. They are startlingly realistic.

See on www.youtube.com

Redshirts, by John Scalzi: A Book Review

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas | [John Scalzi]The story within a story (or play within a play), where fictional characters interact with people in the real world is not new or unique. Shakespeare used it and as Scalzi himself bears witness, there have been a lot of movies, plays, books, and so on that have used one or another variations on this theme. I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, I enjoyed his willingness to explore a classic form and was curious to see where he would go with it. I also appreciated his acknowledging the other authors and script writers who have used some version of it.

The first portion of the story was fun. The characters gradually realize they are part of a  TV series. This isn’t a spoiler; the book’s title refers to the red-shirted characters on Star Trek who were always killed before the first commercial break. In Redshirts, after discovering they are characters in cable sci fi series, the characters slide into the real world. Even though it was obvious from the beginning what was happening, it didn’t matter because what the author was doing was less important than how he did it. John Scalzi has a unique and quirky perspective that make his books interesting and highly entertaining. At least for the first half of the book, Redshirts was no exception.

Then the codas began. The codas are rather like alternate endings, but also like an extra piece of story, tangentially related to the main storyline. It’s an interesting idea that didn’t really work. At least, it didn’t work for me.

The first coda explores the mind of a writer in the throes of writer’s block and was mildly interesting. Not exactly gripping, but not bad. When the first coda drew to a close and the second began, I realized I was restless and finding it difficult to stay focused. The final coda felt like a postscript and held little interest. Worse, the book felt like a writing exercise. Interesting in a technical way if you happen to be a writer, I nonetheless found myself muttering “Okay already, I got it. You made your point.”

I listened through to the end, though I kept drifting and had to remind myself to pay attention as the book plodded to its conclusion.

Less would have been more. The basic idea was good — cute and clever. In its audiobook version, it was helped along by a skilled narrator. But there wasn’t enough plot to go the distance, like a movie that runs out of script 20 minutes before it runs out of film. The story was too thin to support its length. The first half could easily have stood on its own as a novella.

By the end, I had lost track of the characters and plot. Too many endings, characters appearing and disappearing with blinding speed. A score card might have helped but ultimately, I didn’t care.

I’ve read worse books … but John Scalzi has written much better.